Mr. Speaker, it is important to remind everyone in the House that the health measures are important.
I want to start by humbly thanking the people of my riding of Joliette for putting their faith in me once again. I also thank all the volunteers and campaigners who pitched in during this election campaign. I am truly honoured to speak on behalf of the people I represent in Joliette.
I will be talking about Bill , regarding the economic impacts of the pandemic.
As members know, the pandemic caused a huge economic downturn, a recession. Some sectors had to be shut down to comply with health measures, and these closures dealt a blow to the economy.
Over the past century, economics has shown us that the least bad solution during these periods is for the government to step in with income support measures. We had measures such as the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy. These measures obviously need to be specific and well targeted if they are to be effective. This is why the Bloc Québécois was generally in favour of them. The Bloc is in favour of effective spending and against waste.
We now seem to be emerging from the pandemic-induced economic crisis, and that is encouraging. The latest statistics released by the government show that for period 21, there were just over 300,000 applications for the wage subsidy, which is about 10 times fewer than there were a few periods ago. We appear to be on the right track.
However, we all know that some economic sectors, businesses and workers have been hit harder by the pandemic. Some sectors will need more time to get back to the way things were before the pandemic. We think it is important to bring in effective programs to help these sectors overcome the pandemic. We believe in that, because we want to be able to count on the women and men who work in these sectors after the pandemic, once the new normal sets in. In the meantime, however, we have to be prepared to work together for the common good.
In one of our first encounters after her appointment during the last Parliament, I pointed out to the the importance of targeted measures and predictability. Unlike in previous years, when this was rarely the case, these two components are included in Bill C‑2.
The two measures proposed in the bill will apply until May 2022, with the possibility of being extended until July. That provides some important predictability and, for the first time, specific sectors are targeted. This all seems great, and we applaud it.
Right now, the government is telling the House that action is urgently needed. The last period has ended, and the bill must be passed to avoid an interruption in subsidies. Therefore, we must hurry up, so much so that the government wants to invoke closure.
I would like to remind the House that the Liberal Party and its government are the ones responsible for this urgent situation. Did the public really want a general election? It seems that they did not, but the government was hoping to win a majority. Voters said no. Moreover, it took the government two months to recall the House. During that time, we could have been studying Bill C‑2 and taking the time to ensure that it adequately meets people's needs and the needs of our economic sectors. We did not get that time, because the government preferred to delay opening the new Parliament and resuming the work of the House.
Now the government is saying that action is urgently needed. That is obvious. It reminds me of a student who has two weeks to study or do their assignment, but who waits until the day before the deadline or the exam and realizes they must get going. Yes, it is urgent, but the student should have started earlier.
The government could stand to learn that lesson. It needs to take responsibility. If Bill C‑2 passes second reading, and the Bloc Québécois will soon be sharing our concerns about that possibility, we believe it will be extremely important to take the time to study the provisions properly in committee.
The bill sets out percentages for sectors such as tourism and culture. There are some more targeted and more accommodating proposals. There are measures for other sectors in general. The bill requires a business to have lost 40% or 50% of its revenue before being eligible for assistance. Are these percentages carefully targeted? For the Canada emergency wage subsidy, people will receive a specific percentage. Is that percentage appropriate?
All of this must be studied in committee. We need senior officials to explain the reasoning behind these percentages and share their figures and information. We can then decide whether the policy proposed in this bill is appropriately targeted. We need to do the work. We will have to hear from different groups and sectors in society about whether the measure is good and whether they have any amendments to suggest.
When the House passed economic aid bills under a gag order, the government had to come back to the House a month or two later to say that it was wrong, that it had made mistakes and that it had cut corners. Why? It is because those bills were all passed at the last minute, without taking a step back and without taking the time to study the bills and improve them. Sometimes, when we try to move too fast, it slows us and everyone else down.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it was important to act quickly, so there may have been flaws in the legislation. However, the government could have quickly done better by targeting the measures more carefully and by taking more time to examine the issue, rather than proroguing Parliament or, more recently, calling an election and taking two months before coming back to the House.
I would like to remind members that the wording of Bill C‑2, as it now stands, gives the a lot of discretion. If certain sectors need to be added during the designated assistance period, she would have the power to do so, just as she could change the percentages if needed. Our hope is that, if this bill is passed, the government will use that discretion to support industries properly and respond to needs quickly.
One group is conspicuously absent from this bill: self-employed workers. Yes, there is the rent subsidy, but there is essentially nothing else in the bill. The people I have in mind are self-employed workers in the cultural sector. Supporting them is extremely important, but there is nothing in the bill as it stands. That is an issue I have with the principle of the bill. Why were these workers left out? That is a huge problem.
The government has hinted that there will be a program a few months from now, but how are these self-employed workers supposed to make it through until then with no income? This is very troubling.
Members may recall that, a few years ago, technicians and salaried employees in Quebec's cultural sector were asked to switch to self-employment to better meet the industry's needs. That is what they did, so now we need to help and support the sector. There are lots of self-employed workers in the economy, but the government is not giving them anything in this bill. That is a problem.
