House of Commons Hansard #253 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was packaging.

Topics

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Karen McCrimmon Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a balancing act. There is a commercial agreement that links the automobile manufacturers and the dealers. We did not feel that it was the place of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act to play a role in that commercial agreement. However, we wanted to make sure that the dealers were not left hanging in that kind of situation.

Even the dealers have come away saying that they can live with that. At first they did not understand that they were also eligible to use some of the mechanisms in this piece of legislation for redress from the manufacturers so that they were not put at a significant disadvantage. Once it was explained to them that what is in this bill would apply not only to consumers but to the dealers, they were much reassured, knowing that they had these tools they could use, knowing that if they were in that position, they could make redress back to the manufacturers.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I really regret asking the parliamentary secretary anything at all, given how clearly she is suffering through a very sore throat. Part of the question I had was answered in the last answer she gave, so my question is very concise.

I am very interested in the new role of our more independent Senate. There were amendments made to deal with the dealers' concerns. I am certain that we will find out in committee how content the dealers are with the new changes.

This is a novel question for me, because generally, when we see a bill here and the government is speaking to its bill, the text before us is what the government wants. This is one of those rare occasions when the text before us is not what the government wants. Procedurally, normally we would not see an amendment until the bill went to committee.

Is there any procedural objection to ensuring that those of us who are interested in this provision will see the government's alternative before we get to committee and have it presented in clause-by-clause?

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Karen McCrimmon Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I am sorry, I do not know the answer to that. I will have to take it back, and I will get back to you shortly.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Again I would remind members that when they are asking or answering questions, they are to address them to the Speaker.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be here today to speak to Bill S-2, an act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and to make a consequential amendment to another act.

I am also pleased to see that the Liberal government is willing to take good ideas from the previous Conservative government and implement them in a bipartisan manner. Bill S-2 bears a striking resemblance to Bill C-62, as was mentioned. Bill C-62, introduced by the then minister of transport, the hon. member for Milton, was a solid piece of legislation, designed to increase our safety standards.

Bill S-2 proposes to increase the involvement of the Minister of Transport in vehicle recalls to bring Canada in line with the recall standards of other countries around the world. The power of the Minister of Transport to issue recalls is a welcome addition. While this power is expected to be required only rarely due to the willingness of manufacturers to issue recalls quickly, it is an important deterrent to help avoid any issues going forward. The power of the minister to issue fines to manufacturers for up to $200,000 per day for non-compliance gives this legislation the horsepower it needs to be taken seriously as a legitimately enforceable piece of legislation.

An interesting idea in this legislation is to impose a non-monetary penalty on the company in lieu of, or in addition to, a monetary fine. Such a penalty could take the form of, for example, a requirement for additional research and development to be implemented. I doubt that these penalties would be imposed often, if at all, as the company would want to avoid any public embarrassment that such a fine would cause. That said, having this power would be very useful for the minister should any conflict over safety concerns arise.

This act would also codify into law what the market has set as the standard for recalls, ensuring that manufacturers are the liable party for the cost of replacing any recalled parts. Again, this is the current market standard, but ensuring that the standard is clearly expressed in law is a positive step for manufacturers, the dealerships, and the consumers. It is important to note that while it is, indeed, laudable to increase our safety standards, this bill is not a response to a significant issue within the industry.

Canada does not have an excess of dangerous vehicles on its roads that manufacturers are refusing to repair. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In 2015, manufacturers recalled over five million vehicles of their own accord for everything from bad hydraulics on a trunk to important engine repairs. Manufacturers voluntarily spent their time and money to ensure that their products were safe and that they met the standards that consumers expect.

With the advent of social media and 24-hour news, manufacturers cannot afford the bad publicity that comes with widespread complaints and potentially dangerous faults. That is why, in 2016, there were at least 318,000 recalls issued without a complaint having been filed with Transport Canada. Again, I believe vehicle manufacturers do not want to be put in the difficult situation of having the press catch wind of a defect before they know about it.

The reason I bring attention to this is due to the proposed changes to section 15 of the act. These proposed subsections give several notable new powers to Transport Canada inspectors. Some of these powers are worth noting due to how they change the current relationship between the manufacturer and Transport Canada.

Considering the extent of these powers, I will read from the bill itself, which states that the inspectors may enter on and pass through or over private property “without being liable for doing so and without any person having the right to object to that use of the property”, and can “examine any vehicle, equipment or component that is in the place”. Inspectors may “examine any document that is in the place, make copies of it or take extracts from it”. They may “use or cause to be used a computer or other device that is in the place to examine data that is contained in or available to a computer system or reproduce it or cause it to be reproduced”, and “remove any vehicle, equipment or component from the place for the purpose of examination or conducting tests.”

Furthermore, the bill states:

Any person who owns or has charge of a place entered by an inspector under subsection (1) and every person present there shall answer all of the inspector’s reasonable questions related to the inspection, provide access to all electronic data that the inspector may reasonably require...

Perhaps now it is clearer as to why I highlight the good record manufacturers have regarding the timely issuing of recalls.

These additional powers seem somewhat disproportionate to any issues we currently experience with safety recalls.

It is very reasonable, and indeed a requirement, for Transport Canada inspectors to have increased powers to go along with their increased responsibilities in the bill. However, I would suggest a measured response.

It simply is not the case that manufacturers are hiding serious defects from both the public and Transport Canada. Again, I call attention to the 318 recalls that manufacturers issued without any complaint made to Transport Canada.

As I mentioned the last time I spoke to the bill, the reality is that the last time a minister of transport criminally prosecuted a manufacturer was nearly 25 years ago, in 1993, when Transport Canada took Chrysler Canada to court over defective tire winch cables. The case was dismissed in 2000.

