For the past four years the BC NDP government has been working on accessibility legislation.
The project was started by Shane Simpson, the former Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, and after a lot of consultation the government has finally tabled their new law.
It is enabling legislation. In other words, this Bill provides a framework with most of the work filling in the gaps to be done through regulation. As I mention in my response at second reading, this approach provides the government the flexibility they need to work with advocacy groups to ensure it reflects the diversity in our province.
However, it also means that once this Bill has becomes an Act there is little that legislators can do to hold government accountable and to ensure this work continues to be a priority. And, it also means that changes can be made through Order-in-Council at the whim of government, rather than legislated amendments that require a process that includes public debate.
I’m happy that this process has started and the BC Green Caucus will support the government to ensure this meets the needs of all British Columbians.
Good afternoon. It is an honour to be able to speak to the Accessible British Columbia Act at second reading. This legislation creates a framework to create a more accessible and inclusive province. I think those are values that we all share in this legislature, no matter where your place is in the chamber. These are goals that we’re all striving for, for British Columbia.
I share the sentiment of all of my colleagues that have spoken previously to Bill 6. I would like to echo the comments from my colleague from Surrey South. Today is a day that we should be raising our hands in gratitude for the opportunity to be debating this legislation, and to celebrate the steps that, I think members from all parts of the chamber have noted, have been a long time in coming. Here we are, today, being able to debate a piece of legislation that is going to create a safer, more equitable community and province for all British Columbians to be able to live in.
There’s no doubt that, as we go through this legislation, we’re going to have questions that we’re going to ask, but that it’s very important to acknowledge, at this stage, that the B.C. Green caucus supports the efforts of this government, over the last number of years and the governments over the last decades, who have been moving us toward the ability to have this discussion here today.
As the minister has noted, and the ministry has noted in the briefing that we received, this is a process that’s an ongoing process. It’s not one that is going to have remarkable changes overnight but that change is going to come over time. This is a multi-year project. Indeed, I think it requires, actually, an ongoing effort, one that….
When you’re looking at dealing with barriers such as attitudes, practices, policies, information, communication, technologies and all of the intersections that are included in that discussion, this is, indeed, going to be a project that we have to continue to nurture as a chamber and that future parliaments, parliaments which likely many of us won’t be a part of, are going to continue this important work of destigmatization and removing the barriers and obstacles that have been unnecessarily put in the way of many, many British Columbians.
As has been highlighted, more than 925,000 British Columbians live with a disability that keeps them from the full and equal participation in their communities and in our province. That is equal to about one in four British Columbians over the age of 15.
I’ve met with many constituents who live with a disability. As an able-bodied person, I appreciate their advice and their willingness to share their experiences with me. I live a privileged life and will repeat here, on the record, a commitment that I made a couple of years ago to them to support the government in the development of this legislation. It was really important for them that they heard from me that I was going to be an advocate and supportive of this initiative.
I also want to raise my hands specifically to Charlene Frum, to David Willows and to Stephanie, who have all come in and advocated on their own behalf but, as well, on behalf of members of their family. I want them to know that their advocacy, to me, has had an impact on the way I view the work that I have in this chamber and the work that we have ahead to ensure that this legislation does, indeed, do what the intention of it is.
It’s also important to acknowledge that this bill was a priority of the former minister, as has been mentioned by previous members. Previous Minister Shane Simpson had this as a priority of his and was working on this legislation for the last number of years, prior to the election. I met several times with former Minister Simpson. I know that this was a passion of his to get this legislation passed. It’s, I think, only a bit of unfortunate timing on the part of COVID-19 and some other things, of course, that have disrupted our lives so immeasurably that former Minister Shane Simpson wasn’t able to bring this legislation in.
This is not to, obviously, cast aspersians on my colleague the now Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. But it is important that we do acknowledge the fact that he and also the parliamentary secretary, who are working on this bill now, benefit from the work of their predecessor and that we lift up and elevate former Minister Simpson for his passion on making sure that this is part of the agenda that we’re dealing with today.
It’s important, also, that in this process we raise concerns that are being raised by others, namely that there’s no timeline for implementation, non-committal language and a lack of a complaint mechanism. In fact, we’ve all received — the members of this House — the notes from Disability Alliance B.C. I’m going to go into them a little bit further.
