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British Columbia

26 March, 2024

3 Days in Victoria – Advocating for the CDB featuring Shape the CDB 

27% of the population of Canada are disabled. 

40% of the people who live in poverty are disabled. 

Nothing accounts for this disparity but our society’s attitudes towards disabled people. We can change this. 

These are the words we took with us into our advocacy in Victoria in March. We went to deliver the message that Disability With Possibility can happen with a Canada Disability Benefit that has provincial support on eligibility and no provincial clawbacks. 

Michelle began the week on Tuesday by attending Question Period. She was introduced with Leo, her service dog, by her Kelowna MLA, Renee Merrifield. Coincidentally, that day, Minister Malcolmson introduced Bill 7: The Social Development and Poverty Reduction Statutes Amendment Act, which brought echoes of the DWP trip to Ottawa in 2022 where we witnessed from the gallery the Canada Disability Benefit Bill passing second reading with unanimous consent! It seems that when DWP shows up, the Bills start to move! 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Amanda and Michelle were grateful to the MLAs, Ministers and aides that took time out of their busy schedule to meet with us privately, including: MLA Dykeman, Government Whip Begg, Finance Minister Conroy, members of BC United including MLAs Kirkpatrick, Davies and Paton, and BC Green Party Leader Furstenau. Minister Malcolmson was a tad busy moving a Bill through the house, but graciously attended our lunch along with Cabinet Ministers and MLAs and aides from all parties as well as our community partners such as Victoria Brain Injury Society, MOVE Adapted Fitness, The Victoria Hand Project, Victoria Disability Resource Centre, and the Action Committee of People with Disabilities. In addition to opening remarks made by Minister Malcolmson, and MLAs Kirkpatrick and Furstenau, our friends, Julia Ansbacher from the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), Jules Sherred – author of Crip Up the Kitchen – and Filmmaker Andy Fiore delivered heartfelt, impassioned speeches to an engaged audience.

DWP BC and our provincial and community partners had a number of messages to deliver. We introduced a BC version of DWP’s Shape the CDB report. 20% of participants in this national research were from BC, producing some interesting data. We were surprised to see that 37% of the disabled people who participated were also carers of other disabled people – but as Amanda and Michelle are both carers of disabled people too, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so shocked! We discovered that transportation was of deep concern for reasons including the ability to bring groceries home, get to medical appointments, and to visit friends and family. Of the top three biggest worries regarding the CDB, barriers to application was number one; something Bill 7 addresses, too. We asked, if you could give a message to the minister, what would it be? The overwhelming reply: Disabled people want to thrive, not spend all their energy trying to survive below the poverty line, that they are resilient, honest people who want to move out from under the undeserved stigma of poverty to live to the full possibility of their lives. 

We came with two major asks of our BC government. The Disability Tax Credit (DTC) is increasingly being used as the gateway to other federal government programs, including the new dental benefit, and, we fear, the Canada Disability Benefit. We believe that disabled people who are eligible for a provincial benefit like PWD, as we call it in BC, should be automatically eligible for the DTC. We asked, with equal vigour, BC NDP, BC United, and the BC Green Party to help us apply pressure to the CRA to make this possible. All parties acknowledged the soundness of this request and Ministers Conroy and Malcolmson were particularly open to supporting us. 

Our second ask is a familiar one to all disabled people – no clawbacks. We don’t want funds to be given by one branch of government and taken away by another. Even more important, we don’t want to lose goods and services that come in conjunction with PWD, like the bus pass, medical services and other programs. Members of the BC NDP, BC United and the BC Green Party all agreed that using a clawback would be detrimental. Of particular note, the reality that disabled people can lose PWD benefits because they chooses to get married hit home hard.

As we have already seen, timing can sometimes be odd or lucky. On Thursday morning, before our reception for disabled people and politicians to meet, mingle, and talk about the CDB, an article was published in the Tyee – BC Leaves Door Open to Claw Back Coming Federal Disability Benefits. We were surprised, disappointed and shocked on our first reading, as that certainly wasn’t the message that we had received in the last 2 days. When Minister Malcolmson arrived at the reception, she seemed equally perturbed. She referred to the article in her opening remarks, and said that she felt that it didn’t reflect what she had said. To paraphrase her words: she said that the BC government has no details about the federal benefit, but they will analyze how PWD and the CDB will come together through the lens of people that need the support. She suggested that we should look to the government’s previous actions – BC was the only province that did not claw CERB back from disabled people. DWP is non-partisan, we can only tell you what we heard. Minister Malcolmson’s statement at our reception seemed to be in line with the messages we have been receiving. We will keep a watchful eye once the Canada Disability Benefit is a reality and begins to roll out. We will continue to hold our government accountable. 

While we were hoping spring would welcome us in Victoria with its warm breezes and blooming flowers, we got ice storms, a lot of rain and wind. We also had big laughs, wonderful visits with old and new friends, a lot hard work and a feeling of being heard and respected by the politicians we met. There are many competing priorities in government and we must acknowledge that politics is often difficult and thankless work. Our job is to help them help us make Disability with Possibility a reality. For us, meeting great people face to face, having a reception filled with politicians and the people we most hope to help – disabled people living in poverty, was a tremendous highlight. But the biggest highlight of all was getting to work with a fellow Disability Without Poverty member in person.

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