Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the bill on support for students during this pandemic.
As members know, from the beginning, the Bloc Québécois has been a very constructive opposition. We always try to improve bills. I think that, in general, the other opposition parties also worked with that goal in mind. It is therefore not surprising to see that there is unanimous support for this bill.
However, I must say that the bill does have its shortcomings. Obviously, there are some minor flaws, little things that are wrong and that we would have liked to work on more had we had more time. Unfortunately, we did not have as much time as we would have liked.
For two or three days, we pointed out the problems to the government and we were prepared to work together to fine-tune this bill. It is not completely perfect, but unfortunately, that sort of thing happens.
One of the basic principles of this bill is financial support for students. We are on board with this. We agree that we must help students. Since there may not be any tourism, and since festivals will be cancelled, students may have a hard time finding jobs. We all agree on that. Students need some kind of financial assistance to help pay their expenses and to allow them to return to school in the fall with some savings as they pursue their education.
This bill also needs to include an incentive for young people to work. I am not saying that young people are lazy, but the bill must allow for young people to want to go out and find a job, to actually find one, and to believe that the CESB is designed in such a way as to encourage them to stay on the job because, in the end, it will be in their best interest to do so.
Unfortunately, this bill has a major flaw. As my colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville mentioned, the problem is that students receive $1,250 or a big fat zero. It would seem that the only option is $1,250, and that after $1,000, the default is zero. A student who works about 18 hours a week at a minimum wage job earns $1,000 a month. When you add the $1,250 CESB, that works out quite well, but what if their boss asks them to work one more hour a week?
What will be their answer, Mr. Speaker? I know I have your full attention and that you know the answer. They will say “no”. They will not want to lose the $1,250 for one extra hour of work. Everyone understands that.
Then why are we leaving this in the bill? Students might work no more than 18 hours. Will there be any students who work full time? Perhaps, but there will be no encouragement, no incentive, for them to do so.
I taught economics for a few years. In my intro to market economics, I would explain to my students that the more hours one works, the more money one earns. That is a basic rule, but this bill breaks the rule: the more one works, the more money one loses. That makes no sense.
During negotiations, the Bloc Québécois pushed for simple common sense: work more, earn more. Unfortunately, the government told us it could not do that because that would be too complicated and it would have to review every individual student's case. For example, the government would have to make it explicit that a student who works 19 hours would not lose the whole $1,250, just a little bit of it. That way, the student would want to keep working.
The Canada emergency benefit will simply be phased out to ensure that students realize that they would be better off working and that they have a little nest egg waiting. That is what we asked for, but we were told that the public service could not get into those kinds of details, because it would be too complicated and there was not enough time. We had reached a dead end.
In the end, we got a commitment from the Deputy Prime Minister. Indeed, although it could not be made official and standardized, because the public service apparatus would not allow it, the government committed to doing it. The Liberals said it was a good idea. We knew it was a good idea, and we have many more where that came from.
The government said it was a good idea and that it would try its best to move in that direction with its measures in the future. It committed to respecting that approach. Obviously, we very much welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's comments, for they give us a little hope.
During the negotiations, the Bloc Québécois considered the importance of having a committee look at issues related to agriculture. That has been included in the motion. We managed to get that across to the government, but I admit that it was not very hard. The government quickly agreed that it was a good idea to have a committee on agriculture because there is a lot going in that sector. We need to get answers to our questions and that is the right tool for the job.
Also, the motion proposes that the government offer subsidies to employers who hire students, but it specifies that this is for the agriculture or agri-food sectors.
The Bloc Québécois members wondered whether the same opportunity should be offered to more people, not just producers. For example, this opportunity could be offered to municipal employees and to people who want to hire students and who would be entitled to these subsidies.
I was apprehensive about how the government might respond to the Bloc's request, but the government said yes. It said that this was a good idea. The Bloc managed to make improvements to the motion.
Lastly, we have our seniors, who are being so breezily discussed. For over a month, we have been telling the government that it is neglecting seniors and it needs to do something to help them. Our proposals would cost $1 billion, which is paltry compared to the $73 billion going to wage subsidies. Seniors are always overlooked, yet they are the ones being hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. They built our country, our society. We need to show them respect through positive actions. The motion mentions this. I see daylight at last.
According to the motion, we need to help seniors who are struggling to make ends meet because the current situation has increased the cost of living. We asked the government to amend the motion to say that it would strongly consider and ensure that the old age security and guaranteed income supplement pension mechanisms could be activated through those two tools. This mechanism already exists, and the government can control it as it sees fit. This was another Bloc suggestion that was heard by the government.
We are not entirely satisfied, but nothing is perfect. The government listened to us and accepted some of our proposals. There is one last proposal and it is a very important one. There must be an incentive for students to work.