Mr. Speaker, first I wish to thank the member for Brant for bringing this issue to our attention. It is of great importance to us here in the NDP. I also wish to congratulate him on his recent appointment as chair of the human resources committee. He did bring this to our attention during our study of this issue last spring, and he was very knowledgeable and caring about it.
My riding of York South—Weston has a significant proportion of individuals with disabilities, mostly because the riding is one of the places in Toronto where people can afford the housing. As a result, persons with disabilities end up in the riding because the housing is cheap and not because they necessarily want to live there. However, there are not very many supports for those individuals in the riding. There are not a whole lot of employment supports; put it that way.
This motion is a good motion, but as with the report of the government side at the human resources committee this spring, the motion does not go far enough. Our standing committee studied the issue for the 20th time in 30 years, and none of those studies resulted in any significant change in the level of employment for persons with disabilities. I fear that the most recent study will soon collect dust on a shelf, and we will be no further ahead.
We in the NDP agree with what the member for Brant is proposing. We need to do all five of the things he has asked, but that is only a very small part of the puzzle.
Unemployment among persons living with disabilities is extreme. Over half of those who want to work and who are capable of working are not working. Of 800,000 persons, nearly half have some form of post-secondary education. So the problem is not one of availability of the workforce.
The focus of the panel and of the government's report from the standing committee is to lay the problem squarely at the feet of the private sector employers. The motion goes a little beyond this, but not far. It does not address some very real government-controlled systemic issues that place persons living with disabilities at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to employment.
The standing committee heard from many witnesses who gave evidence that the income support programs in this country are not helpful in keeping persons with disabilities gainfully employed. For example, the EI system contains a mechanism by which many Canadians are protected against income loss due to illness or injury. The rules are quite rigid. One must wait for 2 weeks before claiming anything, and one is limited to 15 consecutive weeks of payments. There are no provisions for persons with episodic disabilities.
One of my co-workers years ago at the CBC underwent dialysis three times a week, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and it took the whole day. He was out of commission for those days. The CBC, the union, and the insurance company got together and figured out a way that he could continue to receive a full salary even though he was only working three days a week. This arrangement went on for many years until his death. If he had been forced to use the EI system, he could not have had any kind of assistance whatsoever, because the EI system cannot deal with that.
The witnesses who were at the committee are not the first to urge the government to fix the system, but so far there has been no action from this or any previous federal government on this issue.
Another big flaw is in our health care system. Many persons with disabilities are heavily dependent on medical intervention to keep them alive and able to function. Motorized wheelchairs are not cheap and are generally not provided by provincial health systems. Maintenance drugs are not provided by most health systems, with the exception perhaps of Quebec. Hearing aids and seeing-eye dogs, and the list goes on, are not provided by provincial medical systems.
There are only two ways for persons living with disabilities to get support for such medical necessities. One way is to be employed with a good employer, and that good employer would have a medical plan that provides for these things. Some do, and some do not. The other way is to be unemployed and seek assistance from the provincial government's disability program. In Ontario, the province I am most familiar with, it is called the Ontario disability support program. It is available as a form of income support for persons with disabilities. It includes a living allowance, housing help, transportation help and access to the drug benefit program, but it is not available to persons who are working.
Our standing committee heard from several witnesses who pointed out the Catch-22 that lies therein. Persons who want to work and can find work lose their support programs, including access to medical programs. Therefore, faced with that choice, they choose not to work. That is not any way to run a railroad.
Some disabled individuals qualify for a Canada pension disability pension. The program is designed to help those who cannot work as a result of a disability, and it carries them to age of 65, when OAS kicks in. However, with the new OAS rules, it does not start until 67, so there is a two-year gap for persons with disabilities.
The Canada pension disability program does not provide any kind of medical or other benefits. Persons who qualify, and it is difficult to qualify, are not provided with any kind of medical benefits.
It is also not easy to use it for episodic disabilities. A person who recovers sufficiently to go back to work but suffers a relapse, such as a person with multiple sclerosis, et cetera, must requalify for CPP disability, which is a long and complex process.
In closing, we support the member for Brant's motion. It is well intentioned. It essentially brings some of the recommendations from the panel to the House. It brings to the House's attention issues that need our attention, as mentioned earlier. However, as has been the case with the government side of the standing committee, it does not go far enough to address the systemic problems facing persons with disabilities in Canada in becoming employed. To repeat, those problems generally have to do with income and benefits.
We in the NDP want the government to address those issues first, and then we will have a system that is non-discriminatory in terms of income and medical support for persons with disabilities.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for that. I am new around here.
