Transcript of the 1st Day of Third Reading Debates on Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act in the House of Commons, on November 21, 2018

Transcript of the 1st Day of Third Reading Debates on Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act in the House of Commons, on November 21, 2018

Parliament of Canada House of Commons Hansard

Debates of Nov. 21st, 2018

Originally posted at https://openparliament.ca/debates/2018/11/21/procedural-2/

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, as reported (with amendments) from the committee.

Accessible Canada Act

Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker   Geoff Regan

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed, without debate, to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Carla Qualtrough  Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, Lib.

moved that the bill be concurred in.

The Speaker   Geoff Regan

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

On division.

The Speaker   Geoff Regan

(Motion agreed to)

When shall the bill be read a third time? By leave, now?

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Carla Qualtrough Minister of Accessibility, Lib. moved that Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to stand in the House of Commons for the third reading debate of Bill C-81, the proposed accessible Canada act.

Bill C-81 is, without any doubt, a game-changing piece of legislation for Canada, especially for Canadians with disabilities. It sends a strong message that our government is taking action to advance accessibility and inclusion. We are leading the way to make Canada a barrier-free country for everyone.

I am very proud of all the work we have done getting Bill C-81 this far. We have seen from the debate at second reading that everyone is wholeheartedly invested in presenting the best piece of legislation on accessibility for Canadians. I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities and my distinguished colleagues for the work they have done to move this much-anticipated bill forward and for providing their valuable input to make it even better.

I am particularly thankful for the deliberate efforts of the committee to make their hearings accessible, both in person and through televised broadcasts. In addition to the standard captioning, sign language interpretation in ASL and Langue des signes du Québec were consistently available. This allowed more Canadians to have the opportunity to participate in hearings in real time and signalled Parliament’s capacity to better incorporate accessibility moving forward.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to recognize the efforts of the disability community to make Bill C-81 happen. More than 55 witnesses testified and many more made written submissions. Groups like the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, which began in 2018 as a partnership of 56 organizations, have shown remarkable inclusive and intersectional leadership.

In particular, I refer to the valuable support and engagement of the alliance’s leadership team, Spinal Cord Injury Canada, the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, Communications Disabilities Access Canada, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of the Deaf, the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association and the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. These organizations have been with us every step of the way since the beginning of this process. Their continued dedication to help us bring this historic legislation to life knows no bounds. I hope they see themselves in this bill, because it is truly theirs.

From the very first day of consultations right up until our recent committee meetings, we have heard informed and moving testimonies about the struggles that Canadians with disabilities face on a regular basis. We have also consistently heard the same key themes of what our legislation should cover, though sometimes with differing opinions on the approach. These key messages are that this legislation should be ambitious, that it should lead to more consistent experiences of accessibility, that it should apply to all areas of federal jurisdiction, that it should be enforceable, including penalties for non-compliance, and that it should have a mechanism for complaints and oversight.

Each of these key messages serves as the backbone of the proposed act. Bill C-81 creates a framework for developing accessibility standards, establishing and enforcing accessibility requirements and monitoring implementation. This framework is an effort to address barriers to accessibility. The proposed act strikes a balance between bolstering compliance and enforcement measures of existing agencies, such as the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, and creating new roles such as the accessibility commissioner and the chief accessibility officer. This would ensure broader accountability through complaints mechanisms, compliance and systemic monitoring and oversight.

This bill is designed to strengthen the system, better regulate accessibility, and bolster each sector’s enforcement capacity and ability to manage complaints. This will help develop a system in which the Government of Canada and the industry are required to anticipate barriers before they can limit access to persons with disabilities.

Our government’s objective moving forward is to get Bill C-81 passed. We know that we need to make this bill a law as soon as possible so that we can all get to work on building a truly accessible future for all Canadians.

There are certain things we can all agree on, one being that the realization of a Canada without barriers is long overdue. We all agree that Canadians need this legislation.

The proposed accessible Canada act would enable the creation of three critical new roles that would drive the advancement of accessibility in Canada: the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, the accessibility commissioner as part of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and the chief accessibility officer. I have been pleased to hear the overwhelming support for their creation, as these roles will allow for a Canada without barriers to be realized in an unprecedented way.

