Honourable senators, I hope you enjoyed your dinner. A quick recap: Before the break, I highlighted the importance of the early learning portion of the child care early learning initiative in the budget and the initiative to accelerate digitization of our small- and medium-sized enterprises. I am now speaking about the proposed RPAA, the retail payment activities act, and how regulatory changes will reduce costs for small business and consumers and will reduce credit card fraud.
Regulatory stagnation has prevented Canadians from accessing globally competitive payments services.
To illustrate, an India-based challenger bank has developed an innovative smartphone-based payments system. It costs merchants next to nothing, helps them to advertise and build up customer loyalty, but it has also reduced fraud rates by more than twentyfold relative to credit card fraud rates in Canada. Remarkably, this globally delivered payments system was developed in Toronto but has not been available in Canada due to our regulatory stagnation in the banking sector.
The RPAA will finally enable Canadians to access these services and productivity improvements. Sadly, there is still no word as it relates to the massive economic and social potential that will be unlocked through open banking or what is now called consumer-directed finance.
The Budget Implementation Act includes a lot of incremental actions aimed at addressing the issue of money laundering. However, Canada lacks a meaningful legislative agenda to address this pervasive issue, worth trillions of dollars every year. There was, however, a bright spot, as I mentioned, with the creation of the federal benefit ownership registry, as noted by Senator Downe last week. But the amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act in Bill C-30, Part 4, Division 6, are incremental and, as our Banking Committee observed, insufficient. We found that additional measures must be considered by the government to improve the enforcement of Canada’s anti-money-laundering and anti-terrorist-financing regime.
Consider the fact that, based on estimates from the United Nations, the bad guys are winning 99.8% of the time. At the very best, criminal money flows are intercepted only 1.1% of the time, despite the fact that I am sure we were seeing the best efforts of everyone involved. But what we’re doing, what the world is doing and how we’re doing it is not working. We’ve got to change the game.
Consider for a moment the global RegTech market, which is expected to grow by 21% a year through 2026. This presents Canada with an incredible opportunity to lead the world by empowering a new sector of business dedicated to helping governments and financial institutions intercept criminal and terrorist money flows. It fits our country’s brand, and we have already built global leaders in this sector, like Verafin in Newfoundland and Trulioo in B.C. Instead, we stick to our ineffective command-and-control approach to regulation that I spoke about on Bill C-10 last night.
Speaking of the burgeoning markets and harnessing digital technology, the Minister of Digital Government has spoken of the need for Canada to implement a pan-Canadian digital identity plan. However, neither the budget nor Bill C-30 include any of the funding or legislative changes needed to do this.
Digital ID provides reliable identity and credential authentication where web and mobile applications require proof of identity. Think of banking, think of government services, health care, health records, among others. A robustly designed digital identity framework protects individuals from privacy, identity and cyberthreats, and it has been proven to generate significant economic and social benefits, including lower costs and increased financial, social and political inclusion. However, it’s worrisome that due to a lack of coordinated leadership, we are starting to see a fragmentation of efforts on digital identity, which risks resulting in a patchwork of legislation approaches, severely limiting future benefits.
Legislation is needed to create and incentivize the adoption of a trusted digital identity framework across governments, private sector and the not-for-profit entities, akin to recent developments we’ve seen in Australia. New legislation can be supported by existing national standards, such as those published by the CIO Strategy Council, and provide the authorities to incorporate these into regulations.
Ultimately, this all ties back to the fact that we are not yet providing a sufficient regulatory foundation for Canada to become more competitive. This will limit our future prosperity. Despite increasing the funding to Competition Bureau Canada by $96 million over five years, that funding did not come with any increased authority. We are not even close to taking advantage of the benefits that the Competition Bureau could bring if it were fully empowered to unlock competition as a means to spur innovation throughout our economy.
Competition matters, perhaps more now than ever. It drives the innovation that delivers productivity growth, which improves our global competitiveness and ultimately our prosperity in the decades to come. Other nations have imbedded mandatory, formalized competition assessments into their reviews of new legislation. Australia has their Competition Principles Agreement, France has their Code de commerce. South Korea has their Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act. Japan has the Implementation Guidelines for Policy Evaluation of Regulations. We need to empower our Competition Bureau to require the examination of programs, policies, regulations and legislation to assess whether they limit competition in Canada. This type of authority will unlock the regulatory stagnation that is limiting innovation, productivity, growth, and ultimately, our prosperity.
To be very clear, I am not suggesting deregulation. I’m suggesting agile regulation that responds to changes in technology, business models and consumer needs and expectations. Canada, at all levels, needs more innovation. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. The bigger the problem, the more excited they get. Sadly, we still view Innovation Canada as being responsible for innovation in Canada. Let’s change that and prioritize a whole-of-government approach, especially as we work to rebuild from the COVID recession.
Bill C-30 has sprouts of good ideas and some forward motion, but much more needs to be done to create opportunity from the multitude of current and emerging challenges that we face in Canada today. Thank you, colleagues.
Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-30, the Budget Implementation Act and to Budget 2021, which was tabled in Parliament on April 19.
Budget 2021 outlines the government’s priorities and spending plans for the current fiscal year and the following four years. Specifically, the government proposes to spend an additional $101 billion in what it called “incremental spending” over the next three years, with $49 billion earmarked for this year.
The $101 billion in “incremental spending” was identified in the Fall Economic Statement 2020 as a stimulus plan to accelerate economic recovery and create jobs. In fact, both the Fall Economic Statement and Budget 2021 include a commitment to create 1 million jobs.
Major initiatives in this $49 billion in incremental spending for this year include $14 billion for programs to support workers affected by the pandemic, $12 billion to support businesses and jobs primarily through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, and $3 billion to establish a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.
The remaining $20 billion is allocated to about 240 budget initiatives, which range in estimated costs up to $1.7 million.
The $101 billion in incremental spending or stimulus has been criticized by a number of reputable organizations and individuals who question the necessity and timing of the investments and whether the additional $100 billion in spending is necessary.
The International Monetary Fund in its 2021 Article IV Consultation said that the federal government’s commitment to spend up to 4% of GDP over the next three years to support the recovery needs further justification.
Our own Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been critical of the $100 billion in incremental spending, questioning the timing and the assessment of the impact of the $100 billion. While the government has committed to creating 1 million jobs, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated these measures will increase employment by only 89,000 jobs.
Honourable senators, budget deficits and increasing debt have become a serious fiscal challenge for the government. This past year has been a difficult one, with increasing deficits and increasing debt.
Bill C-14, which we passed in May, raised the government’s debt ceiling from $1.1 trillion to $1.8 trillion.
At the end of March 2020, just 15 months ago, the government’s debt was $1 trillion. It is now projected to increase to $1.8 trillion by the end of March 2024. The increase is quite significant: an increase of $651 billion, or 60%, over a four-year period.
This year, the government estimates that its revenues, which are primarily tax revenues, will cover approximately 71% of its expenses. The shortfall of the other 29%, or $154 billion, will be borrowed.
Honourable senators, two themes emerged at our Finance Committee and were revisited a number of times when we studied the budget. These were concerns over the debt and the deficit: how the debt will be repaid and the deficits decreased and the risk of rising interest rates.
