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House of Commons Emblem

Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities


NUMBER 014 
l
2nd SESSION 
l
43rd PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

  (1535)  

[English]

     I call the meeting to order.
     Welcome to meeting 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
    Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021. Everyone here is a member of the committee and knows the rules, so I'll spare you that.
    Today, we are in public for committee business. There are a few things that I hope we will cover. Given that it's committee business, members are absolutely at liberty to bring up whatever topic they wish.
    Just so you know, these are the things I hope we're going to be able to cover.
    One is the study that we're going to do upon completion of the present study on urban, rural and northern indigenous housing. We did identify a study on employment insurance as a priority, so we'll need to plan whether that will be our next study, and some of the logistics around getting it set up, so that we can be efficient on February 18, which is the next day open to begin work on our next study.
    There was a request from Mr. Vis to send a letter to the Department of Indigenous Services to get some clarification on one of the written answers it provided. I'd like the committee to consider that draft correspondence.
    Other than that, there is probably a conversation about our next meeting on the rapid housing initiative, and the meeting after that in connection with the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
    Those are the four things I would like to cover today. However, I am in your hands. This is committee business.
    The floor is open. I suggest we begin with the subject of our next study to begin on the 18th.
    Just so that we're not talking over each other—everyone is familiar and comfortable with one another, so that is bound to happen—please use the “raise hand” function. That might help us get through this efficiently.
    I recognize Mrs. Falk. Go ahead, please.
     I don't know if I've missed this somewhere—that's totally a possibility when working from home and having three kids who are very small. When was the EI study? When was the decision made with the committee that it's a priority, the next study or the priority?
    The study was received, and everyone was provided with a log of the motions. I believe the motion was presented on December 9. In setting the work plan, we identified EI and rapid housing as the two priority items after this study. I believe that to be the case.
    I'm looking to the clerk or Madame Chabot to indicate that there was, in fact, a motion passed about that.
     I don't recall that happening, so if someone could confirm that, that would be great.
    That being said, I know I supplied the clerk with a motion, and she did distribute it in both official languages, so I would like to take this moment to move that motion and read it into the record.
    I believe that with COVID being an evolving situation, we should be nimble also.
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a study on the impact of COVID-19 on the financial, social, health and overall wellbeing of seniors; that the committee review existing and announced programs for seniors and make recommendations to improve support for seniors; that the study be comprised of no less than six two-hour meetings; that the committee invite the Minister of Seniors and departmental officials to appear for one hour each; that the committee, pursuant to Standing Order 109, present its findings with recommendations to the House; and that the committee request that the government provide a comprehensive response.
     Some of the justification for studying this at this particular time is that we just had a fall economic statement. There was money allocated in there for programs such as New Horizons, seniors and long-term care. I think it would be great to really take an in-depth look at seniors—they are the ones who have built this country—and take a look at their social health, their mental health, their financial health, how they are being affected, especially seniors in different rural and urban settings, and also with the lockdowns, the social isolation and physical isolation that's having on our seniors.
    Taking that time.... I have heard from seniors from all across Canada, as well as groups, and they are a group that is falling through the cracks. I think it's our job as parliamentarians to make sure that we honour our seniors, those who have paved the path before us, make sure we hear how they are being affected with COVID, and bring their concerns to the House.

  (1540)  

    Thank you, Mrs. Falk.
    The motion is in order. The debate is on the motion.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, the floor is yours.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I am going to start by talking about the work we have to do today. Then I will be able to give you my opinion about the motion that has just been introduced.
    I understand that we have to establish our work schedule. We have actually received a document specifying the work we have to do, but it is actually more of a blank page because we have to agree on the work first. In order for our work to be done effectively within our work plan, I feel that we first have to refer to the many motions that we have passed. In that regard, you will recall that, when we resumed our work after the House was prorogued, we decided at the outset to put back into the agenda all the motions that were passed before the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic was established.
    After that, I myself introduced five motions—if I recall correctly—but, regardless of the number, Mr. Vis also introduced his motion on the rapid housing initiative. We actually met as a subcommittee and then informed the committee about three priorities, the first being urban, rural, and northern indigenous housing. That study is in the process of completion. I think that the only thing left is to produce the report.
    I had understood that we were supposed to establish our work schedule for the second priority, the rapid housing initiative. Are we going to hear witnesses? How are we going to proceed?
    The third priority was employment insurance. I introduced that and it was passed.
    As for the motion that was proposed most recently, I will tell you soon whether I am for or against. However, to start with, we have to talk about the overall situation of seniors in the pandemic, in both financial and social terms. These are important issues. However, I have to say that we still have to be careful in our deliberations, because a number of services, particularly those dealing with health, are provincial matters. Living conditions and social programs are in provincial jurisdiction. So if we become involved in that issue, we will have to consider it from the perspective of federal programs.
    I must also mention that I introduced a motion about seniors slipping into poverty.
    I wouldn't want to cross swords with you, Ms. Falk, but, if you have read the Bloc's motion on this, you will see that motions are complementary, I feel. We have to undertake a study on the issue of seniors slipping into poverty.

