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Let’s not mince words

Bill C-22’s $200 is a serious let-down

By Joel Dembe 

I’ve witnessed first-hand the disappointment this dragged-out piece of legislation has brought to the disability community. How many times in public and on her social media account did former Minister for Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough parade the exceptional merits of this benefit—never, of course, revealing the actual financial details or individual implications. After all the public consultations and input from people with disabilities and advocates, it should be embarrassing to her and other MP’s that this is all her promises have amounted to. It’s all a bit ridiculous.

The 2024 Budget trumpeted a $4.9 billion allocation over five years for Canada first national disability benefit. It’s a figure that grabs headlines. Crunch the numbers and you’ll see it’s a paltry maximum of $200 per month per individual… it’s akin to trying to extinguish a raging wildfire with a squirt gun. Advocates had been hoping for at least $1000 a month. 

Consider the needs this benefit is supposed to address. In reality, the escalating costs of living, from groceries to gas, coupled with skyrocketing interest rates, have battered lower-to-middle class Canadians. For those with disabilities, it’s a waking nightmare with more and more unable to pay rent, resorting to food banks and community shelters to scrape by. 

But to many, the most egregious aspect is the fed’s decision to tie qualification for the Canada Disability Benefit to the Disability Tax Credit. It’s a slap in the face, particularly for those with episodic or invisible disabilities who often don’t qualify for the credit. For them, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare that adds insult to injury. So, are there any positives?

Budget 2024 does hint that consultations will soon begin on better supporting caregivers, something CAF has been advocating for years Yet it’s barely but a promise. Supporting caregivers could have a positive effect on supporting those living with disabilities. And let’s not forget Canada’s first national accessibility act, along with the still to be rolled out dental insurance plan. (at press time however most dentists weren’t signed up to the program).

So what’s next—and how can we break this stop-gap cycle of disappointment? Let’s ask bigger questions and come up with radical new and innovative ideas. To start:

• Why does each province get away with having its own system for supporting disabilities?

• Can we standardize support systems across provinces with federal guidance?

• What about focusing on research and quality of health care for people with disabilities, (and seniors) which is deteriorating. Would government funded health incubators and innovative start-ups that make living with a disability easier make sense? 

• What about further investments in transportation and accessible housing, or immediate funding for local caregiver supports? 

Unfortunately, these lofty questions won’t alleviate the loss of those already turning to assisted death as opposed to living one more day in a country that has seemingly overlooked its most vulnerable. But push for improvement we must together.

It’s time for our leaders to stop playing games with us.

Let’s make this an election issue. We all deserve so much better. 

Joel Dembe is a Paralympian, public speaker and is now a senior communications manager at RBC. He’s also Co-Chair of RBC REACH, Royal Bank of Canada’s advisory group for clients and employees living with disabilities. 

He serves as a Chair of the Patron’s Council for the Canadian Abilities Foundation.

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