moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill .
She said: Mr. Speaker, as a person with a disability and as the Minister of Accessibility, it is truly an honour to rise today to speak to Bill .
Over three years ago, our government embarked on a journey aimed to make things better for a significant percentage of the population that has a history of being ill-treated or ignored. The time to act is now.
The time to propose a new system that would help address the barriers to inclusion faced every single day by Canadians with disabilities has come. The time to do things differently as a government, to ensure that all Canadians have an equal chance at success, has come.
I am extremely proud of the work we have done in creating this transformative piece of legislation that will improve the lives of millions of persons with disabilities.
This bill reflects the voices of thousands of persons with a disability, their family members and their friends, and it spans decades of advocacy. We could not have come this far without the strong collaboration of the disability community and its strategic and thoughtful work, which has been incredibly impactful.
I would like to recognize the excellent work done in the other chamber and by our Senate sponsor, Senator Munson, on the bill. Bill was carefully studied over the course of many meetings, and both chambers made amendments to strengthen this historic legislation.
Members of the disability community shared their views and experiences, many of them very personal. I am grateful for their engagement and dedication to the advancement of accessibility in Canada.
We took to heart the messages heard from these witnesses and proposed amendments to echo those voices and concerns. Our government supports all the amendments made to Bill brought forward in the Senate as we recognize that they reflect key priorities voiced by the community.
Let me provide members with a breakdown of some key amendments made in the Senate.
A significant change responds to the specific requests of witnesses that Bill set a deadline for the realization of a Canada without barriers. Accordingly, the purpose of the legislation, as well as the mandates of the minister and the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, would now reflect the objective of realizing a Canada without barriers on or before January 1, 2040. By adding a specific deadline, the disability community has stated that it would be able to hold government accountable on progress and ensure that accessibility remained a priority for future governments. To mitigate concern that this deadline could provide a reason for people to delay action on accessibility until the deadline neared, amendments have been made to add the words “without delay” to the preamble of the bill. These words would clarify that nothing in the act would permit any delay in the removal or prevention of barriers to accessibility.
I have also heard the community's strong call to recognize the importance of sign language to the deaf community in Canada. Therefore, I am pleased that Bill was amended to recognize American sign languages, langue des signes québécoise and indigenous sign language as a primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada.
I would also like to acknowledge that we have interpreters on the Hill in Parliament today.
This legislation is intended to complement the existing human rights framework in Canada. Nothing in this bill or the regulations made under it would limit or replace the duty to accommodate, which is an established principle of human rights. That is why I support the amendment to clarify that nothing in the accessible Canada act or its regulations would limit a regulated entity's duty to accommodate under any other act of Parliament in any way.
We know that transportation services should be accessible for everyone. In response to stakeholders’ concerns, an amendment was made to allow the Canadian Transportation Agency to identify an undue barrier, even if a transportation service provider is not in contravention of an accessibility regulation.
This would ensure that the CTA could fully address barriers that persons with disabilities may face in the federal transportation system.
Further, adding stronger language on intersectionality in the principles of the bill responds to the disability community's desire to see greater recognition of the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination that influence how barriers impact diverse groups of persons with disabilities.
As we work together to build a Canada that is more inclusive and accessible, we have an incredible opportunity to reshape the way we think about disability.
This legislation would send a clear signal to Canadians that persons with disabilities will no longer be treated as an afterthought. It is our systems, policies and laws that need to be fixed, not our people.
We can see the finish line. By concurring with all amendments made and swiftly passing Bill , we can continue on this journey that will lead us to a society that treats all people with the dignity they deserve, a society in which everyone has equal opportunities to contribute and a society that is truly inclusive.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to address Bill , an important piece of legislation that recognizes and affirms the inherent dignity of all people regardless of disability. It seeks to create the kind of policy environment and framework that facilitate full participation in every aspect of Canadian life for Canadians who have disabilities.
Those watching can be assured of the support of all parties in this House for this legislation. Today we will discuss some missed opportunities and some related issues on which we have not agreed with the government's actions. Specifically, for instance, we will discuss some of the issues around employment. We had a private member's bill from my friend, the member for , that dealt with facilitating the full involvement of Canadians with disabilities in terms of employment. There are areas of disagreement among the parties in terms of the best way to move forward and the best way to affirm these principles.
Nonetheless, those watching should know that we in the opposition, and all parties, are supportive of moving forward with this legislation. Whether the bill passes today or tomorrow, I am not sure of the exact timeline. However, I think we will certainly see this bill pass into law before the election. It will be good news and a positive step.
Before getting into some of the substance of the legislation, I want to pick up on something said by my colleague, the member for . He has done a lot of great work on this bill on our side, as have the member for and other members who have been part of the process. The member for Foothills pointed out that amendments for this bill that were put forward at the committee level by Conservatives, as well as by other opposition parties, were not supported by government MPs at the time of the initial study by the House of Commons committee. That is an important point, that they were not supported at that stage.
Notwithstanding disagreements about some of the particulars around amendments, we have supported this bill at every stage. After the bill passed third reading, it went to the Senate. The Senate made a number of amendments that reflected the same concerns that Conservative members of the House had been hearing from the stakeholder community, those representing Canadians with disabilities. Those same concerns that we heard were also heard by the Senate, and they were part of the discussion that happened in the context of that Senate committee.
The bill was amended somewhat at the Senate, and then it was brought back to the House. Now we are debating whether to agree to and support those Senate amendments. I think members will find, generally speaking, support across the parties for the Senate amendments, which make improvements on the text of the bill as it was.
Those who are watching should note how this legislative process works through the details, and how senators were able to be more influential over the legislative outcome than members of the House were. The government would not accept amendments that came from members of the House, but then accepted those same amendments that came from members of the Senate.
We have seen this in a number of cases. I recall Bill , to which an amendment around palliative care was proposed. Actually it was not even just proposed at committee; it was voted on by all members in the chamber at that time. It was voted down. Then, in similar form, it was proposed by Senator Plett, and it passed in the Senate. It was then accepted as part of a subsequent message from the House of Commons.
We see this process happening, in general, in this Parliament, because of the relative lack of independence that we sometimes see in committees and the way committees are unfortunately quite controlled, and the relative independence of the Senate, certainly relative to the House of Commons. It is not as independent as maybe some like to claim, but it is relatively independent compared to the actions of members, especially government members, in the House of Commons. Senate action actually has a greater practical impact on the legislative process.
Again, although I am happy to see the incorporation of these amendments, I think we should be concerned about that, just as a matter of legislative process. We want this House and its elected members of Parliament to be strong in the exercise of their responsibilities.
Nonetheless, although we raise questions and highlight some of the means by which some of these issues have come forward, we are pleased to see these amendments. They reflect issues that have been raised by the stakeholder community and by members of Parliament from our party and, I believe, other parties as well.
With that said about matters of process, let me turn now to the particulars of the legislation, Bill , that is before us. To summarize the content of the bill, in a nutshell, it is essentially about requiring regulated entities, that is, the public service and federally regulated workplaces, to develop accessibility plans. It also requires that the content of those plans be regulated and enforced.
As the and others have pointed out in some of the remarks they have made during this process, very often our human rights processes are complaints based. That is, complaints issues are considered when there is a violation or a potential violation of somebody's rights. A complaint is then made, and an adjudication happens around that complaint.
A point that the has made, and she is quite right in making it, is that this approach is not the full realization. It is important that people have those avenues available to them, but it is not the full extent of what we would like to see in this context. Rather, we would prefer to see a proactive approach, where we are ensuring the protection of rights from the beginning and not merely putting in place a system that allows complaints to be adjudicated after people's rights have been violated.
Seeking to have regulated entities develop plans, prepare and publish those plans, implement them and facilitate their enforcement creates the conditions for a more proactive approach to these issues, rather than simply a reactive approach. That is wise, worthwhile and something that all parties support. It would establish proactive compliance and enforcement mechanisms. These plans must be multi-year and involve the setting of goals, reporting requirements, mechanisms for investigation and a variety of processes that seek to ensure the realization of those plans to the fullest possible extent.
This legislation would also create an organization called CASDO, the Canadian accessibility standards development organization, and allocate $290 million over the next six years for its creation. This organization would work within the government to create regulations related to various aspects of the legislation around the built environment, employment, service delivery, information and communications technology, transportation and procurement, and always with the goal of the full integration of people with disabilities, facilitating their full participation within society, without barriers.
Failure to meet standards set by CASDO would lead to fines. It should be noted that the action of CASDO would be within federally regulated entities and directly within the federal government only. Nonetheless, the hope is that this legislation would involve the setting of standards that would then be adopted and become useful across all facets of Canadian society, including those outside the federally regulated workforce. There would also be 5,000 Canadians with disabilities hired for the public service, which is also encouraging to see. Our party, as people have seen, has been vocal on the issue of ensuring that those who have disabilities are not arbitrarily excluded from the public service.
This is the broad framework of the bill. It puts in place some mechanisms and processes to ensure there are no barriers to participation in society for people with disabilities.
Today we are in the process of debating issues related to proposed Senate amendments. The has spoken, and I would like to highlight the various Senate amendments that we are considering. Although the Senate did not incorporate all the changes that had been proposed at committee, in the House or that had been suggested by the broader disability community, all the changes that were made were reflective of those particular concerns.
First is the issue of including in this legislation a timeline for the realization of a barrier-free Canada; that timeline is 2040. The goal is that this work would be completed, taken fully to fruition, by 2040. The amendments also seek to clarify, though, that the setting of that deadline is not an excuse to wait until the proverbial night before to get the homework done. Rather, the amendments are to ensure the work is done by that point. They create that timeline or deadline but do not seek to permit any kind of delay or preservation of barriers in the name of it not being 2040 yet. That is an important element as well.
Growing up, I was always taught that deadlines are the mother of invention and that more gets done when there is the focusing effect of an upcoming deadline, so the work of the community and the Senate to ensure that there is a timeline in place for the implementation of these measures is quite commendable and important.
Another area of amendment from the Senate was that it asked that intersectionality be taken into consideration in this account. Amendments were put forward to recognize the multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination, the fact that people with disabilities may face discrimination as a result of an intersectional reality. Therefore, the planned response to barriers needs to be a response that takes that circumstance into consideration. We recognize that reality. We recognize the importance of the various plans that are put forward by regulated entities to recognize that intersectionality is part of the dynamic.
Further, the amendments put forward by the Senate seek to address the issue of preserving the existing human rights of people with disabilities. This was really more of a clarification, but the testimony heard in the House, as well as by the Senate committee, emphasized the importance of this clarification, recognizing that there are already obligations under various human rights codes, in particular in the case of federal entities under the Canadian Human Rights Act and other federal laws. Various groups highlighted the importance of clarifying that the new framework put forward with this bill does not in any way derogate from the existing recognized rights and obligations that are enumerated as part of those existing human rights codes. We recognize that aspect as important as well.
Through other amendments, the Senate sought to protect existing rights in the context of passengers with disabilities through the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The expectation is that many of the complaints would come through the Canadian Transportation Agency. This was put forward by people in the disability community. It is therefore important for the legislation to create enforceable standards around the action that this body must take in the removal of barriers. This is an important piece as well.
