Honourable senators, I am pleased to have the opportunity to provide the chamber with an overview of the 2021-2022 Supplementary Estimates (A). As you all know, the government tables up to three additional supplementary estimates each year that outline incremental spending plans to the Main Estimates. This year, the President of the Treasury Board tabled the Supplementary Estimates (A) for 2021-2022 on May 27.
This budget includes a summary of the government’s incremental financial requirements, as well as an overview of major funding requests and horizontal initiatives.
For the benefit of all senators, I think it would be useful to differentiate between voted expenditures and statutory expenditures. Voted expenditures require annual approval from Parliament through an appropriation bill. Statutory expenditures are approved by Parliament by other legislation and do not require any additional approvals for payments to be made. The projected statutory expenditures are set out in the estimates documents for parliamentarians’ information.
Colleagues, this distinction raises an important issue, the issue of transparency. It is the right of every Canadian and the parliamentarians who represent them to know how public funds are being spent so that the government can be held to account. That is why the supplementary estimates are one part of a broad set of reports, including the departmental plans, The Fiscal Monitor, the departmental results reports and the Public Accounts that provide transparency to Canadians and parliamentarians.
Throughout the pandemic the government has endeavoured to report to Canadians and parliamentarians with the greatest possible openness and transparency. Starting last fiscal year, several changes were made to enhance the presentation of the supplementary estimates. For example, additional information relating to the COVID-19 response was published in both the tabled estimates and in an online annex. GC InfoBase was also expanded, with more information on planned spending authorities and expenditures for COVID-19 response measures.
Honourable senators, I would also like to point out that the changes that have been made to the projected statutory spending, including those pending parliamentary approval in Budget Implementation Act, 2021, No. 1, are also included in these estimates.
This provides a more comprehensive view of the government’s total planned spending. As it is with all estimates, the government is committed to providing parliamentarians and Canadians with as much information as possible.
Let me now turn to the supplementary estimates in more detail. These estimates present $24 billion in planned voted spending. As senators might expect, this large sum is due, in part, to the economic and emergency response measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, $11.2 billion, or approximately 47% of the proposed voted spending, is for the government’s response to the public health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic on Canadians.
Of that amount, some of the top expenditures include $1.5 billion for medical research, development and purchase of vaccines; $1.1 billion for enhanced border and travel measures, and isolation sites; and $760.6 million for the Indigenous Community Support Fund.
Esteemed colleagues, the Main Estimates also provide funds for the economic responses to the pandemic, including support for targeted sectors and businesses, and to promote growth during the recovery.
In this case too, the government is committed to being transparent in its reporting. For example, departments regularly report their spending through quarterly financial reports. The Department of Finance provides monthly updates on the financial situation of the government in the Fiscal Monitor, whereas the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada regularly post updates online about their spending on major programs.
Honourable senators, planned spending authorities for COVID-19 response measures are also available to parliamentarians and Canadians through GC InfoBase, back to last spring’s Supplementary Estimates (A) 2020-2021.
The government is also proposing funding to address homelessness, the lack of affordable housing and food insecurity, all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Over 70% — that is $29.5 billion — of the planned budgetary spending presented in Supplementary Estimates (A) relates to Budget 2021 announcements. This includes $1.5 billion for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s rapid housing initiative, a critical program that is addressing the urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians, especially in the context of COVID-19, through the rapid construction of affordable housing. Also, $760.6 million is proposed for the Department of Indigenous Services’ Indigenous Community Support Fund, and $477.1 million for public health response measures in Indigenous communities. There is a proposed $399.6 million to Employment and Social Development Canada’s Community Services Recovery Fund, $333 million for a comprehensive training strategy to drive recovery, and $319.6 million for a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.
The government is committed to not only supporting Canadians in this difficult period, but also to doing so in a transparent manner. The Supplementary Estimates (A) continue to serve the objectives of transparency and accountability in the use of public funds by the government when delivering programs and services required by Canadians.
Honourable senators, as these estimates demonstrate, the government continues to remain aware and responsive to the needs of Canadians during the global pandemic. These new spending plans will continue to provide relief for those affected by COVID-19, while helping to ensure robust economic recovery for all Canadians.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge and thank all parliamentarians for working together in person and virtually to continue serving Canadians during these extraordinary times.
