Good evening, everyone. I now call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Pursuant to the order of reference of Saturday, April 11, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
I would like to give some reminders to the witnesses and members.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, please unmute your microphone, and then return to mute when you are finished. Please speak slowly and clearly so that the interpreters can do their work. As is my normal practice, I will hold up a yellow card when you have 30 seconds left in your intervention and a red card when your time for questions has expired.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses. We have with us this evening the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage; and the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development. From the Department of Canadian Heritage, we have Hélène Laurendeau, deputy minister. From the Department of Industry, we have Simon Kennedy, deputy minister; and Paul Thompson, associate deputy minister.
Each minister will have 10 minutes to present, followed by our rounds of questioning.
We will start with Minister Monsef.
You have 10 minutes.
Colleagues, hello, aaniin and as-salaam alaikum. I hope you are safe. I hope you are well in whichever corner of this great country you find yourselves.
I'm pleased to join you live from the basement of my home in my community of Peterborough—Kawartha, a mixed rural-urban riding. Like many Canadians, including you, I am adjusting to a different work and home reality.
Like you, I am thankful to our public health experts and front-line workers, and community leaders, the innovators who are helping us adapt and cope, and for neighbours who care for each other in these times. I am thankful to the PSWs and the early childhood educators, the technicians, nurses, midwives, doctors, grocery store clerks and women's organizations, who are putting everything on the line to keep the rest of us safe.
Many thanks to my own team, and of course, to our IT essential workers.
Unlike millions of Canadians, though, I don't have little ones running around all day to care for and to nurture, since day cares and schools closed. It's hard on many parents, as it is for the children. Like my niece, Ellia, who will celebrate her fourth birthday in two weeks, I miss hugging my loved ones and want the coronavirus to “go away”. Like my niece Leila, who will turn 11 next month, I miss my friends and want to return to when I could see them regularly, in person.
Like 86% of Canadians, I benefit from access to high-speed Internet, but in some parts of Peterborough—Kawartha, and in many other ridings across the country, access to high-speed Internet is limited. Under the connect to innovate program, our government has approved projects that will connect close to 400,000 households to high-speed Internet, but the job is not yet complete. I want Canadians to know that in addition to the immediate work we're undertaking to support them through these challenging times, we remain focused on ensuring access to high-speed Internet for the two million Canadians who don't have that access today. In fact, COVID-19 has added greater urgency to this important work.
I'm here today to discuss our government's plan for connecting more Canadians to high-speed Internet, what we've learned from previous programs and to assure Canadians that we are on it. Our government is committed to connecting all Canadians to broadband by 2030 and we've created the conditions to get this done.
Our plan, the first of its kind for Canada, was developed in partnership with Canadians from across the country. It includes a $6-billion incentive for private sector investments, and to ensure the success of this plan, we established a minister responsible for rural economic development and the centre for rural economic development to coordinate the work across the federal government with our partners in provinces, territories, individual communities, indigenous leadership and within the private sector.
Our plan is working. Our connect to innovate program is investing $585 million to connect close to 400,000 households across 975 communities. We designed the program to be accessible to different types of Internet service providers. One-third of the funding has gone to the big three telcos, with one-third to smaller providers and another third for indigenous-led organizations.
Connect to innovate program projects have already brought high-speed Internet to 25,000 households. Over 50,000 households across 150 communities that don't currently have high-speed Internet will have access by the end of this year. By the end of next year, over 250,000 households that don't currently have access to high-speed Internet will. That's across 750 communities. By 2022, close to 400,000 households across 972 communities that today have no access to high-speed Internet will be connected, with a baseline speed of 50/10 megabits per second or better. That includes 190 indigenous communities.
These results only speak to the investments made through the connect to innovate program. They don't include households and communities that will be connected through funding delivered by the CRTC, through the low-earth orbit satellite funding, or because of additional investments made via the Canada Infrastructure Bank or other federal programs.
The new $1-billion universal broadband fund will build on this success, coordinate programs and connect more Canadians to high-speed Internet. We have learned from the connect to innovate program, and will build on that knowledge in our design of the new universal broadband fund.
For example, the hexagon model to track and map connectivity across the country is no more. We now have the ability to track household connectivity status to within 250 metres. Greater precision will allow applicants to submit more targeted projects and will connect underserved Canadians. You can see this for yourself through our new broadband connectivity map, at Canada.ca/getconnected.
