Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to be here just before question period, when members from all parties will certainly be in complete opposite positions on issues and when it tends to be a fairly feisty time. Instead, at this moment in time, we are talking about something that, in many ways, we agree on. It is that rare opportunity to be discussing an issue on which we may have different approaches, but the result we are shooting for is the same.
First, it is really important to make clear that this legislation will pass. It has the support of members on all sides of this House. We may have ideas on how we want the legislation to be constructed or on ways it can be improved to have more impact for the people who need it, but we all agree that it is a step forward. Certainly the stakeholders from across the country agree that this legislation is a step forward.
As my colleague previously noted, it is a foregone conclusion that this legislation will pass, so today we are having a conversation about it. We are able to use the opportunity we have, as members of Parliament elected by the people of Canada to debate issues in this House, to talk about how the process could be improved or about our vision of where this legislation would have an impact.
To that end, I want to start with what has worked in this process. I want to commend, first of all, the parties that have been involved in this process, the stakeholders and Canadians with disabilities, for their ability to come together to find common ground. So often the enemy of progress in this country is our inability to come together. We wind up with a cacophony of ideas and a lot of noise from different people advocating for perhaps the same end but through different means. It is very confusing for policy-makers, regardless of political stripe, making decisions in that environment.
We have seen alliances formed in this process. Alliances of organizations with varying interests have come together and advocated strongly on their common ground. These include organizations like FALA and the AODA. David Lepofsky, who has been a tireless champion, Bill Adair, who I know is here today listening to the debate, and so many others their alliances represent have been part of this process. In finding that common ground, we find ourselves here today in a conversation, with all parties in agreement.
I want to talk a bit about why this is important to me personally. By now I think everyone in this House knows that I have a son with autism. Jaden is now 23 years old, and in many ways, he is like a three-year-old or four-year-old in a 23-year-old's body. He is non-verbal, but he has incredible skills. If given the opportunity, he has something incredibly meaningful to offer to our society and our country.
As I am telling this story, the best example I can give in terms of perception is from an interview we did six years ago with Steve Paikin, on The Agenda. We did this interview with Jaden and his sister Jenae, who was 13 at the time. Jenae, as a 13-year-old, was asked by Steve, who knows both Jaden and Jenae and has a real interest in helping them tell their story, if she ever wished that Jaden was “normal”, like every other kid. Jenae, as a 13-year-old, without hesitation, responded, “Well, honestly, since Jaden was diagnosed with autism before I was born, I don't exactly know what a normal brother is like, so Jaden kind of is my normal.”
Steve pressed her a little bit and asked if she liked him just the way he was. It was kind of a softball question. We do not see too many of those in this House. Without skipping a beat, her answer was that if Jaden did not have autism or was cured or something, we would miss the Jaden we have now. This is coming from a 13-year-old. I tell this story in a lot of my presentations across the country to university students and basically anyone who will listen.
What I learned from that interview, as I reflected on it over the years of telling the story multiple times, is the fact that it made me think about my own normal and maybe a little about Jenae's normal, in the sense that Jenae never really had a choice. She was born into the family. She is three and a half years younger than Jaden.
However, the school they went to, which is a kindergarten to grade 12 school, had a choice. That school's choice was to include Jaden in a regular classroom with a full-time aide.
When we made the choice to put Jaden in that school, and when we made the choice to push for him to have a full-time aide, we were advocating for Jaden. We thought that it would be better for Jaden. We did not know Jaden the 23-year-old. We knew Jaden the five-year-old at the time. We thought that was the best route for him in his schooling.
Over the years, we started hearing from students who were in Jaden's classroom. They would tell us that their lives were immeasurably better because they got to know Jaden. It made them think differently about the world.
I am about to turn 50 next week. My normal for 50 years, when I think about it, if people can imagine a video game, is a circle that surrounds me as far as I can see. My normal is basically that circle following me around for 50 years. In this building, it would be all the people I can see. Sometimes we have a TV screen come into that circle. Sometimes we have a computer monitor that exposes us to something from outside the circle, but our normal really is what we are surrounded by.
If we are not including people like Jaden in that circle, in our normal as we go through life, our lives are going to be impacted in very negative ways. As we think about this legislation, we should think about the importance of creating an environment in which all Canadians can be included in every aspect of our society. I encourage us all to think about our lives in terms of that circle and to think about the strengths we have. If our circle only includes people who are exactly the same as us, who have the same strengths we have, then our strengths are not really even strengths, because everyone has the same strength. If our circle includes only people who have the same weaknesses we have, our weaknesses are going to be more profound, because there is nobody in that circle with skills and abilities to counter those weaknesses.
What Jaden brings to the table is a different way of thinking. So many Canadians have been excluded from our workplaces, our schools and all the environments in which we live. What we have missed are people who have incredible skills and abilities, because we have not gone down the road of creating the circumstances and opportunities to include them. Our society is less because of those decisions we have made.
Today, as we have this conversation, we have the opportunity to right that wrong. We see and hear from members across this House who recognize that opportunity.
I know that my time is running short, so I will wrap up for now with this. I have been part of this House for 13 years. Rare is the opportunity to come together with colleagues from all parties on something as important as this. I cannot wait to stand in this House with my colleagues from all parties to support this legislation and take this meaningful step forward.