These are all questions that I look forward to asking the now minister, who has this legislation, so that we can get on the record, and I’m sure that my colleagues also will be asking questions about this in the committee stage. This is, of course, not to disrupt this process but to ensure that this legislation is, indeed, the best legislation that we have, going forward, and best serves all British Columbians.
As I noted, this bill supports the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to ensure the full and equal participation in our society of persons with disabilities. It requires the government and other organizations to establish accessibility committees and develop accessibility plans and by providing for the development and enactment of accessibility standards.
This bill applies to the provincial government and its organizations and prescribes a class of organizations. Essentially, this is a bill that is addressing the provincial government as an institution.
I’m interested in how this bill will impact local government, as an example, and the powers that they have with respect to land use, building design and landscape features. This is just one example of the problem that I want to highlight here with enabling legislation, because as we look at Bill 6, there’s very little in it that is specific and little clarity on the specifics. As was mentioned previously, this is a situation where you have enabling legislation, where it comes down to, you pass the legislation and then put your trust in the minister and the ministry to get the regulatory process correct.
There’s very, very little input that we, as members in the opposition, have to be able to raise these issues, other than in this part of the debate, and just hope that the regulations that are developed once this bill has passed final reading and becomes an act…. We put our trust in the minister and the ministry, that they will follow through to ensure that the important things that are raised in this debate, that are raised by the advocacy groups, find their way into the regulations.
So I’ve learned that the lack of consistency across regions…. For example, this was when I was talking about municipalities. We addressed this, and we heard the member for Surrey South raise this a number of months back with changes to the building code — questions about the lack of consistency from one municipality to another and how building codes are implemented and executed.
It just raised a concern from my constituents that having each municipality develop different approaches is really problematic. I think that that can be taken, as well, not just from municipality to municipality, community to community, but also recognized province to province. The legislation that was created at the federal level…. We need to be consistent with that legislation. We need not recreate the wheel but work in complement with it.
I just hope that in recognizing the challenges that many people who have disabilities face and the obstacles and barriers that are put in place with design, as one example that was raised by the Leader of the Official Opposition, that the effort that gets put into just going out for a day gets recognized and that we create consistency so that when someone lives in a place like the city of Victoria or the greater Victoria area with 13 municipalities, that we ensure that this legislation that we’re creating today gives them a consistent experience as they move across municipal boundaries to do their regular business.
I’ve learned from one of my constituents who is in a wheelchair that the type of effort that needs to go into going to a meeting, for instance, in a place where she’s not attended a meeting in the past, requires so much forethought and so much planning to find out, as has been pointed out previously, what is that building like, what is the location of the building, what is the geography of the building, what are the streets, where is the parking, where are the entrances. All of these things matter.
For an able-bodied person like me, I don’t think about those things. But it’s important that we recognize that there’s an awful lot of effort that’s put into attending a meeting in a foreign place like this that oftentimes requires a trip the day before to go and case the situation out. If those parking spots that are not available or are not designed properly or they’re being used, that can often mean that that important appointment that was made, a doctor’s appointment, as an example, has to be abandoned because my constituent, as one example, is not able to park their vehicle and get out of their vehicle and go about the business that they need to go about.
So it’s important that we understand that these barriers…. There’s no way that I can articulate them clearly, but that’s the important part of the work that needs to be done and why I recognize that a lot of this work does need to be done through regulation, because it’s going to be informed by people who have a completely different experience of the world than the way I have experienced it.
As well, I think it’s important to recognize that these are not just physical impairments, but also, there are other impairments that need to be considered. I recognize the constituents who have raised and advocated with me for policies that have been put in place that limit the ability for one person with a developmental disability, for example, the ability to marry without having the impact of that be on the income and the supports that are provided by the provincial government.
So in the very initiative that we’re celebrating here today, the ministry that’s putting this forward also has policies that need to be reviewed and need to be changed in order to be able to ensure that all British Columbians can live and love in this province and not be held back based on antiquated policies. I really hope that the ministry and, in fact, all ministries take a look at those policies that they have in place, that have been in place for, in many cases, decades and ensure that they are not also obstacles and barriers to the full enjoyment of this beautiful province that we live in.