I will finish the quote, which states:
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 the issue to do anything, but it is more a matter of political will to do what is needed. The panel's report brought to light startling myths about employing a disabled person, such as that in 57% of cases there is no cost to accommodate a disabled person, or that in 37% of cases the average cost to accommodate is under $500. When we find out from the report that nearly 800,000 working-age Canadians with disabilities are able to work but are not working and almost half of those have post-secondary education, obviously we are failing. We are failing as a society, and there is a cost to all of us, socially and economically.
What can we do? The panel's report challenges employers to lead, but we all know that for real substantive and effective change to happen, it has to be the federal government that steps up. We heard some real ideas to help persons with disabilities at committee, just as I had mentioned. One area that was brought up by a number of witnesses was the EI program. Carmela Hutchison, president of the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada, stated:
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, with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, stated:
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.
My office manager was diagnosed with MS eight years ago. I can speak first-hand to the fact that I have never met anybody more inspiring. She has been an incredible staff support person, but it is important that she pays attention to her body, and time is taken on occasion when she has to rest. If employers are able to accommodate, then the benefit is that they can continue to maintain quality staff.
One of the actions this motion calls on the government to take is to focus more on disabled youth through the youth employment strategy. I am glad my colleague included this. However, he should be aware that the number of youth assisted through the skills link program that helps youth with barriers has decreased from 32,000 under the previous Liberal government to just 12,000 at the end of last year. That is a perfect example of how the government is failing not only our youth but the disabled community as well.
I want to thank my colleague from Brant for creating this motion and for his ongoing commitment to help those with disabilities. I do not believe the challenge will be to get support to pass this motion. The real test is whether the government will actually do what is needed to give persons with disabilities a fair and equal opportunity. That will be the true test of success.
I would hate like heck not to mention that, in committee, witness after witness living with a disability said that the one thing all of them see as being a challenge further down the road is the fact that the eligibility for OAS has gone from age 65 to 67.
Many Canadians who have lived with disabilities live their life waiting to turn age 65. Some say it is the most affluent they have been in their entire life, because they struggled to maintain themselves and lived so close to the edge. Now that will evade them again for an additional two years. Certainly that is regrettable.
Hopefully there will be some kind of program or a change of heart or a change of government with a different heart, or a change to a government with a heart, that will recognize this shortcoming and address it.
Mr.Speaker, I thank the member for Brant for his motion.
The report by the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities provided some insightful information on companies that used best practices and as well dispelled many myths about employing people with disabilities.
The Liberal Party does not disagree with any aspect of the report. The member for Brant's motion calls on the government to support a number of the actions to help reduce barriers to employment for persons with disabilities. Neither I nor my party disagrees with any of these ideas. That is why the Liberal Party will be supporting this motion.
I fully expect that my colleague from Brant will get his own government officials to support this as well. I will go out on a limb now and say that maybe he will.
The panel's report said in its concluding remarks, “It's time for Canadian businesses to step up to the challenge of employing more people with disabilities.”
I would submit, and I believe that many in the disabled community would agree, that it is time for the government to step up to the plate and listen and lead when it comes to real and effective policies and initiatives that will make a difference. My concern, and I am not convinced, is that the passing of this motion will not help a great deal in making the government do that.
Ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities are protected from discrimination or respected to be given an equal opportunity to provide for themselves and their families is something Liberals have always fought for. I am proud to be a member of the Liberal Party that gave Canada the Canadian Charter of Rights that guaranteed “equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination” to individuals in Canada with mental and physical disabilities. I am also proud that our party also was responsible for the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act.
These important pieces of legislation have created rights for persons with disabilities, but we need to do more to ensure that 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 living in poverty, access to transportation and housing, as we heard from my colleague from the NDP, and a long-term employment plan.
The human resources committee, of which I am a member, concluded a study on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities this spring. Several witnesses spoke to this point that enhancing opportunities of employment for people with disabilities could not be discussed in isolation of other policies and barriers that act as disincentives to work.
Dr. David Lepofsky, chair of 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, national coordinator, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, spoke about a long-term employment plan, “We would call on the Government of Canada, and on Minister Finley”, who was then the minister responsible, “specifically, to develop a five-year strategic plan to address employment needs—”
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the motion put forward by my colleague from Brant.
I share the opinion he expressed in his reply to the last question about the stigma that surrounds and limits opportunities for persons with disabilities. Through the course of our last study, we saw companies like Tim Hortons step up and say that they have not done enough. It is a pool of labour that they have not tapped, and they promise to do a better job with it. That was sort of encouraging.
I want to ask my colleague a question. There are some good things that take place in each of the provinces. A current undertaking by the government is the Canada job grant, and a portion of the LMAs, from which the provinces draw their funding to support these programs, is now profiled so that it has to be used for the Canada job grant.
