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View Eric Melillo Profile
CPC (ON)
View Eric Melillo Profile
2020-04-29 15:30 [p.2250]
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to be able to rise in the House today and speak to this important topic in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic crisis that has occupied us all over the last months. It is so important that Parliament is able to meet so that we can discuss and improve legislation to ensure support reaches all Canadians who need it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt taken a toll on all Canadians. Business owners, non-profits and charities are struggling to stay afloat, and many Canadians have lost their jobs. Additionally, Canadian students are facing an uncertain future. Summer jobs are valuable opportunities for Canada's students to learn new skills, to meet new people and to prepare for their careers. More than that, countless post-secondary students rely on summer employment not just to fund their education, but also to afford the basic necessities of life.
I have lived this experience very recently, perhaps more recently than any of my colleagues. I wrote my final university exam last summer before heading straight back home, on the campaign trail for the 2019 election. Therefore, I can say that I fully understand the challenges that are facing students during normal circumstances because I lived them; these challenges are being amplified by the crisis that is before us right now.
Students face a tremendous amount of financial pressure and mental stress, and are stretched for time commitments during the school year. That is part of the reason why many students choose to leave their summer employment when school comes around, with the expectation that a job will be available for them when they return, just the same as for any seasonal employees across Canada.
Many students are unable to attend school locally, like many in northern Ontario, including me. Therefore, we have had no choice but to leave our jobs behind to move away and start the school year. As we know, students are now finishing up their school year and they are attempting to enter the workforce just as many businesses are laying people off and closing their doors entirely. High school students who are graduating this year and looking forward to entering the workforce are in the same situation, as are new university and college graduates. Students have bills to pay, just like everyone else. They have to pay for rent, groceries and tuition. Now, through no fault of their own, many are in a position where they may not be able to find any job for the foreseeable future.
In my riding of Kenora, some of our biggest job creators, especially for students, are tourism operators who are dependent on visitors who, this summer, will likely not arrive. Other businesses are fighting to avoid laying off the staff they already have and are not in the position to hire anyone else. This scenario is playing out across the country right now in different ways. The details may be different, but the results are the same: Thousands of people who are counting on finding jobs this summer may not be able to.
That is why I was taken aback when students were initially left out of the government's initial response to COVID-19. That is why, on April 7, I co-signed a letter along with three of my Conservative colleagues, the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul and the member for Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon. We asked whether the government intended to rectify its mistake. I am glad that after weeks of pressure from me, my Conservative colleagues and other members of the opposition, the government has finally introduced legislation to support students who cannot find work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am happy to see that the government has worked with the official opposition to improve the legislation that is before us today.
Conservatives know that no government benefit can replace the experience of having a job. Simply put, we believe that everyone who is able to work should do so. However, we also recognize that in some areas, there are simply no jobs to be had.
Canadian students need to pay for their rent and their tuition, and they are trying to save for their future. If possible, they need the opportunity to learn new skills and meet people in their fields. I can say that no students or new grads want to have a months-long gap in their resumé, when they could have been gaining valuable work experience. I know I would not have wanted that, and I might not be standing here today if that had been the case.
Right now, students need support, but they also need creative solutions to incentivize as many students as possible to gain that valuable experience. Conservatives have been vigilant in making sure that new government benefits do not inadvertently disincentivize employment. We have successfully advocated for the government to allow people earning up to $1,000 a month to collect the CERB, so that Canadians who are able to perform some work will still be able to do so without losing their support.
In that same vein, we are fighting to loosen the eligibility criteria for commercial rent supports so that more businesses will be able to keep their doors open. We know our economy will recover much more quickly if our businesses can remain open and our workforce can remain activated.
We also know that even as many businesses are laying off staff, there are also many that are having difficulty finding staff, such as agriculture businesses, restaurants and the hospitality industry. I have spoken with the chamber of commerce, business owners and economic development agencies, and it is no secret that there are many businesses struggling to find workers. Canada brings in 60,000 foreign workers each year for the agricultural sector alone, and many of the essential businesses that are currently operating are having difficulty and struggling even more throughout this pandemic.
That is why the Conservative Party proposed new programs to match students and youth employees with jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector. Many agricultural producers are facing labour shortages right now because of their inability to hire temporary foreign workers, and we believe students who are struggling to find work could potentially fill those gaps. This would be a great opportunity for students to gain work experience and earn some income while stabilizing our food supply and contributing to Canada's COVID-19 response. We hope to be able to work with the government to make this program a reality.
I was happy to hear that the government has accepted our proposal to ensure that students who apply for the benefit will be connected with the job bank at the same time. This will ensure that available jobs are filled first and that students do not miss out on potential job opportunities. It is a win-win for students looking for work and for employers looking for staff.
The government has also agreed to put a sunset clause in the legislation and to provide a parliamentary review of the impact of this legislation. This is basic due diligence to ensure that this bill will not outlive its purpose and will be useful, rather than having unintended negative impacts on the labour force.
At the end of the day, until we go back to normal, there will still be some students who, through no fault of their own, cannot find jobs. We recognize that reality, which is why we support the principle of the Canadian emergency student benefit. With the addition of our reasonable proposals, this benefit will ensure students get the support they need while not missing out on employment opportunities.
We are facing an unprecedented economic crisis as a result of this worldwide pandemic, and many hard-working Canadians from all walks of life have suddenly found themselves in need of emergency support. Canada's economy has no doubt gone through a major shock, and we know it will be much worse if suddenly this summer we find ourselves with hundreds of thousands of students who are unable to pay their rent. The long-term impacts of students being forced to delay or discontinue their education would also be considerable. The spillover effects of leaving students without support at this time will be simply devastating, and that is why we know this support is so important.
I would urge Parliament to give students the best chance to succeed, to support our economy and to get help to those who need it most. I also urge the government to continue working with the opposition to advance solutions that would allow as many students as possible the opportunity to earn a living wage and support the sectors that are being hit so hard during this pandemic.
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