Earlier this year, announced that we were setting aside spectrum for smaller communities and ISPs in the upcoming spectrum auction. Fifty megahertz of spectrum will be carved out for small and regional telecom companies to support higher speeds, increased data usage and new applications. This will encourage competition in the wireless market and ensure smaller companies are on a more equal footing with the big three national carriers.
We are pursuing innovative partnerships to connect more Canadians to high-speed Internet, faster. Through the $750-million fund provided through the CRTC, we will focus on delivering high-speed backbone along major roadways. Through a partnership with Telesat, our government is investing up to $600 million to provide satellite-based high-speed Internet to some of Canada's hardest-to-reach households in remote and northern communities. Funding available through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Infrastructure Canada and Indigenous Services Canada will further leverage investments, bringing additional partners to the table.
Colleagues, I've shared with you what we are doing. Let me address why we are doing it.
What motivates me, and what motivates our government, is the fundamental belief that the rights enjoyed by Canadians should not be defined by geography. Canadians in rural and remote parts of our country need to have the same opportunities to access government and private sector services as Canadians who live in larger centres. Providing Canadians with access to high-speed Internet will help close gaps caused by geography and increase equality of access to health, education and employment in a digital economy. It will help us build better as we recover from COVID-19.
Building this ribbon of fibre is the modern-day equivalent of the ribbon of steel that Sir John A. Macdonald built to stitch our country together. We realized that national dream with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, and it seems in 2020 that we are united with a renewed national vision for universal access to high-speed Internet. Like the building of the railroad, partnerships are needed to accomplish this task, but make no mistake: We believe in the role of government to lead Canadians in this effort. Now is not the time for low ambition and absolution of responsibility. Now is the time for government to invest in our collective recovery, to future-proof and be ready for new technology, to bridge the rural-urban divide and to connect all Canadians.
Colleagues, we have had a plan, and now, because of COVID-19, it is even more urgent we proceed quickly. I want to assure Canadians that we get it, we are on it and we will work with every willing partner to achieve our shared goals.
Thank you colleagues, and Chair Romanado.
Back to you for further discussion.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, I am very pleased to speak following upon the comments made by my colleague the .
I am speaking to you from Gatineau, on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. I am delighted to join you virtually, to see you all, each of us in different corners of our beautiful country. I wish to recognize the important and essential work that you all are doing, even in the current circumstances, to continue the important work of Parliament and the committees.
We are all doing our best to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is important that we join forces and work together for the benefit of Canadian society. This of course includes culture, heritage and sport. Organizations in these three sectors are a vital part of the social fabric of our communities. They generate solidarity, and promote social integration and tolerance. They are also major drivers of the Canadian economy. The cultural sector alone contributes approximately $53 billion to Canada’s GDP, and the sport sector contributes $6.6 billion. Not to mention the 500,000 jobs they create, the visitors they attract, their international visibility, their reputation for excellence, and, quite simply, the pleasure they give us.
To quote the :
Since the beginning of this crisis, artists have brought us comfort, laughter, and happiness. Athletes have continued to inspire us, encourage us, and make us proud. Those who work in the arts, culture, and sports sectors allow us to live their passion and make us dream. And these days, when we are all at home, isolating, they help us feel a little less alone. These are just a few of the reasons why we must be there for them like they are there for us.
Today, with you, I would like, first, to summarize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on arts, culture, heritage and sports; review the measures our government has taken to support these sectors; and give you an overview of our approach, which is intended to provide quick and flexible assistance to these sectors in the coming weeks.
We are collectively facing the biggest crisis in our history, and organizations and workers in the arts, culture and sports sectors were among the first to be affected. Several factors have increased the pressure on them: the ban on gatherings; the unexpected cancellation of cultural and sports activities; the closure of museums and facilities; the uncertainty that has gripped Canadian and international subscribers and sponsors; and the lack of opportunities to train and qualify for athletic competitions. All of this has added to the pressure on our artists and athletes.
These sectors that we are talking about depend on their connection with the public. From the day containment measures were announced, these sectors have demonstrated exemplary solidarity and creativity, but without a stage, an auditorium, an audience, a season, tours, they cannot survive. If the situation persists, we can expect Canada’s creative industry to face increasing and significant financial pressure. Over one month, losses were estimated at $4.4 billion and about 26,000 jobs. Over three months, they are estimated at $13.2 billion and about 81,000 jobs.
Many organizations will be able to recover from these losses thanks to the measures already announced by our government, including the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy, the business credit availability program, and the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance for small businesses, intended for small businesses and organizations. We also ensured that these measures, which apply to Canadian society as a whole, would be useful to SMEs and non-profit organizations, many of which work in the fields of culture, heritage and sport.
