Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities Act

An Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act

Sponsor

Pierre Poilievre  Conservative

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

Status

Second reading (House), as of April 16, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-395.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act in order to ensure that persons with disabilities do not lose more through taxation and the reduction of benefits than they gain as a result of working.

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.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

moved that Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, work is a basic human need. Its wages feed, clothe, and shelter us. It offers the pride and purpose of doing something valuable for others. Work makes us a living. It also helps us to make a life. That is why almost a million Canadians with disabilities work—including about 300,000 with severe disabilities, according to Statistics Canada—but the system effectively bans many more from working. It is called the “welfare wall”, and here is how it works.

When people with disabilities earn a paycheque, governments sharply claw back supports for income, housing, medications, and other help. These clawbacks, plus taxes, mean that often people are poorer when they work more. They are stuck behind the welfare wall.

For example, if a person with disabilities who is earning the minimum wage in Saskatchewan goes from working part time to working full time, he would see his take-home pay drop from $21,600 to $21,500 on an annual basis. That is right: he is working double the hours and making less money at the end of the year.

Just read the social assistance website in New Brunswick:

For example, a single mother with one child may receive $861 each month. If she has no income at all, she would receive the full $861. If she has income of $300 a month, then she would receive $561 in social assistance.

Therefore, she makes $300 and immediately loses $300. It is like a tax rate of 100%, and that does not include other taxes, such as income taxes, payroll taxes, and gas taxes to drive to work, or clawbacks of non-cash benefits such as housing and medication. When all of these different work penalties are added together, many have a negative wage for working.

Mark Wafer, who hired 200 workers with disabilities at his Tim Hortons shops, once asked an official with the Ontario government, “What is the best way to get off disability assistance?” She replied, “Die”.

That is not just the experience of an entrepreneur talking to government; that is the insight of Canada's former chief statistician, Dr. Munir Sheikh, who wrote:

In Canada, many inappropriate tax-transfer policies have helped to condemn people to being trapped behind low-income and poverty walls and, rather than improving social mobility, [these programs] may have worsened it.

I refer to the “Zero Dollar Linda” model of author John Stapleton, who examined the incentives that caused a Toronto woman, Linda Chamberlain, to return to social assistance after a successful attempt to rejoin the workforce. Chamberlain's story is a tragic one. “After three decades of battling schizophrenia and homelessness and poverty, Chamberlain finally got a job”, wrote Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter. As a reward, the government boosted Linda's rent almost 500% and cut her disability payment, making her $260 a month poorer because she worked. Therefore, she had no choice but to quit and remain in poverty on social assistance, ironically at greater cost to the system.

Linda is not alone. Statistics Canada surveyed people with disabilities who were not in the labour force even though they indicated they could work or had worked in the past. I quote Statistics Canada's findings: roughly 94,000 people reported that if they were employed, they felt they would lose additional support. About 82,000 people reported that they expected their income to drop if they worked.

It is time to knock down this welfare wall. It is time to allow people to earn a living. It is time to pass Bill C-395, the opportunity for workers with disabilities act.

This legislation would require governments to permit these workers to keep more in wages than they lose in clawbacks and taxes. It would do this through measurement, action, and enforcement.

First is measurement. The bill would require Finance Canada to calculate how much governments take away in taxes and clawbacks of income, housing, medication, and other help for each thousand dollars a worker with disabilities earns. This calculation would only use publicly available tax and benefit rules, not personal financial information.

Second is action. If the calculation shows people were losing more than they gained from work, within 30 days the finance minister would have to identify and report to Parliament changes to tax and benefit programs that would fix the problem. He might adjust federal disability tax credits, the CPP disability plan, or any other federal measure to make work pay.

Third is enforcement. Provinces must already meet numerous existing federal conditions in exchange for billions of dollars in federal transfer payments. This legislation would add one more condition that would require provincial taxes and benefits to always allow people with disabilities to gain more than they lose from work. To be clear, the federal government would not dictate how provincial policies work; rather, it would instill one simple principle: do not punish people with disabilities for working. Provinces would have total liberty in how they instill this principle.

For example, in British Columbia, people used to lose their drug coverage if they got a job and left welfare. That is not the case anymore. Economist Kevin Milligan, who advised the governing party on its platform, wrote, B.C. “replaced an 'all or nothing' program for social assistance recipients with one that is income-tested and more gently smoothed out as incomes rise. This had the effect of removing a very tall 'welfare wall' that provided a disincentive to work for people on benefits.” Similar solutions can allow other Canadians to get jobs without losing life-saving medications.

