Disability benefit approved but Zarrillo still nervous

file photo Saffron Blaze

The Canada Disability Benefit was adopted Wednesday – although exactly who will get that benefit and how much they will get has yet to be decided.

Advocated by Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo, the benefit is intended to supplement current federal and provincial supports for people with disabilities.

However, a few members of parliament voiced concerns about potential clawbacks.


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The most important details around eligibility, the application process and how provinces will co-operate, “are all being left to be determined through regulation,” said Conservative MP for Kelowna Lake Country Tracy Gray.

Gray was critical of the process, advising her colleagues that parliamentarians would essentially be left out while negotiations with provinces and territories “will all be done behind closed doors.”

In practical terms, negotiating with the province is the only way forward, explained Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield of Guelph, Ont.

“In the case of clawbacks it’s so important for us to work with provinces and territories where that’s their area of jurisdiction,” he said. “Although it might look good for us to tell the provinces what to do, eventually it could end up in the Supreme Court.”

Another MP voiced concern that a lack of safeguards would result in the benefit increasing the profits of private insurance companies.

Given the time it might take to finalize the Canada Disability Benefit, Zarrillo repeatedly called for an emergency interim benefit for people with disabilities. Zarrillo asked Gray if she would agree with an interim benefit.

“The community wants this benefit to be passed and they want to have it in their bank account as soon as possible,” said Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Bonita Zarrillo during Wednesday’s House of Commons sitting.

“We would have to look at that,” Gray replied, noting the inflationary pressure faced by Canadians.

While the regulatory process hasn’t officially begun, Delta MP Carla Qualtrough said there have been discussions on how much the amount should be and how to work with provinces and territories.

Qualtrough, who also serves as Minister of Disability Inclusion, said she wasn’t willing to encroach on provincial jurisdiction in terms of general contracting and private insurance.

“Which is not to say that I haven’t put a red line in the sand on clawbacks and I’m working very closely with provincial/territorial colleagues to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Qualtrough said.

The disability community and many parliamentarians have put their trust in Qualtrough, Zarrillo said.

“We’re still nervous,” she explained.

Zarrillo called on the government to ensure everyone has access to the disability benefit.

“This benefit must be an amount that will actually lift people out of poverty,” she said.

The bill was brought back to the table last year by Zarrillo and Qualtrough after being scuttled in 2021.

Approximately 59 percent of Canadians with disabilities between the ages of 25 to 64 are employed, compared to 80 percent of Canadians without disabilities, according to a 2017 report from Statistics Canada. Canadians with mild disabilities earn approximately 12 percent less than Canadians without disabilities while Canadians with severe disabilities earn 51 percent less.


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