Every level of government in Canada works to help people with disabilities through various programs and services. Some of these may be small municipal programs, and some are large programs like the Canada Pension Plan – Disability (CPPD) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
One of the issues with so many levels of government getting involved is that there are unintended consequences when these programs overlap. For example, as CPPD provides more funds for living expenses, a municipal program could effectively work against this by raising the rent that this person pays (many people pay rent in social housing based on their income level – so called “Rent Geared to Income”). This is just one example of how one level of government trying to do more can have their efforts stymied by another level of government. Many of these issues are completely unintentional, but they can be significant.
C-395 is a Private Member’s Bill (PMB) put forward by MP Pierre Poilievre. (This is different from a Government Bill. Each MP can advance one PMB and the order for their Bills is drawn by lottery.)
The first part of C-395 essentially asks the Minister of Finance to determine how much money has been lost (through clawbacks, unintended consequences, increased taxation, etc.) by people with disabilities from provincial programs.
The second part of this bill asks the Federal government to cut payments to provinces if they don’t change their programs to fix these issues.
So, essentially, to try and fix the problem let’s just cut funds going to provinces because that will solve the issue? Sounds like cutting school budgets to try and improve their grades…
This bill has the potential to reduce Canada Social Transfer payments to Provinces and Territories if they refuse to make changes to their taxation and benefits programs. These grants are called “block grants” and the main one is called the Canada Social Transfer, which is essentially an unconditional grant from the federal government. It is spent on education, early learning, child development, childcare, and social services. Provinces are free to spend this funding as they see fit to help their citizens.
Every province has different needs and different issues that their citizens face, and every province has different social support programs, taxes, and there is a lot of variety across Canada in how these systems function and how they interact.
Fixing these issues can be a challenging puzzle to solve, as most problematic interactions between these systems are not simple errors, and to assume they are greatly oversimplifies the issues at hand. C-395 is a blunt instrument, and doesn’t take into consideration the reality of how the provinces and the federal government work together to address poverty. (I should also note that there are better and more professional mechanisms in place to handle block grant changes, and these are not typically done through the a PMB. This should be handled through the regular budget process.)
These kinds of issues have to be understood in context, across every province and territory, and need to be worked through by Federal and Provincial Ministers, through their regular processes, as structured by our constitution.
I don’t take my concerns with C-395 lightly. I am the Chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development, and Status of Persons with Disabilities. For the past year my committee has been working on a significant report about poverty in Canada: http://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/HUMA/report-7/
As Chair of HUMA, I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country to study poverty up close, and I can honestly say that C-395 won’t accomplish it’s stated goal. That’s why I won’t be supporting it, and I’ll be voting against it.
The HUMA poverty report includes many recommendations, some of which even talk about the need for better alignment between provincial and federal programs so that these unintended consequences and “claw-backs” are minimized, but there’s not a single recommendation that says we should be cutting social transfers to the provinces.
From the outside, this kind of bill is meant to sound great, but is advanced to embarrass the government and make it seem like they are heartless or uncaring. Attending to those in need has, and will continue to be, a top priority of our Government.
Bryan May, MP