Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Federal Disabilities Minister Qualtrough’s CBC Interview Shows Why Parliament Must Strengthen Weak Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act
October 31, 2022
On the October 22, 2022 edition of CBC Radio’s national program “The House”, federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough gave a very important 14 minute interview about Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act which she is spearheading in the House of Commons. We created a transcript of the interview which you can read here.
Minister Qualtrough made several comments that actually reinforce the serious criticisms of this bill that are detailed in the AODA Alliance’s October 17, 2022 brief on Bill C-22. Our brief offers constructive recommendations on how to fix the bill.
Below we set out a detailed analysis of this interview. In summary:
- The bill does not set the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit. That this amount may not be decided for as long as a full year after Parliament passes the bill. She claimed it will be modelled after the GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement), but nothing in the bill requires or assures this.
- The Minister admitted that this bill has taken too long, and that poverty is common among people with disabilities.
- The Minister admitted to the existence of poverty among seniors with disabilities, claiming it is half as high as for younger people with disabilities. However, this bill does not do anything to reduce the poverty among seniors with disabilities. Disability poverty does not end at 65!
- The Minister claims that the bill lifts people with disabilities out of poverty. Yet nothing in it requires any people with disabilities to ever be lifted out of poverty.
- The Minister claimed that the Government works with the disability community to develop the bill’s debates. Yet nothing in the bill requires or assures this.
Please write the House of Commons at HUMA@parl.gc.ca to urge the Committee to grant the AODA Alliance a chance to make a presentation to that Committee during its fast-approaching public hearings on Bill C-22.
Highlights of Federal Disability Minister Qualtrough’s October 22, 2022 Interview on CBC with AODA Alliance Comments
- Minister Qualtrough conceded that the Government has taken too long to create the Canada Disability Benefit:
“Catherine Cullen: But you would acknowledge that this is taken to long?
Carla Qualtrough: Absolutely.”
- When asked, Minister Qualtrough did not specifically commit to how much the Canada Disability Benefit will be. That will depend on the regulations after the bill is passed.
AODA Alliance Comment: This proves a key criticism of the bill that we have highlighted.
- Minister Qualtrough acknowledged that poverty among people with disabilities in Canada is “far too common” and “more than unacceptable,” stating:
“The lived experience of so many people with disabilities in this country is one of poverty, is one of desperation and one lacking options. We know that around 23% of working age Canadians with disabilities live below the poverty line. That’s one in 4.”
- Minister Qualtrough in effect admitted to a significant amount of poverty among seniors with disabilities, stating that:
“Because poverty rates drop in half because all of a sudden there’s social support. There is OIS or GIS. For the first time I had a little bit of financial security and you shouldn’t have to wait until your 65 to have that kind of financial security. So this is what the Canada disability benefit is trying to do is close that gap between the 18-year-old and the 64-year-old living with poverty who has a disability.”
AODA Alliance Comment: Disability poverty does not end at 65! The Minister in substance concedes this. Even if there is less poverty among seniors with disabilities, that does not reduce the need to give impoverished seniors with disabilities the Canada Disability Benefit. Yet Bill C-22 excludes all seniors with disabilities from the Canada Disability Benefit, regardless of their level of poverty.
Moreover, a person who suffered from poverty before reaching 65 will undoubtedly have accumulated debts and financial hardships before turning 65. Those don’t vanish on a person’s 65th birthday, even with the GIS.
- Minister Qualtrough claimed that they are entrenching a benefit in law through enabling legislation, where “…we work with the disability community through the regulatory process to establish the details.”
AODA Alliance Comment: Nothing in Bill C-22 gives the disability community any guaranteed voice in the content of the all-important regulations that the bill would let Cabinet enact to set the Canada Disability Benefit’s amount, define who is eligible for it, and many vital rules around it. The present Cabinet and any future Cabinet is not required to listen to a word that anyone in the disability community says. There is no legal magic in the Minister’s calling a bill “enabling legislation.”
- Minister Qualtrough said that the Canada Disability Benefit “…will be modeled after the GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement).”
AODA Alliance Comment: Nothing in Bill C-22 requires the Canada Disability Benefit to be modeled after the GIS. Even if it is, nothing in the bill requires a future Government to retain that approach.
- Minister Qualtrough said that the bill “will lift people out of poverty.” She stated:
“I’ve been very clear that we are going to lift people out of poverty. “
AODA Alliance Comment: Nothing in the bill requires the Government to lift anyone “out of poverty”. It only says that its purpose is to “reduce” poverty. It certainly does not commit to lift all or even half of impoverished people with disabilities out of poverty.