The new Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO, would be a forum for technical experts, industry and Canadians with disabilities to come together to develop accessibility standards that would work for everyone. Once accessibility standards are developed, the Government of Canada would adopt them into regulations to make them law. Having regulations based on standards rather than enacting regulations directly in the proposed act would ensure that rules could be changed more fluidly over time to reflect new advances and best practices.

We want to make the Canadian accessibility standards development organization available to the provinces and territories, and even other countries, so that they can create and adopt standards in their respective jurisdictions. We want to show that Canada can be a world leader in accessibility and that we are prepared to work as a team to accomplish that goal.

The accessibility commissioner within the Canadian Human Rights Commission would be responsible for complaints, compliance and enforcement measures in areas other than those currently regulated. Finally, the chief accessibility officer would serve the important role of systemic monitoring and oversight. Responsible for producing a report each year, the chief accessibility officer would be able to identify trends and emerging issues across all agencies and areas of government.

We expect that CASDO, the accessibility commissioner, and the chief accessibility officer would be up and running within 12 months of the legislation’s coming into force. We also plan that the first set of regulations under the legislation would come into force in 2020-21.

The significant and sustained culture change on accessibility that we need depends on getting everyone involved.

Here I would like to recognize the important testimony, debates and discussions that took place in committee. I am happy that the discussions initiated on the accessible Canada consultations continued throughout the parliamentary process.

Since the introduction of Bill C-81 in Parliament back in June, we have received over 120 proposals for amendments. Throughout this process, we have heard from dedicated community activists, experts and industry leaders. Each brought unique and thought-provoking perspectives about their concerns and wishes for Bill C-81.

Bill Adair of the Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance spoke inspiring words about the disability community’s perspectives during his committee testimony. Bill said:

We are counting on you to make changes that will have a significant impact on our lives. This is a huge responsibility. We’ve opened up, we’ve advised and we’ve taken a lot of time to present the right recommendations. Listen to us. This is your opportunity to be the change.

I am very eager to see Bill C-81 pass so that we can get to work on advancing the accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities in Canada. I am also aware that there is a clear and sincere desire to move this bill quickly, and we will need everyone in the House to collaborate to get this proposed legislation through. Accessibility clearly transcends partisanship and clearly transcends any one government.

The changes made to Bill C-81 in committee advanced the vision we had for the law. The suggestions of stakeholders were incorporated into the bill in a spirit of collaboration and co-operation, the same spirit that has guided the evolution of the bill to date.

The testimony from witnesses and written submissions informed the 74 amendments accepted at committee. I am supportive of the changes not only because they came from the community, but also because I believe they have made this good legislation into great legislation.

I would like to highlight four key changes that were made at committee to strengthen Bill C-81.

First, the current purpose clause was amended to add communication as a priority area. We heard compelling testimony in committee that spoke to the impact of barriers to communication, particularly for persons with communication and language disabilities. This amendment prioritizes the barriers experienced by people with communication and language disabilities that can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder and learning disabilities.

By making communication a priority in and of itself, we can guarantee a consistent, harmonized approach to addressing the barriers to accessibility faced by people with communication disabilities in every federally regulated sector.

Second, while legislation applies to federally regulated entities, we know that achieving a barrier-free Canada means that accessibility needs to extend beyond federal jurisdiction. Accessibility is an area of shared federal, provincial and territorial responsibility, and realizing a truly accessible Canada would require working with our provincial and territorial partners. Stakeholders have echoed the sentiment, stressing the need for collaboration to harmonize accessibility practices across the country and the importance of making sure that the minister responsible for these are required to work with provinces and territories.

Third, the disability community has made it very clear that accessibility is everybody’s responsibility. The community asked for increased accountability and transparency on exemptions. Like stakeholders, I agree that exemptions should never provide a loophole from accessibility. This would be counter to the spirit of Bill C-81. That is why I am pleased that Bill C-81 has now been changed in two key areas: first, by placing a three-year limit on all exemptions; and second, by requiring that the rationale for any exemptions be published. We must bolster transparency in the exemptions process, and in doing so we would ensure that the public and the disability community can hold authorities accountable on exemptions.

I believe that stricter provisions regarding accountability and transparency strengthen Bill C-81.

