It is a great pleasure to be here with my colleague Minister Tassi and, of course, the distinguished members of this committee.
I would also like to remind you that we are currently on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
As I mentioned a few moments ago, we are grateful for the excellent work the committee has done in recent months.
As Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, my main objective is to increase the economic and social security of all Canadians. I must say that, at Employment and Social Development Canada, we are extremely proud of what we have done in recent years to help Canadians cope with the various transitions in their lives. We are working and will continue to work for Canadians in the middle class and those working hard to join it. This is a major feature of the platform of the government that was elected in 2015: to grow the economy by growing the middle class and by helping more Canadians to join the middle class. The plan is working.
Since 2015, one million new jobs have been created. We have the lowest unemployment rate since 1976. We have one of the highest growth rates among all developed countries. In 2019, a typical middle-class family has $2,000 more in its pockets than in 2015. As for the economy, our debt is decreasing and will soon be at its lowest level in 40 years. Finally, in 2019, Canada had the lowest poverty rate in its history.
Some of the programs that have made a difference include the Canada child benefit, which contrasts sharply with the programs of the previous government, Mr. Harper's. The Harper government's programs were poorly targeted and favoured the families of millionaires. In addition, it was difficult to benefit from them. Families often had to wait until their income tax returns were filed to receive assistance and often had to pay taxes on the assistance they had previously received. It was also complicated for the government to manage.
In July 2016, we introduced the Canada child benefit, the most innovative social policy of this generation. It is a program we can be proud of. It is simple for families. They receive one cheque every month, and the amount is tax-free. It is easy for the government to manage. It is fair, because 9 of 10 families receive the Canada child benefit, an average of $500 tax-free per month. Finally, as I said a few moments ago, this is helping to significantly reduce the level of poverty in Canada.
In addition, yesterday, I had the opportunity to announce that this benefit would be indexed. On July 20, in fact, it will be increased for the second time in two years.
As part of that announcement, I talked about the “20th of the month” effect, which I heard about a few weeks ago when I was in my riding in Quebec City. Middle-class and lower-income families tell me about the “20th of the month” effect. Community organizations find that, starting on the 20th of each month, when the benefit is deposited in the bank accounts of middle-class families, parents are less stressed and children are less concerned about their parents' financial security. Children go to school with a fuller lunch box, containing snacks and good quality food. This is a wonderful social and economic achievement for our country. In 2016, we were already predicting the “20th of each month” effect. We knew that it would have a macroeconomic impact and would contribute to the significant economic growth we have seen since 2015. However, we are seeing that it is also very important at the microeconomic level, affecting families and children.
Of course, we have accomplished a number of other things, such as launching the first poverty reduction strategy in Canadian history. Once again, yesterday and this morning, I met with stakeholders who congratulated us on the fact that, for the first time in the history of the Canadian government, we have serious and rigorous indicators to measure poverty and social exclusion. We also have credible targets, and organizations such as the soon-to-be-established National Advisory Council on Poverty, to monitor and hold the government accountable for achieving its targets.
The national housing strategy, a first in Canadian history, has a budget of $55 billion and will have a whole host of socio-economic impacts across Canada. Among other things, it will provide more than half a million Canadian families with safe and affordable housing. Without this strategy, many of those families could well have ended up on the street.
There is also a new program to combat homelessness, which will eventually double the budget for federal government support to communities and reduce chronic homelessness by at least 50%.
We are also making very significant investments in programs for seniors, which Minister Tassi will be talking about in a few moments.
In the latest budget, we are going even further. For example, we are making it easier for first-time buyers to own a home. We know how difficult it can be for young middle-class families in Canada to achieve the dream of buying their first home, starting a family, having children and becoming involved in their communities. It is a dream, because it is difficult for them to believe that, one day, they will have the means to buy a home.
In addition to facilitating access to a first home, the measures in Budget 2019 improve the home buyers' plan (HBP) by making it more flexible. For example, some families who already own a first home unfortunately have to separate. When they want to start a new life with a new spouse, these measures give the newly formed families the opportunity to have access to the HBP again.
In addition, Budget 2019 provides a reduction in interest rates on student loans, a new Canada training benefit and an EI training support benefit, which will provide workers with money and time to continue to invest in their skills and support the economic growth of Canadian businesses.
Finally, Budget 2019 contains a substantial increase in the guaranteed income supplement, which will give between $4,000 and $6,000 more to seniors who are willing and able to work a little longer after age 65. Minister Tassi will be able to say more about that.
I will keep this short, because I look forward to your questions and comments.
In closing, I would like to mention that, over the past four years, there have been major changes in the ability of middle-class families to support their children and communities. The result has been economic growth that Canadians could not have hoped for before 2015. That's because we made the right choice. When we invest in people and the middle class, the economy grows. We have seen how wonderful, how amazing, the results are. We will continue to provide this program to Canadians.