Those numbers show that vehicle manufacturers are working with the public in good faith and we ought to work with them in that same good faith.

That is why I proposed an amendment to Bill S-2 which would have ensured that the minister acts in good faith while exercising the additional power granted in the bill.

I will read from my amendment to give context to what I am saying. It states, “The Minister may, by order, require any company that applies a national safety mark to any vehicle or equipment, sells any vehicle or equipment to which a national safety mark has been applied or imports any vehicle or equipment of a class for which standards are prescribed to if the Minister has evidence to suggest that there is a defect or non-compliance in the vehicle or equipment.” To add clarity, the amendment I proposed would have required that the minister have a suspicion of defect or non-compliance prior to ordering tests or imposing on a manufacturer. This is as opposed to the original wording, which insinuates the ability of the minister to order tests to prove compliance. While this difference may seem subtle, it is paramount.

While this bill would not amend the Criminal Code, I still believe that the presumption of innocence ought to be the standard in any legislation that contains punitive enforcement options. Remember, the minister can issue fines of up to $200,000 per day. This is far from an insignificant amount of money.

In addition to the text above, my amendment also required that the minister consult with the manufacturer before ordering tests in order to determine if the company had conducted or had planned to conduct the tests he was considering ordering. This could have potentially saved the manufacturers the cost of conducting tests that had already been completed. I saw this as recognition of the effort that manufacturers were currently placing on safety testing, along with their strong safety track records.

The bill in its current wording seemingly assumes that there is widespread and intentional non-compliance. This is simply not backed up by statistics. Remember, there has never been a case where the manufacturer refused outright to repair a defect in a vehicle, especially one that would lead to a dangerous situation. In fact, there is evidence of the opposite. I would draw members attention again to the over 300 examples from 2016 of voluntary recalls, without any complaint having been received by Transport Canada. I see those examples and recognize the importance manufacturers are already placing on safety.

Again, this is not to state that we do not need a legislative framework to ensure these high standards are maintained. However, improvements could have been made on Bill S-2 to correct the issues I noted. Unfortunately, the Liberal members of the committee rejected my reasonable amendment. In fact, the Liberals rejected both of the Conservative amendments and all of the NDP amendments. For a government that likes to claim bipartisanship or collaboration on these kinds of bills, that is a remarkable statistic.

I would now like to take a moment to speak about the larger framework into which Bill S-2 will fit.

The Auditor General released a report in November 2016 titled “Oversight of Passenger Vehicle Safety—Transport Canada”. The report was less than glowing in its review of the current state of Transport Canada. In particular, the report noted that Transport Canada was slow in responding to new risks, which posed a significant problem for a bill meant to increase the speed and clarity of recalls for Canadians. It states:

We found that Transport Canada did not maintain an up-to-date regulatory framework for passenger vehicle safety. There were lengthy delays, sometimes of more than 10 years, from the time work began on an issue to the Department’s implementation of new standards or changes to existing ones.

The report stated that Transport Canada generally waited until the United States had updated its motor vehicle safety standards. What is the point of conducting research if the safety recommendations are not implemented until another jurisdiction leads the way? Canada has very different requirements than the United States. We expect more from our government agencies than simply waiting and mirroring the actions of our neighbour to the south.

Going forward, this will become an even more pressing concern as autonomous vehicles are introduced onto our roads, as has already been noted by previous speakers. We will need a nimble, legislative, and regulatory framework to ensure that consumers are protected, while recognizing that manufacturers do indeed have a strong track record of ensuring safety.

Furthermore, the Auditor General notes that there is a problem with inconsistent use of evidence and research in determining safety standards. It states:

We also found that it [Transport Canada] did not have complete collision and injury data to inform its decisions. We could not always determine how the Department used evidence and research to develop or amend safety standards. Transport Canada did not plan or fund its research and regulatory activities for the longer term.

These are significant issues facing Transport Canada. They should be resolved if the agency is going to be expected to take on additional responsibilities for a proactive review of vehicles.

The Auditor General report noted that Transport Canada possessed incomplete data on collisions and injuries in the national collision database because provinces were not providing the information.

In addition, the report noted that Transport Canada did not have access to data from insurance companies, hospitals, police, and others involved in vehicle safety matters. Therefore, it is missing information that could help inform future vehicle safety priorities.

Transport Canada will need to work toward addressing these issues as it prepares for the additional responsibilities entrusted to the agency in Bill S-2. It is important to note that the agency has indicated it is taking the recommendations of the Auditor General seriously and working to implement those changes. However, I question how much of a change it can make while dealing with reduced funding.

For example, the budget for crash-worthiness testing was cut by 59% for the 2016-17 fiscal year. At the same time, funding for six regional teams situated in engineering departments in universities and colleges that were charged to assist in outreach activities on vehicle safety also saw their funding cut. These regional teams will no longer be able to feed information into the regulatory decision-making process, which the auditor general had noted was not functioning as well as it could be.

Therefore, while the agency is dealing with a lower budget, Bill S-2 is seeking to increase its responsibilities. I question how it will be expected to fulfill these new responsibilities if it does not have the resources to fulfill the responsibilities it currently has.

Bill S-2 would advance vehicle safety standards and would be a positive step in ensuring safety. However, the bill is missing some key aspects that would make its enforcement much more effective and fair for both the manufacturers and the consumers. It was disappointing that members of the governing party did not work with the opposition to ensure that the proposed amendments by the opposition were added to the bill, which would have provided more transparency and increased clarity when it came to the powers of the minister.

All in all, Bill S-2 is important legislation and would result in increased road safety, which why I will support the bill at third reading.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, in substance, I agree with the remarks of the member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, although I always find it a little odd when the Conservatives start talking about the Liberals cutting budgets when the process was actually started under the Conservatives.

