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September 16, 2019

Post Juan cleanup

September 2 I wrote this email to Laura Lee Langley, Deputy Minister of the Office of the Premier and person in charge of Agencies, Boards and Commissions.  Two weeks later, I have not had a reply or acknowledgement of any kind.

In my experience the average Ministerial response time is 25 days, so we're just halfway there.  But I'm impatient and getting moreso.  Add to that the fact of the hurricane and she'll say it was a busy time.

With respect, I'd say "But Juan was 16 years ago.  People with disabilities are patient, but we're learning that government seldom does what it promises.  It needs prodding."

Dear Ms. Langley,

I am concerned that the Executive Council is discriminating against people with disabilities in its choices for Agencies, Boards and Commissions.  I wrote about the astonishing lack of diversity three years ago.  

A little more investigation reveals the failure of Executive Council to conduct any meaningful recruitment of people with disabilities for ABCs, which are at the heart of democratic institutions.  There are discouraging roadblocks for people with disabilities.

I've copied Speaker Murphy.  He could be your best resource on this problem.

If I were to apply for the Health Authority Board (possibly of interest to a person with a disability), for example, I learn from your website that I would attend monthly meetings at 90 Lovett Lake Court, Bayers Lake Business Park, which is in a modern building 1.2 km from the nearest bus stop.  The sidewalk ends in a patch of gravel.  That building is emblematic of the access and transportation problems faced by people with disabilities.  Many don't drive or own cars, transportation alternatives are separate and unequal, the infrastructure is inadequate, able-bodied people are clueless.

The current board is all white, 7 men and 7 women (good!).  No visible minorities, no one with a visible disability (no one mentions disability in their brief biography).  They preside over a failing health system where fifty thousand Nova Scotians do not have a family physician.  Those fifty thousand are among our most vulnerable neighbours, yet they do not have a seat at the table.

Here is a map:

Where is the error?  The 14 board members simply applied - the Executive Council chose from applicants in a pool with very limited diversity.  I might like to be on the Health Authority, but why bother applying, when you so obviously don't want me?  The Board members are certainly privileged and Ableist (capital A), but they were appointed by you.

Surely you will understand that a person with a disability would hesitate to apply to serve on an ABC when the evidence is that they are not welcome.

Step 3 of An Overview of the ABC Appointments Process says "The application is reviewed and assessed by a departmental screening panel to confirm that the applicant is qualified for the appointment (4-6 weeks)."  This shows a clear bias toward the status quo ante.  In fact there is no mention of "qualifications" for board members in the Health Authorities Act and it's clearly in the interest of the citizenry to encourage change and innovation - one of the many advantages of diverse representation.  Departments should not be able to choose their own governance - they work for us, not the reverse.

The profile for the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council specifically states "The selection process for the Advisory Council will consider the Minister's desire for diversity and inclusion" as if that was the exception, rather than the rule.   Given your employment equity policy, this should go without saying.

Dozens of ABCs directly affect the circumstances of people with disabilities.  It's not my job to review the profile of each of them, but here are suggestions for basic policy you should adopt and advertise to avoid discrimination against people with disabilities: 
  • Meetings must be held in accessible locations
  • Members may be accompanied by a support person
  • Services for the deaf and hard of hearing are available
  • Documents are available in alternative formats
  • Meetings are located and timed to coincide with limited transportation options
  • Remote attendance by Skype or Zoom is welcome
  • Honoraria are exempt from clawback by provincial agencies
If you remember "Field of Dreams" you will recall Kevin Costner hearing the mysterious voice: "If you build it, they will come".  

It would be terrific to have this change occur sooner rather than later  It should be simple enough to be more welcoming.  I would encourage you to act within a week or two.

In the longer term, it would be productive to look at both your recruitment strategy and your selection process.  Both outreach and choice can be adjusted to meet priorities like Diversity and Employment Equity.  I'd suggest that it is more important for Nova Scotians of all circumstances to have a voice in their government than to assemble people who may be outwardly qualified but lack personal investment in the product.  

Finally, since you ask details of Diversity and Employment Equity, in the interest of transparency you should publish an annual summary of your actions by category.  

I look forward to hearing from you.

Gus Reed

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