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View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2020-07-21 10:17 [p.2653]
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vimy, who will be giving her maiden speech in this venerable House.
It is an honour for me to be in the House today and to speak on behalf of the residents of Davenport.
It is also an honour to join my colleagues to participate in this important debate on Bill C-20, which includes three key parts. The first part makes a number of adjustments that will expand the eligibility criteria around the Canada emergency wage. Part two covers a number of changes that must occur in order for us to provide a one-time payment to persons with disabilities for reasons related to COVID-19. In part three are a number of appropriate changes to certain acts that will provide some flexibility to certain time limits that were difficult or impossible to meet as a result of the exceptional circumstances produced by COVID-19. I will be talking to part two.
This bill would allow information sharing among several federal departments and agencies and Employment and Social Development Canada, so that a one-time payment can be made to support persons with disabilities during this pandemic. We have to allow for information to be shared among several departments in order to deliver this one-time payment as soon as we possibly can.
This one-time payment of $600 will help approximately 1.7 million Canadians with disabilities who are recipients of the disability tax credit certificate, CPP disability or QPP disability benefits and/or disability supports provided by Veterans Affairs Canada.
Bill C-20 is just one part of a much larger plan that our government has dedicated to supporting Canadians with disabilities. Today I want to talk about the evolution of our plan, the actions we have undertaken and our government's next steps toward creating an inclusive and barrier-free Canada.
In 2015, our government named the first-ever cabinet minister responsible for persons with disabilities and promised Canadians that we would pass legislation aimed at removing barriers to inclusion. This signalled our commitment to doing things differently in order to ensure that all Canadians have an equal chance at success.
One of the key milestones on this journey was the National Disability Summit that we held in May 2019, in the days prior to COVID. The summit provided an opportunity for participants to exchange best practices and to create and build on partnerships. It allowed us to understand the next steps to truly realize an inclusive and accessible Canada.
At the same time as the summit was taking place, the federal government's landmark legislation for the Accessible Canada Act was being finalized, following the most comprehensive consultations with the disability community in our country's history. More than 6,000 Canadians and 100 disability organizations shared their views and ideas about an accessible Canada. As we know, the act received royal assent on June 21, 2019 and came into force in July of that year.
The legislation builds upon existing mechanisms and ensures compliance and accountability. The Accessible Canada Act takes a proactive and systemic approach to identifying, removing and preventing barriers to accessibility in key areas within federal jurisdiction. The goal was to ensure that the act was based on safeguarding human rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The act also created new entities such as Accessibility Standards Canada, which creates and reviews accessibility standards for federally regulated organizations.
I am proud of this legislation because it sends a clear message to Canadians that persons with disabilities will no longer be treated as an afterthought. From the start, systems will be designed to be inclusive for all Canadians. This is because it is our systems, our policies, our practices and our laws that need to be fixed, not our people.
I also want to point out that in the mandate letter of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, a number of important additional measures will continue to ensure that we promote disability inclusion. These include, among other measures, undertaking initiatives to improve the economic inclusion of persons with disabilities, targeting barriers to full participation in the labour force including discrimination and stigma, raising public awareness, and working with employers and businesses in a coordinated way.
As the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion has said, we move from “Nothing about us, without us” to “Nothing without us”, because everything in society touches the lives of Canadians with disabilities.
The Government of Canada is leading the way in ensuring communities and workplaces are accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities. It is the largest federal employer. It is also the single-largest purchaser of goods and services in the country, and provides vital programs and services to Canadians. As such, we have committed to hiring at least 5,000 persons with disabilities over the next five years in the federal public service. We are also committed to applying an accessibility lens to government procurement and project planning.
Over the last five years, our government has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Canadians with disabilities. I wish to share some of the highlights over our two mandates, which began in 2015.
Our government applied a disability lens to our flagship policies and programs such as the Canada child benefit, the national housing strategy and the infrastructure program. The result is that families of children with disabilities receive an additional amount under the CCB. For example, from 2017 to 2018, 1.75 million children benefited from the disability supplement.
