Read What Was Said During the Second Day of Second Reading Debates in the House of Commons on Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act – September 24, 2018

Parliament of Canada House of Commons Hansard September 24, 2018

Originally posted at:

http://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/house/sitting-324/hansard#Int-10254384

[Government Orders]

[English]

Accessible Canada Act+-

The House resumed from September 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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Ms. Pam Damoff (Oakville North—Burlington, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time this morning with the member for Parkdale—High Park.

For decades, we have seen concerted efforts made to try to remove barriers to accessibility across Canada, but pervasive barriers still exist all around us. These barriers exist in our physical environment. They exist in the way information and communications technologies are developed, in how employment practices are established, in the way procurement policies are created by the government, in how government serves Canadians and in how our federal transportation networks are structured. These barriers stop millions of Canadians from participating in everyday activities that many people take for granted.

There was a time in Canadian history when the needs of people living with disabilities were not even part of the conversation. That is still too often the case, but thanks to the advocacy of leaders in disability and accessibility issues in Canada, we are more aware of the issues of those living with disabilities. We are increasingly aware of the challenges and injustices faced every day. Legislation alone will not be enough to address the issue; we need a change in the way we as Canadians think.

In Ontario, legislation will ensure that a sports complex has accessible parking spots, wide doors and washrooms. However, if people in wheelchairs are relegated to the second floor because no accessible seating is provided, or where accessible seating is provided, people stand up and block their view for the most exciting part of the game, the goals, that is hardly inclusive.

This is an issue I have been deeply committed to throughout my tenure as a member of Parliament and before I was elected. In the spring of 2017, I held a round table on employment for people living with disabilities in my riding of Oakville North—Burlington. The round table brought together organizations such as Community Living, experts on accessible employment and people with lived experience.

I continue to advocate for this issue in the community, in the House and with my colleagues in Parliament. We need to recognize the contribution people living with disabilities make to employers. It is not about doing what is right, although it is. It also makes economic sense. Just ask employers such as Mark Wafer, former MPP Pete Kevin Flynn, and Phillipa Durbin, who talk about the benefits to their businesses because they have hired those living with disabilities. Ask employees such as my staffers, Steven Muir and Karina Scali, or people like Robin, Andrew or James, who are outstanding employees who make significant contributions to their work.

Madam Speaker, you are aware that our government is a strong proponent of promoting inclusion and fairness to grow the middle class. Our government has committed to measures to make Canada a more equitable place, such as improving income security for seniors and helping families through improvements to the Canada child benefit.

Accessibility is a right in this country, not a privilege. That is why we are putting accessibility at the heart of our actions for greater social justice. That is why our government has brought forward Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, to uphold that right in areas under federal jurisdiction. This involves Parliament and all that we do here. It involves the Government of Canada, crown corporations and the federally regulated private sector. It includes organizations in the federal transportation network, the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors and the banking and financial sectors.

Federally regulated sectors represent a large component of the Canadian economy. They employ about 900,000 people and are essential to economic, civil and social participation in society.

I believe that our government and our partners in the federally regulated sectors can be true leaders in accessibility. By changing the status quo in these areas, I am confident that a change in standards will follow in the private sector. However, our ambition is greater than that. Our ambition is that this legislation will lead to a more consistent experience of accessibility across Canada.

With this in mind, our government’s actions on accessibility are focused on priority areas that Canadians living with disabilities have told us have an impact on their daily lives. They include public buildings and spaces, service delivery, employment, transportation, information and communications technologies and procurement of goods and services.

The core of Bill C-81 is the development and implementation of new accessibility standards in these priority areas. Through Bill C-81, our government is proposing the creation of a new organization called the Canadian accessibility standards development organization. This innovative organization would govern and oversee the process of creating new accessibility standards in partnership with key stakeholders.

I am proud that this organization will be led by a majority of persons living with disabilities on the board of directors. This is key to ensuring that those with lived experience are part of the decision-making process. This has been an issue in the past and continues to be an issue in our country, when those developing policies do not include those living with a disability.

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This organization will be the first of its kind in Canada and one of the few in the world that is dedicated to developing only accessibility standards. The organization will work in partnership with persons living with disabilities, technical experts, industry leaders and representatives from organizations that are obligated to comply with the law and its regulations.

The standards created by the organization will then be considered by the government for application to the federal jurisdiction through regulation. Provinces and territories will also be invited to participate in the standards development process. By bringing together perspectives and knowledge about accessibility issues into one place, our government envisions that the Canadian accessibility standards organization will become a global centre of technical knowledge and expertise on accessibility.

We believe that this organization can serve as a national and international model for action on accessibility by putting the principle of “nothing about us without us” at the heart of its operation, letting people living with disabilities lead the way.

Over time, these standards will lead to measurable improvements to accessibility and have a real impact on the lives of Canadians living with disabilities and functional limitations.

In closing, I would like to reflect on the spirit of this legislation. Our government is committed to backing Bill C-81, with focused investment across the Government of Canada. This includes the development of the Canadians accessibility standards development organization.

As a government, we want to make accessibility a reality as we hire people, make our facilities easier to access and purchase goods from private sector suppliers. It is the sum of all these efforts, including new accessibility standards, that will allow people living with disabilities to be included in a way that many of us take for granted.

This legislation is the start of building not just an accessible Canada, but an inclusive Canada. We need to recognize that accessibility is a start, but it is not enough. We need to be leaders and effect real cultural change. This is how we will provide everyone in this country with the chance to realize their full potential. This is how we will make sure that everybody can contribute to the Canada of the future.

Our country will be stronger and all Canadians will benefit when we include everyone in the conversation, when we ensure that each and every Canadian can reach their full potential and when we build a truly inclusive country.

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Ms. Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West, NDP):

Madam Speaker, the member and I see eye to eye on many points she has raised.

One thing I want to bring to her attention is that some people are concerned that the bill is not perfect. I understand that happens sometimes. Bills come forward, and of course the committee work is there to make them even better and, perhaps, to identify things that might be missing.

I know that people have raised with me that they are very concerned that the bill lacks timelines. There is some concern that we could be going on for quite a long time before we actually see some of the changes on the ground.

I am not sure if the member is on the committee, but does she understand the need to be open to additions or amendments to the bill in committee?

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Ms. Pam Damoff:

Madam Speaker, at this point I am not on the committee, although I did sit on the committee when it reviewed Bill C-65.

My experience on committee has been that there is really good work that happens there. Bill C-65 would be a prime example, where really important amendments were brought forward.

In my opinion, it is critical that this bill be implemented. I know the minister has made a commitment to see that this is legislation that will impact people’s lives and not years from now, but in the near term.

I look forward to the deliberations that happen at committee and to hearing from witnesses. If there are improvements to be made, the committee will benefit from the expertise that will be provided at the committee meetings.

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Ms. Sheri Benson:

Madam Speaker, I wanted to mention that one of the areas that has been brought to my attention as missing in the bill is the American sign language and Quebec sign language. The bill does not speak to including them in the Official Languages Act.

Across Canada, on the weekend, there were community demonstrations in over nine legislative buildings, asking that this be an important addition or amendment to the bill.

Would my hon. colleague like to comment on that omission in the bill?

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Ms. Pam Damoff:

Madam Speaker, I should have said this last time, but I want to thank the hon. member for her advocacy, as well as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who has been a vocal advocate on that side of the House for people living with disabilities.

I have spoken up at events where sign language interpretation is provided but the interpreter is standing in the dark. There is not much use having interpreters standing in the dark who cannot be seen by the people who need to see them. I am not familiar with the reasons why that was not included in the bill. I am sure it is something that will come up at committee hearings. Those individuals who wish to be heard will certainly be given the opportunity to speak at committee.

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen (Red Deer—Mountain View, CPC):

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments that were made by the member opposite.

However, going through the summary of the bill, I know that there is a lot of talk about how there are going to be some changes and help as far as how individuals are concerned. The reality is all we are looking at is a bunch of bureaucracy. We are looking at an accessible Canada act and we are dealing with a Canadian accessibility standards development organization. We are looking at a commissioner associated with that, the chief accessibility officer. It seems as though what we are building, instead of continuing to talk to people who have done so much work in the past, is just another set of bureaucratic stumbling blocks that we will have to deal with.

It has been two and a half years or three years since this was first introduced. I am wondering how people can have assurances that there is actually going to be some action taken from all this bureaucratic information that we have in front of us.

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Ms. Pam Damoff:

Madam Speaker, I know from speaking to advocates in my community and beyond that this is legislation that they have been calling for. I applaud the minister for her due diligence in meeting with organizations all across the country, as well as meeting with individuals who have done work on best practices in other countries. The minister sat down with Inclusion International to see what best practices would be. I have heard incredibly positive comments about the legislation.

We need a starting point and this is it. It is a really good one and I am very proud of the work of the minister and our government in bringing this forward. I think it is going to make a huge change for people in our country living with disabilities.

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Mr. Arif Virani (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. With this bill, our government is fulfilling our commitment to guarantee the full and equal participation of all persons, especially persons with disabilities, in society.

The consultation previous to the tabling of this legislation was vast, an important part of our government’s commitment to hear from Canadians on issues that affect them. More than 6,000 Canadians participated in various ways. We held 18 public engagement sessions, nine round tables, a national youth forum and an online questionnaire. The principle, “Nothing about us without us”, was embraced for these accessible Canada consultations, which asked all Canadians to think about what accessibility means to them and what it could mean to their communities.

The consultations were the most inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities in Canada’s history. These consultations informed the legislation that is before us today, the accessible Canada act, which would work to remove barriers for persons with disabilities in numerous ways. Among other things, it would create the role of a chief accessibility officer; it would reinstate the disability advisory committee, which had been dismantled by the previous government; and it would enhance the opportunities fund by adding $40 million per year, which would fund employers to hire persons with disabilities and provide the framework to create more accessible environments. In total, our government would pledge $290 million over the next six years to implement this important legislation.

I want to take a step back from the current legislation and focus locally on my riding of Parkdale—High Park. This summer, I hosted a town hall in my riding to hear from my constituents regarding the accessible Canada act. I was joined by eight panellists with various backgrounds and expertise, including David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and law professor at the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall; Renu Mandhane, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission; and Jeff Adams, a Paralympian gold medallist and six-time champion in wheelchair sports. The town hall was to explain this new legislation and take questions on it from my constituents. It was an educational experience not only for the individuals in attendance at the town hall but also for me.

We set out to organize this town hall with the goal of ensuring that it was completely accessible for all persons with disabilities. My staff and I attempted to take into account the numerous and varied barriers that might affect the ability for a person with a disability to participate meaningfully in the meeting. However, many were brought to our attention that we did not anticipate. For instance, we sent out an email to constituents informing them of the upcoming town hall, with a poster enclosed as a PDF attachment, something I think many members in this House might have done. We quickly learned that the document we created was not accessible for those with a visual impairment. The poster needed to be in a format where a screen reader could interpret the text, such as text contained within the body of an email, not as an attachment poster, so that screen-reading technology could communicate that material to those who are visually impaired.

We also made sure to bring a sign language interpreter at the town hall so that those with a hearing impairment could understand and participate in the discussion. We found that some people are hearing impaired, but do not understand or know sign language. Therefore, to ensure that my town hall was as inclusive as possible, we had on-site live captioning for those who are hearing impaired, but do not understand sign language.

Finally, we resolved to host the town hall in a fully accessible building that was also large enough to accommodate all of the guests who wished to attend. This meant that there were fewer buildings to choose from in my riding, but in the end, we hosted the event at the Swansea Town Hall, a level and spacious venue that was fully accessible. Thanks to Swansea Town Hall for hosting this.

However, the experience of organizing the town hall cemented my view about how important it is to have this piece of legislation move actively forward. As a government, as a Parliament, we must ensure that we establish a framework for a truly inclusive Canada and that as many barriers to access are removed for individuals with disabilities as possible. I was fortunate to receive important feedback that evening from my constituents, from persons with disabilities and from relevant experts. They will contribute to this bill and make it even stronger.

This is the start of a very important conversation about accessibility in Canada, one which I would state is long overdue, but I am happy to report that this conversation is already bearing fruit. Not less than four weeks after holding my town hall, I was honoured to host the Prime Minister in my riding for the Bloor Street West Ukrainian festival and the Roncesvalles Polish Festival, both the largest of their kind in North America. Over 500,000 people visit these two festivals over the course of the weekend. At the opening ceremonies of both festivals, I brought a sign language interpreter up onto the stage to provide live simultaneous sign language interpretation for my remarks and the Prime Minister’s remarks. He was a bit more excited about translating the Prime Minister’s remarks, truth be told. This was a first for both festivals.

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I would now like to talk specifically about the legislation itself. First, it represents the single biggest development in federal access health legislation in 30 years, since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself came into force. This new legislation is the cornerstone of our government’s plan for the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada. Second, Bill C-81 would provide accessibility standards for entities to achieve and maintain an ongoing monitoring system to ensure that Canadians see results, and to hold organizations accountable.

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[Translation]

Third, approximately $53 million over six years will be invested in support of a new strategy for an accessible Government of Canada that will be developed and released to the public within one year of the passage of the legislation. This strategy will serve as a roadmap that enables our government to meet and exceed its new accessibility obligations under the legislation.

The Treasury Board Secretariat, in collaboration with people with disabilities and their organizations, will ensure a coordinated and cohesive approach to the design and implementation of the strategy across government.

This will be accomplished through the establishment of an accessibility hub that will provide leadership, coordination and oversight in making the Government of Canada accessible to its clients and employees.

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Fourth, Bill C-81 would expand the existing opportunities fund for persons with disabilities to better support activities in two areas. The first area would improve matching services that connect employers and persons with disabilities. While the opportunities fund helps persons with disabilities develop the skills and knowledge they require to meet the needs of today’s economy, more could be done to connect these individuals with employers with available jobs.

The second area would enhance businesses’ efforts to develop effective recruitment and retention strategies. The opportunities fund would work with these employers by supporting their efforts to create inclusive workspaces and to develop and implement in-house strategies to effectively recruit, accommodate and retain persons with disabilities. The fund would have both a national stream and a regional stream, totalling nearly $40 million per year in funding. This would better support employers that have a demonstrated commitment to hiring persons with disabilities but who need support to find the right match and to create workplaces that allow employees with disabilities to reach their full potential.

Fifth, as I alluded to earlier, we are also reinstating the disability advisory committee, which is vital to ensuring that the Canada Revenue Agency connects with a wide range of stakeholders and takes their views into account as we administer tax measures for people with disabilities. The committee’s mandate is to provide advice to the Minister of National Revenue  and the commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency on the administration and interpretation of the laws and programs related to disability tax measures administered by the CRA. The legislation would guarantee that the needs and expectations of the disability community are taken into consideration.

The committee would also advise the CRA on how it could better inform persons with disabilities and various stakeholders about tax measures and important administrative changes. Moreover, it would be tasked with reviewing the CRA’s administrative practices and making recommendations on how we could enhance the quality of our services for persons with disabilities.

Those six components make for a comprehensive suite of items that would work collectively toward the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada. Most importantly, our entire approach to the development of this legislation has been informed by one fundamental principle: nothing about us without us. The practice of paternalistic thinking, that the government knows what is best and what is appropriate for persons with disabilities, is gone. In its place is a new, modern 2018 approach to legislating, where the government listens and actively solicits the input, feedback, advice and ideas of persons with disabilities about how best to address their needs. This legislation is the first step in that process, and it is one that is long overdue. I urge everyone to take a non-partisan approach to this important legislation and to support it.

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Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):

Madam Speaker, in my riding of Barrie—Innisfil, I have been dealing with Gloria Noseworthy, who has an organization called the Crossroads Community Centre, which helps adults with autism transition from their younger years into adulthood. We were very fortunate this weekend to have the member for Edmonton—Wetaskiwin come to speak at an autism symposium that Ms. Noseworthy had put on.

One of the concerns that was raised among parents of adult children with autism is their ability to access employment. Many of them currently have skill sets that can be applied. For example, it is well known that the member for Edmonton—Wetaskiwin’s son Jaden works in a library. He does a great job.

How would this legislation help address the concerns of people like Gloria and other parents who have children with autism who are transitioning into adulthood?

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Mr. Arif Virani:

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member opposite’s genuine concern for this important issue. Empowering and unleashing the potential of people who are living with autism as they transition to adulthood is critical, and that is exactly what informs this entire piece of legislation.

I would redirect the conversation to what I outlined in my speech about the opportunities fund, which is about ensuring that young people, including people with disabilities, have skills. It is also about matching them with employers who are ready, willing and able to employ such persons but literally do not know how to go about doing so because they do not have the resources at hand. Providing that match is fundamental. For parliamentarians on both side of the floor, it is incumbent upon us to facilitate that kind of matchmaking and unleash this potential, not just for autistic young adults but for all young adults with disabilities.

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Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP):

Madam Speaker, there is no doubt that legislation to address accessibility for people with disabilities in Canada is overdue, so I am glad to see this bill before us. However, it is missing some significant components, including a timeline to achieve full accessibility. I would just quote David Lepofsky, Canadian lawyer and disability advocate. He said:

It’s a good starting point and certainly the most substantial piece of legislation introduced by any government in Canada. But it’s going to need substantial additions and improvements to be effective, including a deadline to reach full accessibility.

Would the government be open to accepting amendments to this bill at committee stage so that we can truly work toward full accessibility with a timeline to meet the needs of Canadians in a non-partisan way?

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Mr. Arif Virani:

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member opposite’s important work on behalf of her party and on the immigration file that we worked on jointly previously.

It is important not only to have a strategy and objectives, but also a sense of when those objectives and strategy should be fulfilled. I heard from Mr. Lepofsky, as I mentioned, at my own town hall, I know him from legal circles prior to being elected to the House. He made the exact same important point to me. It is informed by his understanding of the Ontario act, which does have a timeline. That is an important facet to keep in mind.

As for the member’s question with respect to the committee process, as always we are hoping for a very vigorous and comprehensive study at the committee stage, and robust amendments that would fulfill the important areas of this legislation and flesh out areas that may not have been contemplated earlier can be proposed.

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Ms. Kate Young (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science and Sport and to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility (Accessibility), Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I was so glad to hear that my hon. colleague held a town hall about accessibility issues, something that I have wanted to do.

What are some of the best practices he learned from that town hall that could inform other MPs who think they would like to do this in their constituencies?

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Mr. Arif Virani:

Madam Speaker, the best thing I could say is not to be afraid of doing something. It is more complex, as it is a bit of uncharted territory, but members should not be afraid to listen to those who are giving them feedback. Do not be afraid to think outside of box in how they embrace people and their ability to understand what they are doing. A case in point is that we dealt with some hiccups. We dealt with some concerns about closed captioning and sign language and how we can ensure it would all work conjointly. It was not particularly easy, but it is so worthwhile ensuring that everyone understands the message this legislation is sending, which is that this place, this government and this nation belong to all of us.

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen (Red Deer—Mountain View, CPC):

Madam Speaker, today’s discussion is on Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. When I first heard that the government might have an interest in helping the disabled, I immediately thought it would be formalizing some of the great work done by advocacy groups for the disabled, perhaps looking at special initiatives to enhance the disability tax credit program or considering ways to help caregivers cope with their everyday stresses. Truly it was disappointing to hear that its initiative was instead centred around the creation of a government bureaucracy. When the creation of a regulatory body to facilitate consultations is the main focus of the proposed legislation, it makes one wonder what has been happening on this file since the initial mandate letter was presented back in 2015.

It took two cabinet shuffles with two mandate letters to finally get this project to the House, and the notable outcomes are to continue consultations and to start considering actions for regulations. With this comes a price tag of $290 million. Therefore, after two and a half years of consultations, we have come up with a plan to formalize more consultations. Do members see a pattern here?

With the current government, talk is what it is does best. Positive, thoughtful action is a mysterious notion to it, and one that is only calculated once political expediency has been factored in. What could the Liberals have done to recognize and make meaningful the lives of those Canadians who face physical, psychological and emotional barriers?

I would like to start my remarks by addressing something that is very dear to me, the carnage here in the national capital region last Friday night when the horrific tornado destroyed people’s homes, damaged public infrastructure and seriously hurt so many people. I witnessed the carnage of the black Friday tornado in Edmonton in 1987. Homes were destroyed, areas were levelled and, sadly, many lives were lost. Thirteen years later, I witnessed this again firsthand.

As a farmer, it is just natural to look at the sky, and I remember doing so on a hot and muggy Friday afternoon in 2000 as I was delivering grain to our local elevator. Someone was going to get hit. It was obvious that a storm was brewing, and it was so hot that afternoon we decided to go to our trailer at Pine Lake, where it was just a little cooler, to make supper.

Being on the lake below the hill, we never saw what was coming, but a guy on a catamaran racing to the shore to take cover under a neighbour’s deck was our first clue. Then it started hailing, and then hailing into the wind. Trees were twisting and snapping onto our trailer and boat, and we were just a few feet away. The water rose two feet and then rose two feet again as we watched this giant green wall of water in front of us. Then, as quickly as it had come, it abated. It looked at though the ground was covered with lawn chairs. However, it was trailer walls and debris instead.

A boat that had been stored on a trailer half a mile away was stuck in the mud in front of us. There was carnage everywhere. Once we freed our boat from the tree that had landed on it, we tried to get to our neighbouring campground of Green Acres. Our friends owned the campground. My brother had his trailer there, and many of our friends considered it their summer home. Local fire and rescue crews were quickly on the scene and I, along with many others, made it to the site to do what we could. The 12 deaths and the utter destruction of the campground made national news. The path of the tornado also caused extreme hardship for our neighbours, as their homes, farms, and fields were also caught up in this devastation. This was part of the story that never made the news. The other part of the story that sadly gets so quickly forgotten is those who were injured during the disaster.

Whether it is injuries from a natural disaster, accidents at home or on the road, or disabilities from disease, members of our society need to know that we stand with them. That is what I want to quickly address today.

Besides the physical damage that many people must endure, there is also the reality of serious psychological damage that needs to be addressed. In the aftermath of the Pine Lake tornado, our community came together to deal with both. Leaders arose from this disaster. Champions of the disabled community became well-known spokespeople and got the attention of everyone. One such champion was Marlin Styner. Marlin was a quadriplegic. He helped bring all of us to a heightened state of awareness of the barriers that existed in our city of Red Deer.

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Marlin later sat on the premier’s provincial task force for the disabled. He, along with another advocate for the disabled, Dr. Gary McPherson, showed us how to create a city and community that understood what true barriers for the disabled were. Red Deer soon became, and continues to be, a community where not only physical barriers but other barriers as well are always top of mind, and we have solutions.

Our nation has had many other champions as well. Terry Fox taught us what can be done when we look beyond those things that others think would limit us. Another personal hero of mine is Rick Hansen. His Man in Motion tour took him through my hometown of Innisfail. My mother, who was wheelchair bound in her last few months of dealing with bone cancer, presented Rick with a cheque on behalf of the Pythian Sisters organization which she so proudly served.

