I'll call the meeting officially to order.
Welcome to meeting number 23 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. We're meeting pursuant to the order of reference of Tuesday, March 24, on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Appearing before us today on behalf of the is Sean Fraser, with the longest title in Parliament: Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and to the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance.
With Sean, after we hear from him for 45 minutes, are the witnesses from the Canada Revenue Agency: Ted Gallivan, assistant commissioner; Geoff Trueman, assistant commissioner; and Frank Vermaeten, assistant commissioner.
From the Department of Employment and Social Development, we have Alexis Conrad, assistant deputy minister. We have Cliff Groen, assistant deputy minister for Service Canada, and Andrew Brown, director general for employment insurance policy.
From the Department of Finance, we have officials Andrew Marsland—not a newcomer to this committee—senior assistant deputy minister; Evelyn Dancey, associate assistant deputy minister; Alison McDermott, associate assistant deputy minister; Suzy McDonald, associate assistant deputy minister, federal-provincial relations; Soren Halverson, associate assistant deputy minister, financial sector; and Nicolas Moreau, director general, funds management division.
We welcome and thank all the officials and Parliamentary Secretary Fraser for coming.
With that, we'll turn to you for some opening remarks, Mr. Fraser, and then go to the first round of questions for about 45 minutes. Following that, we'll turn to the officials on their own.
The floor is yours.
Thank you kindly, Mr. Chair, and thank you to my committee colleagues.
At the outset of this appearance I'll extend the regrets of Ministers and , who were unable to join us here today, so you'll have to put up with me, I'm afraid.
Before I begin my prepared remarks, I want to offer an acknowledgement of the tragedies my home province of Nova Scotia has recently undergone. We've seen an unprecedented mass murder of innocent residents of our province and citizens of our country in recent weeks, and overnight we learned of the downing of a helicopter taking part in a NATO training exercise that to date has claimed the life of at least one resident of my province serving in the armed forces. To those families who are grieving, please note that our thoughts are with you during this time of extraordinary difficulty. Though we may not be able to mourn together, we have never been more together in some ways.
With that, Mr. Chair, I'd like to begin by thanking my committee colleagues for all their work during these unprecedented times, and I'd like to thank you for the invitation to join you at committee today.
Our government has been working very quickly on developing and implementing policies and programs to support Canadians impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We've rapidly rolled out historic measures for both workers and businesses, for families and young people and seniors. We continue to fine-tune some of those measures to respond to the concerns and needs of Canadians that reveal themselves as the facts change on the ground.
Over the past number of weeks, we've announced a series of broad economy-wide supports as part of Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan. I'm very pleased to be here today to provide members of this committee with the government's third biweekly report on our COVID-19 economic response.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Canada's economy. Extraordinary measures are required to respond to these challenging times. That's why the government has put in place Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan. This plan is the largest and most rapidly deployed peacetime investment in the history of our country. To help stabilize the economy, our plan is providing $146 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses and more than $85 billion to meet liquidity needs of Canadian businesses and households through tax and customs duty payment deferrals.
I can't stress enough how important these actions are for supporting Canadian households and businesses through this economic shock. The measures we've been able to roll out include the Canada emergency response benefit, which is currently supporting millions of Canadians who have had to stop working as a result of this pandemic. As of Monday, more than seven million Canadians have applied to the CERB. I want to commend in particular the members of our public service for their incredible work in processing applications and rapidly getting money into the hands of Canadians who have suffered an interruption to their income.
In addition, the CERB was extended to seasonal workers who have exhausted their regular EI benefits and are unable to find a job due to the market conditions that have been caused by COVID-19.
Last week we also unveiled our $9-billion plan to specifically help students and recent graduates get through the next few months. Because of COVID-19, there aren't as many jobs available this summer for students as there appeared to be just a few short months ago. Without a job, it can be hard to pay for tuition as well as the day-to-day essentials. Therefore, we proposed the Canada emergency student benefit, which would give students $1,250 a month from May to August, with even more support for students with dependents or those living with disabilities.
