Colleagues, welcome to meeting number 20 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, October 22, 2020, the committee resumes its study of the vulnerabilities created and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure an orderly meeting, as usual I encourage all participants to mute their microphones when they're not speaking and to direct their comments through the chair.
When you have 30 seconds left in your questioning or speaking time, I will signal with this piece of paper in a very analog fashion.
Interpretation services are available through the globe icon at the bottom of your screen.
I would like to welcome our witnesses from the Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie: Christian Champigny, acting manager for international programs, and Florence Massicotte-Banville, international project officer.
Also, I would like to welcome Scott Walter, executive director of CODE; Lorraine Swift, executive director of the Change for Children Association, or CFCA; and Chris Eaton, executive director of the World University Service of Canada.
I now give the floor to the representatives of the Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie for their five-minute presentation.
If it's possible to keep your remarks to four minutes, it will be even better for our time for questioning by members, but I will allow all witnesses up to five minutes of opening remarks.
The representatives of the Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie have the floor.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Education is a fundamental human right and a powerful agent of change essential to the achievement of each of the 17 sustainable development goals. Recognizing this transformative power of education, the international community has set itself the goal of ensuring quality, inclusive and equitable education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030. The Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie has made this goal the core of its mission.
It is important to remember that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world faced several challenges in the education sector. For example, 258 million children and young people of primary and secondary school age were out of school. Children living in vulnerable or conflict-affected countries were more than twice as likely to be out of school. Girls were one and a half times more likely than boys to be excluded from primary school.
Today, the pandemic is further jeopardizing the achievement of this goal. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the greatest disruption to education in history since its emergence. Ninety-four per cent of the world's pupils and students were impacted by the pandemic through containment measures and school closures. That's 1.6 billion children and young people.
The crisis has highlighted the significant digital divide between countries. Learners, especially female learners, from low- and middle-income countries, and particularly displaced persons and refugees, have had very limited access to the distance learning measures that have been put in place. The closure of schools has led to an increase in unpaid domestic chores and caring activities for many girls, female adolescents and young women, limiting their access to education. The crisis has exposed girls, female adolescents and young women to a variety of protection risks, including depriving them of the structure and sense of trust that schools normally provide.
The negative effects of the pandemic will also worsen as a result of a possible global economic crisis. Here are some examples: the declining economic power of households, which will lead to higher school drop-out rates—it is estimated that some 24 million children, adolescents and young people may drop out or not have access to school this year simply because of the economic impact of the pandemic; school dropouts, which will be accompanied by a marked increase in child labour, sexual exploitation and early marriage; cuts in national education budgets, directly affecting schools and teachers; and a possible significant drop in official development assistance, which could result in a reduction in aid to education of $2 billion U.S. by 2022.
As part of its international projects, the Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie has been able to observe the impacts of the crisis in the field. For example, thanks to funding from Global Affairs Canada, the foundation is currently implementing, in conjunction with the Centre d'étude et de coopération internationale, a project for the education of refugee and displaced girls in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
More than 60,000 Burundian refugees were confined in the Mahama camp in Rwanda due to the pandemic, while for many, the only opportunities to earn an income were outside the camp. Schools had to close down. Based on our observations, we anticipate that a significant number of girls will not return to their educational path, particularly to support their families economically. We also note a sharp increase in early pregnancies, another important factor limiting the return to school. For many children in this camp, especially many girls and female adolescents, the pandemic will mean a loss or delay in learning, or the cessation of their schooling, and will leave a mark on the future of an entire generation.
In conclusion, the Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie wishes to add its voice to those of the hundred or so organizations advocating for the right to education that endorse the white paper produced by the "Save Our Future" campaign, which proposes a series of measures to be carried out in the medium and long term to avoid an educational disaster.
We would like to draw your attention to two key elements of this white paper which, in our view, deserve special consideration.
Firstly, in response to the crisis, there may be a temptation to focus everything on a catch-up logic by concentrating on children newly affected by the educational deficit and on an overuse of technology-assisted learning, thereby diverting attention from the fundamental pre-existing structural problems in learning. However, it is essential that education sector policies and reforms are not only reactive and short-term, but focus on proven interventions and particularly on strengthening the education workforce.
Secondly, it will be important to protect education funding. This means, among other things, advocating for the preservation of education budgets in developing countries and protecting official development assistance for education.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
My observations are based on the experiences of CODE, the Canadian NGO established 60 years ago to support development through education, and that of our partners and the programming that we jointly support in Africa.
