Canada Emergency Student Benefit Bill

Consideration of Subject Matter in Committee of the Whole

May 1, 2020


The Chair
[13:06]

Honourable senators, the Senate is resolved into a Committee of the Whole on the subject matter of Bill C-15, An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits (coronavirus disease 2019).

Honourable senators, in a Committee of the Whole senators shall address the chair but need not stand. As ordered earlier today, the speaking time is five minutes — including questions and answers. As also ordered by the Senate, the committee will receive the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, and I would invite her to enter, accompanied by her official.

(Pursuant to the Order of the Senate, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough and her official were escorted to seats in the Senate chamber.)

Hon. Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
[13:08]

Thank you very much. I have with me here today Deputy Minister Graham Flack, who is here to assist us in answering your questions.

First of all, thank you, honourable senators. I’d like to especially thank Senator Gagné for sponsoring this bill.

I am pleased to come before the Senate today to speak to Bill C-15, An Act respecting Canada emergency student benefits, with regard to coronavirus disease 2019. This bill was tabled and studied on Wednesday.

Our government has taken extraordinary steps to support Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. We implemented the COVID-19 economic response plan with $146 billion in relief measures. A key element of this plan is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides income support for workers who have stopped working or who have significantly reduced employment income due to COVID-19.

To give you a sense of the scope of this effort, public servants have handled over 10 million requests from 7.2 million people under the CERB. Many students qualify for the CERB and have been accessing this benefit. This includes international students, but even so, we know that more support for students is needed.

That’s why last week we announced a $9 billion suite of measures to support students in this time of crisis. These include direct income support through the Canada emergency student benefit, job creation, enhancements to the student and loan grant program and a new Canada service grant, which provides up to $5,000 in the form of a bursary for students who volunteer in the summer months.

As we all know, students are facing a unique set of challenges during this crisis, such as cancelled internships or lost work opportunities. Others have child care responsibilities and are facing a summer without many child care options. Still others are facing increased expenses related to COVID-19.

Many are uncertain about their ability to return to their studies in the fall.

We all know that students contribute in many important and meaningful ways to our society. They are innovative, bold and dedicated, and they want to contribute to their community and to serve their country during this crisis.

We estimate that approximately 1 million post-secondary students may not be eligible for the CERB, and that’s where Bill C-15 comes in. This legislation creates temporary emergency income support for students during the key summer months through the Canada emergency student benefit, worth approximately $5.2 billion.

Canadian students who are not receiving this CERB will be able to apply for this monthly $1,250 benefit from May until August. Students with disabilities and students with dependents could also receive an additional $750 per month for a total of $2,000 per month.

Just like the CERB, the CESB would not need to be repaid.

The CESB would be available to Canadian students who, due to COVID-19, are unable to work, are looking for work and can’t find it or are working and making less than a certain amount of income. Students must be enrolled in a post-secondary education program leading to a degree, diploma or certificate or have ended their post-secondary studies or graduated no earlier than December 2019.

High school graduates who have applied for and will be commencing post-secondary programs in the coming months are also eligible, as are Canadian students studying abroad.

The CESB is structured in such a way that allows students to be working part time. This aligns with our government’s priority of keeping Canadians, including young Canadians, connected to the labour force. This puts our businesses and workers in the best possible position to recover once the public health crisis passes.

As I have already stated, students want to help.

Honourable senators, we would like to help them. This legislation is a key step in the delivery of our support for students. Through Bill C-15, we have the opportunity to support Canada’s students in a way that will be felt for years to come. I look forward to your questions. Thank you.

The Chair
[13:12]

Thank you, minister. The first question is from the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Plett.

Senator Plett
[13:13]

Thank you, minister, for being here this afternoon.

Minister, my question about the bill before us today concerns the unintended consequences it could have on our agricultural sector. Farmers facing a shortage of workers due to COVID-19 could be helped by having more of Canada’s youth fill vacant jobs in farm operations right across the country.

My concern is that your bill could ultimately discourage students from seeking out this work by making it more financially beneficial to stay at home than taking on these jobs.

Yesterday, La Presse calculated that a Quebec student working 35 hours per week on a farm and receiving the bonus from the Government of Quebec would end the summer with $28 more in their pocket than a student working in a store for 20 hours a week and collecting the Canada emergency student benefit.

Young people know how to count, minister — 35 hours a week under the hot sun and wind, or 20 hours a week in an air conditioned store. Minister, when drafting Bill C-15, did you consider the negative impact this could have on our food supply? How specifically does your government intend to help students find work in our agricultural sector, which is of critical importance to our entire country?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:14]

I thank the honourable senator for his question. We are very aware, as we create these and other benefits and take steps, that we don’t want to disincentivize work. At the same time, we know that job prospects are less, so we have to find a balance in our policy and in our programming to ensure that we give people — in this case students — the support they need while at the same time putting in place other measures to ensure that we do incentivize work.

I’ll speak directly to the bill, and I am pleased to have worked with opposition parties in the House to enhance the bill on Wednesday so that we make it very clear that we expect students to be seeking work. They will have to attest that if they’re getting the benefit because they are looking for work and can’t find it, that they are indeed looking for work.

We also have a requirement on the government that they be directed to our Job Bank to ensure that they are working. Coupled with the student benefit is enhanced employment programming through our Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, where we’ve created, I think by last count, around 116,000 new jobs in the last week, in addition to the Canada Summer Jobs program, which is 70,000 jobs.

Specifically in agriculture, there is a stream under the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy that creates job opportunities in the ag sector. When we put out the CERB, which is now in this form the CESB, we also knew we had to ensure that it wasn’t unfair — and it would have been — to have somebody just earning either benefit, quite frankly, and we allowed a certain amount of income threshold so that you could work up to a certain income level. We coupled that with an essential workers’ top-up. In the scenario you put forth, once the provinces have finished negotiating with the federal government, the agriculture worker would be entitled to not only the Quebec top-up but also a top-up from the federal government as an essential worker, so that at the end of the month they aren’t in the position of having only $28 left.

I admit, this is not a perfect system. This will incentivize part-time work, but it will also rely on what I know to be the intent and the desire of our students to work. I believe that students, when given the choice, and what I’ve heard from student organizations, will choose to work and will also choose to serve.

Senator Plett
[13:17]

I don’t have a lot of time, but I will get the question on the record and maybe can you answer.

Minister, our senior citizens have been dealing with unexpected costs as a result of COVID-19. Seniors need ways to strengthen their financial security by accessing their investments without encouraging huge penalties.

The Conservative Party brought forward two proposals in this regard. One would allow Canadians a special one-time withdrawal of their RRSP in 2020, which, if repaid by December 31, 2023, would be tax-free. The other proposal would waive mandatory Registered Retirement Income Fund withdrawals until December 31, 2020, which are relatively small proposals and could do a world of good for some seniors and could be implemented quickly.

Minister, what do you think of these specific proposals? Do you support them? Is your government open to implementing them?

The Chair
[13:18]

We have to move to another question, minister.

Senator Smith
[13:18]

Good afternoon, minister. We have seen positive updates across the country with respect to the fight against COVID-19. Infection rates are slowing and hospital capacity has not been overwhelmed. With these updated numbers, provinces are looking at the possibility of slowly reopening their economies in phases.

As a result, many small businesses are concerned that the unintended consequences of the CERB will make it harder for them to re-staff. Simply put, I have a fellow who cuts my grass and he has 100 contracts in our area. He received a call from 10 of his employees, who said, “We are on the new CERB program. We are not going to work for you this year unless you pay us cash.”

How did the government account for these possibilities when the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was being drafted and implemented, and how is the government working with small businesses, retail organizations, industry groups et cetera to mitigate the risk of labour shortages in the next few months that could be influenced by manipulation by individuals?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:19]

Those are all very important and excellent questions.

When we first developed the CERB, it was targeting workers who had stopped working for COVID reasons. As it evolved, we ended up at a point where workers are permitted to earn up to a certain level of income and still get the benefit. We’ve included broader groups of workers in the class of workers who can access the benefit. To your point, senator, this absolutely has created the circumstance where, in some cases, people are doing the math and making choices that are creating challenges in the labour market.

