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Appropriation Bill No. 4, 2021-22

Second Reading

December 14, 2021

Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate) [ - ]

Moved second reading of Bill C-6, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022.

She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to introduce the fourth appropriation act for fiscal year 2021-22, which contains the supply requirements for the 2021-22 Supplementary Estimates (B).

The appropriation bill is a vehicle through which payments from the Consolidated Revenue Fund are authorized for government programs and services. The voted amounts represent maximum “up to” ceilings or estimates, and, therefore, may not be fully spent during the course of the year. Actual expenditures will be found in the public accounts after the fiscal year is completed.

Through this supply bill, the government requests Parliament’s approval of the planned spending proposals that are detailed in the Supplementary Estimates (B).

The estimates, which include the Main Estimates, supplementary estimates, departmental plans and departmental results reports, in conjunction with the public accounts, help parliamentarians scrutinize government spending.

Esteemed colleagues, we all know how important this information is to the functioning of our system of governance.

Accountability, which is at the core of our system, requires that parliamentarians and the voters they serve must know how public funds are spent so they can hold the government to account.

That is why the government ensures that parliamentarians have access to accurate, timely and understandable information on government spending.

For example, I would draw the attention of my honourable colleagues to the Government of Canada’s InfoBase, an interactive online tool that depicts a large amount of federal data in a visual format. It contains the estimates and other government data on finances, personnel and results.

It is essential to release spending data by using digital tools like this one to provide parliamentarians and Canadians with more information about the allocation of public funds and how they are invested.

Honourable colleagues, I would now like to turn to the 2021-22 Supplementary Estimates (B), which are the basis for this supply bill.

The supplementary estimates present information to Parliament on spending that was either not ready for inclusion in the Main Estimates or has since been refined to account for new developments in programs or services. With these Supplementary Estimates (B) for 2021-22, the government is seeking Parliament’s approval of funding to address matters of importance to Canadians. This includes the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as infrastructure and services to address the specific needs for Indigenous communities.

The supplementary estimates provide information on $8.7 billion in voted budgetary spending for 60 federal organizations. These estimates also show, for information purposes, forecasted budgetary statutory expenses of $4.7 billion, primarily due to the extension of the Canada Recovery Benefit and forecasted requirements for the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. These benefits have been instrumental in supporting Canadians through the worst of this pandemic.

Of the voted budgetary spending, $1.2 billion is related to the COVID-19 pandemic response, and a portion of these funds are earmarked for helping those in need outside of our borders. Along with providing domestic supports, we must be mindful that we live in a community of nations. That is why Canada is committed to a robust global effort to stop COVID-19 and address its devastating health, social, economic and security impacts on people around the world.

Honourable colleagues, Canada is a founding member of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global partnership to ensure that people worldwide have equal and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. Canada is also a strong supporter of the COVAX Facility, the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, to support the procurement, distribution and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

To continue to provide these types of assistance, Budget 2021 announced funding to help some of the world’s poorest countries access the tools they need to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The Supplementary Estimates (B) seek $375 million to deliver on that commitment to support access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics by developing countries.

Honourable senators, as I mentioned earlier, the purpose of the supplementary estimates is to have Parliament approve the funding necessary to address the needs of Indigenous communities.

Although the government has made progress on righting Canada’s historical wrongs in its relationship with Indigenous peoples, there is still a lot of work to be done. We must invest in improving the quality of life of people living in Indigenous communities and create new opportunities for them.

As part of the government’s collaboration with Indigenous partners, these investments will help close the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people; promote the health, safety and prosperity of Indigenous communities; and advance reconciliation with the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

This is why the Supplementary Estimates (B) provide for a total of $1 billion to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and $2.1 billion to Indigenous Services Canada.

I want to highlight some of the key voted items requested by these two departments. In Budget 2021, the government announced funding to help close infrastructure gaps in Indigenous communities, as well as to create good jobs and build healthier, safer and more prosperous Indigenous communities in the long term.

