Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Senate amendments with regard to a barrier-free Canada and this legislation, Bill C-81.
As a member of the HUMA committee, I worked very hard with my colleagues from all parties to see this legislation through. I know there has been lots of discussion tonight about why there are so many Conservatives and members of the NDP and the Green Party speaking to this legislation. Now we have had a Liberal get up to speak about it. Many of us worked so hard on this legislation and we all want an opportunity to speak to it and the amendments put forward.
As I said several times today, this was a unique piece of legislation when it came through the committee. When I say it was unique, I mean that the members of the opposition parties, the Greens, Conservatives and NDP, almost tabled identical amendments. There were more than 60, almost 70, amendments that were almost identical word for word. It is pretty rare, I would say, when three opposition parties are so in sync with feedback from stakeholders. We absolutely support the intent of Bill C-81 and have all voted in support of it through the process.
Our opportunity here today is to talk about and shed light on some of the shortcomings of this legislation and highlight our hope that whomever is in government after the election this fall, they will work hard to address some of these gaps in Bill C-81 to try to strengthen the bill and meet some of the concerns that are still out there and that have been raised by our stakeholders, and certainly by members on the opposition benches.
I do have to admit that I am pleased that the minister has said she will support the more than 10 amendments brought forward by the Senate. I think these do go a long way toward addressing some of the key concerns raised by stakeholders during the discussion and debate at committee stage. However, I am a little frustrated that although we are supportive of Bill C-81, there are a lot of gaps and shortcomings in it as a result of the Liberal members on that committee not supporting our amendments. I think they supported three that dealt with grammatical changes to the legislation, and not really anything definitive or of any substance. However, the Senate's coming forward with these amendments, I think, is certainly a step in the right direction.
What makes me proud of the opportunity to speak on Bill C-81 is that it certainly continues the legacy of one of my favourite politicians, our former finance minister Jim Flaherty. He left a lasting legacy in the House and I think almost all members in this Parliament would agree. Mr. Flaherty brought forward the registered disabilities savings plan and the enabling accessibility fund. They are two key pillars and historic policies that have made significant differences for people across the country with disabilities. In fact, the minister of accessibility said at committee that these policies were a game-changer for Canadians with disabilities, who are able to live much easier lives as a result of these programs. Certainly, in saying that I think some of the policies and steps in Bill C-81 are going to build on that legacy, which is one of the reasons why the Conservative Party will be supporting Bill C-81, as we have through every step of this process.
I had the opportunity earlier this year to travel to Israel with a group of disabled Canadians from Ontario on a trip that was organized by Reena and March of Dimes. This was a unique experience for me and some of my colleagues. We have all had experience working with people with disabilities and critical organizations in our ridings, but this was the first time I have had an opportunity to spend an extended period of time with the people from these groups, Reena and March of Dimes, on such a long trip from Toronto to Israel and then while touring Israel. We saw how behind we are in Canada in removing barriers for people with disabilities. The whole idea of this trip was to see what Israel is doing to address some of their issues. It really was eye-opening to see what legislation and policy, and individual businesses, NGOs and charitable groups are doing to address their issues.
One facility that we toured was almost like a small town specifically for people with disabilities, where they had started small businesses that people with disabilities were able to operate and raise money. This reminds me of my colleague from Carleton and his opportunities bill, which he tried to put through earlier in this Parliament. His bill would have addressed something similar.
One of the examples in this community was a wine-making facility. The grapes were brought in and crushed to make the wine. Olives were brought into another area to make olive oil. The grinder was rejigged to make it accessible for people in wheelchairs. We were all given an opportunity to try it, and it was not easy. It was a challenge for us.
It just goes to show that when we allow groups and organizations that opportunity and ingenuity to really take things on themselves, and also put policies in place that encourage the removal of those barriers, it gets to the essence of Bill C-81.
I am also proud to say that on that trip I made some lifelong friends, people like YaYa and Joshua. If Joshua is watching tonight, I have not forgotten his invitation to tour his apartment in Toronto. I am really looking forward to doing that later this summer.
To see the excitement in the eyes of these Canadians as they toured Israel and saw some of the opportunities that are available there for people with disabilities but are not available to them here in Canada really showcased the fact that we have some work to do here in Canada. I am hoping that Bill C-81 will take us in that direction.
I do want to stress the fact that we do support Bill C-81, but we do want to take the opportunity in these discussions tonight to highlight some of the concerns that stakeholders have raised about the bill.
The first and almost unanimous one from stakeholders was the lack of any timelines within Bill C-81. I am happy to see that in one of the amendments by the Senate, they have asked that Canada be barrier-free by 2040.
As opposition members, we put forward an amendment asking for Canada to be barrier-free by 2021. The Liberals voted against that amendment, saying that having deadlines in the legislation as a result of these groups would not help federal departments be proactive in removing barriers until the very last minute.
I would argue that if we do not have a deadline, if we do not have metrics involved to measure success, how are we going to know if we are achieving anything? To see that timeline of 2040 in the Senate amendment is critical. I am pleased to see that the Senate paid attention to the amendments that we brought forward at committee, and from stakeholders.
I am going to talk about three or four amendments out of the more than 60 that were brought forward. Again, these came directly from stakeholders, directly from witnesses that provided critical testimony at committee.
The first one is critical. The minister and my colleagues across the way in the Liberal government have talked about a no wrong door policy. I appreciate what they are trying to say and their nice language. However, stakeholders are arguing that they do not want no wrong door; they want the right door. They want one door.
The issue here is that when people with disabilities want to file a complaint and have an issue with a federal department or a regulation that has been imposed, they may be confused about where to go. We certainly heard that from stakeholders.
