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

Defeated, as of June 6, 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.

Votes

June 6, 2018 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-395, An Act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2018 / 5:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Wetaskiwin, AB

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.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2018 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

Louis-Hébert Québec

Liberal

Joël Lightbound LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I am happy to outline the government's position on Bill C-395, an act to amend the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

I want to commend the member for Carleton, because the end he is seeking to achieve in this legislation is noble and good. However, the means to reach that end are not consistent with our vision of federalism and productive collaboration with provinces and territories.

The bill seeks to help encourage more people to enter the workforce. The government is taking, and has taken, substantive steps toward the same end. The government believes that in order to face the challenges of today and tomorrow, we will need the hard work and creativity of all Canadians.

We are here because our constituents put us here and, as legislators, we must not only do the right thing, we must also do it right. The debate we are about to have hinges on that nuance. That will be central to the debate today because there is a wide gulf between the approach we are proposing and this proposed approach.

The approach proposed in this bill involves imposing more conditions on the provinces and then talking to them about it after the fact. That is not our vision of federalism and the work we need to do with the provinces. The provinces want us to work with them, to collaborate, especially on matters that are under their jurisdiction.

The previous government was in power for 10 years and could have introduced a condition like this, but it did not. The previous government was in power for 10 years and my colleague from Carleton was the minister in charge of the portfolio, but not once in 10 years did he meet with his provincial counterparts to discuss this important issue.

The bill seeks to introduce a condition to the Canada social transfer whereby the transfer payments to provinces and territories would be reduced in cases where persons with disabilities face marginal effective tax rates above 100%. These high marginal effective tax rates are largely the result of the design of provincial and territorial social assistance programs.

The provisions of this bill are not consistent with the intent of the Canada social transfer, which exists to provide funding to provincial and territorial governments while allowing flexibility in the design and administration of programs in their areas of responsibility, including the delivery of social assistance.

What the bill is proposing would amount to an encroachment on an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial governments are accountable directly to their residents for their spending in their areas of responsibility, and that includes program spending that results from the Canada social transfer payments.

Our government is committed to helping the next generation of Canadians succeed. We believe that every Canadian deserves an equal and fair chance at success, so we agree that removing barriers to entering and staying in the workforce is a principled goal.

However, this is a challenge that no order of government can take on alone. We need the support of our partners. Introducing a condition that could result in reduced CST payments to provinces and territories, which is what this bill proposes, could effectively jeopardize social programming for all Canadians, including post-secondary education, social assistance and social services, and support for children, while doing nothing to address the barriers to employment for persons with disabilities. In other words, this is not a preferable scenario.

There are more effective ways of improving access to good jobs for persons with disabilities. A more collaborative approach with provincial and territorial governments, one that seeks to address labour market barriers faced by persons with disabilities, would achieve more than what is being proposed today.

Our government recognizes the importance of the issue raised by the bill. We are committed to working with provinces and territories to figure out how to give persons with disabilities more opportunities to work and more incentives to join and stay in the workforce. In fact, our government has taken many actions to do just that.

In budget 2018, we introduced the new Canada workers benefit. This new benefit is a strengthened version of the working income tax benefit and will come into effect next year. The new Canada workers benefit will put more money in the pockets of low-income workers and, in doing so, give people help as they transition to work.

For example, a low-income worker earning $15,000 could receive up to almost $500 more from the Canada workers benefit in 2019 than in 2018 under the current system. The government also proposes to increase the maximum benefit provided through the Canada workers benefit disability supplement by an additional $160 to offer greater support to eligible Canadians with disabilities.

The Canada workers benefit will offer real help to more than two million Canadians who are working hard to join the middle class. Enhancements to the benefit, starting in 2019, will also raise roughly 70,000 Canadians out of poverty. This improved benefit will help low-income working Canadians, including those with disabilities, make ends meet.

In budget 2018, the government also provided funding for a new program to develop and enhance pre-apprenticeship training. Working in partnership with provinces, territories, post-secondary institutions, training providers, unions, and employers, it will help Canadians, particularly under-represented groups, including women, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, and newcomers, to explore the trades, gain work experience, make informed career choices, and develop the skills needed to succeed.

