Evidence of meeting #9 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 businesses.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Michael MacPherson
Simon Kennedy  Deputy Minister, Department of Industry
Paul Thompson  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Industry
Emmanuel Kamarianakis  Director General, Investment and Innovation, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Kendal Hembroff  Director General, Trade Negotiations, Global Affairs Canada

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number nine 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 to receive 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.

As is customary practice, the webcast will always only show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee. To facilitate the work of our interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few guidelines.

One, interpretation in this video conference will work very much like in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen for floor, English or French. Click on the globe icon to see these options.

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can either click on the microphone icon to activate your mike or you can hold down the space bar while you are speaking. When you release the space bar, your mike will mute itself, very much like a walkie-talkie. I remind you that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.

Should members need to request the floor outside their designated time for questions, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order.

If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the "Raise hand" function. This will signal to the chair your interest to speak. To do so, you should click on "Participants" at the bottom of the screen. When the list pops up, you will see next to your name that you can click "Raise hand".

When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.

The use of headsets is strongly encouraged.

Should any technical challenges arise, for example, in relation to interpretation or if you are accidentally disconnected, please advise the chair or the clerk immediately and the technical team will work to resolve this. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times as we need to ensure all members are able to participate fully.

Before we get started, I would ask everyone to click on their screens in the top right-hand corner and ensure they are on gallery view. With this view, you should be able to see all the participants in a grid view. It will ensure that all video participants can see one another.

If a member needs to leave temporarily for any reason, I would ask that they please leave their video feed on.

During this meeting, we will follow the same rules that usually apply to opening statements and the questioning of witnesses during our regular meetings.

As is my normal practice, I will hold up a yellow card when you have 30 seconds left in your intervention, and I will hold up a red card when your time for questions has expired.

Today MP Paul Manly from the Green Party is joining us and would like to have a round of questions. Does the committee agree for MP Manly to have a two and a half minute slot at the end of the second round?

Thank you.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

I'm sorry, Madam Chair. While I appreciate that the member might want a round of questions, there are precedents here and the Green Party does not have enough members to have a spot on committee. Anything like this should have been discussed prior to the start of this meeting as it does set a precedent, so I will object.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Thank you, Madam Rempel Garner. I understand that one of the Liberal members will share their time with Mr. Manly.

For today's meeting only Minister Ng will be providing an opening statement, and then we will follow with the usual rounds of questions from members. The department officials are here to answer your questions.

Minister Ng will need to leave this meeting at noon, but senior officials will remain to continue answering questions.

I would now like to welcome our witnesses: the Honourable Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade; and Mr. John Hannaford, deputy minister of international trade. From the Department of Industry, we have Mr. Simon Kennedy, deputy minister; Mr. Paul Thompson, associate deputy minister; and Ms. Frances McRae, assistant deputy minister, small business and marketplace services.

With that, we will now move to testimony by Minister Ng.

Minister Ng, you have 10 minutes.

Thank you.

11:25 a.m.

Markham—Thornhill Ontario

Liberal

Mary Ng LiberalMinister of Small Business

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with this committee about some of our government's supports for Canada's small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Small businesses are at the heart of communities across the country and are truly the backbone of our national economy. They employ 8.3 million hard-working Canadians and account for nearly seven out of 10 private sector jobs in this country, so when this pandemic hit Canada and the rest of the world, we knew it was necessary to do everything possible to help them. Small businesses need our support to get through this very difficult time, and we need them to remain pillars of our towns, our cities and our neighbourhoods.

Over the past several weeks, my team and I have spoken with thousands upon thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs in every sector and every region of the country. We heard that our response to COVID-19 needed to be flexible and balanced. It needs to be flexible because the situation we face is unprecedented. There is no template to work from. Circumstances and challenges are still evolving at a rapid pace. It needs to be balanced because we need to meet the needs of all small business owners during these challenging times and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to relief.

Small businesses, because of their size, are often more entrepreneurial, more nimble, and very much in touch with their customers and their communities. This is often their key to success, but it also makes them vulnerable during times like these. When Canadians are asked to stay home, they’re not able to eat out at their favourite restaurant, go to an appointment at their therapist's or at the salon, travel, or stay at a hotel or a bed and breakfast.

If you’re an entrepreneur who invested everything in a community theatre, a pub or a bakery, you're feeling the brunt of COVID-19. You've probably had to close your doors, and your sales have probably taken a huge hit or they have disappeared entirely.

When people are asked to stay at home, they’re likely going to delay major purchases, so if you’re a business that sells cars, technology or furniture, you’ve taken a huge hit too. Then there are the service providers that we normally interact with every day: drycleaners, yoga studios, day cares and hair salons. They’re feeling the effects of having to temporarily close their doors.

