House of Commons Hansard #35 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was help.

Topics

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I would like to start by sharing a personal experience. As the daughter of a farmer, I worked on the family farm during the summer. Obviously, I worked without pay, because it was the family farm. I am well aware that it is in the interest of farms to hire students, as this benefits both farm owners and students.

We firmly believe, and I think all members would agree, that Canadian students want to work. The problem is that many students will have a hard time finding work because of COVID-19.

That is why this program is so important. We also need to make sure that it does not act as a deterrent to students. We will keep a close eye on that.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Deputy Prime Minister.

I cannot resist the urge to mention that I put myself through school by working on a farm. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my boss, Robert Corriveau, and his daughter, Mylène, who took over the business.

The government and the opposition parties are looking for the right formula to balance students' need to access a basic income with the jobs available considering the number of foreign agricultural workers that will be allowed into Canada.

I understand that finding the specific wording for a formula requires more time than we have at our disposal today. In the spirit of co-operation, will the government commit to considering measures for Quebec and Canadian students to ensure that the net income of students who do find work will be adjusted based on the number of hours worked, and that this measure will apply to recipients of the existing CESB and CERB?

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland Liberal University—Rosedale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his excellent question and observation.

The answer is obviously yes. The government analyzed the structure and the short-term impact of the CESB on students, to ensure that the measure meets its objectives while still encouraging students to work. Students are encouraged to work so that they can earn an income, and adjustments will be considered, as required.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time with the member for Kenora.

Thank you for giving me a chance today to speak about this new measure, the Canada emergency student benefit. As a political lieutenant, I would like to state that this is an important measure that will help students across the country and across Quebec. Sadly, for various reasons, these students are also being affected by this pandemic, along with workers and seniors.

The government has announced this important measure, which will provide $1,250 a month to students affected by COVID-19. This bill shows the government's desire to also support young people who will be doing volunteer work to help people who are directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19. We look forward to getting the details in order to find out how this measure will be rolled out and how the number of hours will be determined. Checks will have to be done to prevent abuse. However, the government's intentions are clear. I also commend the idea of enhancing loans and grants for more vulnerable students who have a harder time making ends meet.

However, people are very concerned about the process of reopening the economy. Some people are downplaying the important role students will play in the labour force as we reopen the economy. During a press conference, I heard the Prime Minister answer a question from Philippe-Vincent Foisy about why he did not set up incentives like Quebec did to help and motivate young people to go out and find jobs instead of handing them cash directly. Some students might decide to stay home so they can collect the benefit.

The intent is there. We all want to help students and not pigeonhole them. We want to help them and all other Canadians. Earlier, I spoke to the minister about one of the dozens of cases that have been brought to my attention and to the attention of members of all political stripes. The owner of a fruit and vegetable store said that she had called a former student to ask her to come work, as she had every year. The student told her that she was able to come back, but not full time, as she had all of the other summers. This is a busy time for merchants. The student would be penalized because she would earn more than $1,000 a month. She would have made too much money to receive the $1,250 benefit. In some cases, these measures deter students, and we still have not received specifics from the government. What will be done? What will be the measures, the criteria and the oversight to ensure that students are not deterred from working?

I would like to draw my colleagues', Canadians' and Quebeckers' attention to what the Prime Minister told a journalist who asked why there were no incentives in the Canada emergency response benefit to encourage young people, and I would add adults to that as well, to join the labour force. The Prime Minister said that, after analyzing the situation, it was determined that, unfortunately, there are not enough jobs for all young people.

I did a fairly simple calculation and I would like to tell everyone here about a measure that the government could put in place fairly quickly that could help many young people earn money to pay for their university or CEGEP tuition, their books, their rent, and their groceries, or in other words, all of the basic necessities that every student has to pay for. I called my Conservative colleagues from Quebec, the nine other members who work with me, to talk about the following.