This sector is made up of people, women and men who need support. We must help them overcome the effects of the pandemic, which they are still grappling with. We have not forgotten them, and this oversight forces us to question our support for the very principle of this bill.
That was an overview of our thoughts on the bill. Once I have answered members' questions, the House will hear a wonderful speech from my colleague from Terrebonne.
Mr. Speaker, I just want to take a moment to thank, once again, the constituents of Elmwood—Transcona for having placed their trust in me to represent them in this place. I want to thank my wife, Janelle, and our children, Robert and Noah, who support me in my parliamentary service, as well as all of our family, friends and the many volunteers who contributed to my being here today.
I find this bill and the topic of pandemic supports interesting. I think it speaks to the crossroads that Canada finds itself at, in the face of two great challenges. On the one hand there is the challenge of pandemic recovery, and on the other there is the challenge of the climate crisis; they both raise similar questions.
They raise questions of how to support workers who suddenly see their industry dramatically hurt by forces beyond their control. They both raise the question of how to support vulnerable people who are not able to work through times of crisis and the economic effects of those crises, like inflation, as an example.
They both raise the question of how to direct investment in infrastructure and services in a way that makes us more resilient to the challenges we face. They both raise the question of how we decide who should pay the costs of these investments and what the mechanisms are by which those payments ought to be made. These are just some of the important questions that the pandemic and the climate crisis both raise.
Getting the pandemic recovery right is important, certainly in its own right, but I want to begin with a reminder that these are not questions that are going to be over with the pandemic. These are questions that we are going to face in the years to come as the climate crisis worsens.
The Liberals have been very clear in introducing this bill that, as far as they are concerned, we are turning the page on the pandemic. If we look around, it is quite clear that we are not past the pandemic. In fact, I heard many Liberal members yesterday in the debate about a hybrid Parliament make arguments about how we are not past the pandemic and how the effects of the pandemic and the imperatives of the pandemic still very much rule our lives.
Certainly, if we look around at different parts of the country, we can see that, in fact, we are in a fourth wave. Even when the public health crisis has passed, I think it is quite reasonable to expect that the economic consequences of the pandemic will extend past the end of the public health crisis and take longer to resolve.
Earlier this week, the said that Canada has recovered all the jobs lost during the pandemic, and that statistic may true in terms of the number of available jobs out there. However, it is also true that the unemployment rate is almost 7%. It is also true that the inflation rate is over 4% and that employers are complaining about a labour shortage.
What do all those numbers mean? We often throw figures and statistics out in this place without getting to the core of what those numbers mean for people across the country. They mean that there are many Canadians looking for work, but they are not the Canadians with the skills, the education and the experience that employers are looking for right now for their business. Otherwise, they would find it a lot easier to get that job, and more employers would be satisfied that they can find workers.
It means that even as this mismatch in the labour market is frustrating employers and keeping Canadians who want a job unemployed, both people and businesses are facing rising costs after depleting all of their reserves trying to cope with the economic disruptions of the pandemic. These numbers mean that it is absolutely not the time for the federal government to turn its back on the people who need help the most, yet this is the direction that Bill takes us.
New Democrats have been very clear that we believe the Canada recovery benefit should have been maintained for the time being and restored to its original level of $500 per week. We opposed the cut this summer to $300 per week. We were critical of the government not only for simply ending the CERB and doing it with only two days' notice, but also by choosing not to use the option they had of extending the CRB until November 20 just by regulation.
By a wave of their hand, they could have allowed for another month of support for the almost 900,000 people who were still availing themselves of the financial help under the Canada recovery benefit. They chose not to do that. That still would have meant that the benefits only lasted until a couple of days before we assembled here to talk about next steps.
We know that the cost of living never went down. In fact, it was quite the contrary, which is why it did not make sense to reduce the benefit. It was at $2,000 a month. The costs that people were facing for housing, food, home heating and other things went up and the Liberals thought it was time to bring the benefit down, leaving people to wonder how they were supposed to pay more for the essentials with less money in their pockets.
One has to assume it was a simple attempt to starve people back to work: to make sure that they did not have enough from the benefit and maybe they would rejoin the job market. When reducing the benefit to $300 a week did not work, the government decided to cancel it altogether. The problem is, as I mentioned before, the people who need jobs are not the people employers are looking for. If so, they would be employed. It has already been a month since there has been no CRB support. No one has received CRB support for the last month, yet we have not heard from employers that suddenly they are able to hire the people they need and want to hire in their businesses. That is because other factors are driving the labour shortage.
Consider that many people work in industries that have yet to bounce back. Jobs are not necessarily available in the sectors they had experience and training in, which can make it hard to find work. Consider that many people who were already close to retirement got to see what retirement life would be like, either by working a bit from home, or because they were laid off for a while during the pandemic. To protect their personal health, or just because they found that they could actually get by and they liked retirement life and it was their time to do that, they chose not to go back to work. They had worked hard all their lives and now it was time to take their retirement. There may be more early retirements as more workers are called back to the workplace and employers begin to end work-from-home mandates.