- Minister Qualtrough said that it could take as much as a year after Bill C-22 is passed before people with disabilities could receive any payments:
“Catherine Cullen: Still, if I am someone or if someone listening to this is waiting for this benefit. What can you tell them right now about when they will see this money?
Carla Qualtrough: Well first of all, part of it is unknown because we don’t know how long it is gonna take to get through the House and through the Senate, so I don’t control that. I’m hoping that will be quickly, that’s what the community is calling for, that’s what I’m calling for. Assuming that is relatively quickly then we go through a regulatory process of around 12 months. I think the end of next year and I again I don’t know, regulatory processes have taken less, they have taken more. But were really, in mean, we’re going to hit the ground running on this as soon as this becomes law.”
- Minister Qualtrough said that she wants to get this legislation passed as quickly as possible but also said we have to “do it right”, as it is “once in a generation” legislation:
“This is fundamentally changing our social safety net in this country in a way like was done for seniors and children.”
AODA Alliance Comment: We agree that the Government should pass the law as soon as possible, but that they also have to get it right the first time! It is therefore vital that this weak bill be properly amended in the upcoming public hearings to strengthen it. We should not have to wait another generation to fix this once-in-a-generation bill.
- CBC raised with Minister Qualtrough the fact that some impoverished people with disabilities are considering doctor-assisted suicide due to their poverty, and that there were warnings about this when the Federal Government was making doctor-assisted suicide more available. Minister Qualtrough admitted “I worried about it” and that this is “devastating.” However, she also claimed that the broadened availability of Medical assistance in dying (MAID) was for the most part driven by court decisions. She stated:
“For the most part the movement on MAID has been driven by court decisions. No political party stood up and said, oh, we want to broaden MAID or we want MAID as a key plank of our political. And working with the disability community and hearing very regularly that peoples options around MAID are being driven by lack of social supports is devastating. A bit of a sidebar is the motivation of course for Canada disability benefit because lifting people out of poverty will allow them to hopefully access better supports and services.”
AODA Alliance Comment: The Minister is incorrect. Parliament voted to make doctor-assisted suicide available to persons whose only disability is mental illness. No court decision required that massive and problematic liberalizing of doctors being allowed to assist a patient to commit suicide.
Text of Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough’s October 23, 2022 Interview on CBC Radio’s “The House”
Note: For the audio of the interview and related report, visit: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/assisted-dying-carla-qualtrough-1.6625412
Catherine Cullen: The federal minister responsible for disability and inclusion is Carla Qualtrough. She herself was born legally blind. I met with her in her office earlier this week to talk about the long-awaited disability benefit that would give more money to people like Shauna Milne. Minister Qualtrough thank you for your time.
Carla Qualtrough: Thanks for having me.
Catherine Cullen: Let’s start with what we just heard. Shauna’s family feels like they are out of options. How often do you hear stories like that.
Carla Qualtrough: You know, unfortunately, and tragically, Shauna’s experience is far too common in Canada. The lived experience of so many people with disabilities in this country is one of poverty, is one of desperation and one lacking options. We know that around 23% of working age Canadians with disabilities live below the poverty line. That’s one in 4. When you think that its 23% of the population, that’s a lot of people and anyone living in poverty is unacceptable. But this is, I don’t even know the word, doubly more than unacceptable.
No one should have to justify why they have a pet. My goodness, that’s heartbreaking. And that’s symptomatic of the big challenge were facing here, you know, a phenomenon within the disability community that is well known is people celebrate their 65th birthday. Because poverty rates drop in half because all of a sudden there’s social support. There is OIS or GIS. For the first time I had a little bit of financial security and you shouldn’t have to wait until your 65 to have that kind of financial security. So this is what the Canada disability benefit is trying to do is close that gap between the 18-year-old and the 64-year-old living with poverty who has a disability.
Catherine Cullen: But you would acknowledge that this is taken to long?
Carla Qualtrough: Absolutely.
Catherine Cullen: So let’s talk about what you are trying to do with that Canada disability benefit. This is a piece of legislation that you have in fact reintroduced. When are we going to find out how much money people are going to get?
Carla Qualtrough: *Sighs*
Catherine Cullen: Oh and a big sigh there.
Carla Qualtrough: A big sigh and a big smile because I think that you know we’ve very intentionally chosen the root of framework or enabling legislation where we entrench in law, the creation of the benefit and we work with the disability community through the regulatory process to establish the details. That’s by design, and I’ve been very clear in saying this will be modelled after the GIS this will be supplemental income. I’ve been very clear that we are going to lift people out of poverty. So we know the legislative poverty rates across this country vary between around 19,000 and 25,000. We know what people get on OIS and GIS around 19,000 to 20,000, and we know what people get a CPP disability, around 20,000. So that’s kind of the ballpark were trying to lift people above.
