Evidence of meeting #18 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was international.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Emma Rose Bienvenu  As an Individual
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Marie-France Lafleur
Babacar Faye  President, University of Ottawa Students’ Union
Timothy Gulliver  Advocacy Commissioner, University of Ottawa Students’ Union
Bryn de Chastelain  Board Chair, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations
Jade Marcil  President, Quebec Student Union
Matt Reesor  President, University Students’ Council, Western University
Mackenzy Metcalfe  Vice-President, External Affairs, University Students’ Council, Western University

3:40 p.m.

Vice-President, External Affairs, University Students’ Council, Western University

Mackenzy Metcalfe

Yes. I would like to emphasize the added stress that often comes when students have to work part-time during university, especially when we talk about going to a full or blended model of online learning. You have to do what you have to do to get your degree and go to classes, along with possibly being immunocompromised and dealing with the added anxieties of COVID-19. You have to work a part-time job and go into a society that isn't really safe because we can only stand six feet away from each other. A lot of these things are on the minds of students, and I think not having those community supports is going to be a lot more stressful, as Matt iterated as well.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

While summer jobs may be hard to come by, what you're saying is that even if the students were offered a job, they might be hesitant to take it.

3:40 p.m.

Vice-President, External Affairs, University Students’ Council, Western University

Mackenzy Metcalfe

Yes. A lot of students who were offered summer jobs had them cancelled. A Stats Canada survey said that 67% of students were extremely concerned about having no job prospects in the future because of the way our economy has changed. That really impacts their ability to be able to provide for themselves and work full-time over the summer, or even part-time during the school year. They wouldn't have the income they're used to, to support themselves and pay for their tuition, rent and other associated living expenses.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

Thank you very much.

Mr. de Chastelain, I'd just like to go over what you mentioned. I think it's worth repeating. You said that this is a “uniquely vulnerable” time in your lives. I don't think that can be overstated.

I know that as a government we've put many programs forward, and I feel confident that will help students, but can you speak to some of the challenges that students will still face in the fall?

3:40 p.m.

Board Chair, Canadian Alliance of Student Associations

Bryn de Chastelain

It's extremely important for us to consider the situation that students find themselves in right now. We've gone through a period of having to rapidly shift from an in-person to an online learning environment, back in mid-March for most schools, and for a lot of students life has not gone back to normal since then.

In terms of some of the vulnerabilities we're facing, so many students are struggling to find work at this time, or trying as well to ensure that they're able to find safe work conditions, and they're also trying to prepare themselves for the fall and a learning environment they're not familiar with, as again we go back to some form of hybrid or remote delivery.

In that regard, I would say that a number of students have been able to benefit from the programs put forward by the federal government. We were fortunate to hear from the Prime Minister on June 8 that roughly 25% of the student population in Canada is already accessing the emergency student benefit, and that's in addition to the number of students who are already accessing the emergency response benefit.

That said, these are programs that are getting students through the summer. For the time being, it's taking away some of the immediate stress of buying groceries and paying rent, but the financial stress of the fall and the years to come is still very much present for students and is something that's in the back of our minds at all times.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

You have 14 seconds.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kate Young Liberal London West, ON

Okay. I'll pass it on to my next colleague.

Thank you very much.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you very much, Ms. Young.

Ms. Michaud, welcome to the committee. You have the floor.

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for joining us.

I'll start by speaking to Ms. Marcil.

Ms. Marcil, congratulations on your new position. It's always a pleasure to work with you.

We agree that the current situation is quite unusual, and even outrageous, for employers and also for businesses, students and workers.

The government has implemented a number of measures. I was pleased that the Quebec Student Union agreed with our proposal, which unfortunately wasn't adopted. We thought that implementing a system similar to employment insurance, in which the income wouldn't be entirely cut off if it exceeded the $1,000 benefit, could create an incentive to work.

I want to hear your opinion on the transparency of all these measures. Did the government clearly explain how it implemented the measures for students?

3:45 p.m.

President, Quebec Student Union

Jade Marcil

Thank you for your question, Ms. Michaud.

First, the announcement was made on April 22. The student community then had to wait for some time to obtain the eligibility criteria for the Canada emergency student benefit, or CESB, which caused a bit of anxiety for students.

When the criteria were announced, the criterion regarding the$1,000 a month in employment income in particular raised some concerns for us. I understand that these measures were introduced very quickly. However, the Canada Revenue Agency or CRA website provides very little explanation for the $1,000 income criterion. Students had trouble obtaining clarification on their own. That said, the Quebec Student Union members have contacts, and they can find the information—sometimes by being insistent—and then pass it on to the students.

The main issue is that the $1,000 must be employment income and that loans and bursaries aren't included. In addition to the Canadian or Quebec loans and bursaries program, there are several other types of loans and bursaries for students. Take, for example, indirect research grants, such as the grants provided to a research assistant or teaching assistant. The criterion in question has led to confusion with respect to this component, primarily among graduate students. The CRA website should clarify these details. I know that many improvements have been made in recent weeks. However, things can always be done better. It would be good to improve the frequently asked questions, for example.

We're trying to inform the students. However, the government is in the best position to answer questions and clarify the programs that it introduced so quickly.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Ms. Marcil.

There was some discussion earlier about the continuation of virtual courses and how this will be implemented.

Moreover, there will be a gradual return to activities in certain economic sectors. Students usually choose some of these sectors to find work while in school. These sectors include retail and the restaurant and hotel industries. Not too long ago, I worked in the restaurant business while in school. However, the situation has really changed in the current context.

How could the government better support students so that the return to activities proceeds as smoothly as possible?

June 12th, 2020 / 3:45 p.m.

