Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Vimy, who will be giving her maiden speech in this venerable House.
It is an honour for me to be in the House today and to speak on behalf of the residents of Davenport.
It is also an honour to join my colleagues to participate in this important debate on Bill C-20, which includes three key parts. The first part makes a number of adjustments that will expand the eligibility criteria around the Canada emergency wage. Part two covers a number of changes that must occur in order for us to provide a one-time payment to persons with disabilities for reasons related to COVID-19. In part three are a number of appropriate changes to certain acts that will provide some flexibility to certain time limits that were difficult or impossible to meet as a result of the exceptional circumstances produced by COVID-19. I will be talking to part two.
This bill would allow information sharing among several federal departments and agencies and Employment and Social Development Canada, so that a one-time payment can be made to support persons with disabilities during this pandemic. We have to allow for information to be shared among several departments in order to deliver this one-time payment as soon as we possibly can.
This one-time payment of $600 will help approximately 1.7 million Canadians with disabilities who are recipients of the disability tax credit certificate, CPP disability or QPP disability benefits and/or disability supports provided by Veterans Affairs Canada.
Bill C-20 is just one part of a much larger plan that our government has dedicated to supporting Canadians with disabilities. Today I want to talk about the evolution of our plan, the actions we have undertaken and our government's next steps toward creating an inclusive and barrier-free Canada.
In 2015, our government named the first-ever cabinet minister responsible for persons with disabilities and promised Canadians that we would pass legislation aimed at removing barriers to inclusion. This signalled our commitment to doing things differently in order to ensure that all Canadians have an equal chance at success.
One of the key milestones on this journey was the National Disability Summit that we held in May 2019, in the days prior to COVID. The summit provided an opportunity for participants to exchange best practices and to create and build on partnerships. It allowed us to understand the next steps to truly realize an inclusive and accessible Canada.
At the same time as the summit was taking place, the federal government's landmark legislation for the Accessible Canada Act was being finalized, following the most comprehensive consultations with the disability community in our country's history. More than 6,000 Canadians and 100 disability organizations shared their views and ideas about an accessible Canada. As we know, the act received royal assent on June 21, 2019 and came into force in July of that year.
The legislation builds upon existing mechanisms and ensures compliance and accountability. The Accessible Canada Act takes a proactive and systemic approach to identifying, removing and preventing barriers to accessibility in key areas within federal jurisdiction. The goal was to ensure that the act was based on safeguarding human rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The act also created new entities such as Accessibility Standards Canada, which creates and reviews accessibility standards for federally regulated organizations.
I am proud of this legislation because it sends a clear message to Canadians that persons with disabilities will no longer be treated as an afterthought. From the start, systems will be designed to be inclusive for all Canadians. This is because it is our systems, our policies, our practices and our laws that need to be fixed, not our people.
I also want to point out that in the mandate letter of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, a number of important additional measures will continue to ensure that we promote disability inclusion. These include, among other measures, undertaking initiatives to improve the economic inclusion of persons with disabilities, targeting barriers to full participation in the labour force including discrimination and stigma, raising public awareness, and working with employers and businesses in a coordinated way.
As the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion has said, we move from “Nothing about us, without us” to “Nothing without us”, because everything in society touches the lives of Canadians with disabilities.
The Government of Canada is leading the way in ensuring communities and workplaces are accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities. It is the largest federal employer. It is also the single-largest purchaser of goods and services in the country, and provides vital programs and services to Canadians. As such, we have committed to hiring at least 5,000 persons with disabilities over the next five years in the federal public service. We are also committed to applying an accessibility lens to government procurement and project planning.
Over the last five years, our government has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Canadians with disabilities. I wish to share some of the highlights over our two mandates, which began in 2015.
Our government applied a disability lens to our flagship policies and programs such as the Canada child benefit, the national housing strategy and the infrastructure program. The result is that families of children with disabilities receive an additional amount under the CCB. For example, from 2017 to 2018, 1.75 million children benefited from the disability supplement.
Under the national housing strategy, there is a commitment to promote universal design and visitability. This includes a requirement that public and shared spaces meet accessibility standards, and that at least 2,400 new affordable housing units for persons with developmental disabilities are created.
In the area of infrastructure we have approved nearly 800 accessibility projects, including almost 500 new para-transit buses and improvements to 81 existing transit facilities to make them more accessible to Canadians. This was made possible by ensuring that accessibility was an eligible expense in public transit projects. In just one year, almost $800 million was invested into our public transit systems to make them more accessible.
We have also increased our investments in existing programs such as the enabling accessibility fund, the social development partnerships program and the opportunities fund. All three of these programs were significantly enhanced, allowing people to keep doing the good work they are doing to improve the lives of Canadians with disabilities.
Current COVID-19 supports have been amply covered by my colleagues over the last 24 hours, but I want to bring them to mind briefly. Since the pandemic was declared, our government has taken a disability-inclusive response to the pandemic. This included adhering to the principle of “Nothing without us”, from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the creation of the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group to bring the lived experience of persons with disabilities to our government's response to the pandemic.
We provided additional support to students with permanent disabilities and the one-time payment that is part of the debate today. We invested in mental health for the Wellness Together portal. We launched calls for proposals under two components of the enabling accessibility fund, and created a national workplace accessibility stream of the opportunities fund to help people with disabilities find jobs right now. Finally, we added funding to the social development partnerships program to enhance accessibility communications during this crisis, and invested $1.18 million in five new projects across the country through the accessible technology program to help develop dynamic and affordable technology.
In conclusion, from the Canadian Survey on Disability, we know Canadians with disabilities are underemployed compared with the general population, a situation made worse by this pandemic. As the economy opens up again, this represents an opportunity for a vast and largely untapped pool of talent: people who are available to work, who want to join the workforce and who are ready to apply their innovative ideas to our new normal.
In the meantime, I call upon my colleagues to quickly pass the legislation before us so we can get support out to the people who urgently and immediately need it.
I am now ready to take questions.