  (1545)  

[English]

     Mr. Vis, go ahead, please.
    I just have a quick comment.
    I noticed Mr. Turnbull's old motion from the suite of materials received from the committee clerk. I think a discussion on seniors could absolutely include a discussion to include some of the provisions he suggested earlier about how that would relate to the national housing strategy. That would actually fit nicely together because we can't address the issue of seniors right now without addressing housing and long-term care.
    Madame Chabot, I take your comments about respecting the proper orders of government and how that relates to our study as well.
    Thank you.
    Thank you, Mr. Vis.
    Mr. Long, go ahead, please.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon to everybody.
    I certainly would want to be on the record as supporting MP Falk's motion. I think it's very relevant. Certainly EI and seniors are top of mind for all Canadians right now.
    I know the subcommittee report prioritized MP Chabot's motion, but I'm certainly in favour of MP Falk's motion after we study MP Chabot's motion.
    Thank you.
     Thank you, Mr. Long.
    Mr. Turnbull.
    Along the same lines, I just dug up an old document here that's dated October 21, 2020. It is a subcommittee report that clearly indicates that the EI study would be next in line after the rapid housing initiative work. I want to express my support for that and not go back on what the subcommittee said, yet I really want to show support for Mrs. Falk's motion. I think it's a great study. I like how it is worded.
    I appreciated Mr. Vis's comments about housing and the link to housing, but I think the way Mrs. Falk's motion is worded keeps it focused on seniors and allows us the latitude to explore the many ways in which seniors have been impacted by COVID-19, which may include housing but would include a lot of other things. It's better, in my view, to have that wider net cast, so I would support both, but in that order.
    Thank you very much.
    Thank you, Mr. Turnbull, and thanks for locating that document. I was flipping through trying to find it. What you said was consistent with my recollection, so I appreciate that.
    Ms. Gazan, please.
    I want to share that I certainly support the motion coming from MP Falk. I know that we had agreed on an order, and I know that we all know that seniors are in a really dire situation during the pandemic. Certainly in my riding, many seniors are living in severe poverty and are on the verge of homelessness. I don't think we can lose sight of that, of looking at really vulnerable populations, particularly in a pandemic.
    Respecting the decisions we made as a group, I'm wondering if there's the flexibility to include portions of the next studies, which fit really nicely, to focus on seniors. I know that this is on employment insurance, but maybe we could also reserve part of it for a broader exploration of income supports in general. For example, we know that OAS is totally inadequate—in my opinion—and is leaving seniors in a very vulnerable position. I'd just like to put that forward.
     Also, on the rapid housing initiative, where do seniors fit into that? We know that numbers of seniors are on the verge of homelessness.
    Thank you.

  (1550)  

    Thank you, Ms. Gazan.
    Mr. Kent, please.
    Following on Ms. Gazan's remarks, I think both the EI and senior studies are worthy.
     As the conversation continues now, I don't think the committee needs to be bound by a decision made two months ago. I think our consideration now should be on the basis of which study is most timely and which recommendations from the study would be most effective in addressing the very serious challenges we have with regard to EI and the fact that it's terribly outdated and has caused some huge disruptions regarding the transfer from the CERB to the CRB. Also, I think Mrs. Falk's and Ms. Chabot's resolutions do underline the fact that seniors have been among the biggest losers in the pandemic.
    Thank you, Mr. Kent.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, you have the floor.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    We must not mix up the types. The properly presented motion on employment insurance is not our third priority by accident. The employment insurance program is federal. A lot of temporary measures had to be put in place to deal with the pandemic, and those measures will soon come to an end.
    Our committee received a motion from the House asking us to report on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the CERB. We know that the employment insurance program must be reviewed. That is also in the mandate of the Minister.
    The employment insurance issue and the seniors issue are not in the same category. It is important to keep our motion on employment insurance, and it is just as important to talk globally about the seniors' situation, which could be the subject of our next study.

[English]

    Mr. Housefather, please.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I basically just wanted to repeat that I support the motion Mrs. Falk has put forward. I believe the motion Mrs. Falk has put forward is a stand-alone motion. It doesn't relate to priority.

[Translation]

    As I said, I support Ms. Falk's motion, but I believe that the next study should be the one on employment insurance, as we agreed in the fall. We should stick to that priority.

[English]

     Thank you, Mr. Housefather.
    I believe we're at the end of the speaking order. We have a motion from Mrs. Falk. As Mr. Housefather rightly pointed out, it does not indicate priority. Every single speaker spoke in favour of it.
    Can we agree that the motion is adopted by consent, or do we require a vote?
    I see Adam's hand up.
     Looking at a couple of different motions we have on the page together around seniors, there's a clear consensus within the committee to act on seniors, but I, too, will be supporting the decision we made to study EI. That was put forward by Madame Chabot in good faith, and there's important work to be done there, especially as we look at its application to things like basic income and other elements. The EI study is important, and it's important to look at what changes were made and how we move forward on that.
    At the same time, MP Falk has brought forward an important concern. When you take a look at the prior motions that were passed on it and try to package them together, if we were to change the motion to be a bit more specific and to have it follow on the EI study, I think we could get both done in a timely fashion.
    The motion I propose, which pulls together the different motions, would be that the committee study the impact of federal programs and transfers to other orders of government and individuals related to seniors and older Canadians, and how they have been impacted and/or augmented due to COVID. The study will also examine how other federal programs not directly related to seniors may be reformed to better serve Canadians as they age.
    This ties in the point that I think Mr. Vis made around seniors' housing. It's not an explicitly defined program within the national housing strategy, but we fund seniors' housing. We don't fund long-term care, and we might want to look at why that is and what the provincial objections to that are. However, I think this captures all the seniors' issues and gives us a wide field that incorporates the other members' ideas.
    As I said, MP Falk brought a motion forward, and I think the consensus of the committee is to support it, but it needs to be a bit broader to capture some of the additional points that were raised by other MPs in the conversation. That's the motion I put in its place to get the study done, if it's met with committee approval.