Rick Hansen did more than just raise money for spinal cord research. He also showed us what a true advocate for the disabled he was when one of our local cowboy heroes, Duane Daines, was injured in a rodeo accident in B.C. Rick visited Duane shortly after his accident and assured Duane that he still possessed all the qualities that made him a champion saddle bronc rider, and that these qualities would make him successful in whatever he did in the future. He was right.

Local farmers and ranchers Bob Blair and Oliver Marshall are two other friends who have always impressed me with their determination and drive. This makes those of us in our community realize that all barriers can be overcome.

Sadly, Marlin Styner and Dr. Gary McPherson, who I mentioned earlier, are no longer with us.

Another champion, Trevor Paré, a young man I had the pleasure of teaching in Innisfail many years ago, recently passed away. Even though Trevor was afflicted with Pompe disease, he showed our nation, our community and especially his beloved Red Deer Rebels just how one should strive to live every day to the fullest.

The reason I have spoken of these champions is that they know, and knew, how to overcome barriers. This can and should be a lesson to all levels of government. Our community of Red Deer always considers the issues of the disabled. Our province championed their concerns and one would hope that our federal government would as well.

Too often forgotten are the other champions of the disabled: the caregivers. Whether it is the parent of a disabled child, the spouse of an Alzheimer’s sufferer, the family of a terminally ill loved one or the professional caregivers who work to make their patients’ lives better, they deal with barriers as well.

When this government looks at ensuring a barrier-free Canada, it is not just the management of a bureaucracy that needs to be considered. It is not about hiring thousands of people to ensure that government workers make sure government departments heed their directives. It is not about setting up an enforcement regime to ensure that all are following a government mandate. It should not be about just giving lip service to the real needs of the disabled. Rather than pushing for years and years of consultation, we should be looking at the many success stories that are part of Canada’s efforts of inclusion. We are a nation of champions and we know how to accommodate those who need help. We are a nation that respects all of its citizens. We always have and we always will.

How can we reduce barriers and help integrate those with disabilities? How can we do this quickly so that logical solutions are implemented as soon as possible? It takes vision and commitment.

I submit that this was one of the hallmark aspects of our previous Conservative government. I remember very well the campaign in 2008, during which under Stephen Harper we advocated for a registered disability savings plan. That election was in October. By December, the registered disability savings plan was introduced and available for Canadians. That monumental change, which helped both the disabled and their caregivers, took place in under three months.

The Liberal government’s plan is one of talk and more talk, bureaucracy and government red tape, and delay when one should be championing results. The legislation is what it is. The next stage is committee review. I believe it is necessary to get this bill to committee so that we and the public can give it its due consideration.

I hope that during this discussion the real needs of our disabled community can be highlighted, that the real champions of our disabled community can be given a voice and that the caregivers who put their lives on hold to devote to their loved ones will be recognized.

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Mr. Greg Fergus (Hull—Aylmer, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech made by my colleague across the way.

After reviewing the bill, does my hon. colleague agree with its underlying principle, namely that policies need to be developed by the community, for the community?

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen:

Madam Speaker, the point I was trying to make was that there are a lot of solutions that are already there. It is one thing for the government to say that it is going to try to bring them together, but nowhere in here do I see where it talks about real initiatives and engagement with those groups that are involved. No doubt the government has talked to them about it and there have been discussions. However, when we go through the summary and the various parts of the bill, all we see is how it is going to set up bureaucracy. Nowhere does it talk about, other than in the very short preamble, how the government would attempt to realize some of the goals that it has mentioned. I think this is the critical component. It is a big bill and there is a lot in there, but once we read the bill, we realize that it is all bureaucracy and red tape.

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Ms. Linda Lapointe (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague from Red Deer—Mountain View.

He talked about the tornado that hit his riding 13 years ago. I myself lived through a microburst five years ago. It was utterly terrifying. My thoughts are with the people in both Hull and Ottawa who went through that experience last week. Of course, people with disabilities have an even tougher time, especially in severe storms like this one. Earlier, the member mentioned the barriers faced by people with disabilities.

How is this bill going to help people with disabilities? Most importantly, are you going to support Bill C-81?

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes):

The hon. member was doing just fine, but she went off course when she addressed her question directly to the member. I would ask the member to address the Chair, not individuals.

[English]

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen:

Madam Speaker, I am sure that having studied this yourself as well you would see the merits that would be associated with the bill.

The point I was trying to make about the carnage that had taken place was not with respect to what happened that day; it was about the lives that had been affected, and the fact that there were champions of the community who were able to become part of it and make sure that we had some real solutions. With those real solutions came approaches that the Province of Alberta was able to use. That is what I was dealing with when I was speaking of it. It is not a case of there is something that just happened and there were a number of people who were killed and many who were injured, and now they happen to have barriers. The point was that it brought the community together, and we looked for the excellence that was there and expanded upon it.

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Mr. Larry Maguire (Brandon—Souris, CPC):

Madam Speaker, my colleague made some very good points. There are many disabled persons in Canada, and the bill is attentive with respect to that area. However, if I was looking at this from their perspective, I would ask what is in it for me.

I would ask my colleague from Red Deer to elaborate a little more on what he was just referring to. There does not seem to be much more than a complaints process in this bill. I am wondering if he concurs with that or if there is something I have missed in it.

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen:

Madam Speaker, the important thing that I was attempting to get at was there are some solutions, but having read the bill and simply looking at the summary, all that we see is how the government can develop another department, how it can bring it together, and how it will have the ability to go after another department and put penalties on it. That is really what is here. I do not think that is what people in the disabled community felt was going to happen. The title, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, has nothing to do with the major part of the discussion in the nine or 10 parts of this bill.

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Ms. Karine Trudel (Jonquière, NDP):

Madam Speaker, we are talking about Bill C-81, but this reminds me of an event that took place this summer in my riding, Jonquière. The Martin-Valin ZEC, a controlled harvesting zone, inaugurated a new lakeside wharf for use by people with reduced mobility who want to go fishing.

I had a chance to talk to some of them during the grand opening. Some had never seen the lake up close before, and others were holding a fishing rod for the first time. Wonderful projects like that are so great.

I would like to congratulate the Martin-Valin ZEC on this wonderful project, which enables people with reduced mobility to enjoy nature and fishing.

I would like my colleague to comment on Bill C-81. Does he think that all government laws and policies should be examined from the perspective of people with disabilities?

[English]

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen:

Madam Speaker, certainly I believe it is important we look at inclusiveness for everyone to be able to help them. Again, the point I was attempting to make is that we see that in our community. One would simply anticipate the government would be that enlightened, but as we know, it is a big machine and it is hard to get moved around. It is important we address those kinds of concerns. When I consider the legislation being put before us, there are concerns about everything associated with it. For example, how does one build one department so it can look after another department? It is one of the reasons that when the bill gets to committee, I hope the Liberals are not going to try to push it through without actually talking to people who are really affected by this.

[Translation]

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Mr. Ramez Ayoub (Thérèse-De Blainville, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to ask my colleague a question on this important bill.

This is a historic bill. My colleague mentioned that the Rick Hansen Foundation has also described this as a historic bill.

My question is very simple, and my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles has already asked it, too. Will you be supporting the bill?

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes):

The member for Thérèse-De Blainville made the same mistake as his colleague. I hope the member will be sure to address his question to the Chair next time.

[English]

The hon. member for Red Deer—Mountain View.

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen:

Madam Speaker, I read in some of the commentary how this was a historic piece of legislation. It is important. It is important there be discussions, and I believe once it gets to committee there can be discussions there. It took a long time to get to this stage. The mandate was presented in 2015 and here it is 2018. If that is what the member means by a lot of history and being historic, I suppose that would speak to that. However, the reality is that things can get done quickly if one desires it and really makes it an important focus of the government.

[Translation]

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Mr. Luc Berthold (Mégantic—L’Érable, CPC):

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

In my previous jobs, I have worked extensively with people with disabilities and people with various difficulties.

I discussed this bill with them over the weekend. Their first comment had to do with the $290-million envelope allocated to preparing a plan, which will ultimately lead to something. Since they are familiar with the costs and needs involved, they are wondering why that money is not being used right away.

I would like to hear the member’s thoughts on that.

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Mr. Earl Dreeshen:

Madam Speaker, the member certainly knows very well the issues and concerns of disasters that can take place in his hometown. This is something that affects communities. I believe people understand there has to be direct action. What we see in front of us is a call for money, and there would tax dollars associated with this in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Going through each of the various parts of the legislation step by step, we see this in things like how we can develop another watchdog to look after another group or how we are going to deal with transportation because it is under federal purview, and how are we going to deal with each of these different groups. There is a lot more that can be done, and hopefully that will be the focus of the discussion at committee.

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Ms. Kate Young (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science and Sport and to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility (Accessibility), Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I am thankful to have this opportunity to speak about the measures our government is taking to make Canada a more inclusive and accessible society for all Canadians.

The word “inclusion” tends to be overused, but, for us, it has a specific meaning. It means making efforts to support people who face obstacles when they try to participate fully in society. Of course, this primarily affects people with disabilities.

I am very proud to see Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, being tabled in this House. It responds to real needs for many Canadians. The numbers are troubling. Only 49% of Canadians with disabilities, aged 25 to 64, have a job, and that is compared with 79% of Canadians without a disability. They earn 44% less than Canadians without a disability, and are more susceptible to poverty.

We can all agree, I am sure, that this is unacceptable, and that is why we are acting so resolutely. As we are preparing our plan to create accessibility legislation, we knew we would need to listen to Canadians who really have this topic at heart. We held the largest consultation on this topic in the history of Canada. We met with more than 6,000 people and over 90 organizations.

By listening to Canadians throughout this consultation, we learned about the real issues surrounding accessibility in our country. These consultations guided the preparation of the bill that is before the House today.

I would like to start by noting that if it is passed, the bill will apply to organizations under federal jurisdiction. This includes Parliament, the Government of Canada and Crown corporations, as well as the federally regulated private sector. This last group includes organizations in the transportation sector, the broadcasting and telecommunications sector, and the banking and financial sector.

One of the priority areas of the bill is the development and implementation of new accessibility standards. Bill C-81 proposes to create the Canadian accessibility standards development organization. This innovative organization, the first of its kind in Canada, would have a mandate to develop model accessibility standards that would guide the requirements that organizations under federal jurisdiction must respect to identify and eliminate obstacles, and to prevent the creation of any new obstacles.

The Canadian accessibility standards development organization would give people with disabilities a voice in the development of accessibility standards that affect them directly. As a result, the board of directors would be made up of a majority of people with disabilities.

We are fully aware that accessibility will not happen overnight when this bill is passed. Passing bills is not enough to change mentalities and implement solutions. That is why we are determined to collaborate with all Government of Canada organizations to produce results that will make the implementation of accessibility practical and possible for everyone.

Our approach is simple: we want to lead the way and be leaders in accessibility in this country. Everyone in this House has their own personal story about people with disabilities, whether it is a loved one, a friend or a colleague. We are all affected.

Accessibility issues affected me personally when my mother suffered a major stroke when she was 69 years old. We were told she would not survive the night, but doctors did not know my mother. She was a fighter and survived for 13 years, but not without major challenges. For the rest of her life, my mother navigated the world in a wheelchair. It was not easy, and my dad worked extremely hard, trying to make life a little easier for both of them.

That was in the early 1990s. I am concerned that barriers still exist, and we need to move forward as a government, and as a federal government we need to become leaders in this field.

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Watching my parents was eye opening. My dad even designed his own contraption to help him load my mother’s wheelchair in and out of their car trunk because it was far too heavy for him to lift.

He would map out the day, trying to determine if they could go to the mall and find a washroom on a moment’s notice. This was 25 years ago, so accessible washrooms were not the norm, and even if they were, my dad was not always allowed into the ladies’ room to help my mother get on and off the toilet. It robbed them both of their dignity.

These are very personal, very natural parts of everyone’s life, but not if one is disabled. The simplest thing can become daunting and keep people with disabilities from feeling welcomed in society.

While my mom and dad were trying their best to stay active despite my mother’s disabilities, my young daughter was struggling in school. As the early grades went by, we realized she was having great difficulty and finally was diagnosed with profound learning disabilities.

At that time, I was the news anchor for the television station in London. My job was reading the news every night to thousands of people. Ironically, my daughter was having an almost impossible time trying to learn to read.

I will never forget the day when Lauren was in grade 6 and the school called a meeting with me and her dad. They told us they did not know how Lauren learned but they could not teach her. They suggested we find another school for her to attend. We were devastated. How could a public school and her teachers give up on her?

We were told Lauren would never read for pleasure, something her dad and I enjoy doing so much. We worried about how these challenges would limit her future job prospects and what type of job she could do when she finished school.

Parents of children with learning disabilities need to constantly advocate for their own children to make sure they get the support they need. As a country, we need to support these young people early, so that they can become happy, healthy young people who have jobs to look forward to.

As for Lauren, getting her into a special needs class was the turning point and really helped her find her way. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Today Lauren does read for pleasure. She turns 30 in a couple of days and she is now giving me suggestions for books that I should read.

We all have our personal stories of people in our lives who are in some way disabled or differently abled, as I like to say. Everyone needs support and we will all benefit from a more accessible Canada. When the most challenged in our society are given a chance to succeed, we all succeed.

The Government of Canada is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the country as well as the largest employer in Canada. Moreover, organizations under federal jurisdiction represent a large portion of public space in the country and employ nearly one million Canadians. These organizations can have a major impact on the culture change concerning accessibility.

In addition to Bill C-81, the Government of Canada will invest in a procurement accessibility resource centre. We will also adjust policies to ensure that the products and services purchased by the Government of Canada are accessible. We hope that our leadership will encourage organizations all across the country to join the movement and be proactive for accessibility.

People with disabilities who are successful in the workplace are in the minority, and that should not be the case. Many businesses are starting to come to the realization that hiring people with disabilities is not just the right thing to do, but it is good for business.

Fifteen years ago I was part of a group of London business people who started the Ability First Coalition to encourage employers to hire and retain people with disabilities. I put the emphasis on retain, because too often people with disabilities will start a job but find it for whatever reason too challenging, maybe because of a lack of appropriate training, or maybe they needed some type of accommodation that the employer was not willing to consider.

There can be many reasons, but businesses that have had success will tell us that their business is richer and more rewarding for all employees when there are people with disabilities working and getting paid just like everyone else.

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Improving accessibility is good for business. Employment and Social Development Canada estimates that fully including and accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace could produce economic benefits reaching 1.3% to 1.9% of GDP or $26.4 billion to $38.5 billion annually. That is astonishing.

A similar recent study by The Conference Board of Canada, which looked only at physical accessibility, also showed that making workplaces accessible would have a significant impact on economic growth.

We have to remove barriers to success and this is exactly what this accessible Canada legislation does. Really, what we are looking for is a culture change. We will lead by example and become a global model for accessibility.

This bill represents a real transformation in the Government of Canada’s approach to accessibility. Up to this point, any action for accessibility was up to those affected. It was up to them to take the initiative and file complaints with authorities about systematically inaccessible processes, with the hope that it would lead to results. This is now changing with this bill. It will no longer be up to Canadians with disabilities to fix the system.

We want to ensure that barriers are eliminated before they become problems. We are doing this through new measures for compliance with an application of the bill. As a result, organizations under federal jurisdiction will now be responsible for the implementation and equality of accessible practices.

In 2012, almost 3.8 million, or about 14%, of Canadians age 15 years and older, reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability. This percentage is expected to increase with population aging since the prevalence of disability increases with age.

The barriers faced by Canadians with disabilities today are real and tangible. Every day, barriers prevent Canadians with disabilities from being able to access necessary services and buildings. Barriers continue to impact the participation of people with disabilities across all aspects of work, family and community life. If passed by Parliament, Bill C-81 would benefit all Canadians, especially Canadians with disabilities, by helping create a barrier-free Canada.

This bill proposes proactive compliance activities such as inspections, document audits and a series of tools, including compliance orders and warnings, compliance audits and fines. I should specify here that this does not take away people’s right to file complaints and receive compensation if they are victims of prejudice because an organization does not respect its new obligations under the bill and regulations. It is the combination of all these measures that will lead to real change in accessibility in Canada.

The goal of this bill is to eliminate barriers and provide more access and possibilities for all people with disabilities. We still have a lot of work to do to create a Canada that is truly accessible and inclusive, but I am confident. Together, if we support Bill C-81 we will be taking another step in the right direction.

There is something else that is happening today on Parliament Hill that I wanted to make everyone aware of. The first ever United Nations International Day of Sign Languages was celebrated yesterday and it coincides with International Week of the Deaf. The theme for this year is “With Sign Language, Everyone is Included!” It emphasizes the importance of recognizing sign language as a principal means of communication in today’s world

Later today we are going to have a reception and hear more from people. I am going to have a chance to have my first lesson in sign language, which I am looking forward to.

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Our government is committed to ensuring greater accessibility and opportunities for all Canadians with disabilities, and that includes Canadians who are deaf. Tabling this legislation will remove and prevent barriers to accessibility.

Canada is at its best when everyone is included. I encourage all members in the House to join me today in recognizing and celebrating the contributions made to Canadian society by people who are deaf.

Some of the highlights that our government has committed to and has done over the past will show that we are on the right track, but it is only a beginning.

Our government has taken leadership on the access to alternative format materials for persons with a disability through the accession of the Marrakesh Treaty in 2016, and an investment to date of over $6 million for the alternative format materials.

We recognize the importance of supporting the removal of barriers in the built environment, and we announced in 2017 an increase of $77 million over 10 years to expand the activities of the enabling accessibility fund. This fund, with an annual budget of $22 million, supports the capital costs of construction and renovation related to improving physical accessibility and safety for people with disabilities.

In April 2018, our government made changes to immigration’s medical inadmissibility policy to strike a balance between protecting publicly funded health and social services and bringing it in line with our current views on the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Through the historic new investment in the investing in Canada plan, all federally-funded public-facing infrastructure will be required to meet the highest published applicable accessibility standards in our respective jurisdictions.

Also, the national housing strategy will ensure that a minimum of 20% of new construction and repaired units must meet accessibility standards and all projects must be designed barrier-free. This strategy also includes a commitment of 2,400 affordable housing units built for persons with developmental disabilities.

One thing we take from this is that disabilities mean so very much to so many different people.

My grandsons we born very prematurely and weighed less than two pounds at birth. We were very concerned about what would happen to them as they grew up. I am so happy to say that the twin boys turn six-years-old in a couple of days. One would not know they were born prematurely. The only evidence is the fact that maybe their eyesight is not as good as it should be, so they both wear glasses.

We were worried that Harrison was going to be legally blind and we waited patiently to find out what his abilities would be. Through the years, every year, it seems to be getting better. However, it is going to be while before we know as parents, as grandparents, whether Harrison will need accommodations in his school life. I hope and I pray that with this accessible Canada legislation, we are moving in the right direction so people like Harrison my grandson, Lauren my daughter, and my mother, who is in heaven, will all realize that we are working in the right direction to make Canada a more accessible place for all.

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Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, CPC):

Madam Speaker, Bill C-81, from what the member is describing, is rather redundant. For a number of years, Ontario has been implementing laws to make commercial buildings barrier-free. Even federal government agencies apply for the enabling accessibility funding. It is redundant in the sense that already the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, for example, has a catalogue of different appliances to help people with their vision. The Diabetes Foundation has different classes, information and helpful aids for people suffering with diabetes.

How exactly are we even to believe the Liberals? Speaking of diabetes, they took people suffering with diabetes off of the list of conditions that would be acceptable for the disability tax credit. The disability tax credit bill to restrict the fees that promoters of the disability tax credit could charge was voted for unanimously. Even though the Liberals voted in favour of it, they went against it as soon as they formed government.

How are we to believe that this bill is anything more than something to make it look like Liberals are doing something when all they are doing is building bureaucracy?

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Ms. Kate Young:

Madam Speaker, I agree with my hon. colleague that many organizations are doing phenomenal work. That is not in question. Many provinces are well ahead of the game. Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and now British Columbia are really making headway.

What we need is a federal accessible Canada act. This legislation would take us there. It means we will make strides that we need in order to make all of Canada accessible. It is progressive legislation. It will take time, there is no question. However, I cannot imagine anyone would suggest that we not start the process, and that is what we are doing.

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Mr. Scott Duvall (Hamilton Mountain, NDP):

Madam Speaker, the New Democrats think this important legislation. However, my understanding is that this falls under federal jurisdiction buildings for accessibility. The City of Hamilton did a report on where it could help people who had these challenges by making it more accessible for them. In Hamilton, 20% of the population has disabilities. The report said that $157 million were needed to make the city full accessible by the year 2025.

How would this bill help cities like Hamilton to go forward in ensuring this is a barrier-free Canada?

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Ms. Kate Young:

Madam Speaker, I have heard that Hamilton is doing extremely great things in moving this forward, and we can learn from that. We can certainly find evidence, as I mentioned, in different provinces and cities like Hamilton that we are doing well. However, some places across Canada are not doing too well and we need to raise the bar.

People with disabilities should not be the only ones who have to push to make Canada more accessible. This legislation really shifts the focus from people with disabilities so they will no longer have to rely on individual Canadians with physical disabilities to fix the system; we need to fix the system. Will it be challenging? Will there be extra costs associated? Of course there will, but we must start moving forward to ensure Canada is accessible for everyone.

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Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):

Madam Speaker, as it happens, this is my first occasion to rise to discuss Bill C-81, a bill we have been studying all through the summer months.

I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for using the word “must” just now when she said we must move forward. My question actually relates to that. The word “must” is all too infrequently in the legislation and the word “may” is there a lot more. I do not mind the word “may” for obvious reasons, but in legislative terms, I would rather see “must”.

I will give the parliamentary secretary an example and hope for some encouragement. We need to amend the bill in committee. For instance, the all-important section states, “The Governor in Council may, by order, designate a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada”, otherwise known as the cabinet, “as the Minister for the purposes of this Act.” There is another section like it that says the accessibility commissioner “may” provide written reports to the minister, who of course may be appointed. It is pretty clear that we need a minister responsible and the intention and spirit of the act make it obvious.

Could the hon. parliamentary secretary reflect on why we would not make it mandatory that cabinet always appoint a minister responsible for purposes of this act?

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Ms. Kate Young:

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague’s underscoring how she likes to use the word may in some instances, but would like the word must to be used in this instance. This is one of those discussions that can be had at the committee level. These are discussions we as a government need to hear, of where there may be room for improvement with the legislation.

I know we have said, time and again, talking about this legislation, that we have to respect the disability community and that “it is nothing about us without us”. That is why we continue to hear that phrase. It is important that the people with disabilities get to appear before committee and express their concerns and what they would like to see in legislation, moving forward.

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Mr. Steven MacKinnon (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary and the minister for bringing forward what is a true example of stellar federal leadership in ensuring a barrier-free Canada. I also listened attentively to her speech and was touched by the numerous personal bits of testimony. I know all members of the House can share equivalent stories about people in their lives who have benefited in the past from federal and other intervention with respect to accessibility, and will benefit in the future by the enhanced standards that we will put in place.