We’re dealing with that in a number of concrete ways. I would suggest the wage subsidy is the biggest because people are going off of CERB and back on to payrolls as a result of the 75% payroll subsidy. That’s certainly what we want to see. In my ideal world, everybody who can go on to the wage subsidy would do so. We’re doing other things to help small businesses with cash flow and liquidity and, as I said in my opening remarks, set the system up to reboot as quickly as possible once this ends.

But we’re aware that every time you create a line there are people on either side of the line. Sometimes the tools we have to do things quickly are very blunt in government.

Senator Smith
[13:20]

To follow up on the question, as you look at the situation in its early stages — and you’ve done considerable work through the government departments — what type of action plan will you set up in terms of managing the situation to try to minimize this type of potential danger or damage which could influence the work environment?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:21]

Thank you, that is an excellent question.

First of all, as we create these measures and benefits and programs to support businesses and workers in particular, we have to understand how they work together and the interplay of them. We don’t want people not going back to work because of CERB. We don’t want a student to have to choose between a really good full-time job and a benefit. We’re working very hard to understand those dynamics and reacting in real time to those situations.

The other thing is we’re creating jobs. The Minister of Finance and I are very happy to invest in job creation rather than creating another benefit where people aren’t necessarily also working at the same time. We’re looking at enhancing more job programs within our youth employment strategy. Quite frankly, if there’s a job out there to be paid for, we’re very interested in supporting that pursuit.

The Chair
[13:22]

One minute.

Senator Smith
[13:22]

I have a minute. I’ll do it quickly.

Private career colleges — this is new to me and a great educational question. Lighthouse Labs and Juno College of Technology argue that the CESB as it currently stands creates a two-tier system that only benefits students who attended public universities and colleges. Graduates of private career colleges will also need supports as they navigate an uncertain job market. There are 175,000 students attending private career colleges who are ineligible for the 76,000 jobs the government has introduced.

Is there some recognition of these individual private colleges that can be addressed through the program?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:22]

Yes. I’ll ask my deputy to respond to the technical side of that. To be clear, those students and private institutions would be eligible for the student benefit. It’s my understanding they will also be eligible for these jobs created under the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy.

The Chair
[13:23]

I’m sorry, Minister Qualtrough, but we’re out of time.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:23]

I will follow up.

Senator Saint-Germain
[13:23]

Minister, deputy minister, welcome to you both.

My question is about international students and follows up on concerns raised by my two colleagues, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard of Nova Scotia and Senator Mobina Jaffer of British Columbia.

Some international students aren’t allowed to work in Canada. I know there are three categories, namely students enrolled in an exchange program lasting six months or more, full-time students, and co-op students. I obviously won’t go into detail since time is short.

Most of these students hold a study permit that allows them to work a maximum of 20 hours a week on campus and, in some cases, off campus. I see that, in its economic response plan, the government raised that limit above 20 hours a week.

Still, international students who work have the same financial obligations as any other student who qualifies for the emergency compensation plan. To help me and my colleagues understand this better, could you tell us what reasons led the government to exclude international students from the emergency compensation plan for students?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:24]

Thank you for the question. We removed some restrictions to enable international students to work more than 20 hours a week. We made that decision because it is fully in line with the federal government’s policy on the financial aid given to students under the Canadian loans and grants system. Under that system, benefits are given only to students who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

We made that decision because it follows the same policy as the loans and grants system and because the eligibility criteria for the Canada emergency student benefit are different.

As you know, many international students work. In fact, nearly 81% of students work during the year, and many international students qualify for the emergency benefit because approximately 50% of those students were working in February 2020.

If you are an international student and you lost your job, you are eligible for the Canada emergency student benefit. When it comes to the Canada emergency student benefit and the policy on loans and grants, we thought it was more logical to follow the rules that apply to the Canada student loans and grants program.

Senator Saint-Germain
[13:26]

Thank you for your answer. Since I’m interested in hearing your deputy minister’s answers to Senator Smith’s questions, I will give him the rest of my time.

Senator Coyle
[13:27]

Minister Qualtrough, thank you very much for the introduction of this valuable benefit for students, and thank you also for adjusting the benefit amount. We’re really pleased to see the adjustment for students with disabilities and for students with dependents. In the third and fourth years of university and through graduate school I had children, so I see how important these measures are.

I’m also happy to see, however imperfect, the incentives for employment. I agree with my colleagues; that’s really critical.

Like Senator Saint-Germain, my question is about international students. International students, Canadian students, their host universities and Universities Canada are all very concerned, as you probably are aware, that these very legitimate international students who attend our Canadian universities and are present and potential future contributors to Canadian society have been left out of this very important CESB benefit.

David Dingwall, President of Cape Breton University, has said that in 2020 it’s estimated that international students in Canada will stimulate $22 billion in economic activity.

Could you explain why this exclusionary decision was taken — I know you said it’s connected to your criteria for loans and grants — and could you please let us know if you would consider adjusting the eligibility criteria for the CESB to include these important international students who are here in Canada now?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:29]

Thank you, senator. Let me begin by saying that we do value the contribution of our international students. We know that contribution goes well beyond the walls of the post-secondary institutions that they attend.

I’ve also mentioned — which I think is an important piece of this conversation — that they are eligible for the CERB. So the students who were working and whose jobs and income are impacted by COVID are indeed eligible for the CERB. The international students whose job prospects are for the summer are not. That’s a much smaller catchment.

As I said, we mirrored this benefit on our broader student financial aid policy within the Government of Canada.

I apologize, because I wish I had more time to go into this, but there are significant structural and policy differences between these two benefits, whether it be who is eligible, under what circumstances or who we’re trying to target with these benefits. For the CERB, it was very much workers who were resident in Canada and whose employment prospects have changed. That includes international students.

There was a triggering event: They lost a job, or their job hours were reduced. For the CESB, it’s more anticipatory in that we anticipate fewer job prospects or employment opportunities. It’s almost broader eligibility criteria but with a smaller and narrower group of people who could apply.

I’m happy to have a longer conversation, senator; I’m just wary of the time. However, I can assure you that the decision was very much connected to our other student financial aid policy, wherein international students are not eligible for other financial aid given by the Government of Canada.

Senator Coyle
[13:31]

Thank you very much, Minister Qualtrough. I hear what you’re saying. I don’t necessarily like the answer.

I know we’re anticipating 1 million possible applicants for the CESB. When I asked during a technical briefing about the CERB and student participation there, they said 800,000. I couldn’t get numbers on international students within that, so I don’t know how many international students are falling between the cracks.

Do you have any idea?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:31]

I can tell you that about 43% of students in Canada were working. I can’t tell you the breakdown among that student population as to whether that’s international, Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Statistics Canada does not gather or desegregate that data that way.

Senator Dagenais
[13:32]

Madam minister, before getting to the heart of the matter, I’d like to ask you a preliminary question.

Former senator André Pratte has written about the collegiality of his meetings with Minister Bill Morneau. I’d like to know how many meetings there were and for how long you personally discussed the contents of Bill C-15 with the Minister of Finance.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:33]

To be honest, we discussed it for hours and hours. We worked very hard on this and very closely with the Department of Finance. I don’t know exactly how many hours, but certainly dozens or a hundred.

Senator Dagenais
[13:33]

Now I’d like to ask my main question.

In an interview, the owner of a security company in Quebec City said he had hired 10 students just last Monday. On Wednesday, all 10 students returned their uniforms. They said they no longer needed to work this summer.

I think that, by helping students, you’re hurting businesses. This is happening not just in the security sector, but also in agriculture, fisheries and small and medium-sized businesses.

I have nothing against helping students, but, as your title says, you’re also the minister of workforce development. Can you explain to us how Bill C-15 is contributing to workforce development if you’re giving students a no-strings-attached income over the summer?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:34]

Thank you for the question.

I do worry about the things you’ve mentioned. We included certain measures in the bill, such as the attestation. Students must pursue any job opportunities that arise, and they must look for a job. If they don’t look for work or don’t accept a job that’s offered to them, they are not eligible for the benefit. That is why we created jobs through some of the measures we introduced last week. What you’ve said really concerns me.

I understand what you’re saying, but we need to strike a balance between meeting the students’ need for assistance and ensuring that they are not deterred from working.

Senator Dagenais
[13:35]

Thank you, minister.

[13:35]

Minister, thank you for being here.

