Evidence of meeting #7 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 businesses.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Chair, I was pleased to hear about extending the tax deadline to October 1 in yesterday's announcement for seniors. After many discussions with the Minister of Seniors, I was glad to hear that she was listening to the NDP and many others on making this happen. It stops a lot of interruptions for people who couldn't get their taxes done.

Mr. Chair, COVID-19 has been showing us in stark terms that Canadian seniors are struggling to make ends meet in Canada. Before enduring the crisis, it was clear that OAS and GIS benefits levels were just not enough for seniors to keep up with the cost of living, so we need to fix this now.

Why is the government refusing to increase OAS and GIS benefits to lift seniors out of poverty on a permanent basis?

2:05 p.m.

King—Vaughan Ontario

Liberal

Deb Schulte LiberalMinister of Seniors

Mr. Chair, I want to thank my honourable colleague for giving me this opportunity to rise today and talk about how we are supporting Canadian seniors during this pandemic.

Many Canadian seniors are facing significant health, economic and social challenges as a result of the pandemic. They built this country and now they need our help.

Our government is taking significant action to provide Canadian seniors with greater financial security and give them the help they need during this crisis. We're building on past measures by introducing a one-time tax-free payment of $300 for those who receive OAS and of $200 for those receiving GIS, totalling $500 to seniors who receive both. We are also supporting community-based projects to improve the quality of life for seniors through the New Horizons for Seniors program, and investing in other charities. Seniors need our help, and we are delivering for them.

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Chair, I was glad to hear that the Minister of Seniors is acknowledging the financial burden that our seniors are taking on. She mentioned the prescription dispensing fees, the added costs of their groceries and the delivery charges. I was glad that the Prime Minister acknowledged the heavy toll seniors are facing, and that they helped to shape this country and now they need our help.

A surprising statement that I heard yesterday was the Treasury Board and the seniors minister's admission in their press briefing that the level of assistance being provided to Canadian seniors is quite low. Why is the seniors minister acknowledging all the burdens they're trying to help the seniors with, but the response they're giving is just a very low way of handling it?

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Deb Schulte Liberal King—Vaughan, ON

I really do want to acknowledge my honourable colleague for his advocacy. I just want to assure him that while the government remains committed to implementing policies in our platform, we are focused on this health crisis right now. We have provided financial support to seniors sooner through the GST credit top-up, and now with additional payments to OAS and GIS recipients. This year we are investing over twice as much on financial assistance for seniors as we committed to in our platform, which is $3.8 billion compared to $1.56 billion in the platform.

Seniors need our help and we're delivering. These payments have provided greater support for the most vulnerable seniors. Just to give some details, for those on OAS and GIS, they will get, in conjunction with the GST credit top-up, $875 per adult, and over $1,500 per couple. This is not an insignificant amount. This is a significant amount to support our seniors during this pandemic.

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

You have about one minute left for both a question and a response. Go ahead, Mr. Duvall.

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The minister was talking about there being a maximum payment, if it's possible. What I've heard from seniors is this is a one-shot deal and it's an insult to them. They want some stability on an ongoing basis.

We did make an agreement about two weeks ago that help would be implemented without delay on the seniors issue and for people with disabilities. Why did yesterday's announcement include only the people who are seniors, but not people with disabilities? Why have they been omitted? When can they expect help to come?

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Deb Schulte Liberal King—Vaughan, ON

I just want to touch on the two points raised. On the one-time payment, we know that seniors need help now, and that's why it's important to get that money into seniors' accounts as soon as possible. That is why we're providing the one payment right away, instead of small amounts spread over months.

In the coming weeks we will look at additional supports for other vulnerable Canadians. I just want to let him know we are working on additional measures.

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

We'll go now—

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

I didn't hear anything about the disability—

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

The five minutes are finished.

It is now over to Mrs. Gill, the member for Manicouagan.

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll be sharing my time with the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

I have just one question. It's for the government, and this will be the fourth time I've asked today.

When I go back home, what am I going to tell the people of Chandler, Amqui, Bic, Saint-Siméon, Tadoussac and Harrington Harbour? Am I going to tell them that the government supports the Bloc Québécois's proposal? We propose giving seasonal workers access to employment insurance benefits until next season, regardless of whether they received the CERB, how many hours they worked or how many they accumulated. Should I instead tell them that the Liberal government has nothing in store for them as they suffer through the crisis? The government hasn't managed to bridge the employment insurance gap, and is even planning to bring it to six, if not eight, months. That means they'll have nothing to put on the dinner table for the next year.

I'd like an answer, Mr. Chair.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Yves Duclos Liberal Québec, QC

Mr. Chair, I have three things to say in response to the member's important question.

First, we obviously understand what she's saying. The work is seasonal, not the workers. The work they do is fundamental so they can support their families and their communities in eastern Quebec and other regions.

Second, the CERB delivers significant assistance to those often vulnerable workers, the majority of whom would be able or certainly eager to find another job.

Third, and finally, before any longer-term investments are made, it's important to keep in mind that those who may have received employment insurance benefits but who lost them in recent weeks or who do seasonal work are eligible for the CERB.

