Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today at the last stage of debate on Bill , also known as the accessible Canada act.
Dedicated and tireless work has gone into this bill ever since it was introduced in the House last June. Many, many people spent considerable time and energy on this historic bill, including people with disabilities, stakeholders and organizations that have a role to play in making Canada accessible. More specifically, the disability community was heavily involved throughout the parliamentary process, and thanks to their efforts these people now have a bill that reflects their voices and priorities.
We should all be very proud of the hard work that went into this bill. Everyone who took part in this process understands the particular significance of this legislation.
This bill represents a historic milestone for the rights of persons with disabilities in Canada. It builds on our country's strong human rights system and is a major step in the ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Canada has certainly come a long way on accessibility. However, for millions of persons with disabilities across this country who continue to face barriers every single day in their communities and workplaces, this bill is long overdue. The proposed accessible Canada act pursues a simple, but essential, goal: to realize a Canada without barriers.
What the accessible Canada act is proposing is a major culture shift. Right now, our current system requires persons with disabilities to fight for access and inclusion. We have all seen it. We all know somebody who is facing challenges with their mobility, people who cannot hear and people who cannot see, who yet want to make a contribution to our society and live their lives fully. We have to take them into account. We have to address their needs.
The proposed accessible Canada act sets out to change that and create a Canada that is inclusive and accessible for everyone from the get-go. Canadians with disabilities are tired of being treated as an afterthought. This is what Bill sets out to do: to transform our perceptions of disability and ensure accessibility and inclusion from the start.
Improving the quality of life of Canadians with disabilities is a priority of this government. That is why we are not even waiting for this legislation to be enacted before taking meaningful steps. The steps that we are taking to improve the Canadian Transportation Agency regulations are a good example of this. The goal of these regulations is an ambitious one: to create the most accessible transportation system in the world.
Here I want to take a minute to thank the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is playing a pivotal and extremely important role in addressing the issues related to transportation. That is the kind of ambition that we need and which Canadians living with disabilities deserve.
We are taking a sectoral approach with this legislation. The opposition has criticized us for this, but it makes sense to take this approach since accessibility is everyone's responsibility. All departments need to take accessibility into account as they make decisions, devise policies and prioritize spending. There must always be a focus, among all of the other priorities associated with legislation and regulations, on what those do with respect to accessibility. That is why, for example, in the transportation realm, we are strengthening the powers of the Canadian Transportation Agency. This will have a significant impact across the country for Canadians living with disabilities.
Our government has devoted special attention to accessibility in the transportation sector, which has been made a priority item in this bill. We are committed to protecting and promoting the dignity and human rights of people with disabilities by ensuring that we have a transportation system that is truly accessible from coast to coast to coast.
I myself take the train every week, I fly frequently, and I use other modes of transportation from time to time. We are very conscious of the fact that using the modes of transportation we take for granted can make travel very challenging, if not impossible, for certain people with disabilities.
In the federal transportation sector, service providers will be required to develop accessibility plans and provide progress reports, as well as respond to the feedback generated by the process. They will also be required to consult people with disabilities in the development of those accessibility plans so as to ensure that the community is reflected in the plans now and in the future. They will also have to implement meaningful organizational and culture change with respect to accessibility.
The bill sets out additional requirements to guarantee that the government proactively assumes its responsibilities when it comes to identifying, removing and preventing barriers. Where barriers do exist, we need to have stronger redress mechanisms.
This is our opportunity to achieve yet another historic milestone for disability rights in Canada. Here, I want to take a second to speak about the incredible leadership of our on this particular file, as well as the leadership of our , who, for the first time in our history, has given the issue of accessibility the importance, the priority and urgency it deserves.
Accessibility and inclusion benefit everyone. The proposed accessible Canada act will not only improve the day-to-day lives of millions of people in Canada, but also have broader positive economic and social benefits. Ensuring accessible workplaces and employment practices means taking advantage of a large and untapped and talented labour market. Making goods, services, facilities and programs accessible means benefiting from the business of a major client base. Removing and preventing the barriers that stop persons with disabilities from fully participating in our communities means levelling the playing field so that every person can live a full and meaningful life. This is what Canada is all about.
