Mr. Speaker, Abraham Lincoln once said, “If there is anything that a man can do well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.” In 2018, of course, we refer to people instead of men, but the message is still the same.
While I would suggest that all of us in this place would agree with this sentiment, there are areas where we can do much better in this regard, and we are talking about one of them this evening. For people with disabilities in Canada today, we do not do enough to recognize and cultivate skills and abilities. Rather, we tend to focus almost exclusively on the challenges. When we do recognize an area where an individual can contribute, we often do something that is almost inconceivable: We actually penalize people who are able to overcome the odds and find a job. In 2018, in Canada, individuals with a disability can get a job that properly compensates them for their work, but end up being worse off than if they had not been working. This is because governments take away more in benefits than the individuals make in their new job.
With this simple piece of legislation we are dealing with today, we have the opportunity to change that. As the parent of a 22-year-old son with autism, I would like to thank the member for Carleton for this very important and non-partisan initiative. After quoting a Republican, Lincoln, I will quote John F. Kennedy to highlight the non-partisan nature of this discussion. He said, “Things do not happen. Things are made to happen.”
With this bill, we have the opportunity to show federal leadership to make something happen while respecting provincial jurisdiction. The bill is quite brilliant in its simplicity. It is just a page and a half long and sets in place a mechanism to determine areas where the clawback of income in terms of taxes and lost benefits for persons with disabilities who work is greater than the income they receive from that work. When such a situation exists, the bill would allow the finance minister to take action to fix the problem. This may seem like common sense because it is common sense, and it is incumbent on us to make it happen.
Others will talk a bit more about the details of the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, but I am going to use the rest of my time today to share a bit about my son Jaden, and use his example to highlight the importance of this bill.
Jaden and I travel around the country and do a presentation called “Expect More, An Autism Adventure”. We talk about the idea that we can move from inclusion, which is really important, to contribution. When I talk about inclusion in Jaden's life, I talk about things like his schooling, the school system he went to from K to 12 with a full-time aid helping him. I think about hockey and bowling, where he took part on regular teams in regular leagues, often with a bit of support from his dad or some of the other coaches. I think about musical theatre. His story in musical theatre is really a cool one that I will get to in a second. Jaden has some challenges, of course. He is non-verbal, and everybody in this House has probably met Jaden at one time or another and given him a high five. He has trouble with things that are abstract.
I like to tell stories about Jaden to highlight some of his difficulties understanding what is okay and not okay. I think back to when he was nine years old and we went to McDonald's at West Edmonton Mall between Christmas and New Years. We were picking up food for a bunch of people and were walking out and I was not holding his hand because I was carrying all of this food for these people. Because I was not able to hold his hand, Jaden had a bit of free reign. All of a sudden, he got the giggles and turned around and ran back to the counter at McDonald's and ran behind the full length of the counter. He reached into the bin where they hold the crushed Smarties in front of everybody in line, and grabbed a handful of crushed Smarties and stuffed them in his face. He was eating these crushed Smarties with the biggest smile on his face while about 70 people in line—it was very busy—looked on and were somewhat aghast at the situation. I just ran to him, found someone who looked like a manager, and quickly explained that Jaden has autism, and we walked out.
We often talk about these challenges, but what I love about Jaden's situation and the inclusion story of Jaden, his situation in school, was the fact that Jaden had a very supportive environment. When I think about musical theatre, I think about the teachers and students who were involved in musical theatre who, because they had gone to school with Jaden for 10 years leading up to his grade-10 year, recognized that Jaden loved theatre, movies, and music and thought that he might be able to have a part in a musical theatre production. The first year, they did Oliver!, and they put Jaden in a group scene where he practised the moves and took part in a couple of group scenes, and kids were on the side of the stage watching to make sure he did not take off and just wander offstage. The second year, they pushed him a bit further. They did Bye Bye Birdie. There were some scenes with choreography. They were able to teach Jaden the choreography.
The third year, his last year of musical theatre, in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, one of the girls, in her senior year, asked if she could be Jaden's wife in the play. There were many scenes where there were couples dancing, and she taught Jaden to kind of improvise in those scenes. When the other boys picked up the girls and threw them in the air, Jaden put his hands on her hips and she jumped, to make it look like he was throwing her in the air. It was amazing. He did much better than anybody thought he could do. It was a perfect example of inclusion.
However, it is one thing to look at inclusion; it is another thing to look at where we go beyond that. Inclusion offered the opportunity for people to see what Jaden was good at, but the school was challenged with finding a next step for him, something I call moving from inclusion to contribution. We talk about this often.
In Jaden's case, because he had been included in so many different aspects of school life all these years, there were kids who remembered what he was good at. They remembered that, up until grade 4, he was the first kid to do times tables, or that he got 100% on most of his spelling tests, because he sees the world a little differently than everybody else. Jaden did a great job in musical theatre, better than we ever thought he would, but, to be honest, even as his father, I would admit that Jaden is probably not going to have a career in musical theatre. He did better than we thought he would, but musical theatre is not necessarily his calling or gift.
However, it did challenge people to think that maybe he was capable of doing more than they thought. His aide and the school, the teachers and the students, had him working in the school library. Jaden was astonishing, working in the library. He would scan the books, put them all in a pile, put them on the cart in order, and then run around the library putting them away. He would put them away faster than anybody else.
It was pretty cool watching Jaden in the library. Not only would he put the books away faster than anybody else, never making a mistake, but he would walk by books that were already on a library shelf and would notice that they were in the wrong place, out of all of the books on the shelf. He would grab them as he was walking by, put them on his cart, and when he got to where they belonged, he would just put them where they belonged without even skipping a beat.
Jaden has this incredible skill and ability that were noticed by students and teachers as he was going through his schooling. As we move forward, we ask what the vocational opportunities for Jaden are. We can think about how much work went into developing, understanding, and cultivating Jaden's skill level and finding those abilities. Now Jaden is going to potentially have the opportunity to work in a school environment or a library environment, or something similar to that.
The circumstance in this country right now is that Jaden may have that opportunity to work. Jaden is incredibly excited to work; he cries at the end of his shift because he wants to keep working. I do not know how many members in the House cry at the end of their House duty, but it is probably not because they want to keep it going. In Jaden's case, that is how much he loves working. We are in a circumstance where Jaden could be worse off when he is working, because of these clawbacks, these systems we have in place. However, we can remedy that with the particular piece of legislation we are dealing with today.
I would challenge members of the House to think about Jaden's circumstance. We can think about the decision that we have to make for him, or that people with disabilities might have to make. They can go out and do something they are good at. They can make a decision to be compensated fairly for the work they do, or they can volunteer for that work, doing it for free, and they would be better off financially. That is an insane choice to have to make. How many of us think that this would be okay, if we had to make that choice? If Jaden was to work for free, he might be better off financially than if he was to actually get paid what his work is worth. That is the circumstance we are dealing with. That is what this bill is meant to solve.
I want to thank the member for Carleton for bringing forward this very important issue. I know that he worked very hard to find something he could use his private member's bill on that would be non-partisan in nature and that members from all parties could support.
I talked to a couple of NDP members today, and I know the NDP will be supportive, as it supported the Canadian autism partnership last year. It is quite a thing to find Conservative and NDP members in agreement on issues, but there are a couple of areas where we did find some agreement. I do not know what the Liberal position is on this, but I hope the Liberals will also support this. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this, and I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.