Thank you so much. It's such a pleasure to be here.
I'm an emergency physician and trauma specialist here in Toronto and with Médicins Sans Frontières. I've worked in epidemics before the COVID-19 pandemic and I intend to afterwards.
First, I'd like to say that the response overall by Canada and Canadians has been remarkable and exceeded my and so many peoples' expectations. I just wanted to extend my thanks as a citizen and a clinician for feeling so well supported...having mitigated the worst of this for all of us.
Normally, I speak about issues of global equity, particularly knowledge translation through critical care and emergency medicine to the global south. Today I want to speak about issues that are particularly relevant to the Canadian context in the emergency landscape that the COVID-19 pandemic has made so clear. I will focus my testimony today on how we might continue these lessons from the pandemic to create a stronger, more robust and safer health system for Canadians. In particular, I will focus the discussion today on the topic of national licensure for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals in our country.
As you likely know, provincial licensure is what health care professionals require to gain the ability to treat patients. It's only in the confines of their province. Should you want to move to another province, either in times of disaster, pandemic or otherwise, you require an emergency order to do so. That process is cumbersome, ineffective, risky and really unsafe.
I believe we are the last remaining Commonwealth country—I wasn't able to go through the whole list, but we were the last—that doesn't have national licensure. It prevents more equitable distribution of health care resources, particularly as we move into greater virtual care opportunities. What's happening now is that I can't treat a patient in Iqaluit without a special reciprocal licence between our provinces. I think that needs to change.
As you can see, the nature of this pandemic, like all disaster, is one of asymmetry. This means that it doesn't just happen demographically; it happens geographically. You're seeing Manitoba going through a crisis right now that Ontario's just coming through to the other side of. You're seeing patients being transited from Manitoba to Ontario. That's dangerous. It's risky for the individual because if you're a sick person, it's much more risky to send you to Ontario than send a healthy nurse, doctor or RT to Manitoba. I think that through national licensure, we can start to equilibrate some of these resources.
While mathematical modelling can help predict something with the COVID-19 pandemic, it certainly can't predict an earthquake on the west coast or how high the Red River will rise. Giving physicians, nurses and other health care professionals the ability to move freely throughout the country would be an easy way to start redistributing these resources in times of emergency, and also overall.
I think, as you'll see in the coming months, we're about to face a crisis of a different kind. We're about to face a crisis of burnout. Pretty much every doctor I know, as they look to the future of their whole careers perhaps wearing the mask and shield, is thinking about doing something else. This is real.
I bring up this issue of national licensure because it's close to my heart. It initially came up when working in Inuit, Métis and first nation communities as a way to distribute health care resources there. Now I see it as a way to respond to a need in our health care community, which is the freedom of mobility to allow doctors and nurses to do what they love to do best, which is treat patients no matter where they are.
It's safer for Canadians, it's better for doctors and 91% of physicians want it. More than half of them say that it would increase the likelihood of their working in remote communities.
If we don't take this step, virtual care is going to move into a private sphere and we're going to miss an opportunity to keep it affordable for the average Canadian. With President Biden moving to insure up to 40 million Americans, there's no reason to stop a doctor in Alberta from now treating Americans using virtual care. We have to get ahead of that, in my opinion, and a national licence is the way to do that.
Reciprocity for this licence and allowing greater training is one thing that would encourage it as well, particularly as these people are committed to working in remote and indigenous communities or with those populations that have been made vulnerable by systemic inequity.
I would suggest that the federal government consider immediately establishing a reciprocal arrangement, or encouraging a reciprocal arrangement, between provinces that allows freedom of mobility of health care professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then it should look to develop a plan to extend this reciprocal licensing arrangement between provinces, territories, indigenous and federal governments, allowing these health care professionals licensed in one to work in other provinces and territories.
The requirements are all the same. The training is the same. The fact is there is this expanse in the hurdles to jump over. It is kind of redundant. It makes the system vulnerable, because if someone has malfeasance in their past, it's less easy to track because they can go to another provincial college. They are siloed organizations.
Luckily, as Canadians, we haven't endured the big crimes that we've seen in the U.K. and Australia that allowed doctors to operate truly unqualified and hurt people. We're just waiting for that. Maybe that will never happen, but having a national autonomy and licensor is one way to do it.
In conclusion, there are two ways I think it can be done. One would be to start to focus on health care as administered through federal bodies, like indigenous, Métis and first nations communities. That is something that could allow them certain types of autonomy with registration, regulating who comes in and certain types of accountability.
The second and more robust way to do it would be to have the provinces, which have mandated to the college the licensing authority, mandate that authority to a national body. It wouldn't change the machinery of the provinces necessarily, but it would allow national licensure to be possible. I think ultimately it would be a good step not only to buoy the spirits of the health care workers who have been working very hard during this time, but also to encourage harmonization of health care in the country, improve accessibility to care and universality of care.
That is what I think is possible. It is what I imagine would be a positive step for the health care of Canadians.
Thanks so much. I have never paid attention when given any yellow card before, so I don't know why I should start now.
Mr. Chair and honourable committee members, thanks for allowing me to address you. Before I start, I want to acknowledge that I'm currently speaking on what I believe to be the unceded ancestral territory of the Haudenosaunee, where my family home currently rests.
I'm a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, and I'm also a consultant in infectious diseases at Sinai Health and University Health Network. Prior to this pandemic, most of my academic work was focused on antimicrobial resistance, that is, drug resistant infections.
I currently co-chair, with Dr. Gerry Wright, a project to conceive of a national network to tackle antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, and support the anticipated—and I'll say, massively overdue—pan-Canadian AMR action plan.
This is my fourth such appearance before your Standing Committee on Health related to infectious diseases over the past four years, and I'm really quite honoured to be able to have this privilege of presenting to you again.
I want to cover two things: pandemic strategy and antimicrobial resistance.
Pandemics require strategy. Strategy should be based on the best available information and should be adaptive to new information. The pace of new information that we have received has been rather incredible and unprecedented. In my first and second HESA appearances, I highlighted for this committee the potential cost involved in preparing properly for an antimicrobial resistance pandemic. I think I quoted $100 million price tag at the time. Just imagine now only spending $100 million in exchange for properly preparing for a costly pandemic. My guess is, by the way, that this government still won't commit $100 million for an antimicrobial resistance pandemic.
If we consider Canada's performance to date regarding this pandemic, and with deference to my colleague who just spoke, I think my personal and, I would say, reasonable assessment is that it was not good, but it could have been worse. We've lost over 25,000 Canadians directly to COVID-19. The fact that we will see well over 10,000 COVID-19 deaths since January 1 will remain one of the most catastrophic and tragic failures of our nation.
However, the cost to Canadians in terms of quality of life, sickness and death from other illnesses, including mental illness, will be orders of magnitude greater than this for years to come, and it didn't have to be this way.
If you compare our response in outcomes with the U.S., most of Europe and, say, Brazil, we've done quite well. When I was a kid, when I came home with a grade that was below my parents' expectations, I always mentioned the classmates who did worse. I never made a comparison when I received an A, however.
Canada's first responsibility moving forward will have to be an honest assessment of our performance, and, indeed, the Auditor General is doing some of this work, but we need a more fulsome assessment of our performance. I would suggest that the time to start such a commission, perhaps titled “Why did Canada not get an A in COVID-19?”, is now.
The U.K. and Brazil are both holding similar such commissions. Apart from the obviously gripping theatre both have provided, they've offered insight into the flawed mindset of two governments that dramatically failed their electorate. The question that should be on the minds of all of you and indeed all Canadians is: Why have you failed to seek a maximum suppression strategy?
In November, I used the term “COVID-zero” publicly, but “Zero COVID”, “Canadian Shield Strategy” and “No More Waves” have all been monikers to a strategy I've affixed my name to. It's been abundantly clear that exponential growth has meant that living with COVID-19 was never an acceptable strategy, even though it was attempted. This would be true for any future pandemics.
Moving forward, Canadian governments should have a stated policy that says, “We will work to maximally contain and suppress any new infectious diseases throughout until the nature of that threat is fully understood.” This would have meant clear and consistent pan-Canadian communication, closing our borders sooner, reducing interprovincial and regional travel, making no assumptions on the nature of its transmission, protecting the most vulnerable members of our society with a focus on obtaining the data to demonstrate this protection, rapidly and transparently sharing this data, starting up clinical trials similar to what was done in the U.K., relying on the best available scientific evidence and stating, most importantly, that the primary goal of government and public health with infectious disease threats is not to protect the health care systems or the economies from the threat, but to protect the health of Canadians.
On May 28, 2021, we can start learning from this. Our government can make a commitment to maximum suppression of COVID-19. This does not mean locking down our society for the entire summer, but doing everything possible to continue to drive our cases down so that we'll be able to start the school year in full force, with an economy that can start working in full force.
Before I address AMR, I want to make one last point. It's very possible that in an upcoming school year we will be faced with an outbreak of a non-COVID infectious disease. It could be influenza or maybe another virus. In that situation, it would be important that we do not dismiss it. I have found myself at times dismissing other infectious diseases. Do we need a flu-zero approach? I doubt it. However, the famous and proudly Canadian overburdening of hospitals in winter is unquestionably due to respiratory viruses. We can and should do much to reimagine respiratory viruses.
That brings me, lastly, to antimicrobial resistance. I've spent most of my career tackling AMR. It has not gone away, and it won’t go away. Moving forward, the AMR pandemic, which is a much slower moving one than COVID, will continue to require close and careful attention. It is not going to come and go like the COVID-19 virus. It will endure and grow in nature.
This very committee has a responsibility to Canadians. It has failed in the past to address and push government on properly addressing this. We need to address AMR in Canada and globally in the same manner that we've been addressing COVID-19. Thank you.
My name is Patrick Taillon, and I am a professor in the faculty of law at the Université Laval.
I will summarize my main remarks briefly based on a very simple idea: one of the best decisions the federal government made in managing this unprecedented crisis was definitely its decision not to invoke the federal Emergencies Act, for the following reasons.
First, we can now see, particularly from a rights and freedoms perspective, that there was no need to invoke the act. We can also see how far the judiciary adapted its interpretation of rights and freedoms to our circumstances at the time. The government's decision not to use the act thus enabled it to maintain control and to let the judges do their work, while at the same time adapting that work.
Second, it is clear that, under our federalist regime, governments did not lack authority. The federal and provincial governments had all the necessary authorities in their toolbox to address the crisis. All they had to do was invent solutions that they could not yet know of at the time.
In short, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that each level of government inevitably did good and bad things and that uniform and centralized solutions would suddenly have solved all problems. On the contrary, the logic of subsidiarity, cooperation and autonomy that federalism presupposes runs somewhat contrary to this idea of uniformity. Federalism made a minimum level of experimentation possible during the crisis. No one had a magic solution, and federalism, under which the member states of a federation enjoy autonomy, enabled each state to exercise a degree of innovation.
British Columbia did some things right. Each province handled mask-wearing in its own way. The Atlantic bubble was an original idea suited to that part of the federation. As a member state of the federation, Quebec, where I come from, did good and bad things in its own way. Its curfew and the reopening of its schools in the spring of 2020 made it possible to gather data and to test a solution that was subsequently imitated by others. Quebec did the same when it decided to administer second doses of vaccine sooner than previously planned.
This degree of autonomy, experimentation and innovation in the spirit of cooperation was absolutely necessary in managing the crisis. With a combination of diversified measures, the two levels of government were able to imitate each other and adjust their game plans. Federalism, which fosters the autonomy of every member state in the federation, especially enabled each to play the role of countervailing power, which is essential in times of crisis.
At the lowest points, when nothing was working and the courts were virtually closed, newspapers were on the brink, incomes were clearly declining and parliamentary assemblies were closed, how else could we have exercised that countervailing power in Canada? What countervailing power could have protected citizens? The tensions and disputes that continued between the federal and provincial governments nevertheless bolstered citizens' trust in our institutions, to the extent that the sight of two leaders and two governments confronting and monitoring each other afforded a form of control, surveillance and countervailing power that were particularly necessary during those difficult times.
Obviously, the federal government could have done better. Its performance was partly shaped by circumstances. We can debate at length the state of necessary equipment reserves. We can say that borders should have been managed more quickly and efficiently. However, at some point, we have to accept that what was done is done. We must especially take note of mistakes that must not be repeated. On that point, the serious impact of underfunding for health definitely suggests that we could have intervened more effectively in that field and that we will have to do better in future.
It is therefore important to establish stable health funding. To do so, the federal government should either make a lasting commitment, over years, so that the provinces can rely on its participation, or else disengage and allow the provinces to use the necessary fiscal room. Whatever it does, we cannot play at yoyos or Russian roulette with health funding. It cannot be subject to circumstantial fluctuations. It must be stable.
Lastly—and this will be my final comment—as for what was done well but could have been done even better, I would say that cooperative federalism, that necessary cooperation between levels of government, could have gone further. Considering the powers it has, the federal government could have made adaptation measures available to the provinces. Consider travellers, for example. When it had to make decisions on how to manage the borders, the federal government could have played the cooperative federalism card to a greater degree. In the "Atlantic bubble", for example, borders and flights could have been shut down at the request of the provinces concerned, whereas other provinces could have established mandatory quarantines, a measure that moreover was ultimately adopted.
Uniformity is not the most suitable solution. It is an instinctive reaction that is contrary to the spirit of federalism and should be avoided. Management of the crisis required cooperation between the federal government and the provinces. It also called for respect for the autonomy of each government instead of the instinctive impulse to claim that one level of government is, by definition, better than another and thus shielded from the necessary interplay of trial and error, good and bad ideas and the competition between levels of government. That competition enabled us to secure countervailing powers, innovate and imitate each other. In that respect, I want to emphasize the importance of the autonomy of the federal government and federated entities in managing such a crisis.
I think you're going to find my questioning much slower and more labourious.
Dr. Morris, let me start off by complimenting you for speaking out on issues of public health. I know a lot of health care workers have been afraid to do so, and for good reason.
I was still on staff at the local hospital until January. My hospital, for example, specifically told doctors not to speak to the press or politicians like myself. There certainly have been health care people disciplined or threatened with discipline, especially when they speak up on public health measures and against government policy.
Therefore, I certainly commend you for it. I disagree with these kinds of tactics from the hospitals. I think you'll agree that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Certainly when somebody has gotten to the stage that they're on a ventilator, there's not a whole heck of a lot you can do for them medically. It makes more sense to prevent their getting on ventilators, which means good public health.
For a good doctor, it's not just a good decision to speak out; I would suggest that doctors have a duty to speak out. You might want to comment on that.
However, before I get there, I have a second question. You probably saw this coming, because we've talked about it before. It's about the use of monoclonal antibodies. It gets to the same thing: keeping people off ventilators. As I suggested last time, I think there's a growing amount of robust evidence that use of monoclonal antibodies in high-risk people, when used early on, can reduce by somewhere between 60% to 80% the number of people who go on to hospitalization.
Now, I know when we previously spoke, you felt that there wasn't enough evidence for that. You wrote the guidelines. You sit on the science table. I would like to point out that, since then, the NIH guidelines panel, in interpreting the evidence, gave a class IIa recommendation for the use of monoclonal antibodies.
I talked about some of the evidence before. With Chen et al. in the New England Journal of Medicine, there were certainly good results; and BLAZE-1, Gottlieb et al., in JAMA, is another study with very positive results. I brought these examples up in the last meeting.
