I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 42 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022. Members are attending in person and remotely by using the Zoom application.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would ask you to please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating virtually, please use the “raise hand” function. Before speaking, click on the microphone icon to activate your own mike. When you are done speaking, please put your mike on mute to minimize interference.
For those in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. Your microphone will be controlled by the proceedings and verification officer. The clerk and I will manage the speaking order. We appreciate your patience and understanding.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available by choosing either English or French if you're attending remotely. I would also advise that unless there are exceptional circumstances, I will recognize those appearing virtually only if they have an approved House of Commons headset.
I would also remind you that screenshots are prohibited when the meeting is in session. Should any technical issues arise, please advise me and we'll suspend for a few minutes to ensure that everyone may participate fully.
Pursuant to order of reference of Tuesday, October 18, 2022, the committee will resume its study of Bill .
I would like to take a moment to remind those participating in today's meeting as well as those observing the proceedings in person on video that the committee adopted a motion on Monday, October 24, 2022, that included instructions for the clerk to explore options to allow for the participation of all witnesses and members of the public in the context of the consideration of Bill . In planning inclusive and accessible meetings, the committee has made arrangements for sign language interpretation in both American Sign Language and Quebec sign language for those witnesses appearing in person, and by Zoom for those individuals in our audience.
The sign language interpreters are being video recorded to be incorporated into a video recording of the proceedings today. That would be made available at a later date on ParlVU via the committee's website. To assist the interpreters in their work, I kindly ask all members and witnesses appearing today to introduce themselves when speaking. When I recognize you, before you begin, introduce yourself and speak slowly.
Finally, if a member of the audience requires assistance at any time, please notify a member of the staff or the committee clerk.
I would like to inform all members that the witnesses appearing virtually today have completed the technical test to check their connectivity and equipment.
I would like to welcome our witnesses to begin our discussions with five minutes of opening remarks, followed by questions.
We will begin with Indwell Community Homes and Jeffrey Neven, chief executive officer.
From Reena, we have Gary Gladstone, head of stakeholder relations.
We have Vincent Calderhead, legal counsel, appearing as an individual, but we have not been able to connect with him at this time.
I will start with five minutes for Jeffrey Neven, chief executive officer of Indwell Community Homes.
Mr. Neven, you have the floor.
As you mentioned, my name is Jeff Neven and I am the CEO at Indwell.
Indwell is a Christian charity that creates affordable housing communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging. Our three core values are dignity, love and hope.
We serve more than 1,200 people with housing and support programs in southwestern and southern Ontario. These include places like Hamilton, London and Kitchener-Waterloo, and smaller communities like Woodstock, Norfolk County and St. Thomas.
One in five people in Canada lives with a disability, and over one million Canadians with disabilities live in poverty. As a leading provider of supportive affordable housing for people with disabilities, Indwell walks alongside many vulnerable Canadians whose income bears no resemblance to the actual costs of living.
In Ontario, for example, the current housing allowance for a person receiving the Ontario disability support benefit is $522 per month. The complete disconnection between the provided housing allowance and the actual cost of housing has produced homelessness, an impossible demand for specialized housing and an oversubscription of every housing subsidy program.
Indwell supports the immediate introduction of the as a vital tool to promote the choice and dignity of Canadians with disabilities. We firmly believe that every Canadian deserves the opportunity to access quality housing of their choice. When Canadians have enough income to access the necessities of living, it creates a pathway for recovery and independence. Adequate income support that matches the cost of living increases opportunities for people with disabilities to make real choices about where they live.
As a supportive housing provider, we also recognize that chronically low disability benefits contribute to the increased cost of providing quality and deeply affordable housing and supports. Currently in Ontario, people with disabilities can cover only a small portion of the actual cost of their housing, requiring reliance on limited subsidy programs and resources. In terms of housing development, this severely impacts the ability of any developer to create a suitable and sustainable business case for housing geared to people with disabilities. When people have the opportunity to purchase their housing from the market, it will fuel the construction of new affordable housing stock by both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.
We strongly support the as a high-impact opportunity to change the lives of people with disabilities in Canada. We strongly encourage the government and all members of Parliament to act and to implement this program.
We believe the impact of this program will be significant if the benefit amount is in keeping with the actual costs of the necessities of life, if the program functions as a direct increase in income with no provisions for clawbacks from any provincial income programs, if housing allowance programs are indexed to current available market rents, if individuals receiving the benefit are empowered to use their income freely and if implementation of the program does not replace existing housing subsidy programs.
In conclusion, the has the potential to transform the lives of those living with disabilities by pulling thousands out of poverty and affirming their human dignity. In addition, it will bring the for-profit housing sector back into providing housing solutions for thousands of Canadians.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this important bill.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.
My name is Gary Gladstone. I am the lead of stakeholder relations at Reena as well as the convenor of the Intentional Community Consortium.
