Evidence of meeting #4 for COVID-19 Pandemic in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was crisis.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The honourable minister.

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Deb Schulte Liberal King—Vaughan, ON

Madam Chair, thank you.

I want to assure Canadian seniors that the government has been working on how best to serve their needs during this pandemic. COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on seniors; however, their pensions and their benefits are still flowing. Unlike those who have lost their jobs and those who had to close their businesses, they still have income.

However, it is tough, so we've introduced measures such as the GST credit for low- and modest-income seniors and reducing the RRIF withdrawals by 25%. We've also made them accessible for the CERB should they not have got their income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We continue to look at ways to support seniors during this difficult time.

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

The GST credit and the CERB aren't specifically designed for seniors. Here are some statistics that illustrate the drop in seniors' purchasing power.

In 1997, people 65 or older were receiving 13.4% of all reported income in Quebec. In 2015, that proportion rose to 19.9% of Quebec's total revenues, a 6.5% increase. By comparison, people 65 or older filled out 15.9% of income tax returns in Quebec and 22.8% in 2015, an increase of nearly 7%.

In short, seniors' overall income has not kept pace with the overall increase in taxpayer earnings. That means seniors have less purchasing power than other taxpayers, but their expenses continue to go up. The situation is even worse in a crisis, with rent increases, housing adaptation and home care costs, rising grocery bills, higher drug costs and so on.

Is the minister aware that, at this rate, $110 more a month may be the bare minimum seniors need to cover their expenses?

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Deb Schulte Liberal King—Vaughan, ON

Madam Chair, we definitely recognize that the benefits that seniors receive, the OAS and the GIS, are an important part of the retirement income of Canadians, particularly for lower-income seniors. We have, as I mentioned, already introduced many measures and we are definitely aware that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on seniors. They have greater need for services and supports. This is why we have also introduced $9 million more for new horizons money to go to United Way to help support those seniors most in need, especially vulnerable seniors. We are also pivoting our new horizons for seniors program, which has disbursed about $50 million since January. We've pivoted that program to allow the organizations that are directly supporting seniors to be able to help those in need in the community.

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Chair, I'd like to talk about something that isn't new, the new horizons for seniors program.

Since you recognize that seniors have particular needs, you should be introducing specific measures to help them. According to Quebec's Institut de recherche et d'informations socioéconomiques, if the government doesn't enhance the public pension plan, a scant 27% of Quebeckers will have a decent income in retirement.

What's more, in this time of crisis, people are making it clear to me that they are very worried about protecting pension plans, especially with so many bankruptcies expected. Protecting workers' pensions is something many seniors organizations are concerned about, all the more so since pension funds are running deficits. When all is said and done, seniors' purchasing power is dwindling as their savings shrink.

Shouldn't we be doing something now to help them through this crisis? Something as simple as increasing the monthly pension benefit by $110 and enhancing the guaranteed income supplement for those 65 or older would. That's a mere fraction of the CERB and the emergency student benefit.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Please give us a five-second response, if you possibly can.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Deb Schulte Liberal King—Vaughan, ON

Thank you very much. In five seconds I can say that we are definitely continuing to look at how best we can serve seniors during this pandemic, and we will continue that work.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Mr. Simard, go ahead.

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

The current circumstances are particular because of the crisis, and the reflection on crisis recovery will consist of two phases. First, we must never again be caught off guard by this kind of a pandemic. Second, certain economic recovery opportunities will have to be seized.

I feel that the research world is essential for meeting those two requirements. However, it is not currently being discussed. We know that the main research institutions are going through a difficult time because a large part of their funding has been cut.

Has the government looked into the possibility of providing wage subsidies for research institutes, so that their expertise would not be lost?

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The honourable minister.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, to the member opposite, for highlighting just how important our research community is to Canada. In fact, we've been working with the research community to make sure researchers have what they need to continue their excellent work during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, we have established funds, enormous amounts of money—$300 million in the first tranche, for example—to accelerate research in the area of the outbreak, whether it's on vaccine trials, whether it's on new treatments or even on some of the social outcomes related to the outbreak. We'll continue to work with the research community to make sure we understand what its needs are and to support and retain the brightest minds in our country.

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Madam Chair, I am fully aware that the government has invested $300 million. I will talk later about the investment it has announced concerning AbCellera.

