Reflections on Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough’s March 22, 2023 Presentation to the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs on Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update 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/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/aodaalliance

April 19, 2023

SUMMARY

What is happening with Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act? Here is the latest news, with more to follow.

Over the past few weeks, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs (SOCI Committee) has been holding public hearings on Bill C-22.

These hearings are slated to conclude on Thursday, April 27, 2023 in Ottawa, unless they get extended into May.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky will be among the final witnesses to appear at those hearings at 12:30 noon on April 27, 2023. We will have more to say about that next week.

In this and future AODA Alliance Updates, we will summarize the hearings and offer our reflections on what was said. To get started, in this Update, we focus on what Canada’s Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough told the SOCI Committee on March 22, 2023, at the very start of its public hearings on Bill C-22. At the end of this Update, we set out the full text of her opening statement, and her answers to questions from the senators on the SOCI Committee

The Minister’s presentation was very important. Her Government knew that several senators had already identified serious concerns about the bill’s deficiencies during the Second Reading debates in the Senate. These were along the same lines as several disability advocates and opposition parties focused on in earlier debates over this bill in the House of Commons last fall.

During Second Reading debates this past winter, various senators pointed out that the bill lacks important specifics. It forces impoverished people with disabilities to have to simply trust the current Federal Government and every future Government to ensure that the Canada Disability Benefit is large enough to lift people out of poverty. As Senator Pate put it, it is a charity bill, not a human rights bill.

As a result, the AODA Alliance wrote Minister Qualtrough on March 14, 2023. Our letter asked her to make public important information about the bill, and about her progress in developing regulations to implement the Canada Disability Benefit.

We regret that she has not answered us in the month since then. However, when the minister spoke to the SOCI Committee on March 22, 2023, senators got a chance to ask her questions. Some of their questions addressed issues we had asked the minister about in our march 14, 2023 letter. No doubt, the minister was prepped to respond to those questions.

Last month, the AODA Alliance and the Arch Disability Law Centre made public a list of 12 amendments needed to strengthen Bill C-22. Please email senators and urge them to pass the 12 amendments that the AODA Alliance and ARCH Disability Law Centre proposed. Write the SOCI Committee at soci@sen.parl.gc.ca

Learn about our campaign to strengthen the weak Bill C-22 by visiting the AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page.

MORE DETAILS

Reflections on Federal Disabilities Minister Qualtrough’s March 22, 2023 Presentation to the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs (SOCI)

Here are the AODA Alliance’s thirteen reflections on Minister Qualtrough’s presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs on March 22, 2023. After these reflections, we set out the entire text of her presentation. We encourage our supporters to read all of what she had to say, as these reflections only cover key highlights on which we wish to focus.

1. In her opening statement, Minister Qualtrough again repeated the statement that she began her Second Reading speech with on this bill in the House of Commons, and which she repeated during the House of Commons Third Reading debate:

“When I stood in the House of Commons to debate this bill on Second Reading, I declared that in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.”

,AODA Alliance Comment: We applaud this pledge. Disabilities Minister Qualtrough said the same thing at the start of her speech in support of her bill, during the first day of Second Reading debates in the House of Commons on September 20, 2022:

“Today, I begin with the following declaration: in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.”

She drove home the same commendable message again in similarly clear and categorical terms when she made her major speech in support of the bill, during Third reading debates in the House of Commons on February 1, 2023. She said:

“When I stood in the House to debate this bill at second reading, I declared that in Canada no person with a disability should live in poverty.”

Unfortunately, Bill C-22 does not ensure this. People with disabilities who are not working age get nothing from this bill, no matter how severe be their poverty. People with disabilities who are working age and who languish in poverty are left to hope and trust that the current Cabinet and every future Cabinet will treat them as them eligible for the Canada Disability Benefit and will set the amount at a high enough level to lift them out of poverty. We have no certainty that they will.

Every time the Minister repeats this statement, we are reminded how commendable her commitment is, but how far this bill falls short of living up to this goal.

2. Minister Qualtrough: ” (referring to the poverty from which so many people with disabilities suffer)

“To this we might add that people with disabilities have additional expenses that are specific to their disability, and when the pandemic hit, it only deepened the experience of poverty.”

AODA Alliance Comment: We commend the Trudeau Government for recognizing the cruel reality of disability poverty for seniors. However, nothing in the bill requires Cabinet to address these realities when setting the amount for the Canada Disability Benefit. Nothing in the bill requires the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit to cover these added costs.

3. Minister Qualtrough:

“The poverty level for persons with disabilities decreases by more than 60% between 64 and 65, from 23% to 9%.”

,AODA Alliance Comment: This bill provides nothing for people with disabilities who are not working age.

Minister Qualtrough:

“The Canada disability benefit will be established and implemented through Bill C-22, the legal framework to create the benefit and a subsequent regulatory process to establish the specific details of the benefit. The framework format of this legislation is intentional. We are purposefully not prescribing all the details in the legislation. Why? Because this best reflects our commitment to “Nothing Without Us” an ongoing engagement with the disability community and it puts us in the best position to work with provinces and territories to optimize benefit interaction.”

AODA Alliance Comment: This is not a compelling reason for including none of the needed details in the legislation. It is not a good reason for leaving every future Cabinet free to gut the Canada Disability Benefit in a secret meeting, with no public debates and votes in Parliament.

It is very good that the current Federal Government wants to engage with the disability community. However, it easily can fully engage with the disability community over the details of the bill. It is incorrect to imply that it is an “either, or” situation.

The Government has seemed at times to suggest that to be “framework legislation” (a term that has no legal significance), Bill C-22 must include no details. Yet the same Federal Government also called Bill C-81 the Accessible Canada Act “framework legislation.” That law is over 100 pages long. It includes far more than does the 6-page Bill C-22.

4. Minister Qualtrough: (Referring to the risk of provincial or territorial governments clawing back the Canada Disability Benefit)

“I also note your concern that similar circumstances could arise with private insurance.

I share these concerns, which I have conveyed to my provincial and territorial counterparts. I have made it clear to them that this is supplemental income, meant to be in addition to what individuals receive from provinces and territories. It is not meant to replace existing income or to pay for or offset the costs of what they receive now. It is not employment income or earnings. It is supplemental social assistance. With the complexity I have described and the different ways they treat additional income, provinces and territories have expressed gratitude for early engagement. They do not want a specific model imposed on them that will not work within their systems. They share my view that the best way of optimizing benefit interaction is by working together, flexibly and strategically.”