If the Liberals were serious about having the backs of workers until the end of the pandemic, they would be working with employers to identify the jobs they need to fill and the inventory of skills needed for those positions, and then train people off of the pandemic benefit into the jobs that are available instead of simply cutting the benefit. Instead, they chose to reduce and terminate that benefit and financial support that could have made it easier for people to pursue the education and training they needed to get those jobs.
This mean-spirited and ill-conceived approach to wrapping up pandemic benefits does not bode well for the promised reforms to the employment insurance system, because those reforms have to be about financially supporting people while they get the education and training they need to fill the positions that are available in the labour market. The Liberals had an opportunity to do that. With pandemic benefits, they failed to do that and now we have to worry that the same failure will plague the reform of the employment insurance system. I have to say, they are sure taking their sweet time on this. We have known for a long time that there are structural problems with the employment insurance system and we have not seen the Liberals act quickly in order to rectify those.
We talked about the costs of these pandemic programs. It is worth noting that what fails to be mentioned is that at the peak of the CERB and CRB, about nine million Canadians were availing themselves of those programs. When the program was cut there were fewer than 900,000 people on those programs, which means over a 90% reduction in demand for the program. That means a 90% or more cut in the cost of the program, and that is before we consider that the Liberals cut the amount of the benefit by 40%. The ongoing cost of maintaining CRB for another six or 12 months is significantly less than what we have already paid out in CRB spending.
Even if we accept for the sake of argument that it is time to pivot, as the has said, the targeted approach that the Liberals are taking fails by its own lights. I take the example of the tourism and hospitality sector. The government's targeted program is based on the wage subsidy program. It is a program that is only going to work for workers who are employed by somebody else, when many people such as independent travel agents are actually self-employed. There is no small number of people in that industry. About half of the independent travel agents fall into the category of being self-employed. About 80,000 or 90,000 are represented by the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors. We are talking about 40,000 to 45,000 people. Those are some of the 800-and-some thousand who were still on the CRB.
That is an industry that is composed of about 85% women. A government that likes to pride itself on gender analysis of its policies clearly has not done its homework here, and there is a gendered impact of the failure to extend a benefit like the CRB, because these women are going to have no income support under this.
We spoke earlier about the arts and culture sector where many self-employed workers have no financial support. These people no longer receive financial support such as the CERB because these programs no longer exist. Without an employer, they have no way to receive financial assistance.
Bill would also ignore the opportunity to address problems with the Canada emergency business account. We have heard from many small businesses, which clearly needed the support the most, that the one-year repayment deadline in order to enjoy the forgivable loan portion of that program is simply unrealistic, because they continue to be in serious economic trouble.
Let us talk about the Canada worker lockdown benefit. When I asked the earlier today, we heard that it is going to be retroactive to October 23, so it is okay that they cut the CRB with only two days' notice for the people who were still on it. However, the Associate Minister of Finance confirmed earlier today that no region in Canada meets the criteria for the Canada worker lockdown benefit so far, so the fact that it is retroactive to October 23 is completely meaningless. It will not help anyone, because there is no region that meets the criteria in the legislation to date. Maybe there will be down the road, up to May 7. That is the cut-off for the Canada worker lockdown benefit. That is interesting, because the other provisions allow the government, by order in council, to extend those provisions to the end of June or the beginning of July. There is no such provision for the Canada worker lockdown benefit. That will end in May, short of another legislative intervention.
When it came to the CRB, the government decided not to extend the benefits through October and November. They extended the other programs they could, but they chose not to do that for the CRB. When it comes to the CRB's replacement program, the government has created a program that does not cover the time between October 23 and now. The Liberals have also chosen not to give themselves the option to extend that program past May 7. We have to wonder what workers have done to the government to make it feel such a strong sense of retribution.
This is just part of why this bill would really fail to take us in the direction that we have to go, and I think it is going to fail to address some of the immediate economic problems that we have, such as the labour shortage that employers are so keen to solve. It would actually take the government showing leadership and working with employers and employees or workers who are out of jobs to figure out how to match their skills to the jobs that are available.
These are just some of the problems with the bill as written. In fact, the omissions from the bill are worse. The Liberals have failed to take the opportunity to implement a low-income CERB repayment amnesty. We know a lot of people who are already poor took the government at its word when it said that if they needed help they should go ahead and apply for help, and if they had doubts about whether they were eligible for the help that the government had created, they should apply. The government would figure it out later and they would not be punished or persecuted.
I think of the kids who aged out of foster care in Manitoba during the pandemic. They went to the provincial government, because there were no jobs available in the summer of 2020. Let us not kid ourselves. It was not like there were a bunch of jobs on the market that they could have walked in to, and the provincial government said they could not apply for help from the province until they had applied for every other avenue of help. The government showed them the website for CERB and directed them to apply there. That was a no-fail application process, so of course those kids were going to succeed and they were going to receive CERB money. They did, and now the federal government is asking that they pay that back. The province sure as hell is not going to give them retroactive social assistance payments to cover the period that they missed because they applied for this federal program. Instead of showing some compassion, the federal government is chasing them down for money they do not have. What that will do is make it harder for them to get a proper start in life because they are already starting from behind. That is why we need to see a low-income CERB repayment amnesty in Canada now.
