Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website, and this meeting is also televised.
Should any technical challenges arise, please let me know. Please note that we might need to suspend for a few minutes to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(5), the committee will commence consideration of the supplementary estimates (C), 2020-21: vote 1c under Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and votes 1c, 5c, 10c and 15c under Department of Employment and Social Development, referred to the committee on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.
Also, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4), the committee will commence consideration of the main estimates 2021-22: vote 1 under Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, votes 1 and 5 under Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization, vote 1 under Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, and votes 1 and 5 under Department of Employment and Social Development, referred to the committee on Thursday, February 25, 2021.
I welcome our witnesses to begin our discussion with five minutes of opening remarks, followed by questions.
Appearing is the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. From the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, we have Evan Siddall, president and CEO; and Lisa Williams, chief financial officer.
Also, from the Department of Employment and Social Development, we have Mark Perlman, chief financial officer and senior assistant deputy minister; Benoît Long, chief transformation officer; Graham Flack, deputy minister of Employment and Social Development; Lori MacDonald, senior associate deputy minister of Employment and Social Development and chief operating officer for Service Canada; Cliff Groen, senior assistant deputy minister, benefits and integrated services branch of Service Canada; Janet Goulding, associate assistant deputy minister, income security and social development branch; and Catherine Adam, senior assistant deputy minister, strategic and service policy branch.
That said, we will start with Minister Hussen, for five minutes.
Minister, welcome back to the committee. You have the floor.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members.
I'm happy to speak to the supplementary estimates (C) for 2020-21 and the main estimates for 2021-22 that pertain to my portfolio at Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC.
Saying that our lives have changed significantly over the last year would be an understatement.
However, our government's priorities remain focused on protecting the health and financial security of Canadians. These priorities are supported by the appropriations requested in the main estimates, as well as the supplementary estimates (C) associated with the previous exercise. Today, I hope to provide you with some overarching context and answer any questions you may have.
ESDC's main estimates for 2021-22 present a total of $82.4 billion in planned budgetary expenditures. Over 95% of these expenditures will directly support Canadians through the department's programs, services and initiatives.
Before I address the supplementary estimates (C), I'd like to point out that my department did not stop helping Canadians when Service Canada centres were forced to close because of the pandemic. On the contrary, we increased the number of call centre agents and, when possible, simplified applications for certain benefits. We made it easier for Canadians to access services online, while maintaining all the measures to safeguard private information.
The 2020-21 supplementary estimates (C) reflect these actions. The department requires additional funding to continue to improve client experience, both online and in person, as well as to modernize the way it delivers benefits. The department will continue to make sure that Canadians have access to the benefits they are entitled to.
I want to be very clear. The safety and well-being of Canadians remain the government's number one priority.
The pandemic has certainly taught us the importance of having a place to call home. That is why the Government of Canada will keep investing in measures to address urgent housing needs. This includes continuing with our 10-year, $70-billion national housing strategy. We'll also continue to support communities to prevent and reduce homelessness and ensure the sector's ability to fight COVID-19 through increased investments in Reaching Home, Canada's homelessness strategy. This will build on our existing goals by helping those in immediate need. It also advances the progress being made through Opportunity for All, Canada's first poverty reduction strategy, to reduce poverty and achieve the United Nations sustainable development goal to end poverty by 2030.
We know that homeless Canadians are among our country's most vulnerable, and our government believes that no one anywhere in Canada should be left without a place to call home. That is why we are the first government in Canadian history to take responsibility and [Technical difficulty—Editor] additional investments of nearly $400 million under Reaching Home. In the fall economic statement, we would sustain our support into 2021 with an additional investment of nearly $300 million. This is on top of approximately $215.3 million invested annually into communities across Canada through Reaching Home, from 2021 to 2024.
At the same time, we will continue to invest in such longer-term programs as the national housing co-investment fund and the rental construction financing initiative, for which funding is included in this year's estimates.
