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

4:55 p.m.


Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Maybe I could start with Monsieur Grenier and then go to Mr. Wood. Perhaps you both could respond.

When we announced all of our programs initially—and we announced them very quickly—our intention was to make sure we were being generous, to keep workers at home and safe, to keep workers connected to their employers and to provide enough capital and support for businesses to get through this emergency part of the pandemic.

Now we're moving into the reopening of our economy and our rebuilding. You're both from industries that, largely, had the rug pulled from underneath their feet. What I'd love to hear from both of you is the principle that the government should be considering in supporting businesses right now. Are you saying that if you've lost 100%, you're not even coming back this summer at all? For any businesses that are like that, the principle should be that we provide them with support for about six months at 50% of what they earned last year—I don't know what it is. Perhaps you could give us some advice around a principle that you think we should be considering.

Monsieur Grenier, we will start with you.

4:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Be fairly concise, if you could.

4:55 p.m.

President, Association des camps du Québec

Steven Grenier

If we could receive support in the coming months, at least for fixed costs, we could certainly survive until next year. The next revenue stream is expected to come in January.

As Mr. Shepard was saying, perhaps we could also receive financial support for infrastructure. Since we're closed, we could take the opportunity to renovate and update our facilities, which are 50, 75 or even 100 years old. I think that this would be a good way to support us as we move forward during a pandemic, so that we can run properly in the future.

4:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Mr. Wood.

4:55 p.m.

Partner, Ottawa Special Events

Michael Wood

Thank you very much for the question. I will be as brief as possible.

We appreciate when the government uses generosity—very much so.

I look at it as the government's having closed our industry, and rightfully so. Please don't get me wrong. I understand why the shutdown happened. My next round of proposals will be to say, okay, this is what we generated last year for the next six months, as you say, or the next year, and this is what we need to absorb our costs, either 50% or 75%. We still have costs moving forward.

The other thing I want to add quickly before I'm cut off is that we do genuinely appreciate what the government has done. We do genuinely appreciate the speed it happened at. However, now we need to relook at what we can do to make it better and to help others along the way, by industry. It's, first of all, thank you so much, but second, we also need to look at these personal guarantees. The government needs to guarantee, at least for us, 75% for up to 18 months after the pandemic.

Thank you for your time.

4:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you. I have a question for Mr. Neveu.

Let me start this way. I really appreciated your opening remarks, but I find it so troublesome that our innovators, our brain trusts and the experience we've had in the oil and gas industry have to move south of the 49th parallel, to the benefit of a competing nation rather than where we are in Canada.

Secondly, it's a debate in Canada between the environment and oil and gas, but I really firmly believe, and I'm thinking this more and more, that both sides are shouting over each other. At the end of the day, both are going to lose and Canada is going to be the biggest loser.

How do you see us solving that problem? Our oil and gas industry is under attack. Yes, we have to deal with climate change, but on the positive side we have a pretty good industry, especially in conventional oil and gas, which has done so many innovative things. We're throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Do you have any solutions for us? I guess that is what I'm asking you. I really see this as troublesome.

4:55 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Precision Drilling Corporation

Kevin Neveu

It does go back to where the capital is being directed.

The industry is capital intensive. Creating energy, whether it's hydro power, solar power, wind power or oil and gas, is capital intensive. The fiscal regimes and the areas that attract the capital most aggressively get that capital, and those industries flourish. Alberta has a strong wind-power initiative in southern Alberta because we attract that capital.

I think the confusion between oil sands mining, that segment, and the large open-pit mines versus conventional oil and gas has really painted the entire industry with a negative outlook. We need to attract capital back. That's the key.

5 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you for that, and thank you to all the witnesses who have appeared today. We appreciate both your constructive criticism and your suggestions for where we should be moving and how we should be helping your particular sector as an industry.

With that, we will suspend for a few minutes while we bring in the next panel.

Thank you again.

The meeting is suspended.

5:05 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I will call the meeting to order.

Welcome, witnesses, to panel two of meeting number 33 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.

We're operating pursuant to the order of reference from the House, and we are meeting on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the information of the witnesses, today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available on the House of Commons website.

With that, I would like to welcome each and every one of the witnesses.