In your capacity as Disability Inclusion Minister, I’m also pleased to see the monetary benefit for students with disabilities. But a few weeks ago, the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group was appointed to work with you in the spirit of “Nothing Without Us.” Eleven members from various disability communities were included, but there was no representative from the autism community. With the inclusion of the commitment to a national autism strategy in two mandate letters and in the spirit of “Nothing About Us Without Us,” would you consider including the autism community on the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:36]

Thank you for the question, senator, and thank you for championing issues related to autism throughout your entire career.

I can assure you that I am confident the voices around that table do reflect the broad spectrum of disability perspectives. We are always happy to have more people at the table. I have regular contact with members of the autism community. I feel as though I’m hearing from them, but if that is not seen to be the case, I would absolutely have that conversation.

[13:36]

It’s good to have that commitment.

I have been listening to so many horrible stories about what is taking place in nursing homes, but in the disability community, there are group homes. In this disability community, for those with intellectual disabilities, there are one-on-one workers who have to work each and every day, almost 24 hours a day. This setting is a very unsettling one for many. I worry that such facilities are being overlooked when it comes to personal protective equipment. We have heard of staff shortages and cutbacks to residents’ care routines.

Is the federal government stepping up and reaching out to the provinces about these conditions — the availability of personal protective equipment and medical care? I don’t want them to be the forgotten.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:37]

Again, thank you for your question. The answer is absolutely yes. The Minister of Health and I have met with our colleagues and raised the specific issues you are talking about. One of the challenges is that, often, these collective living situations are not necessarily tied to health care systems; they are more tied to social service systems in provincial frameworks. We are pointing out those challenges and we are crying out that these workers be recognized as essential.

It is one of my personal passions that the story coming out the pandemic will be that we supported everybody equally.

[13:38]

Do you think this country needs to rethink how it deals with these nursing homes and homes for the disabled? I’m asking that in the sense of full-time employment, not part-time employment; being better trained and fully engaged; having nursing degrees — you name it. Do you think this model is past its time as a result of this pandemic?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:38]

Yes, I do.

[13:39]

Thank you very much.

Senator Dalphond
[13:39]

Thank you for being here today, minister. I have two questions for you. The first is a question that several of my colleagues have already asked. Senator Massicotte, Senator Loffreda, Senator Miville-Dechêne and I have been asking questions of senior officials in your department.

I would like you to comment on the measures the government is bringing in to encourage students to go to work, as the other place asked you to do in a motion that was adopted on Wednesday.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:39]

Thank you for the question.

The implementation of this benefit is more stringent than the CERB’s. If I could change one thing about the CERB it would be to incorporate the same level of stringency as that of the emergency student benefit.

We should require that students be looking for jobs and that students attest to the fact that they are looking for jobs. And, quite frankly, if students are offered a job, they should take it. I have been very unapologetic about saying that. That’s why we put so much effort into creating jobs as part of this big package, because we knew that the challenge would be finding that balance. And we had to create job opportunities so that students would make those choices. But I will reiterate that students want to work.

The other piece of this is the service grant. If you volunteer a certain number of hours — 100 hours, $1,000; 300 hours, $3,000. So we ideally will have many students contributing to their communities through service this summer as well.

Senator Dalphond
[13:40]

The Government of Quebec has created a program that encourages people to work on farms by providing a financial incentive of $100 a week. Would it be possible for the department, when drafting the regulations, to ensure that this incentive is not treated as income, but rather as a government benefit that, by definition, would be excluded from the $1,000 of income? If you earn more than $1,000, you lose the entire benefit.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:41]

We started a program called Step Up to the Plate, which is a national awareness program for students, challenging them to step up and work on our farms, and contribute and feed their country. That happened in France and that was successful.

Graham, could you answer the technical part?

Senator Dalphond
[13:42]

If the Government of Quebec announces that the $100 is a scholarship for students who agree to work on a farm, this amount won’t count towards the $1,000 of income. Thank you.

In my first question I asked about measures to encourage people to work. Will you create a website or any other measures to post available jobs in a given region? For example, fish plants in Gaspésie or New Brunswick needing 200 workers, or 50 workers being needed to pick strawberries near Saint-Jean.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:43]

That’s exactly what our Job Bank already accomplishes. You can input a region and see the jobs available in that area. Legislation requires us, as a government, to do so. The Government of Quebec also has a website that does the exact same thing. That means there are two websites: the Job Bank and Quebec’s site.

Senator Dalphond
[13:43]

Could we ensure that, as soon as students apply for the benefit, they would be given information on the jobs available in their regions?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:43]

That’s exactly what we’ll do. Once the application has been accepted, we’ll direct them to these jobs.

Senator Boisvenu
[13:44]

Minister, welcome to the Senate.

I’m going to continue with the same line of questioning as my colleagues, Senators Dagenais and Smith. Of all the measures that the government has enacted, I think this is the one that has drawn the most criticism from private companies, especially in the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors, which employ many minimum-wage workers. This is undoubtedly the most surprising measure for private businesses, and maybe the most disappointing, too.

Earlier we heard about students who would rather apply for benefits than work. I’m also hearing that many students might be willing to go back to work, but only if they’re paid under the table.

That’s deeply troubling, because we’re looking at a social measure that pays students the equivalent of the salary they would have earned. It’s a little idealistic to believe that everyone will want to work.

My question is, did you consult private companies before investing $7.5 billion to benefit students over a long period, as long as four months? Did you take their recommendations into account?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:44]

I know that the Department of Finance team and my team have talked to small and larger businesses. Once again, the challenge is finding a balance. We know full well that there won’t be the usual number of jobs for students this summer. Traditional tourism and festival jobs won’t exist, nor will jobs at summer camps for children. Even if we do our best, students will need help. We’re trying to strike a balance. It’s not perfect, but we’re doing the best we can right now.

Senator Boisvenu
[13:46]

My next question has to do with the CERB. I learned today that a detention centre in Quebec seized CERB cheques that were sent to incarcerated criminals. That’s very surprising. What controls have you put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, not only in the case of inmates but also in the case of other types of clients who aren’t eligible for these measures? What measures have you put in place to ensure that this money, which comes from Canadian workers who pay high taxes, will be well spent?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:47]

The situation you’re talking about is very worrisome, and we know that, in a system where integrity measures are more reactive than preventative, there’s a risk that this type of thing could happen again. However, now that we’re aware of the situation, we’re implementing more rigorous measures regarding social insurance numbers, and we’re doing research and comparisons.

Senator Boisvenu
[13:48]

Minister, if I may—

The Chair
[13:49]

Excuse me, Senator Boisvenu, your time is up.

Senator Verner
[13:49]

Thank you for being here with us today.

On April 22, your government announced a series of financial aid measures for students to help them fund their post-secondary education, including some measures that will extend into 2022, such as the Canada Student Loans Program’s $1.9-billion enhancement. You also announced the Canada Student Service Grant in the amount of $912 million.

Considering that post-secondary financial aid falls under Quebec’s jurisdiction, did you consult the Government of Quebec before announcing these measures?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:49]

Absolutely. As far as enhancing the Canada Student Loans Program is concerned, the money is simply being transferred to the Government of Quebec so that it can take it from there. We’re not dealing directly with Quebec students.

Senator Verner
[13:50]

Does that also apply to the Canada student service grant, which is similar to the 1999 millennium scholarships that Quebec had an agreement for?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:50]

We haven’t finalized the details for the service grant yet. We’re in talks with the provinces, student associations and the organizations that will be in charge of volunteering, but we won’t do anything that’s contrary to what Quebec wants.

Senator Verner
[13:51]

Thank you.

If I still have a little time, I’d like to ask you a question on behalf of my colleague from Nova Scotia, Senator Greene.

In 2010, a joint study of the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training at Dalhousie University confirmed that immigration is emerging as a new economic role for Atlantic universities, and that Atlantic Canada has a disproportionately larger share of universities. Atlantic Canada universities, therefore, have a large reliance on international students. What steps are being taken, either in Bill C-15 or other response measures, to support international students already in Canada and who, due to travel restrictions, were unable to return home and cannot work because of the pandemic, but still have living costs?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:52]

Thank you. That is a very important question. From the beginning, we have been working closely with both Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada to understand the students who are particularly vulnerable in this time of pandemic. There is a cohort of international students stuck here, and we are working to ensure that during this time, they can work as many hours as possible, removing the restriction on how many hours an international student can work while studying, which has been called for for years, quite frankly. We were able to — especially for students working and studying in health care — free them up to work more.