On the specific issue of transportation, I want to read briefly from a briefing from ARCH Disability Law Centre. It said the following:
However, subsection 172(2), a provision that is currently in the Canada Transportation Act, effectively means that once the CTA make these regulations and transportation providers, like airlines, comply with these regulations, they do not need to do anything more.
This is problematic because the regulations that the CTA sets may not meet the duty to accommodate protections that people with disabilities have under human rights law.
Under subsection 172(2), if a passenger with a disability complains to the CTA that an airline or other transportation provider should have accommodated his or her disability, the case would fail if the airline complied with CTA regulations. A more detailed analysis of this is available in the final legal report.
The committee did not repeal subsection 172(2), but adopted an amendment which would change it. The proposed amendment allows the CTA to find that there is a barrier to accessibility even if the transportation provider has complied with the CTA regulations. For passengers with disabilities, this means they can file a complaint with the CTA that they face an undue barrier in the federal transportation system and insist the transportation provider do more than what the CTA regulation requires.
The passenger with a disability could win his or her case even if the transportation provider complied with all CTA regulations. However, the CTA could only order the transportation provider to take corrective measures. The CTA could not order the transportation provider to pay the person damages or money compensation. This is different from other complaints to the CTA about inaccessibility of the federal transportation system. Generally, for these other complaints, the CTA can order the transportation provider to take corrective measures and to pay damages to the person.
Essentially, the argument that is being made is that although the amendment would improve the section, there still would be a gap. People in the community expect transportation companies, airlines, rail lines etc. to accommodate those with disabilities. The concern is that these entities might be able to say that they have met the standards of the regulations so they do not have to do anything more if in fact the case may be that they could and should do more to accommodate the full participation of a person with a disability.
The Senate amendment says that the CTA could well find that the transportation provider should have done more even if it attained the minimum standards set by the regulation, but it could not award damages in this case. That is an improvement made through the work of the Senate, but as the discussion around this illustrates, there is still a gap in what was asked for and what was expected.
The next amendment is around the issue of sign language. The legislation recognizes specific forms of sign language: American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign languages. It recognizes these as primary languages used by deaf persons in Canada. This has been an issue that the deaf community in particular has been long advocating on, and it has the support of all other stakeholders as well.
We have had many discussions in the House about the importance of language. We recently had a debate on indigenous languages, a legislative framework around indigenous languages, the importance of our two official languages and the experience and culture that are tied to the use of language in that context.
As well, I think we all recognize that the recognition of sign language is part of that picture as well as part of a broader, deeper appreciation of the way in which language is tied to culture and experience. Of course, for people who are limited in their ability to communicate in other ways, it is particularly necessary. It does have significance and meaning beyond the necessity of communicating in that form.
These are some of the amendments the Senate has adopted to the bill. They do not address all the issues that people in the stakeholder community and the wider community have been looking for, but they are steps forward and are things that are well supported by all members of Parliament. We are hopeful this will go forward and we will be able to see movement to get these amendments through.
In my remarks today I want to frame a little of the discussion around who the bill is for. In other words, why are the technical elements I have explained important and who do they matter to specifically.
In that context, I want to make a few remarks about Jean Vanier, about his vision of inclusion, but of something much bigger and greater than inclusion. As we talk about these issues, he is a figure on whom all of us should reflect. He is certainly the greatest known champion of people with disabilities.
He passed away earlier this month. His death was met with recognition and tributes from all aspects of our politics and many different aspects of Canadian society. He was a revolutionary figure practically in how he sought to facilitate the inclusion in society of people with disabilities. However, he was also a revolutionary figure intellectually. His experience as a philosopher and his way of thinking informed and contributed to his work. He was described in biographies as a philosopher and a humanitarian, which is an optimal and necessary combination. It is dangerous to be a philosopher without being a humanitarian and it is dangerous to think of oneself as a humanitarian without some attention to the philosophical roots of humanitarian work. We see that intimate connection between the ideas Jean Vanier sought to advance and the practices he championed.
Jean Vanier came from a privileged family. His parents were well known as well. He was born when his father was part of a diplomatic mission. He had a military career as well, but then he pursued a doctorate in philosophy. His dissertation would position much of the work he would do later. His dissertation was on happiness as principle and the end of Aristotelian ethics.
I feel a connection to that because I did my Masters dissertation on happiness measurement, which was also significantly influenced by Aristotle. The question of happiness is under-discussed in politics. It is important for a lot of the legislation. He was someone who brought in a philosophical framework to the work he did that was rooted in Aristotelian concepts of happiness. In the meantime, he drew on Aristotle's conception of happiness, which is different from a contemporary concept of happiness. This influenced his work with Canadians with disabilities.
Jean Vanier's desire for disabled people was not merely that they experience formal, structural inclusion or be able to get into the same spaces as everyone else. Rather, his desire was for them to experience love and happiness through community and friendship. Therefore, he sought to build communities of disabled and non-disabled people living together in meaningful friendship.
Vanier wrote this:
The cry of people with disabilities was a very simple cry: Do you love me? That's what they were asking. And that awoke something deep within me because that was also my fundamental cry.
He noted that the pursuit of recognition of their humanity, happiness and love was what people with disabilities were seeking, which was often denied to them by a structure that did not affirm their dignity. The thing they were seeking was the same thing that all people were seeking and that in fact they could and they would seek that together. That was Vanier's wisdom and vision.
He developed into his work, and would write subsequently about them, concepts of happiness informed by his work with people with disabilities. He drew very much on Aristotle's concept of happiness. Aristotle, writing in Greek, obviously uses the word “eudemonia”, which more directly is translated “the life well lived”. He argued in that context against notions of happiness that were more pleasure-based, more rooted in happenstance, the random benefit of good fortune generally in material terms. He had a richer understanding and appreciation of what happiness was.
Aristotle argues, and Vanier follows him in this sense, for the connection between virtue and happiness, that virtues are the qualities of character that allow life to be lived well.
We know as members of Parliament and as human beings that so much of human striving is in pursuit of happiness. We do not always agree on what that is or on how we strive for it, but so much of life is about striving for happiness.
More recently, our side has been very much influenced by the utilitarian school of thought, which argues that happiness is about pleasure over pain. This was the core of Bentham's concept of utilitarianism. Mill formerly follows it, but he reinserts aspects of Aristotle's definition of happiness with arguments that the cultivation of higher levels of happiness requires the development of a certain nobleness of character.
Vanier's passion for philosophy and the idea of happiness continued throughout his life. In 2001, he wrote “Made for Happiness: Discovering the Meaning of Life with Aristotle”. In it he talks about three utilitarian virtues: love, wisdom and justice. I want to read a quote from the book in which he talks about the importance of friendship and love as part of friendship.
Through friendship I communicated in the consciousness that my friend has of his own existence. For in the same way that we feel that we are alive and exist through activity and derive pleasure from it, so, through friendship, we feel our friend live and exist. And the union is so profound that the goodness of the life of our friend extends to us and gives us pleasure. In friendship there is almost a communion, a merging of two beings and their rightful good. The friend is an other self. Everything that I experience, he experiences.... In this friendship we continue to be two, but we are one in a great and noble activity that we accomplish together. Consciousness of the goodness of my friend fills me with just as much joy as if it were my own. My friend's happiness becomes my happiness.
This was his philosophical concept of friendship that was essential for happiness, facilitated by the virtue of love. It informed his practical vision for building communities that would include disabled and non-disabled people. We could call that inclusion, but it is a much richer and deeper concept of inclusion than a formal one. It is that we live in communities of love, good will and solidarity for each other with real friendship. We see others as another self and we identify with that kind of love for others. It is part of his concept of happiness, which entails friendship and living together while in community.
Jean Vanier, as I said, brought a rich concept of happiness, love and friendship into his work with disabled people. He saw people in institutions when he was living in Paris at the time of the founding of the L'Arche movement, who were being maintained poorly in the worst instance. He saw that very often the attitude towards the disabled resulted, in the worst instance, in people being maintained poorly, and in the best instance people being treated a little bit better in terms of their material condition. However, the real need was for the humanity of all people to be affirmed through communities of meaningful friendship and love, through which people were pursuing happiness together. That was his vision.
The radical practical idea started with Vanier personally getting a house and moving in with people who had disabilities. He saw that this was not merely an act of service done by him for other people; rather, it was about the development of shared community. He saw how through this reality of shared community he could learn from those people he was living with. He wanted other people who did not have disabilities to be able to learn and grow through these communities and friendships, which were meaningful and pursuing happiness together.
Jean Vanier said that “L'Arche and Faith and Light have been part of a real revolution.” So often in the past, people with intellectual disabilities were seen as a source of shame for their parents, or even in some situations as a punishment from God. Their parents and carers have often been seen as wonderful people, even holy, for looking after people “like them”. Today, it is becoming clear that it is people with intellectual disabilities who humanize us and heal us if we enter into real friendship with them. They are in no way a punishment from God, but rather a path toward God.
He understood that people with disabilities are in their fullest and most complete sense people. They are human beings with the same dignity and value as anyone else. They have both needs and things to contribute, which is obviously the situation of us all. Those needs and contributions are realized through meaningful community. He also understood that the value of social structures replicating insights and benefits of family-like structures.
I was recently in Bogotá, where I had a chance to visit SOS Children's Village to see some of the work they were doing. They made a very interesting point to me about the way we care for children who cannot be cared for by their families. I think it is a similar insight to Jean Vanier, which is that institutions' formal structures do not work nearly as well as, let us say, family-like structures. The way SOS works, at least in Columbia where I was, is that children are put into environments designed to be family-like. They are in homes. They have parents looking after them. Although they are not able to be with their own families, they experience a support structure that is meaningfully similar to that of a family and that leverages the kind of love, connection and friendship that is important in family structures. That was understood by Jean Vanier when he sought to do the same thing in how he structured the L'Arche movement with meaningful family-like communities where people would live together in communities of love and friendship.
Very shortly before he died, Jean Vanier received the Templeton Prize, which is a great international honour. He spoke about the work he did and the ideas and vision behind it. It showed us the kinds of sensibilities that should animate our work in this area. I want to read from part of his acceptance speech for the Templeton prize. He said:
L’Arche and Faith and Light have been part of a real revolution; so often in the past people with intellectual disabilities were seen as a source of shame for their parents, or even in some situations, as a punishment from God. Their parents and carers have often been seen as wonderful people, even holy, for looking after people “like them”. Today it is becoming clear that it is people with intellectual disabilities who can humanise us, and heal us, if we enter into a real friendship with them. They are in no way a punishment of God but rather a path towards God....
To be with is to live side by side, it is enter into mutual relationships of friendship and concern. It is to laugh and to cry together, it is to mutually transform each other. Each person becomes a gift for the other, revealing to each other that we are all part of a huge and wonderful family, the family of God. We are all profoundly the same as human beings, but also profoundly different, we all have our special gifts and unique mission in our lives.
This wonderful family, from its earliest origins and since then with all those who have been spread over this planet from generation to generation, is composed of people of different cultures and abilities, each of whom have their strength and their weakness, and each of whom is precious.