We know that labour market barriers faced by persons with disabilities are broader than financial disincentives. That is why the government has committed to introducing accessibility legislation to proactively identify, remove, and prevent accessibility barriers for persons with disabilities in the federal jurisdiction.

Since taking office, the government has also made a number of investments in federal programming to support persons with disabilities. I will now detail a few examples from our first two budgets.

To increase investments in training and employment supports under the labour market development agreements and workforce development agreements, budget 2017 provided $2.7 billion over six years, starting in 2017-18. These agreements are the means by which the federal government transfers funds to provinces and territories to improve employment opportunities, including for persons with disabilities.

Budget 2017 also provided close to $400 million over three years to support the youth employment strategy, which includes funding for vulnerable youth, including youth with disabilities, to overcome barriers to employment.

Budget 2016 and budget 2017 provided $81 million over 10 years to expand the enabling accessibility fund, which funds capital projects that improve the accessibility of community and workplace infrastructure.

Also, budget 2016 provided $73 million over four years to support new work-integrated learning opportunities for young Canadians in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business fields. The program provides wage incentives for employers who hire from under-represented groups, including persons with disabilities.

Our government's position is clear: 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. We need to maximize workforce participation, including for persons with disabilities, and create more incentives for people to join and stay in the workforce. The new Canada workers benefit, and the increased disability supplement that is provided through this benefit, is a step in the right direction.

Again, I would like to thank my colleague for raising that important issue in the House through Bill C-395. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, I believe the end he is seeking to achieve is a good and noble one, and we share that objective. However, the means he has chosen to achieve it, essentially coercing the provinces through a condition to the Canada social transfer, is not the right way to go. This is something that can be better achieved through collaborating and working with the provinces and territories.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2018 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, it is rare for me to agree with the member for Carleton, the bill's sponsor, but today, I can inform him that the NDP will be supporting his initiative. We believe it is a step in the right direction. It is a shame to hear the Liberals tell the House that they will not be following our lead and supporting people with disabilities and their integration into the workforce. This is a concrete measure to correct a situation that is unfair to people with disabilities.

I have somewhat personal reasons, family reasons, for being pleased to be talking about this bill. My mother was a practical nurse, and she spent most of her career working with children with severe disabilities. I think that is why I was brought up to respect differences and see the potential in all human beings, even those with certain conditions or limitations that make life more difficult or create special challenges in the environment we live in.

What can we do to give people with disabilities the respect and support they need to live the richest, fullest, and best lives possible? How can we all work together to promote equal opportunities? The phrase “equal opportunities” is all too often used as a kind of slogan, but the concept has very real consequences for people with physical or intellectual disabilities. If we truly want our society to be united and inclusive, we need to do everything we can to make life easier for people with disabilities and give them the same opportunities that are available to each of us, so they can fulfill their dreams and live life to the fullest just as anyone else.

I would now like to talk about an important document that has inspired progressive and humanist philosophy for more than 200 years. I am talking about the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen, which dates back to the French Revolution in 1789. One important sentence underlined the first step of the revolution. For the first time, a document was adopted and said, “Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights.” However, that is not the exact sentence. The document actually said, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

Rights are important, but we must also consider the notion of dignity in how we organize society, manage the country, and take care of the poorest and least fortunate, or of those who face particular challenges as a result of personal conditions or limitations.

The current process for a person with a disability who is receiving benefits and then finds a job, joins the workforce, and receives employment income is unacceptable. Right now, these people are penalized. This bill is important because it fixes this problem and helps persons with disabilities who do not have the same opportunities as the majority of the population. These people are clearly in a difficult position. I was going to say that they face discrimination, and that is practically the case.

When you look at the statistics from the federal human development department, you can see that there is a $10,000 difference in the average annual income between a person with a disability and an able-bodied person. If you are talking about an income of about $22,000 a year for a person with a disability and an income of $32,000 a year for an able-bodied person, that is a big difference.

