Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the .
I am pleased to participate today in this debate on Bill , an act respecting Canada emergency student benefits. We are here to discuss how we can best support Canada's students.
For over six weeks, Canadians have been adapting to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is affecting our country and the entire world.
In order to support Canadians during this crisis, our government has taken significant action and implemented Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan, which provides $146 billion in support.
A key element of this plan is the Canada emergency response benefit, created to support Canadian workers facing unemployment due to COVID-19. The benefit is now providing eligible workers with temporary income support of $500 a week for up to 16 weeks.
When we launched the benefit on April 6, some Canadian workers expressed concerns about eligibility. We listened, and on April 15 we made it more inclusive. Now workers, including the self-employed, can earn up to $1,000 per month while collecting the benefit. The benefit also applies to workers who have recently exhausted their EI regular benefit payments and are unable to start working again because of COVID-19.
To give the House a sense of the scope of this effort, public servants have now processed over 10.15 million applications to date under the Canada emergency response benefit. This figure is a reflection of the real need of Canadians during this time and of our public service's dedication to our country.
We know that more support is needed for Canadians. Young people are facing a serious set of challenges in this difficult time, be it interrupted studies, reduced work opportunities or disruptions to summer co-op or internship plans.
Many Canadian post-secondary students are wondering how they will be able to pay their tuition, buy groceries and cover their rent if they cannot find a summer job.
It is estimated that over a million post-secondary students may not be eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit.
Students are a valuable part of our communities and are ready to bring innovative solutions and a helping hand to our workforce in response to COVID-19.
Last week the mentioned Felix, a recent engineering grad from Carleton University. Felix has experience working on communication satellites, and a few weeks ago he talked to a local manufacturer about what they could do in the fight against COVID-19. Now they have started designing and creating reusable face shields for front-line workers.
Felix is not the only one stepping up. Young people from all over Canada are pitching in and doing their part.
This proposed legislation before us is how we are supporting them in turn. If approved, this framework would provide financial relief to students during the important summer months through a temporary income support benefit worth approximately $5.2 billion. I will focus on the largest piece of this framework, which is the Canada emergency student benefit.
Last week our government announced a four-month Canada emergency student benefit. Students who are not receiving the CERB and meet the criteria for this new benefit will be able to apply to receive $1,250 per month between May and August. Students with permanent disabilities and students with dependants would receive an additional $750 per month, for a total of $2,000 a month.
Students will be able to work part time and still receive the benefit, which is part of our effort to keep Canadians connected with the labour market.
Like the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency student benefit will not have to be repaid.
The CESB would be available to students who are enrolled in a post-secondary education program leading to a degree, diploma or certificate, or who ended their studies no earlier than December 2019. This means that students who are enrolled in a post-secondary education program or who just recently ended their post-secondary studies would be eligible. It would also be available to high school graduates who will be joining post-secondary education programs in the coming months.
The Canada emergency student benefit will also be accessible to both current CEGEP students and those who recently completed their CEGEP studies and plan to go back to school in the fall.
Our government has also committed over $75 million to enhance the assistance offered to first nations, Inuit and Métis students.
Students would be able to begin applying for the CESB in May via a simple online form on the CRA website under My Account.
Finally, I would like to highlight what our government is doing to address the concerns of students with disabilities during this pandemic. We recognize that some groups are significantly and disproportionately impacted by this crisis. For some Canadians with disabilities, underlying medical conditions put them at greater risk of serious complications related to COVID-19. Others face discrimination and barriers in accessing information, social services and health care.
We know that students with disabilities as well as students with dependants could have additional expenses during this public health crisis. As such, Canadian students with disabilities and students with dependants would be eligible to receive an extra $750 per month on top of the basic CESB benefit.
The uncertainty may feel overwhelming for many students, but in Canada we look out for each other. We value education, service and hard work. These measures will help Canadian students get through these difficult times so they can build their career and future they have been working so hard for.
Putting forward this legislation is a key step in our delivery of support for students. I thank all the members of Parliament who are providing feedback and bringing forth the thoughts and concerns of their constituents.
The passage of this bill is a key step in the government's offer of assistance to students. I thank all members who gave feedback and shared their constituents' ideas and concerns.
May is fast approaching and students are counting on us to help them get through these trying times.
Together, as members of Parliament, we have the opportunity to support Canada's students in a way that will be felt for years to come. On the other side, when the economy comes back, they will define our path forward, a path toward a better, more equal society.
Mr. Speaker, the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis. Our government knows that Canadians and businesses are going through very trying times. That is why we acted so fast. We have implemented programs to support all Canadians affected by the pandemic.
This unprecedented crisis demands an unprecedented response. Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan is among the largest in the G7. We have introduced measures for workers, parents, students and for businesses, large and small. We are making sure that no one is left behind. Let me provide a few examples.
The Canada emergency response benefit is a major part of the government's COVID-19 economic response plan. It is meant to help stabilize the economy by supporting Canadians as they pay for essentials, like housing and groceries, and will help businesses across the country to pay their bills and keep their doors open. The emergency response benefit provides $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who have lost their incomes because of COVID-19. More than seven million Canadians have already received money through this essential benefit.
We are also boosting the Canada child benefit by $300 per child for over three million Canadian families. That is an extra $550 per family on average. We are supplementing the GST credit with a special payment for low- and modest-income families averaging about $400 for single people and $600 for couples. Many people have already received their money.
We are also continuing to work with the provinces and territories to share the cost of a temporary wage top-up for low-income workers deemed essential in the fight against COVID-19. That includes Quebec and British Columbia, where the provincial governments have already implemented direct wage support for those workers.
We are also helping Canadian employers and employees deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the Canada emergency wage subsidy, the government hopes to prevent further job losses and encourage employers to rehire workers previously laid off because of COVID-19. The idea is to ensure that Canadian businesses are well positioned to fully resume their operations after the crisis. The emergency wage subsidy covers 75% of employees' earnings, up to $847 a week, for employers who suffer a drop in gross revenues of at least 15% in March, or 30% in April or May.
In addition, the Canada emergency business account provides up to $40,000 in interest-free loans to small businesses, including non-profit organizations. Since the second week of April, small business owners have been able to apply for assistance through the Canada emergency business account at their bank or credit union. Businesses can access this account through their primary lender, with which they already have a business relationship.
Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of our economy and, really, of our society. They give our communities their character, provide good jobs and support families across the country. That is why I am pleased to report that the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance will give eligible small businesses affected by COVID-19 another break. It will lower their rent by 75%. We are able to offer this support thanks to an agreement in principle that our government reached with all provinces and territories last week. That is team Canada at work.
The Government of Canada is taking strong, immediate and effective action to protect Canadians and Canadian businesses from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The measures I have outlined today will help Canadian employers retain or re-hire their employees, as many have done already. This is the key to our response plan. By being able to hold onto their workers, Canadian companies will be in a better position to bounce back quickly after the crisis and many more Canadians will have the security of knowing that they still have a job.
Another aspect of our response that is really important is that we have not and will not hesitate to make adjustments to enhance our programs. We want to make sure that everyone is protected and we are working to ensure that people and businesses do not fall through the cracks. Our response has been guided by principle that speed trumps perfection and that making useful modifications as we go along is a feature and not a bug.
That is why we are offering assistance to students and recent graduates affected by COVID-19. A few weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of students across the country were getting ready to start a summer job. For some of these young Canadians, this would be their first opportunity to take on challenges and succeed in the workplace. For others, this job would be a bridge to their career.
Today, these same students are having a hard time finding meaningful employment. Many are worried, and they are wondering how they can pay their rent and save for school.
In March, the number of post-secondary students who were employed dropped by 28% compared to February 2020. Some of these students are eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit. These young people are at a pivotal time in their lives and we must do what we can to give them a promising future. The government intends to do something about that.
We are proposing the new Canada emergency student benefit as part of Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan. This benefit would provide eligible Canadian students with $1,250 a month from May to August. Eligible students with dependants or disabilities will receive a higher amount.
The government also intends to launch the Canada student service grant to encourage students to volunteer. This service grant will provide up to $5,000 to support recipients' post-secondary education costs in the fall.
We also need to look beyond this summer and improve existing financial assistance programs available to students. That is what we intend to do. Our plan includes doubling Canada student grants for all eligible students in 2020-21 to $6,000 for full-time students and up to $3,600 for those studying part time.
The government recognizes that many families will have a tough time setting money aside in 2020 to help their children go to school, and we want to support the next generation of Canadian leaders. We plan to enhance Canada student loan programs by increasing the maximum weekly amount available from $210 to $350.
Overall, the measures I have just described represent nearly $9 billion for post-secondary students and recent graduates.
During these unprecedented times, we will continue to carefully monitor all COVID-19 related developments. Protecting Canadians' health and meeting their immediate needs remain our priorities. Once this crisis is over, we will be ready to work with Canadians and kick-start the economy in order to build an even stronger country.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time with the member for .
Thank you for giving me a chance today to speak about this new measure, the Canada emergency student benefit. As a political lieutenant, I would like to state that this is an important measure that will help students across the country and across Quebec. Sadly, for various reasons, these students are also being affected by this pandemic, along with workers and seniors.
The government has announced this important measure, which will provide $1,250 a month to students affected by COVID-19. This bill shows the government's desire to also support young people who will be doing volunteer work to help people who are directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19. We look forward to getting the details in order to find out how this measure will be rolled out and how the number of hours will be determined. Checks will have to be done to prevent abuse. However, the government's intentions are clear. I also commend the idea of enhancing loans and grants for more vulnerable students who have a harder time making ends meet.
However, people are very concerned about the process of reopening the economy. Some people are downplaying the important role students will play in the labour force as we reopen the economy. During a press conference, I heard the answer a question from Philippe-Vincent Foisy about why he did not set up incentives like Quebec did to help and motivate young people to go out and find jobs instead of handing them cash directly. Some students might decide to stay home so they can collect the benefit.
The intent is there. We all want to help students and not pigeonhole them. We want to help them and all other Canadians. Earlier, I spoke to the minister about one of the dozens of cases that have been brought to my attention and to the attention of members of all political stripes. The owner of a fruit and vegetable store said that she had called a former student to ask her to come work, as she had every year. The student told her that she was able to come back, but not full time, as she had all of the other summers. This is a busy time for merchants. The student would be penalized because she would earn more than $1,000 a month. She would have made too much money to receive the $1,250 benefit. In some cases, these measures deter students, and we still have not received specifics from the government. What will be done? What will be the measures, the criteria and the oversight to ensure that students are not deterred from working?
I would like to draw my colleagues', Canadians' and Quebeckers' attention to what the Prime Minister told a journalist who asked why there were no incentives in the Canada emergency response benefit to encourage young people, and I would add adults to that as well, to join the labour force. The Prime Minister said that, after analyzing the situation, it was determined that, unfortunately, there are not enough jobs for all young people.
