Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your giving me that extra six and a half minutes, because I was mentally prepared for 16 and a half minutes, and I appreciate your clarifying that time.
I was listening to an online conference of Alltech, a large agriculture company, this week. One of the presenters said, “A crisis does not build character; a crisis reveals the character of you and your team.” I think that is very apropos right now, because Canadians are looking to us not only as parliamentarians, as elected officials, but certainly as their beacon of democracy, of what Canada stands for. They are looking to us for inspiration and to be leaders. In a time of crisis, we are the ones who should be at the forefront, taking the leadership role. I think that leadership role includes going to work.
I want to give those in the House who were not here yesterday a bit of a review.
Yesterday, my colleague from said in her speech that the House does not matter and that being in Parliament should not matter. I think that is wrong. I know for us there is no greater honour than being elected by our constituents and representing them here in Parliament, in the House of Commons. I believe that this is the foundation of our democracy.
Somebody told me once that there have been fewer members of Parliament than there have been hockey players in the National Hockey League. I am sure most of us had our parents tell us we would never make it in professional hockey, but I do not know if they would have ever said we would never be members of Parliament. Here I am, and that is thanks to my constituents.
When I was elected by the constituents of Foothills, I believed it was my job to be here to represent them, to be their voice in the House of Commons, and to be in Parliament. I would hope that my colleagues from all parties would understand that being here is an integral part of the job of being a member of Parliament. If they do not want to be here, I think they have to look internally to what they want to accomplish in their career as elected politicians and elected officials. If being here in the House of Commons, in Parliament, is not something they see as an essential service or a priority, they should really be taking a hard look at whether this is something they want to do, because being here is a large part of that job. It should be an honour. It is something we should all take a great deal of pride in, no matter what party we represent, and certainly our constituents are expecting us to be here.
Last night, I went through some of my emails from my constituents. We have certainly had a number of them. I know we all have. My constituents in Foothills are asking me to come back to work, not just to be in a virtual committee meeting, but to have Parliament up and running. I would like to read some of the comments that I have from some of my constituents.
Missy in Twin Butte, Alberta wrote:
Keep the pressure up for our government to get back to work! Is it not an essential service? There needs to be some opposition feedback and some questions allowed to [the Prime Minister]. At the moment there are no checks and balances....scary!
Pat in High River wrote:
I would like to know what, if anything you are doing to get the liberals back into the house so you can all do what we are paying you to do.... Letting this virus hold you back is total crap, the people that work in grocery stores and other stores are working. [Why aren't you?] I don't see any reason why you and [parliamentarians] shouldn't be working as well. If the liberals won't go back [to] parliament [it should be] dissolved and an election called.
I’m extremely disappointed that the Federal government feels that Parliament is not an essential part of the running of Canada. The justification [for this] is a slap in the face to those [of us] who work every day.... [It is] time for Canadians to be allowed to get back to work.
Parliament needs to reconvene, even in a condensed version. I watched the sitting last week and there was some great issues/ideas put forward by the opposition. this inadequate [version of] government cannot continue on its own.
Ellen in High River wrote:
We MUST get parliament back in session !!!!! [That is an] understatement. There must be some way to make [the Prime Minister] recall parliament, short of a million people descending on Ottawa [and demanding so].
Those are just a few of my constituents' comments about where they feel the critical role of Parliament is.
Yesterday, we had the saying that we are in a virtual Parliament. We are not in a virtual Parliament; we are in a virtual committee meeting, a committee of the whole. That is very different from Parliament.
It is disingenuous and misleading by the government to say that we are in a virtual Parliament, because we are not having opposition day motions, we are not dealing with legislation outside of COVID-19, and we are not dealing with having the majority of committees up and running. There is no question that dealing with COVID-19 is a priority for all of us. I do not think any of us would disagree with that. However, to say that there are no other issues that are almost as important is simply not true.
The leader of the official opposition yesterday talked about energy projects that are languishing at the cabinet table, 85 billion dollars' worth of energy projects. One of those projects is the Riversdale coal mine in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, in my riding. This is metallurgical coal, which shows the lack of knowledge of the Liberals, who are now chirping at me about shutting down the coal industry. This is a metallurgical coal mine that mines coal for steel, just in case members want to do some homework.
It is interesting that she is already yelling to shut down that industry, not understanding that thousands of people in that community rely on that industry. Having the Riversdale mine would be a game-changer for that community, a community that is not doing well. This is an opportunity for more than 1,000 jobs during construction and hundreds more during operation.
It is not just about the mine and the fact that it is waiting in limbo to be approved or not. It has gone through every process. It has one permit left to go and the approval of cabinet, but imagine what that does for that community. Imagine what that does for Blair's hardware store, Dawn's bed and breakfast and restaurant, Lisa's newspaper, or events operations, or other businesses in that community.
That community is waiting with bated breath on the decision for that mine but sees it languishing at the cabinet table or within government because of COVID-19. I hope the government can walk and chew gum at the same time, so that we can deal with COVID-19 but also have Parliament back to deal with other issues that are just as important.
When we come out of COVID-19, we are going to be in a deep financial hole. We have seen from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that the deficit right now is about $252 billion. I would suspect that, with the extension of the CERB and the wage subsidy, it could double and we will see a trillion-dollar debt for Canada. To come out of that, we are going to be relying on a few industries to help carry or dig Canada out of that financial hole.
There are only a couple of industries with the landscape out there right now that Canadians can look to and government should be looking to, to ensure that they are on a strong footing. Examples are energy and agriculture. No matter what happens coming out of COVID, people are still going to heat their homes. They are still going to put fuel in their cars, buy groceries and feed their families. As part of that, there is very real discussion of having a global food shortage. Countries around the world are going to be looking to Canada to try to address that problem because of our farmers here. Would it not make sense to have those two industries as strong as possible coming out of COVID-19?
Those are two of the industries that the Liberal government is neglecting, when it should be looking at those two as pillars of our economy, pillars of our recovery. It does not make a lot of sense that they are not. If we have Parliament back, we can have those discussions here.
For example, in the energy sector, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources is not sitting. Why? It is one of the most important industries we have in this country, with more than $60 billion in royalty revenue alone going to the federal government. That does not count the hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes that go to provincial, municipal and federal governments through income tax. That is an essential revenue source for this country coming out of COVID-19, but we cannot have those discussions, because we are just having what is essentially a committee meeting and we cannot talk about issues outside of that committee meeting.
There are projects like the Riversdale mine, which are essential to communities like Crowsnest Pass in my riding. That is just one project of dozens in constituencies and regions across this country. If I am hearing from my constituents about a project of that magnitude and the impact that it could be having on their economy, I am sure others among my colleagues are having the same conversations with their constituents.
As we go through this pandemic and we start looking forward to reopening our economy, in whatever manner that happens, as provinces will have a lot of say in how that happens and we want to ensure we do that as safely as possible, we can imagine where we would be as a country and an economy if we had a strong energy sector and a strong agriculture sector. We would be in a very different position, because we were coming into COVID-19 on very weak financial footing as a result of out-of-control spending by the Liberal government.
I recall the election in 2015, when the current said that we were going to have deficits of $10 billion for four years and in 2019 we would have a balanced budget. That obviously did not happen. We have now seen deficits as high as $28 billion. That was even before the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw detrimental legislation like Bill and Bill , which have devastated the energy sector. We have seen illegal blockades, carbon taxes and rail backlogs that have devastated the agriculture sector, not to mention more than $5 billion in lost foreign markets as a result of political blunders by the Prime Minister.
Members can imagine where we would be if those two industries were doing well coming into COVID. It would put us in a decent position to come out of this pandemic, but unfortunately that is not where we are. That is unfortunate, because those people would be working. Certainly for us in Alberta, with close to 200,000 energy workers out of work well before COVID-19, that is certainly not getting any better as a result of what we are going through right now.
When I am speaking to my constituents, they understand the position this country is in with the pandemic. We all want to ensure that our families and our friends are safe, but they also want to be back to work. I find it difficult. My wife and I leave home now and again to get groceries, and on the weekend we went to a garden centre and bought some trees and flowers for the yard, and there are 15-year-old teenagers working there. They are helping serve their community in their way, and I find it tough that we cannot do the same thing and serve our community right here in the House of Commons.
What are my Liberal colleagues and those in the Bloc and the NDP trying to hide? Why do they not want to be here? What is holding them back? We are here all this week as 60 members of Parliament, but just in a committee meeting. Why can we not go that extra couple of steps and get ourselves back to normal? I think that is what Canadians are asking us to do. As I said at the beginning of my speech, we are supposed to be the leaders, so why are we languishing behind everybody else? Why are we asking Canadians of every walk of life to start going back to work, except we are the ones who are saying “but not us”? We are saying, “It is good enough for you, but it is not what we should be doing.” I think that is wrong. It sends a horrible message to Canadians. They are looking to us every single day, as their elected representatives. They chose us. They elected us to come here and be their voice, and for the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens to be muffling that voice is wrong.
I do not know how they can go back to their constituents, look them in the face and tell them they need to go to work in that grocery story, in that hospital, in that pharmacy and in that hardware store, but the members of Parliament are not going to go back to work. If that is truly their attitude, they need to look at their constituents and ask themselves why they ran in the first place to be a member of Parliament if they are not willing to be out in front, be that leader, be that inspiration to the rest of Canada, be the one who shows that everything is going to be okay. We are going to be here to make the tough decisions on behalf of our constituents.
What it really comes down to is holding the government to account. We cannot have an ongoing process of doing government by press conference. Our democracy is not about that.
I know my constituents are sick and tired of the coming out of the cottage every morning, making his announcements, going back in and then that is it. They want some accountability. In many cases, they agree with the programs that have been put forward, and they certainly appreciate the improvements that the official opposition has forced the government to do. However, they are looking to us to be leaders, not followers. They are looking to us to get back to work, and the government should follow that lead.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to notify the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to thank all our front-line workers who are serving Canadians and putting themselves at risk to ensure the rest of society is safe and able to access essential services. I also want to give a shout-out to our public service. Our public servants have been working around the clock providing support to Canadians when they need it during this pandemic.