As part of its student employment program, the government decided to give subsidies of 100% rather than subsidies of 50% as it did in the past and to allow farm, business, NPO and municipal employers to apply for funding. Contrary to what the government is suggesting, the budget has not increased. It is the same budget. That means that, if jobs are subsidized at 100% rather than at 50%, then fewer jobs will be created.

I talked to all the Conservative Party members from Quebec so I could calculate the number of applications submitted by businesses and farmers in our ridings. The federal government's current summer jobs budget will not meet demand.

Quebec's 10 Conservative members alone reported 1,442 applications for existing summer jobs. Those applications were submitted by businesses, farmers and non-profits when the government was offering a 50% subsidy. Now the government is offering a 100% subsidy. I have a B.A. and a master's degree in administration and math education, so I applied the rule of three to that data to extrapolate the results for all 338 MPs here in the House.

According to my calculations, some 48,740 jobs will not be covered by the Canada summer jobs program. These are existing jobs for which employers have submitted applications, but they will get no help from the government even though these jobs would enable young people to work rather than collect the $1,250 CESB on top of income from part-time jobs. Also, students will steer clear of full-time minimum wage jobs because they do not pay enough.

Canada has 48,740 job openings for students. Officials told us that subsidizing each of those summer jobs would cost about $4,000, which adds up to $194,960,000, or a little less than $200 million.

Compare that to the $9-billion overall envelope the government is providing to help students through loans and bursaries, the Canada emergency student benefit and the service grant, if a paid service can still be considered volunteer work. The total amount of $194,960,000 represents roughly 2% of the government's total $9-billion aid package. That amount would allow the government to immediately meet the needs of businesses without having them compete with one another and would not require new programs to be created. What is more, students would be able to make a living and pay their bills while at school.

If the opposition parties could have worked proactively, that is the type of solution they would have proposed. I hope the government will seize this opportunity. It could increase this envelope without changing anything else. That way, roughly 50,000 students in Canada, in every single riding, could have a job instead of receiving the CERB, which could be used to help people who need it even more.

The Conservative Party is pleased to see that the government agreed to make changes to the bill to make it more acceptable, fairer and more equitable and to ensure businesses do not have to compete as much. It is rather impressive to see the number of emails, calls and comments on social media relaying to MPs the adverse effect of this measure on recruiting employees. That is the sense we are getting on this side of the House and we get the impression it is a bit ideological.

We are pleased that the government agreed to require that all applicants contact Employment and Social Development Canada to obtain information about available student jobs. We are pleased that the government agreed to our request for parliamentary review of the bill and the Canada emergency student benefit in order to find ways to mitigate the unintended disincentives to work that we are currently seeing. Finally, we are pleased that the government agreed to a deadline so that it cannot unilaterally extend this benefit through regulations. We are pleased to see that the Conservative Party's efforts have enhanced the bill to help students across the country.

I encourage the government to stop with the empty rhetoric. While it says that it wants to help everyone, the fact remains that this measure also has unintended consequences. Even though this measure is intended to help students, it will nevertheless hurt the economy if controls are not put in place. If the government were to demonstrate political goodwill, jobs could be quickly filled, just like that.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, Conservatives are proposing that the government create a new program to match student and youth employees with jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector, and we heard that was part of the unanimous consent motion that we adopted earlier.

Could the member tell us what impact, if any, this will have in his own riding? Will this be a welcome program?

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her excellent question.

The Conservative Party did indeed propose an amendment calling on the government to match students looking for work with employers in the agriculture and fishing sectors, specifically. I am thinking of Maritimers who are suffering the consequences of this decision, which many employers might not welcome.

I think this proposal just makes sense. I would like to point out that it aims to help students. We all want to help students. It would be wrong to suggest that any member from any political party does not support students.

In this recovery, we must work hard to help our economy. This is a public health crisis, yes, but we are also experiencing an economic crisis at the same time. Depending on the government's decisions, we will also face a public finance crisis in the future. It will be a huge challenge for the next government, which I hope is Conservative, to get our public finances back on track before the next crisis hits, whatever that may be.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question.

