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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
I will call this meeting to order.
I apologize. Everybody's sound is great and I forgot to bring my headset with me today. If you can't hear the translation, please let me know. I'll try to speak right into the laptop, loud and slow.
Welcome to meeting number 22 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food. Pursuant to the motion adopted by the House of Commons on Tuesday, May 26, the committee is meeting to consider a request received by the clerk and submitted by four members of the committee. This request was made to discuss support measures for Canadian poultry and egg farmers.
I have just a few notes here. When you intervene, please make sure that your language channel is set to the language that you intend to speak, not the floor. This is very important. It will reduce the number of times we need to stop because the interpretation is inaudible for our participants, and it will maximize the time we spend exchanging with each other.
Also, before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike.
Make sure that your microphone is off when you are not talking.
We are now ready to begin.
Members have all received the letter and had a chance to look at the meeting request. Perhaps at this stage I will open the floor.
I don't know, Mr. Barlow, if you want to talk about the motion or actually move the motion so that we can discuss it. I'll let you explain your request.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:06
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's good to have everybody here, virtually at least, in the middle of summer, and I appreciate everyone taking the time. I know everyone is busy in their constituencies as well.
You all have a copy of the motion that the Conservative members of the committee submitted. I will move the motion. I will just read it into the record, and then, Mr. Chair, we can discuss it afterwards, if that works for you.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
That works fine. Go ahead, Mr. Barlow.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:06
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Okay. I'll just read the motion.
That the committee invite the Minister of Agriculture, department officials and poultry and egg stakeholders to provide an urgent update to the committee on the lack of action on promised programs from the government to support Canada’s poultry and egg farmers as a result of losses resulting from recent trade agreements.
Mr. Chair, the reason we bring this up to the committee at this time is that it has been more than a year now since the minister made some commitments to the industry to offer some compensation as a result of the CETA and the CPTPP. The federal budget also promised $3.9 billion in funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers to deal with the impacts of those trade agreements. The commitment has already been made of $1.75 billion over eight years to Canada's dairy farmers to compensate for the CETA and CPTPP agreements. However, similar commitments have not been made to the poultry and egg producers across this country.
Now that we're in the midst of a global pandemic, which is not something any of us would have anticipated, it is having an impact on Canadian agriculture throughout the industry and across the country. Canada's poultry and egg producers are also feeling the impact of that, and that has been exacerbated by the lack of compensation and the inaction from the current government on a commitment that was made in the budget in 2019, and again reinforced by the minister in her comments after the meetings held last June and July. We're now more than a year past when those commitments were to be made, with no follow-up.
Our concern on this, as Conservatives, is this continuing narrative that Canadian agriculture is being neglected in various different ways, not only during COVID but certainly around compensation for these trade agreements that were signed by the current government. Our feeling in bringing this motion forward is to hear from the stakeholders on the impact that the trade agreements have had on their industry. We want to know what the impact has been, with not having the compensation that was promised to them by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture. Certainly, I think it's important for us at this committee to be their voice and to listen to their concerns and the impacts this is having on their industry, and also the impacts it's having on our supply chain.
I'm not the only one, I'm sure, who's had numerous calls, not only from producers but also from processors, who have been impacted by this as well. If they do not have the producers, who have spent years on genetics and investments, millions of dollars in investments in their operations, they are also going to be impacted.
That is the reason we have submitted this motion. I look forward to the support of my colleagues on this committee to discuss this and pass this, and have two or three meetings on this so that stakeholders can have their voices heard.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Barlow.
We'll open the floor.
I just want to remind members that if they wish to speak, they can use the “raise hand” function at the bottom right-hand side so it is easier to keep track.
I see Mr. Hoback has his hand raised. Would you like to speak to this, Mr. Hoback?
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View Randy Hoback Profile
CPC (SK)
View Randy Hoback Profile
2020-08-05 17:10
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Yes. Thank you, Chair, and thank you, members of the agriculture committee.