Since then, real-world experience from Kumar et al., from the clinical infectious disease group from Chicago, found the number needed to treat was eight, treating eight high-risk people with monoclonal bamlanivimab before they got really sick. If you treated eight, it would prevent one person being hospitalized.
Bariola et al., a Pittsburgh group, in Open Forum Infectious Diseases, found that treatment, again with bamlanivimab, resulted in a 60% lower risk of hospitalization or mortality.
Now, to pre-empt you, I know that the FDA revoked approval in the U.S. for bamlanivimab alone, but that was based on in vitro studies showing that it didn't look like it would be effective against the California or New York variants, which we don't have much of here. The estimates have been in Ontario that 90% to 92% of the variants we have here, including the wild type, are covered by that treatment.
Even if you don't like bamlanivimab, there are the other newer monoclonal antibodies. The Celltrion phase II and phase III clinical trial showed a 64% reduction in progression to disease. On the bamlanivimab and etesevimab, there have been further studies with that in chronic care homes; the BLAZE-1 phase 3 trial; and REGEN-COV by Regeneron, which showed that patients who got infused treatment within 10 days of developing symptoms had a 70% reduced risk of hospitalization or death. More recently, in the COMET-ICE study, with GlaxoSmithKline, the independent data monitoring committee recommended stopping the trial early because results were showing an 85% reduction in hospitalization or death, so it would be unethical to continue.
Given all that, do you continue to maintain that there is not enough evidence for the use of monoclonal antibodies, and will the science table re-examine this in the treatment guidelines?
Greetings. It's a pleasure to join the committee to share some of the experience and insights from Aotearoa, New Zealand. I think there has been understandable interest in the efficacy of New Zealand's response. We've only encountered just over 2,600 cases of the virus and only 26 deaths during the pandemic. And one-third of those diagnosed cases have been caught at the border before entering the community.
The virus was, if I can say, first stamped out in the community nearly a year ago, five months after it first infiltrated. Since then, there's been a handful of flare-ups largely arising from what we describe as “border breaches”, which have again been stamped out in what has become quite a sophisticated game of whack-a-mole. The last instance of community transmission was at the end of February this year.
In many respects, I think our current settings, the arc of the pandemic and thus the government response, have been quite different from Canada's and many other countries'.
However, to give you a sense of the nature of the regulation of the government response that has been deployed, I think that story is best told through a series of bubbles, which has been a very powerful metaphor in the New Zealand context. We started with what we described as our “household bubbles” from back in March 2020 nearly, where we had two months of aggressive and strict nationwide lockdown, stay-at-home directives and closure of premises other than those that were essential. That really broke the chain of transmission and allowed that shift from what was intended to be a mitigation or a suppression strategy to our current elimination strategy. That “go hard and go early” approach—which is how it was branded by the Prime Minister here—has probably been the main driver of New Zealand's success so far in combatting the virus. The achievement of that COVID-free community set the conditions for an ongoing elimination strategy where those re-emergent instances of the virus could continue to be stamped out, and that's been the focus.
After our household bubbles, where we were confined to our houses, we had a nationwide fortified bubble where ordinary day-to-day life largely resumed almost a year ago with most restrictions largely lifted. We have some ongoing restrictions, low-level measures such as a contact tracing system with QR codes, face coverings on some public transport and so forth.
Significantly, we had a fortified border fortress with a 14-day state-managed isolation and quarantine system, an escalating system of border testing, and management of incoming border flows through bookings, charges and pre-departure testing. It was very much trying to create an impenetrable border to protect the nation as a whole.
Within that, as I said, there were some flare-ups. I think of this in terms of resurgent localized bubbles where we had a handful of regional lockdowns, largely in Auckland, and other targeted measures to address the small number of flare-ups.
More recently, we've developed and moved to a transnational shared bubble where we've reopened our borders with Australia and a couple of other Pacific nations, allowing restriction-free travel. In order to do that, we've also harmonized our public health monitoring and measures across those countries.
Our hope is for a future popped bubble, if I can describe it like that, where there is a slow but steady vaccine rollout. We look forward to hopefully being able to fully open up our borders again and reintegrate with the world.
While we can see that success, the government regulatory response I don't think has always been smooth, stable and slick. The early days were characterized by a lack of preparedness for this type of virus, but a willingness to pragmatically innovate and respond.
Legally, the resort was to perhaps ill-fitting public health and civil defence tools, principally directive health orders issued by our senior medical officer of health, the director general of health, enforceable by the police. There was also heavy reliance on an extra-legal alert level framework as a communication tool, characteristic communication from our Prime Minister, ministers and director general in building a collective community trust in the government and the government's response.
I should note that there was one notable instance where the high court found that the government messaging overreached the underlying legal requirements, and I'm happy to talk about that some more if that's of interest.
After the lockdown was lifted, more COVID-specific, bespoke legislation was passed, which gave broad power to ministers to continue to issue directive health orders mandating public health measures and continuing police enforcement. The authority to do that was moved from the officials to the minister. I think of it in terms of belt and braces protections being overlaid on top of that.
Preservation of the right to contest any of the measures was, for example, inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act's protections, such as freedom of movement and so forth, select committee scrutiny of orders and House confirmation of orders and other examples of checks and balances being grafted onto that power.
My final comment might be to say that the other notable feature has been a strong social licence in the community for these very aggressive measures. My analysis is that the legitimacy for that response has been catalyzed by the government maintaining and enhancing accountability through direct, face-to-face, reasoned explanation of the problem and the measures, openness and transparency—for example, all of the cabinet papers dealing with measures and so forth are publicly available—active scrutiny, continuing improvement and large doses of kindness.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for this opportunity to speak about a very important issue of pandemic prevention.
I am Melissa Matlow, the Canadian campaign director for World Animal Protection. We are an international animal welfare charity with offices in 14 countries and more than 300,000 supporters in Canada. We have general consultative status with the United Nations. We are members of the civil society 20 that is engaging the G20 and we have a formal working relationship with the World Organisation for Animal Health—the OIE.
Working together with environmental and infectious disease experts, we are encouraging the federal government to take a “one health, one welfare” approach to preventing pandemics through curbing the commercial trade in wild animals and products made from them, not only to prevent pandemics, but also to prevent animal suffering and biodiversity loss.
I should say that we are concerned about the growing legal commercial trade in wild animals that, in our opinion, is under regulated, unsustainable and presents disease risk. Our focus is on non-essential wildlife use such as exotic pets, entertainment and trinkets. It's not on subsistence community use.
It is widely acknowledged that wildlife markets, breeding farms and the trade supplying them played a significant role in the outbreaks of SARS and COVID-19.
In April, the one health tripartite—the World Health Organization, UNEP, and the OIE—issued emergency guidance that called on national authorities to suspend the trade in live-caught wild mammals for food or breeding. That guidance also stated that it was relevant for other wild animal uses.
Canada should adopt these recommendations immediately, but more transformative change is needed. Seventy-five percent of new or emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, mainly wildlife. These include MERS, avian flu, Ebola, SARS, HIV/AIDs, Nipah virus and monkeypox. I could go on, but I won't.
Recent reports by UNEP and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services recognized the commercial wildlife trade as a key pandemic driver and animal welfare is at the root of it.
When a variety of different wild animals that wouldn’t normally encounter each other in nature are kept in close proximity in crowded, unsanitary and stressful conditions, it is the ideal environment for the emergence and spread of infectious diseases that can then be transmitted to humans. These conditions exist throughout the wildlife trade and studies show that the risk of transmitting diseases can increase significantly as animals are traded up the supply chain.
This is a global problem that requires a comprehensive global solution. Canada has an important role to play.
Our research shows that more than 1.8 million wild animals were imported into Canada between 2014 and 2019 and it would seem that the vast majority—93%—were not subject to any permits or pathogen screening. Animals are coming in for a wide variety of purposes, but there’s been a dramatic increase in the number imported to supply the exotic pet industry. We found that different federal government agencies regulate different aspects of the trade, with their own data collection systems and requirements. This is leaving gaps in important information like the names of species, the purpose of the trade, whether the animals were wild caught and the country that they come from. Once animals are brought into our country or if they are captive bred here, they are subject to a patchwork of inadequate domestic regulations. Nobody is tracking these animals.
Other countries are taking action on this issue. China has permanently banned the farming and consumption of many terrestrial wild animals and it is helping farmers transition to alternative livelihoods. In the U.S., the preventing future pandemics act, if passed, would prohibit the import and export of wildlife for human consumption and medicine. The Netherlands is fast-tracking their ban to end fur farming for good because COVID-19 is running like wildfire across mink farms. Germany has agreed to reduce the trade in wild animals for pets, ban the sale of wild-caught animals and set up a centralized trade register. Last month, Italy, which holds the G20 presidency, approved a ban on the trade of wild and exotic animals. Just a couple of days ago, Thailand announced its interest in being free of illegal wildlife trade.
We urge Canada to join these countries and do its part. Specifically, Canada should immediately adopt the guidance issued by the one health tripartite and prohibit the trade in live-caught wild mammals, promote a greater emphasis on pandemic prevention and address the key drivers of pandemics, particularly the commercial wildlife trade at the G20. It should urge the one health tripartite to present a list of wildlife species and conditions that present significant risks of transmitting zoonoses and guidelines for mitigating them. This was actually recommended at the G20 agriculture ministers meeting last year.
Here in Canada, to do our domestic part, we need to adopt a more preventative regulatory framework and improve our systems for collecting data and monitoring the trade. The federal government should work collaboratively with the provinces and territories to improve their regulations to significantly reduce the trade and improve enforcement through better coordination and resourcing across all agencies and jurisdictions.
Those are all my remarks, but I want to say that joining me today to help me answer your questions, I have two experts. Michèle Hamers is a professional biologist who works with our organization. She conducted our research on Canada's wildlife imports and is one of the leading experts in Canada on the exotic wildlife trade. Dr. Scott Weese has contributed his veterinary infectious disease expertise to our organization and this cause. He is the director of the University of Guelph's centre for public health and zoonosis, and is chief of infection control at the Ontario Veterinary College teaching hospital.
The Chair: It's not a worry. Let's go with that. Please go ahead.
Dr. Colleen Flood: Okay.
Smaller provinces have aimed for zero COVID and attempted to eliminate community transmission and quickly manage any new outbreaks. This has involved tightly managing their respective borders to prevent new infections entering their safe or green zones.
If we look cross-nationally, the countries that have aimed for zero COVID—New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, South Korea, Iceland, Vietnam and so on—have been able to live comparatively normal lives over most of the year. Since we arrived in New Zealand in January, our son, who's just turning nine today, has been in school constantly with no masks and no social distancing, but with lots of play and social interactions. We go to dinner parties, movies and volleyball matches. This has been the case, as you've heard from Dr. Dean Knight, for over a year, with some brief windows of very short lockdowns to stamp out possible community spread.
Most Canadian provinces have not aimed for zero COVID, but instead have stated that their goal has been to reduce cases to a level where hospitals are not overwhelmed. By having this as a goal rather than trying to eliminate transmission, most Canadian provinces have thus accepted a certain level of death and disease, mostly in the elderly in long-term care institutions and those living in racialized and poor communities. In Canada around 25,000 people have died. If New Zealand had adopted Canada's policy instead of what it did, then 3,600 New Zealanders would have died instead of the 26 who actually did.
Canada's goal of “bending the curve”, as they describe it, has not worked on its own terms. The problem has been that as soon as the curve has bent—that is, there's been some improvement in infection numbers—provinces have rushed to reopen without a serious mitigation strategy in place, causing a new cycle of lockdowns and reopenings, prolonging pandemic suffering for Canadians. The federal government and the big Canadian provinces have pinned their hopes instead on vaccines. Fortunately, science has delivered on this. Canadians from coast to coast, despite many barriers, are rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated.
As the vaccines roll out, there is the inevitable clamour to open up again. Restaurants and shops, schools and camps, universities and faith-based organizations, opening up the U.S. border for travel—everyone has a good reason that their particular group or venue should be able to open up now. But great caution is required. Canada has already lost so much physically, emotionally and economically that I don't think Canadians can afford or tolerate yet further cycles of lockdowns and reopenings for short-term political gain or because of a short-sighted economic outlook.
In this regard, I make a plea to the federal government to do a much better job than is presently being done of ensuring that new variants of concern do not enter Canada and undermine all the gains we have made in recent months with vaccinations, at least not until we are certain that vaccinated individuals are protected against them. We know that in parts of the world, such as Brazil, India and Iran, COVID-19 is still on a rampage, with no vaccine path in sight. We still do not have great science on the extent to which the vaccines will protect against the variants that are emerging.
Now, I realize that there's a lot of politics about border management and a lot of politics about fed-prov and who should be doing what, of course, but Canadians themselves are amazing. They are resilient. They are are getting out there. They're getting vaccinated. Soon, widespread vaccinations will drive transmission rates low. But once we largely have the forest fire of COVID under control through the miracle of vaccinations, imagine that we allow variants of concern into the country with the potential to evade immunity. To me, this is akin to the federal government permitting more small fires around the perimeter of the forest and hoping the forest rangers are not too tired to put them out.
In managing its border, Canada will not abandon its humanitarian and other values—and we can speak about that during the questions—but Canada should not permit those crossing land borders to circumvent any requirements for management at the border. All Canadians coming from countries or regions of concern where there are variants emerging must be required to enter through a managed border. If the science emerges—and I hope it comes quickly—to show that our available vaccines prevent transmission of variants of concern, then some of these requirements could be softened for returning Canadians or other travellers, with the recognition of vaccine passports and rapid testing. However, we need the science first.
I've run out of time to speak to my second point, but I hope we have some time to come back to it in questions. Thank you for your time. I'm sorry about this stupid headset that died.
I'm going to speak in support of this motion.
I do want to say to Mr. Van Bynen, and I say this with great respect, on several occasions over the past year I have urged the committee chair to make use of the subcommittee to schedule business. Today is Friday, May 28, and as of my coming to this meeting, there was no subcommittee meeting called.
This is the last day of the first round of topics of our COVID study. This motion was submitted by Ms. Rempel Garner more than two days ago. Everybody on this committee has had an opportunity to look at the motion. What it does is it simply seeks to make productive use of the remaining seven or eight meetings that we have.
With great respect, I raised this issue of calling a subcommittee meeting two weeks ago and it was not called. For a subcommittee meeting to be called today for Monday means that were we to accede to that, we would lose a committee meeting on Monday and then we would lose another meeting on Friday, because the subcommittee would meet, come to a decision, hopefully, and then that proposal would have to be adopted by the full committee. We would lose approximately 25% of the meetings that we have left before the House rises on June 23.
That is not an effective way to deal with committee business. I'm going to be a little more strenuous in my objection at the lack of effective and efficient scheduling and the use of the subcommittee on this basis. If the committee chair is not going to call subcommittee meetings to plan the business of this committee, one can hardly fault the members of this committee for taking the bull by the horns and doing it themselves, which Ms. Rempel Garner has done.
This motion is written very objectively. For the record, I want to state what it does. It schedules our PMPRB meeting on Monday, as Mr. Thériault is entitled to. It proposes that we have eight witnesses instead of four so that we effectively have the final two of the four meetings, which Mr. Thériault proposed and this committee passed, completed on Monday. We finish the committee business on PMPRB.
