House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was accessibility.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Windsor—Tecumseh (Ontario)

Lost her last election, in 2021, with 31% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Accessible Canada Act May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I have alluded to this before. I think that all of us, when talking about this legislation with advocates in the community of people living with disabilities, need to be honest and candid about where its shortcomings are. We have to identify and target the areas that need improvement. If we are serious about this, each of us needs to commit, in our ridings, to ensuring that every election we participate in is accessible. We need to prioritize and make sure that people coming to a microphone have access to sign language interpretation and all kinds of access.

That is what we can do. We can make this a federal election issue, which then becomes a very strong social signal.

Accessible Canada Act May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, a lot of us come into this place as individuals who are championing people in our communities, and now we are part of a collective in Parliament and are all honoured to be here. This is some of the passion that I think was also behind electoral reform. It is this idea of partisan politics and political expediency that comes with the nature of this. I have seen the strategizing. I have seen how people count on coming legislation and it falls short of the mark. That is what happened here in this process.

However, I truly believe that just as many of the people who are advocates and are closer to the ground and are living with disabilities can never give up hope, neither can I. We have to frame the momentum as we move forward. We have to be critical because we have to maximize the energy and time we have moving forward to hone in on the changes that we need. That is what we have to do in Parliament. Personally, what I have observed in my time here is that we all need to continue talking about this in a candid way to reach all members of our communities, no matter where they are politically.

When an issue reaches the mainstream and becomes the expectation of all Canadians, then it will be moved forward quickly. We can use a narrative together that we understand that legislation is not the only answer. However, we cannot have legislation that allows for voluntary interpretation. We cannot have legislation that says it is going to be enforced with exemptions and without a hearing, rationale or appeal process for those exemptions either. There is a host of areas that we need to work together on. Those to me are the no-brainers. Those are the things that we can work together on. We need to mainstream these issues so that no government can ignore them or fall short again.

Accessible Canada Act May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for her personal dedication to this and for recognizing the work that so many of us do on a personal level.

Right now we are talking about a legislative process that many Canadians have been watching for a long time. Therefore, to see it being rushed through right now is a bitter pill we have to swallow. However, we also know there were many missed opportunities, and that is frustrating.

I sat at the committee that saw these amendments go through in the House of Commons. We had testimony. We had expertise. We had former cabinet ministers from provincial governments that had enacted disability acts. They told us what we needed to do. We had the Commissioner for Human Rights. We had the Public Service Alliance representatives talk about employment equities. Countless people with the expertise presented precise amendments that we could have put in place long ago.

It is a bitter pill that we have to swallow. We are being rushed to go through legislation, but we do not have much choice. We are coming to the end of June. I know it is a milestone, but a lot of Canadians look at this and see that it falls short of the mark. We have to think positively or we will not continue to advocate and that momentum will be gone. Of course we will continue to advocate for this, but we recognize that it is very frustrating that we missed these significant opportunities. It would be pretty disingenuous for me to say I am not really disappointed in that.

Accessible Canada Act May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take this time in the House to speak on the rights of people living with disabilities and Canada's responsibility as a signatory to the UN convention on those rights. The NDP supports Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, as amended by the Senate.

I am proud to have been part of a larger movement of stakeholder groups and civil activists who put a great deal of effort into attempting to make this bill the best it can be. We have supported it from the beginning and offered numerous amendments that would have helped the bill realize its ambitions to create a barrier-free Canada.

New Democrats have long believed that any accessibility bill tabled by the government should essentially be enabling legislation for Canada's obligations to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Canada ratified this convention in 2010 but until now has done nothing to bring our laws into conformity with it.

I congratulate the minister and her team for their work on this bill and for her willingness to accede to the Senate's amendments. There are still numerous provisions within the bill that remain in need of fixing, and I would be remiss if I did not discuss them now in order to further our understanding on what is yet to be accomplished. This being a federal election year, I know our citizen activists are listening and gaining a better understanding of how they can effectively use a campaign season.

