Report of the committee

Monday, June 7, 2021

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has the honour to table its

FIFTH REPORT

Your committee, which was authorized to examine the the subject matter of those elements contained in Divisions 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34, 35, and 36 of Part 4 of Bill C-30, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 19, 2021 and other measures, has, in obedience to the order of reference of Tuesday, May 4, 2021, examined the said subject-matter and now reports as follows:

Division 21: Social Security Tribunal

Division 21 of Part 4 seeks to amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act to make certain reforms to the Social Security Tribunal.

Your committee suggests that disaggregated demographic/geographic data be collected by the Government of Canada for the Social Security Tribunal, and other federal government tribunals, to allow for determination of any significant differences in the impact of implementation of all interventions on equity-seeking groups, including women, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and racialized people.

Your committee asks that the Social Security Tribunal examine the outcomes of the proposed measure to permit the presentation of new evidence at the Appeal Division, in addition to the General Division, in order to ensure that these changes uphold the goal of streamlining the processes of the Tribunal.

Division 22: Canada Labour Code (Equal Remuneration Protection)

Division 22 of Part 4 would amend the definition of “previous contractor” in the Canada Labour Code in order to extend equal remuneration protection to employees who are covered by a collective agreement and who work for employers in the air transportation industry.

Your committee recognizes that the air transportation industry, particularly regional airports, are struggling to stay afloat financially during the pandemic, as air traffic has been reduced considerably. For this reason, your committee is concerned that it might not be an appropriate time to implement this measure as it would put additional financial pressure on this vulnerable industry, this despite mitigating interventions that are already or have yet to be implemented.

Once the economic situation in the country has stabilized following the pandemic, your committee suggests that the Government of Canada amend the Canada Labour Code to extend equal remuneration protection to workers in all industries included in Part 1 of the Canada Labour Code, not just the air transportation industry.

Division 23: Canada Labour Code (Federal Minimum Wage)

Division 23 of Part 4 seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to establish a federal minimum wage of $15 per hour and, if the minimum wage of a province or territory is higher than the federal minimum wage, the employer is to pay a minimum wage that is not less than that higher minimum wage. Division 23 also states that in certain circumstances, the federal minimum wage per hour is to be adjusted upwards annually on the basis of the Consumer Price Index for Canada.

Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada establish an independent federal low-wage commission, comprised of government, the community sector, labour unions and employers, that would be tasked with researching minimum wage policy in Canada and its impact on workers, business and the economy.

Your committee observes that the proposed federal minimum wage of $15 per hour does not satisfy the recommendation of the 2019 Expert Panel on Modern Federal Labour Standards, which proposed a federal minimum wage that would be set at 60% of the median hourly wage of full-time workers in Canada or 60% of the median wage in each province.

Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada examine implementing additional measures to support lower-income Canadians, such as a raising the basic tax exemption bracket and employing strategies to reduce costs for essential goods and services.

Division 24: Canada Labour Code (Leave Related to the Death or Disappearance of a Child)

Division 24 of Part 4 aims to amend the provisions of the Canada Labour Code respecting leave related to the death or disappearance of a child in cases in which it is probable that the child died or disappeared as a result of a crime.

Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada raise awareness among federal workers of the existence of the Canadian Benefit for Parents of Young Victims of Crime, as well as the measures proposed in Division 24 that would amend the Canada Labour Code to align with this benefit.

Your committee believes that the loss or disappearance of a child is the worst ordeal for a parent regardless of whether their child was likely a party to the crime of which he or she was the victim. The measures in Division 24 propose that parents of children under the age of 14 who are likely a party to the crime now have access to leave, whereas parents of children between the ages of 14 and 25 who are likely a party to the crime do not. Since the government benefit measure targets the parents of children who have been victims of crime, rather than the children themselves, and since it would be unfair to create two categories of parents, the committee urges the government to remove this exception altogether.

Your committee is worried about the possible impact that this measure might have on legislation in Canada by raising the age of a “child” from under 18 years of age to under 25 years of age.