The evolution of this family from the earliest days until today certainly has entailed wars, violence, and the endless seeking of domination and more possessions. It is also an evolution wherein prophets of peace have continued to cry out for “peace, peace”, calling people together to meet each other as beautiful and precious.
Many of us in our world continue to yearn for peace, and for unity. However so many of us remain stuck in our cultures where we are caught up fighting to win and to have more. How can we become free of the culture that incites people, not to responsibilities to the human family and to the common good, but to individual success and to domination over others? How can we get rid of the tentacles and the shackles of this culture, to become free to be ourselves, free of our oversized egos and compulsions, free to love others as they are, different yet the same?
To be with is also to eat together, as Jesus invited us: “When you give a meal don’t invite your family, friends or rich neighbour, but invite the poor and the lame, the disabled and the blind, and you shall be blessed.” To become blessed, says Jesus, is to invite the poor to our table (Luke 14).
Let us be very clear that it is not the guests who are blessed because they enjoy good food at a party, but rather the host is blessed by his encounter with the poor. Why is the host called blessed? Isn’t it because his heart will be transformed as he is touched by the wonderful gifts of the spirit hidden in the hearts of the poor? This has been the gift of my own personal journey and those of many others. We have been led by those who are weak onto the road of the blessedness of love, of humility and of peacemaking.
To be transformed, first we must meet people who are different, not our family, friends and neighbours who are like us. Let us meet across differences—intellectual, cultural, national, racial, religious and other differences. Then from this initial meeting we can begin to build community and places of belonging together.
Community is never called to be a closed group, where people are hiding behind barriers of group identity, interested only in their own welfare or their own vision, as if it is the only one or the best. It cannot be a prison or a fortress. Unfortunately, for a long time this was the rather closed vision of different churches and religions. Each one thought itself the best, with all knowledge and truth. Hence, there was no communication or dialogue between them.
Isn’t there a danger that we close ourselves up in our own professional, religious or family groups where we never meet those who are different?
Community, on the other hand, is a place of togetherness in spite of differences, of people united in love and open to all other people. A community then is like a fountain or a shining light, where a way of life is being lived and revealed, open to others and attractive to them. It is a place of peace, revealing a way to peace and to unity for the human family.
Community is a place of belonging where each person can grow to become fully him or herself. It is belonging for becoming.
We belong to each other so that each member can become more human, more loving, more free, more open to others, particularly to those who are different. When each member can develop their unique gifts and help others to develop theirs, members are no longer in competition but in collaboration, in cooperation and in mutual support.
To become is not to prove I am better than you, but rather supporting together each other in opening up our hearts. Thus community is a place of transformation. Community is a place of belonging where each one may be transformed and find human fulfilment.
What alternatives do we have for human growth? Belonging which is too rigid stifles becoming; on the other hand too much individual growth or becoming without belonging can become fighting to get to the top, or else it can become loneliness and anguish. To win is always to be lonely, and of course nobody wins for long.
Community then is not a closed group but a way of life that helps each person to grow to human fulfillment. The two key elements of community are mission and mutual caring for each one. We come together for a purpose that is the mission, and also to be a sign of love or rather to grow in love for each another. It is a mission that defines why we are together, and being together we learn to love one another.
At L’Arche and Faith and Light our mission is to provide community where the most fragile person is the heart of the community, and can grow in their humanity and in their capacity to love.
Community then becomes a place where we learn how to love each other. To grow in love is a long and difficult journey, and it takes time. L’Arche and Faith and Light are not just places where we do good to people with intellectual disabilities. They are places of relationship, where we grow in love together.
But what is love? This word has been flung around for all sorts of emotional experiences as well as acts of bravery of solders, fighting out of love for their country. For me, love is to recognize that the other person is a person, is precious, is important and has value. Each one has a gift to bring to others. Each one has his or her mission in the larger family of humanity. Each one reveals the secret face of God.
We need each other, to grow in this sacred love, which implies love of those who are different, of those who get my goat and drive me up the wall, because of difference of ideas, temperament, culture, approach and so on. Community is a place where we rub up against each other’s sore spots.
Hopefully we can in this way rub off some of the tiresome and sour traits of our characters, so that we can become our real selves. To love then is to see in the other, the heart of the person hidden under all that annoys us. That is why to love, in the words of St Paul, is to be patient, which is to wait, and to hold on. It is to believe and to trust that under all the mess in the other person is their secret being, their heart.
In L’Arche some of the people we welcome have deep anguish and even violence. They are difficult to live with in community. We have to be patient and to believe that their true self will gradually emerge. We also have to be patient with ourselves as well, and believe that if we try to love and become open to a spirituality of love, our own true selves will also gradually emerge. If we love, if we truly love other people and believe in them, then they are transformed, and we also will be transformed.
Community then is a place of healing, of transformation, and of humanising people. It’s a place where we are commissioned to grow in love, and in forgiveness, and this is real work. If you don’t want to be transformed and to grow in love, then don’t partake in community! When we find the strength to accept people as they are and to meet them in their secret being, they open us up to love.
These remarks by Jean Vanier are so profound and so critical, not just to this particular debate but to all of the debates we have in this place, because they talk about the way in which we can and do live in community with each other. That is, we understand the balance, if you will, or the necessary combination for belonging and becoming and the importance of having open-ended communities where we invite other people in and seek to learn from them.
The relationship we have with people who come from different backgrounds, people who are disabled or people who may have been historically disadvantaged for a variety of reasons is not to feel that they are in need of somebody else's charity, but, rather, to include each other in full community and recognize the way in which we become in community, we belong in community and we learn from each other.
This is something I have observed in my own interactions with members of my family. I have a beautiful cousin who has Down's syndrome. She was one of the flower girls at my wedding. I will always remember a story that my uncle told. It was a story about how he had learned from her, and sharing the story was a way in which we all learned from her. It was about a time when he and his children were at a hospital, where there was a lady, whatever her circumstances were or whatever bad news she had just heard, standing outside a hospital room crying. My uncle told his children that they should mind their own business, make sure they do not stare, walk past and move on. While he was giving these instructions, it was too late. His daughter Anastasia had already wrapped her arms around the woman who was crying, hugging her and crying with her.
This is an example of the kind of response by somebody who may not have the same socially programmed inhibitions that tell us not to interfere in each other's lives, but, rather, had an unbridled openness and empathy that led her to immediately show love in this way for this total stranger. It was her capacity for unlimited love and pursuit of community that opened my uncle's eyes and my eyes through that story to things that maybe I needed to learn, things that maybe we all need to learn, through greater community with people who have developmental differences and different kinds of experiences, but have so much to contribute.
That is the idea and philosophy of Jean Vanier. That is what the objectives of this bill are all about.
We need to remember that putting in place a framework that seeks to create a country that is free from barriers—
Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to my colleague across the way, if she had been listening to the remarks I was making, they were all very clearly on the issue, which is why I was making them. These are important points to make.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Garnett Genuis: If the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader wants to heckle, that is also his prerogative, but we are having an important discussion.
I appreciate the opportunity to make the points that I am going to make. I understand that the government intends to bring forward a motion today on extended hours. To be clear, there is absolutely no reason why the bill before us would not move forward. I am making arguments that I think are important and worthwhile, and I am sharing personal stories about members of my own family. If members do not take that seriously or want to cast aspersions or imagine other things, that is their prerogative, but it is not really in the spirit of what the discussion could be. These are things I have wanted to share, and I appreciate that the Standing Orders provide me with the opportunity to share them.
The parliamentary secretary asked about details. I do not have a specific length of time in mind, but I would tell the parliamentary secretary if I did. I want to discuss these points. Of course, interventions like the one we just saw make it harder for me to do that, but I will resume where I was in terms of making the point that I was making. When I finish making my remarks, others will speak, and I am sure we will get the bill passed in due course.
As well, there are issues in terms of the bill not reaching the standard that many people wanted and the government rejecting amendments, which are things I have spoken about. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that there are further steps that can be taken after this.
I will go back to the point I was making before I was interrupted. I was speaking about the experience of my cousin who has Down's syndrome and the things I have been able to learn from her. The principal point that I think we need to absorb from the life and legacy of Jean Vanier is that the relationship between people who are not disabled and those who are should not be seen as one of charity, but, rather, one of people who have different experiences living together in communities of love and friendship and being able to learn from each other.
I want to make the point, in the context of my beautiful cousin who has Down's syndrome, that very often when parents who are expecting a child receive a diagnosis and find out that their child has some genetic condition, that is associated with a lot of surprise and maybe fear and lack of awareness about what this is going to mean for their family. We know as well that there is a high level of selecting out children who have that condition. I wish that every family that was not sure what to do in that situation would have an opportunity to speak to my uncle and aunt, or have an opportunity to speak with somebody like my cousin to see the love, joy and teaching that come through the community with that person. It can be a surprise to find out that what one had expected is not what is going to happen. Sometimes the unexpected is filled with such opportunity for love, joy and learning.
What are the key takeaways that we should have as members of the House from the points I have made and from the work of Jean Vanier?
First of all, we need to go beyond a formal, legalistic notion of inclusion. The legal standard of inclusion is, let us say, the minimum standard. Our goal, rather, should be to build meaningful community among all people to recognize the contributions that all of us make together in the way we treat each other, and to put our emphasis on the pursuit of a concept of true happiness: that is, living well together, not merely thinking in terms of material well-being.
I started this point in my discussion by asking whom this bill is for, whom the work is being done for. The answer is that it is for all of us. People with disabilities benefit from a society in which there are no barriers to their participation. However, everyone, whether with a disability or not, benefits from being part of a society in which we can live together in a community where the contributions and experiences of those with disabilities are heard and where we pursue happiness, community, love and meaning together.
Part of how we do this better, and this is a subject I referenced earlier and something I wrote about in my master's dissertation, is the measurement of happiness. Part of creating a society in which all of us can pursue and attain happiness is, I would argue, measuring happiness as well. There are questions and controversies around the best way to do that statistically, but efforts made to engage in the meaningful measurement of happiness are important and are part of the picture. It is something we should consider as part of subsequent statistical instruments.
Having made that point, having outlined whom I think the bill is for, I now want to discuss some of the amendments that were proposed at the committee in the House and were not accepted. As we move this legislation forward, it is important to note what has been done and what is positive, but also to acknowledge that there are some areas of missed opportunities. There are some areas where we could have done better. In fact, amendments were proposed by other parties that were unfortunately not adopted by government members at the committee.
First of all, there were amendments put forward on the House side that introduced proposals around dates and timelines. This is an issue now being incorporated at the level of the Senate, but it was proposed in the form of amendments to clauses 5, 11, 18, 23, 111 and 148. Amendments were proposed that would have established timelines, and we made the argument that timelines were absolutely essential.
We argued as well that the bill had to require positive action by the minister. We argued that the bill ought to require the progressive realization of a barrier-free Canada by the minister and should therefore remove permissive language. A lot of the language in this legislation in effect does not actually require the minister to do anything. It uses a lot of language around the word “may”, such as that regulations may be established or proposals may be put in. That exists in the context of exceptions.