It is important to highlight this starting point. We are going through a pandemic. Millions of Canadians have lost their jobs because public health advice has required people to stay at home to ensure that people are separated, so the virus does not spread even further and to minimize the loss of life. As a government, through the advice of science and public health advisers, we asked Canadians to stay at home. We asked Canadians to figure out how they could work differently. The same applies to Parliament.
One of the first things Parliament did, and it was a wise move, was ask the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study how Parliament could react in response to the situation. I am lucky to sit at that committee. Members of the committee went on to do its business. We did it virtually, interviewing and hearing from experts at home and from other parliaments around the world. We came up with a report that set out a road map for Parliament to resume.
We advised that Parliament needed to create a new set of standing orders for exceptional circumstances and that those standing orders would only come into play when all recognized parties in the House of Commons agreed to it for a defined period. If we were to extend that defined period, we would still need the consent of all parties in the House. We know that in extraordinary circumstances, we need all of us to work together. These exceptional standing orders would enable Parliament to work under these exceptional circumstances. We would revise how opposition days would be held. We would revise how bills would be tabled, how we would debate those bills and how we would vote on them.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs put together a road map for how Parliament could come back to work. However, for some reason, my colleagues in the Conservative Party were dead set against it. They disagreed. They tabled a dissenting report, and that is their prerogative. However, let me be very clear that the debate here is not whether Parliament is an essential service; we agree that it is. What we do not agree with is why the Conservatives are refusing to find alternative ways for Parliament to do its job.
Members of Parliament deserve equal access, so their privileges are protected. All members, regardless of where they live or what ridings they represent, must have equal access for their role as parliamentarians. That is why the committee asked Parliament to ensure we respected the privilege of every member. However, the official opposition is asking for us to have a reduced number of members here, which we understand, but how will other members of Parliament fulfill their duties? How will the privileges of other members be protected if the Conservatives are not willing to enable them or empower them to have the ability to participate?
I actually want to ask my colleague, the previous Conservative speaker, about this. While I appreciate his remarks, he said that we were languishing behind, and I agree. Parliaments around the world are finding ways to conduct their work in either a hybrid fashion or a virtual fashion, but they have empowered their members to do their work.
However, the Conservatives are standing in the way. They are saying no, that we have to do it exactly the same way and get “back to normal”. That is an exact quote from the previous speaker. We know we are not in normal circumstances. We know that Parliament, the government and public health officials have asked the rest of the country to figure out how to do their work differently to ensure that they are respecting public health advice. Why can Parliament not do that? We have asked millions of Canadians to do so.
Will the Conservative members look their constituents in the eye and tell them that yes, they have asked them to stay at home, but they are not able to figure out how to do their work differently, and they are requiring MPs to come to Parliament? When they say they are not asking all 338 MPs to be here, how will the MPs who are not here be able to represent their constituents? How will they be able to participate in the debate? How will they be able to vote?
When I asked the that yesterday, he said this is what we should be spending our time on. We did. We spent our time studying this and the committee made a proposal, again with the Conservatives dissenting. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they want Parliament to work, but then when alternatives are proposed for how Parliament can work, they say no, they are not for that. How does that work?
I heard my colleague say this is not Parliament. I agree. That is right. When we go into committee of the whole, that is not a fully functioning Parliament. We are proposing that Parliament be fully functional, but when we present that proposal to the Conservatives they say no. What do they want?
One cannot be inconsistent and have a straight face. If they want a hybrid Parliament, they need to figure out what Standing Orders we need to change. How will MPs who are not here be able to debate? How will MPs who are not here be able to vote? They cannot say they do not want to talk about that, but Parliament must resume. It is inconsistent.
Other countries around the world have figured that out. Other legislators around the world have figured that out. Why can the Conservatives not figure that out? Why can the Conservatives not get with the times, recognize that we are in a pandemic and we have asked the entire country to find a way to work remotely, to work virtually and to respect public health advice? The Conservatives say the parties would select which MPs would be here, which MPs would not be here and which MPs would vote or not vote. That is a contravention of the privileges for members, who represent their constituents.
I agree with the Conservatives that Parliament is an essential service, and we all want to see Parliament fully functioning under these circumstances. The question is how we do so. We all agree that 338 MPs cannot be here physically. Good, we are making progress. We agree that it is essential and we agree that not all MPs need to be here, but how would the MPs who are not here, when we do have a fully functioning Parliament, participate and represent their constituents? I am hearing crickets. Conservatives are proposing no ideas on how to deal with that.
However, I have good news. The committee has made proposals. The committee is suggesting how Parliament and all MPs can represent their constituents while respecting public health advice, and while recognizing that we are in the midst of a pandemic that has, regrettably, taken away so many lives.
That is my challenge to my colleagues in the Conservative Party. Let us figure out how this Parliament can work under these circumstances, with all MPs' privileges and duties able to be fulfilled. Spare me all the rhetoric. We agree that Parliament is an essential service. Let us get our work done and make sure we represent our constituents. The opposition parties have a role to play and the government has a role to play. Canadians will benefit from a fully functioning Parliament that respects the advice of public health officials.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. for splitting his time with me today.
It is absolutely a pleasure, as it always is, to be here with all of you. I am delighted to see some members for the first time in months and I really did miss everyone. Once again, it was not easy getting here. I packed up my family and we drove here from New Brunswick. They are with me for the long haul. We will be here as long as we need to be to do the work of Parliament that is very critical and essential during this time.
I do think of all the MPs who are not here today, and it is not because they do not want to be here or that they are not working. As I look at this chamber, at the 30 or so of us spread out with several seats between us, I am reminded that each empty chair represents roughly 100,000 Canadians. Their voices will not be heard here today.
Certain members of this House believe that perhaps a responsible representation of MPs by party status is adequate for decision-making and questioning the government. However, let us not forget that our jobs are first and foremost to our constituents and not to our parties.
I am delighted to be here on behalf of the riding of Fredericton and raising the issues that are important to my constituents. Just like the member for said, this is also the thrill of my lifetime to be an elected member of this House and to stand here in this historic place, a symbol of our freedom and democracy. It is a place of honour and respect, yet there have been some disrespectful comments made, such as insinuations that our fellow members are not showing up to work because they cannot be here in person.
We have heard wartime anecdotes and quotes from Winston Churchill, among others, all suggesting that COVID-19 in the year 2020 is somehow the same as World War II or the influenza outbreak. Of course, we know this is not the case.
The word “unprecedented” has been used an unprecedented number of times to describe the situation that faces us. We are not seeing the forces of the world clashing under tyrannical regimes. We do not have bombs bursting overhead. We are facing an invisible enemy. It is an enemy that does not discriminate, that infects its host at a rate we have never seen before and that has left our communities vulnerable.
We most certainly have an essential role to play as parliamentarians, but it looks different than it has at any other time in our history. The motion before us asks us to be creative, collaborative and accommodating to our members of Parliament. I believe it is meant to allow the fulsome participation of all elected members of this House from all ridings across this great country.
Few other MPs from Atlantic Canada are able to be here today. That is concerning to me. The issues facing my home region are urgent and unique. Right now, our region of Canada is facing challenges with the lobster season, quotas for fishers and processors unable to recruit enough workers. Temporary foreign workers were only allowed in New Brunswick as of last Friday, meaning a delayed season with major implications for the economy and the agricultural yields.
There are also calls for a public inquiry into the handling of the Portapique tragedy. There is the broader conversation it has started about support for mental health initiatives and our collective response to domestic violence, especially in rural areas.
Cities, towns and villages in Atlantic Canada are much smaller than the major urban centres of other provinces, meaning that some of the federal funding earmarked for New Brunswick, P.E.I. and even Nova Scotia cannot be implemented by the municipalities that need it most.
Let us not forget New Brunswick's unique role as a bilingual province and the challenges faced by Canada's minority francophone population to receive accurate, current information about the virus. We also see that New Brunswick is one of the most enviable jurisdictions in the world in terms of its total number of cases and zero deaths. Finally, it pays to be a New Brunswicker.
Canada should be watching closely as my home province continues to open up elements of its economy as a test case for which businesses will flourish post-COVID-19, and which will need continued support. These issues are regionally specific and deserve to be voiced. Most of the MPs representing those voices cannot be here due to restrictions on interprovincial travel, limited domestic flights and the requirement for pared-down numbers in Parliament.
I also note that it is not safe for other members of this House, those who are from isolated communities or those who will put their or their communities' health at a greater risk of COVID-19 by travelling to Ottawa. How can we ask those who cannot be here today to risk becoming vectors of transmission? At the same time, how can we hope to make decisions and represent Canada without a single voice from these vulnerable regions?
It remains my opinion that until we can have a full integration of virtual participation with in-person meetings of the chamber or special committee, we are doing a disservice to rural, northern, Atlantic and west coast Canadians. As we stand here today, we are not ensuring equal representation for Canada, which is one of our most fundamental principles. Having said that, I see the effort the government is making with this motion to integrate virtual participation with the in-person sittings.
I also recognize that the day-to-day sittings would be in the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic rather than full sittings in the House of Commons, which would be more ideal.
With these elements considered, I will be supporting the motion because I believe it is in the best interests of democracy at this time.
When we have figured out how the whole virtual integration of MPs will work, we will need to see the House reconvene to table some pressing legislation, such as on medical assistance in dying. In February, the asked the Supreme Court for a four-month extension to the ruling in order to avoid the creation of separate MAID frameworks in Quebec and the rest of Canada. We have already taken advantage of an extension. Difficult issues still need to be addressed and Canadians who wish to receive MAID depend on us to pass that legislation.
In March, the government introduced legislation to criminalize the cruel practice of conversion therapy. We need to commit to ban that practice without further delay. We also need to see the specifics of the firearms legislation meant to accompany the regulatory changes made on May 1. Canadians need to see the full details of this plan to end the suppositions on this issue that are polarizing Canadians.