I think of George from my riding, who is on the GIS. He applied for the CERB because he lost some employment income. It turns he just did not meet the $5,000 qualifying income threshold. He just missed it. Therefore, he has been asked to give that money back.
George filed properly. He paid his taxes on that money, and because he was paid the net amount, he never got the gross amount. The government wants the gross amount back. On top of that, the government has included that income from CERB in what it is demanding back in the eligibility calculation for his guaranteed income supplement. He has had his guaranteed income supplement cut by $750 a month, while the government asks for the gross amount that it paid him in CERB when all he got was the net amount. His normal income has been shredded by the government's uncompassionate approach to the GIS and its failure so far to fix this problem, which is affecting up to 88,000 seniors across the country.
I want to talk about these clawbacks a bit too. People were told that if they need help to take the help. We were told: “We are here for you. We have your back. We have your back until the end of the pandemic.” Seniors who were working to top up their GIS took the government at its word. What they found out this July was that they were not getting a pandemic benefit, they were getting an advance on their guaranteed income supplement for the next year, except they were not told so they did not bank the money.
We know of some people who finally got dental work done. They had problems in their mouth that had been causing them pain and plaguing them for years. They could not afford to fix it before because we do not have any kind of national dental strategy, which is an issue for another day that I am happy to talk about, and it is something that the federal government should get moving on. Therefore, they used some of that money to fix their teeth.
Sometimes people used some of that money to fix their car, which is how they get to work. They used it to pay off bills that they had not been able to pay off and on which the interest was piling up on. These people did not misuse the funds, but it turns out they were spending tomorrow's paycheque without knowing it because the government did not bother to tell them.
There have been recent media reports that show the government knew about this problem at least as early of May of this year. The GIS reassessment happened in July. Why the government could not be bothered to at least issue a letter to let people know so that they could begin to develop a strategy, I do not know. It is shameful and the government has a real obligation to let them know.
I have to say I was a little shocked this week. I heard the , in response to a media question on this very point at a press conference, say, “It's a more complicated issue than one would think because there's serious kind of fairness and equity issue for people who may have earned similar amounts in employment income. If a senior worked last year and made an equivalent amount, they too would have lost their GIS or had their GIS potentially reduced, and so we're working on a path forward that recognizes this.”
It is interesting because the Liberals have no concept of equity and fairness when it comes to the largest corporations. Only when it comes to the poor, are they willing to nickel and dime.
Let us talk about the Canada wage subsidy program and quote from the good work of The Globe and Mail on this issue. This is from May 10, 2021:
Beyond a handful of hedge funds, some of the largest wealth managers in the country - household names such as Franklin Templeton, CI Financial, Gluskin Sheff & Associates - collected [the wage subsidy]. Collectively, these three companies manage close to $110 billion of assets in Canada. The Scotiabank Hedge Fund Index, which measures the monthly performance of Canadian-domiciled hedge funds with assets under management of at least $15 million, shows an average return of 11% in 2020, the best year for the industry in a decade.
Another wage subsidy recipient was the hedge fund JM Fund Management appears in the same article:
It's JM Catalyst Fund had such a good 2020, with outsized returns not seen by the fund since 2016, that it was ranked as the third-best performing hedge fund at the 2020 Canadian Heritage Fund Awards.
Where is the concern for equity and fairness there? Companies who had competitors who did not take the wage subsidy are not being asked to pay any of that back, and they walked off with tens of millions of dollars, but God forbid that somebody who is poor got an extra couple of thousand dollars to fix their car, fix their teeth or pay off a late bill.
That is why I think this bill gets us off on the exact wrong foot for the pandemic recovery, because that should be about making sure that the people at the top are paying for the recovery and the people at the bottom are getting the help they need, and this is not what we would be doing with this bill.
Mr. Speaker, good afternoon to you and all of my colleagues who are here in person and here virtually. I wish a happy Friday to everyone.
It is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill , which continues to support Canadian businesses and workers from coast to coast to coast.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for . He is a big supporter of the agricultural community in Canada and a great friend.
I am pleased to take part in today's debate on this very important bill, Bill , which would provide and continue to provide essential supports that are needed now to continue Canada's robust economic recovery from the COVID recession.
When the crisis hit, our government rapidly rolled out a full range of effective broad-based programs to support Canadians through our country's greatest economic shock since the Great Depression. Yes, we had the backs of Canadian businesses, we had the backs of Canadian workers and, most importantly, we had the backs of Canadian families. These actions were necessary and unprecedented in our lifetime.
These programs were a lifeline for workers and businesses across the country. They protected millions of jobs and helped hundreds of thousands of Canadian businesses get through the worst of the pandemic.
However, these emergency measures were always meant to be temporary to help us to get through the crisis. Fortunately, we are now entering a new phase that looks very different from the darkest moments in our fight against COVID‑19.
