THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL FINANCE
OTTAWA, Thursday, December 7, 2017
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, to which was referred Bill C-63, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures, met this day at 8 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: My name is Percy Mockler, a senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.
I wish to welcome also all of those who are with us in the room and viewers across the country who may be watching on television or online. I would like to ask the honourable senators to introduce themselves at this point, starting on my left.
Senator Marwah: Sarabjit Marwah from Ontario.
Senator Pratte: André Pratte, senator from Quebec.
Senator Marshall: Beth Marshall from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton from Ontario.
Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais, senator from Quebec.
The Chair: Today, we are continuing our study of Bill C-63, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017, and other measures.
This type of legislation is squarely in line with the National Finance Committee mandate received from the Senate of Canada. To discuss Bill C-63, the proposed budget implementation act, 2017, no. 2, we welcome this morning, from the Canadian Nurses Association, Ms. Carolyn Pullen, Director, Policy, Advocacy and Strategy; and, from the Centre for Health Science and Law, Mr. Bill Jeffery, Executive Director.
I have been made aware by the clerk that each has a statement to make, following which the senators will have questions.
Ms. Pullen, the floor is yours, to be followed by Mr. Jeffery.
Carolyn Pullen, Director, Policy, Advocacy and Strategy, Canadian Nurses Association: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It’s my privilege to be here today on behalf of the Canadian Nurses Association.
I’m a registered nurse representing CNA, the national professional voice for over 139,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners across Canada. I’ll be referring to nurse practitioners hereafter as NPs.
Across Canada there are close to over 5,000 NPs who provide care to over 3 million Canadians. As members of the committee are likely aware, while NPs work in all care settings, including urban centres, they are the predominant primary care providers in rural and remote communities all across Canada.
I am pleased today to speak about specific measures related to NPs in Bill C-63, the budget implementation act, 2017, no. 2.
On November 7, 2017, CNA appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance on this bill. Today we welcome this opportunity to inform members of this committee about the important role NPs play in health systems in Canada and how this bill will improve access to care for patients.
NPs are registered nurses who have practised for at least five years as registered nurses and then have completed graduated-level education to specialize in advanced care delivery. NPs in Canada are educated, regulated and licensed to provide comprehensive primary care services, including performing physical assessments, writing admission and discharge orders, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, including controlled drugs, and even performing minor surgical procedures.
On March 22, 2017, which was budget day, NP eligibility to certify form T2201, the federal Disability Tax Credit Certificate, or the DTC, came into effect. In follow-up, CNA has made announcements and offered information and education to NPs to inform them about this new privilege.
As of December 3, NPs can now also complete medical reports for Employment Insurance special benefits which support family members taking time off work to care for family members.
The additional proposed amendments in Bill C-63 will enable NPs to provide care to patients to the full extent of their qualifications, including completing documentation about their patients’ medical conditions.
CNA has conducted a full review of the proposed amendments in Bill C-63. We are pleased to let the committee know that the amendments will complete the remaining clauses and modernize legislation by adding nurse practitioners in appropriate sections.
The changes include identifying NPs in the Income Tax Act and Income Tax Regulations as eligible to provide certifications or reports related to tax measures wherever certifications or reports are currently provided by medical doctors.
CNA and the Nurse Practitioner Association of Canada are pleased that the proposed amendments will update the Medical Expense Tax Credit, the Child Care Expense Deduction, the definition of “qualifying student,” and Registered Disability Savings Plan and Registered Pension Plan regulations.
We encourage members of the committee to accept the proposed changes, which will enhance access to care for patients whose primary care provider is a nurse practitioner.
On a related issue, CNA is looking forward to welcoming changes to the Canada Pension Plan disability benefits. Over the last two years, CNA has met with ministerial and departmental officials at ESDC about a policy change that will expand the authority of NPs to provide patients with the medical evidence they require for disability benefit applications and forms. These changes will take effect in the coming days and will enhance access to care and lower health care costs.
Finally, I’d like to encourage the members of the committee to support our additional recommendations outlined in CNA’s 2018 pre-budget submission, which has been widely circulated to parliamentarians. Our recommendations outlined in our submission include the following: to invest $125 million over the next five years on public education in tandem with the passage of Bill C-45, related to the legalization of cannabis. These funds would include a one-time investment of $1.5 million to offer education specifically for nurses on medical cannabis and harm reduction related to legalization of cannabis. This is in relation to the fact that nurses have such direct contact with Canadians from coast to coast and have a large education role play.
Further, we recommend a $45 million investment over five years to scale provincial and territorial acute care and community-based antimicrobial stewardship programs, including a one-time investment of $1.5 million to increase antimicrobial competence and capacity among nurses to improve how antibiotics are prescribed and used by Canadians.
Finally, to close the health care gaps experienced by indigenous peoples, we recommend investing $500 million over five years to improve education infrastructure in rural and remote communities. CNA believes one mechanism to improve care is to develop an indigenous health care workforce, which will require students to have equitable access to high-quality education. In tandem, we recommend an investment of $500 million over five years to improve access to high-quality primary care, home care and palliative care for indigenous peoples and indigenous communities.
In closing, I encourage members of the committee to support Bill C-63. This bill builds on important changes made in Bill C-44, the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Pullen.
Mr. Jeffery, please go ahead.
Bill Jeffery, Executive Director, Centre for Health Science and Law: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Centre for Health Science and Law is a health advocacy organization based in Ottawa. We have a policy of accepting no funds from industry or government. We’re still in the start-up phase of this new organization, but we’re funded by revenues from our subscribers to Food for Life Report, and all senators and MPs receive copies for free.
I speak today on behalf of the Centre for Health Science and Law, but my main submission relates to a proposal that was made to the Minister of Finance by the Coalition for Healthy School Food, of which we are a member. I sent a copy of the letter, which unfortunately is only available in English at the moment — the letter that we sent to the Minister of Finance — about a month ago to this effect.
While I would like to read the text of an amendment to Bill C-63 at the end of my statement, the gist of the letter is that, in our view, there is a problem of policy coherence between the fact that the federal government collects tax revenue from the sales of alcohol, tobacco and food — and I have some estimated amounts — and soon will collect it in connection with cannabis, as is proposed in Bill C-63. But those are all products that give rise to health problems that have a very large impact on the Canadian economy and on health.
So there’s a need for policy coherence between how much money is collected from taxing those things and how much money is spent on programs to address the health risk.
Finally, and perhaps obviously, there is a moral hazard for governments collecting tax revenue from products that lead to harm.
We were able to discern some figures through a variety of means. I would preface this by saying that according to the Global Burden of Disease report — and I can provide the details to the committee later — approximately 50,000 people die as a result of nutrition-related and tobacco-related illnesses. When it comes to alcohol, it’s perhaps 8,000 deaths per year. We don’t have figures for cannabis, but it’s presumably smaller than 3,000 deaths per year. They’re all significant contributions to premature death.
Interestingly, although these are not official figures, we were able to determine from a variety of sources that approximately $4 billion a year are collected by the federal government from taxation of each of food, alcohol and tobacco. There is a variety of estimates on the amount of revenue that would be generated from cannabis taxation by the federal government that range from $240 million a year to $4 billion. This doesn’t take into consideration the amount of funds the provincial governments would take in both from taxation and also from the sale of these products, if they use a model similar to the sale of alcohol, in which case they’re the principal seller and benefit from the profits.
On the spending side of it, to the best of our knowledge, the federal government has spent less than $2 million a year on funding for healthy school food programs, as an example. In most previous years, it has spent almost nothing or nothing. I only had a few hours to prepare for this hearing, but we don’t know precisely how much money is spent on smoking cessation programs, although the Department of Finance recognized that, I think, $84 million are spent on tobacco control overall and then, I think, approximately another $50 million on enforcement of existing law.
