House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

The House resumed from February 21 consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

When we last considered this item the hon. member for Barrie had seven minutes left. He has the floor.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is good to be back to speak about this today. During the riding week we have just had, I heard many times from constituents how important this is and how much they treasure the CPP and the CPPD benefit.

It is important to note that a significant number of CPPD recipients also receive benefits from other sources. CPP disability therefore makes up one part of a broad and complex income system for persons with disabilities, a system that includes private and long term disability insurance, workers' compensation, employment insurance sickness benefits, and provincial social assistance. The standing committee may wish to take this into account when undertaking its study of CPPD benefits.

Calculation of the CPP disability benefit is legislated in the Canada pension plan. Any changes to these rates would require provincial approval.

Let us now turn to some of the accomplishments of the CPPD.

The Government of Canada promotes an inclusive society, one that allows people with disabilities to participate in the workforce and in their communities throughout their life transitions. For this reason, CPPD provides support for beneficiaries who are trying to return to work. Since early 2005 beneficiaries have had a new financial safety net that they can count on when trying to return to regular employment: automatic reinstatement of CPPD benefits.

Automatic reinstatement helps CPP clients take a chance on returning to the workforce. Before this provision came into effect, clients were not sure whether they would re-qualify for benefits if it turned out they could not continue working. Automatic reinstatement reduces this uncertainty by providing extended entitlements to clients whose CPPD benefits are stopped because they begin working again on a regular basis.

It provides a two year period during which they can ask to have their benefit payments restarted, using a simple process, if their disability recurs and prevents them from staying at work. There is no limit on the number of times a client can use this provision, a particularly good support for persons with episodic disabilities.

A survey of clients who used this provision shows that the change is doing what it was intended to do and is doing a good job. A substantial majority, 75%, felt that automatic reinstatement would influence their future plans to return to work and a third of these clients indicated that the provision offers security and improved their self-confidence in planning a return to work. Almost 80% were completely or mostly satisfied with all facets of the process, including ease of use.

The government is also committed to client service as demonstrated by Service Canada on behalf of CPPD. As an example, to make it easier for CPPD applicants, telephone contact is maintained throughout the application process. When a decision is reached, a personalized letter is sent to each applicant explaining the decision in simple language.

In addition, Service Canada has made other improvements to the delivery of services to Canadians. Clients are now offered the convenience of a one-stop personalized service. They have the choice to communicate via telephone or in person.

Communication with clients and stakeholders, of course, is an important part of this commitment to client service. CPPD beneficiaries receive an annual newsletter, “Staying in Touch”, that contains useful information on federal programs and services in such areas as student assistance, tax credits and benefits for seniors.

Our government strives to uphold its commitment to Canadians for accountability and for transparency. We believe the Canada pension plan exemplifies both. We are proud of this accomplishment.

This accountability and transparency are demonstrated by the fact that every three years the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of finance review the CPP to ensure that it remains financially sound and to make any necessary adjustments. The triennial review also allows us to ensure that the CPP evolves along with the changing needs of Canadians.

I would like to return to the issue currently before the House and highlight an initiative that complements the motion. A recently initiated comprehensive evaluation of CPP disability will focus on the extent to which the overall objectives and outcomes of the program are being met. This important study will take place over the next 18 months.

I am sure that the evaluators will want to review the study that is the subject of the current motion as additional input. The evaluation goes beyond the scope of the study to look at all aspects of program management, client outcomes, interaction with other disability programs, and documenting best practices.

We want to ensure that the CPPD is meeting all the current and future needs of Canadians without jeopardizing the affordability and financial sustainability of the CPP in the years ahead. These two sources of important information, the study proposed in the motion and the more comprehensive CPPD evaluation, should give us a better picture of those Canadians who receive the CPPD benefit and of how it helps them.

In other words, our government is confident that there are valuable lessons to be learned from these studies. We therefore welcome this opportunity to support the motion to conduct a study of the level of funding provided by the CPPD benefit. We believe it will help our government to achieve its commitment to Canadians to ensure that the Canada pension plan disability benefit continues to be there for current and future generations when they need it most.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this important motion today. I would like to start by restating my support and the support of Canada's new government for Motion No. 243, which was presented by the hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

The proposed study will contribute to Human Resources and Social Development Canada's practice of continuously monitoring and assessing the Canada pension plan to ensure that it meets the needs of Canadians, both today and in the future. I know this study will provide valuable information on the extent to which the Canada pension plan disability program is meeting its objectives. This is important information. That is why I feel quite strongly that this study should be completed as soon as possible, not delayed until November.