We also understand that many international students — and as was said, we will have more desegregated data on that — are receiving the CERB, many of whom were working and will be able to access that particular benefit. We’re looking at other ways right now, working with universities and colleges to figure that out. It should also be said that the provinces and, indeed, universities and colleges themselves are putting in place emergency measures targeting international students.

When we look at what needs to be done, we try to see what other jurisdictions are doing so that we can fill in gaps, so we are not overlapping. We are trying to get everything coordinated, but as was said earlier, this is real time. We are on a train that is moving fast, and we are changing the direction of the train and even the order of the cars as we go along.

Senator M. Deacon
[13:53]

Welcome, minister, here, the first day of May. My first question is on behalf of Senator Bellemare regarding the delivery of this benefit.

Looking at this area, how does the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion intend to deliver this benefit to students? Will your team use the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy network and, perhaps, consideration of why the government may not plan to use the provincial employment services, which also can serve as a good link between employers and students?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:54]

Thank you, senator. On the second part of your question, absolutely. We are working very closely with provincial employment centres and service providers. The benefit will be delivered in the exact same way that the CERB is delivered. It will be an attestation-based online application delivered through the CRA. Once it is available — which we anticipate to be around mid-May — students will, like with the CERB, attest that certain conditions are being met. Then within hours, if they have direct deposit, and within days, if they need a cheque, they’ll get their money.

Senator M. Deacon
[13:55]

Thank you. That mid-May goal and telling our young people, if all things work out the way they should, they would receive their first deposit late May.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:55]

No, mid-May as well. Within a day of their application if it is direct deposit.

Senator M. Deacon
[13:55]

And a follow-up to a question asked by our colleague earlier. I do want to come back to working with data, and what we will learn through this, because there are some opportunities and collection of data that will help us beyond, certainly, this time of pandemic. This is around students with physical and intellectual disabilities. One of the things that’s hard to find out is the number of students in our post-secondary schools that actually have a physical or intellectual disability. Many don’t self-identify, and this, hopefully, will be an opportunity to do that.

Will you be working at making it a goal to track and have some numbers at the end of this that tell us more accurately how many young Canadians are in post-secondary with a physical disability?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:56]

It is an important question and goal, and I share it. As we destigmatize self-identification, that’s going to go a long way. Absolutely, I know we can tell you, for example, how many students with disabilities access the special grant for Canada student loans that is available, because that’s a number that’s by application.

We worked with NEADS, which is the National Educational Association of Disabled Students. They can tell you how many members they have, but I can find out, for example, how many students across Canada access disability services in their post-secondary institutions. I cannot tell you globally how many students with a disability are in post-secondary education.

Senator M. Deacon
[13:56]

Across Canada there are still a number of students finishing high school who are 17; under the 18 years of age that this relief is providing. I also wonder if we have a sense of how many youth are under 18 that will be going after support through the other benefit that’s 15 years old and up. I’m trying to differentiate where the under 18-year-olds may fit.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:57]

I apologize, senator. I don’t know that “18 year olds” reference. I don’t believe that’s an eligibility criteria. It is literally any student who meets the criteria of enrolled in post-secondary, graduated this year. You can be 17 or 16. I don’t believe there is a low-age threshold in this one.

Senator M. Deacon
[13:58]

Thank you. Looking also at other lines that have started this afternoon, around that preference of tying in this benefit to a commitment to a few weeks of participating in community work in the summer, and making that a stipulation or tied in this with bundle. It would certainly allow our students to gain experience. We know across this country some areas where, as you’ve heard, there are some urgent employment needs right now.

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:58]

I agree that we have to be very careful of how this is all playing out together.

Senator Housakos
[13:58]

Minister, on two other occasions on which your colleagues have come before us during the pandemic, I have asked straightforward questions about the maintenance of our national medical stockpiles. I didn’t get a straight answer either time, but since you were the minister responsible for procurement, perhaps a third try will be the charm.

Minister, who was it, or was it you, who made the decision a couple of years ago to destroy the expired masks in the federal stockpile in Saskatchewan, rather than replenishing them, and why was that decision taken at that time?

Ms. Qualtrough
[13:59]

I can tell you, senator, it was not my decision. I don’t know who it was, but I can endeavour, as I don’t know if my colleagues had, to find that out for you.

Senator Housakos
[13:59]

Honourable minister, I think at the end of the day, we live in a system of cabinet responsibility and accountability, so I think the answer “I don’t know” isn’t sufficient. It is incumbent upon you as minister to get to the bottom of it and let Parliament know.

Minister, it isn’t just that China is sending us defective PPE and test kits that is making it very difficult right now.

I can tell you, to add insult to injury, we now know through a Global News report that for weeks, agents on behalf of China around the world have been scooping up and hoarding PPE. We’ve heard the disturbing information of 2.5 billion pieces of PPE that were hoarded by the Chinese government in January. We heard of 2 billion masks that had been scooped up off the marketplace by the Chinese government in January, which highlights they actually knew back in December and January that this pandemic is one that is festering and would be problematic.

The cabinet knew in January from military sources and intelligence information that the virus would be coming to our shores. At that time, we also sent them 16 tonnes of our own PPE in good gesture. All we’ve seen in return from them in our time of need are two empty planes. We’ve also seen them detain two Canadian citizens without just cause.

My question is simple: Does Prime Minister Trudeau still believe that the Chinese Communist regime is one that deserves admiration? Or will you, on behalf of the cabinet as minister, speak up and condemn the egregious behaviour of the Chinese Communist regime here in a parliamentary chamber?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:01]

That is a very complicated question, sir. I’m not going to purport to speak on behalf of the Prime Minister. He’s very capable of doing that himself.

I will tell you that our efforts in January globally were focused toward containment. We sent PPE to China with the hope — and under the very strong advice of both our domestic officials but also international experts — that the singular goal of the planet at that time was to contain the initial outbreak. It was in our collective interests globally to contribute to that effort.

At some point, it became clear that wasn’t successful and we turned our attention — as we had been — to PPE securement, but it has highlighted the need for a rethink of how we’ll prepare next time and better.

Senator Housakos
[14:01]

Minister, in recent weeks we’ve received test kits and PPE from China that have been defective and had to be sent back. We have also had a number of Canadian companies from our own industrial complex that are ready to shift into action in order to make up for the shortfall to protect our front-line health workers with PPE. They’re facing a lot of challenges with delays for the products being approved by Health Canada.

How, on the one hand, can China, which has consistently been sending us faulty PPE, manage to get approval from Health Canada as quickly as they have, yet when we have our Canadian industrial complex ready to shift into action to make up for that shortfall to protect our front-line workers, Health Canada and the government seem to be dragging their feet in giving approval to those Canadian companies?

Can we get your assurance that, in a matter of hours, this problem will be rectified in order to allow Canadian industry to provide proper PPE to our front-line health care workers?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:03]

As you highlighted, senator, our efforts have been twofold, both going around the world looking to acquire as much PPE as we can from international sources, but also building up our domestic capacity. To the best of my recollection, we’ve gone from an approval process that historically took weeks to a one- to seven-day approval process if all the information that is necessary is in front of Health Canada.

I can assure you that we are doing everything we possibly can to get things approved without compromising the rigour or quality control measures we’ve put in place to ensure that what is ultimately out there in the market is safe and protective of our health care workers in particular.

Senator R. Black
[14:03]

Thank you very much, minister, for being here. Your legislation responds to the needs of students who are unable to find work due to the virus. What it doesn’t address and what we haven’t seen addressed yet are the needs of the agricultural industry that is struggling and desperate.

We learned this week that CUSMA will now come into force on July 1. The dairy industry was hoping for an implementation date of August 1 so as to accommodate the national dairy year. Consequently, they are on track to lose $100 million over the course of this current fiscal year.

In recent weeks, various industry organizations — and yesterday, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture — have called for emergency funds for the industry. Further, as a result of COVID-19, the agricultural industry is struggling, and in my conversations with stakeholders, I hear desperation. The Canadian emergency student benefit could actually provide a financial disincentive to students to perform work in the farm and agri-food sector that they would normally undertake during the summer months.