Reena, celebrating our 50th anniversary next year, promotes dignity, individuality, independence, personal growth and community inclusion for people with diverse abilities within a framework of Jewish culture and values. Open to all, Reena provides supportive housing, programming and employment services to over 1,000 individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism and those with mental health challenges.
The Intentional Community Consortium represents 26 agencies that are advocating and building not-for-profit, deeply affordable housing for the most vulnerable in society: those with developmental disabilities.
Reena is the fourth-largest developmental service provider in Ontario, currently operating 32 group homes and supporting an additional 140 individuals in supported independent living units. There are 252 community participants in our daily programming, with over 700 full- and part-time employees. Reena has an overall budget of $75 million.
On behalf of those we support with varied abilities and specifically those with developmental disabilities and severe mental health challenges, I am pleased to be present to support Bill , an act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act. I request that this legislation be passed as soon as possible, with a tight timeline of six months to complete regulations.
As I thank for bringing this important legislation forward, I would also like to thank all members and parties in the House for expediting this bill through the House to committee to have a full discussion.
About 100,000 Ontario adults have a developmental disability. Eighteen per cent to 30% of people in homeless shelters have a developmental disability. Fifty per cent of those with developmental disabilities live with significant medical issues. Ninety per cent of those with developmental disabilities live below the poverty line and require deeply affordable rent for adequate housing, with supports that amount to about $522 in Ontario. Women with a developmental disability are 65% more likely to experience abuse than a typical female.
Honourable members of the committee, as I have said to you before, there is a waiting list of over 40 years for housing with supports for those with developmental disabilities, although things are getting a bit better, thanks to the targeted carve-out of the national housing strategy for this targeted vulnerable community.
Bill is a vital piece of legislation that will impact the lives of those we support and those with disabilities from coast to coast to coast. We need to pass this legislation as soon as possible with all-party support so that we can immediately get working on the regulations that will address critical issues about the design and structure of the benefit.
I would urge that the following be in the regulations. Number one is a safeguard against provincial and territorial government clawbacks, as we want to ensure that there is a net benefit and that there will not be a clawback from the provinces of any additional funds provided by the federal government.
Number two is indexing for inflation. As inflation and the increased cost of living are on everyone’s mind now, it's imperative that any benefit be indexed to the rate of inflation.
Number three is that we would also like to see representatives from the disabled community at the table when decisions are made with respect to Bill , as well as all disability acts and regulations.
It's imperative that we enact the bill and work on the regulations immediately so that we can get the benefits out to the most vulnerable, those who need them now, as soon as possible. Reena and the Intentional Community Consortium recommend that a deadline for the recommendations and actionable items be no more than six months.
In preparation for this presentation, I have read briefs from many outstanding organizations in the disability sector. I would like it noted that Reena and the Intentional Community Consortium share some of the concerns of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. We would like them addressed—without slowing down the passage of this legislation, when possible—within six months, to ensure that the benefit gets out the door as soon as possible.
“A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members” is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. Through the proposed act, you can ensure that Canada takes care of those who cannot advocate for themselves. With your support, we need to ensure that those with developmental disabilities are never left behind again.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak in support of Bill with the request that it be quickly passed into law, with unanimous all-party support, with regulations brought forth within six months.
For further information on Reena and the consortium, please visit our website, www.reena.org. Thank you very much.
Thank you to all the witnesses for being here today.
I'll start with you, Mr. Gladstone. You made a comment about a timeline. I'm not sure if you saw the testimony on Monday, when we had the here and the timeline was laid out. It was stated by both the minister and the officials that it will likely take around 12 months to do regulations. Then, of course, there will be implementation after that, so we could very well be into 2024.
I'm wondering if you have thoughts on that and what difficulties you see with that type of timeline.
Thank you to both of the witnesses for their attendance today and for providing testimony.
First, can I start with Mr. Neven?
Jeff, welcome to the committee. As a former city councillor and past president of CityHousing Hamilton, I know that many of our tenants who are on ODSP and receive it as a support payment struggled over the years to just cope and to purchase the necessities of life.
Can you briefly share with the committee what challenges your tenants would face currently with the disability support payment that they receive from the Province of Ontario? Can you expand upon the housing component, as you referenced in your opening?
Yes. Thank you, MP Collins.
It is actually dire.
As I mentioned, our organization is focused on the approximately seven million people who live south and southwest of Toronto in that area from Mississauga all the way down to Chatham. Across that region, a windowless basement apartment is $1,500. Folks currently living with disabilities have a housing allowance of $522. We have a gap of approximately $1,000 to hit the bottom, the cheapest of the market units available. This is having an impact on people's health, mental health and substance use. In addition to the human impact, the lack of adequate income that folks with disabilities are living with means that they can't purchase what they need from the market.
We're also seeing, as a housing developer and health care provider, that it's limiting the options of the private sector. When I started in this role 20 years ago, our folks were able to find housing at the bottom end of the market in the for-profit sector. There's now a $1,000 gap to hit the bottom of that.
The implications are homelessness and poor health, as has been mentioned today. In some cases, it's leading to death.
