Evidence of meeting #33 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was pandemic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Steven Grenier  President, Association des camps du Québec
Benoît Fontaine  President, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Joe Belliveau  Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders
Daniel Bernhard  Executive Director, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting
Kevin Neveu  President and Chief Executive Officer, Precision Drilling Corporation
Michael Wood  Partner, Ottawa Special Events
Alan Shepard  President and Vice-Chancellor, Western University
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. David Gagnon
Michael Laliberté  Executive Director, Chicken Farmers of Canada
Jason Nickerson  Humanitarian Affairs Adviser, Doctors Without Borders
Katherine Scott  Senior Researcher, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Nina Labun  Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home
Megan Walker  Executive Director, London Abused Women's Centre
Vicki Saunders  Founder, SheEO
Melpa Kamateros  Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

3 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I call the meeting officially to order.

Welcome to meeting number 33 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, and the first panel of the day. Pursuant to an order of reference from the House, we are meeting to discuss the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members certainly know this, but for the information of witnesses, today's meeting is taking place by video conference and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.

This is more or less a general panel, and we'll start with the Association des camps du Québec, with Mr. Grenier, the president.

I would ask witnesses to try to keep their remarks to approximately five minutes, as we have seven panellists on this panel. That will give us more time for questions.

Go ahead, Mr. Grenier.

3 p.m.

Steven Grenier President, Association des camps du Québec

Good afternoon.

My name is Steven Grenier, and I am the president of the Association des camps du Québec.

I'm delighted to be appearing before the committee this afternoon on behalf of our association.

Founded in 1961 by overnight camp administrators, the Association des camps du Québec, or ACQ, represents 346 non-profit organizations, municipal and private organizations, that operate 691 sites and welcome more than 300,000 campers every year. Our members generate combined annual revenues of over $100 million.

Our association's mission is to “recognize and promote the quality and educational value of the camp experience in Quebec”, by bringing together organizations that provide programs for overnight camp, day camp, nature classes, family camping and group camping. The goal is to support, promote and ensure quality programming.

Thanks to ACQ accreditation, members are known for the quality and safety of the services they provide, a fact that is all the more important in the current circumstances.

The “accredited camp” designation is assurance that all of our members adhere to more than 70 standards, meeting safety, supervision, programming, environmental and dietary requirements. In other words, ACQ accreditation is synonymous with a commitment to the highest quality.

However, as you all know, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, our industry has been hit with major financial challenges, while having to navigate an environment of great uncertainty. Although we recognize that the current crisis is affecting every sector of the Canadian economy, there is no denying that some of the things that make our industry unique also make us more vulnerable to the challenges that COVID-19 poses.

Keep in mind that camps are seasonal businesses that, for the most part, operate only in July and August. Contrary to most sectors, camp operators have just eight weeks to generate revenues for the entire year.

For many camps, those eight crucial weeks of business are in jeopardy because of the pandemic. Even more importantly, the services camps provide help foster fulfilment and well-being among campers in a safe environment.

For obvious reasons, the ability of camps to offer those services in the current environment has been seriously undermined. To keep children safe this summer and adhere to public health guidelines, camps are going to have to put extraordinary measures in place. Those measures will inevitably mean significantly higher operating costs for camp managers, who need government assistance to get through the crisis.

That reality, combined with the reduction in day camp participants this summer, as required by public health authorities, will definitely lead to losses for camp operators in Quebec and the rest of Canada. As troubling as these issues are for day camp managers, they pale in comparison with the challenges overnight camps in Quebec are facing.

Not authorized by the Quebec government to open for the summer for safety reasons, overnight camps will lose almost all of their revenues for 2020. Clearly, despite being closed, they will still have to cover a host of fixed costs—rent, electricity, upkeep and insurance, just to name a few. That will put them in an untenable financial situation and call into question their ability to open in the summer of 2021. What's more, they will have to find a way to refund the deposits of parents who registered their children in camp, adding to the financial burden on overnight camps.

For all these reasons, without government support, there is no doubt that numerous overnight camps will have to close their doors permanently. We think that would be beyond tragic, given what an integral part of Canadian culture overnight camps are, and have been for over a century.

