Moved second reading of Bill C-4, An Act relating to certain measures in response to COVID-19.
He said: Honourable senators, I rise today as the Senate sponsor of Bill C-4, An Act relating to certain measures in response to COVID-19. I’m hopeful that you have already exhausted all of your very good questions and I look forward to the balance of time here being as collegial as that described by the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister when she joined us today.
Fighting COVID-19 remains a national priority. Canada is still very much in a pandemic and it remains a very grave threat. This key piece of legislation, as you know, is vital to the government’s ongoing economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic and would help ensure that Canadians continue to have the supports they need to weather the storm.
Before us is a bill proposing an estimated $41 billion in measures: $24 billion in recovery benefits for Canadians and $17 billion in extended COVID relief funding.
Colleagues, behind the numbers are real people who haven’t been able to work to support themselves and their families due to COVID-19. This is why the government created the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, during a time in the pandemic when public health authorities were telling people to stay home in order to flatten the curve and keep Canadians safe.
On August 20, the government announced it would transition CERB recipients to a simplified Employment Insurance, or EI, program to provide income support to those who remain unable to work. In addition, being on EI will allow workers, while on claim, to access training and work-sharing, all of which will help connect people to the workforce and provide incentives to work.
In addition, the government is introducing a new suite of temporary recovery benefits to further support workers. Before I discuss those, I want to spend a few moments going over the government’s recent changes to EI.
The new temporary measures announced in August will help people meet eligibility requirements for EI in three ways. The first is helping people to meet eligibility requirements by setting a national unemployment rate of 13.1% for all EI economic regions. This provides a uniform requirement of 420 hours required for people to qualify for Employment Insurance. This adjustment will also provide a minimum entitlement of 26 weeks of regular benefits. In EI regions where the unemployment rate is higher than 13.1%, that region will use the higher rate.
Second, the government is providing all EI claimants with a one-time credit of insurable hours. The government is crediting 300 hours for regular benefit claimants and 480 hours for special benefits claimants. This means that Canadians can qualify for EI with as few as 120 insurable hours. Furthermore, the hours credit is available for one year and is retroactive to March 15, 2020.
Third, the government set a minimum benefit rate of $500 a week for regular EI benefits and $300 a week for extended parental benefits.
In addition, as we’ve heard from the ministers today, the government is freezing the EI premium for two years at the 2020 rate. This will ensure that employees and employers do not have to pay increased EI premiums in a time of economic uncertainty, and it will help support job creation as the economy recovers.
As outlined in the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion has the authority to make temporary changes to the EI program to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EI changes I just discussed were implemented using that authority.
However, even with these changes, some Canadians will still be ineligible for EI. In addition, some workers will need continued support if they’re sick or if they need time off to care for a loved one. That is why we’re here today debating this important legislation. The bill before us would create three new benefits: the Canada Recovery Benefit, the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. There is an urgent need for these additional supports to assist Canadians who otherwise would experience serious challenges. These new benefits are intended to ensure Canadians are supported in the next phase of the government’s response to COVID-19, and to complement the recent changes in the EI program.
First, the Canada Recovery Benefit. This will help those who stopped working due to COVID-19 or had their income reduced by at least 50%, and who are not eligible for EI. This also includes Canadians who are self-employed or working in the gig economy. The benefit will provide eligible Canadians with $500 a week for up to 26 weeks, which is consistent with the EI program.
Similar to EI, the Canada Recovery Benefit is designed to incentivize work. One facet of this incentivization includes claimants being allowed to earn employment and/or self-employment income while receiving the benefit. In addition, workers would apply after every two-week period for which they are seeking income support, and attest that they continue to meet the benefit’s requirements. This means that, similar to EI, individuals who claim the Canada Recovery Benefit would have to attest that they haven’t quit or turned down reasonable employment, and are seeking work or are prepared to return to work as soon as it is reasonable to do so.
Finally, applicants who have a net income greater than $38,000 in 2020 or 2021 under the new rising limits would be required to pay 50 cents of benefit for every dollar earned above the threshold, up to the full amount of the Canada Recovery Benefit received. The government arrived at $38,000 by adding $24,000, as the average income a self-employed individual, with a maximum CERB allowance of $14,000.
This balances the need for income support while incentivizing work and ensures we continue to target Canadians who need the support the most.
Second, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit: The new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit will prevent workers from having to choose between protecting their health and paying their bills. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit will provide $500 per week for up to two weeks to eligible workers who are unable to work at least 50% of their normal workweek because: one, they contracted COVID-19 or may have contracted COVID-19; two, they have underlying conditions, are undergoing treatments, or have contracted other sicknesses that would make them more susceptible to COVID-19; or three, they isolated themselves on the advice of their employer, a medical practitioner, a nurse practitioner, a person in authority, or a government or public health authority, for reasons related to COVID-19.
Workers may be eligible if they do not have access to sick leave through their employer or have exhausted their paid sick leave. However, workers can’t claim this benefit and receive other paid sick leave for the same benefit period. Workers would apply after the one-week period in which they are seeking income support, and attest that they continue to meet the benefit’s requirements. In addition, workers are not required to have a medical certificate to qualify for the benefit.
This new benefit would fulfill the government’s commitment as part of the Safe Restart Agreement with provinces and territories, to provide up to two weeks of sick leave to all Canadians in the context of COVID-19.
Colleagues, this benefit is vital to the safe recovery of our economy. We have to ensure that workers do not go to work if they have COVID-19 or are at a high risk of contracting the virus. Workers without access to paid sick leave should not have to choose between paying the bills and protecting their health and their loved ones.
Third, the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit. While schools, daycares, and daycare program facilities are working to safely reopen according to public health guidelines, closure can and will happen. This is where the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit would apply. It would provide $500 per week, per household, for up to 26 weeks, for an eligible worker who needs to take unpaid leave to care for a loved one due to a school, daycare or day program closure. To be clear, this benefit can be shared by members of the same household, but two people in the same household cannot claim the benefit at the same time to stack the benefit.
In order to be eligible for the benefit, the applicant would need to be unable to work for at least 50% of their normally scheduled workweek because: they must take care of a child who is under the age of 12, or family member with a disability, or a dependent who requires supervised care because they contracted or might have contracted COVID-19; their school, daycare, daycare program, or care facility is closed or operates under an alternative schedule due to COVID-19; they cannot attend the same facilities under the advice of a medical professional; or the caregiver who usually provides care is not available for reasons related to COVID-19.
Workers should not have to choose between paying the bills and caring for a family member, and this bill will allow for that support.
If passed, the eligibility requirement for all three recovery benefits would run from September 27, 2020 to September 25, 2021. In addition, all three benefits are taxable and taxes will be deductible at source.
I’d now like to move to the integrity measures in the proposed legislation. The legislation also sets out provisions to support the administration of the new benefits. Unlike the CERB, which had the integrity measures built in at the back end, the new recovery benefits will have robust upfront verification measures. Applicants will experience different upfront and downstream validation checkpoints to ensure they are only receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. In addition, the legislation before us contains penalties for violations and offences to deter fraudulent activity and to promote compliance.
Under this bill, a person commits a violation if they apply for a recovery benefit and knowingly make a representation that is false or misleading, or receive a recovery benefit knowing that they are not eligible to receive.
With regard to offences that are the most serious violations in a tier of three, a person commits an offence if they knowingly use a false identity or another person’s identity, if they counsel a person to apply for the benefit with the intent to steal all or a substantial part of that person’s benefit — as we have seen evidence of — or knowingly makes three or more representations that are false or misleading, if the total amount of the benefits that were or would have been paid is at least $5,000.
Honourable senators, the government has been clear from the beginning that no one who has made an honest mistake will be punished. In addition, the legislation is clear that if someone mistakenly believed that his or her representation was true, they would not have committed a violation or offence due to this error.
Let’s move quickly to changes to the Canada Labour Code. In order to ensure that federally regulated employees have access to a job-protected leave, the government is moving forward with amendments to the Canada Labour Code, so these employees can access the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit. These amendments also create a regulation-making power that would allow the government to suspend or modify the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access certain entitlements under part 3 of the code. The existing waiver of the requirement for employees to provide medical certificates when accessing medical leave, compassionate care leave, and leave related to critical illnesses was repealed on September 30. This regulation-making authority would allow the government to reintroduce the waiver if it is deemed necessary to reduce strain on the health care system and make it easier for employees to access the job-protected leave they need.
The government’s intent with these amendments is to assure Canadians that their jobs are protected if they need to stay home and keep themselves and other Canadians safe.
Finally and briefly, let’s look at the Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act extension. Part 3 of this extension also extends the Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act through to the end of this year.
It requires the concurrence of the Ministers of Finance and Health. The section includes 45 line item measures adding up to $17 billion. Most of the items are top ups such as regional COVID relief and recovery funding. Some items are new, such as skills and training. All the items found in the schedule of the bill in the last pages.
The act made it possible for the government to help millions of Canadians and hundreds of thousands of Canadian businesses get through this crisis through various emergency support programs. A failure to further the legislation could disrupt these payments with harmful consequences for people’s lives, families and businesses. Since March 15, almost 9 million people have received the CERB, helping millions of Canadians and their families to avoid catastrophic income loss while at the same time helping to keep our economy afloat. Today, Canada is still very much in a crisis. It is estimated that the number of Canadians who still require some income support is in the millions.
In addition, by extending the Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act, the government will be able to extend funding for important measures in its fight against COVID-19, including the purchase of personal protective equipment to help keep our essential workers safe and safely restart our economy, medical research to increase our knowledge of the virus and inform our response, and the future purchase of vaccines and other treatments.