I did a fairly simple calculation and I would like to tell everyone here about a measure that the government could put in place fairly quickly that could help many young people earn money to pay for their university or CEGEP tuition, their books, their rent, and their groceries, or in other words, all of the basic necessities that every student has to pay for. I called my Conservative colleagues from Quebec, the nine other members who work with me, to talk about the following.
As part of its student employment program, the government decided to give subsidies of 100% rather than subsidies of 50% as it did in the past and to allow farm, business, NPO and municipal employers to apply for funding. Contrary to what the government is suggesting, the budget has not increased. It is the same budget. That means that, if jobs are subsidized at 100% rather than at 50%, then fewer jobs will be created.
I talked to all the Conservative Party members from Quebec so I could calculate the number of applications submitted by businesses and farmers in our ridings. The federal government's current summer jobs budget will not meet demand.
Quebec's 10 Conservative members alone reported 1,442 applications for existing summer jobs. Those applications were submitted by businesses, farmers and non-profits when the government was offering a 50% subsidy. Now the government is offering a 100% subsidy. I have a B.A. and a master's degree in administration and math education, so I applied the rule of three to that data to extrapolate the results for all 338 MPs here in the House.
According to my calculations, some 48,740 jobs will not be covered by the Canada summer jobs program. These are existing jobs for which employers have submitted applications, but they will get no help from the government even though these jobs would enable young people to work rather than collect the $1,250 CESB on top of income from part-time jobs. Also, students will steer clear of full-time minimum wage jobs because they do not pay enough.
Canada has 48,740 job openings for students. Officials told us that subsidizing each of those summer jobs would cost about $4,000, which adds up to $194,960,000, or a little less than $200 million.
Compare that to the $9-billion overall envelope the government is providing to help students through loans and bursaries, the Canada emergency student benefit and the service grant, if a paid service can still be considered volunteer work. The total amount of $194,960,000 represents roughly 2% of the government's total $9-billion aid package. That amount would allow the government to immediately meet the needs of businesses without having them compete with one another and would not require new programs to be created. What is more, students would be able to make a living and pay their bills while at school.
If the opposition parties could have worked proactively, that is the type of solution they would have proposed. I hope the government will seize this opportunity. It could increase this envelope without changing anything else. That way, roughly 50,000 students in Canada, in every single riding, could have a job instead of receiving the CERB, which could be used to help people who need it even more.
The Conservative Party is pleased to see that the government agreed to make changes to the bill to make it more acceptable, fairer and more equitable and to ensure businesses do not have to compete as much. It is rather impressive to see the number of emails, calls and comments on social media relaying to MPs the adverse effect of this measure on recruiting employees. That is the sense we are getting on this side of the House and we get the impression it is a bit ideological.
We are pleased that the government agreed to require that all applicants contact Employment and Social Development Canada to obtain information about available student jobs. We are pleased that the government agreed to our request for parliamentary review of the bill and the Canada emergency student benefit in order to find ways to mitigate the unintended disincentives to work that we are currently seeing. Finally, we are pleased that the government agreed to a deadline so that it cannot unilaterally extend this benefit through regulations. We are pleased to see that the Conservative Party's efforts have enhanced the bill to help students across the country.
I encourage the government to stop with the empty rhetoric. While it says that it wants to help everyone, the fact remains that this measure also has unintended consequences. Even though this measure is intended to help students, it will nevertheless hurt the economy if controls are not put in place. If the government were to demonstrate political goodwill, jobs could be quickly filled, just like that.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to be able to rise in the House today and speak to this important topic in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic crisis that has occupied us all over the last months. It is so important that Parliament is able to meet so that we can discuss and improve legislation to ensure support reaches all Canadians who need it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt taken a toll on all Canadians. Business owners, non-profits and charities are struggling to stay afloat, and many Canadians have lost their jobs. Additionally, Canadian students are facing an uncertain future. Summer jobs are valuable opportunities for Canada's students to learn new skills, to meet new people and to prepare for their careers. More than that, countless post-secondary students rely on summer employment not just to fund their education, but also to afford the basic necessities of life.
I have lived this experience very recently, perhaps more recently than any of my colleagues. I wrote my final university exam last summer before heading straight back home, on the campaign trail for the 2019 election. Therefore, I can say that I fully understand the challenges that are facing students during normal circumstances because I lived them; these challenges are being amplified by the crisis that is before us right now.
Students face a tremendous amount of financial pressure and mental stress, and are stretched for time commitments during the school year. That is part of the reason why many students choose to leave their summer employment when school comes around, with the expectation that a job will be available for them when they return, just the same as for any seasonal employees across Canada.
Many students are unable to attend school locally, like many in northern Ontario, including me. Therefore, we have had no choice but to leave our jobs behind to move away and start the school year. As we know, students are now finishing up their school year and they are attempting to enter the workforce just as many businesses are laying people off and closing their doors entirely. High school students who are graduating this year and looking forward to entering the workforce are in the same situation, as are new university and college graduates. Students have bills to pay, just like everyone else. They have to pay for rent, groceries and tuition. Now, through no fault of their own, many are in a position where they may not be able to find any job for the foreseeable future.
In my riding of Kenora, some of our biggest job creators, especially for students, are tourism operators who are dependent on visitors who, this summer, will likely not arrive. Other businesses are fighting to avoid laying off the staff they already have and are not in the position to hire anyone else. This scenario is playing out across the country right now in different ways. The details may be different, but the results are the same: Thousands of people who are counting on finding jobs this summer may not be able to.
That is why I was taken aback when students were initially left out of the government's initial response to COVID-19. That is why, on April 7, I co-signed a letter along with three of my Conservative colleagues, the member for , the member for and the member for . We asked whether the government intended to rectify its mistake. I am glad that after weeks of pressure from me, my Conservative colleagues and other members of the opposition, the government has finally introduced legislation to support students who cannot find work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am happy to see that the government has worked with the official opposition to improve the legislation that is before us today.
Conservatives know that no government benefit can replace the experience of having a job. Simply put, we believe that everyone who is able to work should do so. However, we also recognize that in some areas, there are simply no jobs to be had.
Canadian students need to pay for their rent and their tuition, and they are trying to save for their future. If possible, they need the opportunity to learn new skills and meet people in their fields. I can say that no students or new grads want to have a months-long gap in their resumé, when they could have been gaining valuable work experience. I know I would not have wanted that, and I might not be standing here today if that had been the case.
Right now, students need support, but they also need creative solutions to incentivize as many students as possible to gain that valuable experience. Conservatives have been vigilant in making sure that new government benefits do not inadvertently disincentivize employment. We have successfully advocated for the government to allow people earning up to $1,000 a month to collect the CERB, so that Canadians who are able to perform some work will still be able to do so without losing their support.
In that same vein, we are fighting to loosen the eligibility criteria for commercial rent supports so that more businesses will be able to keep their doors open. We know our economy will recover much more quickly if our businesses can remain open and our workforce can remain activated.
We also know that even as many businesses are laying off staff, there are also many that are having difficulty finding staff, such as agriculture businesses, restaurants and the hospitality industry. I have spoken with the chamber of commerce, business owners and economic development agencies, and it is no secret that there are many businesses struggling to find workers. Canada brings in 60,000 foreign workers each year for the agricultural sector alone, and many of the essential businesses that are currently operating are having difficulty and struggling even more throughout this pandemic.
That is why the Conservative Party proposed new programs to match students and youth employees with jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector. Many agricultural producers are facing labour shortages right now because of their inability to hire temporary foreign workers, and we believe students who are struggling to find work could potentially fill those gaps. This would be a great opportunity for students to gain work experience and earn some income while stabilizing our food supply and contributing to Canada's COVID-19 response. We hope to be able to work with the government to make this program a reality.
I was happy to hear that the government has accepted our proposal to ensure that students who apply for the benefit will be connected with the job bank at the same time. This will ensure that available jobs are filled first and that students do not miss out on potential job opportunities. It is a win-win for students looking for work and for employers looking for staff.
The government has also agreed to put a sunset clause in the legislation and to provide a parliamentary review of the impact of this legislation. This is basic due diligence to ensure that this bill will not outlive its purpose and will be useful, rather than having unintended negative impacts on the labour force.
At the end of the day, until we go back to normal, there will still be some students who, through no fault of their own, cannot find jobs. We recognize that reality, which is why we support the principle of the Canadian emergency student benefit. With the addition of our reasonable proposals, this benefit will ensure students get the support they need while not missing out on employment opportunities.
We are facing an unprecedented economic crisis as a result of this worldwide pandemic, and many hard-working Canadians from all walks of life have suddenly found themselves in need of emergency support. Canada's economy has no doubt gone through a major shock, and we know it will be much worse if suddenly this summer we find ourselves with hundreds of thousands of students who are unable to pay their rent. The long-term impacts of students being forced to delay or discontinue their education would also be considerable. The spillover effects of leaving students without support at this time will be simply devastating, and that is why we know this support is so important.
I would urge Parliament to give students the best chance to succeed, to support our economy and to get help to those who need it most. I also urge the government to continue working with the opposition to advance solutions that would allow as many students as possible the opportunity to earn a living wage and support the sectors that are being hit so hard during this pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, it will be my absolute pleasure to share my time with the brilliant member for .
Over the past few hours, we have seen that the clarity of the wording of a motion can be a crucial issue. A motion can turn into a word salad that will be interpreted five different ways by five different people. For that reason, we must all strive to make the meaning of each word clear, because that is the only way to achieve equal clarity with respect to the intent. What was the intent of the lawmaker who introduced a bill, as well as a motion to get the ball rolling? All of us, or nearly all of us, can agree that the intent was to provide students with financial assistance that will essentially serve two aims.
The first is to give students the necessary financial resources to get through the summer and the current period. Under normal circumstances, they would be living on wages from part-time jobs, often in the restaurant, entertainment or tourism industries. Those jobs simply do not exist in the current context.
The second is to enable students to save a little money to live on next year. That is how I paid for most of my education, and I am sure many of my colleagues did the same. That is the point of the exercise. A few voices have been raised regarding this exercise. Because nuances are not always possible or understood, people have divided into two camps. One camp staunchly believes that students need help. That is the camp I fall in. Hundreds of thousands of students, perhaps as many as a million, will miss out on the jobs they would normally get, and that is a conservative estimate. These people need help to protect their purchasing power and continue their studies.
The other camp holds what I would humbly call the less refined belief that, as my esteemed colleague said, students will suddenly turn into lazy deadbeats who just hang out in the basement smoking pot. That is not true. Students are the same this year as they were last year, the year before and even back in my school days. I do not believe that people back then smoked less pot, myself excluded.
Of course, a balance had to be struck so that businesses, municipalities and farmers who need workers do not have to deal with a measure that serves as a disincentive to work. A measure was needed that does not make it preferable for students not to work. Obviously, a way forward needed to be found and that was not so simple. However, this is a red herring. Forgive me for my candour, and my friendship with or affection for students, but I think they want to work. The ones in my riding, and there are many, all want to work. They are happy to work. I worked, their parents worked and no one regrets it.