I was curious to hear the opposition talk about this in terms of bureaucracies and growing government. Would the parliamentary secretary reflect on federal leadership in this area and what she thinks will be the great advances we make due to this federal leadership and this legislation?

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Ms. Kate Young:

Madam Speaker, that is a very important question. This speaks to my heart. As members could tell from my speech, a number of times throughout my lifetime I have realized that it is not easy for anyone who has a disability. We all have certain types of disabilities, but some are more impactful and profound than others. We all must take leadership.

I am so proud to be a part of a government that is taking that necessary step. This is the most major legislation for the disabled community in Canada in the last 30 years. We need to move forward. This is not a partisan issue. This is something we all believe is necessary. We must act and act quickly to get this into law so all disabled Canadians can feel they are being listened to and heard and that they will in time reflect how their government and the House are behind them totally.

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Ms. Rachel Blaney (North Island—Powell River, NDP):

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saskatoon West.

I am here to speak to Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. This is an important bill and one which we should all be talking about. We should really be considering what it means to have a barrier-free Canada.

Bill C-81 would establish several new important official positions and agencies, for example, the accessibility commissioner in charge of enforcement, a Canadian accessibility standards development organization which would create model accessibility standards that the government could enact as regulations, and a chief accessibility officer to advise and report on progress and needed improvements. It would look at this in terms of what comes under federal jurisdiction. That is a start.

This bill is a positive step in the right direction, but I am concerned that there are some significant gaps. The majority of these gaps are around allowing these organizations to decide instead of enforce. Persons with disabilities are put in positions that often are uncomfortable. It is our job as Canadians, as it is the job of the government, to look at what those barriers are and make a difference.

Bill C-81 does not have any mandatory timelines for implementation, which concerns me, as action is required. The best way to measure action is through outcomes. The bill would not require all federal government laws, policies and programs to be studied through a disability law lens. I think that is important to do as we look into the future of this country. The bill would give several public agencies or officials far too much sweeping power to grant partial or blanket exemptions to specific organizations from important parts of the bill. This is very concerning. Also, the bill would separate enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over four different public agencies. Rather, it should be providing people with disabilities a single service location, a one-stop shop. They really require that to get the action they need.

Recently, I was having a discussion about the bill with a young man in university who has severe dyslexia. He also happens to be my son. As a parent of a child with a severe learning disability, I had a lot of learning to do. He was diagnosed when he was in elementary school. It was very weird for me walking around the world to realize how fast I recognized words and what I gather by seeing words around me every day. My son lives in a world where he is basically always surrounded by a foreign language. I think about when I travel internationally to communities where I cannot read the signs, or I do not understand what the ingredients are or I cannot read the menu. Those are challenges that my son faces every day. He did well in school, obviously, as he is now in university. One of the hardest things for him and his family were the many people who saw him as very intelligent and competent, which he absolutely is, but they did not understand the challenges that he faced because of his learning disability. Many educators thought that if they did something differently they would be able to fix him. I want to be clear. They are not bad people or bad educators. In fact, if it were not for many of them, he would not be in university today. I specifically think of Mr. Murphy, Dr. Morrow and Ms. Fonagy who really supported him. They understood fundamentally that he was not broken, that he is just dyslexic.

What my son said to me this past weekend was profound. He said, “People do not want people with disabilities to be successful. If we succeed, it means they will have to accommodate us.” I really hope that people in the House hear that, because it was really hard for me to hear that. This is a serious reality that accommodation is perceived as a burden, as something that is often seen as too much work.

One day in August I spent two hours in a wheelchair. I learned so much and recognized that I just touched the surface of understanding what it is to live in a wheelchair. The reality for me was that if I wanted to get out of that chair, I just had to stand up. I want to thank my constituent, Karen, for taking me out that day. She has been in a chair for quite a while and she was an amazing teacher. She does this with a lot of political figures. For me, it was an opportunity for a very brief time to experience the world through her eyes and experience.

I learned a lot of things that were really frustrating. I learned that my arms are not very strong. I learned that the Canada Post on Comox Avenue in Comox is very welcoming and accessible, but getting up that ramp sure gave me sore arms.

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I learned about the placement of buttons when I wanted to open a door. I learned what it means when there is a small dip or hill and how much harder it is to get up it. I remember watching her coast around at an angle to push the button and then get in the door on an entranceway that was on a hill.

I learned about how challenging it can be to cross the street, because people often do not look for people at that height. She has to sit there and wait until people look her in the eye.

I went through numerous stores, and I am very grateful to all the local businesses that are used to her doing this route. It was amazing for me to see and feel how a small display on the floor would actually mean so much more work to manouevre and try to figure out how to get around it.

I came to the realization that there are a lot of parking spots which are not that accessible. When we see that symbol on the ground in a parking lot, we think it is good that there is accessible parking. However, I saw parking spots that had that symbol that were definitely not accessible.

What was most startling for me was when I posted about that experience. The response of one woman who has a severe disability was that it is simply easier to stay at home. We have to recognize that when we do not create an accessible environment and an accessible Canada, we are leaving people out.

I remember speaking with another gentleman in Campbell River who was also in a wheelchair. He spoke about showing the city the challenges he faces every day, and how the response was it wanted to be helpful but was very overwhelmed because it simply does not have the resources required to actually make it more accommodating for people. I feel for the municipalities that have so few resources and so much of the responsibility. If we want to build a barrier-free Canada, then working with communities must be a fundamental part of the process.

I want to make this clear, because my son always makes me accountable for this. I do not think we should be doing this out of pity. I think that if I felt sorry for my son he would definitely not appreciate it and would take me to task. We should do this because we want everyone to participate in our country. Consideration is about acknowledging that anything could happen to any one of us at any moment, and if it does, we have to rely on one another. Tomorrow if I could not walk, see or read, that would not make me any less of a person.

I want to come back to what my son said, which is, “People do not want people with disabilities to be successful. If we succeed, it means they will have to accommodate us.” We cannot hide from the reality that there is truth in that statement. I am not positive in any way that is the intention of our country or the intention of people. However, the impact is something that can be measured. It is something that is experienced by people who have different challenges. I really want to see a Canada that is accessible to everyone and that looks at opportunities to open the door.

I understand that this bill is focusing on what we can do federally, and I hope and challenge all of us to do so much more. I am happy to support this bill. I am very hopeful that when it goes to committee there is a lot of work done and that a lot of discussion happens with respect to how we can actually make this more fulsome. I want to take out a lot more of the options and have things in the bill that makes action happen. People who have different challenges are tired of hearing things and want to see concrete action on the ground.

We know that poverty rates are considerably higher for people with disabilities and we must be mindful of what the impact is for them with respect to going out and having the energy to be accessible. I remember Karen talking to me about the price differences for a wheelchair, or the tires for a wheelchair, and how she actually goes to a bike shop to get tires because it is significantly cheaper. We need to be looking at these issues. We need to do that because it is simply the best thing to do for our country.

As the seniors critic for the NDP, I would also mention that seniors with disabilities face a higher rate of poverty than people without disabilities. We really need to be comprehensive about this and have that discussion.

I will support the bill. I am happy this bill is here. I am happy that this is something we are discussing. I am always happy to talk about the disabilities that we see and the ones that are invisible. The committee has a lot of work to do, and I hope the bill comes back with a lot more action and a lot less meaningless promises.

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Mrs. Celina Caesar-Chavannes (Whitby, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for the passion with which she spoke to this issue and for using examples of not only her son but people in our community.

I have had the opportunity to have a number of round tables in Whitby on this piece of legislation, the accessibility act. One of the things they talked about was that they do not want to be cared for, that they want to be able to do things themselves, so I really did appreciate some of your sentiments.

One of the other things that people in Whitby spoke about was that they want to ensure that organizations are compliant. The bill grants the accessibility commissioner, the Canadian Transportation Agency, and the CRTC the powers of inspection and investigation. How important are these powers to ensure there is compliance and that we are truly making an inclusive Canada?

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes):

I just want to remind the hon. member to address questions and comments through the chair.

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Ms. Rachel Blaney:

Madam Speaker, I always appreciate it when we work hard in our constituencies and listen to the people we represent. I fundamentally believe that we are a voice for our riding, and I appreciate the member’s work around this bill.

I absolutely agree. I think of all the years of trying to support my son. It is very hard to support somebody when we have no idea what the person is experiencing, but we are trying the best to be there. He was frustrated by the barriers in his way, and even more frustrated when people tried to help him when he was not asking for help. It is very important that when we look at compliance, we look at ways to make sure that the actions are happening and that dignity is given to the people.

When I spent that time with Karen, I learned important things, such as when going up a hill, to not just hold the outside of the wheelchair but to hold the actual tire to get moving up that hill. I struggled behind her. If it came down to an arm-wrestling contest, she would win. She has incredible strength and power.

We have to make sure that in everything we do, we are opening doors. This should not be a country where we leave people behind. Our very existence could depend on it.

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Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):

Madam Speaker, there are several areas of concern with respect to this piece of legislation. On this side, we are hopeful that when it does get to committee, we are going to be able to work it out.

I know the member spoke about this, but a particular issue is that there are no mandatory timelines. There is $290 million being spent over six years, but within that six years, there is no measurement or time frame in which the action is to be taken.

I was wondering if the hon. member could expand a little more on her concern, and what she is hoping to see once it gets to committee and then comes back to Parliament.

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Ms. Rachel Blaney:

Madam Speaker, there are some things that I am hoping to see change when the legislation goes to committee. I am hoping to see a lot more concrete measures. We need to have something so that it is not just money flowing out, but actual on-the-ground work that needs to be done to support people with disabilities. I hope when the bill goes to the committee that work is done. I am really interested to see what the witnesses share with us.

At the end of the day it is important to recognize that words are not enough. It is really about action. What we need to see in this legislation is action that is measurable, so that we know that these outcomes are really making life better for people who have certain challenges.

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Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP):

Madam Speaker, my colleague made very thoughtful and moving comments, especially in illustrating the poignant point made by her son, as well as the lessons we can learn from people with disabilities.

To this end, Bill C-81 is before us. The government talks about how we must move forward, yet the bill itself does not require us to work with provincial or municipal governments or the communities to realize accessibility.

I wonder if the member could comment on that, and whether or not we should make that change at committee.

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Ms. Rachel Blaney:

Madam Speaker, I absolutely think this issue is something that needs to be looked at in committee.

When I talked to community members in different communities across my large riding of North Island—Powell River, I heard that what we really need to see is support on the ground so that people can lead a more fulsome lives.

Let us get moving. It is time for action.

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Ms. Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West, NDP):

Madam Speaker, Debbie Windsor is a Saskatoon resident who is tired of waiting for life to get better for people living with disabilities. Debbie has used a wheelchair most of her life. When she attended high school, she had to leave her home on the west side of Saskatoon at 5:00 a.m. to head to the east side of Saskatoon, where the only accessible high school was at the time.

Debbie would say that some things have changed since her high school days, but that change has been way too slow and too incremental. In a recent interview with the local paper, Debbie was asked what her biggest frustration was with respect to getting issues addressed for people living with disabilities. She said it was trying to find out where to go and who to speak to to find out who to hold to account so that change could happen.

Debbie is trying to get the message out that things must change for people living with disabilities so that they can be truly included in all aspects of life, from education to employment, so she launched her own radio show, on CFCR in Saskatoon, called Above and Beyond the Disability.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Debbie to discuss what governments must do if they are really serious about making life better for people with disabilities. One thing Debbie impressed upon me was how all too often those employed to provide services to people living with disabilities are non-disabled persons. She and I agree that this has to change.

During our interview, I heard loud and clear from Debbie about the difficulty of holding people to account for changes needed and the slow pace of change. Debbie was also adamant that those with disabilities be included not just as volunteers and consultation participants but as employees in the design and implementation of all services, policies and laws that impact their lives.

As always, it is an honour and a great responsibility to rise in the House to represent my constituents of Saskatoon West to do my best to give the people living in my community a voice in Parliament on issues and concerns that are important to them. Today I stand to speak in support of Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. I rise to add my voice to the debate with the hope that the bill will be a game-changer for people in my community like Debbie and the 5.3 million Canadians living with disabilities, and indeed, for all Canadians.

As my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh stated, “these proceedings” the debate on Bill C-81, “have the potential for tremendous historic significance. We are debating a bill that, if done properly” could very well become “breakthrough legislation” that will be proudly studied and celebrated for many “generations to come.”

We have been anxiously waiting for this legislation since it was promised during the last election, and of course, those living with disabilities and those advocating for disability rights have been waiting much longer for this day to come. It is incumbent on us as parliamentarians, with the input of citizens, to get it right, and that is what I hope we are all here to do today.

To get this legislation right, it needs improvements. The government must be open to allowing it to be thoroughly studied at committee and to ensuring the full participation of those living with disabilities so that their voices and expertise are heard loud and clear during the proceedings. Finally, the government must demonstrate that it is truly listening and will be open to accepting amendments at committee to this important bill.

How can this bill be better? What do we need to do to get it right? Here I will turn to the work and words of those in the know, the individual advocates and groups working to ensure that the human rights of those living with disabilities are respected and protected.

I want to acknowledge the work of Debbie Windsor, Barrier Free Saskatchewan, the National Institute of Disability Management and Research, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance for their work and expertise, which has been extremely helpful in informing my comments today.

How do we make this bill better so that it can really be historic in its impact on the lives of people with disabilities? When Debbie mentioned accountability for change, or the lack of accountability, I looked to see if this bill would deliver. It would not. The lack of timelines in the bill is a concern. Without clear timelines, many are concerned that there is no way to hold the government to account for timely implementation.

Splitting enforcement and implementation and spreading those functions over four different agencies seems confusing and overly bureaucratic. I do not see how this would be a preferred way to serve people. I am curious as to how anyone would see this set-up as effective or efficient. It sounds like a system built to serve government, not people.

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My colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, said it well in her speech when she described the enforcement and administration of the bill as a snarl, with the result of very similar regulations being enacted by the different agencies involved rather than by one single agency. The duplication would not just risk inconsistencies, it would create them, causing even further delays. The bill should be streamlining systems, not creating more barriers and bureaucracy.

Exemptions should be the exception, not the rule, but I am afraid that the bill would allow too much latitude for officials to exempt organizations, with little to no oversight or public accountability for why these exemptions were being allowed. This needs to change. If the bill would truly put people first, exemptions would need to be exceptional and reviewed independently.

Both the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, and the Canadian Transportation Agency remain in the frame around enforcement. To my earlier point, most agree that a one-stop enforcement agency is preferred by just about everyone who has commented on the bill. Putting that aside for a moment, neither of these agencies have proven effective in enforcing their current obligations on accessibility. Both of them have broad powers to exempt organizations from complying with the proposed legislation. Hopefully, committee members will carefully review and improve this aspect of the bill.

As the minister mentioned in her speech, the definitions of “barrier” and “disability” put forth in Bill C-81 draw from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They are broad and inclusive, supporting the greatest number of Canadians.

Since ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010, Canada has not proceeded with enabling legislation to bring our laws in line with this international obligation. It is good to see this legislation using definitions found in the convention. It is a good start, but we must not stop there. Bill C-81 does not fulfill all of Canada’s obligations under the treaty, so a reference in the legislation to a timeline for when Canada would fully meet its obligations would be an important addition to the bill. I encourage the committee to give this aspect of the bill its attention as well.

This past Saturday afternoon, on the grounds of nine legislative buildings in Canada, including on the grounds of the Saskatchewan legislature, people gathered to demand that American sign language and Quebec sign language be designated official languages in Canada. This call for the inclusion of ASL and QSL was also heard during the government’s consultations for Bill C-81. This recognition is not included in the bill as tabled, so I strongly encourage committee members to rectify this oversight with amendments at committee.

David Lepofsky, a Canadian lawyer and disability advocate, in a recent interview, summed up very well where we find ourselves with the tabling of Bill C-81. He said:

It’s a good starting point and certainly the most substantial piece of legislation introduced by any government in Canada. But it’s going to need substantial additions and improvements to be effective, including a deadline to reach full accessibility.

As I conclude my remarks, I want to reiterate the importance of this legislation in changing millions of people’s lives for the better. I also want to reiterate the NDP’s support for the bill and the principles it espouses. This is an important piece of legislation. It deserves our time and attention to get it right. It is my hope that we are all on that path together.

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Mr. Adam Vaughan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing and Urban Affairs), Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I thank the member opposite for her comments, in particular for referencing David Lepofsky and his input in getting us to where we are today.

One of the concerns we have, as we watch this go through committee, is the tactics that happen sometimes in the House. We would be getting people with disabilities to testify, to come to Ottawa, with attendant care, with medical procedures that will have to be done to get them to fly to Ottawa or to take the train or to get transport here. We saw last spring adjournment motions and all sorts of other trickery in the House that collapsed committee work. In light of the fact that we have such a delicate population, in terms of accommodation and people who want to speak to the issue, could you give us the assurance that the NDP would not play games to interfere with people with disabilities coming to testify so that reasonable accommodation could be met and we would not be bringing people to Ottawa just to send them home?

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes):

I certainly will not give you that reassurance, and I would ask the member to address the questions and comments to the Chair. He has been in the House long enough to know that.

The hon. member for Saskatoon West.

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Ms. Sheri Benson:

Madam Speaker, if the member had heard the comments around the House today, especially from the NDP caucus, he would have found that we are supportive of the bill. We have asked the government to share, in its remarks, if it is open to including amendments that would make the bill better. I can only speak for myself, but that conveys my commitment to make the proceedings improve the bill. It is a commitment I have made to my constituents.

All parties in the House cannot step back and say that they have not played games. I hope my colleague will enter into the conversations at committee with a commitment to actually build a barrier-free Canada.

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Hon. Erin O’Toole (Durham, CPC):

Madam Speaker, the member from the NDP mentioned David Lepofsky. He has been a leading advocate for a barrier-free Canada and is probably one of the best examples of thoughtful advocacy I have seen in my time in public life. I recall him teaching, in my bar admission course in Ontario, through the Law Society of Upper Canada, issues related to people facing disabilities. I want to thank Mr. Lepofsky. He is also quite tenacious on social media in making sure that these issues are not forgotten.

The member highlighted a number of the areas where this falls short. All parties, I think, want to see fewer barriers, more engagement and more opportunities for people. The fact is, and this is what Mr. Lepofsky’s group has also highlighted, the government provides the ability for itself to set standards or regulations but sets no timeline for the government to lead by example with respect to future plans for its infrastructure in future federal jurisdiction areas, such as ports, airports and these sorts of things. Is that lack of a timeline and a commitment to federal leadership something the member feels is a bit of a shortcoming in Bill C-81?

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Ms. Sheri Benson:

Madam Speaker, I think it was clear in my speech that I am concerned that there do not exist, as another member of the House mentioned, enough “musts” in this legislation so that those folks who have been advocating for legislation such as this would see something happen sooner rather than later.

The other big concern for me, which I have spoken about before and was a big part of my life when I was a social worker, is that I am a real advocate for the one-stop shop. I find the way compliance and enforcement are described in this legislation is very confusing and overly bureaucratic. It certainly does not speak to the issues that were brought to my attention, which is that it is very hard to hold a government to account when there are all these different agencies involved. One needs a road map to deal with them.

I am really hopeful that the government is sincere in what I have heard in the House about being open to amendments to make this legislation stronger and will speak to the many advocates who have said that the legislation is historic but needs help and amendments at committee.

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Mr. Nick Whalen (St. John’s East, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I am absolutely delighted for the opportunity to speak to the accessible Canada act today.

Throughout the accessible Canada consultation, the broadest consultation on disability in our country’s history, the Government of Canada heard from more than 6,000 people and over 90 organizations.

These stakeholders told us clearly and repeatedly that Canada needs disability legislation with teeth. We need legislation that would move us away from the current system of placing the onus on disabled Canadians to remove barriers. We need legislation that would help us build a more inclusive, accessible and tolerant society. We need legislation that would set in place a system to proactively identify, remove and prevent barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.

To this end, Bill C-81 would create a dedicated accessibility commissioner within the Canadian Human Rights Commission who would be responsible for ensuring that organizations are in fact meeting their obligations under the proposed accessible Canada act.

The need is clear. Let me remind hon. members of a few of the most recent statistics published by Statistics Canada that elucidate this issue.

The employment rate of Canadians aged 25 to 64 with disabilities is a mere 49% compared with 79% for Canadians without a disability. The employment rate among persons aged 25 to 64 with a mild disability is 68% compared with 54% for those with moderate disability and 42% for persons with severe disability, and merely 26% among those with a very severe disability.

Approximately one in two university graduates with or without disability held a professional occupation. However, graduates with a disability were less likely to hold management positions and earned less than those without a disability, especially among men.

Among Canadians with a disability, 12% reported having been refused a job in the previous five years as result of their condition. The percentage was 33% among 25 to 34-year olds with a severe or very severe disability.

I am sure that members on all sides of the House would agree that the measures we are proposing today in Bill C-81 would help address this inequality and are long overdue.

This is how Bill C-81 would work.

With respect to compliance tools, the accessibility commissioner would have access to a variety of proactive enforcement tools to verify compliance and to prevent noncompliance with the act. Proactive inspections of regulated entities would be a large part of ensuring that the onus for removing barriers is not placed on individual Canadians. The accessibility commissioner would be empowered to conduct an inspection of any place that he or she considers necessary to verify compliance. In addition, the commissioner would have the authority to conduct paper-based inspections through production orders.

If, following an inspection, the accessibility commissioner found that an organization had contravened its obligations under the act, there would be a variety of different tools the commissioner could use to ensure compliance.

One of these tools is compliance orders. A compliance order would ensure that if an inspector sees a barrier that needs to be removed immediately, the inspector could order that this be done within a timeframe the commissioner considered appropriate. For instance, if an organization has placed garbage cans that block an accessible entrance, an inspector could order those garbage to be moved without delay.

The accessibility commissioner would also have the authority to issue notices of violation. These notices could be given with a warning or with a monetary penalty.

Under Bill C-81, the maximum penalty for a violation would be $250,000. The penalty issued for a given violation would depend on the nature and the severity of the issue, the criteria for which would be set out in regulations.

However, Bill C-81 also includes the idea of continuing violations, whereby a violation that continues more than one day would constitute a separate violation for each day and could result in separate $250,000 penalties each day the violation continues.

Additionally, if the possibility of an administrative monetary penalty is not enough to encourage an organization to comply with its obligations, Bill C-81 would also provide authority to publish the name of the organization or person who committed the violation, along with the amount of the penalty.

In terms of jurisdiction, compliance and enforcement under Bill C-81 would build on existing expertise within the Government of Canada and fill gaps where needed.

Bill C-81 expands on existing sector-based mandates, authorities, expertise and experience in relation to accessibility within the federal transportation network and broadcasting and telecommunications services.

