Making disabilities a federal election issue

The Waterloo Chronicle, Wednesday, September, 02, 2015 – 9:09:58 AM

By James Jackson
Chronicle Staff

For Jason Tomesch, the talk surrounding the upcoming federal election has been sorely lacking one key discussion — improving the lives of the millions of Canadians who live with one or more disability every day.

Tomesch knows the struggle first-hand. The 22-year-old Waterloo resident is confined to a wheelchair due to Muscular Dystrophy, a neuromuscular disorder that causes his muscles to deteriorate.

“I’ve hardly seen disabilities being discussed in any of the federal debates or by any of the parties,” said Tomesch in an email to the ChronicleMonday. The election is set for Oct. 19, and more than four million Canadians live with a disability.

Tomesch has had two brushes with death due to his condition, most recently in 2012 when food became lodged in his lungs, leading to aspirational pneumonia. He was rushed to Grand River Hospital but his parents were told he had 24 hours to live. He spent five months recovering in the intensive care unit.

He’s calling on all parties to support the creation of a federal Canadians with Disabilities Act. The act is being promoted by the volunteer group Barrier-free Canada.

It is also being supported by disability organizations such as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and aims to “effectively ensure to all persons with disabilities in Canada the equal opportunity to fully and meaningfully participate in all aspects of life in Canada based on their individual merit.”

The United States adopted an Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years ago, but Canada has no such wide-ranging and comprehensive legislation to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Tomesch said the creation of a federal disabilities act would help people living with disabilities more easily navigate their communities by removing barriers from their lives. That includes physical, legal, bureaucratic, information, communication, attitudinal and technological barriers, and it would supersede all other legislation, regulations or policies that provide lesser protections and entitlements to persons with disabilities.

More information is available on their website, barrierfreecanada.org.

“Despite the barriers I face, I am a person with a disability, not a disabled person,” said Tomesch.

The Chronicle reached out to the four federal election candidates in the Waterloo riding to ask their thoughts on the act and whether or not their party would help implement it if elected.

Peter Braid, Conservative Party

“It is clear that more needs to be done to support Canadians with disabilities. I support a study of this proposed legislation in the next Parliament, to hear from all stakeholders on this important issue, and to thoughtfully consider its merits.”

He noted the Conservative Government has demonstrated a strong commitment to helping Canadians with disabilities, including the creation of the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) to help people with disabilities and their families save for the future and has taken steps to enhance skills training opportunities for Canadians with disabilities by transferring $222 million to provinces and territories through Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities.

Diane Freeman, NDP

“Canada has made a UN commitment to help persons with disabilities participate fully. Canadians with disabilities often face poverty and get less support than in other OECD countries. And instead of lifting barriers, the Conservatives added a new one by cancelling home mail delivery.”

She said Tom Mulcair and the NDP will live up to Canada’s UN commitments and take real action on issues like housing, poverty and labour market participation.

“Our plan will also address training and assistance devices, affordable housing, transportation, and increasing income security to help individuals reach their full potential.”

Bardish Chagger, Liberal Party

“Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada have pledged to fully implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and take substantive action to address the barriers faced by Canadians with disabilities.”

Four years after ratifying this convention, the Conservative government has yet to implement it, she said. “We need to translate words into action.”

Chagger said her party has a strong record of supporting Canadians with disabilities, and “it was a Liberal government that invested in employment and income supports for Canadians with disabilities, broadened eligibility for the Disability Tax Credit, and expanded the list of disability supports allowable under the Disability Supports Deduction.”

Richard Walsh, Green Party

“The Green Party believes in the principle of full inclusion in society. This should be a right enjoyed by all Canadians, not merely a privilege. Consequently, we Greens support a Canada Disabilities Act to encompass the entire nation … Green MPs will introduce a Canada Disabilities Act in the next Parliament, which I would fully support.”

Walsh said the Green Party proposes Canada should implement a Guaranteed Livable Income, and the government should invest more funding in social housing.

“Canadian physicians know that research shows that economic and social conditions directly affect health as well as illness and disease.

“The Green Party also recognizes this reality and shapes its policies accordingly.”

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