I want to especially thank the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance and Senator Mockler’s leadership. Given its work reviewing the budget implementation bill, not to mention many other studies, the committee was extremely busy this session. However, it got the job done and provided the chamber with diligent and thorough studies.
Bravo and thank you.
Senator Marshall, I also want to thank you for your commitment to providing the highest quality assessments and for your exemplary work as critic of this bill. Thank you. Meegwetch.
Honourable senators, Bill C-34 is the third supply bill for this fiscal year and was preceded by the interim supply bill and the main supply bill, which just received third reading. Through this bill, the government is requesting parliamentary approval to spend $24 billion. To support its request, the government has provided the details of the departments and organizations requesting the funding and the programs for which the funds are being requested. This $24 billion is being requested by 45 organizations, although four organizations are requesting the majority of the funding. These are Indigenous Services Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The government has also provided updated information on forecasted statutory spending. That is spending that will be approved by legislation other than appropriation bills. Also, $222 billion will be approved by legislation other than an appropriation bill. Some of this statutory spending will be approved by the budget implementation act when that bill receives parliamentary approval.
The Treasury Board oversees the spending and operations of the government and prepares the estimates and supplementary estimates documents, which we study in the Finance Committee. Accordingly, Treasury Board officials appeared before the Finance Committee to present Supplementary Estimates (A) and answer questions. Several of the questions of the committee focused on accountability. Officials confirmed that under sections 32 and 33 of the Financial Administration Act, the government cannot spend money without parliamentary approval. In other words, the money being requested in this bill cannot be spent until the bill is approved by Parliament. The officials also focused on other accountability documents, including departmental spending plans, departmental results reports and the Public Accounts of Canada, as well as other detailed information provided on the government’s website.
Since the Main Estimates were prepared before the budget was tabled, Supplementary Estimates (A) and this appropriation bill are the first financial documents to include this year’s new budget initiatives. This presents a problem for several reasons. In previous years, the budget clearly indicated the organizations that would receive the funding for each budget initiative. This year, the format has changed. As a result, we now have to review each chapter of the budget manually to identify the organization that will receive the funding.
The Supplementary Estimates (A) states that, in total, $29.5 billion is being requested for new budget initiatives, but only the total was provided. While some of the individual initiatives were identified in Supplementary Estimates (A), not all initiatives were identified. As a result, it was impossible to track the funding of the new budget initiatives. While Treasury Board officials, at the request of the Finance Committee, did provide the list of individual budget initiatives included in Supplementary Estimates (A), future estimates documents should identify these budget initiatives without having to be requested. The financial information in Supplementary Estimates (A) does not align with the financial information in Budget 2021. While Treasury Board has included a chart and Supplementary Estimates (A) — which reconciles Supplementary Estimates (A) with the budget — the chart is confusing and does not provide all the necessary details.
The Department of Finance is responsible for the preparation of the budget, and provides advice to the government on economic and fiscal measures. Some of the discussions with Finance officials during our study of Supplementary Estimates (A) revolved around government debt and public debt charges. Supplementary Estimates (A) indicates that statutory approval has already been given for $21 billion in interest costs. There has been a recent increase in interest rates, which increased the cost of servicing the public debt. However, officials indicated that inflationary increases are expected to be contained.
Since changes in economic assumptions will impact projections for revenue and expenses, including interest costs, Budget 2021 shows the impact a sustained 100 basis point interest rate increase will have on the deficit. In year one, it would increase the deficit by $1 billion, and this impact would increase the deficit by $5 billion in year five. While this sensitivity analysis of a 100 basis point increase has been routinely presented since 1994, the government should have considered whether this stress test should have been more robust this year, given the uncertain economic times we are now experiencing.
Honourable senators, the revenues of the government, which are mostly tax revenues, will not be sufficient to pay expenses in this fiscal year. So far this year, the government is requesting $383 billion in the Main Estimates and Supplementary Estimates (A), and we have been told there will be two more appropriation bills this year requesting more funding. In total, the government is projecting $497 billion in expenses this year but only $355 billion in revenues. The shortfall will be borrowed. In fact, the government has already indicated that it will need to borrow an additional $191 billion this year.
