moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
She said: Mr. Speaker, today is a historic day for disability rights in Canada. It is truly an honour to stand up in the House of Commons and open debate on the second reading of Bill , the accessible Canada act, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
This bill enhances the legal framework for addressing the barriers to inclusion faced by millions of Canadians on a daily basis. From a substantive point of view, it requires the Government of Canada and entities within federal jurisdiction to address not only the barriers themselves but also the systems that perpetuate these barriers. In and of itself, this will promote a quality of opportunity. However, it does more than just this. This bill sends a clear message to Canadians with disabilities that no more will they be treated as an afterthought, no more will they be systematically denied opportunity for inclusion. Today we are sending a message that Canadians with disabilities are valued civic, social and economic contributors to Canadian society, with full rights of citizenship.
The history of how we have treated Canadians with disabilities is not a proud one. It is a history of institutionalization, of sterilization, of social isolation. We addressed our fears of what we did not understand and of difference by creating systems that, by design, took children away from their families, that took power away from our citizens, that perpetuated a medical model of disability that saw persons with disabilities as objects of charity and passive recipients of welfare. We treated our citizens as if they were broken, when in fact it was our systems and policies that were broken.
In my own experience, my parents were told that I should be sent to a school for the blind, that public school was not for me, and that I should be shipped provinces away, far away from my family and friends. I cannot imagine how different my life would have been if my parents had not insisted that I had a right to be publicly educated in my own community and if I had been separated from my loved ones and sent away at age five. It is important to acknowledge this history. It is important not to forget.
Thankfully, Canada's history is also replete with individuals, families and organizations who fought these systems. As we all know, Canada has a robust human rights system, with strong anti-discrimination laws. Disability is a protected ground under these laws and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Of course, Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, anti-discrimination laws, while important, are by design reactive. We have to wait until individuals are denied a service, a job, a program, and then the system kicks in to determine if that denial was discriminatory. We literally have to wait until people are discriminated against before we can help them. These laws place the burden of advancing human rights on individuals. The opportunity for system change can be limited and costly. It is incredible to think that currently close to 60% of the complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission are on the basis of disability. Again, thankfully we have these laws, for it is my belief that the most important advances in disability rights in our country have been achieved through individuals using these laws to demand equality. There has been change. However, it has been slow.
As our understanding of disability has evolved, the medical model is giving way to a human rights-based social model. We no longer see the individual's disability or impairment as a barrier to inclusion; rather, it is the barriers created by society that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying their human rights on an equal basis with others. That is where Bill comes in. Today, I stand before members to support a bill that will significantly transform how Canada addresses discrimination and ensures a quality for all. As the first-ever minister responsible for accessibility, I take my responsibilities seriously. I want to set a standard worthy of Canadians and of Canada's place in the world.
Bill is meant to promote broad organizational and cultural change across the nation. It will benefit all Canadians, especially Canadians with disabilities, by taking the steps to realize a truly accessible and inclusive Canada. It will proactively identify, remove and prevent barriers in a number of areas. Accessibility standards will be established by regulation in the areas of employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, procurement, program and service delivery, and transportation.
Bill applies to Parliament, the Government of Canada, Crown corporations, and other federally regulated sectors and entities, including organizations in the transportation, telecommunications, broadcasting and banking sectors.
These entities would be required to comply with the accessibility standards. In this way, Bill builds upon the existing rights of persons with disabilities under the charter and the Canadian Human Rights Act. It also represents a significant step in Canada's ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
At this point, I will pause to put on the record the incredible collaboration that led to the bill. In June of 2016, we launched an ambitious public consultation process in Canada that took us across the country, meeting with Canadians and stakeholders to talk about what accessible Canada means to them. We did it in the most accessible way possible, to ensure that everyone was able to participate and have their say on what accessibility legislation could look like. We held 18 public consultations and 8 thematic round tables. We had a significant online component. We held a national youth forum with the . We worked with indigenous groups. It truly signalled a new era of leadership and collaboration on disability issues.
We heard from 6,000 citizens from across the country. We heard about physical and architectural barriers that impede people's ability to move freely in built environments, use public transportation, access information, or use common technology. We heard about attitudes, beliefs and misconceptions that some people have about people with disabilities and what we can and cannot do. We heard about outdated policies and practices that simply do not take into account the barriers that are being faced on a daily basis.
Time and again, Canadians with disabilities told us the same thing: “We are not an afterthought. We are citizens deserving of the same rights and having the same responsibilities as other citizens. We are capable and valuable members of society. We do not want to be looked at as people who need accommodation, and we do not want to be treated like some sort of burden.” By bringing a unique knowledge and extensive network to he table, the Government of Canada was able to get an even better understanding of what the disability community wants its Canada to look like.
With its clear message as the backdrop, there are five principles recognized in Bill . It is upon these principles that the bill is based, and it is these principles that would serve to guide future interpretations. First, all persons must be treated with dignity, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Second, all persons must have the same opportunity to make for themselves the lives they are able and wish to have. Third, all persons must have barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society. Fourth, all persons must have meaningful options and be free to make their own choices, with support if they desire. Finally, laws, policies, programs, services and structures must take into account the abilities and disabilities of persons and the different ways that persons interact with the environment. Persons with disabilities must be involved in the development and the design.
Ultimately, Bill recognizes that barriers to accessibility are at the heart of the inequity between Canadians with and without disabilities. These principles will guide Parliament, the Government of Canada and the federally regulated private sector in offering accessible services to Canadians.
These principles are reflected in the definitions in the bill. It was important to be as inclusive as possible in the scope of Bill and an important step was to look at the language we used. We wanted to put the emphasis on the barriers, not on the specific cause of the impairment or diagnosis of disability. It is the barrier that gets in the way of the full and meaningful participation of our citizens, not our disabilities.
The definitions of “barrier” and ”disability” put forth in Bill draw upon the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They are broad and inclusive, supporting the greatest number of Canadians. The bill is meant to inspire and drive a deep cultural transformation. Part of that transformation is changing the way we talk about accessibility and disability. It is also about changing existing government structures and systems and creating new ones. It is about putting these aspirations into actions.