Much more than just places to sleep, overnight camps are truly places that foster fulfilment and growth, where children can have meaningful experiences they will remember for the rest of their lives. The importance of overnight camps in the lives of Canadian youth must not be underestimated. That has been confirmed over and over again by the hundreds of parents and children who have told us how disappointed they are at the announcement that overnight camps will not open this summer.

We want to reiterate that we are ready and willing to work closely with the government to find solutions tailored to the needs of overnight camps, so they don't disappear from the Canadian landscape forever, taking with them a piece of our cultural heritage.

With the Government of Canada's help, we remain optimistic that Canada's overnight camps will eventually go back to doing what they do best—providing Canadian youth with unique experiences—as they have for decades.

On behalf of the Association des camps du Québec, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee.

Thank you for listening to what we had to say.

3:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Grenier.

Turning now to the Chicken Farmers of Canada, we have Benoît Fontaine, president, and Michael Laliberté, executive director.

Mr. Fontaine, please go ahead.

3:05 p.m.

Benoît Fontaine President, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon everyone.

My name is Benoît Fontaine. I am a chicken farmer in Stanbridge Station, Quebec, and I am the chair of the Chicken Farmers of Canada. Our executive director, Michael Laliberté, is with me today.

Our sector contributes $8 billion to Canada's GDP, supports 101,900 jobs and generates $1.9 billion in tax revenue. The country's 2,877 chicken farmers are proud to be raising the number one meat protein in Canada, in the good times and the more challenging ones.

Chicken Farmers of Canada was pleased with the government's announcement in support of the agriculture and agri-food sector, but we need to highlight that these measures do not go far enough in supporting chicken farmers. In order to continue to ensure food security, farmers need support as they navigate the unprecedented stress and pressures of the pandemic.

Currently, the Canadian chicken sector is seeing unprecedented market conditions. Food service, which usually represents approximately 40% of the market, has experienced a rapid decline in sales almost overnight. In retail, there was an initial surge in sales caused by consumer stockpiling, but that demand has now stabilized, resulting in a total demand that is below usual volumes.

The rapid decrease in food service led to surplus production for a short period of time. Thankfully, the flexibility provided by supply management allowed our board of directors to quickly react and adjust production, hoping to avoid a worst-case scenario of depopulation, or euthanasia.

The board of directors reduced allocation for May to July by 12.6% and readjusted allocation for July to August by 9.75%. While we have been able to adjust production, that does not entirely alleviate the stresses on farmers and processors during this time. Some processing plants may have to reduce their slaughter volumes owing to physical distancing requirements, absenteeism of plant employees and complete shutdown.

Processors are working closely with one another and with farmers to redirect birds if and when needed. This reduced throughput and risk of plant shutdowns significantly increases the risk of farmers having to depopulate flocks.

Farmers do not take depopulation lightly. In addition to impacting the food supply of Canadians, depopulation is a loss of the flocks farmers have spent time, money and energy raising, and it also means extensive losses. In the event that processors do not have the necessary capacity to process chickens, farmers will have to work quickly with their processors to determine next steps.

At this point in time, they do not have government assurance that the live price of the birds will be covered. Our understanding is that the AgriRecovery program will cover up to 90% of the costs of depopulation. This does not address the value of the flocks being depopulated, the administrative burden on the farmer or the lobbying of provincial governments to provide their portion of business risk management funding.

Throughout numerous conversations with government officials, they have been reminded that, under the Health of Animals Act, depopulation is supported in instances of disease. We are well aware the act was specifically designed to cope with animal disease, but we believe what the sector is experiencing now—with processing capacity, depopulation and the overall impact on operations—follows the intent of the act and results in the same impacts for the farmers.

We are disappointed that government has not looked to this model to support the chicken sector should depopulation be necessary. While the business risk management programs are designed to address fluctuations in income to support farmers in times of need, they do not work for chicken farmers in cases of depopulation.