At the end of March 2020, just 15 months ago, government’s debt was $1.093 trillion. At the end of October, it had increased to $1.421 trillion. It is now expected to increase $1.744 trillion by March 2025.
The OECD recently released its current economic outlook and commented on our government’s fiscal plans. While commenting favourably on the financial supports to businesses and households during the pandemic, the OECD went on to state:
. . . once the economy is on a firm footing, a medium-term fiscal strategy to reduce public debt should be considered.
It further went on to say:
. . . a medium-term fiscal strategy should aim to restore fiscal headroom after the pandemic subsides. . . .
Despite the improving economic outlook, risks remain elevated. . . . Vulnerabilities in the corporate bond market remain a concern. Recent housing price growth will make home ownership still less attainable for many households, while increased mortgage borrowing could compound financial market vulnerabilities in the event of future shocks.
The OECD specifically singled out housing as vulnerable. These comments are consistent with the comments of the newly appointed president of CMHC when she testified at the Finance Committee. She said CMHC was concerned about escalating house prices because it encourages homeowners to take on excessive debt, and while it may not be a problem at the moment, excessive debt creates economic fragility. And it creates fragility in the event of future economic shocks where there may be high unemployment.
While the president of CMHC was specifically talking about the mortgage debt of individuals, the increasing debt of our government also creates fragility in the event of future economic shocks. Finance officials did comment briefly on the public debt and the continuing support provided by government to businesses and individuals during the pandemic, which is now expected to wind down in this fiscal year.
With regard to a strategy to reduce the debt, officials indicate the focus has not gotten into many details, although there is a commitment for the government to reduce travel expenses.
The Department of Indigenous Services is requesting $5.4 billion in addition to the $13 billion requested in the Main Estimates. Of the $5.4 billion being requested, $2 billion is COVID-related while the remaining $3.3 billion is for a number of initiatives, including $1.2 billion for out-of-court settlements and $1.1 billion for First Nations Child and Family Services Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders implementation and non-compliance motion settlement.
The departmental officials did not provide any details on the $1.2 billion requested for out-of-court settlements, citing confidentiality of discussions during the litigation process. They explained that the $1.2 billion is being requested to ensure it is available should there be settlements.
The request for the $1.1 billion relates to the September 2019 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision regarding compensation to First Nations children removed from their homes and those that did not receive services or experienced unreasonable delays in the receipt of services under Jordan’s Principle.
As honourable senators are aware, there is currently a court case ongoing in which the government is challenging the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings. We are continuing to follow the proceedings.
Bill C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families was enacted last year and affirms the rights of Indigenous people in relation to child and family services. Officials indicated that funding was provided in the Main Estimates for this program, and no additional funding is provided in these supplementary estimates.
I was specifically interested in the number of Indigenous children in care, as that is one of the objectives of additional funding for child and family services. The department had previously indicated there were 9,000 children in care, and I would expect to see this number decline. Witnesses agreed to provide this information to the committee.
The department is also requesting $75 million for post-secondary students and youth who face financial difficulties during the pandemic due to loss of income, and $79 million for the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy.
The departmental results report of the Department of Indigenous Services Canada includes 61 performance indicators. The most recent results report for the 2019-20 fiscal year indicates that 6 of their indicators have met their established targets; 10 of the 61 did not meet their targets; 15 performance indicators were not available; and 30 performance indicators are to be achieved. One of the 30 performance indicators is established for 2030, which is nine years down the road, while several others are targeted for 2028, seven years down the road.
I had previously suggested that the performance indicators in departmental results reports need to be reviewed to ensure performance indicators are reasonable and that performance indicators actually measure the impacts of program funding. Since these performance reports and performance indicators also fall under the auspices of Treasury Board, I did mention that to Treasury Board officials when they appeared before the National Finance Committee.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is requesting just over $4 billion in additional funding, primarily for COVID-related expenses: $1.5 billion is for medical research and vaccine development, which includes just over $1 billion for vaccine acquisition, and $130 million for international partnerships.
