Evidence of meeting #5 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was economy.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Peter Weissman  Chartered Accountant, Trust and Estate Practitioner, As an Individual
Daniel Wilson  Special Advisor, Research and Policy Coordination, Assembly of First Nations
Timothy Ross  Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada
Courtney Lockhart  Program Manager, Policy and Government Relations, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada
Kim Moody  Chief Executive Officer and Director, Canadian Tax Advisory, Moodys Gartner Tax Law LLP
Brian Sauvé  President, National Police Federation
Peter Merrifield  Vice-President, National Police Federation
Brian Kingston  Vice-President, Policy, International and Fiscal, Business Council of Canada
Francis Bradley  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Electricity Association
Pierre Céré  Spokesperson, Conseil national des chômeurs et chômeuses
Bilal Khan  Managing Partner and Head of Deloitte Data, Deloitte
Paul Taylor  President and Chief Executive Officer, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada
Elaine Taylor  Chair of the Board of Directors, Head Office, Mortgage Professionals Canada
Nora Spinks  President and Chief Executive Officer, Vanier Institute of the Family
Kevin Lee  Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Home Builders' Association
Catherine Abreu  Executive Director, Climate Action Network Canada
Pierre Patry  Treasurer, Confédération des syndicats nationaux
Rebecca Alty  Vice-President, Northwest Territories Association of Communities
Sara Brown  Chief Executive Officer, Northwest Territories Association of Communities
Lisa McDonald  Executive Director, Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada
Charlotte Bell  President and Chief Executive Officer, Tourism Industry Association of Canada
François Bélanger  Union Advisor, Labour Relations Services, Confédération des syndicats nationaux
Paul Rochon  Deputy Minister, Department of Finance

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

All done, all in.

Go ahead, Mr. Ste-Marie.

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First of all, I would like to thank all the witnesses for being here. They have raised some very interesting points.

My first question is for you, Mr. Davis. Thank you for your well-structured presentation. Someone in my immediate family is living with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. The day-to-day isn't easy. I can tell you that you are doing a good job, both on the Hill and in the field. In my riding, the Lanaudière chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is truly omnipresent and works hard.

You've presented your requests well. I'd like to ask you a question. It's the provinces that provide health services. We see the federal government's share of funding declining year after year. All the provinces are asking for reinvestment in health care.

Does your association support this request?

4:35 p.m.

Benjamin Davis

Can you repeat that last part, about our association?

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Does your association agree with the request of all the provinces for additional federal funding in the health care sector?

4:35 p.m.

Benjamin Davis

Thank you for clarifying.

Of course we need more investment in the health care system as it pertains to dealing with MS and other diseases.

There's a piece around ensuring there's good coordination within the health care systems. It's very frustrating, in my opinion, in a federated model. We need greater coordination amongst agencies. All the funding bodies involved need to work together to ensure that there's an increase in investments. I'll give you an example. In many cases people with MS every year have to continue to check a box that says that they still have MS.

Motion No. 192, the report that was a tremendous amount of work done by the HUMA committee, spells out 11 very clear recommendations. One of them I lifted off the page for this committee is that there should be coordination on the definition of eligibility criteria. Provinces would benefit from that. Removing some of the waste and the burden and processes that evolve in the provincial systems.... That could be used for other things, obviously.

I think there's a tremendous amount of opportunity. It does start with more funding, but it also starts with a lot of coordination and a lot of effort.

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Thank you.

My next question is for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada.

Thank you for your presentation. Yesterday, our committee heard from the Association des groupes de ressources techniques du Québec, which deals with social housing. The organization is requesting the maintenance of the $1.7 billion a year that CMHC dedicates to the long-term funding of the current social housing stock. It is also calling for $2 billion a year to be invested in the National Housing Strategy to address the housing shortage, including co-operative housing.

Do you share that organization's position?

I have a second question. Ottawa has still not signed a social housing agreement with Quebec. Do you think it's time for such an agreement?

4:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

I will begin with the first question, which is much easier than the second question.

We generally support a reinvestment in community housing. At one point federal funding for community housing exceeded $2 billion per year. That's going down as a result of the end of operating agreements with community housing providers that are non-profits and co-ops all over the country. One good thing about the national housing strategy is that it has some programs that do reinvest in community housing, specifically the federal community housing initiative and the Canada community housing initiatives. It will secure, and this is of the utmost importance to our members, the rental assistance that low-income households need in order to continue to live in their housing co-operatives.

