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Mr. Speaker, it is great to rise today on this special occasion when the House of Commons rallies in unanimity to adopt an excellent piece of legislation, which would unlock the potential of thousands of Canadians to enjoy the blessing of literature.
One of the most inspiring parts of this job is that one gets to learn about the great genius that is held in each and every person in their own way. I think of the time when I bumped into a lady in the grocery store who was with her autistic daughter. The lady thanked me for a birthday card I had sent her and asked me when my birthday was. I said that it was June 3, which was four or five months away. Her daughter turned suddenly and said “That’s a Tuesday”. I opened my BlackBerry and looked forward, and it turned out she had accurately predicted the day of the week on which my birthday would fall, without even thinking.
I also think of my time visiting the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, where I learned of this massive inventory of audio, large-print, and Braille books being assembled every single day. Those books are sent to visually impaired Canadians across the country. Staff informed me there that some visually impaired readers can actually complete seven or eight books a week in audio format. I asked how that was possible, because one cannot play seven or eight audio books in a week even if one is listening eight or nine hours a day. The truth is that some are now able to listen to them on fast forward, and as a result, absorb more literature and content than a sighted person reading out of a book in a conventional format.
I share these stories to impart to the House and Canadians that, as I said at the outset, there is a very special genius in each of us, especially in those people who have had to overcome disabilities. This is why I am so passionate about this particular piece of legislation.
To simplify what the bill would do, I turn the attention of the House to clauses 1 to 4, which introduce the following text.
|| It is not an infringement of copyright for a person with a perceptual disability, for a person acting at the request of such a person or for a non-profit organization acting for the benefit of such a person to
||(a) make a copy or sound recording of a literary, musical, artistic or dramatic work, other than a cinematographic work, in a format specially designed for persons with a perceptual disability;
That sounds very legalistic, but here is what it means very simply.
It means that, if somewhere else in the world a book were produced in accessible format, large print, Braille, or audio, it would no longer be an offence under the Copyright Act for a Canadian to make a copy of it, to provide it to a visually impaired person.
This has massive implications. It means that Canadians who are visually impaired would have access to over one-quarter of a million published works around the world at no additional cost to them or Canadian taxpayers. Essentially, if we think of it in a traditional sense versus a modern sense, this is the implication of technology.
It used to be that, if I had a book and my friend in London had a book and we decided to trade books, we would each still have one book. However, in the modern digital world, if we decided to trade books, we would now each have two books. Taken more broadly, if all of the people of Britain had 100,000 accessible books and we had 100,000 accessible books, now both our countries would have 200,000 accessible books. The result here in Canada is that almost 300,000 additional works would be available through the use of technology and by breaking down legal barriers that previously prevented the sharing of those works.
That means that highly literate Canadians with visual impairments would now have a new cornucopia of reading opportunities, and the minister can take great pride in having brought forward the legislation that would make this development possible.
This is very important because there is something called a book drought for people who suffer from visual impairment. Only 7% of literature is translated into an accessible format at present, which means that if people are avid readers and suffer from a visual impairment, their opportunities to read, learn, and enjoy the great wonders of literature and research are dramatically curtailed. We should work hard to smash all of the barriers that stand in the way of intellectually curious people of all backgrounds who want to read and learn and expand their knowledge.
That is what the bill would do. I think of Diane Bergeron who is with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, a constituent of mine from Manotick, and her love of reading and literature and how many new opportunities she would have to read different books, reports, studies, and other literature that would make her life richer because this legislation would tear down barriers.
The good news is that Canada would be the 14th country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and implement this legislation. We need to get to 20. It will require a vigorous effort by the minister herself and other members of the cabinet, including the foreign minister, to encourage other countries to quickly follow Canada and get this ratification in 20 countries so that Marrakesh can achieve full force. However, we are making progress and we are definitely moving in the right direction toward that goal of 20 countries.
If I can broaden the perspective now, this is an example of a low-cost free-enterprise solution to a social problem. Historically we have thought whenever there is a social problem we need a gigantic, expensive bureaucratic solution. The Marrakesh Treaty is like a gigantic free trade agreement for books, and it brings no extra cost to Canadian taxpayers or to taxpayers anywhere in the world. It simply removes a legal obstacle and lets the marketplace and our charitable organizations do the rest. I would like to see us expand our imagination in this area.
For example, there are still roughly 9% of households in this country that do not have access to the Internet. One-third of them say it is because they cannot afford it. Both Rogers and Telus have indicated that they are prepared to provide $10-a-month Internet to families in need. The challenge, though, is to find which families are actually in need.
Telus came up with a very innovative solution. It said why not include an information slip in the child benefit mailer that goes out from the Government of Canada twice every year. That slip would go to families with income below $33,000 a year. It would include a pass code and instructions on how each of those families could gain access to low-cost Internet at the expense of Telus in its philanthropic efforts.