Under the national housing strategy, there is a commitment to promote universal design and visitability. This includes a requirement that public and shared spaces meet accessibility standards, and that at least 2,400 new affordable housing units for persons with developmental disabilities are created.
In the area of infrastructure we have approved nearly 800 accessibility projects, including almost 500 new para-transit buses and improvements to 81 existing transit facilities to make them more accessible to Canadians. This was made possible by ensuring that accessibility was an eligible expense in public transit projects. In just one year, almost $800 million was invested into our public transit systems to make them more accessible.
We have also increased our investments in existing programs such as the enabling accessibility fund, the social development partnerships program and the opportunities fund. All three of these programs were significantly enhanced, allowing people to keep doing the good work they are doing to improve the lives of Canadians with disabilities.
Current COVID-19 supports have been amply covered by my colleagues over the last 24 hours, but I want to bring them to mind briefly. Since the pandemic was declared, our government has taken a disability-inclusive response to the pandemic. This included adhering to the principle of “Nothing without us”, from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the creation of the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group to bring the lived experience of persons with disabilities to our government's response to the pandemic.
We provided additional support to students with permanent disabilities and the one-time payment that is part of the debate today. We invested in mental health for the Wellness Together portal. We launched calls for proposals under two components of the enabling accessibility fund, and created a national workplace accessibility stream of the opportunities fund to help people with disabilities find jobs right now. Finally, we added funding to the social development partnerships program to enhance accessibility communications during this crisis, and invested $1.18 million in five new projects across the country through the accessible technology program to help develop dynamic and affordable technology.
In conclusion, from the Canadian Survey on Disability, we know Canadians with disabilities are underemployed compared with the general population, a situation made worse by this pandemic. As the economy opens up again, this represents an opportunity for a vast and largely untapped pool of talent: people who are available to work, who want to join the workforce and who are ready to apply their innovative ideas to our new normal.
In the meantime, I call upon my colleagues to quickly pass the legislation before us so we can get support out to the people who urgently and immediately need it.
I am now ready to take questions.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2020-07-21 10:27 [p.2654]
Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. I actually do not have the answer to that question.
I do know that the changes we are about to make would, we believe, benefit 1.7 million Canadians. The other thing to point out is that the changes we want to make would make it more inclusive. We want as many people as possible, who have disabilities and need emergency support, to be able to access it. That is the reason we are proposing these changes in the legislation today.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2020-07-21 10:28 [p.2655]
Mr. Speaker, I was listening very intently to the minister yesterday. She spoke about the system behind the benefits available to persons with disabilities in Canada, and basically said that the system needs to be changed. It has to be simplified as it is not easy to navigate. She has made a commitment to do everything in her power to simplify the system and make it easier for us to get benefits directly to those who need them immediately.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2020-07-21 10:30 [p.2655]
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, I read a number of the elements of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion's mandate letter and we are going to take a number of additional steps to try to be more helpful to our disability community.
In terms of health care, my understanding is that we have health agreements with every single province, except Quebec, and we are very happy to step up to the plate and continue those discussions with Quebec to ensure that persons with disabilities, as well as all Quebeckers, will have access to better health.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that members of the opposition would question how long it takes for these disability tax credits given that we would be two months further ahead had they not been playing politics with this issue a couple of months ago.
The member talked about the lower employment levels of people with disabilities. I know first-hand that my cousin Aidan, who has Down syndrome, has all the supports he needs to get through his education, but after that there is a real lack of opportunity for employment. What this bill seeks to do, in particular, is create the economic environment for people with disabilities to prosper to their fullest potential. The federal government is looking to employ 5,000 more people with disabilities.
I am wondering if the member can comment on how she sees this impacting people in her own community of Davenport.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2020-07-21 10:32 [p.2655]
Mr. Speaker, I would have also liked to see this legislation pass two months ago. One of the positive aspects of waiting, turning lemons into lemonade, is that this time we expanded on who can apply and access this one-time emergency funding.
We are providing a number of avenues for more people to apply for the disability tax credit. If more people apply for the disability tax credit, more of them will be able to access the one-time emergency support. I know that is going to benefit many more people in my riding of Davenport.
