Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak in this debate today. As my colleagues will agree, these are unprecedented times, which calls for a government response to match.
This is a situation unlike any we have ever experienced in our lifetimes, and I am proud of how our government has responded. When we looked at what was happening around the world and the terrifying effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in countries like Italy and Spain, it was clear that something drastic needed to be done.
Beginning on March 13, and in the following days and weeks, most of Canada was put on pause. In response, our government worked fervently to bring forward a package of measures that would allow Canada to survive while much of the economy was paused, to allow for the putting into place of public health measures needed to avoid the worst impacts of COVID-19.
On March 24, we introduced Bill C-13, which included a comprehensive suite of measures to ensure that individuals, families and businesses could withstand the shocks of a paused economy, such as we have never experienced. My colleagues and the members opposite will remember those negotiations, which spanned long into the night, to ensure that we could pass legislation with much-needed measures as quickly as possible.
Through Bill C-13, we introduced, among other measures, the now well-known Canada emergency response benefit, the CERB. Since this benefit was put in place, there have been more than eight million individuals, for a total of almost $39 billion in benefits. These are the numbers as of May 21. Canadians who had lost their jobs and did not qualify for employment insurance, and who would not have had money for rent or food, are now receiving the CERB. Due to the CERB, a single mom of two who worked part time in a nail salon did not have to worry about putting food on the table when she lost her job because of COVID-19.
Thanks to the Canada emergency response benefit, many Canadians who were worried about their finances received the support they need to get through this period of uncertainty.
We also introduced measures to help the most vulnerable Canadians. We amended the Income Tax Act to issue a supplementary GST/HST credit payment and an extra Canada child benefit payment.
Under these measures, a couple with one daughter will get an additional Canada child benefit payment of $300, on top of an additional GST/HST credit payment of $733, which is the maximum amount, given their lower income.
We saw that investment markets were being impacted by the pandemic. Seniors are worried about their savings. This is why we also reduced the amount that seniors are required to withdraw from the registered retirement income fund.
Knowing that students were facing particular worries of their own, we provided relief for students to receive federal student financial assistance, and we paused the requirement for paying back interest and capital on federal student loans.
Through Bill C-13, we introduced measures to allow for transfers of funds to provinces and territories for expenses related to COVID-19. We also allowed for certain exceptional regulatory powers, notably in relation to employment insurance, and removed the requirement for providing a medical certificate for sick leave.
We also introduced a 10% temporary wage subsidy for small employers for a period of three months. As we observed the number of CERB applicants and how the economic situation was unfolding, we introduced a new bill, Bill C-14, on April 11, with a new Canada emergency wage subsidy that allowed for a 75% wage subsidy for eligible employers. This helped ensure that companies could retain their employees, rather than be forced to lay them off. Due to the CEWS, Canadian business owners can apply for support to help them keep their employees on the payroll until business picks up again.
On March 24, when we tabled Bill C-13, we did not know how bad the situation would get, how long the public health measures would have to stay in place, or the exact impact on the economy and Canadians. On May 1, once it had become clear that the situation would continue through the summer, we tabled Bill C-15 to create the Canada emergency student benefit.
Many students depend on summer jobs to pay their tuition and cover their expenses, such as rent and groceries. In short, they need the money to meet their needs. It was becoming clear that many of them would not be able to get jobs this summer.
Finally, on May 15, we introduced Bill C-16 to support our dairy farmers.
Our government introduced four bills in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency in Canada. These bills contained unprecedented measures, several of which I mentioned earlier. They were all developed in exceptional time frames, with public servants working all hours to make them possible. I would like to thank those hard-working public servants, many of them my constituents, for working around the clock to serve Canadians.
Our government has been quick to act and has made adjustments where necessary, modifying or introducing new measures as the situation evolved. We have based our decisions on available evidence, looking for ways to get money to those who need it as soon as possible. We have also worked collaboratively with the members opposite. I recall being on phone calls every day with officials hearing how hard members from all parties were advocating for their constituents. We negotiated the content of the bills prior to their introduction.
It is difficult to predict all of the effects that the pandemic will have on the economy and the population. Some flexibility is required to be able to respond quickly. Given the circumstances, the government continues to ensure that it can respond quickly and appropriately. Many of the measures that have been put in place will expire by the end of October. Until then, we will continue to take all of the necessary measures to support the country.
In response to those who are comparing us to other countries around the world that are having the same problems, I want to say that every country's situation is different. We have our own regional challenges, distinct populations and programs that cannot necessarily be compared to those found elsewhere. Our unique context requires us to develop our own solutions, and that is what we have done.
It would be difficult for somebody to disagree with the fact that what the government has done through Bill C-13, Bill C-14, Bill C-15 and Bill C-16 has never been achieved before in the span of three months. During that time we have introduced and passed four distinct pieces of legislation. We have increased existing benefits, we have developed new benefits and we have given individuals financial breaks. Because of the measures the government has initiated, our constituents are being supported during these times of great uncertainty.
I believe our government has acted quickly and purposefully, with the best interests of Canadians and Canadian businesses being central to the measures we have advanced. We have demonstrated that Canadians can rely on the government to be there in times of need, in times of crisis.
As the effects of the pandemic continue to unfold, we will ensure that the measures put in place meet the needs of Canadians. If new gaps or problems emerge, we will do as we have done thus far and listen to all parliamentarians and all Canadians and bring forward measures as needed.