THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL FINANCE
OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 11, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, to which was referred Bill C-97, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2019, and other measures, met this day at 9:30 a.m. to give consideration to the bill.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators and the viewing public, my name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.
I wish to welcome all those who are with us in the room, and viewers across the country who may be watching on television or online.
As a reminder to those watching, the committee hearings are open to the public and also available online at sencanada.ca.
Now, honourable senators, I would like to ask each senator to introduce themselves.
Senator Klyne: Marty Klyne, Saskatchewan.
Senator Forest: Good morning. Éric Forest from the Gulf Region of Quebec.
Senator Pratte: Good morning. André Pratte from Quebec.
Senator M. Deacon: Marty Deacon, Ontario. Welcome.
Senator Duncan: Pat Duncan, Yukon.
Senator Boehm: Peter Boehm, Ontario.
Senator Neufeld: Richard Neufeld, British Columbia.
Senator Marshall: Elizabeth Marshall, Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Chair: Thank you.
I would now like to greet the clerk of the committee, Gaëtane Lemay, and our two analysts, Alex Smith and Shaowei Pu, who team up to support the work of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.
Honourable senators, as you will recognize, we have a clerk in training. Ms. Lemay, clerk of this committee, has selected for training here at National Finance, Ms. Stéphanie Pépin.
Welcome, Ms. Pépin to our meeting. If you can do at least 50 per cent of what Ms. Lemay does as a clerk, you will succeed very well.
On this, honourable senators and members of the viewing public, today we begin our consideration of Bill C-97, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2019, and other measures.
This bill was referred to our committee yesterday evening, June 10, by the Senate of Canada. This morning, we consider two elements of the bill specifically.
During the first hour, we will study Part 4, Division 22, which amends the Canada Student Loans Act and the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.
During the second part, honourable senators, of our meeting, we will discuss the amendments proposed to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act of the bill. But first to discuss the student loans measures, we welcome the Canadian Federation of Students, Ms. Sofia Descalzi, Incoming National Chairperson.
We also welcome Adam Brown, Chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, and Philippe LeBel, President of the Quebec Student Union.
Thank you to all three of you for being here and for accepting our invitation to share your opinions and recommendations on Bill C-97.
I have been informed that Ms. Descalzi will make a presentation, to be followed by Mr. Brown and Mr. LeBel.
Go ahead, Ms. Descalzi.
Sofia Descalzi, Incoming National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students: Good morning. I want to start by thanking you, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, for inviting our organization to speak about Bill C-97, the Budget Implementation Act.
I am the National Chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students. The federation represents over 500,000 college and university students across the country, from over 60 student associations. Our organization advocates for a universal, public, tuition-free system of post-secondary education across Canada, particularly for Indigenous learners whose right to education is codified in nation-to-nation treaties and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I’m joined this morning as well by Executive Director Justine De Jaegher.
We have been asked to speak to this committee on Part 4, Division 22 of the act pertaining to student loans.
This division introduces an interest-free period on the federal portion of the Canadian Student Loans for six months after graduation or otherwise cessation in enrolment. This is a welcome reform for students who are increasingly struggling under the weight of student debt. It is particularly welcome for members in Ontario who recently saw a six-month interest-free grace period on provincial portions of loans removed.
Additional reforms to federal student loans that were celebrated by students in Budget 2019 include decreases in Canada Student Loans Program interest rates, which this government estimates will generate an average of $2,000 in savings over the duration of the loan.
Student parents welcomed the interest-free student loan period when on parental leave. Finally, the expansion of loan forgiveness eligibility for students with disabilities was also a welcome reform.
As the national chairperson, I have the pleasure to speak to thousands of students across the country who tell me that they don’t have enough money left over for groceries, so they have to access their campus food bank. Students who have to go down to part-time studies because they need to get a full-time job to make ends meet. Students who are near graduation but are apprehensive instead of excited because they don’t know how they will start repaying their student loan. Students who have moved back in with their parents at a time where they should be focusing on their career, looking forward to owning a home and starting a family. These students are pursuing post-secondary studies in the hope of crafting a better future for themselves and a better future for this country, but now they are losing hope.
The total public student debt in Canada currently sits at over $36 billion. Average annual domestic tuition fees for 2018-19 in Canada are $6,838, ranging from an average of $2,885 in Newfoundland and Labrador, to $8,838 in Ontario, primarily due to differences in provincial per-student funding commitments. Tuition fees for international students are four times greater.
With British Columbia becoming the fifth province to eliminate interest rates entirely, provinces have increasingly recognized the importance of reducing debt burdens on students and an aversion to raising revenue through interest charged on student loans.
The federal government took the opportunity to play a similar progressive leadership role on this issue by reducing interest rates and introducing the six months, interest-free period, though we do believe that a full elimination of interest is needed.
To summarize, the federal student loan reforms proposed in Bill C-97 are a welcome step in the right direction, but right now, we need strides and leaps in policies for students. With students facing an increasingly precarious job market, skyrocketing housing costs, regulated child care spaces in short supply that often cost more than the wages parents can hope to earn, general life uncertainty and unease with the climate crisis, any alleviation to debt burdens are welcome. When interest rates are applied immediately and at high rates, it becomes even more difficult for students to plan for the future, including purchasing homes, starting fulfilling and productive careers, starting families and investing in their futures.
We encourage the passing of Bill C-97 and hope to see greater reforms to the Canada Student Loans Program and post-secondary funding in general in the future. Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Brown, please.
Adam Brown, Chair, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations: Good morning, Mr. Chair, honourable senators and members of the viewing public. Thank you for the invitation to speak today.
I would like to start off by acknowledging the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg people, where we have the privilege of gathering today. My name is Adam Brown. I am the Chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, or CASA. I’m also the Vice-President External of the University of Alberta Students’ Union in Edmonton and a fifth-year student completing a bachelor of commerce degree.
CASA is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that represents students at colleges, universities and polytechnics across the country. With our formal partnership with the Union étudiante du Québec, we represent a total of 360,000 students from coast to coast and are a trusted national student voice. We advocate for a post-secondary system that is accessible, affordable, innovative and of the highest quality.
I am grateful to appear before the committee this morning to discuss Bill C-97, Budget Implementation Act, No. 1. This morning, I will be speaking directly to Part 4, Division 22 of the act, which refers directly to the Canada Student Loans Act and the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act and the proposals within.
The proposed amendment to the act will provide a six month, interest-free grace period for students who have just completed their studies. This would provide new graduates with much needed time to find sustainable employment before having to begin repaying their student loans. The research suggests that the proposed amendment will save the average student loan borrower about $2,000 over the course of their repayment period and help roughly 200,000 students. CASA is always in favour of changes that support the affordability of post-secondary education.
This act also proposes to lower interest rates for student loan borrowers from prime plus 2.5 per cent to simply prime. Currently, the average student can expect to pay an additional $9,347 in interest over the course of the average repayment period, which is 9.5 years. Many students extend that repayment period, and those who do can expect to pay up to $14,091 in interest. This is no small sum, particularly for students transitioning into their post-study careers.
Delaying repayment and thereby reducing interest rates and initial financial pressure for new graduates is a welcome proposal. However, we would argue that the government should go further. The average $30 a month in savings that graduates will gain from this measure will undoubtedly help to reduce student debt but will not make the difference between someone choosing to go to school or not, to make rent or not, paying for child care or not. If these loans were interest-free, the average post-secondary graduate would save approximately $130 a month. This could make a substantial difference in the lives of both students and graduates who are struggling financially, and this is the path we would like to see government take.
Education, and access to it, create a more equal and equitable society. CASA believes that students should not accumulate an unreasonable or unsupportable amount of debt in pursuit of that education. We know that some prospective students hesitate when faced with the prospect of accruing large amounts of debt for their education and that others abandon the idea altogether.
This hesitation is disproportionately seen among marginalized communities, especially working-class, disabled, racialized, Indigenous and LGBTQ2+ individuals. These people encounter the most barriers in accessing post-secondary education. To address this accessibility challenge, CASA advocates for increased, upfront, non-repayable grants. Evidence suggests this is the best way to ensure that the highest number of diverse students can access a quality post-secondary education here in Canada.
