Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Members of Parliament Head Home for Holiday Festivities Without Passing Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act – Standing Committee Makes Nine Helpful Amendments, But the Bill Still is Far Too Weak
December 19, 2022
Last week, federal politicians all headed home for festive holidays, without passing Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act. They will enjoy festive celebrations and good cheer while hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities across Canada continue to languish in poverty.
Over two years ago, the Trudeau Government promised this legislation to create the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) It is supposed to lift hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities out of poverty. HUMA, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, finished holding public hearings and reviewing the bill clause-by-clause. HUMA sent the bill back to the House of Commons on December 14, 2022 for Third Reading. However, the House of Commons decided to adjourn for the next six weeks, without passing Bill C-22 on Third Reading.
We and many others called on HUMA to amend this well-meaning but weak bill to strengthen it. At HUMA’s public hearings, the Liberals systematically resisted suggestions that the bill be amended. However, when the bill got to HUMA’s clause-by-clause discussions, the Standing Committee passed nine amendments to the bill, all proposed by the opposition parties. The Liberals voted for and applauded eight of those nine amendments.
Those amendments improved the bill. They demonstrate that anyone claiming the bill needed no amendments was incorrect. HUMA defeated a number of other amendments which would have further improved the bill.
Even with these helpful amendments, the bill still suffers from major weaknesses that the AODA Alliance and a good number of others had pointed out. The bill still does not ensure that there will ever be a CDB, or that it will be large enough to lift people with disabilities out of poverty. It does not fix a date when the CDB must begin to be paid, or even a deadline for Cabinet to pass the regulations needed to get it started. The bill absolutely excludes from the CDB almost one third of people with disabilities over the age of 15, no matter how poor they are, solely because of their age. All in all, we cannot see how any impoverished people with disabilities will get any CDB before some time in 2025, if not later.
We appreciate all efforts to strengthen the bill at the HUMA Standing Committee. We regret that no party even attempted to bring forward a number of the key amendments we sought.
We are very disturbed at the fact that several amendments proposed by the opposition, which could have made a real difference in combating disability poverty never even received a discussion and vote at HUMA. This is because HUMA Chair, Liberal MP Robert Morrissey, ruled them out of order. The Liberal Government could overcome this barrier if it wished, either earlier, or at Third Reading. It has given no indication that it plans to do so.
When ruling out these needed amendments, the HUMA Chair was acting on the advice of unelected, unaccountable Parliamentary officials. It should be open to the elected House of Commons to amend the bill in according with the wishes of a majority of members, after a full debate on point. The amendments ruled out of order would have helped the bill do what its sponsoring minister Carla Qualtrough proclaimed at the start of Second Reading Debates on September 20, 2022:
“Today, I begin with the following declaration: in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.”
It will be necessary for us and others to ask the Senate to make further amendments to the bill, to strengthen it. We anticipate that the Trudeau Government will mobilize to try to get the Senate not to do so. We’ve overcome that four years ago when we and others won amendments to the Accessible Canada Act in the Senate, despite the Trudeau Government trying to get the Senate to pass no amendments. We can do it again this time! We’re ready! Stay tuned after the holiday break for more on this.
This Update’s non-partisan analysis of the second day of HUMA clause-by-clause review of Bill C-22 includes the following:
- We summarize the amendments that HUMA passed on December 7, 2022, the first day of clause-by-clause review of the bill, and then explain the amendments that HUMA passed on December 13, 2022, the second day of that discussion.
- We describe an NDP amendment and Liberal sub-amendment which HUMA passed on December 13, 2022 that bungled the bill’s start date. The House of Commons will have to fix this mess. If it doesn’t, we will ask the Senate to do so. We quickly alerted the Government about this problem. The Government has not answered us. In the spirit of “Nothing about us without us,” the Government should now consult the disability community, including us, on how to quickly fix this mess during Third Reading on the bill in 2023.
- We explain how the NDP inexcusably cast tie-breaking votes that killed four amendments that would have improved the bill. This is hard to square with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s commitment to the AODA Alliance, the NDP’s earlier criticisms of the bill and the NDP’s other commendable efforts to strengthen the bill.
- We document how the Liberals contradicted themselves at HUMA on the need for amendments to the bill. They first tried to show that no amendments were necessary. They later heaped glowing praise on eight of the opposition’s proposed amendments.