It is important to note that later this week parliamentarians also will be considering possible changes to Bill C-278, which deals with another important program for persons with disabilities, EI sickness benefits, and I feel strongly that the Human Resources study of the level of financial support offered by the Canada pension plan disability needs to happen now.

The information to be gleaned from the study of CPP disability should be considered before proceeding to discuss possible changes to EI sickness benefits. All too often in this place hon. members want to act before the facts are in. They want to propose changes to programs before they even know whether there is a problem or not, and the political speeches begin before studies are undertaken. This issue is far too important to play politics with and I feel that every member of the House can agree with that.

This is an important issue, one that deserves to be examined right away. Let me repeat: this is important information and we need it as soon as possible, not in November. There are bills before Parliament that require the information that can be learned from studying this program and these bills will not wait until fall.

I think there is some confusion here as to what the CPP disability program is and what it is supposed to do. Therefore, I think it would be good to have a cursory examination of the program so that we can clear the air on a few important points before we begin to discuss changes in earnest.

It is important that all hon. members and in fact all Canadians understand what this program is about and how it works.

Let me start by saying the CPP disability program is the largest long term disability insurance program in Canada. Currently, some 300,000 Canadians and 90,000 of their dependent children receive about $3.3 billion in payments. The CPP program as a whole is recognized around the world as one of the best public pension systems in the world and this government has acted to make it even better.

The CPP disability program was designed to replace a portion of earnings for those who have to leave the workforce due to a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability. This program was not intended to function as a general needs-based income program. There are other levels of support, offered by all levels of government, that fulfill that role. Its purpose is to provide protection against the loss of employment income and to supplement other disability and family income.

How does it work? There are contributory and medical eligibility requirements for the disability benefit, as laid out in the Canada pension plan. First, applicants must have made CPP contributions in four of the last six years. This requirement of recent contributions to the CPP is designed to address the objective of replacing a portion of employment income.

While the government feels that this issue is worthy of immediate study, that is not to say that the government has not acted to make changes to this program. I am sure all members know that. It is part of Bill C-36, currently under review in the Senate. A proposed amendment seeks to make it easier to qualify for CPP disability benefits for long term CPP contributors, those with 25 or more years of contributions, by requiring contributions in only three of the last six years.

Second, as stipulated in the legislation, only those with a severe and prolonged mental or physical disability are eligible to receive disability benefits. This requirement refers to a disability that prevents an applicant from working regularly at any substantially gainful occupation, not just their most recent jobs.

As we can see from the specific eligibility requirements, not all Canadians with a work-limiting disability will be eligible to receive a benefit. CPP disability is intended for some of our most vulnerable Canadians.

I would like to take this opportunity today to address an important and often misunderstood point. I understand from recent comments made in the House that some are under the impression that all applicants for CPP disability benefits are automatically denied and that only through appealing this decision do they eventually receive CPP disability benefits.

This is simply not true and is a perfect example of some of the misunderstandings surrounding this program, misunderstandings that we on this side of the House feel should be examined immediately. If hon. members on the other side of the aisle feel this is true, then they should also want to study this immediately and not shirk their responsibilities by ignoring this issue for another six months.

That being said, each and every application for a CPP disability benefit is reviewed thoroughly and fairly with reference to the legislative requirements and in a timely manner.

Trained CPP disability specialists with a medical background view each applicant's application. They look at their capacity to work, taking into consideration their health status, disability-related limitations, treatments, and personal characteristics such as age, level of education, and work experience. All of these components are extremely important in the decision making process and help ensure a fair decision that is consistent with eligibility criteria.

Clients whose applications are not approved receive telephone calls and personalized letters explaining the reasons for denial. In addition, in cases where an applicant is not satisfied with a decision on their application for CPP disability benefits, there are three separate levels of recourse available. The last two levels are appeals to two independent review tribunals. This generous appeal structure is designed to ensure fairness and accessibility.

In addition, it is important to note that a significant number of CPP disability recipients can also receive benefits from other sources. The CPP disability program is one part of a broad and complex income system for persons with disabilities, a system that includes private long term disability insurance, workers' compensation, employment insurance sickness benefits, and provincial social assistance.