I am hesitant to sit before you and suggest that we need more given that students have received many important investments as of late. While we are grateful, we know there are areas where Canada is still lacking. According to a 2017 report released by Statistics Canada, over 50 per cent of youth in the lowest income bracket choose not to pursue post-secondary education directly after high school. We can safely assume that financial barriers are a big contributing factor to this decision.
This is why CASA has and will continue to advocate for change. I am thankful to be here representing students at a time when there is the threat to student organizing, especially here in Ontario. When students are unable to speak for themselves, it jeopardizes representation, accountability and democracy. Everyone suffers, especially post-secondary institutions. I am hopeful that in the future students will continue to have opportunities like this one to share their struggles on the ground and suggest practical solutions to address them. Engaged student representation is an integral part of keeping post-secondary schools across Canada adaptive and accountable to student needs.
I would like to thank you again for the invitation and your time, and I look forward to answering your questions.
Philippe LeBel, President, Quebec Student Union: Honourable senators, I’d first like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak to you this morning.
Let me introduce myself. I am Philippe LeBel, President of the Quebec Student Union. The Quebec Student Union represents close to 90,000 university students from Sherbrooke to Abitibi. Additionally, it is the only national association representing Quebec university students. For that reason, we work closely with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations so that the voice of post-secondary students across the country is heard.
Today, you are asking us to comment on the amendments to the Canada student loans program proposed in Bill C-97. Obviously, the Quebec Student Union is grateful for the fact that a government is trying to reduce the student debt of its members. However, the Province of Quebec has exercised its right to opt out of this program to improve its own more generous student financial assistance program. That being said, Quebec students are still affected by this measure, because reinvestment must result in a transfer to the Province of Quebec.
For example, in 2016, an enhancement of the Canada student grant program resulted in an average transfer of $80 million to the province. Following the transfer, the Quebec Student Union and its provincial partner, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, led a struggle to ensure that the money got into the pockets of students. As a result, almost all of the $80 million was awarded in the form of scholarships to the most disadvantaged.
Returning to the measure we are discussing today, in a question and answer session following the announcement of Canada’s 2019-20 budget, Peter Schiefke, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth), and Joël Lightbound, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, confirmed that there would be a transfer of funds to the Province of Quebec, but the amount remains to be confirmed.
Once the transfer and its amount have been confirmed, the Quebec Student Union will work to ensure that the provincial government also provides this money in order to reduce student debt, for example, by converting loans into grants.
In short, we can say that the Quebec Student Union is in favour of the proposed amendment, insofar as the transfer to the province does indeed take place and that, subsequently, the Government of Quebec follows suit and also works to reduce student debt.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. LeBel.
Senator Marshall: Thank you very much for being here today.
You’ve made some progress over the years. You’ve got more funding and grants from the government. I know the reduction in interest now is well received. Just give us some idea of what your next ask is going to be.
There are two areas that I’m particularly interested in. One is child care and parental leave, and the other area is having more students from families in the lower socio-economic group attend post-secondary institutions.
Could you give us some idea as to where you’d like to see the government going? It would help the various parties develop their election platform.
Ms. Descalzi: Absolutely. Thank you for your question. I think that we need to take it step by step. I do believe the federal government should eliminate interest rates on student loans as their next step.
Senator Marshall: Altogether?
Ms. Descalzi: Altogether. There are five provinces that have already done that, including British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba. So that would definitely be a first step.
We need to fund post-secondary education upfront so that student debt doesn’t become an issue in the first place. We need to address the $36 billion crisis and we need to stop the cycles of debt becoming perpetuated.
In terms of child care, the Canadian Federation of Students is working in coalition with Child Care Now. They have an action plan in which they’re asking the government to introduce and secure more funding for child care facilities on post-secondary education institutions and to have universal access to child care.
In terms of low socio-economic folks accessing post-secondary education, we can no longer afford to have a system of student loans if these folks are to enter universities. We know that right now, 73 per cent of jobs require some level of post-secondary education degree, making it a necessity rather than a commodity. So we need to treat public university as a public good and as we will treat other public goods, like health care, for example.
Senator Marshall: Thank you very much.
Mr. Brown: First of all, regarding things like parental leave, I believe there was a measure in this budget towards graduate students and increasing their parental leave, so we’re strongly in favour of that measure. I think that’s a great step forward.
Senator Marshall: Twelve months?
Mr. Brown: I believe so, yes. It’s a fantastic measure for graduate students. As well, we would like to eventually see the elimination of interest on student loans.
Senator Marshall: Altogether?
Mr. Brown: Altogether, ideally that would be fantastic in the future. I will also speak to what I alluded to in my presentation, upfront non-repayable grants. This is something that is extremely valuable, tested, well proven as a great method of giving low-income and marginalized communities better access to post-secondary education. Provinces like Ontario and New Brunswick had those models. They now seem to be transitioning out of them, which is disappointing. But looking at those increases and those targeted grants that are non-repayable, that is a fantastic way of ensuring that accessibility.
The other thing I’ll mention is the Post-Secondary Student Support Program, a program that distributes funding so Indigenous students can attend post-secondary institutions. I believe there’s also a measure in this budget regarding that program, as well as investments in Metis and Inuit post-secondary education strategies. Those are fantastic. That being said, we still see a large backlog in the thousands of Indigenous prospective Indigenous post-secondary students who are looking for those supports.
Senator Marshall: Thank you very much.
Mr. LeBel: In Quebec, in fact, a measure was recently introduced to ensure that a portion of support payments no longer counts in the calculations for student financial assistance. As a result, up to $4,200 can be deducted from income. These are the kinds of measures we would like to see implemented everywhere. It is simply not normal for money transferred, for example, to a single mother for support to be included in her annual income. This is an obstacle to her access to education. These are the kinds of measures that have been put in place in Quebec and that we would like to see everywhere.
As for low-income families, the best incentive for access to higher education is still to encourage prepaid scholarships to ensure accessibility. A loan will remain a barrier in the minds of the majority of students.
Senator Marshall: Thank you very much. The upfront grants seem to be a common theme. Thank you.
Senator Pratte: My questions are directed to Mr. LeBel in particular. When the Government of Canada improves the loans and grants program, it is in the habit of transferring money to Quebec. In your brief, you mentioned a rate of 25 per cent, or $5 million. I don’t understand your calculation or I misunderstood what you’re saying: “So it’s very likely that an amount representing approximately 25 per cent ($5 million) of the reinvestment to improve access to post-secondary education... ”. However, the amount involved here is much larger. I don’t understand your calculation.
Mr. LeBel: I don’t know exactly what part you’re at. What you have in your hands was about the total budget. There was also a measure that provided $5 million for accessibility for people with disabilities; it may be that part.
Senator Pratte: When you talk about $5 million, it’s just a measure…
Mr. LeBel: It’s one of the measures.
Senator Pratte: The expenditure in question is at least $1.7 billion. So, in principle, according to the rule, Quebec should receive a fairly large amount, about $300 million in total over five years.
Mr. LeBel: Yes.
Senator Pratte: If we now look at the Quebec loans and bursaries program — it has been a long time since I have not done so — when we look at the standards for interest rates, for example, are they similar, more or less advantageous than what the Government of Canada proposes in its budget for other Canadian students?
Mr. LeBel: It is very different in that, on the Canadian side, loans are granted by the government, whereas in Quebec, what happens is that, once the student has completed his or her studies, the debt is transferred to an institution. So no, we don’t have that kind of measure. However, there is a six-month period to extend the repayment term. However, in the meantime, of course, interest continues to accrue.
Senator Pratte: Do we have any idea of the interest rates that banks or financial institutions charge students when negotiating or renegotiating a loan when a student finishes his or her studies?
Mr. LeBel: Unfortunately, I don’t have them with me. However, when we studied the issue, we felt that there wasn’t really any will on the part of the province, since we are at the provincial level, to ask the banks to reduce interest rates. We are dealing with a large lobby.