- We delineate how The Tories supported strengthening the bill in some ways, but abstained at a key moment in a way that helped block a potentially helpful amendment to the bill that was defeated.
- We summarize how the Bloc Quebecois tried to Strengthen the bill.
- We demonstrate how the Green Party tried to serve as negotiator, brokering improvements to the bill.
- We explain how the HUMA Committee Chair harmfully ruled out of order a proposed Green Party amendment to the bill’s preamble.
- We show that HUMA refused to ask the Government to consider creating an emergency interim benefit for impoverished people with disabilities, given the fact that it will be years before any of them get the CDB.
To learn more about these issues, explore:
- The December 12, 2022 AODA Alliance Update that gives a detailed analysis of the first day of HUMA’s clause-by-clause review of Bill C-22, on December 7, 2022.
- The 21-minute captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s November 14, 2022 testimony at HUMA. It tells you all you need to know. Its concerns about the bill remain valid even after HUMA’s amendments.
- The November 14, 2022 open letter on Bill C-22, originally signed by 37 organizations (now increased to 41) from six provinces across Canada, that the AODA Alliance tabled with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
- The 15 amendments to Bill C-22 that the AODA Alliance has requested.
- The AODA Alliance’s guest column in the November 7, 2022 edition of the Toronto Star, and the powerful Toronto Star editorial that day that cites the AODA Alliance’s concerns with Bill C-22.
- The AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page, which shows our efforts to strengthen this proposed new law.
1. Amendments HUMA Passed on the First and Second Days of Clause-By Clause Debates
After two days of clause-by-clause debates, HUMA passed nine amendments to the bill. Eight were unanimous.
On December 7, 2022, HUMA passed five amendments. Four were unanimous. The other one passed on a vote of 6 to 5. The Liberals voted against it. Two of those earlier amendments (including the one the Liberals opposed) were explicitly attributed to the AODA Alliance, among other disability advocates. Those amendments:
- add a broad definition of disability to the bill;
- require federal/provincial/territorial agreements on the Canada Disability Benefit to be made public (Liberals opposed this);
- speak of a requirement to index the Canada Disability Benefit to inflation;
- speak to the need for the application process for the Canada Disability Benefit to be barrier-free, and
- require Cabinet to consider the poverty line when setting the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit.
On December 13, 2022, four additional amendments were passed. All were unanimous.
The first amendment requires that six months after the bill comes into force, the minister must table a report in the House of Commons that describes how the Government has implemented its obligation to engage and collaborate with the disability community on the development of regulations under the bill. One year after the bill comes into force, the minister must table a report in the House of Commons and Senate describing the progress made on developing regulations under the bill.
This amendment set no deadline on when the consultations with the disability community must begin, or when it must end. It does not require the regulations ever to be created. It only requires that the minister must report on progress on those regulations one year after this Act comes into force.
We don’t have a lot of hope for those reports. Public servants write those kinds of reports. They are typically sanitized to make the Government look as good as possible.
The bill does not require that these reports be comprehensive. For example, they might tell us little or nothing on the state of the Government’s negotiations with the provincial and territorial governments. So far, the Government has revealed to Parliament and the public almost nothing about the state of those negotiations.
As well, we might not be entitled to see the first of these reports until some time in late 2024, or later. The clock for these reports does not start to tick when Parliament passes this bill and it gets Royal Assent. It starts to tick only when the bill “comes into force.” As discussed below, that won’t be until some time in 2024, unless the bill is fixed on third Reading in the House of Commons, or thereafter in the Senate.
As Tory MP Tracy Gray correctly pointed out during the December 13, 2022 HUMA meeting, the time line on the minister’s duty to report on the progress in making regulations is longer than Minister Carla Qualtrough projected that she would need to get the regulations passed. She told HUMA on October 31, 2022 that it would likely take one year for the regulations to actually be developed and enacted. By this amendment, the minister only needs to submit a progress report by the end of one year, not finish the regulations themselves.
The second amendment that HUMA passed on December 13, 2022 requires that 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.”
Those three areas of focus for consultations were identified in the AODA Alliances November 14, 2022 HUMA testimony. The Minister had already announced that she fully plans to do this consulting.
