Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak on the motion before us today.
I want to recognize my colleague from Montcalm for her contribution to the human resources and skills development committee.
I also want to recognize and commend my colleague from Brant for bringing this motion forward. As he indicated, we did a study on this particular area, and I think there will be some good things that will arise from the study. However, he has been a long-time advocate for persons with disabilities, and I want to recognize his contribution to the committee as well as the equity he holds in his opinion on these matters.
My younger brother had cerebral palsy, and my mom was the advocate in my household. The challenges we have now are certainly different from the ones she would have experienced and come up against in trying to raise into adulthood a young handicapped son in the 1960s. As well, my two sisters both work at an adult workshop, CAPE Society, in Glace Bay. One sister is a director, and she has been there a number of years, and as well my sister Darlene has probably been with CAPE for 20 years, so the issue of physical and intellectual disabilities has been part of our kitchen table talk for a lot of years.
I think if this motion could be deemed as one thing, it would certainly be a step in the right direction. The Liberal Party will be supporting this motion.
Ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities are protected from discrimination or respected to be given an equal opportunity to provide for themselves or their families is something that the Liberals have always fought for. I am proud to be a member of the party that gave Canada the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guaranteed “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination...”. This was given to individuals in Canada with mental and physical disabilities.
I am proud that our party was also responsible for the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act. These important pieces of legislation created rights for persons with disabilities, but we need to do more to ensure Canadians with disabilities have equal opportunities to employment to provide for themselves and their families.
Part of the solution is having a rounded approach to the issues that most affect persons with disabilities, such as poverty, transportation, housing and a long-term employment plan. As I indicated, we are in the throes of concluding a study on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Several witnesses spoke to the points of poverty, transportation and housing, and they said that enhancing opportunities of employment for persons with disabilities cannot be discussed in isolation of other policies or barriers that act as disincentives to work.
Dr. David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said:
Don't think about employment in isolation. We've got to tackle the barriers across the board. Transit, education, and employment must all be tackled together. The same barriers hurt in all contexts.
Laurie Beachell, the national coordinator for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, spoke about a long-term employment plan. She said:
We would call on the Government of Canada, and on [the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development] specifically, to develop a five-year strategic plan to address employment needs of people with disabilities. One-off single-issue one-community measures will simply not get us where we hope to be.
The problem has never been that we do not know enough about an issue to do anything. More so, it is about political will.
The panel's report brought to light startling myths about employing a disabled person. In 57% of cases there is no cost to accommodate disabled persons. Sometimes we hear employers saying that the costs around accommodation are too great. In 37% of the cases, the average cost of accommodation is below $500.
We find from the report that just below 800,000 working-age Canadians with disabilities who are able to work do not work. We also know almost half have post-secondary education.
We are failing as a society, and there is a cost to us all, economically and socially.
The panel's report challenges employers to lead. We have received great testimony. It has been indicated that Tim Hortons has really seized this challenge of growing its workforce with persons with challenges. We recognize that Tim Hortons has taken on big issues before, such as with smoking. The Liberal government at the time stepped up and did so much to ensure that laws were in place and advertising around smoking in public places. However, Tim Hortons stepped up as well, ahead of most other restaurants, to try to accommodate some smokers. It had the smoking rooms first and then just banned it outright.
We know that real substantive and effective change has to come from the federal government as well. We heard some real ideas to help persons with disabilities. One area that was brought up a number of times was EI.
Carmela Hutchison, the president of the DisAbled Women's Network Canada, said:
People with episodic and chronic illnesses often do not have enough time to qualify for benefits. There's a lack of flexible supports for chronic illnesses not deemed severe enough. Very often we see people who are struggling to maintain employment while undergoing cancer treatment, or they have MS and again they're struggling. If they take a lighter schedule, then their funding for their disability is cut to that lighter schedule. Other people have talked about being considered too disabled for one program or not disabled enough for another.
Laurie Beachell, from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said:
EI has a real problem with those people who have episodic disabilities, mental health concerns, MS, those people who are well at periods of time in their life and can work, and then cannot work at certain times.