Minister, how was the need to address this serious labour shortage in the agricultural industry considered in crafting this benefit for students? As well, when and in what format might we see other government support for the Canadian agricultural industry?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:05]

Thank you, senator, for your question. In fact, I have a number of dairy farms in my own riding and may or may not have a particular calf named after me because of some assistance I gave one farm.

In any event, I digress. I can assure you that we absolutely knew in building this benefit that we would have to, in some way, ensure that agriculture jobs were filled this summer and that we had a willing-to-work population among our student population. So when we put our call to action for students to step up to the plate and feed your country, we are hopeful and we suspect we’re going to get a nice uptake from that program. We also have a dedicated enhanced agricultural stream in our Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to create jobs within agriculture. With Canada Summer Jobs, I suspect a significant portion of the jobs will be funded for students, and those jobs are now funded at 100%.

We are looking to create jobs in order to create more jobs, all the while needing to ensure there is some kind of support for students in the event that those jobs didn’t materialize for individuals.

Senator R. Black
[14:06]

Thank you. I have a second question. The level of support provided to working people under the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is up to $2,000 a month, while the basic level of support under the Canada student emergency benefit is $1,250 per month, only rising to $2,000 per month if students have dependents or disabilities. Why is the basic level of support less for students than for working people?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:06]

Thank you for that question. The student benefit is one of a number of measures within the student package, if you will. If you look at the income support as one tool of support, you also have the potential to earn up to $5,000 if you volunteer full time. You have the potential to access a doubled student grant of $6,000 going into the summer. You have the potential to access or work full time in one of the jobs we’ve created.

When you do the math — and we talked a lot with student associations in creating this package — we felt it was more appropriate to support students completely, not just by an income support measure but by giving them access to other sources of funds in order to help support them.

Senator R. Black
[14:07]

I also know that there’s a comprehensive review scheduled for the bill by September 2021. What is the estimated cost to the government of administering the Canada student emergency benefit?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:07]

Our best estimate at this point, for a million students, is $5.2 billion.

Senator Cotter
[14:08]

I want to thank you, your colleagues and officials for the very good work you’ve been doing in these uncertain times. I have one question. It is short but has a bit of a long preamble.

In March, we saw the pandemic declared. We saw governments moving to freeze the economy in place. We knew surely then that this was going to have a devastating effect on summer jobs for students. Various of my own colleagues here have adjusted their own small Senate budgets to create opportunities for summer students to work. I’m sure many in the other place have done the same. That’s a small drop in the bucket, though, in terms of job creation.

By a rough calculation, $5.2 billion could create 600,000 jobs or so. It’s not the million that might not be there, but it’s an awful lot of jobs. You can’t do that personally. But my guess is that through institutions like universities and post-secondary educations, rather than sending cheques to the students, if you had phoned up the presidents of universities and said, “I’ve got a cheque for $20 million here. It’s coming your way on condition that you create 2,500 jobs for your students through research that the professors and instructors might do, such as help at the university legal clinic, outreach, you name it,” I suggest to you that every single university and post-secondary president in the country would have said yes and they would have created new jobs. You could have put conditions on that: jobs available by May 15; jobs for researchers who have good projects but no money. You could have phoned Senator Munson, and in five minutes he could have given you the names of 500 institutions and organizations that provide support to and work with people with disabilities, who constantly have ideas to strengthen the Best Buddies programs that universities run with students to write a handbook for the rights of people with disabilities. You didn’t have to think up the jobs; the ideas are out there, everywhere.

There are individuals and organizations that have the need. You have the money. The students could be the bridge over troubled water, if I might say, to achieve that. It strikes me that would be a powerfully more attractive approach than the approach you’ve taken.

My question is this: Why didn’t we go down that road?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:10]

I thank you and share your view that there’s a lot of creativity out there and a lot of good ideas. I would suggest that the package we put together reflects much of that. I’ll point to the 40,000 student researchers and post-doctoral fellows that we’re creating as part of this, which is exactly what you’re suggesting.

We had to find the balance. We know there will be students who are unable to work. We know there will be students whose initial work plans are completely changed. We also wanted to emphasize service, getting out and volunteering in your community to find the skills you are seeking in different ways, to help your community in a different way.

If you’re prepared, as a student, to volunteer for 500 hours over the summer, which is effectively a full-time job, you can get a $5,000 bursary at the end of the summer. On top of the $5,000 student benefit, that is not insignificant and will hopefully contribute to not having more debt, if you will, because of this pandemic.

There were a bunch of different paths we could have taken. We tried to strike the balance between income security for students and job creation. We are open, of course, to creating more jobs, and any creative partnerships you want to send my way, I’m happy to hear about them. At the end of the day, first and foremost, we wanted to ensure basic support for our students.

Senator Cotter
[14:12]

I’m in agreement with your observation that students want to work. It benefits them in all kinds of ways. It seems to me the first approach should have been to provide opportunities for them to work, and that would have been more effective as a choice. We’re always going to have students who won’t find work in the summer, but if we could have addressed the million-student gap with 600,000 jobs, that would have been a terrific outcome and we’d be celebrating your 600,000 job achievement in a year’s time.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:12]

Thank you very much, senator.

Senator Carignan
[14:13]

My question is for you, minister, and has to do with the Canada emergency student benefit. This program will have rather adverse consequences for the job market, especially for the businesses, plants and offices that will be reopening over the next few weeks. As many others have pointed out, students are telling employers that they’d rather get the benefit than take what is often a minimum-wage job.

Who did you consult before creating this program? Did you consult the provinces? In Quebec, for instance, did you consult the Quebec Employers Council, the Fédération des chambres de commerce or the Union des producteurs agricoles? Who did you consult? This initiative seems so out of touch to me that it looks like it was drafted in an office or ivory tower somewhere.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:14]

Thank you for the question. We want students to work; that is our starting point. We expect students to take the job when a job is available. In the attestation, students must promise to look for work and to not refuse work.

In the development of this benefit, I did speak with my provincial colleagues. We consulted chambers of commerce and many labour associations. I can’t name them off the top of my head, but the Minister of Finance and I, and our teams, spoke with many people and organizations.

Senator Carignan
[14:15]

You say that all students will be eligible for this benefit, even those who are well off. Minister Morneau even mentioned that his two children would be eligible. I imagine he has the means to help his children financially with their education.

Your mandate letter states that you are responsible for reviewing the government’s contribution to the student loans and grants program. Why did you not take this opportunity to strengthen the loans and grants program or the 2020 program to ensure that students who truly need it receive government assistance without impacting jobs? This benefit that you will be providing during the summer could have been included in the loans and grants system and enhanced that assistance instead of taking these essential workers out of the labour market.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:16]

That is an excellent questions. We had several discussions with student associations before deciding on the changes to the Canada Student Loans and Grants system. We doubled the dollar amount of grants, which will rise from $3,000 to $6,000. These amounts do not have to be paid back. That is also the case for special grants and grants for students with disabilities, which have doubled from $2,000 to $4,000. Loans have increased from $2,010 per week to $3,050 per week.

We made real changes to this program. Naturally, we can always do more. However, in my opinion, this is a step in the right direction.

Senator Carignan
[14:17]

You said that you consulted with chambers of commerce. What did they have to say?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:17]

I don’t remember the exact words, but we heard that there must be a balance between any assistance provided to students and the unintended consequences of that assistance, like the ones you mentioned, on the market. Above all, we knew that it would be difficult for students to find work, and we needed to help them.

Senator Carignan
[14:17]

If I understand correctly, the chambers of commerce are saying that you did not find that balance.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:17]

I’m sorry, I didn’t hear your question.

Senator Carignan
[14:17]

If I understand those who have been critical of this bill, you weren’t able to find that balance.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:18]

Many people think we haven’t found a balance, while others think that we have. There are a lot of different opinions.

Senator White
[14:18]

Thank you for being here, minister. On March 25, when Minister Morneau first appeared in this chamber to answer questions on COVID-related supports, he promised support for Canada’s hard-hit energy industry. He stated that it was hours or days away.

Senator Doug Black asked me to bring forward a question asking for timelines in relation to that support, in particular, support for mid-sized companies producing about 100,000 barrels per day, which have still not received liquidity support that the government has been promising.

We’re looking for a timeline and for confirmation that the intent is still there for the government to step in and assist those companies.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:18]

Senator, as this is not my file, I can’t give you a ton of detail. I apologize. However, having sat around the table and listened to, participated in and weighed in on the discussion, I can say that our commitment to the oil and gas sector is unwavering. These companies have access to the broader measures we’ve put forth for all companies. Depending on their size, of course, the tools are different.