The bill would create several new entities with significant compliance and enforcement functions. A new accessibility commissioner, a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, would be responsible for compliance and enforcement in the areas not covered by the Canadian Transportation Agency and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Individuals could file complaints with the accessibility commissioner if they have been harmed or suffered property damage or economic loss as a result of the contravention of regulation made under Bill , in other words, if the accessibility standards have not been complied with.
A chief accessibility officer will report to the minister and advise on accessibility issues. A particular focus will be on systemic and emerging issues. The Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO, will be responsible for overseeing the development of accessibility standards. CASDO would also provide technical expertise in relation to standards, and support research and best practices with respect to the identification, removal and prevention of accessibility barriers. The CASDO board will be comprised of a majority of members with lived disability experience.
Among other initiatives, this last element enshrines into law the long-standing demand of the disability community that people with disabilities need to be involved in the creation and implementation of the policies and programs that affect their lives: In short, “nothing about us without us”.
The bill would also require that regulated entities create and publish accessibility plans and report on their progress, and that persons with disabilities be consulted as these plans and reports are developed. The bill also provides real teeth to ensure meaningful and lasting change in our institutions. This includes measures such as proactive inspections, monetary penalties, and individual complaints.
A number of bodies will be responsible for dealing with these cases and administering compliance and enforcement measures. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will be responsible for compliance and enforcement with respect to broadcasting and telecommunications using their existing powers. The Canadian Transportation Agency will be responsible for compliance and enforcement within the transportation sector with enhanced powers. The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board will address complaints by eligible federal public servants and parliamentary employees. All of their complaints will proceed through the accessibility commissioner.
There are two final points on the substance of Bill . First, the bill will designate the week commencing on the last Sunday in May as national accessibility week. This will be a time to recognize the efforts of individuals, communities and workplaces that are actively removing barriers to give Canadians of all abilities a better chance to succeed. It will also contribute to the awareness raising and culture shift that we are all trying to achieve.
Second, the bill gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission responsibility for monitoring the Government of Canada's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both Canadian stakeholders and the international community have been calling for such a designation for some time.
When our and government speak of inclusion and diversity, we speak of the importance of having many voices at the table, and this includes persons with disabilities. This has steered my work on this file. The accessible Canada act is foundational and builds upon our government's ongoing commitment to accessibility and disability issues. We have achieved a lot over the past three years for Canadians with disabilities. I think of our ascension to the Marrakesh Treaty and our work on the UN optional protocol. I think of the disability supplement within the Canada child benefit and the increase to CPP disability. I think of our work on the excessive demand provision in our immigration law. I think of our government's recent appointment of a deputy minister responsible for an accessible public service, and our commitment to hiring 5,000 persons with disabilities into the federal public service over the next five years.
We have also made significant investments in accessibility, such as the recent announcement of approximately $290 million to advance the accessible Canada agenda, as well as our government's addition of $77 million, for a total fund of $227 million over 10 years dedicated to the removal of barriers in the built environment through the enabling accessibility fund. These are all important steps.
With the accessible Canada act, the Government of Canada is transforming how we as a country think about accessibility and the value we place on the increased inclusion of Canadians with disabilities. It also demonstrates our government's commitment to the advancement of disability rights in a concrete way.
Bill sends a strong message: Canada is a leader in accessibility.
It is important to remember that although Bill will be one of the tools that the government can use to address accessibility on a systemic basis, the work does not stop there. There is a need for the Government of Canada, both as an employer and as a provider of service to Canadians, to show leadership and model accessibility. There is a need to support businesses and institutions. There is a need to promote the culture change required such that accessibility is seen as a universal priority.
I hope that our government's actions will inspire other governments and industries to get on board with forward-looking policies and practices.
Today, as we lay the groundwork for an accessible future, I urge the provinces and territories, businesses, and all other partners to consider the role they have to play. After all, this goes to the very heart of our Canadian values.
I truly believe that we are making lives better for Canadians with disabilities. This is just the beginning. There is still a lot of work to do to create a Canada without barriers. I look forward to continuing the discussion with Canadians and parliamentarians throughout our review of Bill . I look forward to building an accessible Canada together.
Madam Speaker, it is certainly an honour to rise today to speak to Bill .
I want to begin by telling a personal story in relation to this bill, and the effect that I think all parties are trying to have with regard to persons with disabilities and accessibility as a whole across this country.
When I was a young man, I was exposed to a person who was living with a disability, someone who was very close to me. My grandfather was blinded as a Royal Canadian engineer in World War II. He was an incredibly diligent and incredibly powerful person. He was able to cut his own lawn, chop wood and make wood fires. These are just memories I have from when I was a kid.
When I was 10 years old, the issue came even closer. My mother was hit by a car while crossing the road. She sustained a permanent head injury, as well as permanent injuries to her body which affected her ability to walk and to manoeuvre. She faced a couple of years on the couch.
Having grown up in those circumstances, I can say that I understand what the effects of disability are on those around the person, but I will never really understand the impact on the person himself or herself.
I clearly understand the cycle of poverty that exists in this country, which should not exist, in relation to persons who have disabilities and in many cases children who have parents with disabilities. It is a very important subject. It is incredibly important. It is one that, far too often, we leave to the side.
No matter what is being brought in relation to accessibility, in relation to persons with disabilities, everyone in this House is happy, content and joyous to see a move forward in the right direction. There is no question that all of us would want to see more movement on this subject, but I do have questions.
I was left with questions after speaking with ministerial staff, as well as the minister who was kind enough to reach out to me for a phone call this week. I have questions after the minister's speech, after the introduction of the bill, and after the tabling of the bill in June.
When will these new regulations actually come into effect? There is a six-year time frame on the funding, which would suggest that this entire process could take another six years, after the bill becomes law.
How much will this bill cost the federal coffers, as well as private businesses across this country?
