Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
During Fourth Day of Senate Second Reading Debate on Bill C-22 (the Canada Disability Benefit Act), Senators Each Recognize Need to Strengthen the Bill
March 9, 2023
On March 7, 2023, the Senate of Canada held its fourth day of Second Reading debate on Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act. Throughout the Senate’s Second Reading debate, each senator who has spoken, with one striking exception, has said that the bill has good intentions, but needs to be strengthened. With that one exception, senators have given voice to the bill’s deficiencies that so many disability advocates, including the AODA Alliance, have highlighted.
The only senator who simply applauded the bill as is Senator Brent Cotter, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. However, his speech on the first day of Second Reading debate on February 9, 2023 conceded that under this bill, people with disabilities will have to trust federal politicians and public servants to take sufficient action to make the new Canada Disability Benefit lift people with disabilities out of poverty. We believe that people with disabilities deserve better than being left to trust politicians and the public service now and into the indefinite future. Listing serious deficiencies with this bill, Senator Pate emphasized on February 16, 2023 that this is a charity bill. We and other disability advocates contend that people with disabilities need and deserve a disability rights bill – one that gives them rights, not just a need to trust politicians and federal public servants.
Help us convince the Senate to strengthen Bill C-22. Read and use the AODA Alliance’s Bill C-22 Action Kit. It gives you action tips on how to help.
Watch how the Trudeau Liberals flip flop on whether Bill C-22 needs amendments. It’s all in our widely-viewed captioned 7-minute video.
Learn more about these issues on the AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page.
Debates of the Senate (Hansard) March 7, 2023
Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Canada Disability Benefit Bill
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Cotter, seconded by the Honourable Senator Woo, for the second reading of Bill C-22, An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.
Hon. Chantal Petitclerc: The number of Canadians who live with a disability is 6.2 million. We make up 22% of our population, and yet we continue to be marginalized and under-represented.
Canadians with disabilities certainly are not — and never will be — a homogeneous group. On the contrary, they are the epitome of diversity. Their disability ranges from hearing loss, vision impairment and blindness to temporary or permanent loss of mobility, and many others. The daily reality of persons with disabilities is impacted by a vast array of other factors.
While many obstacles remain, our abilities too are diverse, and persons with disabilities have, more than ever, an active presence in today’s Canada. We are in the arts, in faculties and in sports. We are lawyers, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, MPs, ministers and senators.
However, let not these success stories hide the fact that out of those 6.2 million people with disabilities, one out of four cannot afford access to care, aids, devices or medical prescriptions. Out of those 6.2 million, 41% of working age are unemployed, and even when they are employed, they make less. One thing that persons with disabilities all have in common is that they will face barriers and challenges just to get what they have a right to.
As a society, we have a responsibility to help take down these barriers, one by one, at every chance we get. This is why today I want to speak in support of Bill C-22, An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.
I will speak about this bill with a great deal of hope and some questions.
Many have said this before. This bill, which is really a framework for developing future compensation, leaves us in the dark in terms of how much, when, and how. These are critical questions, because we’re expected to take a stand with facts, not just hope.
Let’s start with the question that is on everyone’s mind: How much will this compensation be?
The quick answer is that we haven’t seen any numbers. We do have some clues, however, such as the name of the bill and its preamble, which highlights the intended purpose of reducing poverty, providing financial security and meeting our international commitments to people with disabilities.
Minister Qualtrough was clear in both the House and committee when she said, and I quote: “Today, I begin with the following declaration: in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.”
Here in this chamber, the sponsor of the bill, Senator Cotter, stated that the fourth pillar of the bill is:
. . . financial security, so that we can reduce poverty and improve financial security for hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities.
But the fact remains that we don’t know how much the benefit will be, and we will not know that when we are asked to vote.
Clause 11(1.1) of the bill provides that in making regulations respecting the amount of a benefit, the government “. . . must take into consideration the Official Poverty Line as defined in . . . the Poverty Reduction Act.“ This came after an amendment from MP Zarrillo, and I want to thank her and the members of the House of Commons Human Resources Committee for this addition in the bill that gives us some concrete direction.
But I will argue that if we aim for the poverty line, it will not be enough to lift persons with disabilities out of poverty. Allow me, colleagues, to start with a harsh reality: Living with a disability is expensive, more than many can imagine.