The uncertainties resulting from COVID-19 are in addition to the financial stress farmers were already facing with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

As you know, Canada's chicken farmers lost a significant portion of their domestic market and have been waiting on government to announce programs to strengthen the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the sector for over a year. We certainly acknowledge that government has greater priorities right now; however, since the government has not communicated when the federal budget will be presented, Canadian chicken farmers continue to wait for the support that they were promised.

I hope this presentation helps members of the committee understand that the measures announced to date do not address the financial implications for chicken farmers if depopulation becomes necessary. In addition, we continue to patiently await the promised CPTPP support package that will help give us some certainty at a highly uncertain time.

Thank you for your continued support for our sector, and I hope you will raise these issues with your fellow members in government. Canadian chicken farmers are here for Canadians, and always will be.

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

3:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Fontaine.

We're turning to Joe Belliveau, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, who is accompanied by Jason Nickerson, humanitarian affairs adviser.

The floor is yours, Mr. Belliveau.

June 2nd, 2020 / 3:15 p.m.

Joe Belliveau Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be here.

Thank you to the committee for the opportunity to present to you today.

I am the executive director of Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, and I am joined by my colleague, Dr. Jason Nickerson, our humanitarian affairs adviser.

Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF as we are commonly known, is an international medical humanitarian organization that provides impartial medical assistance to people in more than 70 countries. We deliver hands-on, essential health services in some of the world's most complex environments, and we are no stranger to disease outbreaks.

Today we are facing an unprecedented crisis, created both directly and indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reached all of the countries where MSF works. We are witnessing COVID-19 cases occurring alongside existing emergencies and creating a dangerous mix of public health risks. In the refugee camps of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, nearly one million Rohingya refugees live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions that are perfect for spreading COVID-19 in a place where it is virtually impossible for people to physically distance and where access to clean water is a persistent challenge.

In Central African Republic, years of conflict have left millions of people displaced and dependent on humanitarian assistance. MSF's teams on the ground are among the only providers of direct health care in the country, and the budget we require to operate effectively there exceeds that of CAR's own ministry of health. That means there is little capacity to provide medical care for everyday health problems, and it is certainly not sufficient for a pandemic.

COVID-19 is straining our own response capacity. It is critical, especially in the midst of this pandemic, that the Canadian government continues supporting and funding humanitarian action. This funding ensures that humanitarian organizations can continue their existing operations while also responding to new pressures created by the pandemic. In Canada, we can rely on our strong, stable health system. In other places, health systems struggle to meet people's everyday needs. For example, just yesterday, the Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed a second Ebola outbreak, meaning that the country is currently responding to two Ebola outbreaks, the largest measles epidemic in the world and COVID-19, all in a country that has been affected by armed conflict for decades.

To respond to the COVID-19 crisis and to meet the needs it is creating in Bangladesh, Congo and around the world, MSF has identified a budgetary need of $226 million through our COVID-19 crisis fund. Additionally, we are asking the Canadian government for a contribution of $10 million for this fund so that we can keep our people on the ground responding to this unprecedented crisis. COVID-19 has already caused an immediate expansion of our global activities, including in places we do not normally work, such as Canada itself.

Our delivery of medical care depends not just on funding. We also rely on affordable access to and innovation for new medicines, vaccines and diagnostic tests. These advances are crucial for the health and well-being of countless people around the globe, just as they are in Canada. However, the global research and development system is not designed to prioritize affordable access, especially outside of wealthy countries. Access to life-saving medicines is not equitable, and this is not acceptable.

As Canada spends more than $1 billion in public funding to develop and deliver COVID-19 technologies—a very welcome investment—it is essential that Canada demands a fair return on investment by including specific requirements in funding agreements with, for example, pharmaceutical companies or universities receiving Canadian public funds to ensure that any resulting health technologies are globally accessible and affordable, including for Canadians. Today, to our knowledge, no such requirements exist in Canadian funding agreements. It would be tragic and unethical if a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or a medicine to treat it were developed with Canadian public funding and subsequently priced out of reach. We risk excluding billions of people from the life-saving benefits of these innovations if we don't act on this now.

