Evidence of meeting #14 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was communities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Simon Kennedy  Deputy Minister, Department of Industry
Éric Dagenais  Assistant Deputy Minister, Spectrum, Information Technologies and Telecommunications, Department of Industry

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Good evening, everyone. I now call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 14 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Pursuant to the order of reference of Saturday, April 11, the committee is meeting for the purpose of receiving evidence concerning matters related to the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.

I would like to give some reminders to the witnesses and members.

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, please unmute your microphone, and then return to mute when you are finished. Please speak slowly and clearly so that the interpreters can do their work. As is my normal practice, I will hold up a yellow card when you have 30 seconds left in your intervention and a red card when your time for questions has expired.

I would now like to welcome our witnesses. We have with us this evening the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage; and the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development. From the Department of Canadian Heritage, we have Hélène Laurendeau, deputy minister. From the Department of Industry, we have Simon Kennedy, deputy minister; and Paul Thompson, associate deputy minister.

Each minister will have 10 minutes to present, followed by our rounds of questioning.

We will start with Minister Monsef.

You have 10 minutes.

May 11th, 2020 / 6:05 p.m.

Peterborough—Kawartha Ontario

Liberal

Maryam Monsef LiberalMinister of Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development

Thank you, Chair.

Colleagues, hello, aaniin and as-salaam alaikum. I hope you are safe. I hope you are well in whichever corner of this great country you find yourselves.

I'm pleased to join you live from the basement of my home in my community of Peterborough—Kawartha, a mixed rural-urban riding. Like many Canadians, including you, I am adjusting to a different work and home reality.

Like you, I am thankful to our public health experts and front-line workers, and community leaders, the innovators who are helping us adapt and cope, and for neighbours who care for each other in these times. I am thankful to the PSWs and the early childhood educators, the technicians, nurses, midwives, doctors, grocery store clerks and women's organizations, who are putting everything on the line to keep the rest of us safe.

Many thanks to my own team, and of course, to our IT essential workers.

Unlike millions of Canadians, though, I don't have little ones running around all day to care for and to nurture, since day cares and schools closed. It's hard on many parents, as it is for the children. Like my niece, Ellia, who will celebrate her fourth birthday in two weeks, I miss hugging my loved ones and want the coronavirus to “go away”. Like my niece Leila, who will turn 11 next month, I miss my friends and want to return to when I could see them regularly, in person.

Like 86% of Canadians, I benefit from access to high-speed Internet, but in some parts of Peterborough—Kawartha, and in many other ridings across the country, access to high-speed Internet is limited. Under the connect to innovate program, our government has approved projects that will connect close to 400,000 households to high-speed Internet, but the job is not yet complete. I want Canadians to know that in addition to the immediate work we're undertaking to support them through these challenging times, we remain focused on ensuring access to high-speed Internet for the two million Canadians who don't have that access today. In fact, COVID-19 has added greater urgency to this important work.

I'm here today to discuss our government's plan for connecting more Canadians to high-speed Internet, what we've learned from previous programs and to assure Canadians that we are on it. Our government is committed to connecting all Canadians to broadband by 2030 and we've created the conditions to get this done.

Our plan, the first of its kind for Canada, was developed in partnership with Canadians from across the country. It includes a $6-billion incentive for private sector investments, and to ensure the success of this plan, we established a minister responsible for rural economic development and the centre for rural economic development to coordinate the work across the federal government with our partners in provinces, territories, individual communities, indigenous leadership and within the private sector.

Our plan is working. Our connect to innovate program is investing $585 million to connect close to 400,000 households across 975 communities. We designed the program to be accessible to different types of Internet service providers. One-third of the funding has gone to the big three telcos, with one-third to smaller providers and another third for indigenous-led organizations.

Connect to innovate program projects have already brought high-speed Internet to 25,000 households. Over 50,000 households across 150 communities that don't currently have high-speed Internet will have access by the end of this year. By the end of next year, over 250,000 households that don't currently have access to high-speed Internet will. That's across 750 communities. By 2022, close to 400,000 households across 972 communities that today have no access to high-speed Internet will be connected, with a baseline speed of 50/10 megabits per second or better. That includes 190 indigenous communities.

