THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON
SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met by
videoconference this day at 11:30 a.m. [ET] to study the government’s
response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chantal Petitclerc (Chair) in the chair.
Honourable senators, before we officially begin, I would like to remind you
of a few items.
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We are ready to
begin, Mr. Clerk.
Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and
My name is
Chantal Petitclerc, a senator from Quebec. It is a great pleasure for me to
preside over this virtual meeting.
Before we give
the floor to our witnesses, I would like to introduce the senators who are here
with us today: Senator Pate, Senator Omidvar, Senator Martin, Senator
LaBoucane-Benson, Senator Forest-Niesing, Senator Griffin, Senator Poirier,
Senator Moodie, Senator Lankin, Senator Dasko, Senator Kutcher, Senator Seidman,
Senator Mégie and Senator Campbell.
I believe this
concludes the list of senators joining us today. We thank them for their
Today, we begin
the committee’s study on the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I would like to
introduce to you our first panel of witnesses for today’s meeting. We have the
pleasure and privilege to have with us, from the Public Health Agency of Canada,
Dr. Howard Njoo, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, Cindy Evans, Acting
Vice-President, Emergency Management. From Health Canada, we are hearing from
Kendal Weber, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Branch, and Pierre
Sabourin, Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Products and Food Branch. From
Public Services and Procurement Canada, we are welcoming Michael Mills,
Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Real Property Services, and Lorenzo Ieraci,
Director General, Office of Small and Medium Enterprises.
I would now like
to ask our witnesses to make their presentation.
We will begin
with Dr. Njoo, followed by Ms. Weber and then Mr. Mills.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer, Public
Health Agency of Canada: Good day, everyone. I would like to thank the
chair of this committee and the committee members for inviting the Public Health
Agency of Canada to speak today.
Thank you for
inviting Ms. Evans and me to join you today to provide an overview of the
Government of Canada’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I would like to
begin by assuring members of the committee that our top priority is the health
and safety of Canadians. COVID-19 continues to be a serious global health
threat, and the situation is evolving daily. The risk varies amongst communities
in Canada, but given the number of cases in Canada and the presence of community
transmission in some regions, the risk to Canadians is considered high.
There are now
over 71,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including over 5,100 deaths, and Canada
has completed more than 1.1 million tests for COVID-19. Our efforts today have
flattened the curve. We continue to focus on minimizing overall illness and
death from COVID-19 by reducing transmission through public health measures as
well as the social impacts of this rapidly evolving and unprecedented global
public health issue.
We are making
clear progress to slow the spread and bring the epidemic under control. The rate
of growth of new cases has slowed down considerably over the last two months.
However, we must remain vigilant. We continue to evolve our response as we learn
more about this virus, prepare for possible future waves, and plan for the
recovery phase. I would like to take a moment to outline some of the key public
health actions the Government of Canada has taken in response to the COVID-19
intelligence gathered in collaboration with domestic and international partners
allowed for early and coordinated action by the Government of Canada and
provinces and territories in advance of its first presumptive case of COVID-19
on January 25. We moved quickly to mobilize Canada’s public health
emergency response infrastructure as new information became available and the
risk to the health and safety of Canadians became clearer. This included the
activation of the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Public Health Response Plan for
biological events and the formation of the FPT Special Advisory Committee on
early February, we implemented a series of emergency orders under the Quarantine
Act to strengthen border measures and restrict entry into Canada from abroad,
including the United States. These emergency orders were continually revised as
new information on COVID-19 became available. For instance, owing to new
evidence on asymptomatic transmission, all persons entering Canada, with limited
exceptions, are now required to quarantine for 14 days.
The testing and
confirmation of COVID-19 cases is a key part of our response efforts. The
National Microbiology Laboratory was able to quickly develop a diagnostic test
when the genetic sequence of the virus was released in January. The agency’s
National Microbiology Laboratory is working closely with provincial and
territorial public health laboratories as part of the Canadian Public Health
Laboratory Network to provide testing services. Now, over 30 labs across Canada
have the capacity to perform confirmatory lab tests. This network is also
evaluating new diagnostic tests, such as rapid point-of-care tests, as they
become available. We are also working with our provincial and territorial
partners to update lab testing guidance as our understanding of the virus
area of focus has been securing critical personal protective equipment, or PPE,
supplies and medical equipment for front-line health care workers. We are doing
this through collaborative bulk procurement with provinces and territories,
building domestic production capacity and identifying potential alternatives and
ways to extend product life. The Public Health Agency of Canada is also
deploying PPE and ventilators from its National Emergency Strategic Stockpile in
response to urgent requests for assistance from provinces and territories.
Canadians with credible, accurate information and guidance as the COVID-19
situation evolves has been an important part of the Government of Canada’s
response. Our messages have consistently emphasized the importance of modifying
our behaviours to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including staying home when
ill, hand washing and practising physical distancing.
access the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 website or the toll-free information
line. We have also implemented a national public education campaign for
is no vaccine for COVID-19, but research and development of COVID-19 vaccines or
therapeutic treatments are in various stages around the world, including in
Canada. We will continue to work with the international community.
In March, the
Government of Canada announced a government-wide COVID-19 response fund of over
$1 billion, which includes $275 million to enhance our capacity to test
antivirals, develop vaccines and support clinical trials.
have seen the impact of public health measures on the flattening of the epidemic
curve and slowdown in the growth of new cases. The doubling rate of cases has
slowed from 3 days in late March to over 20 days at present. We have also
increased our testing capacity to a daily average of 28,000, and this number
continues to grow.
targeted therapies or a vaccine is available, our aim will be to carefully
balance the risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 with health, social and
economic consequences of the virus.
and businesses are eager to see the lifting of public health measures so that
life and routines can resume in a new normal. In light of this, we have worked
with our provincial and territorial partners across the country to develop a
shared approach to help guide decision making on the lifting of public health
measures. This is founded on common objectives, principles, criteria and
indicators for determining readiness to lift or adjust various restrictive
measures. We recognize that there will be regional differences, and governments
will make decisions suited to their jurisdictions, geography and disease
Before closing, I
wanted to touch on a few of the challenges that we see before us. We remain
concerned about outbreaks for vulnerable populations, including long-term care
and correctional facilities. We continue to work with provincial, territorial
and local public health authorities by providing guidance and on the ground
support for these settings.
We are also
seized with the importance of protecting Indigenous and remote and isolated
communities, both in terms of preventing transmission from occurring and having
the capacity to respond quickly and effectively if it does.
Finally, we are
looking beyond the summer to the fall, and a potential resurgence of COVID-19
along with the flu season, and preparing for this potential dual public health
On behalf of the
Public Health Agency of Canada, Ms. Evans and I would be pleased
to answer your questions. Thank you.
Ms. Weber, I think you have some notes for us.
Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Branch, Health Canada: Good
morning. I would like to thank the chair of the committee and committee members
for inviting Health Canada to speak today. I am joined by Pierre Sabourin,
Assistant Deputy Minister for Health Products and Food Branch.
pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in recent history. We are pleased to
appear before you today to share some of the measures that Health Canada is
taking to protect the health and safety of Canadians during this crisis.
plays a vital role in the government’s COVID-19 response as the regulator of
health products. Core to our regulatory mandate is the review of health products
for safety, quality and efficacy. During this critical period, it is very
important to get drugs and medical supplies quickly to the front lines.
Health Canada is
doing what it can so that our country is in the best possible position to access
drugs to treat and prevent COVID-19 when they become available. To that end, we
are prioritizing the review and approval of potential COVID-19 therapies.
For drugs that
are experimental, the most appropriate way to access them is through a clinical
trial. The department is working hard to facilitate and expedite the
authorization of as many clinical trials for COVID-19 in Canada as possible.
Although clinical trials usually take about 30 days to review and authorize, we
have reduced this timeline to a matter of days. As of May 9, Health Canada
had approved 30 COVID-19-related clinical trials.
We are also
looking for ways to quickly bring therapies and vaccines to market in Canada
through expedited processes by aligning information requirements with our
trusted partners in other countries. In addition, Health Canada is in active
discussions with many vaccine manufacturers and researchers, both in Canada and
abroad, to provide regulatory and scientific advice for vaccine trials to launch
Also important to
supporting Canadians during this pandemic has been access to virtual care. On
May 3, the Government of Canada announced over $240 million for virtual
care and digital solutions to help Canadians access the resources they need to
keep them healthy. Virtual care helps Canadians safely engage with health
providers through telephone, text or video conferencing so they can get the care
they need, while reducing pressure on health care systems across the country.
This federal investment will help Canadian health systems further accelerate
their work to deploy virtual health tools and approaches to meet the needs of
We have begun
work with the provinces and territories to identify where this new support is
needed most. We have also developed a mobile app, which provides up-to-date
information about COVID-19 and allows users to access all types of resources,
including the Wellness Together Canada portal.
Together portal provides access to credible information and support on mental
health and substance use. It connects Canadians to peer support workers, social
workers, psychologists and other health professionals.
priority for Health Canada during this pandemic is substance use and the
overdose crisis. Unfortunately, the pandemic has exposed people who use illegal
drugs to additional barriers when it comes to accessing health and social
services, while at the same time placing them at increased risk of being
infected with COVID-19 due to social marginalization and underlying health
there are concerns that people may be increasing their substance use as a
response to the stress and isolation caused by physical distancing and
pandemic-related anxiety. In response, the Government of Canada has taken a
number of targeted actions to remove barriers and reduce the risk of harm for
people who use substances.
We have made it
easier for people to access the medications they need by allowing pharmacists to
extend and renew prescriptions, transfer prescriptions to other pharmacists,
accept verbal prescriptions from physicians, and to allow for the delivery of
controlled substances to patients to ensure continuity and access to treatment.
We have also made it easier for overdose prevention sites to be rapidly
established in temporary community shelters.
Health Canada is supporting front-line workers who are delivering important
substance-use treatment and harm-reduction services. We recently developed and
disseminated a tool kit sharing guidance and other resources to better support
people who use substances to physically distance, self-isolate and stay
Health Canada has
also supported the provinces and territories as they respond to COVID-19 by
providing surge capacity to provinces and territories in key areas. We’ve done
this through a phased approach.
enlisted qualified federal public servants available and willing to work in
those jurisdictions feeling the most pressure. For example, we have mobilized
Health Canada employees to support Public Health Ontario with their contact
The Government of
Canada also established a COVID-19 voluntary recruitment inventory to provide
additional capacity for provinces and territories as required for health
services, contact tracing and data entry. At the closing of the application
period on April 23, 53,769 volunteers had registered in the inventory.
Additionally, to support the province of Quebec with challenges with their
long-term care facilities, we are working closely with the Canadian Red Cross
and are tapping into our inventory of volunteers and students to help with these
senators, our department’s core mission is to protect the health and well-being
of Canadians as we respond to this evolving public health crisis. I can assure
the members of this committee that Health Canada will continue to work closely
with the provinces and territories and do our utmost to support our many other
partners to uphold our commitment to the public. We look forward to working with
this committee as you study the government’s responses to the pandemic and we
welcome your questions. Thank you.
Thank you very much. Mr. Mills, the floor is yours.
Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Real Property Services, Public Services and
Procurement Canada: Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members for having
me here today. Before we begin, I would like to thank the people working behind
the scenes to make this meeting possible. I would also like to thank our
interpreters, who continue to play an exceptional role in making sure Canadians
have the latest information available to them.
I’m the Associate
Assistant Deputy Minister of Real Property Services at Public Services and
Procurement Canada. However, for the last several weeks I’ve been assisting our
department’s procurement efforts as part of the COVID-19 team.
Joining me today
is Lorenzo Ieraci. He’s our Director General of the Office of Small and Medium
Enterprises. We are pleased to be here with our colleagues from Health Canada
and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
organizations have been working closely during this crisis, with my department
focused on buying the personal protective equipment and medical supplies needed
by health care professionals on the front line. These orders are made on behalf
of the Public Health Agency of Canada, which works with the provinces and
territories to determine the requirements and distribute supplies.
It is no secret
that we are operating in a highly competitive global market. The entire world is
seeking out the same materials, be they masks, test kits or gloves, and supply
chains are stressed at multiple points. This is resulting in a complex
procurement environment where we face many risks. For instance, we are seeing an
increase in the cost of supplies as demand continues to grow. Established orders
are sometimes redirected to those willing to pay the most. And we are often
receiving products from unfamiliar suppliers. We are also dealing with
bottlenecks in getting internationally purchased materials to airports and
through customs, as everyone is trying to airlift their materials at the same
senators, like every other country, we continue to fine-tune our approach as
things evolve. The first part of our approach has been to buy existing inventory
immediately, at home and around the world, to meet our most pressing needs.
The second part
has been to place large, consolidated bulk orders on behalf of provinces and
territories. This helps us attract suppliers in a competitive marketplace and
keep a steady stream of goods flowing in over the coming months.
beginning, we have used our online channels to engage suppliers, asking them to
help in any way they can. The response has been encouraging, to say the least,
with more than 26,000 submissions received. We are aggressively working through
submissions, placing priority on those offers that have legitimate and needed
support to provide.
senators, at the same time as our buying efforts, the government has called on
Canadian companies to ramp up domestic manufacturing. Companies from across the
country have answered that call, and we have been quickly establishing
contact with them. For example, Medicom of Pointe-Claire is going to produce 20
million N95 respirators and 24 million surgical masks a year for the next 10
years, with deliveries to start this summer.
companies are retooling their production lines to meet our needs. Companies like
Bauer, in Quebec, have gone from making hockey equipment to making face shields
for front-line medical workers. An additional 15 million face shields will be
made by Sterling Industries, based in Concord, Ontario, and Hewlett Packard, in
Mississauga, is making over half a million more. Stanfield, in Nova Scotia, are
set to provide us with 100,000 medical gowns a week. Irving Oil, in New
Brunswick, is another example. They have retooled their production lines to
produce hand sanitizer, and they will start delivering in the coming weeks. And
Fluid Energy out of Calgary will also help produce hand sanitizer. These
companies are only a few examples of the Canadian innovation that will see us
through this crisis.
senators, while we are focused on buying the most vital supplies, we are also
supporting the fight against COVID-19 through other procurements. Those include
contracts for security and cleaning, mobilized community shelters, as well as
chartered flights to repatriate Canadians, to name a few. Through all of these,
we have significantly changed our approach to buying and accelerated the
procurement process, especially when it comes to meeting our most urgent needs.
We are working
around the clock and making quick decisions to get contracts in place as fast as
possible in an intensely competitive market. Contracts that usually take several
months to finalize are now being put into place in days, if not hours.
while contracts are put in place and domestic production ramps up, we still need
to bring in internationally sourced materials. Given the difficulty of buying in
the environment we find ourselves in today, on-the-ground support is imperative
to making that happen. The department has a solid team in China that includes
Bolloré Logistics Canada, leveraging their important network in that country, as
well as Deloitte. They are providing help with transportation, monitoring of
shipments, receiving, storage services and customs clearances.