Starting on Friday of next week, and on every successive meeting but the following Monday, for the first hour of each meeting each party is allowed to submit one witness as they see fit on any issue under COVID. You can't get more egalitarian than that. In the second hour of each of those meetings, the deputy ministers will come to answer questions. I think this is an excellent way to structure the meeting because we are allowed to hear the witnesses as each party wants to call them, whether it's on long-term care or mental health, which I know is a priority of Mr. Van Bynen's. I know long-term care is a priority that Ms. O'Connell has mentioned. On whatever issue anybody wants, we can have those witnesses appear in the first hour and then, if questions or issues emerge, we can put them directly to the deputy ministers from health, from the Public Health Agency of Canada, from procurement, and the chief public health officer.
I think that's a very important way to proceed because were we not to come up with this process, we would have to then proceed with the next first priority of the Liberals. That's where we'd go back and we would never get to the next priorities of the other parties. We have the benefit right now of stopping at this point, having heard the number one priority from each of the four parties and having four meetings on each. You can't get more egalitarian than that and because we can't then go to the second choice of each party and hear from each of those in a fair way by the end of June, it's a very natural stopping point for us on how we are going to handle the final seven or eight meetings. This way allows every party to get the witnesses they want before each one of those meetings.
Finally, the other piece of it is that the meeting a week from Monday is the only other meeting that departs from the process I just described. This would be a meeting to hear from the law clerk and the Clerk of the Privy Council. I am going to make some pointed remarks about this.
Last October, the House of Commons—no less—passed a motion compelling—not asking—the government to produce documents in prescribed form on a number of subjects set forth in that motion. That was passed by the majority of the members of Parliament in the House of Commons. We live in a democracy. That is the democratic will of the House of Commons.
In that motion... at the time, my Liberal colleagues said they had resisted it because there would be over one million documents. By the way, I never understood how they got to that number. I think it was pulled out of thin air. Nevertheless, it was confirmed in writing by the Clerk of the Privy Council to this committee that they had in their possession over one million documents related to the motion that we called production for.
To date—seven months later—this committee has received just over 8,000 documents, while 992,000 documents remain in the possession of this government. Not only that, but this government refused to translate those documents, in my view, in direct violation of the law and of their obligation to provide documents in both official languages. This government dumped that responsibility onto the law clerk, who has no resources to do translation and had to use his budget to hire people specifically for the purpose of translating documents that this Liberal government refused to put in both official languages.
Not only that, but the first tranches passed over to the law clerk were a series of the most innocuous documents you could imagine—press releases and documents well in the public sphere.
I'll tell you my thesis. This government is deliberately stalling and withholding production of documents. There is no other conclusion any reasonable person can come to. In seven months, the law clerk has received 8,000 documents out of one million.
Moreover, I will say that this government, by the terms of the motion, does not have any right or responsibility to vet those documents, so they can't say they're doing any work on them. Their job is to identify the documents and fire them over to the law clerk.
We, specifically, in the House of Commons, said that the law clerk has the responsibility of doing the redacting and vetting according to the criteria we gave them. We did that specifically so that the government wouldn't hold up the process by redacting documents in advance. The government doesn't have to redact and they don't have to review. Their job is to find the documents and turn them over to the law clerk. The law clerk will then do the redacting according to the instructions.
I think it's entirely appropriate to have a meeting on Monday to hear directly from the law clerk and from the Clerk of the Privy Council about what the heck is going on. Parliament is supreme in our system—not the government, not the cabinet and not the Liberal caucus. Parliament is supreme, Parliament has demanded production of these documents, and we're not getting them.
To wrap up, this motion gives us the PMPRB study conclusion that this committee has already passed. It provides a fair structure for us to hear on a completely egalitarian basis from witnesses from each party on COVID, which is what Canadians want us to focus on. It calls the deputy ministers responsible to come and be answerable to this committee, as they should be. It provides one meeting so that we can deal with the issue of production of documents, which I believe is bordering on contempt of Parliament. Finally, it asks the to come to one meeting of her choosing on one of the Fridays between now and June 25.
How could anybody on any side of this committee object to that? To say, “Oh, no, we don't want to vote on this. We're going to filibuster or talk this out. I know, let's have a subcommittee meeting on Monday”, on Friday and then to waste two meetings the next week on it is, frankly, irresponsible.
Other committees might have their own business, but this is the health committee and we're in the middle of the biggest global health crisis that this country and this globe have seen in a century. We can't afford to miss meetings.
I think this motion is well structured, it's fair and it gives a very prescribed system for dealing with the last seven or eight meetings of this committee. I can't imagine anybody on this committee having a single valid objection to it. I will be supporting it.
First of all, I'm extremely disappointed with this motion. I have some important questions for the witnesses from New Zealand. I strongly believe it is important to have their perspective studied. I'm very disappointed that my turn was next and the opportunity has been taken away from me. Mr. Davies just said that questions should be offered equally, but this motion personally took my time away today.
We agreed to a subcommittee meeting, following the NDP topic in our work plan as agreed by all members. Letting the witnesses go despite the agreement on the scheduled subcommittee meeting has been disappointing. Is this what we are showing our friends in New Zealand? They woke up at 5 a.m. and have spent hours preparing their testimony, and we are doing this. It's unbelievable.
As I said, you had mentioned that a subcommittee meeting would be held next week after we completed Mr. Davies' study. We had also adopted an earlier subcommittee report in March that said we would have two more PMPRB meetings and proceed to report writing.
This motion is worded in a very confusing way. I'm very concerned about how much time the fourth section of the motion has asked for public officials, these high-ranking public servants, to be on standby for an hour on two different days every week, in the middle of the day, while they are in the middle of managing our response to a global pandemic. It is just asking for two hours. Like everyone, they need to prepare for these meetings. They need to defer other meetings. They're accountable to us, but it is not their job to be grilled with unnecessary questions for multiple hours a week so that an opposition member can get clips for social media.
More than any of that, I'm concerned at this point about the lack of respect that this motion shows for this committee. We have repeatedly said that we should be discussing these things as they grow. As Mr. Van Bynen said, we had the same discussion about the last Standing Order 106(4) meeting, and the quote from Mr. Davies pretty much sums up how this committee should be functioning.
This motion would be in complete contradiction to the spirit of co-operation that Mr. Davies spoke about. This motion by the Conservatives is designed to render the subcommittee meaningless. How is it respectful of this committee if its intention can force the cancellation of a subcommittee meeting where the parties could all work together, off the record, to plot a good way to move forward?
I'm reminded of when they claimed that Canadians were at the back of the lineup to receive vaccines and would not get doses until 2030, but just today NACI recommended the earliest administration of the second dose due to an increased availability of the vaccines. If I may remind, this plan had been made available to the entire country very early on, last year, in 2020. On a recent podcast, Mr. Davies spoke about how inconsistent the Conservatives had been in their criticism of the government. He said they remembered how critical they had been of the government for being too slow to close the borders, and now they criticize the government for hotel quarantine rules and border control measures. They think we should reopen the economy. I cannot really tell what their positions are.
We should not be rewarding this behaviour by wasting public servants' time and inviting them for no reason in particular. If the opposition members would like to take the weekend to think about the topics they would like to discuss with these officials and the most efficient schedule to do that, I'm sure the subcommittee could come to an agreement.
This motion should not pass. The subcommittee should meet on Monday as planned, at which point you and the co-chair, along with Mr. Davies and Mr. Kelloway, can settle the agenda for the remaining meetings.
Thank you, colleagues.
When I first received the notice of the motion, I was a little surprised as I was looking forward to meeting with my colleagues from the opposition at our upcoming subcommittee meeting.
I agree with Don's comments from the last meeting that we need to utilize the subcommittee as a tool to plan out our upcoming meetings and get a sense of what the committee will look like in the short term, and it would seem to me that putting a motion out like this defeats the purpose of that meeting entirely, but perhaps I'm wrong.
I've heard almost every member of this committee talk about the importance of working together. I've said it at the past couple of meetings, and I've gotten to know many of you. I believe that you do want that as well, but, Mr. Chair and colleagues, let's use the subcommittee on Monday to talk about what MP Rempel Garner proposed in her motion, to hear from the government side on what we'd like to see and to get our input.
For me, that would be truly a way of moving forward together. Frankly, Mr. Chair, it's a little frustrating that we're having this discussion again for the second Friday in a row. Last week MP Rempel Garner brought forward a Standing Order 106(4) meeting, as she can do, as anyone can do, to discuss a motion she wanted to see passed at this committee, joined and signed by three other fellow Conservative members at this committee.
Here's the thing, Mr. Chair. All members of this committee voted in favour of that motion, because we all agreed on its contents, and I think it was maybe 30 minutes. However, Ms. O'Connell and I both took the time to make it clear that we were frustrated with the Conservative members of this committee using Standing Order 106(4) to call a meeting to discuss the motion rather than doing so collegially through a discussion of ideas on the committee's future business with other parties on this committee, namely the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and, of course, the Liberals.
Because of this procedural tactic to move a Standing Order 106(4) meeting last week, a very important meeting that had already been scheduled for last Friday ended up having to be moved to today. This meeting was originally scheduled at the request of our NDP colleague on this committee, who wanted to call witnesses to study his subject matter area of interest at this committee. As a reminder, Mr. Chair, to my Conservative members opposite, the entire committee, them included, agreed that the committee's area of study would alternate among the different officially recognized parties represented at this committee with four meetings to be held per each party's area of interest.
That aside, we pressed ahead with voting for the Conservative motion last week, because we wanted to give the Conservative MPs on this committee the benefit of the doubt that they would constructively, with all their colleagues on this committee, plan for areas of study in the future. In fact, we've all agreed that, in the spirit of working together in good faith, the subcommittee would need to discuss the committee's agenda going forward as a committee.
Mr. Chair, the subcommittee meeting is already scheduled for this upcoming Monday, May 31, and the plan was to work together on a road map going forward. My NDP colleague on this committee stated last week that we need a better process for determining our agenda going forward, and I agree with Don. He also reiterated that all parties are represented at the subcommittee, and that “We should be meeting on some sort of regular basis to deal with issues”. As I previously said, I agree with the comments, these comments in particular. I have made that clear to my colleagues on this committee at many meetings.
When we deal with things in this hasty and unco-operative manner, it does lead to dysfunction and to this committee's never finishing the work it's already agreed to work on.
The member already knows that, because Don specifically pointed this out last week, in saying, “Luc has been waiting for the last two meetings of his PMPRB study for months”. In fact, the member for 's PMPRB study was last before this committee on December 11, 2020. That was six months ago. We haven't had a chance to complete the two meetings still required for that study because of the continuous disregard by some members of this committee for any of their colleagues from other parties on this committee.
With this proposed motion, which only proposed to convene one of the two remaining meetings required to complete the PMPRB study, it means that Luc's study likely won't be tabled before the summer, and perhaps Luc is okay with that, I don't know.
While I'm discussing the specific contents of this motion in front of us, I would be remiss to not realize the obligations that this motion puts on some of the busiest public servants in Canada right now, who are working around the clock to guide Canada safely out of this pandemic. They have been working around the clock since early 2020.
Again, it seems as though there is little consideration given to the fact that, for officials appearing at this committee, there is a lot of time and effort in the preparation work to come here to answer questions from us here at committee. Just last week, officials appeared at this committee for three hours and some only received a couple of questions during the entire time they were here.
Officials have repeatedly appeared at this committee and various other committees to answer questions. I crunched some numbers. At HESA alone, officials have answered questions for almost 40 hours. When you consider their appearances at other committees as well, they have answered questions for over 70 hours, collectively.
Nothing in the Conservative motion, Mr. Chair, even indicated that there are any new topics that have not yet been comprehensively answered. As I said last week—and I think this is important—I will always welcome the opportunity to hear from these folks. After all, they are the ones leading the charge and, as the health committee, we should be able to ask them questions. We all know there is no shortage of questions to be answered.
Mr. Chair, let us think about this for a moment. The deputy ministers of Health Canada, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and Public Services and Procurement; the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada; the chief public health officer of Canada; the vice president of logistics and operations for the Public Health Agency of Canada; and the head of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization are the very officials who are actively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in real time. They are responding to surges and emergencies across this country. They are in constant contact and having ongoing negotiations with vaccine manufacturers to speed up and increase deliveries of vaccines coming into Canada. They are revealing data and science from around the world, carefully monitoring Canada's epidemiology and constantly updating Canadians on that. They are responsible and they are responsible for rolling out and delivering the procured vaccines to provinces and territories.
What do we think they are doing with their time? Do we think they are doing nothing?
Mr. Chair, the fact is that since the beginning of this pandemic, Liberal members on this committee have sought to put politics aside and do real work on behalf of Canadians. We worked with other parties to develop reasonable plans to study the pandemic and get answers for Canadians. That's what we all want on this committee. It seems like whenever we turn to do real work and try to convert that real work into results, things tend to not happen.
Take, Mr. Van Bynen, for example, who sought to table an interim report on the mental health impacts of COVID-19. The opposition said no. Now, think about that. Let that sink in. They said no.
We have heard countless times from hundreds of witnesses that this pandemic has been an unbearable strain on the mental health of Canadians. We've all heard it on this committee. Just earlier this month, we heard from one witness who said burnout is real for the people at home and especially those working on the front lines. Beyond that, I'm sure all members of this committee are hearing from their constituents about mental health. Colleagues, I know I am. That's why Liberal members proposed studying this. When we did, others immediately said no and sidelined the study with procedural games.
When we finally got back to the study, we heard substantive testimony from witnesses across our country. We heard directly how this impact is affecting the mental health of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, this testimony should have been turned into a report and tabled with recommendations for the government to respond to. That's exactly what my colleague, Tony Van Bynen, proposed. But, do you know what? The other party said no. They seem to prefer to focus on some of these games instead of allowing the committee to finish the interim report on mental health.
Let me be very clear. The very preparation and tabling of this interim report would have taken no time from the work of our committee. If the Conservatives had allowed the interim report to go through, the recommendations now would be tabled in Parliament and we would be waiting for a government response to the recommendations and expert testimony that we heard.
Let's get real here. I get that we're on different sides here. Some of us like the colours blue, red and orange, but we're all on team Canada. I'll say it again: We are. The opposition seems to be clearly working well together when it comes to voting down ideas we propose, so we know there is a desire to work together, but many times it appears that there is just a little lack of willingness to work together with the government side.
I make this point, Mr. Chair, because this isn't just any committee. This is the health committee and we're in the middle of a global pandemic. It's an existential crisis that impacts everything and everyone. I think that everyone recognizes that the opposition parties will sometimes use procedures or delay tactics to impede the government's work. That's fair enough, but that shouldn't be at the expense of the actual work that this committee should and can do.
Mr. Chair, we're here to work. We're all here to roll up our sleeves and work. We want to work with other members to study this pandemic, and yes, to hold the government to account. That's what I expect us to do, and, quite frankly, that is what Canadians expect us to do.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to begin by thanking my colleague from Cape Breton for his very succinct way getting to the point on this discussion. At least the first time around I, too, will try to be equally succinct in talking about this issue.
There are two sides to every story. We have our side, and I know those of you have your side. I'm amused by the fact that, on my computer, Michelle with her dog is right beside Jennifer with her cat, which I think is a very convenient metaphor for what happens in Parliament. The Conservatives and the Liberals are like dogs and cats. They just are not going to get along.
