(a) the House remind the government that a general election was held in October 2019 and sadly note that more than 1.3 million Canadians, including almost 360,000 Quebecers, have been infected with COVID-19 and that nearly 25,000 people have died as a result; and
(b) in the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible, and that it is the responsibility of the government to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls as long as this pandemic continues.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it would be irresponsible to hold elections during a pandemic. I think that this word that we included in the motion, is appropriate. I repeat that it would be irresponsible to do so, when for the last 14 months we have been asking people to keep their activities to a minimum. They are making sacrifices and refraining from seeing their loved ones. Often, parents do not see their children and grandparents do not see their grandchildren. Nevertheless, we are telling people that they have to go vote in spite of all that because it is important to fulfill their civic duty.
Elections are important, but holding an election during a pandemic is like playing with fire. We do not need that. We are not suggesting the end of the pandemic is not in sight. Well, we hope it is, anyway, despite vaccination delays. We are on our way to putting this pandemic behind us.
Just to qualify what I said though, the situation has improved in Quebec, and we are all knocking on wood. However, the situation elsewhere in Canada is problematic. Last week, we had an emergency debate here about the situation in Alberta. Does anyone think Albertans want an election? I doubt it.
Ontario is in the grip of its third wave and is struggling with variants because the Liberal government did not close the borders, which is how those variants got in. The repeatedly said he closed the borders and was being really strict and so on, but 84% of the COVID-19 cases in Quebec are caused by variants. How did those variants get here? Did they leap the Atlantic?
No, they came through the airports because the government did not instruct workers to make sure travellers quarantined. Travellers did not quarantine, and now the pandemic is still here because of the variants. That is the truth of the matter.
After letting the variants in and failing to get vaccines until two months after nearly everyone else, the government is suggesting that holding an election might be a good idea. Of course, it has not explicitly said that.
Mr. Trudeau is going around telling anyone who asks that the Liberals do not want an election.
Madam Speaker, I would like to apologize to the hon. member. I am truly sorry. I have indeed used someone’s name a few times. When I was in the Quebec National Assembly, members never referred to anyone by name. Here we do in some cases, for example during committee meetings. I will try not to do it again.
The keeps saying that he does not want to hold an election during the pandemic. He said on television that the government did not want to call an election, that that is clear and that he can be trusted. It is not clear at all.
Then, the Liberals held a convention, where everyone was celebrating. What were they talking about? All they talked about was an election. At some point, the leader of the government, who says that it is the opposition that keeps talking about an election, did a feature on Radio-Canada. All he could say was “election”. As he spoke about the election, he was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. He says that we are talking about an election, but I think he is projecting.
Although he says he does not want to call an election, we think he does—maybe a little less now, because the polls are not looking as good.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs worked on an election report during the pandemic. We met with dozens of witnesses, in particular public health officials, professors and people from various backgrounds. They explained that we should not hold an election during a pandemic but if we were going to, they had a few recommendations. Everyone said they did not want to trigger an election.
According to Professor Blais, there should not be an election during a pandemic, and the minority government should not call an election during the pandemic. He also said that a minority government should only call an election every four years. I found that interesting, but I am not saying that I agree. I am merely giving him a nod.
The leaders agree that we should not hold an election. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs looked at the possibility, and its members voted unanimously that they did not want an election. The Liberal members on the committee said that they did not want an election. If that is true, why do they not tell their leader? I have my doubts. The government’s good will is as short-lived as a balloon at a porcupine party.
The government says that it does not want to call an election, but that it will introduce a bill. If it does not want to call an election, why is it introducing a bill? I do not understand. We were told that it was just in case. Then, the government brought the NDP on side. When the Liberals asked the NDP members what they thought, they said it was reasonable. They do not want to call an election, but they are introducing a bill to prepare for an election during a pandemic. That is what they said.
The members on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs were very upset. We worked very hard to issue a report. We wanted to release it quickly to provide clarity. We wanted our work to have a positive impact. However, the government introduced Bill before we could table our report. What does that mean? It means that we worked hard, but they did not care. They introduced their bill. We were upset and wondered why we were working so hard. Such is life.
I would now like to lend my voice to a few political analysts in order to show my colleagues that this does not come from the member for La Prairie or the Bloc Québécois party member, but rather from analysts commenting on the possibility of holding an election during a pandemic. Political analyst Emmanuelle Latraverse said that the government waited until December 10 to introduce a bill. When was the bill debated for the first time? In March.
They rushed to introduce a bill in December, but the bill was not examined until March. We wondered why they did not wait until March to introduce the bill. That way, we could have started working immediately, and we could have tabled our report. That appears to be too complicated, however.
They said that the bill was introduced on December 10 and never explained why.
Even if this is as important as they claim it is, they did nothing about it until March 8. In the past 51 days there have been only three hours of debate.
All of a sudden the government wakes up, realizes this has become a national emergency and imposes time allocation. Our constituents must be wondering what the motive is here. Why did the government not negotiate and find a compromise?
This type of mismanagement of the parliamentary calendar is what poisons relations between the parties. We are in this position because of prorogation, because of WE Charity. When the government prorogued Parliament, every bill on the order paper died. We had to redo the work and we lost a lot of days. We had to go back to square one because the government decided to prorogue Parliament. Suddenly the government hits the panic button and imposes time allocation.
This is a government of legislative chaos. The Liberals are scrambling. They do not know where they are going. There is not much on the calendar because the government does not know how to manage it. The fundamental problem is that the Liberals are increasingly using closure because they find it hard to manage their bills.
I like what Pierre Nantel had to say once. He said that to pass a certain bill, it seemed that the Liberal members were following a script written by a drama teacher.
Then, Pierre Nantel named the Prime Minister and said that the Liberals' handling of the bill suggested that their sole purpose was to show the Conservatives as always being opposed to everything.
I could go on and on, but, in closing, I would like to say that tinkering with the election law, especially during a pandemic, requires a consensus. We would have needed it, but we are dealing with a government of cowboys that likes to run roughshod over the House, unfortunately.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak on this opposition day about Bill and the government's firm desire to have it passed under a gag order, without the agreement of any of the parties. At least, that is its desire at the moment, but it was not the case a few weeks or months ago.
Personally, I would call this move selfish, irresponsible and even arrogant, and I would like to explain why. Obviously, there are several reasons. My colleague from mentioned some earlier, and I agree with what he said, but I would like to build on his remarks.
The first thing is the issue of democracy. I am having flashbacks to the prorogation of Parliament last summer. The same explanation was offered, that it was a matter of principle. The government is doing this on the pretext of exercising its democratic duty to ensure that Canadians can vote if necessary.
The absurd thing is that, ironically, what they are doing actually goes against democracy. They are imposing a gag order for a bill about holding elections during a pandemic, a bill that concerns all Quebeckers and Canadians. The government says that it wants people to be able to exercise their democratic rights, yet when it comes time to represent the people and reach an agreement with all of the members of the House of Commons and all parties, that is another story.
I think the government is being totally inconsistent. I am not necessarily surprised, because there has been a lot of inconsistency to date. In this case, however, the inconsistency is so blatant that it raises valid questions about why the government is eager to pass a bill so quickly this spring, when the bill was not even on its legislative agenda. It was forgotten for months and now, all of a sudden, it is urgent.
I think this is only a pretext. If a majority of members currently support the bill, they are supporting it despite themselves. We saw that with the gag order. My colleagues in the NDP previously said that they were not in favour of an election and that they did not want one.
We can work on a bill, because that is why we are here, but no one wants an election. If the Liberals want to pass a bill, let them do it properly and hear what all the parties have to say. Earlier, my colleague mentioned that they did not even take into account the work done by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Once again, the government is refusing to do the job properly because it wants to pass this bill quickly.
We are not quarrelling or refusing to collaborate. On the contrary, we are talking about consensus and working together to come up with a solution that represents everyone. I think that that is a responsible and transparent way of doing things that leaves out any disgraceful partisan considerations.
Yesterday, the of the Bloc Québécois proposed a solution for Bill that would avoid the imposition of a gag order. His idea is very simple. He proposed that the meet with, for example, the leaders of the different parties behind closed doors. They could then talk it over and arrive at a consensus. Of course, there would be compromises, because that is what a consensus is. All parties must take something away from the process. Then the members of the House would continue to work to pass the bill. That would be the only right way of doing it.
We did not hear the Prime Minister agree to the proposal. However, when the rules of democracy are changed, they are changed for everyone. It is not up to a single party to make these rules. While I am at it, I should add that Quebec is leading the way in this area, since that is how it operates. When Quebec changes the Election Act, it does so with the participation of everyone, because it wants to represent all Quebeckers. It is a transparent process.
I will say it again: there is no emergency. I know that the government is saying two different things at once. On the one hand, it is proposing this bill to trigger an election, but on the other, it is saying that it does not want an election and that it is the opposition that is pushing it in that direction.
As my colleague from so eloquently put it, when we vote against a bill, it is because it is a bad bill. I think that the opposition still has the right to vote against bad bills.
Next, I would like to talk about the government's ivory tower and the reasons it wants to call an election. Due to the pandemic, it has spent money all over the place. The government looks so generous. It gave money to everyone, and it seems like it was doing something extraordinary. I would like to point out that even though help is needed, the money it is throwing around belongs to the taxpayers. Some of my colleagues will agree with me. The government also has a responsibility. It is important to remember that it is the taxpayers who are giving themselves money during the pandemic.
The government is trying to make itself look generous by stamping its flag on the cheques. If it is being generous, it is only towards itself, so it can propose a bill like this one and trigger an election, hoping that the numbers are good enough to give it a majority government. I think that demonstrates that it is incapable of governing, because if it were, it could govern in a minority situation, or at least I hope it could. The problem is its lack of collaboration. That is why quarrels break out.
I would like to talk about my own situation. Yes, we are the middle of a pandemic, but we also have a job to do. I must be present in the House to represent my constituents on the North Shore and all Quebeckers. I must continue to work, and we should be working twice as hard.
