Senate Committee on National Finance met by videoconference this day at
11 a.m. [ET] to study: a) certain elements of Bill C-13, An Act
respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19; b) the provisions and
operations of Bill C-14, A second Act respecting measures in response to
COVID-19; and, c) the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its
economic consequences; and, in camera, to study the Supplementary Estimates (A)
for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2021.
Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
Honourable senators, before we begin, I would like to remind senators and
witnesses to please keep your microphones muted at all times unless recognized
by name by the chair.
We will begin
with the official portion of our meeting. My name is Percy Mockler, a senator
from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. I would like to introduce the
members of the committee who are participating in this meeting: Senator Forest,
deputy chair; Senator Richards, steering committee member; Senator Boehm;
Senator Dagenais; Senator Deacon (Ontario); Senator Duncan; Senator Galvez;
Senator Harder; Senator Klyne; Senator Loffreda; Senator Marshall; Senator
Smith; and also our ex officio members, Senator Gold and Senator Martin. I will
take this opportunity to also welcome Senator Pate, a regular participant.
everyone, and welcome to all the Canadians watching us. Today, our committee is
continuing its study on certain elements of Bill C-13, the provisions and
operations of Bill C-14, and the government’s response to the COVID-19
pandemic and its economic consequences. This study was referred to the committee
by the Senate of Canada on April 11.
No doubt, our
National Finance Committee has common denominators, namely, transparency,
accountability, predictability and reliability.
Today, for our
first panel, we welcome the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and
Disability Inclusion, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough. Minister, thank you again
for your availability and participation in our committee. We appreciate it.
The minister is
joining us by teleconference and will count on a group of senior officials from
her department to answer questions, if need be. Welcome to all of you and
thank you for being here.
Minister, I am
informed that you have some comments. Please make your comments, and then we
will follow up with questions from the senators.
Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and
Disability Inclusion: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m very pleased to be able
to join you all today to speak to the emergency measures we have taken under my
portfolio to support Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. I appreciate being
able to call in as the accessibility features with Zoom are quite challenging,
and I find it much easier to participate over the phone.
today are Deputy Minister Graham Flack, Associate Deputy Minister Benoît
Robidoux and CFO Mark Perlman.
I’d like to thank
the committee for studying our response to the pandemic. Your attention is very
gentlemen of the committee, I’m sure you know that the Canada Emergency Response
Benefit has evolved over time, but let me take you back to March 2020 so I
can explain what measures Employment and Social Development Canada has taken to
support Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
economy closed — almost overnight — it quickly became clear that our
regular safety net, that being Employment Insurance, would not be able to handle
the volume of people who were seeing a complete halt in their hours or losing
their jobs. Our government acted immediately. Parliament passed the Canada
Emergency Response Benefit Act and created the CERB. For eligible workers, the
benefit has been providing temporary income support of $500 a week for up to 16
weeks. To give you a sense of the scope of the need, close to 8 million workers
have been paid more than $40 billion in benefits.
beginning of this crisis, our government has been focused on providing Canadians
with the support they need as we all worked together to contain the spread of
the virus and to keep Canadians safe.
benefit period for the CERB was scheduled to end in early July, but on
June 16, the Government of Canada announced that it would be extended by
eight weeks at the current rate of $500 a week.
We know that
Canadians are eager to get back to work and that employers are doing everything
they can to make sure their workers are safe. We urge anyone who’s looking for
work to visit the Job Bank, which is a national service that can help them find
For those unable
to work or find work, the CERB will now continue to be available from
March 15 to October 3, 2020. In that time period, workers now have up
to 24 weeks of the CERB available to them. We know that this will go a long way
for Canadians who simply don’t have a job to return to, who have caregiving
responsibilities and for workers and industries that haven’t yet reopened.
Extending the CERB will give workers greater confidence that they will continue
to get the support they need as they face ongoing disruptions to their work and
home situations due to COVID-19.
