Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue 11 - Evidence - March 7, 2012
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 7, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 4:14 p.m. to study social inclusion and cohesion in Canada.
Senator Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I call the meeting to order.
I would like to welcome you to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
My name is Kelvin Ogilvie. I am a senator from Nova Scotia. I will ask my colleagues to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair on my left.
Senator Eggleton: Art Eggleton, a senator from Toronto.
Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant, a senator from Saskatchewan.
Senator Dyck: Lillian Dyck, also from Saskatchewan.
Senator Verner: I am Senator Josée Verner from Quebec.
Senator Demers: I am Senator Jacques Demers from Quebec.
Senator Seth: Senator Asha Seth, from Toronto, Ontario.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman, from Montreal.
The Chair: Thank you, colleagues. Just to remind us, we are focusing on the study of social inclusion and cohesion in Canada. We are dealing, in today's meeting, with groups that may be at risk with regard to exclusion, and we have four groups presenting today, a total of five people. I will introduce them as I ask them to make their presentations. Without further ado, then, the witnesses accepted that I would call them beginning on my left, which would mean that I would start with Peter Cook, President of Seniors For Seniors.
Peter Cook, President, Seniors For Seniors: Thank you very much. When you are dealing with exclusion, I think you have to include a very large part of our population, which is seniors. The financial hardship of a large and increasing number of seniors has gone largely unnoticed by the media, by society, and by government, frankly. Yet many thousands of seniors are approaching the end of their lives in poverty, and it is sort of sad to hear.
I think maybe the reason I am here is that I had a contest where I offered $1,000 a month, tax-free, to two separate seniors over a year to help lift them out of poverty. The submissions that came in were rather disturbing in that some had to choose between their medicines or dinner. Some were on a strict regime of peanut butter, and one 85-year-old I talked to lived in Oshawa and had to go to the Princess Margaret in Toronto, and he could not afford the transportation for cancer treatments. We had another fellow with Parkinson's who only had 4 cents in his bank account, which does not promote long-term financial planning.
My first point is that it is a specific group that needs a lot of help. I will get to that later on.
The other thing is health care. The health of too many seniors needlessly deteriorates in a system that relies too much on hospitals and not enough on community. I am in the home care business, and I see that a lot of these seniors want to stay at home; they do not want to be institutionalized. However, the way the system is designed and works, they end up in the emergency room. They become hospitalized. They sit there without any rehab. They could acquire a superbug or experience a fall. Then they are shipped off to long-term care, where they really do not want to be. It is common knowledge that home care is a lot cheaper and more productive than institutionalization. Home is where everyone wants to be, but seniors tend to be shuttled into these institutions, parked away, and possibly forgotten.
The third item I have in mind is ageism. Try looking for a job if you are over 50. The only advertisements depicting mature persons are those selling condos, with very good-looking people — senators probably — who are active, happy, and affluent. Otherwise, one is very hard-pressed to find advertisements or editorial commentary glorifying the process of ageing, or the joys of arthritis and adult incontinence pads.
Seniors tend to be warehoused out of sight and out of mind. Even 90-year-olds do not want to be associated with 90- year-olds. My mother was on CBC TV with me one time. They interviewed her and asked, "Do you need help?" She was 90 at the time. She says, "Yeah, when I get old I want to have help."
You all know about the demographics, the unemployment situation, that sort of thing. Anyone over the age of 50 looking for employment is toast. I started a business in 1989 called Seniors for Business where we found white-collar jobs for people over 50. We were flocked. We were totally swamped with people looking for work. At that time, the economy was good and we filled an awful lot of jobs. However, if you are over 50, try finding a job these days. People are working longer for CPP and OAS, all that stuff, and employers discriminate — not blatantly, they hide it — but we had many people call up saying, "I was interviewed four times and I know bloody well the reason I did not get the job was because I am aged." Ageism is rampant.
Some of the solutions for these things for seniors, which we will all become, is — I hate to say it because it costs money — increase OAS because you are making $1,400 a month and your rent is $900 a month. You will not buy a Mercedes any time soon.
Next, deinstitutionalize health care, so you take the money out of hospitals, out of institutions and put it in home care. Everyone wants home care and wants to stay at home, and there is not a net cost. You just take the funds from one to the other. We are in the home care business ourselves, so we see it where they all want to stay home.
The last thing I would recommend is establishing a well-funded and well-connected powerful organization to advance and advocate the interests of seniors. To my knowledge, there is no charity — I am establishing a charity, which we might get into later — for seniors in need. There is no real advocate or organized, well-funded, powerful lobby group for seniors at this time. Looking around the table, I think we are all seniors in training, and we may appreciate having someone speak for us.
The Chair: I will now turn to Avvy Go, Director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
Avvy Go, Director, Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic: For those of you who are not familiar with our clinic, we are a not-for-profit community-based organization that provides free legal services to low-income members of the Chinese and Southeast Asian communities in Toronto. We have been around for 25 years. We are also a founding member of the Colour of Poverty campaign whose goal is to raise awareness around the issue of racialization and poverty in Canada.
I would like to begin by thanking this Senate committee for tackling the issue of social inclusion. Social inclusion, or more accurately social exclusion, is a critical issue facing members of racialized and immigrant communities today. We are among the most marginalized historically, and that is still presently the case. It was not that long ago Canada had overtly racist laws that discriminated and controlled all aspects of the lives of many racialized groups.
Of course, we no longer have laws that openly target anyone on the basis of race. Unfortunately, the legacy of our historical injustice is still present. Legally sanctioned discrimination is now being replaced by other more subtle yet equally potent forms of discrimination which are manifested in such phenomena as the increasing racialization of poverty coupled with the decreasing level of social, economic and political participation by members of racialized groups in Canadian society, despite their growth in absolute numbers, as well as a percentage of the overall population in Canada.
According to the 2006 census, about 16 per cent of the Canadian population are visible minorities. In Ontario, that figure is about 25 per cent, including 2 per cent that are First Nations. By 2017, about one quarter of the Ontario population will become racialized, and yet members of racialized groups are more likely than non-racialized groups to face discrimination in the labour market.
I cited the report by the Wellesley Institute that confirms a colour code is keeping visible minorities out of good jobs in the Canadian labour market. The report found that visible minority Canadian workers earned 81.4 cents for every dollar paid to their Caucasian counterparts. Based on the 2006 census, the researchers from Wellesley also found, for instance, that earnings by male newcomers from racialized groups were just 68.7 per cent of those who were White males, and disturbingly, the report also confirms that the disparities persist for second-generation Canadians as well with similar education and age. Even in the public sector, racialized groups are under-represented where 92 per cent of the employees are White.
The United Way of Greater Toronto's Poverty by Postal Code is yet another report that talks about racialization of poverty. The report found that between 1981 and 2000, while poverty rates dropped by 28 per cent for White or non- racialized groups, they increased by 361 per cent over the same time period for racialized groups. This is not just a phenomenon in Toronto as similar studies from other cities across Ontario found similar disparities. It is not just for immigrants because 33 per cent of racialized groups that are Canadian-born also experience a similar kind of exclusion.
In short, employment inequity and resulting income disparity poses one of the most important and significant barriers to full social inclusion by members of racialized communities, be they immigrants or Canadian-born.
Of course, economic disadvantage also translates into other forms of exclusion as members of racialized groups experience more criminalization, poorer health, higher levels of homelessness, greater barriers in accessing education, and so on. While governments of all levels may be aware of these issues, sometimes their policies actually have the effect of reinforcing or even exacerbating some of the disadvantages faced by members of racialized groups.
An example at the provincial level in Ontario is the three-month OHIP waiting period for newcomers, but there are also examples we can find at the federal level as well, unfortunately. One example where policies perhaps may have exacerbated the degree of exclusion as experienced by immigrants and racialized groups is in the area of immigration law. I quoted in my report two examples. One is the continuing erosion of Canada's commitment to family class reunification, and the other example is the increasing reliance on temporary foreign workers as a source of Canada's labour force, yet providing very little protection to these workers.