While we have a legislative framework in place that may allow the minister to do certain things around the realization of a barrier-free Canada, the framework is very open in terms of allowing the minister to do certain things or not do certain things. There was an interesting comment made by the minister today in the context of questions and comments, where the issue of exceptions was raised by my colleague from . The minister said that they would certainly be very careful in their use of those exceptions under her watch.
That is the rub, the exercise of these powers by the minister. I take the minister at her word in terms of her sincerity about this bill, but it is our job in the opposition to ask questions about whether the framework relies merely on the goodwill and the word of one person, or whether it puts in place the structures that provide certainty and indeed a protection for the kinds of circumstances that we would like to see. The minister says that they will be very careful in their use of exceptions, at least under her watch, and that under her watch they will certainly do the things that are laid out in this legislation. Of course, under the current government, we do not know how long a particular minister will remain with the responsibility of a portfolio. I think all parties want to see the legislation be meaningful in ensuring impacts.
We sought to address this issue in the form of amendments, but unfortunately we did not see progress on it. These amendments dealt with the issue of permissive language in clauses 15, 16, 75, 93, 94 and subclause 146.1. We need to try to do better in this respect. Although we tried to get things done, unfortunately that did not happen.
We proposed amendments to subclause 17(2) and clause 21 to ensure the independence of CASDO, the accessibility commissioner and other key positions. Certainly, we are very concerned about the track record of the government in not always respecting the independence of things that we would expect to be independent. We raised concerns at committee about the issue of the legislation ensuring the sufficient independence of these bodies. Without independence, there is a concern about whether the accountability functions we expect will be followed. Our amendments in this respect were also not adopted by the government and the changes we proposed have unfortunately not shown up subsequently.
We proposed an amendment to clause 18, that the bill must designated CASDO as the only body to develop accessibility standards. The framework put in place by the legislation seeks to deal with a number of different parts and aspects of government. Certainly, we recognize the importance of ensuring that all of those are included and that the regulatory structure is there to cover them in all cases.
Our amendment proposed that the government have a standard set centrally by CASDO, which presumably is the goal of establishing that entity. The legislation, as it stands, creates a more complex scheme than is necessary by having some of these standards set external to CASDO. We raised this issue as well. In the follow-up implementation of the legislation, people will want to see it so they can explore the effectiveness of those provisions.
We also proposed an amendment for a new clause 33.1 to ensure there would be accountability regarding public information during CASDO's work on developing an accessibility standard. Again, there is a need for accountability as part of these frameworks. We are not keen on provisions in legislation which the government tells us “just trust us”. When the issue is important, “just trust us” is not enough. We want to see a framework that requires government action, that is accountable and that provides a reasoned and effective framework to ensure that accountability is in place.
We then proposed amendments about strengthening accessibility plans. Unfortunately they were rejected. They related to clauses 42, 47, 51, 56, 60, 65 and 69. Then we proposed specific amendments to remove exemptions.
Let us reflect on the actions we have seen from the government and the concerns that might arise when well-connected companies are lobbying for exceptions regarding their obligations. Frankly, we know this is going to happen. Our legislative framework may say that federally regulated companies have to comply with certain standards, but it is possible to make exceptions. Some companies are going to calculate that it is actually easier for them, less expensive perhaps, to spend resources lobbying politicians and ministers to give them an exception. They would rather do that than invest in the required changes to make themselves more accessible. Unfortunately it is relatively likely that some people will make this calculation and will use the tools and resources available to them.
We have seen in recent months a government that when the pressure is on, when the well-connected lobbyists are brought to bear, rather than follow through on the intention of legislation, the government may allow that exception. Let us say the argument is around jobs, that if companies are required to conform to such a standard, then they will not be able to continue to operate and they will have to move their headquarters, whatever the arguments are made in those cases.
That is why those who are following us today, those who are concerned about the effectiveness and the impact of this legislation should be concerned about the power the legislation gives around the granting of exceptions.
We have permissive language and the refusal of the government to move forward with amendments around the removal of exceptions, amendments which were supported by the Conservatives. Although there are high aspirations associated with the bill and although I do not doubt the sincerity of some people on the government side around the legislation, this creates circumstances in which it does not compel the government to act and it gives the government a great deal of space to say to a company that it does not have to follow its obligations. An area of regulation that it maybe had the power to put forward action on, it will not do that anymore.
It is precisely our job as members of Parliament to ensure the legislation we put forward is directed to and binding on government. So often, unfortunately, and what I have seen in my time here in the last three and a half years as an MP, is legislation that leaves the door open for the minister to exercise a great deal of discretion.
There is some latitude for ministerial discretion in the specific working out of details around regulations in the plants. However, when we have so much flexibility that the minister can say an exception will be put in place, that is a totally different case. This goes beyond the normal expectation that there is some degree of ministerial discretion involved in this case. This goes much further than the norm and that is why we proposed those changes. We are concerned about what the government's real intentions are and what the real actions will be.
I do not want to cast aspersions on everyone's intentions, but somebody made the decision somewhere, whether it was in the 's Office or somebody else around the cabinet table, to leave the door open to the possibility that someone could be let off the hook in a particular case.
We proposed an amendment as well to designate the accessibility commissioner as the one body to handle compliance for accessibility standards and the adjudication of complaints. This was another amendment that dealt with streamlining the effectiveness of the bill.
The bill does not designate a central agency to oversee compliance with accessible ability requirements. Enforcement as envisioned under the framework right now is done by multiple agents: the accessibility commissioner, the CRTC, the CTA and the Federal Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board. Again, just as with setting a standard, through a complex patchwork of different organizations, this will create far more than is necessary with respect to confusion and barriers to those who wish to access the process.
If somebody is looking for standards to hold an agency or an entity up against, if he or she is looking to make complaints, the legislation does not have this sort of single window that would provide clarity around standards as well as enforcement. This is again a missed opportunity. Members of the committee and the House had tried to put forward amendments to address and strengthen this, but unfortunately we did not see action in that respect.
We felt, and we still feel, that multiple bodies looking at accessibility complaints from different angles will create a potential patchwork unfair administration of the act, and we should be concerned about that.
Mr. Speaker, I find the reaction and heckles by some members of the government very surprising. We know they do not like listening to opposition perspectives. We have seen multiple efforts by them to shut down debate on different issues. Yes, I am criticizing their failure to respond properly to proposals put forward by Conservative members and agreed to by members of other parties to strengthen the legislation.
Government members do not want to hear that perspective. They want this to be a day when we all agree on every detail. I said right at the beginning, very clearly, that we agree on the principle and that moving this legislation forward would be an improvement on the status quo. However, part of the purpose of the parliamentary conversation is to identify aspects of legislation that need to be improved.
The members across the way may not want to hear these criticisms. They may not want to hear about the fact that this legislation provides a possible exception, whereby a company like SNC-Lavalin might lobby the government for an exception. However, we need to talk about those things. We need to talk about how we strengthen this legislation and about some of the missed opportunities.
Members can be assured that this legislation will pass this session. However, these are criticisms that the would benefit from listening to rather than heckling. In any event, it is an important part of the argument we are making. The fact that this legislation does not “require” the minister, but only “invites” the minister to take certain action, and the fact of the exceptions that exist are issues that need to be identified and discussed.
There is also the issue of the administrative complexity that I was talking about before the point of order was raised, and the rejection of an amendment that would have designated CASDO as the only body to develop accessibility standards, and the rejection of another amendment that would have designated the accessibility commissioner as the one body to handle compliance with accessibility standards and the adjudication of complaints. The fact that these amendments were rejected increases the relative complexity that people will face when they are engaging with these issues in the legislation.
Part of our job as the opposition is to reflect the feedback we have heard from stakeholders and to say, yes, the government needs to do better. It can do better. It should have done better. We support this legislation going forward, but we are asking for more for Canadians with disabilities, to facilitate the realization of a full vision of shared community, one in which we go beyond the minimum and do as much as possible together.
We proposed amendments, as well, to ensure that the process for making complaints and reviews by the accessibility commissioner would be fair. We proposed amendments specifically to clauses 117 and 142 to say that this would not allow organizations to be exempted from producing and publishing accessibility plans, feedback processes and progress reports. We proposed amendments to include stronger provisions for reviewing the accessible Canada act and monitoring the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As well, one amendment that was adopted and showed up in the Senate version eventually concerned sign language. It is important to note that we are glad to see this adopted through a Senate amendment, but it had been proposed at the House level as well.
One particular concern we raised about the coming into force of this legislation is that if clause 207 were left in, it would lead, according to the Statutes Repeal Act, to the act being automatically repealed within 10 years of receiving royal assent. That was perhaps a technicality, but one with important consequences that we sought to address.
In the course of proposing 60 amendments at committee, the government only adopted three, and they were not of the substantive variety we had hoped for. They supported two amendments to make reviews fair and accessible, which were improvements, and one amendment to the preamble that changed “Canadians” to “persons in Canada”. Essentially, it was a fairly technical linguistic change in the preamble, which was an important change in language, but the substantive concerns about the legislation we had highlighted were not fully addressed.
The Senate committee study provided some important perspective, and on the issue of the structure of this legislation, I want to read from testimony at the standing committee that studied this bill, in particular the testimony of David Lepofsky, the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He is a real champion on these issues. He has done extensive work representing and reflecting the concerns of the community. I want to identify what he said about this bill. He stated:
Bill C-81 is strong on good intentions, but palpably weak on implementation. It's called an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, but it does not require a single barrier anywhere in Canada, ever, to be removed.
I will read that again as it is fundamental to the criticisms that I and others have made. He stated:
It's called an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, but it does not require a single barrier anywhere in Canada, ever, to be removed. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
Bill C-81, at its core and its heart, is driven by the commendable notion that the federal government will enact enforceable regulations called accessibility standards that will tell federally regulated organizations what they have got to do. But it doesn't require any federal accessibility standards to ever be enacted as enforceable regulations. People with disabilities need and deserve better.
Let me be clear: The regulations that the bill requires to be enacted within two years are on procedural things, not substantive accessibility standards. The federal government could meet that deadline merely by prescribing the forms that people with disabilities shall use if they want to give feedback to Air Canada or Bell Canada. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
This legislation splinters its enforcement and the setting of enforceable regulations among multiple federal agencies. From the minister's defence of her practice, she conceded that if she was starting from scratch, that isn't necessarily how she would do it. But her explanation of why she did it gives triumphant ascendancy to federal bureaucracy over disability equality.
Now the question is: What do we do about it? The question is not: Are you going to pass this bill, senators? You're going to pass this bill, so let's take that off the table. We all know it. We all understand it. That's the starting point.
That was the starting point for my remarks as well. I said that the Conservatives are supporting this bill, but that there are issues. There are issues the community has raised, and in terms of how we see the issue, and with the substantive aspects of the provisions of this legislation. Our support and the community's support to pass this legislation is clear, but there are big gaps.
I will go back to the testimony, which states:
The question before this committee is: Are you going to amend it first? What we say is that you must. The reality is this bill needs a lot of amendments not to make it perfect, that's a red herring, but to get this bill from the status of weak to one that is closer to what people with disabilities need and deserve.
In the House, there were a couple hundred pages of amendments. Hard work over the past weekend has led us to distill it down to a series of amendments before you that we proposed and you have received e-mails from some witnesses who support them, which fill a grand total of 3.5 pages and cover a few core themes.