Combined, these measures will make our economy more resilient and create a safe bridge to help Canadians span the gap between the complete lockdown of last spring and a cautious, safe reopening of the economy this fall and winter.
In conclusion, colleagues, the bill we have before us has a balanced and nuanced approach to dealing with what may be the worst health and economic crisis of our generation. The pandemic has changed many things, including the way we interact in this chamber, but it will not last forever. Canadians are resilient. We will overcome these challenging times and we’re going to do that together. By supporting this bill, all of us in this chamber can make sure we are looking out for Canadians. We have here the opportunity to work together to build a stronger, more resilient Canada. Colleagues, I encourage you all to join me in supporting the passing of Bill C-4. Thank you.
Hon. Yonah Martin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition)
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Your Honour, I have a couple of questions for Senator Dean.
Senator, you’re right. Because we had the ministers prior to the start of this debate, they did answer quite a few of our questions, but there are still some questions that remain. As critic, I thought it would be important for me to ask you some of the questions that are quite specific since you are the sponsor of this bill.
Would you explain to me clause 41 of the bill that allows the government to spend under this act until March 31, 2024, when the programs end in 2021? I found the date of March 31, 2024, not so much alarming, but it caught my attention. I was curious as to that date included in clause 41 of this bill.
Yes, it absolutely is correct. You are looking at clause 41 and the reference to “the Minister, may, until March 31, 2024.” Thank you for the question. It’s a really good one. I’ve inquired with departmental officials extensively through the course of my preparations, but I’m afraid I am unable to answer this.
I can only assume that there will be run-on costs associated with this bill that will require payment out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, but I’m afraid I can’t provide a better answer than that. I wish you had been able to ask that one to officials while they were here.
I was making my own inquiries as well, but one of the answers I received from an assistant in the leader’s office that was working with me talked about how the CRA is responsible for potentially retrieving, trying to recoup certain payments that were either erroneously sent, or there could be overpayments, there could be some fraudulent activity, that it will require some time. I don’t know if that is entirely accurate. You had requested such clarity on this, but the date alone made me pause. Why do we have 2024 in this bill?
Senator Martin, you jogged my memory. There is another clause of the bill — and I will point it out to you later on — that provides the CRA with, I believe, either 60 or 72 months in which to recoup monies that were found to be inappropriately received by recipients of programs in this bill. That’s where the congruence would be that would take it to 2024.
Right. It seems like a long time away, but with the complexity of these files, I’m curious as to the success of CRA in recouping whatever they need to. Will the activities go beyond this date or is this the end date of when certain spending would end?
Yes. I know we’re going to be getting to third reading tomorrow and the conclusion of this, so I wish that you and I both had some final definitive responses to this. I’m just going to trust that what we’re looking at are the spendings in this bill. Now you said $41 billion, but the minister had given us some numbers and Senator Carignan calculated as $51 billion. I thought the minister had given three numbers in her response to Senator Carignan and I was doing the math very quickly, and it was $51 billion, but perhaps you can clarify that amount.
The number that I have been provided by officials is the one that I provided to you in this statement, and that was the cost of these three programs together with the $17 billion that are outlined in the final pages of this bill.
I can only assume that in the context of modern families there are a range of close relationships, familial and non-familial relationships. The purpose of this, practically, is if within a household there is a caregiver or an alternative caregiver and that even if it’s a paid one, for an outsider from that family, and that caregiver is unable to continue providing that care, I might well have to take time away from work to provide the care to my child or to an adult in that house who requires care.
I think it’s within the context of a household. The intent here is that if I need help as a parent because my kid is home from school, I can access the benefit. If there’s another person in the household who normally takes care of those kids, close family or not, and they are affected by COVID and I have to take time off work, I still have access to that benefit.
That’s a plain, common sense reading of what the language is trying to get at.
On principle, absolutely, this is a bill that we need to look at very carefully, and Canadians deserve the support at this time from their government, especially the small businesses that I often rise and talk about. It’s such an important bill for them. As I said, there are still some questions for me, and I hope that the government will work very expeditiously to meet those gaps as well.
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-4, an Act relating to certain measures in response to COVID-19. Once again, as we begin this very important debate, I want to take a moment to recognize and acknowledge the strength, resilience and genuine kindness of Canadians across our nation. These past months have been very difficult for so many Canadians, families and businesses. To all of the health care and front-line workers, we thank all of them for their steadfast courage on the front lines and for continuing to keep Canadians safe.
To Canadians who are suffering with mental illness, loss of loved ones, loss of employment or businesses and who are raising families and loved ones during these times of uncertainty, I hope that what we are talking about and the care with which we are trying to do our work as parliamentarians in this chamber will give them some assurance that this too shall pass and together we will persevere as a country.
I was speaking to a veteran of the Korean War on Sunday. He’s 90 years old. He turned 90 in June of this year. He had a fall, he has recovered and is still able to manage taking a walk around his neighbourhood. He was telling me how many times people stop him on his walk to just offer help. He said it is people of all ages.
It’s just a reminder of the faith in humanity that is restored when we hear of such touching examples. And to Bill Newton, the veteran, on this National Seniors Day, I recognize him and all of the seniors who have made such sacrifices for us to be here today.
I will keep the rest of my remarks brief at second reading, as I will be speaking more about the substance of the bill at third reading. I wish to also acknowledge our colleague Senator Dean as sponsor of this bill.
Colleagues, we’ve known this legislation was coming for quite a while. At the end of July, the government announced its intent to move everyone beyond CERB and over to the EI program. They also said that for those who still won’t have access to EI, like contract workers, the government would be creating a transition benefit that is similar to EI along with a sickness and caregivers benefit. This has been in the works for quite some time.
Almost a month later, on August 20, the government announced some of the details of these programs, and we learned that they would be called the Canada Recovery Benefit, Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit.
But it was five weeks later before the first piece of enabling legislation would be presented in Parliament on September 24. The initial Bill C-2 was tabled in the House of Commons and then almost immediately after that a new version, Bill C-4, was required, again showing that this government is trying to rush through legislation and their agenda.
Debate on the bill only began on Monday in the House of Commons. Today is Thursday. The following day it cleared second reading, Committee of the Whole and the third reading all in a day. With more than three times the number of elected members in the House, I can’t help but wonder what potentially was overlooked or compromised for the government to have rammed through this legislation in a single day.
The government had months to work on this bill, but now they expect Parliament to rush it through in a matter of days, largely due to the unnecessary prorogation of Parliament at the Prime Minister’s choosing.
Honourable colleagues, I don’t know about you, but that really troubles me.
I am repeatedly left with the impression that the Prime Minister thinks Canada’s Parliament — the House and the Senate — is his personal giant rubber-stamping machine rather than chambers of debate, consideration and sober second thought. It is regrettable that we do not have time to properly study and potentially amend this bill if it’s needed, which we have done effectively through our thorough committee work.
In his July announcement, the Prime Minister promised that, “No one will be left behind,” but this legislation does not appear to achieve that goal. After having their jobs taken away and their businesses closed, many Canadians are very concerned about whether they will qualify for assistance or not, whether they will be able to return to work or not, whether they will be able to pay their next rent payment or not and whether they will make it through the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic or not.
The repeated requests of business owners to see some of the other programs revamped in order to be more effective have been repeatedly ignored. The result is that many businesses are teetering on the precipice of extinction right now. The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance has come to an end, and promises for an extended CEBA loan and CEWS programs may take a long time to be implemented. In fact, businesses using personal banking accounts are still unable to access the loan and, as expressed by Minister Freeland, that it is complex.
If businesses do not make it, more Canadians will lose their jobs and their livelihoods, and no government program will be able to make up for that.
I agree that these emergency benefits are needed right now as people are forced to navigate circumstances that are beyond their control. But those benefits should be carefully examined, not rushed through Parliament after the government has had months to prepare.
I appreciate Ministers Qualtrough and Freeland for appearing before Committee of the Whole today. However, there are still questions left unanswered as to how this government will ensure that the most vulnerable Canadians are supported through this pandemic and how small businesses are supported during these very challenging times to help our economic recovery sooner than later.
Honourable senators, as I said, I will speak in more detail at third reading. I will listen carefully to other statements that will be part of this debate as well as what we will be doing at third reading. Thank you.
Honourable senators, I am pleased to be in the Senate Chamber to speak to Bill C-4. The last few months have been challenging for everyone, and I appreciate being here in person today. Zoom and Microsoft Teams work, and we’re fortunate to have such technology in 2020, but I have to tell you that there have been many days when I feel like I’ve been “Zoomed out.” I’m sure many of you have felt the same way. Anyway, all that to say I’m really pleased to be here in person and to see all of you here today and this week.
Over the past six months, as Canadians, we have faced many challenges as a nation: a devastating pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 10,000 Canadians. We’ve had overwhelming job losses, extended lockdowns and a broken economy.
As Senator Kutcher said earlier, in my province we also had 22 people lose their lives in a tragic and senseless shooting spree, and we’ve had the sorrow of the crash of the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter based in Nova Scotia, when six Canadian Armed Forces members were killed. Hopefully, this is a once-in-a-lifetime period.
Honourable senators, with all of that said, it was right and fair that the federal government shoulder some of the burden for Canadians during these trying times. We’ve seen the government bring forward extraordinary supports to assist those who are hardest hit. The legislation before us today, Bill C-4, builds on that good work.
I don’t intend to speak to everything laid out in the bill. The sponsor, Senator Dean, has already done an excellent job earlier today of outlining what the bill entails, but I do have some comments in specific areas.
