I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 16 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Pursuant to the orders of reference of April 11 and May 26, 2020, the committee is resuming its study of the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on May 26, 2020, the committee may continue to sit virtually until Monday, September 21, 2020, to consider matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other matters. Certain limitations on the virtual committee meetings held until now are now removed. The committee is now able to consider other matters, and in addition to receiving evidence, the committee may also consider motions as we normally do. As stipulated in the latest order of reference from the House, all motions shall be decided by way of a recorded vote.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire the committee.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, please click on the microphone icon to activate your mike.
Before I get started, and this is especially important for the witnesses, I'd like to remind everyone to please use the language channel of the language they are speaking in. If you intend to switch from English to French or French to English, before you switch, be sure to switch the channel.
I would now like to thank the witnesses for joining us today.
We have with us, appearing as an individual, Armine Yalnizyan, economist and Atkinson fellow on the future of workers; and from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, we have Matthew Chater, national president and CEO.
Ms. Yalnizyan, please proceed with your opening remarks. You have 10 minutes.
Thank you very much for the invitation to bear witness to this remarkably hardworking and august committee.
Yesterday, the Bank of Canada told us that the worst could soon be over for the economy, but the pace of rebound is truly far from certain. For Canadian workers, recovery can’t come soon enough.
Last month's labour force survey saw Statistics Canada declare that “In April, more than one-third...of the potential labour force did not work or worked less than half...their usual hours”. Tomorrow's update is likely to show more of a “he-covery” than a “she-covery”, that is, more men returning to work than women. That is deeply problematic for us all because of the role of households in the potential for the future economy. That is because household spending accounted for over 56% of GDP before the pandemic hit. It has been a growing driver of GDP now for years because of falling business investment and stuttering exports.
Household purchasing power has been propelling the Canadian economy, and women's incomes are critical to maintaining the strength of household purchasing power, particularly in the post-pandemic period. It is unclear how many workers deemed non-essential during the shutdown will find their way back to being rehired because so many of those workers who lost their jobs were women.
Without question, the limiting factor for women's return to work is child care. To put it most simply, there will be no recovery without a she-covery, and there will be no she-covery without child care.
The acceleration of shovel-ready infrastructure projects will certainly help speed recovery, but it is mathematically impossible for growth in primarily male-dominated construction and repair jobs to offset the number of jobs lost by women in the services sector. Furthermore, repairing critical physical infrastructure will do nothing to prevent the loss of critical social infrastructure, which is exactly what we are poised to do.
User fees for child care represent the second-biggest cost for young families, second only to housing expenditures. Many families who lost incomes forfeited their spots in child care facilities because of the high cost of simply holding that space. A lot of child care centres will be affected, and child care costs will undoubtedly rise even further because of the new requirements for physical distancing, dramatically increasing staff-to-child ratios and adding new fixed costs for PPE, cleaning and more space.
We do not know what share of our ecosystem of child care will shutter in the wake of the pandemic. In the U.S., it's estimated that 50% of its child care spaces are at risk. That's 4.5 million spaces. Just to maintain what they have would require an additional $9.6 billion a month. A bill is going forward right now to prevent further loss of that infrastructure. Of course, the fewer spaces that exist, the less ability there is for women to return to work even when they have a job.
The irony that is not lost on me—and I hope it won't be lost on you—is that subsidized child care literally pays for itself. A study by noted Quebec economist Pierre Fortin and his colleagues has shown that “in 2008 each $100 of daycare subsidy paid out by the Quebec government generated a return of $104 for itself and a windfall of $43 for the federal government”, which didn't put one thin dime into the program.
But there's more—the K-Tel version. Child care can play a threefold role in recovery. Beyond simply facilitating women's return to work and being a source of employment, there is the decision to ensure that child care is not just a holding tank so mommy can work, but actually affordable, high-quality, early-learning, accessible programming for all families. If that's the approach that we take with child care, we will maximize the future of the next generation of Canadian children. We will lower public spending, and we will increase revenues for governments and society. Now we may choose to act, or we may choose not to act, but whatever we do, we will reap what decision we sow now.
U.S. data shows that there's a return on investment of between $4 and $8.75 on every single dollar invested in high-quality early learning, particularly in neighbourhoods where children are more at risk of entering school without being learning-ready. Of course, the impact does not end with preschoolers.
