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

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think it's important to remember that this program came about out of a need to assist the students. When the pandemic hit, there were so many concerns raised about not being able to help the students as they work towards saving some money to go back to school in the fall. We also heard a lot from not-for-profit organizations that wanted to provide services and didn't have a lot of people to call on. That includes some of the indigenous governments in the communities.

I think this was a good program. The idea behind it was great: to deal with two issues that were challenging us. As an MP, I certainly raised a lot of concerns with the ministers. It's unfortunate and regrettable that these placements are now on hold. We're at July 21 and there's a possibility that we may not see either these programs or these concerns dealt with.

I certainly agree with Mr. Cumming that we're running out of time. I really share that concern. To this day, I am still getting calls from the communities in my riding or for help to access some of the programs that we have announced. We are very limited in terms of public service in the northern communities. We have Service Canada offices, but a lot of times they're very busy. Our territories are still in the lockdown. We don't have offices for the federal government in every community. There are limits on travel. It's very difficult to access programs.

I'm hearing from municipalities and I'm hearing from community leaders that we need to create more positions to deliver these programs. I also heard very clearly from Gina Wilson, the deputy minister who presented at an earlier committee meeting, about how public servants were working around the clock to implement the programs. She listed a whole slew of programs that we've announced. There is a concern about members of her staff facing concerns about health. As people work from home we're starting to see a backlog on the delivery of programs, and I think outsourcing is a way to get it resolved. I see programs that were announced and are being delivered by the United Way and the Red Cross. They're out there. It's happening.

I'd like to ask Mr. Aylward if he agrees and if he knows what Gina Wilson was talking about and how public servants are being challenged to deliver the many programs that were announced. That's my first question.

1:35 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Chris Aylward

Thank you, Mr. McLeod.

I mean, yes, absolutely, I would agree with you, as I have with other speakers, that workers are under a tremendous amount of pressure during this time, for various reasons, of course.

On the statement that there's a backlog of programs that can't be delivered, I'm not too sure what the premise of that statement would be. I'm not aware of any backlog of programs that federal public sector workers have failed to deliver. As I said earlier, on the contrary, because of the programs that were necessary to introduce because of the pandemic, I think the public sector workers have delivered certainly very much on time the programs when Canadians needed them the most. If the member is saying that there's a backlog of programs, as I've said, I'm not aware of the premise of that statement at all.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Yes, thank you for that response.

Maybe you could come and visit us in the north and see what our reality is. We have a great public service in the north, but the north is big. There are quite a few communities, and they're spread out and they're remote, so it takes a lot of effort a lot of times to make sure everybody's able to access programs.

I know many leaders in communities are raising the concern that they can't access some of the programs, and I've heard, including from you, that people have stepped up to volunteer to answer phones and more. I'm not sure what training has happened in light of that need for people to help this public service to evolve and for people to move into different positions.

Can you elaborate on how that's happening and how that's taking place?

1:40 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Chris Aylward

Yes, absolutely. Thank you, and the north is my favourite part of this country, Mr. McLeod.

Let me make it very clear. We represent over 15,000 workers in the north, including, of course, the governments of Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. I've visited the north many times, and as I said, it's my favourite part of the country. Being a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, that's difficult to say, but there you go, I've said it.

To answer your question though, specifically, yes, our members are under pressure for sure, and many have volunteered to do work that they cannot do at home because of their job description, and they've agreed to do work outside of their job description. They've certainly agreed to step up and do work outside their normal working hours.

Many of our members have said, “I have small children at home because of the closure of schools and day cares and so on, and I can't work my normal eight to four or seven to three. I can start work, though, at 4:30. That's when my partner is available to take care of the kids, so I can start work at 4:30 and work through the evening.” As I said earlier, they want to be productive, and many of the members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada have gone and continue to go above and beyond what they're asked to do for Canadians in this time.

So absolutely, yes, they're doing different duties from what they would normally do to assist Canadians, and they're certainly working outside of the core hours because they're unable to work the core hours. So absolutely, everything that they can possibly do to be productive—

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

Can I just ask you, before I run out of time, is it your expectation that the public service will deliver the program now as it was expected to be delivered by the WE Charity with a full range of services to promote, to match people with services and to create partnerships with other organizations? Can the public service provide the level that we were expecting?

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We are out of time, Michael, but we'll allow an answer.

Go ahead, Mr. Aylward.

1:40 p.m.

National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Chris Aylward

Nobody has convinced me otherwise, Mr. McLeod.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Michael McLeod Liberal Northwest Territories, NT

All right, thank you.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I do think it is interesting with people working the different hours and working from home that productivity has increased. I think there are some lessons learned here, Mr. Aylward, going forward that we need to pay attention to. I guess that's what I'm thinking.

Ms. May has five minutes and then Mr. Gerretsen has five, and we'll wrap it up there, unless there's a burning question from someone.

Ms. May.

1:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and it's my first opportunity to weigh in on the topic du jour of our WE scandal.

I want to first of all thank the public service for all the work over the last number of months. It's been extraordinary. My own personal frame on this is that the WE scandal is troubling, but when you think about all the things that were rolled out and the pace at which they were rolled out, inevitably there was going to be one major, giant snafu, and this is it, and it's at an ethics level, it's at a program level, it's at a lot of different levels. However, I want to set it aside because I think, as a sometime guest to the finance committee, I want to concentrate on what we do now with the urgency that the days of summer are dwindling. How do we get the jobs for students?

Although I'm very supportive of the public service and would love to ask Mr. Aylward more questions, and I may get time to do that, I want to go to Mr. Mandryk.

Let me go back to the Canada summer jobs program. Several of my colleagues in committee have said they didn't know whether there was capacity. I'll share my own experience and then ask you for a response.

I've talked to my colleagues in the Green caucus, Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin. We all estimated unfunded possible jobs at a large number. For instance, we had employers who asked for 16 positions over the summer but were granted four because of budget constraints, or they asked to have students for eight weeks but there was only money for four weeks.

In our back-of-the-envelope estimates, each of us would have about half a million dollars' worth of existing approved employers in the Canada summer jobs program and the potential to get those students those jobs fairly quickly.

You've already said you favour using the Canada summer jobs program. In terms of delivering jobs for students, could you suggest whether there is anything comparable to the Canada summer jobs program at this last moment? Are any of the issues of concern that you raised about the proposed WE Charity approach—whether the jobs are real, whether there are any employment issues—issues that you've seen at all with Canada summer jobs?

1:45 p.m.

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

Joshua Mandryk

As others have suggested, we're starting to run out of summer. In terms of time for students to get into these positions, there are limits on what we can do now.

I can't speak to individual employment issues across countless positions. I have no doubt that there are some, but I also hear lots of great stories about the success of the program and the opportunities it gives the young folks. I think that if we're going to put money towards supporting students and giving them work opportunities, it ought to be through those existing programs that support paid jobs, that comply with employment standards and that help advance the careers of these young folks.

1:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Can you think of any way in which the Government of Canada...?

I'm a big fan of volunteers. I come from the NGO sector. I was a volunteer most of my life. I still do volunteer gigs now and then on various things when people need volunteers. I was mostly a volunteer through my twenties, in the work I was doing in the environmental movement, and through my thirties. Then I ended up running a big national environmental organization in which we relied on thousands of volunteers. I love the idea of promoting volunteerism.

Can you think of any way in which at this point we could have a program that was compliant with employment laws that encouraged young people to volunteer and that provided some form of acceptable recognition, shall we say, as opposed to salary?

July 21st, 2020 / 1:45 p.m.

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

Joshua Mandryk

Yes. I think the government can encourage volunteering all it wants. I think a program of this type, in which it mandates it in exchange for compensation and ties it to hours, is deeply flawed, and that the way this program can be salvaged will not be through continuing with these positions as volunteer positions.

I'd also add that there are other ways in which the charitable NGO sector could be supported. Ms. Speevak spoke to some of those last time. This was not, from what I can see, what most of the folks in the sector were calling for. They were calling for different support.

1:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

I just hope we can all focus on what we do for students now and that our normal partisan instincts of beating up or shooting fish in a barrel during a scandal can be set aside at least long enough to make sure that students get jobs.

Thank you so much.

1:45 p.m.

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

Joshua Mandryk

Thank you.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I don't think there's an answer to that one.

Mr. Gerretsen is next, and I believe Peter Julian has a final question.

Mr. Gerretsen.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Given what Mr. Julian said earlier, I want to take the opportunity, Mr. Mandryk, to apologize, if you thought that I was coming across as too aggressive, as Mr. Julian indicated. The reality is that I was just trying to understand whether you had a formed opinion on WE outside of this particular issue.

Did you want to add anything to make sure you have the opportunity to set the record straight on that?

1:45 p.m.

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

Joshua Mandryk

No, I can handle the rough play here.

Just to clarify, my concerns with this program, those that I've spoken about today, are about deep, fundamental structural flaws with the program that go beyond whether WE was involved in it or not. These are what I've tried to focus on today. They are what the government needs to focus on in order to try to fix and salvage this program.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

That's fair enough.

When I asked you earlier why you didn't say anything before, you said, “Well, I'm a regular citizen.” That's fair enough. You're also an expert in this field. You're on the standing committee of Parliament for finance.

1:45 p.m.

A voice

Well—

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I'm sorry, you're here as a witness at the standing committee.

1:45 p.m.

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

Joshua Mandryk

Thank you for clarifying that.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I'm curious why you didn't take the position before when the government announced a few months ago that they were going to roll out this program.

1:45 p.m.

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

Joshua Mandryk

Well, it looks as if your staffers have scrolled carefully through my Twitter. I didn't—

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

That was me.