The $1,250 per month could help during the summer and fall. Of course, this will not last until the fall, but this money would help students continue to go to school. I would like to come back to that quickly, because it is critically important. We must not put ourselves in a position where students are in debt up to their eyeballs at the approach of the next school year, which we hope will be as normal as possible. They must not be worse off financially than before, especially since there is reason to believe that the economy in general will not be doing so well. It will be a time of economic recovery, an upturn where things are improving, but we will be starting out from such a low point that we will all still be experiencing economic woes.
We found—or rather, since I do not want to get into who gets credit for what—helped to find three elements that the read in the motion that seem fundamental to us. I imagine that every opposition party discussed every comma.
The first was to ensure that this measure did not breed uncertainty among agricultural entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs in general, municipalities and anyone else hoping to hire students. I believe the fourth point does that quite nicely by clarifying the support to agricultural producers because that is where the debate began. The government did not dare go quite that far in the wording, but if this support took the form of financial aid to improve student wages, that would not be such a bad idea.
The wording of the motion does not do justice to the intention of the motion. Indeed, the second element is that the wording of the motion seems to only reference the creation of an incentive to work. There is a sort of imbalance and I spoke to my colleague from about that. It is as though the presumption was that the average student does not really feel like working as there is no reference to the fact that this is above all a measure to support the economic needs of students. Paragraph (e) is worded in such a way as to imply that, above all, students need to be compelled to work. That does not sit well with me.
That is why I asked the a very specific question. I asked her whether the government did in fact plan to ensure that the process did not penalize students who receive the benefit and who want to work.
The basic amount is $1,250, and students should be able to earn $1,000 without being penalized, but a student earning $1,010 should not lose that $1,250. Students should not be put in a position where they will choose to work just 20 hours instead of 21 hours so they do not lose that $1,250. Students are quite capable of figuring that out. We have to make sure that does not happen. That was the point of my question to the Deputy Prime Minister, and her answer was, “obviously yes”.
Will the government introduce measures to ensure that students who work more hours will earn more money? The Deputy Prime Minister's answer was yes, and she gave other details. I believe that that amounts to a clear commitment on the government's part.
In the last part of the motion, the government committed to examining measures to increase seniors' buying power, perhaps by boosting old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Note that it is both one and the other, not either or. We would not want to see the government focus on the guaranteed income supplement, which benefits only 40% of seniors, considering that the cost of groceries has gone up for everyone. That is an issue for us.
I have lost count of how many times the Bloc Québécois has spoken out on behalf of seniors over the past few weeks, and we are not done. We will not stop until we get what we want. In Quebec, 19% of the population is over 65. We need to see an increase in their spending power, an essential tool in increasing or improving the economic conditions in Quebec's regions.
Despite the dithering, I am pretty happy with today's results. Of course, we must remain vigilant. We will remain vigilant, and we will always work in the exclusive interest of Quebeckers, while being constructive and positive. If this helps others, that is even better.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. leader for sharing his time with me today.
Before I begin, I want to say hello to the people of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and thank them for the remarkable resilience they have shown during this crisis. The situation is relatively stable for the time being in the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé thanks to their compliance with the measures put in place by various public health authorities.
As the Bloc Québécois youth critic, I am pleased to be here today to debate this bill bringing in support measures for students. Not wanting to leave students behind, the Bloc Québécois has been urging the government to act. Our demands have been heard.
The government listened to us and brought in the Canada emergency student benefit to provide support to students and recent graduates who are not eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit or employment insurance and are unable to work because of COVID-19.
It is a benefit of $1,250 per month for eligible students or a benefit of $1,750 for those who care for a person with a disability. Let me be clear: that is very good news for young people who are unable to go back to their regular summer job for various reasons. Perhaps they are sick, perhaps they have to care for someone who is sick, or perhaps the business they worked for last year cannot reopen. Regardless of the reason, this emergency benefit is welcome.
It is welcome as long as it is seen for what it is: an emergency benefit. Having been a student myself not that long ago, I can only assume that students will be the first to want to lend a hand as soon as the situation allows them to do so. They are already doing just that.
I was talking about this yesterday with the presidents of the Quebec Student Union and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec. They told me that many of their members had already sent out hundreds of resumés to work for Quebec's long-term care centres, farms, and businesses that offer essential services.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the contribution young people make to our society. We know that most of them will not apply for the benefit until they have tried to find a job.
People have criticized this measure recently. Businesses in Quebec are concerned that students might not make much of an effort to find work before collecting a cheque from Ottawa.
We know that the regular Canada emergency response benefit has, in effect, created two classes of citizens, several even, because it has different eligibility criteria, which is why there is now a benefit specifically for students.
The thing is, students are citizens like everyone else. They have bills to pay too. A student who moves from Gaspé to attend the Université du Québec à Montréal ends up spending about $3,600 in the first month and about $1,200 a month thereafter for fixed costs such as rent, food, transportation, Internet and phone. Costs can be even higher for students in other Canadian cities.
Of course, some of them get help from other people, such as family members, but many of them need us. They need help from the government.
Earlier the minister spoke about Felix. I want to talk about Thomas. Thomas called my office the other day. Because of his course load, he is unable to work during the school year. Yesterday he wrote his last exam of the semester, but even though that stressful experience is over, his anxiety level has only increased instead of decreasing.
He knows that the day after tomorrow, he will have to pay his rent, phone and Internet, but he does not know how he will manage. He was supposed to start an internship on Monday, but that has been cancelled because of the crisis. We all know that Thomas is not the only one in this situation. Felix is not the only one either. Thousands of students across Quebec and Canada are in the same situation.
For many students, summer is a time to earn money for the upcoming school year. However, it is not just about money. Sure, these summer jobs are about earning income, but they are also about gaining experience. For others, it may simply be an educational requirement. This crisis is also an extraordinary situation for students.
I come back to these people who over the past few days have expressed their dissatisfaction with the government's benefit for students. The main argument for some is this myth that students in Quebec and Canada are lazy.
To bust that myth and change what might be perceived as a disincentive to work, the Bloc Québécois wanted to propose a compromise. That compromise would be good for everyone, but most of all it would increase the purchasing power of students and allow the government to save the public purse a lot of money.
We proposed a change that would let young people keep more of their pay before being penalized. We made this proposal because we believe that the CESB is somewhat unfair. It is unfair to students who will make the effort to find a job but will not receive the benefit if they make more than $1,000, the ineligibility threshold.
We know that the CERB was created in the context of a lockdown. The student benefit will be introduced in an entirely different context, at a time when we presume we will be emerging from that lockdown. This is a fundamental change in the measure's implementation in that many businesses will be reopening their doors to the extent possible, with some opening in a more restricted manner. I am thinking of restaurant owners who decide, for example, to open just in the evenings on weekends instead of at lunch and dinner every day. This means that there will be many strictly part-time jobs. Neither employers nor employees will benefit when a student has to refuse working a few extra hours because they are afraid of losing access to the benefit or, as my colleague said, losing the entire $1,250. We simply find it unfair that those who want to work should be penalized.
The crisis is affecting the health of our economy in particular, and several sectors, including the agricultural sector, are experiencing an urgent labour shortage. In my area, many farmers are having to seek additional help because they will not be able to count on temporary foreign workers this summer, for reasons we can all guess.
We believe that students' courage in the face of a crisis is not the issue. The Canada emergency benefit is necessary to support students, but it could certainly use some improvement. I salute the negotiations that took place over the past few hours to address our demands in order to pass this bill, namely for the government to implement financial incentives and support measures for students and young people for the various jobs available, including jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector, to ensure the economic stability of the regions and maintain food production during the crisis.
What we all want is for the government to ensure that the financial measures it is putting in place are offered in a manner that fulfills their primary objectives while encouraging employment in all circumstances.
Mr. Speaker, from the beginning of this crisis, New Democrats have said there are three things that Canadians need. They need to have the money to be able to pay their bills, the confidence that they will have a job to return to and a safe place to live. Throughout this crisis, we have seen that the government has acted too slowly and, in many cases, with too little to help Canadians get through this crisis.
We have said from the beginning that the simplest and most effective way to ensure that no one is missed or left behind is to send support directly to all Canadians. Absent that, we have said that if the government is not willing to have a universal basic income for Canadians during this crisis, then at least make the CERB universal. Make the CERB universal so that anyone who needs help right now can access that help.
Every step of the way, instead of a simple solution that prioritizes making sure Canadians who need help can get it, the Liberals have preferred a complicated approach, one where they are constantly changing and upgrading it. Contrary to the , I do not believe that is a strength when there is a clear solution that they have completely avoided. It would have been a strength if we had a universal program and then had to modify it to expand to other things not expected in terms of businesses and other groups. If there is an easy solution to provide help to all Canadians and the Liberals are ignoring that option, only to have to return to Parliament to update and continually change it because we push them to close the gaps, that is not something they should be proud of.
In fact, what the government is doing is making a choice. The government is choosing to deny help to those who need it most. It is choosing to deny help to those desperately in need. The Liberals' position is this. They would rather deny help to those who need it most than risk people getting more help than they need. That is really the choice they are making. They are so afraid there may be some people who do not need help and might end up getting it, that they are willing to risk people in desperate need falling through the cracks. That is a choice they are making.
However, New Democrats have a solution to that. We can easily tax back those who get extra help and do not need it. We have a year until the next tax season. In that time, I am confident that, if it were a priority of the government to ensure Canadians got the help they needed, those who received extra help could be taxed back very easily. We are in a crisis. We are in a pandemic. The priority should not be excluding or denying people in need and then trying to catch up and find solutions. The priority should be that they do not want people falling through the cracks and they will tax back those who did not need the help. That should be the solution. This is not the time to deny help; this is the time to deliver help as rapidly as possible to everyone in need.
This government is making a choice. It is a choice. It is choosing to leave some people behind, to deny help to people desperately in need. It would rather deny help to those who need it most than risk people getting help they do not need.
There is a simple solution. Give everyone the help they need now and if someone does not need the assistance, it can be taxed back.
This is not the time to deny help to people. It is the time to help people as quickly as possible.
Now I want to talk about the approach to students. We have said from the beginning that there were too many people missed by the CERB. Notably, we mentioned students as well as owner-operators, seniors and people living with disabilities, but let us focus on students.
It is clear from the approach that the Liberal government is taking that the Liberals believe that there are some students who are deserving of help and there are others who are not. The Liberals are basing their assumptions on a very privileged view of the world. In his announcement about students, the actually said to the public, when referencing this aid, that maybe students are going to have to go to mom and dad and ask for help and it is going to be harder to do that these days. What the Prime Minister did not really reflect on is that many students are moms and dads.
