IN THE HOUSE
on the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy)

Speech on Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy)

Mr. Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, NDP):

 

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his presentation.

We know that the first version of the rent relief program for SMEs was poorly designed, since the vast majority of SMEs could not even access it. Following pressure from us as well as SMEs, a new version is now being proposed.

Does the member agree with the NDP that this assistance should be retroactive to well before September 27? We think all businesses that could not access the first version because it was so poorly designed should be able to access the new version retroactively so they can continue to operate, contribute to their communities and provide employment opportunities.

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to share my time with the wonderful member for Courtenay—Alberni.

Madam Speaker, my thanks to members for allowing that shift in time. Of course, the member for Courtenay-Alberni has been integral to this legislation being brought forward, which helps to correct so many of the errors that were in the first version of commercial rent relief.

I would like to shout out, as I do when I'm talking about small and medium-sized businesses, to the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce, of which I have been a member for a long time, and the Burnaby Board of Trade, of which I have also been a member for many years. Both of which provide good spokespeople for the small businesses in the communities I represent in New Westminster—Burnaby.

I would like to start by talking about how the NDP and the member for Burnaby South, our national leader, saw the urgency, when the pandemic hit, for the federal government to put in place important programs so that people would have the wherewithal to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads and, when running a small business, to make sure that business continued to generate jobs in the community. From the very outset, we pushed for programs that would actually be put into place and support people right across the country.

The member for Burnaby South said at the outset that we needed to have in place an emergency benefit that would go to everybody in the country. The Parliamentary Budget Officer actually said that was the best approach. It would have cost less than what the government in the end, with NDP pressure, actually did, and it would have covered more people.

The government at the beginning was trying to rely on a very antiquated employment insurance program that simply did not work for most people who lost their employment. The old EI simply was not available to them. The government relying on that and putting in place a 10% wage subsidy was simply inadequate, so the NDP started its work. We pressed for a 75% wage subsidy because we knew that would help maintain jobs and that other countries had put in place a similar program. We pressed for an emergency response benefit that went to everybody. We were able to obtain substantial benefits going to people right across the country, and we pressed for renewal and pressed for renewal again. There are millions of Canadians, as a result of those efforts, who have access to an emergency benefit.

We pressed as well to make sure that seniors got an emergency benefit and forced through the House of Commons a unanimous motion to that effect. We also pushed for students to be covered. Initially, the government was very hostile to that. We pushed, prodded and fought. Ultimately, a student emergency benefit was put into place.

We fought as well for students who have disabilities or have dependents to get the same level of support that the emergency benefit provided to people who were out of work, and we succeeded in the fight to get that student CERB in place. We pressed for suspension of student loans.

We pressed for sick leave. Ultimately, as colleagues know, the member for Burnaby South was determined in this regard and we finally obtained universal sick leave, for the first time since the founding of our country, that applies to workers. Workers no longer have to have that desperate choice between doing the right thing and staying home, and putting food on the table for their families. That universal sick leave is, at the moment, only available for one year, but it represents significant progress for so many people who would, otherwise, be forced to go to work sick or simply not be able to feed their family.

Two areas where we fought are of particular concern because of the government's weak response and almost passive-aggressive push-back. On the one hand, it is people with disabilities who, from the very beginning, were forced to undertake additional expenses through this tragic pandemic, struggling as well to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. People with disabilities were completely ignored by the government and that contrasts vividly with the massive bailout given to our banking system. Finally, after seven months of pushing, fighting and forcing the government, an emergency benefit is going out, not to all people with disabilities but all people registered in the federal system.

All of these fights to get benefits for regular people, which the member for Burnaby South and the entire NDP caucus have been engaged in, contrast vividly with what the government actually did for big banks and big corporations. Within four days, the government moved to provide liquidity supports of $750 billion, that is three-quarters of $1 trillion, to Canada's big banks. These banks have, so far in this pandemic, reaped windfall profits of $15 billion.

We know that in the next quarterly reports those staggering amounts will go up even more significantly because of all of the deferred mortgage penalties and interest charges that now are coming due. While small businesses are struggling, while people are struggling, the banking sector has reaped enormous largesse from the federal government. That is a program of the government, and it is one of only two programs that the government originated by itself, of its own efforts, without anybody pressing it to do it.

