This week, on Here’s The Thing (Camões TV), Manuel DaCosta interviews Ahmed Hussen, Minister for Families, Children and Social Development and representant for the riding of York South-Weston. From 2017 to 2019, was Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Since 2015, Hussen is the first Somalian-Canadian to be elected to the House of Commons and the first to hold a Cabinet position.
Hussen explains the new budget, presented this week by Chrystia Freeland, and how it will affect women, children and the workforce. With the goal to erase social issues and minimize the pandemic effects, the government is focused on an economic recovery that will bring a positive impact to all Canadians.
Manuel Da Costa: This budget addresses social issues that have been intensified with the pandemic.
Ahmed Hussen: Absolutely, the budget had two goals. One, was to continue to support Canadians to deal with negative, difficult impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is still going, even though we continue to increase the vaccination. The second goal is about having a strong and inclusive economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic. Which means real investments in people, real investments in communities, and the biggest item is a 30-million-dollar plan to invest in early learning and childcare, setting up a Canada wide system that introduces deep affordability, high quality, inclusivity and accessibility into the system. We are very ambitious in that regard, we intend to make sure there’s an average reduction of fees by 50%, by the end of 2022 and, down further, to bring childcare fees to 10 dollars a day by the end of five years. We will do this with Provinces and Territories, but we would be putting significant dollars to get the job done.
In addition to that, there’s a lot of help for students and youth, skills training for youth and adults, extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy for workers, extending the Canada Emergency Rental Subsidy for businesses. More money for housing, the Rapid Housing Initiative will see an investment of 1.5 billion dollars and a 300-million-dollar fund to enable non-profit organizations to be able to acquire vacant and unused commercial proprieties to convert them into affordable housing. Labor protection for gig workers who are working non-traditional jobs, like Uber drivers. An investment of 5.7 billion dollars for youth to pursuit and continue their education, we are doubling the Canada Student Grant and we are creating 415 000 jobs. By January 2022, we are implementing a 1% tax on the value of non-resident, non-Canadian real estate there is vacant or underused, that will raise 700 million dollars that will be used to make housing more affordable.
MDC: This budget has something for every group of Canadians that may have be affected by the pandemic. In Canada, we have had huge job losses, many businesses closing… is this a budget to really get Canada to recover or is it devoted to a future election?
AH: This budget is about helping Canadians now to deal with Covid and making sure we recover strongly. We have to stimulate the economy to regain jobs. Our measures have been working, if we look at the jobs that we lost at the beginning of the pandemic, 80% of those jobs have come back and that because of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and all the support that has been given to businesses and the non-profit sector.
If we compare that with the United States, they have only regained 50% of their jobs, so our measures are working, but we need to do more to stimulate the economy and have a strong economic recovery. Our focus is helping Canadians because people are still dealing with the pandemic, is about keeping Canadians healthy, bring as many vaccines as possible and making sure we help the most vulnerable in our communities, but also making sure we recover in a very strong matter by making the necessary investments now.
MDC: The investments being made now are not being balanced by additional revenues, like taxes, to balance the budget. However, the government suggests that in five years we should be back to pre-pandemic levels when it comes to budgets. Do you think this is really feasible?
AH: When you are facing a pandemic and people are suffering and the economy is taking a hit on certain sectors, we have two choices. The first choice is what the Conservatives did in 2008, in the last recession, where they didn’t invest in people, communities or businesses. What happened was that the recession was much deeper and more hurtful to Canadians and it took longer to economically recover. We don’t intend to make that mistake. The time to invest is now. Either we help people now, or people will fall further behind and businesses close and it’s more painful.
The job of a government is to help people and that is exactly what we are doing now. In terms of investments, we are making them for the post pandemic world, for the recovery process, those are very smart and thoughtful investments to enable us to take advantage of the growing green economy and technology, but also investing in youth. Making sure they improve their skills to be prepared for the jobs of the future. We are making investments in infrastructure, so we are able to have a much stronger and inclusive economic. The recovery will happen, the question is how many people will be part of that recovery and we want no one to be left behind. That’s the difference between our approach and the Conservative party approach.
MDC: The children’s Childcare program has been spoken about by the Liberals, and others, by many many years and it never came to fruition. Right now, this plan appears to have some legs to go forward. It’s spread in five years and it requires the cooperation of the Provinces in possibly paying 50%. If certain Provinces choose not to participate in funding, how are you going to implement this program?
AH: We haven’t started the negotiations to establish a Canada wide system, so I don’t want to pre-judge those negotiations.
Here’s what I will say: number one, everyone in Canada supports affordable childcare. The pandemic has showed the impact of not having access to accessible childcare, that’s why you see business groups, presidents of Banks, chambers of commerce calling for affordable childcare; second, since 2017 the Federal government has been working with the Provinces on this matter, investing and increasing affordable childcare spaces through bilateral agreements and those investments will continue. Which proves we are able to partner on this topic, even though it’s a Provincial jurisdiction. What we are saying now is that we want to make more investments and for Provinces to join us so we can make childcare affordable for every child in Canada. That is something, that philosophically, you will find many Provinces are willing and able to do that. Of course, we may not agree on everything, but I believe that once we start the negotiation process, we will be able to figure out a way to get to the same goal while paying attention to local circumstances.
