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Canada Disability Benefit Bill

Bill to Amend--Third Reading--Debate

May 17, 2023

Hon. Brent Cotter [ + ]

Moved third reading of Bill C-22, An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act, as amended.

He said: Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-22. Parenthetically, I should say my own congratulations, Madam Speaker, but I want to say that I’m doing more than all our other colleagues in thanking you. I’ve started a small campaign among all of us to raise enough money to buy you a slightly smaller pair of gloves.

If I may be more serious in my remarks, I’ll touch only briefly on the bill and four or five of the amendments adopted by the Social Affairs Committee. In the interest of commitment to the goals of the bill as well as in the interest of timeliness, I’d encourage you to adopt the bill in its present, amended form.

I have two speeches, and in an effort to commit to my own message about timeliness, I have elected to deliver not the long but the short one. I know you will be grateful.

Once this bill kicks in — by which I mean once regulations are developed and the benefits begin to flow to people with disabilities — we will have achieved a great and meaningful thing, something of which all of us in the Senate can be proud. To get there, we need this bill adopted, and we need it adopted in a timely way.

About the bill and the amendments, let me begin by saying that, as in the other place, I believe we are unanimously committed to the sentiments and objectives articulated in Bill C-22. This was evident in the speeches of senators at second reading of the bill and in each of the interventions at the consideration of the bill before the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that each of the amendments advanced at the committee, including the amendments adopted, was motivated by an intention to strengthen the bill and make a good bill better.

As you will know, the bill is a framework bill empowering the minister and the government to develop a disability benefits regime and system by developing regulations under powers provided to it in clause 11 of the bill and in close collaboration with the disability community. Every detail of this bill and the amendments and every word that has been spoken by us about it have been followed closely by a community of interest that is devoted to its adoption. For many thousands, this bill’s implementation is a lifeline to a better life. I think we are all committed to that goal as well.

Nevertheless, various amendments that we are making to the bill do present challenges. I would like to highlight some of them. Some of these challenges, I think, present difficulty for some among us. You may recall that the vote to adopt the report from the committee was a vote on division. Nevertheless, I would urge us all to adopt the bill, as amended, and to get it to the other place as quickly as possible.

Moving to specific provisions, I will first discuss the “coming into force” provision. If you are following, this is clause 14. An amendment was adopted at committee to clean up the “coming into force” provision. It previously called for the bill to come into force at a date that is no later than one year after Royal Assent but did not say who could cause it to come into force earlier. This amendment, introduced by Senator Petitclerc, makes it clear that the day of coming into force is to be fixed by the cabinet no later than one year after Royal Assent. There’s no change to the bill itself, but it identifies the “who” who can implement the coming into force.

Second, and associated with the timing, is an amendment that was adopted by the committee that requires that the regulations be put in place within 12 months of the bill coming into force. This is clause 11, a new subclause (1.2). This is an amendment that is well-meaning but, in my view, problematic. While the minister and the government are committed to timely implementation of Bill C-22, and the minister is aiming for this to occur within 12 months, this amendment actually gives the government — that is, if it were to follow the letter and extent of the law available to it — more rather than less time to implement the bill. This is because the amendment adds 12 months onto the up to 12 months before the bill comes into force. I’m confident we will get to implementation long before this and that the amendment will be rendered essentially irrelevant, but it is, to say the least, an unfortunate message to send.

Third, the bill adds, in clause 11, additional considerations required of the minister respecting the amount of the benefit. These are references, first, to the official poverty line — a hard number that was already in the bill — and four others, namely, additional costs associated with living with a disability, challenges faced in relation to earning a living, intersectional needs of disadvantaged individuals and groups, and international human rights obligations.

Again, these are heartfelt, but the concerns are these: First, the language is problematic, as these days we don’t speak about people “living with a disability.”

Second, in the section that calls for taking into consideration the requirement for disadvantaged individuals and groups, I think I know what was intended. While the concept of “disability” is  understood and defined in the legislation, the word “disadvantaged” is open-ended and undefined, and its literal meaning would, I think, take us well outside the objectives of the bill, which are well articulated in the bill and the preamble.

The other dilemma is a technical challenge for the minister. The clause now requires the minister to take these four factors into account in quantifying the benefit. If we want this to be done seriously, the minister can rely on and make reference to and consider the poverty line, which is a quantified number, but the ability to quantify “additional costs associated with disability” — and when one thinks of the wide range of disabilities — to qualify the challenges associated with earning income, again widely disparate, and to quantify intersectional needs are all complicated issues. They need to be better known, understood and studied than they are today. Realistically, for the minister to honestly and seriously take into account the quantitative aspects of these considerations, and to do that in the urgent time frame we all expect, asks for a great deal, maybe the impossible. In any event, the message in the preamble makes reference to all of these factors, and clearly so, even if they do not carry the clout that this amendment assigns to them.