We continue to
work with other officials and Global Affairs Canada to navigate the complex
supply chain and get our goods into the country. Air Canada and Cargojet are
helping us do just that, with a steady number of flights now regularly being
loaded from our warehouse in China and making their way back home.
with Global Affairs Canada, we are also working with United States officials to
ensure that vital supplies continue to flow across our border. It is important
to note that provinces and territories are also securing supplies on their own
and we are working with them to bring their shipments home.
arrive, the Public Health Agency of Canada must inspect all supplies for
quality. The same is true for supplies reproduced in various regions at home. We
are also engaging with suppliers to ensure they have access to our
specifications to conduct quality control and testing procedures.
While the vast
majority of supplies pass the government’s testing, I will note we have had some
issues with supplies that have not met our standards. Recently, a significant
portion of an order of KN95 masks did not meet our standards for this mask
[Technical difficulties] KN95 masks from the supplier. I can assure you that
none of these masks were distributed for medical use. Given the amounts we are
buying from these manufacturers and the speed of our purchases, we are taking
extra measures. For example, controls are in place at multiple points on the
ground in China and then again in Canada. While we are buying at a faster pace,
our priority remains making sure we get safe, effective supplies to health care
After our orders
pass testing, the Public Health Agency of Canada then turns our focus to getting
supplies to where they are needed across the country. While we must take an
inherent risk by aggressively buying in a highly competitive market, the
government takes no chances with the safety and effectiveness of medical-grade
equipment. Only when products are deemed effective and safe are they distributed
to the front lines by the Public Health Agency.
The number of
orders and deliveries fluctuate by the day, but I would note that things like
surgical masks and face shields are now being delivered and distributed to
provinces and territories. On ventilators, we have tens of thousands on order,
with deliveries starting to roll in.
When it comes to
tests for COVID-19, we have contracts in place for rapid test kits and we
continue to seek out and purchase swabs and chemicals required for conventional
testing. These chemicals, known as reagents, are in short supply around the
world. I’m pleased to say that we have secured a shipment of an important base
chemical so we can start making our own reagent here in Canada. LuminUltra
Technologies, a company from New Brunswick, now has what they need to produce
enough reagent for 500,000 tests per week, right through to March 2021.
These are some of
the supplies we have coming in. While the order numbers are large, I would note
that we are constantly and aggressively overbuying so that we have supplies
needed over the coming months. We have launched an online report of the key
COVID-19 supplies that have been ordered and received. You can find this weekly
update inventory by visiting our departmental website. Our goal is to be as
transparent as possible so Canadians can track our progress.
Madam Chair, I’m
proud to be serving Canadians during this historic period to combat the
pandemic. I am part of an extraordinary team whose most important role right now
is the urgent procurement of vital supplies in the fight against COVID-19.
Before I close, I
want to thank my colleagues and everyone at PSPC who are keeping our businesses
going, especially those helping to meet Canada’s medical supply needs in a
difficult and challenging time. We are committed to working with Health Canada,
the Public Health Agency of Canada and all of our partners to secure supplies
needed to keep Canadians safe. Thank you for your time, and I am happy to take
Thank you very much. We will now proceed to questions from senators. As we
always do in this committee, I will remind you that you have five minutes for
your questions, and that includes the answer. If you do wish to ask a
question, please use the raise-hand function in Zoom, and once I add you to the
list, your hand will be lowered.
When you are
asking a question, please identify the person you wish to answer or if the
question is for the entire panel. The first question will be by the deputy chair
of this committee.
Poirier: Thank you for being here today. My first question is for Public
Services and Procurement Canada.
Since we have
been dealing with COVID-19, we have heard of many Canadian companies stepping up
and changing their production to our needs during the pandemic. Could you
provide to the committee, through our clerk on a bi-weekly basis, an update on
orders made with the various Canadian companies, the following information: type
of product, date and number of products ordered, delivered to date, and expected
date of other fulfilment?
I understand you
provide a global weekly update, but I ask this because, as you say, we are
dealing with a highly competitive global market. It is important to have a clear
picture on how we are dealing with our own demands domestically and for products
delivered in a timely fashion to our front-line workers.
Mr. Mills: In terms of that, I am certainly prepared to
take it back to our department. As I mentioned, we have a website where we are
providing our reporting. I will take that back to our department and work with
our communications personnel as to what we can provide in terms of reporting
going back, but I will definitely take back Canadians’ interest in having more
information on the domestic supply.
Poirier: Thank you. I guess the reason for the domestic update, as I was
saying, is the international competition; it makes it harder to have access to
these products. Therefore, it would be more reliable to have a strong domestic
response rather than relying on international markets. Our front-line workers
need these products as fast as we can, so we need to see how the domestic
response is evolving. So far, we have heard about all the orders by Canadian
companies, but we do not have an update on the actual number of products
Mr. Mills: Again, I’ll look to get more reporting. I concur
that an important part of our response is that domestic ramp-up. We have been
very enlightened by the amazing innovation of Canadian firms in responding to
this, and we’ll continue to work with Canadian industry to meet our needs during
the COVID-19 pandemic response. I’ll definitely take back the need for greater
clarity on what is happening on the domestic production side.
Poirier: Thank you. On the same subject, my next question is for Health
companies that have retooled their facilities have been stuck in limbo waiting
for approval from Health Canada. Some companies are being prevented from
shipping tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of inventory, threatening their
Is there any
willingness from the government to fast-track Health Canada’s approvals so that
Canadian businesses can produce and support the creation of critical medical
Sabourin, Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Products and Food Branch, Health
Canada: I think that’s a very big question. Are you referring to drugs? Are
you referring to diagnostic test kits? Is there a specific product?
We have done a
number of regulatory measures to accelerate the approval of a number of clinical
trials for drugs and vaccines. We have accelerated those. We have put in place
what we call an interim order, which is basically an emergency regulation, in
order to approve medical devices. Right now on our website, you can see that we
have 16 diagnostic tests that were approved in an accelerated fashion. We also
have one point-of-care diagnostic test kit approved in the same way, and we just
announced yesterday the first serological test, again, approved under this
interim order, where the review is accelerated.
In terms of
prevention, we have accelerated the approval of hand sanitizers and
disinfectants. We now have over 70 disinfectants with a COVID indication and
over 2,000 hand sanitizers. Just to give you an example, for disinfectants and
sanitizers the normal service standard is 60 days for approval, and we have done
those in literally a matter of units of days.
So across all
product lines, we have, in fact, accelerated approval while at the same time
ensuring that we are not reducing the safety bar for Canadians. We have also
been transparent around all these products approved, so the lists of clinical
trials, diagnostic tests and sanitizers and disinfectants are all publicly
available on the website.
More often than
not, if a company’s name is not yet approved, it’s because they have not
provided sufficient safety efficacy and quality information in order for the
product to be approved.
We have also done
the same thing on imports; we have put in place a regulatory measure and another
interim order for imports. I’ll stop there and maybe follow up if you would like
to know more about a specific product.
Griffin: Thank you. I would like to give my five minutes of time to Senator
Forest-Niesing. She has a lot of questions so I’m giving up my time. Thank
Okay. We can do that.
Forest-Niesing: Thank you to the witnesses present. Thank you also, Senator
Griffin, for that courtesy. I will return the favour in the second panel.
which is in the same vein and concerns specifically disinfectant and antiseptic
products, is for Mr. Sabourin, from Health Canada.
Owing to the
pandemic, Health Canada has authorized unilingual labelling in English on
disinfectant and antiseptic products, as well as on household cleaning products
imported into the country and sold to Canadians. When I read an article on
the website of the newspaper La Presse yesterday, I rejoiced in learning
that the situation would be rectified.
Can you confirm
whether that is indeed the case and whether that decision is effective
question is more basic. Could the department have considered that kind of a
measure for unilingual francophone Canadians? Although we have heard the
President of the United States suggest that they be consumed, those products can
be very dangerous when used improperly.
Health Canada treat unilingual francophone Canadians and unilingual anglophone
Canadians the same way?
Mr. Sabourin: First, you have probably also seen in the
newspapers that, according to Statistics Canada, when the pandemic was declared
in March, Canadian consumption of hand sanitizer products increased by more than
700%. We are here talking about disinfectants. However, what was reported in the
newspaper — and I read the same article as you — covers a certain number of
products. There are household cleaning products, soap, disinfectants, and, more
specifically, hand sanitizer for which, as I explained, Canada was experiencing
a historically unprecedented demand.
You will also
recall that, at the same time, hospitals and municipalities were worried they
would be unable to acquire hand sanitizer and that the distillery industry
volunteered to manufacture the alcohol required to produce it.
Since many of the
distilleries were small, very small, we allowed domestic producers in Canada’s
unilingual anglophone regions to manufacture unilingual labelling in English.
However, I want to point out that, at the time, we were reassured that bilingual
regions, as defined by the Treasury Board, would continue to receive products
made in Canada with bilingual labelling, which was not mentioned in the
May 12 article you referred to.
relative to domestic production has indeed been amended and, as of June 8,
all domestic producers in all of the country’s regions, will have to provide
bilingual labels, as indicated in the article published on the La
important point has to do with imports. I described to you the situation
domestic producers are facing, but we also have to talk about importers. At the
height of the crisis, we could have access to products from the United States,
but, as the Canadian market is small, American exporters refused to change their
labels. My colleagues who are in charge of compliance and enforcement agreed
that, in order for the Canadian market to be well supplied, American producers
could export their products to Canada.
That policy has
also been amended and, as of June 8, this will no longer be allowed. So
labels on imported products will have to be provided in both English and
The last issue I
would like to raise regarding domestic production is that the policy applied to
225 products, 200 of which came from the country’s unilingual regions and 25
came from bilingual regions, for which labelling has always been bilingual.
June 8, however, those 225 companies will produce bilingual labels for the
entire country, regardless of the company’s size. So that is the
Forest-Niesing: Do I have a bit of time left?
My next question
is for Dr. Njoo. When I look at the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 in
major Canadian cities, I see a marked difference in the number of deaths in
Canada’s big cities: in Montreal, as of May 11, there were 2,003 deaths; in
Toronto, as of today, there were 622; in Vancouver, as of today, as well, there
explain that difference? Is it due to the number of tests done? Does it have to
do with the calculation method? Is there a genetic difference within the
Thank you for the question. I think there are a number of factors that
explain that difference, but first, I can say that we know the virus is
transmitted from person to person, and it is certainly more difficult to
maintain social distancing in big cities than in more rural regions, in the
What is more, big
cities are also where major international airports are located. At the time, the
cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver were receiving many travellers
returning from abroad. That is probably one of the causes. There is no reason to
believe that genetics, calculation methods or different testing methods are to
Thank you very much. Senator Seidman, do you have a question?
Seidman: Yes. First of all, I would like to thank our witnesses and your
departments for the enormous work you’re all doing, likely 24-7, on behalf of
My question is
for Dr. Njoo. As an epidemiologist myself, of course, my questions will
concern data, its collection, standardization and coherence here in Canada. Each
day the Public Health Agency of Canada reports the number of cases, the number
of tests, the number of deaths and the number recovered. I presume this
represents aggregated data received from each of the provinces.
I would like to
try to understand this. I will go back to the deaths that you just discussed
with Senator Forest-Niesing. Actually, they are really confirmed case fatality
rates. In Quebec, we have made the point that we’re counting deaths differently
from most other provinces and even from other countries. For example, for those
recovered, I’m not sure that there is consistent reporting at all. So if each
province follows its own testing criteria and they have rather different
reporting mechanisms, what does that mean for coherent Canadian data? We need
coherent data to make meaningful policy now more than ever.
In closing my
question out, if I could mention that Michael Wolfson, the former Assistant
Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada, noted that the federal government had
missed opportunities to implement standards for data collection when it
negotiated health transfers with the provinces and territories worth billions
following SARS in 2004 and most recently in 2017. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for the question. It is always nice to talk to a fellow
epidemiologist. My background is a medical epidemiologist.
I will be quite
honest. From my perspective — and I’m speaking as a technical expert, not
on behalf of the government — in terms of data collection for public health
surveillance purposes, I can easily say that it has been an ongoing issue even
since SARS in terms of getting coherence across the country.
We do live in a
federated system of government. The responsibility for the delivery of both
health care and public health services rests with the individual provinces and
territories. The federal government in many ways is a facilitator. We bring the
provinces and territories together to discuss issues of common interests and try
to get as much coherence as possible. Certainly in the area of collecting public
health-related data, that’s something that we are all striving for. I think we
all would agree that we could do better.
The fact of the
matter is that there are different information systems in terms of the
technology and challenges within each province. For example, I work and live in
the province of Ontario. I used to be the associate medical officer of health
for the City of Toronto, so I also have experience at the local level, and my
provincial colleagues are telling me that there are even issues in terms of
trying to get the data from the local health units in a timely fashion as well
as completeness of data.
front lines are working flat out. Dealing with the current urgent situation and
trying to fill out what we have as national case reporting forms and giving it
to the provincial levels and then getting it to us at the federal level is an
ongoing issue and challenge right now.
I will easily
admit that what we’re dealing with at the national level, which is aggregated
data from the provinces and territories, is nowhere near a complete 100% of all
of the cases reported. We have detailed data on about 40% or 50%, depending on
the province and territory. It certainly comes in varying frequency to us. So
when we are doing our analysis, we do recognize that there are limitations in
terms of the conclusions we can draw from the data at any given time.
I don’t know what
else I can say. We are looking at doing better. I will say that from a
federal/provincial/territorial perspective it’s not due to lack of goodwill or
the fact that our public health colleagues in the provinces and territories
don’t want to work closely with us. The public health community is a tight
community. We all understand the importance of data. The challenge — and I
think I said it in one of my media availabilities — is that once this is
all over, that’s one of the areas that we could take a closer look at and do
That is all I’ll
say in recognizing there are specific shortfalls. If you want to get into more
detail on any of those, we can speak to that. The fact of the matter is that
even in terms of case definitions — you’re saying that Quebec is reporting
not just lab-confirmed deaths but also those epidemiologically linked —
accounting may vary between provinces and territories. The point is taken.
Moodie: I thank all witnesses here today for your hard work on behalf of the
I am going to
focus and take us a bit back into preparedness. Following the SARS epidemic, a
pandemic plan was completed in 2006. This plan has been widely celebrated and
supported as being an excellent plan. Despite its existence, we find ourselves
in a precarious position resulting in various failings along the way.
A 2010 federal
audit flagged problems with Canada’s emergency stockpile of medical equipment,
and more recent reports noted that at the end of April, 2 million N95 masks were
what was the reaction in terms of replacement to that destruction of masks that
apparently had expired? How is the stockpile monitored and supported? As we move
forward with large numbers of new production and emerging supply sources, how
are we making sure that the stockpile is appropriately resourced moving forward?
This is probably one of the key failings that we have seen.
Thank you very much. I’ll begin with part of the answer in terms of a
high-level overview. I will then pass it on to my colleague Ms. Evans to
also give you more detail in terms of the answer you’re looking for.
As you pointed
out in terms of our pandemic planning, I think Canada has done well. As you
mentioned, we do have a plan that was in large part a result of what we
experienced during SARS and even H1N1. It has been continually updated. In terms
of an overall framework and in terms of governance, I think we’re doing well.
