Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the passing of Bill C-81, the accessible Canada act.
It is so symbolic to speak during National AccessAbility Week, when we celebrate the contributions of persons with disabilities and promote accessibility and inclusion across our communities and workplaces.
I would like to acknowledge all the energy invested in the proposed accessible Canada act by all those who have worked so hard to get us where we are today: persons with disabilities, stakeholders, industry and all who play a crucial role in improving accessibility in Canada.
In 1991, I was the victim of a random act of violence that left me a C5 quadriplegic. My life changed forever, and I saw first-hand the everyday issues Canadians with disabilities face, including tasks as ordinary as getting out of bed, going to the bank or getting on a plane. These became real challenges that were significant hurdles. Things became significantly harder due to the inaccessibility of the terrain. The problem was not my disability; it was the barriers put in my way. For instance, stairs can be a heck of an impediment to my progress.
Since entering politics 12 years ago, one of my goals has been to help Canada become a community where people with disabilities reach their individual potential and are recognized and valued as citizens. That is why I am so proud of our federal Liberal government's new accessible Canada act, the most significant piece of legislation for the rights of persons with disabilities in over 30 years.
Before I talk about the merits of the bill, it is important to note that this is not some stand-alone legislation meant to be the only thing our government is doing with respect to moving forward the lives of persons with disabilities in this country.
Our national housing strategy contains a significant focus on accessible housing. This includes the five new housing projects funded so far in Calgary, in partnership with organizations like Horizon Housing, YWCA Calgary, HomeSpace and many more. In addition, our infrastructure investments are being implemented with accessibility in mind. We are helping to provide more university and training opportunities to assist people with disabilities in becoming more involved in our labour force.
The accessible Canada act truly belongs to the disability community and reflects the priorities of persons with disabilities. To get here, we heard from over 6,000 individuals and organizations through the most accessible consultations ever held by government. All people who contributed to the legislation did so because they understood the importance of using their experiences to help drive the change needed for a better tomorrow, where everyone is included and no one is left behind.
Over three years ago, our government worked to develop legislation aimed at removing barriers to inclusion, to ensure that all Canadians have an equal and fair chance at finding success.
One of the things my disability taught me was the critical role that government plays in people's lives. I have always looked at it this way: Whether a person is born of a rich family or one that struggles, whether a person is born with a disability or acquires one along the way, that person deserves an equal and fair chance at success. This act would help level the playing field and promote equality of opportunity.
This bill pursues a very important goal: to make Canada barrier-free. Everyone is ready and eager to see the bill passed, and the organizations with responsibilities under Bill C-81 are ready to act in accordance. The CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board have all testified that they are ready to implement their respective roles.
Of course, the road to inclusion has been fought for a long time by individuals and organizations across this country, organizations I was lucky enough to work with and within, such as the National Educational Association of Disabled Students and the Canadian Paraplegic Association of Alberta, which have been pushing these rights forward for many years.
Federal accessibility legislation and leadership at the national level have been long overdue. Canadians expect the Government of Canada to lead when it comes to accessibility. That is a responsibility that our government is taking very seriously. It is important to underscore that this historic bill reflects the work and commitment of the disabled community, whose priorities and concerns have been addressed and are reflected throughout the bill.
This includes recognizing sign languages as the primary language for communication by deaf persons in Canada, clarifying that nothing in the act or its regulations limits the duty to accommodate of regulated entities, ensuring the timely implementation of this legislation toward the realization of a barrier-free Canada by 2040, and recognizing intersecting forms of marginalization and discrimination that persons with disabilities may experience.
The bill, built on the principle of “Nothing for us without us”, belongs to the disability community. Moving forward, the community's continued participation will be absolutely essential for the bill to be effective.
In many ways, the bill puts into legislation the best practices that top organizations follow. Looking back, I was very lucky to have institutions like the University of Calgary, with instructors who recognized the support I needed, or organizations like the one I practised law with, Dentons Canada, where I was very lucky to have the company provide the voice-activated computer and the assistance I needed to make it through my daily work.
I have been likewise very lucky in the accommodations I received when I was at the Alberta legislature and here, at the House of Commons. I have had incredible support from my wife, my family and my long-term caregiver, Liza, who have always stepped in and done all the things that were simply very difficult for me to do.
However, people with disabilities should not have to rely on this kind of luck. That is why we need legislation. With this legislation, we are creating a system whereby barriers are identified and removed proactively, and we are establishing enforcement mechanisms to ensure that regulations are respected and followed by businesses and areas under federal jurisdiction. It would create avenues for accessibility complaints through a “no wrong door” approach, and it would provide for oversight and monitoring of these issues and emerging accessibility issues.
By legislating National AccessAbility Week and bringing Canadians together to recognize the valuable contributions of persons with disabilities, this law would send a clear message that systems will be designed inclusively from the start. With the accessible Canada act, we are strengthening the collaborative approach for a country that is fully accessible and inclusive, where everyone has an equal and fair chance at success.