I’ll now take a
moment to speak to the disability inclusion part of my portfolio. We recognize
that some groups are significantly and disproportionately impacted by this
pandemic. In the spirit of “Nothing Without Us” and the Accessible Canada Act
and to support Canadians with disabilities, we established the COVID-19
Disability Advisory Group. This group has been offering important advice to the
government on the real-time, lived experiences of people with disabilities
during this crisis. Thanks in part to this group’s advice, we recognized that
persons with disabilities needed extra financial support during this crisis. On
June 5, the Prime Minister announced that those who claim the disability
tax credit will receive a one-time payment of $600.
I want to thank
Senator Moncion, who was to be the sponsor of this bill in the Senate.
Unfortunately, when legislation was presented in the house to help facilitate
information-sharing between Canada Revenue Agency and ESDC to deliver this
benefit, politics got in the way. But we’re working very hard to find another
solution to deliver this important support to people with disabilities, and I’m
very committed to making this happen.
seniors are one of the most vulnerable groups to be affected by this pandemic.
The current situation is causing seniors a great deal of financial stress and
anxiety. That’s why the government has taken steps to protect their financial
security during these uncertain times.
Seniors who have
stopped working because of COVID-19 are eligible for the CERB. They can collect
the CERB even if they receive the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security or the
Guaranteed Income Supplement, without interruption to these benefits. And to
help seniors cover increased costs caused by COVID-19, seniors eligible for the
OAS will receive a one-time, tax-free payment of $300, with an additional $200
for seniors eligible for the GIS.
Now a word about
temporary foreign workers: First, I want to emphasize that our government
remains committed to protecting temporary foreign workers through this pandemic.
I’m so saddened, and heartbroken actually, to hear about workers who have become
ill or passed away due to COVID-19. My thoughts are with them and their
While we have
taken important steps over the course of this pandemic, we recognize there is
more to do to protect temporary foreign workers in this country and remain
committed to looking at additional steps our government can take in order to do
We are continuing
to work with provinces and territories, whom we share a responsibility with on
this, as well as partner countries, employer associations, worker support
organizations and other stakeholders to address these serious concerns and
ensure the safety and well-being of all workers in Canada. We are also working
directly with the Mexican government. This includes creating a contact group of
representatives from relevant departments in both countries to be able to
respond immediately as situations arise. We are also increasing the number of
inspections, increasing proactive outreach to workers and enhancing our
compliance measures. Of course, we are happy to provide more information on this
particularly serious file at your request.
Now let me say a
word about students and youth.
We know this is
an especially tough time for young people, students and recent graduates,
because many of them are not eligible for the CERB. That’s why, on
April 22, we announced that we would be allocating $9 billion in
comprehensive support for post-secondary students and recent graduates.
An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits on April 29 that
enabled the four-month Canada Emergency Student Benefit, or the CESB. Students
who are not receiving the CERB could be eligible to receive an additional $1,250
per month between May and August. Eligible students with permanent
disabilities and those with dependents under the age of 12 will receive an
additional $750 per month.
don’t just end with the CESB. We allocated $80 million to the Student Work
Placement Program to help up to 20,000 post-secondary students find internships
and employment-related experiences in their field of study. We’re also investing
$153.7 million in the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, which will create up
to 6,000 new jobs for young people in areas of high demand such as health and
essential services. We will also expand the eligibility criteria for the Canada
Student Loans Program for September and double the amount of Canada Student
Grants. These new measures are in addition to those already implemented to
suspend repayment of student and apprenticeship loans and applicable interest
for six months.
We know that many
young Canadians are hoping to get a job this summer and are looking for safe and
secure employment opportunities. That’s why we’ve made temporary changes to the
Canada Summer Jobs program to resolve issues that young people and employers
were running into.