I'm the critic for the trade committee. This issue has been coming up from a variety of groups that are concerned about the credibility of the government as it negotiates trade deals, works with all the different interests and groups here in Canada, and makes settlements with them as it proceeds on with the trade deals. For example, in the TPP, in order to get their buy-in on supply management, the government actually agreed to a compensation package beforehand, before we signed on to it. That hasn't been forthcoming.
We did try to do things the appropriate way. We did send a letter to the minister three weeks ago, asking for her response, to pay attention to this, to focus on it—not even a reply. That's very unfortunate. I'm sorry, but that's not an excuse.
Now I have a scenario in the wine sector where we have wine growers who are really nervous right now because of trade action that's happened because of an escalator on the excise tax. They have an agreement in place that gives them two years, but they're seeing what's going on in the supply management sector and others, the groups outside of dairy, and they're saying, “Well, can we trust them? If they don't keep their word with what was created in TPP with the supply management sector, how can we trust them to keep their word over the next few years in the wine sector?” There's some credibility at stake here, and some nervousness on top of COVID and everything else that's going on.
The trade committee, it's tough for us to meet. We don't have the ability to do Zoom meetings. We actually have to go, in person, to Ottawa to do these meetings. I'm glad John and you guys in the ag committee are considering this. It's very important that we deal with this. There are lots of farms here that could really use that support and that knowledge and the comfort in knowing that when they do agree to something, the government will actually follow through.
I'm looking at the motion—
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
I am sorry to interrupt, Mr. Hoback.
Mr. Chair, the interpreter is unable to interpret Mr. Hoback's comments because of the sound. Perhaps Mr. Hoback should slow down or speak closer to the microphone.
Thank you.
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View Randy Hoback Profile
CPC (SK)
View Randy Hoback Profile
2020-08-05 17:12
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I do talk fast. I apologize.
Just to wrap up, I think it's important that you talk to the producers impacted by this and we get a path forward to get this resolved. I think this committee is a great way to do it.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Hoback.
Next is Mr. Drouin.
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View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To my colleagues, namely Mr. Barlow, I'm just wondering if the plan is to invite before us some groups that were not included, obviously, in the dairy announcement—the Egg Farmers of Canada, the chicken farmers, the turkey farmers and the hatching groups.
I'm also seeking to know whether or not they want to invite the minister and the department to provide an update. If that's the case, then we.... I will say for the record that I don't necessarily support all the language in the motion, but I don't feel like arguing for hours about words and commas. That's not my style. But in terms of timing, should we just give the option to the clerk to decide on when those meetings will happen?
It's our understanding as well that the minister does not.... I think we can find some time in the not-too-distant future. We can give the liberty to the clerk to decide on dates that work for all of us and then move on, just in terms of practicality.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:14
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Thanks, Mr. Drouin. I can answer the first question really quickly. Yes, it would be our intention to invite the stakeholder groups from the feather sector and the egg producers, as well as a couple of processors, just to give their perspective on the impact, and the minister and officials.
I agree with you 100% on the scheduling. We understand that right now it will be extremely tricky. From our discussions—unless there's an intervention from someone else—I think we are fine with leaving the scheduling up to the chair and the clerk to manage, as well as the minister in terms of her ability to appear. With the technology that's involved in this and the number of other committee meetings that are going on, we know that this will not be easy. We will just leave that to the chair and the clerk to schedule.
My feeling is that three meetings would be more than enough to do this, but I'm open to other suggestions. I don't think this is something we need to prolong. I think our stakeholders are looking for an update on what the situation is with this compensation. As Mr. Hoback said, the frustration for us is that we did send a letter to the minister asking for an update and we did not have a response. The next step for us was to have these meetings.
That would be our template, to Mr. Drouin's question.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Barlow.
Again, we can look at that. Another thing we could do, if the committee wanted, would be to have a long meeting of four hours, or maybe two three-hour meetings. There are different ways we can do this to maybe save one meeting. I'm just throwing that out there.
Mr. Perron, you have the floor.
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
I will be very brief. I simply want to say that I totally agree with the motion. I support it very strongly. These meetings are necessary and we could have them as soon as possible.
