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Leadership Races, Accessibility and the Requests to Parties and Candidates

Jul 12, 2017

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Leadership races are now underway in two of Manitoba's major provincial political parties; the Manitoba Liberal Party (the Liberals) and the New Democratic Party (NDP).

While the races have different timelines and follow different rules (Liberals / NDP), both will have a significant impact. The new leaders who are elected will play pivotal roles in setting direction and establishing priorities for their respective parties. These, in turn, will help shape the nature and focus of public policy debates through to the next provincial general election expected in April 2020.

Key Issues

All Manitobans with disabilities have the human right to fully participate as citizens, party members, candidates and/or elected officials in our province's political processes. Unfortunately, these processes, particularly outside of actual voting in provincial elections, often still fall far from the mark in recognizing this right. There is no better time than now to address these serious shortcomings.

It is also important to recognize that Manitoba has reached a critical point in the implementation of the landmark Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA). Passed with unanimous, all-member, all-party support in 2013, the AMA commits government to take the measures required to achieve significant progress toward full accessibility by 2023.

To date, only one of the five promised standards has been developed and come into force. A crucial sixth standard for education has recently been called for in a letter to Minister Fielding signed (within two short weeks) by 1,100+ individual citizens and 59 organizations, representing over 100,000 Manitobans. This standard is essential to ensure that Manitobans with disabilities have equitable access to quality education (another basic human right), from child care through to post-secondary. Work on many other critical parts of the AMA is also just starting, including the development an effective monitoring and compliance framework.

The full and timely implementation of the AMA represents a major, non-partisan human rights and public policy issue. Completion of the work that lies ahead will require ongoing political commitment and expanded resources. Barrier-Free Manitoba believes that party members and, indeed, all Manitobans deserve to know where those who seek to lead the political parties stand on this issue.

Finally, almost 200,000 Manitobans have one or more disabilities and this number will grow sharply over the coming year. Some of these persons are already members of political parties and many more would be interested in becoming members. The vast majority will be voters in the next provincial election. Based on sheer numbers alone, the issues facing, and aspirations of, Manitobans with disabilities deserve a prominent place in mainstream political discourse of today and of tomorrow.

The Requests

Accordingly, Barrier-Free Manitoba has reached out to the Liberals and the NDP, and their respective currently declared candidates.

To the Parties

Barrier-Free Manitoba is asking both of the parties to commit to ensuring that all their leadership race activities provide for the full participation of Manitobans with disabilities.

An important element of this is ensuring the accessibility of public activities and events that the parties organize and host. While public sector bodies are required to ensure the accessibility of public events under clause 15 of the AMA's Customer Service Standard, this does not apply to political parties. Barrier-Free Manitoba has requested that both parties voluntarily comply with this requirement.

Barrier-Free Manitoba is also requesting that both parties encourage all leadership candidates to provide for the full accessibility of their individual campaigns.

Barrier-Free Manitoba has been pleased to share resource materials with the parties to help them meet these requests.

Three Questions

Accordingly, we have asked both parties to provide formal responses to three questions.

1. Will your party commit to provide for the full participation of Manitobans in your party's leadership race?

2. Will your party voluntarily comply with the requirements for the accessibility of public meetings and events that are described in the AMA's Customer Service Standard?

3. Will your party encourage leadership candidates to ensure full accessibility of their individual campaigns?

Barrier-Free Manitoba is asking both parties to provide their answers to us by July 27, 2017. We will post and share the responses we receive on Monday, July 31.

To the Candidates

Barrier-Free Manitoba will be making similar requests to all leadership candidates. This includes ensuring the fullest accessibility of their respective leadership campaigns. We are also asking each candidate to provide formal responses to two questions related to the AMA.

Three Questions

1. Will you commit to provide for the full participation of Manitobans with disabilities in your leadership campaign?

2. What is your overall position on the landmark 2013 Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) and what do you see as the priorities that need to be addressed to ensure its full and timely implementation?

3. Do you support the call for government commitment to develop and enforce a strong accessible education standard within the next three years under the AMA? If so, why?

Due to the different time lines in the leadership races, Barrier-Free Manitoba will be requesting responses by different dates.

The NDP's leadership race will be completed first, with the convention scheduled for September 16, 2017. With the party's deadline for leadership nominations is July 15, we are asking that all candidates send us their responses by July 27. We plan to post and share their answers on Monday, July 31.

The Liberals's leadership convention will take place on October 21, 2017. With a September 20 deadline for nominations, we are asking for all of that party's candidates to send us their responses by September 28. We will then post and share their answers on October 3.

We are very much looking forward to the responses from both parties and their leadership candidates and sharing them with you.

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