Madam Speaker, the pandemic has devastated our economy. There is great convergence as to what needs to be done: We need to vaccinate Canadians, we need to reopen the economy, we need to get people back to work, we need to help struggling businesses get on their feet again and we need to plan to manage the long-term financial challenge that faces Canadians.
The said he was going to leave no one behind, but today's motion highlights the fact that many Canadians have been left behind. Why is that? It is very easy. For two years we have had no budget, no plan to reopen the economy, no plan to get Canadians back to work, no plan to support struggling businesses or help them get back on their feet, and no plan to manage the massive financial challenge facing future generations of Canadians. There is just a promise to spend, without explaining how, when, why or where the money will be spent. There is only how much. That is not enough. It is not a plan. What we need is a budget.
Canadians do not want to be dependent on the government. They want their jobs back. They want their businesses. They want their communities and their lives back. Is the listening? We are not asking him to reimagine what the economy might be or conduct a grand social or economic experiment. Canadians simply want to get back to normal. That means doing everything possible to support struggling businesses and reopen our economy. Despite the Prime Minister's promise, there is no plan to support the hardest-hit sectors of our economy.
Let me focus first on hospitality and tourism. Yesterday I met with the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. Their members reminded me that hospitality and tourism are among the most severely impacted sectors of our economy. Let us be clear what we are talking about. It is not just cruise ships. We are talking about hotels, motels, restaurants, bus lines, tourist-related retail, travel agents, the recreational fishing industry, outfitters and ski resorts. It goes on and on.
Prior to COVID-19, tourism was one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and it was our country's fifth-largest sector, but the pandemic has pitched that industry into a crisis. In fact, it is so bad that our tourism industry now employs half a million fewer Canadians than it did at this time last year. Tourism was the first hit industry. It was the hardest hit and it will be the last to recover.
The 's response was empty promises, and no support has materialized. Instead, there are programs like HASCAP, the business credit availability program and the regional relief and recovery fund. These were so poorly designed that companies were either unable to access the programs or avoided them altogether because they did not meet their needs. As a result, many deserving business owners were unable to access these programs and are now struggling with insolvency. It is time to deliver the support they need to get that sector back on its feet.
Then there are the airlines. The motion calls on the government to support the hard-hit airline sector. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in that sector. We are advocating for fully repayable loans, but not without conditions. We want the airlines to deliver consumer refunds to travellers who could not travel because of COVID, and to deliver job guarantees for their workers and restrictions on executive compensation until we are past the COVID crisis. We want them to restore the regional routes that have been closed down over the last few months, and we want them to refrain from clawing back travel agent commissions.
The Liberal government could also implement robust rapid testing at the airports, which took much too long to implement. We would love to see the gradual phase-out of the current 14-day-quarantine period through better rapid testing. The Liberal government has been promising support for Canada's airline industry for over a year and still there is nothing. To date, Canada is the only G7 country that has not supported its airlines.
Let us talk about charities. The also promised to support our charitable sector. We are talking about the Salvation Army, food banks, soup kitchens, free legal and dental clinics, homelessness programs, drug recovery programs and community organizations that enrich our lives, such as music, theatre, art and spiritual support. My hometown of Abbotsford is the most generous census metropolitan area in the whole country.
I understand how important this sector is to our economy and to filling the gaps where people would normally fall through the cracks. The charitable sector has been all but abandoned, unless one's name is Kielburger and leads the WE Charity, because Liberal insiders and friends of the have a direct line to the Prime Minister's Office. Almost $1 billion was paid to the WE Charity to set up a paid youth volunteer program. Let that settle in: a paid volunteer program. If one is in the WE Charity and one's name is Kielburger, that person gets access to almost $1 billion of taxpayers' money. If not, one is left behind. Charities are left out in the cold. Conservatives are calling upon the government to immediately table a budget that includes badly needed, sector-specific support for the devastated charitable sector.
I will provide a few thoughts on support for small business. Many of our small businesses are still falling through the cracks. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimates that by the time the COVID pandemic is done, we will have lost 240,000 small businesses, and it could be worse than that. Thirty-seven per cent of Canadian small businesses are losing money every day they are open. A quarter of them will run out of cash within the next three months, 56% have been negatively impacted by the second wave, and almost half are worried about the survival of their businesses. Where is the Liberal government? It has been missing in action.
Lending programs such as CEBA only help the smallest businesses. The large employer emergency financing facility is so expensive and poorly designed that companies are reluctant to use it. Other programs, such as HASCAP, are deeply flawed and new businesses that were started in 2020 do not even qualify for support. These are individuals who invested their life savings to start a new business and the government simply walked away from them and said they did not matter.
In summary, hospitality, tourism, airlines, charities and other small businesses have been left behind. This pandemic has exposed the 's failure to lead and failure to deliver what he had promised: that no one would fall through the cracks. The evidence is clear that hundreds of thousands of Canadians' small businesses have, indeed, been left behind. We have spent the most per capita, yet have the highest unemployment rate in the G7. It is all traced back to the fact that there is no plan.
Conservatives have called upon the government, time and again, to table a budget and a plan for our future, to table a plan to reopen our economy, and none has been forthcoming. We are calling on the again to table a budget and include the support for hospitality, tourism, airlines, the charitable sector and small businesses that he has promised and to improve the design of the current programs.
Where is the plan? It is up to the to deliver it.
Madam Speaker, I am extremely pleased to be participating in this very important debate today on a motion that requests the government to include help in the next budget to support workers and their families who are struggling during this pandemic, resulting in the economic downturn that has occurred.
I am doing this from Terminal 4, which is an area in central Ontario, in Barrie and Innisfil, that is known as “T4” because of the fact that hundreds of airline sector employees and their families live here because it is in close proximity to the Toronto Pearson airport. In fact, throughout the GTA, from Kitchener to Bowmanville and from Markham to Huntsville, tens of thousands of families depend on Canada's airline sector continuing to thrive and survive. Travel advisers like Charlene Caldwell in my riding of Barrie—Innisfil, food workers in Brampton, limo drivers in Mississauga, and restaurant and hotel workers are all watching, literally with their economic well-being on the line, waiting for help to come.