What are the new standards? What will they actually look like? Will they reflect what is in Ontario, Nova Scotia, or British Columbia? Those three provinces, quite frankly, are leading the country. Why are we voting on this legislation without understanding what those new regulations and standards will be? How do we as parliamentarians effectively communicate what this bill actually means to Canadians if we do not know what those standards and regulations will be?
What is the $290 million for? Is there a breakdown of how that money will be spent? That is a question I asked last night at the briefing.
Do we have estimates or examples of the potential costs to the private sector? When asked last night, ministerial staff said that they do not. However, there are three provinces that have put incredible legislation in place, groundbreaking legislation, sometimes too quickly, sometimes too slowly, but there are examples we can learn from and that data has not been provided to members of this House.
What tangible effect will this have on day one? What does this change mean on day one, upon assent?
These are serious questions that we need answers to as we go through this process, as we go through the committee stage, and as we come back to the House, so that we, as members of this House, can provide correct, legitimate information, not just to the private sector companies that will be affected, not just to the government agencies that will be affected, but to Canadians who are living with disabilities, Canadians who worry about accessibility, and the family members of those individuals.
We need to be able to provide very current, structured information to ensure that this is not just another piece of legislation that may go somewhere some day.
I firmly believe, as a parliamentarian, that the opportunity to vote on this bill and to understand the standards would significantly improve my ability to do my job, but also improve the speed at which we affect Canadians with disabilities, we effect change in such a significant area.
In 2016-17, Global Affairs Canada spent $4.2 billion on foreign aid. I could run through all of it, and it ranges from Afghanistan at $232 million right down to Colombia at $66 million. However, when I asked the question to the Library of Parliament about how much money we spend each and every year on accessibility and Canadians with disabilities, across departments because there is the department but there is also money spent in other areas on this specific item, I could not be given an exact answer.
Bill proposes we spend $290 million. There would also be a bump-up in funding for the enabling accessibility fund, but the $290 million would not go directly to helping Canadians with disabilities. It would go to things like audits to figure out perhaps what changes need to be made in government buildings. Perhaps it would go to consultants to say which buildings we are going to look at on a go-forward basis versus those that we are going to retrofit. We still do not have a breakdown of where these dollars would actually end up. We know they would end up hiring more public servants, and specifically those who are living with disabilities. I do not think anybody in this House would ever say anything negative about hiring somebody with a disability and being able to bring that culture within the arms of government.
However, the $290 million does not even scratch the surface of what it will cost the government and the taxpayers and the federally regulated private sector to catch up to these new standards. I am not saying it is too expensive to do; I do not want to be misinterpreted here. I am saying that in order to effectively fulfill what we are trying to achieve, which is bettering life for persons with disabilities, we need to be able to eloquently, clearly and with clarity explain what these changes would mean to individuals, to businesses and to government. We know how much we spend on foreign aid, and I hope we can find out how much we are spending on Canadians with disabilities. We know how much we are willing to spend abroad on non-Canadian citizens. I hope we can find out how much we spend on some of Canada's most at risk.
As many of us know, this legislation was introduced in June 2018, two and a half years after the government took power. It is only after three cabinet shuffles that we finally get to the place where we are now. I do not blame the minister for that. Certainly some of those circumstances were challenging for the government. Why has it taken so long for legislation to finally be introduced? The first mandate letter called for this work to begin in November 2015. In fact, the Liberal platform called for this work to happen. Each mandate letter since has called on the minister to be responsible to continue the consultation process and to produce legislation. Now we have this bill in front of us, and we can know and see that all it does is actually call for more consultation and for the regulatory process changes to begin being looked at. It would not actually bring those changes to Canadians.
Therefore, after three years, after a price tag of $290 million, after saying we are going to hire 5,000 new public servants, we still do not know what the tangible effect on Canadians living with disabilities would be, what effect it would have when they are in a Service Canada building, what effect it would have when they are dealing with perhaps transportation at a local airport. It is still not here three years on. How could this be considered sufficient? When the minister said it has been slow, she is correct. It has actually been non-existent. There is $290 million more, and we still do not have those tangible results.
I will give an example of how quickly things get done when the will exists within the government. This is not a challenge to the minister but rather to the government as a whole.
During the 2008 election, the Conservative Party, under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, promised it would introduce the registered disability savings plan, RDSP. That election was in October. By December of that exact same year, the RDSP was introduced and available for Canadians to take advantage of, so 60 days or two months later. Here we are three years later without a single, standard or regulatory change to actually be able to point to. That monumental change under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper took under three months. By the time this bill passes, it will have taken three years. An important thing to remember is that this legislation will not change anything once it becomes law in terms of regulation and standards; rather, it asks that the government find out what regulations and standards it would like to produce. On top of the three years it took to get to this point, Canadians might have to wait another six years before these new regulations take effect, this with a $290-million consultation taking place.
When you take a wider look over the past three years at what the government has done on this file, so far it is more harm than good: the clawback of the DTC and RDSP; the ability for Canadians to access those tax savings vehicles; the challenges that lay ahead for Canadians living with disabilities to be able to save, to be able to have a secure financial future; and, for those who no longer qualified for the disability tax credit, to have their RDSP perhaps clawed back. This is the legacy that we have seen from the government since 2015, yet in every single mandate letter the has called for continued consultation toward crafting this legislation. What we did not realize is the crafting of the legislation would be more consultation. We now have this legislation and $290 million and it is more consultation. How does evermore consultation help Canadians with disabilities today? I do not think we should ever stop consulting. However, at some point there needs to be a tangible standard change, there needs to be a tangible regulatory change that we can hang our hat on, that we can say, “This is what we are doing to improve the lives of Canadians who are living with disabilities to improve accessibility across this country.”
This legislation was touted by the government as the most historic piece of legislation for Canadians with disabilities since Confederation. However, I have not been told one single tangible change that this bill brings into effect. We all around this House, from every party, want to help Canadians living with disabilities. There is support from every corner of this institution for legislation that helps Canadians with disabilities. However, all this legislation represents is going away and creating a plan. What has the government been doing on this file for the last three years if it has to spend $290 million to create a plan?