I would ask you, if you could, to try to keep your opening remarks to about five minutes or thereabouts. We don't have as many witnesses on this panel, so we could stretch it to six if you want.

We'll start with Katherine Scott, senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Ms. Scott.

5:05 p.m.

Katherine Scott Senior Researcher, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Thank you so much for the invitation. It's tremendous. I've never done a presentation like this to a parliamentary committee. I'm in new territory here, as certainly the country is on new, uncharted grounds.

I'm from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. We're a research shop, with offices across the country. I'm based in the national office here in Ottawa. We've been spending a considerable amount of time and resources lately trying to wrap our collective heads around the scope of this public health crisis, which has precipitated, obviously, an economic crisis.

What I'd like to talk to you today about is the impact of the economic crisis, certainly for women and girls in Canada. We can be under no illusion; this is having a devastating and profound impact in communities across the country, and my presentation will stress the impact on women and girls.

I was able to distribute a few research slides in advance. I'm not sure whether members of the committee got those slides. I want to focus on a few key messages from our research and analysis of the labour force survey in the last couple of months and what that would suggest for, I would hope, a feminist recovery plan or when we pivot and start to think long-term. Hopefully we can take up some of that in the questions.

Certainly the first message I'd like to deliver today is that women are at the forefront of this economic crisis. Over half of all female workers currently are employed in the five Cs: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning. These are precisely the types of jobs that are directly involved in containing the pandemic and extending needed support and care to those affected.

Again, I'm not sure whether you have the chart, but it reveals and looks at the disproportionate representation of women in many of these categories. That includes, for instance, the fact that 90% of all nurses in Canada are women, 90% of PSWs working in long-term care homes are women, and two-thirds of all those who clean and disinfect our hospitals are women. These are the same women who go home to their families to start the double shift with the worry that they're bringing the virus home with them. Of course, other women work in sectors such as food and accommodation, financial services and retail, all of which have been profoundly affected by the government-mandated shutdown of service.

As the chart shows, many of these same occupations have a high representation of racialized workers, whether that's long-term care homes populated by migrant and racialized workers, or whether it's caregivers, cleaning professions and the like. When we're thinking about the impact on workers, it's critically important to understand the diversity and certainly the concentration of racialized workers.

The other piece or the second message I'd like to stress is that many of the jobs, of course, as we said, are at high risk of exposure to the infection. These are precisely the same jobs that tend to have fewer protections in the form of paid sickness leave or other health benefits. In fact, our research at the CCPA has shown that, for instance, last year, in 2019, only 19% of workers in accommodation and food and only 30% of workers in the retail sector had access to paid leave.

As I said, these are high-risk jobs, especially for those who make the least amount of money. According to our research, 43% of all workers who earn less than $14 per hour were in high-risk jobs, as compared to only 11% of the wealthiest workers. A majority, fully one-third, of all women workers are in these high-risk jobs. Women are at the forefront of this crisis, both in the care and in their paid work, and they are the ones going into the labour force every day and being exposed to the pandemic.

The economic crisis that's unfolding, of course, is rolling out and impacting communities across the country, and women were significantly hit. With the first labour force survey, we saw that 70% of all job losses in the month of March were experienced by women, as retail, accommodation and the like shut down. We're expecting the next labour force survey on Friday, but the April numbers showed hugely that there were now three million Canadians out of work, and another two and a half million who had lost the majority of their hours. All in, as of April, that represented 32% of all female workers and 29% of male workers.

Obviously, generationally we've never seen this type of precipitous drop in such a short period of time, but what was most shocking about these statistics was that over half of the workers earning $14 an hour or less were laid off or lost the majority of their hours, as compared to only 1% of jobs of the richest 10% of workers.

This is very much a pandemic and an economic emergency that's impacting the lowest-waged among us, and this group is overwhelmingly female and racialized. In the chart that I included in my package, you can see that well over half of all women in the lowest-earning decile lost their jobs. Fifty-eight per cent of all women earning less than $14 an hour lost their jobs or the majority of their hours between February and April.