Quality education is empowering, allowing the individual the chance to realize their full potential and contribute to the well-being of their family, their community and to the nation as a whole. This is the basis for a global framework such as Education For All.
Initially, there was consensus that Education For All meant prioritizing universal enrolment in primary school, but it was quickly realized that that only mattered if the students were actually gaining skills and learning. Without quality there's little return on investment. How do we measure that sought-after quality?
In that regard, there's no more foundational indicator than whether or not the child can read and write. It's the canary in the coal mine, the notification of problems to come. A child can't read and so falls further and further behind until they drop out as an illiterate. One learns to read in order to comprehend, and the failure to acquire the skills of literacy impacts the ability to move beyond basic learning and on to higher order thinking skills so needed in today's world, the skills of problem solving and critical thinking.
For those of us working in the sector, it has been clear for a great number of years that far too many students are not learning to read and write. The scenario is so dire across the developing world that the World Bank declared a learning crisis, one that threatens countries' efforts to build human capital and achieve the sustainable development goals.
Make no mistake about it. Human capital, which is basically a measure of productivity, is the most important component of wealth globally. In low-income countries, human capital makes up some 40% of wealth; in high-income countries, it makes up over 70%.
According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries left school with elementary reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, the equivalent of a 12% cut in global poverty. In other words, there's a huge cost to illiteracy and poor-quality education, so we welcome the call by the World Bank to cut by half the global rate of learning poverty, defined as the percentage of 10-year-old children who cannot read.
You may be thinking, wasn't he supposed to talk about the impact of COVID-19? Well, I am, in the sense that the evidence shows that school closures caused by the pandemic exacerbated all the previous existing inequalities, and that those children who are already most at risk of being excluded from a quality education—the poorest, the most marginalized—have been most affected.
Girls are particularly vulnerable. CODE, for example, is very active in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and we know from the Ebola school closures of a couple of years ago that girls were less likely to return once schools reopened. With lockdowns and restrictions, and the economy in freefall, it was the girls who took on greater responsibilities that kept them at home or even forced them into early marriage. We also saw that, with isolation, girls were at increased risk of sexual exploitation, and teenage pregnancy rates doubled.
During COVID and beyond, we feel it's critically important to address the learning crisis by focusing on literacy. CODE believes this can best be accomplished by supporting sustained access to relevant quality reading and learning materials with a corresponding effort to ensure educators have the skills to use those materials effectively.
Access to technology is very limited where we work, and in many cases the solution is low tech. Support the local publishing industries, for example, to produce great learning materials through traditional print, or virtual classrooms with radio reading teachers. Digital learning, access to the Internet, the creation of interactive learning modules are probably best focused on the teachers rather than the students.
The loss of learning is real and severe, and the resulting impact of greater levels of learning poverty will be felt for years, but we're not without tools and we know more can be done to support the foundational skills of literacy. We need to support kids to become readers wherever they are.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this committee.
This year Change for Children is celebrating its 45th anniversary of support for rights-based development in the global south and an award-winning global education program in Canada. Based in western Canada, we do appreciate being included in this discussion. For me, it is an honour to be invited to testify here as I've worked in international development for the past 25 years.
Given that you've already heard testimony from many others in this field, my presentation will focus on our unique perspective as an Alberta-based NGO working with indigenous populations in the developing world that are already vulnerable, marginalized and hardest hit by the impacts of climate change.
Change for Children enjoys significant support for our work from Albertans and Canadians, including from Global Affairs Canada. Donor support for our climate change mitigation program and for our education and health projects in indigenous communities actually increased in 2020. Our brigade program, while not offered currently, obviously, allows Canadian medical, dental, optometry and teacher professionals to offer much-needed support and services to some of the world's most remote populations. Since 2000, our brigades have taken over 1,000 Canadians into the UNESCO biosphere reserve called Bosawas in Nicaragua, home to the Miskito and Mayangna indigenous peoples. Poverty and food insecurity have increased here because of climate change and because of COVID-19. This area was hit hard by the back-to-back hurricanes Eta and Iota that ravaged Central America last fall.
In some of the world's most remote indigenous communities we see families struggling to survive in the face of their existing vulnerabilities, now exacerbated by the pandemic. We also see that women and girls suffer the most. Persisting gender discrimination means that women and girls living in extreme poverty are the most vulnerable to some of the least visible impacts of COVID-19 and of climate change. We see girls suffering from disrupted education, time poverty and increased risks.
