I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number five of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
To begin, I would like to thank all of the members for being here once again today. I also would like to thank the vice-chairs, subcommittee members and staff for working diligently to prepare for today's meeting.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline the rules.
Occupational health and safety staff have requested that we limit our movement in the room and wear masks unless seated. Floor markings indicate the path of travel, which goes counter-clockwise around the table. Individuals should respect physical distancing and remain two metres apart from one another. Seats and microphones have been placed in a manner such that everybody is properly physically distanced. To minimize health risks, we are allowing one staffer today. Other staff members are able to get on via calls.
You will note that no paper documents have been distributed. All documents that you will find or any conversations that you need to have go through FEWO@parl.gc.ca.
Today we're going to be studying the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women. We will be accepting briefs from the general public at any time up to July 30. We are asking for them to be two to three pages in length. If people have questions regarding those briefings that they would like to put forward, please contact the clerk at FEWO@parl.gc.ca.
During the questioning of witnesses, there will be a six-minute first round. Round 1 questioning will be as follows: Conservative, Liberal and Bloc, followed by the NDP. For the second and subsequent rounds, the order and time for questioning will be as follows: Conservative Party, five minutes; Liberals, five minutes; Conservative Party, five minutes; Liberal Party, five minutes; Bloc, two and a half minutes; and, New Democratic Party, two and a half minutes.
On this, because we recognize that our time is so sensitive and also that both ministers would like to be at the committee of the whole today, I'm asking that everybody be very aware of their timing. If you are provided six minutes, you will be cut off at six minutes. If you are provided two and a half minutes, you will be cut off at two minutes and 31 seconds—that's for you, Lindsay. I want to make sure that everybody recognizes that time is of the essence right now. Please always respect the time that we are using today so we can get all of the information and all of the questions that we have from all individuals sitting at this table and we can move forward.
I am also honoured to welcome today the Honourable , member of Parliament and Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development, as well as the Honourable , Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. Minister Monsef is accompanied by Guylaine Roy, deputy minister, Women and Gender Equality Canada, and Nancy Gardiner, assistant deputy minister, Women and Gender Equality Canada. Minister Qualtrough is accompanied by Catherine Adam, senior assistant deputy minister, strategic and service policy branch; Andrew Brown, director general, employment insurance policy; and, Philippe Massé, director general, temporary foreign workers program.
I invite the ministers to now make their opening remarks. Your remarks will be for 10 minutes. At that time, I will be cutting you off.
I would like to welcome to the floor the Honourable Maryam Monsef for her 10 minutes.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Hello, colleagues. Boozoo. Aaniin. As-salaam alaikum. I hope you're well. I hope you're safe. I wish the same for your loved ones and for your teams.
Given that this is my first time in front of a committee in our post-COVID world, let me take this opportunity to thank the public service of Canada for all the ways that you've put everything on the line. We are truly blessed to have the world's best public service moving Canada forward during this difficult time. Also, of course, it's wonderful to be here with Minister Qualtrough, who has been moving some significant pieces forward, not the least of which is the CERB program.
Madam Chair, I am very much looking forward to the response that comes from your committee as we navigate the ongoing impacts of the pandemic on the most vulnerable, on women and on the path to recovery. I want to thank you for the work there.
I'll talk about our government's response to COVID. I would like to spend a bit of time talking about the impact on women and the road to recovery, but first let me talk about this book. Those of you from Winnipeg and those of you who have been around the last little while know that Runaway Wives and Rogue Feminists is a book that tells the story of the women's shelter movement in Canada. Maybe I'll start with that.
In 1971, the Liberal government of the day introduced the local initiatives programs and the opportunities for youth program. These programs were to support those who were experiencing particular vulnerabilities during a time of severe economic downturn. The programs encouraged Canadians, particularly women and young people, to find solutions to pressing local challenges and receive a modest amount of funding from the federal government to help turn those ideas and solutions into action.
Among the many ideas that came forward was one put together by young women across the country. They came together in the early seventies and started women's shelters in Canada, the very first women's shelters in Canada. Today, there are some 600 women's shelters in Canada because a group of young women came together to ensure that battered women and their children had a place to go in their hour of need. In 1996, my family and I were able to stay at one of those shelters.