With respect to specific announcements around oil and gas, whether it be to deal with the dormant wells or other situations, I don’t have the timelines in my head. I apologize. I can certainly provide that information.

Senator White
[14:19]

Please, if you don’t mind. Thank you very much.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:19]

Absolutely.

Senator White
[14:19]

My colleague Senator Doug Black, also on April 2, wrote to the Prime Minister regarding his proposal for a Canadian economic recovery council. Since he wrote that letter, there’s been significant support for this idea, as expressed in numerous editorials written by Canadian thought leaders in the National Post, The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and others. Minister, could you please indicate whether it is the government’s intention to accept the proposal and convene an economic recovery council that will assist Canada as they prepare for Canada’s post-COVID future?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:20]

Thank you for the question. How we come out and how we recover from this is top of mind and, I would say, obsessively talked about around the cabinet table. We always have to focus on the immediate, this benefit being a perfect example where we had to help people immediately. But looking forward, no idea is off the table. I know that particular idea has been talked about. I’m not aware a decision has been made. I certainly haven’t been part of a decision that has been made in that regard.

We collectively as a cabinet are absolutely turning our minds to how, within our own departments and portfolios, we can contribute creatively to any recovery plan, both in the immediate but also in the mid- to long-term future. It also involves the discussion of the things we’re doing now and whether we keep doing them in the longer term, but also what we do differently, what we have learned from this and how we can do things better in the future.

Senator White
[14:20]

But minister, respectfully, all the successes cannot possibly come from the cabinet table. They’re going to have to come from somewhere else. I think what the Canadian economic recovery council would bring is actually ideas from outside of that small room. I think the challenge many Canadians are seeing right now is the fact that the responses, although specific and appreciated, are still not broad enough to touch on some of those areas that we believe a Canadian economic recovery council would bring. Respectfully to the cabinet table — and I do appreciate the work they’ve been doing — I don’t think it’s actually hitting some of those other areas that I think a broader spectrum would bring.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:21]

I appreciate that feedback. I can tell you that we are not in any way averse to having experts. There are people who spend their entire days and lives thinking about these things. We will definitely draw on those individuals and that expertise. We know enough to know that we don’t know everything, I can tell you that. Most importantly, we know that there is a lot of creative thinking going on about this. We are looking around the world and at home to see the best way forward for Canadians. That will include leaning very heavily on external experts in this. I just can’t give you any concrete decisions at this point.

Senator White
[14:22]

Thank you for being here, minister.

Senator Boehm
[14:22]

Minister, I’m over here to your right and behind.

Thank you very much for joining us today and thank you very much for bringing my very capable former colleague Graham Flack with you.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:22]

My secret weapon.

Senator Boehm
[14:22]

I wanted to follow up a little bit along the lines that Senator Marty Deacon had set out earlier about students with disabilities and those with dependents. Of course, all students are looking for much-needed support. They’re looking for summer jobs. They’re looking for ways to pay their tuition. And I would argue that the need among those with dependents and those who are disabled is probably more acute, and, in addition, there is always the question of what is at the end of the rainbow in terms of eventually finding work in the field of study.

Under the original form of the CESB, students with dependents and those with permanent disabilities would have received $1,750 per month from May through August. It was great that these students were included but students with dependents were initially to receive less under the program. That’s all been rectified, I think, on Wednesday night. The opposition — in this case, the NDP — worked hard, I think.

This all leads to the question: As you’re taking decisions with your very capable officials on the fly and you need to act with alacrity, it underscores that having multiple targeted programs creates a certain inefficiency in the system. And yes, we’re in a grave crisis; you have to move quickly, but people are still falling through the cracks. Is it time, as you look at this and plan ahead, to consider a guaranteed liveable income instead? Thank you.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:24]

Thank you for the question. It’s one that I get often. The pivotal decision I think that we took from the beginning was that we wanted to support workers. The first group that we wanted to turn our minds to were the most significantly and immediately impacted, those workers whom we were either asking to go off work because we were needing them to be healthy and safe or who had lost their jobs or lost income. That was the birth of the CERB, if you will.

We decided very consciously that we could give more to the people who needed it instead of giving less to everyone because, in reality, not everyone needed it. I don’t mean to sound crass. I hear myself, but the reality is that there were people in more dire circumstances and those were workers we wanted to help.

As we progressed, we obviously didn’t get it perfect. Nothing that we’ve done is perfect, and that’s okay because we’re working in an urgent emergency situation. We recognized that there were people earning a little bit of income that we should include. There were seasonal workers. There were EI exhaustees. There were categories of income that we had to include that we hadn’t contemplated. We are not going down that path of giving something to everyone. We feel that a more targeted approach allows us to give more to identified groups who need a little more.

Senator Boehm
[14:25]

Thank you.

Senator Seidman
[14:25]

Thank you very much, minister, for being with us today.

My questions for you concern your work as minister responsible for disability inclusion. The Canadian Association for Community Living has noted that COVID-19 has created unique hardships for people with an intellectual disability, their families and supporters.

The association has highlighted many areas where the federal government could help these Canadians and their families. For example, the requirement of $5,000 of income in 2019 to qualify for CERB is a barrier for many people with disabilities. They’ve also asked for a disability-related top-up to the CERB to help offset the additional cost of living with a disabled child during the pandemic. I note that your government agreed on Wednesday to top up the Canada emergency student benefit by $250 for students with disabilities.

Minister, I know you’ve appointed the vice-president of the Canadian Association for Community Living to your COVID-19 disability advisory group, but what is your response to their specific policy recommendations?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:27]

Thank you, senator, for raising those really important questions. I cannot emphasize enough the vulnerability that’s being experienced within the disability community during this pandemic and the gaps and cracks in our existing systems that have been highlighted in ways that we could never have imagined before this.

The CACL is such an important partner in this as we move forward, and a lot of the things we’re currently looking at are direct results. We’re working primarily on the health care system concerns that the disability community has highlighted, which isn’t to say we’re not working on other things. The unanimous consent motion on Wednesday clearly tasked us with providing some kind of direct support to seniors and people with disabilities, so we’re on that. At the advice of the advisory committee, we have to be very cautious as we create any kind of support that it isn’t clawed back by provinces because of people being on disability supports provincially; provinces, as we’ve seen with CERB and I expect will see with the CESB, will choose to claw that back from people with disabilities. It greatly concerns me working on that one.

There are a number of things we’re working on with and for the disability community, but we’re not done and we haven’t done everything we need to.

Senator Seidman
[14:28]

Thank you for that. Minister, many Canadians with disabilities live in group homes or other long-term care facilities. These facilities tend to be smaller than seniors’ residences but they have in common a shared living space for those Canadians who are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19.

An outbreak in Participation House in Markham, Ontario, has seen 40 of the 42 residents with intellectual or physical disabilities test positive for COVID-19, and 38 health care workers at Participation House have also tested positive.

Minister, do you know exactly how many facilities for people with disabilities across Canada have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks. and is it something that you’re tracking? As well, are you working with the disability community and the provinces to ensure support workers for Canadians with disabilities have the support and the protective equipment they need to do their jobs safely?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:29]

As we work as a federal government on our coordinated effort to acquire PPE, we are absolutely including personal support workers, and individuals who work beyond long-term care facilities but also work in other collective living facilities like residences and group homes for people with intellectual disabilities are absolutely included in those conversations. We’re making sure that, as we work our way through how PPE — once we acquire it — will be distributed, there’s an equitable distribution of that PPE.

As I said, previously one of the challenges we faced is the reality that a lot of these collective living environments are not necessarily attached to provincial health care systems. They are more with the provincial social security systems. We are working through that and it is a massive gap in the system, but yes, we are definitely on that.

In terms of tracking, unfortunately, no, I couldn’t tell you with any certainty. I could tell you anecdotally, but there is no rigour attached to the numbers I would give you. I have heard some horrible stories. As with our long-term care facilities, this has highlighted the need for a very frank conversation about how we value certain types of work and not others and how we treat the people we love who are the most vulnerable. I look forward to it being a legacy of this that we do better by all of them. That’s a personal goal of mine.