As it showed when it prorogued Parliament, the government would rather disappear in the middle of a pandemic. It would rather call an election and prorogue the House than do its job, by which I mean not only what it needs to do during a pandemic, but its regular work as well.
I would like to give some real-life examples of what is happening in my riding right now. A person from Baie-Comeau called my office because they needed help. This person's application for the Canada recovery benefit, or CRB, was rejected simply because they had mistakenly applied for employment insurance. They are now forced to seek help from an organization that works with homeless people because they cannot pay the rent and buy food. The government should be working on glaring problems like this one, especially during a pandemic, instead of taking a break.
There is also a CEGEP student who was scammed and was asked to give back what she received. She is from outside my region. She cannot buy food. We are talking about essential needs as defined in Maslow's hierarchy. She needs to eat, and her life plan and study plan are in jeopardy. That is what is happening right now, and the is not doing anything about it. Our region has not been spared by the pandemic, either. These are real cases.
I could tell you about Cap-aux-Meules, where some fishers no longer have a wharf, which is putting their safety and their lives at risk. The government is not really working on that either, and it wants to call an election. The fishers do not even know if they will be able to fish next year. They did not even know if they would be able to this year. It makes no sense. There are other things to do than impose gag orders and say that there will most probably be an election. Seriously, if they did not want to call an election in August, they could take the time to work on the bill rather than impose a gag order.
There is a lot I could talk about. I could talk about the forest back home on the North Shore that is dying. We could work on that.
If the government really wanted to work for Canadians, it could have done two things in the last budget without having to wait for an election. I said two, but there are many. First of all, we need to look at health transfers. It did not mention them and is not talking about them. Second, there is Bill . Third, there is the issue of seniors. The government is creating two classes of seniors: those 65 and over and those 75 and over. Not all of them are entitled to the same things. That is discrimination.
I fail to understand where the government is going, but it is certainly not working for Quebeckers or people on the North Shore. It is simply working for itself. What the Liberals want is to call an election and be totally irresponsible. I cannot think of a more accurate word than “irresponsible” to qualify the government.
I would simply remind the people I represent, the people of the North Shore, as well as all Quebeckers, that I would like to stay in the House during the pandemic and work twice or even three times harder than necessary to help them, and not work for partisan interests like the government.
Madam Speaker, I am here today to discuss the motion presented by my hon. friend from on the possibility of a pandemic election.
Let me begin by saying our focus as a government, since the beginning of the pandemic, has been on delivering for Canadians. Canadians expect their Parliament to work to deliver for them through the pandemic and, indeed, over the past many months, the government has done just that.
The government has no interest in an election. We have repeatedly said that. The has said that. However, as the House is well aware, an election could happen at any time in a minority Parliament. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to be prepared for such a scenario, which is why the government introduced, following a report from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Bill , which would allow for temporary amendments to the Canada Elections Act in the context of a pandemic.
We agree with the opposition that holding an election during a pandemic would be unfortunate without first implementing these provisions that would ensure that Canadians are able to vote in a way that is safe and secure. The opposition has demonstrated a reckless disregard for the health and safety of Canadians in recent weeks. It has voted no confidence in the government 14 times, which is 14 times in favour of an immediate election. If the opposition feels strongly about not taking Canadians to the polls, perhaps it should stop voting for an immediate election.
The government wants the House of Commons to work constructively, as it has over the past number of months. Part of that includes a timely study of Bill to ensure that if an election were held, the obvious desire of many opposition members, it would be safe and secure, and accessible to as many electors as possible.
We are ready to work with all parliamentarians to ensure that these temporary changes to the Canada Elections Act address our collective goals, but that requires the opposition to also work constructively at parliamentary committees. The current tactics by the opposition to paralyze the work in the House and in committees can sometimes be nothing short of dysfunctional.
Allow me to quote the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, who said, “It's the nature of the opposition to oppose the government but at the same time I hope we can concentrate our efforts on real issues, issues of public policy.”
Every responsible prime minister has to make a decision on the effective functioning of Parliament. I would encourage our colleagues in opposition to focus, as the government has, on delivering real results for Canadians. From investing in PPE to increasing capacity for testing and tracing and delivering more than 20 million vaccine doses for Canada, we have spared no effort in fighting the pandemic and providing support to those most affected by it.
A team Canada approach is clearly the best way of beating COVID-19 and keeping Canadians safe and healthy. I would urge my colleagues in the House to continue to work productively in our shared work to protect and support Canadians.
I would like to touch briefly, as the motion compels us to, on the situation in Quebec over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread and unprecedented effects on Canadians, including, of course, Quebeckers. That is why our government has provided significant support to all the provinces and territories, including Quebec.
Under the safe restart agreement, Quebec will receive over $3 billion for necessary measures like rapid testing, contact tracing, help for municipalities and public transportation, as well as child care services for parents returning to work.
In addition, through the safe return to class fund, Quebec will receive over $432 million, and Quebec's funding allocation under the new COVID-19 resilience stream, which is part of the infrastructure program, is also over $432 million.
Finally, over two million Quebeckers applied for the CERB.
I believe our support for Canadians throughout this pandemic has been clear, and we are grateful to the opposition parties that have helped us put forward these programs that have benefited so many Canadians.
This motion also presents an opportunity to discuss the measures in Bill , which would help ensure that if Canadians go to the polls while Canada is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they could do so with the full confidence in their safety and security and the integrity of the election. I am optimistic we can find similar support from the opposition for many of these common-sense measures. I note that all opposition parties voted in favour of the bill at second reading.
From the earliest days of the pandemic last year, electoral administrators across the country began to consider how to hold elections that would be safe for both electoral workers and volunteers and that would maintain the high stands of integrity that Canadians expect. Since March 2020, general elections have been held in four provinces and one territory. COVID-19 may have restricted many aspects of life in Canada, but elections carried on, albeit modified, and with the safety interests of everyone in mind. Additionally, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada oversaw the administration of two federal by-elections in Toronto in October, 2020.
Bill is based on the October 2020 recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer regarding holding an election in the context of a pandemic and the essential work of our colleagues, who carried out a study on the same topic.
Bill C-19 contains four measures that I will explain in greater detail: a three-day polling period, the safe administration of the vote to residents of long-term care facilities, increased adaptation powers for the Chief Electoral Officer, and the strengthening of measures related to mail-in voting.
Before I move onto these measures, I would like to highlight the unique nature of the legislative changes outlined in Bill . I will reiterate that none of these proposed amendments would be permanent amendments to the Canada Elections Act, and that the bill does include a sunset clause. These measures are written so that they will cease to be in effect six months after the Chief Electoral Officer, following consultation with the Chief Public Health Officer, determines these measures are no longer necessary.
As we have seen throughout the country, this pandemic has not stopped Canadians from expressing their democratic rights. It is our role as elected representatives to ensure that if the time came for Canadians to go back to the polls, they would be able to do so in a manner of their preference and be assured of their safety and the health of their communities.
In every modern general election and by-election, the Chief Electoral Officer has been provided with adaptation powers that can be applied to the Canada Elections Act to ensure that electors can exercise their right to vote. These adaptation powers can assist in running elections in the event of an emergency or other unforeseen circumstances.
The Chief Electoral Officer exercised this power in the last election, for one to allow workers temporarily residing outside their electoral districts to vote. However, the ongoing uncertainty generated by the current pandemic justifies broadening the grounds for adapting the act. This bill would strengthen the Chief Electoral Officer's power to adapt provisions of the Canada Elections Act to ensure the health and safety of electors and election officials, including volunteers.
This would enable them to put in place protective measures in polling places to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These measures are particularly important when considering that Canada's election workforce largely skews toward an older cohort that we know are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
These adaptation measures will help support another key measure outlined in Bill , which is the extension of the polling period from a single Monday to three days.
To facilitate physical distancing at polling stations, this bill provides for two additional polling days consisting of the Saturday and Sunday before the traditional voting day on Monday. This measure would reduce the number of people in a polling station at any given time. It will be particularly useful in ridings where public health authorities have established strict limits on the number of people allowed in public places.
We have heard from some colleagues that the three-day voting period is too much time or that the election should be held either only on the Monday or only on the weekend. From work and family obligations to religious observance to the need to access adequate child care or public transportation, there are a number of reasons somebody may have difficulty reaching the polls. The three-day polling period would provide the Chief Electoral Officer and local election officials greater freedom in identifying adequate and accessible polling places.
During an election period, Elections Canada becomes Canada's single-largest employer. Over 250,000 workers were hired for the 2019 election. While Bill does not address the challenge of electoral worker recruitment, I would like to emphasize a change that was made through the Elections Modernization Act in 2018 that would allow Elections Canada to hire 16 and 17 year olds as election workers.
I would now like to turn to another key part of the bill, which I know interests all colleagues, and it is the way to protect some of Canada's most vulnerable people to exercise their democratic right to vote. Across Canada, long-term care facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19. Even with rising vaccination rates, these facilities must still be protected against the threat of the virus.
Bill would make it easier for residents of long-term care homes, who are particularly vulnerable and have borne the brunt of the pandemic, to exercise their right to vote safely. Bill C-19 provides for a 13-day period prior to polling day that would facilitate the administration of votes in these facilities. This period would enable Elections Canada to coordinate with long-term care home staff to ensure residents could vote safely.
As it currently stands, election workers travel from one facility to the next administering the vote only on election day. The safety implications of this practice are obvious in the context of COVID-19, and were highlighted also by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada as a challenge in his special report last October.
The flexibility of this 13-day period would allow Elections Canada to work closely with individual facilities to find dates and times that would be most convenient and safe for residents to vote. These facilities are essential to the safety of Canadians and these flexibilities will also assist vulnerable persons.
If there were to be a general election during the pandemic, the Chief Electoral Officer expects we would see an increase in the number of mail-in ballots, possibly as high as five million ballots. Indeed, we saw a significant rise in mail-in ballots in British Columbia's October 2020 general election and in the United States presidential election last November.
