I'm sorry not everyone can hear me clearly. I hope the technical issue is resolved as soon as possible.
I was discussing the fact that, as a new member of the committee, I have examined its proceedings from the notes the clerks have provided me. I'd like to thank the clerks and all the members of their teams for the work they've done. Although I arrived in the middle of the committee's proceedings, I was quickly able to get up to speed thanks to the service the clerks provided me. I'd like to thank them for all the necessary documents and explanations, and in French to boot.
In closing, I would like to point out that the committee recently heard from two Privy Council Office officials on the conventional norms regarding prorogation. They once again confirmed that prorogation is a prerogative of the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. That's precisely what we did. It's important to consider the dates and facts stated in the government's report. The prorogation took place in August 2020. According to the evidence I read, when the question was put to the witnesses, they often responded that it was not the right time for a prorogation. Then what would have been the right time? When you're in the midst of a pandemic, new factors arise every week. A vaccine appeared in Canada in the first week. We had heard about vaccines in other countries, including China. A series of events then followed.
So there's no ideal date to request a prorogation. That's what appears from the evidence. That's at least what I sensed in reading it. All the witnesses began their testimony by explaining their position on the idea of a prorogation. Some said that it was done too quickly, others that it was too late. Still others told us it should not have occurred. Those are opinions, and I agree that people should express their opinions. However, the opinions presented in the report will help us make the right decisions.
Even if the came and explained to us what we already know, that wouldn't change those decisions in any way. If he had to come before the committee to explain to us why prorogation was requested at that specific moment, he would tell us that Parliament was prorogued at a point where we had to take a step back. We could have done it sooner, just as we could have done it later. In actual fact, we could even prorogue Parliament today, given what's coming, so we could take a step back and address the delivery of vaccines, the Newfoundland and Labrador election and the arrival of COVID variants. Then we could focus on distributing the vaccines in all the provinces. Those would all be good reasons.
The , who was elected by the people, decided to go and see the Governor General and ask her to prorogue Parliament in order to take a necessary step back so he could move forward more effectively. Everything has already been explained through the opinions presented in the report.
We have to be honest with Canadians and to explain our decisions to them. Unlike the former Conservative government, which constantly prorogued Parliament without providing any explanation, we explain actions. When the Conservatives were in power, they prorogued Parliament three times, in 2007, 2008 and 2009, for a total of 63 days, without providing any explanation or answering any questions. They simply prorogued Parliament.
We, on the other hand, went further. We've been transparent. Let's not forget we're going through a crisis like no other government has experienced in Canadian history.
In 2017, our government instituted a change that will now require every government to table a report in the House outlining the reasons for a prorogation. We're the ones who made that change. That report will explain why the Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament and will therefore stand in lieu of testimony by the Prime Minister.
Of course, the committees may examine other matters. That's entirely appropriate, and that's what we have done. I know the committee has previously studied cases in which the government of the time requested a prorogation. This isn't the first time that's been done. You can see from the archives that prorogations have previously been studied.
The report is based on the remarks of certain experts in an effort to explain the prorogation we're now discussing. Those explanations may encourage us to review certain matters. Our committee could look more closely into the circumstances leading to the prorogation and determine whether changes should be made so that other governments may use prorogation for reasons other than those stated today.
However, that's not what we're discussing today. What's important is knowing whether we can now make recommendations in light of the prorogation we have experienced.
The committees may of course examine certain questions. However, all members, including those from the opposition parties, have had an opportunity to tell us loud and clear what they felt were the reasons for the prorogation. Those reasons were clear in their minds. Whatever the case may be, no study has ever gone as far as this one.
At this stage, I'm not at all sure why we need to take this study even further and make a spectacle of it. I think that we're responsible enough and that, given all the testimony we've heard, we could avoid all this theatre and spectacle. We definitely have all we need to draft the final report.
In reading the evidence, I noticed a statement that our honourable colleague from the New Democratic Party made on January 28, at the start of this study. He felt at the time that the prerogative to request prorogation had been abused because it had been used to get the government out of a political crisis.
In view of his remarks, I wonder whether the member is even taking part in the committee's study and meetings in good faith and with an open mind. We're here to work together and find solutions. You have to listen to the government's arguments. Even though the member is hearing those arguments, he already seems to have made his decision. He's drawing his conclusions even before the study is done. Decisions were already made even before the expert witnesses—physicians, professors, officials and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Mr. Rodriguez—were heard.
What bothered me when I read the evidence were the intentions of certain individuals. When I saw that one committee member told the committee that he had reached his decision even before taking the time to examine the matter, I thought nothing would change even if the committee heard testimony from the Prime Minister. The member had abandoned the fundamental role he's supposed to play on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and instead was playing politics, content to express his own opinion before even hearing the witnesses.
In addition, at the last meeting, the spoke even before we had heard witnesses that his own party had suggested should be heard. He said it was very clear to him that Parliament had been prorogued to put a stop to the work of the committees investigating the WE Charity scandal. Why then did we conduct a study on the subject? Why do we have committees to assist in the proper operation of Parliament? Can we say this is evidence of good faith? Certainly not. The leader of the Bloc Québécois also made his bias clear before the study was even complete.
I nevertheless tip my hat to all the witnesses who came and testified on the matter. We asked them whether they thought the government had had valid reasons to prorogue Parliament. They all began by saying that all the reasons justified seeking prorogation. Is it appropriate for those people to express their opinions? Yes.
We, as parliamentarians, have a role to play when witnesses appear before a committee to assess the situation. I personally consider it a delicate matter for a committee member or party leader to make a public statement about a study under way in order to announce his own solutions for the decisions he has previously made even before the committee has completed the study.
That at least is my interpretation of the situation. I joined this committee when it was already under way; I carefully read all the documents, and that's what I sensed. One can imagine how ordinary people reading the reports without having attended the committee's proceedings might not feel any better than I did after spending the weekend, as a new member of the committee, reading documents to bring myself up to speed.
On September 24, 2020, the Conservative member for stated in the House that we all knew the had decided to prorogue Parliament as a result of his involvement in the WE Charity scandal. That was said in the House even before we had presented all our work. The member said that the prorogation was a distraction. When he said that, we were in the middle of a crisis, seniors were dying, physicians and nursing staff were on their knees, emergency rooms were full, not a single bed was free and our staff was exhausted.
We're working hand in hand with the public in all constituencies, whether Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Bloquiste, independent or Green. We're all supposed to work hand in hand during this kind of crisis. We have to earn the public's trust, give them hope and make them feel supported.
All the parties worked together and sent us recommendations that we relied on in implementing programs. We made adjustments along the way. The step back taken as a result of the prorogation was extremely important in helping us move forward more effectively and developing more responsive programs.
For example, we're all aware of what's happened to travellers. There are 338 members in the House of Commons. We read the documents and we make decisions as quickly as possible, and to the best of our ability, based on what we know. All parties are in the same boat. When we realized that a traveller could return from a trip and be fined $1,000, we had to review our decisions and amend the measures. No one saw that coming because we have to make the kinds of decisions no one has ever seen before. The pandemic didn't come with an instruction manual. We all had to adjust at every stage and take a step back. We prorogued Parliament so we could take a step back.
On October 5, the member for claimed that the 's main reason for proroguing Parliament was to attempt a cover-up. Once again, fellow citizens were told that we had tried to conceal files concerning the WE Charity and in other cases. We should bear in mind that we had a crisis to manage during the pandemic and that we had programs to implement for students, workers who had lost their jobs and seniors, who we sensed were in distress.
As parliamentary secretary to the , I was in contact with seniors across Canada from the start of the pandemic. I sensed their distress, particularly among those living in long-term care centres, which are called CHSLDs in Quebec. I can tell you that the crisis is still raging in long-term care centres in Ontario.
I think that that's the priority of every government, that the Prime Minister has a lot to do in managing a pandemic crisis and that we have to prepare a report as soon as possible.
I started reading around December 10, when the initial meetings on the committee's study began. In my initial reading, I saw that Dr. David Williams had said the following:
Over the spring and into the summer we flattened the curve down to a very low fewer than 100 cases a day, even lower than that…
So, on December 10, he said we had flattened the curve to fewer than 100 cases a day in Ontario. He's a physician in that province. He continued, saying:
…and then they started rising again in September, much as in other provinces, and more recently as in some territories.
We're now in February 2021. When I began my reading, we were already talking about…
I was moved and somewhat traumatized, but I nevertheless understood that these are work tools that can be used. I have considerable esteem for Mr. Christopherson, and I very much miss his speeches in the House.
Once again, we acknowledge that the opposition has these tools at its disposal. This is acceptable and has been the case since the advent of the Westminster parliamentary model. However, there are nevertheless limits on everything within our field of work. What is true, or at least what was true until 2020, is that a prime minister appears before a committee only in rare and exceptional circumstances.
We must remember that Prime Minister Trudeau appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance in August 2020 as a sign of openness and transparency and to answer relevant questions. He had previously spoken before the committee only a handful of times. We must realize that the testified before this committee for an hour and a half. He didn't just make a brief visit; he answered all questions from the members present.
Consequently, I find the present debate on the subject of inviting the Prime Minister to our committee somewhat concerning. I frankly believe that, if the opposition members really wanted the Prime Minister to discuss prorogation, there would be at least a minimum of relevance to their request. Not so long ago, we heard from the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and the purpose of that appearance was somewhat relevant. It was logical and related to the topic of the prorogation study. Mr. Rodriguez was with us for a good hour, if not more, on that occasion, and answered questions. We may not always agree on the answers he gave, but he was nevertheless honest and provided us with information. He explained to the committee the government's reasoning on the prorogation on behalf of the Prime Minister and his cabinet.
We have heard from the Prime Minister in the course of testimony on this subject, as we have on all other government policy matters currently before the committee. How many the times has the Prime Minister appeared before a committee on a matter pertaining to the activities of the House or to questions pertaining to the Privy Council Office? The answer is simple: based on my research, that has never happened.
Let's put that on the table today. Today, the opposition members want to summon the Prime Minister to come here and discuss the WE Charity affair. We all know that this is what they're trying to do, and we all know why they're doing it as part of this prorogation study. Its relevance is a problem. They've tried this in several other committees, slyly linking the WE Charity to all aspects of government operations and to the COVID-19 response.
The Conservative Party attempted these theatrics when the committee went back on the road for the second session of the 43th Parliament. It tried to bundle another committee study on the WE Charity scandal with the prorogation study. Our camp believed at the time that it was an inappropriate move, which it still is today. Now our colleagues opposite are going to continue trying to say that's not the case, but, once again, we have an idea of what the members of the various parties are saying. All we have to do is look at the list of witnesses they're calling and it becomes quite clear.
The Prime Minister, Ms. Telford and Minister Chagger have all appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance. Remember that, in the case of Minister Chagger and Ms. Telford, those witnesses didn't testify for a mere half-hour, hour or hour and a half, but for two full hours. They provided two hours of testimony and answered all questions, even though they were tough.