In their initial proposition, until we pushed them, the Liberals thought they were justified to give students with children and students living with disabilities less help. They thought it was okay to cut the help that went to moms who decided to go back to school to get an education, and that they somehow deserved less help. The government members thought it was okay to tell students living with disabilities, who already face challenges getting jobs, that they deserve less help, as if students living with disabilities have to pay less for rent or less for groceries; as if moms who go back to school have some sort of discount on their groceries or their bills. In case the government does not know this, they do not have a discount. In fact, it might be more costly and more difficult for them. It seems like the government wanted to penalize people for going to school; that it wanted to penalize students living with disabilities and parents who went on to get an education.
I want to give a clear example of what this means for a student, which provides a picture of what this decision meant. Miranda is from Victoria. She is a single mom who was in full-time studies last year. She did not make the $5,000 cut-off to qualify for the CERB. She is now unemployed because she has an eight-year-old daughter and, as a result of COVID-19, has no child care. She has lost her child care. She does not qualify for the CERB. She is wondering how she is going to pay for the rent, food and bills. The government thinks that Miranda deserves less simply because she went to school.
What is the government's response to someone like Miranda? The Liberals initially thought that she did not need help or she did not deserve as much help or that since she was struggling before the pandemic, it was okay that she was struggling. They thought that it was okay that things were tough for her because she was used to it. That logic is simply inexcusable and it is wrong.
What is the government's general response to the students it has left behind? It says they do not need help, that they do not deserve as much help as someone who was working, that they were struggling before the pandemic and they should get used to it. That is inexcusable. It makes no sense.
I just cannot understand why the government thought it was okay to initially leave students with disabilities behind, and that it was okay to offer an arbitrary sum of money and say that it would give these students living with disabilities an arbitrary sum less than anyone else. That, to me, speaks to a callousness around its decision-making when it comes to students and perhaps a privileged world view of what it means to be a student.
When it comes to students living with disabilities, the fact that they were particularly given less funding as well really belies the reality. These are students who probably have to pay far more in costs, such as the cost of transportation for someone living with a disability and health care that is not covered. Their costs are probably higher, not lower.
We know that people living with disabilities face higher rates of unemployment, so it is probably more likely that someone with a disability is not likely to have had a job to qualify for the CERB. As students are trying to improve their lot in life, why would the government discriminate against them in that way?
However, what makes all of this even more hurtful, even more callous, is when we contrast the government's approach to students like Miranda, students living with disabilities, with its approach to wealthy, powerful businesses. Let us contrast the two. The government is not worried about the billions of dollars that we, as a country, we as people, are losing to those companies that choose to cheat our system by using tax havens. The government is not worried about that; it is okay, but Miranda deserves $250 less. A student living with a disability deserves $250 less because this is a student living with a disability. However, a company like Loblaws can use, legally, a tax haven and avoid paying $400 million in taxes, approximately.
It is unreal that the government thinks it is okay to allow a company like Loblaws to use offshore tax havens. Again, it is legal. That is the problem here. That company is legally allowed to do that and not contribute $400 million to our country to help with services and programs, but Miranda deserves $250 less. That is a choice. That is a decision that the government is making. That is not happenstance. It is not a coincidence, but a thoughtful choice that the government is making, and it is wrong.
This government is so worried about people like Miranda getting more money than they deserve that it is willing to give them $250 less per month. Meanwhile, it cannot be bothered to go after the billions of dollars that are lost every year when big corporations cheat the system by using tax havens. It is absolutely crazy. I am sorry, but it is true.
We have asked the government to commit to something really simple, and we have seen other countries do this. Denmark, France and Poland have all committed to the very same thing we are asking this government to do.
If a company in Canada thinks it is okay to cheat our tax system and put its money in an offshore tax haven, to purposefully avoid contributing to our society, contributing to the social programs in our country and paying its fair share, then that company does not deserve public help. We have asked the government to commit to that. Other countries have committed to it clearly. The Canadian government has not. The has not committed to this. It is a simple solution.
If a company thinks it is above contributing its fair share, or if a company thinks it is going to save billions or hundreds of millions of dollars and it is not going to contribute to the public good, then that company does not deserve the public good to help it out when times are tough, yet the government has not committed to that. To date, the government has not committed to doing this.
Again, I asked the earlier today. I asked the government today. There are ministers here. Will they commit to ensuring that a company in Canada that uses offshore tax havens will not get public funding and will not be bailed out during this time? I ask them to commit to that. It is a simple solution. Denmark, France and other countries are doing the same thing. Even Poland is doing this. Why will this country not do it? Why will this government not do it, when there are so many examples of other countries doing it? It is a clear solution. There are billions of dollars that we can recover. I am asking the government to do it.
More than I do, Canadians want the government to do this. People want to know that they are getting a fair share. It does not make sense that the government is going to deny a universal CERB at the same time that there are companies that are stealing, effectively, billions of dollars out of our coffers to contribute to our social good. That does not make any sense. It is beyond time that the Liberal government committed to closing these tax loopholes to ensure that we have the revenue that we can invest in Canadians and to ensure that people are lifted up in this time.
The government should not worry about nickel-and-diming students when wealthy corporations like Loblaws can get away with not paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Single parents like Miranda are not the problem. Company owners like Galen Weston are the problem, and it is not his fault; it is the government's fault that it is allowing offshore tax havens to exist.
I want to talk about another issue that is hurting Canadians and that people are desperately worried about. That is rent. Rent is due again on the first of the month, and that is going to be this Friday. There are far too many Canadians who do not know how they are going to pay their rent. We have urged the government to use the powers and jurisdiction that we have at the federal level over banks to ensure that there is a pause on mortgage, not a deferral. People who use a deferral end up having to pay far more in the long run. It would cost them far more. We are asking the government to use the powers we have expressly in the Constitution, section 91, and in the Bank Act to put a pause on mortgages, and then to negotiate with provinces to ensure there is a pause on rent. We know that mortgage and rent are connected. If we negotiate that pause, we can ensure that people are going to be able to stay in their homes.
We have also heard from small business owners who have said that one of their biggest concerns, one of their biggest fixed costs, is commercial rent. We were pleased that, after a lot of pressure and great work from a lot of activists across the country, small business owners and New Democrats, the government announced some help and relief for rent, when it comes to commercial properties. That is a good thing, but if the government has been able, working with the provinces, to figure out a way to put in place relief on commercial rent, I implore the government that people need that help as well. In the same way it was able to figure out how to work with the provinces to bring in place relief for small businesses, which is much needed, I ask the government to do the same for people who are worried about paying their rent.
There is no reason why we cannot extend that same relief and support to people. If these people cannot find a place to live, we are not just going to have a problem with homelessness or a lack of housing; we are also going to have a public health emergency when people who have been told they need to stay at home are no longer able to, and that would put more risk of infection and spreading the disease into our health care system.
The does not need to wait for a press conference. The Prime Minister can announce today that there will be relief for Canadians who need help when it comes to their rent, and that Canadians who need help with their mortgage can count on help. That can be announced today.
In closing, I want to point out that in every moment of this crisis, the Liberal government's first impulse or first reaction was to leave people behind. The Liberals left workers out of EI, and we pushed them to fix it. They left out workers in general who were not covered by EI. We pushed them, and they brought into place the CERB. They left small businesses behind, and we pushed them to fix that as well. Now they wanted to leave students behind. We pushed them, and they have come some of the way, but we are going to keep pushing them to make sure they go all the way.
The right thing to do now is help people out, not complicate things with different programs that have different criteria and different levels of support. What people need right now is to know that if they need help, they can apply for it and get it. The best way to help people right now is to make it easy to get the help they need, to make it quick and accessible.
I believe that if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for the following motion: that the House call on the government to make the Canada emergency response benefit a universal benefit, such that students, seniors and anyone in need can apply for and receive $2,000 a month to help them through these difficult times.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging my constituents in Ottawa—Vanier who have stayed in touch with me since the beginning of this crisis and shared their ideas and concerns. It is truly by working together in our community that we can support Canadians and especially those in my riding, Ottawa—Vanier.
I am also grateful to be able to address the House on COVID-19 and the supplementary measures we are taking to further help Canadians throughout this unprecedented situation.
During these extraordinary times, the realities of the job market change every day. The government continues to look for ways to offer programs and support that work for all Canadians, including students and young people, as we deal with this pandemic.
Through the Canada emergency response benefit, the government has created a financial aid package to support Canadians in these unprecedented circumstances. This benefit provides Canadians who are no longer working because of the COVID-19 pandemic and those whose hours have been considerably reduced an amount of $2,000 every four weeks for up to 16 weeks.
Over 1.9 million applications have been processed to date under EI and the Canada emergency response benefit. These numbers are simply incredible and give us an idea of the number of people who are financially impacted by this pandemic. However, the government realized that certain Canadians were falling through the cracks and were not eligible to get the help they needed with the existing CERB criteria. This is why today we are proposing to take the next step in our approach to supporting all Canadians who need it most during this pandemic.
It is now time to look more closely at the situation of Canadian students, because they need specific help and support. Right now, as they are self-isolating like everyone else in the country, many Canadian post-secondary students are left wondering how they are going to provide for themselves. Even students from the University of Ottawa and La Cité Collégiale in my riding have been reaching out to find out how we will support them.
Whereas they would usually ask their parents for help, they now have to face the harsh reality that mom and dad are probably having a hard time meeting their own needs during this crisis.
Some students are eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit. Students who earned less than $5,000 in the past year and those who were working but lost their jobs because of COVID-19 are eligible, but many other students are not. More than one million post-secondary students may not be eligible for the COVID-19 CERB.
Students are facing some serious problems. Their studies have been interrupted, they have fewer job opportunities, and all of their co-op, internship and community service opportunities are up in the air. As a result, young people are worried and wondering what to do.
The government wants to make sure that young people know they matter and that we are there for them in these difficult times. That is why we are proposing this complementary bill to the Government of Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan, which already commits $146 billion in direct support for Canadians and businesses through these unprecedented times. It is the next logical step.
Our comprehensive package of measures for students will allow the government to implement a range of measures designed to help three broad groups of young people: students, job seekers and youth looking for service opportunities. As the previously explained in more detail, the Canada emergency student benefit is the largest piece of the framework. It will provide immediate help to support students right across the country.
In a nutshell, it would provide $1,250 a month, from May to August, to post-secondary students and recent graduates who cannot find summer employment due to COVID-19. Students who care for dependants or have a disability would receive an additional $500 a month for a total of $1,750 a month. High school graduates entering post-secondary education would also be eligible. The government expects that more than one million students and recent graduates would benefit from this financial support.
To help students with fall tuition, the Canada student loans program would double student grants, lower expected contributions and expand eligibility for student loans and grants. This would be in addition to the six-month interest moratorium on repayment of student loans. All student loan borrowers automatically had their repayments suspended until September 30, 2020. No payment is required and interest will not accrue during this time. All of these measures will make students' lives a little less stressful during these difficult times.
Since our government rolled out the CERB, questions have been asked in the public sphere regarding the concept of a national universal basic income. We are listening. These questions deserve to be properly considered and debated in due course, but now is not the time.
