Transcript: Minister Morneau hosts Facebook Live event in Halifax – January 11, 2016
DATE: January 11, 2016 15:00 AT
LOCATION: Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building, Room 1020, 6100 University Avenue, Halifax, NS
PRINCIPAL(S): Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance
Andy Fillmore, Member of Parliament for Halifax and
Dr. Richard Florizone, President, Dalhousie University
Ally, Moderator for Facebook Questions
SUBJECT: Minister of Finance Bill Morneau Holds a Town Hall Meeting with Students at Dalhousie University During a Facebook Live Event
Andy Fillmore: My name is Andy Fillmore. I’m the Member of Parliament here in Halifax. And this afternoon, you’ve figured it out by now, we’re having a live town hall on Facebook. And we’re so pleased that everyone here in the room and everyone on the Internet has been able to join us today, and we look forward to a really great conversation. In order to welcome you properly, I’d like to hand the microphone to Dr. Richard Florizone, the President of Dalhousie University.
Dr. Richard Florizone: Thanks so much, Andy. And Minister Morneau, thank you for being here, and welcome to Dal’s campus. It’s wonderful to see such a great turnout today, and it’s an example of what an engaged campus we have. We sometimes brag about Dal, saying that we have more conscientious achievers than any other big university in the country. They are students who are serious about their academics but want to make a difference in the world, and that’s an example of why they’re here today.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Richard Florizone, Dal’s 11th President, and it’s a pleasure just to give a very brief introduction to our guests here today. You heard from Andy Fillmore, who is our Member of Parliament for Halifax. Welcome, Andy. He is here to moderate today’s discussion. We’re very fortunate to have Andy represent Halifax. He brings a great background as an urban planner and designer by profession, and he’s also been a community builder and leader in the academic, public and private sector. So welcome, Andy. Most recently, he served as Vice President of Planning and Development at Halifax’s Waterfront Development Corporation, where he led the planning and development of a large, mixed-use public space waterfront initiative. I’m also proud to say that Andy is a Dal alum. So welcome again, Andy.
Now, our main guest today. We’re so pleased to welcome the Honourable Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance and the Member of Parliament for Toronto Centre. Minister Morneau is a very accomplished business leader. He assumed leadership of the family business, Morneau Shepell, which is a consulting and HR company, in 1990, and really grew it quite dramatically. Under his direction it grew, I believe, from 200 employees to now providing employees for over 3,300 families across Canada, so really quite a remarkable accomplishment.
Now, some of his work. As a member of the Government of Ontario’s Pension Advisory Council, he has demonstrated some of his expertise on pensions, and in 2012 was appointed Pension Investment Advisor to Ontario’s Minister of Finance. In 2002, Minister Morneau was named as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, a great recognition for his business and community leadership. He’s co-authored a book called The Real Retirement, along with numerous articles on public policy issues. Minister Morneau holds a Bachelor of Arts from Western University, a Master of Science from the London School of Economics and an MBA from INSEAD.
If I could just add, on a personal note, I had the opportunity to meet with Minister Morneau first in 2013, when he was out here on a regional meeting regarding pensions. And I want to say that at that time he was contemplating running for office, and I was really struck by the passion with which you spoke about public service at that time. So ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming MP Andy Fillmore and the Honourable Minister Bill Morneau.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Now, do I need this?
Unidentified Male: No.
Hon. Bill Morneau: I don’t think I – that’s –
Unidentified Male: (Crosstalk)
Hon. Bill Morneau: It’s all you.
Dr. Richard Florizone: That’s mine, Minister.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay, you can have it. I got this. And I get to sit down too. So first of all, I just want to say, Richard, how great it is to be here. I’m really delighted to be here at Dalhousie.
And for those of you who are joining us on Facebook, welcome. We will be speaking here in the room, but we will also have some questions on Facebook during our meeting here today.
So for those of you in the room, it’s really tremendous to be here. I’m here, as you may have heard, on what we’re calling pre-budget consultations. So we are going across the country this week. And when I say we, it’s myself, I’m going literally starting here in Halifax, going to Montreal tomorrow, Toronto Wednesday, Winnipeg on Thursday, Calgary on Friday, and Vancouver on Saturday. I’m just tired talking about it. And my Parliamentary Secretary, Francois-Philippe Champagne, he’s doing a similar sort of tour, although he starts, I believe, in Moncton, doesn’t he? And he goes to some other places, but I only have to remember so many things. Because if I keep remembering stuff, I’m going to lose my kids’ birthdays somehow.
So it’s been great so far. Let me tell you a little bit about pre-budget consultations. In case you think it’s glamorous working for the federal government, I’ll tell you how it started. So last Thursday was our very first day. We did a Google hangout for university students, and we had university students from eight campuses across the country come on board for a Google hangout. And very first day, technical glitch. So it worked for the campuses, but none of the journalists could get on board. So we scrambled afterwards to find a way to get the information out to the journalists, and I think they’ve forgiven us. They won’t forgive us that many more times if we keep doing that stuff. And then the next day we started this Facebook endeavour by – I was supposed to do a little brief message on Facebook. And for any of you who watched it, you will have seen that there was no audio attached to it, which, you know, problem number two.
