Trudeau Government Gives Seriously Problematic Reasons for Refusing to Ratify the Senate’s Ban on Private Insurance Companies Clawing Back the Canada Disability Benefit from Vulnerable People with Disabilities on Private Long-Term Disability Benefits

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Website: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance

June 16, 2023

SUMMARY

Three years after Prime Minister Trudeau promised the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) to lift people with disabilities out of poverty, Bill C-22 is thankfully almost finished its roller-coaster ride through Parliament. Yet, even with the Senate possibly finishing that ride as soon as next week, we still have no idea who will qualify for the CDB. We don’t know what the amount of the CDB will be. We have no idea what hoops a person will have to jump through to apply for the CDB. Add to that the fact that the Federal Government has still not yet budgeted a dime for paying the CDB. There is still so much uncertainty ahead of us all even though impoverished people with disabilities desperately need the CDB, now.

It is a major accomplishment for disability advocacy that two days ago, the House of Commons ratified five of the six amendments to Bill C-22, for which a number of us disability advocates fought so hard. But we are left puzzling over an important question: Why did the Trudeau Government refuse to ratify one of the six Senate amendments to Bill C-22, the provision that would have banned private insurance companies from clawing back the CDB? Why did the Federal Government choose to make it perfectly lawful for insurance companies to clawback the CDB from impoverished people with disabilities who are living on inadequate private long-term disability (LTD) benefits? How could the Federal Government do that, when it pledged that it had a red line in the sand that there would be no clawbacks of the CDB?

On June 14, 2023, federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough gave a carefully crafted statement in the House of Commons, announcing the Federal Government’s response to the Senate’s amendments. She complimented the five Senate amendments that the Trudeau Government accepted, stating that they further strengthen the bill. This comes after the same Federal Government earlier campaigned so hard for months to get the Senate not to make any amendments to the bill.

In Minister Qualtrough’s June 14, 2023 statement, she gave two pages of reasons, set out below, explaining why the Trudeau Government rejected the important Senate amendment for which so many fought so hard the ban on private insurance companies from clawing back the CDB from people with disabilities who receive private LTD benefits. With great respect, the Minister’s reasons are severely faulty. She and her Government did not reach out to us in advance to discuss the concerns that they first made public in that detailed statement. Had the Government done so, we would have shared the response we include in this update and would have urged the Trudeau Government to reconsider its faulty reasons. We know that expert Toronto lawyers Steven Muller and Hart Schwartz had shared with the Prime Minister in writing, and with his office by virtual meeting, why it was essential to ratify this amendment to the bill. Those two lawyers spearheaded the fight for this amendment.

On June 15, 2023, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky explained to City News Radio 1310, in Ottawa, why it was wrong for the Trudeau Government to align itself with rich insurance companies, rather than with impoverished people with disabilities who receive private LTD benefits.

We regret that no opposition party brought the motion we asked them to bring, to add the ratification of the Senate’s amendment to Bill C-22 regarding private insurance clawbacks of the CDB. The House of Commons’ ratification of all the Senate’s amendments to Bill C-22 except this critical one was a unanimous vote.

Stay tuned for our next steps on the Canada Disability Benefit.

In this update you will find:

* Minister Qualtrough’s two pages of reasons why the Trudeau Government rejected the Senate’s amendments on private insurance clawbacks of the CDB from LTD recipients.
* The AODA Alliance’s point-by-point refutation of Minister Qualtrough’s reasons. * The June 15, 2023 article in the Globe and Mail on this issue.
* A June 15, 2023 report by City News Kitchener. It focused on the response to this issue by Green Party MP Mike Morrice. No one fought harder in the House of Commons than Mr. Morrice to get Bill C-22 strengthened.
* The text of the three excerpts from the proceedings in the House of Commons on June 14, 2023, regarding Bill C-22.

Learn more about this saga by visiting the AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page.

MORE DETAILS

Federal Disability Minister Carla Qualtrough’s Reasons for Rejecting the Senate’s Amendment to Bill C-22 that Banned Insurance Companies from Clawing Back the Canada Disability Benefit from Recipients of Private Long-Term Disability Benefits

Minister Carla Qualtrough’s June 14, 2023 statement in the House of Commons on Bill C-22 included the following reasons for rejecting the Senate’s important amendment to Bill C-22 that would have banned insurance companies from clawing back the CDB from people with disabilities on private LTD benefits:

Now, I will spend some time on the final amendment, Senate amendment 2, as the government’s proposed response to it is to respectfully disagree.

Amendment 2 would amend clause 9 of Bill C-22, which concerns the way benefit payments are to be treated in situations such as bankruptcy or insolvency. Amendment 2 would add that benefit payments cannot be recovered or retained, in whole or in part, under the terms of any contract, insurance plan or similar instrument.

I understand that the intent of this amendment is to address the situation where provincial benefits or insurance payments are at risk of being clawed back or reduced as a result of a payment of the Canada Disability Benefit, effectively leaving the recipient no better off and potentially impacting secondary program and service entitlements. The issue of clawbacks is perhaps the most common concern raised by the disability community. We heard it here in the House as well.

The disability benefit and support landscape is incredibly complex, and varies significantly across the country. There are different eligibility criteria in every province and territory, different definitions of disability, different treatments of other sources of income, different reduction rates, etc. As a result, we have to be mindful of the potential direct and indirect impacts that additional income in the form of the CDB could have on provincial or territorial benefit and service entitlements.

Since day one, we have been clear that this is supplemental income, meant to be in addition to provincial and territorial income supports and other forms of income. It is not replacement income. It is not employment income or employment earnings.

We explored ways to address these concerns through legislation. The challenge is that both contracting generally and the insurance industry fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. This is why no such provision exists in any other benefit legislation in Canada, not for the Canada child benefit, OAS or GIS, CPP, or the Canada workers benefit.

While the federal spending authority allows the government to create such a benefit, it does not allow the federal government to attach conditions in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as the regulation of insurance companies. Knowing this, we have worked very closely with provinces and territories on benefit interaction.

Provinces and territories have expressed gratitude for early engagement. There is consensus that the CDB is intended to be supplemental income, not replacement income, and make people better off. They share our view that the best way of optimizing benefit interaction is by working together. We have a detailed federal-provincial-territorial work plan that all jurisdictions have agreed to. Once this bill becomes law, we will begin the formal negotiations on agreements with the provinces and territories.

We have also engaged with the private insurance industry. The feedback we have received from the industry is that they would not choose to offset or claw back income that is considered social assistance or a poverty reduction measure. Once again, the CDB is not replacement or employment income. Once this bill becomes law, we will continue to work with private insurers throughout the regulatory process.

Simply put, the government disagrees with this amendment because we believe it raises significant constitutional concerns. Both the regulation of private insurance and contracting generally fall within provincial jurisdiction. If we went ahead with this amendment, the likelihood of an individual or organization bringing forward a court challenge would be very high. This would create significant uncertainty and could impact the regulatory process, which could in turn impact benefit delivery. This could very well delay benefit payments.

Furthermore, I am concerned that there would be serious implications for federal-provincial-territorial relations. It is likely that the provinces and territories would see this provision as an encroachment on their jurisdiction. This could undermine the work that we have accomplished to date. Therefore, while I understand and share the Senate’s concerns around clawbacks, the way to address this issue is to continue with the process that is already under way, not through this amendment to Bill C-22.

The Senate amendments we are proposing to accept further strengthen Bill C-22 and do not limit the government’s commitment to a quick, regulatory process. The amendment we are proposing to not accept, respectfully, raises constitutional concerns and could significantly impair our relationships with provinces and territories, and ultimately delay benefit delivery.