We believe that the federal government can and should play a significant role in promoting social inclusion by adopting policies that eliminate poverty, reducing stigmatization faced by members of racialized groups while engaging in concrete steps that advance racial equality. For instance, the federal government can start by putting into effect all the recommendations contained in the HUMA report entitled Federal Poverty Reduction Plan. We think the government should also adopt sensible and progressive tax policy in order to increase government's capacity to provide or fund programs that are essential to members of marginalized groups, including racialized community groups. Programs such as affordable housing, national child care programs and specific programs that bring about substantive equality, such as the Court Challenges Program, should either be restored or enhanced.
To measure and therefore achieve social inclusion, which is the issue for this committee, we urge you to adopt a holistic approach to developing an appropriate conceptual framework of understanding social exclusion. Such a framework should be guided by a vision for equity which acknowledges the existence of the multi-faceted and intersecting inequities in the Canadian society as experienced by various marginalized groups, including racialized communities.
It must also be equipped with appropriate indicators and outcome measures based on disaggregated data that will not only evaluate the process for building social inclusion but also the impact of any given policy measures that work towards that goal.
In the end, it is by engaging in a critical dialogue on social inclusion and social cohesion that this committee can help facilitate much-needed discussions in order to foster the goal of equality and justice for all while promoting a sense of belonging and dignity for all Canadians. I thank you for the work you are doing.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I will now turn to Professor Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, Assistant Professor, Applied Human Sciences at the International Institute for Child Rights and Development.
Natasha Blanchet-Cohen, Assistant Professor, International Institute for Child Rights and Development: Thank you for the invitation. I am going to talk about youth, not so much drawing a portrait of youth but more about how to deal with the exclusion of youth.
At the centre, it is about bringing forth youth voice, energy and insight and recognizing that young people can play a critical role in strengthening the social fabric of Canadian society, but they also need to be given the opportunities to carry out their potential. What should that look like?
I will focus on an initiative called YouthScape, initiated and funded by the McConnell Foundation over a four-year period. It was part of their inclusion strategy to focus on young people who feel disconnected from school and other mainstream organizations led by adults.
It was a national initiative with five communities across the country, ranging from United Way Thunder Bay, Child and Youth Friendly Calgary, HeartWood Centre for Community Youth Development in Halifax, Boscoville 2000 in Rivière-des-Prairies in Quebec, Youthcore in Victoria and the national convening organization, the International Institute for Child Rights and Development, where I was located at the time but am now at Concordia University.
The background, which is important in terms of the significance of an initiative like this and contributing to your reflection today, is that there is broad evidence that participation of youth benefits individual and Canadian society at large, recognizing that children's right to participate is integral to the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which Canada is signatory. We operate in a youth-serving sector that has an overwhelming deficit approach that has failed time and again to appropriately support the well-being of at-risk youth. In dealing with youth, particularly marginalized youth, we need to break away from the systemic silos within which youth services and programs are being delivered. Many sectors affect young people's lives, but rarely do they work together or with them in a strength-based approach.
The dream of YouthScape was about imagining how marginalized and diverse youth are problem solvers instead of problems, creating a society where the engagement of young people is an automatic reflex.
Three points stand out from this whole initiative. There is a need to support a range of approaches to engage youth. It is not enough just to think about involving youth on boards; we need to provide them with meaningful opportunities to carry out their ideas. Engaging marginalized youth calls for innovation, such as — in this case, a significant part of our initiative — giving money to youth so they can realize their ideas and projects.
There are multiple examples of the impact that can have, such as in Thunder Bay, where Devon Meekis, a Deer Lake talented comic artist, received a grant that supported him in designing a comic story on the challenging transitions from reserve to city life. The comic has been distributed in each home and numerous businesses within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory, helping young people, smoothing their transition from reserve to city life. There is the legal literacy project in Victoria, where youth work with police to create practical guidelines for homeless youth to understand their rights and responsibilities when stopped by police. The pocket-sized pamphlets produced by the project have been largely distributed. It is small but helpful. It resulted from a unique partnership between police and youth, and as we know, that relationship is generally fraught with tension.
It is also about creating youth space, because youth do not have spaces where they feel they belong. It is not just about the physical space; it is also about involving them in the design. It is also about changing public perception by making youth voices more present in the community.
Here is another great example. In Calgary, young people, including young people locked up in youth centres, worked with the Calgary transit system to design new youth friendly bus passes. The city-wide art competition generated a lot of interest among youth and demonstrated to the municipality that young people, who are among the largest users of public transport, should be consulted on core transit issues, such as routes, schedules, safety and graffiti.
A second important point is around organizational readiness, realizing that the majority of adult-led, youth-serving organizations not as well equipped to engage young people as they think they are. Critical issues are organizational openness to take risks, the role of staff as adult allies and the possibility for mutual accountability amongst youth and adults being very limited. Most organizations have a paternalistic approach to working with youth. There is a call to revising policies and practices.
The issue is how to embed this approach in working with youth in our institutions and communities.
YouthScape showed a huge potential. For instance, in Rivière-des-Prairies near Montreal, several mainstream institutions connected to YouthScape, including schools, a library and local cultural centre, have experimented with forms of youth decision making to be more inclusive of the cultural diversity among youth. The trust developed through successful youth-led projects has reduced racial and intergenerational tensions in the neighbourhood.
In Thunder Bay, a coalition of young people involved in 16 YouthScape projects supported by adult allies created a Thunder Bay youth action council.
The results of this project are multiple publications. You have some of them, and we also have guide books, DVDs and academic articles.
Most importantly, YouthScape reminded us that being inclusive is not just about creating opportunities for young people to participate in the local community as it currently exists; it is about belonging and contribution, about fully being a citizen with rights and obligations. The process requires a change in the relationship between institutions and citizens to ensure that the nature of the participation actually resonates with young people's aspirations and draws upon their skills. As one young person put it, "We do not want a seat around the board table — boring. We want to join with you and others in creating a circle where we explore new relationships and in taking action in our community."
What does it take to make that step, which YouthScape has proven to be beneficial for both youth and society? How can the sparks created by youth grants, for instance, that have shown to be transformational, further contaminate our institutions? YouthScape shows it requires creating enabling conditions, being ready to challenge our normal practice, taking risks and working more collaboratively. Let us make that happen, not only for tomorrow's generations but today's generation. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I will now turn to Tony Dolan, Chairperson, and Vangelis Nikias of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. I understand, Mr. Dolan, you will be making the presentation.
Tony Dolan, Chairperson, Council of Canadians with Disabilities: First, the council is pleased to have been given the opportunity to discuss some of our issues. As a cross-disability organization, our network is open to people with all types of disabilities, and we work on issues of concern to persons with disabilities.
As everyone will experience disability, either personally or indirectly when a family member acquires a disability, the council believes that disability should be a non-partisan issue, and we share our recommendations with all parties.
What is the situation of people with disabilities? In 2005, almost half a million people, 20.5 per cent of working-age adults between 15 and 64 with disabilities, lived on a low income. People of working age with disabilities are about twice as likely as their counterparts without disabilities to live on a low income. After age 65, the rate of having a low income among people with disabilities drops significantly and stays low, like the rate for seniors without disabilities, during retirement years. This may be because government benefits help supplement incomes and reduce the costs for persons with and without disabilities.
The sad reality of it is that there are persons with disabilities who long to be 65 so that they will have a better income — not a great income but a better income. Some of the discussion going on right now about increasing the age for Old Age Security is causing great fear among them because they will have to wait another few years to get a better income than what we have now.
Who are people with disabilities? We are moms, dads, workers, job seekers, children, and old persons. We are also Canadians with disabilities. Canada's federal policymakers need to address the barriers that prevent us from getting an education so that we can find a career, buy a home, raise a family, save for our future and travel without problems. CCD urges the Government of Canada to use its legislative and programmatic powers to ensure that persons with disabilities are fully included in Canada's programs and services and have the opportunities to contribute to the social and economic prosperity of this country.
We are also well aware that federal jurisdiction has its limitations and that responsibility for many of our issues falls within the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories. We urge that the Government of Canada work collaboratively with all levels of government on labour market strategies and broad social policy initiatives to address the needs of persons with disabilities.
I know that these are challenging times and that we are trying to address the deficit, but CCD has been urging the federal government to remember those who already face a significant disadvantage.
As measures are developed to address the economic situation, we have a responsibility to seek assurances from government that these measures will not have an adverse impact on vulnerable Canadians.
