Parliament of Canada House of Commons Hansard September 26, 2018
Originally posted at:
Accessible Canada Act+-
The House resumed from September 24 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.
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson (Nanaimo—Ladysmith, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, more than 5.3 million Canadians, almost 16% of the population of this country, are living with some form of disability that affects their freedom, independence or quality of life. Of that number, over 200,000 are children and youth.
One in five Canadian women live with disabilities. Women with disabilities are poorer than their male counterparts. They are three times more likely to rely on government programs than women without disabilities and more likely than men with disabilities. They are also particularly susceptible to domestic violence. The rates of violence against women living with disabilities is particularly high. They disproportionately call on women’s shelters, face homelessness and are victims of violence. The rate of head injuries associated with women who are victims of domestic violence or intimate partner violence is particularly high. I really commend DAWN Canada for doing groundbreaking work in this area. We were very reliant on its advice and testimony at the status of women committee.
Here we are today hearing about Bill C-81, which is intended to help and support persons living with disabilities. The need is tremendous. Persons living with disabilities within Canada have waited over two years for this bill to be tabled. In particular, I want to mention my constituent Jack Ferrero, who has been most insistent that this legislation be tabled and come as soon as possible to this House. It is regretful that we are three years into this term and are only debating it now.
Canada ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities back in 2010. That convention elaborated a human rights framework for addressing the exclusion and the lack of access persons with disabilities have encountered in Canada. This is both physical access to buildings and access to services. It was intended to establish a society where “persons with disabilities are viewed as full citizens with exactly the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens of Canada.”
Only three provinces in Canada have accessibility laws, and federally, Canada does not. I have heard in great detail from constituents that the need is dire. The following is part of a letter from a man in my riding, Terry Wiens. I am pretty sure that he is a Nanaimo resident. This is a long and heartbreaking letter, which I will read in part. He had polio and is facing extraordinary costs associated with his disability. He writes:
“I recently had to buy a new RoHo Hybrid cushion for my wheelchair ($820) as well as a hospital bed ($1800 mattress not included) so decided to make a one-time withdrawal of $10,000 from my RIF. What I didn’t realize was the ripple effect of that decision. That raised my annual income enough to eliminate me from the Guaranteed Income Supplement (all $18/month worth). I have no doubt that next year I will qualify again, but in the meantime, we are penalized for our independence. You can’t really compare the income of an individual that is facing costs that the average person never sees. To add insult to injury, losing that GIS also cost me my Premium Medical Services subsidy, another $420 a year, my opportunity for a subsidized assisted living apartment, because GIS qualification is required for the subsidized program, and a cutback to my rental subsidy and doubling (from $450 to $900 yearly) of my Pharmacare deductible. It is not the $18/month payment but the status of qualifying for GIS that is important.”
It is a terrible example of government services not supporting the people who are working the hardest and have the most barriers in front of them.
I have another letter from a person in my riding, who asked to keep her name confidential. She writes:
“It is with great dismay that I write to you about a problem with the pension plans. I am 69 years old, I have some disabilities and my only income is from the government pensions and some money that was awarded to me from a divorce. My total income is under $20,000 per year. I have recently been informed that because I receive $250.00 per month from my divorce judgment that I am losing $1,000.00 per year on my pension. This is a clawback if I have ever seen one. How can the government do this to the very people that for 50 or more years of working and being the back bone of the country do this to their seniors? In B.C., the previous provincial government did this to welfare recipients until they complained, and now it can’t claw back those monies.”
“I have personally seen local seniors going through garbage cans looking for cans and bottles just to make ends meet.”
“I take exception to the government saying that we have a class system in our country and they will do everything for the “middle” class and nothing for seniors. To be politically correct, we have low income, medium income and high income. Since when did Canada decide that we have a class system? I have worked all my life, served in the Armed Forces and this is how I get treated. I applied for the disability tax credit, and although I had three things that were on their list to qualify, I was refused and even told that if I went any further with my claim that I might be responsible for legal fees.”
I have a dozen letters like this that describe the people who the social safety net in Canada is meant to be supporting, the people who are meant to be getting help from these government programs and are thwarted again and again.
I am going to read a summary from my fantastic caseworker, Hilary Eastmure, who helps a lot of people out at our front desk. She says:
“Canadians accustomed to getting reliable service are becoming quickly disillusioned with our system, which is getting increasingly difficult to navigate. The shift to online platforms is also a major stumbling block for Canadians of all ages, including those who don’t have regular access to a computer or printer or those who are not computer literate. Being told to access or submit a form online is a major source of frustration for people with disabilities, seniors and low-income Canadians, the very people who often require the most support from government agencies.”
