IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on Bill C-23 and how it relates to Persons with Disabilities

38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member from Ottawa Centre for agreeing to share his time with me.

He talked a lot about the issue of housing and the homeless. I want to add to what he was saying and I want to talk about how Bill C-23 relates to persons with disabilities in the country. This is an extremely important issue. The NDP is in favour of referring this motion to committee. What we want in particular is for extensive consultations to be held in committee. We want there to be consultations with labour groups across the country, as well as women, first nations, young people and student groups. Equally important: we want groups representing persons with disabilities to be consulted as well.

Some aspects of this legislation have a profound affect on the issue of persons with disabilities. If we improve their situation somehow, then we might improve the general situation for persons with disabilities in Canada. However, if we do nothing, if the legislation is nothing but policy, then their situation will not change at all. After 10 years of having a Liberal government, their situation is not good.

[English]

I do want to speak to this bill and speak to the vigilance that is required when we are talking about persons with disabilities in this country. We know that persons with disabilities represent almost 13% of the population and that currently there is a 50% unemployment rate among people with disabilities and one of the highest suicide rates in the country. In my region, homelessness has tripled over the past three years. We also know that nearly half of those who are homeless across this land are people with disabilities.

Obviously their situation is very serious and we need to address it. We need to address it immediately. We are hoping that we will have consultations through the process of the examination of this bill in committee so that we can actually start to address these long-standing issues for people with disabilities.

One thing we would like to see developed is a labour market strategy for persons with disabilities, which would include a plan for increased participation in the federal government workforce. As we know, increasing employment for the disabled would go a long way in improving the quality of living of these Canadians.

We would like to see an independent commissioner reporting directly to Parliament who would monitor the federal government's compliance, in all departments, with policies for persons with disabilities. This commissioner of course could further advise ministers about the effect on persons with disabilities of upcoming legislation or regulations.

We know that increased employment will not be sufficient. Expanded measures are also needed to help employers other than the federal government make workplaces accessible and accommodate persons with disabilities.

Some of the facts are pretty daunting when we look at persons with disabilities in this country. We know that they represent 12% to 13% of the Canadian population and that government programs are the main source of income for the majority of persons with disabilities who are not in the labour force.

I have mentioned the employment rate for persons with disabilities. It is almost half that of their non-disabled peers.

As we know, additional costs are associated with living with a disability and persons with disabilities typically need higher incomes to maintain an adequate standard of living.

Working age persons with disabilities get only 76% of the average household after tax income of all Canadians.

As well, cost has been cited as the main barrier preventing individuals from obtaining the assistive devices they need to be integrated into the workforce.

Less than one-half of the 1.9 million persons with disabilities in Canada over the age of 15 receive the help they require with activities of daily living. Forty-five per cent say they need more help than they are receiving and 10% say that they receive no help, this after more than 10 years of Liberal government. It is clear that the situation for persons with disabilities in this country is shameful.

When we look at sources of income, either from paid employment or from income support, we see that the majority of persons with disabilities continues to experience chronic poverty and inaccessible support.

Persons with disabilities are more likely to experience food insecurity in this country than their non-disabled peers are, and as I mentioned earlier, 41% of those using food banks have either a disability or a long term illness.

The situation is deplorable. There is so much more we can do. At the committee stage we are hoping to raise some of these issues that are important in the consideration of human resources and social development. More could be done in regard to greater recognition of the extra costs involved in leading a life with a disability. We could look at an expansion of the special opportunity--

(1400)

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Mr. Speaker, before question period, I was on the point of discussing the issue of housing and homelessness among people with disabilities in the community. This issue has come up in the House today and in communities across the country. I wanted to cite a number of important statistics.

Almost half of the homeless population, which is growing, has a disability and one in seven persons with a disability has affordability problems with respect to housing. According to the 1986 census, more than half of the owned households where a person with a disability lived earned less than $30,000 per year. Over 80% of rented households where a person with a disability lived earned less than this. In Toronto 37.5% of persons with disabilities live in poverty. Most shelters cannot accommodate individuals who need support with daily living, and the structural accessibility of shelters continues to be a barrier for persons with disabilities.

One in five persons with disabilities need housing adaptations of some kind. Cost is the most commonly cited barrier for adults with disabilities not acquiring needed adaptations. Persons with disabilities in rental accommodations and rooming and boarding houses are least likely to be satisfied with their accommodations. Cost has been cited by persons with disabilities across the country, who wish to move yet cannot, as the major barrier preventing relocation.

I raise these issues in the framework of Bill C-23 because we are not doing nearly enough to address the important needs of persons with disabilities. Much more can be done. We can ease the financial burden upon those with disabilities by making the disability and medical expense tax credits fully refundable. We can provide child care and respite care for families who look after children with disabilities. That should be instituted.

Many people with disabilities today have trouble accessing adequate long term home care, and often only receive this immediately after being in hospital. This is simply insufficient. Living standards should be improved for persons with disabilities.

We have looked at the issue of transport. There was a time in the past when Canada was seen as a world leader in improving accessibility to rail and air transportation for persons with disabilities. We now find that the government's decision to rely on voluntary codes of practice rather than federal regulations has halted further advancement in this area. Many people with disabilities across the country believe the situation has regressed.

Navigating the waters, which I have brought up in the House, is a national employment initiative of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres. It has supported over 5,000 persons with disabilities by helping them upgrade their skills and find jobs, at a cost of only $950,000 per year. As I mentioned, that program has been threatened with closure because of inadequate federal funding. This is shameful.

We have a situation where the lives of persons with disabilities could be dramatically improved, yet they have not been addressed. We hope, by studying the bill in committee, that it will help to start to address these important issues for people with disabilities.

[Translation]

It is tragic to see that disabled people account for 41% of those who must rely on food banks. It is also tragic that close to half of the homeless are disabled people. So, these last 10 years have been terrible and full of challenges for the disabled.

We are looking forward to discussing these issues in committee, in the weeks or months to come. We will ask disabled people to come and testify and to talk about their lives, in the hope that we can improve this legislation, and that we can also begin to improve their lot in Canadian society.