There is a solution. We know that quality education for girls is a public health and a climate change solution. Education empowers girls to take control over their own bodies, enabling them to determine when, and if, to bear children. Fewer children mean healthier populations and lower carbon emissions. Education tackles the underlying inequalities that increase girls' vulnerability to COVID-19 and to climate change.
In the Americas, the regions with the lowest levels of education for girls are indigenous. Realizing the rights for indigenous people is essential to recovery. Earlier this month, Elon Musk offered $100 million for the best carbon capture technology. His tweet was met with the response, "Congratulations to whoever invents forests." Forest preservation is our best defence against climate change and against COVID-19 and against future pandemics. While not the inventors of forests, indigenous peoples are indeed their stewards.
Indigenous people in all countries of the world fall into the most vulnerable health category. They have significantly higher rates of diseases, higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies than their non-indigenous counterparts. Change for Children works with indigenous communities in some of the most remote forest regions of the Americas. We work promoting climate change adaptation and mitigation. We work promoting technology-enabled indigenous language education. We work with indigenous populations marginalized from all services due to their remoteness and because of their ethnicity. There is a high likelihood that they will be marginalized from future access to COVID-19 vaccines as well.
Today we are facing overlapping global health emergencies: COVID-19 and climate change. Both exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. Both have the ability to bring health systems and economies to their knees. Both dial back progress on every human development indicator by at least 10 years. To build back better, we must design our COVID-19 recovery plans to facilitate collaboration amongst all actors. Small and medium-sized organizations—SMOs like Change for Children—working for decades with strong connections in some of the world's most remote communities are central and essential to this recovery.
We cannot design effective recovery plans if we have no funding to implement them. We cannot reach the most vulnerable and remote communities without means. Global Affairs Canada has not called for proposals from SMOs since early 2019.
COVID-19 has taught us that we are not safe in Canada until we are all safe globally. We must do more. We continue to need stable and consistent funding from the Government of Canada for SMOs to build back better from COVID-19 and to continue our vital and important work towards achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030.
My organization, WUSC, works to expand education and employment opportunities for marginalized youth, and has a strong presence in Iraq, in Jordan, in the refugee camps and host communities of northern Kenya and northern Uganda, and in South Sudan. In all of these places, we have been working with local institutions to foster better quality education and employment outcomes for girls, young women and refugees. As in Canada, all of these young people have been affected by the pandemic with the closure of schools and a marked decrease in local economic activities and employment opportunities.
In these circumstances, refugee and out-of-school girls are particularly vulnerable to significant learning losses and to the lost social protection that schools often provide. Our current concern is that many of these young people will not return to class as schools open, and that those who do so will not receive the support they need to catch up and stay in school. This will result in higher dropout rates, lower graduation rates, early marriage and depressed future incomes.
Indeed, we are already seeing a significant decline in the return rates of girls to now-open schools in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya where we work.
Refugees and their host communities have not been passive in this context. Instead, they have been part of the response to the education crisis that COVID has caused and should form an important part of the longer-term solution. For example, we witnessed many instances of refugee and host communities undertaking door-to-door campaigns to identify vulnerable students and organizing peer support learning clubs and ed-tech sharing groups—all initiatives that have prevented some dropouts and learning losses, provided some ongoing social protection and, perhaps most importantly, helped to sustain a sense of hope amongst these vulnerable youth.
These efforts are unfortunately under-recognized, undervalued and under-supported by governments and the international development community. This is incredibly short-sighted, as these kinds of refugee-led initiatives are an essential complement to the other investments in teacher education, smaller classroom sizes and the integration of education technology in remote classrooms and communities, all of which need to happen.
In this context, the government's recently announced “together for learning” campaign, which seeks to mount an international effort to ensure that all refugee and displaced children and youth have access to the education they need and deserve is well-timed. However, to realize this campaign's potential and meet the increased needs of vulnerable youth and children caused by COVID, the government really needs to ensure sufficient and consistent funding, in part by investing in innovative approaches that support refugee-led responses to the education challenges that they face. Now really is the time to invest.
I will conclude my remarks with two recommendations.
First, the government has already committed to allocate no less than 10% of Canada's international assistance budget to education, but to education broadly. Now is the time to further focus these resources to direct a significant percentage of this commitment to the “together for learning” campaign, recognizing that refugee education has not received the level of support that it deserves in Canada's international development efforts.
Second, the government should create a fund directly to support refugee voices, leadership, organizations and responses in the education sector. This could be modelled on the equality fund, which the government helped to create in 2019 to permanently change the model of support to women's rights organizations. Similarly, a fund to permanently change the model of support to refugee-led organizations and responses would address a critical gap in the global refugee support architecture. It could form an important new instrument in Canada's international development tool kit and become a pillar of the “together for learning” campaign.
