First Day of Public Hearings Show Why Bill C-22, the Weak Canada Disability Benefit Act, Needs to Be Strengthened – and AODA Alliance Will Present to Those Public Hearings on November 14, 2022

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

November 1, 2022

A step forward! HUMA, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, has invited the AODA Alliance to make a presentation on Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act, at 3:30 pm on November 14, 2022, during public hearings on that bill. You can watch it live online via the HUMA web page, or come in person to see our presentation at the Parliament in Ottawa.

We thank everyone who emailed or tweeted at HUMA and Members of Parliament to press for the AODA Alliance to be invited to speak to these important Standing Committee hearings. It worked!

We will tell HUMA that the weak Bill C-22 should be quickly strengthened and then quickly passed. We will present the 12 recommendations for fixing this bill set out in the AODA Alliance’s October 27, 2022 brief.

What’s wrong with Bill C-22? It does not ensure that there ever will be a Canada Disability Benefit. It sets no deadline for it to start to be paid. It does not set a minimum dollar amount for the Canada Disability Benefit. It could be as low as $1 per month. It lets the federal Cabinet decide all the specifics, including the amount, who can qualify for it, and when it will be paid. A future Cabinet could gut it in a secret vote, with no public debate.

Below, we offer you some reflections on the first day of public hearings that took place yesterday. The second day of public hearings will be tomorrow, November 2, 2022 from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. They should also be streamed live and later archived on the HUMA web page.

Follow our non-partisan efforts to make Bill C-22 strong and effective by visiting the AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page.

Reflections on the First Day of Public Hearings on Bill C-22

On October 31, 2022, HUMA held two hours of public hearings on Bill C-22. During the first hour, HUMA heard from the bill’s sponsor, federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough. During the second hour, the Committee heard from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the MS Society, and Disability without Poverty. The AODA Alliance was live-tweeting during these hearings.

Here are some reflections on what took place:

* Fully two years into this process, Minister Qualtrough still could not say how much the Canada Disability Benefit would be, or exactly when it would start to be paid.

* Minister Qualtrough said in substance that 9% of seniors with disabilities live in poverty. It will be necessary to check the official Hansard transcript of the meeting to get her precise quotation. Yet Bill C-22 ensures that only working age people with disabilities can qualify for the Canada Disability Benefit, no matter how poor they are.

* Minister Qualtrough said it could take a year to make the needed regulations that would spell this out. She hoped it would not take more than a year to make the regulations but did not commit to a deadline. She does not have enough confidence in the time it will take to develop the regulations to put a timeline into the bill.

* The money for this benefit would have to be approved in a future budget. Thus, no one would receive the Canada Disability Benefit until some time in 2024, or possibly 2025. We remind our readers that it took the Federal Government months to make a single emergency payment to people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic after the Government had decided to issue that payment.

* Minister Qualtrough said it is a priority for her, in ongoing discussions with the provincial and territorial governments, to ensure that those governments do not claw back any of the benefits. However, this just appears to be her intent. It is not a requirement in the bill. She said she has told the provinces that no claw-backs is a “red line.” She wants to reach agreements with all the provincial and territorial governments. We note that unless this bill is amended to enshrine protections, nothing might stop a later provincial government from backing out of any such agreements not to claw back benefits.

* The Federal Government wants people with disabilities who are languishing in poverty to think that they will get money in their pockets more quickly if Parliament just passes Bill C-22 as is, with no changes, no matter how weak it is. We respectfully disagree. People with disabilities will get more from Bill C-22, and will get it more quickly, if the bill is strengthened now, while the public spotlight is briefly shining on this issue in Parliament. The more detail that HUMA adds to the bill now, the less time will be needed later for the Government to work out the regulations.