Canadian data from our very own ESDC, Employment and Social Development Canada, shows that spending on Pathways to Education resulted in a net benefit to governments of over $2,000 through lower expenditures and higher revenues per student in the program, and over $5,000 for individual participants.
We would literally be leaving money on the table by not using this opportunity to improve our critical social infrastructure by investing in children and high-quality child care.
By rolling out an initiative that is national in nature, but accelerated in our biggest cities first, where we have the highest concentrations of children and poverty, we could maximize their potential and their future, and our potential and our future.
Getting everyone learning-ready and learning-supported as they grow up is a 21st century requirement. It's not just a nice thing to do because of population aging.
Since a shrinking working-age cohort will be asked to support growing numbers of people too old, too young and too sick to work, we really can't afford to discount any of the skills development of anybody. This means that higher quality early-learning child care should not be left to market forces to determine how much should be available, but rather be integrated with the education system because it is a public good that is undersupplied by the market at present.
Given the circumstances, I believe this requires a national approach and a strong federal role. I recognize this is a controversial position.
Why should the federal government play a role in child care, which falls constitutionally into provincial jurisdiction? The answers are multiple. It's because child care is just going to get more costly to operate safely in the post-pandemic world as a result of higher staff ratios, more PPE, more time spent on cleaning and on better staff; because provinces and cities are cash-strapped now, which is going to get worse; because the federal government provides funding already for health care and post-secondary education, so there's a precedent; and because, even if we don’t raise taxes to pay for better child care and more of it immediately due to post-pandemic pressures, debt by the federal government is the least risky and the lowest cost of any debt held by any economic agent in society, be it a household, a business, a municipal government or a provincial government. Everybody pays more for debt than the federal government does.
Now, I would be remiss not to mention the number of recent immigrants and migrant workers who have been made sicker and have even died because of the pandemic and because of our inadequate provisions for safe reopening. We need better protections for all workers.
Here I especially applaud the federal government's decision to advance the idea of 10 paid sick days, a worthy initiative that should have been in place long before the pandemic hit, but its absence can certainly not be excused now. Every jurisdiction should be clamouring to lead this parade for their workers, who are their voters; but the federal government could and should lead by example and do exactly what it has asked the provinces to do in its own jurisdiction.
Furthermore, the cautionary tale from the use of on-demand and temporary labour in long-term care facilities and delivery services should give everybody pause because the rise of the gig economy is looming on the horizon as employers and consumers look for cheaper, faster, on-demand labour, and workers have fewer paths back to their old jobs.
I urge the federal government to collect better data and monitor this phenomenon very closely, because we don't monitor at all. We don't even measure it well. It will affect everything from income support and skills development programs to public revenue and debt.
In closing, I want to say that the pandemic has revealed that the caring economy, by which I mean health care, elder care and child care, has been revealed to be the vital underpinning of the essential economy. Social infrastructure is as critical to the basic functioning of our lives and jobs as roads and bridges. As our long-term care facilities have shown, twinning care and profit as operational objectives is a risky business.
We need nationwide protocols for the safe reopening of child care. This will require skill testing, for sure, of federal-provincial-territorial cooperation. I don't underestimate the challenges of that, but we all know that a common goal is often easier to pursue when somebody else makes the money available.
Who is that somebody else? It is all of us as Canadians, together through our taxes. Without such shared undertaking, fewer women will return to work, and economic recovery will be further off for everyone, workers and businesses alike. Please, let’s not do this to ourselves.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your questions.
Thanks very much, Chair.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you all today and for undertaking this important work.
My name is Matthew Chater. I'm the president and CEO for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. I suspect that many of you know what we do, but in short, we provide intentional mentoring relationships to young people facing adversity and in need of additional developmental relationships. Children and youth in our programs face toxic stress by living with adversities like poverty, mental illness, neglect, addiction, identity issues and a range of other sources. Sixty-three per cent of the young people in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs experience three or more of these adversities while at the same time having only one, or often zero, developmental relationships.
That is where we come in with our mentoring supports and services. We provide mentoring relationships to over 41,000 youth in Canada. We provide these services through the support of over 21,000 adult mentors who are matched with youth in our local agencies that operate in 1,100 communities across Canada. This amounts to over four million volunteer hours each year.