Senator Dasko
[14:30]

Thank you, minister. I’ve over here in this corner. Welcome back to the Senate. I think this is the third time that you’ve been here since I’ve been here, so this is your second home. Thanks for being here and thanks for all your work.

I have a couple of questions, to start off, from Senator Mary Jane McCallum, who is not here today. She is a Manitoba senator. The first question from Senator McCallum is as follows: In Finance Canada’s backgrounder on this benefit, dated April 22, it specified post-secondary working students aged 15 to 29. With that qualification, the first question is with respect to adult or mature students who are over 30 years old.

Will the bill and will the support apply to post-secondary students regardless of age, or is there an age cap on it?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:31]

To the best of my knowledge, senator, as was referenced earlier, we can set that by regulation. I personally have no intention of — is there an age restriction? I don’t know; no, there isn’t; over 30, absolutely. The connection to post-secondary education is what’s important, not the age of the individual.

Senator Dasko
[14:32]

So that’s not a —

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:32]

Sorry, when people ask questions to which I thought I was very certain of the answer, it makes me wonder if I had got the answer wrong, but no.

Senator Dasko
[14:32]

So there is no age cap on that as long as it is a post-secondary connection?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:32]

Right.

Senator Dasko
[14:32]

All right. Thank you.

The second question from Senator McCallum is as follows: Apprenticeships were not mentioned in the bill, but they are an important part of educational requirements for many students. When they receive their diplomas, they are required to get hands-on training for further certification. Many students are having difficulty landing apprenticeships in the current climate due to COVID-19 restrictions on these types of opportunities. Are students also eligible to apply for the benefit if they have earned their diploma and are now doing an apprenticeship?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:33]

The answer is that it depends, quite frankly, and that will be determined by the definition of “post-secondary institution.” My intention is to be very broad. I have a personal soft spot for apprenticeship and supporting apprentices in their training. I know that when we made the announcement of doing a moratorium on Canada Student Loans payments, we also did it on Canada Apprentice Loan payments so that there would be equity there.

I think it will depend on the length and duration of the education they are seeking in the fall more than where they are seeking it. There is no exclusion. It will depend more on the type of certification, diploma or degree the individual is seeking and where they are seeking it from than whether it is classified as an apprenticeship or not. I apologize for the murkiness of that answer.

Senator Dasko
[14:34]

Here is another question. This refers to the Canada student service grant and with respect to national service and serving their communities. I know you said this is yet to be determined, but I’m just, first of all, seeking examples of what national service and service to communities might be. I know you don’t have it nailed down yet, but what is it? How is it going to be administered? Are these going to be opportunities that are coming through organizations, or is this young people themselves saying, “I’m going to get out and help my neighbour,” or whatever and then apply for this? Have you figured out how that will be worked out and what is involved with this?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:34]

We’re launching a platform called “I Want to Help” and it will be effectively like the job bank. Organizations will be able to post volunteer opportunities in communities and students will be able to seek out opportunities through this platform, this national database of service opportunities, if you will. We are saying it’s a national service experience, but it is very much a local opportunity to serve. It’s a national program with local opportunities in reach. You can imagine a food bank or Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada or the United Way. There are really big national organizations that can plug into this, but in my riding, BC and Alberta Guide Dogs, for example, might want volunteers and need people to help with the puppies while their own volunteers, who are usually seniors, can’t do it. I can think of 15 in my own riding who would love the opportunity for students to serve with them and they can plug that information into this platform.

Senator Ngo
[14:36]

Minister, during his daily press briefing on Monday, the Prime Minister said, and I quote:

We’re in lockdown . . . . There aren’t enough jobs right now for Canadians across the country. . . . there aren’t enough jobs for students.

However, Quebec and Ontario have asked the federal government to send in the army to help out at nursing homes and long-term care homes, which are grossly understaffed. The agriculture, fish and seafood sectors are also in dire need of workers. Foreign workers are being brought in during this crisis through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Canadians who have lost their jobs want to work, and so do students. They could be filling those jobs.

Apart from putting students in touch with local employers, as you mentioned, why doesn’t Bill C-15 contain much more concrete, tangible measures that would encourage them to work in those sectors, instead of waiting for foreign workers who have to be quarantined for 14 days when they arrive in Canada?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:37]

Thank you for your many-pronged question. I will begin with foreign workers.

Of course, we know that there are some Canadians, particularly students, who are looking for work, but our country will always need foreign workers. The pandemic has not changed that. Obviously, we can work harder at directing students toward job opportunities, and we must continue those efforts, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be set out in the legislation. We have very good student employment programs. I am committed to creating opportunities for students through those programs.

Senator Ngo
[14:38]

Thank you, minister, for your answer. I’m not very happy with that, but it’s okay, I can live with that.

My second question to you is this: The government says Canadians who are receiving the CERB and the wage subsidy will have to give back one or the other. If the students are getting the CERB because they are eligible and they are also getting the CESB at the same time, will they have to give back one or the other just like Canadians who are getting the CERB and the wage subsidy and who are required to do so?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:39]

The short answer to that, senator, is yes. You cannot get both of these benefits at the time. You may be eligible for both. We are putting a limit of 16 weeks’ duration total for the amount of benefits that you can tap into, if you will, as either a CERB or a CESB recipient. We have, through CRA, some concrete ways that we can require people who are paid both benefits at the same time, but that would have required them to not be truthful on their attestation. One of the things they are going to have to attest to is that they are not currently receiving the CERB if they apply for the CESB. They would have had to fraudulently attest that they are not in receipt of the CERB. There is a small likelihood that it was by accident, and in that case we will work with the individual to make sure that we find a fair way for them to repay.

Senator Ngo
[14:40]

Canadians who apply through the CRA are required to reapply in each four-week period, and those who apply through Service Canada have to reapply every two weeks. So students will have to apply to get CESB, they can apply for any four-week period that falls in the months May to August; however, Bill C-15 does not mention if the student needs to reapply in each of the four-week periods. Will there be a requirement for students to reapply?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:40]

Yes, there would, absolutely. Through Service Canada, if you are a CERB recipient in the EI system, you have the option of applying every two weeks or four weeks. There are situations where Service Canada applicants can only do it for four weeks, but because they were in the EI system, there is a little more flexibility for us to allow them to apply more frequently, but students will be asked to apply every four weeks.

Senator Galvez
[14:41]

Thank you for being here this afternoon, Minister Qualtrough.

I have two questions, one regarding research funding and the second on municipal affairs coming from colleagues interested in that subject. I’m sure you know that foreign or Canadian graduate students work inside the campus and outside the campus, but most of the time their work is related to research work at the graduate or undergraduate level. Universities account for more than 40% of all Canadian research and development in Canada, and we work on training highly qualified professionals that are needed right now in researching medical issues with respect to COVID-19. However, many of these research projects were stopped because universities are closed.

Some of the solutions on the work for students and paying students is through research projects. Are you considering additional funding to restart these research projects that have been stopped because of the pandemic?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:42]

Thank you for that important question. I will read this in order to not to get it wrong. As part of our student package, we are creating and supporting up to 40,000 student researcher and post-doctoral fellows through the federal granting councils, and that’s a $300 million investment. We are also giving an additional $8 million to the National Research Council for students and post-doctoral research placements.

In addition, we’re creating 5,000 jobs through Mitacs and the Business/Higher Education Roundtable is creating 5,000 to 10,000 new student jobs. That doesn’t answer your question about the research projects, but I wanted to give you a bit of flavour that we are with you on how important these jobs are.

With respect to specific research projects, my understanding is it’s on a project-by-project basis, depending on the particular circumstances in the post-secondary institute around whether we can continue the work. As I’ve been briefed — I apologize; I only have a high-level understanding of this. I can get more information — it really will be on a case-by-case basis as soon as possible.

We remain committed to this research. It’s more practical, how quickly we can get back to doing it, but we will get back to doing it.

Senator Galvez
[14:44]

Thank you.

In recent weeks, local governments have had to lay off tens of thousands of employees across the country. Surrey, British Columbia; Quebec City; Mississauga; and Edmonton, they have laid off 2,000 or more employees.

Current federal government programs include wage subsidies, rent assistance and other help to business, but do not extend the same help to local governments. Aid is needed for municipalities so they can continue to offer essential services to their residents such as water, waste water and public transportation.