Senator Pratte: Clearly.
Mr. Brown, you mentioned a 2017 report on the number of young people who quit after their high school studies instead of continuing directly to university, and you said we can assume that the economic or financial aspect of it is part of the reason why they don’t continue to the university level.
Are there studies that are particular on that point that show that there is a financial impact? What I saw, and that’s many years ago, the main factor is whether the parents went to university or not; and when parents have gone to university, usually their kids continue on to university; and when the parents haven’t been then, in most instances, the young person decides to quit after high school and go on the labour market. What is your view on that?
Mr. Brown: Thank you for the question.
I don’t have the data you’re asking me for, but we can follow up on that. There are certainly many factors that explain why low-income students don’t access post-secondary education directly after high school. The issue of accessibility is certainly a problem. I even personally know several people who have worked full time for a year or two before going on to post-secondary education. It’s certainly a factor. In this income category, we also see that sometimes the family plays a role; moreover, as I mentioned to the honourable senator, some communities, such as aboriginal communities, are disadvantaged in other ways. I think this is about a bigger problem that needs to be addressed from a national perspective.
Senator Pratte: Thank you very much.
Senator Forest: To follow on from that, Mr. Brown, is there a study on the main barriers that prevent young Canadians from continuing their education? We would be very interested in such a document, if you could send it to our clerk.
You mentioned that, at the end of their studies, students pay an average of $9,000 in interest over a nine-year period. Does this calculation take into account the 15 per cent tax credit allocated annually on the repayment of interest?
Mr. Brown: Thank you for the question. I’m not sure, but I’d be happy to provide you with that information if I can.
Senator Forest: This can have an impact, of course, because the applicable credit is still an important element.
Mr. LeBel, with respect to the withdrawal from Quebec, the amount of $5 million was reserved for persons with disabilities; however, in a scenario where, generally, 25 per cent of the allocated funds are transferred to Quebec, the Quebec plan is ultimately more generous. With these measures, does the Quebec system remain generous at the Canadian level?
Mr. LeBel: Yes, what I suggested in my speech was that, with regard to the funds that will be transferred, indeed, an error may have occurred in the document. Based on the example of 2016-17, 23 per cent of the amount came back to us. This varies from year to year depending on demographics, of course.
The Quebec program remains very generous and competitive, particularly because, by putting all our eggs in the same basket, in this case, it has a good effect. Since the federal government’s goal is to reduce student debt, we would like to transform these funds into loans and grants under the current system. This would clearly improve accessibility to higher education.
Senator Forest: In your approach to transforming loans into grants, do you think this program will target less fortunate Canadians? Is this program formulated to address gaps in financial impact?
Mr. LeBel: Not necessarily. We recently produced a brief on possible changes to financial assistance programs to expand access to higher education.
I don’t have a table with me to illustrate this, unfortunately. But I can tell you that, in Quebec, we operate with an all-in-one program: people take out a maximum loan amount and then move on to grants. For people with lower incomes, we would like the maximum loan amount to be lower than for people with higher incomes. This would allow people with lower incomes to have access to scholarships, while people with higher incomes would get a higher proportion of loans.
Senator Forest: Thank you.
Senator Klyne: I have a couple of quick questions for you. Much of the context and dialogue seem to gravitate around degree-granting institutions, universities and colleges. So at the expense of displaying my ignorance on this, this also applies to other post-secondary educations like polytechnics, skills, trades and that type of stuff, right? And we kind of got into the area of one question I had which was around household means tests. A student is a student and there is no regard to any household means test? They can apply for the loan? What requirements are involved in getting a student loan?
Ms. Descalzi: Thank you. I don’t have the specific details of how, as a student, how to acquire a loan. I do know that students can acquire loans fairly easily. The issue is how much of a loan they are acquiring. To put this in perspective, after a four-year program, on an undergraduate degree, a student will owe $26,300 to the Canadian student loan program. That’s not even counting students who go on to do a master’s degree or students who go on to do a doctoral degree, who will owe over $41,000. I think it is more a matter of alleviating debt than accessing loans because students can access loans but how can they repay them?
I would also point out that the Canadian Federation of Students has conducted research on the political economy of student debt that outlines why people are dropping out of university, who is dropping out and what is happening on the campuses. I will be more than happy to share that information with you and, at the same time, point out that 70 per cent of students who have taken on debt say that they have taken too much and that they regret that. That might be an indicator as to why people are not finishing their studies.
Mr. Brown: I believe that family income is often a consideration with loans. This can be good and sometimes less good. I know some reforms have been made on this measure in the last few years. But we have to continue to address the issue that when people apply for loans, it needs to be recognized whether they come from low-income backgrounds, marginalized backgrounds and how that may affect financial capacity to attend post-secondary education, whether at universities, colleges, polytechnics, undergraduate or graduate studies, et cetera. Alluding back to the value of the upfront grants and those capacities, we need to make sure that they continue to be targeted toward people with those backgrounds as much as possible.
There is also the aspect of there being a mix of federal and provincial loans that are distributed when a student does apply for loans. It is not, in most cases, that you get sort of federal or provincial. There is sort of a mix of both. Different provinces have different rates of interest, or sometimes no interests, so that can produce certain discrepancies.
The other thing I will note is that after graduation it does take, on average, three to five months to find full-time employment. Looking at that six-month interest-free grace period, that’s when it is most useful, because the interest won’t start accumulating, hopefully, until after they have employment.
Mr. LeBel: In Quebec, we use a formula to calculate the loan based on household income. Parental income is included according to the student’s age. All this comes into play. There is also a maximum number of sessions in which the person can participate that determine the maximum amount of the loan, as well as the date on which the student must start repaying the loan. These are the limitations of the system. You must repay your loan before you can re-register.
Unfortunately, more and more private institutions are doing what I call raiding in post-secondary institutions. As you probably know, these institutions have a larger budget than us to advertise, which means that too many people get a loan in a private institution, when they could take out a loan from a public institution. We would like to be able to improve the visibility of the public program, because we have an excellent program in Quebec.
Senator Boehm: Thank you for your very interesting presentations, and I congratulate you on your advocacy. It’s in that context that I want to ask my question.
To what extent have you had contact with student unions and associations and organizations and other jurisdictions? I did graduate studies in the United Kingdom. Everybody was in debt at that time, and you had to just face the fact that you would be for a decade, if not longer. There are models in Europe where there is free tuition, which takes a lot of the pressure away. So I’m wondering whether you had studied what happens in other jurisdictions, bearing in mind it is always different, and also to what extent you have exported what appears to be a successful model to other places.
Ms. Descalzi: Yes, we have been in communication with student organizations, for example, in Latin America and in Europe. In Europe we’re seeing that northern countries, such as Finland, have a fair, progressive taxation system in which the revenues collected are implemented in public services like post-secondary institutions and, therefore, access to education is fully granted and therefore people are not taking on huge amounts of debt. It is not a coincidence that those countries have a lot of economic development and also rate highly in quality of life indices and measure of well-being experienced by people living in and being citizens of those countries.
At the same time when we talk with the federation of Latin America, there is a big push for keeping education free. There are countries, for example, like Chile and Cuba that have a model of free post-secondary education and continuing to make sure there’s economic development and that the job market is moving through the creation of more programs and helping people to avoid dropping out.
We know that having grants and costs covered upfront is conducive to a better economy and the well-being of a generation.
Mr. Brown: We have not done a lot of work with other international groups of student unions, but we have studied certain models. There are certain European countries, as you alluded to, that have free tuition models. They have very different taxation systems than we do in Canada. It would take some profound changes to get to that sort of place. In the short term that is why one of the most effective ways we can increase that affordability and accessibility is through targeted and non-repayable upfront grants.
We have done some studying around financial assistance for students at the graduate level — master’s and Ph.D’s. Canada does not have a granting system for graduate students. I’m sure Mr. LeBel can touch on that. He has been a big part of our partnership and advocacy for this. When it comes to providing financial assistance to ensure better access to graduate studies, Canada is lagging in comparison to other countries.