It will be of particular interest to this committee that this work is a valuable investment in the country’s economic future and our workforce. Research by the Boston Consulting Group found a return of 23:1 for every dollar invested in our mentoring, with those who have benefited from our programs more likely to be employed, earning more over the course of their career, being healthier both mentally and physically, and more likely to give back to their communities later in life in both dollars and time.
In other words, intentional mentorship through Big Brothers Big Sisters works. We have been providing this critical front-line service in Canada for over 100 years through wars, recessions, a depression and even previous pandemics. However, we, like you, have never experienced anything like COVID-19 and its resulting human and economic impact.
The pandemic has created two enormous challenges for us. First, our corporate and individual donations have slowed to a trickle. We have already been forced to reduce our staff team, and many of our local agencies have had to do the same. Looking ahead, 88% of our local agencies expect to lay off additional staff in the next three months.
I have heard and appreciate the concerns of some members about propping up charities that might have had flawed business models before the pandemic. We do not fall into this camp. We have always had strong fundraising and have never faced a situation like this in our history. Keep in mind that we lost our entire spring fundraising season, which naturally is our busiest time of year with fundraising events and is a critical source of cash flow for the remainder of the year. As a result, Big Brothers Big Sisters as a full federation is facing a forecasted $21-million shortfall, and that is just for 2020. We expect this reality to be even more precarious in 2021.
Let me be clear, though: Our priority is to continue serving the 41,000 youth in our system now. We will do, and have done, whatever it takes to sustain those relationships, and have put in place a host of measures to switch from in-person meetings and mentoring to doing so virtually. Great credit on this goes to our local agencies and the many volunteers who have adapted their service methods during this time of physical distancing. However, that too has costs. We are having to switch everything to online, which is no easy feat when you are doing the delicate work of matching volunteer mentors with youth through professional staff teams.
These costs come when our resources are stretched like never before. To give you a more practical example, if a youth can't afford a laptop or other device or access reliable Internet, they'd be unable to join a conversation, like the one we're having right now, with their mentor. These are the situations coming up every day that our member agencies are adapting and solving for.
We appreciate the initiatives of the government, such as the wage subsidy and the emergency community support fund, but they are simply not enough, unfortunately. I know you're hearing the same from other charities and non-profit organizations. We support the request of Imagine Canada and the coalition of non-profits and charitable organizations through War Child for a recovery stabilization fund for charities, which hopefully would be of sufficient size to support our cash flow and liquidity positions.
What I just covered is what I would describe as the challenges that we face today. There is also what you would consider our challenge of tomorrow, both for our organization and Canadian society as a whole. It is directly relevant to the work of this committee.
As I mentioned at the outset, we work with youth experiencing toxic stress. COVID-19 is a source of toxic stress for everyone, adults and youth alike. However, imagine what that is doing for a youth already living in isolation, for example, and who has no school, no support systems to rely on, limited contact with friends, if any, and parents who may have lost their jobs. The youths who were facing the greatest challenges before the pandemic are likely to be the most impacted by the pandemic.
Since March 12, calls to Kids Help Phone are up by 55% and texts are up 61%, with 76% of those reaching out saying that they had no one else to talk to. This is heartbreaking at any point in time, but more so now. We are grateful for the investments made by the Government of Canada in these services.
Big Brothers Big Sisters is recommended by Kids Help Phone as a program for young people to reach out to, and it provides ongoing mental health supports. However, we are now in a position wherein we are unable or barely able to sustain our existing matches, let alone take on an influx of new clients. To put that into perspective, we already had 15,000 youth on our waiting list before the pandemic. We expect, and have already seen in many regions, that number continue to grow exponentially as we come out of this and begin, as a community, to heal from the devastating effects of COVID-19. That will put further strain on our resources, both financial and volunteer.
While mentoring is critical for youth mental health, keep in mind that today's youth are going to be entering the worst job market in a hundred years or, perhaps, ever. They will bear the financial and social costs of the pandemic. A mentor at this time is therefore so valuable for helping youths make sense of the world. It is the simple act of giving hope where it may be lacking.
As I mentioned earlier, the data clearly show that mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters works in terms of future employment and earnings. In other words, it helps emotionally and mentally, but also economically. My appeal to you today is therefore twofold.