From the beginning of this crisis, we have had to adapt to the changing reality of the pandemic. Given the urgency of the situation, the government had to act quickly, very quickly. Millions of Canadians needed financial assistance so they could pay their rent, buy groceries and support their families. Fortunately, many Canadians are still getting a paycheque and do not need emergency funds to pay the bills.
However, we needed to provide support quickly for those who needed it, and our biggest priority was making sure that the help got to those who needed it the most. This being the end of April and the beginning of May, now is the time when post-secondary studies and school terms end and when students are looking for summer jobs. Of course, that is not going to happen as easily this year and these students might not be eligible to apply for the CERB. That is why we require Parliament's approval to move forward with the Canada emergency student benefit, which is the next logical step to help more Canadians in need to get through this pandemic.
By tabling Bill , our government is telling Canadian students that they are important, that their plans for the future are important, and that we are here to help them and support them. We are all in the same boat, and we remain committed to helping all Canadians in these difficult times.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I wanted to start off by saying that when I was younger, Oshawa was a bit of a different town. Oshawa was proudly able to support many students who were working in good summer jobs at the GM assembly plant. I remember working eight years in that plant, and it was a good wage and a great experience. Many of my friends in different programs, whether engineering, management, trades or labour, gained great experience at that plant.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, I am a chiropractor. One may ask what kind of experience I received working on the floor at GM to be a chiropractor. It has allowed me to connect with my constituents and know what they are going through when they came to see me. I always joke that it even maybe helped me in politics. I have said that I have come to Ottawa to straighten out those politicians. When one gets to work in one's community, it is a wonderful experience.
Today it is a different environment in Oshawa, and there are no longer the same opportunities. We have lost our assembly plant. There are still good opportunities in the auto sector, as well as some growth in health care and education, but students still make up a great part of my constituency and this bill hits home.
Between the Ontario Tech University, Trent University Durham campus and Durham College, Oshawa is home to literally thousands of students. In 2019, Ontario Tech University has a total of 10,348 students. Durham College has more than 13,600 full post-secondary and apprenticeship students, with more than 2,000 students from over 60 countries, along with thousands of students in part-time, professional and online studies. Trent University Durham campus has over 1,600 undergraduate students, with 41 graduate students as well. Unlike years past, I am hearing from our young people that they are hurting.
Young people want the same thing that we wanted. They want a job; they do not want a handout. They want a future, experience, a better life and they want opportunities. I love hanging around young people because they really inspire me. They know Canada is the best country in the world with the best potential and that it is the best place to live.
This bill is about students and their futures. I am hearing from the students in my riding that they are in immediate need, as are their families. I am very happy to be here today to support this bill. Conservatives have been working very hard to help the government to better these bills and make better programs available for students and Canadians who need them.
Conservatives have negotiated several changes to this proposed legislation, which includes requiring the government to connect all applicants to the Canada job bank and providing them with job availability information before applying, requiring parliamentary review of the legislation and benefit and instituting a legislated sunset clause so the benefit could not be extended through regulation and there would be accountability.
We recognize unemployment in some parts of the country is extremely high because of this pandemic and that some of these jobs just are not available, so Canadians and students need real help right now. In normal times, this would be a time when students would be starting their new summer jobs so they could save up for the next school year and pay for their rent and groceries.
While the $1250 that students will be receiving through the Canada emergency student benefit is a step that will help them pay their rent and buy their groceries, it will not place them in a position to pay for their books and tuition come September. They need more. Students need to be able to work in a safe, sanitary environment that will not only pay their bills but also give them experience in their chosen field or even in a field that gives them valuable experience.
What energizes me when I talk to students is that students believe in the future of Canada. Many students come here from all over the world, and a kid in Oshawa can make new friends and learn from friends who come from all parts of the world. They all understand the importance of experience and the potential that Canada offers these students.
Students also believe in the Canadian dream. That is why I love listening to their ideas. The government sometimes has a difficult time defining what the middle class is, but the students I have talked to know what that means. They know what they are aiming for. They want to join the middle class and contribute in a significant way to the Canadian economy. Students want to do their part. They want to contribute to Canada's future. They want to settle down, pursue their careers, raise their families, reach for their dreams and help continue to make Canada the best country in the world.
Right now students are hurting. There is uncertainty. There is fear. It is not just about the COVID virus; they are worried about their future and their families. I have been hearing from mature students with dependants. They have concerns with this ongoing crisis. This is real. They are very concerned about paying their bills while also taking care of their kids. They want to be able to graduate and get a good job in their field, and, if they want, get married, pay for their kids' hockey or volleyball, buy a house, buy a car or go on vacation once a year to get away from our famously frigid Canadian winters. Students know what they want. They understand the definition of middle class and what a Canadian dream is. Students know this.
As Conservatives, we want to help improve these government programs in these trying times. We have some really good ideas, which we have heard in the House today. We want to put them forward to help students in the long term and in an effective way. We offer these ideas for the government's consideration, and we want to help it develop and improve its programs.
Therefore, along with this bill, there should be a priority to expand the Canada summers job program and create a central database to ensure that these critical jobs are filled and students not only receive valuable experience, but limit their student debt by making more money during the summer. This program should focus on jobs in the agricultural sector, because we are hearing more and more concerns about our critical supply chains and the difficulty people in our agricultural sector are having in getting the labour they need. At the same time, we want to put our students to work in a helpful and meaningful way that gives them practical life experience, which can also be valuable for their future careers.
When people think of Oshawa, they think about cars. I am really proud of that history, but many people do not realize that the Durham region adds $300 million every single year to Ontario's farm production. In 2017, there were 3,400 jobs in the forestry, fishing and hunting sectors. There are over 200 farms in the Durham region. These farms produce high-quality food for Canadians. Whether it is beef, lamb, honey, cider, fruit, vegetables or wine, we are very proud of the products we produce in the Durham region.
We have been hit with hard times before, but sometimes the hard times have a silver lining: They bring people together. I think our Conservative idea will really help benefit employers who are looking to give those students the experience they need but maybe cannot afford it right now. It will give students more money so that when they get back to school in the fall of 2020, they will have fewer loans and more money in their pockets.
In the end, although the Canada emergency student benefit provides assistance to students in the short term, it is important that our young people and mature students are able to get the supports they need so they can be prepared for the opening of the fall 2020 semester, whether it is online or in a slightly modified environment. This can be done by expanding the Canada summer jobs program so employers can get the help they need and supply chains can be secure, all while putting more money in the pockets of students and giving them experience that will last a lifetime.
What the Conservatives want to do is offer Canadians a win-win-win. The program we are offering gives students a win, businesses a win and Canadians a win. When Canadians, students and businesses win, it ensures we all have a future we can be proud of.
I anticipate some great questions from my colleagues on this.
Mr. Speaker, in keeping with what my colleague said, before I came to this place I was an auto mechanic. Cars are running in the vein today. My friends always said there was not a wrench big enough to fix Ottawa, but I said I had to give it a try anyway, so here I am.
COVID has upended all of our lives. We have taken to social distancing and significantly changed the way we live our lives. For me, the largest change is not getting to gather on Sundays with my local church congregation. That has probably been the biggest challenge for me. We have all changed our lives significantly due to COVID.
Many people have come to me to ask when we will be returning to some semblance of normal and when we can gather together, particularly for church. These are big questions in my community. These are legitimate questions.
We have a lot of questions about how we got here. We seem to have based our decision-making on a number of models, but that is a fuzzy kind of science. Models are only as good as their inputs. Who creates these models? Where do these models come from? What models are we using? These are valid questions that people are asking me, and I do not have the answers. I do not know what those models are, I do not know who the author of them is and I do not know what the inputs are. It seems to me that over time we should be questioning whether the assumptions we made at the beginning of all this are still holding. Did we use the correct inputs in the models?
Today we are discussing a benefits program for students. That is for sure far down the line, in my opinion. Each and every time we make another move in addressing the COVID crisis, we should go back to see if the basic assumptions we made at the beginning of all this are holding. We always say hindsight is 20/20. Now that we have a bit of hindsight, we can look back to see whether the assumptions we made in January are holding true. Is this disease as contagious as it was? Is it having impacts? I know we are seeing deaths across the country, but are the things we are doing to prevent them working? How do we know they are working? Those questions are being asked of me, and I have not necessarily seen them being answered effectively by the government.
Every day the government makes an announcement on how it is dealing with COVID, but we rarely look back. The government could say it made an assumption on January 3 and was right or made an assumption on January 3 and was wrong and things are actually worse or better. I do not see a great deal of that, and I think right from the onset we should address this. I would like to know what the models are, who the author of these models is and what the assumptions of these models are so that average Canadians, wherever they are in Canada, can say that they make sense.
We are asking Canadians from across the country to put their lives on hold. The restaurant owners in my area have been particularly tied to two-twenty, I would say. They have all been reaching out to me, asking when they can open again and telling me they are going bankrupt as we speak.
The other thing they mention often to me is that the goalposts seem to be moving. They said that over a month ago all they were hearing about was flattening the curve and today we are talking about stopping the spread. Those are both valid things, but they seem to be different. There was a subtle change in language, and there has never been an explanation as to why we changed from flattening the curve to stopping the spread. I agree with both of those things, but there was no explanation as to why we did those things. People are saying to me that we seem to have flattened the curve and are asking when they are going to get to reopen their restaurants again. When will they get to go back to work? That is very significant.
Another major concern that people have is that all of that government intervention, with the $2,000 a month from the CERB and even the proposed benefit for students, is going to change our economy. There are no ands, ifs or buts about it. It is going to change our economy. Does the government have models that it can share with us as to what the expected change to the economy is going to be?
We have seen from other places that when the minimum wage has been increased, for example, rents went up in proportion. Do we know those kinds of things about what we are doing today by handing out $2,000 a month? Where will that money flow through? It will not just stay in a particular person's bank account. He or she will spend it on things like rent and food. What kind of impact will it have on rent and food? There are all these kinds of things. Have we seen those models? We are looking to the government to explain to us some of the impacts of these benefits that are being brought forward.
We mentioned our concern that this system of payments to students may create disincentives to work, and then the NDP said that we were accusing people of being lazy. I would not suggest at all that anybody is suggesting that anyone is being lazy. We were merely saying that people are people, and they will do a cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, if someone can go to work in a local factory and make $1,000 or else stay home and collect $1,200 a month from the government, the person will do a cost-benefit analysis. There is nothing lazy about that. It is just a a cost-benefit analysis, and we do not want to put an incentive into our economy to suggest that people should stay at home.
It was interesting as well that they seem to agree with us on the incentive part of the benefit and that a person should be able to make money while also accruing the student benefit.
We, as Conservatives, are happy to support this measure, although there are many things that need to be improved. We have seen the government listen, particularly on the first round, with regard to the 10% wage subsidy. When we said that it was not going to work, the government came back with a 75% wage subsidy that should work well.
