Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to all members of the finance committee. Thank you for inviting me today to speak to Canadians, and thank you for all your important work, especially during these difficult times.
Over the past few months, Canadians have been facing the crisis of our generation.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our government made the decision that we would do everything we could to help businesses and all Canadians through this crisis.
From the very beginning, our team knew that the only way we would be able to deliver supports to respond to the real needs of Canadians was to listen and to respond as quickly as we could.
Over the past several months, my team and I connected with thousands and thousands of people—small business owners, entrepreneurs, industry leaders, financial institutions, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, not-for-profits and more—through calls, virtual meetings and correspondence every single day. In fact, from March 11 to July 15, my office and departmental officials hosted a daily call every morning to listen, to answer questions and to get direct feedback from business owners and organizations across the country. At times, over a thousand businesses called in to speak with us, and these calls continue to be held twice a week.
It was by listening that we were able to deliver the single largest economic support package for Canadians in our history and adjust our supports in direct response to what we heard to help them get through this pandemic. Whether it was the 75% wage subsidy supporting over three million Canadian jobs, the wide range of lending supports, including the $40,000 CEBA loan, which is helping over 700,000 business owners with cash flow, keeping costs low by allowing businesses to defer GST, HST and customs duties, or stepping up to reduce rent for small business tenants by 75%, we listened to Canadians to ensure the emergency support we delivered would help them through this crisis and put them in a better position for economic recovery.
This isn't a new approach for us. Listening is at the heart of how my team and I work to serve Canadians. In my role as the minister, as well as the member of Parliament for Markham—Thornhill, my team and I have an open door policy.
I continue to speak with and listen to thousands of Canadians for their feedback and ideas and potential solutions from every sector and every region across this country, and as many as my schedule will allow. As the member of Parliament for Markham—Thornhill, I've also met with many constituents and businesses from our communities to hear directly from them about their successes, their challenges and their experiences.
I want to take this opportunity to be transparent with respect to the interactions my team and I have had with the WE Charity in recent months.
It was in my capacity as the member of Parliament for Markham—Thornhill that WE Charity, as an organization that had its roots in Thornhill, first reached out to my riding office in December of 2018 to see if I could attend an event with young people. Due to scheduling issues, this event never took place.
In the fall of 2019, when I was re-elected as the member of Parliament for Markham-Thornhill, WE Charity sent a congratulatory email to my office.
In December 2019, after I was appointed in my expanded mandate as the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, WE Charity sent another congratulatory email and offered dates for a meeting in the new year to discuss their work.
In January 2020 my chief of staff met with Sofia Marquez, director of government and stakeholder relations for the WE Charity. This was an introductory meeting requested by Sofia to discuss WE Charity's work.
Following that meeting, an introductory call between me and Craig Kielburger was scheduled for April 7. This meeting was scheduled on February 21.
We had a 30-minute phone conversation, along with a few WE Charity staff, where Mr. Kielburger and his team talked about their work, with a focus on empowering young people in Markham—Thornhill. Mr. Kielburger also mentioned a proposal for a potential social entrepreneurship program at the very end of the call and I invited him to share that proposal with my office. I did not have knowledge of this proposal before that call.
On April 9 Mr. Kielburger's team shared a document with my chief of staff and me and attached a document titled WE social entrepreneurship “Concept Paper”. Mr. Kielburger noted in his email that this was a concept paper and that they would follow up with a more detailed proposal shortly. This was unrelated to the youth service program. On April 15 my office responded to their email that we would look into this.
On April 22 my office received an updated proposal from Mr. Kielburger. After analysis by my department and a review by my office, we concluded that we would not move forward with the social entrepreneurship proposal, because it likely wouldn't directly fit under my portfolio and there were better ways to support young entrepreneurs amid COVID-19, including our April 17 announcement to invest $20 million to help young entrepreneurs under the existing Futurpreneur program. My team informed the WE Charity of our reasons for not supporting the social entrepreneurship program on April 30.
For context, on April 5 the Canada student services grant program was presented to the cabinet committee on COVID-19, which I am a part of. This proposal was separate from the social entrepreneurship proposal that my office had received.
One month after informing WE Charity of our decision not to move forward on their social entrepreneurship proposal, Ms. Marquez reached out again to my staff on June 2, asking to speak further, as she indicated that they were considering revisions to it. My chief of staff communicated to my policy team that we needed to be clear with WE that we were not moving forward with their social entrepreneurship proposal. On June 18 my office clearly communicated to Ms. Marquez over the phone that we would not be moving forward with their proposal for a social entrepreneurship program, and this was acknowledged.
The communication that I had with WE Charity was solely about a proposal for young entrepreneurs.
To be clear, neither I nor anyone on my team spoke with the WE Charity about the youth service program or the Canada student services grant.
Over the past few months, I've continued to do exactly what Canadians expect: to listen to Canadians; to be open to new ideas and solutions; and to do our due diligence with any ideas and proposals we receive, including seeking and receiving the public service's input, analysis and recommendations. Our aim continues to be to do the very best possible job to help our businesses and all Canadians succeed. Right now, that means ensuring that they are well supported through this crisis and have the tools that they need to rebuild and to recover from COVID-19.
Mr. Chair, committee members and Canadians, thank you for your attention. I am here, in all transparency, to answer any questions that you might have. Thank you.