An official of the C.D. Howe Institute appeared before our Finance Committee and presented its views on Budget 2021. Of particular concern were comments identifying the government’s projection scenarios as “rather optimistic,” and that slight changes in economic growth and interest rate assumptions can dramatically change the course of the debt burden.
The budget is based on the assumptions of low interest rates and economic growth. We need only compare November’s Fall Economic Statement and April’s budget to realize the impact that an increase in interest rates has had on the government’s projected deficit. In the four months between the economic statement and the budget, estimated interest charges on the public debt increased $1.8 billion, from $20.3 billion to $22.1 billion.
Even the government’s own budget identifies the impact a sustained 100-basis-point interest rate increase will have on the deficit. In year one, it would increase the deficit by $1 billion, and by year five the increase would be $5 billion.
Honourable senators, the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development released its current economic outlook recently. While comments on government’s financial supports to businesses and households were positive, the report went on to say that:
. . . once the economy is on a firm footing, a medium-term fiscal strategy to reduce public debt should be considered.
It also said:
With only modest reductions in the public-debt burden projected over the four years to 2025-26, a medium-term fiscal strategy should aim to restore fiscal headroom after the pandemic subsides.
Honourable senators, these are uncertain times. Government debt is at its highest and continues to grow. Deficits are projected well into the future, financed by more debt. Higher debt will limit the fiscal room for the next financial shock, and it will be passed on to future generations.
The balance sheet of the Bank of Canada has expanded significantly by hundreds of billions of dollars over the past 15 months, primarily because of its purchase of Government of Canada bonds. The Bank of Canada has adjusted its weekly purchase of Government of Canada bonds to a target of $3 billion a week. This works out to $156 billion over the next year — the exact amount the government says it will need to borrow this year.
Inflation was 3.4% in April and 3.6% in May — well above the Bank of Canada’s target of 2%.
Interest rates are projected to rise, increasing the cost of servicing the public debt, corporate debt and personal debt, including mortgage debt.
These low interest rates make new spending “affordable” for government provided they remain low, but this is a big risk. If interest rates rise, the cost of servicing the debt will rise and crowd out spending on other government programs.
Canadian household debt is also a concern. According to the OECD, Canadian household debt was at 176%, which is the highest among the G7 countries. We are the most highly indebted citizens of the G7.
The Governor of the Bank of Canada, the President of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have all identified household debt as a risk to the Canadian economy. When the President of CMHC testified at our Finance Committee, she said that homeowners were taking on excessive debt and, while it may not be a problem now, excessive debt creates economic fragility.
If there is another financial shock to the economy or interest rates rise, homeowners may be faced with the same challenges our government will face.
An early learning and child care plan is one of the major initiatives of Budget 2021. Government is proposing new investments of $30 billion over the next five years to implement a Canada-wide early learning and child care system in conjunction with the provincial and territorial governments. Of the funding projected to be spent over the next five years, $3 billion of the $30 billion has been allocated to this year and $5 billion next year.
The objective is to cost share the program 50-50 with the provinces and territories. Officials told us that discussions with the provinces and territories have already commenced. Funding of $916 million has been identified in Supplementary Estimates (A), and funding will be transferred to the provinces and territories as soon as bilateral agreements are reached.
The objectives of the program are ambitious and include a 50% reduction in average fees for regulated early learning and child care in all provinces except Quebec by 2022 — that is, within the next 18 months.
The Social Affairs Committee, in examining this part of Bill C-30, suggested the government examine the possibility of enhancing existing national surveys in order to collect the information required to evaluate the success of the new system and to guide future policy decisions. This information is necessary to ensure the $30 billion meets its objectives.
When officials testified before the Finance Committee earlier this month, very few details of the program were provided. Given that a major objective is to be achieved within the next 18 months — that is, a 50% reduction in average fees for regulated early learning and child care in all provinces outside of Quebec — I would expect the department to report their progress on this objective. Officials are going to be challenged to deliver on this objective: $8 billion is expected to be spent on this program within the next 18 months, so we will soon know whether this $8 billion has met its objective of reducing average fees by 50% by the end of next year.
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support programs are currently set to expire this month. Bill C-9, assented to in November 2020, extended the wage subsidy program to the end of this month. This bill proposes to further extend the wage subsidy program to September 25 and phase out the subsidy from July 4 to September 25 by declining the subsidy rate for each of the three 4-week periods.
Government has included $10 billion in its budget to extend the wage subsidy program to September 25. The wage subsidy program and the formula for calculating the amount of subsidy to which a business is entitled has, until now, been included in legislation. Each extension and change in the formula has been brought forward to Parliament for debate and approval. I’ve spoken on this program several times in this chamber.
Bill C-30 proposes to give the minister the authority to extend the wage subsidy program and its formula for calculation by regulation up to November 30. There will be no opportunity for parliamentary debate. The extension of spending authority has already been provided under the Income Tax Act.
There is no money included in the budget if the program is extended between September 25 and November 30, so if this program is extended it will increase the deficit and increase the amount the government must borrow.
The bill also proposes to extend the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and the Lockdown Support program to September 25 and, similar to the wage subsidy program, will gradually reduce the amount of subsidy.
Government has included $1.9 billion in its budget this year to extend the rent subsidy program and Lockdown Support. The bill also proposes to extend, by regulation, the rental subsidy program and subsidy formula up to November 30. Again, there will be no opportunity for parliamentary debate, as spending authority has already been provided and there is no money included in the budget if the program is extended between September 25 and November 30.
In summary, the government does not have to return to Parliament for approval of the program extensions, the changes to the program or the subsidy rates. They don’t even have to return to Parliament for spending authority.
Honourable senators, Bill C-30 proposes to make several amendments to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. This section of Bill C-30 was referred to the Banking Committee for study.
The government is also proposing to spend $2 million to implement a publicly accessible corporate ownership registry by 2025.
Canada’s legislation on money laundering is one of the weakest among liberal democracies. James Cohen of Transparency International Canada, in addressing our committee, told us that Canada is marketed as a safe haven for illicit cash because Canada has weak anti-corruption laws and enforcement. Transparency International Canada is the Canadian chapter of Transparency International, the world’s leading anti-corruption movement.
This part of the budget was referred to our Banking Committee, which included the following, and this is right from the committee report:
The committee continues to be disappointed with the federal government’s efforts in combatting money laundering, terrorist financing, corruption, tax evasion, tax avoidance and other related criminal activities. The committee believes that the incremental changes proposed . . . are insufficient and that additional measures must be considered by the government to improve the enforcement of Canada’s anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing regime.
The committee notes that the 2021 federal budget proposes to provide $2.1 million over two years to support the implementation of a publicly accessible corporate beneficial ownership registry. This registry is integral to a robust system to combat criminal offences such as those listed above. However, implementation will not occur until 2025. The proposed funding would expire in 2023 and no funding is proposed for the two years prior to the scheduled implementation date. As such, the committee feels that the proposed funding may not be adequate and questions whether the beneficial ownership system will be completed by 2025. . . .
