What do former Health minister Allan Rock, Sen. Mohamed-Iqbal Ravalia, former Ontario lieutenant-governor David Onley, professional dancer Luca Patuelli, “Mincome” economist Evelyn Forget, bestselling author Tara Ross; Community Foundations of Canada CEO Andrew Chunilall, singer-songwriter Christa Couture, disability activists Ali Mohammed and Meenu Sikand, several Order of Canada recipients, noted physicians and academics, and most major disability organizations from across the country have in common?
They’re among the more than 200 political personalities, academics, artists, and leaders of non-profits and businesses who have signed an open letter asking the federal government to fast-track the Canada Disability Benefit — and to do so with the active and genuine involvement of disabled people every step of the way.
People with disabilities make up 41 per cent of Canadians who live in poverty.
The Canada Disability Benefit was first introduced by the federal government in the speech from the throne a year ago, and is the direct result of years of advocacy by the disability community. Legislation tabled before Parliament recessed last summer promised a first: a federally funded income support for people with disabilities — one that complements instead of replaces provincial programs and other supports — so they’re no longer consigned to a life lived in poverty.
Economists predict that poverty in Canada would be reduced by as much as 40 per cent overall by eliminating disability poverty. It’s a historic opportunity — and something no government in the world has ever committed to.
It’s time now to make the Canada Disability Benefit a reality.
The good news is that Canadians across the political spectrum support it. In a recent Angus Reid survey, 89 per cent of respondents said it’s time to end poverty for people with disabilities. And in the recent federal election, all the major political parties included the needs of people with disabilities in their platforms.
There’s a new awakening, a new dawn in our consciousness, causing Canadians to ask for a recalculation of fairness and justice, and to work toward a better future for all, including for people living with disabilities who are experiencing poverty.
There’s no need to study the problem for years first, as the federal government indicated it might do in the last Parliament; we have oodles of data, public support, and political will across party lines. Now we need action.
As our governments prepare for the post-pandemic economic recovery, the sad reality is that people with disabilities might be left even further behind. COVID-19 was especially hard on people with disabilities.
A disproportionate number of Canadians with disabilities depend on food banks and are homeless. They lack adequate daily-living supports. Provincial disability benefits are failing them by not raising them above the poverty line. Too many people with disabilities risk dying from despair.
Canada is among the richest countries in the world. But in the heart of business affluence in this country, not too far from Bay Street in Toronto, people with disabilities such as Ryan beg for money to buy food. Mariam lives in an inaccessible apartment, while her disability progresses toward needing a wheelchair full-time. And there’s Precious, whose mental health is deteriorating, because she has no job to go back to as a result of the pandemic.
People with disabilities, their families, friends, and fellow Canadians want Canada’s 44th Parliament to make history by leaving a cross-partisan legacy. We expect all-party support for fast action on the Canada Disability Benefit. We want Canada to be the first country in the world to provide a livable income supplement for people with disabilities.
People with disabilities are ready to work together with the federal government to fast-track consultation, provide the research, and move quickly to implement the Canada Disability Benefit.
Let’s work together and make this happen.
The open letter was coordinated by Disability Without Poverty, March of Dimes Canada, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, and Race & Disability Canada. It can be found at disabilitywithoutpoverty.ca.
A former senator, MP, cabinet minister, and mayor of Toronto, Art Eggleton is a longtime advocate of poverty alleviation in Canada. Rabia Khedr is a national director of Disability Without Poverty and a former Ontario human-rights commissioner. She’s currently a member of the Disability Advisory Group appointed by Minister Carla Qualtrough.
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