Thanks, Jeff, for that information.
Mr. Gladstone referenced the percentage of those people who are disabled who find themselves in a shelter. I think the stat that he gave was between 18% and 30%. I know a lot of your clients at one point in time, unfortunately, would find themselves living in an emergency shelter in Hamilton or other communities where you have units.
Can you share with us the situation as it relates to the disabled? You referenced your friend. With regard to those people living with a disability who receive ODSP and can't find accommodation—like that basement apartment, even, which is the cheapest one on the market—can you share with us some of the stories for those individuals, some Indwell tenants who may have found their way through the shelter system because they're not receiving the appropriate income support today?
This is a daily story for us.
Literally, in any given year, we have thousands of folks calling us in desperate situations. In our case, our primary area of expertise, when it comes to supports, is with those experiencing mental illness and addictions. The impact of struggling with mental health and having inadequate financial supports means that people calling us are in desperate situations. They are homeless.
Mr. Gladstone referenced how many folks in homeless shelters are dealing with a developmental challenge. There are stats as high as 80% out there for acquired brain injury. There are other stats around mental health.
What we're finding is that nearly everyone applying for our housing because of homelessness is experiencing mental health concerns, whether those are diagnosed or undiagnosed.
I'd like to thank all the witnesses for being with us and for their work with people with disabilities.
My first question will be for Mr. Neven.
A few times in your speech, you stressed the need to have an income that matches the actual cost of living. Do you have any idea what that income would be?
I'm asking you this question because the bill indicates that it will be decided by regulation. It's important for us, as parliamentarians, to have a sense of what witnesses mean by a benefit that is sufficient to meet the needs.
Thank you very much for recognizing the work that Reena does with its employment programs, which have very good success rates for those it is able to assist.
Building on Mr. Neven's comments, it's important that this must be in addition to and not instead of. I would look to it to encourage individuals to work where it's appropriate and for the hours that are appropriate for them to be working for an income. With that, together with the Canada disability benefit, they should be in a position to get even further ahead and get out of poverty, which is severe.
With 90% of those with developmental disabilities living below the poverty line, it's real and chronic. The supports from the disability benefit and the wages that they would be earning for the hours at the jobs that they are able to work at would make a difference.
Committee members, before I go to Ms. Zarrillo, you will see that Mr. Calderhead is now available. If you agree, we need to do a quick sound check with him and allow him to do his statement, because he is a witness who has been asked to be here.
Could we suspend for a couple of minutes while we do the sound check and bring him in before we go to Ms. Zarrillo?
Ms. Zarrillo, are you okay with that as well?
Okay. We'll suspend for a couple of moments. Then he'll make his opening statement and we'll resume with Ms. Zarrillo.
Thank you to all the witnesses and to Mr. Calderhead for coming in today.
I'm going to reiterate what I've heard today. Both of the witnesses mentioned the adequacy of this benefit to ensure that it secures the necessity of life for folks and is not clawed back. As I'm sure you know, the majority of this disability benefit is being designed by regulation rather than in the bill.
I'm going to ask you first, Mr. Neven, and then Mr. Gladstone: What do you feel the pros and cons are of putting this into regulation rather than securing it into the bill to have the adequacy and to have no clawbacks? I think you also mentioned a timeline secured in the bill. What do you think the risks or the pros and cons might be on that design choice?
As well, I'm not an expert, but perhaps I know a bit more.
The first comment I would make is that if it's in regulation or if it's in legislation, another government still has the opportunity to change it however they want, when they want and how they want.
At this point, as I indicated and stressed, and to add to Mr. Neven's comments, we need to get it done. We need to get this out into the hands of the individuals that we and others support in the disability community as soon as possible. From what I understand, regulation at this point would be faster in making any changes that I've indicated would need to be made, and the bottom line is that if they can be done appropriately and quickly, that's most important.
Safety, security and appropriate and safe housing are essential. They are at the core of everything that we do and that the majority of disability agencies do. It is vital to have good, secure, safe housing in which you are not dependent on somebody else, you can cover your own expenses and you can live.
I'll just reiterate “a safe place” a thousand times over, because if you're not in a safe place, you can be taken advantage of in many ways. As I indicated in my initial stats that you commented on—thank you—women with developmental disabilities are 65% more likely to suffer abuse, and that's because of improper and inappropriate housing in the shelters, etc.
If people, through the benefit, are able to afford a place to live—again I'll just reiterate, as those on the committee have heard me say time and time again—through more money for housing, and thank you very much, it gives them a much better opportunity to have a full and fulfilling life without having to worry.
I thank you.
Yes. Thank you for that question.
The need is tremendous. It's similar to the number of folks who are living in poverty due to a disability. It comes as no shocker that when people have only a little over $500 to purchase housing that costs $1,500, it leads to homelessness.
I can speak to it city by city just to give you a couple of anecdotes. In the city of Hamilton, where I reside, there are about a thousand people living on the streets. It's a similar number in London, which is a slightly smaller city. That's for just two cities here in our country.