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Both the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission have existing accessibility mandates. Bill C-81 proposes to enhance these mandates and to expand the powers and responsibilities of the Canadian Transportation Agency as well as the CRTC in relation to accessibility. The Canadian Transportation Agency would continue to be responsible for the accessibility of passengers in the federal transportation network, with an enhanced mandate, responsibilities and powers. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission would continue to be responsible for accessibility in relation to broadcasting and telecommunication services with new responsibilities for overseeing accessibility plans, feedback processes and progress reports.

Through amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, the Canadian Transportation Agency would have new proactive compliance tools to ensure that those in the federal transportation network are meeting their accessibility obligations. These compliance tools would be very similar to those of the accessibility commissioner, including the ability to issue notices for violations, with fines again up to $250,000. Given the whole-of-government approach to ensuring the removal of barriers in federal jurisdiction, the bill requires that the various authorities put in place mechanisms for collaboration and coordination across organizations regarding their policies and practices in relation to accessibility.

In terms of remedies, although the focus of Bill C-81 is on proactive and systemic change, the bill also provides for complaints mechanisms for individuals who have been harmed by an organization’s non-compliance with its accessibility obligations.

Bill C-81 provides individuals with a right to file complaints with the accessibility commissioner if they have been harmed or have suffered property damage or economic loss as a result of, or have otherwise been adversely affected by, the contravention by an entity of regulations made under the proposed accessibility act. If, after investigating a complaint, the accessibility commissioner finds that the complaint is substantiated, the commissioner could order a broad range of remedies, including that the entity that committed the contravention take appropriate corrective measures; make available to the complainant the rights, opportunities or privileges that they were denied; pay compensation to the complainant for wages they were deprived of, and for expenses incurred by them as a result of the contravention; pay compensation to the complainant for the additional costs of obtaining alternative goods, services, facilities or accommodation as a result of the contravention; pay compensation for any pain and suffering the complainant experienced; and pay the complainant an amount if the accessibility commissioner determines that the contravention is the result of a wilful or reckless practice.

The maximum amount that could be awarded for each of pain and suffering and wilful and reckless practice would initially be set at $20,000, but Bill C-81 includes a provision that would increase these amounts over time to account for inflation. If individuals and organizations think that the accessibility commissioner made an error in dismissing a complaint or in ordering a remedy, they would be able to make an appeal. For most complaints, these appeals would go to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. For complaints about parliamentary entities, appeals would go to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board.

The accessibility commissioner would not be responsible for dealing with all complaints, however. In recognition of, and to leverage, the existing expertise of the Canadian Transportation Agency and the CRTC, these organizations would be responsible for dealing with complaints in the federal passenger transportation network and in respect of the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act, respectively.

Through the amendments to the Canada Transportation Act proposed in Bill C-81, the Canadian Transportation Agency would continue to deal with complaints in relation to undue barriers to the mobility of persons with disabilities in the federal transportation network, with enhanced remedies, such as compensation for pain and suffering, which would be better aligned with the remedies available under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The Canadian Transportation Agency would also deal with a new type of complaint that addresses contraventions of regulations made under the Canada Transportation Act that result in harm, similar to complaints made to the accessibility commissioner under the proposed accessible canada act, with similar remedies for individuals.

For complaints about broadcasting and telecommunications services, Canadians would continue to file complaints with the CRTC, which would use its existing authorities under the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act to address the complaints.

In the case of grievances, many public service and parliamentary employees have existing grievance rights. Bill C-81 builds on these rights. Through amendments to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, the Public Service Employment Act, and the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, these employees would be able to refer their complaints for adjudication.

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I conclude by saying that I hope all members will support this bill at this reading so that it can go to committee, where it can be reviewed and sent back to the House for approval.

(Note: Debates and statements on other issues at this point in the day are omitted here.

Accessible Canada Act+-

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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The Speaker:

Before I call upon the hon. member for York—Simcoe for debate, as I may not be able to be here when he concludes his debate, I want to take the opportunity, on behalf of all members, which I am sure members will allow me to do, in congratulating him on his many years of service. He has been a very forceful member with a great knowledge of the rules of the House, as a former House leader on the government side.

One of the things I have most enjoyed over the years, during the time I have been Speaker, has been the many statements, S.O. 31s, or members statements, on historical matters. He has a tremendous love for Canadian history and for the maintenance and preservation of our history in so many ways, which I have greatly appreciated and admired.

I want to thank him for his service to Canada and to the House of Commons. I wish him and his family the very best in the future.

The hon. member for York—Simcoe.

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Hon. Peter Van Loan (York—Simcoe, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, this will be the last speech I deliver in the House of Commons, in where it has been an honour to represent the people of York–Simcoe for a decade and a half.

Bill C-81 seeks to enhance accessibility in areas of federal jurisdiction. It is a worthy objective. Accessibility is an area where we have seen much change and progress in my lifetime. However, it is progress that has been largely driven not by politicians, but rather by Canadians who saw the need and pressed for changes to the rules.

The success of those changes has been largely due to an incremental approach that has not placed undue burdens on Canadians trying to make a living, allowing progress over time. It is an example of the importance of applying common sense when delivering change for the better. That goal, delivering change for the better, has been my purpose in my time here.

The rationale behind accessibility rules is to create opportunity for people to achieve their potential. The preamble to the bill focuses on that question of ensuring equal opportunity. In this speech I will focus largely on that word that motivates this legislation, that word being “opportunity”.

Canada is all about opportunity. Opportunity is the reason my family and so many others have come here.

My grandparents and mother grew up in Estonia. Their life experience is the reason I am in Canada and in the House of Commons.

My grandfather was an agronomist, an important role in a largely agricultural economy in the first half of the 20th century. My grandmother became a lawyer in the 1920s in Estonia at a time not too many women did that.

With the Second World War came waves of Soviet, Nazi and then again Soviet occupation. Much of my family died at the hands of the Soviets, executed, bludgeoned to death by axes in their beds or suffering the almost inevitable death that came as inmates of the communist concentration camps of the Siberian gulag.

The only alternative for my grandparents and mother was a high-risk escape across a treacherous Baltic sea, where the men kept bailing to keep the vessel from capsizing. They left all their possessions behind. Safety was found initially in a refugee camp in Sweden, but ultimately Canada was the destination chosen. Canada was a land of freedom, hope and opportunity to them.

The agronomist went to work in a paper factory in Riverdale. The lawyer went to work on the order desk at Sears. They found all that they were looking for in this country.

I grew up hearing stories of what happened to my family’s homeland and their own many close brushes with fate. I learned as a child that freedom and democracy were valuable, could be easily lost and needed to be defended and nourished.

Inevitably I became highly politicized as a young child. In 1968, we had a Trudeau Liberal sign for Bob Caplan on our front lawn. Trudeau was the champion of freedom and rights we were told. However, soon after that, I saw that prime minister embracing communist leaders like Brezhnev, Kosygin and Castro. Those were the very people responsible for suppressing the freedoms of millions. It had a profound effect on me.

By 1972, as I like to say, I was nine years old and the wisdom of age was upon me. I had become a passionate Conservative. I would start working as a volunteer on campaigns when I was 12 and politics would become my life’s passion.

As I was growing up, like all good Estonian emigres, we profoundly yearned for Estonia to regain its freedom, which ultimately did happen in 1991. I would ask my grandmother if Estonia ever achieved regaining its independence would she return. No, she would tell me “Canada is our home now”, and she would add “Canada is the best country in the world. It is a land of opportunity. Anybody can achieve their dreams in this country if you just work hard enough.” My grandmother believed in that word “opportunity” and she believed in Canada.

I often doubted this assurance that she gave me as I was growing up. I encountered all kinds of invisible social and economic barriers that immigrant families typically face, but time would prove she was right. What better proof that anybody could achieve their wildest dreams in Canada, however unlikely, than someone like me becoming Canada’s minister of sport.

That opportunity that Canada offers, what this legislation seeks to ensure, is available to all has been very kind to me.

In politics, I had the opportunity to help rebuild the Ontario PC party in the early 1990s when I was party president, not a member of caucus, but we did help to get Mike Harris elected premier.

I had the opportunity to lead efforts to reunite the Conservative movement into a single party federally, including running the campaign on the PC party side to have our membership ratify the establishment of the Conservative Party of Canada, an event that restored competitive democracy to our politics.

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As a member of the House, I have had the opportunity to serve as public safety minister, working to keep Canadians safe. My time as trade minister was dedicated to expanding our economic opportunities, making a free trade agreement with Europe our top priority, and initiating or advancing many other free trade negotiations.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to work with Prime Minister Harper closely, as Canada’s longest-serving Conservative government House leader. For all of these opportunities, his guidance and leadership, I offer my gratitude.

In all these roles I was blessed to work with extraordinary staff in Ottawa and York—Simcoe, a team that was uniformly bright, hard-working, passionately committed to Canada, and fiercely loyal. That was reflected in what I believe was the lowest staff turnover of any minister’s officer on the Hill. They made me look good.

Along the way, I was fortunate to acquire other great supporters, my wife Cheryl, and Caroline and John A. They were a constant reminder to me of why we serve, and they are also a reason to look forward to life away from this place.

When it comes to accessibility, I am proud of much of what we delivered for the residents of York—Simcoe, especially during the Harper government. High accessibility standards can be found in significant projects we delivered, like the new Bradford West Gwillimbury public library and new leisure centre, the expansion of the East Gwillimbury Sports Complex, and Georgina’s outdoor recreation facility the ROC.

One of the last projects our Conservative government delivered on was accessibility improvements to Georgina’s De La Salle Park Beach. It includes a revolutionary beach mat that allows accessibility for those in wheelchairs right into the waters of Lake Simcoe.

Of course, Lake Simcoe enjoys significantly improved water quality thanks to the Lake Simcoe cleanup fund. It was cancelled by the current Liberal government. However, I am confident that the Lake Simcoe cleanup fund will return again in the future. For over 10 years this Conservative initiative saw almost $60 million from our government harnessed by community-based organizations, who added their financial and incoming contributions to real projects that helped physically remediate the lake environment. This was in addition to other initiatives, like mandatory rules to protect the lake ecosystem from invasive species, a ban on harmful phosphorus in dishwasher detergent, and a ban on dumping waste from water vessels.

Undoubtedly, what I will miss most leaving this job is the opportunity to serve the extraordinary people of York—Simcoe. I genuinely love them. They work hard and simply want the government to give them the freedom to succeed and build a brighter future for their families. They want the opportunity to share in the Canadian dream. We worked to help them by lowering their taxes, encouraging economic growth, and tackling crime to make their communities safer. It was easy to always do the right thing by simply asking myself one question: what is best for the people of York—Simcoe?

As members of the House are debating and reflecting on what to do on this bill, the accessibility bill, I encourage them to consider what a tremendous honour it is to serve in this place. We are privileged to be able to make a real difference for our country in a way that very few ever enjoyed. Our system of parliamentary democracy and the British North America Act, through which John A. Macdonald and the other Fathers of Confederation built our country, has been remarkably successful. We are among the youngest countries in the world, yet we enjoy one of the most enduring constitutions. It has guided our growth and provided the genius that brings people of diverse backgrounds together into a remarkably united country. John A. and the fathers truly built well. They built the best country in the world. Our Parliament is at the core of that constitution.

As I prepare to retire from this place, I want to reflect for a moment on one question that I believe needs more discussion in this country, that is, the relevance of this place. Academics and the media like to talk about the declining influence of the individual member of Parliament, pointing to a concentration of power in the offices of party leaders or party discipline as the culprits. However, there is another real factor rendering the work of MPs less relevant. Little has been said, at least until recent weeks, about the growing tendency of the courts to strike down the laws that the people’s elected representatives enact, including many laws that were explicitly part of the platforms those MPs promised they would enact if elected. I can assure members that, from countless conversations with constituents over the years, many find this difficult to square with their idea of a how a democracy should work. I believe that if we want to give meaning to the work that we all do here, the time is overdue for a discussion of the appropriateness of a bit more deference to the decisions of the democratically elected legislature. A proper balance requires a restoration of reasonable deference to the decisions of Parliament.

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Another favourite of the critics has been to deride partisanship as causing corrosion of Parliament. None of the members will be surprised to hear me rise to defend the unpopular notion that partisanship strengthens our system.

The bill we are debating today is what many would call “motherhood”. After all, who could oppose greater accessibility and the opportunity that comes with it. Colleagues would say we would be crazy to oppose this bill and to address its flaws in debate, but such a debate should be encouraged. It is through debate between competing perspectives, which our system encourages, that we constantly improve things and find a better way. Through contrasting choices and perspectives, we make democratic choice work.

Partisanship is the fuel that makes our system work. Clear partisan sides also improve accountability. Voters do not go out and research what their individual MP on every vote, on every bill, on every issue. It is enough to know where their party stands.

Now, some say Parliament would work better if only the parties worked together more instead of opposing each other so often. It is at exactly at such a time when there is no debate that citizens should become concerned. That is when the flaws in government become hidden. Therefore, let us celebrate the partisan divides that have made our system of parliamentary democracy so successful for centuries.

Now, returning to the bill, clause 51 addresses the role of the CRTC in the area of information and communication technologies. This provides me the opportunity to thank the media for their always fair treatment over the years. For example, members will recall countless critical articles, and radio and TV news pieces taking me to task for my approach to managing the House, for my using time allocation to schedule our business and votes. Now that my successors in the current Liberal government have shown a similar affection for Standing Order 78, I have been heartened to see them on the receiving end of a similar stream of criticisms, as well as a number of full-throated apologies to me for the fashion in which the media took me to task. Okay, that has not really happened. I am confident it will happen really soon because, after all, I remain hopeful that the media are always fair in this country.

In a more credible fashion, I want to thank the many volunteers on my riding association, executive, and campaigns. They give and have given so generously of their time, simply because they cared about their country and their community and believed in our efforts to make Canada and York—Simcoe a better place.

The bill before us talks about encouraging participation in Canadian society. Participating in our democratic processes is one of the most important types of participation. Everyone has the same kind of people who have helped them. They are true citizens, people who give back, genuinely care and who make our democracy work. They are largely unsung and underappreciated, but all of us and our communities are greatly in their debt.

As I leave elected politics, I will return once again to being one of those people, a dedicated volunteer working hard for his party. The decision to leave politics is one of the most difficult to make. It is easy to follow the path of least resistance and just keep on going, but I am confident that for me, now is the right time to take my leave from this place. I will miss much. My family, who have been full partners and enjoyed the extraordinary voyage we have travelled together, will miss it too. Already, people have witnessed the sad sight of me and my former colleagues sitting in a corner at the Albany Club sharing stories of the good old days, and we will no doubt go on doing that. They have not just been good old days; they have been great old days. We had the opportunity to serve, to make a difference, to make Canada an even better place.

It has been an honour.

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota):

Before going to questions and comments, I want to congratulate the hon. member for York—Simcoe.

I want to fill him in that, as an occupant of the chair, there are 337 other members in the House that one looks to. There are often people who get up on a point of order or question of privilege, and we know that they have some idea of what they want to say. However, any time the hon. member for York—Simcoe stood, I knew he would have it well thought out and understood the rules. What was going on in my mind was, “Where the heck is he going to take this and where is he going to come from to make his point?”

We are going to miss you. Your constituents are losing a wonderful MP. Whether I agreed, or anyone else agreed at the time, the hon. member was very effective when he did bring up his points. There will be some large shoes to fill. I wish him all the best.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso.

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Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to address the member for York—Simcoe. I know he did not want a whole lot of intervention at this point because he is kind of a soft guy and did not want to get emotional today. We will try to step back from that.

I very much want to thank him for sharing that history of his family and giving his colleagues in the House that reflection back. That is what shapes all of us parliamentarians and people. I thought it provided tremendous insight into how he came here and grew and came to the light, as he said, although some of us may talk about that on division.

I have had the opportunity to work with him in the House for 14 years, and on a number of different issues in a couple of different committees. When he was House leader, I was the whip of the official opposition, and I can say with great certainty that although his reputation was one of toughness and hardness, without question he was fair as well. When we look at where the tone of the conversation in politics has gone, especially south of the border, but in some cases in this country too, he was never one to get personal. He was smart and tough on the issues and tactics, but he would never get personal. He was always disciplined in that regard, and he will always carry the respect of anyone who has watched and worked with him.

I know he will be missed by his caucus colleagues and by the people from York—Simcoe whom he has represented. He may not be missed as much by the government members, but this is only because he was effective in his job.

I have no questions on behalf of our side, but I just want to comment that when he and his wife Cheryl ride off into the sunset, I know this will not be the end of it. This a family thing, and when all of us make that decision, it will be based on what our family has been through over the years. We know that the member’s family has supported him and continues to support him, and the member should know that he has earned his chops in this place. On behalf of our party, we want to thank the member for his service to this country.

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Hon. Peter Van Loan:

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his very kind and generous intervention. Certainly the assessment of being tough but fair is one that I will carry forward with great pride. I thank him for that. Hopefully I will apply that same tough but fair approach in my new life practising municipal law with Aird & Berlis. It is the field I was in before I entered politics, and now I am returning to it. It is as if life is a circle. Thank you very much.

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Ms. Irene Mathyssen (London—Fanshawe, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech. It was enlightening. I think it was very important that he underscored the significance and pertinence of full and free debate and discussion in the House. However, he also talked about time allocation. Did he intentionally leave his notes on complex, and perhaps less direct, procedural proceedings in his desk for the current government?

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Hon. Peter Van Loan:

Mr. Speaker, having sat on the other side and heard so many discussions from this side, certainly I was under the impression that we would never see time allocation. Indeed, I am disappointed that on my last day I will not have the opportunity to vote against one of those time allocation motions that the Liberals said they would never introduce.

I am pleased to see that as history has moved forward, perhaps the wisdom of my approach is being validated.

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Hon. Diane Finley (Haldimand—Norfolk, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, it has been a great pleasure, and often a challenge, but a rewarding one, to work with the member for York—Simcoe over the last 14 years. He is a man of integrity and opinion, and sometimes he likes to share that opinion. He has also been a great student, as was mentioned, of Canadian history. He has a particular passion for our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Despite his son’s name being John A., the member for York—Simcoe swears that he did not name his son after his hero. I do not know anyone in this House who has ever believed that.

That said, the member has been a very hard worker on behalf of his constituents for many years now. He has also given us something that we rarely hear in this chamber, and that is the gift of oratory. Last year there was a particular speech in which the member had us in the lobby spellbound when he started talking about Canadian history and the roles various leaders had played within that. He did it with such grace, eloquence, knowledge and passion that I could not help but think, “Why do we not hear more of this these days?”

It was a shining example of a great MP, for which I thank him. I was so glad I had that experience. I am really wondering if the member has considered a compilation of his great speeches, whether it be in book form or even on his own YouTube channel, for the rest of us to enjoy in the future.

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Hon. Peter Van Loan:

Mr. Speaker, I think the speech that I am best known for is the one where I start, “I wish to advise the House that we have failed to reach an agreement with the members of the other parties regarding a process and henceforth move….” That, of course, is time allocation.

I thank the hon. member for her kind intervention. We have in common a deep history and links to, let us call it, the extra-parliamentary party side, working for our party and helping it to succeed. I know I will be in touch with her in the future as she continues to do that work as I do it from the other side as an ordinary citizen and volunteer once again. I thank the member again for her kind comments.

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Mr. Kyle Peterson (Newmarket—Aurora, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I just want to take this opportunity to wish my colleague well. We share a riding border. Green Lane is the name of the road, for those not familiar with that part of the world. We tend to see each other from time to time.

It was always a pleasure to be at events with that member. I got to know him a bit over the years, just through our involvement in the riding. I know his father-in-law quite well. I know that he, for one, is looking forward to spending more time with the member for York—Simcoe. I suspect that the feeling is mutual.

As a member from York Region, as the member for York—Simcoe is, there were times not that long ago when the Liberal York Region caucus was quite small. It grew after the last election. The size is in flux once again. This member was always a pleasure to be around at local York Region events. He served his community well.

Like me, the member has a passion for history. I think it is appropriate at this point that someone who is such an advocate for Canadian history and who has such a passion for history will now become part of Canadian history, which is a testament to his role in this House. I wish him well, and I want to congratulate him on a great career of public service.

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Hon. Peter Van Loan:

Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised that a Liberal would take delight in calling me history.

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Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, during the last three years, I have had the pleasure of sitting behind Peter Van Loan in this borderline between New Democrats and Conservatives. I can safely say that on most policy issues, there are probably no two people in the House who agree less than Peter and I. However, we found a sense of camaraderie, and both of us really do believe in the importance of this institution.

There are two things on which we do share agreement. One of those is the importance of Canadian history. I thank Peter for his constant reminders of the importance of Canadian history in this House. The second, strangely enough, is the monarchy. Peter and I share being monarchists. I believe the constitutional monarchy is one of the foundations of our democracy, because when one is from my community, one knows it is hard to upstage a queen.

I wish Peter all the best in the future and want to say, personally, that he will very much be missed in this House.

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Hon. Peter Van Loan:

Mr. Speaker, I very much enjoyed the time with the hon. member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. He has similar roots as a party operative in the past, and that often brings people together, even across different parties, because we know what we go through to make this system of democracy work, and he has certainly been part of that in the past.

I appreciate his comments on history and on the monarchy. My wife will be very encouraged to hear him take that position, and as shadow minister for Canadian Heritage, a role I held for the past three years, that was something that was important to me.

Most important of all, it is fair to say that we have become friends, notwithstanding differences on many issues. At the end of the day, while we should always be suspicious of friendships across party lines, I have quite enjoyed his friendship and that of many others on the other perspectives.

When we become committed to this institution, to the way it works, to the way the House works and the way our democracy works, when we can see past the issues to see the importance of that and that in the end, the people who tell us what to do are always right, this democracy works well. There can be no better place for it and no more wonderful place for it than in this august chamber.

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota):

It is an honour to be sitting in the chair for the closing of this chapter of Canadian parliamentary history. I wish the hon. member all the best.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Calgary Centre.

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Hon. Kent Hehr (Calgary Centre, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saint-Laurent.

It is an honour and a privilege to rise in this House to discuss the important issue of accessibility and how our government is addressing the systemic barriers in our society through the proposed accessible Canada act.

As a Liberal, I tend to view public policy through the lens of equality of opportunity. Government policy should level the playing field for individuals and groups in society. For instance, whether one is born of a rich family or one that struggles, one should have every opportunity to succeed. In order for this to happen, there needs to be a role for government. Public health care, public education, and student loans and grants all contribute to ensuring that this basic premise is achieved. However, if we look at the unique challenges faced by Canadians with disabilities, the promise of equality of opportunity has fallen short thus far.

I know first-hand of these challenges and barriers that hinder full inclusion for Canadians with disabilities. On October 3, 1991, my life changed forever. I was a victim of a random act of gun violence and became a C5 quadriplegic. Overnight, things I never thought twice about became significant challenges in my day-to-day life: finding a home that I could physically enter, accessing caregivers simply to get out of bed in the morning, navigating university, accessing technology or even just trying to find employment that would accommodate my unique needs. Clearly, and in no uncertain terms, things I took for granted became more difficult.