Because of a decision that was made in 1971 and because of investments made in 1971, people today are benefiting from the thoughts, the creativity and the opportunities that have been created. We are going to see young people seize opportunities to propose solutions that we haven't thought of, and the story of the shelter movement in Canada is a really good reminder of the opportunities that can be seized in times of difficulty.
When the pandemic hit, one of our immediate responses was to provide $50 million to organizations that are providing support to those experiencing increased rates of gender-based violence due to the isolation measures in Canada. Today, some one thousand organizations have been able to keep their doors open, have been able to keep their staff paid and have been able to keep their buildings clean and provide a place of refuge for women and children in really dark hours.
We started our efforts by focusing on shelters and sexual assault centres, and then we were able to flow funds in a new way, in a way that we hadn't done before, to organizations that provide gender-based violence supports but do so without having the specific mandate of being a shelter or sexual assault centre. This includes a range of organizations that, for example, are doing work in the Downtown Eastside, organizations that are working in smaller rural communities and, of course, organizations that are providing supports to victims of human trafficking.
There is more to do. There is more to come. We are moving forward with the plan to develop Canada's first national action plan on gender-based violence, and I will have more to say very soon about our efforts to support victims of human trafficking in this country.
From the very beginning, we recognized that those who were most vulnerable would be hardest hit by COVID, and every step we've taken has taken that into account. The intersectional gendered lens that the Government of Canada applies has been applied to all of our efforts. I am happy to talk more about that.
There has also been a recognition that women have been hardest hit by COVID, with jobs lost and their work on the front lines and the care responsibilities they taken on because schools and day cares have been closed and because elders have needed help—as well as the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence. Women have been hardest hit, and if we're going to get out of this “she-cession”, we're going to have to support women in their need to get back to work and to ensure that we remove barriers. Otherwise, we lose the hard-won gains that so many before us have fought for.
Our focus on the vulnerable has led to millions of Canadians being supported.
The thousand organizations that we were able to support with gender-based violence funds have an impact in supporting some three million women and children in this country.
The CERB has benefited over eight million Canadians. The CEWS, or the wage subsidy, has supported close to three million workers. The Canada child benefit top-up has supported 3.7 million families with kids. The GST credit top-up has supported 12 million low- and modest-income individuals and families. The CESB has supported some 600,000 students. The OAS and GIS top-ups have supported 6.7 million elders in our country, and they will be receiving the top-up this week. The CEBA loans have supported 688,000 businesses, and there are additional supports for those businesses being worked out.
Madam Chair, the road to recovery from this unprecedented global pandemic will be hard. We are still in the middle of the pandemic. There's still a lot that we don't know about the virus, including how it spreads. I am proud of the way that Canadians have come together in shared sacrifice to protect the most vulnerable.
I am grateful to everyone who has been on the front lines of this work, particularly the women, who have put everything on the line. Some have had to have some really difficult conversations with their loved ones about why they can't be in the same house with them because they do work on the front lines. I'm talking about front-line workers.
The road to recovery has to include supporting women and the most vulnerable. There is an opportunity here too. The pandemic has revealed strengths in our system: for example, the public service of Canada; for example, our democratic institutions; and, for example, our universal health care system. It has also exposed cracks in our system that make too many vulnerable. We have an opportunity in the path to recovery, in the reimagining of our country and these systems, to rebuild back better. It's going to take every single one of us to work together to make that happen.
I want to thank you again for giving me a space. I want to thank everybody who has worked so hard to make this different way of doing business and doing Parliament possible.
I'll hand it back over to you, Madam Chair. I look forward to the conversation we are to have.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Good morning, everyone.
I'm pleased to be here with you today to speak about the emergency measures taken within the portfolio of Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC, to support Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also want to talk about their impact on the situation of women and on gender equality.
These emergency measures, like all the measures implemented by the Government of Canada, reflect our commitment to equality, fairness, inclusiveness and diversity.
