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THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL FINANCE

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance met by videoconference this day at 2:30 p.m. [ET] to give consideration to Supplementary Estimates (A) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Before we begin, I’d like to remind senators and the witnesses to please keep your microphones muted at all times unless recognized by name by the chair.

[Translation]

In addition, should any technical challenges arise, particularly in relation to interpretation, please signal this to the chair or the clerk and we will work to resolve the issue. If you experience other technical challenges, please contact the ISD Service Desk with the technical assistance number provided.

[English]

The use of online platforms does not guarantee speech privacy or that eavesdropping won’t be conducted. As such, while conducting committee meetings, all participants should be aware of such limitations and restrict the possible disclosure of sensitive, private and privileged Senate information. Participants should know to do so in a private area and to be mindful of their surroundings.

[Translation]

We will now begin with the official portion of our meeting as per our order of reference received by the Senate of Canada.

[English]

My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick, and I’m honoured to chair the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. I would like to introduce the members of the National Finance Committee who are participating in this meeting: Senator Dagenais, Senator M. Deacon, Senator Duncan, Senator Forest, Senator Galvez, Senator Klyne, Senator Loffreda, Senator Marshall, Senator Moncion, Senator Richards and Senator Smith.

[Translation]

Welcome to you all, and to viewers across the country who may be watching on sencanada.ca

[English]

Honourable senators, witnesses and Canadians, this afternoon we continue our study of the Supplementary Estimates (A) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, which was referred to this committee on May 27, 2021, by the Senate of Canada.

First, from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, we welcome Romy Bowers, President and Chief Executive Officer. She is accompanied by Lisa Williams, Chief Financial Officer.

From Employment and Social Development Canada, we welcome Karen Robertson, Chief Financial Officer. She is accompanied by Jason Won, Deputy Chief Financial Officer; Alexis Conrad, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Income Security and Social Development Branch; Janet Goulding, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Income Security and Social Development Branch; Atiq Rahman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Learning Branch; Karen Hall, Director General, Strategic and Service Policy Branch; Elisha Ram, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch; Michael MacPhee, Director General, Employment Insurance Benefits Processing; and Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch.

Welcome to all of you, and thank you for accepting our invitation to appear in front of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. We will hear opening remarks first by Ms. Bowers, to be followed by Ms. Robertson.

Romy Bowers, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I welcome the opportunity to meet with the committee to discuss Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s, or CMHC’s, Supplementary Estimates (A) for 2021-22.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that I am joining you today from Toronto, which is the traditional territory of many First Nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnaabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.

This territorial acknowledgement comes with a heavy weight at this time with the recent discovery of the graves of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops. Like many other organizations across Canada, we are flying the Canadian flag at our headquarters in Ottawa at half-mast this week to express our grief and our solidarity with Indigenous peoples.

[Translation]

This is my first opportunity to appear before the Committee in my capacity as President and CEO of CMHC, a position I assumed just two months ago. I have been spending most of my time meeting with our senior management team, key stakeholders and others, seeking their views on how CMHC can move more aggressively toward our bold aspiration: That by 2030, everyone in Canada has a home that they can afford and that meets their needs. I hope today’s meeting will further inform our roadmap for the next nine years.

The National Housing Strategy, a 10-year, $70+ billion plan to give more Canadians a place to call home, is the cornerstone of our affordability strategy.

[English]

Federal investments in the strategy have grown in each of the five federal budgets, including Budget 2021, which proposes $2.5 billion in new funding for housing. The budget also proposes to reallocate $1.3 billion in existing funds to help build, repair and support 35,000 existing housing units sooner than planned.

All of these investments will be delivered by CMHC, and they account for much of the funding requested in our supplementary estimates. This includes, for example, new funding of close to $1.5 billion to extend the Rapid Housing Initiative, which is designed to address the urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians by providing them with adequate, affordable housing in short order. The initiative provides funding to cover the construction of modular housing, including land acquisition. It also supports projects to convert existing buildings to affordable housing.

Our initial $1 billion of funding for rapid housing, received in 2020, significantly exceeded all expectations. The original goal of the program was to create 3,000 units of permanent affordable housing. Working with partners and communities across the country, we were able to sign agreements and create 4,700 units. We also received many excellent proposals that far exceeded the initial funding received. This funding request will create an additional 4,500 affordable housing units, including 25% of the funding allocated to projects especially dedicated to women. This is a target that we are confident that we can exceed.

Our supplementary estimates also advance $191.6 million of funding in the coming year for the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, a cornerstone of the National Housing Strategy. This will enable us to speed up the construction of new units and the repair of existing affordable housing units under this multi-partnership program. This program has seen tremendous success to date.

For example, with an investment of $6.5 million, the program supported the Andy Carswell Building, a 40-unit project that provides affordable, supportive housing for homeless veterans in Ottawa. The fund also supported, with an investment of $18.8 million, a project from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, which will see the construction of 19 affordable housing units in the communities of Ndilo and Dettah. This supports the Yellowknives Dene First Nation’s continued housing strategy and their goal to take control of their own housing system.

We have also reprofiled $2.2 million for the Canada Housing Benefit to increase direct financial assistance for housing for low-income women and children fleeing violence. This funding will help these vulnerable Canadians pay their rent and live in safe, secure housing. To date, seven provinces and territories have launched their programs under the Canada Housing Benefit.

To support skills training among Indigenous youth, we have also reprofiled $2 million for the Housing Internship for Indigenous Youth that was approved to meet additional administrative and security requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdowns and shutdowns have meant that some of the internships were interrupted or began later than planned. Our supplementary estimates also include new funding of almost $8 million for this program.

To help contribute to Canada’s climate change goals, Budget 2021 announced an interest-free loan to help homeowners complete deep energy efficiency retrofits. The supplementary estimates include $90 million of funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year. We look forward to being able to communicate more about this initiative over the course of the summer.

Finally, unrelated to our housing programs, we are seeking new funding of more than $20 million for the continuation of the emergency relief fund for Granville Island, which is managed by CMHC on behalf of the federal government. This funding will enable Granville Island to support its operations and fund necessary repairs and maintenance.

Mr. Chair, thank you again for the opportunity to be here and to speak briefly about our funding requests through these supplementary estimates. I would be pleased to answer the committee’s questions at this time. Thank you so much.

Karen Robertson, Chief Financial Officer, Employment and Social Development Canada: Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members. I’m pleased to appear before you in my capacity as the Chief Financial Officer, or CFO, for Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC.

Although I’ve been in the Government of Canada’s CFO community for many years, similar to Ms. Bowers, this is my first time appearing at the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance. It’s an honour to be here with you this afternoon.

I have only been with ESDC for two months, also similar to Ms. Bowers’ story, so I’m grateful to my departmental colleagues who are joining me in great number today. They will help me provide additional details and perspectives on the items that are included in the department’s Supplementary Estimates (A).

[Translation]

The Department delivers a range of programs and services that affect Canadians throughout their lives. The Department provides seniors with basic income security, supports unemployed workers and helps students finance their post-secondary education.

The department also has the mandate to maintain a strong, productive, healthy and competitive workplace within the federal jurisdiction through the Labour program. Service Canada delivers the department’s many programs to citizens, as well as other Government of Canada programs and services.

Allow me to present to the committee an overview of our department’s portion of the 2021–22 Supplementary Estimates (A) tabled on May 27, 2021.

[English]

Supplementary estimates present information on spending requirements that were either not ready in time for inclusion in the Main Estimates or have subsequently been updated to account for developments in particular programs and services. Statutory authorities, for which the government has Parliament’s permission to spend via other legislation, are included in the estimates for information purposes.

