Ministerial Q&A for the week of April 20th

We have assembled key questions asked of Government minister’s for this week, and included their answers below for your review.  

Question:  

    Mr. Speaker, our business owners are worried. Some are not sure if they will be able to reopen. Bills are piling up, and revenues are obviously down. Assistance seems to be a long time coming, including the commercial rent assistance program.

    When will our SMEs, the backbone of our economy, get details about this assistance program that is supposed to help them pay commercial rent and reopen when the time comes?

 

Hon. Mona Fortier (Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, as Canadians take steps to fight COVID-19, we know that many businesses worry about not being able to pay the rent. Property owners across the country have risen to the occasion by forgoing rent and helping their tenants through these tough times. Recognizing the challenges that Canadian businesses and property owners are facing, our government intends to introduce the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program for small businesses. To do that, we will need a partnership with the provincial and territorial governments, and we are working on that right now.

Mr. Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, small business health professionals in my riding who are being left behind by the gaps in the Canada emergency business account and the wage subsidy programs. These programs continue to exclude tens of thousands of small businesses from receiving help by refusing to recognize dividend income as employment income. Why will the government not consider dividends as a form of salary for entrepreneurs, so that they can qualify for emergency supports they desperately need?

 

Hon. Mary Ng (Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Lib.):  
    Mr. Speaker, the Canadian small businesses that the hon. member talks about are really important to all of our businesses in every community across the country. That is why we have made supports available through the Canada emergency business account, as well as the Canada emergency wage subsidy, so that businesses all across the country can access funds to help bridge some of the costs during this period and keep their employees.

    

Mr. Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC):  
    Mr. Speaker, CFIB data suggests that one-third of Canadian small businesses will never open again, if the government continues to drag its feet in getting financial support into their hands. Small business loan programs established through BDC and Export Development Canada are desperately needed, but many small business owners worry that it simply won’t be enough to save them.

    To the Minister of Finance, what is the government doing to speed up program deployment?

 

Hon. Mary Ng (Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Lib.):  
    We are listening to small businesses all across the country. Almost a quarter of a million business owners and businesses across the country have seen those loans approved.

    We have expanded the criteria so that more businesses can access a $40,000 interest-free loan, for businesses with $20,000 of payroll up to $1.5 million of payroll.

    

Seniors

 

Question:  

    

    Seniors are the people most affected by COVID-19 and the ones who receive the least support. They are bearing the brunt of the increased cost of groceries and the decline in pension funds. Their purchasing power is vanishing before their eyes.

    Will the government increase old age pension by $110 a month?

 

Hon. Mona Fortier (Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance, Lib.):  
    

    We are currently giving low- and modest-income seniors an extra GST credit payment of up to $400 per adult and $600 per couple.

    We are also giving seniors some flexibility when it comes to the withdrawal requirements for registered retirement income. We are lowering the minimum RRIF withdrawal amounts by 25%.

 

Question:  

    Mr. Speaker, it seems that the increase in the GST was not enough.

    It is absolutely crucial that the old age benefit be enhanced by $110 per month. On top of everything else, pension plans are not performing well.

    First of all, will the government increase old age security benefits? Second, will it remove RRIF mandatory withdrawal amounts?

    

Hon. Mona Fortier (Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, we will continue to support seniors and provide some flexibility when it comes to the withdrawal requirements for registered retirement income.

    We are lowering the minimum RRIF withdrawal amounts by 25% for 2020. This will help keep assets in RRIFs during this time of market volatility. In addition, seniors who have stopped working because of COVID-19 are eligible for the Canada emergency response benefit, which provides $2,000 a month.

    

Health

Ms. Leona Alleslev (Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, public health measures are working to stop the spread of COVID-19, with the number of new cases starting to stabilize. Now is the time to begin to prepare to ensure we are ready at the earliest possible moment to restart our economy.

    What is the national strategy for supporting virus and antibody testing? When will widespread contact tracing be available? How will the government address critical shortages of medical items? Canadians need to see a plan. When will the Liberals provide a national plan to get this country back to work?

 

Hon. Patty Hajdu (Minister of Health, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member opposite that this needs to be a coordinated national plan, and that is why right now we are working with provinces and territories to address the many facets that she identifies. Whether it is research, support for public health or boosting our health care system across the country, these are steps we need to take together and in a coordinated fashion. We will continue that hard work and we will come back to Canadians when we have a plan that will protect their safety first and foremost and allow people to get back to work.

 

Ms. Leona Alleslev (Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, the provinces, health professionals and front-line workers are doing incredible work to fight the virus and keep us safe.

