What We Learned At Parliament’s Public Hearings on the Weak Bill C-22, the Proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance
Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

What We Learned at the Public Hearings on Bill C-22, the Proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act

November 24, 2022


What did HUMA, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, hear During Public Hearings on Bill C-22? That is the proposed new Canada Disability Benefit Act. It would create a new source of income for those people with disabilities who are living in poverty, to be called the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB).

In this update, we offer our analysis of what happened at the HUMA public hearings. These hearings are one of the sources of information on which the political parties can act to propose amendments to Bill C-22.

HUMA held a total of eight hours of public hearings, spread over four two-day sessions. These were on October 31, November 2, November 14 and November 16, 2022. The Committee also received about 100 briefs. Some are posted on the HUMA website. Others are being translated before they are posted. They must be in both English and French when posted. The Committee was told that they should all be available by the start of December.

We are pressing all parties to bring forward to HUMA all the 15 amendments to Bill C-22 that we have proposed. We don’t now know when the HUMA Standing Committee will receive proposed amendments from the political parties. We don’t know what amendments, if any, will be proposed by any of the political parties. We also don’t know how much time HUMA will allocate to clause-by-clause debate.

In this Update, we discuss:

  • When can people with disabilities expect to start receiving the Canada Disability Benefit?
  • Why amending Bill C-22 will not delay getting money into the pockets of people with disabilities living in poverty?
  • What was undisputed or agreed upon at the public hearings?
  • Whether to amend or not amend Bill C-22?
  • Who got to give testimony at the HUMA public hearings?
  • The positions that the political parties took at the HUMA public hearings.
  • Where to go to get more background on Bill C-22.

We always welcome your feedback. Write us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com


1. When Will the Government Start Paying Out the CDB?

One of the most important issues on the minds of people with disabilities who are living in poverty is: When will the Government start paying out the CDB? At the end of the HUMA public hearings, we still don’t know.

Minister Qualtrough has stated that she wants to get money paid as soon as possible. She has also told CBC Radio’s “The House” program that it has taken too long so far to get the CDB started.

The cold reality is that unless this bill is amended, we don’t see how the Government could start paying the CDB before some time in 2025 at the earliest. This is because:

The Trudeau Government does not know how much the CDB is, or who will be eligible for it. Minister Qualtrough told HUMA on October 31, 2022 that the Government has not done a cost analysis of the CDB, and that this will not happen until after the bill is passed.

The Government has not gotten any approval from Parliament for a budget to pay for the CDB. It must include in the national budget an appropriation to pay for the CDB. The public gets to give input to pre-Budget hearings. Canada has a minority Parliament. The liberals will have to get support from at least some other MPs, beyond the Liberals, to secure that budget approval.

The Government says it must negotiate agreements with all the ten provinces as well as the territorial governments over the CDB, to ensure that no CDB benefits will get clawed back. Minister Qualtrough has not indicated that she has already gotten any agreements on this from any province or territory. There is no way to know how long this will take. It took the Federal Government quite some time to get provincial agreements on other recent measures like the national day care program.

After the bill is passed, the Government must enact all the regulations needed to create the CDB. The bill sets no deadline for this. Minister Qualtrough predicted that this would likely take one year. They must establish such things as the amount of the benefit, who is eligible, and what process will be used to apply for the benefit or appeal from a refusal.

After those regulations are enacted, the Federal Government must put in place the actual application process. That includes the application forms, the websites, and the public officials to receive applications and assess them. The Government also has to set up a fair, accessible appeal process for people who apply for the CDB but are turned down. Public officials have to be put in place and trained to answer phone calls and emails from the public, seeking information on how to apply for the CDB. We predict that this could take months.

Once the entire application process is established, the Government must publicize how to apply, and then must receive applications from hundreds of thousands of people. It must then assess all these applications, make decisions on who is eligible and how much they are to receive, and then must let them know. For people who are turned down, the Government must receive and assess their appeals. We predict that this will also take several months, especially at the start.

The Government must then cut hundreds of thousands of cheques and mail them out. Especially when the CDB is so new, and so many people may qualify for it, this could again take weeks, if not months.

That all assumes there are no major problems along the way. If there are computer problems, for example, or if negotiations with the provinces and territories don’t go well, this could all take much longer.

2. Making Our Proposed Amendments Will Not Delay Getting Money to Impoverished People with Disabilities

Some comments at the HUMA public hearings might lead some to think that for HUMA to make amendments to Bill C-22 will somehow delay the bill and prevent money from speedily getting into the pockets of people with disabilities who are living in poverty. That is not true.

The amendments we propose will shorten the time it should take for Cabinet to make regulations. To set deadlines in the bill will force the Government to get the CDB up and running faster.

At the public hearings, all HUMA members got the message loud and clear that they must address this bill without delay. However, voting on amendments, including more than the 15 that we are seeking, need not cause any worrisome delay.