AODA Alliance’s Point-by-Point Refutation of Minister Qualtrough’s Reasons

Minister Qualtrough’s explanation is seriously flawed for these reasons:

1. Minister Qualtrough fundamentally misunderstood the intent of the Senate amendment that she was rejecting. On June 14, 2023, she said that the intent of this amendment is to address the situation where provincial benefits or insurance payments are at risk of being clawed back or reduced as a result of a payment of the Canada disability benefit

Yet this amendment had nothing at all to do with provincial governments clawing back the CDB from provincial social assistance payments such as ODSP. It exclusively aimed at private insurance companies clawing back the CDB from people receiving private LTD benefits. Her argument is thus built on a misconception. This error is important because the Minister went on in her statement to repeat how complicated the different provincial regimes are for public social assistance like ODSP. Yet those complexities are entirely irrelevant to this amendment, since it does not address those public social assistance programs at all.

2. On June 14, 2023, Minister Qualtrough argued that:

both contracting generally and the insurance industry fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction.

Yet any first-year law student studying Canadian constitutional law knows that this is certainly not the end of a discussion whether a federal law is constitutionally valid. The categories of federal and provincial powers are not watertight compartments, as the Minister would have it. Parliament can validly pass legislation that happens to touch upon contracts, such as private insurance, so long as it does so incidentally, and for legitimate federal purposes. For example, the Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that Parliament acted within its federal powers when it banned genetic testing by insurance companies even though this could affect private contracts like insurance. (See Reference re Genetic Non?Discrimination Act, 2020 SCC 17)

3. On June 14, 2023, Minister Qualtrough said:

While the federal spending authority allows the government to create such a benefit, it does not allow the federal government to attach conditions in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as the regulation of insurance companies.

This is constitutionally wrong. Were it true, then the Federal Government’s sacred Canada Health Act must also be unconstitutional. It imposes conditions on how provinces spend federal money, intended for use in health care. Is Minister Qualtrough unilaterally declaring that the Canada Health Act has always been unconstitutional?

This is not the first time that Minister Qualtrough, speaking for the Trudeau Government, took such an impoverished view of the powers of the Federal Government. Four years ago, on April 3, 2019, she addressed a Standing Committee on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. We had wanted that bill amended to impose requirements that when recipients of federal grants (including provincial governments) to build local infrastructure, it should be a condition of the grant that the new infrastructure must be designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. The Federal Government refused to agree to such an amendment.

It would be ridiculous for the Federal Government to give money to a province to build a hospital or public transit line, only to be powerless to ensure that the new hospital or public transit line was inaccessible to people with disabilities. Yet the Federal Government took the position that it could not stop that from happening, even as a condition of the grant it gave for building that project. Four years ago, Minister Qualtrough made it sound like the Federal Government did not have the constitutional power to impose such conditions on its spending. The April 23, 2019 AODA Alliance Update included this:

Senator Dasko: I guess another thing that I’ve heard from some people who think this bill should go farther than it does has to do with the federal government’s lack of intention here to take a stronger role when it comes to direct federal spending on infrastructure projects or spending in many areas where the federal government funds projects and creates projects and so on, the critique being that it doesn’t go far enough in insisting that barriers are not there when these projects are undertaken. So just at the beginning, I suppose, before federal money is given to these projects, not enough is being done in this bill to ensure that those projects are barrier-free. It’s a critique I’ve heard, and I’d like to hear what you might have to say about it.

(Procedural discussion omitted)

Minister Qualtrough: At the end of the day, what I would say is we’ve pushed the language in the law as far as we can go while still respecting federal jurisdiction. James is probably better to answer the technical side as to how far we can go, but this will apply to federal policies and federal programs. It won’t apply to financial transfers like the health transfer because that’s effectively a provincial jurisdiction that we’re helping to fund, but it doesn’t give us authority, as I understand it, to actually impose that condition down that far. Maybe I’m not explaining it right. I apologize. It’s jurisdictional.

To be very clear, though, this will transformatively change the Government of Canada in terms of every department and agency will have to have an accessibility plan. We have already established in my office, for example, a centre for accessible procurement, meaning we will be having policies and processes. We won’t procure things that aren’t accessible.

The Prime Minister has appointed a deputy minister responsible for an accessible public service, whose job it is every day to figure out how we are going to have to be ready and how we will be ready in our government with its employees to adhere to this law.

Can you talk to more about how far we can go down, please? Because I can’t remember the language in the law.

Mr. Van Raalte: I think you’ve covered it, minister. Departments will have to be able to report on their programs, policies and services. They will have to do that reporting in consultation with people with disabilities. They are at the table for that. So that will actually give both the government and the public forward-looking perspective on the plans of those organizations, such as planned spending and program priorities in a forward-looking way that will allow us to have those discussions. You want to be thinking about the accessibility measures included in those investments.

Ms. Qualtrough: Having said that, in terms of what’s in the law, we’ve taken a number of steps in parallel to embed accessibility into our new programs and our new processes. I’ll give you an example. With the National Housing Strategy or our infrastructure program, accessibility is baked into these initiatives.

A fun example I like to give is around our infrastructure. Transit is a priority for our government. Historically, for whatever reason, whether it be oversight or intention, upgrades with respect to making buses more accessible have not been included as eligible expenses for communities to claim and use infrastructure dollars for. We literally added a box on a piece of paper three years ago where we told communities that they could use this money to make their community buses more accessible. In that one year, $810 million was spent on accessible transit. We didn’t advertise it. We didn’t highlight it anywhere. We changed the form, and communities recognized the values of accessible transit and invested in their communities.

I could give you so many examples, as we’ve pursued this law, of the things that we’ve done in terms of government policy, programs and initiatives to make the way we govern a more accessible experience, both for the people who work in government and the people we serve.

Our Comment: As the AODA Alliance presentation to the Senate’s Standing Committee on April 11, 2019 shows, we respectfully disagree with the minister’s claims that the Federal Government cannot do more here. The minister’s statements make it sound like the Federal Government is powerless to attach accessibility strings when it gives federal public money to a local or provincial government to help build a hospital, subway station, or university building.

This is incorrect. The Federal Government has a significant “spending power” which lets it attach federal conditions to federal money that it gives out. If a provincial government or other local organization doesn’t want to comply with those strings, it is free to simply refuse to accept the federal money.

For over three decades, the Canada Health Act, a federal law, has attached federal strings to federal money that is given to provinces to help finance their health care systems. One of those legal requirements is the accessibility of health care services (not in the disability sense of accessibility) If the minister is correct that the Federal Government has no power to attach strings to federal money that is spent in provincial areas of responsibility then she is admitting that the Canada Health Act is unconstitutional. That would be a surprising thing for a federal cabinet minister to claim.

We believe that the Federal Government could include in Bill C-81 a requirement that no federal cabinet minister or department may agree to give federal public money to any organization, federal or provincial, to contribute to the building or renovating of infrastructure, unless the recipient agrees to meet federal accessibility requirements. If the minister were correct, then the Federal Government is simply powerless here. It can give money to help fund the construction of a local subway station, but is powerless to say that the subway station must have elevators, and not just stairs, to reach the subway. We disagree.

This too is not a hypothetical issue. The AODA Alliance has produced a widely-viewed online video that shows serious accessibility problems at new Toronto subway stations, recently opened, that were built in part with federal money.

4. Turning our attention back to June 14, 2023 and the Bill C-22, Minister Qualtrough said:

We have also engaged with the private insurance industry. The feedback we have received from the industry is that they would not choose to offset or claw back income that is considered social assistance or a poverty reduction measure.

This feedback to the Minister from insurance industry corporate lobbyists is no replacement for mandatory enforceable legislation that prohibits any insurance company from clawing back the CDB from a recipient of private LTD benefits. A person with disabilities on LTD cannot stop an insurance company from clawing back the CDB under a term of their insurance plan, by saying that Minister Carla Qualtrough told the House of Commons on June 4, 2023 that the industry said it would not do that. Her statement in Parliament is not enforceable law.