In Supplementary Estimates (A), ESDC is presenting a total of $12.9 billion in voted appropriations and statutory forecasts. This includes an increase under vote 1 of $184.1 million and $3.2 billion under vote 5. Statutory forecast adjustments amount to $9.5 billion.

[Translation]

There are 40 items in Employment and Social Development Canada’s Supplementary Estimates (A). I would like to take a few minutes to highlight some of these initiatives.

Budget 2021 announced a significant number of measures within the department’s mandate. We are working to mobilize quickly to ensure the timely implementation of several large initiatives.

[English]

Budget 2021 announced plans for the establishment of a Canada-wide early learning and child care system. These estimates include $2.97 billion in voted and statutory appropriations in support of bilateral agreements with provinces and territories. Parliamentary approval for the $2.65 billion in statutory funding to flow to provinces and territories is being sought in the Budget 2021 implementation act.

There is also $877 million in voted appropriations to extend existing early learning and child care bilateral agreements with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners. This includes making Budget 2017 investments permanent and ongoing. This item also includes support for the Federal Secretariat on Early Learning and Child Care, an investment of $54.6 million over five years.

[Translation]

Budget 2021 announced a one-time payment of $500 to seniors aged 75 and over to meet their immediate needs. These estimates include $1.69 billion in voted appropriations and $1.67 billion in statutory appropriations to process this payment in August 2021. This is the first step in a permanent increase of 10% to the monthly OAS pension for seniors aged 75 or older, announced in Budget 2021.

Supplementary Estimates (A) also include several measures to help the country recover from the impact of the pandemic.

[English]

Statutory forecasts for the Canada Recovery Benefit is increased by $8.9 billion to reflect the current take-up rates. It also includes the Budget 2021 proposal to increase the benefit by an additional 12 weeks, to a maximum of 50 weeks.

There is $399.6 million in voted appropriations for the Community Services Recovery Fund. The fund will help ensure charities and non-profit organizations develop the tools they need so that they can adapt and remain resilient as they emerge from the pandemic.

Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy has $298.6 million in Supplementary Estimates (A), which will be used to invest in communities. This is part of the government’s efforts to support those experiencing or at risk of homelessness during the pandemic. These estimates also include $236.2 million to improve the reach of existing federal employment and training supports. This will aid the vulnerable populations that are most affected by the pandemic.

You will note many more items in ESDC’s Supplementary Estimates (A) that I have not touched upon.

[Translation]

My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Madam. That was a very good presentation.

[English]

Honourable senators, I would like to share information with you and remind you that for this meeting, we will have eight minutes each per senator to ask questions. Therefore, please ask your questions directly. To the witnesses, please respond concisely. The clerk will make a hand signal to show that the time is over at that point in time.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: My thanks to our witnesses for coming to help us with our deliberations. My first question goes to Ms. Bowers. Welcome and all the best to you in this new challenge. The CMHC is a very important organization. I was the mayor of Rimouski for many years and we created some excellent projects in collaboration with CMHC. As you know, the housing crisis does not just affect large cities. In Rimouski, for example, the vacancy rate for accommodation with three or more bedrooms is 0.2%. So the problem really does affect families.

What measures have been put in place to assist communities and cities of all sizes in taking advantage of CMHC’s initiatives and support? What contributions do federal, provincial and municipal governments make in this area?

[English]

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much for that question.

There are a number of components to that question, but first, I’d like to thank the senator for his kind words of congratulations and welcome. I do acknowledge that CMHC is an important institution in Canada, and it’s a great honour to be leading it.

With respect to the support that CMHC provides for communities across Canada, in the last six years, CMHC has been responsible for the delivery of the National Housing Strategy, which is a $70-billion-plus investment by the federal government that is focused on the creation of new housing supply across Canada. CMHC has client service employees in all regions of Canada whose job is to help proponents provide access to the National Housing Strategy programs.

There are a number of programs that make up the National Housing Strategy, and I’m very pleased to report that we are on target in terms of meeting the annual targets for the creation of new housing, as well as the creation of repair.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: Earlier, you told us that, by 2020, everyone should be able to afford housing. I am not only thinking about economically fragile or marginalized families, I am also thinking of young couples and young professionals starting out in life. Just recently, La Presse published a study showing that, to buy a house at the average market price in Montreal, which is $690,000, a couple has to be able to make a down payment of 20%. That’s very close to $140,000. If you are starting your working life in the professions or even the trades, to have $140,000 at hand is huge. Two people would have to be earning a combined salary of $212,000 if they don’t want to be spending more than one third of their net income on a mortgage.

Is home ownership for first-time buyers a concern in the current state of the market? If so, how capable are we of supporting people who, for the most part, are young professionals with a university education and good prospects? Finding property in markets like Montreal is difficult, and the cost of houses has skyrocketed in number of cities and municipalities in Canada, even in a city like Rimouski. This is a particular concern of mine, because the problem we are talking about does not just affect families in reduced economic circumstances, it affects all our young couples, our young families. So it includes those who will be taking over our organizations and also having young children.

It’s a serious problem and a very major issue.

[English]

Ms. Bowers: Thank you again for that question and comments from the senator. I would agree with him and share his concern about escalating house prices in Canada. Even though CMHC is focused on housing for the most vulnerable, we are Canada’s national housing agency, and it is our responsibility to comment and to do what we can to ensure that the housing system as a whole is stable and healthy for all Canadians.

With respect to escalating house prices, in 2018, CMHC did an extensive study of the causes of house price escalation in the large Canadian cities, notably Toronto and Vancouver, and many of the conclusions we reached in that study still apply today. In the intervening years, we’ve experienced the pandemic, and the pandemic has been an unusual situation in that it has been a recession. During most recessions, house prices decline. However, we’ve seen that house prices continued to increase across Canada, especially in some of the smaller cities that the senator mentioned.

Our point of view is that we feel targeted increases in supply is the best way to address escalating house price issues. There is a disconnect between housing demand and housing supply, and particularly in cities, in urban areas, there are many barriers that prevent housing from being developed quickly. We feel this is a local issue, but there are many things that CMHC can do to work in partnership with the provinces and municipalities to unblock some of the barriers to housing development in very targeted ways, and I’m very happy to support the municipalities and provinces in this matter.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: I have a question along the same lines. I am particularly thinking about the stress test that the banks put our homebuyers through and that creates a great deal more stress in itself. Can the CMHC work together with our financial institutions to come up with a more realistic version of the darned stress test, which just reduces borrowing capacity? The result of the test is a significant increase in the down payment, which reduces access to a first home even more.

In addition, for many young professionals and individuals generally, buying a home is the capital gain that can potentially turn into a very useful financial situation when they retire. However, the stress test today is becoming a major handicap. As part of your involvement, would there not be a way to work with financial institutions on this issue?

[English]

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much for that question. CMHC is not responsible for the setting of the stress test, as you mentioned. However, we are supportive of the recent changes made to the stress test and the qualifying rate. We are concerned about the excessive levels of debt that Canadians are taking on to finance their housing purchases. Although it may seem that the stress test is reducing the buying power of young Canadians, we feel it is a necessary curb on rising house prices.

We feel the best way to address the housing needs of young Canadians is to create targeted supply. So we encourage all levels of government to focus on supply-based responses to the escalating house price situation.

Senator Richards: I am not going to take too long. Senator Forest was asking some good questions, but we’re in a great deal of debt and great deal of stress over the housing market. A 10-foot board of six inches by two costs about $15 now down the Maritimes. Any young couple who wants to build a house would certainly have a stress test.