Mail-in voting is safe and secure for Canadians to exercise their democratic rights. The electors in Canada have long had the ability to vote by mail, but in recognition of its clear importance during a pandemic, Bill introduces measures to ensure that the mail-in ballot system in Canada is as simple and as accessible as possible.
Currently, registration to vote by mail can only be done through the mail or in person. Bill would allow electors to register online for the first time. I should note that providing this option would not inhibit those without access to the Internet to register to vote by mail or in person. By allowing online registration, we would simply be giving Canadians one more option to register to vote.
The bill proposes the installation of secure reception boxes at all polling stations and returning officers' offices. This way, people who are not able to mail in their ballots will have a way to submit them securely. These measures will ensure that, should an election be required during a pandemic, it will be more safe and secure and will give electors as many options as possible to exercise their democratic right.
My final comment on mail-in ballots is for colleagues who have expressed a concern whether the expected influx of special ballots could lead to delays in the counting or the announcing of the election results. I can assure the House that we have heard from the Chief Electoral Officer and he does not expect any delays in the results of a general election based on the increase of mail-in ballots.
The pandemic has affected every aspect of the lives of Canadians. No one has been spared the incredible difficulties of the past year, yet we have also seen the remarkable resilience of Canadians. We have seen that Canadians have not been stopped from exercising their democratic rights in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, and even in my home province of New Brunswick. Our role in the House should be to ensure that, if required, Canadians are able to carry out their democratic rights in a way that ensures their personal safety and the public health of their communities as well.
If the opposition members are going to continue to vote non-confidence in the government, it is irresponsible for them not to work with the government to ensure these measures are in place to protect Canadians. The current hyper-partisanship of the opposition risks paralyzing the agenda of the government and the supports we urgently need to put in place to help Canadians. While we have no desire to go to the polls, the , as any responsible Prime Minister in a minority Parliament, needs to understand when he has and when he does not have the confidence of the House and be able to act accordingly.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
What we are debating today is a motion put forward by the Bloc Québécois. The House of Commons is calling upon the government to ensure we do not have an election. This is the motion we are debating today.
For those who are watching who maybe do not follow Parliament all the time, it is important for people to understand we are in a minority Parliament situation right now. What that means is no party has an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons, so in theory, because we are in a minority Parliament, the government has to work with other political parties to get support for its legislation.
The Liberal Party had a majority from 2015 through 2019 and then lost that majority in the 2019 election. During that four-year period when Liberals were in government and had a majority, they were very used to just ramming things through the House of Commons, not really working with any opposition party and also having control of parliamentary committees.
For those who may not know what parliamentary committees are, they are groups of members of Parliament that have specific mandates to review legislation and different topics. They are very important to the functioning of Parliament. Again, to explain the finer points of how Parliament works, it is every member of Parliament's responsibility to hold the government to account. What I mean by government is of course the executive branch, the cabinet, made up of members of Parliament who hold positions in the executive.
If one does not hold a government appointment, one's job is to question the government and ask if something is in the best interest of the Canadian people, if we could be doing something better, if we are taking the best path forward and why things are being done. That is the job of Parliament.
That type of dialogue leads to good public policy, but under the Liberal government, we do not see that happening. Liberals became accustomed, under their majority years, to whipping their backbench, to not having any sort of debate and moving forward.
I have now been in opposition for several years and I fully take my responsibility to hold the government to account very seriously. I vigorously question the government about its policies. I review legislation to see whether it is in the best interest of my constituents. I use parliamentary committees to get answers, I use parliamentary procedure to do that, which is what every parliamentarian should be doing.
Back to this motion today, the Liberal responsible for it just gave about a 30-minute speech with a bunch of almost Orwellian language. If what he was talking about came to pass, Parliament really would not function at all. Let us talk about the first talking points the Liberals are using today.
Liberals are saying everybody wants an election because opposition parties might vote against legislation and that it is confidence. If the government is putting forward bad legislation or there are parts of the legislation the opposition does not agree with, this goes back to what our roles are as parliamentarians to not support it. The government has to earn my vote and it should have to earn the vote of every member of its backbench and not just expect it through a whip or the threat of a party nomination. That talking point is so egregiously bad. For somebody who is the former government House leader to put that forward is shameful, so let us not expect that.
Let us talk again about this minority situation. The government does have to work with opposition right now. It has to earn the support on confidence matters of another party so legislation can pass. Liberals do not want to do this. Of course they do not want to do this. They do not want to have to negotiate with the Bloc Québécois, the NDPs, the Conservatives or the Greens. They do not want to do that.
What do Liberals want to do? They want to go back to the polls in order to get a majority government. Any time anybody hears speculation about an election during a pandemic, it is because that is what the government wants to do. The Liberal in charge of this file was just asked point-blank by a colleague in the Bloc Québécois if he could confirm that the government does not want an election. In typical Liberal form, he danced around the question and did not answer.
I think it was fair of the Bloc Québécois member to point that out today. For those who are watching, the Liberals have put forward a bill called Bill . It significantly changes the Election Act. They used something called “time allocation”. That means that they limited debate on this bill, because they want to push it through prior to the summer. A lot of pundits are saying that this is because the wants to trigger an election.
This has nothing to do with a confidence vote in the House of Commons. A lot of speculation has been made in the media and by pundits that it would not be about a confidence vote in the House of Commons. The would ordinarily go to the governor general to call an election, but he kind of messed that one up too. That is really what is at stake here, so when we hear Liberals using talking points today about this, it is complete bunk.
Let us talk about an election in the pandemic. Right now, people in my constituency want hope and a way forward. I have been very pleased to be the opposition health critic since September. I am very proud of the fact that I have used every tool at my disposal to force the government to get answers on vaccine procurement and rapid test procurement. I will never forget the moment at the health committee when Pfizer said that the government had not negotiated delivery of our vaccine until the end of February. It only went back to Pfizer in November to renegotiate a contract to get a few doses in December. Why is this? It is because Parliament put political pressure on the government to ensure that vaccines were available for Canadians. I think the sponsor of this motion today is my colleague from the Bloc Québécois, who sits on the health committee with me.
This is how our Parliament works. When the government is not doing what it needs to do, other members of Parliament use procedure to force the government to do the right thing or to consider a different option. That may not be convenient for the Liberal government. I understand that, but that is how our democracy works. We can see the things that the government has done, such as prorogation, when it actually shut down Parliament.
The other talking point today that Liberals are using is that the opposition needs to work collaboratively with committees. Whenever we hear the Liberals say “work collaboratively”, it means we should not ask questions: just shut up and vote the way they want us to. Unfortunately for the Liberal government, that is not how Parliament works. However, it is fortunate for the Canadian public.
Lastly, regarding committees, if a Liberal gets up today to say that committees are not functioning, it has been Liberal Party members who have filibustered committees every time. I sat through many filibusters at the health committee during the pandemic on motions that provided information for the Canadian public, brought ministers to committee and generated news stories, so that Canadians could actually see that maybe this was not going well and maybe they deserved better. In turn, that political pressure forces the government to act.
To be clear, we are talking about an election right now with only 3% of Canadians being fully vaccinated. We see the United Kingdom opening up. Yesterday, I saw that the Governor of California, a very Democratic state, would be lifting the state's mask restrictions in the middle of June because of their forward progress on vaccination. Canada is not anywhere near there.
The federal government has not even provided any benchmarks for what vaccinated persons can do in this country. A lot of people are watching this today and saying, “Enough is enough. I demand safety. I demand health. I demand the right to work. I demand the right to see my family. I demand the right and the freedom of movement. It has been for well over a year now that my freedoms and my safety have been questioned, and the federal government has not delivered on any of these things.”
That is why the Liberal government wants an election. It wants an election because it does not want those voices to punch through and to demand better. I can say on behalf of every opposition person here, whether from the Bloc Québécois, NDP or Greens, that even though we may disagree across party lines on items of policy, we can all agree that the government needs to do better on the pandemic. That is what it needs to be focusing on.
I do not think any of us are going to apologize for the work that we do to get answers for Canadians. I sure am not. That is why my constituents pay my salary: to fight, to ask the tough questions and to be a champion for these things.
If Justin Trudeau wants to go to our non-existent governor general and trigger an election, he will have to answer for that, but for now, what we are going to continue to focus on is getting a way forward through the pandemic.
Madam Speaker, it is my turn to speak and I think it is important to rise today to support this motion, which states:
(b) in the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible, and that it is the responsibility of the government to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls as long as this pandemic continues.
I have not met anyone in my riding who wants an election in the middle of the pandemic. On the contrary, I truly think that people will be upset and very disappointed in this government if it remains determined to trigger an election in the middle of the pandemic.
Canadians do not need to be reminded that the vaccine rollout got off to a slow start and suffered many delays because of the government's mismanagement. The government was late signing agreements with vaccine manufacturers, did not act quickly enough to ensure domestic production capacity, and did not manage to protect Canadians by getting them at least one dose. The slogan “a one-dose summer” does not really appeal to Canadians.
The absence of border controls allowed variants of concern to take hold in our communities. Since last week, 90% of all coronavirus cases in Canada have been the British variant. Three dozen cases of a variant discovered for the first time in India have also been identified.
In short, it is clear that the Liberal government did not manage to prevent the pandemic from entering the country or to get Canadians out of this crisis. In other countries, things are going far better than in Canada. The responsibility for this public health crisis therefore lies squarely on the government's shoulders, and the last thing Canadians need is an election during the third wave.
I would like to point out that more than 1.3 million Canadians have been infected by the virus, including 360,000 in Quebec alone, that there are still 78,000 active cases, and that 25,000 people have died. That is a good indication of the severity of the pandemic. Given the restrictions placed on Canadians since March 2020 and those still in effect, it is astonishing to see that the Liberal government has only one objective, and it is certainly not to have all Canadians vaccinated by the summer.
The is going full steam ahead toward a general election. The efforts made by the government to distract from its disastrous pandemic response are appalling. Rather than getting Canadians to the polls at all costs, this minority government should be doing everything it can to ensure Canadians' safety during the pandemic.