The new Canada recovery benefit, which will run until September 25 of next year, provides a replacement to the now-expired Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the $2,000 per month payment that helped Canadians who lost their jobs at the height of the first wave.
The assistance provided in the new benefit is vital for those Canadians still impacted by unemployment. I do have one concern with the recovery benefit, as I did with CERB. This benefit is taxable and it’s not taxed at source. When a person normally receives a paycheque, their income tax has already been deducted, and the net pay they receive is usually the amount of money that they keep. This is not the case with CERB, and it won’t be the case now. A person who has received either benefit will be required to claim it as income and then, depending on their annual income, may have to pay taxes on it.
I worry about Canadians just getting back on their feet being faced with a hefty bill from Canada Revenue Agency next April. I trust that the government is thinking about that and will use a common-sense approach.
The Canada recovery sickness benefit will provide for $500 per week for a maximum of two weeks for those who become sick or who need to self-isolate due to contact with a COVID-19 positive case or because of increased susceptibility to the virus. This is good news. No one should be penalized for becoming ill or for doing their part to keep others safe.
We know that provincial sick leave provisions, both paid and unpaid, differ widely across the country. Most provinces and territories do not provide for any paid sick leave at all, but the vast majority do provide for unpaid sick leave with a varying number of days allowed.
The problem, however, remains with these sick leave allowances. While the federal government will pay up to two weeks, which is a positive step, most provinces don’t allow for a person to take that many days off while guaranteeing their job. So without buy-in from the provinces and from employers, there is no assurance that a person taking the full two weeks won’t lose their job over it.
I leave it to the federal government to work with their provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as stakeholders, to plot the best way forward for everyone. I hope these discussions will begin as soon as Bill C-4 receives Royal Assent.
I also think it is important to note that the changes to the sick leave and caregiving leave sections of the Canada Labour Code, while welcome, apply only to federally regulated employees. Federal public servants, parliamentary staff and those in the federally regulated private sector, like banks, airlines and telecommunications, can take advantage of up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 26 weeks of paid caregiving leave without the worry of losing their jobs.
But they make up only 8% of working Canadians. The vast majority, millions of them, are covered by provincial jurisdiction. This includes our many workers who have been deemed essential workers during the pandemic, working in places like grocery stores or gas stations, or, as somebody mentioned earlier, in long-term care homes. Unfortunately, most of these workers are without access to any sick leave at all. We must keep them in mind.
We know that many parents are having to keep their children at home because their child has a runny nose or a sore throat. It doesn’t take very long for those days to add up.
Finally, senators, I would like to say a few words about the process that led to this piece of legislation. Time and again, governments of all stripes come to us with bills at the eleventh hour — this is not new in 2020 — urging senators to pass their legislation without delay and suggesting our sober second thought is not really required this time. My good friend and colleague Senator Mercer has a drawer full of speeches in which he laments this never ending practice going back to when he first came to the Senate. I’m sure many of you have heard those speeches.
I know the government is facing a deadline, but I am pleased that in this chamber we are studying this bill with due diligence and efficiency, and I certainly support its swift passage. Canadians need support at this time. I am pleased that the federal government is doing this key work, ensuring that Canadians from coast to coast to coast are equipped with the tools to weather the pandemic.
In my home province of Nova Scotia, our provincial government has also played its part in keeping residents safe. We have fared better than most in keeping the number of cases low in our Atlantic bubble. I’m hopeful that this continues and that the number of cases begins to drop not only in the Atlantic bubble but across the country.
But we must remain vigilant, honourable senators. This ordeal is not over, and we have seen that in the past few weeks. We saw numbers dropping and dropping, and suddenly, over the past few weeks, they have skyrocketed in some parts of our country. There is a long road ahead, and we must work together to ensure that our country and all Canadians emerge from this crisis on the best possible footing. Thank you.
Honourable senators, I would like to start by thanking Senator Dean for his work in promoting this very important legislation. Normally this is the part of my speech where I would rail against government rushing legislation through, but Senator Tannas and others are working on that. It’s not unique to this government; it has been going on for a number of years.
As we face the second wave of COVID-19, the regions across Canada are facing different impacts. Atlantic Canada, particularly Prince Edward Island, has very low infection rates, but the economic impact has been profound.
Concentrated government action to preserve the health and well-being of Canadians must remain the highest priority. Canadians should not have to choose between staying safe and maintaining the necessary requirements for life.
This bill, like the measures that preceded it, seeks to keep Canadians financially sound until such time as we can all emerge from under the shadow of this pandemic and set our minds to recovery and rebuilding. In doing so, this would not only speed the economic recovery when it comes, but also, by not forcing Canadians into risky unemployment, it will also help keep infection numbers down so that the economic recovery may happen sooner.
Obviously, since March 12, my attentions, since I haven’t been able to come to Ottawa, have been focused on my home province. So far, Prince Edward Island has been very fortunate. Through the efforts of our public health officials and the hard work of our health care workers across the island, we have suffered very few cases of the coronavirus. To date, no one has actually been hospitalized, let alone died, fortunately.
However, as elsewhere, the overall impact has been difficult to bear. In July, our restaurant sector suffered the greatest loss of revenue in the country. The fact that restaurants continent-wide were closed meant fewer customers for agricultural exports. As I mentioned earlier, frozen french fries exports have fallen dramatically, impacting our agricultural industry.
Our unemployment rate in August was the third highest in the country, and for a province as heavily dependent on tourism as Prince Edward Island is, this past season was nothing short of devastating. Normally, Prince Edward Island, with a population roughly of 150,000 people, receives 1.5 million visitors and most of those come during the summer. For some reason, we have very few visitors in February and March. It may be weather-related; I’m not sure — beaches aren’t open. But it does have a negative impact when that condensed tourism season disappears in one year.
All of this is to say that the measures proposed in this bill are not only necessary but welcomed by Prince Edward Islanders.
Prince Edward Islanders have the lowest weekly wage of any province in the country, so the $500-a-week Canada recovery benefit would amount to just over half of the P.E.I. average wages, compared to just under 45% of the national average. The fact the CERB has been continuing in the form of CRB, combined with the changes to the Employment Insurance eligibility previously announced, means that Islanders, who, because of the work in tourism, the hospitality sector and agriculture, received fewer or perhaps no hours of work this last summer, now qualify for this benefit.
The Canada recovery caregiver benefit will be of value to Islanders who, will still while having a job, must take time off to care for a child or other dependent relatives for reasons related to the pandemic.
These measures, combined with the two-week paid sick leave for those who have to self-isolate because of COVID-19, will provide an invaluable safety net for Prince Edward Islanders and Canadians as we struggle through this second wave.
Of course, no measure is perfect. That is especially the case with emergency legislation. What is desirable and what is necessary must compete with what is possible. So it is with the measures contained in the legislation before us. For example, the 26-week duration of the Canada recovery benefit and the Canada recovery caregiver benefit may seem appropriate now, but just as it’s difficult to remember what this country was like half a year ago, it is hard to imagine that all of this will be over half a year from now.
So much of this is beyond our control, such as when a vaccine becomes available. While our own conduct will help determine the length and severity of the second wave, the evidence so far has not been very positive. More assistance will likely be needed, especially for sectors like tourism and farming, especially given that even at the best of times, neither season is anywhere near under way by April.
Similarly, while the $500 per week amount of the benefits is welcome assistance for those in need, it is a taxable benefit, and rather than those taxes being deducted at source, recipients will be facing a significant — in some cases — tax bill next season — actually, around the time the benefits are now scheduled to end.
By just about any criteria, $500 a week is a very small amount — slightly lower than the weekly paycheque of someone making the Prince Edward Island minimum wage of $12.85 per hour and well below the poverty line for the province. So no one is getting rich on this program, but it is keeping people going forward.
Still, it is intended as a survival measure, and we welcome that as such.
Colleagues, the wartime analogies have been overdone, but we may have passed what Churchill described as the end of the beginning. Although hopefully a vaccine, improved treatment and more and more closely followed preventive measures will help us eventually defeat the coronavirus, that day, unfortunately, is a long way off.
The measures contained in this bill are not perfect, but they are needed and they do for now. We cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good, not that anyone expects perfection out of the year 2020.
I will be voting in favour of this bill, and I want to thank Senator Dean.
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-4, An Act relating to certain measures in response to COVID-19.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about a specific aspect of the bill that shows just how much our country understands what it means to care for family members.
I’m speaking specifically about the Canada recovery caregiver benefit, which provides a weekly benefit of $500 for up to 26 weeks for parents and guardians who have to take time off to care for a child under the age of 12 if that child has to be home for reasons related to COVID-19 or if that child’s regular caregiver, be that a nanny, a day-home provider, a grandparent or a parent, is unable to look after the child for COVID-19-related reasons.
While the bill is imperfect, we should acknowledge what a striking step this is in recognizing the complexity of modern family life for Canadians today and in recognizing the balances that need to be struck in the midst of this punishing pandemic.
All around my province of Alberta, there are parents agonizing over the decision of whether it is safe for their children to return to the classroom or to daycare, or whether it would be better for them to learn at home. For other families, though, there really is no choice, because they have a child with a chronic illness that makes them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
The Canada recovery caregiver benefit should make it possible for many of those parents or guardians to stay home to care for younger children, whether their kid is quarantined at home for a couple of weeks, their school or daycare has to close temporarily because of a COVID outbreak or a return to school could put that child’s life at real risk.
In the past, the expectation in a crisis such as this was that a parent — and let’s be honest, in most cases, we are talking about a mother — would have to quit their job or take unpaid leave to stay home with kids. And this isn’t some hypothetical; it’s a dilemma parents are facing across the country right now. Just this morning, one of my staff called me to say that her 10-year-old son had been instructed to quarantine for 14 days because he’d been in close contact with someone in his grade 5 classroom right here in Ottawa who has now tested positive for COVID-19.
