I was happy to be back in Parliament last Wednesday to advocate for workers, businesses, and students in the Kenora riding.
Support for students affected by COVID-19
On Wednesday, Parliament passed emergency supports for students unable to find work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis.
Many post-secondary students are unable to keep their jobs throughout the school year, either because they don’t have the time with their academic commitments or because they’ve had to relocate to complete their education. Many young people in the Kenora riding, myself included, have had to leave their hometowns in order to attend college or university. These students are now finishing up their school years and expecting to enter the workforce, just as many businesses are laying off staff or closing their doors entirely.
Just like the millions of people who have applied for Canada Emergency Response Benefit, these students are now facing unemployment through no fault of their own.
Post-secondary students are adults with expenses. They need to pay their rent, buy groceries, and pay their tuition. Many also have children of their own. The spillover from leaving these students without support had the potential to be devastating - not just to the students affected, but to the country as a whole.
The Canadian economy has already suffered a shock - it would be much worse if, come summer, we were to see a huge influx of students suddenly able to make rent. Without emergency financial support, some students would be forced to delay or discontinue their education; the long-term impacts of this would also be considerable.
That is why my Conservative colleagues and I voted in support of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). I am glad that the government agreed to include several due diligence amendments that we proposed, including a sunset clause and a parliamentary review of the program’s impact.
Of course, there is no government benefit that can replace the experience of having a job. No student or new grad wants a months-long gap on their resume when they could have been gaining valuable work experience. (I certainly would not have wanted that when I was a student!)
The Conservative Opposition successfully fought for an amendment that would require students who apply for the CESB to be connected to the Job Bank at the same time.
We’re also proposing a new program that would connect unemployed students with jobs in the agriculture and agri-food sector. Many agricultural producers are actually facing labour shortages right now, due to unavailability of temporary foreign workers, and we believe that students could fill these gaps. This program would allow students to earn a living and gain some job experience while helping stabilize Canada’s food supply - a win-win for students looking for work and employers looking for workers! We hope to work with the government to make this program a reality.
Canadians who are unable to find a job due to COVID-19 need support, but they also need innovative solutions to help them get back to work as quickly as possible.
Holding the Government to Account
Wednesday’s sitting of Parliament was a productive one, and I had multiple opportunities to speak out on issues facing our region. In addition to delivering a ten-minute speech on the Student Benefit, I questioned government Ministers on support for the tourism industry and businesses in Northern Ontario.
I asked the government how they were going to address business issues including insufficient internet access and the inability of many seasonal businesses, start-ups, and smaller companies to access government loans and time-limited programs like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
I also asked about support for struggling tourism operations, and if there is any plan to promote Canadian tourism after the public health crisis is resolved.
It was also my pleasure to present a petition calling for action to improve Internet in rural and remote regions, signed by 920 Canadians. Many rural areas still do not have access to reliable, high-speed internet, which is becoming more and more of an equality issue as the economy and society becomes increasingly virtual.
Fighting for Northern Ontario
Earlier this week, I co-wrote a letter with my fellow Northern Ontario MPs, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski, and Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, calling for emergency support for seasonal businesses and airlines serving remote communities.
The letter, addressed to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, and Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Mélanie Joly, outlines how seasonal and tourism businesses have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These businesses have significant overhead costs (including insurance) that they must pay at the beginning of the season, and many of them are not able to access supports from the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) or the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
Air carriers serving remote Indigenous communities are also struggling to meet payroll and operating costs due to the dramatic drop in demand for passenger service due to COVID-19. Allowing these air carriers to cease operations due to costs would be devastating for the remote communities who rely on them, and may even put lives at risk.
MPs Angus, Powlowski and I are calling for the following supports:
· Immediate relief to help cover start-up costs for seasonal tourism businesses, particularly insurance costs for air-carriers;
· Non-repayable loans to help these businesses cover costs throughout the summer;
· An expansion of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy beyond June;
· Help to address the fact that many seasonal pilots over the age of 40 cannot get medically certified to fly commercial this season.
With my Parliamentary duties in Ottawa completed for another week, I am now back at work in the Kenora riding, where my staff and I are working around the clock to assist constituents.
If there is anything we can help you with, please do not hesitate to contact my office by phone at 807-468-2170 or by email at email@example.com.