Of course, we understand and we know why the Liberals want an election. First, from the very start, the government failed miserably in its management of the pandemic, particularly in terms of the economy. Canada has suffered major economic damage from coast to coast since the virus arrived within our borders.
The numbers do not lie when it comes to jobs. Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate in Canada was 4.5%. By the end of April 2020, the number had quadrupled. The rate of job losses in Canada was unprecedented. Statistics Canada had never recorded such a high number of job losses in its history.
In 2020, job opportunities in the restaurant sector decreased by 40% in Quebec, and there was a 13% decrease in the retail sector. Losses in these sectors have been shown to disproportionately affect younger and more vulnerable workers, including women, who lack job security or high wages.
Now, 14 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the national unemployment rate is 8.1% and this Liberal government's mismanagement has led to the reintroduction of lockdown measures in many parts of the country.
Right now, we are stuck in what has been called the Prime Minister's third wave because of the government's inability to ensure the vaccine supply and its slowness in using rapid testing technology and closing the borders. It is because of this government's incompetence and lack of leadership that COVID-19 continues to devastate the Canadian economy.
Doug Porter, the chief economist of BMO Capital Markets, noted that this current episode of unemployment hit Canada a little harder as more full-time employment and private sector employment fell. In other sectors, the people we meet in our regions in the hotel, restaurant and entertainment sectors have suffered as a result of the reinstatement of lockdown measures caused by the Liberals' third wave.
Numbers do not lie. Leah Nord, senior director at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, suggested that labour force scarring is starting to show in Canada, as long-term unemployment has increased 4.6%, to 480,000 Canadians. She said that the job prospects for displaced workers grow slimmer with every month in lockdown as more businesses throw in the towel.
It is not hard to guess why the Liberals might want to turn the page by calling an election: They are trying to distract from their failures. The Liberals are the ones responsible for the unacceptable situation in which Canadian workers find themselves. Because of the Liberals' inability to plot a coherent course to get out of the pandemic, Canadians ended up facing a variety of lockdowns and closures.
The Liberals can try to distract from the impact their failed pandemic response has had on Canadians, but the fact is that an election will not make people forget, not when the damage is this bad and when the hurt caused by their failure is still being felt across the country. From a general standpoint, 2020 will go down in history as the worst year ever recorded for Canada's economy. What is the government's solution to all of these problems?
Rather than working hard to solve the real problems facing Canadians, and despite the pretty words the Prime Minister spouts everywhere he goes, notably in the House of Commons and in the media, saying that he does not want an election, the Liberals have done everything they need to do to hold an election in the middle of a pandemic. I agree with my colleague from , who said that the Prime Minister is disconnected from reality.
The Liberals want an election so badly that they passed their pandemic election bill at second reading under a gag order and with the tacit abetment of the NDP. When it comes to changing election regulations, the least a minority government can do is to try to reach a consensus, not form a self-serving alliance. What the Liberals are doing is not helping Canadians' view of politicians.
Earlier, my Liberal colleague spoke of hypocrisy. I heard him say the word about 15 times in his speech. However, the Liberals are primarily responsible for the fact that Canadians’ trust in politicians is at at an all-time low and that government ministers rank 73rd in the 76 occupations assessed by the Institut de la confiance dans les organisations. The ultimate irony is that the Liberals are in such a hurry to pass a bill to change the election rules in the midst of a pandemic, when they are all saying one after the other today that there is no way that they will hold an election in the midst of a pandemic.
They keep saying that they are not talking about an election, that it is the opposition parties that are talking about it, but it is not the official opposition that tabled a bill to hold an election in the midst of a pandemic. The Prime Minister has said on many occasions that the opposition parties voted against confidence motions, such as those on the budget and the economic statement. They are talking about 15 or so votes, as if our vote had anything at all to do with holding an election.
If the government had wanted the support of the opposition parties for its budget, it would have tried to reach a consensus. It would have tried to focus on an economic recovery plan and assistance for Canadians, rather than on its ideological values and election platform, but that is not the case. The Prime Minister is so obsessed with power and so upset at being the leader of a minority government that he made his budget an ideological platform, spared no expense and showed no desire to present an economic recovery plan. The budget is all over the place. Many analysts have said so. The word “billion” will soon become a common word in the House. We are talking about a trillion-dollar deficit in Canada.
Now that he sees that Canadians are not stupid and that they did not fall for his ploy, the Prime Minister wants to call an election as soon as possible, even if that means refusing to listen to Parliament and refusing to try to reach a consensus. His claims are ridiculous. However, the role of the opposition is to defend Canadians, who need defending during a pandemic. We do not want an election. The leader of the opposition does not want an election, the leader of the Bloc Québécois does not want an election and the leader of the NDP does not want an election. If the three leaders of the opposition do not want an election, the only one who can call an election unilaterally is the Prime Minister himself.
I invite my Liberal colleagues, whose constituents are experiencing the same problems as mine, to stand up and vote in favour of this motion, which only makes sense.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by informing you that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am very pleased to rise today to speak to a motion that states the obvious, which is that holding an election during the pandemic is not a good idea.
People in Elmwood—Transcona and across Manitoba are experiencing a serious tightening in pandemic restrictions. Store capacities are being severely restricted, our schools are closing, visiting outside on the property of family and friends has just been prohibited. The last thing on the minds of people, just as my Conservative colleague said was true for his riding is true as well in Elmwood—Transcona, is having an election.
Even if constituents are not necessarily impressed with the response of the government to everything in the pandemic, I think they recognize that it is better that Parliament continue to work and put pressure on the government to get things right rather than suspend Parliament, allowing the government to govern with a free hand during an election. We also do not what the outcome of that election will be both in terms of who might form a government afterward and whether we will be able to elect a full House of MPs. We have the example of Newfoundland and Labrador, which was unable to complete its election as foreseen, and a lot of disputes about the legitimacy of political outcomes arose from that. What Canada cannot afford right now is to add a political crisis on top of a health and economic crisis, which is why this motion is so important.
As I said, restrictions are getting more serious in Manitoba. In some cases, that just means we are implementing things that have already been the case for some time now in the third wave in other provinces. There are some provinces where restrictions are still looser. However, the point is that even though we have seen some provincial elections take place during certain times of the pandemic, the challenge of pulling that off from coast to coast to coast, across 10 provinces and three territories, is far more than pulling it off at the provincial level. We have seen, even at that level, it can fail.
The logistics of a federal election are orders of magnitude more complex than a provincial election. That is why it is all the more important that we avoid, if we can, a federal election.
What does that take? It takes some good faith and good will by all players in the House, but particularly the government, which has to find a way forward. It does not mean that the government needs to always have a consensus among all the parties, but it at least has to have a meaningful partner on each of the initiatives it moves forward with, It also has to recognize that when it cannot find a meaningful partner, it does not have the mandate to move forward on a particular issue.
How does that fall apart? The only way it should fall apart is if the other parties all end up voting against the government at the same time. This is the only real proof that the government cannot find a consensus on an important or key part of its mandate. That is the real test. It is not how the feels when he wakes up in the morning. or whether he is upset because certain members of the opposition have criticized him too much on something or whether they are speaking more than he might like to certain things. If he can find another partner, certain things can be expedited, and we have seen that. It came up earlier. The NDP recently worked with the government to try to get Bill to committee, because we think it is important the bill passes. I will have to more say on that in a bit.
However, for the time being, I would like to know if the Bloc, in putting this motion forward, and not for the first time, does not think an election should occur in the pandemic and if it is committed to not cause an election during the pandemic. The Conservative Party has been on record for a long time now, at least back to February when the leader of the Conservative Party said very clearly in the Toronto Star that he would not trigger an election. Yes, the Conservatives voted against the budget and against other things, but they have done that knowing another responsible party would pick up the slack, do their job and ensure that there would not be an election. We all have strong feelings about what the government does, but we are very mindful of the consequences of our actions in the New Democratic caucus and we are willing to be the adult in the room.
We have said it for a long time, going back to June 2020 when I wrote to my colleagues on the democratic reform file, saying that we needed to talk about what would happen if the situation in Parliament lead to an election. We did not hear back for the summer, but we did eventually get a study at the procedure and House affairs committee. The outcome of that study was an all-party recommendation, no one dissented, which is in black and white in the final report of the procedure and House affairs committee. It says that there should not be an election in the pandemic unless the government loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, which it has not yet done.
It does not matter if some parties vote against the government. What matters is whether the government can find a partner to get its vital business through the House. So far, it has been able to do that, and our opinion is that it should continue to try to do that. As long as it is willing to make reasonable compromises, it can do that until we get out of the pandemic.
If the Conservatives, the Bloc members and the New Democrats are saying they do not want an election in the pandemic, how could it possibly happen except if the unilaterally decides to exercise the powers of his office and call an election even though the opposition parties do not think we should have one. After repeated calls for him to commit to not taking that road, putting Canadians who are worried that we might end up having a political crisis on top of a health and economic crisis at ease, the Prime Minister refuses to make that commitment, which is a point of serious frustration.
This leads me to the point about Bill which came up earlier. Yes, the NDP worked with the government because we saw a consensus around the principle of the bill. That is the same consensus that I witnessed around the table at PROC from an all-party point of view, which members can read about in the final report by the affairs committee. Under the current rules for an election, if we try to run an election just as if it is any other election and the pandemic did not happen, it will lead to failure, if not failure on the health side, then on the democratic side. We need to try to have some accommodation. Why is that a matter of urgency? It is urgent because the refuses to commit to not call one.
To some extent, I am surprised at the level of trust my Conservative and Bloc colleagues seem to have in the to put the public good ahead of his private political interests. The New Democrats do not share that faith. We are willing to negotiate with a government, which we often disagree with, to get things done and to make Parliament work. However, that in no way leads to any kind of naive faith on the part of our party about the Prime Minister, a Prime Minister whose right-hand man, Bill Morneau, through a large part of the pandemic, was just found to have committed ethical violations in respect of the WE Charity scandal; a Prime Minister who, himself on many occasions on a number of issues, whether it was billionaire island or other things, has been found to be in breach of the Code of Ethics for members of Parliament and for government. That has not happened with a lot of Prime Ministers, so this is not the guy to put our faith in when it comes to making decisions to put the public good ahead of his private interests.
