An Act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act (persons with disabilities)

Sponsor

Cheryl Hardcastle  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 20, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-348.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Department of Employment and Social Development Act to require the Minister to provide information and guidance on applications for programs and services for which persons with disabilities may be eligible and to implement a streamlined application process that, among other things, reduces the administrative burden on applicants. It also provides for reporting requirements in relation to the application process.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2017 / noon
See context

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I am disappointed that you will have to cut me off since I was planning on getting through my whole speech today, but that is okay, because I will come back to it another time. I would be more than happy to do so because it is a very important debate on very serious subject.

I thank my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for introducing this bill, which seeks to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act with regard to people with disabilities. Personally, thank God, I am not someone with a disability, but I do know people who are. When they tell me about all the challenges they have to face on a daily basis, I realize just how brave and incredibly independent they are. However, there are still barriers in their way, and that is what this bill is trying to fix.

Bill C-348 seeks to considerably streamline the process for persons with disabilities to access the many federal programs for which they are eligible. This is extremely important. When I was first elected, I was unaware of the challenges persons with disabilities faced in accessing programs, until my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby suggested that I hold information sessions on the disability tax credit to let my constituents know they are entitled to it. He said I would be surprised to learn how many people have no idea they are eligible.

After announcing this information session, I thought that maybe 15 or 20 people might attend, but 150 people showed up. That is a clear indication that the situation needs to be improved. That is why this bill is so important. I have been holding information sessions on the disability tax credit for six years now, and every year, a hundred or so people attend to find out what they are entitled to. This is something that should not be difficult for them, but unfortunately there are many obstacles. This bill seeks to simplify the process. That is why it is so important and needs to be supported.

Currently, persons with disabilities have to submit a separate application for every federal program and prove their disability every time. That makes no sense. There should be a one-stop shop. Bill C-348 will create a one-stop shop where they can submit all their applications at once. Why complicate things when we can simplify them? That is why we must support this bill.

I am shocked that Liberal members are saying they will vote against this bill, when they keep calling it a good bill and thanking my colleague for all her work. Where is the logic in that? If it is a good bill, then support it.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2017 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs Québec

Liberal

Marc Miller LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Madam Speaker, people with disabilities need services that meet their needs. However, we must keep in mind that there is no single solution that works for everyone.

I am pleased to have this opportunity today to talk about Bill C-348. This bill was introduced by my colleague from the riding of Windsor—Tecumseh. I congratulate her on being so determined to ensure that all Canadians, no matter their circumstances, have easy access to government programs and services.

Our government strives to ensure that all Canadians are treated equally, and we were the first in this country's history to appoint a minister for persons with disabilities.

Like my colleague, our government wholeheartedly supports streamlining the application process for programs and services for people with disabilities. Also like my colleague, we believe that the faster and easier these processes are, the better it is for the applicants. That is exactly why we cannot support Bill C-348.

We cannot support this bill because its proposed approach would not actually streamline access to programs and services for people with disabilities.

Under Bill C-348, Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC, would have to process the applications currently being processed by other federal departments. This would create separation between the clients and the government agencies providing the programs and related support measures for which the clients are applying. In other words, this would put some distance between the clients and the agencies' expertise.

Think about it. A wide range of federal programs and support measures are offered to persons with disabilities. Those include the Canada pension plan disability benefits, disability tax credits, the registered disability savings plan, and veterans' benefits, to name a few.

Streamlining the application process for all these programs under a single department or portal will not make it more accessible, faster, or fairer.

Please understand that our government is fully in favour of improving application processes for persons with disabilities. We simply do not believe that Bill C-348 would help achieve that objective. In fact, it would defeat the purpose for which it was introduced.

That being said, I would also like to remind members of the important initiatives already underway to improve access to federal programs and services for people with disabilities.

The first initiative I want to talk about is, of course, the new accessibility bill. It is our hope that this proactive bill will systematically address the barriers to accessibility that exist in areas of federal jurisdiction, including banking services, transportation, broadcasting, telecommunications, and, naturally, the Government of Canada itself. We will remove barriers by creating a set of standards that employers, service providers, program managers, and companies will be expected to abide by.