And then today, we started our day at the Westin Hotel, and around 5:15 in the morning when I woke up, I realized there was no power in the hotel. So we had a morning breakfast meeting that was supposed to happen, which of course didn’t because there was really no way to find my clothing in the dark. And then we had a consultation with a number of small business leaders. And I kid you not, we had a room of about 20 people, and we had candles across the table in front of all of us. So it was the first candlelit pre-budget consultation in Canada’s history. So that was exciting. And we just had a luncheon where there was no power in the hotel for the lunch. So I think some catering company brought the food in, and they had lights sort of jerry-rigged around the place. So if it goes well for the next hour, it will be a smashing success both in general but also specifically against how we’ve done so far. So there you go.
So I’m here really to listen to you. We’re trying to get a sense from Canadians about what priorities we should be thinking about in our budget. It’s not that much of an open discussion, though, because of course we just won an election on October 19th, and we won an election on a campaign platform of what we wanted to do to deal with the challenging economy in Canada, among other things. We talked a lot about the need to make significant investments in our country to deal with slow growth. So we’re coming out of an era of slow growth. We’re now facing up to an economy that, because of low prices of oil and lower global economic growth, we’re facing some challenges.
Our plan is to invest significantly in the economy to deal with that. Our plan is also to invest in people. We started out that plan by reducing taxes. In December we announced to Canadians that we would reduce taxes for the middle class, and have gone ahead and done that. So for people that earn from $45,000 right up until about $200,000, they have lower taxes as a result of that tax reduction. And we’re going to announce in our upcoming budget one of the key platform initiatives that we talked about in our campaign, which was we want to introduce a Canada Child Benefit that will materially impact the lives of Canadians that are in many cases struggling to get by. It will increase the benefit going to nine out of ten Canadian families with children. It’ll raise hundreds of thousands of Canadian children out of poverty. So we have some important plans that we think will make a real difference in the lives of Canadians, and that will simultaneously help us to grow the economy in the short term, and plans to invest in the economy going forward.
So today it’s all about hearing from you. What do you think our priorities should be? Why should we be doing one thing versus the other? If you had to order what we’ve said we wanted to do, what would be the order that you’d put it in? If you have specific ideas that maybe weren’t in our platform, let us know. Because we’re not only thinking about Budget 2016 but we’re thinking about the entire – at lunch I said it was 12 years, but I really want it to be 16 years of Liberal government that’s coming to you. So you know, that’s something I’d like you to help us to think about because we are going to be thinking about policies that can stimulate growth, that can make Canada a better place for Canadians, and you can be part of that initiative. But you can only be part of it if you tell us what you’re thinking. So that’s why I’m here.
Our plan today is to take questions from you in the room, and also take some questions from Facebook that I understand will be coming in in some way. So with that, I’m going to pass it over to Andy, who is – I guess – our moderator.
Andy Fillmore: Facilitator, moderator.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Master of ceremonies.
Andy Fillmore: Yeah, yeah. I respond to any of those, and a few more too.
Hon. Bill Morneau: For the francophones, he is the big cheese today.
Andy Fillmore: So thank you for that and setting the tone for the room. And I just want to hit on the point about engagement and consultation. And this government believes strongly in involving Canadians in decisions that impact their lives through deep and authentic engagement, and that’s what the Minister’s tour is really about. And to further underline that point, I just wanted to make sure that you understood that Darren Fisher, the MP from Dartmouth–Cole Harbour, is here; Sean Fraser from Central Nova; and I saw Darrell Samson from Sackville–Preston–Chezzetcook; and of course the President of the Treasury, Scott Brison, from Hants County, are all here today to listen to you. And that’s sort of a testimony to the intention that we have around including all of you in the decisions that are forthcoming. So I’ll just sort of stand up and turn around a little bit so that I can see you, and maybe stand with you. The Minister has --
Hon. Bill Morneau: Is it fair to say that we’re about the same height with me sitting and you standing? I’m just saying. So.
Andy Fillmore: Oh, boy.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Yeah.
Andy Fillmore: And you have the hairdo for both of us as well. So the Minister has started off with some interesting statements about where he would like to see the economy going and some of the tools. Would anybody like to query him on that, or any other thing that perhaps was not mentioned, to get the conversation started today? Yeah, here at the back. I’m going to bring the microphone up to you so that people watching electronically can hear your question.
Audience Member: So when Prime Minister Trudeau was first sworn in, he said that he wanted to keep the corporate tax rate where it was. But considering that we have slugging growth right now, and the savings that has been generated from the tax rate where it is right now, shouldn’t it be raised to – sorry, I’m a bit nervous. Shouldn’t it be raised to counter that slugging growth right now, and to also account for the…I’m really sorry.
Hon. Bill Morneau: It’s okay. I get it. Can take a crack at it?
Audience Member: Yeah, sure.
Hon. Bill Morneau: I –
Audience Member: Remy.
Andy Fillmore: Remy. Thank you, Remy.
