Evidence of meeting #42 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was students.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ian Shugart  Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office
Daniel Lapointe  President, Focus OSBL Consulting Service, As an Individual
Joshua Mandryk  Labour and Class Actions Lawyer, Goldblatt Partners LLP, As an Individual
Chris Aylward  National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

12:55 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Chris Aylward

You are no more perplexed than I am, Mr. Cumming, for sure. It is very perplexing.

As for how this whole thing transpired from the creation in April to the announcement in June, as I said, here we are three months later, and still with really no concrete program in place out there. I would suspect that it's going to be turned over to ESDC to do this program, and that's what should have happened in the first place.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

The problem with that now is that it's a little late. It's the middle of July. For the students, by the time you execute on a program—and I believe you have the capacity to do it—there will be very short window. Students are going back to school.

12:55 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Chris Aylward

It's never too late to make it right. Hopefully, this will be done right and done by federal public sector workers.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

It's been shown that many people in government have had some association with WE and the work that WE does, but that shouldn't override the importance of how whoever is selected should be able to deliver a broad-based program outside of their mission. Public servants often will work with the Red Cross or the United Way when they have the capacity to work in whatever their expertise is, and that doesn't look to be the case in this particular situation.

12:55 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

July 21st, 2020 / 12:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Okay. Thank you.

Mr. Mandryk, thank you for coming today. Probably like you, I have spent a lot of time volunteering during my career. Again, this looks to me like a program that is completely mis-designed.

Give me a definition. I think you already did to a certain extent. To me, the act of volunteering is volunteering, and this idea of providing a stipend or a grant takes this away from being a volunteer because you're actually paid. Can you just give me a definition for how you would define a volunteer?

12:55 p.m.

Labour and Class Actions Lawyer, Goldblatt Partners LLP, As an Individual

Joshua Mandryk

Yes, absolutely. As you said, like you, I volunteer a lot. Just to be clear, volunteering exists. It's something that is important to our society, and I'm not suggesting that.... But like I said, there is a difference between a true volunteer and a misclassified employee.

Unfortunately, there's not really any statutory guidance on this, and many of the cases are old, but generally speaking, there are a few points to it. If someone is volunteering, it's going to be in the advancement of a civic, charitable, religious or humanitarian purpose. I'd also suggest that volunteering is not going to happen for a private for-profit company. As you alluded to, I think volunteers are folks that are performing this work for civic, charitable or other purposes, without the expectation of remuneration. There are other factors that some of the cases have looked at, such as the extent to which the person performing the service used the arrangement as being in pursuit of their livelihood and the extent to which the agency receives a benefit from their students in terms of looking at how the arrangement was initiated and the power imbalance between them.

There's not a clear outline in law. A lot of these cases are old. They're from before I was born. They're from before the rise of unpaid internships. I think it's an open question as to how a court would address this question right now, but it is a bit of a smell test in figuring out what is a true volunteer. Certainly, when you have a program structure that directly links the payment of money to the hours you work, that, to me, does not look like volunteering.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Do you have a quick one, James?

1 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Yes.

There's nothing that would stop students if they're on an existing program.... For example, under the Canada emergency student benefit or a variety of other programs within the government, or even if you're under the Canada summer jobs grant, there's nothing to stop you from volunteering. You can still volunteer. You're just not paid for it.

1 p.m.

Labour and Class Actions Lawyer, Goldblatt Partners LLP, As an Individual

Joshua Mandryk

Of course, and folks should volunteer, and they do. As we heard yesterday from Ms. Speevak, students volunteer at extremely high rates, but what we don't want to see is volunteer misclassification and mistreatment of workers who are being improperly classified as volunteers and being paid subminimum wage rates.

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you, both.

Ms. Koutrakis is splitting her time, and then we go on to Mr. Poilievre.

Ms. Koutrakis.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to add my voice to the acknowledgements of the incredible work being done by our public service to quickly and effectively deliver all of our COVID-19 economic response programs.