We remind the Government of Canada that many within the disability community live on an income of less than $10,000 a year. Canadians with disabilities struggle to meet their needs when times are good. When times are bad, sadly, we are often made to feel the effect of the cutbacks in services and the loss of employment.
Even in times of economic crisis, Canada must continue to make adequate provisions for vulnerable Canadians, including those with disabilities.
An inclusive and accessible Canada is where Canadians with disabilities —children, youth, working-age adults, and seniors — have the necessary support to fully access and benefit from all that Canada has to offer. Independent living principles of choice, consumer control, and autonomy are made real. Canadians with disabilities have safe, adequate, accessible housing within their communities and live free from residential institutions and their confinements. Canadians with disabilities and their families have income, aids and devices, personal supports, medications and environmental accommodations that make social, cultural and political citizenship accessible and inclusive to all. Women with disabilities, Aboriginal people with disabilities, persons with disabilities from visible minority communities, and those from other marginalized communities should have equal access and benefits from Canadian society. Canadians with invisible disabilities, chronic illness, episodic disabilities, or environmental sensitivity, and living in remote or rural areas, are equally able to access benefits from Canadian society. People with disabilities should be able to contribute to and to benefit from Canadian society in the same way as other citizens. This is our Canada. It is just the quality of citizenship and wanting that.
For an inclusive and accessible Canada to be a reality, the Government of Canada must show leadership by enhancing their role in four key areas: enhanced disability support to ensure independent living, active citizenship and full participation; an enhanced federal role to alleviate the poverty of persons with disabilities and their families, thus freeing up dollars, at the provincial and territorial levels, for new investments in disability supports; labour force inclusion measures; a national social development model to promote accessible and community inclusion; and youth supports to increase access to labour force participation.
I heard it earlier from one of the other speakers who talked about employment; I think it was Ms. Blanchet-Cohen. Employment is more than just having a stable income. It is also being included, having sense of purpose and of being, and being a member of society. That is the exclusion part of it. If you do not have that, your whole sense of being is as stake.
We believe that we can have better labour force participation through several means. Establish specific targets for Canadians with disabilities in labour force development agreements, which are negotiated with the provinces. Having specific targets for Canadians with disabilities would be a requirement of transfer of both employment insurance and the consolidated revenue funds to the provinces and the territories.
Transforming federal and provincial labour market agreements to address barriers to people with disabilities will take some time. We know that. In the meantime, both the Multilateral Framework for Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities and the Opportunities Fund should be expanded to provide greater capacity, at the provincial and the territorial level, to address the barriers. These funds must not be rolled into the Labour Market Development Agreements or the new labour market transfers to the provinces and territories until it is demonstrated that the Labour Market Development Agreements are capable of addressing disability issues in a substantive way and that the lessons, incentives, and strategies are incorporated into these generic programs developed through the multilateral and Opportunities Fund programming.
The poverty of Canadians with disabilities is a national disgrace. Canadians with disabilities and their families are twice as likely to live in poverty as other Canadians, and the incidence among Aboriginal people with disabilities is even higher.
Existing systems of income support are failing Canadians with disabilities, and the Government of Canada must commit to addressing poverty and reforming Canada's income programs for Canadians with disabilities.
One of the first steps they could take is to make the Disability Tax Credit refundable. A refundable tax credit would benefit someone who is on a fixed income. Now it is fine for someone who is employed; we can benefit from the disability tax write-off. However, for someone who is on a fixed income, a refundable disability tax credit would be of benefit, as long as it is not clawed back by the provinces or territories.
Others steps are: making Canada disability benefits non-taxable; expanding the Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits to 52 weeks; and ensuring that new federal benefits, such as the Registered Disability Savings Plan, are not clawed back by the provinces and territories and for those on social assistance. Long-term reforms could include an expanded federal role in income support for Canadians with disabilities, thus freeing up resources at the provincial and territorial levels for reinvestment.
New investments in disability supports — properly executed new investments — can bring changes to the lives of people with disabilities, and appropriate target investment in disability-related supports would assist Canadians with disabilities to participate in early learning and child care, become educated and employed, live more independently, and look after their families.
The Government of Canada must create national, social, economic, and political conditions for people with disabilities to empower themselves and to achieve their full potential. We must work with the provinces and territories to explore new ways of increasing access and to improve the range of available disability supports.
The federal government must work with the provinces and territories to provide the supports of building safe, affordable and accessible housing; acknowledge that residential institutions have no place in the lives of people with disabilities; and support the provinces and territories to finish the process of closure of these institutions.
Finally, I wish to talk a bit about promoting access, inclusion and citizenship. To achieve positive outcomes within the building blocks of employment, income and disability supports, investments are also needed in other related and complementary areas. To this end, the Government of Canada must commit to developing a transparent process involving self-representational organizations of persons with disabilities for the implementation and monitoring of Canada's responsibilities under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Canada is a country that can do better. We can do better for our people; we can do better for our persons with disabilities. We just want full citizenship. Thank you for this occasion.
The Chair: Thank you all very much. I will now open up the meeting to questions from my colleagues. I will start with Senator Eggleton to be followed by Senator Martin and then Senator Callbeck.
Senator Eggleton: Thank you for those excellent presentations. You all come at the issue of social inclusion from different perspectives and experiences. I thought at first I would ask you each individual questions, but in order to speed things up a bit, I will ask a general question that will apply to all of you, and it comes in two parts.
The first part, at the end of this month a federal budget will be brought in by the Minister of Finance. What one or two items would you like to see — I know you probably have a longer shopping list — that you think could have a good impact in the communities that you are speaking about today and would help to end exclusion and make people more included in our society? What one or two items would you like to see in the federal budget?
Second, this committee completed a report a couple of years ago on poverty, housing and homelessness called In from the Margins: A Call to Action on Poverty, Housing and Homelessness. One of the things we looked at is what we call promising practices. Ms. Blanchet-Cohen talked about a promising practice today: YouthScape. One of the ones that we came across was Pathways to Education in Regent Park in Toronto which reduced the dropout rate from 56 per cent to 10 per cent in kids going to high school substantially and increased the rate of kids going on to post- secondary education. It is a very successful program. We recommended to the Minister of Finance that promising practice should be funded to try to take it to other parts of the country, and he did. Two years ago Pathways to Education was funded.
Are there promising practices like YouthScape or like Pathways to Education that you think can help make a difference in terms of the communities that you are concerned about?
The Chair: We will give each of you a chance to answer that. Please be efficient. I will start with Mr. Cook
Mr. Cook: I would say transfer more money; reduce the money allocated to institutionalization to home care, sir — brief and to the point.
Senator Eggleton: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. I like that.
Ms. Go: In the paper I presented, I quoted a study that talks about the effect of corporate tax cuts. Based on this study, the corporate tax cuts that have either taken effect under the last two terms of government or are scheduled to take effect in the future will reach $14.2 billion by fiscal year 2012-13. If we reverse the corporate tax cuts, the government will have $14.2 billion more to fund all the things that other speakers are talking about, whether it is home care for seniors; increasing OAS —
Mr. Cook: I will take it.
Ms. Go: Whether it is support for people with disabilities — I will take that, too. I did not realize that if you are 50 you are considered a senior, so I will be a senior soon. There is a whole host of programs that can be funded with this, so I think we should be seriously thinking about that.
The Chair: So far we have transfers to home care —
Mr. Cook: Out at no cost out of hospitals.
Senator Cordy: Less cost.
Mr. Cook: Yes, less cost, actually.
The Chair: $14.2 billion reverse in taxes available for these programs.
Ms. Blanchet-Cohen: I would say social entrepreneurship, youth grants that are aimed at community development. I think that has huge potential. It also means giving support to organizations because it is not just a question of giving it out to youth. There needs to be some support, some rails, but that is definitely my top of the list.
The Chair: Mr. Nikias, would you like to come in on this one?
Vangelis Nikias, Project Manager, Council of Canadians with Disabilities: We are focused on suggesting measures that would benefit the most disadvantaged at this point. My colleague has already indicated people with low income and women and Aboriginals with disabilities. Aboriginals with disabilities face a lot of disadvantages, so we think in order to address those disadvantaged groups quickly, making the disability tax credit refundable, which does not involve interjurisdictional discussions, is probably the first thing that the federal government can do in this budget. Taking measures to strengthen labour market participation by persons with disabilities will also be very beneficial.