I remember years ago, when my son wanted to buy his first house, the problem with living in the Maritimes is that there is no central bank that will give you the money. They go through the offices in Montreal, so there is no personal connection with those who will give you a mortgage. I find that rather deflating — it certainly was to my son — and I am certain it is to hundreds of other families across the Maritimes who are starting out and trying to buy houses.

I’m wondering if that’s the way in the North, because the price of housing in the North, in the Yukon and in the Northwest Territories or [Technical difficulties] must be much higher than in the Maritimes, which are probably higher than in Central Canada. I’m wondering how that affects the ability of people to buy houses or get started from one part of the country to the other and how they are able to manage. For instance, the price of wood in Whitehorse must be far higher than the price of wood in Sudbury or Toronto.

Do you have any knowledge of that and could you comment on it, please?

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for that question. With respect to the comment regarding escalating costs for housing developments, because CMHC delivers on the National Housing Strategy, we work with many clients who are involved in the construction industry, and some have noted that in some cases there has been up to a 20% increase in construction costs because of the lumber issue that was mentioned, but also there are labour shortages in some areas of the country. The issue raised by Senator Richards is very much a concern. Hopefully, as the supply chains normalize post-pandemic, the costs should come down, I would imagine, or I would hope. The jury is out on that.

With respect to housing costs in the North, that is very much a big issue. I was recently speaking to one of our clients in Nunavut. In some of the remote communities in Nunavut, it can cost close to $800,000, $900,000 per unit to finance construction. So it is daunting in terms of housing costs and it is something that CMHC is cognizant of as we deliver on the National Housing Strategy programs.

Senator Richards: Therefore a young couple who earns a certain amount of money, the same amount of money in capital as a person in a small town in Ontario, wouldn’t be able to buy a house in the Yukon, but they might be able to in small town Ontario.

Also, when you’re going for a mortgage here in Fredericton when you’re a young home buyer, like my son and his wife with their first child, the bank manager here had no authority to give the mortgage. He had to go through Montreal. In Montreal they don’t know my son from a jackrabbit. They didn’t know who he was or who he was connected to or who might be able to facilitate the loan, so he didn’t get the mortgage. We had to sign for him, and there was no reason to have to sign for him. And if the people here were allowed to offer their own mortgages, that might have been taken care of. As it was, he lost the house in the deal and we had to get another house.

These are problems I see with young people first starting out that I think could be managed better.

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Senator Richards for those comments. I would agree with you. Escalating house prices create divides between generations where it was easy to buy a house versus the new generation where it is more difficult. I think that’s a serious societal concern. In addition, it creates a further gap between people who own houses and those who do not. I think that type of socio-economic inequality is generally unacceptable to Canadians, and it’s a very large societal issue that really deserves a lot of attention in this country at this time.

Senator Richards: Do you think it’s a little patronizing for people in Montreal to decide that a person in Fredericton can’t afford to buy a house when he has a down payment available? The person in Fredericton can’t offer the loan; he’s a branch manager who has to go through the main office, and the main office doesn’t have a clue about the client who is trying to get the mortgage. Isn’t that a little patronizing and a kind of parenting idea about what the Maritimes are?

The Chair: Ms. Bowers, we want to stay on Supplementary Estimates (A).

Senator Richards: I apologize, Chairman.

The Chair: The question and comments raised by Senator Richards, if you feel that you should write to the committee, looking at his comments, please do it in writing through the clerk, and feel free to do that so we can have your opinion and your vision on that particular line of questioning, please.

Senator Duncan: Thank you to our witnesses who are here today and to my colleague Senator Richards for bringing up the issues regarding the North.

Could I make one point regarding that? When one refers to “the North,” the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, if one compares them to a bowl of fruit, they’re as different as apples, oranges and bananas. For example, Whitehorse, in the Yukon, has the same hot, hot housing market, which has been evidenced in the national media.

Sticking to the issues around the estimates, Ms. Bowers, you specifically said this will build this many units in the programs. Has the increase and the supply issue changed the forecast of the number of units that will be built? In regard to this, I would caution that in the North and in northern parts of Canada, we’re also dealing with a short building season, when supply chains might, as you phrased it, “normalize.” So has it changed the number of units that will be built?

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for that question. We do have a contingency built into the estimates. We feel comfortable that we can achieve the estimates based on the assumptions we had at the time. As you can imagine, the course of some of the price escalation is difficult to determine. At this point in time, we have no concerns about reaching the targets that have been outlined in my speech.

Senator Duncan: Thank you and again congratulations on your new position. We wish you well. The importance of your organization cannot be underestimated in the current circumstances.

Would you provide in writing to the committee the distribution of the units by province and territory, please?

If I could just address one other cost driver to CMHC and get your opinion on, and I have raised this in Question Period as well. The issue concerns condominium insurance, and it really affects the National Housing Strategy because many of the housing units may or may not be condominiums. Many of the elderly aging population have moved into condos. Condo insurance has become extremely difficult to get, unlike an average house insurance. Extremely difficult. The underwriters have left the market, and prices have doubled, 30%, 40% increases in some areas of the country.

I recognize it is a provincial-territorial responsibility, but it does impact on CMHC as well, because this doubling of condo insurance affects the price that can be charged for rental; it affects those on fixed incomes; it affects the market. Is CMHC aware of the issue? Although, like I said, it’s provincial-territorial responsibility. What impact is it having on all of these initiatives that you have outlined?

Ms. Bowers: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for that question. We at CMHC are very aware of the escalating costs of condo insurance. We do require insurance of various sorts in many of the National Housing Strategy programs, and to date, it has not been a factor in either the cost to our proponents or projects not going forward. In some cases, we have had clients who have had difficulty sourcing insurance, so CMHC has been supportive in providing support and locating alternate sources of insurance.

I think it comes from B.C., but there is at the provincial level a major study under way to understand the causes of the withdrawal of certain insurers from the market. I understand that there are some provincial studies being done. It’s something that we’re involved with tangentially but is not at the core of our mandate.

Senator Duncan: I appreciate your involvement tangentially, and I would suggest that perhaps it’s greater than what you have been made aware of to date. The condo, again, is attractive to first-time home buyers. And this stress test as well.

Do I have other time, Mr. Chair?

The Chair: You have four minutes left.

Senator Duncan: Could I turn to Employment and Social Development Canada, Ms. Robertson? There are a number of programs that have been outlined, and we have been made aware at Finance of anomalies in Employment Insurance and different situations that can occur. I’m sure you’re aware of Senator Griffin’s questions before our committee, the anomaly that existed in Prince Edward Island of half the people being able and the other half not. There are also situations where taxi drivers and hairdressers are singled out over others. In your new mandate, how is the department addressing these anomalies as they occur, and how can we assist Canadians in understanding them?

Ms. Robertson: I would like to pass that Employment-Insurance-related question to my colleague who is with us today, Elisha Ram. Elisha is the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for that program.

Elisha Ram, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada: Thank you, chair, for the question and to the senator. We know that Employment Insurance is a tremendously important program, supporting a large number of Canadians, particularly in the current context of the pandemic. Having said that, Employment Insurance is also quite a complicated program and has to take account of a variety of different life circumstances, geographical distinctions and different circumstances that people find themselves in. So it’s not surprising that there are some situations where people look at the outcome and find that it’s a bit odd. I think this is what you meant, senator, when you referred to “anomalies.”