Rather than summarize, perhaps I’ll use this opportunity to read the proposal into the record. We’re proposing that subclause 171(3) of Bill C-63 be amended as follows:
That paragraph 40(e) of the act is inserted following paragraph 40(d), and 40(e) would read:
Prescribing the time and manner that the minister shall place before Parliament an annual report on the revenue received by the federal government and by provincial governments under this Act in relation to the sale of cannabis, alcohol, tobacco and food; and expenditures on nutritious school meal programs, alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs, and smoking cessation programs.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Thank you. We will go to questions.
Senator Eaton: Thank you very much, Mr. Jeffery and Ms. Pullen.
Mr. Jeffery, you said 50,000 people die each year, approximately, from food-related disease. Are you talking about obesity and diabetes? What are you specifically talking about?
Mr. Jeffery: Health Canada and the Public Health Agency rarely express these numbers, so we rely on a database that was created using government statistics from around the world, based at the University of Washington in Seattle, called the Global Burden of Disease project. They don’t actually have figures for obesity —
Senator Eaton: And it’s 50,000 people a year in Canada die?
Mr. Jeffery: Yes. They break the cost down by the amount attributable to insufficient fruits and vegetables, and insufficient whole grains intake, as well as excessive sodium intake, and so forth. I can provide further details of that.
Senator Eaton: Remember Mayor Bloomberg in New York put a tax on sugary drinks? Have you done any studies to show that taxing certain foods with high amounts of sugar, salt or fat is useful?
Mr. Jeffery: We haven’t done the studies ourselves, but that was actually the cover story for an issue in our magazine, which I’m happy to share with the committee — the way the food is taxed. Most of the studies that have been done on taxing food indicate that the biggest benefit comes from taxes on sodium. That’s where you can get the biggest reduction in harm.
But we’ve advocated re-examining the way that GST/HST is applied to food, because the rules were basically created several decades ago, before a lot of these diseases were well understood. So we have a lot of very perverse rules, such as if you go to a grocery store and purchase a salad, fruit salad or club soda, it’s taxable, but if you buy bacon, lard or salty foods, often they’re exempt from tax. In a way, our food tax system is contributing to a lot of chronic disease by creating disincentives to purchase some healthy foods and incentives to purchase unhealthy foods.
Senator Eaton: Ms. Pullen, you’ve read, I’m sure, that the CRA has been difficult with people with disabilities, diabetes or autism. I think the new rules would demand that a diabetic has to prove how many hours a day they actually have to watch their blood sugar. Do you see nurse practitioners having difficulty in areas where they have to say, yes, a person has a disability, or yes, a person deserves this tax credit? Do you think they need more certification so the CRA will not give them problems?
Ms. Pullen: I’m not sure I would say they need more certification, but clear information and clear instructions about eligibility would benefit all providers and beneficiaries of the tax credit, the general public, so that it can’t be misinterpreted and then inappropriately denied to a patient.
We see that happen in a number of cases, where information about a new tax credit or a change to the tax code is not well understood or well communicated. So people either fail to apply and don’t access benefits they’re entitled to, or they may be inappropriately denied.
In follow-up to that, we’re pleased to be participating in a CRA advisory committee, which is looking not at specific changes to the tax code in that area but to improving information so that it can be clearly understood by all stakeholders.
Senator Eaton: Yes, by them, too. The Auditor General was quite rude about the amount of bad information that’s handed out.
Senator Marshall: My first question is for Ms. Pullen, and it’s a continuation of my colleague’s questions.
You mentioned in response to Senator Eaton that you would like to see clear directions from the Canada Revenue Agency with regard to the completion of Disability Tax Credit information. Have you received any new direction with regard to the completion of the Disability Tax Credit for diabetics or autism? Because those are the two issues in the media.
Ms. Pullen: We have not received additional information at this point.
Senator Marshall: I believe you said it was at the start of the fiscal year that the nurse practitioners were gearing up to complete the Disability Tax Credit. How many nurse practitioners are there in Canada?
Ms. Pullen: Currently there are just under 5,000 NPs in Canada, with the greatest concentration in Ontario at just over 3,000.
Senator Marshall: So any of those 5,000 can complete the Disability Tax Credit?
Ms. Pullen: That’s correct.
Senator Marshall: And with the training that you talked about in your opening remarks, does that include training specifically on the Disability Tax Credit?
Ms. Pullen: No. The training that I referred to in my remarks was their education to move from registered nurse licensure to nurse practitioner licensure, which is moving to become an advanced practitioner. That would have more to do with physical assessment skills, like the clinical aspects of practice. But whenever there’s a legislative change or policy changes, groups like the Canadian Nurses Association and other nursing leadership bodies step in to provide information to our members.
So in this case, because the change to the Disability Tax Credit came into effect on budget day in March, in follow-up to that, the CNA prepared information and education sessions open to all nurses interested, but it would be primarily NPs who would be interested, to attend webinars or review print information to learn specifically about the tax credit.
Senator Marshall: So there is additional training available. But even without the specific training, they would still be able to complete the Disability Tax Credit information?
Ms. Pullen: Yes.
Senator Marshall: Thank you very much.
My next question is for Mr. Jeffery. I was looking at your suggested amendment, and I’m generally supportive. The amendment in Bill C-63 is pretty well restricted to cannabis. Why have you broadened your suggested amendment to include alcohol, tobacco, food? Why would you not have just restricted it to cannabis, since the amendment we’re looking at is restricted to cannabis?
Mr. Jeffery: Thank you for the question, senator. Other parts of Bill C-63 fine-tune the taxation method for beer and tobacco. So in a way, taxing cannabis is kind of a new system that’s starting out, and taxing food and tobacco and alcohol are mature sources of revenue. The federal government is tweaking the rules a little, although it’s different with food in that, to the best of my knowledge, the tax rules related to food were designed by economists 50 or 60 years ago, without the benefit of any understanding of the health impacts it might have. Certainly since then, our understanding of the relationship between diet and disease has changed quite dramatically.
So this is a plea for policy coherence, I would say, and second, an opportunity to illustrate that the biggest sources of harm among those four products are tobacco and food, poor diet, not so much cannabis, although obviously there are some health concerns there.
Senator Marshall: Also, the annual report that’s in your amendment would be on revenue. Did you give any consideration to broadening what would be in that annual report? For example, maybe the agreements with the respective provinces should be in the report. That would be very interesting to read. Did you look at any other areas besides revenue?
Mr. Jeffery: I will say that I did more exploration to find out what kind of revenue was generated by this. I did notice, as I indicated in my comments earlier, there is a lot of revenue from profits that provinces enjoy, which I think is also important. Taxing products that are harmful is beneficial for public health, obviously.
The reason we designed the amendment in this way was to avoid two technical problems with this kind of approach to public health. The first is that the Senate can’t really change a money bill without a Royal Prerogative; and, second, finance ministers are very much opposed traditionally to earmarking funds.
I don’t know if you were around, senator, about 15 years ago —
Senator Marshall: I was around.
Mr. Jeffery: — when there was an effort on the part of the Senate to create a fund into which — it wasn’t called a tax — some kind of revenue from tobacco companies would go. That revenue would be used to generate smoking cessation programs. It fell short, unfortunately, so this is an effort to raise the issue of the connection between the revenue coming in and the harm.
Senator Marshall: And programs available.
Mr. Jeffery: Yes.
Senator Pratte: Mr. Jeffery, I’m trying to better understand your suggested amendment. You’re trying to create or make apparent the discrepancy between the revenue generated by those taxes and the spending on programs, which you believe would prevent or reduce the harm done by cannabis and alcohol by funding nutritious school meal programs, alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs, and smoking cessation programs.
Some might say that taxes generated by cannabis, alcohol and tobacco would also go to other programs. For instance, taxes generated by tobacco might go to health care for cancer patients. That would not be included in the spending included in your amendment, and that would go into the hundreds of millions. I’m wondering if the amendment is now incomplete because many more spending programs could be included in there.
