Bill to Provide Further Support in Response to COVID-19

Consideration of Subject Matter in Committee of the Whole

December 16, 2021


The Chair
[17:01]

Honourable senators, the Senate is resolved into a Committee of the Whole on the subject matter of Bill C-2, An Act to provide further support in response to COVID-19.

Honourable senators, in a Committee of the Whole senators shall address the chair but need not stand. Under the Rules the speaking time is 10 minutes, including questions and answers, but, as ordered, if a senator does not use all of his or her time, the balance can be yielded to another senator. The committee will receive the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, and I would now invite her to join us, accompanied by her officials.

(Pursuant to the Order of the Senate, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland and her officials joined the sitting by video conference.)

The Chair
[17:04]

Minister, welcome to the Senate. I would ask you to introduce your officials and to make your opening remarks of at most five minutes.

Hon. Chrystia Freeland, P.C., M.P., Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
[17:07]

I am accompanied today by Mr. Nick Leswick, Associate Deputy Minister, and Mr. Trevor McGowan, Director General, Tax Legislation Division, Finance Canada.

I am also with Employment and Social Development Canada officials: Elisha Ram, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada; and George Rae, Director, Policy Analysis and Initiatives, Employment Insurance Policy, Skills and Employment Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada.

I will make some opening remarks and then, of course, I look forward to hearing your questions and seeking to answer them.

Honourable senators, as Omicron has reminded us, we’re still living in a pandemic and, as we are learning, this is an even more transmissible version of the virus.

On Tuesday, our government released an economic and fiscal update that outlines targeted investments that will allow us to finish the fight against COVID.

We know that vaccines are our best line of defence against the virus. That is why we have invested more than $7.3 billion in buying vaccines for all eligible Canadians, including pediatric vaccines. That amount also includes the purchase of booster shots.

Omicron makes boosters more important than ever. I urge all Canadians listening to us to please go and get your booster as soon as you are eligible. We have enough for everyone. The federal government is ensuring that third doses and booster shots are free for all Canadians.

We are also committing $2 billion to buy therapeutics, including antiviral medications. These will save lives. If and when these medicines are approved by Health Canada, we have agreements for 1 million courses of treatment from Pfizer, and an initial 500,000 from Merck, with the option of an additional 500,000.

Rapid tests are also important. In the Economic and Fiscal Update 2021, we announced that we are investing $1.7 billion to procure and distribute an additional 180 million rapid tests.

We have also introduced measures to enable public health authorities to make the right — albeit sometimes difficult — decisions and, if necessary, to put in place restrictions to control the spread of the virus. We know that putting in place federal government support for workers and businesses will help public health officials to make these decisions where needed.

That brings me to many of the specific measures laid out in Bill C-2. One of them is the proposed Canada worker lockdown benefit. This is a new income benefit that takes into account the fact that the public health situation is still uncertain and unpredictable.

The Canada worker lockdown benefit will provide $300 a week to workers who are directly affected by a COVID-related local lockdown and will be available to eligible workers retroactively to October 24, 2021.

We are taking this step because we want to make sure that no one is left behind, including vulnerable workers.

The bill also proposes to extend eligibility for both the Canada Sickness Benefit and the Canada Caregiving Benefit until May 7, 2022.

We understand that certain travel restrictions will have an impact on tourism businesses, which have already gone through 21 very difficult months. That is why the new tourism and hospitality recovery program will deliver wage and rent subsidies of up to 75% to employers such as hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, and tour operators. The bill includes details of the types of businesses that would be eligible for the program.

For businesses in all sectors, the proposed hardest-hit business recovery program will provide support through wage and rent subsidies to employers who have experienced deep and enduring losses with a subsidy rate of up to 50%.

The local lockdown program is especially important right now. This program will be there to provide employers facing temporary new local lockdowns with a subsidy rate of up to 75% through the wage and rent subsidy programs. This means that local authorities and public health officials can continue to make the right public health choices knowing that support will be there for workers and businesses.

As our government continues to work to control the spread of Omicron, we know we must also focus on our economic recovery. We want businesses to continue to grow and recover. That’s why we’re proposing to extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until May 7, 2022, and to increase the rate of support to 50%. This will encourage businesses to hire back workers, increase workers’ hours and create new jobs.

Honourable senators, fighting COVID-19 has required extraordinary government spending in Canada and around the world. Canadians supported that extraordinary spending because they understood it was not only the compassionate thing to do, but it was the right thing to do economically. We know that Canadians work hard to earn a living and they expect us to be careful with their money. We know we have a duty to do the right thing for today and for tomorrow.

Our government will continue to be a responsible and prudent fiscal manager. This bill is about pivoting from broad-based support programs to more targeted, less expensive measures that will continue to deliver support where it’s needed and also support strong public health policy.

When we introduced these programs in October, we projected they would cost $7.4 billion, but with the growing threat of the Omicron variant, we decided to set aside an additional $4.5 billion for these programs, along with other measures needed to control the spread.

In conclusion, Omicron is not something any of us want to be dealing with just before the holidays, but I think we all understood, after 21 months of fighting this virus, that making hard decisions quickly and behaving carefully pays off in the long run. Our government has —

The Chair
[17:10]

Minister, thank you very much for your presentation. We must now move on to the question and answer period, which will be divided into 10-minute blocks.

Most are shared with two senators. When shared with two senators, it will consist of five minutes each for questions and answers.

We are starting the first block of 10 minutes with Senator Housakos.

Senator Housakos
[17:10]

Welcome, minister, to the Senate. We appreciate you taking the time.

Minister, the organizational chart for Finance Canada indicates that you have 10 assistant deputy ministers, one acting assistant deputy minister and one senior assistant deputy minister. The Globe and Mail reported this week that you haven’t met with some of your assistant deputy ministers in months. Can you tell us which assistant deputy ministers did you fail to meet with during the preparation of Bill C-2 before us today, and why did you not choose to meet with them? After all, as we all know, assistant deputy ministers provide valuable information in crafting legislation and we rely on them heavily to make sure legislation is executed.

Ms. Freeland
[17:11]

Thank you for the question, senator. It is always good to hear the Conservatives support and endorse the important role that our public service plays. Certainly, as a minister, I rely heavily on the excellence and professionalism of the public servants in the Department of Finance.

Of course, my Deputy Minister Michael Sabia, whose extensive background in both business and the public service is a huge benefit to Canada, is my most important official and I work extremely closely with Mr. Sabia. I think it would be fair to say I speak with Mr. Sabia on the phone four, five, maybe six times a day — some days more than that.

I work very closely with many of the other officials in the Department of Finance. In fact, we have with us today Nick Leswick, an official who I work with very closely. He has been deeply engaged in the work of that legislation. He is the number two in the Department of Finance and was very closely involved in this legislation.

I’m not going to go through, name by name, each of the officials I work with. Let me just say for the record that I’m very grateful for the hard work and dedication of the officials in the Department of Finance. Of course, being careful as we are about COVID — and in fact I’m appearing before you virtually today for that reason — most of our conversations are over the phone or over video.

Senator Housakos
[17:13]

Minister, COVID doesn’t prevent us from consulting senior officials and our staff. You didn’t really answer the question in regard to the news story where many assistant deputy ministers, current and former, say they have not been heard by you.

