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

6:25 p.m.

Founder, SheEO

Vicki Saunders

Absolutely. I think part of it is access to markets and relationships with customers.

We've been working very closely with the Indigenous LIFT Collective and Teara Fraser. She's one of the activators in our network. We started doing calls a couple of months before the pandemic: How do we create the conditions for indigenous women in business to thrive? Teara is somebody you may have read about. She's the first woman to start an indigenous woman-owned airline out of B.C. Imagine having started an airline just before this happened. What a complete nightmare. She has been facing deep challenges to try to make flights up to remote communities. Women in our community across the country have been keeping her business alive and crowdfunding her flights to get resources going into other areas.

The story of that led more indigenous women to start joining our calls every Sunday for a couple of hours. Now we have up to 140 women joining these calls. All of them are indigenous women of business from across the country. They are now starting to come into these regular activator calls that we have once a week, where we practise asking and giving: What is it that you need and how can we support you? We are literally one step removed from whatever we need, whenever we come into community together.

This sort of deep relationship-building and creating trust between settlers, white women settlers, other women of colour and indigenous women is heavy lifting. It's relationship-building. We have created some significant impact and growth in these indigenous businesses, and we hope to really scale that out. We're doing that in other countries we're in as well, and are now starting to cross-pollinate with indigenous entrepreneurs.

There are so many business practices that come in indigenous culture that we need to pay attention to—

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

I just wanted to ask—

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

A very quick question, Michael.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Yes.

When I got elected in 2015, I met with a lot of women's organizations, the Native Women's Association and many others in my riding, and the money was practically non-existent. I know that in every budget we've had more and more investment. In 2019, we had $160 million over five years for women's programs, but at the same time, now that COVID has set in, I hear from our elders and some of the people in our communities that there seems to be an anxiety in the air. There seems to be a level of stress.

For example, in my little community, we've had three funerals in the last 10 days—not COVID-related—and that's unusual for us. There's something going on. I'm not sure what factors related to COVID-19 might contribute to an increase in some of the social issues, including gender-based violence and intimate partner violence.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Does anybody want to take that on?

6:30 p.m.

Executive Director, London Abused Women's Centre

Megan Walker

I'll respond quickly.

In trafficking, for instance, we know that 50% of trafficked girls and women are indigenous. We work very closely with our indigenous nations around the city of London, because we're very committed to reconciliation and learning from the elders of the first nations. They continue to report to us on an ongoing basis on the trauma of the lived experiences of indigenous peoples that continues to present itself in their lives.

I think colonization has presented a lot of harm to communities across Canada. It's very difficult when we hear our first nations people telling us that they have no drinking water and that the funding has still not come to allow them that very basic right to clean drinking water.

These are issues that are very serious for indigenous communities across the country and need to be addressed.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thanks, all of you.

Ms. Dancho.

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to the incredible witnesses we have at the finance committee today. Your opening remarks were very powerful. Thank you very much for those.

My questions are for Nina Labun, the CEO of Donwood Manor Personal Care Home here in northeast Winnipeg.

Nina, thanks so much to you and to Donwood for the extraordinary care you have been giving the residents over the course of this pandemic and for the past 50 years. As we know, it's your 50-year anniversary this year.

Can you tell the committee what the experience has been for your workforce? What has the impact been on them during this pandemic? We know, as you mentioned in your opening remarks, that the nurses and the support staff are predominantly women. What has been the impact on them?

6:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Nina Labun

Actually, the previous MP alluded to this. It's hard to put a pulse on it, but there is a really significant amount of underlying stress and anxiety that this has caused. You see it in perhaps the concrete ways of trying to juggle child care, increased sick time and overtime. I really think that the pandemic has again illuminated what we have known about long-term care for a very long time. It works because of the resourcefulness of the staff who are in the system, and at this point that we're in right now, it's been pushed past that.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Thank you.

What would you say that the impact has been on residents? Has there been a difference in the impact on the women residents versus the male residents?