AODA Alliance Comment: This is the first time that we have seen the Federal Government acknowledge this serious problem with Bill C-22. It is one which the written brief to the Senate by Toronto lawyers Steven Muller and Hart Schwartz identified two months ago.

In this passage, the Federal Government here offered no answer to this concern, other than a statement that they are talking about it to the Minister’s provincial and territorial counterparts. See a further mention of this issue, below.

Federal-provincial meetings and discussions, like Cabinet meetings, take place behind closed doors. The Federal Government’s stated commitments to “Nothing about us without us” is incompatible with that secrecy, and with our knowing nothing about what the Federal Government plans to do to solve this problem. If people with disabilities must wait for all provinces and territorial governments to amend their private insurance legislation, the Canada Disability Benefit may be pushed back a long time.

5. Minister Qualtrough: (Regarding next steps)

“Once Bill C-22 receives Royal Assent, we will move into the regulatory phase of benefit development. This will involve significant, meaningful engagement with the disability community on the design of the benefit, building on the significant work that has already been done. It will involve more formal negotiations with provinces and territories on benefit interaction, including how the CDB will be categorized for their benefit calculations. Finally, it will involve work within the Government of Canada on how the CDB will interact with other federal benefits, and work to prepare our systems to deliver the benefit itself.”

,AODA Alliance Comment: The Federal Government previously said that it has been working on this. It first introduced this bill into Parliament almost two years ago, after pledging to create the Canada Disability Benefit well before that. It has budgeted and presumably spent millions on consulting the disability community. Minister Qualtrough has been negotiating with the provinces and territories for months if not years.

This is not all waiting to really get started only after Bill C-22 is passed. Moreover, from the perspective of the disability community, there is a short list of high priority topics on which to consult: What will be the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit? Who will be eligible for it? How do we apply for it? What will be the appeal process? It should not take years.

As for the real and serious danger of clawbacks, the Government and all opposition parties agree that these should not be allowed. The Federal Government has fully understood this for quite some time. We don’t need more months of formal consultations to bring that message to the Government.

At times, the Government has suggested that Parliament must pass Bill C-22 so they can “get started” on the regulations. We have every confidence that public servants have been working on the regulations for some time now. They don’t need to wait for Parliament to pass the bill, before they can “get started.”

6The Senate Committee Chair asked the Minister if she is open to improvements to the bill.

Minister Qualtrough:

“I can assure you, senator, that I am. Of course, I’m mindful of the framework nature of the bill like the structure or framework but listen, the Senate did a fabulous job of improving the Accessible Canada Act. I think there is always opportunity for improvement and I welcome any suggestions that you have and will take them seriously under advisement.”

AODA Alliance Comment: This is very good news for us. The Minister did not ask the Senate to pass Bill C-22 as is, without amendments. She did not try to get the senator to fear that if they make any improvements, this would kill the bill.

It is especially heartening that the Minister said that the Senate did a “fabulous job with Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act. Four years ago, the AODA Alliance, along with the ARCH Disability Law Centre, were especially active trying to get the Senate to strengthen that bill. Some had incorrectly feared that any amendments endangered that bill. In the end, we together convinced the Senate to make important improvements, including ones which the Federal Government had earlier rejected when that bill was before the House of Commons.

For example, we together got the Senate to amend the Accessible Canada Act to set the 2040 deadline for Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities. The Federal Government had vigourously opposed the bill including any such deadline. It is great that the Minister now considers the Senate’s improvements to have been “”fabulous.”

7. Senator Bovey ask if the provinces and territories have agreed that they will not claw back the Canada Disability Benefit.

Minister Qualtrough:

“Thank you, senator. I hope I made clear that I share your concerns. That’s why we’ve been engaging with provinces and territories from the very beginning on this.

What I’ll say, if it gives you any comfort, is this is a very different type of benefit than CERB was. The systems, as I’ve said, are varied across the country, but one thing they have in common is a very important distinction between money that is considered employment income or employment earnings and something other than that, like social assistance or some kind of supplemental income.

The closer a benefit or a dollar gets to being considered employment income, the more likely it’s going to be treated as replacement income. That’s what CERB was. CERB was effectively money that workers were getting to replace income they lost because they lost their job or hours during the pandemic.

I’ll give you a contrast piece that I hope will help: For the Canada Child Benefit that we negotiated as a government almost seven years ago, every province and territory agreed to exempt it from benefit calculations. We’re using that model. They don’t consider it replacement income; they consider it supplemental income. When they calculate their disability supports, it doesn’t factor in. That’s what I’ve told provinces and territories that I expect from them. This is not replacement income. Provinces and territories understand that this is the intent. There are no formal agreements yet because no benefit has been created by law yet.

We have informal ongoing discussions and work and I know that Ms. Wilcox and Mr. Ram can speak to that work but I can assure you that there is a shared understanding that this is replacement income, that this is about poverty reduction and it is meant to leave people better off, including with access to those ancillary services. It would not make any sense to give someone $100 a month to have them lose $1,800 worth of medication expenses. That is not leaving them better off. I’m incredibly mindful of that and hopeful that we will get to the same place we got to with the CCB.”

,AODA Alliance Comment: The Minister did not say that any province has already agreed that there will be no clawbacks. The most that the Minister said is that the Federal Government has told the provinces and territories that there must be no clawbacks.

The fact that there is no “formal agreement” yet is not sufficient for people with disabilities. We need to know if there has been an informal agreement, or an agreement in principle. On this, the Minister unfortunately did not give an affirmative answer.

It is only reasonable to infer that this is because no such agreement in principle has been reached, even informally. Had they reached such an agreement, the Minister would have told the Senate. The fact that The Minister’s reason for “no formal agreement” is, with respect, no answer. The fact that the legislation has not been passed is no barrier to reaching an agreement with the provinces and territories, even if it is an agreement in principle.

8. Senator Seidman asked about the danger of private insurance companies clawing back the Canada Disability Benefit.

Minister Qualtrough:

“Let me start with insurance, because I have already touched on the provincial-territorial side. As with the provincial benefit system, the regulation of private insurance is fundamentally in the provincial jurisdiction. That being said, we have had consultations and discussions with private insurers that have been very easy and positive and have not raised any concerns from me.