View Lindsay Mathyssen Profile
View Lindsay Mathyssen Profile
2020-07-21 10:44 [p.2657]
Mr. Speaker, as we talk about the recovery of the economy, obviously a huge part of it is child care. Workplaces have continually expressed the need for a national public system of affordable child care.
The government has put forward an economic recovery plan, but the $625 million that has been allocated to child care is simply not enough. Some are calling for $2.5 billion.
I am wondering what the member across the way has to say about the huge difference in realities and the need to do a lot more on child care.
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I am absolutely delighted to be here this afternoon to talk about Bill C-20 and the government's response to COVID-19. I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered here on the traditional lands of the Algonquin people.
Before I go on, I want to take a moment. Usually we never meet in July, and this is a very important week for me personally, and the entire Tamil community, so I want to just take a moment to acknowledge the horrific events of Black July, which started on the evening of July 22, 1983. Mobs armed with an electoral list of Tamil homes went door to door in Colombo, Sri Lanka, beat and killed over 3,000 Tamils, and looted their homes and businesses.
This period, known as Black July, sparked an armed conflict and the mass exodus of Tamils out of Sri Lanka. The anti-Tamil pogroms forced many, including my family, to seek refuge in Canada. The government of Pierre Trudeau at that time enacted a special measures program to assist over 1,800 Tamils to settle in Canada. Today, this community is over 300,000 strong, and I am so very proud to be part of this community from coast to coast to coast.
With that, I want to take a moment to reflect on the most vulnerable in our society, particularly as a result of COVID-19. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the refugees who are in many camps around the world, struggling in cramped conditions in UNHCR tents or displaced altogether. There are over 80 million displaced people around the world and over 30 million refugees. I want to recognize them and all those who support refugees, both abroad and in Canada, and particularly those who are vulnerable in Canada, who have come in search of freedom but are unfortunately struggling with COVID-19, as are all of us across the globe.
This pandemic has had a very profound effect on all of us, but none more than our seniors. I want to talk about long-term care homes in my province of Ontario, and also locally at the Altamont Care Community in Scarborough—Rouge Park. We lost 52 residents and one staff member to COVID-19, so we have lost 53 people as a result of COVID-19. This is just in one home. There are four other homes: Orchard Villa in Pickering—Uxbridge, Holland Christian Grace Manor in Brampton South, Hawthorne Place Care Centre in Humber River—Black Creek, and Eatonville Care Centre in Etobicoke Centre. All five MPs who correspond to these homes have written to Premier Doug Ford, as well as the Prime Minister.
We are asking the premier to initiate a public inquiry, similar to that of Ipperwash, to make sure that we do not make the mistakes that we made in long-term care homes. Some 80% of deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are a result of people living in long-term care homes. These are our seniors, and it is a national shame. I would say that we have failed our seniors, those who are in long-term care homes, and I am saddened to stand here today to even talk about it. The report from the Canadian Armed Forces, who were deployed to these five care homes, really does shed light on what we need to do, and I want to emphasize and ask the Premier of Ontario to make sure that we do right and get to the bottom of this.
Equally, the five colleagues, including myself, wrote to the Prime Minister seeking national standards for long-term care homes. I realize that there are challenges, in terms of jurisdiction. As a federal government, we are not directly responsible for long-term care homes. Nevertheless, as a government that is responsible for Canadians and to Canadians, it would be incumbent upon us to take some leadership and make sure that we have national standards of care for all those who are in long-term care homes. As a government, we regulate everything from plastic bags to toothpaste and all kinds of consumer products, and, for the life of me, it is hard to imagine why we cannot have some form of minimum standards set for long-term care homes.
I think it is long overdue, and that conversation needs to take place. I look forward to working with the government, as well as our friends across the aisle, to ensure that this does not happen again.
I also want to note that the government recently announced $19 billion toward a safe restart program. This is part of our government's response to COVID-19. This $19 billion will go, in part, toward supporting long-term care homes, especially the deficiencies that are outlined in the report by the Canadian Armed Forces. We are hopeful that the immediate response, in case there is a second or third wave, will be mitigated by the additional financial support that our government is giving to the provinces and, in turn, that should filter in toward long-term care homes.