Minister, The Globe and Mail reported this week that you rarely take part in departmental briefings, preferring political outreach instead.

Minister, the question is very succinct and important. How many briefings have you received from your departmental officials in 2021? How many did you receive from them with respect to this very important bill? And yes, minister, we Conservatives and all senators in this chamber are very respectful of the important role of our public service, particularly senior officials who are so important in, like I said, putting forward the legislation that this Parliament passes.

Minister, to what do you attribute — and I’m concerned about this — the low morale in your department and the excessive high turnover of experienced staff as recently reported in The Globe and Mail?

Ms. Freeland
[17:14]

Senator, I speak many times a day with officials in the Department of Finance, starting with our outstanding Deputy Minister Michael Sabia. Truly, I would be surprised if I had fewer than half a dozen conversations a day with officials in the Department of Finance, and that includes weekends, early mornings and evenings. I often ask them to prepare briefing notes for me, which I read, and then I call them and ask them questions about those notes. Let me assure you that the Department of Finance officials work very hard and talk to me a lot.

But I do want to say, senator, that I have never been a person who believes that Ottawa has a monopoly on good ideas. So I absolutely do also very intentionally devote a considerable amount of time talking to Canadians across the country, to talking to business people across the country, to talking to labour leaders across the country and to talking to independent economists in Canada and around the world.

In the past two weeks alone, I had a meeting with leaders of the auto parts sector, with a group of women business leaders brought together by Rona Ambrose and I had very good conversations with Stephen Poloz, a former governor of the Bank of Canada and a fine economist. I do speak with economists from around the world because I think that having an international perspective is really important.

Senator Housakos
[17:16]

Minister, the fact that you speak many times to your deputy ministers is reassuring, but what’s really concerning is, as I mentioned in my question, the high turnover of senior officials in the finance department, which you haven’t answered. The fact that you consult with outside economists doesn’t change the fact that we’ve had an unusually high turnover of senior officials in your department.

Minister, the economic and fiscal updates show our gross domestic product, or GDP, came in about a percentage point lower than expected in the budget. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently predicted that Canada will have the lowest gross domestic product growth in the G20 between 2020 and 2030. As The Globe and Mail pointed out earlier this week in its report on your department, you don’t have a growth agenda and you haven’t reined in spending. How is your government going to pay for all its spending, including the spending contained in Bill C-2? Some of it is very necessary, but at the end of the day you must have the funds to be able to execute the objective.

Ms. Freeland
[17:17]

Senator, with the greatest possible respect, I disagree very much with the premises and the tendency of your questions.

Let me talk about Canada’s economic policy through COVID, what we’ve done, why we’ve done it and what we have achieved. Let me start by reminding all of the senators that when COVID hit, Canada experienced the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Our economy shrank by 17% and we lost 3 million jobs. Many economists, quite rightly, were very concerned by what lay ahead. So our government acted. We put in place extraordinary programs to support workers and to support businesses.

Senators, those programs have worked. Canada has now recovered 106% of the jobs lost to COVID. That compares to 83% recovered in the U.S. Our gross domestic product in the third quarter grew by 5.4%. That is faster than the U.S., the U.K., Japan and Australia.

Let me also point out that we have retained our AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. These were reaffirmed in the fall. We continue to have the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G7.

Finally, let me quote an economist who no longer works for the Government of Canada, who was appointed by Stephen Harper and who I do consult with pretty often, and that is former governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz. Here’s what he said on “Global News” over the weekend:

Aren’t we lucky that the policies worked well to prevent the second Great Depression, which is what many economists were worried about when we first encountered the COVID-19 shock?

I agree with Governor Poloz, senator.

Senator Housakos
[17:20]

Let me spell out some more facts for you, minister. The year 2021 has been an expensive year for Canadian families. You may not have noticed because your government no longer has a Minister of Middle Class Prosperity. Yesterday, Statistics Canada reported inflation remains at an 18-year high, up to 4.7% year over year. Home prices have gone up 25%. The average family will be spending $1,000 more on groceries next year, minister. Interest rate hikes are widely believed to be coming in 2022, and no economist can deny that. Inflation grew much faster than wages rose over the same period of the past year.

So the only thing that has been accomplished with this inflation is that middle-class and poor Canadians have been taxed to death, and we have seen that in the increasing revenue. That’s because they’re paying more for gasoline, more for food, more for housing, more for furniture and more for clothing.

Why do you think, minister, that Canadians can continue to pay more than they currently do in order to survive on a day-to-day basis?

Ms. Freeland
[17:21]

Since my time is limited, Madam Chair, let me just urge all senators to do what I do, which is to see Canada in a global perspective.

So let’s talk about inflation. In the United States, November inflation was 6.8%, and it increased in November over October. In Germany, November inflation was 6%, also increased over October. In Britain, November inflation was 5.1%, an increase from October. In Canada, inflation is lower than in each of those three countries, our peers, and it did not increase from October to November.

Senator Forest
[17:22]

Thank you, minister, for being with us today. I will come back to the matter now before the committee of the whole, Bill C-2. The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance called on your government several times to better target its support measures. Bill C-2 and the economic and fiscal update are a step in that direction. With regard to the tourism and hospitality recovery program, businesses must demonstrate a revenue reduction of at least 40% to qualify for a subsidy of up to 75% of wages. Concerning this single threshold of 40% in lost revenue, did you consider tailoring this criterion to the size of businesses in order to provide additional support for the smallest businesses, which often have few means or other sources of financing to get through the pandemic? I will also speak on behalf of Senator Duncan, who posed a question that is often asked by the industry: If Bill C-2 is passed before the holidays, when do you think the money will begin to flow to the businesses that qualify?

Ms. Freeland
[17:23]

Thank you for your question. You are correct. When we announced the measures in Bill C-2, our intent, which I think was the right one, was to take a more targeted approach, rather than the general approach that was needed in the early days of the crisis, but which was expensive. The targeted approach is more appropriate for the current situation and is also more financially judicious for Canada.

As for your question about smaller businesses, most businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector, which will benefit from this assistance, are small and medium-sized businesses. That is one of the reasons why this approach and its measures are so important to us. As you well know, there are other programs that directly target small and medium-sized businesses, such as the Canada Digital Adoption Program and the Emergency Business Account Credit.

Senator Forest
[17:25]

If we pass Bill C-2 before the holidays, when do you think the eligible businesses could start actually receiving the assistance?

Ms. Freeland
[17:25]

Thank you. I’m sorry I didn’t answer the second part of your question. We understand that these businesses are in a difficult situation. That is why we announced we had planned to do this at the end of October, to give the government time to prepare. I would also remind you that this will apply retroactively to the end of October. We’re doing our best to implement this as soon as possible. We will use the same platforms we used for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy to speed up the process. Let me say that, with the Omicron variant and the additional measures we have put in place at our borders, this was more important than ever. I would like to thank you, honourable senators, for the work you have put into this.

Senator Forest
[17:26]

Thank you. I wish you a heartwarming holiday season with your family.

