Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, all members of the committee and committee staff. I know how hard you work. It is great to be here.
I wouldn't call Nick “my assistant”, or anyone else's. He's a very senior Department of Finance official. In fact, he's the second most senior. Greg McLean will be interested to know he's also originally from Alberta, from outside Calgary, so we have a strong Alberta presence in the department. My chief of staff is from Edmonton. She went to the same high school that I did, but many years later.
Mr. Chair, congratulations on assuming the chair, and thank you for your invitation.
I'd like to say to all the members here that I imagine we may have some robust exchanges, but congratulations to everyone on being elected and thank you for your hard work.
Since the House has returned, the emergence of a new COVID variant has forced new travel restrictions in a number of countries, including Canada, and created renewed uncertainty in global markets. The emergence of the omicron variant is a reminder that the best economic policy remains finishing the fight against COVID. That fight isn't over yet, and that really underscores the need for us to continue to protect Canadians and Canadian businesses and, in fact, the need for this bill.
When the COVID‑19 crisis hit, our government rapidly rolled out a historic set of broad‑based programs so that we could save lives, ensure our economy could withstand public health restrictions, and have the backs of Canadian workers and Canadian businesses so they could get through the pandemic.
Our income, wage, and rent support programs have helped keep food on the table, protect millions of jobs, and keep hundreds of thousands of Canadian businesses going through the darkest days of the pandemic.
Having said that, our support measures were always designed to be temporary emergency support measures. As many members of this committee have noted, the emergency nature of this support meant that there have been bumps along the way.
Unfortunately, some seniors who received COVID supports have seen their GIS benefits affected. Our government—very much including me, personally—is very aware of this issue and is actively seeking a solution. Our most vulnerable seniors should not be penalized, particularly those who lost income due to the pandemic.
We know that many seniors rely on GIS payments to help make ends meet, and I am confident that the government will have more to say on this issue in the next few days. Today, with high vaccination rates, over a million jobs created, children back in school and businesses across the country reopening, the time has come to adapt the business and income support measures to these new and improved circumstances.
Across the country, businesses are reopening. As of last month, more than 106% of the jobs lost in Canada in the depths of the recession have been recovered. This is compared to just 83% of jobs recovered in the U.S.
Thanks, in part, to our government's support measures, we have avoided the sort of deep economic scarring that followed the 2008 recession and that would have done permanent damage to our economy. Just last Friday, Statistics Canada reported that strong job growth continued in November, with 154,000 new jobs created. This outpaced market expectations. These new jobs lowered the unemployment rate to 6%, the lowest since the pandemic began, and only 0.3% above pre-pandemic levels of February 2020.
However, some areas of the country and some sectors of the economy are slower to reopen and continue to need targeted support. That's why, in October, our government announced a pivot from the broad-based support that was appropriate at the height of lockdowns to more targeted support that will provide help where it is still needed, while also prudently and carefully managing government spending.
On November 24, I introduced legislation in Parliament to deliver this more targeted support and that's what we're going to discuss today.
Bill C‑2 allows us to move forward while keeping in mind that the recovery is still uneven and that public health measures that save lives continue to restrict certain economic activities.
Given the fears caused by the new Omicron variant, Bill C‑2 is more important than ever. That is why I am here today to ask you to act in the best interests of Canadians and Canadian businesses by helping them through the pandemic and these uncertain times.
Bill C‑2 will provide critical support for the economic recovery and protect workers in the hardest hit sectors, including tourism. As outlined in the list of eligible tourism and hospitality entities released with Bill C‑2, we have ensured that businesses in the arts and culture sectors, including those offering live performances and art exhibitions, as well as museums, will be eligible. In practical terms, this means that the bill includes significant measures to support the jobs of artists and cultural workers.
That being said, our government recognizes that the arts and culture sector remains disproportionately and negatively affected by the pandemic. That is why, during the election campaign, we made a commitment to provide targeted support to cultural workers and technicians, including the self‑employed. While we want to quickly deliver the support measures included in this bill, we are working hard to keep our promise to artists so that they can continue to shine here and around the world. We will be able to give you more details soon.