Luckily, my staffer has been doing a fantastic job working from home to take care of me while she takes care of her son, but not everyone in Canada has a job that gives them that kind of flexibility or the option of working from home. That’s why this legislation is particularly needed, and needed now, as so many parents grapple with similar situations.
I’m grateful this legislation recognizes that in 2020, it’s neither fair nor economically wise to compel women to step out of the workforce without a path to return. This legislation recognizes that we can be parents and workers at the same time. In a moment when everything feels out-of-kilter, as if we’re teetering on the edge, this legislation goes some way to helping parents to balance their family lives and their professional lives, which is always a tricky task, and never more so than right now.
Importantly, the legislation also recognizes the role of other family caregivers. Suppose you need to take time off because your adult child who has a developmental disability cannot live at his group home because it has been shut down by COVID. Suppose your parent or your spouse has Alzheimer’s and can’t go to their usual day program because of a coronavirus outbreak.
This legislation also allows people who are caring for vulnerable family members to take some time off work, with a government backstop of $500 a week. It is an important recognition that so many Canadians are struggling to care for the dependent adults in their lives in this time of unprecedented pandemic and need a little extra flexibility to do so.
In a moment when families of all kinds and configurations are coping with the extraordinary medical, economic and logistical challenges of COVID-19, I think we can be proud as Canadians to see so many of our leaders putting aside partisanship and reacting creatively to help our families through this crisis. I think it is heartening that this bill received unanimous consent in the other place before coming here.
This is a moment of clear-eyed recognition that says we can’t just expect the women of Canada to sacrifice themselves to do the unpaid caregiving, to shoulder the brunt of the burden coronavirus has placed on our communities.
It is a recognition that family caregiving is labour, and labour of value, and a recognition that people should be able to step away from the workforce temporarily without leaving their families financially bereft. The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit is, if you will allow me a moment of melodrama, a profoundly feminist piece of legislation, and at the same time one that places family values squarely in the heart of feminism. As a working mother myself and as someone who has spent much of the last few years juggling parenthood, career and eldercare, I think this is an extraordinarily important symbol and signal. There are those out there who like us to believe that feminism and family values are antithetical. As this bill demonstrates, they are instead inextricably intertwined.
I’m also pleased to see that these rules don’t require someone to stop work altogether. You can also apply for this benefit if you’re working half as much as you used to do, if for example, you’ve cut your hours or switched from full-time to half-time work. It isn’t just a benefit for those who draw salaries. It is available to the self-employed, entrepreneurs, contractors and gig workers too. That is also important because it recognizes that in 2020 work doesn’t look the way it did in 1950.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to take stock and realize just how important family is and how much we rely on the love and care of our loved ones. These are difficult and painful times. Rarely have we ever felt so vulnerable and rarely have we needed our family members so much. I am still grieving the loss of my own mother, who passed away last month.
She did not die from COVID-19, but from complications related to a chronic medical condition that was exacerbated by the lockdown. COVID-19 has claimed many lives, but not all victims are included in official death counts. Still, there might be a silver lining to the disease: At least it is helping us see how much we need to rely on our family and good friends to get through this difficult time. It is teaching us the value of love.
Is the Canada Recovery Benefit a perfect solution? No. No, it isn’t. Some might argue, with good reason, that the cut-off age is somewhat arbitrary. This policy helps you out if your kid is 8, or 9, or 10, or 11, but not if they’re 12 or 13, and yet how many 12‑year-olds can be left at home alone if they have COVID-19, or can be left unsupervised to attend Grade 6 or 7 classes online?
Some might argue, and fair enough, that 26 weeks of benefits, while generous on its face, might not be enough to get a family through a year without school or daycare. Some might argue — and this is true — that not every family has someone who can take time off to look after a parent with dementia or a child with special needs.
If we had world enough and time, I’m sure we might have crafted a more perfect program. Frankly, I too would have liked more time for the Senate to analyze and weigh this legislation, but I also know that Canadian families of all shapes and sizes are waiting for the relief the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit will bring.
There remain some important questions we need to ask about the way in which all the various elements of this bill might be implemented. The bill requires Canadians to apply for a range of benefits, but the very stresses and limitations of COVID-19 which make this bill necessary can also be impediments to many people who may need to complete an application. It’s vitally important that we ensure that we have the supports in place to guide people through the application system, particularly people who may not be fluent in English or French, who may have literacy barriers of one kind or another, or who may not have easy access to the internet to apply online.
We need to ensure, too, that there is a transparent and straightforward appeal process, so that someone who has been turned down for benefits can be assured of a fair and efficient hearing should they wish to challenge that decision.
Of course, it is important to protect the integrity of the program and to have the necessary safeguards in place to prevent abuse. That said, we also need to understand that in a time of medical or financial or family crisis, many people may not have the wherewithal to navigate a complicated application system. The Government of Canada and the workers who delivered our first round of COVID-19 relief plans deserve our praise and our thanks for the remarkably efficient way they rolled out those earlier benefits. I hope they will build on their successes and learn from their failures as well, to make the benefits provided in this bill as fair and accessible as possible.
Yes, there are those, even in my home province, who might scoff that relief benefits such as these just allow people to sit around eating Cheezies and watching cartoons. Will there be a handful of people who might try to game the system? Undoubtedly; such is human nature. But when future historians look back at the way Canadians have risen to this occasion, and the way people from across the country and political spectrum have pitched in to help neighbours in need, in practical and inventive ways, I think we’ll all have reason to feel justifiably proud. Because this crisis has also shown us human nature and Canadian society at their very best. Merci, thank you and hiy hiy.
Honourable senators, I want to state from the outset that Bill C-4 will not receive unanimous support here as it did in the other place because I am going to vote against it. Let me tell you why.
The government’s objective is certainly commendable and I recognize that there are thousands of Canadians who will need this aid.
However, I’m completely turned off by the Liberal government’s approach and I can no longer be a puppet who is forced to go along with things because we’re in an emergency situation.
After seven months of this pandemic, there is no more emergency. In my opinion and that of many observers, all there is is incompetence.
We have witnessed this government’s incompetence on many occasions. I believe that the provisions contained in Bill C-4 are unacceptable, particularly after six weeks of unwarranted vacation resulting from the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament to avoid scrutiny over the ethical scandals that are the Liberals’ trademark.
Bill C-4 does nothing but replace the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or CERB with the Canada Recovery Benefit or CRB, a name designed to mislead Canadians because, to be honest, this bill doesn’t really contain any meaningful economic recovery measures.
Is this Liberal government really in a position to create a real economic recovery plan, when it hasn’t yet been able to come up with a plan to save our airline industry, which, I should point out, accounts for several thousand jobs, while other major countries have already come to the rescue of their airlines? This government is just as incompetent when it comes to agriculture and international trade.
Let’s take a closer look at things. The CRB is the same amount of money a week, with a last-minute boost to buy the NDP’s vote. It is the same cheque, the same problematic eligibility criteria that give access to people who don’t qualify. The program makes it just as easy for people to defraud the system and receive benefits.
The CRB is basically just another 26 weeks of CERB.
The current government continues to manage the country like a kid in a candy store, regardless of the time that has passed since the pandemic began and regardless of the criticism from politicians and economists on the management of these assistance programs. I know this isn’t in the Liberals’ DNA, but they still need to show a little discipline in managing the assistance programs.
Our businesses need workers. The Canada Recovery Benefit, like the CERB, provides help to people who can refuse to return to the labour market without any serious justification with regard to their eligibility for this benefit.
This is unbelievable from a government that had all the time it needed — all the time it needed, indeed — to set serious criteria to avoid abuse and fraud.
Before I conclude, I want to repeat this to avoid being attacked by the Liberals who are often capable of cutting corners on policy. The provisions of Bill C-4 are quite acceptable to Canadians who truly need it. However, we’re now in October and the state of emergency had been lifted when this bill was drafted.
We’re not required here or in the other place to act quickly or to overlook the flaws in this bill, and we certainly don’t have to sanction the Liberal government’s incompetence. As senators, we have a duty to review the government’s bills. Today, we cannot seriously claim that we did that with Bill C-4.
Unfortunately, this government treats senators as though they were its lackeys. I am not. Out of principle, I will refuse to support this bill. Thank you.
As a senator from Manitoba, I recognize that I live on Treaty I territories, the traditional territories of the Anishinabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene and Métis Nation homeland and we are gathered here today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Honourable colleagues, I rise today to call for action to address this nation’s failure to support youth adequately during this pandemic. We know that the proposed Canada recovery benefits act before us today is part of a broader scheme to support Canada’s economic recovery in response to COVID-19, yet this reintroduced legislation still fails to acknowledge and support a broad sector of our population who do not have prior or recent involvement within the labour force.
For all three new benefits introduced, the applicant must have earned an income of at least $5,000 in the previous year, or the 12-month period preceding the date of their application. Alternatively, to be eligible for EI — Employment Insurance — individuals would need to have been employed for at least 120 insurable hours in the past 52 weeks, among other requirements. Both EI and the three new proposed benefits remain inaccessible to a range of individuals without prior recent work experience, including migrant workers, recent immigrants, individuals who have been unemployed long term, including people living with disabilities, recent graduates who have not worked in the past year because they had to focus on their education, as well as youth who have never been employed and current students who lack recent work experience within the past year.
Now I ask:
Do we move Canada forward, or let people be left behind? Do we come out of this stronger, or paper over the cracks that the crisis has exposed?