Senator Boehm
[17:26]

Thank you for joining us, minister. I know the time is short, and I will try to squeeze in two very quick questions and hopefully not offer too much of a preamble. They are very different questions. The first is on comparisons of economic support measures across various jurisdictions. You’ve had many meetings with G7, G20, OECD counterparts, and in various countries, different steps and measures have been taken, whether for short-term work benefits in Europe to, in fact, wage supplements, as we have had here in Canada, in Australia and in the U.K.

The stop-and-start provisions have been different in countries, depending on their own jurisdictions but also with respect to the spread of the pandemic.

I’m wondering, have you exchanged best practices? Is there anything that you and your team have learned in this regard, and are these exchanges continuing?

My second question is about the independent travel advisers. The vast majority of those are women who are taking another hit now because of the new variant. They work from home. How would they be supported under the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program? I raised this matter before with you when we were discussing Bill C-14 some time ago. I’m committed to continue to advocate for this particular community. Thank you, minister.

Ms. Freeland
[17:28]

Thank you, Senator Boehm, for that question and for all your work on this bill.

In terms of comparison of what people have done and are doing in different countries, it’s a great question, and it’s something to which I devote quite a lot of time thinking about and talking about. I think it’s so valuable for us, as a country, to be in touch with our peers around the world and to understand that we can learn from them and, maybe, sometimes they can learn from us.

I would say that I was very lucky, before he became chancellor, to have some very good conversations with now-Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany. We were able to host him for supper at the Canadian embassy during the World Bank/IMF meetings in the fall, and it was really useful to learn about the German experience. We have also spent a lot of time talking with Secretary Yellen and her team at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and with our British counterparts.

I would say, in terms of the international experience, senator — because I know you, like me, find value in comparisons — there was actually a very good piece. I think it was published on December 10 — written by Chris Giles in the Financial Times. I was just reading it this morning and shared it with my team. It tried to pull together the comparative lessons of COVID.

One conclusion in that piece, which I agree with, is that a wage subsidy program, like the one that Canada has taken, helps to keep workers connected to their jobs. In countries that have taken that kind of approach, you do seem to see a faster jobs recovery. As we have seen in Canada, 106% of the jobs have been recovered from that 3 million jobs lost, so I’m glad we did it.

From my perspective, losing a job is probably the biggest economic tragedy that can happen to a person and a family, and when we lost those 3 million jobs, I was very worried. I’m glad we were able to put in place measures that have addressed that very effectively.

On the independent travel advisers, I am aware of your consistent advocacy, senator, and I think it’s really good that you are advocating for this group of people.

As you know, what we have put before you now are measures to provide direct, targeted support to businesses. Two levels of support to tourism and hospitality business — the highest level — and then a broader level of support for hardest-hit businesses overall, but you do have to have a business to get this support.

These measures, absent a lockdown, are not about providing direct income support to people. That was an intentional decision because we knew we needed to move from general to targeted support.

In choosing to do that — providing support to individuals rather than businesses in a targeted way — it is just something very difficult to untangle. Of course, as I said at the beginning, we need to support the Canadian economy and Canadian workers.

The Chair
[17:32]

Madam minister, I’m sorry we are now moving to the next 10-minute block.

Senator Bellemare
[17:32]

Thank you for being here, minister. I would like to begin by thanking you for the agreement reached with the Bank of Canada and for recognizing the importance of the labour market.

My question is about how income supports for workers during the pandemic are being funded. The income support in Bill C-2 for people affected by the pandemic and for family caregivers without employment insurance coverage will be funded from general revenue. However, income support for people with employment insurance coverage will be paid for out of the employment insurance fund. As you know, employers and employees pay for employment insurance. That includes additional costs related to so-called simplified, temporary employment insurance. The problem is that the current funding arrangement significantly penalizes workers and businesses.

The premium rate was frozen at $1.58 per $100 in insurable earnings, but the break-even rate is $1.83. That means the employment insurance fund deficit will grow, which could end up costing businesses and workers a pretty penny when premiums are unfrozen.

The employment insurance system is also an economic stabilizer, so would it not make sense for the government to officially become a financial partner, as it was from the time the system began until the 1990s? Will the government cover the additional costs related to measures introduced as part of the simplified program?

Ms. Freeland
[17:34]

Senator, it is clear that as an economist, you take the fundamental principles of our approach to financing very seriously, and the same goes for our economic and fiscal approach. I appreciate the fact that you care about the foundation of our system and that you ask questions about that.

In the first part of your intervention, you talked about the Bank of Canada’s mandate, which was announced by the governor and me last Monday. I will start by thanking you for the work you have done on this over the past several years. I read the articles you wrote, during my discussions with officials, economists and the Governor of the Bank of Canada, and took them into account in making this decision, as I did for previous decisions. Thank you.

As for your question, I must say that currently our efforts focus on three objectives. First, we want to finish the fight against COVID-19. It is a very long battle and it takes a lot of work. We have to focus on this objective. That includes providing the support required to the people who need it.

Second, we are focusing on a prudent approach to public finances. We have spent considerable amounts and we also understand that the fight is not over. We have to be careful about budgetary issues. I think it is very important to maintain Canada’s credibility on international markets.

The third objective is to work on a strong, swift and inclusive economic recovery.

Fundamental questions like the ones you have asked are very important. I believe that the COVID crisis has shown the importance and the robustness of the employment insurance system we have in Canada. We are fortunate to have such a system. We also understand that this system needs to be renewed. I think we need to talk about —

The Chair
[17:38]

Minister, I am sorry, but we must move on to the next five-minute block.

Senator Gignac
[17:38]

I am very honoured to speak today in this chamber for the first time, in Committee of the Whole and, what is more, in your presence, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Thank you for being here.

Canada’s performance from the start of this pandemic was quite different from that of other G7 countries, whether in terms of vaccination or job creation. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate your government and leadership in that regard. However, as an economist, there is one aspect that I am concerned about, and that is the sluggishness or decline in investment by Canadian businesses.

According to the most recent data, non-residential investment in Canada has decreased by 9% compared to pre-pandemic levels and by 24% compared to six years ago. In the meantime, business investment has hit record highs south of the border. As you know, we cannot depend forever on government assistance, real estate or household consumption to bail us out.

My question is the following. Are you concerned about the lethargy we are seeing in business investment? What possible solutions is your government considering to address this?

Ms. Freeland
[17:39]

Thank you, senator. You have asked an excellent question. I know that you often speak with Mr. Sabia. You are therefore well aware that this is a concern for me, as well as for Mr. Sabia.

I would also like to thank the economists at the Bank of Canada for their work on this. This is a question we have had about the Canadian economy for some time now. I also agree with you that we must continue looking for viable solutions to increase domestic and foreign investments in Canadian businesses, in Canada.

If I may, I would also like to tell senators about how successful our technology sector has been, even in the middle of a pandemic. The Narwhal List, which was released in March 2021, listed 50 companies that are on the path to becoming a “Unicorn.” As you know, this refers to start-ups with a valuation of $1 billion and over. That is a 20% increase over last year.

Also, although we only have the figures for the first three quarters, 2021 was a record-breaking year for Canada with respect to venture capital activity, with $11.8 billion, over nearly 600 transactions, invested in Canadian start-ups and growing businesses.

