Liberal MPs call on Freeland to fund disability benefits in next budget

Dozens of Liberal MPs 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 for us to finish what we started and do it in a way that’s meaningful for Canadians,” Damoff said.

The Liberals pledged to create a monthly disability benefits program in 2020, saying their goal was to close the gap for working-age people with disabilities.

The Canada Disability Benefits Act became law last summer and the government has been consulting for months. The law itself does not contain details about who will be eligible, how much will be paid, or when funding will begin.

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

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

“We know this is a priority for our government, but we also know it competes with other priorities and we say it should be a priority right now,” Turnbull said in an interview.

Liberal MPs are calling on the finance minister to fund disability benefits in the next budget. #CDNPoli #Budget #Disability Benefit #Canada Disability Benefit

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

Newfoundland MP Ken McDonald made headlines before a caucus retreat in January when he suggested in an interview that the party should undergo a leadership review. McDonald later retracted the comments from him.

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

A non-binding NDP motion 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 modified, but three Liberal MPs voted against it. Anthony Housefather has said that, as a result, he is considering his future in the party.

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

“It’s not unusual for MPs to take on public advocacy before a budget, on top of all the cajoling and brainstorming that goes on behind the scenes,” he said.

Damoff said this is not the first time he has led a letter to pressure the government and said he is “coming from a place of supporting our government and making sure we meet our funding.”

“Don’t make too much of it,” he said.

Damoff only made the letter public after Turnbull did so.

Kamal Khera, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and People with Disabilities, said in a statement that she is very pleased to see her colleagues support funding the benefit, but gave no information on when it will be implemented.

“We are now drafting the next regulations and working to get the benefit to Canadians with disabilities as quickly as possible,” the statement said.

Damoff’s letter said the measure has cross-party support, as well as the majority of Canadians. Turnbull said more than 60 caucus colleagues had signed publicly by Monday afternoon. That represents more than a third of the liberal group.

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

The organization noted the importance of establishing it as a supplemental income benefit similar to the Canada Child Benefit so that other funds are not taken back.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will present 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 to build more homes, faster, make life more affordable and create more quality jobs,” said Katherine Cuplinskas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2024.

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