As was mentioned before, we could hold three or four meetings. If we need more, we will do more, but maybe we should start with that and choose the dates with the clerk.
We do need to shed some light on this situation because, in terms of the amount of this compensation, negotiations with the various groups were already completed in August last year. It has now been a year.
It is quite well worded. It has my full support.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Perron.
Could I ask everybody to make sure they're on mute when they're not speaking? We're hearing some background noise.
Mr. Lehoux, you have the floor.
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View Richard Lehoux Profile
CPC (QC)
View Richard Lehoux Profile
2020-08-05 17:17
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would just like to add a few words. There is a great deal of pressure on the ground from farmers. As my colleague Mr. Barlow mentioned, farmers in the four production sectors concerned have not always received a response to their requests. The negotiations have been going on for quite a while, however. Calling the minister to appear is important so she can answer those questions and give us very specific timelines as well.
Our producers and processors have been patiently waiting and very tolerant of the delay. I understand we are still in a COVID-19 period, but it is all the more important that producers be heard and that, at the end of the day, both producers and processors get answers to their requests.
The minister previously said that she understood it was a matter of time and that an announcement would be coming. We need the minister to respond quickly.
As a first step, it would be a good idea to meet with witnesses and hear from the associations of producers whose products are currently in demand. They could bring us up to speed on the issues they are facing. Then we could meet with the minister so that she could give us specific dates very quickly.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Lehoux.
Mr. Barlow, you have the floor.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:19
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I didn't see any other hands raised, Mr. Chair, so I was just going to call for the motion to be voted upon.
Our producers are trying to set budgets for the upcoming year, and when they aren't sure what their compensation is going to be, it's very difficult to do so. We have certainly heard, all of us on this committee, the anxiety and the frustration coming from our agriculture sector. It started with the harvest from hell last year, then the illegal blockades, then the increase in the carbon tax and now COVID. It's been a very difficult year, and for our producers to be able to set their budgets, they need to know the situation when it comes to this particular issue on this compensation package.
I would ask for the motion to be brought to a vote, and then I would ask the chair and the clerk to do their best to schedule the meetings as quickly as possible. I would suggest a maximum of three meetings. I am fine if you have to be a little bit creative, Mr. Chair, on how you do that, whether it's one four-hour meeting or two three-hour meetings. We understand that the current situation is a bit tricky, so I'm fine with however you feel fit to try to schedule that.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Barlow.
Yes, I can certainly work with the clerk on that. Everybody would have to send their lists of witnesses. It's not going to be a very long list, but we need some witnesses for the clerk to work with. I imagine we could set a date as a deadline to have that list submitted. Today is Wednesday. What about tomorrow or Friday? Do you think we could get that list before the end of the day tomorrow or Friday?
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:21
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I think, Mr. Chair, all of us know who the stakeholders are going to be that we're going to be asking. I don't think there will be any curve balls, certainly not on our end. Is there anything planned in that respect?
I think it would be more than doable to have that list of stakeholders and witnesses to you tomorrow.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Okay.
Mr. Perron, had you—
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View Alistair MacGregor Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Chair, I had my hand up.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
I didn't see your hand. I'm sorry about that. I saw Mr. Perron.
Go ahead, Mr. MacGregor.
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View Alistair MacGregor Profile
NDP (BC)
Just very quickly, I'm very supportive of the motion and, like John said, I don't think we're under any illusions as to who our main witnesses are going to be. In fact, I think I spoke to all of them this morning in advance of this meeting and what I got was a sense of frustration. They really do want to work with the government, but I think their patience has very much run out, given the length of time.
If we could have a committee meeting that runs four hours, I would be in favour of that—if we could have the stakeholders on one panel and the minister on the other. Next week is a scheduled sitting of the House. I don't know if that makes it easier, given that we all have plans to attend that either virtually or in person, but I don't think we're under any illusions as to whom we need to hear from.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. MacGregor.