Hon. Bill Morneau: First of all, I completely get the question, which, you know, I’ve heard from numerous people over the course of my travels over the last few months, which is, when facing a really difficult economic environment, should we be rethinking elements of our plan that might have positive or negative impacts that we hadn’t thought about? So it’s a very reasonable question. We are, as I mentioned, facing a situation where oil prices are lower than was budgeted for in Budget 2015. They’re lower than back in October, when we came into office. They’re lower than when we were announcing our economic and fiscal update in December. And with oil prices, a lot of things happen. There’s less investment in Canada and, as we’ve seen, our dollar is going down. So yes, there’s a changing environment.
But the good news is we have a plan to grow the economy, and we’ve already started. The plan to grow the economy is about finding ways to stimulate growth in the short and medium and long term. So in the short term it will be about – as I said, we’ve reduced taxes. That’s going to bring money into the economy. We’re going to introduce the Canada Child Benefit. That’ll give more money to people that are struggling to get by – that will go into the economy. We are going to introduce infrastructure spending – some of it will come into the economy quickly for projects that have real capacity to increase our productivity long term, and are ready. And other big projects might take a little longer, but they’re going to help us to grow the economy.
So the criterion we’re going to use to think about our initiatives is: does it help grow the economy? And the particular one that you asked about, we don’t actually think that would help us in growing the economy, so that’s not on our list of things to do. And that’s why the Prime Minister said that that was where we stood on that particular issue. I will be listening to every idea over the course of the next week to think about things that we can do now in Budget 2016, and that we can think about going down the road. And those will be against how do we help our economy to be better for people in this room, people who are, you know, maybe in first year, maybe in fourth year, and looking at what kind of great jobs are they going to have in, you know, 12 months or in 36 months. And that’s our job. Our job is to grow the economy, create the great jobs for tomorrow for people in this room, and we believe that that will come about by investing in the kinds of things that will make us more productive.
Andy Fillmore: Thanks for the question, Remy, and for the response, Minister. I’m up here at your 10:00. There we are. There we go. And I have Nick here with a question.
Audience Member: Hello, Minister. Nick Langley with CFIB in Nova Scotia, and we represent 5,200 small businesses in the province.
Hon. Bill Morneau: I knew it wasn’t a student when I saw you with a tie.
Audience Member: But I have a nice colour tie, though.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Yeah, okay, there you go.
Audience Member: I liked your response before. Of course we have changing fiscal realities all the time. And I know that your party’s platform was on CPP, looking at mandatory contributions to that. But given the fragility of our economy, is your government open to looking at possibly voluntary contributions in order to recognize the challenges that small businesses are having, in order to help grow our economy during this phase?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, thank you. You know, one of the things that we campaigned on was a commitment to look at ways to enhance the Canada Pension Plan. That was a clear commitment from our standpoint. We believe that Canadians, in particular Canadians of your age and maybe the next decade or two older than you, are not saving enough for retirement. So from our standpoint, we believe that enhancing the Canada Pension Plan is the right thing to do. We’ve talked about that with the provincial Finance Ministers at our meeting in December. We’ve come around to concluding that we are going to be spending the year 2016 to talk about how we might do that. We’re going to talk about how we can introduce a fully funded and phased-in approach to enhancing the Canada Pension Plan. That’s our intention, and we’ll be working towards doing that. We think it’s the right thing to do over the long term to make sure that you can retire in dignity and have enough savings from which you can do that.
Andy Fillmore: Okay. Thank you. We’re going to take a question from Michael here, and then I think we’re going to go to Ally for a question from someone on Facebook. And then we’ll come back to the room, okay? This is Michael.
Audience Member: Thank you, Minister. I have enjoyed your speech, this new and great speech, and I got some questions from there. And because, according to your speech, you mentioned some issues in Canada right now, is about the aging population and the labour productivities. And also, like, my question will be: beside using the money to solve those questions, do any plans come from the federal government to achieve the goal of real change, as our Minister mentioned? Thank you.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, thank you. So in the speech this afternoon at lunch, I talked about a couple of issues, as you mentioned. I talked about some challenges we face in terms of the aging of the population in Canada. So we have a situation in Canada where our population is aging, as you know, and we are going to be in a more challenging situation in that regard than most of our G-7 counterparts. We are aging more rapidly. And so that presents us with an issue. It’s related to the issue around labour force participation. So with an aging economy, we end up with lower labour force participation as people go out of the economy, fewer people working to support more people that are relying on those people that are working. So that’s a real issue.
So in the speech, I talked about the need to consider ways that we can enhance our labour force productivity. So if we’re going to have fewer people working, we need to think about how do we make those people more productive. And we talked about a few ways to do that. Certainly making investments, so using federal funds, can make a difference because we can actually create some economic opportunities for people to actually work. But we need to do more than that. So I talked about an orientation towards trade, finding a way to make sure that we open up opportunities for our businesses to be able to expand into bigger markets. We talked about the need for ensuring that we remain innovative, so we need to think about ways that we can stimulate innovation and R&D spending for businesses, enterprises across the country.
So we will be taking multiple approaches to thinking about how we can enhance labour force productivity. And we will certainly be thinking about ways that we can enhance labour force participation by thinking about, you know, why is it that Indigenous peoples, that new immigrants, that women, that people with disabilities have lower labour force participation, and how can we enhance that. That is one of our key agenda items in order to think about how we can make the economy more productive.