Like with provincial-territorial benefits, private insurance looks at the intent of the payment. If it’s employment income replacement, they offset the insurance workers’ compensation, disability insurance, I’m not working, so I’m not earning an income. I think that the insurance industry association has written to your committee explaining how they would approach this, but they consider it a social benefit I think that’s what they call it in which case, they don’t offset social benefits. They don’t offset the GIS or the Canada Child Benefit. It’s not considered employment earnings or income that they would offset.

I don’t want to diminish the concerns. That’s not fair. People are legitimately concerned, but it’s not something that I’m terribly worried about. I suspect we could enter into a memorandum of understanding an MOU. It’s not on the top of my list of concerns on this, and I think we’ve had some really positive conversations with them.”

,AODA Alliance Comment: It is good that the Federal Government is now trying to address this issue. However, we believe that amendments to the bill are needed to fix it. The Federal Government cannot fix it by simply trying to sign memoranda of agreements with each province and territory. An agreement between the Federal Government and a provincial government cannot, on its own, override an insurance contract. Only legislation can do that.

The Minister spoke of categorizing the Canada Disability Benefit as a social benefit, to avoid claw backs by private insurance companies. However this too is not an effective solution, according to the excellent brief submitted to the Senate by Toronto lawyers Steven Muller and Hart Schwartz, to which we referred above.

9. Senator Seidman asked the Minister about a specific issue that the AODA Alliance had raised.

“Senator Seidman: There is a question out in the community in fact, I’ve seen it come from David Lepofsky. He wanted to know if the federal government is prepared to allow the Canada disability benefit to be paid to people with disabilities in a province or territory that has signed an agreement with the federal government even if other provinces or territories have not signed a no-clawback agreement.

Ms. Qualtrough: First of all, this will be a direct monthly payment to individuals. That will happen regardless whether there exists an MOU in their province or territory or not. In fact, ideally, those agreements would predate the first payment. There is no world where somebody wouldn’t get paid because we have not made an agreement with their province or territory. I don’t want that to happen because I don’t want the impact of that payment to be that it gets offset or clawed back, but everyone can be assured that there will be no holding hostage of any single recipient as we negotiate these agreements with provinces and territories absolutely, 100%.”

AODA Alliance Comment: We deeply appreciate Senator Seidman asking the Minister about this. It is good that the Minister appear to say that the Canada Disability Benefit will be paid, even if a province or territory has not yet signed a memorandum of agreement with the Federal Government.

We regret that the Minister’s statement does not answer our concerns. Her statement seems to contradict her statements to the House of Commons last fall that she has a “red line” that there must be no clawbacks. It is not clear how the Federal Government can have it both ways. It cannot on the one hand, say that no clawbacks is a “red line”, and on the other hand agree to pay the Canada Disability Benefit in a province or territory that has not signed an agreement that commits to that red line of no clawbacks.

We hope the Federal Government can quickly clear up this confusion.

10. Senator Osler asked the Minister the question on everyone’s mind, namely when will the Canada Disability Benefit begin to be paid.

Minister Qualtrough:

“We can’t guarantee when, for example, this bill will receive Royal Assent, which means I can’t tell you when the regulatory process will commence or when it will end. Let’s assume that the day after Royal Assent, the regulatory process timeline kicks in. Based on all the work we’ve done already that is, the massive consultations, the surveys, the funding of national organizations to reach out to their members and their communities to get input we anticipate a 12-month regulatory timeline. We always have to balance the need to meaningfully engage with the desire to get money out the door and into people’s pockets. Assuming that timeline is what it is, which is our best estimate, after the regulations come into effect, we can quickly thereafter deliver the benefit.

What I have been saying consistently is the benefit will be delivered in 2024. Again, it depends on when Royal Assent starts that 12-month period.”

,AODA Alliance Comment: We wish we shared the Minister’s optimism. However, we recall how many months it took the Federal Government to send out a single emergency COVID-19 payment to impoverished people with disabilities during the pandemic, after the Government announced that it was to be paid.

11. Senator Cotter, the bill’s sponsor and the Federal Government’s formal spokesperson and advocate in the Senate on this bill, asked the Minister about a letter that was sent to senators the day before, supporting the bill’s passage, stating in part:

“Yesterday, all my Senate colleagues and I received a letter from over 800 individual signatories and 238 organizations and experts representing the disability community urging the Senate to advance Bill C-22 without delay or amendment.”

AODA Alliance Comment: The AODA Alliance is not a signatory to that letter to the Senate. However, we feel it important to point out that Senator Cotter incorrectly stated what that letter said. He stated that the letter calls for the bill to be passed “without delay or amendment”. In fact that letter calls for the bill to be passed without “unnecessary” amendments.

The Government’s official spokesperson in the Senate should not incorrectly state what any disability organizations or people with disabilities have said on this important topic. That is fundamental to “Nothing about us without us.”

12. As part of her response to Senator Cotter, Minister Qualtrough said:

“I think the disability community has been saying, “Trust us. We’ve got this.” I will be at the table and we’ll be at the table with them and we’ll build on all the work that we have done together over eight years. This has been a trust-building exercise that started with the Accessible Canada Act in the most accessible and inclusive consultations ever undertaken in the country. We have grown from there as a community.”

AODA Alliance Comment: With respect, we do not believe that the disability community is saying or has ever said that any one party or government, much less every future government, should simply be trusted, without the necessary safeguards being built into the legislation.

13. Senator Burey asked the Minister what the annual cost of this program will be and whether the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) been involved in costing the program?

Minister Qualtrough answered in part:

“In terms of the cost of this, we’ve worked with the PBO on methodology for the benefit, but we don’t have costing of it primarily because we don’t have the numbers yet. Part of the regulatory process will be, as the work with the provinces and territories is going on, to figure out how our benefits will interact. Discussions with the community will occur.

The way I look at this benefit as a model is this: We have for seniors the OAS and the GIS. For persons with disabilities, the OAS component is the provincial-territorial benefit system. We are the GIS equivalent. We give the money that goes on top of that for people who earn below a certain level of income to raise them out of poverty. For example, we know that the official poverty lines in the country are regional, but they vary between $19,000 and $25,000. I have said this is modelled after the GIS. We know how much people get annually on the GIS. We know what people get for CPP disability and we know the provincial disability support amounts. We are trying to bridge that gap between the poverty line and what people get in their various provinces. That’s the ballpark that we’re working with.

