Conservative Party Platform-- Here for Canada: Stephen Harper's Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth

CCD Election Challenge 2011

8 April 2011

Conservative Platform 2011 Shows Social Policy Will Continue to Be Homeless

Conservatives Have a Record on Disability--On 8 April 2011, the Conservative Party released its election platform, “Here for Canada,” subtitled “Stephen Harper’s Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth”. “Here for Canada” chronicles the initiatives the Harper Government has undertaken on disability issues. The Conservative record presented in the Platform is as follows:

  • “Established the Canada Student Grants Program for low- and middle-income students, part-time students with dependents and students with permanent disabilities (Page 9)”;
  • “[provided] strong support for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games…(Page 18)”;
  • “established the Registered Disability Saving Plan [RDSP], to help Canadians with disabilities and their families to plan for the future (Page 26)”;
  • “[provided through the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act] flexible options for receiving a Disability Award (Page 29)”.

While people with disabilities benefitted from these initiatives undertaken by Harper’s Government, there were significant barriers, affecting the dignity and well-being of Canadians with disabilities, left unaddressed: crushing poverty, unacceptably high unemployment and underemployment, and the continuance of systemic discrimination that prohibits the participation of people with disabilities and the creation of new barriers (for example, inaccessible information and communication technology). The RDSP addresses the future well-being of people with disabilities; it does not put money in the pockets of people with disabilities living in poverty today. As the incumbent, responsibility rests with Prime Minister Harper for what was not done on disability issues as well as what was undertaken.

The Record Not Presented in “Here for Canada”

The Harper Government was first elected to power in 2006, thus Canada’s disability community has its own record with the Conservative government. In 2007, the Canadian disability community presented Mr. Harper’s Government with the document “From Vision to Action: Building An Inclusive and Accessible Canada: A National Action Plan”, which had been endorsed by over 100 disability groups. The National Action Plan presents short and long term measures to move people with disabilities out of poverty, get Canadians with disabilities working and make Canadian communities accessible and inclusive so that Canadians with disabilities enjoy full citizenship. Subsequent to that initial presentation, CCD, and other organizations in the disability community, have reminded the Conservative Government of the recommendations in the Plan. The Conservative Platform does not specifically address any of the measures identified in the National Action Plan.

Canadians with disabilities are not the only ones that have been calling for immediate action to address the problems identified in the National Action Plan. Both the House of Commons HUMA Committee and the Senate Committee on Poverty identified the need for immediate reform to address the disproportionate level of poverty faced by Canadians with disabilities.

Another part of the record that is not revealed in “Here for Canada” are the initiatives cancelled by the Harper Government. For the disability community, chief among these is the abandonment of the Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS), which collected data on how disability affects the participation of Canadians in their communities, in the labour market and in their family life. This data was used by all levels of governments as well as private industry and civil society when responding to the needs of Canadians with disabilities by developing policies, programs and services. CCD recognizes that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is developing a new data collection scheme but to date it appears that the new approach will not be as robust as PALS.

The Harper Government cancelled the Court Challenges Program (CCP), which funded court cases involving language rights and cases based upon Section 15, the Equality Rights Section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This funding was very important to the disability community because it resourced cases challenging barriers in Canadian society impeding the participation of Canadians with disabilities. While funding has been restored for Language Rights cases, there has been no restoration of funding to support challenges to inequality in the courts. The cancellation of the CCP diminished the disability community’s access to justice. People with disabilities do not have the resources to litigate complex cases through the Canadian court system. A recent example is Donna Jodhan’s case against the Federal Government to secure accessible web sites usable by people who use screen readers. This is a CCP legacy case, so CCP funds have helped Ms Jodhan battle for access on behalf of all Canadians with disabilities.

