The Liberal government is rejecting a key Senate amendment to its disability legislation that aimed to ensure the new federal benefit won’t cause provinces or insurance companies to claw back existing support payments.
Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, is legislation that sets the stage for a long-promised new income-support program for Canadians with disabilities.
The Senate reviewed the bill and sent it back to the House late last month with six amendments, but the government did not immediately react to the proposed changes.
Carla Qualtrough, the Minister of Employment, work force Development and Disability Inclusion, announced the decision Wednesday evening in the House of Commons.
The minister said the government accepts five of the Senate’s six amendments, but not the one stipulating that the new program can’t lead to the clawing back of other benefits.
“Simply put, the government disagrees with this amendment because we believe it raises significant constitutional concerns,” Ms. Qualtrough said, adding that the regulation of private insurance is generally a provincial matter.
“If we went ahead with this amendment, the likelihood of an individual or organization bringing forward a court challenge would be very high,” she said. “This could very well delay benefit payments. Furthermore, I’m concerned that there would be serious implications for federal-provincial-territorial relations. It’s likely that the provinces and territories would see this provision as an encroachment on their jurisdiction. This could undermine the work that we’ve accomplished today.”
The legislation was first tabled nearly two years ago in the previous Parliament. It died when the 2021 election was called and was reintroduced last June.
The Senate amendments that the government did accept relate to clearer wording on appeals, new language about the cost of living and updated language on implementation timelines.
Non-affiliated Senator Marilou McPhedran and Independent Senators Group Senator Kim Pate issued a joint statement Wednesday expressing dismay at the government’s decision.
“The government is effectively removing one of the strongest safeguards introduced by the Senate that was intended to protect benefit recipients and lift them out of poverty,” they wrote. “Without the Senate safeguard amendment, Bill C-22 leaves the door open for private insurance companies to clawback the Canada Disability Benefit from people with disabilities receiving long term disability benefits.”
The senators said the amendment has received strong support from legal experts.
“The government position does not hold water,” they wrote, stating that no provincial government or private insurance company has publicly objected to the amendment.
“Despite our grave reservations over the rejection of this amendment, we will vote to pass this legislation, as the disability benefit is long overdue and desperately needed. Time will tell how this private insurance loophole may be exploited,” they said.
The government’s decision on the amendments was scheduled to be approved by the House of Commons by the end of the day Wednesday. The bill will then go back to the Senate for a final sign-off.
The bill leaves key details of the benefit – such as the size of payments and eligibility – to be decided later by cabinet through regulations.