The previous government introduced the RDSP, which quickly gave Canadians with disabilities better financial security. It was established in 2008, and 105,000 of these accounts were set up. Over $1 billion has been added to the savings of Canadians with disabilities.
In the last year alone, we have had two Conservative members of Parliament and a New Democrat introduce private members' bills aimed at easing the lives of Canadians living with disabilities, and accessibility to government programs.
We have seen the member for introduce legislation, trying to secure the financial future. Not just the financial future in terms of savings through government programs, but also the financial future of Canadians living with disabilities to be able to grow into the private sector without being hurt or pushed aside by the existing boxes in government programming. We have seen a member from Calgary bring forward a bill with regard to Canadians living with rare diseases. We have seen a bill come forward in terms of accessibility to Canadian websites for those living with disabilities.
We have seen these pieces come forward from all around the House, and this goes to show that we all want to see movement. The problem is that this bill is not movement. This bill is a plan to one day, potentially, maybe, hopefully get to movement.
The government could not build an ice rink on time and on budget. How can we expect it to properly manage this file? Why is it that we as parliamentarians, after we pass this bill, and the regulations and standards have then gone out, sought after, drafted, taking three, five or six years, do not have the ability to see them again?
The request through this bill is that we give a blank cheque in terms of the standards and regulations. I know that all around this House we want to do everything that we can to make lives easier, to break some of the cycles that affect persons with disabilities in regard to poverty and accessibility.
However, we must do this responsibly. We must do this working with private sector. We must do this working with government institutions. We must do this working with persons with disabilities, setting a timeline, setting measurables in place so they understand what effect this is going to have on their lives. We must ensure, going forward, that each and every interaction, especially with a federal government institution or at a federal government building, is one that is with respect and dignity.
That is what everybody expects in the House of Commons of our government. It is what everybody in the House of Commons expects of our private sector. We must be responsible with our conduct and how we move forward at this point.
I still have major concerns with how we end up in a process where we say “Yes” as a Parliament but have no idea what the effects of the bill will be. It is incredible.
As we look forward to the next election, I would like nothing more than to go to Canadians and say, “This is what we are spending your money on, and these are the tangible effects it is going to have on persons with disabilities.” I would like nothing more than to call my own mother and say, “These are the things we are doing to make life easier for people like you.” I would like nothing more than that. However, I do not know what we are doing, because it is not in the bill.
I want to end today, perhaps being a bit negative at times in this speech. However, at the same time, it is important that we hold our government to account, and it is important to this process that we actually get the best piece of legislation we can, moving forward.
To the minister, I want to say, “Thank you. I look forward to working with you. I certainly appreciate you reaching out to me earlier this week.”
Madam Speaker, these proceedings on Bill , an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, have the potential for tremendous historic significance. We are debating a bill that, if done properly, would create breakthrough legislation that would profoundly impact Canadian society for generations to come. I believe everyone in this chamber is cognizant of the importance of what we are doing here today. Therefore, I speak in support of this bill based on the premise the minister stated yesterday: to get it to committee as soon as possible so that we can make it as substantively great as we possibly can. I agree.
This bill is not all that it needs to be as it stands now. It will require substantial amendments. While we commend the government for tabling it, this bill will need to be altered dramatically in order to become good legislation. That is why New Democrats commit today to working with the government to provide good-faith amendments so that Bill can become the historic accessibility legislation that persons living with disabilities in Canada deserve.
New Democrats have long been committed to the rights of people with disabilities. It has been our long-standing position that all of government, every budget, every policy and regulation, every grant should be viewed through a disability lens. Our ultimate goal has always been to help foster a society in which all citizens are able to participate fully and equally. We believe that this cannot even begin to happen until all of our institutions are open and completely accessible to everyone.
In fact, New Democrats have supported the establishment of a Canadians with disabilities act for many years, and the call for a CDA can be found in our 2015 election platform. CDA uses the language of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was an early warning when that language was switched out in favour of an accessibility act, but I was assured that was because an accessibility act would meet and reach beyond the UN convention, which Canada is a state party to. It makes sense that any accessibility bill tabled by the government should essentially be enabling legislation for Canada's obligation to fulfill the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Canada ratified this convention in 2010, but until now, has done nothing to bring our laws into conformity with it. Indeed, I tabled a motion in this very chamber, Motion No. 56, that calls on the government to implement these obligations. The convention sets out the legal obligations of states to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities. It does not create new rights. There are a number of principles and articles within the CRPD that are extremely important to people with disabilities. These principles address rights, such as the ability to live independently, freedom from exploitation and violence, the right to an adequate standard of living, social protections and more.
Rather than considering disability an issue of medicine, charity or dependency, the convention challenges people worldwide to understand disability as a human rights issue. It establishes that discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the rights, inherent dignity and worth of the human person.
The convention covers many areas where obstacles can arise, such as physical access to buildings, roads and transportation, and access to information through written, electronic and alternative forms of communication. The convention also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination, which are often reasons people with disabilities are excluded from education, employment, health and other services. It is crucial that societies eliminate these forms of discrimination, not just because doing so is the right thing to do, but because it will enable a previously ignored and sizeable section of our population to contribute their talents and abilities to the betterment of us all. Everybody wins when everyone is able to contribute.
It is important here to note that the convention is our ideal. It is up to governments to bridge the distance between these ideals and the lived reality of people living with disabilities. We debate one such bridge here today.
While the NDP supports Bill , we do so with the understanding that it will not fulfill our obligations to the CRPD. It is one step in the right direction and I celebrate that significant step. Why? Let me tell the House some of the reasons.
First of all, it is the most comprehensive federal bill addressing issues faced by Canadians living with disabilities to be tabled in this House in over 30 years. This alone is significant. The previous government had 10 years' worth of opportunities to bring forward a national act and it emphatically chose not to.
Bill 's very title trumpets a worthy ambition, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. The stated purpose of Bill C-81 is to create a barrier-free Canada “through the proactive identification, removal, and prevention of barriers to accessibility wherever Canadians interact with areas under federal jurisdiction.”
