Opening remarks for the Deputy Prime Minister to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance – Bill C-2


December 16, 2021

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Honourable Senators, as Omicron has reminded us, we’re still living in a pandemic and, as we are learning, this is an even more transmissible version of the virus.

On Tuesday, our government released an economic and fiscal update that outlines targeted investments that will allow us to finish the fight against COVID.

We know that vaccines are our best line of defence against the virus. That is why we have invested more than $7.3 billion in buying vaccines for all eligible Canadians, including pediatric vaccines. That amount also includes the purchase of booster shots.

Omicron makes boosters more important than ever. I urge all Canadians listening to us to please go and get your booster as soon as you are eligible. We have enough for everyone. The federal government is ensuring that third doses and booster shots are free for all Canadians.

We are also committing $2 billion to buy therapeutics, including antiviral medications. These will save lives. If and when these medicines are approved by Health Canada, we have agreements for 1 million courses of treatment from Pfizer, and an initial 500,000 from Merck, with the option of an additional 500,000.

Rapid tests are also important. In the Economic and Fiscal Update 2021, we announced that we are investing $1.7 billion to procure and distribute an additional 180 million rapid tests.

We have also introduced measures to enable public health authorities to make the right — albeit sometimes difficult — decisions and, if necessary, to put in place restrictions to control the spread of the virus. We know that putting in place federal government support for workers and businesses will help public health officials to make these decisions where needed.

That brings me to many of the specific measures laid out in Bill C-2. One of them is the proposed Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit. This is a new income benefit that takes into account the fact that the public health situation is still uncertain and unpredictable.

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

We are taking this step because we want to make sure that no one is left behind, including vulnerable workers.

The bill also proposes to extend eligibility for both the Canada Sickness Benefit and the Canada Caregiving Benefit until May 7, 2022.

We understand that certain travel restrictions will have an impact on tourism businesses, which have already gone through 21 very difficult months. That is why the new Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program will deliver wage and rent subsidies of up to 75 per cent to employers such as hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, and tour operators. The bill includes details of the types of businesses that would be eligible for the program.

For businesses in all sectors, the proposed Hardest-Hit Business Recovery program will provide support through wage and rent subsidies to employers who have experienced deep and enduring losses with a subsidy rate of up to 50 per cent.

The Local Lockdown Program is especially important right now. This 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 means 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.

As our government continues to work to control the spread of Omicron, we know we must also focus on our economic recovery. We want businesses to continue to grow and recover. That’s why we’re proposing to extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until May 7, 2022, and to increase the rate of support to 50 per cent. This will encourage businesses to hire back workers, increase workers’ hours and create new jobs.

Honourable Senators, fighting COVID-19 has required extraordinary government spending in Canada and around the world. Canadians supported that extraordinary spending because they understood it was not only the compassionate thing to do, but it was the right thing to do economically. We know that Canadians work hard to earn a living and they expect us to be careful with their money. We know we have a duty to do the right thing for today and for tomorrow.

Our government will continue to be a responsible and prudent fiscal manager. This bill is about pivoting from broad-based support programs to more targeted, less expensive measures that will continue to deliver support where it’s needed and also support strong public health policy.

When we introduced these programs in October, we projected they would cost $7.4 billion, but with the growing threat of the omicron variant, we decided to set aside an additional $4.5 billion for these programs, along with other measures needed to control the spread.

In conclusion, Omicron is not something any of us want to be dealing with just before the holidays, but I think we all understood, after 21 months of fighting this virus, that making hard decisions quickly and behaving carefully pays off in the long run.

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