Mr. LeBel: For our part, we also don’t have direct contact with student associations in other jurisdictions. However, we have done comparative studies. What is rather interesting is that student debt is lower in Quebec than elsewhere and that the number of bankruptcies related to student debt is higher in the United States and elsewhere in Canada than in Quebec. That is the kind of comparison we can make.
In terms of free education, our study on student debt reveals that tuition fees represent only the third expense, while housing is the most important expense. This is another reason why we believe that, if we really want to improve accessibility to higher education, it is better to invest funds in grant programs that provide access to education programs than to offer free education, which ultimately does not represent the most important economic barrier.
Senator Boehm: Thank you.
Senator M. Deacon: One of the areas that I am wondering about, and I don’t know if you have any data or correlative materials, is the co-op. Across this country we have pockets where you might have universities with many co-op programs and other universities who may have none. I’m trying to understand what the connection is, if there is any, between co-ops — the opportunity to work and possibly make money — and how that aligns with the length of time in university and possible debt. If it has been any kind of conversation that any of you have had, I would appreciate hearing that.
Ms. Descalzi: I do not have a specific number on how co-op programs would impact duration of studies and then afterwards. We could work together to find those numbers and get back to you. However, what I would say is that a lot of co-op programs are often unpaid internships, so you have to pay tuition on top of that while working. I know this. I come from Newfoundland and Labrador and the reality is — as Senator Marshall is nodding — that a lot of college students as well as students in the marine institute will be working without getting remunerated. So I would argue that co-ops oftentimes could hinder the ability to pay for education if students are not being fairly paid.
Senator M. Deacon: That must really vary because I can think of universities where they are quite well paid.
Ms. Descalzi: There is no regulation, which is why the Canadian Federation of Students calls for a federal post-secondary education act wherein both the federal and provincial governments would be responsible for regulating how funding is allocated to colleges and universities, how institutions are administering those funds and ensuring that people are not falling through the cracks. We can have robust co-op programs and break the cycles of debt and break the cycles of poverty that are oftentimes caused by student loans.
Mr. Brown: Co-op programs are under the larger umbrella of what we call work-integrated learning opportunities. So co-ops, internships and apprenticeships, that can span universities, colleges, polytechnics, they are all fantastic. The more access to them, the better. I know that there are investments in this budget that relate to the creation of, I believe, about 84,000 positions within next few years across Canada. Those are investments we like to see. The creation of more co-op positions, making sure that every student has access to a work-integrated learning opportunity is fantastic for their career prospects post graduation. Students that participate in work-integrated learning opportunities during their studies, double their chances of getting full-time employment after graduating. So it has fantastic benefits as well.
One thing that we advocated for a few years ago that was successfully enacted by the federal government was eliminating unpaid internships within the federal government. That was excellent. Obviously, seeing something like that in the private sector is ideal as well because of that affordability piece. The more work-integrated learning opportunities that students can get access to, especially degree-relevant ones, the higher their chances are of getting employment after graduation.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you.
Mr. LeBel: During my bachelor’s degree, I was in a co-op program. Unfortunately, I don’t have any data on the difference in debt. At the Université de Sherbrooke, where I did my undergraduate studies, not all co-op programs are as easily accessible. At the Université de Sherbrooke, all co-op programs must be remunerated. Not all sectors have a sufficiently large number of placements to do so.
This is why we were very satisfied, when the budget was announced, to see that the amount had been increased, and especially that we were leaving STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to finally think of the humanities, among others.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you.
Senator Duncan: The student grants model that you’ve spoken of — you do not have to look outside of Canada to see that model. The two northern territories, possibly the third — I’m not as familiar. The northern territories have a system of student grants. If I could just give a little short outline as to how they came about. In the 1960s, it was a situation where the Yukon and the Northwest Territories would travel every year to Ottawa and say, could we have the money to run the territory? A very farsighted individual, the commissioner at the time, who would go to Ottawa, suggested to former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau that Canada’s gift to the northern territories would be to help students travel out of the territory for their education, because it was such a major expense. And that education included everything—apprenticeships and post-secondary, and so on.
That grant to students is still in existence today. It is a very important part of their education and pursuit of education. It has helped to develop what will become the Yukon University in Whitehorse.
The point about these is also in settling with First Nations. There is also an education component and First Nations governments also contribute to their students travelling outside the territory or within Yukon to obtain their education.
The success rate of that program or those programs, I believe, might form part of your argument in urging for the grant program. I raise this to illustrate that it is not solely the federal government. It is the issue of aligning with the provinces and the educational responsibility. So, in that regard, I would just ask that if you make a presentation to the first ministers as a joint group, arguing as a concerted effort throughout Canada, that this sort of grant program be instituted.
Ms. Descalzi: Thank you for your question. We have not but we would love the opportunity to do it. I 100 per cent agree it is a dual responsibility of the federal government and the provinces. That’s why we believe a federal post-secondary act modelled after the health care act would help in distributing the responsibilities over the provincial and federal governments. For example, in Newfoundland and Labrador we had a full grant system implemented in 2013 by the provincial government that got scrapped the next year.
If we had federal transfers from the federal government to the provincial government that could have been an alternative to save that program or to have better conversations to keep that program. So I do agree that it is a success of keeping students in the province, of keeping students educated, is through upfront programs. And at the same time, I want to recognize that the federal government has secured $90 million through the PSSSP funding for Indigenous learners. That’s a great step in the right direction and moving forward we want to see what further steps can be taken, like lifting the 2 per cent cap in perpetuity, so everybody can access education especially our Indigenous learners.
Mr. Brown: Thank you very much for the suggestion; that’s a fantastic idea. CASA as an organization advocates exclusively to the federal government. We have not done much work on provincial levels. However, we have a number of good relationships with provincial organizations across the country. That’s a great opportunity to look into, as well as knowing about the granting programs in the territories, Ontario and New Brunswick that are good models for targeted, low-income, non-repayable grants.
I’m also glad that you brought up the potential for a university in the territories in the future. That’s something that we wholeheartedly support the investment in. Some measures are taking us that way right now and I’m very glad to see that. For students, the travel, and being so far away from families, especially for Indigenous students in the territories, can be difficult. Having those bases of post-secondary education in the territory is a fantastic concept. I hope we can see it in the very near future.
Mr. LeBel: For us, it really is a very helpful program. We had something similar when we received the $80 million I was talking about earlier, after the reinvestment in 2016. A part of that amount, $800,000, if I am not mistaken, went directly to people living in very remote regions, mostly to indigenous students, that is, so that they could make two return trips per year to visit their families. As it is for everyone, it is very important that they keep ties with their communities while they are continuing their studies.
Senator Duncan: I would add that the travel is an important part of the grant. It is an amount that is there and the Yukon post-secondary grant is not for low income. It is across the board for those who have graduated from a Yukon high school or who have parents residing in the territory.
The Chair: Thank you.
As we wind up with the second round, the floor is yours Senator Marshall and Senator Forest.
Senator Marshall: We are talking about tuition, grants, loan interest, food banks and child care. As you were giving us information, I was thinking about financial literacy. Do any of your groups or the various campuses run programs on financial literacy? When I’m talking to some young people, I’m kind of struck with their lack of knowledge about financial literacy. And students, usually it is the first time they leave home to live on their own, or it might be just after graduation. Does that factor into any of your programs or any assessment of the needs of the students? Could you just speak to that? Or whether anyone thinks about that aspect? Is everybody on their own?
Ms. Descalzi: As we represent 64 student associations across the country, there is definitely a variety of services that these associations offer. I don’t know what kind of financial literacy programs they offer but I would not put it past them that they are offered in some form.
As a national organization, we look at patterns. The pattern is that there is a crisis in student debt that cannot be ameliorated or effectively mitigated through financial literacy. There is a crucial need to end the student debt crisis. We are talking about a student taking on $30,000 as a loan. We’re saying that in the 10 years it takes to pay off that loan, they would have acquired an extra $10,000 just in interest.