The committee believes that the scheduled implementation date of 2025 will place Canada further behind international peers.
Honourable senators, British Columbia has been actively investigating money laundering in its province. The Cullen Commission of Inquiry was appointed in 2019 to investigate the scope and impact of money laundering in the province over the past decade and a half. The Cullen Commission released its interim report in November.
I just want to go back and give you information as to the commitment by this government over the past years to combat money laundering.
In Budget 2017, the federal government specifically committed to implementing strong standards for corporate and beneficial ownership transparency that provides safeguards against money laundering. The following year, the government made additional commitments in Budget 2018 to pursue legislative amendments to their corporate statutes to require corporations to strengthen the availability of beneficial ownership information. Then, in Budget 2019, the government created the Anti-Money Laundering Action, Coordination and Enforcement Team —
Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-30, Budget Implementation Act, 2021.
Colleagues, it is important to note the significance of this budget. The past 15 months have been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation that has been left in its wake. During this time, we as a country have deliberated and debated what we need as a society as we move out of this pandemic, redefining what is meant by essential, what a caring society is and what it must look like, how we ought to care for each other, and we vowed to act differently as a country as we emerged from this tragedy.
For many policy-makers, there is an increased willingness to undertake wholesale and ambitious changes that are overdue in many areas, such as long-term care, Pharmacare, housing and reforms to our Employment Insurance regime. We know that the status quo does not work and that we need to chart a new path and create a Canada that works for all Canadians.
Today, I want to speak about one such issue: one that will require purposeful government action to make the difference that is needed. I will be speaking about child care.
I will not repeat the history that was very well outlined by Senator Dasko, a history that reflects the decades of incremental investments in a system that fails to provide the care children and their families require.
A UNICEF study compared 41 Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development, or OECD, countries on their performance on child care. Canada, in its performance, was quite lacklustre: twenty-second overall, ranking sixteenth in access and twenty-first in affordability for child care. When we reflect further on availability and access, our overall enrolment rates for ages 2 to 4 was only 53% prior to the pandemic. We are in the middle of the rankings on affordability, with child care of two children costing just under 20% of a family’s income. The report also notes that the high cost of child care exacerbates inequalities and deters women from returning to work.
Then came the pandemic, which severely depressed women’s participation in the workforce as the burden of caring for children fell on them. An RBC report from 2020 found that women were much more likely to fall out of the workforce and that employment among women with toddlers or school-aged children fell by 7% in the early months of the pandemic compared to 4% among fathers. Regaining lost ground will not be easy for many women, colleagues.
These issues drove renewed calls for child care as a care policy and as an important economic policy that will have a significant impact on all prosperity by bolstering women’s participation in the workforce. Budget 2021 has made child care a policy priority, allowing us to move from ineffective, incremental steps to strong and substantial action.
The government’s commitment of $3 billion this fiscal year to be scaled up, as we have heard, matches the request of advocates nearly to the dollar. We know that negotiations with the provinces are the next step, but what do meaningful negotiations look like and what do we hope to get out of this?
I would like to share with you a vision for action that I’ll take from an article I co-authored with Margaret McCain, the twenty-seventh Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick and author of the Early Years Study on child care and early childhood education. Along with this, I’ll present evidence received from the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology during its study of Division 34 of Part 4 of Bill C-30.
First, in terms of vision, child care ought to be a non-mandatory entitlement starting at 2 years of age. This would effectively extend education by properly recognizing the pre‑elementary tier. Child care should be accessible and available whether or not parents are working. Child care is an entitlement that will significantly benefit children’s development and increase their potential.
The Social Affairs Committee heard from Craig Alexander, Chief Economist and Executive Advisor at Deloitte Canada. He proposed that in a province such as British Columbia, where over $1.6 billion is spent on special education annually, early childhood education would be key in better preparing children for school, fostering better cognitive development and producing significant long-term savings on special education. He suggested that it’s actually easier and cheaper to address developmental issues earlier in the life of a child than later in life.
Child care as an entitlement will also have the downstream impact of producing a more resilient, better educated workforce. Child care ought to be universal, which means it should be accessible to all children, with a special view of ensuring access for children with disabilities and children from marginalized groups. Morna Ballantyne, Executive Director of Child Care Now, shared with the Social Affairs Committee that making child care universal is a key strategy to increasing social inclusion and strengthening the Canadian cultural mosaic. In my view, universality also means departing from traditional models to extend care to a broad set of children. For example, there are new models that provide child care for shift workers who are not on a normal 9-to-5 schedule.
Child care should be high quality, from the facilities to the training of staff and the resources available to them. Minister Qualtrough, in her testimony before the committee, recognized the need to standardize and streamline training for educators throughout the country. As Ms. Ballantyne shared, standardization needs to be combined with meaningful efforts to retain trained staff through competitive wages.
The topic of training was also a feature of the committee’s report, where we welcomed the proposed focus on training and education standards for workers. Beyond training, every child should be cared for in a high-quality facility which provides an avenue for direct involvement with the federal government who would be providing capital investments in infrastructure for child care.
Child care should be publicly funded so that the child-care operators do not depend on parents for their operational costs. This has the impact of lowering the cost for parents and ensuring continued care for children should a parent lose work. Ms. Ballantyne shared with the committee that direct funding of child care in Quebec not only reduced costs but led to better quality of care.
Finally, child care should be publicly managed. For the last few decades, we have seen market pressure fail to provide accessible and affordable child care. Child care must be handled by the public to ensure proper distribution of resources, accountability and transparency.
This last point begs the question: What is the role of our federal government? I believe that by making child care a centrepiece of the budget and elevating child care as a policy priority, this government has already demonstrated leadership. Of course, the management of child care is done and will be done at local centres and administered by the provinces, but there is a role for the federal government.
The 2017 Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework, which contains many of the same principles that I have shared here, demonstrates that the federal government can play a role in setting the standard on the scope and principles for child care services in the provinces.
Mr. Alexander, in his deposition, proposed that the Government of Canada can provide data and analytics that would serve as evidence on the performance of various systems, and that this would in turn put pressure on the provinces to move toward more successful models.
The data could also allow us to track accessibility and identify child care deserts to ensure equitable access to care and early learning for those communities who need it most.
In its report, the committee noted the need for robust data and proposed the enhancement of the Canadian Health Survey of Children and Youth in order to collect this data. In addition, I would also propose that grants to conduct pilot projects and test models of care could be another way the federal government could contribute to improving outcomes.
We heard from Ken Boessenkool, J.W. McConnell Professor of Practice, Max Bell School of Public Policy, at McGill University, who proposed that the Government of Canada should reform the child care expense deduction to make it more generous to low- and middle-income families and to convert it to a rebate that is received monthly.
I agree with his proposal as it is a step that sits solely within the federal scope. Therefore, the government can have an immediate and meaningful impact in the near term. Some could view some elements of his testimony as opposed to the wholesale reforms envisioned by the federal government, but I do welcome his views, and I believe that in this important effort we should use every tool at our disposal.