Lastly, four Canadian universities placed in the PitchBook ranking of the 50 best institutions in the world for producing start-up founders. Three of our four institutions went up in the rankings this year. There are a lot of very intelligent people in Canada who are also excellent entrepreneurs, and our tech start-up sector is quite active.

I do want to say that the question you asked is a very pertinent and important one. It is something I am concerned about, as is the entire Department of Finance. We tried to present solutions in the budget.

Senator Quinn
[17:43]

Could you clarify the eligibility for the Canada worker lockdown benefit when considering the various public health measures put in place by New Brunswick? For example, New Brunswick had, until November 19, circuit breakers which restricted movements in certain regions of the province and also asked, but did not legally require, residents of those regions to limit their travel for essential purposes only. Are these regions deemed as lockdown regions under the definitions of the bill, and are the public health circuit breakers by New Brunswick deemed as lockdown orders so individuals who have experienced a reduction or loss of income could apply for benefits from October 24 to November 19?

Ms. Freeland
[17:43]

Thank you very much, senator, for the question.

As you have rightly pointed out, the Canada worker lockdown benefit is an insurance policy that we have on hand in the event that local public health authorities have to impose restrictions. The criteria for a lockdown is laid out in the legislation. If a circuit breaker, similar to those that New Brunswick employed earlier in the pandemic, such as the closure of non-essential businesses or a stay-at-home order, were to be employed, that would certainly qualify for the benefit.

Concerning lockdowns that have happened since October 24, if the Senate will pass this legislation and that benefit were to be in place, we would be very happy to talk with jurisdictions across the country that believe they already have measures in place that would qualify. We are happy to look at those specifics and look at how the law applies. However, let me emphasize that we are seeking your support for this legislation because we think that there will be jurisdictions in Canada that will need it, and there may be jurisdictions that already qualify retroactively from October 24 going forward, and we’re happy to look into that once this law is on the books.

Senator Quinn
[17:45]

Thank you, minister. I have another related question. Tomorrow on Friday, December 17, New Brunswick public health will require restaurants and entertainment centres, like theatres, to reduce their capacity to 50% with spacing of two metres. A couple of examples are the Saint John Imperial Theatre or the Fredericton Playhouse. This will cause an effective reduction of capacity to 21% in some cases. The associated loss of business revenues may impact employees’ earnings, or in fact employment. Would reductions in seating capacity in certain situations be viewed by the federal government as a lockdown under the provisions of the bill?

Ms. Freeland
[17:46]

Let me say a couple of things. First of all, even absent the lockdown support, businesses in tourism and hospitality and hardest-hit businesses overall will be able to qualify for support if they, in the tourism and hospitality case, fall into the targeted category and if they meet the revenue loss provisions. So that’s kind of protection layer number one.

In terms of the specific lockdown support, the specifics of who qualifies and who does not is laid out in the legislation. This is a fast-moving situation on the ground as we are seeing provinces and territories, quite appropriately, let me say, responding to COVID and to Omicron and putting new restrictions in place.

Let me say to you, senator, and to all the provincial and territorial leaders across Canada, that once this law is on the books I will be very happy to speak with them, look at the measures that they have in place, talk to our public health authorities, and to consider where they do qualify for the lockdown support for workers and businesses.

In putting together the economic and fiscal update, we anticipated that this support would be needed, and we provisioned an additional $4.5 billion for precisely that reason.

Senator Tannas
[17:47]

Thank you for being here minister. Just on that last exchange with Senator Quinn, you announced the details of this bill before anybody had ever heard the word “Omicron.” Are you satisfied that it meets the situations that could come? As you say, it’s moving quickly. It has things that it doesn’t appear to be, and things that it appears to be multiple times stronger in other areas.

Are you satisfied that the bill is still relevant, given Omicron? I saw there was a fail-safe where the Minister of Employment can deem any region for any purpose. Is that kind of the fail-safe in the bill?

Ms. Freeland
[17:48]

Thank you very much, Senator Tannas, for that really important question, and you are quite right that we announced the measures contained in Bill C-2 at the end of October before any of us had heard of Omicron.

Let me say to you and to all the senators, I am sure glad that we were prudent and careful and that as we were pivoting from broad-based support to targeted support we thought to ourselves, “You know what? There could be another wave of COVID. Let’s be sure that the federal government retains the tools to support people if that were to happen.”

So that was a moment of prudence, and I described it at the time to officials in the department and to the Prime Minister as like taking out an insurance policy. When we put together these measures, I had very much hoped they would never need to be used, as I think we all did when we read about them. You’re quite right also that with Omicron we will probably have to lean on them more than we perhaps hoped and predicted at the end of October. In view of that, I added the additional $4.5 billion provision to the fiscal framework in the update. You’re also right, senator, that we did include in the legislation some regulatory authority to adapt to circumstances as they developed.

Senator Tannas
[17:50]

Thank you. I am going to run out of time.

Minister, you’re one of the most senior people in the government, and we are here in a situation where we are apparently getting two bills tonight. My understanding is that the House has already risen. The Senate is constrained in its ability to do the job that it’s supposed to do constitutionally, to say the least.

Could you give us some commitment that you will use your influence with your colleagues to try and plan a little bit better so that we are not backed into a corner and unable to do the job that we were sworn to do on bills? We know that it’s difficult, but we’re tired of this.

Ms. Freeland
[17:51]

Senator, let me say that I hear you. I take the comment that you have just made very seriously. While it’s hard to read a room on Zoom, I see many of your fellow senators nodding their heads. Let me commit to saying to you that I take the point very seriously. It is a reasonable point.

With Omicron here, I’m grateful to all of you for moving with alacrity on Bill C-2. We will need it even more than we had thought, and I look forward to continuing to work with you. I have found working with the Senate that all of you really work hard and pose very substantive questions.

Also, when we’re not in moments like this, many people send me emails with ideas. Senator Bellemare sends me her articles sometimes, and I really welcome that. You have to be a serious person with a life of real accomplishment already to be appointed to the Senate. I accept that, as a government, we need to create the circumstances where that wisdom can be brought to bear on Canada’s legislation.

Senator Tannas
[17:53]

We’ll hold you to it.

Thank you, minister.

Senator Marshall
[17:53]

Welcome, minister. Thank you for mentioning the costs of the program and the revised costs in your opening remarks. Sometimes we don’t realize that these programs come at a great cost. We’ll be looking for the cost information on these programs in the 2022 public accounts, but I want to talk about the 2021 public accounts because they were so late in coming.

It creates a big problem for parliamentarians. We had to review both Bill C-6 and the Supplementary Estimates (B) last week without the benefit of those documents, and we use them. We actually read them, so we really need them on a timely basis, and the tabling this year is the latest. I looked back to 1994. This was the latest tabling since at least 1994.

There are some parliamentarians who would like to see the Financial Administration Act changed because the deadline for tabling public accounts is December 31. October 31 seems like a more reasonable deadline and would provide some assurance that we’ll get the information in time to use it.

Would you be supportive of an amendment to the Financial Administration Act that would change the December 31 deadline to the end of October?