As you consider Canada's essential funding contributions for COVID-19 R and D, I urge this committee to demand that such funding come with safeguards, so that the vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 developed with Canadian public funds are made affordable and accessible to everyone who needs them. Public funding must result in public goods.

The global pandemic will not end here until it ends everywhere. Now is the moment for global solidarity and smart public investment to ensure that everyone everywhere has access to the medical care they need.

We look forward to your questions. Our contact information is available from the committee clerk, and we would welcome any members follow up directly with me or Jason Nickerson.

Thank you very much.

3:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Belliveau.

Now turning to the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, we have executive director Daniel Bernhard.

3:20 p.m.

Daniel Bernhard Executive Director, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

Thank you very much for inviting the Friends to appear today. We have many worthy causes appealing for your support, and I'm here to talk about those that are related insomuch as the news is what brings the plight of these various industries to Canada's attention.

Last week, investors linked to Postmedia bought Torstar, once an extremely profitable journalism juggernaut, for a mere $51 million. This acquisition sets the stage for a duopoly in Canadian print media.

Today I'd prefer to talk to you about another duopoly, Google and Facebook, that is systematically exterminating Canadian journalism. Because of Google and Facebook, our concern today is not whether there will be enough Canadian media outlets left, but whether there will be any at all.

In 2019 digital advertising was a $7.7-billion business in Canada. Google and Facebook took almost 85% of that. As for the remainder, well, COVID-19 has cut Canada's share by more than a half. Since mid-March, more than 2,000 media jobs have been lost, bringing the 10-year total to close to 20,000. At least 300 outlets are gone for good, and hundreds more have cut staff and service.

This market dynamic, however, is not natural. It's the result of policy choices made over 15 years.

3:20 p.m.


Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

3:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Yes, go ahead, Peter. I think I'm hearing double-speaking as well, the same as you.

3:20 p.m.


Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Exactly. I have an echo on my end. I'm not sure if it's the case for the others.

3:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Maybe, Daniel, if you just slowed down a bit, we'll see what happens.

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

Daniel Bernhard

Sure. Is that better?

3:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

It's okay yet.

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting

Daniel Bernhard

It's possible someone is not on mute.

In recent years, Parliament has debated how to support Canadian journalism. Many members are justifiably worried about government subsidies compromising newsrooms' perceived impartiality. However, there are other options, and today I would like to highlight one that won't cost a dime.

Facebook is Canada's number one news source, and news is actually the number one reason Canadians use Facebook, according to Abacus Data. Yet, Facebook itself produces no news. They don't employ a single journalist. Instead they take a free ride on the investment and talent of Canadian newsrooms by taking their content without permission or payment and selling it as their own at a steep discount. Some would call this theft. At the very least, it's a parasitic and unfair practice that fatally distorts the market.

I challenge you to think of one other industry in which one or two firms are permitted to raid their competitors' output without even asking, let alone paying, for it and then reselling it as their own for a fraction of the price. I, for one, can't think of any. Yet this is exactly what Facebook does millions and millions of times a day.

Today Friends is proud to be launching a national advertising campaign called “WANTED”, featuring the poster that appears behind me, to alert Canadians to Facebook's unfair news appropriation practices and to rally support for urgent, reasonable regulations that would require these platforms to pay Canadian newsrooms a fair price for the content they publish, much as radio stations pay royalties for music they broadcast.

I refer you to newsthief.ca or ilnousvole.ca for more details.

In April, Australia became the most recent country to enact such measures, and Canada should do the same.

Let's be clear. Canadians value Canadian news and consume it in great quantities. Profits may have plummeted, but readership has remained strong and is now even stronger thanks to COVID-19. Canadians understand that “uncle Larry's” off-the-cuff opinions are no substitute for professional reporting, just as uncle Larry's hot takes are no substitute for thoughtful, professional parliamentary deliberation.

Our appetite for news has not changed. All that's changed is who gets paid. It used to be the people who create the value. Now it's the parasitic middleman who creates none. If you value free markets as I do, this situation should concern you greatly.