What we're looking at, if you look at the ratios on this, is that somewhere between one in 250 and one in 500 in those cities are looking at homelessness. Much of it is due to inadequate incomes to be able to purchase the housing required.
Thank you, Mr. Gladstone.
I want to thank both of you for being here today and for providing us with so much information.
Mr. Neven, you said something very interesting at the very beginning. You talked about “choice and dignity” and “recovery and independence”. We often forget about the recovery and independence piece. This is about building someone up so that they can be independent and they can chart their own course. I just want to say thank you for bringing that message here to this committee.
The world has changed. Over the last few years, we've seen the impact of the pandemic physically, and in many cases it has impacted many Canadians from a mental health standpoint. We see the economy changing rapidly and people facing more and more challenges.
The message we keep hearing, not only from the two of you today but also from other witnesses, is that we need to do this as quickly as possible. Is that because the challenges people are presenting will bring more pressure? Is it because of the long-term piece or the long-term history of this specific file? Do you believe that if we can, as the suggested, take that framework and by putting in regulations get this done, with people from the community involved in the process and doing it together, this is the best route possible to get it done and to take on some of those challenges we're facing?
Either of you can answer.
I'm going to continue on the issue of the urgent need for action and the call for parliamentarians to pass Bill as quickly as possible.
We hear and understand the call, because what is being sought is in the title of the bill: reducing poverty and supporting the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit.
However, I would like you to give me your opinion, because this bill is a framework bill that talks about what you are talking about, which is having an adequate income, applying the principle of complementarity with the provinces and having a benefit that does not deprive recipients who are already receiving support for their disability. None of that is provided for in the bill. For us, as parliamentarians, this part of the bill is a blank page. What's more, the bill provides that anything you want will be done by regulation. We asked how long it might take to implement this bill, and we haven't received any indication.
Why is it important that the regulations be implemented with the participation of all the organizations representing people with disabilities? It means that there will be delays.
Do you think we'll be able to act on it with a deadline that is perhaps very tight?
I wanted to revisit this idea of the necessities of life because of what we heard in some testimony.
Mr. Gladstone, I will ask you to answer first, and then Mr. Neven.
What we heard in some testimony was that it costs more to have a disability. It costs more than the average necessities of life, even with our Poverty Reduction Act, which talks about a poverty level or a poverty line. Mr. Neven, you talked about a $1,000 gap in housing alone.
Mr. Gladstone, do you have any suggestions for what financial security needs to look like in the way of a minimum benefit, and what kinds of things it needs to cover?
I can only speak to Ontario.
I will take the number of $1,000 from Mr. Neven, because it's about the number I would use as well, but the extra expenses are large. Never mind the supports that are generally provided by the government; there are the extra supplies for everyday living, from clothing that is more expensive to diapers. Obviously that does not apply for everybody, but for some. There are the wheelchairs for the mobility challenged. It's all expensive. Some is covered; some is not, at various levels. The increase is absolutely needed.
For Ontario, if we're in a position to get an extra $1,000 a month, I think that would be life-changing and life-altering.
The committee will resume its study of Bill , an act to reduce poverty and support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making consequential amendments to the Income Tax Act.
To assist the interpreters in their work, I kindly remind all members and witnesses appearing today to introduce themselves when speaking and to speak slowly. Nobody did that in the first round.
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for the meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen if you're appearing virtually of either “floor”, “English”, or “French”. Please wait until I recognize you before speaking.
For those participating via video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike and please mute yourself when you are not speaking. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly.
I want to emphasize that we are doing interpretation and interpretation in sign language as well.
I would like to welcome our witnesses to begin our discussion, with but before I do, I forgot to acknowledge Ms. Shelby Kramp-Neuman, who joins us this afternoon. Mr. Morrice is going to join us as well.
From Easter Seals Ontario, we have Alison Morse, senior manager for efficacy and family engagement.
From the Quebec Intellectual Disability Society, we have Amélie Duranleau, executive director, and Samuel Ragot, senior policy analyst and advocacy advisor.
From the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, we have Jen Gammad, communications and advocacy manager.
We will start with Ms. Morse for five minutes, please.
Go ahead, Ms. Morse.
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak here today.
I do go a little bit fast, but I'll try really hard to work on the pacing.
I have been involved with the Easter Seals for well over 30 years. I am the parent of a young person who was supported and I have lived experience of the ways that young people fall into poverty.
I've come here today with a message around families. The families of children with disabilities thought they would be part of this disability benefit. Because it says “persons with disabilities”, there was an expectation that it might be broader than it currently is. One thing I would look for in the preamble is to see if we can start to talk about how this may be the first stage in terms of supporting people with disabilities.