Mr. Jeffery: That’s certainly true, senator, although reporting the information, even if it were stated more broadly, would at least force the conversation and promote the idea of policy coherence. It is interesting. I didn’t include the figure in my submission, but one estimate was that the total burden of alcohol-related harms is something in the neighbourhood of $16 billion, which is far more than the amount of revenue generated from taxing alcohol and from the profits from sales of alcohol. I think it’s important that Canadians and policy-makers have this policy coherence, which I think would be promoted by this transparency.
Senator Pratte: Personally I would have difficulty with the amendment. That has nothing to do with the health issue, but certainly from a federal-provincial relations aspect, I would have difficulty having, in a federal statute, provincial governments report to the federal Parliament the use of their taxes on specific programs. I think it would have to be negotiated with them first, namely, whether they would agree to report to the federal minister so that the minister can report to Parliament. I would be very surprised if they agreed to do that. In those negotiations, most provincial governments would say, “We’ll report to our constituents what we do with our money and not to the federal government.”
Mr. Jeffery: To illustrate my response, in the case of alcohol taxation, there is fairly detailed information reported to Statistics Canada about the amount of revenue collected by both levels of government, and they pump out that information.
By contrast, with regard to food, we were able to approximate an estimate using a variety of sources of information about the amount of various types of food sales and then apply rules in the Excise Tax Act to those figures to estimate how much revenue was collected, because the Department of Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency don’t request it to be broken down by the type of food that the tax is levied on. So it’s a bit difficult to follow what is happening and in some cases requires a lot more analysis and reliance on a variety of databases than makes sense to me in a policy coherence environment.
Senator Pratte: I’m talking more about the spending data.
Mr. Jeffery: Yes. Obviously I don’t want to disturb federal-provincial relations, but it’s very difficult to find out how much money the federal government is spending on school meal programs. As part of this coalition, we have regular meetings and we stumble across details every few months. We do a lot of searching on the Canada Revenue Agency website. The information is always incomplete. We have had discussions with a number of government officials. It is difficult to get this information, and I think it wouldn’t be if there was an obligation on the Minister of Finance to report it.
Senator Pratte: Is there easily available data on what the provinces spend on those kinds of programs?
Mr. Jeffery: On the school food program, one of the ways that we get information is in many provinces — but not all of them — the provincial government provides funding to charities to deliver the programs, and the charities are required to report the source of funding on the Canada Revenue Agency website. So that’s extremely easy. However, if they provide it in another way or delivered the services themselves, it requires going through a whole bunch of spending documents, or whatever, and compiling our own reports. That is so difficult that it is a hot potato in the coalition; nobody wants to do it because it is so labour intensive.
Senator Maltais: My first question is for Ms. Pullen. Is the Canadian Nurses Association a national association, or does it have agreements with the nurses’ associations in every province?
Ms. Pullen: Thank you for your question. If you don’t mind, I am going to answer in English.
The Canadian Nurses Association is very proud that we are one of the rare groups that can actually claim membership by individuals in all provinces and territories across Canada.
The association’s actual members are either the provincial nursing association, which brings all of their provincial registered nurses to our association, or in some provinces, such as Ontario and Quebec, individual nurses can join CNA directly because there is no jurisdictional or provincial association to bring the members collectively to CNA. So our 139,000 members either come in groups through a provincial member or as individuals in two provinces.
Senator Maltais: You accept people who are members of their provincial associations.
Ms. Pullen: Yes. Historically, and still in many cases, the provincial nursing regulator had the dual role of acting as the regulator and the professional association whose mandate it is to advance the profession. In some provinces the decision has been taken to split the role of the regulator from the role of the professional association because they perceive a conflict in both protecting the public and advocating for the profession. The resulting effect is the situation we have now where in some provinces there is both a regulator to which all licensed nurses belong and an association which has voluntary membership, and that association brings their members to CNA. Other provinces where there is only a regulator, all members belong to the regulator and all of those members come to CNA.
The net effect is that in some provinces 100 per cent of regulated registered nurses and nurse practitioners are members of CNA, and in other provinces, either just the subset who voluntarily join their provincial association or who individually join CNA are our members. It’s quite a mixed model at the moment and it’s in transition routinely at present.
Senator Maltais: My second question is for Mr. Jeffery. You have drawn up a list of taxed products that could be described as harmful, such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and so on. If you take the overall amount the federal government will collect in tax on these harmful products, does it offset the additional costs for health care? All in all, will the government collect more in tax than the expenses related to these diseases?
Mr. Jeffery: I don’t know the answer to that in all cases. As I said, the estimates for the future tax from cannabis vary quite widely, and I’m not aware of good estimates of the costs of cannabis consumption.
The best example is the case of alcohol. I’m not at specialist in alcohol, but I remember reading from a credible source that the burden of alcohol was about $16 billion a year. I think that the revenue collected by the federal and provincial governments might be close to that.
In the case of food, which is the area I’m most familiar with — I have been working in it for 20 years — there are poor estimates of the economic burden of diet-related disease. There have been a few estimates on the cost of obesity — some from the Public Health Agency of Canada are around $7 billion a year — but the federal government has also estimated that diet-related disease may have a huge impact on productivity, in one case indicating that people with nutritious diets were 11 per cent more productive than those who were consuming non-nutritious diets. That is a massive drain on societal resources. If that were true, then the amount of money collected from food taxes would be much smaller than the burden.
Senator Maltais: I’ll stop you here, because I think your information is incorrect. Diabetes is very well controlled today. I know what I am talking about. I am diabetic and that has never prevented me from working. Your figures are not accurate when you say that 11 per cent of diabetics are ineffective at work.
I’d like to make another point. In Canada, it isn’t alcohol that kills, it is taxes, because people consume taxes. If all of these products we tax are harmful to our health, why not simply prohibit them? I’m asking you this question, and I have put it to many people in government. Nobody wants to stop collecting the taxes, but everyone wants to fight the harmful effects of the products. There is something illogical there.
The Chair: Mr. Jeffery, if you want to verify certain statistics, please don’t hesitate to come a back to the committee through the clerk.
Mr. Jeffery: Certainly.
Just to be clear, senator, the 11 per cent figure was not an indication that every single person who has a poor diet is 11 per cent less effective. It was an estimate that, on average, people with poor diets are 11 per cent less productive than people with healthy diets. That was from a regulatory impact assessment concerning nutrition labelling that was published in the Canada Gazette in 2015, and I can provide the committee with that.
Second, as one example — and I am more of an expert in food, but the evidence might be clear with alcohol because it is a simpler product — the World Health Organization has identified that as the fifth-highest cause of death in the world. It’s a very important cause of premature death, mostly related to cancer in Canada. I think a lot of countries around the world, including Canada, have learned from the problems associated with prohibiting products outright. Often it’s not an effective way of reducing consumption, it leads to a large black market and all kinds of other problems. So we don’t advocate prohibition of alcohol, or cannabis for that matter, or incarcerating people for the use of those products.
I’m happy to provide the other information to the committee.
Senator Andreychuk: To the Canadian Nurses Association, I have been impressed with your work and your dedication to patients, which is first. Do you still have members at large in your nursing association who are not nurses so that you do reach out to the public?
Ms. Pullen: We do. Thank you for your question. We currently have three public representatives on the CNA board. One of those three seats is specifically allocated to a person of indigenous descent to try to bring the indigenous voice to our board table.
Senator Andreychuk: I should disclose my conflict; I was one of the members at large some 20 or 30 years ago.
Ms. Pullen: We’re still going.