First, you should implement a sector stabilization grant for charities and non-profits, as has been recommended by Imagine Canada and others. If that is not possible, you should address our $21-million shortfall directly, given our role in providing front-line services to youth. You can rest assured that 90% of every dollar that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada is bringing in during this time goes directly to supporting children and families through our member agencies. We are one of the few youth-serving organizations that do not require bricks and mortar to continue providing front-line services. We reach right into the homes of vulnerable youth in Canada, offering critical life-saving relationships.
Second, you should start thinking about the recovery period and the tremendous strain that will be put on young people and front-line service organizations like our own, particularly regarding youth employment. We do not know how this social experiment will end or what its long-term effects will be. However, we do know that without additional ongoing positive relationships to buffer the toxic stress I spoke about earlier, research tells us that the next [Technical difficulty—Editor] problems and experience mental illness and disease at unprecedented levels. This is costly, and it is preventable with modest investments. Our focus at Big Brothers Big Sisters is on service continuity and the future of thriving communities across Canada, and we need the ongoing support of the federal government for that.
I speak to youth on a daily basis, as I suspect many of you do as well. I struggle tremendously to process the impact of what is happening as a result of the pandemic on their lives now and into the future. Layered on top of that are the complexities that we're seeing within racialized communities. Navigating the uncertainties of the global pandemic while facing its continual systemic challenges is truly challenging.
We will always be there for them as long as we can, but we do need help.
Thank you again for the invitation to be here today. I look forward to taking your questions.
I also thank our two witnesses.
I'd like to address my remarks to Ms. Armine Yalnizyan.
I'd like to comment on your analysis of women's work. I think you're joining one of your colleagues we had as a witness, Ms. Jennifer Robson. In fact, you wrote that, mathematically, women make up half of the population that makes up the labour market, but that we may not be able to include them in the recovery. I think those are concerns that we have as well.
You talked a lot about social infrastructure, the social economy and the importance of child care. I would like to say that in Quebec, we made that choice back in 1997. You are right to say that it has paid off, to put it simply. It has greatly improved women's access to the labour market. However, I must respectfully say that this is a provincial jurisdiction. Quebec has made a societal choice, and it is up to the other provinces to question themselves in this regard. That is our point of view.
That said, one day, containment will end, both in schools and in child care. Everything will start all over again. Do you think the economic recovery will be there for women? If not, what would it take to make that happen?
Let's start with the inadequacy of child care, which is a market failure. The Royal Commission on the Status of Women report that came out in 1970 is going to mark its 50th anniversary in December. We've been talking about the need for child care as part of the early education system for 50 years, and for 50 years we have treated it as a market issue. It is a family choice. It is an individual choice. Let the market decide how it is delivered. We have seen systemic market failure. Now we are going to see a colossal wave of market failure as these centres close because people don't have the money to go there right now, and then when they do have the money to go there, they are not open anymore.
So yes, I think we need a national child care strategy. Yes, I believe it should be federally funded, especially in the post-pandemic period. We need to have national protocols for safe reopening. It's going to mean very different adult-to-child ratios, more physical distancing, absolutely guaranteed supply chains for PPE.
This is not an individual province's problem, just like the pandemic wasn't an individual province's problem. I believe very strongly that we need a national strategy that's federally funded to get us safely through to the recovery.
With respect to maternity and parental leave, we know the most expensive form of child care is infant care. We also know around the world, probably in 99% of cases, the best caregiver for infants is the parent. We could be saving money and providing better care by extending that care, and looking at what other jurisdictions do to help parents to be able to afford to stay at home, but I can guarantee if we're doing it at 50% income replacement....
Again, Quebec is the outlier. We need to learn from the best in this country, and we need to be mirroring this across the country. We have to do better than an EI-based 55% income replacement because low-income parents cannot afford 55% of their already low income.
Yes, longer periods, but the take-up will continue to be ridiculously low for people who can't afford to lose so much income to be able to stay at home with their kids.
This again is a market failure, and this is an issue of the public good. We need to have all hands on deck in 20 years. If we don't invest in these kids now, if we discount now, we will not have them to rely on in 15 to 20 years. I don't understand what's difficult to understand about this.
Thank you, Chair. Thank you to both of our witnesses for some excellent testimony.