Ms. Freeland
[17:55]

Senator, first of all, I do know that senators read the public accounts and financial documents carefully. I have learned in my appearances before the Senate that you are a senator with real financial expertise, and I know you carefully read all of the documents we publish. I appreciate that, and that’s an important role.

I, however, am responsible for steering the finances of the country through a time that is very difficult and fraught with uncertainty — the uncertainty of COVID, as Senator Tannas just said. In October, when we laid out the main measures in Bill C-2, no one could have anticipated Omicron. But we had to try in our legislation to look around the corner, and I think we did a pretty good job of that. Also the uncertainty of reopening the global economy after a shutdown never happened before in human history, and there is a lot of uncertainty there that we have to deal with. Here I come to the public accounts: there is the uncertainty that every government has to deal with when it comes to judicial decisions about the obligations of the Government of Canada.

In view of all that uncertainty, any government needs to have some flexibility to operate. We take our requirements of tabling legislation and accounts seriously, and we fulfill them and will continue to do that.

Senator Marshall
[17:56]

I realize we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Over the last seven years, three years the public accounts were tabled in December, which is really late. I’ve noticed not just the public accounts but also other documents like the departmental results reports. Last year we received them on December 7. Now we’re not going to receive them — or so we have been told — until January 31. Then you were providing some COVID expenditures — I have mentioned this to you before — and then you stopped and started again and then you stopped.

The impression I’m getting — and I’m hoping you will correct me — is that there seems to be a noticeable decline in the release of accountability documents by your government. A lot of times we’re waiting for things and can’t get them or you stop producing them. One is left with the impression that it is a deliberate attempt to not provide the accountability documents, or to provide them so late that we can’t use them in our reviews. Could you address that issue and concern that I have?

Ms. Freeland
[17:58]

So in 30 seconds let me just say, absolutely not. Absolutely, yes, I can address the issue; and absolutely, no, senator, there is no effort whatsoever to avoid transparency. I used to be a journalist. I believe transparency is really important, and that is how we will continue to behave.

Senator Boisvenu
[17:58]

Welcome to the Senate, minister.

Bill C-2 will add billions to the country’s deficit. We know Canadians have been critical of the way the government is spending that money and especially of the lack of scrutiny. La Presse recently reported on a criminal organization in Montreal that used CERB money to acquire illegal firearms and the fact that people in jail collected CERB. We also know there is very little oversight in penitentiaries to prevent these people from getting CERB. You promised that only honest citizens, not criminals, would get CERB.

Prime Minister Trudeau swore it was virtually impossible to establish criteria to manage all those billions properly and rigorously, and criminals benefited illegally. Meanwhile, in the Maritimes, Revenue Canada is going after fishers who filled out their applications perfectly honestly. Those people are now being told to pay back millions of dollars, yet your government is doing nothing about criminal organizations.

Do you know how many criminal organizations Revenue Canada will be looking at and charging with tax fraud? Will Revenue Canada be as lenient with the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick fishers as it is with criminals?

Lastly, my House of Commons colleagues called for a public inquiry into the management of CERB funds and inappropriate payments. Will your government launch that public inquiry?

Ms. Freeland
[18:01]

Thank you for your question, senator. I want to start by saying that I am convinced, and I think that all senators will agree, that the vast majority of Canadians are honest, that the vast majority of workers and businesses that have been affected by COVID and received support from the government are honest people who really needed it.

Senator Boisvenu
[18:01]

Minister, that’s not what I asked. I’m sure that Canadians are very honest.

Ms. Freeland
[18:01]

You asked me three questions. Would you like me to answer them?

Senator Boisvenu
[18:01]

Please don’t spend five minutes explaining things to me that I didn’t ask you about.

Ms. Freeland
[18:02]

Senator, it’s important for me to emphasize to Canadians that I trust them to be honest. I also want to emphasize that the integrity of our system is important to our government. I understand very well that the money we spend comes from Canadians, and we must ensure that the money is spent appropriately and is properly distributed to the people who are entitled to it.

I am confident that the CRA is monitoring all of this spending. It was a crisis, a time of urgency, senator. We promised to control spending. We put integrity measures in place, and we will continue to apply them.

However, I disagree with your statement that we’re lenient with criminals. That is not true, senator. Our government has zero tolerance for criminals, but we understood that, during the most difficult times of the crisis, it was important that the government be there, and the government is there.

Senator Boisvenu
[18:03]

Then why did Mr. Trudeau tell the students who spoke out publicly about receiving the CERB in error that no student would have to pay it back, when you’re forcing honest fishers in Nova Scotia, who are struggling with the bureaucracy, to pay it back? They are working hard to feed Canadians. So why the double standard?

The Chair
[18:04]

Senator Boisvenu, your time is up.

Senator Pate
[18:04]

Thank you, minister, for joining us. As you’ve already stressed today, the Canada worker lockdown benefit proposed in Bill C-2, like previous pandemic supports, is geared only to those who previously had paid work. In addition, the government has announced one-time payments for low-income seniors who accessed CERB and are now facing reductions or loss of GIS payments as a result. The effects of clawbacks have been amplified where people who claimed pandemic supports in good faith, then learned they were ineligible, and now are required to make repayments despite having lost their other supports. The worker lockdown benefit will likely cause the same problem. Will the government commit to eliminating and fully compensating all clawbacks of GIS and other vital supports like the Canada Child Benefit, whether caused by CERB or other pandemic supports? And will it waive repayment requirements for individuals below the poverty line for whom repayment could well result in food insecurity and loss of shelter?

Ms. Freeland
[18:05]

Okay. Well, thank you very much, Senator Pate, for those questions, and thank you for, as always, turning our attention to the most vulnerable. I very much agree with the thrust of your concern that there are people who were struggling before the pandemic hit, and the pandemic has hit many of them particularly hard, particularly our seniors.

That’s why I was glad in announcing the fall economic update to make a commitment to compensate the seniors who received the CERB, qualified to receive the CERB but who subsequently saw that that counted as income and counted against their GIS. I have heard in my own constituency from people who have been affected by that. I see you nodding, so I think, senator, you probably have, too.

I’ll tell you the truth. Those stories really moved me. There was an argument which was made that that calculation was just going by the rules and that that calculation which was made, that the government had been up front, that this would be what happened, that the CERB, like any other income, ought to count against the GIS. You’re familiar with the arguments yourself, senator.

There is logic to those arguments, but for me, and for our government overall, what was more compelling was the reality that our most vulnerable people, I think, our seniors — an older person who qualifies for the GIS is a really poor person and a person who I think we should all feel a duty to support.

So these most vulnerable seniors collected the CERB, which was good. It helped them get through the hardest days of the pandemic. Maybe they didn’t read the fine print, and then they were surprised to see their GIS reduced.

That’s why, at a cost of $750 million, we did commit on Tuesday to making people whole, and that’s a commitment I am glad to have made. When it comes to supporting other vulnerable Canadians, let me say that our government has a track record of having done that with the Canada Child Benefit, with those additional payments we made to people with children during COVID and with the increases we made to the GIS.

You are a person, senator, who is an expert on vulnerable people and poverty in Canada, and you know that under our government, the number of people living in poverty has gone from around 5.2 million to around 3.78 or 3.79 million. That’s still 3.79 million people too many, but it is real progress, and that is thanks to investments our government has made. Let me say personally that I look forward to continuing to work with you on ways we can continue that work.

