Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, it is a pleasure to be here today with my colleagues Minister Duclos and Minister Hajdu to speak to the 2017-18 Main Estimates funding for disability programs and to update you on the progress I have made on my mandate as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. I have also asked senior officials from Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC, to be here today to answer any questions you may have.
As you know, our government has spent the last year working to strengthen the middle class and support those working hard to join it. Our objective is a Canada where everyone can participate in society and in the economy, and where everyone has an equal chance to succeed. This includes Canadians with disabilities.
In my capacity as minister responsible for people with disabilities, my priority over the last year has been the engagement process to inform the development of federal accessibility legislation. Once in place, the legislation will eliminate systemic barriers and deliver equal opportunities for Canadians living with disabilities.
I am pleased to report that the engagement process—the largest consultation on disability issues in over two decades—was completed on February 28, 2017. The process involved 18 public engagement sessions held in cities across the country, nine round table discussions with academic experts, industry representatives and disability stakeholders, a national youth forum, and an online consultation.
The consultation set a high standard for accessibility. Canadians were able to participate in the language—English, French, American Sign Language, langue des signes du Québec—and format—in person, online, in writing, video, audio—of their choice. Materials were available in multiple formats, and all public engagement events had real-time captioning, sign language interpretation, both in American Sign Language and langue des signes du Québec, and other communication supports.
In total, almost 6,000 Canadians participated either in person or online. An analysis of the feedback from the consultation is currently underway, and we plan to publicly release the summary later this spring. The report will be used to inform the development of the legislation. Once the legislation is drafted, the bill will pass through the regular parliamentary process and will be voted on by Parliament.
The public consultation process was funded through existing departmental resources. In addition, Budget 2016 provided $2 million over two years for stakeholders to undertake complementary engagement opportunities within their communities. Five national disability projects, comprised of multiple partner organizations and three indigenous organizations, were funded through Budget 2016 to engage their members, and this funding continues through 2017-18 as part of the main estimates.
While the engagement process has been our top priority this year, it is only one part of broader Government of Canada efforts to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
I'm pleased to share those with you now.
The enabling accessibility fund supports the capital costs of construction and renovations related to improving physical accessibility and safety for people with disabilities in Canadian communities and workplaces. It has an annual budget of $15 million. Budget 2016 committed to providing an additional $4 million over two fiscal years starting in 2016-17 to support a minimum of 80 additional small community projects. As a result of the 2016 call for proposals under the EAF, 573 projects were approved under the program's workplace and community accessibility streams. This includes 85 additional projects that were funded out of the extra $2 million allocated for 2016-17 through budget 2016.
We expect this work will continue as budget 2017 proposes providing the EAF with an additional $77 million over 10 years, starting in 2018-19, to improve the safety and accessibility of community spaces and workplaces through the second phase of social infrastructure investments.
As you know, the government works to help people with disabilities participate in the labour market through initiatives, such as the opportunities fund, which provides funding of over $40 million annually. This program supports labour market outcomes for Canadians with disabilities by providing more youth with work experience, involving community organizations and employers in the design and delivery of programming, providing more hands-on work experience and targeted employment supports, promoting social innovation, and establishing measurable outcomes.
We also have the social development partnerships program disability component, or the SDPPD, which supports not-for-profit organizations in their work to improve the participation and integration of people with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian society. The SDPPD is in the midst of a program renewal. The goal of the renewal is to design a program that is current and relevant to the disability community, and that supports the capability of the disability sector as a whole. The amount of funding under the renewed program will remain the same at $11 million per year.
Each year the Government of Canada also transfers $222 million to the provinces and territories under the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to improve the employment prospects for persons with disabilities. As announced in budget 2017, the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities will be consolidated with the Canada job fund and a targeted initiative for older workers into new workforce development agreements. The budget proposed to invest an additional $900 million over the next six years in these consolidated agreements.
We will work with the provinces and territories to ensure that the new agreements continue to support employment programming for persons with disabilities. A strong performance measurement strategy will allow the federal government to monitor and report to Canadians on the labour market outcomes for this population.
As you know, the Canada disability savings grants and bonds are savings initiatives that come under the registered disability savings plan. In the main estimates 2017-18 budget, funding has increased for the Canada disability savings grants and bonds by $107 million. This increase is due to the steady increase in total registered plans and participation in the program, which is very good news. Participation in the program last year was about 24% of those eligible to claim the disability tax credit, which is a key condition for opening an RDSP, but more work needs to be done in this area.
To encourage more people to open RDSPs, we've been working with the Canada Revenue Agency to send letters to Canadians with disabilities who qualify to claim the disability tax credit, but who have yet to open a plan. After a targeted mail campaign that was conducted in November 2015, we saw a 400% increase in the number of plans opened in December 2015 over the previous year, so the increase in spending on the program is partly due to the success of this mail campaign.
We also had great news in December 2016. The Government of Canada announced that it would begin taking steps toward consideration of accession to the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. The convention already plays an important role in ensuring people with disabilities across Canada have equal access and opportunity in their communities and their workplaces. The optional protocol establishes procedures aimed at strengthening the implementation and monitoring of the convention.
We're currently engaged in a federal review process, and in consultations with provincial and territorial governments, who have an important role to play in considering our possible accession to the optional protocol. Consultations with civil society and indigenous organizations were recently completed in March 2017.
In accordance with Canada's usual practice on treaty ratification, the decision on acceding to the optional protocol will be put formally to the federal ministers and the Prime Minister. If there is a favourable decision, the optional protocol would be tabled in Parliament, and the Government of Canada would seek the formal support of all provincial and territorial governments for accession. We're working toward completion of this process in 2018.
I am proud to say that Canada is a place where everyone has a shot at success because we have the confidence and leadership to invest in Canadians.
As the minister responsible for people with disabilities, I look forward to the continued work on new planned accessibility legislation. Once in place, the legislation will give us the opportunity and the means to build a truly inclusive society.
I hope this update on our planned expenditures in the main estimates, as well as our efforts to promote inclusion and remove barriers for Canadians with disabilities, has been useful. I trust it has reiterated our commitment to continuing this work in the coming year.
My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer your questions.