In its current form, Bill C-81 is inadequate to the expectation of fostering a society in which all our citizens can participate fully and equally. This cannot even begin to happen until all our institutions are open and completely accessible to everyone. This is truly what fostering a barrier-free Canada will look like. Unfortunately, Bill C-81 makes minimal movement in that direction.

We are not alone with our concerns. During Bill C-81's time in the House Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, or HUMA, the federal government received extensive feedback on the bill's many shortcomings from people living with disabilities across Canada, as well as from their organized networks of advocacy. For example, last October an open letter was sent to the federal government, signed by no less than 95 disability organizations. Many of these same organizations also testified before HUMA. Disability organizations repeatedly pressed for this bill to be strengthened.

Our esteemed friend, David Lepofsky, is chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He is an esteemed and respected mind, with legal expertise on accessibility rights. At the Senate committee, he stated:

Bill C-81, at its core and its heart, is driven by the commendable notion that the federal government will enact enforceable regulations called accessibility standards that will tell federally regulated organizations what they have got to do. But it doesn't require any federal accessibility standards to ever be enacted as enforceable regulations. People with disabilities need and deserve better.

Let me be clear: The regulations that the bill requires to be enacted within two years are on procedural things, not substantive accessibility standards. The federal government could meet that deadline merely by prescribing the forms that people with disabilities shall use if they want to give feedback to Air Canada or Bell Canada. People with disabilities need and deserve better than that.

The issues that Mr. Lepofsky cites in this quote remain unaddressed in the amended version of Bill C-81.

For New Democrats, this is a very serious issue. To understand why, let us look at the headlines. Last month, the Government of Ontario announced a multi-billion dollar plan for new subways in Toronto, but only if other levels of government, including the federal government, add billions to the allocation the province is committing to. That is not unusual. However, before it spends our money on a project like that, we need the federal government to be required to say that as a ground rule for getting federal money, certain federal accessibility requirements must be met. If money is requested from the federal government, here is what is required for accessibility. It seems very simple.

The minister has claimed she does not have the constitutional authority to impose accessibility requirements on provinces, but she does. She has what is known as federal spending power, and it is a power that is very substantial. We are all familiar with the Canada Health Act. The Canada Health Act says that if provinces get federal money for provincial health programs, they must meet federal accessibility requirements: not disability accessibility, but financial accessibility. If the federal government truly lacks this power, then the Canada Health Act has been unconstitutional for over three decades. If the federal government can attach strings to the CHA, then it can attach strings when it gives out money to local projects and not just federal buildings.

I commend the hard work that many stakeholder groups did during the Senate phase of Bill C-81. Our friends at the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, or AODA Alliance, along with the ARCH Disability Law Centre, among several others, lobbied senators with a shortened list of amendments covering the most important changes that need to happen to Bill C-81 if the bill is to become the kind of law that our people living with disabilities need.

In fact, we would like to thank all the disability organizations, numbering at least 71, that signed the open letter sent earlier this month to the House of Commons. They called on the House of Commons to ratify the Senate's amendments to Bill C-81. This open letter, which the Council of Canadians with Disabilities delivered to all MPs on behalf of its 28 signatories, all listed below, explains that these amendments improve the bill. The Senate formulated these amendments after holding public hearings at which disability organizations and advocates pointed out the need to strengthen a bill that the House of Commons originally passed last fall. The Senate got the message and formulated a short package of 11 amendments, which together fit on two pages.

I would also like to commend everyone who participated in the massive letter-writing campaign to the minister, the Prime Minister and all members of Parliament. It is always exciting to see concerned public action on any issue. It was not at all clear from the minister's Senate committee testimony that she would accept some of the amendments put forward, but I believe the campaign was a crucial component to making this happen.

Going into the Senate, prior to committee, major stakeholders proposed a distilled version of the changes they wanted to see in the bill before it became law. The amendments proposed for Bill C-81 before the Senate began debating it were a distilled version of the amendments they presented during the hearings before the House of Commons committee.

I would like to run through these very quickly, as they are absolutely essential if Bill C-81 is to be effective.

