Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak of historic opportunities lost. An important component of our Canadian population is being sold short.
Canadians and other persons living with disabilities understandably were excited by the government's plan to bring forward Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. After years of neglect by previous governments, they were cautiously optimistic. Alas, once the media has moved on to other issues and Canadians begun to look at the fine print in the bill, they will unfortunately find a lot less to celebrate than the government would have them believe.
As I have stated before on Bill C-81, the bill requires substantial amendments. While we commend the government for tabling it, the bill will need to be altered dramatically in order to become good legislation. I committed to working with the government to provide good faith amendments so the bill could become a historic accessibility legislation that Canada's people living with disabilities deserved.
When the Minister of Accessibility was asked during committee if she would be open to amendment, this was her response:
I definitely want to see this law being the best it possibly can. I don't want to prejudge the outcomes or recommendations of the committee, but I am certainly open to hearing what you all have to say and what stakeholders have to say.
Over the course of eight meetings, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities heard from leading experts and civil society groups on the things that needed to be changed if Bill C-81 were to become good legislation.
In one presentation after another, the committee heard that the bill needed implementation timelines. One such expert was none other than the former Ontario Liberal government minister responsible for shepherding Ontario's Accessibility Act into law. We heard again and again that all of the exemptions for obligated organizations, and the bill was shot through with those, by the way, should be eliminated.
We heard repeatedly that enforcement should be solely in the hands of the accessibility commissioner and not splintered across various organizations, such as the CRTC and CTA, groups that, as was pointed out numerous times, had a storied record of implementing the few accessibility obligations they already had, never mind new ones. However, as the testimony concluded, it was as if no one had uttered a single world. Not one of these recommendations was taken up by the government.
Despite what the minister clearly said, the Liberals had already decided what they were going to do. Despite this, they nevertheless expended the treasury and witness efforts to bring experts to Ottawa to provide testimony that the government had already chosen to ignore. The Liberals ignored the excellent testimony from a former provincial Liberal minister, the highly respected Marie Bountrogianni, a person with actual experience implementing expansive accessibility legislation.
Let us hear some of this. Ms. Bountrogianni said:
During the consultation phase, we studied Great Britain's Disability Discrimination Act and were taught three critical lessons. We would need a clear deadline for an accessible Ontario. There would need to be regulations established through which to enforce the law, and public education would be key for creating awareness about the bill.
When I was studying them, it was from their challenges. I don't want to use the word “mistakes” because they were pioneers. They were Great Britain, Australia and the United States. They told me, “Have a timeline, definitely have timelines.”
How can this testimony be ignored? It is a shame. I get frustrated just thinking about it. All of the expertise and people so succinctly explaining to us what needed to be done to bolster the legislation was ignored.
I cannot stress enough that another critical issue is the way in which Bill C-81 splinters the power to enforce the legislation among four federal organizations: the accessibility commissioner, the Canadian Transportation Agency, also known as the CTA; the CRTC, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission; and the tribunal that regulates federal employment. This snarl of enforcement in administration would result in very similar regulations being enacted by the different agencies involved, rather than by one single agency.
The duplication would not just risk inconsistencies, it would create them, causing even further delays. The predictable result is the real possibility that some sectors of the economy will have these regulations ready before other sectors. This bill should be looking to eliminate the interdepartmental patchwork system that is already in place, rather than making it more complex. After all, that is the purpose of national strategies, of national legislation, which this is supposed to be fulfilling.
Again, this splintered formula is a confusion. The government's response was to say this, and it boggles the mind. This is from the testimony of a government representative:
“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 [the complaint] to the right door. Problem solved.”
Once again, there is not really a clear understanding by the government of the lived reality of people living with disabilities having to advocate for themselves and access these so-called doors. The purpose of the accessibility commissioner is laid out for us. This should be perfect synergy, and the government has chosen to ignore that, unfortunately.
The esteemed David Lepofsky, who has been mentioned in the chamber already by my hon. colleagues, is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians Disabilities Act Alliance. He points out that the problem is not solved at all:
...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...It means we have to go to agencies that [have little to no] expertise in disability and accessibility.
This would be the expertise we would envision an accessibility commissioner would be fulfilling. This is what all of these organizations, advocacy groups and experts, with lived experience in the community as a person living with a different ability, understood. They understood that an accessibility commissioner would achieve this very basic sentiment they had, because they were worn out from having to advocate. It would have been the one-stop shop. It would have been cleaner.