Figuring out the integration of virtual MPs with those of us here in person will enable us to lead the way for Canada as the world of work shifts permanently through this period of history. Some Canadians will need to continue working from home for some time to come. Some will want to continue working from home. Some will need to work partially from their homes and partially from their offices. We are being creative. We will see less travel by plane. We will see less commuter traffic in general. Let us set the example for workplaces across the nation by enabling MPs to make the best decisions for their constituents and to engage fully in the debate and decision-making that occurs in the House.
My hope is that all Canadians will know how hard we are working for them every day. Whether in our living rooms with our kids hanging off us in front of a Zoom screen, or here on the floor of the House of Commons, our commitment and our efforts are unwavering.
My mind is constantly on those I know are still slipping through the cracks of our COVID relief initiatives: the not-for-profits, charities and church groups, which for one reason or another find themselves ineligible for the wage subsidy program despite the critical services they provide in our communities; the cleaners and cashiers who have been left out of the essential workers wage top-up in New Brunswick; the dentists who are concerned about their practices moving forward and are finding barriers to pursuing PPE; the international students who still do not qualify for the student benefits and who have nowhere to go and no support; the pregnant women who still do not have adequate answers about their parental leave benefits in the weeks to come, and so many others.
My colleagues and I work for them. I know that we can continue to do this work in a way that protects the health and safety of our home communities.
Mr. Speaker, Quebec is a distinct society. Even staunch federalist Robert Bourassa said so and championed the cause with other Canadians.
Among other things, “distinct society” means that most of us speak French. It is the only official language of Quebec. Our culture is different. We are no better, we are no worse; we are different.
We are also different economically. Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our province. The vitality of Quebec is built on the dynamism of Quebec business owners, who, by dint of their efforts and their toil, have been able to create businesses that were small to begin with, certainly, but that have become medium-sized, or even huge in some cases.
The pandemic is a threat to Quebec's industrial fabric, to that spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. On the brink of bankruptcy because of the pandemic, some SMEs will disappear. Other places in Canada may say the same thing, and I acknowledge that. However, in Quebec, SMEs are even more important given the difference in our industrial fabric.
These businesses are threatened not only by bankruptcy, of course, but also by the risk that they may be bought by foreigners. If that happens, all the effort and creativity will slip out of the hands of Quebeckers, and medium- and long-term decisions will be made in other countries. This threat may mean that businesses grappling with the temporary COVID-19 situation could suffer permanent harm. We must therefore be on our guard and make sure that this does not happen.
The Bloc Québécois's only objective is to look out for the interests of Quebeckers. That is why, on April 20 and 29, during debates on motions adopted in the House, with a government that was open to our input, we submitted proposals to protect entrepreneurship from the pandemic, where we knew we were vulnerable.
On April 20, when we brought up the idea of collaborating on the Canada emergency wage subsidy project, we knew that some businesses were quite vulnerable, as they had to cover their fixed costs despite not getting revenue. This could be a fatal situation for them. That is why we had asked the government to add additional assistance to the April 20 agreement to help with fixed costs.
We had a $73-billion wage subsidy proposal before us. We managed to convince the government to include in its motion a partial subsidy for businesses' fixed costs, an important measure that would prevent our future economic stars from going bankrupt. That is what we were proposing.
What did we get in return?
What we got was a program that offered almost no solutions for businesses. This program was too timid, too lightweight, and even inaccessible in some cases. Most businesses told us that this program was not good for them and they needed something else.
That is why we have been hounding the government and telling it to improve what was proposed in the motion. We reminded the government that it had made a commitment and that it had given us its word. We said that we needed to help businesses, because the situation is critical.
However, nothing has been done since then. It is radio silence. When the government tabled its motion 11 days ago, the Bloc immediately said that, to protect businesses, the support to help cover fixed costs had to be improved and increased.
Yesterday, the government House leader said that the government had taken a first step—a small step, if that. If that small step stops there, it is not enough, when in fact we were proposing continued assistance for these businesses. That is then a broken promise.
Mr. Speaker, I forgot to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the member for . Sorry about that. I am sure you will forgive me. You are so incredibly nice. You are the person I should be negotiating with in the future.
The second important point is that some businesses want to hire people and some municipalities need to hire people. Economic recovery seems to be on its way. We can see better days ahead. In order for businesses to find employees and for people to want to get back to work, we need to help them. We need to encourage people to work. We need to tell them to start working again and to contribute to the production effort. The economy in Quebec and in the rest of Canada will be better off for it.
On April 29, the government created the CESB, and we commended it for that because it is true that some students will not be able to find a job and they will need financial security to be able to continue their studies. We applauded that measure. When we analyzed the government's proposal, we found it contained a flaw that meant that students might be less inclined to work.
Do I think they are lazy? No, it is not laziness. However, as structured and written, the program ensures that students earn the same whether they work two days or or seven days a week. Even a trained monkey understands that, if its salary stays the same whether it works two days or seven, it should work two days. That is pretty clear, but it seems that the government has not understood, which is why we have asked the government to commit to encouraging students to work by ensuring that, in all circumstances, students' salaries would increase if they work more. Our support was conditional on that.
It is a fundamental rule of economics: the more you work, the more you earn. You do not have to put on a puppet show or draw a picture to understand this. The government told us that it was a good idea. The told the House that it was a good idea and that the government would work on it. Three weeks later, nothing; it has made no progress. It is worse than the fixed costs, where the Liberals took a single step and called it a day. In the case of the CESB, they have taken no steps at all.
We have a government that is not respecting its commitments. That is why we decided to sit that one out when a new round of negotiations started. We cannot negotiate with a government that promises us things it does not do. We have had a part in this bad movie before, and we are no longer interested.
We even gave them a chance. We were really very nice about it. We told the government to keep the two promises they had made. We gave them eight days, but they made no effort. They were supposed to take more action on fixed costs to build on their very tentative first steps, and then do what they promised to do.
We waited, but in the end they said no and and told us how things were going to work. That is why, today, we are saying how things are going work for us in the Bloc. We cannot work or negotiate with people who have little regard for their word.
We have our word and we have very clear ideas. What is good for Quebec is good for the Bloc Québécois. What is good for the nation of Quebec is good for the people of Quebec. We have to help small and medium-sized businesses survive the pandemic, those budding businesses that will eventually grow into Bombardiers. They must be given a chance to survive, and that is what we have been doing from the start. We are working hard on this and we will not give up. Our platform is clear and simple: what is good for Quebec is good for us.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my esteemed colleague from La Prairie for sharing his time with me. I appreciate it.
I am sometimes asked how I imagine us emerging from this crisis or what I hope we take from this crisis. I have thought about it and I think it is important that we all think about it a bit.
I want to draw a parallel between this situation and a situation I remember when I was 13 or 14 years old, in 1998.
My region lived through the ice storm, which left a mark on our collective psyche. At the time, we saw people coming together, similar to what we are seeing now. People were helping each other. I remember my father went around with his generator to empty basements for people who lived on our street and whose pumps were no longer working because they had no electricity. Although I was too young to notice it, older people remind us about how when the lights came back on, people stopped coming together in the same way. Sadly, I worry that the same thing will happen once a vaccine is discovered. Right now, there is a huge push to buy local.
I would like to think that we will continue to see people supporting each other so wonderfully, but the government and Parliament will have to do some things to ensure that we are left with something from this crisis. It would be an insult to those who are suffering now and to those who lose their lives to COVID-19 if we do not learn something from this pandemic and take this opportunity to make improvements.
There are things that can be done now in some cases, but they could also have been done in the past, which would have made it a little easier to get through this crisis. I will give you three specific examples. There is the matter of seniors, which the Bloc Québécois raised on numerous occasions. Even before the crisis, even before we became aware of the risk of facing such a pandemic one day, the Bloc Québécois raised the question. When old age security was introduced, it covered the equivalent of 20% of the average industrial wage. Given the trend toward disinvestment in the ensuing years, it now covers the equivalent of 13% of the average wage. Seniors’ purchasing power has decreased significantly. We would like to be able to say that the $300 benefit is a good thing, but it should not be a one-time thing. Yes, it will help a little during the crisis, but seniors’ problems will not end with the pandemic.
Think about the cost of groceries in the fall, which could be extremely high, especially when it comes to fresh produce, in particular the fruits and vegetables grown by our own farmers. Something should have been done before the crisis, but we can still act now. We can increase seniors’ purchasing power and make sure that they continue to contribute to our economy, that they continue to buy from our local producers and that they continue to be economically active in society. Unfortunately, these are things that we may not be able to do if Parliament is limited to four question periods a week.
Health transfer payments are another point that we repeatedly raised before the crisis. For several years now, there has been a massive decrease in federal health transfer payments to the provinces and to Québec. In some cases, it could be argued that certain reforms introduced by the provinces were to blame. Even some of the people involved in these reforms acknowledge that the result was not perfect, that they could have done things differently and achieved a better outcome. Nevertheless, when you do not have the money, you are starting with a huge handicap. Federal disinvestment is the main cause of the current problems in the healthcare system. It was a problem before the crisis. It should have been dealt with before the crisis. What we are currently experiencing should at least make us admit that we do not want to see it happen again.
One thing that can be done right now is to ensure that companies that use tax havens do not get the wage subsidy. We did the math. The big banks save the equivalent of roughly $2.5 billion a year in taxes. Meanwhile, it would cost between $1.9 billion and $2 billion to restore the health transfers. By making sure that the real wrongdoers, those who legally but immorally use tax havens, pay their fair share of taxes, the health transfers could be restored.
No one wants this to happen, but we need to be ready in case another crisis arises. We need to make sure that we learn something from the current crisis.
Another subject I have really enjoyed talking about during the crisis is everything related to farmers, but more specifically, the issue of temporary foreign workers, who are the backbone of our production. These individuals are absolutely essential to our food security and food sovereignty, and they ensure our access to local, fresh products.