I also want to address another issue that has been quite troubling to me, and that is the issue of systemic racism. I have spoken about this many, many times in this House and with many of my colleagues, including colleagues from across the aisle. I want to acknowledge that a couple of weeks ago many of us got together and wrote a letter that was signed by many members, led by the member for Hull—Aylmer and of course supported by people like my friend from Hamilton Centre, where we highlighted the need for the government to address the issues of systemic racism.
One thing that COVID-19 has shown us is that it has an impact on racialized people. Whether it is people working on the front lines as workers at hospitals, working as cashiers or working in the restaurant industry, for example, there is a significant impact of COVID-19 on racialized people.
In places like the United States and England, we have specific numbers that speak to this racial divide, but in Canada we do not keep those kinds of statistics. I believe that one of the things we really need to do is gather that information and make sure that we connect the dots between race, poverty and health services. I hope that this is an opportunity for us to learn and, again, mitigate in terms of a second wave.
With respect to overall systemic racism, it is very clear that racism affects many people and it affects them differently. Anti-black racism is profound in our history. It continues. The social results are very obvious. The numbers kind of speak for themselves. Whether it is with respect to the social determinants of health, issues of incarceration or issues of education streaming, there is a profound impact on Canada's black community, as well as indigenous peoples, who, since Confederation, have been rendered to be second-class citizens in all aspects.
This conversation was sparked by the tragic killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, but of course in Canada we have seen our share of these tragedies, including the brutal attack on Chief Allan Adam at the hands of the RCMP, and the death of Chantel Moore.
We have seen calls for governments at all levels to reimagine what policing looks like, to reimagine how interaction between police and individuals is, especially those who may have mental health issues and those in racialized communities. I think the moment is now for us to seize and make sure we address the systemic issues that have led to these devastating results. I hope that we will be able to work collaboratively to advance these issues in the months to come.
Support for Canadians with disabilities is something our government has been trying to do from the beginning. There have been a number of measures we have put in to support all Canadians, and I will speak to that at the end. However, with respect to this legislation, it will directly assist people with disabilities with a non-reportable payment of $600 to all eligible individuals who receive the disability tax credit.
We have worked hard since the start of this pandemic to provide support for vulnerable Canadians and to ensure that the response plan leaves no one behind. We need to make sure that Canadians with disabilities who are facing additional costs related to the pandemic get the support they need. This payment would also flow to those who are eligible for other disability benefits or supports, such as the Canada pension plan disability benefits, the Quebec pension plan disability benefits or one of the disability supports provided by Veterans Affairs Canada. This would benefit approximately 1.7 million Canadians with disabilities who are facing additional expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the 2017 Canadian survey on disability, 22% of Canadians aged 15 and over identify as having a disability. The rate goes up with age, with 38% of Canadians over 65 and 47% of Canadians over 75. We know that among working-age Canadians with disabilities, more than 1.5 million, or 41%, are unemployed or out of the labour market entirely. Among those with severe disabilities, the rate increases to over 60%.
These Canadians face challenges each and every day, and they do it with determination. They deserve the support of their government. Our government has worked closely with the disability community during this time of crisis, including the COVID-19 disability advisory group, which is advising the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. The group has shared details about the lived experiences of persons with disabilities during the pandemic, along with disability-specific issues, systemic gaps and potential responses. Our government will continue to work hard to increase accessibility and remove barriers, and it remains committed to a disability-inclusive pandemic response and recovery.
I want to take a minute to acknowledge some of the incredible organizations in Scarborough that have been working to address and support people with disabilities during this pandemic. I want to start by thanking the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre, which does magnificent work with young people with autism who are on the spectrum. The Wellspring Centre, which I was able to visit last week, is a respite care facility that just reopened. I was able to meet with its team and some of its clients. It is a relatively new organization, but one that is very promising and that will really support a lot of people with disabilities.
Community Living is another one. Many of us in Parliament have very important Community Living locations in our ridings. There are several in my riding, and I am always awed by the work they do and the level of commitment their staff and volunteers have in supporting those with disabilities. TAIBU Community Health Centre is located in Scarborough North, adjacent to my riding. It is the only black-focused community health centre in North America. They do some great work, especially supporting those with sickle cell disease and other issues related to the black community, and I want to thank them for their work.