Again, we haven’t landed on figures. That will be determined through budget processes, and that will be soon but I’m not speaking for the finance minister when I say that, so please don’t quote me. We don’t have a lot to fund right now, so it will not be imminent, but our commitment to deliver this by the end of 2024 will require a budget decision. You know the budget cycle. I have to be very careful, five days before the budget, when talking about somebody else’s job that isn’t mine. That’s probably the best I can describe the math in all of this.”

AODA Alliance Comment: In our many years advocating for different facets of accessibility for people with disabilities, a question we are asked over and over by government officials at all levels, when we propose something new, is: “Well, before we go ahead with this, what is it going to cost?”

It is challenging to understand how so many years after the Federal Government first promised the Canada Disability Benefit, and after so many Government consultations, federal-provincial negotiations, and parliamentary public hearings, the Federal Government cannot give an answer to this important question.

Transcript of Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough’s March 22, 2023 Presentation to the Senate’s Standing Committee on Social Affairs (SOCI)

THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

EVIDENCE

OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Chair: Colleagues, today our committee begins its study of Bill C-22, an Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.

I would like to take a brief moment to remind those participating in today’s meeting, as well as those observing the proceedings in person and on video, that the committee has taken steps to allow for the full participation of all witnesses and members of the public in the context of consideration of Bill C-22. In planning inclusive and accessible meetings, the committee has made arrangements for sign language interpretation in both American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language for those witnesses appearing in person and for those in our audience. The sign language interpretation will be video recorded to be incorporated into the archived video recording of the proceedings, which will be made available at a later date on SenVu via the committee’s website.

Finally, if a member of the audience requires assistance at any time, please notify one of the pages or the committee clerk, who sits next to me.

Joining us for the first panel is the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. Welcome, minister, and thank you for taking the time to be with us. Just a note to committee members: The minister may have to participate in more votes. In that case, we will suspend briefly while she does her important work as an MP.

We also welcome officials from Employment and Social Development Canada: Mr. Elisha Ram, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Income Security and Social Development Branch; and Krista Wilcox, Director General, Office for Disability Issues.

Thank you, all of you, for joining us today.

I now invite you, minister, to provide opening remarks. You will have five minutes allocated for opening statements, and then, of course, there will be questions from senators.

The floor is yours.

Hon. Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion: Thank you, Madam Chair, and good afternoon, committee members.

Thank you all for being here today. I’m honoured to be your very first witness as you study Bill C-22, an act to reduce poverty and support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit. I acknowledge that I am speaking to you on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.

Madam Chair, honourable senators, I want to thank you and the committee for the work you do to help shape government legislation and policy to make Canada more disability inclusive. I know you appreciate how much the disability community is counting on us to pass this bill. I was so encouraged to receive a letter from more than half the Senate’s membership urging the government to adopt the Canada disability benefit without delay. I also recognize Senator Cotter for sponsoring this important legislation in the Senate. On behalf of the disability community, senator, I thank you.

[Translation]

When I stood in the House of Commons to debate this bill at second reading, I said that no person with a disability in Canada should live in poverty.

More than one in five Canadians report having a disability. We are your friends. We are your family. We are your neighbours. We are your colleagues. Our community is diverse, talented and innovative.

Despite the incredible richness of this community, the harsh reality is that working-age people with disabilities in this country are twice as likely to live in poverty. Twenty-three per cent of working-age people with disabilities live below the poverty line. The situation is even more precarious for people with severe disabilities, women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ2S+ people and people with disabilities who are racialized.

In addition, people with disabilities face additional expenses specific to their disability.

When the pandemic struck, it only made the experience of poverty worse.

This poverty is rooted in the discrimination, prejudice, and exclusion that people with disabilities have always faced. These barriers exist because our systems, laws, policies and programs were not designed with or for people living with disabilities.

[English]

There is also a significant gap in our federal social safety net for persons with disabilities between the Canada Child Benefit, or CCB, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. A common experience within the disability community is immense relief and often celebration at turning 65.

Why? Because at 65, Old Age Security, or OAS, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, or GIS, kick in. There is income security, often for the first time. The poverty level for persons with disabilities decreases by more than 60% between 64 and 65, from 23% to 9%.

Across Canada, provincial and territorial disability or social assistance does not lift people with disabilities above the poverty line. This is why the Canada disability benefit, or CDB, is about poverty reduction and financial security. It aims to address the long-standing economic disparity that is experienced by so many persons with disabilities in Canada.

With this backdrop, let me get into the details. The Canada disability benefit will be established and implemented through Bill C-22, the legal framework to create the benefit and a subsequent regulatory process to establish the specific details of the benefit. The framework format of this legislation is intentional. We are purposefully not prescribing all the details in the legislation. Why? Because this best reflects our commitment to “Nothing Without Us” an ongoing engagement with the disability community and it puts us in the best position to work with provinces and territories to optimize benefit interaction.

First, in the spirit of “Nothing Without Us,” and recognizing that far too often governments have imposed upon persons with disabilities, we are working with the disability community to design the benefit. Persons with disabilities know best our needs, our challenges and the barriers that keep us from financial security. Budget 2021 provided funding for three years to ensure the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in this process, and this work is well underway. We heard clearly through our consultations and testimony in the House that stakeholders do not want decisions made without the disability community’s meaningful participation.

Second, we must work closely with provinces and territories. Bill C-22 recognizes the leading role they play in providing supports and services to persons with disabilities. The benefit and support landscape is complex, and varies significantly across the country. There are different eligibility criteria in every province and territory. There are different definitions of disability, different treatments of other income, different reduction rates, etc.

Disability supports combine income support with other services, such as transit passes, employment programs, assistive devices and pharmacare. For example, Alberta has a benefit for people with severe disabilities. Individuals must be substantially limited in their ability to work and their disabilities must qualify as “likely to be permanent.” Ontario provides broader, less targeted assistance. Qualifying disabilities don’t need to be severe and can affect work, personal care or participation in community life. The disability must be expected to last at least one year. The Northwest Territories provides benefits geared to the high cost of living in the North. Eligibility is based on the ability to perform activities of daily living. Amounts cover the actual costs of shelter and utilities, with no fixed cap.

As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We need to work with each province and territory to harmonize benefits and optimize the impact of the CDB. And we are: There is a federal-provincial-territorial, or FPT, workgroup and there is an FPT work plan that all jurisdictions have agreed to. We have met as a group of FPT ministers responsible for disability inclusion, and I meet regularly with individual ministers. There is an understanding that the CDB is intended to be supplemental income, not replacement income. It is meant to make people better off and lift them out of poverty. And there is an understanding that we need to work together to ensure there are no unintended consequences.