At the same time, we're creating and extending up to 116,000 jobs and other opportunities for young people in sectors that need an extra hand right now or that are on the front line of our pandemic. If students want to volunteer to help in the fight against the spread of COVID-19, they could be eligible for a grant through the new Canada student service grant of between $1,000 and $5,000.
To help protect jobs and help businesses that are significantly impacted by this crisis keep their workers, we introduced the Canada emergency wage subsidy. This subsidy provides a 75% wage subsidy, up to $847 a week per employee, to employers who have been significantly impacted by this pandemic. Applications opened just this week, and on the very first day 44,000 applicants submitted applications.
We're also making sure that small businesses get the support they need. They are, after all, the heart of so many of our communities across Canada, and we're taking targeted action to make sure they can weather this crisis. The Canada emergency business account, CEBA, is providing small businesses with interest-free loans of up to $40,000, with 25% of that amount being forgivable. This money is helping small businesses stay strong throughout this crisis. To date, almost half a million applications have been approved, totalling more than $18 billion in support for Canada's small businesses.
We know that some small businesses have been significantly impacted. Some even had to temporarily close for public health reasons. Last week we announced the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program to help the hardest-hit businesses in Canada with a 75% lower rent for small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19. This program provides qualifying property owners with a 50% forgivable loan, in exchange for their providing a rent reduction of at least 75% to tenants who pay less than $50,000 a month in rent or who have been forced to close because of COVID-19 or had their revenues drop by at least 70%.
We've taken these actions because we know that supporting Canadian workers and Canadian businesses throughout this crisis means our economy is going to be well positioned to rebound quickly when the time is right.
We need to make sure that workers in all corners of the country are getting the support they need. Communities across Canada rely on businesses staying strong throughout this crisis. That's why we are investing $675 million to give small and medium-sized businesses financing support through Canada's regional development agencies, like ACOA in my home region of Atlantic Canada. Nowhere is the need for small businesses to provide jobs, goods and services clearer than in rural communities like the ones that I represent, so we're also making investments in the community futures programs to help small businesses survive this period of difficulty.
We know that workers in our western provinces and Newfoundland have been suffering with the global shocks to oil prices as well. We introduced two new programs that will create jobs while making significant investments in keeping our environment clean: cleaning up orphaned wells and reducing carbon pollution.
We know that the cancellations of summer festivals and sporting events has left many of our artists without chances to perform and athletes without opportunities to play. This is why we have created the COVID-19 emergency support fund for cultural, heritage and support organizations. It will provide $500 million to address the financial needs of organizations in these sectors so that they can continue to support artists and athletes.
In this unprecedented time, we will continue to carefully monitor all developments related to COVID-19. We are going to work hard to ensure that businesses get the support they need and that families can stay afloat. The measures that our government is putting in place are there to help as many Canadians as possible as quickly as possible. We all know that life during the pandemic continues to evolve. The immediate needs of Canadians are and will remain our priority.
Thank you for your time and for the work you are doing on behalf of all Canadians. These are difficult times, but we can and we will get through them together.
Thank you so much. I look forward to handling any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Parliamentary Secretary, for being with us today.
As you know, the Province of Quebec now has plans to begin reopening its economy. Saskatchewan has similar plans. Other provinces are likely to follow. The challenge, though, is that as these provinces start to open their economies, the federal programs that your government has designed have trip lines in place that will close them back up.
Let me explain. For example, if someone on the emergency response benefit earns more than $1,000, they lose their $2,000 benefit, which amounts to an effective tax rate of 200%. There are similar trip lines for businesses that are getting rental assistance or wage subsidies, or students who are getting the emergency income support. All of these trip lines effectively ban Canadian workers and businesses from going back and earning money.
Has your government come up with any plans to address these trip lines, so that when Canadians are given the all clear to work, they are not punished financially for doing so?
Thank you for the question.
Through you, Mr. Chair, I respectfully disagree with one of the premises upon which this question has been based. I've had the opportunity, over the past number of weeks, to speak with hundreds or potentially thousands of Canadians. One of the overwhelming things that I've picked up is that by and large, Canadians are looking forward, more than anything, to working, to being productive members of our society. It would be an extraordinarily rare occurrence to find a Canadian who would rather stay at home and collect the benefit than return to work and enhance their own career and contribute to their community.