The two situations you described I think are a good example of that. The situation in P.E.I. reflects the structure of the EI program whereby the country is divided into a number of Employment Insurance economic regions. The intent of the regions is to try to ensure that people who are facing reasonably similar labour market conditions have access to similar levels of EI coverage. We try to take account of situations where labour markets are stronger and therefore, perhaps, people need less access to EI versus a situation where labour markets are weaker and therefore the need for EI is greater.

P.E.I. historically has been a single zone. However, a number of years ago, based on labour market characteristics, it was divided into two zones. This is not dissimilar to situations in other parts of the country where a single province might have a number of different zones, with the intention of reflecting those different situations. There is currently an EI boundary review going on, led by the EI commission, and we are looking to see whether or not the current regional boundary definition system remains appropriate. We take into account the latest labour market information. When that review is concluded — and it will be concluded this year — the government will be able to review that and make a determination as to whether or not the current zones remain accurate or whether they should be changed.

You also asked about taxi drivers and hairdressers. I think the situation there is whether or not someone is determined to be an employee or not an employee. That has implications for the EI program and whether or not they’re covered. These particular professions are regulated by the province, and so the federal government doesn’t have a lot to say on the labour situation of those folks. Having said that, there are situations where hairdressers and taxi drivers can get into an arrangement whereby [Technical difficulties] with their employer, they are able to participate in EI.

Senator Duncan: You talked about a review. Are these solutions going to arrive earlier — sooner rather than later — or are we looking at a substantial time frame? With the specific situation I mentioned, you mentioned the involvement of the provincial or territorial government as well. My concern is how ordinary Canadians sort this out.

Mr. Ram: Thank you for the question. We recognize that EI can be a complex machine and people can struggle to understand why they may or may not have coverage. There are a number of ways that Canadians can engage with the government. In fact, there was an announcement in Budget 2021 related to major consultations that are going to be taking place on the future of EI, starting this summer.

There will be opportunities for people to bring these issues to our attention. The two situations that you mentioned are well known us. We continue to look at them. However, the attention of the government over the last year has been particularly focused on how to address the COVID situation, which, unfortunately, meant that other things had to go to the back burner. But we’re definitely aware of these issues.

Senator Klyne: Welcome to our guests on the panels. I have a question first for CMHC, and the next one is for ESDC.

On page 5 of the Supplementary Estimates (A) document, CMHC is looking to spend $7.8 million on the operating expenditures in contributions to help businesses and organizations create housing-related internships for Indigenous youth that provide work experience and on-the-job training. Can you provide the committee with some further details about this program, such as what constitutes a housing-related internship, and what the application process is for interns and businesses?

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much for that question. The request in our supplementary estimates is for an internship program that has existed for quite some time, serving Indigenous communities across Canada. The scope of the program is broad. There are many different types of jobs that you can have in the housing industry. They might be jobs related to the management of housing stock on reserve, inspection, as well as construction. We tried to have a very broad approach to defining the type of internships that are available. With respect to the application process, we tried to recognize the unique cultural needs of many Indigenous and First Nations communities that exist across Canada and to make the process as easy as possible for our clients.

Senator Klyne: Thank you. I have another quick question about that. Which level of government or nation is responsible for implementing and monitoring this program?

Ms. Bowers: CMHC as the National Housing Strategy is responsible for managing and administering the program. The applications are received by CMHC, and we have regional allocations to make sure there is an equitable distribution of the funding across the country.

Senator Klyne: So you would typically receive applications from a First Nation or other Indigenous community or organization that’s building a construction?

Ms. Bowers: That’s correct, yes.

Senator Klyne: Would you consider this a socio-economic program in terms of giving them on-the-job training in the fields of residential and commercial construction?

Ms. Bowers: Yes, I would view that — it’s housing-related, but it’s also capacity building and skills strengthening.

Senator Klyne: Is Indigenous Services Canada aware of this? I ask because I asked them if they had any socio-economic programs that are exactly like what you do, and they had no answer. Thank you very much for that. I’m glad to hear you’re doing that, by the way.

My next question is for Employment and Social Development Canada, which is looking to spend $136 million. The purpose is to deliver a range of activities that help youth overcome barriers to employment and develop a broad range of skills and knowledge in order to participate in the current and future labour market. My focus or perspective is largely around the future labour market, which I think is pretty much here and now, on the threshold of where we are, in terms of technology, especially in the transition and transformation for net-zero emissions. Could you provide the committee with more information about how these funds will be disbursed to achieve this goal?

Ms. Robertson: Thank you for the question. We are joined by my colleague Rachel Wernick, who is the assistant deputy minister responsible for those programs.

Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Skills and Employment Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada: The youth programming investments — as you mentioned, there are several. A large objective of the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy is to reach those youth who are most in need of support to get into the labour market, the vulnerable youth that you mentioned. We have made increased investments in that program.

An additional program is the Student Work Placement Program. This is a little different; it works with students and undergraduates to get them on-the-job experience and what we call “work integrated learning.” It gets them throughout their education. In terms of investments, they range. For vulnerable youth, it can be pre-employability life skills and how to find a job, and it can also include mentors and job placements. In terms of the Student Work Placement Program, there are co-ops and placements to get experience in the fields in which they have studied, which is highly appreciated by employers who are looking for new talent pipelines.

Senator Klyne: Thank you. I was looking for you to provide the committee with more information about how these funds will be disbursed if you want to achieve this goal. You might also want to mention what other organizations or levels of government will be involved and what potential role they will have.

Ms. Wernick: The Youth Employment and Skills Strategy is a grants and contribution program, so we do work largely with youth-serving organizations, which are from the voluntary sector. You can think of organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. There is a whole range of organizations who largely have experience working with youth, and particularly vulnerable youth. In competitive calls, sometimes we solicit programs, and sometimes we work directly with provincial governments to deliver some of these programs. For example, in the case of Quebec, we have an agreement with them where we deliver the YESS regionally.

With respect to the Student Work Placement Program, it’s an interesting model. We work with industry consortia associations and the post-secondary education sector, universities and colleges. We bring them all to the table. We found this to be the most effective way to connect students to placements. One of the incredibly powerful aspects is that the industry association can act as the delivery organization to reach a whole bunch of SMEs, small- and medium-sized employers, who wouldn’t otherwise have the means to figure out how to get a student placement, so they work through the industry associations.

Senator Loffreda: Thank you to our panel of witnesses for being here today. First of all, I want to congratulate Ms. Bowers on her recent appointment as president and CEO of CMHC.

I would like to explore with you, Ms. Bowers, the Rapid Housing Initiative and the $1.5 billion for this program that appears in the estimates. Your corporate plan mentions that the Rapid Housing Initiative will rapidly create up to 3,000 new affordable homes in Canada’s most vulnerable populations.

I’m curious about your targets, performance indicators and timelines for this program. Do you have any specific demographic targets that you can share with us?

I also have a question for Employment and Social Development Canada, but staying with CMHC: Your plan mentions that you are experimenting with new solutions to improve affordability and reduce barriers to creating and preserving housing supply.

What are these new solutions, besides what you’ve already shared with us and what we saw in your summary, your corporate plan? I was very interested in reading this, and I did read it in depth. I, like many Canadians, am quite worried about the unaffordability of housing in Canada.

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much for that question, and thank you for your warm words of congratulation.

With respect to the Rapid Housing Initiative, we have firm targets regarding the number of units we want to have created. The final details of the actual program design have not been completed. As the title of the initiative notes, it’s rapid. The idea is that we want to create housing within a 12-month period.