This bill creates definitions and establishes a framework. The work is really going to be happening in the implementation. It’s the diversity of disabilities and the need for a comprehensive response that requires that investment of time, as I was saying. So on one hand, while it’s important that we recognize the importance for the full involvement of this chamber that we’re a part of in the development of legislation, it’s in this situation where I think it becomes very difficult to have all of the potential changes and regulations in place at this stage of it. So I understand that this bill is not the end product. The minister has stated that he’d like to see something by the end of 2022. I really think that it’s important and it’s critical that we recognize that just because there’s going to be an amount of time that’s going to pass between when this becomes an act and those regulations are in place, that timeline doesn’t need to be a long timeline, nor does it need to be stretched out.
As one of the advocacy groups, Disability Alliance B.C., has — I say criticized — pointed out, one of the challenges that they have with the legislation as it is, is that there is no timeline right now for when this bill is going to be fully enacted and the regulations are going to be in place. So it’s important at this stage of the debate to really, I think, put a marker down that we need to ensure that the work continue on this at the appropriate pace. But it need not slow down unnecessarily and take years and decades before we see anything. We’re really, really hoping to see action on this sooner than later.
There has been a number of issues raised by a number of different advocacy groups. I think that it’s important that we do get on the record here, at this stage of the second reading debate, some of the specific things that have been raised so that when we raise them again during the committee stage of this debate, we can have a good discussion about them and that some of the concerns that may be out there could be satisfied by the minister’s answers. It’s important, also, that Disability Alliance B.C. and others who have raised concerns know that they’ve been heard, because when you send an email to the general inbox, sometimes you don’t get a response to them. So it’s important that by putting them on the record here today, those advocates know that they’ve been heard in this process.
The six or so specific questions that have been raised by Disability Alliance B.C. around the narrow definition of impairment, which excludes learning and communication; the lack of timelines to hold the government accountable and efficiently working to eliminate barriers; limited application, wherein prescribed organizations are not clearly stipulated; failure to include interactive communication within the list of standards; failure to refer to human rights and B.C.’s human rights code, and a weakened enforcement mechanism due to its lack of an individual complaints process, were all things that were raised to all members of this chamber.
Those are going to be areas that I think…. And I actually believe that the minister is going to have some well-thought-out responses to those criticisms, and I’m certain that this is not the first time that he’s heard those. I think that this will give an opportunity to both acknowledge that we’ve heard the concerns that have been raised, and that we’re attending to them as well.
As the member from Surrey South noted, the BC Deaf Accessibility Caucus has raised two key recommendations and would like to see some changes. One, that the deaf community status is a cultural and linguistic minority and, as well, that there be guaranteed deaf representation on the provincial accessibility committee. These are all things that we’ve been contacted, and said: “Can you please advocate on our behalf, on these key points?” So I’m raising them here today, just so that we can have them on the record and then we could move forward in those discussions.
As I mentioned earlier — as I’m beginning to wrap up here — I think that it’s important that we ensure that this legislation be complementary to the laws that are in place, and that regulations be complementary to the federal legislation and, as well, in alignment with other provincial legislations.
It’s important that we are pushing forward and leading in the province. While we are the largest province in the country to not have such legislation, this gives us an opportunity to not only align with our neighbours and our friends across the country, but as well, since we are going to be the latest province to do this work, we also have the opportunity to push the edges and to go further. That’s what I hope gets done in this legislative process as well as the regulatory process that is still to come.
So I just want to raise my hands in gratitude for the minister, for the parliamentary secretary, to the former minister, to all of the staff in the ministry, and as well all of my colleagues in the chamber for this constructive discussion about this important piece of legislation.
Unfortunately, it’s coming forward at a time when there’s so many other news stories that this hasn’t been, I think, brought out with the type of fanfare or the amount of fanfare that I think it deserves. I think that this is an important initiative — a critical initiative — of this provincial government and one that, I think when we look back in the decades to come, we’ll look back on and be proud of the work that we’re doing here today and over the next week or so.
With that, I’m going to take my place in this debate. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak here today to Bill 6 at second reading. With that, I’ll take my seat. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM. Thank you.