Staff in Service Canada's service delivery network also refer those who are denied a CPP disability benefit to other appropriate programs and supports that may be made available to them. For example, CPP disability applicants are encouraged to apply for a tax credit, called the disability tax credit, or the veterans disability pension if it appears that they may be eligible for one or both of these entitlements. In some cases, Service Canada staff will assist these individuals with their applications.

The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities may wish to take this overall context of CPP disability programs into account when undertaking its study.

A number of hon. members of this House have indicated that it takes too long to adjudicate applications for CPP disability benefits. In 2005 and 2006, the disability program received more than 60,000 applications. Of those, over 30,000 applicants were granted benefits.

In terms of speed of service, the target is that 75% of decisions will be made within four months of receiving a completed form. As of February 2007, 86% of decisions were made within this timeframe.

Service Canada is exceeding its stated targets. That is indeed something to be proud of and we can feel confident that most vulnerable clients are being well attended to.

I again want to thank the House for the opportunity to speak today. I want to reiterate that it is an important issue that cannot wait until fall to be examined. There is currently legislation before the House and the Senate that would benefit from the knowledge that can be gained from undertaking an examination of the CPP disability, and these bills will not wait until fall. We need answers as soon as possible.

We would be shirking our duty as responsible legislators if we were to allow bills to proceed without having all the evidence in place beforehand. If the opposition really is interested in more than just playing politics with this important issue, then it will want to examine this issue right away and not wait until fall.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Motion No. 243. I am very pleased to speak in support of this motion, which calls on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to study the level of financial support provided through the Canada pension plan disability benefit, CPPD.

From the first hour of debate it appears a substantive issue in this motion, a study by Parliament on Canada pension plan disability benefits, has the support of all parties in this House. It is no small accomplishment for all parties to agree on anything, so Canadians should be heartened by seeing a shared agreement to make something as important as studying long term disability a priority. I say that Canadians should be heartened, yet they probably are not. Why? Because the opposition's commitment falls short of truly making this study a priority.

The Conservatives made supporting our friends and neighbours who are struggling with disabilities a central plan of our platform in the last election. This Conservative government has honoured those who voted for us by introducing Bill C-36 which improves access to Canada pension plan disability benefits by measures in the 2007 budget, such as: the new registered disability savings plan introduced to help parents and others save money to care for children with severe disabilities; up to $1,000 annually to a limit of $20,000 in the form of a Canada disability savings grant to help promote the future financial security of children in lower income families; an investment of $30 million in the Rick Hansen Foundation which will help translate research into benefits for Canadians living with spinal cord injuries; and a new enabling accessibility fund that will contribute $45 million over three years to help all Canadians, regardless of their physical ability, participate fully in their communities.

I believe Canadians see that their government has stepped up to the plate, so where are the Liberals? For starters, the Liberals voted against every measure the Conservative government put in place to help those Canadians who are dealing with disabilities. Their leader says he wants to run on a platform of social justice, then instructs his caucus to vote against the budget that actually delivers it for the first time in this country.

Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition needs more time to think about it. We say that leadership is not leading followers in the wrong direction. Canadians cannot afford to wait for the Liberal leader to ponder what they already know is good and works. How can Canadians be expected to trust the Liberals to govern when Liberals cannot even seem to figure out how to be in opposition?

When it comes to this motion, the Liberals are no less of a disappointment. They hold out the promise of doing something on a priority, then agree with the Bloc to defer everything until the fall. That is not leadership. This is another example of the Liberals saying whatever they think will be pleasing to the public, but failing to follow through. No doubt the member for Kitchener Centre proposed this motion to show support for stakeholders in her own community. How disappointed they must be to see her agree to postpone it. It looks like her new leader cannot shake off the ghosts of the old Liberals who made everything a priority so that nothing ended up being one.

I understand that the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development relayed his support for this motion to be studied at committee. I have no doubt he was encouraged to see the opposition align more closely with the views of Canadians that he was hearing. How disappointing for the minister and the stakeholders he meets to see that this important public policy issue is not getting the true support it deserves.

It is no less perplexing to see that the Liberals are working with the Bloc to frustrate progress on this issue. The Bloc, of course, has no experience with the responsibilities of being in government. The Bloc's contribution to this public policy matter is to delay any action at the same time the Bloc purports to support it. The Bloc members cannot have it both ways, at least not in the minds of the people they are putting off.

