Mr. Speaker, this will be the last speech I deliver in the House of Commons, in where it has been an honour to represent the people of York--Simcoe for a decade and a half.
Bill seeks to enhance accessibility in areas of federal jurisdiction. It is a worthy objective. Accessibility is an area where we have seen much change and progress in my lifetime. However, it is progress that has been largely driven not by politicians, but rather by Canadians who saw the need and pressed for changes to the rules.
The success of those changes has been largely due to an incremental approach that has not placed undue burdens on Canadians trying to make a living, allowing progress over time. It is an example of the importance of applying common sense when delivering change for the better. That goal, delivering change for the better, has been my purpose in my time here.
The rationale behind accessibility rules is to create opportunity for people to achieve their potential. The preamble to the bill focuses on that question of ensuring equal opportunity. In this speech I will focus largely on that word that motivates this legislation, that word being “opportunity”.
Canada is all about opportunity. Opportunity is the reason my family and so many others have come here.
My grandparents and mother grew up in Estonia. Their life experience is the reason I am in Canada and in the House of Commons.
My grandfather was an agronomist, an important role in a largely agricultural economy in the first half of the 20th century. My grandmother became a lawyer in the 1920s in Estonia at a time not too many women did that.
With the Second World War came waves of Soviet, Nazi and then again Soviet occupation. Much of my family died at the hands of the Soviets, executed, bludgeoned to death by axes in their beds or suffering the almost inevitable death that came as inmates of the communist concentration camps of the Siberian gulag.
The only alternative for my grandparents and mother was a high-risk escape across a treacherous Baltic sea, where the men kept bailing to keep the vessel from capsizing. They left all their possessions behind. Safety was found initially in a refugee camp in Sweden, but ultimately Canada was the destination chosen. Canada was a land of freedom, hope and opportunity to them.
The agronomist went to work in a paper factory in Riverdale. The lawyer went to work on the order desk at Sears. They found all that they were looking for in this country.
I grew up hearing stories of what happened to my family's homeland and their own many close brushes with fate. I learned as a child that freedom and democracy were valuable, could be easily lost and needed to be defended and nourished.
Inevitably I became highly politicized as a young child. In 1968, we had a Trudeau Liberal sign for Bob Caplan on our front lawn. Trudeau was the champion of freedom and rights we were told. However, soon after that, I saw that prime minister embracing communist leaders like Brezhnev, Kosygin and Castro. Those were the very people responsible for suppressing the freedoms of millions. It had a profound effect on me.
By 1972, as I like to say, I was nine years old and the wisdom of age was upon me. I had become a passionate Conservative. I would start working as a volunteer on campaigns when I was 12 and politics would become my life's passion.
As I was growing up, like all good Estonian emigres, we profoundly yearned for Estonia to regain its freedom, which ultimately did happen in 1991. I would ask my grandmother if Estonia ever achieved regaining its independence would she return. No, she would tell me “Canada is our home now”, and she would add “Canada is the best country in the world. It is a land of opportunity. Anybody can achieve their dreams in this country if you just work hard enough.” My grandmother believed in that word “opportunity” and she believed in Canada.
I often doubted this assurance that she gave me as I was growing up. I encountered all kinds of invisible social and economic barriers that immigrant families typically face, but time would prove she was right. What better proof that anybody could achieve their wildest dreams in Canada, however unlikely, than someone like me becoming Canada's minister of sport.
That opportunity that Canada offers, what this legislation seeks to ensure, is available to all has been very kind to me.
In politics, I had the opportunity to help rebuild the Ontario PC party in the early 1990s when I was party president, not a member of caucus, but we did help to get Mike Harris elected premier.
I had the opportunity to lead efforts to reunite the Conservative movement into a single party federally, including running the campaign on the PC party side to have our membership ratify the establishment of the Conservative Party of Canada, an event that restored competitive democracy to our politics.
As a member of the House, I have had the opportunity to serve as public safety minister, working to keep Canadians safe. My time as trade minister was dedicated to expanding our economic opportunities, making a free trade agreement with Europe our top priority, and initiating or advancing many other free trade negotiations.
I had the extraordinary opportunity to work with Prime Minister Harper closely, as Canada's longest-serving Conservative government House leader. For all of these opportunities, his guidance and leadership, I offer my gratitude.
In all these roles I was blessed to work with extraordinary staff in Ottawa and York—Simcoe, a team that was uniformly bright, hard-working, passionately committed to Canada, and fiercely loyal. That was reflected in what I believe was the lowest staff turnover of any minister's officer on the Hill. They made me look good.
Along the way, I was fortunate to acquire other great supporters, my wife Cheryl, and Caroline and John A. They were a constant reminder to me of why we serve, and they are also a reason to look forward to life away from this place.
When it comes to accessibility, I am proud of much of what we delivered for the residents of York—Simcoe, especially during the Harper government. High accessibility standards can be found in significant projects we delivered, like the new Bradford West Gwillimbury public library and new leisure centre, the expansion of the East Gwillimbury Sports Complex, and Georgina's outdoor recreation facility the ROC.
One of the last projects our Conservative government delivered on was accessibility improvements to Georgina's De La Salle Park Beach. It includes a revolutionary beach mat that allows accessibility for those in wheelchairs right into the waters of Lake Simcoe.
Of course, Lake Simcoe enjoys significantly improved water quality thanks to the Lake Simcoe cleanup fund. It was cancelled by the current Liberal government. However, I am confident that the Lake Simcoe cleanup fund will return again in the future. For over 10 years this Conservative initiative saw almost $60 million from our government harnessed by community-based organizations, who added their financial and incoming contributions to real projects that helped physically remediate the lake environment. This was in addition to other initiatives, like mandatory rules to protect the lake ecosystem from invasive species, a ban on harmful phosphorus in dishwasher detergent, and a ban on dumping waste from water vessels.
Undoubtedly, what I will miss most leaving this job is the opportunity to serve the extraordinary people of York—Simcoe. I genuinely love them. They work hard and simply want the government to give them the freedom to succeed and build a brighter future for their families. They want the opportunity to share in the Canadian dream. We worked to help them by lowering their taxes, encouraging economic growth, and tackling crime to make their communities safer. It was easy to always do the right thing by simply asking myself one question: what is best for the people of York—Simcoe?