Making this worse, there is no proof that the insurance lobbyists with whom Minister Qualtrough or her office spoke are authorized to represent, much less to bind every LTD provider in Canada. Insurance companies have a long history of denying coverage and then leaving it to insured persons to have to lawyer up and take them to court.

5. On June 14, 2023, Minister Qualtrough said:

If we went ahead with this amendment, the likelihood of an individual or organization bringing forward a court challenge would be very high.

We completely disagree. No individual on LTD would have any desire or need to lawyer up at great expense and go to court to attack the constitutionality of a federal ban on private insurance companies clawing back the CDB from them. If the Minister was correct in stating that the insurance industry does not want to claw back these benefits, then they too would have no reason to spend large sums on lawyers to go to court to attack the constitutionality of a ban on federal legislation that forbids insurance companies from clawing back the Canada Disability Benefit.

Even if someone wanted to go to court to challenge a federal ban on insurance companies clawing back the CDB from private LTD recipients, their case would be abysmally weak, as AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky told the Senate Standing Committee on April 27, 2023. He has a background in fighting constitutional cases, having earlier worked as counsel within the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General’s Constitutional Law Division.

People can always bring constitutional cases in court, no matter how bogus their arguments are. The Federal Government has on staff an excellent team of expert constitutional lawyers who could easily fend off a constitutional challenge here.

A purely speculative fear of such bogus court claims is not a good reason for the Federal Government to fail to protect vulnerable impoverished people with disabilities in this situation. Moreover, the fear of a constitutional challenge to Parliament’s recent controversial and risky liberalization of medically assisted suicide did not deter the Federal Government from passing that legislation.

6. On June 14, 2023, Minister Qualtrough said of the possibility of a court challenge to a federal ban on private insurance clawback of the Canada Disability Benefit:

This would create significant uncertainty and could impact the regulatory process, which could in turn impact benefit delivery. This could very well delay benefit payments.

This too is completely incorrect. Sadly, at each stage of this bill’s debates in Parliament, the Federal Government repeatedly used the fear of delaying the payment of the CDB to try to get people with disabilities to worry that they’d best not press for the bill’s improvement. This led some disability organizations to resist amendments to Bill C-22, even though those amendments would have helped people with disabilities who live in poverty. Fortunately, the AODA Alliance and many other disability advocates, as well as the Senate of Canada, were not deterred by that Federal Government scare tactic.

Had the House of Commons ratified the Senate’s ban on private insurance companies clawing back the CDB from those on LTD benefits, this would not have delayed the payment of the CDB to anyone. The Federal Government would have been free to develop all the regulations needed to get the CDB started. This would not have delayed the Federal Government developing and enacting regulations to get the CDB started.

Had there been a court challenge to the Senate amendment regarding private insurance clawbacks, that would not have delayed payment of the CDB to people who are entitled to it. At worst, that court proceeding might only create uncertainty about one thing, namely whether private insurance companies can claw back the CDB from LTD recipients, something the Minister said the industry does not want to do. That uncertainty would not stop or slow the Federal Government from deciding on the amount of the CDB, who is eligible for it, or how a person will apply for the CDB.

Because the Trudeau Government blocked this important Senate amendment to Bill C-22, people with disabilities are now left with major uncertainty about whether private insurance companies will claw back the CDB from LTD recipients. Minister Qualtrough claims they won’t. An expert in LTD law, Steven Muller, showed the Senate that they will, backed by clear contractual language that lets them do so. People with disabilities will be left with further uncertainty until we find out if all 10 provinces and three territories pass provincial/territorial bans on private insurance claw backs.

7. On June 14, 2023, Minister Qualtrough argued:

Furthermore, I am concerned that there would be serious implications for federal-provincial-territorial relations. It is likely that the provinces and territories would see this provision as an encroachment on their jurisdiction. This could undermine the work that we have accomplished to date.

What this means, in plain language, is that the Trudeau Government is worried that perhaps some provincial politicians or bureaucrats might grumble. Yet the pressing need to lift vulnerable people with disabilities on private LTD benefits out of poverty is a more pressing concern than ensuring a maximum of good feelings between federal and provincial politicians and bureaucrats.

8. It is noteworthy that the Minister did not claim on June 14, 2023 that the Federal Government could solve this issue of insurance company clawbacks of the CDB by enacting federal regulations. Over the past months, some in the disability community had mistakenly thought that all the problems with Bill C-22 that the Senate tried to fix through amendments could instead be solved through regulations to be enacted under the bill. As the Senate Standing Committee was told in clear terms on April 27, 2023 by several experts, there is no power in Bill C-22 to make regulations that prohibit private insurance companies from clawing back the CDB.

Moreover, if the Minister was correct that Parliament cannot constitutionally enact legislation to prohibit private insurance companies from clawing back the CDB (a position with which we strongly but respectfully disagree), then the Federal Cabinet would similarly lack constitutional authority to enact regulations under Bill C-22 that ban private insurance companies from doing so. If Parliament cannot constitutionally do it by enacting legislation, then the Federal Cabinet cannot constitutionally do it by enacting regulations.

The Globe and Mail June 15, 2023

Employment Minister Qualtrough rejects key Senate amendment to disability bill

By BILL CURRY
Staff
OTTAWA – The Liberal government is rejecting a key Senate amendment to its disability legislation that aimed to ensure the new federal benefit won’t cause provinces or insurance companies to claw back existing support payments.

Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, is legislation that sets the stage for a long-promised new income-support program for Canadians with disabilities.

The Senate reviewed the bill and sent it back to the House late last month with six amendments, but the government did not immediately react to the proposed changes.

Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, announced the decision Wednesday evening in the House of Commons.

The Minister said the government accepts five of the Senate’s six amendments, but not the one stipulating that the new program can’t lead to the clawing back of other benefits.

“Simply put, the government disagrees with this amendment because we believe it raises significant constitutional concerns,” Ms. Qualtrough said, adding that the regulation of private insurance is generally a provincial matter.

“If we went ahead with this amendment, the likelihood of an individual or organization bringing forward a court challenge would be very high,” she said.

“This could very well delay benefit payments. Furthermore, I’m concerned that there would be serious implications for federal provincial-territorial relations.

It’s likely that the provinces and territories would see this provision as an encroachment on their jurisdiction. This could undermine the work that we’ve accomplished today.”

The legislation was first tabled nearly two years ago in the previous Parliament. It died when the 2021 election was called and was reintroduced last June.

The Senate amendments that the government did accept relate to clearer wording on appeals, new language about the cost of living and updated language on implementation timelines.

Non-affiliated Senator Marilou McPhedran and Independent Senators Group Senator Kim Pate issued a joint statement Wednesday expressing dismay at the government’s decision.

“The government is effectively removing one of the strongest safeguards introduced by the Senate that was intended to protect benefit recipients and lift them out of poverty,” they wrote.

“Without the Senate safeguard amendment, Bill C-22 leaves the door open for private insurance companies to clawback the Canada Disability Benefit from people with disabilities receiving long term disability benefits.”

The senators said the amendment has received strong support from legal experts.

“The government position does not hold water,” they wrote, stating that no provincial government or private insurance company has publicly objected to the amendment.

“Despite our grave reservations over the rejection of this amendment, we will vote to pass this legislation, as the disability benefit is long overdue and desperately needed. Time will tell how this private insurance loophole may be exploited,” they said.

The government’s decision on the amendments was scheduled to be approved by the House of Commons by the end of the day Wednesday. The bill will then go back to the Senate for a final sign-off.

The bill leaves key details of the benefit – such as the size of payments and eligibility – to be decided later by cabinet through regulations.

City News Kitchener June 15, 2023

Originally posted at https://kitchener.citynews.ca/2023/06/15/local-mp-reacts-to-bill-c-22-passing-in-house-of-commons/ Green Party MP for Kitchener Centre Mike Morrice rises in the House of Commons, Monday, November 29, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld By Brad Kraemer

A controversial bill was passed in the House of Commons Wednesday.