We are not naive about that, and it is why we think it is important that Bill continue to make progress. Whether opposition parties and Canadians want it, the has made it very clear that he will defend his right to call an election whenever it suits his purposes. If he were not committed to that view, he would already have come out and said, “I' m not going to call an election unless I lose a confidence vote in the House of Commons”, but he will not say that. We are all good at reading between the lines on Parliament Hill. We know exactly what that means.
I never heard in the debate we had either at PROC on a pandemic election or in the several hours of debate we had in the House on Bill anyone disagree that the rules need to be changed. The point is to get those changes right. That work should happen at committee. The bill can be there now, once the Liberals stop filibustering at that committee, and then we can get on with that work. We need to get on with the work because we know the cannot be trusted to put the public interests of Canadians ahead of his private political gain.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's discussion on the Bloc Québécois's opposition motion.
It gives me an opportunity to comment on something that New Democrats care a lot about, and that is the ability to stay the course and be consistent. Not every political party has that ability, and I find myself in a rather unusual position in that I support the motion but am struggling to understand the Bloc Québécois's approach.
I would like to reread the motion:
(a) the House remind the government that a general election was held in October 2019 and sadly note that more than 1.3 million Canadians, including almost 360,000 Quebecers, have been infected with COVID-19 and that nearly 25,000 people have died as a result; and
(b) in the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible, and that it is the responsibility of the government to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls as long as this pandemic continues.
That is good. That is what the NDP has been saying for months, but is it what the Bloc Québécois and the member for have been saying for months?
I have here a Radio-Canada article from about six or seven months ago. I will read the end of the article, which shows that things have changed dramatically.
The article says, “As for whether a second COVID-19 wave could interfere with his plan, [the Bloc Québécois leader] says there are ways to keep people safe at the polls. He thinks COVID-19 itself is not enough of a reason to avoid triggering an election. ‘If we follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion, that would mean that as long as we are in a pandemic, we live in a dictatorship.’” That was the Bloc Québécois leader's conclusion then.
I wonder what happened. The only explanation I can think of is that the Bloc Québécois caucus and members did a little soul-searching and thought about whether holding an election during a pandemic would be the safe, sensible and responsible thing to do, given the presence of the virus and its variants. I am happy that the Bloc Québécois has come on side with the NDP and its leader, who have been arguing for months that it would be unwise.
An election could put people at risk. Hundreds of cases are being diagnosed every day. Not long ago, Quebec, Ontario and other provinces were reporting thousands of cases. The Bloc Québécois's change of heart is hard to comprehend.
A short while ago, the Bloc Québécois was boasting that it would hold to its convictions, that the NDP would save the Liberals and that it would be all right if there were an election because the Bloc was standing tall. Today, the Bloc is presenting a motion saying it would be a bad idea to hold an election. What happened?
I get the impression that the member for Beloeil—Chambly had a road to Damascus moment. He saw the light and fell off his horse. Something must have happened to him for him to say that he would avoid an election out of respect for Canadians. I find it extremely interesting to see the Bloc Québécois finally come around to the NDP's sensible, reasonable and responsible arguments. We have been saying over and over for months now that we will not risk our constituents' health and safety by holding an election no one wants.
None of my constituents in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie are telling me that it is time to hold an election and that it is really a priority. No one is telling me they would be happy about it, that it would be a good thing, that it would be easy and fun. We saw quite clearly what happened with the election in Newfoundland and Labrador.
For months now, the Bloc Québécois has been threatening to trigger an election. They did it during the first, second and third waves. Today, they came around to the NDP's arguments, and that is just fine. I will take it, but I am having trouble following the Bloc's reasoning. That is why I said how important it is to stay the course and be consistent.
This week is National Nursing Week, a time to recognize the work of nurses, who are doing a fantastic job. For over a year now, nurses have been on the front lines in our health care facilities, saving lives, often at the risk of their own. Let us not forget the other health care professionals either, like physicians, orderlies and technicians.
I think that, out of respect for these people, the work they do and the risks they take, the Bloc should have said from the outset, as the NDP did, that it would not increase the risk of spreading the virus by triggering an election, which involves door-knocking, rallies and line-ups to vote. That would have been the right thing to do from the beginning.
In the article I quoted from a few months ago, did the leader of the Bloc Québécois forget to respect the work of these professionals? I am not accusing anyone. I am simply asking valid questions. It seems to me that this is something that can be done, since I have already heard it somewhere.
If we want to avoid putting the people who work in our health care system at risk, people who have had it tough for months, who are dropping like flies and whose working conditions are challenging, the right thing to do is to say that there should not be an election as long as the pandemic continues.
I sincerely wish the Bloc Québécois had said so much sooner and shown consistency out of respect for health care professionals and the health and safety of all Canadians. It is good that it got there in the end.
Going back to health care professionals and National Nursing Week, I think we obviously need to talk about the federal government's responsibility to provide the best possible working conditions for these professionals. They are working extremely hard to care for our seniors and our sick. They are saving lives and caring for patients who have been suffering intensely for weeks, if not months.
I must draw my colleagues' attention to the Liberal government's failures with regard to provincial health transfers. We unanimously agree that the federal government needs to do more and increase its share of funding for the public health care system to cover 35% of the total. Right now, federal funding is hovering around 20%, which is woefully inadequate and puts tremendous pressure on the provinces, including Quebec. Austerity measures have been introduced in recent years, and they have had an impact on working conditions, particularly orderlies' wages and nurses' schedules, making their job all the more challenging and difficult.
The pandemic revealed the extent of the crisis and exposed just how badly our health care system needs more funding and a better structure, and how the people who work in it deserve more respect and recognition. The federal government needs to contribute to this effort, but it is not doing so, preferring to inject funds on an ad hoc and temporary basis so as to avoid responsibility. Injecting billions of dollars here and there is all well and good, but it all comes to an end eventually. Then the provinces, the hospitals and the health care professionals are left with the same problems.
What we are asking for is stable and permanent transfers from the federal government to the provinces in order to improve our capacity and our health care and to ensure proper care for our seniors, so that the carnage we saw in long-term care centres never happens again.
Working together is the least we can do. We have a shared responsibility, as representatives of our constituents, to work hard to ensure a modicum of decency for our seniors, so they can live out their lives in dignity, without their rent becoming someone else's profits.
As the NDP leader keeps saying over and over, profit and the private sector have no place in long-term care facilities. That is what we need to fix to help our seniors. We must prevent the problems we saw in Dorval, where some people were pocketing thousands of dollars in profits every year on the backs of these seniors, only to abandon them when the crisis came. These seniors ended up alone, dehydrated, lying on the floor, with rotten food and no one to take care of them. We have to work together to prevent this from ever happening again.
A day will come when there will be an election and people will have choices to make. This government's preferences for billionaires, big business and web giants are bad choices that do not serve the public interest, public services or the common good. Until that day comes, however, let us be responsible and avoid having an election. I am pleased that the majority of parties have come around to the arguments that the NDP has been making for months now.
Mr. Speaker, I am really surprised by the tone of my colleague from . I understand his bitterness, because he had to betray his convictions.
Politics is a balance of power, but I will not give him an intro to politics course. The leader said that he is ready to go, for integrity reasons, and that there will be provisions to ensure the safety of the vote. I understand that the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and his party preferred to lie down and abandon the issues of integrity, which are fundamental in a democracy, in order to make small gains here and there. In the end, they are letting a minority government that behaves like a majority government by using the pandemic and [Technical difficulty—Editor]. I understand my colleague's bitterness.
That said, I would like to rise above partisanship, because the Liberals have sent in a big gun, someone experienced in the person of the , who is very non-partisan, to oppose and debate the Bloc Québécois motion. I think the debate should be refocused, first and foremost. Today is about trying to strike a balance between access to voting, health security at polling stations and the integrity of the vote.
Let me reiterate what the motion says. The first part is depressing. It reminds us that more than 1.3 million Canadians have been infected with COVID-19 and that 25,000 Canadians have died as a result. The second part tells the government that, in the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible and that it is the responsibility of the government to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls. That means we have to honour the decision the people made on October 21, 2019, and remember what the said that night, which is that he understood and heard the people's message.
Hearing the people's message does not mean engaging in hasty negotiations with the NDP behind closed doors to secure that party's support so the Liberals can save their skin and avoid an election, thereby freezing other parties out of negotiations altogether.
Another thing hearing the people's message does not mean is making sure the Liberals have the support of a particular party to carry a vote, nor does it mean overturning a vote. Let me remind everyone what happened when we had a vote on tax havens. The House defeated the government because 67% of voters voted against this government, which said it could govern with a minority, which is absolutely not the case. The Prime Minister decided to seize the golden opportunity to trigger an election in an attempt to secure a majority government. That is the issue here.
The called the Bloc Québécois hypocritical. Personally, I find that the Prime Minister was hiding his intentions with the answers that he gave yesterday to the leader of the Bloc Québécois, who had a solution for him. It is pretty obvious. This government is incapable of doing its job as a minority government. If the government wants to trigger an election, we will stand tall for our convictions, and we think that seniors aged 65 and older deserve a $110 monthly increase to their old age pension. If the government wants to call an election over this issue, we will have no choice, but I would really like to know what the Liberals will say to those seniors during the election campaign.
Regardless of this government's inability to govern in a manner worthy of a minority government that has accepted the results of the previous election, we also need to be aware that this bill is flawed. However, the said that he only wanted to reassure us by saying that the Chief Electoral Officer had confirmed that there would not be any undue delay in announcing the election results.
I am sorry, but he should have reread the bill. The government introduced this bill without considering the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. The Chief Electoral Officer did not recommend three polling days, but two, because the third day, Monday, poses logistical challenges for room rentals.