The Supplementary Estimates (B) honour that commitment by allocating a little over $725 million for the construction, renovation, operation and maintenance of housing, schools, health facilities, water and wastewater, and other community infrastructure.

This funding will also support the transfer of infrastructure to Indigenous-led organizations and fund the operation and maintenance of Indigenous-owned infrastructure.

These estimates also seek just over $412 million for the Specific Claims Settlement Fund to provide compensation to First Nations in accordance with negotiated agreements. Specific claims are claims by a First Nation against the federal government that relate to the administration of land or other First Nation assets and to the fulfillment of historic treaties and other agreements. The primary objective of the Specific Claims Policy is to discharge outstanding legal obligations of the federal government through negotiated settlement agreements.

Just over $361 million is also sought to fund prevention and protection services to support the safety and well-being of First Nations children and families living on reserve. These include early intervention and alternatives to traditional institutional care and foster care, such as the placement of children with family members in a community setting.

To ensure Indigenous peoples can access high-quality health care, Budget 2021 announced several measures including one in these estimates for just over $332 million to ensure continued high-quality care through the Non-Insured Health Benefits program. This program supports First Nations and Inuit people with medically necessary services not otherwise covered, such as mental health services, medical travel, medications and more.

Another budget initiative presented in these estimates is funding to help people on reserve and status Indians in Yukon transition from income assistance to employment and education. Specifically, almost $309 million is sought to assist eligible individuals and families with basic or special needs case management and pre-employment measures designed to increase self-reliance, improve life skills and promote greater attachment to the workforce.

These estimates also seek just over $212 million for the partial settlement of the Gottfriedson litigation concerning Indian residential school day scholars and in support of Indigenous childhood claims litigation management. This funding will be used to compensate approximately 13,500 day school survivors and their first-generation descendants. As well, it will be used to establish a day scholars revitalization fund to support survivors and descendants in pursuing healing and wellness; to revitalize and protect their Indigenous languages, cultures and heritage; as well as to promote education and commemoration.

This funding will also be used for legal fees, third-party administration costs and ongoing management of Indigenous childhood claims litigation.

Esteemed colleagues, we are fortunate to have a professional public service that provides a multitude of services with a tangible impact on Canadians’ lives.

Those services range from food inspection and drug safety and efficacy regulation to border security and icebreaker operation in the Northwest Passage.

In a crisis, the public service steps up to the challenge. Six years ago, public servants worked tirelessly to resettle over 25,000 Syrian refugees. That was a titanic job.

Just over a year and a half ago, public servants had to respond to another crisis, this time a pandemic. I think we can all agree that they did an amazing job.

The supplementary estimates include $1.5 billion to compensate federal organizations for salary adjustments resulting from recently negotiated collective agreements and changes to terms and conditions of employment. The government remains committed to reaching agreements with all bargaining agents that are fair to employees, mindful of today’s economic and fiscal context, and reasonable for Canadians.

This funding will also be used to compensate employees for damages associated with the Phoenix pay system and for the extended implementation time frames of collective agreements during the 2018 round of collective bargaining.

Honourable senators, when it comes to responding to crises, we are also fortunate to be able to rely on the dedicated personnel of the Canadian Armed Forces. We thank them for their help in responding to the devastating floods in British Columbia and the global pandemic.

These estimates seek almost $328 million to cover the pay increase for Canadian Armed Forces personnel to align with the bargaining settlements for the core public administration. The funds will also support restructuring of pay and allowances for certain occupations within the Armed Forces as well as an extension of the allowance for personnel deployed to support Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last voted item I would like to draw your attention to is just over $253 million to the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada for the Heyder and Beattie class action settlement agreement. This funding will be used to continue to assess and pay claims under the Heyder Beattie Final Settlement Agreement.

Colleagues, the government continues to prioritize how it presents the estimates, with detailed explanatory material readily available online for parliamentarians and for Canadians.