    Now the federal government needs to work with us to get Canada back to normal. Certain conditions must be met before restrictions are lifted. For example, the government needs to address the shortage of equipment and medication. When will the government share its plan to reopen Canada?

 

Hon. Patty Hajdu (Minister of Health, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member opposite. It is extremely important that we work together with provinces and territories to ensure we have a strong fabric to protect Canadians’ health and safety while we begin the long, hard work of restarting our economy and getting Canadians back to work. This will require research. This will require evidence. This will also require investments in public health and supporting local and provincial governments to do the hard work of contact tracing and isolating close contacts. I am looking forward to that work with my colleagues and we will continue to update the House as we do it.

 

Mr. John Williamson (New Brunswick Southwest, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, as Canada moves from self-isolation and closures to a gradual reopening of communities and businesses, a high level of testing for COVID-19 will be needed, especially in areas that experience a second wave. Yet concerns are increasing that the federal government has not adequately ramped up the availability of tests, as was successfully done in Taiwan and South Korea.

    What is the government’s plan to initiate large-scale testing to coincide with a lifting of self-isolation, and how many test kits are needed to begin?

 

Hon. Patty Hajdu (Minister of Health, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, in Canada we have one of the highest testing rates in the world.

    We are very proud of the work that is happening all across the country at all levels of government, but also from private industry which has been racing to ensure that we have new tools and new testing approaches as the science develops. We are constantly working, for example, to increase laboratory capacity and approve testing kits. In fact, we have approved the use of 10 new testing kits across the country which will help accelerate testing and speed up results. This is a work in progress, but we are confident we are on the right track.

 

Question:  

    Mr. Speaker, an article on Ricochet reveals troubling information about errors made and the lack of pandemic preparedness.

    SARS hit in 2003, but the government does not seem to have learned anything from that experience. On the other side of the world, South Korea had what it needed. They tested all their people. They had masks for everyone. Here, we are still scrambling for equipment. As a result, Quebec’s death rate is 23 times higher than South Korea’s.

    What steps will the government take to provide protective equipment to health workers?

 

Hon. Patty Hajdu (Minister of Health, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, it has been all hands on deck to try to secure personal protective equipment for our health care workers across the provinces and territories.

    The federal government has been working very closely with our counterparts to ensure that we find supplies, that we place those orders together and that we are able to get those orders out of countries. Also, we have been ramping up our ability to produce personal protective equipment and other medical supplies domestically, which will greatly increase our capacity to ensure an ongoing supply going forward.

    It is a tragedy that so many people have lost their lives across this country, particularly in long-term care homes, which I know the province of Quebec is struggling with. We continue to work with our counterparts to protect those lives.

Finance

Question:  

    Mr. Speaker, workers and retirees are worried.

    With the stock market at its very lowest, virtually all pension plans are in deficit. What does the government intend to do to better protect pension plans?

 

Hon. Mona Fortier (Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance, Lib.):  

        We have implemented emergency measures and an economic plan to help Canadians in the current pandemic. We will be looking ahead to see how we can continue to support Canadians and retirees in the coming weeks.

 

Ms. Leona Alleslev (Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, CPC):  

    We need to put many things in place, but we need to know when there will be a plan and what the criteria for that plan are. The sooner we understand what those criteria are and what the plan is, the higher success rate we will have.

     When will there be a plan?

 

Hon. Patty Hajdu:  

    Madam Chair, “When will all this end?” is a question that I hear almost every day from multiple partners, constituents, friends and family. Certainly, we are working very diligently with our provincial and territorial counterparts to make sure that whatever plan we put in place, it is actionable and feasible, and that it has at its foundation the health and safety of all Canadians. Only then will we be able to ensure that our economy is strong and can survive future potential outbreaks of COVID-19.

 

Ms. Leona Alleslev:  

    I asked when there will be a plan. Many other jurisdictions have a plan, and they are further behind the curve than we are. We are late in the need to have a plan. Will the plan include testing? As they say, we need more testing, so how will the government have more testing?

 

Hon. Patty Hajdu:  

    Absolutely, the plan will include ramping up of testing. As members know, Canada is one of the leading countries in terms of our testing per capita, but so much more needs to be done. We have been approving new testing options for provinces, territories and local governments, but it will also include future research on serology so that we understand this virus and we understand the questions around immunity that it poses.

 

Mr. Joël Godin (Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, CPC):  

        I have a question about the CERB. I know that this program was implemented quickly, because of the circumstances, but that has created some problems. Many workers do not want to go work because of the CERB.

    Does the government have a solution to help our businesses, which provide jobs? Unfortunately, low-wage workers are not motivated to work and contribute because of this program.