With that in mind, the other piece of what's unfolding, of course, is not only the scale of job loss but that the unemployment data doesn't actually capture the number of people who are leaving the labour market altogether. We now know that there has been an increase in the number of women who are now formally outside the labour market altogether, an increase of 34%. These are women who have left to take care of responsibilities or obligations—to care for people who are ill, members of their family, or to take care of their children with schools and child cares now closed—but who have no immediate prospect of return to the labour market. This is a really important number to watch. We're already seeing the drop in the employment rate. We're seeing a widening of the gap between men and women in this regard, so the number of women who are being pushed out of the labour market portends a rollback of economic security among women and certainly of gender equality for decades to come.

A good piece of this, of course, are the moms with kids under 12. Fully one-quarter of all moms with kids under 12 lost their jobs or the majority of their hours between February and April. This is critically important. The other three-quarters of them are still employed, but they are at home with children, without the support of child care, doing 24-7 child care. You know, you have to think: What about single parents? As of April, there were over 200,000 single moms who were still working—God knows with what kind of support or child care arrangement—and there were another 122,000 who were laid off and wondering if they could possibly ever go back to work, as the majority of child cares and schools are closed.

Certainly, the question is now in front of us. Will the women who've been laid off from work be able to go back or increase their hours without child care? This really is a critical dimension of the recovery, and it's one thing I can stress to you today. There's no recovery without child care. It simply and mathematically does not work. A survey that's being currently fielded by child care advocates suggests that only 60% of the centres that were surveyed are actually planning to reopen, and those that are planning to reopen, of course, will open with fewer spaces in order to accommodate physical distancing. Without child care, will women be able to go back, and what does that mean by way of setting back the project of gender equality? It will all have a devastating impact on household incomes, and we can't fool ourselves. As women withdraw from or are unable to go to work as we're seeing there—that's, on average, 40% of any household's income—we're going to see a precipitous drop in household spending, dragging the Canadian economy down in the process.

Really, the impact and positioning of women in this stress session is unique. My colleague Armine Yalnizyan has talked about the she-session, and we will not have a recovery without a she-recovery. Certainly, that's an important....

I see that my time is up. I have talked about things that we could do by way of a recovery plan, and perhaps we can take that up in the questions.

Thank you so much.

June 2nd, 2020 / 5:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Ms. Scott. Yes, we'd like to hear about that recovery plan, too.

We'll turn then to Nina Labun, chief executive officer, Donwood Manor personal care home.

Ms. Labun.

5:15 p.m.

Nina Labun Chief Executive Officer, Donwood Manor Personal Care Home

Good afternoon and thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a privilege to speak today to the committee.

I'm a master's-prepared registered nurse by profession and currently the CEO of a faith-based, not-for-profit care provider to 460 seniors in Winnipeg.

I understand that I was invited to speak on the impact of COVID on women in Canada. As a female CEO leading a predominantly female workforce in one of the highest-risk health care environments during COVID, it's my privilege to share with you my experiences during this pandemic and the disproportionate impact it has had on women working in long-term care specifically.

Long-term care is indeed dominated by women, as was already mentioned. In my home, 96% of my staff are female, and across Canada over 90% of the sector is represented by women.

Before I can tell you how women in this sector have been impacted by COVID, I'd like to paint a picture of the challenges women faced prior to the pandemic.

My staff work days, evenings, nights and every other weekend. More often than not, they are carrying the primary responsibilities of their households. Given the nature of the sector, they typically juggle more than one part-time position, equalling more than one full-time job. They are often members of minority groups, sometimes recent immigrants, and most have very limited opportunities to save for a rainy day. The majority of these absolutely courageous women are also care providers in unregulated roles, with minimal education to effectively prepare them for the complexities of caregiving in long-term care.

Added to these stressors, women working in long-term care have chosen a tough road with inadequate respect for the work they do and for the seniors in their care. Let me take a moment to share what “tough” looks like.

Tough is giving someone a bath in an 18-year-old tub, eight years older than its expected usefulness. Tough is providing care on hot summer days when the 40-year-old air conditioning doesn't work reliably, but there's no funding to replace it. Tough is moving an elderly resident into a shared room to spend their final days with a complete stranger. Tough is trying to be innovative in care while still trying to secure funding for basic Wi-Fi.