We absolutely support that recommendation from our colleagues at the AGRTQ, L’Association des groupes de ressources techniques du Québec. However, one thing, and we did identify this in our brief, although the national housing strategy has reinvested in the rental assistance that low-income households rely on in community housing, in non-profits and co-operatives, the new supply programs that are intended to develop new affordable housing lack earmarks. There's no easy point of entry and no easy access into these co-investment programs. We think the development of community housing that is inoculated against the upward pressures of the speculative market results in double digit rent increases for renters across the country, and vacancy rates dropping below 1%. We think the federal government should invest in a new supply program for co-ops and not-for-profits.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We'll go to Mr. Julian, and then back to Mr. Morantz.

February 5th, 2020 / 4:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Thanks to our witnesses for the very important presentations that you're making.

I appreciated your words, Mr. Davis. I thought, when you gave your presentation of my cousin, Julie Serle, who died of multiple sclerosis. I know of so many families across the country. Mr. Ste-Marie just mentioned his family is impacted. We should all come together to support the initiatives you're talking about.

Mr. Sauvé and Mr. Merrifield, I am aware first-hand of the difference in funding. I represent two communities. New Westminster has an independent police force. In Burnaby, it's the RCMP. The police forces are very professional and competent in both cities, but in Burnaby, they are being strangled by what has been chronic underfunding by the federal government of RCMP training and Depot, and in providing officers. The graphic you presented shows so vividly the difference in the number of police officers per population. This is something that shows the strength of the arguments you're bringing forward. I hope those arguments are part of the recommendations that we bring forward from the finance committee.

I want to begin my questions with you, Mr. Wilson. We lose over $25 billion a year in overseas tax havens, according to the PBO. We waste massive amounts of money on very wealthy people, yet first nations communities have been chronically underfunded, starved of funding. The Assembly of First Nations is calling for about $7 billion a year to address what has been the legacy of colonialism.

What is the cost we pay if we don't make those investments, so that indigenous communities, whether we're talking about infrastructure, education, or housing, are finally treated with the same respect as other Canadians?

4:40 p.m.

Special Advisor, Research and Policy Coordination, Assembly of First Nations

Daniel Wilson

I thank the member for the question.

I'll begin with a short history because there's a well-established document that answers your question. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples published a report in 1996 that had a really interesting paper within it called “The Cost of Doing Nothing”, which is precisely the point that you raise. At the time that was roughly $11 billion. I did a recalculation of that about five years ago and it was well above $20 billion at the time. I haven't recalculated it since, but I can assure you that it vastly exceeds the $7 billion per year that we're talking about in the entire submission here.

As I tried to emphasize in my remarks about the priority areas that we wanted to highlight, all of these have enormous returns on investment both through the reduction in social cost and the concomitant productivity increase, which leads to gains in Canada's GDP. Those will be vastly outstripped. The reference I made to the 1.5% was the result of a study from the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards in 2017 that estimated it at approximately $37 billion, just in reducing the gap in outcomes on education and employment alone.

As you can see, all of those numbers exceed the investment required in order to benefit Canada and first nations simultaneously by multiple-fold.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Thank you very much for that.

To the Co-operative Housing Federation, given the increased number of homeless and the struggle that so many people are having to find affordable housing, could you give us the sum total of what you're asking for in this budget? What would actually be required to expand the co-operative housing movement so that every Canadian could have a roof over their head?

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

In this particular budget there are two asks that have financial requests and it's $350 million, focused on the creation of new co-op housing supply and the acquisition of federal surplus land. The other programs that are focused on rental assistance are already budgeted in the national housing strategy. That's the sum total for this year's request.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

When tens of thousands of people are sleeping out in the streets and parks of our country, what would it take, with those kinds of investments with co-op housing, to ensure a roof over everybody's head?

4:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

The short answer would be that we have a really good national housing strategy, but why only set out to solve part of the problem? The targets that have been set do not address all of the core housing needs in Canada. The national housing strategy could be enhanced by augmenting the targets to address all core housing needs and end chronic homelessness, not only address it by a half.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We'll have to move on to Mr. Morantz. We'll keep it to a tight four minutes and then move over to Ms. Dzerowicz.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Weissman, I just wanted to talk to you about the disability tax credit and RDSP programs. I'm somewhat familiar with these programs because my wife and I had to apply for them for my son with autism. I remember it being, even for us, quite complicated, particularly with the banking requirements around setting up the RDSP at the time. I've gone through your presentation and I wondered if you could talk about the concerns you have with respect to these two programs in general.

