The Nova Scotia government is seeking more input on its proposed accessibility legislation after negative feedback on the version tabled in the provincial legislature last fall. Committee hearings on Bill 59, an Act Respecting Accessibility in Nova Scotia, will resume next week with the Justice department replacing the Ministry of Community Services as the lead on the file.
The proposed legislation, drawing from recommendations of a Minister’s advisory panel released in 2015, was introduced in November 2016, then pulled off a planned fast track to approval. The bill sets out a guiding framework for how accessibility standards will be developed, applied and enforced — beginning with the appointment of a 12-member accessibility advisory board that will be instrumental to the task — but critics decry its lack of specifics and leeway for exemptions from compliance.
“The Act, as written Nov. 2, 2016, is too vague, has very little in the way of measurable goals, only refers to a long-term timetable but no short-term agenda, the committee (accessibility advisory board) only meets four times a year and the penalties are not high enough. There are many instances that the word ‘may’ is used rather than ‘shall’ in order to weaken the bill,” states a submission to the government committee from the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities.
“It is substantially weaker than Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It is weaker than Manitoba’s Accessibility for Manitobans Act,” observes the Ontario-based advocacy group, AODA Alliance. “If enacted as is, it would be the weakest such law in effect in any province that has enacted a comprehensive disability accessibility law.”
Others noted that the Nova Scotia government had let 17 months elapse from the time of receiving the recommendations from the Minister’s advisory panel, then tabled the bill just a few days before the legislative session was scheduled to adjourn. This created accessibility barriers given the absence of a Braille version of bill and complications for people with mobility issues attempting to secure transportation to committee hearings.
“It’s important to make this part of the process accessible to those it’s intended to benefit,” asserted Wendy Lill, a former member of parliament from Nova Scotia and a long-time advocate for people living with disabilities.