I am only going to address a couple of them, but let me be clear, there is time to do this. You are going to vote in committee on May 2. I understand you will do third reading by May 16. We are working and approaching the federal parties to urge that, once amendments are passed if they are that the house consider them quickly, so the issue of swift passage of this bill, whether amended or not, is now, procedurally, not a bar to your being able to do what we need you to do.
Again, we will see this legislation pass, but there are issues that we need to address.
The testimony continues:
Well, let me just focus on a couple, but I invite questions on all of what we proposed. Lets just turn to the headlines. Yesterday, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-billion-dollar plan for new subways in Toronto, but only if other levels of government, including the federal government, add billions to the allocation the province is committing to. Thats not unusual. But we need the federal government to be required, before it spends our money on a project like that, to say a ground rule of getting our federal money is you have to meet certain federal accessibility requirements.
Now, the minister came before you a week ago and said, We cant do that. We dont have constitutional authority to do that. Respectfully, the minister is wrong. Its called the federal spending power. Have you heard of the Canada Health Act? The Canada Health Act says that if provinces get federal money for provincial health programs, they must meet federal accessibility requirements. Not disability accessibility, but their financial accessibility.
If what the minister told you is right, then the Canada Health Act has been unconstitutional for over three decades since it was enacted. I would be staggered to believe that is the position of the current federal government. If they can do it there, they can at least attach strings when they give money, if they agree to, to local projects and not just federal buildings. You might look at me and say, Oh, come on, in 2019 we wouldnt use public money to build inaccessible public transit. Senators, go to YouTube, search on AODA Alliance and public transit. You will see a video we released during last springs provincial election that has thousands of views and media coverage where we document serious accessibility problems in brand new subway stations in Toronto that just opened within the past year-and-a-half.
This isnt about perfect, folks. This is about basic equality, so we ask for an amendment that would at least require federal ministers or their ministries, if they are agreeing to give our federal money to a province, a municipality, a college or university for a project like that, to put, as a term of the agreement, an enforceable term, just like the Canada Health Act, that accessibility requirements are required. Why should the federal government ever allow federal money to be used to create new barriers or perpetuate existing ones?
I will note, just as an aside, that this specific issue that he spoke about here, the issue of federal money funding infrastructure that may not meet a certain accessible standard, is one that the Senate flagged for our consideration, but it is not reflected in the amended provisions of this legislation. This is an area that requires, I think, more discussion and exploration by government on how we should ensure that the accessibility standards we expect are met, especially in new construction and infrastructure, so that we have taken the basic steps required to ensure that it is accessible to people. That is something that should be fairly obvious. However, if we do not put in place processes and mechanisms to ensure that the obvious happens, sometimes it does not.
According to Mr. Lepofsky, in fact, there was a claim made that it would somehow be unconstitutional to put these conditions in place. It is interesting, because we see a federal government that, in general, in so many different areas, is very heavy handed with what it tries to impose on the provinces, even trying to use federal spending to compel them to implement particular policies in provincial areas of jurisdiction. It is interesting how that separation is selectively invoked in some cases but not in others, which seems to be an excuse for inaction in this case.
The testimony continues:
Let me give you one other core amendment. My colleague from the CNIB said the minister last week had agreed to amend the bill to ensure that it does not curtail in any way the human rights code and the duty to accommodate. I hope the minister does that, but I dont hear her as having said that. I hear her as having said that she, as a former human rights lawyer, has ensured that this bill doesnt interfere with the duty to accommodate. But senators, it threatens to.
Clause 172 of the bill perpetuates a provision in the Canada transportation legislation that would let the CTA enact a regulation, and once it does so, to set standards for accessible transit, no matter how low that standard may be and no matter how deficient from a human rights standard it may be. As a traveller with a disability or others in my coalition or anyone in Canada, we are barred from asking anymore under the legislation's guarantee against undue barriers.
With that provision in the act, our position is: Please don't ever enact any standards under the CTA because they threaten to take away our rights. A simple amendment would repeal that provision from the act.
I will note that, in this case, this testimony led to an amendment. Of course, we are pleased to see that the amendment was made on that provision. That was one issue from this testimony that was, in fact, addressed, which is why we were pleased to see that change in the Senate amendments. The version of this bill that was originally proposed, and that the government appeared, initially at committee in the House, not to see any problem with, was, in fact, a version whereby the CTA could enact regulations that would be below the human rights standards and that would have the potential impact of lowering the standards that are in place for the protection of the rights of Canadians with disabilities. This indicates the importance of the Senate amendment process and the benefit of the fact that in this case, the government, although not responsive as much to House amendments, did come around in response to proposals on the Senate side.
The testimony from Mr. Lepofsky states:
Let me conclude by inviting questions on the other areas that we've raised. I'm telling you that we are not just about saying what's wrong. We are about proposing constructive suggestions for what's right, and the amendments we've placed before you are designed for a Senate that has a limited time frame to act, a commitment to respect policy decisions made in the House of Commons and an eagerness to ensure that these amendments can be considered by the house quickly and easily, with a realistic chance of them being taken seriously. They are designed to be tailored both to our needs and to what the minister said to you last week. So we ask you to take them all seriously. They are all substantive, and they all bear on the needs of all people with disabilities.
I conclude by saying this: I'm speaking for my coalition, but as an individual, I first came before Parliament 39 years ago as a much younger individual—my wife said I had hair back then when she saw the video—to appear before the standing committee considering the Charter of Rights. At that time, the Charter proposed to guarantee equality but not to people with disabilities. I and a number of other folks argued and succeeded in getting the Charter amended to include that right.
I leave you with two thoughts. First, the amendments we seek are aimed at making that right become a reality, not just as a matter of good intention but as effective implementation.
The government members who do not like hearing arguments against their bill may be encouraged by the fact that I am now coming to the conclusion of my remarks.
These were all important points to make. Here is a brief summary of the key elements I have highlighted in this bill.
The bill is about requiring regulated entities to make accessibility plans. It is a positive step, but it would not have the force and the pressure on the government in terms of compelling government action that many people within the disability community want to see. We tried to reflect those concerns in the context of a debate that happened here in the House the first time around and at committee. Unfortunately, all the more substantive changes were rejected in the House. The Senate put forward a number of amendments that were positive, but they would not fix the bill in every respect, certainly from the perspective of our caucus and those in the community.
Therefore, while we are pleased to support these amendments and this legislation, we will continue to call on the government to do better and to give reality to the promise that “better is possible”. That is what we are asking in the context of this legislation. The Senate amendments make improvements, but they do not go all the way in terms of the improvements people are asking for.
I talked a bit about who this legislation is for. It is important to recognize that the steps we take to facilitate an accessible, barrier-free society benefit people with disabilities, but they benefit all of us, because they give all of us an opportunity to live together in meaningful community and to learn from each other.
There are things that are not in the bill. In some cases, they are things that could not be addressed by a bill, and in some cases, they are things the government should have addressed but did not.
Legislation can ultimately only go so far toward addressing people's attitudes and culture. Building a barrier-free Canada is not just a political decision; it has to be a social commitment. It has to be something we all commit to leading on and acting on together as parliamentarians and as citizens. We call on business leaders and people from all walks of life to see what they can do to build and facilitate meaningful commitment, goodwill, friendship and love among people, regardless of ability or disability.
Those kinds of social and cultural changes are important. Legislation without that kind of social commitment is not enough to create a truly barrier-free Canada.
I want to again say that the work done by my colleague, the member for , on trying to ensure that disabled Canadians are able to access paid work, was very important. It was disappointing to see that bill voted down by the government. I hope that in a subsequent Parliament, we will be able to see progress on the initiative he put forward.
Not everyone is able to work, but there are many people who have a disability who are ready, willing and able to participate in paid work. They benefit our economy by doing so, but they also benefit from the community associated with work. They benefit from a sense of purpose and meaning that comes to many people from being able to go to work every day.
More needs to be done to support the kinds of initiatives we saw in that private member's bill. Maybe it will come back in a future Parliament. Maybe we will see other kinds of action that will seek to specifically address the issue of barriers that exist for disabled Canadians seeking employment.
With that, I will conclude my remarks. I am supportive of the bill. I am supportive of the amendments. I am hopeful that we will be able to see more action, and in the future, that we will be able to challenge the government. Rather than rejecting amendments in the House and sending them to the Senate and then accepting them at that point, maybe a novel idea would be to have some of these amendments adopted in the House in the first instance, which would skip the step of bringing the bill back to the House afterward.
There are some areas that could be better, but there are positive steps here. People can be assured that we will support the bill and support these actions. Going forward, we will continue to hold the government's feet to the fire. In the areas where it says it may regulate, we will apply the pressure necessary. We were not able to get from “may” to “must” in the legislation, but we will work to create a political imperative so that the government does not fail to act.
Those in the community who are following us today can be assured of our commitment to always hold the government accountable on these issues and to ensure, with the high-minded discussion around Bill , that the objectives that were laid out are fully realized.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take this time in the House to speak on the rights of people living with disabilities and Canada's responsibility as a signatory to the UN convention on those rights. The NDP supports Bill , an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, as amended by the Senate.
I am proud to have been part of a larger movement of stakeholder groups and civil activists who put a great deal of effort into attempting to make this bill the best it can be. We have supported it from the beginning and offered numerous amendments that would have helped the bill realize its ambitions to create a barrier-free Canada.
New Democrats have long believed that any accessibility bill tabled by the government should essentially be enabling legislation for Canada's obligations to 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.
I congratulate the and her team for their work on this bill and for her willingness to accede to the Senate's amendments. There are still numerous provisions within the bill that remain in need of fixing, and I would be remiss if I did not discuss them now in order to further our understanding on what is yet to be accomplished. This being a federal election year, I know our citizen activists are listening and gaining a better understanding of how they can effectively use a campaign season.
In its current form, Bill is inadequate to the expectation of fostering a society in which all our citizens can participate fully and equally. This cannot even begin to happen until all our institutions are open and completely accessible to everyone. This is truly what fostering a barrier-free Canada will look like. Unfortunately, Bill C-81 makes minimal movement in that direction.
We are not alone with our concerns. During Bill 's time in the House Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, or HUMA, the federal government received extensive feedback on the bill's many shortcomings from people living with disabilities across Canada, as well as from their organized networks of advocacy. For example, last October an open letter was sent to the federal government, signed by no less than 95 disability organizations. Many of these same organizations also testified before HUMA. Disability organizations repeatedly pressed for this bill to be strengthened.
Our esteemed friend, David Lepofsky, is chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He is an esteemed and respected mind, with legal expertise on accessibility rights. At the Senate committee, he stated:
Bill C-81, at its core and its heart, is driven by the commendable notion that the federal government will enact enforceable regulations called accessibility standards that will tell federally regulated organizations what they have got to do. But it doesn't require any federal accessibility standards to ever be enacted as enforceable regulations. People with disabilities need and deserve better.
Let me be clear: The regulations that the bill requires to be enacted within two years are on procedural things, not substantive accessibility standards. The federal government could meet that deadline merely by prescribing the forms that people with disabilities shall use if they want to give feedback to Air Canada or Bell Canada. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.