Respecting the bill and allowing people with disabilities to work could save taxpayers money. Data from the Ontario government showed that if one person on disability assistance gets a $17-an-hour job, the government saves $14,000 in benefits and collects an extra $1,000 in taxes. Imagine what we would save if we knocked down the welfare wall and freed tens of thousands of workers with disabilities to earn a living and escape poverty.

Speaking of poverty, the best anti-poverty plan is a job. If an individual is of working age but lives in a household where no one works, that person has a 50% likelihood of living in poverty today. However, if an individual works full-time year-round, that person will only have a 3% chance of being poor.

The same is true for people with disabilities, who generally have a higher poverty rate. However, people with disabilities who are employed are only 8% likely to be below the poverty line. Let me give the House a startling example.

Let us put two people side by side, one who has a disability and a job and the other who has no disability and no job. The second person is more than twice as likely to be below the poverty line, which shows that it is joblessness more than disability that causes poverty, and it is not just material poverty.

While we are always told how dangerous it is to overwork, we often forget the greater danger to health and happiness of not working at all. Allow me to quote former British Medical Journal editor Dr. Richard Smith, who said, “Unemployment raises the chance that a man will die in the next decade by about a third. The men are most likely to die from suicide, cancer, and accidents and violence. ... Separation, divorce, and family violence are also linked with unemployment.”

He went on, “But it is mental health that is most harmed by unemployment. The unemployed experience anxiety, depression, neurotic disorders, poor self-esteem, and disturbed sleep patterns, and they are more likely than the employed not only to kill themselves but also to injure themselves deliberately.”

Dr. Diette, a Washington and Lee University economist, wanted to determine if unemployment causes bad mental health or if it is just the other way around. He studied the mental health of people who had never before experienced serious psychological distress. Those who went on to lose their jobs later became at least 125% more likely to suffer such psychological distress than those who kept working.

Elsewhere, researchers tested 1,000 laid-off Danish shipyard workers for psychiatric symptoms during a three-year follow-up period. He found these workers suffered worse mental health results than other workers who kept their jobs at a different shipyard. Here we have a very large sample size of people in the same country and in the same industry. Those who were not working went on to suffer far worse mental health than their counterparts who continued to have jobs.

Some would say, “Of course unemployment harms health and happiness. People without jobs are stressed about money”, but that is only part of the story. University of Zurich economist Dr. Winkelmann found that life satisfaction for unemployed German men was significantly lower on a scale of 1 to 10 than for working German men, even when their total incomes were the same. How can this be? We are always told that work is a necessary but miserable slog, and we would all be happier retiring at 30. Trendy TED talkers are always talking about this amazing future when robots will do all the work for us, yet evidence proves that people are happier and healthier working, even when money is no issue.

Why is that?

First, it is because work makes us valuable to others. Tibet's Nobel Prize-winning spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the American Enterprise Institute president wrote together that virtually all the world's religions teach us that diligent work in the service of others is our highest nature and thus lies at the centre of a happy life. In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who did not feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. That is especially true for people with disabilities, whose skills and contributions are often undervalued by ignorant attitudes and small-minded people.

Second, work connects us to one another. A workday is a constant flow of exchanges of goods, services, emails, phone calls, handshakes, questions and answers that link us together, and in each of these exchanges a worker is important to someone else. That is especially true of people who might be isolated and lonely. Their work colleagues form a social network, and even a family. A worker matters to his colleagues. He has a name, and as the Cheers jingle taught us so many years ago, sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.

Third, work puts us in control of our lives, which is a basic human need. “One of the most prevalent fears people have is losing control”, wrote psychologist Dr. Elliot Cohen. Welfare surrenders our control to a system in which politicians we do not know make decisions that shape our lives. Through work, however, we take control of our lives. We do, rather than being done to. We become active players, not passive observers. We are the independent authors of our lives.

For these reasons, work is a blessing, not a burden. A system that robs people of this blessing is not only foolish but inhumane. Therefore, let us knock down this welfare wall and open up opportunity for people with disabilities to earn a great living and live a great life.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:15 a.m.
See context

Whitby Ontario

Liberal

Celina Caesar-Chavannes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague mentioned Mark Wafer, who is from Whitby, my riding. I had an opportunity to hear Mark speak a number of times about the importance of hiring individuals with disabilities not for the benefit of the company, because they get some kind of arbitrary credit, but because individuals with disabilities often work harder. They are not often late for work. They are dedicated individuals. Therefore, I appreciate the comments my colleague made.