It is a huge difference, practically a third less income on average. What can we do to fix the problem? What can the government do to level the playing field and give everyone the same opportunities?

Lower salaries are not the only problem. There is also a stark difference in workforce participation. The employment rate among so-called “able-bodied” people, a term I always put in air quotes because this terminology needs to be used carefully, is about 75%. By contrast, the employment rate among people with limitations or disabilities, to use the terms employed by Statistics Canada, is just 50%. There is a difference of 25% in the employment rate of people without disabilities and people with disabilities. This is a massive difference that affects many people.

When we talk about people with limitations or disabilities, we are talking about roughly 10% of Canadians. One out of 10 Canadians is in this situation. This is a major concern for us. What concrete steps and measures can we take to help these Canadians enter and participate in the workforce, boost their employment, and earn higher incomes to improve their quality of life?

We are talking about one in 10 people or 2.3 million Canadians. All of those people have an income of less than $10,000 a year on average and their rate of employment is 25% lower than that of people who report living without a disability or limitation. That is unfair and discriminatory.

I would like to come back to the idea of equal opportunities for all and the fact that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. There is a problem here, and I thank my Conservative colleague for noticing it and for introducing a bill to address it. His bill is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

That is why the NDP will support the bill at second reading so that we can examine it in committee, hear from various experts and stakeholders, and see what amendments or improvements could be made to it.

What does the essence of the bill tell us? This bill seeks to ensure that people with disabilities who have an employment income will not potentially lose benefits because of the finance department's tax measures.

This is a ridiculous situation. People with disabilities who are receiving benefits are penalized if they get a job because then they lose some of their benefits. It is therefore not worth it to them to get a job and join the labour force.

As progressive New Democrats, we do not want this situation to continue. We think that the measures set out in this bill could help people. They need serious, realistic, and measurable incentives to join the workforce.

The bill will adapt the benefits to the needs of people with disabilities and reduce barriers to employment. It is extremely important to keep that in mind. We think that such a change is extremely important, since it will also allow for better tax redistribution.

Ultimately, the legislation will help provide more opportunities for people with disabilities to enter the labour market. To my knowledge, this bill would put in place a tax incentive that would help the provinces ensure that a person with a disability who enters the labour market would not be impoverished in doing so.

When we go to work, our income should go up, not down. That is the least we can ask of a government that wants to treat everyone equally. We must help people with disabilities enter the labour market and join the average Canadian and Quebecker.

That is why we will be supporting this bill at second reading.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2018 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to speak today on this terrific bill put forward by my colleague from Carleton. I would like to begin my speech today with a quote:

On behalf of the Rick Hansen Foundation, I support the Opportunity for Workers and Disabilities Act. Nobody, including people with disabilities should be worse off once working. Addressing this issue is important and I am pleased that with the tabling of this Bill, rightful attention will be focused on finding an appropriate solution. We see this as a win-win for people with disabilities and Canadian society as a whole. An inclusive Canada is a stronger Canada.

That was said by our very own Paralympian, Rick Hansen, founder and CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, one of Canada's best men for showing what people can do with a disability, that they can still be tremendous.

The bill can be viewed in a variety of ways, whether it is what is fiscally best for Canada's economy or how we can empower Canadians to provide another way and tool for inclusion. I will focus on the latter, as I know my hon. colleague has provided the positive fiscal side to this. I come to the House wanting to do what is in the best interests of Canadians, knowing how smart, thorough legislation and policies can have a positive impact on their lives. That is the one thing this bill does.

I had the opportunity to work on the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and Persons with Disabilities. We did a poverty reduction study that was tabled last year. Throughout that study we had an opportunity to speak to many people. One group was people with disabilities. Through the work of the committee, we met organizations and community leaders and recognized that work, whether paid or unpaid, is good for one's health and well-being. It contributes to overall happiness, helps build confidence and self-esteem, and rewards us financially.

The great thing about the bill is that not only is it doing something that is fiscally right for Canadians, it is also adding the human aspect, which the government and this Parliament speak about all the time. How can we make ourselves a more inclusive society? That is exactly what the bill does.