This amendment does not require that the Government “co-create” the regulations with the disability community, with the disability community having an equal seat at the table with the decision-makers. Groups like Disability without Poverty insisted that there be such co-creation of the regulations. That is how they defined “co-creation.”
The decision over what a regulation will include is made by the federal Cabinet, as this bill is written. This amendment does not entitle any people with disabilities to any seat at the Cabinet’s decision-making table. Liberals such as the Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary Irek Kusmierczyk spoke earlier at the Standing Committee as if the Government was agreeing to “co-creation” of the regulations. Yet the bill does not require this.
According to the third amendment passed on December 13, 2022, Section 12 of the bill was revised to speed up Parliament’s later review of how this bill is working. Originally the bill required that a Parliamentary Committee would review the bill three years after it goes into effect, and thereafter, every five years. HUMA amended the bill so that the first review will be one year after the bill goes into effect, not three. Then each subsequent review will be every three years after that, not every five years after that.
The fourth and final amendment passed on December 13, 2022 changed the date when the bill goes into effect. This amendment created an utter mess, which we explain next.
At several points during HUMA’s clause-by-clause discussions, one MP or another said they don’t like a proposed amendment because another is coming later in the meeting. They knew what amendments they were comparing, but we, the public, do not have a clue. That is because HUMA did not agree to our request to release all proposed amendments before their meetings, so we could fully follow and understand their debates. This lacks transparency. It contradicts their stated commitment to “Nothing about us without us!”
2. An NDP Amendment and Liberal Sub-Amendment to Bill C-22 Botched the Date When the Bill Comes into Effect
Section 14 of the bill dictates when the bill goes into effect. After the House of Commons and Senate pass a bill, the final step in its enactment is Royal Assent. That is when the Governor General, the King’s representative, signs it.
However, Royal Assent doesn’t necessarily mean that the bill then goes into effect. A Bill typically includes a provision that says when it goes into effect.
One option is for a bill to say that it goes into effect immediately upon Royal Assent. By a second option, it can instead set a specific later date when the law will go into effect, such as a year after the bill receives Royal Assent.
The third option is that the law can give Cabinet the power to decide when the law goes into effect. If a bill does that, then Cabinet, which is called the Governor General in Council, could proclaim the law in effect whenever it wants. Under that kind of provision, Cabinet could choose to never proclaim the law in effect. In that case, the law is on the books, but not in operation.
Before HUMA got its hands on Bill C-22, the bill chose the third option. Section 14 originally provided:
“14 This Act comes into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council.”
We would have liked Section 14 to have been amended to provide that the bill comes into force on the day that the bill receives Royal Assent. There is no reason for any delay. After all, the amended bill does not require the Government to ever do anything except to eventually issue two progress reports. The bill essentially gives the Government and the Cabinet a series of powers.
It could speed things up for the Government to have those powers as soon as possible. Indeed, the Government has itself said over and over that it wanted the bill passed as soon as possible so it could start developing the regulations. In reality, the Government no doubt has been developing those regulations for months. It never needed the bill passed to start working on the regulations.
Despite this, no party proposed that the bill go into effect immediately upon Royal Assent. Instead, an NDP amendment combined with a Liberal sub-amendment to Section 14 of the bill made a mess of Section 14.
Instead of proposing that Section 14 be amended to make the bill go into effect immediately upon Royal Assent, NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo inexplicably put forward a harmful amendment that would guarantee that the bill cannot go into effect for a full year after it receives Royal Assent. Her amendment provided:
“This Act comes into force on the first anniversary of the day on which it receives Royal Assent.”
Had we been asked about this amendment in advance, we would have hollered from the rooftops not to propose it. Under it, Cabinet could enact no regulations under the bill for a full year after the bill receives Royal Assent, even if Cabinet is ready to enact them. Cabinet could not proclaim the bill in force earlier than one year, even if it wanted to do so.
Rather than noticing this obvious problem, Liberal MP Wayne Long actually thanked the NDP for this amendment. He said that this amendment “hits the mark” and that the Liberals support it.
Bloc Quebecois (BQ) MP Louise Chabot argued that this amendment changes nothing and gives the illusion of strengthening the bill. The Tories said they wished there had been an earlier timeline.
To his credit, Green MP Mike Morrice saw that something was wrong. He commendably did not want a full year to have to pass before the bill could even come into operation. However, he came up with a solution that itself has serious problems.