  (1555)  

    All right.
    What Mr. Vaughan has put forward is actually quite a substantial change to the motion of Mrs. Falk. I'd like to hear from Mrs. Falk on whether she is agreeable to, in effect, replacing her motion with that one or expanding it such that it looks like that one. If it isn't considered to be friendly, it's her motion that's on the floor and it's her motion that will have to be voted upon before we consider the one Mr. Vaughan has put forward.
    As I said, there's a motion on the floor that needs to be dealt with.
    Mrs. Falk, what are your thoughts on what Mr. Vaughan just had to say?
    Thank you, Chair.
    Thank you, MP Vaughan, for the suggestion.
    I thought we had made it pretty broad already. Do you have these changes written down? Are you able to send it out? I'd like to see it in writing before I commit to changing something completely.
    Fair enough.
    Would you be comfortable with our tabling this discussion until we can deal with a few other things, and then coming back to it?
    I would, as long as I have your word that we'll touch it before the end of the meeting.
    You got it. In fact, we'll come back to it as soon as you're ready, because Mr. Vaughan will send it to you and then you can let us know.
    All right. That's perfect. Thank you.
     I recognize Madame Chabot.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, you have the floor.
    Everything is fine, Mr. Chair.
    I wanted to have Mr. Vaughan's motion in writing.

[English]

    All right. We're going to come back to that motion.
    I wonder if we can now go to the will of the committee with respect to future business. It seems to me that we have consensus that a motion regarding seniors ought to be passed, whether it's one that looks like what Mr. Vaughan presented or the original version from Mrs. Falk. We have had some discussion around the fact that we have identified an EI study as the next item.
    Are we ready to enter into a discussion as to whether we in fact go forward with the EI study as the next option, or whether it should be the seniors study—whatever the scope of it might be—that is next? I'd like to get us to the point where we know what we're going to be doing on February 18.
     Just before that kicks off, I've sent a draft to MP Falk.

[Translation]

    It's in English. My sincere apologies to Ms. Chabot.

[English]

    I sent a draft in English. I wouldn't even pretend to draft it in French.
    Sean, you have it as well. Perhaps you can get it to the clerk.

  (1600)  

[Translation]

    Madam Clerk, would it be possible to translate the motion today or will that take a little more time?
    It depends on the changes. I don't know all the changes in detail. I feel that it will take a little time.

[English]

I'll take a look when I receive it.

[Translation]

    Okay. I will send it right away.

[English]

    I recognize Mrs. Falk.
    Thank you, Chair.
    In response to your question about priority of study, I believe Ms. Chabot's study would be five meetings. Is that correct?
    The motion called for a minimum of five meetings, yes.
    I would support doing her EI study for the next five meetings if it meant that we did the seniors study soon after, making sure that we're doing what we need to do for seniors. I want to make sure that's on the schedule and not to have a meeting like this in between the two studies.
    Okay.
    That being the case, I think we have consensus on what we're going to be doing on the 18th. Mr. Kent, I believe, was the only one who expressed some reservations—okay, he's all right with it.
    I take it as a consensus that the next study to be considered is the study on EI proposed by Madame Chabot and identified as a priority by the subcommittee.
    Thank you, colleagues.
    I see the analyst has her hand up. Go ahead.
     A five-meeting study on EI is the next priority to start on February 18. That is my understanding. I would just add that a five-meeting study on EI, given the scope and the breadth of EI, is very, very large. I'm just wondering if the committee has any advice for us in terms of when we're preparing background materials if there is a specific focus, like coverage or special benefits.
    I'm just throwing out ideas. It's not to make your lives more complicated, but it would just help us to prepare for this study.
    Which will help make us more effective....
    There are a couple of things. We should have some comments in response to that inquiry in terms of any themes of interest within the employment insurance system that we would want to examine and have a little bit of background information on. We should also, colleagues, talk about a deadline for witness lists and briefs, and the like.
    I recognize Mr. Vis on these points.
    Go ahead.
    Thank you to the analyst for that very important question.
    I believe that the Department of Employment and Social Development did a report about the capacity of the employment insurance mainframe to actually handle various technological updates and be able to respond to people accordingly. I think it was in 2017, and we discussed it at committee over a year ago. I think one aspect of the study, if it's so comprehensive, is the capacity of Employment and Social Development Canada to actually run the EI program—or is this going to have to be done, moving forward, through the Canada Revenue Agency? The role of government and administering the program would be one area I would like to focus on.
    The second area I would like to focus on is how the employment insurance system responds to the needs of seniors, actually. I mentioned to the minister at committee that my mother-in-law has English as her fourth language. She worked her entire life paying into the system, and trying to actually navigate the system was very challenging. What can we look at to ensure that employment insurance application processes meet the needs of Canadians who do not have English or French as their first language? I think that's a timely thing to look at, in addition to what we need to review in respect of qualifying periods and regional discrepancies that are embedded in the system as well.
    Thank you so much.