As I said, I think everybody knows who they want to see as witnesses at this meeting, so maybe we should just make sure that we have that list right now. As you say, definitely there was the minister, and I think Mr. Drouin suggested the four organizations.
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View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
Yes, I suggested the Chicken Farmers of Canada, the Egg Farmers of Canada, the Turkey Farmers of Canada and then the hatching group. I forget their official name, but it's the hatchers. Those are the four that have not yet been covered.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Okay.
As for the others, the growers or processors, you can forward them to me by tomorrow, if you wish.
Mr. Perron, did you raise your hand?
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
Yes, I raised my hand. May I speak?
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Yes, go ahead, please.
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
I have a question about the motion before we pass it. I might have a minor amendment to suggest, and I would like my colleagues' opinion on it.
Dairy farmers have received a first payment, but they are expecting the second one. Does the wording of the motion permit us to ask the minister about that payment date or do we need to change something?
I would like to hear what my colleagues have to say about it. Perhaps Mr. Barlow would like to comment.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Barlow, do you want to comment on that?
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:24
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I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I just didn't hear the translator very well.
Mr. Perron, do you mind repeating it again? I apologize.
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View Alistair MacGregor Profile
NDP (BC)
I heard it.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:24
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Go ahead, Alistair.
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View Alistair MacGregor Profile
NDP (BC)
I think, Monsieur Perron, if you have your six minutes with the minister, it's up to you as to what you want to ask her. You'd be free to do so.
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
In terms of the compensation involving payments in the second year, it must be said that there has been some inaction and that some commitments have not been met.
It's fine. I am okay with that.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Perron, when the minister is here, you will be free to ask your question on any subject you choose. Does that work for you?
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
Yes. If the committee members agree, we could also invite the dairy farmers. That will give us one more group of witnesses.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
You can submit the list of those you wish to invite, by tomorrow evening.
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View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Chair, I just want to ensure that we stay on topic. I have many dairy farmers where I live, but it is important that we focus our attention on the groups that have not had an announcement yet. At the meeting, it will be important to give our full attention to them and them alone. The letter was sent by Mr. Barlow. If we cast the net too wide, we will no longer be talking about anything specifically.
I would like us to focus precisely on the four groups affected by supply management who are still expecting an announcement from our government. We owe it to them to stick to that.
Of course, if Mr. Perron wants to ask the minister a question when she is here, he can do so. However, if he wants to have another meeting with the dairy farmers only to discuss other things, that is altogether a separate matter.
I find we are not doing a service to the community we are trying to serve right now, that is, the four supply-managed farming groups other than the dairy farmers, who have already had an announcement. Mr. Perron can put the question to the minister, if he wants, but we must stay on topic, the poultry sector.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
We do have a motion. It would need an amendment if we wanted to go there.
Right now, as the motion stands, it's for Canada's poultry, egg farmers and—
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
It is not an amendment, Mr. Chair. That was absolutely not the intent of my question or my comment. That is why I formulated it, not as an amendment, but as a question to my colleagues.
Let's keep it in mind, however. I have no problem with the rest. As for Mr. Drouin's comment, I totally understand that they are the people who need our attention.
Let's take it one step at a time.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Okay.
Are there any other comments on the motion? I don't see any hands raised.
I'll read the motion again:
That the committee invite the Minister of Agriculture, department officials and poultry and egg stakeholders to provide an urgent update to the committee on the lack of action on promised programs from the government to support Canada’s poultry and egg farmers as a result of losses resulting from recent trade agreements.
That is the motion as presented by Mr. Barlow.
Are we all in favour of the motion?
Or perhaps I can ask this: Is anyone against the motion?
I don't see any hands raised or any signals against the motion. I will take that as consensus for the motion.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Mr. Barlow.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-08-05 17:29
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Thank you, everybody. I appreciate the support.
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View Pat Finnigan Profile
Lib. (NB)
Okay.
Just to help with our list of witnesses, we're looking at three meetings. That would be six hours. If we do two hours, one with the minister and one with the officials, that leaves us four hours for other witnesses. At three per panel and three per hour, that would be 12 witnesses.