In calculating the consumer basket, Statistics Canada takes into account basic needs: food, clothing, housing and transportation. People with disabilities, however, have to spend a lot in addition to these basic needs regardless of the services available in their province. I know quite a few people with disabilities, and I can tell you for a fact that everything costs more, no matter how much you earn. Accessible housing, transportation, recreation, not to mention adaptive equipment, everything is more expensive.
Take this wheelchair cushion, for example, which a lot of people with spinal cord injuries use. It can cost as much as $800. I need it for medical reasons. To get it, I have to go see my doctor, who writes a prescription, which I pay for. Then I have to get to a supplier or a rehab centre. Then I have to wait four or five months to get it because it is custom made.
Quebec covers the cost of this cushion every two or three years, but because it is inflatable, it never lasts three years. Inflatable cushions are prone to bursting. Within a year, it’s already been patched two or three times, and eventually, I have to pay for a new one out of pocket or limit the length of time I spend sitting on it.
I have the privilege of being able to afford this cushion, but not everyone does. And that is just one of many examples. Even basic necessities can be much more costly. Those who have lost most of their autonomy won’t, for example, have the freedom or ability to do their own grocery shopping and to cook with less expensive products. They might have to buy prepared meals and pay more.
I’m not even talking about treatments. Programs offer a limited number of treatments even though people need more to maintain their health, their autonomy and their well-being. When living in poverty, what cuts can they make to afford these treatments? Often, they forgo basic necessities.
If we are committed to lifting persons with disabilities out of poverty, we must realize that aiming at the poverty line may not be enough and may not provide adequacy. I hope that this will be taken into account in the regulatory process.
I remain puzzled as to why the government is not sharing their estimate. I understand that this is a framework bill, of course, but it has been in the making for three years. Surely, someone somewhere would have an idea of the amount that any current or future government will have to include in its budget to cover the needs of this support measure. I am looking forward to the opportunity to ask this question in committee.
And what about possible clawbacks? How do we ensure they do not happen?
During a committee study in the other place, 17 organizations, three individuals and 153 briefs were considered. The vast majority of these witnesses expressed concerns about possible problems and clawbacks. The organizations I talked to also reiterated these concerns, which I share.
How do we make sure that provinces will not take this opportunity to claw back or to cut other programs or financial supports? As of now, there is no formal commitment from the provinces and no commitment from the different insurance programs, yet persons with disabilities are asked to trust, even when history tells them that programs are often cut with changes in governments; that insurance companies will always try to provide as little as possible, even when it is a right; and that consultants will always find a way to use vulnerabilities to charge money in exchange for filing papers.
How do we provide efficiency in delivery, a system that will prevent clawbacks, monitoring of that system and a way to protect persons with disabilities when it fails?
Let me read you an intervention by John Stapleton in The Hill Times, a former Ontario civil servant and social policy expert who is consulting on the design of the Canada disability benefit. From the height of his experience, he reminds us that:
The disability space is the most complex, by far. There are 10 different disability income programs in Canada. We don’t have that with the Canada Child Benefit. We don’t have that with seniors.
Still according to him:
In the disability space, we’ve got workers’ compensation, we’ve got the Registered Disability Savings Plan, we’ve got EI sickness, Canada Pension Plan disability, two veterans programs, welfare, employer-based programs, disability accident insurance. And all of those are playing in that same sandbox. And then the Canada Disability Benefit comes along. Does it replace those programs? Should it? These are questions that have to be asked and answered.
Take Quebec for example, a province where, according to the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec, the government offers 248 programs, measures and services for persons with disabilities, their families and their loved ones.
These programs and these measures, managed by 20 or so departments, can take the form of direct delivery of services and equipment. They can also be tax measures, refundable or non-refundable tax credits, deductions, exemptions, expense claims or direct subsidies.
This is in addition to people with disabilities who receive a pension following a workplace accident or benefits for highway accident victims. There’s a good chance I’m forgetting some people.
What can we do to bring in a proper system that ensures that people with disabilities have access to these provincial services and benefits, to calculate the right support from the Canadian benefit and ensure that nothing is clawed back?
Because what scares me is not that one province would claw back and cut a direct benefit to individuals. This would be quick to flag.
What I worry about are the smaller programs or services — individuals or organizations that would argue, “Well, now that the benefit allows you to have in your hands an amount that you did not have before, maybe we don’t have to subsidize that second physio treatment a month. Maybe we don’t need to pay for your $800 prescribed cushion.” This will be much more difficult to find out and equally damaging in achieving the objectives of this bill.