Thanks to one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world, including almost 90% in the region of York, the region I represent in my riding of Vaughan—Woodbridge, most businesses are safely reopening and employment is now back to pre-pandemic levels. However, we know there are still workers and businesses whose livelihoods are being affected as a result of the pandemic-related restrictions on activities. This is why it is important to pivot our support measures to more targeted measures that would provide the help where it is needed most and continue to create jobs and growth while prudently managing government spending.
I am happy to say, which I believe the also said, that Moody's and Standard & Poor's have reaffirmed and confirmed our country's AAA credit rating. We are only one of a few countries in the world to maintain an AAA credit rating from the rating agencies, which is great to see and is thanks to the hard work of all Canadians.
Some may wonder how we can tell we have reached a turning point in Canada's economic recovery from the COVID recession. Allow me to highlight the markers of our government's successful economic response plan that have brought us to where we are today.
Last year, in the throne speech, our government promised to create one million jobs, a goal that we reached in September of this year, when Canada recovered all of the jobs that were lost at the height of the recession caused by COVID‑19. That means three million jobs were recovered since the spring of 2022. In fact, according to the Statistics Canada labour force survey from October, the reported unemployment rate is now 6.7%, the lowest it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of jobs continues to be above the pre-pandemic level.
In fact, Canada's job recovery rate is well ahead of that of the United States, which has recovered only 91% of the jobs it lost at the height of the pandemic.
It is a welcomed sight that we can all see the differences between this fall and the one prior. Shops and businesses are open in my riding and from coast to coast to coast. Canadians are doing their part to make sure we have a safe reopening by rolling up their sleeves to get their vaccines and following public health advice. Children, including two of my three children, are also back in school, enabling parents to fully participate in the workforce. The early learning and childhood agreements our government is putting in place, with a total of nine agreements signed to date with the provinces and territories, are already making a difference in the lives and wallets of families across this beautiful country.
We have accomplished all of this together while sticking to health restrictions that have saved lives and putting in place the necessary resources and supports Canadians and Canadian businesses needed to survive, the small local businesses in all our ridings that we have the privilege of representing.
However, as welcome as these economic markers and signs of recovery are, our government recognizes that it has been an uneven recovery and some of the necessary health measures that continue to save lives, while less restrictive than before, are still restricting some economic activity. What this means for our government is that we are entering what I hope and believe will be the final pivot in delivering the support needed to ensure a robust, inclusive and sustainable recovery that benefits all Canadians.
The service industry continues to drive economic recovery, but progress in the retail sector has been partly offset by losses in other sectors, such as the restaurant and accommodation sector. As the indicated in October, a number of business revenue support programs have ended now that the economy has reopened.
With this change, and through Bill , which we are debating today and which I hope all opposition parties will support, we are moving from the very broad-based support, which was appropriate at the height of our lockdowns, to more targeted measures that would provide help exactly where needed. This would include extending the Canada recovery hiring program until May 2022, which would help us finish the fight against COVID-19 and continue to ensure lost jobs are recovered as quickly as possible.
For eligible employers with current revenue losses of about 10%, our government would provide a subsidy rate of 50% to enable employers to hire the staff they need to grow and thrive.
In addition, our government is proposing to deliver targeted support to businesses that are still facing significant pandemic-related challenges. Let us think about the businesses, such as the hotels in a typically busy tourist designation that has not seen a return to the usual amount of visitors as in years past, or alternatively, a curling club that is just beginning to see more patrons as public health restrictions ease and Canadians begin to engage more in the recreational activities they enjoyed prior to the crisis.
These are examples of the businesses that still need our support, this chamber's help and assistance as we push to fully recover from the COVID-19 recession.
That is why our government wants to provide support through three new programs for businesses still grappling with major pandemic-related challenges. The first is the tourism and hospitality recovery program, which would provide support to, for example, hotels, tour operators, travel agencies and restaurants with wage and rent subsidies of up to 75%.
Next is the hardest-hit business recovery program, which would provide support to other businesses that have faced deep losses, with wage and rent subsidies of up to 50%.
Last is the local lockdown program, which would provide businesses that face temporary new local lockdowns up to the maximum amount available through the wage and rent subsidy programs. These programs will be available until May 7, 2022, and the proposed subsidy rates will be in effect until March 13, 2022. From March 13 to May 7, 2022, the rates will be reduced by half.
In conclusion, the economy continues to reopen and jobs are being created. People are being vaccinated. Children from ages five to 11 are now receiving theirs, and boosters are being offered to eligible Canadians. Restrictions are carefully being eased in our communities and at our border. The time has come to adapt our income and business support measures to these better and happier circumstances.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak on Bill . I hope all opposition parties will support this important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, as I rise for the first time in the House to discuss a bill, I want to thank all of the constituents of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, my wife, Kathryn, and my son, who is on his second election already even though he is only two and a half. He is going to be a super-volunteer later in life.
Today we are discussing Bill C‑2, an act to provide further support in response to COVID‑19. I want to thank the Public Health Agency of Canada, which has been working hard since March 2020 and probably since February 2020 when we found out about this virus.