Let me get right into it. Given the speed of the severity by which the pandemic struck our country, we made a decision to act as quickly as possible in order to assist Canadians by issuing financial assistance immediately. We lost no time. We acted swiftly and promptly with the CERB, the student benefit, wage subsidies and other measures. We accepted that our response would not be perfect, but we were committed to being quick and ensuring we could deliver. Canadians were relying on us, and we would be there for them.
We know that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, putting them at greater risk of job loss, poverty, food insecurity, loss of housing and domestic violence, and I'd like to provide an overview of some of our measures.
As the pandemic made its way to Canada and began having tremendous impacts on our economy and our daily lives, our government acted quickly to create the Canada emergency response benefit. This benefit was created to help all Canadians who stopped working due to COVID-19.
I'll be honest with you: the CERB was conceived of, designed, approved, funded and legislated within a week. This was a massive new program being delivered to millions of Canadians, and the timelines were quite extraordinary. In this incredible timeline, there was no formal GBA+ study done. I say this because I want to be frank with you, but this in no way meant that we did not consider the needs and impacts on women at every decision point.
There were things that we absolutely knew. By delivering the CERB outside the EI system, we knew that we would be supporting Canadians with precarious work and Canadians who weren't eligible for EI. This meant that the most vulnerable workers, including women and persons with disabilities, would be supported—Canadians who would not have been supported through EI.
We also knew that people would not be able to work for reasons other than job loss, such as sickness or quarantine, elder care and child care. We knew that women would be the most impacted if the income support did not take into consideration these broader realities. We knew that women are generally overrepresented in minimum wage and low-paying occupations, such as educational services and food services, which we anticipated would be the hardest hit by the pandemic, and we knew how important it was to deliver a benefit that addressed the pandemic reality for every worker—women in particular.
This benefit ensures that all eligible workers receive $500 per week. The Canada emergency response benefit, or CERB, supports workers who have lost their jobs or who are unable to work because they are ill, they must self-isolate, or they need to take care of children or dependants as a result of the pandemic.
It also provides financial support to workers who are still employed but making under $1,000 every four weeks. To give you a sense of the scope of the need, more than 8 million workers have been paid more than $53 billion in benefits through the CERB. Fifty-one per cent of CERB recipients are men, 48% are women and 1% identify as gender diverse.
We recently extended the CERB by eight weeks to a maximum of 24 weeks. This is to ensure Canadians continue to get the support they need as the economy reopens. This is particularly important for women, who are facing the reality this summer of not being able to work even if they have a job to go back to, due to a lack of child care or summer camps. We recognize that our best strength for a recovery is getting people back into the labour force. This is why, with the extension of the CERB, we are encouraging workers who are able to return to work to do so, provided it's reasonable based on their individual circumstances. We are very realistic about the barriers being faced by women as they return to work.
Now, to go over to students and youth, we also know and have known from the beginning that this pandemic would have an impact on younger Canadians, and we had to think of innovative and targeted ways to support them. One significant way was helping students and youth through the Canada emergency student benefit. Students who are not receiving the CERB could be eligible to receive $1,250 per month during these important summer months that so many of them count on for financial stability.
As we know, women may account for almost two-thirds of the student population in universities in Canada. As a result, this financial support significantly helps women.
Keeping in line with our GBA+ lens, we decided that students with permanent disabilities and students with dependants would receive an additional $750 per month. This recognizes the additional expenses being incurred by students who are parents and by students with disabilities, as well as the additional barriers to employment being faced by female students, including the already mentioned lack of child care options this summer.
The CERB and the CESB have been providing much-needed support to millions of Canadians and to millions of Canadian women. Let me now highlight two other initiatives that are benefiting women in particular.
First, to help families, as was said, our government provided a one-time enhancement of $300 per child for families receiving the CCB. Starting on July 20, the CCB will be increased once again to keep up with the cost of living.
Second, recognizing the particular vulnerability of our seniors in this pandemic and understanding that 54% of the Canadian population over 65 are women, we are providing a one-time tax-free payment of $300 for seniors who are eligible for old age security, with an additional $200 for seniors who are eligible for the GIS. Eligible seniors, as my colleague said, are receiving this one-time payment this week, and I know that this will be a welcome support for seniors in Canada.