Also, could you touch on the issue of uncoupling? I think it is an interesting idea.

4:45 p.m.

Chartered Accountant, Trust and Estate Practitioner, As an Individual

Peter Weissman

I'm sorry. Could you just mention again the last part of your question?

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

In the presentation you talk about the concerns around the coupling of the RDSP with the disability tax credit in terms of eligibility and the idea of uncoupling those. It's in the Disability Tax Fairness Alliance's letter to which you are a signatory.

4:45 p.m.

Chartered Accountant, Trust and Estate Practitioner, As an Individual

Peter Weissman

Yes. Thank you.

By the way, to all the people who've made comments about MS and its effect on people, personally I'd like to thank you for acknowledging that. I've been living with MS since 1993—I have my scooter here behind me—hence one of my reasons that I've been quite active on the disability tax credit measures.

The disability tax credit is a very difficult program for people to access, especially people with mental infirmities. You mentioned autism. It's not tangible or visible. You can't really measure or objectively quantify a disability that comes with a mental infirmity.

From my experience with the disability tax credit, the largest percentage of claims that are denied have to do with mental infirmity or developmental disabilities. I think there's a fundamental problem, and there has been since I was on the committee back in 2005 and dealing with mental infirmities and developmental disabilities. To have a tax system where the medical and disability-related measures start with a fundamentally difficult program—difficult to administer, difficult to access and difficult to understand—undermines the whole effectiveness of all the programs.

The RDSPs I think were a great addition to the financial options available to people with disabilities. Linking that with the disability tax credit was a problem, because not everyone who gets the disability tax credit continues to have a disability. What we found in 2017 was that a lot of people with diabetes were being disallowed the credit—and they had been allowed it before—because of some “advances in technology”. When the credit was disallowed, they lost their entitlement to the RDSP, and they were going to have to pay back all of the incentives they received.

That was what I meant by the uncoupling. Once you've received the credit, the benefits from the RDSP that you're entitled to I don't think should be taken away. Finance did listen to that, and the uncoupling was made to a certain extent.

I'm not sure if that answers all of your questions.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

That certainly helps.

In terms of other issues around the program, though, I think that in the letter you talk about the issues around awareness. You say that, really, a very small percentage of people are actually entitled to the disability tax credit, and also, for the RDSP, which as I recall was former finance minister Jim Flaherty's initiative—a very small percentage of them are able to access it or are even aware of it.

I'm wondering what your experience is on that with regard to your clientele and your experience on the committee.

4:50 p.m.

Chartered Accountant, Trust and Estate Practitioner, As an Individual

Peter Weissman

A lot of people are not aware of the disability tax credit, and a lot of people who are have been talked out of applying for it. They're scared of it. They read about how difficult it is. They read about second letters going to doctors about medical histories, and they just don't think that they're going to be eligible and that it's going to cost them a lot of money to access it. That's one of the problems with the disability tax credit the way it is now.

When they first came out, RDSPs were not available at most financial institutions, and you could only get them at the retail banking level. The banks weren't that interested. The limit on the amount that you can put into an RDSP is relatively low for most financial institutions. You have a $200,000 maximum over the lifetime. Most of the investment houses are not really interested in that space.

In the last number of years, I've noticed more private client investment houses are willing to help wealthy families who have people in the family with RDSP eligibility learn about them and actually invest in them, but other than that, the financial institutions really aren't marketing the product. It's really left to the disability community to find out about it themselves. The grants and the bonds are [Technical difficulty—Editor].

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thanks to both of you. We're way over. I didn't want to cut the discussion.

We'll go to Ms. Dzerowicz and then over to Mr. Cumming.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank everyone for their great presentations. I wish I had more time to ask all of you questions, but I don't.

I will start off with the co-ops in Canada. Both housing affordability and affordable housing were the top two issues during the recent election. I'll tell you that there's a lot of interest in my riding, and I'm in downtown west Toronto. There's a lot of interest from a number of groups to actually create more co-op housing.

I want to get started with what we've done so far. My understanding is that we have, through the national housing strategy, provided funding down to CMHC for those who are interested in creating new co-op housing. The other thing that I thought we had also done was to renew operating agreements that had come due for co-ops and then provide a bit of a six-month bridging support that might be needed for those.

Am I right on what we've done so far? Can you answer very quickly?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Timothy Ross

Generally, yes. The renewal of what were called operating agreements is under way. It's being replaced with rental assistance to low-income households.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

That's what you call long-term rental assistance programs.