The theory advanced by our opposition colleagues has been dismissed and even rejected on numerous occasions.
Mr. Poilievre tried it against the at one point, but it fell flat. Mr. Cooper tried to do the same to Ms. Telford, but it was even less successful. As we can see, the theory is an empty shell. The ridiculous theory that the Prime Minister and his family had a personal interest in the decision to hand responsibility for a federal program over to the WE Charity is absurd and has been rebutted.
The Standing Committee on Finance, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates have tried on many occasions to keep the WE Charity affair alive in the minds of Canadians and the media. However, no one believed what the Conservatives and their opposition allies proposed. Frankly, I must say that Canadians are more intelligent than that. They saw this political ploy for what it was and promptly moved on to something else. They wanted a proper government, focused on them, that could help them make it through the pandemic. That's exactly what we have done. Who would've thought, one year ago, that we would be in this situation today?
The past year has been incredible. Last March, when we left Ottawa, few of us knew what COVID-19 was. Now we know the vocabulary associated with it, and we use it regularly. Before the pandemic, who ever thought of physical distancing and rigorous hand-washing? Everything has changed. Canadians had expectations, and we have met them. We've implemented programs to help them, and we will continue to do so during and after the pandemic.
I spoke to many of my fellow citizens last weekend. What did they talk to me about? They talked about vaccinations—they want to make sure their parents and seniors get their vaccines—the financial assistance program that the government has established to help small and medium-size businesses, transportation and so on. Canadians simply want to be sure that their members and their government are there to help them and that they're working for them. That's precisely what we've done.
If I may digress for a moment, Madam Chair, all the parties worked very well together in the initial months of the pandemic. We made adjustments to established programs. They may not have been perfect at the outset, but, as a result of feedback from all members in the House, we made changes to introduce good programs that could help Canadians. That's precisely what Canadians expect from us.
And yet, here we are again. Once again, we're facing what we hope is the last effort by a desperate opposition that's now trying to keep this baseless story alive. Let me be clear, Madam Chair: the motion we are debating today is nothing more than a political ploy designed to destroy the last vestiges of decorum. The Conservatives and other opposition parties have done what certain other politicians do: they are prepared to disconnect completely from reality and to say whatever it takes to achieve their goal. To my mind, their only goal is power.
Today, my colleagues on the other side of the table have contended that we needed to hear the persons cited earlier in order to determine what led to the decision to prorogue Parliament in August 2020. That was said on several occasions, but, for the benefit of the members of the committee, I won't repeat it. The international pandemic struck our country in March 2020 and continues to ravage our population. The throne speech of December 2019 was simply no longer relevant at all as a result of that pandemic.
Throughout the first wave, the government worked relentlessly to ensure Canadians had the support they needed. Many of us thought the first wave was behind us and everything would be fine, but the second wave, which was even worse, hit us hard.
In August 2020, with restrictions relaxed and the country returned to some degree of normalcy, the government took stock of the situation and realized that the established roadmap did not take into consideration the most relevant factor: the global pandemic. Consequently, a reset was needed to ensure the government as a whole was prepared to face the imminent second wave and to restart the economy.
Prorogation was thus a parliamentary tool that the government could use to wipe the slate clean, as it were, and to recentre the government's agenda. No one, not even my cynical colleagues on the other side, can contend that the previous throne speech was still relevant and that a new plan was unnecessary.
Ms. Vecchio, It is indeed important for our support staff, and in particular the interpreters, to be able to meet our needs and remain healthy. That, moreover, is one of the reasons why we introduced a motion for us to continue the discussion at the next meeting. Unfortunately, a partisan motion was introduced which prevents us from ending our meeting today and forces us to continue to explain why this motion should be withdrawn.
It's very unusual in Canadian history for a prime minister to come and give evidence. We know the intent underlying such a request. Indeed, the opposition's game plan was established even before we had these committee discussions. That's what I've understood in light of what I've heard in the House and during the evidence given by those invited at the suggestion of all parties. The claim was that a solution had been found even before discussions began on this committee. So the reasons why this request to have the Prime Minister appear remain nebulous.
We received many documents and I have read all the testimony as of the month of December, including that given by Dr. David Williams, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Ontario Ministry of Health. On December 10, he told us that intensive care units had reached their capacity. This was in December, when you began to receive witnesses. The hospitals were already seriously tested at the time. There was already a shortage of beds in intensive care. Today, the situation is different.
It's important to understand that prorogation allowed us to take stock. There is more than just the health system. We haven't yet spoken about how the crisis has affected tourism or rural companies like the ones in my riding. A riding like mine, which has 41 municipalities, depends on micro-enterprises. Most employers there have one or two employees. Sometimes, the owner is the only employee. It was therefore extremely important to request a prorogation, to size things up and to find an approach that could provide assistance to ridings like mine.
In Ontario, Quebec and other provinces, the system has become very vulnerable. People are exhausted, fed up with COVID-19, and want to move on to something else.
Our understanding of this request is that they want to pour fuel on the fire and generate more debate so that the Prime Minister or anyone else invited further to this motion would provide testimony that would be included in the proceedings. We already know what this evidence would say, because the government has already addressed the people through a Speech from the Throne, an economic statement and public meetings. The Prime Minister has spoken almost every day to keep Canadians informed.
How do you go about keeping everyone informed about a federal system that has been seriously affected by a crisis that a country like ours has never experienced before? It's the worst event to have ever happened, with the exception of the world wars. Try to understand why a prorogation is important in such instances. It's not the right time to talk about the ideal moment to request prorogation, the best way to proceed, or the ideal length of the interval between a prorogation and the resumption of work.
These six weeks were extremely important to take stock of the whole situation and make a forceful return. During that period, there were discussions within the government and public servants worked tirelessly.
A government's organizational systems and programs are not designed to manage a pandemic. They are used to implement government decisions, which always have an impact on the public service. May I remind you of the Phoenix pay system, whose failures completely short-circuited the workings of the government apparatus.
Decisions made during the pandemic, including the decision to prorogue Parliament, placed an increased burden of work on the public service, particularly with respect to managing the required portfolios. When a $300 billion deficit is reported, that's how much money was spent on administering them. The money, from government coffers, is being used to help people, and our fellow citizens in the various ridings. Our public servants manage these funds directly.
Ms. Vecchio raised an important point earlier. She emphasized that it was important to take care of our employees and interpreters. The same goes for all public service employees, who are having to deal with an added workload within the federal government machinery. This pandemic is a life lesson both administratively and politically, one that we must, together, put to good use in moving forward.
Nothing good would come from this motion. It doesn't help us advance, and it could frighten Canadians. We need to write a report, for one thing, but we also need to work on courses of action to improve the system. Being able to sit on the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs is a godsend. It gives me the opportunity to help improve House and electoral procedures so that we can move forward within a modern system.
We have developed modern tools, including an electronic voting application. It's going to change the world of politics. We're in step with the latest methods that will enable us to change, and to adapt to today's technology. Proroguing a government like ours is a decision that will pay off.
The Prime Minister requested the prorogation of Parliament with a view to making it better than it was before. In life, it's important not to be afraid of taking one step back to move two steps forward. In the course of my career, I've acquired positive values. Ambiguous situations frequently came up, and decisions were difficult to make. I've learned that taking a step back can allow you to see more clearly. I'm particularly fond of an English expression that expresses that idea well.
We have to look at the big picture.
Stepping back provides an overview that makes you better prepared to move forward.
Our Prime Minister reassured Canadians when he mentioned the need to change the data tied to certain programs, and that had to be adjusted over time. I am thinking in particular of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the controversial Canada Emergency Student Benefit.
Allow me to give you another example. Before prorogation, there was a problem in my riding for companies that operate ferryboats. Four ferries were going back and forth between Ontario and Quebec. There were no provisions in the existing programs that could help companies like these, which operated seasonally. It was impossible for them to come up with numbers for the previous year, because on the specified dates for that year, they had been unable to operate because of floods.
What happened in my riding was unprecedented. Who could have predicted that another flood would occur on the same date of the following year, during the pandemic?
To receive assistance, a company had to demonstrate what their net revenue had been during this period. The companies in my riding provided essential services because it was the only way to cross the river between Ontario and Quebec. As there is no bridge in my rural riding, people depended on the ferryboats. People have no idea of the challenges faced by the ferries in my riding during the pandemic.
We were able to deal with the situation, and not because I'm a member of the same party as Justin Trudeau. During the pandemic, I was in the same grey area as all members of Parliament.
In the House, I heard some of my colleagues talking about specific cases. We all vehemently defended a number of these. In the House, when members reported a situation in their ridings, the minister would tell them to send the matter to his department and they would look into what could be done. He did not want to proceed on a case-by-case basis in the House. There was often no real solution, and there was no perfect recipe for dealing with these matters.
To move forward, a government must sometimes take a step back.
I've heard that there was only one reason for the prorogation, and that it wasn't the pandemic. I'm sorry, but if that's what people are thinking, then this motion is inappropriate here. My way of thinking agrees with what Canadians think. We're not here to frighten people, but to help them and give them grants, as we did for seniors. We made decisions.
During the pandemic, we helped elderly couples because they had financial needs. They had to pay more to have their groceries delivered, for their prescription drugs, and all kinds of other things. The government provided $1,500 for elderly couples. That's very important. We were there for seniors and everyone else.
I find it very disappointing to hear what my colleagues are saying, when what was needed was perspective.
I even asked a witness what he thought would have been the ideal time to prorogue Parliament, and how come he thought that the prorogation should have lasted two days in August and that that would have been enough. I agree that we need to consult specialists. However specialists are not members of Parliament who work in the field and who meet their fellow citizens; they're not public servants who have to work on the recovery or on rebooting the government; they're not ministers who meet every evening in order to be able to make the best possible decisions. The Prime Minister and his ministers redoubled their efforts and worked long hours to take care of citizens. They worked relentlessly to make the best possible decisions.
And yet, here we are being told that the solution was simple. We're being told that prorogation could have occurred earlier. My colleagues and I don't have a crystal ball. We therefore can't know what's going on in every riding. We can't put ourselves in the shoes of the seniors in long-term care centres. In Ontario and Quebec, we had to send the military and the Red Cross to these centres. Doctors, nurses and armed forces client care attendants came to support the system, because it was failing during the pandemic.
The Canadian health system couldn't cope with the suffering caused by COVID-19.
Now I'm being told that these aren't good reasons to prorogue Parliament. My fellow citizens are more important than the underlying reasons for such claims, and in a situation like this, they need to be the priority. We need to move ahead and finalize the report.
As a new member of the committee, I want to make a contribution. I'm not yet familiar with all of the procedures, but there are a few points that make me sorry for not having been here before. I would have liked to do more to defend certain subjects as a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs by proposing solutions, studies or adjustments that could be made to the studies in progress. I promise to be here for what comes next.
Right now, it's important not to send a negative message to the people. We don't need it. What people in need is reassurance. We need to show solidarity among all government parties and to encourage collaborative decisions.