The government has also taken several steps to ensure that they have access to even more information. For example, departments regularly report their spending through quarterly financial reports.

The Department of Finance also provides monthly updates on the financial situation of the government in the Fiscal Monitor.

In addition, due to the extraordinary circumstances and expenditure levels generated by the pandemic, the government has reported spending authorities related to its response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the supplementary estimates. It also reported on spending authorities and expenses incurred for each measure taken against COVID-19 through the Government of Canada InfoBase and the Open Government portal.

These reporting tools allow Canadians to easily see the spending authorities approved by Parliament, as well as the money spent to implement the government’s response to the pandemic.

Finally, to ensure greater clarity on the relationship between the figures presented in the estimates and supplementary estimates, the government is also providing a reconciliation of these two expenditure forecasting documents.

Honourable senators, the bill I have the honour of introducing today is important to delivering on the government’s commitment to the priorities of Canadians.

In summary, the government seeks Parliament’s approval of $8.7 billion in new voted spending for those who need it most. It is for low-income Canadians with health, education and income assistance needs; for child and family services of Indigenous Canadians; for Indigenous housing and infrastructure projects; for the personnel costs of our public servants, including members of the Canadian Armed Forces; for settlement agreements with Indigenous groups; and for medical and economic supports for developing countries that are shouldering heavier burdens in this hour of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on many aspects of the lives of Canadians. We have all been called upon to stand shoulder to shoulder and pull together.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, colleagues, for your cooperation. I would also like to acknowledge the important work done by the members of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, under the superb leadership of Senator Percy Mockler.

I would like to acknowledge Senator Marshall’s work as critic of the bill. We are fortunate to have an incredible depth and breadth of talent across our chamber. Your ability to assess the government’s performance is welcome and important moving forward. There is always place for improvement for the benefit of all Canadians. Thank you.

Hon. Elizabeth Marshall [ - ]

Thank you, Senator Gagné, for your comments on Bill C-6 and Supplementary Estimates (B).

Honourable senators, Bill C-6 is requesting authority to spend $8.7 billion. To support Parliament’s consideration and review of this $8.7 billion, the Treasury Board president has tabled Supplementary Estimates (B), which provides information and details on the spending authorities requested.

If Bill C-6 is approved by Parliament, this $8.7 billion will bring the total spending approved by appropriation bills this year to $176 billion.

In addition to the $176 billion approved by appropriation bills, the government already has authority to spend another $230 billion this year, which has been approved by legislation other than appropriation bills. This $230 billion is called statutory expenditures and is authorized by various pieces of legislation, such as the Financial Administration Act, the Budget Implementation Act, 2021 and the Canada Recovery Benefits Act.

These statutory expenditures are included in Supplementary Estimates (B) for information purposes only. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, in a recent report, said there is currently no standing parliamentary review mechanism in place for statutory expenditures.

By providing spending authority in legislation other than appropriation bills, the government does not have to annually request parliamentary approval for spending because parliamentary approval has already been given for these expenditures.

It is interesting that over the past number of years, “statutory” expenditures that are approved by various other legislation actually exceed the expenditures approved annually by appropriation bills. For example, if Bill C-6 is approved by the Senate this week, $175 billion will have been approved by appropriation bills this year, while $230 billion in expenditures will have been approved by legislation other than appropriation bills.

Even more interesting is that statutory expenditures are included in the estimates for information purposes only, as I’ve mentioned. There is no standing parliamentary review mechanism in place for these statutory expenditures. When we say that we are studying the estimates, it means that we are studying less than half the expenditures presented in Supplementary Estimates (B) because 58% has already been approved by Parliament.

Honourable senators, I have spoken many times inside and outside of this chamber of the difficulties in tracking government expenditures. One of the problems is that the information in these estimates documents does not align with the information in the budget.

For example, the budget this year is forecasting expenditures of $497 billion, yet Supplementary Estimates (B) disclosures spending of only $405 billion. There are several reasons for this discrepancy. For example, the Supplementary Estimates (B) document we are studying does not include all of the new budget initiatives.