Fourth, an amendment introduces a new clause 10.1. This is an explicit entitlement to appeal. The bill already contemplates, in clause 11, regulations respecting appeals. The argument advanced was that clause 11 was discretionary. This is true, but that is the structure of the regulation-making power across government. Indeed, the determination of the amount of the disability benefit would itself be discretionary if we take the view that the language of regulation making provides such a wide range of discretion. One might then say that, theoretically, cabinet could simply decide not to make regulations establishing the benefit at all. With respect, I think that’s unrealistic. In any event, for a benefit like this, the law provides an appeal process as a matter of natural justice whether stated or not. Again, in my view, this amendment is heartfelt but not needed.

There is one additional concern. The amendment creates two categories of appeal: ineligibility and the amount of the benefit you get or don’t get. I’m advised that there are various other categories of concern that a recipient or applicant may have, and they do not fall neatly into these two categories of “ineligibility” or “disputed amount of benefit.” The problem is that by creating these two categories and only these by legislation, that, by implication, locks out other categories of appeal. If locked out by the legislation, they cannot be unlocked by regulation.

My fifth and last observation in relation to the amendments is next, but first a bit of context. As committee members, witnesses and even some senators noted at second reading of Bill C-22 in the chamber, a major risk in relation to the effectiveness of the benefit is that it may be eroded or clawed back by provinces or by other providers of the benefit — insurers was one example identified — with respect to people who already qualify for a separate benefit and now could become entitled to a Canada disability benefit. My recollection is that Senator Duncan grilled me gently on this point in February.

Let me say at the outset that this is a legitimate and serious concern. There are two sources of this concern. First are the potential actions by provincial and territorial governments to modify the levels of support that they provide to recipients as a result of the recipients’ receiving the Canada disability benefit. The second possibility — I would even accept the word “probability” — is that private insurers would do the same. The committee heard evidence that wide-ranging clawbacks already exist in insurance contracts associated with disability and that this, if not a common practice, is at least common enough to be a genuine concern for people covered by insurance for disability. Speaking for myself, I accept these as valid and serious concerns. No one wants to see insurers be the beneficiaries, even in small part, of the disability benefit.

In light of this, and urged by some witnesses, an amendment was advanced at committee and adopted so that clause 9 of the act now includes the following:

A benefit under this Act

(c.1) cannot be recovered or retained, in whole or in part, under the terms of any contract, insurance plan or similar instrument . . . .

I appreciate entirely the sentiment of this amendment, but there are two concerns. One is that the language is offered. You will recall the language says that the benefit “cannot be recovered or retained.” Well, insurance companies will never directly receive the disability benefit or be entitled to it so that there will be nothing for them to have retained or to recover.

Second, with respect to this amendment, as heartfelt as it is — and I agree with the sentiment of it — it is an unconstitutional intrusion into provincial authority.

The arguments advanced by witnesses at clause-by-clause consideration suggested that the amendment is constitutional on the basis of the federal spending power or Canada’s commitment under the UN Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities. These arguments inaccurately presented the scope of federal authority and embed in the bill an unconstitutional and intergovernmentally problematic and divisive component to the bill.

Nevertheless, there is a small window to get this bill across the finish line here and in the other place. I urge you, even if you have reservations about the bill, to give it your blessing.

I would be remiss if I did not extend my own thanks again to the many people with disabilities, leaders of the disability organizations and so many others of goodwill who reached out to me; to our critic, Senator Seidman; to members of the committee, and to each of us, with their advice, concerns and universal support for this bill’s objectives, and also an extension of thanks to the committee for its diligent consideration of this bill.

We are doing a meaningful thing today by supporting and advancing this bill. I’m honoured to be part of this great enterprise.

Thank you, hiy hiy.

Hon. Judith G. Seidman [ + ]

Congratulations on your appointment, Madam Speaker, and good luck.

Honourable senators, I rise today as opposition critic to speak at third reading of Bill C-22, An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.

I want to thank my colleagues on the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for their careful study of this bill; our chair, Senator Omidvar, for her leadership of the committee; and our sponsor, who was totally devoted to getting this bill done as soon as possible.

I am also so grateful for the impassioned testimony we heard from members of the disability community about the importance of this legislation.

As you have heard already, the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee did make six amendments to Bill C-22. I supported two of those amendments: the first, a technical amendment around the coming-into-force date to correct an error introduced during committee clause by clause in the other place; the second, more substantive.