My staff and leadership team continue to personally offset the costs that are not recognized by the existing system of care. Our supporting community and staff have been propping up the system with sheer force of will to prevent it from failing. I will give some concrete examples. Staff regularly donate their own money to support fundraisers for equipment and programs. Staff work extra time, essentially volunteering, because the care needs are great. Leaders are on call 24-7 without compensation in order to be accessible and supportive to direct care staff, and our supporting community members provide 100% of the salary for full-time spiritual care, an integral part of holistic health care to seniors that receives no funding.

COVID has pushed this remarkable, women-led workforce in long-term care to a breaking point. It is harming their families, their finances and their health. My staff, who are moms, now stand in long lines to pick up groceries. They prepare meals, coordinate family schedules and now are home-schooling their school-aged kids. Financially, some of these women have lost income and are unable to find suitable child care for people working shift work. From a health and safety perspective, these women are also at a higher risk of COVID exposure merely from working in long-term care, where we know the majority of deaths in Canada have occurred. Also, very tragically, some women are experiencing an escalation in domestic violence.

COVID has had a multiplier effect on the underlying challenges in my sector, which we know disproportionately impacts women. If the Government of Canada wants to demonstrate its dedication to improving the lives of Canadian women and Canadian senior women, many of whom end up in care, it needs to start by addressing the foundational challenges in long-term care and the devastation that this pandemic has illuminated. Long-term care can no longer rely on the heroics of the informal support and funding provided by the primarily female caregivers, leaders and volunteers.

In closing, let me say that caregiving is honourable work, but we no longer have the option of cobbling together a system of seniors care that undervalues the contributions of women and fails to respond to the actual needs required for operating and capital investments.

Thank you.

5:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Ms. Labun.

We now turn to the London Abused Women's Centre with Megan Walker, executive director.

Ms. Walker.

5:20 p.m.

Megan Walker Executive Director, London Abused Women's Centre

Good evening, everyone. It's really nice to be with you this evening.

The London Abused Women's Centre is a feminist agency that takes systemic action to end the oppression of women and girls while providing immediate access to service for women and girls across this country who are over the age of 12 and who are abused by their partners, trafficked and/or sexually exploited. Last year, the agency served 8,137 women and girls.

The critical gap that we see in the government's COVID response is the lack of a feminist analysis. The response does not reflect fundamental power differentials between women and men in any of the measures taken to address COVID. A feminist analysis is essential to the government's response to this life-threatening virus that disproportionately impacts women, and in particular indigenous women and girls.

The $50-million measure to help manage or prevent outbreaks in sexual assault centres and shelters, including in indigenous communities, is woefully inadequate. According to my Liberal MP's office, this federal envelope excludes at least 600 agencies across Canada, including the London Abused Women's Centre. During this pandemic, when women are isolated in their homes with their abusers and their children are exposed to violence regularly, no funding is provided in the COVID response to allow women to have immediate access to potentially life-saving services.

The Canada emergency response benefit excludes eligibility for Canada's most vulnerable women and girls: those being trafficked and those trying to leave their abusers. Trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls require funding to leave their traffickers, funding that allows them to move back to their homes in other provinces and cities across this country, to re-enter the school system, to attend job training, to attend substance use services, to find housing and even to eat.

Trafficking and sexual exploitation is not a job. It is male violence against women. These women are not provided with T4 slips by their traffickers. They have no record of ever receiving money, because actually they rarely do. It is their traffickers who keep the money. Sometimes these girls experience paid rape for up to 20 times a day to satisfy their trafficker's quota.

Leaving a trafficker is extremely dangerous and difficult. This is especially the case during COVID, but the chances of being able to leave and be free are much better with comprehensive supports and funding to allow victims to live in freedom.

What of those women trapped in their homes with their abusers? Many have no work experience because many of those women are trapped in their homes, with or without COVID, and are unable to do anything without their abusive partner's permission.

There is no COVID funding available for women to help them leave their abusers in this plan, and while women abused by their partners and/or trafficked and exploited women will have no government funds, unfortunately their abusers do. Business owners in the sex trade—also known as traffickers or organized crime—are permitted access to an interest-free loan, with up to 25% of it forgiven if it's repaid before December 2020. While victims of trafficking are being raped every day, their trafficker will be taken care of through the Canada emergency business account.