Since we're here, is everybody ready to provide their list right now? We're really looking for about 12 besides the officials and the minister, if I have this right.
Hang on: Let's just follow the first plan and have you send your list of witnesses by tomorrow. We'll go by the same ranking we had with previous studies. If you can send in your list by tomorrow evening, we'll go with that.
Are there any other comments or questions?
If not, thank you, all. We shall certainly see you soon. Thank you for joining the meeting.
The meeting is adjourned.
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View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2020-07-30 15:02
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I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 47 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. We are meeting on government spending, the WE Charity and the Canada student service grant. Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons' website.
I'd now like to welcome the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister, we certainly welcome you and thank you for accepting our invitation to appear before the committee. I was informed, just a few minutes ago, that you've been able to reassign your schedule somewhat so that you can spend at least 90 minutes with us. We appreciate that very much.
With that, I will turn the meeting over to you for your opening remarks, Prime Minister. I believe we'll try to hold you to 10 minutes, and then we'll go to questions.
Welcome, and thank you.
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Chair.
This spring, Canadians were plunged into the worst crisis of our generation. Even now, people are getting sick and being hospitalized, and unfortunately, too many are dying from COVID-19. Families are still grieving, losing their jobs or going through very challenging and worrisome times.
Our government had to take action. Our country had to deal with a contagious and deadly virus. Each person's behaviour and decisions could protect or compromise everyone's health. All Canadians had to take action to limit the spread of the virus, but that called for considerable sacrifices.
People had to be able to count on their government. We could not ask them to stay home and avoid going to work without assuring them that we would help them pay for their rent, their mortgage or their groceries.
We knew it was better to take quick and decisive action, even if that meant making mistakes along the way. Taking action slowly while trying to avoid mistakes at all cost would have been just as bad as doing nothing at all.
Given the pandemic and the economic crisis, the government had to be creative and flexible. We could not hesitate or limit ourselves to the normal ways of doing things. The pandemic is clearly not over, but the actions our government has taken have helped protect Canadians across the country.
Throughout the crisis, Canadians have been amazing. Canada is returning to normal. The economy is recovering, but there are still concerns, as we are witnessing the beginning of what could become a second wave. As Dr. Tam said earlier this week, this means that we must remain vigilant.
The pandemic presents a number of challenges for students. Minister Chagger discussed with your committee those challenges and what our government is doing to address them.
We have put forward a $9-billion plan to help students get through this difficult period. For example, we imposed a moratorium on student debt repayment, increased the number of summer jobs and introduced the emergency student benefit, which gives students $1,250 a month. The Canada student service grant was also part of that plan. The program was designed with three objectives in mind.
The first objective was to encourage students to get involved in their community during a crisis. The second objective was to help non-profit organizations fulfill their mission and support struggling Canadians. The third was to give students who volunteer financial compensation in recognition of their services.
From the outset, we knew that time was of the essence. After all, even if—
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View Marty Morantz Profile
CPC (MB)
Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.
I just want to clarify. As per your ruling on Tuesday, July 28, when you said, “If it were politicians, then we'd get into the four-second, four-second”, I just want you to confirm that for this round there will be strict adherence to the practice of equal time for questions and answers.
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View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2020-07-30 15:07
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I will allow it as a point of order.
I will explain this when we start questioning, Mr. Morantz. The answer to it is really yes, but I will explain to the witness why we're under COVID-19 rules, basically.
Mr. Prime Minister.
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
From the outset, we knew that time was of the essence. After all, even the best program imaginable wouldn't make any difference if it couldn't be delivered this summer. We had to quickly connect the thousands of students who wanted to volunteer with the many community organizations that needed an extra hand because of the pandemic.
At first we had hoped to use the Canada service corps. The Canada service corps was created in 2018 to encourage young people to serve and connect them to opportunities in communities across the country. By developing networks, creating partnerships with existing organizations and offering microgrants, the plan had always been to scale up the program over the coming years to ensure that many thousands of young people could serve their communities and their country every year.
