Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada.
I want to say at the outset that I am pleased to see that the minister has brought forward this bill. I have absolutely no doubt about her sincerity in trying to improve the lives of people with disabilities. I too am aligned in that direction. I have listened carefully to the debate we have had so far talking about how to get people with disabilities the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens, how to make sure they are able to live independently and how to make sure they are free from violence. I am aligned in all those things. I think I have heard that all the parties in the House are aligned in how we improve the lives of people with disabilities, and what we can we do with this bill to make sure it is effective.
When it comes to deciding to tackle an issue, with my engineering perspective I will ask what it is we are trying to do. I think it is trying to get people to be able to live independently, to have the same rights and responsibilities as others and to be free from violence. What is the plan to make that happen? What mechanisms will we put in place in order to make sure the money or the incentives flow so the behaviours of people will take root?
In my speech, I am going to talk a bit about what has happened in the past and what the Conservatives did. Then I will talk a little about the Liberal record. Then I will talk about the situation in my own riding, some ideas about possible solutions and some concerns I have with the legislation as it is written today.
I know things were going on to help improve accessibility when the Conservatives were in power. Although I was not here myself, I saw all the announcements and improvements happening in my own riding of Sarnia—Lambton, where multiple millions of dollars were spent to upgrade different buildings to ensure they were accessible for people in wheelchairs and to put different aids in place to help people with disabilities. I note that was going on.
At the same time, we have heard other members in the House talk about the Conservative Party's introduction of the registered disability savings plan in 2008. This plan is quite a rich plan. I looked at the details of it when we were addressing an issue that I will talk about later. However, this is a plan where a disabled person can put in up to $5,000 a year and the government will match it threefold. That program has been going on for almost 10 years. Although it has not come to the point where people are collecting from the program, it is a very well thought out way of ensuring people with disabilities will have the wherewithal to retire in dignity.
I see that and see the efforts of the member for Carleton, who brought forward a very intelligent bill aimed at addressing the problem people with disabilities have when they want to go work and their benefits are clawed back. In some cases, the money they are getting from other disability programs is clawed back. I was really disappointed in the extreme that every Liberal in the place rejected that private member's bill. That bill would have been such a help to people with disabilities. We talked as well about the member for Calgary Shepard bringing forward a private member's bill on rare diseases, which was also rejected. I just heard a member from the NDP talking about her bill being rejected.
This is where one really has to question people's motives. When people say one thing and do another, they are likely to be called hypocrites. When I look at the Liberals, I see there is a lot of talking about helping people with disabilities, but then we look at the record of what has happened since the election in 2015. The first member who had the portfolio to do something here on accessibility, or helping the disabled, was the member for Calgary Centre. It was in the mandate letter, yet nothing was done. That member is also a person who has lived experience as a person with disabilities, but nothing was done. It was not a priority.
It was then passed along to the member for Etobicoke North. However, I do sympathize with her. She is the Minister of Science and has a lot of very important things to do which, of course, I, as a fellow science person, cannot criticize. Again, nothing really came forward.
Then when I looked at the bill to see what was in it, I thought that perhaps there would be a lot of infrastructure money. We know there are a lot of buildings that are not accessible and they need a lot of money in order to repair them so they will be accessible. In some cases, those could be incentives. There is a number of ways that could be done, but nothing in the bill talks about that.
In fact, the bill has sort of an element of what the minister's powers would be. It has an element of a standards organization that can talk about what the right thing to do would be. There are mechanisms in the bill to complain. There are mechanisms in it to inspect. However, there are no action words. There is really no doing of anything. It is going to be consulting and spending a few more years to try to figure out what we should do, when we already know some of the things we should do. Some of the things we should do involves investing the same kind of infrastructure money that was previously done under the Conservatives.
