Address by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to the Standing Committee on Finance

Speech

December 9, 2021

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Mr. Chair, congratulations on assuming the chair, and thank you for your invitation.

I’d like to say to all the members here, congratulations to everyone on being elected and thank you for your hard work.

Since the House has returned, the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant has forced new travel restrictions in a number of countries, including Canada, and created renewed uncertainty in global markets.

The emergence of the Omicron variant is a reminder that the best economic policy remains finishing the fight against COVID-19. That fight isn’t over yet and that really underscores the need for us to continue to protect Canadians and Canadian businesses and, in fact, the need for this bill.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, our government rapidly rolled out an historic set of broad-based programs so that we could save lives, preserve and protect our economy through the crisis and support Canadian workers and Canadian businesses so they could get through the pandemic.

Our income, wage, and rent support programs have helped keep food on the table, protect millions of jobs, and keep hundreds of thousands of Canadian businesses going through the darkest days of the pandemic.

Having said that, our support measures were always designed to be temporary emergency support measures.

As many members of this committee have noted, the emergency nature of this support meant that there have been bumps along the way. Unfortunately, some seniors who received COVID-19 supports have seen their GIS benefits affected.

Our government, including me personally, is very aware of this issue and is actively seeking a solution. Our most vulnerable seniors should not be penalized, particularly those who lost income due to the pandemic.

We know that many seniors rely on GIS payments to help make ends meet, and I am confident that the government will have more to say on this issue in the next few days.

Today, with high vaccination rates, over 1 million jobs created, children back in school and businesses across the country reopening, the time has come to adapt the business and income support measures to these new and improved circumstances.

Across the country businesses are reopening. As of last month, more than 106 per cent of the jobs lost in Canada in the depths of the recession have now been recovered. This is compared to just 83 per cent of jobs recovered in the U.S. Thanks in large part to our government’s support measures, we have avoided the sort of deep economic scarring that followed the 2008 recession and that would have done permanent damage to our economy.

Just last Friday, Statistics Canada reported strong job growth continued in November, with 154,000 new jobs created. This outpaced market expectations. These new jobs lowered the unemployment rate to 6 per cent, the lowest since the pandemic began, and only 0.3 percentage points above pre-pandemic levels of February 2020.

However, some areas of the country and some sectors of the economy are slower to reopen and continue to need targeted support.

That’s why in October our government announced a pivot from the broad-based support that was appropriate at the height of lockdowns to more targeted support that will provide help where it is still needed while also prudently and carefully managing government spending. On November 24, I introduced legislation in Parliament to deliver this more targeted support.

Bill C-2 allows us to move forward while keeping in mind that the recovery is still uneven and that public health measures that save lives continue to restrict certain economic activities.

Given the uncertainties caused by the new Omicron variant, Bill C-2 is more important than ever. That is why I am here today, to urge you all to act in the best interests of Canadians and Canadian businesses by helping them through the pandemic as they continue to face new uncertainties.

Bill C-2 will provide critical support for our economic recovery and will protect workers in the hardest-hit sectors, such as tourism.

As specified in the list of eligible tourism or hospitality entities published in Bill C-2, we ensured that businesses in the arts and cultural sectors, including those offering live performances and art exhibitions, as well as museums, are eligible.

Concretely, this means that the bill includes important measures to support jobs for artists and cultural workers.

That being said, our government recognizes that the arts and culture sector continues to be disproportionately and negatively affected by the pandemic. That is why, during the campaign, we committed to providing targeted support to workers and technicians in the cultural sector, including self-employed workers.

While we want to swiftly deliver the support measures included in this bill, we are working hard to keep the promise we made to artists so that they can continue to shine here at home and around the world. We will be able to provide you with more details soon.

For artists in Quebec and across Canada, we must pass Bill C-2 quickly, while working together to table new measures soon that will provide direct support to artists and the cultural sector.

Among the measures included in Bill C-2 is the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, a new income support benefit that will take into account the decisions of public health authorities, which remain uncertain and unpredictable.