Ally: So we’re going to go to a question that’s come in from Facebook, and so we are live and taking questions in French and English. So this question is in French on the state of the economy.
The price of oil is falling. The dollar is around 70 cents. Some job markets are suffering because of that. What do you plan to do in your budget to help the economy to (inaudible)?
Hon. Bill Morneau: So, I hope that there is at least one person here who speaks French. Yes. There, there. Okay. The good news is that we have a plan to grow the economy and we have already announced it. It is true that our economic situation is more difficult than expected. The price of oil is lower than expected. The level of global economic growth is lower than expected. And, in this environment, it is very important to make investments. That is why we have decided that our policies will focus on investment, investments in infrastructure but also, at the same time, investments in the people of Canada. Therefore, we have reduced taxes for the middle class. Then, in the next budget, as I told you, we will introduce our Canada Child Benefit. And with measures like that, we are certain, we are optimistic that we will have a higher level of economic growth. Thank you.
Andy Fillmore: Thank you very much. We have a question here from John in the front row.
Hon. Bill Morneau: What does your badge say there?
Audience Member: It says grants, not loans. My name’s John Petten (ph). I’m with the Dal Student Union. And I’m here to ask you a question about post-secondary education and access to it. As you know, access to post-secondary education is very important for people to build their futures and indeed grow the economy, and many other benefits. So I want to talk about two things. One is through the grants program and through efforts to close the education gap with First Nations and Indigenous students. So your party in the election committed to an additional $750 million per year for the needs-based grants program by transferring money from some textbook and education tax credits. Additionally, eliminating the 2 per cent cap on funding for the post-secondary students support program, which funds Indigenous education, as well as topping that up an additional $50 million. And I want to say this is something that’s very positive and something that students have been advocating for at the federal level for quite some time, and I’m just hoping that you intend to follow through with the promise, because it’s really solid stuff.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay. Well, thank you. I should probably just stop there.
He actually, for those of you who can’t see, has our campaign book in front of him, I think, do you not? Okay, just hold it up for everyone to see. Yes. So the answer really is we went out on a campaign with plans that we believe will make a real difference for this country. We didn’t go out with a campaign that we thought was politically expedient. So what you see in there is our agenda for how we’re going to govern. We have made commitments to Canadians, and we want to follow through on those commitments. So what I’m hoping will happen during the course of this week is people will tell us what’s more important to them, what’s less important to them. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to follow through on everything, but we need to think about how and when we do it. Our commitments to improving outcomes for Aboriginal Canadians in education are extremely important to us. Our commitments to students to make situations easier, especially for those who are carrying debt after they’ve been educated, are also important. So we do intend on following through. I’m glad you’re giving us a check mark on those. And I’d be anxious if any of you have comments or insights, even if you don’t want to mention them here, you can write us and you can tell us what your views are, and we are trying to take those into account, and that’s the objective of this week.
Andy Fillmore: Well, on that note, we have another question from a student. This is Lance.
Audience Member: Good afternoon, Minister. I am a student here at Dal.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Alright.
Audience Member: Probably one of the younger ones.
I also would like to talk about a segment of our society that is a contributing factor, and I believe they’re called baby boomers. Some people think I fit that mode. I’m concerned with health care, and I understand fully that it is a provincial handling, other than the federal government transferring the money. The budget of almost three-quarters of our provinces is pushing the 50 per cent in health care. I would never like to see our system change, but something has to be done. We’re living longer, we’re – pills. Health care is an enormous thing that’s a huge part of budgets, including yours, at the federal level. We – I feel our – nobody wants to take a political stand and make something happen. It has to be addressed. But thank you for your time, Minister, and thank you for being here.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, do you have suggestions? Do you have ideas that you want to put forward?
Audience Member: I really would like to see a national pharmacare program. I think it’s a must. Common sense says that you can buy more in bulk, you can distribute more. I think we need to look at – we have too many people on a national level – we have too many doctors and psychologists driving taxis in our major cities. We need to speed up processes, which again come back to provincial, but it’s your money, our money, our federal money that’s coming down the pike, and it needs to be utilized much more. We’re living longer, thank goodness. Look what I’m doing. However, you know, I don’t want to be a drain, but we are becoming this facet. Here in Atlantic Canada, you know, we’re pushing – we’ve got communities that are pushing – 80 per cent over the age of 65.
Hon. Bill Morneau: But that’s still young probably. You (crosstalk).
Audience Member: Well, I’m 70.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Yeah. Okay.
Audience Member: Thank you, Minister.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, you know, I want to say this is obviously a critical issue for our country. I was chairman of the board of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, one of the large teaching hospitals in Toronto, inner city hospital, where we faced very significant, you know, demands on the funds that we had. And that’s going to continue. I can’t disagree with your description of the challenge. We will be working together with the provincial Ministers of Health. It’s a provincial jurisdiction. I’m not trying to skate away from the issue by saying that. But our role will be to try to work together with the Ministers of Health to think about how we can work collaboratively. We did have some elements of our platform that are important. We identified significant spending in home health care which we think can make a difference, especially against that demographic challenge that you’re presenting. But that’s certainly not going to solve the issue in any regard. I know from my first meeting with provincial Finance Ministers that this will be an issue that we’ll have to work together with.