Do you know what? I'm not even going to take the position that the Liberals are right on everything and that the Conservatives, the NDP and the Bloc are wrong on everything, nor am I going to take the position that all the Liberals are better people than the Conservatives or the NDP or the Bloc. There are two sides to every story. We have our reasons for our position, as was stated by Tony Van Bynen. I thought the agreement was that after this initial round of each party getting four sessions to talk about their subject of interest, the subcommittee would meet, and then it would be decided where we would go after this.
Now, I know that with this motion something different is being proposed. Which is right? Which is wrong? Which is more right than the other? I'm not even going to say our position is more right than your position, but we have a reasoned position. We are firm in our position.
As a result of that, you know where this is going, which is unfortunate given the fact that it's such a beautiful day out here in Thunder Bay. I only got part of my garden planted last weekend. I do have to get the rest of the garden in. It's not going to plant itself.
There are a lot of things we can talk about with respect to what we're going to do in the next number of weeks before the end of Parliament. There are all kinds of issues, and directly related to this motion. What are we going to study in the upcoming four or five sessions? I guess we have more than that number of sessions. We have three and a half weeks, and so we're going to meet on a lot of things. There are a lot of issues we could talk about directly related to this motion. What are we going to study about COVID? I have all kinds of things I'd like to talk to about COVID. Heck, if I can get in Hansard as talking about these things already, that's not so bad.
I know you've heard today that a big interest of mine has been monoclonal antibodies, and the fact that, largely as a result of the policy made by the provinces, this could really be a second front in the battle against COVID. But for one reason or another, which I haven't quite managed to fathom, we're not doing this, even though in the United States this practice is widespread.
On that subject alone, I could talk for quite a lengthy period of time. I brought fairly extensive notes, knowing that Dr. Morris was going to appear, and I wanted to have all my facts before me. Certainly that's related, because what are we going to talk about in these studies? Certainly the monoclonal antibodies are one of them.
Another thing I would like to see our talking about in the upcoming sessions—and maybe we'll end up talking about it here—is the proposed WTO waiver on intellectual property rights related to COVID therapeutics and vaccines. I wrote a letter on that with some of my colleagues on this committee, and I'm very proud of it. I'm very proud we all came together and came to a mutual agreement as to where the world ought to be going. Certainly we could talk about that in the coming weeks, or we could talk about some of it today. There are so many different variants from so many places. We could talk all about the risks of the variants as well.
There are other issues, though, and it's unfortunate we haven't been able to address these other issues because of COVID. But I think we have, in response to Mr. Thériault's questions, pointed out the fact that a lot of people are suffering, and will continue to suffer because they haven't received medical services because of COVID. People haven't had their colonoscopies done, and things like that. There are a few actual issues that I would like to deal with which are medical, which we haven't been able to deal with because of COVID.
Certainly the PMPRB is a great example, and something I didn't know a lot about. Since Mr. Thériault brought it to our attention, I've looked into it and spent a lot of time trying to figure this out. It is an extremely relevant topic that I would like to talk about. We can talk about it now or we could talk about it at the meeting. It depends—whatever the opposition wants. Here is another opportunity. We're going to talk probably for some considerable period of time about what we should do in the coming weeks, and that certainly is one issue that I have definite interest in.
Another one—again, I know this is something that some of my colleagues on this committee have also been interested in—is the concern of the dense breast people about the national guidelines on screening for breast cancer in women. There are allegations by some very high-up, well-placed specialists in breast imaging and breast cancer, who say that the current recommendations on screening are inadequate, that the studies they looked at and based their conclusions on were flawed. As a result, they're saying that up to 1,000 women a year may be dying of breast cancer because of these flawed guidelines. They would like that addressed. I would like this to be something that comes before the committee to be discussed nationally.
There are other issues, because, heck, here's an opportunity to talk about what we're going to talk about in the next number of weeks.
Another thing I would like to talk about is the difficulty of accessing generics. This affects a lot of people who find the prices suddenly going way up on their generic medications. I may have to talk about this for longer, because we obviously want to talk about what we're going to do in the future about some of the problems we face in accessing generic medications in the hospital.
I was certainly frustrated over the last number of years with the fact that, one by one, many of the medications we routinely used in treating patients in the emergency room were no longer available. These are cheap medications, for example, stemetil. I don't know if anybody out there has migraine medications, but the best medication, intravenously, for controlling migraines is Stemetil. You can probably buy stemetil internationally for 20 cents a shot. You can't get it in Canada. If you go into an emergency room, you have to get something lesser. You'll have to get something lesser, like [Inaudible--Editor]. I could talk for quite a long time about various treatment for migraines. I don't know if anybody wants me to, but I'm certainly willing to talk.
We've been unable to access drugs like this. It was certainly something I looked into when I was working in the hospital and tried to get support.... Why don't we address this issue? Having worked in many developing countries over the years, I certainly found that with some of these medications you couldn't get in Canada, you could get them freely all around the world, in all the different countries I worked in. There again, I could talk about that too. In Canada, why can't you get them?
This is something that's been very frustrating. You can go to Ethiopia or Vanuatu or Swaziland, and you can access stemetil, so why can't you get it in Canada? That's something that I think would be worth our committee looking into, because this is a real problem that certainly affects a lot of people. I have my own thinking. I think this is a thing of national jurisdiction under the Food and Drugs Act. It is federal jurisdiction, and it's probably overly regulated.
Anyhow, this is something I won't bore you with the long details of. However, if I'm not planting my garden this afternoon, I'm certain I could talk more about the subject, which I'm sure interests all of you.
Also, another thing came up today—and I talked to Dr. Morris about it—on the silencing of doctors. You won't silence a good doctor, because sometimes when some doctors start talking, they just keep talking and talking ad nauseam. I don't know who that would be, but I think it's the social duty of a good doctor to speak up when they see injustices in the world.
On the other hand, many doctors, under COVID, found that when they did speak up on public health policy, when they did oppose government policy—often the provincial government here in Ontario on what they were doing—they ended up being disciplined or threatened with discipline.
Is this in our best interest that the people who work on the front lines are unable to do the things that they think need to be done, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? These people are all paid with the federal...out of tax money, our tax dollars.
Is it right that doctors and nurses are paid with taxpayers' money and people who work in the hospitals, in administration, who are paid with taxpayers' money, aren't letting the story come out because they don't want anybody criticising the government or the hospitals?
There are very many topics we could talk about. I think we all see where this is going. We have our position. We are firm on our position that we think this ought to be left to the subcommittee on Monday, and I would suggest that we all want to do something other than listen to Marcus Powlowski speak.
I know Mike Kelloway is a more eloquent speaker. I'd like to have him speak rather than me, because I enjoy that Cape Breton lilt. However, I think even that wonderful Cape Breton lilt, after five or six hours, will grow quite tiresome.
Mike, I'm sorry to say that to you.
Anyhow, I'm suggesting that there are better things to do on a Friday afternoon, and I apologize to the analysts, the translators and the clerks because I know you too have other things to do and might want to plant your gardens.
With those brief words to begin with, I'll pass it on to whomever is next in line.
Now where did I leave off?
Canada's chief medical officers of health and other health professionals across the country are closely monitoring vaccine safety, effectiveness and optimal use, as they adapt their approaches. As science and situations evolve, we're committed to providing clear evidence and informed guidance to keep everyone in Canada safe.
That, Mr. Chair, is the basis of this discussion. We are taking away from their jobs the individuals who have responsibility for this, and it's important for everyone who's listening, or anyone's who's reading these comments, to understand how important those roles are and how important it is for us to work with them collaboratively.
My second point, Mr. Chair, is that I was a mayor for 12 years, and when I decided to get involved in federal politics, I did so on the basis of how everybody on council took the time to work together and to provide positive solutions or add value, as opposed to finding fault in everything that was being put forward.
A great example of the way that things have turned out is contained in.... Here I would like to share with you some observations with respect to collaboration, confrontation and partisanship, which, in my view, are counter-productive.
Today, what we're discussing is an excellent example of what is happening. We should be working together to find solutions, but no, we are finding the government the victim of uber-partisanship.
Dave Meslin wrote a book called Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up, which I think is what we need to do. We need to work on finding a way that we can work together collaboratively as opposed to the healthy uber-partisanship that we've always seen in this committee.
It doesn't happen at every committee. Mr. Chair, I've sat in on a number of other committees, and the tone and the tenor of those committees certainly is far different from some of these. However, as Mr. Meslin says, “imagine landing your dream job, showing up for your first day of work and being completely ignored by your colleagues.”
That's what happened to Graham Steele, the former finance minister of Nova Scotia after winning a four-way race to secure the NDP nomination in the riding of Halifax Fairview and then winning the seat itself by 58% of the vote. Steele took his seat in the legislature, but when he rose to speak for the first time, representing the 10,000 residents of his riding, he found that no one in the room, absolutely no one, was listening.
Although Steele thought that the actions of his fellow politicians in any other gatherings of grown-ups would be shockingly bad manners, he soon discovered that the silent treatment was actually relatively good behaviour for his colleagues. His tell-all exposé What I Learned About Politics describes a parody of democracy in the provincial legislature where the most common type of interaction between politicians is to heckle, interrupt and insult. He observed that the last thing on their minds is a mature consideration of someone's argument and sadly confessed that the visitors to the gallery often go away shaking their heads in bewilderment.
Steele's experience is not an anomaly. After interviewing 80 former members of Canada's legislature, the authors of Tragedy in the Commons labelled our Parliament as “kindergarten on the Rideau”. This wasn't just their opinion but the unanimous opinion of politicians themselves. One former MP compared the legislature to a zoo, while another described the partisan drivel and poisonous atmosphere of the chamber.
According to the Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, in her book Losing Confidence, question period has sunk to the lowest levels of rudeness and incivility in living memory. There is no co-operation. There is no effort at consensus. The House has become toxic through excessive partisanship. Collective amnesia has wiped away the sure knowledge that it does not have to be like this. She describes in detail infantile questions, egregious behaviour, cruel tone, and disrespectful heckling that have come to dominate the Parliamentary debate, and we treat this as if its normal. With hundreds of adults being paid to act like angry toddlers, the House of Commons is essentially the largest and most expensive daycare in the country.
The chances are, none of this is shocking you. You've simply become accustomed to verbal warfare as a substitute for thoughtful conversation, and not just as a parliamentarian but in our provincial legislatures and our local city councils. Our militaristic approach to politics takes complex issues and recklessly transforms them into simplistic, polarized teams: right versus left, urban versus suburban, drivers versus cyclists, environment versus business.
This team-sport mentality has four results. First, the legislation is often ideologically driven rather than evidence based. Second, they have fish-tail policies that flip back and forth between binary views, depending on who is in power. Third, actual dialogue is replaced with political theatre that reduces all of our politicians to the intellectual equivalent of hockey goons. Fourth, voters increasingly turn their backs on the whole circus, not out of apathy but in disgust.
Is it too idealistic to imagine another approach rather than the battlegrounds populated by players with inflexible opinions? Could our councils and our legislative bodies serve as arenas of conversation? I confess, I sometimes have doubts.
I watch my young son playing his video games passionately, immersing himself in medieval battles, modern warfare and futuristic laser fights, and it makes me wonder if perhaps our militaristic approach to politics is an unavoidable consequence of human nature. Maybe we're just attracted to the thrill of fighting.
Again, there's Minecraft, an odd video game that's simply about building things. When you play Minecraft, you're not trying to win, and you don't have to kill anyone. Rather, it's an infinite and complex virtual sandbox. Most importantly, you can collaborate. My son and I have built castles, underground subway systems, gardens and bridges. The most interesting part is that Minecraft is the second best-selling video game of all time, and although it was only introduced in 2009, it has already surpassed the net sales of long-time favourites like Grand Theft Auto, launched in 1977, and Super Mario in 1985.
We probably shouldn't make sweeping conclusions about human nature by comparing video game sales. I can tell you that, when my kids play Minecraft, they'll occasionally go on a rampage, killing as many zombies, creepers and skeletons as possible, but the success of both war games and building games serves as a reminder that, while we like to fight, we also have the capacity to energize by acts of creative collaboration. We can be drawn in either direction and can thrive in either environment.
I should also point out that the best-selling video game of all time is Tetris, a puzzle. If political compromise is the art of seeing how people's perceptions and needs differ and then finding a way to arrange all those needs and ideas into one coherent shape, then Tetris lovers should be easy recruits to this new kind of politics.
We are hard-wired to enjoy problem solving, building and collaboration. The question is: Can we take these traits that lie within us and somehow allow them to come alive in our democratic spaces? That shouldn't be too much to ask.
The first step towards moving beyond team sport partisanship that gets in the way of good policy-making is to stop blaming politicians. While we often hear cheap slogans like “kicking the bums out”, or “draining the swamp”, evidence suggests that the problem is much more complex.
Steele writes in What I Learned about Politics, “the fact is our politicians are us. There isn't a better, more perfect, more angelic version of us. The people who are elected to office used to be us, and once they're in office, they respond in human ways to the pressures of the job. You'd do the same if you were elected. Yes, yes, you would, and if you think you wouldn't, you'd be one of those bright-eyed politicians who didn't know what they were getting into.”
Steele tells a story about sitting in the legislature and watching the leader of his party, Premier Darrell Dexter, be asked questions by the leader of the opposition, Stephen McNeil, and suddenly Steele realized that he'd heard the exact same back and forth discussion before when his party was in opposition. “Stephen was using the same words, the same tactics and the same arguments that Darrell had used”, he writes, “and Darrell was giving the same replies that the Conservatives had given to him when he was the one posing the questions.”
He continued: “It struck me then, forcibly, that there was hardly any point to who sat in my chair on which side of the house. None of us were dealing with the real issues.”
MPs interviewed for the Tragedy in the Commons held a similar view. Our exit interviews suggest that politicians seem to deplore their own public behaviour. Loat and MacMillan write, "They fear turning people away from politics". So why not change? If they regret it so much, why didn't they stop? In Losing Confidence, Elizabeth May explains that politicians seem to act out of character, and their surroundings somehow transform them into juvenile thugs. People who would not ordinarily be crude become the worst version of themselves.
It seems that ruthless, adversarial opposition is built into our system by design. In that sense, thinking you can fix the problem by electing better politicians is like trying to fix your smartphone's shattered screen by replacing the batteries. Our elected representatives are just one part of the system, and depending on their environment, they can be pulled towards creativity or battle, towards Minecraft or Call of Duty.
In his memoirs, Steele notes that in the Nova Scotia legislature, 51 grown-ups act in ways that, if repeated in their private lives, would end their personal relationships, and, if repeated in other workplaces, would get them fired.
True, but if the entire workforce were behaving badly, a smart employer wouldn't fire everyone; she'd try to figure out why her workplace was bringing out the worst in her employees, and then make whatever changes are necessary in the political workplace. Our terminology, our procedures, and even the physical spaces used to debate are more structured to maximize conflict. Rather than trying to kick the bums out, we should be looking for what we can change about our political processes—our spaces.
Mr. Chair, I think this captures the tone and the nature of the dialogue that's been concerning me for some time. My biggest concern is that had we tried some collaboration, had we tried to find a plan—and I believe that we agreed to a plan—we would have been able to not be faced with this change and not be caught up in the doldrums that we are facing now.
Mr. Chair, we need to work collaboratively and we need to find ways of building consensus. It's really disappointing that we have to go back and reference a book that was written only a few years ago, but it does capture exactly what we should be trying to overcome. What's going on here is counterproductive. My grandchildren watch from time to time. Frankly, there are things that happen during question period, there are things that happen during discussion and debate here that I'm embarrassed to have them see.