With respect to the CERB, we did learn early on that this program, which provides $2,000 of direct income support, needed to be tweaked to protect the ability of those who have lost their primary source of income to continue to earn some money. With respect to the issue you raised around students, I note that students who qualify for this income support benefit also qualify for the Canada student service grant, which will enable them to earn up to $5,000 toward their education should they volunteer.
We worked very carefully to design programs that help Canadians in their time of need and at the same time encourage them to continue to contribute to our communities.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
I know you can't see me, but I can see you. A huge thanks to the Zoom team, who heroically tried to make me show my face, but we haven't been able to do it.
Also, Sean, I send a huge thanks to you for not only your extraordinarily hard work but also for your opening comments today. I too want to join in and say that my thoughts and heart are with Nova Scotia today, as well as with the Canadian Armed Forces and all those affected by the helicopter crash and the tragedy we heard about last night and this morning.
I have a two-part question. The first part is in regard to something that the Parliamentary Budget Officer said today, which was that the deficit in Canada is likely to top $252 billion. This is a huge number. How do you think Canadians should be interpreting this number? What do you want to be saying to Canadians at this time?
The second part of my question is about something you alluded to in your answers to Mr. Poilievre. My understanding is that Canada has been the most generous in terms of its emergency relief programs, and the fastest in terms of getting dollars into the hands of people. Can we continue to be as generous moving forward?
I'll give two themes to the response: First, yes, we can afford this; second, we cannot afford not to. There is a cost to everything, including inaction, and perhaps I'll start there.
The absence of serious and substantial federal government intervention in the present circumstances had the potential to lead to a widespread collapse of households and businesses in communities from coast to coast to coast. If you can imagine what it would be like if houses were being foreclosed upon, businesses were being shut down and people didn't have a workplace to return to at the end of this public health emergency, the cost would hardly be able to be measured in dollars.
Conversely, the cost of the action we've taken can be measured. I've mentioned the magnitude of some of the measures we've implemented to date. The PBO report points out where the cost could go. He also noted in his report that Canada is positioned well to respond to a challenge such as this and will remain in a position to continue to respond should the need demand it.
One of the reasons we're in a particularly healthy fiscal position that enables us to use the firepower we've set aside for a crisis such as this is that, going into this crisis, Canada actually had the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio of any G7 economy. We were coming in at our lowest rate of unemployment and our highest job rate, and frankly, the lowest poverty rate we've had since we started keeping track of those statistics more than 40 years ago.
During his testimony at this committee just a few weeks ago, the governor of the Bank of Canada likened our economy to that of an Olympic athlete, I think it was, who was dealing with this virus, and saying that someone who is that fit is more likely to come out of this virus in better shape than a person who has a pre-existing respiratory illness.
Because of our healthy fiscal position heading into this crisis, Canada is able to offer a world-class response in both magnitude and timeliness, and I dare say that the cost of inaction would greatly outweigh the cost of responding in the manner in which you've seen the government take action in the past few weeks.
Thanks for the question. It builds on Mr. Poilievre's intervention at the beginning of this meeting.
As a quick digression, my first political job was as the student union president at St. FX. I was one of those students who used to show up on Parliament Hill to advocate for additional supports for students. When I was in that role, we were begging the government for an intervention much smaller by orders of magnitude than what we've seen in the past few weeks.
The issue around a disincentive to work is perhaps nowhere less true than when it comes to students, who value work experience often as much as the paycheque that comes with the jobs they work at in the summer.
I'll note in particular that some students will still be working this summer. We've made a great effort to create additional positions—116,000 positions—to help students achieve the level of work experience to kick-start their careers. However, there are quite a few students—tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands across Canada—who are facing an economy that is not as rosy as it appeared to be just a few short months ago. We have to recognize that they too have ordinary costs of living that are coming due, whether that's rent or electricity, and also have the added challenge of saving up for the next semester or to start paying off student loans.