 

Hon. Ahmed Hussen:  

    I want to assure the hon. member that the Canada emergency response benefit was meant exactly to provide support to workers who were laid off, or even to workers who are not EI-eligible and who have seen their jobs literally disappear, to be able to find the support they need at this difficult time.

    In addition to that, we have gotten feedback from Canadians who felt that they could not qualify for the CERB, either because their EI benefits ran out in January or because they were working but were actually making less than what they would make if they were on the CERB, and we responded. We said that we need to do more to include those folks, and we have. We have taken those steps, and we will continue to listen to Canadians and take that input.

Mr. Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC):  

    The government announced for the energy sector $1.72 billion for orphan well remediation, an emissions reduction fund and a business credit availability program. The first idea actually comes from Bill C-221, which is the MP for Lakeland’s bill. A Conservative MP suggested it. The problem is the PBO’s costing for that original private member’s bill was $30 billion upwards of private sector investment. Seeing that WTI is trading today as low as minus $40.32, when can Albertans expect the rest of the energy subsidy help?

 

Hon. Chrystia Freeland (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Lib.):  

    The long-awaited announcement of $1.7 billion for an active well cleanup and $750 million for methane reduction are very positive steps for the energy sector for Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. They do not need to take my word for it. I am going to quote Premier Jason Kenney, who said, “Thank you to the Prime Minister…for announcing $1.7 billion to accelerate cleanup of orphaned and abandoned wells in Canada’s energy sector. This is critical to getting thousands of people in the energy sector back to work immediately.”

    The premier is right, and we are glad to be contributing to that.

 

Mr. Tom Kmiec:  

    I will finish the quote. The premier also said that was a good first step. To paraphrase, Sonya Savage, Alberta’s energy minister, said on CTV News, “I’d like to see the rest of the package now, please, as well.”

    As I said, WTI is trading at minus $40.32. That was the bottom. This will reset tomorrow, which means the May futures prices will be around $20 starting tomorrow.

    One of the things the energy sector and workers are expecting and have heard from the Prime Minister and his ministers is on the liquidity program provided through the BDC. It is aimed at small and medium-sized businesses, but the BDC does not list criteria size on its website or anywhere else.

    What are the parameters to ensure that outcome that small and medium-sized oil and gas companies can access the help that they need?

 

Hon. Mary Ng (Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Lib.):  

    The BCAP that we have put forth provides government guarantees to Canada’s financial institutions, banks and credit unions, and are absolutely available to Canadian small and medium-sized businesses of all sectors. These are not only the $40,000 interest-free loans that are available, but indeed loans that go up to $12.5 million are available to Canada’s small and medium-sized businesses, including those in the oil and gas sector.

 

Mr. Tom Kmiec:  

    With all due respect to the minister, she did not quite answer my question. I was asking the criteria for size. The American payroll wage subsidy program lists a small business as 500 employees or less.

    Again, for these BDC loans for small and medium-sized businesses that small and medium oil and gas companies want to access, what is the criteria for size? Is it wages? Is it revenue? Is it an FTE count? I would like to know the number, please.

 

Hon. Mary Ng:  

    Madam Chair, of course, for the small business loan of $40,000, as members already know, it is a payroll size of $20,000 to $1.5 million. That is the eligibility criteria for that category of loans. For other loans that are available, they are up to $12.5 million, and one can go to the financial institution and get access to that funding.

 

Mr. Tom Kmiec:  

    Another part of the announcement was that the BDC said it would only issue loans to operators that were financially viable prior to the current economic environment. I would like to know from the government what day it used to determine the prior financial viability.

    

Hon. Mary Ng:  

    It is really important for us to support all small businesses across the country, including those very important businesses in Alberta in the oil and gas sector. We want to make sure that those businesses are absolutely supported through the lending program. We have unleashed enormous liquidity into the marketplace, and we want to make sure that those businesses also get access to that liquidity through financial institutions.

Question:  

        I do want to point out some grey areas in these measures that are making life difficult for many of my constituents. There is one situation that is left out from the CERB for self-employed individuals. I had a call from a self-employed worker who was supposed to start offering dance classes this summer, but they have all been cancelled. She did not earn $5,000 last year and is therefore not eligible for the CERB.

    How is she supposed to survive?

 

Hon. Ahmed Hussen (Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, Lib.):  

         We are always taking feedback on the CERB. We have already heard from folks who were working but not making as much as they would make under the CERB, so we have expanded eligibility to include folks who are working but earning less than a thousand dollars. We have also included folks whose EI had run out in January.

     We will continue to listen to Canadians to include as many people as possible and get the help that they need at this difficult time.