I'm offering an opportunity to find a solution. If we've agreed to do something, our word is our word. We did agree to going into the subcommittee meeting. Frankly, that's what we agreed to do, and no amount of rationalization is going to change that. I believe it's in the record. I think we should go forward with that. We should not be having to reinvent things as we go along.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you. I have just a few things to say.
One is that I want to offer a half apology to you, Mr. Chair, but only a half, for my remarks that I only learned about the subcommittee meeting today. I take your word for it that you sent it on Wednesday. I didn't receive it and I am going to lay it a little bit at the hands of the clerk. The clerk should be sending notices of motions to our P9 accounts. I did not see that. It did not come to my P9 account. I have now checked with my staff and it did go to one of my staff members. What my staff member was told was that the meeting on Monday would not go ahead if we passed this motion today, so my staff member didn't schedule the meeting on Monday, pending the outcome of the meeting today.
All of this is to say that I think it would be very helpful if the clerk sent notices of meetings to every individual MP themselves at their P9 account. That would be a lot clearer and more direct.
I am a little disappointed in my Liberal colleagues. After spending a fair bit of time reading a passage on proper behaviour in politics and ethics, Mr. Van Bynen is actually embarking on a filibuster at a health committee in the middle of a global health pandemic. If there is anything I would be embarrassed to do in front of my grandchildren, or my granddaughter, it would be that. It would be filibustering at health committee because I didn't get my way on a schedule when I don't sit with the majority, and Liberals know they don't. They know that the majority on this health committee wants to proceed with an order of business for the next eight meetings, which has been drafted in an entirely fair manner.
Dr. Powlowski, whom I have great respect for, spoke about how he wished he could hear from witnesses—and he went into great detail—on medicine and pharmaceuticals, which I think had nothing to do with the motion, but of course fit his goal of performing his role in the filibuster. Of course the answer to that is, call that witness. If you want to, call the witness. There are five meetings that this motion before you allows each party to call whatever witness they want, on any issue they want. If Dr. Powlowski wants there to be a witness to talk about pharmaceuticals, call them. This motion doesn't prevent that.
Quite honestly, it's obvious that the Liberals came to this committee with no intention of having an honest debate about the business before this committee, because they came prepared to filibuster before the meeting even started.
Of course, for anybody watching this, they should know that every single member of this committee was given notice of this motion two days ago. Every single person on this committee knew that this motion would be moved.
I also want to set the record straight. The Liberals complain that we didn't have a chance to ask questions of the witnesses on the second panel but that is entirely because of the Liberals' decision not to do so. I put forth a very rational proposal to the Liberals that if they wanted a chance to go to the Liberals' question and then the Bloc's question and then finish up with my question, we could do that. All we had to do was agree not to put a substantive motion forward in that spot which would derail the questioning. Mr. Van Bynen refused. Then I asked them if they had such a motion, and they said, “No, we don't have such a motion.” Well, if you don't have such a motion, why wouldn't you agree? There is only one reason we didn't have a chance to question the witnesses in the second round.
By the way, it absolutely disrespected those witnesses, two of whom are from New Zealand, one of whom was my witness, who had to get up and prepare for this at 4:30 in the morning. It was because the Liberals would not agree not to abuse their question position by putting forth a deleterious motion.
I have one thing to say to that. Clearly, if they wouldn't agree to it, it's because that was clearly their intention, because if it wasn't there intention, it would have been easy to agree. There is only one reason the witnesses were not questioned in the second round and that's because the Liberals would not agree to not play a procedural trick or game. On that also, I think I would be embarrassed, Mr. Van Bynen, if my granddaughter saw me do that. That's what I just witnessed you do.
I'm going right back to this as well so that everybody understands what we're dealing with.
This motion deals with the remaining—perhaps seven—meetings. Were we to accede to the Liberals' request, this is what would happen. They don't want to pass this motion today. If it did pass today, we would have a PMPRB meeting on Monday, we would be hearing from witnesses and responsible deputy ministers on Friday, and we'd be hearing from the law clerk and the Clerk of the Privy Council on the following Monday. Then we'd be hearing from any witness that any party wants to put forward and the responsible deputy ministers for each meeting thereafter until the House adjourns on June 25.
That's what this motion, if we just say yes to it today, would do.
What do the Liberals want to do? They would filibuster this meeting and then have a subcommittee meeting on Monday, where I guess we'd come up with some different proposal, which by the way, I haven't heard a word of. I haven't heard a single Liberal propose a single alternative to how this committee should structure its business. They haven't said one thing about how they would like the remaining seven meetings to go.
Then, assuming we can come up with a new proposal on Monday to deal with the remaining seven meetings, that motion has to come back to the full committee on Friday. The clerk cannot act on a motion passed by the subcommittee because there are only four of us. The clerk has to wait until Friday of next week before that motion of the subcommittee comes before the full committee, at which point it's debated. If it passes, we lose that meeting, as well.
Think of this. Our meeting ends late on Friday afternoon. Our following meeting is on Monday morning at 8 a.m. my time, I guess that's 11 a.m. That means the clerk won't know until next Friday at 4 or 5 p.m. what the order of business will be for the following Monday. They can't organize witnesses over the weekend nor comply with headset or any other requirements. In fact, we won't even know who the witnesses would be on that Monday. We would pass the motion on the Friday and learn what subject the Liberals might want to deal with on the Monday.
What the Liberals are proposing right now is that this health committee, with seven meetings remaining, lose the meeting on Monday and not hear from any witnesses, lose the meeting next Friday and not hear from any witnesses, and lose the meeting the following Monday and not hear from witnesses.
The Liberals talk about ethics. They talk about responsible parliamentarian behaviour. They talk about engaging in conduct that they would be proud to show their grandchildren. Is that what they want to do with the remaining seven meetings of the health committee, to burn virtually 50% of them?
Before this meeting, it would have been open to any one of my colleagues on the Liberal side—who lecture us so deceptively on ethics—to put in a motion as to how you wanted to handle the last seven meetings. Not one lifted a finger to do that. How is that responsible political behaviour?
My colleague Ms. Rempel Garner had the initiative, in light of there being no subcommittee meeting.... By the way, even if the committee chair called a subcommittee meeting on Wednesday, we had a break week the week before that. Why wasn't a subcommittee called the week before to give the clerk and this committee time to actually structure our remaining meetings? That would have enabled us to properly debate what's going to happen, decide what subject we want to talk about and have an opportunity to submit witnesses.
For anybody watching or listening to this debate, they have to know the way this committee works. Each party has to know the subject and needs to research and propose appropriate witnesses to come before this committee. They have to give adequate time to witnesses to prepare their testimony and to us to prepare questions.
We need weeks to do that yet the Liberals don't want to pass this motion today. They want to wait until next Friday to maybe come up with a plan. That will mean we won't hear from witnesses until two weeks from today.
That's the Liberal plan, all because they're in a snit over not getting their way. They don't have the majority on this committee, and pardon me for saying this, they were too lazy to put forth a motion of their own that would actually structure the last seven meetings.
I come back to this: We've known for some time that today is the last day of my motion that we put forward, which allowed every single party to identify one priority to have four meetings on.
By the way, we generously gave the Liberals the first shot at that. They chose mental health. The very first four meetings on COVID were on mental health. Then we went to the Conservatives, who studied vaccines. Then it went to the Bloc Québécois, who proposed studying ancillary impacts. Then we went to my last subject, which was to deal with federal-provincial roles in dealing with COVID. We just finished that today.
Obviously, we're not going to go to the second round of this because we can't get every party in equally before the House rises. Anybody could have foreseen that coming. Frankly, like I said, to watch Mr. Kelloway, Mr. Van Bynen and Ms. Sidhu read from prepared notes—reading arcane, completely irrelevant material that doesn't speak one bit to the motion before this committee—tells me everything I have to know about the spirit they brought to this meeting today. They had no intention of seriously debating the matter before us or dealing responsibly with the health committee in our remaining seven meetings.
I'm going to conclude with this: We are no ordinary committee right now because we are not in ordinary times. These kinds of parliamentary games may work at the ethics committee or some other committees that are doing things. We're dealing with the most serious health crisis that has affected Canadians in a century. We don't have time to waste, yet Mr. Van Bynen wants to waste our time by prattling on for 20 minutes about a book on political ethics. Is that what the Liberals think is the best use of this committee's time?
Frankly, I'm disgusted by this. I never thought I would see a political party, in a time of national crisis, come to a health committee and filibuster. I leave it to the Liberal members of this committee to explain to their grandchildren why they filibustered while Canadians were getting sick and dying. That is disgraceful.
I'll try to be brief, because I wouldn't want to contribute to the kind of systematic obstruction being used by the government representatives on this committee.
To lighten things up a bit, I'd like to quote my late grandmother. I'm not sure whether her joke will survive being translated into English.
I listened to Mr. Van Bynen's conclusion, in which expressions like "if this" or "if that" were often used. My grandmother used to say that "if dogs had saws, there would be no more posts." [If pigs had wings...] Let me know if this joke works in English.
At our very first meeting, as soon in the internal economy motions had been introduced, those who had been there previously with a different group of parliamentarians felt that the work to be done during the second wave would not go as smoothly as during the first wave, when it was done collaboratively.
The opposition parties wanted to address the specifics of the subject immediately. The Liberals tried to fend them off, so much so that we had to submit our work plan on an opposition day in the House. This hardly ever happens when people want to work together.
So we had to lose an opposition day in the House of Commons to have a discussion that should have taken place collaboratively in committee. The committee got off on the wrong foot and the House, in a majority vote, decided which topics we were to discuss.
We were also good sports. I remember clearly that after this motion was adopted, Mr. Davies introduced another motion to establish a way for us to work together on the organization of the work, an arrangement that came to an end today. This motion provided for each of the parties to choose a topic for four meetings.
I played fair too because this motion had been preceded by the wish to conduct two studies in parallel. One was to be about the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, the PMPRB. This study was postponed several times when we had to deal with other important problems that came up.
Yet again, I'd like to quote my late maternal grandmother, who often said "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
That meant there were two meetings of two hours each remaining to study the PMPRB, during which each party could invite one witness. This motion allows two witnesses to be invited for a two-hour meeting, which is an improvement. I would have liked to extend this meeting to three hours, but I can see that people are not being particularly co-operative today. Before the systematic obstruction began, I thought it would be more efficient to spend a single three-hour meeting on this study than hold two meetings of two hours each.
Now I don't remember having received a telephone call to tell me that this subcommittee meeting was to be held on Monday and that it would interfere with my meeting on the PMPRB. And yet we had already established the working schedule for this study at a previous meeting. It was decided to go ahead with this subcommittee meeting and the people I had told some time ago that the study would begin on Monday were treated in a rather offhand fashion.
I realize that if we want this to amount to anything, we need to be able to make recommendations to the analysts. I recall very clearly that in the work plan we had previously adopted, it had been agreed that we would finish the four topical meetings for each of the parties, and that the PMPRB studies would enable the analysts to begin work on a preliminary report so that we wouldn't be doing it at the last minute.
I had no indications from the government that on July 1, it was going to postpone the reform being condemned by everyone involved, whether patients, organizations, people doing basic research or pharmaceutical companies. Everyone agrees that there is a problem with the way the reform is working.x.
As the adage says, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I therefore think that it would be worthwhile for us to hold this meeting with two witnesses as soon as possible so that we will be in a position to give some information to the researchers, in view of the small number of witnesses we've heard on this matter. That would enable us to have something with at least some substance to pass on, in the hope that the government will listen to reason and not open the floodgates to all and sundry for a reform that is going to create a number of significant problems.
I had decided that I was going to propose an amendment, but I won't, because it would be used as an excuse for obstruction until the end of the period provided for the resources. I would imagine that at 6:30 p.m. we will be told to close up shop. That, unfortunately, is perhaps the objective of my colleagues.
I do not intend to lecture anyone on how things are done in committee when things are not going well, and representatives of the people become transformed into representatives of the government in an assembly that is supposed to represent the people.
I will stop there, because I do not want to contribute to the obstruction. I would add, however, that no one is being fooled. It's been going on for seven months and it's very unfortunate. I hope that we we'll be able to vote on this motion, which would at least provide some clarification on how to proceed until the end.
As a committee member, I'm always in favour of listening to experts. We're here to do the real work for Canadians. We need to go about that in an organized way.
I would like to speak to the information about our work plan proposed in this motion. I also want to respond to the measure of the pandemic response and the role of our committee.
First, we did work collaboratively in the beginning, and Mr. Davies's plan to study one topic per party set the tone for the entire study. The subcommittee meeting would have been the right place to discuss the next steps.
Mr. Chair, for a year we have been listening to expert testimony, and we are always willing to do that. It is important for us to help the government serve Canadians. That means amplifying the voices of doctors and other researchers and experts who can help us through this, and inform future pandemics, or inform us of any other relevant information. That includes outside experts, people who are both supportive and critical of the government's response; government officials who have been working day and night to protect Canadians; and decision-makers within cabinet. That is where the committee could add the most value.
A report reflects the best advice on how to handle a situation like this when it happens again. Even if it is not for another hundred years, we need to get around to writing a report at some point. This is why we need to have a subcommittee meeting, so that members can discuss how all of the testimony can best serve the country, and we can take the next steps. If that report were to be written today, it would reflect how well the government has handled this pandemic.
My community of Brampton was hit very hard by the pandemic. Members of this committee know this. We also received the first doses of the vaccine before September. Now, more than half of the residents of Peel, almost 70% of adults, have received their first dose. At the peak of the third wave we reported over 11,000 new cases. On a single day yesterday it was 271. Things are improving.
The federal government was able to do this by securing a larger portfolio of vaccine candidates per capita than any other country. We now rank number three in the G20 on doses administered per capita. To date, we have delivered more than 26 million vaccines to provinces and territories, with many more on the way across the country. Over 60% of Canadian adults are vaccinated.
The vaccines are also working very effectively, better than expected since we started these meetings. It was reported that only 0.15% of vaccinated Canadians have become infected by the virus 14 days or more after their first dose. Dr. Tam adds that “Compared to unvaccinated cases in these jurisdictions, these people were more likely to report no symptoms and less likely to experience severe illness requiring hospitalization.”
When provinces ask for help, we are there for them. We gave over $284 billion to the provinces to help them increase their vaccine rollout capacity. In Peel, the federal government provided many additional supports, including on-the-ground support from the armed forces in long-term care facilities in the tragic first wave, the public health outbreak response from the Public Health Agency of Canada, and a volunteer isolation site for the region.
Across Ontario, there are over 300 federal contact tracers performing 2,500 to 3,000 calls a day. The government has provided 11 million rapid tests, support to deploy tests to workplaces, additional voluntary isolation sites across the province and, of course, the $5 billion to Ontario through the safe restart agreement.
We also know that virtual care is more important than ever. That is why $46 million has been provided to the province to help expand these services, allowing Ontarians to still access care while hospitals are dealing with the crisis.
Everything we have heard, Mr. Chair, needs to be properly documented—the highs and the lows. We, in committee, need to be working towards a report, at the very least an interim one, that can better inform future leaders. The motion under discussion continues to delay this important work.