We have in front of us Bill C-81, which is meant to remove those barriers. However, I have to emphasize the design of the civil service, the design of the interface between the people the system is meant to serve and their ability to access these programs.
Bill C-81 would empower the government to create accessibility standards or regulations, but it would not require the government to do that. We like the idea of an accessibility commissioner in charge of enforcement.
New Democrats are going to support this proposed legislation at first reading so we can get it to committee and make as many constructive amendments as we can to serve the people with disabilities who need this to work well, but we could not support it if it were to come back in this form.
The bill would not bring us into conformity with our obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The text on civil rights legislation for persons with disabilities is really the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is dated 1990. We have a good model out there. Canadians should be at least meeting the standard set by the Americans.
My New Democrat fellow MP for New Westminster—Burnaby in 2007 tabled proposed legislation in the House. My fellow MP in this Parliament, the MP for Windsor—Tecumseh, has been very strong as our critic for the NDP on this bill, saying that any accessibility bill tabled has to be seen as enabling legislation for Canada’s commitments to the United Nations. Therefore, we will be pushing in committee for mandatory timelines for implementation. Without those, the implementation process, and even a start-up process, could drag on for years.
We will be pushing to require that all federal government laws, policies and programs be studied through a disability law lens. We will be asking that the bill not continue its error right now of giving several public agencies or officials much too much power to grant partial or blanket exemptions from important parts of the bill. The bill right now would separate enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over four different public agencies. In committee the NDP will argue instead that Bill C-81 should provide people with disabilities with a single service location or one-stop shopping so that they can access the services with dignity and the support they need.
Mr. Speaker, I am splitting my time, but I have no indication of who it is with. I have finished my speech, though.
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 agree with my hon. colleague, who has underscored the importance of moving this legislation from second reading to committee, because obviously there are some questions the NDP want to ask.
The hon. member also raised issues about seniors. We are so pleased that we now have a minister responsible for seniors issues, who will be working closely with the Minister of Accessibility to move some of those concerns forward.
I really do suggest that the hon. member get in touch with the ministers and express her concerns at that level, or at committee. I look forward to that.
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson:
Mr. Speaker, I have written to the Prime Minister directly on this. I have outlined to him the multiple ways I am hearing from every sector of my riding, whether business people trying to access the CRA, or seniors trying to navigate the Canada pension plan and the GIS, or families waiting for key answers from Citizenship and Immigration about whether their family members might qualify for reunification, or anything.
I have raised this a number of times in the House, and in the summer I wrote to the Prime Minister directly, because I was so dismayed at what I was hearing from people once I was back in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith. I have had no answer.
It is clear that the government has chosen not to restore the public service and the front-line people who are meant to be serving. To have people kicked off phone lines or left on hold interminably, or for them to have to call 20 times to even have the privilege of being put on hold, says that everyone is being challenged by a broken system.
Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet (Hochelaga, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, if I am not mistaken, speeches are limited to 10 minutes at this time, with five minutes for questions and answers. My colleague was therefore not sharing her time.
My question is simple. I often have people who come to my office with some sort of problem. The problem might be related to a lack of services. People never really know what falls under provincial or federal jurisdiction. They come to us even when their problem falls under provincial jurisdiction. People do not always know what they need to do to obtain services.
If people have to go to four different departments on top of that in order to obtain services, what kind of impact is that going to have on those individuals?
Ms. Sheila Malcolmson:
Mr. Speaker, it was a particularly discouraging situation for my fellow New Democrat member of Parliament for Windsor—Tecumseh when she introduced her Bill C-348. If the bill had been supported by the government, it would have provided persons living with disabilities a single point of entry to access federal programs.
As it is right now, a person living with a disability has to apply to six different programs in six different ways, whereas my fellow New Democrat’s bill sought to have them prove just once that they had a disability and then that same proof and application could allow them to enter into the multitude of government programs available for people with disabilities. Her bill, unfortunately, was voted down by the government. The Liberals suggested that we should wait for Bill C-81.
Unfortunately, the remedy that was in Bill C-348 was not replicated in this legislation. It is a real disappointment, because the people who are the most vulnerable need the most help. My colleague might have to work harder.
I have honestly heard a number of people say they are going to give up, which means they are living in poverty and in terrible circumstances. In a country as rich as ours, that should not be so.
