04/14/2011

Municipalities have traditionally been at the forefront of efforts to create more accessible communities for all their residents.

The Ontario government was committed to a new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and stakeholders, including AMO contributed to it. The Act requires various regulations and work is progressing.

The Province, on March 18 concluded its consultation on the proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation (IAR) which deals with transportation, information and communications and employment.

Submissions on the draft regulation now rest with the Minister to consider. We expect the final approved regulation will be issued this spring. The final public review of the built environment regulation has not as yet occurred.

AMO’s contribution to the draft IAR focused on obtaining clarification on some of its requirements as well as timing and the municipal context for implementation. Our objective is to support accessibility.

In terms of the broader context, AMO notes that in addition to achieving accessibility, municipalities must provide reliable emergency services, safe roads and bridges, safe drinking water, effective sewage treatment, comprehensive waste management programs and public transit among other services. They must also provide a better quality of life by promoting economic development, recreation and cultural initiatives. Most of the services have regulated performance standards as well, and are required priorities, but unfortunately, resources are not unlimited. Municipal decision-making is multi-dimensional – councils must consider competing priorities. It is within this broader context that municipal governments will continue to work with its communities to advance accessibility in ways that are practical, achievable and affordable.

It will be important for governments, including the province, and others to work together on guidelines, training information and share practices to create efficiencies.

AMO’S ADVICE to the Province on the IAR:

Timelines need to be fair and flexible. Above all, it needs to be recognized that municipal governments across Ontario are different when it comes to size, resources and planning processes.

AMO believes that timelines within the regulation for compliance should be based on the following considerations:

• the reality of municipal business planning cycles; and
• the varied human and fiscal resources of municipalities across the province.

Given their more limited sources of revenue and in some parts of Ontario, a relatively greater fragile financial position, municipal governments compliance should be allowed to draw upon the experience of the Ontario Government.

AMO believes that emergency information policies and procedures should be required in 2012 as currently proposed. Full compliance of other programs and services for municipal governments should be required no later than two years after the Ontario government requires compliance for its own programs and services. Learning from the Province’s experience and then apply those lessons more efficiently, more cost-effectively and more successfully across the broader public sector.

AMO supports the transit industries recommendations identified in the joint Ontario Public Transit Association/Canada Urban Transit Association submission.

There is concern with the cost implications and impacts of the transportation standards within the IAR will be significant, according to feedback from transit-based members. Current estimates for some smaller transit systems suggest that annual operating costs could increase by 50%. These costs could lead to higher fares, cuts to services and increased property taxes, and they could be significant enough to disadvantage entire communities. Some of the requirements expected to impact transit providers, include fare parity, hours of service and eligibility criteria for specialized services. AMO supports the expectation of affordable and reasonable fares as well as access to services. However, the expectation of public transit providers and non-profits to additionally subsidize and operate services in an already chronically underfunded environment is going to be a significant challenge. The requirements, in fact may act as a disincentive for areas considering developing a transit service.

The amount of funding for transit under the Provincial Gas Tax is reliant on growth in ridership. Without increases in ridership and transit expansion, the yearly funding could be reduced. Transit expansion to serve all ridership has already been compromised by the elimination of the Ontario Bus Replacement program. Additionally, Development Charges Act limits amount for transit. AMO continues to position that funding from the provincial government is required to help implement these important expectations.

The information and communication standards.

It is unreasonable to assume that all municipalities have the resources and capacity to implement the highly technical Web Content Accessibility Guideline 2.0. Implementation with the appropriate time and resources could be hampered. This is an area that would benefit from sharing of experiences and other means to achieve efficiency.

There is still a need to clarify a number of the proposed definitions in the regulation and desired expectations.

Terms, such as “suitable accommodation” is an example of a definition that needs to be clarified. Regulations should provide for clear direction and outcomes. Compliance and enforcement should be informed by clear standards and definitions that are consistent across the legislation’s regulatory framework.

Achieving Accessibility Outcomes:

In addition to the societal value, human rights and dignity, there is no doubt an economic benefit results from increased sales or employment taxes, and tourism for example. However, the majority of that revenue will go to the federal and provincial governments, in keeping with how the tax dollar is currently used. Together, the federal and provincial government receive the bulk of that tax dollar. Municipalities receive only 10 cents of each tax dollar. That dime must fund a wealth of services and their concomitant service standards, which are most often set by the other orders of government.

Seemingly, small increases in costs can have significant impacts on local budgets and therefore property taxes, which in turn can require discretionary services to be eliminated or reduced, impacting the entire community including the accessible community. This would be an unintended consequence of the Act’s standards and all stakeholders have an interest in avoiding it.

In order to help manage the anticipated investments to implement the new standards, appropriate time to plan for this spending is needed. Municipalities can better manage the implementation of the proposed changes by working within their normal business and budgeting cycles.
In summary, accessibility is a common goal. It is in the best interest of communities to not create new barriers and to remove barriers for people with disabilities and to improve the quality of life of all residents.