Senator Andreychuk: Therefore, I know and agree with the nurse practitioners and the quality of care and the advanced education. I’m reasonably confident that you’re going to deliver that excellence of care for the patient. My concern is, how are you going to be able to tie that to CRA? Because that’s a certification, which is almost an auditing or accounting issue. Doctors have grappled with that in the past: “I’m certifying, for a federal agency, certain competencies.” So you need to do your medical assessment, I understand, but then you apply the rules of the game and you have the directives from the CRA.
The gap I’m concerned about is whether the nurse practitioners are going to get enough information to be able to handle that bureaucratic issue, which then leads to things like the diabetics who are on the list and off the list. You will find nurse practitioners trapped by having to justify what they have done. That’s my concern. Is there money, is there education on that side of it, and competence to accept that?
Personally, I’m not an accountant, an auditor or a bureaucrat. I’m a nurse. I can assess the capabilities, the needs. How do I apply it to a directive of whether you get funds for not?
Ms. Pullen: That’s a very important issue, and I thank you for that question. It’s a similar challenge that any profession or group would experience with any similar change where knowledge mobilization and information is critical to a successful change process.
Certainly, the national association and the provincial regulatory bodies stay abreast of these changes and work collaboratively to advance these changes where appropriate. And in follow-up, it falls to us to be among the leaders if providing information and education to the nurses who are affected by these changes.
As an example, when the bill passed in March, very closely on the heels of that change, CNA produced a webinar about the change, with instructional information that we derive from CRA or from other departments that are implicated in the change. It was freely accessible and promoted to all nurse practitioners to get the clearest information out. It was recorded and then archived for future reference.
The regulatory bodies would do the same thing. If you went to the provincial websites, you would see similar structures in place. And where appropriate -- for instance, changes around the medical assistance in dying legislation -- other essential groups would also be part of that change process, such as the Canadian Nurses Protective Society. They would, similar to CNA and the regulators, have extensive information, education opportunities and individual supports to inform and support nurses in the transition.
I think it’s very important that we have been invited to the CRA advisory table to delve more deeply into these issues, because you are absolutely right that the successful execution and uptake is dependent on people having the right skills, knowledge and practices for it to unfold properly, so that practitioners are not vulnerable and Canadians get the benefits they deserve. It is something we will monitor closely and try to provide supports around.
Senator Andreychuk: I’ll go to your amendment because it’s the focus. We’re struggling here on what is going to actually happen on cannabis and who will deliver it. It seems that the government is putting estimates around what they need, but we hear from provinces that they are going to be delivering it, that they need the revenue. So we’re not sure who will get the sales tax. Will it be 50-50 as the federal government seems to want? We have the pushback from the provinces?
I look at your amendment, Mr. Jeffery, and I understand wanting the coherent policies. I’m all for that, but I’m not sure it belongs here, to try and sneak in — “sneak” maybe the wrong word, but it seems that way. All of a sudden we are talking about alcohol, tobacco, food, and it would be good to get statistics on what they’re going to do on cannabis, per se, because we are starting a new venture. It would be good to get statistics in order to track where the revenues are, et cetera. That would be a first step towards being cohesive and then do the comparative analysis between alcohol, food, et cetera.
That would be one of my contemplations. I like the idea of gathering that information. It’s necessary and the government should be doing it, but to go that one step further to do the comparisons may be a bit too much. So I’d like your answer.
The other thing is that you are quoting figures on cannabis, but it has been when it has been illegal and there isn’t enough research. We are going to be moving it into a legalized process. We have absolutely no idea what kind of harm reduction strategies we are going to need because we don’t know where they are going to be. There are great problems with medical conditions for young people using marijuana, unlike other drugs, we are being told. And we need more research and more knowledge in that regard. I don’t see that in your listing.
What monies and capacities are needed for research? We should know whether they are actually doing it. They are saying they’re going to follow and track that.
Those are my two comments on your amendment.
Mr. Jeffery: I’ll address the second point first.
We’re a big proponent of doing research, and I know Health Canada, the Public Health Agency and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research all fund research, and it’s important to do that. I’m a big advocate for policy-relevant research and aligning the research priorities with the risks, as we’re trying to do with this information disclosure here.
But I always get a little worried about baby steps, or “let’s start with this thing.” Of the four things, cannabis is the smallest health risk, at least by current estimates, and the smallest amount of money involved -- although it may rise -- before we tackle the big problems that we’ve been ignoring for decades. The simple fact of the matter is that Bill C-63 does fine tune rules about taxing alcohol and tobacco, so I don’t think it’s too far gone. Some of these statistics are already collected; they’re just not reported together, so we can’t have this conversation about policy coherence.
Senator Andreychuk: You have done the food statistics and those on alcohol. We’ve had those legalized schemes, and we’ve had food guides, et cetera, for food, so we have been tracking some of that. It’s not coherent. I get your point.
On cannabis, we haven’t been tracking it that way because it was illegal. We have bits and pieces. Now we are going to put in a whole scheme throughout Canada and access it in different way. I have no confidence in any of the statistics we’ve had to this point being relevant for a new regime.
Mr. Jeffery: This may sound like a peculiar analogy, but when Health Canada considered changing rules regarding fortification in Canada, they assumed if they allowed companies to fortify their products, they could predict the nutritional impact by assuming that consumption would remain the same and that the fortification wouldn’t be used for the purpose of marketing and increasing the consumption of certain types of products. I don’t know if Health Canada doesn’t have the capacity or the economists, but predicting consumption when incentives change is certainly an issue.
Although my impression is that it’s not a doomsday scenario. I don’t think every kid in Canada will start smoking dope when it becomes legal. In fact, for a lot of them, it may lose its appeal.
Senator Marshall: I’m looking at your proposed amendment again, Mr. Jeffery, and you’ve linked up cannabis with drug rehabilitation programs; that seems to be the correlation. My question to both of you: Do you think the sale of cannabis is going to lead to an increase in health care costs?
Mr. Jeffery: The important thing is that it leads to health care problems now, and I don’t know if it will be a rise or fall because I don’t know the baseline. It’s speculative.
Again, my personal view, which is not a view of the organization, per se, but I don’t think people should go to jail for consuming cannabis, but I don’t think they should consume it either. I don’t want my kids to do it, but I don’t want them to go to jail for it. The amendment is about ensuring we think about these things and how much it costs to fix the social ills that are caused by these products being marketed.
Senator Marshall: Some of the provinces, and even some of my colleagues in the Senate, feel that the legislation should be delayed, that it’s very ambitious to think everything will be in place by the summer. Do you have any views on that? Do you think the legislation should be delayed?
The Chair: That could be answered in a “yes” or “no.”
Mr. Jeffery: I’m not a cannabis expert. There are not that many of them, presumably. I read the act, former Minister McLellan’s task force report, the regulations and the discussion paper last night, quickly. It seemed to me there aren’t actually regulations being proposed, and it does seem like it’s a quick agenda to get everything in place.
Ms. Pullen: We haven’t taken a firm position on this. Our assumption is that the legislation will pass as it is right now, according to that schedule, but we certainly recognize there are very large gaps in public education around both medical and illegal cannabis. So we are highlighting that gap.
Senator Eaton: Ms. Pullen, you want $1.5 million in education for nurses and nurses practitioners on cannabis. What will you do if you don’t get the money?
Ms. Pullen: CNA will do what it’s always done, which is find partners to work together to deliver education through vehicles that we can tap into with the resources we have. Our honest observation about that, though, is that with better resourcing, such as resourcing often provided by Health Canada to, say, physician groups, we could do more comprehensive and far-reaching education using multi-modalities, and better-serve adult learning needs and reach more individuals, whether nurse practitioners or registered nurses.
Senator Eaton: Do nurse practitioners go into schools? Do you see yourselves going into schools once you’ve had any education on cannabis and helping teachers?
Ms. Pullen: The school nurse role varies province to province. In most cases, that role has largely been eliminated and replaced by public health nurses, who may have schools as part of a broader portfolio.
