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QUESTION PERIOD — Employment and Social Development

Canada Disability Benefit

May 30, 2024

Senator Gold and all our colleagues, I would like to start by recognizing that this is National AccessAbility Week. Pursuant to section 36(1)(c) of the Constitution Act Canada has a constitutional obligation to provide “. . . essential public services of reasonable quality to all Canadians.” For this reason and given that reality, by only providing a Canada disability benefit amount of $200 per month in this year’s budget, does the government honestly believe that it is meeting its constitutional obligations to persons with disabilities?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]

Thank you for that question and for pointing to that section of our Constitution Act, section 36(1)(c), in which the language appears. For the benefit of colleagues — because this is not a section that is much discussed, even amongst jurists and courts — it reads as follows:

Without altering the legislative authority of Parliament or of the provincial legislatures, or the rights of any of them with respect to the exercise of their legislative authority, Parliament and the legislatures, together with the government of Canada and the provincial governments, are committed to . . . .

And then those words.

It is clear that this commitment, which is how it has been described in the very few cases in which it has been referred to in the courts, is a recognition of the legislative jurisdictions of both the Government of Canada and the provinces. That’s my first point.

Second, this is a supplement to other disability benefits provided by the provinces and territories. Third, the federal government has measures —

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Senator Pate.

Thank you, Senator Gold. While the Canada disability legislation was before Parliament last year, the minister repeatedly told Canadians that the Canada disability benefit would lift hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities out of poverty. Does the government believe that the $200 per month the Canada disability benefit budgeted for some but not all people with disabilities will end poverty for persons with disabilities in Canada?

Senator Gold [ + ]

The short answer is no, but let me explain. This is the first step of a historic program introduced for the first time at the federal level to supplement those disability benefits that are constitutionally required, or are at least within the jurisdiction of provinces to provide. It’s the first step and, we understand, a modest step in terms of financial benefits that will flow in the first stage. The government is committed to working, developing and improving it, so it is a step in the right direction.

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