He mentioned that all MPs have been fielding a lot of questions from their constituents since the start of this crisis. My office has heard about the needs of workers who have lost their jobs and the multiple needs of business owners, and I was very pleased and reassured to be able to address those needs through the measures announced by our government every day and every week.

I would like to know whether my colleague has had similar comments from his constituents. Have they appreciated or had any comments about our government's measures?

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have gotten a lot of questions.

My office alone has seven employees, including me. We are spending nearly 12 hours a week answering questions. Most other members are experiencing the same at their offices. We are getting these questions because even though the information is good, it unfortunately is not making it all the way to our ridings in a transparent way.

That is one of the big problems. We informed the government of this problem through officials. Although we get daily teleconference briefings at 4:30 p.m., we are not given any documentation that would enable us to answer questions afterwards. I should point out that on these briefing calls to assist all MPs, there is often no official or staffer from the Minister of Finance's office to answer questions about the key components of the government's assistance.

Naturally, the people who are really affected and who need the CERB and the CESB are happy to receive that assistance. There is a reason why we all passed this legislation here in the House.

However, there are some unintended consequences, which were quickly felt in the hard-hit business sector. It is no joke. Every day, in one of our ridings, a business or industry is shutting down. The money offered to help has not yet made it to them. Unfortunately a lot of people are unhappy, even though the government announced billions of dollars in support.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to be able to rise in the House today and speak to this important topic in the midst of a global pandemic and an economic crisis that has occupied us all over the last months. It is so important that Parliament is able to meet so that we can discuss and improve legislation to ensure support reaches all Canadians who need it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt taken a toll on all Canadians. Business owners, non-profits and charities are struggling to stay afloat, and many Canadians have lost their jobs. Additionally, Canadian students are facing an uncertain future. Summer jobs are valuable opportunities for Canada's students to learn new skills, to meet new people and to prepare for their careers. More than that, countless post-secondary students rely on summer employment not just to fund their education, but also to afford the basic necessities of life.

I have lived this experience very recently, perhaps more recently than any of my colleagues. I wrote my final university exam last summer before heading straight back home, on the campaign trail for the 2019 election. Therefore, I can say that I fully understand the challenges that are facing students during normal circumstances because I lived them; these challenges are being amplified by the crisis that is before us right now.

Students face a tremendous amount of financial pressure and mental stress, and are stretched for time commitments during the school year. That is part of the reason why many students choose to leave their summer employment when school comes around, with the expectation that a job will be available for them when they return, just the same as for any seasonal employees across Canada.

Many students are unable to attend school locally, like many in northern Ontario, including me. Therefore, we have had no choice but to leave our jobs behind to move away and start the school year. As we know, students are now finishing up their school year and they are attempting to enter the workforce just as many businesses are laying people off and closing their doors entirely. High school students who are graduating this year and looking forward to entering the workforce are in the same situation, as are new university and college graduates. Students have bills to pay, just like everyone else. They have to pay for rent, groceries and tuition. Now, through no fault of their own, many are in a position where they may not be able to find any job for the foreseeable future.

In my riding of Kenora, some of our biggest job creators, especially for students, are tourism operators who are dependent on visitors who, this summer, will likely not arrive. Other businesses are fighting to avoid laying off the staff they already have and are not in the position to hire anyone else. This scenario is playing out across the country right now in different ways. The details may be different, but the results are the same: Thousands of people who are counting on finding jobs this summer may not be able to.

That is why I was taken aback when students were initially left out of the government's initial response to COVID-19. That is why, on April 7, I co-signed a letter along with three of my Conservative colleagues, the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul and the member for Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon. We asked whether the government intended to rectify its mistake. I am glad that after weeks of pressure from me, my Conservative colleagues and other members of the opposition, the government has finally introduced legislation to support students who cannot find work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am happy to see that the government has worked with the official opposition to improve the legislation that is before us today.