These results only speak to the investments made through the connect to innovate program. They don't include households and communities that will be connected through funding delivered by the CRTC, through the low-earth orbit satellite funding, or because of additional investments made via the Canada Infrastructure Bank or other federal programs.

The new $1-billion universal broadband fund will build on this success, coordinate programs and connect more Canadians to high-speed Internet. We have learned from the connect to innovate program, and will build on that knowledge in our design of the new universal broadband fund.

For example, the hexagon model to track and map connectivity across the country is no more. We now have the ability to track household connectivity status to within 250 metres. Greater precision will allow applicants to submit more targeted projects and will connect underserved Canadians. You can see this for yourself through our new broadband connectivity map, at Canada.ca/getconnected.

Earlier this year, Minister Bains announced that we were setting aside spectrum for smaller communities and ISPs in the upcoming spectrum auction. Fifty megahertz of spectrum will be carved out for small and regional telecom companies to support higher speeds, increased data usage and new applications. This will encourage competition in the wireless market and ensure smaller companies are on a more equal footing with the big three national carriers.

We are pursuing innovative partnerships to connect more Canadians to high-speed Internet, faster. Through the $750-million fund provided through the CRTC, we will focus on delivering high-speed backbone along major roadways. Through a partnership with Telesat, our government is investing up to $600 million to provide satellite-based high-speed Internet to some of Canada's hardest-to-reach households in remote and northern communities. Funding available through the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Infrastructure Canada and Indigenous Services Canada will further leverage investments, bringing additional partners to the table.

Colleagues, I've shared with you what we are doing. Let me address why we are doing it.

What motivates me, and what motivates our government, is the fundamental belief that the rights enjoyed by Canadians should not be defined by geography. Canadians in rural and remote parts of our country need to have the same opportunities to access government and private sector services as Canadians who live in larger centres. Providing Canadians with access to high-speed Internet will help close gaps caused by geography and increase equality of access to health, education and employment in a digital economy. It will help us build better as we recover from COVID-19.

Building this ribbon of fibre is the modern-day equivalent of the ribbon of steel that Sir John A. Macdonald built to stitch our country together. We realized that national dream with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, and it seems in 2020 that we are united with a renewed national vision for universal access to high-speed Internet. Like the building of the railroad, partnerships are needed to accomplish this task, but make no mistake: We believe in the role of government to lead Canadians in this effort. Now is not the time for low ambition and absolution of responsibility. Now is the time for government to invest in our collective recovery, to future-proof and be ready for new technology, to bridge the rural-urban divide and to connect all Canadians.

Colleagues, we have had a plan, and now, because of COVID-19, it is even more urgent we proceed quickly. I want to assure Canadians that we get it, we are on it and we will work with every willing partner to achieve our shared goals.

Thank you colleagues, and Chair Romanado.

Back to you for further discussion.

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Thank you very much, Madam Minister.

Our next speaker will be Minister Guilbeault.

Minister, you have the floor for 10 minutes.

6:10 p.m.

Laurier—Sainte-Marie Québec

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault LiberalMinister of Canadian Heritage

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee, I am very pleased to speak following upon the comments made by my colleague the Honourable Maryam Monsef.

I am speaking to you from Gatineau, on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. I am delighted to join you virtually, to see you all, each of us in different corners of our beautiful country. I wish to recognize the important and essential work that you all are doing, even in the current circumstances, to continue the important work of Parliament and the committees.

We are all doing our best to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is important that we join forces and work together for the benefit of Canadian society. This of course includes culture, heritage and sport. Organizations in these three sectors are a vital part of the social fabric of our communities. They generate solidarity, and promote social integration and tolerance. They are also major drivers of the Canadian economy. The cultural sector alone contributes approximately $53 billion to Canada’s GDP, and the sport sector contributes $6.6 billion. Not to mention the 500,000 jobs they create, the visitors they attract, their international visibility, their reputation for excellence, and, quite simply, the pleasure they give us.