We now have the chance to address the systemic barriers and inequity that still exist today. The barriers faced by persons with disabilities are real and tangible. To take down those barriers, we need to get Bill , the accessible Canada act, passed as soon as possible. We cannot afford to wait. Persons with disabilities have so much to offer our society. They are willing, eager and able to participate and contribute and we need to insist on their much-needed social and economic participation.
We have the opportunity to make Canada truly accessible and inclusive. We must do our duty as the federal government and pass the accessible Canada act without further delay. Canadians expect an innovative and forward-thinking transportation system that is dependable, safe and accessible.
The bill ensures that these objectives are met, especially when it comes to promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities, and that Canada is recognized as a global leader.
Today we literally have an opportunity to make history. We have been extremely flexible and open to all the proposed amendments. By passing Bill , we will take another step toward an inclusive society where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. We will no longer have a system where persons with disabilities have to struggle every day to obtain basic access.
It is essential that we pass this bill to bring down the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in Canada. We must get this bill passed as soon as possible to start working together for a barrier-free Canada. The real work will begin once the bill has been passed, and we must do it together.
I will conclude by asking all members of the House to take a few seconds to think about the following.
All members know somebody who is facing challenges with respect to a handicap. We all know people in that situation, and we all know they face barriers in society that they should not have to face. All members know that we have an obligation, as a responsible government, to do something about that.
I urge all members to pass the bill as quickly as possible. The time has come, and the discussion is over. This will be historic and important for all Canadians for years to come.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the ministers for the work they did on Bill . I would also like to recognize the excellent work of the member for , who motivated us and brought us together on this bill. My colleague who is here beside me also deserves a round of applause for his work.
It is an honour for me to speak to this bill, and I believe I may be the last one to do so. I have always cared about and been committed to the cause of people with reduced mobility and disabilities.
When I began my career, I was a young radio host and the very first volunteer work that I was called upon to do in that capacity was to host a radiothon, a telethon for cerebral palsy. I do not know whether Quebeckers or members of the House remember the major cerebral palsy telethon with well-known radio and television host Serge Laprade. Every year for many years, Quebeckers looked forward to this major televised event, which sought to raise money for people with disabilities.
It was a first. Once a year, on television, we were seeing people who had difficulty doing the same things as everyone else. We were seeing people who needed help and money from others to live. I do not know whether similar events were held elsewhere, so I will talk about Quebec.
Quebeckers were always very generous. Year after year, more and more people contributed to this cause. In addition to helping people with disabilities, this event began to raise awareness of the importance of meeting the accessibility needs of people with disabilities, who are people just like us. In the beginning, these telethons had a tendency to paint people with disabilities as people we should pity. That is how it was. The scenes that were shown depicted the challenges and hardship these individuals face. People with cerebral palsy sometimes have difficulty speaking and so those watching had to pay close attention to understand what they were saying.
Canadians and Quebeckers had a rather fraught relationship with disabilities. There were these telethons, but there were also telethons in small regions like my own. The Caisse populaire had hosted a small local telethon and brought in people with cerebral palsy. People found out that talking with them was very pleasant. The problem was that the people with disabilities could not actually get into the buildings where our telethons or radiothons were being held. They had to be picked up and carried in. Even the places hosting telethons or activities for people with disabilities were not accessible.
One of the first decisions that the volunteer organization made was to build a ramp. Now these people could get into the building where we were ready and willing to help them. We wanted to involve them so they could be there with us to help raise funds. That is one of the objectives of the bill that I am going to talk about later on.
I had so much fun at the telethon that I decided to become president of my riding's cerebral palsy association in Thetford Mines. It was a small association, yet it somehow managed to raise $50,000, $60,000 or $80,000 a year. It worked miracles with that money, mainly raising public awareness, because renovating buildings costs a lot of money, more than $60,000 or $80,000.
Anyway, I became president of the association, and one of the first things we did was increase the number of directors with cerebral palsy or other disabilities or conditions, so that we could make decisions with them, for them. That is one of the elements of the bill that really struck a chord with me. This is not a bill that is going to impose anything on people with disabilities. Instead, it focuses on working with them to find solutions.