I have heard the government speak about the $180 billion of infrastructure money that it will invest over the next number of years. In fact, the Liberals got elected on a promise to spend very small deficits in order to put infrastructure in place. That was going to create jobs and drive the economy and repair our roads and bridges, etc. None of that ever happened. My point is that there was a lot of infrastructure money that was planned to be spent. Even though the government has had difficulty getting that accomplished, as I think it has only spent about 40% of what it planned, it has still racked up way more deficit but not on the intended things.
There is an opportunity for the government to do something immediately with respect to infrastructure to improve accessibility. Those are things where the building codes exist today. The specifications exist today. The standards exist today. No work needs to be done to consult anybody on that or have new standard organizations to do it. This already exists. All it really needs is political will to put that money in place.
Instead, the government has basically a different political will, if we look at where the billions of dollars that the government is spending is going: $4.2 billion on foreign aid; $2.65 billion on climate change support for foreign countries like China and India; $5 billion for the Syrian refugees; $1 billion for the asylum seekers; and multiple billions of other things that are spread around the world but not for Canadians and not for the disabled. When we look at where time, energy and money is put, that determines what our values are or what our priorities are.
It has been three years before seeing any kind of legislation and the legislation does not have any strong actions in it. It is more of “we'll put structures in place to consult”. I really question whether there is enough political will to achieve good outcomes here.
As I mentioned, I have some good examples from my riding that I can share. I know that the previous member of Parliament, Pat Davidson, was very active. She really cared about improving accessibility. Elevators were put in multiple buildings. We had accessibility all over the county of Lambton. As well, we have upgraded many of the schools to be accessible.
The Sarnia Arena is going under remediation. I was there for an event this past weekend and all of the entrances and front sidewalks, etc. have been improved for accessibility and all of the standards have been met.
Not everything is wonderful in my riding. We have a situation in Port Lambton where the post office, which is a Crown corporation and is under the legislation being proposed, is not accessible. It has been there for a long period of time and was grandfathered, but it is not accessible. We are having a municipal election and people are going to have to go to Canada Post to vote. In Port Lambton that is pretty much all there is. However, it is not accessible. People have known about it for a long time. My office has called and nagged and has been told that they will get to it. However, no one has got to it.
Here is an example where the solution is known. It just needs to get done and it needs to get done in a hurry. Again, where is the will to force these solutions to happen?
I have a tremendously great example of a fellow named Dan Edwards in my riding. Unfortunately, he had an accident which rendered him unable to walk and left him in a wheelchair. He has been super inspirational in the riding. He does fundraising for mental health efforts and different things.
This is one of the things he did. We have a fundraiser in Sarnia—Lambton called the Dream Home. It is a fundraiser for the hospital. He decided to get together with the architect who was going to build the latest Dream Home for a lottery to raise money for the hospital and decided to make it a visitable home. A visitable home is a home where any person in a wheelchair would be fully able to access everything, from cooking to the entrances. Everything is ground floor. It is very well done.
I had the opportunity to tour the home and see what he and architect had designed together. He shared with me a lot of information about the very many plans like this. It is quite possible. We have these solutions that we could put in place to allow people to live independently. That would be great. Again, money and political will is some of what is required here.
The other piece of advice I would give with respect to solutions and rolling out the infrastructure money is to ensure that it is well-distributed. Of the $180 billion that was announced over 10 years, only $2 billion of that was earmarked for rural communities. When we look at improving accessibility, I think we will find that there is even more need in the rural communities. In many cases, they have grandfathered their buildings. There are more older buildings, and they have not been made accessible. As well, there is less of a population base to bring in the revenue to do these things of their own volition. That needs to be considered.
With respect to some concerns about the legislation, $290 million has been proposed. I heard discussion earlier about 5,000 new public servants. I was not clear if that was 5,000 public servants with disabilities who would be hired while attrition happened, so over time, or whether that was 5,000 additional public service employees. Of course, I would be opposed to increasing the size of government.
Another concern I have with the bill has to do with leaving things for the regulations. As a parliamentarian, and a detailed-oriented one, I do not like to leave things to chance. I have seen before, under some of the legislation that the Liberals have brought forward, where it is all left to regulation.