Fewer services would force persons with disabilities to cover those services with the benefit, and this would drag them right back into poverty. So how do we make sure it’s all monitored properly? And if something goes wrong, and I suspect it will at some point, how do we make 100% sure that the person with a disability will not be in charge, responsible for proving something was clawed back? Surely it can be done, but I can see a level of complexity that worries me. I’m not sure we heard many solutions. I am looking forward to exploring this aspect in committee, among others.
How can we get commitments from the provinces, insurance companies and subsidized programs?
Will the signed agreements stay the same if there are changes to the federal or provincial governments? How can we ensure that, even at the federal level, the amount won’t change if the government does? Will the eligibility criteria take into account the different definitions of the term “disability”? Will there be a variety of eligibility criteria both between and within the provinces?
As I said in the introduction of my speech, I have a lot of hope, but I’m also asking myself a lot of questions.
Honourable colleagues, allow me to share a few more thoughts before I conclude.
In our country built on shared competencies and responsibilities, it is not one major piece of legislation that will remove all barriers and be groundbreaking for persons with disabilities. On the contrary, it will be many pieces of legislation at all levels, many pieces of one big puzzle, that we must build together one piece at a time. This is one of them. It has the potential to make a difference, but it will not be enough.
Let’s make sure that we don’t rest on this. It would be a shame to use this disability benefit act as a justification or an excuse to stop working hard in order to remove all the barriers. While this has the potential to help many, this country needs to continue to commit to removing barriers to workplaces, education and all spheres of life for the 6.2 million Canadians living with a disability.
Let’s continue to highlight the challenges but also the successes of persons with disabilities in Canada.
As I speak today, my thoughts go to disability rights advocate Judy Huemann, who passed only a few days ago. I had the privilege and pleasure to cross paths with this legend on a number of occasions. Never a victim, always a trailblazer, Judy, the self-proclaimed “Rolling Warrior,” said:
Disability only becomes a tragedy for me when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives . . . .
So simple and yet so hard to achieve.
My hope in this bill is that when lifting persons out of poverty, we allow them to look ahead with confidence. The fact is that when you are deep into everyday poverty, unable to know what tomorrow will be made of, when you have to make a choice between groceries or medical care that you need, it’s impossible to look ahead with hope.
By lifting persons with disabilities out of poverty, we do more than provide material help. We put someone in a place of safety where they can finally take a breath, step back and reflect on the possibilities that lie ahead of them. Persons with disabilities, I assure you, will always have more potential than limits. That is, of course, when the powers in place do their job in removing the barriers one by one.
Colleagues, let’s tackle one very crucial barrier, poverty, by sending Bill C-22 to committee.
Business of the Senate
Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate): Honourable senators, with leave of the Senate, I move:
That the sitting be suspended, to resume at the later of 8 p.m., after a 15-minute bell, or the call of the chair, after a 5-minute bell.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(The sitting of the Senate was suspended.)
(The sitting of the Senate was resumed.)
Canada Disability Benefit Bill
Bill to Amend—Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Cotter, seconded by the Honourable Senator Woo, for the second reading of Bill C-22, An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.
Hon. Wanda Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, I acknowledge that we are currently on the traditional unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation. I rise today to speak to Bill C-22, an Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.
I appreciate the sentiment communicated by Minister Qualtrough and by our sponsor here in the Senate, Senator Cotter, about the urgent need to pull people with disabilities out of poverty; however, I do not believe this proposed legislation covers the bases to ensure people with disabilities are able to move from a place of poverty to adequate income. As our colleague Senator Kim Pate stated in her debate:
The government is rushing to pass a bill that could, regrettably, amount to little more than a promising name.
I understand the legislation is a framework and the plan is that details will be worked out in the next stage. While I respect that ideal, I have concerns, and I believe it is our responsibility to ensure the framework addresses the following three issues before the next stage.
I might mention that I share many of the concerns raised by Senator Petitclerc in her compelling speech earlier this evening.
First, the legislation must ensure the framework provides adequate benefits to people with disabilities; second, the legislation must safeguard against clawbacks of provincial social assistance; and third, the bill should build in equity for people experiencing intersecting identities.
I will speak briefly to each of these three points.