As members of the House are debating and reflecting on what to do on this bill, the accessibility bill, I encourage them to consider what a tremendous honour it is to serve in this place. We are privileged to be able to make a real difference for our country in a way that very few ever enjoyed. Our system of parliamentary democracy and the British North America Act, through which John A. Macdonald and the other Fathers of Confederation built our country, has been remarkably successful. We are among the youngest countries in the world, yet we enjoy one of the most enduring constitutions. It has guided our growth and provided the genius that brings people of diverse backgrounds together into a remarkably united country. John A. and the fathers truly built well. They built the best country in the world. Our Parliament is at the core of that constitution.
As I prepare to retire from this place, I want to reflect for a moment on one question that I believe needs more discussion in this country, that is, the relevance of this place. Academics and the media like to talk about the declining influence of the individual member of Parliament, pointing to a concentration of power in the offices of party leaders or party discipline as the culprits. However, there is another real factor rendering the work of MPs less relevant. Little has been said, at least until recent weeks, about the growing tendency of the courts to strike down the laws that the people's elected representatives enact, including many laws that were explicitly part of the platforms those MPs promised they would enact if elected. I can assure members that, from countless conversations with constituents over the years, many find this difficult to square with their idea of a how a democracy should work. I believe that if we want to give meaning to the work that we all do here, the time is overdue for a discussion of the appropriateness of a bit more deference to the decisions of the democratically elected legislature. A proper balance requires a restoration of reasonable deference to the decisions of Parliament.
Another favourite of the critics has been to deride partisanship as causing corrosion of Parliament. None of the members will be surprised to hear me rise to defend the unpopular notion that partisanship strengthens our system.
The bill we are debating today is what many would call “motherhood”. After all, who could oppose greater accessibility and the opportunity that comes with it. Colleagues would say we would be crazy to oppose this bill and to address its flaws in debate, but such a debate should be encouraged. It is through debate between competing perspectives, which our system encourages, that we constantly improve things and find a better way. Through contrasting choices and perspectives, we make democratic choice work.
Partisanship is the fuel that makes our system work. Clear partisan sides also improve accountability. Voters do not go out and research what their individual MP on every vote, on every bill, on every issue. It is enough to know where their party stands.
Now, some say Parliament would work better if only the parties worked together more instead of opposing each other so often. It is at exactly at such a time when there is no debate that citizens should become concerned. That is when the flaws in government become hidden. Therefore, let us celebrate the partisan divides that have made our system of parliamentary democracy so successful for centuries.
Now, returning to the bill, clause 51 addresses the role of the CRTC in the area of information and communication technologies. This provides me the opportunity to thank the media for their always fair treatment over the years. For example, members will recall countless critical articles, and radio and TV news pieces taking me to task for my approach to managing the House, for my using time allocation to schedule our business and votes. Now that my successors in the current Liberal government have shown a similar affection for Standing Order 78, I have been heartened to see them on the receiving end of a similar stream of criticisms, as well as a number of full-throated apologies to me for the fashion in which the media took me to task. Okay, that has not really happened. I am confident it will happen really soon because, after all, I remain hopeful that the media are always fair in this country.
In a more credible fashion, I want to thank the many volunteers on my riding association, executive, and campaigns. They give and have given so generously of their time, simply because they cared about their country and their community and believed in our efforts to make Canada and York—Simcoe a better place.
The bill before us talks about encouraging participation in Canadian society. Participating in our democratic processes is one of the most important types of participation. Everyone has the same kind of people who have helped them. They are true citizens, people who give back, genuinely care and who make our democracy work. They are largely unsung and underappreciated, but all of us and our communities are greatly in their debt.
As I leave elected politics, I will return once again to being one of those people, a dedicated volunteer working hard for his party. The decision to leave politics is one of the most difficult to make. It is easy to follow the path of least resistance and just keep on going, but I am confident that for me, now is the right time to take my leave from this place. I will miss much. My family, who have been full partners and enjoyed the extraordinary voyage we have travelled together, will miss it too. Already, people have witnessed the sad sight of me and my former colleagues sitting in a corner at the Albany Club sharing stories of the good old days, and we will no doubt go on doing that. They have not just been good old days; they have been great old days. We had the opportunity to serve, to make a difference, to make Canada an even better place.
It has been an honour.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is an honour and a privilege to rise in this House to discuss the important issue of accessibility and how our government is addressing the systemic barriers in our society through the proposed accessible Canada act.
As a Liberal, I tend to view public policy through the lens of equality of opportunity. Government policy should level the playing field for individuals and groups in society. For instance, whether one is born of a rich family or one that struggles, one should have every opportunity to succeed. In order for this to happen, there needs to be a role for government. Public health care, public education, and student loans and grants all contribute to ensuring that this basic premise is achieved. However, if we look at the unique challenges faced by Canadians with disabilities, the promise of equality of opportunity has fallen short thus far.
I know first-hand of these challenges and barriers that hinder full inclusion for Canadians with disabilities. On October 3, 1991, my life changed forever. I was a victim of a random act of gun violence and became a C5 quadriplegic. Overnight, things I never thought twice about became significant challenges in my day-to-day life: finding a home that I could physically enter, accessing caregivers simply to get out of bed in the morning, navigating university, accessing technology or even just trying to find employment that would accommodate my unique needs. Clearly, and in no uncertain terms, things I took for granted became more difficult.
My case is not unique. Fourteen per cent of Canadians are living with a disability. That is one in seven. These Canadians face significant and unique challenges solely because they have a disability. A recent study conducted by Statistics Canada found that Canadians with disabilities are significantly less likely to be high school or university graduates and are two times more likely to be unemployed or not in the labour force. Canadians with disabilities also face income challenges. Among Canadians with a disability, one in four is low-income compared to one in 10 for the general population.
Our government knows that everyone has something important to contribute to one's community and to Canada, and this includes those in this country with disabilities. They just need the playing field to be levelled. Our government is following through on our mandate promise made by the to develop and introduce new accessibility legislation. We have developed legislation that is ambitious and that would lead to more consistent experiences of accessibility across Canada.
The proposed legislation is founded on six key principles: inherent dignity, equal opportunity, barrier-free government, economy, inclusive design and meaningful involvement. Let me be clear. We are taking a whole-of-government approach to the issue of furthering accessibility in this country. From our national housing strategy to the Elections Act to embracing visitability, we are enacting legislation that brings real change for Canadians with disabilities.
With the tabling of Bill , the accessible Canada act, we are showing Canadians that we are serious about creating an accessible Canada. To inform the development of this new bill, our government conducted the largest and most accessible consultation on disability issues our country has ever seen. The consultation ran from June 2016 to February 2017. I am proud that more than 6,000 Canadians and over 90 organizations participated across the country.