This week, I feel obliged to defend seniors, in Canada and Quebec, because of the false allegations made by the leader of the Bloc Québécois. How can you get things moving in the right places when the leader of the Bloc Québécois is giving seniors false information to frighten them?
Today, this prorogation—
Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate this.
I really appreciate the comments and sentiments of my colleagues. I substantially share them. I feel that the message from Mr. Lauzon about working together is really key for us to keep in mind here.
From my perspective, this feels like there's partisanship, a desire to win political points and assume what the conclusion will be of this study. I've done a bit of reading on this. Just looking back at some of the questions and testimony by members on this committee and other members of other parties in the House, it's obvious to me that quite a lot of comments have been made that assume this study's conclusion.
I would say this. What is the point of doing a study if we don't bring real, clear, honest, good-faith intentions in undertaking the study to get to a conclusion? If it's a foregone conclusion, then it seems like it's done for other purposes, and I call that into question. I just don't know.
I would like to say, for the record, that this committee has heard from senior officials from the Privy Council's Office about the norms and conventions regarding prorogation. Their testimony has reconfirmed for us what we've heard from multiple witnesses, namely, that prorogation is within the prerogative of the Governor General at the advice of the prime minister. This has been consistent. We've heard this over and over again.
Our government obviously believes, and has maintained all along, that we are being upfront with Canadians and explaining our decisions. This has not been the standard practice in the past. Conservative governments have made no attempt, as far as I can tell based on my research, to explain why they prorogued in the past. Stephen Harper prorogued, I think, four times. I calculated that Parliament was prorogued for something like 181 days in his time as prime minister. Some of those moments were quite controversial. Certainly, I'm sure the opposition benches were rightly skeptical about some of those, and I think that's fine.
In particular, in 2017, as members know, our government instituted a change that requires all governments going forward to table a report in the House of Commons explaining the reasons for prorogation. We have that report. This is a major improvement from the past, and I don't really hear anyone acknowledging that. Here we are in a pandemic and the government prorogued. I think there was a real rational basis for that based on the massive, full-court press approach that we all took collaboratively, and I think quite successfully, in the early stages of the pandemic and through the first wave.
Here we are, and the government has provided a detailed rationale. Instead of looking at the merits of that report, we're calling it into question. If there was a good-faith attempt at doing that, then I could see myself being very supportive. I think we have been very collaborative, in the sense that when the opposition parties wanted to dig further into this and do a study, we were very willing to undertake that. At this point, I feel like we've exhausted that study. We had witnesses who came forward—12 of them, in fact. We heard some substantial evidence. Perhaps that doesn't fit with what the opposition members want to try to prove, which they have no evidence for, which is something that is, really, from what I see, just being assumed.
Of course, committees have the ability to study certain matters. I know that PROC previously studied the prorogations of former governments.
Madam Chair, my concern is this. We've already heard loud and clear from opposition members and members of all parties on what they view to be the reasons behind prorogation. They've been clear on what they perceive the reasons to be, so I'm not sure what the purpose is of moving forward. We can belabour this, and keep studying and studying and studying, but there is so much other important business that we could be doing.
I believe in the role of opposition parties and the constructive relationship we can have in a minority Parliament. I really believe that this working together is extremely important. I'm just finding it hard to believe that there are good intentions here. There seems to be a presupposition of the conclusion. I have many examples of this.
I don't mean to pick on Mr. Blaikie at all, but the honourable member from the NDP said on January 28, at the very beginning of this study, that he believes it is “pretty clear...that the prerogative for prorogation was abused and was used to get the government out of a political crisis”. I mean, that showcases right there that you're putting your opinion and belief before actually undertaking the study. You're leading with that opinion. You're looking for evidence to support that. The fact that you haven't gotten that at this point....
You've gotten a whole bunch of opinions from academics. You've heard from the . I will note that we had the Honourable , the leader of the government in the House of Commons. From the Privy Council Office we had Allen Sutherland, assistant secretary to the cabinet in the office of the deputy secretary to the cabinet; and Donald Booth, director of strategic policy and Canadian security to the Queen, machinery of government. These are two officials who....
Let me also say that people had turns to ask their questions. I went through the testimony, and Mr. Deltell and Mr. Therrien had two rounds. Mr. Blaikie had two rounds; Mr. Nater, Mr. Lukiwski. All asked very good questions of the . We had our round. It was a fair process. Everybody had their turn. We got the answers that the government provided in addition to the substantive report.
With regard to the officials, Ms. Vecchio had two rounds. Mr. Kent had a round; Mr. Therrien, Mr. Blaikie and Mr. Nater again. I hope I didn't miss anybody. There has been quite an opportunity here to question those officials and the government . When I look at some of the other comments that individuals made prior to getting into the study, and even how they framed their questions, most of the questions assumed the conclusion they were looking for.
I guess what I'm asking is this: What's the point? Is this just a political play here to win points? I mean, it just seems pretty clear. Furthermore, the House leader for the Bloc Québécois said at the last meeting, before we even heard from witnesses, that it was clear to him that Parliament was prorogued to put an end to the work of the committees that were looking at the WE Charity scandal.
Madam Chair, would you call it a good-faith question when you're assuming the answer that you want to hear in the question itself? Like, what's a study for? A study is to explore an issue that we all think is important. This is one, we've agreed with you, where, okay, let's dig in further and study this. We've done that, at this point. It just seems like we've exhausted the list of witnesses.
Ms. Vecchio, I don't understand why you included certain witnesses in your motion. I wish you could tell us. Why is the Minister of Finance, for example, in the motion? It makes no sense to me. I don't understand why the Honourable , the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, would be in there.
Obviously, all of the other witnesses imply an agenda, which is to somehow link prorogation to WE Charity and the things that happened. I will note that I followed the work of the finance and the ethics committees and some of the other committees and I know most of that work picked up basically where it left off after prorogation. When I think about this from a rational perspective, I think the honourable members of this committee sometimes claim this was an attempt to shut down that committee work.
I'm on another standing committee, HUMA, and we resumed our work and put all the motions forward again in one, very large motion that put all of those things back on the agenda. My understanding is that other committees largely did the same. There may be some exceptions, but that work continued.
Also, I'd reference the Conservative member for , who rose in the House of Commons on September 24, 2020, to say “that the Prime Minister, we all know, decided to prorogue Parliament because of his involvement in the WE charity scandal”, and that prorogation was all about distraction. Furthermore on October 5, the member for stated that, “The only reason we had prorogation by the Prime Minister...is the WE scandal”, and he went on to say that it was about trying to do a cover-up.
There seems to be a deliberate attempt here to put out these statements and conclusions without any evidence other than what we've heard from people, which I've hotly contested, that just because of the timing there are really good reasons the government prorogued at that time. It made sense to re-evaluate at a moment when we were in-between the first and second waves of COVID-19. It was a natural point at which you could reflect on how we were going to prepare for the second wave and how we were going to deal with the deep economic scarring and the incredible vulnerability that Canadians have been suffering through coming out of this.
Certainly I see how much work we did during that time. Mr. Blaikie has claimed that we took a break. We didn't take a break. So much consultation and so much work went into essentially trying to evaluate where we were as a country after this exhausting full-court press of a major global crisis. To me that seems very rational, and it coincides with what others have said. There's testimony on this from, I think, our first meeting. I can't remember the name of the person. I do have it here, but I won't go there yet. I'll save that one for a little later.
Essentially one of the many reasons that governments have prorogued throughout history was a major shift in context, which certainly causes people to ask if our priorities as a government are the same. Should we be re-evaluating them and ensuring that we have the confidence of the House and that we're addressing the needs of Canadians? To me that's responsive, responsible government.
Not only have we been more transparent than any government in history in Canada by tabling a report and undertaking a study willingly, but now we're also at a juncture where, okay, the opposition parties aren't getting what they want, so they're trying to bully or force us into delays that eventually, I'm sure, you want to continue and to—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good afternoon to everybody on PROC.
I'm happy to be here and happy to pinch-hit. This is probably my third time stepping in. I think I'll also be back on Thursday.
I just want to compliment everybody on this committee for the great work they're all doing on behalf of Canadians. Obviously we're a little bit sideways right now, in my opinion, but the work that PROC does, and certainly the work all of us do on behalf of all Canadians, is instrumental and vital to an effective Parliament,
Certainly, we're in difficult times. I think we've all been stretched to the max. I remember coming back from Ottawa on March 13. It seems like yesterday, and it's hard to believe it's been a year. It's been almost a year since we've come back. We came back on March 13 not knowing quite what to expect, not knowing how long this road would be. I look back also with a sense of pride. Certainly on behalf of the constituents of Saint John—Rothesay, as their member of Parliament, my team and I—my team of Jeanette Arsenault, Jody Wheaton and Kevin Collins—stood up and answered the bell for Canadians.
One thing that's abundantly clear is that Canadians want a government that has their backs, that is responsive to their needs and stands up for them. It's abundantly clear to me that's what Canadians want from their parliamentarians, their members of Parliament, right now. They want us to get to work on behalf of Canadians.
I want to speak on this motion before us, which proposes bringing forward yet more witnesses for this study on the government's reasons for proroguing Parliament in August 2020. As my friend and colleague MP Turnbull said, there have been plenty of witnesses who have come before the committee and lots of questions were asked by all parliamentarians of these witnesses, and sometimes it's abundantly clear that some parliamentarians are looking for an outcome. They know what outcome they want, and they're trying to continue to ask for more witnesses so they can do that. They want this to be extended to try to find the answer they want. It's not the answer that's obviously abundantly clear.
In my riding of Saint John—Rothesay, I haven't had a call, not one call, in my constituency office about this. Like my friend and colleague to the north of me by about an hour and 15 minutes, MP Petitpas Taylor, I also do AMAs regularly. “AMA”, for those who don't know is, “ask me anything”. We had almost 7,000 views of our AMA last week. We put it out there. Ask me anything. Let's talk about issues that are important to you. We probably had 300 questions. Was there anything about prorogation? No.
Sometimes they call this something that's important to the “bubble” or to the “Ottawa circle”. It's not important to my constituents. My constituents are concerned about getting back to work, making sure that, if their work has been delayed or cancelled or they've been laid off, that our government has the proper support for them, whether it's the CERB, the CRB or expanded EI, or whether they're a business and they've applied to the wage subsidy, the rent support or CEBA, the business loan, a $40,000 loan of which only $30,000 is repayable. There is no interest on that loan as long as you pay it back by December 2022. Then we added another $20,000 on top of that.
Canadians want to know that we're there for them. Canadians want to make sure that Parliament is working well right now. I believe that the committee has done what it's required to do and has fulfilled its obligation in regard to the study.
To be honest, I am of the belief that the opposition has moved this motion not to actually gather vital information that could decide the outcome of any report by this committee, but to yet again follow the lead of some other committees to score political points.
The opposition members, and the Conservatives in particular, have made no secret of the fact that they already knew enough about the prorogation, as they have made hundreds of statements to that effect to the media, and their followers, within hours of the prorogation's taking effect. The Conservatives have been quick to call this a cover-up, but the Conservatives cannot be too loud here.