Mr. Chair, the pandemic continues to have a tremendous impact on Canadian families with young children. For Canadian families, access to affordable, high-quality child care is not a luxury; it is a necessity. We are laying the groundwork for a Canada-wide early learning and child care system, in partnership with provinces, territories, indigenous peoples and non-profit organizations, so that every Canadian has access to high-quality, affordable, accessible and inclusive child care.
The Government of Canada is also proposing new temporary support of up to $1,200 per child under the age of six in 2021, to further assist families with young children. As well, during the pandemic the Government of Canada was pleased to provide $350 million for the emergency community support fund to help organizations that are providing very critical services to vulnerable Canadians.
The main estimates for 2021-22 and all of the items outlined in the supplementary estimates process today demonstrate our clear commitment to Canadians and to building back better. There is no doubt that the financial resources requested will enable us to continue to do this work.
Mr. Chair, I'll be very pleased to answer any and all questions you may have.
Turning to the first-time home buyer incentive, when I last received information on this government incentive, it showed that, over the course of eight months, only 16 people had used the program in Toronto, and a single person had used it in Vancouver. No stakeholder I've spoken with had a positive word to say about it. There are numerous reasons, but it boils down to the fact that it does not accomplish its primary objective of creating new first-time homeowners. Program users must already qualify for a mortgage to access it. No one who otherwise would be unable to purchase a home is now able to as a result of this program. What are the metrics CMHC uses to determine if the program has been a success or a failure? This question is for Mr. Siddall.
The objective of this program, as stated in CMHC's 2019 annual report, was to assist 20,000 first-time homebuyers in the first six months, and 100,000 first-time homebuyers from 2019 to 2022. However, your amended corporate plan as submitted to the committee has “TBD” in the target column. Is CMHC's strategy to simply not establish a target so you can't be held accountable for failing to meet it? How many actually used the program in its first six months?
I will be sharing my time with my colleague MP Han Dong.
Minister Hussen, it's good to see you again. I've had the good fortune of being on Zoom with you a number of times over the last week, and I appreciate you and your ministry officials joining us for the meeting today.
Last week, you virtually visited the city of London, where I represent the people of London West. You made a major housing announcement—over $40 million to repair over 2,000 affordable community housing units in the city of London. All of the units will target vulnerable populations, including people who experience homelessness or are at risk of homelessness, people with disabilities and people experiencing domestic violence.
I think this is the biggest housing announcement in London in decades, and this speaks to how important the national housing strategy is for our government. But we need partners. I think you would agree that the City of London has been a great partner for these projects.
Thank you for your question.
I'm happy to say that over the course of the past year we've actually put two new services in place to augment...our vulnerable populations where we have not been able to re-establish the site visits. We hope to do that this year, once some of the guidelines have been increased in terms of access to travel and so on.
These two measures include two new alternative service delivery models to reach those more vulnerable populations. One is called “e-service”, where clients can actually go online, fill out a form and send it to us, and we respond within 24 to 48 hours. We've actually reached many thousands of Canadians with this new service.
The second measure is through eCOLS, which is where we've used third party intervenors to support us and rule in northern communities to support particularly indigenous communities for service. That's a toll-free number where a Canadian can call the toll-free number—and we actually return their call as well—and we do all of their services for them online. This is also a system in terms of their being able to remain safely in their homes. Those two services are actually augmenting the service that is not available through the travel program.
In terms of the call centres, I'll turn to my colleague Cliff Groen. As Minister Hussen indicated, we have invested significant amounts of money in augmenting our service call centres this past year, including hiring up to 1,500 additional staff.
[Technical difficulty—Editor] to address some of the issues that were in place.
It's nice to see you today, Minister.
Recently, our community was funded for a 24-7 safe space for women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA folks [Technical difficulty—Editor]. In fact, I personally referred three women in crisis today, as a life-saving measure.
You spoke with your colleague about the need for investment in housing, particularly for women. I would agree with you on that, particularly in the riding I represent, which called “ground zero” for MMIWG. We currently have projects on the go, waiting to be funded, for women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA folks—some coming from refugee communities, who have had to flee their countries because of sexual orientation.