  (1605)  

     Thank you, Mr. Vis.
    I'm particularly interested in that last one, the EI zones, for what it's worth.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, you have the floor.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    At the outset, I want to tell you that we really tried to make the motion concrete. Employment insurance is truly a huge subject. We want to limit ourselves to a given number of meetings. The idea is to gather testimony from people working in the trenches, from employers, employees or organizations for the unemployed, in order to determine the weak points in our employment insurance system and how they can be corrected.
    As our motion states, we first want to hear from the Minister so that she can tell us what the issues are. We know that it is part of her mandate. We must take a broad view. There have been temporary measures. I feel that questions about eligibility need to be asked. Whatever the case, we must determine how our employment insurance program could meet the needs. That is our objective.
    Our goal is not to have longer meetings. Also, unless it's problem with the interpretation, I'd like to respectfully point out that the employment insurance program does not concern seniors in any way. It affects workers. That does not mean I am saying that no seniors can keep working.
    You know what we are talking about when we bring up the employment insurance program. Before the pandemic, it scarcely covered 40% of Canadian workers. The holes in it had to be filled up with programs like the CERB, for example. Everyone agrees that the employment insurance program must be modernized. It is important to study issues such as eligibility. That's what we need to focus on.

[English]

    Thank you, Madame Chabot.
    Ms. Gazan, please go ahead.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    Understanding that employment insurance is one guaranteed income program among many guaranteed income programs that are provided, I would argue that as a result of the pandemic we've seen gaps in guaranteed income programs, whether it's rates of EI, who qualifies for EI, who doesn't qualify for EI, and the consequences of that. I would recommend that part of the study be focused on a guaranteed livable basic income.
    I know there's been some research that has already been put out by the Senate on the cost savings that would have been available had they put in place, for example, a guaranteed livable basic income, rather than the high administrative costs that were part of the CERB rollout.
    Although people say seniors are different, I would argue that because seniors also receive a guaranteed livable income, we need to have a more holistic study of what that looks like going forward, rather than just studying a system that clearly is not working and not looking at alternatives
    Thank you, Ms. Gazan.
    Mr. Long, please go ahead.
    Thank you, Chair.
    There's an idea that I wanted to comment on. With respect to MP Chabot's study, we could theme the meetings: One day would be regular benefits; the next day we could study sickness, and the next day maternity leave. We could kind of theme each of the meetings. I think that would be more productive.
    Madame Chabot, go ahead.

[Translation]

    The witnesses will perhaps want to deal with the question more globally. I feel they will have a broader view of the issue. They will probably want to deal simultaneously with matters like eligibility, the income replacement rates, the number of hours needed to be eligibility for special benefits, and the employment insurance black hole. I don't think that, by slicing the problem up, we will be able to limit witnesses who want to address the issue globally, because it is all one and the same.
    Ms. Gazan, with all respect, I feel that the New Democratic Party's often-stated position on a basic minimum income, a guaranteed income, or whatever form it takes, is a debate in itself. We can't get into an overall debate of that nature; it goes far beyond the employment insurance program, which was established for workers who lose their jobs. It's not intended to replace a series of social programs that exist in the provinces and in Canada. It is an altogether different debate. If you want to get into it, in my opinion, we would have to do so outside the framework of this study.

  (1610)  

    Thank you, Ms. Chabot.

[English]

     Mr. Vaughan, please go ahead.
     EI stuff is a complex issue. I think Mr. Vis has raised an important issue around the antiquity of the computer system, which apparently still is coded in COBOL. It's old. Trust me, it's held together by spit and glue sometimes.
    I think taking a look at its flexibility.... One reason we can't do day-by-day disbursements is that the computer system just can't handle it without collapse. It's tying our hands as we move towards EI reform. I think taking a look at what the cost of that change is and how we avoid a Phoenix calamity and the mess.... Somebody has to start talking about that. This committee is well positioned to do that. It limits our capacity to deal with seasonal industry, the workers who are impacted and the regions of the country that depend on EI to tide people over through the surges of income and the loss of work due to climate.
    I would add that I think MP Gazan is also challenging us to broaden our understanding of how we ensure people's earnings when work has clearly changed radically. The gaps that people experience are now caverns that they fall through. I don't think we should limit our imagination on solving EI, but I think that we need to fix EI in a way that it can be reformed to do more than simply address the precarious work of the gig economy, which is the urban equivalent of the seasonal employment black hole, as it's sometimes referred to.
    It'll depend on the witnesses we call. I think that Madame Chabot's motion is broad enough to allow for MP Vis's line of inquiry, as well as MP Gazan's. I think there are other issues we're going to bring to the table that escaped the previous study on this, which was done just four years ago in this very same committee.
    Thank you, Mr. Vaughan.
    Ms. Gazan, please go ahead.
    I just wanted to thank you for that, Adam and Madame Chabot. I agree with you. It's a very complicated system.
     Here's the thing. We don't know how long we're going to be in this pandemic. Many people are going to be running out of EI. Certainly people in my riding are starting to not qualify for EI. That ends up as going from not qualifying for EI to being unsheltered. I think we need to look at the current system, but also options for going forward.
    I would propose that we have at least one or two experts on guaranteed livable basic income who could sit on one of the research panels, so we can learn more about options going forward in this pandemic. I would certainly be happy to recommend a few witnesses and experts in the field.
    Thank you.
     Thank you, Ms. Gazan.
    Mr. Housefather, go ahead.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I've been in discussion with MP Vaughan, and I'm wondering if we can come back, just for a second, Mr. Chair, if you'll allow it, to the motion from Mrs. Falk, because I don't think that Mr. Vaughan's complex reformulation is required. I think that Mr. Vaughan, essentially, would like to just add a couple of words to Mrs. Falk's motion.
    Mr. Chair, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to present that to Mrs. Falk in English.

