Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-81. Those of us who are members of the HUMA committee worked extremely hard to come up with a bill that we thought would address the needs of disabled Canadians across the country.
As I said at the outset, I look at this bill as a missed opportunity. I think the minister had the best intentions. This is something she was passionate about and something she wanted to achieve. I assume that the minister is also extremely disappointed with what is missing from Bill C-81.
Earlier in the debate, she talked about all the consultations the government had with stakeholders over the last couple of years. What was the point of having consultations if the Liberals did not follow through on what the stakeholders were telling them? That is extremely clear from the amendments that were put forward by members of the committee. As has been said several times today, there were more than 250 amendments put forward, almost an equal number from every party, which I think highlights some of the glaring holes in this legislation. The government can do all the consultation in the world, but if it is not going to follow through in good faith with its stakeholders, then really, what is the point?
I have letters from dozens of stakeholders who participated at committee as witnesses or who provided submissions to the study. If the government is going to consult, why would it not accept a single one of the amendments that were so important to those stakeholders? When we have what is very rare, and my colleague joked about it, the Conservatives, the NDP and the Green Party all in agreement on where a piece of legislation should go, I think the government should embrace that moment. Absolutely, this piece of legislation is historic, because we had this entire side of the House all on the same page. However, where it is not historic is in what it would achieve, because it simply would not achieve anything. That is the frustrating part.
When we go back to our constituents and tell them that we appreciate the Liberal government bringing forward Bill C-81, they will ask what it will do for them as disabled Canadians. Unfortunately, my answer is going to be that it will get royal assent and the changes will be actually nothing. There is no accountability in this legislation whatsoever that would hold the government to do anything.
Today some of my Liberal colleagues, and the minister herself, said that all of the federally regulated businesses and federal departments would have to come up with one standard in the first two years. A building could put in an accessibility ramp, and it would have met its obligation under Bill C-81. As the minister said, one bank branch could put in a new ATM that was accessible for people with vision disabilities or hearing problems, and it would have done its part under Bill C-81. That is not what our stakeholders and disabled Canadians were expecting from this legislation. It falls well short of the promises that were made by the current government.
I want to talk about four or five glaring problems that came up with respect to Bill C-81 through our committee study. I am going to talk about the two-tiered system and the exemptions found throughout this legislation. We heard almost unanimously from our stakeholders that this is not something they want to see in this legislation.
What I mean by a two-tiered system is that government departments could apply for an exemption. Therefore, government departments would not be obliged to meet the standards in Bill C-81. Of course, there are none. There are no standards. There are no regulations. There are no benchmarks. Private sector businesses that are regulated by the federal government would have to abide by whatever standards were developed, whenever they were developed, but federal government departments could ask for an exemption. They would not have to meet those standards.
If we are supposed to have this historic legislation that would change the lives of disabled Canadians, then everyone should have to live by those standards. If anyone should, it should be the Government of Canada and the departments of the federal government. If anyone should not be given an exemption, it is the federal Government of Canada. If anything, this legislation goes in the wrong direction.
The second thing I am going to touch on today is standards, or the lack thereof. Again, it was unanimous from those who appeared at committee that the lack of any kind of standards in this legislation was disheartening. The minister said that they did not want to put standards in there because things change, and they wanted this to be fluid. Absolutely, technology changes. Accessibility innovations change, and that is outstanding. However, how are we supposed to measure the success of any legislation if we do not have a baseline, somewhere to start? If the starting point is to meet just one standard, any standard, a standard we make up ourselves in the first two years, how is that supposed to give any credibility to this legislation? Why did the stakeholders who came to Ottawa to appear at committee or who sent in their submissions bother? That is not what this is about.
Obviously, we are going to have different points of view and we are going to have disagreements, but coming up with standards that are going to improve the lives of disabled Canadians is something we all should be able to agree on. It was frustrating to see at committee, when our amendments were brought up one after another, the Liberal members vote against them each and every time. During several moments at the committee meetings, when they turned down or voted against amendments, I could not understand why. I did not see any political gain. I did not see any reason they would not want to include some of the amendments or even the vocabulary in the legislation.
Another issue that came up time and again was timelines to implement any standards or even any of the organizations that would be overseeing this legislation. The one thing the legislation would do is start four new levels of bureaucracy: CASDO, an officer of accountability, a commissioner and people in all these different levels of government who really would not have any jobs or anything they were supposed to do.
The bill would not even put in a timeline, which is another amendment we asked for, to at least ensure that the CASDO board was in place within six months of this legislation receiving royal assent. The Liberals could not even agree to that. They did not even want to have a timeline for when the organization that would be overseeing this legislation would be in place. I do not understand the lack of wanting to have some accountability as part of this legislation.
What concerns me is the coming into force clause in the bill. After 10 years, if nothing was done, the bill would become moot. We would announce that this legislation had royal assent. We would have an amazing photo op with Canadians with disabilities and members of the Liberal government, and then that would be the end of it. I truly hope that this will not be the case, that the Liberal members of the committee and the minister genuinely want to make change.
I want to give the minister the benefit of the doubt. She is someone I have a great deal of respect for, but I feel that, unfortunately, knowing the integrity and character she possesses, that her hands were severely tied when it came to implementing some of the thing she wanted from the bill. Unfortunately, she was unable to get them.
We have heard from Liberals that the bill would have teeth and that they listened to stakeholders. I want to take a few minutes to talk about some of the stakeholders we heard from at committee who communicated with us afterward. They talked about their concerns about the inability to pass any of the amendments to add structure or accountability to the bill. We heard from countless witnesses. Almost every single witness we heard from raised issues with the bill.
