NDP call for Liberals to follow through on disability benefit promise gets unanimous support

A push from the NDP to see the Liberals follow through "without delay" on their promise to implement a new federal disability benefit got unanimous backing in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Through a motion presented after question period, NDP MP and disability inclusion critic Bonita Zarrillo got the approval of all MPs to call on the federal government to follow through with their pledge to enact the "'Canada Disability Benefit' without delay."

Citing the disproportionate negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canada's disability community, and the pressures being felt by the rising cost of living, Zarrillo questioned how the government could let the situation continue.

"People with disabilities make up 41 per cent of Canadians living in poverty… Advocates across the country are calling for action. When will the government finally prioritize people with disabilities and put in place a Canada Disability Benefit?" she asked Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough in question period.

The benefit was first proposed by the Liberals through legislation in the last Parliament, which died in the House when the 2021 election was called, after being tabled near the end of the session.

In the Liberal election platform, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged that his party would re-introduce a Disability Benefit Act, to create a "direct monthly payment" for low-income Canadians with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64.

The first version of the bill did not specify how much money people would receive, but gave the minister responsible the power to set up the framework, including around indexing to inflation and potential retroactivity.

"Once implemented this new benefit will reduce poverty among persons with disabilities in the same manner as the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit," read the platform.

Eight months later, the legislation has yet to be revived. In response to Zarrillo's questioning on Tuesday, Qualtrough said the government is "committed" to re-introducing the legislation, but offered no timeline. It's a commitment that is in the minister's mandate letter.

In a statement to CTV News, Qualtrough said that the 2021 federal budget included $11.9 million to be spent over three years on reforming "the eligibility processes for federal disability programs and benefits."

"This important work is underway, and will directly inform the Canada Disability Benefit. We are also working with the provinces and territories to ensure that the Canada Disability Benefit will increase the monthly income of Canadians with disabilities living below the poverty line and not negatively impact entitlement to other programs and services," Qualtrough said.

While the motion is largely symbolic, the NDP say they'll continue to impress upon the government that all MPs agreed that the benefit should be introduced as soon as possible.

“Direct income supports work, and they must be implemented immediately to give Canadians living with disabilities the financial support and dignity they deserve,” said Zarrillo in a statement.