Conservatives know that no government benefit can replace the experience of having a job. Simply put, we believe that everyone who is able to work should do so. However, we also recognize that in some areas, there are simply no jobs to be had.

Canadian students need to pay for their rent and their tuition, and they are trying to save for their future. If possible, they need the opportunity to learn new skills and meet people in their fields. I can say that no students or new grads want to have a months-long gap in their resumé, when they could have been gaining valuable work experience. I know I would not have wanted that, and I might not be standing here today if that had been the case.

Right now, students need support, but they also need creative solutions to incentivize as many students as possible to gain that valuable experience. Conservatives have been vigilant in making sure that new government benefits do not inadvertently disincentivize employment. We have successfully advocated for the government to allow people earning up to $1,000 a month to collect the CERB, so that Canadians who are able to perform some work will still be able to do so without losing their support.

In that same vein, we are fighting to loosen the eligibility criteria for commercial rent supports so that more businesses will be able to keep their doors open. We know our economy will recover much more quickly if our businesses can remain open and our workforce can remain activated.

We also know that even as many businesses are laying off staff, there are also many that are having difficulty finding staff, such as agriculture businesses, restaurants and the hospitality industry. I have spoken with the chamber of commerce, business owners and economic development agencies, and it is no secret that there are many businesses struggling to find workers. Canada brings in 60,000 foreign workers each year for the agricultural sector alone, and many of the essential businesses that are currently operating are having difficulty and struggling even more throughout this pandemic.

That is why the Conservative Party proposed new programs to match students and youth employees with jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector. Many agricultural producers are facing labour shortages right now because of their inability to hire temporary foreign workers, and we believe students who are struggling to find work could potentially fill those gaps. This would be a great opportunity for students to gain work experience and earn some income while stabilizing our food supply and contributing to Canada's COVID-19 response. We hope to be able to work with the government to make this program a reality.

I was happy to hear that the government has accepted our proposal to ensure that students who apply for the benefit will be connected with the job bank at the same time. This will ensure that available jobs are filled first and that students do not miss out on potential job opportunities. It is a win-win for students looking for work and for employers looking for staff.

The government has also agreed to put a sunset clause in the legislation and to provide a parliamentary review of the impact of this legislation. This is basic due diligence to ensure that this bill will not outlive its purpose and will be useful, rather than having unintended negative impacts on the labour force.

At the end of the day, until we go back to normal, there will still be some students who, through no fault of their own, cannot find jobs. We recognize that reality, which is why we support the principle of the Canadian emergency student benefit. With the addition of our reasonable proposals, this benefit will ensure students get the support they need while not missing out on employment opportunities.

We are facing an unprecedented economic crisis as a result of this worldwide pandemic, and many hard-working Canadians from all walks of life have suddenly found themselves in need of emergency support. Canada's economy has no doubt gone through a major shock, and we know it will be much worse if suddenly this summer we find ourselves with hundreds of thousands of students who are unable to pay their rent. The long-term impacts of students being forced to delay or discontinue their education would also be considerable. The spillover effects of leaving students without support at this time will be simply devastating, and that is why we know this support is so important.

I would urge Parliament to give students the best chance to succeed, to support our economy and to get help to those who need it most. I also urge the government to continue working with the opposition to advance solutions that would allow as many students as possible the opportunity to earn a living wage and support the sectors that are being hit so hard during this pandemic.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his very thoughtful speech about the legislation that we are considering. I appreciate his reminiscing about his recent academic career, because that is the kind of thing I have been hearing from the students in my riding. This is the most pivotal point in any student's academic career or for anyone who is starting a professional career. The shutdown of the economy due to COVID-19 was completely unexpected. The students I have been hearing from have seen job opportunities dry up overnight.

Does the member opposite feel the same way as some members, who have already commented that students, in fact, are not looking for work or are not interested in working? This emergency benefit is really to help students get through this difficult period, as is the case with many others in our economy.

Does the member think students will just take the money and take a free ride?