Those families who do not have a computer could get one from the computers for success program, which Industry Canada already runs. It takes donated computers, refurbishes them, and gives them to people in need. Telus is prepared to offer free technological instruction to families that might need it. Again, this would cost almost nothing to the Government of Canada, because we already send this mailer twice a year to inform families of their benefits and CRA already has the income data that would be necessary to do it. At the same time, it would connect families in need with low-cost Internet and ensure that all children have access to the Internet when doing their homework. Imagine trying to do homework today as a school child without access to the Internet. All of a child’s classmates would have access to the biggest library in the history of the world and he or she would be stuck with a few textbooks from school.
Telus and Rogers and others are looking to solve these problems through philanthropic initiatives that cost almost nothing to Canadian taxpayers and rely on free enterprise as the engine of knowledge sharing.
I think of brilliant social entrepreneurs, like Nick Noorani who came here as a highly successful advertising representative for McCann Erickson in Dubai. When he came to Canada he found it very hard, being an immigrant, to integrate into our economy. As a result, he ended up working for a long time at minimum wage jobs. He eventually built a successful life here, but it took him a long time to get there.
He has decided now to build a business that has the sole mandate of helping immigrants integrate into Canada before they even get here. He provides online instruction on how best to rent a home, how to get a job, and how foreign-trained professionals or trades people can get their licence to work in a regulated occupation in Canada, so that when they land in Canada they hit the ground running.
He gets no funding from the Government of Canada or from any government, and he does not charge any amount to the immigrants he is helping. How does he pay for it? He actually runs an advertising service. He gets sponsorship from banks, and in exchange, those banks open up a bank account for the newcomer, which means they get a future customer and the potential to make a good return on their social investment by helping finance social integration for newcomers. Construction associations, mining industries, and food processing companies all pay Mr. Noorani as well, so that he can connect skilled future Canadian employees with their industries and they can fill vacancies in their sectors. He then collects a very small fee in exchange for the service he provides.
He is providing a social service directly to Canadian immigrants so they can maximize their success when they arrive here on Canadian soil. He is doing it at no cost to them and no cost to taxpayers, but is doing it as a commercial enterprise, which is paid for by industry and corporations who are, admittedly, acting in their own interests, but doing so at the same time as advancing the interests of others. This is what Benjamin Franklin called doing well by doing good.
I share all of these stories today because I am hoping that Marrakesh can be an occasion where we look for free-enterprise solutions to problems that afflict the underdogs among us, the people who suffer and are held back by injustices, unfairness, or circumstances. We need to look for opportunities to help them springboard ahead and realize their full genius here in our great country.
I think of the Immigrant Access Fund in Calgary, which noticed that there were foreign-trained professionals who would immigrate to Canada and, despite their qualifications as engineers, doctors, and architects, would work in minimum wage jobs because they could not get their licence to practise. Immigrant Access Fund asked why not help them get loans, and financial institutions said they were not prepared to lend to them because they had no collateral or credit history.
The Immigrant Access Fund then went to philanthropic leaders in Calgary and asked them if they would be prepared to sign a loan guarantee to help these promising foreign-trained professionals who are now Canadians get time off work so they could do the study and exams necessary to get the licences to practise in their professions. These Calgarians agreed to sign the loan guarantees. The loans went out. The foreign-trained professionals worked hard to get their credentials recognized in Canada through testing and training in places across western Canada.
The result was that incomes of participants rose, in some cases by over 100%, because they went from having a minimum wage job to a high-paying position in a regulated profession that was in high demand within their local economy. They did this with the investment of Calgary business leaders who wanted to give those people the opportunity to realize their full potential and share their true inner genius with the local Calgary economy and with Canada in general.
This was essentially the merging of philanthropy and commercial lending to help promising new Canadians make a maximum contribution.
By the way, the default rate on these loans was less than 1%, which demonstrated that when we invest in an ambitious, hard-working newcomer to Canada, they will pay back the money and they will pay back the country for the rest of their lives because they are so grateful for the opportunity to be full participants in the Canadian economy.
There is a whole plethora of opportunities for us as Canadians to unleash the power and the genius of every single Canadian through the free market economy, which of course has been the most powerful tool in the history of humanity to fight poverty and lift up the standard of living of every single person.
I think of Mark Wafer, in the Toronto area, who has hired dozens of intellectually disabled young people to work at his Tim Hortons locations. He says he has done this strictly as a business decision because they are, by far, his best employees. He wants to work with governments in order to transition toward market-based employment where disabled Canadians are given the opportunity to make the same money, doing the same jobs, and making the same contributions as everybody else. This is the essence of unlocking the genius that is in each one of us, in each Canadian.
It is our role to, as legislators, as business leaders, as community activists, to continue to work together in order to see more of this happen. I encourage the government to remember that, as in this case, where the government has done exactly the right thing, it is not always necessary to create new bureaucracies and new programs, new costs, and new regulations. Sometimes free enterprise, itself, is the solution.
I hope that over the course of this term in office, I can work with members of the government in order to realize that vision for visually impaired Canadians, for disabled Canadians, for new Canadians, for every Canadian who wants to make the maximum contribution to this country and realize their full potential as part of our economy.