We have serious concerns about the government's betrayal of Canadian women and girls. COVID has made their lives so much more dangerous.

Notwithstanding an announced $75 million to address sex trafficking, the Government of Canada has discontinued its funding to at least 11 agencies in Canada, all working to give freedom and hope to trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls. Instead, according to the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and the Minister of Justice, the government has decided that a third year—a third year in a row—of consultation on the issue is necessary. Three years of consultation is unnecessary. We know the problems and we have the solutions. Consulting around the country during COVID is costly and a waste of time.

The approximate cost to keep 11 agencies across this country open is $1.5 million per year. Refusing to fund these organizations until after further consultation is not based on a feminist analysis and it is not based on logic. It’s harmful and life-threatening to women and girls in need of services. That keeps my team up all night and it should keep all of you up all night as well.

Thank you.

5:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Ms. Walker.

We'll go to Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO.

Ms. Saunders.

5:25 p.m.

Vicki Saunders Founder, SheEO

Thank you very much for the invitation to be here.

Wow, that was very powerful. Thank you very much, Ms. Walker.

I'm a serial entrepreneur. I've been an entrepreneur my whole life. I'm absolutely unemployable by anyone. It's a wonder that I'm actually on a call with government at the moment, but here I am.

I have a phrase that I've been saying for a long time: “Everything's broken. What a great time to be alive.” This is sort of the entrepreneurial spirit, and unfortunately we're experiencing that in such a wave right now.

On March 9-10, we had a big global summit in Toronto with SheEO, to celebrate that 2,500 Canadian women have come together and contributed $1,100 each, each year, for the past five years to fund women-led businesses that are working on what we call the world's to-do list: the United Nations sustainable development goals. All of their businesses are focused on these. We loan out money that has been gifted by Canadian women at 0% interest, and entrepreneurs pay those loans back over five years.

Not only do these entrepreneurs get about $100,000 each from this loan, but they get access to all of us: thousands of connected women who are well resourced. We bring our networks, our expertise, our buying power as customers and our influence to help them grow their businesses.

This extremely rich ecosystem of support has all of our ventures outperforming their peers significantly in terms of revenue, export, social impact and, most important perhaps, the creation of socially and environmentally sustainable jobs.

After five years in operation in Canada, we announced at our global summit, where the Prime Minister was actually in attendance—the last big event before the pandemic—that we had reached perpetual fund status in Canada. These five-year loans are paid back with a 100% payback rate. If no one ever signed up again to contribute this capital, we would continue to fund female entrepreneurs in Canada forever with this revolving loan fund. It's a completely different way of keeping capital in flow.

We've taken this model to five different countries, and our goal is to have a million women and a billion-dollar fund that will fund 10,000 female entrepreneurs every year forever, and leave it as a legacy.

The reason we do this is that only 4% of venture capital goes to women entrepreneurs. It has been like this for decades, globally. It hasn't changed at all, despite the fact that we create business case after business case, research after research, showing the impact that women-led businesses have on the economy and how strongly they perform.

There are just so many biases built into the system, so 51% of the population gets 4% of the capital. It's statistically impossible for that to happen without massive biases being built into these systems. We know that most of the structures and systems we're living in were not designed by us or for us. Add on top of that the pandemic.

It's interesting, because I've been struggling with these systemic barriers for many, many years. I'm really a student of systems change, behaviour change, and I've been trying to redesign.... If we were starting over again, how would we redesign the system? SheEO is my response to that.

Here's what's happening in our community, which is quite unbelievable. On March 16, we gathered the 68 ventures we funded together to do a very quick triage to ask what was happening: “Are you red, yellow or green? Are you at risk, your business, based on what's going on?”

One of our ventures had lost 95% of her revenue by noon on that first day. She actually has a really innovative social hiring model where she hires people at risk of homelessness to do laundry for restaurants, and all the restaurants have shut down in Calgary. She got on this call, extremely upset, wondering how she was going to lay off these people who were already at risk of homelessness. As she struggled.... I'm a crier; everything's fine. This is normal for me.

She brought this to us and said, “What can I do?” One of the ventures in our community asked, “What do you need to keep people employed for the next month while we figure this out, and to get you to pivot?” She said her amount, and they said, “Consider it in your bank account by the end of this call.”

