THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL FINANCE

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance met this day at 2:30 p.m. to examine Supplementary Estimates (B) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. 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.

I will ask senators to introduce themselves.

Senator M. Deacon: Senator Marty Deacon, from Ontario. Welcome.

Senator Boehm: Peter Boehm, Ontario.

[Translation]

Senator Forest-Niesing: Josée Forest-Niesing from Ontario.

[English]

Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from Alberta.

[Translation]

Senator Bellemare: Diane Bellemare from Quebec.

[English]

Senator Klyne: Good afternoon. Marty Klyne, Saskatchewan.

Senator Smith: Larry Smith, Quebec.

Senator Marshall: Elizabeth Marshall, Newfoundland and Labrador.

[Translation]

The Chair: I would like to recognize the clerk of the committee, Maxime Fortin, and our two analysts, Alex Smith and Shaowei Pu, who support the work of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.

[English]

Honourable senators and members of the viewing public, the mandate of this committee is to examine matters relating to federal estimates generally as well as government finance. This afternoon we continue our consideration of the expenditures set out in the Supplementary Estimates (B) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020, which were referred to this committee on February 25, 2020, by the Senate of Canada.

[Translation]

For the first part of the meeting, from Natural Resources Canada, we’re joined by Linda Hurdle, Associate Deputy Minister and Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Management and Services Sector; and Glenn Hargrove, Assistant Deputy Minister, Major Projects Management Office. From the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, we’re joined by Carole Saab, Executive Director, Policy and Public Affairs.

[English]

She is accompanied by the managing director of the Green Municipal Fund, Chris Boivin.

Thank you very much to the witnesses for accepting our invitation so you can come and share with us and answer the questions of the senators on the estimates. I have been informed by the clerk of the committee that Ms. Hurdle will be the first to make her presentation, to be followed by Madam Carole Saab.

Madam Hurdle, please make your presentation.

Linda Hurdle, Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Management and Services Sector, Natural Resources Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon. It is an honour to be here.

Today I’m here to discuss the $1 billion increase in proposed authorities for Natural Resources Canada, identified as part of the 2019-20 Supplementary Estimates (B). The $1 billion increase will bring proposed authorities for Natural Resources Canada to a total of $2.6 billion for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020.

The increase of $1 billion is composed of two elements. First, there is a $958.3 million increase in statutory authorities. The authority to spend this funding has been provided through other legislation and is presented in the supplementary estimates to provide Canadians, including yourselves, with a clearer idea of how much money Natural Resources Canada will be spending this fiscal year.

The balance of the $42.8 million is in voted authorities for which we are seeking the approval of both the House of Commons and the Senate to spend this year.

The largest-single item in the supplementary estimates is $950 million in statutory funding for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to support the Green Municipal Fund. This funding was announced in Budget 2019, and the authority to make this payment was provided through the Budget Implementation Act. The $950 million will enhance the $625 million endowment previously provided and will be used to support increased energy efficiency in affordable housing, enable new financing opportunities for residential energy efficiency and establish climate centre hubs across the country.

Additional statutory authorities include $7.6 million for climate action support payments and $0.7 million for contributions to the employee benefit plan. Of the $7.6 million for climate action support payments, Natural Resources Canada will be spending $3.1 million on the Energy Manager Program and $4.5 million on the Clean Energy for Rural and Remote Communities Program.

The $48.2 million increase in voted appropriations, which I spoke about earlier, has two elements. There’s $12.5 million of new funding and $30.3 million in transfers of funding between departments or agencies.

The largest component of the new funding is $11.3 million to strengthen environmental protections and address concerns raised by Indigenous groups regarding the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The balance of the new funding is for the Soldier Settlement Board and the Energy Manager Program.

I spoke a bit earlier about the increases. There is $30.3 million in transfers of funding. This reflects the net movement of funding between departments. These transfers — some of which are sending money to Natural Resources Canada, some of which are sending money from our department to others — are made in order to better support the delivery of the objectives of the Government of Canada.

For example, of these transfers, there is $8.8 million in funding that is being transferred from Employment and Social Development Canada to Natural Resources Canada for the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy. Natural Resources Canada will be using this funding to create around 460 internships in the natural resources sector. This program promotes equality and diversity and responds to the need for a qualified labour pool in the natural resources sector that is equipped with STEM-related skills.

Another example of transfers of funding is the $2.7 million that the Department of National Defence is transferring to Natural Resources Canada. This will help pay for the operating and maintenance costs and the direct costs of hosting the Canadian Armed Forces Training Centre at the Polar Continental Shelf Program facility in Resolute, Nunavut. By leveraging their need and our facility, we provide better outcomes and lower costs for Canadians.

The other transfers between departments reflect similar situations: federal departments working together to ensure the best outcomes for Canadians.

I look forward, along with my colleagues, over the next hour to talking with you about the $1 billion increase in planned authorities for Natural Resources Canada that we are seeking through supplementary estimates.

The Chair: Before I ask Ms. Saab to make her presentation, I want to welcome, also from Natural Resources Canada, Ms. Joyce Henry, Director General, Office of Energy Efficiency.

[Translation]

The Chair: That said, Ms. Saab, the floor is yours.

Carole Saab, Executive Director, Policy and Public Affairs, Federation of Canadian Municipalities: I want to thank the committee members for inviting us to speak today.

[English]

I’m Carole Saab, Executive Director of Policy and Public Affairs with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I’m joined today by my colleague Chris Boivin, Managing Director of the Green Municipal Fund.

FCM’s 2,000 municipal members are the governments working closest to 90% of all Canadians, and we’re pleased to help you assess Budget 2019 investments in Canadians’ climate and quality-of-life priorities, specifically today through major investments, as you’ve just heard, through FCM’s Green Municipal Fund.

[Translation]

The Green Municipal Fund is our main program. It embodies the very epitome of the federal-municipal partnership. Launched in 2000 through a federal endowment, the Green Municipal Fund continues today to strengthen municipal capacity while delivering results for all Canadians.

[English]

Through its unique mix of funding, tools and training, GMF has brought to life 1,310 sustainability initiatives, cutting 2.6 million tons of GHGs, and building better lives for millions of Canadians across the country. Budget 2019 scales up GMF’s mission to drive cost-saving energy efficiency across Canada with a focus on three kinds of buildings: family-owned homes, social and affordable housing, and community buildings from arenas to libraries. We’re ramping up three distinct initiatives accordingly to deliver for Canadians.