While officials told us that $220 million has been set aside for COVAX, they could not provide any additional specific information. They said they are monitoring key performance indicators that would indicate when there are enough vaccines across provinces and territories, and then they would be able to determine what is available for donation.
There is a request for $1.1 billion for border and travel measures and isolation sites to support municipal and urban voluntary isolation sites and testing at land and air borders. Just over $500 million is being requested for the acquisition and deployment of therapeutic treatments for those with COVID, as well as vaccine equipment and vaccine supplies.
Last month, the Auditor General of Canada issued a report on the Public Health Agency of Canada and its preparedness for the pandemic. She concluded that the agency was not adequately prepared to respond to a pandemic, and it had not addressed long-standing health surveillance information issues prior to the pandemic.
One of the areas reviewed by the Auditor General was the Global Public Health Intelligence Network alert system, which is supposed to monitor media reports worldwide and provide early warning of emergency public health events by issuing alerts. These alerts provide early warning of serious public health threats. However, no alert was issued for the COVID-19 virus. In September, the Minister of Health announced an independent review of this system. It is due to be completed this month. The review is nearing completion, and officials informed us that it will be released publicly.
The Department of Employment and Social Development is requesting a total of $3.4 billion in Supplementary Estimates (A). An amount of $877 million is being requested for existing early learning and child care programs and to help attract and retain early childhood educators. This funding will also be used to establish a federal secretariat in support of a Canada-wide early learning and child care system and to support the existing Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care secretariat. Additional funding of $38 million is being requested by two other departments for this program: ESDC for $35 million and the Public Health Agency of Canada for $3 million.
The federal secretariat is intended to enhance the capacity of the federal government to work with provinces and territories in support of the Canada-wide early learning and child care system announced in Budget 2021.
Supplementary Estimates (A) also forecast statutory payments of $2.6 billion to provinces and territories for the new Canada-wide system. However, officials told us they are in the process of beginning negotiations with the provinces and territories, and no payments can be made until the bilateral agreements are in place. One of the objectives of the program is a 50% reduction in average fees by the end of 2022, an ambitious target seeing that it’s only 18 months away.
The department is also requesting $400 million for the Community Services Recovery Fund, a one-time program announced in Budget 2021 to support charities and non-profits to modernize and emerge out of the pandemic. Officials said charities and non-profits will have to apply for the funds, which can be used for a variety of purposes such as procurement of equipment to meet their changing needs and the adoption of new approaches to fundraising. Officials said the program design is in progress as this is a new program and additional details will be available as the design is finalized.
There is a request for $298 million for the Reaching Home initiative, which is Canada’s Homelessness Strategy. This is a 10-year program started in 2019, but has been delayed because of the pandemic. Budget 2021 proposes to provide an additional $567 million over two years, beginning in 2022-23.
The Department of Employment and Social Development is requesting $239 million for the Student Work Placement Program to provide students and undergraduates with on-the-job experience. This would include co-op and other placements in the fields in which the student is studying.
In addition to the Student Work Placement Program, the department is also requesting $136 million for the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to support youth who need support to get into the labour market. This program is a grant-and-contribution program and will be delivered by third parties.
Departmental officials also told us that the Canada Employment Insurance Commission is currently conducting a review of the Employment Insurance Economic Regions, or zones, the results of which will be available this year. The EI benefits of individuals are impacted by the zone in which they live and this is causing a problem such as the situation in P.E.I., which has been identified by Senator Griffin. The EI commission will determine whether the current regional boundary definitions remain appropriate. Officials also told us there will be consultations on future long-term reforms to EI and $5 million over the next two years has been requested in Budget 2021 to carry out these consultations.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is requesting $1.8 billion in Supplementary Estimates (A); $1.4 billion of the $1.8 billion is for the Rapid Housing Initiative to provide 4,500 affordable housing units. The objective is to construct the units within 12 months of when the funding is provided to the applicants, hence the term “rapid” in the program name. CMHC officials told the committee that targeted increases in the supply of housing is the best way to address the escalating prices of housing.
Many of the questions asked by senators focused on the housing sector generally rather than on Supplementary Estimates (A). CMHC officials expressed concern about the excessive levels of debt Canadians are assuming to finance their housing purchases. They said they support the recent changes in the stress test and the qualifying rate. While it reduces the buying power of potential homeowners, CMHC said it’s necessary.