Let's take a few moments to see what the recent history of prorogation has been. I still consider myself somewhat new to politics. I started in 2015 with a dream of representing my community. Before that, I was part owner and president of Saint John Sea Dogs. Some of you are probably tired. Mr. Blaikie heard a lot about the Saint John Sea Dogs at previous committees. In our first session, we sat on the ethics committee, and I'm proud of that.
I'm also proud of the past, and I was proud to bring a Memorial Cup to this wonderful city. We were the quickest expansion team to actually win a Memorial Cup. We started as an expansion team in 2005 and won in 2011.
Back to the motion, I want to take a few moments to see what the recent history has been.
In April through October of 2010, PROC was seized with the issue of prorogation during the time of Prime Minister Harper. Harper used prorogation on a regular basis, sometimes for many months. The most egregious use of prorogation was to save his political hide to prevent the opposition from moving a motion of non-confidence in 2008. I would recommend to all members of the committee that they read the evidence from those meetings, as well as the report that emanated from its study.
In 2010, I was knee-deep in hockey, and travelling the country with my Saint John Sea Dogs hockey team, but I do remember it. I do remember how at that point Prime Minister Harper prorogued with a minority government. He prorogued to avoid a defeat. I remember that. I remember the talk around the country how he used that.
For the education of some members who either were not in the House at the time or unaware of what happened, I would like to give a very brief explanation of what did happen.
In 2008–09, during the 40th Canadian Parliament, the Conservative government of the day created legitimate outrage on a national scale because of its prorogation of the House. It was triggered by the express intention of the opposition parties, who together held a majority of seats in the House of Commons, to defeat the Conservative minority government on a motion of non-confidence six weeks after the federal election of October 14, 2008.
The intention to vote non-confidence arose from the government's fiscal update [Technical difficulty--Editor].
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I certainly intend to continue with my speech. I will add some colour here and there to make sure that we bring it back to the motion and at least, certainly, include the relevance of what I'm saying.
Again, as a proud two-time member of Parliament now, I feel like a veteran. I guess I'm in my sixth year, believe it or not. I have a job to do. I have a job to represent my constituents here in this riding and in Ottawa. I have to do the work that my constituents elected me to do: to represent them on behalf of all Canadians and continue to be a part of making Parliament work. Part of making Parliament work is good dialogue, good exchanges and, certainly, differences of opinion and ideology. However, in the end, I think everybody on this committee—certainly all of my colleagues—wants to see us move forward with things that are important to Canadians, things that Canadians care about. I know that the constituents in my riding want me to represent them in a way that they're proud of and to do things that help them, whether that's, like I said earlier, programs from our government to help them through COVID or infrastructure investment.
Anyway, let's get back to my motion, Madam Chair.
I forget where I was in the country—I think, actually, I was in Val-d'Or or Rouyn-Noranda—but I remember Prime Minister Harper's cancelling opposition day and what an uproar that was. He cancelled that day on December 1, and that meant that the earliest a coalition non-confidence motion could occur would be the following week, December 8.
The Conservatives hold the record in modern times for the prorogation of Parliament. Let's take a quick walk back in history to see.
During the 41st Parliament, the Harper government, in October 2013, shut down Parliament for 33 days to avoid questions on the Senate expense scandal and the resulting PMO cover-up. In the 40th Parliament, the Harper government shut down Parliament for 63 days to avoid the Afghan detainee issue. In 2008, as I mentioned earlier, the Harper Conservatives shut down Parliament to avoid a confidence vote that would have toppled the government. This shutdown last 53 days. Again, let's think about that; they prorogued to avoid a confidence vote. In 2007, the Harper government shut down Parliament to declare mission accomplished on five priorities from the election, and it took 32 days before bringing in a new Speech from the Throne.
After all that was done, how many times do you think Stephen Harper was before a committee to explain his reasons for prorogation? How many times? Was it two times? Was it three times? Did he go every time, like this committee seems to want? No. The answer is zero; he didn't appear.
On August 19, —who was, prior to his demotion, the Conservative finance critic—alongside , publicly stated that the prorogation was a cover-up to shut down the study with regard to WE Charity. Poilievre falsely claimed that documents provided by the government were redacted to assist in this supposed cover-up. This, of course, ignored the fact that the government House leader's office distributed the documents to all parties, and it turned out that they were only redacted in line with privacy legislation. Again, Madam Chair, the Conservatives are never ones to let facts get in the way of their arguments, and this is the case here.
Prorogation, of course, did not and cannot stop a committee from resuming a study that was under way prior to prorogation or, for that matter, starting a new study on any topic within the mandate of the committee, and that is evidenced by the fact that numerous committees did hear from and still are hearing from witnesses on the WE matter. The focus is, of course, much less due to the fact that after hearing from all the witnesses and seeing all the documents, no—zero—proof exists that there was any political interference by political actors in regard to choosing WE Charity to administer the agreement.
I know this fact is disturbing to the opposition, who seem to love using parliamentary time and resources on chasing their tails in attempts to smear this government and score cheap political points, but, Madam Chair, the facts of this are clear. The prorogation was put in place to allow for a bit of resetting of priorities in light of the resignation of the Minister of Finance and likely more importantly to address issues in regard to the pandemic, which members on this side believe are among the most if not the most important issues facing Parliament, the government, and the vast majority of the Canadian public. I think all of us, Madam Chair, would hold that to be true. Look at the people who come into our constituency offices. Look at the calls we take.
Madam Chair, I believe this committee should get down to getting the report written and move on to studying something that is actually relevant to everyday Canadians, something that everyday Canadians, our constituents, care about.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Yes, it's the supplementary estimates. It gives them an opportunity to ask questions of the ministers or departments or what have you.
I can remember all parties, whether they were in opposition or government or the third party or what have you, wanting ministers to appear before committee to ask questions. I can remember, and again, I was a rookie, sitting back and watching a minister literally being—to put it in words is hard—attacked. He was attacked again and again and again. This minister couldn't even get the answers out.
That's when it hit me—and I want to get back to the motion—that the opposition didn't want that minister there to ask that minister relevant questions or important questions on behalf of Canadians. On the contrary, they wanted the minister there for a snippet, a clip or a quote. That's when I started to say, hold on here.
I want to get back to this motion. Let's be straight up here. The is in the House of Commons every Wednesday for question period. This is just one example, and we went through this yesterday. To his credit, he takes questions for the whole question period. I don't want to say that's unprecedented, but certainly in my limited political experience I had not seen that before, that the Prime Minister of Canada comes and actually doesn't defer questions to ministers or other people. He doesn't sidestep. He stands there and takes questions from everybody for two hours.
I'll go back to the motion. I know this is all about getting the to come into PROC to testify, but I ask this question of the committee: If these questions need to be asked of the Prime Minister, why can't these questions be asked in question period? Again, as my New Brunswick colleagues will know, I'm not a political machine here. I was elected to represent my riding and I was elected to fight for my riding. On the actual political side of things, even though I'm a politician, I will admit that I'm not as strong as others are.
The is available each and every Wednesday to take questions. If these questions need to be asked so badly, why can't they be asked in question period? The last time I checked, the Conservative Party had lots of opportunities to ask questions, so why can't the questions be asked there? They would be asked in front of all Canadians, in front of all reporters, to be scrutinized, to be talked about on TV that night and to be in the papers the next day. He's available. He's there for opposition parties to ask questions of him.
I don't want to go too far down that hole. It really struck me this morning when I was thinking about this meeting. I can remember when previous prime ministers would duck question period. They wouldn't be available. You can count on your hand how many times they were available to take questions, yet the Prime Minister is there week in, week out, every Wednesday, standing there taking questions from opposition parties. It doesn't matter if you're the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the next party or a backbencher. It doesn't matter; he answers the questions.
Then I go back to the fact that he's available to answer questions and he does. What's the big deal about getting him here to answer questions when he's available to answer questions? I just wanted to state that. Again, I certainly am the first to admit that I have some good support on the parliamentary side on the whys, hows and whats, but he's there to answer questions on Wednesdays, and I don't understand why those questions can't be asked.
The motion's there. I'm here to talk about the motion. I was certainly very appreciative of the opportunity I had last time to speak on the motion. I know everyone on this committee was waiting with bated breath for every word I said, and I certainly appreciated that. I could tell by looking at the Zoom screen that people were anticipating what was coming next and were excited for what was to come, but time did run out last time. Time did run out, unfortunately.
I want to pick up where I left off last time. I was talking about the historical precedent. I know it has been said earlier in the meeting, conveniently, with the greatest respect, of course, “That was then and this is now” or “Don't worry about the past. It doesn't matter what happened then. It doesn't matter what Prime Minister Harper did. It doesn't matter about the proroguing and about the minority government and proroguing to save his government. This is about now.” However, it's important. It's important for the committee. It's important for me to talk about that.
With respect to the motion and keeping the motion in mind, it's important to talk about what happened in the past to educate ourselves and to educate Canadians from coast to coast to coast about prorogation, what it means, how it's used, how it can be abused and how, at other times, it's not abused—how sometimes it's the proper thing to do, the right thing to do, when you're dealt with a curveball, with a generational pandemic. That does not moderately changed our lives. It has impacted every one of our lives in a major way.
Little did I know when I came back on March 13 from Ottawa how quickly things would change for us, how our world would change, how our country would change, how the way we needed to govern would change, how what we needed to do would change, how we needed to pivot and how we needed to come up with programs for Canadians, whether it was the wage subsidy, CEBA, CERB, the recovery benefit, expanded EI, rent relief—the list goes on and on. We all know them off by heart.
I can remember at the end of March wondering if I could remember the names for CERB and all that stuff. I think all of us go to bed at night quoting CERB and the programs that we have delivered. Things change, and we did need to reboot, if you will, to restart, reload and refocus. It was the proper thing to do. It was the right thing to do, and it was needed.
First and foremost, I want to talk, again, about history. I want to get back to the motion on that. It's important for Canadians to have the proper context when they're watching us and making decisions on whether this is the right thing or the wrong thing to do, and whether PROC should be seized with this when so much is going on in our country.
I did a quick tally this morning again, preparing for this. I'm very active on social media. I'm very active on Facebook. Last week, I did four posts. On one site, I did three videos. The videos were seen by, give or take, 65,000 people, the three videos. There were over 1,000 comments, including my “Ask Me Anything”, which I referenced at the last meeting. There were 1,000 comments about what we needed to do as a government, what we needed to focus on, where we needed to go and how we needed to deliver for Canadians.
Do you know how many comments talked about prorogation and PROC, and asked for the to appear before PROC, for what I would classify as a theatrical event? Do you know how many out of those 1,000 comments? I see my good friend MP Turnbull put up the proper amount. It was zero, none, because Canadians want their members of Parliament, all of us, in all parties, to govern. They want us to have their backs. They do not want us spending time on things such as this.