A particular decision may sometimes seem like a smart one, but it could ultimately serve no purpose to persons with disabilities. They may not need it. The radiothon was more than just a first volunteer experience. It was an opportunity to interact with people who are different, who have things to say and who want to do things. These are extraordinary people.
My volunteer experience changed my perspective. Everywhere I go, every organization or public building I visit, anytime I play a sport or recreational activity, I always take some time to ask myself whether the space is accessible by all. I ask myself if everyone can participate in this sport or if everyone can work in this space. Unfortunately there is still a lot more work left to do.
Although I completely agree with this legislation, it really is just a first step. The bill allocates money, shows goodwill and proposes some plans, which all represent one small step. Although this step is a small one, it is still a step forward. This is something that had not yet been done and that was necessary.
As I said, I started doing volunteer work on the radio in 1985. It is now 2019 and we are still trying to implement accessibility plans. I have had the opportunity, and I truly consider it an opportunity, to work with persons with disabilities. It makes absolutely no sense to me that we are still having to introduce accessibility legislation. Accessibility should already be standard practice. We should not even have to ask the question. An accessibility plan should simply be the same thing as the architectural plan for all spaces, for all projects. This is why it is a great honour to speak to this bill this evening.
Volunteering gets in your blood. It is infectious. I was the mayor of Thetford Mines. One of the first things I did was check all the municipal buildings to make sure everything was okay. I was mayor of Thetford Mines for seven years. I did not manage to make the Thetford Mines city council chamber accessible. It is not an easy thing to do. It costs a lot of money and requires a lot of investment. We have to send a message: every infrastructure project should always include an envelope for making all public buildings accessible. If not, then we have to convince seven other people who did not have the same volunteering experience that I did to invest a significant amount of money to allow a person from the community to attend a municipal council meeting once a year. Trying to convince colleagues around the table is not always easy. I did not succeed.
We started making progress. We decided to move the council chamber. We gutted a building and decided that the next council chamber would be at that location on the ground floor and therefore accessible. We did not get that far because we did not manage to get the funding to build a new city hall, but that is another story.
In any case, that is where we are today. All elected officials, anyone who is in a position of authority, all departments, organizations and Crown corporations under the minister's responsibility must keep this in mind and steer policy in that direction. If a portion of infrastructure budgets is not dedicated to improving the quality of life of people who cannot access the full range of services they are entitled to, to the same degree as all other Canadians, then we will have failed.
I will speak to Bill and review a few points for people listening to us, because this is important.
The purpose of this bill is to benefit all persons, especially persons with disabilities, through the progressive realization, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, of a Canada without barriers, through proactive compliance and enforcement measures of accessibility standards that regulated parties must respect and uphold. Upholding these standards is another important aspect.
Sometimes, a grant is provided to install a ramp. However, the ramp has to be maintained. After five years, a hole may appear in the ramp and someone in a wheelchair will not be able to use it. If it cannot be used, it is no longer accessible. The ramp needs to be maintained. It is great to receive a given amount of money, but these structures have to be maintained. That is why the accessibility plan requires us to report after a certain number of years. That is an important element of the bill. It is a good initiative.
The requirement for all federally regulated entities, including private enterprises, to create multi-year accessibility plans, set objectives and present a report on what was done has been included in the bill. That is what I was referring to in the question I put to the minister just before giving my speech.
It is good to set an example, but that is only the first step. This needs to happen everywhere. We have to ensure that all Canadians get the message—not just those working in federally regulated sectors, but those working in large and small businesses as well. Thinking about the accessibility of our buildings should be second nature.
The Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization is a Crown corporation tasked with creating standards. I am always a bit afraid of new agencies. I always worry that more money is being invested in the offices than on the ground. That is one of my concerns. However, if we do not start somewhere, we will not get anything done. It is a vicious circle.
Personally, I hope that this organization will be more concerned with what is happening on the ground than with office management and expansion. We do not want to have everyone with disabilities working in the same agency. We want them to work everywhere, in all the federal government buildings, and not just in one place. That is something we must absolutely keep in mind.
