Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today at the last stage of debate on Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, also known as the accessible Canada act.
Dedicated and tireless work has gone into this bill ever since it was introduced in the House last June. Many, many people spent considerable time and energy on this historic bill, including people with disabilities, stakeholders and organizations that have a role to play in making Canada accessible. More specifically, the disability community was heavily involved throughout the parliamentary process, and thanks to their efforts these people now have a bill that reflects their voices and priorities.
We should all be very proud of the hard work that went into this bill. Everyone who took part in this process understands the particular significance of this legislation.
This bill represents a historic milestone for the rights of persons with disabilities in Canada. It builds on our country's strong human rights system and is a major step in the ongoing implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Canada has certainly come a long way on accessibility. However, for millions of persons with disabilities across this country who continue to face barriers every single day in their communities and workplaces, this bill is long overdue. The proposed accessible Canada act pursues a simple, but essential, goal: to realize a Canada without barriers.
What the accessible Canada act is proposing is a major culture shift. Right now, our current system requires persons with disabilities to fight for access and inclusion. We have all seen it. We all know somebody who is facing challenges with their mobility, people who cannot hear and people who cannot see, who yet want to make a contribution to our society and live their lives fully. We have to take them into account. We have to address their needs.
The proposed accessible Canada act sets out to change that and create a Canada that is inclusive and accessible for everyone from the get-go. Canadians with disabilities are tired of being treated as an afterthought. This is what Bill C-81 sets out to do: to transform our perceptions of disability and ensure accessibility and inclusion from the start.
Improving the quality of life of Canadians with disabilities is a priority of this government. That is why we are not even waiting for this legislation to be enacted before taking meaningful steps. The steps that we are taking to improve the Canadian Transportation Agency regulations are a good example of this. The goal of these regulations is an ambitious one: to create the most accessible transportation system in the world.
Here I want to take a minute to thank the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is playing a pivotal and extremely important role in addressing the issues related to transportation. That is the kind of ambition that we need and which Canadians living with disabilities deserve.
We are taking a sectoral approach with this legislation. The opposition has criticized us for this, but it makes sense to take this approach since accessibility is everyone's responsibility. All departments need to take accessibility into account as they make decisions, devise policies and prioritize spending. There must always be a focus, among all of the other priorities associated with legislation and regulations, on what those do with respect to accessibility. That is why, for example, in the transportation realm, we are strengthening the powers of the Canadian Transportation Agency. This will have a significant impact across the country for Canadians living with disabilities.
Our government has devoted special attention to accessibility in the transportation sector, which has been made a priority item in this bill. We are committed to protecting and promoting the dignity and human rights of people with disabilities by ensuring that we have a transportation system that is truly accessible from coast to coast to coast.
I myself take the train every week, I fly frequently, and I use other modes of transportation from time to time. We are very conscious of the fact that using the modes of transportation we take for granted can make travel very challenging, if not impossible, for certain people with disabilities.
In the federal transportation sector, service providers will be required to develop accessibility plans and provide progress reports, as well as respond to the feedback generated by the process. They will also be required to consult people with disabilities in the development of those accessibility plans so as to ensure that the community is reflected in the plans now and in the future. They will also have to implement meaningful organizational and culture change with respect to accessibility.
The bill sets out additional requirements to guarantee that the government proactively assumes its responsibilities when it comes to identifying, removing and preventing barriers. Where barriers do exist, we need to have stronger redress mechanisms.
This is our opportunity to achieve yet another historic milestone for disability rights in Canada. Here, I want to take a second to speak about the incredible leadership of our Minister of Public Services and Procurement on this particular file, as well as the leadership of our Prime Minister, who, for the first time in our history, has given the issue of accessibility the importance, the priority and urgency it deserves.
Accessibility and inclusion benefit everyone. The proposed accessible Canada act will not only improve the day-to-day lives of millions of people in Canada, but also have broader positive economic and social benefits. Ensuring accessible workplaces and employment practices means taking advantage of a large and untapped and talented labour market. Making goods, services, facilities and programs accessible means benefiting from the business of a major client base. Removing and preventing the barriers that stop persons with disabilities from fully participating in our communities means levelling the playing field so that every person can live a full and meaningful life. This is what Canada is all about.
We now have the chance to address the systemic barriers and inequity that still exist today. The barriers faced by persons with disabilities are real and tangible. To take down those barriers, we need to get Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act, passed as soon as possible. We cannot afford to wait. Persons with disabilities have so much to offer our society. They are willing, eager and able to participate and contribute and we need to insist on their much-needed social and economic participation.
We have the opportunity to make Canada truly accessible and inclusive. We must do our duty as the federal government and pass the accessible Canada act without further delay. Canadians expect an innovative and forward-thinking transportation system that is dependable, safe and accessible.
The bill ensures that these objectives are met, especially when it comes to promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities, and that Canada is recognized as a global leader.
Today we literally have an opportunity to make history. We have been extremely flexible and open to all the proposed amendments. By passing Bill C-81, we will take another step toward an inclusive society where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. We will no longer have a system where persons with disabilities have to struggle every day to obtain basic access.
It is essential that we pass this bill to bring down the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in Canada. We must get this bill passed as soon as possible to start working together for a barrier-free Canada. The real work will begin once the bill has been passed, and we must do it together.
I will conclude by asking all members of the House to take a few seconds to think about the following.
All members know somebody who is facing challenges with respect to a handicap. We all know people in that situation, and we all know they face barriers in society that they should not have to face. All members know that we have an obligation, as a responsible government, to do something about that.
I urge all members to pass the bill as quickly as possible. The time has come, and the discussion is over. This will be historic and important for all Canadians for years to come.