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Appropriation Bill No. 3, 2021-22

Excerpt from Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

Appropriation Bill No. 3, 2021-22

Second Reading

Hon. Marty Deacon: 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.

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