Regardless of the sector they work in, nurses have the most front-line contact with patients in Canada, and they will the ones in a doctor’s office on intake or in emergency rooms taking the questions from parents who are alarmed or teenagers who are afraid to ask anybody else.
As the first point of contact, it’s really essential we have the best knowledge to understand professionally and to disseminate to multiple other people.
The Chair: Thank you. Before we close, I have a question.
Bill C-63 would amend the Income Tax Act to allow nurse practitioners to certify that an individual has a mental or physical impairment for the purpose of the education tax credit.
Ms. Pullen, what is the training of nurse practitioners on mental impairment, to determine mental impairment?
Ms. Pullen: Thank you for your question. First, just a few points about nurse practitioner practice.
Many nurse practitioners in Canada have specialized areas of training; for instance, they might be a nurse practitioner who works exclusively in oncology, diabetes or a specific area. In those instances, they would know it is beyond their scope of practice to make assessments of that nature.
On the other hand, some nurse practitioners are highly trained in primary care and would have the training and skills to make those types of assessments. They would know that that’s within their scope.
It really falls to them make that professional decision about their capacity to certify.
The Chair: That leads me to another question. Do you believe that nurse practitioners will need training to determine the legal level of cannabis consumption?
Ms. Pullen: In a simple word, “yes.”
The Chair: To the witnesses, thank you very much for sharing your opinions, your comments and your recommendations. As we go forward for next week when we table Bill C-63 with our recommendations and our views on it, if you want to add something, please do not hesitate to do so through the clerk. I was there years ago in another capacity and know that nurse practitioners play a very important role in maintaining quality of life in rural Canada. I wanted to say that.
Honourable Senators, we’ll now get back to work and welcome two other witnesses who are joining us by videoconference. Today, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance is continuing its study of Bill C-63, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 22, 2017 and other measures. This type of legislation is squarely in line with the national finance committee’s mandate. First, we have Mr. Frederick Dion, Director General of the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick.
Also, we will hear from Paolo Fongemie, Mayor, Chaleur region representative on the governing board.
After your presentation, Mr. Mayor, we will move to questions from the senators. With that, thank you for accepting our invitation. The floor is yours.
Paolo Fongemie, Mayor, Chaleur region representative on the administration council, Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick: Honourable Senators, first I would like to thank you, on behalf of the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick (AFMNB) and its 50 member municipalities, for giving us this opportunity to convey our concerns about the financial impacts of the federal acts that will legalize the consumption, sale and cultivation of cannabis, which will come into effect on July 1, 2018.
Before getting into the substance of the issue, let me describe the situation to you. The AFMNB is a group of francophone and bilingual municipalities from five large regions that go from the northwest to the southwest of New Brunswick. Our member municipalities represent close to 300,000 people, almost a third of the province's population.
Our country’s Constitution only recognizes two levels of government, the federal and provincial levels. However, the evolution of our society and the nature of services delivered to citizens have necessitated the creation of a third order of government, which has been given more and more responsibilities over the decades. Several provinces have in fact legally recognized municipalities as an official level of government, including New Brunswick, which adopted a new law on local governance. This new status is more than symbolic as it represents the first step in the creation and application of the taxation principle that implies that when possible it is the government that is closest to the population which must take responsibility for public action.
Everyone is in favour of this change in the legal status of municipalities, given the scope of the responsibilities they now have. The only problem is that the taxation framework must allow them to take these responsibilities, which are increasingly numerous, and the framework has not evolved in the same way. The main source of revenue for municipalities continues to be property taxes, which are a poorly adapted taxation tool to allow them to discharge their new responsibilities and offer the quality services citizens have the right to expect.
The federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis is a blatant example of a decision made by another order of government that will have a major impact on municipalities. In fact, municipalities are the level of government that will be the most directly affected by the host of changes the legalization of cannabis will bring. Unfortunately, once again, municipalities were not a part of the discussions that would have allowed them to discuss as equals all of the issues raised by what has to be one of the most important public policies adopted in Canada in the past half-century.
Like the Federation of Canadian municipalities and the municipal associations of the other provinces, with whom we work in close co-operation, our association is attempting to evaluate the impact of the legalization of cannabis on municipal services, as well as the costs that will be incurred. The public safety issues related to the legalization of cannabis will surely be the first concern of municipal public officials and police forces. The training and certification required by police officers to detect impaired faculties among drivers who will have consumed cannabis, the purchase and maintenance of equipment needed for that detection, the hours of overtime work that respecting detection protocols will entail, and the presence in court of police officers to ensure that offenders are convicted, are some of the new obligations that will have an immediate and long-term impact on municipalities.
The cities that have their own police services are currently attempting to determine the costs as they prepare their 2018 budgets, and they are doing so on the basis of partial and incomplete information. An increase in costs is inevitable. The municipalities that have a contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) will also be affected. Those that work in co-operation with the RCMP, and that is 90 per cent of municipalities in New Brunswick, know that these new costs will rapidly be transferred to them and will be added to their annual bill. There will also be new expenditures for firefighting and prevention services as they will have to conduct inspections to ensure that certain rules governing the production of cannabis are respected. New Brunswick has already determined that it will allow the home cultivation of a maximum of four plants. Compliance with the laws and regulations of fire prevention as they relate to the cultivation of cannabis will add to the work of fire departments.
Land-use planning is a primary responsibility of local governments. And so it is inevitable that municipalities will have to review their zoning plans in order to adapt them to certain activities related to the consumption, sale and cultivation of cannabis. There will be costly processes to develop new zoning regulations, and also to ensure compliance. Although this may seem trivial, municipalities will have to change signage. They will have to clearly identify areas where certain activities are authorized or prohibited, such as the consumption of cannabis in public places.
We understand that awareness-raising and public health campaigns will be conducted by the federal and provincial governments to remind everyone of the dangers related to the consumption of cannabis, particularly young people. Local governments will also have a role to play in raising awareness. The combined efforts of the three levels of government are essential to ensure that the legalization of cannabis does not cause major public health and safety issues.
As you’ve just heard, municipal responsibilities are many. That is why we deplore the fact that we have until now been shut out of the main discussions that should have involved all three levels of government, and not just the federal and provincial governments. We need to be partners and work together to ensure the successful implementation of this new public policy.
With this in mind, it is imperative that we discuss the financial resources that will be required to allow municipalities to fulfil their new responsibilities. We applaud the federal government’s decision to create an $80-million fund intended for all of the country’s municipalities. However, there has been no information as to the formula that will be used to allocate those funds, and we don’t know if they will be sufficient. What we do know, however, is that this is a one-time fund that will in no way ensure adequate long-term support. That is why we are asking for a share of the excise tax on cannabis products. Like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Union des Municipalités du Québec, we are asking that a third of the income collected by the federal government be returned to the country’s municipalities. A formula similar to the gas tax formula could easily be developed by provinces and municipalities to ensure a fair, equitable sharing of revenue. It is imperative that these legislative changes you are making include a revenue-sharing mechanism in order to avoid transferring an unbearable burden to municipalities everywhere.
Finally, I wish to remind you that municipalities are essential partners in ensuring that the legalization of cannabis takes place in a sustainable and safe way. It is urgent that roles and responsibilities be defined, as well as the capacities of all government levels. As the government that is the closest to the population and has the on-the-ground expertise and knowledge, municipalities are anxious to work closely with Ottawa and the provinces to coordinate our joint action in this file. In order to guarantee the long-term safety of the population, municipalities need predictable funding to ensure the ongoing management and implementation of the new legal and regulatory provisions related to the legalization of cannabis. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor.
Looking at the time frame that we had waiting for this panel, senators, if we could each ask one question, it will permit all the senators to ask a question. If time permits, we’ll go to a second round.
Senator Eaton: Thank you very much, gentlemen.