Colleagues, any step toward universal child care and early learning is contingent on negotiations between Canada and the provinces. There are some positive signs of progress and past agreements that may provide a foundation for discussions. Nonetheless, I am concerned that more than two months since the budget, there have not been any announcements on the state of negotiations, and it is my hope that we will hear some news soon.
As I conclude, colleagues, although this budget is not perfect, it demonstrates that to move toward meaningful solutions, we need to get the right people to the table. After many decades of activism, it was Canada’s first woman Finance Minister who made the commitment to universal child care. It was female academics and thought leaders such as Armine Yalnizyan and Kate Bezanson who sounded the alarm on the outsized impact of the pandemic on women’s economic participation and pushed the policy discussion toward meaningful change — important voices who impacted decision making and change.
I also acknowledge that there is much work to be done. Canada must strengthen its parental leave policies to ensure that parents can care for their children in the crucial early months of their lives.
We must also tackle affordability and access in other areas, such as housing and food insecurity. This is important because making Canada the best country in which to raise a family and to be a child is key in keeping and attracting a quality workforce, it is key in producing the innovators and leaders of tomorrow and it is key in ensuring our long-term prosperity, wealth and moral leadership on the world stage.
I believe that there is now a greater understanding that caring for one another is not just the right thing to do, but it is also a strong economic policy. It is my hope that this lesson does not fade as we move past this pandemic.
Therefore, I invite you to support this bill, as I plan to do. Thank you, meegwetch.
Honourable senators, as a senator from Manitoba, I want to acknowledge that I live on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples and the homeland of the Métis Nation.
I also want to acknowledge that the Parliament of Canada is on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Anishinaabe territory and that we have many people joining us today from across Turtle Island who are located on both ceded and unceded land.
As an independent senator from Manitoba, which is Treaty 1 territory and the homeland of the Métis Nation, I commend Senator Lucie Moncion for her skill and grace as the sponsor of this crucial bill in this place.
Colleagues, there are many notable aspects of Bill C-30. Some are visionary and inspiring; others, not so much.
Exciting herstory was made when Canada’s first woman Finance Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, presented her first budget in April, the second year of this COVID-19 recession, which is the steepest and fastest economic contraction since the Great Depression.
We know that this pandemic has disproportionately affected low-wage workers, young people, women and racialized Canadians, many of whom are designated as essential workers who must stay on the front lines of society regardless of their level of risk.
For a feminist recovery plan to be real, this bill needs to provide jobs for workers, the majority of whom are women. It must enable parents, particularly mothers, to reach their full economic potential while their children are safe and supported, and it must invest in our viability as a democracy by substantially supporting generations of engaged and well-prepared young learners who are the leaders who will bear the brunt of what is being done or not done by our generation of leaders.
I am going to support this bill, but in my observations today, my focus is on intersectionality, women and youth in the context of the feminist recovery plan that we were told was core to Bill C-30, but overall can be hard to find.
Entrepreneurial businesswomen in this country contribute significantly to Canada’s economic viability, and in this recession some prospered, but many businesses, especially small businesses, lost their battle to survive.
It’s a good sign that the $22 million provided for women entrepreneurs in the budget will include a micro-lending program as a result of consultation with women entrepreneurs. Forty-one per cent of all loans provided to federal programming were to women, but now there is a target of 50% of loans to Indigenous women.
This budget can be seen as a feminist document in some ways.
Through this bill, the Canada Child Benefit will deliver huge improvements for this country. But one of the most destructive impacts of COVID-19 across the country has been the increase in reports of domestic violence and child abuse. Canadian social service entities are fielding almost double the number of calls related to domestic violence than before the pandemic. Statistics Canada advised that, during COVID-19, 1 in 10 women reported they were “very or extremely worried” about being abused in their homes. While not in this bill in detail, we can reasonably anticipate that the national action plan to reduce domestic violence will include necessary funding for women’s shelters, health services, crisis hotlines and other social services.
Considering the majority of the budget is geared toward COVID-19 recovery, it is unfortunate that there are no provisions specifically being made for the recovery of women placed in severe danger for many months. What is not in Bill C-30 is moving forward on a first-ever national action plan to end gender-based violence, but we know that we’re going to have an investment of over $600 million over five years, starting this year.
Helping to build, repair and support 35,000 affordable housing units for vulnerable Canadians through an investment of $2.5 billion and a reallocation of $1.3 billion in existing funding is much needed.
Subclause 24(22) and subclause 24(23) of the bill introduce the Canada recovery hiring program to facilitate the rehiring of employees who were laid off due to COVID-19 as well as the hiring of new employees, yet there are no provisions in place for how employers go about recruiting and creating incentives within this program to encourage the hiring of diverse folks, LGBTQ2+ folks or women generally. Those are the groups which we know have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, and that would be a way to implement a feminist agenda in this bill.
Those two examples highlight how a feminist lens on implementation could change outcomes.
COVID-19 recovery is an essential element of this bill, but without taking account of the way the pandemic has impacted women and their many intersecting identities, Bill C-30 will fall short of what can actually be delivered.
The gendered lens on child care and early learning is twofold. Not only does the burden of child care often fall on mothers, the child care and early-childhood learning sector is dominated by women who make up about 96% of the workforce. However, 95.5% of these women are estimated to earn less than the provincial minimum wage.
The wage gap is often misconstrued as a comparison of paycheques. However, it really becomes highlighted when workforces are primarily made up of women, labour becomes undervalued and women get underpaid and overworked.
Additionally, because Canada currently lacks a universal child care program, child care costs in the country can reach almost $2,000 a month. According to the most recently available census, over 80% of one-parent families are single mothers. This extreme inconsistency in cost paralyzes women who are left to care for their children on their own, and this makes the provisions of Bill C-30 crucial.
I also observe that there are gaps between what was promised in the April budget and what is, in fact, being delivered in Bill C-30. In April speeches, the federal government committed to a 50% reduction in average fees for regulated early learning and child care, or ELCC, everywhere outside of Quebec, which is up to $30 billion over the next five years, with $8.3 billion ongoing, for ELCC and Indigenous ELCC. The government also committed a minimum of $9.2 billion per year in child care, including Indigenous ELCC, starting in 2025, with the future objective of reaching a 50-50 cost share with provinces and territories.
In the words of the Honourable Maryam Monsef, our very capable Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development:
In five years, every Canadian family will have a choice of $10/day childcare, which would reduce the average cost per child in Alberta from $1100 a month to approximately $200 a month. With a distinction based focus for Indigenous families and separate investments for kids with disabilities, this system will offer quality care for our kids, peace of mind and more choice for families and enable the biggest growth to our economy since NAFTA.
A review of Bill C-30 reveals that subclause 288(1) authorizes payments to the provinces through bilateral agreements on ELCC, but only to the end of this fiscal year in contrast to the five years announced in Budget 2021. Also, I can find no specific funding guaranteed for ELCC for Indigenous children in this bill, despite the commitment made in Budget 2021.
At a Senate committee meeting last month, Division 34 of the bill, ELCC, was addressed, and senators raised thoughtful concerns. To summarize, expert analysis was provided by Child Care Now’s Executive Director, Morna Ballantyne, who noted that the promises in Budget 2021 on ELCC over the next five years, with a minimum of $9.2 billion annually thereafter, is sufficient leverage to persuade every province and territory to partner with the federal government. But if the federal government doesn’t use its spending power to transform child care, it will be wasted.