One of the questions I believe the member asked earlier of the parliamentary secretary is of concern to me. It is the responsibility for the financial losses for dealerships if a car is subject to recall becomes unsaleable and is stuck in the dealer's inventory. I believe the hon. parliamentary secretary said that she did not want to interfere in this commercial relationship, but I would submit that there is hardly any commercial relationship more unequal than car manufacturers and dealers.

Therefore, the amendment made by the Senate, which was taken out by the Liberals, seemed to be an important part of levelling the playing field for dealers so they would not be stuck with the cost of what was essentially the fault of the manufacturers. Does the hon. member share that opinion?

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, we recognize that the bill before us was introduced in the Senate and that the Senate put forward an amendment that it believed would have addressed some concerns raised by dealerships across the country. At the time we were debating the bill, I believe there was support for that amendment.

As the bill was being debated, we understood there were discussions being held by members of the governing party with an association that represented the dealerships. Apparently, the amendment put forward by the governing party was amenable and acceptable to it. Therefore, when the committee was debating it, we certainly saw some merit to the amendment that had been put forward by the Senate.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, what is encouraging, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier, is that we have very proactive, progressive legislation that is going to benefit the consumers of Canada. This is legislation that has been put together over a period of time, in which we are getting close to the final stages. I appreciate the comments of the member across the way. She seems to be of the opinion, as we definitely are on this side, that this is a step forward. As the Prime Minister says, there is always room to improve things. We can always make things better. No doubt the ministry will continue to look at ways in which we can continue to protect consumers.

I can appreciate some sensitivity in terms of amendments as we go through committees. I can recall the days being in opposition when Harper was the prime minister, and we saw zero amendments ever pass. A lot depends on the content of the amendments, and I am sure the member across the way can appreciate that fact. This is a government that has recognized good amendments brought forward by opposition members on many other pieces of legislation, and they were adopted.

At the very least, would she not recognize that in the passage of this particular piece of legislation we are protecting Canadian consumers? That is a positive thing.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I agree that when legislation is tabled, it certainly may not be in its perfect form. This bill is one that was introduced in the previous Parliament. Even members in the Senate and we, as Conservative members, brought forward amendments to a bill that very much resembled one that our own party introduced in the previous Parliament.

Yes, I understand there is always an opportunity to make a bill better. Ultimately, I think this is about ensuring that Canadians are safe when they are travelling on our roads. That is why we are committed to supporting this bill at third reading.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to note with this bill that the member for Winnipeg North just raised this issue around amendments and that it needs to be centred on consumer protection. To that end, I note that the NDP advanced 15 amendments to this bill. None of them were supported.

A particular one speaks to, I assume, consumer protection. That is, for the minister to be able to grant an exemption for any model of vehicle manufactured by the company from conformity with any prescribed standard if that exemption from the standard would, in the opinion of the minister, promote a technological development. That is what is in the bill. The NDP moved an amendment that would ensure that such an exemption would only be granted on the condition that the minister ensures the new vehicle model is based on safety standards equivalent to or superior to that prescribed by the regulations. That is for consumer protection, in the name of safety, yet that amendment was defeated at committee. It was not passed at committee.

I would like to ask this member about her comments around this amendment. Will she support this kind of amendment, and would that not be for the protection of the consumer?

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, the safety of Canadians and everyone who uses our roads is of paramount importance to me and certainly my colleagues in this place. While not perfect, I believe that this bill does strike a reasonable balance. However, I would agree that the member from my colleague's party on our committee, the member for Trois-Rivières, proposed a number of amendments that would have increased transparency when an order was made under the powers provided for in this bill. My Conservative colleagues and I supported all the amendments, I believe, made by that member at committee. If I am wrong in that representation, I will certainly correct the record, but we were very supportive of that member's amendments to this bill.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, just to follow up on this issue around safety, I think it is critical, and it is mystifying to me why the government would not actually support such an amendment. One would think that openness and transparency is the hallmark that the Prime Minister, himself, campaigned on and promised Canadians in this House of Commons.

On the issue around safety, related to regulations with manufacturers, why would the government not support this? This amendment was further justified, given that the Auditor General stated that the government was behind in coming in with regulations adapted to technological developments. Before using his power to issue exemptions, the minister should first address this problem.

Surely this would be the right thing to do, yet this is not the case. Again, I wonder if the member could shed some light on the rationale behind that.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

We are at time, although I will allow the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek a brief moment to respond, 45 seconds, and then we will switch over.

The hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, no, I cannot. That was the very question I asked of the parliamentary secretary.

Strengthening Motor Vehicle Safety for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There will be one more minute remaining in the time for questions and comments when the House next resumes debate on the question.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from November 20, 2017 consideration of the motion that Bill C-348, An Act to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act (persons with disabilities), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne Québec

Liberal

Sherry Romanado LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to talk about Bill C-348, put forward by my colleague the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh. Today, my colleague is giving us the opportunity to talk not only about service delivery for Canadians with disabilities but also about accessibility and inclusiveness. In fact, I would like to use the time I have today to talk about our efforts to make our society an inclusive and accessible one.

Today, one in seven Canadians report having a disability, and that number will only continue to grow as our population ages. That is why we are taking the necessary steps to ensure greater inclusion of Canadians with disabilities, and to develop new federal accessibility legislation. The goal of the proposed legislation will be to increase the inclusion and participation of Canadians with disabilities by proactively removing barriers to accessibility.