My case is not unique. Fourteen per cent of Canadians are living with a disability. That is one in seven. These Canadians face significant and unique challenges solely because they have a disability. A recent study conducted by Statistics Canada found that Canadians with disabilities are significantly less likely to be high school or university graduates and are two times more likely to be unemployed or not in the labour force. Canadians with disabilities also face income challenges. Among Canadians with a disability, one in four is low-income compared to one in 10 for the general population.

Our government knows that everyone has something important to contribute to one’s community and to Canada, and this includes those in this country with disabilities. They just need the playing field to be levelled. Our government is following through on our mandate promise made by the Prime Minister to develop and introduce new accessibility legislation. We have developed legislation that is ambitious and that would lead to more consistent experiences of accessibility across Canada.

The proposed legislation is founded on six key principles: inherent dignity, equal opportunity, barrier-free government, economy, inclusive design and meaningful involvement. Let me be clear. We are taking a whole-of-government approach to the issue of furthering accessibility in this country. From our national housing strategy to the Elections Act to embracing visitability, we are enacting legislation that brings real change for Canadians with disabilities.

With the tabling of Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, we are showing Canadians that we are serious about creating an accessible Canada. To inform the development of this new bill, our government conducted the largest and most accessible consultation on disability issues our country has ever seen. The consultation ran from June 2016 to February 2017. I am proud that more than 6,000 Canadians and over 90 organizations participated across the country.

Over and over again, we heard from Canadians that this legislation would need strong measures, with teeth, to make sure that it gets the job done. We listened, and we have a plan to make sure that accessibility is a priority for all areas under federal jurisdiction. Our government has tabled legislation that will ensure co-operation between the Government of Canada, people with disabilities and other stakeholders to create new accessibility standards and requirements.

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As my colleagues have described, these new requirements would apply to all organizations in federal jurisdiction. These new requirements would identify and remove existing barriers and prevent new ones in priority areas, such as the built environment, service delivery, employment, transportation, information and communication technologies, and the procurement of goods and services.

We heard in our accessible Canada consultations that Canadians want legislation with enforcement. That is why our bill proposes measures to ensure meaningful and lasting change when it comes to barriers to accessibility. We want to make sure accessibility is practical, convenient and second nature.

We know that Canadians expect a range of strong compliance and enforcement measures that would be applied progressively. Our bill ensures that these measures would be supported by technical knowledge and progressive enforcement. This includes inspections and audits to verify compliance and a progressive suite of tools, including orders and warnings, compliance audits and monetary penalties of up to $250,000.

Our government knows that it is impossible to address all barriers to accessibility at once. That is why we would also ensure that there are mechanisms for individuals to have their specific circumstances addressed and barriers to accessibility removed.

In addition to the existing Canadian human rights process that responds to discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, individuals would have the ability to bring forward cases of non-compliance with regulated standards under this new legislation. They could get redress for harm done to them, which could include reimbursement of expenses and lost wages or compensation for pain and suffering.

This bill represents a real transformation of the Government of Canada’s approach to accessibility. Up until this point, the responsibility for fixing accessibility issues has rested on people with disabilities, who had to pursue action through the Canadian Human Right Commission and the courts.

I am happy to say that Bill C-81 is changing that. No longer would Canadians with disabilities be expected to fix the system by themselves. Instead, these new proactive compliance and enforcement measures would help ensure that organizations under federal jurisdiction are held accountable for removing barriers and improving accessibility.

I believe strongly that this initiative, with its combination of encouragement and enforcement, would increase inclusion and fairness in our country. It would set the bar and become a model for organizations all over Canada and across the globe. If passed, this law would also ensure uniformity and fairness in its application.

This is why this legislation is receiving such widespread support. With this legislation we are continuing the march of progress for people with disabilities. It would lead to a more inclusive Canada and a more fair Canada, a place where equality of opportunity exists for people with disabilities in this country, a Canada where people with disabilities can reach their individual potential and be recognized as valued citizens.

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Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague who certainly speaks from a place of deep knowledge of the subject and, of course, of personal triumph over a horrific and tragic accident. One hates to think of what it meant in his young life to have had that stray bullet.

I want to speak of this bill, and ask for my colleague’s opinion of those people across Canada who celebrate that this bill has been brought forward. Does he agree with me that they are almost unanimous in saying this bill needs to be improved at committee? There should be more about it is that is obliging the government to act, rather than encouraging it to act.

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Hon. Kent Hehr:

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her kind words. I know this legislation would bring many significant steps forward, where government would, at least within federal jurisdiction, be able to address the concerns of people with disabilities, for example through an internal process where people who are seeking employment in government get the accommodations they need to succeed and thrive. The places where we want procurement policies, we need to look at how we reach out to ensure those organizations have accessibility legislation and how they will move forward in trade and commerce.

I can also highlight this bill and its effects on government service. The day and age of people not getting through the door is essentially over with this legislation. It puts a proactive onus on government to move forward and look at things with an accessibility lens that I believe will be very helpful for people with disabilities and those trying to navigate an often complex system.

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Ms. Kate Young (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science and Sport and to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility (Accessibility), Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be part of a government that is moving forward with Bill C-81, accessibility legislation. As someone who knows first-hand what it is like to face disabilities, I wonder if the hon. member could tell us what it would mean to others, especially younger Canadians, who may find themselves, like him, disabled overnight, where their lives were changed so much. How would this legislation impact those young Canadians and what would it tell them about what their federal government is doing?

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Hon. Kent Hehr:

Mr. Speaker, in my view, this legislation is probably the most positive step forward in terms of government legislation since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have seen much has changed over the years. In fact, things have, generally speaking, gotten better for people with disabilities in this country, and yet in many ways we had to codify how to do things better and move forward.

I mentioned at the start of my speech that there are still very many inequalities in this country. In particular, people with disabilities are more likely to be poor and have difficulties finding employment, even getting services through government departments. This legislation would put that proactive emphasis on governments and systems within the federal jurisdiction having an accessibility lens to look at how we are not only going to get people through the door but help them come out the other side and succeed, whether it be through employment, accessing technology or getting government services. It is now incumbent upon us as government to follow through with what would be put in place through this legislation to make things better for people with disabilities in this country.

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Ms. Emmanuella Lambropoulos (Saint-Laurent, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, accessibility is about inclusivity, whether it is a government, a business or any other organization, inclusion means facilitating and promoting the participation of people who may otherwise experience challenges as they seek to fully contribute to society. Of course, that includes the full contribution of people with disabilities.

It is clear we need to change how accessibility barriers have been addressed in this country. We now recognize that implementing a proactive approach to barrier removal would result in positive impacts on the daily lives of people with disabilities. No longer would they have to battle one barrier at a time to make changes, if obligated organizations were held to a recognized set of standards. This in turn would also have the effect of reducing complaints from individuals and organizations.

With the creation of accessibility organizations such as the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, Canada would establish itself as a national and global accessibility leader. The Canadian accessibility standards development organization would put Canadians with disabilities in control of setting the accessibility standards that affect their lives. The creation of this organization would signal the start of a new approach to accessibility by the Government of Canada, a new approach that is proactive and takes the needs of Canadians with disabilities into account from the start.

In 2016 and 2017, the Government of Canada undertook extensive consultations with Canadians, including Canadians with disabilities, and sought their input on the most important areas for improving accessibility. Canadians stated that legislation should lead to more consistent experiences of accessibility across Canada and that it should be built upon the existing standards that are already working well.

Our constituents want new legislation that could lead to the development of accessibility standards that other governments in Canada could adopt. Canadians were also clear on the area that should be considered for standards development including employment, the built environment, transportation, programs and service delivery, information and communications, and procurement of goods and services.

Canadians with disabilities expressed the need to be involved in many aspects of implementation including the standards development process. More precisely, to develop standards, the new Canadian accessibility standards development organization could form technical committees that include persons with disabilities and representatives from the federally regulated sector.

The government also engaged the federally regulated sector, which provided valuable advice on how the government could assist industry to meet its obligations under established standards. Industry representatives stated that standards under the new legislation should be clear and unambiguous. Industry partners also want the Government of Canada to strive to achieve as much as possible harmonization with similar models in effect across other Canadian jurisdictions such as Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, where members already operate and are familiar with existing requirements.

The federally regulated sector wants the government to provide supports to organizations during the implementation of the legislation. They are looking for the Government of Canada to support organizations through dedicated resources and developmental tools such as websites, background documentation, guidelines, tool kits and videos that can assist them with the implementation process.

Helping supporting organizations to meet their obligations would be one of the roles of the new Canadian accessibility standards development organization. Establishing clear and concise standards that apply to all obligated organizations equally would help them understand and comply with requirements and would ultimately be good for business, which could lead to economic benefits for those organizations.

One of the most important aspects of the proposed legislation is the development and use of standards. Standards are guidelines that establish accepted practices and provide technical requirements. A standards-based approach could articulate the manner in which goals of the legislation are to be achieved including penalties for failures to comply with standards and an enforcement strategy for non-compliance.

Standards can also be either voluntary or mandatory, with those standards that are mandatory being enforced by laws and regulations.

During our extensive engagement with Canadians, they overwhelmingly expressed a desire for mandatory standards. The new legislation proposes the creation of the Canadian accessibility standards development organization. This entity would be the first standards organization in Canada dedicated exclusively to developing accessibility standards. It would also be the first to be led by a board of directors with majority representation by people with disabilities.

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The organization would have a board of directors to set its strategic direction, oversee its activities and give advice to the chief executive officer. Director positions would be part time and would be appointed by the Governor in Council for terms of up to four years. To the extent possible, the majority of the directors would be persons with disabilities, which would help fulfill our commitments to honour a key principle of the disability community: “nothing about us without us”.

In addition, standards would be developed by technical committees comprised of persons with disabilities as well as industry experts. As a departmental corporation, the Canadian accessibility standards development organization would be considered part of the federal public service administration but would operate independently from the government department agencies and Crown corporations that eventually would be subject to these standards. This would allow the minister to provide general direction on priority areas and areas of concern for the development of accessibility standards while facilitating the organization’s independence in day-to-day operations.

The Canadian accessibility standards development organization would be established following the coming into force of Bill C-81, and would be operational within one year of the date. A transition team would be put in place immediately afterward to operationalize the organization, with some of the early activities to include the appointment of the board of directors, the establishment of a leadership team, including the chief executive officer, the development of bylaws and determining the location of the head office within Canada. Once the Canadian accessibility standards development organization has a developed set of standards, the minister responsible would bring forward enforceable regulations to guide regulated entities.

Regulated entities include the federal government departments, agencies, Crown corporations and other points of the federal public administration, such as the RCMP and Canadian Forces, as well as the federally regulated sector and parliamentary entities. Once the Canadian accessibility standards development organization was established, the first standards would take approximately two years to develop. The length of the development process would depend on the complexity of the standard and the level of consensus on requirements of the particular areas. The priority areas for the standards development would mirror those set out in Bill C-81, which include employment, the built environment, transportation, information and communication technologies and delivery of programs and services and the procurement of goods and services.

Although the main role of this organization would be the development and revision of standards, it would have a very broad mandate. Indeed, the organization would also be responsible for providing information, products and services in relation to the accessibility standards that it has developed or revised. It would also be responsible for the promotion, support and conduct of research into the identification and removal of barriers and the prevention of new barriers. Also, it would be responsible for the dissemination of information, including information about best practices in relation to the identification, removal and prevention of new barriers.

This organization would be required to submit annual reports to the minister responsible for accessibility, who would then table the report in Parliament. Along with ensuring transparency, the annual reporting would communicate organizational priorities to Canadians and the success in achieving them. The report would also lay out future priorities.

Such an arm’s-length organization dedicated to the creation of accessibility standards would be new in Canada. It would, however, function in a similar way to other standards development organizations, such as the Canadian Standards Association and the Canadian General Standards Board. As a matter of fact, it is anticipated that the Canadian accessibility standards development organization would seek accreditation from the Standards Council of Canada. The proposed organization would be somewhat similar to the United States Access Board, which is an independent federal agency that develops and maintains accessible design criteria for the built environment, transit vehicles, telecommunications equipment, medical diagnostic equipment and information technology.

Provinces and territories would have opportunities to work with the Canadian accessibility standards development organization and the new organization could be asked to assist with standards making at the provincial and territorial levels.

Along with this organization, others will play a vital role in developing accessibility standards and regulations in the specific areas of responsibility, based on expertise and experience gained over many years.

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Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):

Mr. Speaker, in looking at Bill C-81, it is very clear there is an expectation and certainly a desire on the part of many members in this place, and I suspect not just opposition members but government members as well, that the bill be improved at committee. I wonder if the member has any insight as to the openness of the government to accept amendments at committee.

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Ms. Emmanuella Lambropoulos:

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately I am not on that committee. I am giving this speech because I am very pro accessibility and I approve of Bill C-81. I like the way that it is written. Of course, there is always room for improvement. Therefore, I am hoping that we can accept some input from other members as well. I am sure the government is open to hearing what improvements people seek to make.

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Mr. Ken McDonald (Avalon, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering if my colleague, as a member of Parliament, could tell this House what she sees as the greatest benefit of Bill C-81 coming forward in the near future.

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Ms. Emmanuella Lambropoulos:

Mr. Speaker, obviously the Government of Canada is limited in what it is able to do at all levels to completely change the way things work in Canada. However, this is a great first step to improving accessibility and removing barriers for people with disabilities.

Having worked as a resource aid in a school myself for several years, I know there are several barriers that exist even at the most basic levels and services that can definitely be improved. Therefore, if the people in this community do not have some input into telling Canadians and the boards what they expect, then we are not going to make the changes that they require.

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Mr. Gordie Hogg (South Surrey—White Rock, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I was delighted to hear the comments that you were making—I am not referring to you, Mr. Speaker—particularly with reference to ensuring that end users have some say with respect to the development of policy. Certainly, that is one of the prime principles.

With respect, one of the issues I found in the development of policy in some of the areas I have worked in is that often legislatively we require over 50% to be from the disability community or be related to it. I noticed that in your comments you left that somewhat vague, so I am interested in your comments on that. A second issue in development of policy is that often having the end users involved in it, there is some disparity between what the end users say and the implementation.

Do you have any notion of how you might have the end users actually involved right through to the implementation to see that the original intent is not lost?

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota):

Before we go on for an answer, I want to remind hon. members that normally we ask the question not directly to the person but through the chair. I am sure the hon. member did not want my opinion. I will let the hon. member for Saint-Laurent answer.

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Ms. Emmanuella Lambropoulos:

Mr. Speaker, once again, it is really important to make sure that they are involved at all levels of the process. It would obviously be somewhat of a conflict of interest if they were involved in actually implementing it. The people who are making the decisions cannot necessarily benefit directly and be responsible for implementation. However, we will be making sure that they are consulted at all levels and that they are the ones making the appropriate recommendations and decisions.

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Hon. Diane Finley (Haldimand—Norfolk, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, better known as the accessible Canada act. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As we have heard from various members, we all want to ensure that those living with disabilities are treated as equals and remove the barriers they face every single day. I said this is near and dear to my heart, so I would like to start by providing some insight into some obstacles that I have encountered first-hand living with disabilities in Canada.

It was in 2006 that I had just been named minister of human resources and social development, with responsibility for the office for disabilities. Ironically, just a few weeks into the job, I was diagnosed with Grave’s disease and Grave’s eye disease. These are thyroid afflictions that, among other things, in me cause both extreme light sensitivity and extreme stabismus, resulting in my being legally blind for quite a period of time. More recently, I underwent complicated double hip replacement surgery, which unfortunately resulted in my need for mobility assistance tools around this place for many months.

It was during both of these periods that I learned just how inaccessible many things in my life were, including this particular workplace. They were simple things, such as moving between the Hill and my office, more than half a kilometre from the House, being unable to walk that distance, being unable to step up or down from the little white minibus. Challenges were also considerable in actually having to fight to get an accessible parking space here at Centre Block.

Mr. Speaker, as you will recall, even with the eventual direct intervention by the Speaker’s office, it literally took months to fix what were supposed to be the accessibility doors at the rear of this building, doors which unfortunately malfunctioned more often than not. One of the main barriers to getting that particular job done was a clear lack of accountability for the issue. I will talk more about accountability later.

I also discovered how narrow certain parts of these buildings are for those who rely on wheelchairs or walkers, walkers that inhibit our ability to get around. With a disability, many of these seemingly small things all of a sudden can become very big obstacles, but it used to be a lot worse. In fact, under the previous Liberal government, the office for people with disabilities was actually two offices and neither one of them was accessible by those who were mobility challenged. That is right. People who use wheelchairs or walkers could not get into the building. They could not work there, could not consult, could not lobby, and they could not advocate for people with disabilities because they were not allowed in. I know this may sound a little farcical but unfortunately it is true.

Happily, the Conservative government fixed that scenario in short order and, in fact, combined the facilities. There was one office and it was billed as a showcase of how businesses and organizations could adapt to people with mobility, visibility, hearing or other challenges. In one place, businesses and other organizations could finally find the technologies, techniques, tips and tools that would help them accommodate people of all abilities so that these organizations could benefit from their skills to make those organizations even stronger. By the end, not only could people with disabilities enter this office to do business but they could actually work there. What a concept.

As the former minister for HRSD responsible for the disabilities file, I have to say that I was very proud to be part of a government that took leadership in removing many barriers for people with disabilities.

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We created the registered disability savings plan in 2008, and we signed on to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The RDSP, as members have probably heard, was a breakthrough financial planning tool, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. To date, over 150,000 Canadians and their families have invested in this wonderful tool.

However, we did so much more for people with disabilities. We launched the opportunities fund that, so far, has helped over 20,000 people with disabilities develop the skills they need to actually get a job and, with that, the dignity and self-respect that come with having a job.

We partnered with the Canadian Association for Community Living on the ready, willing and able initiative to connect people with developmental disabilities with a job. We also invested in expanding vocational training programs for people with autism spectrum disorders.

Yes, we did more. We removed the GST-HST from eyewear that is specially designed to electronically enhance the vision of individuals with vision impairment, and also from special training to help individuals cope with the effects of a disorder or disability.

We invested hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, to help the provinces and territories improve the employment of Canadians with disabilities.

We released a landmark third-party report, “Rethinking disability in the private sector.” This report spelled out, in very plain language, the many tangible benefits of hiring people with disabilities, including reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, improved morale, and improved profitability.

I am, rightly, very proud that in 2007, our government created the enabling accessibility fund. This program was designed to provide direct funding to help community groups, municipalities and organizations improve accessibility for people with disabilities, where they work, live and play, such as community centres, town halls, churches, arenas, and so many more local spots.

Over 3,700 facilities were made more accessible through this program. In 2013, we recognized both the value and the success of this program, originally billed as a temporary one, by making the funding permanent. I have to say that when we launched that particular program over 10 years ago, I never expected that I would be so appreciative of the results of those investments 10 years later. I am surely glad they were there, as are thousands and thousands of Canadians who use them every day.

Among many other tax aids, we also created the home accessibility tax credit, for both seniors and those living with disabilities, to renovate and make their own homes more accessible, giving them not just a sense of independence but in fact real independence. We did this because we recognized the contributions that people with disabilities can and do make to our nation and our communities. We recognize the value that a person’s independence brings to their dignity.

This is not to say that the accomplishments of our government solved every problem, but they were significant steps in the right direction. That said, I am sure that members would agree that we still have a lot of work to do.

Take for example the presentation of petitions right here in the House of Commons. Almost a year ago exactly, a petition from my constituents was rejected by the Clerk of the House because it was on 11 by 17 inch paper. It has been printed big enough to accommodate constituents who had visual challenges. The paper was deemed too big for the House of Commons, by this House of Commons.

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Under the current Standing Orders, petitioners can only petition the House of Commons if the petition is printed on paper described as the “usual size”, meaning letter or legal size only. I had to seek unanimous consent from the House to table this particular petition. Thanks to my colleagues on all sides, unanimous consent was granted and I was allowed to table the petition. However, quite frankly, there is so much text required to be included on a petition now that the font used has to be pretty small if it is going to fit on 8 ½” by 11″ piece of paper. That is not fair. It is not fair to our constituents. In fact, it is such a backward a policy to limit the size of paper if all of the required information is there. Personally, I believe that every Canadian should be able to submit a petition on larger paper if it means they can read what they are signing. I do not think that is an unreasonable thing to require.

As someone who was once legally blind, and as the former minister responsible for the disabilities office, I regularly encouraged many institutions and organizations to adopt more accessible friendly policies. It is very disappointing to me that the House is not taking the same approach, at least not so far. Not only does this guideline fail to provide accessibility to Canadians who are visually impaired, but it is also a barrier to their being able to access and fully participate in their government with the same level of engagement as those without visibility challenges.

I am grateful to the House for granting me unanimous consent to table the petition. Frankly, I was hopeful that having this issue brought before the procedure and House affairs committee, or as we know it better, PROC, would lead to positive and permanent change. Sadly, I am now hearing that government members of PROC, the same people introducing Bill C-81, for some strange reason are now withholding their support for this change, a change they once seemed to support. Frankly, I do not understand it. If the government were truly serious about addressing the issues facing Canadians with disabilities, it would have addressed the Standing Order by now. Instead, here we are almost a year later, and Standing Order 36(1.1)(c) still has not been updated. Unfortunately, I wish I could say this was just an oversight. Sadly, it does not seem to be.

During the 2015 election, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to make life more accessible for Canadians with disabilities. For each cabinet shuffle, it has been part of the minister’s mandate letter to consult and introduce legislation on this subject as quickly as possible. Here we are three years later and are getting a bill from a minister that is said to have been the result of extreme consultations across Canada. I have no doubt the minister and her staff did extensive consultations across the country on this matter. That is what they claim; it must be true. However, one would normally have expected something of deeper value and more tangible change to have been proposed as a result. Instead, all this piece of legislation does is propose the creation of yet another agency, at a cost of $290 million to taxpayers.

Here is the sad part. None of the money would actually be spent on helping Canadians who face accessibility issues on a day-to-day basis. Instead, it would go to hiring more bureaucrats and paying auditors to audit all government buildings and buildings that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, and for more consultations on what the standard regulations for accessibility should be. In my humble opinion, this would be a waste of money. We do not need more consultations to develop regulations. We have those already. As a matter of fact, during our time in government, we spent many millions of dollars making hundreds of federal buildings more accessible. When we put that in the budget, the Liberals voted against it. We were able to do all of these updates and set regulations without the need for yet another multi-million dollar agency to develop another report.

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The proposed legislation says that the regulations, after being developed over the next six years, would apply to the Parliament buildings, among other places.

I have a few questions for the minister. As members of Parliament, we all have at least two offices: one in Ottawa and one, although often more, in the riding. Would auditors be auditing our constituency offices to ensure that they comply with these new regulations? If our offices do not comply, who would be responsible for paying for the upgrades?