Recent events have shown that Facebook could not be a less-deserving company of such artificial competitive advantages. A recent Leger survey found that 53% of Canadians believe at least one COVID conspiracy theory that circulates widely on Facebook. This is not an accident. Facebook was recently exposed for proactively helping advertisers to target people interested in pseudoscience so that those most susceptible to COVID lies would be most likely to encounter them. This practice is not just immoral, but it undermines Canada's unprecedented and unprecedentedly expensive public health efforts. Recently, Facebook's response to police brutality and the protests against it have caused employees with $300,000 salaries to walk out on Facebook because they just can't stomach working there anymore.

What happens in Canada matters. Your work matters. The work that happens in provinces matters. Local news matters. Media is the only way for us to maintain a common national identity across great distances, and news is the only way for us to participate together in a unified democracy.

Australia's approach befits a confident sovereign nation. It's time for Canada to prove that we belong in that league.

No single action will solve the news crisis, but requiring Google and Facebook to pay for the news they use is a very good first step. This is something you can do to drive extra revenue to Canadian media without spending a dime of public money. I strongly encourage you to take up this policy without delay and I look forward to answering any questions you might have about how best to do so.

Thank you very much.

3:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Bernhard.

Turning then to Precision Drilling Corporation, we have Kevin Neveu, president and CEO.

3:25 p.m.

Kevin Neveu President and Chief Executive Officer, Precision Drilling Corporation

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to address the finance committee today.

I represent Precision Drilling, a proud Canadian oil and gas drilling and well-servicing contractor.

I believe the Canadian conventional and in situ oil and gas drilling industry has been an unintended victim of an international anti-oil sands mining campaign. As a result, our industry has been weathering a deep and severely damaging multi-year downturn, and now we're facing a total collapse as the downturn is further compounded by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 shutdown and the recent oil price war.

The drilling industry is a labour-intensive service business that creates jobs for hundreds of thousands of Canadians from every province and territory of this country.

I was born and raised in Alberta, a third-generation oil and gas worker, and I am one of those several hundred thousand prospective oil and gas workers. There should be no doubt that the Canadian conventional oil and gas industry is perhaps the cleanest, the most efficient, and without a doubt, the most socially responsible hydrocarbon energy source globally.

Canada is viewed as a model for operational and environmental excellence. As a result, Canadian oil and gas workers are sought out globally for leadership, engineering, regulatory and operational roles.

During my 38-year career, I've worked in oil and gas fields around the world, from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait, Norway, Russia, Colombia and, of course, the United States.

This Canadian excellence is due in large part to a very unique combination of comprehensive federal and provincial regulatory frameworks, our harsh winter conditions, the Canadian entrepreneurial spirit, and most importantly, our deep Canadian social and environmental conscience.

Canadian oil and gas leads the world with innovations in drilling processes, reducing our environmental footprint, reducing GHGs, delivering exceptional operational efficiency while leading socially for workers' rights, and creating successful first nations partnerships, all while investing socially in the communities in which we operate.

While the macroeconomics of supply and demand drive the commodity prices and strongly influence the ability of our industry to function, several uniquely Canadian challenges have manifested over the past several years and threatened the sustainability of our industry.

As I mentioned at the start, the Canadian conventional oil and gas industry has been collateral damage to what amounts to a war against oil sands mining. The anti-pipeline and anti-oil sands rhetoric, all designed to constrain oil sands investment, has decimated the conventional oil and gas industry. Further, we have domestic and foreign NGOs, and even Canadian political leaders, demonizing the oil and gas industry as a whole. For example, natural gas, which has excellent lower emissions and a clean replacement for coal, has become a target. Gas pipelines and gas exports have also become a target, and this is incomprehensible.

The major impact has been a swift and severe reduction in foreign investment in the Canadian natural resources sector. In fact, many investors now view Canada as having a significantly higher political risk, resulting in investors moving their capital to other jurisdictions. An un-investable Canada is an economic problem for all Canadians.