A couple of MPs would know where my office is. I'm in a mall, for what it's worth. If I walked out my office door right now, if I walked out into the mall today and asked the first 100 people who walked by my door whether they were aware of this, were concerned about this, knew about it or cared about it, I'll tell you straight up, none of them would, because Canadians are concerned about where they're getting their next paycheque and whether they're going to be employed. If they lose their jobs, are there benefits for them? That's what they're concerned about. Is there a business account loan, if they can save their business? Is there rent relief?
Those are the things Canadians are seized with. They are not seized with us sitting here talking about trying to get the to come in. As you know, I've sat on PROC a bit, and hopefully people are happy about that, but I've also listened to witness after witness's testimony, and we're still searching. It's like we're an answer searching for a question. It's like we're not getting what we want to hear so we're going to continue. We're going to continue to move on, and we're going to continue to try to get the Prime Minister come in. We're going to try to continue to get a sound clip here and there. I'm just imploring all of us that Canadians aren't seized with this and the polls show it.
Anyway, I want to get back to the motion. I want to get back to make sure Canadians have context. In April through October, in 2010, the same committee was seized with prorogation when Prime Minister Harper was in. We know he used prorogation regularly. He used it on a regular basis for many months. It was a regular thing.
I would say the most egregious use of prorogation was to save their government from a non-confidence vote, and he did it.
Again, for the education of members who were not in the House at that time and are unaware of what happened, in 2008-09, during the 40th Canadian Parliament, the Conservative government of the day created legitimate outrage on a national scale for the prorogation of the House. I remember it. I wasn't even involved in politics; in fact, being an MP was the furthest thing from my mind. It was really far from my mind. I was in hockey, I was travelling the country, but I remember that. I remember watching it on TV on CTV and CBC and all the channels.
I remember how they were talking about how he prorogued to avoid the non-confidence vote, and that's when I was, like, isn't that interesting. How is he allowed to do that?
It was triggered by the express intention of the opposition parties. We were going to work together. The opposition parties held the majority of seats in the House and we were going to defeat the Conservative minority government on a motion of non-confidence, and it was only six weeks after the federal election of October 14, 2008.
The intention to vote non-confidence arose from the government's fiscal update, tabled on November 27, 2008. It included several contentious provisions that the opposition parties rejected. The Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party reached an accord to form a minority coalition government. Imagine.
The Bloc Québécois agreed to provide support on confidence votes, thereby enabling the coalition a working majority in the Commons.
On December 4, 2008, then Governor General—
I'm absolutely fine with the sharing of the feed. There's no issue there whatsoever. It reminds me, actually, of the first time I ever did a live TV interview where a video was broadcast of me. It was way back in 2005, when we brought the Saint John Sea Dogs to Saint John. I did my first interview. I remember being so nervous in anticipation. I walked the floor and I was so nervous.
Now, obviously for politicians it's commonplace to have our pictures taken and do videos and be on Facebook and so on and so forth. The wider it's spread, the more Canadians can make up their own minds as to whether this is necessary—whether calling a prime minister to a committee to testify when that prime minister is already at the House of Commons every Wednesday and can answer questions.... I'm not an expert in parliamentary procedure, but I would dare say the Conservative Party would have perhaps 20 questions every question period, give or take? Every question they wanted could be with respect to this issue, if they so wanted.
I want to get back to where I was. The break was nice, I will admit, to get a drink of water and coffee and to replenish a bit, but it's time to get back to it. I was talking about context. I think it's important in bringing it back to the motion. It's important that Canadians be able to judge in context, so they need to know the history.
In 2008, back when, I was talking about the prorogation with then prime minister Stephen Harper, he referred to the accord between the Liberals and NDP as undemocratic backroom dealing, stating that the opposition parties were overturning the results of an election a few weeks earlier in order to form a coalition that nobody voted for.
The Liberals indicated that they intended to present their motion of non-confidence on December 8. The government then cancelled opposition day, originally to be held on December 1, to avert the threatened vote of non-confidence. This meant the earliest the coalition non-confidence motion could occur would be the following week, December 8, 2008.
The Conservative Party holds the record in modern times on prorogation of Parliament. Let's take a quick walk back in history and we see.... I'll list these off very quickly.
During the 41st Parliament, the Harper government in October 2013 shut down Parliament for 33 days to avoid questions on the Senate expense scandal and a resulting PMO cover-up.
In the 40th Parliament, the Harper government shut down Parliament for 63 days to avoid the Afghan detainee issue.
In 2008, as I mentioned earlier, the Harper Conservatives shut down Parliament to avoid a confidence vote that would have toppled the government. This shutdown lasted 53 days.
In 2007, the Harper government shut down Parliament to declare mission accomplished on five priorities from the election and took 32 days before bringing in a new Speech from the Throne.
After all that was done, how many times do you think Stephen Harper was before a committee to explain his reasons for prorogation? How many times? None. Not once did he appear.
Somebody earlier talked about the precedent that we're setting for the future. I would argue, Madam Chair, and argue strongly, that the precedent is already set. Former prime minister Harper didn't appear before a committee once with respect to prorogation.
On August 19, Pierre Poilievre, who was, prior to demotion, as I said the last time, the Conservative finance critic, alongside Michael Barrett, publicly stated that prorogation was a cover-up to shut down the study in regard to WE Charity.
MP Poilievre falsely claimed that the documents provided by the government were redacted to assist in this supposed cover-up. This is, of course, ignoring the fact that the government House leader's office distributed the documents to all parties—all parties, Madam Chair—which, it turned out, were only redacted in line with privacy legislation.
Again, the Conservatives are never ones to let facts get in the way of their arguments, and this is the case here. Prorogation, of course, did not and cannot stop a committee from resuming a study that was under way prior to prorogation, or for that matter, starting a new study on any topic within the mandate of the committee. That is evidenced by the fact that numerous committees did and still are hearing from witnesses on the WE matter.
The suggestion, Madam Chair, that things were prorogued to avoid the WE story, to get it past.... It's not true. It is absolutely not true, because the committees could continue to hear witnesses. It's very clear, and I want Canadians watching today to know that. I'm going to say it again. Prorogation cannot stop a committee from resuming a study that was under way prior to prorogation, or for that matter, starting a new study on any topic within the mandate of the committee.
The focus is, of course, much lessened due to the fact that, after hearing from all the witnesses and seeing all the documents, after all of this—all of it—no proof exists that there was any political interference by political actors in regard to the choosing of WE Charity to administer the agreement.
I know this fact is disturbing to the opposition, who seem to love using parliamentary time and resources on chasing their tails in an attempt to smear this government and score cheap political points, but the facts of this are clear. Prorogation was put in place to allow for a bit of a resetting of priorities in light of the resignation of the former minister of finance, and likely, more importantly, to address issues in regard to the pandemic that members on this side believe is one of the most important issues facing Parliament, the government and the vast majority of the Canadian public.
Madam Chair, let's be honest. Everybody on this screen and everybody watching me right now on Facebook Live, on ParlVU or what have you.... If you had to list the top 10 things you were concerned about with respect to your life, the pandemic, the Government of Canada, support programs, benefits, expanded EI, CERB, CEBA, the recovery benefit, rent relief and wage subsidy, does anybody on this committee or anybody out there have the prorogation of Parliament in their top 10 or top 20? No, they don't.
We all know that.
Madam Chair, all of us could walk out of our offices or our houses today and do a quick poll, and we know the answers. We all know that. We know that this is not in the sights of Canadians. Canadians want us to govern. Canadians want us to get on with the business of running this country.
Madam Chair, we're faced with an unprecedented time. Canadians want us to respond to their needs and have their backs. That's why I'm particularly proud of our government.
Madam Chair, we believe, as a Liberal government, that we are there to help Canadians, that government can do good things, that government can come forth with good programs, that government has Canadians' backs. We've done that. We have absolutely had Canadians' backs.
Again, I appeal to the committee members, each and every one of you, that it's time to move on. It's time to get past this. It's time to let it go. It's time to focus on what Canadians want us to focus on. It is not this.
I want to get back to the motion, Madam Chair. The motion before us now is to call yet more witnesses, to supposedly provide evidence with regard to this prorogation study. Let us be clear. The opposition has already made its own mind up. We could hear from witnesses offering counter views for the next six months, and nothing is going to change. I've sat.... I've been fortunate enough to.... Sometimes I would recommend, Madam Chair, that all MPs get an opportunity to sit in different committees. I think it's healthy. I think it kind of broadens our perspectives. I was certainly fortunate when I started to be on HUMA. In 2015, I was on HUMA and ethics, there, for a while. Now I'm back on HUMA. It's important to know.
As I said at the very start, my eyes were opened as a rookie MP. Look, I'll be very clear on this. I absolutely respect that the opposition has a vital role to play in our country and in government to hold us to account—no question, no problem. I think those of you who know me would agree that sometimes we do need to be held to account. I don't have any problem with that—none whatsoever—but this is more than that. This is.... We know where this will go.
Again, as a rookie MP in 2016, I saw the minister come. I was thrilled to see the minister, and then I was literally aghast. It was like, boom, the minister tries to answer, boom. It was just a barrage. Then I'm like, “Okay, this isn't really about getting answers from the minister.” No, it's not about that; it's not. It's about getting the clip. It's about getting it in the paper and getting the quote and the sound bite. That's what it's about. We don't need it, Madam Chair. Committee doesn't need it. Canadians don't want it. We all know it. Each and every one of us knows it.
The opposition has been talking a great deal about the idea that the Liberals are trying to force an election. Really? We're trying to force an election...? Take a look outside. Take a look across the country. We're trying to force an election...? Oof.
It's not true. We are seized with governing. We're seized with getting Canadians through this pandemic and we will. We will get Canadians through this pandemic.
Madam Chair, to continue, Conservative member in the House yesterday—well, it's not yesterday now, but back then—again repeated the canard that the Liberals want a snap election in response to previous comments about why the opposition would not allow Bill to come to a vote.
Why is it, I ask, that the Conservative agenda seems to run in two streams? One, rather than make legitimate arguments against the government's agenda or perhaps suggest their own alternatives, the Conservatives try to play gotcha politics in an attempt to besmirch not the legislation but the character of our member who is their target, or, two, to spread complete mistruths both within and outside the House, usually to grab headlines from some of the more radical right-wing media and then to fundraise off that from supporters who likely do not understand that they are being told falsehoods.
As for the motion, the motion before us now, it is, I believe, the former. The opposition members think they can make great political display by bringing various cabinet ministers, staff and the before us to give evidence on a case that the opposition jury has already passed judgment on.
I guess I'm probably not allowed, Madam Chair, to hold up props, and I wouldn't do that anyway, but if you do the polling, if you talk to your constituents, if you go out...well, I guess we can't go outside, but if you do the polling, the poll I'm looking at here, the Twitter poll was 6,000 votes, and 60% said “no”, move on. It's time to move on, everybody.