The other, of course, is the LEEFF program. As we saw initially at the beginning of this year, this was $1 billion in forgivable loans to large Canadian corporations, with no transparency and no information being shared with the public. New Democrats do not believe that was the best approach to take. We believe in transparency. We believe that Canadians need to know where their tax dollars are going.

This brings me to the issue of small business. From the very beginning, the member for Courtenay—Alberni, the member for Burnaby South and the entire NDP caucus pushed for small business loans to be made available through the CEBA. We pushed for that wage subsidy of 75%, which many other countries found to be particularly important, and for commercial rent relief for small businesses. The first version that was put in place over the summer was put in place in such a haphazard and irresponsible way that it did not benefit most of the people who could have benefited from it within small businesses.

The contract, as we know, was given without any tendering to a company that employs as one of its principals the spouse of the chief of staff to the Prime Minister. Initially the program was designed only for those who have commercial mortgages. The contract was given to a commercial mortgage company and it decided that anyone who had a commercial mortgage could access the program. The reality is that there was over $1 billion that small businesses desperate to stay in business were unable to access.

Now, finally, because of the pushing and prodding of the NDP, we have a bill that is more in keeping with what we have been saying, from the very beginning, needed to happen for small businesses. However, the government and the official opposition are refusing to make it retroactive to April 1, even though there are so many thousands of businesses that have been unable to access the initial program.

The New Democratic Party will be bringing forward an amendment, and we are asking Liberal and Conservative MPs to vote for it. We are asking people right across the country, if they are in the small business sector and believe, as we do, that the small business sector and community businesses need to have the chance to grow, get through this pandemic and continue to contribute to jobs in the community, then they should tell their local Liberal or Conservative MPs to vote for the NDP amendment on Friday.

New Democrats will be putting forward the amendment so that small businesses that did not access the original landlord-driven, commercial mortgage-driven program will have access to the new program retroactively prior to September 27, right back to April 1. That is the amendment we intend to bring forward.

New Democrats believe in small businesses. We believe that they are often the backbone of the community economy. We believe that social enterprises, community businesses and co-operatives working together often provide jobs and great economic benefit. That is why we are bringing forward this amendment. We hope that Canadians will react favourably to it and call or write their Liberal or Conservative MPs to tell them to vote yes on the NDP amendment, to make it retroactive prior to September 27, so that businesses can access the funding they should have had in the summer.

 

Peter's answers from questions from MPs:

Madam Speaker, of course the government was receiving pressure from business organizations and people with disabilities.

I think it is important that we, as members of Parliament, report back to our constituents and to the country about what we have been fighting for through this pandemic. The issues we have raised are actually issues that have made a difference in people's lives.

I fail to see how the $750 billion that the Liberals handed out through a variety of federal government institutions to the banking sector is making a real difference in people's lives right across the country. I fail to see that.

The government left over $1 billion, about $1.2 billion, on the table that was supposed to go to small businesses. It failed because of the complexity and the incomprehensible approach the government took on commercial rent relief. Let us put that $1.2 billion into retroactive support for small businesses that could not access the program throughout the course of summer because of how the government structured it.

Madam Speaker, the member for Hamilton Centre is one of a number of key members of Parliament who have been standing up for regular Canadians throughout the course of this pandemic, and he has been doing a very strong, eloquent job standing up for regular people. They cannot be forgotten.

The member asks a very important question. As members know, I asked this very specific question at the finance committee to the former finance minister, and there was no answer. I asked the question to finance ministry officials, and there was no answer. I finally had to ask the question to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions. Within a few days, they gave us an accounting of the $750 billion of liquidity supports that the government had granted within days of the pandemic hitting.

However, people with disabilities had to wait over seven months to get a $600 stipend to try to get them through the pandemic. To know that the government acted with such alacrity for the wealthiest and the most privileged among us, yet were holding off and denying people with disabilities the amounts they so desperately needed to weather this pandemic, should be a source of shame to any government member.

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