Creating a barrier-free Canada is indeed my intent and why the NDP seeks amendments. We will work with the government to fine-tune this bill so that it truly realizes its own stated ambitions, until it becomes the kind of landmark legislation that people living with disabilities deserve.
Bill will establish several important new officials and agencies. These include a new accessibility commissioner for enforcement, a new Canadian accessibility standards development organization, which will elaborate model accessibility standards that the government can enact as regulations, and a new chief accessibility officer to advise and report on progress and needed improvements. It even creates a formal complaint process and a review process to gauge the bill's effectiveness over time. These two processes are especially crucial for a bill like this to have successful outcomes.
It is vital that a feedback loop be established between those who are to benefit from the bill and the bodies responsible for administering it. A complaint process allows for this, and the review process will allow for proper responses to the bill's shortcomings as they are discovered. Yes, these sections of the bill are both commendable and important. However, there are sections of Bill that I believe miss the mark and that undermine the bill's own stated goals. These are the provisions that I and my party will work in good faith with this government to fix, should our efforts be welcome.
Most obviously concerning is the bill's lack of mandatory timelines for implementation. It allows but does not require the government to adopt accessibility standards, and yet does not impose a time frame within which implementation is to happen. Without these, the implementation process, even its start-up initializing process, could drag on for years. Curiously, neither does the bill require all federal government laws, policies and programs to be vetted through a disability lens. This seems a strange omission indeed. I respect the current 's commitment to this file and can only assume that this is an accidental oversight which she will correct immediately.
It might be helpful here to take a moment and explain to those listening just what is meant by the term “disability lens”. In this context, the disability lens is a way to examine public policy. It helps lawmakers such as myself make sure that when a new law, regulatory measure, course of action and funding priority is being debated or implemented, the needs of persons living with disabilities are taken into consideration. Just stopping to ask whether people with disabilities are even considered over the course of the policy's formulation can go a long way to making it better and more just.
I like the succinct way the Council for Canadians with Disabilities promotes using a disability lens. It encourages us to ask a series of questions.
Does the policy view disabled people as members of a minority group with special needs, or does it view disability as one of many variables in the population and thus aim to structure society so as to ensure universal access and coverage?
How would the policy relate to other policies, legislation, regulations and programs within the jurisdiction in question? How would it relate to others, or even within the same ministry?
This is another important consideration. Who will win and who will lose when this policy is implemented? How will the allocation of resources be affected by this policy? How will this impact other disability groups?
Of notable concern is that Bill would allow, but again would not require, the minister to work with provincial and territorial governments to improve accessibility. It would be absurd for a national accessibility act in a country such as ours with our unique brand of federalism not to include a requirement to work with provincial and territorial governments to improve accessibility.
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has been a great resource for me as well. Another non-partisan resource I appreciate is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance for its analysis of this legislation. Its outstanding work allows government representatives, bureaucrats and members of Parliament to do our jobs better when it comes to developing policy and law that provides meaningful impact.
One issue of great concern regarding Bill is the way in which it would give various public bodies sweeping and unaccountable powers to exempt any or all obligated organizations from a number of important obligations under the bill. This is especially concerning because it has been my experience that where such exemptions exist, they will be used.
Section 46 of the bill, for example, empowers the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, CRTC, to totally exempt any obligated organization it wishes within its mandate from any or all of the accessibility plan requirements. Worse still, the bill provides no means by which persons with disabilities can register their concerns before a decision is made to grant an exemption. This is deeply troubling.
Also problematic is that another section of Bill gives the federal cabinet the power to make regulations that can exempt any obligated organizations from a wide range of obligations under the act. The bill would allow cabinet to do this, and it need not provide any reasons when it does. Seriously, if cabinet is allowed to do this, why are we here today?
I also find it perplexing that while the bill requires obligated organizations to establish accessibility plans, it does not require these plans to be good plans. It does not require an obligated organization to implement its accessibility plan. This is more and more curious.
Potentially quite troubling is a situation created in section 172 whereby a regulation created by the Canadian Transportation Agency for example, without debate, could end up trumping obligations under the Canadian Human Rights Act. It should be a basic principle of Bill that no provisions therein supersede any human rights. This is a perfect example of some of the technical issues that need to be addressed, and I want our stakeholders who understand the impact of this troublesome section to know that we will seek to have it removed.
The bill likewise separates enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over a tangle of different public enforcement agencies rather than providing people with disabilities with the simple one-stop enforcement they need. The CRTC will provide enforcement for its obligated organizations and so too will the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The bill does this, despite the reality that both the CRTC and the CTA have an unsatisfactory track record when it comes to enforcing accessibility over many years. As this is not a new problem, it boggles the imagination as to why the important bill does not address the core problem. It is absolutely vital that persons with disabilities and stakeholder groups be able to navigate our federal system in order to effectively realize their rights and also that the various agencies and institutions are able to respond to criticisms.
Moreover, this snarl of enforcement and administration will result in very similar regulations being enacted by the very different agencies involved rather than by one single agency. The duplication will not just risk inconsistencies, it will create them, causing even further delays. The predictable result is the real possibility that some sectors of the economy will have these regulations ready for them before some other sectors.
The bill should be looking to eliminate the interdepartmental patchwork system that is already in place rather than making it more complex. We simply must fix it. Many of us who follow these issues were seriously expecting that Bill would include provisions to simplify these processes.
Earlier this year, a private member's bill of mine, Bill , was debated in the House. It was designed to create a one-stop shop at the individual level to make it significantly easier for persons living with disabilities to navigate the programs available to them from the federal government. At present, persons with disabilities have to prove that they are disabled each time they apply for a federal benefit and with each separate application will typically have to pay a doctor for each time there is paperwork involved. This is an unnecessarily punitive system for so vulnerable a population.
My bill, of course, was voted down by the government. It was not a whipped vote, yet every Liberal member in the House that evening voted against it, every single one. I had hoped that such discipline on the part of the governing party meant that they perhaps knew something I did not know, that perhaps this upcoming accessibility bill would include provisions to streamline these processes, but no, this was not the case.