I'll turn now to persons with disabilities. In addition to women facing heightened barriers and challenges during this pandemic, persons with disabilities are also disproportionately impacted.
According to the latest available data, more women than men have disabilities in Canada. The ratio is 2.1 million women to 1.7 million men. Currently, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable because they very likely work in the hardest hit sectors of the economy. In addition, 60% of them are victims of violence.
We've been working with the disability community since the beginning. In the spirit of “nothing without us” and the Accessible Canada Act, and to support Canadians with disabilities, we established the COVID-19 disability advisory group.
The advisory group has raised key issues that affect Canadians with disabilities in the areas of health care, employment and social services, to name a few. They put an intersectional disability lens on the pandemic. They worked with the Public Health Agency on guidelines to ensure that people with disabilities are protected, listened to, supported and accommodated as necessary during this pandemic. They raised issues about triage and visitor policies with the , who in turn brought these concerns to her provincial and territorial counterparts, which resulted in significant policy changes.
Thanks in part to the advice—
Thanks in part to the group's advice, we recognized that persons with disabilities had to incur some extraordinary costs during the pandemic. On June 5, the announced that, effective June 1, 2020, individuals who hold a disability tax credit certificate would receive a one-time payment of $600.
As you know, our government's effort to pass legislation to support implementation of this payment did not proceed as intended. Parties could not agree on the legislation. Therefore, the process to roll out this benefit has been delayed. However, I emphasize the “delayed” part. We remain committed to finding a solution that delivers this supplement to Canadians with disabilities.
Madam Chair, our government has been working relentlessly to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect Canadians' health and financial security during this pandemic. However, we know there is more work to be done. As we emerge from this crisis, we have an opportunity to design approaches to recovery that promote gender equality and a more inclusive society. That's what our government intends to keep doing.
To help ensure we leave no one behind, we commit absolutely to conducting rigorous GBA+ analysis as we gradually take measures to reopen the economy. My department is proud of its GBA+ centre of expertise, which has evolved over the years and will play a key role in ensuring that GBA+ is incorporated into our programs, policies and initiatives as we move forward.
Thank you. As well, I'd be happy to answer your questions.
I thank you for your really important question.
People with disabilities have faced and are facing extraordinary expenses specific to COVID and additional barriers to getting the support and services they need. We wanted to ensure that we provided a supplement as opposed to an employment income replacement, as we did with seniors, that would ensure that these extraordinary expenses were the focus of this assistance.
We knew there was a gap in terms of.... We were able to provide...children with disabilities through CCB, seniors, students, low-income Canadians with disabilities through the GST, but there were significant cohorts.
What this pandemic has revealed is a gap in our system and a weakness in our policy and programs. We can't easily identify a group of Canadians with disabilities to connect with directly. The best group we had was disability tax credit claimants, but we needed legislation to allow the DTC data to be shared with my department in order to deliver this benefit. That's what the legislation would have done, unlock that data to allow us to deliver this supplement.
As I said in my opening remarks, I'm not in any way going to let this go. We are going to find a way to deliver this. I'm baffled, given the all-party support we had for the Accessible Canada Act, that we couldn't get all-party support, even when we took the disability piece out and tried to put it forth on its own, but I am no less committed. In fact, we are more resolved to deliver this, and we're going to find a way, hopefully, through legislation. That's the most inclusive and accessible way. If not, we're working on other options.
Thank you for the question, Ms. Larouche.
As I just mentioned to MP Zahid, our economy, particularly the care work that's been done, unpaid care work, underpaid care work at best, has been done by women and women of diverse backgrounds. Pay equity is certainly a priority for us. We have put forward pay equity legislation. The work around addressing the gender wage gaps also includes ensuring that gender-based violence is addressed. If this most prevalent human rights violation is not addressed, women will not reach their full potential. If women are not supported, those who choose to go into fields that are often male-dominated, but also pay better, we're not going to reach pay equity, but I also agree that we need to work as a country to ensure that women get paid equally for work of equal value in the fields they choose to be in.