First, impose clear duties and deadlines on the federal government when implementing this law.

Second, set a deadline for Canada to become accessible.

Third, enforcement should be solely in the hands of the accessibility commissioner, not splintered across various organizations, such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Transportation Agency, which, as has been pointed out numerous times, have a sorry record of implementing the few accessibility obligations they already have, never mind new ones.

Fourth, we should ensure federal public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers.

Fifth, we should ensure that the federal government will not be able to exempt itself from any of its accessibility obligations under the bill.

The Senate eventually accepted the following amendments to Bill C-81: first, setting 2040 as the end date for Canada to become accessible; second, ensuring that this 2040 timeline would not justify any delay in removing and preventing accessibility barriers as soon as reasonably possible; third, recognizing American sign language, Quebec sign language and indigenous sign languages as the primary languages for communication used by deaf people; fourth, making it a principle to govern the bill that multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination faced by persons with disabilities must be considered; fifth, ensuring that Bill C-81 and regulations made under it could not cut back on the human rights of people with disabilities guaranteed by the Canadian Human Rights Act; sixth, ensuring that the Canadian Transportation Agency could not reduce existing human rights protections for passengers with disabilities when the agency handled complaints about barriers in transportation; and, seventh, fixing problems the federal government identified between the bill’s employment provisions and legislation governing the RCMP.

As members can garner from comparing the proposed amendments with the ones the Senate approved, several crucial amendments did not make it into the bill. One of the more important of these dealt with the issue that Bill C-81 splintered enforcement and implementation in a confusing way over four different public agencies, rather than providing people with disabilities with the single-window service they needed.

As part of this, it leaves two public agencies, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canadian Transportation Agency, to continue overseeing accessibility, despite their inadequate track record on this issue over many years and in the very recent past. The NDP understands that this is an urgent issue which needs to be addressed urgently.

When the bill was in committee, I tabled amendments that would have closed the many exemptions and powers allowing public officials to exempt any organization from key parts of Bill C-81. The NDP feels the bill fails to effectively ensure that the federal government will use all its levers of power to promote accessibility across Canada. For example, it does not require the federal government to ensure that federal money is never used by any recipient of those funds to create or perpetuate disability barriers, such as when federal money contributes to new or renovated infrastructure.

This is a significant point because the federal government can easily require all projects utilizing federal dollars to meet accessibility standards. Experience tells us that without this requirement, federal agencies will contract out important work to third parties to save money, thus bypassing federal accessibility specifications. Our NDP amendments would have addressed this issue directly.

For example, inaccessible public housing could potentially be built and there would be little anyone could do about it, despite the government's repeatedly stated commitment to accessibility and disability issues.

While we commend the government for accepting the timeline of 2040 as the time when Canada is to become accessible to five million people, Bill C-81 nevertheless lacks mandatory timelines for implementation. It allows, but does not require, the government to adopt accessibility standards, yet does not impose a time frame within which this is to happen. Without these, the implementation process, even the start-up process, could drag on for years.

An egregious provision the bill lacks is the requirement that all federal government laws, policies and programs be studied through a disability law lens. This seems a strange omission indeed, as this is the proverbial low-hanging fruit.

It is crucial that societies eliminate these forms of discrimination, not just because doing it is the right thing to do but because it enables a previously ignored and sizable section of our population that contributes its talents and abilities to the betterment of us all. Everyone wins when everyone can contribute.

When it comes to ensuring accessibility for five million Canadians with disabilities, Canada lags far behind the United States, which passed a landmark Americans with disabilities act 29 years ago. Canadians with disabilities still face far too many barriers in air travel, cable TV services, and when dealing with the federal government.

Now that Bill C-81 is back in the House, it only needs to hold one vote to ratify these amendments. No further public hearings or standing committee study of the bill are needed. Once the amendments are passed during that vote, Bill C-81 will have completed its journey through Canada's Parliament. It will be law. It will come into force when the federal government gives Bill C-81 royal assent.

