We'll call this meeting to order.
Welcome to the fifth meeting of the House of Commons Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Pursuant to the order passed on Monday, April 20, the committee is meeting today to consider ministerial announcements, to allow members of the committee to present petitions, and to question ministers, including the , about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tomorrow, May 8, Dr. Andrea McCrady, Dominion Carillonneur, will give a special recital to mark the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
Victory in Europe Day, VE Day, commemorates the formal acceptance of Germany's surrender by allied forces at the end of the Second World War. While the pandemic prevents us from gathering to celebrate in person, tomorrow at noon the voice of our nation will ring out in remembrance of this milestone in our history.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just so you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee. I would like to remind members that, as in the House of Commons or committee, they should not take photos of their colleagues or film the proceedings.
In order to facilitate the work of the interpreters and to allow the meeting to proceed smoothly, I would ask you to follow some instructions. The video conference will be interpreted as in normal meetings of committees and in the House.
In the lower part of your screen, you can choose the language: floor, English or French. Please wait until I call on you by name before you begin to speak. When you are ready to speak, click on the microphone icon to activate your microphone, or hold the space bar down while you are speaking. If you release the bar, your microphone will revert to mute, just like a walkie-talkie.
Honourable members, I would like to remind you that if you want to speak English, you should be on the English channel. If you want to speak French, you should be on the French channel. Should you wish to alternate between the two languages, you should change the channel to the language that you are speaking each time you switch languages.
Please direct your remarks through the chair. Should you need to request the floor outside of your designated speaking time, you should activate your mike and state that you have a point of order.
If a member of the committee wishes to intervene on a point of order raised by another person, you should use the “raised hand” function to indicate to the chair that you wish to speak. To do this, click on the “participant” button at the bottom of your screen. When the list appears, you will see the raised hand option beside your name.
Speak slowly and clearly at all times. When you are not speaking, leave your microphone on mute. It is highly recommended that you use a headset with a microphone.
You have to remember to switch languages.
Should any technical challenges arise, for example, in relation to interpretation, please advise the chair immediately by raising a point of order, and the technical team will work on resolving them. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times in order to correct a problem.
I want to remind the honourable members to mute their microphones when they are not speaking.
If you get accidentally disconnected, please try to rejoin the meeting with the information you used to join initially. If you are unable to rejoin, please contact our technical support team.
Before we get started, please note that in the top right-hand corner of your screen is a button that you can use to change views. Speaker view allows you to focus on the person currently speaking; gallery view allows you to see a larger number of participants. You can click through the multiple pages in the gallery view to see who is on and how many more participants there are.
I understand there are no ministerial announcements today.
We will now proceed to presenting petitions for a period not exceeding 15 minutes.
I would like to remind members that any petition presented during the meeting of the special committee must have already been certified by the clerk of petitions. In addition, to ensure a petition is considered properly presented, the certificate of the petition and each page of the petition for a petition certified in a previous Parliament should be mailed to the committee no later than 6 p.m. the day before.
Now we'll go to presenting petitions.
Mr. Chair, five years ago when Parliament passed Bill , then justice minister said that it represented a finely tuned balance between access and safeguards. It also included a five-year review.
Petitioners on the first petition I'm presenting are very concerned to see Bill before Parliament, which removes safeguards ahead of that five-year review. Petitioners specifically mention their concerns about the removal of the mandatory 10-day reflection period, which can already be waived in certain circumstances. They are concerned about reducing the number of witnesses required to oversee it and ensure that a request has been properly made. I commend that petition to the consideration of the House.
The second and final petition that I will be presenting today is with respect to Senate Bill . This would make it a criminal offence for a person to go abroad and receive an organ from a person who did not consent. This responds specifically to concerns about organ harvesting in the People's Republic of China involving Falun Gong practitioners and increasing concerns that this is being or about to be applied to Uighurs as well.
Canada can and should take action on this. Petitioners are noting that in the previous Parliament there were bills on this, Bill and Bill . Now, in this Parliament there is a bill, Bill , and the petitioners hope that this 43rd Parliament will be the one that gets it passed.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's an honour. This is my first occasion to present a petition in our virtual format of the COVID-19 committee.
Thank you to you and your staff, Mr. Chair, for developing a system that allows us to present petitions electronically.
The petition I am presenting today, which was previously approved, is from a number of constituents who are concerned that we pursue the Paris Agreement to hold the global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement itself embeds in it the concept of “Just Transition” with a capital “J” and a capital “T”, the concept of just transition ensuring fairness and support for all workers in the fossil fuel sector.