However, we will be introducing in Canada a disabilities act with the Minister of Sport and Persons With Disabilities and our parliamentary secretary. We have done over 6,000 consultations. I did one in Whitby at the Abilities Centre. We heard a lot from individuals who said, quite frankly, that they would like to have a job and would like to not have the clawbacks. I wonder if and how my colleague is working with the minister and our team to ensure this particular idea of an incentive is embedded in the legislation we are developing.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question, and I will address the two questions in reverse order. I have reached out to the current public services minister, who was the disabilities minister, to discuss this bill. She was very receptive. However, she was obviously unable to commit to government support, or opposition. I am looking forward to seeing the government's bill with respect to making workplaces more inviting to people with disabilities. I am sure there will be many good measures included in that bill.

The member also pointed to Mark Walker's success at employing people with disabilities, to great profitable success in the six Tim Hortons that Mark Walker owns. All of the performance metrics were higher because of, not in spite of, the fact that about 200 of his employees have disabilities. The service at the window was faster at the Tim Hortons that Mark Walker runs than it was on Camp Day when all of us politicians go to work at Tim Hortons. It was actually about half of the service time when persons with disabilities were doing the work than when the bigwigs like us were standing there trying to figure out how to do it. In the United States, Randy Lewis of the huge Walgreens distribution centre and the ruthlessly profitable business that it runs, became one of the most profitable in the company's entire ecosystem when 1,000 people with disabilities went to work there.

Again and again, we underestimate people. This bill gives them a chance to prove all of their worth to contribute and be their best.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, as everyone probably knows, there are costs associated with working, such as the cost of transportation and, for working parents, the cost of child care. Does my colleague believe our tax system should be set up to ensure that working never costs more than not working and that working is always worthwhile, regardless of an individual's personal circumstances? Unfortunately, sometimes that is not the case.

Does my colleague believe that basic principle of taxation should inform all our policies?

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question. First of all, I would like to make it clear that the government should never punish people who work. It should never take back more than a dollar for each dollar a person earns.

The system we have in Canada right now can make things better or worse, depending on the province and the individual situation. In some cases, people end up worse off when they decide to work, increase their hours, or get a raise. I think we can all agree that nobody should ever be in a situation where the effective tax rate exceeds 100%. That does happen in some cases in this country. The finance minister should do the math to make sure nobody ends up being penalized for working.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon LiberalParliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-395, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

The bill raises an important question: what can we do to encourage people who are not currently in the workforce to enter and remain in it? In the context of this legislation, how do we ensure that measures are put in place to encourage persons with disabilities to work, if they so wish?

Canada's future progress depends on making sure that every Canadian has an equal and fair chance at success. We need to ensure that the benefits of a growing economy are felt by more and more people with good, well-paying jobs for the middle class and everyone working hard to join it. The number of Canadians in low-wage jobs is high by international standards. Many of these workers struggle to support their families and afford basics like healthy food and clothes for growing kids.

That is why budget 2018 introduces the new Canada workers benefit, for example. This measure, which replaces the working income tax benefit, will help low-income workers keep more of their income. With this benefit, the government is also proposing an increase in the disability supplement in order to provide more assistance to Canadians who wish to enter the labour face and face financial barriers because of their disability. The Canada workers benefit will help lift approximately 70,000 Canadians out of poverty by 2020. It will encourage more people to join the workforce.

Whether this extra money is used for things such as helping to cover the family grocery bills or buying warm clothes for the winter, the improved benefits will help low-income working Canadians to make ends meet.

Furthermore, starting in 2019, the government will also make it easier for people to access the benefits they have earned by making changes that will allow the Canada Revenue Agency to calculate the Canada workers benefit for any tax filer who has not claimed it. Allowing the Canada Revenue Agency to automatically provide the benefit to eligible filers will be especially helpful for people with reduced mobility, people who live far from service locations, and people who do not have internet access. As a result, everyone who can benefit from the Canada workers benefit will receive it when they file their taxes, and an estimated 300,000 additional low-income workers will receive the new Canada workers benefit for the 2019 tax year because of these changes. Combined with previous enhancements, our government is investing almost $1 billion in new funding per year to help low-income workers get ahead.

