October 7: Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers responsible for Social Services held their annual meeting today in St. John's, Newfoundland to review progress on initiatives related to children and persons with disabilities. The meeting was co-chaired by the Honourable Pierre S. Pettigrew, Minister of Human Resources Development, and the Honourable Julie Bettney, Minister of Human Resources and Employment for Newfoundland and Labrador and lead Provincial/Territorial Minister.
"This was a day to recognize our significant progress over the last year and to look ahead to what needs to be done," said Minister Bettney. "The directions agreed upon by Ministers today will help promote an environment that supports people and families through strengthened partnerships among governments."
"Today we recognized our track record of success and cooperation in relation to children and persons with disabilities," said Minister Pettigrew. "The National Child Benefit is a model of cooperation that commits all governments to action. We are building partnerships among governments that will help more Canadians share in the opportunities our country offers."
Governments reconfirmed their commitment to work together toward a successful launch of the National Child Benefit (NCB) system by July 1, 1998. Provinces and territories remain committed to the National Reinvestment Framework, and Ministers reviewed provincial and territorial progress on the development of their reinvestment strategies. Ministers agreed to April 1, 1998 as the date for starting to measure provincial and territorial reinvestments. Ministers acknowledged the importance of accountability and today reviewed the specific steps they will take towards public reporting.
Ministers were updated on progress towards a National Children's Agenda. Ministers were in agreement on the importance of the Agenda, and will be pursuing discussions with their colleagues in other Ministries involved in policies and programs for children and families.
Ministers discussed issues related to benefits and services for persons with disabilities. Work in progress was reviewed including strategic directions, harmonization in delivery of income support, and replacement of the Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons (VRDP) program with a new employment-focused initiative.
The harmonization strategy includes three goals:
In their discussions today, Ministers made a collective commitment to pursue a first complementary action: All governments have committed to rapid reinstatement of income support benefits for persons with disabilities should employment efforts fail. This represents a consensus that efforts to enter or re-enter the labour force need to be supported.
Further, all governments agreed on the key elements of a replacement initiative for VRDP, to be called Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities. It will focus on helping people prepare for and maintain employment and will emphasize outcomes. This is consistent with the views of the disability community in targeting resources for labour market interventions. Formal bilateral negotiations on the new agreements will begin once the Government of Canada finalizes the details of its financial commitment.
Ministers concluded the meeting by acknowledging the work of Newfoundland and Labrador over the past year in its capacity as the lead province. The responsibility will be assumed by Ontario in the coming year.
The Quebec Minister put forward the Quebec government's position with regard to social policy, stressing that this matter falls under its exclusive jurisdiction. Madame Marois reaffirmed the need to convert the corresponding spending by the Government of Canada for this purpose into tax points or contributions to Quebec. Madame Marois went on to add that, with respect to the employability-related initiatives for persons with disabilities, Quebec was prepared to enter into bilateral negotiations in line with the agreement signed on labour market development. Referring to the National Child Benefit, she expressed her intention of being accountable to the people of Quebec and not to the Canadian population.
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