He was not able to formally propose a sub-amendment to the NDP proposal, because he was not a member of HUMA. He asked if a HUMA member could propose a sub-amendment on his behalf, to provide that the bill comes into force no later than the first anniversary of the bill’s passage. Tory MP Tracy Gray did so, proposing that Section 14 now read:
“this Act Comes into force no later than the first anniversary of the day on which it receives Royal Assent.
This passed unanimously. NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo said this was an excellent illustration of collaboration. It was no such thing.
The resulting Section 14 does not give Cabinet any power to proclaim the bill in force on any date during the first year after the bill is passed. If the bill does not give Cabinet that necessary power, no one has it. As such, it may be impossible for the bill to come into force for an entire year. This is hardly consistent with the Liberals’ statement that they are trying to get money to impoverished people with disabilities as quickly as possible.
There is a strong argument that because HUMA messed up Section 14, the bill actually will come into force on the day it receives Royal Assent. This is because Section 5(2) of the Interpretation Act provides:
“If no date of commencement is provided for in an Act, the date of commencement of that Act is the date of assent to the Act.”
As amended by HUMA, Section 14 specifies no specific date for the bill to come into effect. Section 5(2) of the federal Interpretation Act fills the void by making the bill come into force immediately upon Royal Assent. We like that result. However the last thing that people with disabilities need is any uncertainty or confusion about when the law comes into effect.
The Standing Committee was obviously and collectively oblivious to this mess. They had two senior public officials from Employment and Social Development Canada at the meeting, available as advisors, who did not pipe up to point out the problem.
The AODA Alliance swiftly emailed the minister’s Parliamentary Secretary Irek Kusmierczyk and the minister’s senior policy advisor responsible for this bill, to flag this problem. Neither of them acknowledged the problem or thanked us for alerting them to it. Neither answered our email or sought any more information from us.
It is bizarre that it must fall to the AODA Alliance, a volunteer coalition, to catch this botched amendment. The Federal Government, opposition parties and Parliament together have massive resources. Adding to that, the fact that the Federal Government flowed millions of dollars to a cluster of disability organizations to help with their consultations on the development of this short bill. The AODA Alliance did not request or obtain any of that federal funding.
What can be done to fix this? The House of Commons can amend the bill during Third Reading Debates. The Government has six weeks or more to work out an agreement with the other parties to do this. The House won’t sit again until January 30, 2023. With unanimous consent, negotiated in advance, the House of Commons could approve such an amendment in seconds.
Our strong preference is for the House of Commons to amend Section 14 to say that the bill comes into force upon Royal Assent. As a less desirable alternative, the House of Commons could amend Section 14 to provide:
“this Act Comes into force on the earlier of the first anniversary of the day on which it receives Royal Assent, or a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council.”
3. The NDP Inexcusably Cast Tie-Breaking votes Killing Four Amendments that Would Have Improved the Bill
During public debates on Bill C-22 and during the public hearings on this bill at HUMA, the NDP repeatedly and commendably pointed out that the bill needed to be strengthened. Before the HUMA public hearings began, we had been so excited about the possibilities of making more progress with Bill C-22 at HUMA, because of Canada’s minority government. The opposition parties together have the majority of votes on HUMA. If they all support an amendment, it passes even if the Liberals oppose it.
The NDP commendably brought forward several amendments before HUMA that would strengthen the bill. Some were passed. Some were defeated. However, it is enormously frustrating that the NDP cast tie-breaking votes, siding with the Liberals, that killed four amendments that would have improved Bill C-22. In each case, all the other opposition MPs from the Tories and the BQ voted for the amendment. Liberals voted against it. The tie-breaking vote cast in each case was by the sole NDP MP on HUMA, Bonita Zarrillo. Had she voted for the amendment, it would have passed. She was the last MP each time to cast a vote, so she knew she was the deal-breaker.
We wanted each of those four amendments. Each would help the bill. The NDP never sought our input on those amendments. Perennially an opposition party in the House of Commons, the NDP here held the balance of power. It is impossible to understand why they squandered it, rather than using it for the benefit of people with disabilities. NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo gave no reasons for voting against the four amendments in issue that the rest of the opposition Committee members supported.