Another factor affecting house prices is the increase in construction costs, not only because of the increased cost of lumber but also because of labour shortages in some parts of the country.
While CMHC insures mortgages, officials said they are only responsible for a small portion of the insured mortgage market, as they share the insured mortgage market with two other companies. They have also not experienced an increase in defaults. However, they said they are concerned about the escalating house prices because it encourages homeowners to take on excessive debt. Excessive debt creates economic fragility and it creates fragility in the event of future economic shocks, where there may be high unemployment.
CMHC also assured the committee that they conduct a series of stress tests to make sure they have sufficient levels of capital in the event of an economic shock. While increasing interest rates is an element of their stress analysis, they said the principal factor that would result in losses for CMHC is unemployment and that is what they are most concerned about in their stress testing.
I would like to add that it’s not just CMHC that is concerned about the increase in household debt. We see it in a number of other reports. I mentioned it was in the OECD report. As well, we had the Governor of the Bank of Canada testify before the Banking Committee last week and he made remarks in that regard — the vulnerability where households are assuming more debt.
Then to extend that, we all know the Government of Canada is assuming more debt. If there is another economic shock — we hope there won’t be — I do think it’s a gamble. We’re resting our deficits and debt on hoping that we’re going to have a robust economy and low interest rates. Nobody has a crystal ball — that might never materialize but we hope it does.
That concludes my remarks. Thank you, honourable senators.
Thank you, Senator Marshall, for that informative speech. You always seem to take billions of dollars and make them comprehensible for us laymen who are not used to dealing with billions and billions of dollars.
I have a couple of points and a question. You mentioned how the CMHC was concerned about individual debt load in the country. Of course, as a parliamentarian, I am concerned about our national debt load, as we’ve seen in the last few months. As a result of excessive amount of currency printing and having generous bankers for the federal government, we are starting to experience inflation.
Senator Marshall, has there been any questioning of government officials with regard to what happens when inflation starts kicking in on a debt load that is already surpassing our annual economic output? Is there a contingency plan? I understand the government’s assumption that they are going to try to grow the economy out of the debt that we’re in, but is there a plan B in case that actually doesn’t happen over the next two fiscal years?
Thank you very much. That’s a very interesting question, Senator Housakos, because the Minister of Finance testified at the National Finance Committee, and my question was focused on the increased debt and the deficit. I said to her that she’s counting on a healthy economy and low interest rates, so she is sort of gambling there. I said to her that she must have other financial documents within her department that play out less optimistic scenarios. She didn’t respond to that. The chair of the committee, Senator Mockler, did ask the minister to provide any other scenarios to the Finance Committee.
I’m not aware of a plan B, but, Senator Housakos, I can’t believe the government doesn’t have other scenarios within the department. I say the smartest people in the country are working in the Department of Finance. They must have scenarios that are based on higher inflation and the economy tanking.
The other thing I was concerned about, which was brought up in the OECD report, is the possibility of another fiscal shock. We just had one and they say we get a fiscal shock every 10 years. Maybe that was our one shock in 10 years but maybe it’s not. According to the OECD, there is really not much fiscal headroom left and they suggested the government work to reduce their deficit, reduce their debt and make room for some fiscal headroom in case there is another fiscal shock.
It does, and thank you for that, Senator Marshall. I’m not surprised you actually posed those questions. I’m a little disappointed they didn’t have a more concrete response, as I’m sure you were.
My last question is this: I heard in your speech about $1.2 billion in out-of-court settlements and a couple of other line items you alluded to where there were no explanations, no details given. Again, given our shared view that our primary role is to keep this government to account, accountability and transparency are so important. Therefore I’m a little concerned. We are talking about $1.2 billion. You’re not talking about a petty cash fund.
How could it be that government officials are not prepared, in camera, to provide a parliamentary committee those details, and if there is some other oversight mechanism that you can inform us about in order to account for that kind of money?