You can budget so much until it’s out of your control because debt is just too high, tuition fees are just too high and rent is unregulated in different cities. All these issues add up, and we need to act as a nation to make sure the generation of students who are graduating has a future and an opportunity to contribute to the economy the way we want them to contribute.
Senator Marshall: Thank you.
Mr. Brown: CASA doesn’t offer something like that. We focus specifically on advocacy to the federal government. I come from the University of Alberta; I know there are some clubs within the Faculty of Business, for example, that offer tax help.
Senator Marshall: You’re in the Faculty of Business?
Mr. Brown: Yes, I am in that faculty. I know those sorts of things on a micro-level, but I don’t believe there are larger strategies or anything that would go along those lines, and it’s not a bad idea at all. I think the Bank of Canada might have talked about the rising issue of personal debt among Canadians. I do have to agree with my colleague that a lot of that does have to do with the amount of debt that we accrue and where that interest comes from.
But also, when we talk about the expenses related to post-secondary education, we need to continue to look beyond just tuition and fees. There are living expenses, especially if you have to move across the country to attend a certain program, groceries and whatnot, all of which adds up on top of your base fees for post-secondary. So a lot of that holistically does contribute to those difficulties and personal debt.
Senator Marshall: It seems that a lot of students are using credit card debt, and then when you tell them they’re paying interest at 20 per cent a year, it seems like they don’t comprehend that; they missed that in the fine print. Mr. LeBel?
Mr. LeBel: On our side, we don’t provide financial literacy, but with student financial assistance, while it’s a really good program, it is really complicated. It can seem like a huge gap to get access to, but it’s actually really simple.
As you pointed out, and as I mentioned earlier, privately owned institutions are really present on campus. It seems that it is easier to get a credit card than a loan from a student financial system.
What we’re aiming to do is to promote our provincial student financial assistance system so that people tend to go there and know how to use it properly so they can reduce their indebtedness in the end.
Senator Forest: I have one question and one suggestion.
Here is the question. We contacted government agencies because we wanted to make sure that the government is not getting any positive return from the interest on student loans. We were told no, in fact, there is no positive return to the government. Do you share that opinion? Does that seem to you to be actually the case, and there is no positive return on the interest on student loans?
Ms. Descalzi: I do believe that the government has a responsibility to make sure that our public post-secondary institutions remain adequately funded. When we engage in a system of student loans and we charge interest on top of that, the government is profiting on the backs of students who want to access an education. I think it is a matter of treating post-secondary education as a public good rather than a commodity to be traded off in the market.
However, having said that, I do recognize the progress that has been made in this budget towards making post-secondary education more accessible. What I’m looking forward to is continuing the conversation about how we can connect government officials with the realities of students on campus and make Canada and its campuses more accessible to anybody who wants to pursue education.
Mr. Brown: Thank you for the question. Certainly there are administrative costs in the loan system, and I think that part of the interest goes to that administrative process. Ideally, it would be good for the government to find that money elsewhere, so that there would be no need to bill students for the interest. These loans really represent a good method, as I mentioned, because low-cost housing is one of the best ways to improve access to post-secondary education. So the loans are very useful. However, the interest and the debt make life more difficult for students.
In the measures proposed in the budget, the 2.5 per cent decrease in interest on the loans is certainly a good step forward and I hope we will see even more progress in the future.
Mr. LeBel: For us in Quebec, things are different, because loans, once at term, are managed by private institutions that are clearly going to be looking to make a profit. The advantage for the state in working that way is that the only costs associated with the program are for bad loans. Costs are minimal, given that the government insures the loans. A program partially managed like the federal program would probably have some advantages, if the government made sure that it did not make money on the backs of students.
Senator Forest: Just to wrap up, here is my suggestion.
First of all, as for Ms. Descalzi’s mandate, congratulations on your election.
In the big picture of post-secondary education, there are loans, scholarships, tuition fees and fixed costs. It would perhaps be interesting to do a larger analysis of our post-secondary education situation and to consider all factors. When you consider that tuition is the third highest cost and housing is the highest cost, it would be good for us as politicians, we who establish public policy, to have an overall picture of the situation.
Currently, it’s like a Chinese buffet; we pick from here, there and everywhere. Having a bigger picture could help those of us who make the decisions to establish a post-secondary education program that is competitive, fair and efficient, one that gives Canadians an equal opportunity, regardless of the province or territory where they live. That could be part of your mandate, Ms. Descalzi.
Ms. Descalzi: Yes. Thank you for that. It is true; students do not live in silos. There are a lot of factors at play.
We do have a federal lobby document in which we stipulate, “ask by ask” and recommendation by recommendation, how we can move towards a system of free post-secondary education. I’d be more than happy to share that document with you or set up a meeting to have further discussions. There is a pattern of erosion to post-secondary education funding, an increase in tuition fees, and at the same time an increase of student debt. Other external factors, not necessarily attached to the post-secondary education system, are at play and they are barriers to accessing the system. I would be more than happy to share that information with you.
The Chair: I would like to say, having you as leaders, Canada and the provinces, we are in good hands. You have exhibited a lot of leadership this morning, and you’ve gone beyond the time that we had allocated, but looking at the questions that were asked, it was appropriate.
I was at two universities and a community college last month. They were talking about student debt. When I graduated, being the son of a single mother on welfare, I had $15,800 to pay back. That was with a bachelor’s and a Master’s of Business Administration degree. $15,000 in today’s dollars is almost $85,000. We can see how that impacts.
Thank you very much for your leadership. Before you go, if you have any documents that you want to bring to the attention of the committee, please do so through the clerk.
Last but not least, there’s a question I need to ask you: Have you been consulted for the Budget 2019-20? Have you been consulted, your organization? Or the government, with your advocacy, they decided to do that? Ms. Descalzi?
Ms. Descalzi: We engaged in a lobby week in February of this year, recognizing that the budget was already done.
The Chair: Thank you. Mr. Brown?
Mr. Brown: Yes. CASA does a pre-budget submission, and about a month ago I presented to the House of Commons Finance Committee on many of these measures.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. LeBel: We take part in the pre-budget presentation of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations; that exercise will end in November.
The Chair: In conclusion, as was said by the other senators, I think you should advocate having your own presentation at what we call FPTs. When I was a minister in the province of New Brunswick, we provided an opportunity to organizations representing our universities and high schools to make a presentation to an FPT — a federal-provincial-territorial meeting — at which the Prime Minister and premiers were present. I would certainly recommend that to you because you have a good story to tell. Please continue to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable.
Honourable senators, we will welcome our next witness. To discuss the envisioned changes to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, Part 4, Division 9, Subdivision H of Bill C-97, we welcome, from the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, Ms. Shannon Coombs, President.
Ms. Coombs, thank you for being here and accepting our invitation. I will ask you now to make your presentation, followed by questions from the senators.
Shannon Coombs, President, Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association: Good morning, Mr. Chair and senators of the National Finance Committee. It is a pleasure to be here today to provide you our comments for your consideration during your study of Bill C-97, the Budget Implementation Act.
My name is Shannon Coombs, and I am the president of the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association. For 21 years I have proudly represented the many accomplishments of this proactive and responsible industry.
Today, I have provided our one-pager, “Imagine Life Without Us,” which illustrates the types of products that CCSPA represents. I’m sure that many of you have used them here today. We’re a national trade association representing 35 members across Canada, collectively a $20 billion industry and employing 12,000 people in over 87 facilities. Our companies manufacture, process, package and distribute consumer, industrial and institutional specialty products such as soaps and detergents, domestic pest-control products, aerosols, hard-surface disinfectants, deodorizers and automotive chemicals — or, as I call it, “everything under the kitchen sink.” I would also like to thank the senators around table today who are assisting CCSPA with our social media campaigns such as Lyme awareness and tick prevention, handwashing and recycling.