The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit will provide $300 a week to workers who are directly affected by a COVID-19-related local lockdown, and will be available to eligible workers retroactively to October 24, 2021 and through to May 7, 2022.

We’re taking this step because we want to make sure that no one is left behind, including workers who are unable to do their job due to future public health restrictions, should they be required.

Bill C-2 is also designed with an understanding that some workers may require income support if they need to take time off because they’re sick, under quarantine, or have caregiving responsibilities.

That’s why the bill proposes to extend eligibility for both the Canada Sickness Benefit and the Canada Caregiving Benefit.

We want to make sure that businesses can continue to grow and recover, and drive up Canada’s labour force participation rates and our level of employment. That’s why we’re proposing to extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until May 7, 2022, and increase the rate of support to 50 per cent.

We also know that certain businesses were deeply affected by the pandemic and that they continue to face significant pandemic-related challenges. The new Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program will deliver subsidies to employers such as hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and tour operators. The bill includes details on which business programs will be eligible.

The subsidy rate for this highly targeted group of tourism and hospitality businesses will start at 40 per cent for applicants with a 40 per cent revenue loss, increasing in line with their revenue loss, to a maximum of 75 per cent.

For businesses in all sectors the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program will provide support through wage and rent subsidies to employers who have experienced deep and enduring losses through the pandemic.

The eligibility for these programs will be a two-key system. One key will consider whether the employer has faced a significant revenue loss over the course of the first 12 months of the pandemic. The second key is revenue loss in the current month.

The Local Lockdown Program will be there to provide employers facing temporary new local lockdowns with a subsidy rate of up to 75 per cent, through the wage and rent subsidy programs. This is important because it will ensure that local authorities and public health officials can continue to make the right public health choices knowing that support will be there for workers and businesses, if needed.

While we are all hoping that lockdowns will not be necessary in the future, recent developments related to the Omicron variant serve as a reminder that the fight against COVID-19 is not yet over.

I underscore a key aspect of Bill C-2: it would enable the government to take immediate action to support workers and businesses directly affected by local lockdowns, should the public health situation require it.

I will note that we will continue to have measures in place such that any publicly listed corporation that chooses to increase executive pay while receiving government support will have the wage subsidy support clawed back.

The broad-based set of business and income support measures, which we introduced at the height of the pandemic and which came to an end as we committed on October 23, 2021, had an estimated cost of $289 billion.

Mr. Chair, I can today report that the Department of Finance has estimated on October 21, 2021 that the total cost of the measures in Bill C-2 would be $7.4 billion, and it would come from the consolidated revenue fund. The government will account for the potential economic impact of the Omicron variant, including the increased possibility of the need to use the insurance policy, which is the lockdown support measures in Bill C-2, in our Economic and Fiscal Update on Tuesday.

Fighting COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns we put in place to save lives required unprecedented government spending in Canada and around the world. Canadians supported that extraordinary spending because they understood that it was not only the compassionate thing to do, but it was the right thing to do economically.

Bill C-2 will allow us to continue to have Canadians’ backs, while delivering support that is more targeted and prudently managing public finances. I hope all Parliamentarians will vote to pass this legislation so that Canadians who need support can access it as quickly as possible.

Finally, Mr. Chair, fellow Members of Parliament, I’d like to reiterate, as clearly as I can, that the single most important economic policy for Canada continues to be making sure that everyone who can get vaccinated does get vaccinated.

We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 89 per cent of Canadians 12 and older having received at least one dose of the vaccine. We have the second lowest mortality rate in the G7. Children between 5 and 11 started getting vaccinated last month. Many of our parents and grandparents are now getting their booster shots, and the rest of us will start getting them soon, too.

I have to say, speaking as a daughter, what a relief it is that our parents and grandparents are getting their boosters. I think that feeling is one common to many Canadians.

We can be proud of how we’ve come together to fight COVID-19. Our battle is not quite finished yet, but we’re getting there. The measures in this legislation are an important part of what we need to do to get the job done.

With that, I would be pleased to answer your questions.

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