Last year, we launched an ambitious public consultation process. We met with stakeholders and the public to talk about what an accessible Canada means to them, and we did it in the most accessible way possible. We held 18 public consultation sessions and nine thematic round tables across the country. We had a significant online component. We also held a national youth forum, which featured the Prime Minister of Canada. As well, the government provided funding to five partnerships of disability organizations, as well as three indigenous organizations, for them to engage with their members and communities. Throughout this process, we gained valuable insight into the everyday obstacles Canadians with disabilities face.

Last spring, we also released a report summarizing what we learned through these consultations. We heard about barriers that impede people's ability to move freely in the built environment, to use transportation, to access information, and to use technology, as well as people's ability to access services. We also heard about the barriers that result from people's attitudes, beliefs, and misconceptions about what people with disabilities can and cannot do, as well as outdated policies and practices that simply do not take into account barriers related to disabilities.

We are hoping to break down all those barriers with our proposed accessibility legislation. Our proposed legislation will focus on more quality opportunities across all federal areas and jurisdictions. This includes employment, access to buildings and other public spaces through a built environment, transportation within the federal transportation network, service delivery, information and communications technology, and procurement of goods and services by the Government of Canada.

Over time, the proposed legislation would mean real change for Canadians with disabilities, as users of services, as clients, as travellers, as members of the public, and as employees in federal jurisdictions.

We want to change the story around ability and accessibility. Do not get me wrong; our government knows disability is complex. Disability is challenging, and nothing will be rectified overnight, but we truly believe that all the work we are doing, in collaboration with all of our partners, will lead us to tangible results. When I say “partners”, I mean leaders in accessibility, key stakeholders, provinces and territories, not-for-profit organizations, and of course Canadians, including those with disabilities.

When I speak to families in my riding of Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne who have a member with a disability, I often hear about some of the challenges: it is difficult having to deal with school boards, with health care, and the lack of coordination among various levels of government and jurisdictions. I work closely with my counterparts at the municipal, provincial, and education levels and institutions. It is imperative that we work in a collaborative way in order to address all of these concerns. It is already difficult enough having a family member with a disability, but having to also navigate many different levels of government makes it even harder.

Thanks to our collaborative work, we will see real change, and we believe Canada will lead by example. It is our responsibility as change makers to make sure everyone is included. Together, we will make Canada an even greater nation than it is today.

Furthermore, we are anticipating the tabling of federal accessibility legislation in Parliament next spring.

Last December, the Government of Canada announced that we had begun the process toward possible accession to the United Nations' optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a complaints mechanism that enables individuals or groups to file complaints with the United Nations if they believe their rights have been violated or are being violated in a systematic manner.

The government has been working over the course of the past year to undertake all of the necessary reviews and consultations required to move this forward. Through these consultations, stakeholders clearly demonstrated their strong support for accession.

We have made great progress. In fact, the Government of Canada tabled the optional protocol in the House of Commons on November 30. Tabling is a significant and necessary step in the federal process, bringing Canada closer to accession. We are continuing to work collaboratively with our provincial and territorial partners and are seeking their formal support for accession. Provinces and territories must undertake their own formal processes to do so.

Upon accession, the optional protocol would provide Canadians with disabilities additional safeguards at the international level for the protection of their rights under the convention.

This announcement represents an important development in our work on improving the protection of rights of Canadians with disabilities everywhere across the country and one that is consistent with Canada's long-standing commitment to equality, inclusion, and full participation in Canadian society for persons with disabilities. We are very encouraged with the progress to date.

Our government takes inclusiveness and accessibility for people with disabilities very seriously and when we see colleagues table legislative initiatives like Bill C-348, we can only applaud them.

We agree that we need better application processes for disability-related programs and services. That is why our government is already taking the necessary actions to that end. In addition to our work towards proposed accessibility legislation, I must point out that Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC, is already developing a department-wide strategy that will improve the quality of service to those with disabilities.

There are other reasons why Bill C-348, while well-intentioned, is not the right avenue to take. If passed, the bill would amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act to designate that department as the primary point of contact for access to programs and services related to disability assistance. In other words, the bill is intended to bring about a single application process for all disability-related benefits and programs from the Government of Canada, but it is not clear how it would expedite the process and indeed how it would improve the level of service across departments.

Based on our understanding of Bill C-348 as it currently stands, each department would still operate under its own authorities. If ESDC were to become the sole interlocutor for all disability-related programs, we would in fact be creating additional administration for the many programs not currently delivered by this department. Instead of improving the process, it would worsen it by adding another level.

Our government is firmly committed to improving its services for people with disabilities and we want to do this the right way. People in my riding voice that to me and I am sure people in ridings across this great land have said the same to their members of Parliament. We owe it to the Canadians living with a disability to, once and for all, make things easier for them.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Alex Nuttall Conservative Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to this bill today. I just wanted to compliment the member who brought this forward because of the issues facing Canadians who are living with disabilities and dealing with issues on a day-to-day basis that certainly I have not had to.

We need to ensure that we are doing everything we can as a government and as parliamentarians to ensure that we are making life easier. This bill will continue the work done under the previous Conservative government to centralize information across government and to reduce red tape as a whole. This is incredibly important and is something very close to home.

When I was about 10 years old, almost on this date, January 30, my mother was walking across the street, and she was struck by a vehicle. She was disabled, probably permanently, in many ways, with both mental and physical disabilities. She has healed in some ways since then.

I can tell members about the difficulties families and individuals face when they first start to figure out how to re-evaluate their situations when there are major life changes. It is not all people with disabilities. Some are born disabled, and some deal with similar types of occurrences. However, there are life-changing incidents that happen, whether it is to those who support persons with disabilities or others who come in and out of their lives, that affect the person's ability to move forward.

This bill would bring all the information the Government of Canada has to one place to ensure that all the forms a person needs to fill out are in one single place. It would do nothing but help those people who are on the ground.