Division 28: National Research Council Act

Division 28 of Part 4 seeks to amend the National Research Council Act aims to provide the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) with the authority to engage in the production of “drugs” or “devices” for the purpose of protecting or improving public health.

Your committee was informed of the importance of Good Manufacturing Practices compliant vaccine manufacturing sites being regionally distributed across Canada, and that manufacturing sustainability plans be created and applied to each site to support their viability when extensive vaccine production is not required.

Your committee observes that, while the Government of Canada’s investments in production of biopharmaceuticals are a positive step, the federal government must significantly increase funding in basic science research and make further investments in supply chains to ensure their continued viability and that Canadians are the first to benefit from the health technologies that result from Canadian research.

Your committee understands that the NRC is only one piece of a comprehensive Canadian biopharmaceutical manufacturing capability strategic plan. Canada’s ability to be globally competitive and to meet its needs for pharmacotherapeutic products will depend on the development of a comprehensive robust strategy by the Government of Canada. This strategy should include investing in and enhancing the growth and development of basic sciences; and the creation of regional biopharma research and development hubs that integrate academia and industry in geographical proximity.

Your committee approves of the measures outlined in Division 28, but takes note of witness testimony pointing to the contrast between funding for basic science research today and greater funding in the past which allowed Canadian scientists to engage in basic research over decades that helped enable the rapid development of a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year.

Your committee welcomes the measures outlined in Division 28, but agrees with testimony from the witness that the Government of Canada should increase and then maintain stable and adequate funding for science and health research, including mechanisms to monitor and maintain the government’s commitment to it when complacency sets in and focus and priorities shift.

Division 29: Department of Employment and Social Development Act

Division 29 of Part 4 would amend the Department of Employment and Social Development Act to allow the Minister of Labour to collect and use individuals’ Social Insurance Numbers in order to verify their identity for the administration or enforcement of an Act, program or activity that is under the minister’s purview.

Your committee has expressed its concern to the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada that the Social Insurance Numbers be suitably protected once they are collected under the proposed measure.

Division 32: Increase to Old Age Security Pension and Payment

Division 32 of Part 4 aims to amend the Old Age Security Act, increasing the Old Age Security pension payable to individuals aged 75 years and over by 10%. It would also provide a one-time payment of $500 to pensioners who are 75 years of age or older through the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Your committee supports the increased funding, but is concerned that the amount allocated is not enough to help the most vulnerable seniors live a safe and secure life, particularly if they require long term care.

Your committee is concerned by the potential discrimination against seniors aged 65 years to 74 years as the 10% increase and one-time payment of $500 are available only to Canadians aged 75 years and older. Your committee supports a review of the needs of seniors aged 65 years to 74 years and whether the proposed measures in Division 32 should be extended to this group.

Division 33: Public Service Employment Act

Division 33 of Part 4 seeks to amend the Public Service Employment Act to, among other things, require the establishment and review of qualification standards and the use of assessment methods for appointments, including an evaluation of whether there are biases or barriers that disadvantage persons belonging to any equity-seeking groups, as defined by the Canadian Human Rights Act. It also gives permanent residents the same preference as Canadian citizens in external advertised appointment processes.

Your committee heard that non-advertised hiring processes have increased over the last four years and now represent 60% of hiring processes in the public service. Your committee is concerned that these processes increase the risk for unconscious and implicit bias playing a role in hiring decisions. Witnesses stated that using “best fit” or “personal suitability” criteria during the hiring process can unfairly exclude candidates who are Black, racialized, Indigenous or who live with disabilities even if they meet all the qualifications and have the necessary experience. Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada undertake research to better understand the impact that non-advertised hiring has on diversity and inclusion within the federal public service.

Your committee suggests that the federal public service establish targets for the representation of equity-seeking groups and that progress towards achieving these targets be measured, reported publicly, and acted on every three years.

Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada do more to effectively advance equitable hiring within the federal public service in order to ensure that all equity-seeking groups are better represented and also have the ability to advance to new positions in the federal public service.

Division 34: Early Learning and Child Care

Division 34 of Part 4 would authorize the making of payments to the provinces for early learning and child care for the fiscal year beginning on April 1, 2021.