Some of the things we've done include putting a moratorium on student loan payments for the next six months. We have included an income support, yes, but to provide an additional incentive to work for those who want to work but can't find a job, we've also created the new Canada service grant, which allows students to take part in activities that will help with the fight against COVID-19. This will provide them with work experience and a grant of up to $5,000 to help with their education.
I see I'm running out of time, so I'll cut it off there, but please know that we want to support students both with the cost of living and by encouraging them to work while we help them save for school at the same time.
As Ms. Dzerowicz and Mr. Fraser have done, I would like to say that our thoughts are with the families of the victims of the Nova Scotia killings, and with the families and colleagues of the victims and members of the forces who went missing in the helicopter crash.
Mr. Fraser, my questions will focus on assistance for big business and banks. Last Saturday, economic columnist Michel Girard suggested linking this assistance to 10 conditions. I would like to know the government's position and your reaction to that.
The first condition is that the company receiving government assistance must not use tax havens in any way in the course of its commercial activities, either directly or indirectly, that is to say, through commercial allies that are established in tax havens.
What is the government's position on this?
First, thank you for your kind and sincere thoughts for the victims from my home province.
My initial reaction is that I expect there are many things my colleague and I agree on, but there is one area where we may need to distinguish our positions from one another a little.
Certainly when it comes to illegal tax evasion, I expect we both believe measures should be implemented to prevent that kind of illegal abuse. However, in other situations, while companies may play within the rules, the rules may not provide a sense of justice to certain individuals. We should be working together in a nonpartisan way to help advance rules that limit the kinds of practices that we don't think are appropriate. However, we can place ourselves in a very dangerous position if we're not careful about how we craft these policies. I find that a simple solution for many of these complex problems doesn't actually pan out in reality.
The wage subsidy, for example, is a program designed to ensure that support reaches directly to workers and families. That program may run through large employers but is ultimately for the benefit of workers. What we can't do is put in a rule that may on its face sound like it's pursuing a laudable objective but has the consequence of denying income to workers who are actually able to maintain a position of employment throughout this crisis.
I very respectfully suggest that the devil may be in the details. When it comes to some of the programs, I would certainly rather tackle the tax avoidance or tax evasion issue, but not at the cost of providing support to workers who may otherwise go hungry.
Look, I think you'll appreciate that I'm not in a position to speak about the details of programs that have not yet been developed or announced for, perhaps, obvious reasons.
Each of the programs you've seen announced to date has been to respond to a targeted need. I used the wage subsidy example previously because it was trying to target wage subsidies. To the extent that other programs seek to meet similar needs, I suppose the same answer would apply.
I will not, at the cost of the Canadians we are trying to support, let a particular rule prevent that support from reaching them. However, that doesn't mean that we can't work together, simultaneously, to continue our work to both punish those who evade taxes illegally and change rules that would create a fairer tax system.
I think we would agree that all Canadians, whether they're individuals or businesses, need to pay their fair share, but I'm not in a position to speak about the details of programs that do not yet exist.
The amount, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, as we know, is more than $26 billion a year, in both legal and illegal tax evasion. Of course, this government has expanded the access of the corporate sector to legal tax evasion through the use of tax havens and treaties with tax havens.
I'll move on to two other issues.
The first is the issue of banks, and certainly, we're moving up to May 1. We have seen mortgage deferrals approved but always with interest, penalties and fees in the banking sector. Of course, the credit card rates and lines of credit continue to be very high. The credit union sector has reduced in many areas to zero per cent for credit cards and lines of credit for Canadians struggling to get through this crisis. The banking sector has said very clearly that if the government provides direction, they will follow. Why hasn't the government stepped up yet to ensure that there isn't profiteering during this crisis by the banking sector, by Canada's big banks?
Second, around the issue of rent relief for May 1, the federal government did take initial steps around commercial rent relief, but one-third of Canadian renters, one-third of Canadian families, are going to have difficulty paying their rent tomorrow. Will the government take steps immediately to provide the same rent relief for residential tenants that they provided for commercial tenants?
Perhaps I'll start with the rent piece and, if time allows, address the banks, because I know there's a lot to unpack in just a few short minutes from that question.