This month, we will launch the new Community Efficiency Financing initiative. This will help homeowners cut their emissions and energy bills. We’ll do that by helping municipalities and partners implement innovative local programs that provide finance support directly to homeowners to improve their energy performance. These programs may build on approaches like Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, models, or local improvement charge financing.

On March 31, we will open our first funding offer to capitalize on new programs and scale up existing ones. On June 30, we will extend our offer to municipalities and partners in earlier stages of program development. As always with GMF, there is a significant peer-learning component that helps build the sector’s capacity.

[Translation]

The second new Green Municipal Fund initiative targets sustainable and affordable housing. It will be launched next May with a $300-million budget.

The initiative seeks to encourage energy efficiency measures for new or existing social and affordable housing by reducing GHG emissions and, ultimately, operating costs for housing providers.

[English]

We’re targeting up to 4,800 retrofitted and new housing units with ambitious performance targets. These retrofits will reduce energy use by at least 25% and new builds will achieve net-zero energy, or energy-ready standards like Passive House and LEED platinum. We’re supporting affordable housing models with long-term financial resilience, favouring approaches like mixed-occupancy buildings, co-location with transit hubs, and so on. We are also supporting innovative new housing models that could be replicated for a wider impact.

For greener community buildings, from libraries to arenas, we have FCM’s new $350 million collaboration on community carbon action. Here we’ll take proven low-carbon solutions to full-scale adoption, working in partnership with cities and communities. As one part of this, FCM has partnered with a group of seven urban centres that have come together as Low Carbon Cities Canada, or LC3. Each LC3 centre has an ambitious mandate to reduce emissions, while at the same time improving public health, increasing mobility and creating jobs. They’re exploring solutions that address elements like organic waste management, water infrastructure, fuel switching, district and renewable energy, active transportation, holistic land development and beyond. Their practical insights will inform and support the work that FCM brings to other communities across the country. We’re looking to support projects that are innovative, scalable and transferable.

All of this investment is grounded in one core principle: local solutions scaled up to deliver a vital national impact, whether we’re looking at economic growth or emission reductions Canada needs to meet our Paris targets.

[Translation]

The municipalities are carrying out the required work and delivering results effectively and efficiently because they know how to tailor their solutions to any given reality. This lies at the very heart of the federal-municipal partnership.

[English]

These Budget 2019 investments build on that federal-municipal partnership directly to drive results for Canadians.

When we get to the questions, we’re happy to expand on all of this for you. Chris, our GMF managing director, is here to provide technical insights into the program as well. We look forward to taking your questions. Thank you.

Senator Marshall: I’m going to start with Ms. Hurdle, who is the CFO of the department. The $950 million is the largest amount, and you were saying that it’s authorized by the budget implementation act. The budget implementation act also refers to an agreement between the department and the federation. Is there an agreement in place?

Joyce Henry, Director General, Office of Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Canada: There is a funding agreement between the Government of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It sets out the agreement on both the new funding for the $950 million and also previous funding to the Green Municipal Fund, which was first established in 2000 and sets out the criteria and oversight around that.

Senator Marshall: When you talk about oversight, has the federation received their money yet, the $950 million?

Ms. Henry: Yes, it was provided last summer, following the Budget Implementation Act receiving Royal Assent.

Senator Marshall: So they’ve received their money. For the federation, have you started giving out the money?

Ms. Saab: As I alluded to in our commentary, we’ve been in an aggressive program design mode, so we will be launching the first stream at the end of March, and then opening other funding streams after that on a regular basis.

Senator Marshall: So you have the money, but haven’t given any out?

Ms. Saab: Correct.

Senator Marshall: There is an umbrella agreement for the $950 million. Will you be entering into individual agreements with the municipalities?

Chris Boivin, Managing Director of the Green Municipal Fund, Federation of Canadian Municipalities: Yes, each municipality will have to propose a project or an initiative to be funded. Then we enter into bilateral agreements with those municipalities that set all the parameters for the funding.

Senator Marshall: So who decides on the funding? Is there so much allocated to each province on a per capita basis? Just give us some information on how the funding is allocated.

Mr. Boivin: There are some inherent requirements in the funding agreement we have with the federal government. One of the requirements is regional balance. The way we manage that is based on population. It’s proportionate to the population of different provinces and regions. We’ve been maintaining that balance since the inception of the fund. There’s also a requirement in the agreement to balance between urban and smaller communities, again, on a population and proportional representation basis.

Senator Marshall: What is the timeline for disbursing the $950 million? I assume you have it invested somewhere.

Mr. Boivin: Yes. We manage the fund with an investment manager to make sure it’s prudently invested in the short term until it is placed within projects. The agreement sets out that, for the lion’s share of the $950 million, it is to be allocated to projects over the next seven years. We’re going to roll with more or less the same amount every year for the next seven years.

Senator Marshall: So the department gives you the $950 million. Does the department audit the federation? You’ve given them almost $1 billion. What’s in your oversight program?

Ms. Henry: Under the funding agreement, there’s actually a number of oversight provisions for both the $950 million and also for the previous endowment that went to the federation. For example, there is a council for the Green Municipal Fund, and the federal government has five of the seats on the council. I’m one of the council members. We recommend to the FCM board of directors what goes forward for approval.

There is also a peer review committee with outside expertise that takes a look and assesses all of the projects that come in, and they have technical and financial expertise. Some of those members are also from the federal government. It’s on a one-third/one-third/one-third basis. There are also municipal councillors on the GMF from both small and large communities, as well as private sector individuals. Maybe Chris can add to the expertise around the table.

In addition to that, there are annual reporting requirements. For example, there is a statement that comes out each year on what the objectives will be going forward. Chris reports to the GMF council four times a year on the progress around that. Then there is an annual report that is provided publicly and that we’ve committed to table annually in Parliament. That’s provided to the federal government, but it is also released publicly. There are details of each project under the GMF website and there are also provisions for an audit, either from the federal government or from the Auditor General. The Auditor General has done a fairly recent review.

Senator Marshall: For the federation, it sounds like the department has their oversight in place. Who goes into the municipalities? The money eventually ends up in the municipalities for projects. Who is down at that level looking at the oversight?