The government has had to make difficult but necessary decisions, such as how to manage the border. Canada has some of the strictest travel and border measures in the world. We have restricted non-essential entry into the country. We have banned flights from countries experiencing surges of the variants. We have required all air travellers to quarantine under PHAC supervision and have implemented rigorous quarantine and testing protocols for all travellers.
Earlier this afternoon, Dr. Tam said, “Things have taken a great turn for the better”. She also said, “Our efforts have got us well and truly over the peak of the third wave nationally and heading for a much better summer, if we can stay the course.”
While the situation may be improving in Brampton and across Ontario, other provinces, such as Manitoba, are still experiencing outbreaks, so we must be cautious and responsible. She said, “While this forecast is very encouraging, it reaffirms that now is not the time to relax our measures. If measures are relaxed, increasing the number of community-wide in-persons contacts, resurgence is likely”. As she said, we must “stay the course”, one that our government has charted.
Mr. Chair, we need to work collaboratively. These are my thoughts.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Sorry. Let me start again, because I do want to be succinct.
One of the unfortunate things about this motion is the fact that we interrupted this committee meeting today. I think it was a very interesting committee. My friend Don Davies has said, well, it's partly the Liberals' fault. I think there's equal blame for everyone in this and the fact that our panel members today weren't able to fully speak. It was too bad, because I found the people from New Zealand extremely interesting.
I know that the NDP witness, Colleen Flood, is a very well-known professor at the University of Ottawa, perhaps one of the biggest names in Canadian health law. She wrote a book that I know I have on my shelf, on public health law. It would have been nice to have heard from her, particularly her perspective in terms of comparative law and what they did in New Zealand versus what we did in Canada.
Dr. Knight spoke on that. I thought what he had to say, too, was very interesting. I think the problem with New Zealand is how much of their fantastic results were a result of their different or better policies than ours and how much was just the result of the fact that New Zealand is an island so it's a lot easier to control their borders than ours.
That said, I know that New Zealand is good for something other than rugby, and they do have some excellent rugby teams. One thing is that it seemed they were a little stricter in implementing social distancing. We heard the same from Australia, which did a more short, sharp lockdown. I think he said it was “hard and fast”. Hard and fast was the New Zealand approach to the lockdown. This seemed to have been more successful than Canada's, where he's right in the fact that our goal, or not our goal but the provinces' goal, was to basically ensure that the hospitals and ICUs weren't overflowing. That was perhaps not the right approach, because it basically allowed the disease to continue to simmer in the population. On that, too, it would have been nice to have heard something more from the New Zealand people as to how they managed to do that.
Another interesting thing is that, in my understanding, in New Zealand some of their success was due to the fact that police seemed to have more powers to enforce public health measures, including social distancing measures. This has certainly been a frustration, at least for me in Ontario, and I'm not sure about those of you in other provinces, but when we look at....
That's what we're here for. We're the health committee. It seems one way or the other we'll get to talk about these issues, even if it's only from me.
However, one issue, and I think one failure in dealing with the pandemic, has been some lack of will on the part of the provinces to enforce public health measures and public health distancing, at least here in Ontario. I know Luc seems to be one of the only people listening. Maybe in Quebec this wasn't the case, but in Ontario there was seemingly quite a reluctance to enforce public health measures under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
I was particularly interested in this subject because I have worked for the World Health Organization, writing public health laws, including one for Vanuatu and another for Laos—although I think neither of those laws were actually passed. However, I did spend a lot of time reading public health legislation and what's included in public health legislation.
I do know, in fact, that almost all public health acts in the Commonwealth basically correspond or have followed the template set out by the 1936 British Public Health Act, which is the grandfather of all other public health acts. Within that act, there are measures to control spread of disease, because in the old days, public health was mostly about controlling the spread of infectious disease.
Part of our problem in response to the COVID pandemic is that public health has long since drifted away from the control of infectious disease. In the past, that was the core of what public health did. I don't know about the rest of you, but I remember as a kid having the public health nurse coming out to the our school and being very strict. I don't know if she actually physically disciplined us, but those were very serious people. I don't think they ever smiled. It was all about keeping your hands clean, taking your shoes off, etc. It was about control of infectious disease.
Over the last 30 or 40 years, as infectious diseases become much rarer, we've undergone what's called a “demographic transition” in public health. Many poor countries haven't, so they still have a disproportionately lot more deaths from infectious disease, malnutrition and things like that. As you get more prosperous, noncommunicable diseases become a greater problem. Some countries, like India, Mexico or Brazil, for example, have undergone the economic transition where more and more, instead of infectious disease being problem, problems are in terms of noncommunicable diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, strokes and cancer related to smoking and diet.
However, I want to keep referencing the topic of today. The topic of today and the topic of this discussion is this motion. Part of the problem with the motion is that it interrupted the discussion about what New Zealand did better than we did here. Certainly one of the things that New Zealand seemed to do was enforce those coercive measures under their public health legislation.
I would point out that those same measures are in our public health legislation. At least in Ontario, under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, section 22 gives the public health officer the ability to basically make any sort of order for the purpose of protecting public health. The way it's written, and having written it, I realize the laws are written quite broadly to give powers to public health officers to make rules. Under section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act there is this power given to the health officers to issues orders, with a maximum fine of $5,000 for not following the orders.
In Ontario, a lot of public health officers were unwilling to use those provisions. It's been a little difficult to figure out why. Apparently, some were worried about the constitutionality of the broad powers of such orders. In fact, there have been a number of cases that tested the powers given to health officers under public health legislation for COVID. In fact, the courts upheld them.
Why was Ontario so unwilling to enforce its provisions? The problem with section 22 is that it only allows you to fine. For some people who really don't care about a fine because they have no job, etc.... This was happening in Thunder Bay. People with known COVID or who were at a high risk of COVID were basically ignoring public health orders, getting on the bus and driving around on the bus. It didn't really bother them that there was often a fine.
Under section 35, however, there is the power of the health officer to order somebody to stay in hospital and basically be looked after. If they ran out and they tried to get on the bus, the police could go and get them, pick them up and bring them back to their facility where they would continue until they were no longer infectious.
However, Ontario didn't use this. Why didn't they use it? Actually, it's because Ontario did not classify COVID as being an infectious—I'm not totally sure of the term; I think it's “infectious”—disease under section 35, so they couldn't use section 35. Under section 35, they do list gonorrhea and syphilis. I don't think if you get on the bus and someone next to you has one of those diseases you have much of a risk. However, if they have COVID, that's a totally different thing. Why the Ontario government was reluctant to use section 35 is a little beyond me.
Getting back to the topic of this discussion and the motion, unfortunately the motion interrupted our discussions with our New Zealand witnesses. The New Zealand health law witness I think was willing to talk to us about the fact that in New Zealand, they seem to have enforced some of those social distancing measures. They were willing to take that coercive action.
I thought the other interesting thing about New Zealand in the testimony of the two witnesses today, or at least Dr. Knight, was the fact that they felt that the population bought into what the government was doing because the government was so open and transparent in publicizing minutes of cabinet meetings and things. They thought this resulted in greater buy-in from the population. I thought that was interesting.
I go back again to maybe my original thing with New Zealand. I'm not sure how much though, because I think a lot of people—the majority of people, but not everybody—in Canada also buy in to the social distancing measures. They buy in to what the government has been trying to do and what the provinces have been trying to do in terms of social distancing. It might just be a matter of numbers. When you're a small country like New Zealand and you have limited borders, you can control who comes into the country, and then you have a certain amount of buy-in. That may have been enough. Even if we had the same buy-in in Canada, given the larger numbers, given the open borders, could we have gotten to the same point? I'm not sure if really this is the case.
It was unfortunate that we didn't have more time to deal with the people from New Zealand and the comparative law aspect of the pandemic, because I think this is something really important. We ought to look at what other countries have done. It was unfortunate in that panel we didn't have people from Australia, although Dr. Flood did speak a little bit about Australia. I think they went hard and fast too, like New Zealand, in their social distancing measures, but they too are an island.
When you look at the proposal and this motion as to what we're going to do in the next number of weeks, I think it certainly warrants considering looking more at what other countries have done. In this country like all countries, too often we're a little myopic and only can see ourselves, but obviously everyone in the world, every country in the world has had to deal with the pandemic.
In fact, maybe that's part of our objection to the motion. I fully accept that there are two sides to every story. The opposition is going to say they tried to do this beforehand, that they tried to get a schedule. Like them, I fully agree that we are the health committee and what we do is important and we shouldn't be wasting our time with procedural wrangling, which I think is basically what's happening here. I agree it would have been nice had we all been part of deciding what we're going to do for the next number of weeks, because another thing that I think we ought to deal with which we haven't dealt with a lot here is the issue of the global response to the pandemic.
I go back to the fact that I'm very happy that many colleagues, people on this committee from all parties, signed that letter asking for the WHO waiver on intellectual property. That's fantastic. It's fantastic we had that co-operation. Is that the panacea though with regard to the intellectual property waiver, such that we're suddenly going to be able to produce billions and billions of doses of vaccine globally? Unfortunately, I don't think so.
However, I believe it is totally necessary. I think my friend Don Davies—if he wanted to talk about it, although I'm sure he's not going to want to help us out by talking about it—would probably agree with me that one of the important things about the waiver is that it is a statement by our government that we as a society do not put intellectual property rights above the interests of humanity. Certainly, the overwhelming interest of humanity at the moment is to deal with this pandemic.
I go back to what others have said today. I absolutely totally agree with them, and I think from the beginning on this committee, that a very serious job of this committee has been trying to shine a light on various aspects of the pandemic.
In terms of the pandemic, I certainly would like to shine a light on the global response, and the fact that I think, unfortunately, with this pandemic we've seen every country basically fighting their own battle individually against COVID when we were all basically facing the same enemy. And this isn't totally unique, if you look at the history of infectious disease in the world. There have been numerous, numerous epidemics and even pandemics in the past. So I can't say it's unique, but what is unique and what is different is that this has been the.... I would say that HIV/AIDS has been a pandemic, a much slower-moving pandemic, but nonetheless a pandemic, but because it's slower-moving, it hasn't required the kind of global co-operation that has been required with this pandemic.
Yes, this pandemic is like the 1917 Spanish influenza in terms of its being highly contagious—not as contagious as influenza but a contagious respiratory illness that has gone around the world. The difference between now and the time of the Spanish flu is that communications are so much better between countries. That was at a time back then when, I'm not sure, I think maybe they had telegrams, but obviously communications were a lot slower and so global co-operation was much more difficult.
Certainly with this pandemic I think we could and should have seen a lot more of a harmonious global effort to deal with the pandemic, which has been affecting all of us. Certainly this is something that I would like to see come out of this pandemic. When we look at perhaps the last great world tragedy, the Second World War, I think that out of the suffering of that war people from around the world came together and decided, no more; we don't want this to ever happen again. As a result the UN Charter was written in something like 30 days in San Francisco. Thirty days, whereas nowadays we can't even get an agreement on something.... I was going to compare it with this, though we're not that slow. I know that institutions move tremendously slowly. Our hospital in Thunder Bay took, I think, a year or six months to come out with some sort of model for the hospital.
Nonetheless, in response to World War II, we certainly came up with something to improve the world. We came up with the United Nations and the international legal order. Similarly, I would hope, under COVID, that the world comes together in response to this real disaster that has affected almost everybody in the whole world, and I think out of this hopefully will come better institutions to deal with global governance and particularly with a global pandemic.
Getting back to this motion—because I don't want anyone to raise a point of order that I'm not speaking to this motion—this is the kind of thing, had we been able to discuss this amongst us all.... And I'm not even laying all the blame on the opposition parties for this, because I know this is the structure of politics and that we have these committees and subcommittees. It would be nice if we could just talk together and decide, because I know and I've heard a lot of people say that what we ought to be doing is collectively dealing with the pandemic and be working co-operatively together and not wasting time on procedural wrangling, which is certainly what we're doing here. That would be nice. I think it's something this motion ignores and that we get chastised for—that it's all the Liberals' fault for doing this....
We're part of the team too and nobody discussed with us beforehand, at least not with me, what the proposal was for the coming weeks, and maybe we too would like some input into it and we weren't really given the opportunity. It was set down on us as a fait accompli: “Here it is: take it or leave it. We're in the majority, and you're not, blah blah blah, rah rah rah, you can't get us, we're going to pass it whether you like it or not”. That is what leads to this kind of thing, which is unfortunate.
It would be nicer in the future, should we get some sort of more harmonious way of dealing with issues like this.... Hopefully, what will happen when we get back to Ottawa is we'll start to all go out. It's too bad we weren't in Ottawa now on a nice sunny day and we could drink a few beers and reach a more harmonious conclusion as to what we're going to do for the rest of our time in Parliament, rather than sitting here seeing my garden slowly dry up because there's no one there to water it on a Friday afternoon.
I think I've spoken enough. I will pass it on to my next colleague in line. Thanks.
I guess I don't understand the reason for this filibuster today by my Liberal colleagues.
I'm just going to put this out here. When I was parliamentary secretary.... I'm dating myself, but back in the day, my opposition critic was Megan Leslie. She was a formidable parliamentarian. Seriously, if you guys ever want to blame somebody for why I'm as good as I am, it's because of Megan Leslie. She really forced me to up my game. We had a majority in the committee at that point in time. I was parliamentary secretary and she was my critic. We met once a week. I knew she was going to push her issues. I was going to push mine. We met regularly on programming. I would go back to my team—my members on the committee—and I'd say that the NDP want to do this, but we want to do this and then I'd ask them what they thought. I'd go back to her and we'd have things negotiated ahead of time.
I just don't understand what the filibustering is. If there's something in this motion my colleagues on the Liberal Party don't like, they should propose an amendment. Mr. Powlowski just talked about how no one discussed this with him. That's the purpose of giving notice of a motion. I gave proper notice on this, so Mr. Powlowski would have gotten this. The standard procedure at that point for a member on a committee is to call the parliamentary secretary. I don't know who the quarterback on the Liberal side is. I've never really had anyone say, “I'm the quarterback; can we work together? We might get frustrated, but can we work together?” No one has actually done that with me.
Through you, Chair, Mr. Powlowski could have phoned the parliamentary secretary, asked what the plan is or asked what the MINO is saying. He could have asked if they wanted an amendment or suggested that he was thinking that they could do this. He could have asked them to talk to me about it.
Actually, when I was parliamentary secretary, I saw it as my job to phone my colleagues on the committee and be like, “I think we should do this. What do you guys think?” If there was a filibuster.... I don't think there was on health. I think the NDP might have done it once when I was on the environment committee. We didn't filibuster on programming because it was all pre-negotiated.
I have been frustrated that there haven't been more people taking the lead or reaching out on this. We don't have time to waste.
I would say this: If there's something in this motion that the Liberals don't like and they want to change it, there's this thing called a phone. You guys can email me. You guys all know the parliamentary email account. You guys could be emailing me right now. I know other colleagues are. We could have sorted this out.
I think what happened here—and I would just like somebody to tell me not—is that the meeting on the Liberal side didn't happen. That's what I think happened here. It's that the meeting to discuss whether they can negotiate with the opposition on this, what they want to do, what the direction from the government is and how they can marry that with their role as committee members didn't happen.
What's happening here, I think—and I hope I'm wrong—is that members are being directed to filibuster so that we have another meeting on Monday, which is a subcommittee meeting. That actually takes up another meeting, as our colleague Mr. Davies pointed out, because we have to approve that. Then we've wasted two meetings.