We also plan to include compliance verification and enforcement mechanisms in this act.

The next initiative I want to talk about is one that was announced in budget 2017. Our government announced an investment of $12.1 million in 2017-18 to ESDC to develop modern approaches to service delivery, including speeding up application processes.

ESDC is developing a department-wide service strategy that will improve services to Canadians, including Canadians with disabilities.

The strategy has the following goals: to enable clients to complete services using digital self-service; to allow clients to access bundled and connected services seamlessly across channels; and to anticipate clients' needs. This initiative will also affect the Canada pension plan and old age security programs.

Members may recall that, in November 2015, our government conducted an in-depth audit of the Canada pension plan disability program. We expect to have a revised application prototype by the end of this year. These efforts are part of a broader service improvement strategy, which is primarily aimed at improving access and enhancing the client experience for all Canadians with disabilities, including students.

In fact, our government made changes to the application process for the Canada student loan program and repayment assistance measures for students with disabilities. It is important to point out that Employment and Social Development Canada is not the only department that is working to improve access and the client experience for all Canadians with disabilities. In fact, the Canada Revenue Agency is always looking for ways to improve the administration of the disability tax credit.

Veterans Affairs Canada is also taking part in these efforts. In budget 2017, our government declared its intention to introduce new measures to streamline and simplify the system of financial support programs currently offered to veterans. With this initiative, we will deliver on our commitment to introduce the option for injured veterans to receive a monthly disability pension for life instead of a lump sum payment.

Health Canada also supports a certain number of programs and services that provide direct assistance to disabled members of first nations and the Inuit.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one last initiative, but not the least important one. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada plans to revise its policy and authorize staff at Canada's passport offices to help people fill out passport applications, including people with a disability who need assistance.

As the House can see, our government has already implemented a number of initiatives to improve access to federal programs and services for all Canadians with disabilities.

I am pleased to see my colleagues, like my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh, bring forward proposals that are in line with our government's actions. Bill C-348 is well-intentioned. However, as I said, we do not think that this is a practical solution.

Once again, I congratulate my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh on all of her work.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that our government is committed to giving Canadians with disabilities equal opportunities and to make our society more inclusive. Above all, we are doing everything to make this happen.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my wonderful colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh. I am rising to debate her bill in the House, but I would also like to take this opportunity to once again wish her a happy birthday.

On a more serious note, today, we celebrate the birth of my colleague's Bill C-348, an act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act regarding persons with disabilities. This bill would make their dealings with the federal government easier.

The bill would show that the government is reaching out. It would significantly simplify the process for persons with disabilities who want to access the many federal programs for which they are eligible. The government has no reason to oppose my colleague's bill.

The problem we are trying to fix today may seem quite trivial, but persons with disabilities lose a lot of time and energy when they are constantly required to submit multiple applications.

We all know how onerous and complicated it can be to navigate the labyrinth of the federal system in search of information about a program. Filling out the application paperwork is just as cumbersome. Now imagine the added humiliation of having to prove your disability every time you apply. People with disabilities often have a tough time of it. I think it is a basic sign of respect to provide a one-stop shop where they can get all their needs met at once.

It was in this context that my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, introduced this bill. We hope the government will be able to see this proposal for what it is, not as a polarizing issue.

I would like to give a typical example that broadly illustrates this problem. To do so, I will describe what some of my constituents go through.

The Canada pension plan disability, the disability tax credit, the registered disability savings program, the veterans disability pensions, and the opportunities fund all operate as stand-alone programs with distinct and separate application processes.

This reality makes it cumbersome for people living with disabilities to access federal supports that they are entitled to. Bill C-348 will create a one-stop shop that will allow individuals to do everything at once. Moreover, persons living with disabilities will only need to prove their disability one time, rather than doing so with each application.

That is the current situation, from a very general standpoint.