The government and Conservatives across the country want to make progress for those with disabilities. We believe that to make further progress requires proper study of the Canada pension plan disability benefit. It is only through gathering the evidence and learning where challenges exist that we can recommend to the government how to address those challenges with sustainable solutions.

Sustainability is critical. Acting in an informed way helps build solutions that can evolve as circumstances change. We have an opportunity here, but despite the Liberal leader's claim to be committed to sustainability, he is unable to show some discipline with members of his own caucus who are proposing ad hoc solutions to the types of problems that potentially should follow a study like the one in this motion.

For instance, the member for Sydney—Victoria has a bill before the House. It stands for a principle we all support. It aims to help those who have cancer or other illnesses, but rather than providing benefits through Canada pension disability, the bill calls for a solution that would only help employees to the exclusion of other Canadians.

I cannot help but think that Bill C-278 would benefit from Motion No. 243 being studied as soon as possible. Perhaps because the member for Kitchener Centre agreed to defer this study until fall the member for Sydney—Victoria felt he had no choice but to call up his bill in the coming days.

Still, Canadians expect legislation to be based on good planning. They expect solutions to be measured and sustainable. Canadians should not be held hostage to the lack of good planning by the Liberals for their own private members' business. They should not be saddled with legislation whose impact has not been studied and no one can say is sustainable.

I support a study because it is the right thing to do. I only wish the opposition cared as much about ensuring that we pass good legislation as my caucus colleagues and I do. My constituents wish that the opposition would come to its senses and return to making this study a priority.

When this finally does get studied, members will know that CPP disability is the largest long term disability insurance plan in Canada. Last year, approximately 300,000 individuals and 90,000 of those individuals' children received financial support through this program.

As specified in the Canada pension plan, monthly Canada pension plan disability payments are made up of two parts, a fixed amount which in 2007 is $405, and a variable amount based on the level of Canada pension plan contributions and the number of years contributions were made before the client became disabled. The combination represents the monthly amount a Canada pension plan disability beneficiary will receive in 2007. The maximum benefit payable is $1,053 per month. In addition, eligible children of disabled contributors are entitled to a fixed monthly payment of $204. Last year on average, Canada pension plan disability beneficiaries received $763 per month.

What is also important to note is that a significant number of recipients receive benefits from other sources. There is a broad and complex system in Canada that provides income support to persons with disabilities. While Canada pension plan disability plays a central role in this system, the standing committee may also wish to review in its study the other income sources for disability beneficiaries.

An example of another pillar of this income support system is EI sickness benefits which fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. EI sickness benefits provide temporary income support for up to 15 weeks to individuals who are too injured or sick to work. In 2004 over 294,000 individuals received these benefits with total payments of $810 million.

We know that a number of individuals who receive EI sickness benefits while they are temporarily disabled go on to apply for and then receive CPP disability benefits. With the introduction of Service Canada in the last few years the government has been working to better serve all Canadians who need services from the federal government including those applying for EI sickness benefits through CPP disability.

This government is committed to quality client service by building on the one step personalized service offered through Service Canada. The government is working to improve the client interface on behalf of these two important sources of support for Canadians with disabilities.

Even though I have much more to say on this motion, I know my time is running out, but the premise of what I said is that the motion should proceed directly to committee. It should be studied. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Liberals who introduced the motion now suddenly want to put it off until fall. It is a matter of making a decision. This is an important issue. It is meaningful to a number of Canadians who are beneficiaries and it should be looked at immediately.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to take the opportunity to briefly enter into the debate on Motion No. 243. I commend the member for Kitchener Centre for having moved the motion. I had not intended to speak to this motion, but I was prompted to do so by the suggestion that any member of this House would want to delay the impact and lessen the importance of the private member's motion so that the report back date is later rather than sooner.

The reason I was prompted to speak to this motion is that I was thinking back to my former colleague Wendy Lill, the former member of Parliament for Dartmouth who did magnificent work. She breathed tremendous energy, life and compassion into the issues before the subcommittee on the persons living with disabilities during the seven years that she worked on behalf of her constituents of Dartmouth and also on behalf of persons living with disabilities in this country. At the same time she also served as one of the best, if not the best, arts and culture critics that this Parliament has ever known. I am thinking of how apoplectic she would be if she were sitting in this House today to hear that anybody would be thinking of a single reason for delaying reporting back on something as important as the issue of the level of CPP benefits for persons living with disabilities.

