Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-15, an act respecting Canada emergency student benefits. I am also pleased to split my time with my hon. colleague, the MP for Timmins—James Bay.
Yesterday was the National Day of Mourning to remember and honour those who have lost their lives or been injured due to a workplace tragedy, and also a day to collectively renew our commitment to improve health and safety in the workplace and prevent further injuries, illnesses and deaths. With the COVID-19 crisis, this is a unique time for many workers in Canada, including front-line workers, who are often women, the marginalized and young.
The most recent statistics from the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada tell us that in 2018, 1,027 workplace fatalities were reported in Canada. Among these deaths were those of 27 young workers between the ages of 15 and 24. On top of these fatalities, there were over 264,000 accepted claims for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease. This figure includes 33,000 claims from young workers aged 15 to 24. The sad reality is that these statistics only include what is reported and accepted by compensation boards. There is no doubt that the total number of workers impacted is even greater and, of course, in this new COVID reality, these numbers will skyrocket.
The government has a responsibility to protect front-line workers and essential workers to make sure that safeguards and legislation are in place so that every worker is safe and can return home every day uninjured. This is even more so the case for young workers, who often have less experience and are less able to defend themselves against their employer. They need strong legislation to back them up.
Many young people at this time are unable to enter the workforce or have been laid-off because of the coronavirus. New Democrats are glad that the government is finally turning its focus to help these young workers and students, but another complicated system is not what students asked for, and it comes weeks too late.
Since the Liberals' roll-out of the Canada emergency response benefit program, New Democrats have called on them to lift the restrictions put in place and to make this plan universal. Again, we are asking that they extend these benefits to students, as the Canada emergency student benefit program that we are debating today will still leave many students behind, including international students.
Week after week, New Democrats return to Parliament to highlight the people being left out of the government's response to COVID-19. It is because of our advocacy that we have returned once again to fix the holes this government has created. New Democrats fought for and won increases in the emergency benefits, we won an increase in the wage subsidy from 10% to 75%, we won help for small businesses with rent, and now we are debating legislation to help students.
In today's unanimous consent motion, the government admits that additional help is needed for students with dependants, seniors and people with disabilities. I have to think that there must be members in the government caucus who are quietly thinking, “Wouldn't it just be easier and fairer to make the program universal rather than create these patchwork programs?” I certainly know that many of my constituents are confused by the daily changes to programs and simply need to know that their government supports them.
With the creation of a new and separate program from the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency student benefit shortchanges students. I find it difficult to understand why the government has decided that someone who earned more money before COVID-19 can apply for the CERB and get $2,000, but a student who earned less and is ineligible for the CERB will get 40% less support. Whether one is or is not enrolled in a post-secondary institution, the cost of paying one's rent or covering one's bills and services is the same.
The government has said that students will receive less through the student benefit than the CERB, because there will be other supports through service grant systems, but those will not address their needs now but at the end of the summer. In the meantime, the government has expanded loan programs so that students can be in debt with it instead of banks and credit card companies. Call me crazy, but would it not be more helpful for students to not have to go into debt in the first place?
Today, the average student with debt owes $27,000 at the end of an undergraduate degree. Because of interest fees, a student who has to borrow to pay for their education will end up paying over $10,000 more than a student who is lucky enough to be able to graduate without taking on debt. That is not fair, and it is an inequality that sets young people up to fail.
I do recognize that the government from the outset has offered to waive interest rates on student loans for six months. My concern is for students taking on additional debt loads with the government. With a lack of support, what will students' finances look like after this pandemic? The government was set to make $1 billion from student loan interest this year before the COVID pandemic. We now need to ask the question, how much will the government make now with more students taking on larger debt loads? Are students' futures the kind of business the government wants to profit from?
The government should cancel all interest on student loans, as it should never make money off the backs of students. Consistently, people have reached out to my office to tell me how they are worried because they do not qualify for any of the emergency benefits and are in desperate need. Many women fall short of the $5,000 minimum for CERB and the government does not recognize the unpaid work that many take on.
Women are now more than ever having to find ways to juggle work and care for their families as the home has become the workplace, schools, child and daycare centres have closed and services become even more stretched. The government's initial response to a mother who is receiving help from the Canada emergency student benefit is that she just had to justify her family obligations and to jump through more hoops to be worthy of less supports than those under the CERB.
That is why New Democrats have pushed to close the gap of $250. More money going into the pockets of some of the most vulnerable students over the course of the summer represents a significant victory. We are also proud to push the government to commit to implementing measures without delay to improve supports for seniors and persons with disabilities who are dealing with extraordinary expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19.
Even with this victory, there are still holes in the system. For example, a woman whose child support dried up because her ex-spouse lost his or her income due to the pandemic does not qualify for the CERB. Her main source of income has been lost and the government is refusing to support her. It is not fair. This is on top of the countless women who are being denied the emergency benefits because they are pregnant and are being forced to apply for maternity leave early. This is another issue that could have been avoided if the government had made its emergency benefit universal.
There are some good announcements in this package that the Liberals have put forward. New Democrats welcome the government's announcement to temporarily double student grants. New Democrats have been pushing for this for over a decade. We would like to see this grant increase be made permanent. The government needs to move away from loans and to offer more grants. Accessing financial support for post-secondary education should not be a debt sentence.
Accessible and publicly funded education is a great opportunity for everyone in our society. It can transform lives and open new horizons for people of every background. That makes education an amazing gift that we can give to each other, our children and to the next generation. However, students have seen tuition increases across Canada on average and are paying 4% more just this year.
New Democrats believe that access to education should never depend on how much money one's parents make or how much debt one carries. If one has the grades and the drive to study hard, one should be able to get the education one wants at any age and in every community. The government needs to work with provinces to address the rise in tuition costs.
New Democrats are also echoing the call on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Students and CUPE for the government to put forward a post-secondary education act. The government needs to establish criteria and conditions in respect of funding for post-secondary education programs to ensure the quality, accessibility, public administration and accountability of those programs.
When thinking about the rising costs students are facing, I must bring up how disappointing it is to see the government completely abandoning international students. The government is leaving them with no supports. International students contributed $21.6 billion to Canada's GDP last year. They have become important members of our communities and contribute to Canada's innovation and research. The government cannot and should not leave international students behind.
Sadly, even before COVID-19, post-secondary education was out of reach for too many people. People are being forced to give up their dreams because they cannot pay skyrocketing tuition fees and cannot find work and because the government supports are coming up short.
New Democrats are committed to addressing these inequalities. We will continue to push to make the Canada emergency benefit universal so that seniors, people with disabilities, mothers, students, workers and everyone who continues to fall between the cracks will get the support they need. New Democrats will continue to push for the elimination of tuition fees and the establishment of a national post-secondary act. We will continue to push to make the doubling of student grants permanent. We will continue to address and tear down the barriers that too many Canadians faced before COVID-19 and will face afterwards.