Ms. Yalnizyan, I appreciate your comments about the role of the federal government, but I also believe there are ways to uphold the constitutional jurisdictions of provinces and territories while responding to some of the very important economy of care, including child care, that you referenced in your remarks today.
First off, I am a father, I'm 35 years old and I was elected last year, so I know full well the cost of child care, being in a family of two working parents, both grinding it to get ahead and paying in excess of $1,000 a month for child care. That's my reality, before being elected and now.
I've heard from early childhood educators in my province of British Columbia, where I send my son, that they're choked because, while the Province of B.C. initially called them essential workers, it did not list them as eligible for the temporary pandemic pay top-up program.
In your opinion, should early childhood educators who work in day cares and Montessoris have been listed as essential workers?
Thank you, Chair, and hello, members of Parliament.
My name is Angela Bonfanti, and I am the senior vice-president for the CNIB Foundation.
Before I begin, I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge that this is National AccessAbility Week. While this is an important week every year, given today's current events related to racism and discrimination, this year's National AccessAbility Week is even more important.
For over 100 years, CNIB has been combatting discrimination and advocating for the equity of all Canadians. We serve all Canadians living with sight loss, regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation, because blindness, unlike an unfortunate number of people in our world today, does not discriminate. Far too many members of our community must deal with the reality of being marginalized not only for the colour of their skin, for example; they must also deal with additional the discrimination from travelling with a white cane, for example, or a guide dog. At CNIB we have worked diligently, and will continue to do so, until everyone can live, work and play without barriers. We challenge discrimination and support the rights of every Canadian.
I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight how COVID-19 has impacted over one and a half million Canadians living with sight loss. CNIB's mandate is to remove barriers, combat negative ramifications of isolation, and do what we can to help Canadians living with sight loss live the lives they choose. At a time when isolation was being mandated for all, we knew that our community needed us now more than ever. Almost immediately, every one of our staff members picked up the phone and called every participant in our database. Nearly 10,000 Canadians have been phoned to date.
From these calls and these conversations, we have received insights on what the community wants from us during this pandemic and beyond. The response has resulted in hundreds of new virtual programs serving thousands of Canadians with sight loss in just the last 11 weeks alone. Our programs range from technology training sessions to peer support programs to groceries and prescription drug pickup and drop-off services for our clients who are in need.
Also, as we know all too well, every household with children, including mine, has become a school of its own. For families with children who are blind or partially sighted—
For families with children who have sight loss, there are new challenges that are presented, so we are providing free access to educational games that have been designed for children who are blind. We are also ensuring families have access to 3D printers to ensure tactile learning continues. This is just the beginning to ensure that no child with sight loss is left behind.
This is a forever change for CNIB. Our virtual offerings are certainly here to stay. We have essentially doubled our program offering without doubling our workforce, and so, as we start our discussions about commencing in-person programs, we must keep the health and safety of our staff in mind, especially since so many of our staff live with sight loss.
In addition to the development of brand new virtual program offerings, our community’s feedback has also helped to develop a new advocacy effort that focuses on the albeit unintended yet nonetheless potentially dangerous consequences associated with physical distancing.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, we heard from participants who were receiving negative attention and facing discrimination while using sighted guides to access essential services. Many individuals who are blind or partially sighted rely on sighted guides to help them safely navigate the grocery store, the pharmacy, their doctor’s office and the bank, for example.
In response, we launched a public awareness campaign with significant media coverage. We sent open letters to legislators, police services, transit commissioners, and supermarket and pharmacy chains to ensure Canadians with sight loss receive the appropriate accommodations during this time. We also raised awareness about physical distancing and guide dogs. While guide dogs are trained to help their partner get from point A to point B, they do not understand physical distancing. These are not the only issues we've heard.
This pandemic has caused great anxiety for the disability community, including Canadians with sight loss. As part of a Canadian Council of the Blind survey, more than 80% of respondents were worried they may not be able to pay for groceries, prescriptions or even their monthly bills.
While we applaud the government and the opposition parties for approving legislative changes to create the Canada emergency response benefit program, it may not be available to many Canadians living on or below the poverty line because of the minimum $5,000 income required to qualify for the program. We understand that employment insurance is available; however, the CERB simply provides more money, and it would be very much welcomed by a population where the majority’s income is less than those without disabilities.