Of course, there are exceptions for housing in the North. As a previous senator mentioned, there are unique challenges for northern communities. The idea is that we would select, in the first instance, projects that can be created very quickly. It is a pandemic response to address the housing needs of the most vulnerable, particularly those experiencing homelessness or who are near to being homeless.

In the budget, you may have noted that there is a focus on women and children. The target is that 25% of the funding will support rapid housing that supports the needs of women and children.

Senator Loffreda: Thank you. With respect to new solutions for affordability, is there anything else you can share with us?

Ms. Bowers: Yes. That’s a very big topic, but if I could perhaps outline our philosophy. We feel that, as Canada’s National Housing Strategy, we have an obligation to think creatively and outside the box, to learn from other international jurisdictions and to work in a different way with other partners — be they provinces and territories, the private sector, other orders of government — to figure out how we can use every dollar of federal investment to do more.

An excellent example of our innovation is a program called the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund. This is something for which there is proposed additional funding in the most recent budget. It encourages us to work with people in the housing industry and to think about innovative financing and construction solutions — innovative ways of working with people who may not be primarily interested in housing but are interested in investing in Canada’s social infrastructure to develop housing solutions.

There are many ideas that we are developing. We highlight many of the innovation solutions on our website, and I would welcome the senators to take a look to see the various sources of innovation that we’re actively working on.

Senator Loffreda: Thank you for that. We do need thinking outside the box. I often say we have to think as if there is no box, because house affordability in Canada is a main concern.

I have a question for Employment and Social Development Canada. I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ms. Robertson for being nominated CFO of Employment and Social Development Canada.

In these estimates, the ESDC is seeking nearly $300 million for Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy. In the budget, the government writes:

But more work needs to be done if we are to make sure no one in Canada is without a place to call home.

This is a worthy initiative, but there is more work to be done. Given the progress that has been made and its commitment to do more, the government is now focused on entirely eliminating chronic homelessness in Canada.

Can you speak to the progress that has been made so far? Are you meeting your targets? What measures will be implemented at Employment and Social Development Canada to further accelerate the government’s homelessness strategy?

Ms. Robertson: Thank you, senator. I’m fortunate to be joined by the assistant deputy minister who manages this important program, and that would be Janet Goulding.

Could I pass it to you, Janet, please?

Janet Goulding, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Income Security and Social Development Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada: Thank you, senator, for the question. Reaching Home, as some of you may know, is a community-based program. The program provides funding to 64 designated communities across the country, the three territorial capitals, 30 communities focused specifically on Indigenous homelessness, as well as in rural and remote communities.

In terms of the metrics and measurements, Reaching Home is a 10-year program, launched in April 2019, so it’s still fairly early on in the new program. I say that primarily because since the pandemic began in 2020, we have had to support our community entities and refocus their efforts around pandemic supports for the homeless.

Nonetheless, the program continues to move forward with helping communities implement data-based initiatives to fight homelessness. This includes the implementation of coordinated access as well as — so they can set community targets and plans and measure their progress. We expect those first community plans to be published this summer — again, a little delayed because of the pandemic, but certainly progress towards those initiatives and objectives is being made, and we should have more information available shortly.

Senator Loffreda: Again for Employment and Social Development Canada: I would like to address the $400 million for the Community Services Recovery Fund that was announced in Budget 2021 to help charities and non-profits adapt and modernize so they can better support the economic recovery in our communities. It’s so important to do that. I’ve heard from countless groups who really appreciate this important investment.

Can you share with us how this money will be distributed? Has the government already set up conditions or eligibility criteria for charities to access these funds? Is this a one-time funding opportunity?

Ms. Goulding: The Community Services Recovery Fund is a one-time program to support charities and non-profits to modernize and adapt their business processes and capacities to emerge out of the pandemic, hopefully in a more stable position.

In terms of the program design, we’re still in the process of doing that. Senator, as you’ll understand, our access to the funding is dependent on the passing of Supplementary Estimates (A). Once we have access to the funding through Supplementary Estimates (A), we intend to launch an open call to solicit proposals from intermediaries who could help the government distribute this money across communities.

It’s important to us that the program be needs-based and that we have intermediaries who understand the needs at the community level. The department will, of course, work closely with those intermediaries to set program parameters and objectives consistent with the information contained in the budget.

Senator Smith: Thank you to the witnesses, and congratulations to both of you for your appointments. CMHC, I know there have been lots of questions. I hope you’re not too exhausted. I was thinking about something, because it’s tough being on the food chain when there’s not much left on the chain after all the great questions asked to this point.

Has the soaring housing market seen an increase in the number of mortgages CMHC ensures?

Second, what type of modelling are you undertaking with respect to mortgages, especially now that the stress test has been changed and made more challenging with respect to mortgages that can potentially default. I’m not trying to be negative, but there are always two sides to the coin. About the risks associated with defaults for CMHC, is there any concern on your part based on the organization’s projections around mortgage defaults? Maybe you could give us an update on that subject.

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much for that question. With respect to the first part of the question regarding mortgage volumes, CMHC is responsible for a fairly small part of the insured mortgage market, and we took some extraordinary actions during the pandemic to tighten our underwritings. Because of that, we have not seen an increase in our volumes.

I know from the industry experience that because the pandemic has been a K-shaped recession — which has had more adverse impact on lower-income Canadians and less impact on Canadians, particularly in the white-collar industry — there has been an uptick in mortgage values, absolutely.

With respect to default, we have not seen an increase in defaults in our mortgage book. As I mentioned earlier, this is very unusual in a recession. It’s because of the unique nature of the recession that I’ve been referring to, but also, we did have an extraordinary level of government income support. That has provided a cushion as well.

Having said all that, we are concerned about escalating house prices because it encourages homeowners to take on excessive debt. This may not be a problem at the moment, but we believe that excessive debt creates economic fragility, and it creates fragility in the event of future economic shocks where there may be high unemployment. It’s for this reason that we are concerned about increasing levels of mortgage debt in the country.

Senator Smith: Percentage of insured mortgages — is that a common fact that people would know of? Would you share that information?

Ms. Bowers: Yes. Insured mortgages are not just CMHC, but there are two other commercial competitors in the insured mortgage space. When you look at the mortgage market as a whole, the insured market represents about 30% of the transactions that are going on right now.

Senator Smith: With defaults and default planning — I know it’s never nice to talk about negative elements of business or people’s livelihoods or their economic positions, but here’s a question about forecasting interest rate increases and where it’s going. Is that an ongoing issue to the extent that you’re doing projections in terms of three or four different types or multiple projections of where this market could be going over a one-year, three-year or five-year period, so you can better protect your assets?

Ms. Bowers: Thank you again, Mr. Chair, for that question. CMHC, like any other financial institution, conducts a series of stress tests to make sure that we have sufficient levels of capital in the event of economic shocks. Obviously, increasing interest rates is an element of our analysis, and we do take that into consideration. However, when you look at our stress-testing methodology, the principal factor that results in losses for us is unemployment. That’s the thing that we’re most concerned about in terms of our stress-testing exercise versus increasing interest rates.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: My first questions go to Ms. Bowers. In the budget, we see an amount of $1.5 billion for rapid housing with a view to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable Canadians. I confess that I have a little difficulty with the term “rapid housing.” I’d like to know what kind of program you will have to make this supply of housing rapid.

Using Quebec as an example, could you give me an idea of what you can do rapidly?

[English]

Ms. Bowers: Thank you for that question. The Rapid Housing Initiative is and was a COVID response. As I mentioned, COVID has had an impact on the most vulnerable in our society. We felt that it was an appropriate response for CMHC to provide policy proposals with respect to creating housing rapidly to address very acute housing needs that arose as a consequence — that were accentuated because of the pandemic.