One of the main criticisms after SARS was the lack of cohesion and coherence
between the various levels of government.
One of the things
that has worked very well in this situation is, with the governance structure,
we have the special advisory committee, which basically consists of all of the
chief medical officers of health for each province and territory along with
ourselves, Dr. Theresa Tam and myself, from the Public Health Agency of
In terms of
looking at the types of public health issues, weighing in, sharing information,
emergency response and looking at issues such as non-medical masks, from a
public health perspective we’re doing very well in terms of our preparedness and
our response activities overall.
terms of the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile, when it was conceived and
put together back in the day — I’ve been around a long time, so I still
remember its origins during the time it was starting up — it was never
meant to be the “be all” for all supplies for a pandemic response in Canada. It
has always been envisioned as a surge capacity to support the provinces and
territories. To make it simple for things such as N95 masks and other types of
equipment, it has always been anticipated that the provinces and territories buy
what is necessary, but there might be, in certain cases, a quantity of certain
types of equipment that are in “nests” for a specific event should there be a
need and a request from the provinces and territories.
Before turning it
over to my colleague, I will say the word “strategic” is a very important aspect
of the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile. With respect to the things we’ve
also looked at is that even since 2005-06, there are certain types of equipment
or medical countermeasures that would be more appropriately put in the National
Emergency Strategic Stockpile that is controlled by the federal government as
opposed to individual provinces and territories. For things like the Ebola
vaccine or other types of rare countermeasures, it doesn’t make sense in terms
of maintaining a specific stockpile — the smallpox vaccine is another one
that comes to mind — in each province and territory. That’s why we have
that in our stockpile and are ready to give it out when a certain emergency or
With that, I’ll
pass it on to Ms. Evans.
Very briefly, if you can, please.
Acting Vice-President, Emergency Management, Public Health Agency of Canada:
Certainly. Thank you very much, Madam Chair. To add briefly to what
Dr. Njoo said, the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile was created over
60 years, and certainly there has been an evolution in terms of its mandate.
After SARS in 2003-04 and with 9/11, the focus has very much been on
pharmaceutical purchases and niche products, particularly those to protect
Canadians from chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats. As he
stated, it’s really to provide emergency supplies to provinces and territories
when they’re requested, and provinces and territories are expected to be ready
for emergencies and to come to the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile when
they’ve exhausted their own supplies.
With respect to
the supplies that had been discarded, in 2019, as part of the ongoing evolution
and look at efficient management of the stockpile, we did have the removal of
one of our 11 warehouses, but the supplies that were discarded were over 10
years old. They didn’t meet the standards that we would want for health care
workers in Canada or anywhere in the world. They were disposed of appropriately
with government policy in mind.
There have been a
lot of lessons learned from COVID-19, and the evolution of the emergency
stockpile will certainly be taking this in mind as we look forward to what the
mandate should be and opportunities for us in supporting pandemics going
forward. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
My question follows quite closely on what Senator Seidman put forward in
terms of the data gaps, data sharing and issues around data. I’d like to pursue
this with Dr. Njoo.
We have heard
about these gaps not only from Mr. Wolfson but from others and I’ve been
reading quite a bit about it. It seems to be the case that these gaps may well
have been impacting the response to the COVID-19 crisis, that is the lack of
sharing and the different protocols in terms of measuring.
the Public Health Agency does report data with respect to gender and age, rates
of hospitalization and intensive care admissions, so you’re certainly collecting
some data across the country that is standard. What about other variables such
as occupation, location, income level, education and other background
demographic variables that we would very much want to have? Are we able to get
specifically, there has been a lot of interest in race-based data so that we can
examine the extent to which certain communities might be especially impacted by
the crisis in terms of incidence levels, hospitalization or mortality. I want to
ask you specifically about that.
You said earlier
in response to Senator Seidman that there had been some improvement. I’d like it
if you could give me some examples of where we have improved. Has this crisis
created anything that’s better in the world of sharing data among the
My perception is
that because of concerns about transparency, provinces don’t like to compare
themselves to other provinces. They might come out looking bad, and there is the
preoccupation with data silos, which the provinces seem to have. They want to be
able to keep their own data and not share it.
In any case, I
have a whole bunch of questions there. Can you give examples of improvement in
the data in this area? Can you speak to the topic of race-based data collection
using that variable, which is very important? Has the inadequate data collection
and sharing impacted the response to the COVID-19 crisis?
Those are three
questions that follow up on the previous interest in the data. Thank you all for
being here today. It’s been very informative and very helpful for us.
Thank you very much for your questions. There is a lot in there, so
hopefully I can address it in a nice, concise way.
First of all, in
terms of data, as they always say in public health, you have to think globally
but act locally. In terms of the data, it’s certainly important to have at a
national level, but I would say that it’s even more vital that you actually have
it at the local level. In the city of Toronto, where I used to work, it’s much
more important, in terms of getting accurate data, to know what the case load is
and what the capacity is in the local hospitals so you can manage human
resources and other types of resources, shifting where the testing needs to
By the time it
gets up to a national level, it’s more to get a sense of what’s happening across
the country. Obviously, there are some high-level policy issues that could be
examined but, to be honest, when we get the data at the national level, it’s a
composite of what’s happening in all 13 provinces and territories. There’s only
so much you can glean so you can generalize, because obviously what’s happening
even at a provincial level in British Columbia is different compared to what is
happening in Quebec and Ontario.
I can’t really
speak to what’s happening in the city of Toronto because I’m not on the ground.
My understanding is that the data they’re getting at the local level for both
public health and health care certainly has been, to a degree, that they’re able
to react and manage in a timely fashion to what’s needed on the ground for
contact tracing and so on. That’s all I can say because I’m really not in a
position to answer that.
On your other
question about variables and race-based or ethnic origin data and other types of
information, in principle, the public health community is all on the same page.
We would love to get more data. There are a number of factors, though.
First of all,
people really have their hands full at ground level. With public health
officials running at full speed in terms of contact tracing and the management
of cases, to collect all of those additional variables for all identified
lab-confirmed cases is also very labour-intensive, especially if you want
One of the
balances we’re doing is determining the most critical types of data we need to
collect versus things that are nice to have but maybe not as critical. People
will have different perspectives, but I think in principle we are agreeing that
certain data variables you mentioned, like ethnic origin, are very
We’re not doing
it yet, but folks on the ground are having what we call active discussions to
see how we can improve and do better on that front.
The only data we
do consistently collect — or at least it’s on the case report form
now — is that related to Indigenous peoples. There are variables that
people can fill out for First Nation, Métis and Inuit, but even then what we get
at the national level is not as complete as it maybe could or should be. At
least that’s a starting point.
One of the other
issues that has also been raised, though, is we do collect data like that. It
can be very sensitive. It has even been raised in the Indigenous aspect that
there is a balance between getting data that’s important to help provide
guidance for public health measures versus stigma, discrimination and shaming
and blaming, as that has been put to us. Obviously, for some of those groups,
especially Indigenous peoples, if you want to collect more detailed data, as we
recognize well, they say, “nothing about us, without us.” Therefore, you need to
have careful consultation with the affected groups. That is just to say we’re on
it and it’s something we’re actively discussing.
Finally, in terms
of improvements and good practices, because of the structures in place, at least
in having the discussions and getting to ground in terms of a minimal data set,
there is very good collaboration among the technical folks in each of the
provinces and territories. In terms of having the right people talk to each
other and having those connections, I would say that we’re much better off than
we were back in the days of SARS. Thank you.
Thank you. I will remind my colleagues that while I realize we have not met
in a long time, I’m quite happy to be flexible with time and we have the
privilege of having our witnesses for a fair amount of time, but I want to
mention that we are exceeding five minutes per question and answer on a
general basis. I think we can allow it because we do have a little more time,
but please be mindful of this.
I thank the witnesses who are appearing today. My question is for
Dr. Njoo. I have two questions, and I will put them to you at the same time
because everything will probably come together in the answer.
You said that,
starting in January, as soon as you received the genetic sequence of the virus,
the National Microbiology Laboratory started working very hard to produce tests.
Can you tell us whether the first tests that were produced were as reliable as
those that are currently being produced? Let’s say that a person tested
positive. Would the result still be positive if another test was used now on the
same individual? Naturally, there is no time for that, but I am wondering about
the reliability of a test produced quickly in a time of crisis.
In addition, how
will the department deal with or how is it already dealing with regulations
relative to the manufacturing of vaccines, potential medications or other tests?
You are aware of the current level of competition and the race among countries
to be the first to find a vaccine and come up with the quickest test. Given the
situation, you have to act fast. Do you have a plan, a regulatory process that
would help ensure that, despite that competition, you are able to produce
reliable products? Those are my questions.
Thank you for your questions. For the second question, I’ll give the floor
to my colleague, Pierre Sabourin, since the issue concerns regulations.
Regarding the first question on the scientific perspective, it’s something
really impressive. After China published the genetic sequence of the virus, all
the scientists around the world were able to develop reliable tests, including
Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. In January, it was the
only laboratory in Canada that could obtain reliable results. You’ll recall
that, for all confirmed or suspected cases in the provinces and territories, a
sample needed to be sent to our laboratory in Winnipeg to obtain confirmation. I
think that this is also a good practice, because our laboratory worked closely
with its counterparts in all the provinces and territories. It’s a type of
quality assurance check. There are currently about 30 laboratories across the
country. I don’t have the exact number, but I’m referring to all the
laboratories in the provinces and territories. In Quebec, a network of other
laboratories can now provide reliable test results. Everything was arranged with
our laboratory in Winnipeg. I think that the results are now as reliable as the
results provided by our laboratory in January.
Before I give the
floor to Pierre, we can say that yes... I think that this isn’t a competition. I
may be a little naive as a public health expert. However, I think that there’s
really a great deal of collaboration around the world. All scientists are
working in a collaborative way. Everyone is developing all types of candidates,
even Canada. Yesterday, it was announced that Canada and China would be working
together to hold clinical trials with a vaccine candidate. If a vaccine is
successfully developed anywhere in the world, I hope that, as a result of the
willingness and collaboration of all stakeholders, the vaccine will be available
worldwide. On that note, I’ll give the floor to Mr. Sabourin.
Mr. Sabourin: I believe that the five minutes are up. Do
you want me to continue, or will there be another question on diagnostics? I’d
be pleased to answer it.
Please provide a short response.
Mr. Sabourin: I’ll be very brief. I want to reassure all
senators that we believe that the tests approved by Health Canada — all the
tests—are sufficiently reliable in the context of the crisis. The tests approved
in March — the first tests — were created by Thermo Fisher and Roche, which are
very well-established companies. The most recent tests approved last week are
tests with well-established reliability levels and standards.
I want to add an
important point. In our regulatory framework, if we find that one of these tests
isn’t producing satisfactory results in a clinical setting, we have the
authority to add conditions or to literally take the tests off the market, if
necessary. I want to reassure you. You may have heard of serological tests in
the United States. A certain method of approval allowed many serological tests
on the market in the United States. These tests are known to be unreliable. In
Europe, some tests were recalled because they were found to be unreliable.
You’ll see that we haven’t had this type of issue in Canada, because I think
that our effectiveness standards are well established. That’s it. Thank you.
Omidvar: Thank you for appearing before us today. I think we all know that
public servants are unsung public heroes in this crisis, and I’m glad we have an
opportunity to express these sentiments to you.
I have three
questions. My first two are for Dr. Njoo, and I’ll ask them one after the
Dr. Njoo, in your presentation about communicating with Canadians, and
that’s certainly a really important function, but just as there is information,
there is also misinformation and disinformation. The pandemic has been
accompanied by an infodemic. Ryerson University recently did a survey that found
7 out of 10 Canadians had received misinformation about the crisis and about
solutions and so forth. What is your agency doing to combat misinformation?
Thank you for the question, and you’re right. We’re well aware at the agency
that there is, as you say, an infodemic and a great potential for
misinformation. There are a number of things that we’re doing. Especially for
misinformation on social media networks and the internet, we’ve been working
closely with the big providers, like YouTube and Facebook, and they have also
put in various — I’m not a technical expert — filters and are putting
what they might call “trusted sites” higher up in terms of search engines. It’s
minimizing, but I wouldn’t say it’s 100% foolproof. But they’re on the lookout
from a policing point of view to make sure that what goes up on their sites is,
to the best degree possible, trusted information.
In terms of our
press conferences and so on, we always make the point that people should go to
trusted sites. Don’t go to the site that has a who-knows-what organizational
name. Go to the ones that people will recognize are trusted sites, like our own
site, canada.ca/coronavirus, as well as those of the World Health Organization
or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. We also
make a point with our regular press briefings of giving good trusted information
looking at reaching Canadians in all sorts of demographics across different
platforms. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but I was asked to give a
series of interviews on YouTube to try to reach a younger demographic that might
not look at traditional TV channels. From what I have seen or heard from my own
children, in fact, is that it’s been successful and there have been a number of
views on YouTube. They contacted — in collaboration with the Government of
Canada — four major influencers. We did interviews and apparently the
uptick among their audiences has been good. I think those are some of the ways
we’re trying to hit misinformation.
Omidvar: Thank you. I’ll be sure to search for that YouTube clip.
My next question
is around vulnerabilities of certain populations. You referred to vulnerable
groups in your presentation, such as senior citizens in long-term care,
Indigenous peoples and incarcerated Canadians in Correctional Service Canada.
Can you comment on the vulnerabilities of poor people in urban settings in
particular — you’re intimately familiar, I imagine, with Toronto — and
the over-representation of racial minorities in poverty indicators in the city
of Toronto and, I imagine, others? What are their vulnerabilities? How do you
understand them at this point?
Thank you very much for that question. The way I would look at it from my
training as a public health physician is that we always talk about what we call
the social determinants of health, recognizing that health is not just the
absence of individual infectious diseases, but it’s a complete physical, mental
and social well-being. We recognize that people’s environments, their
upbringing, what they have access to in terms of resources, education and even
nutrition and food all play an important part in terms of their overall health.
Unfortunately, I think COVID-19 has also shown us our vulnerabilities and
weaknesses in terms of the systems and types of social protections we give to
our vulnerable populations.
For poor people,
I would say that the most obvious example is what’s happening in our homeless
shelters. People are homeless or underhoused. The fact is that they’re also in
what we call a congregate setting, where even if someone is able to get into one
of these places, we recognize that sometimes the beds are not that far apart.
Certainly, it’s more challenging to deliver services and have the physical
We recognize the
issues, and moving forward we’re doing what we can on the fly because we
recognize the basic public health principles about good hand hygiene, physical
distancing and so on, and we’re doing what we can with our current resources.
But moving forward, after we get out of this, we will look at what we could and
should be doing better.