Colleagues, my primary concern with this legislation is the adequacy of the income supplement. As the critic, Senator Seidman, said in her debate, she sees an issue with:
. . . the adequacy of the disability benefit and whether there should be clear definition that the benefit itself must be above the poverty level.
I agree with my colleague.
I consulted with Vince Calderhead, a Nova Scotia human rights lawyer who has worked in Nova Scotia for over 30 years and who has been a fierce advocate for disability rights and poverty issues for decades. He said:
Bill C-22 is the first time in 40 years I have seen the federal government come close to an opportunity to provide adequate income support for people living with disabilities in Canada. This is the moment for Parliamentarians to ensure adequacy for people with disabilities. From a human rights perspective, we must build in for the ‘right to an adequate income’, because trusting the Cabinet to ensure income adequacy is just not enough. Yes, we need to trust, but we also need fundamental human rights protections and accountability. Our Constitution, in section 36, commits both the federal and provincial levels of government to ‘the provision of essential public services of reasonable quality for all Canadians’. With Bill C-22, now is the moment and the opportunity to fulfill our constitutional commitment in section 36 to income adequacy for persons with disabilities in Canada.
The main goal of this legislation is to pull people with disabilities out of poverty. There is no assurance of that in the current form of this bill.
My second concern with this legislation is that this federal framework must safeguard against the provinces clawing back from pre-existing supports. If provinces can claw back social assistance programs already in place, the purpose of this bill is moot. The level of poverty experienced by people with disabilities will be maintained, and again, the goal of the bill will not be achieved.
My third and final major critique about the efficacy of Bill C-22 is on its ability to provide equitable supports to people living with intersecting oppressions. For example, there is limited data on the experiences of African Canadians with disabilities. However, there is an advocacy group called the ASE Community Foundation for Black Canadians with Disability, which is doing some important work in this sector. Their mission is to disrupt disparities at the intersection of Blackness, disability and gender.
ASE released a report called The Intersection of Blackness & Disability in Canada that examines the racialization of poverty and links that to disability. It found that 12.5% of Black Canadians live in poverty in comparison to the 7.3% of non-racialized people. ASE describes how a disability and racialized income gap is formed by the systemic barriers of ableism and racism that exclude people with disabilities, and Black and racialized people. This income gap impacts the health and wellness of this group, which in turn reinforces the cycle of poverty.
I attended a town hall with ASE in February. Every Black Canadian in that space shared a story of hardship connected to the reality of living at the intersection of race and disability.
That intersection of ableism and racism is an issue that we have been addressing in Nova Scotia as well. A key issue is the stigma associated with disability. Accessing resources is difficult for many Black Canadians. In a research project I was involved with, we interviewed African Nova Scotians with disabilities, and my research team found that people experiencing both anti-Black racism and ableism are less likely to know about and access supports and services. They experience stigma, shame and silence, which prevent them from seeking out services. Furthermore, many people in the study reported that experiencing anti-Black racism while accessing supports is another way to keep them outside of those systems.
Those realities highlight some of the reasons why accounting for equity from an intersectional lens is a necessary component to be included in the framework.
The legislation cannot be presumed to be all encompassing and hope to improve the lives of all people with disabilities in its current form. People with disabilities are not a monolith, and policies affecting them should not assume equal impact. Colleagues, it is time that the unique struggles of African Canadians and other racialized people with disabilities are considered in the actual development of legislation like this and not as an afterthought. Equitable policy solutions are an important step toward an equitable society.
Honourable senators, I agree with the goal of this bill: to provide an income supplement to people with disabilities to pull them out of poverty. In fact, I am very excited about its possibilities. However, I do not believe the bill in its present form will accomplish this very important goal. It does not account for adequacy of the benefit, provincial clawbacks or the specific struggles of racialized people with disabilities who require equitable support.
I anxiously await the expert witness testimony during the committee study of the bill and encourage my colleagues to think critically about how this framework will roll out to support all Canadians with disabilities in measurable ways.
Thank you. Asante.
Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, I, too, rise today to speak to Bill C-22, an act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.
I will be brief, as I have listened to my colleagues speak. I think my words will echo theirs, and I’m not going to repeat all they have said. First, I would like to thank Senator Cotter for his sponsorship of this bill and all senators who have expressed their support and concerns.