As the first amendment that the NDP opposed, the Tories proposed an amendment as follows:
“Within ten months after the day on which this Act comes into force, the minister must cause to be tabled in each House of Parliament a report setting out proposed amendments to this Act that would, among other things, specifically specify the eligibility criteria for a Canada Disability Benefit, the conditions that are to be met in order to receive or continue to receive the benefit, and the amount of the benefit or method for determining the amount.”
Tory MP Tracy Gray said that this amendment is intended to create a needed timeline. The Committee heard a lot in written submissions and in testimony about the need for timelines. It is a reasonable timeline in light of what the Standing Committee heard from the Minister and officials. It is a little shorter than the Government suggested. This takes in to account the fact that this is the same bill as was originally introduced one year earlier, and that there already have been a lot of consultations.
There was no discussion on the amendment. The liberals voted against it. It was supported by the Tories, and BQ. For no stated reason, NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo gave it the thumbs down.
As the second amendment that the NDP opposed, HUMA returned to the Tory motion that had been deferred during HUMA’s December 7, 2022 meeting. It would prevent any federal programs from clawing back the CDB.
The Liberal Government and the NDP should have quickly agree to this amendment. Witness after witness emphasized the need to prevent any claw-backs of the CDB. The Federal Government is pressing the provinces and territories to agree not to claw back the CDB. The least the Federal Government could do is to publicly and strongly commit to the same vis a vis federal programs.
The Federal Government should lead by example, on the “no claw backs” agenda. Instead, Liberal MPs, opposing this amendment during the first day of clause-by-clause consideration, sounded as resistant as we fear their provincial and territorial counterparts may be on the “no claw backs” issue.
The Tories and BQ voted for this amendment. The Liberals voted against it. Here again, NDP MP Zarrillo cast the tie-breaking vote that killed it. We have no idea why the NDP didn’t want to guarantee in the bill that the Federal Government cannot claw back the CDB.
As the third amendment that the NDP opposed, Green MP Mike Morrice proposed an amendment to the bill’s preamble, that had been requested by groups such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, to add:
“Whereas Canada, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is committed to ensuring an adequate standard of living and social protection for people with disabilities and their families, especially those living in poverty;
Whereas Canada, as a signatory to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, has undertaken to ensure the realization of the right of every person to an adequate standard of living;”
The chair ruled that HUMA could consider this amendment. There was no discussion on it. The Liberals voted against it without giving reasons. The Tories and BQ supported it. The NDP again ensured that this amendment failed, once again without explanation.
Why does the NDP oppose recognition of the right to an adequate standard of living in the bill’s preamble, even if it is unenforceable? It is central to the NDP’s policy vision for Canada. Moreover, the NDP commendably tried to get the bill amended earlier, without success, to require that the CDB be adequate to lift people with disabilities out of poverty. The HUMA Chair earlier ruled that earlier NDP amendment out of order. This new Green Party amendment gave the NDP a chance to try to salvage something symbolic on point in the bill’s preamble.
As a fourth amendment that the NDP opposed, Green MP Mike Morrice also proposed amending the bill’s pre-amble to add:
“Whereas the Government of Canada recognizes that people with disabilities must be given meaningful opportunities to collaborate in the development and design of regulations made under this Act;”
He said this would go further than the bill’s existing text. It would state that the collaboration must be meaningful and must apply to the design of the regulations. This would align the preamble with an amendment to the bill that HUMA earlier passed.
The chair ruled that HUMA could consider this amendment. There was no discussion about it. The liberals voted against it, without stating reasons. The Tories and BQ supported it. Once again, NDP Bonita Zarrillo voted against it. Her swing vote was the death knell to this amendment as well.
In addition to its tie-breaking vote against those four amendments, the NDP also voted against a BQ amendment that would require the minister to table in the House of Commons any proposed regulations that the Government intends to make, particularly for the eligibility criteria for the CDB, the conditions that are to be met in order to receive the CDB and the amount of the CDB. The NDP vote against it was not the decisive or swing vote. The Liberals had opposed this amendment. The Tories abstained. It would have been defeated even if the NDP voted for it. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see why the NDP opposed it.
All in all, we do not know why the NDP let people with disabilities down in this way. The NDP had commendably brought forward several amendments to improve the bill. HUMA passed some but not all of them.
