Looking at the agenda the Government of Canada over the past two years, you would have to reach the same conclusion as Marie White, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), who says, “Social policy is homeless.” It appears that Prime Minister Harper’s vision of the federal government is that smaller is better and less is more. For Canadians with disabilities, who have traditionally looked to the federal government for leadership on addressing the historic disadvantage faced by Canadians with disabilities, this is not good news. In fact, it is very bad news and it is worthy of some reflection.
No one disputes the fact that Canadians with disabilities remain marginalized, massively unemployed, lacking supports and disproportionately living in poverty. No one disputes the fact that Canadians with disabilities are likely to face discrimination on a daily basis. No one disputes the fact that women with disabilities and persons with disabilities from other minority or marginalized groups often face even more daunting challenges. Yet at a national level and in most provinces, we still have no clear plan in place to address the substantive inequities faced by Canadians with disabilities.
Canada is a rich country, a country that prides itself on its health care system, social safety net and human rights record. Yet while other sectors of Canadian society have benefitted from this wealth and prosperity, it remains difficult to point to any recent substantive initiative that addresses the disadvantage of Canadians with disabilities.
CCD had hoped that out of the In Unison process, begun almost a decade ago, federal/provincial/territorial governments would ultimately emerge with an action plan to address disability issues. But after a decade, it is clear to CCD that the state of federal/provincial relations is worse than before and will not bring forward anything of substance. In fact, the Government of Canada is now committed to bringing forward legislation that would prohibit federal spending in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Clearly, collaboration is out, and a smaller role for the federal government is being created.
CCD now is of the opinion that if a collaborative initiative cannot be achieved, then in keeping with our national mandate, Canadians with disabilities will create a National Action Plan on Disability. In collaboration with other disability organizations, that is what we have done.
Priorities of the National Action Plan on Disability A National Action Plan must address four key issues:
– New initiatives to increase access to disability-related supports
– New initiatives to address poverty
– New intiatives to address unemployment, and
– New initiatives to improve access, inclusion and full citizenship
Because disability supports are primarily in the provincial/territorial jurisdiction, CCD is urging the federal government to take a greater role in the area of poverty alleviation and income support, thus freeing up dollars at provincial levels for investments in new support services. A first step in this direction would be the creation of a Refundable Tax Credit. The NDP has endorsed the National Action Plan on Disability, and the Liberals, in the Green Shift, support a Refundable Tax Credit for low-income Canadians with disabilities. Minister of Finance James Flaherty, in a letter to CCD in the spring, did not support a Refundable Tax Credit, but in conversations with him at the end of June, he did say that the poverty and unemployment of Canadians with disabilities must be addressed. While the Registered Disability Savings Plan, created by the Conservatives, does by its creation acknowledge the poverty of Canadians with disabilities, it is a very targeted initia- tive and will only have impact for some a decade from now.
In the area of employment, CCD seeks creation of specific targets for the employment of persons with disabilities within Labour Market Agreements negotiated with the provinces. CCD also urges the Government of Canada to become a model employer, both in its hiring practices and its accommodation of disability.
Under the broad area of access, CCD calls for accessibility regulations for federal transport systems, ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, creation of an Accessibility Design Centre, and re-establishment of a Parliamentary Committee on the Status of Canadians with Disabilities.
It is quite possible that by the time this article is published, Canadians will have had a federal election. CCD urges all Canadians, and particularly Canadians with disabilities, to look carefully at the social policy agenda of all parties. Canada should be a country where all can live in dignity and have equal access to the goods and services of our country. Canada should be a country where, regardless of where you live, there are some comparable basic services for all citizens. Canada should be a country where having a disability does not mean that you will live your whole life in poverty, dependant upon family and friends for support.
Social policy cannot remain homeless. CCD believes it must be central to the role of the Government of Canada so that all can experience the benefits of equal citizenship. To do otherwise is to move in directions where individuals identify themselves as Albertans, Manitobans, Ontarians, etc., not as Canadians.