I know from my own experience that it was extremely difficult to find office space that was both accessible and affordable in many small towns. Our member office budgets would not cover the cost to make an office accessible because of the high dollar amount involved. Simply building a ramp and altering the front door of my office would have cost three years’ rent. The landlord could not reasonably be expected to pay for that, and house management would not pay for it.

In addition to our constituency offices, our Parliament buildings were not designed to be disability-friendly. While we as a government have made great strides in fixing that, these buildings were not designed with accessibility issues in mind.

With Centre Block shutting down in a few months for a much-needed 10-plus years’ renovation, has the minister made plans to ensure that when this building reopens it will be disability-friendly for not only Canadians when they visit the Parliament buildings, but also the MPs, senators and thousands of people who support this institution? For example, will rounded doorknobs be changed over to lever knobs? What about the bathroom sink faucets and the toilet flushers? What about the many ramps that need to be built? Will they be built to the appropriate 1-to-10 ratio? How about a distinguishable baseboard that would allow someone with a visual impairment to see where the wall and floor meet? Will there be visual and audible warnings for people in the event of emergencies? Right now in my Confederation Building office the fire alarm is an audio-only alarm. That works for me and my staff, but what if I have guests or what about cleaners who cannot hear? What is planned for wheelchair access to the hill? Perhaps more importantly, what plans exist for true emergency evacuation by wheelchair or walker?

I know that while I was the Minister of Public Works, I took all of these things into consideration and required that they be incorporated into the Parliament Hill renovation design plans. Are those features still included? I know that many of those plans have been changed.

Will the minister ensure that Centre Block and the other Parliament buildings will be accessibility-friendly after these once-in-a-century renovations?

As I mentioned earlier, I am also concerned about the jurisdiction under which this bill is being placed. As the bill currently stands, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities will be responsible for implementing this bill, yet much of the work will require execution by Public Services and Procurement. I am concerned that as a result of this, the minister will be unable to adequately assess and address the issues as they arise.

While I do support sending this legislation to committee and I do support its intended goal, I have some serious concerns about the need to create a new agency, the amount of funding requested, and how the division of responsibility, authority, and accountability for its implementation will be addressed. I am also concerned that all that this legislation does is essentially reiterate the minister’s mandate letter. She has already consulted with Canadians, so instead we should be discussing the regulations, not the creation of another agency.

I look forward to hearing what other members have to say, so that together we can develop legislation that will truly address the very real concerns facing very real Canadians with very real disabilities.

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Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):

Mr. Speaker, having been a colleague of my hon. colleague in this place during the time when she was struggling with significant health challenges and physical limitations, it is certainly inspiring to see the spirit with which she challenged herself and all of us to live up to what is required for accessibility. Her voice now is much appreciated.

As a former minister, how does my colleague feel about the approach this legislation takes not to set timelines or deadlines? The language used throughout is of progressive realization. The goal for the legislation is through progressive realization. As I see it, it is a vanishing horizon into the future. We understand that we cannot snap our fingers and remove all barriers immediately. However, as she is a former minister, I would be interested in her thoughts of the constant use in the legislation of a goal of “progressive realization” with no end in sight

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Hon. Diane Finley:

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her very kind remarks. She was a tremendous support to me over those tough times. She has brought up an issue that is very important.

I talked about accountability. If we are going to have accountability, we have to establish what is going to be done, by whom and when. Those things are not in this bill. There is talk about consulting. That was supposed to have been done already. We managed to go ahead and do a whole lot of things as a government that had tangible results. We upgraded several hundred buildings to make them more accessible. We did not sit around and gaze at our navels like the bill is proposing to do, spending six years to develop standards. Across Canada and around the world those standards already exist.

I would encourage the Liberal government, if it is serious about going ahead and helping people with disabilities, that it try to not reinvent the wheel, that it put some deadlines on this and name one person with the authority, responsibility and the accountability to deliver on this item and get on with it.

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Ms. Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I learned a lot from what my hon. colleague shared about her time as minister. I want to pick up on a piece that has been a bit of a theme this afternoon. It is also something from my time when I was a social worker that I felt was important. What I have heard from people in my constituency is about the lack of timelines and the lack of accountability in the bill, advocating for some good amendments to the bill. They want something to happen sooner rather than later.

People have asked me about the need for more and that need to be able to go to one place to have that accountability. The fact that implementation and other things in the bill are sort of spread out over four different agencies seems confusing, overly bureaucratic and not effective or efficient. Would my hon. colleague like to comment on those points?

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Hon. Diane Finley:

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree with the hon. member more. In fact, that is one of the biggest flaws with the bill. There is no one charged with delivering. The minister whose name is on the bill is not the minister who tabled it in the House. It is a third minister who would have to deliver with respect to physical changes to these buildings, as well as the office of the Speaker. The office of the Speaker does have a responsibility for some of the facilities in this building.

It is important to have what is known in the business world as a “locus of control”, someone who is responsible, who is accountable and who has the authority to make things happen. Otherwise, nothing happens and nobody is held accountable for it, especially when there are no timelines.

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Mr. Mel Arnold (North Okanagan—Shuswap, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, a couple of things I have noticed in the debate today is that there is all kinds of talk about punishment or penalties for non-compliance.

About two weeks ago I met with a group in my riding, the Independent Living Vernon. It has been helping people with accessibility issues of all sorts, not just physical disabilities. However, what it is focused on is driving incentives within the community so there is an incentive for a business to be more physically accessible, or visually accessible or hearing accessible. It has worked with the city. For example, in Salmon Arm, our city council meetings are now streamed over blue tooth so people with blue tooth hearing aids can hear the meetings. Those are the types of incentives that really make a difference in a community.

Does the member for Haldimand—Norfolk feel that type of approach would be more suitable in the bill rather than heavy penalties for non-compliance?

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Hon. Diane Finley:

Mr. Speaker, people with disabilities have so much to offer to businesses and to their communities. Some 750,000 Canadians could be at work but they are not. They are people with disabilities who want to work, but they cannot because of artificial barriers that are put in place, including prejudice.

The landmark study that was done a number of years ago to which I referred showed that the average company that adapted its workplace to someone with disabilities spent no more than $500. That is lot less than the average recruitment cost of $3,200 per employee. When people with disabilities joined the workforce, the company overall, not just the employee, saw improved absenteeism, improved morale, improved productivity, and therefore improved profitability.

Communities are the same way. When a municipality broadcasts its town hall meetings or its mayoral or town council meetings, the disability community is more engaged. Everybody benefits from that.

The positive side, the carrot in this case works much better than the stick. When those people get engaged, when they can participate, they can contribute and we can all benefit from that for sure.

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Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I was here when the minister introduced the legislation. A good amount of consultation was done before the bill was brought forward. Bill C-81 is fairly clear and straightforward in taking barriers away, which is really and truly what Canadians want. Canadians want a federal government that will lead by example.

If the member were to ask if the legislation is perfect, I would have to tell her that I do not think there is such a thing. I do not think Stephen Harper had perfect legislation. Our legislation is not perfect. There is always room for improvement and maybe we will see some improvements once the bill gets to committee.

I believe that all the stakeholders who have been listening to the debate and the discussions that have taken place would surely recognize that the legislation is a significant step forward in taking away barriers. Would the member agree with that?

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Hon. Diane Finley:

Mr. Speaker, the bill has the potential only to be good legislation that would make a difference.

I invite my colleagues to join us at committee to make amendments that would make the bill relevant. That means establishing clear lines of accountability, of responsibility for its execution. It means not spending six years having consultations that the government has taken three years to do already. The government has consulted for three years to make a recommendation to consult for six more. That is not what four million Canadians with disabilities need. It is not what they want. Another six years of consultations is not going to help them. Then, who knows? There may be another recommendation for yet another study.

Canadians need access now. They need to be able to get to work and they need to be able to get around once they get to work. They need to be able to hear and see or use some tool or technology that will substitute for that, so they can contribute to Canadian society, so they can earn a living for themselves and get the dignity and self-worth that comes with having a job.

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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota):

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for North Island—Powell River, Health.

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Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place to speak to Bill C-81.

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[Translation]

I think this bill is a good first step, but we should do more to make Canada a truly barrier-free nation.

[English]

The bill is a good first step. I do not think there is any disability group across Canada or any people concerned with the rights of all Canadians to full access of all the benefits of citizenship that would disagree that no one should be denied access to benefits based on physical limitations. That is clear. Canada has long since signed and ratified in 2006, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but we still need to do much more.

As I said, I do not think any group has seen this legislation and condemned it. No group has said anything other than that this is welcome. Groups welcome the efforts of the current government to bring in legislation that would lead us to a country that is barrier-free.

I particularly want to commend the member for Haldimand—Norfolk for her observations on a situation that occurred to me as well, and that is what it is like to have physical limitations and how it opens our eyes. In both her case and mine, they were temporary.

I waited a long time for a hip replacement on two occasions. I became much more aware of the number of times I went into a building and realized there was no elevator. I did not think I could get myself up those stairs because it hurt too much. The awareness of what it was like to get over curbs, to get up staircases. These moments of awareness need to be carried through by us.

I feel blessed that the hip replacements worked, so my physical limitations were temporary. However, it really woke me up to how many barriers existed in our society that were invisible to those who had full sight, hearing and the physical ability to handle staircases and curbs. The limitations are severe and they need to be removed.

We know a number of provinces have passed legislation to ensure real accessibility, but only Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, so obviously not across the country. We know this federal legislation will apply to places within federal jurisdictions, federal buildings, federal sphere of activities. However, there are criticisms and I want to go over them briefly.

We have heard a number of them through debate since Bill C-81 came to the House. I should make it clear that I will vote for the bill at this stage. I want it to get to committee where I hope we can make significant changes.

This is the first thing that needs to be said, and I raised this already in questions. As I went through the legislation, I was surprised at the language of the goal in the purpose of the act, section 5. It states:

The purpose of this Act is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the progressive realization, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, of a Canada without barriers…

We find the same language in the mandate of the the Canadian accessibility standards organization, to contribute to the progressive realization of a Canada without barriers. We can go through and find the accessibility commissioners are also working toward progressive realization.

I was so interested in the language. As someone who studied legislative interpretation at law school, I have read every bill that has gone through this place since I became an MP seven years ago. I have never seen any bill where the goal is progressive realization of something. I double-checked by searching the legislative record, which we can now do much more easily than reading every bill. This is the first time any piece of legislation in Canada has set a goal of “progressive realization” of anything.

We usually, in legislation, set goals that are limited by timelines, within x number of years of the bill coming into force, that sort of thing. Progressive realization speaks to the underlying framework of this legislation, which is that it does not demand that Canada achieve a time without barriers by a specific time, even within the federal purview, and that is clearly a weakness.

It is discretionary at many other points. I mentioned earlier today in debate that the Governor in Council, which, for those watching who might not recognize the term, means cabinet, at section 4 of this act “may, by order, designate a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada as the Minister for the purposes of this Act.” I cannot imagine, having created an act that is discretionary and says we are going to have a timeline into the future where we are working in progressive realization of our goal, why on earth it is not required that cabinet appoint a minister to be in charge. Other speakers have already noted that the minister who tabled this legislation is not the minister who worked on the legislation, and so on. We really should, in committee, be able to address some of the discretionary elements and ensure that cabinet must appoint a minister from within the existing cabinet to have responsibility for carriage of this legislation. It is nonsensical to leave that part discretionary.

A number of the groups dealing with this issue of accessibility and looking at this legislation have made note of some other things, and certainly the discretionary nature and the lack of timelines has been repeated by many. In looking at the legislation, I thought as well that it is much better, in looking at a goal for all of government, that there be accountability with one agency. In this legislation, for instance, the rights of accessibility to transport are handled through the Canadian Transportation Agency, whereas the rights to access to telecommunications, radio and TV is left with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

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I want to read a quote into the record by disability advocate and lawyer David Lepofsky. I certainly leaned on his advice and will be doing so as I am preparing amendments for Bill C-81. He said, “That kind of splintered approach”, by which I just referred to different agencies having responsibility, “to implementation and enforcement is a formula for confusion, delay, duplication and ineffectiveness. We would rather have it all under one roof.” So would I. It would be much more effective if it were all under one roof, with one agency being accountable.

There is another element that has come up for discussion since the bill was tabled, and that is access to languages, particularly sign languages, the right to recognize that sign languages are languages and, in the national context, must be protected as official languages. Recently, there was a demonstration in Ottawa about the concerns that sign language in English and French as well as indigenous sign languages, be recognized as languages, as part of a national language. This is a concern that was expressed by a nationwide rally that occurred not that long ago and it is one that I share. I want to go on the record as supporting that American sign language, langue des signes du Québec and indigenous sign languages be understood to be official languages. One cannot have full accessibility if one cannot read, find and hear the information due to physical limitations.

Our embracing of the United Nations declaration on the rights of people with disabilities must be at least as strong. Of course, there are other United Nations declarations, such as on the rights of indigenous persons, on which we have the same concern. We can endorse these United Nations declarations, but when it comes home to implementation in Canada, we must be serious about ensuring that our goals are not in the far distance. Therefore, progressive realization is not language I want to see in this legislation at royal assent. What I hope we will all see, and we can negotiate it, is that within four years, five years, six years of royal assent given to this legislation a barrier-free Canada must exist and all peoples of Canada must be able to access, as citizens, all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.

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[Translation]

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Ms. Linda Lapointe (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, it was a pleasure to listen to my colleague’s speech on this bill.

Our government is working to improve accessibility in all areas under federal jurisdiction so that all Canadians, regardless of their abilities and disabilities, can participate in Canadian society.

I would like to know if my colleague plans to support the bill.

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Ms. Elizabeth May:

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I clearly stated that I would vote in favour of sending the bill to committee, where I very much hope improvements can be made to the timelines and discretionary matters that need clarification.

At first reading, this bill seems rather anemic, but I know the government is trying, and I thank it for that.

[English]

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Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, one of the issues we hear is that of the timeline on this piece of legislation. If there is nothing mandated, it effectively pushes the timeline down the road. There is no consistency. There is certainly no time frame within which many of the proposals in the legislation are to be implemented. The hope is that we can get this to committee and work among the committee to try to narrow that down. I wonder if that is a concern of the hon. member as well.

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Ms. Elizabeth May:

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more. There has been a strong degree of non-partisan concern from all members of this place in the debates on Bill C-81, whether Conservative, Liberal, New Democrat or Green. There is a hope that we will see the legislation improved in committee, and it is with that spirit that I will vote for the legislation at second reading and hope that we can see more precision.

As I said, I know the language “progressive realization” is found in some United Nations language, but I submit to this House that progressive realization of a goal is not a terminology that belongs in Canadian law. If they are serious about doing something, they give it timelines, they state goals, and they create accountability. Otherwise, it becomes a legislative effort in empty promises and dreamy hope but without the kind of rigour that brings change through legislation.

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Ms. Sheri Benson (Saskatoon West, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I have learned a lot today from members on all sides of the House. I want to concur with my hon. colleague’s statement that there appears to be a lot of consensus that this bill is important, but also a lot of consensus that this bill needs to be open to amendments at committee.

There is one thing I want to put forward for my colleague, just to hear her thoughts. I do not pretend to know all the ins and outs of the legislation, but could we not, inside Bill C-81, include some type of timeline for Canada to actually bring in line our laws and policies with the declaration for the rights of persons with disabilities that we signed so many years ago? It has come to my attention that this could be one thing we could put in the bill to work toward.

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Ms. Elizabeth May:

Mr. Speaker, clearly, timelines make sense in this legislation, and we do not have them now. To quote again the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, it pointed out that to meet this goal of progressive realization within the purview of matters coming under the legislative authority of Parliament, one new ramp per year somewhere in Canada would entirely fulfill that insufficient goal.

I do not think the government nor the minister who brought this legislation forward would be satisfied with such an insufficient outcome. I can almost imagine in the legislative drafting someone saying, “It will cost too much if we actually mean what we say; let’s make it really fuzzy”. I think the minister carrying the file does not want fuzzy hope. She wants to really deliver for people who have physical challenges, as she does. She is a remarkable tribute to overcoming physical limitations to do all that she has done.

The way to ensure the legislation delivers is to put in timelines, such as: all federal buildings must be fully accessible by day x, or as the member for Haldimand—Norfolk brought up, we should ensure that all riding offices of members of Parliament are fully accessible. We can put timelines on these things, and we can break them apart so that one agency does not feel that it is going to be bankrupted by the effort. Surely, we can do better than progressive realization of a goal that could recede into 2150 without breaking a single clause.

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Mr. John Aldag (Cloverdale—Langley City, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I was in the House last week when the minister responsible for Bill C-81 introduced the legislation. As someone who has spent my career in the federal public service, I was really pleased to see that the legislation called for the federal workforce to become more representative of the Canadian population by including persons with disabilities, and different abilities, within the workforce.

I was also really pleased to hear about the funding that would be available to make improvements for accessibility across federal assets. I know the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has a place within her riding very near and dear to me, the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Perhaps the member could speak to some of the great benefits we would see at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve arising from Bill C-81, because I think it would help workforce and visitors to that area to have inclusive experiences. I would like to hear the member’s thoughts on how this legislation might benefit her own backyard.

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Ms. Elizabeth May:

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate my friend from Cloverdale—Langley City on his election as chair of the environment committee. This is something I hope for, and maybe I am premature. In any case, there will be change in the chairmanship of that committee.

My own backyard is a spectacular backyard. I live in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada. The Gulf Islands National Park is a challenge for accessibility, even for those who are fully physically able, with all our abilities to walk, and yet much of the Gulf Islands National Park requires being on a boat. When we consider physical limitations, we want to make sure every Canadian has access to experiences, such as being able to watch whales from shore. One of the best places for watch whaling, as the hon. member knows, is on Saturna Island, where one does not have to be in a boat, at risk of harassing the whales. They more or less come to us and we can experience them very close up. Fortunately, BC Ferries has accessibility in mind. Many of the ferry routes are accessible. There are many ways in which Gulf Islands National Park and all national parks could improve accessibility, given the goals of Bill C-81.

I agree with him. There is tremendous potential here. I would love to see it realized with timelines.

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Mr. Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-81, or as I call it, another Liberal feel good bill that is short on details, does not note how it will actually help the disabled, and yet somehow manages to detail how it will grow the bureaucracy, but that is just a working title.

This situation with the delay in getting to this bill kind of reminds me of an old Seinfeld episode where Newman and Elaine steal someone’s dog. It takes the police a while to catch them. When Newman is confronted by the police, he asks, “What took you so long?” That is what I would like to ask the government.

We will support this bill in order to get it to committee, where hopefully we will get the Liberals to actually work on concrete measures to help improve the lives of the disabled. I have heard that the bill may go to the government operations committee, on which I sit. We would welcome that if it does come to us. We are going to suggest and support amendments to ensure that it actually helps the disabled, and is not just a make-work project for bureaucrats.

The establishment of this bill was in the first minister’s mandate letter in 2015. Ironically, the current Minister of Public Services  was the original Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, tasked with this legislation three years ago. Back then, her mandate read:

Lead an engagement process with provinces, territories, municipalities, and stakeholders that will lead to the passage of a Canadians with Disabilities Act. In this work, you will be supported by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

Work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to deliver on our commitment to support the construction of recreational infrastructure that allows more children access to sport and recreation.

It is a bit ironic that the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities at the time was the MP for Edmonton Mill Woods. In West Edmonton, my riding, we have been looking to build a new recreation centre specifically as outlined in the mandate letter. Unfortunately, our minister, the senior minister for the Liberals in Edmonton, Alberta, has been completely absent on this issue. We have not received a single penny.

Recently, Huffington Post put out this big article and a map showing how the Liberals, in the summer, plastered most of eastern Canada with cheques: $43 billion. They showed how much was actually delivered to Edmonton: not one penny. Some $43 billion went to various Liberal ridings and not one penny was delivered by the Liberals to Edmonton. We will get to more on that issue later.

It has taken three years to get to introducing the bill that actually just punts the work down the road over the next six years. From the mandate letter to maybe actually achieving goals is going to be nine years.

The famed Liberal mandate tracker says on this issue that it is under way and on track. Regarding the development of a national disabilities act, it says the result anticipated is for federal accessibility legislation that promotes equality and opportunity, increases inclusion and participation of Canadians who have disabilities, with the outcome being that building on extensive nine-month in-person and online consultation with Canadians, the government has tabled the bill.

In three years since the mandate letter, the Liberals managed to consult for nine months. That makes me ask what they have done for the other two years and three months. It is funny that the current minister probably thought she could just transfer to another department and escape the mandate, yet here it is back with her at public services to fulfill.

Now, as for being under way and on track, it has taken three years to get to it being under way and on track. It has a bit of funding over six more years, and they say that it is on track.

I want to look at a few other things from the Liberal mandate tracker that are also under way and on track.

There is the review of Canada’s environmental assessment project: under way and on track. Another refers to environmental assessment processes that are fair to all parties, rely on scientific evidence, respect the rights of indigenous people and protect the environment for generations to come. Here we have the Liberals failing on Trans Mountain. Their Bill C-68 is also known as the bill to ensure that a pipeline will never be built in Canada again. It says “rely on scientific evidence”, but this bill actually puts the final word and the political decision-making with the minister, not basing it on science. However, it is under way and on track.

Another is to establish new performance standards for government services, and measure and report on performance: under way and on track. The result is to be government services that better meet the needs of Canadians.

Every single government has to put out a departmental plan. In that plan, it lists all of its goals and expected results. Fully one-third of the entire departmental plan from every Liberal ministry does not actually have goals set. They all say what they are spending and what they hope to achieve in a roundabout way, but there are no actual goals set. Here we have that it is on track, but fully one-third of their programs do not have any results showing as a goal.

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Here is another one that is under way and on track. Sure, committees can introduce effective opioid treatments and programs, but we have an opioid crisis across the country. The much reviled by the Liberals President Trump has actually declared it a national emergency in the United States, but the government cannot do that here, yet it is on track.

Another one under way and on track is to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories in public systems on reserves. It is a great goal. The result anticipated is to continue progress in eliminating long-term drinking water advisories. Since this mandate came out, we have had 35 new communities that have been put on the boil water advisory. The Liberals sit there and say that they have done this, this and this, but they have actually added 35 new communities. However, it is under way and on track.

Another one is to help veterans by establishing lifelong pensions ensuring they will have access to financial advice and support. We have seen the current government fail miserably on that, but it is under way and on track.

It says that promoting economic development and creating jobs for indigenous people is under way and on track. The result anticipated is higher employment rates for indigenous people. In the government operations committee we recently studied small business procurement and how we have set-asides for indigenous businesses. We are required to set aside a certain amount of business through the government for indigenous-led businesses. The government had someone come up and say that they are fulfilling every role and succeeding massively. However, every single witness we have had from the indigenous community, Métis, Cree, it does not matter, from Alberta and Quebec, every single witness said that the government is not even following its own laws, yet here it says it is under way and on track.