Is your government committed to dealing with this critical crisis, particularly in ridings such as Winnipeg Centre, where women continue to lose their lives, including two who lost their lives during this past month?
Minister, because we have a limited amount of time, I want to remind you that the PBO report just came out citing a shortage of 9,000 core housing units and indigenous families in core housing need. Although I appreciate the investments—I will take any investment, because we are in a crisis—we lost two other women the other week. It is a very pronounced crisis, and in fact the worst in the country.
I have another question in regard to that. For over 30 years, the federal government has promised to eradicate child poverty. Your government actually renewed this promise in 2018 and published a national poverty reduction strategy, with subsequent poverty reduction legislation in 2019.
Your strategy called for a human rights-based approach to poverty reduction, one that reflects principles that include universality, non-discrimination and equality. Yet the Canada child benefit, a crucial mechanism for reducing child poverty, excludes parents with precarious immigration status, even though many work in Canada legally and file personal income tax.
This is a very pronounced problem, certainly in my riding, where families are just struggling to get by because they do not qualify for that tax benefit. Is it normal for a human rights approach to poverty reduction to exclude refugee claimants and parents with undocumented immigration status?
Okay, great. I'll start my five minutes now.
As the seasons change, things can be quite predictable. The snow is melting, the Leafs are tanking now into the spring, and the Liberals must be planning a fall election, because they're bringing up the faulty idea of a national child care program.
I'd like to get the minister's comments on why, in the economic statement in 2020, your government said “Quebec can show us the way on child care” and promised that in budget 2021 you'll lay out a plan for national child care.
Minister, are you aware of some of the issues surrounding this campaign promise, which has been made for five elections and never implemented during a majority or minority Liberal government? Why would you say that we're going to follow Quebec's lead on this?
I almost felt like getting Madame Chabot to answer that question instead of the minister, to defend Quebec's system, but I'll ask a couple of other questions.
On the rental housing construction financing that Mr. Vis talked about, part of the goal of that is to get affordable housing in place so that the Canada housing benefit can then move in to make it deeply affordable.
The other component is having a portable benefit achieve that, as opposed to a higher capital investment in rental housing. Say you get a job working on the Site C dam that the New Democrats approved in B.C., and then you get a job working at Fort St. John. If you get a rent subsidy that's portable, you can move from Vancouver to Fort St. John and keep your benefit while you establish a new career on that project. That's part of the way our housing strategy is aimed at working.
Is that not why we have the rental housing construction financing and the subsidy, to create the deeply affordable and mobile benefit to help people?
My question is going to be about benefits and Service Canada.
As you said, Minister, there are many benefits that have been put in place to support workers or businesses. However, I want to bring to your attention the fact that many files stalled when workers applied for the Canada recovery benefit.
Service Canada would tell them that a file in their name was already open and that blocked their application. This happened to hundreds of thousands of people. There were delays of seven to eight weeks, even though people were entitled to benefits [Technical difficulty—Editor]. On this issue, there are still documents that say the forms are not tailored to their reality. Asking a self-employed person if he's looking for a job may not be the right question to ask. They are looking for clients. There are no jobs, because businesses are closed. All of this makes for delays.
Can you assure us of smooth and timely services?
Minister, we've reached the end of the appointed hour.
We want to thank you, Minister. We know your initial appearance on the supplementary and main estimates was sidetracked by a matter that was referred to us by the House. We appreciate your making yourself available during a constituency week to come in and make sure that we got in under the deadline for reporting, so thank you for being with us.
We realize you're going on to something else right away. I am sure we'll be seeing you again before long.
I know many of your officials are going to be staying on to accompany Ms. Qualtrough, but for those who are leaving, thanks again for your support, and thank you for what you do.
We are going to suspend for two or three minutes while we do sound checks for the incoming panel.
Thanks, again, Minister. Have a good day.
I call the meeting back to order.
Today the committee is meeting on its study of supplementary estimates (C) 2020-21, and the main estimates 2021-22.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses to the continuation of our discussion.
They will have five minutes to make their opening statements, which will be followed by questions.
We are pleased [Technical difficulty—Editor] the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion.