We increased the
wage subsidy, expanded eligibility and provided more flexibility for employers.
these combined measures for workers, students, youth and persons with
disabilities have been necessary to support Canadians during this crisis and
have helped stabilize the economy. As we begin to safely restart our economy,
our government will continue to be there to adapt and respond to the needs of
Canadian workers as they begin to head back to work and re-enter the workforce.
I’ll stop there,
and I would love to hear your questions. Thank you.
Thank you, minister. We will now proceed to questions, and I would like to
remind all senators that you will have a maximum of three minutes each.
Therefore, please ask your questions directly. To the witnesses, please respond
concisely. Our clerk will make a hand signal to show that the time is over.
Marshall: Welcome, minister, to you and your officials.
Thank you for
your opening remarks where you outlined some of the programs, but at the end
there, you did say that the objective now is to reopen the economy. I know there
are billions of dollars being spent so far, but as I indicated, the emphasis now
is on transitioning people back into the workforce. I’m from Newfoundland and
Labrador, and I can see it happening at home. I’m in Ottawa this week, and I can
see it happening.
What people are
saying to me is that government wants the economy reopened. They want the
private sector back to work. They want small businesses back to work. They want
those organizations to do the heavy lifting, but the government has closed down
Parliament. People want to see their parliamentarians in action. They want to
see us, but most of us will end up going home, and we expect all these
businesses to open and work through reopening the economy. They feel that
government is being disingenuous. It is the old philosophy of, “Do as I say, not
as I do.” Would you care to comment on that?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator, for your question. I
appreciate that perspective absolutely.
I know we have
worked very hard to try to find a balance in being available, being accountable,
being transparent and at the same time following the advice of public health
officials to social distance and not necessarily have a bunch of people
travelling from their home communities to Ottawa. The solution arrived at
amongst all the parties was the current format of regular meetings of what we
call the COVID committee, as you know, but basically includes all 338 MPs.
I can tell you I
have answered hundreds of questions in very straightforward,
two-and-a-half-hour meetings, four times a week, for the past number of weeks,
in an attempt to get information out to Canadians and to parliamentarians. I
work very closely with my critics. We answer all that we possibly can. But
we strongly believe this is a better format for —
Clerk of the Committee: Minister, sorry. I have to ask you to pause. The
interpreters here are not able to interpret. The quality of the audio is not
good enough on our end.
Marshall: I could comment on the minister’s comment just to say that I
realize this is happening as you have said. That work is being done. That
doesn’t replace the ability of people to see their parliamentarians actually on
the floor of the House. It can be done. You can have a variety of members from
different parties. I know the Senate is sitting today. It could be done.
Forest: Thank you, minister, and thank you to the members of your
My question is
about seasonal workers. I’m from the Lower St. Lawrence and Gaspé region,
which has a lot of seasonal workers in seasonal industries, like hospitality,
fishing and agriculture.
extended the CERB to include seasonal workers who have exhausted their regular
EI benefits and can’t get a regular seasonal job because of COVID-19. That was
the right thing to do.
However, this may
just have put off the problem, because some workers won’t have accumulated the
minimum number of hours needed to qualify for EI by the fall. What’s the plan
for helping workers in seasonal industries who won’t qualify for EI, so they can
get through the winter?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator. This is an issue I’m
very concerned about, as it affects not only seasonal workers, but also women
who are on maternity leave. A lot of people won’t be able to work enough hours
to qualify for EI in September. We’re working on finding a solution as we speak.
Sometime in the next few weeks, we’ll announce what we’re going to do. We
certainly don’t want to neglect these people.
very hard to fix this problem. Maybe Mr. Flack has something to add.
Forest: Thank you, minister.
Deputy Minister, Employment and Social Development Canada: The government
has already announced a change for those who haven’t accumulated enough hours.
People whose eligibility for benefits ended on December 29 of last year
will now be eligible.
Last week, the
government also announced that it would add two four-week periods for the CERB.
Seasonal workers will be eligible.