Mr. Larry Maguire (Brandon—Souris, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada today. Almost every Canadian family has or knows someone with a disability. They were either born with it or became disabled some time in their life. I have long advocated for the rights of those with disabilities, as I know first hand the daily challenges and barriers they face. My own son, who fell in a work-related accident 14 years ago last week, has shown me how someone, through tremendous perseverance, can come through great adversity.
There are also great Canadian heroes, such as Rick Hansen, who have inspired millions around the globe. Through his Man in Motion World Tour, he raised awareness and helped raise millions of dollars for research. To date, Rick has continued his advocacy and is a beacon of hope to all those who are impacted by disability. In my own constituency, my annual charity golf tournament has donated thousands of dollars to the Rick Hansen Foundation and Special Olympics.
Our society has come a long way in recognizing that those with disabilities have a lot to offer. They are full members of society and must have the same access and rights as anyone else. I am proud to belong a party that has advocated and supported many of the measures that have improved the lives of Canadians who suffer from a disability.
Just next month, the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney will be conducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame for his steadfast support, and for being a strong national leader on this issue. He was the first prime minister to appoint a minister responsible for disabled persons. This ensured that there was an advocate for the disabled around the cabinet table. His government also created the disabled persons’ participation program, which dramatically increased support for organizations involved with disabled people. It was also his government that expanded disability-related deductions for income tax purposes. Let us never forget that it was the Hon. Jim Flaherty who implemented the registered disabilities savings plan and heavily invested in the opportunities fund to help persons with disabilities get the necessary training to obtain employment.
These are just some of the tangible actions that have dramatically improved people’s lives. We know that the first step in breaking down barriers involves education and helping people better understand the everyday challenges those with disabilities face. Since being elected as the member of Parliament for Brandon—Souris, I have been a staunch advocate of the enabling accessibility fund, which has supported projects that have made buildings and community infrastructure more accessible. Just this summer, I worked with a community-led organization in Ninette, Manitoba to make it easier for those in wheelchairs to access Pelican Lake. I have worked with communities to secure the necessary funding to renovate bathrooms in places like the Deloraine theatre, so they can be accessible to seniors. I worked with the Brandon Legion so that veterans can now access all parts of their building as well.
These are just a few of the projects that have happened in my neck of the woods, but they are a good reminder that one does not have to reinvent the wheel to make buildings or workplaces more accessible. I am encouraged that this legislation would establish proactive compliance measures. Making buildings and workplaces accessible should never be an afterthought; it should be at the forefront of any architect or engineer’s plans. It is important that we have common accessibility standards across the board.
While I note that this legislation only impacts federally regulated workplaces, it is my sincere hope that it will lead to a much broader conversation within provinces and territories. I believe there is willingness across the country to get this done. There is such opportunity for businesses and organizations to encourage as many people as possible to either be employed, to volunteer, or to shop.
I have been inspired by my colleague, the member for Brantford—Brant, who passed a motion in the last Parliament that called on Canadian employers to take action on hiring persons with disabilities. He started a much-needed conversation about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and improving their quality of life.
I also want to highlight my colleague, the member for Carleton, who led the charge earlier this year with his proposed opportunity for workers with disabilities act. I strongly support his efforts to reform government policies that financially punish people with disabilities when they get a job, earn a raise or work more hours, forcing them to remain jobless and impoverished. He had widespread support for his legislation and I know that he will continue to be a strong advocate for disabled Canadians.
To provide one more example, my colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac championed his motion, Motion No. 157, which encouraged builders and contractors to adhere to visitability guidelines and to be proactive when constructing new buildings. I believe his motion helped inspire many of the elements contained in Bill C-81, and I applaud him for all he has done in this area.
As with any new regulation or law, we must always be mindful about the costs to be borne by those who will be impacted. The other element we have to look at is what it will cost taxpayers to implement, enforce and measure. It costs money to hire people and to perform the day-to-day operations of a new federal entity.
I think all members would agree that we should measure the success or deficiencies of a particular program or organization.
The question at the end of the day is this: Does the federal government need to set up completely new bodies, or can we find ways to harness existing resources? While the fine details will be worked out at a later date, I urge the government to focus squarely on tangible outcomes and projects that will improve accessibility. It would be disappointing if all of the dollars allocated to this legislation just created new full-time equivalents rather than going to bricks and mortar projects. These are the sorts of questions that must be asked up front, because once a government entity is created, it is normally quite difficult to make the necessary changes down the road.
