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View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Welcome, Minister, and officials. Thank you all for joining us today to discuss the main estimates.
Minister, one of the most significant programs your department is responsible for, of course, is the employment insurance system. As a member of Parliament obviously I'm helping my constituents out from time to time with these issues. There is absolutely universal agreement that, thank God, Canada has such a program that helps people who have lost their jobs due to no fault of their own and in fact helps parents and mothers, because we have maternity benefits and parental benefits.
I was just reading an article last week. There is a big debate now in the United States because they don't have maternal and parental benefits in their employment insurance or social security system. We have those great things in Canada.
I want to ask you a few things about our EI system. Obviously, Canadians pay into the EI system through payroll taxes and these premiums fund the administration of EI. Obviously their employers make a contribution to the EI system as well. It's a great social safety net program that we have and I think all political parties cherish the EI system and the important role it plays.
I understand that Service Canada recently brought on additional staff to assist in the processing of EI claims. As a result, can you confirm that Canadians can expect to have their EI claims processed within the 28-day service window? Service Canada's standard, I understand, is 80% of claims processed within 28 days. Are we currently meeting that standard? I can certainly tell you that in my office I'm getting very few constituents coming in indicating that they are having issues with the processing of their EI claims, which tells me that it must be working, because otherwise, they'd be in my office.
Can you give us an update on that? Where are we on the service standards, and where are we generally on the strength of this very important program for Canadians?
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
One of the things I do want to do, and I think all members will agree, is that I certainly want to compliment the excellent work that the Service Canada office in Mississauga which my staff and I deal with are doing. They are being extremely helpful, I find, on some of these cases. Some of them are complicated in terms of how we get to insurable earnings, insurable hours, and those kinds of things. Sometimes those issues are a little bit complicated, but I've certainly found, in my experience anyway, that the ability to work with the individuals in the Mississauga Service Canada office has been outstanding. Please take that comment back to your staff, from my office and me, that I have found it to be quite good.
Minister, when we are processing EI claims, people are obviously concerned that things will be dealt with more efficiently. I'm assuming that more and more of these are being done electronically and that they're able to be processed fairly quickly in that manner. Is that the case, or if people are still doing the walk-in traffic thing, what is happening in these Service Canada offices across the country that will give us, as members of Parliament, a better feeling that there is someone there, a live body there who is actually providing a level of service to an individual who is simply dropping by to drop off that EI claim?
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Chair, I'm going to continue to follow on the housing theme. I appreciate Mr. Siddall being here on behalf of CMHC and sharing some time with the committee this afternoon.
Is it not correct that in the case of most, if not all, of the operating agreements with federal co-operative housing that the operating subsidy expires at the same time the mortgage on the property is paid off? I know two co-ops in my riding are actually going to be net ahead of the game, because their mortgage is actually more than the subsidy they're getting from CMHC. Is that not correct: is that not how these agreements are structured, that when the mortgage is done, the subsidy ends?
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
So it is a fair statement to say that there are many co-ops across the country where their monthly mortgage payments to CMHC are higher than the actual subsidy they're getting to subsidize some of the affordable housing units within the complex.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
If they're paying a 35-year mortgage of $10,000 a month on the property—most of them were 35-year mortgages, as I understand it—but maybe getting only a $6,000 a month subsidy to help subsidize the operation of the property and provide some of the units, they're actually $4,000 a month ahead when the agreement ends.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
I'm not saying that's the case for all of them.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Some of them will be net, and some of them may have some issues, but as I understand it, most of them will at least net out even at the end of the operating agreements.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Right. The subsidy and the mortgage are essentially the same.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
They're now mortgage free.
Perhaps you could give us some comments on the housing market in general, what you're sensing, or what CMHC is sort of sensing. We get comments all the time: there's a bubble that's going to burst, and people are buying houses they can't afford. Could you share a bit of your expertise and knowledge on that?
As a supplementary question to that, what is the solvency and status of the mortgage insurance business that you are doing? Are you still feeling fairly bullish about how it's working? I certainly know from the investment property side, where many apartment buildings are being bought and sold and CMHC mortgage insurance is backing up those mortgages, that industry is very pleased with that program. They give me excellent feedback all the time.
Perhaps you could take a few minutes to give us your sense on a couple of those things. Again, I appreciate your being here today.
Thank you.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
I guess it's a bit of a coincidence that Professor Mulvale just mentioned the housing first program, with which I've had a tremendous amount of experience, both in my life prior to being elected as a member of Parliament and being very involved in the program At Home/Chez Soi, through the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in Toronto. I actually think that's an excellent model and an excellent example of how social enterprise can work.