Mr. Boivin: We have regular contact with our municipalities. At least once a year, we’re in communication with them, and at various milestones, we will do site visits, sometimes before the contract is finalized and sometimes toward the end to assess results.

Senator Marshall: So the $950 million is paid out. You have it and it will be disbursed over seven years?

Mr. Boivin: Yes.

Senator Boehm: Thank you for joining us today. I wanted to follow up on what Senator Marshall was asking. If I recall correctly, when we were discussing Bill C-97, the budget implementation act, we had a good discussion on that as well. My questions are also along the line of the oversight component. Also, as you look at projects, are you looking at minimizing the administrative costs? Would that depend on the project? For example, if you have a more complicated project, one can see how the administrative costs would go higher. Are you going to manage that in some way?

Mr. Boivin: Yes. I’m assuming you’re referring to the Green Municipal Fund’s administrative costs?

Senator Boehm: Yes.

Mr. Boivin: We’re always in a state of continuous improvement and monitoring possible efficiencies and enhancements to the client experience. For higher-risk projects that may have a larger private-sector component and things of that nature, there will be a heavier amount of oversight that we would impose; similarly for the larger funding approval. There’s a clear distinction between the amount of administrative burden on a $10 million project versus a $70,000 project.

For the smaller projects, we have made several improvements over the past year that led to much more rapid approval times than in the past. We’re up to two months for approval for projects that are less than $175,000 and less than four months for projects up to $500,000, and then we’re at about to five or six months for the very large projects.

Our interest is always in serving our members well and ensuring that the client experience is as efficient as possible and that we’re not overdoing it in terms of the reporting requirements.

Senator Boehm: Is it fair to assume that you are dealing with smart and intelligent city managers — by that I mean the concept, not necessarily the person — who have responsibility for looking at new ways of dealing with the IT component that could be involved in the project and also the environmental impact, et cetera? Is that a fair assumption?

Mr. Boivin: Yes. It really depends on the size of the community. Some communities may only have one staff member, effectively.

Senator Boehm: That is where I’m going with my question. If a smaller community does not know how to make the application, are you going to help them?

Mr. Boivin: Absolutely.

Senator Boehm: Will you go out?

Mr. Boivin: We have an outreach team to serve applicants and to connect applicants with other individuals within the GMF team if there is a technical or budgeting need, or other things of that nature. We are happy to provide accompagnement, as we say in French, throughout. We’ve built that into the new program streams.

Senator Boehm: In terms of the “lessons learned” component, is that an evergreen thing as well?

Mr. Boivin: That is core to the program. We have mobilized capacity.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: Sorry for being late. I was asking a question in the House about the Federal Gas Tax Fund.

In terms of the Municipal Asset Management Program, or MAMP, 600 projects are already under way. Have you assessed the program since its launch?

Mr. Boivin: I’m not responsible for the program that you’re referring to. However, yes, Infrastructure Canada has just completed an assessment. I believe that the document will be published within the next two or three months and presented to Parliament.

Senator Forest: Given your experience, can you recommend anything that would make this program more accessible, particularly for small municipalities? That was the point of my earlier question. As you said, many small municipalities have few resources and are wondering how to apply for this type of program.

Mr. Boivin: We’re always aware of this issue. We’re constantly concerned about it. In all our programs across the country, including the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program, or MCIP, and the Green Municipal Fund, we’ve developed a specific approach for these communities.

As I said, we provide assistance during the application process. However, we can also ensure capacity building internally. Even if a community doesn’t apply for funding, we provide services that build capacity for planning, assessments and diligence to find potential solutions. This is part of our program. It forces these small communities to take action and to take advantage of the funding available through the programs.

Senator Forest: I have one last question. In your regional workshops, small municipalities often automatically say “we won’t participate in this because we’re too small.” Do small municipalities participate in large numbers in your regional workshops?

Mr. Boivin: Yes, certainly. We’ve seen this with the MCIP and MAMP and also with the Green Municipal Fund. We’re even able to cover travel costs for the —

Senator Forest: Hear, hear!

Mr. Boivin: Yes, this encourages participation.

Senator Forest: Could you send a copy of the program evaluation to our clerk when it’s ready?

Mr. Boivin: Absolutely.

Senator Forest: Thank you.

[English]

Senator Klyne: Again, welcome. Good afternoon. I have two questions and they’re for Natural Resources Canada. I’m going to take you back to the largest component of the new funding, which is the $11.3 million in response to concerns related to the health of land ecosystems along the TMX corridor, including accelerating the development of oil spill response technologies. Are those technologies aimed or geared more to prevention of an oil spill or leakage, early detection or rapid response? That’s the first question.

Glenn Hargrove, Assistant Deputy Minister, Major Projects Management Office, Natural Resources Canada: Thank you, senator. The funding under the oil spill response technology initiative is aimed at a new sort of prize-based challenge. The idea is to mobilize innovators to develop solutions within the Canadian context. It’s working with industry, Indigenous communities, spill responders, regulators and other experts. Specifically to your question, though, it’s really about looking at recovery technologies like speed and effectiveness of recovery in the event of a spill.

Senator Klyne: Is there more work that can be done in prevention and early detection? This is after the fact.

Mr. Hargrove: This is after the fact, but it’s important to put it in the broader context of the whole suite of accommodation measures that have been put in place around the TMX project. I can go into a little bit more detail on that. There are eight accommodations.

Senator Klyne: In the interest of time, is that strategy or program available online anywhere?

Mr. Hargrove: Yes. I would be happy to ensure that the clerk of the committee gets all the information about the broad suite of measures.

Senator Klyne: Thank you. My second question is around the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy. I’m glad to see the promotion of equality and diversity. There is a reference to it being delivered by 11 departments and agencies. Are those agencies the economic development agencies? Is there regional diversity in that regard? Is it aimed at K-12 or post-secondary on the STEM education side of things? Is the hope that they will acquire the STEM-related skills for the energy side of the equation or resources development generally?

Ms. Hurdle: I want to make sure I answer all of your questions. There are a number of departments; there are economic departments as well as others. I can pull the list.

In terms of to whom it’s targeted, there’s been an adjustment this year to open up the program to a greater pool of participants, specifically around whether there’s a requirement for post-secondary. That requirement was removed, mostly to remove the barriers around some of the Indigenous communities, as well as some of the Northern regions where the participants sometimes didn’t meet the requirements. The requirements were reviewed to ensure that it was attracting as many candidates as possible.

