Address by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance on the Fall Economic Statement: Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19


November 30, 2020

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Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government’s Fall Economic Statement: Supporting Canadians and Fighting COVID-19.

COVID-19 is surging across Canada, right now.

We know the winter ahead will be hard.

It will be a winter of loneliness and grief, for far too many families.

But we also know that spring will follow winter.

The message I would like to share with Canadians today, Mr. Speaker, is that we will get through this.

We are a resilient people. We are a resourceful people. And we have a plan.

We know what we must do to get through the dark months ahead.

And, we know what we must do to bring our economy roaring back, once this pandemic is beaten.

Mr. Speaker, every life lost to COVID-19 is one life too many. So, we need to redouble our public health efforts until the virus is crushed. We do not have the luxury of fatigue.

And we have arrows in our quiver.

We are better prepared today than we were last spring. Canadians and Canadian businesses now have access to a comprehensive package of federal support measures to help them weather shutdowns ordered by a public health authority.

We know how to keep most of our economy – from manufacturing, to mining, to jobs that can be done remotely – operating safely, even while the virus is still circulating in our communities.

We have learned how to keep many of our children in school.

Our ability to treat the disease has evolved.

As of late November, more than 5.5 million Canadians had downloaded the COVID Alert app.

We have the PPE and ventilators we need; we have learned to wear masks, to keep two metres apart and to wash our hands.

Most importantly, Mr. Speaker: Safe, effective and plentiful vaccines are on the way.

We don’t know precisely when this pandemic will end. But we do know that it will end.

This fall economic statement outlines the Government of Canada’s measures to fight and defeat COVID-19; to support Canadians through this crisis; and to rebuild Canada’s economy, once the virus is beaten.

We will do whatever it takes to help Canadians stay healthy, safe and solvent. We will invest in every necessary and helpful public health measure. And we will support Canadian families and Canadian businesses, in a deliberate, prudent and effective way.

We understand the sacrifices that have been made and are being made by Canadians, right now. Many small business owners have shut their doors. Workers are still without jobs. Parents have put careers on hold to keep their families healthy and safe.

Young children diligently wear masks for hours every day in school, knowing they are helping to protect their grandparents.

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are doing their part. It is only right that we in this House do ours – by ensuring the economy that comes after this pandemic is more innovative, inclusive and resilient than the one that preceded it.

From the onset of COVID-19, our government has done everything in our power to combat the virus and mitigate its harm, using every tool available.

Eight of every ten dollars spent in Canada to fight the virus and support Canadians has been spent by the federal government.

To date, the government has procured more than two billion pieces of PPE. And we have assembled a comprehensive, world-leading portfolio of vaccines.

The government has invested more than $1 billion in vaccine agreements, securing a domestic supply of up to 429 million doses, of seven promising vaccines – more than ten doses for every Canadian.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, Canada has secured the most diverse and extensive vaccine portfolio of any country in the world. Every Canadian can rest assured that a safe and effective vaccine will be available to them, free of charge.

The battle against COVID-19 has proceeded on many fronts. We have invested in health care, increased testing and tracing and directly supported provinces and territories as they fight the virus. This has been a Team Canada effort.

Total support so far includes $322 billion in direct measures to fight the virus and help people; and $85 billion in tax and duty deferrals. Mr. Speaker, this is the largest economic relief package for our country since the Second World War.

Last spring, the Canadian Armed Forces did heroic work in our long-term care facilities in Ontario and Quebec, saving Canadian seniors’ lives.

In the summer, we announced more than $4 billion so provinces and territories could build up their testing and contact tracing capacity, part of our $19.9-billion safe restart package.

To help stop the spread of the virus in vulnerable communities, we worked with cities and communities to ensure that voluntary self-isolation sites would be available as an alternative to crowded housing.

Alongside these essential health measures, we’ve introduced robust economic programs to help people, businesses and organizations of all sizes survive this pandemic. Together, these supports form a comprehensive safety net, which will be in place until the summer of 2021.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Business Account were quickly developed and rolled out, so people could pay their rent and mortgages and feed their families, while doing their part to defeat the virus by staying home. From March through October, the CERB alone supported 8.9 million Canadians.

