Madam Speaker, it is certainly an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-81.
I want to begin by telling a personal story in relation to this bill, and the effect that I think all parties are trying to have with regard to persons with disabilities and accessibility as a whole across this country.
When I was a young man, I was exposed to a person who was living with a disability, someone who was very close to me. My grandfather was blinded as a Royal Canadian engineer in World War II. He was an incredibly diligent and incredibly powerful person. He was able to cut his own lawn, chop wood and make wood fires. These are just memories I have from when I was a kid.
When I was 10 years old, the issue came even closer. My mother was hit by a car while crossing the road. She sustained a permanent head injury, as well as permanent injuries to her body which affected her ability to walk and to manoeuvre. She faced a couple of years on the couch.
Having grown up in those circumstances, I can say that I understand what the effects of disability are on those around the person, but I will never really understand the impact on the person himself or herself.
I clearly understand the cycle of poverty that exists in this country, which should not exist, in relation to persons who have disabilities and in many cases children who have parents with disabilities. It is a very important subject. It is incredibly important. It is one that, far too often, we leave to the side.
No matter what is being brought in relation to accessibility, in relation to persons with disabilities, everyone in this House is happy, content and joyous to see a move forward in the right direction. There is no question that all of us would want to see more movement on this subject, but I do have questions.
I was left with questions after speaking with ministerial staff, as well as the minister who was kind enough to reach out to me for a phone call this week. I have questions after the minister's speech, after the introduction of the bill, and after the tabling of the bill in June.
When will these new regulations actually come into effect? There is a six-year time frame on the funding, which would suggest that this entire process could take another six years, after the bill becomes law.
How much will this bill cost the federal coffers, as well as private businesses across this country?
What are the new standards? What will they actually look like? Will they reflect what is in Ontario, Nova Scotia, or British Columbia? Those three provinces, quite frankly, are leading the country. Why are we voting on this legislation without understanding what those new regulations and standards will be? How do we as parliamentarians effectively communicate what this bill actually means to Canadians if we do not know what those standards and regulations will be?
What is the $290 million for? Is there a breakdown of how that money will be spent? That is a question I asked last night at the briefing.
Do we have estimates or examples of the potential costs to the private sector? When asked last night, ministerial staff said that they do not. However, there are three provinces that have put incredible legislation in place, groundbreaking legislation, sometimes too quickly, sometimes too slowly, but there are examples we can learn from and that data has not been provided to members of this House.
What tangible effect will this have on day one? What does this change mean on day one, upon assent?
These are serious questions that we need answers to as we go through this process, as we go through the committee stage, and as we come back to the House, so that we, as members of this House, can provide correct, legitimate information, not just to the private sector companies that will be affected, not just to the government agencies that will be affected, but to Canadians who are living with disabilities, Canadians who worry about accessibility, and the family members of those individuals.
We need to be able to provide very current, structured information to ensure that this is not just another piece of legislation that may go somewhere some day.
I firmly believe, as a parliamentarian, that the opportunity to vote on this bill and to understand the standards would significantly improve my ability to do my job, but also improve the speed at which we affect Canadians with disabilities, we effect change in such a significant area.
In 2016-17, Global Affairs Canada spent $4.2 billion on foreign aid. I could run through all of it, and it ranges from Afghanistan at $232 million right down to Colombia at $66 million. However, when I asked the question to the Library of Parliament about how much money we spend each and every year on accessibility and Canadians with disabilities, across departments because there is the department but there is also money spent in other areas on this specific item, I could not be given an exact answer.
Bill C-81 proposes we spend $290 million. There would also be a bump-up in funding for the enabling accessibility fund, but the $290 million would not go directly to helping Canadians with disabilities. It would go to things like audits to figure out perhaps what changes need to be made in government buildings. Perhaps it would go to consultants to say which buildings we are going to look at on a go-forward basis versus those that we are going to retrofit. We still do not have a breakdown of where these dollars would actually end up. We know they would end up hiring more public servants, and specifically those who are living with disabilities. I do not think anybody in this House would ever say anything negative about hiring somebody with a disability and being able to bring that culture within the arms of government.
However, the $290 million does not even scratch the surface of what it will cost the government and the taxpayers and the federally regulated private sector to catch up to these new standards. I am not saying it is too expensive to do; I do not want to be misinterpreted here. I am saying that in order to effectively fulfill what we are trying to achieve, which is bettering life for persons with disabilities, we need to be able to eloquently, clearly and with clarity explain what these changes would mean to individuals, to businesses and to government. We know how much we spend on foreign aid, and I hope we can find out how much we are spending on Canadians with disabilities. We know how much we are willing to spend abroad on non-Canadian citizens. I hope we can find out how much we spend on some of Canada's most at risk.
As many of us know, this legislation was introduced in June 2018, two and a half years after the government took power. It is only after three cabinet shuffles that we finally get to the place where we are now. I do not blame the minister for that. Certainly some of those circumstances were challenging for the government. Why has it taken so long for legislation to finally be introduced? The first mandate letter called for this work to begin in November 2015. In fact, the Liberal platform called for this work to happen. Each mandate letter since has called on the minister to be responsible to continue the consultation process and to produce legislation. Now we have this bill in front of us, and we can know and see that all it does is actually call for more consultation and for the regulatory process changes to begin being looked at. It would not actually bring those changes to Canadians.