We’ve also, though, made some, as I said, significant investment – commitments in infrastructure, for example. And some of those commitments will actually have an impact on the health of our population. When I was at St. Michael’s Hospital, when the doctors would come to me and tell me what the single biggest determinant of health would be, especially for that population, it was housing. We’ve made a significant commitment to increase funding for housing across this country for under-housed people in major cities. So it’s an overall package, and we will work together with the provinces to think about how best we can work together. It is a significant federal investment as well, through the transfer system and obviously an enormous challenge for provinces. So I’m sure this will be an ongoing issue of discussion during our entire course of government.
Andy Fillmore: Thanks for the important question, Lance, and for the answer, Minister. Just quickly to the room, as questions are being asked and answered, please feel free to try to catch my eye, and I’ll come and find you and then we can carry on. But right now, Minister, we have a question from Maddy.
Audience Member: Thank you, Minister. This morning I was able to wake up and my four-year-old daughter could brush her teeth with the water that came from my tap here in Halifax. And I understand that two-thirds of First Nations have been under at least one water advisory between 2004 and 2014. So everything we’re saying here is incredibly important, but I’m wondering if, in the budget, we’re going to make some strong commitments to ensuring that every Canadian wakes up with safe drinking water, and that we’re able to support our First Nations in whatever way that needs to be, whether it’s monetary or through policy, to ensure that there’s safe drinking water in our First Nations communities. Thank you.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, we should all give a clap to this question, I think.
I suspect we can probably all agree that that’s not an acceptable situation in Canada at this stage in our development. And I certainly believe that. We’ve made some significant commitments in our campaign platform around how we can better engage with Aboriginal communities across Canada. And in that, it clearly includes thinking about educational outcomes, it includes thinking about a situation on reserve and off reserve. But you know, sanitary water is a very low bar towards what we need to get to. And you know, I’m not in a position right now to give you specifics because we just haven’t done it all in the budget, but we absolutely intend on following through on commitments to work to significantly improve the situation of Canadians who are finding themselves in difficult situations on reserve.
Ally: We’re going to jump back onto Facebook for a question of a similar theme from Guy Versailles, who is asking, in your online consultation and, particularly on priorities, there is nothing on First Nations. What are your commitments regarding First Nations?
Hon. Bill Morneau: As I said, we made some promises during our campaign regarding Aboriginal peoples in Canada and it is certainly a priority for us. We will make investments in Aboriginal peoples in Canada in the area of education, in the area of health across Canada. This is something that is very important, and it is a priority.
Andy Fillmore: Another question here from Michaela (ph).
Audience Member: Hi there. So yeah, my name’s Michaela, and I’d love to continue to talk about post-secondary education. Because I would say that right now --
Hon. Bill Morneau: But you don’t have the – you’re going to not put that --
Audience Member: No, I don’t.
Hon. Bill Morneau: She’s just winging it.
Audience Member: I would say that Canada’s post-secondary education system is severely under-funded. And while, in many ways, post-secondary education is a provincial responsibility, the federal government also has a huge role to play providing the social transfers that go to support the funding for our post-secondary institutions. And when we take into account inflationary costs increasing at Canada’s universities, there’s a $2.3 billion funding gap between what the federal government provided to the provinces back in 1994 and what they provide to the institutions today. Students only need to look to our campuses to see the effects of under-funding. We see it when we go into our libraries and we know that journal subscriptions are being cut. We see that when our faculty are working precarious contracts. We see that when we know that our tuition fees are skyrocketing where here, for example, in Nova Scotia, students in the upcoming year can see anywhere between a 10 per cent to 37 per cent tuition fee increase. And in my opinion, that’s unacceptable. So what will your government do to address the funding gap and ensure that there is accessible, quality post-secondary education in Canada that is available to all?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Maybe I should pass that to my friend over here. He probably can’t address the federal government issue, but maybe the challenge. Well, let me start by saying I have four kids. I have two that are in university right now. Actually, sorry, they’re at Acadia. So they’re not far from here. And so I at least get to actually visually see some of the challenges that we face on university campuses across the country. We’re clearly going to be respectful of provincial jurisdictions. It’s not, as you said at the very beginning, a federal jurisdiction.
We’ve made significant commitments in our campaign around a couple of things that I think are pretty important: not only the student loan provisions that we talked about a little earlier, but we made some commitments around what we would do in terms of trying to foster innovation and entrepreneurialism across our country, some of which will likely involve universities, because that’s a place where, you know, the greatest and most enterprising new minds are. So that will be an area of focus. And I’m sure that we will get other, more specific requests in the course of our investments in infrastructure. I don’t have those specific requests right now. We’re currently working through the process to deal with how we work with municipalities and provinces in dealing with infrastructure requests. So as we have, you know, more information on that, specifics, I’m sure we’ll get requests.
But again, it is a provincial responsibility. It’s critically important. We all have a stake in having a highly educated and resilient population, so we can’t avoid that discussion, and we won’t. But I don’t have any specific to report right now. But I think it’s really important that you bring it forward because having these comments will help feed into our thoughts on what we can do moving forward.