I wanted to emphasize that just because it is called “rapid,” that doesn’t mean the housing that is being created is substandard or is not appropriate for permanent housing. There are construction techniques — for example, modular housing — that can result in housing being created within a 12-month period. CMHC has checks and balances in place to ensure that proponents who receive the funding can create housing quickly but can create the housing that serves the needs of the people who live in it. This would be the case for housing in Quebec as well.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: I would like to go back to the definition of “affordable housing.” You know that, in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, having affordable housing certainly doesn’t mean the same thing. Clearly, you are going to be involved in building housing, but how much will that housing cost on average for those who are going to live in it?

[English]

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much. I appreciate the comments. With respect to the affordability definition, at CMHC we have a common definition that people should not spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. That’s a general definition that we employ. Having said that, we recognize that across many municipalities there are varying degrees of affordability based on the circumstances of that particular municipality. We always try to build flexibility into our program language to make sure that local concerns and definitions of affordability are taken into consideration.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: My question now goes to Ms. Robertson, of Employment and Social Development Canada. In the supplementary estimates, there is an amount of $94 million to support initiatives in the country’s black communities. I would like to know who will be responsible for distributing that money and which criteria will be used to select the organizations that will receive it? How can you verify whether the money is being well used? How much do you think administering this program will cost taxpayers?

[English]

Ms. Robertson: Thank you very much for the question, senator. Once again, Janet Goulding is with us and she’s responsible for that program.

Janet, if you’re not comfortable answering the question with regard to the operating expenditures at the end, please defer back to me. Thank you.

Ms. Goulding: Thank you, senator, for the question. The $94 million that the senator referred to is for the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative. This initiative was initially originating from Budget 2019. The department received $25 million over five years to implement this initiative. What we’ve done to date is we’ve put in place three Black-led community-based intermediaries. Currently those three intermediaries are Groupe 3737 in Quebec, the Black Business Initiative in Atlantic Canada, as well as Tropicana Community Services in Toronto. We have currently just finished a call for proposals to identify a fourth intermediary in Western Canada.

Part of that money will go to support the work these intermediaries are already doing on the ground. What they are doing is sub-granting money to grassroots Black Canadian organizations to build capacity in those organizations.

The department also recently completed a call for proposals for capital assistance projects for Black-led community organizations, and that call was heavily oversubscribed. We expect some of the funding to be used in support of that capital call.

The program is also supporting a number of other smaller initiatives. Work is under way to support an institute for Black Canadians as well as some knowledge events.

The remaining $6 million is departmental funding for operations, and that funding will go to support our Service Canada regions in delivering those contribution agreements. We expect a significant number, as well as four departmental staff, to support the running of the program overall.

Senator Galvez: First, I would like to congratulate both Ms. Bowers and Ms. Robertson for their promotions in these important functions and posts. It’s always refreshing to see women climbing up in the professional sphere. Congratulations.

We are at the end, and most of the questions have been asked. I will try to make myself useful by asking outside-of-the-box questions like my colleague Senator Loffreda said.

Ms. Bowers, you have mentioned several programs, the Rapid Housing Initiative, the Modular Housing Initiative, the repairing of existing buildings and changing vocations for housing. In a separate item you mentioned the climate change funds to cover energy retrofits.

I am worried that it shouldn’t be apart. It should be all combined. Because every new house that will be built needs to be seen through the lens of climate change. We are getting much hotter summers, and mould grows very easily. Energy efficiency should be in every single new building that we construct.

Can you please tell me how are they integrated, if they are? Thank you.

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much, senator, for this excellent question. I’d like to thank the senator for her warm words regarding my appointment.

With respect to climate change, CMHC last year appointed our first-ever climate change officer. When we think about our 2030 aspiration to ensure that all Canadians have a home that they can afford and meets their needs, we view climate change as very integral to our strategy.

When you think about climate change, it’s an existential question for all of humanity, and we recognize that housing stock and other buildings are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. When you look at our National Housing Strategy programs, we make it a requirement that energy efficiency and climate change goals are integral to our requirements and our delivery.

In addition to that, we recognize that climate change will impact the most vulnerable in our society in terms of a housing outcome perspective. So we are engaged in data collection and research to ensure we understand, from a housing stock and housing asset perspective, where the vulnerable areas of exposure are within the country so that we can develop the best policy advice for government in this respect.

Senator Galvez: Because I didn’t read any of this in the bill and in your submission, could you expand on this and send a written explanation and description of what, for example, this new climate change officer will do? Also, to continue my conversation with you, do you have any contact with the people responsible for the building codes? Because it seems to be a circle that is cut, and some information doesn’t always go. I think the building code needs to be updated, adopted and used nationwide. I would like to hear your opinion on this issue.

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much for those questions. On the first question, we’re happy to provide additional information with respect to our climate change initiatives. If you look at our corporate plan and corporate plan summary, there are parts of it that detail some of our initiatives, and we’re very happy to provide that to all senators if there is an interest.

With respect to building codes, clearly it’s not a CMHC responsibility in terms of developing building codes. However, we feel that from a climate change perspective, as Canada’s national housing agency, we have a thought leadership and research responsibility to ensure that our views about aligning building codes with climate change initiatives are taken into account. From the perspective of influence, we’re very happy to engage in that space.

Senator Galvez: Ms. Robertson, concerning the Supplementary Estimates 2021-22, almost $400 million is for the Community Services Recovery Fund, where it is to create temporary community services to help charities and non-profits adapt and modernize.

I am interested in knowing what criteria that the ESDC will use or is using to determine which charities and non-profits will receive support. I am also interested in the specific amounts of this support and the distribution. Thank you.

Ms. Robertson: Thank you, Senator Galvez. My colleague Janet Goulding once again will take that question.

Ms. Goulding: Thank you, senator, for the question. The Community Services Recovery Fund will allow non-profits and charities to apply for funding to adapt and reimagine delivery of programs and services, to procure equipment to meet changing needs, to create and/or adapt new approaches of working together in terms of fundraising or diversifying their sources of funds.

These are some of the criteria that were announced in the budget, and we are currently in the process of consulting with the sector and engaging in program design. There will be more details announced in the coming months in terms of how the program will be rolled out.

Senator Galvez: Thank you.

The Chair: To both Ms. Bowers and Ms. Robertson, you have indicated that you will be sending some answers to the questions from senators. Can we have an agreement that you will provide the answer, through the clerk; and second, that the written answers should be provided on or before June 11? Do we have agreement?

Ms. Robertson: Yes, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Bowers: That would be no problem. We’d be very happy to oblige.

The Chair: Senator Marshall, please.

Senator Marshall: I was interested in the early learning and child care program that was announced in the budget. I realize it’s statutory, but there’s $2.6 million indicated in the Supplementary Estimates (A) document. I’m just trying to get a handle on the status and the process. Have there been any agreements with any of the provinces yet? I expect not, but did anybody jump in as soon as they heard?

Ms. Robertson: Thank you, Senator Marshall, for your question. In my two months in the department, there has been a lot of activity on this important program and a lot of interest by the provinces and the territories. My colleague Karen Hall is here with us today and she can speak directly to that because she is managing this program.

Karen Hall, Director General, Strategic and Service Policy Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada: Thank you for the question. You are correct, senator. There is funding that is statutory in respect of the first year of the Budget 2021 funding for the provinces and territories. So that is in BIA 2021, and it is proceeding through the House and the Senate. I spent some time with your colleagues on the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology talking about child care last week.