I'll try to respond to a couple of things.
One, I think, is that in Sierra Leone, for example, which is somewhat unique with its post-conflict scenario, there are much fewer female teachers in the classrooms. The girls don't have those mentors, those role models to look up to. One of the things that the TGEP is doing is paying for scholarships for young women to go to teachers' college to increase the number of women who are in teaching and in the classroom.
Another thing is that girls are starting later than boys. One of the things we know for sure is that if they don't catch up, if they don't advance, they will drop out. That's in part because of the pressure from their families. If they're not achieving, really the families would just as soon quite often have them at home doing domestic work or working in the market. There are also the pressures of early marriage. Girls in Sierra Leone are getting married at 13, 14 or 15 years of age, and that's often an economic reality. In some countries, the ages are, in fact, quite a bit younger where you first start seeing early marriage.
I think there is also still a gender imbalance in the sense of the quality of the materials. I've spoken about literacy and the importance of getting kids to be reading and writing, because that's the gate that opens up the rest of the learning to them. If they aren't able to read and write, they can't then progress in science, math, history or whatever the other subjects might be.
Often the learning materials, if available, put forward stereotypes of girls, stereotypes that they should really be looking to other, more domestic realities for themselves.
I think that gap is one that's based on a number of things: on the quality of teaching, on the quality of the resources available, on the fact that they're starting late, on the fact that there is often more pressure for them to leave in the first place, and on the fact that there is a lack of role models.
I am probably not doing a great job of expressing them, but these are the main points that are impacting young girls.
I would also like to thank the witnesses who are taking part in this meeting. Their input is most relevant to the work of this committee.
It is very inspiring to hear you and to see your determination to move forward despite the difficulties.
The portrait that is painted for us, from one testimony to the next, is extremely depressing. Last time, I asked a question about hope. I asked if there was still hope. The dedication and determination you show is what keeps us hopeful. So thank you very much for who you are and what you do.
I would first like to address the representatives of the Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie. You have quoted, both in a press release and on your website, this statement by Nelson Mandela:
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
However, as mentioned earlier, between 250 million and 260 million school-age children are not in school. As you are involved in operations both at home and abroad, you know that ensuring that children in a developed country are literate, are interested in reading, grammar, writing and spelling, and perform well in these areas, is already a challenge. Of course, one might think that the situation is even more complex in developing countries.
There was already a problem with the structures that enable learning in developing countries. Yet we were told repeatedly that these difficulties were exacerbated by the pandemic. As we know, students in Canada and Quebec have difficulty maintaining their motivation and level of achievement because of distance learning. For logistical reasons, this is an additional challenge.
This exacerbated situation leads us to believe—I am referring here to a World Bank statistic—that closing schools for three, five or seven months or even longer will eventually result in a loss of income for these children. This crisis will therefore have the effect of increasing poverty in the long term. That's probably why one of the witnesses told us—I think it was again a representative of the Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie— that we are witnessing perhaps the most serious education crisis in history. Added to that is the difficulty in accessing the vaccine in developing countries.
In a simple, orderly, systematic way, what could be done to address this series of multifaceted problems we are currently facing? Where should we start and in what order should we proceed?
Thank you, Mr. Bergeron.
This question is obviously extremely complex and no one is in a position to answer it with certainty.
You spoke of hope and of the 258 million children who did not already have access to education. I don't know if my colleagues in other organizations will agree with me, but this is a decrease compared to what existed. I think there have been improvements in education, but the problem is much broader, and the current crisis is certainly an economic crisis that will increase the barriers to access to education.
I've worked in this field for many years and I've seen that people generally have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to learn. But there are shortcomings in terms of the quality of education, the structure of education or the economic, sometimes cultural, capacity to access it. This is what needs to be worked on above all.
Where do we start? In other societies or in our societies, I would say that everything has to develop at the same time. When I talked about the biggest educational disaster, the COVID-19 crisis, I also mentioned the white paper "Save Our Future,” which has been endorsed by about 100 organizations. I invite you to consult it, because it talks exactly about the COVID-19 crisis—it is very recent. We can talk about an educational disaster, but education is also a source of hope. Certainly, this is not going to be solved overnight, and we have to try to include as many people as possible in this movement.
We welcome the initiative that Minister Gould presented a few weeks ago on the education of refugees, particularly refugee and displaced girls. This initiative must be supported by funding, of course. We are waiting for news in this regard, as Mr. Eaton mentioned.