Anyway, here we are. I would also like to remind the committee members of the words of current Conservative MP , who was defending then prime minister Harper's prorogation to stop a non-confidence vote, and I will quote him. He said to a member of the opposition:
Yes, I do think both of those uses of prorogation were legitimate, and I want to point out to my hon. colleague that he thinks they were legitimate too. He may speak against them, but the fact [is] that he and his party had the chance to demonstrate their lack of confidence in a government that would use prorogation in the manner it was used by voting non-confidence in the government and forcing an election at that time. His party did not do that. It is always an option at the end of any prorogation in a minority Parliament.
I'd like to point out that in a minority Parliament the government can always be defeated by combined opposition. We're a minority government, and we can be defeated. I mean, we know that.
Now, I'm not saying that it's only the Conservatives who have prejudged the prorogation study. The BQ member for Manicouagan said back in October, and I quote:
They forgot to mention that they were looking to kill time for six weeks so that people would stop talking about WE Charity.
Plus, they are still trying to stall the committees to cover up the scandal. Why can they not be honest and admit that they shut down Parliament because of WE Charity?
It was not because we have a generational pandemic, not because we need to reload, reset and do different things—no.
The reason is not the reason we prorogued but it fit in with the narrative put out by the Conservatives. Now, rather than get down to the business of writing the report so that it may be presented in the House, the opposition wants to keep on beating this dead horse of a topic, much the same way they did with the WE Charity study.
Not to get too far into the weeds on this, but if you take a look at the House calendar, you will see that the House was supposed to end its sittings by the end of June and return on September 21. As we know, the House sat throughout the summer months until the middle of August. The House did, however, come back on September 23, so one could argue that this whole study is the reason the House lost two days of sitting in September.
What—if anything—would be gained by hearing from the witnesses named in this motion? I would argue nothing would be gained. All members of this committee, I believe, made up their own minds on this issue. Why take ministers' staff and the away from their duties in the midst of a pandemic just to allow the opposition to attempt to make what I would call cheap political points?
Madam Chair, I understand the opposition has a job to do. The opposition wants answers, but again in this case, we absolutely know that Canadians aren't interested in this. We all know it. Madam Chair, I believe the committee should get down to writing the report and then move on to study something that is actually relevant to everyday Canadians. I have the motion before me and I just want to point out a few things that I think make it untenable. I'm just going to quote here from the motion, part (a):
renew the invitation issued to the Prime Minister to appear before the committee, provided that if he does not agree, within one week of the adoption of this motion, to appear for at least three hours, the Chair shall be instructed to report to the House forthwith a recommendation that this committee be empowered to order his appearance from time to time;
Now I'll read part (b):
renew the invitations issued to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, each to appear separately before the committee, provided that in respect of each of them who does not agree, within one week of the adoption of this motion, to appear for at least 90 minutes each, the Chair shall be instructed to report to the House forthwith a recommendation that this committee be empowered to order her appearance from time to time;
The last part I want to read, Madam Chair, is part (d);
renew the invitations issued to Farah Perelmuter and Martin Perelmuter, to appear before the committee, provided that if they do not agree, within one week of the adoption of this motion, to appear for at least 90 minutes, a summons do issue for their appearance before the Committee at a date and time determined by the Chair but no later than one month following the adoption of this motion;
Chair, I just find it strange and disturbing, frankly, that this motion before us is asking to hear from Martin Perelmuter, the owner of Speakers' Spotlight. For those of us who followed the ethics committee meetings on the WE Charity issue, it was obvious that Mr. Perelmuter and his wife had nothing to hide and provided everything they faced, the online attacks, due to the actions of the Conservative Party.
I was speaking earlier about MPs going to different committees and learning and expanding their horizons. Well, I actually subbed in on ethics. I sat in on ethics when this was debated. The Perelmuters had nothing to hide. The Perelmuters had to call the police. At a December 7 meeting, members of the Liberals and NDP apologized to Mr. Perelmuter—with the exception of the Conservatives, of course.
For the benefit of members who are not aware of what happened with Mr. Perelmuter, I will give a brief—very brief, I promise—outline. A small business that used to book speaking engagements for the and his family was caught in the partisan crossfire over the WE Charity affair. Martin Perelmuter, who co-founded Speakers' Spotlight 25 years ago with his wife, Farah, says his company has been harassed and his employees intimidated and threatened since August. That's when Conservative MPs began publicly calling on the company to disclose speaking fees earned over the past 12 years by the Prime Minister, his wife, mother and brother, even though that would have contravened privacy laws. In one Facebook quote, which is still online, Deputy Conservative Leader Candice Bergen provided the company's toll-free number and urged people to call, to press the point.
Ever since, Perelmuter said at his appearance at the ethics committee, his company has faced harassment, personal threats and a social media campaign that he described as designed to discredit him and his wife and damage the reputation of their company, which was already struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said:
As a leader of a small company I feel that my first obligation is to ensure the physical, emotional and mental health safety and well-being of our employees. For the first time in my 25-year career I was in a situation where I didn't feel that I could properly protect everyone from what was going on. We had to get the police involved. It was a really nasty situation.
Perelmuter said that one individual who responded to the Conservative call posted on Facebook his wife's photo and private cellphone number, along with a rant calling her disgusting and derogatory things. Her phone started ringing day and night with all kinds of people calling. It was really unsettling. His voice was breaking. Perelmuter said his wife was in fear of her own personal safety for a while. She didn't want to leave the house. He said that some of their 27 employees, particularly young women on staff, were also concerned about their safety.
Perelmuter said he understood that politics was “tough”. We all know that first-hand. It's a tough business. It's certainly different from the hockey business. One of the things I always joke about is hockey. In hockey everybody liked you. It didn't matter if you were Conservative, Liberal or NDP. Everybody had a common thing to rally around. It's one of the most beautiful things about sports, I find. It's unifying. Everybody can get together, and we can all stand arm in arm and cheer for our favourite team. As we all know, politics certainly isn't that way.
I'll go back to Speakers' Spotlight. It has 27 employees. There are young women on staff. They were concerned about safety. Perelmuter said he understands that politics is tough, but he said his company is not partisan and has been unfairly caught in the crossfire. He noted that the company had only a tangential connection to the WE affair and had nothing to do with the student services grant at the heart of the controversy.
I'll quote him again. He said, “It's something I never thought I'd have to deal with. We're not a controversial type of business.” Speakers' Spotlight got thrust into this, and now we see the damage that has been cast upon them. As part of its investigation into the affair, the ethics committee asked Speakers' Spotlight to turn over documents related to any fees earned by Trudeau and his family members for speaking engagements over the past 12 years.
As Parliament was prorogued, the clerk informed Perelmuter that he no longer had to submit the documents requested by the committee. However, Conservative MP sent the company a letter the following week, which he released to the media before Perelmuter had a chance to read it, according to Perelmuter, asking him to do the right thing and turn over documents directly to members of the then disbanded committee.
Perelmuter said the company's legal counsel informed him that releasing the documents in that manner, without an order from the committee, would violate privacy laws. He was upset that a member of Parliament would ask the company to break the law, he told committee. Bergen's Facebook post came shortly after Barrett publicly released the letter. By making the request public, Perelmuter said he definitely felt like they were being intimidated by Barrett.
“It was frankly quite shocking to be completely honest,” he said, adding that launching a lawsuit against Conservative MPs had certainly crossed his mind.
Barrett participated in the committee hearing but did not address the matter. He asked Perelmuter several questions about specific speaking engagements. “I am extremely disappointed and shocked, but maybe not surprised, that Mr. Barrett was present here and that he did not use his time to offer a complete apology for his actions,” said MP Brenda Shanahan. She and other Liberal members of the committee apologized to Perelmuter for what had occurred, as did NDP ethics critic, .
The chair of the committee, MP —and I was there at that point with MP Sweet—concluded the meeting by offering a sincere apology on behalf of the committee for any of the unintended consequences that came from any actions of the committee members in regard to the obligations of our office. Once the committee was reconstituted in September, it sent a narrower request to Speakers' Spotlight for records of the speaking fees earned by and his wife. The company complied with that request, and those records have been in the hands of the committee members for about a week.
No one asked Perelmuter any questions Monday about those documents.
Chair, I want to finish up. I want to talk to you, the committee and Canadians as directly, transparently and straight up as I can.
All of us, across every party, as members of Parliament, have been faced with an unprecedented situation—an unprecedented, historic, generational pandemic.
I know that MPs around me, whether it's MP Arseneault or Conservative MP , we have all had to deal with our constituents and offer support and be there. It's been trying times. I know that Canadians are proud that they have a strong government. Yes, we're a Liberal government, but I know Canadians across every stripe are just proud of their country. They're proud that there's a government there to have their backs. As a Liberal government, we have delivered in spades. We have had Canadians' backs during this pandemic, through CERB, CEBA, wage subsidies and rent relief. The programs go on and on.
We're tired. I think all of us are tired. We're physically tired, emotionally tired and mentally tired. Canadians are the same. They're tired. We want to move on. We need to get back to a reasonable, normal life again. We will.
I implore the committee. Let's move on. Let's get down to the great work that PROC can do. For me on HUMA, let's get to the great work that we can do. Let's get back to doing what we do well, which is working together, collaborating, working across party lines and doing things together to help Canadians. That's what Canadians want to see.
If we're still streaming this live, I know that's what you want to see. You want to see us working together to have your back and to support you. That's what you want. I'm absolutely convinced of it.
Madam Chair, I thank you for allowing me to express my thoughts today and to give you my opinions. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to sit on PROC and speak and collaborate. I sincerely say—and I mean this—that I have a ton of respect for everybody on here. I know they have the best interests of their constituents at heart most times.
It's time for us to get back to work. It's time for us to move on.
I thank you again, Madam Chair, for giving me the floor. Have a great afternoon.
Certainly, that doesn't necessarily reflect the views of the general public, though, which I think was the point of Ms. Vecchio attempting to do a poll to engage members of the public in key decisions that are being made by this committee. I think it's a good point, but I'm sure we'll get to a vote eventually, I still have quite a few other arguments to make, though, and I'm quite prepared.... As I said, I had a good sleep last night.
I would start by saying that I want to make some remarks that relate to some key—I would say important—testimony that was made. We heard from quite a number of academics in our study so far, in particular, one I took a shine to. Her name was Dr. Lori Turnbull. You'll notice we have the same last name, but it's not because she's a member of my clan that I refer to her. I just really think that some of the points that she made really struck me as important, so I have a few things to say about that.
First, you'll remember that Dr. Lori Turnbull was in agreement that any time a government prorogues, there will be different perspectives on it, with differing speculation about the motives. This is a pretty obvious point to make, but I think it's also an important reminder. She stated, “Just because there is a narrative that is political doesn't mean there's not one that can exist at the same time that is more about policy planning.” She adds that these are “not mutually exclusive.” I think the distinction is important here. It's between policy planning and the political narrative, and these are two different things.