The complaint process will also be unnecessarily confusing. The splintering of the implementation and enforcement mandate will substantially weaken the bill. The likelihood of this creating confusion among many, including public servants, obligated organizations, and people with disabilities and their advocates who come to the federal government seeking justice is all but certain.
Stakeholder groups and disability advocates know from brute experience that this confusion will force them to run from enforcement agency to enforcement agency with their complaints, going around in circles. “Sorry, no, wrong agency” they will be told, they have to go to transportation. Persons living with disabilities have had enough of this particular brand of bureaucratic confusion. We know this is a problem. Let us fix this too.
I would also like to note that Canada's hearing impaired community has asked the government repeatedly that the Official Languages Act be amended to have American sign language and Quebec sign language designated as official languages so that accessible communication is taken seriously.
This sets the course for the direction of the NDP. This is where we are going in our support to bring the bill to committee. There are many provisions we will be looking to amend. Those that I mentioned here today are merely broad strokes of what we in the progressive opposition are committed to standing up for and remedying.
In closing, I would also urge the committee to hold its meetings in different places across this country. As the most significant piece of disability legislation since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we owe it to Canadians living with disabilities and the people who care about them to demonstrate our intention for meaningful legislation that fully includes every Canadian in the participation of our society.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill , an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
I want to say at the outset that I am pleased to see that the minister has brought forward this bill. I have absolutely no doubt about her sincerity in trying to improve the lives of people with disabilities. I too am aligned in that direction. I have listened carefully to the debate we have had so far talking about how to get people with disabilities the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens, how to make sure they are able to live independently and how to make sure they are free from violence. I am aligned in all those things. I think I have heard that all the parties in the House are aligned in how we improve the lives of people with disabilities, and what we can we do with this bill to make sure it is effective.
When it comes to deciding to tackle an issue, with my engineering perspective I will ask what it is we are trying to do. I think it is trying to get people to be able to live independently, to have the same rights and responsibilities as others and to be free from violence. What is the plan to make that happen? What mechanisms will we put in place in order to make sure the money or the incentives flow so the behaviours of people will take root?
In my speech, I am going to talk a bit about what has happened in the past and what the Conservatives did. Then I will talk a little about the Liberal record. Then I will talk about the situation in my own riding, some ideas about possible solutions and some concerns I have with the legislation as it is written today.
I know things were going on to help improve accessibility when the Conservatives were in power. Although I was not here myself, I saw all the announcements and improvements happening in my own riding of Sarnia—Lambton, where multiple millions of dollars were spent to upgrade different buildings to ensure they were accessible for people in wheelchairs and to put different aids in place to help people with disabilities. I note that was going on.
At the same time, we have heard other members in the House talk about the Conservative Party's introduction of the registered disability savings plan in 2008. This plan is quite a rich plan. I looked at the details of it when we were addressing an issue that I will talk about later. However, this is a plan where a disabled person can put in up to $5,000 a year and the government will match it threefold. That program has been going on for almost 10 years. Although it has not come to the point where people are collecting from the program, it is a very well thought out way of ensuring people with disabilities will have the wherewithal to retire in dignity.
I see that and see the efforts of the member for , who brought forward a very intelligent bill aimed at addressing the problem people with disabilities have when they want to go work and their benefits are clawed back. In some cases, the money they are getting from other disability programs is clawed back. I was really disappointed in the extreme that every Liberal in the place rejected that private member's bill. That bill would have been such a help to people with disabilities. We talked as well about the member for bringing forward a private member's bill on rare diseases, which was also rejected. I just heard a member from the NDP talking about her bill being rejected.
This is where one really has to question people's motives. When people say one thing and do another, they are likely to be called hypocrites. When I look at the Liberals, I see there is a lot of talking about helping people with disabilities, but then we look at the record of what has happened since the election in 2015. The first member who had the portfolio to do something here on accessibility, or helping the disabled, was the member for . It was in the mandate letter, yet nothing was done. That member is also a person who has lived experience as a person with disabilities, but nothing was done. It was not a priority.
It was then passed along to the member for . However, I do sympathize with her. She is the and has a lot of very important things to do which, of course, I, as a fellow science person, cannot criticize. Again, nothing really came forward.
Then when I looked at the bill to see what was in it, I thought that perhaps there would be a lot of infrastructure money. We know there are a lot of buildings that are not accessible and they need a lot of money in order to repair them so they will be accessible. In some cases, those could be incentives. There is a number of ways that could be done, but nothing in the bill talks about that.
In fact, the bill has sort of an element of what the minister's powers would be. It has an element of a standards organization that can talk about what the right thing to do would be. There are mechanisms in the bill to complain. There are mechanisms in it to inspect. However, there are no action words. There is really no doing of anything. It is going to be consulting and spending a few more years to try to figure out what we should do, when we already know some of the things we should do. Some of the things we should do involves investing the same kind of infrastructure money that was previously done under the Conservatives.
I have heard the government speak about the $180 billion of infrastructure money that it will invest over the next number of years. In fact, the Liberals got elected on a promise to spend very small deficits in order to put infrastructure in place. That was going to create jobs and drive the economy and repair our roads and bridges, etc. None of that ever happened. My point is that there was a lot of infrastructure money that was planned to be spent. Even though the government has had difficulty getting that accomplished, as I think it has only spent about 40% of what it planned, it has still racked up way more deficit but not on the intended things.
There is an opportunity for the government to do something immediately with respect to infrastructure to improve accessibility. Those are things where the building codes exist today. The specifications exist today. The standards exist today. No work needs to be done to consult anybody on that or have new standard organizations to do it. This already exists. All it really needs is political will to put that money in place.
Instead, the government has basically a different political will, if we look at where the billions of dollars that the government is spending is going: $4.2 billion on foreign aid; $2.65 billion on climate change support for foreign countries like China and India; $5 billion for the Syrian refugees; $1 billion for the asylum seekers; and multiple billions of other things that are spread around the world but not for Canadians and not for the disabled. When we look at where time, energy and money is put, that determines what our values are or what our priorities are.