The situation we are in now compared to the beginning of the pandemic is good news. Our health authorities are doing excellent work. Dr. Paul Roumeliotis has done excellent work in my riding and I am sure that the member for agrees with me on that.
The vaccine is now approved for children aged five to 11, which is good news. I know that clinical trials are under way. Dr. Tam, our excellent chief public health officer, said last week that clinical trials for children under the age of five were under way. This is something that affects me personally, and I hope that these clinical trials will be successful for our children. There is no question that if the trials are successful my child will be vaccinated. That is the responsible thing to do.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on workers and small businesses. The COVID‑19 lockdown measures have been very difficult. I know that everyone has spoken to all kinds of business owners and self-employed workers. I have had a number of conversations with hair salon owners who lost all revenue overnight and no longer knew how they would pay the bills at home. That is why the Canada emergency response benefit, the wage subsidy and the rent subsidy were created.
Even in my riding, we helped several businesses move online given that people could not go out to shop and had to stay home. Our government implemented measures to help businesses grow their online services. The Prescott-Russell Community Development Corporation did excellent work at home to ensure that several businesses had an online presence.
When we made these announcements on July 1, it is true that the CERB was changing. However, everyone knew that it would end on October 23, 2021. Shortly after that, the , together with the Prime Minister, made an announcement about the main components of Bill C‑2, which we are discussing today.
I obviously support Bill C‑2 because I believe that it targets the crux of the problem. When we were locked down, there were no jobs available. All the stores were closed and everyone was asked to stay home. Today, we have heard from several parties that there is a labour shortage. It existed even before the pandemic, which has made it worse. We have a support program for certain people who have lost income, and that is the purpose of the programs announced today. If a province or a municipality ever has to lock down again, I am pleased to say that we will be there to answer the call.
It is called the Canada worker lockdown benefit, and it is important. Hopefully we will not go back there, but if we do, and a province decides to implement lockdown measures, then at least our constituents will have something to go back on to help them pay for groceries and whatever expenses they have related to their home.
There is another important one. We have all had discussions with the tourism sector and the restaurant sector. When the economy opened, they were not able to take advantage of a fully reopened economy because they were limited by being asked to ensure that customers were six feet apart, so they could not have as many restaurant tables in their restaurants. Obviously, that has a direct impact on their revenues, which is why the tourism and hospitality recovery program is important to help them get through this pandemic as the economy reopens.
Another important measure deals with the hardest-hit sectors of our economy. I had the opportunity to talk to people from 417 Bus Line, who told me that a good portion of their company's income is related to school transportation, which has resumed, but that they are still missing the income generated by the charter buses that transport tourists to various communities.
I am pleased to say that the measures we are announcing today will help that company. I want to tell the Laplante family that I heard what they had to say, as did the minister, our government and the .
It should be noted that it costs between $15,000 and $20,000 just to get a bus back on the road after it has been parked for two years. Obviously the measure that we are announcing here is not directly related to the cost of getting these buses back on the road, but it will help cover other expenses, such as the cost of rehiring workers later.
We all wish that the measures we have announced were not necessary, but we have a responsibility as a government. We have a responsibility to manage risk, and that is what these measures do. They will be available to help our businesses if necessary. These businesses will have access to programs that will help them grow or deal with costs associated with any new lockdown measures.
The opposition parties have identified some flaws in these measures, and I invite them to join the conversation. We introduced a bill, but we are definitely open to certain amendments if necessary. That is part of the debate. I would also encourage parliamentarians to discuss Bill with their constituents. If there are flaws in the bill, it is our responsibility to find ways to correct them. I think the and the are open to those conversations.
In conclusion, I would like to say that Bill C‑2 is important to Canadians and our businesses. It puts forward tools to help our businesses, but it will not be the only way to meet those needs. Let me point out that we have a Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and that we are seeing positive spinoffs. The agency is also doing excellent work by making interest-free loans available to entrepreneurs and businesses so they can buy new equipment or acquire new technology to help them get through the pandemic.
The message I want to send today is that our government has always been there to meet the needs of our business owners, our workers and our fellow citizens. In closing, I would like to once again thank the voters of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the chamber today and join colleagues in this important discussion.
This is my first opportunity to take up more than a few minutes in the House, and I want to thank all of my constituents, all the folks in my community, for their support over the last three years. My community has had three federal elections in three years that have returned me to this place, and so while we are very practised at elections, we are very much looking forward to being able to get down to the business of the nation.
I would not have been elected any of those three times if it were not for the support first and foremost of my family: my wife Amanda and our wonderful children Luke, Ama, Michaela, James and Nathan. We are not quite adding one child between each election, but I would appreciate all members' support in giving us some time as we adjust to our growing family.
In addition to the growth in the size of my family over that time, of course we all have to learn our new roles and support each other. I have been supported tremendously by my wife Amanda. Parliamentarians, folks in this place, know how much our partners and spouses give to us in terms of their support and time. I can never thank Amanda enough. I love her. I appreciate her making it possible for me to be here.