So what is missing in Bill C-30 should be of great concern.
There are four key elements necessary to build a Canada-wide system of early learning and child care: One, licensed child care operations must be publicly funded; two, expanding the supply of services must be made a government responsibility; three, a workforce strategy to address recruitment, retention and program quality must be implemented; and four, expansion of the system must be limited to the public and not-for-profit sectors.
I would add a fifth crucial element: applying the intersectional lens to each and every aspect of the rollout of this bill and to the additional promises in Budget 2021 that are not addressed in this bill. For example, let’s look at age. Seventy-one per cent of families under age 25 are single-parent households. Of those, more than 80% of those single parents are women. Effective implementation will be enhanced when more detailed analysis is applied to each aspect of the child care provisions.
In short, Bill C-30 is a crucial and major step in the right direction of centring publicly funded child care as key to an egalitarian, productive, feminist recovery that builds back better and fairer.
But there are insufficient guarantees in the bill to ensure that the key elements for ELCC and ELCC for Indigenous children will be rolled out as promised.
Dear colleagues, these facts lead to a clarion call for vigilance by parliamentarians long after we pass this bill.
Here are some key takeaways. The 2021 federal budget represents an important step toward achieving a child care system in Canada that is equitable, affordable and universal. Bill C-30 reflects this commitment in part, but it only represents the commitment for the coming fiscal year. It’s important to ensure the government follows through on what is set out in the bill. Division 34 on ELCC is absolutely core to a feminist recovery in that it focuses on an issue that disproportionately impacts women on both sides of the coin. However, because ELCC is a twofold issue from the labour force to the parents in need of child care, ensuring that a gendered lens is available is absolutely crucial.
In order to deliver on a feminist recovery, attention and resources must focus on how each provision may have varying implications when considering intersections of age, race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender expression. It is difficult to find evidence of such an intersectional lens in this bill to strengthen the policies and programs that must be implemented as a result.
In the time remaining, let’s look at what is promised in this bill to benefit younger people in Canada, bearing in mind the common occurrence that governments with good intentions, regardless of party affiliation, are prone to delivering less than promised. For example, the Canadian Federation of Students raised the alert that of the $9 billion in student relief already promised, as of March 2021, $3 billion was yet to be allocated or spent.
Trouble is brewing, colleagues. The youth unemployment rate in May was 18%, the highest rate since the first wave of COVID and nearly 10% above the national average. Youth rely heavily on the industries that were hit the hardest by COVID-19 — tourism, retail and other entry-level jobs. Many of these jobs are not coming back soon, if ever. Last summer, essential government financial support for youth volunteers fell through with great embarrassment, but at least some youth affected by the pandemic were eligible for the Canada student relief fund. Youth unemployment is affected similarly this year, but no student relief fund is in place for this summer. Yes, it’s a good thing that no interest will be charged on student loans for two years, but the result of having no student relief is that we’re going to have a surge in need for loans. Yes, it’s a good thing that the student loan repayment assistance threshold is planned to go from $25,000 to $40,000, but, honourable senators, a loan is a loan; a loan is a debt.
Just think of the difference this bill could have made if the government had made bold and innovative investments in young Canadians, or if even a pilot for guaranteed liveable income for young people had been introduced. Systemic discrimination is still alive in access to post-secondary education and a more generous loan program is not going to fix that. Simply put, the pre-COVID status quo for youth was troubling, and the bill seems focused on returning to that normal as opposed to building back better and fairer. Youth indebtedness, the age wealth gap and job security were problems well before the pandemic. Approaching these issues as if they are novel, as opposed to the ongoing reality for young people across Canada, is a mistake. Most of the positive youth-oriented provisions in the budget are pitched as temporary relief, not as permanent changes to the system. Temporary measures like freezing interest on loans, lowering the threshold for repayment and increasing grants are all good initiatives, but they should extend far after the end of this pandemic.
I commend Minister Freeland on Bill C-30. It is a powerful step forward and needed to strengthen resilience in our country. But it is the beginning of much more, longer term, that we must be prepared to do, because a stronger Canada, built on inclusion and fair opportunities, is achievable and the best way out of this crisis.
Honourable senators, I’d like to thank Senator Moncion, who sponsored the bill, as well as all the members of the Social Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee for their hard work on Bill C-30.
I am pleased to speak at third reading of the Budget Implementation Act. I will take a few minutes to outline the Finance Committee’s pre-study of Bill C-30. The committee held seven meetings and heard from witnesses from the business community, municipalities and cultural communities, in addition to representatives from the main departments involved. The committee did not append any observations. I would say that the budget was well received overall. The representatives from the business community were relieved to see that the measures to assist with wages and rents were being extended. I would, however, like to take a few minutes to highlight two major problems with Bill C-30.
First, I regret that the government continues to refuse to narrow the criteria for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to prevent companies that access this subsidy from using it to increase shareholder dividends and executive bonuses. The committee has been critical about this, but the government still refuses to do anything about it.
Canadians were aghast to learn that Air Canada proposed to give nearly $20 million in bonuses and stock options to certain executives, even though the company had been given $656 million under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Air Canada also received close to $5.9 billion under the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility. As part of that program, Air Canada promised to limit the compensation and benefits paid out to executives. Given how upset Canadians were, many Air Canada executives chose to return their bonuses.
I thought it was pretty pathetic that the government was forced to ask Air Canada to cooperate after the fact, rather than taking responsibility in the first place. In my opinion, any assistance provided to businesses should have been subject to strict conditions regarding benefits for executives and shareholders. We are talking about public funds, after all. The government had the ability to act, but it chose not to do so.
The other thing that seems problematic to me relates to Employment Insurance. The Social Affairs Committee considered this issue, and I would like to echo what was said by the witnesses who appeared before the Finance Committee with regard to the economic region boundaries used to calculate Employment Insurance benefits.
As you know, these regional boundaries always create tension and unfairness, especially for seasonal workers. Workers don’t understand why two people in the same industry have different EI qualification thresholds or aren’t entitled to the same number of weeks of benefit. The government has committed to take a look at this as part of the EI reform.
The Minister of Finance promised that the reform should make EI coverage available to self-employed workers. The consultation itself is good news, but the government shouldn’t spend two years reforming EI when the problem and the solutions are already well known.
Ever since the Axworthy EI reform of 1993, various studies, consultations and pilot projects have been introduced in an attempt to minimize these irritants. The pandemic exposed some of the system’s shortcomings. The fact that hundreds of thousands of workers couldn’t qualify for EI when they were laid off by employers because of the lockdown demonstrated the EI system’s failings. I think we need we need the political will to tackle the problems with the system more than we need another EI consultation.
I therefore ask the government to shorten this consultation. In my view, two years is far too long, especially since no valid reason has been given to justify this time frame. If the government is committed to this two-year time frame, I hope that at least all the measures will be addressed and that the time can at least be used to study two more strategic issues. The first one, which I think is essential to our collective reflection, is the feasibility of a guaranteed liveable income for Canadians. The second issue is the need to set up an independent Employment Insurance fund separate from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and managed by workers and employers, much like the CNESST fund, for example.