Catherine Cullen: So fundamentally people who just heard your answer and are saying wait a minute, they’re pushing forward with the benefit they are trying to pass a piece of legislation. Maybe this is someone who hopes to get this benefit, you still can’t tell them right now and even when the legislation passes, you can’t tell them how much money they’re going to get?
Carla Qualtrough: Because legislation is one piece of the process. The most important conversations I think that are being had on this bill are with provinces and territories about how this benefit will interact with provincial and territorial benefits. That it won’t be clawed back, that it won’t be replacement income that will be supplemental income. So every time I talk to province and draw a red line and say people have to be better off. I am not going to replace what I get, what someone gets in BC, with this. I have to be very careful in those conversations so as not to have provinces tomorrow reduce what they give people knowing that were going to top it up, or decide to start not providing a particular service because eventually the federal government is gonna give people enough money, they can pay for it themselves. Like there’s a is a real, concerted effort, I guess, to not be put in a position where province anticipatorily are making choices that impact people make people worse off.
Catherine Cullen: So one of the criticisms though, the conservatives have said there’s no timeline. Mike Morris of the Green party has said, listen you guys talked about this in the throne speech in 2020, you’re reintroducing this legislation. Surely, you could’ve worked some of this stuff out in the last 2 years. What’s your response?
Carla Qualtrough: Well I can tell you we are way further ahead than we were 2 years ago and I won’t bore you with the kind of bureaucratic conversations that are happening, we have a national workplan that all the provinces and territories are working on to discuss benefit interaction to discuss interaction with even at the federal level. How will this impact CPP disability? How will this impact Veterans Affairs disability benefit? So how can we make sure that I won’t lose my bus pass in Saskatchewan because I’m getting too much money now and the federal government tops up my income support? All of that is being worked out every day and has been working out for months.
Catherine Cullen: Still, if I am someone or if someone listening to this is waiting for this benefit. What can you tell them right now about when they will see this money?
Carla Qualtrough: Well first of all, part of it is unknown because we don’t know how long it is gonna take to get through the House and through the Senate, so I don’t control that. I’m hoping that will be quickly, that’s what the community is calling for, that’s what I’m calling for. Assuming that is relatively quickly then we go through a regulatory process of around 12 months.
Catherine Cullen: 12 months?
Carla Qualtrough: I think the end of next year and I again I don’t know, regulatory processes have taken less, they have taken more. But were really, in mean, we’re going to hit the ground running on this as soon as this becomes law.
Catherine Cullen: I just want to ask you again for a family like Shauna’s what would you say to families like that who say, I can’t wait that long?
Carla Qualtrough: I would say I understand. I know people are struggling. I don’t sleep many nights worrying about people that I hear from and there is no excuse why governments of all stripes haven’t done this in the past. There is no excuse why provinces aren’t doing better. And the best I can say is that we are committed to doing this as fast as possible and we have to get it right. This is a once in a generation, once I don’t even know what’s bigger than generation. This is fundamentally changing our social safety net in this country in a way like was done for seniors and children. We gotta do it right.
Catherine Cullen: You are talking about things beyond this benefit as well, you’re talking about changing systems, ensuring more people with disabilities can find jobs. I’d like to ask you for a minute to reflect on your own experiences. What was it like as a person with visual impairment to find work as a lawyer?
Carla Qualtrough: It was tough. So I’m legally blind. I have around 10% corrected visions with my glasses on. I can see around 10%. Without my glasses, I’m at about 5%. It was very difficult. In fact, I never was able to get employment as a young person, as a teenager I couldn’t work at the mall, I couldn’t work at the 7-Eleven. Nobody would hire me. I couldn’t, I couldn’t do all the things my friends were doing. First of all nobody would take a chance and second of all there were some practical barriers that at that point, certainly in the 70s, in the early 80s, people weren’t willing to accommodate and I’m not suggesting that they are much better now, but it certainly then I was lucky enough to get scholarships and go to law school, but the first law job I applied for when they found out I couldn’t see, They reneged the offer. It was, doesn’t matter what law firm. It was many, many years ago. I wish I would’ve handled it differently to tell you the truth, but part of the job entailed going to courthouses and they basically said we don’t have confidence that you can get yourself to courthouse because you can’t drive.
Catherine Cullen: What was it like for you?
Carla Qualtrough: It was awful, and it actually coupled with kind of my pre-existing interest in helping people really sparked my interest in being a human rights lawyer. Like people are discriminated against all the time. Listen, I grew up, my mom was a single parent raising 2 kids one with a disability. We didn’t have a lot, but I had a lot of support from my school from local organizations. I was a swimmer, I was sponsored to swim, like I had a lot of opportunities that a lot of people don’t have, even within quite a low income family environment. But you understand how hard it is and with my level of functionality in my opportunities and options. How much harder it is for other people really impacted me and even being involved in the Paralympic movement as a swimmer and travelling the world and seeing how other, how people with disabilities were treated in other countries, it’s awful.