It has been three years before seeing any kind of legislation and the legislation does not have any strong actions in it. It is more of “we'll put structures in place to consult”. I really question whether there is enough political will to achieve good outcomes here.
As I mentioned, I have some good examples from my riding that I can share. I know that the previous member of Parliament, Pat Davidson, was very active. She really cared about improving accessibility. Elevators were put in multiple buildings. We had accessibility all over the county of Lambton. As well, we have upgraded many of the schools to be accessible.
The Sarnia Arena is going under remediation. I was there for an event this past weekend and all of the entrances and front sidewalks, etc. have been improved for accessibility and all of the standards have been met.
Not everything is wonderful in my riding. We have a situation in Port Lambton where the post office, which is a Crown corporation and is under the legislation being proposed, is not accessible. It has been there for a long period of time and was grandfathered, but it is not accessible. We are having a municipal election and people are going to have to go to Canada Post to vote. In Port Lambton that is pretty much all there is. However, it is not accessible. People have known about it for a long time. My office has called and nagged and has been told that they will get to it. However, no one has got to it.
Here is an example where the solution is known. It just needs to get done and it needs to get done in a hurry. Again, where is the will to force these solutions to happen?
I have a tremendously great example of a fellow named Dan Edwards in my riding. Unfortunately, he had an accident which rendered him unable to walk and left him in a wheelchair. He has been super inspirational in the riding. He does fundraising for mental health efforts and different things.
This is one of the things he did. We have a fundraiser in Sarnia—Lambton called the Dream Home. It is a fundraiser for the hospital. He decided to get together with the architect who was going to build the latest Dream Home for a lottery to raise money for the hospital and decided to make it a visitable home. A visitable home is a home where any person in a wheelchair would be fully able to access everything, from cooking to the entrances. Everything is ground floor. It is very well done.
I had the opportunity to tour the home and see what he and architect had designed together. He shared with me a lot of information about the very many plans like this. It is quite possible. We have these solutions that we could put in place to allow people to live independently. That would be great. Again, money and political will is some of what is required here.
The other piece of advice I would give with respect to solutions and rolling out the infrastructure money is to ensure that it is well-distributed. Of the $180 billion that was announced over 10 years, only $2 billion of that was earmarked for rural communities. When we look at improving accessibility, I think we will find that there is even more need in the rural communities. In many cases, they have grandfathered their buildings. There are more older buildings, and they have not been made accessible. As well, there is less of a population base to bring in the revenue to do these things of their own volition. That needs to be considered.
With respect to some concerns about the legislation, $290 million has been proposed. I heard discussion earlier about 5,000 new public servants. I was not clear if that was 5,000 public servants with disabilities who would be hired while attrition happened, so over time, or whether that was 5,000 additional public service employees. Of course, I would be opposed to increasing the size of government.
Another concern I have with the bill has to do with leaving things for the regulations. As a parliamentarian, and a detailed-oriented one, I do not like to leave things to chance. I have seen before, under some of the legislation that the Liberals have brought forward, where it is all left to regulation.
With Bill , for example, the Liberals decided, from the plain packaging and the vaping, they were going to leave a lot of it to the regulations. We were approving a bill, and as the point was made, that we really did not know what the final outcomes would be. We were going to leave it to the regulation.
In the example of Bill , the Liberals want to go to a plain package. The dimensions of the plain package are produced by machines that are obsolete, that are no longer owned by anybody who is legitimately in the business. The Liberals have given businesses six months to convert.
They would have to redesign the old, obsolete machines and get them built somewhere, and that is certainly an 18-month deal, or they would have to be shut down altogether in order to achieve this plain packaging goal, or let them use the existing size. That is an example of where when things are left to regulations, they do not always get done the way that we might want. That is why parliamentary oversight is important.
Bill , the cannabis legislation, is another example where the Liberals decided to leave a lot of the details to the regulation. The problem is that the regulations did not come out quickly enough to address all the unanswered questions that were still out there. Now we are left with a situation where we will legalize on October 17, and there is still a huge number of things that are not addressed in the regulations. Again, there is no parliamentary oversight to talk about them.
This point came up again on Bill with the regulation that we most recently talked about, which is the one that prohibits the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Instead of defining what the healthy foods are, the comment was that it would be left to the regulations.
As parliamentarians, we have a right to know what that list will be and have some opportunity to object or give input if we do not agree. By leaving it to the regulations, we would be passing a blank bill that says we would be doing something. We have no idea what the something is and we have no input on the something, but we are expected to vote in favour of it. I have an issue with that.
When it comes to accessibility, we have been much too slow in moving forward and addressing these things. For example, there are a lot of the grandfathered buildings. My mother is 84 and walks with a rollator. There are a lot of places she cannot go because of staircases or it is too narrow to get through. Something needs to be done there and I look forward to seeing what solutions will be brought forward are.
I will talk a little about some of the things the government could do that would make people have more faith in its wanting to help disabled people.
Members may remember when I was here on a Friday, asking a question about the disability tax credit. Through that whole event, we found out that where 80% of people with type 2 diabetes were previously approved, all of a sudden 80% were disapproved. We raised the concern, and the Liberal government insisted that nothing had changed. Of course, as the scandal went on, it came out that indeed things had changed. There were instructions given to interpret the criteria differently, and it went very broad. It affected not just people with diabetes but people with other disabilities, such as autism and mental disorders like bipolar. It took months and months to get justice for those people. This is what undermines people's faith that the government is sincere in its efforts to improve things for people with disabilities.
I will give members another example. For people with multiple sclerosis, it can be very difficult, because people are not always be at the same degree of wellness. It is sort of intermittent where there may be periods where they cannot work and other times they may be fine.