The rent piece for residential circumstances is something that's not lost on us. There are, obviously, jurisdictional challenges because of the provinces' primary jurisdiction. That's not a good answer to somebody who wants to pay rent this month and has a limited ability to do so. That's why our focus was on delivering direct personal income support to those who were affected in the early days.
You'll recall that it wasn't just the CERB we put in place but also programs like the enhanced Canada child benefit, the enhanced HST rebate and certain other measures that delay amounts that could be owing to the federal government. To the extent that we had existing mechanisms to get support to Canadians directly and expeditiously, we have used them. As I said in response to a previous answer, I don't want to take anything off the table. We have an open door with our provincial counterparts should they want to tackle problems of this nature.
To the point you made in respect of our banks, I appreciate that there is a need to protect against unjust profiteering. I would suggest that, at this time, when I look at what markets are projecting, banks are not in a position where they are racking up immense profits on the backs of Canadians. They have taken some steps with respect to mortgage deferrals. We've seen a reduction in credit card rates certainly by credit unions, but across the board for many of the large companies.
They've also been an excellent partner, I have to say, with the expeditious rollout of the Canada emergency business account, which has now helped almost half a million businesses in the past few weeks alone. We do need to partner with the banks. We have to ensure that there are protections in place so that they don't profit on the backs of vulnerable Canadians, but they're going to be an important part of this emergency response and the economic recovery.
That's great. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Fraser, for your submissions.
I want to focus on CEBA. A lot of businesses in my riding, indeed right across Canada, don't qualify due to various issues respecting eligibility. These have been well identified. I would submit many are easy to fix and would go a long way to providing businesses with the liquidity they desperately need to stay afloat as they make the tough choices about whether they can go forward or shut their doors altogether.
One of those simple fixes involves the restriction, namely that to qualify one must have a business account. Sole proprietors and real estate agents often don't have a business account. They operate out of a chequing account.
Is the government looking at addressing this, and if not, why not?
There's a short answer to this question and a long answer. I'll start with the short one because I know you have a limited amount of time.
The Canada emergency business account, like the other programs we put forward, is designed to target certain fixed costs for businesses that are having a difficult time as a result of this pandemic. Although the program has been frankly working very well, we have heard there are certain gaps that leave some business owners who could benefit from this program without access to it.
Some of these businesses can benefit from other measures like the announcement I shared during my opening remarks around the regional development agencies or through the community futures program, but others may find that doesn't provide the solution they need.
To your question, there is an openness to addressing this problem to extend supports to businesses that so far do not qualify for the emergency business account. Without getting into the full details of the long answer, some of the factors that are leading to their current exclusion from eligibility are there for good reasons, such as the payroll threshold of $20,000, which I know has caused some consternation with some national stakeholders because that program may not allow certain individuals to qualify, depending on how they pay themselves.
That payroll test also provides a very quick reference for banks to determine who is eligible for the program and provides protections against abuse by organized crime, among other things. Though there may be certain simple solutions, they tend to become less simple when you dig into the consequences of simply abandoning certain requirements.
To the extent that you have suggestions that could improve this policy, I am interested in them. In that regard, I'd like to thank your colleagues, Mr. Cumming and Mr. Poilievre, for some of the suggestions they have made recently in the public sphere.
Thanks for this question. My ideological previous position had me curious about whether a basic income would have been appropriate when this pandemic first revealed itself to be of the magnitude that we now understand it to be. When we actually dug in to understand the best path forward, there were certain shortcomings on the approach that our colleagues from the NDP had been calling for.
If we simply extend a $2,000 payment to all Canadians monthly, a few problems come up. One of the primary issues is that it's not particularly well targeted. We tried to develop programs that reach Canadians who are in need as a result of this pandemic. For example, the members of this committee, who are all still working and earning an income and have not seen a decrease in what they take home each month, don't necessarily need access to a universal payment.
