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FROM THE HILL: MP speaks to Canada Disability Act

Dick Cannings MP
By Dick Cannings MP
May 15th, 2024

When the House of Commons passed the Canada Disability Act almost a year ago, my colleagues and I were initially buoyed at this long-overdue action to lift people living with a disability out of poverty once and for all.

Like many government announcements, details were slim, and we knew we’d have to fight hard alongside advocates and the disability community to ensure this new benefit did not fail Canadians.  But when the federal budget was released last month we were shocked to see the Canada Disability Benefit was pegged at $200 a month.  That amount won’t raise anyone out of poverty in Canada.  Not only that, the benefit is only available to those who have applied for and received the federal Disability Tax Credit, a category that only covers about half of the people in Canada with a disability assessment.

After the budget announcement, we heard from many in our region about their frustration over the inadequacy and inaccessibility of the benefit. Living with a disability should not mean living in poverty. Yet, for close to one million Canadians, that’s exactly what it means.

This is the latest in a long line of failures by Liberal and Conservative governments to uphold the rights of people with disabilities. From the beginning of this process the NDP fought for a Canada Disability Benefit that would truly lift all people living with disabilities out of poverty. This government has shown that this benefit, and people with disabilities, are not a priority. If it was not for the tireless advocacy of organizations from across Canada, and the NDP using our power to pressure the government into action, this benefit would clearly not have made it onto the budget at all.

Many disability advocates have asked why we supported the budget if the Disability Benefit was so inadequate.  We made that difficult decision by weighing the overall benefits of the budget –and there are wins in this budget that will make life more affordable for people with disabilities, and indeed all Canadians.

Why is supporting this budget important? First is dental care, which will change the lives of nine million Canadians when it is fully rolled out to all qualifying people next year. Free birth control will benefit another nine million Canadians. Free diabetes medication and devices will benefit 3.7 million Canadians with this disease. These provisions are the leading edge of the NDP’s program of a universal, publicly funded, single-payer pharmacare plan that will be developed over the next year through legislation outside of this budget.

The housing crisis is affecting millions of Canadians and there are some real steps in this budget to address that, such as a rental protection fund, a program to use federal lands to build new affordable housing and a $400-million top-up to the housing accelerator fund. There is $1 billion set aside for non-market housing to build truly affordable homes.

The list of accomplishments for Canadians goes on: a national school food program; affordable childcare; an increase to the tax credit for volunteer firefighters; significant increases to grants and fellowships to our post-graduate researchers, and so much more.

In this budget, the NDP has used its power to force the government to help Canadians. It is a glimpse of what an NDP government would be doing, which is what is best for ordinary Canadians and not for big corporations and the wealthy. However, I will say that this is not an NDP budget, and we need to keep pushing to deliver real solutions for Canadians.

The NDP will continue to listen and work with persons with disabilities, and all Canadians, to use our power to push for what makes life more affordable for everyone. That includes pushing this Liberal government to increase the size of the Canada Disability Benefit, remove the requirement of the Disability Tax Credit and to develop a more equitable and accessible enrolment method. My NDP colleagues and I will continue to fight for a benefit that upholds human rights and actually lifts people out of poverty to ensure they can live in dignity.

Categories: GeneralOp/EdPolitics

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