Committee of the Whole to Consider Subject Matter of Bill C-4

By: The Hon. Jim Munson, The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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The Chair: Time will be shared between Senator Bovey and Senator Munson.

Senator Bovey: Welcome, ministers. It’s wonderful to see you here and to be here with you. The arts and artists in this country, as you know, have sustained us all through these really difficult times, despite the devastation that they have faced as a result of COVID. They are very grateful for the support they received through the wage subsidy and through CERB, but they know, and we know, their recovery will be long, perhaps years. Some disciplines are facing the loss of an entire generation of artists, given those who are leaving and the problems with training.

The continuing wage subsidy and recovery benefit are really much-needed lifelines for artists, arts workers, gig workers, solo artists and organizations. But the arts are approaching “a cliff edge,” as one arts administrator said to me yesterday. Their concern is qualifying. Calculating loss of revenue against last year’s revenues was clear, but now if they have to provide a further equivalent loss, it’s impossible because they’re at rock bottom. They’re not selling tickets. They have lost corporate support. They’ve lost donations. Fundraising has been cancelled, yet their overhead expenses are going up.

They’ve made it very clear to me that it’s critical that the level of support remains at 75% for the wage subsidy. My question is: Will it? Can you confirm that the sector will be consulted regarding the establishment of criteria and that the eligibility criteria will reflect the reality of their situation?

Ms. Freeland: Thank you very much, senator, for the question. I very much agree with your core point. The crisis has affected different sectors in the economy very differently. My dad is a canola farmer, and coronavirus hasn’t really hurt canola farmers that much, at least not in the Peace Country. The same with forestry. Manufacturing has come back very strongly, and congratulations to our manufacturers. But other sectors like tourism, hospitality and cultural sectors have inevitably been hit harder. I think now is the moment when we have to start looking in a more targeted way at the harder-hit sectors.

When it comes to the cultural sector and the wage subsidy, we announced in the Throne Speech, as I’m sure you are aware, that the wage subsidy will now continue until the summer. That does mean the previously planned step-down is something that we need to look at. We need to look at how to calibrate it, given the fact that the program will be running longer. We are hard at work at that. It’s a very big and complicated program and we want to find ways to target the support more effectively. I can’t share with you details on exactly how we’re going to do it, but your point is well made and duly noted.

I can promise, of course, that we will consult with the cultural and other sectors as we do that work. I would draw your attention to the schedule before you, for which we are seeking your support. There are two specific line items to support the cultural sector: $17 million to support affected cultural heritage and sports organizations, and $50 million for the audio-visual industry, which, in particular, has been facing some problems getting the insurance they need in order to continue working.

Senator Bovey: I’ll cede my time to my colleague, but I just want to remind you that some of our major artists have lost career advancement, and Canada has lost a big step on the international stage because of the intransigence of some of our organizations.

Senator Munson: Minister of Finance, in terms of collegiality, back in 1972 to 1974, Parliament worked kind of well in those days. I actually covered that a long time ago. Good social benefits happened at that time because of common sense.

I like Bill C-4, and I like the idea of benefits for jobless workers and the underemployed. I certainly support Bill C-4 very much. I like the tone of the Speech from the Throne.

This question is to Minister Qualtrough. I still worry about those who can’t ever find work or can’t find much work. Those are people with autism or intellectual disabilities. The rates indicate that 70 to 80% of them can’t find a job.

Minister Qualtrough, you know that the CASDA summit is coming up next week. The Speech from the Throne spoke about the disability benefit and the disability inclusion plan — they are all there. Part of that, to me, is a national autism strategy.

I only have about 10 months left in this place, if you count every day. I don’t want to leave; I like it so much. But I need to know, minister, is a national autism strategy still on the table with you and with Health Minister Hajdu?

Ms. Qualtrough: Honourable senator, I can assure you 100% that it still is. Absolutely. I don’t know how much more elaboration you want, but I’m happy to have coffee and explain to you our thinking on the strategy. I can assure everyone in this place that the autism strategy will be front and centre for both the Health Minister and me. We would have been further under way on this — it’s in both our mandate letters — had COVID not consumed our lives, because it’s a very important thing.

Senator Munson: That’s the best news I’ve heard today. It’s nice to smile, hear good news and commitment and move on with it.

This question was asked by another senator before, but I need to get total clarification on a part of the disability inclusion plan. It seems only yesterday that Bill C-20 acknowledged gaps at the Canada Revenue Agency in the Disability Tax Credit program. We’ve had studies in the Senate headed by Senator Chantal Petitclerc dealing with those gaps and eligibility in the Disability Tax Credit as a delivery mechanism for what you say is $600 that will come this month.

To what extent will the disability inclusion plan reform the Disability Tax Credit program?

Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you, senator, for the question. Again, I don’t want to take up too much time, but, boy, could I.

Senator Munson: You can.

Ms. Qualtrough: We announced, in the Speech from the Throne, three elements of this disability inclusion plan. I would say it was a historic day for the disability movement in this country. One is a disability benefit which, like the GIS, will be a monthly income supplement for working-age Canadians with disabilities.

The second one is a national employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities, recognizing that it’s the largest barrier to inclusion faced, and it’s the number-one ground for discrimination complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The third, although somewhat geeky and technical, is a complete overhaul of how the Government of Canada considers eligibility for disability-related programs and services. This means taking eligibility out of the tax system. This means a modern, functional understanding of disability. It is long overdue and it will be a lot of work, but it will change the way the government looks at our citizens with disabilities, 110%.

Senator Munson: I appreciate those answers very much, and I will throw it back to Senator Bovey for the last two minutes.

Senator Bovey: Minister, I will go back to the arts, not surprisingly. We know there have been massive layoffs in the arts and culture sector, despite the really wonderful measures of the government, Canada Council and Heritage Canada. I applaud their flexibility.

Many of these layoffs, however, are no longer temporary. I’m devastated by the number of, I’m going to say, young people — they’re younger than me — who have been working in a field for 15, 20, 25 years and are now without work permanently. I’m wondering, with the wage subsidy extended, can these people be hired back by the organizations that have had to let them go out of fear of the subsidy? Would they then be qualified for the wage subsidy, having been hired back by the organization?

Ms. Freeland: Yes, absolutely. One reason for extending the wage subsidy through the summer is to give organizations and businesses the confidence that it’s going to be there.

I hope, senator, that they will do precisely as you suggest and hire back people in anticipation of our getting rid of the coronavirus and knowing that they’re going to have the support to keep people on in this transition period.

Senator Bovey: They say they are afraid to.

Ms. Freeland: Tell them the subsidy is there until the summer, so it’s safe.

Click here to read the full text of the Committee of the Whole

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