It says that to implement an infrastructure strategy that improves public transport is under way and on track. The result anticipated is that Canadians spend less time in traffic. We have heard the Parliamentary Budget Officer say that he cannot even find the infrastructure money that has been established in the budget. He has begged the government to produce an infrastructure strategy, which the government has not done, yet somehow the Liberals say it is under way and on track. I will note that the member for Edmonton Mill Woods, when he was the infrastructure minister, managed to get some work done on public transport in Alberta. He got ashtrays for the bus stops in Edmonton and so I thank him.

It says that modernizing the National Energy Board is under way and on track. We have seen the government belittle, bad-mouth and discredit the NEB, yet it says it is on track to modernize it. Bad-mouthing and discrediting it is not modernizing it.

My favourite from the Liberal mandate checker has to be the budget: to balance the budget by 2019-20 is under way with challenges. Now, it is not going to be balanced, and the most recent update we heard from finance was 2050. Here is the funny thing: Every single finance minister from the provinces across Canada has set a date when they will balance their budget. In Alberta, where we have the financially challenged and mathematically challenged NDP spending us into bankruptcy, it has actually set a date for when it will balance the budget. Even with Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, the finance minister had set a date when they would balance the budget. Of course, it turns out it was all incorrect information, but they set a date to balance the budget. Who has not set a date to balance the budget? Well, it is the finance minister from this government. Every single other one but the finance minister has, but I digress.

Ensuring Canadians who are living with disabilities are allowed to live with equal opportunities by eliminating systematic barriers is a great cause. We all support it. My office works with a great many in Edmonton West on this issue. I want to read a letter from one of them. His name is Timothy Parnett. He is a gentleman who was hurt in a car accident years ago and is confined to a wheelchair with limited movement in his arms and legs.

He writes, “I run the advocacy group called Mightywheels.ca. This organization was created to address accessibility within the community. Our mission is simple: Mightywheels.ca wants to bring attention to poor infrastructure and problem areas in the community that you live in. Mightywheels is located in Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton has grown at a rapid pace within the past few decades, so much so that the city struggles to keep up with the demand of reconstruction of aider communities, where the accessibility conditions are severely lacking, even deplorable to a certain extent. 1 am hoping to raise awareness for the struggles that people with wheels or mobility issues face every day.”

He goes on to say that he has a website that is “geared to help people who face social inequality, the main issue we currently address is accessibility for all people: we focus on the barriers that cause inaccessibility: these would be things like parents pushing baby strollers, people with mobility issues or impairments, or people who use walking aids or wheelchairs like myself.” He writes:

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Here is one gentleman confined to a wheelchair with no resources who has put in a simple email better outcomes than what are in Bill C-81. He finished by saying, “My Mightywheels website is to give hope to everyone who has an issue with accessibility. l am very passionate with my website and l am hoping that people will be enlightened and educate. Most of all, l am hoping people will see and hear my advocacy. This is not just for me, but for all the people who have issues with mobility. l am a firm believer that together we can do it one step at time.”

I had a coffee with Tim at West Edmonton Mall. We chatted about his accident and his difficulties in life and what he wanted to achieve. He wants to inspire people to succeed. I am going to consider it a failure if the next time I see him I have to say it is a great idea but to hold on for the next six years because this legislation is going to take that long.

It reminds me of an interview when the Prime Minister told a desperate unemployed oil sands worker in Alberta to just hang in there. That was over two years ago. Since then the Liberals have killed energy east and northern gateway, and have botched Trans Mountain. I guess we are going to have to tell those workers to just hang in there a bit more.

It also reminds me of the injured veteran at the Edmonton town hall who had lost a leg. Pleading for help, he was told by the Prime Minister that veterans are asking for more than the government could give. Ten million dollars for an ice rink on Parliament Hill is not too much to ask for and $10 million for Omar Khadr is not too much to ask for, but it is for a veteran.

I want to go back to the mandate letters. The next minister for disabilities was the member for Calgary Centre. His mandate letter stated, “Develop and introduce new federal accessibility legislation. You will build on the significant consultations that have already taken place involving provinces, territories”, etc. By then, the consultations were going to have to be done.

Did the minister get it done? Of course he did not. Part of his mandate letter also read that he was expected to live up to the highest ethical standards. Instead, he is under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner for using House of Commons resources for a family member’s election.

We are now over to our third minister for the file. She too will build on the significant consultations that have already taken place. Hers too should be an ambitious legislation. Six years is not ambitious unless it is the Minister of Finance balancing the budget when 20 years would be ambitious, but in his case apparently it is going to be 30.

What I am getting at is that we do not need six years of added bureaucracy. We need a truly ambitious plan to help the disabled. Provinces have plans. Ontario has the Ontarians With Disabilities Act. This is not new ground that we are breaking here. It has been done before.

The previous Conservative government took the disabilities file seriously. We did not pass off the issues from minister to minister. We actually got stuff done, like introducing the landmark registered disability savings plan, which helps parents and grandparents with children with severe disabilities to contribute to the children’s financial security. From mandate letter to actually getting it done, it was three months, not three years to get to a program where six years down the road we might have something done, three years from mandate letter to actually getting to legislation and getting the program done.

We invested $30 million into the opportunities fund to help persons with disabilities gain employment. We supported caregivers and recognized their enormous contribution through tax incentives. There was over $200 million for labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to assist provinces in approving the employment situation of Canadians with disabilities, and millions of dollars for the ready, willing and able initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living to connect persons with developmental disabilities with jobs, and millions to support the expansion of vocational training programs for persons with autism spectrum disorder, and on and on.

I want to swing back to the registered disability savings plan. Since we introduced the plan, it has helped 105,000 Canadians save for the future. This is the outcomes-based work that we need from the current government. Conservatives are not in power anymore, but the members on this side are continuing to work for the disabled.

My seatmate, the member for Calgary Shepard, has introduced Bill C-399, the fairness for persons with disabilities act. It aims to reduce the threshold for the number of hours needed for an activity to be eligible for a tax credit. Medical food and medical formula would also qualify under the disability tax credit.

Our member for Carleton has introduced Bill C-395, the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, which is an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

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His legislation would amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to ensure that persons with disabilities do not lose more through taxation and the reduction in benefits than they would gain as a result of working. His bill would enforce Ottawa to measure the impact of every thousand dollars a disabled person earns in wages against the value of their lost benefits. It would force the federal government to adjust its tax and benefits program so a disabled person would always be financially better off working than not working.

What has the Liberal government done besides passing this file from minister to minister to minister? It sicced the CRA on disabled people. It targeted people living with type 1 diabetes. As a diabetes sufferer stated, “It’s not like I can snap a finger and this disease turns off.” The government was quick to go after people who suffered from diabetes, but slow to work on its mandate.

Who else did the Liberals target in their tax grab? They targeted people suffering from autism and severe mental health disorders. Autism Canada says it is hearing too many stories of people who have had the disability tax credit, sometimes for decades, for their children with autism taken away.

It is funny to note that I did not see in any of the Liberal mandate letters ministers being told to harass people with disabilities and to do a tax grab on them. They seem to have acted quickly on it, though. It is too bad they did not have it in their mandate letters, because this would be one issue they could actually mark as completed instead of marking it as “under way with challenges”.

We have a lot of questions on this legislation. We do support it like our colleagues in the NDP and other parties. We want it to get to committee so that we can get some teeth into the measures currently in it and help disabled people.

We do have some questions for the minister, though. When will the new regulations come into effect? The six-year time frame would suggest that the entire process is going to take six years to get done between now and the time help will be given to the disabled. How much is it going to cost federal workplaces and private businesses? What will the new standard be? Why will we be voting on legislation when we do not know the regulations that will come out of it? Is it going to be properly defined to avoid a flood of human rights complaints?

I want to go back to the comment about voting on legislation when we do not even know what the regulations will be. We saw the government do this recently with the estimates, in what we called vote 40, the slush fund. The government asked us to give it $7.4 billion and that it would tell us later what it would be spent on. When we asked further, we were told that it was presumptuous to expect opposition members to understand what the money would be used for until it was given to it.

We have another situation here. What is the $290 million going to be used for? Can the Liberals give us a breakdown of how it is going to be spent? Is it going to be spent on changing our buildings and updating them, or is it all going to be spent on bureaucracy? Have estimates been done on the cost to the private sector across the country? If the bill were passed today, what would the changes be, asides from spending lots of money on bureaucrats? Is it going toward hiring more public servants to examine which regulations we should have?

I note that in the 10-page slide deck or briefing document the government sent out, it provided more information on the bureaucracy going after people and penalizing them, etc., than it did on how the bill would help the average disabled person. We are worried about that.

Is the government going to build a bureaucracy that will create paperwork and go after people? It has not put anything in the bill specifying how it is going to physically and pragmatically help the disabled. What will the outcome be? We do not know. We do know that there will be a lot more bureaucrats going after people.

The $290 million will not even scratch the surface of what it is going to cost the federal government and the federally regulated private sectors to catch up to the new standards.

We have a lot of issues with this legislation, but we do support it. We support the work that we have done in the past toward helping disabled individuals. We continue to do so with our private members’ bills, such as the one put forward by the member for Calgary Shepard and the member for Carleton. Both have produced bills that would show tangible results for the disabled without the resources the government has, whether it be easier access to the disability credit for those who are suffering from autism, diabetes, or mental health disorders, or as my friend from Carleton has put in his bill, that would encourage the disabled to get back to work. His bill would not punish someone by taking away benefits because they had a job. Nothing is better for the dignity of Canadians than having a job.

We support getting the bill to committee. We want to improve the lives of those living with disabilities, but we are worried about the lack of government ambition toward getting it done.

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Ms. Linda Lapointe (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to everything my colleague said.

I found some of the topics he covered a little curious. Bill C-81 is about accessibility. Its purpose is to make sure that accessibility is possible in all areas under federal jurisdiction so that all Canadians, regardless of their level of ability or disability, can participate in our society.

I would like to ask my friend whether the Conservatives will be supporting Bill C-81.

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Mr. Kelly McCauley:

Mr. Speaker, I think I mentioned about eight times that we are going to support it. We want to help people with disabilities. We are going to support it and get it to committee.

I heard that it might come to the government operations committee, which I would welcome. I understand that responsibility for it is kind of split between the Minister of Accessibility and the Minister of Public Services. We would welcome it, because we want to get into it and produce tangible results.

We heard that members of the NDP and the Green Party are supporting it. The party opposite supports it. We all support it. Our concern is why it took the government so long. Why are the disabled so low among its priorities that it has taken three years? The mandate letter was in 2015. For three years the government has done minimal consultation, and then nothing.

Therefore, yes, we support getting it to committee. However, we want to get tangible work done to help the disabled.

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Ms. Karine Trudel (Jonquière, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague’s speech.

We are talking about Bill C-81, which aims to improve accessibility for people with reduced mobility and people with other kinds of limitations.

When people are integrated into the workplace, they are occasionally subjected to discrimination. They are also often excluded from their communities. I would like to hear the member’s thoughts. What could be done to improve Bill C-81? How could we intervene directly with people with disabilities to give them a better quality of life?

We know that having a job and actively participating in the workforce, whether in our own ridings or anywhere else, also promotes inclusion and well-being.

I would like to hear my colleague’s thoughts on that.

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Mr. Kelly McCauley:

Mr. Speaker, my colleague made a lot of great points. We want to see people living with disabilities have full access to everything that Canadians enjoy, whether with respect to work, access to public buildings, or access to anything that regular Canadians enjoy. We very much want to see a plan that helps the disabled get to work.

My colleague from Carleton has put forward a private member’s bill to ensure that those returning to work are not penalized by having their benefits taken away. We would like to see the government act on that. I hope that the NDP and the Liberals will support that bill, and the private member’s bill of my colleague from Calgary Shepard, both of whom have tangible, pragmatic options to help people living with disabilities.

The member has mentioned a lot of great items. However, Bill C-81 is so vague about what it is going to do that it has disappointed us. We want to get it to committee where we can study it and get some firm, outcome-based teeth to the legislation.

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Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I was a bit surprised by how my colleague across the way seemed to exaggerate a few points that are not really related to Bill C-81. One of the interesting things he talked about was the deficits of this particular administration. I would be interested in hearing his most up-to-date thinking. When we think of deficits, the Conservative Party has been in control of the Prime Minister’s Office for 38% of the time that Canada has been a federation, some 151 years. For 38% of that time, that office was under the Conservatives. During that time, the Conservatives incurred 74% of Canada’s overall debt. That is an interesting comparison.

I am a little off base. I apologize. I was just following up on a comment that the member across the way made.

Here we have legislation that sets a framework and demonstrates strong national leadership on an important issue that many Canadians who are following the debate have an understanding of, because of the comprehensive consultations that were done by this particular minister.

We know that the Conservative Party will be supporting the legislation. They have made that very clear. However, they have been critical as to why it has taken us two and a half years to get it through this far. Let us forego the arguments about the consultations.

My question for the member is this. Why did Stephen Harper not bring forward any form of legislation like what we are debating here today?

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Mr. Kelly McCauley:

Mr. Speaker, where to begin? Let us start with the deficit. He asked why? It is because Conservative governments came in to clean up the massive messes left by Liberal governments. Whether it was by Trudeau Sr. or Chrétien and the others, we inherited horrible financial situations, just like we are going to inherit in 2019. That answers that question.

The member talks about the strong framework, the federal leadership that the Liberal government is taking. That strong framework across the country has been carried by the provinces and people like my constituent Timothy Parnett, who are doing the hard lifting right now while the government fiddles away and plays around with useless legislation instead of getting this into law.

We see again and again that the Liberals do not bring up anything about the legislation. Because this legislation is so vague and weak, the member is not asking a question about it. He asked why Harper did not implement such legislation. I have to ask him why he will not address the issue we are facing today, that it took three years for the Liberal government to bring this vague legislation to the table. We are not talking about past governments; we are debating the current government. Why does the government continue to avoid accountability instead of taking responsibility for its lack of action?

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Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, it is because this is a government that bases everything it does on symbolism and plays to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram as part of its governing. That is the answer to the member’s question. It is purely symbolic.

However, I do have a specific question for the member, and it is with respect to the $290 million. The concern with this particular legislation is that Liberals have allocated that money without providing a breakdown of where will go. There is also a concern—and I know that the member spoke about this in his speech—about the bureaucracy that will be created by this legislation. It is very much a top-down approach, a government-knows-best approach.

Could the hon. member speak to that? I ask because I know he does a lot of work addressing the issues of bureaucracy within government. Would he speak to those concerns specifically?

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Mr. Kelly McCauley:

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Barrie—Innisfil for his hard work on the file.

We are blessed in West Edmonton with a large number of non-for-profit groups caring for the disabled. There is the Elves Special Needs Society, Easter Seals and others. They tell me that we need work on issues such as impassable sidewalks. There are people in wheelchairs going onto the streets because the sidewalks are broken. This is where we need the money. The money should be dedicated to infrastructure to help cities with this, not for building bureaucracies. This is a problem with this legislation because the money is not dedicated to actually helping the disabled. It seems to be set up to help a new class of bureaucracy, which Liberals always seem to make a priority and not average Canadians.

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Mr. Larry Maguire (Brandon—Souris, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, earlier today I was wondering about the complaints process in this bill. My colleague has talked about many of its shortfalls, and one of them is what looks like another form of a complaints process, which is the main thing in this bill. Could he elaborate on that? I know he has expounded on many of the areas of concern that are not in the bill, and a number of things that could be. One of the reasons he wants it to pass at second reading is so that we can see if the government will come forward with amendments, or if it will allow others. Could he elaborate on that?

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Mr. Kelly McCauley:

Mr. Speaker, that is a concern. As I mentioned, in the slide deck the government gave us introducing the legislation, there is one page on implementing accessibility requirements, one page on helping the disabled, but two full pages on how it is going to set up a bureaucratic regime to go after people. The way the government is going at it is backward. It needs to focus on actually helping the disabled rather than creating a new bureaucratic nightmare to go after people. We need to focus on pragmatic results and helping the disabled, and not spending money and resources on the bureaucracy. It needs to be spent on Canadians suffering with disabilities.

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Mr. John Barlow (Foothills, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act. This bill is, for lack of a better description, a horribly missed opportunity. I think all of us in the House would agree that any opportunity we have to enact legislation that would help Canadians with disabilities, or all Canadians, access employment opportunities so they could help their families and their communities would be a benefit and something we should all be focused on doing. Unfortunately, the Liberal bill, the accessible Canada act, does none of those things. It is very thin, it lacks any details, and it certainly lacks any tangible results or aspirational goals we are trying to meet. I think the four million Canadians who have disabilities would be extremely disappointed, because this is certainly not what they were promised by the Prime Minister in the 2015 campaign.

There are already three provinces in Canada that have implemented accessibility legislation. Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, Manitoba passed the Accessibility for Manitobans Act in 2013, and Nova Scotia passed the Accessibility Act in 2017. Additionally, British Columbia has, as recently as this past July, pledged to establish a provincial disabilities act later this fall. Therefore, there are lots of templates already in place the Liberal government could have used as a measuring stick when it tried to develop its own legislation.

In the 2015 Liberal platform, the Prime Minister promised he would “eliminate systemic barriers and deliver equality of opportunity to all Canadians living with disabilities”. He would introduce a national disabilities act. In fact, the first mandate letter in November 2015, and every mandate letter since, and I think there have been two or three, has called on the minister responsible for this file to continue the consultation process and introduce legislation. There have been three years of consultation, and the culmination of that consultation is a very weak piece of legislation that really does nothing other than put forward another $290 million for additional consultation and study. It is extremely disappointing that it has taken three years to develop this piece of legislation that really does not do anything that was promised in the 2015 election campaign. It must be extremely disappointing for those stakeholders who are looking for something with some breadth, content, tangibility and real results.

Bill C-81 is extremely weak. It does not outline any regulations or details. It only calls for more consultation and another regulatory process to begin, but the price tag is $290 million. I cannot go back to my constituents and explain to them what the $290 million is going to be used for and what the results are going to be. Certainly stakeholders in my riding who are looking for this type of legislation are going to be asking me what this would do. I cannot give them a definitive answer, because there really are no answers in the bill, which is extremely disappointing, considering the track record of the previous Conservative government in supporting Canadians with disabilities. It has been and always will be a priority for the Conservative Party.

I want to look back at the strong legacy left by the former Conservative finance minister, Jim Flaherty, and some of the tangible tools we were able to bring forward that had real results. They delivered real results for Canadians with disabilities. There was the home disability tax credit that allowed people with disabilities to renovate their homes to ensure that they had healthy living spaces that were accessible. They could stay in their homes, in their communities, close to friends, family and social networks, where they were most comfortable. We created a working group that was tasked with developing a national autism strategy. We completed the groundbreaking study “Rethinking DisAbility in the Private Sector”, which was completed in 2006. This was a template for the private sector to address accessibility and disability issues in private businesses across Canada. It was an industry standard and is still used today.

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The previous Conservative government also invested $218 million a year, in partnership with the provinces, in labour market agreements, which ensured that we were improving employment opportunities for Canadians with disabilities across the country.

One of the hallmark pieces of legislation we were able to bring in was certainly the registered disability savings plan. This helped parents and grandparents of children with disabilities to contribute to their child’s financial future and the financial security that every parent, and certainly every grandparent, feels is so important. Last week, during the debate on Bill C-81, I recall that the Minister of Public Services and Procurement said that the disability tax credit was a game changer for Canadians with disabilities. I credit her for pointing that out.

Those were tangible pieces of legislation that had tangible goals and tangible results. That is what Canadians are looking for from this House of Commons. That is what they elected their representatives to come here to do.

Unfortunately, I look at Bill C-81 as merely a rushed piece of legislation that is really all about meeting an election promise and not meeting the needs of Canadians with disabilities.

If we look at the Conservative record again, that record has continued even as we are opposition. As my colleague mentioned, the member for Calgary Shepard tabled the fairness for persons with disabilities act. My colleague, the member for Carleton, tabled Bill C-395, the opportunity bill, which would have imposed a simple rule on governments that they would have to respect that workers with disabilities would always be able to gain more from wages than they lost in clawbacks and taxes. It would have simply required governments to ensure that people with disabilities would always get ahead through their own hard work and would not be punished financially when they were successful. Like any working Canadian, that is what they want. When they are working hard, becoming successful, and earning a living, they do not want to be punished by different levels of government.

We heard from Canadians across the country that they want to work. That is their ultimate goal. They want to have financial stability, not just for themselves but for their families. However, we know that under the current rules, although some Canadians work hard, they come home with less. That was the situation the opportunity bill was trying to address. It would have addressed it successfully. Again, it was tangible legislation with tangible results that would have helped Canadians with disabilities.

However, rather than supporting common sense legislation, the Liberal government turned down the member for Carleton’s Bill C-395. Instead of supporting definitive action that would have supported Canadians with disabilities, the Liberals voted down this bill and have instead tabled Bill C-81, which, in essence, does nothing to address the fundamental issues facing Canadians with disabilities.

In fact, not only did the Liberals turn down Bill C-395, they also went after Canadians with disabilities, specifically Canadians with type 1 diabetes. Liberals went after their health tax credit. While we are trying to find real solutions to real problems, the Liberals are chasing the opportunity for a tax grab on the backs of Canadians who are the most vulnerable. That is what makes this extremely disappointing.

On this side of the House, we recognize the strong contributions persons with different abilities can make to our country, our economy and certainly our workplaces. Disabilities come in all different sizes, shapes and forms. Unfortunately, one in seven Canadians aged 15 or older has reported some kind of disability, and three out of four adults with disabilities have reported more than one type of disability. These are not necessarily visible disabilities. They are not something we see on the street every single day. Many Canadians have disabilities that cannot necessarily be identified when seen, but they struggle each and every day to find a job and to make ends meet.

Almost 80% of Canadians 25 to 64 years old with a disability have at least a high school diploma, but compared to almost 90% of those without a disability, that is still a stark gap we need to try to address.

These Canadians represent a large and talented employment pool, yet too many are denied the opportunity to work and earn a living and their own self-esteem and self-respect. Persons with disabilities often face more challenges in the labour force than, obviously, persons without disabilities. Inequities for persons with disabilities that currently exist in the workplace must be properly addressed in this legislation. Unfortunately, Bill C-81 does not do that.

Half of working age adults with disabilities are employed, and two-thirds with mild disabilities are employed. We can definitely do better.

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Unfortunately, as I said, this legislation is a poor attempt to keep an election promise. Throughout the debates, the Liberals have touted this legislation as a historic bill, but they are simply using flowery language to cover up legislation that does not have the teeth Canadians are expecting. This document is really nothing more than another funding announcement that the Liberals will have $290 million and will be doing yet another study on Canadians with disabilities.

All this bill would do is create another level of bureaucracy, but it has no details on what the cost would be to the Canadian taxpayer, what the impact would be on the private sector or what this program would entail. The cost-benefit analysis is not there. There is no specific data on what this bill would intend to do.

