Tagged: MLAs’ offices
Unintended Consequences Dept.: If next week’s election turns into a Liberal sweep, as seems increasingly likely, there will be many, many new faces at Province House. All those new members will be required to find fully accessible constituency offices within one year, or forego reimbursement of their office expenses. Returning members have three years to comply.
AMI, the accessible cable channel, has a nice video on the new rules:
These consequences aren’t completely unintended, of course, but at the time the new rules passed the House of Assembly Management Committee, few realized how many freshman MLAs might be arriving later this month.
Contrarian friend Gus Reed, co-founder of the James McGregor Stewart Society, sums up the significance of a unanimous decision today by the House of Assembly Management Commission that will require that constituency offices for all Nova Scotia MLAs to be barrier free:
This simple regulation marks a sea change in approach for the provincial government:
- People with disabilities are acknowledged to have the same rights as others
- Written rules, rather than promises, are the solution
- All parties agree on the principle, the problem and the solution
- The initiative came from the community of Nova Scotians with disabilities
Let’s hope that the lesson is not lost and that it sets a precedent. In order for Nova Scotians with disabilities to become full citizens, they need equal access to all parts of their world.
Amen. Congratulations to all involved (and a special salute for Kelly McKenna, the James McGregor Stewart Society intern who bird-dogged the issue all summer, insisting that MLAs get the job done).
The Nova Scotia House of Assembly Management Commission will meet Wednesday to clear up an injustice that should have been fixed decades ago. Its members will pass a new rule requiring MLAs’ constituency offices to be free of barriers to wheelchair users.
The commission reached all-party agreement on the change a month ago, but inexplicable last-minute foot-dragging by senior NDP officials threatened to deep-six the deal. Lobbying by the James MacGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights group, embarrassed the government into action Friday.
The new rule will come into effect after the election, at which time newly elected MLAs will have one year to find a standards-compliant office. Re-elected MLAs with existing office leases will have three years to comply. All leases will be with the Speaker’s office. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal will ensure compliance with building code accessibility standards.
Had the election been called before the new rule was passed, the commission would have ceased to exist, and the large crop of freshman MLAs expected this fall could have rented inaccessible offices.
Responsibility for calling the commission meeting rests with Speaker Gordie Gosse, but it seems unlikely he was NDP honcho who wanted to scuttle the deal. A former steel worker, Gosse represents a working class constituency, and is widely regarded as sincere in his efforts on behalf of disadvantaged constituents. He also has personal experience with disability issues in his own family. Contrarian’s calls to Gosse’s office on the issue were returned by Jennifer Stewart, press secretary to the premier.
The Stewart society surveyed MLAs’ offices last spring, and found most to be party or completely inaccessible. Which of the powerful, long-time social democrats in cabinet was keen to keep them that way remains a matter of speculation.
In a telephone interview moments ago, Jennifer Stewart, press secretary to Premier Darrell Dexter, said “there absolutely will not be an election called tomorrow.”
We were discussing election timing because of the danger that an early election call could torpedo all-party efforts to bring in new rules ensuring that people in wheelchairs can visit and even work in MLAs offices in Nova Scotia. More on that shortly.
The James McGregor Stewart Society, a small voluntary group with a single summer intern, has managed to pull off in a month what the Disabled Persons Commission of NS (annual budget: $600,000) and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ($2.1 million) have not achieved in the decades of their existence.
It has surveyed the accessibility of MLAs offices throughout the province. The results will not be a source of pride for Nova Scotia or its legislators.
The survey rated MLAs’ constituency offices based on parking facilities, power door buttons, entrance accessibility, washroom accessibility, and proximity to accessible bus routes. Since accessible bus routes are mostly beyond an MLA’s control (many ridings have none), that category was not included in the final ratings.
Only four MLAs (Lenore Zann, Eddie Orrell, Kelly Regan, and Graham Steele) got a perfect score: paved parking with designated accesible spaces; level entrance, satisfactory ramp, or elevator; power door button; accessible bathroom with grab bars and wheel-under sink).
One MLA, Chris D’Entremont, who represents Argyle and sits on the Management Commission that will decide whether accessibility will be a condition for reimbursement of office expenses, scored a perfect zero. His office has no paved parking, no designated parking spaces, no level entrance, and no accessible washroom.
Although 43 MLAs claim an accessible doorway, only eight have a power door button, which means a constituent in a wheelchair can get in only if someone assists them. Once inside, wheelchair-using constituents will find only eight offices with fully accessible washrooms. How confidently could you attend a meeting knowing you would would have no chance to pee until you got home? You certainly couldn’t hold a job in such an office.
Another 30 MLAs claim some level of washroom accessibility, but lack grab bars, a wheel-under sink, or a high toilet. This translates as: Use at your own risk of accident or humiliation.
The survey turned up fewer regional variations than you might expect. The average MLA scored 3.1 points. Urban MLAs averaged 3.3, while rural MLAs averaged 2.9.
Metro MLAs averaged 3.2; Cape Breton MLAs just 2.4.
Liberal MLAs had the best score: an average of 3.5 points. PCs averaged 3.0, and the NDP trailed the pack with an average 2.9 points.
Two MLAs, Percy Paris and Geoff MacLellan, have not yet completed the survey. Cape Breton South is vacant.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: The eight MLAs who sit on the House of Assembly Management Commission, the body currently deciding whether to require accessibility as a condition of expense reimbursement, have an average score of just 2.3 — the lowest of any group I checked.
Speaker Gordie Gosse, who chairs the committee, has a double distinction: His constituency office and his office in the legislature are both inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.
Clicking on the image at the top of this post will bring up an interactive map of Nova Scotia with a colored marker for each constituency office. Clicking on a marker will bring up accessibility details for that office.
Please note that the map and the data underlying it are works in progress. Some MLAs continue to provide new information, and the society’s intern, the redoubtable Kelly McKenna, is updating it continually. The information in this post is up to date to the best of my knowledge, but it’s a lot of information, and there could be minor errors.