As the minister
said, we’re working very hard to find solutions for people who won’t have
accumulated enough hours for the next season.
Ms. Qualtrough: I’d like to add that we’ve already made a
decision about fishers.
Let us take five minutes to try to find a solution.
Richards: Thank you, minister, for being here today. My question is quick
and simple. I don’t know if there’s a simple answer. The national
unemployment average is now at 19%. I imagine that in New Brunswick, where I
come from, it’s far higher than that. Do you have any way to predict the level
of unemployment in the next few months and how high it might go? How hard will
it be to restart the engine of the economy with so many people out of work? I’m
wondering if you have any thoughts on that. Thank you.
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator.
In May, the
national unemployment rate was 13.7%. But, as you indicated, that doesn’t really
tell the whole story because it doesn’t capture people who have been furloughed
maybe or their hours have been reduced to nothing. It’s hard to predict what
will happen in the next months. We’re watching it closely. We’re trying to
reorient our programs to encourage back to work, to support people as they go
back to work. But there’s no real way beyond tracking, as we do monthly, to
predict with any amount of certainty right now as we don’t know which sectors
will reopen, in what order, and how many workers will have jobs to go back to.
But, quite frankly, it is not a rosy picture, and we want to make sure we
continue to support people.
Richards: Thank you very much.
Harder: Thank you, minister. Let me begin by simply offering my thanks and
congratulations to you and your department. I think when the history of this
whole series of measures is taken, the systems and policy rethink at ESDC will
be the story in many ways.
I want to focus a
little on gaps. You mentioned earlier the seasonal agricultural workers program,
and you whet my appetite by saying there were more initiatives that the
government was prepared to do, either separately or in concert with other
stakeholders, provinces and partner countries. This is a very important program,
particularly at this time of year, and I’d like to hear a little more about
gap I’ve been speaking to over the last number of weeks, and that’s with respect
to international students. While I very much appreciate the $9 billion program
for students, there is a gap of support to international students. I’m informed
that, at the end of March, about 565,000 international students were in Canada,
and about 80% of them were unable to get to their country of origin as a result
of the restrictions. If we take half of that, let’s say 300,000 students that
will require or have some degree of stress as to whether or not they’ll be able
to continue their studies, there is a gap that I would encourage you to consider
by offering support through the student aid programs at our community colleges
and universities for that population of some 300,000 who will otherwise either
not be able to attend, be in some financial difficulty or have to return home at
a significant disruptive cost to the institutions.
I’d like to hear
your comment on those gaps.
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator. Those are both
important questions and issues that we are facing head on and working on
I’ll start with
international students. As you know, international students are indeed eligible
for the CERB. By our best information, in February, around 40% of students in
Canada were working, including international students, which leads us to believe
that a significant number of students — completely acknowledging the
gap — are in fact eligible and getting the CERB. When we did the student
benefit, as you know, we made a choice to mirror our financial aid policy and
make that benefit available only to Canadian citizens and permanent residents,
which does leave a gap.
To be honest, the
Minister of Immigration and myself are seized with finding ways, working with
universities and colleges, both to support international students right now who
are on the ground and, as we look to a near future timeline, students wanting to
potentially come to Canada to start or to continue their studies in the fall. We
did make adjustments through IRCC to allow international students to work more
while they’re studying, but that hasn’t helped enough people. We’re really
digging in on what we can do to help.
Graham, I don’t
know if you have anything to add.
Minister, thank you. If there are any additional comments to be added,
please have your officials put them in writing to the clerk.
Ms. Qualtrough: I will. Thank you.
that the government’s recent plans to crack down on CERB fraud include
potentially the imposition of fines and even jail time. That seems to be a shift
from when the plan was originally implemented. How will you determine whether a
claim was made by mistake, because the honesty of Canadians was discussed early
on in this program? How do you determine whether it was a mistake or a willing
attempt to game the system?
Second, will the
imposition of penalties be retroactive to the start of the program?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you.