It wasn’t an in camera meeting; it was a public meeting. I wasn’t the senator who asked the question but I was a little surprised that they didn’t provide more information. I find in committee — and I’m sure other senators find the same thing — when you ask a question you don’t always get a fulsome answer. Sometimes when another senator asks a similar question you will get additional information, or the next time the officials appear the question can be repeated and you get a more fulsome answer. Yes, I was surprised at the $1.2 billion.
The other issue I raised, which I found a bit confusing, was the $1.1 billion they had provided for the Human Rights Tribunal rulings, and I see that’s going through the courts now. My understanding is that they are making payments out of that fund, but I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen with regard to the court case. Then, the next time that department comes in, questions will be focused on that area.
I find in National Finance — and, of course, I’ve been on the committee for a number of years — it’s not like you look at something one year, and that’s the end of it. It starts five years back, and then you have to track it every year into the future. I always say it’s not a one-shot deal.
Honourable senators, I’m happy to rise today to speak to Bill C-34, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022. Today, my comments will be focused on individual items in the corresponding Supplementary Estimates (A) document.
I’d like to thank Senator Marshall for reminding me of the work done in the National Finance Committee during the last few months under the leadership of Senator Mockler.
These estimates are before us as we enter yet another period of uncertainty. Though the virus seems to be on its back foot here in Canada, we cannot be sure what this pandemic has in store for us in the near to long term. Businesses across the country have had to open and shut their doors a number of times. Each time, some had to shut their doors for good. Those businesses that made it through are hesitantly reopening in parts of the country, and the business supports that are contained in these estimates are needed and welcome in the face of this ongoing uncertainty.
There is also $1.4 billion in these estimates for the funding of medical research and vaccine development, which should equip us with the domestic tools to combat this virus through vaccines and treatments in the long term. It will also help fund and contribute to the COVAX facility.
The reality is that we will not be able to put this pandemic behind us until the entire world is vaccinated. This is not charity; it is in our best interest. Failure to do so will see this virus continue to mutate as it burns through unvaccinated populations in other countries with the potential to escape the vaccine.
With all that said, for my purposes today, my comments will focus on one group of people in particular, that being our young Canadians. I would argue that along with our medical professionals and small business owners, there is not a group who has been called on to sacrifice more and who continue to face more uncertainty than our young people. They have had their schooling disrupted like no time in our memory. They were told to isolate from their friends and relatives at a time when socialization is so critical to their development. They have missed athletic, work and scholastic opportunities, some of which they will not be presented with again. They made these sacrifices to protect us.
Last week, the CBC interviewed high school and university graduates. Their stories were compelling, honest and raw as they described the last 15 months. We owe it to them to make sure this year of disruption has as minimal an impact on them in the long term as possible.
In this regard, one of the most important items in these estimates is the $503 million earmarked to fund the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy. This is a cross-departmental investment that is intended to help youth gain the skills and work experience they need to transition into the world of work. The money is intended to be used to subsidize wages, create work placements and develop skills and training to better transition our young Canadians into steady careers. This is important because as far as employment goes, our youth have suffered immensely over these last 15 months. In May, Statistics Canada reported that the unemployment rate for students who will be returning to classes in the fall stood at 23%. That’s nearly one quarter of this cohort.
Traditionally, this is a time when students find full-time work to save for next year’s tuition. Without this revenue stream, many will be forced to take on more loans and subsequent debt. For those who are employed, we can’t ignore that many of their jobs are low paying and don’t give them the job experience they will need when they graduate.
For much of this pandemic, those young Canadians who managed to hold on to their employment worked on the front lines in essential retail. At the outset of the pandemic, we as a society expressed our gratitude for their sacrifice, but as time wore on, some Canadians grew tired and resentful, and they took out their frustrations on these young workers. Canadian youth were put in the role of trying to enforce public health guidelines, like masking and social distancing. Many were unfairly berated for it, and they had to shoulder this in addition to the risks they were taking, both from a personal point of view but also from one of trying to prevent bringing the virus home to their families.
To place such a burden on our young people no doubt contributed to what has been a steady degradation in their mental well-being. Our teenage years are ones of emotional and psychological development, and yet, in this pandemic, support systems like schools and social circles suddenly disappeared as the country went into lockdown. As a result, our kids are struggling. Children’s hospitals are reporting a threefold increase in admissions related to substance abuse, as well as a 63% increase in admissions for complex eating disorders.
