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Canadians living with disabilities deserve better than federal budget's 'paltry' $200 per month increase

By David Lepofsky

Reproduced from Metroland published article:

David Lepofsky is a retired lawyer who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and is an AEBC Member.

Canadians are justifiably appalled that the Trudeau government’s budget gives impoverished people with disabilities a paltry $200 per month, after promising for years to deliver a new Canada Disability Benefit that would lift them out of poverty. Making this worse, the budget gives nothing new at all to impoverished people with disabilities who are older than working age. Yet disability poverty does not vanish at age 65.

News outlets and columnists blasted the Liberals over this. Yet partisan anti-Liberals get no time for self-congratulation. Sadly, we’ve seen this before at the provincial level. Doug Ford’s 2022 pre-election budget gave nothing new to increase the cruel sub-poverty Ontario Disability Support Program. After being blasted in the media for this, Ontario’s Tories were backed into pledging at least something as the first ODSP increase in four years.

In 2022, when promoting her Bill C-22, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act, Trudeau’s then disabilities minister Carla Qualtrough grandly proclaimed:

“Today, I begin with the following declaration: in Canada, no person with a disability should live in poverty.”

The Liberals repeated this over and over, expressed like JFK’s majestic commitment to reach the moon. Two hundred dollars per month helps, because anything helps. However, it won’t lift all or most impoverished people with disabilities out of poverty.

This thin gruel is far from a much-needed entitlement. Under Bill C-22, any future cabinet can slash it without first debating it in Parliament. Nothing stops a provincial government or private disability insurance company from deducting this $200 payment from disability benefits they pay out. The net effect of such clawbacks? Money the feds intend to help impoverished people with disabilities will instead end up in the bank accounts of provincial governments or private insurance companies who claw it back.

In 2022 and 2023, many of us disability advocates pressed Parliament for strong amendments to Bill C-22 to strengthen it. Yet some other disability advocates opposed such amendments. They wanted the bill passed as is. The Trudeau government got them to fear that it’s better to take what’s on the table, no matter how pitifully weak it was. The Liberals led them to think that the bill’s obvious and massive loopholes would be fixed up by promised future federal government consultations on the regulations that cabinet must later pass to fill in the bill’s many gaps.

Even those earlier defenders of this weak bill now blast the Trudeau government, because $200 a month is a slap in the face to people with disabilities who are languishing in poverty, and who have desperately waited for this new benefit for four years since Trudeau promised it.

Compare the Liberals’ lightning speed when it liberalized its doctor-assisted suicide MAID legislation (which makes it easier to die rather than living with a disability) with the Liberals’ snail’s pace when delivering on its promised Canada Disability Benefit (promised to make it easier to afford living with a disability). What does that say about their priorities?

It's not too late. Trudeau must substantially increase the allocation, so that the Canada Disability Benefit lifts people with disabilities out of poverty, as his government promised. All opposition parties must vigorously and publicly demand this.

Parliamentary sniping is not good enough. Each party should go on the record stating what monthly payment they’d implement, if elected.

As for the danger that provincial or territorial governments may claw back this new payment from impoverished people with disabilities, the Trudeau Liberals have claimed to be negotiating “no clawbacks” deals for several years. They said that “no clawbacks” is a red line for them.

Yet they must still have no deals, since their new budget calls on the provinces and territories to agree to this. What happened to the Liberals’ red-line pledge?

The Liberals unfairly vetoed a wise Senate amendment last year that would have banned private insurance companies from clawing back these funds. We fought hard for that protection and still need it.

Canadians of all political stripes can support this. It’s a minority Parliament. Trudeau's poll numbers show he needs some good news.

Impoverished people with disabilities deserve better than $200 a month!

IMAGE ALT TEXT: Photograph of a newspaper next to a laptop computer and cup of coffee.


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