I know much of your debate and many of your questions have been focused on provincial clawbacks, or the concern that provinces or territories will reduce their income support by the amount an individual receives in CDB, effectively leaving the recipient no better off.

I also note your concern that similar circumstances could arise with private insurance.

I share these concerns, which I have conveyed to my provincial and territorial counterparts. I have made it clear to them that this is supplemental income, meant to be in addition to what individuals receive from provinces and territories. It is not meant to replace existing income or to pay for or offset the costs of what they receive now. It is not employment income or earnings. It is supplemental social assistance. With the complexity I have described and the different ways they treat additional income, provinces and territories have expressed gratitude for early engagement. They do not want a specific model imposed on them that will not work within their systems. They share my view that the best way of optimizing benefit interaction is by working together, flexibly and strategically.

Let me conclude with a summary of next steps. Once Bill C-22 receives Royal Assent, we will move into the regulatory phase of benefit development. This will involve significant, meaningful engagement with the disability community on the design of the benefit, building on the significant work that has already been done. It will involve more formal negotiations with provinces and territories on benefit interaction, including how the CDB will be categorized for their benefit calculations. Finally, it will involve work within the Government of Canada on how the CDB will interact with other federal benefits, and work to prepare our systems to deliver the benefit itself. I am excited to get to this next phase, and I thank you for understanding the urgency of this work. The work you are doing here, and the work that was previously done in the House of Commons, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in Canada, and many people are counting on us.

With that, I am happy to take questions.

The Chair: Senators, we have questions from all of you. We will reduce the question and answer time to four minutes to accommodate everyone.

Let me start off with a brief question. Minister, thank you for your passion. We can see it every time you talk to us about this bill. Thank you for bringing this bill to the floor of the House and then to the chamber.

As you well know and appreciate, the disability community is super-engaged in this bill. My question to you is simple and straightforward: Are you open to improvements to the bill?

Ms. Qualtrough: I can assure you, senator, that I am. Of course, I’m mindful of the framework nature of the bill like the structure or framework but listen, the Senate did a fabulous job of improving the Accessible Canada Act. I think there is always opportunity for improvement and I welcome any suggestions that you have and will take them seriously under advisement.

The Chair: Thank you, minister.

Senator Bovey: Minister, it’s lovely to see you. Thank you for joining us today. I’m happy to see this assistance for a group of citizens who really face greater vulnerabilities than many of the rest of us. However, I’m not without my concerns. You’ve already articulated the issue of clawbacks, which is big for me, as is the need to retain other services that the various regions have, like wheelchairs, rent assistance or whatever they may be.

You described the Canada disability benefit as supplemental, and not replacement income. My question is on these two points, both clawbacks and services. Have the provinces agreed not to claw back? Because the clawbacks in my province of Manitoba for CERB were significant and put people in worse situations. Having witnessed that once, I guess I need the assurance that we’re not going to have to witness it again.

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator. I hope I made clear that I share your concerns. That’s why we’ve been engaging with provinces and territories from the very beginning on this.

What I’ll say, if it gives you any comfort, is this is a very different type of benefit than CERB was. The systems, as I’ve said, are varied across the country, but one thing they have in common is a very important distinction between money that is considered employment income or employment earnings and something other than that, like social assistance or some kind of supplemental income.

The closer a benefit or a dollar gets to being considered employment income, the more likely it’s going to be treated as replacement income. That’s what CERB was. CERB was effectively money that workers were getting to replace income they lost because they lost their job or hours during the pandemic.

I’ll give you a contrast piece that I hope will help: For the Canada Child Benefit that we negotiated as a government almost seven years ago, every province and territory agreed to exempt it from benefit calculations. We’re using that model. They don’t consider it replacement income; they consider it supplemental income. When they calculate their disability supports, it doesn’t factor in. That’s what I’ve told provinces and territories that I expect from them. This is not replacement income. Provinces and territories understand that this is the intent. There are no formal agreements yet because no benefit has been created by law yet.

We have informal ongoing discussions and work and I know that Ms. Wilcox and Mr. Ram can speak to that work but I can assure you that there is a shared understanding that this is replacement income, that this is about poverty reduction and it is meant to leave people better off, including with access to those ancillary services. It would not make any sense to give someone $100 a month to have them lose $1,800 worth of medication expenses. That is not leaving them better off. I’m incredibly mindful of that and hopeful that we will get to the same place we got to with the CCB.

Senator Bovey: If there was an amendment to the effect of the legislation not allowing clawbacks banning is too strong a word, so I don’t know what the wording would be is that something you would accept?

Ms. Qualtrough: Again, I don’t know what the word would be either. I say that because of the reality that there is no federal benefit legislation that obligates provinces to not claw it back from their own benefit system. It’s their jurisdiction. I’m not sure we could legally do that. The OAS, GIS, Canada Workers Benefit, the Canada Child Benefit none of these pieces of law impose an obligation on another level of government. I don’t know if it would be within jurisdiction, but we would look at it seriously. I can’t tell you how it would go from a jurisdictional point of view. I apologize.

Senator Seidman: Thank you, minister. It’s good to see you. I remember our work on Bill C-81 and the Accessible Canada Act, and I look forward to this very much as we start our study on Bill C-22. I know that the disability community considers this a really critical piece of legislation, and long past overdue, as we hear them say and we all very clearly understand.

I want to ask you about the potential for clawbacks and the huge concern there is in the community not only around potential provincial and territorial clawbacks, but also around private insurance that a lot of people in the community already have. It’s a serious issue.

You explained very well in your presentation the myriad programs across the country, even in basic definitions. It does create complexities that are going to have to be dealt with. I’m just wondering what communication you have already had. Could you give us some more details about the communication you’ve had not only with the provinces and territories, but also with private insurers as to how they’re going to look at it this?

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you. Let me start with insurance, because I have already touched on the provincial-territorial side. As with the provincial benefit system, the regulation of private insurance is fundamentally in the provincial jurisdiction. That being said, we have had consultations and discussions with private insurers that have been very easy and positive and have not raised any concerns from me.

Like with provincial-territorial benefits, private insurance looks at the intent of the payment. If it’s employment income replacement, they offset the insurance workers’ compensation, disability insurance, I’m not working, so I’m not earning an income. I think that the insurance industry association has written to your committee explaining how they would approach this, but they consider it a social benefit I think that’s what they call it in which case, they don’t offset social benefits. They don’t offset the GIS or the Canada Child Benefit. It’s not considered employment earnings or income that they would offset.