If these words from the Throne Speech are any indication, it is clear that we cannot allow young people to slip through the cracks yet again. Youth are well aware of the impact the pandemic has had on their employment prospects. Many young people do not feel as though they are being heard when it comes to their needs for employment. The omission of many young people from benefits available to other workers during a pandemic devalues their contribution to the labour force, but it also thwarts realizing their full potential — a loss to our country and our democracy.
Statistics Canada recently alerted us to the NEET generation: not in education, employment or training. Indigenous youth and people without high school diplomas are overrepresented among young people who were not in education, employment or training. These NEET youth are at risk of lower incomes and social exclusion not just now, not just during this pandemic, but perhaps for their lifetimes. This exclusion is intensified because so many of these NEET youth are also excluded from the recovery benefits. We must not forget about young parents and how children impact a woman’s participation in the labour market. Caregiving responsibilities overwhelmingly fall to women. Extending the caregiver benefits to youth ensures that young women do not have to decide between leaving their careers at a critical time in order to care for children if schools close or to care for an ill family member.
While employment levels have increased since the initial drop resulting from the lockdown, the most recent Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey from August stated that the most affected and those who remain the furthest away from their pre-pandemic employment levels are youth when compared to the employment rates for other age groups.
Youth are starting to enter the labour force. Whether it is youth entering the labour force for the first time or students re-entering the labour force after graduating, these young people, students and recent graduates remain unable to access the current EI benefits of the new support benefits under this bill. This places significant additional pressures on youth, students and recent graduates to go to work perhaps while sick or with underlying conditions, making them susceptible to COVID-19 because if they stay home, they will not receive a benefit to replace their lost income. This pressure is increased for youth who are racialized and live in lower-income neighbourhoods, which are already disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Why are youth, students and recent graduates left with the burden to decide between personal or public health and financial security? The burden is one the rest of the population is relieved from with the prospect of eligibility for the proposed recovery benefits or EI. The exclusion of youth, students and recent graduates from significant economic recovery benefits comes at a time when we are entering — indeed, we are in the midst of it now — the second wave of this pandemic. With individuals aged 20 to 29 accounting for the most confirmed cases of COVID-19, youth, students and recent graduates need to be assured that they will also be able to pay their bills should they be required to self-isolate or care for a family member or child who cannot attend school.
We need to look closely at this situation. We must not overlook the youth who work in our restaurants, our retail stores and our grocery stores who often have no choice. Youth work in the industries that are hit the hardest by shutdowns, including the food industry, accommodation and retail. A recovery plan needs to extend protections to youth that are geared to youth and their particular realities. The government has acknowledged that young Canadians are our future. Since the pandemic, increased funding to programs like Youth Employment and Skills Strategy and Canada Summer Jobs have focused on creating opportunities to bring and keep youth in the workforce, but as of August 2020, just weeks ago, job seekers were more likely to be young people. For the youth, students and recent graduates who are ineligible for EI, the continued ineligibility for Bill C-4’s proposed recovery benefits in the workforce, particularly for vulnerable youth with conditions making them susceptible to COVID-19 or with young children with the uncertainty regarding school closures, this is particularly serious.
The exclusion of students from COVID-19 measures is not new. The initial Canada Emergency Response Benefit suffered from this same exclusion. The later-introduced Canada Emergency Student Benefit provided support to students. As support has ended, students are expected to join the workforce without the protections provided to many other workers eligible for EI or for the three new recovery benefits.
We have a chance now to get this right the first time. We cannot leave our youth, students and recent graduates behind before they even enter the workforce. As was highlighted in the Throne Speech, this is not the time for austerity. Doing whatever it takes to support people through the pandemic must be proactive. It must include youth, students and recent graduates as they work towards building a better future. Thank you, meegwetch.
Honourable senators, I also rise today to speak to Bill C-4. These recovery benefits are of real importance for all Canadians but, you won’t be surprised to hear me say, especially for those in the arts, those employed by organizations and those who are self-employed.
The business and arts communities welcomed the wage subsidy extension announced in the throne speech because it is crucially important to them.
The Canada Recovery Benefit replaces certain aspects of the CERB, which gave those who weren’t eligible for EI access to ongoing support. It is especially essential to those who work in the creative sector and for people with disabilities. The opportunity to collect benefits for an additional 26 weeks is just as much a lifesaver for individual artists as the extended wage subsidy is for organizations. I cannot overemphasize how essential these provisions are.
I have already talked to this chamber about the important and integral role the arts play in all aspects of society. I will not reiterate that today except to say that, if our arts and artists go down, society will be worse off as a result.
It will come as no surprise to any of you that much of my work since the March 2020 lockdown has been and continues to be with and for Canada’s art and culture sector, individual artists and art organizations. Indeed, just this week I have had meetings with arts leaders regarding the bill and the Throne Speech. The devastation COVID-19 has wreaked on the arts sector has been horrific and I fear this sector will be one of the last to recover and parts of it may not recover at all.
Canadian creators and organizations need the help of this legislation. For the past six months, our theatres, concert venues, museums and festivals of all disciplines were all naturally forced to close.
Every Canadian has felt the fear of this pandemic, and I want to extend my sincere condolences to all those in this chamber and across Canada who have lost loved ones and friends. My concern is also for those who have suffered and are currently suffering from this disease. There is no question COVID-19 has substantially affected our families, our daily lives and our work. But we hope those impacts are temporary.
But when will you feel comfortable returning to your seat in the theatre or concert hall? How will performing arts survive without ticket sales or corporate support which is falling across the not-for-profit sphere? How will museums and galleries fare without tourists and school tours?
The arts are a truly vulnerable part of our not-for-profit sector. Many individuals are self-employed, some are or have been on various sorts of short- and long-term contracts and others in staff positions, though often paid well below comparable levels in other fields.
Organizations live year-to-year, and some only project-to-project. Those with endowment funds are seeing their earnings dissipate with the current markets and there are restrictions on the monies they’re allowed to use.
I have talked with and heard from and been in touch with more than a hundred artists as well as directors of arts organizations and leaders of various sector associations and met on several occasions with PACT, the comedy artists, various musician groups and cross-disciplinary representatives within regions across the country. Without exception, all indicated their appreciation for the relief through CERB and the wage subsidy and the flexibility of Canada Council for the Arts and Canadian Heritage coming to the fore with assistance.
But everyone I have spoken with is fearful of the potential layoffs — some say of more than 60% of their staff — that are forthcoming. I am well aware that permanent layoffs already have been made in many aspects of the arts in addition to temporary layoffs. These include designers, fundraisers, artists and behind-the-scenes workers.
I want to point out that, over the past few months, artists have kept supporting us with their creativity, initiatives and generosity. Consider the amazing gift artists gave us after the horrific incidents that took place in Nova Scotia this summer. The concerns that have been raised and are being raised again today fall into three categories: short-, medium- and long-term. Everyone is affected.
Immediate crisis management and cash flow in organizations continue to be particularly serious, especially over these last months. It’s at this time of year that ticket sales are an essential part of the cash flow for healthy institutions, and they haven’t been selling tickets.
Some organizations have not been eligible for Canada Council or Canadian Heritage support and that has hurt small regional historic homes, sites and museums — the lifeblood of us understanding our history.
I have been truly impressed with the creative initiatives which have been implemented already and those planned for the future, though uncertainty of recovery does raise more fears and questions than it does answers. Many organizations have developed new ways of connecting with audiences, and that’s encouraging, but one does fear for long-term sustainability. Not until people are able to go back to theatres, concert halls and in larger groups to galleries and museums will the recovery begin.
I hate to tell you this, but for the arts, that is now not being projected by some on the optimistic side until 2022. For most, they’re projecting it in 2023, when they hope tourism will recover. I must underline that tourism is a critical ingredient for the arts, just as the arts are for society as a whole. Artists have lost work. Many have lost their career advancement and many are leaving the sector altogether.
Isn’t it sad to see dancers at the peak of their career leaving because they can’t practise their art form and they don’t know that they’ll be in shape or have the flexibility to perform when we can get back to the theatres? And let’s look at the training for young dancers. That’s stopped.
At first, for instance, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School continued teaching virtually with a videographer and a teacher in the studio working at more than the two-metre distance, but when the province of Manitoba had to close buildings, the program could not continue. The concern is if that goes on for too long, we will lose the next generation of dancers because the students in the professional program have to keep at it so they don’t lose flexibility and muscle.
So are we on the edge of losing a generation in this art form for which Canada has been held in such high international regard?
I’ve said many times that the artists are the working poor of Canada, with the largest percentage of those who live below the poverty line. Colleagues, that was in the good times. You can imagine it now in the bad times.
Festivals and craft fairs this summer didn’t happen, and I’m really interested in the number of calls I’ve had from craft artists who — believe it or not — earn their whole year’s revenue in the few months of summer fairs, so they have no revenue right now.
So where are we really at? I feel the situation in the recovery of COVID will worsen for the arts before it improves, particularly, as I said, for the performing arts. However, I applaud the artists whose generosity has helped sustain all of us.
How many digital performances, exhibitions, gallery tours and concerts have you listened to or watched? How many of those artists got any money for letting us watch it? Very few, and that disturbs me.
We all know the very real role the arts have played for Canadians during the pandemic, with the Black Lives Matter movement and with the murders in Nova Scotia earlier this summer. Artists singly and together have found a way to reach us, to heal us and to divert our attention and give hope and, while much of that has been unpaid, I hope this bill will help compensate them.
I’m also concerned about mental health. I can’t tell you the number of calls I’ve had at midnight, one o’clock in the morning, two o’clock in the morning from artists who are absolutely destitute and on the edge. I want to thank Senator Kutcher for speaking with me early in the COVID pandemic when I was asking for help, what do I say next?