For Precision, this means that today we employ less than 800 Canadians. In 2014, the comparable number was over 4,000. The majority of our 600 corporate staff positions have migrated to Houston, and our leadership team, including myself are now domiciled in Houston where the long-term prospects remain strong.

As a Canadian, I could not be more disappointed by the destruction of good and responsible energy opportunities here in Canada, and especially the jobs. Canadians have been endowed with excellent geology, a strong and noble social and environmental conscience, and most importantly, a dedicated and productive workforce. It is our obligation as leaders to continue to demonstrate to the world how Canada is the preeminent model for conventional oil and gas development.

Recently, the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors wrote to the Minister of Finance, calling on the federal government to support our beleaguered industry. The federally funded well reclamation program is a good start, but I am afraid the industry will need much more.

Also recently, the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors submitted to the Province of Alberta a construct for a financial grant package. The program is intended to encourage drillers to accelerate investments in the safety, recertification and maintenance of our drilling equipment. These investments will provide immediate industry employment while positioning the drillers to respond safely and efficiently for an eventual rebound in activity. Like the well-abandonment program, this could be a joint provincial-federal program and I encourage you to look into this.

I firmly believe that the federal government must encourage all types of conventional oil and gas investments and must not tolerate the destruction of our conventional oil and gas industry as an unintended victim of the ill-informed anti-oil sands movement.

Canada needs its oil and gas industry, and for this industry to be healthy, as we embark on a resilient economic recovery from the COVID pandemic. We can balance both economic recovery and achievement of our environmental goals. Canada’s oil and gas drillers are exceptionally well positioned to assist, through quality jobs, technical excellence and environmental stewardship. Our industry is a good news story.

Thank you for your time today. I look forward to your questions.

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Mr. Neveu.

We'll now turn to Ottawa Special Events, with Michael Wood, partner.

Mr. Wood, the floor is yours.

3:30 p.m.

Michael Wood Partner, Ottawa Special Events

Good afternoon, and thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

As was said, my name is Michael Wood. I am a partner at Ottawa Special Events.

I want to thank the Standing Committee on Finance for the opportunity to hear my concerns and recommendations on behalf of small businesses across Canada. I would also like to thank Pierre Poilievre for putting my name forward to the committee and allowing me to address you today, and Sean Fraser for hosting a round table with Ottawa's small businesses about a month ago. Thank you, sir.

Furthermore, I thank the Government of Canada for the programs that have been developed so far to support small business. Unfortunately, there are gaps that have not been addressed.

Ottawa Special Events is a small business that rents equipment to festivals, conferences, individuals, all levels of government, and essentially anywhere there is a public gathering. Like many small businesses, mine has been devastated by the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. We became a zero-revenue business overnight. Our expenses continue to mount. We have tried to mitigate our cost exposure. We have laid off 20-plus employees—all of them. We have negotiated with suppliers to try to obtain relief and payment deferrals. Despite this, our exposure, both corporately and personally, is huge and continuing to grow.

Our company is just one example of thousands of companies facing financial ruin as a direct result of COVID-19. There are several crisis situations that will require urgent attention from the Government of Canada and the provinces.

Crisis number one is personal guarantees. Many businesses are facing closure and bankruptcy as a result of the impacts of COVID-19. These closures and bankruptcies are not the fault of small business operators, yet somehow we're expected to bear the brunt. Existing loans taken out prior to the pandemic will be called and personal guarantees will be pursued by the lenders. This will result not only in businesses going bankrupt, but also the owners who made those guarantees.

We need an action plan that will protect small business owners from losing their livelihoods and potentially their personal assets. We need regulations or legislation that will prevent lending institutions from pursuing personal guarantees.

Also, small business needs much more than the $10,000 that's forgivable on the $40,000 loan. We need new grants. We need subsidies. The federal government needs to help us through this crisis. Additional loans are not the answer. I know you have heard this. We just simply cannot take on more debt. It's impossible for those to operate under a one-size-fits-all program. Some businesses can survive for months on $40,000, while others can't cover three weeks.

Here are my questions to you right now. Is there more financial support coming? What time frame did you think the $40,000 intended to cover? Was it for one month, three months, six months? We just want to know.