Whether we are looking at person with an intellectual or physical disability, the premise is the same: work keeps one busy. It enables socialization and provides monetary incentives that support one's interests. We know that working helps improve mental health, and helps one recover more quickly in many cases.

While reviewing information for this speech today, I found a quote from Randy Lewis, a man who has hired over 1,000 people with disabilities. Here again is another man we talked about a lot during the study by the human resources committee, because many times we referred to the incredible work he was doing. Randy was the former senior vice-president of Walgreens. He stated:

I am the father of an adult child with autism who works full-time. I am also the former Senior Vice President of Walgreens who hired over a thousand people with disabilities in its distribution centers. Eliminating disincentives through the Opportunity Act is a good first step toward increasing one’s desire to participate in the workforce. However, if we are to substantially increase the desire to work, we also need to eliminate the fear of not being able to restore benefits quickly should employment not be successful and also ensure that the financial benefits of working exceed the financial benefits of not working.

That is exactly what we are asking for in the bill. We are asking for the Minister of Finance to review this. This is really important. We have to make sure that when we were doing this, we keep in mind the impact of switching from being on disability to getting out there and working. What impact does that have on the bottom line?

We talk a lot about marginal income tax rates, and we can see their negative impact. In this bill, we are looking at and focusing on means tested social programs, including the housing program and drug benefits, and negative impacts, including clawbacks via taxes, such that at the end of the day, someone who might have gone to work ends up coming home with less income as a result.

I refer to my time working for Joe Preston. We saw many people come into the office with disabilities who just wanted to work. They wanted to have dignity. I can think of one man who came in, who is a tremendous man in our community who volunteers a lot. He wanted to run for city council. The problem was that although the stipend was very small, working as a city councillor would remove all of the benefits he had. At the end of the day, financially he was not ending up with a lot more cash in his pocket, but what he was losing was huge.

He was going to lose the assistance that paid for his medication through the drug plan available through Ontario Works. All those things the ODSP had provided for him were going to be gone. He just wanted to contribute to society and continue to make it a better place to live, but it was better for him not to participate in that election, because he would have ended up with less.

We talk about wanting inclusion. We want people to be part of our society. We know it is good for them.

Another thing we focused on throughout the poverty reduction study was opportunities for Canadians to work. We know that Canadians with disabilities are the largest population when we are talking about the poverty line. When we scrutinize the data that is available to us, we recognize that many times, people with disabilities are the most vulnerable and are living with the least.

A report from the Library of Parliament showed that low-income working Canadians with disabilities are facing tax rates of over 100%. Imagine, all they want to do is get out there and work and be contributing members of society, and they walk home with less, less to feed their families and less when it comes to so many of the things that make their lives viable.

We have to understand that this is a real struggle. I believe that many disabled Canadians want to go to work, but it is a problem when it comes to financial stability, not only for themselves but for their families. What we know is that when some of these people work more, they end up coming home with less. That is something we are asking the Minister of Finance to look at to see how they are impacted.

Reviewing these benefits and making sure that Canadians are better off working must be done so we have an inclusive society. This is what we need to look at. These are people with MS, autism, Down syndrome, ALS, and many other disabilities where someone is still able to work and make personal gains. The bill is proposing exactly that. It recognizes the worthiness of Canadians.

The HUMA committee tabled the poverty reduction study last year, and I want to refer to a couple of the recommendations we made. Recommendation 3 reads:

That Finance Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency review taxes for low-income workers to ensure that no families are forced into poverty as a result of taxes.

Recommendation 4 reads:

That Employment and Social Development Canada, Finance Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency work with provinces and territories to strengthen and coordinate income support program policies so that participants do not face marginal effective tax rates that discourage labour force participation.

Recommendations 20 and 21 are also very supportive of the bill. That is exactly what we talked about in the HUMA committee. The fact that this bill is in line with what we were talking about to make things better is a good thing. Recommendation 21 is really about social development and what we can do there.