Because this legislation will only impact federally regulated workplaces, most small businesses and community-led organizations will not be directly impacted. That said, the federal government must work hand in hand with federally regulated workplaces and the disabled community. For this legislation to have the impact that we all want it to have, it cannot be drafted in a silo or entirely by the civil service. The regulations and standards must be written in easy-to-comprehend language. There must be crystal clear expectations, coupled with appropriate enforcement measures. I also encourage everyone involved to look for best practices not only in the various provinces, but also around the world, and we must make sure that we do not just create another bureaucratic institution.
Building a new institution that would just create mounds of paperwork and have limited buy-in from workplaces would not be in anyone’s best interest. I know that when this legislation goes to committee, there will be great interest in it. It would be prudent for the government to provide the committee with as much information as possible so there is meaningful dialogue. It is imperative that the minister spend the necessary time to get this right. I will definitely be voting in favour of this legislation so that it gets the proper study and engagement it so rightfully deserves.
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, there is no question that the implementation and administration of this accessibility legislation is going to take resources and investments. Where possible, I agree that we would build on our existing authorities and expertise. This only makes sense in efficiency and cost savings terms. I am certainly not thinking that the member opposite would suggest that we should not put money and resources to this very important issue.
Mr. Larry Maguire:
Mr. Speaker, we all know there will be resources used to implement the program and move it forward. I see that the government has committed to providing $290 million over six years to upgrade federal workplaces and a number of facilities, but I want to make sure that this money is indeed used for that type of work, as opposed to creating a new bureaucracy, as I said in my speech.
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):
Mr. Speaker, it is nice to have my colleague’s long memory and the realization that it was under the previous government of Brian Mulroney when we had our first minister for disabilities issues.
I found this legislation curious, in that it states that the Governor in Council may appoint a minister to be responsible for this area of responsibility. I think it is clearly the government’s intent that there will be such a minister because so much hangs on a minister acting.
Can the hon. member for Brandon—Souris suggest any reason why this would not be supported by all parties to make it a mandatory responsibility of cabinet to appoint a minister to have conduct of Bill C-81?
Mr. Larry Maguire:
Mr. Speaker, I cannot think of a good reason. However, not being the government and among the ones who put this bill forward, I guess we will have to leave that up to them.
My colleague is quite right about the wording of the bill. I wanted to make very clear as well that the government may have some reason for not using that and going forward with it, but we want to make sure. There may even be amendments that will still come forward in this bill as it goes to second reading.
Mr. David Yurdiga (Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, today I stand before you to support Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. The bill is an excellent step in the right direction in reducing barriers for people living with disabilities.
Millions of Canadians are impacted by some form of disability. Every day, more Canadians are either afflicted or diagnosed with life-altering disease, ailments or injury. It is estimated that 3.5 million Canadians live with some form of disability and 1.4 million Canadians live with a disability that requires daily care.
Disabilities can be physical, mental or episodic in nature. Unfortunately, Canadians with disabilities are on average underemployed, earn less and are twice as likely to be victims of abuse.
This is an issue near and dear to my heart. In 2004, my wife Kathy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Ever since, my family and I have worked together to navigate the often difficult road for people with disabilities. My wife’s disability, MS, is an unpredictable, chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. When someone or their loved one is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, life can change in an instant.
Kathy suffers from what is called an episodic disability. This means sometimes her body functions normally and then it sometimes stops working the way she needs it to.
Canadian legislation should treat individuals living with all types of disabilities equally. A disability can happen to anyone, anytime, without warning, and so it is of interest to everyone to protect Canadian citizens living with disabilities. Every Canadian deserves the same rights as any other. However, most Canadians with disabilities are treated differently, not only by society, but by the very institutions put in place to protect them.
It is true that there are thousands of pre-existing programs and funding options for people with disabilities, but we all know we can do more and we can do better. The 2015 Liberal platform promised they would eliminate systemic barriers and deliver equality of opportunity to all Canadians living with disabilities by introducing a national disabilities act.
The bill sets out to benefit all Canadians, especially Canadians with disabilities, through the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada. Over $290 million has been committed to be spent over six years. This is an excellent first step, but people with disabilities deserve more. They deserve more funding, more research, more programs and more access.
Together, we can create better employment supports; improve income and disability support; increase access to treatment, comprehensive care and housing; and invest in fundamental research for all disabilities.
Stakeholders, community leaders, health care professionals and of course, Canadians with disabilities are all saying the same thing: This legislation is a step in the right direction. We can always do more to create equity in legislation for Canadians with disabilities. As the Government of Canada, we can and we should do more.
We need to give Canadians back the dignity and independence they deserve. It is time to break down barriers in the way of individual success. Creating an equality of opportunity should be a top priority. With the increased investment, we can provide employment opportunities, foster a safer environment within society, provide new information and communication technologies, and deliver better quality programs and services to Canadians living with disabilities. Together we can make these changes.