COVID has heightened just how important women's work is, how important care work in particular is, and how we all need to do better to compensate those who are doing this work. The pandemic pay that our government put forward to support provinces and territories is an example of just how much we believe that this needs to happen, for the sake of it being the right thing to do, but also, if we don't pay people fair wages, they're not likely to stay in those fields where we need them, and that's going to create a whole other set of challenges, as we have seen throughout COVID.
Thank you to both ministers for appearing today.
My first question is for Minister Monsef.
Throughout COVID, and you acknowledged it too, there's been a rise in domestic violence. We also know and heard yesterday that there's chronic underfunding of shelters. In 2019 Women's Shelters Canada published a report on how they are constantly doing more with less. Specifically now, with COVID, they cannot rely on fundraisers, and that money has evaporated.
Yesterday we heard again from those organizations that the short-term, project-based funding model simply is not getting the job done, and it hasn't for many, many years.
Do you have intentions, in terms of your government, to provide reliable, predictable core funding that allows organizations to deal with a potential second wave or any future crises or emergencies? Will your government commit to converting the capacity-building fund grants to permanent core funding, allowing those women's organizations to break down the systemic barriers that they face?
You are right; women's shelters and women's organizations, particularly over the past few decades, have had to find creative ways to make ends meet. They've been able to maintain their services despite the whims and the values of the various governments of the day.
We came in, in 2015, and one of our first steps forward on that front was providing supports to support and maintain 7,000 shelter units. We also carved out one-third of the national housing strategy so that women who are staying in shelters could then move into affordable housing, so that they could free up spaces but also piece back together and rebuild their lives. To date, about 29% of the national housing strategy has supported builds for women.
In addition to that, we were able to put forward funding to support shelters through capacity-building funds, through the gender-based violence program. During the COVID response, one of the first calls was to Lise Martin of Women's Shelters Canada. In partnership with her and her team, we were able to get money directly into the bank accounts of some 500 shelters in Canada to respond to COVID.
There is absolutely more work to do. We know that the work around operations for these women's organizations and equality-seeking organizations has to be in conjunction and co-operation with provinces and territories. The national action plan for gender-based violence is going to create an opportunity to further support these organizations.
MP Mathyssen, I look forward to your continued advocacy and partnership to ensure greater sustainability for these essential services for Canadians.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Ministers, for joining us this morning to help the committee study the impacts of COVID-19 on women. We greatly appreciate you being here virtually.
We know that it has been 131 days since this committee last met, and I think all committee members recognize the importance of this opportunity for parliamentarians to study the unique impacts on women of this pandemic and, critically, the government's response to it.
Committee members are also well aware that women make up the overwhelming majority of students in this country—over 60%. However, like in many other sectors, they do not occupy many of the senior positions, such as Ph.D. programs and faculty positions, and all of this despite making up the majority of undergraduate students for the last 30 years. I think this is quite a concern.
As a result, the summer months are critical in helping women students work to afford tuition and continue their academic careers. I know this because I was a student who was a waitress and worked for many years to help pay for my education.
I will make reference to some of the Manitoba statistics that I believe are relevant to this.
The restaurant, hotel and retail sector, which is dominated by young people, particularly student women, represented 43.5% of job losses. Younger Manitobans aged 15 to 24 accounted for 35.3% of job losses. Fifty-six per cent of Manitoba job losses were women's.
The Canada student service grant is in fact a response to these alarming statistics, as I'm sure you would agree, and I have to say that I do applaud the government for thinking in innovative ways to support students who have been unable to find summer work. Frankly, this grant would have been a great help to me a decade ago.
With that in mind, Minister Qualtrough, would you permit me to ask a few quick questions about the grant, given that it's on the minds of Canadians and students?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank Minister Qualtrough and Minister Monsef for their presentations and for their work in assisting organizations in Canada, particularly during the pandemic.
My first question is for Minister Monsef. It concerns the $50 million in funding to help women's shelters and to combat domestic violence.