She is joined by Mark Perlman, chief financial officer and senior assistant deputy minister; and Lori MacDonald, senior associate deputy minister at Employment and Social Development and chief operating officer for Service Canada.
Minister, welcome back to the committee. It's good to see you again.
You have five minutes for your opening statement, starting now.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to join you again today.
Today, as was said, I'll be speaking to the supplementary estimates (C) for 2020-21, and the main estimates for 2021-22 for Employment and Social Development Canada.
The supplementary estimates (C) for 2020-21 request an additional $225 million in voted authorities, offset by a decrease of $708 million in statutory authorities. This decrease is due primarily to updated forecasts for the Canada emergency response benefit and the Canada emergency student benefit.
The 2021-22 main estimates present planned expenditures of $82.4 billion, which is an increase of $13.8 billion from the original planned budgetary expenditures for 2020-21.
Let me explain.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our government has provided significant support to Canadians. In the Fall 2020 Economic Statement, we outlined our plan to enable a strong recovery in Canada. The requested funding will help us put that plan into action.
The main estimates include funding for our Canada recovery benefits. The supplementary estimates (C) include funding to support students, to improve youth programming and to improve gender and diversity outcomes and skills programming. They also include funding for Canadians with disabilities.
Let me provide you with more details.
Within weeks of the first lockdown, we set up the CERB, a keystone piece of economic support that helped more than eight million Canadians.
This past summer and fall, we outlined our plan to continue to support the nation's workforce throughout the pandemic. We transitioned the CERB to a simplified employment insurance program and introduced the Canada Recovery Benefit to provide income support to workers still affected by COVID-19.
For Canadians who didn't qualify for EI, like the self-employed and those in the gig economy, we introduced a complementary new suite of recovery benefits: the Canada recovery benefit, the Canada recovery sickness benefit, and the Canada recovery caregiving benefit.
At the time, we said we would monitor labour market changes and make adjustments as needed. We've done that and are following through on our commitment to continue to provide certainty for workers.
That is why, on February 20, we introduced Bill to temporarily increase the maximum number of weeks available for regular EI benefits. We also plan to increase the number of weeks available for the Canada Recovery Benefit through regulation.
Today, through the main estimates, we are requesting an increase totalling $10.3 billion for the three temporary recovery benefits so that we can continue to support workers.
Next, I'd like to speak to the impact the pandemic has had on Canada's young people. Many have faced financial hardships and lost employment opportunities. As a government, we stepped up to support them. One of the first things we did was to put a pause on student loan repayments. We then introduced a comprehensive emergency package for students and young Canadians, which included boosts to job programs, direct income support, and increased financial assistance through grants and loans.
We know how important education is. Students have told us loud and clear that they want more financial support.
Now let's talk about job creation. We are committed to creating a million jobs, restoring employment to pre-pandemic levels, making the largest training investment in Canadian history and creating opportunities for young people. We are focused on strengthening workers' futures by ensuring they have the skills they need for the changing nature of work and the labour market.
We will do this by using several tools, including immediate training to allow workers to gain skills quickly. We also plan to enhance youth programs and improve gender equality outcomes, as well as diversify skills development programs. For example, we will significantly expand the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to provide more paid employment opportunities for young Canadians who face barriers to entering the labour market.
This year, the Canada summer jobs program is aiming to have a total of 120,000 jobs for students. That's 50% more than last year.
For persons with disabilities, the pandemic has been particularly difficult and has exacerbated barriers to inclusion. We've taken a disability-inclusive approach to our pandemic response from the start to ensure that whatever we do will help persons with disabilities. The supplementary estimates (C) provide funding for a targeted one-time payment of up to $600 to help Canadians with disabilities with the extra expenses incurred during the pandemic.
There's still a lot to do. That's where our plan for inclusion of people with disabilities comes in.
We're working on a plan that will include a new disability benefit modelled after the GIS for seniors, a robust employment strategy and a better process to determine eligibility for government disability programs and benefits.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for your attention to these estimates. I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank you all for your and your respective party's support and consent in the House during the most challenging times of the crisis, times when Canadians have needed help the most and we have come together.