The situation is described by the Air Canada Pilots Association as “dire”. Many of those employees and their families are not just constituents but also friends, pilots, flight attendants and many others who have been directly and indirectly negatively impacted by the pandemic as a result of the government's decisions and policies, which many see as inconsistent, incoherent, misunderstood, and not based on any data, evidence or science, but simply on politics.
The effect of the decisions has been so profoundly negative that many are losing hope that the airline sector may ever recover to the way it was before the pandemic. When we add to this not just the incoherence of the public policy decisions that have been made and the fact that the families affected have seen so many other countries in the G7 step up to offer their airlines help early on when the trouble started, words and platitudes, which is all we have heard from the and now two ministers of transport, are not providing any sense of hope for many of these families.
When I talk of these families and of the impact this is having and the anxiety they are feeling, I know what I am speaking of. I come from a long line of airline employees. My mom worked for Air Canada. My sisters worked for Air Canada, and one still does. My wife Liane did as well. My uncle was a mechanic at the Dorval airport. Like all airline families who have a long history of working for an airline, they have seen many good times in the sector, but they have seen nothing as desperate as what they are dealing with now. Help cannot come soon enough, and that is precisely what this motion is all about.
As the member of Parliament for Barrie—Innisfil and a representative of Terminal 4, I have been hearing from pilots, flight attendants and those who are directly and indirectly associated with the airline industry, including many travel advisers. I know the Air Canada Pilots Association has been asking its members to send letters to members of Parliament, and I am sure all parliamentarians have been receiving them.
In part, what the letter says is that by connecting people, goods and services, our airlines form a critical part of Canada's economic infrastructure. Every day we see how important it is to unite communities, support jobs across the country and transport goods within Canada and internationally. As incomprehensible as it may seem, this critical sector may not recover from the pandemic, much less survive it, without urgent help from the federal government. They go on to say that Canada's airline industry could emerge from the pandemic in a weakened state, unable to compete against foreign carriers that have benefited from direct government aid that for some carriers has been in the billions of dollars.
There may be countries that can function without a robust airline sector, but Canada is not one of them. Canada stands alone in its lack of meaningful direct financial aid for its airlines.
There are other concerns from the pilots that have been brought to light, including the fact that many of them, almost 600, have been furloughed. What does that say about their training? What does that say about their capability to recover from this and get the airline sector back on track? They describe the situation as being “dire”, and I would agree with them. The airline sector in and of itself, the travel and tourism and the billions of dollars that they represent to our communities right across this country, are really too big to fail.
The next area I want to focus on is travel advisers.
There are over 12,000 travel advisers in this country. On the day after International Women's Day, it should not be lost on all of us that 85% of them are women. I have met with many of them over the course of the last year, and one of the things they are looking for is commission protection from the government when it comes to refunds. Not only are they being hit on that side of it, but many of them who have not been able to earn any income since this pandemic started a year ago are also being hit by credit card companies asking for refunds.
Let us think about this. Let us put ourselves in their position. People who have not been able to earn income for the better part of a year are now being asked to pay back that income. Many of them will not be able to survive, so I can clearly empathize with travel advisers and the impact this situation is going to have on them.
A lot of this is an unintended consequence of the passenger bill of rights, and I spoke earlier about misunderstanding it. The passenger bill of rights passed by the government in 2019 allows for refunds not to be provided in non-controllable circumstances. It is probably one of the most widely misunderstood facts among consumers, and it falls directly on the government, because many of the decisions that have been made during this pandemic that have caused the airlines to effectively shut down have been made by the government. Almost every other sector in this country has received support from the government, with the exception of the airline sector. I am not talking about the emergency wage subsidy; I am talking direct sectoral relief, similar to what other G7 countries have done, including the United States, where billions of dollars have been spent. Delta is recalling all of its pilots and United Airlines just made an expansion announcement; meanwhile, in Canada, we are at 5% of our passenger loads and some pilots have not flown since March 18.
The other thing this motion calls for is relief for the charitable sector. I can personally speak on that. I have heard from charitable sectors within my community that are hurting as a result of this pandemic. Businesses continue to fall through the cracks. Many of them, as my colleague from Abbotsford said, are sole proprietorships, not incorporated businesses, and many of them started in 2020, yet the government programs that exist are still far too prescriptive and far too restrictive for many of them to receive the type of benefits they are applying for. Many have been turned down, and I have been hearing from a lot of them lately.
We need a plan, not just for bailouts but also for recovery. This virus is not going away, and we need to ensure we manage it with every tool we have in our tool box. That includes vaccines, rapid testing, isolating the most vulnerable and making sure we are contact tracing. Not everything should be defaulted to a lockdown or further restrictions; we need to make sure that when a plan is developed, it includes a plan for recovery, and that recovery should include the power of Canadian business. It should include the people they employ and the products they produce so that we can create a competitive environment, both domestically and internationally, for the things Canada produces in every sector, including forestry, natural resources, airlines and construction—all of those things—with less government intervention and legislation. We need to ensure we create this competitive environment so that investor confidence will come back into this country. It is going to be critical for us to do that, because the debt and deficits will be paid for generations to come. We need to improve the revenue side of the ledger.
After this is all over, the will be fine, but many of these families I am speaking about will be left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and try to recover economically.
As I conclude, those families include travel agents like Charlene Caldwell, Judith Coates, Brenda Slater, Nancy Wilson, Laura Gaudet, Margie Connor, Nancy Eleusiniotis and Loretta Sellers. They also include pilots like Michael Frena; the QuoVadis family, both dad and son Brandon, who followed in his father's footsteps; the Kennedy family; the Russell family; Martin Tremblay; the Rasical family and the Ceppos family. All of them have been directly affected by what is happening in the airline sector and the travel and tourism sector.
Today the Conservatives are asking the government to put action to their words—
Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I am able to take part in this debate. I was tempted to say, “to rise in this House”, although it has been more or less a year since we have had the opportunity to be there in the flesh, and maybe that is a good point to begin my remarks.
It was a little more than a year ago when the world did not know what COVID-19 was. As I mentioned, a year ago we were physically attending debates in the chamber of the House of Commons, but it feels as though it were a century ago. So much has changed in the world since that time as a result of this pandemic, which has turned the ordinary lives of Canadian workers and families upside-down.