For example, I
mentioned earlier we had media availability. Even in our long-term care
facilities, the fact that it’s normal to have, in structural design, multiple
people in the same room, maybe moving forward we need to look at other
engineering and administrative controls and things we could be doing to minimize
the risk for this type of respiratory infectious disease being transmitted. That
could include more training for staff, providing them with the right protective
equipment and even the right monetary supports so that people and staff working
with the poor and others in vulnerable settings are encouraged to stay at one of
those facilities and not feel the need to work in multiple places. There are
lots of structural and other types of practices that we could be improving on in
Campbell: Thank you to all the witnesses for coming today. It’s much
appreciated and I will be brief.
What is the
Public Health Agency of Canada doing to ensure that Correctional Service Canada
starts depopulating as recommended by the other health professionals?
We know that the
two areas of biggest concern are community care facilities with the elderly and
prisons. From my point of view, although I’ve always recognized that Corrections
Canada is hardly considered a beacon of light and enlightenment, I believe that
the health officials should be in charge of this. They know what’s going on, and
they should be putting that to Corrections Canada.
understanding there are at least 1,200 people who are eligible for release and
that hasn’t been done. So what is your agency doing to ensure that people aren’t
going to die in incarceration? Thank you.
What we do in the Public Health Agency of Canada is provide public health
advice and guidance. To your other point about how the residents or inmates of
the prisons are managed, you’re talking about other policy issues and I can’t
comment on that.
But one thing I
can tell you is that we have been working closely with our colleagues at
Correctional Service Canada from the public health perspective in terms of
giving them support with guidance about infection prevention and control, for
example, on the appropriate measures that should be put in place to protect the
inmates in these facilities and the staff in terms of training; how to properly
use personal protective equipment; the type of screening should be done in terms
of visitors or other personnel moving in and out of these facilities; and making
sure that the training and the practices are maintained on an ongoing basis.
As we speak, we
are actually working closely with our colleagues, and I understand that there is
an audit being done in each of the facilities across the country under federal
jurisdiction to ensure that those good practices of infection prevention and
control are strengthened and maintained to mitigate and, in the best case,
prevent any introduction of the virus into these very vulnerable settings.
Campbell: By the numbers that we see, either they are not following your
guidance or they are not doing it, because the numbers tell us that this is not
working. I do not believe for a second that they are following your advice.
Obviously, we’re aware that there have been cases and outbreaks and things
aren’t perfect. Everyone recognizes that, even with the best guidance and
protocols in place, it only takes one breach or one unintentional behaviour or
practice that may lead to the introduction.
If one of those
situations does arise, we have actually been there to help support our
colleagues in those settings to do good contact tracing, making sure that people
who might have been exposed to an initial case or cases in a cluster are
appropriately tested and managed. We are making sure, moving forward, that
anyone who might have been at risk of exposure is appropriately managed. As I
mentioned earlier, we can hopefully prevent future cases with reinforcement of
those good infection prevention and control practises in all facilities.
Campbell: Thank you.
Ms. Evans: Thank you, Madam Chair. The Public Health Agency
of Canada has been in daily contact with Correctional Service Canada. We have
also been supporting them through mobilizing experts in epidemiology, as
Dr. Njoo had said, to assist with contact tracing, infection prevention
control, workplace health and safety and environmental controls. We have been
providing support through tools, as Senator Campbell had mentioned, to examine
how well the processes are working in practice and where improvements can be
made within the confines of the space limitations. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Kutcher: Thank you very much, everyone, for being here answering our
questions and for the great work that you and your departments are doing.
I have two
questions. One is around electronic health care, and the other is around a
vaccine. The first is that there have been investments in electronic care, but
in the mental health area most online therapeutic mental health interventions
have not received rigorous research. We frankly don’t know if they are either
effective or safe for people. Second, most existing mental health care
approaches that are online are not an effective way to address the complex care
needs of people who have severe mental illnesses.
So the two
questions are: What concrete steps is the government taking to ensure that the
most vulnerable Canadians, those with severe mental illness for whom these
interventions aren’t useful, are able to receive the high-quality care that they
need? And what is Health Canada’s plan to evaluate and perhaps certify online
therapeutic mental health treatment interventions so that Canadians who access
them can be sure that they are both effective and safe?
question is on vaccines. A recent study from the University of Regina indicated
that about 20% of the population reported that they would not take a COVID-19
vaccine even if it were available. What effective measures is the government
putting into place now in anticipation of the vaccine’s arrival to ensure that
Canadians are properly protected? Thank you.
Okay. I’m not sure if one of my colleagues wants to answer the question
on mental health. First, as a physician, the delivery at the front lines of both
health care and public health services is the purview of the provinces and
territories. In terms of clinical management, et cetera, for people with
mental health issues, that certainly is there. At the federal government level,
we are there to support. I will pass it on to my colleagues if they want to talk
more about electronic apps and other resources.
Ms. Weber: Thank you, Dr. Njoo. And thank you for the
question. It’s an excellent question. It’s one of the things that we have been
concerned about from the beginning of the pandemic. As it’s gone on, we have
heard about the social isolation and the impact that can be having. I spoke in
my opening remarks about the impact it is having on mental health.
In the early
days, we knew it would be important to get services to Canadians if they were
asked to stay in their homes. We knew they would need access to virtual
services. Some were still able to get out, but many were even afraid or unable
to leave the home.
That’s when we
began putting together the wellness portal, which has different components to it
depending on the needs or the wants of the actual individual accessing it. We do
have self-directed tools where folks can log in and navigate the site
themselves. We also have health promotion tools to help with social isolation or
And then, in
fact, we do have new services where individuals can access chat services, phone
calls and online services that were not there before. For some people, it will
not be the ideal solution; in-person services will be ideal. But there are
others accessing it who would not have reached out before. Because they are in
the comfort of their own homes and they do have access to an online service and
it’s virtual, we find they are reaching out and making that contact.
So your point is
well taken that we will have to evaluate these tools as we go forward. We have
regular conversations with our provincial and territorial counterparts.
Dr. Njoo did mention this is an area where provinces play a significant
role. We have heard, especially during Mental Health Week last week, it’s
incredible the number of services that different provinces and territories have
launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have heard of wonderful
take-up in these areas, but we have also heard about the ongoing challenges that
Canadians are facing. It will be important that we do evaluate these tools.
Thank you for bringing it up. It’s an important point.
The point you raised is not just exclusive to the COVID-19 vaccine that
hopefully will be developed sooner rather than later. The point you’re raising
is the anti-vaccination movement and some of the challenges we have had even for
acceptance of what we call the normal childhood vaccines. That is a complex
issue. Certainly we have been addressing that, at least at the Public Health
Agency of Canada, for quite some time, through various studies. I’m not going to
go into all the details. We have a better understanding of the factors that lead
people to have some issues or concerns or questions about vaccines in
I don’t think
most people are against vaccines. It’s just that they may have some unanswered
questions or may just need to be further encouraged. We’re looking at multiple
ways we could reach out and make sure that people feel their concerns are
addressed. Certainly, as my colleague Pierre has said, all vaccines in Canada
are very tightly regulated in terms of safety and security. There really should
be no concern from that perspective.
We also know it’s
not just governments telling people that vaccines are safe. People also look to
other trusted sources. Their health care providers are seen as trusted sources
so we’re also looking at ways to better support the front-line health care
workers to give them the tools so they can have those positive conversations
with their patients. There was a lot of work going on in that area, even before
COVID-19, in terms of improving what we call the uptake of vaccines.
Kutcher: Supplementary to that, Dr. Njoo, there are three physicians on
this panel, including myself. We are very aware of these issues. That’s why I’m
asking the question now: What is Health Canada doing to get ready? Because this
has been an issue and a huge problem for a long time. So could you answer
that question, please?
You say Health Canada. I’m not sure. I would say that yes, as the work ramps
up in terms of development of a vaccine, right now, all of our folks who deal
with vaccines, at least in the Public Health Agency of Canada, are very seized
in terms of looking at vaccine candidates and having all of those important
conversations with partners, both in Canada and outside.
As we get into
the next phase, they will hopefully, like I say, find time to get back to their
ongoing work. I don’t think it’s anything new that we have to develop; it’s
basically — I think your point is well taken — to get back to some of
our normal business lines, which include improving the uptake of vaccines.
Your point is
well taken. I’ll certainly take it back to my colleagues in the agency and say,
“Hey, all of the good work you were doing even before in terms of vaccine
uptake, you need to continue with that, maybe with the additional aspect of a
potential introduction of a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Mr. Sabourin: From a regulatory perspective, what you’ve
raised, senator, is very much a concern among all the major regulators with whom
Health Canada works. In fact, regulators work together across an organization
called the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities. We have
always met regularly, but now we are meeting twice a week. This is an
organization that groups all the major regulators in the world.
We are currently
preparing a statement, which will be from a regulatory perspective, around the
safety of vaccines and the science behind it. I’m hopeful that statement
actually comes out very soon, and of course, it would have been endorsed by
every major regulator in the world.
Munson: Thank you very much. I’m having immense technical difficulties this
morning, but I’m glad to see you can hear me.
I have two or
three questions. The terminology was used about tracing a moment ago. Those who
have intellectual and developmental disabilities are in group homes across this
country by the thousands, and they need special care. It’s similar to a nursing
home environment because there are so many people in a confined space.
Do you have any
statistical evidence currently in terms of tracing and what is happening in
these kinds of homes across the country? I know part of the answer is going
to be, “it’s a provincial responsibility,” but there are private and public
homes. I have two other questions I would like to ask.
I’m not sure if I’m understanding the question with respect to tracing. If
you’re talking about contact tracing, which means that if you do find a case in,
let’s say, any setting, it’s important to go in and try to determine how that
case or infection was introduced to make sure there is appropriate testing and
management of other potentially exposed individuals in that setting.
What I can
say — and you’re right — it’s not because it’s a provincial
responsibility. Because it really is on the ground, I don’t have first-hand
knowledge. I will say that certainly as any cases are detected in any setting,
local health officials are certainly doing their utmost to make sure they do the
proper investigation, making sure that obviously the initial case, if I can call
it that, in any setting, perhaps including those in homes where there are people
with disabilities and so on, is appropriately managed with hospitalization or
medical care, as necessary. Then there is the contact tracing, determining who
might have been in contact with that individual, who might also have been
exposed and making sure they also follow the proper protocols for quarantine,
monitoring of symptoms and also testing, as appropriate. I hope
that answers your question, but certainly, if there is an additional
follow-up, I’m happy to take that as well.
Munson: You have answered the question. That’s good insight to have. I
think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact of what is taking place in
these group homes across the country.
I don’t know if
this question has been asked, but is Canada being outbid by other countries in
its quest for securing much-sought-after health care supplies? CMA, the Canadian
Medical Association, indicated frustration with regard to unclear and
inconsistent messaging in terms of the supply of personal protective
Maybe I’ll start and turn to my colleagues in dealing with procurement.
Obviously, we at
the Public Health Agency of Canada are on the ground seeing what is happening. I
think as our health minister, Minister Hajdu, has stated, as well as even the
deputy prime minister, once it became a real global pandemic, certainly there
was a need for certain types of equipment — obviously the PPE, personal
protective equipment — I think the term used was that it has been a bit of
a Wild West out there, a very tight global market with lots of competition.
You’re right. There are stories to be told of Canada having to compete with
other nations for scarce supplies, and I think we have been doing well. We have
been ramping up our domestic capacity to be more self-sufficient as well.
Munson: So Michael, is it still the Wild West out there? Are we still being
outbid for crucial equipment in this country?
Mr. Mills: It has been a challenging environment. Prices
have gone up. We have been able to secure contracts, and when we have supplies
under contract, we have more security that those supplies are going to come, but
initially it was challenging to get contracts in place.
There are certain
commodities that will continue to be challenging. The N95 masks are in very
limited production. We have gotten as much as we can, and we continue, if
anything comes up, to try to source them. I think we have seen even on the N95s
that prices have stabilized. I wouldn’t say we have been outbid so much as we
have had to aggregate supplies with provinces to make sure they are attractive.
Certain factories, for instance, would only sell a minimum quantity; they want
to make sure they’re selling 10 million masks as opposed to 500,000.
We have had to
take on different terms and whatnot to secure those supplies, but we now have a
lot of that product under contract. It’s still challenging, and we’ll continue
to see where the supplies are available.
Munson: Thank you to the two gentlemen for the answers. I appreciate
Martin: Thank you. I added myself to the list after listening carefully to
whether there would be any follow-up questions to Michael Mills of Public
Services and Procurement.
I am just adding
to questions that were asked regarding the domestic ramp-up and the retooling
that is being done by certain companies. I know that you mentioned fairly large
companies like Bauer and Irving. I was curious about each region. In British
Columbia, for instance, I’m aware of some of the medium-sized companies that are
retooling or getting ready.
There is proof of
safety and efficacy in applications sent to Health Canada. Are you coordinating
at all to ensure that the small- and medium-sized businesses by region are
getting approval as well so there is supply across Canada, not just in certain
parts of Canada, and only to larger companies that obviously would be more
competitive? I’m curious about creating that domestic supply across Canada by
region and some attention to our SMEs, which are very important to our
If I may just ask
one other piece, is there a specific department from which the small- or
medium-sized companies would be able to get further support?
Ieraci, Director General, Office of Small and Medium Enterprises, Public
Services and Procurement Canada: Thank you very much for the question.
I’ll answer your second question first.
In terms of your
second question of whether there is an organization that they can reach out to,
absolutely. It’s the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises. We would be happy
to assist companies and teach them about the federal procurement process, how to
find opportunities, how to register for those opportunities and how to
ultimately bid on those opportunities. In addition, we also want to help them
understand the current landscape in terms of procurement.
This leads me to
respond to your first question: For domestic capacity, what are we doing to help
small-and medium-sized companies? My response in this regard falls into two
companies that may not have been in the business of personal protective
equipment or other such equipment and are looking to retool or revamp their
production lines in order to be able to provide provinces and territories with
that kind of equipment, we’re working in close collaboration with our colleagues
at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. They are the lead
department dealing with what I’ll call the retooling side of it.
ISED has an
online portal where companies can apply in order to be identified as companies
that can retool their existing production lines to provide personal protective
equipment. Based on the analysis done by our colleagues at ISED, and once
companies have been identified, our procurement team works with them to put in
place letters of interest and contracts to ensure there is a contract for the
production that will eventually arise.
The second part
of the question is about those companies that are already in the field of
personal protective equipment or that are looking to get into that field, not to
retool but perhaps as sellers or resellers. A form is available on our website,
buyandsell.gc.ca, where companies can indicate if they have equipment available
and what kind of equipment it is. They provide us with information, and then we
will reach out to the company to get more information and speak to them about
the process. If they have products or materials that we’re currently buying and
that meet the specifications established by Health Canada, which are also
available on our website for reference, we will explore those to see if we can
move towards potential procurement of that equipment.
I would encourage
companies to reach out to our organization, the Office of Small and Medium
Enterprises. We have regional offices across Canada, and our folks are there to
provide information on federal procurement and to hopefully demystify the
federal procurement process. I hope that responds to your questions.
Martin: That was very helpful. Thank you very much.