In addition to the support from my family, the support from my team has been exceptional. To all of them, and hopefully I will have an opportunity to take advantage of Standing Order 31 to thank some of them a little later on, I thank them, particularly Joan Lahey and everyone who helped her in her efforts.
I will be sharing my time with the member for . We are looking forward to hearing what my neighbour to the east has to say. We just heard from his neighbour to the east, but in response to that, I am very excited to hear what the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry has to say.
Today we are talking about Bill and these pandemic measures. This pandemic started 20 months ago in the spring of 2020. The pandemic measures we introduced in March of 2020 were done unanimously by all members in this place. We took a look at what Canadians needed, what we thought they might need in the face of these unprecedented times we were facing, and it was an all-hands-on-deck approach.
That help did not happen without a hard look from the official opposition and the other opposition parties. The government, and let us be fair, was faced with a situation that had not been seen in modern times. It proposed measures, some of which appeared as though they would have been adequate and some that appeared to be wholly inadequate. The government was able to put forward measures, with the support and the help from opposition parties and all members in this place, to adequately support Canadians. I think of the emergency wage subsidy as one of those measures that was vastly improved with the help of the opposition.
One of the first things, in those chaotic first days of the pandemic, the government looked to do was introduce legislation that would have given them the ability to tax and spend without parliamentary oversight for nearly two years. That is incredibly concerning. We know response to the pandemic is very important, but it also requires proper scrutiny. It requires the voices of all members of this House to represent their constituents.
What have we been hearing? First of all, we heard from the government that we had to have an election this summer because there were things that had to be taken care of right away. It was urgent, an urgent election. Without having lost the confidence of the House, the triggered an election via the Governor General and off we went to the doorsteps, where we heard from constituents.
I will circle back to what we heard from constituents, from the folks in our communities and from communities across the country.
The election happened and those of us in the room were elected. Hats off to everyone who put their name forward in the election and ran as a candidate. It is such a critical part of our democracy to have people with different perspectives, all looking for a better Canada, putting their name on the ballot. We elected 338 members, and then we waited and we waited for Parliament to be recalled. It was two months before we returned to this place, just this past Monday. It does not seem urgent. It does not seem like the government was ready to deliver on its plan.
The Liberals' plan up to this point has overseen some pretty scary stuff, some really challenging times. We have heard that the inflation crisis gripping our country is okay. We have heard it is the same as countries around the world. I guess it depends on which data set they want to compare it to, but it certainly is not okay.
When inflation is the highest it has been in my adult life, the highest it has been in 18 years, at 4.7%, vastly outstripping wage increases that most Canadians will receive, it is a tax on everything. The price of everything has gone up. Feeding a family, putting gas in a car and heating a home is costing more and more. The percentages by which they have increased vary, but certainly energy costs are through the roof.
The plan we have seen from the government has delivered excruciating price increases. We have also heard that the government is going to have a windfall on account of having taxes on higher prices. I am not reassured that the Liberals are going to spend it well. I am very concerned about that. I think about one of their jobs plans from the pandemic where they spent $100 million to create 100 jobs. Certainly the benefit to those folks who had the jobs created or the spinoff from each of those jobs was not $1 million, at 100 jobs costing $100 million.
We have to allow Parliament to do its work. We have to dig into this stuff and take a look at what measures Canadians really need. Are we spending too much? For all the worthy programs that have been put forward and for all the programs that were managed well, some were not and they have been exploited by organized crime and bad actors.
Therefore, now is not the time to continue the money presses and printing cash to pay for programs that not only can we not afford, but in some cases we just do not need them anymore. We need to ensure that we support the job creators. We need to ensure that we support employers, so they can welcome workers back into their workplaces. We need to ensure that we allow people to have that dignity of work, that return to work and that return to normal for which we long. That is what we have been working for throughout the COVID pandemic, surviving lockdown after lockdown. Now it is time to get back to business. That means shutting off the printing presses and focusing on doing what only government can do. Let us match up employers and workers, and return our economy and Canada to the front of the pack.
That is what we need to see from the government. The plan we have had to this point has not delivered the prosperity Canadians should have. Let us not compare bad data with bad data or compare outrageous other countries that have bad economic performance as well. Let us return Canada to its leading position. That is where we deserve to be. That is what Canadians expect from us. That is what they elected us to do.
I look so forward to working with my colleagues to return Canada to that leading position.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House to give my first speech in the 44th Parliament. I want to start off by thanking the wonderful people of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for returning me to the chamber once again. I am very grateful each and every time I come to the nation's capital and into the chamber to represent my community at a federal level. It is an honour and a privilege and not something I take lightly in the work that I do and will be doing in the House in the coming months and years, or however long this Parliament may last.
Since it is my first time to be able to speak at length, I want to acknowledge and thank my family and numerous friends and supporters who not only have been involved during the recent election campaign but continue to support me and my work in many ways, both personally and professionally. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my staff, both in my Cornwall constituency office and here on the Hill.