  (1615)  

[Translation]

    I would also like to show the changes to Ms. Chabot, to see whether the French is acceptable.

[English]

    Mrs. Falk's motion would stay as is, except.... It would basically read, “That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee undertake a study on the impact of COVID-19 on the financial, social, health and overall wellbeing of seniors;”—so it stays the same—“that the committee review existing and announced programs for seniors”, and then just add in the words “including federal transfers to provinces and territories and indigenous governments”. Then it would continue with Mrs. Falk's wording—“and make recommendations to improve support for seniors”, etc.
    It would only add those words: “including federal transfers to provinces and territories and indigenous governments”; that would be the only change to Mrs. Falk's motion.

[Translation]

    I will repeat it in French for Ms. Chabot.
    According to the proposal, we are keeping what Ms. Falk's motion proposes but, after the words “les programmes actuels pour les aînés”, we add “incluant les transferts fédéraux aux provinces, territoires et gouvernements autochtones”. Mr. Vaughan accepted that.

[English]

    Mrs. Falk, I'm interested to know if that is okay with you, because I think that would simplify things, as opposed to a whole new motion. Thank you.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair, for that latitude.
    No, thank you. I think we're getting a little more focused in here, subject to what Mrs. Falk has to say, but I did see an email exchange between Mrs. Falk and Mr. Vaughan that wasn't far off what you just did.
    Mrs. Falk, what are your thoughts?
    Yes, I was going to ask if my email was received. I basically took what Mr. Vaughan sent me and we interjected it into the motion.
    Yes, that's fine.
    Okay.
    Great minds think alike. Thanks, Rosemarie.
    We have a friendly amendment.
    I take it that we are now back to the motion, but next on the speakers list is Madame Chabot.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, the floor is yours.
    I would like to ask a question about the addition. What do you understand by federal transfers for seniors? I understand the idea of programs, but I want to understand what you want to include in this idea of transfers.

[English]

    Mr. Vaughan has his hand up.
    Go ahead if you want to respond to that.
    Sure. There are several cost-share programs between different orders of government—for example, around seniors' housing. It's an area of provincial responsibility, and while we can make programs eligible, setting targets or having specific achievements outlined in that will have an impact on the quality of life that seniors face. Should federal money be conditioned? Should it not be conditioned? What was transferred? What were the conditions under which it was transferred? What was the impact of those conditions? I think we need to take a look at that.
     We also have the disability community's experience around CERB. We transferred CERB to people with disabilities who were working and who were laid off, but who also received a top-up in different provinces, and when they went on CERB, that top-up was clawed back. Understanding how federal transfers to individuals, including individuals on CPP, who may be seniors and may be working.... Different provincial governments treated those transfers to individuals differently. We need to understand what governs that decision, how it was rectified and how to make sure that we don't create gaps like that in the future.
    Although there are clearly areas of provincial authority, even some of those areas have partnered funding models where I think we need to understand what the federal role is. Is it a silent partner? Is it a partner that imposes national standards, or is it one that gets out of the way and simply matches per capita transfers? That's a whole area that has a direct impact on seniors; therefore, I think it's an area that we should include in the study as we try to understand the impact that our federal dollars have on the quality of life for Canadians as they age.
     Madame Chabot is next.

  (1620)  

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, the floor is yours.
    Thank you for that answer, Mr. Vaughan. It's clearer now.
    I support Ms. Falk's motion with the addition, and I agree that it should be our next study, after the one on employment insurance.
    I think we have a consensus.

[English]

    Colleagues, we now have a motion that has been amended with the acceptance of the mover. Do we have consensus to adopt that motion?
    (Motion agreed to)
    The Chair: I believe we also have consensus that the next item for us to study is the EI motion presented by Madame Chabot and that it is broad enough to encompass the themes that we've now laid upon the analyst in a somewhat haphazard fashion to have her put together the background documents, and thereafter, a study on the motion that was just presented. I think that's where we are now.
    We're back to the analyst.
     Do you have even a little bit of clarity now as to what we might be looking for in terms of themes?
    Yes. This has been very helpful. Thank you.
    What I would suggest, because I think we're on the same page, is that we begin on February 18 the study with departmental officials. Then, when you decide what date you want to submit your witnesses, I would suggest that maybe the Library of Parliament analysts could also suggest some witnesses, just in case we want to cover a broader range, and you can consider them or not as you choose. I just throw that out there as a suggestion. Then we can also prepare background materials for the committee to be ready for the 18th.
    Does that sound reasonable? Does that sound like it's the best way to begin?
    I think so.
    Mrs. Falk, go ahead.
    Sorry, Chair, I just wanted clarification. MP Housefather, when he said his amendment part, I just want to make sure it says “federal programs” in there.
    That's what I heard.
    Okay, perfect. That's good.
    Thank you.
    Am I right, Anthony, that this was your intent? I think that's what you said.
    It was “federal transfers to provinces and territories and indigenous governments”.
    That's correct.
    I think the course of action proposed by the analyst is a good one. Can we perhaps set a date for the submission of witness lists? If our first meeting is on the 18th, probably a week out would be a fair amount of time to be able to invite people. Just for the sake of discussion, can we say the 11th, which is nine days from now, or is that too aggressive? I'm in your hands.
    Mr. Kent, go ahead.
    Thanks, Chair.
    There have been an abundant number of studies in the last few years on employment insurance. I think that certainly next Friday wouldn't be too aggressive in setting a deadline for at least the first wave of witnesses. I would think that by this Friday it's quite possible that we could have a dozen or so folks who have studied this deeply: from the various think tanks, from the various international organizations that have looked at either guaranteed wage or employment insurance in its different forms. I think we could very easily have a pretty broad group of proposed witnesses by next week.
    All right. Thank you.
    Madame Chabot.