For organizations being forced to cease their programming, I can tell you that for some of them that was half their 2019-20 season and now they’re losing half of this season. They’ve had to return ticket sales when they’ve had no cash flow. Fortunately, 60% of people across the country have agreed to take tax receipts instead of their money back. But they’ve paid their licensing fees for the programs they couldn’t give us, they’ve built the sets, they’ve paid the artists and advertising. They don’t know how long these closures will last or if they will ever be able to mount their programs. I’m now monitoring the number of organizations, colleagues, that may have to fold despite the inspirational virtual programming across the country.
What are the real questions? One of the big questions is re-engaging audiences. How are we going to do it? Will people even be comfortable to go to larger gatherings and theatres, concert halls, museums and galleries? The question is also being asked about how many arts, heritage and cultural organizations, as I said, will survive and where will they be? And will the larger ones be there to help the smaller ones? I could go on, but I’m going to stop.
Art empowers, art is the ability to change society and art is the ability to question and heal an artist’s vision. But to do that, it needs the support of this legislation. Let’s let the arts sector assist Canada’s post-pandemic recovery by supporting this legislation so that artists can support Canadians and help us have the mental health we need to carry through.
Colleagues, you know my family mantra is we’re all better off when we’re all better off. With this legislation, we can help Canada be better off. Thank you.
Senator Bovey, I want to thank you so much for that question this evening because what you’re talking about is quite personal; within all our communities, I think we have friends, relatives or even our own sons and daughters who are part of the performing arts. It’s 7:05 p.m. tonight, and I never thought I’d ask this question, but my own son, Claude Munson, has a band and he’s singing tonight. He just started to sing five minutes ago. He’s over at the Queen Street Fare here, where they’re going to have social distancing; 35 people will be there on Eventbrite, $10 for each person.
I think he would be very embarrassed that I’m asking this question tonight, but he has been asked to give some of the money to the Mission here in Ottawa and then he can maybe keep 100 bucks for himself.
I told him I’m not sure I can make it, but my heart is with every song that he sings; sing for those who cannot sing. And he just replied saying, “No worries, papa, thank you,” with a big heart.
You’ve said what you’ve had to say. Is there hope for artists like him, who is 32 years of age, and what he can do? He has had an album out, he has done what he has to do. He’s part of thousands of others who are just like him, and his friends want to sing, but who do they sing for?
Senator, there’s always hope. If any part of our society has hope, it’s our creators, it’s our artists, it’s those who give of the soul as they define the soul of who we are, who our regions are and who our nation is, what our nation is.
They will continue to create. They will continue to write, to compose, to perform, just as they have in the past darkest moments of the world’s civilization. I do have hope, but I want us to help that hope. And when you take a look at what artists receive in the good times, I think we just expect them to be there all the time.
I’m saying now we shouldn’t have those expectations. We need to help them help the rest of us. And it’s not fun to receive a call at two o’clock in the morning from an artist who is thinking about taking his life because a gallery is closed and he hasn’t been able to sell a painting.
Honourable senators, this is the seventh COVID emergency bill that we’ve discussed since March, and it’s the seventh opportunity I’ve had to make some comments. In considering those bills, we’ve received, in rather extraordinary circumstances, the bills from the House of Commons which, in a minority Parliament dealing with an emergency crisis means that, by definition, more than one group in the other place has supported the bills that we have. And quite unusually today, we are dealing with a unanimous bill and I regret the unanimity of the elected chamber will not be celebrated in this chamber. I would urge that people consider and even reconsider support for this necessary additional measure to confront the circumstances that Canadians are facing day to day.
I also want to pause and take a moment to reflect on what the Senate’s role should be in dealing with emergency legislation that comes from the House of Commons in trying times where it’s not easy to amend or otherwise improve, as we say, the various measures. It occurs to me that we should at least begin to think about what is the post-COVID context for public policy?
I want to begin by thanking Senator Dean for sponsoring this bill, all the colleagues who have spoken about the legislation and the ministers who came today and who I thought very effectively provided us the context and additional information for us to feel comfortable doing what we are in the process of doing.
I want to make three points, essentially, because I do believe that the COVID measures, both the ones today and the six earlier bills, have been necessary. However, we have to begin to determine how to distribute the burdens of these debts over time and how to fairly apportion the responsibility across sectors and groups in Canada in the years ahead.
We had a pre-COVID challenge in many areas of our economic agenda, and if you look at where the growth was coming from, we’ve had a rather tepid export of the energy sector compared to earlier years, which by the way gave us that margin in our current account surplus that we all trumpeted. We need to reflect on where is the growth going to come from.
Where we will we get the growth? I would commend for your edification a paper that was produced by David Dodge and distributed by the Public Policy Forum two weeks ago entitled: Two Mountains to Climb: Canada’s Twin Deficits and How to Scale Them.
In the paper, former Governor Dodge or Deputy Dodge, whatever you want to call him, said that there are five key priorities we must get right to raise the annual growth rate of potential GDP to well above the present trajectory of 1.8% in the pre-COVID period. He says it will involve a combined effort by governments, businesses and households.
Here are the five points he’d like to make:
One: Enhance digitization of production of goods and especially services.
Two: Extend the life of a cleaner resource sector and facilitate a higher value-added composition.
Three: Maximize participation and adaptation of labour force.
Four: Enhance effectiveness and efficiency of public services.
Five: Restore confidence in fiscal stability.
I’m not going to take the time tonight to give you my view on each of those five important questions, but I want to at least put on the table that these are the questions that should guide our Senate committee work when we come back and are able to have more normal Senate consideration.
Let’s try to shape what the other place begins to think of when they have the time and the circumstances to do that. Then we truly have added value to the conversation, rather than just deal quickly with bills that come here, and necessarily quickly. I’m not complaining about that. But our value would surely come from beginning to ask these questions and explore the range of answers before the other place or, indeed, one government comes to a point of view on these issues.
For example, Senator Deacon has talked about the digitization of the finance sector and the service sector. Maybe we should be talking more broadly about what the gig economy means for Canada and how we might accelerate, comparable to other countries, our participation therein.
Surely, the intensity of the debate we had at the last Parliament on the energy sector in terms of the reforms — which I supported, as you know — on environmental assessment, we should have the equal intensity on how we restore that Canadian advantage in our current account of the value of our energy exports. How do we take advantage of the resource sector, particularly lumber, which has had a phenomenal recent few months, as well as the agricultural sector? How do we balance the need for those markets, with all of the other issues that we have a lot of interest in, in terms of our foreign policy considerations and our trade? If we’re not going to sell our resource sectors to all of the world that wants them, we’re going to deny ourselves some of the growth that we need.
Certainly, the adaptation of the labour force to lifelong learning is something Senator Bellemare has, amongst other senators I know, given a lot of attention to. How do we improve the skills development of the Canadian work force? Maybe there’s a piece there that we can do.
In terms of effectiveness of public services, I think there’s a lot that people in this chamber can add.
I wanted to make that point as my first. Where are we going to get our growth from? How is the Senate going to contribute to that conversation with Canadians and provide a menu that’s available to our political leadership and broader federal-provincial leadership to explore this issue?
The second point I want to make is the fifth point by David Dodge, actually, on the deficit. The question I ask is: What should our fiscal anchor be? I think it’s actually not fair to simply ask the government: What’s your fiscal anchor? We should be talking about what the considerations are as we approach the need for a new fiscal anchor. It is far too easy to say, “Well, it’s a balanced budget.” No, it’s not, actually. That would be very imprudent and would bring us back into a recession that nobody would want. Certainly it’s not going to be an ever-diminishing debt-to-GDP ratio. That’s gone.
I would begin a few remarks by simply quoting from the PBO’s report of earlier this week, which is, again, a document worth reading. He says we now have a better idea of the costs involved in Canada’s fight against COVID-19, but the document is only what he describes as a hazy view into the future. There’s no projection of future spending, and there’s no fiscal anchor for government spending in his report. That’s not his job. But it is a legislator’s job, I would argue.
The PBO’s report states that the deficit is on track to hit $328.5 billion this year, a number that is slightly lower than former Minister of Finance Morneau’s recent economic snapshot. The reason for this discrepancy is that the PBO is more optimistic regarding the strength of Canada’s revenues, and you saw that in the last two monthly reports of both exports and revenues.
The PBO’s projected deficit amounts to 15% of GDP, the largest number in 50 years of making this calculation. The budget deficit is projected to fall to $73.8 billion next year and continue to fall after that, with deficits averaging in the $40 billion range or slightly higher, perhaps.
These numbers are based on three assumptions, and they are worth keeping in mind: one, that the public health measures that have been put in place will continue for the next 12 to 18 months; two, that COVID support measures are withdrawn as scheduled — that’s a big if that depends on the first, doesn’t it? — and three is that monetary policy — that is, interest rates — remain basically as they are now, which is low.
The PBO projects real GDP will return to pre-crisis levels by early 2021. However, it is noted that the oil price shock and COVID-19 will have a permanent impact on Canada’s economy, going back to my earlier comments about the current account deficit from our energy sector.
The federal debt-to-GDP ratio will peak at 48.3% in 2022-23, up from 18.3%, where it was in 2019, so 30 percentage points higher. The predicted ratio will rise and then decline in the medium term. This is due to the expiry, we should hope, of measures that we have voted for in the last seven bills before us.
It should be noted that the PBO’s report of last week doesn’t take into account the SFT measures. We had some discussion about that with the minister today.