The motion before us today highlights a number of areas where the Conservative Party would have us seek to develop supports for individuals, families and certain industries, and I think it provides a healthy starting point in the conversation. Although, quite frankly, the starting point for us was more or less a year ago when we were arriving at solutions for some of the issues that are now coming up in debate.
Over the course of my remarks, I hope to highlight some of the measures that the government has actually implemented to help Canadian workers, families and businesses get through this pandemic and discuss briefly where we go from here. I do have some criticisms of the motion before us, which I will be happy to share as well.
However, I think it is important to begin by addressing the significance of COVID-19 and what it has done to Canadian households and families. The starting point is obviously the public health consequences that have stemmed from a global pandemic, the likes of which the world has not seen in a century at least.
There are 22,000 Canadians who are no longer with us as a result of this illness, despite the heroic efforts of front-line health care workers in long-term care facilities and community-level decision-makers to keep their communities safe. Nevertheless, despite these efforts, there are grieving families in Canada today, and to those who may be tuning in, please know that I extend my sympathies to those who have lost their loved ones.
In the early days of the pandemic, before the full scope of this emergency had made itself apparent, like most MPs who are attending virtual Parliament today, I was taking phone calls from small business owners. They were asking if this was going to last a couple of weeks, and if there would be some support coming through so that they could enjoy this and show some solidarity with their community members.
However, a week or two after that, people started to appreciate just how serious this really was. They were worried whether their business would survive this pandemic. I remember being on the phone with family members who were sincerely worried about whether they could afford groceries, and whether there would be food at the grocery store at all, even if they could afford it.
I talked to people with the most human concerns possible, and they were asking, “Will I be able to keep a roof over my head and food on the table for my family?” The small business owners I spoke to were by and large concerned with the well-being of their employees, more so than they were concerned for themselves. I saw an enormous sense of community come out of those early conversations.
Across parties, across regions of Canada, I thank those who reached out to me, because of my position on the team of the , to tell me what they were hearing in their communities. We heard what people in different regions of Canada were reaching out to their MPs about, and those concerns reflected what I was hearing in my community.
This provided good examples of the areas we needed to be tackling: income support for people who lost income as a result of COVID-19; support to businesses, so they could keep their doors open; and, perhaps most importantly, a response to COVID-19 that spared no expense, because everyone knew that the best economic and social policy we could have was a strong public health response. That remains the case today.
Going back to shortly after this time last year, one of the first things we decided to do as a government was to figure out how we could replace lost income for Canadians who had been impacted by the pandemic. Initially, there was some consideration around the employment insurance system to help people in affected industries. However, we very quickly realized that the infrastructure of the federal government was not sufficient to deal with the sheer volume of people who would need to put in a claim, which was really the origin point for the Canada emergency response benefit. That program alone, up until it ended, serviced almost nine million Canadians between April and September. We are talking about close to half the Canadian workforce individually receiving a government benefit, which was designed in no time at all, implemented even faster, and nevertheless successfully reached the kitchen tables of nine million Canadians.
This was perhaps one of the most remarkable policy successes that I have been a part of, and may continue to be over my career in politics. I remember hearing from people at home that this was a godsend, and that this is what helped them keep food on the table. In my community, which has a comparatively lower household median income compared to much of the country, we have started hearing from people who work at food banks that there were fewer people attending the food bank because the government supports so effectively landed in those households. They could now afford to buy groceries rather than take them from the food bank.
This is not the case in every community across Canada, but I was very impressed that people, particularly at lower income levels, were able to survive some of the most significant economic challenges that had ever faced.
We realized as well that there needed to be additional supports put forward for businesses. One of the great strengths of the government's economic response was not any one given policy, but the willingness to iterate responses so we could adjust to reflect the reality of what was going on in Canadians communities.
I will point in particular to the Canada emergency wage subsidy, which started out as a 10% contribution to employees' wages. We realized very quickly that was not going to be sufficient to allow many employers to maintain a connection with their workforce. That particular program has the advantage of not just keeping people on payroll, but also ensuring those employees still have access to the benefits they may have been entitled to, so they do not lose opportunities that are tied within their company to seniority. Most of all, it kept cash coming into companies that allowed them to keep their workers paid throughout the most difficult portions of this pandemic.
For small and medium-sized businesses, we created the Canada emergency business account. There have been over 800,000 Canadian businesses that have now been supported. We are looking at record numbers of Canadians who have been supported by these programs, including nine million with CERB, more than five million workers with the wage subsidy and nearly 900,000 businesses with the Canada emergency business account. That number is closer to a million if we include a similarly styled program offered through the Regional Development Agencies, the regional relief and recovery fund.
We were hearing loud and clear that businesses needed support to address the fixed expenses of staying open. The emergency business account has literally helped businesses in my community keep the lights on and deal with Internet bills, allowing them to maintain some cash flow during a time when revenue had completely dried up. We realized as well that we needed to establish further supports, which justified initially the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program, which has transitioned into the Canada emergency rent subsidy. It provides more direct and accessible support to tenants, who can actually stay on their premises as a result of the federal support that has been offered.
In cases where public health measures have actually locked businesses down, this particular program can provide up to 90% of the cost of rent. We have looked at the fixed expenses that businesses were telling us they needed support for, and we came up with new programs to help support rent, keep the lights on, pay the utility and Internet bills, cover the cost of keeping workers on payroll. As well, when workers were laid off, we established programs that supported them in their time of need.
However, there are particular programs that were more specific to the areas they targeted. I know the motion discusses certain hard hit industries. I will draw attention to tourism and hospitality, the arts and culture sectors, and charitable sectors. Statistics Canada put out numbers recently that indicated Canada's GDP has returned to about 97% of pre-pandemic levels, and it has broken it down by industries. The shocking piece of the graphic it published shows the severe impact that remains on sectors that depend on getting people together or coming from different places to travel.
Tourism, hospitality, arts and culture in particular are still very much feeling the pain of the pandemic because we cannot gather in spaces in large numbers. We cannot travel from one jurisdiction to another safely without the potential to spread some of the variants of concern that have caused so much difficulty.