The problem of closed work permits has been around for a long time. Agricultural producers are complaining about the lack of flexibility of closed work permits. I will give a few examples from before the crisis.
First, consider a farmer who only needs someone part-time, maybe one day a week. It is not worth bringing someone in from Guatemala to work one day a week. However, closed work permits do not allow farms to exchange or share the work done by employees with other farms.
Moreover, the workload is not distributed in the same way from one farm to the next. For example, there is slightly less work on dairy farms at the end of the winter because it is not the beginning or end of the harvest. Conversely, the end of winter is a very busy period for maple producers, since that is when they begin planting. These producers are also prevented from sharing employees’ services to address the unequal workload. The problem existed before the crisis.
During the crisis, when there was a major shortage of temporary foreign workers, producers were unable to share workers at critical times. For example, apple producers needed to have their apple trees pruned at the beginning of the season. At the same time, and often on the neighbouring lot, maple producers, whose sugaring off season had been cancelled, had workers that they could not use and that they would have liked to share with the apple producers.
Another example is vegetable producers, who often have two harvests a year. As some workers harvest the vegetables, others behind them plant seeds for the second harvest. Most Canadian vegetable producers now have enough people for the first harvest, but not enough for the second planting. If all farms had agreed to make better use of the available workers, they could have had two harvests, which would have given them a better yield at the end of the year.
In the event of another crisis, it would be wise to consider new terms and conditions for closed permits. If farmers were allowed to share workers’ services, and if a hail storm destroyed my harvest but not my neighbour’s, my neighbour could save his harvest by using my workers. Closer to home, during the floods, the farm workers who had little to do at the time were unable to help lay sandbags to protect people’s homes.
This problem has been around for a long time and we could solve it. We continue to make proposals and recommending solutions, such as allowing workers with closed permits to work elsewhere for a certain number of days.
However, we cannot discuss all of these issues right now, because two parties decided to restrict our exchanges. Still, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was able to conduct a remarkable study on virtual parliament sessions.
I am disappointed that everyone recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is a huge problem, but then we tie our hands and prevent ourselves from finding solutions for now and for the future. In a sense, I think that not working right now to help people who are suffering and those who are dying from COVID-19 shows a basic lack of respect toward these people. It is unfortunate that the crisis is not bringing out the best in us.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Over the past two and a half months, Canadians have faced a common threat to our health and our economy. Since COVID-19 emerged in Canada, our government has taken a coordinated approach that is consistent with our shared democratic values, whereby it puts people first and makes sure that no one is left behind. It is our responsibility to fight the spread of this pandemic and put our country on the path to recovery. We will do whatever it takes.
We are taking action to address the wide-ranging health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19. We are doing everything we can to help Canadians and businesses through this pandemic and give them the support they need. This includes taking strong, decisive action to stabilize our economy.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy is a key element of the COVID-19 economic response plan. For employers who have been significantly impacted by this pandemic, our government has put in place a program that will help them keep workers on the payroll and even rehire workers. This program is available for businesses, charities and non-profits alike. It is supporting Canadians at workplaces big and small in sectors across our economy.
The government established the Canada emergency wage subsidy to prevent further job losses and to encourage employers to rehire workers previously laid off because of COVID-19. It is there to make sure that families in every part of Canada know where the next paycheque is coming from. It is there to make sure that in this time of incredible uncertainty, they can benefit, knowing that they will have money for groceries, rent and prescriptions. This program also means that when businesses begin to pick up again, Canadian companies are ready with the right workers who know the businesses to prepare them to get operations up and running again.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy program provides a 70% wage subsidy, or up to $847 per week per employee, for employers in businesses of all sizes and across all sectors who have suffered a drop in gross revenue of at least 15% in March 2020 and 30% in the following months. On May 15, the government announced that we would extend the Canada emergency wage subsidy by an additional 12 weeks, to August 29, 2020. Extending the program will give workers greater confidence that they will continue to get the support they need during these difficult times. It also gives business owners more runway to get back up to speed. We know that reopening needs to be a gradual and careful process.
At the same time, we introduced regulatory amendments aimed at improving the subsidy and extending it to reach more employers. These amendments will ensure that the subsidy meets its objective of supporting the employers hardest hit by COVID-19, while protecting the jobs Canadians depend on.
Regulations have extended eligibility for the Canada emergency wage subsidy to the following employers: partnerships that are up to 50% owned by non-eligible members; indigenous government-owned corporations that are carrying on business, as well as partnerships in which the partners are indigenous governments and eligible employers; registered Canadian amateur athletic associations; registered journalism organizations; and non-public colleges and schools, including institutions that offer specialized services, such as art schools, driving schools, language schools or even flight schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on Canadians everywhere. All sectors of the economy have felt its relentless and disruptive presence. Our government has been working hard to protect jobs across our economy. We have listened to the concerns raised by employers of all kinds, from small neighbourhood businesses to some of Canada's largest corporations that employ thousands of Canadians.
We know that extending the wage subsidy will help more workers. The wage subsidy has meant that, even though our economy has come to a standstill, businesses can afford to keep workers and, as a result, are ready and poised to spring back into action as soon as it is safe. This is protecting jobs now and making sure that there is no sluggish restart. It is making sure that Canada is ready to come roaring back, strong.
This program is complemented by the many actions our government has taken to date to support Canadians and their families. We have provided the Canada emergency response benefit to over seven million Canadians so that everyone who is unable to work because of COVID-19 has money for essentials.
We have provided support for students, including investing in over 116,000 jobs and opportunities this summer to help them access the workplace experience they need to pursue their dreams.
The Canadian emergency business account has provided interest-free loans to over 600 small employers.
All of these measures, including others, have contributed to one of the most comprehensive and ambitious economic support packages in the world. We know that by investing in Canadians, we will bounce back faster and better.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on Canadians and around the world as a whole. It has crippled businesses around the entire planet. It has upended the global marketplace, dashing the hopes and dreams of workers and business owners. In these two and a half months, many business people in Canada and other countries have struggled as never before. Many have succumbed to the ravaging effects of COVID-19. However, through that time, our government has stood steady to take additional actions to stabilize the economy and mitigate the impacts of this pandemic.
Protecting the health of Canadians and ensuring their immediate needs remains the first priority of the government. We will continue to protect Canadian jobs and to support the Canadian economy as it navigates through the present and current crisis. When this crisis is over, we will be ready to work with Canadians to relaunch the economy and to continue to build a stronger Canada for tomorrow.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House on the subject of the debate before us with respect to how to structure meetings of Parliament going forward in the midst of this pandemic.
I am sure I do not need to remind the members of the House of the extraordinary times in which we are living. As we deliberate on how we will continue to meet, we must be mindful of the example we are setting for Canadians and the message we are communicating.
Before I begin the substance of my remarks today, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation for the excellent work undertaken by the Clerk of the House and the entire administration to give us options on how we can continue to meet and conduct business during COVID-19.
I do not need to remind the House that these are extraordinary times. Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I would first like to sincerely thank the security personnel, employees of the House Administration and all House staff. They are joining the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who continue to work in our essential industries. Whether they work in our long-term care facilities, our corner stores, our pharmacies or our hospital, the dedication of these workers is allowing our society to continue to function.
Turning now to the debate on the next steps for our sittings going forward, I find myself a bit puzzled by the arguments coming from my colleagues across the aisle. Allow me to once again clarify for Canadians that members of Parliament are meeting, that ministers are being held to account and are answering questions. In fact, over 300 questions were asked by members and answered by the government in a period of just three days. By comparison, in normal times, when the House sits for five days, members are able to ask, on average, approximately 190 questions.
Over the course of the debate yesterday on the motion before us, I have come to understand that the accountability that has existed, and that would certainly continue to exist under the proposal before the House, is not the problem for the Conservative. Rather, they are arguing that members of Parliament need to be sitting in their seats, under all the normal rules, in order to feel they are working.
I am a relatively new member of Parliament, elected just over a year ago, so perhaps I see things rather differently than my colleagues. For me, there is nothing more important than the work I do in my riding, serving my constituents.
I, and I am sure many others in the chamber, have been working 24/7, literally seven days a week, from the very early morning until the very early morning the following day. Whether I am speaking to seniors in long-term care homes who are concerned about their health and safety, or people who would like to understand how to access the emergency benefit of $2,000 a month, which over eight million Canadians have applied for and received, or mothers who call me for help in order to bring their children home from overseas while on an exchange or students who are reaching out to their members of Parliament for the very first time in order to discuss the measures we have put in place to support them and the jobs that might be available to them this summer, this is important work.
How important is it that charitable and not-for-profit organizations serving our vulnerable communities, literally putting food on the tables of families that need it, receive government funding? It is critical, and we are there to support them.
Our local organizations are working hard. I am thinking of the MultiCaf community cafeteria in Côte-des-Neiges, Le Chaînon, a shelter that helps vulnerable women, the Mile End Community Mission, which provides food for residents of the eastern part of my riding, Sun Youth, which does an enormous amount of work in delivering food throughout Montreal, as well as many others. I am working hard to support the charitable organizations in Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges and Mile End.
Extraordinary things are happening. There are even new organizations that are being created in response to the current crisis. An MP's job is to support them. The Fondation Aide Outremont COVID-19 is doing an extraordinary job of helping our older and more vulnerable residents. This wonderful team of community volunteers has already delivered groceries and prescriptions to many hundreds of people.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, over the course of the last 10 weeks, I have spoken to thousands of entrepreneurs in my riding and across the country. They needed to speak to someone in government. They needed to have their questions answered and I needed to hear them out.
The work that we have been doing with the private sector and business owners is what has fuelled the adjustments and modifications to our support programs. The feedback that I have been getting so far from all of these calls, from all of these virtual meetings is, “Wow, thank you. Thank you for focusing on us. Thank you for being there. Thank you for working for us.” This is what government is for.