The next aspect of my discussion today is about broadening the Canada emergency wage subsidy. It is now one of the pillars of the government's COVID-19 economic response plan. The Canada emergency wage subsidy was introduced to prevent further job losses, encourage employers to quickly rehire workers previously laid off because of COVID-19, and help better position the Canadian economy as we transition into the post-pandemic recovery.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy can continue to protect jobs by helping businesses keep employees on the payroll and encouraging employers to rehire workers previously laid off. We are already seeing lower unemployment numbers because people are being rehired. It offers more flexibility to employers so that a large number of them can benefit from this subsidy. Employers of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy may be eligible.
Since we launched this program this spring, about three million Canadian employees have had their jobs supported through the Canada emergency wage subsidy, and that number continues to grow. To help support these Canadians, our bill would redesign the Canada emergency wage subsidy and tailor it to the needs of more businesses. This bill would extend the program to the end of 2020, with the intent of providing further support until the end of the year.
The wage subsidy would be made more accessible by making the base subsidy available to all eligible employees who are experiencing any decline in revenues. This would allow businesses, small and large, that have been struggling throughout this pandemic to get access to the support for the first time and help more Canadian workers get support as a result. This would remove any barriers to growth for firms currently using the Canada emergency wage subsidy program. By removing the threshold for support, they will know that they have support as they work to grow, invest and rehire workers.
Our government is also proposing to introduce a top-up subsidy for eligible employers that have been most adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The redesigned wage subsidy would help position employers and workers for a strong rebound in the post-pandemic recovery.
I want to talk about this program in relation to my experience in the 2008 financial crisis. At that time, I had opened a law firm a couple of years earlier. I had about a dozen staff, and one of the toughest things I had to do at that time, because the economy was contracting, was to lay off staff. I lost a couple of really good people whom I was never able to get back.
From my experience, making sure that companies are supported in keeping their staffing levels is critical to the long-term viability of our economy. It is so important that Canadians be able to continue to work and receive a paycheque, because, ultimately, that is the best form of support any government could give. I am very pleased to say that this program has helped dozens of organizations in my riding and, I am sure, across many of my colleagues' ridings as well.
This is just part of our overall response to COVID-19. Here I want to say a thing or two about the restart program. I know that the city councillor in ward 25, Dr. Jennifer McKelvie, John Tory, the mayor of the City of Toronto, and others have been speaking to us over the last several weeks about their challenges with the city budget and that the $19 billion the federal government is giving to the provinces will inevitably support them with their restart. I really want to thank them for their advocacy.
The other programs we have, as we know, are the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency student benefit, the GST rebate back in April, the OAS and GIS top-ups, as well as the Canada emergency business account. These are all supports that we have given individual Canadians to make sure they can sustain the financial challenges they have incurred over the past four months.
I want to conclude by thanking all of those who have been working on the front lines, who have been heroic in their efforts. They never set out to be heroes, but they are our Canadian heroes. I want to thank the Canadian Armed Forces for the work they did in my riding, the front-line workers at the hospitals and in all of the different areas, including trucking, cashiers at grocery stores and, of course, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the medical officer of health for the City of Toronto, for her tremendous leadership.
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I know that my friend from Edmonton Manning and many others in the House are big advocates of small business.
The fact is that all of these supports are not meant to help each and every one who may be affected. They are supposed to help as many as possible, with the widest net possible in giving that support.
There was a lot of criticism of the existing wage subsidy program. I had a lot of employers who came up to me and said they did not meet the threshold. What this would do is open it up and allow more flexibility in the program, and hopefully will widen the net so that more employers can continue to keep Canadians employed.
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
I do agree that we all need to do more for seniors. The $19 billion the federal government has agreed to give the provinces will ensure that seniors, particularly those in long-term care facilities, are supported during this pandemic, and it allows long-term care facilities as well as the provinces to restart.
I believe that to the extent there are ideological differences about how we fund health care, it is important that we have a national conversation and that the conversation include how provinces are currently supporting seniors and long-term care facilities, but also to have national standards that will ensure that all Canadians across the country who are living in long-term care facilities are able to have the same security.