We did develop certain programs that were designed to help these industries over and above the fact that these industries qualify for the cross-sector support programs, which I have canvassed in my remarks today. We developed programs like HASCAP for highly affected sectors to make sure that there was liquidity support for businesses that have been hit particularly hard.
We developed the large employer emergency financing facility, or LEEFF, as a last resort program to ensure liquidity for large employers that had high operating costs to keep them in a position where cashflow enabled them to meet the expenses they would come across so they could remain open and keep Canadians employed.
I mentioned the regional relief and recovery fund, which was tailored to help businesses that may not have qualified for some of the other supports for various reasons. It was offered through the regional development agencies, which, at least in Atlantic Canada, I can say with confidence have an intimate knowledge of the people in communities, who are doing business and need help, and what the regional nuances may be.
Some of these programs have been very successful in their delivery. Others are still rolling out, and we are continuing to hear about how they can be improved, but more work needs to be done.
I want to draw attention to the comments of the previous speaker, who indicated that there was some great exercise in reimagining the Canadian economy in a radical fashion. To be clear, the path forward requires us to look at some very important strategic challenges facing the Canadian economy, which may have been made more apparent as a result of this pandemic. However, I see nothing radical about fighting climate change as part of the economic strategy for Canada going forward. I see nothing radical about investing in housing to ensure vulnerable Canadians have a roof over their heads. I see nothing radical about investing in transit, which disproportionately benefits seniors, low-income Canadians and Canadians living with disabilities, to create more livable communities. I see nothing radical about implementing a strategy to increase women's participation in the Canadian economy. To me, these are sensible and obvious things that the federal government needs to tackle if it wants to maximize our opportunities for success on the back end of this pandemic.
We have learned things through this pandemic, such as social deficits we have accepted for generations at which we need to look, but addressing problems that have been made apparent is the job of government, not some radical agenda. I wanted to ensure that point was put on the record as part of my remarks.
Before I address some of the shortcomings of the motion, I want to provide a bit of context to those who may be listening. This motion is directed, when I read the language contained in its text, at supporting workers and families, and I have mentioned certain areas that have some common ground between different parties. However, when I look at some of the measures that have actually been advanced in recent weeks to support workers and families in various industries, the Conservative party in particular has been implementing delay tactics and playing partisan games in the House of Commons to delay the passage of certain very important supports.
Bill and Bill are perfect examples. Thankfully Bill C-14 came to a vote at second reading and will go to the finance committee in short order. That bill would provide direct financial support to families through an increase in the Canada child benefit. It would enhance the quality of support for local businesses through the regional relief and recovery fund. It would allocate a billion dollars toward fighting the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. I think my Conservative colleagues support those efforts. Nevertheless, they are trying to implement delay tactics to prevent us from getting these supports where they are needed, which is in Canadian communities and Canadian households.
Some of the tactics to delay this kind of bill have included forcing three hours of debate to concur with a report on the competence of the Canadian Tourism Commission president, which could have been dealt with in a second. These kinds of things have no place in our legislative deliberative body. We would be far better served if we could get on with it.
We have seen delay tactics implemented for Bill , which includes the extension of very important supports through our employment insurance system. I would urge my colleagues of all parties to do this. If they have objections to the bill to raise them in debate, but to not use procedural delay tactics to prevent supports from reaching Canadian households, where they are desperately needed.
Substantively with the motion, although I support many of the areas it covers in spirit, there are some deficiencies that are important.
First, the text of the motion ignores many of the programs I have canvassed in my remarks to date. It calls on the government to effectively do things we are already doing. When I look at the call to support the hospitality, tourism and charitable sectors, the motion forgets that we have advanced hundreds of millions of dollars to the charitable sector to date and are willing to look at other additional solutions. The motion ignores the fact that many of these sectors benefited immensely from the Canada emergency wage subsidy. For those who have been laid off in those sectors, support has come to them through the Canada emergency response benefit. It ignores liquidity support we have provided through the Canada emergency business account.
If we are going to be called on to support specific industries, it should be specified what we should be doing to incrementally improve the programs that exist today. The motion creates the impression that here has been no support for these sectors to date, which is patently not the case on the face of it.
Second, one of the problems I have with respect to the piece that deals with airlines, and I deeply value I think the all-party support for finding a solution for the Canadian aviation sector, is that by including what the solution may be in the text of a motion on the floor of the House of Commons could jeopardize negotiations that have been going on for months with the Canadian airlines. Declaring what outcomes should be will interfere with the negotiations the government is currently undertaking.
We have stated publicly that to secure support from the federal government certain conditions ought to be met, including the restoration of regional routes, the refund of passenger tickets that have already been booked and support for the Canadian aerospace sector. We have already established certain things, and prejudging the outcome of those negotiations in the text of an opposition motion is not the best strategy going forward.
Finally, although the motion highlights a few areas, if it purports to be any kind of comprehensive look at what the federal government's strategy ought to be to support Canadian workers and families, it falls woefully short, in particular in the strategy to support families that have been affected, that have lost jobs and that will need income support.
I expect there may be some ideological divisions within the House of Commons on whether the federal government has a role to provide direct income support to families. I can certainly speak for the government side of the House that we do believe the government has role, which is why we implemented the Canada emergency response benefit, why we are moving with certain reforms to the EI system and why we repeatedly state at every opportunity that we plan to be there for Canadians, no matter how long it takes or no matter what it takes, to see them through this pandemic.
We are accused sometimes of not having a strategy to deal with this pandemic. That is obviously not the case. The strategy, in simple terms, is as follows. First is to make every investment that is necessary to defeat COVID-19 as quickly as we can, because we know the best economic policy is a strong public health response. Second is to extend the support to Canadian households and businesses they need so they are still here on the back end of this pandemic, so we can limit economic scarring in the interim and ensure the recovery will be robust. The third phase, which we are not quite at because of the continuing impact of COVID-19, is to make investments that will be focused on job creation and economic growth that is sustainable and inclusive so we can ensure Canada's recovery will actually help ordinary Canadian families and ordinary Canadian communities.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Today in the House, we are debating the motion moved by the Conservative Party, which is calling on the government to do a number of things, including introducing in the next federal budget a number of measures to support workers in the highly impacted hospitality, tourism and charitable sectors; providing repayable loans to airlines with certain conditions; and improving support programs for small and medium businesses to prevent bankruptcies.