The work we do in service of Canadians in our communities is absolutely necessary. It is insulting to me and it is insulting to Canadians to suggest that we are not working if our bums are not in these seats. It was important for me to clarify that and put it on the record.
I will now get into the details of what we are proposing. What we are proposing would allow us to continue this important work in our ridings. What we are proposing would allow us to meet in this chamber, while respecting physical distancing and other health and safety guidelines, while allowing every member from every part of the country to take part in these proceedings virtually and, importantly, allowing us to continue to be accountable to opposition members and continuing to answer their questions.
I will get a bit more into the details of the proposed hybrid model approach. For members who are physically present in the House, there will be no changes, and the experience will be identical to a normal sitting. The members will be able to hear colleagues who are participating virtually by using the earpiece and will be able to see them on two screens installed on either side of the Speaker's chair.
Members participating virtually will be able to access the House debates through a very user-friendly online video conferencing platform that is integrated into the existing House of Commons infrastructure and systems. When members participate by video conference, they will be able to watch the proceedings of the House when other members are speaking. They will also have access to a video of their other colleagues who are participating virtually. All members will have access to simultaneous interpretation at all times, and all members, including those participating by video conference, will be free to address the House during debate or raise a point of order.
Once the hybrid model of House sittings was established, the House administration carried out a simulation of a debate, and the results were excellent. Consequently, the Speaker of the House wrote to the House leaders to inform them that the hybrid model could be used.
In developing a hybrid model of sittings, the House administration was able to review different approaches that other legislatures in Canada and around the world had adopted to take into account the challenges posed by this pandemic, while ensuring urgent parliamentary business was attended to. More specifically, the administration consulted 30 parliaments and collaborated closely with several legislatures that had similar requirements. This included testing solutions and sharing operational strategies, experiences and results daily.
In addition to working with other legislatures, the administration also conducted extensive independent market research and worked with industry leaders and international national security partners. In working with these partners, the administration set a goal of ensuring that the broadcast production of a sitting would be seamless and that the public coverage would continue to be of excellent quality. This is the proposal we are putting forward.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this place, with my feet on the floor of the House of Commons, and to have the opportunity to use my voice as the member of Parliament for Lethbridge to speak on behalf of my constituents, and I would even go so far as to say to what I am hearing from Canadians as a whole. I am thankful to have that privilege.
I was elected to represent my constituents, in 2015 after my first election and then in 2019 after my second one. As a member of Parliament I have the ability, along with other members in this place, to participate in the legislative process employed within this country, which we call a parliamentary democracy.
It is a position I hold with the weightiness it deserves and it is a responsibility I do not take lightly. Additionally, as a member of the official opposition, it is my constitutional obligation to join my Conservative colleagues in holding the Liberal government to account with regard to the decisions that it makes and to ensure that Canadians are rightly represented.
These roles and duties have been all but stripped from me during the past several months. Yes, I agree, I have been able to participate in makeshift accountability periods that have been put together virtually, and I have used social media in order to amplify my concerns and those of my fellow Canadians, but I have not been able to stand on the Commons floor and publicly address the government, as is my right and duty to do.
As word of the pandemic and its possible effects spread, we very quickly entered into a phase of closure. That was on approximately March 13. Knowing the pandemic was worldwide and spreading like wildfire, we agreed to suspend Parliament for a period of time. As the weeks went by and social distancing measures came into place, our return to Parliament, and the recalling of the House, became less and less certain.
Despite our willingness to work collaboratively with the government to ensure each other's safety, it soon became apparent, to the detriment of Canadians, that the was using this pandemic in order to avoid an element of accountability. He was perfectly comfortable issuing media statements from his front doorstep, but on the whole he was unwilling to take questions from members of the opposition. It took days of negotiation for the party opposite to finally agree to one House sitting per week. Even then, the Prime Minister could be seen here for several moments, but not long after.
If we suggest that Parliament's role is optional, as we have heard time and time again from members opposite, then we are effectively telling Canadians that there is no difference between a democracy and an autocracy, and that is a shame.
If the people's voices across this country do not matter in the midst of a crisis, then do they matter in the time period when there is good?
Is this simply an optional activity, or are we doing important work in this place?
Can we shut the doors and see no difference in our country, or do those doors need to be opened in order for us to continue and move forward as a nation?
By refusing to have Parliament resume, the is sending a strong message to Canadians that he alone is the one who matters. I would propose that is absolutely wrong. Parliament is essential. Parliamentarians are essential workers. Especially during a time of crisis, Parliament has the responsibility of holding the government to account, and this accountability best takes place right here, in the House of Commons.
Make no mistake. What the government is proposing today is not a resumption of full Parliament. It would like Canadians to believe that is the case, but it is simply not true. What the government wants to do is actually assemble what is called a special committee, or a committee of the whole. It is stripped of some key powers and responsibilities. For example, the government would still refuse to allow for opposition day motions. It would not allow for the request of emergency debates. It would not allow for the debate of private members' bills. The order of publication of government documents, and the debate and vote on committee reports, would not be allowed, either.
If the is willing, however, to now do four days here in the House as a committee of the whole, then he is proving, or showing the Canadian public, that it can be done safely. We can assemble in this place and do so while respecting one another's safety.
If that is possible, then why not resume Parliament in its full function to allow us to debate the necessary issues of the day? Why not allow us as Parliamentarians to do the important work that our constituents sent us here to do?
What the government is doing at every turn is skirting accountability. As many of my constituents have conveyed to me again and again, if grocery store clerks, restaurant workers, hairdressers, farmers, nurses, doctors and front-line workers can work, if they can look after Canadians, then surely parliamentarians can meet again in this place in a regular and safe manner. They can do so in a way that brings Parliament back in full force.
I have received hundreds of phone calls, emails and messages from constituents urging us to start sitting together as a full Parliament. Indeed, they understand that there is important constituency work to do, but they also see the value in Canada's Parliament, and they want to know that parliamentarians are debating the issues of the day and making sure that their voices are heard here in our nation's capital.
Here are a few notes that I have received.
“If the Prime Minister is staying in house arrest, he should not be allowed to make decisions.”
“Why is this even a thing?”
“Parliament needs to open up all powers required to run this country immediately.”
“Parliament must sit now.”
Parliament is an essential service and MPs are essential workers. When each of us put our name on a ballot, we should have done so with great sobriety and out of an underlying conviction that we exist to serve. We serve in the good times and we serve in the bad times. That is what it means to put our name on a ballot. These happen to be the bad times, but that does not mean that we run and hide. It does not mean that we stay within the safety of our own homes. It means that we, as 338 privileged individuals who have been sent here to be the voices of our constituents, come and we sit and we look after our country.
As Marc Bosc, former acting Clerk of the House, said:
The House of Commons needs to be functioning and to be seen to be functioning....[It] is an essential service to the country. Members of Parliament are... essential workers.
We need to be functioning and be seen to be functioning, which means we are here in this place. The place to engage in robust debate is in the House of Commons. It is not Facebook. It is not Twitter. It is not the mainstream media. It is here. That is what our parliamentary system is based on. That is the historical nature of this place. That is what the health and prosperity of our country so much relies on.
If members feel that their work is non-essential, then I would suggest that they fail to understand their roles and responsibilities, and they ought not put their names on ballots in the next election. This is not simply a place of process. It is a meeting ground where we use our minds and skills to convince our political opponents of our positions. It is where we give impassioned speeches and where we vocally express our dissatisfaction with a less-than-sufficient government response. If we allow it to, the back and forth of exchange can produce excellence. One side puts forward a thesis, the other sides puts forward an antithesis, and then the synthesis of ideas takes place. That is what democracy is about. It is the exchange of ideas. When did we lose an appreciation for this?
Diefenbaker famously said that “Parliament is more than procedure. It is the custodian of the nation’s freedom.” The House of Commons is not some random place simply used to facilitate the goings-on of Parliament. It is a crucial part of upholding democracy with debate, scrutiny, opposition and questioning of the government on all matters that affect the Canadian public. To characterize it as anything less than essential is an utter degradation of our Constitution and the fundamental freedoms for which our ancestors fought. At the very heart of democracy is the preservation of personal liberties, and the guardian of those liberties is Parliament.
Again, there are 338 of us who have been given the grand privilege and the sobering responsibility of being in this place in order to represent Canadians. If we are not here doing that, then who is?
For the government to use this pandemic to avoid accountability and to have us meet only virtually, where dissent can literally be silenced by the click of a button, is unconscionable.
There was a man who worked at a sawmill, and he would faithfully go to work day in and day out, and at the end of the week on Friday, he would exit the compound. Going past the security guard, he would be pushing a wheelbarrow full of sawdust. The security guard would look at the wheelbarrow and ask him what he had in the wheelbarrow, and he would reply that it was just a bit of sawdust, and the security guard would say that it was okay and to go on through.
The next week, the same worker would come back to work on Monday and work faithfully on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday would come around and this worker would fill his wheelbarrow again with some sawdust and go past the security guard, who would ask him what he had in his wheelbarrow. The employee would reply that it was just a bit of sawdust and continue on his way.
This happened for several weeks. Finally, the security guard pulled him over one Friday and asked him if he did not mind his asking what he used the sawdust for. The employee, not missing a beat, leaned in, and asked him in a whisper if he could keep a secret. The security guard said that he could, and the worker said that he was not taking the sawdust but stealing wheelbarrows.
How easy it is to be distracted from the real things going on before us. Indeed, the government must respond to the current pandemic and ensure the safety and security of Canadians. This is, in fact, the first responsibility of any government, but there is more taking place here than what meets the eye.
The will take the media's questions from the comfort of his home, but he is unwilling to take questions from the people of Canada, through their representatives right here in Parliament. The Prime Minister is willing to hand out money to individuals, businesses and not-for-profits, but he demands something in return.
The government wants the Canadian public to be informed, but only with the information the government carefully curates. In March, the Liberals indicated that they were looking at the possibility of implementing legislation that would crack down on what they were calling “misinformation”, information that the government deemed unhelpful.