There is a component of that, you could argue, where someone makes a bit of a profit, and obviously that's the owner of the apartment building. He's providing an apartment unit at a market rent. The rent is subsidized through a government program. The clients who participated in the At Home/Chez Soi program were actually selected through a research project done through St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, and social workers were very much involved as partners in that very successful program.
When I think of a social enterprise model, that's what I think of. There might be one or two partners who might make a little bit of money out of it, but it is the outcomes that are important here. We housed 300 people with severe mental illness issues in permanent, solid housing, and in most cases we turned those people's lives around. That is a successful social enterprise model.
I want to ask Professor Mulvale, would you not agree that this is exactly the kind of model we're talking about here? We're not talking about social enterprise or social finance taking over public health care or public community support services that are being publicly funded and administered. We're talking about trying to do things a little bit better, and encourage collaboration and cooperation among a whole bunch of agencies.
I remember when we had the first meeting. There were groups that sat there in Toronto City Hall—I'll never forget the meeting—when I was running the apartment association. Organizations were there that had never spoken to each other ever, because they all worked in silos until this project was launched by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It actually brought those people to the table to ask whether there was a better way to help people with mental illness who are homeless, turn their lives around, get the medication and support they need, and make sure they have a roof over their head.
Would you not agree, Professor, that that's an excellent example of the kind of thing we should be supporting as the Government of Canada?
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
I was thrilled that I was a member of the special committee that looked into cooperatives in Canada. There's another example that I use. I think it's a very similar model. The reason that social enterprise is created in communities is the same reason that cooperatives were created in communities: there was a need that was identified by a group of people.
Maybe I'll get Lars or Justin talk about this. Do you see that similarity in the co-op model and social enterprise model? Really, communities are reacting to needs they have that are not necessarily delivered by direct government services. They've recognized a need, a neat idea, a collaborative, something they can do to make their communities better places. Is that not the kind of thing you're directly involved in?
I'm probably done, right?
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Good morning, Minister. Welcome to you and all of your officials. Thank you for taking time to appear before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, as you always do when we ask. We appreciate hearing of the initiatives within the various departments and of the work that's being done.
I want to ask for some more background, Minister, on the build in Canada innovation program. In my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville we have hundreds and hundreds of small businesses. Often when I meet and talk with them, including the Streetsville Business Improvement Association, as an example, one issue that comes up is how to sell to the Government of Canada, how to get their product, service, or whatever, into the tendering process. They have something innovative that they think the government could use to make systems or things more efficient or more effective. Obviously, as their local member of Parliament I try to get them through the necessary hoops to reach that goal.
Could you take a bit of time to talk in a little more detail? In your opening comments, you said, “Through this program our government is kick-starting Canadian businesses by helping them get their innovative products and services from the lab to the marketplace.”
Maybe you could take time to explain a little more about that program and then generally what is being done to help small businesses in particular sell their goods and services to the Government of Canada.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Minister, in your opening statement you said, “from the lab to the marketplace”. Can you expand on that? What exactly does that entail? Is it someone coming forward with a new innovation and running it by officials in the government or in your department to sort of say, “This is what it is and this is what it does”? You mentioned that this isn't a subsidy program or a grant program, that it's a program designed to help and support these small businesses.
Can you clarify that one line? I want to get more clarification on exactly what role the department is playing.
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, everyone, for being here today.
According to the 2015-16 estimates, PWGSC is requesting $2.175 billion for accommodation and real property services, which represents an increase of $209.4 million compared with last year.
Can you explain what the increase is in the accommodation and real property services program estimates?
View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Can I ask about the department's overall philosophy with respect to the leasing of space across the country? I'm assuming that there's a kind of checklist of what you're looking for, that it's not always based on...although obviously we want value for money when we're leasing any space across the country for the various government services that are provided.
I want to give you as an example the Service Canada location that services most of the Mississauga area, where I'm from. One of the issues the citizens are upset about is that the property is leased from a private owner—which is fine, and it's in a great location, very central—but there's paid parking on site. That really frustrates the residents who are coming to file an EI claim or coming for a citizenship ceremony or whatever at this particular location.
When we look at leasing property, are we looking at all of those variables—where the building is located and obviously what the rent rate is, but some of these ancillary issues—in the overall decision as to which property we're going to lease for services that are provided?
I'll leave it at that.
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