The Bloc Québécois has looked at the motion and, generally speaking, finds that what is being proposed is rather interesting and positive. However, we did not find it particularly ambitious, but it is difficult to be against apple pie. We might even say that the Conservatives are working with and helping the Liberals.
The Conservatives are asking for certain measures to be included in the next budget. We have heard that the government is not in a hurry to table a budget. They have not tabled one in two years and the Liberals do not seem to be in a hurry, which is something we have not seen in 50 years.
Canada is the only G7 country that has yet to table a budget. The Liberals think that they can do whatever they want. They seem to think that they are accountable to no one and that they do not need to share their plans. They prefer to have carte blanche and announce flawed programs at the last minute that need to be adopted quickly every time, which we find problematic. We are pushed to ram through flawed programs and then come back to Parliament to vote on something else. It never ends.
Why not propose real programs, a real budget and a real process for analyzing things and asking questions? The Liberals always do things willy-nilly. We would do things differently, but the Liberals seem to like this approach since they keep using it.
The Liberals have also forgotten that they are a minority government. Quebeckers should beware because if the Liberals are acting this way when they have a minority, imagine what they would be like with a majority. It would be unbelievable.
Let us come back to the Conservatives' motion. One of the things that interests me in particular as transport critic is support for the airline industry. I think it is good that the official opposition party's motion calls for such support.
I repeat: The Liberals have forgotten that they are a minority government and act as though they have a majority. Today the Conservatives moved a motion that I am sure will have full support from everyone. The Conservatives are becoming increasingly less ambitious here in Ottawa, especially with respect to the airline industry. The Conservatives are calling for this industry to receive assistance, and we agree, as, I believe, do all of the parties.
Parliament has shown a willingness to provide similar assistance to the airline industry, but the problem is that the government twiddles its thumbs and does not follow through. This pandemic has been going on for almost a year, and the government has yet to do anything for this sector. We are one of the only G7 countries that has not helped its airline industry because our government is twiddling its thumbs.
We also agree with the conditions set out in the motion. However, the Conservatives do not seem to have tried very hard, as it once again looks as though they just copied what the Liberals said.
In November, the government finally announced more or less the same thing as what the Conservatives are asking for. In other words, it said that it might, in fact, provide support for the aerospace industry, but such support would be conditional on ticket refunds and the potential return of Air Canada or at least some other airlines to the regions. What we are seeing in the Conservative motion is basically the same thing. I will have an opportunity to talk more about the return of national airlines, such as Air Canada, to the regions later.
For now, let us talk about the announcement the government made last November. In November, we had been in the midst of the pandemic for eight months. We had been badgering the Liberals in committee and in the House of Commons for eight months. We tabled a petition signed by 33,000 people. We also introduced Bill to refund cancelled air service. Eight months had gone by, but Ottawa still had not done anything. The at the time, who has since been transferred because I think the Liberals had had enough of having him there, finally conceded and announced that he might do something, that it had come to that.
Here we are, March 9, and nothing has happened yet. We were already at wit's end in November. We thought they had finally gotten the message and that the whole issue would be resolved in a week or two, especially since they had already given some indication of where they were headed and what they wanted to do.
However, nothing happened in December. In January, they said it was in the pipeline, but still nothing happened. Nothing happened in February either. Now it is March, and we were treated to a big reveal last week. The Liberals set up a leak to let us know that Air Canada has finally agreed to refund tickets in exchange for government assistance. It is not a done deal yet, though. Today is March 9, and the pandemic has been with us for a year, but all we are entitled to is leaks. That is unbelievable.
This government does not appear to have any backbone whatsoever. Over the past year, it could have brought in the rules, conditions, programs and proposed assistance and insisted on refunds as quickly as possible. Instead, we are dealing with a government that is paralyzed and incapable of doing what needs to be done. The government should not have to beg Air Canada to do the right thing and obey the law. Refunding passengers is neither a favour nor optional; it is an obligation.
Instead of taking action, the government decided to leak information. Consumers are fed up; they have been waiting for a year. Airlines have been getting an interest-free loan for the past year on the backs of consumers, who paid money for services that were never delivered. Meanwhile, consumers have had to pay the balance on the credit cards used to purchase those trips. Anyone who decided not to pay their balance in full will pay dearly for it, a lot more than the airlines, because balances climb quickly when the interest rate is 20% per month, and that is tough on budgets. Meanwhile, the government remains paralyzed and is basically doing nothing.
Beyond air fare refunds, we have our own set of conditions for helping the airlines, including some that are in the Conservatives' motion, namely, introducing restrictions on executive compensation, imposing a ban on paying dividends or share buybacks, prohibiting outsourcing and layoffs, and maintaining contracts with local businesses and workers. We have to stop laying off people here at home and sending our jobs offshore. We must also stop the recall of travel agent commissions. We believe these are basic conditions.
We do, however, have a problem with the last item. It does not make sense for Air Canada to abandon the regional connections. Air Canada has eliminated 30 destinations across the country, completely abandoning our regional carriers who had continued doing their job. When Air Canada was there, we know that it regularly did incredible things, temporarily dropping its prices before—
Madam Speaker, the pandemic has changed people's habits and left many workers and their families in uncertainty. In order to maintain many jobs and promote recovery for various sectors, such as tourism, the federal government should make workers the focus of the recovery.
The next federal budget should provide for better, more flexible support programs that will help maintain good-quality jobs. The federal government should implement sector-specific measures to support workers in highly impacted sectors, such as charities and businesses in the tourism, hospitality, accommodation, arts, entertainment and major events sectors, which experienced major financial losses as a result of the lockdown and public health measures.
For example, the lockdown took a major toll on the tourism industry. International tourists stayed at home, and domestic tourists chose to be cautious. Revenues for seasonal businesses and organizations in the tourism industry are at an all-time low.
With regard to the hotel industry, the lack of international tourists means that hotels throughout Quebec, including those in Quebec City and Montreal, are sitting practically vacant. This was a very challenging season for thousands of inns in welcoming villages across Quebec, such as those along the St. Lawrence River.