This year, I think I mentioned earlier that we’re looking at approximately 460 internships. In terms of the outcome of the internships, about 80% of the interns end up with full-time employment in STEM-related work, so it’s been quite successful. As well, when you look at the participants, about 50% of participants in this program are in the internships. Again, that’s quite a success, especially in STEM, where sometimes women are not as well represented.

I’m not sure if that answers all your questions.

Senator Klyne: The other question was this: Was it aimed broadly across resources development, or is it more energy-focused?

Ms. Hurdle: It is STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. However, we do look at clean technology opportunities as well, given that is the focus for us. When you look at other departments, they have different focuses. We are looking at STEM and clean technologies.

Senator Tannas: Thank you for being here. I have a question with respect to the fund itself and the operation of it — actually, a couple of quick questions for FCM.

First, can you talk a little bit about what leverage is built into the $950 million? At the end of the day, are there formal provincial contributions and matching municipal contributions? Do you have a ceiling on how much you will fund? Do you have any estimate of what $950 million really means in terms of the actual dollars?

Mr. Boivin: We’re fully stackable, whether it’s with private capital and other federal, provincial and municipal amounts. I’d say the majority of our projects have the balance coming from municipal, and municipal debt being a heavy component of that. But it’s also not uncommon for them to receive provincial and federal funding. I believe we’re sitting at about 30% to 40%, on average, for our contribution to projects.

Senator Tannas: Is that just to the green component of it or to the whole project, such as a whole housing complex or whatever?

Here’s what I’m looking for: You’ve got a mandate for green projects. How many of your dollars are being leveraged on the green portion of whatever project? Have you assessed that?

Mr. Boivin: For sure, the majority of it goes toward those green interventions. They’re not easy to decouple when you’re dealing with the built environment and things of that nature. For example, if I’m thinking of a wastewater treatment facility that is improving the performance in terms of meeting tertiary targets, then the whole initiative tends to be eligible. However, if it’s a retrofit to an existing building, we’ll probably put the emphasis more on the energy efficiency and renewable energy components. If there are other things that are more about structure and repairs, that would tend to fall out.

With the new program envelopes, the emphasis is again on those energy efficiency measures. We’re meant to be a sort of financing layer on top of the other options available from the CMHC or other funding sources.

Senator Tannas: I understand.

Do you have any other funds at FCM that you’re managing on behalf of municipalities?

Mr. Boivin: Yes. In terms of funds that are funding instruments, we have a breadth of programming. A lot of it is purely on capacity-building within the municipal sector, but there are three in particular, two of which were part of that $950 million and effectively part of a larger envelope that was $1.01 billion.

There was one program that was referred to earlier, which was the Municipal Asset Management Program. It provides funding to help with the capacity to do some of the foundational planning around identifying which critical assets are in a community, the risk of those assets, the future investment requirements and things of that nature. However, it primarily funds capacity-building-type efforts or staff efforts to improve their plans and issues.

The second program is the Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program, or MCIP. It’s a granting program, largely, but it also had a significant capacity-building component. It was supporting plans, studies and demonstrations/capital projects that were addressing mitigation and adaptation actions.

Then there’s the Green Municipal Fund, which is the largest one.

Senator Tannas: This is my last question: Are there any concerns from provinces? I’m from Alberta, so we’re independent people. It’s registering for me somewhere that provincial governments have a concern about the federal government funding directly and going past them. Does that register in these funds at all? Do you ever hear concerns like that from the provinces?

Ms. Saab: I certainly hear concerns like that from the provinces overall, but as it relates to the Green Municipal Fund, no. It’s been a very welcome investment across the board, particularly because it’s often a complementary stackable piece to projects going forward.

Senator Tannas: Thank you.

Senator Smith: We hear a lot in the news about pollution from major centres and cities big and small going along the Great Lakes and hear about all the different cities dumping sewage into the water. Is there a specific focus between the provinces and the municipalities in terms of trying to address that, not only from a capacity perspective but also as a climate issue? If so, can you give some examples? Is there a sense of priority or urgency to try to do something about this problem?

Mr. Boivin: On the water file, with what we would call the core Green Municipal Fund program that pre-existed the $950 million, we’ve seen a lot of activity in the water space, particularly to meet new regulatory guidelines but also to more specifically address the issues of sewage release up to tertiary treatment and so on. There’s an uptake and a preoccupation there from municipalities. The reality is that they need to be compliant with new regulations as well, which is driving a lot of investment in renewing the water infrastructure they have.

Part of your question was related to how that overlays with climate change action as well. When we look at wastewater treatment, there’s an increasing trend of integrating anaerobic digestion into processes. That means harvesting from the biosolids components that come off of these processes to harvesting energy by converting those biosolids into a gas that is equivalent to natural gas, effectively, which then becomes a green fuel you can either inject in a pipeline or use on-site to generate green electricity. But that is an increasing tendency of municipalities to integrate into their facilities.

Senator Smith: Is your department tracking these types of projects to see what percentage, in terms of total funding in the various areas, this is starting to occupy so that the issue has a conscious focus between the provinces, the municipalities and even the federal government? Is there some form of listing or a checklist of areas where you could give us information as to these projects addressing this particular situation?

Mr. Boivin: Yes. Within what I’ll call the sphere of influence of the Green Municipal Fund, there are a few mechanisms. Certainly, as we track our portfolio, in our annual report we break it out by sub-sector, whether it was water and waste water or waste management and transportation. That’s one area where we can track the broad trends.

On our website, we also publish case studies on every one of the initiatives we fund. On an annual basis, that’s published in our annual report so you can see for any given year which projects we funded and what they were aiming to address. You can also look at the complete database. From that, it is certainly possible to harvest signals in terms of what the sector is doing.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you very much. I want to focus on the youth. First, Ms. Hurdle, when we’re looking at the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, you responded to Senator Klyne on some of the adjustments you’re making and the focus on STEM and clean technology. On the one hand, there are 11 agencies involved, which brings some challenges, efficiencies and inefficiencies.