We have supported this bill and we will support it now, because it is a necessary piece of legislation. Clearly, we would have liked it to go a little further. We would have liked it to be less permissive with regard to the minister’s discretion, and we would have liked to see the minister require a little more of the people who will have to implement the bill.
We proposed some sixty amendments, but only three opposition amendments were agreed to. I hope that further improvements will be made to this bill in the future. As I see it, there are still about 57 good ideas that are not reflected in this bill.
I think this shows that there is still work to do. Whatever party forms the next government, it will still have work to do. Everyone knows I cannot give a speech without saying that I hope my whole team and I will be part of the next government. It is hard to deliver a 20-minute speech without being partisan. The members opposite know me.
The Senate adopted 11 amendments to Bill , and those amendments improved the bill tremendously. I think it is a step in the right direction. Thanks to the Senate amendments, American Sign Language, Quebec Sign Language and indigenous sign languages will be recognized as the primary languages for communication used by deaf people in Canada. That is in line with stakeholders' recommendations and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Harper government ratified in 2010.
Even with the amendments, the bill uses permissive language, as I already mentioned. If possible, I hope that the ministers who will be implementing the bill will change “may” to “must”. If they make this personal, they will be able to do it. The bill says that they may do it, and I hope that they will.
As I was saying, these new standards will apply only to regulated individuals and entities, but it would be worthwhile to expand this and to use this bill as a model to help make life better for everyone.
In conclusion, I want to read a few excerpts from an open letter on the need to swiftly pass the Senate amendments, which was signed by a number of organizations. This open letter congratulates the minister but it highlights a comment made by Senator Chantal Petitclerc, which I really liked. She said that the committee's amendments reflect the maxim of disability communities: “Nothing about us without us”. This must absolutely guide our decisions.
This is what should guide ministers, agency directors and anyone who is called upon to participate in the development of these accessibility plans and all related measures.
Some very good ideas might come from people like us who do not have disabilities, but although we sometimes think we have the solution, that is often not the case. People with disabilities are able to tell us what the solution should be and how we can help them. That might cost a lot less than implementing our own solutions. I have seen this in the past. These individuals do not want the hottest Cadillac or the ultimate in accommodation. They want to live their lives and thrive like the rest of us, and the best way to help them is to work with them.
Many organizations want this legislation to be implemented quickly. I will name them, because they deserve to be recognized for the work they have done throughout the long process of getting Bill passed.
They are the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, AODA Alliance, ARCH Disability Law Centre, Federal Accessibility Legislation Alliance, Citizens With Disabilities-Ontario, Ontario Autism Coalition, Spinal Cord Injury Canada, StopGap Foundation, Travel For All, Older Women's Network; Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopment Advocacy; Barrier-Free Canada; B.C. Coalition of People who use Guide Dogs, the Keremeos Measuring Up team, National Coalition of People who use Guide and Service Dogs in Canada, The Project Group Consulting Cooperative, VIEWS Ontario For the Vision Impaired, Communication Disabilities Access Canada, British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, DeafBlind Ontario Services, March of Dimes Canada, North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre, Peterborough Council For Persons With Disabilities, Québec Accessible, CNIB Foundation for Ontario and Quebec, Electromagnetic Pollution Illnesses Canada Foundation, Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy, and the Rick Hansen Foundation.
That is just a small number of people, but they worked hard to encourage us to change our habits and ways of doing things. Having once been a member of one of these organizations, I know that we still have a lot of work to do. These organizations work so hard.
First, they work with their clients. Second, they try to persuade the government to change things. Third, they raise funds, because they do not have big operating budgets. Lastly, they improve the lives of many people living with the disabilities that have been mentioned.
In closing, I would like to thank everyone who was involved in introducing Bill . I want to remind the government that 57 amendments could have been adopted to improve the bill, but all the same, the bill is a step in the right direction.
I thank all my colleagues who worked on the committee and did their utmost to speak for those who could not be there. It is our role, as members, to be a voice for the voiceless and to make sure they get a chance to speak when and where they want to.