The third point is something we do not want to see. We do not want to see changes to the OAS eligibility without first thinking through carefully what other implications that may have. That may further disadvantage people who are already poor. We can provide more arguments for that. These are the three things that we would suggest right now.
Senator Eggleton: No promising practices, other than YouthScape? No one can think of any? Okay.
The Chair: Thank you very much. You got very clear answers, senator, to your questions.
We will move now to Senator Martin.
Senator Martin: I want to echo the same comments about your presentations which were all interesting to show the different perspectives of vulnerable sectors of our society.
With regard to the previous study that Senator Eggleton referred to, I remember another one that really stands out, especially with people on disability pensions or those with mental health challenges. In Vancouver there was a place called Lookout. One key element they pointed out was management of money. With their limited funds, to be able to manage that properly in order to not go further into debt or financial trouble, as well as creating that sense of community. There are some good promising practices.
I am part of the sandwich generation where I have a teenage daughter and an aging mother. I was quite pleasantly surprised in my own community in Vancouver that the community health team that works with seniors brought over a pamphlet of many programs and services that we are eligible to access. I wonder if it is not so much a lack of programs, services or resources but rather also on the part of families and seniors themselves being able to access these programs by becoming educated or aware of these programs.
Mr. Cook: It is a maze. I think that the government programs are all siloed so one does not know what the other one is doing. It is very hard. We have offered seminars in my business to try to elucidate what issues are out there, but we get confused. If you do not like this program, wait until next week; there is another program, but no one seems to know who does or does not qualify, and it is tough.
Many government agencies are trying to organize them, but they change. Funding seems to come here and then disappear there, and before you know it, this one is working and that one is not working, so I know what you are saying. We get many calls where people say, "What do I do? My mother is 80 and I need help. Where do I go?" I do not know what the answer is. Trying to integrate everything seems to be a big problem.
Senator Martin: That is the key word I wanted to bring up, namely, the concept of an integrated system which we as a committee looked at during our study of the 2004 health accord. It seems to be a fairly integrated team, where the case managers are social workers, as well as the community nurse, as well as others that are able to give answers at one place rather than it being such a maze.
Do you think one of the solutions or recommendations would be to look at good integrated systems where these kinds of services can be coordinated and communication can be done for those who need it?
Mr. Cook: It seems to be coming. There are health care teams doing this, but it just seems like it is slowly getting off the ground. You do not even know it is there until you happen to stumble upon it. They are trying. I know there are aging at home and health care teams in Ontario, particularly, which seem to be taking off, but it is a slow process. There is confusion in the mind of the consumer, especially the adult children. It is just really hard.
Senator Martin: There is the phrase "it takes a whole village to raise a child," but I think it takes a whole village to care for a senior.
Mr. Cook: Maybe two villages.
Senator Martin: It is a cultural shift for many ethnic communities come to Canada with those values, and they are fairly self-sufficient where, as an extended family, they may take care of elders. Do you think that, as Canadians, that is one area that we could be talking more about and inspiring families to look at other models? It is done in my own ethnic community; I am Korean.
Mr. Cook: Different ethnic groups treat their seniors differently. Some are revered and some are shuttled off into a nursing home. I do not know how you can change all that. We find that a lot, and I do not know what to do about it. It is cultural. Maybe it is the second or third generation that will change.
Senator Martin: Regarding the elder abuse campaign launched by the federal government, the ads are very powerful. They get my attention every time. In terms of building on that, it is about being informed. There is a website. Would you speak about that campaign?
Mr. Cook: It is a good campaign, but if you are an isolated senior, you do not become aware of the issues. My business was a victim. They passed themselves off as employees of my business and got into the seniors' homes. Somehow they got phone numbers and identities, and they went and ripped them off. Will a 92-year-old sitting in her one-bedroom apartment be aware of this? I do not know how you do it, especially those seniors who are isolated and do not have family.
I think the program is fabulous, and it has to keep going.
Senator Callbeck: Thank you all for your presentations. It is great seeing an Islander sitting on the panel here.
Mr. Dolan, I very much agree with what you said about the tax credit being refundable. I have talked about this several times in the Senate because it does not make any sense to me whatsoever, that you get tax credits that lower income Canadians cannot take advantage of.
I want to ask you about a couple of programs that the federal government now has. You mentioned the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities. You said it should be expanded. Can you explain that fund, please?
Mr. Dolan: It is used primarily at the provincial level. It comes through HRSDC, but it is used for employment for persons with disabilities in the provinces. It does not have designations on it for results. The results are very weak in how they report back to the federal government. The reporting lines are very weak in the sense of how they have to account for it.
Senator Callbeck: I know you do not want it to be part of the labour market agreement. Is it now?
Mr. Dolan: It is not now.
Senator Callbeck: It is not?
Mr. Dolan: No.
Senator Callbeck: There is not much feedback on it.
Mr. Dolan: There is not much feedback. Of course, some of it is swallowed up in administration, rather than being used directly for the benefit of a person with disabilities in accessing employment. A lot of it is used up in administration within the provincial governments.
Senator Callbeck: The bottom line is there are not many dollars going to people with disabilities.
Mr. Dolan: It does not trickle down, and we do not get access to the fund to use it for real work and real jobs. To me, that is one of the great tragedies.
Senator Callbeck: Do you have any suggestions for the Registered Disability Saving Plan? Is that working well?
Mr. Dolan: Can you speak to that, Mr. Nikias?
Mr. Nikias: I think it is a great step forward because it does provide possibilities for improving financial security for many members of our community. Our national coordinator, Mr. Beachell, has been involved in discussions with officials about facilitating the opening of accounts by people who face particular challenges, and we have been working with the Canadian Association for Community Living in that respect.
Our understanding is that there has been work done by officials in the Department of Finance, and perhaps there could be some effort in that respect in the context of this budget.
Senator Callbeck: I notice that according to Statistics Canada, the number of people with disabilities has gone up. It showed about 4.4 Canadians report having a disability in 2006. It is an increase of 20 per cent since 2001. I know we have an aging population, but what else accounts for that?
Mr. Dolan: I think it is primarily the aging, and people are reporting it. That is one of the reasons we attribute it to.
We have come a long way. I would add to what you were saying about the opportunities fund and employment. We have come a long way in employment. We have come a long way in access. When you look around, there are a lot more wheelchair ramps and Braille. It comes back to the point I was making earlier. The physical access and the access to communication tools are less important now. It is the poverty that people with disabilities have a problem with. That is overwhelming. It is soul destroying. It is a bigger issue. Access to employment and a stable and substantial income are much more important.
Senator Callbeck: Ms. Blanchet-Cohen, you talked about the YouthScape, which is funded by the McConnell Family Foundation along with other partners. The grants are given to youth. How are the youth groups supported or supervised? How does it work?
Ms. Blanchet-Cohen: You raise a very important point in that it is not just a question of giving money to youth. We realize there are a series of conditions, and it was kind of a trial and error. There is a lack of experience of what it looks like giving money to youth. Even with bank accounts, usually you have to have parental approval, so how do you transfer money to youth?
We went through a whole process of supporting youth to make their applications and conceiving what their idea was — what they wanted to change in their communities — then giving them out the money in chunks and asking for accountability. Some of the organizations were fearful that people would just take the money and spend it on drugs or something. However, the amazing thing is that there was only one case out of the thousand grants given out where one youth disappeared with the money. It is a powerful lesson to say we need to trust our youth, but we also need to be equipped to support young people such that they can actually conceive and realize their ideas and leverage the impact. Youth are so used to going into a school system where they have little opportunity to critically think about the possibilities. This was really saying, "You know what? That comic is a great idea, but is there a way that we could actually distribute it across all the households in different reserves?"
There are a number of examples where adults played a really important part in leveraging the capacity of youth. That is a challenge, too. We need to train adults in that way. There are few adults trained that way. Part of the four- year journey was actually training adults to work in that way, and we need more adults to work that way. I believe youth grants have huge potential.
Senator Champagne: Mr. Cook, your anecdote about your aging mother reminded me of my mother-in-law. She was well into her 90s and insisted on living in her own apartment. She could manage, but we were all going crazy. We said, "Come and see; this is a nice place." She said, "I do not want to go there; it is full of old people."