The goal of this motion and giving appropriate notice of it was that I just assumed that my Liberal colleagues would come prepared or at least would phone and say, “Okay, can we do this? Can we do that?” Then we would have passed something today. I've heard a lot about Minecraft from somebody, but I haven't heard any amendments or.... Nobody has emailed me from the Liberal side. Nobody has said, “Hey, you know, I kind of need this”.
I guess I would ask respectfully for my Liberal colleagues to think about that.
Clearly, somebody prepared remarks for Liberal members coming in on a filibuster. Why didn't you guys prepare amendments? Why didn't somebody phone?
Chair, that's my concern here. I did try to draft this motion—and draft it with colleagues from other parties who talk to me—to be fair. It gives the government a lot of latitude on the witnesses that they want. If the opposition wanted to ram a motion through that was unfair, we could have done that, too. We didn't because we're in the middle of a global pandemic.
Departmental officials need to be here because we need to be holding the government to account. There are hundreds of billions of dollars going through our department that need to be scrutinized. The efficacy of funding needs to be scrutinized. If it's too much, too little or if it's effective—that's our job here. That's what this this motion is for.
Colleagues, please don't continue to read prepared notes. I don't know who's preparing them, but ask your parliamentary secretary what the game plan is. They're good, and this is not that bad of a motion. If there are proposed amendments, we should be considering that and debating the merits of moving forward.
I don't think any Canadian would want to see a continued filibuster on a programming motion in the health committee in the middle of a pandemic. I certainly would be raising this issue on every platform I had at my disposal and within the media.
If there's an amendment, if there's something that the Liberals don't like about this, they should be doing that. Also, do your job. To the Liberal members on the committee, what happens is that when you get a notice of motion, you should read it. You should phone your parliamentary secretary. I don't know who the quarterback is; I'm assuming it's the PS, but it might not be. Just ask, what are we doing on this? You guys might vote your own way, too. I don't know; maybe there is no quarterback.
Every individual member has a responsibility to come here, be prepared, read motions and be prepared to vote or put forward substantive amendments. That's how it works. I hope we can come to a resolution on this today, because I'd really like to get going with further work next week.
Yes, we will have moments in this committee where we disagree on partisan principles or policy positions, and do you know what? I am good at my job. I put a lot of time into it and I don't apologize for that. However, this is how collaboration works on a committee. It works both ways.
I will give a shout-out to Mike Kelloway. He did reach out to me once and we had one conversation.
On this motion, no Liberal has reached out to me. Guys, the phones and emails work both ways. I hope that if anybody has any more comments they are substantive and that we can proceed with programming out the business of this committee.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
Let me start by saying how honoured I am that the Conservative critic thinks that I just tell all members what to do. She clearly doesn't know us very well. As the newest member of this committee, I can tell you that our HESA members need absolutely no assistance, as they've already demonstrated here today. In fact, I think it demonstrates the complete level of desperation the Conservative member is grasping at.
At the end of the day, they talk about wanting to get down to business. On her threats about using the social media channel she has to highlight that: Go for it. Do you know what we're fighting for on this side? We're fighting to hear from witnesses, from Canadians.
The member opposite tables a motion that says that, in the middle of the pandemic, every party gets one witness. Then, she has the audacity to move a motion when we're in the middle of questioning witnesses, of hearing their testimony about their experiences around the world dealing with COVID, very real evidence that might help Canadians get through this pandemic just a little bit easier. The member said, “I don't want to wait until the end. I don't care that these witnesses have put in time and energy to come here to help us, to help all of us get through this pandemic.” She throws, as usual, a temper tantrum, and says, “I want to deal with my motion now. I don't want to hear from other people.”
That is what is so classic in what I have seen from this member. I've only been in this role for a couple of months now. I can tell you that I really appreciate the testimony and the commitment to this file from all members, but what I will never stand for is the absolute disrespect to witnesses who have taken the time to come to be with us today, and the disrespect to our members. Ms. Rempel Garner talks about putting in a lot of work, and she's not going to apologize for it. Well, so do we. We put in a lot of work to question witnesses to get testimony that might help Canadians. That's what we're here for.
I don't want to hear her faux outrage about the amount of work she puts in and how great it is. Our members do, too. That's what we're all here for. We may disagree on policy, but we're all here to fight for Canadians. She has the gumption to think that her work is somehow more valuable, that her point of view is somehow more relevant to Canadians than everybody else's.
Well, Mr. Chair, as the newest member of this committee, I'm here to say it's not. I will fight to make sure, with my Liberal colleagues on this committee, that the perspectives of Canadians across this country are heard. I will not apologize for that.
She can sit here and hurl insults at me. I've heard them all before. I don't care, because I'm doing the work that Canadians sent us here to do. My constituents sent me here. Our other members of this committee were sent here. For her to somehow talk about her perspective as meaning more—her ideas for a motion on a work plan meaning more than the Canadians who sent us here—I don't think so.
We have opinions on that, too. We want to talk about how we are going to move forward to ensure that the vast voices regarding COVID are being addressed, and she shuts her ears and says that her mind is made up. She doesn't want to be confused by the truth.
Go right ahead. Go on every social media channel and say that you don't want to hear from a vast and diverse group of Canadians, because that's outrageous. That's not how Parliament works. That's not how committees work. I, for one, will not be held hostage in a work plan that limits our ability to hear from Canadians. If she thinks that is something that her constituents and her social media channels find acceptable....
In my view, I think there are many witnesses who would like to come in our remaining time in this session. Frankly, we could have heard from the witnesses who were here, who she cut off—but no, because if it's not her way, it's no way.
I'm sorry, but that is not how Parliament works. We may not always agree on the policies, we may not always agree on the politics, but there has to be a level of commitment to working together for the greater good. If you can't, we're going to stand up and fight for it.
Mr. Chair, I want to talk about some of the other comments, too, that were made while I was listening to this debate. It was argued that this motion is just so fair and how could we not want to support it? Did anybody bother to ask if we wanted to support it? No. The members opposite talk about, “Oh, no one reached out.” Well, no one reached out to me either. Frankly, I was about to use unparliamentary language. But it's not a very bright argument to use, because the levels and the channels of communication go both ways. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If you don't want to compromise with us, then you have no idea what we'd like to see in the work plan, because you never bothered to ask.
What we'd like to see are witnesses. We'd like to hear testimony from Canadians across the country—provinces and territories—who have been battling COVID. We heard incredible testimony from Nova Scotia about the rapid testing program they have in place and the training of volunteers. We have heard some incredible testimony. Why would I want to limit the ability to hear from and learn from them? If your only motivation at this committee is is to engage political hit jobs, then of course you don't care about hearing witnesses. Of course, all you want are your social media clips.
Mr. Chair, people who genuinely want to hear ideas, genuinely want to make life better for Canadians, want to hear from people who have that experience. We're lucky that we have a doctor on this committee who speaks often, with great knowledge, about his experience and the technical details that, in fairness, I don't have. I appreciate hearing from him. I also appreciate that when we bring witnesses in with various backgrounds, we all stand to benefit, because we're not all experts in all areas of the field of COVID and what we're dealing with.
Shutting ourselves down to limit hearing from these experts in the middle of a pandemic is, I think, irresponsible as a health committee. I've heard us being criticized: “How could Liberal members want to possibly filibuster in the middle of a health pandemic?” It's because the Conservatives and the NDP—I don't know about the Bloc, because Mr. Thériault raised his concerns with this as well—have decided they want to shut down Canadians' ability to come before this committee and share their experiences.
Yes, I'm willing to fight for that. I'm willing to stand up against that. I don't want to shut off my ability to learn from others' experiences, to hear ideas of how we're going to get through COVID, and then post-COVID, of what we need to do better, what we need to do to make sure Canadians never have to go through again. Why would I ever want to limit that?
Conservatives and whoever else is jumping on that band wagon say, “Why would Liberals...? Canadians will be so upset that they're filibustering.” No. Canadians are going to remember who was on the side of history that thought they knew best versus who wanted to learn from other people's experiences and take that knowledge and deliver real change.
That's on you. Sorry, not you, Mr. Chair, but that's on those members.
There were also questions about procedure and having a subcommittee meeting or not. Come on, we all know what this is about. This is about structuring a motion. You want to deal with it now. Fine. But the subcommittee was scheduled, and to Mr. Davies' credit, he acknowledged that he hadn't received that email, but it was scheduled.
We've heard complaints from members before that more subcommittee meetings should be scheduled. In fairness to the chair, there were motions on the books about the structure of the study. Again, I wasn't around when those motions passed, but you all came to an agreement. You all said this is how our work plan is going to move forward.
Subcommittees, in my experience, are used for when you need to determine what your work plan is going to be. You all did that work. You had motions on the books. The chair and the clerk were following that directive. I don't know now which meeting it was, but I remember the chair specifically saying that once we reached the end of that work plan, essentially he'd be calling a subcommittee meeting to determine the next one.
However, that's not good enough for the Conservative members, because that wouldn't have probably produced this type of motion which limits the number of witnesses that we can call, limits the number of voices that we can hear at the table, limits the amount of knowledge that we can share with Canadians.
Of course, they didn't want to take that approach, even though they'd been asking for subcommittee meetings. The chair says yes, and yet that's still not good enough. As my family from Newfoundland and my family's MP, the , would say, “There's just no pleasin' 'em.” That's what this is. There's just no pleasing them.
This isn't about COVID. This isn't about doing the committee's work. This is about certain members constructing meetings in ways that they think will create the best political hits versus doing the work Canadians sent us here to do.
That's what we're fighting for. I want to see more witnesses at this committee in the remaining weeks that we have. The members proved today, by not letting us deal with this motion at the end of the meeting, which was our every intention to do, that they don't actually care about hearing testimony. They don't actually care about any other members, and the work that goes into it. They just care about the work they've done. That's fine. But we care about hearing those witnesses, so we're going to keep fighting for that.
I've heard comments, Mr. Chair, about, oh, they came prepared with notes. I find that so insulting. Every member prepares for committee in different ways. Every party deals with procedure in different ways. As for this notion to act, this feigned indifference, as if there's some big, grand conspiracy, there's absolutely not. Every single one of us comes prepared at meetings to talk passionately about issues we care about.
We couldn't possibly have known that the Conservatives and NDP were going to split their time and move a motion in the middle of testimony.
Mr. Chair, nobody ever told us that was what they were going to do, so if you want to talk about collusion, if you want to talk about committees and ethics and being prepared.... We have members who are passionate to talk about health issues. We're always ready to talk about that. It's not our fault that we are that passionate and have the ability to talk about these things.
We couldn't have possibly known the stunt that was going to be pulled here today, but lucky for us, we're prepared to always stand up and fight for Canadians and fight to hear testimony at these committees and fight for the parliamentary process.
It's unfortunate. We all could be spending our time in different ways, getting back to constituents and just dealing with the business of this committee, but the Conservatives and NDP shared their time, moved a motion, cut off other members from being able to talk to the witnesses who appeared, cut off their ability to ask the questions that they had put in work to come up with, and there's no way we could have known that was the procedure, the collusion that they were going to do.
I'm not going to be lectured on ethics just because we're prepared to speak about health issues that we care deeply about, and we won't apologize for that. Every single member of this Liberal team who has spoken has spoken passionately and informed on areas that they care about, and that's what we're going to keep doing. We're going to keep fighting to make sure that Canadians' voices are heard, that there is a diverse group of Canadian voices that are heard. We're not going to be limited to Conservative parameters about who should speak on issues of importance.
We still have an opportunity to work together. We have a subcommittee meeting coming up. We can raise our issues of concern about the number of witnesses the Conservatives have proposed and we can debate it out. We can hash it out, but to come in here with the arrogance of just going to move this motion in the middle of witness testimony and questioning, they didn't really care about the implications of that. They didn't care how embarrassing and disrespectful that is to those witnesses or to all our members.
They don't care that we have genuine issues and concerns about witnesses. We want to have that conversation. We could have done that. We can still do that at subcommittee, but again, it's the Conservatives' way or no way.
That's not what Canadians voted for. We are in a minority government, but that means Canadians sent us to work together. It means not one party controls the committee business, controls and constructs how we will hear from Canadians.
Feel free to put it on your social media channels, because I'll be doing the same to make sure that Canadians know that it's the Liberal members who are standing up for them, who want to hear science and evidence, who want to hear best practices, who want to get through this pandemic together stronger and want us to be better prepared on the other side.
It is Conservative members and whoever else is joining them. I'll let you all rethink it, but it's Conservatives who don't want to hear from scientists. It's Conservatives who don't want to hear from Canadians. It's Conservatives who want to play politics in the middle of a pandemic, who want their social media channels to get some hits and get some likes. That's the Conservatives' use of this committee.
We don't stand for that. No, Canadians sent us here to do better and that's precisely what we're going to go. We want to hear from them. We want that science-based evidence. We want that knowledge. Even if sometimes it's a criticism of the government, we sit here and we learn from it, but that's not what the Conservative motion is.
Their motion limits our ability to hear from Canadians. They can spin it however they want. They can say it's so awful, but at the end of the day, Canadians can see through who is actually wanting and willing to do that work.
We want to hear from people. We want to hear from witnesses. We wanted to hear from witnesses today. We've done that work. We're going to continue to fight passionately and speak passionately on the issues that matter to us.
If the other members want to work with us on how we can hear more people at our committee in the limited time we have left, then work with us. We're happy to do so, but I will tell them what we don't want. We don't want the Conservatives controlling the agenda, so that they shut down our ability to hear from Canadians. That's how they operated for 10 years in government. They muzzled scientists and muzzled the public service. That's not what we want. We actually want to hear from people. We don't want the Conservatives to construct this committee in the way they governed for 10 years under Stephen Harper, which was to control, not wanting to listen to facts, not wanting to listen to a difference of opinion, not wanting to learn and, frankly, not wanting to hear from regions across this country. They always want to take the “Ottawa knows best” approach. We don't believe in doing that. We want to hear from people from right across this country.
Mr. Chair, I'll leave it there for now. I think it's important that we continue talking about this, because we are so passionately committed to making sure that the voices across this country are not muzzled. That's what we are going to keep fighting for.
It's probably appropriate that Mr. Davies has an opportunity to follow me.
First, I think I'm entitled to an apology with respect to his personal attack and his referencing my grandchildren. I think that is totally inappropriate. It's unacceptable. I don't think I need to quote a rule. I just think that the bitterness and the mean-spirited tone of that is something that is.... I certainly wouldn't allow myself to get that way, and I would expect to be admonished if I did. I am hoping that Mr. Davies will take the opportunity to do so.
Second, I want to say that Ms. O'Connell is a great addition to this team. Although she adds a lot of additional thoughts and great ideas, certainly we are not subjected to directives. The discussions within our group are interactive. We listen; we hear what we have to say. Frankly, a lot of great ideas come forward, and we're able to build on each other's ideas.
I wish—I really wish—I could say that for the entire HESA team, but what I'm seeing and hearing is a small group of people cordoning themselves off, as you would see in a schoolyard, and planning how to isolate and disenfranchise others. That, to me, Mr. Chair, is a huge disappointment. It's not the way that I did business in 15 years as a regional councillor or in 12 years as a mayor. We reached out; we had a great exchange and dialogue, but we certainly didn't disenfranchise and isolate others. That's the component of the über-partisanship that I find so disappointing.