Over and over again, we heard from Canadians that this legislation would need strong measures, with teeth, to make sure that it gets the job done. We listened, and we have a plan to make sure that accessibility is a priority for all areas under federal jurisdiction. Our government has tabled legislation that will ensure co-operation between the Government of Canada, people with disabilities and other stakeholders to create new accessibility standards and requirements.
As my colleagues have described, these new requirements would apply to all organizations in federal jurisdiction. These new requirements would identify and remove existing barriers and prevent new ones in priority areas, such as the built environment, service delivery, employment, transportation, information and communication technologies, and the procurement of goods and services.
We heard in our accessible Canada consultations that Canadians want legislation with enforcement. That is why our bill proposes measures to ensure meaningful and lasting change when it comes to barriers to accessibility. We want to make sure accessibility is practical, convenient and second nature.
We know that Canadians expect a range of strong compliance and enforcement measures that would be applied progressively. Our bill ensures that these measures would be supported by technical knowledge and progressive enforcement. This includes inspections and audits to verify compliance and a progressive suite of tools, including orders and warnings, compliance audits and monetary penalties of up to $250,000.
Our government knows that it is impossible to address all barriers to accessibility at once. That is why we would also ensure that there are mechanisms for individuals to have their specific circumstances addressed and barriers to accessibility removed.
In addition to the existing Canadian human rights process that responds to discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, individuals would have the ability to bring forward cases of non-compliance with regulated standards under this new legislation. They could get redress for harm done to them, which could include reimbursement of expenses and lost wages or compensation for pain and suffering.
This bill represents a real transformation of the Government of Canada's approach to accessibility. Up until this point, the responsibility for fixing accessibility issues has rested on people with disabilities, who had to pursue action through the Canadian Human Right Commission and the courts.
I am happy to say that Bill is changing that. No longer would Canadians with disabilities be expected to fix the system by themselves. Instead, these new proactive compliance and enforcement measures would help ensure that organizations under federal jurisdiction are held accountable for removing barriers and improving accessibility.
I believe strongly that this initiative, with its combination of encouragement and enforcement, would increase inclusion and fairness in our country. It would set the bar and become a model for organizations all over Canada and across the globe. If passed, this law would also ensure uniformity and fairness in its application.
This is why this legislation is receiving such widespread support. With this legislation we are continuing the march of progress for people with disabilities. It would lead to a more inclusive Canada and a more fair Canada, a place where equality of opportunity exists for people with disabilities in this country, a Canada where people with disabilities can reach their individual potential and be recognized as valued citizens.
Mr. Speaker, accessibility is about inclusivity, whether it is a government, a business or any other organization, inclusion means facilitating and promoting the participation of people who may otherwise experience challenges as they seek to fully contribute to society. Of course, that includes the full contribution of people with disabilities.
It is clear we need to change how accessibility barriers have been addressed in this country. We now recognize that implementing a proactive approach to barrier removal would result in positive impacts on the daily lives of people with disabilities. No longer would they have to battle one barrier at a time to make changes, if obligated organizations were held to a recognized set of standards. This in turn would also have the effect of reducing complaints from individuals and organizations.
With the creation of accessibility organizations such as the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, Canada would establish itself as a national and global accessibility leader. The Canadian accessibility standards development organization would put Canadians with disabilities in control of setting the accessibility standards that affect their lives. The creation of this organization would signal the start of a new approach to accessibility by the Government of Canada, a new approach that is proactive and takes the needs of Canadians with disabilities into account from the start.
In 2016 and 2017, the Government of Canada undertook extensive consultations with Canadians, including Canadians with disabilities, and sought their input on the most important areas for improving accessibility. Canadians stated that legislation should lead to more consistent experiences of accessibility across Canada and that it should be built upon the existing standards that are already working well.
Our constituents want new legislation that could lead to the development of accessibility standards that other governments in Canada could adopt. Canadians were also clear on the area that should be considered for standards development including employment, the built environment, transportation, programs and service delivery, information and communications, and procurement of goods and services.
Canadians with disabilities expressed the need to be involved in many aspects of implementation including the standards development process. More precisely, to develop standards, the new Canadian accessibility standards development organization could form technical committees that include persons with disabilities and representatives from the federally regulated sector.
The government also engaged the federally regulated sector, which provided valuable advice on how the government could assist industry to meet its obligations under established standards. Industry representatives stated that standards under the new legislation should be clear and unambiguous. Industry partners also want the Government of Canada to strive to achieve as much as possible harmonization with similar models in effect across other Canadian jurisdictions such as Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, where members already operate and are familiar with existing requirements.
The federally regulated sector wants the government to provide supports to organizations during the implementation of the legislation. They are looking for the Government of Canada to support organizations through dedicated resources and developmental tools such as websites, background documentation, guidelines, tool kits and videos that can assist them with the implementation process.
Helping supporting organizations to meet their obligations would be one of the roles of the new Canadian accessibility standards development organization. Establishing clear and concise standards that apply to all obligated organizations equally would help them understand and comply with requirements and would ultimately be good for business, which could lead to economic benefits for those organizations.
One of the most important aspects of the proposed legislation is the development and use of standards. Standards are guidelines that establish accepted practices and provide technical requirements. A standards-based approach could articulate the manner in which goals of the legislation are to be achieved including penalties for failures to comply with standards and an enforcement strategy for non-compliance.
Standards can also be either voluntary or mandatory, with those standards that are mandatory being enforced by laws and regulations.
During our extensive engagement with Canadians, they overwhelmingly expressed a desire for mandatory standards. The new legislation proposes the creation of the Canadian accessibility standards development organization. This entity would be the first standards organization in Canada dedicated exclusively to developing accessibility standards. It would also be the first to be led by a board of directors with majority representation by people with disabilities.
The organization would have a board of directors to set its strategic direction, oversee its activities and give advice to the chief executive officer. Director positions would be part time and would be appointed by the Governor in Council for terms of up to four years. To the extent possible, the majority of the directors would be persons with disabilities, which would help fulfill our commitments to honour a key principle of the disability community: "nothing about us without us".
In addition, standards would be developed by technical committees comprised of persons with disabilities as well as industry experts. As a departmental corporation, the Canadian accessibility standards development organization would be considered part of the federal public service administration but would operate independently from the government department agencies and Crown corporations that eventually would be subject to these standards. This would allow the minister to provide general direction on priority areas and areas of concern for the development of accessibility standards while facilitating the organization's independence in day-to-day operations.