Seniors received a special Old Age Security top-up of $300. And qualifying Canadians with disabilities have received additional support, worth up to $600.

In August, the government announced the Canada Recovery Benefit, the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and enhanced Employment Insurance. Each will be in place through the fall of 2021. This safety net is providing essential security to millions of Canadians.

This month, the government launched new measures for businesses with a new commercial rent subsidy paid directly to businesses – who this week will begin receiving support for up to 65 per cent of their rent or mortgage interest, retroactive to September 27.

Businesses will also begin receiving new lockdown support of an additional 25 per cent of rent or mortgage interest, where a shutdown is required by a public health order. This means qualifying businesses in lockdown can have up to 90 per cent of their rent covered.

And we are extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy through to June of 2021. More than 3.9 million Canadian jobs have been protected by this program.

Mr. Speaker, in December, Canadian businesses will be able to apply for a top-up to the Canadian Emergency Business Account loan and grant program. Already, more than 780,000 small businesses across the country have taken advantage of the $40,000 CEBA loan, of which $10,000 is forgivable.

The top-up is an additional $20,000 loan, half of which will be forgivable.

Mr. Speaker, we know that small businesses are the heart of our communities and the engine of our economy. Small businesses are the foundation of Canada’s middle class.

And we know this crisis is hitting family businesses particularly hard, imperilling in a few months the work of a lifetime, and often of generations. That is why it is so important to support our small businesses and the middle class families who have built them.

Mr. Speaker, these measures provide economic certainty to Canadians in a turbulent and uncertain time. They will help get us through the winter.

And these measures are targeted and flexible. They are most generous to those in greatest need. They are an essential complement to our health care response.

They allow people and businesses to do the right thing, knowing they don't have to choose between public health and putting food on the table. Our commitment to employee sick leave and to supporting businesses where local shutdowns are ordered, are examples of this approach.

With the second wave upon us with full virulence, we are taking additional steps to help Canadians and Canadian businesses get through to the other side, solvent and intact.

We are providing $1 billion for a safe long-term care fund for the provinces and territories, making fresh investments in PPE and preparing for the largest vaccination mobilization in Canada’s history.

We are providing new resources to help improve ventilation in our public buildings to make them safer. And to help workers and businesses, we are raising the Wage Subsidy back to a maximum of 75 per cent, recognizing the early months of the year are the toughest for many businesses, now more than ever.

We know that businesses in tourism, hospitality, travel, arts and culture have been particularly hard-hit. So we’re creating a new stream of support for those businesses that need it most – a credit availability program with 100-per-cent government-backed loan support and favourable terms for businesses that have lost revenue as people stay home to fight the spread of the virus.

Mr. Speaker, this is the most severe challenge our country has faced since the Second World War. It is our most severe economic shock since the Great Depression, and our most severe public health crisis since the Spanish Flu, a century ago. Canadians should know that their federal government will be there to help them get through it – come what may.

Today I have spoken about the nature of the threat we face, and the remedies we have provided. The fight against COVID-19 continues.

But there is now light at the end of the tunnel. After winter, comes spring. The seeds we have sown, and will continue to plant in the weeks and months ahead – to protect Canadians’ health and save our jobs and businesses – will help us come roaring back from the coronavirus recession. This careful husbandry will prevent the long-term economic scarring that would otherwise delay and weaken our post-pandemic recovery.

I am the daughter of an Alberta farmer. Canada’s farmers spend the winter fixing their tractors, combines and seed drills, and stocking up on supplies. While the ground is frozen, they get ready for seeding when the earth thaws.

Like all those great Canadian farmers, the work we do today will stand us in good stead in the spring.

When the virus is under control and our economy is ready for new growth, we will deploy an ambitious stimulus package to jumpstart our recovery. Spending roughly 3-4 per cent of GDP, over three years, our government will make carefully judged, targeted and meaningful investments to create jobs and boost growth.

