By Rabia Khedr
Bill C-22 should be put on the fast track and passed before the end of the year so that people with disabilities can live with basic dignity.
Imagine having a disability and navigating societal barriers on a daily basis. Then, imagine adding the barriers that poverty brings, compounding the sense of exclusion from the benefits of a democratic, free-market economy. People find it hard when they combat disability-related barriers and don’t have the purchasing power to meet their basic needs for hygiene products, medication, rent, and food.
“W” runs out of money mid-month and asks strangers to buy him a meal. “T” has more than $5,000 in debt because her rent is more than income. “K” has no money to buy painkillers from the drug store.
Going into the fall, Canadians with disabilities and Disability Without Poverty (DWP) were grateful in anticipation of the Throne Speech promise of a Canada Disability Benefit (CDB), a historic systems-change initiative. We were thankful that we had the commitment of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough to this top-up federal income benefit, possibly the first of its kind in the world.
After working with the disability community and getting the Accessible Canada Act passed into law, disabled Canadians felt we had a minister who understood our lived experience—an internal champion. DWP worked hard with numerous articles, media appearances, letters, meetings, petitions, and more to keep the CDB dream alive.
We were all excited again as Bill C-22 progressed to second reading in the House of Commons, expecting that Parliamentarians were already witness to the financial hardship faced by people with disabilities after unanimously consenting to table the bill last spring.
We listened to the debate with great high hopes. Opposition members asked important after a heartfelt speech by Qualtrough. Disabled Canadians felt heard and validated after feeling left behind by the government’s ableist responses to the pandemic.
As a grassroots movement raising awareness about disability poverty, DWP applauds MPs for taking this proposed bill seriously. Despite a few bumps in the road, we have high hopes that Parliamentarians will put their faith in people with disabilities and urge them to fast track the bill to pass C-22 by the end of 2022.
Early in the pandemic, Parliament made history by ploughing through procedure to enact the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit. That’s the kind of attention that Canadians with disabilities need and deserve.
Disability Without Poverty asks MPs and Senators to accelerate this bill through Parliament. Working together, let’s help end disability poverty so that people with disabilities can live with basic dignity. We are supported in this by numerous organizations, like Community Food Centres Canada, Inclusion Canada, March of Dimes, Plan Institute, and Finautonome, alongside philanthropists, unions, and corporations like Maple Leaf Foods, who all are asking elected officials to do the right thing and hurry up.
Half of all Canadians experiencing food insecurity are disabled. Forty-one per cent of people living in poverty are disabled. One-in-four Canadians have a disability and contribute to the economy in the best of times and the worst of times.
A Canada Disability Benefit will increase their buying power to meet basic needs bolstering an economy recovering from pandemic. Canadians cannot cope with losing another disabled life to medical assistance in dying as the only government-granted resolve to end a life of poverty.
Disabled people, their families, and friends make up a significant number of constituents who have worked hard to make their wishes known. Help them by passing Bill C-22 in 2022 and put it in the next federal budget.
Yves-François Blanchet, Pierre Poilievre, Jagmeet Singh, Justin Trudeau: let’s make history by not leaving people with disabilities behind for another year.
Rabia Khedr is the national director of Disability Without Poverty.
This article first appeared in The Hill Times.