We also acknowledge the letter sent to the provinces urging them not to claw back disability benefits, and we urge further advocacy from the federal government with the provinces on this most important issue.
I would also like to highlight that the CERB provides a monthly benefit of $2,000, but the Canada pension plan disability benefit provides a maximum of $1,300 with an average monthly payment of $971. CNIB strongly recommends modernizing the CPPD in line with the CERB. If a pandemic can show that Canadians, regardless of abilities, need at least $2,000 a month to survive, it should be no different for people with disabilities who are unable to work. Emergency response funding for people with disabilities is greatly needed today. If seniors have access to a one-time, tax-free payment of $300, people with sight loss deserve something similar.
With all of this mind, I would like to ensure that accessibility and inclusion is at the forefront of decision-making as the economy begins to reopen. Our world is inherently tactile, and this is especially important to Canadians who essentially see the world through touch. With a rapidly growing appetite to do everything in a contactless manner, we simply cannot eliminate the elements of a tactile world completely. There would be great dangers and barriers for Canadians with sight loss who rely on these elements to live safely and independently.
As we slowly lift physical distancing measures and reopen the economy, businesses small to large should look no further than people with disabilities to employ. People with disabilities live lives full of obstacles, and they are often left on their own to get over, under and around these obstacles to live successful lives. They are natural innovators and advocates. We believe this is exactly the type of talent organizations need at their table as they open their doors. This is not the time to put accessibility and inclusion on the back burner; it is the time to put it at the forefront, as it will create such incredible value to the Canadian workforce. This is not simply the right thing to do, I assure you; this is the smart thing to do for business.
This past winter, CNIB submitted a pre-budget consultation recommending the federal government fund CNIB's employment program called Come to Work. The program connects job seekers who are blind or partially sighted with employers who want to discover the full potential of Canada's talent. Now is the time to continue this critical work.
Finally, I must highlight the need for financial support for Canada's non-profit and charitable sectors. Since March, the CNIB Foundation, like many other organizations you have heard from already, has seen a significant decrease in donations. They are what we need to continue our business. Even with the help of the Canada emergency wage subsidy, everything we do to support Canadians with sight loss could very well be in jeopardy if we do not raise the funds we need. As a result of the pandemic, we expect to see our revenues continue to decline for the months and potentially years to come.
We are urging the federal government to prioritize financial incentives for organizations that serve the most vulnerable in our society, such as the many Canadians living with disabilities.
At this time I'd like to thank the chair and the committee members for giving us the opportunity to highlight the impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians with sight loss. I would be most happy to answer your questions.
My name is Paulette Senior. I'm the president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. I'm pleased to be presenting to you today.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation is Canada’s only national public foundation for women and girls and one of the 10 largest women’s foundations in the world. In our over three decades now that we've been around, we've been granting and doing work that has been focused on moving women out of poverty and out of violence and into safety and confidence.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee this afternoon to discuss the urgent question of the government’s pandemic response. I say “urgent” because of the mission of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, which is “transformative change in the lives of women and girls in Canada”, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted women. Women’s safety, livelihoods and well-being have all been put at risk, most severely for women from communities that are marginalized by systemic discrimination. The pandemic has shone a penetrating light on gender-based violence, women’s job losses, care work and the need for child care.
The federal government has taken many helpful steps to date. As the economy reopens, federal investments will be crucial to women’s safety, economic security and well-being, and gender equality. Recovery investments must include all women, especially those facing deep systemic discrimination, and continue to advance equality gains. Achieving that will require applying an inclusive gender-based analysis with an intersectional lens to the process of designing government recovery investments.
More than 60% of the one million jobs lost in March were lost by women. April employment figures showed a sharp increase in men’s unemployment as construction and non-essential manufacturing halted, but by the end of that month, women had still experienced greater losses, as 32% of women and 29% of men had lost their jobs or the majority of their work hours.
Those job losses are highly concentrated among the lowest earners. For women earning $16 an hour or less—a highly racialized population—job losses in February to April were over 50%. The top 10%, earning $48 an hour or more, experienced only a 1% loss of jobs, and women lost all of those. Overall, women earning the lowest 20% of wages experienced job loss at 50 times the rate of top earners. This is the type of granular data revealed by the intersectional gender-based analysis needed to support recovery investments.