However, for this program to be implemented, senior officials must work very hard every day. This is the last time I will appear before you in this term, and I would like to congratulate them. Some are here with us today and many others are working elsewhere to deliver the Government of Canada's agenda. I would like to congratulate them because they often receive all sorts of criticism. They work under challenging conditions. Resources are always scarce. The deadlines are tight. The missions are weighty. I would like to congratulate the people from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and from my department, EDSC, for everything they do, of which Canadians are unfortunately not sufficiently aware. We can be proud of our public service.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting me to contribute to the important HUMA committee study on the Government of Canada's main estimates for the 2019-20 fiscal year. I'd like to thank and congratulate all members of this committee. As a number of you know, it was a committee I served on. I really appreciate the very important work you do and your passion for the work here.
As my colleague the honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development clearly explained a few minutes ago, ESDC has made investments to fulfill its mandate to Canadians—very significant investments that have changed the lives of many Canadians. I also want to mention the appearances of my colleagues Minister Hajdu and Minister Qualtrough before this very committee a number of days ago.
The purpose of my appearance today as Minister of Seniors is to speak about this year's main estimates, as well as to provide some clarifications on what the Government of Canada plans to do for seniors. All of you on this committee know that the seniors population is growing. It's estimated that by 2036 seniors will represent one-quarter of Canada's population—25%. We know we have to act now. We have to prepare now. We have to implement programs and put them in place to ensure that the needs of our seniors are met, and also to create opportunities so that seniors can be conscientious contributors to communities and be actively engaged and involved.
We recognize that the Parliament of Canada has the power to do this, but also we want to acknowledge that we have a duty to do this.
In this year's main estimates, you'll notice that there is an increase of $2.5 billion to the old age security pension and the guaranteed income supplement. This is due to the changes in the average monthly rates and in the increasing number of recipients. This will continue to help support middle-class Canadians and those working hard to join, especially the ones among the seniors population.
I am working very closely with my cabinet colleagues to develop innovative initiatives to ensure that our seniors can have an active and healthy retirement. I want to assure you that I'm also working with our provincial and territorial partners. In fact, I'm looking forward to the next FPT meeting, which will be taking place next week.
If there's a file that overlaps and requires a collaborative approach, it's absolutely this one. I look forward to the contributions of all to ensure that, as we work hard for our seniors, they are going to get the supports that they need and that they deserve.
The government has already implemented a number of measures to improve the quality of life for seniors. First, we restored the age of eligibility of the OAS and GIS from 67 to 65. This measure has prevented 100,000 seniors from going into poverty. We also increased the guaranteed income supplement for the most vulnerable seniors. This has lifted 57,000 seniors out of poverty and has had a positive impact on 900,000 seniors in this country. We've also improved the Canada pension plan so that future retirees all across Canada can enjoy a more secure retirement and have more money in their pockets. It ultimately will result in an increase of up to 50% in CPP earnings. I recognize that this isn't for our present seniors population, but I believe it's critical that we look to the future and prepare for seniors of the future. This measure is going to make a great difference in the lives of our future seniors.
We recognize that income security is very important for our seniors. That's why we have made these investments. In addition, the Government of Canada is preparing to make further investments to ensure the financial security of retirement-age seniors. One measure that I will address is in budget 2019, which proposes to improve the earnings exemption in the guaranteed income supplement. The current exemption sits at $3,500 a year. What we are proposing in budget 2019 is to increase this exemption from $3,500 to $5,000, and then 50% of the next $10,000 is eligible. Finally, a very important measure is to also include, for the first time, seniors who are self-employed. This is going to keep the hard-earned money of seniors in their pockets, and I think it will also combat ageism.
We recognize the contributions that seniors make to our communities and our workforce. If seniors want to continue working, then we want to incentivize them to do that because we know that we all benefit from their experience, their wisdom and their knowledge.
This is a very significant measure in the budget that I'm very happy about.
Budget 2019 also proposes legislative changes to the CPP that will ensure that Canadian retirees receive the full value of their pensions. We're proposing that, in 2020, we will proactively enrol and register Canadians who are entitled to CPP at the age of 70 if those individuals have not applied. It's interesting that there are a number of Canadians who are entitled to CPP and just don't have knowledge of it. It's estimated there are 40,000 people in Canada who are entitled to this benefit. If seniors are entitled to benefits we absolutely want to ensure that they receive them. This is another measure to make that happen.
In addition to the income security piece, we also know that the health and well-being of seniors is extremely important. I've had the opportunity to travel and engage with seniors across the country, as well as family members and organizations that work with and for seniors. This has been a real honour and a privilege. One of the issues that comes up repeatedly is the issue of social isolation. This is concerning to our government, so we are taking action.
In budget 2019, we are proposing a very significant increase to the new horizons for seniors program. That's an increase of $100 million over five years. It's $20 million, and then after that it's $20 million per year. This investment actually represents a 40% increase in the new horizons for seniors program. This is going to help support programs that are being offered across this country—both community-based and pan-Canadian. The community-based projects have goals that specifically help combat isolation, elder abuse and elder fraud, which we know are important to combat. They will encourage and promote mentoring and volunteering and provide infrastructure investments to help provide safe and secure spaces for seniors to gather.
