Exclusive: Minister Says Canadian Disability Benefit Will Mean Independence and Choice

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Minister Carla Qualtrough discusses the new Canadian Disability Benefit, and opens up about lessons, challenges, and successes

By Spencer van Vloten

BC Disability

A former Paralympic swimmer and now federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Delta's Carla Qualtrough played a leading role in passing Canada's first national accessibility legislation, and is currently working to develop the Canadian Disability Benefit.

BC Disability's Spencer van Vloten talked with Minister Qualtrough about the lessons and challenges of passing the Accessible Canada Act, what's next for the Canadian Disability Benefit, and how to increase the political participation of persons with disabilities.

Spencer: From your experience of developing and passing the Accessible Canada Act, what lessons have you learned and what advice would you have for the BC government and any other governments looking to pass effective accessibility legislation?

Minister Qualtrough: The biggest take away from the Accessible Canada Act process was the importance of good consultation—to have good legislation you really need to put in the effort to hear from people. We held robust, inclusive cross-country consultations, and this paid off by capturing the diversity and range of issues around the country.

Another lesson is that you need a strong system of tracking what was heard during consultations---the consultation means nothing if it is not well-documented and not readily available as a resource, and that gives the impression that it is not an honest process where people's views really matter.

The feedback we got informed a much larger body of issues and legislation than just the Accessible Canada Act, and helped governments at provincial level too, so it is well worth the effort to have a robust documentation system in place.

If I could do it over again, I would frame the legislation as being about disability inclusion rather than specifically about accessibility. The legislation really goes beyond accessibility and touches so many aspects of life for disabled persons, and I think moving ahead disability inclusion is the best way to capture what we are aiming for in the ministry.

"If I could do it again, I would frame the legislation as being about disability inclusion rather than accessibility"

With reference to BC in particular, the province has been a leader in disability issues and accessibility, and when many provinces put accessibility on hold in order to wait for federal legislation to be passed, BC kept working on it and showing genuine interest in it.

Spencer: What were the biggest challenges in working on the Accessible Canada Act?

Minister Qualtrough: The biggest challenge was doing things on such a large scale. Accessibility legislation had never been done at the federal level, and there were so many different voices across the country we needed to hear from and then represent in the Accessible Canada Act.

But this was something that absolutely had to be done, not only to show that everyone's voices matter, but to capture all the issues and perspectives so we could have the best legislation possible.

The phrase 'nothing about us without us' is often used, but it should really be 'nothing without us', because every decision impacts disabled persons and they need to always be at the table.

"The phrase 'nothing about us without us' should just be 'nothing without us'; every decision impacts disabled persons"

Spencer: It was announced that there will be a new Canadian Disability Benefit, based on the