With Bill S-5, for example, the Liberals decided, from the plain packaging and the vaping, they were going to leave a lot of it to the regulations. We were approving a bill, and as the point was made, that we really did not know what the final outcomes would be. We were going to leave it to the regulation.
In the example of Bill S-5, the Liberals want to go to a plain package. The dimensions of the plain package are produced by machines that are obsolete, that are no longer owned by anybody who is legitimately in the business. The Liberals have given businesses six months to convert.
They would have to redesign the old, obsolete machines and get them built somewhere, and that is certainly an 18-month deal, or they would have to be shut down altogether in order to achieve this plain packaging goal, or let them use the existing size. That is an example of where when things are left to regulations, they do not always get done the way that we might want. That is why parliamentary oversight is important.
Bill C-45, the cannabis legislation, is another example where the Liberals decided to leave a lot of the details to the regulation. The problem is that the regulations did not come out quickly enough to address all the unanswered questions that were still out there. Now we are left with a situation where we will legalize on October 17, and there is still a huge number of things that are not addressed in the regulations. Again, there is no parliamentary oversight to talk about them.
This point came up again on Bill S-228 with the regulation that we most recently talked about, which is the one that prohibits the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Instead of defining what the healthy foods are, the comment was that it would be left to the regulations.
As parliamentarians, we have a right to know what that list will be and have some opportunity to object or give input if we do not agree. By leaving it to the regulations, we would be passing a blank bill that says we would be doing something. We have no idea what the something is and we have no input on the something, but we are expected to vote in favour of it. I have an issue with that.
When it comes to accessibility, we have been much too slow in moving forward and addressing these things. For example, there are a lot of the grandfathered buildings. My mother is 84 and walks with a rollator. There are a lot of places she cannot go because of staircases or it is too narrow to get through. Something needs to be done there and I look forward to seeing what solutions will be brought forward are.
I will talk a little about some of the things the government could do that would make people have more faith in its wanting to help disabled people.
Members may remember when I was here on a Friday, asking a question about the disability tax credit. Through that whole event, we found out that where 80% of people with type 2 diabetes were previously approved, all of a sudden 80% were disapproved. We raised the concern, and the Liberal government insisted that nothing had changed. Of course, as the scandal went on, it came out that indeed things had changed. There were instructions given to interpret the criteria differently, and it went very broad. It affected not just people with diabetes but people with other disabilities, such as autism and mental disorders like bipolar. It took months and months to get justice for those people. This is what undermines people's faith that the government is sincere in its efforts to improve things for people with disabilities.
I will give members another example. For people with multiple sclerosis, it can be very difficult, because people are not always be at the same degree of wellness. It is sort of intermittent where there may be periods where they cannot work and other times they may be fine.
However, the current EI rules are not flexible enough to allow a person who has MS to be on EI and work intermittently, the same total benefits as someone who takes it consecutively would get. I raised this issue with the Minister of Labour. There is an easy fix there. If 670 hours of eligibility are required and there is a certain amount of hours that people get in benefits, then allow the intermittency. Those are the kinds of things we can do for people who have disabilities to be able to live independently, to work and to engage. We need to do that.
I did take the point that was made earlier that no disability lens was used for the legislation. When we do legislation, we do it with a gender-based lens. Therefore, it is very appropriate here to take that recommendation from the member and put a disability lens in place.
I also do not like the powers to exempt in the bill. I find that when we allow exemptions and have cabinet decide, we get into trouble. We saw this with the carbon tax. The government had the power to exempt and it decided to exempt the largest emitters up to 90% of their emissions. There is an example where having the power to exempt is really not what we want.
In summary, I absolutely want to see persons with disabilities have the independence they need and have the help they need. However, it has to happen faster. I call on the government today to start putting money into infrastructure for accessibility and do the solutions that we already know about, while we craft improvements to the bill.