I’m trying to understand better this afternoon, through clarity of that coordination and effort, what you’re looking for. What are the measurements of success so that you are sticking to desired outcomes, and how are you adjusting? You’re either bringing in post-secondary or removing post-secondary — I didn’t catch it — but what things are you looking for that make this unique and agile to make adjustments as you continue?

Ms. Hurdle: In terms of the coordination, you’re right, there are a number of departments that participate in this initiative. We all have what I want to say are different criteria; it’s not all different, but we’re looking for opportunities that tie back to the mandate of Natural Resources Canada.

One of the major focuses is STEM, but also in clean technology, where most of our internships are. In terms of listening and adjusting, as I mentioned, there are a couple of adjustments we’ve made this year for our program. We found we weren’t reaching enough of the Indigenous youth through the program, as it stood before, as well as some of the youth in the remote regions of Canada.

We adjusted the program. Before, one of the criteria was a requirement for post-secondary education. We’ve reviewed our criteria, and I don’t want to say it’s removed for all of the internships, but we’ve developed a way for the Indigenous communities to participate without that post-secondary education, which was a barrier before.

We’ve also developed criteria in order to incentivize some of the youth in the more remote regions of Canada.

Those are the changes we’ve made. The program has been going on for a while, and every year we look at the successes, and it is a success. There have been quite a few participants, but at the same time, we want to make sure we reach a broad spectrum of youth and bring them into this program.

In terms of the measures, obviously, we looked at the number of participants we have and some of the percentages I mentioned before. For example, 80% of our interns find full-time employment in the areas where they participate in the internship, and we also looked at the number of women. This year we’ll be looking at our success given the changes we’ve made. We’ve been able to increase the Indigenous participation as well as that of youth from remote regions. Every year we look at the program and review our criteria to see whether we need to make adjustments.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you. I believe this question goes to the Green Municipal Fund and Ms. Saab, again with a youth focus on it. I did a review and looked up the advisory council to get a sense of the operations, their terms of reference and the things they do. How do you ensure that the voice of youth is integrated into the work of the council?

Mr. Boivin: In terms of the composition of the council itself, we are always looking to have as diversified a group as possible and to ensure balance, but a diversity of perspectives.

As part of that, particularly in recent years, we’ve developed a skills matrix that we look to populate. We are certainly in the midst of a renewal of that council. Several terms are coming up.

As part of that, one of the elements that we have identified is ensuring we have a diversity both from an age point of view but also multicultural, multiple sectors and so on. That’s how it would get managed into the perspectives that are on the council.

Senator M. Deacon: So you see that as a future moving forward: it’s not as good as it can be now, but a future priority?

Mr. Boivin: Yes. I would say there’s an opportunity to up it, but it was identified as one component of the skills matrix that we needed to fill in, yes.

Senator Duncan: Thank you for your presentation. I’d like to follow up on a couple of points. Regarding the Green Municipal Fund and the funding for green infrastructure with municipalities, one of our roles as senators is to represent our regions. I would like to request, through the clerk, the regional breakdown of where the funding has gone so we can see and be aware of whether there is an across-the-country representation.

In the Yukon, there are several municipalities that are members — particularly the larger one of Whitehorse — and I’m looking at the $4.5 million for the rural and remote communities program. I’m interested to know the regional breakdown on that as well.

Frequently, we hear that funding is available for on-reserve, which doesn’t apply to the North. I’m wondering if the self-governing First Nations, of which I believe there are 29 in Canada, are able to access this rural and remote funding, or would they go to other funding through Crown-Indigenous Relations?

I’m thinking of the Vuntut Gwitchin, a self-governing First Nation in the Yukon that has a solar farm. White River, which is not self-governing and not on reserve, has a major solar project as well, which gets communities off diesel.

Could you please elaborate on that and provide the regional funding?

Mr. Boivin: Here is a quick response on the regional funding. I’m happy to follow up with hard data, but as of our last annual report, we were pretty much on target in terms of regional balance on a population basis. From that point of view, that is what I would put forward as the results that we have.

With regard to eligibility of Indigenous and First Nations communities, there are criteria outlined in our funding agreement with the federal government. There are examples, such as when Indigenous communities are in a shared services agreement with a municipality, whether they have some other form of partnership with the municipality or equivalent bylaws and governance structure as a municipality, in all those cases, they would be eligible for the GMF funding.

Senator Duncan: Will you be able to indicate, through a written response, where that money has been spent or is anticipated to be spent?

Mr. Boivin: Yes. Just to clarify the question: Is it to get a slice of the portion that has gone to projects that had an Indigenous partnership or an Indigenous lead?

Senator Duncan: No, I’m looking for regional representation.

Mr. Boivin: Yes.

[Translation]

Senator Bellemare: Sorry, I have a rather specific question. Maybe I should have directed it to the Treasury Board officials, but it popped into my head when I was looking at the figures. Not all departments and agencies are increasing their operating expenditures budgets, but generally they’re doing so, when everything is tied to supplementary estimates.

However, we can see here that you’re increasing your operating expenditures. Part of the increase comes from transfers and part of it comes from an adjustment. In total, about $9.5 million is included for operations. I imagine that people transfer money to you and that you transfer money to others. I want to hear what you have to say about this. Do you think that the amount is reasonable when it comes to operations? Are we talking about temporary jobs here? How does this work?

Ms. Hurdle: It’s a combination of several things. As you can see on the next page, there are many transfers. It really depends on the programs. For operations, the transfers amount to $3 million, and the adjustments involve new programs in which we’re participating or adjustments to programs. Most of our operations, I would say about 85% of our budgets, consist of salaries. There may be differences depending on the programs, but in general, that’s where we stand.

Senator Bellemare: In the case of supplementary estimates, operating expenditures are increased. When the expenditures are non-recurring, what happens to the employees? Are these employees mostly on fixed-term contracts?

Ms. Hurdle: Yes. If we look at the costs for the Trans Mountain project, or TMX, there’s a start and a finish. We’re talking about people on fixed-term contracts.

Senator Bellemare: When operating expenditures are funded through transfers, are human resources also transferred?

Ms. Hurdle: No. These programs have often been approved by another department. That department has the money and transfers it to the other departments that work with them on the programs. We hire our own staff.

Senator Bellemare: Thank you.

[English]

The Chair: I have a question for Natural Resources Canada. I’ll read you a quotation and then I’ll ask the question because they tell me you’re the experts.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the Department of Industry, is requesting authority to transfer $6 million to NRCan for efforts to protect the southern mountain woodland caribou, which is classified as a threatened species.