[Translation]

    Next Friday is realistic. To be sure, we could look at the following Monday. That's just another few days. You are right in saying that we will have no difficulty finding witnesses.

  (1625)  

[English]

     Thank you.
    Mr. Vaughan, please go ahead.
    To aid in our work and to build on what MP Kent just said, a pretty comprehensive study was filed in the last Parliament. It may be worthwhile for the clerk to circulate that particular study to all members of the committee to make sure we don't duplicate some of the recommendations or some of the ideas and also take a look at the witnesses there who may have been called before and diversify the different voices we're hearing from.
    If it would be possible for the clerk to circulate that to the committee, that would be great.
    Thank you.
    Okay, what I'm hearing is that my suggestion of the 11th is anything but aggressive, so we can probably pull back from that a couple of days. Parliament doesn't sit next week. Today is the 2nd. Let's say a week from today. How about that? That gives folks the weekend if they need it.
    So, can we agree that the deadline for the submission of witnesses to the clerk of the committee will be February 9 at five o'clock eastern? I think the analyst has made an excellent suggestion that we start with departmental officials on the 18th.
    Mr. Vaughan, did you want to speak to that, or are we ready to move to the next item?
    No, we're good.
    All right.
    Mr. Vis, go ahead.
    For the department officials, can we make sure that the analyst provides everyone on the committee with a copy of the report I referenced and maybe that the officials responsible for reviewing the administrative and technological capacity of the program come before committee as part of the suite of departmental witnesses?
    Thank you.
    Thank you.
    Actually, we're going to come back to you, Mr. Vis, because.... I would like the committee to have a look at and perhaps advise on the draft letter that has been circulated. I'll give you a brief synopsis, and then I'm going to give the floor to Mr. Vis.
    The Department of Indigenous Services came before the committee. Mr. Vis asked a series of questions around costing, and the bureaucrats provided a written response. Mr. Vis was not satisfied that the written response was a complete answer and has asked me as the chair to write back to the officials to get a more complete answer. A letter has been drafted to that effect.
     I'll cede the floor to Mr. Vis. Is there anything further you wish to add? Otherwise, we'll take the advice of the committee as to whether the letter should be sent and whether the content should be as drafted.
    Go ahead, Mr. Vis.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    My main contention was.... When I read the correspondence from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, I was asking them the same set of questions and they were able to provide a much more thorough response, including the number of people at CMHC who worked on indigenous-related housing.
    It was a very straightforward question, and the department failed to provide any indication or any number of staff who worked on indigenous housing. I think it's only fair that they give a breakdown of how many staff members were on these files, as per my request. It was just a simple follow-up and there's no ill intent. I just want a complete answer to my question.
    Thank you.
    Mr. Vis, at 3:44 Atlantic, so 2:44 eastern, a draft letter was sent. I don't know if you've had a chance to look at it, but I'm certainly open to your comments. This letter was put together by the clerk, with some suggestions or at least a once-over by me.

  (1630)  

    If that letter does the trick, great. If you have any constructive criticism or changes that you'd like to make—or that any other member of the committee would like to make—please share that with us.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I communicated to the clerk that I was satisfied with the letter.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    That's great.
    Are there any other interventions as to whether a letter should be sent and whether it should be that letter?
    I see Mrs. Falk likes it.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, the floor is yours.
    Mr. Chair, help me, because I may be missing something. What letter are you referring to exactly? Are you talking about some correspondence that we have received?
    The letter was sent by email at 2:45 p.m. today
    Right, I have just opened it. It's about the written reply from the Department of Indigenous Services.
    What do you want to do with the letter? Is it an answer for us?
    We asked them to add more detailed information to what the officials sent in writing after they testified before the committee.
    I imagine we can reply to it, can't we?
    I hope so.

[English]

     Mr. Kent, do you have a comment?
    Thanks, Chair.
    I think the letter serves a purpose. It's straightforward; it's respectful and it merely reiterates a reasonable request.
    Is there anyone else with any concerns? If not, I think we're good to send the letter.
    Mr. Schmale, go ahead.
    I apologize. It was on another issue. I thought you were done.
    I think we almost are.
    I read consensus to send the letter as is.
    Mr. Schmale, you have the floor.
    That's perfect, Chair.
    I believe everyone has a copy of the notice of motion—it's basically another letter. If possible.... The chair is nodding yes. I don't have everyone else on the screen.
    It's basically to reach out to CMHC in another letter. Do you want me to read the motion, Chair, or can I just talk about it? What would you prefer?
    It might be better if you read it, just in case people don't have it in front of them.
    Go ahead, please.
    Okay. Perfect.
    This motion came out of questions to the head of CMHC when he was asked about the costs associated with rebranding. At that point, he mentioned that there were no costs, but according to a story done with Blacklock, it turns out that is false.
    Here's the motion I put to the committee, and, hopefully, we can send the letter to Evan Siddall:
That, in light of a recent media report [“CMHC Hid Costs from MPs.” 2020-12-18, Blacklock's Reporter.] highlighting an apparent conflict between information found in documents of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and testimony provided to this committee by Mr. Evan Siddall, CEO of CMHC, the Committee Clerk write to Mr. Siddall requesting the following: (1) That the CMHC table with the committee “Access to Information Request AF-2020-00087/ML,” (2) that Mr. Siddall be invited to provide a written statement clarifying his previous testimony in light of these documents, and provide the precise dollar figures and itemized breakdown of how all funds were spent on CMHC's rebranding effort; (3) that these actions be completed within 10 business days of the CMHC's receipt of the Clerk's correspondence.