Thank you. We have a few minutes left, so I’ll try to ask my own question to
follow up on Senator Munson’s question. He spoke earlier about the Canadian
Medical Association, which was experiencing some frustrations. I want to hear a
little more about the concrete measures taken to ensure that health care
organizations and providers are well informed of the current situation. We know
that this issue remains a concern. I want to hear a little more about it.
If you’re talking about significant information for health care providers, I
think that, ultimately, as I said, everything is happening on the ground. I
greatly appreciate the efforts of the authorities and experts on the ground, for
example, in Montreal and in the major cities. At the federal level, we’re
continuing to have good discussions with our counterparts on the special
advisory committee. In addition, at the agency, we have guidelines that provide
at least a basis, a framework, not necessarily protocols, but at least
principles and good practices that health care providers on the ground can
benefit from and can use in a particular situation. Obviously, if we publish
something at the federal level on our website, the goal isn’t to replace what
was there before. It’s always additional information for the provinces and
territories, and maybe the information could even be adapted to the local
context. I think that we’ve added many guidelines — I don’t know exactly how
many to date — and we’re still developing more guidelines, as we go along, that
are necessary and important for the people working on the ground.
senators, for technical reasons, we have to suspend at 1:30, so this will not
leave us time for a second round.
I want to thank
our witnesses for being here today. This was very helpful, especially for our
first panel for this study, so we really do appreciate it. Thank you for
Thanks to my
colleagues, honourable senators, for your excellent and relevant questions.
senators, we’re continuing our study on the government’s response to the
COVID-19 pandemic. This afternoon, our witnesses are as follows. From
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, we’re joined by Carla St. Croix,
Executive Director, Strategic Integration and Competitiveness Policy, Strategic
Policy Branch; and Nathalie Durand, Executive Director, Sector Development and
Analysis Directorate, Market and Industry Services Branch. From Statistics
Canada, we’re joined by Josée Bégin, Director General, Labour Market, Education
and Socio-Economic Well-Being; Karen Mihorean, Director General, Census Subject
Matter, Social Insights, Integration and Innovation; and Ron Gravel, Director,
Centre for Population Health Data. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency,
we’re joined by Theresa Iuliano, Vice President, Operations Branch; and Colleen
Barnes, Vice-President, Policy and Programs Branch.
We will begin
with Ms. St. Croix, followed by Ms. Bégin and
St. Croix, Executive Director, Strategic Integration and Competitiveness
Policy, Strategic Policy Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Thank
you. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the Government of Canada’s response
to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its impacts on our agriculture and agri-food
sector. I’m joined by my colleague, Nathalie Durand.
system has continued to function well in providing food to Canadians in the face
of considerable stresses raised by COVID-19. The pandemic has caused an
unprecedented shock in terms of how our food supply chains function and has also
created significant fluctuations in demand.
The Government of
Canada is working with processors, producers and provincial and territorial
governments, given the shared jurisdiction of agriculture, to rapidly assess
shifting demands, share critical information and find solutions to address the
impacts of COVID-19 on the agriculture and agri-food sector. The food sector is
proving itself remarkably adaptable as it adjusts to the pressures on the supply
transportation and trade are also critical to our food supply. Overall, the
global shipping logistics for food have generally been performing well. We
continue to work with our U.S. partners to ensure the border remains open for
commercial transportation, including the movement of food. Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada has been engaging with the sector throughout the pandemic,
leading regular calls with industry and food service associations from all
commodity groups. The topics raised have been varied. I will briefly touch on
three of the main themes today: the importance of labour, overall supply chain
stresses and, finally, food insecurity and supports for vulnerable
challenges: The Government of Canada understands the important role that workers
across our food supply chain have in ensuring food availability and has
recognized workers across the agriculture and agri-food supply chain as
providing an essential service to our country. There is a strong need for
workers on Canadian farms and in food processing businesses across the country
right now. The sector relies not only on our Canadian workforce, but also on
temporary foreign workers and seasonal agriculture workers. Early on in the
pandemic, an important exemption from travel restrictions was made for temporary
foreign workers. Given the incremental costs associated with the mandatory
14-day isolation period upon entering into Canada, the federal government is
investing $50 million through the Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary
Foreign Workers Program, which provides up to $1,500 per eligible worker to help
with those costs. Measures have also been put in place that will help to attract
additional workers in the agriculture and agri-food sector, such as the amended
Canada Summer Jobs Program.
federal government is working with provinces and territories to cost-share wage
top-ups for essential workers, deemed eligible in their respective
Agri-Food Canada has also launched a Step up to the plate — Help feed
Canadians job portal which is helping to match Canadians with jobs in the
While Canada is
one of the world’s largest exporters of agriculture and agri-food products with
exports totalling $59.4 billion in 2018, we are the fifth-largest importer of
food globally, reliant on imports for certain critical inputs and products.
While the system is functioning remarkably well, there are stresses on it, and I
will discuss those briefly now.
For example, some
meat processing plants have had to reduce slaughter capacity or temporarily
close due to impacts of COVID-19. As you can imagine, this presents challenges
for farmers needing to feed animals for longer periods of time without a
destination for processing.
sector is another critical component of Canada’s food system. Our food supply in
fruits and vegetables is highly dependent on access to labour, trade and timely
transportation of goods, and is also vulnerable to weather, disease and insect
pests, as well as access to crucial inputs such as bees for pollination. AAFC is
working with industry stakeholders and provincial governments to address labour
and other challenges to ensure farmers will continue to plant during this crop
season. AAFC continues to monitor seeding and planting intentions.
The Government of
Canada understands the immense pressures being placed on Canadian
agri-businesses and producers and have created several initiatives to support
the sector. These supports include, for example, providing a cash injection of
$5 billion into Farm Credit Canada, which allows clients to defer loan payments,
and launching a national AgriRecovery initiative of up to $125 million in
funding to help manage livestock backed up on farms due to the temporary closure
of food processing plants. In addition, existing business risk management
programs also provide up to $1.6 billion on average per year to support
producers to help manage risks that threaten the viability of the farm.
The safety and
mental health of those who work in the sector is critically important. To ensure
the health and safety of essential workers in the food processing industry,
Canada and the sector have adopted new measures including investments in
additional personal protective equipment, temperature testing of employees with
scanners and retrofitting facilities to include plexiglass shields on processing
lines, for example. To expedite these changes and others and ensure that
processing capacity is maintained, the Government of Canada has created a $77.5
million emergency processing fund to help food producers and processors manage
new challenges presented by the pandemic.
are in these plants to verify that safe food regulations are properly
implemented; Canada invested $20 million to help ensure inspectors have the
resources to do their job during these challenging times.
Finally, I will
briefly touch on food security and our vulnerable populations. There is no doubt
that the COVID-19 crisis is intensifying pre-existing food insecurity as well as
increasing the total number of Canadians facing food insecurity. Prior to the
pandemic, it was estimated that 8.7% of Canadian households experienced food
insecurity. With COVID-19, there has been a substantial increase in demand for
food bank services; in some cities, food organizations assisted over 50% more
clients in March and many are seeing an influx of first-time users. At the
same time, food banks and other community services are experiencing a decrease
in resources. This is why the Government of Canada made up to $100 million in
funding available to organizations addressing food insecurity, such as Canadian
food banks, to help improve access to food for people experiencing food
insecurity in Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time,
the widespread closure and decreased capacity of restaurants, bars and other
food service operations has created an excess supply of some products, such as
potatoes, milk and poultry, in sizes that aren’t typically consumed at the
retail or household level. To bridge this gap, just last week, the government
announced an additional $50 million for the surplus food purchase program, which
will provide new funding to support food security needs, and help manage surplus
Work will be
carried out with national food recovery agencies and also involve corporations
for the repurposing and redistribution of existing and identified surplus food
that respects the needs and health of vulnerable populations in Canada.
Finally, to avoid
waste in the dairy sector, work is under way to expand the Canadian Dairy
Commission’s line of credit by $200 million to support costs associated with the
temporary storage of cheese and butter. Important efforts have been made to
support the agriculture and agri-food sector during these difficult times, and
the Government of Canada will continue to work with farmers, food processors and
provincial and territorial governments to help address stresses in the food
supply chain to bring food to Canadians. Thank you.
Thank you. Ms. Bégin, we’ll continue with you.
Director General, Labour Market, Education and Socio-Economic Well-Being,
Statistics Canada: Thank you. We shared a PowerPoint presentation. When I
change slides or languages, I’ll let the committee members know.
committee members, thank you for giving us this opportunity today to discuss the
role of Statistics Canada in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have responded to the increased need for timely, quality data in several
ways: new data collection and creation, the development of innovative tools in
conjunction with our partners and the filling of hundreds of custom data
requests. In addition, our modelling and data science experts are working with
partner agencies to develop robust models to inform responses to the
We have partnered
with the Public Health Agency of Canada to make detailed preliminary data on the
number of confirmed COVID-19 cases available to researchers and Canadians. We
have developed geospatial tools and the COVID-19 interactive dashboard through a
partnership with the Public Health Agency and Natural Resources Canada.
On slide 3, from
the Statistics Canada site, you’ll find the information that you’re looking for
on confirmed coronavirus cases, our geospatial explorer, our interactive
dashboard, and published analyses of the impact of COVID-19 on the Canadian
population and economy.
two new ways of collecting data on the social impacts of COVID-19: a web panel
The web panel is
a sub-sample of approximately 7,200 Labour Force Survey, or LFS, respondents who
agreed to participate in a series of short surveys conducted each month. The
panel uses probability sampling, which means that the results can be used to
obtain estimates for the Canadian population. Through the web panel, we
collected data on the impacts of COVID-19 on labour, behaviours and primary
sources of information. In June, we’ll collect data on the recovery of economic
and social activities, and Canadians’ intentions in this area.
We are also
crowdsourcing information from Canadians. All Canadians are invited to
participate in a non-probabilistic sampling approach. We are, therefore, not
able to derive estimates that can be ascribed to the Canadian population, but we
are able to collect information in a timely fashion that can help deliver
insight for policy-makers.
iteration of our crowdsourced survey asked participants about the economic and
social impacts of the pandemic on their lives and yielded more than 240,000
responses. New content is being launched every two weeks.
We have just
finished collecting information on impacts on post-secondary students. Upcoming
collections will include trust and confidence in health officials and impacts on
children and youth.
As a key finding,
the web panel indicated that more than half of Canadians use news outlets as
their main source of information about the pandemic, while for about 3 in 10
Canadians the main sources of information were government health agencies or
pivoted very quickly to set up the necessary infrastructure to allow us to
collect vital information remotely and safely. Interviewers for the Labour Force
Survey were quickly equipped to conduct the survey over the phone from their own
indicators were developed that go beyond our usual reporting; for example,
people who had a job but did not work during the reference week.
April Labour Force Survey, additional questions were added to gather
information about the impacts of the shutdown; for example, place of work and
working from home, job security and difficulty meeting financial
You see here an
infographic providing an overview of the labour market in April as well as
the highlights from our Labour Force Survey. The rest of our presentation will
focus on some of those highlights.
dropped by 15.7% since February, which is a much larger and faster drop in
employment compared with previous notable downturns in the economy. The
unemployment rate hit 13% in April, which is a near-record. This increase is
driven by the numbers who have been temporarily laid off.
With the current
pandemic, almost all employment losses in March occurred in the
services-producing sectors of the economy. By April, employment losses were
proportionally larger in goods-producing sectors, led by construction and
On slide 11, the
results obtained in April show that the ability to adapt to the crisis by
working from home varies from company to company. Companies that were
comparatively less affected by the crisis had a low proportion of workers in
occupations that require close physical proximity, and a large proportion of
their employees worked from home in April.
Women and youth
were the most affected by job losses in March, but by April this impact was
more widespread. Employment losses were steeper in low-wage and temporary jobs,
as can be seen in the graph on the right.
Looking ahead, we
see that concern for ongoing job security varies significantly by situation.
Those who were employed but worked half their usual hours or less during the
April reference week were substantially more likely to think they may lose
their job in the next four weeks compared with those who had worked all or most
of their usual hours.
Canada has responded to the increased need for quality data in the context of
the COVID-19 pandemic, the medium- and longer-term recovery will demand regular
and timely reporting and monitoring moving forward. The need to provide granular
data that is disaggregated to reveal the experiences of vulnerable populations
will require a sustained effort. More effort is also needed to ensure that
timely data on LGBTQ2, racialized groups — for example, black —
disabled and Indigenous populations is available.
It will be
critical to ensure that we can build on the work we have started and
partnerships we have created to continue to build the integrated data
On this, we
conclude our presentation. We hope that this overview of the role of Statistics
Canada in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic will be useful to
the committee, and we would be more than happy to answer any questions you
Thank you for this. I am sure there will be many questions.
Iuliano, Vice President, Operations Branch, Canadian Food Inspection Agency:
Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to participate in this virtual
meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and
From the very
onset of this situation, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has prioritized the
delivery of activities that have been aimed at preserving the integrity of
Canada’s food safety system as well as its plant and animal resource base.
have included: Food safety investigations and recalls, animal disease
investigations, the regulatory oversight of meat slaughter and processing,
export certification, import inspection services, emergency management and the
supporting of laboratory diagnostics.
Due to the fact
that federally licensed food processing establishments require CFIA inspection
presence in order to operate, we work very closely with industry to ensure
appropriate food safety oversight and to prevent pressures on the food supply
chain. While doing so, we are committed to protecting the health and safety of
our employees. Physical distancing measures are not always possible in the food
processing environments where our front-line staff work.
To mitigate the
risk of exposure to COVID-19, our staff follow health and safety guidance issued
by the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada, as well as by the local
public health authorities, and they follow protocols put in place at the
establishments in which they work.
As an additional
measure of precaution, we have provided face shields and masks for these
employees, primarily meat inspectors working in federally licensed slaughter and
When cases of
COVID-19 occur in a food processing establishment, the CFIA works with local
public health authorities to determine the level of risk of exposure for CFIA
employees and their need for self-isolation or referral to health services for
employees are reintroduced into a work space, the CFIA works with establishments
and with Occupational Health and Safety representatives to ensure that all
measures recommended by public health authorities are in place.
To date, the CFIA
has been able to maintain an appropriate number of inspectors in meat
establishments and has leveraged contingency plans to address inspector
absenteeism related to the COVID-19 virus.
support the delivery of critical services that fall within CFIA’s mandate and to
protect the food supply without putting undue pressure on our existing
workforce, the Government of Canada recently announced that $20 million will be
provided to the CFIA to hire new inspectors and veterinarians, or to temporarily
bring back recently retired CFIA employees; to explore work agreements with the
provincial and territorial inspection authorities and put in place
resource-sharing agreements like those already in place with the provinces of
Ontario and Alberta; and for reassigning some staff to areas of high priority
and providing them with the necessary training and tools to properly execute
good safety inspections.
To conclude, I
would like to reiterate the vitally important role that Canada’s front-line
inspectors are playing to continue to make safe food available for Canadians.
Thank you very much. We are ready to proceed with questions from the
Again, I would
like to remind each of you that you have five minutes for your questions
and answers. If you wish to ask a question, please raise your hand using
the raised-hand function in Zoom and we will add you to the list. When you are
asking a question, I would ask that you please identify the person that you wish
to answer the question, and if the question is for the whole panel, you can
let us know.
question will be from the deputy chair of the committee.