Since you mentioned children, I just have to say a universal system of $10-a-day early learning and child care will help children across the country very much, including children living in poverty, and I hope I can count on you and all senators here to help me to get the child care deals done with just the two jurisdictions left: Ontario and Nunavut.

Senator Pate
[18:09]

I think you recognize that we —

The Chair
[18:09]

Senator Pate, you are out of time.

Senator Loffreda
[18:09]

Thank you, Minister Freeland, for joining us. I know you’ve had a very busy week, and your presence here this evening is much appreciated.

Minister Freeland, I’m an optimist, so I did like some of the great news you shared in your Economic and Fiscal Update 2021. As you mentioned, job creation is well ahead of projections, recouping 106% of jobs lost at the depths of the pandemic; and there is other positive economic news such as the debt-to-GDP now peaking at 48% in the current fiscal year and more. So kudos; well done.

My concern and question is about interest rates and inflation. How many of your programs are inflation-linked, such as those we are seeing in Bill C-2? Are you concerned that we risk seeing spending much greater than forecast because of inflation and interest rate increases? It’s a major concern for Canadians, and I’d like to have your thoughts on that. Some expert economists are predicting three major interest rate increases in 2022.

Ms. Freeland
[18:10]

Thank you very much, senator, and thank you for starting with the positives. While I understand that the job of everyone here is to pose challenging questions, I also think that, at the end of the day, we all play for team Canada and confidence is important in an economy. The fact is, Canada’s economic recovery is strong and robust, and each one of us has a role to play in reassuring Canadians about that and that we have the balance sheet to continue to fight the pandemic.

You ask an important question. I’d like to point you to pages 60 to 62 in the English version of the economic and fiscal update. That’s where you will find an analysis of faster and slower growth scenarios and the impact they will have on the fiscal situation in Canada. There would be an impact, but even in a slow-growth scenario we’re in reasonable shape.

Then, if you look at pages 64 and 65, you will see a stress test, which the Department of Finance has traditionally done for some years. This tests all of our assumptions with the view of an interest rate increase of 100 basis points. That is on top of the assumptions about growth, interest rates and inflation, which are currently built into the fiscal forecast. As you know, senator, the basic assumptions around the prevailing economic conditions that we use to build the fiscal framework on — in order to ensure we’re not drinking our own Kool-Aid — are based on a survey of a group of economists, and the list is included in the update.

I am confident that the numbers I presented to Canadians and to you on Tuesday already build in a very reasonable and average view of Bay Street economists on where the economy is going, including interest rates and inflation. I’m confident also that we have presented scenarios of both faster and slower growth, and I’m confident that we have presented what a stress test of higher than expected interest rate increases would look like.

I’ll stop there. I have one more thing I want to say about inflation, but I will let you go ahead.

Senator Loffreda
[18:13]

Thank you for that — I’ve seen it. I’m just looking at a global strategy. With the Omicron variant, we’ve seen that this could be endemic. I’m sure you’re discussing strategies with the team, and I want you to elaborate on the strategies that you are discussing and putting together. If the situation is endemic, where we see more and more variants, how much of this is sustainable going forward?

The Chair
[18:14]

Thank you, Senator Loffreda, your time is expired.

Senator Smith
[18:14]

Thank you, minister, and welcome. First of all, I think all Canadians applaud what was done to get us through that first wave of COVID. I’d just like to develop that subject a bit.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, expectations were that governments would impose restrictions for a certain period of time until we were able to combat the spread. Today those expectations are vastly different and — this goes to Senator Loffreda’s point — references to this disease as endemic are happening more and more often. The idea is that COVID-19 is no longer a one-time threat to society but something we’ll have to live with and deal with for years to come.

I say this because it could be perceived that the government is potentially caught in a cycle, to a certain extent, of some form of reaction. When somebody creates an action, there must be a reaction. For example, the Economic and Fiscal Update this week quoted “Omicron-centric as the theme” with major items like housing expenditures and health care transfers being relegated to next year.

Minister, if you could give us an idea of what long-term plans the government has to ensure that we move out of this reactionary — and I’m not saying it in a negative way, but it is a reaction; it’s a response to a problem — policy making and deficit spending, and implementing more proactive measures to not only get Canadians but the entire economy out of this cycle of restrictions and lockdowns? If you could expand on what the plan is, other than the plan to address the actual issues of COVID one, COVID two, COVID three and this now this new variant, that would be helpful.

Ms. Freeland
[18:16]

Thank you for the question, senator. I think it’s actually a very profound one. Let me offer the following.

First, when it comes to the fall economic update, our intention from the beginning was that this would not be a mini budget. We delivered a significant budget in April, and we felt that the right thing to do now was to do what the title says and to provide our legislators and Canadians with an update as to where the nation’s finances are. That was the objective here. As you rightly point out, we also included measures to finish the fight against COVID: significant measures on buying vaccines, buying rapid tests and buying therapeutic medicines. Second, we included the measures that we’re here discussing tonight, which are the economic supports for that final leg of the fight.

Now, I am not going to apologize — and I don’t think you’re asking me to — for putting those measures in place and for including them. Quite the contrary. As we’ve seen with the rising Omicron wave, I’ve been very glad that before Omicron was here we were busy buying those therapeutic medicines, rapid tests and boosters. Isn’t it great that we have enough boosters for everyone in Canada? I certainly think it is. I’m glad that we have these business support measures in place and this lockdown support. It is the job of the government to try to look around corners. That’s what we have sought to do. That’s my first answer.

My second answer, senator, is I think the data shows that Canadians are resilient, and, although none of us wants to be dealing with this new wave of Omicron, I feel that we are one of the best-positioned countries in the world. We have a very high level of vaccination and a high willingness to go and get our boosters. We have the actual health tools that we need for this fight. Our economy has largely recovered the losses that COVID first inflicted in March and, perhaps most importantly, what we have seen over these 21 months of COVID is that our economy is becoming increasingly resilient and able to adapt to the restrictions that are necessary to protect our health. I think we’ve all seen it in our personal lives. It’s maybe reflected in the fact that we are here working with each other virtually rather than in person.

Canadians are good at handling this. I think that’s what we have experienced in the past and what we are going to experience in —

The Chair
[18:19]

Thank you, minister. We are now moving to the next five minutes with Senator Martin.

[18:19]

Minister, thank you for being here.

My first question is something related to what Senator Boehm said and regarding your response to him about the independent travel advisers. You said you’re moving from general to targeted programs, but in the general program, just so you recall, they were left out of the programs and were not eligible for any support. We just know they are suffering.

Would you take a careful look and see whether there is something outside of what you’ve already allocated for such groups like the independent travel advisers? I really believe that they deserve our support.

Ms. Freeland
[18:20]

Thank you very much for that heartfelt advocacy.

My colleague, Randy Boissonnault, the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, is working closely with those entrepreneurs. Senator Boehm pointed out they are mostly women. He is looking to see whether there is anything that can be done to support them.

[18:21]

Thank you, minister.