Of course, the government alone cannot change the way people with disabilities are treated here in Canada. There are several noble organizations that play a fundamental role in providing programming, education and scientific research for Canadians with disabilities.
Over the past few months, I had the honour of working with my friends at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Together, we drafted private member’s Motion No. 192. This motion strives to ensure Canadians living with episodic disabilities like multiple sclerosis are treated equitably in Canadian legislation.
With their help, we have reached over 3,000 signatures on our online petition, and we have received thousands of pieces of correspondence in support of the motion. The outpouring of support in favour of this motion from Canadian people has touched me and my family to no end.
When my wife was unexpectedly diagnosed with MS 14 years ago, our entire world changed. Everyday tasks became difficult for her to complete and we had to re-evaluate the role she played in our family business. Disability changes everything. It impacts not only the physical ability for someone to do something, but also the way society treats the individual and his or her economic opportunities in the workforce. My private member’s motion aims to shed light on the fact that people living with disabilities and their families face several challenges in securing employment, income and disability support. They struggle daily in accessing treatment, comprehensive care and housing, and moving around in the communities where they live.
Research is the most important step to obtain new treatments and better quality of life, and increased funding is the best way to kick-start the pursuit of a cure. There should always be a desire for our government to lend a helping hand. No one should be forced to face living with a disability alone. This is why I ask my friends and colleagues sitting here with me today to commit to supporting all legislation put forward to benefit Canadians living with disabilities. While Bill C-81 is a step in the right direction, there is still so much more the government can do for Canadians with disabilities. The barriers that exist for Canadians living with disabilities are unacceptable. Together, we must tear all barriers down and make Canada an international model for disability equality.
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 thank the hon. member for sharing his personal story. It really does come from the heart. The other day, I was able to share some of my personal stories too. As the member was saying, everybody is touched by people with disabilities. I agree totally with what he said, that disabilities change everything. That is why I am so proud that we are able to move forward with this legislation. Really, it is the first step. Our goal is to make accessibility a reality across the federal jurisdiction.
Would the hon. member agree with me that the federal government should be a leader in this field, so that others will follow suit?
Mr. David Yurdiga:
Mr. Speaker, yes we should be leaders. Being a leader is all about making changes. I did not understand the reality of people living with a disability and what they have to go through until I experienced it myself. Often, we hear stories about people suffering and not having access and we do not really appreciate it until it affects us directly. I am appreciative of this bill coming forward. It is needed and I am looking forward to the discussions in committee. I believe there is going to be a positive note to this. Everybody wants to do what he or she can to assure the people who are disabled or potentially will be disabled through accidents or whatever it may be, that we should be there and we are going in the right direction.
Mr. Colin Carrie (Oshawa, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, everyone in the House wants to do something to help Canadians who are having challenges. The debate in this House more or less is how we go about doing that. I wonder if I could get the member’s opinion. This bill, I believe, is $290 million, but there are not a lot of details here. Is it something that we want to create a new bureaucracy for, or do we want to use this money to help people with disabilities? I wonder if the member could give his opinion. Does he think this bill gives enough detail about what the money would be used for, and does he think it would be helpful on the ground for people who do have disabilities?
Mr. David Yurdiga:
Mr. Speaker, it is true. It is how we spend our dollars. If we were to spend the majority of the money on bureaucracy, we would not be helping anyone. We should use the resources we have in our various departments, and not create a new one, to make a difference for people suffering with disabilities.
Mr. Jamie Schmale (Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. I think all of us in the House have a story about someone in their families, or their friends or their circle of network who has experienced some kind of barrier to participating fully in their community.
I know my colleague for Fort McMurray—Cold Lake spoke about issues with his family member who had multiple sclerosis. I am going to do the same because it feels very appropriate right now.
My mother had a very progressive form of multiple sclerosis and quickly went from a very thriving person, full of life and active in the community to slowly finding herself unable to participate, unable to even get out of bed on some occasions. For someone so active, that was hard to take. She was used to getting up everyday, going to work, coming home and going out to volunteer. It really took its toll.
When something like that happens, we start to realize the things we take for granted, such as working in the kitchen. If we have trouble standing that day, all of a sudden we cannot reach the cupboards on the top, or when we go into the bathroom, we are unable to step over the top of the tub. All of these challenges can become very real, very quickly and, at many times, very costly.