Poirier: Thank you to all the witnesses for being here. My question is for
the representative of CFIA. According to the Agriculture Union, the CFIA has
instructed some of its non-meat inspection staff to undergo training to be
deployed to slaughter plants that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19. The union has
said that the CFIA will treat refusal as an act of insubordination. The
president of the union said in the media this week that the CFIA is ordering its
staff to work in facilities that obviously are not safe and without proper
personal protective gear.
Marie-Claude Bibeau has stated that it is important that essential workers feel
safe. Can the officials from the CFIA respond to the concerns of the Agriculture
Union and provide some assurance that federal inspectors will not be forced to
enter into situations where they feel unsafe?
Ms. Iuliano: Thank you very much for the question. When it
comes to deploying our staff into meat establishments, we start by looking at
existing inspection staff who are available to perform these tasks. We would
then look to staff who have previously worked as meat inspectors. If that wasn’t
sufficient, we would look at meat inspection staff who currently work with the
provinces through the resource-sharing arrangements that we’ve recently put in
place. We can also look at inspectors from other food processing sectors who
have experience and are willing to be deployed. Finally, we look at bringing in
newly hired inspectors and veterinarians.
To date, this
approach of asking for volunteers and reaching out to new hires has worked for
us and we have been able to maintain critical services.
health and safety of our staff are top priorities, which is why we have put in
place guidance for our staff in terms of the protocols that they need to follow
before they enter an establishment. That includes self-monitoring, temperature
checks and following the protocols put in place by the establishment, and before
any employee enters a plant, we have assurances that plant has in place
appropriate pandemic control procedures.
Poirier: Thank you. My next question is for Statistics Canada. In your
report Work interruptions and financial vulnerability, there is a passage
that struck me.
of the study is that some adults living in families that are financially
vulnerable during work stoppages have not actually experienced work
interruptions since mid-March 2020. This is the case, for example, of
grocery stores’ employees living in financially vulnerable families.
As of today, do
you have the number of these vulnerable workers who have fallen through the
cracks of the government’s aid? If no, what is preventing Statistics Canada from
producing this type of report? Is it access to data?
Ms. Bégin: We prepared an analysis for the release of our
Labour Force Survey last week, which contains a great deal of information,
particularly on vulnerable populations. I don’t have the figures with me right
now, but we can provide custom tables to respond to your request, based on the
segments of the population that interest you, but also based on the nature of
Poirier: Thank you. If you could send that to the clerk of the committee so
we could have it, that would be helpful.
Griffin: This question is for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. As you know,
I’m from the Maritime provinces, specifically Prince Edward Island. The food
supply chain for the whole three provinces is integrated. We’ve had one
province, New Brunswick, make a fairly last-minute decision to ban further
temporary foreign workers, including those who work on farms, and that impacts
all three provinces. Although agriculture and immigration are shared powers
between the federal and provincial governments, do officials in your department
have concerns that the New Brunswick government is stepping into federal areas
of jurisdiction, such as border controls?
I have follow-up
questions, but I would like you to answer that one fairly quickly,
Ms. St. Croix: We do have a very dynamic and robust
ongoing conversation with our provincial and territorial partners. On a weekly
basis we discuss the state of the supply chain at all levels of the
federal-provincial-territorial system. Currently the number of temporary foreign
workers that are coming into Canada are fairly strong. For the month of April,
there were around 11,000 temporary foreign workers that came into Canada to
In terms of
Canada as a whole, that is something that is continuing to progress, and I think
those numbers are quite good. We do continue to have conversations with our
provincial and territorial partners around ensuring that there are enough
workers to keep the food supply chain in good standing.
Griffin: Thank you. I might note that the ban by this one province is also
having a negative impact on the availability of truck drivers in the Maritimes,
which is a concern to the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association. My fear is
that a truck driver shortage will impact either the affordability or the
availability of food for Maritimers.
This is my last
question: Will the federal government offer compensation to farmers who, in good
faith, incurred capital or operational costs preparing for workers this season
due to the federal government’s decision to allow foreign workers into Canada?
For example, one farmer invested $250,000. Are there any AAFC financial programs
to mitigate this type of cost?
Ms. St. Croix: Our business risk management suite of
programs is there to support producers with declines in income that can come
from multiple situations that arise on the farm; that includes a program such as
AgriStability, should that particular producer be enrolled in the program. The
deadline for enrolment has been extended to July 3, so that is an option
for those sorts of situations.
But I have noted
the concerns that you’ve raised, and we are certainly always listening to the
concerns of both members such as yourself and also industry to make sure that we
can address them to the best of our ability.
Griffin: Thank you. That took exactly 4 minutes and 16 seconds. I’ve left a
little bit of time for other people.
Thank you, Senator Griffin. We do have a list building up. Let’s begin with
Munson: Very quickly, on the farmer issue, is it realistic to expect what is
happening in New Brunswick, following on Senator Griffin’s question, that the
New Brunswick government wants to replace foreign workers and foreign workers
can’t come? Realistically, can they fill the void within New Brunswick with
local hires? Is that realistic?
Ms. St. Croix: It’s difficult to predict whether it is
realistic for New Brunswick itself to fill that void, but I know many of the
provinces have advanced efforts, as has Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, such
as job portals to attract Canadian workers into the sector, and at every chance
we encourage that to occur.
Munson: Thank you very much for that. It’s going to be extremely difficult
to catch up.
Statistics Canada: Do you have statistics of those with intellectual or physical
disabilities living in group homes in this country? COVID-19 has struck there,
as well as nursing homes, and nowhere do I see statistics about the tens of
thousands who are living in these homes. I’m wondering what kind of coordination
is taking place with the provinces to make sure that those with intellectual or
physical disabilities are not left behind.
Since I don’t
want to lose my time here, food bank numbers are quite interesting. There’s a
surge, and I’d like to know where that surge is coming from and what demographic
is there at the food banks. We know that food banks get their food from ordinary
Canadians, but they also get a lot of money from ordinary Canadians.
Where are they
getting their food from? The crucial question here is: Are suppliers lowering
costs for food banks so that they can actually buy the same can of soup but for
a cheaper price than they are getting now from their suppliers? People have to
Do we know who would like to go first to answer those questions?
Munson: The question was to Statistics Canada.
Ms. Bégin: Karen, do you want to answer the question
on the collective dwellings?
Mihorean, Director General, Census Subject Matter, Social Insights, Integration
and Innovation, Statistics Canada: Ron might be better placed to talk about
those sorts of facilities, but on the food security issue, when you talk about
Canadians who are going to these food banks, part of the question I
can answer is in our most recent web panel. As Josée said, this is
probabilistic, so we can make generalizations to the population. We obtained
these respondents from our Labour Force Survey so we have characteristics on
The one that we
just finished collecting and on which we are currently processing the data is
looking at food security. We’re asking specific questions, such as if they’ve
had to go to a food bank or a community-type support service to get food, if
they’ve run out of money to buy food or haven’t been able to put nutritious food
on the table. We’re going to have data on those sorts of questions out in the
next week or so, and we’ll be happy to share those with the committee once those
data come out.
Ron, I think
you’re best placed to answer the question of disabilities and those sorts
Director, Centre for Population Health Data, Statistics Canada: Yes. Thank
you. It is a very valid point that there is limited information as we speak. We
have started conversations with some departments in order to address that need.
It would be done in two different ways.
The first one, as
you know, this is a small population, so there is a need to proceed with a
collection strategy that is able to target those individuals to be able to
provide the answer.
Then there is a
set of questions that will need to be elaborated on that front. It’s not under
my responsibility, which is the Centre for Population Health Data, but there are
some components of health that would be addressed in that initiative.
Munson: Thank you very much.
Seidman: Thank you all for being with us at this historic virtual meeting. I
have two questions, and they’re probably both for Statistics Canada.
You said in your
presentation that you partner with the Public Health Agency of Canada and that
you have partnered with them in order to collect data on COVID-19 cases. This
question would probably go to Ron Gravel because it’s specifically around
population health data.
Can you explain
the nature of your partnership with PHAC? Who is responsible for collecting the
data, deciding on the type of data and defining the terms? Who communicates with
the provinces? Is it PHAC or Statistics Canada?
Mr. Gravel: Thank you. Karen, perhaps you can answer
the first part in the context of crowdsourcing, and then I can discuss an
initiative specifically that we have with the centre there.
Ms. Mihorean: Sure. Early on when COVID-19 struck, we very
quickly were in touch with our colleagues at PHAC and Health Canada to see what
their information needs were with respect to COVID-19. They reached out to us,
and we worked jointly with them to come up with questions around the impacts on
not just health but on behaviours. They were very interested at that time, for
example, to know just how much Canadians were following restrictions that were
being put in place and how Canadians were changing their behaviours. Those
questions were developed jointly with our colleagues at PHAC and Health Canada.
Another area, of
course, that they were very interested in was where Canadians were getting their
information sources from. As Josée presented, we wanted to know if it was
actually from health officials, from the provincial or federal governments or
via social media. Again, it was very important for them to know the answers
to those sorts of questions.
We continue to
work with them on developing questions. We keep identifying as we move forward
in our crowdsourcing effort. Every two weeks we are launching new questions, so
they are a key part of those consultations.
Mr. Gravel: There is also an initiative taking place with
regard to mental health in multiple forums. There is an interdepartmental
committee focusing on mental health, which is under the responsibility of a
joint secretariat between PHAC and Health Canada. Statistics Canada is a member
of that group.
interesting about that one is it targets various aspects, whether it’s workers,
vulnerable populations and so on. The idea is to elaborate a strategy to address
the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, but also the impact of the financial
burden and the economic consequences of the strategies that have been put in
place in the context of COVID-19. That is one that is taking place.
that, the Public Health Agency of Canada, or PHAC, is an initiative where PHAC
is responsible for gathering or compiling information coming from each of the
provinces and territories. We refer to that as the detailed case level
information. You may have visited the website of PHAC where there is a report on
the number of positive cases and deaths and so on. Out of that, data are being
fed to PHAC to produce some of this information. We are making the PHAC data set
available to researchers. We are continuing to work with them to expand that
data set to make variables that are relevant to the research community and the
data users there.
Seidman: That’s helpful. Actually, I do have a question about your
crowdsourcing. Even though it’s tempting to pursue what you’re doing with PHAC
specifically around your data, I’d like to ask you about your crowdsourcing
because I know PHAC is also talking about using crowdsourcing, as are you. Have
you done any work on contact-tracing apps and their acceptability among
Ms. Mihorean: Thank you for that question. The
short answer to your question is we haven’t yet. With COVID-19, our biggest
challenge is that, every day, our landscape is changing with respect to the
pandemic. As provinces are lifting restrictions, people’s behaviours are
changing and people’s concerns are changing. As I said, we work closely with
PHAC but we have many other partners as well. For example, Children First is an
organization that is very keen on knowing how children are coping during this
pandemic. We literally keep an Excel spreadsheet listing different topics that
people are interested in. We have to make decisions on priorities in trying to
stay ahead of the important information needs.
One thing to
which we absolutely need to turn our attention, and are doing so now, is
recovery. How will Canadians react as we come out of this? How will Canadians
feel about these devices, as you’re suggesting? These are things that we are
going to be looking at and considering in our crowdsourcing. Thank you for that
Seidman: Thank you very much.
Senator Moodie, I had you on the list, but I don’t see your hand any more. I
want to make sure it’s not a technology glitch. Did you have a question?
Moodie: I did. I’m not sure why it disappeared.
It’s all good. Go ahead.
Moodie: Welcome to our committee meeting and thank you for appearing today.
I have two questions, and they’re both to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, or
AAFC. The first is related to food insecurity and the redistribution of excess
We have all been
told in recent days about the dumping of excess milk that could not have been
used. We are all aware of the many individuals who live in poverty, a situation
that has been worsened by COVID-19. What is being done to divert excess milk to
people in need? What are the specific measures being taken, besides the
legislation that we know has been raised and brought forth by the government for
storing cheese and by-products for later use?
question is about foreign workers who have been brought to Canada and deemed
essential workers for the food supply chain and the Canadian agriculture
Of these 11,000
who came in April, how many workers have become sick? What is the status of
their disease burden? What supports do they have? Are they having full access to
medical care and critical care if needed?
Ms. St. Croix: Thank you. On the first question
related to surplus food, in terms of how that’s being used, there is the Surplus
Food Purchase Program, which was just announced, of $50 million. That will
provide new funding to support food security needs and help manage surplus
commodities. We are aware of potatoes, poultry and some dairy products that
could be captured in that piece.
Work will be
carried out with national food recovery agencies for the repurposing and
redistribution of existing and identified surplus food that respects the needs
of vulnerable populations. That work is under way, and that funding will be
In terms of dairy
itself, as you mentioned, legislation is under way to increase the borrowing
capacity of the Canadian Dairy Commission. Between the last week of
March and mid-April, as you mentioned, there were slightly less than 30
million litres of raw milk discarded. While surpluses remain, since mid-April,
raw milk is no longer being discarded.
That is a result
of actions that are above and beyond programming. That’s a result of reduced
production, a slight increase in consumer demand, additional donations to food
banks and the purchasing power of the CDC in terms of butter and cheese under
its existing borrowing authorities. There are multiple ways where those sorts of
surpluses are being addressed.
To your second
set of questions around how many workers have become sick upon entry into
Canada, I don’t have that data. Perhaps Nathalie, my colleague from AAFC, may
have more information about that but, to my knowledge, the quarantines and the
14-day isolation period are being followed. I’m not sure if we have captured the
data on the number of sick individuals or not.
Durand, Executive Director, Sector Development and Analysis Directorate, Market
and Industry Services Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Thanks,
Carla. Maybe I can add, if possible, Madam Chair, to what Carla was just
Ms. Durand: I just wanted to flag that, with respect to
foreign workers being sick, we are not aware of situations of significant
numbers of foreign workers being sick.
situations. We have a greenhouse in Ontario where there has been an outbreak of
COVID. Some temporary foreign workers were part of that and the facility there
took all appropriate measures to ensure the health of workers is considered and
If you were
looking for additional data on foreign workers and health, that would probably
be better addressed by other government departments. Maybe Health Canada or
Statistics Canada would have information related to that, but we at AAFC are not
tracking that information per se.
Do we have that kind of information from Statistics Canada?
Mr. Gravel: No. At the moment, we do not have that
specific information. That information would probably be collected by the
provinces and the territories. Yes, that’s where the main source would be on
Moodie: Are those workers fully protected by access to full medical care?
That was the other part of the question.
Mr. Gravel: From a Statistics Canada perspective, we would
not be able to provide an answer to that particular question.
Ms. Durand: Same for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, but
we can certainly follow up on your question and get back to you.
That would be appreciated if you can send us that information.
Omidvar: Thank you, witnesses, for being here and for all that you do. I
have three questions addressed to each one of our witnesses. Equal opportunity
My first question
is for Agriculture Canada, and it is again about temporary foreign workers. Can
you share with us the number of agricultural workers who are temporary foreign
workers in Canada versus the number that is put forward by Canadian farmers, and
help us understand the supply and demand? You have said 11,000 workers, but what
is the real demand? I need to understand the gap between that.