We understand that in many cases, people are concerned about jurisdiction. Levels of government need to work together on the Canada social transfers, what we need to do, and how we can do it. Canada social transfers were established back in 2004. There were two types of transfers at that time. They are block transfers and a variety of different things. I know that our wonderful member will explain that further.

We must make sure that these fine social programs provide flexibility for the provinces. Many of us have had debates about health transfers. We provide the money in blocks, many times with no strings attached. That is what we are looking at here. We want to make sure that the money is earmarked and is being used appropriately.

We talk about the transfers and eligibility. To receive funding, provincial or territorial governments must not impose minimum residency requirements as a condition. Those are important things, but there are other things when we look at these conditions. We want to make sure that the transferred money is appropriate. That is something our member for Carleton has looked at: making sure that, at the end of the day, Canadians are better off and that we can review the impacts and how we work with our provincial and territorial partners.

I want to finish off with a quote from Dr. Ian Lee. He is an associate professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University. He appeared at the committee. He indicated support for the bill. He said, “The bill proposed by the hon. member represents an important precedent in policies that integration of people into the workforce who are in receipt of some sort of disability payment from government, for it mandates the clawback incurred from working again, cannot make the citizen worse off than before”.

I recognize that this is an excellent bill and will do excellent things for Canadians. I hope everyone will support it.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2018 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-395, the opportunities act. I want to take an opportunity very quickly to thank the member for Carleton for bringing this forward. I know the opportunity to present a private member's bill does not come along that often, and many members in the House will not have an opportunity to see one through to completion. When people take the time they are allotted for a cause and purpose like this, it is to be commended. The member, through his private member's bill, is really starting to highlight and draw attention to a very important issue that we need to be looking at closely. We need to be examining it and figuring out what can be done. The bill he has introduced puts us on the right path and in the direction of being able to start having this discussion.

I am going to focus my comments on the problem that exists. My staff and I had an opportunity to research this and look at some of the problems. I would like to talk about those as well as about some statistics we were able to find that highlight even further the problem that exists. I will then talk a bit about some of the recommendations out there and the Canada social transfer component and what this bill would do to change that.

The first thing we have to understand is the marginal effective tax rate that so many people who are receiving some kind of social assistance or disability payment, or whatever it might be from the government, are dealing with. In particular, as it relates to people with disabilities, what we are finding is that they are less interested in getting into the marketplace because of the clawback that would happen when they get into the workforce and start to generate income. Their disability payments would be clawed back. Therefore, their marginal effective rate of tax would actually starts to increase.

According to figures we were able to obtain from the Library of Parliament, a person with a disability working 30 hours a week in Ontario pays a marginal effective tax rate of up to 70%. If members think that is astonishing, in Alberta it can be as much as 115% for a person who has a disability and is working 40 hours a week. Another term for this is what is referred to as the “welfare wall”. That was coined by the Centre for Research on Work and Disability Policy. It refers to a cluster of factors that together act as a trap for people on social assistance, or ”welfare”, the term it uses, and makes it difficult for them to move off that program of income support. I think that is exactly the case we are seeing here for people with disabilities with the disability payments they are getting.

This problem is also well documented by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy in a 1993 study, which found that Ontario social assistance recipients who supplement their social benefits by working get to keep only a very small fraction of these earnings. Basically, there is a wall, called the “welfare wall”, put up in front of people that is preventing them from actually getting into the workforce. In particular, the more they work, the more is clawed back. Therefore, even if they do start to get into the workforce, there is a disincentive to continue to work more.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, did a study on this and found that unemployment rates of persons with disabilities in 2006 were 50% higher than for Canadians without disabilities. The OECD concluded:

Much of Canada's sickness and disability policy reform efforts so far have been piecemeal rather than co-ordinated, and had seemingly limited overall impact on a system that remains complex and fragmented.

I mentioned earlier that I would talk about some statistics. This is from Statistics Canada. According to a 2012 Canadian survey on disability, there were over 650,000 disabled individuals, aged 15 to 64, who were not in the labour force who either used to work or indicated that they were capable of working. Of these, 94,000 reported feeling that if they were employed, they would lose additional support.

