It’s good the government has promised a Canada Disability Benefit. Here’s how to fix the flawed bill

Posted on November 12, 2022 in Inclusion Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors
Nov. 7, 2022.   By David Lepofsky, Contributor

Bill C-22 disqualifies many people with disabilities from the benefit, since only working-age people qualify. Disability poverty doesn’t end at 65.

The federal government calls it “shameful” that one million people with disabilities languish in poverty. It’s good the government promised to create a Canada Disability Benefit (CDB) to lift them out of poverty.

However, their weak Bill C-22 before Parliament does not require the government to ever pay a CDB, or set a deadline to start paying it. It sets no minimum benefit amount or ensure it keeps pace with inflation. It could be $1 per month.

The bill disqualifies almost one-third of people with disabilities over age 15 from the benefit because of their age, no matter how poor. Only working-age people qualify. Yet, disability poverty doesn’t start at 18 or end at 65.

The bill gives cabinet a blank cheque, excluding parliamentary oversight. Cabinet decides in secret all specifics, including the benefit’s amount, who’s eligible, and when or if it will be paid.

Liberals have a minority of House of Commons seats. They want all legislative decisions forked over to cabinet, where Liberals have all the seats.

The bill imposes no timelines for cabinet to enact regulations needed to start paying the benefit. A future cabinet could gut it through secret votes.

We need Bill C-22 swiftly strengthened and swiftly passed. The CDB shouldn’t be restricted to “working age” people. The bill should set a mandatory minimum CDB amount, indexed to inflation, and a mandatory start date for paying it. Let cabinet increase but not reduce it.

Cabinet shouldn’t decide everything in regulations. The bill must set specifics on things like eligibility, requirements that cabinet’s regulations can clarify but can’t contradict.

The bill should impose a deadline for cabinet to make regulations needed for the benefit to begin. It should require that none of the benefit will be clawed back by federal, provincial or territorial programs.

Honouring the disability rights maxim “nothing about us without us,” the bill should require federal politicians to hold accessible face-to-face public consultations on regulations — more than emailing invitations to submit input to a faceless website.

Taking two years to get this far, Liberals still can’t say how much the CDB will be, who will get it or when. They are pressing Parliament to pass the bill as is, invoking the desperation of those living in poverty. That won’t get a dime to anyone for well over a year after the bill is passed.

The Liberals admit that the regulations could take a year. Then there’s delays for people to apply and get approved, and for cutting cheques. It took the government months just to pay a one-time emergency pandemic benefit for impoverished people with disabilities.

Our improvements to this bill would speed money into the pockets of impoverished people with disabilities sooner. Then turn up the heat on federal and provincial politicians and bureaucrats to settle the details.

A cold winter looms. Government can do better than offer people with disabilities in poverty another year of regulation-making and backroom intergovernmental haggling!

David Lepofsky chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

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