Often we think that we come up with better ideas and solutions here in Parliament or as a government than what is requested on the street by people who are dealing with these issues, the people who are living with disabilities. As we have travelled across the country, whether we were in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, or other places, meeting with groups that are advocating on behalf of persons with disabilities, the number one thing we have heard is that it is too complicated. People have to go here for this and have to go there for that. Getting it all in one place at one time is a very difficult thing to do, specifically for people who are dealing with these types of situations. On top of that, a person may have a mental or physical disability to deal with, which can often get in the way of being able to accurately fill out the information or interpret the information and return it.

It is a very important matter to make the process as easy and simple as possible for those people who are dealing with disabilities, as well as their family members, support workers, etc. Red tape is a major issue for families and those who are dealing with a disability.

I have one personal story that aligns with this bill. It is something that affected my own family. When my brother was 18, he decided that he wanted to go to college and he wanted to work. He was in high school, going every day from 8:00 until 2:30 and then going to work every day, from 3:00 until 11:00, at Pizza Hut. Every day he would go to work and come home.

Where I am from, we respect those people. They are working hard to break the cycle of poverty. They are working hard to create a future, to create opportunity for themselves. The result was that the funding for my mother was cut off, because my brother was saving too much money to go to university or college. Therefore, we ended up in a situation where the cycle of poverty was essentially enforced by the same government that intended to end it. The intent was to provide support, not break it.

What we end up with in government are rules made, regulations created, and responses made off the cuff to situations that bureaucrats or government members see.

The result is that those regulations are enforced by those who work for the Government of Canada, the provincial governments, the school boards, or municipal governments, and in doing so, they are merely enforcing regulations or other things that are in place, which end up enforcing this cycle of poverty or allowing these injustices to continue. Therefore, it is very important that we get the obstacles out of the way and ensure as much ease as possible for those people who are seeking to improve their situation.

This bill would begin to make life a bit easier, making sure that all information can be found in one place, by creating a single, comprehensive application that accesses all programs for the federal government. My hope is that through this process we will be able to align not just all of the federal government application processes in one place, and it is not just about the rejig of Canada.ca and everything coming in through one portal, etc., but that we work with our provincial and municipal counterparts to ensure that there is a process for persons who are dealing with disabilities.

A lot of these funding formulas have overlaps between federal and provincial jurisdictions and the effects of one application process and result will end up affecting the ability of another government to proceed. Even within the federal government we have programs that depend on one another. If people are accepted for one program, then they can be accepted for another, like the disability tax credit and the savings plan. In order to be able to pull up the savings plan, one has to first be accepted for the disability tax credit.

This bill would continue the work of the previous government, which introduced a landmark registered disability savings plan that helps parents and grandparents of children with severe disabilities contribute to their child's financial security. The previous government also invested $218 million per year for labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to assist provinces in improving the employment situation of Canadians with disabilities.

It is important to remember that we need our federal government to continue to implement, hand in hand, with other jurisdictions to ensure that the taxpayer, as there is only one taxpayer, is able to access all programs equally. The previous government invested $30 million annually in the opportunities fund to help persons with disabilities prepare for and obtain employment. It supported caregivers by recognizing their enormous contribution through tax incentives.

Canadians with disabilities are already struggling because of the increased cost of living under the Liberal government. We have seen it already with the changes it made to the disability tax credit. We know that the cost of living is going to continue going up with the introduction and implementation of a carbon tax across this country. Those two items will have a debilitating effect on the ability of persons with disabilities, specifically those who are struggling in terms of financial means, to respond to and create a future that is full of opportunity.

I wanted to finish with some of the things I heard when we were out meeting with groups across the country.

Persons with disabilities are not looking for the government to provide everything for them. They are looking for the opportunity to succeed, the opportunity for employment, and the opportunity to access the programs that will help them reach the successes they are looking for. What we see here is a bill being introduced that will do just that. It will simplify. It will make it easier. It will make it a better process for persons with disabilities to be successful and to work with their government in the future. For that, I know we will support the bill, and I thank the member for introducing it.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, to most of the people in my community, and I am sure this is true for most Canadians, government is government. That is to say that in our daily lives, we do not distinguish between municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government. We know that research has actually borne this out, that when someone has had a bad experience or struggles to get a service to which they are entitled, that frustrating, confusing experience translates to “government is not helpful”.

What this means is people do not say “the provincial government and that department of” fill in the blank “is not helpful”, or “the federal government and Service Canada is not helpful”. What happens to citizens is that their negative experience gets attributed to all governments. That makes sense because people's lives are not divided into compartments or neat boxes along jurisdictional lines or departmental lines. Jurisdictions and departments are there to help governments deliver services, to meet mandates, as vehicles to implement policies and laws.

We also know that when someone is accessing service from the government, they do not distinguish between distinct points along a process and say things like, “my phone call was answered right away; that was good service”, and then say, “but the application process was horrific and complicated.” What they say is that the entire journey of the process was not good or was difficult or was confusing, regardless of whether along the way there was good and helpful service.

This is what the research and evidence tells us, which brings me to the topic we are discussing today, and that is, improving the journey for people living with a disability when accessing services and benefits provided by their government.

Currently, if someone went to the government website to apply for CPP disability, the person would be confronted with eight documents totalling 45 pages. Seventeen of those pages are a guide, so 28 pages need to be filled in to apply for Canada pension plan disability. That sounds like a pretty intense and thorough process. Putting aside the difficulties associated with understanding the questions on the application form, and that could be for another bill on another day on plain language in applications, the application sounds like the gold standard to me for determining someone's eligibility for disability benefits.