I won’t argue against the need for lockdowns or public health restrictions, but it’s clear that as the country moved to protect itself from the virus, many of our young Canadians struggled with their mental health as a result. Therefore, as we work to put this pandemic behind us, we need to focus on mental and social support for our young Canadians.
Dr. Ronald Cohn, president and CEO of SickKids Hospital said it succinctly when he said:
As we get to the other end of this pandemic, I hope that we are not talking about a generation that is at risk . . . . It’s just going to require a special focus on really making children a priority.
Which is why, colleagues, I was encouraged when I saw in these estimates substantial funding in the areas of mental health and wellness. There is $42 million to be used in funding for mental health and to combat substance abuse, as well as $14.2 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Importantly, there is also a $3.3 million investment in these estimates for Kids Help Phone.
The largest request for mental health supports, $193 million, has been made by Indigenous Services Canada. This request is being made as part of the 2021 budget announcement of $597.6 million over three years for a distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategy with First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
While youth across the country have had so many difficulties over the last year, it will come as no surprise that some of those with the worst experiences come from our Indigenous communities. Throughout their entire lives, Indigenous youth have had to deal with pre-existing adversity left by enduring colonial legacies. On top of a disruption in their employment and schooling, many Indigenous youth were also deprived of cultural practices that rest at the core of their resilience and wellness. It will take some time to undo the psychological harms this pandemic has brought in these areas, and I am encouraged to see these investments in a distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategy.
The price tag of these and other budget items stand out in our recent memory, but I argue that as far as our youth are concerned, we are in their debt for the sacrifices they have made over the course of this pandemic. The investments I just listed should be but the start of an increased investment in our young Canadians to see their development and experience are not tripped up as a result of this pandemic.
During a recent interview, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough stated her concern over the potential for long-term scarring our young Canadians could face. She pointed out that historically, in past crises, it was younger Canadians who were getting their working lives started whose suffering seemed to drag on even after the emergency or crisis had subsided.
I appreciate her sentiments, and I hope they translate to a long-term, steady focus on trying to lift up this cohort of Canadians. Outside-the-box thinking is needed if we hope to undo some of the harms done in the past year. I think of items like Senator Moodie’s bill calling for the creation of a child commissioner, which could go a long way to cementing this commitment, and I hope to see this position created in one form or another in the months and years to come; this needs to happen.
With the increased pace of vaccinations, Canada seems to be turning a corner in this pandemic. As our economy reopens, it is my hope that we will encounter continued good news on the virus front as the months wear on. Any jubilance, though, should not shroud the sacrifices made by our younger Canadians in this “lockdown” generation. The investments in these estimates are encouraging, but they should be but the beginning of our focus on young Canadians if we are to pay them back for what they have done for and with us.
Finally, when I sit at the National Finance table, while we reviewed the budget bill and these supplementary estimates over the past weeks, I try to prepare, listen and speak with this question on the tip of my tongue: What does every page, every observation and every recommendation mean to Canadians generally? Do I understand this enough to articulate it to any Canadian? Does it make sense? Is it fair? And, particularly now, does it continue to support us in a time of healing, recovery and hope?
We are watching Finance and the Treasury Board closely — you heard Senator Marshall — to make sure our processes are improved and make sense, ensuring better transparency for all Canadians. This continues to be a year-over-year work-in-progress. There are issues of alignment between the budget and the estimates, but I am cautiously hopeful that given so many factors we can look forward and outward from the Senate with confidence to support a better “desired Canada.” Thank you, meegwetch.
Senator, I thank you for your impassioned speech, but what I am hearing from fellow Canadians is the government has not issued any kind of guidelines for those Canadians who are fully vaccinated. As we’ve spoken about, vaccination has picked up; 20% of Canadians have been fully vaccinated. Isn’t it time the government issued some sort of guidelines for those who are fully vaccinated?
Thank you. Senator, I think you were at our dinner table last night at home and that was a discussion we had quite voraciously and I’m looking forward to; it’s that first vaccine and now the second vaccine. What are the behaviours we are expecting and some guidelines so we can move forward with groups of all ages? I’m looking forward to that. Thank you.