Evidence of meeting #50 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cabinet.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. David Gagnon
Benoît Robidoux  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development
Marc Tassé  Senior Advisor, Canadian Centre of Excellence for Anti-Corruption, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Sorry. It was an email about WE.

3:20 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

It was an email from Rachel Wernick to Michelle Kovacevic, answering one of her questions about volunteering, and WE was mentioned in it. It was clearly not the core of the email. It was mentioned in passing.

Following that email, or that exchange of emails, they agreed that we should get together in a call. We did get together in a call at noon, the call you're talking about, that Rachel—

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

That's where you began.... That was the first time you heard discussion that WE might deliver the student service grant.

3:20 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

Absolutely not. As I said, it was about something else. It was all about... At the time, we were working on the Canada Service Corps proposal. We were thinking about more for volunteering, and we started, not too long after that, to work on the “I Want to Help” platform that was built here at ESDC.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

So—

3:20 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

The idea there, if I could finish my answer, was to use WE or some huge organization like WE out there, a not-for-profit, that could make sure that the “I Want to Help” platform would be known by the youth in Canada through social media.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

This is your last question, Pierre. Please keep it fairly tight.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

In that call, was the Canada student service grant mentioned?

3:25 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

These terms were never mentioned in that call, I'm pretty sure.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

No, not the terms—the program.

3:25 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

No, the program was not yet existing at that time in the form that we knew it when it was launched.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Okay. You'll have another round anyway, Mr. Poilievre.

We're going to Ms. Dzerowicz, followed by Mr. Fortin.

August 12th, 2020 / 3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.

I want to say a huge thank you to you, Minister Qualtrough, as well as Associate Deputy Minister Benoît Robidoux, for joining us today. In addition, Minister, I just want to say a huge thanks to you for your extraordinary work and leadership in supporting Canadians over these last few months as Canada is trying to find its way through this unprecedented pandemic.

Since the lockdown, our federal government has put out 70 emergency programs at a cost of over $200 billion. In your opening remarks, you mentioned that on April 22, we announced a $9-billion program. It included four key programs. One of them was the Canada student service grant, but there were three other big programs that you were in charge of: the Canada emergency student benefit, the creation of up to an additional 116,000 jobs, and adjustments to the Canada student loans and grants program. I know that students were also able to stack up these programs as well.

I'm mentioning all of this because I think there might be some confusion in the public that if we're not offering the Canada student service grant, there's no support out there for students. Indeed there is support. The Canada student service grant was only up to $900 million, and all the student support is $9 billion.

My question to you, Minister, is this. Can you give us a sense of the success of the other programs, particularly the three that you oversaw, and how they have supported and benefited students?

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Thank you for the question.

Let me give you some quick numbers on the emergency student benefit support.

We've helped 682,722 unique applicants, so 682,000 young people have accessed the CESB. We've had 1.8 million applications. Of those, 1.5 million were at the $1,250-per-month mark, and 303,000 were at the $2,000-per-month mark. We've paid out about $2.5 billion under this program alone. We have created tens of thousands of jobs.

Let me speak directly to that, because I didn't do as good a job yesterday as I could have at the other committee at explaining how these measures are a comprehensive package and how, indeed, they are stackable.

In other words, students have access to a number of the measures. A student who can receive the CESB, which is $1,250 or $2,000 a month, can also get a larger Canada student loan when they go back to school in the fall, and that same student may have their existing student loan payment put on hold because of the moratorium. Additionally, that student can earn up to $1,000 per month and still get the CESB. Finally, under the CSSG, they could have accumulated volunteer hours, earning a grant of up to $5,000 in the fall.

It's important to appreciate that a student receiving the CSSG would have also been able to access the CESB, so a student earning $5,000 over four months through the CESB, or $8,000 if they had dependents or a disability, could have earned an additional $5,000 through the CSSG. They could have received either $10,000 or $13,000 between the two, plus additional allowable earnings of $4,000.

I think that's what maybe is being missed here. This was a comprehensive package. A student could access the CESB, but then, instead of staying home, could go and volunteer and earn volunteer-hour credits towards the CSSG.

What we'd heard from student groups was that they wanted comprehensive measures, a package, and that's what we delivered to them, but I think we tend to speak about them in isolation, as if they don't relate to each other. Perhaps we need to do a better job of really explaining how stackable they are.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you for that.

I want to turn to the Canada summer jobs program. The Canada summer jobs program is hugely popular in my riding of Davenport, and I know it is popular in ridings right across the country. It has honestly been a lifeline for many non-profits and small businesses.

The opposition has been talking quite a bit about how the Canada student service grant could have been offered through the Canada summer jobs program. With the Canada summer jobs program and the larger youth employment and skills strategy up and running, why did our federal government also introduce the Canada student service grant? What was the intention of it as part of the larger support package for students?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I've tried to be as clear as possible on this point. I firmly believe these two programs have different objectives and are delivered in very different ways.

The first one, the Canada summer jobs program, absolutely can be and is successfully delivered by the public service. It makes sense. We're in the business of providing this kind of program. Remember that at the same time there were massive public service breadth issues, bandwidth issues. We had been asking them to do so very much at that time, and they were doing it. They were doing the CERB, they were developing the CESB, and they were preparing for the seniors benefit. I could go on and on about my department alone.

The CSSG was different. It was about supporting students. It was about recognizing that non-profits were stretched, and as much as one can say that a non-profit had capacity, many of them didn't. Many of them said it's not as simple as giving us money for people. They said they didn't have the capacity to train people, to oversee them, and as many jobs as we created, there were not going to be enough jobs.

As I said, we thought that with the student benefit we could provide an opportunity to volunteer, but we needed a third party to deliver that program, as we do through YESS, the youth employment and skills strategy program. We regularly fund third party organizations through the YESS program on a much smaller scale to help young people find jobs. We were looking for a third party to help young people connect with volunteer opportunities and to support them through the entire experience, right through to providing them with a grant.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

You'll have to wrap up a question and an answer in 30 seconds.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Very quickly, there have been a lot of comments about how the public service could have delivered this program.

In your opinion, could the public service have done so, and if not, can you elaborate on why not?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

First of all, I have the utmost respect for the public service and mean them no disrespect when I say that we were stretching them to the limits. Remember, they were working from home. They had their kids at home. They were getting sick. They were living these pandemic realities as individuals, as we all were. In my opinion, coupling the bandwidth issue with “this isn't our regular type of business” meant that it was much more effective to deliver through a third party, as we did with the emergency community support fund, the women's shelters fund and others.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Okay, thank you, both.

We'll turn to Mr. Fortin, who will be followed by Mr. Julian.

Go ahead, Mr. Fortin.

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Madam Minister, thank you for being with us today.

When you were involved in discussions about WE Charity, were you aware that the entity with which the government had entered into an agreement was not WE Charity, but the WE foundation?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I did not know that distinction, no.

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Okay. Now you do know.

When did you learn that the agreement was going to be with the WE foundation?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I learned only through the media and only after much discussion was had about this file and the way it had been handled by our government.