To quote the Prime Minister:

Since the beginning of this crisis, artists have brought us comfort, laughter, and happiness. Athletes have continued to inspire us, encourage us, and make us proud. Those who work in the arts, culture, and sports sectors allow us to live their passion and make us dream. And these days, when we are all at home, isolating, they help us feel a little less alone. These are just a few of the reasons why we must be there for them like they are there for us.

Today, with you, I would like, first, to summarize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on arts, culture, heritage and sports; review the measures our government has taken to support these sectors; and give you an overview of our approach, which is intended to provide quick and flexible assistance to these sectors in the coming weeks.

We are collectively facing the biggest crisis in our history, and organizations and workers in the arts, culture and sports sectors were among the first to be affected. Several factors have increased the pressure on them: the ban on gatherings; the unexpected cancellation of cultural and sports activities; the closure of museums and facilities; the uncertainty that has gripped Canadian and international subscribers and sponsors; and the lack of opportunities to train and qualify for athletic competitions. All of this has added to the pressure on our artists and athletes.

These sectors that we are talking about depend on their connection with the public. From the day containment measures were announced, these sectors have demonstrated exemplary solidarity and creativity, but without a stage, an auditorium, an audience, a season, tours, they cannot survive. If the situation persists, we can expect Canada’s creative industry to face increasing and significant financial pressure. Over one month, losses were estimated at $4.4 billion and about 26,000 jobs. Over three months, they are estimated at $13.2 billion and about 81,000 jobs.

Many organizations will be able to recover from these losses thanks to the measures already announced by our government, including the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy, the business credit availability program, and the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance for small businesses, intended for small businesses and organizations. We also ensured that these measures, which apply to Canadian society as a whole, would be useful to SMEs and non-profit organizations, many of which work in the fields of culture, heritage and sport.

We have also worked hard to free up funds quickly and adapt to the realities of each line of business.

We announced the accelerated processing of funding applications to the Canada book fund and the Canada periodical fund, and we confirmed that income from royalties would not be a barrier for artists and creators seeking eligibility for the emergency response benefit. The Canada Council for the Arts will provide $60 million in advance funding to help its beneficiaries to meet their immediate commitments.

The federal government has paid for Part I of the CRTC licence fees for the 2020-21 fiscal year, providing immediate financial relief of $30 million. In addition, an independent panel of experts is set to make recommendations to the Canada Revenue Agency on the implementation of tax measures for print journalism, and we have made several adjustments to those measures to better meet the needs of the publishing and journalism communities.

Finally, the vast majority of the $30 million invested by our government in a national COVID-19 awareness campaign will be invested in Canadian media: in television, radio, newspapers and magazines, and digital media. All of these measures will provide our cultural, heritage and sports organizations with a breath of fresh air.

That said, we recognize that some of them may not be in a position to benefit from the measures already announced, for all kinds of reasons; for example, they tend to be characterized by cyclical revenues, high self-employment and contract work, and barriers to accessing credit. For others, these measures are not sufficient to allow them to cope with the current crisis.

That is why, on April 17, 2020, the Prime Minister announced $500 million in funding to establish a new COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations. This fund is meant to complement the measures already announced and to strengthen our safety net, which, I am sure you will agree, I have shown is needed now more than ever.

Last Friday, I announced how this new emergency fund will be rolled out. The fund will be distributed in two phases in order to meet the financial needs of affected organizations, maintain jobs and support business continuity. Canadian Heritage will divide the funding among select departmental programs and in collaboration with several partners. The breakdown of the funding has been presented.

Here is a summary. Over $198 million will be provided to the beneficiaries of arts and culture funding through existing programs; $72 million will be provided to the sport sector; $53 million will be provided to the heritage sector through the emergency component of the museums assistance program; $3.5 million will be distributed under the digital citizen initiative to help combat false and misleading COVID-19 information, as well as the racism and stigmatization that are often the result; $55 million will be distributed by the Canada Council for the Arts; and over $115 million will be distributed by the Canada Media Fund and Telefilm Canada to support the audiovisual sector.