As I've said, I've actually had the opportunity in my travels to visit programs that are taking place across the country. When I do that and engage with the seniors who are benefiting from those programs, I can tell you that these investment dollars are second to none. They are really making a difference in the lives of seniors.
I've seen some of what these measures have resulted in. For example, I've seen seniors centres that are able to purchase new equipment and provide exercise, yoga and mindfulness classes, which is something I strongly support and see great value in. They're offering intergenerational activities—that's so important—and providing valuable awareness education and training about elder abuse and elder fraud.
Those are some of the goals that these investment dollars will help us achieve.
In addition to this, we know that most seniors—not all seniors, but the majority of seniors—want to age in place. In this regard, our government has invested $6 billion in home care and palliative care, so that seniors can stay in their communities if they want to. These transfers, of course, are going to the provinces and the territories; it's the provinces and the territories that will determine how those dollars are spent. The idea is that if a senior wishes to age in place, we want to give them the support to do that.
Budget 2019 also strengthens this initiative through an investment of $35 million in the assisted living program. This investment will help first nation seniors and people with disabilities retain their autonomy and stay at home in their communities near their families. Budget 2019 also proposes an $8.5 million investment in the development of a long-term care strategy for first nations and Inuit.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, it's clear that the 2019-20 estimates represent a significant step forward for those who built this country. We are proud of what we have accomplished as a government and optimistic for the future of Canada's seniors. I can assure you today that we will continue to work tirelessly to implement measures to improve the quality of life of seniors.
I thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to appear before you today. I know Minister Duclos and I are now available to answer questions.
I'm really glad that the attempt by the Liberals to shut down the opportunity to have this discussion was foiled. It is important that there be an opportunity to have this discussion.
The bottom line is that the motion is simply asking for the minister to come here. I noticed today that there was one hour, and half of that time was used by the ministers to give opening statements. There isn't much opportunity to ask questions. I know that members have questions about a variety of different areas for two different ministers. The motion simply asks that an update by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development be provided to the committee on the recommendations that were in your 14th report, “Supporting Families After the Loss of a Child”.
There were a number of important recommendations in that report that would be there to benefit and support families who have had the tragic loss of a child. Those recommendations were made by this committee. A number of them were to put in place a number of initiatives, which I'll maybe get to in a second, that would provide these proper supports and these opportunities for families and show the proper compassion that they deserve coming from their government. These would seem to me to be the kinds of measures that I can't imagine there's even a need for any political debate on. They seem like the kinds of things that should be no-brainers, and about which we shouldn't need to have the kind of tricks we saw the Liberal members try to play in order to shut down debate. They shouldn't be the kinds of things where we see the stall and delay tactics that we've seen from this government. This should simply be something where we all understand and recognize that it needs to be fixed and we go ahead and just make the changes that are needed.
That said, does anyone have the date on which the report was tabled?
A voice: February 8.
Mr. Blake Richards: So it's been since February 8 that the report was tabled. Of course, the government's been aware of these proposals for a long time. Thousands of people across this country have written in, signed petitions and called their MPs. It's not like this was a big surprise, even on February 8, that these were the kinds of recommendations people were asking for. There's been no indication of any action. There's been no indication of even any kind of an update given by this government on what they are doing in this regard.
I think the families deserve that. They deserve that. We're coming very close to the end of a parliamentary session before an election. They deserve that opportunity. I think we saw today how much the government will do to try to avoid giving families what they deserve and giving families even the courtesy of some information or a simple update. That's pretty pathetic, frankly. It's pretty pathetic. I think the least the government could do is have the minister come here and give some kind of an update to these families. Just show them a little bit of courtesy and a little bit of respect. Give them some kind of an update on what's being done to make sure that these needs and these asks are being taken care of.
These are simple asks, right? They're simply asking for some dedicated resources from employment and social development. That's one of the recommendations. They're asking for employees to show some better compassion when dealing with bereaved individuals. I won't even get into some of the stories. We've all heard them. They were here in testimony at the committee. Members heard them. They're asking for some protection of their jobs under labour standards legislation to allow a leave of absence to deal with grief.
The Chair: Yes, Mr. Long.
These are simple things, and I don't need to go through them all. They're simply asking for compassion, and the final one, of course, the most important one, is that there has been a desire to see some kind of a bereavement leave created for these parents. It was something that was agreed to by all parties on this committee. It was simply that Employment and Social Development Canada should change the eligibility requirements for employment insurance as they relate to maternity and parental benefits. Bereavement leave is accommodated in the program and provides income support for 12 to 15 weeks for parents grieving the loss of an infant child.
These are asks, and I just can't imagine how anyone could hear the stories that everyone has heard on this committee and not want to try to help.
When we see these kinds of tricks to try to adjourn debate without even having a debate on the motion, these kinds of tricks that we've seen all along to try to stall this, to delay this, to not provide these opportunities.... If this government wants to try to fool these families into believing that they're going to do something if they get re-elected, the least they could do is come here and face the committee and therefore the parents and the families who are affected and just answer why that's the case, why they couldn't find the will to do this, because we all know it's the right thing to do.