As you know, the
legislation from last week would have imposed both penalties and criminal
offences. We heard loud and clear — and I remain committed to not in any
way penalizing someone who honestly commits a mistake or error or somebody who
gets an extra payment — there was a sentiment that we needed more robust
ways to enforce our measures at the back end.
offence portion of the legislation, were it passed, would not be retroactive. It
would start as of Royal Assent. The penalties piece would be retroactive to the
start of CERB. I’ll note that the penalty or the offences don’t apply to the
entire legislation. For example, the requirement that people be out there
reasonably looking for work and taking jobs when it’s reasonable to do so is not
captured within the penalty or offence system.
I can tell you
that three months into this, my message hasn’t changed. We’re going to work with
Canadians where there are errors and mistakes. But quite frankly, we have
learned of situations where people are preying on the vulnerable and taking
advantage of seniors, and we want to make sure those people are held to
Wouldn’t it have been easier if the application process had provided
warnings to the applicants at the beginning about fraud, just to make it simpler
so you wouldn’t have to go into more of an evaluation of the actual system?
Ms. Qualtrough: I hear you, senator and, of course, in
hindsight we could have picked better words, but from the beginning we wanted to
get money into the hands of people as quickly as possible and we committed to do
all the follow-up, and both CRA and ESDC have that capacity and it will be
Dagenais: I have two questions. When we look at the CERB envelopes the Prime
Minister announced, there’s a problematic gap between what he says during his
daily press briefings and reality. For example, he announced $73 billion for the
emergency assistance program at $2,000 per month, but the revised estimates for
May say $45 billion. That is almost $4 billion less per month. Can you tell
us where the missing $28 billion from the initial announcement went? Is the
Prime Minister fiddling with the numbers so he can make more announcements while
giving less money to Canadians?
question is about the unemployment rate and the labour shortage. Some people are
sitting back collecting the CERB even though their jobs are available. Others
are asking their employer to pay them under the table. Can you tell us what the
government is going to do to get them back to work?
Ms. Qualtrough: Those are two good questions, important
questions. To answer your first question, our projections were based on
what we thought the CERB would cost.
Now that we are
almost four months in, with 8 million people on CERB as of June 4, paying
everybody $2,000 per month for the time period that had elapsed, we were at a
$44 billion price. The average is about $17 billion per month at its peak. Of
course, we have fewer people on CERB now. A million people are no longer on CERB
that were on CERB a month ago, which leads me to your second question.
We are doing
everything possible to incentivize work and not disincentivize work. CERB was
created under different circumstances when we wanted people to stay at home and
not work for health reasons, and now we want people to go back to work and to
work and to look for work actively. We are changing the attestation to reflect
an expectation that people take a job when it’s offered to them, that they are
actively looking for jobs when they can. This would have been legislated last
week, but it doesn’t mean we can’t codify that requirement in the attestation.
We are providing access to the job bank directly on the attestation
page like we’re doing with the students.
what we’re hearing is that people want to work. Evidence of that is last month
there were 290,000 jobs created, most of them in low-income positions, meaning
people who could have chosen to be on the CERB and instead chose to work. So I’m
very confident that people, when offered and when able to do so, will choose to
work the vast majority of the time.
Galvez: Thank you, Minister Qualtrough.
My question is
concerning the funds that are going to universities and research. Almost half a
billion dollars has been given in the form of funds to maintain support for
research training and research staff at Canadian universities, but also in the
form of operating grants. These operating grants go for vaccines, diagnostic
therapies, clinical management, health system interventions, et cetera. But
because of the hiring, these calls for grants have brought 1,500 proposals.
There are more than a hundred projects on vaccines. I feel like these funds will
be diluted in the system, but most important, I wonder what are the mechanisms
that are in place to follow up with each of these funding recipients and what
are the methods that could be used to measure the success of this support. Thank
Ms. Qualtrough: To be honest, senator, I don’t have a lot
of information on the grants to the universities, but, of course, I can follow
up and get you more information.