In closing, I believe that Budget 2021 and Bill C-30 contain several elements that will help Canada emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic in a good position. Now that the urgency initially felt at the beginning of the crisis has passed, I would have hoped that the government would tighten the eligibility criteria for its business support programs to prevent abuse. I hope the process to reform the EI system can be accelerated so that it can become a real insurance plan and an effective tool for social solidarity and workforce development.
As a final point, I want to take a moment to thank all those who have supported us with dedication and professionalism throughout this unusual session as we navigated the crisis caused by the pandemic.
I wish everyone a relaxing summer with their families. Stay safe. Thank you. Meegwetch.
Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
[ - ]
Honourable senators, I also rise today to speak to Bill C-30. My speech won’t be quite as complimentary as others have been, and you may find that surprising. Nevertheless, let me point to some of the truths and realities of Bill C-30 and not the mess we have been told here so often — first of all by the Minister of Finance, as well as by many senators — about how wonderful this bill will be and that everything will be roses from here on in, if we adopt it.
This legislation, colleagues, is a 366-page omnibus bill divided into four parts, containing 363 clauses. It amends 40 acts of Parliament and enacts one new one.
Part 1 of the bill introduces 30 income tax measures. Part 2 implements nine GST measures. Part 3 implements excise tax measures. Part 4 consists of 37 divisions covering a wide range of initiatives. Let it never be said there is a tax that the Liberals don’t like.
This bill implements only some of the programs announced in Budget 2021, so you can be certain that at some point we will be asked to examine budget implementation act, 2021, no. 2.
Among the spending measures contained in this bill are the following:
It establishes the Canada recovery hiring program, with up to $595 million for rehiring laid-off workers or new hires.
It provides $30 billion in funding over five years to establish a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.
It extends the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and the Lockdown Support until September 25.
It extends the Canada Recovery Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit.
It increases Old Age Security for seniors 75 and over.
It enhances the Canada workers benefit with $8.9 billion over six years in additional support for low-wage earners.
It enhances Employment Insurance sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks.
It establishes a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage.
It extends the waiver of interest on federal student and apprenticeship loans to March 2023.
What could possibly be wrong with this budget?
It enhances the Canada Small Business Financing Program through amendments to the Canada Small Business Financing Act, including broader eligibility and increased loan limits to facilitate greater access to financing for small businesses.
It provides an emergency top-up of $5 billion for provinces and territories — specifically, $4 billion through the Canada Health Transfer to help provinces and territories address immediate health care system pressures and $1 billion to support vaccine rollout campaigns across the country.
It provides $2.2 billion to address short-term infrastructure priorities in municipalities and First Nations communities.
It provides $4 billion to help small- and medium-sized businesses buy and adopt new technologies to increase productivity and competitiveness.
I tell you, there is no end to the gifts here. These items represent only a portion of the $497.6 billion in spending commitments made by the government in this budget and include only part of the $101.4 billion for new programs that will be rolled out over the next three years.
Colleagues, the Conservative Party has been, and continues to be, very supportive of getting financial assistance to Canadians whose health or finances have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. We have expedited the passage of every bill that was drafted to get help to those who have needed it in these unprecedented times. But after waiting two years for this budget, we are very troubled by a number of things, colleagues.
First, this bill — and the budget as a whole — is crammed with measures that are clumsily crafted, poorly thought out and extremely blunt instruments. At a time when every dollar should be spent wisely and utilized to ensure maximum impact, this government is carelessly spraying money around. This has become a habit of theirs.
Take the Canada Child Benefit, for example. Just over a month ago, we were here in this chamber and green-lighted $2.4 billion to be spent on CCB payments. But of that $2.4 billion, an estimated $300 million will go to households making — hear this — $100,000 or more per year, and over $50 million will go to families with a combined income of more than $150,000. Instead of targeting the money to those who needed it the most, the government chose to maximize the political impact of the expenditure.
This was the second time the government used the CCB program for COVID relief. The first time was in May 2020, when they sent out an additional CCB payment of $300. How many of you got that?
In her report on the Canada Child Benefit, the Auditor General of Canada noted that:
. . . the formula adopted for the additional payment allowed close to 265,000 higher-income families not previously entitled under the program to benefit from it. Payments to higher-income families amounted to almost $88 million.
The OAG’s report continued:
. . . before the formula was amended, a family with 1 child under 6 years of age could receive benefits if its net family income did not exceed $195,460. The modified formula raised the maximum to $307,960 for the May 2020 one-time payment. . . .
Colleagues, in the early days of the pandemic there was a legitimate argument that blunt instruments were unavoidable as we scrambled to make sure Canadians were taken care of in the midst of very uncertain times. But one year later, Canadians can rightfully expect, and should rightfully expect, that the government would be a little more targeted in their spending. Yet, once again, we see this same careless lack of precision in the bill before us today.
Division 32 of Part 4 of the bill proposes to increase the Old Age Security pension by 10% for seniors aged 75 and over, and provide a one-time payment of $500. The 10% increase will cost $3 billion a year and will most certainly be welcomed by all who receive it. But if you are trying to help those seniors who need it most, why would you not spend the money on increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which goes directly to low-income seniors rather than increasing the Old Age Security, which is a universal benefit for all seniors regardless of their income?
This question was raised by senator after senator in the Social Affairs Committee, as they tried unsuccessfully to get answers from a government official. Does that sound familiar? First, Senator Frum tried, asking:
Ms. Underwood, can you help us understand why the government decided to increase the OAS for Canadians over 75 instead of choosing to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors, which targets the most vulnerable seniors? It’s hard to understand the policy rationale for a universal benefit versus a targeted benefit. I see the political rationale, particularly with the one-time payment in August of $500, but what is the policy rationale for this?
Think there might be an election called in August?
Ms. Underwood replied:
As you know, the Old Age Security pension is a universal benefit for all seniors and, in this case, for all seniors over age 75. The policy rationale was to support that universal benefit and to support seniors as a large group of important contributors to our society.
Since that was obviously an attempt to sidestep the question, Senator Frum tried a second time and received a similar non‑answer. So, then Senator Bovey tried; then Senator Forest-Niesing; then Senator Black, Senator Manning, Senator Kutcher, Senator Dasko and Senator Omidvar. In spite of the committee’s valiant efforts, there was no suitable answer given because, quite frankly, the policy is indefensible. It was another example of a clumsily crafted, poorly thought-out and extremely blunt instrument designed for political ends rather than public good.
This has become a very familiar pattern with this government. Take, for example, the plan to implement a flat federal minimum wage across the country. Division 23 of Part 4 of Bill C-30 establishes a federal minimum wage across Canada of $15 an hour. At first glance, this might sound like a good idea. For those who don’t know, there already is a federal minimum wage. It is the general adult minimum wage established in each province and territory.
The advantage of this existing approach is that it reflects the regional differences in the cost of living. Minimum wages vary across the country because the cost of living varies. Now you are going to have one flat rate across the country for those who work in a federally regulated sector, which in most cases will differ from provincial rates.