Four years ago, the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee and the Senate added timelines to the Accessible Canada Act, and now, this year, we have added timelines to the Canada disability benefit act. In so doing, we amended this bill in clause 11 to require the Governor-in-Council to make the necessary regulations within 12 months to enable the Canada disability benefit to be paid in accordance with this act. This timeline will ensure that the regulations will be made expeditiously, as the advocates from the disability community reminded us.

Among our witnesses, David Lepofsky, from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, was perhaps the most emphatic when he said:

Everything depends upon the regulations, but there is no deadline for the regulations to be made. The minister said six months ago that she needs a year, and they don’t have to wait until the bill is passed. They’re doing policy work now. . . . So set it for a year . . . Set a deadline.

This 12-month timeline is consistent with estimates that Minister Qualtrough has given, both to our committee and to the media.

On March 22, in response to a question from Senator Osler, Minister Qualtrough said:

Based on all the work we’ve done already — that is, the massive consultations, the surveys, the funding of national organizations to reach out to their members and their communities to get input — we anticipate a 12-month regulatory timeline.

In addition, this amendment allows for accountability and provides a metric to measure progress.

As you have already heard, there are other amendments which were moved in committee, many of them important and championed by members of the disability community. Yet, as I expressed in my second reading speech, perhaps the greatest challenge is that the government has presented us with an enabling act, setting out the framework of a regulatory scheme and delegating the authority to develop the details in regulations. Rather than delineating the particulars of a policy as it translates into law, this legislation leaves the responsibility with the regulators who act in counsel with the cabinet and minister.

Health Canada’s website describes the relationship between regulations and legislation thus:

Regulations are a form of law, sometimes referred to as subordinate legislation, which define the application and enforcement of legislation. Regulations are made under the authority of an Act, called an Enabling Act. Regulations are enacted by the body to whom the authority to make regulations has been delegated in the Enabling Act, such as the Governor in Council or a minister . . . .

The resulting regulations are referred to as delegated legislation. As Marc Bosc and André Gagnon explain in Chapter 17 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Third Edition:

Some acts of Parliament delegate to Ministers, departments, agencies, boards or other authorities the power to make and apply subordinate legislation described only in general terms in the acts. Delegated legislation is a term used to describe these regulations, orders, rules, by-laws and other instruments.

Honourable senators, such enabling legislation fundamentally changes our role as parliamentarians.

The use of delegated legislation in Canada has continued to be a subject of some debate since Confederation. I am indebted to the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee’s Library of Parliament analyst, Laura Blackmore, who shared resources with our committee so that we could better understand the use of these powers.

Professor Lorne Neudorf, Editor-In-Chief of the Canadian Journal of Comparative and Contemporary Law and Deputy Dean of Law at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, is close to completing a comparative, multi-year study on the parliamentary supervision of delegated legislation in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

In a 2018 article in the Dalhousie Law Journal entitled “Reassessing the Constitutional Foundation of Delegated Legislation in Canada,” Professor Neudorf traces the Canadian case law on delegated authority. He writes:

While there are important benefits to Parliament delegating some of its lawmaking powers to others, such as allowing detailed rules to be made quickly in response to new circumstances and saving Parliament’s time and resources for key policy debates, there are real concerns about the quality, transparency and accountability of a lawmaking process that is carried out mostly behind closed doors.

Delegation permits important decisions that affect the country as a whole to be made through a process that excludes Parliament and does not embody the qualities of Parliament that are reflected in the Constitution — specifically its democratic, representative and accountable qualities. These qualities explain why Parliament was placed by the framers at the centre of federal lawmaking . . . .

Not only has Bill C-22 delegated almost everything to the regulations, but there is significant pressure to pass this bill as quickly as possible.

The Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee’s study of Bill C-22 — eight meetings with witnesses and additional meetings for clause by clause — was considered lengthy by those who wanted to see the bill passed with no questions asked. However, eight meetings’ worth of testimony is insufficient to formulate policy. Had the government given us a more appropriate bill — with eligibility criteria, conditions to be met in order to receive the benefit, the amount of the benefit, an appeal process, a timeline, et cetera, all carefully specified — the Social Affairs Committee would have heard testimony on detailed provisions, and we could have exercised true sober second thought. Instead, we had to review the legislation in the most general of terms.

Where does that leave us?

The courts have upheld delegated legislation as constitutional, but, in their decisions, they have emphasized the importance of parliamentary oversight. As Professor Lorne Neudorf outlines, when considering Hodge v. The Queen from 1883, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Canada’s highest court at the time, placed “responsibility on Parliament to supervise the executive in making delegated legislation.”