The issues that Mr. Lepofsky cites in this quote remain unaddressed in the amended version of Bill .
For New Democrats, this is a very serious issue. To understand why, let us look at the headlines. Last month, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-billion dollar plan for new subways in Toronto, but only if other levels of government, including the federal government, add billions to the allocation the province is committing to. That is not unusual. However, before it spends our money on a project like that, we need the federal government to be required to say that as a ground rule for getting federal money, certain federal accessibility requirements must be met. If money is requested from the federal government, here is what is required for accessibility. It seems very simple.
The has claimed she does not have the constitutional authority to impose accessibility requirements on provinces, but she does. She has what is known as federal spending power, and it is a power that is very substantial. We are all familiar with the Canada Health Act. The Canada Health Act says that if provinces get federal money for provincial health programs, they must meet federal accessibility requirements: not disability accessibility, but financial accessibility. If the federal government truly lacks this power, then the Canada Health Act has been unconstitutional for over three decades. If the federal government can attach strings to the CHA, then it can attach strings when it gives out money to local projects and not just federal buildings.
I commend the hard work that many stakeholder groups did during the Senate phase of Bill . Our friends at the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, or AODA Alliance, along with the ARCH Disability Law Centre, among several others, lobbied senators with a shortened list of amendments covering the most important changes that need to happen to Bill C-81 if the bill is to become the kind of law that our people living with disabilities need.
In fact, we would like to thank all the disability organizations, numbering at least 71, that signed the open letter sent earlier this month to the House of Commons. They called on the House of Commons to ratify the Senate's amendments to Bill . This open letter, which the Council of Canadians with Disabilities delivered to all MPs on behalf of its 28 signatories, all listed below, explains that these amendments improve the bill. The Senate formulated these amendments after holding public hearings at which disability organizations and advocates pointed out the need to strengthen a bill that the House of Commons originally passed last fall. The Senate got the message and formulated a short package of 11 amendments, which together fit on two pages.
I would also like to commend everyone who participated in the massive letter-writing campaign to the , the and all members of Parliament. It is always exciting to see concerned public action on any issue. It was not at all clear from the minister's Senate committee testimony that she would accept some of the amendments put forward, but I believe the campaign was a crucial component to making this happen.
Going into the Senate, prior to committee, major stakeholders proposed a distilled version of the changes they wanted to see in the bill before it became law. The amendments proposed for Bill before the Senate began debating it were a distilled version of the amendments they presented during the hearings before the House of Commons committee.
I would like to run through these very quickly, as they are absolutely essential if Bill is to be effective.
First, impose clear duties and deadlines on the federal government when implementing this law.
Second, set a deadline for Canada to become accessible.
Third, enforcement should be solely in the hands of the accessibility commissioner, not splintered across various organizations, such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Transportation Agency, which, as has been pointed out numerous times, have a sorry record of implementing the few accessibility obligations they already have, never mind new ones.
Fourth, we should ensure federal public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers.
Fifth, we should ensure that the federal government will not be able to exempt itself from any of its accessibility obligations under the bill.
The Senate eventually accepted the following amendments to Bill : first, setting 2040 as the end date for Canada to become accessible; second, ensuring that this 2040 timeline would not justify any delay in removing and preventing accessibility barriers as soon as reasonably possible; third, recognizing American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign languages as the primary languages for communication used by deaf people; fourth, making it a principle to govern the bill that multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities must be considered; fifth, ensuring that Bill C-81 and regulations made under it could not cut back on the human rights of people with disabilities guaranteed by the Canadian Human Rights Act; sixth, ensuring that the Canadian Transportation Agency could not reduce existing human rights protections for passengers with disabilities when the agency handled complaints about barriers in transportation; and, seventh, fixing problems the federal government identified between the bill’s employment provisions and legislation governing the RCMP.
As members can garner from comparing the proposed amendments with the ones the Senate approved, several crucial amendments did not make it into the bill. One of the more important of these dealt with the issue that Bill C-81 splintered enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over four different public agencies, rather than providing people with disabilities with the single-window service they needed.
As part of this, it leaves two public agencies, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Transportation Agency, to continue overseeing accessibility, despite their inadequate track record on this issue over many years and in the very recent past. The NDP understands that this is an urgent issue which needs to be addressed urgently.
When the bill was in committee, I tabled amendments that would have closed the many exemptions and powers allowing public officials to exempt any organization from key parts of Bill . The NDP feels the bill fails to effectively ensure that the federal government will use all its levers of power to promote accessibility across Canada. For example, it does not require the federal government to ensure that federal money is never used by any recipient of those funds to create or perpetuate disability barriers, such as when federal money contributes to new or renovated infrastructure.
This is a significant point because the federal government can easily require all projects utilizing federal dollars to meet accessibility standards. Experience tells us that without this requirement, federal agencies will contract out important work to third parties to save money, thus bypassing federal accessibility specifications. Our NDP amendments would have addressed this issue directly.
For example, inaccessible public housing could potentially be built and there would be little anyone could do about it, despite the government's repeatedly stated commitment to accessibility and disability issues.
While we commend the government for accepting the timeline of 2040 as the time when Canada is to become accessible to five million people, Bill nevertheless lacks mandatory timelines for implementation. It allows, but does not require, the government to adopt accessibility standards, yet does not impose a time frame within which this is to happen. Without these, the implementation process, even the start-up process, could drag on for years.
An egregious provision the bill lacks is the requirement that all federal government laws, policies and programs be studied through a disability law lens. This seems a strange omission indeed, as this is the proverbial low-hanging fruit.
It is crucial that societies eliminate these forms of discrimination, not just because doing it is the right thing to do but because it enables a previously ignored and sizable section of our population that contributes its talents and abilities to the betterment of us all. Everyone wins when everyone can contribute.
When it comes to ensuring accessibility for five million Canadians with disabilities, Canada lags far behind the United States, which passed a landmark Americans with disabilities act 29 years ago. Canadians with disabilities still face far too many barriers in air travel, cable TV services, and when dealing with the federal government.
Now that Bill is back in the House, it only needs to hold one vote to ratify these amendments. No further public hearings or standing committee study of the bill are needed. Once the amendments are passed during that vote, Bill C-81 will have completed its journey through Canada's Parliament. It will be law. It will come into force when the federal government gives Bill C-81 royal assent.
Major stakeholders have recently written to leaders of the major parties asking that they commit to bringing a stronger national accessibility bill before Parliament after this fall's federal election. That is why, while we support the passage of Bill as amended today, the NDP also commits that when we become government in 2020, we will bring forward a much stronger version of the bill, one that will correct some of its more glaring shortcomings.
As others have noted, yes, the bill is an important first step. However, people living with disabilities have waited so long, too long, to live in a country that allows their flourishing as citizens with full human rights realized. For instance, our neighbours and family members should not be told that they must wait until 2040 until they can, say, use functioning, accessible subway elevators, or use their own wheelchairs on international flights or attend an accessible all-candidates debate and so on.
Unfortunately, the present government has left the task of making Canada fully accessible to future governments. I confidently say that New Democrats are up to this task and genuinely committed to it.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is truly an honour to speak this morning on this historic piece of legislation, Bill , an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. When I was elected, one of my priorities was to see us recognize the challenges faced by those living with disabilities, to raise awareness in my riding and across the country on how we can improve the lives of these friends and neighbours, and to enact legislation to ensure that we are moving forward on a barrier-free Canada. With Bill C-81, the federal government is leading by example, as this legislation would ensure more consistent accessibility in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Why is this important? It is because of people like Steven Muir, who works in my office. Steven lives with a developmental disability. I met him in Oakville and we became friends. Steven fell in love with Maggie, who lived in Ottawa. That presented some logistical challenges to their being together, and while it took a few years to work out the details, Steven left his job and his support network to move to Ottawa to follow his heart. Today, he is happily married to Maggie and I have had him working in my office since 2016. Steven deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and that has not always been the case, in particular when it comes to employment and housing.
Karina Scali is another friend of mine who lives in Oakville. Karina has worked harder than most people I know to get a post-secondary education. She has faced barriers most of us would find insurmountable, including bullying at school, but she has persevered through all of it and is working toward her degree in early childhood education. She has struggled to find paid employment, not because she is not capable but because of her disability, and that is just wrong.
My friend Joe Dowdall was injured in a workplace accident, which put him in a wheelchair. Joe works at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793 and has been an incredible advocate at all levels of government. When I was elected, he told me that I need to work on improving the lives of those with disabilities and I promised him that I would.
I do not have time to share all the stories of my friends at Community Living Oakville and In The Loop Media, but they too have faced challenges in our community and deserve more from all levels of government and Canadian society. They are just a few examples of individuals who will be impacted by the bill before us today. There are thousands more, actually five million more, across the country with stories that are similar.
Bill would benefit Canadians by removing and preventing barriers to accessibility in areas under federal jurisdiction, including in built environments, employment, information and communication technologies, procurement of goods and services, the delivery of programs and services and transportation.
An important part of this bill is the appointment of an independent chief accessibility officer, who will be responsible for monitoring and reporting to the minister on the implementation of the act.
The bill outlines three duties for all regulated entities. They would have to create accessibility plans in consultation with people living with disabilities, they would have to set up ways to receive and respond to feedback from their employees and customers, and they would have to prepare and publish progress reports in consultation with those living with disabilities that outline how they fulfill their accessibility plans. The bill proposes to create the Canadian accessibility standards development organization to develop and model accessibility standards. In general, these standards would outline how organizations can identify, remove and prevent barriers.
An accessibility commissioner within the Canadian Human Rights Commission will be appointed and report to the . The commissioner will be responsible for compliance and enforcement activities, as well as handling complaints for most federal activities sectors. The bill proposes a mix of proactive compliance activities, including, but not limited to, inspections, compliance audits and orders, notice of violations, penalties and more. The legislation provides individuals with the right to complain and receive compensation if they have experienced physical, psychological or monetary harm because an organization has not met its new obligations under the act and regulations.
It is especially meaningful to be speaking today during National AccessAbility Week, which has been held each year since 2016. Bill would see National AccessAbility Week officially start on the last Sunday in May.
The legislation also gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission responsibility for monitoring Canada's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In that regard, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel on an inclusion mission organized by Reena Foundation, March of Dimes and Holland Bloorview. I know some of them are watching right now. What an incredible opportunity this is to see some of the groundbreaking work being done in that country to make it more accessible and inclusive.
I also got time to spend with some of the leading advocates of accessibility and inclusion in Canada. I got to know Yahya, who is living in supportive housing run by the Reena Foundation, a terrific organization that allows Yahya to live independently and with dignity.
David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, joined us on the trip, and I had the chance to talk to him at length about the bill before us today. I am pleased to read that Mr. Lepofsky has stated that the Senate amendments reflect an important victory for those disability advocates who have devoted so much time and energy to strengthening Bill .
This trip allowed me to explore what is possible alongside those living with a disability. What a unique and blessed opportunity it has been. It has has helped guide my perspective as I work in Parliament.