Thanks a number of organizations that are working to help remove barriers, like the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and many others, my mother was able to find ways to help her adapt to this new reality and to help us, as a family, come to terms with the it. I think many Canadians struggle with that. We all have friends who have been diagnosed with an illness that may start very quickly or may start very slowly, which gives that person more time to react.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that my mother’s form of MS was very progressive and moved quite quickly. At first when we heard the news, coming to terms with it was one thing. Then it was trying to figure out what the next steps would be. Trying to locate all the services available in our communities was very tough.
It can be quite overwhelming for family members as well as they try to go about their daily lives and deal with this new reality. Unfortunately, overtime she was unable to walk anymore and was confined to a wheelchair. To go outside her front door, she needed a ramp. It was an extensive ramp, because the house was built on a bit of a hill, which was a challenge for us as well. Just going along the sidewalk in our municipality was a challenge. Being from Ontario, winters can be long and sidewalks are not cleared as often, which becomes a problem. Often the curbs were high and the wheelchair was unable to get onto the road to allow her to cross.
Again, these were challenges for someone who was active at one time. To now go into the community and participate, these challenges were very real and hard to overcome at times, especially as she was suffering.
It affects a person’s mental health as well and the desire to go out into the community and participate. It kind of wears on that person. My mother certainly dealt with that. At times, she did not want to go outside. I should point out that my mother was a very positive person. She was a fighter.
I share this story, as my colleagues on both sides of the House have done, to talk about the importance of creating a barrier-free Canada in which everyone can participate fully in their communities.
On this side of the House, we are going to support Bill C-81 at second reading. We thank the government for bringing it forward. This will allow all of us to have a robust debate in committee, and in the House, and talk about how we can make all our communities in Canada more accessible for everyone, not just those who do not have mobility issues.
I thank everyone who participated in the debate. I know for some it was challenging to bring their stories forward . However, by bringing our circumstances from real life forward, it shows that we are all in this together.
Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):
Mr. Speaker, I join my colleague in voting for Bill C-81 at second reading to go to committee. I do so in the fervent hope that we will see many improvements made to it at committee.
I do not understand why at this stage, after years of consultation, we would bring forward legislation to achieve a barrier-free Canada that uses language like “progressive realization of”. I have checked and there is no legislation anywhere else in Canada on any topic that sets a goal of “progressive realization of”. Our legislation usually says that by so many years or months from royal assent, we will have achieved tangible goals.
The disability groups that have commented on the proposed legislation say that “progressive realization of” could mean one ramp a year built somewhere across Canada to remove a barrier. I do not think the government and the fine ministers who brought the bill forward actually intend a go-slow plan to remove barriers. This is why I hope that in committee the Conservatives, the New Democrats and the Liberal members of the committee will accept amendments to provide real progress, which is measurable toward a barrier-free Canada.
I invite the member’s thoughts on this as we go to committee.
Mr. Jamie Schmale:
Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member. There are items in the bill about which we on this side of the House have a few questions and concerns. It is an opportunity in committee to iron out the finer details.
All of us will carefully examine the legislation as it progresses through committee. Hopefully, witnesses are able to come to committee to provide testimony and their suggestions on how to improve the bill. All of us will have another opportunity to look at the final draft and then make a final decision on it.
Mr. Martin Shields (Bow River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate hearing the story from my colleague on the issues he had to deal with regarding a family member.
One of the things we most recently saw, as a result of the horrific accident in Humboldt involving the hockey team, was not only the deaths as as result of that accident but what the families had to go through.
An individual became a paraplegic as a result of that accident. He has been fighting back. Most recently, he has been playing sled hockey. He wants to show the different things one can do. It is fantastic to see what he is bringing to the public by showing that one can break through the barriers that may be out there. However, we, as a governing body, need to help with that.
I wonder if my colleague might be able to mention an example of a barrier that his family had to overcome. He mentioned a few, but maybe other examples of barriers might come to mind where the government could eventually work to break them down.
Mr. Jamie Schmale:
Mr. Speaker, I agree that there are many barriers, from people simply not being able to stand one day to all of a sudden they are unable to reach the cupboard above their heads, which is on a personal level, or going out into the community and trying to navigate a sidewalk, or entering a place of business that does not have a ramp, or has a lip that a wheelchair cannot get over or has a door that is not wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Several barriers still exist even today.
When we do not have an issue with mobility, sometimes we do not even think about those barriers or something that may appear so small to us could be a really big deal for those who are not mobile.
This is a good first step. I look forward to it going to committee and seeing the testimony that comes out of that. We on this side of the House think there are areas that need to be fixed, as does the member from the Green Party. Hopefully that can be done in a robust way.
Mr. Luc Berthold (Mégantic—L’Érable, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent speech. He provided us with a greater understanding of the challenges people face with regard to mobility.