Kitchener Centre MP Mike Morrice has advocated for the passage of Bill C-22, also known as the Canada Disability Benefit Act, for years.

Morrice said that this bill is aimed at lifting people with disabilities out of poverty. He added that in Canada, 40 per cent of people living in poverty have a disability.

Although he’s happy that people with disabilities are one step closer to seeing the benefit in their bank account, he told CityNews 570 he’s not completely satisfied with the end result.

The bill has significant drawbacks, said Morrice. But at least we do have something passed here that is now going back to the Senate.

Morrice and his team were able to make five amendments to the bill, one of the key ones ensures the benefit is indexed for inflation in the regulations.

However, Morrice did not get support on all of his requested amendments, including one that would have extended the disability benefit. The way the bill is currently written, it’s going to cut off the benefit when someone turns 65.

To me, that’s just so inappropriate. A person’s disability doesn’t end at 65, said Morrice.

Morrice said he doesn’t envision any more amendments at the Senate, but that doesn’t mean their work is done.

With the disability community, we are going to be continuing to put pressure on the federal government to put in place strong regulations and to budget for the benefit, said Morrice.

The bill will now go to the Senate for a final vote before it can become law.

Hansard House of Commons WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14, 2023

Originally posted at https://www.ourcommons.ca/documentviewer/en/house/latest/hansard

1st SESSION
44th PARLIAMENT

Excerpt 1:

Canada Disability Benefit Act

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties, and if you seek it, I believe you will find unanimous consent to adopt the following motion.

I move: That, notwithstanding any standing order, special order or usual practice of the House, in relation to the motion respecting Senate amendments made to 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, one member of each recognized party will be allowed to speak for not more than ten minutes followed by five minutes for questions and comments, and at the conclusion of the time provided for this debate or when no member rises to speak, whichever is earlier, the motion be deemed agreed to.

The Speaker: All those opposed to the hon. member’s moving the motion will please say nay. It is agreed. The House has heard the terms of the motion. All those opposed to the motion will say nay. (Motion agreed to)

Excerpt 2

Canada Disability Benefit Act

Hon. Carla Qualtrough (Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Lib.) moved: That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, in relation to 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, the House: agrees with amendments 1, 4 and 5 made by the Senate;
* agrees with the Senate proposal to make any necessary consequential changes to the numbering of provisions and cross-references resulting from the amendments to the bill;
* respectfully disagrees with amendment 2 because it raises significant constitutional concerns by seeking to regulate the insurance industry specifically or contracting generally, both of which fall within provincial jurisdiction; * proposes that amendment 3 be amended to read as follows:

New clause 10.1, page 4: Add the following after line 5:
Appeals 10.1 Subject to regulations, a person, or any other person acting on their behalf, may appeal to a body identified in regulations made under paragraph 11(1)(i) in respect of any decision (a) relating to the person’s ineligibility for a Canada disability benefit;
(b) relating to the amount of a Canada disability benefit that the person has received or will receive; or (c) prescribed by the regulations..

She said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the government’s position on the proposed Senate amendments to 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 do so on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe peoples. I will begin by thanking senators for their attention to this bill, especially the members of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for their study, which resulted in six amendments to the bill and seven observations.
Each time I have risen in the House on Bill C-22, I have begun by declaring that no person with a disability in this country should live in poverty, yet many do. Approximately 23% of working-age persons with disabilities in Canada live in poverty, and many are in deep poverty. The history of how this came to be in a country with as much promise and opportunity as Canada is one of exclusion, marginalization and discrimination. This history, and the resulting financial insecurity and poverty, which is a lived experience of many persons with disabilities in Canada, is the backdrop for Bill C-22, and it is why we are here today working together to create a new federal benefit for low-income, working-aged persons with disabilities. At its core, the Canada disability benefit is about poverty reduction and financial security.

There is a significant gap in our social safety net for persons with disabilities. The Canada child benefit disability supplement is available until age 18 and old age security and the guaranteed income supplement are available after age 65, but there is nothing in between. However, just as the guaranteed income supplement did for seniors and the Canada child benefit did for children, the Canada disability benefit would lift persons with disabilities out of poverty.
Bill C-22 is framework legislation by design. The Canada disability benefit would be established and implemented through Bill C-22, which is a legal framework to create the benefit and a subsequent regulatory process through which the specific details will be established. This reflects our commitment to the disability community and recognizes the leading role that provinces and territories play in providing supports and services to persons with disabilities. Now I will move on to the amendments.

There were six amendments sent back from the Senate. As was said, the government agrees with amendments 1,4, 5 and 6, and proposes that the House accepts these amendments as is. These amendments enhance Bill C-22 in that they add clarity, precision and specificity. We also agree with amendment 3 with a minor amendment.

Amendment 3 would add a new clause, clause 10.1, related to appeals. While Bill C-22 provides for an appeal process to be created by regulation, this new clause gives a right to appeal in two specific areas: benefit ineligibility and amount. The government proposes that this Senate amendment be further amended to clarify that other decisions may also be appealed. This would avoid a future legal interpretation where grounds for appeal are restricted to the two specified areas of ineligibility and amount. I thank the Senate for its thoughtfulness on this important issue of administrative justice and trust that it will consider the government’s proposed amendment appropriate.

Now, I will spend some time on the final amendment, Senate amendment 2, as the government’s proposed response to it is to respectfully disagree.

Amendment 2 would amend clause 9 of Bill C-22, which concerns the way benefit payments are to be treated in situations such as bankruptcy or insolvency. Amendment 2 would add that benefit payments cannot be recovered or retained, in whole or in part, under the terms of any contract, insurance plan or similar instrument.

I understand that the intent of this amendment is to address the situation where provincial benefits or insurance payments are at risk of being clawed back or reduced as a result of a payment of the Canada disability benefit, effectively leaving the recipient no better off and potentially impacting secondary program and service entitlements. The issue of clawbacks is perhaps the most common concern raised by the disability community. We heard it here in the House as well.

The disability benefit and support landscape is incredibly complex, and varies significantly across the country. There are different eligibility criteria in every province and territory, different definitions of disability, different treatments of other sources of income, different reduction rates, etc. As a result, we have to be mindful of the potential direct and indirect impacts that additional income in the form of the CDB could have on provincial or territorial benefit and service entitlements.

Since day one, we have been clear that this is supplemental income, meant to be in addition to provincial and territorial income supports and other forms of income. It is not replacement income. It is not employment income or employment earnings.

We explored ways to address these concerns through legislation. The challenge is that both contracting generally and the insurance industry fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. This is why no such provision exists in any other benefit legislation in Canada, not for the Canada child benefit, OAS or GIS, CPP, or the Canada workers benefit.

While the federal spending authority allows the government to create such a benefit, it does not allow the federal government to attach conditions in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as the regulation of insurance companies. Knowing this, we have worked very closely with provinces and territories on benefit interaction.

Provinces and territories have expressed gratitude for early engagement. There is consensus that the CDB is intended to be supplemental income, not replacement income, and make people better off. They share our view that the best way of optimizing benefit interaction is by working together. We have a detailed federal-provincial-territorial work plan that all jurisdictions have agreed to. Once this bill becomes law, we will begin the formal negotiations on agreements with the provinces and territories.

We have also engaged with the private insurance industry. The feedback we have received from the industry is that they would not choose to offset or claw back income that is considered social assistance or a poverty reduction measure. Once again, the CDB is not replacement or employment income. Once this bill becomes law, we will continue to work with private insurers throughout the regulatory process.

Simply put, the government disagrees with this amendment because we believe it raises significant constitutional concerns. Both the regulation of private insurance and contracting generally fall within provincial jurisdiction. If we went ahead with this amendment, the likelihood of an individual or organization bringing forward a court challenge would be very high. This would create significant uncertainty and could impact the regulatory process, which could in turn impact benefit delivery. This could very well delay benefit payments.

Furthermore, I am concerned that there would be serious implications for federal-provincial-territorial relations. It is likely that the provinces and territories would see this provision as an encroachment on their jurisdiction. This could undermine the work that we have accomplished to date. Therefore, while I understand and share the Senate’s concerns around clawbacks, the way to address this issue is to continue with the process that is already under way, not through this amendment to Bill C-22.

The Senate amendments we are proposing to accept further strengthen Bill C-22 and do not limit the government’s commitment to a quick, regulatory process. The amendment we are proposing to not accept, respectfully, raises constitutional concerns and could significantly impair our relationships with provinces and territories, and ultimately delay benefit delivery.

I thank the senators for responding to the disability community’s concerns. Both the House and the Senate have improved this bill.

The Canada disability benefit is the result of decades of relentless advocacy on the part of the disability community. This benefit is the culmination of the work of every self-advocate, every activist, every parent, every ally, every organization, everyone who has fought to have disability rights recognized.

I said at the beginning of my remarks that we are here, working together, on this. We have come together on this bill already, and today we did it again. We are on the cusp of doing what every single one of us in this place came to Ottawa to do, which is to help people, make their lives better and right historic wrongs. Today, we are literally making history.

Mrs. Tracy Gray (KelownaLake Country, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the last we heard was that it would take approximately a year to negotiate with the provinces and territories, and a year, at the same time, to develop the regulations, once this potentially passes royal assent and became law. Is that still the timeline that is being worked towards? Will it take a year to develop all of that? Should people realistically expect the disability benefit a year past this point?

Hon. Carla Qualtrough: Mr. Speaker, yes, the anticipated timeline for the regulatory process remains at 12 months, so as I have said, the quicker we get this to royal assent, the quicker we start that 12-month clock.

Excerpt 3

Canada Disability Benefit Act

The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the amendments made by the Senate to 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.

Mrs. Tracy Gray (KelownaLake Country, CPC): Madam Speaker, I thank the minister again for her intervention today.

Part of the next stage of this, presuming this passes and becomes law, would then be to develop the regulations for this bill and to negotiate with the provinces and territories. This would all be done not through Parliament, not at committee but behind closed doors. While the government touts itself as being open and transparent, the way that this would play out would actually be behind closed doors. There would not be an opportunity to come back to Parliament. There would not be an opportunity to take any of the details of this benefit to committee to be analyzed, to have witnesses testify and to have amendments.

My question to the minister is this. Would you consider this to be an open and transparent process going into the next stage?

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): I just want to remind the member that she is to address all questions and comments through the Chair and not directly to the member.
The hon. Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.

Hon. Carla Qualtrough (Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I can reassure the hon. member that this would be a very public process. In fact, because of amendments made in this House, there would be an obligation of the government and of the minister to report to both Houses on engagement: the level of engagement and how we have engaged with the disability community. We would have to report, at the end of one year, what regulations have been put in place and what they look like, not to mention that the regulatory process itself would be quite public.

In the pre-regulatory process, we have already engaged with the disability community. We are working on a series of round tables. We have a ton of input already. I could go on, but I want everyone to know that we intend to make this a very public, open and transparent process.

Ms. Bonita Zarrillo (Port MoodyCoquitlam, NDP): Madam Speaker, I want to ask a little bit about the consultation that has already happened and how far along this is. I know, and the minister and everyone in the House knows, that the community wants this benefit to be passed and that it wants to have it in bank accounts as soon as possible.

Has some of that consultation already gone forward on regulation, and what kind of timeline do you really anticipate this is going to be?

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): I would remind members to address questions and comments through the Chair. The hon. minister.

Hon. Carla Qualtrough: Madam Speaker, technically, the regulatory process itself has not commenced, because there is nothing to regulate until there is a law, until the bill is passed; however, a lot of work has been done to date. Community members are very engaged on the specific elements, giving us feedback on areas like how the reduction rate should be designed, how much the amount should be, how we work with provinces and territories [Translation]

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): I am sorry to interrupt the minister, but I have been informed that there are problems with the interpretation. It is now sorted out now. The hon. minister can continue. [English]

Hon. Carla Qualtrough: Madam Speaker, yes, a lot of work has been done technically on specific elements of the benefit, but of course the regulatory process itself cannot start until this bill becomes law.

Mr. Mike Morrice (Kitchener Centre, GP): Madam Speaker, while I am encouraged that the minister was so deeply involved in ensuring that Bill C-22 was going to move through the House this evening, I am deeply disappointed that the Senate amendment that would have ensured that people with disabilities do not have their benefits clawed back from the insurance industry was not supported. This is essentially going to increase the profits of private insurance companies.

Why is the minister not willing to stand up and ensure that this amendment that the Senate carefully worked through is included? (1835)

Hon. Carla Qualtrough: Madam Speaker, I am not willing to encroach on provincial jurisdiction in the area of general contracting or on private insurance, or create the risk and uncertainty that doing so would do, which is not to say that I have not put a red line in the sand on clawbacks. I am working very closely with provincial and territorial colleagues to make sure that does not happen.

Mrs. Tracy Gray (KelownaLake Country, CPC): Madam Speaker, I am glad to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-22 today. It is always an honour to represent my community of KelownaLake Country.

I know that our Conservative members are all committed to increasing support for Canadians living with a disability. More than one in five Canadians lives with a disability. It is not an insignificant number. In fact, it is not a number at all; these are people. These are family members, friends, brothers, sisters and parents. Canadians living with disabilities can have additional financial burdens with assistance, supplies or equipment that they may require. Canadians living with disabilities are underemployed, as approximately 59% of working-age adults with disabilities are employed, compared to around 80% of those without disabilities, according to Statistics Canada.

Navigating life with a disability can be a full-time job for many, with no time out and no break. While the intention to support those with disabilities remains, there are many unknowns with Bill C-22, which we are discussing today. This is because the most important details of this bill, such as eligibility, what working age means as mentioned in the bill, what the payment amounts will be, what the application process will be, and provincial and territorial co-operation and interaction with other benefits are all being left to be determined through regulation. These would all be determined behind closed doors, with no ability to come back to parliamentarians for debate or amendments, and no opportunity to hear from witnesses at committee in a public venue. Essentially, we have a bill with a benefit and process that are yet to be determined. Canadians living with disabilities deserve legislation that is committed to them through concrete action, not promises.

This legislation had extensive testimony at the human resources committee, including many written submissions. I will mention just one witness who testified at committee: Michelle Hewitt, chair of the board of directors for Disability Without Poverty, who is also a constituent of mine in KelownaLake Country. I first met Michelle many years ago in my community, and she has been a strong advocate in many ways for persons with disabilities. I will read a couple of comments she made on record during her witness testimony at committee. She said, Disabled people do not live in poverty because they are worthless to society. It is quite the opposite; it is because their worth is not valued. In fact, people with disabilities contribute over $47 billion to the Canadian economy. She also stated:

We talk about lifting disabled people out of poverty, but what does that really mean? Canada’s official poverty lines use the market basket measure, which fails to take disability into account.
We hear the stories of disabled people living in poverty on a daily basis, as they are our friends and family. We can tell you about the man who approached Rabia in the parking lot of a grocery store offering to swap bus tickets for food, or my friend who lives month to month with MAID approved, wondering if this month will be her last because she can’t afford to live.

…Time is of the essence. Food inflation is at 11.6%, yet provincial disability payments are not index-linked. This means that in real terms, disabled people fall further behind every day.
This is why this benefit would most effectively be delivered if details were co-created with persons with disabilities. This is why Conservatives supported amendments at the human resources committee, which passed, to provide more certainty on this benefit, including indexing the benefit to inflation, ensuring the Canada disability benefit payment amount would stay proportionate to the cost of living. We also support the Senate amendments the government has brought forth.

The creation of the Canada disability benefit should consider the complex web of programs currently in place, which, for many Canadians with disabilities, including those with episodic disabilities, can result in benefit cuts and higher taxes as a consequence of taking on work. There are families that rely solely on benefits due to the nature of the disability, and people are living in poverty.

I want to be clear that I am concerned about the potential clawbacks that could affect people. These could be with interactions with provincial or territorial benefits, with interaction of benefits through insurance, or with interactions with federal benefits. While the minister has stated that potential clawback of provincial supports is a red line when negotiating the creation of the benefit with provinces, she has not been able to point to any specifics in the legislation or guarantee that this will not happen. Conservatives proposed an amendment to Bill C-22 at the human resources committee to prevent clawbacks at the federal level. This was written by the legal department of the House of Commons. Disappointingly, the Liberals voted against it and it did not get into the legislation.

There was an amendment put forth by the Senate to address clawbacks dealing with insurance, based on witness testimony at the Senate. I spoke to a constitutional lawyer about this, who pointed out that there are strong constitutional arguments in favour of this Senate amendment and that it was endorsed by all provincial trial lawyers associations in Canada. However, the Liberal government has not accepted that amendment.

I want to be very clear, on the record, that Conservatives are concerned with any form of clawbacks, and that this disability benefit act does not have anything in the legislation to give assurances to address this. We will be watching very closely over the next couple of years, once the regulations are developed and this benefit is all implemented and it plays out. Conservatives will be holding the Liberal government to account on this.

This is all at a time when the cost of rent has doubled and mortgages have doubled. Inflation has hit a 40-year high, and interest rates increased nine times in the past year. Liberal inflationary deficit spending led to high inflation, which led to high interest rates, which will lead to mortgage defaults. This is very concerning, and those with disabilities are among the hardest hit.
I want to comment on and clarify the parliamentary process and timelines the Liberal government went through with this legislation. The Liberals say that persons with disabilities are a priority; however, it took them six years to take action on this disability benefit. They finally introduced Bill C-35 in 2021, in the previous Parliament, and the Liberals then called an unnecessary election in the summer of 2021, which collapsed the legislation.

The minister said she was consulting with the disability community. However, she introduced the exact same legislation in 2022. It was a goal of mine, and of my colleagues in the Conservative official opposition, to ensure that Bill C-22 progressed through the committee process diligently and through adding needed amendments, though there are others we wished were agreed to. We managed to get the bill through the committee process quickly and passed in the House of Commons before Parliament rose at the end of 2022. On May 18, the Senate returned the bill to the House of Commons with amendments, and on May 30, at the human resources committee, the minister would not commit to a timeline on which the government would return Bill C-22 to the House of Commons. We have been waiting for weeks.

I and other Conservative colleagues were hearing from persons with disabilities that Liberal MPs were telling them that Conservatives have delayed this legislation. I want to be very clear that those comments are a fabrication and a falsehood. I would just tell people to look at the facts, the actions at committee and the parliamentary process the Liberal government has followed in bringing this forward. This debate could have been held weeks earlier than today if the Liberals had brought it forward.

As I mentioned earlier, the level of disability poverty in Canada remains a prominent issue, and we have a responsibility to do better. The Conservative members of Parliament are committed to supporting Canadians living with disabilities, and not penalizing people and families. Therefore, I can say that we are all in agreement that the Canada disability benefit must be passed, and we encourage the government to immediately get to work consulting with the disability community, as the minister has said that the regulations will, in fact, take a year to develop. We heard that today in response to my questions for the minister.

With that being said, our Conservative caucus will remain vigilant in ensuring that the government fulfills its promises to the disability community.

Ms. Bonita Zarrillo (Port MoodyCoquitlam, NDP): Madam Speaker, I know it has been a very difficult time to try to get the Liberal government to accept proposals that have been coming from the opposition parties, so I very much appreciate the work the member has been doing, and I certainly agree with her on our wanting to make sure that this is very strong legislation and that we really push the government on those clawbacks. I agree with her on that.

I do want to ask a question. We know there is going to be a time gap between when regulations happen and when the money is going to get into folks’ bank accounts. In committee, I and the NDP asked for an emergency interim benefit, and I am wondering if the member is in agreement with that, now that these things have changed slightly.

Mrs. Tracy Gray: Madam Speaker, I know that, jointly, the member and I had worked really hard at committee to make sure that some amendments got through. As I mentioned earlier, there were some that I wish would have gotten through that were not accepted. We worked on that.
With regard to that, we would have to look at it. I think part of the challenge right now, as I mentioned in my speech, is that inflation is so incredibly high. The actions of the government with the last budget, with its inflationary deficit spending, are only going to pour fuel on the inflationary fire.

It is going to be even more difficult for people. We absolutely need to make it a priority as well to bring inflation down so that interest rates can go down and people do not lose their homes.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (RenfrewNipissingPembroke, CPC): Madam Speaker, given that the member’s concerns regarding the clawbacks were not adequately addressed and that the act to restrict the charges from disability tax promoters was passed unanimously, yet took eight years to implement, how confident is she that this bill will come forth and be enacted and that people will not, instead, be faced with medical assistance in dying to lift themselves out of poverty? For all those years that the promoters were collecting money, it went toward the promoters instead of the people living with disabilities.

Mrs. Tracy Gray: Madam Speaker, we heard more than once in testimony at committee that people were considering MAID because they could not afford to live; I must say, that was absolutely heartbreaking.

It is unbelievable that people feel that way and are dealing with that in Canada. As I mentioned in my intervention, my Conservative colleagues and I have a lot of concerns around clawbacks, which is why we tried to put something in the legislation. Unfortunately, it was not accepted by everyone.

We are going to keep pressing the government on that. There should have been something in the legislation. As I mentioned, we had legal in the House of Commons draft something that was very simple in order to address that, specifically at the federal level, which is within our jurisdiction. Unfortunately, that was not supported.

Mr. Lloyd Longfield (Guelph, Lib.): Madam Speaker, my constituents in Guelph have been talking about clawbacks as well.

However, we accepted five of the six amendments from the Senate. In our government, two-thirds of amendments coming from the Senate are generally accepted. In the case of clawbacks, it is so important for us to work with provinces and territories. It is their area of jurisdiction. In Ontario, ODSP has to coordinate with what we are proposing. Although it might look good for us to tell the provinces what to do, eventually, it could end up in the Supreme Court.

Could the hon. member tell us how important it is for us to coordinate with the provinces and territories, to the benefit of all Canadians?

Mrs. Tracy Gray: Madam Speaker, part of the situation is that, in the legislation, there is so much that is so vague that there are really no assurances. Even if all the fine details were not defined, there is a lot of vagueness in here. That is part of the concern that we have. Not only that but, frankly, we heard lots of testimony about this at committee.

All the vagueness in this legislation is a real concern for people. That is why, as I mentioned in my speech, we will be holding the government to account on all the commitments they have made. [Translation]

Ms. Louise Chabot (Thérèse-De Blainville, BQ): Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise this evening to discuss Bill C?22, which will be implemented. We should collectively congratulate ourselves for the work that has been done.

Of course, we could look back and talk about the pitfalls that we ran into in coming up with this bill, but I think that all the parties here in the House of Commons have always supported the many disability organizations and advocacy groups that have come out time and time again to express their desire to see this Canada disability benefit become a reality. We do not consider these people to be different. As one of my colleagues and friends would say, they are unique. I believe that the basic purpose of this bill is to lift these people out of poverty.

I would like to take this opportunity to salute the many organizations in my riding that are dedicated to this cause and that support and stand by people with disabilities. In particular, I would like to take this opportunity to salute the Mouvement Personne d’Abord de Sainte?Thérèse, which advocates for people living with an intellectual disability. This year, it is celebrating 25 years of defending and promoting the rights of these individuals.

I also want to acknowledge the many witnesses who met with us at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities during the study of this bill. I especially want to thank Disability Without Poverty, the Confédération des organismes de personnes handicapées du Québec, the Fédération des Mouvements Personne d’Abord du Québec, the Québec Intellectual Disability Society, and all the others.

There is one thing we all agree on and must make sure of: Although this has always been the stated intention and objective of the government, this new disability benefit needs to be a supplement to and not a replacement of the support that currently exists for these people in Quebec and in the provinces. We will have to be especially vigilant.

That will be a major challenge because we know that, in both Quebec and the other provinces, the programs are not necessarily standardized. As part of our work, we have focused on the objective and guarantee of ensuring that they are complementary. As we know, a higher proportion of people with disabilities live in poverty than the general population. The pandemic has once again provided a powerful illustration of that reality. We know that the current economic climate is making it harder for people with disabilities to meet their basic needs, such as food, housing and clothing. Those are basic needs.

It is very difficult for people to break out of this cycle of poverty when they do not have access to sufficient income to begin with. We want people with disabilities to be able to participate fully in life and society. They are already doing so, but we want to give them every possible means to ensure that their inclusion and participation are as active as possible. That is why the benefit must provide a minimum of resources or a decent amount of income. It is about ensuring that these people’s incomes are above the poverty line and that they can live decently and with dignity.

As has already been said, there was also a consensus that the groups representing these individuals should be able to actively participate in the process, so that the process is done by and for persons with disabilities. That is why the consultations will be so important, and as soon as the bill is in force, I hope we will be able to get this major regulatory work under way as quickly as possible.

Quebec recently developed its basic income program, which is aimed specifically at people with severe employment restrictions and has been in effect since January 1, 2023. I think it is a good model to follow. All this to say that, if we want to implement a Canadian benefit similar to the guaranteed income supplement, we have to make sure that it complements what already exists and that it will not take anything away from the flagship social programs that are already in place in certain provinces for these individuals.

We all want this bill to pass as quickly as possible. Several amendments were proposed in committee to establish when this new benefit will be available and to set a deadline so that it does not take months and years to become a reality. We know that it will take a tremendous amount of work because agreements must be reached with the provinces and territories, which, as I mentioned, do not have the same social programs. Regulations will have to be created to cover a long list of elements.

We have some reservations about this bill. The amendment we wanted to move in committee concerned the regulatory work. We wanted to know the amount of the benefit, the eligibility criteria and the terms of payment. All of that is like a blank page because parliamentarians have no control over these terms as they will be established by regulation. We know that regulations can be rescinded at any time. If the bill had provided parliamentarians with some oversight of these terms, I believe that this would have provided more guarantees about what we want to achieve.

Unfortunately, these amendments were rejected. The amount of money going to people with disabilities will be significant, or at least that is our hope. It is quite unprecedented that such an amount cannot be approved by Parliament and is not formally enshrined in law, but rather set by regulation.

We also agree with the government’s response to the Senate amendments. We had the same misgivings, particularly about the amendment concerning clawbacks for private contracts or insurance.

I even had the opportunity to speak with a few individuals. If there is one thing that people with a disability do not need, it is a constitutional debate over provincial jurisdiction. As far as private contracting and insurance plans are concerned, I think that we would only be delaying things if we had to have a legal debate about whether or not these individuals are entitled to the benefits in question. These are issues that warrant careful study. In our opinion, the response that was respectfully given to the senators who worked on this bill was more than adequate, and we are open to the other amendments.
What can we collectively hope for, not just for ourselves, but for all people with disabilities? When we look at all the organizations and individuals that make up our society, when we look at the status of women, indigenous or racialized people, we see that there are still other factors of discrimination that negatively affect them.

We can only hope that the government will be thorough and that members will exercise oversight to ensure that this bill will meet the objective of those [English]

Mr. Lloyd Longfield (Guelph, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member from the Bloc for her thoughtful intervention tonight. I was particularly interested in her comments around working together with the provinces and territories to come to an agreement.

With respect to the Canada child benefit, we were the government that negotiated no clawbacks.

We are now putting into legislation the early learning and child care benefit that we have also negotiated with the provinces and territories.

We are developing a track record. In fact, we have one we are expanding, and this will become part of what we are doing together with the provinces and territories. Instead of telling them what to do, we will work together.

Could the hon. member talk about how important it is, particularly with us working with Quebec and the other provinces, to get this right together? [Translation]

Ms. Louise Chabot: Madam Speaker, it is a must, especially when dealing with issues such as this.

It was hard not to work with Quebec on child care. They drew on the Quebec model because it is recognized around the world. We have been using the model for 25 years, so yes, an agreement was required. This time it was asymmetrical. Members can understand the context.

To put in place a Canadian benefit for people with disabilities akin to the guaranteed income supplement we know from pension plans, it is a must. It is going to take more than co-operation; it is going to take agreements.
We already have social programs in Quebec. We already have support for these individuals. If they want to take additional measures that are complementary, they absolutely must have agreements with the provinces, which also have jurisdiction in this area. [English]

Ms. Lisa Marie Barron (NanaimoLadysmith, NDP): Madam Speaker, first and foremost, I want to express how shameful it is that it has taken us this long to get to the point we are at today. I know so many people living with disabilities in my riding of NanaimoLadysmith who have been legislated into poverty and struggling to make ends meet, keep food on the table and keep a roof over their head. It is time for us to get this done, so I am happy we are moving in the right direction today.

One thing the NDP has been pushing for through this whole process, and of course my colleague from Port MoodyCoquitlam has been fighting to ensure, is that people living with disabilities have enough money to be able to make ends meet. It is not good enough for us to just push this through and then they are still struggling to make ends meet.

My question for the member is this. Does she feel this is a step that provides her with the optimism we all need that people with disabilities will not have to keep living in poverty and will in fact allow them to live with the dignity and respect they deserve? [Translation]

Ms. Louise Chabot: Madam Speaker, I am equally optimistic. I would be more inclined to see the glass as half full than half empty. That is already a step forward.

People with disabilities are in great need of a boost to their abilities. Fortunately, there are programs that support them. In any case, I am proud of what is being done in Quebec, but I think we have to go much further.

What we need as parliamentarians to ensure that the work is done quickly, realistically and in line with the objective is accountability and regular updates on the work being done. Without this, a lot of time can be lost. [English]

Mrs. Tracy Gray (KelownaLake Country, CPC): Madam Speaker, I have a quick question for the member with respect to the timing.

We know the government has been working on this for years. It tabled the first legislation back in 2021. Then, because of the snap election, it stopped and had to start all over again, so it has been working on it for years.

We hear once it passes, presumably it will still take another year in order to negotiate with the provinces and develop the regulations.

I wonder if the member has a concern that the government is already years into it, yet it does not have regulations at this point. [Translation]

Ms. Louise Chabot: Madam Speaker, some situations make us wonder if we still believe in this.
I think it is also important to take into account people with disabilities. Overwhelmingly, they came and told us that they wanted regulations to be made by and for them, so we will have to go through this whole exercise.

What I want is for us to stop dragging our feet. Now that we have the tools and have established criteria, we must take action. We cannot change the past. [English]

Ms. Bonita Zarrillo (Port MoodyCoquitlam, NDP): Madam Speaker, we are here today debating the Canada disability framework bill because of the incredible work done by the disability community, individuals, advocates and allies who have worked tirelessly to express to all members of this House the urgent need to improve the lives of persons with disabilities living in poverty in this country.

Their work has been difficult and powerful, and it is not finished yet. As we speak, disability organizations and advocates are gathered in New York City, attending the 16th session of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, still fighting for equality and human rights for persons with disabilities in Canada and across the globe.