View Matthew Green Profile
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-07-21 12:32 [p.2672]
Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Scarborough—Rouge Park for providing a very comprehensive outlook on the response to COVID, even going beyond the bill that is here today. He raised very important points about the experiences of people around the world, quite frankly, including in refugee camps. He spoke about anti-racism. He spoke about people with disabilities and, of course, the economy.
One of the things that has been missing is the impacts of COVID on families who are trying to work their way through immigration. We know that currently there are people who have been waiting not 12 months, not 18 months, but close to two years. This situation happened well before COVID, but now during COVID, its impact on the families who have been separated throughout this crisis in this critical time is becoming much more apparent.
What are the hon. member and his government doing to help prioritize family reunification in this time of crisis?
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I appreciate that very important question by my friend from Hamilton Centre.
I had a chance to speak to the Minister of Immigration just this afternoon on a number of issues relating to refugees in particular. I know the commitment is there to ensure there is a level of focus on family reunification. Just before the pandemic hit, family reunification in Canada took just about 12 months. I believe that time might have increased because of COVID-19, and I know the minister is committed to ensuring that those numbers are sustained.
One of the concerns I continue to have is the number of refugee cases being prolonged because of this. It is something that really does put people in limbo, and I am hopeful that the government and the IRB, an independent body of the government, will move toward ensuring that cases are fast-tracked and decisions are rendered sooner than later.
This is an overall disruption to many elements of our justice system, and I think the bill before us does help us in advancing some of those issues within the criminal justice system.
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, that is a very important question, and I think my friend has framed it very well.
The fact remains that a lot of the measures we have put into place, the economic supports that we have had from day one, are working.
In terms of the health numbers, they are relatively low in relation to other countries. In terms of supports for individuals as well as businesses, they have been tremendously well received, but, as I indicated earlier, yes, there are people who may not have qualified.
The purpose of the government intervention right now with the extension of the wage subsidy is to make sure there is a lifeline for businesses to continue to what we believe is a safe restart and full recovery of our economy, but we need to bridge those businesses up until that time, and this is one additional support that will do that. Is it going to help everyone? No, probably not.
It is not retroactive, because we are looking forward. We are looking to make sure that those businesses are given the support they need to get to the end of the pandemic.
We will reevaluate these programs continuously, and we will come back as and if required.
View Matthew Green Profile
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-07-21 12:38 [p.2673]
Madam Speaker, I rise today with mixed emotions, because the last time I had the honour of providing a statement to the House, I believed that we could have done better by Canadians. During our debate, as we looked at how we were going to proceed over the summer, I tried to put forward what I thought was a compelling argument to ensure that no one would get left behind in this country.
I have mixed emotions because on one hand, I am proud as a New Democrat that we were able to ensure that the Liberal government removed the penalties in Bill C-20 related to CERB for people who are struggling to get by, and that we at least increased the amount for people with disabilities by adding the CPPD in the sections on disabilities.
I am proud that we have been given some kind of grace period to allow more people to apply for the disability tax credit because, at almost every step along the way, it seems that the response of the government has been an unnecessary obsession with means testing instead of universality, which continues to leave important people behind.
I am here today representing the constituents of Hamilton Centre. I have mentioned in the past that my riding has the third-lowest average household income. We also have a disproportionate number of people who are living with disabilities and are struggling to get by. In the evolution of the supports that we had during COVID-19, the first response of the Liberal government was to come up with a patchwork EI system that left so many people out. The panic in this crisis, and the prospect of facing the end of the month without the ability to pay the rent, was not just something felt by people living in poverty, but people who were facing poverty perhaps for the first time.
We remember that the Liberals tried to tie the disability tax credit to a program that would only account for 40% of the population living with disabilities. That leaves out the vast majority of the people in my riding. I suggested to the House that I had a moral obligation, and we all had a moral imperative, to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the country were not left behind, regardless of their citizenship, regardless of their ability to work, regardless of how long they had lived here or where they had lived.