When the Canada student service grant was initially conceived, I expected that the Canada service corps would help deliver the program. The service corps is an important and long-standing part of our national youth strategy, and I knew that making it responsible for the CSSG would accelerate its development. Ultimately, however, the public service concluded that delivering the CSSG required a third party partner external to government, and that WE Charity should act as that service provider.
I first learned that WE Charity was being proposed to deliver the program on May 8, when the CSSG was to go before full cabinet. Until that date, I had not spoken at all with my staff about WE Charity in relation to the CSSG. In fact, as of May 8 my expectation was still that a supercharged version of the Canada service corps would likely deliver the program. From my perspective, WE Charity hadn't come up.
As you know, by May 8 the public service had already concluded that WE Charity was the best option to deliver this program. They had formally recommended it. The CSSG, including the recommendation that WE Charity be used, had already gone through the COVID committee of cabinet on May 5. I was not involved in either of those steps.
On May 8 I received a briefing before the cabinet meeting and learned for the first time that WE Charity had been recommended as a partner and was on the cabinet agenda. I asked why the plan didn't involve the Canada service corps. We were told that the Canada service corps wouldn't be able to scale up to deliver the program in time. This was disappointing but ultimately not surprising to me, given my understanding of the state of the Canada service corps' development and other demands facing the public service at the time.
Of course, policy staff in my office had been working with the Privy Council Office and other departments. They knew that WE Charity was under consideration. However, I never spoke with my staff about WE Charity or its proposed involvement in administering this program until May 8. I also never spoke to Craig or Marc Kielburger, or anyone at WE Charity, about the CSSG. I did not speak to either of them at all during this period.
As it became apparent to me, my chief of staff, Katie Telford, also didn't know until the briefing on May 8 that WE Charity was being proposed. My chief of staff and I were finding out about this important part of the proposal only hours before the cabinet meeting. Even given the rapid pace of work during the crisis, this was not the way things were supposed to go.
We learned that there had been tough questions asked about the CSSG proposal and WE Charity during the COVID committee a few days earlier. We both felt that we needed more time before this item was presented to cabinet—time to consider and understand the reasons behind the proposal that WE Charity deliver the program. On that issue we had several questions that we wanted answered, particularly given my specific expertise in youth issues.
During the pandemic, the government was working very hard and very quickly. We still are. It was not uncommon for me to be briefed on something relatively close in time to the cabinet meeting. Here, however, given the scale of the program, the questions that had been raised and my own commitment to youth issues, we needed more time. As well, we both knew that WE Charity was known to be connected to people in our government, including myself, as I had spoken at their events in the past. We knew that the selection of WE Charity would be closely scrutinized. We wanted to make sure that the process and decision were the best possible in the circumstances, so I decided to pull the CSSG proposal from the cabinet agenda for May 8 so that further work could be done.
This wasn't an easy decision. We knew the urgency. By the end of April, many university students had finished their exams. We were already a week into May, but we pulled the item from the agenda so that we could be confident that we were doing the right thing the right way.
My primary concern was to make sure that the public service could fully support its recommendation that, without a doubt, WE Charity was the right and indeed the only partner to deliver the program. I was briefed again on May 21 and the public service told me that they had done the due diligence we had asked for and that they were confident in the recommendation. In effect, they said that, if we wanted this program to happen, it could only be with WE Charity.
The choice was not between providers. It was between going ahead with WE Charity to deliver the program or not going ahead with the program at all. Given the public service advice, I was comfortable that the CSSG could now be presented to cabinet.
On May 22, Minister Chagger presented the program to cabinet, and cabinet approved it. After cabinet approved the CSSG, the next step was to approve its funding. Here, the briefing note from policy staff in my office recommended imposing an additional oversight measure in the disbursal of the approved funding. I agreed with that recommendation and directed that, before additional tranches of funding were released, Minister Chagger would have to write to the President of the Treasury Board to provide an update on the CSSG.