That was the beginning of the bar just being raised in our community. Instead of helping people figure out how to lay people off, how to get government grants or how to go bankrupt, we set a bar in our community that we would not lose any jobs, and that none of our businesses would go down. We have this incredible community of people to support each other, and we've built relationships very strongly over the last five years to make that happen.

We are demonstrating an example of what's possible when you redesign an ecosystem in support.... It's beyond just the money—“Here's your money; off you go”—but the money and the kindness. We call this “radical generosity”, to support one another.

Women are massively undercapitalized to start, and we've been hit quite hard by this pandemic. We have less runway, less support.

Honestly, just to say what another person has already said today, the one significant barrier that is really not hard to solve and that would make a fundamental difference is child care. We currently have a wage subsidy for businesses that can't be used for child care. We have an agricultural innovator in our community who can get 75% of her salary covered if she hires someone new to go out and do the work. But she wants to do the work. She doesn't want to hire somebody to go do that work; she wants to use part of the grants to pay for child care.

The fact that we're still talking about this makes me so crazy. Child care is literally the simplest policy intervention we could have that would have the biggest impact on the economy. When we made up the system.... Women weren't sitting at the table when we designed this. We're here now. Let's just change this. If one thing came out of COVID and it was this, that would be huge.

The other big thing I would say is that COVID is really giving us a chance to reboot what we value. To witness before our eyes every day the biases we've built into our systems and the impact we have by valuing jobs and growth over humans and development.... We need to rethink what we value and what matters to us and build a society that works for all.

Coming out of this pandemic, I really hope that we're only putting taxpayer money to work for the benefit of all. The investments we're currently making in AI and in our tech solutions obsession are gap-widening. It's creating more inequality in this country, and we don't seem to have any mitigating investment strategies around that.

We have a very narrow definition of innovation. We have a very narrow definition of what success is: Go big or go home. However, 98% of our economy is small and medium-sized businesses. There are only 1,200 companies in this entire country that have more than 500 employees, and half of them are foreign offices. I wonder who the people are whom you are regularly in conversation with when you're making these policies. We would like it to be more small business, because this is really a huge opportunity for all of us to rethink what we have.

Finally, I'd just like to say that at SheEO we really value diversity. We fund cis and trans women, non-binary, gender-fluid, non-conforming people from all cultural backgrounds. We're in deep relationship with the indigenous community. We do calls every Sunday with 140 indigenous women entrepreneurs, getting them connected into our community, making sure they thrive so they can bring the whole next generation with them. We're building a new economic model based on radical generosity, on inclusion, centred on the critical priorities of our time that benefit all.

We're honoured to be part of this committee. I really look forward to the rest of the conversation.

I want to take a moment to thank you all very much. I know you have absolutely thankless jobs of service. I really appreciate the probably many sleepless nights you've had trying to figure this out in this unprecedented time. Thank you.

5:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you very much, Ms. Saunders.

I can't help but make this point: We've been a long time getting there in child care. I was a farm leader in the eighties, and I remember in 1988 fighting with the federal government at the time for rural child care, which is very different from urban. We're still not exactly there yet.

Before I turn to the last witness, I'll lay out the questioning order for the first round of questions. We'll start with Ms. Vecchio, then Ms. Dzerowicz, Mr. Brunelle-Duceppe and Ms. Mathyssen. That's the starting order for questions.

We'll turn to Ms. Kamateros with the Shield of Athena family services.

Go ahead.

5:35 p.m.

Melpa Kamateros Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Thank you.

Good afternoon, members of the Standing Committee on Finance and other guests.

My name is Melpa Kamateros.

Thank you for this opportunity. I'm very honoured to be able to share some thoughts on the needs of women victims of conjugal violence during this COVID-19 pandemic.

5:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I wonder if I could just get you to stop for a moment, Ms. Kamateros.

We might have to get the technicians to look into this, but if you look at the bottom of your Zoom, you'll see a language circle there. To the right of “Participants” is a language symbol. If you touch that, it should say “English” or “French”, and you should be on the language you're speaking.

If you're speaking French, you should have that on “French”. Just try it at the bottom.

5:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

I'll be alternating between the French and English, but I think for the purposes of this presentation, I will keep it in English. This is fine.

5:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

You can speak in whatever language you want, just as long as when you speak French you choose the “French” channel, and if you speak English, you have to use…. It's a real difficult problem for the translators. What happens when you're not on the same language you're speaking is that we hear the translators at the same level we hear you, and it's hard to determine.

Whatever you want to do, go ahead.

5:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

Okay. To make it simple, I've gone to the English.

5:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter


5:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Shield of Athena Family Services

Melpa Kamateros

I'm very happy to have the presence of my colleague from London, regarding the issues of conjugal violence and the ways in which COVID has affected women.

The Shield of Athena was established in 1991. We have a network of services that include two day centres and an emergency shelter, and we are planning a second-step resource. We have, more or less, an integrated system regarding services for women and their children. We do work with vulnerable clientele and presently we give outreach and services in up to 17 languages. We see a lot of people who are in vulnerable situations, particularly women from immigrant communities, particularly women who present with severe linguistic barriers.

Forced confinement and quarantine during the pandemic may compound the issue and increase the dangers and consequences for women victims of conjugal violence. First of all, they can't access the phone in order to call for services. They can't access information. They can't access anybody to help make a protection scenario for them and their children. The pandemic limits their actions and isolates them even more.

Doubly vulnerable clientele such as the ones that we work with—women who present with severe linguistic barriers; women who do not know the system that we live in; women who do not know their rights and the laws; women who have many children or who have children with specific needs, such as autism; women who live in remote areas where there are few services—are also put in danger as their potential for accessing information and resources is even more limited.

Within this COVID pandemic, a key factor for us—and something of major importance—is the fact that women who don't speak the language have a problem accessing services.

This situation is further compounded by the difficulty women have had getting into shelters in Quebec. I don't know the solutions that are used in other provinces, but in Quebec we have quarantined women before transferring them into the shelter system. That means another 14 days as an added step for the women before they are filtered through to the shelters. I have to say that a lot of them left the quarantine. A lot of them did go back to their abusive relationships.

A complicating factor for women who are victims of conjugal violence, who are doubly vulnerable such as immigrant women, is their economic dependency. Many women who work have had their money taken away from them. Many women who are isolated have never been allowed to work, making them totally dependent on their abuser. This is a point that has been brought up before. We have seen this situation. This is something that occurs even more now during the pandemic.

Our job as workers is to make sure that these women are finally autonomous or financially independent. I heard the other presenters speaking about trying to provide job opportunities, but a lot of the women who we're working with can't even speak their language well. Trying to access employability programs or trying to get into the system under the best of circumstances is very difficult for them. Within the context of a pandemic, you can imagine what the situation is.

Many are put on welfare. The first thing social workers do is to put the women on welfare once they get into the shelter, but how far does $600 go?

You can say that there are child benefits, but in the case of abusive relationships and women who can't speak and can't understand the issues, the child benefits may not be given to them. They might have to sign over their child benefits if there's a joint account. In cases where the abusive partner has total custody, then he's the one who gets the benefits.

What can we do to rectify this horrible financial dependency that exists normally for all the aforementioned reasons for women who are victims of conjugal violence?

I think there has to be a financial stipend, an allocation that goes specifically to women who are victims of conjugal violence.

Earlier, somebody mentioned the issues surrounding single moms. Let me tell you, children are poor, but if their mom, who is a single mom, is poor, then they are very much poorer. We have to bolster the women. If the women are also victims of conjugal violence, then they need this stipend, this allocation, even more.

I just want to say a final point. Underlying issues that were important before now for victims of conjugal violence, such as the lack of social housing, are even worse now. Never mind the second-step resources. There are so few of those in Quebec. There are thousands of women who go in and out of the shelter system, and there are maybe 19 seconds to have resources. Never mind those. What about social housing?

We have women clients who are waiting for up to four years in order to access social housing. There are dire consequences for women during this period of a pandemic. We feel that we have to have a specific allocation, a specific pension, a specific fund, that goes directly to women who are victims of conjugal violence, be they single or be they single moms with their children.

Thank you very much.

5:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

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

We'll start with a six-minute round, starting with Ms. Vecchio and then going on to Ms. Dzerowicz.

Karen, you'll get the floor.