moved that Bill C-22, An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise today for second reading of Bill C-22, an act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit.
I would like to acknowledge that I do so on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
In 1967, during the 27th Parliament, the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson rose in the House of Commons and stated that no senior should live in poverty, and the guaranteed income supplement was born.
In 2016, our government stated that no child in our country should live in poverty, and the Canada child benefit was born.
Today, I begin with the following declaration: in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.
The values that drove past governments to reduce poverty and create benefits for seniors and children are the same values that have created the bill before us today. I am talking about equality, fairness and inclusion, Canadian values, values that guide us and define us as a country and bring out the very best in us.
Let me begin by also telling the House about my community, the disability community. The disability community is vibrant, talented and diverse. Twenty-three percent of Canadians identify as having a disability. We are the largest minority. We are a family member, a friend, a neighbour and a co-worker.
Let me also share a harsh truth. Working-age Canadians with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty than working-age Canadians without disabilities. The poverty rate for working-age Canadians with disabilities in 2017 was 23%. The situation is even worse for individuals with severe disabilities, women, indigenous people, LGBTQ+ and racialized Canadians with disabilities.
When the pandemic hit, the situation only got worse.
In a recent Statistics Canada survey, two-thirds of respondents with a disability said they had difficulty meeting their basic financial needs because of the pandemic. That is why Bill C‑22 aims first and foremost to reduce poverty. It aims to close the long-standing economic disparity experienced by many Canadians with disabilities.
Canada has a bold poverty reduction strategy and has set ambitious targets, including reducing poverty by half by 2030. The three pillars of Canada's poverty reduction strategy are living with dignity, fostering equal access to opportunity and inclusion, and improving resilience and security. These are the aims of Bill C‑22.
The Canada disability benefit would close the gaping hole in the federal social safety net for people with disabilities between the Canada child benefit, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. It would provide continuity and assurance.
A common experience within the disability community is one of immense relief and often celebration at turning 65. Why? Because at age 65, OAS and GIS kick in, because there is income security, often for the first time in a person's life. In fact, the poverty levels of persons with disabilities decreases by almost 60% between the ages of 64 and 65, from 23% to 9%. For persons with severe disabilities, it goes from 31% to 11% just for having their birthday. Canadians should not have to wait until they are 65 years old to experience even a modest degree of financial security.
We are also at a unique point in history where the first generation of persons with more complex disabilities are outliving their parents. Thanks to lower infant mortality rates and advances in medicine, people are living longer. This is certainly to be celebrated, but it also means that we must ensure there are adequate supports available to everyone throughout their entire lifetimes. We must reassure and demonstrate to families that worry about the future of their loved ones that these supports will be there when they are gone.
How did this come to pass? How is it that in a country such as Canada, so many of our people live in such dire circumstances? How can we speak of equality of opportunity and fairness when such inequality exists? To understand the roots and extent of poverty that exists within Canada's disability community, we have to look at the history of how persons with disabilities in our country have been treated. That history is not a proud one. I believe it is not one with which we, as a country, have come to terms.
Historically, persons with disabilities have been discriminated against, marginalized and excluded. Ours is a history of institutionalization, of lobotomization, of sterilization. We took away people's ability to make decisions for themselves. At one point in our history, we outlawed the use of sign language. We did this to our people. We took a medical approach to disability that told people they were broken and in need of fixing, and a charity approach to disability that told people they were objects of charity and pity, in need of saving. Individuals with disabilities were denied the opportunity to make choices, to control their lives and to develop their potential.
Most Canadians are not aware of the pain and trauma that institutions, including federally run institutions, caused people with disabilities and their families, and we are not working with awareness of the aftermath of this trauma.
Bill C-22 would give us the opportunity to send a clear message to working-aged persons with disabilities and, quite frankly, to every person with a disability that we will no longer sit by and watch them struggle to make ends meet, struggle to live with dignity, struggle as they live a life of uncertainty and poverty, that the equal opportunity to make for themselves the lives that they wish, as afforded to every Canadian, is theirs as well.
Before getting into the details of the bill, I would like to place the benefit in the general context of the government's efforts to foster the inclusion of people with disabilities. Bill C‑22 builds on the work done in the past six years to create a country that is more fair, accessible and inclusive.
In 2016, we launched a national dialogue and consultation process that culminated in the enactment of the Accessible Canada Act. This historic legislation aims to realize a Canada without barriers by 2040. It is the most important step forward for the rights of Canadians with disabilities since the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.
The Accessible Canada Act lays out key principles that are guiding government decisions and actions as we work toward a disability-inclusive Canada. These include that all persons must have the same opportunity to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have regardless of their disabilities, and that persons with disabilities must be involved in the development and design of laws, policies, programs, services and structures. With Bill C-22, we are remaining true to these principles.
The bill before us today is also informed by our pandemic work and what we learned throughout these past years.
