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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Provincial Council of the Disabled has met just six times in 10 years

Accessibility advocate Gus Reed uses the Freedom of Information Act to illustrate how government ministers are failing disabled people.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 4:08 PM

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On his James McGregor Stewart Society website, accessibility activist Gus Reed has put together a pretty much perfect blog post: he starts by outlining the problems people with disabilities face in Nova Scotia. He then details, through documents he obtained through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, how the government is failing to take the issue seriously. Finally, Reed offers a sensible and achievable plan of action for a better result.

I encourage you to check out the entire post yourself, but I especially want to highlight Reed's use of FOIPOP. (Reed explains that he had assistance from the noted Parker Donham.)

At issue is something called the Coordinating Council of the Disabled Persons Commission, which is comprised of six government ministers and the member of the premier's executive council responsible for administrating the Housing Act. "This group of seven government ministers," explains Reed, "is charged 'to facilitate the planning and development of services and programs for disabled persons' according to the Disabled Persons Commission Act." (See section 9.1)

Reed asked for minutes of the meetings of the Council, along with supporting documents like agendas and briefing notes. Under the terms of the act, the government should've responded within 30 days. I'm of the opinion this information should've been released without Reed having to make use of the FOIPOP Act, but regardless, governments almost never meet the 30-day deadline. In this case, it took the government 92 days to provide the information. Here's what Reed discovered:

In the 3,956 days since January 1 2002, the Coordinating Council of the Disabled Persons Commission has met six times, or once every 659 days. The Minister of Health missed two of the six meetings. One set of minutes has been lost, so we don't know if that minister missed another. The Minister of Health has been busy facilitating the planning and development of services and programs for disabled persons once every 989 days. The member of the Executive Council who is charged with the administration of the Housing Act has never attended at all...

In ten years the Ministers have been exposed to
• 3 pages of statistics
• 2 pages on the United Nations Treaty
• a 6 page Strategy
• an 8 page Framework

This is, in a word, scandalous. Clearly, in practice government officials care not at all about the Disabled Persons Commission Act, nor about issues facing disabled people.

Reed offers a practical suggestion for improving this sad state of affairs:

The budget and staff of the Disabled Persons Commission should be transferred to the Nova Scotia Disability Strategy Partnership, a coalition of 21 community groups committed to a fair deal and a bright future for people with disabilities. The budget should be tripled, accessible office space provided, and the transfer should happen on January 1. There is plenty of precedent—the province currently grants $666,000 to "Sector Councils" to "help address skills development and HR issues". This program is administered by the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. That ministry is long overdue to help people with disabilities.
And then Reed details what actions the commission could take.

This is a great suggestion. Let's hope the government sees the wisdom in it.

Let's also hope that Reed's use of the FOIPOP Act will inspire other activists to use it to bring depth and hard statistics to their work.

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