How far along in your planning are you when you think about rules for retail locations, home cultivation, taxation from cannabis sales — I guess you’re dealing with the province on that — public education, public health and law enforcement? Have you been working on this for a long time? Have you started to work on it or are you almost there?
Mr. Fongemie: We have not reached that level in our planning. As we prepare the budget for the municipality, we are examining the cost of training police officers to ensure public safety. We are still waiting to hear about the means of detection to know more about the type of training that will have to be planned. According to the New Brunswick Association of Chiefs of Police, the cost for level 1 tests could be $500 to $1,000 per police officer. We have about 1,000 police officers in the province, and very few of them have taken this training.
In addition, costs of $7,500 to $10,000 are expected for each police expert; there will always have to be one present during a shift. We expect this to represent approximately 2 per cent of police force operating budgets. In Bathurst, we have a municipal police force. So, these are operational costs of 2 per cent, which means expenses of $100,000. Because we have little information, it is difficult to plan the zoning, land use and firefighting services. The rules are not set yet. So, it is difficult for us to make decisions and plan properly.
Frederick Dion, Director General, Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick: That is the problem with the current process; the federal government has adopted laws and the provinces have a certain latitude to pass other laws and regulations. However, we are not involved in official discussions with the provincial government. And so, we get piecemeal information about the measures that will be put in place, with which the municipalities are going to have to work. It’s difficult to have a global picture and assess the overall impact. We are basing ourselves on forecasts made by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which projects expenditures of $210 million to $355 million for municipalities as a whole. The Parliamentary Budget Officer…
Senator Eaton: For New Brunswick or Canada?
Mr. Dion: For Canada. The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s evaluation is that the $1 excise tax could bring in $618 million annually. So if you assess the costs conservatively, you are at $210 million, or about a third. If all of the measures became more costly, it could take 50 per cent of the projected revenue to meet all of the municipal obligations.
Senator Pratte: We had a meeting with the Minister of Finance this week. Aside from telling us he was open to sharing the excise tax with the municipalities, he described the process as a negotiation between the Government of Canada and the provinces; and then the provinces will be free to discuss the share that will eventually be given to them with the municipalities. Does this a process suit you? The negotiations will first of all take place between Ottawa and the provinces, and then you will negotiate your share of the pie with the Government of New Brunswick.
Mr. Dion: In our opinion, there ought to be municipal representation at these discussions. We understand that according to the current formula, and to respect fields of jurisdiction, the federal government must cooperate with the provinces, but we would like to see the Federation of Canadian Municipalities take part in these discussions, since it represents the interests of the majority of municipalities throughout the country.
The example we have in mind is a formula similar to the gas tax sharing arrangement, which would respect jurisdictions, but would allow a set amount to be transferred to municipalities via the provincial capital. In this way, we would at least have a precise formula. The gas tax formula may be a good example to use for the transfer of part of the federal excise tax. Yes, we should be invited to the discussion table — and I’m simply putting the idea out there — and perhaps the Federation of Canadian Municipalities should be our chosen representative.
Senator Pratte: If I remember correctly, for the gas tax, there is a set part that is transferred directly to municipalities and another part that is given to the provinces, correct?
Mr. Dion: That is correct. In fact, all of the gas tax goes to municipalities. In New Brunswick, because of issues with the local governance structure, the province retains a small part of it, but generally the entire amount is distributed to the municipalities.
Senator Pratte: The configuration of municipalities varies a great deal. There are municipalities in rural areas and in urban ones. Do you think that the reality of the legalization of cannabis will be very different according to the location of municipalities, or do you think that the situation will be the same everywhere?
Mr. Dion: There are indeed very different realities Canada-wide. Things are not going to unfold in the same way in Montreal as in Moncton. The small municipalities of barely 1,000 residents in New Brunswick will have certain unavoidable responsibilities which will remain the same. Perhaps the burden of small municipalities, all things being relative, will in fact be greater than that of some large cities. That reality should be taken into account, but once again, we are measuring the impact of the legislation that will be put in place. It’s difficult to assess that impact. We are trying to get a global picture in order to be able to determine costs. The proposal of receiving a third of the excise tax is certainly a starting position in the negotiation.
Senator Pratte: You said you think that each police force will need an expert officer present for each shift. I’m talking about an officer who has expertise in evaluating drugs, who has to be available to administer drug tests in order to determine whether drivers’ faculties are impaired. Is that it?
Mr. Fongemie: Yes. Either using saliva or blood samples, the expert will determine the situation but we will need one in every police force.
Senator Maltais: Welcome, Mr. Dion, and welcome, Mr. Mayor of the beautiful city of Bathurst. The allocation of the gas tax is good, and I think that it is quite a fair formula. However, in this case, it will not cover your municipality’s costs to purchase equipment such as devices to detect drug consumption, and everything police officers are going to need to do their work properly. You are going to need more than the gas tax; there will have to be an initial investment for your police force or these costs will be passed on to the taxpayers in your city. If it costs $50,000 or $100,000, your taxpayers are going to foot the bill; you have not planned for that, and so this is unfair.
The other small issue is that your city is close to the Quebec border. If the two provinces don’t set the same legal age for consumption, you won’t need one officer per vehicle, but two. This issue is much more serious for border towns. Moncton is not a border town. It will not have the same issues you will have, Mr. Mayor, in Bathurst.
Mr. Fongemie: That is true; the issues will be different in our area. This is the type of information the association of chiefs of police is trying to compile in order to get ready. It is difficult because the information is incomplete. We know that our police forces will not be ready by July 1. It’s impossible. We can’t train all of our patrol officers at the same time. The province has a three-year training plan to train one-third of patrol officers. We find this difficult, because we would like more officers to be trained in order to keep the peace adequately at all times. There are some important issues related to preparation.
Senator Maltais: If the government persists in wanting to bring this measure into effect on July 1, this will cause trouble for your city and all Canadian cities for the next year or years.
Mr. Dion: Yes, Senator Maltais, this is an important concern at this time — the deadlines, the very tight schedule, the implementation, the legalization. As Mr. Fongemie mentioned, municipalities are preparing their budgets because the fiscal year goes from January 1 to December 31, and we have very little information as to the overall training costs and the cost of equipment, and so on. So, it is getting late in the game and we are still not at the table, the municipalities are not a part of the discussion, and that is quite deplorable. We aren’t in favour of a moratorium, but if there were to be a delay, the municipalities of New Brunswick are not going to complain. Perhaps we need to take the time to do things right.
The other point, as you mentioned, is the cost of implementation; there will be a federal fund of $81 million, but here again, there have been no discussions with us as to how this will be distributed nationally. There has also been talk about a five-year fund, but will it be sufficient? I doubt it. For New Brunswick, if a per capita formula is used, we may wind up with $1.9 million or $2 million of this money which will go to the province. If you look at all of the officers involved and all of the municipal obligations, that is very little.
Senator Marshall: Thank you very much for your testimony this morning.
I’m looking at the legislation before us. It references the Government of Canada and the provincial government, but there’s no reference to the municipal governments. Have you had any discussion with the provincial government thus far with regard to this issue?
Mr. Dion: Yes, that is a stumbling block. We tried to reach out to the provincial government to set up a formal framework so that a discussion could be held at that level. Unfortunately, we have been kept out until now, and the province also seems to be caught off guard in its negotiations with the federal government. We would have liked the province to show more leadership and be more open to understanding all of the issues that are at play at this time. It’s unfortunate, but New Brunswick has no official framework for provincial-municipal discussions on the specific issue of the legalization of cannabis.
Senator Marshall: You’re responsible, mayor — you’re Mayor of Bathurst, and it encompasses the Chaleur region. Can you give us an idea as to the magnitude of costs that you’ve incurred so far and what you expect to incur, even up to July 1?