So why are we here today? Bill C-97 makes amendments to various pieces of legislation. Part 4, Division 9 of Bill C-97 includes provisions to support regulatory modernization in Canada. Four of these acts included within the regulatory modernization section impact CCSPA members. These pieces of legislation are the Pest Control Products Act, the Weights and Measures Act, the Food and Drugs Act and the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act.
The primary focus of our appearance today will be to address proposed amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act contained within Part 4, Division 9, Subdivision H of Bill C-97. We will also speak in broader terms to our experience to date with the annual regulatory modernization bill process, and specifically, how we’ve been consulted on many of the amendments found within this bill.
CCSPA is here today to request the Senate not move forward on two proposed amendments contained in Part 4, Division 9, Subdivision H of the BIA. They are as follows:
48.1 The Statutory Instruments Act does not apply to an order made under section 14 or 18.
16(1) The Minister may review a safety data sheet or label that accompanies a claim for exemption filed in accordance with section 11, or any portion of the safety data sheet or label, in order to determine whether the safety data sheet or label, or the portion of it, complies with the provisions of the HPA, provisions of the Canada Labour Code or provisions of the Accord Act.
I will begin my comments by providing some context around amendment 48.1 of Subdivision H, which proposes to remove the requirement for Canada Gazette publication of information related to CBI, confidential business information, claims under HMIRA.
When a supplier or employer of hazardous industrial chemicals wishes to be exempt from having to disclose confidential business information, such as the chemical identity of one or more trade secret ingredients, they must file a claim with Health Canada, as legislated under the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act. The CBI process includes a Health Canada review of the safety data sheet and/or label to verify that the hazard and the safe use information complies with WHMIS 2015 requirements. This mechanism balances workers’ right to know with industry’s need to protect trade secrets. The act has been in place since 1985.
Currently, Health Canada publishes both newly registered claims and approved claims in the Canada Gazette on a quarterly basis. This process ensures workers, industry and the public have a predictable, reliable and transparent process to access information about which companies have filed for or have been granted a CBI exemption. In accordance with subsection 12(2) of the HMIRA, this process also allows for public consultation with respect to the claim for exemption and the SDS or label to which it relates.
Section 48.1 of Part 4, Division 9, Subdivision H of the BIA proposes to remove the requirement for Health Canada to use the Canada Gazette as a vehicle to communicate with stakeholders. Health Canada is instead proposing to publish on its website information on claims for exemption for CBI.
CCSPA is concerned that this move away from the Canada Gazette publication process will compromise the confidence of stakeholders who rely on access to this information and impact broader public consultation. Based on our experience to date with Health Canada’s website, we also have reservations about relying on the department’s website to ensure timely and predictable access to information on claim exemptions for CBI.
The second proposed amendment we are here to speak to you about today is provision 16(1) of Part 4, Division 9, Subdivision H and concerns the minister’s ability to review a safety data sheet. As I mentioned earlier, part of the evaluation process for a CBI claim is Health Canada’s review of a safety data sheet. This full review of the SDS ensures workers are sufficiently protected in the workplace and promotes confidence that the CBI claimants are complying with WHMIS 2015 requirements. It is also important to note that the claimants are required to pay for a portion of this review through the cost recovery process.
The proposed amendment, if passed, will provide Health Canada the discretion to review only a portion of the SDS and/or label when evaluating a CBI exemption claim. We believe this dilutes the review process and the public confidence that Health Canada is evaluating all the necessary information to ensure claims are compliant. Further, claimants will still be required to pay the evaluation fee, even if only a partial review takes place. As noted in the 2016 Treasury Board costing guidelines, “costs can be affected by changes in the level of activity.” Should this amendment be passed, the level of activity during the evaluation process is likely to be reduced, while review costs for the claimant remain the same. CCSPA has articulated these concerns to Health Canada during our consultations in September, January and in April.
Both proposed amendments run contrary to the goals of regulatory modernization outlined in Minister Morneau’s Fall Economic Statement “to make it easier for Canadian businesses to grow and remain competitive, while still protecting the health and safety of Canadians.”
CCSPA has been and remains committed to working with this government on supporting an efficient and effective regulatory climate for businesses so they can be competitive at home and abroad. We support the goals of Treasury Board as outlined in their May 15, 2019, testimony before this committee. However, consultation is key to the success of regulatory reform. Issues can’t be raised in isolation by departments without substantive consultation with key stakeholders. New mechanisms within departments and at Treasury Board need to ensure that issues are vetted and include saving money and resources, not just for the government but also for business.
We would ask the committee to consider our proposal to ensure the Canada Gazette process, and the full review of the SDS remains intact. We’ve provided a submission to this committee. We also provided a submission to the committee with respect to an issue we raised at the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance during its review of Bill C-97, and we would be happy to answer questions on this submission as well. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for your time.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I will now recognize Senator Marshall.
Senator Marshall: Thank you very much for being here.
It sounds like, from what you’re saying, and also from our briefing notes, the objective, I think, was to reduce the regulatory burden. But it seems to be increasing it. I found it odd. I don’t know if I’m understanding what’s happening here, but it seems like the process is moving from the bureaucratic level to the political level. It’s moving from the bureaucracy to the minister. Am I reading this right?
Ms. Coombs: Mr. Chair, I’m not sure.
Senator Marshall: Our briefing notes refer to a chief screening officer. Is that position still going to be in place?
Ms. Coombs: They will be there to review the claims, yes. But I think they wanted to remove that requirement, and yes, you’re quite right with respect to making it the minister’s responsibility.
Senator Marshall: It is the minister’s responsibility.
Ms. Coombs: Yes, it is.
Senator Marshall: It sounds like the administration or the program is moving from the public service to the political level.
Ms. Coombs: You could interpret it that way, yes.
Senator Marshall: Do you know what the impetus was for the change in the program? It seems to me the objective was to reduce the regulatory burden, but from what you’re saying, it’s not streamlining it.
Ms. Coombs: We struggle with the changes to this act and why all of a sudden we needed to do it so quickly. I’ve been likening it to a bit of what I call “reverse regulatory reform.” The reform is for the department and not so much industry.
For this particular process, it’s very rigid and technical, and we want to make sure we balance trade secrets with the workers’ right to know. Our members have been supportive of this process being predictable and transparent. Consistently, we have asked for the department to provide us an overview as to what the legislation is, what the current policy is and what the future looks like under these new amendments, and we have not received that as yet. When we were first asked to provide comments on this, we were given four days to be consulted on.
Senator Marshall: From what you’re saying, the impetus is to streamline the process. What was the impetus? It just seems like it’s something that they’re changing. What was the objective? Why were they changing it? What were they going to make better?
Ms. Coombs: I don’t know the answer to that.
Senator Marshall: Is that a fair question for you?
Ms. Coombs: It is a fair question.
Senator Marshall: I’m just trying to get a handle. Do you know why they changed it or what the objective was?
Ms. Coombs: No. And we’ve been very clear with the department that we do not see any benefit to making any changes unless you can clearly articulate what those changes are and how the process will impact us on a daily basis.
Senator Marshall: So you don’t have a good handle on why they’re doing it or what the end product will be?
Ms. Coombs: I have no idea what the end product will be, senator. Thank you.
Senator Pratte: This is a totally new field for me, so forgive my questions if they’re evident to you, but this is not evident to me.
You mentioned on the Canada Gazette change that, based on your own experience with the Health Canada website, you’re not reassured that the information will be readily available. Can you elaborate on that? What is your experience with Health Canada’s website?
Ms. Coombs: Canada.ca is vexing at times. The wonderful thing we have about Canada Gazette is that it’s the gold standard for consultation, so it’s predictable and transparent. Now we have a process with the website where someone will have to find it, and that’s a challenge in itself. But I have low confidence that we’ll be able to find the information in a timely way or that it will be posted in a timely way on the Canada.ca website.
Senator Pratte: The other part is where I get confused. On the amendment to section 16(1) of the act, you highlighted the change, which relates to any portion of the safety data sheet.
Ms. Coombs: Correct.
Senator Pratte: If they can already study the full safety data sheet, what’s the problem with just adding, “and any portion of the safety data sheet”?