Finally, I want to make clear that our intent with this bill has always been to hit the ground running on day one. I am pleased to see that an amendment was made to reflect this intent in the bill. It requires all bodies with authority to make regulations under this act to make their first regulations within two years of the act’s coming into force. The establishment of these regulations would also trigger the clock for the five-year review of the act by Parliament. This will ensure that the review would begin by 2025. In like manner, there is no end date for accessibility. Accessibility requires consistent, conscious and continual effort. The bill also provides mechanisms that require people with disabilities to be at the table to monitor implementation and support meaningful progress, independent of the government of the day.

We listened to people in the disability community who told us that accessibility in Canada has been long outdated, and I know that we need to take action right away. That is why I want to reiterate that we are strongly committed to ensuring that this bill translates into significant progress in terms of accessibility in a timely manner. We are determined to do what it takes to accomplish that.

These approaches will help to ensure that we are operational as soon as the bill is passed. Encouraging a spirit of collaboration between our government and all people with disabilities was fundamental to informing the development of this bill.

For too long, Canadians with disabilities have had to fight on their own when it came to advancing their rights. By bringing in new measures to improve accessibility, with a focus on accountability and transparency, we are moving toward a new culture of accessibility. The accessible Canada act would work to put an end to the practice of exclusion. With Bill C-81, we can have a system where our institutions, not individuals, are responsible for enabling change. We can move on from the principle of “nothing about us without us” to simply “nothing without us,” because everything is about us.

As Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, and as a person with a disability, I could not but I know that with this proposed legislation, our goal of building a Canada without barriers, where people with disabilities participate fully and equally in their communities, is within reach.

Conservative

John Barlow   Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to ask the minister questions about Bill C-81. First, I appreciate very much the minister bringing this legislation forward. I think it is a very important document and is something we worked very hard on at committee.

However, what I want to focus on is that almost every single stakeholder who came to committee said that Bill C-81 would do nothing. In fact, if the bill is given royal assent, the minister probably will not be able to point to a single thing that will change, because there are no timelines, no standards and no definitive regulations in it.

I would like to bring to the minister’s attention one really quick quote from Professor Michael Prince, who said, “There are…areas of concern with this bill…. these include the absence of measurable targets with specific deadlines; the permissive language…; the extent of exemptions”.

I would like to ask the minister this: The day Bill C-81 is given royal assent, how will it change anything for Canadians with disabilities?

Minister of Accessibility, Lib.

Carla Qualtrough

Mr. Speaker, on day one, Canadians with disabilities will know that there is a system there for them that will proactively address barriers to inclusion. We know, as a matter of fact, that the best way we can develop standards is with the community and with industry and by putting in place the mechanisms that will be established by this law so that we will not have to wait until Canadians are discriminated against before we can help them.

Each standard will be developed in concert with the disability community and through the board of the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, or CASDO. We will decide. We will let the community decide which standards and what the priorities of the community are as we move forward with them to ensure that everyone comes along for this journey.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle   Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the minister describe her expectations for what is going to happen with Bill C-81, I have to say that it is very disconcerting to know that there is a misunderstanding about the lack of language in the bill that will actually ensure the things she has described. Canadians have waited long enough. There is no language of resilience or legacy within what we have now.

In one presentation after another, the committee heard that the bill needed implementation timelines. One such expert was none other than the Ontario minister who was responsible for shepherding in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We heard again and again that we needed implementation timelines. We heard again and again that all the exemptions for obligated organizations needed to be removed. We also heard again and again that we needed enforcement measures and to be looking through a disability lens in all our federal jurisdictions.

The lack of language within this legislation is more than just an oversight. I would like to hear the minister talk about some of the concrete steps that would be taken so that we can hear about some of the language that even today she aspires to have this legislation attain.

Minister of Accessibility, Lib.

Carla Qualtrough

Mr. Speaker, with the amendments brought forth at committee, the obligated entities would have to create their first set of regulations within two years. Thus, the CRTC, the CTA and the accessibility commissioner would have to put forth their first set of regulations within two years. Out of necessity, quite frankly, this means that these organizations would have to be up and running. That first regulation being created would trigger the five-year review timeline in the act.

There definitely would be timelines. We are looking at timelines to begin. This is a journey. We cannot put an end to this.

