While the Trudeau govt pats itself on the back for (finally) making a plan for Canada Disability Benefit, People With Disabilities (PWD) are deeply disappointed with the details of the plan. Any help can only come after the next election.

SHOCK & AWE

As happens with me often, I stumbled upon the issue of Canada Disability Benefit because of being ‘terminally online’. As far as this issue is concerned, I suppose this is not uncommon – relatively fewer people would have any exposure to this in their personal lives compared to, say, childcare benefit. What I learned was shocking: that presently, People With Disabilities (PWD) receive provincial support payments that is at HALF the level of the line of poverty, and more seriously, that the federal benefit that was promised by Prime Minister Trudeau has its origins in the policy of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).

As I have detailed in my October 2022 article “… And Euthanasia For All”, the expansion of MAiD policy has been taking place over the years via court verdicts, which then the parliament is in a rush to catch up with (I titled this segment of the article ‘Legislation by judiciary’). In 2016, the Alberta Court of Appeal held that applicants for MAiD are not required to be terminally ill, and that persons with psychiatric illness are not explicitly or inferentially excluded. In 2017, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that natural death need not be imminent in order to qualify for MAiD. Then in 2019, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that the criterion of reasonably foreseeable death in the law on MAiD was unconstitutional.

From PWD’s point of view, this was alarming. Many of them are in dire straits financially, and others have challenges on other fronts. We are familiar with the case of Amer Farsoud, who has a sever disability and who applied for MAiD (and was nearly approved until his case blew up in the media) because he feared the prospect of being rendered homeless. Some PWD’s have told me that as it exists currently, the law on MAiD is a potential death sentence for them.

DAWDLING SERVICE

It was in light of these developments that Prime Minister Trudeau promised, in the election campaign of 2019, “to ensure the proper supports are in place for palliative care and people with disabilities, so that no one chooses to end their life because they can’t get the help they need”.

After the election that saw his government reduced to a minority, PM Trudeau announced Canada Disability Benefit in 2020, but no Bill was introduced in the parliament on the matter until the Fall session of 2021 – and weeks later, he made a surprise announcement of an election. The Bill ‘died on the floor’.

In his second minority term (and 3 years after promising supports for PWD), PM Trudeau reintroduced this legislation (Bill C-22) which was passed and received Royal Assent in June 2023. But there was a catch – it was (as I have been told), a ‘blank Bill’, viz., that it did not specify any monetary amounts of the benefit. Also, it wasn’t ‘proclaimed’ (= come into force) immediately. This was another revelation for me. Until now, I had been under the impression that once a Bill receives Royal Assent, it has to be proclaimed immediately. That is not the case; there is leeway of up to one year. On the first anniversary of receiving Royal Assent, if the Bill has not been proclaimed, it comes to force automatically. Accordingly, Bill C-22 came into force on June 22, 2024. In other words, from his initial promise in early October 2019, it took PM Trudeau nearly 5 years to bring Canada Disability Benefit into being – but we aren’t done with the delays yet.

DENIAL BY CONSULTATIONS

According to Section 11 (1.2) of Bill C-22, the government has up to 12 months after the law comes into force to make regulations relating to the payment of the benefit, i.e., June 22, 2025. In simple language, that would mean that it is possible that the benefit does not start being paid for a full 2 years after Bill C-22 received Royal Assent, and almost 6 years after PM Trudeau promised to put this benefit in place. Let us loop back to the point that the very roots of this benefit are in the law relating to MAiD, which has put PWD in a literally mortal predicament. How many PWD will have been coerced by their circumstances to ‘opt for’ MAiD in these 6 years? Data on MAiD deaths, although presented in a visually sophisticated form, are notoriously opaque; we will never know the true number.

It is not as if PWD and their well-wishers haven’t tried very hard to speed things up. Apart from everything else, there was e-petition 4519 asking for a temporary top-up benefit (a Disability Emergency Response Benefit or DERB) and another e-petition 4667 asking that the government (a) budget the necessary funds and (b) provide back payments for the period between Royal Assent and the commencement of regular CDB payments. The responses to  these two e-petitions from the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Persons With Disabilities, Kamal Khera, are identical and saying, in a nutshell, that more consultations are needed. The PWD that I am in communication with find this infuriating; their stance is that enough consultations have taken place over the past 5 years.