You were saying that you have a company that looks after jobs for people over 50.
Mr. Cook: Yes.
Senator Champagne: You tell me where I can apply. In 16 months, they are throwing me out of there. I have only 16 months to go, so I am going back to school, and I want a job. Let me know where I can reach you.
You talked a lot about home care. When our medical people start with ambulatory medicine, they want the sick people to go home and find someone to look after them, come back for their treatment and go home. I know very much how that works. We have to keep in mind the spouse who may have to look after the person who is sick or, hopefully, recovering. Even if there are children, children have their own family and their own things.
In Quebec, we have spoken a lot recently about finding help for daily caregivers to give them a break for a day or two or a weekend once in a while. I think it goes under provincial responsibility and not federal.
Mr. Cook: Yes.
Senator Champagne: One thing I read recently — I would like to say it in French, if I may. It would help me.
Naturopaths tell us that retirement, often premature, results in physical and emotional upheaval that is so intense that people wind up with illnesses which, otherwise, would not have been present. So we find ourselves with sick people.
With respect to people who cannot go to work, we throw them out. We say, "You are too old; we need the space for young people who we will pay less." Emotionally and physically, they get sick, and they find themselves with all kinds of illnesses that they may not have had if they could have retired a little more slowly.
Home care is very important because people prefer to be sick in their homes instead of in a hospital, yet someone must look after them. That is the big problem with home care. Have the person at home, drive that person to the hospital, get your chemo, get your radiation treatment, come back home. Someone needs to be there to hold the bowl in case of nausea and so on. How long can someone do it every day of the week?
There are hospitals. I know it costs less money when they are at home, but there must be a way to find more help.
Mr. Cook: Although you did not ask me —
Senator Champagne: I was about to, I am sure.
Mr. Cook: In our Toronto office alone, we get 100 to 150 people a week, aged 50 plus, calling looking for work. As far as I know, we are the only employer that loves people 50, 60, or 70 years of age. Twenty-five per cent of our workers are over 70. Our oldest worker right now is 86. She has been with us for 20 years.
Senator Champagne: I will beat that record.
Mr. Cook: Okay. You have a while to go.
That is my first point. I had a second point somewhere.
We get so many calls about home care. I am in a growth industry. In 1985, I saw this market maturing. I thought, on one hand there are a bunch of junior seniors who are unemployable just because of their age. Why not match them up with senior seniors who are 80 plus? Away we went. Now we have eight offices, and we are a multimillion dollars business. I cannot understand why the government does not plow the money into home care. I go to these meetings, and all they muck about. I am talking about provincial meetings, not federal. It is obvious what you have to do, but it is not obvious to them. You are right with respect to home care: People do not want to go in with old people. Ninety year-olds say, "A bunch of old people? Forget it."
Senator Champagne: The federal government, of course, gives fortunes to the provinces and territories. We have just been studying the new accord that will start the in 2014, but regulating this, getting people for home care, is a provincial responsibility. One of the ways we could ensure this would be to put it into the contract when the money goes to the provinces and territories, to say that there must be money for that; otherwise, it will never be done. Instead of having people sitting in their beds in the hospital, you will have other people completely burnt out because they have been helping too much for weeks at a time.
I will apply; you let me know.
Mr. Cook: Okay. The qualifications are that you have to be over 50 and nice. We have one of those going.
Senator Demers: I will address this question to Mr. Cook, and I will be short because I know you will give me a true answer. Thank you for your great presentation. It shows, from disability to youth issues, how much trouble we have in our society.
Recently — maybe you were there, Mr. Cook — I spoke in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, at the association of seniors' homes. I do not know if you were there. There are a lot of people who own homes for seniors and actually exploit them. However, I want to make clear that there were a lot of good owners who care about the seniors. They got their money; they are in business, but they care about the seniors. Obviously, there are some others who kind of exploited them. Have you seen a change in that? Have you seen that yourself? More importantly, Mr. Cook, has there been improvement regarding that matter?
Mr. Cook: Yes. Some provinces have tightened up regulations. I think it is improving. Apparently, only eight per cent of people over 65 are in retirement nursing homes. Ninety-two per cent do stay at home.
Senator Cordy: Your presentations have been excellent. Having finished a report on poverty, we all identify with the comments you are making because the groups you are representing seemed to be those high on the list of people more likely to be living in poverty.
I would like to talk first about disabilities. The reasons for poverty are as varied as the people who live in poverty, but certainly those with disabilities were close to the top of the list, if not at the top. I know your feelings about keeping Old Age Security at 65; you have made that comment a couple of times, and I agree with it.
I would like to go the issue you raised about making EI sick leave 52 weeks.
A few years ago, Mark Eyking, an MP from Cape Breton, actually brought forward a private member's bill on that in the House of Commons, but it did not go anywhere. He brought it forward because his staff person had cancer and certainly was not ready to go back to work after I do not know what the time period is — fifteen weeks, I thought. She was not ready to go back at that time, so her family was suffering from financial hardships, as would people with cancer, accidents and a variety of things.
Have you brought forward that idea to anyone within the department, the minister or within the department federally, that the EI regulations regarding sick time be changed?
Mr. Dolan: We brought it forward to the Minister of HRSDC, under which EI falls. It especially impacts of course on someone who has an episodic disability. It might be an attack of multiple sclerosis where it is longer than the duration of the 15 weeks. They are not ready to go back to work, but yet they want to go back to work and need to go back to work, first of all for a stable income, but they are not quite ready to go back and they are working in a place without long-term disability programs.
Senator Cordy: We tend to think that everyone has long-term disability benefits in the workplace, but the reality is not a lot of places do.
I would like to talk about your comments also about labour force inclusion and participation, because a job is more than the money. It is your personal well-being, your dignity and all of those things. Others have mentioned that in their presentations.
How do you see this happening? Everyone seems to hate quotas, so how do you see legislation or regulations or whatever it happens to be to ensure that those with disabilities sort of get a leg up because it is not happening that they are being gainfully employed?
Mr. Dolan: I recently retired. I worked for the federal government for many years. I am not trying to personalize, but I worked in the area of outreach employment and recruitment, and I know it worked very well when we reached out to the community, reached out to persons with disabilities and the representative organizations, reached out and encouraged them, brought them in under student programs where we attracted young people who were in post- secondary education. We brought them in.
It is a terrible thing to say, but we had a chance to test them and they had a chance to test us as a place of employment. Living in a place like Prince Edward Island, one knows that federal employment is a very desirable employer. Federal employment is a very desirable thing. I do not like the word "quota" either. I do not like it because you could be the token member of that particular group.
Senator Cordy: Right, and that is a negative for everyone.
Mr. Dolan: It has a negative, yes. A person with disabilities, like anyone else, wants to do a good job. They want to be able to contribute. As I said earlier, and you mentioned it, it is more than the income; it is the desire to do something important with your life, the desire to be contributing, to be included.
So many times people are asked, "What do you do?" We define ourselves sometimes by that, "What do you do?" It is a great tragedy that we cannot bring more people into the workforce. Having stable employment — again, I do not want to personalize it — made my life an awful lot easier. My disability, why I am in a wheelchair, I experienced that recently after immigrating to this country in a totally different occupation. I came back into the federal government.
The fact that I do not walk made very little difference to me after I got employed. That was my biggest fear. I remember lying in a hospital bed thinking, "Oh, my God, what will I do with the rest of my life?" It was not that I was not going to walk again. It was "What am I going to do? How am I going to have a house, a home, a family?" Those things were more important. As you can see, I am very passionate about the value of employment.
Senator Cordy: Absolutely, and being in a wheelchair does not make you less smart, that is for sure.
There were ads a number of years ago that I thought were excellent about hiring people with disabilities.
Mr. Dolan: We did reach out. We did more several years ago than we are doing now.
Senator Cordy: My husband who is retired will tell you now people ask him, "What did you used to do?" so it does not ever stop.
I would like to go now to immigration, and again, new immigrants were at the top of the list when you talk about poverty. You talked about a number of things that should be happening, tax policy, you mentioned housing is needed, early learning and child care, the Court Challenges Program should be restored.