I really want to go in depth about the policy planning process and I think that really speaks to a narrative that I think much more closely approximates the truth of why the government prorogued. Despite the difference of opinion on motive and speculation about motive, our federal government was, as I mentioned, the first to ever table a rationale or a report to document its reasons for proroguing. Dr. Turnbull also agreed that the report does indeed provide a rationale for proroguing. Think about this logically: We said we would provide a rationale, and we did. She said, “The narrative in the report is quite consistent with that of the fiscal update that we saw in November and the fiscal snapshot we saw in July.” There's that word “consistent” popping up again, and we heard that multiple times before when I asked witnesses about why there would be such consistency in this process.
To me, it's logical that a government that's re-evaluating its priorities doesn't, and, because of a contextual shift as big and massive as a global pandemic, wouldn't abandon its values and its agenda entirely. You wouldn't expect a new Speech from the Throne to be entirely different. It would have some consistency, and we heard that from several witnesses when I asked them. They said, “Okay, I guess that would make sense.” That's in addition to the fact that Ms. Turnbull doesn't believe the needs to have good reasons; but, nevertheless, he did have a good reason, as we told Canadians over and over.
Going back, however, the narrative given for prorogation is consistent with what occurred after prorogation. As you'll recall, we heard from Allen Sutherland, from the Privy Council Office, who said we should have seen, “every government department engaged with chipping in ideas as to the sorts of thematics or signature items that might help give life to the Speech from the Throne.”
It went on to say that would have kicked in late in August or early in September, and then you would have seen a lot of iterations between the PMO and the Privy Council Office.
I want to just add a little bit from my perspective just to actually substantiate this claim that was made that there was an extensive consultation process done. This goes to the argument that really undermines, I think, the purpose of the motion before us. This is all related back to the motion. The motion assumes a theory or a narrative that is good for the opposition parties to be stimulating and amplifying because that message will have a negative effect on the position of the government and its ability to do its important work. I want to substantiate this claim that I think is substantiated by the extensive consultation work that went on during the time that Parliament was prorogued. I'll give you just a few examples of this locally. I'm not saying that this happened in every single riding across the country, because there were some differences, and we know this and I'm learning, as a new MP, that members of Parliament.... Ms. Vecchio put a poll.... I didn't put a poll on my Twitter account or my Facebook account, but during prorogation, I was quite excited to re-evaluate where we were at as a country, and in my riding I checked in with many of my constituents.
We did an extensive survey in the riding. We collected ideas and we got over 100 responses to a digital survey. We did a mail-out, a householder survey, as well, from which we got back quite a few responses. We did consultations with our seniors council and consultations with our youth council. Nationally we know that had—I can't remember the exact number that she said—a very large number of consultations within our caucuses. I can't remember how many, but I know I participated in at least 12 of those consultations. These were really designed to identify what was on the minds of Canadians, what they had been experiencing, how businesses were affected, how families were affected by the pandemic, and sort of where we should go from where we were at that time.
I would say those extensive consultations provide a meaningful example that substantiates the reason we prorogued. This has been very consistent, and I believe it is important for opposition members to realize that this story is consistent. There's no inconsistency here. We've heard several witnesses call into question the timing of prorogation. Well, I would say to you that the timing makes perfect sense. It makes perfect sense because it basically happened within the first and the second wave. To me, it was a natural time to reflect on where we were at as a country and to reassess what was most important to our constituents, our communities and the country as a whole.
We also hosted a town hall session on Facebook Live to get thoughts and ideas to go into the throne speech. We launched a microsite on our website and got submissions from constituents on that. We received over 100 paper submissions, and then we received more than 400 submissions through the online microsite. Again there was lots of engagement there, and that was just in my riding. I can't speak for Mr. Arseneault or Mr. Lauzon or Mr. Blaikie or anybody else, but I'm sure we all reached out to our constituents at that time.
I understand consultation also went on between the and opposition leaders as well. He met with them. I think there is some documentation of that. I don't have that in front of me so I can't substantiate that.
I think some of the folks who may have participated in that may even be in the meeting today.
If the , like we maintain, has prorogued Parliament to reassess, to reset the table, reset the agenda, then isn't this consistent with hosting all of these consultations? I think Mr. Blaikie at one point, in some of the other questioning of witnesses, suggested in a way that we were taking a break and that we weren't working. It's preposterous to me to imply that MPs were not working during that time that we were prorogued. We know we only missed one day of House sitting time. By no means were members of Parliament laying on beaches and sitting on their hands. I think people were participating in that extensive consultation process.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
When I checked in with my constituents, I heard things like universal basic income, and I heard about how the pandemic was deeply scarring their businesses and putting them into debt. I heard about the social inequality that people were experiencing. I heard a lot about social justice issues. Climate change was something that was still on people's minds but not as an immediate concern. I think we saw that this became less of a concern during the pandemic, but it was still on people's minds as an important shift in transformation for our economy as we come out of the pandemic. Between the first and second wave, there were quite a few stakeholders engaged in discussions and very excited, I would say, about the whole “build back better” kind of messaging.
Some people have called that a token phrase. One of our witnesses said that, but I would say to you that no, this is a meaningful message that encapsulates a vision that Canadians, especially liberal-leaning or progressive-leaning ones, want to see. In my riding, they certainly want to see us build back our economy and our society in a way that is different and better, to create a more resilient Canada. Even the title of the throne speech reflects what my constituents have said and what we heard during that consultation process. Again, there's consistency here.
It just seems unjustified that we should continue with a study that repeats the past, and I would say, is only for political gain. There's no other reason for it.
Let me get back to my other remarks. I have reflections, too. I actually wrote a blog on my website, reflections on the throne speech 2020. The reason I wrote it was that I was so excited, as a new member of Parliament, that my voice and the voices of my caucus members were being heard and that the throne speech reflected those comments and the feedback I received from Canadians, from my constituents.
Some people have said there's nothing new in the throne speech. This is absolute nonsense. I am sorry but I don't know how anyone can see that as a credible statement, one they actually believe is based on reality. There are so many things in the throne speech that are new and unique. I would say yes, there's still consistency there. It does reflect what we heard, and there was a genuine effort—an authentic engagement—that went into reformulating and reassessing our agenda and priorities. To me, that's why we prorogued. This is all consistent with the rationale given in the 37-page or the 40-page report that had been tabled.
One thing that really strikes me as important—and I know Mr. Lauzon will feel just as passionate about this as I do—is having national standards for long-term care and those being a priority for our government. This was reflected in this Speech from the Throne. It came out of that process. My mother's in long-term care, Mr. Blaikie, and I'm concerned for her health every day. I've had a major outbreak in my riding, at Sunnycrest in Whitby. I'm telling you, it breaks my heart to see what seniors have gone through and to see the failures in our system for long-term care.
I actually feel like I'm choking up over this. This is really how I feel, that those voices and that consultation process led to our government responding in the Speech from the Throne. That wouldn't have happened if we hadn't taken the time to reflect.
The opposition members keep saying that this was all just a ploy to avoid something. Well, what about the important work that was actually done? You're not taking that into account at all. You're disregarding the work of a healthy democracy under this government. I strongly believe that. With all my conviction, I really, passionately, believe that is the truth.
You want the truth, right? That's what you keep saying. You keep saying you want to drag everybody out and you want the truth. I'm telling you my version of the truth. My job as a member of Parliament, as I understand it, is to represent my constituents and do that to the best of my ability.
I don't think my constituents are watching right now, to be honest. I think what they care about is that we get pan-Canadian or national standards for long-term care and we improve the quality of care that our seniors deserve.
Why aren't we doing that? Let's work on that. Let's talk about that. I know that isn't the business of this committee, but those are the types of things that Canadians care about.
In a minority government we know there could be an election at any time. We could be doing a pre-study on the bill that deals with Elections Canada and the elections process. We've done a lot of great, meaningful work on that already, but we need expedient passage of that bill just in case, at any point, an election could be called.
I really worry about what would happen to our democratic process if we don't have speedy passage of that bill. This committee could be doing that work right now. There are other things that this committee could be doing with our time, but instead we are debating this motion, which I feel strongly against, as you can tell.
I want to get back to my original remarks because I didn't quite finish. I got a little taken up there in the emotion around the issue of national standards for long-term care, for which I hope no one would fault me.
Where was I?
We managed to accomplish all of the work that went into the throne speech, updating the government's priorities to fit into a wider global pandemic context while supporting Canadians and engaging in wide-scale public service consultations. In Mr. Sutherland's own words, a witness who came before the committee, there was one day lost between September 22 and 23 in pure House time—one day.
I would view that as an accomplishment for the government and a point for all House members to be proud of. The government accomplished all of its planning objectives without having to take away significant time from the House. It was only one day, for a task that Mr. Sutherland told us was a lot of hard work. I would attest to that, and I would attest to the hard work that I put into that process.
The opposition tries to make a fuss of the prorogation, but Mr. Sutherland said at our committee, “From a convention perspective, there is nothing at all.”
One other thing that I've had on my mind came out of that consultation process that I was talking so passionately about. I would point to an article in the Toronto Star, published on September 18, 2020. It talks about talking to former finance ministers about the economic crisis. It goes into some detail. It doesn't provide a lot of detail, but what's interesting—and I heard this in my riding—is that many women have been set back and deeply affected by this pandemic. It's been referred to as a “she-cession”.
Again, this speaks to the consultation work and the hard work that was put in during this time. The checked in with one of the former ministers of finance, John Manley. She also took the time to check in with another Liberal MP who served as the minister of finance for several years, and that was Ralph Goodale. I have a lot of respect for both of them.
Ralph Goodale is quoted in this article as saying, referring to , “She is very consultative. We've had some opportunities to have some really good conversations.” Again, this provides evidence. Notice I'm substantiating the things that I'm saying, because I believe that evidence and science are important.
In the article it says:
Especially in the case of women, child-care initiatives have “clearly” been effective, he said, and that it's fair in terms of “'gender equality and gender fairness.” And finally, Goodale said it adds to economic growth, not debt. “Women joining the workforce has been the single biggest contributor to productivity in Canada since the Second World War,” he said.
Here is another quote: “Because of COVID, we've lost a chunk of that, and women have been put at a disadvantageous position.”
This is important to me. I spoke with about this myself as the chair of the 905 caucus, and I heard a lot of feedback from that caucus about the importance of women's full participation in the economy. This, to me, is another aspect of the Speech from the Throne that is a major section in there. We've seen it follow from this in the fall economic statement.
I'm not saying our government wasn't committed before this to achieving gender equality and advancing women's rights in every aspect, and that hard work we've been undertaking for quite some time, but again, this speaks to that consistency in the rationale provided for prorogation, which is that there was time needed to reset our agenda, and that work was done.
Look at the throne speech. Have people read the throne speech? I know you all heard it, probably, and watched it, but the throne speech has a section called “Women in the Economy”. The first part of it focuses on—
Karen, I just want to start by wishing a happy birthday to your husband. He's 50 years old. I reached that a few years ago.
Thank you all.
I will switch to French now. I think it's easier for me to speak in French. I can speak a little longer in French than in English.
Let's start again.
