Evidence of meeting #19 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was women.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paulette Senior  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation
Angela Bonfanti  Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Marie-France Lafleur
Elizabeth Cahill  Committee Researcher

2:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

We've started the process already. They don't have to apply; we just reach out to them. We have developed a one-page registration list that we sent to them to include all of their banking information, to confirm their charitable number, etc. We make sure all of that is correct, and then we wire them the money directly. It's a very simple process; there is no application process.

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

All right. Thank you very much.

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Senior.

Thank you, Ms. Vecchio.

Mr. Long, you have six minutes.

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon to everybody. Certainly, in keeping with the theme of things, I don't have any dogs or birds in the background, but I have a couple of mice that just ran through the office this morning.

I want to thank you, Ms. Bonfanti, for being patient with us and coming back. My questions are for you. I certainly want to thank you for the incredible work that CNIB does across Canada. Can you comment on how you feel our government's proposed $600 top-up for disability tax credit certificate holders would help those the CNIB serves during this incredibly challenging time?

2:10 p.m.

Angela Bonfanti Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

I'm happy to answer that question, Mr. Long. We believe it is definitely a step in the right direction. Certainly, prior to last week's announcement, we had our concerns about clawbacks provincially and how those could impact individuals' overall income.

The fact these are one-time is a bit of a debate in the community. I don't think anyone's going to get over the magnitude the pandemic has had on their lives in a matter of a few weeks.

We would encourage continued discussions around this great first step. I hope it's followed by many more, just because individuals living with a disability already have to deal with additional challenges in the workforce and in many other areas, whether academic or other types of career fields. It's just going to get worse if we don't allow them to have more resources in their hands to progress and navigate through the storm.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Sure. Thanks for that.

What kind of feedback are you getting from your members?

June 15th, 2020 / 2:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

It's just that. I mean up until last week I heard very different testimony here around what the government should do, so I think it's definitely welcomed, but again it is very much one time. We're three months into this and I think that the ramifications are going to be long set. We hope there's more where that came from.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Thanks for that.

I have one final question: What would your message to parliamentarians be in response to the opposition's refusal to allow the legislation required to implement this benefit to move forward in the House of Commons last week? I know certainly in this office we heard a lot of feedback on that.

Do you have any message to us as parliamentarians?

2:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

It would be to keep working. This is not an easy journey to navigate, and we realize there are obstacles every which way, but do not lose sight of the community that is at the heart here.

We understand there are issues. This is a process, something that is new and these are uncharted waters for us as well. We want the legislation to pass quickly, end of story. We need this to move.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Long Liberal Saint John—Rothesay, NB

Thank you very much.

Now, I would like to share the rest of my time with my colleague MP Turnbull.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Thanks, Mr. Long.

Ms. Bonfanti, thanks for being here. Along the same line of questioning, can you give me an estimate of the number of people who are blind in Canada?

2:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

The most recent number, according to StatsCan, is that there are over 1.5 million Canadians living with significant and untreatable sight loss.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

I know that sight loss, being blind, is one of the criteria for qualifying for the disability tax credit the federal government offers. Do we have any idea how many actually qualify?

2:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

No, we do not. The research hasn't been conducted.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Okay. I know that our estimate was that 1.25 million people would be eligible for that disability tax credit, that $600 one-time payment. How many members of the blind or sight loss community do you think would actually benefit?

2:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

Hopefully all of them would, but we are issuing a number of surveys right now among our community just to understand how these are rolling out so that we can provide that feedback based on actual surveys conducted across the country.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Our government has tried to get money out the door to people in need and has really prioritized efficiency and speed. It's really too bad that this process has been slowed down significantly. Last week in the House I was really unhappy to see that get stalled in Parliament, based on the Conservatives not supporting it.

What is the message to your community out there?

2:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

Frankly, the message comes to us and then we share it with you, but again it is to pass it quickly. It is that there are so many competing priorities for the government in this pandemic. It's the first of our kind. We understand that, but we're too often lost in the mix. The disability community is very often lost in the mix. We run the risk of that happening as time continues to accumulate.

We understand these are new measures. We empathize. This is not easy, but there are real people living at a disadvantage right now who cannot afford any further delays.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

How is this delay going to affect them?

2:15 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Foundation Programs, Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Angela Bonfanti

The delay affects them in many ways. We have a 28% employment rate in Canada among the blind and partially sighted community alone. That is the lowest in the disability community. Already being part of that cohort and already living from... and there are a multitude of diagnoses, not just blindness in many, many cases.

We're already worried about people not being able to make their ends meet at a time where physical distancing is creating new challenges such as not being permitted to go to certain grocery stores due to a lack of education among staff and general Canadians, really not knowing what blindness means. They've had to take additional measures to make sure that they can put food in their fridge, for example. This credit is much needed and we need more.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Thank you.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Bonfanti and thank you, Mr. Turnbull.

Ms. Larouche, you have the floor for six minutes.

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I thank Ms. Bonfanti for her presentation. I am in contact with many organizations working with disabled individuals in my constituency, so I am well aware of the difficulties they are experiencing, especially during this pandemic. I, too, take issue with some parties not seeing how important this matter is. In fact, last week, we were the ones who asked that the bill be split to provide assistance faster to people with disabilities. I share that desire to help them as quickly as possible.

Having said that, my questions will be for Paulette Senior, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Women's Foundation. We know that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the health, behaviours and activities of Canadians, particularly Canadian and Quebec women. We know that confinement has caused a lot of tension and that, for many women, it is cause for concern.

According to a Statistics Canada survey, about 1 woman in 10 fears potential violence in their families. About 8% to 10% of female respondents expressed that fear. At the end of March, the SOS violence conjugale hotline in Quebec reported a 15% increase in calls related to the confinement measures. In her mandate letter, the minister said she wanted to address gender-based violence.

In concrete terms, can you give us examples of measures you would like to see as part of such an action plan? Also, what can we expect?

2:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

Well, I think the pandemic has really revealed some of the issues that were already there and exacerbated them. It's important that as we move forward, particularly as we start to think about recovery, we consider all of the various elements that have made women, particularly women in vulnerable circumstances, involving violence, poverty and other issues that are compounded by gender inequality.... We really need to think about these measures that will be necessary to support the strive toward gender equality. These are, to me, all aspects of what make up a gender-equal society. The pandemic has really widened the chasm of cracks that were already present.

A national action plan to address issues of gender-based violence needs to consider all of that, and then I think it needs to be resourced appropriately to be able to address them, so that we're not losing ground as we come out of the recovery.

If we look at issues around women who are paid minimum wage, or just above minimum wage but certainly not a living wage, we're seeing that a lot of these women have, during the pandemic, been providing quite a bit of what we have now accepted to be essential services. Whether they are women who are providing personal support assistance or working in grocery stores or other areas that we've deemed to be essential, we think it's important that we consider how we are planning the recovery and how we're thinking through all of these issues we have seen raise their ugly heads even more during the pandemic.

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Empowering women economically means giving them what they need to get out of much more difficult environments and situations of violence. That is kind of what I am hearing in your answer.

As part of the response to COVID-19, the government has introduced financial measures to help families, such as the Canada Child Benefit. However, it is not quite enough to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to succeed.

What measures could the government take to secure a place for women in the economic recovery?

The Pay Equity Act has not yet taken effect. What remains to be done, and why is it important to work on this legislation?