If I am a Canadian with a disability and have an issue, I could go to the accessibility commissioner, the CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency, or the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board. The idea that the Liberals have put forward is that if people go to the wrong door, they will be redirected to the right door and that that door will help them with their concern or complaint, or their issue with the regulation.
My concern with having all of these different bureaucracies deal with a complaint is there would be very little, if any, consistency on how the complaint would be handled. If I go to the accessibility commissioner, would my concern or complaint be dealt with in one manner and if I go to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, would that complaint be dealt with in a different manner? If the CRTC puts forward one regulation or guideline on a barrier, would that be the same regulation or guideline as the CTA would put forward?
I will argue, and I think anybody who has dealt with the bureaucracy in government knows, that the more cooks in the kitchen, the more unlikely there will be any consistency in that recipe. Therefore, I am hopeful that, through the discussions we have had in these debates today and going forward, this will be one element of Bill C-81 that my colleagues across the way, or whoever is in government after October 21, will work hard to try and address.
This is not an amendment that was just raised by the Conservative, NDP and Green members who participated in the debate on this issue at committee. It was brought forward by just about every single stakeholder who provided testimony at committee.
I want to take a brief minute to read a quote directly about this issue. It is from a person who has been mentioned many times today, David Lepofsky. He is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and is renowned in Ontario for his advocacy and work for people with disabilities. Ironically, he was also on our trip to Israel. The man is an unbelievable resource when it comes to Israeli history. I certainly enjoyed riding on the bus with him and picking his brain.
His comment on this is:
The federal government response to date has been inadequate. It simply said, “We'll have a policy that there will be no wrong door. Whichever agency you go to, no matter how confusing it is to figure it out—and believe me, it is confusing—if you go in the wrong door, we'll send you to the right door. Problem solved.” No, it isn't, because all that does is fix the problem of which door you go in. It does not solve the substantial problem that happens once you're inside that door. It means we have to lobby four agencies to get them up to the necessary level of expertise. It means we have to learn four different sets of procedures, because they may all use different procedures once you get inside the door. It means we have to go to agencies that may not have any expertise in disability and accessibility.
Further on he comments:
The fact is simply that the design of this bill, splintering among these agencies, serves only two interests: the bureaucracies that want to preserve their turf and those obligated organizations that would rather this law have weaker standards, slower implementation and weaker enforcement. That is not consistent with the federal government's commendable motivations and intentions under this legislation.
That is a direct quote from Mr. Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, one of the foremost experts in Canada. He is talking about Bill C-81, the barrier-free Canada act, and his concerns with this key part of the legislation.
We are not raising this issue to try and delay this process. We are discussing these issues tonight to try to ensure we find ways in the future to strengthen this bill.
The next issue I want to raise which also was not addressed in the amendments that were brought forward by the Senate but was certainly a key amendment we brought forward at committee is the fact this legislation allows exemptions for different federal departments. We have heard tonight, and my colleague in his speech talked about it, that the government wants to ensure that every government department meets these regulations and standards.
The first problem with that is there are no regulations and standards in this legislation. It is very weak when it comes to any sort of metric to measure accountability or success. It also allows any federal government department, and this relates to only federally regulated entities, to request an exemption. Federal government departments would not have consistency across the board on how they implement whatever regulations or standards a future government imposes.
In my opinion, the federal government should be the one that is taking the lead and setting the example. Our hope in the committee, when we discussed this, was that the federal government would pass Bill C-81 which would send a message to the private sector and other entities across Canada that the federal government is taking this on and that they should be doing much the same.
What kind of message does it send to our stakeholders who took a lot of time out of their busy schedules to participate in this process? It sends the message that this is historic legislation but we are not going to ensure that it is measured the same across the government. Various departments, for whatever reason they bring forward, can request an exemption that could be granted by the minister. This sets a very poor example. We put forward amendments at committee to remove the ability for federal departments to request an exemption and those amendments were denied.
I am hoping we have a third chance. That was also discussed at the Senate but was not included in its amendments. I am hoping that we also have another opportunity in the future to address the exemptions. If we really want to talk about legislation that is historic and is a game-changer for Canadians with disabilities, we have to ensure that the federal government, and every department within that government, meets those standards. We cannot have a different playing field across the federal government. It again adds to that concern when it comes to the four different departments and those four different levels of bureaucracy that are going to be handling concerns and complaints.
The other issue I want to address as part of the discussion is the standards or the lack thereof. There are unknown timelines, no metrics to measure success and no accountability. We talked in committee about those things being added in the future.
My message today for my colleagues in this House is let us not forget that part of this bill. We do not want to pass this bill, have it get royal assent and then have it sit on a shelf somewhere. There is a lot of work left to put the meat on the bones of Bill C-81. I want to encourage my colleagues that we pick this up in the fall to ensure that we do that.
To that point, I want to mention a quote from another stakeholder who brought this forward. This is from Michael Prince, a professor of social policy at the faculty of human and social development at the University of Victoria. He said:
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.
Further on he said:
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 again just goes to the fact that there are concerns from stakeholders with this bill.
My colleague from Edmonton—Wetaskiwin talked a great deal about permissive language. I will not go into that in detail as my colleague has already done that.
What has been talked about is that the motto of Canadians with disabilities has been “nothing about us without us”. All of us in this House can agree with that. It is very important that we all support Bill C-81. We are doing that. It is also important that we remember that phrase “nothing about us without us”. We have to ensure that Canadians with disabilities are included in this bill. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of the concerns that they raised, which we tabled as part of those dozens of amendments, were not passed and were ignored. I am hoping as we move forward we will remember “nothing about us without us”.