Bill C-348 would eliminate the onerous burden of multiple forms and duplication for Canadians with disabilities. Once an individual has completed an application and is determined to be eligible for disability benefits, we should not put them through a government application process over and over again to prove they have a disability.

Through this bill, my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh is trying to ensure that people with a disability get the benefits they are entitled to without the demoralizing, disrespectful, costly, time-consuming process of having to prove over and over again that they have a disability. This bill is brilliant in its simplicity and brilliant in the actual positive impact it would have on people's lives. Sometimes it really is the smallest of gestures that can make the biggest change in people's lives.

I do not want anyone to get me wrong. Parliamentarians and our government have a lot of work to do to address the high level of poverty among people living with disabilities. My hon. colleague reminded us of just that in her introductory speech on the bill. Some 5.3 million Canadians are living with some form of disability, and the poverty rate for persons living with a disability is high, much higher than that of the general population.

According to the DisAbled Women's Network, DAWN, 58% of women with disabilities are living on $10,000 or less a year. My colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby shared with this House what those high rates of poverty look like on the ground in our communities. Half of Canadians who are homeless have a disability, and half of those accessing food banks in Canada are also living with a disability.

That member dared us to imagine what if Canadians living with disabilities were accessing benefits they were eligible for, benefits that, as we have heard, often go unclaimed because the government process itself is a barrier. It is costly, complicated, confusing, and demoralizing, and a process as I have described that asks people to prove over and over again their disability and their worthiness for benefits.

My constituency office in Saskatoon West is a busy place, and as an opposition MP, people would assume we would be busy with town halls, consultations, and meeting with community members to change, improve, get rid of, or introduce new laws and policies to make lives better for people living in my community. They would be partly right. We are busy with those activities, but we are equally busy helping people in my community access benefits which they are eligible for. Daily we help people navigate the system for disability benefits because it is complicated and it does not work for the people the system is intended to help.

A common refrain of mine when hearing people's stories about trying to apply for disability benefits, and I am sure my staff are sick of hearing it, is, “but that does not make any sense”, and that is exactly how I say it: that does not make any sense. One community member came to my office for help because although she was deemed eligible for Canada pension plan disability benefits and was eligible for her long-term disability plan at work, she could not access the disability tax credit. That does not make any sense. People in my community should not have to go to their MP's office to gain access to benefits they are eligible for, and for sure, people should not have to resort to paying private consultants to help them complete a form. That really does not make any sense. This bill would ensure that individuals living with a disability would not have to incur the expense of their time and, most important, their money to prove their disability over and over again to different government departments.

During an earlier debate on this bill, the Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities mentioned the current initiatives the government is undertaking to improve the lives of Canadians living with disabilities, including the much-anticipated accessibility legislation. To that I say, that is awesome. The parliamentary secretary also stated that the government supports the spirit of the bill but will not be supporting Bill C-348. The Liberals' main reason for not supporting this bill, as I understand it and from my perspective, is that there is a misunderstanding of what the bill would do, so I thought I would use an illustration in the hopes that members opposite could find a way to support the bill and ultimately help those in their ridings who are living with disabilities access the disability benefits they are entitled to.

Filing income tax is, in a way, a one-stop application for a variety of government benefits. People provide the required information and, using a checkbox and their signature, they give various government programs an ability to assess which benefits they are eligible for. Their privacy is protected and it helps public servants with assessing their eligibility. This is exactly what Bill C-348 would do. It would cut through the government red tape and make the process more efficient. Having one application that includes the information needed to assess eligibility and a consent mechanism that allows various government programs to process the appropriate benefits I think makes a lot of sense.

In my constituency office we are doing that almost every day. In Saskatchewan, when persons are receiving the Canada pension plan disability benefits, they are also eligible for the equivalent provincial government program. Every now and then we need to remind our provincial counterparts of this policy, but generally it works well. It is often simply a matter of one government or one department speaking directly to another department to improve service for Canadians. This bill is not an either-or proposition. I believe the government can pursue the work to implement important accessibility legislation and support my colleague's bill. Both would have a positive impact and improve the lives of Canadians living with a disability.

By streamlining the process by having only one application, various government departments would be able to speak to other government departments and assess eligibility for benefits. This is both efficient and effective, which should be one of the big outcomes we strive for when administering government programs and benefits. I believe when it comes right down to it, all of us can agree that individuals living with disabilities should not have to prove or demonstrate their disability to the government more than once. Not only is that more compassionate and respectful, it just makes sense.

I want the people in my community to see their government, their Parliament, as helpful and fulfilling the mandate of making life better for all Canadians. Bill C-348 as tabled by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh would do just that.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

January 30th, 2018 / 6 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to rise and participate in the debate on behalf of the citizens we are elected to represent. This is an important bill and one I am very supportive of.

Sometimes I am asked by the folks back home what the point is in debating a bill that I support, which I believe is a fair question. From my perspective, I think it is always important for a member of Parliament to outline the reason he or she supports a bill. This debate can also provide an opportunity to pass on concerns or further suggestions for possible amendments down the road.

First, I will outline why I support the bill.

In 2016, I opened a shared constituency office with a B.C. provincial member of the legislative assembly in the community of Summerland, British Columbia. Some have suggested that this may be the only actively operated shared constituency office of its kind in the country. I am not certain if those claims have any validity or not; however, I do know that providing a one-stop shop, so to speak, in providing services to local citizens from both a provincial and federal standpoint has been extremely helpful for many in this community, much as this bill proposes. When we can harmonize, streamline, and by extension simply offer services to Canadians, there are benefits to those who need our help. I laud the principles that are found in the bill.

However, my shared constituency office has also shown me a further need for this bill. As we know, most provinces offer a disability program that is independent and separate from federal programs. Again, the purpose of this bill will help change that.