With respect to
the investment ESDC has made, we’ve put in $291 million to support up to 40,000
student researchers and postdoctoral fellows through the federal granting
councils. I apologize. I do not like not having the granular detail you’ve
you answer or commit to following up for the senator?
Mr. Flack: We can follow up through our colleagues at the
Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development because they’ve led
the work in this area. We haven’t been involved in the direct funding to the
universities for this feature.
M. Deacon: Thank you, Minister Qualtrough, for being with us and doing
our best this morning together.
I’m going to pose
a question that you discussed a bit earlier around migrant workers. A few weeks
ago, during one of our meetings, I asked the Canadian Federation of Agriculture
about the safety of migrant workers that you’ve touched on. I was assured the
quality control measures were in place. We now are aware, sadly, that three
migrant workers have died of COVID-19, hundreds more infected. Complaints of
inadequate conditions are pretty dominant, according to the Migrant Workers
Alliance for Change. In their June 8 report, the authors suggest that
racism leaks into these interactions as well with a high number of complaints
from Caribbean workers, who are mostly black men. It became apparent at the
outset of the lockdown that these workers are vital to our food supply and food
chain. I know your department is conducting inspections, but it is also my
understanding that most of these inspections have been done virtually since the
outbreak began. Clearly, you’re working on more being done, both in the present
context and moving forward.
What more do you
think the government can do to ensure these workers will be treated with dignity
and respect to health to protect them from undue exposure to COVID-19 and see
that we sort out the minority of employers who are guilty of infractions and are
leaving a black eye on this crucial and by and large very decent, very
respectful, very essential industry?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator.
Like so many of
our systems, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program has really been exposed as a
broken program that needs to be fixed. We knew this. Like in long-term care,
like in others, we now have an obligation to do whatever we possibly can, an
obligation we’ve had forever, by the way. It’s not new. We jumped in with both
feet when the pandemic broke, working and focusing our efforts on quarantine,
making sure that we worked with governments like Mexico so they could feel that
their citizens would be safe upon arrival. We gave funds to employers to offset
some of the costs of quarantine. We made best efforts through regulatory change
to ensure broader compliance and that the people were being paid. But, as you
have highlighted, simply not enough. That report is horrific in terms of what it
reveals in terms of working conditions, working requirements, pay. I could go
on. You’ve obviously read the report. We are redoubling our efforts.
measures were quite successful in the sense that people were safe during those
two weeks. The challenge has become that once they left quarantine, they’ve
gotten ill. That’s on us, and we need to figure out what we can do. We know the
working conditions are challenging. We have to work with provinces and other
countries. Jurisdictional situations are complicated, but that doesn’t in any
way excuse the fact that we need to take a leadership role as the federal
government. We are beefing up our inspections, going back to on-site
inspections. We’re doing a tiger team approach where outbreaks are happening
where the Public Health Agency and us are going in and doing work site
assessments to figure out what’s going on and how we can help. We’re looking at
starting discussions around a national housing standard for workers. Honestly, I
could have an entire hour-long conversation, senator, and would be happy to do
this with you, but I can tell you this is my number one priority right now.
Thank you, Minister Qualtrough, for meeting with us today and for all the
work you and your colleagues and staff have been doing on behalf of
I want to ask a
question that relates to reopening shuttered businesses. As provincial
governments announce a phased approach to reopen businesses, the objective now
will be to get a significant portion of the workforce back to work when given
reasonable notice to return to a safe workplace. Government announcements aside,
it is the employer that has a duty to protect their workers and decide if they
should or can reopen. Businesses will have to factor in the cost and time to
make any physical changes and to install a new set of operating procedures,
costs to get customers to come back, and they must ensure they can secure
staffing levels to meet customers’ expectations. Finally, businesses will need
to consider their financial position after burning through some or all of their
cash reserves while shut down, and whether a credit facility will be required to
take them beyond the wiggle room that might be afforded them via wage
Have you and/or
your ministerial colleagues given consideration to assisting with the reopening
costs of a shuttered business, including the costs associated with transforming
the business to adopt the incrementally new safety measures for safe return of
employees and customers, the working capital that will be required to lure
customers back and pay the monthly overhead to carry the business through the
initial months of reopening?