The Canadian accessibility standards development organization would be established following the coming into force of Bill , and would be operational within one year of the date. A transition team would be put in place immediately afterward to operationalize the organization, with some of the early activities to include the appointment of the board of directors, the establishment of a leadership team, including the chief executive officer, the development of bylaws and determining the location of the head office within Canada. Once the Canadian accessibility standards development organization has a developed set of standards, the minister responsible would bring forward enforceable regulations to guide regulated entities.
Regulated entities include the federal government departments, agencies, Crown corporations and other points of the federal public administration, such as the RCMP and Canadian Forces, as well as the federally regulated sector and parliamentary entities. Once the Canadian accessibility standards development organization was established, the first standards would take approximately two years to develop. The length of the development process would depend on the complexity of the standard and the level of consensus on requirements of the particular areas. The priority areas for the standards development would mirror those set out in Bill , which include employment, the built environment, transportation, information and communication technologies and delivery of programs and services and the procurement of goods and services.
Although the main role of this organization would be the development and revision of standards, it would have a very broad mandate. Indeed, the organization would also be responsible for providing information, products and services in relation to the accessibility standards that it has developed or revised. It would also be responsible for the promotion, support and conduct of research into the identification and removal of barriers and the prevention of new barriers. Also, it would be responsible for the dissemination of information, including information about best practices in relation to the identification, removal and prevention of new barriers.
This organization would be required to submit annual reports to the minister responsible for accessibility, who would then table the report in Parliament. Along with ensuring transparency, the annual reporting would communicate organizational priorities to Canadians and the success in achieving them. The report would also lay out future priorities.
Such an arm's-length organization dedicated to the creation of accessibility standards would be new in Canada. It would, however, function in a similar way to other standards development organizations, such as the Canadian Standards Association and the Canadian General Standards Board. As a matter of fact, it is anticipated that the Canadian accessibility standards development organization would seek accreditation from the Standards Council of Canada. The proposed organization would be somewhat similar to the United States Access Board, which is an independent federal agency that develops and maintains accessible design criteria for the built environment, transit vehicles, telecommunications equipment, medical diagnostic equipment and information technology.
Provinces and territories would have opportunities to work with the Canadian accessibility standards development organization and the new organization could be asked to assist with standards making at the provincial and territorial levels.
Along with this organization, others will play a vital role in developing accessibility standards and regulations in the specific areas of responsibility, based on expertise and experience gained over many years.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill , an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, better known as the accessible Canada act. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As we have heard from various members, we all want to ensure that those living with disabilities are treated as equals and remove the barriers they face every single day. I said this is near and dear to my heart, so I would like to start by providing some insight into some obstacles that I have encountered first-hand living with disabilities in Canada.
It was in 2006 that I had just been named minister of human resources and social development, with responsibility for the office for disabilities. Ironically, just a few weeks into the job, I was diagnosed with Grave's disease and Grave's eye disease. These are thyroid afflictions that, among other things, in me cause both extreme light sensitivity and extreme stabismus, resulting in my being legally blind for quite a period of time. More recently, I underwent complicated double hip replacement surgery, which unfortunately resulted in my need for mobility assistance tools around this place for many months.
It was during both of these periods that I learned just how inaccessible many things in my life were, including this particular workplace. They were simple things, such as moving between the Hill and my office, more than half a kilometre from the House, being unable to walk that distance, being unable to step up or down from the little white minibus. Challenges were also considerable in actually having to fight to get an accessible parking space here at Centre Block.
Mr. Speaker, as you will recall, even with the eventual direct intervention by the Speaker's office, it literally took months to fix what were supposed to be the accessibility doors at the rear of this building, doors which unfortunately malfunctioned more often than not. One of the main barriers to getting that particular job done was a clear lack of accountability for the issue. I will talk more about accountability later.
I also discovered how narrow certain parts of these buildings are for those who rely on wheelchairs or walkers, walkers that inhibit our ability to get around. With a disability, many of these seemingly small things all of a sudden can become very big obstacles, but it used to be a lot worse. In fact, under the previous Liberal government, the office for people with disabilities was actually two offices and neither one of them was accessible by those who were mobility challenged. That is right. People who use wheelchairs or walkers could not get into the building. They could not work there, could not consult, could not lobby, and they could not advocate for people with disabilities because they were not allowed in. I know this may sound a little farcical but unfortunately it is true.
Happily, the Conservative government fixed that scenario in short order and, in fact, combined the facilities. There was one office and it was billed as a showcase of how businesses and organizations could adapt to people with mobility, visibility, hearing or other challenges. In one place, businesses and other organizations could finally find the technologies, techniques, tips and tools that would help them accommodate people of all abilities so that these organizations could benefit from their skills to make those organizations even stronger. By the end, not only could people with disabilities enter this office to do business but they could actually work there. What a concept.
As the former minister for HRSD responsible for the disabilities file, I have to say that I was very proud to be part of a government that took leadership in removing many barriers for people with disabilities.
We created the registered disability savings plan in 2008, and we signed on to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The RDSP, as members have probably heard, was a breakthrough financial planning tool, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. To date, over 150,000 Canadians and their families have invested in this wonderful tool.
However, we did so much more for people with disabilities. We launched the opportunities fund that, so far, has helped over 20,000 people with disabilities develop the skills they need to actually get a job and, with that, the dignity and self-respect that come with having a job.
We partnered with the Canadian Association for Community Living on the ready, willing and able initiative to connect people with developmental disabilities with a job. We also invested in expanding vocational training programs for people with autism spectrum disorders.
Yes, we did more. We removed the GST-HST from eyewear that is specially designed to electronically enhance the vision of individuals with vision impairment, and also from special training to help individuals cope with the effects of a disorder or disability.
We invested hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, to help the provinces and territories improve the employment of Canadians with disabilities.
We released a landmark third-party report, “Rethinking disability in the private sector.” This report spelled out, in very plain language, the many tangible benefits of hiring people with disabilities, including reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, improved morale, and improved profitability.
I am, rightly, very proud that in 2007, our government created the enabling accessibility fund. This program was designed to provide direct funding to help community groups, municipalities and organizations improve accessibility for people with disabilities, where they work, live and play, such as community centres, town halls, churches, arenas, and so many more local spots.
Over 3,700 facilities were made more accessible through this program. In 2013, we recognized both the value and the success of this program, originally billed as a temporary one, by making the funding permanent. I have to say that when we launched that particular program over 10 years ago, I never expected that I would be so appreciative of the results of those investments 10 years later. I am surely glad they were there, as are thousands and thousands of Canadians who use them every day.