We are hearing from groups that are concerned about losing some of those opportunities, some of the infrastructure, some of the capacity that they have been building over the last number of years, because this money has been in the system since 2008.
Is the member hearing from those groups about those same concerns?
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should endorse the report of the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities entitled “Rethinking disAbility in the Private Sector”, and its findings, and commit to furthering public-private cooperation by: (a) building on existing government initiatives, such as the Opportunities Fund, the Registered Disability Savings Plan, the ratification of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities; (b) issuing a call to action for Canadian employers to examine the expert panel's findings and encouraging employers to take advantage of private sector-led initiatives to increase employment levels for persons with disabilities in Canada; (c) pursuing greater accountability and coordination of its labour market funding for persons with disabilities and ensuring that funding is demand driven and focussed on suitable performance indicators with strong demonstrable results; (d) establishing an increased focus on young people with disabilities to include support mechanisms specifically targeted at increasing employment levels among youth with disabilities, through programs such as the Youth Employment Strategy; and (e) strengthening efforts to identify existing innovative approaches to increasing the employment of persons with disabilities occurring in communities across Canada and ensuring that programs have the flexibility to help replicate such approaches.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and a thrill once again to rise and speak to my motion and again turn the attention of members of the House to a tremendously important issue: creating important economic opportunities for people living with disabilities and supporting their social and economic integration into our communities.
Private member's Motion No. 430 calls upon the House to endorse the recent report from the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, entitled “Rethinking DisAbility in the Private Sector”, and its findings, and to commit to further building public-private co-operation on this issue by taking a number of additional concrete steps.
I can think of no better way to begin than to quote the first three sentences of the report that was tabled. I will mention the panel members by name because of the excellent work that they have done. They are Kenneth Fredeen, who was the chair; Mark Wafer; Dr. Gary Birch; and Kathy Martin. All of these members are key individuals in advancing persons with disabilities and advocating for them to find gainful employment.
I will quote from the report:
We all have abilities, but some are more apparent than others. From what we have seen in companies that hire people with disabilities—and from our own experiences as friends or family members of someone with a disability—we know that they can contribute greatly to business and to society. Yet despite an aging population and a looming labour skills shortage, this significant talent pool is being overlooked.
That is the thrust of my motion. My motion calls not only on governments to endorse the labour market panel's recent report but also on the private sector to hear, examine, and act on the findings. It makes good business sense.
It also calls on the government to promote further public-private co-operation, because we know that leadership from the private sector is crucial if we are going to see real progress.
Motion No. 430 also calls for a specific focus on young people with disabilities in programs such as the youth employment strategy, which we currently fund, and new approaches to ensure that government programs are flexible and adaptable to innovative community-level strategies. It calls for improvements to our labour market agreements for people with disabilities to ensure that funding is relevant and effective.
These measures would help make sure that Canada is supporting those individuals who are on the front lines, supporting Canadians with disabilities, and capitalizing on innovative community-level approaches.
I will give the House an example. In my home community of Brantford, there is an organization called Crossing All Bridges. Crossing All Bridges is currently going through the process of developing skills and offerings to individuals in the private sector for those individuals and their clients to build social enterprises in the form of co-operatives that provide services. Social enterprises are not a new movement, but it is new terminology.
One such service that the organization is considering is a shredding service. This is a task that many individuals with disabilities not only enjoy doing but get a sense of fulfillment from, since they are working. Those services can then be offered, generate income, and sustain the needs of the people with disabilities.
There is momentum building on this behind the scenes and right across Canada. We know that more and more Canadians are beginning to speak up about this issue. There is a growing effort among businesses and disability organizations across Canada to break down the stigmas that have persisted for too long about hiring people living with disabilities. We are seeing the issue being elevated on the national stage through a renewed focus by our Conservative government.
The human resources committee has just completed a comprehensive report on employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We heard from many people and communities right across Canada. Organizations and individuals came to our committee and suggested that there are so many people who are ready, willing, and able to work yet are having a hard time breaking down the stigma and the barriers to employment.
We want to focus, as the report does, on those entrepreneurs and private companies that are great role models in the country. They have focused on hiring persons with disabilities, because it benefits their businesses.
In our government's 2013 budget, we placed a specific focus on helping to support people with disabilities who want to work, including with new funding for the Canadian employers disability forum. The employers forum is an extension of the panel's work. It will seek out and pull together the best practices of employers on a national level for the purpose of sharing and disseminating them right across the country to educate private business owners about the benefits and the business case for hiring someone with a disability.