For example, Alberta already has a $15 minimum wage, so nothing changes there. But Manitoba’s minimum wage is currently $11.90 an hour, while Nunavut’s is $16 an hour and Prince Edward Island’s is $13 an hour. How does it make sense to introduce a federal minimum wage which will have no correlation to the regional ones? It does not. It is a blunt instrument designed to make it look like the government is helping when really they are just causing more harm.
This policy is expected to cost $44.1 million, but it is not the federal government who will be covering the cost. It is the business owners. So just as we begin to come out of the worst public health crisis in 100 years, when businesses are struggling to make ends meet and have piled up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt just to stay afloat, the government decides to increase the cost of doing business. It is an absurd measure which is tone-deaf to provinces, insulting to businesses and could not come at a worse time.
This government’s promise to provide $100 billion in economic stimulus to help Canada recover from the impact of the pandemic is another example of this pattern. In the Fall Economic Statement, the government said:
To ensure a robust and resilient recovery, the government is developing the details of a plan to help Canada build back better, by preparing to invest up to $100 billion over the next three fiscal years . . . .
The problem is that according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, this so-called stimulus comes too late. In the PBO’s December Fall Economic Statement 2020: Issues for Parliamentarian, the PBO warned, “. . . the size and timing of the planned fiscal stimulus may be mis-calibrated.” It is going to be too much too late.
The PBO repeated this warning again in May, in Budget 2021, Issues for Parliamentarians, where he said, “. . . we maintain our judgment that the stimulus in Budget 2021 could be mis-calibrated . . . .”
The PBO further explained the problem by saying that:
Based on PBO’s pre-budget projection of the fiscal guardrail indicators, almost all of the ground lost in the labour market due to the pandemic will be made up by the end of 2021-22, the first year of the stimulus measures in Budget 2021.
So basically, even though the ground lost during the pandemic will have already been made up, the government’s so-called stimulus will continue for another two years. But it gets worse: Because the so-called stimulus spending is going to come too late, the PBO notes that it will have an inflationary impact by increasing consumer demand relative to the economy’s potential supply.
The PBO projects that this miscalibrated spending of $100 billion in borrowed money will bump inflation by 0.1% in 2021, 0.3% in 2022 and 0.1% again in 2023, and this will result in an increase in the Bank of Canada policy rate of 50 basis points in order to keep inflation in check, which will then “. . . directly increase public debt charges as existing debt is refinanced and future borrowing requirements are financed at higher rates. . . .”
So here we have a government that plans on borrowing $100 billion to stimulate an economy that won’t need to be stimulated. Instead, they will overstimulate it, driving up interest rates by half a percentage point, increasing costs for every Canadian and escalating our public debt charges in the process. Welcome to “Trudeau-nomics.”
Colleagues, as I said, this bill and the budget as a whole are crammed with measures that are clumsily crafted, poorly thought-out and extremely blunt instruments. At a time when every dollar should be spent wisely and utilized to ensure maximum impact, this government is being very careless with taxpayers’ money.
Our second concern with this bill and this budget is that it contains no plan to secure the long-term prosperity of Canadians.
The first place you see this is the fact that the government has no plan to stop running deficits. Last year, the deficit was $354.2 billion. This year, it will be $154.7 billion. Most of us can accept that these deficits were primarily due to the impact of the global pandemic.
However, over the following four years, the government is planning an addition of $177 billion in deficit spending, and it appears to have no intention of balancing the budget as far as the eye can see, because we’ve been told, “We believe it will balance itself.” All of this is based on the rosiest of economic forecasts.
Senator Marshall described it accurately when she said the following to the finance minister during her appearance at the National Finance Committee:
Your budget is based on the assumptions of strong economic growth and low interest rates, but even slight changes in economic growth and interest rates can dramatically change your fiscal projections and your debt burden to an even-worse-case scenario than what’s included in your budget. So your projected economic growth might not materialize and the interest rates may rise. In fact, if you look at your Fall Economic Statement and Budget 2021, the projected debt servicing costs increased in the mere four months between the two documents.
Senator Marshall went on:
Your projections for the next five years show continuing deficits and more debt, even though you’re counting on a healthy economy. Our debt load over the next three years, leading up to 2024, will increase by 50% to almost $2 trillion.
A few years ago, colleagues, we had no idea what $2 trillion was.
There is no indication that there will be any repayment of any of this debt by our generation. Rather, the plan is to pass it on to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.
Like with $2 trillion, we don’t even know how many great-grandchildren we have to go down.
Colleagues, the C.D. Howe Institute echoed similar concerns in their presentation to the Committee on National Finance. They said this:
. . . our own preliminary modelling at the C.D. Howe Institute shows that slight changes in economic growth and interest rate assumptions can dramatically change the course of the debt burden to the worst scenario. Under credible assumptions for potential economic growth and assuming quite reasonably that the interest rate on the debt will eventually catch up to economic growth over time, the debt burden can easily be shown to rise over time instead of decreasing, thus violating the budget’s own fiscal anchor. All of these scenarios assume unchanged spending policies over the years, which is obviously highly unlikely given provincial demands for higher federal health transfers.
In a nutshell, our internal modelling shows that the federal debt burden could very well return to the peak of the mid-1990 fiscal crisis under alternative — but perhaps more reasonable — assumptions about the future path of growth and interest rates. The combined federal-provincial debt ratio may cross 100% of GDP before 2040, on its way toward 150% by 2055.
It makes you think you are in Venezuela.
Colleagues, this government has no plan to stop running deficits, has based its future economic modelling on the rosiest of forecasts and has no intention of reducing our national debt. After cutting the ship of state loose from every existing fiscal anchor, this Liberal government has increased our debt-to-GDP level from 31.2% to 51.2%, with no plan to return us to where we were before the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic were forced upon us.
In his publication, Budget 2021: Issues for Parliamentarians, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, or PBO, put it this way:
Over the medium-term horizon, the Government projects the federal debt-to-GDP ratio to decline marginally to 49.2 per cent from a peak of 51.2 per cent, and remain well above its pre-pandemic level of 31.2 per cent. Long-term projections presented in the budget also show the federal debt ratio remaining above its pre-pandemic level through 2055.
Colleagues, the year 2055 is 34 years into the future. My youngest grandchild, who is 5 years of age today, will by then be 39 years old. By 2055, every senator in this place will have retired, and most of us will have passed away, so at least a quarter of a century earlier. Senator Munson, you’re right there with us.
Justin Trudeau himself will be 83 years old, and his children will be in their forties. Yet, according to the forecast laid out by this government, Canada’s fiscal balance sheet will still not have recovered — not because of the pandemic but simply because this government has no plan for it to recover.
You may recall that in June of last year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a warning to parliamentarians when he said this:
In the context of fiscal sustainability, it is essential to distinguish between temporary and permanent budgetary measures. . . .
Once the budgetary measures expire and the economy recovers, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio should stabilize and then start declining under pre-crisis fiscal policy settings. However, should some of the measures be extended or made permanent, the federal debt ratio could keep rising.