Given that I share this office with a provincial MLA, I also visit with and meet with some of the citizens who are struggling to obtain status for a provincial disability program. In many cases, were it not for the fact of the shared office, I might not have otherwise met with these citizens. To be candid, the struggles these citizens have in attempting to qualify for a disability program are very real. For many of these citizens, no doctor will see them. In fact, I would wager that if we contacted 20 different physicians for the sole purpose of assessing a disability status application in the area, all would say, “Sorry, we're not taking any new patients.” Of course, there are reasons for that. One is that many doctors indicated that they do not have time to fill out the onerous paperwork that is required. Again, this is something that this bill in the long term could help to improve.

While I support the bill, I do have some concerns. Recently, I encountered some very troubling actions by the Canada Revenue Agency to deny parents their Canadian child benefit support payments. This is almost always targeted at single mothers. One might wonder what this has to do with the debate, but as members may know, the Canada Revenue Agency has repeatedly promised to streamline and improve the process to obtain these benefits, and from a purely administrative standpoint, there have been some improvements. However, when the Canada Revenue Agency bureaucrats can deny one's benefits solely for reasons as trivial as an ex-spouse refusing to change their forwarding address from one's residence, there is a serious problem. This is made worse when CRA basically can say, “We think you are guilty. Prove us wrong.” When it does that, it sets the bar almost impossibly high to do so.

Members can see my point here. As much as any program can be made administratively more simple, which certainly is a good thing, if government bureaucrats still have discretionary power to arbitrarily make poor decisions that adversely impact citizens, then ultimately, we are no further ahead. Unfortunately, the only way that these things are sometimes resolved is through ministerial accountability, and we know that the current Prime Minister is not a fan of ministerial accountability. That works against the brand.

To summarize, this bill is needed and is very much a step in the right direction. I give credit to the member who sponsored it. I would also like to take a moment to say that it is always a helpful thing, as my residents have always said, to see their member stand up on issues that are important to them. It makes them feel part of this great democracy and rule of law that we have here in Canada, and so, kudos to the member.

When I reviewed the member's comments at second reading, I was struck by a particular statement, which I will quote directly from Hansard. The member stated, “I am well aware that private member's bills rarely make it into law, which is why I am determined to propose something modest and achievable.” I would agree and again recognize the member for resisting the temptation to further complicate this bill.

In my view, to be successful, the bill would require considerable flexibility given that it would require different levels of government to work together from different provinces toward a common goal. I believe the member has taken an approach that will create a path to improvement and in an area where improvement is certainly needed and wanted by constituents.

I would like to thank members of Parliament in this place for taking the time to hear my comments. I believe anything that we can do to help those with disabilities navigate the complexities of government to help reap the benefits they need is an important goal that we all share. Canadians send us here to examine the best ideas and it is nice when we can, once in a while, find something to rally around on behalf of our constituents.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in support of a bill that would provide better government services to people that need our help.

I am going to start off with a quote from my friend and constituent, A.J. Logan, who has this quote from Robert Hensel at the bottom of every email, “We, the one's who are challenged, need to be heard. To be seen not as a disability, but as a person who has and will continue to bloom. To be seen not only as a handicap, but as a well intact human being.”

That is how it should be but instead I am going to describe to members some of the experiences of people in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith who are deeply frustrated by their inability to access government services and to be served in the way that they should be served.

I heard from a young veteran with PTSD about dealing with Veterans Affairs. He said, “It's like being given a jigsaw puzzle and turning off the lights.” How inhumane, especially for a young man who has served our country.

My constituency office is one of many across the country being flooded with urgent requests for help from desperate constituents who cannot access basic government services. It is not because they do not qualify but because they simply cannot get through to government agencies or cannot access the necessary information or the forms that they require. Many feel as if they are being systematically stonewalled by the very agencies that supposedly exist to assist them.

My staff member Hilary Eastmure said to me, “CRA recently told me that instead of replying to my faxes within 5 days, I shouldn't expect to hear back from an agent for at least 15 days”. The wait time for even our constituency office to get a reply has tripled. That is due to the “service renewal” at CRA, which has caused major backlogs for its staff as the entire system has been changed and staff have been reduced because some offices were closed or consolidated.

It sounds like things are getting worse, not better, and that was not the expectation that Canadians had of the Liberal government.

Phone lines are jammed to the point where people are not even permitted to remain on hold or leave a message. Instead, my constituents are advised to call back later, which yields the same result no matter what time of day they try to phone. Insiders readily admit that some government agency phone lines are designed to send people in circles and eventually drop their call because the system is too overloaded to handle the number of calls pouring in at any given moment.

The agencies themselves are understaffed and under-resourced. Remaining staff are working hard and they are trying hard, but they are stretched too thin and they are scrambling to cover the ever-growing backlog. Wait times are stretching from days to weeks to months to years. I have lost track of the number of refugee parents who have sat in my office. Being asked to wait years for family reunification means some parents are missing watching their children grow up. It is inhumane.

Whether it is a simple callback or a much needed refund or an anxiously awaited application approval, Canadians are waiting longer and they are suffering undue stress and financial hardship as a result.

Canadians accustomed to reliable service are quickly becoming disillusioned with our system, which is getting increasingly difficult to navigate, and this is especially apparent in the shift to online platforms. People that do not have regular access to a computer or printer, or who are not computer literate, have waited on the phone for hours. For seniors especially to be told to go online and fill out a form just sends them over the brink. They are so frustrated. These are people with disabilities, seniors, low-income Canadians, exactly the people that often require the most support from our government agencies.