6:35 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Nina Labun

For sure. Just speaking from my own care home, 85% of our resident population are females. The average age is 91 in one site, so it's a very frail senior population. Sadly, we also have seen an increased number of deaths in the last 12 weeks. They're not COVID-related, but loneliness has an impact on one's health. It's been incredibly difficult for our female seniors and also for their female caregivers and family informal caregivers who cannot come into the home. All those unmeasured impacts are really difficult.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Yes, we've been hearing that anecdotally across Kildonan—St. Paul, from folks who have very senior residents and their family in long-term care homes. Their loneliness is palpable, and it's been very challenging.

Have there been increased financial impacts on Donwood to accommodate for the health recommendations of physical distancing, PPE, extra hygiene requirements and perhaps staff shortages?

6:35 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Nina Labun

Yes, it's very significant.

We're at about week 12 here in Manitoba. We're looking at about $120,000 of cost that we've been able to track thus far. I have a purchase agreement, a service arrangement with our government, that requires us to have no deficit at fiscal year-end, which is truly not going to be possible because of circumstances out of our control.

I really think there needs to be a look at concrete funding to fill those gaps. I'm not alone. Every site has just done what's needed to protect the seniors in its care and prioritized that over the dollars.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Thank you.

Have you had any difficulty accessing PPE for your staff and residents?

6:35 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Nina Labun

We have not, amazingly, which is due in part to our incredible nursing leadership and ingenuity in making simple things. People may not be aware, but hand sanitizer only works in certain dispensers, so we get really creative to make sure that our staff have the protection they need.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

That's very good to hear. I know that not all personal care homes have had that same positive experience. That's a relief.

We know that personal care homes have been disproportionately impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, where half of the deaths in Canada have been attributed to elderly care homes.

What role do you see the government playing for elderly care homes, moving forward?

6:35 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Nina Labun

I'm a firm believer that the quality of work life impacts the quality of care that will be provided in long-term care. Although it's not currently federally funded in terms of long-term care specifically, a key area that can be looked at is the regulation of care in long-term care sites, specifically the regulation of the currently unregulated care providers. PSWs, health care aides across Canada have very minimal educational preparation, yet they are the hands and feet of care in our facilities. They constitute most of our workforce.

We all know that [Technical difficulty—Editor] seniors care. They're not given the skills, education and resources to be well-prepared for the roles that we're asking them to fulfill.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Thank you, Nina.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Ms. Labun, I believe you mentioned, in the beginning, the number of people working two jobs, mainly women. We've seen that a lot in the homes in Quebec and elsewhere across the country. What's the reason for that?

I've always assumed the reason for people having to work two jobs is that the business doesn't want to pay benefits. In terms of your presentation, what is the underlying reason? If a person is working in a home, why wouldn't they just be working in the one home, paid decent wages and getting the benefits? Here they are working in two homes to survive, which also puts people at a greater risk in terms of the transmission of disease.

June 2nd, 2020 / 6:35 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Nina Labun

There are lots of complexities to the HR piece and the collective agreements that we have to fit within in terms of the types of positions we have and are able to create. Most of my staff will have multiple jobs, for example, a 0.4, a 0.6 and a 0.8, and they'll add up their positions across sites.

A few weeks ago, Manitoba moved to a single site employer for long-term care. As a compromise and as a way for women to not be impacted by a salary cut, they are now allowed to hold a 1.3 full-time position at one site. It is because of remuneration. It's insufficient pay to support a family.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you for that.

We'll turn then to Ms. Koutrakis. Given the time, we'll have to go to about four two-minute sessions after that.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all our witnesses today for your compelling comments.

I'm a new member. This is my first mandate as an MP and the first time I'm participating on a committee as important as this finance committee. I have to tell you, some of the comments that I heard here today have made me scratch my head a little bit, because I'm part of a government that, I think, has provided historic funding, and it would be a miss on my part if I did not outline for the record some of the funding that we've already done. We haven't cut funding. We have created more than 7,000 shelter spaces since taking office. The original goal was to do that by 2027. We've already met that.