You also talked about a holistic approach because you cannot talk about bettering people by looking at things in isolation. Housing was something else you mentioned, you cannot look at one thing in isolation. Could you expand on that? You said we needed outcome measures and dialogue on social inclusion. Could you expand on that? I thought it was an excellent way to look at it.
Ms. Go: This committee is looking at the whole issue of social inclusion, which to me means how do you ensure people have a sense of belonging and feel they have equal access to opportunities like everyone else? Here we are today; we talk about disabilities, race, youth as if they are separate entities, but actually one person may embody a number of different sources of vulnerabilities or identities.
I guess as I age I will become an aged person perhaps with disability and who is also racialized and a woman, for instance.
Senator Cordy: However, not a youth.
Ms. Go: No. Holistic means part of it we will be able to address through a complex and integrated, intersectional approach.
I was reading a report or study that talks about social inclusion by Grace-Edward Galabuzi and some of the other academics. They are looking at it is not just about health or employment but you have to look at all these different domains because every aspect of our lives are affected in some way.
The measures that you will adopt will have to look at all these different parts of our lives, such as access to employment, access to health, transportation, how we participate in the political or economic process and, I would add, the legal process. It also has to be disaggregated in the sense that we need to know at the end of the day whatever policies you adopt will in fact make a difference in the lives of those who are identified as being most vulnerable, because if you do not disaggregate the data, you would not know.
For instance, if you come up with a policy, let us say you increase EI, I do not know, from 55 per cent of your wages to 60 per cent and you want to know how it will affect people, whether it makes their lives better or not, if you do not disaggregate the data, you will not know whether that change will affect people with disabilities more or whether it is benefiting aged persons or youth more. At the very beginning, when you start implementing these policies, you also collect the data on a disaggregated basis so you know by the end of the day whether it has worked or not.
For the longest time, we relied on a lot of census data which gives us a lot of good disaggregated data. However, because the government has dropped the mandatory long-form census, the short form does not actually collect information about disability or race. Five years from now, we will not know whether the figure around disability has increased more or has stayed the same because that information will no longer be collected.
I think it is very important that we have the data and we keep going at it on a disaggregated basis so we would know.
The Chair: Technically, I do not think the long form has been dropped; it is just no longer a criminal offence to not complete it. I understood it was going to be sent to a larger number of people. We will see whether it works out, but just on that technicality.
We will go now to Senator Dyck to be followed by Senator Seidman and then Senator Seth.
Senator Dyck: Thank you for your presentations. Listening to you, one could almost get depressed at the picture of the poverty and barriers that people face. So far you have given us some really good ideas and promising practices.
When you were talking, I could not help but reflect back to the Canadian Human Rights Act. For much of my life, I have focused on equity issues at the university, looking at things like the Federal Contractors Program for hiring the four designated groups defined by the Canadian Human Rights Act. There have not been any huge changes in the last 20 or 25 years.
As you said, we usually see this as a problem, for example, youth as a problem. However, maybe we should look at it as an opportunity. Are there programs in the provinces, or maybe even in other countries, that work to increase opportunities for seniors, visible minorities, youth or disabled with respect to overcoming the barriers in getting educated or getting a job? We know the numbers; we know there are problems. What can people concretely do if we had the money? As you suggested, Ms. Go, if we had that however many billions of dollars, what sort of programs could we come up with, such as federal partnerships with provincial or territorial foundations? What could we do?
Mr. Nikias: Perhaps on the issue of disability and labour market participation, I will make a couple of specific suggestions and then a more general comment.
My colleague talked about the federal government. A useful and specific initiative would be for the federal government to declare itself a model employer for persons with disabilities. That is very specific, and it would entail specific initiatives. I would ask you to strongly consider that.
With respect to broader labour market attachment, one of the important initiatives would be to engage in a discussion with the provinces to delink disability supports from social assistance. We have indications right now that 45 to 60 per cent of social assistance recipients are people with disabilities. Some of them are discouraged to try to look for work because if they were successful, they would probably lose some of the benefits they receive while being on assistance. That is a disincentive. Delinking social assistance, the income aspect, with other benefits would be a great initiative.
We have actually worked on that as a country in the past. There is a report called IN UNISON: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues, which was an interjurisdictional agreement signed by First Ministers. Unfortunately, we have not moved on its specific findings and recommendations. It would be a good report for you to find and look at.
Finally, all these things can come together if we move to create a comprehensive implementation for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which we only ratified two years ago. It is a document that Canada provided leadership in developing. That, together with the IN UNISON report, could provide a great blueprint for disability action in Canada.
Ms. Blanchet-Cohen: That is a great question. I think there are some wonderful, great organizations. You could look at each province and see some interesting youth organizations. For example, in Vancouver there is the Environmental Youth Alliance; in Montreal there is Apathy Is Boring; in Halifax there are other youth organizations. There are some interesting initiatives; however, I think these organizations are quite small.
When we undertook the YouthScape initiative, we did a call for proposals. There were not that many to choose from, and we actually chose to work with some mainstream organizations. I think that is also a question, namely how to work with bigger organizations. Yes, support youth-led organizations, but also transform the bigger organizations that support a lot of youth work. That is important to consider.
In terms of best practices — and I cannot come up with an example right now — I think we also need to explore opportunities to work in partnership with the private sector because there are opportunities for them to also engage and employ youth in meaningful ways. It is a long-term investment for them. We started some of those dialogues, and looking at those models elsewhere is a promising practice.
The Chair: Ms. Go, would you like to comment on this?
Ms. Go: The way I look at it, sometimes we may not need to look elsewhere. There are things we have done in the past or we have within the federal or provincial jurisdiction, things that are already in place that perhaps need to be tinkered or improved on in order to truly benefit as many people as possible.
When it comes to employment as an example, every year you read in The Globe and Mail that they will list the best diversity employers of the year or the top 500 employers, for example. If you read the list, a great proportion, I would say over 90 per cent of those employers that are identified as having the most diverse workforce with good representation of women, people with disabilities, people from racialized groups, Aboriginal groups and so on, are mostly all federally regulated. That is because they are subject to contract compliance under the federal Employment Equity Act, which is not about quota per se; it is about setting goals and time tables and encouraging employers to hire so that the workforce is representative of the population within the location of the corporation.
We do have these mechanisms. However, sometimes, for instance with the federal Employment Equity Act, there is not a lot of auditing being done, so we do not know how effective it can be. Maybe there could be more regular audits so that employers know that they have to follow it and be contract compliant.
Mr. Dolan referred to this as well, namely that for all the agreements you have with the provinces, provincial governments do not necessarily have an employment equity act. In fact, the vast majority of workplaces are regulated provincially as opposed to federally. The reach of the federal Employment Equity Act does not extend to the provincial level where employment equity is needed.
In situations where there are joint investments or agreements with the provinces, I would suggest you tack on that requirement that the provinces should also apply the employment equity principle to the jobs that are created as a result of those investments. I think that would be a good way of improving access to employment by the various racialized and marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities or women, et cetera.
Senator Seidman: Thank you very much for your presentations. Although you have been reluctant at the outset to answer Senator Eggleton's question on best practices, I think in many respects you have put forward a lot of good ideas.
I would like to focus on one aspect in particular, and that is engagement. I think that, Mr. Cook, certainly you in your organization — which, by the way, you call a "non-medical home care organization," which I believe is important because home care is about more than medical services.
Ms. Blanchet-Cohen, you have your program that you brought to us, the YouthScape program. Listening to you, I feel that you are both successful in these programs, and you have managed to engage the very people who are isolated and who are excluded.
If you could, perhaps, describe for us, in a concrete way, not theoretically, some aspect of your program and how you have managed to engage these people.
Ms. Blanchet-Cohen: I think that is a good comment that engagement sustains the promising practices.
I think engagement is a shift and a different way of working with youth because we often see youth as being a problem that you need to fix, especially marginalized youth, as being victims. However, when you take the view that youth have views — they have gone through these experiences; they have been on the streets; adults cannot speak on their behalf — you are taking on more of an engagement approach. It is a paradigm shift because we are not used to working with youth that way.
Youth really understand engagement. I think that is the powerful thing, namely, you will never be let down if you adopt an engagement and participatory approach.