The Senate has made several important amendments to Bill , and I applaud the government and the for accepting these amendments. These amendments include one that adds a deadline for realizing a barrier-free Canada. Adding a deadline was something that many disability advocates said was needed, and I am pleased to see its addition. The Senate amendments also recognize American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign language as the primary languages for communication for deaf persons in Canada. I know this amendment was extremely important to the deaf community, and it is great to see a sign language interpreter here with us today. These amendments and others made by the Senate have strengthened what is already groundbreaking legislation, and it is my sincere hope that all parties can work together to pass Bill as quickly as possible.
While the bill is historic, it is not enough to truly change the lives of Canadians with disabilities. We need a culture change in our country. Everyone needs to think differently about inclusion. We need to stop accepting the view that those living with a disability do not deserve a minimum wage. We need to build more inclusive housing so that people like Steven and Karina have a safe, affordable, inclusive place to live. Government alone cannot build an inclusive and accessible Canada. Every single Canadian needs to change their attitude.
Employers cannot only change a life, but can improve their business's bottom line by hiring staff living with a disability. Make no mistake that passing Bill will make a difference, and it will send the message that the federal government believes in the abilities of all Canadians.
I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to the for her leadership in building an accessible Canada with this legislation and in so many ways, both big and small. The minister is a role model for many Canadians, and I thank her for all of her hard work on this bill.
I also want to thank my friend Senator Jim Munson who was the sponsor of this bill in the Senate. I can think of few parliamentarians who have been so passionate about inclusion for so many years. Senator Munson became emotional when Bill passed third reading in the Senate, posting on Twitter, “This has been a good day for Inclusion—good day for Canada”.
To the and Senator Munson, to all the disability advocates and organizations who have been played a part in guiding and supporting us to where we are today, and to every person across Canada who has played a role in seeing this bill before us come to fruition, I thank them for their passion and commitment to creating an inclusive and accessible country.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the passing of Bill , the accessible Canada act.
It is so symbolic to speak during National AccessAbility Week, when we celebrate the contributions of persons with disabilities and promote accessibility and inclusion across our communities and workplaces.
I would like to acknowledge all the energy invested in the proposed accessible Canada act by all those who have worked so hard to get us where we are today: persons with disabilities, stakeholders, industry and all who play a crucial role in improving accessibility in Canada.
In 1991, I was the victim of a random act of violence that left me a C5 quadriplegic. My life changed forever, and I saw first-hand the everyday issues Canadians with disabilities face, including tasks as ordinary as getting out of bed, going to the bank or getting on a plane. These became real challenges that were significant hurdles. Things became significantly harder due to the inaccessibility of the terrain. The problem was not my disability; it was the barriers put in my way. For instance, stairs can be a heck of an impediment to my progress.
Since entering politics 12 years ago, one of my goals has been to help Canada become a community where people with disabilities reach their individual potential and are recognized and valued as citizens. That is why I am so proud of our federal Liberal government's new accessible Canada act, the most significant piece of legislation for the rights of persons with disabilities in over 30 years.
Before I talk about the merits of the bill, it is important to note that this is not some stand-alone legislation meant to be the only thing our government is doing with respect to moving forward the lives of persons with disabilities in this country.
Our national housing strategy contains a significant focus on accessible housing. This includes the five new housing projects funded so far in Calgary, in partnership with organizations like Horizon Housing, YWCA Calgary, HomeSpace and many more. In addition, our infrastructure investments are being implemented with accessibility in mind. We are helping to provide more university and training opportunities to assist people with disabilities in becoming more involved in our labour force.
The accessible Canada act truly belongs to the disability community and reflects the priorities of persons with disabilities. To get here, we heard from over 6,000 individuals and organizations through the most accessible consultations ever held by government. All people who contributed to the legislation did so because they understood the importance of using their experiences to help drive the change needed for a better tomorrow, where everyone is included and no one is left behind.
Over three years ago, our government worked to develop legislation aimed at removing barriers to inclusion, to ensure that all Canadians have an equal and fair chance at finding success.
One of the things my disability taught me was the critical role that government plays in people's lives. I have always looked at it this way: Whether a person is born of a rich family or one that struggles, whether a person is born with a disability or acquires one along the way, that person deserves an equal and fair chance at success. This act would help level the playing field and promote equality of opportunity.
This bill pursues a very important goal: to make Canada barrier-free. Everyone is ready and eager to see the bill passed, and the organizations with responsibilities under Bill are ready to act in accordance. The CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board have all testified that they are ready to implement their respective roles.
Of course, the road to inclusion has been fought for a long time by individuals and organizations across this country, organizations I was lucky enough to work with and within, such as the National Educational Association of Disabled Students and the Canadian Paraplegic Association of Alberta, which have been pushing these rights forward for many years.
Federal accessibility legislation and leadership at the national level have been long overdue. Canadians expect the Government of Canada to lead when it comes to accessibility. That is a responsibility that our government is taking very seriously. It is important to underscore that this historic bill reflects the work and commitment of the disabled community, whose priorities and concerns have been addressed and are reflected throughout the bill.
This includes recognizing sign languages as the primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada, clarifying that nothing in the act or its regulations limits the duty to accommodate of regulated entities, ensuring the timely implementation of this legislation toward the realization of a barrier-free Canada by 2040, and recognizing intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination that persons with disabilities may experience.
The bill, built on the principle of “Nothing for us without us”, belongs to the disability community. Moving forward, the community's continued participation will be absolutely essential for the bill to be effective.
In many ways, the bill puts into legislation the best practices that top organizations follow. Looking back, I was very lucky to have institutions like the University of Calgary, with instructors who recognized the support I needed, or organizations like the one I practised law with, Dentons Canada, where I was very lucky to have the company provide the voice-activated computer and the assistance I needed to make it through my daily work.
I have been likewise very lucky in the accommodations I received when I was at the Alberta legislature and here, at the House of Commons. I have had incredible support from my wife, my family and my long-term caregiver, Liza Tega, who have always stepped in and done all the things that were simply very difficult for me to do.
However, people with disabilities should not have to rely on this kind of luck. That is why we need legislation. With this legislation, we are creating a system whereby barriers are identified and removed proactively, and we are establishing enforcement mechanisms to ensure that regulations are respected and followed by businesses and areas under federal jurisdiction. It would create avenues for accessibility complaints through a “no wrong door” approach, and it would provide for oversight and monitoring of these issues and emerging accessibility issues.
By legislating National AccessAbility Week and bringing Canadians together to recognize the valuable contributions of persons with disabilities, this law would send a clear message that systems will be designed inclusively from the start. With the accessible Canada act, we are strengthening the collaborative approach for a country that is fully accessible and inclusive, where everyone has an equal and fair chance at success.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill , an act to enable a barrier-free Canada. I would like to reiterate the Conservative pledge to work with all parliamentarians towards its swift passage.
On that note I thank the , the government, other members of the opposition, people with disabilities, businesses and public servants who have come together through this process to put forward a positive if imperfect bill.
Regardless of these imperfections, this late in a parliamentary cycle it is important that we move swiftly to get it passed. There are important improvements that will help remove the barriers faced daily by Canadians with disabilities. This bill, with all of its imperfections, deserves to be passed, and the House can count on full Conservative co-operation to ensure that it does so as quickly as possible.
Now that we acknowledge the foregone conclusion that the bill will pass, and we have commitments from members of all parties to make it happen quickly, I want to use my brief time to highlight the next steps that we must all take in order to ensure a truly barrier-free Canada, one where Canadians with disabilities can fulfill their full potential. I will focus my remarks on the issue of jobs.
We know that a job is the best anti-poverty plan that exists. That is important to this discussion, because fully 27% of people with disabilities lived in poverty as of the Canadian Survey on Disability in 2012. That number falls from 27% to 8% for people with disabilities who have jobs.
Amazingly, that same Statistics Canada survey demonstrated that the poverty rate among people with disabilities who had jobs was actually lower than the poverty rate for the general population. In fact, if we put two people side by side, one who has a disability and a job and the other who has neither a job nor a disability, we would find that the working person with a disability was significantly less likely to be living in poverty.
I use this statistic to demonstrate that it should not be considered a foregone conclusion that people with disabilities must live in want. To the contrary, their natural God-given skills, industry and perseverance allow them not only to support themselves but also to prosper. Unfortunately, there are numerous physical and governmental barriers that stand in the way.
An Employment and Social Development Canada report from some years ago said that of approximately 795,000 working-aged Canadians who are not working but whose disability does not prevent them from doing so, almost half, 340,000 of these people, have post-secondary education. Let me reiterate that. There are 800,000 people with disabilities who are not working even though their disability does not prevent them from working, and almost half of those people have university educations.
The evidence suggests that they desperately want to work and will seek out opportunities to work, but that numerous barriers stand in the way. Many of the physical barriers are addressed in this bill, but there are other governmental barriers that remain in place.
Income and other social support programs often punish people with disabilities for working. Allow me to quote an organization called Return on Disability. It is an organization that specifically invests in businesses that do a good job of hiring people with disabilities and serving customers with disabilities. I quote:
Anecdotal evidence suggests that these programs represent a barrier to employment, as individuals who risk building a career must at some point forfeit their benefits.
Let me give an example. Once a minimum wage-earning person with a disability in Alberta earns $1,150 a month, that person faces a clawback of disability support assistance of almost 100%. It takes 12 full working days for someone on minimum wage to earn that amount. On the 13th day, the government starts reducing the benefit by $1 for each dollar earned. On top of that clawback, the worker pays income and payroll taxes, not to mention gas and carbon taxes to drive to the job in the first place. The combined effect of all these taxes and clawbacks leads to the outcome that someone can lose $1.25 for each extra $1 they earn. That is a negative wage. Every extra hour the person works actually makes them poorer. Ironically, the same government that was in place in Alberta, which was hiking the minimum wage, was punishing the same workers for receiving that increased wage. As the wage went up, the clawback sharpened, and the person was actually worse off.
These disincentives for work are not only discouraging but can also be scary. In Alberta, a single disabled person loses the Alberta adult health benefit program once he or she earns over $16,580. Ontario is almost as bad. People with disabilities who receive the Ontario disability support plan income support payments are penalized if they work. Simply put, for every $2 they make above $200 a month, their ODSP benefits are reduced by $1. This is on top of other clawbacks to housing, child care benefits, bus pass support and drug benefits that could support mobility devices, hearing and visual aids, medical supplies, respiratory devices, transportation allowances and so on.
These penalties have the effect of making it next to impossible for many people who are disabled and desperately want to work to do so. We call this the marginal effective tax rate, a fancy way to describe what people lose for every dollar they earn. We know from the data that it has an effect on the ability of people in these circumstances to work. According to Stats Canada, 94,000 people with disabilities say the reason they do not work is that they would “lose additional support”. Also, 84,000 do not work because they expect their income would drop if they did. These numbers come from Stats Canada surveys and include only people who used to work or who indicated that they are physically capable of doing so.
Let us unpack those numbers. Almost 100,000 Canadians who have a disability and who are physically capable of working have told Stats Canada that the reason they do not is that government programs would punish them if they did.
The solution to this, of course, is to adjust our tax and benefits system across levels of government to ensure that people always gain more from their wages than they lose to clawbacks and taxes. There are a number of ways to do this.