The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to move forward with an act to ensure just transition and to ensure adequate funding so that workers and communities dependent on the fossil fuel sector receive meaningful support to ensure security in their lives in the transition to more sustainable energy use.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
We can have differences of opinion, but it is absolutely—
Some hon. members: Debate.
Ms. Elizabeth May: —unacceptable and violates my privileges to—
An hon member: Debate.
Ms. Elizabeth May: No, it's not debate.
I would ask the chair to rule on that, not the member from the Conservative Party.
It is unacceptable to assert that anyone who wants to make a point about our economy is trying to destroy the country. This allegation is a violation of my privilege.
An hon. member: She was also named by the—
As you know, all sectors of the economy are fragile at the moment, specifically the fisheries. I am thinking about the lobster fishery in the Magdalen Islands, the crab fishery on the Côte-Nord or those fishing for herring in the south of the Gaspé.
Because imports have ceased, because the domestic market is weak and in decline because of the interruption of the tourism and restaurant industries, the fishing industry and its fishers must be supported.
I would like to know what the government has done to support our fishers since the crisis began.
My thanks to the Prime Minister.
I am actually talking about help for the fishers. I know about the processing industry and the $62.5 million to be used essentially for freezing products, but I am talking about the fishers themselves.
Given the economic situation, most of our fishers are getting ready to leave. First, there are health risks. We know very well that it is impossible for them to observe all the social distancing measures. They have to incur additional expenses in order to conduct their normal fishing activities. In addition, they feel that they will be losing money, because of the drop in the price of their resource.
They are just as essential as farmers, but they are going to have to work at a loss and they are not going to have workers to assist them. Workers in the seasonal industry do not know what tomorrow will bring. They do not even know whether they will be able to put food on the table next year.
Are you going to do anything else, in addition to the assistance of $62.5 million? Time is of the essence. Our fishers have lacked certainty for weeks and they are very concerned.
I would have preferred us to be there from the start. Clearly, this is a difficult crisis. But, given the cyclical nature of the industry, some sectors have had to postpone for several weeks the preparations they need for fishing activities.
The current program could be modified in a number of ways, to accommodate the cycle, the dates, and the size of the companies. They would really like to take advantage of the $40,000 loan, but they cannot because of their payroll. Given the dates, they are also ineligible for the 75% salary subsidy.
I can already suggest a number of solutions to the government and to the , that would bring help to those businesses very quickly. The fishers carry on, because it is a duty for them, because they want to help us and to be part of the effort at this time of crisis. At the same time, they have no guarantee that they will be supported.
I would really like to hear a guarantee that they will be supported, that they will be able to put food on the table this year, and that they will be able to support the communities that often depend on the fishing industry, a major industry in those communities.
This question is directed to the .
On March 28, the minister personally tweeted out a thank you to the People's Republic of China for donating PPE to Canada. This tweet happened within three hours of China's announcement of that gift. As it turned out, much of the PPE was defective and could not be used. More recently, Taiwan donated half a million surgical masks to Canada, yet here we are, two weeks later, and the minister has yet to personally thank Taiwan for its generosity.
Will the minister now thank this free and democratic country for its generous gift to Canadians?
Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank my colleague for the question.
Indeed, we are very grateful to every nation for helping Canada. This is a global pandemic that knows no borders. We have been expressing our thanks to many nations that have contributed. We will continue to do so.
It is important in a time of pandemic, Mr. Chair, that we not play politics and that humanity comes together. I can say, after my COVID foreign ministers call, that the world community has come together to make sure that supply chains will remain intact and that we will have transit hubs and air bridges.
We will continue to work with every nation when it comes to health. This is a public good. We want to work together with everyone.
Well, Mr. Chair, I didn't hear a “thank you” there, so I'm going to try again.
On May 4, the Government of Taiwan delivered 25,000 surgical masks to the Government of British Columbia. On hand were B.C. Minister of Citizens' Services Anne Kang and Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen, who, as ministers, officially thanked the Government of Taiwan for its donation.
Again, will the minister now do the right thing and, on behalf of Canadians, recognize the generosity of Taiwan and thank its government for that timely donation?
Yes, Mr. Chair, I am very happy to update members.
As of today, we have repatriated more than 20,000 Canadians on 232 flights from 87 countries. I would say that this is team Canada, and it knows no parties. Many members have written to me to make sure that we take care.
It's not an exact science. We have, as I said, repatriated thousands and thousands. We continue, because we know there are still pockets of Canadian travellers who are stranded abroad. As the and I have said from the beginning, we will make our best effort to repatriate everyone who wants to come back home during the crisis.