Andy Fillmore: Thanks, Michaela, for the question, and for the answer. And Minister, I’ll just let you know that I’m also an Acadia alumnus, so I’ve got your back, don’t you worry, okay?
Hon. Bill Morneau: (Crosstalk)
Andy Fillmore: Next --
Hon. Bill Morneau: I thought you were also a Dalhousie alumnus.
Andy Fillmore: Yes, I – I --
Hon. Bill Morneau: Where else did you go?
Andy Fillmore: -- I get around.
I’m a work in progress, Minister. The next question is from Helen. And I just – you know, you should be on your toes because Helen is a recent graduate from the Honours in Political Science Program here at Dal.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Okay. Here we go.
Audience Member: So I’m – there’s a lot that does need to be covered by the budget, and a lot of it necessarily does focus on middle-aged and elderly Canadians. But we’re also seeing the highest education levels we’ve ever seen in Canada. And as a recent grad, and as someone who’s surrounded by current students and recent grads, how do we make sure that these highly educated Canadians aren’t underemployed and that there are real, valuable, full-time jobs that they can graduate to across the country, preferably in or related to their fields?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, this is job one for us. I believe there are a number of reasons why I’m sitting in this chair. Justin Trudeau turned out to be a fantastic leader and communicator; I think that mattered. Canadians asked for a change in tone and tenor and style; I think that matters a lot. But I believe that Canadians really recognize that we are coming out of an era of low growth, an era where we’re not facing up to those exact challenges. And so for us to say that we are making investments in the economy is not – we need to break it down and not create economist speak for what we’re trying to do.
What we’re trying to do is make sure that there are excellent, well-paying jobs for Canadians across the country to make a difference in our future style of life, our future success as a country. So you know, if you want to just put it in the starkest terms, if you’re choosing between austerity and growth, everyone in this room is part of the cohort that shows growth. Because Canadians chose growth, and that’s what we’re going to do. So the kinds of investments we’re making, they’re significant. And there are other countries who aren’t making those same investments. We’ve decided that it’s the right thing to do at this time. And I can’t say that that will guarantee that for you or for – I can’t remember your name –
Audience Member: Lance.
Hon. Bill Morneau: – Lance, when you graduate, that there’ll be the job waiting right there. But that’s the way for us to get at it. So if we can make those investments to make a difference, if we can at the same time, you know, lower tax rates so people feel that they’re getting more out of their income that they have so that they actually feel more confident about their personal consumption, it works together towards improving our economy, and that’s what we have to be after. There aren’t any easy solutions, but the right solution is to take that long-term view about making a difference, and that’s what we’re on.
Andy Fillmore: Thanks, Helen, and thanks, Minister. A question here from the President of the Dalhousie Student Union. (Off microphone).
Audience Member: No, not at all.
Andy Fillmore: No?
Audience Member: Soon to be, maybe. But yeah, so essentially my question’s about housing prices. So I’m graduating this year, and one of the next milestones down the road seems to be buying the house and then starting a family, which will probably have a significant price tag. I’m from Toronto, and a single detached home from there is around a million dollars. I’m wondering, what is the Liberal government going to do to address the housing bubble, ensuring that people can once again afford property?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, let me start by saying is this normal? He’s in last year university, he’s thinking about starting a family?
I just got to tell you what I was doing the last year of university, and it wasn’t thinking about starting a family.
So whatever. I mean, this may just be a ploy to meet girls or something. I have no idea what’s really going on underneath his question. Let me tell you about the housing situation from our standpoint. One of the very first briefs that I asked to have when I got my new job was around housing. And that was really based on a concern that the situation we have in housing in this country is really a tale of two cities. We have a couple of places where we have some pretty overheated markets, and the rest of the country is sort of meandering at a different pace.
So we decided that we needed to deal with those, what we saw as pockets of risk, places that we specifically identified as Vancouver and Toronto, where the housing market was heating up. We made some decisions around changing the down payment required for people to buy houses. It’s not that we think that those changes will fundamentally alter the course of that market, but what we did was we – for houses between $500,000 and $1,000,000, we increased the amount of down payment required incrementally for every dollar over $500,000 up to $1,000,000. So instead of just having 5 per cent, they had to have 10 per cent for anything over $500,000. It serves to make a little bit of pressure on people to ensure they have a bigger down payment for those houses, so perhaps a little less speculation. It also creates a bit of a cushion against any sort of slight decreases in the housing market, so people don’t get themselves into any trouble.
We also dealt with the lender side of the equation by slightly changing some costs for lenders to securitize their loans. That doesn’t get seen by buyers, but it also serves to make it a little bit more likely that it will slow down those markets. So we’re trying to do our best to deal with some pockets of risk while not altering the opportunity for people in other markets to make their first down payment on a house. I’m not sure it’s going to get you into a $1,000,000 house, but you’re probably not trying to get there right after first year – or last year university anyway. But we hope it will make a difference. And we’re going to stay focused on this issue because we recognize that it’s a continuing challenge, the different situations of the housing market across the country.
Andy Fillmore: Okay. Thank you, Minister.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Sorry for teasing you, but –
Andy Fillmore: And sorry for getting your job title wrong too. Case of mistaken identity. I’m terribly embarrassed. I have two lined up on deck from the floor, one here and one back here. But before we do that, there’s one more coming in from Facebook.