In addition to the new Canada workers benefit, the federal government has provided the refundable medical expense supplement to improve work incentives for Canadians with disabilities. This supplement helps to offset the loss of coverage for medical and disability-related expenses when individuals move from social assistance to the paid labour force.

The intention of ensuring that a financial work incentive exists for Canadians with disabilities is strongly supported. That is why the government is taking action to achieve improvements in labour market outcomes for persons with disabilities. However, while it is obviously desirable to ensure that social assistance programs preserve an incentive to work, the provision of social assistance for the working age populations, including for persons with disabilities, is primarily a provincial and territorial area of responsibility. Of course, the federal government has an interest in ensuring that its policies preserve work incentives and has collaborated with the provinces in this area. In recognition of the important role played by provinces and territories in providing basic income support, our government has worked with them to make province-specific changes to the design of the working income tax benefit to better harmonize with their own programs. Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nunavut have already taken advantage of this opportunity. Moving forward, our government will continue to work with interested provinces and territories to harmonize benefits under the new Canada workers benefit and to help support the transition from social assistance and into work.

Another noteworthy measure in budget 2018 is a new pre-apprenticeship program that would help under-represented groups in the economy, including women, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and newcomers, explore the trades, gain work experience, and develop the skills needed to succeed.

After 20 years experience in teaching and professional development, I can say that the future is bright and there will be jobs for these people. This program will benefit many people, especially those who need it the most.

As the hon. member probably knows, the government is also committed to providing Canadians more information on the practices of federally-regulated employers. This transparency will contribute not only to shedding light on leaders in matters of pay equity, but also to putting pressure on employers responsible for the wage gaps that affect women, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities.

We are also introducing in the House a new bill on accessibility, which will seek to improve accessibility and opportunities for Canadians with disabilities in sectors under federal jurisdiction by removing the barriers these people currently face.

The new legislation will build on a series of Accessible Canada consultations that we held across the country.

As a government, we understand the importance of helping Canadians remove the obstacles to economic development. That is why fairness and equality are at the forefront of budget 2018, which contains new investments to help those who need it most.

I urge the member from Carleton to support these measures and the upcoming accessibility bill because they are good for Canadians with disabilities and millions of other Canadians.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Carleton for introducing Bill C-395. I believe that this bill addresses a gap in the tax system known as the “welfare wall”, a fairly well-known economic principle. It occurs when those who are receiving social assistance or people with disabilities, as we are talking about here, want to enter the workforce but will lose money to taxes or benefit clawbacks by doing so.

I do not think that this is a result of any level of government acting in bad faith; rather, I think it is an indication of the complexity of our tax system. It is becoming so complex that, despite our best efforts, we have introduced unintended effects into the system that penalize people who want to re-enter the labour market.

I will vote in favour of the bill at second reading so that we can study it at committee. I have questions about some aspects of the bill, such as whether the financial implications for different levels of government are those suggested. I believe that will be the case, but we will be able to do a more in-depth analysis at committee.

This is an example of the left and the right being able to work together because we have a common interest. I believe that we have the greater good at heart. We want to help people who want to work, in this case, once again, people with a disability. Support for the bill introduced by the member for Carleton has come from progressives and Conservatives, including a former representative of the Canadian Tax Foundation, the Canadian Association of Social Workers, Jack Mintz, and Ian Lee, who will never be taken for progressives, as well as the Canadian Association for Supported Employment. The entire political spectrum is represented on this long list of supporters, which clearly indicates that we have a social consensus.

I am saddened by the government's attitude. If I am not mistaken, my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, said that the government will not encourage support for this bill, at least at second reading, which I find very disappointing. The bill by the member for Carleton is clear. It would amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act. The various levels of government are subject to conditions with respect to social transfers and health transfers, and these conditions help address any problems that may arise or any issues regarding how different governments use the transfers. When the federal government is able to punish persons with disabilities who want to return to the job market, this will be addressed at the federal level, and it must also be addressed at the provincial level. I am saddened that the speech I just heard had nothing to do with the bill itself, and instead had to do with government measures, since at the end of the day, this bill is worthy of consideration.

If the bill passes, there will be three requirements. The first has to do with the Minister of Finance.