If you're in the business of moving people or goods, like our taxi drivers or delivery service workers, your revenue has been impacted too. The harsh reality is that the majority of our entrepreneurs and small business owners are facing serious challenges and it happened almost overnight.

For small businesses to get over the challenges of this pandemic, they're likely facing at least three major threats: keeping their employees, keeping their costs low, and of course, covering their operating costs. Our government has taken serious and decisive action to address each of these threats.

I grew up in a small business, and I know that it is often a family affair. Seventy-five per cent of Canadian small businesses have fewer than 10 employees, and they often know each other’s birthdays, kids’ names, and spouses. From my own experience, and through conversations with many small business owners, I know that employers often think of their teams as their extended family.

We also know that in order for a business to remain resilient through difficulty and to recover more quickly after a challenging time, the team must stay together. That’s why one of our most important initiatives is the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Through this wage subsidy, we will keep more Canadians employed by covering 75% of their wages. Our goal is to keep businesses together so that they have the required skills and expertise on hand to help them ramp back up when the economy restarts.

We're also helping over 3.2 million businesses and self-employed Canadians to keep their costs low by allowing them to defer the GST or the HST, and customs duty payments. Also, they can keep more money in their pockets over the next few weeks and months because we've extended the tax filing deadline to June 1, and we've allowed businesses to defer any payments they owe until August 31.

With the Canada emergency business account, we're also helping businesses keep up with their operating costs and their cash flow. This is an interest-free $40,000 loan guaranteed by the Government of Canada, with up to $10,000 forgivable if you pay it back by the end of 2022. These loans are available right now through your bank or credit union, your financial institution. When we heard that many small businesses were not able to access this support because of the requirement to have payroll of at least $50,000, we lowered that threshold to $20,000.

The common thread in all these initiatives is that they're going to help our small businesses retain the people they need and have the operating funds necessary to help them get through this difficult period and to succeed in the long term.

To date, over 382,000 businesses have already been approved for the small business loan, and our government's recent announcement to expand the eligibility criteria for the program will mean that even more businesses will qualify. This cash flow support means your favourite restaurant can keep the lights on while they switch over to delivery service. It means the small furniture store that usually relies on foot traffic to stay afloat can continue paying the costs and the upkeep of their warehouse space. It means a local bed and breakfast can maintain their property while they've had to temporarily close their doors.

For those businesses with larger operational needs, we have made loans of up to $12.5 million available, which will also be available through your local financial institution, your bank or credit union.

We've also heard from businesses that they need help paying their rent and that's exactly what we intend to do. As the Prime Minister announced last week, we will introduce the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program for small businesses. This program will provide loans, including forgivable loans, to commercial property owners who will in turn lower the rent for small business owners. Rent is an issue that falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, so we're working closely in active discussions with them on this important issue and we will have more details to share soon.

Our government has acted quickly and we've introduced broad measures to help small businesses from coast to coast to coast. We have also introduced targeted measures to help businesses in the northern territories, indigenous and youth-owned businesses, and innovative businesses in the start-up stage that have yet to turn a profit.

These measures will help businesses weather the storm, but we know the introduction of measures is only a first step. We need to help businesses access these supports in order for them to benefit. That's why we have leveraged the Canada innovation portal and the Canada Business app to help steer small businesses to the right supports. It's also why we partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to create the Canadian Business Resilience Network. This is going to help small business owners have the most up-to-date information on the supports that are available to them.

I'll close by thanking the many small businesses that are providing essential services to so many of our communities across the country through this very difficult and challenging time. My colleagues and I have heard countless stories of entrepreneurs in communities across the country who are going beyond the call of duty. I'm talking about those businesses and entrepreneurs who put up their hands to offer technical skills to find new ways to produce items that are in short supply, or the restaurant owners who are offering free meals to the front-line health care workers, or the innovative businesses that are finding new ways to create medical gear for front-line health care workers. The resilience of our Canadian business owners and our entrepreneurs is second to none, and to all those hard-working business owners, I say thank you.

We're all in this together. I appreciate this committee's support of our efforts during this difficult time. Together we're going to help our small businesses survive this pandemic and pave the way for our economy to recover. We're going to continue to work hard to save those Canadians' jobs and help Canadians save those businesses.

I thank you for the opportunity for me to speak to you today. I would be pleased to answer any questions.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Thank you, Minister.