I am in support of this bill going to committee as soon as possible. Bill C-22 is laudable in its objective of reducing poverty for some of the most vulnerable people in Canada. The spirit in which this bill has been crafted has given hope to those who have been living in very difficult circumstances — as Senator Petitclerc said earlier, 6.2 million Canadians of whom 41% of working age are unemployed.
At the heart of this legislation is the step it takes to creating a more inclusive society. As Senator Cotter mentioned, basic financial security is a large part of this. I have mentioned the troubles with provincial clawbacks to benefits in this chamber before, and as with many of us here, I find that a great concern. Without agreements with the provinces and territories, we could be putting beneficiaries in a one-step-forward and two-steps-back situation, and therefore this bill will not achieve its goals.
I had the opportunity last week to talk to David Kron, Executive Director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, a person who has a lived experience of a disability for his whole life and someone who assists many others. Mr. Kron’s greatest concern with this bill is the danger of provincial clawbacks being imposed on those who are recipients of Bill C-22’s benefits. He also fears the provinces might offload their service supports to those in need.
Of Bill C-22, he told me that it:
. . . is a generational change as to how we support adults with disabilities in Canada, as long as there are no claw backs.
He is very supportive of the big step forward it does take. Mr. Kron also noted that he hopes the regulations that underline this bill cannot be a ruse for provinces or other jurisdictions to cut services like wheelchairs, rent assistance or other disability health supports.
This tax benefit is a critically needed step, and — I hope — it may lift many out of poverty. I am heartened by Senator Cotter’s belief that there will be agreements made, but I am also concerned about the length of these negotiations. The thought of a patchwork system across the country does not lend confidence on an equity basis for people who have struggled with inclusion for so long.
Mr. Kron told me the need for this bill is great, and that he and the Cerebral Palsy Association are truly supportive of its goal: improving the lives of people with disabilities, which we know are expensive lives. He is encouraged that it includes an appeal mechanism. He said:
The most important part of C-22 is that it is Canada-wide, enabling people to move to other regions to live with family without having to wait several years to reapply for the benefit. It seems in some jurisdictions waiting lists to get one’s new provincial home’s disability supports is five years, which forces people to stay where they are, often away from family.
He sees that the Canada-wide aspect of this bill will let people make those moves without that wait.
I note the provisions in the legislation that would seem to provide safeguards — the results of federal-provincial negotiations being published, for example. The most important one comes under the heading “Collaboration” in section 11.1, which states:
The Minister must provide persons with disabilities from a range of backgrounds with meaningful and barrier-free opportunities to collaborate in the development and design of the regulations, including regulations that provide for the application process, eligibility criteria, the amount of a benefit and the appeal process.
This is a very important step, and who knows the issues of the disabled community more than those who live with a disability?
Let me give you an example: My office recently hired Gemma, a young lady who has lived with disabilities her entire life and who has faced real economic challenges. She is strong, determined and has taken control of her life to the fullest extent she can. She hires her own care workers. She has written a document for us, which we will post soon, titled “GO Confidently Into Hiring: A Guide for those with Disabilities for Hiring Careworkers.” While she openly refers to her financial and physical challenges, her report offers advice and insight into the entire hiring process.
With a University of Manitoba degree in Recreation Management and Community Development, Gemma has been a volunteer for three years at St.Amant, which is a home for people with high-needs disabilities. Her colleagues, who graduated from the same program at the same time, were paid. More recently, she has had a contract with the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba to run and organize two days of movement for their members. Gemma’s support of Bill C-22, like that of David Kron, is strong. However, she is concerned about the potential of clawbacks, having been faced with that reality with her project in my office.
This bill will lift the lives of many, and I hope it will lift people enough to be a significant long-term help. I truly hope that section 11.1 of this bill is respected and that people with disabilities can help develop the regulations that will flesh out this legislation. That is key to meeting the needs of the people whom this bill will affect the most.
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology will soon study this bill, and the issues raised in this chamber will be addressed. I look forward to those discussions and testimonials.
In closing, I want to thank you all for your input and concerns as our committee moves forward.
Hon. Diane Bellemare: Honourable senators, I first want to acknowledge that we are here today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.
I’d like to begin by explaining why I wanted to speak at second reading of Bill C-22, An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act. Although I’m not a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, I wanted to point out some things that I think the committee should look at.
I would then like to draw a parallel with a historical period that Canada went through in the first half of the 20th century and talk about some points that I’d like the committee to consider regarding the title of the bill.