For artists in Quebec and across Canada, we must move quickly to pass Bill C‑2 while working together to introduce new measures that will directly support artists and the cultural sector. Among the measures included in Bill C‑2 is the Canada worker lockdown benefit, a new income support benefit that will take into account the decisions of the public health authority, which remain uncertain and unpredictable.
The Canada worker lockdown benefit will provide $300 a week to workers who are directly affected by a COVID‑related local lockdown and will be available to eligible workers retroactively from October 24, 2021, to May 7, 2022.
We're taking this step because we want to make sure that no one is left behind, including workers who are unable to do their jobs due to future public health restrictions, should they be required.
Bill C-2 is also designed with an understanding that some workers may require income support if they need to take time off because they're sick, under quarantine or have caregiving responsibilities. That's why the bill proposes to extend eligibility for both the Canada sickness benefit and the Canada caregiving benefit.
We want to make sure that businesses can continue to grow and recover and drive up Canada's labour force participation rates and our level of employment. That's why we're proposing to extend the Canada recovery hiring program until May 7 and increase the rate of support to 50%.
We also know that there are some businesses that have been most deeply affected by the pandemic and that continue to face significant pandemic‑related challenges. The new tourism and hospitality recovery program will deliver wage and rent subsidies to employers such as hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, and tour operators. The bill includes details of the types of businesses that would be eligible. The subsidy rate for this highly targeted group of tourism and hospitality businesses will start at 40% for applicants with a 40% loss of income and increase based on their loss of income, up to a maximum of 75%.
For businesses in all sectors, the hardest-hit business recovery program will provide support through wage and rent subsidies to employers who have experienced deep and enduring losses throughout the pandemic. The eligibility for these programs will be a two-key system. One key will consider whether the employer has faced a significant revenue loss over the course of the first 12 months of the pandemic. The second key is revenue loss in the current month.
The local lockdown program will be there to provide employers facing temporary new local lockdowns with a subsidy rate of up to 75% through the wage and rent subsidy programs. This is important because it will ensure that local authorities and public health officials can continue to make the right public health choices, knowing that support will be there for workers and businesses if needed.
While we are all hoping that lockdowns will not be necessary in the future, recent developments related to the omicron variant serve as a reminder that the fight against COVID is not yet over, and to underscore a key aspect of Bill C-2, it would enable the government to take immediate action to support workers and businesses directly affected by local lockdowns should the public health situation require it.
I will note that we will continue to have measures in place such that any publicly listed corporation that chooses to increase executive pay while receiving government support will have the wage subsidy support clawed back.
The broad-based set of business and income support measures, which we introduced at the height of the pandemic and which came to an end, as we committed, on October 23, had an estimated cost of $289 billion.
Mr. Chair, I can today report that the Department of Finance has estimated, on October 21, that the total cost of the measures in Bill C-2 would be $7.4 billion, and it would come from the consolidated revenue fund. The government will account for the potential economic impact of the omicron variant, including the increased possibility of the need to use the insurance policy, which is the lockdown support measures in Bill C-2, in our economic and fiscal update on Tuesday.
Fighting COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns we put in place to save lives required unprecedented government spending in Canada and around the world. Canadians supported that extraordinary spending because they understood that it was not only the compassionate thing to do, but the right thing to do economically.
With Bill C‑2, we will continue to have Canadians' backs while delivering support that is more targeted—and prudently manages public finances.
I hope all parliamentarians will vote to pass this legislation so that Canadians who need support can access it without undue delay.
Finally, Mr. Chair and fellow members of Parliament, I'd like to reiterate as clearly as I can that the single most important economic policy for Canada continues to be making sure that everyone who can get vaccinated does get vaccinated. We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with 89% of Canadians 12 and older having received at least one dose of the vaccine. We have the second-lowest mortality rate in the G7. Children between five and 11 started getting vaccinated last month. Many of our parents and grandparents are now getting their booster shots, and the rest of us will start getting them soon too.
I have to say, speaking as a daughter, what a relief it is that our parents and grandparents are getting their boosters. I think that feeling is one common to many Canadians.
We can be proud of how we have come together to fight COVID‑19. Our battle is not quite finished yet but we are getting there. The measures in this legislation are an important part of what we need to do to get the job done.
On that note, I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.