Here is a quote from an email received from Freeman Dryden in Nanaimo, “We have been stymied by either lack of confirmations or the reception of refusal letters requesting all sorts of duplicate or impossible-to-find information. We have been made to fill out innumerable forms, both on paper and online, and, to date, have had absolutely no contact with real people, nor any confirmation of the services we carefully applied for.... Surely, there is some way to cut through this nightmare bureaucratic jungle.”

We must do better. We must restore Canadians' faith in the systems set up to support them in their time of need. We must invest in those front-line government agencies and the workers to improve accessibility, service delivery, and accountability.

Federal legislation addresses the issue of disability across a number of different policy areas. For example, legislation that touches on disability has been enacted at the federal level in relation to employment, employment equity, skills training, education, income assistance, tax, health, transportation, housing, as well as recreation and culture—many different ways. The Canada pension plan disability, the disability tax credit, registered disability savings program, veterans disability pensions, and the opportunities fund all operate as stand-alone programs with distinct and separate application processes. This reality makes it cumbersome for people living with disabilities to access the federal supports that they may be entitled to, and they have paid for them already in many cases.

I heard in detail about this from another man in our riding, Terry Wiens. He has had polio and he is facing extraordinary costs associated with his disability. He writes:

I recently had to buy a new RoHo Hybrid cushion for my wheelchair ($820) as well as a hospital bed ($1800 mattress not included) so decided to make a one-time withdrawal of $10,000 from my RIF.

What I didn't realize was the ripple effects of that decision. That raised my annual income enough to eliminate me from the Guaranteed Income Security (all $18/month worth). I have no doubt that next year I will qualify again but in the meantime we are penalized for our independence. You can't really compare the income of an individual that is facing costs that the average person never sees. To add insult to injury losing that GIS also cost me my Premium Medical Services subsidy (another $420/year cost), my opportunity for a subsidized assisted living apartment (GIS qualification is required for the subsidized program), a cut back to my current rental subsidy and doubling (from $450 to $900 yearly) of my Pharmacare deductible. It is not the $18/month payment but the status of qualifying for GIS that is important.

I thank Terry Wiens of Nanaimo. It is a really long letter and it is powerfully written, and it is maddening.

In that context, my New Democrat colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh has proposed Bill C-348. It is so simple, straightforward, and so humane to say we are not going to make everyone applying for these programs prove again and again that they actually face a disability. We are going to have navigators that help these people understand and work through the programs, the same way that veterans are asking for the same kind of navigation services, the same way that veterans affairs in Australia has put in place ages ago.

For people to be supported by a strong social safety net, to be supported by a good government, and to be able to access the programs they have paid into, Bill C-348 is specifically designed to crack the nut on this problem. We believe that people living with disability should not have to demonstrate or prove their disability to the government more than once. Anything more is unnecessarily punitive and disrespectful. It will cost the government nothing to fix this problem, so let us please vote together for Bill C-348, for humanity, for justice, and for the respect that people living with disabilities in our communities deserve.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Resuming debate. Accordingly, I invite the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh for her closing five-minute right of reply.

The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had to write down my reply because I knew if I was reactionary, I would choke up and would not use my time wisely.

It is very intriguing to hear so many people having the same insights. Members can imagine how gutted I was to hear the government's response in our first hour of debate, officially letting me know that my private member's bill would not be supported. Sadly, Canadians have another opportunity to be cynical of the government with that letdown.

The intent of the bill is to allow a person living with a disability access to all four federal programs with one application, one process, one doctor's note. However, we want to see this rolled out. It takes a bureaucratic role as well, which I mentioned in my introductory speech. Of course this is practical.

The government's replies during debate have frankly been disturbing. We heard the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities congratulate me on being so determined to ensure that all Canadians, no matter their circumstances, have easy access to government programs and services. However, he summed it up that it would not be supported because it was not a practical solution.

I am well aware of the feedback given at consultations nationwide, in town halls and constituency offices, and at round tables and forums. That is why I am here. Simplifying access to federal programs for persons living with disabilities is why Bill C-348 was created. It is a shame that these constituents have not been heard in their ridings of the governing party.

At one point the parliamentary secretary went on to say that streamlining the application process for these programs under a single department or portal would not make it more accessible, faster, or fairer, but that it would create separation between the clients and the governing agencies providing the programs and related support measures for which the clients were applying. In other words, this would put some distance between the clients and the agencies' expertise.

Once again, it is a shame that people have not been listening. Apparently, the parliamentary secretary would have us believe that departmental staff lack the means by which to communicate with one another or that they lack the skills to create the proper structures through which interdepartmental communication can occur.

I have toured these offices and have observed that they are all equipped with computers and telephones and indeed do communicate with the Internet and email. They even have two shared languages with which to communicate officially.

The government's excuses for not supporting the bill are not plausible. If we claim to support the bill in principle but not the bill itself, as has been expressed by the governing party, I challenge all of us to then take up this principle and make it happen with the anticipated accessibility rights legislation that was announced for next year. Really, right now, with Bill C-348, we have a chance to tell the bureaucracy to work out a plan to achieve this goal, and we will support it in the process to that end.

People who have to book Handi-Transit two weeks in advance do find it onerous to apply separately for each program at the federal level. That is the reality. It is hard to imagine representatives would not have any knowledge of this problem and would vote against this bill. I can only give Canadians a heads up to watch how this vote plays out.

I sincerely hope this master application process that I have introduced is only being turned down because it will be included in some sweeping legislation introduced with the new accessibility bill. Canadians have to remain strong and vigilant on removing the barriers persons living with disabilities face. I am privileged to, again and again, bring forward the practical solutions that maximize the resources we have today.

Canada is capable of doing better with what we have now, if we are willing.

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Department of Employment and Social Development ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.