In addition, the government decided that mail-in ballots, which would likely be preferred if an election were called during a pandemic, could be cast until 6 p.m. on the Tuesday following the Monday votes. Imagine the following situation. There are mailboxes at the offices of the returning officers in the ridings. People hear the partial results from Monday. On Tuesday morning, they drop off their envelope at the office of the returning officer and the vote will be counted. Has the integrity of the voting process come to this?
There are major flaws in this bill. The government is out of touch with the reality on the ground. It should call the returning officer, the Chief Electoral Officer, and ask him what is going on. I do not know if this is the case in other provinces, but in Quebec, the school service centres, which used to be called school boards, do not want to rent out their rooms on Mondays. Not only will it be hard to find rooms big enough to ensure a safe vote, but it will also be tough to recruit people for three days.
Opening the polls is all well and good, but we need to think twice about this. Under the current provisions of the Canada Elections Act, voting is allowed any day of the week and there are four advance polling days. In addition to the four days provided under the act, the bill adds three days of polling, although the Chief Electoral Officer said that, for optimal logistics, the polling should be done over two days instead of on the traditional Monday.
When the government introduces a bill under time allocation, that means it wants to move quickly and is not prepared to compromise. The says that it is scary that the opposition parties have voted against his government 14 times and that they have defied the government. A minority government that acknowledges the result should amend its bills. It should give the opposition parties some room to manoeuvre since they represent 67% of people who did not vote for the government. That way, those people's views can also be reflected in the legislation.
The current government is incapable of doing that. That is why it is bound and determined to hold an election as soon as possible. The government thinks it has the pandemic under control and that the vaccines will eliminate the problem. However, given the new variants from coast to coast to coast and the fact that the circumstances are different everywhere, we have no idea what the situation is going to look like. It is no secret that there is talk of an opportunity in August, but we do not know where things will stand in August.
Will the travel from one province to another and land in Quebec? Will such travel be safe during a pandemic?
To avoid sending voters to the polls, the government needs to assume its role as a minority government, which it has yet to do. In fact, prorogation helped it to avoid taking responsibility for the ethical and political scandal surrounding the WE Charity. It is important to stand up for what you believe in. Quebeckers are behind us on that and they will prove it during the next election.
Let us accept the proposal of the leader of the Bloc Québécois and let us sit down with the advisory committee, as Quebec did, and reach a consensus. Then, we could celebrate the fact that everyone worked together to support the democratic rules. We cannot change the rules of democracy unilaterally or by using closure. That is a denial of democracy.
Mr. Speaker, from time to time, it is good to remember what we are debating.
The motion moved states the following:
(a) the House remind the government that a general election was held in October 2019 [not even two years ago] and sadly note that more than 1.3 million Canadians, including almost 360,000 Quebecers, have been infected with COVID-19 and that nearly 25,000 people have died as a result; and
(b) in the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible...
We chose our words carefully.
...and that it is the responsibility of the government to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls as long as this pandemic continues.
I have been listening to the debate all day and I note that we are drifting away from the issue. Once again, there is a lot of partisanship, unfortunately.
There is one thing that everyone agrees on: If an election were to be held during the pandemic, changes would obviously be needed. That is why we agree with making changes to the Elections Act. What we are asking is that we do so without closure. What we are asking is that it be done democratically. What we are asking is that we do so by consensus. That is the real difference.
I want to set aside all of the demagoguery I have been hearing all day. Instead, I want to talk about what comes next. The existing act is significantly flawed and vague, which I will discuss later on in my speech. We need to talk about this. We need to debate it. However, less than four hours of debate is not enough.
From a public health perspective, calling a snap election would be ethically irresponsible. From a democratic perspective, which is what I am talking about here, it is rather ironic for a minority government to bulldoze through and unilaterally change the democratic rules. It makes no sense.
I have questions about the NDP's support for this time allocation. New Democrats enjoy virtue signalling, but it seems to me that they are talking out of both sides of their mouths. How can they demand that the government not call an election but at the same time so quickly support the government with this time allocation? They have been the government's lackeys for far too long, since October 2019. I am putting that out there as food for thought.
All the party leaders have said they do not want an election, but the Liberal government is looking at the current environment.They are in a good position. Actually, I think we would be in an election campaign right now were it not for the surging cases in Ontario. It would have been difficult, if not impossible. The Liberals are not happy. They have been seeing good results in the polls for a while, but the polls are starting to slip. They are therefore thinking they have to hurry up or they will miss the opportunity to form a majority government and control everything.
The mandate that the people of Quebec and Canada gave the 338 elected members of the House in October 2019 is a minority government. In real life, that means sitting down, talking to each other and getting along with each other to compromise and seek out consensus. That is the magic word today: consensus.
We are being accused from all sides of wanting an election because we vote against government motions. Wait just a second; we vote against measures when they are not good for Quebec. Period. We are not going to start voting for anything and everything, certainly, but we are not so irresponsible that we would drag people into an election.
Right now, things are better in Quebec, but there are provinces where that is not the case, such as Ontario and Alberta. Let us remember that and let us remember the example of Newfoundland and Labrador, which had to halt its election while it was in full swing. Is that what we want?
Many commentators and journalists asked questions about citizen participation in elections during a pandemic. There are major concerns, which I think are justified and serious. Our duty is to take action every day for the common good and to communicate with each other.
Many people referred to the leader of the Bloc Québécois earlier. We have an excellent leader. I think he is the best, so I like it when members talk about him. I am never shy about quoting him or defending him because he always takes a reasonable position. Just yesterday, my leader reached out to the . He told him that the situation had gotten out of hand with the motion to impose a gag order but that there was still a way to set things right.
Several weeks and a few days ago, our leader, who is always looking for reasonable solutions that everyone can agree on, proposed a negotiated solution to the labour dispute at the Port of Montreal. That solution would have gotten workers back to work more quickly than passing special legislation. I will not get into that debate again, but that is how the Bloc Québécois leader is. As long as he is my leader, I will be very pleased to hear any member of the House talk about or quote him because I will always be able to answer them with a smile. I will now get back to talking about the matter at hand.
If the government is in a hurry to pass an election bill, it probably wants an election this summer while the House is not sitting. How will the Prime Minister go about calling the election? Will he go see the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is sitting in for the governor general, to dissolve Parliament?
That brings me to another fun tangent. We have heard a lot of passionate speeches here about the governor general's role and how important it is. If it were so important, that person would have been replaced already, because the position has been vacant for over a month. The message is clear: the governor general is kind of pointless. However, here we are with the Chief Justice, who is sitting in for the governor general, assenting to bills that he might one day have to rule on as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is his actual function. How is that situation acceptable?
The answer is self-evident, and the question itself points to yet another in a long list of ways the government has let things slide, dragged its feet, been neglectful, failed to take action, and been oblivious to what is going on. I just wanted to send the government that message.
Rather than rushing us—or forcing us—to vote on electoral reform, the government could try another solution. The leader of the Bloc Québécois has suggested that we all meet to work this out. We could come up with a solution that all parties agree on, pass it quickly and move on to the next debate.
What might the next debate be about? Is should be about health transfers.
This is National Nursing Week, and everyone has been delivering beautiful, emotional speeches, with their hands over their hearts, about how great a job nurses are doing. I agree, but can we come up with the funding that the provinces and Quebec need to properly manage health care? That is what might actually improve working conditions for these men and women. That might not be a bad idea.
I must have talked about seniors in the House about ten times now, and every time I raise the subject, I get myself so worked up. I will repeat this as often as I possibly can because it is important for the public to know. I cannot fathom how a federal government that is setting itself up to run a deficit of nearly $400 billion cannot be bothered to respect those who built this society and who shaped the relative comfort in which we live today and treat them with dignity. It is more than just unacceptable; it is disgusting.
We could talk about CERB, because there are people who received a T4 for $10,000, but they never received that money. They are being told to pay their taxes and that they will be refunded. Meanwhile, the Liberals are keeping an eye on the polls and thinking that they should get the bill passed quickly because there will be a window of opportunity this summer, and if an election is not held this summer, they will miss their chance to win a majority
I will close by saying that members have talked a lot about the way the Bloc Québécois voted on various bills. I repeat: we vote in favour of good bills, and we vote against bad bills. We do not want to trigger an election, but we are not afraid to say that we would be ready if an election were to be called. There is a difference between the two.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to provide some thoughts on the opposition motion. There has been a great deal of misleading information, if I can put it that way, so let me start by being crystal clear for those following the debate that the Government of Canada, headed by the , has been very, very clear: Our focus since the beginning of the pandemic has been on delivering for Canadians.
Canadians expect their Parliament to work to deliver for them through this pandemic, and indeed over the past many months, we have put in extra effort to make that happen. If we go back to the very beginning, we see the creation of programs that have assisted millions of Canadians, programs that have provided a lifeline to many small businesses, preventing bankruptcies and keeping people employed. We have seen support programs for seniors and people with disabilities, and enhancements of youth employment opportunities. We have seen provincial restart money, money being put into our school systems and the speeding up of infrastructure programs.
The government has taken a team Canada approach. For the first couple of months, there was a high sense of co-operation coming from the House of Commons, but that changed. For the Conservative Party, it started to change toward the end of June. For others, it took maybe a bit longer. Let there be no doubt that from the very beginning, the Government of Canada's focus has been the pandemic and having the backs of Canadians day in and day out, seven days a week. Let there be absolutely no doubt about that.
It is the opposition that continues to want to talk about elections. Further, we have even seen threats of elections coming from some politicians in opposition parties. What is really interesting about the motion today is that we have the Bloc party saying that it does not want to have an election during the pandemic. That is what it is saying today publicly.
I challenge Bloc members to share with Canadians what they truly believe. Last year, the leader of the Bloc party made it very clear. He vowed that if the of Canada did not resign, he would force an election during the pandemic. That is what the leader of the Bloc party said. The very same Bloc party today is saying that we should not have an election during the pandemic.
When he was asked about it last year, he responded by saying that allowing the government to remain in a position of power would do more damage to the country than forcing Canadians to head out to cast their ballots in the midst of a pandemic. He made it very clear that he would move a motion of non-confidence if the did not resign. In my books, that is pretty clear.
