15 May Bill 205: Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act

Mr. Clark: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It really is a pleasure and privilege to speak in favour of Bill 205, the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act. I want to very much thank the hon. member for bringing this forward and recognize the work that the Member for St. Albert has done and her strong advocacy and action that she has taken on behalf of people with disabilities. That action, I know, predates her time in this Assembly by a lot. It’s very much appreciated. The Member for Calgary-North West bringing this forward as well: I know this is something that you’re very passionate about, and I thank you very much for bringing this forward.

But for the vagaries of private members’ bill draws – and I think that if I’m to see my private member’s bill this session come up, it will probably be the spring of 2023 by the time my bill would be up. I didn’t do as well. This is, quite interestingly, one of the ideas that we had talked about with my team as well should we get high enough up in the bill draw. Without question, I absolutely, enthusiastically, of course, will support this bill.

It addresses both issues that people who have disabilities deal with on a daily basis. Those are some of the issues that they will deal with today, right now, on a daily basis, but what I like about the advocate role is that it will address challenges that people with disabilities and their families and loved ones and caregivers deal with on an ongoing basis. They’re the kind of thing that, unfortunately, will likely always require someone to advocate for people with disabilities.

I can tell you from the work that we do in my constituency office – and I imagine that all members very likely deal with some of these challenges through their constituency offices and in their work as members – that the various programs and services that are available really are confusing for people with disabilities. They’re confusing for people who advocate for those people or who are their friends and family. Anything we can do to have an advocate role similar to the Seniors Advocate’s, the mental health advocate’s, to parts of the role of the Child and Youth Advocate and others I think can only be a positive thing.

There are a couple of examples that I noted as I prepared for this debate today. There have been many challenges raised to my office about the transition from services that are available when you’re under 18 to the services that are available when you turn 18. The person’s needs haven’t changed, but the funding sources change, the programs that are available change. Sometimes families and people with disabilities find that they have less in the way of services. An advocate can certainly help not only people who are dealing with the transition to navigate the system as it is now, but they can also help advocate for change from government to ensure that that transition is far smoother, that services are provided in a way that’s much more consistent, that better meets the needs of the variety of different people with different needs.

[Ms Sweet in the chair]

The other example is a constituent of mine who has raised with me the issue of building codes. She’s in a wheelchair and has troubles with buildings that are officially built to Alberta’s building codes. She finds that doors perhaps will open in the wrong direction in certain buildings, and she’ll end up in a vestibule in what she calls squish-me doors. She finds that she can’t push the button, wheel out of the way, and then wheel back in and get, actually, through the door. Now, the building meets the building code – no one is breaking any rules – but does she actually have access? Is that building, in fact, accessible to her? The answer in many cases is no.

These are just a couple of examples that I thought of as I reflected on what sorts of things a disability advocate could possibly do. The Member for Calgary-Mountain View, I think rightly, has raised the question of resourcing in ensuring that this is not just a token position, that it’s not just there in name only, that in fact they have the tools they need to do the job, the resources they need to do the job, and as has been noted in debate, it’s very likely that in giving appropriate resources to a disability advocate, we will actually save money.

It will actually not only improve the lives of people with disabilities, but it will actually save money, and I would hope that as we go through the debate and the discussion here, we can learn a little more about specifically where that can happen and actually what some of that cost-benefit calculation might look like. I think it’s likely very compelling. Again, not only will we be helping on a human level, but we’re also helping the government save money because we’re improving people’s quality of life. We’re keeping them out of hospital, and we’re ensuring that the services that they receive are most efficient and effective.

Enthusiastically, I will support Bill 205. Again I thank the Member for Calgary-North West for bringing it forward, and I look forward to listening to further comments.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.