B.C. professor quits federal panel in protest of new disability benefit

A prominent B.C. professor of social policy has resigned from a federal panel in protest over Ottawa’s new disability benefit.

University of Victoria professor Michael Prince has sat on the federal government’s Disability Advisory Group since 2020, and said he was excited to see the long-promised Canada Disability Benefit was finally being made real.

He said excitement quickly turned to disappointment when he read the details of the new program.

Click to play video: 'Disability benefit amount in federal budget disappoints'

Disability benefit amount in federal budget disappoints

“I thought there must be a mistake here, a typo,” he said.

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“As I read on I realized no, this is what the benefit is going to be about and I just got really disappointed, the more I read, the more I was dejected about it, I was concerned, frustrated, a sense of letdown.”

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The new benefit will provide a maximum annual benefit of $2,400 per year, or $200 per month, to eligible applicants.

Prince said that’s far too little, and what’s more, only about 600,000 people will be eligible, just half of the estimated 1.2 million Canadians with a disability who are living in poverty.

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“It was just so profoundly short and inadequate of what is needed for Canadians with disabilities, I thought the best thing for me to do just in terms of my own self-respect and integrity was to tender my resignation on the advisory group,” Prince said.

The program does not kick in until July 2025.

In order to qualify, applicants must be eligible for the Disability Tax Credit, a system Prince described as flawed and difficult to navigate for many people with disabilities.

Brittany Stevens, a manager at True North Disability Services, agreed the tax credit program is a challenge.

Her organization specializes in helping people with disabilities navigate the complex program, which includes a 16-page application form.

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“The Canada Revenue Agency does not make it easy,” she said.

“Unfortunately, doctors do not also receive formal education on it and often need help providing the level of detail the CRA is looking for with their eligibility requirements.”

Stevens said applications typically take six months to a year to get approved and can be rejected for small errors or incorrect language.

Click to play video: 'Federal budget 2024: Canada disability benefit disappoints advocates'

Federal budget 2024: Canada disability benefit disappoints advocates

“We remain optimistic, hopefully, we will see some changes happening,” she said. “It’s good that they are offering something, but I think there is still some work around it.”

The federal government, meanwhile, issued a statement standing by the program.

“The Canada Disability Benefit is a major milestone,” said Laurent de Casanove, press secretary for Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister Kamal Khera.

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“For the very first time in Canada, there is a benefit designed to support the needs of low-income persons with disabilities and fill the gap between existing supports between the Canada Child Benefit and the Old Age Security.”

The ministry went on to acknowledge there was “more to do” in building out the program “so that more people can access this benefit.”

Prince, meanwhile, characterized the rollout as a missed opportunity.

“If it’s a first step it’s an awfully small baby step,” he said. “To me, this is a historic moment lost.”

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