I have to admit I was actually quite surprised with the comments from some of the witnesses. They were not holding back. They were quite clear and quite aggressive in their criticism of Bill C-81. They put a lot of work into providing feedback to the Liberal government and to the minister on what they wanted to see and what would work for disabled Canadians, and to see very little, if anything, of their feedback in the bill obviously frustrated them as much as it did members of the committee.
For example, Patrick Falconer from Barrier Free Manitoba, who has done a lot of this work in Manitoba previously, commented:
While representing a commendable effort with honourable intentions, we are concerned the bill is deeply flawed. Based on our decade of experience and our careful review, BFM strongly supports the recommendations for significant amendments...[to this bill].
Mr. Falconer was talking about the fact the bill fails to outline any timelines for the implementation of new accessibility measures. There is use of permissive language, which does not require the government to actually act on any of the regulations put in place, and it does not hold the government to account to do anything that improves the lives of Canadians with disabilities. That is not right. It is not what this was intended to be, and it is certainly not the impression the Liberal government was giving to Canadians who participated in this process.
I would also like to speak about Professor Michael Prince, who is a professor of social policy in the Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria, who said:
There are also areas of concern with this bill...these include the absence of [any] measurable targets with specific deadlines; the permissive language in the bill in many sections; the extent of exemptions; the lack of a disability lens; the absence of duties on the Government of Canada for promoting accessibility on the 600-plus first nation communities across the country; the status of ASL and LSQ and rights to communication; the complex model of federal bodies involved in enforcement and adjudication; and, the status of the proposed chief accessibility officer as a Governor in Council appointee rather than an officer of Parliament.
He goes on to say:
This bill, to me, with respect, reflects that it was written in the bubble of Ottawa. This is written from the point of view of traditional management focus, organizational focus. This is not people-centred. This is about departments making sure that in the negotiations and drafting of this bill, exemptions and deals were cut.
This is basically a machinery-of-government bill. There's not much social policy or public policy in this bill. This should be about people front and centre. I get that we have to have administrative enforcement and compliance, and on that note I'd like to see a lot more about incentives and education.
That is a very harsh assessment of Bill C-81, and it comes from a professor at the University of Victoria who is an expert on this issue and has participated in the stakeholder communications and alleged consultation that happened as part of developing Bill C-81.
Mr. Speaker, you may be wondering what some of these egregious amendments were that we asked for, that the Liberal Party rejected. I want to go through a couple, just to give Canadians who are listening today perspective. We were not asking for the moon, we were asking for very common-sense amendments brought forward specifically by our stakeholders.
One of those amendments was to ensure the head office of the new Canadian accessibility standards development organization, CASDO, was accessible and without barriers. That would make sense. If anywhere in Canada should be accessible and barrier free, it would be the head office of CASDO, the organization that would be overseeing this legislation, that would develop and enforce the standards of accessible buildings and offices of the federal government and private sector businesses regulated by the federal government. Shockingly, the Liberals voted against it, so we cannot even have standards on the office of CASDO.
We also tried to remove permissive language from the bill that would require the power granted to the government and other bodies to make and enforce accessible requirements to be used. The Liberals also voted against those amendments.
Jewelles Smith from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities commented that:
What we would like to see is that CASDO be responsible for developing the regulations and that the reporting of any complaints go through one organization.
Frank Folino and James Roots from the Canadian Association of the Deaf added that:
Bill C-81 is currently a bit confusing in terms of where these complaints go. Some complaints may go directly to CRTC, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, CTA or then, fourth, to the accessibility commissioner officer.
Nearly every witness echoed those comments.
We put forward amendments to try and fix this, because we heard from some of the bureaucrats that the complaint or concern may come to one of these various other departments. They said that it may come in this door or that door, but not to worry, they knew it was confusing, and would make sure that concern or complaint got to the right person. Problem solved.
However, to a person with disabilities, whatever that disability may be, we need to make that as easy as possible. I would argue that it should be as easy as possible for every single Canadian to access a federal government department but certainly one that is specifically developed for one's needs, but that was also voted against. When we are trying to make navigating the proposed accessibility act and Bill C-81 as easy as possible, the Liberal members on the committee could not even find their way to accept that.
We mentioned David Lepofsky today who is with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. I really want to put in his comment here today. He said:
The bill that is now before you is very strong on good intentions but very weak on implementation and enforcement...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.
Mr. Lepofsky was speaking for Canadians across the country asking us as parliamentarians to not get cold feet. This is an opportunity to make some substantial, historic change for Canadians with disabilities, and we failed.
I have to share a little of the frustration on this, as we will be voting in support of Bill C-81. For those organizations, those stakeholders listening today, the reason we are voting in support of Bill C-81 is certainly not because we agree with it. In fact, I have outlined today in my speech the many reasons why we are not. We heard from the stakeholders time and time again of their disappointment. but their comments were always that, although it fell well short of what they wanted, it was a start, and I will grant them that, it is a start.
I know they were expecting much more from the minister, the Liberal government and from us as members of that committee. Therefore, my promise to those Canadians in the disabilities community across the country is that when a Conservative government comes into power, we will do everything we can to address the shortcomings of Bill C-81. I know how much work they have put into this proposed legislation. I know how much time and effort they put in working with us on the committee. I know what their vision was for Bill C-81. Unfortunately, this falls short. We will not make that same mistake in 2019.