The NDP’s tie-breaking votes against those four amendments could not possibly be due to the political agreement between the federal Liberals and NDP that lets the Liberals govern during the minority Parliament, without a non-confidence motion that would trigger an early election. NDP MP Zarrillo never claimed that it was due to that agreement that she cast the tie-breaking vote against the four opposition amendments to the bill that ensured they failed. An NDP vote in favour of any of the four amendments in issue here would not trigger an early federal election.
Moreover, NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo did in one instance break ranks with the Liberals and vote for an amendment that passed over Liberal objection. That was the amendment passed on December 7 2022 that requires the Federal Government to make public any agreements on the CDB that it reaches with any provincial and territorial governments. The Tories, BQ and NDP united to pass that amendment, even though the Liberals voted against it. Moreover, the NDP felt entirely free to propose other amendments that the Liberals opposed – ones which were not supported by some or all of the other HUMA opposition MPs.
The NDP’s conduct at HUMA is even more troubling. At the December 13, 2022 HUMA meeting, NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo withdrew a proposed amendment that she had introduced at the earlier December 7, 2022 meeting. At that earlier meeting, Ms. Zarrillo had incorrectly said that this amendment was sought by the AODA Alliance. In the December 12, 2022 AODA Alliance Update, we clarified that we did not request this specific amendment, though it responded to a concern with the bill that we had raised.
That earlier NDP amendment would give Parliament some oversight over the regulations that Cabinet makes to implement the CDB. It commendably sought to seek to rein in the Cabinet’s arbitrary power over every aspect of the Canada Disability Benefit. We have objected that Cabinet can make the regulations in secret, and that a subsequent Cabinet could gut the regulations in secret, with no oversight by Parliament.
Concerns were raised that this NDP amendment would lengthen the process of making initial regulations needed to get the CDB started. We offered the parties a helpful compromise. This amendment should be passed, but should apply only if Cabinet attempts, through regulations, to reduce the amount of the CDB, or to restrict eligibility for the CDB, or to reduce safeguards for people with disabilities in the application and appeal processes. By our solution, the NDP amendment would not apply to the regulations that Cabinet must make to get the CDB up and running. It would therefore not slow down getting money into pockets of working age impoverished people with disabilities.
We swiftly alerted all parties before the December 13, 2022 meeting about our quick fix to the NDP amendment. It would allay all our concerns with it, as well as concerns that the Liberals and some disability organizations had raised. We tried without success to speak to MP Zarrillo about her proposed amendment over the days leading up to the December 13, 2022 resumption of HUMA’s clause-by-clause review of the bill.
NDP MP Zarrillo did not try to fix this amendment. Instead, at the December 13, 2022 HUMA meeting, she simply withdrew her amendment. MP Zarrillo said she had had “a lot of conversations” with the disability community over the last few days at the back end of last week on it. Whomever she spoke to, she certainly did not speak to us, despite our efforts to talk to her. It was wrong for her to have excluded us, while she was having “a lot of conversations with the community”, especially as it related to an amendment that she said she initially introduced in response to the AODA Alliance.
When MP Zarrillo withdrew her amendment, she said she had another amendment coming later that covers what needs to be done. We don’t know what amendment that was. No other amendment effectively reined in Cabinet’s arbitrary power over all aspects of the CDB.
After HUMA finished its clause-by-clause review of the bill, NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo proposed a helpful but purely symbolic motion. In it, HUMA would call on the Government to consider the possibility of creating an emergency interim benefit for people with disabilities, while the CDB is being developed. She did not propose any amendments to the bill on this.
HUMA defeated this recommendation. It would not have been binding on the Government even if passed. The Liberals voted against it. The Tories abstained. The BQ and NDP voted for it.
The NDP’s tie-breaking votes against four helpful amendments at HUMA are hard to reconcile with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s December 8, 2022 email to the AODA Alliance. It bore the subject line: “Standing Up for Canadians Living with Disabilities and their Families”. Among other things, it pledged:
“I wanted to assure you that New Democrats will keep working to ensure that the framework legislation, Bill C-22, is the strongest legislation possible. Above all, C-22 must define a benefit amount that is enough to meet the basic needs of persons with disabilities, and that amount must be embedded in law.