When I represent families, I see that they come from a place of fear at the very beginning as their child is diagnosed. They learn to advocate for their child in the education system and in the health care system. On a daily basis, these parents face the challenge of coming up with the money to pay for the equipment and programs that their child may need. Easter Seals Ontario tries to fill that gap. With money raised by donors, we assist families with the cost of equipment. Even with the contribution we make, there still can be a gap that the parents can't fill. Some parents will take on additional debt to cover that, and many other families will do without.
The cost of equipment for somebody with a physical disability can be astronomical. We're talking about $40,000 for a power wheelchair. There is some government funding, but it is very much aimed at the base model.
Recently, some young people we're supporting have gone to the wheelchairs that allow them to go from sitting to standing. We've seen the self-confidence and growth when they have access to that kind of equipment.
However, what Easter Seals funds is basic equipment, particularly bathroom equipment, which is not covered by the Government of Ontario, and accessibility equipment to enable a child to get into and out of their home and around their home, whether this be lifts or ramps. We fill in that gap.
Many families do not have enough money to buy equipment, so they have to come knocking at the door of charities. Charities do a wonderful job of filling the gap across the social service sector, but as a parent, it's hard to know that you can't support your child and that you have to go knocking at doors, begging to get extra money.
An additional challenge faced by families is the fear for the future. We're very excited about this bill and the fact that it is going to support working-age individuals or persons with a disability, because we know that one of the family's biggest fears is that there will not be enough money to support the person when they get to adulthood.
Some of the kids that we've supported at Easter Seals have a rosy future. They may be going on to post-secondary education. They have career prospects. However, for the majority, it's going to be a piecemeal of part-time jobs, periods of underemployment and unemployment. In addition, those with very severe disabilities are not going to be able to take part in work but are looking for full participation in the community. All of these kids want to be fully included. When their income is 40% below the poverty line here in Ontario, it's very challenging to get the things that make life worthwhile.
The earlier speakers were talking about having to make choices and families adding their names to the list for affordable housing. As has already been indicated in the previous panel, that can be a wait of many years. In some places it's 20 years, and aging parents are still having to support their child because there is not enough money for the individual child to manage on.
I'm here to talk about those fears and to advocate consideration of a long-term plan to expand the Canada disability benefit to include all people with disabilities, including those under the age of 18 and potentially those over the age of 65.
Do I have any more time?
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chair, allow us to thank you for your invitation.
My name is Amélie Duranleau, and I'm the executive director of the Quebec Intellectual Disability Society. With me is Samuel Ragot, who is a policy analyst at the society and a doctoral student at McGill University's School of Social Work, working on financial security for persons with disabilities. We are very pleased to be here to share our thoughts on Bill .
First, we must emphasize that we are very much in favour of the swift passing of Bill , as it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
Of course, we are aware that legislators may find voting on a foundational bill, which contains few details, uncomfortable. However, we believe that this is the right thing to do.
On the one hand, consultations with the disability community are still ongoing and will provide key information and expertise. On the other hand, we have had successful experience in developing regulations in relation to a framework legislation in the context of the basic income program in Quebec. In this context, all the modalities of operation had been excluded from the law. We eventually worked with the provincial government for almost four years to come up with a set of regulations that were satisfactory to the majority of the parties involved. As a result, the timeline it set for itself has been met.
In the case of the Canada disability benefit, we think the timeline will be shorter, as many of the consultations with the provinces and territories are already well under way. Since it's possible to achieve success when we work together towards common good, we are confident that this approach is also achievable for the Canadian benefit.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
I would now like to address the importance of working with the provinces and territories. As you know, the provinces and territories all have financial assistance programs for persons with disabilities. It is therefore crucial the federal government works with provincial and territorial governments to avoid penalizing beneficiaries and to avoid disengagement of local governments in the social protection and financial security of persons with disabilities.
In Quebec, as of January 1, 2023, we will have a basic income program, a first in Canada and probably in the world. While this program is not perfect, and we continue to advocate with the provincial government, we must protect it and ensure that the Canadian benefit will not work against local programs in the provinces and territories and, most importantly, that it will actually help those who need it. So far, we are pleased with the approach taken.
We have news from the Quebec government. I spoke to the ministers yesterday, who told us that they were quite supportive of a complementary benefit to provincial programs. So we're satisfied with that collaborative approach, and we will obviously support all the steps taken in that direction. We are confident that such negotiations are possible. We have seen other cases where this has been successful.
In addition to working with the provinces and territories, we think it is equally important that the Canada disability benefit be fully individualized, that it be a cheque for each person and that it should not take into account the income of spouses in order to limit issues of financial dependency, that it should provide a real way out of poverty, and that it should allow people to work without any clawbacks. We think it's a matter of dignity.
In fact, the current provincial and territorial programs are mostly punitive. They are not really aimed at the well-being of individuals, but rather at the minimal maintenance of living conditions. It is imperative to move away from this vision of welfare, which has been described as
“welfarization” of disabilities.
All these fundamental, but very technical elements—emphasis on the word “technical”—should be discussed in the regulatory process and not through amendments to Bill .
Good evening, committee members, and thank you for inviting me here today.