Let me give my colleagues an example of how the life of a Canadian with a disability would change because of this. Right now, as someone who is legally blind, I walk into a bank, and I cannot access an ATM. What do I do? What are my options? I have to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. I file that complaint. I say that this particular ATM is not accessible. Two years from now, someone may tell me, “You are right. That wasn’t accessible. You were discriminated against”, and order that this one ATM in that one bank be changed.

With this new regime we would be setting up, the accessibility commissioner would set up a standard for ATMs so that every ATM and every bank in this country would be accessible. We would not be relying on the individual to fight these fights alone. It is our system that we are acknowledging is broken, not the people.

Conservative

Alex Nuttall   Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for her speech and her contributions to this bill, and certainly for bringing it forth to the House after it was finally tabled, about three years too late, at the end of the spring session.

As we look down the road, after the bill receives royal assent, we know that nothing will change on day one. We now know that within two years, the Liberals would commit to a single regulation. It could be with respect to the ATMs the minister has been talking about. Maybe ATMs would have different regulations for accessibility by then. At that point, there would be a five-year trigger on a review, meaning that it could be seven years before a regulation actually hit the books in a specific market sector that had been outlined.

Can the minister please outline this for Canadians? If she says that it has been too long, how is it acceptable that they would have to wait another seven years?

Minister of Accessibility, Lib.

Carla Qualtrough

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy that we took the time we did to consult with Canadians, particularly those with disabilities, on what their accessible Canada would look like to them. I will not apologize for the efforts we took to do a nationwide consultation to ensure that the voices of these Canadians, who have never been heard before on these issues, were heard and were heard to the fullest extent possible.

I can assure the member opposite that we are committed to hitting the ground running with respect to the creation of these standards and organizations. We know that there are existing standards that will be easy to adopt, but I am not going to compromise on ensuring that the voices of Canadians with disabilities continue to be heard through these processes and that they continue to have places at our tables as we move forward with the creation of standards. If it takes a year or two to get this started, it will be worth it.

Green Party

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. minister will know that I was very pleased and excited when the no-barriers bill came forward, but I remain disappointed that despite over 200 amendments being submitted, and over 75 being passed, those amendments came primarily from government members of the committee. We would still have no unified complaints bureau. We would have no unified standards bureau. We would not have a backstop. By that I mean that the bill, as constructed, would give cabinet permission to appoint a minister to be in charge of the act, but it would not say that this must happen. Of course, the government cannot compel the Governor in Council to do anything in a bill, but it could say that if there was no appointment, there would be a de facto appointment to another minister so that there would never be a gap. Therefore, I am concerned that the bill does not begin to meet our early expectations. I do not doubt the minister’s good intentions, but I am very disappointed.

I know that we do not usually do this in this place, but I wonder if we could perhaps consider encouraging the Senate to identify, from the government side, what amendments the minister could live with when it comes back to this place.

Minister of Accessibility, Lib.

Carla Qualtrough

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question and her passion on issues related to people with disabilities.

We built the system contained in Bill C-81 on the existing system. This system was not drawn up on a whiteboard. We have existing regulators. We are trying to be efficient. We have expertise within government organizations. We have complicated regulatory frameworks within the CRTC and the CTA. We have a Canadian Human Rights Commission that is very well respected and that does very good work. Building on those existing entities, we had to fill in the gaps. We knew that there were areas within federal jurisdiction that were not covered, so we would create the position of the accessibility commissioner.

We would enshrine in this law, and we would have agreements between these organizations, that there would be no wrong door. Wherever people went to state their concern or file a complaint, they would be pointed in the right direction. Canadians can be assured of this.

Conservative

Alex Nuttall Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly an honour to rise today on a subject that is incredibly important to Canadians and that is certainly important to me as a member of Parliament and as the son of someone who was disabled in a car accident in 1996.

As we look across our country, we know that there is a broad set of regulations that govern accessibility, that govern improving the lives of persons who are living with disabilities. When Canadians heard that the Liberal government was going to introduce a bill within six months of taking power in 2015, they were excited, because this was not just any bill; this bill was the accessibility bill.

Here we are, three years later, and we are debating the bill. It was actually introduced about two and a half years after the government took office. Liberals say that they consulted and are not going to apologize for that consultation. I agree, in some sense, that it is actually better to do things right and do them slowly rather than rush and do them wrong.