Our stimulus will be designed, first and foremost, to provide the fiscal support the Canadian economy needs to operate at its full capacity and to stop COVID-19 from doing long-term damage to our economic potential.

Key to this plan will be smart, time-limited investments that can act fast while also making a long-run contribution to our future shared prosperity, quality of life, competitiveness and our green transformation.

The government’s growth plan will include investments that deliver on our commitment to create a million jobs and restore employment to pre-pandemic levels, as well as unleash some of the Canadian economy’s pre-loaded stimulus: additional savings that have accumulated in bank accounts of some Canadians and balance sheets of some businesses.

This will foster economic rebirth in the short-run, and strengthen this country’s competitiveness in the long-run.

Today, we are presenting a downpayment on this plan. These are measures we can begin safely taking now. They include investments in the green economy and job training, particularly for youth and care providers; rural broadband, airport infrastructure, rapid housing; economic empowerment for vulnerable communities; and measures to immediately build up our health and social infrastructure.

Mr. Speaker, we know that Canada’s future competitiveness depends on our ability to take advantage of the net zero green economy. Our growth plan must continue to advance our progress on climate action and promote a clean economy.

We will plant 2 billion trees over the next ten years, provide 700,000 grants to help homeowners make energy efficient retrofits, and build zero-emission vehicle charging stations across the country. These measures will encourage consumer spending and investment while greening our economy and creating well-paying jobs.

Mr. Speaker, this is a recession like no other we have faced.

Women, young people, new Canadians, Black and racialized Canadians have been disproportionately hurt by the COVID-19 recession. They are, after all, the Canadians who are most likely to work in some of our hardest-hit industries, including care, hospitality and retail. And we know that First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples are also disproportionately affected by this pandemic.

Our growth plan will be designed with this particular damage in mind and will seek to heal it. This unique recession demands a unique response.

COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated the systemic barriers faced by Black entrepreneurs and owners of small and medium-sized businesses in Canada. So the government, in partnership with Canadian financial institutions, has announced an investment of up to $221 million – including up to $93 million from the Government of Canada over the next four years – to launch this country’s first Black Entrepreneurship Program.

There is an unacceptable gap in infrastructure in Indigenous communities. So, our government proposes to invest $1.5 billion, beginning in 2020-21, to speed up the lifting of all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities.

COVID-19 has been especially hard for young children and their families. We know that many middle class families are struggling. So, to provide immediate relief for families with young children, our government proposes to introduce temporary additional support totaling up to $1,200 in 2021 for each child under the age of 6 for low- and middle-income families who are entitled to the Canada Child Benefit (CCB).

Mr. Speaker, we know that COVID-19 is rolling back many of the gains Canadian women have fought for and won in my lifetime.

That is why today, as part of our commitment to an Action Plan for Women in the Economy, we are laying the foundation for a Canada-wide early learning and child care system. Just as Saskatchewan once showed Canada the way on health care and British Columbia showed Canada the way on pricing pollution, Quebec can show us all the way on child care.

I say this both as a working mother, and as a Minister of Finance: Canada will not be truly competitive until all Canadian women have access to the affordable child care we need to support our participation in our country’s workforce.

This is a feminist agenda, Mr. Speaker, and I say that proudly. It is also an agenda that makes sound business sense and is supported by many of Canada’s corporate leaders – people who have witnessed first-hand the toll this crisis has taken on women, their families and our children. We can only all do better when every one of us is contributing to our full potential.

As we build back, we have it within our reach to build back better, tackling challenges that hold us all back: Homelessness. Systemic racism. The unfinished and essential work of Reconciliation.

Economic downturns are always especially hard on young people. The COVID-19 recession is particularly damaging in this regard because of its impact on the service sector, in which many students work.

Among other steps, the government proposes to reduce student debt by eliminating interest on the federal portion of Canada Student Loans and Canada Apprentice Loans for 2021-22. I remember struggling with my own student loans, and I am glad to help relieve our young people, who are swimming so hard against the COVID-19 current, of this additional burden.