I really hope the government members won't try another trick to try to delay and stall this. Let's have a vote on this motion, and we'll see where everyone stands, who stands with these families, who stands behind them, and who wants to show the the proper support and compassion they deserve.
If the members of the government side choose to try to adjourn the debate, we know where they stand.
Thank you very much to Blake Richards. I know this is something that he worked very, very diligently on. I had the opportunity to work on this as the shadow minister for families, children and social development—looking at the needs of these families and having the opportunity to speak to them as well.
I recognize that this government wants to come with the sign of compassion, but there are many programs that we see out there that need to have more flexibility.
My first question is with regard to the first-time home buyer incentive. I had put this into the record when I gave my speech on this.
Douglas Porter from BMO indicated:
The program will only apply to those with household income below $120,000, and with a maximum mortgage and incentive amount of 4-times.... As such, the impact will be contained to the lower end of the market below roughly $500,000 and, arguably, that’s the level where affordability challenges only really begin.
He continued to say that we'll understand the reality of these markets in both the greater Vancouver area and greater Toronto area, seeing that this incentive will actually not have the impact.
I went a little bit further. Last night, at 6:30 p.m. on May 15, there were only six listings on MLS for all of the greater Toronto area that would allow somebody to purchase a home for less than $500,000. The statistics from April 14 to May 12, covering 5,770 new listings, show that the The average home price in Toronto is $939,828.
How do you think this program will actually impact the housing market in Toronto and areas like Vancouver when only six homes in the greater Toronto area—only six—are available for this? Can you share with me how this is actually going to help the housing continuum in the area of Toronto?
Thank you to our ministers for being here this morning to share with us your vision for Canada. I want to thank you for what you are doing to change the lives of Canadians.
Certainly, one thing I have learned over my four years as a member of Parliament is that good government and good government policies are for the many, not for the few. Whether it's a program like the Canada child benefit, which is literally changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, or whether it's a national housing strategy whereby upwards of $55 billion is being invested to change the lives of Canadians, these are programs that make a difference in the lives of Canadians.
I'm proud to be part of a government that is delivering these programs, unlike, say, a tax-free savings account, which was proposed to be doubled in 2015 but which only 2.7% of Canadians actually maximized. Again, I thank you for what you're doing.
Minister Duclos, in my riding of Saint John-Rothesay we are making tremendous progress in our fight against child poverty and generational poverty. One of the other programs, though, that I think is transformational and will make a big difference in people's lives is the Canada workers benefit. As I understand it, by automatically enrolling low-income people in the benefit when they file their taxes, our government will help more than two million Canadians keep more of their paycheques.
What impact do you expect the implementation of the Canada workers benefit to have on the already record low poverty levels we have achieved through the introduction of the Canada child benefit and other historic investments in poverty reduction?
Thank you, Wayne, for your hard work. I won't go into details about that, because it would be too damaging to your humility, but you worked very hard with me from the very start to engage with your community. I will keep very good and long-lasting memories of what we've done since then.
“Working for the many” is exactly what we've done since 2015. Investing in middle-class families and lower-income families makes a big difference. I mentioned earlier that we have a million new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate since 1976, middle-class families that are $2,000 better off than in 2015, the lowest-ever poverty levels in Canada and debt that is falling relative to the economy and will soon be at its lowest level in four decades. This is immensely great news, and it's because we have the right people in mind when we implement our policies.
The Canada workers benefit is exactly that type of benefit. By automatic enrolment, making it simple for families to receive the benefit, 300,000 low-income workers will receive the benefit, unlike in the previous, complicated, unfair system the Conservatives promoted.
The fact that we are making it more generous means that two million low-income Canadians will receive greater incentives and support to be engaged in the labour force. Of them, 75,000 will be lifted out of poverty. That's just one measure of the Canada workers benefit, which was introduced just a few weeks ago, on April 1.
Mister Minister and Madam Minister, thank you for being with us today for our study on votes.
I was very interested in what you said about the anticipated increase for the new horizons for seniors program. I can actually see the benefits of this program in the riding I represent. However, I’m most interested in what is not in the votes.
I was in the House last week when we debated Motion M-201 for an hour. I was angry. I felt that wanting to take credit for a beneficial reform has its limits. In the past year, I have tried four times to introduce a motion that says essentially the same thing. Four times, what we saw earlier in that meeting happened again. The Liberals, who have the majority on our committee, asked for the debate to be adjourned so that we could not discuss it.
In the past year, our committee could have done the study on the 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits. Four times, the Liberals were not allowed to vote for the motion.
In recent months, we have studied benefits for bereaved parents, a topic we discussed earlier, episodic disabilities, and precarious employment. Each time, witnesses have told us that the employment insurance program needs to be reformed and the sickness benefits improved. Most organizations, most of the public and most unions agree that action must be taken now. There is a broad consensus. In the past year, the committee could have taken action and conducted that study.
You met with Marie-Hélène Dubé, who collected 600,000 signatures. Yesterday, I held a public session in my riding on this issue, which was very popular. The issue affects people. Last week, I asked you about the story of William Morissette, from New Brunswick, who, in addition to fighting cancer, has to fight the government for his benefits. That's outrageous.