Ms. Qualtrough: That is a very important question. What I
think I hear you saying is basically the programs our government has put in
place have focused on businesses staying afloat. You’re talking about the
additional expenses associated with the new normal of doing business in COVID. I
think they’re very important. I know we’re working on a number of reopening
measures with the provinces. The $14 billion announcement to transfers to the
provinces will go a long way in terms of creating the safety conditions that
you’re talking about as we prepare to reopen but also prepare for the likelihood
of a second wave of COVID. It is hoped, whether it’s CEBA or the wage subsidy,
this will give businesses some capacity. It remains to be seen whether this will
Thank you very much, minister, for being with us today, and as well your
team. I want to congratulate you on all the hard work you have undertaken.
I have two
questions that are related to the disabilities portion of your portfolio. The
first one is with respect to the payments that are going to the disabled, the
one-time payment. It seems to me that if you have a Disability Tax Credit
certificate, as authorized by CRA, you have an advantage. But if you don’t,
given that an announcement was made on June 5 regarding the June 1
deadline and it takes about eight weeks to get this through CRA in terms of
getting a certificate and having a doctor’s certificate to back it up, are you
doing anything to ensure that people who might be eligible for this payment are
not falling between the cracks?
question is with respect to the national Workplace Accessibility Stream, which
includes funds related to setting up accessible and effective work-from-home
measures. How will those funds be distributed? Do they go to the employer or to
the individuals? If the individual is moving from a place of employment to the
home, does that mean they could, for example, take some of their equipment with
them? I’m thinking particularly of federal public servants as well in that
respect. Thank you.
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you.
First of all, we
want to make sure, with respect to DTC eligibility, if you had an application in
progress, that the fact that COVID means we’re processing things slower doesn’t
impact your ability to qualify. As long as you had applied for the DTC —
whether or not that application had been processed — we’re going to work
our way through the entire backlog. What will happen is you’ll get your DTC
eligibility retroactive to the date of your doctor’s determination that you
should be eligible, if CRA agrees with that. The hope is, even if it takes weeks
to go through the backlog, that nobody that had an application in process as of
June 1 will be deemed ineligible, because it’s not fair to do that to
Thanks for asking
about the Workplace Accessibility fund. That’s going to be delivered through the
Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, which is an ESDC program.
Right now, the thinking is we’ll direct it through organizations to support
workers and employers. We’re looking if we can make that support more direct to
employers or workers. Quite frankly, $15 million isn’t a lot of money. I hope we
can get more money for oncoming years for this program. The idea is
organizations that support employees or workers will be able to get them the
accommodations they need working with their employers to transition to working
differently in the new reality.
Duncan: Thank you, minister and your staff, for being here today. We
appreciate you working with us, despite the technology.
CERB has been
described as a good platform to build a guaranteed livable income. It isn’t yet
a GLI. We’ve talked about the fact that there are still people who do not
qualify. You’ve spoken of those with disabilities and the difficulty or
challenges getting a benefit through the minority Parliament. As Canadians,
we’ve witnessed these challenges. We’re also witnessing a high degree of
cooperation at the federal-provincial level.
There are some
provinces that have tried pilots of a basic income guarantee, and there are
those territories, such as the Yukon’s Comprehensive Review of health and social
services programs, putting people first that has recommended that the
territorial government design and implement a guaranteed annual income pilot.
There has been a great deal of information from pilot projects and proposed
pilots, but there’s also a clear recommendation to move beyond pilots and to
implement a guaranteed livable income.