However, the reality is that it has been two and a half to three years at this point. They consulted, we were told, across the country with stakeholders. After that entire process, when the bill was finally brought forward, there were still 260 amendments moved at committee. Those amendments were not just concocted in some partisan backroom office where they come up with amendments to slow things down. They were actually brought forward by stakeholders who had apparently been consulted the entire time.

When those amendments were actually brought forward, it was not the New Democratic amendments that were adopted by the committee. It was not the Green Party amendments that were adopted by the committee, when the member who does not sit on the committee showed up and was able to actually contribute, which I thought was very meaningful to the process. It was not the amendments brought forward by the Conservative Party that were adopted, even though many of these were the same amendments.

The amendments that were adopted, almost 100% of them, were brought forward by the Liberal members. When I heard the minister talk about co-operation, I remembered that there was a similar pitch in the speech when debate on the subject was launched. That co-operation never came. In fact, we had the opportunity to speak over the phone. I think we had a couple of quick chats in the hallways of Parliament, but we were not actually given the opportunity to contribute. When it came down to it, it was about partisanship. It was not about helping Canadians when it came to the committee.

These amendments were not partisan amendments. They were things like putting a timeline on when to report back or putting a timeline on when we were going to achieve measurables so that Canadians could understand how this accessibility bill would actually help them. Some of the amendments put specific regulations or specific timelines for reporting back on specific regulations. These regulations were designed to help Canadians, perhaps with hearing impairments, visual impairments, other physical impairments or perhaps cognitive impairments of some kind.

There was no co-operation from the Liberal government on this bill. As a result, this bill is not perfect. I would venture to say that it is not great. It is a first step towards recognizing that we need to do better for persons with disabilities.

I have to say that the one piece of co-operation this minister actually managed to achieve was co-operation among the Green Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Conservative Party of Canada, and that should be recognized, because that is a job well done.

We know that when this receives royal assent, nothing will change from day one, except that there will be a huge price tag and 250 new employees for the Government of Canada. We know that new office space will be found. We know that the office space, hopefully, will be either 100% accessible or as accessible as possible. We also know that within two years, there will be a single regulation adopted by Canadians. All of this will be for a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

When I talk to stakeholders across the country, they tell me that if we are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on them, and they want us to do that because they need it, they want to see something for that money. They would like to see a more accessible environment in the sectors that matter, whether in airlines, government services offices, Service Canada or even these Parliament buildings. They want to see the effect of those dollar spent. It is incredible that the accountability of this bill became the thing that actually stopped co-operation.

When we asked the minister or the minister’s designated staff members whether it was at an information panel in the Wellington building or at committee, we were stonewalled. We asked questions like whether they recommended that the minister put timetables on this legislation. They responded that this was confidential between the minister and his staff. I do not understand what is being we hidden, because I think we all have the same goals at hand. Those goals are to help Canadians living with disabilities.

We do a lot for people around the world who are going through very difficult times. What I want to see, and what Canadians would like to see, is for the Government of Canada to take care of those who are most vulnerable in our society, those people living with disabilities. Unfortunately, the minister and the Liberal Party did not listen. They did not even listen to their own legislation. They did not listen to their own throne speech, in which they said that each member of the House would be respected and that partisanship games would not be played in committee. However, we have seen that happen time and again.

When groups and stakeholders from across the country came forward and asked us to do something about the exemptions, not to leave these massive holes in the legislation, the real result was no change. The result was “No, we’re not going to listen”. The result was “We’ll come up with regulations later on”. The result is that nothing is going to change upon royal assent.

As we move forward on this subject, consultation certainly needs to continue. The minister is actually correct about that. Consultation cannot stop. The barriers that we see in places throughout our society will continue to be there. They will be forever changing, but that does not mean that we do not create a starting point, a line from which we can measure going forward. Unfortunately, this accessibility bill as it stands is literally just the paper. It does not make any of those changes or create those lines or measurements so we can measure against them going forward.

We tried at committee to amend the bill. When I say “we”, I think I speak for the entire opposition. This was such important legislation, affecting so many people, that we needed to ensure we got it right. When we asked for a timeline to come back so we could really monitor and measure what was happening, the answer was no. The result of that is that not even future governments will be held to account on the legislation. There is, unfortunately, a hole the government could drive a bus through that would leave it by the wayside.