Catherine Cullen: I want to ask you about another very difficult part of this conversation that has to do with how much, or certainly some people feel it has to do with how much we value the lives of disabled people in Canada and it has to do with medically assisted dying. There have been quite a number of stories since your government has updated the legislation around medical aid in dying of people with disabilities who have sought a doctor or nurse practitioner assisted death because they can’t get housing. They just can’t get adequate services. When your government changed this legislation, you know that there were warnings about this. Did you believe that you’d be seeing scenarios like this on the law changed?
Carla Qualtrough: I worried about it. From the beginning of my work in this space and it’s been very difficult. I have had the belief that my job was to make sure as best as I could to ensure that the voices of people with disabilities were heard on this issue. As witnesses within testifying at committee and all the kind of drawn out processes that have gotten us where we are, and to ensure that we considered the impact on the disability community of whatever safeguards were put in place. Whatever direction this took. For the most part the movement on MAID has been driven by court decisions. No political party stood up and said, oh, we want to broaden MAID or we want MAID as a key plank of our political. And working with the disability community and hearing very regularly that people’s options around MAID are being driven by lack of social supports is devastating. A bit of a sidebar is the motivation of course for Canada disability benefit because lifting people out of poverty will allow them to hopefully access better supports and services.
Catherine Cullen: I guess what I want to understand is from your point of view should MAID, medical aid in dying, be an option for people in the circumstances? Is that a morally correct thing?
Carla Qualtrough: The morality of this is very, very personal and individual. I don’t think anyone should be denied access to anything because of their living in poverty. But I do think we need to make sure that people have options and choices so that the choice, it shouldn’t be easier to access MAID in the province than get a wheelchair. And it is. I shouldn’t have to wait 5 years to get accessible housing. What we do at the federal government level you know is were not business of kind of provincial supports. But again, the disability benefit is what I can point to as our effort to give people more options and more choices, coupled with my very strong commitment to make sure people, you know that we enhance the safeguards. I’m very keen to see what recommendations come out of the current study of MAID because what can we do to enhance safeguards? Right now you know there requirement in the law to make sure people know of the services and supports available to them. But there’s no obligation to help them access those services and there’s no obligation to provide the services. So it’s great to know that there is a program in my community that offers accessible housing, but if it will take me 5 years to get that housing, it’s not really an option. So it’s like, how can we make the law better. I’m a human rights lawyer. I’m very concerned about the messages that people are getting from this that somehow a life lived with disability is worse than death. Because that is certainty not a message, its not what I believe.
Catherine Cullen: I want to ask you about something that was said at that committee looking into this that has attracted a lot of attention in some quarters. A representative from the Québec College of physicians said that perhaps medical aid in dying should be available for infants up to the age of one with severe malformations and serious terminal syndromes. If the child suffering greatly and again that word terminal is that something that your government would ever consider, babies?
Carla Qualtrough: I can’t speak on behalf of the government. I find that completely shocking and unacceptable. I would never support going down that road. I can’t tell you without getting super emotional how offended I was by that those comments, I can’t. I have so many friends who people would look at and judge and make assumptions about quality of life, and life experience and life happiness based on the fact that they don’t have arms, legs, or based on the fact that their face doesn’t look like anybody else’s face. There is no world where I would accept that.
Catherine Cullen: What do we need to do in this country to get on the right track in terms of recognizing the quality of life?
Carla Qualtrough: We need a culture shift. We need to start valuing every person in understanding that diversity includes the you know disability. That disability is a unique perspective that that we bring to the world that adds value and adds richness to conversations and decision-making and that every single life is worth living. Maybe not the way you would live your life, but the kind of discrimination and micro-aggressions that happen around disability, I mean people look at me with my level of functioning disability. Somebody might think God if I couldn’t drive I’d die, or if that ever happened to me, I’d rather be dead. You don’t know, you haven’t lived. You haven’t lived that life you haven’t, you know experience the richness that comes. I wouldn’t change anything about the life I’ve lived. If someone told me tomorrow I could see, that’s part of who I am and that’s how I identify. We need a culture change in this country that recognizes the inherent value of every single life. It is so boring, it would be so boring if we were all the same. And we’re not.
Catherine Cullen: Minister, thank you for your time today.
Carla Qualtrough: Thank you so much for this really important conversation.
Catherine Cullen: I was talking to Carla Qualtrough. She’s the Minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion.