Transcript: MP Bonita Zarrillo and Minister Carla Qualtrough on Status of the Canadian Disability Benefit

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Conversation between NDP MP Bonita Zarillo BZ) and Minister Caria Qualtrough (CQ) on the status of the federal disability benefit.

Thank you very much. Minister I am going to spend all of my time with you today on getting info for persons living with disabilities. So I’ll start just by saying that with the rising cost of housing, rising cost of living and more risk that will come to the disability community as changes in the mask mandates and other COVID protections are lifted, this becomes even more urgent. So the ASAP that you spoke of a couple of times today really matters. You mentioned that the legislative agenda was potentially a barrier to get the candidate disability benefit to the floor. And I’m just wondering if you can tell the committee if this bill has been pushed back since November 2021. And if there are any remaining barriers, getting it to the floor.

Well, thank you and I certainly don’t mean to say that it will be a barrier. It’s more than other events such as the emergency benefits from the false the emergency act, other things going on, in no way reflects the work that is being done already to prepare the groundwork for the disability benefit. The conversations that are ongoing with provincial governments around how we’re going to engage in negotiations once this benefit is becomes law.

I’m sure you know, Minister that many in the disability community are anxiously and eagerly awaiting it. So is there anything this committee can do or members of this committee can do to try to advance that work or to assist in advancing that work?

Well, thank you, you know, I think like the accessible Canada Act we’re gonna have an opportunity with this piece of legislation to go above partisanship and deliver for Canadians with disabilities. So I know I’ve talked with members of all parties about their support for the disability benefit. It would be lovely if we all could agree to to move it through the parliamentary process as quickly as possible. The more questions I can answer once tabled, the bill will reflect the same it will look the same as it as it did in June and so any questions you have or any issues you have, it would be great to to work together. And so once this is tabled, we can fast track it and deliver for Canadians with Disabilities.

Thank you, Minister. And I think one of the things that I’m hearing a lot is just around who will be eligible and the eligibility criteria. So I’m wondering if the eligibility criteria you said would be the same. Will there be eligibility criteria spelled out?

Yeah, I guess from a point of view of parliamentary decorum, I would say the elements will be the same. I can’t opine on letter for letter word for word because I wouldn’t want to in any way be out of line on this but this legislation is really framework legislation in the spirit of nothing without us working and codeveloping the benefit with the disability community. This creates a framework where in we get the regulatory authority to work with provinces to ensure there are no clawbacks of this benefit to ensure that the amount ultimately lifts people out of poverty. That’s why we are funding Independent Living Canada to work with the disability community to to recommend eligibility criteria. Of course as we all know, it’s it’s not a business the federal government have been in historically so we are we are hard pressed to find easy lists of people who could be eligible. We have of course, the disability tax credit. We have, of course, people who get disability benefits through Veteran Affairs and CPP disability, but unlike, say seniors where we could identify everybody in this country who’s over 65 We can’t do that yet with disability because of the lack of data and so we’re, we really need to understand the enormous challenge of defining eligibility criteria. And that work is already ongoing, but the legislation will give us the legal framework to basically bring the ball over the finish line, that that’s not great analogy. You know what I mean.

Thank you. Thank you very much, Minister. And that’s, that’s, that’s good information. And I think you know, that the NDP would like all the provincial everyone that qualifies provincially or is on a disability to automatically be eligible. So I’ll leave that with you because I know that is that’s an exact that’s a that’s an option for sure. And it’s all in the mix. Great. I have one more question for you. So I’m really concerned about discrimination in employment. So I’m very pleased to hear that we are going to do more to get people living with a disability and employment opportunities. This is something that too needs to be modernized. I know I know that you agree with that. Many people living with a disability lost their employment disproportionately and have had a difficult time to gain it back. I’m worried about discrimination in the workplace as we move forward for persons with disabilities. What does the government have planned to protect workers so that their human rights are protected? And I asked that because human rights claims are very expensive. They’re emotionally taxing, and right now and in general, but even more so right now. Human rights tribunals are overburdened undertaking a very, very long time to adjudicate cases.


Well, you know, you’ve you’ve hit on the two things that matter so much to me. So, you know, historically, more than 50% of the complaints for the Canadian Human Rights Commission have been on the ground of disability and the vast majority of those in employment. And so we know that this is happening. That’s why employment is a key pillar of our disability inclusion action plan. Making sure that we put a standard for employment in place through the accessible Canada accessibility standards Canada. So that that becomes part of the proactive regime of barrier identification. unburdening the individual from having to fight individual you know, case by case at the Human Rights Tribunal, they can lean on and expect their government to make that fight for them against their employer. So there’s a lot going on in this space, including, you know, education and awareness training for employers. And of course, this will be a key component of our employment strategy. Because it’s the number one the number one barrier to full participation by persons with disabilities in society writ large is is discrimination on the grounds of employment.

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Jennifer Evans
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