My name is Jen Gammad. I am the communications and advocacy manager at the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, or LEAF for short.
I am grateful to be calling in from Tkaronto, known as Toronto. This land is governed by the dish with one spoon wampum belt covenant.
LEAF is a national charity that works towards ensuring that the law guarantees substantive equality for all women, girls, trans and non-binary people in Canada.
LEAF is here today as an organization allied to disabled communities and organizations that advocate for them. Disability justice is gender justice. Our struggles cannot be separated. We recognize that it is because of the tireless advocacy of these communities that this bill exists in the first place.
I would also like to thank Dr. Sally A. Kimpson, disability scholar and advocate, who authored LEAF's report, “Basic Income, Gender & Disability.” LEAF's brief, which we have submitted to the committee, and our position are based on her work.
It is our position that Bill must be passed as quickly as possible. Disabled women, trans people and non-binary people are among the poorest people in Canada, and they cannot afford to wait any longer.
Make no mistake: Disability poverty is gendered. Reports show that as high as one in three women with disabilities lives in poverty. On average, they make less than disabled men and non-disabled women. Disabled women who are single, single parents, indigenous, racialized, working class and/or newcomers live in the deepest poverty.
Safety is an often-overlooked basic need that is threatened by both ableism and poverty. Disabled women are twice as likely as non-disabled women to be subjected to violence. They are subjected to a wider range and subtler forms of violence, such as caregiver neglect. For those financially dependent on their family, spouse or caregiver, which may often be the case, it may be impossible to leave a violent or abusive situation.
Disability poverty is a vicious structural cycle that contributes to substantive inequality. Without financial security, disabled women and trans people are deprived of and further excluded from a range of cultural, economic, educational, political and social activities and exposed to more violence. Poverty takes away choice, and policy failures create and exacerbate such conditions.
I will touch on existing disability supports in Canada and how they fail to meet the needs of disabled women and trans people.
Disabled women are three times more likely to rely on government transfers than their non-disabled counterparts and more likely than disabled men. However, this country's current provision of supports keeps women, trans and non-binary people poor. For example, the largest source of income for low-income, working-age, disabled women in Canada is from government transfers, mostly provincial or territorial disability benefits, which make up over three-quarters of their total income on average, yet all provincial and territorial support amounts are set far below the market basket measure for their region, and that's not even accounting for the extraordinary costs of being disabled.
Dr. Kimpson accurately described Canada's current range of disability supports as “a fragmented and uncoordinated patchwork of supports” with differing eligibility criteria amounts, types of benefits and definitions of disability. Many find the process of accessing existing supports confusing, which can discourage folks from applying at all.
The Canada disability benefit, if designed and implemented correctly, provides an opportunity to reach more people who need it, to be less stringent and complicated to apply for than existing benefits and to lift disabled people out of poverty— so how do we get there? The cost of living is skyrocketing, and disability supports continue to stagnate. We cannot delay action any longer.
LEAF urges this government to pass Bill without delay and ensure that disabled communities lead the design, implementation and evaluation of the benefit.
We amplify the demands of disability rights organizations such as Disability Without Poverty and say that what matters most here is that we get the CDB rolled out as soon as possible and that it's done in collaboration and co-development with disabled people and disabled women who have the expertise to ensure that people don't fall through the cracks.
Such a benefit would be dignity-enhancing. It would promote autonomy. It would reduce the substantive inequality that disabled women and trans people face. Most of all, it would give them more choice in how they want to live their lives.
Thank you so much to our witnesses.
I'm very fortunate to have worked with Easter Seals over my career and have lots of personal connections to people living with intellectual disabilities as well and have been able to work with them throughout my career. I know how important the work is that you guys and Jen from LEAF are doing. Thank you for what you're doing.
I want to use this six minutes as efficiently as we can. I think we all know that this bill needs to get passed. We all know there is a crisis. I want to dig into the amendments. What things do we need to fix? I know we want to pass the bill quickly, but the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, the AODA Alliance, watched our committee on Tuesday, and they were concerned.
I'm going to go to Amélie.
One of their concerns is, “ tried to defend the Federal Government's choice to enact what they call 'framework legislation' that leaves it to future regulations to sort out all the details.” They went on to say, “What this boils down to is the Government does not want to debate and publicly vote in Parliament on any specifics about the Canada Disability Benefit...”.
What would you recommend? We want to move on it quickly and we want to make sure that it's done properly so that the people who are impacted the most.... What amendments to Bill would you recommend right now?
I think that's good feedback in making sure that this is written into the bill.
I will turn to Alison of Easter Seals.
I couldn't agree more with you about supporting families. It's so powerful, Alison, when you speak about this. If the families aren't supported, the person living with the disability will not be successful as well. You have hit a very big nail on the head.
A letter was sent to the committee, and I asked the clerk to make sure that I was allowed to use her name. She has written in multiple times. Her name is Megan. Megan is an autistic Canadian living in Sudbury, Ontario, and she has a lot of concerns. One of her big concerns is, “Will the bill consider anyone working or is it going to discriminate based on age? If so, that's not okay and will leave thousands of Canadians left out.”