My colleague from the Liberal side said earlier that this bill would provide a framework. Canadians with disabilities are not looking for a framework. They are looking for results. They are looking for a clear path that is going to remove the barriers keeping them from accessing the workplace. This bill would not do that.

Also, it will frustrate a lot of Canadians that this bill would take more than six years to implement. My first question would be, “to implement what?” That information is not in there. It was a promise made in the 2015 campaign that there would be a national plan to address disabilities. It did not say that it would be nine years, and it certainly did not say that it would be six years. The Liberals have had more than three years to try to come up with a plan, and they have failed to do that. That is extremely disappointing. As I said, if there were a tangible piece of legislation, all of us in this House would be willing to support it. It is something we could all work on together.

We will support this getting to the next stage, but I am hoping that there is an opportunity to improve this bill, because it is certainly lacking. This is a hollow document that would not address any of the promises made by the Prime Minister in 2015. Canadians have had enough of Liberal broken promises. Canadians, certainly Canadians with disabilities, want a government that will deliver.

There are vital details missing from this piece of legislation. How would private sector businesses be impacted by this legislation? I am talking about community airports, postal workers and those types of private sector businesses under federal jurisdiction. How would Parliament or constituency offices be impacted by this legislation? How much would this legislation cost to finally implement? What would be the cost of the bureaucracy that would be constructed as part of this bill? Who would have the authority to make the decisions? That is also not in this bill. How would compliance be measured? The bill says that there would be 5,000 new public sector workers hired. How would they be employed? Where would they be employed? Would they be given tangible and meaningful work, or would they be simply token hires?

As I said at the beginning of my speech, this bill had incredible potential, but the bill needs to establish clear and definitive lines of accountability and recommendations for the private sector and certainly for the public sector. This is not what the four million Canadians with disabilities asked for. They did not ask for more consultation or more studies. Those have been done before.

The Liberals had more than three years to update those studies and add to that information if they truly wanted to make this a priority. What is clear with Bill C-81 is that it was not a priority. This is something that has been rushed and thrown on the table to try to fit in by the end of this mandate.

As a society, the barrier we need to overcome is inclusion. We must remove the barriers, whatever they may be, to ensure that every Canadian has the opportunity to earn a living and be successful. We cannot judge people’s abilities based on their disabilities. It is not about finding someone with a disability to suit our structure or our business model. It is about changing the workplace to suit the person with that disability. A disability is not a disability until that person is put in an environment or a context in which it disables them. For example, someone in a wheelchair can engage in debates and conversations, read and write, but it is not until that person is put in a situation without an accessible wheelchair ramp that it becomes a disability. The context of the situation has disabled them. It is this barrier that needs to be broken down.

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Preventing and removing barriers means people with disabilities can participate in the workplace through inclusion and accommodation. People living with a disability can gain persistence and meet the challenges of any workplace, but someone has to give them that chance.

Bill C-81 needs to be more than a feel-good Liberal bill. We need concrete action to break down barriers and open up inclusivity to those living with disabilities. All of us in the House have an important role to play in achieving that goal. It is a chance to empower and mobilize. We are called upon to break down barriers and open doors for Canadians with disabilities. When we are an inclusive society, we all benefit.

I took a look at a couple of the organizations in my riding of Foothills, groups like Foothills SNAPS and the Foothills AIMS Society. They have done the heavy lifting. They are going to businesses across my riding to find work placement opportunities for Canadian adults and children with disabilities. They are breaking down those barriers on their own, working with the small business owners in southern Alberta.

I know they would embrace some help. If there were an opportunity to partner with the federal government to break down those barriers, providing additional opportunities to their clients, it would be welcomed. However, I know, when discussing Bill C-81 with them over the weekend, they were extremely disappointed by the lack of clarity and structure in the legislation.

I would like to finish off with a bit of a story about someone who I think many of us in the House know: Dr. Temple Grandin. She is an inspirational individual.

Dr. Grandin is a world renowned scientist, an American professor and one of the first individuals on the autism spectrum to share a personal experience. She did not speak until she was three and a half years old. When she was 15 years old, she visited her aunt’s ranch, something that inspired her future career. She is world renowned in teaching techniques of animal handling in the agriculture sector and her methods are used on ranches and meat processing facilities across the world, including those in my riding of Foothills.

Dr. Grandin developed a centre track double rail conveyor restrainer system for holding cattle during stunning in beef plants. In addition, she developed an objective numerical scoring system for assessing animal welfare at slaughter plants. The use of her system has resulted in significant improvements in animal handling, which are now the industry standard.

She has lectured around the world about her experiences and the anxiety of feeling threatened by everything in her surroundings. She uses that fear and anxiety to motivate herself in her work with humane livestock practices. She has designed and adapted these corrals, which have reduced stress, panic and injury in animals. They have certainly been a game-changer in the agriculture sector. What some may have seen as a disability was certainly a workplace ability.

Recently in Vancouver, she spoke at the Pacific National Exhibition about developing individuals with different minds. She said, “There are different kinds of minds. Some people are visual thinkers. Another kid is going to be a pattern thinker and another one a word thinker. We have to start figuring out what a person can do. And this is true for all things involving disability.”

Under the previous Conservative government, we introduced the registered disabilities savings plan, which quickly gave Canadians with disabilities increased financial security. We introduced a new home accessibility tax credit and developed a working group tasked with developing a national autism strategy.

The best direction forward is toward workplace ability. Canadians with disabilities want tangible action and tangible and achievable goals. I will support getting the bill to committee in the hopes of improving it. However, this is a disappointing effort and is clearly another piece of rushed legislation trying to meet an election promise. This does not address the barriers Canadians with disabilities are facing when they are trying to enter the workforce, and that is where Bill C-81 falls disappointingly short.

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Mr. Lloyd Longfield (Guelph, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, there is a gap that the member is describing that I am thinking would be filled by looking at what this legislation is. It is an act to deal with accessibility within federal jurisdiction and it looks at four key areas: under the CRTC, looking at complaints around accessibility barriers relating to broadcasting and telecommunications falling under its jurisdiction; under the Canadian Transportation Agency, looking at federal transportation agencies, ensuring they are accessible; looking at the federal public servants and parliamentary employees being dealt with under the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board; and finally, looking at any complaints being handled by a new accessibility commissioner.

This is not to replace provincial jurisdiction. It is not to replace private business jurisdiction. It is to enhance and give an overall scope to ensure that all of Canada, whether provincial or federal jurisdiction, falls within the guidelines of accessibility legislation and that it can be enforced.

Is the gap the fact that the previous government did not talk with provinces and territories?

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Mr. John Barlow:

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, that is quite the opposite. There was an agreement between the previous Conservative government and the provinces where there was a sharing of funds to develop an accessibility plan with the provinces to address barriers and obstacles for people with disabilities to enter the workforce. That was already there. We had that discussion and an agreement with the provinces.

I appreciate my colleague’s aspirational goals, which are certainly a part of Bill C-81. However, aspirational goals are not legislation. Legislation should outline rules and regulations and pass forward to reach those aspirational goals. The problem with Bill C-81 is that it does not include any of those things that we should want within legislation.

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Mr. Matt DeCourcey (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, my colleague claimed that we took far too long to introduce the legislation and therefore it was not a priority. Then he said that we rushed it and therefore it was not a priority. He cannot have it both ways and he is wrong on both counts. This is very much a priority for this government and part of our plan to support middle-class Canadians and those working hard to join it.

That is why there was such extensive consultation with groups and stakeholders across the country, including the leadership of the Canadian Association for Community Living, executive vice-president Krista Carr, her right hand Kurt Goddard and board member Joy Bacon, who live in Fredericton and who I have the honour of working with closely on a day-to-day basis.

The legislation presents a great opportunity for many in Canada. One thing it does in addition is that it has the potential to enhance economic growth for the country. We know that if we give persons living disabilities an opportunity to work at an equal rate in the workforce, we can grow our economy by anywhere up to $38.5 billion.

I know the Conservatives have voted against other legislation coming from the government that supports economic growth, but will they stand with us on this important economic growth measure that would also provide many Canadians with an opportunity to claim their rights?

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Mr. John Barlow:

Mr. Speaker, I think I was clear in my speech that I would be supporting this when it came to a vote. My speech outlined some of the concerns I and many of my colleagues in the opposition had raised with the legislation.

The member talked about the economic growth opportunities, but that is what is missing in the legislation. There is no cost-benefit analysis on the impact on private sector of businesses that are federally regulated. What is going to be the impact on them?

I think all of us in the House want to ensure there are opportunities for all Canadians to enter the workforce, but there also has to be some definitive analysis on what the costs of this program will be. If the Liberals could have some of those details within the bill, it would make us more comfortable understanding what we would be approving and supporting.

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Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to sit through most of the debate today. We have heard from the Liberal side that this is somehow historic legislation. I want to echo the comments of the member for Red Deer—Mountain View. He said historic in the sense that it had sat on somebody’s desk for three years. Now as we get close to an election, all of a sudden it is being introduced.

In the context of historic and monumental, we heard the member speak about the legislation being vague, with no timelines, no mandated outcomes and no measurables. Would the member classify the legislation as historic or historically vague?

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Mr. John Barlow:

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has given me some good direction on what my answer will be.

I would go a long way from describing the legislation as historic. What was historic was the registered disability savings plan that the previous Conservative government came up with, which the Liberal minister of procurement called a game changer. I do not think anybody would call Bill C-81 a game changer.

The potential absolutely is there, but it lacks any sort of clarity, no tangible regulations and no tangible results. It is merely another funding announcement of $290 million for yet another study and additional consultation.

In a mandate letter, three different times it was laid out by the Prime Minister to be a priority. However, more than two-thirds of the way through the Liberals’ mandate, we finally get legislation that lacks any depth or lends any clarity.

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Mrs. Mona Fortier (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague and I am concerned to hear him say that this bill lacks teeth and does not have any measures to reduce barriers faced by people with disabilities.

In reading the bill, I clearly see concrete measures to transform our organizations. There is, for example, the creation of accessibility standards for our organizations by the Canadian accessibility standards development organization.

Why would creating these new standards not help eliminate the barriers he mentioned in his presentation?

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Mr. John Barlow:

Mr. Speaker, what are the standards? We can have all these aspirational points as part of the bill, saying that we want to do this and achieve that, but there are no clear standards in there that say this is what is going to happen step by step, and with timelines. If we speak to those stakeholders and, with all honesty, say that we will have these standards, we do not know what they are, but they will be sometime in the next six years or so, is that really what those stakeholders have asked for? Is that really what they are supporting? I would question whether that was the bill of goods they were sold.

Again, I think all of us support the essence of Bill C-81. This is the direction we want to go. We want to ensure we are removing barriers for Canadians with disabilities, but we want a clear path and clear rules on how we get there.

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Mr. Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for Foothills for highlighting some of the concerns of Bill C-81 and the fact that the Conservative Party supports it.

One of the issues the member mentioned was why it was such a low priority of the government. I was looking at old speeches and I asked the same question. We were debating Bill C-24 in December 2017, but the biggest thing out of that bill was to change the name of the minister of public works to the minister of public services and procurement. I remember asking why we were taking up all this time when there were so many other more important items that we were not addressing.

I would like to put that forward to my colleague. Why does the government always seem to be looking at things with zero consequence rather than things of much more importance, whether it is Bill C-71, the bill we were discussing Friday regarding justice and military, or this bill? Why does the government have such poorly laid out priorities for Canadians?

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Mr. John Barlow:

Mr. Speaker, it is frustrating when we have these pieces of legislation where no due diligence is done as part of them. There is no cost-benefit analysis, no economic analysis or what the true impacts of the legislation could be. It is kind of like saying we are going to put this fancy picture in the store window, but there is going to be nothing behind it. We are seeing this with the legislation before us. It is a great sales pitch, great advertisement, but there is nothing tangible behind it.

If addressing Canadians with disabilities were truly a priority, why would the Liberals not have supported the proposed opportunities act that my colleague for Carleton raised earlier this year? Why would they not have supported the proposed fairness in disabilities act that my colleague for Calgary Shepard brought up earlier year? These were real solutions to real problems and they would have had a definitive impact on Canadians with disabilities.

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Mr. Robert Kitchen (Souris—Moose Mountain, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to speak on this piece of legislation, Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.

Since this Parliament began just under three years ago, there have been a number of private members’ bills put forward to this House with the aim of improving the lives of Canadians living with disabilities. Unfortunately, not all of these have passed. Most of these bills have contained meaningful, tangible outcomes and results for disabled Canadians, which is something that all parties in this House should have been able to support. However, as we look at Bill C-81, it is unclear how it will actually benefit those it sets out to help.

According to this piece of legislation, the intent of this bill is to benefit all Canadians, especially Canadians with disabilities, through the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada. This is a sentiment that I believe we can all get behind. Accessibility is an important issue that can drastically affect the quality of people’s lives, including their day-to-day routines. Anything that can be done at a government level to address this should absolutely be done.

As someone who has had to live 44 years of his life with a hearing disability, I was expecting a lot more from this legislation. It becomes problematic when legislation that is introduced by the government has no obvious effective results. In my view, this has been the case for Bill C-81. While it seems that the intention behind this bill is good, its actual components and the effects it would have are unclear. Aside from making it easier to access federal services, I fail to see how this legislation would help Canadians living with disabilities in the way that this government champions it as being historic.

Furthermore, there is the issue of the length of time it has taken to get this bill introduced to the House of Commons. The Liberals have been in power for three years now and are almost at the end of their mandate. It is only recently that they have begun to fulfill the promises they made to Canadians living with a disability when they were elected in 2015. All three ministers who have held this portfolio were instructed, in their mandate letters from the Prime Minister, to get this legislation moving. However, for some reason, the bill was only introduced in June of this year, right as the House recessed and all members returned to work in their constituencies.

I would like to acknowledge the present minister responsible for accessibility, as I truly believe that she means well with this legislation. She initiated this legislation, and she is here at its completion.

There has been absolutely no sense of urgency on this. To me it feels as though the Liberals were just kicking the can down the road until they finally had to do something or risk being criticized for their inaction. Canadians, disabled or not, deserve better than that.

In contrast, during the 2008 election, the Conservative Party committed to introducing the registered disability savings plan, RDSP. That election took place in October. By December of the same year the RDSP was introduced and was available for Canadians to take advantage of. All of that took place in under three months, yet by the time Bill C-81 passes, it will have taken almost three years.

Let us also consider that Canadians may need to wait another six years before any new regulations take effect, as there are no regulations contained within this legislation. There are so many things the government can do to help Canadians living with a disability, yet it chooses to introduce this legislation that has zero immediate effects and will not change a thing once it becomes law.

The previous Conservative government understood and recognized the contributions that persons with disabilities can and do make to our society and our economy. As I mentioned, the RDSP was implemented quickly and gave Canadians with disabilities greater financial security. Since 2008, 1,005 of these accounts have been set up, and over $1 billion has been added to their savings.

The previous Conservative government also introduced the new home accessibility tax credit to facilitate healthy, happy homes for persons with disabilities, and invested hundreds of millions of dollars toward improving employment and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. This is the type of action that the Canadian public is expecting. We know that this can be done in a timely and efficient manner if the will is there. The previous government proved it was possible. However, the Liberals seem to bungle this portfolio time and time again.

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One of the main components of this bill is that it says it will create accessibility standards for regulated parties to achieve and maintain. This would happen through the creation of the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, or CASDO. The bill would also create the position of a chief accessibility officer who would oversee the implementation of the legislation, as well as the creation of an accessibility commissioner, whose role would be to ensure compliance.

The provision of the bill that creates CASDO leaves many questions unanswered and ultimately creates yet another level of study and consultation without any actual impact on those it is meant to help. We know the government loves to study and consult on an issue rather than taking meaningful, timely action on it. What it is essentially doing with Bill C-81 is creating yet another committee, CASDO, that would set standards. If that statement leaves members with some questions, they are not alone.

What are these new standards going to look like, how would they be implemented, what is the timeline for this creation, what is the timeline for the consultation, what is the timeline for the implementation, what is the timeline for these standards, who is considered to be qualified to establish these standards, and so on and so forth. There are so many unanswered questions. I would appreciate if the minister could provide the framework and mandate for this new accessibility standards organization, as well as the cost and other necessary facts and figures, as soon as possible.

Another component of Bill C-81 is a $290-million fund over six years, amounting to $48 million per year to upgrade federal workplaces and websites. Is this all administrative costs? Setting up an office is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. If 5,000 new employees are paid $40,000 a year, that amounts to $200 million. Establishing a new CEO and commissioner is going to cost well over $200,000. There is the money spent right there in one one year.

This is a wonderful idea in theory, but I am skeptical as to how many Canadians living with disabilities would actually benefit from this. We do not know how this envelope of money would be allocated, which is problematic in itself, but we can assume that it would be used, at least in part, for more consultation. I fail to see how constant and never-ending consultation helps people, not to mention the fact that taxpayer dollars are being spent on something with no tangible results and no actual timeline for when it would be implemented.

The minister says that the government would be hiring more public servants, 5,000 people with disabilities to be specific. Again this leaves many questions. Are these public servants all new hires, are they filling in places left open by attrition, what is the cost of hiring these 5,000 new public servants, would their work be wider in scope, would it be in different departments? These questions need to be answered, but it seems the Liberals have a hard time saying one single thing that this bill would actually do.

Canadians living with disabilities deserve meaningful and effective action from their government to help them improve their quality of life where possible. There are good things about this bill. It would hopefully make it easier for some Canadians with disabilities to deal with the federal government. However it is unclear as to how this helps with the rest of their lives.

Something I also support in this legislation, the clearest and most repeated point, is that it spells out the complaints process. This, however, is just a tiny aspect of a much greater piece of legislation that should provide common-sense regulations and standards, which I believe is what disabled Canadians were hoping for.

I cannot comprehend why the government would put out this legislation unless it was simply to say it was doing something. It had two and a half years to consult and this is what it came up with. I believe it does a disservice to those involved. To put it casually, there is no meat in this meal.

Before I can support this bill, I and all Canadians need to know these facts. In my view, this bill is putting the cart before the horse. I think that every person sitting in the House today would say that they support initiatives that benefit Canadians living with disabilities, but this piece of legislation fails to have any meaningful impact and sets out to spend a lot of money to do nothing.

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I have a friend, a constituent, a young man who was born with spina bifida, a meningocele. All his life as a youth, he had surgery after surgery and he is wheelchair-bound, yet he is an amazing young man. He has managed to get a job, he works hard, he has moved, he is able to drive. In fact, he was involved in the Queen City Marathon just three or four weeks ago in Regina. This young man is going to sit there and ask those very same questions: What is this doing for him, and how is it going to help him?

In conclusion, I would like to say that politicians of all stripes recognize the challenges that face individuals with disabilities as well as their families. What these people are asking for is action from the current Liberal government rather than empty words, more consultations and endless platitudes.

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Mrs. Celina Caesar-Chavannes (Whitby, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague said that this piece of legislation would have no impact and no tangible results. I wonder how an able-bodied individual can speak for those who require legislation and leadership to have equity in this country. This piece of legislation would provide that. If the member looks at the charter statement related to this piece of legislation and if he reads it through comprehensively, he would understand that.

There is the length of time, and the member said this had no sense of urgency. I would say that over the course of these last couple of years, I have had the opportunity to talk to many of my constituents at town halls and listen to what they said. They said that with this piece of legislation we need to take the appropriate time to ensure we get it right. We have seen it fail in other jurisdictions. They wanted to make sure that they were not just cared for, but able to work. They wanted to make sure that their complaints were adequately taken care of and that there were compliance measures to ensure that compliance to the legislation was in effect.

In my opinion, the Conservatives need to pick better battles and this is not one that they need to battle on. I would hope that they would support this piece of legislation and do right by the member’s constituent in his riding.

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Mr. Robert Kitchen:

Mr. Speaker, I am assuming the member was not referring to me as being that individual who was speaking on behalf of disabled people. However, as I mentioned, I do have a disability. The unfortunate part is a lot of Canadians do not understand that people out there have visible and invisible disabilities. An example of visible disabilities is the gentleman I just talked about because we can see it. It is visible and we see those people every day. We respond to them and we see the challenges that they have in their lives when they try to navigate around a city, when they try to go over a curb that does not have access to getting onto the road, and when they try to go into buildings when there is not access for them. There are regulations that people expect. However, there are also people who have invisible disabilities. I have an invisible disability. Those invisibly disabled people deserve to have the same access and abilities as the rest whom we talk about. That is the main point we need to look at: How do we address all of them?

The committee that is being structured does set up an opportunity and they say that there will be disabled people on it. My question is for the committee to explain that a bit more. This is not saying we do not support the legislation. We are looking forward to seeing it go to committee. We are looking forward to hearing a lot of these questions answered, and I appreciate this as we move forward to committee.

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Mr. Matt DeCourcey (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, in his intervention my colleague told a story about a friend of his who has been successful in navigating sometimes challenging physical and intangible environments that persons living with different disabilities face. This piece of legislation is there to provide more opportunities for people like the friend of my colleague opposite in order for them to become fully included and contributing members of society, in order for them to be able to take part in an equal way in the economy and in order for them to claim their equal rights and share the same equal human dignity that all other persons in Canada can.

Once again, I will reiterate, if we can find ways to help include more people working in our economy, people who are living with different ability challenges, we can add up to $38.5 billion to our GDP. I hope the Conservatives, in addition to supporting this bill on its human rights merits, will support this bill because it is tremendously important for Canada’s economy and for middle-class Canadians and those working hard to join the middle class.

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Mr. Robert Kitchen:

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend, the member for Fredericton, for his question and all the good work that he has had to do in Fredericton over the past year. I know he has been hard at that.

I agree with a lot of what he said about working together. That is part of what this legislation should be doing. I had a conversation with the minister a couple of days ago on this issue. One of the things we discussed was maybe taking two Liberals, two Conservatives, two NDP, and putting them in a room to sit around and hash out all of the little details so that we could get all of the fine lines. It is important to do that, and I expect we will see a lot of that at committee. I hope to see that help us move forward, and to help those with disabilities so we can advance our country to the benefit he suggested.

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Mr. Lloyd Longfield (Guelph, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, the conversation earlier in the speech was about boutique tax credits and the equivalency between writing a cheque for someone and saying, “Here’s a cheque, and I hope things work out for you”, versus including people with disabilities in developing proper legislation and then making sure that the legislation is enacted. Would the hon. member not agree that having people involved in “nothing about me without me” is a better approach than writing a cheque?

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Mr. Robert Kitchen:

Mr. Speaker, the legislation does talk about getting involved and how we structure things. The thing the legislation does not talk about is what those standards and regulations would be. That is what Canadians asked for. When the average Canadian with a disability heard about this legislation, they asked, “What’s in it for me?” This legislation basically identifies how we set up a CEO, a commissioner, a committee to study this, but it does not say what that would do to help improve their lives.

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The Deputy Speaker:

The hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain will be pleased with the fact that he has three minutes left for questions and comments when the House next gets back to debate on the question that is before the House.