However, the current EI rules are not flexible enough to allow a person who has MS to be on EI and work intermittently, the same total benefits as someone who takes it consecutively would get. I raised this issue with the . There is an easy fix there. If 670 hours of eligibility are required and there is a certain amount of hours that people get in benefits, then allow the intermittency. Those are the kinds of things we can do for people who have disabilities to be able to live independently, to work and to engage. We need to do that.
I did take the point that was made earlier that no disability lens was used for the legislation. When we do legislation, we do it with a gender-based lens. Therefore, it is very appropriate here to take that recommendation from the member and put a disability lens in place.
I also do not like the powers to exempt in the bill. I find that when we allow exemptions and have cabinet decide, we get into trouble. We saw this with the carbon tax. The government had the power to exempt and it decided to exempt the largest emitters up to 90% of their emissions. There is an example where having the power to exempt is really not what we want.
In summary, I absolutely want to see persons with disabilities have the independence they need and have the help they need. However, it has to happen faster. I call on the government today to start putting money into infrastructure for accessibility and do the solutions that we already know about, while we craft improvements to the bill.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to debate Bill , an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. We as parliamentarians, and I think all Canadians, know someone, whether a family member, a neighbour, or a colleague who lives with a disability. Often these are visible disabilities, those we can see, but there are also the invisible disabilities, those we cannot see with the naked eye. When we are crafting and debating legislation and implementing standards, we have to recognize the variety of disabilities that Canadians live with on a daily basis.
For me personally, my mother-in-law is someone who lives with a disability. She lost a leg to amputation about 15 years ago and uses a wheelchair. I speak with her regularly, including earlier today about an issue related to accessibility. I hear the concerns she brings forward on a variety of issues on a daily basis that confront her as she goes about living her life. One example she gave me today was that she was out shopping with her mother and could not enter certain stores because of the lifts at the entrances. She told me she would like to spend money. She would like to buy stuff for her grandkids, my kids, although I do encourage her to stop doing that because our house is getting too full. However, she enjoys doing that and attending things. Certainly this does not fall under federal jurisdiction, but it is an example of how those living with disabilities are in some cases unable to enter certain establishments.
She tells a story of recently going to a local bank and using a lift to get into the bank because there were three steps she would have had to climb to get into the bank. Unfortunately, the lift malfunctioned and her wheelchair flipped over backward, causing her to fall to the ground and smack her head. Again, this is an example of how she was unable to access that facility, which would fall under federal jurisdiction as a federally regulated institution.
I think we all know these examples and stories of friends, family members and people living in our community who are capable of participating fully in society, yet there are challenges to their doing so because of certain barriers. Each of us in our ridings know of organizations that work hard with members of the community specifically on accessibility issues and with Canadians living with disabilities. In my riding, we have L'Arche Stratford, which is a great organization, working with those with disabilities. There are also a number of community living organizations in Stratford, in North Perth, and St. Marys.
In my constituency office, we have Emerson Kuepfer. Emerson works in my office one day a week. He does the shredding for us. He has been living with a disability his entire life. However, he is there every Wednesday morning. He has the biggest smile on his face when he is there because he is working and is contributing to society. The only time he does not have a smile on his face is when the Leafs lose, which happens from time to time. Beyond that, he is always as cheerful as can be, and really is a benefit to our office and to the community as a whole, contributing through those great organizations.
It is important as well to talk a bit about the unfortunate stigma that is still out there when we talk about Canadians living with disabilities. I have fallen victim to it as well. In the past I might have referred to someone as “being in a wheelchair”, but I have been corrected, and rightfully so, because the wheelchair does not define that person. That person uses a wheelchair as a tool. We need to encourage and speak with Canadians about the stigma that somehow someone with a disability may not be able to do all things quite as well as others without a disability, and ensure that they have full access to, and the ability to work and participate in, the community and attend businesses and events.
From my time on West Perth municipal council, I know that we often struggled with the challenges that faced us with the provincial AODA legislation in ensuring that our facilities were fully compliant with the AODA. It was a challenge, and it was not a cheap function either. As an example, our local arena did not have fully accessible washroom facilities, so fixing that was a project we undertook while I was serving on council. Now we have a beautiful facility with fully accessible washrooms so that all people within the community are able to use that facility.
However, it is not always easy. Most of the businesses on the main street in my hometown had a step or two to get in. One innovation done by the local council at the time the reconstruction was done on the main street is the sidewalks were adjusted to ensure a flat entrance to the different businesses. While it was not a panacea and did not fix every single business, it accommodated the vast majority of businesses on the main street. The sidewalks were adjusted to meet the entrances to each of the stores and each business became more accessible. It is not perfect and we cannot always make things perfect with buildings that are 100-plus years old, but it is a good step forward.
The Perth County courthouse in downtown Stratford is a beautiful building which is 150-plus years old. It has served as the seat of county government for 150-plus years. It is not accessible. The irony is that despite it being a provincial courthouse and the home of the county government, it is grandfathered from the provincial AODA legislation, but steps are being taken to make that building more accessible while also maintaining the building's important and historic significance, both as a community landmark and as a functioning part of the community as a courthouse and a seat of government in the community.
I want to talk about some of the experiences we have had in this Parliament with issues of accessibility. I am honoured to serve as a member of the procedure and House affairs committee. One of the studies that was undertaken earlier this year, in the spring, was on a debates commissioner.
Leaving aside the debate over the debate, it was interesting to hear the testimony and information from different civil society groups on the issue of accessibility. We heard from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind how broadcasting a debate ought to be structured so that those with a visual impairment could have full access to the debate, to engage with the debate and know what is going on in the debate. We heard a similar message from other Canadians living with disabilities, including those with hearing impairments. Whether it is closed captioning or sign language, there are different ways in which, while relatively minor in the great scheme of things, we can make that specific institution just a little more accessible so that Canadians living with disabilities can have full access to debates.
I will conclude by talking about the RDSP. It has been mentioned by a number of my colleagues, but I do believe that among the many great things former finance minister Jim Flaherty did during his time in this place, the RDSP meant so much to him as a father and as a finance minister. Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to the late Jim Flaherty for all that he did. That is a good point on which to conclude.