Your committee welcomes the Government of Canada’s proposed focus, in partnership with provinces and territories, on establishing training and education standards for child care workers and early childhood educators. Your committee also appreciates the Government of Canada’s desire, in collaboration with provinces and territories, to improve recruitment and retention of workers in the child care sector by addressing low wages and providing training and education opportunities.

Your committee observes that efforts to implement the proposed National Early Learning and Child Care Plan should include early learning programs. Furthermore, your committee recognizes that child care and early learning programs will have a positive impact on the Canadian economy and on the health and well-being of Canadian children.

Your committee notes that robust longitudinal data will be required in order to determine the impact of the implementation of the proposed National Early Learning and Child Care Plan on the developing health and welfare of Canadian children from early life into adulthood. Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada examine the possibility of enhancing existing national surveys, such as Statistics Canada’s Canadian Health Survey of Children and Youth, in order to collect the high quality information required to evaluate the success of the Plan and to inform future policy in this sector.

Your committee urges the Government of Canada, in partnership with provinces and territories, to consult with regional and Indigenous stakeholders and community leaders and to incorporate local priorities when developing early learning and child care programs in northern Canada.

Division 35: Benefits and Leave

Division 35 of Part 4, among other things, seeks to amend the Canada Recovery Benefits Act to increase the maximum number of two-week periods for which a Canada recovery benefit is payable and the maximum number of weeks for which a Canada recovery caregiving benefit is payable. It also would reduce the amount of a Canada recovery benefit in certain circumstances. Finally, it seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to increase the maximum number of weeks of leave for COVID-19 caregiving responsibilities.

Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada ensure continued protection and support for all Canadians through a combination of financial and leave benefits during the pandemic.

Division 36: Benefits and Leave Related to Employment

Division 36 of Part 4 would amend the Employment Insurance Act to, among other things, facilitate access to unemployment benefits for a period of one year and extend the maximum number of weeks for which benefits may be paid because of a prescribed illness, injury or quarantine. It also seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to, among other things, extend the maximum number of weeks to which an employee is entitled for a medical leave of absence.

Your committee welcomes the ongoing reform of Employment Insurance (EI) in Canada in order to move to a system adapted to the 21st century economy. Your committee notes that this new modern economy includes people working in precarious employment, such as gig workers.

Your committee suggests that the Government of Canada, in any future efforts to reform EI, use the testimony and submissions received in parliamentary committees on this subject in order to inform the process. Your committee notes that if the federal government establishes a reform commission, the work should be completed within one year because urgent changes must be made as quickly as possible. Your committee further suggests that if a commission is necessary, temporary measures for the period of 2021-2022 be established to modernize the system.

Your committee heard that the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada is aware of concerns regarding multiple Employment Insurance Economic Regions in small geographic areas, such as the two EI Economic Regions in Prince Edward Island. Your committee is concerned about inequities between these EI Economic Regions, despite the temporary relief provided by current COVID-19 related measures, and therefore suggests that the Government of Canada explore solutions to address these inequities.

General Observations

Your committee notes that some of the public service officials who came before the committee to testify on the pre-study of Bill C-30 were unable to answer the Senators’ questions concerning data upon which they based their conclusions and questions concerning the methodology used, and hence your committee requests that this situation be corrected in anticipation of future meetings of the same nature.

Your committee wishes to highlight the critical importance of collecting high-quality disaggregated data and its usefulness in informing the development of policies and programs and evaluating their impact on all Canadians, including equity-seeking groups. Your committee wishes to emphasize that there is a gap with respect to the collection of disaggregated data by the Government of Canada. Your committee therefore suggests that the Government of Canada work towards improving its efforts to collect disaggregated data with the goal of better informing the development and evaluation of policies, programs, initiatives and tribunals.

Your committee urges the Government of Canada to respond to calls for implementing a universal basic income for all people living in Canada.

Your committee questions why the Government of Canada embedded substantive pieces of proposed legislation in a budget bill, which limits Parliament’s ability to provide consideration to legislative amendments and scrutinize decisions that have profound impacts on Canadians.

Respectfully submitted,

CHANTAL PETITCLERC

Chair