Further to this, the recently confirmed that millions of dollars are being spent on censorship. No legislation was presented in this place on that, no debate took place here and no discussion was had. The Liberals have crowned themselves now as the czar of what is true and what is false, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what gets to stay and what has to go.
Since when is it the government's responsibility to arbitrate truth? This is not democracy, and these types of silly things are the things that happen when this place ceases to meet and when the official opposition is unable to hold the government fully to account. This is a direct infringement of our freedom.
I recognize that no one likes misinformation, but since when is it okay for the government to determine what is wrong, what gets to stay and what has to go, what is in and what is out? It is a massive overreach of power. I find this particularly unsettling given the fact that the current government is actually responsible for spreading some of the most dangerous misinformation that has been put out there. Canadians will recall that it was the government that initially propagated the false notion that COVID-19 could not be spread by human-to-human contact. That was proven false. It was the who declared that closing Canada's borders was not necessary to protect Canadians because COVID-19 would pass quickly. That was false. As well, it was the government that misled the Canadian public into believing that a mask over one's face was not necessary and would not be helpful. That was false too.
If these are not examples of misinformation, then I do not know what is. If the government is looking to crack down on unhelpful or misleading information on COVID-19, then it really need look no further than in the mirror, or at least that is where it should start. The reality is that the government does not have all the answers. We are in this together, learning and discovering. Information is evolving.
Free speech is part of a thriving society. Free speech is what helps us maintain our fundamentals as a nation. It is how we share ideas. It is how we engage in creativity. It is how we advance. It is how we innovate. It is how we move forward. When did we become afraid of robust discussion? When did we become unable to disagree without being disagreeable? When were these ideals eradicated from our Canadian values, from the social fabric that we call home?
Having convinced the security guard that he was simply taking sawdust, the man cleverly pushed his employer's wheelbarrow home knew there was profit to be made. Things are not as they immediately seem. Things are not fully what they appear to be to the naked eye. As Canadians, knowingly or unknowingly, we are being asked to exchange our freedom for what the government is calling “security”, but to what end.
When Parliament fails to meet and the government ceases to be held accountable, it is safe to say that democracy is in fact under siege. I am concerned that so many have been willing to short-circuit democracy when times are difficult. I have heard members talk about the added travel time it would take to get here, the extra safety precautions they would have to take, the strain it would put on them physically, and so on and so forth. Some members have expressed concern about social distancing. We appear to be doing that quite effectively today and could probably continue it.
We swore an oath to serve our country in good times and bad, in convenient times and inconvenient times. Since when did the members of the House start putting their name on a ballot out of convenience? There are plenty of other careers that people could have pursued if that was their ultimate goal. If life were meant to be convenient, if that is what people in the House are seeking, then this is not the place for them. Rather, this is a place of service. This is a place where 338 individuals from across this country come together and engage in robust and productive discussion for the sake of Canadians. This is a place where the exchange of ideas occurs and where legislative decisions are made. This is a place where the voices of Canadians are meant to be represented. When we fail to show up in this place because it happens to be inconvenient, that is a shame, and it is not a shame on Canadians, but on all of us in the House.
This place is essential and we are essential workers because Canadians are the ones who are being represented here and they deserve to have their member of Parliament in this place, speaking on their behalf, making decisions for the greater good of this country.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be in the House today to debate the important issue of the pandemic that this country is going through and the way in which our Parliament is responding to it, not only in terms of programs but also in terms of how we are organizing ourselves to function as a democratic voice, notwithstanding what I would call the greatest disruption in our country's history since World War II.
Before I start, I would like to take the opportunity to thank my staff. They have been indefatigable. I looked that up in the dictionary, not because I did not know what it meant but because I wanted a more precise definition. It means “persistently tireless” and that accurately describes my staff always, but especially over the last two months. I would like to name them individually: Maire Whitley, Joanna Markowicz, Alex Slusar, Ashley Sanchez, Lauren Roy, Philippe Guay, Paul Kaiser and Vicki Bas, who had to interrupt her hours here on the Hill but who will be an integral part of our efforts to get our offices up and running again.
They have done a wonderful job. They have helped constituents who called searching for answers. They have suggested improvements to programs, which I have then sent to other levels. I am happy to see that some of those improvements have been made as we have adapted the programs, not necessarily because of my intervention, of course, but because members of Parliament from all parties have been communicating with the government with their suggestions for how to make these programs broader, fairer and more effective at this time.
I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As I said before when I stood to ask a question, this does feel like Parliament to me. Even though it is committee of the whole, it feels very much like Parliament. I am saying generally, in the last few days, even on Wednesdays when I have been here, so on and so forth. Also, the virtual sessions of the committee of the whole feel very much like Parliament. Members of the opposition have a chance to ask pointed questions, and those questions, at least the good ones, are reported in the media. That is all part of the accountability process that we are engaging in, albeit by different means than usual.
I have noticed during the debates that take place in the COVID committee that pretty much every topic under the sun can be mentioned or related in some way to the topic of COVID. That is obviously because of the latitude and open-mindedness that you have shown, Mr. Speaker.
We have heard in the House about people who work in retail in our communities across the nation, and I would like to tip my hat to them as well. They are essential workers. They have a very important job to do. They help ensure that our supply chains are functioning. However, retail outlets are taking precautionary measures. They are taking a variety of measures. I will describe some of them in relation to my last trip to the supermarket.
People had to line up outside, six feet apart. There was a long lineup alongside the supermarket. When we got in, we had to wash our hands and sometimes even answer questions about whether anyone in our family was ill. I know everyone has had this experience, as everyone has been doing the same thing to make sure we have what we need during this pandemic. When we get into the supermarket, there are arrows telling us which direction to go in which aisle. Of course, everyone has to stay six feet apart. When we get to the cash register, an employee points people to the cash register they need to go to depending on how long the lineup is.
That is effectively what we have done in this Parliament. We have implemented social distancing measures. That is why today, in this sitting of Parliament, we are not 338 members.
We have adapted. Just like the retail stores have adapted, we have adapted, and we have been able to use technology to adapt. I did not really know what Zoom was before the pandemic, to be honest, but I have adapted and I think I am pretty good at holding Zoom meetings now. Parliament has adapted as well. Because we have technology, we have been able to keep Parliament functioning. We have been able to keep debate going, and we have been able to see the opposition ask questions. The only real difference between the Zoom meetings and what we normally have here in the House is that there is no heckling on Zoom, so we can actually concentrate on what the questioner is saying and concentrate more on the answer. It is important that Canadians know that we have adapted and that we continue to function and continue to debate, despite the fact that we have to practice social distancing measures in the House.
I have also heard from the other side that we are principally talking about COVID. That makes perfect sense. This is an unprecedented challenge. It is one of the greatest challenges of our time. I would expect Parliament to be focusing almost singularly on that topic, with the leeway you provide us, Mr. Speaker, to bring in other issues. This is the challenge of our time. I know there have been comparisons to Parliament in England during World War II, but I would submit that its members spent most of their time talking about World War II. That is just the way it is. To suggest that we are going to function exactly the same way we did in February, with the same range of topics, is a bit disingenuous, because we are in the grip of a major pandemic that has turned our country and the world upside down. Yes, there are budgetary issues to discuss. The member from the Green Party brought up the issue of MAID. We have asked for one extension already. How are we going to deal with that? I am certain we will find a way to deal with the priority issues that also need to be discussed, along with COVID-19.
The advantage we have over the British Parliament is that we have communications technology. Another difference between the British Parliament and Canada is that one can get to the British Parliament from anywhere in England without taking a plane. That does not describe how transportation works in this country, with its huge land mass.
I would like to finish on the point the member for was making in her philosophical speech about the give-and-take of debate, synthesis and so forth. I would like to submit that the virtual Parliament, the hybrid Parliament that is coming out of this debate is very much in the spirit of synthesis. It is very much in the spirit of parties listening to each other to try to find a common, workable solution in a completely unprecedented situation.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for . Also, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you give me a two-minute warning. I tend to speak at length.
We have heard many passionate and compelling arguments related to the crisis we are currently in with COVID. Members heard me earlier in the House reference the 6,180 COVID deaths. Each statistic is a story, a family devastated by loss from this global pandemic. When we get into statistics that large, 80,000 cases, I do not believe that we are in a place right now where we are understanding the gravity of this. I do not believe that we have taken the time as a country to mourn these losses.
Yesterday we heard tributes to an officer and pilot who died in a tragic accident. I extend that same empathy in tragedy for the loss of thousands of Canadians across the country. I do that because we are in a historic moment. We have the opportunity within the House to craft the future path of the country. I admit that we have heard lots of rhetoric inflamed on all sides by all parties. When we hear about the idea that the government is misleading, or that a party is misleading, I believe it is deeply misleading to suggest that we are not working in this present crisis, or that this notion of going back to work betrays the very spirit of the previous speaker's assertion of just how hard the staff are working, and the intensity of the emotions. In our government operations committee, we are working diligently every day across parties to ensure that we have the highest amount of accountability from the government to the public.
I am happy to report to the House that I have worked with friends, along the way, from the Bloc and from the Conservative Party to ensure that we are adequately preparing for the next wave, which we know is going to happen. We know that the government was charged with creating a stockpile that would have had adequate protective equipment in place in the millions. We know that, at the onset of this, we could have used better evidence-based practices to ensure that the number of 6,000 dead may have been less. We will not know in this current crisis, but we do know that we have to begin to plan now for future deaths and future tragedies.
Every statistic is a story. Every life lost is a heartbreak for Canadians across the country. These are just the reported numbers. These are the numbers that keep me up at night. These are the numbers that wake me up in the morning to get to work, whether virtually from Hamilton Centre or right here today.
We are in historic times. The honour and privilege that our constituents have instilled in us, to be here representing not their financial interests but their very lives, which are at stake, is the single most important thing I will do professionally in my entire life. For that, I will make no apologies. I will make no apologies for the work that we have done in the House as New Democrats to deliver for Canadians. If there are members present here today who feel like they are not at work or who feel like they have not been able to get things done, that is on their own accord.