This is the work they should not have to do. Persons with disabilities should not have to face discrimination and should not have to navigate the many barriers that are currently in place. It is our work here in this place to remove these obstacles. That is what the NDP will continue to do, as we have always done.

My colleagues and I are disappointed that the Canada disability framework does not yet meet the requirement of upholding human rights and does not ensure every Canadian with a disability is protected from poverty.

That is why the NDP will hold the government to account, to work collaboratively with the disability community, to meet its expectations and to create regulations in Bill C-22 that will put an end to disability poverty.

Bill C-22 initially came to the House incomplete and clumsy. New Democrats worked to improve it, proposing an assurance of an adequate income that conforms to article 28 from the CRPD, which states:

… the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing…

The Liberals should have accepted that and yet, in committee, they would not even allow for the debate, and the Conservatives abstained from having a vote on that debate and from standing up for human rights based on that amendment, abstained from even considering it.

Fortunately, even without that opportunity to debate the need for adequacy, the NDP was able to include adequacy in regulations. That adequacy has been enhanced with an amendment from the other place, which I appreciate.

Making adequacy even stronger but not absolute in stature is better than not having adequacy at all.

It will now be left up to the minister, and order in council, to honour the intent of adequacy and to honour the trust extended by the community, and the House, and build a benefit amount with a foundation based on human rights and adequacy, and to protect from clawbacks of any kind, including public insurance companies and in the negotiations with provinces and territories.

We all know that provinces already offer unequal benefits and some claw back funds from those living with a disability. In Alberta and Nova Scotia, for example, a person can only make around $10,000 annually before they experience clawbacks of their benefits. The provinces and territories do not have benefits that match the financial requirements to live in Canada.

The government must work to ensure that wherever one lives in Canada, one’s location does not indicate the quality of life one has access to. New Democrats have stated that this benefit must be an amount that will actually lift people out of poverty.

We know that Bill C-22 is urgently needed and it has been delayed for far too long, over and over again by the government. The community has been forced to wait and wait, and that delay by the Liberals has created a rush to the finish line. I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls asking for the government to get this bill passed and those voices can no longer wait.

The New Democrats will not ignore these Canadians. We will advance this bill while still holding the government to account, like we always do. The fight continues and the government must do the work to ensure that it meets the expectations of the disability community.
New Democrats will hold the government accountable for working with the provinces and territories to ensure that private insurance companies are not the beneficiaries of funding meant to go directly to people with disabilities living in poverty.

With the implementation, this benefit must do its work and not enhance the pocketbooks of corporate Canada. This Liberal government must not leave people behind again.

In addition, it is time for this government to acknowledge that an immediate interim support is needed. As the bill progresses into 2024, Canadians living with a disability in poverty cannot make ends meet. The reality is that, right now, poverty continues to be forced on them, and they must choose between paying their rent or buying groceries. One more year of waiting or more is not acceptable. The government must provide, in good faith, financial relief now for these Canadians who are suffering as they wait for this benefit. Financial relief is needed today.

The minister said that the government does not want to work on a disability emergency response fund while working on Bill C-22. However, those living in poverty do not have the luxury of that choice. Today, the NDP asks again for the government to enact an immediate relief payment, or what the community is calling DERB, as the community is asking for it.

The delays in this process with the bill has shown Canadians that the Liberal government is not concerned about upholding the rights and dignity of persons living with a disability. Government members know about the inadequacies of provincial and territorial benefits, yet they sit by and choose not to act on it until they are forced to, unless, of course, they are acting on behalf of corporate Canada. The NDP has seen this government support legislation that put millions of dollars into greedy CEOs’ pockets instantly while it drags its feet on investing in pharmacare, accessible housing, employment insurance reform and the protection of indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

Almost a million people in Canada with a disability live in poverty because of the discriminatory practices and ableist government policies that exclude them. This is unacceptable. The lack of accessible homes, inaccessible infrastructure and limited inclusion in the workplace creates barriers that have resulted in poverty; legislated poverty that past and present Conservative and Liberal governments have perpetuated.

Bill C-22 is a welcomed step forward to provide Canadians living with a disability new supports. I appreciate that. However, this new benefit must be adequate and accessible in 2024.

I will wrap up by acknowledging the toll that this process has taken on those in the disability community and all the hard work they have done to get us to this point. Their work has brought results, and I look forward to the co-creation to now begin. They can rest tonight on their win and know that the New Democrats will continue to fight alongside them again tomorrow.

Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Madam Speaker, I must admit that I am a little bit surprised by some of the words that are being put on the record.

What we are talking about is a historic piece of legislation, and we can thank the community of people with disabilities throughout the country for the advocacy that they have done and conveyed to the member for Delta. From my perspective, in my decades of being a parliamentarian, I have never seen a parliamentarian who has been as strong an advocate for people with disabilities than the current minister.

Would the member not recognize that this is indeed historic legislation and maybe remind the House if she can recall any private members’ bills on this? I, myself, cannot.

Ms. Bonita Zarrillo: Madam Speaker, I think that when we are talking about Canadians who are living in poverty, we do not make comparisons. We are talking about people in Canada who are living in poverty. So, although the Liberals want to take a win every time they do something they should be doing on human rights, NDP members are disappointed that the bill is not stronger. We will continue to be disappointed until this government delivers adequate income supports for persons living with disabilities, who are disproportionately discriminated against in this country because they have a disability.

Ms. Michelle Ferreri (PeterboroughKawartha, CPC): Madam Speaker, it was nice working with my colleague on the HUMA committee to study this bill.
I have seen a lot of genuine and authentic effort from the minister responsible for this bill. I will absolutely recognize that. However, just having an authentic minister who genuinely believes in this and has lived experience, quite frankly, around this does not negate the bureaucracy that she has to face.

Does the member have faith that the Liberal government will actually be able to deliver this in a timely manner based on what we have seen so far?

Ms. Bonita Zarrillo: Madam Speaker, it is fair to acknowledge that the minister has a lot of trust in this process. The disability community has given her trust and members of this Parliament have given her trust. However, I am still nervous, because at the end of the day, this has to be a benefit that lifts people out of poverty. As I said in my speech, I am hoping that the trust and honour are rewarded, not for us but for the people in Canada who need this benefit to make ends meet.

Mr. Daniel Blaikie (ElmwoodTranscona, NDP): Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for all the work that I know she has put into trying to make this bill better in what has been a frustrating process. We are working with a government that has promised, with its many opportunities, to bring forward this legislation expeditiously over two Parliaments, and we are only now just getting to the end of the legislative process.

As the member pointed out, the bill is not perfect. One of the issues with the bill, as I understand it, which I would be glad to get her commentary on, is that the program is largely set up in regulation. That means a future government that is not on board with providing this benefit, either at all or according to the terms and conditions the government will ultimately set in regulation, can scrap the program with the stroke of a pen at the cabinet table. It will not come back to Parliament if this program is destroyed.

I hope the member will talk a bit about the kind of protection we could have afforded people living with disabilities if we had legislated more of the program details instead of leaving that to regulation.

Ms. Bonita Zarrillo: Madam Speaker, I want to thank very much the member for ElmwoodTranscona, because it was he who really moved this along before I was even elected. He was also the one who talked about the fact that persons with disabilities needed additional funds through CERB during COVID because it is more expensive to have a disability in this country. I appreciate all the work the member did.
The NDP pushed very hard to have within legislation, within statute, that this benefit provide an adequate income. Not having that protection, that minimum, in legislation is a risk, and I am worried about it. I am worried every time we talk about there being a new government, as we may lose things that have not yet been voted on. That is why it is so important that we get the bill through and get the legislation going. Then we really need to hold the Liberals to account for all the promises they have broken in the past. [Translation]

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes):
It being 7:20 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier this day the motion is deemed to have been adopted. (Motion agreed to)