Budget 2000 and People with Disabilities

 

The annual Finance Minister’s budget speech in February, is the occasion when the federal government varies its resource allocations — when it adds to, establishes or cuts programs. The preferred authority in justifying all such actions is the powerful, Standing Parliamentary Committee on Finance. That’s why the presentation we make to that Committee’s pre-budget consultations is one of the big, red-letter items on our yearly to-do list.

CCD regards the annual Finance Committee presentations as a great opportunity to keep the perspective of Canadians with disabilities in the foreground, with no holding back. The whys, hows and wheres of this year’s consultation have yet to be worked out along with the Committee selection. Once these decisions are made, we will be presenting the following issues:

The majority of Canada’s population of people with disabilities, which makes up 15 per cent of Canadians, lives on incomes of less than $10,000 per year. This is a particularly critical issue for Canada’s urban population. Imagine living in Toronto or Vancouver on $10,000 a year! Much of the considerable sums spent on Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits, private long-term disability insurance, Worker’s Compensation, tort law judgements, automobile insurance and social assistance, goes into overlapping and expensive process and administration costs. What’s needed is a major income support review implemented to harmonize and reduce administrative expenses and, above all, provide adequate levels of support.

Support programs and services available to persons with disabilities, which are so essential to viability within the wider community, vary enormously from one part of the country to another. In Lloydminster, which straddles the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, a person with a visual disability can obtain certain high-tech equipment on the Alberta-side, but not the Saskatchewan-side; in other words if you live in Saskatchewan you can get a white cane — but sorry, nothing high-tech. A six-month to three-year residency period is a qualification for many services that prohibits people with disabilities from moving to where they can receive appropriate schooling or obtain work that provides real remuneration. We insist that the federal government seriously engage with its provincial and territorial counterparts to put an end to regional inequities.

We point out as well that there are other steps government could take to put Canadians with disabilities to work. Training program and facility accessibility are obvious, needed changes. A labour strategy would direct at least 15 per cent of training resources to people with disabilities.

We call for a mechanism within the federal government, which could coordinate disability policy development. Currently, its absence thwarts opportunities and has allowed chronic problems to multiply — systematic disincentives to meaningful employment is one of a number that comes readily to mind — in changing governmental roles and jurisdictional responsibilities. A hit and miss approach to solutions leads to politically motivated half-measures that, as often as not, are worse than doing nothing at all. For such a mechanism to be effective, it would not resemble any current government disability initiatives; it needs to happen at a senior level, and possess an unequivocal mandate and capacity to coordinate cross-government efforts.

Coming as no surprise to regular readers of this column, recognition of the need for reliable statistics about disability is chief among our demands. Currently, we are all forced to engage in crucial analyzing and planning exercises using nearly 10-year-old data from the 1991 Health and Limitations Survey. Nothing de-prioritizes disability issues like statistical data that is unreliable due to age. We need a commitment to the Health and Activities Limitation Survey for 2001.

Mel Graham is CCD’s Communications Officer. For more information, call (204) 947-0303 (voice/TTY).

 

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