I don’t want to diminish the concerns. That’s not fair. People are legitimately concerned, but it’s not something that I’m terribly worried about. I suspect we could enter into a memorandum of understanding an MOU. It’s not on the top of my list of concerns on this, and I think we’ve had some really positive conversations with them.

Senator Seidman: There is a question out in the community in fact, I’ve seen it come from David Lepofsky. He wanted to know if the federal government is prepared to allow the Canada disability benefit to be paid to people with disabilities in a province or territory that has signed an agreement with the federal government even if other provinces or territories have not signed a no-clawback agreement.

Ms. Qualtrough: First of all, this will be a direct monthly payment to individuals. That will happen regardless whether there exists an MOU in their province or territory or not. In fact, ideally, those agreements would predate the first payment. There is no world where somebody wouldn’t get paid because we have not made an agreement with their province or territory. I don’t want that to happen because I don’t want the impact of that payment to be that it gets offset or clawed back, but everyone can be assured that there will be no holding hostage of any single recipient as we negotiate these agreements with provinces and territories absolutely, 100%.

Senator Osler: Thank you, minister, for joining us here today. Clause 9 of the bill covers payments made under the proposed benefit. Paragraph 9(d) states that the benefit is subject to garnishment pursuant to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act.

I have two questions. First, why would a benefit that isn’t income be subject to such a garnishment? Second, why not align the issue of garnishment to that found in the individual provinces or territories so that if a similar provincial or territorial benefit is subject to garnishment then this would be as well, and vice versa?

Ms. Qualtrough: I’m going to pass this more technical question over to Ms. Wilcox in a second. But at a very high level, senator, this is modelled after An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (Guaranteed Income Supplement) to have uniformity of treatment of the benefit across provinces and territories so as not to have a person’s income treated differently in different jurisdictions. Did I get that right?

Krista Wilcox, Director General, Office for Disability Issues, Employment and Social Development Canada: Yes.

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you. Do you have more to add?

Ms. Wilcox: Yes. The other reason we’ve included this is that it’s consistent across federal benefits in general, so not just the GIS, but other federal benefits that are similar that is, while keeping in mind the intent behind this which is about women and ensuring that they receive income in the instances when there is a family order in place. It’s consistent across our policies. For example, income tax is treated the same way, as is the GST credit, and this is consistent with that. It’s for the protection of women and children in more vulnerable conditions, likely also living in poverty.

Senator Osler: Minister, clause 14 of Bill C-22 has a coming-into-force provision of no later than the first anniversary of the day on which it receives Royal Assent.

You mentioned next steps included working on the regulations, but has your department begun work on the regulations regarding eligibility in anticipation of the bill coming into force? When can Canadians expect to start receiving the Canada disability benefit?

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you for those important questions. I will answer the second one first. We can’t guarantee when, for example, this bill will receive Royal Assent, which means I can’t tell you when the regulatory process will commence or when it will end. Let’s assume that the day after Royal Assent, the regulatory process timeline kicks in. Based on all the work we’ve done already that is, the massive consultations, the surveys, the funding of national organizations to reach out to their members and their communities to get input we anticipate a 12-month regulatory timeline. We always have to balance the need to meaningfully engage with the desire to get money out the door and into people’s pockets. Assuming that timeline is what it is, which is our best estimate, after the regulations come into effect, we can quickly thereafter deliver the benefit.

What I have been saying consistently is the benefit will be delivered in 2024. Again, it depends on when Royal Assent starts that 12-month period.

Senator Cotter: Thank you, minister, for being with us today. Yesterday, all my Senate colleagues and I received a letter from over 800 individual signatories and 238 organizations and experts representing the disability community urging the Senate to advance Bill C-22 without delay or amendment. In particular, the letter states:

We believe these processes will be undertaken in good faith by government stakeholders and people with disabilities in the construction of the benefit. We are looking forward to seizing this historic opportunity for an accessible and inclusive regulations-development process. The bill itself speaks to that.

In light of this, can you elaborate on how this regulatory process will unfold and whether you agree it’s a more appropriate means to advance and address these legitimate concerns rather than amendments to the bill at this stage?

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator. Absolutely, it’s my preferred way forward. That’s how we are structuring this process. I can assure you all there will be a rigorous and transparent regulatory process involving the disability community. That has been my promise and commitment from the beginning. Thanks to amendments in the House, which I strongly believe created more parliamentary oversight and more community collaboration requirements, we have to report back to both houses within 6 months on the extent to which we have engaged with the disability community and we have to report back to both houses within 12 months regarding what regulations have been put into place and their status. Those are excellent tools for oversight, but we have a massive, thorough process that will involve round tables, technical briefings and a public comment period. The idea is that, by sitting across from the disability community, rolling up our sleeves and working all this out, we will get the best input on what this should look like and how we can avoid any potential challenges or barriers in its development.

I think the disability community has been saying, “Trust us. We’ve got this.” I will be at the table and we’ll be at the table with them and we’ll build on all the work that we have done together over eight years. This has been a trust-building exercise that started with the Accessible Canada Act in the most accessible and inclusive consultations ever undertaken in the country. We have grown from there as a community.

Senator Moodie: Thank you, Minister Qualtrough. It is great to see you again. My question is related to process concerns. Will there be a role for physicians or health care providers as it relates to this bill? Currently, a certificate must be completed by a health care provider in order for a person to apply for the Disability Tax Credit, or DTC, a process that is not without its issues. There is a lack of clarity, limitations on eligibility criteria, considerable amounts of time spent on paperwork and so on.

How do you propose that this process will be adjusted to improve the efficiency and maximize its success for individuals as it relates to Bill C-22 and the Canada disability benefit?

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator. I think you have hit on an important piece of work that needs to be done, namely the community engagement and support needed to ensure that people can access this benefit, whatever eligibility criteria are eventually put in place, including having some kind of certification like the DTC and making sure that we work with the community to put in place those types of measures. For example, we’ve recently expanded the types of medical professionals that can fill out a DTC application. More professionals can now do this, so people have options in terms of getting that documentation filled out.

We are also talking to provinces and territories about a joint application where that makes sense. For example, you wouldn’t have to go to your doctor twice. If you were applying for one, you would fill out the second form at the same time. It would be seamless from the user’s experience.

