House Must Pass Bill C-22 With Senate Amendments

Article written by Steven Muller, Vice President Litigation

The Senate in 3rd reading passed Bill C-22 with Amendments. Bill C-22 creates a new supplementary disability benefit that is designed to lift Canadians with disabilities out of poverty.

One of the important amendments passed is to provide protection in the legislation so that insurance companies cannot claw back the new disability benefit. The Senate vote both in Committee and in 3rd reading was a strong endorsement that Bill C-22 without amendment would create a huge financial windfall for insurance companies and other providers of disability benefits. To reject the amendment, and consciously provide this subsidy to insurance companies, would create an intended consequence. There should never be an intended consequence by the Senate nor the House of leaving impoverished disabled recipients out of a Federal "big tent" social program.

Prior to the Senate vote, Senator McPhedran spoke of the amendments. On this issue of insurance claw backs, she stated:

"I rise to speak briefly in support of every amendment to this bill. I have been asked to bring you a brief message from disability rights experts and some of the community leaders who testified at the Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee. They ask you to support Bill C-22, as amended, and in so doing stand up for ensuring that no private insurance company can claw back the Canada disability benefit from impoverished people with disabilities.

Let me offer a different perspective than that of Senator Cotter on this amendment, sharing with you the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a provision in the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act that prohibited private insurance companies as a term of their contracts from certain actions. This amendment to this bill is a similar limitation.

Please also bear in mind that private insurance companies in their contracts and plans state that they can set off any government benefit, and that regulations to this act could not change that. The protection of Canada disability benefits reaching intended recipients must be in the statute. This is key to the amendment made to this bill by a majority of the members of the Social Affairs Committee.

Allow me to offer another reassuring example.

Enacted more than 40 years ago, the Merchant Seamen Compensation Act has a section very similar to what our committee added to Bill C-22. This provision in the Merchant Seamen Compensation Act has protected recipients of the compensation from private insurance set-offs or claw backs for decades without legal challenge.

It may also be helpful to share with you this clear interpretation of federal authority from Canada’s dean of constitutional law, the late Professor Peter Hogg:

'. . . the federal Parliament may spend or lend its funds to any government or institution or individual it chooses, for any purpose it chooses; and that it may attach to any grant or loan any conditions it chooses, including conditions it could not directly legislate.'"

The amendments passed by the Senate for Bill C-22 ensure that monies go to the impoverished disabled recipients and not insurance companies or other providers of disability benefits. Poverty costs $33 billion just in Ontario alone. Disability poverty is a community tragedy and a Canadian tragedy. All political parties must now come together to pass Bill C-22 with the Senate Amendments without delay!

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