Finance Canada will be asked to calculate the level of taxation and the loss of benefits that would be incurred by the person with a disability in going back on the job market and having a job and wages. Following that, if the earned income is lowered by the effect of taxation and the loss of benefits, then Finance Canada would have to modify or amend in some form the working income tax disability supplement. The same would be asked of the provinces through that modification and the agreement between the federal government and the provincial governments for the social transfer. It is that simple. That is all that is asked here.

I do not understand why the government does not want this bill to be studied. It would complement the measures that the government announced in its latest budget.

I do not see why the government would not study this new measure, which would complement what it proposed in its last budget. At the end of the day, I worry that the government is telling us it can do better than this bill. Personally, I really doubt it.

I introduced Bill C-274 in the House of Commons to fix a specific problem with the transfer of SMEs and family farms. I managed to secure the support of many members. The Conservative Party was on board, as were the independent members and, in theory, 15 to 20 Liberal members. Then the Minister of Finance released a cost estimate for the bill. The tax specialists I had been dealing with had estimated that my bill would cost between $75 million and $100 million.

During the final week of debate, however, the government pulled a rabbit out of its hat and claimed the bill would cost between $800 million and $1.2 billion in lost revenue. That scared off a lot of Liberal backbenchers. Several of those who had initially supported the bill and acknowledged the existence of the problem my bill was trying to fix decided to vote against it.

The Department of Finance misled the members of the Liberal Party, because in a report on the fiscal impact of my bill that was published two months after the vote, the parliamentary budget officer put the fiscal revenue shortfall at about $150 million, not $800 million to $1.2 billion as the finance department led the House to believe.

The government tends to completely ignore positive legislation brought forward by the opposition, especially on fiscal matters. It is trying to undermine the members of the House by systematically refusing all opposition-led tax bills, whether they are proposed by the official opposition or other opposition parties.

In our consideration of Bill C-395, however, we are working on the particular issue of Canadians who are struggling to get over the welfare wall.

The welfare wall exists, and we need to attack it where we can, federally and provincially. It makes no sense.

My colleague, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, actually showed that this is a principle that should be applied everywhere in our tax system. It should be applied, because it makes sense in terms of creating incentives for people with disabilities or people on social assistance or people who want to find an opportunity to work. We need to give them every single opportunity to do so.

Creating walls and keeping a state of affairs where people going to work actually lose money and benefits because they are going to work makes no sense. It is our duty as parliamentarians, it is our duty as people who have been elected by our constituents, to ensure that we correct these problems. The bill tabled by the member for Carleton aims to do exactly that.

I will be asking the government to look at this bill and to send it to committee to ensure that the objectives targeted by this bill would be achieved. This would actually be a positive contribution by this Parliament. It would ensure that people who want to gain some dignity by going back to work and being able to contribute socially in their communities would not be penalized and would not suffer from the shortcomings of our own legislation when we adopt tax measures provincially and federally.

I encourage all members of Parliament in this House to vote in favour of this bill and to send it to committee to try to see what we can do for people with disabilities who want to gain dignity by joining the job market.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I support Bill C-395, the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, put forward by my colleague, the member for Carleton. I want to thank him for his steadfast and exceptional advocacy for accountability to taxpayers and for economic freedom, security, and opportunity for all Canadians, especially the vulnerable and disadvantaged. His bill could benefit many Canadians who have different barriers than others in their day-to-day lives.

The bill would mandate Finance Canada to calculate how much people with disabilities currently lose in taxes and clawbacks as a result of each additional income of $1,000 they earn, up to $30,000, on a province-by-province basis. If there are cases where clawbacks are higher than the employment income, the finance minister can review possible changes to the federal tax and benefits system so people with disabilities are not worse off or get paid simply less because they are working. The finance minister would then consult with each province to fix the problem. Of course, the federal government puts conditions on provincial programs and services all the time.

I support Bill C-395 because every Canadian has value and every Canadian with disabilities who wants to work and is able to do so should be able to maximize his or her opportunities without penalties or barriers from government. Meaningful work is important for well-being, a sense of dignity, for a fulfilling life, and it should be a public policy priority to support people with disabilities who want and are able to work.

Unfortunately, Canadians with disabilities often struggle to secure employment or when they do, government policies stop them from being able to fully benefit from their efforts and endeavours.

According to a 2012 Statistics Canada report on persons with disabilities and employment, the last report done on this subject, the employment rate of Canadians aged 25 to 64 who have a physical or mental disability was 49%, compared to a 79% rate of those without a disability.