Therefore, after three years, after a price tag of $290 million, after saying we are going to hire 5,000 new public servants, we still do not know what the tangible effect on Canadians living with disabilities would be, what effect it would have when they are in a Service Canada building, what effect it would have when they are dealing with perhaps transportation at a local airport. It is still not here three years on. How could this be considered sufficient? When the minister said it has been slow, she is correct. It has actually been non-existent. There is $290 million more, and we still do not have those tangible results.
I will give an example of how quickly things get done when the will exists within the government. This is not a challenge to the minister but rather to the government as a whole.
During the 2008 election, the Conservative Party, under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, promised it would introduce the registered disability savings plan, RDSP. That election was in October. By December of that exact same year, the RDSP was introduced and available for Canadians to take advantage of, so 60 days or two months later. Here we are three years later without a single, standard or regulatory change to actually be able to point to. That monumental change under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper took under three months. By the time this bill passes, it will have taken three years. An important thing to remember is that this legislation will not change anything once it becomes law in terms of regulation and standards; rather, it asks that the government find out what regulations and standards it would like to produce. On top of the three years it took to get to this point, Canadians might have to wait another six years before these new regulations take effect, this with a $290-million consultation taking place.
When you take a wider look over the past three years at what the government has done on this file, so far it is more harm than good: the clawback of the DTC and RDSP; the ability for Canadians to access those tax savings vehicles; the challenges that lay ahead for Canadians living with disabilities to be able to save, to be able to have a secure financial future; and, for those who no longer qualified for the disability tax credit, to have their RDSP perhaps clawed back. This is the legacy that we have seen from the government since 2015, yet in every single mandate letter the Prime Minister has called for continued consultation toward crafting this legislation. What we did not realize is the crafting of the legislation would be more consultation. We now have this legislation and $290 million and it is more consultation. How does evermore consultation help Canadians with disabilities today? I do not think we should ever stop consulting. However, at some point there needs to be a tangible standard change, there needs to be a tangible regulatory change that we can hang our hat on, that we can say, “This is what we are doing to improve the lives of Canadians who are living with disabilities to improve accessibility across this country.”
This legislation was touted by the government as the most historic piece of legislation for Canadians with disabilities since Confederation. However, I have not been told one single tangible change that this bill brings into effect. We all around this House, from every party, want to help Canadians living with disabilities. There is support from every corner of this institution for legislation that helps Canadians with disabilities. However, all this legislation represents is going away and creating a plan. What has the government been doing on this file for the last three years if it has to spend $290 million to create a plan?
The previous government introduced the RDSP, which quickly gave Canadians with disabilities better financial security. It was established in 2008, and 105,000 of these accounts were set up. Over $1 billion has been added to the savings of Canadians with disabilities.
In the last year alone, we have had two Conservative members of Parliament and a New Democrat introduce private members' bills aimed at easing the lives of Canadians living with disabilities, and accessibility to government programs.
We have seen the member for Carleton introduce legislation, trying to secure the financial future. Not just the financial future in terms of savings through government programs, but also the financial future of Canadians living with disabilities to be able to grow into the private sector without being hurt or pushed aside by the existing boxes in government programming. We have seen a member from Calgary bring forward a bill with regard to Canadians living with rare diseases. We have seen a bill come forward in terms of accessibility to Canadian websites for those living with disabilities.
We have seen these pieces come forward from all around the House, and this goes to show that we all want to see movement. The problem is that this bill is not movement. This bill is a plan to one day, potentially, maybe, hopefully get to movement.
The government could not build an ice rink on time and on budget. How can we expect it to properly manage this file? Why is it that we as parliamentarians, after we pass this bill, and the regulations and standards have then gone out, sought after, drafted, taking three, five or six years, do not have the ability to see them again?
The request through this bill is that we give a blank cheque in terms of the standards and regulations. I know that all around this House we want to do everything that we can to make lives easier, to break some of the cycles that affect persons with disabilities in regard to poverty and accessibility.
However, we must do this responsibly. We must do this working with private sector. We must do this working with government institutions. We must do this working with persons with disabilities, setting a timeline, setting measurables in place so they understand what effect this is going to have on their lives. We must ensure, going forward, that each and every interaction, especially with a federal government institution or at a federal government building, is one that is with respect and dignity.
That is what everybody expects in the House of Commons of our government. It is what everybody in the House of Commons expects of our private sector. We must be responsible with our conduct and how we move forward at this point.
I still have major concerns with how we end up in a process where we say “Yes” as a Parliament but have no idea what the effects of the bill will be. It is incredible.
As we look forward to the next election, I would like nothing more than to go to Canadians and say, “This is what we are spending your money on, and these are the tangible effects it is going to have on persons with disabilities.” I would like nothing more than to call my own mother and say, “These are the things we are doing to make life easier for people like you.” I would like nothing more than that. However, I do not know what we are doing, because it is not in the bill.
I want to end today, perhaps being a bit negative at times in this speech. However, at the same time, it is important that we hold our government to account, and it is important to this process that we actually get the best piece of legislation we can, moving forward.
To the minister, I want to say, “Thank you. I look forward to working with you. I certainly appreciate you reaching out to me earlier this week.”