In other instances, the Supplementary Estimates (B) document does not include certain expenditures authorized by the Income Tax Act, such as some of the COVID expenditures.

Regardless of the reasons for the discrepancy, it is difficult to track government expenditures. The government has tried to reconcile the $497 billion in the budget with the $405 billion in the Supplementary Estimates (B) document by providing a chart or reconciliation to explain the difference. Senator Gagné referenced this in her speech. While the chart is somewhat helpful, it is confusing since there is no recognition of additional expenditures expected in Supplementary Estimates (C), which are expected in March.

In addition, the chart summarizes a number of transactions, all of which must be reviewed in order to understand why the budget includes $497 billion while the estimates document only includes $405 billion. In essence, a chart placed in the introductory section of the Supplementary Estimates (B) document is no substitute for an estimates document that is properly aligned with the budget.

In 2017-18, former president of the Treasury Board Scott Brison enthusiastically undertook an estimates reform project and piloted several changes to the estimates documents. He met with the Finance Committee a number of times to discuss the project. Parliamentarians were provided with the opportunity to participate and provide feedback.

Unfortunately, successive presidents of the Treasury Board did not support the initiative, and based on the comments of the present minister last week, the estimates reform project is over, and we have returned to the old ways of preparing the estimates documents.

The COVID expenditures, in particular, further complicated our review of government expenditures since government did not provide parliamentarians with the information they needed. COVID expenditure reports were initially provided in April 2020; then they ceased in August 2020; then they resumed again in April 2021; then ceased again in July 2021.

The government itself recognizes that it has a problem. Its own website asks a question: “Do you understand the process the Government uses to spend your tax dollars?” And the website also provides the answer: “If you’re a little foggy about it, you’re not alone.” That is the way it is when you are reviewing government expenditures.

To further complicate our review of the Supplementary Estimates (B) document, the government has yet to release the public accounts for the last fiscal year. Actually, I think they were released about two hours ago, now that we have finished our review of Supplementary Estimates (B).

The public accounts are the financial statements of the government, which have been audited by the Auditor General of Canada. It includes information on expenditures, revenues, debt, contingent liabilities and other financial data which is valuable in assessing appropriation Bill C-6 and the supplementary estimates document which supports the bill.

Historically, the public accounts provide financial and other information as at March 31 of a fiscal year, and have traditionally been tabled in parliament during the fall sitting. For the past 11 years, the public accounts have been tabled seven times in October, twice in November and three times in December. The three December tablings occurred since the 2015 election, when the current government came to power. This is a government that continually tells us it is committed to openness, transparency and accountability.

The former Parliamentary Budget Officer said recently that the public accounts should have been at the front end of the current four-week sitting. He went on to say that how the money was spent last year will help inform debate about the requests for more funds.

The late date of the tabling of the public accounts raises another concern. Once the minister tables the public accounts, she is required to table the Debt Management Report for last year within the first 30 sitting days after the public accounts are tabled.

By delaying the release of the public accounts until today, government is able to delay the deadline for the release of the Debt Management Report. Since the public accounts were released today, the deadline for the tabling of the Debt Management Report is now late March. Imagine. The Debt Management Report for the year of the pandemic, when an incredible amount of debt was assumed, may not be released until March 2022, a full year after the end of the fiscal year.

In addition to government’s withholding of the 2021 public accounts, government has yet to release the departmental performance reports. These reports are usually released in the fall and would ordinarily have been available for our review of Bill C-6 and the Supplementary Estimates (B). Treasury Board released them, I think, December 7 of last year.

However, Treasury Board officials told us that government does not plan to release the departmental results report until January. Since we do not see it until January 30 or 31, we are going to be waiting until that time to get the departmental results reports. Without that information, it is not possible to complete our review of Bill C-6 and Supplementary Estimates (B). So here is the government insisting we hurry along and approve the appropriation Bill C-6 so they can spend more money, yet they are refusing to provide the information we need to do our jobs as parliamentarians.

The Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and the Department of Indigenous Services Canada were created in 2019. Taking into account the proposed spending in Supplementary Estimates (B), the spending for these two departments so far this year will be about $28 billion. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer in his report on Supplementary Estimates (B), Indigenous-related spending in 2017-18 was just under $14 billion, so the budget has increased 93% over the past five years; almost double.

Committee members were interested in knowing where the money is actually going. To which First Nations? Is it being fairly distributed? And are the desired results being achieved? The public accounts for last year and the departmental results reports would have assisted us in answering these questions, if the government had released those documents.

Given the significant increase in expenditures in those two departments over the past five years, committee members were also interested in the oversight functions being provided by Treasury Board. Officials explained their oversight function, how they review spending proposals, and emphasized that departments must disclose the performance indicators they will use to measure the success of each program. But what is the point of the performance indicators if they are not provided in a timely manner to parliamentarians?

Of particular interest to the committee was the $624 million being requested by the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs for the Specific Claims Settlement Fund and the Indian Residential Day Scholars litigation.

Honourable senators may recall that Supplementary Estimates (A) in June provided $610 million for the Federal Indian Day School settlement agreement, $256 million for the Sixties Scoop settlement and $1.2 billion for the out-of-court settlements.

When I spoke in this chamber on Supplementary Estimates (A), I indicated that departmental officials could not provide the Finance Committee with any details of the $1.2 billion requested for out-of-court settlements, citing confidentiality of discussions during the litigation process. That $1.2 billion was being requested to ensure funding was available should there be settlements.

The $624 million is being requested in Bill C-6 so that money is available if claims are finalized. Officials also indicated that these claims have been set up as a contingent liability in the 2021 public accounts, which we didn’t have access to.

Since government was withholding the 2021 public accounts, it was not possible to complete a review of the $624 million and the contingent liability. This is just one example which indicates that the 2021 public accounts and the 2021 departmental performance reports are necessary to complete our review of Bill C-6 and Supplementary Estimates (B).

Included in Supplementary Estimates (B) is a statutory payment of $2.35 billion for the Canada Enterprise Emergency Funding Corporation. Given that Supplementary Estimates (B) discloses expenditures of $16 billion in total, the $2.35 billion is quite significant.

The funding for the Canada Enterprise Emergency Funding Corporation is statutory. That means it has already been approved by the Financial Administration Act and, therefore, funding is not being requested in Bill C-6. However, the funding is disclosed in Supplementary Estimates (B) for information purposes.

The Canada Enterprise Emergency Funding Corporation was created in 2020 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canada Development Corporation. In essence, it is a Crown corporation, and it was created by government to provide a credit support program for large Canadian companies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That would have been companies like Air Canada. The government, through the purchase of shares, provides the corporation with funding so it can implement the credit support program. So far, the government has purchased $2.89 billion in shares of the corporation, and the corporation uses that money to administer the program and provide it to large employers.

Earlier this year, Finance officials told us that the corporation has appointed its auditors; it has not used its discretion to appoint an observer on the board of directors of any borrower; and information on standardized terms of the program are made public on the corporation’s website. However, detailed terms and covenants on the individual loan agreements are commercially confidential and therefore they are not publicly available.

The corporation has also provided substantial information on its website, including quarterly financial statements and details of the financial assistance provided to Canadian companies. Government contributions, as of September 30, 2021, were $2.89 billion and represent preference shares in the Crown corporation issued to the Government of Canada. Loans to borrowers at the end of September totalled $2.581 billion. Information on financial assistance to individual companies is disclosed on the corporation’s website.

Companies that receive financing through this program must agree to sustain their domestic operations, make commercial efforts to minimize the loss of jobs and demonstrate a clear plan to return to financial stability. They must also agree to place restrictions on executive compensation. That issue was raised at the Finance Committee; they have to agree to place restrictions on executive compensation, on dividends and on share buy-backs. They must also publish annual climate-related disclosure reports indicating how their future operations will support environmental sustainability and Canada’s climate goals.