 

Question:  

         I got a call from a retiree whose pension is so meagre that he has to supplement it by working a part-time job. He lost his job, but he had not reached the threshold of $5,000 in annual earnings. His income has therefore taken a drastic hit, so much so that he is struggling to make ends meet. Today, people have been talking about improving seniors’ purchasing power, and this is an example.

    What is being done for all those in similar situations?

 

Hon. Mona Fortier (Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance, Lib.):  

        With regard to seniors’ financial security, our government has taken several new measures: introducing the extra GST credit payment for low- and modest-income Canadians, which amounts to close to $400 for single individuals and $600 for couples; reducing required minimum withdrawals from registered retirement income funds by 25%, which will preserve RRIF assets during a volatile market; deferring any new balances due until August 31 and extending the deadline to file income taxes to June 1; and making an investment in the United Way, food banks and other charities to help seniors get the supplies they need, such as groceries.

    We know that there is still more work to do.

 

Question:  

    There is another case from the tourism industry. Two employees of the Maplewood Manor in Waterloo, the owner and the operator, pay themselves dividends instead of salaries. All events scheduled for the summer of 2020 have been cancelled, a loss of $60,000. They cannot get the $40,000 loan. What is being done for all those in similar situations?

 

Hon. Mary Ng (Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Lib.):  

    We know that sectors such as tourism, as well as seasonal businesses, are facing the unique realities and challenges of COVID-19. That is why our government announced additional supports just last week through our regional development agencies, as well as through the Community Futures Canada network, so that we can help these businesses in that sector, as well as some of the businesses that operate in rural Canada. These are targeted measures that are going to protect Canadian jobs and support these very important small and medium-sized businesses that play such a key role in the local economies. We want to make sure that these businesses in the tourism sector are indeed supported.

Mr. John Brassard, CPC:  

    Madam Chair, businesses across this country are reeling and are anxious to see the emergency wage subsidy. When will that hit their bank accounts so that employees can go back to work?

 

Hon. Mary Ng (Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Lib.):  

    We are working very hard to get this out as soon as we possibly can, because we know how urgent it is.

Mr. John Brassard, CPC:  

    Madam Chair, many municipal councillors and band councillors across this country are business owners. Many of them have had to shut down their businesses, yet they continue in their role as band and municipal councilors. However, many of them do not qualify for the emergency benefits for their businesses that they have had to close.

    I wonder if the government is considering extending some of these benefits to those band and municipal councillors who are working so hard in their communities to look after them during this COVID-19 crisis but cannot run their businesses right now.

 

Hon. Mary Ng:  

    I want the hon. member to know we are listening intently. We are working on that very issue and hope to be able to share information very shortly.

 

Mr. Glen Motz (Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, CPC):  

    Thousands of Canadians do not qualify for any of the supports currently being offered by the government. They are self-employed, too small to qualify for the wage subsidy and do not qualify for CERB or CEBA. How long before these business owners can access support?

 

Hon. Mary Ng (Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Lib.):  

    All of our businesses across the country are really important, and that is why we launched many of the measures to help them through this difficult period.

    However, as I have said before, the work is not done. We continue to listen and work on this so that we do not leave anybody behind and we continue to support our businesses and entrepreneurs in this country.

 

Mr. Doug Shipley, CPC:  

    Before I came today, I asked residents to give me some specific questions and I have some here.

     Sue from my riding asked, “Studio businesses like pilates and yoga instructors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and many others are falling through the cracks. They do not qualify for CEBA. Why is the government allowing these businesses to fail while propping up other businesses? What will the government do to fix this?”

 

Hon. Mary Ng:  

    I appreciate that very good question. Know that, for those businesses, we are listening to them and we are working our way through it. We want to see all of our businesses, particularly those ones that the member just described, be supported through this very difficult time because they are at the very heart of our communities and it is important that we support them during COVID-19.

Question:  

    I have heard from a lot of seniors in my riding, and they are facing increased costs for groceries, for delivery, for their prescription drugs, and they are on fixed incomes. Will the government use the existing OAS/GIS benefit structure or the CERB to provide additional supports and benefits to seniors who are in most need?

  

Hon. Mona Fortier (Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance, Lib.):  

    As members know, to help protect the financial security of seniors, our government passed several new measures, including providing a supplementary payment under the GST credit for those with low and modest incomes, of close to $400 per adult and $600 per couple. We also reduced mandatory withdrawals from registered retirement income funds by 25%. This will help preserve RRIF assets during this volatile market. Allowing any new taxes owing to be deferred until August 31 and extending the deadline to file income taxes until June 1 are other measures.

    We will continue to work toward helping seniors during this very difficult time.