That’s why Bonita Zarrillo, NDP critic for Disability Inclusion, is pushing the Liberals to accept our amendment to Bill C-22 that will address poverty head-on…
…The NDP will continue to push for the support Canadians living with disabilities need to sustain themselves and their families. ……You can count on New Democrats to always stand with Canadians living with disabilities — to fight for the quality of life and dignity that you and every Canadian deserves.”
4. The Liberals contradicted Themselves on the Need for Amendments to the Bill
Many community organizations and individuals with disabilities told the Government about the need to strengthen Bill C-22. This includes, for example, the 41 community organizations that signed the AODA Alliance’s November 14, 2022 open letter to Parliament. It also includes a number of the witnesses who gave testimony at the HUMA public hearings.
During clause-by-clause discussions, Liberal MPs applauded and heaped praised on eight of the amendments that the opposition presented to HUMA, and voted for them. They said that these excellent amendments strengthened the bill. Yet even though the Liberals thereby agreed that the bill would benefit from being strengthened, they themselves presented no amendments of their own to improve the bill.
This all came after the Liberals used the four earlier days of public hearings to argue that the bill is fine as is, and needs no amendments. They tried to get several witnesses to agree with their anti-amendment approach. It is obvious that the Liberals nominated groups to give testimony at the public hearings that supported their stance.
Here are examples of how the Liberals broke from their earlier “no amendments are needed” position and praised amendments that were placed before the Standing Committee. Speaking about the NDP amendment that requires the minister to report to Parliament about how it consults people with disabilities, and the Liberal sub-amendment that requires the minister to report on progress on developing the regulations, Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk, the minister’s key spokesperson, commended these changes as “really strengthening this bill.” He said this is “excellent work.” He said they build “additional confidence into the process.” They include “two really important check points.” He explained the first would be a pulse check six months after the consultations “beginning”, even though his Government has said these consultations have been going on for years.
He said it is “absolutely important” for the Government to report on how those consultations are progressing. He added that it is an “opportunity to course-correct if required.”
He stated the Liberal amendment would require the Government to report back on “all the regulations that were brought forward or introduced to that point.”
He said this amendment provides balance because the disability community says we need to get money to people with disabilities as soon as possible. Yet this amendment does not do anything to ensure that money gets to any people with disabilities as soon as possible.
He also offered:
”And I would also add that it does introduce two very clear time lines, 6 months on the consultations and within one year in terms of the regulations.”
In contrast, Tory MP Tracy Gray said this amendment does not in fact impose a timeline. In fact, this amendment only requires the minister to submit progress reports. It does not require the Government to ever make the regulations needed to get the CDB started.
Tory MP Tracy gray correctly noted that the Government has had over a year since the original bill was introduced in 2021, and that the Government was conducting consultations even before that. She argued that this sub-amendment is just punting things further down the line.
Speaking to this sub-amendment, NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo said she hears the point the Tories are making, and that MP Zarrillo will have another amendment later on that addresses that issue. None of the later NDP amendments effectively addressed this timelines concern.
BQ MP Louise Chabot said she was disappointed in this proposed NDP amendment with its Liberal sub-amendment, because the bill remains a blank page with no guarantees for people with disabilities. She said this amendment won’t change anything. The long term for people with disabilities will not be decided by Parliament. She said that the MPs’ looking at this amendment might be good for their conscience.
As for the Tory amendment that passed unanimously, which sped up the mandatory Parliamentary review of the bill to begin one year, and not three years, after the bill is passed, Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk commended this amendment. He said it “very much strengthens this bill” and adds confidence to what they are trying to do.
Finally, as for the NDP proposed amendment to Section 14 of the bill that delays the bill coming into force for one year, Liberal MP Wayne Long thanked the NDP for this amendment. As noted earlier, he said that this amendment “hits the mark” and that the Liberals support it.
While the Liberals supported the four amendments that passed on December 13, 2022, they voted against opposition amendments that would:
- Require the minister to table a report in Parliament setting out proposed amendments to this Act that would, among other things, specifically specify the eligibility criteria for a Canada Disability Benefit, the conditions that are to be met in order to receive or continue to receive the benefit, and the amount of the benefit or method for determining the amount.
- Require the minister to table before the House of Commons any proposed regulations that the Government intends to make particularly for the eligibility criteria for the CDB, the conditions that are to be met in order to receive the CDB and the amount of the CDB.