We have also worked hard to free up funds quickly and adapt to the realities of each line of business.
We announced the accelerated processing of funding applications to the Canada book fund and the Canada periodical fund, and we confirmed that income from royalties would not be a barrier for artists and creators seeking eligibility for the emergency response benefit. The Canada Council for the Arts will provide $60 million in advance funding to help its beneficiaries to meet their immediate commitments.
The federal government has paid for Part I of the CRTC licence fees for the 2020-21 fiscal year, providing immediate financial relief of $30 million. In addition, an independent panel of experts is set to make recommendations to the Canada Revenue Agency on the implementation of tax measures for print journalism, and we have made several adjustments to those measures to better meet the needs of the publishing and journalism communities.
Finally, the vast majority of the $30 million invested by our government in a national COVID-19 awareness campaign will be invested in Canadian media: in television, radio, newspapers and magazines, and digital media. All of these measures will provide our cultural, heritage and sports organizations with a breath of fresh air.
That said, we recognize that some of them may not be in a position to benefit from the measures already announced, for all kinds of reasons; for example, they tend to be characterized by cyclical revenues, high self-employment and contract work, and barriers to accessing credit. For others, these measures are not sufficient to allow them to cope with the current crisis.
That is why, on April 17, 2020, the Prime Minister announced $500 million in funding to establish a new COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations. This fund is meant to complement the measures already announced and to strengthen our safety net, which, I am sure you will agree, I have shown is needed now more than ever.
Last Friday, I announced how this new emergency fund will be rolled out. The fund will be distributed in two phases in order to meet the financial needs of affected organizations, maintain jobs and support business continuity. Canadian Heritage will divide the funding among select departmental programs and in collaboration with several partners. The breakdown of the funding has been presented.
Here is a summary. Over $198 million will be provided to the beneficiaries of arts and culture funding through existing programs; $72 million will be provided to the sport sector; $53 million will be provided to the heritage sector through the emergency component of the museums assistance program; $3.5 million will be distributed under the digital citizen initiative to help combat false and misleading COVID-19 information, as well as the racism and stigmatization that are often the result; $55 million will be distributed by the Canada Council for the Arts; and over $115 million will be distributed by the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada to support the audiovisual sector.
The use of the remaining funds will be based on needs. The rollout is already under way. Our program officers are in touch with organizations through the usual communication channels.
We will proceed in two phases. In phase one, eligible recipients will not have to apply for funding. We will use the most recent applications submitted to the program as a basis for topping up funding. Existing recipients of targeted Canadian Heritage programs will be asked to fill out an attestation. Once the attestation has been received and reviewed, the funding will flow shortly thereafter.
Phase two of the program will focus on eligible organizations with heritage collections, and other organizations that, for example, do not currently receive funding from Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada or the Canada Media Fund.
The second phase will provide temporary support as follows: funding for eligible organizations with heritage collections through the emergency component of the museums assistance program; and funding for other organizations, some of which do not currently receive funding from Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund. Further details on phase two will be announced over the coming weeks.
We want to find ways to broaden our support. Culture, heritage and sport are at the very heart of our plan. The challenge is to ensure that as many organizations as possible survive the crisis so that Canada’s cultural, heritage and sport ecosystems remain intact. This is essential to the recovery we all want for our creators, artists, curators, athletes and coaches; for our society; for our economy; and ultimately, for each and every one of us.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'd like to welcome both ministers and the department officials.
I'll be sharing my time with MP Hutchings. Given the fact that I only have two minutes now, I'll focus my questions on Minister Guilbeault.
Mr. Guilbeault, the $500-million investment in arts and culture was very welcome in my community. I have a very highly ethnic community, and the print media within the ethnic community plays a huge role in keeping the community informed, especially around times like this. Also, it is specifically focused on certain demographics. Seniors rely heavily on the ethnic media, especially the print media, not only to get information about activities in the community but also to get information about how they deal with and manage the COVID-19 challenges we are facing.
Just to give you a sense of this, I have three-plus Chinese print media and about five-plus Persian, three-plus Russian and two English print media alone, and two TV stations and one radio station. We were very excited, but when we actually did a deep dive in trying to figure out where they can apply, these are funds to be able to hire journalists, as you've highlighted, and we're really looking for funds to be able to keep them sustained.
What is happening is that the majority of their revenue was coming from small businesses that now don't have revenue, and they're not buying any advertising. I understand the wage subsidies and I understand they can go and get $40,000, but what are we doing under arts and culture and as part of that $500 million for the ethnic print media?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I first want to thank the witnesses for being here with us.