My point in saying this is that we need to figure out what we would recommend or what options are available to good public policy as to what a fiscal anchor should be. I would suggest that we might wish to again consider what David Dodge has to say on that measure.
He would recommend that the government taper its deficit spending and borrowing needs in deliberate steps over the next two to three years, with the objective of bringing deficits down to 1% of GDP, or $20 billion; move from using debt to GDP as its sole fiscal anchor to adopting one based on debt servicing costs; and that the government therefore tie future borrowing expenditure and revenue plans to the rock of sustainable debt service costs not to exceed 10% of annual government revenues.
I think that’s a rather innovative suggestion from former Governor Dodge. It would be one that would merit, in my view, Senate consideration to host some discussion amongst experts to give guidance to what a fiscal anchor should be. Because if we are just having the rhetorical “we will govern and balance the budget within the next Parliament,” we’re not having a serious conversation.
How do we have sustainable and healthy public programs that also come with the discipline of a fiscal anchor and the ability to distinguish between musts and wishes? That’s my second point.
My third and final point is to underscore that we’re a federation. I was delighted to see that Minister Freeland began her remarks, in response to Senator Plett’s question, by noting the cooperation between the levels of government on the measures that Canadians have seen.
If we are a federation, I think there’s a special obligation on this chamber, which claims to be the representative of the regions, to think through the implication on good Canadian public policy in a post-pandemic period, of having that discussion of what is the role of provinces and what is in the domain of the federal government.
Many of the measures that the government has taken have actually been in the provincial jurisdiction. Much of the criticism of what the government hasn’t done is in the provincial jurisdiction, including waiting times for necessary testing.
I don’t think, frankly, that we as parliamentarians have helped Canadians understand how federalism works in Canada, in terms of who should be accountable for what.
I think we might want to think through what contribution we can make to a better understanding of federalism in a post-COVID period.
I just want to briefly suggest that you might want to take a look at a book that recently came out by Bill Macdonald. I don’t know if you know him. He’s no longer eligible for appointment to this chamber, but he’s a wonderful public intellect. He has just published a book, Might Nature Be Canadian? He’s got some post-COVID advice for us as to how we would benefit from an economic conference parallel to the Confederation of Tomorrow Conference that Robarts and Pépin did how many years ago, and that we have a conversation, outside the political parameters of a federal-provincial meeting, to discuss the matters of best programming and best collective public policy thinking in the constraints and the opportunities that the COVID brings us.
Colleagues, I leave you with those three points. But I think it’s one way the Senate, rather than simply dealing with bills that come to us, can help shape the context of, frankly, the very significant and hard work of restoring Canada to a post-COVID world in which we can build better — yes — but in a fiscally responsible fashion.
Honourable senators, there are a number of things that I think we’re probably all thinking about, if we have this response and we have a recovery, and I think when we started to talk about it in the spring, that maybe we’d be looking at a recovery conversation; having our committees back up and going, particularly in finance and social affairs. I would suggest that we’re still responding, and still responding with our seventh emergency bill.
You’ve talked about anchor, Senator Harder, and you talked almost like a filter. There were five areas of consideration that I’m sure we’ll be able to read later.
As I said, we’re all at the next steps: How do we do better together? How is our time best spent on looking at this fiscal prudence and sustainability?
Do you see the suggestions you’ve made this evening as urgent, to start moving toward them in the next while? Do you see it actually even impacting some committee structure?
That’s for the Senate as a whole to determine. I’m not one for having motions in the Senate directing committees to their work. We’ve had enough of those in the last day.
Maybe if we could have an inspired conversation, we would find ways of how every committee could take a piece of this and hopefully provide a Senate that can contribute to a broader public debate on these issues, without coming to a conclusion.
I think our contribution can be putting forth a broader menu that can lead to a more intelligent conversation with Canadians.
I’ll be quick. I totally agree with almost everything you said. I circulated David Dodge’s article to everybody in our group and suggested if you read one thing this year — of course, everybody is reading a lot of things — you read that. It’s extremely important and, as you know, coming from David Dodge, extremely well done. I urge all colleagues to take the opportunity to read it.
I also considered what we could do as a group that’s a little different on a forward-looking basis. As part of my research — you mentioned a couple of things and I’ll mention something you may want to look at — I discovered, and this was, to me, quite amazing, that in 1941 the cabinet set up a reconstruction committee for activities after the war.
Colleagues, in 1941, it wasn’t sure we were going to win the war, let alone events after the war. That committee reported in 1943 about what should be done. The report is extremely detailed. It’s online, obviously. It’s extremely important for this type of forward-looking thinking that Peter Harder talked about, the cabinet did in 1941 and David Dodge talked about; that we prepare. I see we’re running out of time, so Senator Harder, I hope you have a chance to read that. That would be my question to you.
Honourable colleagues, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fallout of decades of evisceration of health care, economic and social services, not to mention the multiplier and devastatingly intersecting impact of systemic racism and other sex- and disability-based inequality.
COVID-19 revealed that the safeguards Canadians believed they had are not so much a safety net but more of a flimsy web, replete with chasms, not merely cracks, and requiring hopeful recipients to navigate tightropes of conditions and administrative requirements liable to ensnare people in poverty and crisis, instead of supporting them to rebound.
COVID-19 quickly exposed the ineffectiveness of our Employment Insurance system. Prior to the pandemic, it supported only 38% of unemployed men and 33% of unemployed women, and particularly failed those in low-paid, precarious jobs with few, if any, benefits. This is often essential, yet prejudicially precarious employment where women, Black and Indigenous peoples have long been overrepresented.
It is striking and notable that not one person — no one — even tried to suggest that provincial and territorial social assistance would be a feasible policy response to COVID-19 job losses. This indicates how broken those systems are, where, by design, benefits are woefully inadequate and where people are first required to meet stringent and too often arbitrary requirements, including first liquidating and thereby losing their home, car, if they have a car, and other assets that most of us rely on to work or find work and to care for our families.
For those who do secure access to benefits, the amounts are too low to live on, let alone to allow people a fair chance to try to climb out of poverty.
Who among us can imagine surviving in Toronto on $390 per month for housing and $343 for other costs? That is the impossible feat expected of Canadians on social assistance every day. Worse still, accepting even a bag of groceries from a friend or a family member could result in part of your social assistance payment being clawed back.
Failures to report even gifts can put recipients at risk of criminalization. It is an impossible system that forces too many to risk being criminalized for choosing not to watch their kids go hungry. Who among us could actually consider that a viable choice?
Through measures like the CERB and subsequent additional patches such as those found in Bill C-4, the government has worked not only to implement income supports in a time of crisis, but also to evolve them as it became clear that Canadians were still falling through the cracks. I applaud and acknowledge the government’s efforts, while simultaneously urging further evolution. The gaps that persist in this bill risk leaving behind those most in need, including those on social assistance. Canadians need and are calling for a guaranteed livable income: a benefit that could be universally accessible — not given to every single person, but accessible to those in need.
The CERB and the income support measures in Bill C-4 require people to have annual earnings of at least $5,000. Because it is intended to focus supports only on those who held paying jobs prior to the pandemic, this condition creates two problems.
First, it has the unintuitive consequence of turning away those with the least income, the fewest resources and the greatest need, whether they had jobs or not, during a pandemic that creates particular risks for those who are economically marginalized. It is no accident that many of the neighbourhoods in Canada hardest hit by COVID-19 are low-income and predominantly racialized — especially Black — residents. This is systemic racism intersecting and overlapping with economic marginalization. Women in particular were more likely to be impoverished before the pandemic and are more likely to face economic burdens and health risks as a result of COVID-19.
Those on social assistance who have been able to qualify for CERB are too often not actually able to benefit. As Minister Qualtrough discussed during today’s Committee of the Whole, despite commendable efforts by the federal government to urge otherwise, people in most provinces and in the territory of Nunavut risk losing access to social assistance benefits by accepting CERB. CERB payments are being clawed back by provincial and territorial governments.
The same seems to be true for these new Bill C-4 benefits. The transition away from the CERB to Bill C-4 also means that about three quarters of a million CERB recipients will receive no further federal support. About 25% of CERB recipients will be worse off than they were under CERB. Most especially, this includes women and low-wage, part-time workers making less than $1,000 per month but who have not lost at least half their hours as required by Bill C-4.
The second problem with the insistence on trying to distinguish between those with and without paid jobs is that it reflects long-standing and harmful stereotypes about those who are deserving and those who are undeserving of support and compassion.
With the onset of the pandemic Canadians, whose financial situations seemed relatively secure, saw how one can work hard in this country and yet still easily fall into poverty. Prior to COVID-19, 53% of Canadians — the majority — were living paycheque to paycheque, just a couple of bad weeks away from financial crisis. This is not simply, as one harmful stereotype would suggest, that people are not budgeting well enough. Not when rent for even a one-bedroom apartment is unaffordable on a minimum wage job in most Canadian cities. Not when half of those under the poverty line are working, often as essential workers during this pandemic, but not earning enough to get by.
Systemic racism and sexism can also be a barrier to work. The organization Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change notes that in Ontario racialized men are 24% more likely and, even worse, racialized women are 43% more likely than non-racialized men to be unemployed. Black and Indigenous peoples remain overrepresented in Canada’s least-secure, low-wage jobs. Studies demonstrate that employers routinely discriminate against job applicants with equivalent experience to others but with so-called African-, Asian- or Muslim-sounding names or with addresses in certain neighbourhoods.
There are many reasons why Canadians may not be earning $5,000 per year in income, from having lost a job without EI prior to the pandemic, to having started a new business, to having pre-COVID care obligations for children, elderly or disabled loved ones, to having an undiagnosed disability themselves, to being unable to afford transportation, child care or clothing to look for work, to being unable to afford to lose the pharmacare benefits provided through social assistance programs. The list goes on and on.