Similarly, the timeliness of our ability to send money to all Canadians is not as simple as it seems, on first blush. There's not a “send money now” button sitting in the Department of Finance offices where we can simply have money magically appear in accounts, despite what some people may think, because CRA has a fairly comprehensive dataset. We found that it was quicker to deliver benefits directly to Canadians in need by using existing mechanisms, such as the Canada child benefit or the GST rebate program, and developing a single new simple application portal through the CERB, which has now provided benefits directly to seven million Canadians who've seen an interruption to their income as a result of this pandemic.
I just want to point out the remarkable work of our public service. At one point in time, this particular program was processing, I believe, a thousand applications per minute. This is a remarkable achievement in government. Quite frankly, in my lifetime, I don't know that I've seen a more impressive rollout of a single policy to date.
Absolutely, and thank you for the question. I know you've been a tremendous champion for Canadian charities and the non-profit sector that help some of these most vulnerable Canadians.
I will address some of the measures that we've put in place to help those organizations help people in need. First, though, I'll point out that some of the benefits that have near-universal application to those who have experienced a loss of income in this pandemic also help those who are living on the margins, and perhaps disproportionately help them, given the proportion of their income that a benefit such as the CERB could represent, or the enhanced payments through the Canada child benefit or HST rebate, which disproportionately help people from lower-income backgrounds.
In addition to those benefits that may apply to people who are not living in poverty, but cover them as well, we realized that there are certain organizations that are essential to our communities that have perhaps never been more essential. We rolled out a series of supports for charities like the United Way to help seniors who may be in their homes and can't afford their groceries or are unable to reach out to members of their community for assistance. We've seen massive investments to help deal with the operating costs of essential organizations such as food banks.
We've been trying to target supports where they are most needed. I have to say, over the past few years, my eyes have never been so opened to how difficult it is for a person who's living in poverty just to scrape by in Canada. When you start to knock on the doors of seniors who are trying to decide whether to pay their rent and eat unhealthy food...it can be absolutely heartbreaking.
I appreciate your advocacy for us to continue to fund families who are living in poverty directly, and your support for these organizations that provide essential services to those who are facing the greatest need.
Thank you for appearing before us on behalf of the minister, Mr. Fraser.
I should explain to the committee, Sean had to come in fairly late in the game. The minister was available tonight at seven, I believe it was, but because more committees are functioning now, and Parliament can only do two at a time, it became impossible for him to take that time slot. We did look at tomorrow for , but that was impossible as well because we would have had to cancel seven witnesses and move that all around.
Thank you very much, Mr. Fraser, for filling in.
With that, we will go to questions to officials. I expect you're staying as well, Sean.
The questioning rounds will go to five-minute rounds. The first one up will be Mr. Morantz, then Ms. Koutrakis, then Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe and Mr. Julian.
Marty Morantz, you're on.
I can start, Mr. Chair, and then perhaps colleagues would like to add on later.
The idea of the CERB was to create an income replacement for people who had stopped working. As the parliamentary secretary indicated, we have since changed it to allow people to earn up to $1,000 so they can have an income and still draw down on the CERB. I think the question becomes whether or not that entices people to go into the workplace. Again, the idea was for the CERB to be an income replacement for people who had lost their jobs in the context of the pandemic, and we continue to provide that.
There is an attestation that people need to attest to. They need to re-attest every month that they continue to be without income or continue to have not more than $1,000 in income.
We are looking at other things to make sure that people can and will return to the workplace. These include working with provinces and territories on a wage subsidy or a top-up and continuing those discussions.
Perhaps ESDC would like to offer more on that.
I want to thank everyone today for appearing before this panel. It's a great conversation, which I am enjoying and I'm sure everyone is along with me.
I also wanted to extend my sincere condolences to everyone in the province of Nova Scotia and to thank Mr. Fraser for a wonderful presentation.
As my colleague Julie Dzerowicz referenced today's PBO analysis earlier, I will refer to it as well. This question is directed to the Department of Finance.
Today's PBO COVID-19 scenario analysis paints a picture of significantly reduced GDP growth and high rates of unemployment. That being said, it has been noted that our government's healthy balance sheet, something Mr. Fraser also discussed earlier today in his testimony, as well as historically low interest rates, allow the federal government to invest. The PBO notes that fiscal stimulus may be required to support the economy following the crisis.