Access to a physician is a concern for all of us. In honest and open disclosure, I must tell you that right now you have to pay to get the form filled out for the DTC. That’s a barrier as well. We’re looking at ways to reduce these barriers through mechanisms such as organizations providing clinics to their members where doctors can process multiple recipients at the same time, or undertaking awareness campaigns, education campaigns and funding tax clinics so people can file taxes so they can access these benefits if it’s a DTC.

We have a number of ideas. In fact, most of them were given to us by the disability community to ensure that, coupled with the work we’re doing technically, we are doing community support and engagement that will ensure everyone who is eligible for this can access it.

Senator Moodie: Will this work on regulations include health care providers, and those groups that you have identified?

Ms. Qualtrough: I apologize in terms of the consultations, yes, it will.

Senator Kutcher: It’s lovely to see you again, minister. Thank you for being with us today and for all the incredible work that you have been doing in this important area.

Could you share with us what work has already been done or is ongoing in discussions with provinces and territories around this regulatory approach that will give us a bit of comfort that this framework model is actually one that has a good chance of working?

Ms. Qualtrough: Yes so much work. We are very tired. We have been working very hard from the get-go with provinces and territories on this. It started with an FPT ministerial meeting where we explained this idea and that we wanted to introduce this legislation. It would mean all of us working together, understanding that everyone around the table had different eligibility criteria and different approaches to benefit structures. We had to figure out a way to have a national benefit on top of it all that didn’t vary across provinces and territories and that, like every other federal benefit, it was the same whatever province or territory you lived in.

That resulted in a lot of work at the officials level, which culminated in this work plan I talked about, which is an FPT work plan that every province and territory has signed onto with us, where there is research being done on benefit interaction, environmental scans being done to see where things are consistent and what other services and supports you might have access to that we want to make sure you still have access to.

There have been a lot of elections in the provinces and territories. I have spoken with more provincial and territorial ministers in the past year and a half than I can even count. I regularly talk with my colleagues, and they are very grateful for this early interaction, whether it’s, “I will need, minister, to amend my regulations to add this to the side of the ledger where this is not considered in benefit calculation;” “I will need to amend legislation” or “I will need to introduce legislation.”

In some provinces, you are eligible for disability supports by virtue of affiliation to an organization, and that would be it. If you are a member of X organization, you are considered eligible. Obviously, that’s not consistent across the country, so we’re really digging in on this.

Ms. Wilcox, have I missed anything?

Ms. Wilcox: The only thing I would add is we have been working with provinces and territories to build a microsimulation model, which is, essentially, a model that will allow us to look at the interaction between provincial-territorial and federal benefits. Right now we don’t have that data, and we have been able to secure agreements from six provinces to provide data to Statistics Canada, which will allow us, in designing the benefit, to really look at, as we design it, what the interactions will be with provincial-territorial benefits. This will be a long-term policy gain in the field of disability across the board, so when provinces change their benefits they can also look at how it will impact their citizens and how it compares to other provincial governments as well.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

[Translation]

Senator Petitclerc: I will ask my question in French. Of course, you can answer in the language of your choice.

Thank you very much, minister, for being with us today, and thank you for all the work you do.

As many have said, this is a bill that fills us with hope. At the same time, because of its nature, it is a framework that leaves many question marks. One of my concerns is what people have told you in consultations about the importance of this benefit, a benefit that is associated with the person living with a disability and not dependent on income differences in a family unit.

I ask the question, because we know that a person living with a disability can sometimes also be in a vulnerable situation, and this is even truer when we talk about women with disabilities. What is your perspective on this?

[English]

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you for the question. This is an important conversation and an issue that’s very close to the hearts of many people with disabilities across this country, and it’s a really good example of an issue that is best determined through regulation because of its complexity.

We really need to understand benefit interaction at the deeply technical level to understand how benefits will be calculated. In some provinces, it’s individually; in some provinces, it’s based on family income and in some provinces, it’s based on household income. It’s about understanding, if I have no income and my spouse makes $150,000, how that works in my province and then how we layer a federal regulatory scheme on top of that; understanding, for a 45-year-old with a severe disability who gets provincial benefits living with their parents, that their income isn’t calculated for the purpose of the provincial benefit and how that will impact their entitlement at the federal level; understanding the example of two individuals who are married both getting the federal benefit and provincial benefits at the provincial level, their benefits may or may not be impacted by the fact that their spouse is also getting provincial benefits; if those two same people were roommates, their income would be treated differently.

This is a perfect example of why we need the data Ms. Wilcox is talking about and why we need to work through this in the regulatory process and really listen and be respectful of the disability community’s wishes on this. The honest answer is that we don’t know yet because we will work through it with the regulations, but this is probably the best example of the complexity. I don’t know how I would legislate what I just said. We would have to do it through regulation.

The Chair: Thank you, minister.

Senator Bernard: Thank you, minister, for being here with us this afternoon. My question has to do with invisibility, which seems to be an important topic to bring up here today.

In work that I have done with African Nova Scotians with disabilities, I have repeatedly heard that disability justice issues are invisible in Black community struggles, and I’ve also heard and know from literature on this topic that race equity issues are not really addressed very well in disability communities. My question would be this: How have issues of intersectionality and race equity been addressed as you have been working with communities to develop this bill? And when you talk about meaningful engagement with disability communities after the passing of this bill, how will issues of intersectionality and the invisibility of race equity issues in disability discussions be taken up?

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you for that important question. We are taking an intersectional approach to this work. We have met with and I hope I pronounce it right ASE Community Foundation for Black Canadians with Disability. We’ve met with Indigenous Disability Canada. We are meeting with DAWN Canada, the DisAbled Women’s Network, who have a particular focus and funding to put an intersectional lens on government policy and decisions and advise us how we can best do that. I won’t weigh in on how bad it would be if we didn’t do this work, but we are doing the work.

Ms. Wilcox: We had a round table with racialized persons with disabilities as part of our pre-engagement, and we heard from them specifically about some of the concerns they had in the design of the benefit but also, in particular, around the implementation and some of the key issues they saw. I have a statistic to share with you: 40% of Black persons with disabilities are living in poverty, so we know that racialized persons with disabilities are much more likely to be living in deep poverty than other Canadians. It is an important issue on which we will continue to work with a number of our partners as we design this.

Senator Bernard: I invite you to keep in mind that, when we look at these issues across the country, they vary significantly. Those in rural and remote communities have very different experiences to those in large urban centres.