Mr. Fongemie: We are making it up as we go along, day by day, unfortunately. The training required has been defined but has not yet begun. We are trying to set up a training schedule for the new year. The province has already indicated its intention to set up cannabis sales outlets for the Crown corporation in 15 municipalities. What remains is the urban planning and zoning work. These are files that are added to the duties of current employees, which had not been a part of our planning. We have a lot of questions about home cultivation and about how this will be regulated at the municipal level. We won’t know which homes are growing cannabis. The issues involving planning, signage, and schools are of concern to us. We need to train municipal officers who will be in charge of zoning changes. We will have to devote some time to amending our zoning limits and our municipal plans. That is an overview of the time and efforts that will have to be expended at the municipal level. It’s difficult for us to come up with a figure because the information is trickling down to us piecemeal from the provincial government negotiations. I think it is deplorable that we are expected to be ready in six months. We feel powerless in the face of the need to plan adequately.
Senator Marshall: Are you going to be ready in time? Would you like to see a delay, as some of my colleagues are recommending?
Mr. Fongemie: We know it’s inevitable. A 12-month period until July 1, 2019, would improve public safety both for police officers and firefighting services. The city of Bathurst still has employees in its fire brigade. However, in the municipalities that surround us, these are volunteer firefighter brigades. This is an issue for these municipalities, as they depend on volunteers. An additional 12-month period would allow us to prepare adequately to ensure the safety of our citizens. There could be a moratorium, at least. Pushing the date forward six months would allow us to train a minimum number of officers.
The Chair: Mr. Dion and Mr. Fongemie, thank you very much for your clear, specific presentations. Your observations are leading us to rethink certain things.
I should tell you, mayor, that Senator Marshall, from Newfoundland and Labrador, used to live in Bathurst, so she knows the area very well. I was not authorized to share that; I just said that I would bring it to your attention.
Honourable senators, we will continue with the next panel.
From Ottawa to Bathurst, we thank you most sincerely.
Our next panel is from the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, and we have with us Derrick Hynes, Executive Director.
I have been informed, Mr. Hynes, that you have a statement and opening remarks. I will recognize that you make your preparation now, to be followed by questions from the senators.
Derrick Hynes, Executive Director, Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications: Thank you, chair.
Honourable senators, you will notice that I have a voice that isn’t particularly strong. I lost it last night. I felt a slight cold coming on yesterday, and like the Canadian fool that I am, I still went and played hockey last night. That did not make it better, so I’m going to speak slowly and clearly, as close to the microphone as I can be. Protecting my voice is not usually a problem for me, but it is right now, which I think my children will thoroughly enjoy for a couple of days.
Let me tell you a little bit about FETCO, which stands for Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications. That is a mouthful. It is why we normally call ourselves FETCO.
We are all federally regulated firms in the transportation and communications sectors. The common areas that bind our companies together are labour relations, human resources, these sorts of matters, primarily under the Canada Labour Code.
We have existed as an employers’ association for over 30 years and essentially my members are the who's who in the federal sector. I am talking about firms such as Air Canada, Canada Post, CN, CP Railway, Telus, Bell Canada, NAV CANADA and the like.
Most of our members are heavily unionized, and we have a long and successful track record of tripartite engagement in federal labour relations and those sorts of matters.
About Bill C-63, what I want to say today deals with Division 8, those changes that have been proposed to the Canada Labour Code. As you know from the bill, essentially three buckets of changes are being proposed. The first introduces the right to request flexible work arrangements for employees in the federal sector. The second creates three new unpaid leave provisions — family responsibility leave, leave for victims of family violence, leave for Aboriginal cultural practices — and it also expands a current form of leave, which is bereavement leave. Third, this bill proposes various changes to employment rules under the code dealing with such issues as overtime, work schedules, shift changes, those sorts of things.
I’d like to tell you about the background around the way FETCO has engaged with the government over the years in terms of legislative, regulatory and policy changes under the Canada Labour Code. This process has been proven to work and the process is tripartite in nature. It is collaborative and consultative. There are three stakeholders. They are FETCO; the Canadian Labour Congress, representing the employees; and Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, representing government. We have a long and storied history of collaborating at the front end before changes are proposed, and we try to come to agreement so when changes do come forward, the implementation is seamless.
Our fundamental concern with Bill C-63 is that some of these proposed changes have been brought forward absent of such comprehensive tripartite consultation, which is typical for changes such as these.
As such, FETCO has two key recommendations for your consideration. First, while we remain opposed to a legislated solution for the right to request flexible work, we acknowledge that it is the government’s prerogative to do so. We applaud the government for the consultation that it followed to get to this result. Even though we actually disagreed with the result, we respect the process and appreciate that the details of what this will look like have been left to the regulatory process, which again will be tripartite in nature.
We have specific changes to the language around flexible work in this bill, and I will follow up with your committee by the end of the day tomorrow with some detailed comments from our member organizations, line by line, which I don’t think we want to do during my five minutes of speaking to you today.
Our second recommendation is more substantial. It is that the three new leave provisions and the expanded leave provision introduced in this bill, and all the changes that have been proposed under Part III of the Canada Labour Code, be removed from the bill. These matters can then all be discussed in a current consultation that is being led by the Minister of Employment Workforce Development and Labour. We are partaking in a consultation right now on Part III of the code. Many of the matters you have in this bill before you have not yet been discussed, but I know they will and can be as a part of that process.
That’s the end of my comments. Those are our two key recommendations. I would be pleased to take your questions, and we will follow up with more detailed responses to give you a line-by-line review of the bill, if that suits.
The Chair: Thank you. We will go to questions.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Hynes, I think your organization asked for delay in the legalization of cannabis because of the lack of definition of “marijuana impairment” and of technology to test for it. Could you elaborate on that?
Mr. Hynes: I was interested to see that was conversation before, because I have a full presentation of that issue as well. We have a lot of concerns about the legalization of marijuana. Our fundamental concern, as an employer community, is that the rules around impairment in the workplace, testing and trying to establish a means to deter use when an employee is at work are not well-known; they are not clear across the country. So we are already in a situation where it’s quite complex, and there is a lot of risk, particularly around safety for the workers themselves but then, when you think about the employers that I represent, the public at large.
We would like to see a more fulsome conversation around the workplace. To date, under Bills C-45 and C-46 there has been little conversation specific to the workplace. We think that when marijuana is legalized, that risk will only be heightened. So there is a great concern amongst the employer community.
Senator Eaton: To get to your presentation today, you would like the new leave provisions to be removed from the bill. Is that because in some instances people don’t have to give you notice? If I’m an Aboriginal person and I want to go fishing, it is a cultural practice of my community, I can just walk off the job? Is that the kind of thing you’re thinking about?
Mr. Hynes: When we look at the leave provisions, while we did engage in quite a comprehensive consultation around the right to request flexible work — I believe there was some tangential dialogue around enhanced flexibility — these leaves provisions, of which that is one, were a bit of a surprise to us. It’s not that we’re necessarily opposed to them, but we think we need to have a meaningful conversation where we entertain the potential implications of those decisions.
What you raised is a specific example. We have other detailed concerns about the language of the bill, but what you proposed is one; namely, that the employer is not entitled to notice in advance of an employee taking these leaves. While they are unpaid and may not seem to be a huge concern, they are a concern if someone does not come to work. You have to prepare for that.
Language around notice would be greatly appreciated.
Senator Pratte: Regarding flexible work arrangements, I’m a little surprised by your position as you’ve stated it, because I didn’t see a detailed brief on it. It seems to me that all it gives the employee is a right to request a flexible work arrangement, and the employer has many possible motives to reject the request. It gives the right to the employee to request it, but the employer can simply say “no,” with no possible consequence. I’m a little surprised that you would say, “No, we don’t want to give the employees simply the right to ask for it.”