Together, we can give Canadians the support they need to get through the pandemic.
I would be happy to answer your questions now.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
I want to ask you about the CELA and NNELS funding. As you know, I raised this with you in the House of Commons as well. Your department provides $4 million annually to these organizations to provide reading materials for those who have visual disabilities, those who have blindness, those who have cerebral palsy and the like. They alerted me two weeks ago that you were planning to phase out that funding by $1 million annually.
I see today that you've put out a news release, just within the hour, I believe, concerning these funding cuts, but I'm not clear on whether you're committing to a $1-million one-time bump in their funding and whether you're committing to not cutting this funding next budget year and beyond. If you can clarify that, it would be great.
Thank you for the question.
I had the opportunity, as I had forecast to all of you, to meet with NNELS and CELA yesterday to talk about our mutual objective to transition the accessible publishing to make books accessible from the start. In recognition of the fact that this transition has stalled as a result of the pandemic, I was able to provide the organization with assurances that they will be receiving $1 million more for the 2021-22 fiscal year in order to bring their amount back up to $4 million, as it has been previously.
We agreed that the long-term vision for accessible publishing is to transfer to the publishing industry the responsibility for making materials accessible, that it shouldn't be incumbent on non-profits to continue to do this, and that we should have accessible publishing, but that this will take time.
Over the next month, we're going to work with them to see what funding level should stay in the future and, in fact, where that funding should come from. Should the relationship with ESDC, for example, peter out so there is a new relationship with the Canada book fund or with the publishing industry directly?
That was an excellent conversation yesterday, and we're on the same page.
That's great. Thank you for that.
It's not a new funding bump, then; it's just a maintenance of their $4 million in funding. I'm encouraged to hear that you're maintaining that funding this year, but it sounds like the commitment for years following is still up in the air. I appreciate your response.
I wanted to ask you about the Canada training benefit. This was announced, as I'm sure you remember, in the 2019 federal budget. It was a program that was going to provide a non-taxable Canadian training credit of $250 a year. It was going to provide EI support of 55% of the wage for four weeks for folks to take off and go and seek training. It was also going to provide a leave provision for folks to secure their employment while they go and seek further training.
We've heard a lot about this in the last 12 months with COVID and the COVID experience—that people need reskilling. My understanding from this 2019 budgetary announcement was that this was supposed to be launched late in 2020, but to my knowledge, it has not been launched. Are you planning to relaunch or reimagine this program?
Thank you for the question.
It was really exciting and beneficial to have the Accessible Canada Act as the backdrop or as the foundation of the work we could do in our pandemic response to ensure that it was disability-inclusive. We immediately struck what we call the COVID disability advisory group, or CDAG, which really advised our government on pandemic response and how our decisions could or would be impacting people on the ground with lived experience with disabilities. They were just invaluable in terms of the advice they gave and the issues we were able to address.
In partnership with the disability community, they provided advice and expertise to other government departments, such as Public Health, Public Safety, VAC, and ESDC. For example, they identified provincial issues, and that let me and other cabinet colleagues bring forward these issues to our PT colleagues.
We signed a UN statement saying that we would take a disability-inclusive approach, which was signed by over 100 countries. Of course, their effort and their advice resulted in the one-time payment of $600 to over 1.6 million Canadians. They said we needed more employment supports as people transitioned to working at home, so we created the workplace accessibility stream of the opportunities fund. Quite frankly, across the board we were able to understand the impacts that anything we were doing would have on this particularly vulnerable population.
I think, quite frankly, that the way we handled the pandemic will be a baseline for emergency response in the future. No government of Canada will ever go back to not being disability-inclusive.
Thank you for that. I really appreciate the commitment to building lived experience into everything we're doing and seeing how a disability-inclusive approach can cut across all programming and all supports and all services as a lens that we look through. I really appreciate your leadership on that.