In my community, we have a car dealership that has an employee who is one of the most wonderful people one could ever meet. Everyone in the business and the community is aware of Norman at this particular car dealership. Norman comes to work every day. He gives a 200% effort every day. Everyone sees Norman's commitment to the business. It inspires the culture of the business. It inspires the customer base. It inspires the whole community.
Another company in my riding is SC Johnson. When people come to the reception desk, they meet a young man who is blind. He greets everyone with a large smile on his face and introduces them to the whole perspective of the company, right there at the reception desk. If they are going anywhere in that large plant that employs over 400 people, he will take them to every corner, even though he lives with blindness.
It does not matter what the disability is. It could be a physical, mobility, intellectual, or episodic disability. These are all disabilities we need to address through heightening awareness across this country. My motion aims to capture and build on that momentum.
We know that Canada is projected to face very challenging labour shortfalls in the years ahead due to the aging population. This means that supporting Canadians who are currently under-represented in the labour force is more important than ever. We need to better connect them with the jobs that are available. Statistics tell us, and this information is quite startling, that today there are 800,000 Canadians with disabilities who are ready, willing, and able to go to work. Of those, 350,000 have a post-secondary education.
There are many barriers in the workplace today and stigma attached to having a disability, whether it is the way one walks or does not walk, the way one talks, or the fact that one is deaf. There are opportunities for all of these people, and their skill sets are solid.
As I have said before, I am thankful for the great work of groups like the recent Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and a host of other organizations. We now know that Canadians living with disabilities represent one of the most significant untapped pools of talented people in Canada who want to contribute more. In putting this motion together, we spent over a year talking with organizations from across the country that represent people with disabilities. There are specific groups. There are people representing the intellectually disabled. There are people representing all nature of disabilities.
We came together with them to listen to what their needs were. Inevitably, they ended up telling us these people just needed the door opened a bit and once it was open a bit for them in a private company, they would show their talent and shine in those roles. That is what we are witnessing. Not only do they want to work, but they make exceptional employees.
The panel's report carries an important message for employers: that hiring employees with a disability is not just the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.
Some other examples are pointed out in the report. Some are U.S. examples. A major 2005 U.S. survey of customer perceptions toward companies hiring people with disabilities found that 92% of Americans viewed these companies more favourably and 87% said that they would give their business to companies that hired people with disabilities.
A DuPont study showed that 90% of people with disabilities did their jobs as well as or better than non-disabled co-workers. It found that turnover, absenteeism, and tardiness dropped appreciably in organizations with disabled workers.
A widely accepted study conducted by the U.S. Job Accommodation Network found that providing workplace accommodation typically came at low cost, with 50% of participants reporting spending nothing at all. Imagine one of the barriers is a person who needs some accommodation in the workplace and the employer looks at that and says that it is one of the things it will have to do. Perhaps it is a physical accommodation in the workplace. Fifty per cent of the time there is no accommodation needed for persons with disabilities and when there is accommodation needed, statistics show us the cost is usually less than $500 to a business.
Businesses reported major benefits for reduced turnover when employing people with disabilities. For instance, the Marriott hotel chain has reported a 6% turnover rate among employees with disabilities versus 52% in its overall turnover rate. Canadian Rich Donovan, founder of the Fifth Quadrant Analytics, found that companies that performed well in disability were highly responsive to their customers and thus outperformed peers in revenue growth. This is the business case that is being made.
I am very proud to say our government has moved forward on a number of initiatives, ahead of the curve in terms of the momentum that has been gained. Under our labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, we transfer over $218 million to provinces to support programs.
My motion also seeks to take advantage of some of the new and innovative ways to integrate persons with disabilities through new negotiated labour market agreements with the provinces. They include the youth employment strategy, with $300 million annually for young Canadians, including those with disabilities. The opportunities fund provides $30 million annually to help persons with disabilities prepare for, obtain, and keep employment, and for self-employment.
In my community, there is a business that has been set up by Lisa Hooper. She, along with four others who work in her organization, consults with employers from across the community and consults with persons who desire to work. She matches them together. This is a trend that is happening more often, and it helps employers. Again, this is another avenue. We help support programs that Lisa delivers within my community.
This is an issue that is at the forefront.
I will conclude with one quote from an organization called People First Canada. It states:
There are so many benefits that come from being employed in the regular workforce. There are social, personal and community benefits that often mean more to a person than their paycheque does. People First of Canada believes...Motion...M-416 is an important step towards increasing employment across the country for Canadians with disabilities.
It is a privilege to put this issue on the floor of the House of Commons.
The electoral district of Brant (Ontario) has a population of 125,136 with 93,181 registered voters and 247 polling divisions.
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