During this pandemic, the government has consistently called for a team Canada, non-partisan approach, and I was glad to hear that said a little earlier today. In fact, the public has called for that approach as well. However, at the same time, the current government has used a parliamentary back door to launch a poorly thought out gun ban.
We have a government that didn't win the popular vote, and I'm just wondering how I explain to my residents, because I'm getting so many calls, that this is not a bloated response because, quite frankly, it is.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with the member for .
Mr. Chair, my question is for the .
Minister, in my riding of Etobicoke Centre, we are mourning the loss of 40 residents to COVID-19 at the Eatonville long-term care centre. Over 143 residents and 88 staff members have now tested positive for the virus.
This tragedy is not only taking place in Etobicoke Centre but across Canada. Of all Canadians who have died from COVID-19, 79% were living in long-term care homes. That's over 2,000 seniors. This is a catastrophe, and it's frankly unacceptable. Our seniors and their families deserve better.
I understand that long-term care homes fall within the jurisdiction of provincial governments in Canada, but this is a crisis. What is the federal government doing right now to help protect our seniors who are living in long-term care homes from COVID-19? What will we do to reform our long-term care homes in the future to ensure that our seniors in Etobicoke Centre and across Canada get the care they deserve?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to my colleague from for his very thoughtful question.
We are deeply concerned by the outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, and our thoughts are with those who have lost a loved one. It's a very difficult time.
As my colleague mentioned, while these facilities are regulated by provinces and territories, we have been focused on protecting the health and safety of long-term care residents and staff while working with our partners in a team Canada approach. We've released guidelines to prevent and control COVID-19 infections. We're working with the provinces and territories to cost-share a temporary salary top-up for long-term care workers. We are working through investing $2 billion to secure personal protective equipment for the health of workers, including those in the long-term care homes, and we've deployed the Canadian Armed Forces to assist 25 long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario.
We all have a role to play to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our seniors and caregivers.
At the finance committee, we've heard a lot of concerns from all sectors of the economy as a result of COVID-19 and we've been presented with quite a number of possible solutions as well, several of which the government has acted upon.
My question is on the support offered to the agri-food sector announced on Tuesday. It is very welcome support, but I sincerely believe the farm sector will be taking the up on the suggestion that $250 million should be seen as an initial investment. Potatoes are the number one commodity in Prince Edward Island. However, as a result of reduced processor contracts for next year, plus cancelled seed contracts, millions of dollars of seed and process potatoes have no home. To make matters worse, farmers have high fixed costs that they now have to spread over fewer acres. How does the see Tuesday's announcement addressing potato farmers' concerns?
Second, in 2013, long-term financial safety nets were gutted by the Harper government. Will the be coming forward with improved business risk management programs as a result?
Mr. Chair, I want to thank Mr. Easter, the member for the riding of on Prince Edward Island. It's a beautiful rural riding with lots of agricultural production.
I want to recognize the hard work of farmers throughout the crisis. On Tuesday, I was proud to announce one more step for supporting our producers and processors. We know the importance of our potato farmers, and that's why we are launching a first-ever surplus food purchase program, a $50-million fund designed to help redistribute existing inventories, such as potatoes, to local food organizations.
On the financial safety net that we have in place for our farmers, called the business risk management program, we announced up to $125 million in funding through AgriRecovery and made changes to AgriStability that will help producers quickly.
I will continue to discuss with my provincial counterparts to enhance and improve the BRM programs. In the meantime, I want to reiterate that BRM programs, including AgriInvest, are there to help farmers in difficult times.
Mr. Chair, small businesses across Canada closed their doors to stop the spread and for public health. Now they're currently hanging off the edge of a cliff waiting for financial help.
Robyn, who has owned Arbutus Health in Tofino for over 13 years, can't apply for the Canada emergency business account loan, simply because she doesn't have a payroll of over $20,000. All of her practitioners are paid contractors, so she is ineligible. With no business income and without emergency financing, it is virtually impossible for her to pay her bills or come up with the 25% needed for the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program.
The government promised to be flexible and willing to adjust its COVID response rollout so that nobody falls through the cracks, but Robyn, like tens of thousands of proprietors who are the economic job creators of our communities, urgently needs the government's help now. Will the government amend its programs to help more business owners so that people like Robyn don't lose their businesses?