The socio-economic impacts on workers in Quebec's major economic sectors have been numerous, including job losses for many young people and students, jobs at small- and large-scale events, bars, restaurants and summer camps. Losing a job is tough. People and families sometimes have to relocate or change careers entirely. This causes stress, especially financial stress. It can even lead to depression. Companies can also lose expertise as a result, putting stress on managers and owners. The topic of bankruptcy is also unavoidable. The health crisis has not affected everyone equally. Some sectors have literally been wiped out, while others will take many months to recover. COVID-19 must not result in a bankruptcy pandemic. Individuals and small and medium-sized businesses that owe the government money because of the assistance they have received must be given time. They must be offered an interest-free deferral. It is also important to support all the local businesses being crushed by multinational e-commerce companies. Improved support programs are therefore needed.
For the past year, the government has been generous. However, its one-size-fits-all programs are costly and ill suited for those hit the hardest. Today, the programs are still plagued by problems with their design, accessibility and processing times.
Job losses and insecurity impact people and their families, our workers and business owners. To minimize job losses and eliminate inadequate programs as much as possible, we need support measures that are effective, targeted and flexible. They are essential for providing support to workers. We must act quickly, because many polls have shown a deterioration in quality of life since March 2020, which is cause for concern.
The future of our small businesses, which are increasingly burdened by debt and must face stiff competition from major chains and multinationals, is also cause for concern. We must support our businesses and organizations better, particularly by reviewing the terms of the assistance measures. For the sectors that have been hit hardest by the crisis and that will be among the last to reopen, the Bloc Québécois is demanding improved support programs, including lending supports for small and medium-sized businesses. The lending supports must be accessible within 30 days of the passage of the motion, to prevent a wave of bankruptcies and layoffs on the horizon.
We also have to consider subsidies and tax credits, without putting businesses further in debt. As they say, an elastic will only stretch so far. If we want to help companies hang onto their jobs and expertise, then subsidies and tax credits are essential. We need skilled employees for the recovery, and we will need intelligence, innovation and experience. Companies should not have to recruit new people, new talent. I am thinking of the tourism and cultural industries, which are currently losing talent, from managers to guides, because they are temporarily closed. The Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy, especially for the sectors that will take some time to recover, are necessary to enable tourism and cultural businesses to recover. These programs must be extended until at least the next tourist season to give the industry time to recover. That is an example of the kind of flexibility I am talking about.
This ecosystem has been gutted over the past year, and we will have to invest in human resources to help it rebuild. Tourism companies, festivals and other large-scale events will have to reinvent themselves and rethink the services they provide in the regions of Quebec.
To help Quebec's tourism and cultural businesses get back on their feet, the federal government should gradually move away from its one-size-fits-all programs and focus on programs that are better targeted and more flexible. These types of programs are more effective and promote innovation. For example, for this year only, the federal government should allow for a special $200 tax credit, 80% of which would be refundable, to support cultural and community organizations with their recovery and help them get back on track as soon as possible. Another example would be implementing a generous tax credit to encourage experienced workers to keep working if they want to, instead of retiring.
Speaking of tourism, to go a bit further, what about the allure of the regions? Why not use tourism as a way to spur personal and regional development by and for young people who are looking to settle in the regions for the healthy lifestyle and great quality of life?
We need to ensure that young people, and those who are not so young, feel proud to live in the regions and contribute to the development of not only the land and its natural beauty, but also its expertise and innovative cultural and tourism projects. Let us allow the next generation to show us the regions of Quebec and Canada at their best.
In order for the next generation to be able to settle in the regions, we need to promote the development of certain sectors. I am thinking in particular of the next generation of farmers. Right now, farmers are better off selling their farms to strangers than passing them on to a family member. The Government of Quebec has once again led the way by changing its own tax rules to encourage the transfer of family farms. Let us put an immediate stop to this injustice. The federal government needs to amend the tax rules so that the intergenerational transfer of farms is at least as profitable as selling to strangers. Obviously, I am thinking about Bill , which is currently being examined by the Standing Committee on Finance.
When it comes to agri-food, Quebec has known for a long time, since Confederation, that the federal government is hindering the development of Quebec's agricultural model, particularly today, when it is favouring other export sectors at the expense of Quebec agriculture.
In the agri-food sector, we have seen how fragile the globalized supply chains are. To ensure food security for our people, we must support our farmers and enable them to produce in a fair market that supports healthy products from local businesses that can again be handed down from one generation to the next.
Then there are processors and temporary foreign workers. The federal government must help farmers, processors and businesses continue to bring in temporary foreign workers. We must improve the temporary foreign worker programs to make them more flexible and more tailored to business conditions, without overlooking regional businesses. It takes over eight hours to drive to Abitibi—Témiscamingue, which makes things complicated for a farmer who wants to personally pick up the foreign worker from the airport.
I will conclude with a few words about support for land use and local development. Obviously, the major issue is access to high-speed Internet and the cell network. To support regional economic development, we want the federal government to transfer the necessary funds to Quebec immediately so all Quebeckers can connect to high-speed Internet. The delays are never-ending, and Canada has proven itself incapable of breaking down the biggest barriers to the competition that Quebec telecom companies large and small face to ensure accessible, affordable telecom service in Quebec. There are nine federal programs, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Doing business with the federal government is very complicated.
Quebec also needs the means to create a system that will help restore services to the regions. I am talking about airline service. However, Ottawa must not get in the way of financial support and regional connections Quebec has set up. I will come back to that. Air Canada cannot be subsidized forever. There are companies such as Propair in Abitibi—Témiscamingue that want to serve the regions.
In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the motion. The federal government has now gone nearly two years without presenting a proper budget. The last budget was presented in the spring of 2019, before the election and, of course, before the pandemic. We need action, and we need it now. A great many businesses, their workers and their families are watching. This has been a long wait. Support is needed quickly, so we must act quickly by adopting this motion.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time this morning with the member for .
I am pleased to speak today to this opposition motion which calls, in part, on the government to provide assistance for the hard-hit airline sector in our country.
This is a timely topic. If media reports are to be believed, we could hear any day now about the outcome of negotiations that have been going on for months between the government and the airlines. We have seen those negotiations stall in past months and we may again, so who knows how long it will take to hear about support for this hard-hit sector.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the tens of thousands of men and women who work in Canada's air sector and who have lost their jobs over the past year due to the pandemic's disproportionate impact on the air-travel sector: pilots and flight attendants, mechanics, ground crews, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers and all of those working in the many diverse aspects of air travel. I hope that if any of these folks are watching and listening to the debate today, they take heart in the fact that there seems to be broad agreement in this place that government help is needed.