This reflected the many accounts we heard from people in similar situations who have exhausted the 15 weeks of sickness benefits to which they were entitled. Some sick people, like William Morissette, are turning to crowdfunding to survive. This can be seen across the country.
Figures from your department indicate that 150,000 people need more than 15 weeks. Let me stress that we are talking about 150,000 people who have qualified for employment insurance. The distinction is important. As witnesses from your department who appeared before our committee indicated, 6 of 10 people do not qualify for employment insurance.
Mr. Minister, in 2016, you and the Prime Minister said on, Radio-Canada’s Téléjournal, that employment insurance sickness benefits should be improved.
Sick people are looking forward to hearing what you intend to do about those benefits. So let me ask my question again. Mr. Minister, when exactly will you be improving EI sickness benefits?
I apologize for interrupting you, Minister, but I would prefer to know when the sickness benefits will be increased.
Still, I would like to take the time I have left to ask you a second question, about measuring poverty.
In your strategy, you have chosen a measure that decreases the poverty rate for seniors from 14.2% to 4.9%. According to the economist Andrew Jackson, the low-income measure counted 828,000 poor seniors in 2016, while the market basket measure included only 284,000 for the same period.
In addition, you said that 40,000 seniors—I took careful note—would be entitled to the guaranteed income supplement, but would not automatically receive it yet.
You are therefore choosing a measure that, statistically speaking, reduces the number of poor seniors. However, 40,000 more seniors may be eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.
However, in Budget 2019, there is nothing about the needs of the most vulnerable, no substantial amount for social housing for refugees, no strategy for indigenous people, either urban or rural.
Why are you playing with statistics to reduce the number of poor seniors in Canada? Why are those 40,000 seniors who are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement still not receiving it automatically?
Thank you very much to everybody for coming here today.
In my riding of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, when I'm knocking on the doors, here's what I'm talking about: the game-changers of the Canada child benefit, the Canada worker benefit, the doubling of the Canada summer jobs program, the $55-billion national housing strategy, the first-ever national poverty reduction strategy, the EI compassionate care leave, the family caregiver benefits. That is just to highlight a few of the things.
What I want to focus on, Minister Tassi, is seniors. One of the things that I hear from my seniors is “What about us? What about the seniors?” In 2016, in my riding, 1,490 seniors benefited from the 2016 top-up of GIS and received an average of $740 more a year.
Through our committee work we heard more, where we could be doing more.
In budget 2016, there was a lot more for seniors. Minister Tassi. Can you break that out for us, please?
Thank you for that question, MP Ruimy. I know you've had strong advocacy with the seniors in your riding, and I deeply appreciate that.
Before I answer your question, I want to respond to MP Sansoucy, who acknowledged a figure that I gave. For clarification, the estimated 40,000 is not OAS or GIS recipients. It's recipients who are entitled to CPP, but who are not aware of it. Most of them are women, which is why we implemented the automatic enrolment at the age of 70 in budget 2019. We're proposing that in the budget so that those seniors who are entitled to CPP but are not aware of it will actually be entitled to that benefit and receive it. That will happen through the automatic enrolment.
That also ties into MP Ruimy's question with respect to income security because that's what this is all about.
Previously we have taken measures. Our government has been working hard for seniors from the day we were elected. The OAS and GIS rollback of the age of eligibility from 67 to 65 prevented 100,000 seniors from going into poverty.
I'm glad to see that you've experienced the impacts of the GIS increase for seniors in your own riding. That's lifted 57,000 seniors out of poverty and had a positive impact on 900,000. That measure was targeted towards vulnerable single seniors, for whom we knew we had to do a little more because they were struggling to make ends meet.
We are building on that in budget 2019. In 2019, with respect to the guaranteed income supplement exemption, we've increased it from $3,500 to $5,000, then 50% of the next $10,000, and then also included seniors who are self-employed. That's a first. It's a significant step to include self-employed seniors.
I'm very happy to see that because, not only does this help with income security—which is very important amongst our seniors population—but it also helps combat the ageism piece. If seniors want to stay in the workforce, it ensures that we are encouraging them or incentivizing them to do that, not because they need to, but because they want to. We know that when seniors are part of the workforce, we all benefit.
The other area I'd like to comment on is ensuring that seniors are getting the benefits that they are entitled to. That's why we have the automatic enrolment now with the GIS and OAS. Now there's automatic enrolment in those programs. If seniors are entitled to benefits, we absolutely want them to receive those benefits. That also goes to the CPP automatic enrolment. I believe I've said that most of those 40,000 recipients that we believe are entitled but haven't applied are women. We want to continue to build to ensure that seniors are receiving the income support that they need and deserve.
I will take a moment to recognize all the appearing witnesses.
From the Department of Employment and Social Development, we have Mr. Graham Flack, Deputy Minister, Employment and Social Development; Leslie MacLean, Senior Associate Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Development and Chief Operating Officer of Service Canada; Mark Perlman, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of Chief Financial Officer Branch; and Benoît Robidoux, Associate Deputy Minister, Employment and Social Development.
From Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, we have Evan Siddall, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Lisa Williams, Chief Financial Officer.
Welcome, and thank you all for being here today.
Mr. Sangha, for six minutes.
In developing the poverty reduction strategy, the minister and the department consulted broadly with Canadians and experts. There are three measures of low income in Canada. One is called the low-income cut-off, which is based on how much a household spends on food compared with an average household in Canada. You need to spend 20% more than an average household to be considered low income.
There is also the low-income measure that is based on the median income of the family. If your family has an income below 50% of that median income, you are considered to be in low income. We call that a relative measure of income.
The third one that exists is the one you mentioned, the market basket measure that has existed since 2000. This one is more directed at what people think about poverty. It takes into account the basic elements people need to meet their basic needs, which we call a moderate standard of living. I can tell you what is included. It's basically four specific elements: food, clothing, transportation and shelter.
There is also another category, which accounts for about 20% of the expenses that go into the baskets. They are other necessities. The way we view it at the department is that these other necessities bring people a bit above the basic needs. We look at what people need to meet these basic needs and a bit more, and we compare that to the income that people have. In a nutshell, this is the market basket measure. In some sense, it's trying to do a relative measure that's going directly to the concept of what people need to not live in poverty.
I hope this helps. I could go into more detail, but it's kind of complicated and difficult to follow.
Given the current state of labour shortages, I think one of the most powerful forces in changing the dynamics you just talked about is the market pull we're seeing. Employers in every part of the country are finding skill shortages and are working hard to identify individuals they might not otherwise have looked for to fill those positions. Those market forces are among the powerful factors that make government programs work better, because companies are actively seeking these individuals.
They cover a wide range of areas, and I'd put them in two buckets. One would be the programs designed to help deal with mismatches—that is, you have individuals who are trained, but maybe not for the skills employers are looking for. At our last appearance at the committee, we talked about apprenticeship as one of the examples where the skill shortages are very significant, and where the opportunities for individuals—without necessarily taking multi-year courses to fill those positions—are quite high.
We have a range of programs that recognize that one in five Canadians is actually working in skilled trades. For those individuals who may have been outside the labour market, or haven't had post-secondary education before, this is a really interesting pathway.
I'll give some examples. There's an apprenticeship initiative grant provided to the employers of $1,000 per level per year for the individuals. There's a grant when those individuals complete the program. There are interest-free loans that can be provided to people doing the apprenticeship programs. That's an example on the mismatched side, and we would be happy to provide the committee with more details on those things.
The area that I think is more challenging, and on which we're making significant effort, is the individuals from groups that have historically not been participating at the same rates in the labour market. I think of indigenous people as a great example of that. That's where we have community-based programs, such as the indigenous skills program, to be able to drive this.
I think it's about working together not only to pull more people into the labour market to reduce the mismatch, but also working with those market forces that are very helpful in terms of employers identifying those skills that are necessary.
I just want to make a note. This isn't really a question, but more of a statement. Minister Duclos had this term, “20th-of-the-month effect”. I don't know if it was the department that coined that term in 2016, or the government, but I became a mother for the first time in 2013, and I noticed the 20-month effect well before then, under a Conservative government that supported child benefits. I just have to make sure I put that on record.
I have a question regarding new horizons. We know that for years, the new horizons for seniors program has delivered funding to community-based projects and that it has done great work, especially with engaging youth and seniors together. It makes a difference in the lives of both the youth and seniors. Unfortunately, again—just like last week, when I brought up the Canada summer jobs program—several of my colleagues have raised concerns about the delivery of the program this year.
As we know, MP offices are provided with lists of approved projects for funding and are invited to contact the organizations and their recipients to inform them of their successful applications. After MPs' offices were contacted, ESDC informed them that these lists were inaccurate. This happened after phone calls were already made. In some cases, funding was reduced, increased and, in one instance, completely revoked. The errors they have described can obviously have devastating outcomes for organizations, especially if they're already implementing plans to execute these programs and if they were already told that funds were committed to them.
This concern is compounded by an issue I brought up last week—I know that some of the officials were here for that as well—with the AG's report, concerning the government's failure to help the eight million Canadians who are trying to access somebody on a phone and aren't able to do that. It's compounding after compounding—let alone the fact that most of these organizations are run by seniors already. It adds a layer of confusion: you have been approved, now disapproved, and now you can't contact anybody and you're told to call back, but the voice mailbox is full.
I'm wondering if the department has a response for these organizations why these funding errors occurred.
Mr. Flack, I just want to make one comment about trades training and apprenticeship for your consideration. For many people, especially indigenous folks and women, or non-traditional people in the trades, they often have to live on employment insurance in order to take the training portion, which is 50% of their income, and it doesn't sustain them. That is a barrier.
The other barrier, especially for folks in Saskatchewan, is the ability to get to trades training. The fact that we no longer have an inter-city provincial bus service is a big deal. I just mention that to encourage your looking at issues from a holistic perspective, because sometimes when we do that, we tend not to blame the victim, but ask, “Why aren't you in it?”