To add to these woes, we have Motion M-107, introduced by NDP MP Bonita Zarillo, which essentially says that more consultations are needed. After being placed on notice on January 31, 2024, this Motion does not seem to have gone anywhere. It is noteworthy here that the aforementioned e-petition 4519 was sponsored by the same MP Zarillo, so her desire for more consultations in Motion M-107 is at least somewhat athwart her own earlier desire for expediting the payment of CDB.

OVERPROMISE, UNDER-DELIVER

It was late January when I stumbled upon this issue. I was given a lot of background information by the PWD that I was (newly) in touch with. I promised them that the next time I happened to be at a media event of CPC leader Pierre Poilievre, I would ask him about CDB. Unfortunately, that opportunity did not arise, so I asked his media staff for a statement by CPC on CDB.

In the meantime, several Liberal MP’s took up the issue and possibly due to their very public advocacy, the budget in April included provision for Canada Disability Benefit. Instead of providing good news, this announcement only served to enrage PWD even further. The eligibility for the announced benefit of a maximum of $200/month was seen to be subject to overly restrictive conditions, such as being tied to Disability Tax Credit (DTC) for income tax, and to family income rather than individual income. While minister Khera did her mandatory rounds in the media trying to present the announcement as an ‘historic investment’, the feeling among PWD was that of adding insult to injury.

The most relevant part of their objections that they told me about was that the expectation that PM Trudeau had raised was that with this CDB added to the current provincial supports, they would be lifted out of poverty. They interpreted this to mean that CDB would be $1,000/month. While provincial supports vary, they are in the range of $1,400-1,600/month. They emphasized to me that even if CDB were to be $1,000/month, the total support payments of around $2,500/month would still not factor in the special needs emanating from disabilities – but they were willing to accept that amount nonetheless.

In short, after such a long wait, PWD felt short-changed with the announcement. Let us not forget that even this amount (maximum $200/month) is not starting until June next year. If ever the expression ‘overpromise and under-deliver’ applied to something, it would be this ‘historic investment’. The NDP, by voting for the budget, tacitly endorsed the government’s proposal of $200/month CDB – or at least, that is the view of PWD. They felt let down by both the parties.

LAST RECOURSE

After renewing my efforts to get a statement from CPC / Mr. Poilievre, I did meet him at two other events over the following 5 months, where I told him about the plight of PWD and their need for support. In response, I received the following statement from his office:

If you find that this statement falls short of what you expected (and many PWD told me that they did), here is my view: given that there is a de facto coalition in government, any proposal by the official opposition party to have the CDB payments expedited or increased is more or less guaranteed to fail. To my knowledge, Bloc Quebecois has not taken a stance on the issue, but even if they side with CPC, the hard fact is that the coalition is in a position of majority, and as we have seen, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is not inclined ever to take on the Trudeau government (other than on Twitter/X). Also, despite incessant demands from the Liberals and their supporters (in the media as well as among the laiety), Mr. Poilievre has steadfastly desisted from detailing his policy proposals any more than he thinks is necessary at the moment – and advisedly so; whatever policy details he has enunciated have been co-opted by the Liberals, such as tying funding to municipalities with their progress on the housing file. Therefore, the right time for him to detail his policy proposal on CDB would, I imagine, be once the election is called and he releases CPC’s platform.

Is my theory valid? Maybe, maybe not. The only thing that I can do to keep my promise to my new PWD friends is to keep on this issue to ensure, as much as I can, that this detailed policy is in fact included in that platform, and that this promise is delivered on if / when Mr. Poilievre forms the next government.

I realize that this extends the PWD’s predicament. It is also possible that around the end of June next year, possibly just before the House rises for the summer, PM Trudeau may announce an enhancement to CDB for electoral gain (the writ would have to be dropped no later than September 15, 2025, and the summer recess would immediately precede that date). It is likely that we would see competing proposals for CDB from not only LPC and CPC but also the NDP.

GHALIB’S LAMENT

The famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib’s real first name was Asadullah; ‘Ghalib’ is a pseudonym. Earlier in his career, he used to write under the penname ‘Asad’. Although he is much celebrated now, when he was alive, his life was full of suffering. This is certainly why there is an underlying theme of melancholy in much of his writing. In one poem, he wrote the following couplet:

“gham-e-hasti ka Asad kis-se ho jooz marg ilaaj

Shamm’a har rang mein jalti hai seher hone tak”

What can be the remedy to the sorrow of existence other than death?

A candle burns in all types of circumstances until morning

I suppose that PWD’s will have to ‘keep burning’ until the next election. I truly hope (and will certainly try everything in my power) that PWD’s expectations will be fulfilled at that point.

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