From a bureaucratic perspective, it would have been a lot cleaner to give one concise responsibility to the new accessibility commissioner, but rather, we are going to hold them back and it is going to be approached in four different ways. For example, it will be said that this is not someone's territory, but someone else's. It is just going to invite more chaos. I want to go back to the fact that it would make far more sense to simply mandate the new accessibility commissioner with all of the accessibility enforcement under this act.
The design of this legislation, which splinters responsibility among agencies, only serve two interests: first, protecting bureaucratic turf; and second, easing back on the expectations on obligated organizations so that they can have weaker standards, slower implementation and flimsy enforcement. That is not consistent with the federal government's commendable motivations and intentions under this legislation. It does not make sense. It is not consistent.
Before I heard my hon. colleague across the way table his amendment, I anticipated tabling an amendment of my own at the end of my speech today. For the record, I will explain what it is in the time I have remaining, so that all Canadians who are listening and following this debate understand that a last ditch effort was made by both opposition parties to revisit Bill C-81 to give it some teeth.
Today, in a last ditch effort to try to help Bill C-81 become the kind of bill the government professes it to be, but which it clearly is not, I offered a good faith amendment about implementing timelines and having enforcement so that we could go back to committee and look at implementing those timelines. Eliminating exemptions would be another one that we would need to do. I expect the government to reject any such amendment, just as it rejected the nearly 120 other ones that were brought forward at committee in complete good faith by opposition parties. I want to take this last chance to do the right thing and be on the record as having done so.
The NDP has long been committed to the rights of persons with disabilities. It has been our long-standing position that all of government, every budget, every policy, every regulation and every grant should be viewed through a disability lens. Our ultimate goal has always been to help foster a society in which all of our citizens are able to participate fully and equally. This cannot even begin to happen until all of our institutions are open and completely accessible to everyone.
The NDP has supported the establishment of a Canadians with disabilities act for many years. The call for a CDA can be found in our 2015 platform. The language is important: it is the Canadians with disabilities act.
Any accessibility bill tabled by the government should essentially be enabling legislation for Canada's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Canada ratified this convention in 2010 and a Canadians with disabilities act would include language consistent with implementing this convention.
Until now, Canada has done nothing to bring our laws into conformity with the convention. I tabled Motion No. 56 in this very chamber, calling on the government to implement these obligations.
The convention sets out the legal obligations on states to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities. It does not create new rights. There are a number of principles and articles within the CRPD that are extremely important to people with disabilities. These principles address rights such as the ability to live independently, freedom from exploitation and violence, the right to an adequate standard of living, social protections and more.
Rather than considering disability an issue of medicine, charity or dependency, the convention challenges people worldwide to understand disability as a human rights issue. It establishes that discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the rights, inherent dignity and worth of the human person.
The convention covers many areas where obstacles can arise, such as physical access to buildings, roads and transportation and access to information through written and electronic communications. The convention also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination, which are often why people with disabilities are excluded from education, employment and health and other services.
It is important here to note that the convention is our ideal. It is up to governments to bridge the distance between these ideals and the lived reality of people with disabilities. One such bridge is supposed to be Bill C-81. That is the bridge we are debating here today.
A major lapse on the part of the government is that it did not include language in Bill C-81 requiring all federal government laws, policies and programs to be studied through a disability lens. In other words, the language of the bill is not in keeping with our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, so we would still need more legislation to bridge that gap, which we anticipated we were closing. Now, we are taking a step that is basically a false gesture toward doing that.
One of the things I wanted to really get into is that this disability law lens is a strange omission. I say this because we find it is hard to create a lived reality on the ground if all of us who are developing policy and legislation are not using that disability lens.
One way the disability lens can be used is to analyze public policy. One way to make sure of that is to ask the following. Does the policy view disabled people as members of a minority group with special needs, or does it view disability as one of many variables in the population, and thus aim to structure society to ensure universal access and coverage? This is such a profound aspect of what our accessibility legislation needs to be able to do.
In seeing my time left, I am improvising a bit here. My understanding of our procedure is that once an amendment has been tabled, I cannot table another one. However, I would just like people to have a general idea of the text of what my amendment would have been if tabled, even though it is very similar to my hon. colleague's. This amendment is my last plea on behalf of people with disabilities and those of us who care about them, for us to go back and get Bill C-81 right.
I would have moved that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, be not now read the third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities for the purpose of eliminating exemptions for obligated organizations and including implementation timelines.”