It was also interesting to hear the leader of the NDP question why these systems seem to be so tailored rather than broad. Perhaps I could suggest an answer to that question, because I remember the 2015 election. I suppose I can forgive the hon. member, because I do not think he was here in 2015.
During the 2015 election, the Liberals ran around accusing us of giving cheques to millionaires with our child tax benefit. The first thing they did when they were elected was to change that program so that cheques would not go to millionaires. We had said, however, that if we were to make the benefit taxable, we would collect it back in taxes. If we were to give it indiscriminately at the front end, we would collect it back from wealthy people on the back end. That was our rationale in 2013-2014 when we introduced that benefit. It seemed to be a logical rationale for me then, and I am happy to see that the NDP is catching on to that rationale as well in their debate around the benefit for students.
With that, I am happy to say that we will be supporting this bill, but we look forward to some significant changes to ensure that the disincentives for work can be taken out of it. We would like to see a system of registration so that if students are applying for this benefit, their skill sets would be registered so that hopefully we could match them with a job opening somewhere in the world, particularly in the agricultural sector.
Where I come from, right now many of the farmers have their seeders out. They are putting new shovels on it and getting ready to pull it through the ground to seed this year's crop.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for La Prairie.
I want to once again salute the people in my riding. Earlier my colleague spoke about the resilience of our constituents. I want to acknowledge their courage and shows of solidarity during these difficult times. Something positive during this pandemic is how people are banding together.
Today we are debating a motion to pass a bill that would create the Canada emergency student benefit. The Bloc Québécois is obviously in favour of financial support for students. This measure is necessary and essential, which is why we asked for it.
Make no mistake: students are also being hit hard by this crisis. Some colleagues in other political parties have raised concerns about this benefit. They think that students will not want to work because they will figure out they can make more money staying home. The Bloc Québécois could not disagree more.
We recognize that students need financial support because, from the outset, students who had completed their education or who will be going back to school made the effort to come to our riding offices and tell us that they did not know if or when they would find a job. We had to find a solution and identify the measures needed, and that is just what we did. This crisis will be deemed to be historic, but no one must be left behind or fall through the cracks.
I would also like to remind members that the motion asks for measures to be implemented without delay to provide additional support for seniors. We called for these measures and we are still waiting for them because they are necessary.
I spoke about fairness and about those falling through the cracks. I would like us to think about that. The current crisis has taught us that we must respond, sometimes on a case-by-case basis, to situations that require urgent support.
Furthermore, as parliamentarians, we must ask ourselves whether our social safety net and our social programs, such as employment insurance, have failed us. The Bloc Québécois has already called for a major overhaul of the system. To date, more than eight million workers have lost their jobs, and we must ask ourselves whether they should have been eligible for employment insurance. Clearly, we have our work cut out for us. We have to face the facts and completely overhaul the system.
The purpose of the bill is twofold, namely to provide financial support to students and to do so in a way that encourages them to find a job. With respect to the latter, we can say that the bill is less than perfect, considering certain obstacles.
The first obstacle has to do with the language around jobs, job creation and job opportunities. The minister talked about a program that will create more than 60,000 additional jobs, but we do not know what sector they will be in, what kind of jobs they will be, or under what conditions. It would have been better to do more to coordinate and align efforts with the provinces.
Secondly, and this is very important, the situation has changed. There was a crisis six weeks ago and we may now be starting to reopen. People are wondering whether there will be any jobs. With the Canada emergency student benefit, as with the Canada emergency response benefit, it is all or nothing. Those who earn $1,000 or less will be entitled to a benefit of $1,250 or $1,750. Those who earn $1,001 will lose the $1,250 monthly benefit. In the current context, that causes an imbalance, which is why it is important to support the motion before us to determine as quickly as possible how this will be handled. The CERB and the CESB have to be provided in such a way as to meet the objective of supporting students while providing an incentive at all times. We proposed some measures. We still have other proposals to make and we think they should be implemented.
No student wants to sit around doing nothing. Having a summer job is a valuable experience. Summer jobs give students a chance to hone their skills in their chosen trade or profession. They also get to earn money that they can live on during the school year. Accordingly, I think we need to move forward without losing sight of the fact that we absolutely need to work on measures that will incentivize work. I would add that the jobs need to be quality jobs. These measures will be a major basic support for students.
People have mentioned the changing context. In 48 hours, it will be May 1, which is International Workers' Day. During this crisis, we have saluted many essential workers, the heroes who work in many different sectors, including food, transportation, student jobs, health care and community social services. We just happened to become aware of what they do. We realized the value of their work. We recognized essential workers who are the most vulnerable workers and who have the most precarious working conditions and wage conditions. When we talk about incentivizing employment, we need to remember that the jobs we want to fill must be well paid for anyone who wants them, including students. We have some work to do on that score as well.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the bill on support for students during this pandemic.
As members know, from the beginning, the Bloc Québécois has been a very constructive opposition. We always try to improve bills. I think that, in general, the other opposition parties also worked with that goal in mind. It is therefore not surprising to see that there is unanimous support for this bill.
However, I must say that the bill does have its shortcomings. Obviously, there are some minor flaws, little things that are wrong and that we would have liked to work on more had we had more time. Unfortunately, we did not have as much time as we would have liked.
For two or three days, we pointed out the problems to the government and we were prepared to work together to fine-tune this bill. It is not completely perfect, but unfortunately, that sort of thing happens.
One of the basic principles of this bill is financial support for students. We are on board with this. We agree that we must help students. Since there may not be any tourism, and since festivals will be cancelled, students may have a hard time finding jobs. We all agree on that. Students need some kind of financial assistance to help pay their expenses and to allow them to return to school in the fall with some savings as they pursue their education.
This bill also needs to include an incentive for young people to work. I am not saying that young people are lazy, but the bill must allow for young people to want to go out and find a job, to actually find one, and to believe that the CESB is designed in such a way as to encourage them to stay on the job because, in the end, it will be in their best interest to do so.
Unfortunately, this bill has a major flaw. As my colleague from mentioned, the problem is that students receive $1,250 or a big fat zero. It would seem that the only option is $1,250, and that after $1,000, the default is zero. A student who works about 18 hours a week at a minimum wage job earns $1,000 a month. When you add the $1,250 CESB, that works out quite well, but what if their boss asks them to work one more hour a week?
What will be their answer, Mr. Speaker? I know I have your full attention and that you know the answer. They will say “no”. They will not want to lose the $1,250 for one extra hour of work. Everyone understands that.
Then why are we leaving this in the bill? Students might work no more than 18 hours. Will there be any students who work full time? Perhaps, but there will be no encouragement, no incentive, for them to do so.
I taught economics for a few years. In my intro to market economics, I would explain to my students that the more hours one works, the more money one earns. That is a basic rule, but this bill breaks the rule: the more one works, the more money one loses. That makes no sense.
During negotiations, the Bloc Québécois pushed for simple common sense: work more, earn more. Unfortunately, the government told us it could not do that because that would be too complicated and it would have to review every individual student's case. For example, the government would have to make it explicit that a student who works 19 hours would not lose the whole $1,250, just a little bit of it. That way, the student would want to keep working.
The Canada emergency benefit will simply be phased out to ensure that students realize that they would be better off working and that they have a little nest egg waiting. That is what we asked for, but we were told that the public service could not get into those kinds of details, because it would be too complicated and there was not enough time. We had reached a dead end.
In the end, we got a commitment from the . Indeed, although it could not be made official and standardized, because the public service apparatus would not allow it, the government committed to doing it. The Liberals said it was a good idea. We knew it was a good idea, and we have many more where that came from.
The government said it was a good idea and that it would try its best to move in that direction with its measures in the future. It committed to respecting that approach. Obviously, we very much welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's comments, for they give us a little hope.
During the negotiations, the Bloc Québécois considered the importance of having a committee look at issues related to agriculture. That has been included in the motion. We managed to get that across to the government, but I admit that it was not very hard. The government quickly agreed that it was a good idea to have a committee on agriculture because there is a lot going in that sector. We need to get answers to our questions and that is the right tool for the job.
Also, the motion proposes that the government offer subsidies to employers who hire students, but it specifies that this is for the agriculture or agri-food sectors.
The Bloc Québécois members wondered whether the same opportunity should be offered to more people, not just producers. For example, this opportunity could be offered to municipal employees and to people who want to hire students and who would be entitled to these subsidies.
I was apprehensive about how the government might respond to the Bloc's request, but the government said yes. It said that this was a good idea. The Bloc managed to make improvements to the motion.
Lastly, we have our seniors, who are being so breezily discussed. For over a month, we have been telling the government that it is neglecting seniors and it needs to do something to help them. Our proposals would cost $1 billion, which is paltry compared to the $73 billion going to wage subsidies. Seniors are always overlooked, yet they are the ones being hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. They built our country, our society. We need to show them respect through positive actions. The motion mentions this. I see daylight at last.
According to the motion, we need to help seniors who are struggling to make ends meet because the current situation has increased the cost of living. We asked the government to amend the motion to say that it would strongly consider and ensure that the old age security and guaranteed income supplement pension mechanisms could be activated through those two tools. This mechanism already exists, and the government can control it as it sees fit. This was another Bloc suggestion that was heard by the government.
We are not entirely satisfied, but nothing is perfect. The government listened to us and accepted some of our proposals. There is one last proposal and it is a very important one. There must be an incentive for students to work.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill , an act respecting Canada emergency student benefits. I am also pleased to split my time with my hon. colleague, the MP for .
Yesterday was the National Day of Mourning to remember and honour those who have lost their lives or been injured due to a workplace tragedy, and also a day to collectively renew our commitment to improve health and safety in the workplace and prevent further injuries, illnesses and deaths. With the COVID-19 crisis, this is a unique time for many workers in Canada, including front-line workers, who are often women, the marginalized and young.
The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada tell us that in 2018, 1,027 workplace fatalities were reported in Canada. Among these deaths were those of 27 young workers between the ages of 15 and 24. On top of these fatalities, there were over 264,000 accepted claims for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease. This figure includes 33,000 claims from young workers aged 15 to 24. The sad reality is that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by compensation boards. There is no doubt that the total number of workers impacted is even greater and, of course, in this new COVID reality, these numbers will skyrocket.
The government has a responsibility to protect front-line workers and essential workers to make sure that safeguards and legislation are in place so that every worker is safe and can return home every day uninjured. This is even more so the case for young workers, who often have less experience and are less able to defend themselves against their employer. They need strong legislation to back them up.
Many young people at this time are unable to enter the workforce or have been laid-off because of the coronavirus. New Democrats are glad that the government is finally turning its focus to help these young workers and students, but another complicated system is not what students asked for, and it comes weeks too late.
Since the Liberals' roll-out of the Canada emergency response benefit program, New Democrats have called on them to lift the restrictions put in place and to make this plan universal. Again, we are asking that they extend these benefits to students, as the Canada emergency student benefit program that we are debating today will still leave many students behind, including international students.