One program that my colleague had talked about was the youth employment strategy and the skills link, in particular. Back before the government took power, that skills link program portion of the youth employment strategy had accommodated 32,000 Canadians with disabilities. Now it accommodates 12,000. It is one thing to have the programs, but at one time these programs served more and they should going forward.
I want to share with the House and the member for Brant that the Liberal Party will support his motion. We hope the government sees this as a call to action and moves on these recommendations.
The hon. member for Montcalm has nine minutes.
Before I go to the member for Montcalm, I would just remind all hon. members to direct their comments and questions to the Chair rather than to their colleagues.
The hon. member for Montcalm.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak now and I look forward to continuing the remainder of my part of the debate on Bill C-47 after question period.
Bill C-47 was about 15 years in the making. That does not necessarily mean those 15 years made it a perfect bill, and it is not a perfect bill.
On the other hand, Canadians expect us to put forward the absolute best legislation that we can. I like to think that we try to do that in the House. As I will speak to in a few moments, unfortunately what has transpired with respect to the progress of this bill through committee is a little disappointing.
I would first say that we put forth 50 amendments to the bill. By and large, almost all of those amendments were based on witnesses' testimony; in other words, witnesses came forward during committee stage to say what they would like to see in the bill. Unfortunately, all of the amendments were turned down by the majority government people on the committee.
They try to leave the impression that they consulted widely on this bill and on all bills. However, if we look at the record, we see that not just in this committee but in all committees they must surely be under instructions to not accept any amendments from either the Liberals or the NDP, because they simply do not get looked at in the proper light.
I think that is what has happened with this bill. While the bill does have some attributes that I will talk about in a moment, I believe it could have been made better by accepting our 50 amendments and the three amendments the Liberals put forward. That would have made the bill much better.
Amendments are always put forward in good faith. Unfortunately, in this case it was not helpful. The government turned down each and every one of them.
One of the amendments was to separate the bills. However, they have both been bundled together. One is a good-looking bill, which I will talk about in a moment; the other has some flaws that could have been fixed.
The NDP believes in consultation. We believe in building consensus in decision-making. I lived and worked in the Northwest Territories for five years in the 1980s. When I moved to the Northwest Territories to work in the field of education, one of the first realizations I came to was that the Government of the Northwest Territories worked on consensus. There were no overt political parties, and people worked together, building a consensus. I would like to think that we do that in this place as much as we can.
Mr. Speaker, I neglected to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Montcalm.
Even though the government says that it consulted widely and continuously on the bill, I still believe that more consultation would have been useful.
We in the NDP stand up for the rights of northerners and all Canadians, and we continue to do that. I wish the government would join us in looking at Canada the way we do.
I will talk about the first part of the bill, which deals with the Nunavut planning and project assessment act. It is fairly straightforward.
I have a couple of good things to say about that part of the bill. There are a couple of very important measures in there that are certainly worth mentioning. One is that the roles, powers, functions and authorities of all the parties, including how their members are appointed, are very clearly defined.
The proposed process for impact assessment is streamlined and efficient, and hopefully this will make investments in Nunavut more attractive and profitable for people wishing to do business in Nunavut.
The act would establish timelines for various decision-making points. That is exactly the way it should be. Consultation with joint panels is also the way it should be.
The enforcement provisions in the act would establish new and more effective tools for ensuring that developers follow the terms and conditions, and there are specific monitoring plans that go along with that. These regulatory improvements are important steps in that part of the act.
After question period, Mr. Speaker, with your permission I will continue my part of the debate.
Just as a reminder to all hon. members, there have been some occurrences today where members have mentioned the proper names of other hon. members. This is something that can happen quite easily, but I just remind hon. members that it is in fact prohibited in the standing orders.
I know members are waiting for questions and comments, but before we get to that, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, in respect to Veterans; the hon. member for Montcalm, concerning Persons with Disability; and third, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, concerning Housing.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Burlington.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Montcalm has eight minutes remaining this evening.
The electoral district of Montcalm (Quebec) has a population of 122,825 with 99,604 registered voters and 237 polling divisions.
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