The motion before us is from the Conservatives. While I agree with its substance, I find it interesting that on one hand, the Conservatives are hand-wringing over the magnitude of pandemic relief that this country has put forward, while on the other they are calling for billions of dollars in government help for the air sector. I will leave the Conservatives to sort that out among themselves.
The fact is that the air sector does need help. Prior to the pandemic, the aviation sector directly employed 241,000 people in Canada and supported close to another 150,000 indirect jobs in the supply chain. Very few of those jobs still remain. Month after month, we have seen new rounds of layoffs at the big airlines and, sadly, no action from the government.
It is good to see the Conservatives echoing very closely the points we in the NDP have been putting forward since the beginning of the pandemic. First, any assistance to the air sector must focus on maintaining employment, not on executive bonuses or dividends for shareholders. Second, assistance must come with a commitment to restore and maintain Canada's very important regional routes. Third, airlines must refund passengers the money they are owed for cancelled flights.
Many Canadians are rightly skeptical about government bailouts, which is why it is so important that strong conditions are put in place to ensure that public funds are spent in the public interest. Unfortunately, in the case of the wage subsidy, we saw a program that was not structured strongly enough to prevent layoffs. Air Canada, for example, received over $500 million in the wage subsidy, making it one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program in our country, but it laid off over 20,000 workers with no financial assistance whatsoever. The company could have chosen to furlough those workers, utilizing the wage subsidy and allowing them to retain their benefits, their seniority and their pensions as many other companies did. Unfortunately, Air Canada chose otherwise.
Nor was the wage subsidy structured strongly enough to ensure it went only to those corporations that truly needed it. An analysis by the Financial Post, which I know my colleagues will be familiar with, showed that at least 68 publicly traded Canadian companies continued to pay out billions of dollars in dividends to their shareholders while receiving the wage subsidy. To ordinary Canadians, those facts just do not seem right. Thus, in the case of the deal being negotiated between the government and the airlines as we speak, it is essential that strong conditions are agreed upon that put employees first and prevent corporations from using public dollars to fund executive bonuses or dividends for shareholders.
The second set of conditions relates to regional routes. As the pandemic took its financial toll on airlines, smaller regional routes were the first to fall. Though often less profitable, these routes are nonetheless vital lifelines for communities, especially smaller communities. Even during the pandemic, people still need to travel, whether for work as essential workers or for medical appointments. We also know that these regional routes often support mail services and carry freight.
With Canada’s regional bus service much diminished in recent decades, cuts to regional air routes leave people with few options.
In Atlantic Canada, routes have been cut from 140 to just 29, with only nine of those connecting the region to the rest of Canada. The riding I represent in northwest B.C. experienced first-hand how the commercial decisions of the big airlines could leave communities high and dry. For months, my home community of Smithers was without scheduled air passenger service. It has since been restored, but scheduled flights remain suspended in Prince Rupert and Sandspit, as well as in other communities across the country.
Given the severe impact of the pandemic on passenger numbers, it was not surprising that these regional routes were suspended and reduced. However, airlines provide an essential service for small communities, and if the government is going to provide financial support to the sector, restoring these essential transportation links should be an integral part of the arrangement.
Supporting regional routes will not only mean people can get to their medical appointments in the city or commute as essential workers. It will also give tourism operators some certainty that their clientele will be able to return once it is safe to do so. It will give small municipally owned airports, which rely on the revenue from scheduled flights to maintain their infrastructure, some financial certainty. It will give rural regions some comfort in knowing the pandemic will not be allowed to further deepen existing geographic inequities and that, as the recovery takes hold, every part of the country will have a fighting chance.
In a country the size of Canada, maintaining a basic level of service to all corners of the country is not a luxury. It is a basic need. The restoration of regional routes must be a central component of any sectoral relief for the airlines.
Last, on passenger refunds, since the beginning of the pandemic New Democrats have been calling on the government to act and make passengers whole again when it comes to the money owed to them by the airlines. My colleague, the member for first called for this in a letter to the on April 13, yet while we in the NDP spent months going to bat for passengers, the Conservatives were nowhere to be found until months later.
This motion today shows us that the Conservatives have finally located their boarding pass and made it to the gate in one piece on this issue, which is good news because the more voices in this place calling for refunds, the better.
It is frankly unacceptable that the government has left Canadian passengers waiting for over a year to receive money that is rightly theirs. From the standpoint of basic consumer rights, this simply should never have happened. If people pay for a service and then do not receive the service purchased, they expect a refund. This applies to things we buy online as much as it should apply to a $1,000 airline ticket.
The people affected are Canadian families, and I have heard from lots of these folks. In the midst of a global health emergency and the worst economic recession in Canadian history, these ordinary people have been saddled with unnecessary financial anxiety.
When he was pressed on this issue, the ’s response was totally unsatisfactory. On June 16, he said:
In the best of all worlds, we would like to make sure that all passengers are happy, but as you know, the airlines have been hammered by this pandemic.
In other words, corporations come first and the government will get to the people when it can. It does not have to be this way.
Other countries took very different approaches. In the U.S., the EU and the U.K., governments mandated refunds from the airlines. As a result, American passengers had the ability to claim refunds from Canadian airlines while Canada’s own citizens were denied that right.
The hard-earned money of Canadian passengers has now become a bargaining chip in a high-stakes negotiation between the government and the airlines. With the issue of refunds so closely tied to the negotiations around financial relief, Canadians are going to rightly wonder whether it is the airlines or the government that is refunding passengers.
To conclude, when the public health directive is to stay home, the hardest hit sectors are the ones that move people around. In the air sector, the pandemic has cost tens of thousands of jobs and threatened services that are central to the functioning of our country.
Few question that the government has a role to play, but based on the history of bailouts, many are skeptical of the government’s ability to structure support in a way that truly protects the public interest.
The motion we are debating today speaks to some of the conditions that could ensure public dollars are invested in the public good and not simply converted to private profits.