Why do I want to talk about this bill? As a parent, this topic resonates with me. I don’t have a disabled child, but if I did, how would I be feeling today? I’d be very anxious about the future. I’d be happy with this bill because, as Senator Petitclerc said, it is full of hope. As several of you have said, this bill is very vague. I’ve never seen a bill like this one. Its primary goal is to reduce poverty and increase financial security. We have no idea how much money will be allocated and we have no idea how the benefit will be delivered. The idea is to leave it up to cabinet to decide, which in no way guarantees sustainability or consistent objectives.
Don’t worry, I will be voting for this bill, but I would ask the committee to do its job as it has done in the past
It was really Senator Seidman’s speech that resonated with me when I read it again — I actually read several speeches that mentioned that the Senate, back in 2008 or 2009 and again in 2018, said that, in order to lift Canadians with disabilities out of poverty, we need a basic income, not an income supplement. That set my thoughts straight.
When I read this speech with the reference to Professor Prince, I went to read his work and my ideas became clear. The Senate has to do its part because in reading the comments by the minister, who explained what she wanted to do, I noticed that the emphasis was being put on a social assistance income supplement.
It can’t be interpreted in any other way. The minister wants to create a benefit that would be a supplement to the social assistance benefits that working age persons with disabilities receive. Persons with disabilities no longer receive or collect very little welfare after the age of 65. If they receive any, it is for other reasons. In Quebec, generally speaking, after 65 no one receives any welfare benefits. That’s because there’s Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which are both federal programs.
An income supplement for people with disabilities presupposes that these working-age people will continue to collect welfare, which will be supplemented. The government will try to negotiate with the provinces to make sure there’s no clawback, but they’ll still get that last-resort assistance. That’s where there’s a disconnect, and I hope the committee will try to find a solution. The provinces’ mission is to provide that last-resort help. The provinces are the end of the line. The federal government cannot put itself in the position of supplementing last-resort support. This calls for a different approach.
How are we supposed to lift people with disabilities out of poverty and get them off welfare if we force them to depend on welfare programs? The answer is self-evident.
I hope you’ll consider this issue in committee.
I said to myself, “Diane, go have a look at what you wrote in 1979 and 1980 when you were doing your Ph.D. thesis.” I went back to that 800-page thesis about the evolution of social programs in Canada. It didn’t say much about people with disabilities, but it did go into a lot of detail about how to get people over 70 — and now those over 65 — off welfare.
You know, I had initially forgotten, but then I remembered that I watched a lot of Senate work while I was writing my doctoral dissertation. The Senate played a major role in adopting programs to get seniors off welfare. It began quite early. To summarize very briefly, motivated by Keynes’s macroeconomic theory, the federal government decided to invest in income security for large families to get them off welfare, and it did so by creating the universal family allowance in 1945.
In 1951, the government passed the Old Age Security Act to get people aged 70 and over off welfare. It was time, and it worked at first. Everyone 70 and over received a universal pension, but by the 1960s, urbanization meant that some seniors were still receiving welfare.
Governments soon decided to adopt the Quebec Pension Plan and the Canada Pension Plan. The idea was that with these contributory plans, seniors could get off welfare but still have a basic income with Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Today, this basic income is around $20,000 for a low-income individual, and this helps keep people out of poverty.
Members of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology who are going to be examining this bill, I’d like you to take a closer look at the possibility of creating a program and even consider that issue. The federal government already has mechanisms in place that it could work with, including the non-refundable tax credit for people with disabilities. By enhancing that tax credit and making it refundable, we could ensure that everyone with a severe disability has an income. That brings me to the following question. How are we going to define “disability”? I think the committee has a lot of work to do.
I would encourage you to look at what Quebec and the provinces are doing in that regard. For a long time, Quebec didn’t want to define people with disabilities as being disabled. It also didn’t want to treat them as being incapacitated, so it came up with the notion of people of working age with severely limited or temporarily limited capacity for employment. That at least enables people in Quebec with long-term severely limited capacity for employment to benefit from the social solidarity program and for those with a temporarily limited capacity to benefit from the social assistance program. The criteria and employment incentives are different for these two programs.
I invite you to examine this issue and to study this bill in the context of the wonderful action plan tabled by Minister Qualtrough to provide employment for individuals of working age living with a disability. Professor Prince also proposed his own action plan, which is similar to what the minister has proposed.