Ally: Yeah, I have a question from Mike Morgan, who’s joining us all the way from B.C. He wants to know if you’ll please consider increasing the CPP and OAP to help protect the people whose lifetimes of hard work have made this country strong.
Hon. Bill Morneau: I think that he means the CPP and OAS, maybe. So for those of you who aren’t focused on this issue, we have in Canada a number of different elements of our retirement system. We have the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which is helping those people that are the poorest in our society to have income after retirement. We have the Old Age Security system, which helps people and then it gets clawed back as people get higher in income. And then the Canada Pension Plan is intended to be a supplement that people can put money into so that they will be able to save for retirement as well. I think what he’s asking is, you know, are we willing to increase the amounts that are into these programs.
So I think maybe I can start by saying in our campaign we talked about the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which is again intended to help people that are poorest in society. We talked about the need to have that, instead of being where it is currently, to slightly increase it for single seniors, who are the seniors group that are experiencing the highest level of poverty. So we’ve done pretty well in poverty and seniors in Canada over the last 50 years, but there are pockets of problem. We’d like to increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement by about 10 per cent for those Canadians. We think that’s important.
Around the Old Age Security system, we talked about the Conservative proposal to move the age from 65 to 67. That’s a proposal that doesn’t take effect for a long time, so that may not be what this gentleman’s referring to. We don’t have anything at the present time where we’re proposing increasing the Old Age Security amount.
But we do believe that the Canada Pension Plan, which currently allows people to get 25 per cent of up to around – I think it’s about $53,600. They’re allowed to get a quarter of that, or they can save up to a quarter of that so they can get – when you do the math, you can see it’s around $13,000. So when you add those things together, there’s a question of whether they’re actually going to be able to have enough to retire in dignity, especially since many people have breaks in service in their Canada Pension Plan over the course of their lives, so they don’t save maybe quite as much, or they don’t have as much coming in as they’d like. So that’s the reason we’d like to look towards enhancing the Canada Pension Plan. It is one of our agenda items, and we do need to work with the provinces in order to make that happen. And my commitment is that we are working with the provinces in order to get to an enhanced Canada Pension Plan, which over the long term will help people your age in particular – maybe not Lance because he might be past that zone right now – to have a better retirement outcome.
Andy Fillmore: Thank you, Minister. A question here from Paige.
Audience Member: Thank you. Hi, Minister. I think it’s fair to say that Canadians have in the past been known as kind global neighbours, and that reputation might have been damaged in the past years. I know during the Harper government I was in Rwanda and spoke to the Rwandan Defence Force, and their question, to be exact, was what on Earth is up with your Prime Minister. So I’m curious what your plans are to not only nurture kind of that global relationship and get that reputation back, but to get those many Canadians who value that reputation that we had and want to be working in those lines of work, working and benefiting the global community.
Hon. Bill Morneau: We didn’t brief on that in the pre-budget consultations, just so you know. What you will have seen from our Prime Minister is an effort to engage with the world that we think is important for us. So it’s not a surprise that he decided to go to, you know, four international events within two months of becoming Prime Minister. It was to present a Canada that wants to be active on the world stage, that wants to be engaged in international institutions, to represent Canada the way that we believe Canadians told us they want to be represented. So those changes are not only changes in tone, tenor and style; those are changes in terms of how we want to engage.
In terms of my role in Finance, there will be things that come across my desk because of that engagement. We’ve already talked about our engagement on the environmental file and our willingness to meet up to our commitments to be part of the global initiative to fund climate change efforts in less developed countries. There will be other ways that I’m sure will come to my desk, where we’ll be thinking about what are the tangible ways we can actually invest to show our commitment internationally. But it is a commitment of our government. We do want to engage, and we do want to make sure that Canadians see those opportunities to be part of international organizations, and we also want to be open for people from those countries to come to Canada. So that’s part of a larger agenda that we will be focused on.
Andy Fillmore: Thanks, Paige, and Minister. Sorry to confuse you. I’m now over here at 3:00 or so. Yeah. I have a question here from Sarah.
Audience Member: Hi. I’m an MBA student here at Dalhousie. And it was promising to see Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to accountability and transparency in the government. What are the commitments in the budget to increase Canadians’ access to data both for personal and for business use?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, thank you very much for that question. I’m not yet at the stage in the budget where I have a specific answer to what will be in the budget against those issues. But maybe I can address it in a slightly different way. When we came into office, one of the very first things that I had an opportunity to do was to work together with the Deputy Minister, Paul Rochon, here and others in Finance to come up with a new economic and fiscal update for the country. So what you have to do is take a look at the state of finances and make your best assessment of where we stand. We did that. We came out in short order with an economic and fiscal update.
And interestingly, the Parliamentary Budget Office came out around the same time with their announcement of what they saw the economic and fiscal situation to be like. They didn’t have the same answer as we did. Of course, you never expect to have the exact same answer because you use different assumptions. So in that context, it really presents us with a choice. Do we respect the Parliamentary Budget Office, listen to what they have to say, consider it as another important voice in our work, or do we get combative and say well, they’re wrong and we’re right?