The second crisis that you're well aware of right now is with the commercial rent program. The commercial rent program is not benefiting many small business owners. Landlords are not obligated to participate in this program. Prime Minister Trudeau has said this. Premier Ford has said this. In fact, if you speak to your constituents, you'll find it is the largest landlords in Canada who are the least likely to want to participate. Tenants who should benefit are not able to apply and are at the mercy of the landlord to do so.

The program has created deep animosity between some landlords and tenants, while their energy should have been put into trying to find a solution. Giving tenants the opportunity to apply directly for the relief is one. Alternatively, landlords with tenants in need of rent support should be obligated to make the application.

Measures to prevent evictions of commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent are also urgently required, although I do understand that this is a provincial jurisdiction.

In addition, the commercial rent relief program covers us until the end of June. The application process just opened and no money has started to flow. It's clear that this program needs to be extended for several more months until the restrictions imposed on businesses are completely lifted.

Crisis number three is this: What happens after we've applied for the fourth time for the CERB and our businesses are still shut down due to government regulations? We aren't allowed to contribute to employment insurance. How are we expected to cover our basic costs and look after our families?

My question is this: Does the government have a plan to extend CERB payments?

Lastly, the fourth crisis is big box dominance. As you know, small business has been the backbone of the Canadian economy for years. How is it possible that stores such as Walmart were allowed to remain completely open, selling the same products that small businesses that were forced to close had on their shelves? Outside of groceries and pharmacies, why were the other sections not roped off? This created a totally uneven playing field.

While some businesses with a storefront are now able to offer limited access, this divide is unacceptable and must not be repeated in the future.

I will close with this. While I understand that at some point all storms run out of rain, the question is this: Until it does, how are we expected to survive this flood?

Thank you very much for your time today.

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thanks very much, Mr. Wood.

Before I turn to the last witness on the panel, I'll give members the speaking order for the first round of questions.

First up will be Mr. Morantz, then Mr. Fraser, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe, I believe—and if I have that wrong, Gabriel, you'll correct me—and Mr. Julian.

We'll start with Mr. Morantz after the next witness.

Now we'll turn to Alan Shepard, president and vice-chancellor, Western University.

Mr. Shepard.

3:35 p.m.

Alan Shepard President and Vice-Chancellor, Western University

Thank you, Mr. Easter.

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for this opportunity to comment on the effects of the pandemic at Western and across our sector.

I want to thank the Government of Canada for its leadership in responding to the pandemic, and I'd like to thank my local community for its extraordinary efforts.

The substantial allocation made in support of post-secondary students has been impressive on a world scale, and the new research allocations are helping Canadian researchers contribute to global efforts. At Western, that support has been augmented by our own $2.6 million student relief fund, donated, in part, by our alumni, faculty and staff. We have assisted more than 3,400 Western students who were in immediate need—a surprising number.

In early March, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research invested new funds to fast-track a national response to COVID, and two of these pan-Canadian teams are led by Western faculty members. In late March, $1 million in federal funding was awarded to vaccine researchers at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, where our new level 3 biohazards lab is being put to very good use.

In April, the government launched CanCOVID, a network of health care professionals, university researchers and policy-makers united against the pandemic. Western faculty members play a leading role there, and we added $1 million of our own money to support COVID-related research and interdisciplinary projects on our campus.

Amidst all of these research projects, Western has also donated a significant amount of PPE to local hospitals. We've offered free accommodation to front-line health care workers and have designed, manufactured and given away for free thousands of face shields for hospital staff and more.

Looking ahead to September and beyond, we're working hard to ensure that our students are able to access the high-quality learning environment and transformative student experience they and their families expect of us. To achieve these goals, we're taking a number of steps. We're hiring a number of new Ph.D.-level instructional designers to help transition the courses. We're hiring 250 advanced Western students to help portage face-to-face courses into virtual online experiences. We're creating free online summer modules for first-year students to help them catch up academically and begin forming social networks and so forth. Importantly, we've also increased our undergraduate bursaries and scholarships by almost 45% to $44 million, and our graduate student support will rise to $60 million next year.

