Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
Globe and Mail News Report Says the Trudeau Government Has Not Yet Decided if it Will Vote to Ratify the Senate’s Helpful Amendments to Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act
May 25, 2023
On May 24, 2023, the Globe and Mail ran a very good article on the fight that lays ahead of Canada’s disability community to get the House of Commons to immediately ratify the Senate’s helpful amendments to Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act. That bill is meant to fulfil the Trudeau Government’s pledge that no person with disabilities should ever live in poverty in Canada. You can find that article below.
The Federal Government cannot start paying the much-needed and long-overdue Canada Disability Benefit Act until this bill passes and the Government enacts the regulations under it that are needed to let payments start flowing to eligible impoverished people with disabilities. The bill does not pass Parliament until both the House of Commons and Senate pass it in identical terms. That is why we need the House of Commons to ratify the Senate amendments now!
According to this article, the Trudeau Government has not yet said whether it will vote to ratify the Senate’s amendments. As far as we can tell, the Government has not even announced a date when it will have the Senate’s amendments debated in the House of Commons. These are delays which the Trudeau Government can itself prevent.
There is no good reason for the Trudeau Government to refuse to ratify the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-22. On March 22, 2023, the federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough, who is spearheading this bill, told the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs that she is open to the Senate passing amendments to the bill, so long as they respect the bill as “framework legislation.” The Senate’s amendments fully meet that precondition.
As well, the Trudeau Government’s spokesperson on this bill in the Senate, Senator Brent Cotter, told the Senate on May 17, 2023 during the Senate’s Third Reading debates that he would vote to pass the bill with the Senate’s amendments. He criticized the amendments at that time, making meritless arguments. However, as the Government’s official voice on the bill in the Senate, he voted in favour of the bill with these amendments.
This article focuses especially on the need for one of the Senate’s wise amendments, the one which bans private insurance companies from clawing back the Canada Disability Benefit from a person who is receiving private long term disability insurance benefits. The article quotes the two Toronto lawyers, Steven Muller and Hart Schwartz, who led the fight to get these amendments passed.
When Muller and Schwartz addressed the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs on April 27, 2023, no senator who represented the Trudeau Government on this bill, challenged the expert testimony from Muller and Schwartz. During clause-by-clause debate over this amendment on May 4, 2023, two senators who spoke for the Trudeau Government, Senator Cotter and Senator Marc Gold (who is the Liberal House Leader in the Senate) tried to argue that this amendment was unconstitutional. However, they presented incorrect and weak arguments. It is important to understand that even though Senators Cotter and Gold previously were law professors, they were speaking as the Trudeau Government’s advocates on this bill. They were not giving independent impartial expert legal advice. More than that, they were wrong about this amendment’s validity. They did not show why the Federal Government is constitutionally powerless to stop a rich private insurance company from diverting the Canada Disability Benefit from an impoverished person with disabilities who receives private long term disability benefits. Neither Senator Gold, nor Senator Cotter, nor anyone else speaking for the Trudeau Government, denied that this was a real danger under Bill C-22, if not amended.
The case for the Muller/Schwartz amendment that the Senate passed is even stronger! It was endorsed by the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association and by every other provincial Trial Lawyers Association in Canada. That represents the support of many, many lawyers. It certainly outweighs the objections of Senators Cotter and Gold who were fulfilling their duty to argue in favour of the Trudeau Government.
Please help the AODA Alliance get more organizations to sign an open letter to the House of Commons to immediately ratify the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-22. Supporting organizations can write the AODA Alliance at email@example.com to give permission to be listed as a signatory to that open letter.
Please write your member of Parliament. Tell them to vote to ratify the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-22.
To learn more about these issues, check out:
- A description of the Senate’s amendments to the bill that is included in the AODA Alliance’s open letter.
- AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s April 27, 2023 testimony at the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs. You can watch a 6-minute captioned video of his opening statement, or a 35-minute captioned video of his entire presentation.
- The AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page, which recounts eight month campaign to get Bill C-22 strengthened.
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The Globe and Mail May 24, 2023
Advocates stress urgency on disability bill
By Bill Curry
Advocates are urging Parliament to quickly pass disability legislation before the summer recess as the federal cabinet weighs whether to accept a package of Senate amendments.
Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, sets the stage for a long-promised new income support program for Canadians with disabilities.
The legislation was first tabled nearly two years ago in the previous Parliament. It died when the 2021 election was called and was reintroduced last June.
After about three months of study, the Senate sent the bill back to the House of Commons late last week with six amendments, including one aimed at ensuring the promised new federal benefit is not used by provinces and insurance companies as a reason to claw back existing support programs.
Other amendments added new language related to timelines for the government to implement the related regulations that would create the new benefit. The bill leaves key details of the benefit – such as the size of payments and eligibility – to be decided later by cabinet through regulations.
There are signs the government may have issues with the amendment related to constitutionality. Senator Brent Cotter, a former dean of the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan who sponsored the bill in the Senate, expressed concern last week that the amendment infringes on provincial authority.
But senators heard in committee from Osgoode Hall Law School adjunct professor Hart Schwartz, who told them the amendment is constitutional.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, did not directly address whether she will accept all of the Senate amendments.
“I’m glad to see Bill C-22 pass third reading in the Senate. It means the Canada Disability Benefit is one step closer to becoming a reality for persons with disabilities in Canada,” she said, adding that the benefit has the potential to reduce poverty and improve the financial security of many working-age persons with disabilities.
“I am reviewing the Senate’s amendments, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House of Commons and the Senate to ensure swift passage of the bill. The disability community is counting on us to get this done,” she said.
If the House of Commons approves the Senate amendments, the bill can go immediately to royal assent. If the House rejects some or all of the amendments, that decision will need to go back to the Senate for a vote.
The House is scheduled to break for summer on June 23, but often rises a few days earlier than scheduled.
Prof. Schwartz and lawyer Steven Muller, who testified together at a Senate committee in support of an amendment to ensure the bill does not create an unintended windfall for insurance companies, wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other MPs this week urging them to support the amended bill.
The letter repeated their warning that adopting the bill without the Senate’s clawback amendment will increase the profits of private insurance companies.
“It will do so by reducing the amounts that they will be required to pay out. The taxpayers of Canada will be indirectly subsidizing private insurance providers,” they wrote.
Rabia Khedr, national director of Disability Without Poverty, said the government, MPs and senators must find a way to pass the bill into law before the end of June.
Ms. Khedr said Mr. Cotter’s comments suggest there is concern about the amendment related to clawbacks. However she expressed hope the issue will not cause any further delay.
“We hope that amendments proposed by the Senate can be swiftly debated and resolved by the House of Commons, because we’re still advocating for the bill to be fast tracked with or without these amendments,” she told The Globe Tuesday.
Mr. Cotter, the sponsor of the bill, said that while he speaks regularly with Ms. Qualtrough about the bill, he doesn’t know whether the government will accept the amendment related to clawbacks.
“My own personal speculation is that they have reservations,” he said Tuesday in an interview.
“I have similar reservations on that very point, myself.”
Senator Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, spoke against the amendment when it was proposed in committee, saying “the government feels very strongly about this.” Other senators with legal backgrounds, including Kim Pate, say the amendment is in line with Canadian Charter protections for minority rights.
“Rather than see provinces and insurance companies enriched at the expense of the very people the benefit is being designed to assist, we think, better for the government to err on the side of constitutional protections of those who are most vulnerable,” Ms. Pate told The Globe Tuesday.