IN THE HOUSE ~ on Persons with Disabilities

39th Parliament, 1st Session
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, first, I must honestly say that I am disappointed. I fully understand the intention of the member for Chambly—Borduas, but I cannot agree with the amendment. The problem has to do with the fact that persons with disabilities always have to wait—and then wait some more. For that reason, even though I will support the motion, I feel that the amendment to postpone this for another six months is unfortunate. I understand the reason for it, and I know that it is proposed in good faith and with good intentions, but I find it difficult to support it.

I want to go back to the motion. We can agree with a motion asking to undertake a study of the current level of financial support provided to persons with disabilities. That is not the problem. A similar study was done in 2002-03, but we did not act on it. We can agree with the principle of conducting a study, but that is not where the problem lies. The problem is that persons with disabilities in this country are going through a crisis. Four million Canadian men and women are living in a deplorable economic situation. In Canada, 50% of all homeless people have disabilities. Half of the 300,000 people who, tonight, will sleep in parks, on the streets or in some shelter, are handicapped persons. Indeed, it is estimated that out of the 300,000 homeless people, 150,000 are persons with disabilities.

Forty percent of people who rely on food banks to survive are people with disabilities. These are Canadians across the country, in Quebec as in British Columbia. Over one third of families with a member who has a disability live below the poverty line. This crisis exists and it is serious. Conducting this study in the spring or next November will not change the fact that this Parliament and this government have been ignoring people with disabilities for several decades. The situation is not improving; rather, it is worsening. That is how things are right now. Poverty is a problem. Homeless people and others have to rely on food banks to survive. What do we have to offer them? We offer them a study that could go on for as long as nine months. Best-case scenario, it will last three months. That is ridiculous.

We have to realize what is going on in this country. The government is giving big companies tax breaks without studying and understanding the financial impact of those measures. It has been cutting taxes for big businesses and corporations for years. These are major tax breaks for them. This year, the government is giving over a billion dollars to Canada's oil industry. The industry is raking in record profits and we are giving them even more money. When one considers that fact alongside the fact that half of this country's homeless are people with disabilities, it is not hard to understand why Canadians are getting more and more frustrated. We are not doing what needs to be done to resolve this crisis.

The Conservatives, since they have come to power, have done nothing, absolutely nothing to address this crisis that exists in our country.

With the Liberals, in 13 years, we actually saw a decline in disability benefits. We actually saw a decline in the approval rate, very similar to employment insurance. We saw a decline in the approval rate of people who were actually applying for CPP disability benefits.

We have seen a complete and total erosion of the capacity of Canadians with disabilities to live and contribute to society. They are struggling every single day and they are struggling in a circumstance that is tougher and tougher.

What is the NDP approach? Last September in Quebec City we adopted a comprehensive disability strategy. We certainly hope this will be part of the discussion that will take place in the next election. The four million Canadians with disabilities who live from coast to coast to coast need to know that there are going to be fundamental changes in how we respect their presence and their opportunity to contribute to our country.

What the NDP said in Quebec City last September was that we would put into place a comprehensive set of policy measures that would include a new investment package that would combat poverty and exclusion of people with disabilities and their families, that would include achievable targets over a five year period to reduce by half the annual income gap between Canadians with and without disabilities, reduce by half the poverty rate of adults with disabilities, reduce by half the labour market participation gap between Canadians with and without disabilities, and reduce by half the non-reimbursed costs faced by persons with disabilities.

Unbelievably, in this country in many provinces there are Canadians with disabilities who have to host bake sales and do fundraising to get a wheelchair. It is unbelievable at a time of record corporate profits and when the wealthy in this country are making money in an unbelievable way. Never before in Canada have we seen so much wealth going to so few people and yet Canadians with disabilities are having to sell their goods and have bake sales to try to get a wheelchair. It is deplorable.

That is the reality on main streets from coast to coast to coast and here in this Parliament we are discussing a study and whether it is done in May or whether it is done in November. It is not going to help the appalling rates of poverty that we see among Canadians with disabilities, the appalling exclusion, the fact that there is no help or support for them to get into the labour market, and the fact that for decades they have been neglected and forgotten. A study is not going to change that. A study is not going to change their situation.

We need a comprehensive policy put in place immediately. We need to move to address those four million Canadians and bring them into the mainstream and give them the tools that they need, the supports that they need in the workplace so that they can contribute their talents and their ability which are considerable. However, they are not able to do that because there is no infrastructure in place for them.

In the NDP policy we talk about establishing a Canadians with disabilities act that builds on existing rights and enforcement bodies, and brings right to this Parliament on a regular basis the actual situation of people with disabilities in this country.

Canadians with disabilities are a wide spectrum of individuals. When we talk about the deaf community, which I know most well having worked as executive director for the Western Institute for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, there is a wide spectrum and a cultural liveliness, dynamism, that would serve Canada well.

We are talking about the blind and visually impaired Canadians, Canadians with mental disabilities, and Canadians with physical disabilities. We are talking about Canadians who have enormous talents and yet they are continually shut out of the mainstream.

We need a long term disability strategy. We need specific strategies to address the needs of aboriginal people with disabilities. We need federal leadership to ensure the full and equal participation of Canadians with disabilities in all aspects of Canadian life.

Even though we support the study, we need to do much more. A study of a couple of months duration is something we could certainly support, but only as a first step to that day when we will have full inclusion for Canadians with disabilities in every aspect of Canadian life.