It has also been suggested that investments in infrastructure development may be an effective form of economic stimulus. How impactful do you believe infrastructure projects could be in the recovery of the post-COVID economy and what further role can the federal government play in supporting these projects?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the officials who are being here.
Today my next questions come from , who is the Member of Parliament for Nunavut.
As you're aware, tragically there is now an outbreak in Nunavut, in Pond Inlet. There are grave concerns about the impacts of that outbreak because of the housing shortages in Nunavut and the fact that many families are often packed together in a small family home.
The territorial government made a request for $43 million. The federal government had approved and committed $30.8 million going to Nunavut. At the same time, a commitment was made to provide supports for the airlines in the northern territory in Nunavut. As you all are aware, I'm sure, airlines are absolutely essential for supplies getting into communities throughout Nunavut.
The question is very simple. When are those funds, the $30.8 million and the $5 million, going to be made available to the Government of Nunavut, particularly in light of this tragic outbreak?
Good afternoon, everyone.
Obviously, our thoughts and prayers today go specifically to the armed forces personnel involved in an incident in the Adriatic Sea. Our thoughts are there, absolutely.
Our government has put in place a number of measures really aimed at helping Canadian workers and businesses battle this financial hardship that we've come to be in because of COVID-19. With that, we've premised it on getting support out to Canadian families and Canadian businesses as soon as possible. I think we've largely fulfilled that and are fulfilling that.
To the folks at CRA, Canadian families will be receiving an enhanced Canada child benefit in the month of May. When should they expect that, please?
Great. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much to all of the officials for being with us.
I want to discuss CEBA because, for many small businesses in my riding, the wage subsidy is not helpful to them because they're shut down. They've closed their doors and they've laid off their staff, sometimes weeks ago. CEBA would be helpful but they don't qualify because of issues around eligibility.
I don't want to put words in Mr. Fraser's mouth, but I got the sense or I thought I heard in part of his answer that the government wasn't considering expanding eligibility, but perhaps I'm wrong. I would just be curious to know whether or not the government is considering expanding the eligibility, if there is any movement on that front.
One example is in the case of contractors, whether payments to contractors could be treated as payroll. That's something has acknowledged a number of times, but there just hasn't been any movement on addressing that hole in the program.
I wonder if any of the officials could address that issue, and more broadly, issues around eligibility. Again, in my riding I can't count the number of business owners who are falling through the cracks.
I'll just follow up on what Michael was talking about earlier. On the CEBA, there is a problem showing up. I don't expect anybody to probably answer, but I'm going to outline a problem that I would ask people to think about.
On the CEBA, it says very clearly that you have an active business chequing or operating account at the banking institution. I have quite a number of sole proprietors who actually use their personal banking account. They did it for various reasons—they started when they had no money, or they didn't want to pay the extra fees for the business account.
I'll give you an example. This one individual, as a small contractor, did 900 thousand dollars' worth of business last year, had three employees over the summer, paid out $87,000 in wages and sent out the T4s for those wages. He said to me, “Look, CRA doesn't mind taking my cheque for CPP and EI every month, plus my own personal income tax every month, but they don't want to give me one back all over not having an active business account with the bank.”
There must be a way of curing that problem because he can show the T4s, he can show the business he has done, but he does it through a personal chequing account. I'm not asking for an answer. I'm just saying it's a problem we have to try to address.
Turning to the last series, Ms. O'Connell, welcome back to the finance committee.
I'd be happy to answer that.
The CCB and GST see increases. In fact, they are based on the 2018 taxation year with respect to people's information. As long as we have that information on file, people are getting the CCB and GST based on that.
That said, we encourage people to file because you are thinking ahead to the next entitlement year, which will be 2021, and those payments, the July payments, are typically based on the tax returns of 2019. In that sense, if people get those in, when we calculate those entitlements it's going to be based on the most up-to-date information we have. We are putting in place provisions, as is ESDC, to ensure that even if somebody doesn't file, we're going to have a continuity of benefits. Again, it is advantageous to file. We encourage that.
