Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, everyone, dear members of the committee.
Good morning, Ms. Bibeau.
I’m pleased to be here today to report to the members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on all the work done by the Canada Economic Development team—which includes the six regional development agencies, or RDAs—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge all the staff who work behind the scenes to make these virtual meetings possible.
Thank you for your commitment to our democracy.
Thank you also to all the members of the opposition who have been working collaboratively with the government to deal with the pandemic—to protect and save the lives of Canadians, and definitely to protect their health—while also dealing with the impact on the Canadian economy.
I know that some of you are from Alberta. Obviously, I want to send my regards, and tell you that my heart and all our hearts are with you and with all the people in Fort McMurray right now as they deal with the impacts of floods.
Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a whirlwind of uncertainty and anxiety among Canadians. All of our lives have been turned upside down. Such is the case for entrepreneurs and workers in small and medium-sized enterprises. And for the tourism sector as well, including indigenous tourism, which faces unique challenges. These are very difficult times for an industry that was really on a roll.
Over the past few weeks, we've heard from a number of entrepreneurs who, although their day-to-day realities are different, are experiencing very similar situations. These people work hard, play by the rules and do whatever it takes to ensure the survival and growth of their businesses. Despite all this, they're now facing an economic tsunami that, until quite recently, would have been hard to imagine. These businesses are a source of good local jobs, and of local pride. They are nothing less than the backbone of our neighbourhoods and our regions.
We are at a turning point in the history of our country. We know that, more than ever, our decisions will ensure the success, not only of our economy, but also of our communities. That means having frank and honest conversations, like the one we'll have today and like the ones my team and I have had with thousands of individuals, business leaders, associations and entrepreneurs from all over the country since the crisis began.
Through the most extensive economic assistance program in our history, we are putting money into the pockets of Canadians who need it—like those who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and who have access to the Canada emergency response benefit.
What have we been hearing? That our efforts are having a tangible impact. Thanks to the Canada emergency wage subsidy, businesses can keep their workers, and rehire those they've had to lay off.
We've also put in place a number of measures for business, as Minister Ng indicated before this committee last week. However, despite the extensive social safety net that has been put in place, we're also hearing that the situation remains difficult for smaller businesses. We've listened, and we've made adjustments. We were told that the various support measures offered needed to be more flexible. This is certainly what the mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, told me during the conversation we had. This is what we did with the support provided by BDC, and by broadening the criteria for access to support programs, such as the wage subsidy.
Janet De Silva, from the Toronto Region Board of Trade, told us that their members were anxious about rent payments and were hoping government would be there for rent relief. We agreed. Within a week, we reached an agreement with all provinces and territories to implement the new Canada emergency commercial rent assistance for small businesses.
Steve McLellan, from the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, told us that the wage subsidy was a step in the right direction, but it needed to be higher, from 10% to 75%. We listened and we took action.
Bridgitte Anderson, from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, shared the concern of businesses on how they could keep as many people employed as possible.
Sheri Somerville, from the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce, asked us what role ACOA could play. Many people pointed toward the regional development agencies as the right tool to support local economies and businesses that were unable to get access to the support our government was putting forward.
Each time, we listened carefully and asked ourselves how we could help as many entrepreneurs and businesses as possible with measures that would assist workers. We also believe that the best way to help the people who run much-needed businesses in our communities on a day-to-day basis is through an institution they trust.
Our six federal regional economic development agencies are well positioned to help workers and businesses in this time of crisis. That's why we created the regional relief and recovery fund, which has a total budget of $962 million. This fund will support businesses that are unable to benefit from existing programs and that play a key role in their local economy.
Specifically, this new fund will double the funding to support regional economies. We will provide $675 million to regional economic development agencies and $287 million to support the network of what's known in Quebec as the Sociétés d'aide au développement des collectivités, or SADCs. In the rest of Canada, they're called
community futures development corporations, or CFDCs.
These corporations play an essential role in our rural regions. This assistance will relieve immediate pressures, and will help local businesses pay their employees and cover their fixed costs. We need to protect our main streets and our local businesses, and that's what we're going to do with the help of these partners. The funding will be administered by the six RDAs, which are often the first point of contact at the local level.
In addition, $15 million has been allocated for the creation of the northern business relief fund to assist northern businesses impacted by the pandemic. I have also asked all the development agencies to relax some of the criteria for their current clients, starting with a three-month moratorium on all payments due to the agencies, in order to relieve some of the financial pressure these clients are facing. I have also taken steps to speed up project approvals and asked agencies to commit unallocated funds to help those sectors most in need, including tourism.
Support was also provided to help businesses meet essential needs during the pandemic. This is the case of Bouctouche Bay Industries in New Brunswick, which took advantage of the networking of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, or ACOA, to market protective visors for Nova Scotia health care workers. There's also Groupe CTT, a specialized textile technology centre in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, which received funding to acquire the equipment needed to certify protective gowns for health care workers, a skill that had been relocated internationally. VIDO-Intervac, based at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, received support from our government for two facility-modernization initiatives to allow the company to develop and fast forward the production of veterinary and human-quality vaccines for domestic and commercial markets.
Tourism was one of the first sectors affected by the pandemic. You know as well as I do that tourism drives our communities—your communities—as well as regional economies across the country by creating good jobs and unique visitor experiences. The crisis has been a hard blow to the industry, and we're going to get through it together. We've introduced a number of measures, and we continue to be in constant contact with the main stakeholders in the sector, as well as with the provincial and territorial ministers, to ensure a coordinated approach and a clear understanding of regional issues.
At the start of the pandemic, our agency, Destination Canada, also partnered with research firms to study the repercussions of COVID-19 on tourism and to provide evidence on the matter. We will then be able to make better decisions.
During these difficult and uncertain times, Canadians can be confident that the government is there to support them. We remain vigilant, and we'll continue to make the necessary adjustments.
Our message to workers and businesses is clear: we're there for you with concrete support measures in all regions of the country. This also holds true for official language minority communities—