This reminds me of what’s happening with the salmon in Atlantic Canada.

How would the construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project affect the caribou and the government’s recovery strategy for that particular species?

Mr. Hargrove: Thank you for your question. It’s very interesting.

In terms of the southern mountain caribou and the impact of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, for the most part, it runs along the existing pipeline route. The impact on species at risk around the TMX project is not particularly related to southern mountain caribou; they’re actually more related to, for instance, the southern Resident Killer Whale and the impacts of shipping.

A lot of the accommodation measures that have been put in place by the government to mitigate impacts on species at risk and cumulative effects of development are focused around the Salish Sea, impacts on the southern resident killer whale and looking at terrestrial cumulative effects along the pipeline route, but they’re not so much focused on the southern mountain caribou.

The Chair: That prompts another question. What concrete objectives — for example, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — are associated with the contributions of the Green Municipal Fund from across Canada, region by region? This is a question that NRCan could also answer.

Mr. Boivin: Could I ask for clarification? Are you asking if there was a quantitative target for emissions reductions across regions?

The Chair: Yes. With respect to measures you’re taking now and asking us to approve, what concrete objectives can you showcase and demonstrate that we are meeting or moving forward on with the objectives that you’re asking us to approve?

Mr. Boivin: We can certainly speak to what was accomplished for the core program. My colleague referred to the 2.6 million tonnes of emissions reductions since inception, and that number comes very much from direct reporting and analysis of the results of every project that we receive. That will be included in every project that we fund going forward.

It’s a little bit difficult to speak to regional targets or regional amounts at this point, until the projects start coming in and we have a sense of what size and what specific interventions each one of those projects will take on, but performance targets are notionally built into each one of the new funding streams.

For example, on the sustainable Affordable Housing Innovation Fund that we referred to at the outset, there is a minimum target in retrofits of that building stock to achieve at least a 25% improvement on energy efficiency, which does bring with it almost the equivalent amount of emissions reductions. And then for new builds, we are targeting net zero. Net zero energy should translate to effectively net zero on the emissions side or very close to that. Our expectation is that is built into those program streams.

Similarly, on the residential energy efficiency streams, the initiatives that are eligible are things like energy efficiency measures within the home, putting on-site solar panels on the roofs and such. As long as there’s a proper audit at the onset of the project that identifies which measures should be taken and then an audit at the end of the project, which then validates that those measures were taken with an appropriate reporting channel back to the GMF, then we should be able to clearly articulate the results of those projects.

Our intention is, for example, on the residential program, to make sure there is an EnerGuide audit at the beginning and at the end of the project as part of the requirements of the program. We’re making sure we’re building all those mechanisms to then report back with an actual number at the end of the day.

The Chair: When do you expect to make that kind of reporting?

Mr. Boivin: We do it annually for the overall portfolio of projects, and we make updates based on the latest reporting that comes within that year. As we start funding initiatives and they start reporting back, we will then be able to add that to the total that we provide externally. We will probably report it by program stream as well.

The Chair: When you look at Canada from coast to coast to coast, can you then specify which regions meet the criteria of residential efficiency better than others?

Mr. Boivin: We could probably get at that data. That won’t be inherent in the usual external reporting that we provide, but we would be getting individual project-level information. So for every project that we fund, we would see the actual performance, and it is possible for us to spit out by region what, for example, the total emissions benefits of those projects are on a regional basis.

The Chair: Thank you. On behalf of the honourable senators, to the witnesses, thank you very much for answering our questions and for your clarity.

We will now continue with the next set of witnesses.

We have before us representatives from the Canadian Federation of Students.

[Translation]

We’re joined by Sofia Descalzi, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. She’s accompanied by Geneviève Charest, Translator and Communications Coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students.

[English]

I have been informed by the clerk that Ms. Descalzi will make a presentation to be followed with questions from senators.

Sofia Descalzi, National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students: Hello, my name is Sofia Descalzi. As was mentioned, I am the national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students. We represent over 500,000 students from 64 post-secondary institutions across Canada, and we are the largest and oldest student organization in the country.

I am honoured to be here today to talk to you about student debt and, more specifically, debt forgiveness.

I want to begin by stating that student debt in Canada is in a crisis. Half of post-secondary students today graduate with student debt. The total national and provincial public student debt has reached $36 billion.

Student debt has wide and far-reaching consequences in Canadians’ lives and on the economy. It keeps graduates from starting a business, starting a family, buying a home, having savings or investing, all of which are measures that would have a positive impact on Canada’s society and economy.

We cannot talk about student debt without first looking at the state of public post-secondary funding in Canada. I will then paint a picture of student debt in Canada and those who are most affected by it. Finally, I will talk about the need for more proactive measures to reduce and eliminate student debt in Canada, including loan forgiveness.

As public funding for post-secondary education has eroded over the past two decades, tuition fees have skyrocketed across the country. This is no coincidence. In 1996, the federal government made a historic cut to post-secondary education transfers to the tune of $2.6 billion. Since then, tuition fees have grown four times. Colleges and universities have increasingly become reliant on student fees to make up for a shortfall in public funding, and governments have increasingly become reliant on loan programs to make up for students not being able to afford the high cost of education.

The average undergraduate tuition fees in Canada were $6,838 last year, and this does not include compulsory fees, the cost of books and supplies, and living expenses.

As previously stated, half of students graduate with student debt, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, student debt disproportionately affects already marginalized communities, such as students with disabilities, racialized students, queer and trans students and Indigenous students, most of whom are more likely to come from lower-income backgrounds. For example, 60% of the CSLP debt holders are women and they hold an average of 8% more debt than their male counterparts.

The Repayment Assistance Plan, which helps debt holders who aren’t able to repay their debt, is used primarily by women, who make up 65% of program participants. This is compounded by the fact that women fare worse on the job market and are more likely to be out of work for reasons such as maternity leave and childcare, affecting their ability to maintain a stable income source.

Average debt after a four-year program is $28,000, which takes 9 to 15 years to repay. Financing this loan over ten years will cost about $9,200 in interest with monthly payments of $310.