Now I would like to give a very specific example, the experience of someone in my riding, Jonquière. I met a constituent at a social function who alerted me to the problem. I asked her to meet with me. The woman's name is Ms. Tremblay. Her wife was severely disabled, and Ms. Tremblay was her caregiver for many years. She cared for her wife on her own, because they had no immediate family close by. When Ms. Tremblay came to see me in my office, we worked together and found out that they were eligible for certain tax credits. After that, she had to start the process all over again and return to see the neurologist for certification of her wife's severe disability. I get a little emotional when I speak about this woman, because her wife has since passed away. As we supported her through the process, her wife's cancer returned.

On top of having to relive the experience of her wife's disability and have it certified again by her neurologist, she also had to wait for her disability tax credit. She also had to wait quite a while for the Canada Revenue Agency to make a decision following her application, thanks to the current process.

In light of all these arguments, it is clear that no one is talking to one another and that the various programs are not coordinated in any way. That is why it took so long. In Ms. Tremblay's case, a one-stop shop could have provided the resources and funds she needed to pay for her wife's end-of-life care and to continue caring for her.

The idea for the bill came from conversations my colleague had with constituents and local civil society groups. However, as Ms. Tremblay's story shows, this also affects people in my riding, Jonquière, and in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean. The fact is, this problem is everywhere.

Since I am responsible for the Canada Post file, I would also like to take this opportunity to mention that I am still waiting for the government's new policy statement from the 2016 review. I will not spend too much time on this, but I still want to talk about home mail delivery and service cuts. People with disabilities across Canada have their mail delivered in various ways. In some cases, they have community mailboxes because letter carriers no longer do home mail delivery. People with physical disabilities must fill out a form to get home mail delivery. That means that they have to once again go back to their doctor to explain their situation, take all of the necessary steps, and fill out all of the paperwork all over again.

There is a cost associated with this process. Doctors often charge a fee to fill out forms, but people with physical or mental disabilities often do not work, so they have less money to pay these fees, which can be quite high.

Can all the agencies involved not simply do a better job coordinating services? That is the goal of this bill. It seeks to help everyone to communicate more easily. People should not have to go through the whole process again because they just found out that they have been eligible for a tax credit for the past two or three years. They will just end up losing more money that could be better spent on additional care to improve their quality of life. My colleague's bill seeks to remedy that. The government has not had much to say, but I do not understand why it does not want to support such a simple thing.

On top of dealing with their disability every day, people with disabilities have to worry about this sort of thing, take additional steps, fill out endless piles of paperwork, and pay out-of-pocket charges. A single application would improve their quality of life and allow them to receive care when they discover that they are eligible for a tax credit that they were not aware of.

I hope that the government will reconsider its decision and vote in favour of my colleague's bill, Bill C-348.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-348, an act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act, persons with disabilities. The bill, put forward by my NDP colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, would help to simplify the challenges persons with disabilities face when looking to apply for programs administered through the federal government. It is a good idea based on my personal experiences and from what I have heard from Canadians during my time as a member of Parliament.

Persons with disabilities have to overcome many obstacles in order to build a dignified life. It seems logical to me that the federal government should be doing everything in its power to assist with this. However, instead of getting that help, disabled persons are instead facing large amounts of red tape and bureaucracy. They must scour through computer and paper descriptions and directions in department after department, asking “Where do we start?”

Bill C-348 seeks to address this issue by requiring the minister for Employment and Social Development Canada to provide information and guidance on all applications for grants, benefits, compensation, and any other programs and services for which persons with a disability may be eligible, under one roof and within one document.

The bill would also have two other requirements: first, the department maintain a single comprehensive application that accesses all programs for persons with a disability across the federal government; and second, to report back to Parliament in 18 months on the effectiveness of the application process. This would provide an assessment of the value of the changes and allow for it to be a living document that would continue to evolve.

All the points I just mentioned seem like common sense measures to me. Why would we ask those who already face so many challenges to spend countless hours scouring various government websites to find all the programs and services for which they are eligible, and then having to fill out an application form for each individual program to which they would like to apply? Having to fill out each program application individually does not help anyone. It is frustrating for all Canadians to have to do this, let alone those with disabilities who are already facing huge issues such as chronic underemployment, difficulty accessing public spaces, a lack of accessible housing, and much more.