When I was speaking to local organizations, I spoke with Linda Lafantaisie Renaud, the executive director of the Horizon Women's Centre in West Nipissing, and with the executive director of the YWCA in greater Sudbury, Marlene Gorman. They're very, very thankful for the support during this pandemic, especially the support related to the women being quarantined. There is additional support, so organizations don't have to worry about the pandemic and can focus on the support for women and the flexibility in the funds. Madame Lafantaisie mentioned that she was so relieved about the work done in partnership between the federal government and the Province of Ontario, with Premier Ford. Earlier the opposition mentioned cherry-picking, but the organizations were really supportive. They were really thankful that the federal government and the provincial government are working together to make sure that we support women's organizations.
I wanted to give you an opportunity, Minister Monsef, to elaborate on the partnership that you've been working on closely with Premier Ford in Ontario to support women's organizations across the province.
MP Serré, it's wonderful to see you well.
When the pandemic hit, the moment that really hit home for my team and I was when the had to self-isolate. At that time, we got on the phone with women's organizations, our partners across the country. In the next 48 hours there was a series of phone calls. Organizations all said the same thing when we asked them what we should do first: The last place that women will go when they need help is shelters and sexual assault centres, so we better make sure that when she knocks on the door, it is open to her and she's safe.
We've been very fortunate to have very positive relationships with all of our partners across the country, the other ministers responsible for women and gender equality in every province and territory. We realized that the rate of response was key. We had to get the money out very quickly. Flexibility was also going to be key, and we knew that to ensure there was no overlap of our funds, as resources are always limited, we had to make sure there weren't gaps created in the supports we were providing to organizations across the community. In that regard, working very closely with our provincial and territorial counterparts would be key.
After we came up with a list of partnerships with women's organizations, including Women's Shelters Canada and the Canadian Women's Foundation, we were able to share it with provincial and territorial partners, which then went through it and added to it, and told us who was getting funding already. When we rolled out the funds, they went out in a coordinated fashion to organizations that are providing support to some three million women and children across the country.
Those partnerships are going to be key not only in the ongoing efforts to respond to COVID, but also in the work that will need to happen with the national action plan.
Thank you so much for that important question. We were already working to support the creation of some 40,000 child care spaces in the country. Minister Hussen and I have a joint mandate, from the , to develop an early learning and child care secretariat. That work is under way.
Ninety-seven per cent of early learning and child care workers are women. The wages that they're paid, and the way the different provinces and territories treat early learning and child care affect them.
I've been working with the Canadian Teachers' Federation very closely for the past few months—and a shout-out to Cassie Hallett. They're having their AGM this week. These women, these teachers were expected to look after their own kids while coming up with online modules for children across the country. They've endured incredible hardships, and we thank them for stepping up.
We are working very closely with provinces and territories. and the have had weekly meetings, first ministers meetings with provinces and territories, with the premiers. Of the many initiatives that we are working together on to ensure a safe restart to our economy, child care is one of them. It has to be one of them.
This sector was hard hit before COVID. The sector needed support before that. COVID has changed their entire business model. We owe it to them, to our children and to our economy to get it right. Those negotiations are ongoing, and more needs to be done.
I do look forward to one of the other good things coming out of COVID, being a stronger, more whole system of early learning and child care.
Before I get into my questions, I want to mention that I had some questions that didn't get answered. The Bloc also had some really great questions that we ran out of time for. I'm wondering if the ministers would commit to getting us our answers in writing as soon as possible. I see nodding. Thank you very much. I think that would be great.
I'm also wondering whether we could get the ministers to commit to returning to the committee. We had a good discussion yesterday. We may very well be at this again in the fall, to expand on our study, and we'd very much appreciate it if both ministers would join us again then, if they are available. I see more nodding. Okay, perfect.
For my final questions, I want to ask a little bit more about the GBA+. I completely understand that everything was rolled out extremely quickly. I do recognize that. I do have some concerns, though, particularly for women entrepreneurs. Many of them don't use chequing accounts. They aren't able to access any of the business-centred programs your government rolled out in very rapid succession. I do believe that a GBA+ applied then, or applied now, would show that.
Minister Monsef, could you commit to bringing that to your cabinet colleagues so that we can get some amendments to these business programs in favour of entrepreneurial women?