These repayments start at a time when individuals are most likely to be precariously employed or underemployed and most likely to take an unpaid internship or a minimum-wage job in an attempt to move their career forward and make ends meet. In the end, anyone who cannot afford to pay for their education up front loses in the long term as they have to take on more loans, take longer to repay them and pay much more for their education because of interest rates.

All in all, the high cost of education and over-reliance on student loans has created a highly unequal and unsustainable system of post-secondary education which has wide-reaching and long-term impacts on our society as a whole and in our economy.

The Canadian Federation of Students strongly believes that the only way to ensure equal access to post-secondary education is to institute a fully publicly funded, high-quality system of post-secondary education. Other measures that will be helpful are increasing grants instead of loans and eliminating interest rates on student loans at the federal level, following the example of five provinces that have already done so.

Finally, on loan forgiveness, as I have shown today, student debt holders have often accumulated debt because of unequal policies that transfer the cost of post-secondary education onto individuals, and particularly individuals who come from lower-income backgrounds and cannot afford to pay the cost of their studies up front. The humane thing to do is to give them relief and give them a real chance at improving their quality of life. Freeing up the spending power means allowing someone to spend more money in their community, save for a home or for retirement or start putting money aside for their children’s education.

In conclusion, I encourage you to grant the write-off of unrecoverable debt and to further consider and explore other avenues to ensuring current and future generations have access to post-secondary education, which will help Canada continue to prosper as a country. Thank you.

The Chair: As chair and having at one time been the president of a student association, I have to tell you that was a job well done.

Senator Marshall: Thank you very much for being here today. You referred to special challenges faced by certain groups such as individuals with special needs, women and Indigenous students. The group that testified before you today spoke about the challenges of internships for Indigenous people and the difficulty of having post-secondary training.

We’ve also had two Indigenous departments in, and they’ve been talking about education for Indigenous students. Could you just break out that segment of your student population and tell us about some of the challenges faced by Indigenous students? I know you and I briefly had a conversation on this before. Could you just elaborate on that a bit, please?

Ms. Descalzi: Absolutely. Access to education for Indigenous students is a treaty right that must be honoured. Every Indigenous student who wishes to get post-secondary education should have the ability to do so. Unfortunately, that is not the reality here today. We see that the SSSP program, which is the one that funds Indigenous access to education, is suffering a backlog of at least 10,000 Indigenous learners, which means that band councils often have to make the really hard decisions of choosing who in their community will be covered to go to university or college and who won’t. Sometimes that funding will stop throughout the person’s university or college career for different reasons, adding the fact that mental health or maternity leave can be a reason why somebody needs to put a pause on their studies.

Then it comes to the reality that Indigenous women may be less able to access post-secondary education. If the band council doesn’t give the funding because of the cap that exists currently on their program, many Indigenous learners are then forced to take on loans. Because of the reality that Senator Marshall has stipulated, it is often hard for Indigenous learners to get access to internships or get good, high-paying jobs to be able to pay off their debt. That is a reality that my entire generation is facing, but it’s more precarious for marginalized communities such as Indigenous learners.

Talking about loan forgiveness, we need to keep that perspective in mind, and along with this, address the backlog of the SSSP program and ensure that cap is lifted so that every Indigenous person can access our institutions if they wish to do so.

Senator Marshall: This doesn’t apply to just Indigenous students but it would apply to other students as well. Some students have difficulty moving from high school during the transition into post-secondary. There was some discussion on one of our committees about some sort of support structure to help students transition. Are you involved? Are you familiar with that part of the program?

Ms. Descalzi: No. To my understanding, I haven’t been familiarized with that transition from high school to post-secondary education. I think it’s a really great initiative because what this federation advocates is breaking all barriers to education. If such transition programs do exist, we would support fully subsidized transition programs that would lead to a system of post-secondary education where we don’t have the accumulation of debt and the government doesn’t profit from that debt with interest rates.

We have made a lot of progress in these past few years with the federal government in decreasing interest rates, giving funding for research for grad students and giving more funding overall. There’s definitely bigger and bolder steps to take to make sure we don’t have former students having to write off their student debt because they just can’t pay for it.

I think the core of it is the lack of access to post-secondary education that presents the crisis and the issue that we’re here speaking to today. That needs to be seriously addressed.

Senator Marshall: Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: Thank you for being here and for providing very clear explanations.

This is not the first year that you’ve called for the elimination of interest rates on student loans, as is the case in four provinces. Have you assessed the financial impact on the government if interest rates on student loans were eliminated? The cost amounts to $34 billion.

[English]

Ms. Descalzi: Sorry, I was consulting with our translator. I don’t have the actual number of how much that will cost. What we did cost in our lobby document that we presented a few weeks ago to different MPs and senators here at Parliament Hill was that, for this fiscal year, we will need $1.15 billion to get rid of the interest rates for this one year, but in continuation we will have to definitely do more research on that.

I would also argue that there are five provinces, as I mentioned, that have already done so. I think the one that did it first was Newfoundland and Labrador in 2009, and they have kept that regulation because it doesn’t significantly affect their economy. It has been a good investment to ensure that students do enter post-secondary education without the fear of accruing even more interest and never being able to pay off their student debt or taking way longer than they should.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: I think that our common goal is to ensure the best possible access to higher education, regardless of financial circumstances.

You said in your presentation that student assistance funding was declining and that some measures were unfair. What should we prioritize to improve accessibility and promote equity, regardless of the financial situation of students?

[English]

Ms. Descalzi: Thank you for that question. I think we need to take a bold approach that will take time. We’re not asking for this to be done tomorrow, but we fully believe in a system where we progressively eliminate tuition fees for everybody and we fully subsidize public, post-secondary education.

The ways in which we are recommending to do this are to, first of all, address the 1996 cut to education to reinstate the $2.6 billion to post-secondary education and then move forward with a 50-50 cost-sharing model between provinces, territories and the federal government. Under that model, the federal government would give ongoing transfers to provinces and territories and reform the CSLP in the ways I have already stipulated.

The model would also implement a post-secondary education act that will enable the regulation of all these ideas and measures that we are stipulating right now in a way that we can, first of all, regulate tuition fees in a way that is more equitable, because tuition fees change drastically from province to province, and we’re not even talking about international students.

In that way, we can also regulate how the transfers will be given and will be spent to ensure that funding is used for the right reasons, and we don’t see ourselves in situations where administrations may be mismanaging funds. That has been the case in many universities across the country where we have seen a bloated administrative body at the same time as cuts to programs, cuts to faculty and increases in tuition fees.