The use of the remaining funds will be based on needs. The rollout is already under way. Our program officers are in touch with organizations through the usual communication channels.

We will proceed in two phases. In phase one, eligible recipients will not have to apply for funding. We will use the most recent applications submitted to the program as a basis for topping up funding. Existing recipients of targeted Canadian Heritage programs will be asked to fill out an attestation. Once the attestation has been received and reviewed, the funding will flow shortly thereafter.

Phase two of the program will focus on eligible organizations with heritage collections, and other organizations that, for example, do not currently receive funding from Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada or the Canada Media Fund.

The second phase will provide temporary support as follows: funding for eligible organizations with heritage collections through the emergency component of the museums assistance program; and funding for other organizations, some of which do not currently receive funding from Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada and the Canada Media Fund. Further details on phase two will be announced over the coming weeks.

We want to find ways to broaden our support. Culture, heritage and sport are at the very heart of our plan. The challenge is to ensure that as many organizations as possible survive the crisis so that Canada’s cultural, heritage and sport ecosystems remain intact. This is essential to the recovery we all want for our creators, artists, curators, athletes and coaches; for our society; for our economy; and ultimately, for each and every one of us.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Thank you very much, Minister.

Now we move to our rounds of questions. Our first round is six-minute rounds, and our first MP is MP Rempel Garner. You have the floor for six minutes.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Minister Guilbeault, for coming to committee.

I was really pleased to hear you talk about the fact that you believe that heritage is a vital part of our social fabric and that artists can bring us comfort during this crisis. I'm just wondering if you can tell the committee what constitutes western heritage.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

As a Canadian, I would be one to believe in Canadian heritage from coast to coast to coast, but just last week, I was on the phone with the Alberta heritage minister, Minister Aheer, to talk about how we can collaborate to support the work that we do at the federal level, but at the provincial level as well.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

That's great.

Western heritage is actually a thing. It would be like you asking me about Quebec culture and me not being able to talk about that.

Do you think western heritage is important to Canada?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I believe all parts of Canada's heritage are important to Canada: western heritage, eastern heritage, northern heritage, first nations—

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Do you want to hazard a guess about what would be constituted in western heritage?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

If you have suggestions in terms of what it is we can do to help support different parts of Canada's heritage ecosystem, we would be happy to consider them.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Do you think western heritage is under threat right now and perhaps needs a bit of bolstering from, let's say, the heritage minister?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I have tried to outline how our entire heritage ecosystem is under threat right now, from coast to coast to coast. Artists are finding it very difficult right now in Ontario, in Alberta, in Saskatchewan and—

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Could you name one artist from Alberta?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Nancy Huston—

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

That's a start.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I just finished one of her books.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Okay, great.

How would you, as heritage minister, preserve western heritage if you don't know what it is?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

My role is to support artists throughout this country. Many of our programs are available to organizations in every part of the country.

We're supporting artists in every part of the country. In western Canada as—

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Have you met with anybody in Calgary? Outside of the Stampede, have you met with any group?

In terms of ratio between the central Canadian people who lobby you, and let's say, Alberta or Saskatchewan groups, what would you say that ratio looks like?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I can't give you an exact answer for the ratio. We could provide you with that information. As you know, that information is public. What I can tell you is that—

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Yes, I know what it is. I was just hoping you would tell the committee.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Over the last few weeks, I have spoken with thousands of people from across the country, from every corner of the country—thousands.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Here's the thing, Minister. Everybody in Canada has had a rough go, but my constituents, arguably, have had a particularly rough go because our economy was already in a downturn because of your government's policies in the energy sector. Therefore, what would you tell somebody in Calgary who's watching this right now who knows your background as a Greenpeace activist? You are the heritage minister, and you don't even talk about western Canadian heritage.

What would you say to them, because they'd probably be pretty cheesed?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Steven Guilbeault Liberal Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

What I can tell you is that the Alberta heritage minister has saluted my leadership to help artists and athletes throughout the COVID-19 crisis on a number of occasions publicly, and—