One example that stands out for me was a young lady in Saskatoon. The youth workers were kind of discouraged with these people who were not coming on time. They were kids on the street who were in a youth unemployment program. I was sitting at a staff meeting and this young Aboriginal lady who had her own life story seemed not to be listening to the discussion, and, all of a sudden, she stands up and says, "You know, why do you not focus on what is positive? Why do you not focus on all of the skills that these kids have? These kids have gone on the streets. They have math skills. They know how to manipulate and negotiate. Why do you not turn that into a positive?" That is how you will actually engage them and have them come on time and participate. I think engagement is a way of switching on as opposed to locking kids up. Locking kids up is really more about switching them off. Engagement, I think, is the way that we should approach all of our work, whether we are working at the front line or at the policy level.
Mr. Cook: In terms of engagement in concrete terms, we employ about 1,000 junior seniors, some of whom worked for Bell Canada for 42 years, retired and wanted something to do. There are engineers and chartered accountants — I am a chartered accountant. They are from different walks of life. They are at home. They are bored to tears. They want something to do. They like meeting new people. Unfortunately, some of them need the money to pay the rent and they are 72, so that is not too good. We employ them and keep them busy. Some people make $30,000 or $40,000 a year with us. The average is probably about $10,000 a year. When you are 75, 74, 68, 62, 58 — the first coordinator I hired 27 years ago, I denied the laws. It was illegal. I said, "How old are you?" She says, "I am 58." I said, "Perfect, come in and I will interview you." She came in and I hired her. Three months later she said, "Remember you said 'perfect' when I said 58?" She said she fell off her stool because she had been denied because of her age. We are doing something concrete, and I want to expand and employ more people. It is a win-win-win. Junior seniors have something to do, the senior seniors are looked after and in the middle is our business.
Senator Seidman: If I could follow-up with you, Mr. Cook. I would like to know how you get these fifty-somethings interested.
Mr. Cook: They call.
Senator Seidman: They call you?
Mr. Cook: Yes. We have been around for a long time. As I said earlier, we get 100 calls a week at our Toronto office alone from people over 50 looking for work. We cannot use them all, which is a shame.
Senator Seidman: You have people in the community. Do you match them up? How does that work?
Mr. Cook: Yes, we establish a dossier on the care receiver and match them up with the caregiver. Some will drive, some will home clean and some will live in. We make that match. We had one woman from Ireland who lived 10 miles away and was 20 years apart, and the caregiver and the care receiver were from the same part of Ireland. They hit it up gangbusters. In the end the daughter said, "I am not sure if she is looking after my mother, or if my mother is looking after her."
Senator Seidman: You are a private corporation.
Mr. Cook: Yes.
Senator Seidman: You are financed by the money that people pay you.
Mr. Cook: That is right, and all the workers are our employees.
Senator Seidman: It is for these activities?
Mr. Cook: That is right.
Senator Seidman: It is self-sustaining in that way.
Mr. Cook: Yes.
Senator Seidman: That is a fine example of a private corporation satisfying a public need.
Mr. Cook: That is right.
Senator Seidman: Thank you.
Senator Seth: It was interesting to hear from the aging population, visible minority, the youth, et cetera.
I have been a physician and I have seen this in a daily routine for seniors, disabilities, youth, et cetera. We go through all of that every day. It was well presented.
With regard to disabilities, it is very close to my heart, and I do a lot of fundraising, whether it is mental, physical or vision disabilities.
Statistics Canada reports that there has been a changing attitude toward people with disabilities in Canadian society. This has been a factor in more people reporting their disabilities. Does it match with your observations? Have changing attitudes made it easier for people with a disability to participate in Canadian society?
Since evidence indicates that persons with disability are overrepresented among victims of crimes, to what extent might personal safety inhibit disabled persons from greater participation in the communities where they live? Do you have any suggestions that might help to make Canadian cities safer for Canadians with disabilities?
Mr. Nikias: With respect to the first question, it is important for all of us — you as government representatives and as representatives of the Canadian Parliament, and we as people with disabilities and members of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities — to acknowledge that we have made a great deal of progress in Canada. We have made a great deal of progress working together, especially over the last 30 years.
One of the things that has happened during that time is that by enshrining protection and equality for persons with disabilities in the Canadian Constitution — and we mark 30 years this year, on April 17 — we have changed the attitude. We have made progress. We have had a paradigm shift, and it is more a human rights issue than before, so we have made changes.
We recorded those accomplishments in Canada. Recently, we put the words of persons with disabilities into an anthology, which records the steps that we have made. You can find it at www.ccdonline.ca. You can read there in the voices of persons with disabilities about the progress we have made.
Mr. Dolan: To reiterate, we have made great progress. People will more readily identify their disability. We have made progress in employment, too. We have certainly made progress in access issues.
You asked if people identify with disability. There is still some reluctance among people with hidden disabilities like epilepsy and mental health disabilities. There is still a misconception around epilepsy. There are huge misconceptions around mental health issues. There is still a reluctance for person with those types of disabilities to identify because it is not as visible as the disabilities of Mr. Nikias and myself. I cannot deny that, and I self-identify, of course.
On the issue of violence against persons with disabilities, that tends to be more of an issue for persons with fairly severe disabilities, where they feel vulnerable in society. They feel vulnerable in the sense that they cannot get away from it if they are being made an object of violence. For women, especially, there have been reported cases of people who feel a sense of vulnerability. Where I live, in Prince Edward Island, it is not an issue, but in some larger cities people with disabilities do feel a sense of vulnerability and of being the object of attack.
Senator Seth: What protection or changes could be made to make it better? That is my question.
Mr. Dolan: I do not have an answer except for people to become aware of their situation and not to place themselves in situations of danger.
Senator Seth: I know we have gone quite far. As far as I know, people with disabilities were called crippled before. This word is gone and has been changed to "disability." When I do fundraising, I see more ability in disabled people, which makes me feel great. Why can we not do with everything what they can do with disabilities? There has been quite a change over the last 15 years.
Mr. Dolan: As well, we have come away from the medical model of disability, where we were seen as objects of pity and charity. Disability is now a human rights issue; it is an access issue. With section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, back in 1982, and being included, we see ourselves as having a right to equality of citizenship, rather than the Oliver Twist model of "Please, sir, can I have some charity?" We were objects of begging and would get the crumbs from the table.
Senator Seth: Those things certainly do not exist. People give to charity to make a better life, not begging. Certainly, I do see the changes.
Mr. Nikias: There is a very specific, hopeful sign, a positive sign. The Supreme Court of Canada, approximately a month ago, issued the R. v. D.A.I. decision in which they basically indicated that the evidence of people with disabilities — and this was a very particular case having to do with the ability to explain what the truth is — had to be assessed. It is an involved decision, but the basic point is that the testimony of people with disabilities has to be assessed, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, and not dismissed. I think this is a step forward, a positive sign. In some ways, it will contribute to a safer society, in the long run, for people with disabilities.
Senator Seth: Thank you.
Senator Merchant: I want to thank each of you for your informed presentations to us. I would be remiss if I did not say a special hello to Mr. Nikias, my compatriot. I know you work very hard, and I am very happy to see that you are very hopeful. I have some questions, and maybe Ms. Go is the person to ask.
I was a founding member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in 1996. Their 2010-11 annual report states that: "There is a glimmer of hope that we are making serious progress towards a strengthened social harmony and belonging." At the same time, they reported that two in three Canadians agree that visible minorities and whites are treated equally in the workplace, that one in three Canadians claimed that they had witnessed a racist incident in the past year, and that Canadians were equally divided over whether or not racism was on the rise in Canada.
Do you agree with their assessment that there is strengthened, serious progress toward eliminating racism? In light of that, how do you feel about what the report says about how much Canadians know about discrimination, racism, and racialized behaviour?
Ms. Go: There are so many ways to answer that question, so I do not even know where to begin.
One comment I would start with is that I think that a lost Canadians are not too well informed about the present and the past. I have been involved for 20 years, or something like that, with the redress for the Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act. When the Prime Minister apologized on June 22, 2006, there was a study, right around that time, by the Dominion Institute, about how well Canadians are informed of their history. About 80 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 25 failed the history exam. Only about 30 per cent of them knew about the head tax, as a result of the work done by the community groups pushing for it.