However, here we are, back with Bill C-20. It has had an incremental improvement but still leaves far too many vulnerable people behind. The very definition of disability under the disability tax credit is far too restrictive. It is a non-refundable tax credit, and the lowest-income people living with disabilities do not make enough income to benefit from it.
What I found perverse in the discussion of people living with disabilities was the approach to seniors. The argument put forward by both Liberals and Conservatives was, “What have they lost, in terms of their income?” I say it was perverse because it is very apparent now that our most vulnerable people had absolutely the most to lose.
I shared yesterday that it is not just people infected by COVID-19 who are impacted. I think about my friend, Michael Hampson, who at 58 years old has lived the last part of his life struggling with disabilities and trying to get income support in Ontario. For a brief time, he had hope with the guaranteed basic income. For the first time in his life, he would have said that he could live with dignity because he was not living in the legislated poverty of the Ontario disability support program. Many of my constituents are sentenced to live in poverty under ODSP rates that have been set by both the Conservatives and the past Liberal governments in Ontario.
We come back here and ask what they have to lose, when they have literally lost lives. Seniors were sentenced to live in subpar, substandard long-term care facilities. We know the vast majority of people who died from COVID-19 were connected to these facilities.
When we argue and debate this bill, it is not just about what is in the bill but also about what is not in it. Who do we continue to leave behind? Why are we still trying to do this piecemeal incremental approach, which we heard by the admission of the previous speaker is designed to get as many people as it can, but not everybody?
Why can we not have universal supports? Why can we not have a government, in a country as prosperous as Canada, that can take care of every person living here?
We look at the $740 million to support one-time costs over the next six to eight months for measures to control and prevent infections in long-term care facilities that have a growing number of infections. We are not out of this crisis. We have only just begun. At $740 million, the reluctance from the Liberal government to take national leadership on the state of health care for our seniors in long-term care is the tragedy of this crisis.
There have been scandals in this crisis. I would suggest that WE is a scandal, but it is not the true scandal. The true scandal remains the ineffective way in which the Liberal government delivered or managed the national emergency stockpile supply. We ought to have had millions of pieces of critical PPE that would have protected Canadians at the onset of this. We took direction from medical professionals in the beginning that masks were not required. In my gut, I wondered why that was put forward. At the same time, the Liberal government threw out millions of pieces of critical PPE. I raise that today because we are not going to sit again for quite some time, and we are not out of this thing.
As the provinces continue to open up for business, what the Liberals have done is open us up for a second wave. I talked about the moral imperative to plan for the future. The future is going to be the new normal. COVID is not going away. People will continue to get infected and will continue to die. The question remains: What are we willing to do about it? What can we do to ensure that, next time, someone like my friend Michael Hampson is not found dead in his apartment after four days? How do we make sure we have a health care system that provides enough support to make sure people can check in on our most vulnerable people?
We have the ability to do this. We have the wealth in this country to deliver for all Canadians. It does not have to be piecemeal. We need to recognize that this does, in fact, impact our most vulnerable, and that throwing a $600 one-time payment to a very narrow section of people living with disabilities is quite frankly not good enough.
We are in a scenario over these next few weeks in which I support this legislation, because it is as good as the government is willing to do, but we deserve better. The people of Hamilton Centre deserve better. The people who are sentenced to live in legislated poverty deserve better. The question always becomes what would a New Democratic government have done differently?
What we would have done differently is that we would have done everything we said we were going to do in the beginning. We would have provided supports for people on EI. We would have provided housing for people and we would have had a just and fair transition for people into this new economy. We would have had a just recovery.
We have not heard any of those things. While it takes the Liberal government four days to put $750 billion out to Bay Street, we are stuck in the House still dealing with the government's scandals. Like many Canadians, I want to focus on the things that matter in here, which are the lives that have been lost. That is who I am here for. That is why I am here. When the Liberals make decisions on policy, I encourage the members who are on the opposite side and have all the power to not knowingly leave people behind. The $600 that is going to come as a one-time benefit is going to leave 40% of the population, the most low-income and vulnerable population, behind.
I invite questions from the government and the opposition to figure out how we can, in the House, support everybody throughout this crisis and into the next phase.
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