It will therefore take shape, but gradually. Indeed, it is a gradual process, but you have to start somewhere, and education is an absolutely crucial starting point.
Thank you so much, Ms. McPherson.
Colleagues, that takes us to the end of our time with our witnesses this afternoon.
As usual, I'd like to thank all of them on our collective behalf for their expertise, their testimony and, most importantly, their service. It was great to spend time with you. We would have appreciated more time, but time is limited. There's always an opportunity for you, if you haven't had a chance to express all your thoughts or recommendations, to address us in writing subsequent to this meeting. Thank you again. We'll allow you a few minutes to disembark.
We have some business to attend to, colleagues. We're still in public session.
We're continuing our discussion on the motion introduced by Mr. Harris and Ms. McPherson. We most recently in our discussion on this had an amendment on the floor that was introduced by Ms. Sahota, if I'm correct.
I'd like to hand her the floor to continue to speak to that amendment. Then we will take a speakers list as usual, through the “raise hand” feature, please.
Madam Clerk, let's do the same thing we did last time with respect to members who are present in the committee room.
Ms. Sahota, please go ahead.
Right. Thank you, Mr. Genuis. I'm glad I didn't go into detail with this. Thanks for the heads-up. I will try my best to be more careful. I don't want to let the cat out of the bag about the report.
Going back to the amendment to Mr. Harris's motion, the amendment that I proposed was basically a rewording of the first sentence so that the motion would read, “That the committee recognizes that, due to global circumstances, the government has faced delays in the supply of vaccines for Canadians through national manufacturing and international procurement”. The rest of it goes on as is and then I have removed the final sentence of the motion.
If everyone has the motion in front of them, hopefully they have the amendment as well. The last sentence, which is removed, is, “Finally, that the committee report this motion to the House.”
Maybe I'll start with “Finally, that the committee report this motion to the House”. The reason I proposed these changes to Mr. Harris's motion is that I'm really opposed to our reporting every comment or feedback we get to the House in this way without having done some thorough study or investigation of it. The committee's work is to actually do some work on a matter and then report that to the House, as we have been doing in the study that we currently have before us. It's not to make a statement and then just send it to the House.
A lot of work needs to be done on this issue. I said last time that I appreciate the NDP's sentiments on this, but what I don't appreciate is our just blocking up House time, without doing the work that this committee should be doing. That is essentially what we're seeing. In many committees, we're seeing motions just being sent to the House so that they can be concurred in and so that we can spend four hours of House time and delay a lot of important legislation.
I want to make sure that all the members in this committee are basically aware of what the consequences of continuing to go down this road could be. The consequences we're currently going through right now are that Bill has not been given the due time it needs to move forward. Bill C-14 is the fall economic statement. It is important for Canadians. It's important in the context of this pandemic.
Just as the sentiment of this motion about vaccines going to poor or middle-income countries...I absolutely agree that this pandemic should be first and foremost on our minds as a government, and it is. Our delaying support to Canadians and delaying legislation in the House, however, is not what is going to help Canadians or developing countries.
Another piece of legislation that's in the House, which I think is important for the safety of Canadians, is Bill , an act to amend the Canada Elections Act. That piece of legislation, I think, has not had any time in the House—
I appreciate the comments that all my colleagues have made. I do take some exception to Ms. McPherson trying to get me back on track. I think I'm completely on track. I think it's important that I'm speaking to my amendment. My amendment is to remove the last sentence. Part of my amendment is to remove the last sentence of the NDP motion, and I think it is important, if we do get to a vote on my amendment or essentially the motion unamended or amended, that we need to understand what the impacts are.
I want to make it very clear so that we all have a good understanding before we vote on these things. Also, I even want to, perhaps through the discussion that we're going to have on this, fully understand where the NDP or other parties that wish to support the original amendment were going with this and what the intention really is. Is the intention for us to better understand the Covax initiative? Is it to better understand how Canada can play a better role in providing vaccines not only to Canadians but also in supporting other countries? Is that essentially what we're trying to achieve or are we trying to achieve something else?
I would argue that at the end of the day, that last sentence is really there to try to achieve something else. That's happening not just in this committee. It's happening in many committees. We're seeing many things being done so that all of the House time is blocked up with opposition motions and concurrence motions. We're even seeing—we just saw here on Tuesday.... Actually, I won't mention that part, but we are seeing in other committees as well attempts to bring whatever issue it is, reports and such, to the House as quickly as possible so that they can be concurred in, so that there can be debate on those issues in the House. I want us to fully understand what's at stake here.