That is key. These are people thinking to themselves that if they start working, they will lose support. They are not even in the participation rates, because many of them are not actually looking for jobs, because they fear these clawbacks.

The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is 11%, compared to 6% for people without disabilities, which is almost double. It is important to mention that the unemployment rate always includes people who are actively looking for work, and that is why we have to talk about the participation rate, which is equally important. The participation rate is 55% for people with disabilities versus 84% for people without disabilities.

I have outlined why I see a big problem here. I would agree with the member that we are not doing enough to combat this problem. We are not doing enough to put additional measures in place to discourage the welfare wall that has been created.

That is why I think the part of the member's bill that talks about the minister collecting data and reporting back to Parliament on a regular basis is extremely important. By getting that information, we can have a discussion about it. Quite frankly, a lot of Canadians are not having a discussion about this, because they are not aware of the information and do not realize the impact.

My colleague on the other side talked a little bit about the HUMA recommendations. I admit that I am not a member of the committee, but I did look at the report it produced. It had four recommendations that I believe are related to this.

The first is “that the government task the Parliamentary Budget Officer with reporting annually on the marginal effective tax rates...that low-income disabled people pay in each province.”

The second recommendation is “that, at the next meeting of the federal-provincial Finance Ministers, all governments agree”, which I think is the key word here, “on a coordinated plan to cap [marginal effective tax rates] at...50% for all disabled Canadians”. It goes on to give more detail. I think it is key that we recognize that the word “agree” was used there because of the problem that is presented by the Canada social transfer.

The difference between this bill and the HUMA report is that the bill directs the federal government to do something with the Canada social transfer.

I know the member across the way mentioned that the Canada social transfer has one single condition, but there is a valid reason for that. Under section 25.1 of the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, provinces and territories must meet a national standard of having no minimum residency period. That is the sole criterion, and this was done intentionally to create a scenario in which the provinces are responsible to the people, as opposed to being responsible to the federal government.

That is probably what has motivated the government, through the parliamentary secretary, to explain why it might not be supporting it. This bill would have been a lot more palatable if it did not have the component regarding the Canada social transfer. If it did not, we would have been able to get that information on a regular basis.

I am very supportive of the concept and what I have heard, but to be completely honest, I am still deliberating as to how I am going to vote on this. I think this is a noble effort, and I know what people with disabilities face.

As a personal anecdote, I have a nephew with Down syndrome. He has great and amazing supports right now, but we worry about what supports he is going to have after he finishes high school.

I will leave it at that.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2018 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Madam Speaker, it is an extreme pleasure to rise to speak to this private member's bill from the member for Carleton. Once again he has shown himself to be very intelligent and caring in bringing forward a bill that would help disabled people work without being punished by having their wages and benefits clawed back.

I will spend some of my time addressing a concern from members opposite that this is perhaps not the jurisdiction in which action can be taken. There are many federal programs that have conditions associated with them. I will, as the health shadow minister, talk about the Canada Health Act, which contains conditions that the provinces need to comply with. Health care has to be universal, it has to be portable, and it has to be accessible. As well, there are a number of conditions about administration that go with that act.

The member opposite just read the social transfer criteria, and there are conditions that go along with that transfer. We have certainly seen that infrastructure programs the government brings forward sometimes have conditions, whether it is emissions, how much federal money goes in, and how much provincial money goes along with that. Conditions can be applied, and even in extreme cases, there are times—such as in the case of the carbon tax, for example—that the government has forced conditions on the provinces, so the federal government does have the jurisdiction to bring these changes forward.

We should keep in mind with this private member's bill that we are not telling the provinces how to implement the principle; we are just describing the principle that disabled people who want to work should not have their wages and benefits clawed back. They should not be punished for that. We need to find ways that will encourage them to work, because we know that when they work, it is good for their mental health, they have a sense of accomplishment, they feel part of the community, and overall it is a positive experience.