I have another half chapter that talks about that, but I'm not going to do that. I just want to say that we were off to a good start in the first half of HESA. I enjoyed that. I thought the dialogue was good; I thought it was collaborative. In the second session, frankly, the tone changed significantly. To me that was a disappointment. It would be great if we could get back to that, but people will have to ask themselves what they are going to do to contribute to a positive atmosphere and a positive environment.
Mr. Chair, I also want to compliment Mr. Davies on the way he put forward a work plan. I thought that was constructive and put together a framework that would be helpful for us so that we could plan our discussions and our witnesses. Sadly, it's more than just this time that those well-thought-out plans, commitments and agreements seem to change at the last minute. That's really a disappointment.
I make a reference to organizational charts and how organizations change. In some cases, with some organizations, it would be simpler for them to put their organizational charts on an Etch A Sketch. Sometimes I feel that way with what we agree to when we're going forward.
There's a discussion on what's appropriate, and the next discussion was the discussion that the Liberals were going to bring forward their next witnesses on an important topic, long-term care. Is there anybody in this group who doesn't think that long-term care is an important topic? We agreed on that. Now, all of a sudden—and I don't know what has made those changes—we're finding other things are more important and more pressing.
I think we all understand how urgent the situation is. I think we understand that we have a ministry that is capable and competent and has the ability to respond to the issues, but what value is an agreement if it only lasts until the next notion comes across? That's a huge disappointment for me.
What we are talking about here is the importance of setting out a plan and sticking to the plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I thought we had a good plan. Again, I want to compliment Mr. Davies on that, in bringing that forward, and we were going to have the subcommittee meeting on Monday.
I'm surprised to see this motion in front of me, and it's disappointing.
The way that we seem to be able to rationalize the change is, to me, something that really wouldn't work in any business or in any boardroom. I think we need to hold people to their commitments on what the work plan is. We need to talk about progress against those work plans. I thought we were moving ahead, except for the times when we find ourselves being diverted by notional ideas. For me, it's something that I'm simply not accustomed to.
We always need to come back to the idea that this committee is not just the Conservatives, not just the Bloc and not just the NDP. This committee has other members, and if people genuinely want to be engaged, then that discussion should take place. Guess what? We created a subcommittee that was intended to do that. Everybody would have that representation, but no, this cannot happen. We were going to have this discussion. Now we're less than 70 hours away. We were going to talk about the next important steps forward.
Someone seems to be intent on rallying a way for us not to go forward with what we agreed on. We agreed on and accepted recommendations from the other side. It was a good idea. We adopted it. The major strength there was the weakness of the convictions. You just can't operate that way. You need to be able to work towards fulfilling our mandate.
Our mandate is to have a good understanding of what the issues are, but also to respect each other and make sure that the discussions are going forward and that the studies are going forward, for example, mental health, and that they serve the purpose that this committee was structured for.
Now, let me remind you, I think my motion for a study on mental health probably did not last much more than 15 minutes until it was summarily dismissed. To me, that was a real disappointment. We have dutifully and honourably waited for the long-term care study, which is up next, after we have this discussion. Now, all of a sudden, we're looking at having that set aside. Frankly, it's unjust, unfair, not collaborative, and it's frustrating.
Having said that, I'm looking forward to hearing what Mr. Davies has to say. Certainly, I wouldn't want to offend his grandchildren.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity to have heard from Mr. Van Bynen prior to my speaking.
I think any fair reading of the remarks that I made would make it clear that there was absolutely no personal animosity or insult intended whatsoever towards Mr. Van Bynen or his grandchildren. In fact, it was Mr. Van Bynen who brought up how important it was that the behaviour of politicians be of such a quality and character that it would be something that we would be proud to have our family members or grandchildren see.
What I was bringing up, of course, was how our grandchildren in general would view their politicians filibustering at the health committee during a health pandemic. That's what I said. That's what my remarks are. If those remarks were taken as an insult by anyone in this committee, least of all by Mr. Van Bynen, it certainly was never my intention and I regret that the perception was given at all.
I'm sorry that I can't directly apologize, because there was no insult given. There was no insult intended.
I do think, though, there's a hard-hitting message there, which is that we have to very carefully scrutinize our own behaviour, as Mr. Van Bynen spent a good 15 or 20 minutes of this committee pointing out, in terms of how we act as politicians. I will stand by my comments that the behaviour that saw us unceremoniously disregard witnesses who had been scheduled....
By the way, I will point out again that it was Mr. Van Bynen who refused that.
I'm going to say for the record—and this is the third and final time I will point this out, because it doesn't matter how many times a falsehood is repeated, it doesn't make it true— that Ms. Rempel wanted to move her motion. We had four questioners: the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Bloc, and the New Democrats. Ms. Rempel was concerned that if after her questioning it went to the Liberal, the Liberals might move a motion and therefore she would not be able to get to her motion. That's why she ceded her time to me so I could get my questions in.
When the Liberals quite properly pointed out that by moving that motion they would be deprived of their ability to ask questions of the witnesses, as would the Bloc—and as would the Conservatives, by the way—I put forth the very reasonable suggestion that if everybody agrees, including the Liberals and the Bloc, not to move a substantive motion that would supplant Ms. Rempel's and deprive her of her right as the first questioner to move the motion, we could hear from all the witnesses.
Who disagreed? It was Mr. Van Bynen. The Liberals disagreed.
Then, in the most Orwellian manner possible, to hear them speak after about how the committee has now been deprived of hearing from those witnesses and how they were deprived of their ability to ask questions of the very witnesses because of their very own action in preventing that is something that I think is as disingenuous and as absurd as it looks to anybody who is fair-minded watching.
I want to say a few things. There was a comment by one of my colleagues about coming prepared to committee. I come prepared to committee. Do you know what I don't come prepared to do? Filibuster.
There's not a thing in my office that I have prepared, no prepared notes that I can refer to that go to filibuster. I've seen three Liberals do that today. That's not preparing for committee. That's not preparing to come to do the honest, important work that Canadians expect. That's coming to do the work of obstruction. I draw a distinction between preparing for committee and preparing to obstruct the committee, which leads me to my next point, that we are a democracy.
If the Liberals believe they have strong, compelling arguments that this motion should not be passed, let it go to a vote. Let's vote on it.
I can tell you, I've been in opposition as a New Democrat for 12 years and I've lost a heck of a lot of votes in my time, but do you know what? That's the price of democracy. I have my say, and I live by the results and I respect it.
Everybody is a democrat when they win. Do you know how you tell if someone is a true democrat? It's by how they act when they don't win and whether they respect the will of the majority. That's what we're being prevented from getting at here.
The Liberals are preventing this committee from getting to a vote on whether this committee and these committee members believe that this is an acceptable plan of action for the remaining seven meetings of this committee. They know in their heart of hearts that the majority of this committee feels that. Instead of losing a vote graciously, they want to talk out the clock and defer the vote. To me, that's not democratic, and it's not doing what Canadians, I think, expect us to do at this committee.
That gets me to something else. If there are problems with this motion.... By the way, I want to stop and say that this was no stunt. This was no motion that was put forward by trickery. Notice of it was served on Wednesday. This motion has been sitting on the books and was sent to every member of this committee, each of whom has had two full days to consider this motion and plan for it.
Here we are today. I'm asking my Liberal colleagues, who keep saying that we can't pass this, that we have to deal with it on Monday.... I haven't yet heard a single substantive problem with the motion. I haven't heard a single one of my Liberal colleagues propose a concrete, positive proposal to improve the motion. If there's a problem with the motion as it stands, which they don't like, tell us what it is and propose an amendment so that we can consider it.
I don't see how they can continue to object to a motion and talk in general terms about how objectionable it is without ever once taking the responsibility to identify specifically what the problem is and propose a resolution to it.
Incidentally, concerning this new-found exuberance for a subcommittee meeting, we've had, by my memory, precisely one subcommittee meeting since 2019—maybe two. I'm only saying two because I could be wrong; I think it's one, but it's been a maximum of two subcommittee meetings.
I'm seeing my colleague Mr. d'Entremont say it was one. I believe there has been one, since 2019. Now, the principal objection of the Liberals to this motion before us today is, “Darn it, no way. It doesn't matter how good this motion is, we're not going to tell you what's wrong with it. It has to be dealt with at the subcommittee on Monday.” Is this the issue of principle that the Liberals are holding up this meeting for?
Now, I'm going to go through this again. I keep trying to raise practical, concrete, bona fide concerns about this course of action. I don't particularly care whether it's dealt with today or on Monday; I don't have any skin in that game. What I'm saying is that if we deal with it on Monday, then we lose the Monday meeting.
I haven't heard a single Liberal explain that for people who want to hear from witnesses—and this motion would hear from eight witnesses on Monday—the Liberal position is that we'll hear from none on Monday. It was the Liberal action that meant we didn't have questions of the witnesses today, so that's strike two. Then we have to have the subcommittee report come back and be endorsed by the full committee on Friday, so we lose that meeting. That's strike three.
Then, even if it passes on Friday, again it doesn't give the clerk enough time or the parties enough time to be prepared for a meeting on Monday. This must be Canadian baseball: that's strike four. For a party that has been waxing eloquent all afternoon about how important it is to hear from witnesses, that surely is hard to square with the behaviour, when the result of everything they're doing today means that we lose four. We lost witnesses today and for the next three meetings.
If I'm missing something here, I'm open-minded; I'd love to hear a Liberal correct me and tell me how anything I've said is incorrect. The motion here today would have this committee meeting Monday, next Friday, the following Monday, every Monday and Friday from now until the House rises, with witnesses every time.
If, as Ms. O'Connell says, she doesn't like the fact that there's only one witness called per party per meeting, how about making an amendment to call two or three, or whatever the number is that she and others feel would be more appropriate? I'm certainly open to entertaining that. I'm not slavishly adhering to one witness.
I can't, however, deal with a generalized objection to a motion when the objectors refuse to specify what their objection is, other than that for some reason they want this dealt with on a Monday not a Friday, and they want it dealt with at a subcommittee, when we're here right now.
Even if we have the subcommittee on Monday, all the people who are at this meeting right now looking at each other are going to have to endorse that plan next Friday. It's going to have to happen one way or the other. Why don't we do it right now when we're here?
I think it's a little late in the game now. We've spent the last three hours as the Liberals have embarked on a filibuster, when they could have been proposing concrete amendments to this motion. We could have been discussing, debating and improving the motion. I'm very willing to entertain improvements to this motion.
I do want to say once more—this is important because I think it was slightly misleading—that this committee isn't necessarily going to go to long-term care as the next issue. I want to repeat that. We were at a very natural break. All the four parties' first priorities on COVID have now concluded today. Were we to just go with the extant motion, the Liberals would proceed with their second priority. I want to repeat, the reason that's not appropriate, in my view, is it doesn't give the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP the equal time, because we're not going to get to each party's second priority.
What I think Mr. Van Bynen is saying—the net result of it—is that he's happy if the Liberal Party can get two of their priorities done and it doesn't matter if the other parties can't get their two. If we're talking collegiality and fairness, I don't think that's fair. I don't think it's fair that we adjourn on June 23 with Mr. Thériault and me and probably the Conservatives not having had a chance to get to our second choice, but the Liberals got theirs. That's the reason this is a very natural point for this motion to have come forward on Wednesday in order for us to plan the next seven meetings.
I am very much concerned that the clock is going to run out at 6:30. We're going to end up losing this meeting today. We will have a subcommittee meeting on Monday. If we don't get agreement because of the behaviour of the Liberals today, we do run the risk of losing a significant number of health committee meetings in the next days ahead. I think it ought to be made clear to Canadians that this is on the Liberals. It is not on the Conservatives, not on the Bloc and not on the NDP because we're here right now ready to pass a motion that would schedule every single meeting and have witnesses before the committee every single time.
I can speak for myself. I am absolutely ready and willing to entertain amendments from the Liberals which they think would improve the motion, but again, I can't deal with a phantom. I can't deal with objections that aren't specified and I fear that we're just going to have this discussion on Monday morning.
With that, I think I'll conclude my remarks.
I do want to conclude by saying this. I do value very much the contributions and the good faith and the skills and talents of all of my colleagues. I will say to Mr. van Bynen, if you took offence at what I said, Mr. Van Bynen, I would apologize to you, because that was not my intention. It's more important to me that we maintain decorum and respect at this committee than to stand on formality, but I do want to make clear that there was never any intention to offend you.
Where I'll finish is that I have this image in my mind—and I've read recently that this may not be historically accurate—of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. That's what I think is happening today. That's what got my emotions up, the concept of anybody filibustering. If it's not over a very serious matter of principle, then I do think that what's happened today is that this committee has fiddled while many communities across this country are burning.
The motion that I moved today, Chair, was really important, because it would set the direction of the health committee for the next several weeks, and I don't think the Liberals want Canadians to see this.
The motion would bring departmental officials, the minister, people in front of committee to look at these really important issues—on drug prices, on COVID-19. What they did today, instead of letting this motion pass, was put up speakers so that resources will run out.
Can you believe that? It's just not right. I thought this motion was really.... It was built in a collaborative way; it allows the various parties to invite the witnesses that they want; there's no partisan language in it. In fact, I can post it later so that people can look at it.
At the end of the day, if this motion had passed today, what it would mean is that we would have a meeting on Monday on this drug price issue. Because they are filibustering this meeting, however, that meeting is lost.
What the Liberals want to have happen, Chair, is to have the subcommittee meet on Monday. They're trying to use procedure to block this motion. They want to have a subcommittee meeting, which takes a meeting off the table. Then the subcommittee would have to approve this motion, and then it would have to go to another meeting of the full committee, and then these meetings would be scheduled.
We are thus losing weeks and meetings, rather than just dealing with it today. That's why the filibuster is happening.
This is all really technical procedure, but at the end of the day, by passing this motion today we could have had meetings on the drug price issue and the COVID-19 stuff next week. It would have been done right away, but now we don't know when it is going to happen.
What we need to do, then, is force the Liberals to have a meeting on Monday so that this gets passed.
This sort of thing is so frustrating for us, because we could have passed this motion today. The Liberals so far haven't raised any substantive objections to the motion and haven't proposed amendments to the motion. That's typically what happens in debate on a motion. They would say, “Well, I don't like this part of it. Could we do that?”
We've had no debate on that today, if anybody wants to look back, Chair, and see the debate on this motion. There have been no amendments raised by the Liberals on this issue.
I think they talked about Minecraft for awhile, actually. They read something about Minecraft. It's really interesting.
I need, then, to look at other options, because we're going to run out of resources.
There's a bunch of Liberal hands up. Can you believe that Parliament is shut down because we don't have IT resources or translation resources?
Thank you to the translators, by the way.
Usually, in regular times—you can see how COVID affects Parliament—these filibuster things get out.
I need, then, to look at other options. In order to do these other options so as not lose all these meetings that we have, I have to do something procedurally here right now so that I can use another tactic to get a meeting on Monday.
Mr. Chair, all this said, I want to thank my colleagues, particularly from the Bloc and the NDP. Mr. Thériault has been fighting really hard on the drug price issues; so has my colleague, Mr. Don Davies from the NDP. Particularly on COVID, though, I think this committee has been a really good example of how opposition parties can work together in a minority parliament to hold the government to account.
With that, Mr. Chair, with the intent of making sure that we can get a meeting on Monday and make sure that the Liberals can't use procedure to make sure that it doesn't happen, I move to adjourn the meeting.