As everybody knows, all of these programs were designed to help people as quickly as possible and to make sure that no one was left behind. As my colleague Ms. Dzerowicz noted earlier, the Canada student service grant program is one of four such programs, and no one is disputing the fact that the public service is capable of delivering this program.

What we are saying is that, in these unprecedented times, we were looking to help students, charities and their clients during a pandemic and economic collapse, just to put that on the record.

My question is for Mr. Aylward.

There has been some concern that the public service may lack the connections to smaller local charities that WE Charity had. These connections appear to be a primary reason why WE Charity was chosen to deliver the programs. Can you respond to these concerns and comments on how the public service may work around these challenges, given the fact that many public servants are working from home?

1 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Chris Aylward

I think, as you just said, that public servants, including those working from home, are able to deliver these programs seamlessly. I don't know what the basis of your statement is that we don't have the capacity within the public service to reach out to those charitable organizations at the ground level. As has been said by several speakers now, the federal government is constantly working with charitable organizations.

Again, is the capacity there within the federal public service to reach out to those charitable organizations? I certainly believe so.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

What do you say about the many public service employees who may be facing some health challenges, as we've heard, given the workload and the speed that the other programs they are administering had to be rolled out?

1 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Chris Aylward

Absolutely. I think this pandemic, for everybody, has certainly added just a little bit more pressure. Working from home and still having to be very productive and deliver programs, without an opportunity to walk walking down the hall or down a flight of stairs to talk to your co-worker to get a different kind of perspective, is very difficult. A five-minute conversation in the office is now turning into a one-hour video conference, unfortunately. You're absolutely right: I've heard from our members that it is very stressful, that it is extremely stressful, yet they still want to be productive.

I'll just give you an example. When the CERB, the Canada emergency response benefit, was created, the commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency, Mr. Hamilton—in effect the deputy minister—put out a request for volunteers. He said that he needed volunteers, regardless of what job they were doing, to administer the CERB, and that they were going to be in a call centre environment basically answering questions. He said he needed 1,000 volunteers, and 7,000 employees of the Canada Revenue Agency put up their hands and said they would volunteer to do that work.

Yes, you're right, it is very stressful times for everybody, including federal public sector workers trying to be very productive at home. Federal public sector workers are very proud of and very dedicated to the work they do, absolutely.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We will go over to Mr. Gerretsen, and we'll likely have time for another question at the end.

Mr. Gerretsen.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thanks.

How much time do I have, Mr. Chair?

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

You have about a minute and a half.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Mandryk, you commented that you thought that the Canada summer jobs program could administer a lot of the funds instead of doing it through this volunteer program.

Do you know if the capacity exists? In my riding we were getting money sent back because businesses literally didn't have the capacity to continue with the program.

1:05 p.m.

Labour and Class Actions Lawyer, Goldblatt Partners LLP, As an Individual

Joshua Mandryk

I'd suggest that, for many of these positions, if they look like jobs, they should be treated as jobs.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

You don't know for a fact, then.

I want to touch on something else. You've commented and made your position very clear on this, but did you ever make your the position known, going back to when the government first started talking about the fact that they were going to do this? It was a few months before the whole WE part developed that the government said they were going to be doing this.

1:05 p.m.

Labour and Class Actions Lawyer, Goldblatt Partners LLP, As an Individual

Joshua Mandryk

I'm a citizen, so I've—

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Well, no, but I mean, you're—

1:05 p.m.

Labour and Class Actions Lawyer, Goldblatt Partners LLP, As an Individual

Joshua Mandryk

—so I guess I've tweeted about it. I've [Inaudible--Editor] about this point, but—

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

You are fairly active on Twitter and you didn't make a comment to this effect on Twitter, but I do just have one question for you.

On July 11, you retweeted a tweet that said the WE movement “is in the Canadian public schools teaching their corporate-sponsored approved, neo-colonial nonsense to teachers and kids.” I think it's safe to say you're not a fan of WE from the outset. I just want to understand what your position is on WE outside of this, notwithstanding your position on this issue.