In my home province of Alberta, people with disabilities who do work often lose $1.15 for every new dollar they earn under the current system. The assured income for the severely handicapped, or AISH, is Alberta's program supported by the Canada social transfer. This separate supplement income program acknowledges the unique financial costs and significant barriers that only this exceptional group of people face.

Currently, an Albertan living with a disability can receive a standard living allowance of almost $1,600 monthly through AISH. Like many provincial income programs for the disabled, the financial benefit decreases as earned income increases. Of course, an individual living with a disability who is able to work full-time may not receive the same level of support as someone who cannot work at all or who struggles to be accommodated by prospective employers.

Right now in Alberta persons with disabilities in the AISH program can only earn a certain amount before their payments are reduced. Under Alberta's AISH employment income exemption calculation, a single person on the AISH program can only earn up to a maximum of $800 before his or her payments are clawed back monthly. Once a person earns just over $2,700 monthly, he or she no longer receive an AISH benefit at all. That is a salary of $32,000 a year with no additional benefits. However, the reality is that people with disabilities often have an additional set and scope of costs and requirements for survival, never mind to thrive, in their daily lives and for their whole lives that people without disabilities can not imagine.

Canadians with the same income who are not disabled already struggle to make ends meet. People with disabilities who can and want to be included in the workforce should not lose benefits that are specifically designed to support their disabilities.

A notable exception about Alberta's program, through recent improvements by both the former PC government and the current NDP one, is that it is actually significantly more generous when compared to other provinces.

Ontario, for example, has the Ontario disability support program where a single person with a disability can earn a maximum financial benefit of only just over $1,100 monthly. The benefit is based on family status, providing more if a disabled person has dependants.

British Columbia has the person with disability program under B.C. employment and assistance, which is also based on family status. A single person can only receive just over $1,100 per month.

This scenario means there is virtually no financial incentive for disabled people to work. The more they work the less money or benefits they receive, even if they have a low-paying job. If there is no benefit for disabled people to work because they may get paid more if they do not, then what incentive is there for them to go to work and why should they be punished for wanting to contribute to society and for doing something that is fulfilling and meaningful and fulfilling?

The current system therefore presents a unique problem. In “The Dignity Deficit”, Arthur Brooks says, “We feel a sense of dignity when our own lives produce value for ourselves and others. Put simply, to feel dignified, one must be needed by others.”

Involuntary unemployment can be extremely damaging to a person who wants to work. Studies conclude that compared with people who are employed, unemployed people can experience mental health issues, which is not just highly correlated but tied directly to their lack of work. Many struggle with depression and have lesser physical well-being generally. Unemployed people are more likely to cope by drinking, smoking, and using drugs.

It is often assumed that these physical and mental challenges are the cause of unemployment, but there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the relationship is also the other way around and that for people with disabilities, those who are able to work, are more healthy mentally and emotionally, benefiting from a sense of self-worth from gainful employment, than people with disabilities who can work but do not.

Brooks says, “Involuntary unemployment saps one’s sense of dignity.” Receiving employment insurance or disability benefits does not actually help disabled people who want to work. It is backward and perverse for a government system to disincentivize it or claw back fundamental supports for those who do.

I am passionate about this issue in part because of my personal experience with people with disabilities. In university, I volunteered with the Little Bits Therapeutic Riding Association at the Whitemud Equine Learning Centre in Edmonton. I got to know adults and children with cognitive, developmental, mental, and physical challenges, originating from birth, from tragic accidents, and from diseases and illnesses. They and their families and guardians had a major impact on me. Many of them would not be able to work. They depended completely on a network of family, friends, public and private support systems, and programs. However, there were those who could work, and did, and who made all kinds of contributions through work and volunteerism. They should not be penalized for meaningful employment or profitable entrepreneurialism, and for their efforts to advance and support themselves. All of them, those who could work and those who could not, also contributed to my life, my perspective, and my well-being in ways I am sure they never knew.

In Lakeland, the Vegreville Association for Living in Dignity is a not-for-profit association that helps support people with developmental disabilities to have opportunities for success and personal growth by promoting the development of communication and cognitive and motor skills through participation in work and in many initiatives and events in the community.