Now we will move to round one—

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Madam Chair, on a point of order, we're just learning that the minister is leaving right at noon, and I have huge concerns. I'm a standing member. I don't think the NDP should be punished for the delay in the meeting. We want to make sure we have a round. We have very important questions to ask the minister. I'm asking the government side to maybe rotate their spot, give it up to the NDP and take our spot, so that we get a chance to ask the minister really important questions.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Thank you very much, Mr. Johns.

I will verify with the minister if it's possible for her to stay for the full four questions of the first round.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

I believe I can. I'm just going to take a quick look at my calendar.

Yes, my calendar is okay, and I would be very pleased to do that.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Thank you very much, Madam Minister.

With that, we will start with the four rounds of questions of six minutes each.

The first person for the Conservative Party is Madam Rempel Garner.

You have six minutes.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I just want to note that we had close to 45 minutes of sound checks and then 10 minutes of explanation on how to use Zoom, so I hope that can be rectified in the future just so that we have more time to question the government and scrutinize this issue.

I would like to start with a couple of housekeeping items.

I note that we invited the Minister of Industry to this committee. The Minister of Industry has not appeared before this committee at all in this Parliament, and we're quite a few months away from the election at this point in time. Even though he's been invited several times, it's always been told to this committee that he's not available or that he can't find time in his schedule. I find that completely unacceptable.

I hope that my colleagues on the government side share my concern that he has elected to not find time to be accountable to this committee at all. As such, pursuant to section 1(n) of the motion passed in the House of Commons on Saturday, April 11, I move:

That the Minister of Innovation appear before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology at any time that accommodates his schedule before April 30th for a meeting of 2 hours on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

We have a motion on the floor.

Is there any debate? This is an invitation for the minister to appear before April 30 at his convenience. I understand that he was invited but, unfortunately, was not available today. Do we have any debate?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

I have a question for the clerk.

Has the minister's office responded to provide available dates?

April 23rd, 2020 / 11:40 a.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Mr. Michael MacPherson

Not yet. They just said that they were looking to do the schedule and hopefully have an appearance in the coming weeks.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Okay, so they're obviously amenable to coming and, of course, the Minister of Industry should come before this committee.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Madam Chair, if I may, "the coming weeks" is not acceptable. It's been months since the election. The minister has not appeared before us for things like estimates and his mandate letter, and he is a key member of the COVID-19 response cabinet committee. If we're talking about his coming in weeks, I can't imagine somebody sitting at home in their lockdown right now going, “Well, he can't find time for weeks.” It is completely unacceptable. He needs to be before this committee before April 30.

I am willing to meet whenever he wants to meet. I don't care if it's two in the morning at this point in time. He needs to get before this committee. It is ridiculous that he has not been here. Weeks is not acceptable. Brushing this committee off is not acceptable, especially when what the government said last week was that somehow we were going to be able to do Parliament virtually, and then to have the minister just blow us off.... He needs to be here for two full hours before next Thursday. It's ridiculous. I don't want to hear any excuses from him that he can't make a certain time or that a teleconference isn't going to work. Find the time and get here. That is the nature of this motion.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Is there any further debate on the motion?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Chair, I agree that the minister should attend next week. It would be ideal. We have Minister Ng here today. We should, I think, have the industry and innovation minister before us in the first few meetings that we have to set the course for our work.

I would object a little bit to the framing of this. As anyone who follows parliamentary process knows, we didn't really hit the ground running with this committee until the end of January, and we have not had all that many meetings of actual work, frankly, other than planning meetings.

I don't know that there has been any delay previously from the minister. Blowing us off, I think, is overstating the case, but I do agree with Ms. Rempel Garner that Minister Bains should attend this committee, and I agree that he should attend next week.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Is there any further debate on the motion?

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

I'll just interject one last time and say this. The minister actually has blown us off. He has not found time to appear on the estimates. He hasn't been before this committee at all, and we have had meetings that he could have attended.

Certainly it is within the purview of our committee to say we will accommodate him whenever he wants to attend. It just needs to happen before next week. It's too much at this point.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

Again, is there any further debate on this?

What we can do is move to adopt the motion to invite the minister to appear.

Would all those in favour raise their hands, please.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Madam Chair, on a point of order, I believe that the motion passed in the House of Commons requires a recorded vote on motions related to the witness, so I call for a recorded vote.

Thank you.

(Motion agreed to: yeas 10; nays 1 [See Minutes of Proceedings])

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

We now move to the next round of six minutes.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

No, Madam Chair. On a point of order, the time of the motion does not count towards my question period. I stopped at 1:36 when I moved the motion, so I do have another four minutes.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sherry Romanado

I will reset my clock, Madam Rempel.

Please go ahead.