Our society has for too many years—indeed, decades—been designed on the ridiculous assumption that for the most part it's there for people without disabilities. It's not that people wanted us excluded, but we have just never been part of the thinking, much of the time, when our buildings are built, our public transit is created, our workplaces are designed, and the goods and services we use are designed and sold.
It's a ridiculous idea, because more than five million of us now have a disability—but even that number underestimates us, because, you see, every one of us in this room, and every voter who voted for you or against you, either has a disability now or is bound to get one later in their life. We are the minority of everyone, and no politician or political party can go soft on the minority of everyone.
We commend the federal government for committing to bring forward Bill C-81, and for undertaking a good public consultation on it. However, the bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement. The groups that have come before you have provided a road map of how to fix it, and that can be done. When you come to vote on amendments before this committee and when you go back to your caucuses to decide what position you're going to take, we urge you not simply to think of the immediate political expediency of today; we do urge you to think about the imminent election a year from now and the needs of the minority of everyone, for whom no party or politician can go soft.
We urge you to think about what you would say to you, 20 years from now. If you don't already have a disability now but you get one later, what would you come back in time and say about your reluctance to support strong amendments? We urge you to come together and unanimously support strong amendments.
You've heard many groups focusing on very common themes. Our top priorities are in a brief that is being circulated to you in Braille and in a brief that spells much more out in detail. Let me use my time to focus on two, which other groups have supported, but they have not been discussed as much at this committee.
First, Bill C-81 wrongly splinters the creation of accessibility standards and their enforcement among multiple federal agencies. This is a formula for a weak bill. Please unsplinter it. This bill provides that accessibility standards can be enacted—and that's good—but it divides the power to make them among the federal cabinet, which should have all that power; the Canadian Transportation Agency for transportation providers; and the CRTC for broadcasters and telecom companies.
That is a formula for confusion, contradiction, delay and weak standards. All standards should be made by one body alone, and that is the politically accountable federal cabinet. Giving the power over public transit to the Canadian Transportation Agency will have the effect of weakening the measures you take on transportation. That agency, like the CRTC, has no demonstrated expertise on accessibility for people with disabilities. Moreover, both the CTA and the CRTC have substantially inadequate track records in the use of the power on accessibility that they've had for years.
If you go to folks who have a bad track record, you have a predictable future of more bad track records. Let me give you one example that says it all.
The Canadian Transportation Agency has had the power to make accessibility standards for people with disabilities in federally regulated transportation providers for over three decades. They're so excited and so eager to use that power that they've made absolutely none. Giving them that power now can give us no enthusiasm that they'll be any more willing to use it and to use it well in the future.
You might think I'd be upset that they haven't used it, but in fact I'm happy they haven't used it, because the legislation now—and as this bill is written, the legislation in the future—would provide that if they make a federal accessibility standard, it can actually cut back on the rights that the legislation now provides, because once a regulation is made, it is fully dispositive of the right to accommodation under the transportation legislation. That is really bad.
We need you to first remove that feature in the Transportation Act so that a standard, if enacted, can only extend our rights and never cut them back. Second, we need you to concentrate all power to make accessibility standards in the federal cabinet.
As well, this bill splinters the power to enforce this legislation among four federal organizations: the accessibility commissioner, the CTA, the CRTC and the tribunal that regulates federal employment. Again, this is a formula for confusion.
The federal government response to date has been inadequate. It simply said, “We'll have a policy that there will be no wrong door. Whichever agency you go to, no matter how confusing it is to figure it out—and believe me, it is confusing—if you go in the wrong door, we'll send you to the right door. Problem solved.” No, it isn't, because all that does is fix the problem of which door you go in. It does not solve the substantial problem that happens once you're inside that door. It means we have to lobby four agencies to get them up to the necessary level of expertise. It means we have to learn four different sets of procedures, because they may all use different procedures once you get inside the door. It means we have to go to agencies that may not have any expertise in disability and accessibility.
It makes far more sense to simply mandate the new accessibility commissioner with all accessibility enforcement under this act. The fact is simply that the design of this bill, splintering among these agencies, serves only two interests: the bureaucracies that want to preserve their turf and those obligated organizations that would rather this law have weaker standards, slower implementation and weaker enforcement. That is not consistent with the federal government's commendable motivations and intentions under this legislation.
Let me conclude by turning to one other point we'd like to emphasize. Members of this committee have asked what could be done to ensure that on day one, this law will make a real difference. Here's the answer, and it's not now in this bill.
This bill should be amended in accordance with the proposals in our brief to ensure that whenever federal money is spent, it can never be used to create a new barrier or perpetuate an old barrier against people with disabilities. It's commendable that the bill allows the making of access standards for federal procurement of goods and services, but that's not the only way the federal government spends money. The federal government right now spends a lot of money on infrastructure, and not only federal infrastructure, but money is transferred to communities or provinces for local projects such as public transit, hospitals and so on. We urge that any federal spending on procurement, infrastructure, loans or grants to business or otherwise have strong accessibility strings attached, monitored and enforced, so that federal money is never used to make things worse for us.
On day one, that could start making a difference.
In conclusion, I have a really strong sense of personal history today, because 38 years ago, when the Charter of Rights was only a proposal, it did not include equality for people with disabilities. I had the privilege of being one of the many people who came here to argue that the charter be amended to include equality for people with disabilities.
Working together, we succeeded then. Working together now, we can succeed with this bill, which is strong on intention but weak on enforcement and implementation. We now have the opportunity to work together with you again to create a strong law that will make the victory of 38 years ago—equality for people with disabilities—not only a legal guarantee, but a reality in the lives of all of us.
Thank you very much.