I invite you to examine the problem from a different angle. I remind you that providing a supplement to welfare keeps people on welfare.
My second point is the following. Clearly, federal and provincial collaboration is required to implement a plan that not only provides financial assistance but also results in inclusion. That may not be the bill’s objective, but, no matter, it provides the opportunity to take action to achieve a shared objective. Who would be against this objective of reducing poverty for those living with a disability? I believe that no province would do that. The government may have an opportunity here to hold more regular meetings with the provinces to achieve a shared objective.
It may be a big ask, and it may not be up to committee members to do it, but I wanted to express the idea that there is an opportunity to create federal-provincial institutions that will create a more collaborative federalism on social issues.
My last point has to do with changing the title. Why change the title? Just as it is not acceptable in English to use them term “handicapped”, it is also no longer acceptable in everyday French to use the term personnes handicapées. However, those words appear in the translation of the bill. I was surprised. When I read the minister’s action plan, nowhere in French do they talk about personnes handicapées; they use the term personnes en situation de handicap. That is important.
In closing, on this issue of the title of the bill, I have two points I want to mention, just to give you a laugh. I forgot about something I wanted to read to you. This is a Senate report that, in 1963, talked about the elderly; you can see the parallel with people with disabilities. Senator Croll was in the Chair. The Senate report said the following:
It is the considered view of the Committee that the income guarantee approach to the income needs of old people has much to recommend it. Apart from its administrative simplicity (by comparison with public assistance) and the modest level of public expenditures that would be involved (by comparison with the equivalent increase in the Old Age Security Pension) the proposal in our view has two important merits. It avoids the indignity of the needs test to which we should not like to see several hundred thousand retired people subjected, and further it provides the most effective means we have discovered of correcting the present inequity in our treatment of the already retired and the about-to-be retired generations of old people, a matter which has given us grave concern.
I wanted to mention that. I also wanted to read you a little translation note from Renée Canuel-Ouellet.
The Hon. the Speaker: Senator Bellemare, your time is up. Are you asking for five more minutes to finish?
Senator Bellemare: Yes.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Bellemare: Thank you.
Here’s that note about translating the term:
Translators who have to render the expression, “person with a disability” in French find it intensely frustrating. Naturally, they do not want to offend anyone by using a politically incorrect term. Is it better to say personnes handicapées? Or personnes ayant une incapacité? Maybe personnes ayant une déficience? How does one begin to sort out all these ideas? The World Health Organization comes to the rescue with its International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps, which proposes three definitions . . . .
I’ll leave you with that. I hope the committee will be able to study this issue because I think it deserves our consideration.
Thank you very much.
Hon. Marilou McPhedran: Honourable senators, I want to join colleagues who have spoken previously in expressing appreciation to Senator Cotter for his leadership on this bill, but I also want to share in a number of the very key points that have been raised.
As a senator from Manitoba, I do want to recognize that I come from Treaty 1 territory. It is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene, and the homeland of the Red River Métis Nation.
I acknowledge that the Parliament of Canada is situated on the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Colleagues, the bill before us is extremely important. In so stating, I do not seek to take away from the merit of all the bills that come before us, but we have particular urgency attached to this bill. Persons with disabilities in Canada continue to face disproportionate levels of economic and social exclusion. Many are living with insufficient resources and supports to meet the most basic of needs.
There is undisputed consensus amongst the community of disability experts that federal income support legislation is needed, and it is, devastatingly, long overdue. Bill C-22 has been termed a generational landmark endeavour — a once-in-a-generation attempt to right long-entrenched wrongs.
Senator Cotter said this benefit stands as the cornerstone of Canada’s Disability Inclusion Action Plan, and will represent “. . . the commitment of a generation.” So it is urgent — but urgency here means more than simply rapid action. Urgency also means that we have to look at the deep, persistent and insistent need to address this pressing issue, and, frankly, it boils down to this: Quick action is called for, but effective action and quick action are even better.
That is the urgency I wish to speak to. In our haste to provide a rapid remedy, I fear that we are missing the actual point, which is to properly address the persistent need itself, and, sadly, Bill C-22 does not accomplish this.
I am waiting for a consultation that was supposed to take place today, but will now take place tomorrow. I want to be absolutely sure that the points that I wish to raise are consistent with this consultation. With permission, I would like to adjourn for the balance of my time, if I may, please.
(On motion of Senator McPhedran, debate adjourned.)