The corporation has disclosed — and this is something that is very important for the Finance Committee — that there is a substantial amount of credit risk associated with these loans based on the terms and eligibility criteria of the program. Currently, the $2.89 billion advanced by the government would be recorded as an investment or loan and would therefore be considered non-budgetary. However, if there are losses, these losses will increase the government’s deficit. Departmental officials were unable to tell the committee the deadline for applications, when the program would end and what the “exit strategy” is, not only for the program but for the corporation.

Honourable senators, the Department of National Defence is requesting $644 billion in Bill C-6, of which $327 million is for pay increases for certain categories of employees within the department. Senator Gagné mentioned that in her speech. These pay increases are in accordance with the National Defence Act. There is a specific section within the act that gives Treasury Board the authority to establish the rates and conditions of pay for certain categories of members of the Canadian Armed Forces. These economic increases are aligned with salary improvements reached through the collective bargaining process for employees of the federal public service and cover three fiscal years, from 2018 to 2021.

The department is also requesting $250 million for the Heyder Beattie Final Settlement Agreement. These were the class action lawsuits — we are all familiar with them — that were initiated in 2016 and 2017, and sought damages related to gender-based discrimination, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Funding will be used to fulfill obligations and payments under the final agreement including the assessment of claims, payments to claimants, administration and case management. There is also $2.5 million being requested to pay for IT and information management equipment related to the settlement agreement.

There are also $64 million being requested by the department for NATO programs. Senators were interested in Canada’s commitment to NATO and raised questions regarding the age of our aircraft, lack of protection of the North and the lack of ships within our navy. Senators were also interested in the operation and maintenance of the North Warning System and whether any of the $64 million will be used to upgrade the North Warning System and/or assist Canada’s presence in the Arctic, given the increased presence of other countries.

Officials referred to the $252 million included in the budget to support NORAD modernization and sustain existing continental and Arctic defence capabilities over the next five years. Of the $252 million included in the budget — it’s for a five-year period — $45 million has been earmarked for this fiscal year but has yet to be requested in an appropriation bill. So here we are; it’s near the end of December, I haven’t seen where that $45 million has shown up in an appropriation bill and I don’t think it is statutory.

The Main Estimates of the Department of National Defence also provide $5.7 billion for capital projects. In previous Finance Committee meetings, obtaining information on capital projects has been very difficult.

Budget 2021 committed $267 million over three years to modernize the department’s information systems, specifically the systems needed to manage its assets, finances and human resources. These improvements will ensure the Canadian Armed Forces will have access to the equipment they need, when and where it is required. Of the $267 million committed over the next five years, $89 million has been committed for this year. Again, we’re almost at the end of December, but I don’t see where the department has yet requested that $89 million.

That concludes my remarks for second reading of Bill C-6. I would like to thank our chair Senator Mockler and our deputy chair Senator Forest for their assistance in arranging the meetings this past week. I did find it quite a challenge to get all the meetings in, in one week, especially since the government didn’t provide all the information that we needed.

I would also thank all members of the Finance Committee for their excellent questions during our meetings and also to all the staff who assisted in organizing and making sure that our meetings ran as smoothly as possible. Thank you, honourable senators.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Senator Marshall, would you take a question from Senator Galvez?

Senator Marshall [ - ]

Yes, of course.

Hon. Rosa Galvez [ - ]

Thank you, Senator Marshall. Every time you talk about the budgets and the money bills, I learn a lot. Your work is incredible. It’s true that it is difficult to go through the budgetary cycle and all these estimates and tracking the government expenses. I have a degree in engineering; math doesn’t scare me, and I’m plunging into the numbers, but it’s true that it is difficult to reconcile them in some areas.