VALID has long-standing partnerships with businesses for employment positions, and with charities for volunteer activities in Vegreville. For more than 20 years, VALID's program with the immigration case processing centre secured work placements for three to five, and sometimes more, disabled people every year. These opportunities will soon be taken away from workers with disabilities in CPC Vegreville because despite an outpouring and herculean effort to stop it by employees and their families, union reps, and elected representatives at all levels and of all parties in Alberta, and right across the country, the Liberals are closing the office in September 2018.

That closure will eliminate hundreds of much-needed jobs in Vegreville, with wide-ranging and significant economic and social consequences for the town and region. The Liberal closure will end decades of consistent and predictable employment opportunities for adults living with disabilities in and around the town and end all fundraising by the employee champions for local charities and not-for-profit associations that help the disadvantaged, needy, and vulnerable through their contributions to workplace charitable campaigns.

The immigration department said that the new office in Vegreville would accommodate 312 employees, only a maximum addition of 32 positions. Vegreville could have expanded for them and for more jobs or placements for people with disabilities.

It is a huge loss that was imposed with no consultation and no economic impact assessment. The cost study the Liberals hid for a year showed it would cost millions more. Nothing ever actually prevented them from opening an office in Edmonton. They have never proven the case why the Vegreville office has to be closed, not to the whole team of employees who consistently outperform targets and backstop other offices, not to the 76% of employees there who are women, and not to the people with disabilities who will no longer have opportunities for worthwhile and meaningful work there.

Canadians with disabilities should be able to exercise their talents, abilities, and ambition to pursue and attain employment and entrepreneurial opportunities when they can and want to. Governments should not penalize them for doing so. The aim of Canadian public policy should be to enable and empower people with disabilities to enjoy meaningful work without barriers and to thrive, not take away incentive from their drive to work and pursue their goals.

That is why I support Bill C-395, and all members should support it. It is a focused, specific, and necessary initiative to actually deliver in policy on all the words and intentions elected representatives often share about compassion and about supporting diversity, abilities, and inclusions. The Conservatives mean those words, are acting on those words, and I am sure the Liberals will support it.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to join in the debate on the opportunities for workers with disabilities act. I would like to take a moment to share with this place an example of why I believe this is a needed and helpful measure for many who are disabled.

Most provincial disability programs are obviously capped at a certain amount. For the sake of an example, and this is not the example I am using from British Columbia, let us say an individual's provincial disability assistance is $1,200. Unless one has the benefit of being subsidized, rent for housing takes a very good portion, if not almost all, of that monthly amount. For many who are disabled there is simply not enough funds left over to pay utilities, buy groceries, toiletries, and other basic items. For many, the only other option is to find some work, and this is where it gets interesting.

Any income generated independently of social assistance support in some regions may be deducted dollar for dollar. That means if an individual were to earn an extra $800 working part-time, once that additional income is deducted dollar for dollar, the net income is the same $1,200. In other words, that individual is no better off working at all. That is what gets to the heart of this legislation. In order for someone on disability to come out ahead, that individual would have to earn at least $1,300 or more, getting into the range of almost full-time, which for many who are on disability may not be practical or even an attainable solution.

Fortunately, most provinces have developed some income earning exemptions for those on disability. In my home province this is now $1,000 for a single person on disability. Most would agree that is a positive. We all know that having a job provides more than much-needed additional income. It provides a sense of value and it helps restore confidence.

A retired public servant who has spent many years working with disabled citizens once shared with me some interesting observations. From his perspective, the importance of learning what one can do with a disability as opposed to what can no longer be done is an important part of moving forward.

His other observation was that time was of the essence. The sooner a person is able to return to the workforce in some way, the odds are more likely that person will remain actively engaged in the workplace. Being engaged and productive and finding ways we can achieve that is something government policy should always encourage.

Knowing that in some regions a person with a disability can be adversely impacted by returning to the workplace in any way goes against the principles that help promote a positive and potentially more productive lifestyle. For those of us who are not disabled, our net take-home pay will generally always ensure we come out ahead. This principle should be no different for those who are disabled.

When I think of the observations from that retired civil servant, what the bill proposes would help to ensure that the framework would be in place. That is a positive and it is one of the reasons why I support the bill.

I would like to thank and commend the member for Carleton for bringing forward this important legislation. I am not sure of the member's original reasons for getting involved in this area, but he has been a champion for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He has been a champion locally for people with disabilities. I am sure it is in part due to his exposure to some people that he has been able to realize he adds unique contributions to this place and his contributions are forwarded by the same. I give him full credit as he continues to stand up for people with disabilities to ensure they can participate meaningfully.