I know, to Ms. McPherson and to her party, that Bill is incredibly important. Bill is an act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP is something that one of her esteemed colleagues from the NDP has worked very hard on to make sure that the government would move on this piece of legislation so that we could recognize those rights within our own country. It's very important to me, but seeing how things are evolving, I really hope that we get this work done in this Parliament.
If we continue to send all the work that we're supposed to do in committees to the House, then we're not going to get anywhere with legislation at all. Why are we trying to get rid of work that we should rightfully be doing in this committee as members? We should be doing our job. We should be bringing, perhaps, the minister in to try to figure out how this program of Covax was put together, what it was intended for. We could be bringing in other witnesses if those proposals are on the table. But all I'm seeing in this original motion is an attempt to make some value judgements and to send this to the House so it can block up legislation. That's what I'm seeing.
That's why I'm trying to get to a point where maybe we can come up with a solution that would better serve the sentiments behind—or at least what I hope are the true sentiments behind—this motion, the original motion, to make sure that we're doing our role as a leader.
Some of the language I haven't even attempted to amend, really, because I was trying to do the least possible amount of amendment to the original motion so that I wouldn't offend the original motion's intent. There's definitely language beyond that, with which I'm not happy, but I let it go. I'm trying to do the bare minimum so that we can still move on and do some important work and look into the whole Covax initiative.
That's why I haven't removed the fact that Covax was an initiative that was intended to provide vaccines to high-risk individuals in low- and middle-income countries.
With regard to the intent of Covax's program and the initiative, I think there's a failure to completely understand what the intent of that program is. It is to provide equitable access. That doesn't say it's to deny any developed country access to Covax. It is to ensure that all countries that are investing in and supplementing this program could also benefit from this program. It is an equal opportunity program. I'm really proud that Canada is a leader in the investments that it's made into Covax.
Another issue which I think is important is.... God forbid, I don't want this to happen, and I don't think most members that sit on my other committee really would like this to happen, but when I was interrupted before, I was about to say that we have Bill also in the House. That is election legislation. It is something that the elections commissioner has asked us to pass so that they can prepare if there were to be an election in this pandemic. The government doesn't control that necessarily. Things can happen. Oftentimes, you know, I'm getting to the point that—
I haven't been a member of another minority parliament, but what I have been told by others who have been members of minority parliaments is that things can occur, especially when we get to a point where there is a lot of disagreement, where legislation is essentially no longer able to move through the House and you have a log jam basically. No work is getting done. Canadians have sent us here to do work, to pass important legislation, for committees to work.
Oftentimes we hear this ideal notion that minority parliaments are wonderful because there is so much co-operation and consensus building. I'm hoping that we can build some consensus at this committee today and work together to make sure that the House has time to do the important work that is needed for Canadians. If we don't go down that path of working together and we have that log jam, it is possible we could end up having an election. It's possible that we could end up getting to a place where no one is willing to work together. I would hate to see that happen, but I would really hate to see that happen before Bill passes.
Without having election legislation passed, and without it getting past second reading, getting to its committee so that the committee can do important work on that legislation and bring forward amendments and then send it back to the House to go through the third reading stage, we won't be able to give the elections commissioner the important powers that are needed to make sure that an election would be run in the safest way possible for Canadians.
I feel it is our responsibility to make sure that we are doing the right thing for Canadians at the end of the day. That is very important.
We have in the House as well Bill , an act respecting transparency and accountability in Canada's efforts to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. I think that's a very important piece of legislation as well, and I'm hoping that the NDP and the Green Party are going to be very supportive of that legislation, and who knows, maybe the Conservatives will be as well. You just never know.
I'm eager to see all of that work get done in the House so I can see for myself what ends up happening, but right now what's happening is nothing, absolutely nothing. That is why I come back to why it's important for us to revisit this motion and to understand the repercussions it would have in the House if we were to pass it as is. I think that would be a complete failure of this committee to do its work.
That was some of the language I wanted changed in the original motion. I don't think that the government's work in procuring vaccines for Canadians can be described as it is. I sincerely believe—and I know Canadians do too, and I know at the very least that my colleagues will back me on this—that we are currently seeing vaccines come into our country, and we're going to continue to see vaccines flow into Canada even more quickly than what might be doable by the provinces to roll them out, but I'm very optimistic. I think Canadians are too. I'm starting to hear a lot of relief on that end from my constituents. I know they are very concerned. Their number one concern is getting vaccines to our seniors, to immunocompromised people, to those who work at the front line.