My question for
Statistics Canada relates to the comments made at the end by the witness around
the need for granular, disaggregated information that allows us to understand in
greater depth the impact of the crisis on different demographics.
interested in the intersectionality of race and gender, race and youth, and race
and unemployment. I know that Manitoba is collecting data. I know the city where
I live isn’t collecting race-based data. When and how will Statistics Canada be
able to present a fuller picture of the impact of the crisis, based on racial
My final question
is for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Are you able to confirm these
figures that have been provided to us by the union representing food inspectors?
Apparently, 40 food inspectors have tested positive for the virus and 18 of them
are in Alberta. I think this is of grave concern to us. We won’t get the virus
from eating hamburger or steak, but we need to make sure that the people working
to protect our food supply are safe and that the product is safe. Can you
comment on that? Thank you.
Ms. St. Croix: Perhaps I’ll begin and address the
question around temporary foreign workers.
Each year, the
agriculture and food processing sectors receive between 50,000 and 60,000
foreign workers. That is a pre-COVID-19 scenario. Typically, above and beyond
that, an additional 15,000 jobs remain vacant.
Labour was a
challenge previous to the pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated that challenge, but
certainly we are seeing good numbers of temporary foreign workers coming into
the country. As I said, there were 11,200 in April alone, and another 1,900
or so have come into Canada in May. We are tracking to have good numbers and be
We’re closing the
gap, I would say. Things change daily. Flights are being booked on an ongoing
basis bringing more temporary foreign workers into the country. This is just to
acknowledge that there was a challenge pre-pandemic, but the numbers are getting
better now in terms of being able to bring workers into the country. Hopefully
that addresses your question.
Omidvar: May I suggest that the numbers are actually worrisome. There
is a huge gap between 11,000, plus 1,900 that have come in May, and the 50,000
or 60,000. This is an issue of timeliness because the strawberries and peaches
won’t wait forever to be picked. I want to underline the issue of timeliness and
meeting the demand that has been put forward by Canadian farmers. Thank you.
Ms. St. Croix: Absolutely.
Ms. Mihorean: I will start by answering the second
question for Statistics Canada, and then my colleague Ms. Bégin can speak
to it specifically from the Labour Force Survey perspective.
Early on in the
pandemic, after we had launched our first web panel on March 29 and our
crowdsource on April 3, we heard that we needed disaggregated data. For the
second wave of the web panel, as well as the crowdsource, we added questions
that are key indicators to look at disaggregating the data. That included
immigrant status, population groups — visible minority and the ability to
look at blacks, et cetera — and Indigenous, including First Nations,
Metis and Inuit. Those questions have been added to both the web panel and the
In the first
crowdsource we did, as I said, we didn’t have those variables, but we did
collect postal codes. Out of the 240,000 Canadians who participated, the vast
majority gave us their postal code.
looking, with our methodologist, to overlay those data on to maps so we can look
at smaller communities where there are high immigrant populations or visible
minorities. We’re seeing what we can do there to be able to disaggregate the
particularly anxious to see the results of the second wave of the crowdsource
that we launched, which was looking at mental health. For that crowdsource, we
had about 46,000 respondents. It was in the field for a much shorter time. We’re
trying to turn these over about every two weeks. Still, 46,000 should yield good
results, at least at the national and regional levels. Those indicators are
there. Again, we’re processing those data now. We’ll be releasing them in the
next week or so, and we’re hoping we will be able to look at the different
immigrant population groups as well as Indigenous. I’ll have to promise these
results to the committee once we get them.
Ms. Bégin: Maybe I can add to that the need for more local
and granular data in terms of the Labour Force Survey. If you’re thinking of
employment and unemployment, it is a need that is critical to our users.
In the last year
we have been working with our partners in the provinces and territories to see
if we could be using other administrative sources of information and statistical
techniques to be able to estimate those indicators at a more local level. Right
now, we are producing our indicators at the level for 76 regions. Those are the
Employment Insurance regions.
For the Labour
Force Survey, we do not collect information on visible minorities. We do have
information on immigration status and we do collect information for Aboriginals
regarding the visible minority status, we have a project in progress to obtain
information from other sources and integrate that into the Labour Force Survey.
In the future we will be able to report on that.
Recently we have
engaged with the City of Vancouver, who approached us about the need to have
information from the Labour Force Survey for the City of Vancouver; again, more
local data at a more detailed level than what we currently produce. We have been
working on that, as well as looking at the 2022 census metropolitan areas, or
CMAs, for the rest of the country. Thank you.
Omidvar: Chair, I fear my time has expired.
It has, yes.
Omidvar: If you would agree to table the question and come back to the last
question in the second round, I would be more than happy to do that. I don’t
want to be selfish.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. We will take note of that for sure.
Thank you to everybody who is here today and telling us about these
My main question
is about the big picture. Canadians as a whole have gone through so much in this
crisis and I would just like to put a number on it, if I could, being a numbers
person. I’m interested in the extent to which Canadians have suffered economic
hardship from the crisis. I will define that in terms of people who are
unemployed because of it. They may be unemployed and looking for a job; they may
be unemployed and not looking for a job — for example, not in the technical
labour force anymore; and they may also be people who have lost income as a
result of the crisis so that their income has gone down. Perhaps they have
reduced their employment hours, so they too have suffered from the crisis. I’m
not asking about people whose pension investments may have gone down. That’s
something different, but I’m mainly focusing on the labour force data.
I would like to
get a sense of how many people we are talking about. What percentage of
Canadians are we talking about?
Second, it was
noted earlier that you are interested in the recovery now. For people who have
lost their jobs or lost income, do we know anything about whether they think
they are going to go back to their jobs? For example, have we asked them the
question, “Do you expect to go back?” That kind of information would help
understand the recovery prospects, at least to some extent.
I’ll start with
those questions, again, on the big picture, so there should be all kinds of data
that answers that. Thank you very much.
Ms. Bégin: Thank you for the question. In the presentation,
there is an infographic and two tables showing highlights, and I think some of
those highlights would give you the picture that you’re looking for. Maybe I can
go through some statistics in terms of the number of Canadians that have been
impacted, if we’re just looking at their employment.
If we look at
February 2020, we know that the number of Canadians with a job or a
business was 19.2 million. By April, employment declined by nearly 2 million,
for a total, since February, of 3 million Canadians.
Also if we look
at the Canadians who were employed but absent from their work, this number is
usually very stable when we look from month to month. However, we know that the
number of Canadians who were employed but worked less than half of their usual
hours for reasons related to COVID-19 increased by 2.5 million between
February and April, and 4 in 10 of these workers fear they might lose their
job. More than one quarter of them live in a household that had difficulty
meeting financial obligations.
I would like to
come back to your question regarding asking them about whether they are
expecting to go back to work. When we go through the Labour Force Survey
interview and somebody tells us that they are away from work or they have lost
their job, we ask them if it’s temporary or not. We also ask them questions in
terms of whether they expect to be called back to their job. We do collect that
information, and with the Labour Force Survey, we have the flexibility to add
some questions every month to capture, in this case and this month, more
information in relation to the COVID-19.
So we have added
questions around if they had applied for EI or CERB benefits and if they were
worried about being able to meet their financial obligations. I’m missing a
couple of questions, but we have added about five questions to help answer
those. I could provide additional tables of information with that.
Thank you. If I could get back to the first part, can you tell me what
percentage of Canadians we’re talking about? You gave some actual numbers, but
what percentage of Canadians would have suffered some sort of employment
loss — either the loss of a job or loss of employment hours or income?
Ms. Bégin: I don’t have that number in front of me, but I
would be happy to share that after the meeting.
Okay. So we don’t know whether it’s 20% or 40%?
Ms. Bégin: We do have the information. I don’t have it in
front of me. I would be able to provide tables with detailed information on that
It’s just that big picture, what percentage has somehow been impacted.
In terms of
social distancing — I know you have done some research on it — are
there any types of social distancing that people are reluctant to participate
in? Or have Canadians across the board taken to it and seem to be doing it very
willingly? Is there anything that Canadians have been less willing to do, from
Ms. Mihorean: Thank you for that question, Senator Dasko.
By and large, when we started out asking these questions, the vast
majority — and we saw other polls showing the same sort of thing — of
Canadians were very willing to participate in various restriction measures that
were being put in place, with social distancing and washing hands being among
the most frequent. Anecdotally, we have heard that while people may say they
practise social distancing, people will say they don’t always see that happening
in their community. But that is something we are tracking. So again, with this
next crowdsource, it will be particularly interesting to see the extent to which
Canadian continue to adhere to the restrictions. We have heard comments that as
nice weather starts and people want to get out to visit family and friends it
might be increasingly difficult, but as we move to the recovery, this is where
we really need to start monitoring these sorts of things.
To pick up on
what the senator said earlier, when we look at the economic recovery and as
provinces lift restrictions and open stores, the important thing that we’ll need
to know and measure is the extent to which Canadians will have confidence in
partaking in these activities. It’s fine to open up things, but if Canadians’
spending behaviours or patterns change, we need to know that to put that into
the various statistical models to see what the medium-term impact will be on the
economy. Those are things that, through some of our new tools, we want to start
tracking as well as we move into recovery.
That’s great. Thank you.
I want to ask Statistics Canada a question, because I keep wanting to know
how you choose what data to collect, the criteria and when to collect it. I’m
thinking about all the different issues, and what you choose to collect data on
has an impact on so many things. If we decide to collect data on child distress
during this pandemic, it may provoke funding or some things that will have an
impact. I’m curious to know how this process is being done and how we come to
choose one and not the other when we collect data on something.
Ms. Mihorean: It is a challenge. Statistics Canada does not
collect this information for us, but for our users, for stakeholders and for
Canadians in general. During this very important time, it’s to measure the
things for policy-makers to have that information to make decisions.
Certainly we have
our federal stakeholders, but we also have our provincial, municipal and
non-government people who are very interested in understanding how this pandemic
is affecting Canadians from the social, economic and health sides. As I said
before, we are listening to what people are asking for, and really it’s to see
where we’re at with the pandemic right now.
As I mentioned,
yes, we need to understand what’s going on with children in the pandemic, and
especially now with schools opening, that’s becoming more important. Very early
on, when we launched our first crowdsource, there were all kinds of discussions
around every university and college going online. What will this do to
post-secondary students? We launched a crowdsource where we had over 100,000
students respond to that because we really needed to understand not just how
they were coping at the moment, but also, heading into a fall semester, how
worried they were about summer employment. Would they be able to go back to
not answering your question specifically, but it’s consulting and working
with our stakeholders to do our best to see what the real pressing emergency
is — the thing that we need to ask now that can help make those really
We are trying to
turn things around very quickly. As I said, at first we were only going to
launch a crowdsource every month or something, but because this thing is moving
so quickly, we’ve now stepped up to every two weeks. Thankfully, we had already
had our web panel tool planned so we were able to react very quickly because
right now it’s all about timeliness of data. Our main goal is to get the
information as quickly as possible. We can’t answer all questions, but
hopefully we’re answering the big, important ones.
Thank you for this.
Kutcher: Thank you all for being here. This is a little bit complicated, so
pardon me while I go through it a bit. My question is for StatCan and it’s about
mental health, an area I know a little bit about.
Getting data on
mental health status, using either self-reported opinion about status or the use
of generic terms such as “anxiety,” which can mean anything from fear to “I’m
upset,” doesn’t help us understand which of the negative emotions people are
reporting are actually a sign of good mental health and adaptive to the
situation, and which might be pathological or problematic.
For example, your
report of April 24 on self-perceived mental health status gives the
impression that the mental health status of Canadians is going in a negative
direction when what we may actually be seeing is a positive and appropriate
response to stressors. That’s a sign of good mental health, not bad mental
which use the term “anxiety,” don’t help us differentiate between normative and
positive responses and actual pathological responses. This is problematic
because it doesn’t let us fine-tune the question that Senator Omidvar raised. If
we can’t tell which are normative responses and which are pathological, we don’t
know which groups suffer more and what interventions we need to make.
Can StatCan use a
more fine-gained analytical tool to help us differentiate good, normative and
positive mental health responses, using negative emotions, from those which are
Mr. Gravel: It’s a very good question. Thank you. Neither
the web panel nor the crowdsourcing are making the distinction as you are
actually articulating. The program at StatCan actually has this opportunity to
be able to make the distinction between the mental health well-being of
individuals and the disorder or the pathological side through the use of forms
or questionnaires that are actually calibrated to measure disorders. This is a
population health survey, so it’s not a clinical diagnosis, but we are able to
produce profiles that are consistent with the experience of symptoms that are
associated with disorders.
panel that Karen Mihorean was referring to, which will be published in the
coming weeks, does in fact use one of those short forms. It’s called the GAD, or
general anxiety disorder, and it does make the distinction between anxiety in
general terms versus the pathological aspect. That’s something that will be
released as part of the outcome web panel.
On an ongoing
basis, we are exploring the use of some of those short-form instruments in
different modules or surveys. This would be pertaining to mood disorders and
anxiety disorders, and alcohol and substance use and abuse.
Kutcher: Would it be possible for us to chat off-line a little more? One of
my concerns about those tools, which I know, is they were normed at times when
this was not happening, so they were never developed to be able to assess
normative responses to major stressful situations. That’s a huge problem in the
Mr. Gravel: I would love the opportunity to have that chat.
Forest-Niesing: I’ll certainly honour my commitment to Senator Griffin. I’ll
ask only one question and give the rest of my time to her.
concerns the measures implemented to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the
importance of ensuring that the people who have the greatest needs receive the
benefits promoted. More specifically, and I believe that Ms. Mihorean can
respond, my question concerns the data used to count the Indigenous population.
I heard you say earlier, in response to another question, that we can locate and
subdivide this information by using the postal code. I’m especially interested
in knowing whether you take into account members of the Indigenous population
who live in urban centres. Are you taking into account the Métis and Inuit
populations? In particular, could the method for counting the data result in a
segment of the population not benefiting from any emergency measures despite
having tremendous needs?
Ms. Mihorean: I hope I got all the questions. As I said,
for the current crowdsource and the one that has just come out of the field for
which we’re processing the data now, we did add the indicator on Indigenous, and
it is distinction-based, where we’re asking if they’re First Nations, Metis or
Inuit. At this point, I can’t tell you how many people will have responded who
will identify with either of those groups. We do have about 46,000 Canadians who
did respond from across Canada. I can tell you that from a provincial point of
view, we have good coverage. We do have some coverage in the territories as
well; it’s not that great in Nunavut, but in the other two territories it’s not
We will be able
to tell by postal code if people who have identified themselves as Indigenous
are in a more urban area as opposed to a rural area. We have the data and we
need to see just how good those data are to see what we can do with the
analysis. I’m hoping we can, and then I would certainly be happy to share it
with the committee.
Forest-Niesing: Thank you.