Among many other tax aids, we also created the home accessibility tax credit, for both seniors and those living with disabilities, to renovate and make their own homes more accessible, giving them not just a sense of independence but in fact real independence. We did this because we recognized the contributions that people with disabilities can and do make to our nation and our communities. We recognize the value that a person's independence brings to their dignity.
This is not to say that the accomplishments of our government solved every problem, but they were significant steps in the right direction. That said, I am sure that members would agree that we still have a lot of work to do.
Take for example the presentation of petitions right here in the House of Commons. Almost a year ago exactly, a petition from my constituents was rejected by the Clerk of the House because it was on 11 by 17 inch paper. It has been printed big enough to accommodate constituents who had visual challenges. The paper was deemed too big for the House of Commons, by this House of Commons.
Under the current Standing Orders, petitioners can only petition the House of Commons if the petition is printed on paper described as the “usual size”, meaning letter or legal size only. I had to seek unanimous consent from the House to table this particular petition. Thanks to my colleagues on all sides, unanimous consent was granted and I was allowed to table the petition. However, quite frankly, there is so much text required to be included on a petition now that the font used has to be pretty small if it is going to fit on 8 ½" by 11" piece of paper. That is not fair. It is not fair to our constituents. In fact, it is such a backward a policy to limit the size of paper if all of the required information is there. Personally, I believe that every Canadian should be able to submit a petition on larger paper if it means they can read what they are signing. I do not think that is an unreasonable thing to require.
As someone who was once legally blind, and as the former minister responsible for the disabilities office, I regularly encouraged many institutions and organizations to adopt more accessible friendly policies. It is very disappointing to me that the House is not taking the same approach, at least not so far. Not only does this guideline fail to provide accessibility to Canadians who are visually impaired, but it is also a barrier to their being able to access and fully participate in their government with the same level of engagement as those without visibility challenges.
I am grateful to the House for granting me unanimous consent to table the petition. Frankly, I was hopeful that having this issue brought before the procedure and House affairs committee, or as we know it better, PROC, would lead to positive and permanent change. Sadly, I am now hearing that government members of PROC, the same people introducing Bill , for some strange reason are now withholding their support for this change, a change they once seemed to support. Frankly, I do not understand it. If the government were truly serious about addressing the issues facing Canadians with disabilities, it would have addressed the Standing Order by now. Instead, here we are almost a year later, and Standing Order 36(1.1)(c) still has not been updated. Unfortunately, I wish I could say this was just an oversight. Sadly, it does not seem to be.
During the 2015 election, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to make life more accessible for Canadians with disabilities. For each cabinet shuffle, it has been part of the minister's mandate letter to consult and introduce legislation on this subject as quickly as possible. Here we are three years later and are getting a bill from a minister that is said to have been the result of extreme consultations across Canada. I have no doubt the minister and her staff did extensive consultations across the country on this matter. That is what they claim; it must be true. However, one would normally have expected something of deeper value and more tangible change to have been proposed as a result. Instead, all this piece of legislation does is propose the creation of yet another agency, at a cost of $290 million to taxpayers.
Here is the sad part. None of the money would actually be spent on helping Canadians who face accessibility issues on a day-to-day basis. Instead, it would go to hiring more bureaucrats and paying auditors to audit all government buildings and buildings that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, and for more consultations on what the standard regulations for accessibility should be. In my humble opinion, this would be a waste of money. We do not need more consultations to develop regulations. We have those already. As a matter of fact, during our time in government, we spent many millions of dollars making hundreds of federal buildings more accessible. When we put that in the budget, the Liberals voted against it. We were able to do all of these updates and set regulations without the need for yet another multi-million dollar agency to develop another report.
The proposed legislation says that the regulations, after being developed over the next six years, would apply to the Parliament buildings, among other places.
I have a few questions for the minister. As members of Parliament, we all have at least two offices: one in Ottawa and one, although often more, in the riding. Would auditors be auditing our constituency offices to ensure that they comply with these new regulations? If our offices do not comply, who would be responsible for paying for the upgrades?
I know from my own experience that it was extremely difficult to find office space that was both accessible and affordable in many small towns. Our member office budgets would not cover the cost to make an office accessible because of the high dollar amount involved. Simply building a ramp and altering the front door of my office would have cost three years' rent. The landlord could not reasonably be expected to pay for that, and house management would not pay for it.
In addition to our constituency offices, our Parliament buildings were not designed to be disability-friendly. While we as a government have made great strides in fixing that, these buildings were not designed with accessibility issues in mind.
With Centre Block shutting down in a few months for a much-needed 10-plus years' renovation, has the minister made plans to ensure that when this building reopens it will be disability-friendly for not only Canadians when they visit the Parliament buildings, but also the MPs, senators and thousands of people who support this institution? For example, will rounded doorknobs be changed over to lever knobs? What about the bathroom sink faucets and the toilet flushers? What about the many ramps that need to be built? Will they be built to the appropriate 1-to-10 ratio? How about a distinguishable baseboard that would allow someone with a visual impairment to see where the wall and floor meet? Will there be visual and audible warnings for people in the event of emergencies? Right now in my Confederation Building office the fire alarm is an audio-only alarm. That works for me and my staff, but what if I have guests or what about cleaners who cannot hear? What is planned for wheelchair access to the hill? Perhaps more importantly, what plans exist for true emergency evacuation by wheelchair or walker?
I know that while I was the Minister of Public Works, I took all of these things into consideration and required that they be incorporated into the Parliament Hill renovation design plans. Are those features still included? I know that many of those plans have been changed.
Will the minister ensure that Centre Block and the other Parliament buildings will be accessibility-friendly after these once-in-a-century renovations?
As I mentioned earlier, I am also concerned about the jurisdiction under which this bill is being placed. As the bill currently stands, the will be responsible for implementing this bill, yet much of the work will require execution by Public Services and Procurement. I am concerned that as a result of this, the minister will be unable to adequately assess and address the issues as they arise.
While I do support sending this legislation to committee and I do support its intended goal, I have some serious concerns about the need to create a new agency, the amount of funding requested, and how the division of responsibility, authority, and accountability for its implementation will be addressed. I am also concerned that all that this legislation does is essentially reiterate the minister's mandate letter. She has already consulted with Canadians, so instead we should be discussing the regulations, not the creation of another agency.
I look forward to hearing what other members have to say, so that together we can develop legislation that will truly address the very real concerns facing very real Canadians with very real disabilities.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place to speak to Bill .
I think this bill is a good first step, but we should do more to make Canada a truly barrier-free nation.