Ms. Qualtrough: Perhaps we can lean on you for advice. I would be interested to make sure we’re talking to the people you’re talking to.

Senator Bernard: I would be happy to do that.

Senator Dasko: Thank you, minister, for your comments today. I still remember Bill C-81 as well. It was the first amendment I made to a bill, so I remember it. It was accepted by the Senate and then accepted by the government, so I have a very good memory on that.

Thank you for being here. My questions relate further to the topic of eligibility that you were talking about earlier. The bill does say that eligibility is going to be set out by the regulations, but I want to probe it a little further.

We have eligibility requirements with respect to income criteria. There have to be eligibility requirements with respect to who is eligible by way of their ability so, persons with disabilities.

I want you to start with the second one. I’m trying to understand. I know that over the years Statistics Canada has changed in terms of how it defines disability. I want to understand what definition you use with respect to this. Is there a Statistics Canada definition that fits with this or intersects with what you’re doing, or are you going to be creating new definitions in some way?

Also, as the second part of this, I understand that the concept of disability is an evolving social construct. I’m pretty sure I know what that means, but I would like to hear what you think that means and how that impacts the definition of disability. Start with the data and how these two aspects of eligibility intersect or interact with each other.

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you. Someone will have to mind the time with me on this one. We spent a lot of time in our consultations around the ACA the Accessible Canada Act. I am thrilled that your first amendment was to the ACA; that’s lovely.

We came up with the definition of “disability” in the Accessible Canada Act based on the definition within the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It’s incredibly broad. It includes permanent, temporary, episodic and mental health, and it speaks to disability as the relationship and interaction of an impairment and a barrier.

That definition, under my mandate letter from the Prime Minister, will infiltrate the Government of Canada’s work, and it has started to. You will perhaps know that one of the amendments made in the House to Bill C-22 was to incorporate that definition into Bill C-22. That is the definition of “disability” that the Government of Canada is using, and it’s really beyond even the social model of disability.

So, of course, historically, we have the medical model, moving into the social model. This is an almost an identity model type of definition of “disability.” As someone who identifies as a person with a disability, it is not for my government to tell me that I don’t have a disability. However, it may be for my government to tell me that I make too much money to get this benefit or it may be for my government to put other parameters on eligibility, but trying to move constructively to a kind of social identity model is how I would more philosophically describe it.

That being said, the reality right now is we don’t have a list or a bucket of people with disabilities who meet that definition or, quite frankly, even access federal government programs and services that are disability related. One of the challenges we faced during the pandemic was that we desperately wanted to do a one-time payment for people, but we didn’t have a list of people. I can tell you every kid under the age of 16 and every senior over the age of 65. I can’t give you a list of people with disabilities; we don’t have that data.

During COVID, we merged a list of people who were receiving the Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit with a list of people receiving the Veterans Affairs Disability Benefit and with a list of people who were eligible for the Disability Tax Credit, and we paid the one-time benefit to that list of people.

Senator Burey: It is a pleasure to be here. Your enthusiasm is infectious. I can see the amount of work in fact, I can feel the amount of work and energy that you’ve put in. As a pediatrician who has worked over the years with many children requiring me to fill out many disability forms, I am very intimately acquainted with the processes, the barriers, et cetera.

My eminent colleagues have asked many of the questions I wanted to ask. I’m going to drill down a little bit on a sort of money question. Recognizing that a benefit amount has not yet been determined, what has the federal government projected as the total cost for the program annually? Has the Parliamentary Budget Officer the PBO been involved in this costing of the program? Of course, I’m always interested in looking at the potential returns on this investment because, as we know, this is an investment knowing the mental and physical health benefits of reducing poverty. Take it away, minister.

Ms. Qualtrough: First of all, thank you for recognizing that this is an investment because it absolutely is. We know that when people are able to live with dignity, confidence and security, financially and otherwise, there are a lot more choices out there for everyone.

I will put on my employment minister hat on for a second. We are missing out on so much talent and creativity and innovation in this country when we don’t access people with disabilities in anything that we do, but I will say employment for my case.

In terms of the cost of this, we’ve worked with the PBO on methodology for the benefit, but we don’t have costing of it primarily because we don’t have the numbers yet. Part of the regulatory process will be, as the work with the provinces and territories is going on, to figure out how our benefits will interact. Discussions with the community will occur.

The way I look at this benefit as a model is this: We have for seniors the OAS and the GIS. For persons with disabilities, the OAS component is the provincial-territorial benefit system. We are the GIS equivalent. We give the money that goes on top of that for people who earn below a certain level of income to raise them out of poverty. For example, we know that the official poverty lines in the country are regional, but they vary between $19,000 and $25,000. I have said this is modelled after the GIS. We know how much people get annually on the GIS. We know what people get for CPP disability and we know the provincial disability support amounts. We are trying to bridge that gap between the poverty line and what people get in their various provinces. That’s the ballpark that we’re working with.

Again, we haven’t landed on figures. That will be determined through budget processes, and that will be soon but I’m not speaking for the finance minister when I say that, so please don’t quote me. We don’t have a lot to fund right now, so it will not be imminent, but our commitment to deliver this by the end of 2024 will require a budget decision. You know the budget cycle. I have to be very careful, five days before the budget, when talking about somebody else’s job that isn’t mine. That’s probably the best I can describe the math in all of this.

The Chair: Thank you, minister. I have a question posed by Senator McPhedran, who is a member of this committee but was unable to join us. It has to do with the codified right to appeal a denial of financial assistance through this benefit. She asks:

In comparison to, let’s say, the OAS, which has a right to appeal, or the EI Act, Employment Insurance Act, which has a right to appeal, or the Canada Dental Benefit which has a right to appeal, why is there no codified right to appeal in this act?

Ms. Qualtrough: I’m happy to inform the senator that there will be an appeal process. It will be set up through the regulatory process, again, making sure that it is responsive to the ultimate design of the benefit and who’s eligible and the specifics of the eligibility criteria. Every other federal benefit has an appeals process. We will model this one after those, and there will absolutely be an appeal process, 100%.

The Chair: Minister, I want to thank you on behalf of all my committee members for your presence and your willingness and openness to answer all our questions. Ms. Wilcox and Mr. Ram, thank you as well for being with us. If there are any unanswered questions from my colleagues, Ms. Wilcox, perhaps you have taken note and you can get back to us in writing.

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you all. I’m so happy.

The Chair: We are happy that you are happy as well. Happiness needs to be spread in the universe, not just in the Senate.