President, Quebec Student Union

Jade Marcil

We know that the recovery is important. Several announcements have been made regarding the promotion of youth employment. We're very grateful for this. However, these jobs are sometimes available in very specific areas. For example, there are many students in the Montreal area, where employment opportunities are limited as a result of the lockdown. As you know, the situation isn't easy in Quebec, particularly in Montreal.

However, I know that the Canada student service grant will be promoted soon. This will help to promote, to some extent, inclusion in society and community work. This grant is mainly intended to help the people most in need.

We know that this will happen in the summer. However, the investments to assist young people in finding employment will help them a great deal. When CEGEP classes end, jobs will be available. That's reassuring. The lockdown just needs to be eased, based on public health standards, of course. In the meantime, the CESB is useful, since it's being provided in the most difficult months.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Thank you, Ms. Marcil.

Indeed, the CESB was welcomed by students who couldn't find employment.

You spoke about the fact that the funding from the federal granting agencies has been extended. You also talked about research. Specific projects could be delayed.

Can you elaborate on this?

3:45 p.m.

President, Quebec Student Union

Jade Marcil

Things are very difficult in some research areas.

I have a bachelor's degree in education and I've started a master's degree in the same field. I was supposed to carry out my research project in the classroom, with other students.

Administration or social science research is generally carried out in companies. This research has also been delayed. The same is true for health science research. Right now, the health care community is so overwhelmed that research has been set aside.

It must be possible to extend student funding, or indirect funding through projects initiated by faculty members, beyond the four-month period. Relaunching a project already involves a great deal of money for students and for academic institutions that are still trying to support the student population. The closure of the facilities is making research more difficult.

In some cases, projects must be delayed for at least a year before they can proceed. We think that the federal granting agencies must recognize the needs of students and that research projects must be taken into account. Innovation must continue across Canada.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Marcil and Ms. Michaud.

Next we have Ms. Kwan, please, for six minutes.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. As well, I'd like to thank all the witnesses for their presentations.

Before I begin, I wonder if this is possible, Mr. Chair, and that is for us to invite the Canadian Federation of Students to come to committee, as they represent some 64 student unions across the country. I thought it was very informative to hear from the various student representations here today, but there are some that are missing. It would be I think beneficial for the committee to hear from them. I just want to put that out there, Mr. Chair.

On the issue of support for students, the impacts of COVID-19 and the stresses—the financial stresses, the uncertainty into the future and so on—and given that the Canadian emergency support for students is limited, we heard earlier from panellists and witnesses that the ongoing pressures on students and the substantive financial pressure on them are not really any different from those on anyone else, whether they're a student or otherwise, so the differential in the amounts paid to students in this emergency support is a concern to them. They were asking for the government to reconsider this.

As well, they were also asking for the government to reconsider some of the eligibility components. Some of the students may be in a situation where, after this school year, they are without a job, where some of the contracts or job opportunities have been cancelled. As a result of that, they are not eligible for support from the government. A case in point would be interns, actually. Many interns have contacted me and have said that their contracts have been cancelled. As a result, they would not be eligible for any financial support from the government. As well, because the internship is an unpaid internship, they also don't qualify even at this time.

I just want to ask our witnesses, in addressing those issues that were brought up, what their thoughts are and whether or not the government should be making adjustments in this regard. We can just rotate through. How about if we start with Mr. Reesor?

3:50 p.m.

President, University Students’ Council, Western University

Matt Reesor

Again, it's an extremely important question, but I would like to defer it to our specialist within our team for these kinds of external affairs. If Mackenzy Metcalfe would be open to answering that, I'd greatly appreciate it.

3:50 p.m.

Vice-President, External Affairs, University Students’ Council, Western University

Mackenzy Metcalfe

Yes. Thank you, Matt.

I would agree that students are very thankful for the CESB and the $1,200 that is provided. However, it only covers rent and groceries in our current times, and many students have to look forward to tuition for the coming year and how they are going to afford the next eight months when they're in school. I would agree that we would call on the government to increase the CESB to be the $2,000 that the CERB is.

Also, international students being left out of the CESB can be really harmful. In Ontario, international students pay 460% more in tuition, according to Statistics Canada. Though that is regulated provincially, it is really important that we take into consideration the diverse needs of our international students so they are also supported, because they contribute really meaningfully to Canada's economy as well.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you, Ms. Metcalfe.

How about the issue of the recognizing unpaid interns whose jobs are not recognized as jobs because they are unpaid and therefore do not qualify for CERB? For some of them, even though they've landed a prestigious internship, their contract has been cancelled following the completion of their internship, because of COVID. What are your thoughts on that and providing support for them?

3:55 p.m.

Vice-President, External Affairs, University Students’ Council, Western University

Mackenzy Metcalfe

I completely agree that we need to support our interns, especially the unpaid interns here in Canada, and that they should also receive supports just like any other working Canadian.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

So qualifying them for CERB, then?

3:55 p.m.

Vice-President, External Affairs, University Students’ Council, Western University

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jenny Kwan NDP Vancouver East, BC

Thank you.

All right. I'd like to turn to Ms. Marcil, if I may, on the same questions.

3:55 p.m.

President, Quebec Student Union

Jade Marcil

We find the situation for interns very worrying. Far fewer internships will be offered. Some companies will be able to take on interns, while others won't be able to do so. Remote internships are much more difficult. In addition, in Quebec, many internships are unpaid. It should be noted that students work but don't earn a salary. It's very important to ensure that they're eligible for this assistance.

I know that Quebec doesn't participate in Canada's loans and bursaries program and that the Quebec program sometimes supports interns. If interns were at least eligible for a program such as the CESB for internships, it would be very good. This would encourage students to pursue unpaid internships, which would enable them to learn, rather than just work.