We always rely on support staff on these types of files. On that subject, I want to acknowledge the research and writing that went into my speech on Bill C-81. That work was done by Hugo Berthiaume, who recently joined my team as an assistant. I wish him lots of luck and especially lots of work. Opposition members often rise in the House to talk about good causes and the people who are important to them, the people in their ridings.
In this case, we are speaking on behalf of persons with reduced mobility, who have to overcome many barriers in their lives.
Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, is a step in the right direction. Every member in the House supports measures to reduce barriers for all Canadians in every aspect of their lives.
Canadians with disabilities deserve to have a government that always keeps mobility in mind to ensure that those with reduced mobility can live in a barrier-free society.
Unfortunately, even if it is a step in the right direction, Bill C-81 will not improve the lives of Canadians with disabilities in the short term. To this day, our society does not always bring forward measures that will make life easier for Canadians with disabilities.
We believe that we need to take action to help them, and we want to work with the government to find real solutions. However, this bill is proof that the Liberal government is somewhat out of touch and that it does not always understand the challenges that people with disabilities must face. With this bill, the government is going to use taxpayers’ money to write reports or action plans.
I am going to talk a bit about my experience as mayor and, in particular, as the former president of an association that works to improve the quality of life of the disabled on a daily basis.
People with reduced mobility need us to deal with their infrastructure, both their homes and their workplaces. We must do everything we can to make it possible for them to get to work and contribute to Canadian society.
We need to help more Canadians with mobility issues enter the workforce. Our political party has always been committed to our country’s economic development, and we believe that absolutely everyone can contribute.
There is no greater boost than feeling a sense of accomplishment and achieving one’s full potential. Too many Canadians live and work in environments that, unfortunately, do not meet their needs. For example, they have poorly adapted apartments or houses, there are too few parking reserved spots at shop entrances, and public transit systems are inadequate.
It is our responsibility to do more and do better for those most vulnerable. We must work hard to ensure that every single Canadian has access to the same society, regardless of their physical abilities. On this side of the House, our goal is to help all Canadians.
The Liberal government wants to invest $290 million to develop accessibility plans and set objectives. I repeat, it wants to invest $290 million to develop accessibility plans and set objectives.
That seems like a lot of money to me. This money will be spent over a period of six years. Does that mean we will have to wait six years to see any changes? Will any other funding be announced in the meantime for putting these plans into action and achieving the objectives? Unfortunately, the bill before us has no answers to those questions, so it is hard for us to get a clear idea of what is actually going to come out of Bill C-81.
Canadians with disabilities cannot understand how a government can think it is totally normal to spend $290 million on plans and objectives. These people are living their lives right now, and now is when they want improved living conditions, accessible workplaces, and help to participate in this country’s economic development.
People with mobility issues do not need a government that will invest in bureaucracy. They need a government that will actually tackle problems by adapting infrastructure.
I just want to point out that it was the Harper Conservative government that signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007. The purpose of this convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. The previous government created the enabling accessibility fund, which had a real impact on Canadians’ everyday lives by funding infrastructure upgrades for thousands of Canadians. That is the way to help Canadian families and people with reduced mobility. This fund is still being used today to build projects in my riding and in many of my colleagues’ ridings. It does not take six years of study to figure out when a two-storey building needs a stair lift.
The Liberals are pros at running deficits and burdening future generations. The worst part is that the money is being spent on plans and committees instead of going directly to the people it is supposed to help. We have a lot of questions, as I said. We know the Liberal government wants to create a Canadian accessibility standards development organization. The bill seems pretty good at first blush. Will the government be working closely with people with reduced mobility? Why wait so long before taking action? How will that $290 million be spent? I sure hope the government will be consulting the people it is supposed to be helping and will invite them to play an active role in the organization.
As I was saying, there are far too many unknowns in this bill. Again, with this $290 million we can really make a difference in people’s lives. I can only imagine what local advocacy groups in each of our ridings can do with $290 million over six years to help persons with disabilities. These organizations work miracles with very little money. Through their actions and awareness raising they manage to get municipal and private buildings adapted. They achieve that with little to no resources. Therefore, $290 million is good. If it is needed, it is good, but if it is going to be used only to draft plans that will be shelved then we have cause to reconsider and to be concerned. We sincerely hope this is not the case.
We have many concerns. I would remind hon. members that it was not so long ago that we were standing here heavily criticizing the criteria for tax credits for persons with disabilities that penalized countless people with diabetes. Fortunately, the opposition’s repeated questions made the government take a step back and correct the situation. However, would the government really have changed its mind if advocates and the official opposition had not spoken out against this anomaly? I have my doubts.