We heard the PBO. He recommended several easy things that we can ask of the government in order to increase the facility to do our jobs. Out of the many recommendations that the PBO gave, do you have some preference or priority in asking the government to put some order in the way it puts forward the information? Thank you.

Senator Marshall [ - ]

Yes. Thank you very much, Senator Galvez, for that question. My personal preference would be to reinstate the estimates reform project. When Minister Brison was there, for two consecutive years he had tried two different things. While they weren’t perfect, they were helpful. I did find that, while we are struggling to try to make sense of the estimates, when we had those two years where we were trying something new, it was really motivational. I found that Minister Brison was very receptive; he appeared many times before our Finance Committee and he was really engaged. That would be number one.

I would like to sneak in item number two. I think the government should put a bigger effort into providing financial information. Sometimes, I get the feeling they are withholding it for a purpose, like they don’t want to give us the information. So we are not able to track it. If they don’t give us the information, all I can say is that I don’t have the information. If they gave me the public accounts I could probably come up with 500 questions, but right now all I can say is, “where are the public accounts?” We do have them, but our review is done. We are going to discuss our report tomorrow. So it’s not a good situation.

Senator Galvez, I’m used to working with numbers, so the government documents don’t intimidate me. But as I said to the President of the Treasury Board the other day, when I review Supplementary Estimates (B), I almost need a calculator, pen and paper as I’m trying to go back and forth because the government won’t provide the information.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Senator Dupuis, do you wish to ask a question?

Hon. Renée Dupuis [ - ]

Would Senator Marshall take another question?

Senator Marshall [ - ]


Senator Dupuis [ - ]

Thank you, Senator Marshall, for your comments. You talked about all the spending authorized by legislation other than appropriation acts. Statutory expenditures are estimated at $233 billion this year.

When you stated that there is no parliamentary mechanism to review this spending, what are you suggesting as a mechanism for parliamentary review to ensure that legislators like us can fulfill our mandate to hold the government to account for its spending?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Senator Dupuis, we are having audio problems and, therefore, there was no interpretation. We are truly sorry for this technical problem, but it seems that the interpreters cannot hear you and provide the English interpretation. Therefore, Senator Marshall cannot answer your question.

However, you could ask your question at third reading stage, if you wish. Perhaps the technical difficulties will be resolved by then.

Senator Dupuis [ - ]

Would you like me to put the question in the chat of the Senate hybrid session?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

It seems, Senator Dupuis, that that will not be possible.

Senator Dupuis [ - ]

Thank you.

Thank you to Senator Gagné and Senator Marshall for their comments. I echo the appreciation expressed to all members of the Finance Committee, as well as the support staff.

Honourable senators, the government has committed to recovery for all — a response to COVID-19 that leaves no one behind, neither during nor after this pandemic. The reality so far is, quite frankly, starkly inadequate.

A significant part of Supplementary Estimates (B) concerns responses to the pandemic. Millions of Canadians remain below the poverty line, yet for nearly two years meaningful economic supports have been unavailable to those who vitally need them. The evidence continues to roll in with regard to the avoidable human, social and financial toll of excluding disproportionate numbers — in fact, millions — of women, Indigenous, African-Canadian and other racialized people, as well as those with disabilities.

We have an opportunity and duty to urge the government to be bold. Emerging from this pandemic should not mean going back to normal but, rather, building toward greater equality.

Programs like the CERB and CRB have demonstrated the difference that direct income supports can make for those in need. For many who lost jobs or income as a result of the pandemic, $2,000 per month meant being able to put the health and well-being of themselves, their families and communities first, without the worry of how to feed their families or the spectre of eviction.

For those who did not qualify for programs like the CERB because their incomes were too low, new data reaffirms the inadequacy of the alternative supports available. Already inadequate social assistance payments were compounded by inadequate emergency pandemic supports. In some provinces, a single person was left with as little as $660 per month. This had to cover not only everyday necessities such as housing, food and clothing, but the many extra costs of trying to safely survive the pandemic.