I was listening to the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's talk about the various other income sources that are available to some--and I say some because it is not all, and he did not say otherwise I want to make that clear--persons who are living with disabilities who are in receipt of, or who are potentially eligible to receive CPP disability benefits, sources like EI sick benefits, social assistance and so on.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has made the point again and again that what is really needed is a national strategy around the whole issue of income and other supports for persons living with disabilities. Until we have a commitment to a comprehensive national strategy, then what we are doing is dealing piecemeal with different aspects of what profoundly affects the lives of persons living with disabilities.

It is often not recognized by the public, and no wonder, given the nonsense of a dug-in partisan nature that goes on, that from time to time there has been collaboration across party lines in this House around these issues. We have seen over the last while the collaboration of opposition parties in the face of what seemed to be foot dragging by the government to step forward with a real sense of urgency and leadership to make sure that we were among the first to sign on to the international convention on the rights and dignity of persons living with disabilities. We saw the government move. Congratulations to the government for moving ahead with a more appropriate sense of urgency and indicating that it will actually participate in the signing ceremony that will help to propel the convention toward ratification.

Surely to heaven we can find the same resolve, the same appropriate sense of urgency to say that income supports for persons living with disabilities are inadequate. They are fragmented and fractured. There are people who are falling between the cracks. There are not appropriate bridges to ensure that people do not fall back in having the income needed to meet their everyday needs and the associated additional costs for persons living with disabilities.

Let us have a national strategy. Let us treat this with a sense of urgency. Let us deliver not piecemeal but comprehensively to those millions of people in Canada living with disabilities.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate.

I just want to give fair notice to all members that the next member I am about to recognize is the hon. member for Kitchener Centre and that will be her right of reply.

The hon. member for Kitchener Centre.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 243 which calls upon Parliament to ask the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to undertake a study of the current level of financial support provided to persons with disabilities through the Canada pension plan and report back to the House no later than May 2007.

I tabled this motion at the beginning of Parliament several months ago. I view the amendment put forward by my Bloc colleague as a friendly amendment that would move the reporting back to the House to be no later than November 30, 2007. I find that an acceptable amendment because I feel, as colleagues from other parties have said previous to this, that we need to have a comprehensive look at this. This is one piece of the support we give the disabled.

It is interesting to note that the Canadian Human Rights' annual report of 2006-07 reported that the largest single source of human rights violations reported to that committee was from the disabled community. Clearly, we need to do more to help Canadians living with disabilities.

As a former member of the Independent Living Centre in Kitchener, which is run under the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee, in which I have many friends, I have some experience with the disabled community in Kitchener Centre. All too often, people with disabilities come into my Kitchener office and talk about being forced to choose between purchasing their medications or being able to afford their food and rent. This is quite unacceptable and, in fact, appalling in a nation as prosperous as ours.

It is a great concern that people with disabilities face constant challenges in meeting the bare minimum for basic living expenses. I am sure I reflect a concern that all members of the House share about the number of people with disabilities who face enormous financial challenges. That is why I tabled the motion that is before the House today.

Research shows that Canadians with disabilities have a lower average income and rely more on government programs for income support than other Canadians. People living with disabilities are not always able to earn adequate income through employment. In 2004, the average earnings for people with disabilities were $30,700. This is 15% less than people who were in the job market without disabilities.

Late last year, the United Nations adopted a landmark convention on the rights of people with disabilities and the convention focuses on the rights and development of people with disabilities and presents a vision where disabled people no longer need to endure discriminatory practices and attitudes that have been permitted to prevail for far too long.

For Canada to fully respond to the need of all people to contribute to the best of their ability and to realize their potential, we must address the income deficiencies that exist among people living with disabilities. The purpose of my motion is to seek the review of the financial support provided to Canadians through the CPP disability program.

In 2005-06, almost 296,000 individuals with severe and prolonged disabilities, along with 89,000 of their dependent children, received $3.3 billion through CPP disability. The maximum monthly benefit in 2006 was $1,031, which amounts to $12,372 annually. I defy members of the House to imagine what it would be like to live on that kind of annual income.

We know the Government of Canada supplies support to people with disabilities and their caretakers through a variety of income measures but we need an inter-jurisdictional discussion with other levels of government to ensure that people living with disabilities are able to live, thrive and flourish in this very rich country and not be relegated to being marginalized. That is why I put this motion forward and I appreciate the support of all members of the House.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Persons with Disabilities
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.