McNeil government punts on accessibility


Nova Scotia Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard today proposed an Accessibility Act that was supposed to fulfil a Liberal campaign promise to “appoint an Accessibility Advisory Committee with a mandate and a strict timeline to develop accessibility legislation for NS.”

In reality, the committee thus established spent two years consulting with stakeholders and came back with… legislation proposing yet more consultation with stakeholders. Only this time, the plan includes an elaborate map with built-in roadblocks to implementation of improved accessibility.

The legislation establishes an Accessibility Advisory Board that will:

(a) suggest measures, policies, practices, and requirements that may be implemented by the Government to improve accessibility;
(b) assess whether existing measures, policies, practices, and requirements are consistent with the purpose of this Act;
(c) set priorities for the establishment and content of accessibility standards and the timelines for their implementation;
(d) set long-term accessibility objectives for furthering the purpose of this Act; and
(e) respond to requests for accessibility advice from the Minister. [Contrarian emphasis.]

This isn’t complicated. The rights of persons with disabilities are fundamental human rights guaranteed by Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and spelled out in much greater detail in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada ratified in 2010. The UN convention obliges Canada “to promote and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights of persons with disabilities including full equality under the law.”

The last thing Nova Scotia needs is more consultation, suggestions, opinions, advice, or setting of priorities and objectives about accessibility. These are human rights. We need clear, enforceable standards coupled with an effective mechanism for their enforcement. Indeed, they are long overdue.

In place of standards and enforcement, the McNeil government has given us a bill requiring an economic impact study of every proposed accessibility standard. No other basic human right is subject to such equivocation. We don’t ponder the economic impact of right to vote, to express a political opinion, or to worship as we choose. We enforce rights—unless the rights holder has a disability.

Not one of the three people quoted in the government’s news release about today’s bill has a disability. Former Canadian Alliance Party advisor and candidate Jordi Morgan is quoted. He’s now the Atlantic vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, an organization whose members have a vested interest in limiting accessibility. Says Morgan:

CFIB is pleased Minister Bernard has asked us to be at the table to ensure we recognize the rights of all Nova Scotians, while at the same time holding government to its commitment to avoid unnecessary or costly red tape for small business owners.

This is equivalent to asking the head of the Montgomery Bus Commission to devise a seating chart for Rosa Parks. Heaven forfend treating people as equals should come with any cost to anyone.

Nova Scotia is the Alabama of accessibility rights in the twenty-first century. Nothing in Bernard’s bill will change that.