One of my colleagues talked about the welfare wall. The principles expressed in this bill may have even broader implications for people in that trap, because they have the same issue that disabled people are having. If they start to work, their wages and benefits are clawed back, and that is a disincentive to them. This principle is an excellent one, but I would argue that it may have even broader consequences.

The Standing Committee on Human Rights, Skills and Social Development studied this matter. This bill aligns directly with one of its recommendations, which said that we need to find ways, with the things that we can control at the federal level, to help those who have lower incomes. This private member's bill would do that. It is within the federal government's power to put these conditions in place on the transfers to the provinces, and I think provinces will embrace and support the idea that disabled people should be able to work and not be punished for doing so.

My palliative care bill, for example, was brought in at the federal level, recognizing that the execution of palliative care is under provincial jurisdiction. It was with the support of the provinces, which have come alongside and have been very happy to participate, with the federal government doing what it can do and the provinces bringing the wherewithal and the how-to of the execution. The circumstances here are very similar.

Once again I want to thank the member for Carleton for his thoughtfulness in bringing forward something that I consider to be a great balance of fiscal responsibility and social compassion. It is to the credit of everyone in this House to support this private member's bill and do what we can to ensure that disabled people can take on work that will enrich their lives without being punished.

Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities ActPrivate Members' Business

May 31st, 2018 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, when Tim Hortons franchise owner Mark Wafer hired a young man with Down's syndrome named Clint, he probably did not realize that it would turn out to be one of the best business decisions of his life.

Clint did all the same tasks as his co-workers and made the same money with no government wage subsidy or workplace tokenism. He arrived early, left late, and refused to take breaks all day long. Mark has since hired over 200 employees with disabilities just like Clint, who together made his six Tim Hortons locations among the most profitable in the legendary chain.

There are a million Canadians with disabilities who work, including 328,000 with severe disabilities. However, many people with disabilities do not have jobs. What is stopping them?

In many cases, the government is. Programs like income assistance, housing, drug benefits, and others are clawed back when people on disability get jobs. With these clawbacks plus taxes, often the harder people work, the poorer they become.

For example, a minimum wage-earning worker on disability in Saskatchewan who goes from part-time to full-time work actually sees his take-home pay drop. Stats Canada reports that 84,000 Canadians with disabilities who are able to work do not, because they fear they would lose income if they did.

Mark from Tim Hortons said one of his best workers had to quit because he would lose $10,000 in medication assistance if he kept working, so Mark asked an official with the Ontario disability support plan what the best way to get off of disability was. She said, “Die”.

Policies that cancel out people's wages signal that their work has no value. That is not true and it is not right, and we can fix it. The opportunity for workers with disabilities act would require government at all levels to allow people to earn more in wages than they lose in clawbacks and taxes.

The bill knocks down the welfare wall and makes work pay, because there is dignity in labour. Ask Walgreens vice-president, Randy Lewis, the father of an autistic son. He hired over 1,000 workers with disabilities at the company's ruthlessly competitive distribution centres. These workers profited the company, and the jobs freed people from poverty. To quote Lewis' book:

Also on the team was Derrill Perry, a forty-nine-year-old-year old man with a developmental disability, who had been employed in a workshop where he was paid less than a dollar an hour.... On the day he earned his first Walgreens paycheck, he handed it to his mother, and she began to cry. He used part of that paycheck to treat his parents to a dinner out—first time to pay the bill at a restaurant.

Lewis met Derrill's parents at the company's open house. He writes:

When I reached out to shake Derrill's dad's hand, he pulled me in for a hug and whispered in my ear, “Thank you. My family is finally safe. Now I can die knowing they'll be all right.”

Within a year, Derrill's father died. Derrill was the sole support for his mother—his salary more than either of his parents had ever earned.

By passing the opportunity for workers with disabilities act, we tell the Derrills, the Clints, the Marks, and the millions of others who work or want to work that we will never count them out again, that they matter, that they have worth, that there is treasure in each and every one of them. While for the longest time we understood that they needed us, we now know that we need them too.

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.