Professor Neudorf also notes that in the 1918 In Re Gray decision, Chief Justice Fitzpatrick and Justice Duff argued:

The continuing availability of parliamentary supervision, and to the degree necessary, control of the executive alleviated concern about the executive usurping Parliament . . . .

Regarding the 1943 Chemicals Reference case, Professor Neudorf writes:

While the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the relevant aspects of the statute, the judges emphasized the role of Parliament in holding the executive to account by supervising and controlling the exercise of delegated authority.

Therefore, according to the courts, delegated legislation is constitutional, yet Parliament must do its job to closely monitor the regulations. If we pass this legislation, then we are charged with such parliamentary supervision. If not, we will have abdicated our responsibility. Thus, if we pass Bill C-22 now, we will extend the first stage of oversight to the disability community.

The government has committed to consulting them in crafting the regulations. I feel confident that the community will be their own best advocates, and offer important insights, guidance and even the pressure necessary to ensure this is done in a timely fashion. But, ultimately, it is our parliamentary responsibility to hold the government to account.

Honourable colleagues, it is important to bring to your attention here that clause 12 of Bill C-22 reads:

As soon as feasible after the first anniversary of the day on which this section comes into force, after the third anniversary of that day and after each subsequent fifth anniversary, a review of this Act and of its administration and operation is to be undertaken by a committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament that may be designated or established for that purpose.

I would also like to add the following cautionary note on the matter of our own history of parliamentary reviews. Charlie Feldman, whom I am certain we will all remember as the Parliamentary Counsel for the Senate, published an article in the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law in March 2022 entitled “Much Ado about Parliamentary Review.” Mr. Feldman identified provisions in federal statutes that specifically contemplate the review of an enactment, or portions thereof, by a parliamentary committee. In his review of the period of January 2001 to June 2021, he found 51 such provisions requiring a committee to review legislation at a future time. However, he discovered that many reviews never happened, and that many reports on statutory reviews are years behind schedule. At the time of his writing in 2022, only 17 of those 51 reviews had resulted in a report.

Mr. Feldman noted:

. . . it may be that reviews do not occur in part because there appears to be no meaningful consequence for failure to conduct review.

Honourable colleagues, we should consider ourselves on notice. We must do better to ensure the parliamentary review of this piece of legislation as it is enacted, as well as the review of all legislation that specifies a review process with timelines.

To briefly comment on our observations, in my opinion, it can be a rather futile process to include many observations to a piece of legislation. However, given that this is bare-bones legislation, the committee thought it’s important to bring attention to relevant issues presented by witnesses from the disability community. You have already heard those observations, as described in our committee report and discussed by Senator Omidvar, the Chair of the Social Affairs Committee, yesterday.

Honourable colleagues, in closing, although Bill C-22 is an enabling act and empty of all specifics, it is also a landmark opportunity — and strongly supported by the disability community. As Amélie Duranleau, the Executive Director of the Quebec Intellectual Disability Society, told our committee:

This bill could play a key role in lifting persons with disabilities out of poverty across the country. In this sense, this is an opportunity we have not seen in decades.

Let us ensure that Bill C-22, as amended, is passed here now, and hope that the other place will be expeditious in their response. Such quick action would allow the government and the community to move forward with the regulations. But let us not lose sight of our critical role — indeed, our responsibility — to scrutinize those regulations in review, and to hold the minister and cabinet to account.

Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

I see that Senator Wallin has a question. Would Senator Seidman take a question?

Senator Seidman [ + ]


Hon. Pamela Wallin [ + ]

Thank you.

I haven’t looked at it in detail. Is there any provision for a timeline regarding the consultation or development of regulations that would allow the committee — and this chamber — to feel that they have a chance to examine the result of that process?

Senator Seidman [ + ]

Thank you, senator. As you heard from me and Senator Cotter, the committee did pass an amendment for a timeline. The timeline is for the period within which the government has to make the regulations — that is what the timeline establishes.

Senator Wallin [ + ]

Are you satisfied with that?

Senator Seidman [ + ]

Yes, I certainly am.

I believe I said in my speech that we heard from a lot of stakeholders, specifically with great emphasis from Mr. David Lepofsky: He was clear that we needed a timeline, as we had done with the Accessible Canada Act; we do have it.

And yes, I am satisfied. Thank you.

Hon. Mary Coyle [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people to speak at third reading of Bill C-22 — a bill I supported at second reading.

Before delving into the substance of my remarks, I would like to join my colleagues in congratulating Speaker Raymonde Gagné on her appointment to this crucial role in our chamber. Your Honour, I have every confidence you will fulfill your duties with the dignity and wisdom you are known for.