  (1635)  

    Thank you, Mr. Schmale.
    The motion is in order. The debate is on the motion.
    Madame Chabot, go ahead.

[Translation]

    I would like to ask a question.
    Basically, the objective of this motion, of sending the letter, is that we are assuming that the testimony was not appropriate, as I understand it, because it was based on the newspaper article. Have you confirmed that? I am trying to understand what is leading us to raise questions about it, that's all.

[English]

     Mr. Schmale, go ahead.
    Thank you, Chair.
    Thank you, Madame Chabot. The newspaper article was based on documents that were found in an access to information request by another member of Parliament. That's how the information came to light. The access to information request for the documents does show that there was in fact a cost.
    Mr. Vaughan, go ahead.
    Yes, I have no problem with the letter.
     It just needs to be cleared up. We need to understand what they contemplated when they took the action. As much as I struggle with the French translation of “mortgage” to hypothèque, other than that, I don't see a significant reason to change it. I'm sure “mortgage” is equally complicated in the other direction. I think finding out what happened is critically important.
    Thank you, everyone.
    Are there any other interventions on this?
    Okay. That's great. I think what's being asked for in terms of the drafting of the letter is very straightforward.
     Mr. Schmale, we'll make sure that you get a look at a draft, but I don't think that we need to convene as a full committee to authorize the text. We'll get something drafted and get it sent off.
    There are no further interventions on the topic. Okay. I think we can consider that dealt with.
    Thank you, everyone—
    I'm sorry, Chair. I raised my hand.
    Go ahead, Han.
    I'm new to this. I'm just reading this line: “provide the precise dollar figures and itemized breakdown of how all funds were spent on CMHC’s rebranding effort”.
    I don't know how complex this is or what is the size of this fund. I just wonder if 10 business days are enough for them to compile that information. If these numbers are all readily available, maybe it's a small effort. I just don't know. I'm looking to colleagues—
    I think it's $126,000.
    Yes. It was done in-house, so it's not a complex project.
    No, it wasn't huge.
    We're just trying to figure out what was spent and why it was done, and get the details so that we have a reconciliation between the article and the statement made at committee.
    Then I'm very comfortable with sending this letter.
    Okay. Thanks, everyone.
    I think the last thing that I want to cover off is the next couple of meetings.
    On Thursday, it's the rapid housing initiative update. I regret to inform you that the minister is not available. We do have officials from CMHC and we do have the parliamentary secretary to the minister, who is prepared to come before the committee, make a presentation and take your questions. That's this Thursday.
    Then we have a constituency week and, after that, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. We had asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer to provide us a summary of his comments by February 10. The response we got was that he could only provide the summary in English. Subject to the direction of the committee, my inclination would be to go back to the PBO to let him know that we can't accept something in one language, and that when it's ready in both languages we will accept it, and we'd like it to be produced in a timely fashion.
    There are those two things by way of update, but the floor is open for comments with respect to those items or anything else you want to raise.
    Mr. Vaughan, you have the floor.
    No, I'm sorry. I don't take my hand down fast enough.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, the floor is yours.

  (1640)  

    I totally agree with you, Mr. Chair. We cannot accept a communication in one language only. We expect to have the communication in both languages, within a reasonable timeframe.
    The Parliamentary Budget Officer should have known that.

[English]

    Mr. Schmale, please go ahead.
    You mentioned new business or some outstanding items. Is this an okay time to mention that?
     It sure is.
    I want to go back to the motion I tabled—I don't know how long ago—regarding the study about the officials meeting for a couple of meetings to talk about those who have lost a child. I can pull up the motion, if you'd like. It's about supporting families after the loss of a child. Basically, it would tie into maybe some of the EI conversation, but it might even be a stand-alone item.
    I can reread it if you want.
    Please do. I'm in the process of pulling it up, but if you have it on view, that would be helpful. I do recall it.
    Go ahead.
    The motion is:
That the committee conduct a study of no less than three two-hour meetings on the implementation of the seven recommendations found in the committee’s 14th report entitled “Supporting Families After the Loss of a Child”; that the committee invite the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and departmental officials to appear for one hour each; that the committee invite pregnancy and infant loss stakeholders groups to appear for no less than two, two-hour meetings; that the meetings be televised; and that that the committee present its findings to the House.
    Okay, you've put that motion on notice and now you're moving it.
    I can move it or we can have a discussion on potentially studying it more.
    I think, for the sake of good form, let's consider it now to be moved. We'll have a discussion on it and we'll see where that goes.
    Mr. Vaughan, you have the floor.
    I was a member in the last term of Parliament and we did that study. It was the last study we did before we rose in the summertime.
    There are two things. One is that it sort of covers that ground again with an unlikely change in the recommendations. It's also, in many ways, the wrong minister. There were some recommendations regarding the Canada child benefit—that it wasn't cancelled fast enough and whether it should be cancelled with a one-month grace period to aid in the recovery. That was the only issue that touched the minister you refer to in your motion.
    The minister who has carriage of this is Minister Qualtrough, through the EI fund. That's where the bereavement and a lot of tweaks to EI as they relate to maternity are carried.
    You might not want to be so specific in the ministers you identify, and instead go at it from issues. Then we can find the right ministers of departments to speak to it.
    Because there are some complexities there, I would suggest that we refer Mr. Schmale's motion to the subcommittee for scheduling and refinement and come back to the committee with a consensus motion that builds on the report and also identifies the right ministries to push to get satisfaction on this issue.
    Thank you, Mr. Vaughan.
    Mrs. Falk, go ahead.
    Thank you, Chair.
    I was also on the committee when we studied this in the last Parliament. The testimony we heard was terrible. I would make the argument that this minister who is mentioned does have purview over Service Canada at some point as well, with the ESDC. I think that's where we heard the problems. You don't talk to people who have just lost their child by saying that now that their child is deceased, their benefits are eliminated.
    This actually is quite interesting given the context of COVID and the high stresses—financial, emotional, mental health—that Canadians are feeling. I think it would even be good to check in and see what has been implemented. Several recommendations were made to the House, and it would be good to see if the ministers responsible have given direction at all to their departments to change or implement training or that type of thing.
    I think it is quite timely, as well. For one, I can't imagine having a COVID baby in the middle of all this, let alone losing a child and not having that compassion and empathy that people deserve when they're in that situation.
    Thank you.

