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View Kristina Michaud Profile
BQ (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. leader for sharing his time with me today.
Before I begin, I want to say hello to the people of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and thank them for the remarkable resilience they have shown during this crisis. The situation is relatively stable for the time being in the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé thanks to their compliance with the measures put in place by various public health authorities.
As the Bloc Québécois youth critic, I am pleased to be here today to debate this bill bringing in support measures for students. Not wanting to leave students behind, the Bloc Québécois has been urging the government to act. Our demands have been heard.
The government listened to us and brought in the Canada emergency student benefit to provide support to students and recent graduates who are not eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit or employment insurance and are unable to work because of COVID-19.
It is a benefit of $1,250 per month for eligible students or a benefit of $1,750 for those who care for a person with a disability. Let me be clear: that is very good news for young people who are unable to go back to their regular summer job for various reasons. Perhaps they are sick, perhaps they have to care for someone who is sick, or perhaps the business they worked for last year cannot reopen. Regardless of the reason, this emergency benefit is welcome.
It is welcome as long as it is seen for what it is: an emergency benefit. Having been a student myself not that long ago, I can only assume that students will be the first to want to lend a hand as soon as the situation allows them to do so. They are already doing just that.
I was talking about this yesterday with the presidents of the Quebec Student Union and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec. They told me that many of their members had already sent out hundreds of resumés to work for Quebec's long-term care centres, farms, and businesses that offer essential services.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the contribution young people make to our society. We know that most of them will not apply for the benefit until they have tried to find a job.
People have criticized this measure recently. Businesses in Quebec are concerned that students might not make much of an effort to find work before collecting a cheque from Ottawa.
We know that the regular Canada emergency response benefit has, in effect, created two classes of citizens, several even, because it has different eligibility criteria, which is why there is now a benefit specifically for students.
The thing is, students are citizens like everyone else. They have bills to pay too. A student who moves from Gaspé to attend the Université du Québec à Montréal ends up spending about $3,600 in the first month and about $1,200 a month thereafter for fixed costs such as rent, food, transportation, Internet and phone. Costs can be even higher for students in other Canadian cities.
Of course, some of them get help from other people, such as family members, but many of them need us. They need help from the government.
Earlier the minister spoke about Felix. I want to talk about Thomas. Thomas called my office the other day. Because of his course load, he is unable to work during the school year. Yesterday he wrote his last exam of the semester, but even though that stressful experience is over, his anxiety level has only increased instead of decreasing.
He knows that the day after tomorrow, he will have to pay his rent, phone and Internet, but he does not know how he will manage. He was supposed to start an internship on Monday, but that has been cancelled because of the crisis. We all know that Thomas is not the only one in this situation. Felix is not the only one either. Thousands of students across Quebec and Canada are in the same situation.
For many students, summer is a time to earn money for the upcoming school year. However, it is not just about money. Sure, these summer jobs are about earning income, but they are also about gaining experience. For others, it may simply be an educational requirement. This crisis is also an extraordinary situation for students.
I come back to these people who over the past few days have expressed their dissatisfaction with the government's benefit for students. The main argument for some is this myth that students in Quebec and Canada are lazy.
To bust that myth and change what might be perceived as a disincentive to work, the Bloc Québécois wanted to propose a compromise. That compromise would be good for everyone, but most of all it would increase the purchasing power of students and allow the government to save the public purse a lot of money.
We proposed a change that would let young people keep more of their pay before being penalized. We made this proposal because we believe that the CESB is somewhat unfair. It is unfair to students who will make the effort to find a job but will not receive the benefit if they make more than $1,000, the ineligibility threshold.
We know that the CERB was created in the context of a lockdown. The student benefit will be introduced in an entirely different context, at a time when we presume we will be emerging from that lockdown. This is a fundamental change in the measure's implementation in that many businesses will be reopening their doors to the extent possible, with some opening in a more restricted manner. I am thinking of restaurant owners who decide, for example, to open just in the evenings on weekends instead of at lunch and dinner every day. This means that there will be many strictly part-time jobs. Neither employers nor employees will benefit when a student has to refuse working a few extra hours because they are afraid of losing access to the benefit or, as my colleague said, losing the entire $1,250. We simply find it unfair that those who want to work should be penalized.
The crisis is affecting the health of our economy in particular, and several sectors, including the agricultural sector, are experiencing an urgent labour shortage. In my area, many farmers are having to seek additional help because they will not be able to count on temporary foreign workers this summer, for reasons we can all guess.
We believe that students' courage in the face of a crisis is not the issue. The Canada emergency benefit is necessary to support students, but it could certainly use some improvement. I salute the negotiations that took place over the past few hours to address our demands in order to pass this bill, namely for the government to implement financial incentives and support measures for students and young people for the various jobs available, including jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector, to ensure the economic stability of the regions and maintain food production during the crisis.
What we all want is for the government to ensure that the financial measures it is putting in place are offered in a manner that fulfills their primary objectives while encouraging employment in all circumstances.
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