I've heard from constituents, and I certainly agree with them—and I'm sure you agree—that we need to do more to support persons with disabilities. As you know, Minister, in my riding I have the world-renowned Abilities Centre, which is a massive organization that sees itself as an inclusion incubator. They're doing all kinds of great work right here in Whitby.
The government has committed to a disability inclusion plan. Can you tell us how the plan will address certain challenges that persons with disabilities have faced, and particularly those that they've faced during the pandemic?
I really feel passionate about this. I know my constituents do, too, so any more information on that would be helpful.
Thank you for the question. I give a big shout-out to the Abilities Centre in Whitby. It's a fantastic organization and facility.
Again, with the Accessible Canada Act as a backdrop, and now having the experience of the pandemic and the CDAG, we're moving very quickly to act. That's why we did announce that we would be creating this disability inclusion action plan, because we know that many Canadians with disabilities live in poverty, are unemployed or precariously employed, and lack the supports they need.
It will include, as I said in my opening remarks, a robust employment strategy, meaning we'll support workers and entrepreneurs with disabilities. We'll work with employers to be more disability-inclusive and confident and to understand the business case for disability inclusion.
It will also include the Canada disability benefit, which is a direct income supplement for low-income working-age Canadians with disabilities, modelled after the GIS, aimed at improving financial independence and security.
Finally, and perhaps most generationally impactful, it will include a modernization of how the Government of Canada assesses eligibility for disability-related programs so that we ensure that the challenges we faced in delivering the one-time COVID payment do not occur again. Honestly, it's well overdue to have a more dignified way of assessing disability and to be able to communicate directly with Canadians with disabilities.
Good afternoon, Madam Minister. It's good to see you again. You've made yourself very available to the committee. I commend you for that.
You won't be surprised that I want to talk to you about employment insurance. You talked about the many measures that have been put in place—I won't list them all—to meet the needs of workers. Now, we know that all of these measures are temporary and that they will end in September, in six months.
With respect to the 2021-22 budget, how did you plan your requests for additional appropriations to accommodate this? On what basis did you make your requests? Are these permanent measures starting in September? Will there be enhanced employment insurance measures, measures that take into account the fact that sickness benefits will be increased?
How have you prepared your credits for this reality?
Thank you for being here today, Minister.
You know that many Canadians live in very deep poverty. Being able to access the CERB was a matter of life and death for many low-income Canadians, many of whom are also from BIPOC communities and from disabled communities.
I know that you spoke about the $600 one-time benefit. That is not adequate. We know that many disabled persons didn't even qualify, so I hesitate to celebrate the continued discrimination against disabled persons in this country.
Yet, in December, while we knew all of this, some 441,000 Canadians were told that their CERB eligibility was under review and that they might have to repay their benefit. Your office has even gone on record, Minister, to say that no one will face penalties or interest as a result of their CERB review and that repayment will be flexible and sensitive to individual circumstances, but that's not enough.
The fact of the matter is that low-income people cannot afford to make even small repayments and they need CERB repayment amnesty to avoid falling into deeper poverty. Ten dollars is a lot when you're living in poverty.
My question, Minister, is this: How many low-income Canadians are under review for their CERB eligibility?
As I mentioned, Minister Qualtrough, I would like to ask you a bit about the recent $47-million announcement for training in Manitoba that you made I believe last week or the week prior.
As I'm sure you're aware, about a third of Manitoba's food and service hotel jobs were wiped out, which is about 13,200 jobs that we've lost, and a lot of these jobs, as was mentioned on this panel previously, are dominated by women, newcomers and young people.
Did you put that lens on that $47 million? Has this funding changed from previous pre-pandemic funding agreements? I'm wondering if we have adapted our funding model to suit the new world.
Right. Pardon me, Mr. Flack. I'm looking to see whether they have changed from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic, so if you can provide the ones that you have done before the pandemic and now, I would like to see how our federal government has adapted these agreements, given the new economy we're living in now.
I did want to ask a bit, Minister, about funding for women specifically. I know this is a theme of today's HUMA committee.