Week after week, New Democrats return to Parliament to highlight the people being left out of the government's response to COVID-19. It is because of our advocacy that we have returned once again to fix the holes this government has created. New Democrats fought for and won increases in the emergency benefits, we won an increase in the wage subsidy from 10% to 75%, we won help for small businesses with rent, and now we are debating legislation to help students.
In today's unanimous consent motion, the government admits that additional help is needed for students with dependants, seniors and people with disabilities. I have to think that there must be members in the government caucus who are quietly thinking, “Wouldn't it just be easier and fairer to make the program universal rather than create these patchwork programs?” I certainly know that many of my constituents are confused by the daily changes to programs and simply need to know that their government supports them.
With the creation of a new and separate program from the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency student benefit shortchanges students. I find it difficult to understand why the government has decided that someone who earned more money before COVID-19 can apply for the CERB and get $2,000, but a student who earned less and is ineligible for the CERB will get 40% less support. Whether one is or is not enrolled in a post-secondary institution, the cost of paying one's rent or covering one's bills and services is the same.
The government has said that students will receive less through the student benefit than the CERB, because there will be other supports through service grant systems, but those will not address their needs now but at the end of the summer. In the meantime, the government has expanded loan programs so that students can be in debt with it instead of banks and credit card companies. Call me crazy, but would it not be more helpful for students to not have to go into debt in the first place?
Today, the average student with debt owes $27,000 at the end of an undergraduate degree. Because of interest fees, a student who has to borrow to pay for their education will end up paying over $10,000 more than a student who is lucky enough to be able to graduate without taking on debt. That is not fair, and it is an inequality that sets young people up to fail.
I do recognize that the government from the outset has offered to waive interest rates on student loans for six months. My concern is for students taking on additional debt loads with the government. With a lack of support, what will students' finances look like after this pandemic? The government was set to make $1 billion from student loan interest this year before the COVID pandemic. We now need to ask the question, how much will the government make now with more students taking on larger debt loads? Are students' futures the kind of business the government wants to profit from?
The government should cancel all interest on student loans, as it should never make money off the backs of students. Consistently, people have reached out to my office to tell me how they are worried because they do not qualify for any of the emergency benefits and are in desperate need. Many women fall short of the $5,000 minimum for CERB and the government does not recognize the unpaid work that many take on.
Women are now more than ever having to find ways to juggle work and care for their families as the home has become the workplace, schools, child and daycare centres have closed and services become even more stretched. The government's initial response to a mother who is receiving help from the Canada emergency student benefit is that she just had to justify her family obligations and to jump through more hoops to be worthy of less supports than those under the CERB.
That is why New Democrats have pushed to close the gap of $250. More money going into the pockets of some of the most vulnerable students over the course of the summer represents a significant victory. We are also proud to push the government to commit to implementing measures without delay to improve supports for seniors and persons with disabilities who are dealing with extraordinary expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19.
Even with this victory, there are still holes in the system. For example, a woman whose child support dried up because her ex-spouse lost his or her income due to the pandemic does not qualify for the CERB. Her main source of income has been lost and the government is refusing to support her. It is not fair. This is on top of the countless women who are being denied the emergency benefits because they are pregnant and are being forced to apply for maternity leave early. This is another issue that could have been avoided if the government had made its emergency benefit universal.
There are some good announcements in this package that the Liberals have put forward. New Democrats welcome the government's announcement to temporarily double student grants. New Democrats have been pushing for this for over a decade. We would like to see this grant increase be made permanent. The government needs to move away from loans and to offer more grants. Accessing financial support for post-secondary education should not be a debt sentence.
Accessible and publicly funded education is a great opportunity for everyone in our society. It can transform lives and open new horizons for people of every background. That makes education an amazing gift that we can give to each other, our children and to the next generation. However, students have seen tuition increases across Canada on average and are paying 4% more just this year.
New Democrats believe that access to education should never depend on how much money one's parents make or how much debt one carries. If one has the grades and the drive to study hard, one should be able to get the education one wants at any age and in every community. The government needs to work with provinces to address the rise in tuition costs.
New Democrats are also echoing the call on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Students and CUPE for the government to put forward a post-secondary education act. The government needs to establish criteria and conditions in respect of funding for post-secondary education programs to ensure the quality, accessibility, public administration and accountability of those programs.
When thinking about the rising costs students are facing, I must bring up how disappointing it is to see the government completely abandoning international students. The government is leaving them with no supports. International students contributed $21.6 billion to Canada's GDP last year. They have become important members of our communities and contribute to Canada's innovation and research. The government cannot and should not leave international students behind.
Sadly, even before COVID-19, post-secondary education was out of reach for too many people. People are being forced to give up their dreams because they cannot pay skyrocketing tuition fees and cannot find work and because the government supports are coming up short.
New Democrats are committed to addressing these inequalities. We will continue to push to make the Canada emergency benefit universal so that seniors, people with disabilities, mothers, students, workers and everyone who continues to fall between the cracks will get the support they need. New Democrats will continue to push for the elimination of tuition fees and the establishment of a national post-secondary act. We will continue to push to make the doubling of student grants permanent. We will continue to address and tear down the barriers that too many Canadians faced before COVID-19 and will face afterwards.
Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to be here today. I think of how much the world has changed since the last time I was in this House. I have just spent a little more than 40 days basically in isolation. I started to think about the term “quarantine”, which means 40 days. It is a biblical image of the 40 days Jesus was wrestling in the desert. There was 40 days and 40 nights of floods. The Israelites were in the desert for 40 years. What is really profound about it is the term “quarantine” comes from the age of the black plague, because it was one of the only tools to fight the pandemic. It is sobering to realize that in the 21st century we are having to return to the tools that were used in the Dark Ages to fight a pandemic we do not fully understand and to realize how quickly that virus up-ended everything that our world has talked about and taken as absolute basic truths that could not even be argued: 40 years of economic and social policies overturned as quickly as the Soviet wall in Berlin fell over.
What fell over within the first week of COVID? The belief in the natural superiority of globalization, the belief that we do not need to have industry in Canada to look after ourselves because we can trust our allies. When Donald Trump seized medical equipment that was bound for Canada, that globalization agenda failed. When we were getting substandard health products from China, that globalization agenda failed. We heard people across the political spectrum talking about the need for an industrial policy so that Canada would never again be left in a lurch like that.
We learned about the whole privatization agenda, the “get government out of our way” view, that the “for profit” is so naturally superior. We saw the horrific death levels in the for-profit seniors homes that we are now having to send the army in to try and keep old people alive. We can never again be in that situation. We can never again be in a situation where we have crowdsourcing on Facebook for our front-line medical workers to have medical gear to protect them in a pandemic.
There are other things we have learned as well. We learned the incredible social solidarity of Canadians, that Canadians look out for each other, that Canadians do not believe in the race to the bottom, that Canadians do not throw each other out of the lifeboat. I arrived in Ottawa last night and my daughter told me that neighbours came up and put a sign on her door saying that they knew there were students there who may not have any family here and if they needed any help to call them. That is who we are as Canadians.
We also learned of the incredible economic power the government has. After all the degrading of federal spending and government money and the Conservatives always telling us that it was going to be the corporations, the private sector and the entrepreneurs, within a week of COVID everybody was looking for a backstop to stop the worst economic catastrophe in memory.
The steps we have been debating here have been about the power of social spending to keep our cities livable and our families afloat. I would put to the House that there is no going back to normal, that the world that was here at the beginning of March that we were debating is gone. The choice we need to make is where we are going to go as a nation. The idea that the market is going to miraculously come back is obviously a myth.
What is going to get us out of COVID is going to require intense public investment over the next few years. If we are going to be spending those public investments to get our economy back up, then the fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is what kinds of investments should we be making, because it is public money and it is about the public good. The steps we take every step of the way, whether it is supporting university students or supporting people with the $2,000 a month basic income that we have supported, must be the new floor to ensure that we are never again left in a situation as precarious as we were in and that our health care system is never again left in that situation.
I think of Ontario. I congratulate Premier Doug Ford. He has certainly shown some passion on this issue, but just before the pandemic they were shutting down all the public health units because they did not think we needed them, and these public health units have been the front lines of defending us and saving us right now. We are not going to go back to nickel-and-diming health care into the ground. That is not going to happen on our watch.
Regarding the idea of the $2,000 minimum, we can hear from the Conservatives, their right-wing think tanks and the National Post that people are going to sit on their duffs and hang out in their hammocks. It is like the Conservatives just cannot wait for the moment when they get to decide who gets thrown out of the lifeboat.
The reality is that we have seen that millions of Canadians, within one week of COVID, did not have enough savings to pay their rent. It is a staggering indictment of an economic system that has not made sure that we live to the standard that we should be able to live to. That $2,000 a month certainly did not come from the Conservatives; they were too busy making a tax on people of Asian origin. The $2,000-a-month minimum wage idea came from the New Democrats, who said that this is the new base, and we got the support of the government because it recognized that.
How do we go back and say that now people are going to go back to lousy jobs and lousy contracts in an economy that is not going to have a lot of those jobs for a long time?
The new normal is about ensuring that the investments we make from now on build a better society. It gives us an incredible opportunity. What are we going to do in terms of the billions of dollars that we will need in infrastructure to make cities more livable, more sustainable and to make our society more inclusive and fair? That is our opportunity. We could just give it away to the corporate sector, as we have done year in, year out, but I think that would be a terrible failure, given the fact that we have left Canadians in the situation they have been left in.
These are the issues that we have brought forward as New Democrats, compared to the Conservatives on this issue. We said $2,000 a month was the minimum, and then we realized that the government was still not working with us on making it universal. They wanted to have limits on it. We asked, what about someone who is earning some money? Are they going to be kicked off? What about people in the gig economy who have a bit of money coming in? To have the $2,000 plus the $1,000 has been a fair move, and the government has recognized it. It was the New Democrats who said that the wage subsidy at 10% was not enough and that it had to be 75%. While the Conservatives were all demanding that we start this new cold war with China, and they were all waving their flags and pumping their fists, we were speaking about small businesses and saying that we needed to make this fair to them, and we got those changes.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today.
I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill . This is another bill in response to the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis, the great pandemic. It is an unparalleled and unprecedented situation.
We have never been through anything like this before, and we are seeing level after level and aspect after aspect of debate taking place in this place on different pieces of legislation as we rush to fill the gaps.
There are a few things to say about this, but before I do, I want to acknowledge that I am honoured to speak today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin nation and express to it our enormous thanks for its patience and generosity. Meegwetch.
We are in the midst of something that we can say is unknown to us, but I was very taken with the analysis by the parliamentary budget office, and I want to speak to that for just a moment.
I am hearing from some constituents who are saying, “Yes, we need all the help we can get right now in this pandemic, but who's going to pay the bills for all of this? What are we going to do when the bills fall due?” I think it's important to take a moment there.