The majority of women workers, about 56% or so, are employed in occupations grouped as what we call the “five Cs”: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning. These jobs are largely either care work directly involved in pandemic response or retail work with an uncertain return-to-work date. How much of the job loss experienced by women will be long term remains to be seen, but it will be significant and likely focused in retail.
This is no time for shovel-ready physical infrastructure projects employing a workforce that is 90% men. Construction has reopened in much of the country, and tomorrow’s employment numbers will likely to reflect that. It is time to implement the social infrastructure that supports women’s return to work.
Quick implementation of the Canada emergency response benefit has been a helpful income support strategy for those who can access it, but a plan is needed for women whose employers cannot reopen after 16 weeks and who are facing long-term unemployment. Employment strategies need an intersectional gender-based analysis and need to address the existing structural issues—like the wage gap—exacerbated by the pandemic. The federal government needs to lead a process to implement the announced 10 paid sick days and to continue to emphasize income supports.
Women—largely black and racialized women—predominate in the care sector in providing front-line support and containing COVID-19, all too often from precarious part-time jobs in high-risk conditions and without paid sick days. Women make up as much as 90% of personal support workers working in long-term care homes and providing home care in the community. More than 65% of—
Thanks. I appreciate that.
More than 65% of cleaners working in hospitals, schools and office buildings are women. Much cleaning work, now perceived as essential, has long been precarious: part-time, low-paid, often subcontracted work, lacking job protections, paid sick leave or extended health benefits. Pandemic outbreaks in LTC—which harm residents, staff and their families and can lead to community outbreaks—can be traced to some of these ongoing issues. Where full-time jobs are not available, PSWs may work multiple part-time positions at different locations to compensate, which increases the risk of spreading infection from one care facility to another.
With regard to the government response, the federal government needs to ensure a stable, full-time, long-term care workforce, with sufficient protections—physical and job—to provide care and maintain their well-being. That will benefit both the workforce and the residents, who are mostly women, and the community at large. This includes working with the provinces and territories to ensure that employment standards are sufficient and fully enforced, including a sufficient supply of PPE and honouring refusals of unsafe work; to ensure full-time positions at salary levels above a living wage; and to ensure a full, open-ended review of the structure, management and ownership of long-term care, keeping in focus the women who work and live in LTC facilities.
The closure of child care centres and schools placed a triple burden on many mothers doing full-time jobs from home and managing both children and household tasks. The pandemic has highlighted that child care is now integral to the community. Without it, Canada doesn't work. Child care has been revealed as an essential service that cannot be shuttered. Provinces that closed all child care centres quickly reopened some to accommodate workers considered essential during the pandemic. However, the child care sector is fragmented and underfunded, much of it not stable enough to withstand the drop in parent-fee revenue resulting from pandemic closures.
Many centres are not committed to reopening. While the need for physical distancing changes the economics of child care, it remains essential to economic reopening and to gender equality. The federal government needs to ensure that funding is in place to safely reopen the child care sector at pre-pandemic levels of service and to continue to expand until universal access to affordable child care is achieved. The bilateral process with provinces and territories needs to move to a near horizon of three or five years.
As the lockdown increased the risk of domestic violence and decreased women's ability to leave abusive homes for the safety of women's shelters, it highlighted the importance of the violence prevention sector. The Canadian Women's Foundation welcomed the federal government's announcement of $50 million to assist women's shelters and sexual assault centres with their pandemic responses. We partnered with Women and Gender Equality to distribute some of those funds to sexual assault centres and broader gender-based violence organizations. In the process, we heard once again about the extent of need.
As the executive director of one busy sexual assault centre, describing their transition to working remotely, said, “We had to invest in a phone system as ours was a donation from 1980. We didn't have funds for PPE for staff and volunteers accompanying women to hospitals, police and doctors...the funding helped us purchase PPE…a phone system, and food for some clients. As much as I'm grateful for the 25k; I must be honest with you, it's not enough. …we need to invest in a web chat system for youth asking to text… we had to do home visits as we fear for some clients' lives and despite reporting to police, nothing has been done. We are running out of PPE…Volunteers have begun to show signs of burn out and we are averaging 60-80 crisis calls a day.”