Through Bill C-2, businesses will be eligible for assistance under the hardest-hit business recovery program, provided they meet two eligibility requirements, one being to have an average monthly revenue reduction of at least 50% over the first 13 qualifying periods for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, with the second being a current month’s revenue loss of at least 50%. For the program for the tourism and hospitality industry, the figure is a 40% loss in revenue.

Those are a lot of monthly revenue losses for any business to sustain up to 12 months. We’re concerned about what’s happening. I’m not sure how many businesses will even be around to collect, having suffered that kind of revenue loss monthly for a year.

Then add that after a 50% drop in revenue, the hardest-hit sector gets just 10% subsidy, and this does not seem to imply that the sector represents any kind of a priority for your government.

Minister, why did you settle on the figures of 50% and 40% losses, and would you explain the insulting 10% subsidy for the hardest hit?

Ms. Freeland
[18:22]

Senator, let me just say I would not consider support offered by the Government of Canada to businesses in this pandemic to be insulting. Certainly, I don’t think businesses themselves feel the government support they are receiving is insulting.

In terms of the levels for those two different programs, tourism and hospitality and the hardest hit, we have sought to balance two things. The first is the fact that we identified that there are some businesses that continue to need support. Even before Omicron hit, we could see that some businesses we could identify, particularly in tourism and hospitality, simply were not able to fully reopen, and we felt those businesses did need continued support. That’s why we’re putting this bill before you.

[18:23]

Just before —

Ms. Freeland
[18:23]

Hang on. Let me finish my answer, senator.

At the same time, we needed to balance that need for continued support with the reality that we needed to pivot from very expensive broad-based programs to more targeted, less expensive programs.

[18:23]

Yes.

Ms. Freeland
[18:23]

Bill C-2 is an effort to find a balance between the need to provide support and the need to have a balanced and prudent fiscal approach.

[18:23]

I have heard you say that in several responses. Do you know how many businesses suffering such a loss have gone out of business in the last 12 months, and do you have an estimate of how many businesses in Canada will qualify for this benefit during the period that it is being offered? How many have actually just shut right down? Do you have any data about that?

Ms. Freeland
[18:24]

Yes, I do. There are fewer businesses that have gone bankrupt during the past 12 months than in the analogous period before the pandemic, and there are 6,000 more active businesses today than in 2019. Businesses have gotten through this very well thanks to their resilience and government support.

Senator Coyle
[18:25]

Minister Freeland, I am from Nova Scotia, a province heavily dependent upon summer tourism. Bill C-2 puts into place supports for the tourism and hospitality industries. Those supports are scheduled to end May 7, with a possible extension to early July. Our very abbreviated tourism season in Nova Scotia really just gets going in early July.

Why was that early date chosen to end these benefits, and what will the government do to help ensure the tourism industry is able to make it through the summer if the new Omicron variant of COVID continues to be a concern or if another variant emerges? Thank you.

Ms. Freeland
[18:25]

Thank you for the question, senator.

In fighting COVID, we have all understood that we need to be agile and flexible, and we need to be humble about the reality, which is that this is a global pandemic and a global economic response, the likes of which we have never experienced before.

In view of that, we think it’s important to maintain flexibility in our response. We’ve extended those programs to a time that we think, today, is the appropriate amount of time, but we have, as you point out, allowed some flexibility to give ourselves the opportunity to respond with agility to potentially changing circumstances.

Senator Omidvar
[18:26]

Thank you, minister, for being with us today. I want to turn your attention to the impact of Bill C-2 on the charitable and not-for-profit sector, a sector that we all know does not simply do good, but contributes close to 8.3% of our GDP and employs close to 2.4 million people across the country.

Minister, my question is about the design of the hardest-hit business recovery program and the tourism and hospitality recovery program under Bill C-2, which does not really consider the business model of the charitable and not-for-profit sector. The problem is this: Charities and not-for-profits do not always receive or earn revenues at the same time each year. This, therefore, makes month-to-month comparisons across two years difficult. For instance, summer camps may operate 12 months of the year, but they’re only eligible for support during the months they administer the camp. Similarly, many organizations generate revenue for the year through seasonal fundraising campaigns.

Did the government consider this in the drafting of Bill C-2, and is the government willing to provide greater flexibility in forecasting revenue decline and allow applicants to average revenue decline over a span of 12 months instead of on a month-to-month basis?

Ms. Freeland
[18:28]

Thank you very much, Senator Omidvar, for your hard work. I always appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for your focus on the charitable sector.

I agree with you that it has faced some particular challenges during this time of COVID. Also, many leaders in the charitable sector and the work they do have been particularly important in this time of COVID.

I am aware of the particular circumstances you describe. I could also describe some analogous circumstances for other industries. Capturing the experience of seasonal sectors, which Senator Coyle touched upon, is another similar challenge.

In putting together these two programs — tourism and hospitality — the businesses we could readily identify, target and say “These are definitely businesses that cannot fully reopen yet” — that’s what we were able to do in October. Then we created this extra safety net of the hardest hit, because we said to ourselves that there are going to be organizations, let me say, since we’re talking about the charitable sector, that fall through the net of this specific targeting, so let’s create an additional layer of support for them. Of necessity, that additional layer was always going to be a bit less generous because we were balancing.

And that will be the second part of my answer. All of this effort was in order to provide tailor-made support for specific sectors that have specific experiences, which we have tried to do. It needed to be balanced against two things. One was just the technical challenge of targeting and providing solutions that fit every single business in an incredibly diverse country. The second was the fiscal challenge, which I do take seriously. We approached this with a view to the need to pivot from programs that were very broad-based — that covered everyone to a very generous degree — to a more targeted approach. Inevitably, when you’re more targeted, it’s not going to be perfect for every single circumstance, and I accept that.

Senator Omidvar
[18:31]

Thank you, minister.

Senator Cormier
[18:31]

Good evening, minister. As you know, the arts and culture sector has been walloped by the pandemic. Many cultural workers have left the sector, while others are struggling and will continue to struggle for many years to come.

Bill C-2, which we are studying today, does not provide for any CRB-type support for self-employed workers, including those working in the cultural sector. Your recent economic update could hold the solution, with $60 million allocated in 2022-23 to establish the new Canada performing arts workers resilience fund. However, many artists and cultural workers do not appear to be directly covered by this one-time relief fund, especially those working in visual arts, literary arts and audiovisual production.

Minister, how and when does your government plan to help cultural workers who are not covered by the Canada performing arts workers resilience fund, and why didn’t you just carry the CRB over into Bill C-2?

Ms. Freeland
[18:32]

Thank you for that very important question.

First, I would like to say that I agree with you, Senator, that the cultural sector is particularly affected by COVID restrictions. I would also like to mention that I appreciate the special role of the cultural sector and the workers in that sector. It is important for all Canadians to have people who enrich Canadian culture. It is especially important for Quebec, and I appreciate that.

Second, many businesses in the cultural sector will receive help through the measures announced in Bill C-2. Therefore, it is good news for that sector.

Third, our government believes that it is necessary to have direct supports, not just for the businesses impacted by Bill C-2, but also for self-employed workers in the cultural sector. As you just mentioned, in Tuesday’s economic update, we announced that $60 million will be allocated to that end. We tried to target the workers who are particularly affected because they just can’t work as a result of health restrictions.