In Manitoba specifically, we have 7.1% of women unemployed, compared to 1.5% of men, so it is impacting us quite significantly. We know that 1.5 million women were immediately laid off at the onset of the pandemic; 500,000 remain unemployed and 100,000 have left the workforce altogether because there are no jobs available to them. I'm quite concerned about this, as you know. In the last 30 years—my lifespan—all of those gains for women in employment have been wiped out.
I was encouraged but then discouraged by a recent announcement by your government to formulate an 18-woman task force to inform your government on how to handle this. It's a women-led task force, which I appreciate, but I was disappointed to see that none of the industries that have been hardest hit and are particularly dominated by women—we're talking service industry, retail, accommodations and personal services jobs—have voices at that table.
Did you have input in this task force? Are you disappointed that none of these industries dominated by women and dominated by the employment losses are represented in this task force?
From the beginning, we have put a gender lens on the decision-making we've done and on the benefits and supports we've provided, and we have also, as you have, clearly watched how women have been both frontlined and sidelined by this pandemic. I am deeply concerned and share your concern on this.
We have committed to creating an action plan for women in the economy, which will be guided by the task force that you're talking about, and we have attempted to have broad representation in this group. I was not the lead on this, but I did provide some input.
I'd be happy to perhaps work with you offline to see if we can maybe bolster the gaps you've identified. I'd be happy to do that, for sure, again with the understanding that I'm not the lead. I'd be happy to facilitate that.
Good afternoon, colleagues.
Thank you, Minister, again for your regular availability to this committee. We really appreciate it.
Minister, I want to say it's refreshing to work with somebody like you who is so passionate about her portfolio. It was a pleasure to work with you on the Accessible Canada Act, Bill , in the last Parliament. I know it's transformational legislation. Again, thank you for your commitment.
Minister, I do want [Technical difficulty—Editor] to talk about CERB. I know MP Gazan talked about CERB with respect to poverty, and I think we all know that without CERB hundreds of thousands of Canadians would have fallen into poverty.
Minister, my question is this. When the Canadian economy shut down due to the pandemic, it was evident that the employment insurance system would not be able to handle the volume of claimants who would be applying. I think all of us MPs could certainly attest to that, given the calls we were getting into our offices as our government launched the Canada emergency response benefit, the CERB, to support Canadians who were unable to work. This benefit ended up providing direct financial support to more than eight million Canadians, ensuring they had the help they needed to pay their bills and support their families.
I will be blunt. It was shocking to me to hear, especially from Conservative members, comments about the CERB being too generous. What would have happened if our government had not taken action to create the CERB?
Thank you, Minister.
It's a great question. Absolutely, the EI system wasn't set up to respond quickly or to the number of workers we wanted to help, which is where the birth of the CERB came from. We were there for over eight million people, workers, who weren't able to work because of COVID-19, to ensure they had income support.
COVID, we knew, would impact workers who lost their jobs. We knew it would impact workers whose child care or day program options weren't available. We knew it would impact workers who got sick or who had to self-isolate or quarantine, and those were the guiding principles for the CERB. Those were the impacts we wanted to lessen for working Canadians. They didn't have work, but they still had bills to pay. They still had to pay mortgages and rent and pay for food and medicine.
We felt that our government was better positioned to carry the weight of this non-discretionary debt that would be incurred, because if we didn't, Canadians would use their credit cards and their lines of credit, and we would see more bankruptcies, more mortgage foreclosures, etc. The financial pressure and insecurity would weigh heavily on families, who were already living in isolation and uncertainty. We chose to incur this debt so Canadians wouldn't have to. That was key to ensuring that when the economy came back, Canadians would be able to fully participate.
I could never be convinced that the CERB was too generous. Judging by the number of times I heard—and you probably heard—the CERB called a lifeline, I believe Canadians were incredibly grateful for this support.
Thank you, Chair, and thank you again, Minister.
In the Speech from the Throne, your government committed to building a more inclusive tax filing system to make it easier for Canadians to receive the benefits they need. The problem is that this approach actually excludes the most vulnerable people in Canada, who don't file personal income taxes due to various reasons or various barriers, such as a lack of identification, a SIN, immigration or citizenship status, a CRA account, or a fixed address. This is a major problem that leaves people in deep poverty.