When we come back to Covax, in terms of the amount of vaccine that Canada would be receiving through Covax, I believe it would be somewhere in the area of 1.9 million doses by the end of June. The majority of doses that we are currently receiving are through Moderna. We are receiving doses through AstraZeneca. We're receiving Pfizer doses, of course. Pfizer is the largest number that we're receiving.
I know there might be some delays in the Covax shipments to developed countries, but I was happy to hear that—
Thank you. I appreciate that.
I'd like to reflect a little on that as well. I'm thinking back to perhaps something I said may have instigated some of this, and that was for us to work together to come up with a solution, a compromise, and perhaps Mr. Genuis was trying to jump the gun a little to try to get to that consensus. So I give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he wasn't trying to do something tricky, but I do feel he was giving up my position on the floor maybe to get to a better place. He can definitely raise his hand if he hasn't done so, and Ms. McPherson is next as well, so they will definitely have their time to propose different compromises that perhaps would be feasible to move this committee in a positive direction and get us working on something that will help Canadians and people around the world.
Turning to the purpose of Covax, I think the original motion fails to understand the real purpose behind this initiative. Covax was a global vaccine-sharing initiative that a whole bunch of countries joined. The goal of this initiative was to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines. This was to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
It was not at the expense of the investing countries to not be able to get any vaccines out of this initiative or out of the vaccines that are manufactured. Nowhere did it say that wealthy countries are to invest without receiving anything in return. It was quite the opposite. The whole purpose of this initiative was so that the countries that invested were also to receive some benefit out of this program. By doing so, my belief is it encourages more countries to enter into this program, which helps supplement vaccines for the developing world and to other countries as well.
I think at some point I mentioned we just heard an announcement that Ghana received 600,000 vaccines through Covax just the other day. There might be some delays there as well, but many countries are seeing delays when it comes to vaccines. We've seen delays for various reasons that are outside our control because of the ramping up of manufacturing, the changes to lines and all of that. But, it is still good news that we are starting to see these vaccines roll out from Covax. I think in large part it's good that Canada has played a large role in that being possible today.
Our initial investment in September—and there has been more since then—was for $440 million. Half of this investment was going to secure doses for Canadians and the other half was going toward helping other countries. Right there you know that is the agreement Canada had entered into. As I said at the beginning, I understand the sentiments and the emotions that may take us away from what we think this program was all about and what it actually was all about.
I also want to mention, as I have mentioned before, I'm sure many of my colleagues might be aware that other countries such as Singapore, New Zealand and many others on that growing list have also secured vaccines through this program, just like Canada.
We've also heard the minister. There have been a lot of questions in the House already on this issue. The ministers are there at question period to answer questions on these issues.
However, I understand that my colleagues may want to get more in-depth answers on this issue so that we can understand this program better. I am of the mindset that it would be a great idea. I think it would be great to have the minister come and explain this program to us a little bit better.
The minister has been explaining in the media, and Minister has been explaining in question period. I know that some of the opposition members in this committee as well have posed questions on various platforms, and question period is always there. It's a part of our House proceedings and our House time to raise these important issues.
Otherwise, I think it's important for us to recognize that the committee should be doing that work, and it should not be taking over legislative time to debate this issue.
I want to talk a bit about the terms and conditions that Gavi had outlined for participants in Covax. The terms and conditions themselves stated: “These 'Terms and Conditions' set out the basis on which [self-financing economies] will participate in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility” and that “all economies are invited to participate, and all participating economies will benefit by securing access to vaccine supply made available through the Facility.”
This is actually in the terms and conditions of the agreement that was signed by the government. It goes on to state:
Economies of all financial means can participate with the degree of support for the AMC Group Participants determined by the resources raised by the COVAX AMC.
...The world will need to work together to overcome the pandemic, and the Facility will work best with as many economies as possible committing to this collaborative global effort. Everyone contributes so that everyone can benefit. This principle will be realised through clear political and financial commitments.
When we see that this is a part of the terms and conditions laid out at the onset, then I would argue that the motion we're trying to pass at this committee is really false. It's a false notion. It's a false narrative and it's a very partisan narrative that is trying to be spun against the best interests of, I would argue, Canadians, and against the best interests of people around the world as well.
This is a really big issue right now. Vaccines for Canadians and for people around the world are a big issue, and Canada has stepped forward to make sure that Canadians are served well, but not just Canadians, that those around the world will also benefit. That's very important for us to make sure that we remember and that we don't continue to raise this false narrative and worry people that somehow Canada is gobbling up all the vaccines out of this program. That's absolutely false.