The bill is a good first step. I do not think there is any disability group across Canada or any people concerned with the rights of all Canadians to full access of all the benefits of citizenship that would disagree that no one should be denied access to benefits based on physical limitations. That is clear. Canada has long since signed and ratified in 2006, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but we still need to do much more.
As I said, I do not think any group has seen this legislation and condemned it. No group has said anything other than that this is welcome. Groups welcome the efforts of the current government to bring in legislation that would lead us to a country that is barrier-free.
I particularly want to commend the member for for her observations on a situation that occurred to me as well, and that is what it is like to have physical limitations and how it opens our eyes. In both her case and mine, they were temporary.
I waited a long time for a hip replacement on two occasions. I became much more aware of the number of times I went into a building and realized there was no elevator. I did not think I could get myself up those stairs because it hurt too much. The awareness of what it was like to get over curbs, to get up staircases. These moments of awareness need to be carried through by us.
I feel blessed that the hip replacements worked, so my physical limitations were temporary. However, it really woke me up to how many barriers existed in our society that were invisible to those who had full sight, hearing and the physical ability to handle staircases and curbs. The limitations are severe and they need to be removed.
We know a number of provinces have passed legislation to ensure real accessibility, but only Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, so obviously not across the country. We know this federal legislation will apply to places within federal jurisdictions, federal buildings, federal sphere of activities. However, there are criticisms and I want to go over them briefly.
We have heard a number of them through debate since Bill came to the House. I should make it clear that I will vote for the bill at this stage. I want it to get to committee where I hope we can make significant changes.
This is the first thing that needs to be said, and I raised this already in questions. As I went through the legislation, I was surprised at the language of the goal in the purpose of the act, section 5. It states:
The purpose of this Act is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the progressive realization, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, of a Canada without barriers...
We find the same language in the mandate of the Canadian accessibility standards organization, to contribute to the progressive realization of a Canada without barriers. We can go through and find the accessibility commissioners are also working toward progressive realization.
I was so interested in the language. As someone who studied legislative interpretation at law school, I have read every bill that has gone through this place since I became an MP seven years ago. I have never seen any bill where the goal is progressive realization of something. I double-checked by searching the legislative record, which we can now do much more easily than reading every bill. This is the first time any piece of legislation in Canada has set a goal of “progressive realization” of anything.
We usually, in legislation, set goals that are limited by timelines, within x number of years of the bill coming into force, that sort of thing. Progressive realization speaks to the underlying framework of this legislation, which is that it does not demand that Canada achieve a time without barriers by a specific time, even within the federal purview, and that is clearly a weakness.
It is discretionary at many other points. I mentioned earlier today in debate that the Governor in Council, which, for those watching who might not recognize the term, means cabinet, at section 4 of this act “may, by order, designate a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada as the Minister for the purposes of this Act.” I cannot imagine, having created an act that is discretionary and says we are going to have a timeline into the future where we are working in progressive realization of our goal, why on earth it is not required that cabinet appoint a minister to be in charge. Other speakers have already noted that the who tabled this legislation is not the minister who worked on the legislation, and so on. We really should, in committee, be able to address some of the discretionary elements and ensure that cabinet must appoint a minister from within the existing cabinet to have responsibility for carriage of this legislation. It is nonsensical to leave that part discretionary.
A number of the groups dealing with this issue of accessibility and looking at this legislation have made note of some other things, and certainly the discretionary nature and the lack of timelines has been repeated by many. In looking at the legislation, I thought as well that it is much better, in looking at a goal for all of government, that there be accountability with one agency. In this legislation, for instance, the rights of accessibility to transport are handled through the Canadian Transportation Agency, whereas the rights to access to telecommunications, radio and TV is left with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
I want to read a quote into the record by disability advocate and lawyer David Lepofsky. I certainly leaned on his advice and will be doing so as I am preparing amendments for Bill . He said, “That kind of splintered approach”, by which I just referred to different agencies having responsibility, “to implementation and enforcement is a formula for confusion, delay, duplication and ineffectiveness. We would rather have it all under one roof.” So would I. It would be much more effective if it were all under one roof, with one agency being accountable.
There is another element that has come up for discussion since the bill was tabled, and that is access to languages, particularly sign languages, the right to recognize that sign languages are languages and, in the national context, must be protected as official languages. Recently, there was a demonstration in Ottawa about the concerns that sign language in English and French as well as indigenous sign languages, be recognized as languages, as part of a national language. This is a concern that was expressed by a nationwide rally that occurred not that long ago and it is one that I share. I want to go on the record as supporting that American sign language, langue des signes du Québec and indigenous sign languages be understood to be official languages. One cannot have full accessibility if one cannot read, find and hear the information due to physical limitations.
Our embracing of the United Nations declaration on the rights of people with disabilities must be at least as strong. Of course, there are other United Nations declarations, such as on the rights of indigenous persons, on which we have the same concern. We can endorse these United Nations declarations, but when it comes home to implementation in Canada, we must be serious about ensuring that our goals are not in the far distance. Therefore, progressive realization is not language I want to see in this legislation at royal assent. What I hope we will all see, and we can negotiate it, is that within four years, five years, six years of royal assent given to this legislation a barrier-free Canada must exist and all peoples of Canada must be able to access, as citizens, all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill , or as I call it, another Liberal feel good bill that is short on details, does not note how it will actually help the disabled, and yet somehow manages to detail how it will grow the bureaucracy, but that is just a working title.
This situation with the delay in getting to this bill kind of reminds me of an old Seinfeld episode where Newman and Elaine steal someone's dog. It takes the police a while to catch them. When Newman is confronted by the police, he asks, “What took you so long?” That is what I would like to ask the government.
We will support this bill in order to get it to committee, where hopefully we will get the Liberals to actually work on concrete measures to help improve the lives of the disabled. I have heard that the bill may go to the government operations committee, on which I sit. We would welcome that if it does come to us. We are going to suggest and support amendments to ensure that it actually helps the disabled, and is not just a make-work project for bureaucrats.
The establishment of this bill was in the first minister's mandate letter in 2015. Ironically, the current was the original Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, tasked with this legislation three years ago. Back then, her mandate read:
Lead an engagement process with provinces, territories, municipalities, and stakeholders that will lead to the passage of a Canadians with Disabilities Act. In this work, you will be supported by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.
Work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to deliver on our commitment to support the construction of recreational infrastructure that allows more children access to sport and recreation.
It is a bit ironic that the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities at the time was the MP for . In West Edmonton, my riding, we have been looking to build a new recreation centre specifically as outlined in the mandate letter. Unfortunately, our minister, the senior minister for the Liberals in Edmonton, Alberta, has been completely absent on this issue. We have not received a single penny.