Back to the matter at hand — in my second-reading speech, delivered on Valentine’s Day, I said:

Bill C-22 was passed unanimously in the House after a detailed study and with amendments. Our job is not to unduly hold up the bill, while at the same time, we need to work efficiently to fulfill our responsibility to ensure that we have legislation that enables the creation of a robust Canada disability benefit which will have the intended outcomes of significantly reducing poverty and supporting the financial security of persons with disabilities — one which clearly responds to what people living with disabilities are asking for.

Colleagues, many people living with a variety of disabilities in Canada are living in poverty today. What every one of them agrees on is the urgency to get this benefit in place and the much-needed money flowing to them as soon as possible.

Honourable colleagues, yesterday we heard the Chair of the Social Affairs Committee, Senator Ratna Omidvar, deliver that committee’s report on Bill C-22. She spoke with respect and gratitude for the many helpful witnesses who contributed to the work of the committee in its efforts to study and improve Bill C-22. I join her in thanking all witnesses and, in particular, those with disabilities as well as the broader disability community in Canada who have been so clear and constructive in their guidance on this important bill.

I am not a member of the Social Affairs Committee, also known as SOCI, and I was unable to attend their meetings due to a timing conflict with our Foreign Affairs Committee. But one of my colleagues, Ben Gormley, attended the meetings studying this important bill for me. I have read most of the transcripts and, in particular, the discussion at clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.

Colleagues, I would like to commend all members of the Social Affairs Committee for their hard work, dedication and commitment. I read in the transcripts that many of our colleagues on the committee had experienced sleepless nights as they agonized over getting this bill right for those it is intended to benefit. These colleagues, from all groups in the Senate, fulfilled their senatorial duties with exemplary leadership. They listened and they decided to act.

I would also like to commend the bill’s sponsor, Senator Brent Cotter, for taking on the responsibility of introducing it to us and ensuring the bill moves smoothly, appropriately and in a timely manner through this chamber. Thank you to its critic as well for that incredibly thorough and thoughtful speech. You’ve brought up things, Senator Seidman, that will be important for us to carry forward as we pass this on from our chamber at this time.

Honourable senators, for months we have been receiving correspondence from and meeting with persons with disabilities and organizations advocating for their rights and interests. Earlier this month, I hosted representatives of MS Canada at the Senate. One of their key priorities is ensuring the Canada disability benefit becomes available to people with MS — those who would need it from time to time and those who have come to need it full time.

You also heard me speak at second reading about my brother John, who has been living with a very tough mental health disability since he was 14 years old. He was 55 years old when the Canada disability benefit was promised in the Speech from the Throne in September 2020. He will be 58 next month and my hope is that this important benefit will start to flow before he turns 59. For now, he and others like him in Ontario are expected today live on the $1,230 per month provided by ODSP, or the Ontario Disability Support Program; people in Nova Scotia receive $950. As I have said before, this legislated poverty is our national shame.

Colleagues, I think we all know that there are tensions at play between those who are advocating for swift passage of this bill without any changes and those who want amendments to the framework legislation. Our Social Affairs Committee has acutely felt and has worked hard to acknowledge and respond appropriately to the pressure of those tensions.

Minister Carla Qualtrough, another leader worthy of our praise and respect for her leadership on improving accessibility in Canada and for bringing forward this historic legislation, has told me — and also told the committee — that she is open to considering improvements to the legislation.

The balancing act is really about how much needs to be adjusted in the bill at this stage versus what can be left up to the next important stage of co-development of regulations.

Colleagues, as we well know, it very much comes down to the complicated matter of trust: trust in the people charged with the job, trust in the process, trust that there will be true co‑‑development with trusted representatives of the disability community and trust in the government to live up to its stated commitments.

Our colleagues on the SOCI committee did a thorough job of studying, crafting and debating potential amendments meant to improve the bill. As we have heard from Senator Omidvar, there are amendments passed that respond to concerns raised by members of the disability community about matters related to clawbacks; appeals processes; the adequacy of the benefit amount given that persons with disabilities experience higher costs of living than the average Canadian and may face additional barriers because of their gender, racialized or Indigenous status or other intersecting statuses and, very importantly, the timing, with the intention that the money should flow as soon as possible.

Colleagues, I will not speak about all of the amendments but will rather focus on the two amendments which relate to timing. We’ve already heard earlier today from the bill’s sponsor and its critic on this matter of timing.

We heard from Senator Omidvar yesterday that all witnesses before the committee agreed that the Canada disability benefit should begin being paid out as soon as possible. The committee made two amendments with the intention of honouring that wish.