I have been privileged to participate in the finance committee meetings and to ask questions of the Bank of Canada governor, Stephen Poloz, who with his team has done an amazing job; to have an insight into what governments all around the world are doing; and to let Canadians know that we are certainly not alone in this. I think it is obvious that we are not alone in fighting the public health crisis that is COVID-19, but we are also not alone in deciding that there are certain prescriptions for an economy that will help us all.
I do not think Canadians have noticed the absence of certain things, but let me just say that there is an absence of things that we would not want to see, such as runs on the bank. We are not seeing people lining up, saying, “I better get my money out right now. I don't trust the system.” We are not hearing people say, “I can't make my credit card bills because of usury levels of interest rates that have been hiked up.” We have seen that rates are supposed to be going down. A lot of these things we are seeing are the result of very specific prescriptions that are being followed not just by the Bank of Canada but by central banks around the world.
To colleagues and friends here, I recommend the International Monetary Fund review of what is going on. The trillions of dollars that are being spent by governments around the world are, in a sense, backstopped by monetary policy that says we can get through this, but we have to do a couple of things. We are going to ramp down interest rates to as close to zero as possible, so that the cost of borrowing goes down. We are going to introduce more liquidity into the system with a number of measures, including the Bank of Canada's purchase of federal bonds and provincial bonds in the billions and billions of dollars. Bond purchases by our central bank do not add to debt or deficit. They increase liquidity and keep cash in the system so that we do not have a credit crunch.
It is important to note that we have been through situations when things were much worse for our financial picture than now. Even when we get through this, after all the money that is planned to be spent, our debt-to-GDP ratio will not be nearly as bad as it was in the early 1990s.
We have the International Monetary Fund report and the report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. No one is sanguine about this, but if we read the International Monetary Fund reports and the report from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, as Canadians we are left knowing this: We are not in this alone, and the measures taken by the central bank and by the and the government are so far not putting us in financial peril.
One of the things we do not mention enough is that we are in a very privileged position. An analogy used by Stephen Poloz when he was speaking to the finance committee is that just as COVID-19 will be much harder for people who have underlying health conditions and do not go into this situation in a healthy state, so too are nation states more at risk when they do not go in healthy. However, we are in a privileged position. Our debt-to-GDP ratio was the lowest in the G7 when this crisis hit, and we had historic levels of employment. Certainly in my living memory, it is the closest thing to full employment that I have ever seen in Canada. This is what the Governor of the Bank of Canada meant when he talked about fiscal firepower, and the has used the same term.
That is not to say that this is not a deep economic crisis that has befallen us, along with a big deep public health care crisis that has befallen us, but just to say that it is not piling on debt, while being a deficit for sure.
The PBO suggested that when spending is temporary, such as it is now, we would most likely expect to bounce back as we did at the end of the Second World War with a large surplus in 1947, but only if certain conditions are upheld. One is that we need to hold the country together. I am so grateful to every province when I hear the say that there are weekly calls with every premier of every province and territory with the . That is a very healthy thing.
I think it is very important that no matter how much sparring is going on today while we are meeting in person, behind the scenes there is tremendous collaboration and no one party can claim credit for things. Yes, the Greens advocated that 10% was not enough and we had to have 75% in the wage subsidy, and that was done. I think that is a credit to all of us in this place, those who came to it more slowly and those who advocated first. We have to work together or we will not get through this.
Back to where we are in terms of our financial position, I am hoping we do not bounce back in the sense that we go to an economy such as we had before, which had glaring inequities. I hope that we bounce forward and that when the pandemic is over that we look at an economic prescription for the country that is consistent with the urgency of the climate crisis, that is consistent with getting people back to work, but doing things like retrofitting our buildings to make sure that we maximize energy efficiency, even that every building could produce more energy that it uses. That is doable. Also, that we have an electricity grid that works as a national energy corridor east to west, north to south, and it is 100% renewable energy.
There are things that we can do so that we can come out of this crisis with, again, closer to full employment and with less social inequity, with clear action to ensure our seniors are well housed and well cared for, with clear action to make sure that we do not have a social safety net full of holes but that it is repaired, and that we move toward guaranteed livable income.
I just made a note of the most recent book title that came to my attention. I commend it to my friends in the Conservative Party because it was written by a Conservative. Senator Hugh Segal's new book is out and it is called Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory's Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada. I would love to see that fight be less lonely and I thank our former parliamentary colleague, former Senator Hugh Segal, for bringing forward a book at a time when the topic of guaranteed livable income, or universal basic income, has never been as hot a topic.
I will pause parenthetically because of my recent exchange with the hon. member for about the fact that I say guaranteed livable income and others say universal basic income. We have adopted, as Greens, the term “guaranteed livable income” because if we want to make sure that the amount that every Canadian receives actually creates a situation in which they find their situation livable and not beyond some level of poverty from which they are moderately better off than they were before. That is a debate for another day.
We are here to look at Bill . It is coming again, as we have seen, in waves, in response to the pandemic. We can look at it and see that first the government looked at people who did not qualify for EI. What did we do? The Canada emergency benefit, CERB, came in first and then we had to make sure that that amount of money was improved upon by looking at things like reducing student loans. Bill in this place had 19 different parts and was dealing with the impacts on individual Canadians. There was not enough there for small business. We have been pushing harder on that. Bill gave us more, looking at programs to help small business with access to loans to cover their rent.
New announcements are made almost daily and we still have people falling through the cracks. We still have small business falling through the cracks. However, some of the people falling through the cracks who are helped today are our students. It is terribly important to recognize that for many students who did not earn $5,000 last year, they will not qualify for the CERB. For some other reasons, they certainly cannot expect to find jobs this summer in their chosen field and the Canada summer jobs program cannot absorb the number of people who need the income supports right now and who need enough money to live on.
Many students are, as we have heard today, people living as a married couple with children, or a single mom with children also going to school. Currently, the benefit provided in this piece of legislation is not adequate to help all of those people with their bills because the amount of money in the initial offering is $1,250.
However, I note that under this legislation the minister may make changes by regulation to improve that. That of course is the . This piece of legislation requires that the minister receive approval by the to make changes to the amount received or the weeks it is available.
Personally, I would have gone in the other direction with this legislation. The Conservatives have made it more restrictive. I would have made sure that the could make those changes without permission from the because they make so much sense.
I want to pause because I note the has been with us all day today. I want to thank her for her hard work. I know she has been working around the clock like many ministers. I know she is a mom with kids at home. Like all of my friends with kids still at home, keeping the kids occupied while also being on a computer and the phone day and night to make some of the most massive changes in that portfolio and in living memory is daunting. I want to thank her for her diligence.
The missing piece in this that still concerns the Greens greatly is what we are doing for international students. This legislation applies to a person who is a Canadian citizen, it certainly applies to indigenous Canadians, it applies to permanent residents as found under the definitions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act or a protected person under the meaning of that act as well. What do we do about our international students?
We have something in the order of potentially half a million international students in this country now. The international students program contributes over $20 billion to our economy and leads to the employment of 170,000 Canadians. As we all know, international students pay far higher fees. They come into Canada and of course contribute to our economy by paying their rent and buying their groceries.
I do not know how many members saw on CBC a few nights back a young woman being interviewed about her experience as a foreign student in Canada. Her landlady was telling her not to worry and that if she could not pay the rent, she would not charge her. She was also giving her groceries. That is a really wonderful Canadian moment. It brought tears to my eyes to hear this young student saying that if it were not for her landlady, she would have neither a roof over her head nor food.
What about the international students who do not have a landlady like that? So far here are their options. If they made $5,000 last year, they can qualify for the CERB, but if they did not make that amount of money, they will not qualify. If they are an international student and also a permanent resident, they would qualify under today's bill for the emergency benefit for students. However, if they are not a permanent resident, if they only have their student visa to be in Canada, they would not qualify.
We still have a problem. It has been identified by the Canadian Federation of Students, which is asking for improvements to this bill. It has two asks. One is that it be $2,000 a month, which is something the minister can do by regulation after this bill passes, but we would have to come back here and re-legislate this to change the definition of “student” in order to allow it to apply to an international student, unless we tinker with one of the other programs such as the Canada summer jobs program. There is still a deep concern for people who are falling between the cracks.
For the simplest way to avoid falling between the cracks, I go back to my earlier reference to a guaranteed livable income. That would be one way of making sure there would be no one in Canada so economically insecure they would be pushed out of the place they are living, unable to afford food, and unable to find a job and not fitting any of the existing programs.
I am grateful for the effort of everybody in the cabinet who have been working so hard, as well as all the civil servants who clearly have been working. As members of Parliament, we are on the phone with them on Saturdays and Sundays. If Canadians do not know, everybody I can find within any government department is working really long days seven days a week.
I have worked with them on rescuing Canadians stranded in other countries. It is extraordinary. The and the whole team at Global Affairs Canada seem to have converted themselves into what I have been doing at home myself, part-time travel agent, but to rescue over 20,000 Canadians from over 144 countries is a monumental feat. However, I see the same level of hard work happening when we have Sunday phone calls and my questions are being answered by officials in the Department of Finance, correctional services or indigenous services.
By thanking everyone involved, I am not saying everything is perfect, but for Canadians watching or listening to this now, they need to know that thousands of people are working in ways that I have never seen a government work ever in my life. It is important to say to them, as we say to our front-line health care workers, to the people in our neighbourhoods who are still stocking the grocery store shelves, who are driving the trucks, who are planting their fields now so we will have food in this country, to everybody who is doing the work while most of us are locked up at home, we are deeply grateful, including all of the civil servants who I know have been knocking themselves out.
I heard a story from a friend about a family Zoom call and the husband of one of the people on the family Zoom call mentioned that his wife was working in the federal civil service. He started to say “my wife”, broke down and started crying. There is a level of strain on families working in the federal civil service and I want to pause to say thanks to everyone who is working so hard.
When I mention the gaps, it is not to say this is not good enough and I am angry with the government. It is to say we have to keep working. Maybe, in hindsight, we can agree it would have been better to bring in one measure, as we have been advocating, but I am not angry the Government of Canada has failed to do that so far. What we need to do is help each other as much as possible. I think that means being kind toward those who we see are falling short of what needs to be done, recognizing that nobody has ever worked this hard ever. If we hold together as a country and keep our partisanship to a bare minimum, though I would actually like to see it erased into a nothingness that says we are all in this together, there is plenty of time when it is over to try to get a gotcha point in to try to score something for television, but right now we need to be deeply grateful that we are in this country.
We could be anywhere around the world and trying to rescue people. Knowing what is going on in places like Ecuador and India, knowing what might happen in the continent of Africa, knowing how hard people are working and knowing how relatively safe we all are, I know every single person in this place recognizes how very fortunate we are as a country and as a people.
I also ask us to think in this moment about whether we cannot do more for the developing world, if we cannot do more to avert famine, if cannot see ourselves stretching ourselves a bit more. However, for now, I will be voting for this legislation, but with a very strong plea that we do more for our international students, that we figure a program out where it is needed, so that no student falls through the cracks.