Liberal MPs call on finance minister to fund disability benefit in upcoming budget

Liberal MPs call on finance minister to fund disability benefit in upcoming budget © Provided by The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Dozens of Liberal members of Parliament are calling on the finance minister to set aside money for the Canada Disability Benefit in next month’s federal budget.

In a letter shared on social media, MP Pam Damoff says the benefit, which is designed to help keep people with disabilities out of poverty, is a “legacy social policy” for the government.

Damoff wrote the letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on March 15.

“I think it’s time now we finish what we started and do it in a meaningful way for Canadians,” Damoff said.

The Liberals pledged to create a monthly disability benefit program in 2020, saying it was intended to close a gap for working-age people with disabilities.

The Canada Disability Benefit Act became law last summer, and the government has been doing consultations for months. The law itself contains no details about who will be eligible, how much it will pay out or when the funding will begin.

Finance officials said it is not intended to be a replacement for provincial and territorial benefits, but rather an addition to the existing programs.

MP Ryan Turnbull made Damoff’s letter public over the weekend, saying people with disabilities have “waited long enough” for the support.

“We know this is a priority for our government, but we also know that this is competing with other priorities and we’re saying that this should be a priority right now,” Turnbull said in an interview.

The Liberal caucus has been publicly divided on some significant issues in recent months as their government’s popularity plummets and many face serious risk of losing the next election.

Newfoundland MP Ken McDonald made headlines ahead of a caucus retreat in January when he suggested in an interview that the party was due for a leadership review. McDonald later walked back his comments.

More recently caucus members have been divided over the highly emotional issue of Israel and the war in Gaza.

A non-binding NDP motion that was debated in the House of Commons last week called on the government to recognize Palestinian statehood and call for a ceasefire. After hours of debate, the motion was significantly amended, but three Liberal MPs voted against it. Anthony Housefather has said he is considering his future in the party as a result.

Braeden Caley, a strategist and executive director of the think tank Canada 2020, said in this case it’s a healthy sign that backbenchers are pressuring the government.

“It’s not uncommon for MPs to take on public advocacy ahead of a budget, on top of all the cajoling and angling for ideas that takes place behind the scenes,” he said.

Damoff said this isn’t the first time she’s spearheaded a letter to press the government, and said “it’s coming from a place of supporting our government and making sure that we follow through with the funding.”

“Don’t read too much into it,” she said.

Damoff only made the letter public after Turnbull did.

Kamal Khera, minister of diversity, inclusion and persons with disabilities, said in a statement she’s very glad to see her colleagues support funding the benefit but gave no information about when it will roll out.

“We are now drafting the upcoming regulations and working to get the benefit out to Canadians with disabilities as quickly as we can,” the statement said.

Damoff’s letter said the measure is supported by all parties as well as a majority of Canadians. Turnbull said more than 60 caucus colleagues had signed on publicly by Monday afternoon. That represents more than a third of the Liberal caucus.

March of Dimes Canada, one of the advocacy groups that has been involved in consultations on the program, is also calling for the government to fund the benefit in this year’s budget. In a pre-budget statement, March of Dimes said payments need to begin no later than next January.

The organization noted the importance of setting it up as a supplemental income benefit similar to the Canada Child Benefit so that other funding isn’t clawed back.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is set to introduce the budget on April 16. In a statement, a spokesperson for her office said they could not share details about what will be in the budget.

“Our economic plan is about building more homes, faster, making life more affordable, and creating more good jobs,” said Katherine Cuplinskas.

Source: Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press