At the same time, it is always an opportunity for me to speak a little French. It is a work in progress. There is a francophone community in my riding, Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. One of the advantages of being in the House is that it gives me the opportunity to study a second language. I am a francophile, and I know how important the francophone community is. I study every week at the ACFO in Cornwall with my teacher, Sonia, to improve my second language.
We are finally back to work here. Sixty-two days after election day we have the opportunity to gather in Ottawa and get back to the work that people sent us to do. After $610 million were spent, it did not change the seat count here much, but here we are several months later, dealing with a bill as we continue to try to get past COVID.
This is an economic bill on government spending and there are a few things that I want to take some time to talk about specifically. The member for just asked a good question of the previous speaker about a few areas of concern that I am hoping to use my time today to highlight. I want to highlight what I feel the government has perhaps not learned from previous support programs that have been offered as we get through the pandemic.
A few weeks ago or earlier this month, intelligence reports came out that were shared by a wide variety of Canadian media and were very concerning. The headline of an article read “Organized crime 'knowingly and actively' exploited federal pandemic benefits: intelligence reports” and “FINTRAC not sure total amount of CERB/CEBA funds may have gone to organized crime”. I also want to acknowledge the great work, at both provincial and municipal levels in my riding in the city of Cornwall, of a service manager for various provincial social services programs, who outlined a number of potential and actual fraud cases in the applications for benefits.
As this pandemic unfortunately continues, and hopefully we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, the one thing I look for when I see a new piece of legislation in the rounds of benefits is what the government has learned from previous iterations in a commitment to close those gaps. We have not seen details in the bill, and I do not believe there is a firm commitment. I have a lot of concerns about the details of that.
We have heard previous speakers from the government benches say it has the Canada Revenue Agency or various departments that will work hard to do X, Y and Z in reaction to fraud and different aspects of organized crime being involved in these programs. What members have heard Conservatives say is that as a matter of fact, we should be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to these things. There are better checks and balances as we go along, and those are going to be the things I am looking for as a member of the chamber in the coming weeks and months, as we debate the legislation.
That is a segue to talking about how we scrutinize these bills. At the beginning of the pandemic, as I and many of my colleagues have mentioned, we supported programs as Canadians needed them to get through this. It has been a challenging time economically and on the physical and mental health of Canadians. However, when we talk about doing better, we had an unnecessary election; we had an unnecessary period of 62 days to wait for Parliament to come back and, as a bit of a procedural item, it now looks like the finance committee that would normally look over and review a bill such as Bill may not even be constituted until early next year at some point, when we return in January and committees get set up, elect the chairs and so forth.
We now have the opportunity and the duty to Canadians to say that for legislation like this, we need to hear from experts such as I just referenced in the news articles and intelligence reports that were coming out.
What more can we do, as we are spending taxpayers' hard-earned money to reduce and eliminate, as best we can, fraud and organized crime from “knowingly and actively” exploiting these federal programs? I often say there is a lot of good talk and well wishes in the government saying that it will take a look at it and see what it can do.
At this point in the pandemic, when we saw the WE Charity scandal, which got a lot of attention, and the intelligence reports that got a lot of attention, I believe there is a lack of confidence among Canadians, especially when they read the reports. They see these reports being publicized and documented, and there is no clue of what is going on. Again, there is a concern that with having 62 days for Parliament to come back and table this bill, there are not enough details and prevention measures in there with respect to what we can do.
I mentioned the work of our shadow finance minister, the member for , who gave a great speech this morning and took questions in the opening round of this debate. He talked about how, as we look at this bill and at the feedback we are hearing from our constituents, there are “help wanted” signs in the windows of many businesses in the united Counties of SDG, the city of Cornwall and Akwesasne. This is replicated right across the province. We are seeing a real gap between getting people back to work and supports to reopen businesses, get them back to 100% and get our economy through this.
Inflation is something we saw referenced only once by the current government in this week's priority document: the Speech from the Throne. The government finally acknowledges inflation as a crisis, reaching a staggering 4.7%. This is an 18-year high, and an economic bill such as Bill is an opportunity to give detailed plans to address this. My friend and colleague for raised this morning that, when we look at statistics from around the world, there is a correlation between governments that spent hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and deficit spending and those that now have an inflationary problem. We were told there would be deflation. We now have inflation. There is a direct correlation. There is a direct correlation with our housing values and prices as we go forward.
From the feedback I have heard in my community in eastern Ontario, constituents and businesses want us to get back to work to create jobs and get businesses going at 100%, not pay people to stay at home. They also want us to address inflation. It is a serious strain on the quality of life and the budgets of those who are on fixed incomes, whether they are seniors, young families or people finishing school with student debt and looking to get into the workforce. We are forced to ask for emergency debates to try to get these as this bill goes forward. It needs more scrutiny. We need to hear from experts on things that can improve the bill, and we could talk about addressing getting the economy back to full strength.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak here today in the chamber. I look forward to the questions and comments. At the end of the day, let us get back to work, get Canadians back to work and get our economy firing on all cylinders again. That is what Canadians are asking for.