* Minister Qualtrough tried to defend the Federal Government’s choice to enact what they call “framework legislation” that leaves it to future regulations to sort out all the details. “Framework legislation” is government-speak for “The Government wants to call all the shots, with no Parliamentary oversight or input.” What this boils down to is this: The Government does not want to debate and publicly vote in Parliament on any specifics about the Canada Disability Benefit (like how much it will be, or who gets it, or when it will start). In the House of Commons, the Government does not have a majority of the votes. Instead, the Federal Government wants all this decided in Cabinet, which meets and votes in secret, where the Government has all the seats and votes!

* Either the Federal Government does not know any of the specifics about the Canada Disability Benefit fully two years after announcing it, or it is declining to make public those details. It is hard to believe that a minister could get approval from their Cabinet and caucus to commit to a major new once-in-a-generation social benefit without having costed it. Yet she said the costing analysis would take place while the regulations are being developed and approved (i.e., only after the bill is passed).

* While Minister Qualtrough emphasized her desire for the bill to be passed quickly, she also said that they must “get it right.” She said that the Government is fundamentally changing the social safety net in Canada. The complexity of doing this calls for taking the time to do it right.

* Minister Qualtrough said she has been working hard on ongoing negotiations with the provincial and territorial governments. However, she provided no specifics on what agreements have already been reached or what remains to be negotiated. She expressed a hope that these negotiations would be successful. She provided no information to show whether that hope is well-founded and realistic.

* Minister Qualtrough said that people have to receive the same amount under the Canada Disability Benefit across the country. However, she elsewhere said that the poverty line varies across the country. As well, disability benefits vary from province to province.

* We were delighted that the very first public presenter, the CNIB, publicly supported the AODA Alliance’s brief on Bill C-22 and the brief submitted by the Alliance for Equality for Blind Canadians. CNIB called for several amendments to the bill.

* We note that Bill C-22 would entirely exclude from the Canada Disability Benefit a majority of persons with vision loss, since they are age 65 or older. Bill C-22 denies any Canada Disability Benefit to people with disabilities who are not “working age.”

* During these hearings, presenters get five minutes to make opening remarks. After that, members of HUMA ask them questions. We were thrilled that the very first question asked by any MP of any presenter included a quotation from the AODA Alliance’s October 27, 2022, brief on Bill C-22, in which some of the bill’s weaknesses are highlighted.

* The MS Society asked the Standing Committee to ensure that people with episodic disabilities are included as eligible for the Canada Disability Benefit. This would require an amendment to the bill. Bill C-22 now says nothing about who would be eligible for the Canada Disability Benefit, except for its entire disqualification of any people with disabilities who are not “working age.” Therefore, the thrust of the MS Society presentation was a call for an amendment to the bill.

* The group Disability without Poverty strongly argued that there must be “co-creation” of the regulations under Bill C-22. They explained that this is much more than the Government consulting with people with disabilities and asking for their input on what the regulations should say. Disability Without Poverty insisted that co-creation means that people with disabilities must have an equal seat at the table. We understand that this refers to the table where the actual decisions are made.

* Even though she referred to Disability Without Poverty in her remarks, Minister Qualtrough did not commit to “co-creation” of the regulations under Bill C-22. At most, she invoked a commitment to “Nothing about us without us,” and spoke about the Government consulting and seeking input from the disability community on all aspects of the Canada Disability Benefit. She referred to the terms of the Accessible Canada Act. Nothing in the Accessible Canada Act, much less in Bill C-22, gives the disability community any seat at the decision-making table, much less an equal seat, much less a right to even be in the room when decisions are made.

* While the Federal Government continues to invoke the disability community slogan “Nothing about us without us,” there is no suggestion that the disability community has been invited to be part of the all-important consultations and negotiations with the provincial and territorial governments. We certainly don’t have an equal seat at that absolutely vital table.

* The Federal Government’s strategy appears quite clear. They want the House of Commons to pass this bill with no amendments that would add any specifics. They want a blank cheque. We are supposed to hope they get it right, and that they will do so far more quickly than they have been acting on this issue in the past.