A third of the national housing strategy investments have gone to benefit women. We have funded more than 420 shelters and 90 sexual assault centres, and we have $10 million slated to support women's organizations that fall outside of those categories. We provided new funding in response to COVID-19. We provided Quebec alone with $6.46 million on April 22. We have provided $4.25 million of that to 118 shelters and $790,000 to 49 sexual assault centres. However, as this is jurisdictional and all provinces are very sensitive to this, Quebec insisted that all funding flow through that province. In the budget of 2019, we had $160 million earmarked over five years for women's programs.

Can we do more? Can we do better? Absolutely. All governments can do more and do better, but I think that this government has stepped up and has provided, has heard and has listened. Our programs have flexibility. I'm sorry if I'm speaking so passionately, but I believe so much in what we are doing that I had to set the record straight.

My question is for Ms. Kamateros. Thank you very much for your compelling comments and for all the work that you and your team do at Shield of Athena. I've known your organization for many years and I congratulate you for all the good work, as I congratulate everybody here for the hard work and great work that they do.

Several times, you mentioned specific funding for an allowance. Can you elaborate a little bit more on what that would look like? What would an adequate amount or schedule of payments be? Have you or has an organization that you know of done a study that could come up with a figure that would make sense?

6:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

Whatever I've said is based on the experience we have had when women have come to us at the shelter or at the centres. A lot of women do have jobs, but if a woman doesn't have a job and has been accustomed to being financially dependent, the first thing we do is to get her onto welfare. This welfare is $600. If she has to pay $500 a month for rent because there is not enough affordable social housing, then that's an issue for her. If she has children, that issue is compounded.

I would say that if a study were to be done, it should be to look at a sliding scale of needs, because we don't want abuse of the system either. This is not what we're advocating for. We have to make the women autonomous. That's a basic thing in the feminist perspective as well: How can a woman become autonomous and not fall back into an abusive situation? I'm sure that a study could be done, but $600 of welfare is not enough.

On the other side of the spectrum, what are we supposed to do with women who come to us in order to get more funding? Are we supposed to tell them how they can get money in cash and that they should not divulge money that they get? The circle of poverty that a lot of women who are also victims of conjugal violence have is a circle that should be broken at some point. Again, conjugal violence is not a poor woman's issue; it's just that women who are poor feel it so much more.

What can we do? We have received help at the level of the shelters and we have to thank the government for that, because every shelter in Quebec got, through the funding, approximately $50,000 for the COVID situation. But let's see what we can do for the woman, the victim, herself. Is there something that we can provide her in terms of financial assistance that will help her on her road towards autonomy? This is so important and it's particularly important for women who don't have the choice, which is what I was trying to describe before.

No, I have no perspective on what this issue would be, but I'm sure that if we set up a committee, we could arrive at some logical outcome. However, there is a crying need for the women who are victims of conjugal violence to get this financial stipend or allowance. I don't know what to call it.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you both. Annie, I'm sorry we'll have to end it there. We're over substantially.

We will go to five two-minute rounds.

Mr. Ste-Marie, Ms. Mathyssen, Ms. Sahota, Mr. Fragiskatos and Ms. May.

6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll start by responding to the statements made by my colleague, Ms. Koutrakis. From my perspective, the issue is that the federal government significantly withdrew from its role in health and social services, basically in the mid-1990s, to take care of the deficit. It no longer took care of social housing. It no longer took care of funding for health and social services. Since then, there has been an issue. The Liberal government has made reinvestment announcements. However, these are nothing compared to the cuts that it made a few decades earlier.

There's an excellent book on the topic entitled Combating Poverty. The book shows that, after this, the level of poverty soared, particularly in the case of single women, and even more so in the case of women heads of families. However, Quebec was an exception. With limited means, the government implemented a family policy, which is very effective. The policy helps women remain active in the labour market. My question for Ms. Scott is related to this issue.

Ms. Scott, your presentation was full of valuable information. In terms of this issue, you showed that, because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, a significant number of women are at risk of permanently leaving the labour market. We know the long-term solution, which is the Quebec model, the comprehensive family policy. In the short term, what can be done?

I'll ask you a second question right away. In your opinion, does the $500 million invested by the federal government in health care systems seem sufficient, or should the federal government be doing more?