- Ensure that no federal program could claw back from people with disabilities any part of the CDB that is paid to them.
- Include in the bill’s preamble a reference to Canada’s obligation to ensure an adequate standard of living, set out in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
- Include in the Bill’s preamble a recognition that people with disabilities must be given meaningful opportunities to collaborate in the development and design of regulations made under this Act.
5. The Tories Supported Strengthening the Bill in Some Ways, but Abstained at A Key Moment
Throughout Second Reading debates and public hearings on this bill, the Tories commendably took the position that the bill should be strengthened. The Conservatives supported each of the nine amendments made to the bill, some of which the Tories themselves proposed. In some cases, the Tories said they were voting for the amendment on the table, but wished it was stronger.
The Tories also proposed two additional measures that did not pass. Both would have strengthened the bill. As discussed above, the Tories tried to require that the Federal Government could itself not claw back the CDB. They also tried to require the minister to table in Parliament, within ten months of the bill coming into force, a report setting out proposed amendments to this Act that would, among other things, specifically specify the eligibility criteria for a Canada Disability Benefit, the conditions that are to be met in order to receive or continue to receive the benefit, and the amount of the benefit or method for determining the amount.
However, the Tories did not always side with strengthening this bill. By abstaining, the Tories helped defeat a BQ amendment that the Liberals and NDP also oppose. It would require the minister to table before the House of Commons any proposed regulations that the Government intends to make particularly for the eligibility criteria for the CDB, the conditions that are to be met in order to receive the CDB and the amount of the CDB. Had that amendment been modified so as not to apply to regulations that get the CDB started, and had it only applied to regulations that would weaken the CDB, it could have been a helpful addition to the bill.
6. The Bloc Quebecois Tried to Strengthen the Bill
The BQ repeatedly criticized the bill for being too weak, because it lacked more requirements and details. It echoed our objection that the bill leaves far too much to Cabinet to decide.
Bloc Quebecois MP Louise Chabot supported all nine amendments that were passed, but said they did not go far enough. Some she condemned as doing nothing at all. She criticized the bill as not guaranteeing anything for people with disabilities.
She echoed our concern that because the bill leaves everything to the Cabinet, including the amount of the CDB, the conditions for getting it, and the criteria for who is eligible, it could lead to a CDB that is only $25. A future Government could decide to end it. The bill does not create an obligation to have the CDB.
She explained that the bill merely authorizes regulations to be made. She tried advancing amendments with the aims of embedding guarantees for people with disabilities into the bill itself. She contended that the only way to guarantee that this benefit will exist and that it will remain in existence over time is for the House of Commons to decide this.
She argued that it is unprecedented to leave it all to Cabinet. She contended that Parliament would not have thought to leave it to Cabinet to set Old Age Security, or the Canada Child Benefit. They are set out in the law.
7. Green Party As Negotiator
The Green Party had no official seat on HUMA. However, HUMA allowed Green MP Mike Morrice to take part in the HUMA clause-by-clause discussions, and to propose amendments. Some of his efforts were successful. He was attempting a valiant effort to strengthen the bill, shared a number of our concerns with the bill, and tried to get other parties on board. We are indebted to him and to the Green party for his efforts, even though they were too often unsuccessful.
8. HUMA Committee Chair Ruled Out of Order a Proposed Green Party Amendment to the Bill’s Preamble
Green MP Mike Morrice proposed that the start of the preamble should be re-written to read:
”Whereas people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty than per”
This would remove the term “working age” from the preamble. He echoed our call that poverty for people with disabilities does not end at age 65, and that neither should the CDB. Ten percent of people with severe disabilities over 65 live in poverty, he said.
Committee chair Robert Morrisey ruled this out of order because it would make a substantive change to the bill. A substantive amendment to the preamble can only be made if the Committee’s other amendments to the bill make it necessary. The chair therefore cut off all debate on it.
There is a crushing irony to the chair’s ruling. This amendment to the preamble would have been permissible, had the Standing Committee made other amendments to the bill that necessitated it. The Opposition had earlier proposed amendments to the bill that would have made this amendment to the preamble necessary. However, the Committee chair earlier ruled those very amendments out of order. Heads the Government wins. Tails, people with disabilities who are not working age lose!