As New Democrats, when we put the proposal to create a hybrid system that would allow every voice across this country to be represented, we did it from a small but mighty caucus of 24 members representing every corner of this country, from to St. John's to Windsor to , way up in the north of B.C.
We understand the complexities. We understand the passion of the small business owners who are about to lose everything after working decades to be able to provide for their families. We understand the workers who are forced into meat-packing plants like Cargill, knowing the risks they are going to undertake to ensure that we have food security. We understand what it is like for the single parents who are at home trying to make the heartbreaking decision of whether they are going to put food on the table or pay rent. There have been compelling visions for the future of this country presented throughout this crisis.
Let us be clear that the rush to get back to work is not coming from the working class. It is coming from the capitalist class. We have heard a lot of opinions about what socialism looks like. We have heard very maligning comments about how we got to work today and how we like oil and gas. I would ask members how they like health care, public education and all the goods and services that we cherish as Canadians? These were brought from a social democratic state and separate us from other countries around the world.
We have an opportunity in the House to deliver for all Canadians. We have an opportunity to deliver for every person who happens to be in the country during this pandemic. We have not only an opportunity, but a moral imperative regardless of people's citizenship. If people are temporary foreign workers or undocumented persons who have made it to this soil seeking freedom and the liberty that our Conservative friends talk about, everyone deserves to have a chance at life through this pandemic, and we know that not everyone is experiencing the pandemic equally.
As New Democrats, we are committed to working through this no matter what. We would work in a hybrid system, in a proposal that would provide a voice across all of Canada, that would work through the summer, that would work as much and as long as necessary to deliver for Canadians on a path forward. We are committed to doing that.
There was a very clear statement made by the , who said that the rest of us here would prefer to look at Canada as how it could be, but the Conservatives would prefer to look at how it is. That is very telling. In Hamilton Centre, where I am from, I see suffering.
Is the reality we want to go back to the deep economic inequality, the racial disparities happening here, or the second-class citizenry of indigenous peoples across this land by the very definition of the Indian Act? No. I will never apologize for wanting to see this country become what it could be, not what it was.
That is where we are today. We talk about something as simple as extending EI health care to 10 paid sick days, as simple as providing universal pharmacare for everyone or as simple as providing the right to housing that would allow for the creation of 500,000 housing units across this country. We say that because we see the suffering. If members do not see the suffering, they have a deep privilege. If they do not see the suffering, I invite them to come to my riding, which has the third lowest income in the country. I will show them what it means in this moment with 6,000 deaths. When this is done there are going to be many more.
We have a moral imperative to do everything within our power legislatively. Whether we call it Parliament or a committee of the whole, whether it is virtually or in person, we have to follow the best practices that are provided by science and by doctors to model to the rest of the country just how dire this situation is. When this is all done, maybe as the House we can put politics aside and begin to mourn the thousands of lives that will have been lost. That is what I am here for. That is who I am here for.
With that I will take my seat and relinquish my time to my dear friend from .
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in the House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and be here at a moment when our world has fundamentally changed forever. What we need to come to terms with in the House is that we are in the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis, and the role of Parliament is to come together to find a way to establish a means of working to address the nature of it.
Before I spoke, we heard a report that the Canadian military, which has been in long-term care homes, has found blatant disregard for the lives of seniors, with abuse and negligence in the for-profit care system. Canadians are looking to this Parliament. They will look to us and ask what we will do to ensure that this never happens again. We will hear some say that this is under provincial jurisdiction, but the negligence happened under provincial jurisdiction and in numerous jurisdictions. These seniors deserved better, and we will have to look at how we envision health care in the 21st century.
COVID has exposed very clearly the myths of our society and the smugness. It has laid bare the inequities, and it has made us start to address this. Canada is now in the new century, and the old century and its old smug assertions are gone forever.
Yesterday, the talked about the magical, mystical hidden hand of the market that creates everything we need. That is a really bizarre thing to say when this nation did not have PPE, when our closest neighbour, the United States, was stealing our medical supplies and when front-line medical workers had to crowdsource because our nation did not have the capacity to handle the pandemic.
People will look to this Parliament to ask what we are going to do to make sure that never happens again. We should never ever to be in a situation where we have to send in the army to keep our seniors alive. We send in the army for earthquakes in Haiti. That is where we send the army. We send it to catastrophic floods and fires. We had to send in the army because we have been so negligent in the health care of seniors, and the reports speak to the blatant disregard and abuse.
We have had to adjust how Parliament works as well, and I will say one thing for sure: In opposition, members never give up time. It is their one tool. Members never shorten debate or give up an opportunity to speak, because it is the one tool we have. In the face of this crisis, we recognized that we had to pull back from Parliament and think about how we were going to do this. The New Democrats said that as we are in a minority government, we will begin to negotiate. That is what we do in a minority government.
The first negotiation was based on the fact that suddenly millions of Canadians could not pay their rent. So much for this myth of the middle class and those wanting to join it. What we see are millions of people in the gig economy and millions of contract workers who were not going to have the ability to pay their rent. Then we started to push the government.
In the original talk, the government said it was going to tinker with EI and that it had a little more money for the Canada child benefit. The New Democrats said the extent of this crisis was such that we have to do something extraordinarily different, something that would have been thought impossible in February: a $2,000-a-month minimum to keep people afloat. We worked with the government on that. We never got any support from the Conservatives. They were all howling. They talked about the shirkers and people sleeping in their hammocks. We worked with the government but said the plan was too restrictive, and we asked about the self-employed. We had to change it, and each step of the way we had to negotiate. This is what we can do in a minority government.
People in the United States got a one-time payment of $1,250. No wonder there is so much social unrest in the United States right now, a breakdown of social solidarity. If we had given a one-time payment of $1,250 in March, it would have been an economic catastrophe for Canada. We recognized that we had the power of the federal government, a power that the provinces do not have. We have the Bank of Canada to backstop this. We knew we could give $2,000 a month as a bare minimum, so we included the self-employed.
Under Boris Johnson, England went with a base income as well, but it does not include the self-employed until June. If we had done the same thing in Canada, millions would have been wiped out.
This is how we negotiated. We gave up our time, which we fight for to stop the government from shutting down debate and fight for at committee. We gave that up because there is a bigger principle at stake: the crisis that Canadians are facing.
We negotiated with the government about small businesses. The original plan the government had was for a 10% wage subsidy. We said that 10% was not going to do it and that it had to be 75%. We negotiated that. That is what we do in a minority. We have the capacity.
The government has now brought in a motion for the committee of the whole to meet four days a week. People back home have never heard me explain the ins and outs of how Parliament works because I do not tend to do that, but the idea that this is a fake Parliament or not a real Parliament is a complete misrepresentation and falsehood. We have been able to zero in with ministers, asking very specific questions to push much harder.
We asked how we would get to the end of June. We are not shutting Parliament down permanently.
How do we get to the end of June? We said there were two clear things for us.
We wanted some sessions in the summer because we do not know how COVID will change in the summer. We heard nothing from the Conservatives about wanting to show up for work in the summer. Parliament does not sit in the summer, but we got those meetings.
We also said we would support the government on this key issue if it considers workers who are going back to work. They get $14 an hour and have no sick time. We never see the Conservatives stand up and talk about people making $14 an hour, unless it is to thank someone who served them a burger in the morning after they went through the drive-through. It is great that an hon. member thanks a guy at the drive-through, as I heard earlier, but the Conservatives offer nothing about the fact that if workers gets sick they cannot take time off.
The 10 days we negotiated with the government is extraordinary. It is also extraordinary because we realized, which my friends in the Bloc will lose their minds over, that we have to start talking at a federal level about how we can do this across Canada in a pandemic. We will have to negotiate a solution here.
We will now be speaking until the end of June about where we need to be, but coming out of this, we need to have a very clear vision. The economy is not simply going to turn itself back on and roar back into life.
We heard the Leader of the Opposition say that we have to get government out of the way because we want people to be able to make choices. Mr. 20th Century Man talks of making choices when millions cannot pay their rent. Let us get government out of the way. Let us just have the private sector do it all. Anyone who is dealing with industries has heard from industry after industry that they will not come back without some kind of vision and support.
We are talking about what the role of government will be. We have been here two days, and we have heard many things from the Conservatives. They went on about Margaret Thatcher. Remember her? She said there was no such thing as society. Guess what? COVID showed us that this is not very credible. Of course, they always mention Winston Churchill. They started off with Winston Churchill, then went to Margaret Thatcher and then to the Soviet Union, with the old “follow the Soviet Union” approach. The only thing they were missing was that we had to hold the line in the Mekong Delta so that the dominos did not fall.
What we are hearing are the tired old excuses of a 20th century vision that does not cut it. What COVID has shown us in 2020 is that those old myths are not going to cut it. We will need a new vision for public investment in health care. To end the precarious nature of work, we will need a public commitment with standards, not just to get government out of the way. We will also need a vision for building our economy.
We are willing, as the New Democrats, to give up some of our time in order to negotiate in a minority to put the people of Canada first. That is what we will continue to do. We will leave the Conservatives to howl at the moon or jump on the back benches. Maybe they will mention Castro next or someone else from their 20th century greatest hits. We will focus on what we need in the 21st century.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I am glad to be back in the House. I love being in the chamber. One of my friends in the media calls the day that he puts the newspaper together with the stories and the pictures “magic day”, and this is where magic happens for us as politicians, right here in the chamber. It is the only place, I think, where we can get the real feel of how Parliament is meant to work.
I appreciate that a number of colleagues are giving shout outs to their staff, and I would like to do the same. My staff works so diligently and hard on behalf of our constituents who have been struggling during this outbreak. I want to give a big thanks to Dana, Lisa, Laura, Lindsay, Megan and Gianfranco. The service they provide to our constituents is bar none, and I am proud of each and every one of them. I know the incredible amount of effort and skill they apply to each case that has come to our attention through the mailbox, by email or by phone. Even though we are not yet allowing visitors in our office, we are working to put in place the proper safety protocol so that we can start meeting with our constituents again when a phone call is just not enough.
