I believe the Harper Government is hands down the most effective Federal champion people with disabilities and their families have ever had.
The March11th ratification by Canada of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a significant addition to the unprecedented commitment of Prime Minister Harper and his Cabinet. http://www.international.gc.ca/media/aff/news-communiques/2010/99.aspx . First, hearty congratulations to the Hon. Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and to the pivotal role played by so many advocates particularly the Canadian Council on Disabilities http://www.ccdonline.ca/en/press/ and the Canadian Association for Community Living ( CACL) http://www.cacl.ca/english/index.asp . This ratification represents a marvelous collaboration of advocates, politicians and public servants. A classic case study on effective change making.
Credit where credit is due. The Harper Government's commitments are impressive: establishment of the world's first Registered Disability Savings Plan www.plan.ca ; creation and ongoing financial support for the Mental Health Commission of Canada http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca ; major commitment to Spinal Cord Research through Rick Hansen's Foundation; extension of the Child Fitness tax credit to age 18 for youth with disabilities; establishment of the Enabling Accessibility Fund for community centres across Canada; enhanced tax credits for workers with disabilities; support for the 2010 Paralympics and continuing financial commitment to the Canadian Paralympic Committee; and now the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Some of these are small but long overdue changes. Others are transformational like the RDSP www.rdsp.com which directly addresses the poverty experienced by hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities in Canada. The RDSP along with the UN Convention also illustrates Canada's global leadership on removing barriers and securing the full inclusion of people with disabilities.
Can anyone think of another Federal Government which has advanced the
disability agenda so far? I can't. And with so many Cabinet
champions. I can recall years of door knocking in Ottawa
simply to get the attention of a Policy Adviser to one Cabinet
Minister. Today, I count 5 disability champions around the Cabinet table, six if
you include the Prime Minister. The lead seems to be Finance Minister Jim
Flaherty whose budgets continue to reflect his commitment to the
economic inclusion of citizens with disabilities; then, the Hon. Peter MacKay who
first signed the Convention as Foreign Minister and continued to
demonstrate leadership on this file after he became Minister of National Defense. Next, the Hon.
Lawrence Cannon who kept up the momentum on the Convention, bringing Provinces and Territories on board and ensuring
it was signed the day before Canada welcomed Paralympians from 45
countries to Vancouver. Then the Hon. Diane Finley who has expertly steered the implementation of most of these initiatives through her department, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Finally, the Hon Stephen Fletcher who demonstrates that enabling the contributions of all people with
disabilities benefits all Canadians.
Lest anyone think the Prime
Minister is simply an observer, think again. At a PLAN event
last fall in Vancouver to celebrate the RDSP, the PM impressed everyone
with his understanding, authenticity, warmth and commitment toward
people with disabilities and their families. These initiatives clearly have his full blessing.
This is a golden era for the disability movement in Canada. I think it is time to organize the biggest celebration Ottawa and the disability community has ever enjoyed.