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know all members of this House are focused on helping Canada get through this crisis as best as possible. We know there are many students who have lost their jobs or are struggling to find work this summer. That is why this benefit is so important. Whether it is businesses, not-for-profits or charities, there are many organizations that are struggling to find work.

However, I also believe we should have innovative ways to help our students find work if it is available, and that is what we have been advocating.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a great respect for my hon. colleague.

I have noticed one thing in the Conservative talking points. We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Depression, with hundreds of thousands of students economically devastated, yet we hear language of the kind we saw in the National Post yesterday, saying that if we give them support, they are going to sit on their duffs and hang out in their hammocks, and that we need to incentivize them. I find it shocking to suggest that students who have $30,000 or $50,000 worth of debt are going to take the summer off, hang out and goof around, and that we have to make sure they go to work.

I was surprised that my hon. colleague said he knows of many restaurants that are looking for workers. It must be bustling there. The restaurants I know are struggling to survive. They have shut down. They have nobody working. They cannot bring people in to work. That is employment that students normally take, so I am very concerned about this coded language about making sure that they are incentivized to go to work. They want to work, but have been stopped from working by COVID. Maybe there are restaurants in other parts of Ontario or Canada that are searching everywhere for employees, but they are not in my region.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, obviously we are working through this crisis together. We are making sure that students have the supports they need and the opportunities that are available to them.

There are many industries, businesses and organizations I have been talking to that have been struggling during normal times to find workers and are continuing to do so during this crisis. These are essential businesses that are continuing to operate, and many need staff in order to do so. As a caucus, we are working to provide support to those businesses and make sure the work is there, but we also understand that many businesses are in a different situation and are laying staff off, and we have to provide students and all workers with the opportunity to have an income and to maintain their lives.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will be my absolute pleasure to share my time with the brilliant member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

Over the past few hours, we have seen that the clarity of the wording of a motion can be a crucial issue. A motion can turn into a word salad that will be interpreted five different ways by five different people. For that reason, we must all strive to make the meaning of each word clear, because that is the only way to achieve equal clarity with respect to the intent. What was the intent of the lawmaker who introduced a bill, as well as a motion to get the ball rolling? All of us, or nearly all of us, can agree that the intent was to provide students with financial assistance that will essentially serve two aims.

The first is to give students the necessary financial resources to get through the summer and the current period. Under normal circumstances, they would be living on wages from part-time jobs, often in the restaurant, entertainment or tourism industries. Those jobs simply do not exist in the current context.

The second is to enable students to save a little money to live on next year. That is how I paid for most of my education, and I am sure many of my colleagues did the same. That is the point of the exercise. A few voices have been raised regarding this exercise. Because nuances are not always possible or understood, people have divided into two camps. One camp staunchly believes that students need help. That is the camp I fall in. Hundreds of thousands of students, perhaps as many as a million, will miss out on the jobs they would normally get, and that is a conservative estimate. These people need help to protect their purchasing power and continue their studies.

The other camp holds what I would humbly call the less refined belief that, as my esteemed colleague said, students will suddenly turn into lazy deadbeats who just hang out in the basement smoking pot. That is not true. Students are the same this year as they were last year, the year before and even back in my school days. I do not believe that people back then smoked less pot, myself excluded.

Of course, a balance had to be struck so that businesses, municipalities and farmers who need workers do not have to deal with a measure that serves as a disincentive to work. A measure was needed that does not make it preferable for students not to work. Obviously, a way forward needed to be found and that was not so simple. However, this is a red herring. Forgive me for my candour, and my friendship with or affection for students, but I think they want to work. The ones in my riding, and there are many, all want to work. They are happy to work. I worked, their parents worked and no one regrets it.

The $1,250 per month could help during the summer and fall. Of course, this will not last until the fall, but this money would help students continue to go to school. I would like to come back to that quickly, because it is critically important. We must not put ourselves in a position where students are in debt up to their eyeballs at the approach of the next school year, which we hope will be as normal as possible. They must not be worse off financially than before, especially since there is reason to believe that the economy in general will not be doing so well. It will be a time of economic recovery, an upturn where things are improving, but we will be starting out from such a low point that we will all still be experiencing economic woes.