Major stakeholders have recently written to leaders of the major parties asking that they commit to bringing a stronger national accessibility bill before Parliament after this fall's federal election. That is why, while we support the passage of Bill C-81 as amended today, the NDP also commits that when we become government in 2020, we will bring forward a much stronger version of the bill, one that will correct some of its more glaring shortcomings.

As others have noted, yes, the bill is an important first step. However, people living with disabilities have waited so long, too long, to live in a country that allows their flourishing as citizens with full human rights realized. For instance, our neighbours and family members should not be told that they must wait until 2040 until they can, say, use functioning, accessible subway elevators, or use their own wheelchairs on international flights or attend an accessible all-candidates debate and so on.

Unfortunately, the present government has left the task of making Canada fully accessible to future governments. I confidently say that New Democrats are up to this task and genuinely committed to it.

Accessible Canada Act May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his exhaustive efforts in describing the position of the official opposition on Bill C-81.

It was very interesting to hear about the history of legislation and, of course, about someone in our history like Jean Vanier, who created watershed moments. However, to be be quite frank, when the official opposition was in government, for 10 years there was inaction. What I am hearing now is a keen understanding of how legislation has to evolve and progress. However, I would like to hear from the member a little more about his insights into how government policies and laws should be viewed through a disability lens.

As the member knows, there was testimony with regard to the legislation being designed to stipulate a disability lens. Perhaps the member can talk a little more about using a disability lens, which is not actually articulated, and what he would envision it would look like.

Accessible Canada Act May 28th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, it is a red-letter day for us and for people in the disability community because we are coming back to the House of Commons today with some amendments so that we can strengthen Bill C-81, which is a milestone. However, I would ask the minister to take this opportunity to assure Canadians that some of the most egregious concerns we had that were not met in the bill, even with amendments, are going to be addressed.

Mainly, people living with different abilities need to have a one-stop place they can go with their concerns. Right now, Bill C-81 would separate enforcement and implementation among four organizations. I would ask the minister to help us envision how we can move this forward. We know that it is a federal election year, and people in the disability community are diligently watching how we can move this forward in a campaign year.

International Trade May 16th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, 15 months ago, the government promised that Canada's ombudsperson for responsible enterprise, CORE, would be able to investigate human rights abuses committed by Canadian companies abroad, but these investigative powers are caught up in red tape, and it looks like it will not even open by the election. The government has a serious issue with corporate ethics and accountability, as the SNC-Lavalin scandal shows us, so this CORE office must be opened up and running by the summer. Will this minister follow up—

Business of Supply May 15th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if there is a contest today on how often we use the term “virtue signalling”, but I can say this: in terms of what has been said, this kind of virtue signalling is spinning like cotton candy.

Right now we have a claim by my hon. colleague about all these great things that were done by the Conservative government. However, I can recall a promise for cap and trade—broken. I can recall a promise for regulation of emissions from fossil fuels—broken. Then Conservatives had this very popular home energy retrofit program, but it had to be cancelled because they needed to reduce the deficit.

The reality is that the only reason there were emissions reductions was that we had economic problems. That is the reality. I would like hear, very specifically, why this colleague believes that there is no climate emergency. I do not know what reality she is living in, but let us just hear a little more.

Automotive Industry May 10th, 2019

Madam Speaker, this week I asked the government if it would adopt a national auto strategy before more people lose their livelihoods. This issue hits close to home in Windsor—Tecumseh. First it was Chrysler; now it is the Ford Essex Engine plant that is eliminating shifts.

The government scrambles to react, but there needs to be a master plan. The NDP and experts have been calling for a national auto strategy for years, and the government has a plan waiting on the shelf.

Will the Liberals stop ignoring Windsor, and southwestern Ontario for that matter, and commit to a national auto strategy?

Taxation May 9th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, the CRA claims that the majority of mental impairments are temporary, including autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In fact, these are life-long conditions. They are severe and prolonged, yet the CRA still expects these individuals to reapply for the disability tax credit.

Rather than gouging vulnerable people and their families, will the minister just commit to correcting this unconscionable policy immediately?