Skip to content

Feds 'must do better' to make disability benefit a reality: Port Moody–Coquitlam MP

Bonita Zarrillo's motion to the Canada Disability Benefit bill was passed unanimously earlier this year.
Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo speaks in the House of Commons.

A Tri-Cities politician said she was disappointed to hear it may take years for Canada to provide relief to disabled Canadians feeling the pinch of rising inflation and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday (Sept. 20), Port Moody–Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo ;participated in debate for the second reading of Bill C-22, which, if ultimately approved, could reintroduce the Canada Disability Benefit that would aim to reduce poverty and support the financial security of working–age persons with disabilities.

The bill was part of the first fall sitting for the House of Commons.

And while it was passed without objection earlier this year when she tabled the motion — calling it a "truly historic moment" — Zarrillo claims there's still uncertainty from Carla Qualtrough, Delta MP and Canada's minister for disability inclusion.

"When asked about this unnecessary delay, the Minister for Disability Inclusion admitted that it will take years to deliver this much needed help people have been waiting to receive," she said.

Zarrillo serves as the NDP's lead disability inclusion critic and has been widely known for her advocacy on behalf of residents living with a disability.

"The disability community deserves to be heard and deserves real and immediate solutions."

As of 2017, one in five people over 15 years old have been identified as a resident living with some form of disability, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC).

In a social media post, Qualtrough understood that Canadians living with a disability are counting on Ottawa to make Bill C-22 a reality and that federal leaders "have the chance to reduce poverty."

"It's up to all MP's to work together to pass this Bill and make this benefit a reality. Canadians are counting on us to get this done."

The delay on the bill was also questioned by Conservative disability inclusion critic Stephanie Kusie, noting past legislative history has seen a bill of this kind fall through the cracks.

In fact, the first reading of any bill introducing a Canada Disability Benefit was in June 2021, but later died when the snap federal election was called.

"People living with disabilities have been waiting for too long for the help they need to afford rent, groceries, and their bills," Zarrillo added.

"Over the last two years, they had to face substantial financial difficulty — 41 per cent of those living in poverty in Canada have one or more disabilities. Yesterday, people living with disabilities had to listen to the Liberal government make more excuses, when in reality, the delay in delivering help is only making things worse. This can’t go on. People need help now."

In the 2021 budget, a three-year, $11.9-million investment was unveiled by the Liberals to bring about consultations on how to improve the eligibility process for existing federal programs and benefits.

Canadians with a disability on low incomes aged 18 to 64 would receive a "direct monthly payment" when implemented, according to the platform, but no exact figure was mentioned as the benefit is non-binding.

"First, in the spirit of 'Nothing without us' and in recognition of the fact that governments have too often imposed ways of doing things on people with disabilities, we are collaborating with the disabled community on the benefit's design," added Qualtrough during her opening remarks about Bill C-22. 

"People with disabilities are in the best position to know what they need. They are familiar with the challenges and barriers that prevent them from achieving financial security."

However, Zarrillo believes the federal government is still presenting the bill as a promise with few firm details, leading to a longer process that's keeping most disabled Canadians waiting.

"It shouldn’t have to be this way; the government must do better for Canadians living with disabilities," added Zarrillo.

"We will continue to use our power in Parliament to pressure the Liberals to ensure that legislation on a Canada Disability Benefit provides comprehensive, immediate support that lifts people out of poverty and doesn’t leave any one behind."

Zarrillo also took time during debate to thank Tri-Cities organizations and local residents that have helped bring Bill C-22 to the table, including SHARE Family and Community Services, Community Ventures Society and Special Olympics BC.