We found—or rather, since I do not want to get into who gets credit for what—helped to find three elements that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons read in the motion that seem fundamental to us. I imagine that every opposition party discussed every comma.

The first was to ensure that this measure did not breed uncertainty among agricultural entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs in general, municipalities and anyone else hoping to hire students. I believe the fourth point does that quite nicely by clarifying the support to agricultural producers because that is where the debate began. The government did not dare go quite that far in the wording, but if this support took the form of financial aid to improve student wages, that would not be such a bad idea.

The wording of the motion does not do justice to the intention of the motion. Indeed, the second element is that the wording of the motion seems to only reference the creation of an incentive to work. There is a sort of imbalance and I spoke to my colleague from Thérèse-De Blainville about that. It is as though the presumption was that the average student does not really feel like working as there is no reference to the fact that this is above all a measure to support the economic needs of students. Paragraph (e) is worded in such a way as to imply that, above all, students need to be compelled to work. That does not sit well with me.

That is why I asked the Deputy Prime Minister a very specific question. I asked her whether the government did in fact plan to ensure that the process did not penalize students who receive the benefit and who want to work.

The basic amount is $1,250, and students should be able to earn $1,000 without being penalized, but a student earning $1,010 should not lose that $1,250. Students should not be put in a position where they will choose to work just 20 hours instead of 21 hours so they do not lose that $1,250. Students are quite capable of figuring that out. We have to make sure that does not happen. That was the point of my question to the Deputy Prime Minister, and her answer was, “obviously yes”.

Will the government introduce measures to ensure that students who work more hours will earn more money? The Deputy Prime Minister's answer was yes, and she gave other details. I believe that that amounts to a clear commitment on the government's part.

In the last part of the motion, the government committed to examining measures to increase seniors' buying power, perhaps by boosting old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Note that it is both one and the other, not either or. We would not want to see the government focus on the guaranteed income supplement, which benefits only 40% of seniors, considering that the cost of groceries has gone up for everyone. That is an issue for us.

I have lost count of how many times the Bloc Québécois has spoken out on behalf of seniors over the past few weeks, and we are not done. We will not stop until we get what we want. In Quebec, 19% of the population is over 65. We need to see an increase in their spending power, an essential tool in increasing or improving the economic conditions in Quebec's regions.

Despite the dithering, I am pretty happy with today's results. Of course, we must remain vigilant. We will remain vigilant, and we will always work in the exclusive interest of Quebeckers, while being constructive and positive. If this helps others, that is even better.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate this opportunity to discuss this with my colleagues today. I thank the hon. member opposite for his speech. We can supply a bit more information that would explain why we chose one amount over another. It is really hard to strike a balance when we want to help people during this crisis while also taking other programs into account and meeting other needs in our society.

I think we have a real opportunity here. Young people back home want to be able to work, especially in essential jobs. For instance, there is a company in my riding that is hiring a lot of staff because it produces essential goods. Can my colleague comment on that? Has he had any similar experiences?

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my esteemed colleague for her question.

There are several cases that could be studied one by one. Unfortunately, in an emergency situation, programs are created, as collaboratively as possible, that need improvements later because they were created in a few months rather than in a year and a half. Several such cases require our attention and we are receiving many inquiries.

Today, three improvements that we have asked for have been made. The first is that any employer, whether a municipality, farmer or tourism business, needing student labour will be assured that there will be incentives, particularly in the form of financial assistance. Second, we are pleased to have the clarification that the more students work, the more net money they will have in their pockets. This is fundamental because students want to work. Third, we see that the government is clearly open to increasing our seniors' old age security.