I believe you ended by asking me why the government didn’t just continue with the CERB. The answer is that that measure is very costly. The CERB in general was no longer necessary for the Canadian economy. Our economic results are very strong, especially with respect to the level of employment in Canada.

Senator Cormier
[18:34]

I was actually referring to the CRB, minister. Thank you.

Senator Bovey
[18:35]

Welcome, minister. You won’t be surprised that I’m going to, unknowingly, follow up on my colleague Senator Cormier’s question.

First, I want you to know the gratitude, throughout the whole arts sector in every discipline, for the support that your government has given during these last almost two years. It has been much appreciated. The pandemic hit all artists and arts organizations hard.

Minister, I know you’re well aware how important arts and culture are to the tourism industry. Indeed, without the galleries, museums and theatres — and I could go on, but won’t — art tourism wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it has been. Therefore, we need the arts organizations to be strong, and we need the artists to be healthy so they can work in that arts sector for tourism.

Can you tell us a little bit more? Can you elucidate the breadth of the assistance that this bill will provide for all the arts and culture sector, which, of course, is the soul of our nation?

Ms. Freeland
[18:36]

Thank you very much, Senator Bovey, for the question.

As I said to Senator Cormier, I very much agree with both of you that arts and culture is important as an economic driver in Canada. As you pointed out, it’s important for our tourism industry. It’s also important because this is how we tell ourselves the stories of who we are. I’m sure all of us in this conversation disagree about a lot of things, but I feel comfortable and confident in saying we are all proud Canadians and we need to tell our stories.

Senator, are you a senator from Manitoba?

Senator Bovey
[18:37]

Yes.

Ms. Freeland
[18:37]

I hope that, like me, you’re very proud of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. I had a great conversation with some people from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet over Zoom during COVID, and the dancers talked about how hard it was to stay in shape during COVID — having to rehearse in their kitchens and such. What they did was very impressive. Important organizations that are the soul of Canada, like the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, have received essential support from the government throughout COVID, through to the end of October, with our very generous broad-based programs. I’m glad they were there.

The people, like the wonderful dancers, received direct support, and they told me how important that was for them too.

In this measure, we offer two levels of support. One is the support that goes directly to organizations. Organizations that can’t fully reopen should qualify for the maximum level of support, and I’m glad of that. That’s why it’s there. Then, as we discussed with Senator Cormier, we are putting in place specific targeted support for culture workers in the live culture industry that will go not only to the organization, but also directly to the people. We recognize that what they do is particularly restricted and that they have very particular skills. We want them to continue to devote those skills to creating great culture for us. That’s why those programs are there, and I believe that they will help our culture get through this pandemic.

To conclude on a positive note, one thing I have been struck by is the creative ways that many of our culture workers, including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, have turned to new media and have found ways to tell our story during COVID. Let us all support them in that effort and be avid appreciators and beneficiaries of Canadian culture, even if we are consuming it digitally.

Senator Bovey
[18:40]

And they tell our —

The Chair
[18:40]

I’m sorry, Senator Bovey. Your time is up.

Senator Black
[18:40]

Thank you, minister, for appearing today. Thank you to the government for all your hard work over the past 21 months helping Canadians weather this pandemic. I have two questions, and I hope we can get to both.

As you know, I am an advocate in this place on behalf of the agricultural industry, rural communities and youth. Canadian agricultural fairs and exhibitions have been a substantial and integral part of the fabric of Canadian life and rural communities for centuries. Many have been in existence since prior to Canada’s Confederation. These time-tested organizations host premier Canadian events and recreational infrastructure that have helped establish and continue to maintain our national identity. There are 743 organizations across Canada that host more than 17,000 events each year. They are undoubtedly some of the hardest hit groups through this pandemic. Not only do they rely on mass gatherings to generate revenue, but the majority of that revenue also has a seasonal window. They will be the last to be able to fully open and recuperate.

These organizations support rural tourism, volunteerism, mental health, youth engagement and economic development. While the list of eligible organizations in your bill is long, there is no mention of fairs and exhibitions. Historically, when federal funding programs have not explicitly included fairs and exhibitions, they have fallen through the cracks, especially throughout the pandemic. Therefore, minister, could you please clarify whether these organizations will be eligible for the proposed program?

Ms. Freeland
[18:41]

Thank you for the question, senator, which is a really important one. The proposed regulations state that eligibility would apply to organizations for which more than 50% of their pre-pandemic revenues were earned from carrying out eligible activities. That includes organizing, planning, promoting, hosting or supporting conventions, trade shows, festivals, weddings, parties or similar events.

Agricultural fairs and exhibitions would generally be entitled to this program, provided they meet all the eligibility criteria, including the two key revenue eligibility tests, which we have discussed already in some of the other questions today.

Of course, in this general conversation, I can’t speak to the eligibility of any particular enterprise or organization. A lot more information would be necessary. It would be wrong of me to make a spur-of-the-moment judgment, and Canada Revenue Agency is best positioned to confirm the eligibility of these businesses. That’s my best high-level answer.

Senator Black
[18:43]

Thank you, minister. I’m pleased to hear you mention fairs and exhibitions.

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen supply chain disruptions across the globe. This week, the Ontario Agricultural Commodity Council highlighted numerous issues, which are also Canadian issues, that impact our food system. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation featured one issue mentioned in a report from Trucking HR Canada that indicated a current vacancy of 18,000 trucker jobs. This lack of truckers is going to be exacerbated with the increased COVID vaccination requirements coming into effect in mid-January. Other matters are container shipping costs, port congestion issues and growing input shortages regarding fertilizer, crop protection products and other materials that impact the supply chain.

It is critical that these issues are quickly addressed to ensure that threats of food insecurity and shortages in combination with the already rising food costs are mitigated. Could you, as minister, please clarify whether the government will be addressing these matters and providing support to ensure the food supply chain remains strong?

Ms. Freeland
[18:44]

First, let me say thank you. I am a person who is focused on Canada’s great farmers.

In the update, you will find specific support to help farmers who have been hit by the droughts that affected our prairies so significantly this summer. You also mentioned ports, senator, and let me point you to the specific support that we provided in the update to help our ports deal with supply chain congestion. When it comes to truckers, we do have specific support to create additional apprenticeships and partnerships in place. Of course, through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, we are welcoming more truck drivers when there aren’t Canadians to fill these jobs.

The Chair
[18:45]

Honourable senators, the committee has been sitting for 95 minutes. In conformity with the order of the Senate, I am obliged to interrupt proceedings so that the committee can report to the Senate.

Minister, on behalf of all senators, thank you for joining us today to assist us with our work on the bill. I would also like to thank your officials.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

The Chair
[18:46]

On behalf of all senators, we wish you happy holidays and a happy 2022.

Ms. Freeland
[18:46]

I also want to thank you and thank all the senators for their hard work. I wish you happy holidays and I hope that you will all get a booster shot.

Thanks again for your work.

The Chair
[18:46]

Honourable senators, is it agreed that I report to the Senate that the witness has been heard?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Hon. the Speaker
[18:47]

Honourable senators, the sitting of the Senate is resumed.