I was supporting what Mr. Turnbull said earlier, because I liked what he said about seniors. He also focused on the throne speech and the economic statement. The throne speech was in September and the economic statement in November. My view is that the Speech from the Throne is very important, because it mentions seniors.
Some of the evidence said that the throne speech had little or no impact because it wasn't really structured in a way that would allow the government to get moving again.
I also want to talk about items pertaining to our farmers, and the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, where Mr. Arseneault is from. The Acadian reference is of interest to Mr. Arseneault.
I used to be a municipal councillor. I have therefore done business with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, an organization for which I have a lot of respect. The federation said that further measures to assist the cultural industry would result in a more stable sharing of the web giants' revenue, and that it was committed to promoting French across Canada; it also said that the strategies mentioned in the throne speech were highly encouraging.
Since then, the throne speech has allowed us to make a great deal of progress. In a riding like mine, people are as concerned about the environment as they are about agriculture. As I mentioned yesterday, my riding is huge—5,000 square kilometres—and has 41 rural municipalities. That's what the farmers said about climate change and that's what they thought about the very welcome paragraph in the throne speech about the importance of promoting French and the plan to strengthen the Official Languages Act on the basis of the specific status of French in Canada. Everybody's involved.
We changed things in the throne speech to give recognition to our culture. There is French in Quebec, but there is also French outside Quebec, in francophone and Acadian communities, for instance. The throne speech led to the changes we are seeing today. The Montreal Chamber of Commerce told us that in cities, our economy was being driven by clean technologies, something focused on in the throne speech. That's good news for electric transportation, a strong area of expertise in my province of Quebec. It's strong in Canada too. It's a Quebec organization, the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest Canadian chambers of commerce, that said so.
It's worth noting that what was said in the throne speech following prorogation really changed things. We have the evidence. The good news is that this Speech from the Throne promises action to combat the opioid crisis, to improve the welfare of indigenous people, and to enhance access to mental health resources to ensure that everyone can get the care they need, when they need it. This came from the Canadian Mental Health Association, the CMHA. These are all organizations recognized across Canada.
The Prime Minister's promise to compensate dairy producers, which was reiterated in the throne speech, was favourably received. We announced it in the throne speech. What have we done since? Dairy producers in my riding and my colleagues' ridings received fair and equitable compensation, approved by all of the associations that represent dairy producers in Canada.
I could go on about many more subjects, but these were concrete measures taken following a setback. I've been asked what a prorogation accomplishes and how the government will be able to bounce back. I have just given you a list of measures, and there are many others. I haven't even spoken yet about seniors. As it happens, we reiterated that we would be increasing old age security benefits for seniors 75 years and over by 10%. That, for me, is something essential.
We are working together now to deal with a pandemic and we need to slow a number of things down so that we can work on programs that will help Canadians. We all have the same financial problems, whether in businesses, the cultural sector, organizations or the general population, including seniors in long-term care centres.
Our government has adapted to better serve Canadians. It introduced programs to help the entire population. I've already said, and will continue to say, that nothing is perfect. A pandemic doesn't come with an instruction manual.
I would like to say one thing though. I've been in politics for a long time. It must be nearly 25 years. I had been a municipal councillor since 2009, and I've been a federal member of Parliament since 2015. I've never felt as useful to my fellow citizens as I have by helping those in need. That includes all my fellow citizens. I've spoken to ferryboat operators, seniors and all kinds of fellow citizens, as well as micro-enterprises with only two or three employees.
Are you aware of what we've actually done? We've saved lives. I can go that far. I will say it. I'm speaking from the heart today. We saved lives. There is a great deal of psychological distress among people today. Were you aware that money is one of the main causes of psychological distress, in second place after divorce?
Not only that, but the crisis has clearly created family tensions and we all know that the number of incident reports from centres for women in distress have increased. We're very much aware of this.
Together, we've helped the community as best we can. I know that it increases the debt and that we will have to start thinking about that very soon. I'm very much aware that we're going to have to work twice as hard. However, by supporting businesses and much of the population, we've saved many families and marriages.
During the pandemic, senior couples in need were able to receive $1,500. That's more than double the amount we had promised seniors in the 2015 election campaign, as an increase to the guaranteed income supplement. We are now prepared to consider a future increase in assistance for seniors. We are prepared to do even more to help businesses and kickstart the economy. That's why we've launched an economic recovery plan.
There was also something added to the Speech from the Throne a little later, and that was the economic statement in the fall of 2020, from which I recall a number of items. Contrary to what I've heard in some of the evidence, and in what I've read in a number of documents, it's impossible to go back quickly and declare a 24-hour prorogation under the current circumstances. If a pandemic isn't a good reason to prorogue Parliament, then I don't know what would be for a government, whether in Canada or elsewhere in the world. We've come up against a wall that nobody had anticipated.
No one could have seen this pandemic coming. It's easy to say that the government didn't react quickly enough and that it could have done this or that. I've been hearing about “should haves” all my life. With a pandemic like the one we're in, we, as parliamentarians, need to pull together to do our work in the House and in the committees, and to adopt our motions.
I'm thinking, for example, of medical assistance in dying. People are waiting for it. When I returned home from jogging one day, I saw my neighbour sitting on my porch. He was crying as he waited for me. I asked him what was going on. He wanted us to take action on medical assistance in dying, because he needed it. He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and he's going to die soon. He told me that as a great athlete and marathon runner, he needed us. He wanted us to adopt an act that had more latitude; otherwise he wouldn't be entitled to medical assistance in dying.
Right now, we're trying to get things done in the House and people are putting obstacles in our way as we try to meet the requirements of the court and to work with the provinces and territories. More than ever, it's important for us to work together and to move this issue forward. The government motion we introduced does indeed have huge implications.
Our committee has many other issues to address, and I sincerely believe that the current report on prorogation will be enough for us to move forward and submit recommendations as best we can.
I went to bed late yesterday but slept very well. I read into the small hours of the morning to learn more about the file. After all the reading I've done over the past few days I can see that there are great differences of opinion, and I respect these.
But I have more trouble accepting the idea that an opinion can be submitted with accompanying solutions even before the committee has looked at the recommendations. That bothers me. It's nevertheless there in writing. We are responsible enough and educated enough to reach decisions about what we want and don't want to see in a report. We'll debate each of the recommendations and update all the information.
I sincerely believe that we need to get to work as quickly as possible to study the very important initiatives pertaining to our democracy. I sincerely believe that we need to move forward and introduce additional motions, and deal with new projects the committee will be working on.
My colleague spoke at length about the importance of the Speech from the Throne. I'd like to speak to you about the throne speech and the economic statement. Some claimed it was nothing more than a smokescreen and that it was unnecessary. And yet, I can already see a difference in Canadians.
I can understand that Ms. Vecchio might be pleased to hear me refer to what she said and what her party argued. But I truly believe that the throne speech was incredibly important—just as important as the economic statement.
We've been living through a very difficult winter. We're tired and fed up with being shut in, even though we are at least free. Sometimes, just for a change, I hide out in my riding office, but I'm always alone at home. From time to time, my dog wants to go out. My children are gone, my wife is off to work and I'm alone. I must admit that I too feel alone. And yet, I have everything I need. I have you on screen, I have the House of Commons, I have my passion for seniors and a role as a parliamentary secretary, and so I have nothing to complain about.
But then just think about the number of seniors who are isolated and can't even leave their room. All they have is a bed, a sink, a closet and a television set. Some don't even have the Internet. I heard some evidence pointing out that some seniors couldn't even get online. Well, in my riding, they can't get the Internet because there's simply no access to it. Only 40% of the population have access.
That's why the government made a commitment. Never has a government spent as much as us to make the Internet accessible and affordable to everyone as soon as possible. I'm talking about 5G and at least 50 megabits per second. Seniors and vulnerable people need this access to break out of their isolation.
I live in the country, but I have Internet access because it's a decision I made. To be a member of Parliament, needless to say, I had to find a place where I could have access. I had not anticipated the pandemic, but I needed Internet access at home, particularly so that the children could do their schoolwork. I needed it and I found it, but that's not the case for everyone in my riding.
Our government's priority is therefore to step back and ask how we can connect to the Internet in a riding like Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation.
A highway was built right through the middle of my riding. Highway 50. As I drive it, I'm often on the telephone—needless to say I follow the rules and operate hands-free—but I lose contact four times because my cell phone loses the network connection.
This is 2021. What are our priorities? They're all important, but to break out of isolation and keep people safe, a communication system is essential. It's extremely important for our democracy and for the future we want to build for ourselves.
During the pandemic, some groups of people suffered from isolation, including seniors, but they're not alone. When I was driving on route 323 in my riding, I saw a car that seemed to be in distress at the top of a mountain. I pulled over to see if everything was all right. I could see that it was a woman and her three children, in the back seat. When I asked if I could help her, she said that there was nothing I could do except get her Internet access. She told me that she had stopped there because it was the only place where she could get the Internet so that her children could do their homework.
Really? In 2021, a mother has to drive her three children to the top of a mountain so that they can do their homework?
For me, this is a priority. There's hope, however, because the best is yet to come. The government, as it said in the economic statement and the throne speech, has a plan to help Canadians get what they need.
What's needed is connectivity, and for our seniors, it's long-term care and the national strategy on long-term care.
That's the background against which I'm speaking out on the importance of the throne speech and the economic statement so that I can explain why it's a good idea for our government and the Governor General to exercise their prerogative to prorogue Parliament for a few weeks.
Right now, we don't know exactly when or how the pandemic is going to end. We're already talking about variants and a possible third wave. We don't know where it's all headed, but we know that it will end. We've taken the steps needed to end the pandemic. The action we took stemmed from our government's decisions.
If the pandemic is not a good reason to take a step back in order to move two steps forward, then the rule should be eliminated. The prerogative to prorogue Parliament is essential for instances like the situation we've been in. No one can say that it wasn't useful.
The four committees that studied prorogation could have made all kinds of assumptions. I'm not naming names, but no one can tell us today that this prorogation was inappropriate.
The government's economic statement is clear. We were able to say afterwards that every Canadian could be vaccinated free of charge. We have a plan, and it's in place.
We're working hard, together with the suppliers and the hubs we want to create in Canada to meet future vaccination needs. Everyone knows that you can't build the plants, launch the companies and be on top of things in a week. It takes time. However, we are negotiating with other suppliers.
We have the most complete and most diversified vaccine portfolio in the world. Everyone will be able to get vaccinated. We even have access to many doses of vaccine. We have almost 430 million doses for those eligible for the vaccine. We are therefore in a good position.
The Fall Economic Statement 2020 also contained new measures for Canadians to combat the pandemic. We didn't only talk about vaccines—the vaccines are one component—we didn't only talk about long-term care and we didn't only talk about assistance to dairy producers, but that's nevertheless quite a lot.
For example, we spent money on tracing. The equipment we gave the provinces and territories cost billions of dollars. We also acquired personal protective equipment for nurses, doctors, health workers and front-line workers, in addition to rapid tests. At the moment, there are rapid tests that have not yet been used by the provinces because they have too many.