Computer literacy is a challenge to many of us. Navigating these forms, whether old or young, is even more difficult with a disability. The federal government's role is to help Canadians, and the bill would be a great start to do that. However, as it stands, and if left unchecked, it is just more red tape resulting in more frustration.

I would like to take a moment to speak about my experience as a former member of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, and to give everyone an idea of how all this bureaucracy affects our disabled veterans. I know that part of the bill includes veterans disability pensions, which I am pleased to see. During my time on the committee, I heard first-hand testimony about how difficult it was to apply for the benefits to which our veterans were entitled. To search and navigate the multiple sites was a frustrating challenge.

Many of these men and women suffer from mental health issues as well as physical disabilities. This means they are not always able to devote hours and hours to find available programs, fill out applications, and then have to do the same over again for each program for which they are eligible. In some cases, we heard from veterans who simply decided to throw in the towel and forgo the services they were entitled to because the process of applying for these services was far too strenuous and compounding for those struggling with a disability, whether it be mental or physical.

These veterans are the people who gave up the life they knew in order to protect Canada and all Canadians. It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear some of the testimony at the veterans affairs committee, as these individuals deserve so much more than a cacophony of programs, spread across the federal government's websites, requiring hours of digging to find and more hours of filling out multiple applications in order to apply. It is unnecessary and it does a disservice not just to our veterans, but to everyone living with a disability, as well as their caretakers and family members.

That in itself is another point I would like to raise. It is not just disabled persons who deal with this issue, but often their families as well. Many times caretakers come from the family of a disabled person, and many times they are not talked about or given recognition.

Being a caretaker is not an easy job, and I commend all those who undertake the role. The bill would make it easier for caregivers and families to ensure they would be taking advantage of all programs available to them without having to comb through various websites to find that information. It would avoid hours of searching, determining if a service or program would be applicable, disseminating this to their family member, and then completing the multitude of applications.

Furthermore, Bill C-348 would provide for a single, comprehensive application that would access all programs across the federal government for persons with disabilities. This seems so logical that I am surprised it has not yet been done.

While I understand these programs involve a number of government departments, centralizing the application process through the Department of Employment and Social Development would be a huge benefit to persons with disabilities and their families. It would save much time, effort, and frustration. It is also a real and achievable goal. I call on the government to recognize the need for this measure. With the technology available today, we know this is possible to do, and further technological advances would ensure this would be generationally enduring.

Under the previous Conservative government, we initiated the centralization of information across government based on the user group. The bill would continue that work, specifically for persons with disabilities, who are the demographic that would most benefit from this initiative.

Other examples of a few programs that have to be navigated through include helping persons with disabilities prepare for and obtain employment through the annual $30 million opportunities fund, and funds like the $218 million per year labour market agreement for persons with disabilities to assist provinces and territories to improve the employment situation. Again, these are just two programs of many.

I see no reason not to support the legislation, especially given that the Liberal government is making life more difficult for Canadians living with disabilities by increasing their cost of living through tax changes and removing benefits. Persons with type 1 diabetes and persons with autism spectrum disorders come quickly to mind. As I stated previously, it is the federal government's job to improve life for all Canadians, including for disabled persons. The way to do this is not by taking away benefits or adding more layers of red tape to the process of obtaining said benefits. It is by simplifying and centralizing, which is exactly what the bill seeks to do.

I commend the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for her efforts on the bill.

As the deputy shadow minister for youth, sport and persons with disabilities, I call on the government to support the bill and the measures contained in it, as we on this side of the House plan to do. It is good sense and it would make life significantly easier for those facing the challenge of living with disabilities, something I know we can all get behind.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2017 / 11:20 a.m.
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Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about Bill C-348. I would like to begin by explaining what this bill is about.

Bill C-348, introduced by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, would streamline the application process for programs and services for people with disabilities.

If passed, this bill would amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act to make the department the primary point of contact for access to programs and services related to disability assistance.

First of all, I would like to say that our government is committed to improving how we provide services to Canadians with disabilities. Ours is the first government to have appointed a minister responsible for people with disabilities, the Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities, thereby demonstrating our conviction that programs and services for people with disabilities must no longer take a back seat.

