On September 24, I had the opportunity to rise in the House of Commons to participate in the debate on Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, or as it is better known, the Accessible Canada Act.
As a person who has lived with significant visual and mobility challenges, I am always pleased to see accessibility issues addressed in the House. But I’m concerned that this legislation does not address the very real challenges facing Canadians with disabilities.
All that this Bill proposes is to create a new agency at a cost of $290 million to consult and draft regulations over the next six years as to what the standards should be for federal departments, Crown-corporations, and federally regulated industries. While the government continues to focus on more consultations and waste millions of dollars, the real people facing real issues will still be unable to get the help that they need and deserve.
Another failure of this bill is the lack of timelines for achieving anything tangible for those who need it. And by allowing unquestioned “exemptions”, it effectively absolves government departments from having to undertake any real action plans. At the same time, it lays out rigorous demands, rules, burdens and non-compliance penalties for (often privately owned) federally regulated industries. The hypocrisy is rampant.
During our time in Government, I was the Minister responsible for the Office of Persons with Disabilities, and I was proud to have made significant contributions to help those living with disabilities, such as the creation of the Registered Disabilities Savings Plan, in which to date over 150,000 Canadians have invested.
We partnered with the Canadian Association for Community Living on the Ready, Willing and Able initiative to connect people with developmental disabilities with jobs. We removed the GST/HST on eyewear that is specially designed to electronically enhance the vision of individuals with vision impairment.
We also upgraded over 200 Government buildings, including the two offices for the Office of Persons with Disabilities, to make them accessible to all Canadians for the very first time. And we created the Enabling Accessibility Fund, which has helped over 3,700 organizations, including here in Haldimand-Norfolk, upgrade their facilities to be more accommodating.
Rest assured that we consulted extensively before launching these and many other programs, and we were able to accomplish all this without the need of another multi-million-dollar agency and yet another six years of consultations.
I strongly urge the government, instead of wasting $290-million that will not go directly to helping Canadians, to use that money to follow through with the existing recommendations that are laid out in the Rethinking DisAbilities in the Private Sector report, and many other studies and reports already available to the Government of Canada.
It’s time to stop talking about how to do more consultations, and time to actually start implementing the recommended improvements that we already have, improvements that will only make life better for Canadians living with disabilities.
The Honourable Diane Finley
MP for Haldimand-Norfolk
Video of Speech Delivered in the House of Commons
Rethinking DisAbilities in the Private Sector