Again, as Senator Omidvar reported yesterday, the committee adopted an amendment to clause 11 requiring that, within 12 months of the coming into force of the bill, the Governor-in-Council must make the necessary regulations to begin paying out the benefit.

The committee also made an amendment clearly outlining the authority of the Governor-in-Council to fix a date for the coming into force no later than one year after Royal Assent.

Colleagues, my fear is that although the committee had every intention of ensuring the shortest possible timeline for the commencement of paying out the benefit — even sooner than 12 months, if possible — I’m concerned that the way the bill has been amended means it could take up to two years until persons with disabilities in Canada start to receive this important benefit.

When this possible consequence was raised at committee, Elisha Ram, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Income Security and Social Development Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada said:

The proposal today would give the Governor-in-Council to fix the date within one year, so it could be earlier but no later than one year. Then we have to stack on top of that the amendment that was adopted last week, which indicates the regulations have to come into force within 12 months of the act coming into force. . . . at the limit, that would give up to 24 months for the regulations to be introduced. . . .

We also contacted the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel to help us interpret the outcomes of these amendments. They confirm that:

Regulations could in theory be made on the day the Act receives Royal Assent until two years after it receives Royal Assent.

So, colleagues, where does that leave us? Might the combination of these amendments referring to the timeline have the unintended consequence of possibly extending rather than contracting the timeline for getting this critical benefit to people living with disabilities? Again, will this come down to a matter of trust?

The government has assured us they want to get this benefit in place as quickly as possible. Those from the community of persons with disabilities at the regulation drafting table with the government will assuredly push for speedy implementation.

Colleagues, in passing these amendments, our committee is trusting that their intent to reinforce the importance that the Canada disability benefit flow in as timely a manner as possible is clear and will be acted upon by the government.

Colleagues, I — like our committee members, every person in this chamber and, I’m sure, the overwhelming majority of Canadians — am in complete solidarity with our disabled brothers, sisters, children and neighbours in wanting Bill C-22 to deliver as soon as is humanly possible on its important promises of financial security, poverty reduction and dignity for all.

Honourable senators, let’s continue to push for an urgent delivery on this important promise. Wela’lioq, thank you.

Hon. Ratna Omidvar [ + ]

Would the senator take a question?

Senator Coyle [ + ]


Senator Omidvar [ + ]

Senator Coyle, I feel I have to turn my back to look at you. Thank you for your very well-informed speech and your observations on the proceedings at SOCI.

I would like to clarify what I heard from you. What I think I heard you say is that the maximum amount of time that it would take to flow the benefits to the disability community would be two years, but they could start flowing on the day Royal Assent is given; they could start flowing within six months. Did I hear you say that?

Senator Coyle [ + ]

Thank you for your question, Senator Omidvar. That is exactly what I said. Although I think the overall intention was to have a 12-month or one-year maximum timeline, we actually have a maximum timeline of 24 months, which was also mentioned by the sponsor of the bill. You are absolutely correct, however. I support this and trust that it will be much sooner than that. In fact, it could be at any moment following Royal Assent.

Hon. Chantal Petitclerc [ + ]

Honourable senators, we’re almost there.

Bill C-22 has been awaited by Canadians with disabilities for 966 days, and finally we are close to the finish line.

First, allow me to express gratitude to my colleagues on the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology for the swiftness and thoroughness with which this bill has been studied and improved upon.

Senators will recall that, at second reading, I expressed a number of concerns and listed a series of key questions that would help me take a position based on quantifiable facts, not just on trust. I was hoping the answers would confirm that this bill is indeed the best mechanism to reduce poverty for working-age persons with disabilities.

During our study that spanned 10 meetings, we heard from 49 witnesses, received 48 briefs, did seven follow-ups and received two letters. What we learned is that, first, the community’s needs are urgent and pressing, and second, this bill will be able to play a crucial role in addressing those needs.

Were the answers I got enough to show me that Bill C-22 will help address the poverty that thousands of people with disabilities are struggling with? The answer is yes.

Witnesses were clear: The situation is urgent. One crucial aspect that the committee study brought to light is the extent of the needs of persons with disabilities. Several witnesses confirmed that living with a disability is, indeed, much more expensive. According to Krista Carr, Executive Vice-President, Inclusion Canada:

. . . people with disabilities have additional costs that even go beyond.

There is not a lot of Canadian data on it, but anything that’s out there, we will say 30% to 40% more. It does depend on the nature of the disability and some of the additional equipment or other costs . . . .