Recently, Huffington Post put out this big article and a map showing how the Liberals, in the summer, plastered most of eastern Canada with cheques: $43 billion. They showed how much was actually delivered to Edmonton: not one penny. Some $43 billion went to various Liberal ridings and not one penny was delivered by the Liberals to Edmonton. We will get to more on that issue later.
It has taken three years to get to introducing the bill that actually just punts the work down the road over the next six years. From the mandate letter to maybe actually achieving goals is going to be nine years.
The famed Liberal mandate tracker says on this issue that it is under way and on track. Regarding the development of a national disabilities act, it says the result anticipated is for federal accessibility legislation that promotes equality and opportunity, increases inclusion and participation of Canadians who have disabilities, with the outcome being that building on extensive nine-month in-person and online consultation with Canadians, the government has tabled the bill.
In three years since the mandate letter, the Liberals managed to consult for nine months. That makes me ask what they have done for the other two years and three months. It is funny that the current minister probably thought she could just transfer to another department and escape the mandate, yet here it is back with her at public services to fulfill.
Now, as for being under way and on track, it has taken three years to get to it being under way and on track. It has a bit of funding over six more years, and they say that it is on track.
I want to look at a few other things from the Liberal mandate tracker that are also under way and on track.
There is the review of Canada's environmental assessment project: under way and on track. Another refers to environmental assessment processes that are fair to all parties, rely on scientific evidence, respect the rights of indigenous people and protect the environment for generations to come. Here we have the Liberals failing on Trans Mountain. Their Bill is also known as the bill to ensure that a pipeline will never be built in Canada again. It says “rely on scientific evidence”, but this bill actually puts the final word and the political decision-making with the minister, not basing it on science. However, it is under way and on track.
Another is to establish new performance standards for government services, and measure and report on performance: under way and on track. The result is to be government services that better meet the needs of Canadians.
Every single government has to put out a departmental plan. In that plan, it lists all of its goals and expected results. Fully one-third of the entire departmental plan from every Liberal ministry does not actually have goals set. They all say what they are spending and what they hope to achieve in a roundabout way, but there are no actual goals set. Here we have that it is on track, but fully one-third of their programs do not have any results showing as a goal.
Here is another one that is under way and on track. Sure, committees can introduce effective opioid treatments and programs, but we have an opioid crisis across the country. The much reviled by the Liberals President Trump has actually declared it a national emergency in the United States, but the government cannot do that here, yet it is on track.
Another one under way and on track is to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories in public systems on reserves. It is a great goal. The result anticipated is to continue progress in eliminating long-term drinking water advisories. Since this mandate came out, we have had 35 new communities that have been put on the boil water advisory. The Liberals sit there and say that they have done this, this and this, but they have actually added 35 new communities. However, it is under way and on track.
Another one is to help veterans by establishing lifelong pensions ensuring they will have access to financial advice and support. We have seen the current government fail miserably on that, but it is under way and on track.
It says that promoting economic development and creating jobs for indigenous people is under way and on track. The result anticipated is higher employment rates for indigenous people. In the government operations committee we recently studied small business procurement and how we have set-asides for indigenous businesses. We are required to set aside a certain amount of business through the government for indigenous-led businesses. The government had someone come up and say that they are fulfilling every role and succeeding massively. However, every single witness we have had from the indigenous community, Métis, Cree, it does not matter, from Alberta and Quebec, every single witness said that the government is not even following its own laws, yet here it says it is under way and on track.
It says that to implement an infrastructure strategy that improves public transport is under way and on track. The result anticipated is that Canadians spend less time in traffic. We have heard the Parliamentary Budget Officer say that he cannot even find the infrastructure money that has been established in the budget. He has begged the government to produce an infrastructure strategy, which the government has not done, yet somehow the Liberals say it is under way and on track. I will note that the member for , when he was the infrastructure minister, managed to get some work done on public transport in Alberta. He got ashtrays for the bus stops in Edmonton and so I thank him.
It says that modernizing the National Energy Board is under way and on track. We have seen the government belittle, bad-mouth and discredit the NEB, yet it says it is on track to modernize it. Bad-mouthing and discrediting it is not modernizing it.
My favourite from the Liberal mandate checker has to be the budget: to balance the budget by 2019-20 is under way with challenges. Now, it is not going to be balanced, and the most recent update we heard from finance was 2050. Here is the funny thing: Every single finance minister from the provinces across Canada has set a date when they will balance their budget. In Alberta, where we have the financially challenged and mathematically challenged NDP spending us into bankruptcy, it has actually set a date for when it will balance the budget. Even with Kathleen Wynne's Liberals, the finance minister had set a date when they would balance the budget. Of course, it turns out it was all incorrect information, but they set a date to balance the budget. Who has not set a date to balance the budget? Well, it is the from this government. Every single other one but the finance minister has, but I digress.
Ensuring Canadians who are living with disabilities are allowed to live with equal opportunities by eliminating systematic barriers is a great cause. We all support it. My office works with a great many in Edmonton West on this issue. I want to read a letter from one of them. His name is Timothy Parnett. He is a gentleman who was hurt in a car accident years ago and is confined to a wheelchair with limited movement in his arms and legs.
He writes, “I run the advocacy group called Mightywheels.ca. This organization was created to address accessibility within the community. Our mission is simple: Mightywheels.ca wants to bring attention to poor infrastructure and problem areas in the community that you live in. Mightywheels is located in Edmonton, Alberta. Edmonton has grown at a rapid pace within the past few decades, so much so that the city struggles to keep up with the demand of reconstruction of aider communities, where the accessibility conditions are severely lacking, even deplorable to a certain extent. 1 am hoping to raise awareness for the struggles that people with wheels or mobility issues face every day.”
He goes on to say that he has a website that is “geared to help people who face social inequality, the main issue we currently address is accessibility for all people: we focus on the barriers that cause inaccessibility: these would be things like parents pushing baby strollers, people with mobility issues or impairments, or people who use walking aids or wheelchairs like myself.”
Here is one gentleman confined to a wheelchair with no resources who has put in a simple email better outcomes than what are in Bill . He finished by saying, “My Mightywheels website is to give hope to everyone who has an issue with accessibility. l am very passionate with my website and l am hoping that people will be enlightened and educate. Most of all, l am hoping people will see and hear my advocacy. This is not just for me, but for all the people who have issues with mobility. l am a firm believer that together we can do it one step at time.”