I'd like to speak with Minister Guilbeault about aid provided to the news media, which are very shaken by the crisis. We know they were before the COVID-19 crisis, but this crisis obviously added to the misery they were already experiencing.
The government has put in place measures for businesses and a wage subsidy that I agree help a lot. However, in more concrete terms, Minister, your department has invested $30 million in advertising across Canada, which is the same amount that the Government of Quebec invested in advertising to help the media.
The $30 million you invested in advertising brought in about $1,500 for a local medium like the regional weekly at my home in Drummondville. That's more of a smile than a breath of fresh air. That's not what will allow our regional media to survive and get through the crisis.
In fact, Minister, here's what I want to ask you.
Would you consider investing more money in advertising, because that's what the regional media would like--but would you invest that money directly with the regional media rather than going through the agencies again, or Google when it comes to digital placement?
Would you consider that kind of quick help?
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
My questions will actually be going to Minister Guilbeault.
Mr. Minister, in addition to the big city events across the country, COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of literally hundreds of rodeos, community fairs, music festivals and farm fairs and exhibitions, all of which are of great economic importance to the local areas, to our local agriculture societies, to our seasonal entertainers, to our local merchants as well as to individual craft and food vendors.
As heritage minister, just a few moments ago you were struggling to define what western heritage is and how it affects these small town communities. I say this because, as western Canadians, we understand and cherish our pioneer spirit, those strong and gentle hands that built this country, Canada's true environmentalists, its farmers and its ranchers, its surveyors and the fur traders who opened up the west, the merchants and the labourers who kept commerce going, and the brave military men and women who have fought and continue to fight to keep this land strong and free. That's our western heritage. That's what we're talking about.
Earlier you talked about how you're going to be able to connect and help with the arts. It was said that you had written three books. Although my French isn't very good to catch what the titles were, I certainly got the gist of what Ms. Rempel Garner was talking about earlier. I've been a patron of the Calgary Opera, local theatres and the CFL for 20 years, but believe me, it's our oil and gas sector that funds the arts in this country, and it has been attacked by the current government. I am extremely frustrated because of those types of things.
Over my shoulder—and I know you're not supposed to use props—is a photograph of my grandparents' neighbour, Jim Ross and his Calgary Stampede championship-winning rig and his teammates. He was the man the singing legend Wilf Carter used to sing about. Central Alberta is home to countless rodeo men and women who use their knowledge and their skill in normal ranch-hand routines and they display this expertise to the world.
To the minister, are you aware of the significance of our western way of life? Will you stand firmly against self-promoting celebrities in preserving our heritage to help bridge the rural-urban divide as we all work through these challenging times?
First, I thank both ministers for being here today. Thank you so much for being here and answering our questions.
My first question is for Minister Guilbeault.
There are many industries in Montreal that are related to tourism.
Obviously, we have a lot of cultural festivals. Every summer we have a jazz festival and a Just for Laughs festival. We have many festivals. This is not only going to affect the festivals themselves, but it's going to affect the restaurant businesses, the nightlife businesses, and as was mentioned earlier, hotels.
Montreal is going to be severely impacted by what's going on, especially with the projections that came out on Friday with regard to Quebec and COVID-19. We can see that if we reopen our society, it's going to be extremely dangerous for many people. I believe that we're probably going to remain closed for a much longer period than expected.
First of all, what do you think the impacts will be on these different industries I just mentioned? Do you have any idea what the losses will be for Montreal specifically? Also, what are we going to be doing in the future? Do you see us putting forward more money in order to help support these industries over the summer months?
I thank the member for Saint-Laurent for the question.
As an environmentalist, I tend to look at things as ecosystems. Frankly, I would do the same with regard to the arts, hospitality sector and restaurants. They go hand in hand. They were among the first sectors that were hit—and tourism, obviously—and they are probably going to be the last ones to come back to normal, or a new normal.
That is why our government has been looking at this with an ecosystemic approach: What can I do on the heritage side of things in collaboration with what my colleague can do on the tourism side of things, and what my colleague can do on the small and medium-sized businesses side of things, so that once we make it through this crisis, our ecosystems are still intact and we are able to pick it up and start running again?
In answer to your second question, we do not know the scale of the economic impacts in the coming months. We are starting to have some idea, but we will need to have more information.
I want to quickly quote the Montreal board of trade, which saluted our $500-million aid package that was announced last week for arts, culture and sports organizations as something that will be significant for Montreal and the greater Montreal communities.