Accessible meeting a historic
NORTH YORK MIRROR
Accessible meeting a historic first
Don Valley West candidates debate the issues at
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
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
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
"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
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
The most animated moment came over the
Conservatives' promise to extend public funding to
"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
The Ottawa Citizen; with files from The Windsor