Drawing lines between those with paid work and those without in the manner that Bill C-4 does distracts from the underlying reality that in a wealthy and human-rights-promoting country like ours, everyone should be entitled to dignity and no one should be put at risk due to lack of access to basic needs. During this pandemic and beyond, keeping people out of poverty and out of health and economic crises benefits all of us by delivering healthier, safer, more just and resilient communities.
COVID-19 has provided a very stark and concrete example of how intertwined health and economic well-being are for Canadians. Health care experts, including the Canadian Medical Association, have long since recognized income as a primary social determinant of health and have consequently advocated measures like guaranteed livable income.
The idea that well-being should not depend on income alone is a notion that should encourage us to be bold as we imagine policies that will deliver better futures for all Canadians post pandemic. Like parliamentarians in another minority government more than 50 years ago, we can, and I suggest we should, commit to the kind of vision that birthed Medicare and changed Canada forever and for the better.
Let’s remind ourselves that at the time, Medicare was not an obvious way forward. Those who were opposed were scathingly critical. This reality notwithstanding, once implemented and once Canadians experienced the benefits of universally accessible health care, not one successive government, regardless of political stripe, has been game to try to repeal it.
Today, most Canadians, as underscored by the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision, are loath to accept the notion that health care is a commodity and access is the privilege of the rich. What a legacy it could be for this government to develop guaranteed livable income, mental health, dental, pharma and child care initiatives that could benefit current and future generations.
I know we will work together toward a Canada where we all can be secure: That come another crisis, or the continuation of this one, whether a global pandemic or individual job loss or illness, universally accessible income support will be available in times of need quickly, without arbitrary conditions, to meet basic needs and provide the space, opportunity and flexibility to create a vital and effective pathway for people to rebound out of poverty.
Bill C-4 has gaps. It will leave too many of those most in need to still fall through the cracks. We must remedy and redress the inequality of access to economic and health measures and address discrimination based on class, race, sex, ability and geography, exposed both by who is most impacted and vulnerable to COVID-19 as well as who is left out of current responses to COVID-19.
The bill is another good increment, but it is not sufficient. Let us accept it as another — but not the last — step. Let’s keep working to achieve the lasting and inclusive social, health and economic changes we need and Canadians both demand and deserve. Meegwetch. Thank you.
Honourable senators, as I didn’t prepare a speech, I want to give you four points I would like to discuss.
I will first speak on why I think Bill C-4 is a great bill and we have to vote for it, but that we will be here in a few months to have another bill like it.
The second point I want to develop is youth, because I have a big concern about our youth.
The third point I want to talk about is why the federal government needs to be a financial partner in EI, Employment Insurance, and develop a social dialogue around it.
And finally, I have some words on the deficit.
The first point I want to make is that Bill C-4 is a good bill, but we’ll have to revisit it and adopt slightly more targeted measures.
Bill C-4 should not be called a recovery bill; it should be called a transitional bill. Everyone agrees that this bill is a transition between the emergency income support measures, which were necessary, and restarting the economy. For that restart to happen, for productivity to go up and for us to see economic growth, we will need much more targeted measures. We’ll have to transform large-scale passive income support measures into more active measures. Canada is following recommendations from the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development, the OECD, and what is the OECD telling us?
The OECD is telling us not to end income support measures. It said so again recently in its 2020 economic outlook. Governments should continue to implement expansionist budgets and fiscal measures to support the economy.
However, the OECD is also saying that these measures will soon have to be refocused to target more specific groups and, most importantly, to invest in people. That means transforming passive measures into active ones, not by ending income support measures but by supporting people as they look for jobs and reskill or upskill. The government has to help people reclassify and train for more in-demand jobs.
We can’t put our heads in the sand: The economy will need structural change. As David Dodge said, structural changes within the economy will demand physical investment as well as investment in human beings.
The first point I wanted to make was that Canada is within the sphere of influence of OECD countries. It is very good at pursuing its economic opportunities. I invite you to read the OECD Economic Outlook. It compares Canada to countries in the Euro zone and countries like Australia. Canada’s policies fall within the average of these countries.
The second point I want to discuss has to do with young people. Senator McPhedran touched on this, but I think it’s important to talk about. Bill C-4 will do a lot for women. As the ministers said, a gender-based analysis would likely show an impact, since the pandemic has deeply affected women in the workplace and continues to do so. The flexible measures in Bill C-4 will help women.
Meanwhile, I’m a bit concerned for young people 15 to 24. Honourable colleagues, people have probably asked you whether this bill is good. As for the income support measures for young people, they are required to work 120 hours to be able to get 26 weeks of income support, with a minimum of $500 a week. Of course Canadians have questions, but I think that cannot be avoided for now. We have to continue to invest in income support. We have to immediately start thinking about refocusing income support, especially for young people.
Young people are affected by the pandemic. Let’s be honest: On average, the youth unemployment rate is twice as high as the national rate. Right now, that means that the youth unemployment rate is at least 20%. That rate is even higher for Indigenous youth, Black youth, and newcomers. Youth unemployment has a significant long-term impact and that is why we have to address this situation quickly.
In 2013, after suffering for so long from the 2008 financial crisis, the European Union created a program called the Youth Guarantee. The European Union provides funding to OECD member countries to implement this program. The Youth Guarantee is a program that offers, during the four months following the end of formal study or the loss of employment, advice, training and work experience to any young person under the age of 25. This is a way to guarantee that they’ll be taken care of.
Canada doesn’t have a youth guarantee. It’s vitally important that the government engage with the provinces about quickly creating some sort of youth guarantee in the area of public service employment. The pandemic will end one day. We will have treatment and a vaccine, and the economy will recover, but young people who have experienced unemployment could become discouraged and change their lifestyle accordingly. Studies show that it’s very difficult to find a job after nine months of unemployment, especially for young people.
We need to take care of our young people. This will require a great deal of cooperation with the provinces. These investments are absolutely necessary. That’s what I wanted to say about young people. I’m very concerned about this issue and we need to talk about it more and invite the Government of Canada to invest more in young people.
The third point I wanted to discuss concerns the fact that the federal government must once again become a financial partner in the EI program. I asked a question about this in committee of the whole. Senator Dalphond had concerns similar to mine, which he raised with the minister. I was dismayed to learn that when employment insurance was created in 1949, it was understood that the government would be a partner in this program.
For many years, the federal government contributed up to 20% of the cost of EI. However, in 1971, the rules changed somewhat. The government remained a financial partner, but in the 1970s the rule changed and the federal government contributed to the costs when Canada’s unemployment rate rose above 4%. There were times in the 1980s when the federal government contributed up to 42% or 43% of the cost of EI. In 1991, the federal government decided to stop contributing to the program. At present, the program is funded entirely by employer and employee contributions, shared 7/12 and 5/12 respectively.
The costs associated with this program are significant and growing. The Chief Actuary that examined the program before we even read Bill C-4 estimated that the cost of the employment insurance program, which was hovering around $20 billion in recent years, would increase by $40 billion in 2020 for a total cost of approximately $60 billion. The minister told us that the changes to the program set out in Bill C-4 would increase those costs by $10.2 billion, which brings us to a total cost of nearly $70 billion.
As we now know, premiums are frozen but the cost of financing will be deferred. It is therefore very important, in the near future, to review the EI program, which may be much bigger than it is now and which may also now cover self-employed workers. That is the third point I wanted to make.
I’d like to say a few words about the deficit. I’m sure you’re hearing the same thing, but people are saying that it’s unbelievable. They’re asking me whether this deficit is dangerous and what we should do.
I don’t think we need to be alarmed for the moment. What’s more, as the government said, because of the low interests rates, it will be able to pay down the deficit at a reasonable cost.
Last week I attended a conference with monetary policy experts, and no one criticized the relaxing of monetary policy through which central banks provide loans to their government. That is what the OECD recommends in its economic outlook. The OECD recommends that all governments carry on with their fiscal and budgetary policies to both support incomes and foster a policy of monetary easing — quantitative easing, as they say in economic jargon — which means central banks purchase bonds or treasury bills and in some cases private sector assets.
This is an old practice. It is not new. It was abandoned for a while and has recently regained favour.
One day the pandemic will be over and we will have to stop incurring these extraordinary expenses. However, by incurring them we are ensuring that our economy can weather the storm. In fact, the important thing is to do what David Dodge describes in his paper, which is to invest and ensure that the debt-financed spending triggers, as much as possible, private business investment that will translate into investment in human capital.
Therefore, I am not worried. David Dodge, who attended this well-known conference organized by the Max Bell School of Public Policy, likes to talk about a very simple formula that can help us predict whether public debt will or will not decrease relative to the GDP.
To summarize this simple formula for you, we need to compare the rate of growth of the economy with the government’s base rate. When the growth rate of the economy is greater than the real interest rate, the key interest rate, it ensures a reduction in the debt as a percentage of the GDP.
As a result, since all economists are predicting that interest rates are going to remain low, one day, at the end of 2021 or in 2022 perhaps, when growth resumes, the debt will decrease.
I want to close with a word that is something the OECD called for in its document and that is “cooperation.” To get through this pandemic, the OECD is encouraging all countries to cooperate. I think that is important. However, in Canada, the word “cooperate” has an even broader meaning: the government must cooperate with other governments, the provincial governments; it must also cooperate with economic stakeholders such as business and labour representatives; finally, parliamentarians must also cooperate with each other, so that we are all heading in the same direction, as Senator Harder suggested.