first I want to follow up on the hon. member's (Phil McColeman) comments. Earlier, he said that he has been doing volunteer work with persons with disabilities for 25 years. I just want him to know that I have been in a wheelchair for almost that long. I am familiar with the issues and I know what I am talking about.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Motion No. 430 on labour market opportunities for persons with disabilities. I am taking this opportunity to salute the member's commitment and to draw the attention of the House to this critical issue. I really appreciate the hon. member's work.
I can say from the outset that we will support this motion.
That said, I have some doubts and some questions about the motion. I cannot help but be somewhat skeptical, given the government's record on this issue.
After all, the Conservatives have been dragging their feet since they took office. They have not tackled head on the issue of disproportionate unemployment and underemployment for Canadians living with functional limitations.
This motion is a step in the right direction, and I approve it. However, I do not think it is enough after all these years of being in government.
Let us begin by taking a look at the wording of the motion. The motion asks the government to endorse the report of the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities entitled “Rethinking disAbility in the Private Sector”, and its findings, and to support other measures based on the panel's findings to promote employment opportunities for Canadians with disabilities.
Let us first talk about the panel's main findings, to which the motion often refers. We are told that close to 800,000 persons with disabilities are able to work and that about half of them have post-secondary education; that when businesses hire persons with disabilities, special arrangements are not made in 57% of the cases. When special arrangements are required, the average cost to the business is only $500. The report also says that there is a strong will to hire persons with disabilities, but that more education and training are necessary for businesses to understand how to overcome obstacles and implement their ideas; that the example must come from the top and that actions by business leaders are absolutely necessary; that mental disabilities are particularly problematic because employees are reluctant to disclose such handicaps to obtain special arrangements from employers.
Other findings in the report include the following: hiring persons with disabilities makes good business sense; myths and preconceived ideas still exist in the business community regarding the costs and risks related to the hiring of persons with disabilities.
Come on. Was the government really so ill-informed? The answer is no. These are open secrets.
Even though many studies on this issue have been conducted by committees of the House, most of the recommendations have never been implemented. The barriers to employment of people with disabilities were identified a number of years ago.
Everyone agrees that the report of the special group contains good suggestions for employers and encourages them to hire people with disabilities. However, is that enough after all these years?
For the reasons I just mentioned, this report simply ignores the important role that the federal government plays in the fight against inequality in the workforce.
This report is sorely lacking because it does not examine job stability, flexible scheduling, the notion of high-quality jobs, health and disability benefits, transportation, housing, income security and so much more.
These are all issues that we talked about with witnesses during the study in committee that took place over the course of a few weeks. However, there is no trace of these considerations in a report based on all these consultations.
I wonder why the report of the working group is addressed only to Canadian business leaders. Why was the working group not mandated to make recommendations to the government? If we make the effort to study an issue, it is because we want to come up with recommendations.
It is not hard to guess why: the Conservatives are relying on the private sector and the provinces and territories, which undermines the federal government's role as the catalyst for change in this file.
For years, organizations that represent Canadians with disabilities have been asking the government to adopt a comprehensive strategy to improve the representation of people with disabilities in the workforce. This motion and the report's conclusions to which it refers do not constitute such a strategy.
The motion also refers to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Need I remind members of the Conservatives' poor record in that regard? We are still waiting for this much touted report.
We are also still waiting for the first follow-up report to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is over a year late. The government has also not appointed an internal oversight body to monitor implementation, which could simply have been the Canadian Human Rights Commission. What is more, the government did not sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on February 28, Laurie Beachell, from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, even said that the government did not yet issue its first report to the United Nations. He added that, having signed the convention, Canada is obligated to provide that report. He said that the council was still waiting for the report and that he was disappointed about not having two things. The council does not have a strategy for how it is going to move forward and use this document. While new policy initiatives are going forward, the council believes that, in some cases, they are not being measured against the convention.
With respect to the existing policies and programs the motion refers to, they contain many gaps and inadequacies, lack coordination with provincial programs and services, and do not include proper performance measures or measurable objectives. A comprehensive assessment of those policies and programs must be done before we go any further on this.
The motion and the panel report both fail to take into account people who have complex needs or multiple disabilities or who must overcome multiple forms of discrimination. I am referring, for instance, to women or first nations people with disabilities. In short, no initiatives or support measures have been proposed for these people. No solutions have been suggested to correct problems with income security programs, which are full of employment disincentives. Am I to presume that the private sector will take care of this problem on behalf of the federal government?
The motion also fails to take into account issues of education, employment and social assistance that specifically affect working age women with disabilities, who are more likely than men to live in a low-income household. Nor are there any measures for first nations populations, who already face considerable obstacles, including severe limitations on their access to transportation, education, communications and health services. The rate of disability among this group is roughly double the Canadian average.
The government therefore needs to clearly state that it intends to work in partnership with the provinces and territories, first nations and people with disabilities in order to come up with an implementation plan for Canada, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Consequently, this motion is a step in the right direction. Of course, I will be supporting it, and I am pleased by my colleague's efforts. However, we want to see more done to change the situation. Although the motion has merit, it is just a first step, and we must go further. The representation of disabled people in the workforce has stagnated over the past 30 years. It is time to change that and truly give them access to the labour market and a decent standard of living. This motion is the first step to getting there.
I would like to remind my colleague and the other members of the House that after 23 years in a wheelchair, I know what I am talking about. Obviously, I know the issues involved in trying to get into the workforce. One major issue is transportation. Para transit service often covers only a small area. That is one major issue. Another major issue is finding housing close to work, which is related to transportation.
That said, I appreciate a number of the elements in my colleague's motion. However, I would like to point out that despite his good intentions, his motion lacks depth. I really hope that we can go a bit further in studying this.