That said, we are also looking ahead. We've already announced some very important measures—and we'll continue to do so—in support of tourism, culture, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and many other key contributors to regional development in Quebec and elsewhere.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

The member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Mr. Blanchette-Joncas, has the floor.

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maxime Blanchette-Joncas Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Chair, the situation my fellow member just described is of little comfort to those in Quebec's regions.

To be frank, the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program is a flop. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, one in three businesses doesn't qualify for rent relief because it doesn't meet the 70% drop in revenues requirement.

Half of businesses have indicated that their landlords won't be applying for the program because it's optional. Commercial landlords can choose to participate in the program or not.

How is that going to help businesses, Mr. Chair? We are still trying to figure that out. Businesses, especially seasonal ones, need more support to cover their fixed costs.

Will the government commit to reviewing the program, which is too restrictive for businesses and optional for landlords? The program must do more to help businesses, particularly seasonal ones, cover their fixed costs.

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, we know that businesses are, of course, very concerned about fixed costs.

Our rent relief program is very significant. We haven't yet announced all the details, so it's much too soon to say that it's flawed. More information will be available in the next few days. At that point, we hope to be on the right track when it comes to fixed costs and rent.

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maxime Blanchette-Joncas Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

I hope you're making adjustments. It's totally unacceptable that only 10% of businesses who need the relief can get it.

What's more, the public health crisis has brought its share of change for businesses, particularly with the new health measures. They have to plan, implement preventative measures, have response plans, train staff and acquire the necessary equipment. In order to do those things, protect the public and reopen their doors, businesses have to assume the costs.

Will the government commit to providing financial assistance to businesses, especially those in the tourism industry, so they can cover the costs of putting the new health measures in place?

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Malton, ON

I know the situation is very serious in rural communities. That's why we've invested $71 million in community futures development corporations, or CFDCs, and business development centres.

Both of those will go a long way towards helping businesses in rural communities, and I have no doubt that we will continue working together to find other solutions.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

Now we'll move on to the honourable member for Calgary Centre, Mr. McLean.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

Greg McLean Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

One of the terms for accessing the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance, CECRA, is that you must have a mortgage on the property. One of the key terms of eligibility for this support is that the landlord owes money to a bank. Will the Minister of Finance tell us if this program was designed for the benefit of landlords and tenants or for the benefit of banks?

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the question from the member opposite. I think that it's important to know that commercial rent and landlord-tenant relationships are provincial jurisdictions. Therefore, as we embarked on an approach that could enable landlords and tenants to get to an agreement that would help both, we used the CMHC as a vehicle from which we could do that.

We think that we've come up with a program that provides advantages for the landlords and advantages for the tenants, and we will be announcing details that will include how mortgages can be put in place for those landlords who don't currently have them.

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

Greg McLean Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

Brookfield Properties, a large Canadian firm, announced that its rent collections on commercial properties for April were 15% of the lease terms. Luckily, Brookfield has another company, Brookfield Business Partners, poised to help by buying up the distressed equity of the firms that owe them money. Did the Minister of Finance design CECRA with this outcome in mind, washing out individual investors and small companies and transferring that value into the hands of vulture financiers who hold all the cards?

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Morneau Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

In fact, Mr. Chair, we designed this program exactly with the idea in mind of the challenge that we're seeing. We're seeing that in many cases commercial tenants are not actually able to pay their rent, so landlords are not getting the rent that's due. Therefore, there's a mutual interest from tenants and from landlords in coming to an agreement. By providing funding through the mortgage system to those landlords, we recognize that we'll enable both of those two parts of the equation to come to an agreement that we think will be advantageous for the sector over the long term.

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

Greg McLean Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

In the past two months, the Bank of Canada has tripled the size of its balance sheet to almost $400 billion, with more to come, Mr. Chair. In the 2008 recession, the world's major economies endured quantitative easing on a previously unknown scale, most of which has not since been unwound. Canada endured a then-record $50-billion deficit, but we did not need to enter the uncertain world of QE, quantitative easing, as a result of the strength of Canada's oil and gas industry. Will the minister acknowledge that this government's oil and gas policy mismanagement has led to economic decline, necessitating hundreds of billions of dollars of quantitative easing?

May 13th, 2020 / 2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Chair, let me challenge one assumption implicit in the honourable member's question, the assumption that our government fails to understand the importance of the oil and gas sector to our economy. Let me quote some leaders from Alberta and their response to the lease program.

Tim McMillan, CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said, “I think this is essential. Not all companies are going to need to tap into this sort of liquidity...but some that are normally high-quality, stable companies likely will be looking for this program to provide a certain amount of liquidity for them.”

CAPP understands that we are supporting Canadian companies, including in the oil and gas sector, and I would urge the members opposite to understand that as well.

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

Greg McLean Conservative Calgary Centre, AB

BlackRock is one of the world's largest investment companies, managing trillions of dollars of bonds. It has lobbied regulators around the world to not be named a systemically important financial institution.

The Bank of Canada unexpectedly engaged BlackRock as an adviser on its bond-buying plans.

Is the Minister of Finance mindful of the conflict of interest that exists between the world's largest bond manager, BlackRock, and the advice it's giving the Bank of Canada on buying bonds?