Thus, we are already seeing progress. There will have to be measures introduced in the coming days, in particular for research and public finances. Today, however, I feel that we have made progress.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I find frustrating about all of this is that the CESB provides 40% less, on average, to students. The government has said it is providing a whole suite of programs that students can access: the service grants that they can get through volunteering or the access to student loans and grants later on, when they start school. However, students' needs, their payments, rent, grocery bills and all those things are due now, so all of these things are just forcing them to take on more debt and more loans, whether they are in debt to the federal government, a bank or a credit card company.

I would like to hear the member's thoughts on that and how frustrating that can be for students, particularly in his riding.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my esteemed colleague for her question.

The benefit, in the form that will probably be approved today, will not increase student debt, yet that is still a major concern. Taking on debt in general, at a time when things look like they are about to get even tougher, is always a major concern.

I will say that we should be having a discussion about lowering tuition fees; in my opinion, there is no limit to how low they could go. In the same vein, I am also seeing a proliferation of new programs that compete with one another and overlap. I think that is a normal consequence of having to be developed so hastily. However, once all this is over, we will have to clean house and be very strict, yet also compassionate. It may take an open mind and some creativity to implement more general programs.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. leader for sharing his time with me today.

Before I begin, I want to say hello to the people of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and thank them for the remarkable resilience they have shown during this crisis. The situation is relatively stable for the time being in the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé thanks to their compliance with the measures put in place by various public health authorities.

As the Bloc Québécois youth critic, I am pleased to be here today to debate this bill bringing in support measures for students. Not wanting to leave students behind, the Bloc Québécois has been urging the government to act. Our demands have been heard.

The government listened to us and brought in the Canada emergency student benefit to provide support to students and recent graduates who are not eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit or employment insurance and are unable to work because of COVID-19.

It is a benefit of $1,250 per month for eligible students or a benefit of $1,750 for those who care for a person with a disability. Let me be clear: that is very good news for young people who are unable to go back to their regular summer job for various reasons. Perhaps they are sick, perhaps they have to care for someone who is sick, or perhaps the business they worked for last year cannot reopen. Regardless of the reason, this emergency benefit is welcome.

It is welcome as long as it is seen for what it is: an emergency benefit. Having been a student myself not that long ago, I can only assume that students will be the first to want to lend a hand as soon as the situation allows them to do so. They are already doing just that.

I was talking about this yesterday with the presidents of the Quebec Student Union and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec. They told me that many of their members had already sent out hundreds of resumés to work for Quebec's long-term care centres, farms, and businesses that offer essential services.

The Bloc Québécois recognizes the contribution young people make to our society. We know that most of them will not apply for the benefit until they have tried to find a job.

People have criticized this measure recently. Businesses in Quebec are concerned that students might not make much of an effort to find work before collecting a cheque from Ottawa.

We know that the regular Canada emergency response benefit has, in effect, created two classes of citizens, several even, because it has different eligibility criteria, which is why there is now a benefit specifically for students.

The thing is, students are citizens like everyone else. They have bills to pay too. A student who moves from Gaspé to attend the Université du Québec à Montréal ends up spending about $3,600 in the first month and about $1,200 a month thereafter for fixed costs such as rent, food, transportation, Internet and phone. Costs can be even higher for students in other Canadian cities.

Of course, some of them get help from other people, such as family members, but many of them need us. They need help from the government.

Earlier the minister spoke about Felix. I want to talk about Thomas. Thomas called my office the other day. Because of his course load, he is unable to work during the school year. Yesterday he wrote his last exam of the semester, but even though that stressful experience is over, his anxiety level has only increased instead of decreasing.

He knows that the day after tomorrow, he will have to pay his rent, phone and Internet, but he does not know how he will manage. He was supposed to start an internship on Monday, but that has been cancelled because of the crisis. We all know that Thomas is not the only one in this situation. Felix is not the only one either. Thousands of students across Quebec and Canada are in the same situation.

For many students, summer is a time to earn money for the upcoming school year. However, it is not just about money. Sure, these summer jobs are about earning income, but they are also about gaining experience. For others, it may simply be an educational requirement. This crisis is also an extraordinary situation for students.