Small businesses in Manitoba employ 73% of Manitobans. That's over 286,000 Manitobans. I've been speaking with many small business owners in my riding. It's been heartbreaking, frankly, to hear that everything they've built and sacrificed for is in serious jeopardy, and through no fault of their own. Your government has created programs that are supposed to help them, but many legitimate businesses aren't able to apply. That could mean bankruptcy and cost thousands of Manitobans jobs. This is wrong. I'm hoping to hear specifics, not just nice words, on what you're going to do to help them.
There are three issues regarding access to the $40,000 CEBA loan. First, businesses that recently incorporated—for example, in late 2019—are unable to apply their entire 2019 payroll. As a result, many are falling short of the $20,000 payroll threshold required to qualify for this loan. Second, many businesses contract their employees rather than have them on payroll. They also are unable to qualify for this loan. Third, many businesses use personal rather than business banking accounts. They aren't able to qualify for this loan either.
What is your government going to do about these three scenarios?
Mr. Chair, I want to thank the honourable member for that question. Right from the very beginning, we've always said that we will listen and that we will work to make sure that measures go out to help our Canadian small businesses. She's absolutely right: 98% of all our businesses in this country are small businesses, so they absolutely contribute enormously to our communities and are job creators.
That is why we have put out significant measures. For the Canada emergency business account, over 550,000 small businesses have been approved and are getting that support.
I absolutely acknowledge that there is more work to do. I can assure the honourable member that we will continue to do this work so that businesses, all businesses, are supported, whether it is helping keep your employees together, helping with rent support, helping to keep your business's expenses low, or of course helping with the capital that is needed so that you can pay your operating expenses and your bills through this difficult time.
Mr. Chair, I didn't hear any answers from the minister's remarks, unfortunately.
Moving on, there are two issues regarding the 50% commercial rent assistance subsidy, where landlords pay 25%, the government pays 50%, and the tenant is responsible for 25%. First, many of the small landlords aren't able to take a 25% hit to their income, and are unable to provide the subsidy to their tenants. Second, with the 70% decline in revenue threshold for small businesses to even be eligible for the rent assist, many restaurants are at 65% or 67% decline. They desperately need this subsidy but aren't able to qualify.
This is not about problems with the program details. What is the government planning to do to streamline this program for small businesses that can't access but desperately need the rent subsidy?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
This being the first time I've had the floor during a virtual sitting of Parliament, I'd like to take this opportunity to greet my fellow members, all 259 participants. I hope they are taking care of themselves.
I'd like to talk about the Prime Minister's appearance on the show Tout le monde en parle. This is what he had to say about his economic recovery plan:
We are going to remain focused on the economy as a whole…innovation…research and science, the green economy and a fairer economy…There are things we are all reflecting on right now… that reflection is going to continue.
That was a weak answer. It didn't inspire much confidence.
Can the government assure Canadians that it is being proactive and working on a plan to get the economy moving again? It must act now. Things are starting to reopen gradually. Is the government going to take concrete action to revive the economy?
I'd like to switch topics now.
Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier is home to a company that is already licensed by Health Canada and that, for 20 years, has been manufacturing medical equipment including masks, face shields and thermometers. This is equipment our health workers need.
The company has a licence from the federal government. In mid-March, Health Canada reached out to the company to find out how much equipment it could manufacture to help fight COVID-19. The company confirmed that it could immediately start producing 200,000 masks a week, ramping up to a million masks over the next few weeks. Forty-five days later, it is still waiting on its first order from the Canadian government.
We are managing a crisis with a limited supply of medical equipment. Can the health minister tell us why, 45 days later, this company licensed by Health Canada hasn't received an order?
My question will come as no surprise, since it has to do with agriculture. I hear the questions my fellow members are asking, and to be frank, I don't find the answers satisfactory. It is well and good to talk about existing programs, but they aren't working, so enough with that refrain. That's what people are telling us. It's not just members of the opposition saying it.
This morning, both farmers and processors came together for a press conference at the Union des producteurs agricoles's head office in Longueuil. Six stakeholders from different sectors sounded the alarm.
Can the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food therefore tell us when she will announce significant supports for the industry?
Mr. Chair, we're all inundated, as we've heard during this entire question period, with Canadians' concerns about the economic restrictions and the social restrictions that they're under. Over the last couple of months, the WHO has given one very consistent message in terms of coming out of those economic and social restrictions. On March 16, Dr. Tedros said in his briefing, “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.” On March 25, 44 days ago, he said, “Aggressive measures to find, isolate, test, treat and trace are not only the best and fastest way out of extreme social and economic restrictions—they’re also the best way to prevent them.”
Does the minister agree with the WHO that relentless testing and tracing are critical to a successful economic and social relaunch strategy in Canada?