Back in 2008, our Federal election coincided with the Presidential election in the United States. I couldn’t help but notice that while both Barack Obama and John McCain had specific sections in their respective platforms dedicated to people with disabilities, our Canadian parties failed to mention anything regarding people with disabilities. Even during the current seemingly long 2015 Federal election campaign, we have not heard much discussion regarding people with disabilities. In fact, the only announcement we have heard during this campaign with respect to people with disabilites was the announcement by Prime Minster Harper that if reelected, the Conservatives would increase the funds available for matching grants to a person’s Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP).
As we are two weeks away from the Federal election, I decided to reach out to the four main parties (Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and the Green Party) to ask a) in the case of the other 3 parties, would they support the enhancements to the matching grants for RDSPs proposed by the conservatives? Why or why not? and b) how does their party’s platform address the needs of people with disabilities? Realizing that the parties are all busy with their respective campaigns, I reached out to the local candidates in my riding (Ottawa West Nepean) for feedback. While I unfortunately did not receive a response from the Conservative candidate, Anita Vandenbeld (Liberal), Marlene Rivier (NDP) and Mark Brooks (Green Party) did respond and the issues raised are highlighted below.
Increase to the maximum annual Canada Disability Savings Grant for low and middle class families
(Income thresholds mentioned in this section are as of 2014.)
On September 7th, Prime Minister Harper announced that if reelected, a Conservative government would increase the maximum annual Canada Disability Savings Grant from $3,500 to $4,000.
Under the RDSP legislation, low and middle class families are considered those with a family income of under $87,907. Currently, the Canada Disability Savings Grant received by this group is as follows:
– on the first $500 contribution = $3 grant for every dollar contributed, making maximum of $1,500 per year.- on the next $1,000 contribution = $2 grant for every dollar contributed, making maximum of $2,000 a year.
Prime Minster Harper’s proposal would see the grant on the first $500 contribution increased from $3 for every dollar contributed to $4.
Neither the Liberal or NDP candidate commented on whether or not their party would support this measure, and Mr. Brooks of the Green Party commented that while his party has not formerly taken a position on this measure, he personally would see it as something to support.
While the Prime Minister’s proposal is certainly interesting, I can’t help but wonder if it would not have more of an impact if the $500 increase were applied to the Canada Disability Savings Bond, as opposed to the Canada Disability Savings Grant.
Under the RDSP legislation, there are two types of government grants – the Canada Disability Savings Grant, which matches contributions made by the subscriber to the plan and the Canada Disability Savings Bond, which is paid regardless of contributions made to the plan. The Canada Disability Savings Bond is $1,000 per year (lifetime maximum of $20,000) provided the family income is $25,584 or less. Between $25,584 and $43,953 the bond is prorated and if family income is more than $43,953, no Canada Disability Savings Bond is paid. The challenge with having a grant conditional on someone making a contribution is it assumes they have the money to set aside, which a low-income person may not have. By leaving the Canada Disability Savings Grant as is and adding the $500 to the Canada Disability Savings Bond, bringing it to $1,500, you would truly be helping the people who need it most.
National Equipment Fund
An interesting idea put forward by the Green Party was to create a National Equipment Fund, to assist people with disabilities get needed equipment. The adaptive equipment needed can be quite costly. I realize that there are some who will react to this as people wanting handouts, but putting aside the moral issue of helping people with disabilities fully participate and integrate in society, there is also an economic issue. I used to live in Quebec and the Quebec government has a program where they pay to adapt a vehicle to make it wheelchair accessible for me. The taxes I paid as a result of being able to get out and work far outweighed the cost of adapting the vehicle.
National/Canada Disabilities Act
In 2007, Canada was one of 159 countries to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is one of 126 countries to ratify it. As a general summary, the convention inserts the right of people with disabilities to live as an equal member of society, with full inclusion and participation and free of discrimination. The Conservative party even campaigned previously on creating a National Disabilities Act, although no such act has yet been created.
Ms. Vandenbeld has stated the Liberal Party plans to fully implement the Convention, and in consultation with their provincial counterparts, create a National Disabilities Act. Both the NDP and the Green Party favor creation of a Canada Disabilities Act, similar to acts which exist in the US, UK and Australia.
One would have to ask if all the parties agree on the need for a National strategy, why has no policy come forward yet? Admittedly, some areas (housing, poverty, job and health) overlap with provincial jurisdiction, but it would be useful to have a framework to set a consistent standard across the country. Right now, there are an infinite number of programs and legislation, and a unifying framework may help to ensure consistency, reduce redundancy and ensure no needs are falling through the cracks.
For further analysis of parties platforms, here is another summary blog written by Healther Lamb for Spinal Cord Injury BC.