In many provinces, the combined provincial and territorial emergency pandemic benefits for those on social assistance amounted to only 1 to 2% of what a CERB recipient received — $24 per month, or less than a dollar a day.

Across Canada, people continued to be abandoned to poverty at a time when it became impossible to ignore the link between economic stability, health and well-being. There was not a single jurisdiction, not a single province or territory, where amounts were sufficient to get people out of deep poverty, let alone above the poverty line.

Even for those who were able to access programs like the CERB, there are sharp differences in outcomes for those with the least and those who are more well off.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, this year about 88,222 of Canada’s lowest-income seniors lost part or all of their entitlement to a non-pandemic basic income program, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, on which they rely to make ends meet. Why? Because they claimed CERB last year, and when their new GIS payments were calculated this summer based on last year’s income, CERB payments were counted.

The situation is more dire for many who claimed CERB in good faith and later found out they were not eligible. They are being told to make CERB repayments to the government. At the same time, their GIS payments have been cut. Where will they get the money to repay? How will they survive this, let alone live?

Families have also seen cuts to Canada Child Benefit payments for the same reason. Since at least May, federal officials have acknowledged this problem with CERB and similar types of pandemic supports, such as the CRB and the recently proposed Canada worker lockdown benefit, and yet have not taken corrective steps. The effect on lowest-income recipients has been the worst.

While CERB has functioned as intended for many higher-income recipients, for those with less, the programs have not prevented but have only delayed economic hardship. Against this backdrop, in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic alone, the wealth of 47 Canadian billionaires increased by $78 billion.

For decades, wealth inequality has been increasing in Canada. As of 2019, one quarter of Canada’s family net wealth was held by 1% of families. The 40% of families with the least had access to a mere 1.1% of total wealth.

To date, pandemic economic policy has reinforced — worse yet, increased — inequalities.

Honourable senators, we have not yet seen recovery for all, and we have an obligation to demand nothing less.

On the eve of the pandemic, in more than half of the households in which people went hungry, family members were working but not earning enough to cover the costs of basic necessities. Economic inequality results in worse health and social outcomes. It also contributes to outrageous and unacceptable situations such as the steady increase in and reliance on food banks. Too many forced to seek such sustenance are seniors and people with disabilities. Many food banks also report a significant number of clientele who are workers, too many of whom are also living in homeless shelters. Food banks were created as temporary measures. They have become permanent fixtures with significant costs that treat the symptoms but fail to address the root causes of poverty, inadequate wages and income supports.

Escalating economic inequality leads to increased costs in terms of homelessness, shelters, the criminal legal system and emergency health care. It also significantly impedes economic growth.

In 2014, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, found that rising inequality in wealthy countries significantly impacts gross domestic product.

Furthermore, the UN’s World Social Report 2020 emphasizes that slower economic growth is associated with income inequality, in particular because of disparities in health care and education.

Today, the National Advisory Council on Poverty reported that, relative to 2015 levels, the government had reduced poverty by 30% by 2020, but they caution that the numbers conceal the deep inequities that persist in Canada. They recommend a whole-of-society approach to create equitable systems to address poverty.

The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance is still awaiting a full response from the Department of Finance to questions regarding how the government is evaluating whether the measures it is proposing in the supplementary estimates are expected to achieve recovery for all.

Unfortunately, what we have seen so far reveals we are missing the mark. It is long past time, honourable senators, for measures like a guaranteed liveable income to ensure that no one is left behind. Poverty puts people’s health, well-being and lives at risk. Alleviation is a question of human rights that Canada cannot afford to continue to ignore.

Thank you, honourable senators. Meegwetch.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Some Hon. Senators: Agreed.

An Hon. Senator: On division.

(Motion agreed to and bill read second time, on division.)

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ - ]

Honourable senators, when shall this bill be read the third time?

(On motion of Senator Gagné, bill placed on the Orders of the Day for third reading at the next sitting of the Senate.)

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