The PBO reiterated his warning in his Economic and Fiscal Outlook — September 2020, and he said this:
Should these [temporary pandemic spending] commitments translate into new programs that are deficit financed, there is a risk that the sustainable debt-to-GDP trajectory over the medium term [will be] reversed.
Eight months later, after reviewing the government’s budget documents, the Parliamentary Budget Officer flagged for parliamentarians that his warnings had not been heeded and that, under the current forecast, the federal debt ratio would indeed remain above its pre-pandemic level through 2055. He said:
This suggests that the Government has decided to effectively stabilize the federal debt ratio at a higher level, potentially exhausting its fiscal room over the medium- and long-term.
Furthermore, in the briefing call provided by the PBO on their budget analysis, the Parliamentary Budget Officer expressed grave concerns that the government was moving into dangerous waters by establishing new, permanent programs that would be financed by deficit borrowing.
Colleagues, if I had an alarm bell I would be ringing it loudly right now. This government’s failure to table a plan to restore the nation’s balance sheet to a healthy state puts us on a very dangerous course. The only reason that Canada was able to respond quickly and adequately to the challenge posed by the pandemic was because of the fiscal room made available by the careful stewardship of former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper.
Contrary to popular mythology, after the first Prime Minister Trudeau’s careless implementation of structural deficits in the 1970s, the budget did not balance itself. It never does. Even a plumber knows that.
Instead, the health of our balance sheet steadily declined over the next 20 years, with the International Monetary Fund knocking at our door, threatening to intervene in our financial affairs in the mid-1990s. The deficit was finally wrestled into balance and kept there through very difficult decisions, unrelenting determination and strict discipline.
It was partly because of that fiscal discipline that when Canada was hit with the financial crisis of 2008, we had the fiscal stability and the financial health necessary to weather the storm that followed. We came through it much quicker than either the United States or Europe, and our recession was less severe than that of either the early 1980s or the early 1990s.
Although the second Trudeau began chipping away at the health of our balance sheet as soon as he took office in 2015, he was fortunate that when we were hit with a global pandemic in 2019, we still retained enough fiscal capacity to act quickly and decisively in a national emergency.
Colleagues, that capacity is almost gone now, and this government has no plan to restore it. We have no way of knowing when the next pandemic will hit. But it will. It is not a question of if; it is a question of when. We have no way of knowing when the next market crash will hit. But it will. It is just a question of time.
It is the responsibility of every government to prepare for such contingencies, and yet this government has no plan to be ready. Instead, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says she believes that the COVID crisis has created a window of political opportunity for the government to launch new, permanent initiatives that will add billions of dollars in expenses to our bottom line.
This sentiment is shared by the Prime Minister who described the pandemic as an “opportunity for a reset . . .” and “. . . our chance to accelerate our pre-pandemic efforts, to re-imagine economic systems . . . .”
I don’t know what that means.
This completely ignores the recent warnings of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and ignores the fact that even if we never experience another pandemic or market crash, we are headed toward some very difficult waters, and we are completely unprepared.
Consider the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s last fiscal sustainability report, which was published in February 2020.
These reports were first published in 2010, at which time the PBO raised the alarm, noting, “The Government’s current fiscal structure is not sustainable over the long term. . . .”
How many warnings do they need?
The following year, the PBO warned again that not only was the federal government’s fiscal structure unsustainable but so too were those of the provincial and territorial governments. If something did not change, Canada was headed for trouble.
Colleagues, we are well down that road. The reasons for this are well-known and underappreciated. The 2010 Fiscal Sustainability Report put it this way:
. . . in Canada, as in other industrialized countries, a major demographic transition is underway that will strain government finances. During this time, the ageing of the population will move an increasing share of Canadians out of their prime working-age and into their retirement years. With an older population, spending pressures in areas such as health care and elderly benefits are projected to intensify. At the same time, slower labour force growth is projected to restrain growth in the economy, which will in turn slow the growth of government revenue.
In other words, colleagues, Canada is heading into a demographic perfect storm in slow motion.
The Harper government took this warning seriously. Two years later, in 2012, the PBO reported that due to changes made by the Conservative government, the federal government’s fiscal structure was now sustainable, although the provinces and territories still were not.
This annual report card remained largely unchanged every year since.
In the most recent fiscal sustainability report released one month before the pandemic, the PBO said the following:
From the perspective of the government sector as a whole (that is, federal and subnational governments and public pension plans combined), current fiscal policy in Canada is sustainable over the long term. Relative to the size of the Canadian economy, total government net debt is projected to remain below its current level over the long term.
But then came the warning:
This perspective, however, masks fiscal policy at the subnational level that is not sustainable—albeit to a modest extent. Under current policy, we project that the federal government will eliminate its net debt and shift into a net asset position. Combined with the public pension plans, this net asset accumulation more than offsets the projected increase in subnational government net debt.
In other words, colleagues, the fiscal sustainability of the nation hangs on the federal government eliminating its net debt and shifting into a net asset position. By doing so, it will ensure that Canada has the fiscal resources to “more than [offset] the projected increase in subnational government debt.”
Can you call this a fiscal life jacket?
The only problem, colleagues, is that the government just decided to pitch that life jacket overboard. Instead of tabling a budget that would return Canada’s balance sheet to health and ensure fiscal sustainability going forward, the Prime Minister has abandoned every fiscal anchor and set our lifeboat adrift. Without a course correction, we are headed in a direction that we do not want to go, and our children and our grandchildren are going to arrive somewhere they will not want to be.
Colleagues, I am not exaggerating. When finance minister Paul Martin introduced what has been called the “budget that changed Canada” in 1995, Canada’s debt to GDP level was 66.8%, and interest payments consumed 35.2 cents of every tax dollar. He was able to balance the budget within three years, but he did so primarily by unloading the costs on to provinces.
Today, the provinces have no such fiscal room to absorb additional costs. They were running deficits before COVID and have been stretched to the max by the pandemic. Going forward, they are going to face unprecedented challenges caused by rising health care costs, an aging population and a declining growth of their labour force.
Yet, knowing all of this, the federal government has not only failed to get its own house in order, but it has unilaterally decided to launch a national child care initiative that will impose billions more in new costs on provincial governments.
Instead of being part of the solution, this government has become the problem.
Colleagues, the Conservative caucus in this Senate cannot and will not support this budget or this bill. The government has demonstrated once again that they have no strategy, no wisdom and no understanding of what lies ahead. They are carelessly spraying money around with no plan to balance the budget, no plan to reduce our national debt and no plan to secure long-term prosperity for Canadians. Instead, they simply insist on burying their heads in the sand and pretending everything is fine when it is not. This should alarm us all, colleagues.
Sometime in the next year, Canadians are going to make a choice. They will go to the polls to decide if they want to keep this Liberal government at the helm of a ship of state that is sinking or whether they want a Conservative government that will protect our economy and prepare us for an uncertain future. Colleagues, it is my sincere hope that everyone in this chamber, when people in the other place have not been able to realize this, that everybody in this chamber — we talk about non-partisanship — let’s put the partisanship aside and let’s vote for Canada and vote against this budget. Thank you.