Ms. Coombs: It’s my understanding that the officials who review the claimant information review the full SDS. Therefore, once it’s reviewed and approved, then you have the guarantee that the department has been able to balance trade secrets with worker safety and protection. So that information is there and there’s been a full review of that data. I don’t know what “partial review” means, sir.
Senator Pratte: So you’re in the same position that I am. You just don’t understand what they’re doing.
Ms. Coombs: Yes, sir.
Senator Pratte: In a way, that’s reassuring.
How does CBI, confidential business information, tie in with this change? Or what you’re saying about CBI has nothing to do with that change?
Ms. Coombs: If I make a claim on chemical identity and then I provide a safety data sheet to the department for their review, they will ensure that all the information is there to not only protect my confidential business information but also protect workers. So it’s caught directly up into that partial review, because I don’t know what a partial review is going to mean.
Senator Pratte: Your concern is that this gives the possibility that officials who are responsible for the implementation of this act could use this to say, “Well, I’ve considered half the data sheet,” and considering what they’ve looked at, then they would make a decision?
Ms. Coombs: Yes. One of the core business lines of this area is to review the SDS for compliance. To me, that’s a key piece of the work that they’re doing and which we pay for as well.
Senator Pratte: This is my final question, Mr. Chair. What could be the consequences if an official rejects an application? What’s the consequence? It means you can’t market the product in question?
Ms. Coombs: I can appeal it, but that process has also been changed which I have not addressed as we have not had time to have a full review of what that means. But there are provisions in here that would suspend any type of ability to market that substance.
Senator Pratte: All right. And I believe the new appeal mechanism requires that you go to court, correct?
Ms. Coombs: Correct, yes.
Senator Pratte: Which is very different from what exists currently.
Ms. Coombs: Yes.
Senator Pratte: Thank you very much.
Senator Andreychuk: Following up on the same line of questioning. You said you were given a very short time. How did they contact you and what was asked or stated to you that they are doing?
Ms. Coombs: In September, when we were contacted through a multi-stakeholder committee that Health Canada chairs, we were asked to provide, with four days’ notice, if we were generally supportive of making amendments to the hazardous material information and review act. The themes were very broad, and we were just given general themes. Going forward in terms of the bill, if we are going to substantively change pieces of legislation, we need to have fulsome consultation.
I do believe that ministers have that ability in the guide to making federal acts and regulations, where sponsoring ministers of bills can go out and consult on specific pieces of draft legislation.
Senator Andreychuk: In the new process, then, I understand regulations and the way they’ve been in place for decades. In the new process, will there be a consultation?
Ms. Coombs: That’s an unknown. We are strongly advocating for that because we are supportive of regulatory modernization, but if we are changing legislation we need more a predictable process in place for all stakeholders to provide comment on those changes so we can get a better understanding of what the intent is. Because we want to realize savings for the industry and make the process more predictable and also make sure that the department is deploying their resources appropriately.
Senator Andreychuk: Under the regulatory systems that we work, we all relied on the Gazette. We looked at the Gazette to see what was in there, how it affected us. It was a routine built into business and other sectors also. They are saying that go on a website. But how are you triggered to know that there will be something on the website? Or are you in a position that every day you have to go and look?
Ms. Coombs: At this time, that’s how it would currently stand, yes. There is no trigger to alert stakeholders. Maybe they will have a bit of a push-out, too, but what that is going to look like has yet to be determined. I have it built into my system. I check the Gazette on Wednesdays, and I check it on Fridays. And our members do, too. Especially those who participate in this process.
Senator Andreychuk: That process took a lot of time to get businesses to understand what regulations were. The consultation was first then there was the gazetting and then there were still steps you could follow through after that.
Ms. Coombs: Yes.
Senator Andreychuk: And this is all what? In the name of efficiency? Were you told why they were doing it?
Ms. Coombs: Health Canada stated it is a cost-saving measure but I don’t believe that we can compromise the predictability of the Gazette process just in terms of providing a website as an alternative option.
One of the things we’ve been looking for, for example, is guidance on another amendment that was posted over a year ago and we’re still waiting for that guidance. So that’s why I alluded earlier — my confidence is low with respect to the website being the mechanism by which we inform Canadians and workers and industry about changes to the CBI claims.
Senator Andreychuk: Are you in touch with others that are being affected?
Ms. Coombs: Yes, yes. Other industries.
The Chair: So there will be a cost to all of you to try to figure this out, which will probably be passed on to consumers and others, and this is all done in cost efficiency but you don’t know what it is going to save the government, do you?
Ms. Coombs: Correct, yes.
Senator Duncan: As a relatively new senator, I serve on the regulatory committee. I am often struck at how long some items have been on the agenda of specific regulations that have been reviewed and reviewed and reviewed. I am concerned that the move to have this on the Health Canada website might be a concerted effort to ensure that items are dealt with quickly, rather than getting stuck in this regulatory reform process. Although I understand, to some degree, the modernization effort.
My question is do you have any concerns about the regulation process through the Canada Gazette versus how slowly that works.
Ms. Coombs: I appreciate your comment, senator. I think it is very different in terms of regulations being developed. This is a posting to the public about claims being filed, and approval. It is a notification to the public that Health Canada has done their job, which is different than a regulation where I’m commenting on the changes to a cost-benefit analysis. So it is just a different process.
Senator Duncan: I appreciate that. I just have seen some of the items that are more order-in-council, and they seem to take a long time to be reviewed, even this information. My concern is the length of time in all of these, even the different processes.
Ms. Coombs: I appreciate that. I think my concern is that I’m concerned about it not being posted on the website in a timely manner as well.
Senator Neufeld: A number of my questions have been asked but I maybe want to drill a little deeper.
I want to ask a little bit about the consultation process. You said in September, I believe, that they gave you a general theme of what would be changed, which I understand from your responses earlier, it was confusing, or so general that you were not really sure?
Ms. Coombs: Yes.
Senator Neufeld: Can you tell me when they actually consulted with you about something real that you could actually deal with? Or did you just find out about it when Bill C-97 hit the street?
Ms. Coombs: A little bit of a combination. We did have a consultation in September. And then, in January, Health Canada reached out to us and put a little more discussion around some of the points, such as the appeals process and the review process that I had outlined in section 16. However, there were surprises included in Bill C-97, and we had particular concerns around the new change in section 11 where the minister is now going to review the information, “as soon as feasible.” If we had more time to consult, we would know exactly what that means. I don’t know if that means they will continue to adhere to their service standard that is they currently have in place. That’s an unknown for us.
Senator Neufeld: So even after the bill is out, it is pretty confusing what they are trying to do.
Ms. Coombs: I’m trying my best to hit the top highlights, yes.
Senator Neufeld: That’s understandable. We’ve seen a number of things, especially in Bill C-97, or other bills that seem to be at the last moment — “well, let’s write this in.” It is interesting but quite disturbing that any government would do those kinds of things without proper study.
As a little bit of different questioning — which really isn’t about the rules and regulation that you have to deal with — yesterday, the Prime Minister tried to make an announcement about single-use plastic. He had quite a difficult time spitting it out, but it is about single-use plastic such as, I think, straws and all these kinds of things.
I looked at the sheet that you gave me, and I’m familiar with most of those products. I see nothing but plastic. I don’t know what would replace that. In the area you deal with, is there something that would replace that plastic? Because every one of them are single use; every one of those products. And you would need pages and pages of products that come out in plastic. What would replace plastic? With all of these? You can’t put it in paper?
Ms. Coombs: Thank you for that timely question.
Senator Neufeld: It is a little off-topic, but are you here and it is an opportunity for me to ask you.
Ms. Coombs: Yes. Our member companies are obligated participants in all of the recycling programs across the country. From our perspective, we are participating in blue box programs, as well as the municipal hazardous waste programs where your contents are also the recovery and safe collection of those ingredients. We’ve been actively engaged in those for years. There are a lot of those products that would have reusable or recyclable materials in them.
