Accessible meeting a historic first
Accessible meeting a historic first
Don Valley West candidates debate the issues at CNIB event

September 20, 2007 04:36 PM

From his wheelchair near the back of a packed room at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Monday night, Kevin Rogers watched history being made.
Rogers, information resources co-ordinator for the Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario, was one of more than five dozen voters who turned out to watch Don Valley West candidates debate issues in the first-ever fully accessible all-candidates meeting for a provincial election.

Sign language interpreters, a close-caption typist and an intervenor for the deaf-blind helped the audience understand where the candidates stand on a number of accessibility issues for people with disabilities.
But just as importantly, Rogers said, the meeting was about more than accessibility concerns. Voters found out candidates' positions on mainstream issues such as the environment, energy, education, the economy and taxes.
"It's not just about one issue (accessibility). It's about inclusion (in the entire political process)," said Rogers, adding barriers prevented him from attending all-candidates meetings in the past.
"It should be representative of the whole community, of which I am a part."
Linda Kenny, the paraplegic association's director of provincial services, said it is important candidates think to include the needs of people with disabilities when they are addressing any issue, from housing to education.
The meeting did not feature Don Valley West's full slate of candidates.
While Liberal incumbent Kathleen Wynne, Green Party candidate Adrian Walker and NDP candidate Mike Kenny sat on the panel, Progressive Conservative candidate John Tory, the party leader, was campaigning in eastern Ontario.
Whitby-Ajax MPP Christine Elliott substituted for Tory. However, his absence did not go unnoticed. Someone dressed as a purple dinosaur carrying a sign reading "Where is John Tory" and "I (heart) Tory's evolution" was quietly escorted from the room moments before the debate began.
Meanwhile, organizers did not invite Family Coalition Party candidate Daniel Kidd or Libertarian candidate Soumen Deb, unaware they were running when planning the meeting.

Elliott and Wynne did most of the verbal sparring during the meeting trying to convince voters to cast ballots for their parties, considered the front-runners in the riding. For example, they argued about whether the Conservatives or Liberals have done more to promote the rights of the disabled.
Walker held his own during the debate, although he admitted he wasn't able to provide thorough answers on some issues. On the other hand, Kenny appeared to flounder several times. At the end, he asked the audience to excuse him because it was his first debate and he was suffering from the flu.
The audience raised a number of accessibility concerns including a lack of government support in helping people with disabilities find meaningful careers, inadequate benefits, the misuse of disabled parking stickers, the need for improved public transit services and shortcomings with the new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The most animated moment came over the Conservatives' promise to extend public funding to faith-based schools.
"I totally disagree. It only promotes us and them," one man said, arguing religious schools promoting hatred of others' faiths would be publicly funded.
"He (Tory) is playing with fire on this thing."

Elliott said the Conservatives' plan would bring 53,000 students at religious schools into the public education tent and ensure they meet provincial standards. She pointed out the United Nations has criticized Ontario's current system, which favours Catholic students
The other candidates disagreed with faith-based school funding. However, Wynne wants to keep the public and Catholic boards while Walker and Kenny support one public system.

Premier 'sorry' about missing accessible debate
Organizers chose to meet in Ottawa South in hopes McGuinty would show up

Kate Jaimet
The Ottawa Citizen; with files from The Windsor Star

Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Last evening's all-candidates meeting in Ottawa South had full access for disabled people, including French and English sign-language interpreters, interveners for the deaf-blind and assistants for the mobility impaired.
What it didn't have was an appearance by the riding's front-running candidate, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. Mr. McGuinty's political rivals are trying to make his seeming unwillingness to engage in local debates into an election issue. Libertarian candidate Jean-Serge Brisson called Mr. McGuinty a "chicken" for not attending the debate.
Mr. McGuinty, who has not committed to any all-candidates debates in the riding, said yesterday he regretted being unable to attend the debate. However, he announced yesterday afternoon that he will make a series of appearances in Ottawa today, including a visit to The Ottawa Hospital's Riverside campus; a meet-and-greet at the South-East Ottawa Centre for a Healthy Community, and an evening campaign event.
The event at the community centre will be an all-candidates event, at which each candidate will be invited to give a statement, and then to meet and greet the public. It will not be a debate.
"I try to attend as many events as I can. It isn't always easy with 107 ridings to visit in Ontario and I'm sorry I can't make this one," Mr. McGuinty said of yesterday's all-candidates debate.
Yesterday, Mr. McGuinty also said he is proud of what he has done to make the province more accessible -- including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. "We need to do more and we will do more," he added.
Conservative leader John Tory and NDP leader Howard Hampton are scheduled to attend debates in their ridings this weekend.
Mr. McGuinty's no-show at yesterday's meeting had a ripple effect. When his closest rival, Progressive Conservative candidate Richard Raymond, learned that Mr. McGuinty would not attend the debate, he pulled out.
Mr. Raymond said he's very concerned about disability issues, but he's not willing to attend a debate if Mr. McGuinty isn't present.
"There's no sense my going there and sitting with the other people. He's the candidate to beat, for all of us," Mr. Raymond said.
That left the NDP's Edelweiss D'Andrea, the Green party's John Ford, and the Libertarian party's Mr. Brisson as the only three Ottawa South candidates attending. The Liberals sent Ottawa-Vanier candidate Madeleine Meilleur, the minister of community and social services, whose department deals with disability issues. The Conservatives responded by sending their Ottawa-Vanier candidate, Bruce Poulin.
Mr. Ford, the Green candidate, said yesterday's debate dealt with issues not specific to Ottawa South. Still, he believes Mr. McGuinty should show up to at least one debate in the riding.
The NDP's Ms. D'Andrea said the non-attendance by the premier and Mr. Raymond was "a shame ... but not surprising."
Adrienne Clarke, manager of public relations with the Canadian Hearing Society, which organized the debate with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Canadian Paraplegic Association Ontario, and the Ontario March of Dimes, said she was disappointed the premier did not attend this debate -- the only fully-accessible one in Ottawa -- as the organizers specifically held it in his riding in the hopes he would appear.
"This is one of the very few opportunities for people who have a disability to have any kind of political involvement at all," she said, "Dalton McGuinty would have been the best representative for the party. We would have loved to have had him there. We would have loved to have seen his commitment to disability issues."
However, some of the people attending the debate were more sympathetic to Mr. McGuinty than to his Conservative rival, Mr. Raymond.
"I can sympathize (with Mr. McGuinty). He's busy. He sent the best person he could," said John Knight, arriving at the debate in a wheelchair. "Now Raymond, how much campaigning has he got to do outside of Ottawa South? He's behaving like a little kid."
The no-show by the premier and his Conservative rival comes at a time when one of the province's most prominent citizens -- its lieutenant governor -- is living with a disability. Lt.-Gov. David Onley, who was sworn in on Sept. 5, uses a wheelchair due to childhood polio. He has vowed to make accessibility the "over-arching theme" of his mandate.
Ms. Clarke said she understands that the premier has many obligations.
Indeed, yesterday Mr. McGuinty was in Mississauga, where he announced Ontario will undertake "the biggest transit project in Canadian history" and spend $100 million on trains, buses and track in and around Toronto.
Ms. Clarke said yesterday's debate was still a rare and valuable opportunity for people with disabilities to engage in the political process, ask politicians questions and receive answers.
None of the provincial parties' platforms broadly addresses disability issues.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2007