It's absolutely false, and, like I said, the vaccines that Canada has secured through this program are not even going to be received by Canadians, by Canada, until the end of June. This issue right now I think is something that we should explore in our committee by bringing the minister in and by having other witnesses in order to see perhaps what the actual impacts and effects are.
I would gather, as vaccine manufacturing is ramping up—and we're seeing it right before our eyes right now, and we're going to see it in the weeks to come as well—that since Canada has secured so many doses of vaccines and we will have our population, all of those who desire to be vaccinated, vaccinated by the end of September, all of the vaccines that are going to be in surplus will surely be going back to countries that need them the most.
Not only what we've contributed into Covax, to make sure we're accelerating and increasing the capacity that they have in this initiative, but also the other vaccines we've secured outside of Covax are going to be going towards aid. That's really important. Canada is going to be giving back and already has been paying it forward in a really big way.
I think that should be recognized, and I don't think Canadians should be tricked into believing this false narrative that somehow Canada is not stepping up, that it's not fulfilling its international role and duty. I just don't think that is fair.
has also been very clear on this. In answer to the questions that were asked to her at committee, she did say that Covax was intentionally set up to have wealthy countries contribute both to procuring vaccines and to growing purchasing power, so they could subsidize vaccines for low-income countries while working for equitable access.
She said that Canada is the second-largest contributor to the Covax AMC, and we're proud of that. It's historic that we've been able to create and to collaborate with other countries and to be a part of such a fantastic initiative that is going to help so many people around the world. I think we should be proud that we've helped set up this historic global mechanism.
Moving on from those points, if I don't have everyone convinced that this is an interesting issue and that we should look at it in the House—I mean in committee—sorry—and not in the House. Absolutely, that is not what my intention is. I don't think we're going to achieve anything in the House on this issue, because all that's going to happen in the House is that members are going to get up and give speeches on this issue, and then what? Conservative members will give their speeches. They'll have their allotted time, and we'll have three hours on the issue, let's say, and then we'll have a vote. The vote will be to—what, to make a statement, to make a declaration of some sort? I think what we can do on this committee goes far beyond that.
I just don't think that vaccines and the health of Canadians and the health of people around the world should be politicized in this way. I can definitely say, and I'm sure that many members sitting around this virtual committee table today can attest to the fact, that at the beginning of this pandemic, and I would say also well into this pandemic, what Canadians have been most proud of has been our parties working together for the benefit of Canadians.
I've heard many times from my constituents that they like to see cross-party collaboration. They like to see us working together. They like to see the different levels of government working together.
Absolutely, Peter, that's exactly what they like to see. They like to see us hand in hand, working hard for Canadians.
This reeks a little bit of scoring political points and partisanship. That's what this looks like to me. That's my personal opinion. I do think there is a reason that the last sentence was added, and I don't think it was added for any genuine purpose. I think it was added for the reason I just stated. It's to gain some political points, unnecessary ones, really, because what we could be doing is talking about....
I think in committees is where we do the most collaborative work. I always tell young people that, when I am mentoring them, and they talk to me and come to seek advice as to whether they should get into politics. They think it's such an ugly place. They talk about the ugliness they see in question period. I tell them a lot of work goes on behind the scenes, that there's a lot of camaraderie and a lot of friendships develop, that there's a lot of co-operation, even across parties and a lot of that work happens at committees.
People are not as tuned in to committees. There might be some people watching us today since we're public. I'd like to thank all the people who are watching the foreign affairs committee today. However, I'm also not naive. I don't think there are that many people who have the time to tune in to committee work, but a lot of people do see the little clips in question period. They start thinking that this is what it's all about, the fighting and the one-sided questions, and answers, for that matter.
I don't think so. I think there are so many places they don't get to see and get an in-depth look at because they're busy working. They're busy trying to make ends meet. We know they're extremely busy in this pandemic. If they are having to isolate and stay home, they're worried. They have something else on their minds, not figuring out if the House of Commons will have a three-hour debate on Covax or if we can work together in this committee. Can we come up with a compromise where we can maybe see how programs like this, more initiatives could be created on how we can improve the House of Canadians and those around the world?
I'm really enjoying the current study we're doing; however, it's extremely heavy. To Ms. McPherson's credit, it takes somebody with a really big heart to do the work she's done in aid and development. It also leaves an emotional impact. I have a lot of respect for all my colleagues for the hard work they do.
In conclusion, I want to get to a point where we can start doing something really interesting in this committee—