Alison, as a mom of somebody who is living with a disability, you know that “working age” is different for somebody with a disability. How do you feel about Megan's concerns and what do you think needs to be changed in the bill to ensure the safeguards are there to make sure it's executed properly?
Thank you very much for allowing me to comment.
In terms of amendments, right now this bill says that it's the Canada disability benefit, and then in the small print, it says it's for working-age Canadians. I think we need to be thinking bigger in terms of who's going to be included in this Canada disability benefit, and then work on each sector separately.
The working age is probably the group that jumps to mind because there is an expectation that families can take care of their kids, but the experiences that I've had and seen amongst the parents supported by Easter Seals is that it's a major struggle. I would like to see an amendment that acknowledges that people with disabilities are of all ages.
Further, as we get to the regulations, there needs to be lots of input on them to see whether there is a way to look at a lifelong disability. When you're diagnosed as a baby or a preschooler with a disability that is going to affect you permanently for the rest of your life, there needs to be a way to provide the Canada disability benefit to that person. I realize that's not what the thinking was in terms of the early stages of this bill, but I think it's an important direction to recognize and work towards.
In terms of other amendments, families are very concerned about the process for applying. We need to have it so that it's user-friendly, that it is not complicated, that there are people to assist with the process, and that there is an appeal or a dispute resolution mechanism to allow families and other people with disabilities to have an appeal to find out why they were denied or why their benefit was potentially reduced.
I think those would be some important amendments to consider.
Those are excellent amendments, and I hope this committee puts those forth.
To go back to Megan's letter, which I was referring to earlier, she touched on exactly what you just suggested, Alison. One of the things she said in her letter to the committee was this: “Is the government going to allow doctors to bill this to their individual provinces so that Canadians can get them filled out for free?”
What is the cost that's going to be associated with this?
I think you hit a nail on the head with regard to navigating the system, which is a problem we see over and over again with a lot of programs. The intention is good—that's great—but where is the execution in terms of making sure that it is accessible and easy to navigate? Sometimes this is hard even for somebody who doesn't have an intellectual disability. It is sometimes a big challenge for somebody who doesn't have that, so this is another barrier put in place if we don't get this right in the bill. I really appreciate your bringing that up.
I'm happy to see Easter Seals Ontario with us today. I've been engaged with the Easter Seals society for almost 30 years, mostly through the Persechini Easter Seals Run/Walkathon. We've been able to raise in the range of about $3 million to support Easter Seals kids in Ontario.
However, it shouldn't have to be that way. I think that's what's so important about what we're considering today in terms of providing support. What I've heard is that there are a number of very complicated dynamics that need to be considered as we go forward: the availability of housing, how this fits with the national housing strategy, how it provides a basic income. There are additional needs beyond the basic income, and those are support programs for personal support workers, equipment, etc.
I think it's really important that we actively engage the disabled community in developing the program, the mechanisms, the applications and the appeal processes.
My first question is for Easter Seals Ontario.
I know that Ontario has regulations different from those of any other province, some of which I think are disappointing and include a clawback. How would an organization such as yours be engaged in helping develop the program through these regulations on a provincial basis?
I mentioned the cost of a wheelchair. A power wheelchair can be up to $40,000. A manual wheelchair can cost as much as $15,000. We're not just talking about a plain wheelchair that's off the shop floor; these are customized wheelchairs that have the appropriate headrest and the appropriate lumbar support. They may have additional features that support the movement of the arms or the legs or stabilize them.
Putting in a bath lift to enable a parent to move their child from their wheelchair into the bath is $2,300 to $4,000. A ramp into the house can be $8,000. A van lift to get your child into an accessible van can cost as much as $35,000, and that's in addition to the cost of the vehicle that can be modified to include the van lift.
A simple shower commode chair is the chair you put the child in to be safe when they are being bathed in the shower. It needs to be able to support their trunk and head, to make sure that they are safe while they are being bathed.
One of the devices we're seeing being increasingly prescribed is a stander. A stander puts a child in the upright position and mimics the way that the rest of us stand. It has a huge positive potential in supporting the child to bear weight through their bones, which strengthens their bones. It also puts their muscles in a different position. It can reduce contractures. Most excitingly, it can put the child face to face with their peers.
Thank you very much to the witnesses.
I'd like to pay special tribute to the Quebec Intellectual Disability Society. I'd like to thank its representatives for accepting our invitation to appear before the committee.
In Quebec, the Quebec Intellectual Disability Society does a very good job of representing people with intellectual disabilities.
A number of things are interesting. I don't have much time to ask my questions, but I'll still have time to ask some of them.
I'd like to clarify that the modalities of the basic income program will go into effect on January 1, 2023. Admittedly, this has taken a lot of work on your part.
You talked about important elements, and I want to ask a few questions about them.