In the coming months, we will work with Canadians and consult broadly, to design the growth plan that will guide our recovery and set our course for the years to come.

Mr. Speaker, our country entered this crisis in a strong fiscal position, allowing our government to take decisive action to help people and businesses weather the storm.

And that action has helped so much. To date, Canada has recovered almost 80 per cent of the more than 3 million jobs lost at the outset of the pandemic. Compare that to the United States, which has recovered just over half.

But there is still a lot of hard slogging ahead. First, we must defeat the virus. Only then, when the threat of lockdowns and resurgence is past, will our economy be ready for a return to full, stable, long-term growth.

Canadians understand that this crisis demands targeted, time-limited support to keep people and businesses afloat and to build our way out of the COVID-19 recession.

The support and investments outlined in this plan, including our stimulus, will foster a resilient and inclusive recovery.

Fiscal guardrails will help us establish when the stimulus will be wound down.

The government will track progress against several related indicators, recognizing that no one data point is a perfect representation of the health of the economy. These indicators include the employment rate, total hours worked and the level of unemployment in the economy.

These data-driven triggers will tell us when the job of building back from the COVID-19 recession is accomplished, and we can bring one-off stimulus spending to an end.

When the economy has recovered, the time-limited stimulus will be withdrawn and Canada will resume its long-standing, prudent and responsible fiscal path, based on a long-term fiscal anchor, which we will outline when the economy is more stable.

But make no mistake, Mr. Speaker.

As we have learned from previous recessions, the risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much. We will not repeat the mistakes of the years following the Great Recession of 2008.

In this fall economic statement, we are being transparent about the continuing uncertainty.

We are planning and preparing for all eventualities. The rate of infection, the severity of shutdowns, the deployment of a safe and effective vaccine – all of these are variables in our economic outlook and our path to recovery.

But as our fiscal plan shows, Mr. Speaker, brighter days are ahead. And we can afford the investment we must make to reach them.

Canada entered this pandemic with the strongest fiscal position of any G7 country. We retain that position today. Federal debt-servicing costs, relative to the size of our economy, remain at a 100 year low. And we are locking in those low costs by issuing more debt into longer-term instruments at these historically low rates.

Canadians want a tax system that is fair, where everyone pays their fair share, so the government has the resources it needs to invest in people and keep our economy strong. That is why we are moving ahead with implementing GST/HST on multinational digital giants, and limiting stock option deductions in the largest companies.

And Canada will act unilaterally, if necessary, Mr. Speaker, to apply a tax on large multinational digital corporations, so they pay their fair share just like any other company operating in Canada.

Mr. Speaker, this growth plan is far-reaching and transformative. But does it mean the worst of the COVID-19 crisis is past? Sadly, it does not.

Indeed, our country’s most difficult days may come in the weeks and months immediately ahead. Hospitalizations are on the rise and the virus continues to take a terrible toll, particularly on our elders.

That is why we must redouble our public health efforts; obey public health instructions; physically distance; wear masks when in public; avoid social gatherings and wash our hands.

We must all do this, Mr. Speaker. We can save lives.

Canadians can and should avail themselves of the federal programs now available. This safety net is there now so that people can make the right decisions to protect our health.

If we do the right things – if we hunker down and heed public health advice for these last remaining months, we will also be doing the right thing for our economy. And we will bring closer the day when every Canadian can get back to normal life.

Most importantly, we will greatly lessen the mortal toll of this disease.

Mr. Speaker, after nearly ten months of the pandemic, we are all tired. But we also know vaccines, and a better day, are coming. To get to that day, we must first help each other get through the winter.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived through hard winters, too – in times of war and Depression, on frozen Prairie homesteads, in windswept fishing villages in Atlantic Canada, all across our vast country. The living survivors of those days, now our most vulnerable elders, are counting on us to buckle down for another few months.

We can do this, Mr. Speaker. We must do this, Mr. Speaker. And we will do this, Mr. Speaker.

Canadians have faced tough winters before – and always emerged stronger. We will this time, too.

Thank you.

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