There are lots of reasons, so I just wanted to tell you that. I've been around that conversation for a long time, and I'm sick of hearing that there's a skilled trades shortage. We've been listening to that for over 20 years, so I'd like something to really happen there, and I think those are some of the issues.
Mr. Siddall, I just want to ask you to respond. I've raised in the House of Commons—and now Adam can't say anything—some of the challenges people are having with the co-investment fund. I don't have enough time, but I have a list of some of the challenges that I've raised them in the House. I've been assured that they've been addressed. I just want you, as succinctly as you can, to let me know what some of those issues were and whether you've dealt with them, because it's been very unsubscribed, especially in my province.
Thank you all for still being here.
There are a lot of interesting conversations going on, but I want to come back to and follow up on comments made by my colleague Gordie Hogg on homelessness.
We know this is a subject that has blown up, so to speak. We see it everywhere, in a lot of small cities and in a lot of big cities in this country. We are almost at a breaking point.
In my riding of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, there's actually a standoff happening between the province and the municipality, for lots of different reasons. It's unfortunate, because both sides want to see progress being made. The question is how that progress is being made. What are the challenges they face, and how can they move forward with this? It's an almost impossible situation to be in.
There's a program called Reaching Home. That's where I want to come from, because when people talk to me about homelessness.... You have to break it up into silos. You have people who have addiction issues, and they're deeply entrenched. You have seniors who just can't afford to pay any more; they're stuck and they don't have a home. You have single-parent families that just aren't making enough money. You have youth who are couch surfing; they are totally left behind and they have no place anymore.
One of the things I always say is that those are separate issues. What I want to tackle, if we really want to prevent homelessness, is this: How do we catch the young people so they don't fill the pipeline of future homeless people?
I think the Reaching Home program is speaking to that. Can you help me out, Mr. Flack?
You're right about unbundling the elements of homelessness. One of the big elements of the government's plan, as members are aware, is actually Evan's very ambitious plan of access to a home for everyone. The homelessness piece.... As you make the possibility of homes more affordable for people, you can move people into that market. As you say, if seniors have enough income, they are able to rent and not rely on this.
You specifically focused on youth and not creating a new pipeline for that. I would unbundle that problem by saying that it isn't simply a homelessness problem. If we have those youth successfully transitioning to school, so that they have a source of income when they come out of that, then they have the means to avoid homelessness.
That's an example of one of the things that members are voting on in the mains—the Pathways to Education program. It's an exceptional program in many communities in Canada that has had tremendous results in moving people who are at risk in the high school area into education pathways that, as you say, cause them not to join that cycle; otherwise, they may be homeless because their parents were in a precarious economic position.
I think the real hallmark of the Reaching Home strategy is this bottom-up community approach to determining how best to do that. There are different approaches that may work in different communities, in terms of how to avoid homelessness and what to do. Rather than there being, in the federal strategy, rules we're imposing on how to do that, the communities are developing their own approaches to that.
For example, in indigenous communities that are more remote, the answers to how to address homelessness in that youth component could be quite different from those in a larger city.
That program is community-based. This is one of the rare programs at the department that is community-based. It's not with the provincial government and it's not directly to people but to communities. This is a first. The way it's designed is that we provide incentives for everybody to sit together as a community and figure out together the right thing to do. I have to say too that the government would have doubled by next year the funding for most of the regions.
Again, this provides for more to be done. With regard to the health component, we know that in the past, with the old program, prevention was not really prioritized the same way. The community could decide that prevention would be one big part of their plan. The national housing strategy has a big component for affordable housing that will feed into trying to find homes for homeless people. That's part of the investment that will complement the homelessness strategy.
I could go on and on about the training side in regard to the other programs we have that are supporting this community—in the case of youth, for example, finding them a job and a house, putting them on a stable path and maybe providing them with some health support too if they have drug additions or other issues. There are lots of programs. Again, as we were saying before, provinces put a lot of resources into that. The idea is to create some complementary things and to move forward, but with the community.
The answer is really within the community. As the DM mentioned before, I believe, the coordinated intake that we're trying to implement with the community, where they know where these people are so that they're not being treated many times at different places but in kind of a coordinated way, will help a lot in terms of having more success and delivering better outcomes for these people.
With regard to both the internal evaluation by your department and the community consultations, I might get in trouble for this, but when communities asked for an ability to have some flexibility on their end to deal with it, I don't believe that equated to ending the criteria to use Housing First as an approach. That's an evidence-based approach to ending homelessness, one of the only ones in the world. I think it was a huge mistake for you to back off from that.
Now, I realize that the federal government provides only a very small amount in the whole scheme of things, but that's the point. What happened in most communities, what happened in my community, was that there wasn't enough to do Housing First because there wasn't enough from the provincial government for the supports. Communities were struggling. They had to choose. It was either-or. I'm trying to say that it has to be both. I'm not blaming anybody for saying get rid of the criteria because it really hampered their community. Those folks are on the front line, and those people are standing in front of them. I acknowledge that. I just think that's very unfortunate.