This new approach reflects Canada's commitment to becoming more accessible and inclusive. We believe that all Canadians should be positioned to seize every opportunity that comes their way, from educational to professional and everything in between, so they can participate fully in society.

That is what informs our position on Bill C-348. Right off the bat, let me say that we fully support the spirit of the bill. In fact, I would like to share with you some of the initiatives we already have under way and others that are in the planning stages. These initiatives are also designed to improve services for people with disabilities.

We believe that creating an appropriate framework to support all of these measures is vital, which is why we are currently drafting the accessibility legislation my colleague had so much to say about.

Last year, we launched an ambitious public consultation process. We met with stakeholders and the general public to learn more about what an accessible Canada means to them. We held 18 public consultations and nine thematic round tables across the country. There was an important online component, which was very effective. We also created a national forum for youth, and the Prime Minister participated in it. The government funded the creation of partnerships with five organizations for people with disabilities and three indigenous organizations to get the input of their members and communities. This process helped us gain valuable insight into the obstacles that people with disabilities or functional limitations have to overcome every day.

We published a report that summarizes what we learned from these consultations. The participants described the physical and architectural barriers that prevent people with disabilities from moving about freely in their communities. We learned about some of the attitudes, beliefs, and preconceived notions that Canadians have about what people with disabilities can and cannot do, and we looked at outdated policies and practices, including some mentioned by my colleague, that do not take into account the obstacles facing people with disabilities.

That is why we are currently drafting legislation on accessibility in order to build a more inclusive Canada. It is our hope that this proactive legislation will systematically address the barriers that exist in areas of federal jurisdiction. The legislation should deal with banking institutions, transportation, telecommunications, and, of course, everything we mentioned earlier—in other words, every Government of Canada department and agency where improvement is needed.

On an operational level, this legislation would serve as a guide in the development and delivery of federal services for persons with disabilities, which includes almost all communications to clients regarding programs and services.

I would add that Employment and Social Development Canada is also developing a strategy that will improve the services offered to persons with disabilities. The service strategy will help provide more online services to meet the current and future needs of this group of people.

In addition, ESDC is committed to ensuring that the Canada pension plan disability program continues to meet the needs of Canadians. The department is currently streamlining its application process to make it less cumbersome for applicants and doctors. A revised prototype of the paper application form should be developed later this year. In November 2015, the department began a comprehensive review of the program's services standards, which included consultations with recipients and stakeholders.

There is currently a pilot project for long-term disability recipients that seeks to increase the number of documents that can be submitted electronically and indicate the medical information required in order to make the process easier for applicants. There are many initiatives to improve recipients' access to and experience with federal programs and services, especially for people with disabilities. For example, changes were recently made to the application process for the Canada student loans program to help support students with permanent disabilities who want help with repayment assistance.

The Canada Revenue Agency has taken steps to simplify the application process for the disability tax credit by improving the process and providing clearer information to applicants. These are just a few examples of what the government is doing to continue improving services for Canadians, especially people with disabilities.

Although Bill C-348 is well-intentioned, we believe it will not meet its objectives. The bill would create a one-stop-shop for all federal benefits and programs for people with disabilities. However, we do not understand how the bill would expedite the application process and improve the quality of services provided by the various departments. If we understand Bill C-348 correctly, every department will continue to be responsible for its own activities by exercising their own authorities. If ESDC had to be solely responsible for all programs for people with disabilities, this would create a separate administration for various programs that are not currently carried out by the department.

For example, Veterans Affairs Canada administers some disability programs. Under Bill C-348, this department would be responsible for administering the decision-making process and for determining the eligibility of applicants, but would not be able to communicate with recipients because ESDC would be the only point of contact, the one-stop shop.

We therefore question the practical relevance of Bill C-348, and we will not support its passage. Our position on this bill in no way diminishes our resolve to provide high-quality services to persons with disabilities and all Canadians.

I thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for getting involved in this important discussion. We look forward to working with her to develop measures for persons with disabilities. In addition, I want to thank my colleague for meeting with me recently on this topic. I also want the member to know that this issue is an integral part of our government's overall objectives to make Canada a more accessible and inclusive country. We are mobilizing all the necessary resources and making every effort to meet these objectives.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

November 20th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

moved that Bill C-348, An Act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act (persons with disabilities), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, with pride for my riding of Windsor—Tecumseh, I rise today to speak to my first private member's bill during its second reading in this honourable chamber.

This bill was inspired by the earnest and thoughtful conversations and consultations I have had with people who are civic-minded, practical, and hopeful. Many constituents have brought to my attention the onerous processes involved in applying for federal and provincial programs for persons living with disabilities. Canadians living with disabilities have to apply for each program separately, and they have to demonstrate their disability every single time. It is curious, even disconcerting, to realize that our governments impose this kind of cumbersome process on some of our most vulnerable citizens. It has me thinking again about fairness and efficiency.

Consider further that the processes by which this community interfaces with government agencies to access these programs is so unwieldy that some individuals, when they can manage to afford it, are forced to hire legal representation to help them navigate the labyrinth of programs. To better understand how punitive this feels for people in this situation, it is necessary to look at poverty rates among persons living with disabilities, so let us do that.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 5.3 million Canadians, almost 16% of the population of this country, are living with some form of disability that affects their level of freedom, independence, or quality of life. Of that number, over 200,000 are children and youth, according to Easter Seals Canada. The overall poverty rate for Canadian adults was 10.5% in 2006, which comprised 2.6 million people. However, for people with disabilities, the poverty rate was 14.4%, which comprised nearly 600,000 people.

There is also a real wage gap. According to a 2012 Canadian Human Rights Commission report, men living with disabilities in the 15 to 64 age group earned $9,557 less than adult males in the same age group who do not live with disabilities.

The picture is even more bleak for women. According to the DisAbled Women's Network, also known as DAWN, 58% of women with disabilities live on less than $10,000 per year, and of those, 23% live on less than $5,000 per year. Accessible cribs, accessible and affordable child care, and other services for mothers with disabilities are virtually non-existent.

As members of Parliament who serve all Canadians, we have serious work to do to address the very challenging issues that cause severe hardships that are faced every single day. I have not lost sight of that in discussing this modest bill today.

Disability is expensive. A customized powered wheelchair can cost more than $25,000. Again, this information is from Easter Seals Canada. A porch lift can cost upwards of $5,000. A specially designed walker can cost $2,500. Modifications and renovations to make a home accessible can cost tens of thousands of dollars. For a family, it can cost more than $40,000 a year to care for a child with a severe disability, yet some of these families have a total income of barely that much, which brings me back to my earlier point.

Some persons living with disabilities find themselves having to hire lawyers to assist them in navigating the complex web of programs available to them from the various levels of government. To me, this is just unacceptable. I see this bill as starting new momentum. When doctors undertake due diligence in completing evaluations on behalf of their patients so they can receive modest assistance, does it not make sense that this form be acceptable to apply to all programs available to the patient, instead of their having to start over again each time? We have to be smarter.

I am confident that as Canadians, we really do not want to force this vulnerable population into spending the scarce resources at their disposal to access programs that exist to provide them with assistance that is, rightfully, there for them.

I would now like to quote one of my constituents, Debra Sandre, who was able to provide me with a very candid overview of her lived experience.

She said, “I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in February of 2014 at the age of 30. Getting a diagnosis like that is hard, stressful, scary and many other adjectives, especially at this age.

“When trying to work out treatment, doctor's visits with specialists and all the other things to adjust to the new reality of living with a permanent disability it can be very difficult to figure out what resources may be available to you. Once you figure out what services and government assistance you may be entitled to, you then have to apply or prove your disability over and over again. And while proving this over and over you also have to incur the cost of having your doctor fill out the paperwork. This process can and should be easier for people who need the services, and we definitely do not need the added stress of applying for them.”

I really appreciate Debra allowing me to quote her here. I have to say that I could not agree with her more.