I would say that we've not been particularly surprised by the additional costs to the university's operating budget, but these additional costs are already in the multiple tens of millions of dollars and rising. Some of the new expenses are obvious—moving thousands of undergraduate courses online, for example—but other expenses are less obvious, such as the loss of meaningful amounts of ancillary revenue or the anticipated decline in private-sector research partnerships as the private sector itself contracts. Of course, the most important cost, the human cost, for all of us can't actually be calculated.

For this fall term, assuming public health regulations make it possible, we intend to operate in-person academic experiences for roughly 25% to 30% of our courses. The rest will be delivered almost entirely online. Assuming that we have government approval, our campus will be open.

So far, enrolments are holding strong, but with the effects of the pandemic still unfolding, the impact on enrolment will not be noted until the fall—for us or for any university—and it hangs over all Canadian universities. There is, of course, even more uncertainty around international enrolment. At Western, that number is just under 15%. In a post-pandemic world, with all of the crazy things going on and the new geopolitics, it is plausible to imagine Canada as an even greater beacon of hope and opportunity for international talent.

As we emerge from the pandemic, Western looks forward to responding to other global challenges that will affect Canadians, and climate change comes to mind. Western would strongly support a national infrastructure program addressing key global challenges, knowing that such investments would also help stimulate the economy here in southwest Ontario. The SIF project, for example, was a great success. We saw two nationally recognized buildings, which strengthened our ability for research and innovation.

We greatly appreciate the substantial investments already made by the Government of Canada. We also recognize that our efforts to advance the academic missions of Canada's great universities will have substantial additional costs as well. Our missions are robust, and they're fundamental to the well-being of the students and the communities we serve, but our missions are also vital to the health and the future of Canada itself.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to appear.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, and thank you to all the witnesses for their presentations.

We will go to the first round, which will be a six-minute round. I think we have time to go with regular rounds today.

Mr. Morantz, you're first up. The floor is yours.

3:45 p.m.


Marty Morantz Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Fontaine, from the Chicken Farmers of Canada, I want to chat with you about the situation your industry is currently facing. I had the opportunity to meet some of your Manitoba representatives before COVID, and the picture they painted at the time was quite alarming. They told me that the combined effect of the CPTPP, CUSMA and WTO obligations has resulted in basically a foreign market access of about 10.8%, translating into job losses of about 3,100 and $240 million in GDP contributions out of roughly a $6.8-billion overall contribution by your industry.

Given that this situation already existed pre-COVID, could you comment on in this new environment and what this means for the industry, given the earlier challenges the industry was already facing?

3:45 p.m.

President, Chicken Farmers of Canada

Benoît Fontaine

In ratifying the CPTPP, Canada granted market access of 26.7 million kilograms of chicken. Under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA, we gave 62.9 million kilograms of chicken in market access to the Americans alone. That means that, under NAFTA 2.0, Canada gave up 10.8% of all domestic production, which is unbelievable.

That's where things stood prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Unlike dairy farmers, we didn't receive a compensation package. We've been waiting for one since the two agreements were ratified, but especially since the CPTPP was ratified. The issue has been settled for one of the five supply-managed products.

We didn't ask for direct payments to farmers. Instead, we asked for tax credits to support investments on farms. Above all, we want funding to promote chicken production in Canada, to keep the 3,100 jobs that will otherwise disappear, just like the $240 million in GDP contributions.

With the impact of COVID-19, things will become even more complicated for the sector, as I mentioned in my opening statement.

3:45 p.m.


Marty Morantz Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Yes, I understand that the industry, pre-COVID, contributed about $2.2 billion in taxes and contributed a $6.8-billion share to Canada's GDP, so it is really a massive industry that has already been hurt by these trade agreements, but it seems, to rub salt in the wound, that your organization has also been lobbying for relief from the carbon tax, for example, as was received by the commercial greenhouse operators. That plea fell on deaf ears, and in the meantime the government increased the carbon tax in the middle of a pandemic, on April 1. I'm wondering how you feel about that.