Well, my answer and our answer is the former. We want to hear from different voices. We want to be transparent as a government. We recognize the important role that this institution for example, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has in helping Canadians to understand the situation in our finances. And so for that reason, we welcomed it. And we actually engaged together to figure out what were the differences, and is there reason to think that they’ve got a point of view that we should be considering. So that will be our tone and tenor going forward.
So in terms of presenting in the budget or afterwards a clear understanding of what our assumptions were and why we’re making the investments we are and what the ramifications are, we’re going to try to be clear with Canadians. We are going to respond to requests for information in the most open and transparent way we can. And we think that you will judge us by our actions. And those actions will be along the lines of what we did with that PBO report in December.
Andy Fillmore: Thanks, Minister, and thanks for that question. Just a note to the folks paying attention on Facebook. We have a hard stop for Facebook in about four and a half minutes, but the Minister will continue taking questions here in the room until 4:00. So we’ll keep on going, even if Facebook cuts out. To help us to get to that 4:00, Nicole has a question.
Audience Member: Thank you. My question is about unpaid internships. So Nova Scotia has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Canada. As a result, many students and recent graduates feel pressure to work unpaid internships. This means that oftentimes they’re filling positions that would have once been paid, entry-level jobs. This hurts the Canadian economy. It is estimated that last year there were 300,000 unpaid internships across Canada. Basically that’s like all of Halifax going to work and not receiving a salary. So what will your government do to eliminate unpaid internships in Canada and ensure good, well-paying jobs for young people?
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, I’m sure this question is very important to the people in the room and the people on Facebook. We recognize that unpaid internships are, by definition, an approach to employment that favours those that are wealthier in society. Because clearly, people need to find a place to live, they need to pay for their groceries, they need to get to and from work, so it’s hard to envisage a way to think that these are an appropriate way for enterprises to employ young people. I personally would not want to ever be in a situation where I’m engaging unpaid interns. In my business career, that was something that we didn’t do for those reasons. We won’t necessarily be able to outlaw something that obviously has huge range of different situations. There’s a huge range of situations.
What we need to do is to find a way to help our economy grow such that businesses and other enterprises need young people to take on those jobs. Anybody who takes someone on as an unpaid internship is, by definition, recognizing that it’s pretty short term because people can’t do it forever. And for those employers who really need employees in order to be effective in whatever they do, they need to hire people into good, long-paying, long-term and well-paying jobs.
So my initiative in that regard is to think about how we can stimulate growth. And so I’m repeating myself, but for impact. We need to think about the kinds of investments we can make in the economy that will make a difference to stimulate growth. We need to think about how we can create a more innovative economy so that businesses have more need for, you know, people who are coming out of education to improve the effectiveness of the business. We need to think about opening up new markets so that businesses can grow. All those efforts will increase our employment levels and hopefully make it less and less likely that organizations will employ people on an unpaid basis, which, you know, is frankly just very difficult for young people coming out of university to compete on that basis. But I appreciate the comment, and it’s a reminder for us to keep focused on this issue.
Andy Fillmore: Thanks very much, Nicole. Minister, there’s a question here from Emma.
Audience Member: Thank you. So my question is about defence spending. So the government has committed to a “leaner, more agile, and better equipped” military. I know that you have – the government has made a commitment to in particular the navy, but I’m just wondering how this leaner, more agile, better equipped military will be reflected in the budget as well as with respect to the other elements of the military.
Hon. Bill Morneau: Well, the short answer to that is I don’t have any specifics yet. We’re working through that process. As you may know, the Minister of Defence is leading an effort to be thinking about a number of different issues from a defence standpoint, and those will, by definition, have some implications for funding over time. We’re committed to having, as you said, a lean and agile defence force. We’re committed to engaging in efforts around the world to be part of the international community in defence efforts, and the specifics around what the funding envelope will be we’re working through right now. So I don’t have specifics that I can give you at this time.
Andy Fillmore: Okay. Thanks, Emma. We’re out of time, Minister, and I want to give you the microphone for the last word. But before we do that, I just wanted to take a moment and thank you all for making time today to participate in this, both in this room and online. I want to thank Dalhousie University for hosting us so graciously, and for the wonderful, thoughtful questions. It’s really wonderful to be able to have this kind of engagement in government.
Hon. Bill Morneau: So I want to thank Andy for helping out today, which is great, and thank Richard for hosting us here at Dalhousie. It’s really great to be here. But this doesn’t mean that we’re over with respect to our pre-budget consultations. We invite you to provide ideas, comments, questions, and send them in to us. Before you leave, we can certainly give you the ways in which you can do that. You can do it on Facebook, you can go to a number of different places to do that.
So I very much appreciate you being here today. It’s an important part of our process. And I want to tell you again, you know, notwithstanding the economic challenges that we face, I’m optimistic about our opportunity as a country. We are in a great situation, and knowing that is even amplified when you come to Canadian universities because we see that we have a population of people who are educating themselves to be the leaders of tomorrow. And that’s really what we’re here to be about. We’re trying to make sure that our economy is healthy so that you can take over the reins and do better for us in years to come. So thank you very much, and we’ll look forward to talking to you again.
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