Campaign 2000, in its 2020 report card on child and family poverty in Canada, calls on the federal government to “research and develop a parallel community-based benefit eligibility and delivery system for low-income, marginalized non-taxfilers”, as many jurisdictions have done around the world.
Minister, will your government commit to developing such a parallel system?
Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
I do want to mention and get on the record that if the Liberal government, your government, truly cared about the experiences of Canadians and the most vulnerable in this country, this government would have rejected the Senate amendment on Bill that expanded MAID to those who have or struggle with mental illness. I think history will teach us down the road that this government wasn't there for the most vulnerable.
Speaking in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that it has exacerbated the staffing crisis in our long-term care homes. It has also exposed to a greater degree the shortage of health care professionals specializing in care homes for seniors. With an aging population, the health care demand will only grow. Without immediate and short-term action, that gap will continue to grow.
Minister, your updated mandate letter prioritized direct investments in the social sector as well as training and incentives to grow sectors in the economy and to restore jobs. Can you clarify how your department's spending is addressing the health care staffing crisis in seniors supports, if at all?
That's a great question, and it's really important.
We're working with disability organizations—a good example would be the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, BCANDS, which is kind of the lead in B.C.—to really reach out to organizations and encourage and support applying for the DTC. For families who have kids with disabilities, if they apply for the DTC for their child, they'll have access to CCB for disability.
As you said, it's the best system we have. It is highly problematic in terms of its outreach, but for now, we've really tried hard to get deep into communities through community organizations and other relationships and partnerships, even non-traditional ones, in order to get people help to apply for the DTC, because of how many doors it opens up for people federally, regardless of whether or not they actually have sufficient income to benefit directly from the benefit or the tax credit.
Thanks for the question.
Absolutely, we were frustrated by the behaviour of some provinces that chose to claw back the CERB so that consequently people didn't see any kind of increase in their monthly income. We made efforts, and some provinces moved on this—including my own, actually, B.C.—to not claw it back.
A guiding principle moving forward with the disability benefit would be, hopefully, to build upon the success of the Canada child benefit.
This will be tough. This will be the most difficult and complex negotiation related to this benefit in working with provinces and territories to ensure that people are better off because of the supplement and that people's access to services, programs and supports isn't in any way negatively impacted. I don't want to be in a position of giving someone a benefit that consequently causes them to lose their health care or pharmacare. We're very alive to that.
A lot of work is being done behind the scenes to work with provinces to understand the interplay of our systems, but this will be the most important aspect, in my opinion, of the CDB negotiations—the conversations we have with the provinces. I'm cautiously optimistic—that tends to be my personality—but it will be a very tough conversation, and we're going to have to get quite creative to ensure that people are better off because of this.
Colleagues, I'd like you, please, to stick around. We actually have yet to vote on the estimates.
To the officials, you're welcome to stay, but you're free to leave. Thank you, once again, for being with us. We'll see you again soon, no doubt.
Before we wrap, folks, there are a couple of things we need to do. First of all, with respect to the supplementary estimates, the parliamentary schedule indicates that we're going to have the last three allotted days the week we come back. The deadline for reporting the supplementary estimates, based on the schedule at present, is therefore Monday, which presents a bit of a problem for us because we have coming before us on the supplementary estimates on Tuesday.
This isn't insurmountable, but what I need from the committee is an agreement that we will report the supplementary estimates on Monday and leave the invitation for outstanding so that she can come in and speak to the supplementary estimates as a subject matter study even though they have already been reported.
We will not report the main estimates, because we don't have to, until May 31. Even though we've heard from two ministers on the main estimates, we may still want to hear from and we'll hear from on the main estimates.
If the committee agrees with this approach, I would suggest that we proceed to vote now on the supplementary estimates, that we report them on Monday, that we hear from as a subject matter study on Tuesday, and that we report the main estimates before the deadline of May 31.
Is there any need for clarification, any discussion or any concern with that suggested approach? Excellent.
That being the case—