I had a conversation this morning about a program started under a previous government. I don't really care whether it was Conservative or Liberal. To be able to actually respect community development, there needs to be some consistency when people are interacting with the federal government. I think it was a huge mistake to take that away, as some communities were just starting to realize.
Some of the pieces that you've kept in Reaching Home, the coordinated assessment and all those things, grew out of communities starting to look at the solution to homelessness as easy: It's a home, a safe and affordable place to call home. Whether you're addicted, whether you can't go to school, you need a place to live. The fact that students in my riding live in cars and still go to school—I mean, they deserve a medal, but they shouldn't be having to go to school that way. They hang in there.
When it comes to social programs, I find that the federal government doesn't give community groups the same respect they give business. You had people at the table, you did your own internal evaluation, and none that said to remove this great piece of work, an intervention that actually has been proven to make a difference. I don't know if you want to comment. Obviously, you can tell where I'm coming from. I don't like people who say that Housing First is a program. It is not a program. It has principles and values that allow a community to get somewhere. I guess I'm imploring you to reconsider or to do all you can to encourage those communities who have.... Like, the Medicine Hats will continue on with Housing First, because that changed that community.
However, I would like to see the federal government again championing that evidence-based research intervention. That's the next piece of work that we needed to do, and now we can't. How does it work for women fleeing violence? How does it work for young people? We know that young people are homeless for very different reasons. They would have liked to stay at home. They've left home because it's dangerous, because they've been assaulted or because there was violence. I know groups are coming forward now to say they'd like to look at those other aspects.
I'll give you a chance to comment on my.... I don't know what you'd call it. It's not a rant; it is really a plea. Speaking as someone who was part of that transition in her community—I'm speaking that way, not as a parliamentarian—it made a big difference. We needed to keep going, and now I can't.
The whole idea of this proposal, as Ms. Tassi mentioned before, is to provide income security to seniors, but also to encourage and support them when they work. The big difference here is that for those who already work a bit—those who work part-time, for example—this will mean they will keep a lot more of their GIS than they did before. Before, after $3,500, they were clawed back at either 75% or 50%, depending on where they were, on every dollar they were earning. Now they will have an exemption on the first 50%, and they will be clawed back on the remaining 50%.
To give you an example, for the maximum, which is in the zone of about $15,000 per year, for a single senior this is about $4,000 more in their pocket at the end of the year. That's pretty substantial.
We were talking about poverty before. Most seniors right now are not living in poverty, but they are barely above the official poverty line. With this measure they're going to move quite a bit higher and have more than a modest standard of living, in our view, so it will really improve their lives. We're looking at the threshold of poverty, but we're also looking above the threshold at people who are only just above it. For those people it will be quite helpful.
Again, for those who are not working now because they fear they're going to get a clawback on their benefits, this may change their decision and they may want to participate. As the minister was mentioning, when we do round tables about social inclusion, often we see that for seniors who want to stay partially in the labour market, it has helped them to live better and healthier and longer. We hope this measure will have an effect on these people.
We'll move to the votes on the main estimates.
CANADA MORTGAGE AND HOUSING CORPORATION
Vote 1—Reimbursement under the provisions of the National Housing Act and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Act..........$2,624,301,333
Vote 5—Expanding the Rental Construction Financing Initiative..........$18,124,501
Vote 10—Introducing the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive..........$14,705,104
(Votes 1, 5, and 10 agreed to on division)
CANADIAN CENTRE FOR OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
Vote 1—Program expenditures..........$4,117,347
(Vote 1 agreed to on division)
DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
Vote 1—Operating expenditures..........$702,802,917
Vote 5—Grants and contributions..........$2,728,809,482
Vote 10—Boosting the Capacity of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services..........$1,098,000
Vote 15—Empowering Seniors in their Communities..........$20,000,000
Vote 20—Enhancing Supports for Apprenticeship..........$3,000,000
Vote 25—Ensuring Income Security Benefits are Fair and Efficient..........$31,800,000
Vote 30—Establishing a Permanent Global Talent Stream..........$6,360,000
Vote 35—Expanding the Canada Service Corps..........$34,710,557
Vote 40—Expanding the Student Work Placement Program..........$75,529,000
Vote 45—Improving Gender and Diversity Outcomes in Skills Programs..........$1,000,000
Vote 50—Inclusion of Canadians with Visual Impairments and Other Print Disabilities..........$1,500,000
Vote 55—Investing in Service Canada..........$91,100,000
Vote 60—Resolving Income Security Program Disputes More Quickly and Easily..........$400,000
Vote 65—Supporting Black Canadian Communities..........$5,000,000
Vote 70—Modernizing the Youth Employment Strategy..........$29,500,000
Vote 75—Supporting Employment for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorders..........$4,000,000
Vote 80—Supporting Indigenous Post-Secondary Education..........$3,000,000
Vote 85—Participation of Social Purpose Organizations in the Social Finance Market..........$25,000,000
(Votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, and 85 agreed to on division)