Mr. Hynes: We engaged quite heavily in that consultation and raised a number of concerns around the issue of the right to request flexible work. At the outset, one of the concerns we brought forward is that, in the federal sector, we believed this is a solution in search of a problem, in some respects. Employers who are able to provide flexible work arrangements to employees, because of their operational situations — and I can speak on behalf of the members I represent — are already doing it where it can be done.
Our point was that creating a legislated solution to this was, in some respects, unnecessary. We agree that flexible work arrangements are a great tool in situations where they work. That’s sort of where we came in to the conversation.
To your point around the request being rejected, we still need to go through a regulatory process where we work out the details of what that involves. But there is an expectation there will be an administrative burden around these. We don’t know how many we will receive once the legislation comes into force. There are a lot of unknowns and some concerns around what that might look like.
Finally, I would say that the legislation does not really provide much of a framework for around what these requests look like in terms of the rationale behind them. You, as an employee, may come forward with a request for flexible work, but if I, as the employer, receive five on the same day, at this point, according to the language in the legislation, I have limited means by which to further understand what is behind the request. If there are conflicting requests, triaging them will be difficult for the employer community. How do I determine whether your flexible work request is more important than your colleague’s if they conflict with one another?
There is a lot of language there we put forward. I can share the submission we put forward as a part of consultation, but those sorts of things are our concerns. It is not a fundamental dislike or rejection of the concept of flexibility; in fact, we think most of our employers are already doing it.
Senator Pratte: I should know this, but it would be instructive for me certainly: What is the relationship between this kind of change to the Canada Labour Code and the collective agreements that exist in all your member companies?
Mr. Hynes: That’s a great question. They will conflict. There is no doubt there are going to be examples where a request for flexible work will conflict with the terms of a collective agreement.
I will give you a real example. A junior-level staffer with limited experience in the workplace wants to request a flexible work arrangement. Allowing that arrangement will mean somebody with a longer status in the organization will have to work that shift or give up their flexibility. I can assure you that the person with the seniority under the collective agreement will not be particularly thrilled about that.
How will that work? We don’t know. The presumption at this point is that the collective agreement will rule supreme. It will be what’s followed first, and the flexible work arrangement request will follow. But at this time, we don’t know the specific deals of what that will look like and which will trump the other.
Senator Pratte: Is there a general rule that if there’s a collective agreement that it overrides the Canada Labour Code?
Mr. Hynes: I wouldn’t say it is a rule, but certainly it is a practice. That really gets to the fundamental concern we bring forward, which is that when we propose changes to the Canada Labour Code, there are always unintended consequences from those changes. When the minister proposes a change, it’s helpful if the stakeholders — in this case, particularly, the employers and representatives of the employees — can bring forward practical dialogue around what the implications of that change might be. What you just described would be a perfect example of something we could bring forward to say, “We may have a conflict here, so we may want to write the language to allow for exemptions where a collective agreement is already in place.”
Senator Marshall: Thank you for being here today.
We had officials testify last evening about the proposed changes, one of whom talked about the federally regulated firms. You indicated that you are heavily unionized. In our discussions last night, we talked about the federal public service, which is also unionized, but this legislation won’t apply to the federal public service — that was my understanding from discussions last night — but it applies to you.
There are parts you would prefer not to be brought into force; you would prefer to see some amendments. In all likelihood, this legislation will go through. I do appreciate the comments you’ve made in response to Senator Pratte, but once the legislation goes through, what’s going to be the process? You’ll be bound by the legislation. Have you thought that far ahead, or are you hoping that the amendments will —
Mr. Hynes: It is our expectation that language such as this proposed in a budget implementation bill is likely to proceed. We do like to take every opportunity to remind all those who will hear us that the process we have that works is the one we always like to follow.
But to these specific changes around the flexible work arrangements, there is still work to be done. The language in the bill is reasonably high level, so there will be an opportunity at that tripartite table to have a dialogue around what the specific details of the implementation look like.
In terms of the leave provisions, it will be one of those situations where it will come into force, and we will need to sort out what that looks like. This refers back to the point from the previous question. The concern around leave is that there may already be leave provisions in collective agreements that are useful in the circumstances raised in these leave provisions. So then we have a conflict.
If the result is the leave provisions that are currently in place in an organization, where we’ve already met the standard being proposed in the legislation, if that can rein in an organization, that’s fine. But if we create a situation that is cumulative where we have all these leave provisions already in place in organizations that have been negotiated openly between unions and employers, and we pile on additional leave provisions, it gets complicated, and there are administrative and direct costs to the implementation of those.
Senator Marshall: That’s the other point I was going to make. We talk about unpaid leave provisions so it sounds like it will not cost anything, but you just raised the issue that there will be a cost.
Mr. Hynes: There are costs. There is an administrative burden to just processing leave requests, but there is also the cost in real life industry of having to bring someone else in to cover a shift. Usually when you are bringing someone in to cover a shift, they are making a premium on their wage to cover a shift at the last minute. There is certainly a cost.
It’s not that we’re necessarily opposed to the language of these types of leave provisions. In fact, most of our employers have language in collective agreements that allow employees the flexibility to take leave to accommodate many of these things indicated in the bill. The question is what it looks like when it rolls out and we now have, in some respects, competing language.
Senator Marshall: The unpaid leave provisions that you have presently, do you have any idea as to the incremental cost? Can you say that if you save $1 million because you are approving unpaid leave, it will cost you $1.5 million to bring in replacement people? Do you have any data like that?
Mr. Hynes: No. I’m sure we could generate it, but I don’t have a number at my fingertips. In the past year and a half, there have been a number of changes in the way workplace rules are enforced under the Canada Labour Code. This government has certainly made a commitment to flexibility for employees, and there is a cumulative cost to all of those things.
What we come back to — and this is from your earlier question — is we like to do this through the front door where we have that open conversation with all the stakeholders around the table and we can then, in a comprehensive way, determine the best way forward where we prioritize what we view to be the best benefits to the employee community at the best and most reasonable cost to the employer community.
Senator Marshall: Are the firms you represent large? We spoke about Air Canada and the large firms that you represent, but are there smaller firms also? It would make a difference whether it is a large or small firm.
Mr. Hynes: Almost all of the employers that I represent are very large, and we cover almost two thirds of the workers within the federal sector.
The federal sector is unique. It is transportation, communications and banking; so largely, perhaps with some smaller exceptions like the trucking industry, for example, which is often owner-operated, or smaller businesses, most of the federal sector is that large, traditional, heavy industry. So changes such as these, when we talk about flexibility, in many respects language already exists within collective agreements, or arrangements have been agreed to between employers and employees where there is no union present.
Senator Marshall: Do you see special impacts for the smaller firms?
Mr. Hynes: Obviously I don’t represent them, but logically I would think the impact would be greater. Because if you have a small employer with 10, 20, 25 employees, and there are new additional generous, even if they are unpaid leave provisions, they will be dealing with the operational realities of folks not coming to work with limited notice provided.
Again, not that leave is a bad thing. These leave provisions and the language around them all seem like good things in terms of the societal impact they might have. But the language needs to be written so that when it is implemented, employers are able to adapt on the fly. The more notice that can be provided, certainly for small- and medium-sized enterprises, the better.
Senator Marshall: That’s not the impression I had from the discussions with the officials last evening. The impression I had was that smaller firms are already doing this, so they should be able to transition into the legislation. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Mr. Hynes, you mentioned at the outset that you would provide the committee with additional information before the end of the day. Please do so through the clerk. That is important. In the event that within the next 72 hours you want to add additional information, subject matter or answers to questions that you have received from the senators, please do so before we table our report next week.
Do you have any closing comments?
Mr. Hynes: My plan is to provide you with a written brief by the end of the day tomorrow, if that suits.
The Chair: Yes.
Honourable senators, this concludes the meeting on Bill C-63 for this morning.
(The committee adjourned.)