When cabinet approved the CSSG, obviously I knew that I had spoken at various WE Charity events. I'd never been paid to do so. I was also aware that my wife had an unpaid role as a WE Charity ambassador and ally. I knew she appeared at WE Charity events and that when she travelled to get to an event, WE Charity covered her related expenses. I also knew that Sophie had recently launched a podcast on mental wellness in conjunction with WE Charity. The Ethics Commissioner had approved this role, including WE Charity covering her expenses.
I also knew that my brother and mother had worked with WE Charity as well as with other organizations. However, I did not know how much work either of them had done with WE Charity or how much they had been paid. These were things that I would only learn after the program launched publicly.
That said, sometimes recusing oneself can be the right thing to do even if it's not required. Here, my mother's connection to WE Charity and the other connections in my family could lead some people to wonder whether those connections had played some role in the decision to select WE Charity. That, of course, was not the case.
WE Charity received no preferential treatment, not from me, not from anyone else. The public service recommended WE Charity, and I did absolutely nothing to influence that recommendation. I didn't even know it had been made until May 8, and when I learned that WE Charity was recommended, I pushed back. I wanted to be satisfied that the proposal that WE Charity deliver the CSSG had been properly scrutinized.
As I said, I should have recused myself from that decision to avoid any appearance of favouritism. I know that appearances can hurt a good program, and that is of course exactly what happened in this case. It's really a shame, especially since this program could have been very important for students and our communities.
To conclude, there was never any direction by or attempt to influence from me or my staff that the public service recommend WE Charity. Getting young people to serve has been a goal of mine well before I ever got into politics, so I deeply regret how this has unfolded.
It's now July 30. Our government is delivering an up-to-$9 billion aid package for students. Unfortunately, the grant for volunteer service is unlikely to be part of the package this summer, and that is something that I regret.
I'm pleased now to take any of your questions.
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View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2020-07-30 15:18
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Thank you, Prime Minister.
Before we go to questions, on Mr. Morantz's point and also for relevance, I remind the committee of the original motion. It says, “as part of its study on COVID-19, hold hearings...to examine how much the government spent in awarding the $912 million sole-source contract to WE Charity, and how the outsourcing of the Canada Student Service Grant to WE Charity proceeded as far as it did”.
To Mr. Morantz's point, and I think you are aware of this, Mr. Prime Minister, given the way questions work in the House of Commons—I call it the COVID-19 questioning experience—each member is allocated so much time. We will stick to six minutes for the first round and five for the second today, for questions and answers. As for the process, if there's an eight-second question, we expect the answer to be eight seconds. I will try to track that on my iPad, but I may be a little off from time to time. There will no doubt be interruptions of the witness, the Prime Minister, by the chair and probably by members as well so that we stick to those rules.
In the first round of questions, we'll have Mr. Poilievre, followed by a splitting of time between Mr. Fragiskatos and Ms. Koutrakis, and then Mr. Fortin and Mr. Angus.
Mr. Poilievre, the floor is yours for six minutes.
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View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-07-30 15:19
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Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Prime Minister.
What is the total dollar value of all the expenses reimbursed, fees paid to and any other consideration provided by the WE group to you, your mother, your spouse, your brother and any other member of your family? I'd like just the total, please.
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
I don't have that exact figure. Reimbursing expenses is something done by an organization, for example, so I don't have those totals.
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View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2020-07-30 15:20
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Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.
What's the relevance of these questions on ancillary fees paid to family members, given the official motion?
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View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2020-07-30 15:20
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I don't think that's a point of order, Ms. Dzerowicz.
We'll go back to Mr. Poilievre.
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View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-07-30 15:20
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You're telling me you don't know how much immediate family members have been paid in expense reimbursements by this organization.
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
My mother and my brother are professionals in their own right who have engagements, and have for many years, with many different—
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View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-07-30 15:21
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Do you know?
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
—organizations across the country. I don't have the details of their work experiences or their expenses.
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View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
2020-07-30 15:21
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What about your spouse? What is the dollar figure?
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
I think WE Charity has been able to share those dollar figures with you.
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