Senator Marshall: Any discussion yet with the provinces? The funding is there for this year, so there must be an expectation that there will be agreements before the end of the year, and the majority of that funding will be disbursed.

Ms. Hall: Exactly. We’re in the process of beginning negotiations with provinces and territories. We are building on the foundation set by the multilateral framework on ELCC and the existing agreements we have in place. We’re now moving forward into negotiations, and I’m a little bit limited in terms of what I can say today.

Senator Marshall: I understand that. Is it possible that funding could be advanced to provinces before the agreements are signed?

Ms. Hall: No, it is not. The requirements in the BIA require that a bilateral agreement be in place in order for the payment to be made.

Senator Marshall: One of the objectives outlined in the budget document is a 50% reduction in average fees for regulated early learning and child care by the end of 2022, which seemed ambitious. What does the end of 2022 mean? Does that mean the fiscal year ending March 2022 or the calendar year?

Ms. Hall: It is the end of the calendar year.

Senator Marshall: That’s quite ambitious. I know it’s still early, but is there any role there for private daycare, or is it all non-profit? Or is it too early?

Ms. Hall: In Budget 2021, the government articulated a preference for the funding to be primarily for non-profit, but it did recognize there is a role for for-profit or market-based child care and that it does remain part of the existing system.

Senator Marshall: Ms. Bowers, the budget document, when it announced the funding for the Rapid Housing Initiative, said it was being built on 4,700 funded units through the Fall Economic Statement, and they associated a $1 billion figure. I’m wondering what the progress was on those 4,700 units. Would you know?

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much. The first quarterly report on the progress of those units was dated April 30, so we’re in the process of just collecting information on the progress. But we do have contact with the proponents, and there are no serious issues in terms of progress at this stage. All the funds were disbursed, and we’re waiting to receive the data from the various proponents to ensure the construction is proceeding as was expected.

Senator Marshall: Would we be able to get a status report on that? For the Rapid Housing Initiative, those units don’t have to be built in the current fiscal year. It’s within a year of the funding going out, something along those lines. These are very ambitious programs, and I’d be interested in seeing the progress.

Ms. Bowers: Fair enough. I will certainly provide that.

Senator Marshall: The funding for the Rapid Housing Initiative, the $1.5 billion, I know CMHC does borrow on its own. Where is the source of this funding? Does the funding get transferred from the federal government, or do you raise the funds through borrowing? What are the logistics for the funding?

Ms. Bowers: I would like to refer this question to our CFO, Lisa Williams.

Lisa Williams, Chief Financial Officer, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation: This funding comes through appropriations, Senator Marshall. This is not funding that we raise on our own. It is funding that comes through the appropriations.

Senator Marshall: The government will send you a cheque or transfer the money to you.

Ms. Williams: We will request payment in funds as we disburse them, yes.

Senator Marshall: Thank you very much.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you to everyone who is here this afternoon.

You’ve done a great job, and congratulations to the two of you on our rapid fire, and I think true testimony to your success is that you have answered our questions in your presentation, so congratulations on that also.

I’m going to direct my questions first to Employment and Social Development Canada and just build on a few things that had been brought up this afternoon. My question concerns the $877 million, on page 2-24, for the Department of Employment and Social Development, earmarked for funding early learning and child care. It refers to using some of this money to attract and retain childhood educators. I’m wondering if this is a country-wide problem, or if it varies from province to province and in what ways the money will be invested to attract individuals dearly needed for this vocation.

Ms. Robertson: Thank you very much for your question. I will defer again to my colleague Karen Hall, who is leading that program.

Ms. Hall: There is an amount of $420 million provided through the Fall Economic Statement in support of retention and recruitment of early learning and child care educators. That funding is national in scope. It will be provided through bilateral agreements to the provinces and territories. It will be used, I think, in a fairly province- or territory-specific way to address the unique challenges that each jurisdiction faces on the ground, within a scope of ensuring that the funding goes to support professional development, training, and retention of early childhood educators.

I will say agreements in respect of that funding are currently in the process of being negotiated. Once again, I’m a little limited in what I can say, but I will be happy to answer any further questions to the extent I can.

Senator M. Deacon: Looking at child care and the proposal to set up a federal secretariat, as with all cross-jurisdictional issues, there will likely be some stress or tension on the file between the feds and the provinces. What role does your department envision for this proposed federal secretariat?

Ms. Hall: Thank you for the question.

The federal secretariat is intended to enhance the capacity of the federal government to be working with provinces and territories in support of the announcement in Budget 2021. It will enhance the internal capacity, in line with the increase in investment for early learning and child care. As well, it’s intended that the secretariat will support the ministerial table. At the moment, there is an ad hoc ministerial table, for example, and the secretariat will play a role in supporting that table and associated official committees.

I would say provinces and territories also have their own administrative structures in their provincial bureaucracies. They are permitted to use a portion of the federal funding in support of their own administrative costs. They can use up to 10% of the funding that the federal government provides in support of their own administrative costs. It is intended that that would continue under the Canada-wide system.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you. I will leave that for a moment and come back to CMHC to ask a question that I think is built on about seven questions I’ve heard so far this afternoon connected to the Rapid Housing Initiative.

I want to come back to the idea that there is a clear need in cities for high-density housing construction, but in some areas, municipal councils and developers continue to favour suburban sprawl. While the government has committed a good deal of money for this, what can we do at the federal level to see that the higher-density urban housing that is needed, as we see it, is what is being built?

Ms. Bowers: Thank you for that question. We at CMHC are a big proponent of high-density housing in urban centres. We feel that is good in terms of affordability and also in terms of climate change and green initiatives.

When you look at the programs in the National Housing Strategy, most of the programs are supply-based programs that support the creation of rental housing in our large cities.

With respect to market-based rental housing, we observed several years ago that there had not been sufficient growth of purpose-built rental housing in Canada, and an initiative we called the Rental Construction Financing Initiative has been very successful. It started out as a $2 billion program, and it has grown to in excess of $23 billion in terms of government financing. We’ve had great interest and uptake of this program from commercial developers and non-profits as well.

We feel, as the senator mentioned, NIMBYism, the development process and zoning issues in the cities are often significant barriers to creating greater density. Even though these are all municipal and provincial issues, we feel that CMHC has a role in working with various partners to identify the barriers to housing supply creation and to be a constructive partner in unblocking these barriers.

Senator M. Deacon: Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Moncion: My first question goes to Ms. Bowers, from the CMHC. It is about the securitization program. Could you tell us what that amount is at the moment?

[English]

Ms. Bowers: I’m sorry, Mr. Chair, I did not catch the name of the program. If I could ask the senator to repeat the question, I would appreciate that.

[Translation]

Senator Moncion: The securitization program.

[English]

Ms. Bowers: With respect to that question regarding securitization, I would like to refer the question to CFO, Lisa Williams.

Ms. Williams: At the end of the first quarter of 2021, our outstanding guarantee for securitization is $479 million.

Senator Moncion: Thank you for that answer. How much of the securitization program that you have contributes or doesn’t contribute to the high volume of transactions on the market right now?

[Translation]

We know that the interest rates provided by CMHC are much lower than the conventional rates provided by financial institutions. It’s a kind of stress test, trying to make loans to buyers at a certain rate of interest so that they become part of CMHC’s mortgage lending and eventually end up on the mortgage market.

To what extent is that contributing to the growth in the mortgage market in Canada at the moment?