I realized that the economic vulnerability of many people with disabilities was even more severe, and the inequalities and disparities within the community itself were even greater than I thought. The testimony was shocking. Who could expect, in a country like Canada, to read this:

I don’t remember the last time I ate an apple or salad. 15-20 years I haven’t bought anything new, and I can’t afford it. I’m not mobile, I don’t move, only go to doctors’ appointments. I’m kind of a prisoner in my own apartment. Can’t afford to go anywhere.

This was a testimonial in the Daily Bread Food Bank brief from a recipient of their services, and there were many more.

Representatives of the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada opened our eyes when they shared with us that, “women with disabilities are the most marginalized,” and, “The poorest, lowest-income person in this country is a Black single mother with a disability . . . .”

Jheanelle Anderson, Vice-Chair, Ase Community Foundation for Black Canadians with Disabilities agrees when she states that:

We know that disability and poverty are inextricably linked, and also that poverty is heavily racialized. . . . Black people with disabilities have fewer job opportunities, career development opportunities . . . most disparities experienced in poverty are experienced by Black people with disabilities.

Krista Wilcox, Director General, Office for Disability Issues, Employment and Social Development Canada confirmed it:

. . . 40% of Black persons with disabilities are living in poverty, so we know that racialized persons with disabilities are much more likely to be living in deep poverty than other Canadians.

This testimony and many others have demonstrated not only the importance but the urgency of the implementation of this bill.

Let us be clear on the following point. Although the community of persons with disabilities is diverse, it is united. I want to point that out because it is not always the case. We have often heard it said in this chamber that this diverse community does not always speak with one voice on any given issue. That was especially evident during the study of the two bills on medical assistance in dying.

In that sense, Bill C-22 is rather unique. Everyone agrees that the benefit must take into account disability-related needs and the fact that the official poverty line is neither sufficient nor a good indicator of the cost of living with a disability. Everyone also agrees that every effort must be made to prevent clawbacks. They are even unanimous about the importance of ensuring that the benefit helps the individual and not the family or household.

Where the community disagrees is how strong the bill should be and how much should be left to regulation. Both sides of the argument mentioned the political uncertainties of governments. Using this fact, some said quite clearly, “We don’t know what the future holds, so please pass the bill quickly with no amendments.” Others have said, “We don’t know what the future holds, so please make the bill stronger now to protect us.” I believe this committee has acted responsibly in respect of both of those views, being efficient and quick in studying the bill, and strengthening it when it was essential.

As was the case with the Accessible Canada Act, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs made changes to help the government more effectively achieve its goal of improving the situation and financial security of millions of Canadians.

Let’s remember that, in 2019, the amendments we made to Bill C-81 were very positively welcomed at the time, although many had initially hoped that the Senate would pass the bill without any amendments. In fact, the government recognized the quality of our contribution, and Minister Qualtrough recently reiterated her congratulations when she last appeared in committee.

Senator Omidvar very clearly presented the six amendments that we hope the government will keep. Let me go over some of them, which, I’m sure, will make a real difference in terms of strengthening this bill.

In my view, one of the most important is the amendment that guarantees an appeal process to persons with disabilities. The bill provided that cabinet can make regulations respecting appeals. You will agree that that is rather vague. That is what your committee corrected by specifying that the appeal must, at a minimum, address any decision regarding a person’s eligibility to the benefit or, still, the amount of benefit received or to be paid.

The appeal could be made by the person concerned or by anyone on their behalf. By voting in favour of this amendment, the committee members agreed that even framework legislation must include measures to ease concerns about potential administrative barriers in order to provide protections.

Several witnesses showed us that intersectionality brings its share of additional vulnerabilities.

It is crucial, as the committee included in the preamble, that intersectionality be taken into consideration in the regulatory process.

Let me give you an example. Bonnie Brayton, Chief Executive Officer of the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada, told us that:

. . . the most marginalized people with disabilities — Indigenous, Black, gender-diverse people — are at the centre because they are facing the highest rates of poverty and being unhoused . . . .

There was a palpable feeling of confidence that permeated the meetings of the Social Affairs Committee: the confidence in the government’s commitment to significantly involve the people concerned in the development of the rules, where everything will be decided. The minister reassured us about that. In the spirit of “nothing without us,” persons with disabilities want to be stakeholders at every stage, as co-designers. I truly hope that persons with disabilities, who are generally and far too often marginalized, will not be cast aside and that all those who are not usually consulted will be heard, to ensure that things are done properly.

Again and again, the witnesses told us that this was non‑negotiable. For example, here are a few things we heard:

It can’t come from the top down; it won’t be equitable. Communities know how to define the problem because they experience it. They live it. People on the top don’t experience or have the lived experience of poverty.