Mr. Speaker, it is a huge honour and privilege to rise to speak on today's motion. I want to thank my colleague from for tabling this very important motion today because we know that so many main street businesses have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Truly, we do not talk enough about small business owners being the unsung heroes of this pandemic. They closed their doors to protect public health. These small businesses and their workers are not just the engine of job creation in Canada in the important role they play in every community across our country, but these mom and pop shops also keep our communities running and need our support now more than ever.
Small businesses need a government that helps them access the services and infrastructure they need to recover and thrive and expand while investing in a healthy, intelligent workforce. We know how COVID-19 has dramatically altered the environment in which our small businesses operate. Various provinces are going through different stages of lockdown. Experts are predicting that 181,000 businesses are at risk of closing over the next year. This would result in the loss of approximately 2.4 million jobs.
While many of the federal relief programs have provided much-needed support to both employers and employees, many small business owners continue to fall through the cracks. In fact, 76% of businesses have said that 2020 was the most difficult year they have ever had in business. CFIB data shows that only 51% of businesses are fully open and only 39% fully staffed.
I am really glad that are talking about tourism and hospitality because tourism was responsible for over $105 billion in GDP and one in 10 Canadian jobs before the pandemic. Right now the tourism economy is in such crisis that there are 531,000 fewer Canadians employed in that sector than a year ago.
When we think about what the government has been doing, we know that the and the Liberals have been going to great lengths since the beginning of the pandemic to protect big corporations. I talked earlier about the big banks. The government offered only very little to workers at the beginning, only wanting to pay 10% of the wage subsidy initially. It was the NDP, working alongside labour and small business, that pushed back and forced the government to go to 75%. The government did not want to help with rent initially. It brought forward a proposal that excluded many tenants in a botched program, and we continued to apply pressure. The government did fix that program, but still has not backdated it for all of those small business owners who were not able to access it.
We see many small businesses struggling, but we still see big corporations getting access to these programs, like Bell and Imperial Oil, which have been taking millions of dollars in public COVID relief and paying millions in dividends to their rich stakeholders. The still has not fixed these gaps in the programs and has refused to do it.
The sense of urgency could not be greater. The government rolled out an extension and expansion of the CEBA given the extent of the lockdowns and the uncertainty impacting small businesses. We were glad to see the extension, but many businesses cannot get access to it. MPs' phones are ringing off the hook because small businesses cannot get answers on why they are now being excluded from the expansion of the loan program. These are businesses that received the CEBA loan program initially, and they need help.
I do not think the government understands the emergency part of its emergency programs. We hear now that it is not going to table a budget until possibly April or later. I am thinking about the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, which was just informed that it is going to get 83% less than it was expecting to operate on. This is an organization that delivered supports to over 800 businesses. It was a vehicle to get $15 million out the door in the fastest growing, and most-at-risk sector in the tourism industry. They cannot wait until April or May. They are going to be laying off departments that are critical to our recovery. I call on the government to get support to those organizations while it is dragging its feet on getting a budget out the door.
My colleague from mentioned that the NDP has been calling on the government to make sure that we get refunds to passengers. We also have to make sure that we protect the travel agents who collected commissions. We want both to happen. We want the refunds to happen. We want to make sure that people get money, not just some promise down the road. As well, travel agents tend to be women, and we know that women have been disproportionally affected by COVID. They should not be hit with having to repay the large amounts of commissions.
I am glad to see that the motion included the aviation industry. We have been hearing Unifor call for a national aerospace industrial strategy to protect the air transportation industry, which has been absolutely decimated throughout this crisis. We want to hear what supports are coming forward there.
I am also glad that we are talking about bus transportation. We need to ensure that we have strong support for the bus industry. For example, Tofino Bus in my riding is critical to the transportation needs of our communities and for access to health care and other needs. The Coast to Coast Bus Coalition is calling for a national highway transportation board so that it can create an essential bus network in partnership with the motor coach industry. This really needs to happen. The government cannot continue to download this onto the provinces.
We are not hearing enough about start-ups. They cannot access the CEBA loans, the wage subsidy or the commercial rent assistance program. They have been completely forgotten. This is a generation of businesses that have been abandoned by the government. They can demonstrate they are genuine, through their leases and the wages they have been paying, and it is absolutely unfair that they have been forgotten. We need to provide support. The government needs to come to their aid and ensure that it expands these programs to help them out. Giving out more loans is not going to do it. They need access to the same programs that their neighbouring competitors are getting.
We also believe that big corporations that have profited from the pandemic should pay their fair share, so that we can support the backbone of our communities: our small businesses. I am not talking about the bike shop that might be doing well during the pandemic. I am talking about the Amazons, those big corporations that are making excess profits from the pandemic.
We want the government to ensure that it is providing support into the future and that the wage subsidy is extended not just to June but to the end of the pandemic, which is what the tourism industry has been asking for. We were glad to see that the pressure we applied last week made the government extend this to June, but it needs to go further. As well, the government needs a hotline for small businesses to call to get assistance in applying for government supports, as I said earlier. This has to happen.
One thing we are not talking enough about is the critical importance of child care for small business owners and for our recovery. We know that women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Child care is absolutely critical. We are not talking about a child care program that starts in 2028. We need the government to act now. The New Democrats understand how important child care and affordable housing are for supporting economic growth.
We also need a hard cap on credit card merchant fees. Australia, the U.K. and Europe pay less than one-third of the rates we are paying in Canada. Members heard me ask a question of the Conservatives earlier. They believe that government should get out of the way and that the free market will take care of things. Well, this is how it is playing out for Canadian merchants: They are paying exorbitant rates. The government needs to intervene, like governments have in the EU, Australia and the U.K.
Many employees have lost their pharmacare and dental care plans, as they have been disconnected from their employers. We need a pharmacare and dental care plan. It would save small business owners approximately $600 per employee. It is absolutely critical that we provide this important social infrastructure to support these businesses.
To get back to the sense of urgency, we need the government to act with urgency to cover the gaps for start-ups. We should get the CEBA loans out the door for those who have not been able to access the programs. Huge economic leakages will be created if we do not save small businesses in our communities. They are critical to the survival of our communities and critical for our future and getting through the pandemic with a strong economic recovery.