I come back to these people who over the past few days have expressed their dissatisfaction with the government's benefit for students. The main argument for some is this myth that students in Quebec and Canada are lazy.

To bust that myth and change what might be perceived as a disincentive to work, the Bloc Québécois wanted to propose a compromise. That compromise would be good for everyone, but most of all it would increase the purchasing power of students and allow the government to save the public purse a lot of money.

We proposed a change that would let young people keep more of their pay before being penalized. We made this proposal because we believe that the CESB is somewhat unfair. It is unfair to students who will make the effort to find a job but will not receive the benefit if they make more than $1,000, the ineligibility threshold.

We know that the CERB was created in the context of a lockdown. The student benefit will be introduced in an entirely different context, at a time when we presume we will be emerging from that lockdown. This is a fundamental change in the measure's implementation in that many businesses will be reopening their doors to the extent possible, with some opening in a more restricted manner. I am thinking of restaurant owners who decide, for example, to open just in the evenings on weekends instead of at lunch and dinner every day. This means that there will be many strictly part-time jobs. Neither employers nor employees will benefit when a student has to refuse working a few extra hours because they are afraid of losing access to the benefit or, as my colleague said, losing the entire $1,250. We simply find it unfair that those who want to work should be penalized.

The crisis is affecting the health of our economy in particular, and several sectors, including the agricultural sector, are experiencing an urgent labour shortage. In my area, many farmers are having to seek additional help because they will not be able to count on temporary foreign workers this summer, for reasons we can all guess.

We believe that students' courage in the face of a crisis is not the issue. The Canada emergency benefit is necessary to support students, but it could certainly use some improvement. I salute the negotiations that took place over the past few hours to address our demands in order to pass this bill, namely for the government to implement financial incentives and support measures for students and young people for the various jobs available, including jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector, to ensure the economic stability of the regions and maintain food production during the crisis.

What we all want is for the government to ensure that the financial measures it is putting in place are offered in a manner that fulfills their primary objectives while encouraging employment in all circumstances.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

The co-operation among all the political parties in the House has paid off. The bill will help students. It has been a long time since I was a student. There was a recession in 1981 when I graduated from the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, where I learned French. Like many students and new graduates, I had to take lower-paying jobs that were not necessarily related to my career. Later on, everything went back to normal.

Does my colleague think that this situation could serve as an opportunity?

I know that people's lives are being disrupted, but does she see any opportunities for the young people who are living through this situation?

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

April 29th, 2020 / 4:05 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I believe that our job as parliamentarians is to improve the various programs that are being implemented. We know that months of preparation did not go into this program before it was implemented. The benefit was implemented as an emergency measure. Everything can be improved and it is our job to do just that.

Like my colleagues, I get questions every day from my constituents who are concerned and who are falling through the cracks in the various programs. We are here to improve these programs, and that is what we did with the Canada emergency student benefit. I think that students were somewhat overlooked in this crisis.

We are very pleased to see that we can work together to offer students financial support.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and the Bloc Québécois for the proposal. I completely agree that it is good for students to be allowed to work part time instead of being unemployed.

How can we, as members of Parliament, show our support in the unanimous consent motions?

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I understood the member's question and whether she is wondering if we can agree with the motion passed earlier in the House.

I think it is up to all opposition parties to work with the government to improve the Canada emergency student benefit. It will be implemented rather quickly.

There were a number of concerns from student associations in Quebec, which were asking when the benefit would come and whether the adoption of the bill would delay the money. The CERB arrived rather quickly, so I hope things will go just as smoothly with the CESB.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise twice in a row.

I just want to say how grateful I am. Indeed, I had not realized that this had been added to the motion that we passed.

I realize it now, and I am very pleased with my colleague's response.

Canada Emergency Student Benefit ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to make a small clarification

After the Deputy Prime Minister's speech, the member for Beloeil—Chambly asked a question. It was then that there was confirmation that our proposal would be implemented.