Integration of People with Disabilities into the Workplace

Hon. Jim Munson: Obviously my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Mr. Leader, last week a contract between Library and Archives Canada and the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities almost expired. For decades this contract supported a paper sorting and disposal program designed to provide work for 50 people with developmental disabilities. These workers have been there for 35 years.

At the eleventh hour, with public outcry in this city and in headlines in the Ottawa Citizen, the Honourable Pierre Poilievre, Minister of Employment and Social Development, reinstated the funding. It’s a good thing, the three-year contract between Public Works and OCAPDD.

Mr. Poilievre claims he was shocked to learn of the crisis, but his department was aware of the situation well before the matter began to receive public attention last week. There was a lot of attention. At the last minute he did intervene, but why did your government not intervene earlier? The department knew about this. Why were the workers subjected to weeks of distress and uncertainty while your government did nothing?

[Translation]

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Senator, our government has worked harder than any other to support the skills of all Canadians. In Economic Action Plan 2014, we renewed the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities to help them prepare to enter or reintegrate into the job market.

These agreements represent the government’s largest investment in employment for persons with disabilities. In particular, we supported the Ready, Willing and Able initiative, which promotes the participation of eligible Canadians with disabilities in the labour market. We supported the CommunityWorks initiative with an investment of $11.4 million over four years to fund the expansion of professional training programs for persons with autism spectrum disorder. Indeed, these are projects and investments made by our government that you supported. However, this did not stop you from voting against Economic Action Plan 2014.

Our Enabling Accessibility Fund helps improve the accessibility of buildings across Canada. We also enhanced the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities. Since 2006, we have helped more than 34,600 Canadians with disabilities. We also created the Registered Disability Savings Plan in order to help parents to save and ensure the financial security of their disabled children.

Our government is taking action by introducing concrete measures. With respect to the more specific issue of the workers’ contract, a new three-year contract will be signed so that these workers can continue making their contribution to Canadian society with pride and determination. Honourable senators, these people, who are a source of inspiration, will do the same work at the same place.

[English]

Senator Munson: Of course, Mr. Speaker, these individuals are inspiring. Hopefully, one day — and I’m not sure about that — you will be able, Mr. Leader, to answer the question directly.

I think it was unfair of you to say something in your written notes there, “It did not stop you from voting against the 2014 Economic Action Plan.” This has to do with people with disabilities in this country. I have supported publicly your government on what you talked about, Ready, Willing & Able, the works program, the registered disability tax breaks and so on. I’ve supported all of those things, but this hits close to home. This hits here.

In addition to the outrage, these folks are making $1.15 each hour —

An Hon. Senator: Oh, oh.

Senator Munson: I was expecting this to happen, in terms of the intervention by the honourable member on the front bench. I’m making a point, and I have the opportunity to make this point. Thank you, Senator LeBreton.

The wage was intended as an honorarium, amounts to a mere $2,000 a year and falls well short of the provincial minimum, so there are issues with the provincial government — the Liberal government — here as well.

The main part of this program was to provide workers with training and experience, but many are unable to earn much more. They do receive provincial disability benefits of roughly $800 to $1,000 a month, but there are the clawbacks, as you know, Mr. Leader, if they earn more than $200 a month.

Will the government examine how disabled workers can both earn a fair wage and continue to receive these other benefits?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Honourable senators, as I said in my previous answer, many programs are currently in place. As for the issue of wages, it is the organization that manages the service contract that is responsible for the pay.

[English]

Senator Munson: My goodness. I will try one more time, Mr. Speaker.

First of all, I would recommend the reading of André Picard in The Globe and Mail today. It’s a brilliant piece of writing about disabled workers needing respect and not pity. He said in that column, “What these workers — who by all accounts do their jobs well — need is not pity, but respect.”

You have a person here by the name of Laurie Larson, who is president of the Canadian Association for Community Living, and she said that people with disabilities deserve real jobs for real pay. As Mr. Picard says, referring to a report that was put out by that group:

In fact, the report notes, hiring people with disabilities is good for business because it results in higher productivity, less turnover (which leads to lower training costs) and better responsiveness for customers, who appreciate a work force that reflects their community.

Mr. Leader, will this federal government embrace, as André Picard has suggested in his column, the Employment First concept?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, as I said and as you know, various programs exist. Earlier I mentioned Ready, Willing & Able, a program that represents the largest government investment in employment for people with disabilities. The purpose of the program is to support Canadians with disabilities to help them get into the labour force when they reach the working age. These programs are in place, and to paint a complete picture of the situation, it is important to emphasize programs like Ready, Willing & Able.

With respect to the specific case you mentioned, a new three-year contract will be negotiated so that those workers can continue to contribute to the Canadian economy, and as I said, so they can do so with pride and determination. These individuals will be able to continue doing the same work in the same place. Given the circumstances surrounding the organization in charge of their pay, we need to look at the full picture. Furthermore, senator, you must recognize that our government is making a huge investment to support assistance and accessibility programs for people with disabilities.

[English]

Senator Munson: I will try one more time with a very brief question going back to the original story of these 50 people who are about to be kicked out of their job. This is a specific question and I would love to have a specific answer.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: You want a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question. I answer real, fact-based questions. What matters, senator, is that a new three-year contract will be granted so that these workers can continue to contribute to Canadian society with pride and determination. I encourage you to avoid speculating.
Oh, oh.