Let me give you a good example. Last year, we committed 420 million dollars in the fall economic statement to help Provinces and Territories to recruit more yearly childhood educators. This is not a Federal area. When it comes to skills training, salary increases and recruitment costs, those are defined by Provinces, but we decided to invest an additional 420 million dollars in Federal money. We can’t establish a Canada wide system if we don’t have enough teachers.
The reasons why I’m more confident this time, one is due to the pandemic. Second, is because the government of Canada, through this budget, is showing that we are here for the long-term. This budget shows that we will invest 30 billion dollars over five years. Once that period is over and we achieve the average of 10 dollars a day for childcare, we will continue the investment of 9.2 billion dollars a year, permanently. That gives confidence and assurance to Provinces and Territories that we will be here for the long run.
MDC: What economic benefits will this childcare program bring to the country?
AH: Number one, you will have literally hundreds of thousands of women who will rejoin the workforce. That improves the gross domestic product and productivity, introduces fewer social services costs, contributes to more tax revenue collected by the Provincial, Territories and Federal government, it leads to a close of the gap between man and woman participating in the work force and the filling of unfiled jobs. A lot of the industries in Canada don’t have enough workers, that’s why we bring in skilled immigrants to fill those jobs.
MDC: I agree that it will bring back women to the workforce, many have left their position because of Covid.
AH: Even the ones who want to come back are being held back because of lack of affordable childcare. Others haven’t been working for the last couple of years because of this barrier. Childcare fees are very expensive, especially in some of the urban centers, we are talking about 50 or 60 dollars a day. This is a barrier for families, especially if you have more than one kid and the burden falls mostly on women. We want to make sure that we are addressing the needs of those families.
If you are paying 50 dollars a day, per child, and we reduce that by half until 2022, and then we bring it down to an average of 10 dollars I five years, that’s really money going back to your pocket. These are real savings for families. Childcare is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.
MDC: To accommodate this program we will need enough childcare spaces created. There’s seems to be a huge shortage in licensed daycares. How do you view that?
AH: These are issues that we will have to sort out through the negotiations with Provinces and Territories. Different Provinces have different views on this issue. We are in favor of publicly run, high quality, affordable childcare spaces and that’s what federal dollars will be primarily used for. Although, we recognize that the private sector also has a role to play.
MDC: The pandemic level we are experiencing has led to many job losses, there could be as many as 120,000 small businesses closing. I know you have extended the wage program to help people along. These programs will probably end in September, where do you think the new jobs will be coming from, since you want to create about one million jobs by the end of 2021?
AH: I think it’s by providing people with opportunities for skilled training and paying for that, investing in youth, investing in the economy, incentivizing the commercialization of world leading Canadian green and clean technology, which will create jobs. The same goes for childcare, a lot of spots created will need people to run those centers and this is a primarily female workforce.
The investment in housing, 1.5 billion dollars is going to the Rapid Housing Initiative, that will stimulate the economy, it will lead to thousands of jobs being created to build those homes. Investing hundreds of millions in different programs within the national housing strategy. We have a huge infrastructure plan that will act as an economic stimulus. There is a lot in the budget targeted to have a very strong and sustained economic impact. We were very careful about making sure our investments are really about helping people but also about contributing to a sustained long-term economic recovery.
MDC: In the meantime, we have a huge shortage of construction workers and people to do this kind of work. There are a lot of employees that are working underground and are illegal in Canada. This year, the immigration levels were quite low. So, why are we deporting people that have been here for a long time and why are we not making it easy for people, with trades as construction, to come in?
AH: That is an important question. I think you are partially right because I think your question missed the fact that we are taking action to regularize some undocumented workers and their families. In fact, I’m the Minister who introduced that, I don’t know if you are aware, but towards the end of my time as Minister of Immigration, one of the policies I introduced was to regularize thousands of undocumented construction workers and their families in the GTA. I was the first Immigration Minister to do that in a very long time. When I saw that issue, I acted.
In addition to that, I also created thousands of new spaces in our overall immigration system, more pathways to permanent residency and temporary foreign workers and easing that process. I’m the Minister who got rid of the designated country of origin, which was a discriminatory policy that really disadvantage a number of folks. So, is that the perfect solution? Absolutely not, but I did start that work, our government did that. We recognize that we need to do more.
If you are asking about my opinion, I believe that the people who have been here, who are working, who have never committed a criminal offense, who have family connections to Canadians, should be regularized.
MDC: Being responsible for Families now, maybe you can bring this up to government again. We need people to come to work in certain sectors.
AH: That’s right, there’s a skill shortage in some industries. We need these people and that’s why I did the pilot program, to regularize them. It was a humanitarian gesture, but also because we need those skills, today more than ever before. We have to be smart about this. I will continue to push on this subject in my current portfolio as Minister for Families, Children and Social Development.
I just want to show you the level of ambition in our government. I introduced the Rapid Housing Initiative in October, we obtained 1 billion dollars to build 3,000 affordable housings across the country. To access that funding, the builder or non-profit have to build affordable housing in 12 months. The reality… we have 4,777. We exceeded the target, because when you bring a program like that, people leverage those dollars, and they stretch the dollars to do more. So, the communities, the cities and organizations stepped up to do this. Thanks to that, the Rapid Housing Initiative, will have an additional investment of 1.5 billion, because the need is still there.
Also, by January 2022, we will implement a 1% tax of the value of vacant or underused real estate, owned by non-residents or non-Canadians. This will generate 700 million dollars in funding that will be used to create more affordable housing.
Transcrition: Lizandra Ongaratto/MS