Can you tell us
what steps are being taken to work interdepartmentally with CIRNAC and Finance
and the provincial and territorial level to implement a minimum basic income or
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator.
As you can
appreciate, our goal at the beginning was to get money out the door as quickly
as possible to ensure Canadians got the help they needed as quickly as possible.
Instead of giving a more modest amount to everyone, we made a choice at that
time to give more money to people who needed it because they had work-related
impacts because of COVID.
has shifted now to what comes next. What comes immediately next, of course, is
the extension of the CERB. But what happens in September is now the
conversation that is being had. Right now we are looking at how to ensure that,
as we transition people back to the Employment Insurance system, people are
indeed covered and that we don’t leave people behind, and the underlying issues
that all those pilots addressed were related to ensuring that our systems
actually responded to the needs of our citizens.
Again, like I
said with our other systems, Employment Insurance has been shown to be
ineffective in terms of this kind of crisis and in terms of actually reflecting
the way people work now. Many Canadians aren’t covered by EI. We need to figure
that out and have an important conversation about that.
I’m looking at the time frame. I would ask Senator Loffreda, Senator Gold
and Senator Martin collectively to ask their questions. You can take the option,
minister, to provide the answers in writing or comment as you conclude.
Ms. Qualtrough: I will be happy to. Thank you.
Loffreda: Thank you, minister, for being here with us.
This pandemic has
accelerated the digital economy. Are there any concerns, considerations or
government programs you can elaborate on in enhancing the skill sets of both our
businesses and our workforce in meeting these challenges? Thank you.
Welcome, minister. In the interest of time and being mindful of the
minister’s schedule, I don’t have any questions at this point.
Martin: Thank you, minister.
In your opening
remarks, you talked about the failure of Bill C-17 and that you would find
other ways. It’s my understanding that the support to the disabilities community
in the form of the payment could have been done in another way. It was in an
omnibus bill with some potentially contentious elements, and it could have been
done separately. I’m just curious as to what is the other way? Had you thought
of doing something for the disabilities community long before even
Bill C-17 was tabled? It is a community that is quite vulnerable, so I
would appreciate your answers on that. Thank you.
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you. Quickly, I would like to
give answers in writing to both of these. They are super important
My brief comments
would be on the skills training piece. I actually think that skills training
will be a pivotal component of our successful recovery from COVID-19. We are
working on some training measures now. We had an idea of a way forward on
training before the pandemic. Obviously, the world has changed. As you said, it
has accelerated. People need to be retrained, and we need to support them in
those efforts. I’m happy to give a more fulsome answer to that because I’m
very passionate about skills training.
In terms of the
disability piece, we have delivered measures in a number of ways through the
pandemic. We have done transfers to the provinces. We have done attestation or
application-type measures. We have made direct payment. For reasons of
accessibility and accommodation and not creating barriers, I opted to go with a
direct payment that wouldn’t require people to wait until the provinces work
things out with the government or to have to apply online or prove anything. We
had a robust list of DTC recipients we could deliver this to. All we needed was
basically permission to share data between CRA and ESDC to deliver the benefits.
That was a
two-section bill that, as you said, was part of a larger piece of
legislation last week. When we saw that we weren’t getting agreement on the
other pieces, we attempted to pull the disability piece out, which maybe in
hindsight I naively thought was an excellent solution because we had all-party
consent on the Accessible Canada Act. That didn’t work. As I said, there are
other ways to deliver this benefit. We are looking at them actively so that the
timelines that I promised will be respected. Quite frankly, I’m not giving up on
Thank you, minister. To you and your officials, thank you very much for your
availability and taking time to help us through the challenging technical
difficulties in the first portion of the meeting. Thank you for that.
senators, before we move to the in camera portion of the meeting, we will take
two minutes in order to prepare to start the portion on the Supplementary
Estimates (A) draft report.