Minister Qualtrough, why the discrepancy between public and private sector treatment and how is the government planning to address this issue of employment in local governments?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:44]

Thank you for that important question. Cities and municipalities across the country are indeed struggling.

I will share with you that part of the thinking around a hesitancy to use federal taxpayer dollars to supplement jobs and systems that are municipally taxpayer dollar-funded is the duplication of the individual taxpayer to be paying twice with their tax dollar towards one particular circumstance. I apologize if that doesn’t make sense. The reality is that municipalities and cities are struggling, and I know that both the Minister of Infrastructure and the Minister of Finance are turning their minds to how we can creatively support our cities and municipalities through this. The Prime Minister is working with premiers directly on how we can do the same through provincial and territorial governments .

Senator Galvez
[14:45]

Thank you very much.

Senator Loffreda
[14:45]

Good afternoon, minister, and thank you for being here.

Youth empowerment is important. We want all Canadians to remain healthy through this crisis, including our students. Can you elaborate a bit on how the eligible amounts per student were derived, the rationale behind it? Was there any comparative, qualitative or quantitative analysis done? I would be curious about knowing how those amounts were derived.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:46]

I will pass this to my deputy because we have talked a lot about this.

Senator Loffreda
[14:48]

Thank you for the answer. There has been a lot of concern with keeping our students motivated and having incentive to work. Can you elaborate on the website that will be available for business owners and businesses to post employment opportunities?

Second, I would like to know which programs are being considered for students. Are there any specific industries that are being targeted more than others for student employment? It’s a positive, because if we are creating student employment, I think we can do that on an annual and continuous basis.

Last but not least, the students have to attest that they are seeking employment, that you provide them with employment opportunities. How will we administer that? It is a qualitative criteria. How do we ascertain that the proper efforts are being made by our students?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:49]

Again, those are really important questions. The Job Bank we have for the federal government is quite robust. Employers regularly post opportunities. We drive students to those opportunities in a variety of ways. We have social media campaigns to tell students to go here for these jobs available in your region. Quebec has a complementary or parallel job bank database.

We have consolidated all of our youth employment programs into our Youth Employment and Skills Strategy, or YESS, and within that there are a number of types of youth employment jobs. We have a Student Work Placement Program; we have a Supports for Student Learning Program; we have Canada Summer Jobs; and we have a more general YESS stream.

We also have specific streams within different departments, and the Department of Agriculture is one where we fund student placements and student jobs in particular sectors like agriculture. As we designed the Canada Summer Jobs program, this year, for example, we put in certain priorities for employers to look at when they are creating these jobs, and if you have a job in a priority area, you get more points, and then you are more likely to get a job funded by us.

Senator Miville-Dechêne
[14:50]

Thank you, minister. Like many of my colleagues, I’m worried these benefits may actually discourage some students from seeking work. You yourself admitted that was a possibility.

You mentioned that the attestation will enable us to make sure the students are serious about seeking employment. I’d like you to explain how that will work. I’ve spoken to some of your officials, and they said the form won’t require students to write down what kind of jobs they’ve been applying for. They said that asking a question like that would slow down the process.

I don’t understand how it could slow down the process, given that asking a student where he or she has been applying could reinforce the seriousness of the process and give you something to check up on six months later if you need to.

Instead, you’re just relying on the honour system. I know plenty of students will do the honourable thing, but I can’t understand why the attestation isn’t more serious.

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:51]

That’s a great question. The criteria and requirements of the attestation have yet to be determined.

Everything we have to confirm slows down the delivery of the benefit. If I have to confirm you’ve said you’ve applied for these five jobs, I have to check if you have applied for the five jobs, but I can’t get that student that money in the same day. I don’t have all the human resources to check five jobs for a million students and be able to give them that money within any reasonable time frame.

I hear you, and it might be an excellent idea that we could spot-check students if we had that information, so I’ll take that back. But the challenge for us is always at the forefront putting in enough integrity measures so that people don’t take advantage, but at the same time desperately wanting to get people their money as soon as possible. Thank you for that suggestion.

Senator Miville-Dechêne
[14:53]

I understand. Obviously, I’m not asking the government to immediately check whether students did indeed apply for jobs, but that information should at least remain on file. It seems to me that that provides some extra insurance.

My second question has to do with part-time work. As you mentioned, the student benefit allows for approximately 19 to 21 hours of part-time work. However, in Quebec, labour shortages are being felt most keenly in the health and agricultural sectors, but employers in those two sectors are saying that they don’t want part-time workers, that that doesn’t help them. Employers in the health sector want full-time workers to reduce the risk of contamination for seniors, and employers in the agricultural industry don’t want to spend the summer training and retraining students who will come to work for a few hours and then leave. Do you see this other problem with the benefit?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:53]

I understand that part-time work doesn’t work very well for some sectors. I understand that it isn’t ideal in the health and agricultural sectors. That’s why we’re working harder to create full-time jobs in those sectors in particular. We’re creating full-time jobs for students in essential sectors, but that will prevent them from receiving benefits because they’ll be working too many hours to be eligible.

There is also the wage subsidy. I heard many employers say that, thanks to the subsidy, they’ll be able to pay students a higher hourly wage. What is more, our subsidy that covers 75% of employees’ wages might encourage employers to offer more full-time positions.

Senator Miville-Dechêne
[14:55]

Thank you, minister.

Senator Pate
[14:55]

Thank you, minister, for joining us. This pandemic has made two things clear, first, in ways that exacerbate and entrench existing inequalities, particularly when it comes to income, class, sex, race and ability. Canada’s health, employment, housing and social supports have left far too many people behind in times of need.

Second, we know that we cannot return to the status quo. This is the reason why, earlier this month, 50 senators sent an open letter to the government encouraging consideration, as a next step in the evolution of income support, of the restructuring of CERB as a crisis minimum income not, as your response to Senator Boehm would indicate, a universal basic income, but a means-tested approach that would allow us to ensure there is greater social and economic equity as well as greater efficiency in reaching those in need.

What measures are being taken to consider this option, and, second, what measures are the government taking to ensure ongoing oversight of its pandemic response by independent human rights and substantive equality experts? How will such input be incorporated to ensure that the lessons learned and the post-pandemic processes include examinations of and steps to remedy the inequalities exposed by both the pandemic and the gaps in current government responses?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:56]

Those are very thoughtful and important questions, thank you.

As I said, when we made the pivotal decision to focus on workers, as opposed to anyone with low income, that was — pardon my sports background — a bit of a TSN turning point for how our response has played out. We decided to focus on people who had attachments to the workforce that were either completely gone or so minimized that, in practicality, they weren’t working.

Once that decision was made, the other decisions followed. We focused on workers and businesses. We changed the CERB to include more worker employment situations. The decision was not to look at people who were low-income prior to but whose employment had not been impacted by COVID. We focused on people whose working situation had been impacted. As we have gone forward, we have then had to address the other realities of the pandemic: Things are costing more, services that were free are no longer free and support networks have completely disintegrated in some situations, and we are desperately trying to respond to those situations. Looking forward, I think we all need to do a hard look, and I think an important legacy of this will be bravely and boldly rethinking our systems, and we don’t have to go back to the way it was.

I don’t know what that will look like, but I think this has given us a real impetus in Canada to bravely redesign the way we help and support people.

Senator Pate
[14:58]

Thank you for that response, minister, and I thank you also for the work you have been taking on to try to ensure that provinces and territories aren’t clawing back resources that are being made available to those who are in receipt of social assistance.

Are there ways that senators interested in this issue could work with the government to ensure that all people are included and have their place on your team Canada?

Ms. Qualtrough
[14:59]

Thank you, and, of course, please reach out to me. The more brains the better, as far as I’m concerned. I’m very passionate about conveying strong messages to my provincial and territorial colleagues that, in this time of crisis, we shouldn’t be taking things away from the people who need them the most, and I’ll continue with that effort; I’m pretty unapologetic about it.

Perhaps we can talk offline how senators can support me in that effort. I would greatly appreciate it.

The Chair
[14:59]

Honourable senators, the committee has been sitting for 125 minutes. In conformity with the order of the Senate of earlier this day, 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 official.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

The Chair: Honourable senators, is it agreed that the Committee rise and that I report to the Senate that the witnesses have been heard?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Hon. the Speaker
[15:00]

Honourable senators, the sitting of the Senate is resumed.