I'll add one more thing with respect to the CERB. Whether or not 2018 was filed, it's not income-tested in that sense. Whether or not they filed, doesn't make a difference.
Okay. We will have to end it there.
I want to talk to committee members for a few minutes about the changes that are happening for next week. Before I do that, I want to sincerely thank the officials from the three departments for coming forward, also on behalf of Canadians and committee members.
I know that these are long days and that you're working under fairly strenuous conditions as we try to put the meat on the bones of the various policies that are being implemented and to improve upon them once they are in fact implemented. I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for your efforts in that regard. Thank you, and thank you for coming.
For committee members, there have been changes. We have the two panels tomorrow, but because there are so many committees meeting now, along with the COVID whole House committee, and because technology can only handle two committees at once, we are now meeting next Tuesday—these are Ottawa time frames—from three o'clock to seven o'clock. That will give us two panels. The first panel is the one that we had to move over because we're only meeting once today. That would be manufacturing and construction. The second two-hour time slot is open.
Then we're meeting on Thursday, in the same time frame of 3 p.m. to 7p.m. We have time slots for two panels there. I know the clerk has 42 requests to appear before the committee. Three of them have come off on today's meeting, but we need to make a decision on what we do next Tuesday and what we do next Thursday in terms of panels. I'll tell you what's left in the system, and there may be new ones proposed.
We haven't done the health care system, ensuring accountability or policy design. It has been suggested to me as well that we should be doing a panel on arts, culture and sport. Another suggestion was self-sufficiency and export opportunities, kind of looking to the future.
From what I'm seeing in Atlantic Canada—and Sean could speak to this as well, I'm sure—we're getting a lot of feedback from fishermen. Looking through the list of other committees, there is no place on other committees for actual fishers to go. The government has proposed a program for the fish processing side. I know it's been talked about, but there's nothing there that actually deals with the fishers themselves to any great extent. We might want to consider bringing them in early in the week, if we could, so that they have an opportunity to express their views to some committee in the House of Commons and have their views known out there.
Does somebody want to start? We have the first panel on manufacturing and construction. We could go to a second panel just by pulling some names off the list of those who want to go. I see Peter's hand is up.
Go ahead, Peter.
Wayne, I'm trying to understand the division of labour here. We now have all of the other committees up and running.
For example, if farm groups have something to say, is it more appropriate for them to say it before finance, or before the agriculture committee? If an industrial group has something to say, is it more appropriate for it to come to finance, or to the industry committee?
I'm wondering because there are huge organs of the state that report to this committee that haven't been heard from. They have really no other place to go. They have enormous impact on the financial well-being, or lack thereof, of Canadians. For example, the CMHC is now pumping tens of billions of dollars into the banks with very little discussion or accountability. Those are Canadian tax dollars that we may never get back. That can contribute to inequality on a massive scale, as we saw in the States when similar actions were taken in 2008-09. That's really finance. There's nowhere else to study that.
If we keep adding witnesses to the finance committee who also have their own policy committee to which they would normally testify, how are we dividing up labour among the committees?
I know we should. I guess we could probably do that, now that we have Zoom up and running. We could have a steering committee meeting next week for the week after, but I do think we have to decide now what we're doing next Thursday.
What day is the COVID-19 full panel meeting? We could probably find some time on Monday to look at the future from the steering committee. David, our clerk, could line up a time for us to meet as a steering committee on Monday, which would go to, say, the next couple of weeks, but I do think we need to make some decisions on next Thursday.
I might mention that the problem for the fishery, too, is that they are running out of time. With what's happening all across Quebec and on the east coast right now, do they fish or do they not? Do they trap lobster, or do they not? The market has shrunk. There is no policy in place at the moment to allow some people to stay off the water and others to fish, which would shrink the amount of product going into the marketplace. There's no sense fishing lobster if you're getting $2 a pound, so that's a whole other urgent issue and I see no place for them to go.
Next Thursday, then, would we be okay to go with fisheries on the first panel?
An hon. member: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay, and I see Gabriel shaking his head.
What do you want to do on the second panel?