The Platform also points out that “Stephen Harper’s Government has…established, in cooperation with public- and private-sector partners, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg… (Page 33)”. Educating Canadians about human rights is important and will help develop a human rights culture in Canada. In addition to education, there needs to be activity today to ensure that people with disabilities have full enjoyment of their human rights. In 2010, Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Their Platform would have been an ideal place for Harper’s Conservatives to roll out their plan for implementing the CRPD. The disability community has been clear about its expectations with respect to the implementation and has shared its vision with the Government. It is disappointing that the Platform was silent on CRPD implementation.

Canadians with Disabilities Do Not See Themselves Well Represented in “Here for Canada”

In the Platform, the Conservatives identify their five priorities for Canada to:

  • create jobs,
  • support families,
  • eliminate the deficit,
  • make streets safe and
  • protect Canada from external threats.

Their low-tax plan is the method the Conservatives have selected for accomplishing their domestic goals, thus a strong social policy approach has not been adopted. As a result, Canadians with disabilities did not see their issues well reflected in Harper’s vision for Canada.

The Conservative Party’s low-tax plan, by and large, leaves out poor Canadians with disabilities who do not have a taxable income. For example, the Conservative Party of Canada is promising income splitting of up to $50,000 for families with children. Income splitting does nothing for single parents or the poor. Women with disabilities are disproportionately poor and many are lone parents. CCD asks where are the Conservatives’ tax measures which would benefit single mothers with disabilities, and other people with disabilities, who are living in poverty. CCD has been calling for a refundable disability tax credit which would put money in the pockets of Canadians with disabilities living in poverty. Poor Canadians without taxable incomes need refundable tax credits if they are to benefit from this type of tax policy.

The Conservatives’ proposed “top-up benefit to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, providing up to $600 extra per year for single seniors, and up to $840 per year for senior couples” would have a positive impact on seniors with disabilities. However, CCD is left wondering why people with disabilities have to wait until they reach 65 to have decent income security. The presence of barriers in the labour market makes it impossible for some people with disabilities to find a job. CCD has been urging the Federal government to lift people with disabilities out of poverty as has been done for seniors.

Employment has been a priority for the disability community, since our groups were first organized in the 1970s. Over 56% of working-age adults with disabilities are currently unemployed or out of the labour market. For women with disabilities the rate is almost 60%. Through the National Action Plan, the disability community has shared with the Conservatives the following long and short term recommendations on employment:

“Establish specific targets for Canadians with disabilities in Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDA) negotiated with the provinces. Having a specific target for Canadians with disabilities should be a requirement of transfer of both EI and Consolidated Revenue Funds to the provinces/territories.

Transforming provincial/territorial labour market systems to address barriers to people with disabilities will take some time. In the meantime both the Multilateral Framework Agreement on Labour Force Participation of People with Disabilities and the Opportunities Fund should be expanded to ensure greater capacity at the provincial/territorial level to address barriers, and through the Opportunities Fund to demonstrate innovation in labour force inclusion. These funds must not be rolled into the LMDAs or new labour market transfers to the provinces and territories until it is demonstrated that LMDA's are capable of addressing disability in a substantive way; and that the lessons, incentives and strategies are being incorporated into these generic systems from those developed through the Multi-Lateral and Opportunities Fund programming.”

There have also been calls for the Federal Government to become a model employer of people with disabilities and to implement a procurement policy which would guarantee that only accessible products and services are purchased by the Federal Government, thus making the Federal employment environment a showcase of universal design.

The disability community did not find its recommendations on employment addressed in the Conservative platform. This was very disappointing for Canadians with disabilities.

The Platform states, “…we will work with provinces, territories, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and other stakeholders to develop a long-term plan for public infrastructure… (Page 19).” CCD would have liked to have seen the Conservatives commit to an approach where funding is only granted to projects which respect the principles of universal design, thus ensuring their usability by the widest possible range of Canadians with differing abilities.

CCD’s Approach

CCD believes that all Canadians should become informed about the issues being debated during the days leading up to Election Day. Read the Parities’ platforms for yourself and on Election Day vote for the Party that you believe will create the policy solutions that will create the kind of Canada you want for yourself, your family and your friends.