When a person attempts to access a benefit for the first time, the quality of that experience, whether it be onerous, overly complicated, or easy and efficient, defines the government for them. As far as they are concerned, it is the government, because these services are the interface between the service provider and the person assessing them. Therefore, those of us in government really need to think about the nature of that experience. We need to always be cognizant of how the delivery of these services is experienced by the people who need them.

Fortunately, for our purposes here today, the improvement of the quality of government services delivery falls within the mandates of two ministers in charge of such things.

In the mandate letter for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, we find this:

Work with the Minister of Public Services and Procurement to set transparent service standards so that Canadians get timely access to the benefits to which they are entitled.

In the mandate letter for the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, it says:

Work with the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, who is responsible for Service Canada, to establish new performance standards and set up a mechanism to conduct rigorous assessments of the performance of key government services and report findings publicly.

Bill C-348 deals with what many would call the low-hanging fruit, the first and simplest issues to be dealt with by a government interested in improving the way it delivers important services to its citizens. This bill has the potential to set a new course in how we manage our bureaucracy in a manner that would be a sensible way to make a difference in people's lives.

I am well aware that private member's bills rarely make it into law, which is why I am determined to propose something modest and achievable.

This bears reiterating: currently, people must apply separately to each program and have to endure the ordeal of proving their disabilities each time. Bill C-348 would create a once-stop shop, so to speak, a streamlined approach that would allow individuals to apply for all federal programs at once: the Canada pension plan disability benefit; the disability tax credit; the registered disability savings plan; veterans disability pensions, where applicable, of course; and the opportunities fund. All operate as stand-alone programs with distinct and separate application processes.

This really makes it cumbersome for people living with disabilities to access the federal supports they may be entitled to. We want to try to fix this problem, to the extent we are able, while operating within the constraints of private members' legislation.

Members will note that incorporated in this bill is its own internal review mechanism, which is in keeping with the mandate letters I quoted from earlier. Here is what the bill stipulates in proposed subsection 8.1(1):

Within 18 months after the day on which this section comes into force and every two years after that, the Minister shall undertake a review of the effectiveness of the application process provided for under paragraph 8(2)(b) and prepare a report setting out his or her findings and recommendations.

We all want to make sure that legislation actually works. In this case, we want to know that it genuinely makes the application process simpler for persons living with disabilities. We need to analyze its strengths and challenges and seize the opportunities and synergies that would become apparent when applying this practical directive. This would allow for the valuable input of our public service, which has the expertise and insight to respond to this directive.

Those following this issue will know that having in place a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the government's accessibility legislation was being implemented as to its intended capabilities was a major part of what Canadians told the government during its consultations over this past year.

I envision a time when we will have more streamlined access and coordination with provinces so that when a person is deemed eligible for one disability program, it opens access to another: gateways, not hurdles; bridges, not silos. Our real job here in this place is to continually move forward to remove the barriers to participation in a quality life. This would be the first step in a real opportunity to set the tone, the new approach, that would be a springboard for further discussion and action at all levels of government.

The internal review would ensure that we engage meaningfully to maximize our resources and enrich the Canadian experience in this modest way. I am sure now that those listening are contemplating the potential reach of this type of bureaucratic direction and what implications this could very well have. I certainly welcome the gained momentum that persons living with disabilities, and their families, are eagerly awaiting from this government.

As I have already mentioned, this is the low-hanging fruit, a no-brainer, so to speak. Let us go ahead and deal with these issues right away, the better to then address the more complex barriers facing persons living with disabilities in Canada. I extend my hand across the aisle to work together to do this, because this is what we are compelled to do in this place.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActRoutine Proceedings

April 10th, 2017 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-348, An Act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act (persons with disabilities).

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be presenting my first private member's bill today, which is an important one for persons living with disabilities. I intend for the bill to streamline the process by which persons living with disabilities access the federal programs they are entitled to.

The bill came about through the many conversations I have had with my constituents and stakeholders across the country, who have shared with me how burdensome it is and how punitive it can seem to access federal funding in an individual way and have to prove each time that they do have a disability. The bill would make it less onerous and less burdensome for people living with disabilities.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)