[English]

Ms. Bowers: Thank you very much for that question, senator. With respect to our securitization programs, the purpose of the program is to provide stable, low-cost funding to financial institutions so that regardless of where you live in Canada, you have access to housing finance. Having said that, we are very conscious of the fact that if the pricing that we place on securitization is too low, it can actually contribute to people being able to access mortgages too readily. That is a risk we’re conscious of.

When you look at the history of pricing for our securitization product over the last five years, you will see that every year we have increased the pricing. We want to create some availability to the programs, but we are conscious that there has to be limits in terms of controlling the amount that is available to financial institutions, because we’re aware of the risks that exist from an economic perspective. That’s something we balance, the need to provide access to financing but at a cost that is reasonable and doesn’t create increased risk for the government and the economy as a whole.

Senator Moncion: Thank you. Could you tell us the maximum amount that you will be allowed to work with under this program?

Ms. Bowers: Perhaps I could ask our CFO to answer that question. We set annual limits on that, and she may have access to those numbers.

Ms. Williams: Yes. I believe the limit is $750 billion for securitization in the current years, and that limit was increased as a result of the pandemic. I’m searching for the date, but in a couple of years’ time, we will come back to our original limit of $600 billion.

Senator Moncion: I will ask the question again, then.

[Translation]

My next question is about early childhood education and daycare places.

We have heard testimony from Ms. Hall, who appeared before the social affairs committee and answered our questions extremely well. She is really familiar with her area.

In terms of the eligibility criteria for daycare places, we know that, in Quebec, not everyone has access to daycare at $7. How will those daycare places be assigned? After all, the program was created to assist women living in poverty or with no possibility of returning to the workforce. Could you tell me about the eligibility criteria and the program’s standards for ensuring that the groups in most need are served first, not the families that have the means to pay for daycare costs.

Ms. Hall: Thank you for the question.

[English]

That is a big question, and thank you for it.

I would say a couple of things. First, we are certainly aware of the lessons from Quebec and that it is important to be mindful of those who benefit from the program and the quality of the program.

So moving forward, we will be in negotiations with provinces and territories. In fact [Technical difficulties] at this point in time.

So we will be working very soon with the provinces and territories to ensure that the programs that they create with the federal funding do provide meaningful and wide access to the programs, including for families living in low income, Black and racialized families, Indigenous families, official language minority communities and others to ensure access is wide and there is a broad benefit from the programs that are available for families and for children.

Senator Moncion: If I understand correctly, you don’t have any criteria or targets that are identified for women or for low-income families or even targets for families who can afford child care?

Ms. Hall: I would say the government did articulate some goals in Budget 2021 that include that child care would be available for all families that need it. That really does speak to very broad access and availability.

The budget also recognized the impact of child care for employment for women or for secondary earners in families and laid out the economic impact that the investment in child care is expected to make. The budget cited a range of studies that suggested the impact of every dollar invested in child care ranges from about $1.50 to $2.80 in terms of the broader economic impact. It also outlined a projection and estimate of GDP growth of 1.2% resulting from this investment. In large part, that’s due to increased revenues and economic activities stemming from women either joining the labour market or being able to work more at jobs they have.

Senator Moncion: Thank you very much.

The Chair: Honourable senators, looking at the clock, we have approximately 10 minutes left for the second round. If officials cannot answer in the time provided, we will ask you to send the answers to us in writing, please, on or before June 11.

Senator Marshall: My question is for CMHC with regard to the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program. I thought that program was finished and it had moved over to the Canada Revenue Agency. I was surprised when I saw the $15.8 million. Can you just explain that? Is this a winding down of the program?

Ms. Bowers: The senator is absolutely correct. It is for the winding down of the program. Q&A activities are conducted to ensure proper governance in the use of funds, and the funds requested are to pay for those activities.

Senator Marshall: Would that be for businesses that didn’t receive their subsidy?

Ms. Bowers: No. They are costs that would be required by our administrator to make sure that the checks and balances and other processes we have in place to ensure that the program has been run properly and that people have received the funds that were allocated and all those governance processes had been completed in the appropriate manner.

Senator Marshall: It is like a post-review. Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Forest: Thank you very much. My question goes to Ms. Robertson, to whom I also send sincere congratulations.

You are allocating an envelope of $5 million over two years for a huge consultation. Can you explain to us why that consultation will take two years? A lot of consultation has already been done on the matter. Will it just be about self-employed workers? Or will there be much broader consultation on the entire employment insurance program, especially in regions like ours, where seasonal industries like agriculture, fishery and forestry are very important for our residents?

[English]

Ms. Robertson: Thank you so much for the question. Mr. Chair, I would like to redirect again to my colleague Elisha Ram.

The Chair: Mr. Ram, you can send it in writing or answer this in the next 40 seconds, please.

Mr. Ram: Thank you for the question, honourable senator. I can tell you that the consultations are going to be broad. They’re going to go considerably beyond just the issue of self-employed and will include issues like seasonal work, access and adequacy and other issues that touch the EI program. Because of the complexity and the range of issues that we would like to consult, it will explain why it will be a multi-stage process that will take up to two years.

Senator Klyne: This question is for ESDC. With regard to Budget 2021, the government is looking to connect up to 90,000 Canadians with training they need to access good jobs in sectors where employers are looking for skilled workers. In Supplementary Estimates (A), ESDC is spending $332 million for a comprehensive training strategy to drive recovery. I wonder if those two are connected. Regardless of whether they are or not, is the $332 million — has the government considered the disproportional impact the pandemic has had on employment prospects for women and visible minorities? Are any of these funds focused on Indigenous communities, such as those in the tourism industry, to gain greater access to other skilled labour markets?

Ms. Robertson: Thank you, Senator Klyne. I will go to Rachel Wernick who is running this important program. I’m not sure if she can answer in 40 seconds. That was a very loaded question.

Ms. Wernick: I think there is a reference to several programs there in terms of the question.

The Chair: Can you respond in writing?

Ms. Wernick: I think that would do better justice to the senator’s question. Thank you.

The Chair: That would give us due diligence. Thank you.

Senator Loffreda: I’d like to refocus again on homelessness, which is becoming more and more of a concern in this pandemic. My question is for Employment and Social Development Canada.

In your departmental plan, you will be requiring communities to publicly report on progress made in preventing and reducing homelessness, beginning in fiscal year 2021-22. Can you speak to us about this reporting obligation? How do you define “community?” In other words, who has the reporting authority? I imagine communities already have proactively reported on homelessness, but do you expect some communities to have reporting challenges? I always say what you measure improves. What is the trend? Do you have any historical records? It’s a welcome requirement. Thank you.

Ms. Robertson: Would you like us to reply in writing, Mr. Chair, or would you like my colleague Janet Goulding to try to answer in a very short period of time?

Senator Loffreda: In writing is fine. If you have one sentence quickly. Is this new? Are there any trends? And the rest you can do in writing.

Ms. Goulding: I can say that the communities that report are the 64 designated communities that are part of the program. So we can submit that in writing to the committee. The first committee reports are expected later this summer.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: I have a very quick question. I would be fine with a written answer. What are the obstacles to the rapid housing initiative? Is it cities making land available? Is it provincial government regulations? Or is it that some dissenting groups don’t want affordable housing in their neighbourhoods?

Could there be a lack of resources in your organization? I would be very grateful if you can send me the answer in writing.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Senator Dagenais.

[English]

Honourable senators, as we conclude this meeting, to the witnesses, thank you very much. You have been very informative and professional. To Ms. Bowers and Ms. Robertson, we have certainly seen great leadership from both of you in this committee. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will be asking you to come back.

That said, honourable senators, our next meeting is on Tuesday, June 15, at 9:30 a.m. EST. I declare the meeting adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)