And further:

This means moving beyond hosting community consultations and moving toward a commitment to engage us as co-designers and subject matter experts.

Many have said they trust the government to make sure consultations and involvement will be done properly. While I have no reason to doubt, my ultimate trust goes to the individuals and the organizations who have been very clear, firm and direct in saying, “Without us is not an option.” I believe we can count on them to get back to us if they are not, indeed, part of the whole process.

Of all the testimonies, one that I wish to bring to your attention now is that of Minister Qualtrough when she said, “What I have been saying consistently is the benefit will be delivered in 2024.” This commitment is important. It gives clarity, a timeline and hope to the 21% of Canadians living with a disability. They certainly deserve it.

During study of Bill C-81, when we were at the same stage, our colleague Senator Munson said the following:

Committee members gave the bill and its adopted amendments a deserved thorough study and consideration despite time constraints. I know that many of these amendments came right from the community, witnesses, and organizations; I think we should pass the bill with these changes and let the other place do its job and reflect on our amendments. This is the process of our democracy and of our Parliament. We all need to move swiftly.

I agreed with him at the time. Today, I have the same conviction when I look at the bill we are studying.

In closing, I want to go beyond Bill C-22. With all that we have learned in committee about the level of distress and the urgency to act, I call on the government, in its next budget, while it works to make this benefit a reality, to explore all possible avenues to help people living with a disability who are most in need. Whether it is for access to housing and transportation or support to buy groceries, we must not limit ourselves to one initiative like this one. It will not be enough, and we know it. So we must act.

For now, colleagues, we too must act by voting on Bill C-22 with no delay. The truth is when we lift persons out of poverty — with or without a disability — everyone wins.

Meegwetch. Thank you.

Honourable senators, I rise guided by the wisdom and sage counsel of our former colleague Senator Baker, who often implored us to ensure that when we consider legislation, we consider it in as fulsome a manner as possible and ensure that our record is as complete as possible for those who come after and look to our debates.

Those who know what it is like to have very little economic, gender or racial capital as well as those who know what it is like to be judged incapable or unworthy know far too intimately the corresponding levels of disrespect, disregard and disdain heaped onto such substantive and systemically inequitable starting points. This is the state of play for far too many people with disabilities and for Bill C-22. If the government is serious about challenging and redressing this unacceptable status quo lived by too many people with disabilities, they must, and they will, support the amendments made by our Senate colleagues at the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology during their study of Bill C-22, and they will continue to work together for further improvements during its implementation.

The amendments and important observations breathe life into our constitutional responsibilities, including, as underscored by the Supreme Court of Canada, the protection of minorities, the ability to take the long view of legislation in policy development and the willingness to study in advance issues that may be too controversial for an elected body. Kudos to our colleagues who have carried out these duties and, as the minister invited them to do when she testified before the committee, have made amendments that assist the minister, the government and, ultimately, those most likely to be affected by the bill, by strengthening it in ways you were asked to do by the witnesses who came before you.

Prior to these amendments, many of us spoke to the concerns raised by disability groups regarding the inability of the second‑reading version of Bill C-22 to meet its purported goal of reducing poverty for Canadians with disabilities or, to use the minister’s words, lifting Canadians with disabilities out of poverty.

Without the amendments made at committee, Bill C-22 is an empty shell lacking in concrete commitments to adequacy and dependent on the whims of future regulators. Although we were urged to pass this framework bill and trust the regulatory process, we thank colleagues for recognizing the inadequacy of such an approach and, worse yet, the resulting burden it would place on people with disabilities to convince prospective governments to act appropriately. It is heartbreaking that we seem increasingly ready to ask the most vulnerable, dispossessed and marginalized communities to put their faith in processes that rarely work to their advantage.

This is the anachronistic charitable approach of the 19th century, where those living in poverty were expected to be content with whatever the government of the moment felt was “good enough.” As senators, we have a particular and specific obligation to ensure this legislation meets its poverty elimination purpose by ensuring the framework it proposes is sound and that it enshrines in law the necessary protections and principles through which regulations should then be developed — not the initially proposed other way around.

Our courts have emphasized that Parliament must consider the effects of a statute in all circumstances to which it will likely apply and to do so in light of the reports, studies and fact situations discussed and raised during the parliamentary process as well as the applicable law, including principles set out in judicial decisions. Among these is also the constitutional principle that includes a commitment to provide essential public services of reasonable quality.

Colleagues, let us be very clear that consulting with disability communities is not the same as guaranteeing in legislation the protections they advocate for, nor does it ensure that consultations will be reflected in decision making or that any resulting decisions will even comply with fundamental human rights.

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