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Federal Budget 2017: Positive Steps for Canadians with Disabilities - Accountabilities Needed to Ensure Inclusion and Accessibility

April 3, 2017 - - Equality Rights, Global Inclusion

Federal Budget 2017 proposes new and expanded investments with significant potential for making a positive impact on the social and economic well-being of Canadians with intellectual and other disabilities and their families. The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) believes this potential can be maximized by attaching clear accountabilities, principles and conditions  to these investments. This will make sure they make positive gains in building an inclusive and accessible Canada.  We hope to see these requirements confirmed soon.

Encouraging Highlights:

  • Inclusive National Housing Strategy – a commitment to invest $11.2 billion over 11 years in initiatives to “build, renew and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and help ensure that Canadians have affordable housing that meets their needs.” $5 billion of this commitment is to be invested in a new National Housing Fund to pool resources among housing development partners, provide access to low-cost loans for repair and renewal of housing units and development of new affordable housing, and to provide upfront capital contributions for development. CACL is very encouraged by the creation of this fund and is working with non-profit and private sector partners to develop the ‘My Home My Community’ initiative for inclusive affordable housing development. The new National Housing Fund seems ideally suited to invest in this initiative and help scale up the affordable and inclusive housing and community innovations we have been developing in communities across Canada.
  • Federal Accessibility Legislation – Budget 2017 reaffirms commitment to federal accessibility legislation to promote social and economic inclusion in the federal sector, “which will promote equality of opportunity and increase the inclusion and participation of Canadians who have disabilities or functional limitations by increasing accessibility and removing barriers in areas of federal jurisdiction.” CACL is actively involved in consultations on this legislation, and is encouraging that a major provision be the requirement that federal law, policy and regulations be developed through a ‘disability and inclusion-based policy lens’, much like a gender lens is incorporated in federal policy development. As well, accessibility standards for the federally-regulated sector to ensure inclusive approaches to delivering goods and services will be essential.
  • Adding nurse practitioners to the list of medical practitioners that can certify eligibility for Disability Tax Credit applicants. This will enable greater access by people with disabilities living in rural and remote areas, particularly affecting Indigenous peoples with disabilities.
  • Creating the ‘Canada Caregiver Credit’, to integrate the existing caregiver tax credits and ensuring eligibility for caregivers whether they live with their family member, or not. This change is expected to extend benefits to more caregivers and to provide an additional $310 million in additional tax relief over the 2016–17 to 2021–22 period. This increase signals the government’s recognition of the role of family and informal caregivers. However, CACL believes that more needs to be done to ensure that family and informal caregivers have their current and future financial security needs met – including increased benefits and Canada Pension Plan credits for caregiving contributions that impact opportunity to participate in the paid labour market.
  • Investing $22.3 million in a new Accessible Technology Development program to co-fund partnerships to develop new assistive devices and technologies.
  • Increasing funding under the Enabling Accessibility Fund by $8million/year starting in 2018-19 as part of the infrastructure plan, to improve the safety and accessibility of community spaces and workplaces.

Promising Investments – Accountabilities for inclusion and accessibility needed to help deliver the commitments:

  • Early Learning and Child Care –  $7 billion over 10 years for investments in early learning and child care. We urge the government to require that funding agreements with provinces and territories be based on the ‘QUAD’ principles advanced by the early learning, children’s rights and disability communities when the federal government was considering a national child care program in the early 2000s. These principles include: quality, universal inclusion, without discrimination based on disability, accessible and developmental learning incorporated.
  • Workforce Development Agreements – will consolidate the existing Canada Job Fund Agreements, the Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities (LMAPDs) and the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers. The Budget states this consolidation “will make transfers to the provinces and territories simpler and more flexible.” CACL urges that with increased funding, and with pooling LMAPD dollars with other funding envelopes, the agreements with provinces and territories must ensure increased investment in disability-specific labour force participation initiatives above and beyond the $222 million currently allocated through the LMAPDs. To deliver on potential to advance labour force inclusion, agreements must require provinces and territories to track investments and progress on increasing labour force participation of people with disabilities. Without clear requirements for tracking the dollars in this way, the LMAPDs should stay in place.
  • Reporting Requirements for partners in the Infrastructure Plan – The Budget indicates that partners, including provinces and territories, will be required to report on benefits and impacts of infrastructure investments on specific groups, including people with disabilities.  This is an important step in moving beyond piecemeal accessibility investments, to a more systemic approach. If implemented well, it would help to ensure that all new infrastructure investments will benefit those often excluded by architectural and systemic barriers. Budget 2017 commits to an allocation to its long-term infrastructure plan of over $80 billion over 10 years.  That is a huge investment. It will expand, renew and build many roads, public services, information and communications systems, transportation systems, recreation facilities, and other infrastructure.  Invested to achieve inclusive and accessible infrastructure, it could have a transformative impact on social and economic well-being of Canadians with disabilities. CACL urges that a clear set of benchmarks for inclusion and accessibility be central to investment agreements with partners’ and to reporting requirements under the long-term infrastructure plan.
  • Strengthening Indigenous Communities – Combined with Budget 2016 investments, additional commitments in Budget 2017 total $11 billion over six years to: improve infrastructure on-reserve and in Inuit communities; establish a new Indigenous framework for early learning and child care; provide support for post-secondary education, deliver better health outcomes, and advance reconciliation.  As with other promising investments, CACL encourages all partners to ensure that these investments – whether for infrastructure, early learning and child care, education or health care – be designed for inclusive outcomes so that the hugely disproportionate number of Indigenous persons with disabilities and their families directly benefit.
  • National Strategy for Gender-Based Violence - $101 million commitment. We strongly support the gender focus in this budget and urge that this strategy specifically address the hugely disproportionate violence against girls and women with intellectual and other disabilities. Tools and approaches have been developed for integrating a disability lens into gender-based violence response and prevention strategies and they could be incorporated into this initiative.

Budget 2017 holds real promise to improve the social and economic conditions of Canadians with disabilities. The government is holding to its commitment to introduce accessibility legislation and invest in an inclusive national housing strategy and long-term infrastructure plan. CACL is encouraged by specific policy changes to improve accessibility in current programs, like adding nurse practitioners to list of professionals for determining eligibility for the Disability Tax Credit; as well as new investments in the Enabling Accessibility Fund and the planned Accessible Technology Development program.

There is real potential of this budget to make a lasting impact on improving the lives of people with intellectual and other disabilities, and on the social and community infrastructure essential for this purpose. However, this potential will be realized only if needed accountabilities are built into program design and agreements with provinces and territories and other partners, including for: funds allocated to early learning and child care to ensure results for children with disabilities; funding under the Workforce Development Agreements, so that dedicated funds under the LMAPDs do not get used by provinces and territories for other purposes; the National Housing Fund; investments in Indigenous communities; long-term infrastructure investment; the Federal Accessibility legislation; and, the planned federal poverty reduction strategy, which CACL trusts will address the entrenched poverty of Canadians with intellectual and other disabilities. 

We see that this government recognizes that people can be disadvantaged in multiple ways, which can compound exclusion. This is certainly true for people with intellectual and other disabilities who are also Indigenous persons, racialized, women, LGBT-Q, refugees and immigrants. Any investment for a specific population group must recognize and address the disability-related needs of those communities as well. 

In this regard, we are encouraged by the government decision to embed a gender lens to guide budget planning, policy making and programming. We urge that an ‘intersectional’ approach be used in this strategy to address the disproportionate disadvantage of girls and women with disabilities, as well as women caregivers.  We look forward to the day when a disability and inclusion lens is as central to these exercises.

This Budget is an important step in laying stronger foundations for an inclusive and accessible Canada. It provides investment tracks that have significant potential. Delivering effective and inclusive outcomes will require strong accountabilities as noted above. It will also require continued engagement with the disability community and other civil society partners. The government is to be congratulated for its record so far on engaging the disability community. We hope that this engagement continues through the coming year to ensure that the Budget 2017 commitments and investment streams do, in fact, deliver positive outcomes for Canadians with disabilities, their families and communities.