That partly informs where we are today because I think a lot of Canadians do not know much about the past. Because of that, they do not know where we are today.
I am not here to say that we are a racist society or that we harbour some kind of conscious racism, targeting anyone in particular. As I said at the beginning, I think racism today takes a lot more subtle form because it is no longer okay. Due to the Human Rights Act and the Charter, it is no longer okay for us to make openly racist comments; it is no longer okay for the government to pass laws that are clearly racist. Thanks to programs such as the Court Challenges Program, people are able to take the government to court to challenge them when they come up with policies or laws that may have negative impacts on some of these groups, such as people with disabilities.
These things are a result of people fighting for them. It is not something that was handed to us. People have been fighting over time, using the tools that we have, including the Charter and the Human Rights Act, in order to make the difference.
I think we have made a difference because of programs like that. However, we no longer have the Court Challenges Program. Whether that will make a dent in the progress, I do not know. I try to be hopeful because there are groups all around the table, and senators like yourself, who are clearly interested in these issues. I am sure progress will continue to be made, but sometimes I feel that, for every step forward, we are taking a step backward. Statistics do show that there are discrepancies and disparities. There are still hate crimes, and more than 50 per cent of the hate crimes are still targeting people of colour. We cannot deny these statistics as well.
I guess my answer will be that there is progress, but we need to ensure that the progress will continue. We have to be vigilant; we cannot just sit back and assume that things will happen. We are here today because of things that have been done in the past by people who fought for them.
Senator Merchant: Each of you, in your own way, have pointed out to us that we are part of the government. All of you have said that you want to be engaged politically.
We have lower and lower turnouts in our elections. How can we help people with disabilities, youth, who seem to be a little disengaged, and seniors, who sometimes find it difficult to get out? In order to see change, each and every one of us has to be involved in the political process. We are reminded every day that the government is where it is today because people voted for it, and I agree with that. However, how can we get all of the people who were not involved to become involved? What can we do, as people who are involved in government, to help you to shape the kind of Canada that you want?
Mr. Dolan: Elections Canada is working with us right now. We have, over the years, had some issues around accessible voting. That is coming to a resolution. We are working actively with Elections Canada to make some changes. I would like to talk about change. Ms. Go mentioned about the reason that things have changed positively.
Unfortunately in society, as we know, change never happens that easily; it is always the people who are affected, are most disenfranchised speaking out and saying, "We want to speak for ourselves and our own organizations represent ourselves."
Senator Callbeck, many years ago in P.E.I. back in the early 1970s when it was not even popular, you were a minister for social services at the time and helped get the P.E.I. Council started. We were always grateful for that. You wanted to ensure there were voices of the people to speak for themselves.
The process of change, as a sideline, change never happens in society. Since I have come to Canada, I have heard about the women's right to vote, and it was not in that august institution across the street on the Hill. It was not men standing up in Parliament saying, "Dammit, this is wrong; women should have the right to vote. Women are persons too." No, it was women who said, "No, dammit, we want to vote. We have the right to vote. We are people in this country too."
It is usually people who are disenfranchised and left on the outside saying, "No, we want in as well; we want to be part of this country. We want the equality of citizenship."
The Chair: If any of you have further thoughts on this particular issue, I would like you to respond in writing. I have some questions and Senator Eggleton has a final question. I want to get all the questions on the record so we can actually get the answers. If you would think of this issue of participation with regard to your respective groups and have further thoughts on it, please follow up and the clerk will follow up with you on that.
I would like to touch on three things that have arisen today. First, Mr. Cook, it seems to me that in describing how your business operates, you have actually described a best practice with regard to the interface of two or three important social issues surrounding seniors. I know we have some information on how you operate your business, and I realize that business is competitive and there are trade secrets, et cetera, et cetera; but I am wondering if I could ask you to follow up and perhaps provide us with a summary or refer us to a specific web page where you already have a summary of your business model in terms of how you interface those who wish and are capable of working as they reach a certain stage and then interfacing that group with those who need to receive assistance. I will put that to you as a question if you could please follow up.
Second, the issue of senior housing, we have heard as individuals in our regular lives the idea of seniors housing being referred to as warehousing on the one side and the idea of entertainment within them and the opportunities for social and other engagement as being almost child-like in terms of the approach of many managers.
Yet I am sure there are clear examples that could be identified as best practices or best examples of how those environments actually are attractive as opposed to the idea that one, regardless of age, would not want to live in these because that is where a certain stereotype lives and there are actually situations that are attractive in terms of integrating seniors into an active lifestyle involving a number of people. We spend enormous amounts of time ensuring the school system will engage all characteristics of youth; we should have some similar focus with regard to ensuring that senior housing is attractive. I would ask you to follow up in that regard.
To all four groups, I would like to follow up on the conversation started by Senator Martin with regard to her observation about her own personal experience where she seemed to imply that she had encountered information that she indicated surprised her in terms of the amount of information available. This gets back to the whole idea of one- stop shopping we hear so much about in the business sense, that businesses want to be able to go to a single site to get information on all government programs or regulations that might apply to their businesses.
I am sure there must be examples, we have heard of possibly one in Vancouver, in each of your areas of engagement where you have seen examples of one-stop shopping, where you can call a single location and they are capable of referring you quickly with regard to a broad range of reasons the individual might have been calling that system. I am not referring to the typical call centre where you call the first number and an hour and a half later you are on the fifteenth division of that operation and you still do not have an answer to the question you asked at the outset. I am talking real responses like Senator Martin implied in terms of her situation. Could you think about that and give us examples of best practice situations in each case? It would be enormously helpful to us.
Now I will go to Senator Eggleton so he could at least get his question on the table and possibly part of the answer.
Senator Eggleton: Or in writing. You will be doing a little bit of writing to answer this one. One is a general question for all of you and then a very specific one for Ms. Go.
EKOS came out with a poll today, and they say the number one issue for Canadians now is income inequality. I would like to hear what you have to say about income inequality and how you think that affects social cohesion, particularly in our big cities where it perhaps plays out a little more because of the close proximity that so many people find themselves in. That is the general question.
Specifically to Ms. Go, you mentioned in your submission the Poverty by Postal Code done by the United Way of Greater Toronto that identified 13 specific low-income neighbourhoods that are particularly challenged with poverty issues and a variety of other issues you have talked about as well. They also came out with a report last year with respect to poverty in high-rise where people are massing more into high-rise.
On top of that, Professor Hulchanski at the University of Toronto came out with The Three Cities Within Toronto. There is a city for those that are fairly well off; moving low-income out to the Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York areas; and the middle class diminishing greatly. Back in the 1970s, the middle class was 66 per cent of the population; today it is 29 per cent. Here we have a polarization going on.
Back in the days I was mayor, we used to talk about having enclaves, but I wonder, are we now at risk of these enclaves becoming ghettos, and are we at risk of social unrest? We do not like to think about what is happening in some parts of Europe as ever coming here, but there are things happening in our big cities now that are disturbing.
If you could comment on that situation as well, and I think we have just about run out of time, so I think you will have to do it in writing on both income inequality and this whole question.
The Chair: Ms. Go, perhaps you can give a start to the answer and then follow up. Then I will ask each of you to follow up with regard to Senator Eggleton's first question, and the clerk will be in contact with you so you do not have to have remembered every aspect of his question.
Ms. Go: My point is we do not want social unrest. We do not want to reach that stage. I think that is why we need the conversation starting now to address income inequalities and other forms of inequalities that are embodied in the speeches you are hearing today. To get there, we need to start looking at the issue of social exclusion on all the issues we are talking about. Otherwise, we will get to the stage where there will be social unrest.
The Chair: Thank you all very much. Again, I want to thank my colleagues for their efficiency of questioning in this area where each issue could in fact involve a very large dialogue at any given time. We have managed to cover a range of issues, and in addition to the specific questions I have put to you and asked you specifically to respond to subsequently, if there are other matters that have arisen during the course of this discussion that you have reflected on and could provide us with additional thoughts, examples and best practices, there is nothing like a good example to help us formulate recommendations in moving forward.
On behalf of the entire committee, I want to thank you all for coming today and the way in which you have provided your experiences, knowledge and advice to us with regard to this very important issue. Thank you very much.
I hereby declare the meeting adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)