We have seen on numerous occasions all opposition parties, or at least the Conservatives and the Bloc, vote non-confidence. We have even seen some individuals from the New Democratic Party support non-confidence measures inside the House, from what I understand. Maybe not collectively as a party, but definitely as individuals.
Members should listen to what is being said in the speeches. The member for and I spend a great deal of time in the chamber or in the virtual Parliament, and we listen to what members of the opposition are saying. Contrary to what some members of the Bloc are telling us today, it is completely irresponsible for us to believe that an election could not take place, when we have had threats coming from the leader of an official recognized party of the House, who is vowing to have an election. Am I to believe that the Bloc members, as a group, have had a road to Damascus experience and now do not want an election? Does that mean they fully endorse the and that what they said last year was wrong, that Canadians misunderstood and the Prime Minister is doing a good job, according to the Bloc now? Is that what we are to believe?
I will tell members what I believe. I believe in the reality of what I see in terms of votes on the floor of the House and some of the words we hear from members opposite, who talk consistently about elections and challenge the government on an election with the actual votes, not once, twice or three times. I loved the way the , who is responsible for the Canada Elections Act, asked how many times opposition members voted no confidence in the government: (a), (b), (c) or (d). Those following the debate should keep in mind that any loss of a confidence vote precipitates an election. People may be surprised at the actual number. The President of the Queen’s Privy Council asked whether it was (a) one to four times; (b) five to nine times; (c) 10 to 14 times; or (d) more than 15 times. I am virtually in the House of Commons, and I know it is well over 14 times.
It is not only votes of confidence. Let us look at the destructive force that the official opposition party has played on the floor of the House of Commons and some of the questions that were asked today. Members are talking about Bill , which is a very important piece of legislation. We cannot continue to have confidence votes and not recognize the value of the legislation, but a couple of members said the government brought in time allocation and how mean that was because, after all, it is a minority government and it is forcing election legislation through. We cannot do that. We need the support of an opposition party to do it. Fortunately, the New Democrats stepped up to the plate so we could pass Bill C-19.
Then another Conservative member said the government brought in time allocation and there was very little time for members to debate it. On the very same day the time allocation was brought in, what did the Conservatives do? They brought forward a concurrence motion on a report, preventing hours of debate on Bill . Did it prevent the bill from going to committee later that day? No, it did not. Did it prevent members from being able to speak to the legislation? Yes, it did.
Then some opposition members said it was a bad bill and asked about consensus and even quoted me on it, in terms of how we should strive to get consensus. Need I remind members how they voted? Liberals know how they voted on it. Every political party voted in favour of Bill C-19 going to committee. What the opposition is attempting to do here just does not make sense. We can talk about the frustration of government in terms of legislation.
The says the pandemic is the government's number one concern. We will have the backs of Canadians and we will be there for them. That means we need to pass important legislation that matters to every Canadian. The best example I can come up with offhand is probably Bill .
Last fall, Canada's very first female presented a fall statement, brought in legislation in December, and brought it up on numerous occasions for debate. We had to force it to get through because the opposition was not co-operating. There was no sense of how long opposition members were prepared to keep it in the second reading stage of the process. That legislation provided support programs and many other things for real people and businesses being challenged by the pandemic.
The government has a very limited number of days and hours to actually conduct government business. The Conservatives, who are the official opposition, know that. They understand it. One might think, given the pandemic and their talk about the importance of being there for Canadians during the pandemic, that the Conservatives would come to that realization, as opposed to debating Bill . One might think they would allow the debate on Bill to be conducted in a better, healthier way for all parliamentarians and, indeed, Canadians and that they would be willing to participate. One might think that, but that is not the reality.
I have been listening to a number of people speak to the motion we have before us today. I am still trying to learn some of the acronyms in texting, such as OMG, which I believe means “oh my God”. I have probably had three or four of those OMG moments today when I wondered where this was coming from. How could members really say some of the things they are saying?
We had a member talking about how terrible the Liberals were. He said that we were an absolute and total failure and that we were so bad. Is the member scared we are going to call an election because we were so bad? Some members were saying how bad Canada was in acquiring vaccines. The last time I looked, we were the third best in the G20 countries. Canada is doing exceptionally well. We will actually have received somewhere between 45 million and 50 million doses of vaccine before the end of June. As of yesterday, in the province of Manitoba, anyone over 18 can book an appointment to get their first shot.
Conservatives then had to come up with something to be critical of the government on the vaccine front, so they hit on the double dose issue. Conservatives thought they could say that the government was not doing a good job on the double dose issue.
I ask members to remember, back in the December, some of the opposition's criticisms of the government. Criticism is fair game. The Conservatives are in opposition, and I wish them many years in opposition. They are entitled to be critical of the government and the things we are doing. However, it is another one of those OMG moments. They need to get real. They need to understand what Canadians want us to be focused on.
To my friends in the Bloc, they should seriously think about what their leader has been saying and the posture the Bloc has taken for the last number of months. When I saw this particular motion appear on the Order Paper, I had to give my head shake and ask myself if it was really coming from the Bloc. The Bloc has been the clearest of all in terms of wanting an election now.
I do not believe this. It might be what the Bloc has been thinking in the last 72 hours, but who knows what their thoughts are going to be 24 hours from now. That is the reason we brought in Bill .
If there are concerns for Canadians regarding a potential election, given the behaviour we have seen from the opposition, one responsible thing to do would be to actually pass Bill . Let us get it through committee. I think about how much time have we allocated toward Bill C-19. I was prepared to speak to it on a couple of occasions. One day, maybe back in January or February, I was primed and ready to go. It was going to be called up and, lo and behold, the Conservative Party brought in a concurrence motion. That was not the first time.
Ironically, once time allocation was put on Bill , Conservative members did it again. They brought in another concurrence motion that prevented people from being able to speak on the legislation, even though it was going to committee. It just does not make sense. We have the vote on it. Conservatives were trying to frustrate the government in terms of not allowing the bill to proceed, so one would think that they were going to oppose it, but that was not the case. Of the entire Conservative caucus, those who voted, voted in favour of it.
Now Bill sits in limbo, although the Liberals would like to see it actually being talked about. There are some good ideas there. The minister has been very clear that he is open to ideas. The member for has talked about a number of possible amendments.
I think that we have been fairly clear in terms of getting the legislation before the committee. It is there. The committee can deal with it at any time now. Is the opposition being sincere about being concerned with the pandemic and what takes place in an election? We know that, no matter what, Elections Canada, while being recognized around the world as a first-class independent agency with the ability to conduct an election, would benefit from this legislation if we can get it passed. I think it is the responsible thing to do. Just look at the number of non-confidence votes we have had: 14 or 15. This would be a responsible thing for us to do.
Why not allow that discussion at committee? If we take a look at the principles to be looked at, they are just temporary measures. We do not know how long the pandemic could potentially carry on with variants and so forth. We are very optimistic today, but there are long-term care considerations. Bill talks about extending the number of polling days and mail-in ballot enhancements.
We have seen other governments in three or four provinces that have actually conducted provincial elections. We saw a huge election just south of the border. We saw by-elections conducted by Elections Canada. I would like to see PROC deal with the bill, and the sooner the better.
I encourage members to recognize two facts. First and foremost, since day one this and this government have been focused on the pandemic and being there for Canadians in a very real and tangible way. Second, when it comes to talking about an election, it is the opposition that does a lot more talking about it than the Government of Canada or the Prime Minister.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak today to this proposal by the Bloc Québécois on this, our opposition day.
This is a proposal that goes to what may be the very heart of our political commitment, that is, the expression of democracy itself. There are several components and several things to say about this proposal. There would also be several things to say about Bill .
Today, it has come down to us making a common sense proposal that no election be held while the pandemic is at its peak, which has yet to be confirmed. By definition, we never know what the future holds. The first wave was strong, the second was even stronger, and the third is bringing particularly harmful variants that are more dangerous and more contagious. With each wave, we told ourselves that it could not be worse than what we had just come through, but unfortunately we were wrong. Such are the vagaries of public health and the life we have been living for a year now.
I feel it is a shame to present a motion on something that is just plain common sense. This motion is not even binding. If the situation changes and the need for an election becomes palpable, it will still be legal to hold one. That is not the issue. This motion is really an affirmation of good old common sense: we all understand, collectively, as a political class, that the priority is not to hold elections. It seems to me that should be obvious.
However, evidence of the government's desire to trigger an election is piling up. Unfortunately for the Liberals, they are always forced to put it off. If it were not for this third wave today, which is especially bad in Ontario, a province we know will be hotly contested, we would not be here right now. We would all be in our ridings, campaigning. There is not a shadow of a doubt about that.
In January, when the House resumed after the holiday recess, several newspapers reported that the government had asked its party and its riding associations to be at the ready and to prepare for an imminent campaign. It was not the Bloc Québécois saying it, but some very serious newspapers.
I feel it is a shame that, because we are raising this issue, the government has nothing better to do than to pass the buck to us, saying that it is the Bloc Québécois that often votes against the government. I have news for the government: as my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé said earlier, this is a minority government. It is the government that often decides that a given matter will be a confidence vote. That is called blackmail.
I will take the example of the Bloc Québécois's amendment to the amendment to the budget bill. As a reminder, we proposed an increase in the pension for seniors and an increase in health transfers, and the government told us that it would make it a confidence matter. Here is a minority government that says it does not want an election, that criticizes us for voting against it when there are confidence votes, but that itself turns important votes into confidence votes.
The government is telling us that, if a majority of the members of the House impose a policy that the Liberals do not want, it will not respect democracy or the constitution of this democratically elected Parliament that, in the current context of a minority government, gives the upper hand to the opposition, which has a majority. The government tells us that there will be an election, and then blames certain opposition parties for wanting to trigger the election. This is rather odd and ethically dubious.
There are more and more signs, and I think there is no doubt that the government wants to call an election. Let me give Bill as an example that is very important, particularly for my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé. I raised a point of order on it a few days ago.
