Mr. Speaker, I am rising tonight to follow up on a question I asked in the House on March 21 regarding funding for services for Canadians with print disabilities. CELA, the Centre for Equitable Library Access, and NNELS, the National Network for Equitable Library Service, are national, not-for-profit organizations that provide accessible reading services to people with print disabilities in Canada.
In the fall economic update, the Liberal government announced its decision to cut $4 million in essential funding for them. Cuts to these organizations would have severely impacted their ability to produce and distribute accessible reading materials and would have resulted in reduced accessibility for persons with disabilities across Canada. Fortunately, because of NNELS and CELA's advocacy campaign, as well as the work of so many disability advocates from across the country who made their voices heard, the government was forced to reverse the proposed funding cut in support to Canadians with disabilities.
In response to NNELS and CELA's advocacy campaign to restore funding, the federal government announced on March 16 that it would provide an additional $1 million for this coming year. This additional $1 million really reinstates funding for NNELS and CELA to the same level as in previous years. However, the government also made it clear that the reinstatement of funds was because the pandemic had affected the timeline. It made no provision to ensure that funding cuts would not proceed as planned starting in 2022-23.
My office reached out to CELA and NNELS and they provided an important overview on the situation they were facing. I want to thank Kevin Millsip and Laurie Davidson for their advocacy and work on this issue, and for providing excellent resources.
In the most recent budget, there is no provision for long-term, sustainable funding for NNELS and CELA. Although the federal government announced that there would be no funding cuts for 2021-22, as it stands now starting in 2022-23 NNELS and CELA will be facing a 50% cut in funding, which will decline to zero funding by 2024-25. The current funding envelope is small. It is only $4 million a year, but the impact of this funding is significant and the loss of NNELS and CELA services to people with print disabilities in Canada would be devastating.
CELA and NNELS work to ensure books and other library materials are accessible across multiple formats for Canadians with print disabilities. People with print disabilities include those who are blind or have low vision, those who have physical disabilities that impact a person's ability to read or manipulate a physical book, and those who have learning or cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia.
This funding enables seniors and persons with disabilities to have access to public library materials. This is even more critical in rural Canada where access and resources are limited. In fact, CELA estimates that one in every 10 Canadians needs accessible formatting for reading materials, proving the essential nature of this partnership. Further, it is expected that this number will only increase with a growing senior population across the country.
One library in my riding offered the following remarks regarding CELA services: “The number of users and inquiries have risen noticeably in the past year and with the aging baby boomers and the general older population of Grey Bruce, we are bound to see an increase in the number of users. Hopefully funding will continue for these important services.”
I would like to talk briefly about my own grandmother. She is 98 years old, soon to be 99. I got her an audio book in January. Within a couple of weeks she had gone through nine books. She is loving audio books to the point that she is no longer socially active in her long-term care home. She loves them. They give her a sense of life, and I can hear the joy in her voice.
I just want a clear answer from the government. Will the government commit to providing long-term, stable federal funding for CELA and NNELS to ensure that equitable reading services will continue to be made available to people with print disabilities in Canada?