Meeting here and having these discussions is something that is fundamental to democracy. As Conservatives, we have been saying that Parliament needs to meet, as we are doing here today, and it needs to do so consistently. Now, we are not saying that we need all 338 members here. We can use a hybrid system, which we are going to try out going forward with the special committee of the whole on COVID-19. There are ways for us to do that, as well as to vote. We are looking for a compromise where we can have Parliament function and deal with the business of the day.
Our municipalities are meeting. Our town councils and municipal councils are meeting every month dealing with things on behalf their ratepayers. Every provincial legislature is still meeting. They are acknowledging the need for social distancing while still doing the business of the day to ensure that they are on top of the COVID-19 crisis, and also dealing with all of the issues that government is charged with.
If we look around the world, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and even China are meeting. I am sure that the , with his admiration for the “basic dictatorship” in China, is watching closely as the National People's Congress of China is meeting shoulder-to-shoulder. If members watched them on the news, they are all wearing masks, but they are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in their chamber. It is important that parliaments gather. We exchange ideas and have rigorous debate, which is not possible through Zoom with the technological problems, the inability to hear each other and the cutting in and out.
I am sure that the member for will be glad that I am going to give a Winston Churchill quote, as follows:
It is difficult to explain this to those who do not know our ways. They cannot easily be made to understand why we consider that the intensity, passion, intimacy, informality and spontaneity of our Debates constitute the personality of the House of Commons and endow it at once with its focus and its strength.
That is the best way to describe why we need to be in here carrying out these debates, including the heckles. It is where we have an opportunity to have an exchange of ideas and to see the reactions and to be able to feed off each other's emotions to some degree, as long as it does not escalate too much. It is the role of parliamentarians in the House of Commons to have these discussions. Although the government motion refers to having a 95-minute question time during the committee of the whole with five minutes of back and forth, it still does not replace what we do in here via conversations and discussions on the bills of the day, which is something that we are not dealing with at all while we are in this special parliamentary committee format. For instance, we are not dealing with a budget, and I will get to that later.
Professor Christian Leuprecht from Queen's University has said:
Ultimately the underlying primary constitutional principle here is the principle of responsible government. It is about ministerial responsibility, first and foremost, during a crisis and an emergency...
Especially during a time of crisis, Parliament has a supreme duty to hold the executive to account. Canadians need continuous parliamentary audit of the executive and the bureaucracy's judgment.
This is the role of the opposition and the backbench of the government in the House, that we ask the tough questions. Our Constitution, our Westminster parliamentary system, is built upon that ministerial accountability and that is not happening when we are working off Zoom.
There are concerns in my riding. When I am here I can have my 10-minute speech and I can have my time in question period and I can have time at committee to raise concerns from my constituents. I want to raise a few of those right now.
One of the small business owners in my riding owns a couple of businesses and said she had to shut down because of the types of businesses she operates and is having trouble paying her rent. Unfortunately, her landlord refuses to participate in the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance and so she is going to be forced to leave and he is going to have to chase after her for the lease payments that are left. It is going to end up in court and could actually affect her other businesses because she is financially strapped now.
If I get a chance through the special committee and the 95 minutes of questions and answers maybe I will get the chance to get these answers from the minister, but if we are here all day long, I have a greater opportunity to raise these issues directly with the minister.
On the agriculture side, farmers are really struggling. The Interlake area I represent has gone through drought after drought. Before that there was BSE and flooding along Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, so a lot of farmers have been hit hard. They are trying to get crops in the ground and cattle fed through the winter, having enough pasture. On top of that, as we already heard, and I thank my colleague from for the great job he does as the shadow minister of agriculture, we are seeing meat prices go up because there is less beef being processed in our meat packing plants because the slaughter facilities are being impacted by COVID and workers cannot get to work and, ultimately, prices on the retail side are going up.
The opposite is happening because of oversupply in our feed lots and among our cattle calf operators. One of my constituents lost $600 per head on the calves he held over the winter, as he always does. He sold them in the spring and received $600 less than he did the year before. Most operators will not be able to sustain that. That is over a $60,000 loss for that one single farmer.
There is also a commercial fishery in my riding, and it has raised many concerns. The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation has quit buying pickerel from Lake Winnipeg and will not even try to market it because all the restaurants they sell to have shut down and there is an oversupply sitting in storage. Fishermen and their families have to go out onto the lakes and are not able to catch anything of value, like pickerel and whitefish, to sell.
One thing that is missing in all of this process is a budget from the government. We are spending money this year that could very well see us having a deficit equal to the budget we had last year of $350 billion. We could have a $350-billion deficit with the shrinking economy and the growing government spending in response to COVID-19. We still have not seen a budget from the government and accountability on how it is going to spend this money without crashing the economy, without putting us in such crippling debt that we may never be able to crawl out from underneath it.
It is our job as parliamentarians to look after the taxpayer, and that is not happening because of this special committee.
I can go on and on. Firearms owners in my riding are upset. These issues need to be discussed at committee, but we do not have every committee going. The public safety committee is not going. The national defence committee that I am vice-chair of is not operating. Without having those committees operating, we cannot deal with issues of the day in a timely manner to address the concerns of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and an honour to rise in the House of Commons today to participate in this debate. The opportunity to debate, to stand and be counted in this chamber is a privilege, and it is the same privilege that those in the 42 Parliaments before us have had.
Now, in the 43rd Parliament, it is difficult to imagine that there are elected members of Parliament who are ready to pass on that privilege, but here we are today. In the midst of a pandemic, the government has put forward a motion that limits the role of Parliament. While this proposal is an improvement, of course, to the first one, it still falls far short of a full Parliament. It is shameful that some would devalue our democracy during a crisis.
Canadians have stepped up during this pandemic. They have followed the guidelines of our health authorities and have taken precautions. Our front-line health care workers have risked their health and safety to care for others. Essential workers have made adjustments to provide necessary services and goods to Canadians. All Canadians have faced disruptions and unforeseen challenges. The social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are widespread and, while the impact on each person may vary, not a single person is immune.
As Canadians across the country face these challenges head-on, they need to know that their government is also stepping up. They need to know that their government is committed to getting the best results for Canadians, and they need to know that their government is working to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. Right now, we are navigating the immediate fallout of this health crisis, but we still do not know what the long-term impacts will be.
The quality of governmental leadership will largely dictate the long-term impacts of this crisis. Good leadership is accountable, yet before us is essentially a permission slip from the asking to be less accountable. By limiting the role of Parliament, the Prime Minister is telling Canadians that he would like an audience and not an opposition. The government would like Parliament to govern without scrutiny, without debate and without opposition, but that is not how our democracy works.
Canada is a representative democracy. Three hundred and thirty-eight members of Parliament are elected across this country, each of us representing tens of thousands of constituents. Each of us is sent to Parliament with a mandate from those who have elected us. Each of us has the responsibility to represent all electors in our ridings.
If there are members of Parliament who think that in a time of crisis their responsibility to their constituents is any less, I must question why they chose to put their names on the ballot. In times of crisis, our responsibility to our constituents is even greater. As a member of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, it is my duty to hold the government to account. It is my duty to seek answers for constituents, and it is my duty to stand up for their interests and make them known.
As a Saskatchewan member of Parliament, I will make note that western Canada is notably absent from the cabinet table, and the government benches altogether. Last fall, western Canada rejected the failed policies of this Liberal government. They rejected the 's attacks on their livelihoods and their communities. In our democracy, that is their right.
The , however, does not have a licence to shut down their voices by governing without opposition parties. In fact, the principal economic drivers in my riding of Battlefords—Lloydminster have been largely left out of the government's response to COVID-19. They have been left out despite the national importance of both of these economic drivers.
First, the has failed to step up to support Canada's oil and gas sector, a sector that will be critical for a speedy economic recovery for western Canada and, frankly, for Canada as a whole. Aside from paying lip service to the industry, the Prime Minister has failed to follow through with meaningful support. As hours, days and months go by, there is an emptiness to his words. Given the Prime Minister's history of attacking the oil and gas sector and his admitted goal of phasing it out, it is difficult not to view this as anything but a death-by-delay tactic.
The other sector that has been left by the wayside in the government's COVID-19 response is agriculture. Hard-working farm families across this country are facing a crisis of their own. In the past year, they have already been confronted with hardship after hardship beyond their control, and COVID-19 is yet another devastating blow. Our farmers are faced with rising operational costs, a disrupted service industry, labour shortages and reduced capacity at processing plants. Our farmers and producers have already sounded the alarm.
To maintain a steady supply of affordable and healthy food, we have to ensure our vital first link in the food supply chain. We do know that the Canadian Federation of Agriculture had asked the government for an emergency fund, but instead of responding to the specific COVID-19 challenges that our farmers are facing, the Liberals reannounced already-budgeted funding. To make matters worse, while our farmers are trying to face the challenges brought on by COVID-19, the government hiked the carbon tax, reaching into their pockets for more money at a time when they could afford it the least.
The disregard for these two sectors of national importance underscores the absolute necessity for Parliament. The government must be accountable for its actions and also its inaction. It is essential that as individual members of Parliament we have the opportunity to raise the issues that are important to and affect our constituents. We are their voice in the democratic process.
We have seen repeatedly during the COVID-19 special committee meetings the government dodge and deflect questions asked by opposition members that it, frankly, does not want to answer. It has shut down questions it does not want asked and justifies it by stating they are outside the scope of the debate of this committee. I would argue that the impact of COVID-19 is so far-reaching that there is not much beyond its scope. This pattern of avoidance certainly does not invoke confidence that much will change without Parliament fully sitting.
It is not up to the government of the day to decide how it will be held accountable for its governing. When it comes to fiscal responsibility and accountability, the and the seem equally disinterested.