I would like to beg the House's indulgence for a moment on a related subject that is also of concern and is all too often overlooked. To be clear, the bill would create new opportunities to help disabled Canadians. However, from my experience, and perhaps from the experience of other members here, there are those citizens who have barriers, be they mental or physical, that prevent them from securing employment. In some cases, these people are not able to secure disability status. It could be because of a lack of capacity, or as is common in my region a doctor shortage, and that can make it extremely difficult for a marginalized person to receive the required medical certification to qualify for disability status.

That is not something we can directly fix with a private member's bill from this place. Health care, as we know, is a provincially delivered service. However, one thing we have done in this place is to make Canada a less attractive location for new doctors. Recent tax changes, including to personal income tax rates, will result in many doctors having a reduced net take-home pay. That is not helpful in physician recruitment, and it is definitely not helpful for retaining those physicians. I mention these things because I believe it is important to recognize the role of doctors and physicians in establishing disabled status.

Getting back to the bill, I would like to thank all members in this place for taking the time to hear my comments today. I believe it is fundamentally important to find ways we can help disabled Canadians, and this bill is one of the steps we can take together. I would hope that the members here, as well as our colleagues who are trying to travel to Ottawa through ice storms and whatnot, will consider these arguments and support the initiative of the member for Carleton. This is an important step for ensuring that every single Canadian from coast to coast to coast has the same benefit and the same principle to participate meaningfully in the workplace, earn some more income, feel the pride of being more self-sufficient, and not be subject to government clawbacks, which oftentimes make very little sense to the people who are subject to them, or to many of us in this chamber.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

April 16th, 2018 / 11:55 a.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have an opportunity to speak to this bill, which is important to understanding the situation many people face on a daily basis. For instance, some couples, when one of them has a disability and is not currently working, have to crunch the numbers before accepting a job. A number of considerations come into play when deciding whether it is worth it to go to work. Transportation costs, for one, are a factor that must considered and so are day care costs, if the couple has children, since staying at home saves on this expense. A number of factors come into play in the calculation. Furthermore, many benefits are lost once a certain income bracket is reached. For instance, the amount of family allowance payments goes down as income goes up. This can have a significant impact considering all the benefits. In Quebec, the public drug insurance plan covers people who are not working. People who work are obligated to join the drug plan offered by their employer, and that plan is sometimes a lot more expensive than the government plan. Choosing to go to work can have significant financial consequences.

When you add up all the money people do not have to spend when they are not working but do have to spend when they are, and then you factor in lost benefits, the tax rate, and rising costs of various services they need, unfortunately for a lot of people, it is not worth having a job. That is just so sad.

Right now, we have an unprecedented labour shortage. In Abitibi—Témiscamingue, people are tearing their hair out trying to come up with ways to find workers. Many of these jobs require minimal skills, and employers are even hiring people who are not qualified at all. For many of these jobs, the only requirement is willingness to work. The situation is so dire that employers have no choice. Right now in Abitibi—Témiscamingue, businesses are closing and restaurants are cutting back their hours because they cannot find workers.

We need to figure out how to help everyone with the ability and the desire to work find those opportunities because the labour shortage is having a major impact on regional economies like mine. A bill like this one would guarantee that people with disabilities benefit from making that decision to work. I think that is so important.

Employers are left with no choice. They have to resort to non-traditional labour pools. When people do the math and realize it is not worth it to go to work, then we lose out on potential employees. Countless studies have shown how effective persons with disabilities are at work.

I will be pleased to continue my speech when we resume debate on this bill.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActRoutine Proceedings

February 5th, 2018 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to table in the House of Commons my private member's bill, the opportunity for workers with disabilities act. Unfortunately, across this country there is an inadvertent phenomenon which, as a result of our tax and benefits system, punishes some of our most inspiring workers when they endeavour to leave social assistance and enter the workforce. The combination of benefit clawbacks and taxation can often lead to marginal effective tax rates above 100%; that is, a person loses more than a dollar for every dollar the person earns. It is called the welfare wall and it keeps many of our otherwise hard-working people trapped in poverty and out of work.

Conservatives and all Canadians believe that hard work should be rewarded and not punished. The bill would inculcate one simple principle that all governments must follow, that workers with disabilities must always be allowed to earn more in wages than they lose in clawbacks and taxes.

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