HUMA could consider and vote on all of our proposed amendments and several others, in one or two meetings during a single week. In other words, HUMA could wrap up clause-by-clause consideration of the bill in a week.

Where the Standing Committee agrees on an amendment, they can just vote on it, without needing to debate it. Even where the HUMA members disagree on an amendment, they can agree to limit their debates on it in the Committee, and just proceed to a vote. When the Accessible Canada Act was before this same Standing Committee in late 2018, several amendments were voted on without any debate. Others were debated.

3. What Was Undisputed at the HUMA Hearings

As the AODA Alliance’s November 14, 2022 testimony explained, all witnesses and all MPs unanimously agreed at the hearings that rampant poverty among far too many people with disabilities is completely unacceptable, and that there is an urgent need for the CDB. Everyone agreed that Bill C-22 should pass, and should pass quickly. Everyone agreed that provincial and territorial governments should not be able to claw back any part of the CDB.

A number of witnesses used some or all of their time at the Standing Committee to talk about how awful it is when people with disabilities live in poverty. Several spoke about the fact that some impoverished people with disabilities are talking about resorting to doctor-assisted suicide as their only avenue to escape poverty.

The AODA Alliance told HUMA that disability poverty does not end at age 65. No witness and no MP at HUMA disagreed or tried to argue a contrary position. HUMA heard from some witnesses about the fact that poverty certainly can continue past age 65.

No witness and no MP claimed that the income that seniors receive from OAS (Old Age Security) and GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) ensure that they experience no poverty. No one claimed that OAS and GIS adequately cover the additional expenses that seniors with disabilities could have to pay because of their disabilities.

No witness and no MP at the HUMA public hearings disputed the interpretation of Bill C-22 that the AODA Alliance presented to the Standing Committee.

  • The bill does not ensure that there ever will be a CDB. It sets no deadline for this Benefit to start to be paid.
  • The bill does not set a minimum dollar amount for the CDB or ensure that it will increase with inflation. It does not require the CDB to be large enough to ensure that it lifts people with disabilities out of poverty.
  • The bill requires Cabinet to make a series of regulations before the CDB could ever be paid. Yet the bill does not require Cabinet to ever make those regulations. It imposes no deadline for Cabinet to make those regulations.
  • The bill disqualifies almost one third of people with disabilities in Canada from receiving the CDB because of their age, no matter how poor they are. It only allowed working age people with disabilities to receive the CDB. Disability poverty does not end at 65.
  • The bill does not ensure that provinces will not claw back any part of the CDB when a person with a disability receives it.
  • The bill lets the federal Cabinet decide in secret all the specifics, including the amount, who qualifies for it, and when it will be paid.
  • The bill lets a future Cabinet gut the CDB in a secret meeting, holding a secret vote.

During the hearings, no Liberal MP tried to show that our interpretation of Bill C-22 was incorrect. They had ample opportunity to do so throughout the hearings, and especially when AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky testified before the Standing Committee. No Liberal MP asked David Lepofsky any questions during his presentation when they were offered a chance to do so.

No one at the HUMA hearings disputed the AODA Alliance’s core message, that Bill C-22 is not disability rights legislation. It guarantees no rights to people with disabilities. Under it, people with disabilities would have to go to Cabinet and try to convince Cabinet to act quickly and to ensure that the CDB is large enough to lift them out of poverty.

No one explained why it should take a year to create these regulations after the Government has been consulting on this legislation with the disability community and negotiating with the provinces and territories for over two years.

3. To Amend or Not to Amend?

A major issue at HUMA was what amendments are needed to best ensure that Bill C-22 achieves what the Trudeau Government has said it is meant to achieve. The Liberals have said that this bill is intended to lift people with disabilities out of poverty, so that no people with disabilities live in poverty in Canada.

A range of different witnesses emphasized that while they support the bill, it needs to be amended to add specifics. For example:

  • Several witnesses talked about the need for the bill to set deadlines for actions needed to get money flowing to people with disabilities living in poverty, like a deadline for people to start receiving the CDB, and a deadline for Cabinet to enact regulations under the bill.
  • The need to extend the CDB to people with disabilities who are not “working age” was addressed, both for children and for seniors.
  • Some witnesses discussed the need to ensure that the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit is sufficient to lift recipients out of poverty.
  • Some witnesses spoke of the need to clarify who will be eligible for the Canada Disability Benefit. For example, the MS Society said it must cover people with episodic disabilities.
  • Many witnesses emphasized the need to ensure that a recipient of the CDB does not have any of their provincial or territorial income supports clawed back.
  • Many witnesses spoke of the need to ensure that the disability community is assured a strong voice in the formulation of regulations under the bill. Some spoke of the need to go much further than the Government simply consulting with people with disabilities. They argued that the Government must ensure that people with disabilities “co-create” these regulations, by having an equal seat at the table with the decision-makers when decisions are made on the regulations.