I am wondering whether the government is aware of the requests made by Quebec's chief scientist, Mr. Quirion, who has been promoting a fairly interesting initiative: the Quebec COVID biobank. That is a research group fully dedicated to the sequencing of the COVID virus. It has already received international recognition in that area. I think it has already applied for financial assistance from the government.

As Quebec is one of the sites of infection with the most cases, this may be an opportunity to collect samples that will help fight the virus more effectively.

Are you aware of the Quebec chief scientist's request to participate in the Quebec COVID biobank?

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Chair, I will say that sounds extremely interesting and valuable. I look forward to meeting with the member opposite, virtually of course, to talk about this particular researcher. The chief scientist of Quebec makes it sound as though there are some very good potential opportunities to partner. If that isn't happening already, I will certainly check with the research community to make sure that this particular individual is looped into the work that's happening nationally.

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

In the same vein, the government announced earlier this week that it was allocating $175 million to the firm AbCellera. I am wondering on what basis that $175 million was allocated.

Are there currently teams of experts in place to study the various proposals that are being made? Are those groups of experts looking at the directions for federal government research? On what basis was that decision to allocate $175 million to AbCellera made?

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

I will say that it's an amazing researcher community that we have in Canada. In fact, in the early stages of the outbreak, many of the applications were peer-reviewed by other researchers. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which is led by Dr. Michael Strong, managed to mobilize the research community so that we could get the money out the door as quickly as possible, to facilitate that research to happen as quickly as possible.

In terms of AbCellera, yes, all applicants go through a rigorous screening process to make sure their approach is in line with the best scientific methods we know need to be in place.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Mr. Simard, you have 15 seconds.

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

I just wanted to come back to the health research institutes in Canada. We know that they are currently no longer considering new calls for projects. This means that someone who would present a research project on infectious diseases would not have their project considered because tenders are currently not being looked at.

Do you have a schedule or a timeline for health research institutes getting back to considering calls for projects?

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Minister, you have time for a quick answer.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Patty Hajdu Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Chair, I can get back to the member opposite with respect to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's approach to resuming other research, but I will say that all of the agencies, such as CIHR, are focused right now on the most intense and pressing problem that faces Canadians, which is how to live with COVID-19.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

We'll go to the honourable member for Nunavut.

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Mat'na. Thank you, Madam Chair.

On April 14, the Government of Nunavut was told by the federal government that it was approved for $30.8 million of the $42 million it had requested. It has yet to see this funding. When can the territory expect to see this $30.8 million that has been promised?

May 6th, 2020 / 1:40 p.m.

Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs Québec

Liberal

Marc Miller LiberalMinister of Indigenous Services

Madam Chair, I would like to confirm that we are currently in discussion with the Government of Nunavut to flow those funds. Again, it knows that it has the financial backing of the Government of Canada. Those funds are there and will be used to combat COVID-19, in addition to the other funds that I would be glad to speak about with regard to Nunavut.

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

This pandemic, COVID-19, has no timeline. There are no restrictions. This disease does not care who you are, where you come from or what your background is. It can affect all of us. With the vulnerability in the communities that I see in my riding, this has the potential to be much more fatal than in many other places throughout Canada.

Why have we not seen this funding come through yet?

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Miller Liberal Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs, QC

Madam Chair, there are a number of funding envelopes that have flowed to the north, including $45 million through ITK and the land claims organizations directly to protect the Inuit people and prepare for something, as the member says, that nobody can really predict the outcome of. The vulnerabilities that are pre-existing are unacceptable, and they are ones we obviously factor in when we deploy resources in partnership with the territorial organizations and their health boards in order to prevent the onset of COVID, and when it does appear, to stamp it out.

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

With the CERB, the Canadian emergency response benefit, the NDP has continuously said that we are seeing glaring gaps and major inequalities. We keep saying that day after day and week after week, yet the response to that has been extremely slow. We need to be helping Canadians remove barriers as opposed to creating them.

Madam Chair, artists and artisans throughout Canada and my riding.... I'm talking about jewellers, carvers, performers and musicians. There are thousands of indigenous people who maybe don't have the necessary documentation or proof to be able to apply for these programs, which is why we, the NDP, are saying that government should put $2,000 into everybody's pocket. Why are we treating them, especially those in very vulnerable communities and regions, with less?

Why is the government so keen on creating barriers for individuals when we need to be breaking them down?