We are one of the countries in the OECD that doesn’t have a national vision for post-secondary education or a federal post-secondary education act. While this will take time, it’s really necessary to prevent further debt for an entire generation and for the future of this country. We’re kind of waving a red flag here, saying this is a crisis and we need to address it, because 10 years from now, we’re going to see ourselves in an even deeper, more serious problem.

Senator Tannas: Thank you for being here. I would like to explore a little bit the crisis that you’re referring to. Just while you were talking, I did a little bit of very superficial research. You mentioned $6,838 in annual average tuition. In the United States, it’s US$26,290 and in the United Kingdom, it’s US$17,000. I juxtaposed those. Those are similar types of economies and societies that value education and saving and industry and so on. We have $35 billion worth of loans, and we heard a report yesterday that less than 1% — about 0.55% of those loans — have to be written off. I was actually quite impressed with that.

There was an interesting anomaly that we couldn’t get an answer for. You may be able to tell us, or you may want to do a little bit of research. Roughly 0.5% of the dollar amounts are bad loans. We can’t recover the money. The government can’t recover the money. But 6% of all the borrowers account for that. So that leads me to believe there is a group of borrowers — 6% of the total number of borrowers — accounting for small numbers each, because they only account for 0.5%, which leads me to believe that those people didn’t finish school. That’s why they have a small balance. I wonder if that’s why they eventually weren’t able to pay; because they didn’t actually attain the value they went there to get, which is a degree. It’s an interesting question to think about and for somebody, and perhaps your organization, to dig into.

You’re smart and articulate. Why don’t you tell me why, given the evidence that student loans are being paid for, and likely by people who graduate, we don’t have a problem? Number two, we are already somewhere between one third and one quarter of comparable countries for tuition. Why do we have a crisis, given those things?

Ms. Descalzi: Thank you for that question. I will begin by saying that we represent students who are accruing student debt, not former students who are already paying. But we’re here to paint the picture as to why there will be a percentage of people, even if it’s a small percentage, who will need that debt written off.

The issue is not whether an individual will pay or not pay their student debt in their lifetime. Rather, it is what that would mean for the individual’s quality of life, for the overall economy of Canada as a whole in the future, our principles here in this country and what we want to give to our children and the young generations. Right now, you really don’t see people my age — I’m 26 years old — buying houses. You don’t really see people having kids this early. It’s kind of known that young people don’t have kids and don’t start families until they reach an income or until they reach a job that they feel confident in doing. That’s being delayed.

What we have now is that tuition fees have tripled over the past two decades. There has been a stagnation of wages. There is over-reliance on precarious employment. We see a lot of per-contract employment throughout different fields, and people have a harder time paying that debt, which impacts their quality of life.

If we want to be a country where people have the freedom to buy their houses, build the life that they want, have kids, engage in intellectual research and to have a prosperous country, then we need to take a closer look as to how much of their income is being spent on paying for education that they need to enter the job market in the first place. That’s what I would say to that.

In terms of comparing ourselves to the United States, for example, I don’t really like that comparison because I don’t feel this should be a race in terms of which country is doing worse. I feel we should compare ourselves to the country that is doing better than us. I don’t have a lot of research on the quality or on the state of post-secondary education in the United States, but they owe over $3 trillion in public student debt. I don’t want to get into how much of a crisis that is. We need to prevent it from getting to that point in Canada. We see how other countries, for example, in Northern Europe, are doing this; they are managing to fully subsidize K-12 and post-secondary education and have jobs after graduation. I think we should strive to be more like countries that have solved this issue rather than the ones that haven’t.

Senator Forest-Niesing: Thank you both for being here and thank you for the work you’re doing, which you’re doing so well. Thank you for your presentation.

We’ve focused on student debt, and student debt results from accessing student grant programs. I’d like to focus, if we can, on access to those student grant programs. I’m wondering what, if any, barriers exist, and what are the challenges for students to access the student grant programs?

Ms. Descalzi: I don’t know if I fully understand your question. Do you mean how people access grant programs?

Senator Forest-Niesing: Are there any challenges for students to gain access to the student grant program? Are there any barriers for those students?

Ms. Descalzi: To our understanding, for grants, at least the provincial governments and the CSLP have a loan and grant program. Students do receive grants, but they also receive loans. The cost of education is not fully subsidized; it is partially subsidized by grants but they also need to take out loans that, on a federal level, start accruing interest. That is the portion we’re talking about.

There have definitely been a lot of steps in the right direction from the federal government in increasing grants. From the logistical aspect, it comes down to a lot of paperwork that students need to undergo, and how they change. At the provincial level, we’ve seen different provinces, with Ontario being the most recent example, that have fully changed their grant loan model, and students need to keep up with those changes that are not necessarily accessible.

Even if we’re talking about training transfers from high school to university, it will be interesting to see how we help students fill out applications for grants and how we can make it more accessible in a way that students can do it without feeling confused or overwhelmed. That’s the best I can do for now.

Senator M. Deacon: I have had my questions answered very well. Thank you.

The Chair: Has the federation been consulted with the present budget process coming from the Department of Finance? They do consultation across Canada. Have you been asked and consulted?

Genevieve Charest, Translator and Communications Coordinator, Canadian Federation of Students: We have done our pre-budget submission and this is our first appearance in terms of this current budget process.

The Chair: In your pre-budget presentation, is there any indication your requests could be considered? Because the budget is coming down on March 30, you still have time to knock on doors.

Ms. Charest: Absolutely. Some of our requests over the past couple of years have been answered. As Sofia mentioned, we talked about increases in grants for funding; increases in funding for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students; and a reduction of the interest rate for CSLP. We’re definitely starting to see some policies that are in line with what we’ve been requesting for a long time. We’re hoping there will be a continuation of that for this budget process.

The Chair: Thank you very much for sharing your information and telling us about the reality of the challenges that the federation has.

Honourable senators, our next meeting will be on March 24. You will receive a notice of meeting from the clerk. We should be discussing our draft report on the 24th. We are also planning a meeting on March 25 to discuss our work plan for our study of the Main Estimates.

In the meantime, you can take time to talk to possible witnesses that you would like to recommend on Main Estimates.

(The committee adjourned.)