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October 8, 2015

All-Party Forum

It takes courage, commitment and intelligence to run for political office, but it's safe to say that none of the candidates at last night's All-Party Forum on Disability and Accessibility showed more than a superficial awareness of issues facing people with disabilities. How the candidates and parties approach disability will not help you decide your vote.

As promised by organizers, seven topics were up for discussion, with statements of position and time for rebuttal:
  • Establish a Canadian Disabilities Act
  • A national accessible Housing strategy
  • Establishment of a refundable Disability Tax Credit
  • Poverty Elimination and Anti-poverty Strategies
  • Party's record of offering Candidates with Disabilities
    • (I'd rather hear about their record of employing of people with disabilities.  How many MPs have a deaf assistant of any kind?)
  • Commitment to Sign and Ratify the UN Treaty Optional Protocol
  • Assisted dying for those living with disabilities
    • (Not a good juxtaposition of ideas)
followed by generous time for audience questions.

Between 50 and 100 were in the audience.  Five parties were represented on the panel.  Each of the candidates provided some variation of "I feel your pain, 
  • my mother used a wheelchair."
  • my son has a learning disability."
  • I spent a month in rehab with my new hip."
without even the slightest appreciation of how condescending that is.

To be fair, there were hints that new ideas are penetrating the political mind.  I heard references to "civil rights", "discrimination" and "equal  opportunity", but few new solutions were put forward.  

Some noteworthy positions:
  • The Marxist-Leninist candidate clearly did not understand that a refundable tax credit is a form of guaranteed income.  He also used the word "handicapped", which is not a crime, but firmly places him in the time of Karl Marx.
  • The Conservative candidate expected us to believe his party will push for the adoption of the optional protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, even though the party has avoided the issue for over five years. Oddly enough, he did not appreciate the irony of promoting an Ayn Rand vision of self reliance while people with disabilities are purposefully excluded from opportunity.
  • The Liberal candidate correctly noted that Charter guarantees arrived on their watch.
  • All candidates showed some confusion about illness and disability, barriers and limitations, inclusion and opportunity.  
The highlight of the evening came in the form of a question from a young wheelchair user named Victoria, who raised the issue of work disincentives in the form of Pharmacare restrictions and 'clawbacks'.  Victoria's articulate question received predictable answers, but it was clear that candidates were beginning to understand that excluding Victoria from the workforce has wide consequence.

Good policy should pass the test of utility for all Canadians.  Voters need to determine whether party platforms meet this requirement.  In terms of topics discussed at the Forum, voters must decide their preferences:
  • A refundable tax credit in the form of a guaranteed income for all could go a long way toward poverty reduction
  • A Canadians with Disabilities Act in the form of a civil rights document could assure equal opportunity for all Canadians.  Properly crafted, it might also act as the vessel containing the requirements of the Optional Protocol.
  • Any housing strategy should account for accessibility and aging-in-place
  • Universal Pharmacare will certainly remove an arbitrary hurdle to employment.
The lasting message of the evening is that the concerns of people with disabilities are only incidental to party platforms.  Parties need to address these concerns through fairness and opportunity, not segregation and handouts.

Many thanks to organizers for a thought-provoking session.

And whatever you do, don't forget to vote!

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