The government agreed to vote in favour of the bill to embarrass the official opposition. Since then, however, it has done everything it can to ensure that, contrary to custom, the bill does not receive priority consideration at the Standing Committee on International Trade, on which I sit.
The government expressed circumstantial, partisan and temporary support for this bill, figuring that if it delayed the study of the bill as much as possible, it would not make it back to the House before the next election. The government thinks that it will win a majority in the next election and that this will all be ancient history, but that it will not have come off looking all that bad in the meantime.
We have seen it before. We were not born yesterday. This shell game is quite elaborate, but we know exactly where the government is going with this.
I want to get back to the gag order that was imposed on a debate about an act that is fundamental to our democracy, the act that sets out the rules by which Quebeckers and Canadians choose their elected officials.
Questions about holding an election in this particular context will obviously come up, since the current Liberal government has a minority. If the government had a majority, we can assume that this pandemic would have ended before the next fixed election date. Since the government has a minority, however, an election could be called at any time. As I was saying, there would be an election right now. If not for the third wave, we would not be in the House because Parliament would have been dissolved.
We have no problem with an election being held before the health situation improves. We said as much last fall. We said that we needed to put rules in place and we invited the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, or CEO, to come up with a formula. We were the first to say it. Elections must obviously be held as safely as possible. That is not the issue. Democracy should not be suspended because of the health crisis.
Nevertheless, I want to point out that Bill , regarding potential elections during a pandemic, was introduced last December and completely ignored the study previously done on this issue by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It even ignored the CEO's recommendations from November 2020. The government only brought the bill back up for debate in the House on March 8. Five months have passed since the bill was introduced, and barely four hours have been allocated for debate in the House. I repeat, only four hours to review the Canada Elections Act.
Suddenly, last Friday, we got a surprise. The issue just so happened to become a national emergency, to the point where a gag order was imposed with support from the NDP to limit debate and speed up passage of the bill. In the end, we spent as much time debating time allocation as we did debating the bill. It is outrageous when I think about it.
This bill would make fundamental changes, including giving the Chief Electoral Officer additional powers and replacing election day with three polling days. That means voting day would stretch out to three days.
Notwithstanding the merits of the various measures in this bill, such changes to such a fundamental act must not be made under time allocation. We are talking about changing the rules governing the expression of democracy. This should not be done under time allocation, which is a procedure used exceptionally to limit democratic debate.
In any case, everyone is saying that they do not want an election, so there is no point. What is the rush? Where is the emergency? We would like to understand.
Considering the examples I gave earlier, no one believes that the Liberal Party does not want an election. I want to reiterate that we are calling for all the parties to meet up, to replace the gag order with an amicable agreement to reach a consensus on election laws. Let us not waste our time. Let us acknowledge today that we have more important things to do than to call a snap election.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on the Bloc Québécois's opposition day.
Opposition days are few and far between, and therefore it is important to choose a very specific topic to debate. Most of the time, we ask ourselves the following questions. What do electors want? What subjects do the people we represent want to see their representatives debate? What is important to them? What is important to them in these difficult times?
On a few occasions, we have used opposition days to call for an increase in health transfers for Quebec and the provinces because the needs of our health care systems are acute. In a health crisis, everyone, except perhaps the Liberals, seems to agree that health is the logical priority.
We used one opposition day to demand that EI benefits for people with serious illnesses to be extended from 15 to 50 weeks. Many Quebeckers are experiencing this type of discrimination, and they want their elected officials to fight for that.
We also took advantage of an opposition day to demand that the government increase old age security by $110 per month for all seniors 65 and over. That is what seniors across Quebec are asking for. They are also telling us that people aged 65 to 74 need it just as much as those 75 and over.
On an opposition day, we usually ask ourselves the following question: What do our constituents want? This time, the question is more like, what do they not want? They do not want a federal election called in the middle of a global pandemic. It is as simple as that.
By introducing Bill C-19 and imposing a gag order, the government is pushing us to debate, in a very limited amount of time, an issue that the majority of the people who elected us do not want to hear about. The Liberals know as well as we do that the opinion of voters is fundamental. However, they are turning a deaf ear.
An Ipsos poll conducted on April 18 for Global News found that 57% of electors believe that an election during a pandemic would be unfair. As my colleagues have said over and over again, people are already overwhelmed with the day-to-day management of the pandemic. An election is most likely the last thing on their list of priorities.
Voter turnout is low enough as it is, so calling an election now is extremely risky for several reasons. It is not just us or our constituents saying this. Everyone is saying it. The leaders of the three opposition parties are saying it, and even the has said it. He has repeatedly stated that he is not interested in holding an election and that nobody wants an election during a pandemic.
The problem is that, unfortunately, no one believes him, considering that the government introduced Bill C-19 and imposed closure. No one in Quebec believes him. No political analyst is buying it, and no one thinks it would be a good idea to call an election until the situation is stable. People like Mario Dumont, Paul Arcand, Bernard Drainville, Emmanuelle Latraverse, Pierre Nantel and Mathieu Bock-Côté come to mind. None of them think that triggering an election is a good idea.
If everyone agrees on that right from the outset, including all the opposition parties, the Prime Minister himself and most of his Quebec ministers, who said publicly that no one wanted an election, then no one should have a problem voting in favour of our motion. It is so simple. It reminds us that a general election was held in October 2019. Some might say that feels like yesterday, but it may seem longer to the government because it is a minority.
We are quick to forget one thing, which is the current environment. The country is going through one of the worst health crises in its history. Since March 2020, more than 1.3 million Canadians have been infected with COVID-19 and nearly 25,000 people have died as a result. It is for this simple and very important reason that holding an election during a pandemic would be downright irresponsible. We believe it is the responsibility of the federal government to do everything it can to avoid sending voters to the polls for as long as we are in a pandemic. So long as the crisis has not subsided and the situation has not stabilized, that would be not only irresponsible, but also dangerous to the health of our fellow Canadians.
I can already hear Liberals telling us that it is also the responsibility of the opposition to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls. Who gets to decide which votes are confidence votes? Is it the government or the opposition parties? Who can go to the Chief Justice of Canada or the governor general to call an election? Is it the government or the opposition parties? Who can dissolve Parliament? Is it the government or the opposition parties? The answer is obvious. It looks like the government is confusing the executive with the legislative.
I do not know about my Liberal colleagues, but it would make me feel very uncomfortable to go knocking on people's doors to talk about an election at a time when they cannot even have their own family members over, at least in Quebec. Many of them have children who have to do their schooling at home. Some of them still cannot reopen their businesses. Others have lost their jobs, because the company they worked for closed down. Some are health care professionals who are at the end of their rope or family caregivers who have been unable to see their parents for weeks.
Worse still, perhaps they themselves were infected with COVID-19 and will suffer the effects for the rest of their lives, or they have lost a loved one to the virus. That is what they are concerned about right now. They need a government that cares more about them and their needs than about its own re-election.
As my colleagues have said before me, the Bloc Québécois agrees with the government on one thing. If an election were to be held during a pandemic, adjustments would have to be made to ensure that polling takes place in accordance with the health rules set out by Quebec and the provinces.
However, from a public health and even an ethical perspective, calling an election in the current environment is not a responsible decision. From a technical perspective, Bill contains major flaws and inaccuracies that must be discussed and debated. From a democratic standpoint, it is completely inconceivable that a minority government would impose time allocation on Parliament regarding a bill intended to provide a framework for the democratic rights of citizens.
I am sure you will have guessed where we stand on this, Mr. Speaker. That does not mean we are acting in bad faith. The Bloc Québécois did propose a compromise to address this issue. The Bloc Québécois leader invited the to set up a private meeting with the leaders of all the parties at which they could reach a consensus and then honour that consensus instead of invoking closure. What was the Prime Minister's response? He says he does not want an election, but he keeps trying to shove a bill that would enable a pandemic election down our throats. Is that not ironic?
I think this shows a blatant lack of judgment and a failure to grasp the situation. I would even go so far as to say that taking steps to trigger an election in the short term shows a lack of empathy for voters. That is why the Bloc Québécois moved this motion today.
I could spend hours talking about why, from a public health and safety perspective, it would be a bad idea to trigger an election. However, I also want to talk about what is in Bill , such as provisions for polling in seniors' residences. The bill provides for 16 polling days, 16 days during which election workers would be on site in every long-term care home and residence. We think that is unrealistic.
Another thing that bothers us is the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots. For instance, Bill C-19 would allow Elections Canada to receive mail-in ballots until the day after polling day. We think that is unjustified and would only delay the release of the election results.
That is not to mention the issue of voter turnout. A Leger poll conducted in early March found that less than a quarter of Quebeckers and Canadians would want to vote by mail if a federal election were to be held soon. According to the poll, it would take a good awareness campaign to get people to accept that this way of voting is secure. The majority of voters prefer to vote in person. It would be unfortunate if the pandemic led to a drop in voter turnout, which is already low, I might add.
Under Bill , voting would be held over three days, with eight hours of voting on Saturday, eight hours on Sunday and 12 hours on Monday. However, if the vote is held on a Monday, a change of venue might be required for that day, making it very difficult to organize the whole thing.
Confidentiality is another one of the Bloc Québécois's concerns. Mail-in voting is generally safe, but the voter can be identified if the ballot is viewed or handled. That is why it is always better to exercise the right to vote in person. In addition to preserving the integrity and secrecy of the vote, it also promotes the symbolism behind the socially committed act of voting.
All these concerns have to do with the technical considerations of holding an election during a pandemic, but let us get back to basics, to the reason behind today's motion. From a public health perspective, holding an election during a health crisis is, and I cannot say this enough, an irresponsible choice. In fact, if there is one thing that all parties and every leader in the House can agree on, it is that it is inappropriate to hold an election during a pandemic.
What is even more important, however, is that the Quebeckers and Canadians we represent do not want an election. They have made this very clear. We must listen to them, respect them and ensure that they will not be forced to the polls while we are combatting COVID-19.