First, we could adopt the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, a bill I introduced early in this Parliament, which received support from members of the NDP, the Green Party and some Liberals. That bill would make it a condition of the Canada social transfer that provinces adjust their tax and benefits systems to ensure that people always keep more in wages than they lose in taxes and clawbacks.
Second, we could look at adjusting the workers benefit disability supplement and the disability tax credit, both of which have the potential to make work more financially rewarding. Jim Flaherty originally designed that benefit. It was then called the working income tax benefit. He specifically had in mind people with disabilities, because of course this was a long-standing passion of his.
The idea was to basically give the working poor, and particularly the working poor who are disabled, a pay raise on their earned income, allowing them to springboard over the welfare wall, which holds so many hard-working and promising workers back.
For the people who still cling to old stereotypes about people with disabilities, there are countless examples of those who have incredible workplace achievements and potential. There are real life stories that support this statement.
As one father of an autistic child wrote, “Charity is a good start, but it isn't a game changer.... Charity wasn't what people like my son really needed; they needed jobs. Only a job could give them a place in the world.” Randy Lewis, that father, created jobs for people like his son.
As senior vice-president of Walgreens, he launched a massive hiring drive to employ about 1,000 people with disabilities at the retail giant's distribution centre. He writes in his amazing book No Greatness without Goodness, “With a paying job...they would be part of our world—not relegated to the shadows and reliant on the charity of strangers. Work would fill their days, offer healthy challenges, and provide relationships. Work would mean independence.” That 1,000-person hiring spree turned into a massive financial success for Walgreens.
The company reported that the distribution centres, which are incredibly competitive and competing on the basis of fractions of pennies, requiring 100% accuracy on where products go through the system, were successful and profitable even through the transition period as a result of, not in spite of, the decision to hire 1,000 people with disabilities to do the important work. They earned full wages and did the same jobs as everyone else had done, in many cases doing them better.
In Canada, we have similar anecdotes.
Tim Hortons franchise owner Mark Wafer hired a young man with Down's syndrome, named Clint. He turned out to be his best and most loyal worker. He did all the same tasks as his co-workers and made the same money, with no government wage subsidy or workplace tokenism. He arrived early, left late and never stopped all day long.
This impressed his boss, who had overcome a disability himself. “I grew up 80% deaf, having to fight for my rights”, said Wafer, who owns five Tim Horton's franchises, “but I always believed that the only way to live a full life is to have a paycheque and that paycheque has to come from the private sector.”
Wafer has put his money where his mouth is, having now employed over 100 workers with disabilities, people like Clint. Furthermore, he has made it clear this was a business decision. His five franchises were among the best franchises in the entire Tim Hortons chain, beating other peer group averages on the measurements of success, including the speed to serve customers and the outright profitability of those franchises.
In fact, he often has a chuckle comparing the performance of his workers to the performance of so-called VIPs who show up on Camp Day, people like politicians and sports celebrities who work in Tim Horton's one day a year to raise money for the Tim Hortons camp. He has compared the statistics on how long it takes for customers to get served on that day to the speed with which his workers, who have disabilities, are able to serve those same customer and shows that the so-called VIPs are blown out of the water.
He has demonstrated the enormous success and potential of reaching out to people who have disabilities and hiring them in the workplace. In fact, they are not just anecdotes. Of the million Canadians with disabilities who work, 328,000 of them have severe or very severe disabilities.
We know this kind of success can be replicated. As I said earlier, at Mark Wafer's Tim Hortons branch, his turnover was only 40% a year, while the industry average was 100%. He reduced turnover by hiring people with disabilities. This was important because one staff turnover cost him $4,000. Based on 16 metrics used to measure the operations of the stores, Wafer said his business outperformed the others. He said, “I don't run a better business. I have a better workforce.”
Similarly, the two Walgreens distribution centres, where 40% of the workforce have disabilities, became the most efficient in the company's history. He said, “Once they fastened onto the work, most have laser-like focus. Not only did they work hard, they didn't want to quit.” They sorted, packaged and sent off thousands of different products worth millions of dollars to dozens of stores every week. This required speed, frugality and flawlessness. The slightest error would send products to the wrong place and empty shelves would send unsatisfied customers to the competitor.
Speaking of the management at Walgreens, he said, “We all agreed that spending extra money” was not what was needed. “No one had to say so—it just was.” He went on to say, “In a business that plots the difference between success and failure by one-eighth of a penny, loss show up quickly and can be disastrous.”
He points out that his hard-nosed business-driven approach was perfectly compatible with having a workforce that included people with disabilities. In fact, many of them outperformed those who had no apparent disability at all.
In Canada, we have some great examples of new innovations. A company called Meticulon in Calgary helps people with autism become information technology consultants. They have the opportunity to earn $24 an hour doing IT work, mostly in Calgary's energy sector, but now broadening out to other fields.
Then there is the opportunity in reaching a bigger market. According to Return on Disability, over a billion people around the world have disabilities, representing a combined market of customers equal to a country nearly the size of China. There are major business opportunities for business owners who are smart enough to hire people with disabilities and serve customers with disabilities.
We need to remove some of the government obstacles that have stood in the way. Right now the biggest among them is the high levels of marginal effective tax rates that punish people, not just those with disabilities but all those who are on social assistance, for making the courageous decision of entering the workplace. In doing so, we sell people short, we deny them their opportunities and we fail to recognize their desire, which is similar to our own, to contribute to their fellow humanity.
Work is a basic human need, not just for a livelihood but for a life. There is dignity in labour, as Martin Luther King famously said. There is dignity in all labour, no matter what kind of work a person does. King famously said that if someone was a street sweeper, to then go out and sweep streets like Beethoven made music, sweep streets like Michelangelo made art, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry, sweep streets so well that when the person entered through the gates of heaven, people would cry out that there stood the great street sweeper who did his job well.
Let us take this occasion, where all of us are united in this common goal, to recognize the inherent dignity of every person, including and especially those who have overcome disabilities and difficulties, and clear the way for them to fulfill their full potentials.
Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to be here just before question period, when members from all parties will certainly be in complete opposite positions on issues and when it tends to be a fairly feisty time. Instead, at this moment in time, we are talking about something that, in many ways, we agree on. It is that rare opportunity to be discussing an issue on which we may have different approaches, but the result we are shooting for is the same.
First, it is really important to make clear that this legislation will pass. It has the support of members on all sides of this House. We may have ideas on how we want the legislation to be constructed or on ways it can be improved to have more impact for the people who need it, but we all agree that it is a step forward. Certainly the stakeholders from across the country agree that this legislation is a step forward.
As my colleague previously noted, it is a foregone conclusion that this legislation will pass, so today we are having a conversation about it. We are able to use the opportunity we have, as members of Parliament elected by the people of Canada to debate issues in this House, to talk about how the process could be improved or about our vision of where this legislation would have an impact.
To that end, I want to start with what has worked in this process. I want to commend, first of all, the parties that have been involved in this process, the stakeholders and Canadians with disabilities, for their ability to come together to find common ground. So often the enemy of progress in this country is our inability to come together. We wind up with a cacophony of ideas and a lot of noise from different people advocating for perhaps the same end but through different means. It is very confusing for policy-makers, regardless of political stripe, making decisions in that environment.
We have seen alliances formed in this process. Alliances of organizations with varying interests have come together and advocated strongly on their common ground. These include organizations like FALA and the AODA. David Lepofsky, who has been a tireless champion, Bill Adair, who I know is here today listening to the debate, and so many others their alliances represent have been part of this process. In finding that common ground, we find ourselves here today in a conversation, with all parties in agreement.
I want to talk a bit about why this is important to me personally. By now I think everyone in this House knows that I have a son with autism. Jaden is now 23 years old, and in many ways, he is like a three-year-old or four-year-old in a 23-year-old's body. He is non-verbal, but he has incredible skills. If given the opportunity, he has something incredibly meaningful to offer to our society and our country.
As I am telling this story, the best example I can give in terms of perception is from an interview we did six years ago with Steve Paikin, on The Agenda. We did this interview with Jaden and his sister Jenae, who was 13 at the time. Jenae, as a 13-year-old, was asked by Steve, who knows both Jaden and Jenae and has a real interest in helping them tell their story, if she ever wished that Jaden was “normal”, like every other kid. Jenae, as a 13-year-old, without hesitation, responded, “Well, honestly, since Jaden was diagnosed with autism before I was born, I don't exactly know what a normal brother is like, so Jaden kind of is my normal.”
Steve pressed her a little bit and asked if she liked him just the way he was. It was kind of a softball question. We do not see too many of those in this House. Without skipping a beat, her answer was that if Jaden did not have autism or was cured or something, we would miss the Jaden we have now. This is coming from a 13-year-old. I tell this story in a lot of my presentations across the country to university students and basically anyone who will listen.
What I learned from that interview, as I reflected on it over the years of telling the story multiple times, is the fact that it made me think about my own normal and maybe a little about Jenae's normal, in the sense that Jenae never really had a choice. She was born into the family. She is three and a half years younger than Jaden.
However, the school they went to, which is a kindergarten to grade 12 school, had a choice. That school's choice was to include Jaden in a regular classroom with a full-time aide.
When we made the choice to put Jaden in that school, and when we made the choice to push for him to have a full-time aide, we were advocating for Jaden. We thought that it would be better for Jaden. We did not know Jaden the 23-year-old. We knew Jaden the five-year-old at the time. We thought that was the best route for him in his schooling.
Over the years, we started hearing from students who were in Jaden's classroom. They would tell us that their lives were immeasurably better because they got to know Jaden. It made them think differently about the world.
I am about to turn 50 next week. My normal for 50 years, when I think about it, if people can imagine a video game, is a circle that surrounds me as far as I can see. My normal is basically that circle following me around for 50 years. In this building, it would be all the people I can see. Sometimes we have a TV screen come into that circle. Sometimes we have a computer monitor that exposes us to something from outside the circle, but our normal really is what we are surrounded by.
If we are not including people like Jaden in that circle, in our normal as we go through life, our lives are going to be impacted in very negative ways. As we think about this legislation, we should think about the importance of creating an environment in which all Canadians can be included in every aspect of our society. I encourage us all to think about our lives in terms of that circle and to think about the strengths we have. If our circle only includes people who are exactly the same as us, who have the same strengths we have, then our strengths are not really even strengths, because everyone has the same strength. If our circle includes only people who have the same weaknesses we have, our weaknesses are going to be more profound, because there is nobody in that circle with skills and abilities to counter those weaknesses.
What Jaden brings to the table is a different way of thinking. So many Canadians have been excluded from our workplaces, our schools and all the environments in which we live. What we have missed are people who have incredible skills and abilities, because we have not gone down the road of creating the circumstances and opportunities to include them. Our society is less because of those decisions we have made.
Today, as we have this conversation, we have the opportunity to right that wrong. We see and hear from members across this House who recognize that opportunity.
I know that my time is running short, so I will wrap up for now with this. I have been part of this House for 13 years. Rare is the opportunity to come together with colleagues from all parties on something as important as this. I cannot wait to stand in this House with my colleagues from all parties to support this legislation and take this meaningful step forward.