Griffin: If that’s the last question, I can ask another quick one. We’re
Griffin: On May 5, the Prime Minister had announced the investment of
$252 million in the agricultural sector, and he did say it was just a beginning
because, of course, the Federation of Agriculture had identified the need for
$2.6 billion for the industry. This is a question for Agriculture and Agri-Food
Canada: Which agricultural stakeholders were consulted for the aid package and
how were they consulted?
Ms. St. Croix: We have regularly been meeting daily
for some time since mid-March with industry stakeholders — between 400
and 500 participants on some occasions — so the dialogue has been ongoing
and steady throughout the pandemic. In terms of the CFA request, it was for
around $2.6 million in federal farm aid, and as you noted, the $252 million that
was announced is part of the support that the sector acquires. As you will have
noted, federal, provincial and territorial governments invest close to $1.6
billion annually, on average, in business risk-management programs to help
producers remain viable under difficult circumstances, such as the one we’re in
The government is
unlocking additional support from its comprehensive suite of business
risk-management programs, such as that additional $125 million that was part of
the $252 million I related to the national AgriRecovery framework. Agriculture
and Agri-Food Canada remains attentive to stakeholders and continues to have an
ongoing dialogue with stakeholders on various challenges they are facing during
Griffin: Thank you.
Ms. Durand: In terms of the consultations we’ve had with
stakeholders, in addition to the calls that Carla was mentioning, we have
regular sector-specific calls to understand the situation with each one of those
sectors, whether it’s the meat industry or the horticulture industry. I’m in
charge of the horticulture sector and we have daily calls to look at their
situation. The dialogue we’ve been having with them is really going into more
details than what their particular situations are and seeing whether the support
that we have in place is meeting the needs of the sector and identifying any
gaps. That’s part of our daily work.
Thank you to the committee, Madam Chair, and to the committee members for
allowing us in. My question is for Ms. Bégin, as someone who is working on
social and economic well-being.
long-established links that we know exist between health and poverty or health
and income, and that public health officials for some time have been calling for
a guaranteed basic income — we’ve seen that call during this pandemic, and
this is something that a number of senators are also interested in — is
there work being done in your department or in other parts of the government
with whom you’re consulting to develop options for consideration of basic
income, either as the next iteration of CERB or a way to look at addressing
issues like we’re facing during this pandemic going forward in the future?
Ms. Bégin: Thank you for the question. What I can say is
our role really is to support and provide information to our colleagues who are
the policy-makers. In terms of developing an income-support measure, we are not
involved in those discussions. However, in terms of well-being, we have been
working closely with colleagues from other departments, including Finance, to
see what indicators we need to have in order to better measure the well-being of
Canadians in one area.
In terms of the research that you are doing and some of the questions other
colleagues have asked, have you been asking this sort of question about the
impact of income insecurity and what kinds of measures the Canadian public would
like to see going forward as part of your surveys?
Ms. Mihorean: In the crowdsourcing and the web panel, we
haven’t asked those opinion-type questions, so we haven’t included those in our
survey. All we do at this point is ask about their financial stress. Are they
not able to pay for things because of job loss? How worried are they about
financial stress? We are asking those types of questions in both the web panel
and the crowdsource.
Is it revealing any gaps in terms of who is getting income or is that not
part of the assessment?
Ms. Mihorean: We haven’t looked at it from that angle yet.
The challenge with the crowdsource is it’s Canadians who respond, and it’s
whoever wants to respond. We push the links out, we publicize them through
social media and we try to reach out through organizations to publicize that
we’re doing the crowdsourcing. We have age and gender that we do collect and, as
I said, postal code. Right now, we know that women are more worried and have
more financial stress, for example, so we try and do that type of analysis. But
to see what types of measures or supports they would need, we haven’t asked
those sorts of questions.
Thank you very much.
Lankin: My question follows on that, with just one quick comment to StatCan.
The kind of information we are anecdotally hearing about Canadians who have
applied and not been able to access the support programs is important, and, of
course, it helps inform government policy-makers who have added additional
patches to the income supports that are there — and I say that in a
positive way. It would be helpful if that kind of information was being sought
through sources of StatCan, even if it is what people are hearing from others in
their social networks about people who have applied and can’t access benefits
that they require.
builds on that. It’s about the machinery of government. It’s about the
interaction between departments and inter-agency communication and how that
with respect to the agricultural industry and the kinds of increases we are
seeing in prices of food, whether it’s temporary and whether it’s related to
meat or poultry processing plants shutting down or supply and demand pressures
on costs or whether it is, as Senator Griffin was talking about, potential
disruption of supply chains in trucking and delivery, that might put costs up.
We see that starting to happen.
how real-time we are in terms of measuring changes in those sorts of
things — food costs — and how that is affecting, influencing or being
fed to the right departments, like ESDC and Finance, around the support
I think it was
just yesterday that the Prime Minister announced support for seniors on OAS or
GIS of $300. A number of people asked, “Why would seniors need that?” It’s going
to low-income seniors, first of all. We’ve seen increasing costs like monthly
prescription fees instead of every three months. We see that seniors may not
take public transit anymore to get their groceries, so there are delivery costs.
There are a range of other sorts of additional costs like that. At some point in
time, if food prices go up, it may be that $300 is not sufficient.
Let me use CERB
as an example and say that —
Senator, we will need a question.
Lankin: If there is an example where there is pressure on food costs in
particular food types, how quickly does that get gathered, measured and
communicated to the policy developers who may have to look at whether, in the
next iteration of CERB, the amount is sufficient or whether there needs to be an
adjustment in that amount?
machinery of government: what data, how quickly and how is it communicated? Are
you seeing government being able to respond to that kind of data and information
in a way that’s going to get supports to Canadians who are in dire straits?
Do we have someone to take that question?
Ms. Mihorean: Josée, did you want to start by just talking
about survey household spending or the market basket measure, and then I can
jump in on some of the stuff we have done?
Ms. Bégin: Yes. Thank you for the question. You were
referring, senator, to food costs. Every month we measure the Consumer Price
Index, and there’s a food basket component to that. I believe that my colleagues
from the economic statistics sector have published that information very
recently. That’s gathered on a monthly basis. We also collect additional
information in terms of the spending patterns of Canadians. That information is
collected on an annual basis.
We also collect
the market basket measure with our Canadian Income Survey so that we can develop
the official poverty lines in Canada. That information was published recently,
Ms. Mihorean: On our web panel, where we will be able to
generalize to the population our findings — because it is a probabilistic
sample — we have our food insecurity question. So there we’re specifically
asking if they did not have enough money to put nutritious food on the table,
et cetera. We’ll be able to get a real sense of how much Canadians are
struggling with purchasing food or having to use food banks and other
At one point,
senator, you mentioned something about the various support measures that the
government has put in place. There is a really interesting piece that we can do
with the crowdsourcing, for example. We started the post-secondary student
crowdsourcing before the government had announced the student aid. When you look
at the responses of the week before on how worried students were about their
financial security and whether they were going to run through all their savings
or be able to go back to school, once the government announced the student aid,
you noticed a shift. Although students were still worried, it wasn’t as great,
so we could see in the timing of the introduction of that measure that students
were feeling somewhat better or a little less worried.
As we move
through with crowdsources and as some of these measures are announced, we can
look at periods of how behaviours and feelings of Canadians have shifted.
Thank you very much. We do have some time for a second round of brief
questions. Senator Omidvar, I think you had a question that was not
fully answered in the first round.
Omidvar: Thank you, chair. That’s very generous of you. My question has been
asked. It was around a report from the union representing the food inspectors at
CFIA that 40 have been infected by the virus, 18 of them in Alberta.
Can you confirm
these numbers? And what assurance can you give us that the people who are
inspecting the food supply are safe so that the food supply itself is safe?
Ms. Iuliano: Thank you very much for your question,
senator. I’ll start with the second half of it.
In terms of
assurances, all establishments that produce food are required to have and
implement COVID-19 response plans. These plans include cleaning and sanitizing
protocols, social distancing measures, and barriers and face masks where social
distancing is more difficult.
Our CFIA staff
equally follow these measures. We have provided guidance and instructions to our
staff relating to prevention and wellness. They’re instructed to self-monitor
their own condition on a daily basis before reporting to work. At the same time,
we’ve also provided specific guidance and instructions that we’ve posted online
to each slaughter and processing establishment across the country about the
protocols they have to put in place when suspected and confirmed cases of the
virus are reported among the plant’s employees.
positive cases of illness, and as of May 11, we’re reporting 38 positive
cases in CFIA employees. I note that we have about 6,000 employees across the
Omidvar: Thank you.
Poirier: I have another line of questions for Statistics Canada.
We all know that
a unique aspect of COVID-19 for Canadians has been a loss of work hours, and
many Canadians who have worked in many different jobs are still considered
employed but their hours have decreased.
How difficult is
it for you to produce an accurate labour survey with CERB instead of EI where we
have Canadians still employed but who have lost many hours of work? And on hours
worked, could you share with us the impact of the lost hours for Canadian
families in the economy since mid-March and if this trend continues?
learned this week that the government will not pursue false CERB and EI claims
during the pandemic. How important is that for the accuracy of your data to have
these false claims dealt with in a timely manner?
Ms. Bégin: Thank you for the question. In the Labour Force
Survey for April we asked our respondents whether they had applied to the
EI/CERB benefit. I would be able to provide additional information for you in
terms of tables on that.
The purpose of
those questions was not to measure the number of applicants to these benefits
but to understand the dynamics of families: who is applying, what kinds of jobs
they had, what age groups they were in, and men versus women. We have that
information, and I could share that with the committee. I could also provide
additional information in the form of tables for the number of hours worked and
in which industries we find those.
Poirier: Thank you.
Please connect with our clerk to make sure that we get those documents. That
would be appreciated.
Munson: There has been so much information today. I’m still trying to figure
out the lead. It’s fascinating.
On May 5,
the government announced its intention to work with Parliament to increase the
Canadian Dairy Commission’s borrowing limit by $200 million to support costs
associated with the temporary storage of cheese and butter to avoid food waste.
I have three
quick questions. What quantity of milk and milk products are at risk of being
dumped? How much more butter and milk can be stored with the additional
borrowing limit of $200 million? And how will the government ensure adequate
processing capacity to process milk into cheese and butter when processing
plants may have lower production capacity as a result of physical distancing and
disinfection protocols? We heard that worry about dumping.
Ms. St. Croix: Thank you for your question. In terms
of milk discarded across Canada, between the last week of March and
mid-April roughly less than 30 million litres of raw milk has been
discarded. While surpluses do remain, since mid-April raw milk is no longer
being discarded. This is the result of reduced production, a slight increase in
consumer demand, additional donations to food banks and the CDC’s purchases of
butter and cheese.
borrowing capacity of $200 million would significantly increase the ability of
the Canadian Dairy Commission to purchase butter and cheese to alleviate
dumping. For example, for every $10 million of borrowing capacity, the CDC will
be able to purchase 1,200 tonnes of cheese equalling approximately a reduction
of 7.7 million litres of surplus milk. The CDC’s cheese program was launched on
April 17 and will cease once the issue of surplus raw milk is resolved.
Munson: I know it’s difficult for you to answer the question, but do
you think the government is going to have to spend more money?
Ms. St. Croix: I think you kind of nailed it on the
head. It’s difficult for me to answer that question.
Munson: Thank you very much.
Forest-Niesing: My question concerns the impact of the pandemic on the food
chain in Canada. Have the agriculture and food authorities in the Canadian
government learned any lessons from the impact of the pandemic? If so, what
lessons? If not, is there a plan to conduct a post-mortem analysis to possibly
aim for greater self-sufficiency?
Ms. Durand: Thank you for the question. As a result of the
pandemic, we’ve identified vulnerabilities in the food chain. Earlier, we
discussed the workforce issue. Some industries, such as horticulture, depend on
labour, and we’re taking note of this. We’ve also started to think about the
post-COVID-19 period and about what we must do to support our industry over the
longer term, by ensuring the food supply and improving that capacity. We’re
considering measures that may be beneficial in this area.
There have been
some issues with the food chain, especially with respect to the workforce. I
must say that the transportation, import and export components constitute one of
the food chain’s strengths. At this time, there’s no interruption, which is good
news. However, we’re continuing to closely monitor the situation.
We’ve also seen
some vulnerability in the food supply chain at the retail level. Products are
supplied on a day-to-day basis, and it’s somewhat difficult to adjust to sudden
changes in demand. Over the coming weeks and months, we must pay attention to
this aspect to determine how we can work with the industry to better adjust to
Aside from some
difficulties with certain products that can be kept for a long time, in terms of
supply at the retail level, I believe that, in general, the population has been
able to feed itself properly. We don’t anticipate any supply issues in the
coming weeks, which is good news overall.
We are just about to run out of time for the meeting, but Senator Dasko, I
see you have your hand raised. If you can make your question brief, it would be
Yes, I’ll make my question very quick.
This is a
question about the unemployment data from Statistics Canada. Tell me if I’ve
understood this correctly: In the first round of unemployment numbers, women had
experienced much more unemployment than men. In the second round from April, I
understand that has changed a bit. If you look at the unemployment numbers
overall from March through April, what would you conclude in terms of the
gender difference? Thank you.
Ms. Bégin: You are correct. While women accounted for a
disproportionate share of job losses in March, declines in April were
larger among men, resulting in a narrowing of the gender gap in cumulative
employment losses. Among the total population aged 15 and older, employment
losses from February to April totalled 1,537,000 for women and
1,468,000 for men. I also have some breakdowns by age group for men and women,
and if you are interested I could provide that after the committee meeting.
Thank you very much.
Kutcher: Thank you. This is for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. We have
learned a lot about the need for Canadians in the labour market and the
agriculture and agri-food sector. What things have we learned from this COVID-19
that we can put into place to make employment much more attractive to Canadians
in that sector?
Ms. St. Croix: Maybe I can try to answer that
very complicated question, and then see if my colleague Nathalie would like to
To me, I think
some of the initiatives that are under way right now, such as the Step up to the
plate campaign that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has launched, as well as
some of the campaigns that our provincial and territorial counterparts have
launched, are ways to get people excited about working in the agriculture
sector. It is a very exciting place to work. It certainly is a pandemic that is
going on, but I think the more people learn about the agriculture sector,
heightened awareness around it and the potential that exists is a good thing
from these sorts of campaigns.
Ms. Durand: We’ll continue to work with the industry and
with colleges, universities and others to identify where the needs are and what
other initiatives can be undertaken to help. As I was indicating earlier, in
terms of the dependency on labour, we are also looking at other adjustments
within farms and plants that can help to reduce some of our reliance on labour.
I want to thank our witnesses for taking the time to appear today to help us
start our work on this study.
It is very much
On this, is it
agreed, honourable senators, that we now move in camera to discuss future
business? All those in favour, please raise your hand in response and keep your
hand raised for 10 seconds.
What is the question, Madam Chair?
The question is: Is it agreed that we now proceed in camera to discuss
further business? All those opposed? All those who abstain? It is then agreed.
Please wait until the clerk advises that the committee is in camera. Again, many
thanks to our witnesses.