In April 2020, we formed a COVID-19 disability advisory group to advise me, as minister, on the lived experience of persons with disabilities throughout the pandemic and to inform the federal government's response. It was the counsel of these individuals that led to actions like additional support for seniors and students with disabilities, as well as the one-time payment and other measures to help persons with disabilities mitigate the economic shock of the pandemic crisis.
The inequality that was exposed and worsened by the pandemic also led to the creation of Canada's first-ever disability inclusion action plan. This is a plan that will modernize and revolutionize the way the federal government supports persons with disabilities.
The action plan has four key pillars: financial security, employment, accessible and inclusive communities, and a modern approach to disabilities. This action plan will challenge our government and the networks and systems we operate in to do better. It will challenge Canada to be better. This is not a box we need to check off the list; it is a road map on how we consider persons with disabilities in all aspects of our society going forward. The development and implementation of this action plan is being done in collaboration with the disability community.
In Canada, we are moving beyond the disability community mantra of “nothing about us without us”, in recognition of the fact that every decision the government makes, every program that is designed and every service that is delivered impacts persons with disabilities. We have moved to the shortened version of “nothing without us”, because everything is about us.
In this spirit, we conducted an online survey to ask Canadians what was needed in the disability inclusion action plan and how it could make a concrete difference in the lives of people. Over 8,500 people responded. We have met with hundreds of members of the disability community and other experts, including through disability community-led engagement and indigenous-led engagement.
The disability inclusion plan is a work in progress, but what the community has made clear to us, what we know for sure, is that poverty reduction will be the key metric by which we measure its and Canada's success, and we know that the Canada disability benefit must be the cornerstone of this work.
Bill C‑22 will create this benefit. It establishes the major principles and general provisions of the administration of the benefit, and authorizes the Governor in Council to implement most of the elements of the benefit by regulation.
Along the same lines as the guaranteed income supplement for seniors, the benefit will be based on income and help low-income, working-age Canadians with disabilities.
The framework format of this legislation is intentional. Not all details are contained in the bill. Why is that?
First, in the spirit of “Nothing without us” and in recognition of the fact that governments have too often imposed ways of doing things on people with disabilities, we are collaborating with the disabled community on the benefit's design. People with disabilities are in the best position to know what they need. They are familiar with the challenges and barriers that prevent them from achieving financial security.
The 2021 budget includes funding over three years to ensure people with disabilities will actually participate in the process, and work is well under way.
We are also doing important work with the disability community on the fourth pillar of the disability inclusion action plan to reform eligibility criteria for existing federal disability programs and benefits.
As well, we need to work very closely with provinces and territories. Bill C-22 recognizes the leading role the provinces and territories play in providing supports and services to persons with disabilities, and the importance of engaging with them in developing income supports and other support services.
The success of this benefit and the number of lives it will change will directly correspond to the work being done with provinces and territories on benefit interaction. Fundamentally, the Canada disability benefit would be an income supplement, not an income replacement. Like the GIS, it would not be intended to replace existing provincial and territorial support. Each month, it would put more money directly into the pockets of low-income persons with disabilities.
We are working with provinces and territories to make sure this new benefit would align with and complement services, benefits and supports, because we cannot have a situation anywhere in this country where income supports are clawed back, or wraparound services are cut off, because of the Canada disability benefit. The disability community is concerned about this and has called upon provincial and territorial governments to not claw back existing income or other supports. These concerns are top of mind in every conversation I have. I am pleased to report that conversations in this regard are going well with the provinces and territories. There is a shared commitment to improving the lives of persons with disabilities across this country.
In conclusion, Bill C-22 would allow Canada to create a thoughtfully designed benefit that would give financial security to working age persons with disabilities. As we move to debate this bill, I want to remind my colleagues that Canadians support the creation of the Canada disability benefit. According to a recent Angus Reid survey, nearly 90% of Canadians are in favour of the benefit.
Support for the benefit was also expressed in an open letter to the Prime Minister and me from 200 prominent Canadians, including former parliamentarians, academics, business and union leaders, economists, health care professionals, and disability advocates. The urgent adoption of the CDB legislation was also called for in an open letter signed by nearly half of the members of the other place.
That support is echoed in nearly 18,000 signatures on a House of Commons e-petition, and that e-petition asks that we fast-track the design and implementation of the benefit, and that we involve persons with disabilities at every stage. This was echoed in the House on May 10, when members of all parties unanimously supported the motion put forth by the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam to put in place the Canada disability benefit without delay.
I hear from Canadians almost every day who are anxious to have this benefit in place. I too am anxious to have this benefit in place. This bill could be a game-changer in the lives of so many people.
I want to thank members of the disability community who, for generations, have called for government action to support the financial security of persons with disabilities. What disability rights advocates have fought for and have achieved matters, and it has made a difference. Make no mistake. It is because of their efforts that I stand here, in this place, as a woman with a disability, and as Canada's first-ever minister responsible for disability inclusion. It is because of their efforts that we are debating Bill C-22 here today.
I urge every member in the House to do the right thing and support this legislation. I urge them to join me and declare that no person with a disability in our country should live in poverty. Let us not miss this opportunity.