I think the challenge we have going forward as an industry is making sure that whatever comes forward in the regulation, which will come under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act — I think the Prime Minister has alluded that they will make them toxic and therefore they can regulate them — we will have to make sure that we have the right mechanisms in place to be able to recycle and recover those products provincially as well as municipally. Because, right now we have different definitions about what’s collected within a province, at each municipal level, and we have differences in what’s collected province to province.
Adding more materials to that discussion is going to bring that to light and then we will have to have more consistency across the country if we are going to be able to recover and recycle appropriately. We look forward to engaging Environment Canada in that discussion going forward.
Senator Neufeld: Have you had any discussion with Environment Canada about this new single-use —
Ms. Coombs: We were very engaged in providing them information about all the programs that we participate in provincially, because waste is a provincial jurisdiction, and I spend a lot of my time with our members, making sure that we are trying to be harmonized across the provinces. But we were not consulted on the particular proposal to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Senator Neufeld: Let’s hope they spend a little more time at it than what they have with the initial questions that you had.
Senator Klyne: I have two questions. One is trying to get some clarity.
If a supplier is successful in getting an exemption for confidential business information, how does that get handled with the safety data sheets and the rights to know for workers and consumers, with respect to everything from WHMIS to handling hazardous materials, if that’s not disclosed? I can understand afterwards, when it is mixed and they tell you how to handle it. But for those that have to do the mixing, if you will, how does that not get disclosed to them, what it is?
Ms. Coombs: I don’t want you to think that it is not disclosed. Information is disclosed. It is the chemical identity that is not. So you would have a trade secret on the identity, but all the information in terms of safe handling for that particular chemical is all listed on the safety data sheet.
Senator Klyne: What I am asking is: How do they describe on the safety data sheet what that ingredient is?
Ms. Coombs: I believe it is just trade secret, in terms of the —
Senator Klyne: Do not swallow?
Ms. Coombs: In terms of the outcomes? Those are all the same. They have to follow WHMIS.
Senator Klyne: So they have to disclose what the ingredient is —
Ms. Coombs: They have to disclose to the government.
Senator Klyne: But not the workers?
Ms. Coombs: No, but the worker is provided all the information about how to use that ingredient properly.
Senator Klyne: Second, when this was rolled out, there was reference to enabling Canadian suppliers to grow and to be competitive at home and abroad. How do the proposed amendments to this act compared to other jurisdictions relating to confidential business information? Are we taking the leading edge on something or are we trying to close the gap competitively?
Ms. Coombs: We have had this piece of legislation since 1985, and we are the only country in the world that has this type of review process with respect to confidential business information on safety data sheets.
Senator M. Deacon: Thank you so much for being here and sharing the information. I do want to go back. It is curiosity. I’m trying to understand this. You’ve indicated, I believe, that you’ve had a consultation three times. You said September, another month, another month. That is three times. Can you give us a little picture of those consultations? Are you coming together on behalf of a bunch of different organizations? Are you doing advocacy? What were you trying to gain from those?
I’m curious about those consultation processes.
Ms. Coombs: In September, the outreach was to our multi-stakeholder advisory committee. That’s made up of industry, FPT representatives, labour organizations and Health Canada. That’s the group.
They reached out to us to ask us for our general support for the proposed changes, the idea that we would amend HMIRA. In January, it was specific to the industry organizations. They were having bilaterals at that time. So they were having one with labour and one with industry.
The one in April was a mix of both, but it was more bilaterals that we had with the department. Our advocacy has been trying to get handle on what the changes are going to mean to industry. We would like a more efficient and timely process, in terms of the review of the SDS, but that has not been forthcoming in these amendments. It is around trying to do things better, faster, more efficiently without compromising health and safety.
Senator M. Deacon: I wonder if you felt heard, specifically with the SDS information. The connection I am trying to appreciate is your work and something that Senator Klyne mentioned, which is the WHMIS work. I am trying to figure it out. They are not the same, of course, but different bodies doing different things. But there are some commonalities, and I wondered —
Ms. Coombs: It is the same group at Health Canada. Yes, the same group of officials.
Senator M. Deacon: Okay. Thank you very much.
Senator Marshall: I have to make this count, so I have to think it through. I appreciate your comments on the government website, because I use it a lot. So that’s not a question; that’s just a statement.
And also, there is something happening, Mr. Chair, with regard to the Gazette. We had a witness here from one of the government departments. When he responded to me, when I asked a question, he gave the impression that the Gazette was being scrapped. I don’t know if I misunderstood him, but then he reassured me it wasn’t. Perhaps our analysts can check into that for us.
But my question is about the appeal process. I want to know: How often is it used? Because it is being scrapped now. What we are told, in our briefing notes, is that sections 20 to 27 of the legislation are being removed, but the absence of the appeal process does not mean that the minister’s decision cannot be reviewed as an application because the judicial review could still be made to the federal courts.
How often is that used? What’s the practicality of removing that now, and giving you another pathway to the appeal?
Ms. Coombs: I struggle to understand the change of going from the appeal process to the judicial review. My conversations and that of my members with Health Canada during our April consultation was that no one uses the appeal process, so we’re going to eliminate it as such. However, in my preparation for this testimony, I went back looking through all the departmental plans and priorities for the commission, which used to be at Health Canada, and there were a great number of appeals. So it is very difficult to get a number for how many appeals, or how many exemptions they are reviewing because they changed the way they are recording these processes at Health Canada.
Senator Marshall: Can I squeeze in another question? I had to get my magnifying glass out. I see you have Path Clear and Weed B Gon in your products. Do you regulate Roundup?
Ms. Coombs: Roundup is regulated under the Pest Control Products Act and it is exempt from this process. It has a separate process under its own act.
Senator Klyne: In your name there is the word “consumer,” and then it is a trade organization with 35 members, so you’ve got a balancing act going on there.
Ms. Coombs: Yes, the members do.
Senator Klyne: I think this is a little bit more leaning to the suppliers side, when you ask or say what we need, Treasury Board regulatory reform needs to address paper burden and cost to remove the provision for a true copy of labels under the Hazardous Products Act. Can you maybe explain how this would make the suppliers more competitive and grow and why it will be such a burden.
Ms. Coombs: Separate act. It is under the Hazardous Products Act that we asked for that true copy provision to be removed from the legislation. It, too, was included in omnibus legislation in 2014 and it is a data retention collection exercise. So the department has indicated to us that, in order to meet this obligation, we need to take photos of all the labels of all of our raw materials, as well as all of our products and keep them on a database. It is quite onerous in terms of not only collecting the data but retaining it as well and making sure that it is up to date.
For example, it is like walking into a Walmart and taking a picture of every product on the shelves, and then keeping a database up to date with all the new products that come in and any of the current products you have and any changes you may have on that. This is strictly a supplier. It has nothing to do with the worker. This is about a supplier keeping data on a database for inspection purposes, when we have all the information on the safety data sheet which we already keep for them.
Senator Klyne: Does this happen in other jurisdictions?
Ms. Coombs: It does not, sir.
The Chair: Thank you, to the witness, Ms. Coombs, for sharing your opinion. It was very educational and also instructive.
Honourable senators, before we conclude, I need to bring some information to your attention. Honourable senators, you may have noticed that this afternoon’s meeting of the committee has been cancelled. That’s because the committee does not have permission to sit while the Senate is sitting to study Bill C-97. Why? The committee was authorized to sit while the Senate is sitting only for its pre-study of Bill C-97. That said, the speaking notes that the witnesses provided in anticipation of their appearance this afternoon have been sent to translation and will be circulated tomorrow, so that we have a sense of what we were going to learn for this afternoon.
That said, senators, the plan now is to proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-97 tomorrow evening with our regular meeting. A new notice of meeting will be issued shortly to reflect those changes. The consideration of the draft report, for your information on military procurement, we were planning for tomorrow night/evening, is postponed to our next regular time slot which will be Tuesday, June 18, next week. Please do not forget, honourable senators, to bring to next Tuesday’s meeting the confidential draft report that you received last Friday from the clerk.
(The committee adjourned.)