In talking about individualizing benefits, you said that this could serve as a basic parameter for the Canadian benefit.
Why is that important?
Is it an important principle to include in the preamble of the bill?
The individualization of benefits is fundamental. In fact, it's a prerequisite for the benefit to be functional.
Today, a number of people have said that women with disabilities, in particular, are more likely to experience domestic violence and be financially dependent. Obviously, this is not desirable; it's a situation we want to avoid. In fact, Quebec has begun to address this problem.
As for the federal benefit, that's an issue that can be addressed now, whether it's through the preamble or the regulations. In my view, it's necessary to do so.
I'd like to make a quick comment. With respect to early childhood education services, we followed the example of the Quebec model that has been around for 25 years. So it would have been difficult not to make the necessary transfer.
As far as the bill is concerned, the situation is a bit uncomfortable for us as parliamentarians. We need to establish a base amount, eligibility criteria and conditions, and we are being asked to pass the bill quickly. When we asked the minister about this, she talked to us about a minimum of three years. It's important to be aware of what that means.
Despite all that, would there be any parameters, guidelines or amendments that would already be desirable to put in place to guide the discussions? Is there something that already has consensus?
If you don't have the answer right away, you can submit it later.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to respond.
We haven't had those discussions—because of the thought that families and children with disabilities are being excluded from this legislation—but I think the prospect of making an interim payment while you develop the system would be ideal. We know right now that a lot of people are really struggling. If they don't get help, as we heard earlier, they could end up with homelessness or they'll be needing more health care services, whether it's for their physical or mental health.
I think the interim benefit might be a good way to start, but part of the issue is that Canada is a very big country. What you can get for your dollar will vary from community to community and from province to province. In terms of some of that individualization that was spoken about for the individual client, I think there may have to be some sort of individualization on a provincial basis as to how the benefit interconnects with their existing programs.
That's not to say that any province would get more or less; there would just be consideration of the uniqueness of each of those autonomous organizations.
I thank all the witnesses for being here today.
Before I get to my questions, I would like to move a motion that I have on notice. I will go through this quickly so that we can get back to our important witnesses right away. I move:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee invite the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion and relevant officials to appear before the committee for no less than two hours regarding the federal funding provided to the Community Media Advocacy Centre by the Government of Canada and the officials’ handling of the situation; that the meeting be televised; and that the meeting take place no later than November 10, 2022.
I'll make just a couple of points. To clarify, this would be during our constituency week next week. We have no meetings scheduled then, so it would not take away from any of the work that this committee is doing.
I'll note as well that during the heritage committee meeting on October 21, in testimony regarding the grant given to the CMAC, said, “Minister Hussen is totally responsible for this program.”
We have new information that we need answers to. We need to hear from quickly, given Laith Marouf's anti-Semitism and anti-French views.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This standing committee's powers come from Standing Order 108(1)(a), and I am bound by the Standing Orders of the House to the committee. It states that “Standing committees shall be severally empowered to examine and enquire into all such matters as may be referred to them by the House”. Standing Order 108(2) further states that standing committees are also “empowered to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of the department or departments of government which are assigned to them from time to time by the House.”
Specifically, as part of its mandate, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities can study and report on the legislation, expenditure plans, program and policy objectives, and the mandate, management and operation of Employment and Social Development Canada.
While the motion seeks to invite the and relevant officials to appear before this committee regarding the federal funding provided to the Community Media Advocacy Centre, the Department of Canadian Heritage funded the Community Media Advocacy Centre. It is also my understanding, as you indicated, that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage held a briefing to discuss the department's contract with the Community Media Advocacy Centre on Friday, October 7, 2022. While the minister's responsibilities include diversity and inclusion, the motion is outside of the mandate of the committee, as outlined in Standing Order 108, to study and report on the matters related to management and operations of the departments, agencies and Crown corporations for which it is assigned, and it is therefore out of order, Madam Gray. There is no debate. My decision has been made.
Ms. Gray, you can challenge my decision.
That was outlined by the department. It is not assigned to the committee, and it was funded by another department.
I've made my ruling. Ms. Gray, you have challenged it.
Everybody has heard the order. The committee, as I indicated.... The ruling I made is in line with Standing Order 108(2) of the House of Commons committee. I must respect the orders given to this committee by the House of Commons, which are unanimously passed at this committee. Based on that, your motion is out of order.
Madam Clerk, call a vote on the chair's ruling. So that we're clear, clearly outline it to committee members.
The chair's ruling is upheld.
We have two minutes left of the committee's timeline.
Do we have unanimous consent to proceed to a question, or does the committee wish to adjourn?
We only have two minutes, but before we do.... If we move to extend, we will need unanimous consent.
I would like to get the budget approved for this study that is currently ongoing. All members of the committee were provided with the budget.
Do I have approval of the budget to do the study?
Every committee member has it. It's $29,775. Do we have agreement?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: I see unanimous consent.
Go ahead, Mr. Aitchison.