The federal government needs to develop and implement a well-funded national action plan on violence against women and gender-based violence that recognizes this work as essential to society and gender equality.
By “well-funded”, we mean commensurate with the multi-billion-dollar annual cost of violence. The federal government also needs to complete development and start implementation of a national action plan to address violence against indigenous women and girls without further delay.
To summarize, this is not the time for small asks. The pandemic has shone a very bright light on deep fault lines of inequality in Canadian society. The government's response needs to be similarly deep. The structural change outlined will respond to needs of women marginalized by systemic discrimination: black and racialized women; first nations, Métis and Inuit women; women with disabilities; and LGBTQ2S and gender non-conforming people. It will strengthen our social systems to provide sufficient care in times of stress, including for an aging population that is largely women, and continue to advance gender equality.
Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm hoping we can dispense with this quickly. I have a couple of proposed amendments to the motion.
I think getting information is important and I think we would all support getting that information. However, I would like to propose that we change the timeline. I know and understand that officials at this moment are very busy trying to provide services to Canadians, and perhaps we can change the timeline to the end of August, August 31, for the materials to be made available to the committee. That's one amendment, Mr. Chair.
I have another proposed amendment to the motion. In terms of the documentation, these kinds of motions have been moved in other committees as well, and instead of having the documents to be retrieved for this committee apply to every staff person, perhaps we can limit it to ministers and senior officials. “Senior officials” means deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and directors of departments. I think that will limit the scope somewhat, but nonetheless we'll get the pertinent information for the committee's perusal.
Last but not least, Mr. Chair, I would like to suggest that the request for legal opinions be deleted at this time. I believe that's the fourth item in the motion.
Hopefully, these will be deemed by Mrs. Kusie to be friendly amendments.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm going to ask Mrs. Kusie if perhaps she would agree to two other amendments that I hope she will consider to be friendly, and I want to again thank my colleague Ms. Kwan for having put forward those three.
In other committees—the health committee and, most recently, in governmental operations—there was also an exemption made for matters of national security, matters related to solicitor-client privilege and matters of cabinet confidence.
I would propose that the deleted section, the fourth section, which related to legal opinions, be replaced by the following:
Irrespective of the foregoing, matters of Cabinet Confidence, solicitor client privilege and National Security shall be excluded from the request and that the documents be redacted as may be necessary to protect the privacy of Canadians citizens and Permanent Residents whose names and personal information may be included in the documents as well as public servants who have been providing assistance on this matter.
I believe this to be consistent with what was adopted very recently as an NDP motion at the governmental operations committee and by the health committee as well.
My second proposal to Mrs. Kusie, if she would consider it to be friendly, would be to simply delete the word “emails” from sections 1, 2 and 3. It would be to leave all of the other documents but exclude emails. The number of emails that would be covered here, given the millions of Canadian citizens requesting these benefits who have gone to these departments and the fact that everybody was communicating only by email during this period, would be exceptionally voluminous. I believe that it is again consistent with other committees that have not included emails but have included briefing notes, memorandums, guidance and documents.
Those are my requests to Mrs. Kusie. If not, I'll bring them forward as amendments.
Thank you, and I thank my colleague Madam Kusie for her consideration.
I think what I understood is that she's comfortable to substitute number 4 to deal with solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence, and also to redact for privacy issues. Again, this is consistent with the other two committees. I think she was okay with that.
I think her issue was with the second issue that I raised with respect to emails.
What I would suggest to Ms. Kusie is that when people prepare official documents or documents that relate to guidance, I think they're thinking about the issue at hand. Emails, even between two people we've named in this, can be emails that people are flippantly sending to one another. That can include all kinds of comments that they would never have considered relevant to the subject, but they would be part of a larger email that may contain excerpts related to the CERB or something else.
I'm wondering if perhaps we could start with the deletion of “emails”, and if there's something you think then is missing, we can work back. I just don't think that we need all the emails that have been exchanged.
Again, remember that this is not only emails between these named people; any email that the person exchanged with a third party that related to that subject matter would then also be included. I think that's a pretty wide scope. Again, I don't think that's consistent with what's been requested at other committees.
I would humbly request that you might consider just removing the word “emails”. If not, I'm happy to propose it as a separate amendment, and we can debate that amendment.