For all of these reasons, we need more answers to our questions in order to ensure that taxpayers’ money will actually be used to benefit people with disabilities, whether in federal buildings or elsewhere. The Liberals do not have a very impressive track record when it comes to accessibility. Canadians expect better. The Liberals have been in office for three years, and they are just now beginning to take an interest in this issue, even though this was one of their election promises.
Let us come back to Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. Mobility is one of society’s major challenges, and it is even more of a problem for people with disabilities. I would say that this is an ongoing battle in these people’s lives. Every day they have to deal with difficult situations that may seem trivial to others. People with reduced mobility do not have the same access everywhere. Think about the shelves at the supermarket and other stores, offices that are not adapted, and workplaces they cannot get to. There are far too many places and things that are inaccessible to them.
We must be ambitious. The proposed plan is questionable. It serves only to implement bureaucratic measures that will have no real impact on these people’s lives. We need to be more aware of this reality and always be in a position to act. There is still a lot of work to be done before we have proper facilities for all Canadians. We must give all Canadians the same opportunity to be empowered. In order to get there, we must be more inclusive and include as many organizations as possible. We must address the issue of accessibility in close co-operation with the provinces and municipalities across the country.
We can do better. We hope that we will get some answers in committee and that we will be able make amendments to the bill so that it really meets the needs of the people it is targeting, and so achieves in , thus creating a more barrier-free Canada.
Mr. Colin Carrie (Oshawa, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Mégantic made a very passionate speech.
I look back and want to talk about our former colleague, Jim Flaherty. What a champion he was for Canadians with disabilities. I remember when we brought in the RDSP, registered disability savings plan, the current minister said it was a real game-changer.
One of the things Jim championed in my community in Durham region was the Abilities Centre. Mr. Speaker, if you ever get a chance to come to my community, I hope I can give you a tour and introduce you to this wonderful centre. It could have been called the “disabilities centre”, but they named it the Abilities Centre because it focuses on Canadians who have challenges to work with their abilities to make their lives and the lives of other Canadians better. It is a wonderful institution.
I will be supporting sending the bill to committee. However, my concern with the bill is to make sure that it is making a difference. The things we put in as a government really did make a difference.
I wonder if my colleague could comment on what he would like to see in the bill after it goes to committee. What kind of changes does he want to see? Does he think there was enough consultation done on how to spend this money?
Mr. Luc Berthold:
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by acknowledging the excellent work of our former colleague, Jim Flaherty.
I am going to take my colleague up on his offer. I would like to visit the centre he just talked about because we do focus a lot on the disabilities rather than the abilities. Many members should tour this centre. We tend to take for granted that there is always someone else taking care of these problems and the people who really need help. We always believe that an association or that someone in some government agency is looking after it for us. However, that is not always the case.
Now the government is telling us that it is going to spend $290 million on this file, but what exactly is it going to do with that money? They are going to hire people who will prepare plans. What will happen next? What are they going to do with those plans? What guarantees does Bill C-81 provide that there will be real change?
If that is the cost of making changes in these peoples’ lives, it is a small price to pay. However, if nothing comes of it, it is money down the drain.
Mr. David Tilson (Dufferin—Caledon, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I think most of us in the House have had some experience with someone with a disability. I have spoken many times about ALS, and every June I try to give a statement on ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. My father succumbed to ALS. He went through the stages of using one cane to two canes to a walker to a wheelchair to a bed to a point where he could not eat on his own. This was obviously very difficult for my family, but we learned a lot of things. For example, we learned that not all doors in businesses or people’s houses are wide enough to allow a wheelchair through. We learned the difficulties of just doing simple things, such as the assistance that people need when going to the bathroom. One of my colleagues talked about ramps. There are other simple things, such as how to get into an elevator with a wheelchair.
I do not really have a question for my colleague, but I would like to congratulate the government for bringing this bill forward. I could sit and talk about the many things the Conservative government did, but others can do that. I simply want to congratulate the government for making an effort to deal with people with disabilities.
Mr. Luc Berthold:
Mr. Speaker, every step taken by the previous or the current government towards a barrier-free Canada and to help people with reduced mobility fully participate in life in Canada is worthwhile. We hope that this stage will be successful and we pledge to the government that our party will collaborate, to the extent that we feel all parties are truly collaborating in committee in order to improve this bill.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota):
Is the House ready for the question?
Some hon. members: Question.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota): The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mr. Anthony Rota): I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)