  (1645)  

    Thank you, Mrs. Falk.
    Mr. Schmale, I'm going to come back to you for your thoughts because I don't see anyone else on the speakers list. Then I'm going to go to Ms. Chabot, who just put her name on.
    What are your thoughts on Mr. Vaughan's suggestion that we bounce this to subcommittee to see if we can come to consensus around refining the motion? Do you want just to bring this to a decision today?
     I'm happy for it to go to the subcommittee. I would like it to be talked about in the schedule, if possible. I don't know if other colleagues have some suggestions that might help as well.
    Thank you, Mr. Schmale.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, the floor is yours.
    That would be very welcome because of the importance of this motion and the need to send it to the subcommittee for a detailed examination.
    I would also like to know whether this kind of study has been done previously. I believe that Ms. Falk told us that we would be able to find out about some aspects of it before we start the study. Personally, I would like to know more about it so that I am better equipped.
    We also need to know what federal government assistance these parents are currently receiving.
    Thank you.

[English]

    Mr. Turnbull, please go ahead.
    I have a couple of thoughts.
    Based on today's conversation so far, we've committed to 11 meetings past February 18. That would be my calculation, with Ms. Chabot's motion implying five meetings, and Mrs. Falk's motion, which is six meetings. That's not including any recommendations, I would assume. In the formulation of those reports, it's at least 11 meetings beyond February 18.
    Given that, and given the time today, I have absolutely no problem with Mr. Schmale's motion. I do agree with my colleague Mr. Vaughan that perhaps referring it to the subcommittee and having a more fulsome discussion about scoping that particular study might be a good next step, given the fact that we're probably going to run out of time today.
    There are also other motions that have been put on the list. There are quite a few there. I have one that I'm keen about and I think is relevant as well. I'm not moving it today, but there are quite a few other motions on notice.
    Perhaps we need to think about what we schedule next, after the two studies, but is that really pressing at the moment? I would suggest not.
    Thank you.
    I'm fine with the subcommittee. We'll fine-tune it.
    Mr. Turnbull made the point, but it's worth reminding everyone that separate and apart from the 11 meetings to which we've committed, there may very well be things referred to us from the House by way of legislation, by way of examination of supplementary estimates and the like.
    Those 11 meetings do not take account of reviewing the draft report and consideration of the recommendations on the study that we're about to wrap up. The plate is filling quite quickly, and there seems to be so much more that we want to do.

[Translation]

    Ms. Chabot, the floor is yours.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I am not concerned about it being decided today.
    One of the motions I introduced had to do with a study on companies going bankrupt. Basically, it's about finding out how we can strengthen our current legislation to protect pension funds if companies go bankrupt. Unless the situation improves, 180,000 companies could go bankrupt or close, which raises the issue of protecting pension funds.
    Not many meetings were set aside for that study. I bring it to your intention for consideration in the future, if we have room.

  (1650)  

    It's probably another subject that the subcommittee can look at.

[English]

    Mr. Housefather, please go ahead.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I wanted to give a heads-up and remind members that there is a private member's bill that our colleague Matt Jeneroux has put forward, which will be voted on by the House probably the week we come back. It will be referred to our committee if it's adopted.
    I believe we should prioritize legislation and ensure there's a spot for any bill that gets sent to committee. On behalf of Matt, I want to give everybody a heads-up and remind everybody that there may be a bill coming to us. We should at least put a date if the bill gets referred to us and not wait on that too long.
     Thank you.
    Mr. Vis, please go ahead.
    Mr. Housefather, you just stole my thunder. I actually seconded that bill in Parliament, and I very much appreciate your intervention.
    Is there any other business to come before the meeting?
    Madam Clerk, is there anything I've missed that we need to talk about?
    I think you have everything on my list checked off. Thank you.
    That's excellent.
    Colleagues, thank you very much. This was a very productive meeting. I think the path forward is reasonably clear. We got a bunch of things cleared up.
    Do we have consensus to adjourn? I think we do.
    Have a good evening. We'll see you on Thursday.
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