An issue that came up a number of times at the HUMA public hearings was whether HUMA should amend the bill to add more specifics to it, to address some or all of these issues, or whether the bill should be left “as is” and passed without any changes. Several witnesses spoke about the need for the bill itself to be strengthened. Others said they were prepared for the bill to leave it to Cabinet to decide on all these issues when Cabinet makes regulations.

It was clearly the Liberal Party’s strategy, advanced by Liberal MPs during the hearings with witness after witness, is to have everything left to Cabinet to decide. Of course, the Liberals now have a monopoly on the seats in Cabinet.

Several witnesses were asked if they were okay with the bill leaving the specifics to the regulations. However, the Committee did not tell those witnesses what the difference is between legislation and regulations. It was not clear that all witnesses knew about the important differences between legislation and regulations. Only two witnesses before the Committee were lawyers. Both of those witnesses agreed that amendments to the bill were needed.

A piece of legislation is a law (also called a statute) that is passed by Parliament, after a public debate and three separate votes, first in the House of Commons, and then in the Senate. Only Parliament can amend legislation.

In contrast, a regulation is a law enacted by the Cabinet. Regulations are made in closed meetings in a secret vote. They are not debated and voted on in Parliament. A future Cabinet can amend or repeal a regulation in a closed Cabinet meeting, after holding a secret vote. Parliament does not have to approve an amendment to a regulation.

Some organizations did not seek amendments to the bill when they made their opening statements, and just said that the bill needs to quickly pass. However, when answering questions from MPs, a number of them talked about amendments that are needed.

On the last day of hearings, one organization initially said that the bill should be passed without amendments. However, they went on to insist that the Government should start paying the CDB by the fall of 2023. We note that the bill would need to be amended to require this. The bill’s sponsor, Carla Qualtrough, had earlier told HUMA that it would likely take the Government a year to develop the regulations under the bill (thereby precluding any CDB payments in 2023).

A number of the changes to the proposed CDB that witnesses raised must be done by an amendment to the bill. They cannot be achieved through regulations. For example, under the bill as now written, Cabinet cannot extend the CDB to people with disabilities who are not “working age.” Only the bill itself can set a deadline for regulations to be enacted.

4. Who Got a Chance to Be Heard at HUMA?

By our count, there were 20 organizations and individuals who got to present at the HUMA public hearings. There are disability organizations who wanted to testify at the HUMA public hearings, but who did not get a chance to do so. The HUMA public hearings are very different than public hearings at the Ontario legislature in which we have been involved in past years.

In years gone by, we have taken part in some Standing Committee hearings at the Ontario Legislature that were quite open to community groups to ask to present at public hearings. Some even advertised to the public about the opportunity to ask to present to their hearings.

In contrast, we are unaware of HUMA publicly inviting members of the public and community organizations to apply to give testimony at the public hearings on Bill C-22. We were told that the MPs who are members of HUMA themselves nominated the people whom they wanted to invite to the Bill C-22 public hearings.

We had an uphill battle to even get to appear at these public hearings. The Standing Committee staff told us that we had to get an MP on the Standing Committee to nominate the AODA Alliance to present. When we wrote the MPs on that Committee to ask them to nominate us, several wrote back, telling us to speak to the Committee Clerk, because it was already past the deadline for witnesses to be nominated. This was all within a few days of the bill being assigned to HUMA to hold hearings.

We had to rapidly mount a campaign, including a social media blitz, to get invited to present to the HUMA public hearings. Fortunately, we succeeded. However, we know of very deserving organizations that did not get to present. It was wrong for the public hearings not to include them.

As part of this, the Liberal MPs got to nominate organizations and individuals who advanced the perspective that the Liberal Government wanted the Standing Committee to accept. We describe the Liberals’ strategy in the next section of this Update.

5. The Positions that the Political Parties Took During the HUMA Public Hearings

The opposition Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Quebecois all recognized the need for the CDB, the importance of passing the bill and the need to get money to impoverished people with disabilities. They all focused about the need for specifics to be added to the bill. They asked several witnesses about the kinds of amendments they would like to see.

In contrast, it was obvious that the Liberal Party’s strategy was to get the bill passed “as is” without amendments. Liberal MPs did not ask witnesses what amendments the bill needed. They appeared to be trying to build a record through the witnesses they invited to the hearings and the questions they asked of all witnesses, for arguing that everything should be left to the regulations.

6. For More Background on Bill C-22

For more background, take a look at:

  • The 15 amendments to Bill C-22 that the AODA Alliance has requested.
  • The 21 minute captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s November 14, 2022 testimony at HUMA, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
  • The November 14, 2022 open letter on Bill C-22, signed by 37 organizations from six provinces across Canada, that the AODA Alliance tabled with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
  • The AODA Alliance brief to the House of Commons on Bill C-22.
  • The AODA Alliance’s guest column in the November 7, 2022 edition of the Toronto Star, and the powerful Toronto Star editorial that day that cites the AODA Alliance’s concerns with Bill C-22.
  • The AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page, which shows our efforts to strengthen this proposed new law.