I had a coffee with Tim at West Edmonton Mall. We chatted about his accident and his difficulties in life and what he wanted to achieve. He wants to inspire people to succeed. I am going to consider it a failure if the next time I see him I have to say it is a great idea but to hold on for the next six years because this legislation is going to take that long.
It reminds me of an interview when the told a desperate unemployed oil sands worker in Alberta to just hang in there. That was over two years ago. Since then the Liberals have killed energy east and northern gateway, and have botched Trans Mountain. I guess we are going to have to tell those workers to just hang in there a bit more.
It also reminds me of the injured veteran at the Edmonton town hall who had lost a leg. Pleading for help, he was told by the that veterans are asking for more than the government could give. Ten million dollars for an ice rink on Parliament Hill is not too much to ask for and $10 million for Omar Khadr is not too much to ask for, but it is for a veteran.
I want to go back to the mandate letters. The next minister for disabilities was the member for . His mandate letter stated, “Develop and introduce new federal accessibility legislation. You will build on the significant consultations that have already taken place involving provinces, territories”, etc. By then, the consultations were going to have to be done.
Did the minister get it done? Of course he did not. Part of his mandate letter also read that he was expected to live up to the highest ethical standards. Instead, he is under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner for using House of Commons resources for a family member's election.
We are now over to our third minister for the file. She too will build on the significant consultations that have already taken place. Hers too should be an ambitious legislation. Six years is not ambitious unless it is the balancing the budget when 20 years would be ambitious, but in his case apparently it is going to be 30.
What I am getting at is that we do not need six years of added bureaucracy. We need a truly ambitious plan to help the disabled. Provinces have plans. Ontario has the Ontarians With Disabilities Act. This is not new ground that we are breaking here. It has been done before.
The previous Conservative government took the disabilities file seriously. We did not pass off the issues from minister to minister. We actually got stuff done, like introducing the landmark registered disability savings plan, which helps parents and grandparents with children with severe disabilities to contribute to the children's financial security. From mandate letter to actually getting it done, it was three months, not three years to get to a program where six years down the road we might have something done, three years from mandate letter to actually getting to legislation and getting the program done.
We invested $30 million into the opportunities fund to help persons with disabilities gain employment. We supported caregivers and recognized their enormous contribution through tax incentives. There was over $200 million for labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to assist provinces in approving the employment situation of Canadians with disabilities, and millions of dollars for the ready, willing and able initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living to connect persons with developmental disabilities with jobs, and millions to support the expansion of vocational training programs for persons with autism spectrum disorder, and on and on.
I want to swing back to the registered disability savings plan. Since we introduced the plan, it has helped 105,000 Canadians save for the future. This is the outcomes-based work that we need from the current government. Conservatives are not in power anymore, but the members on this side are continuing to work for the disabled.
My seatmate, the member for , has introduced Bill , the fairness for persons with disabilities act. It aims to reduce the threshold for the number of hours needed for an activity to be eligible for a tax credit. Medical food and medical formula would also qualify under the disability tax credit.
Our member for has introduced Bill , the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, which is an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.
His legislation would amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act to ensure that persons with disabilities do not lose more through taxation and the reduction in benefits than they would gain as a result of working. His bill would enforce Ottawa to measure the impact of every thousand dollars a disabled person earns in wages against the value of their lost benefits. It would force the federal government to adjust its tax and benefits program so a disabled person would always be financially better off working than not working.
What has the Liberal government done besides passing this file from minister to minister to minister? It sicced the CRA on disabled people. It targeted people living with type 1 diabetes. As a diabetes sufferer stated, “It's not like I can snap a finger and this disease turns off.” The government was quick to go after people who suffered from diabetes, but slow to work on its mandate.
Who else did the Liberals target in their tax grab? They targeted people suffering from autism and severe mental health disorders. Autism Canada says it is hearing too many stories of people who have had the disability tax credit, sometimes for decades, for their children with autism taken away.
It is funny to note that I did not see in any of the Liberal mandate letters ministers being told to harass people with disabilities and to do a tax grab on them. They seem to have acted quickly on it, though. It is too bad they did not have it in their mandate letters, because this would be one issue they could actually mark as completed instead of marking it as “under way with challenges”.
We have a lot of questions on this legislation. We do support it like our colleagues in the NDP and other parties. We want it to get to committee so that we can get some teeth into the measures currently in it and help disabled people.
We do have some questions for the minister, though. When will the new regulations come into effect? The six-year time frame would suggest that the entire process is going to take six years to get done between now and the time help will be given to the disabled. How much is it going to cost federal workplaces and private businesses? What will the new standard be? Why will we be voting on legislation when we do not know the regulations that will come out of it? Is it going to be properly defined to avoid a flood of human rights complaints?
I want to go back to the comment about voting on legislation when we do not even know what the regulations will be. We saw the government do this recently with the estimates, in what we called vote 40, the slush fund. The government asked us to give it $7.4 billion and that it would tell us later what it would be spent on. When we asked further, we were told that it was presumptuous to expect opposition members to understand what the money would be used for until it was given to it.
We have another situation here. What is the $290 million going to be used for? Can the Liberals give us a breakdown of how it is going to be spent? Is it going to be spent on changing our buildings and updating them, or is it all going to be spent on bureaucracy? Have estimates been done on the cost to the private sector across the country? If the bill were passed today, what would the changes be, asides from spending lots of money on bureaucrats? Is it going toward hiring more public servants to examine which regulations we should have?
I note that in the 10-page slide deck or briefing document the government sent out, it provided more information on the bureaucracy going after people and penalizing them, etc., than it did on how the bill would help the average disabled person. We are worried about that.
Is the government going to build a bureaucracy that will create paperwork and go after people? It has not put anything in the bill specifying how it is going to physically and pragmatically help the disabled. What will the outcome be? We do not know. We do know that there will be a lot more bureaucrats going after people.
The $290 million will not even scratch the surface of what it is going to cost the federal government and the federally regulated private sectors to catch up to the new standards.
We have a lot of issues with this legislation, but we do support it. We support the work that we have done in the past toward helping disabled individuals. We continue to do so with our private members' bills, such as the one put forward by the member for and the member for . Both have produced bills that would show tangible results for the disabled without the resources the government has, whether it be easier access to the disability credit for those who are suffering from autism, diabetes, or mental health disorders, or as my friend from Carleton has put in his bill, that would encourage the disabled to get back to work. His bill would not punish someone by taking away benefits because they had a job. Nothing is better for the dignity of Canadians than having a job.
We support getting the bill to committee. We want to improve the lives of those living with disabilities, but we are worried about the lack of government ambition toward getting it done.