That the Standing Committee on Health be instructed to undertake a study on the emergency situation facing Canadians in light of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that this study evaluate, review and examine any issues relevant to this situation, such as, but not limited to:
(a) rapid and at-home testing approvals and procurement process and schedule, and protocol for distribution;
(b) vaccine development and approvals process, procurement schedules, and protocol for distribution;
(c) federal public health guidelines and the data being used to inform them for greater clarity on efficacy;
(d) current long-term care facility COVID-19 protocols as they pertain solely to federal jurisdiction;
(e) the availability of therapeutics and treatment devices for Canadians diagnosed with COVID-19;
(f) the early warning system, Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN);
(g) the government’s progress in evaluating pre- and post-arrival rapid testing for travellers;
(h) the availability of paid sick leave for those in need, including quarantine and voluntary isolation;
(i) the adequacy of health transfer payments to the provinces, in light of the COVID-19 crisis;
(j) the impact of the government’s use of World Heath Organization (WHO) advice in early 2020 to delay the closure of borders and delay in the recommendation of wearing of masks on the spread of COVID-19 in Canada;
(k) the Public Health Agency of Canada’s communication strategy regarding COVID-19;
(l) the development, efficacy and use of data related to the government’s COVID Alert application;
(m) Canada’s level of preparedness to respond to another pandemic;
(n) the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Canada and a review of Canada’s emergency stockpile of PPE between 2015 and present;
(o) the government’s contact tracing protocol, including options considered, technology, timelines and resources;
(p) the government’s consideration of and decision not to invoke the federal Emergencies Act;
(q) this study begin no later than seven days following the adoption of this motion;
(r) the committee present its findings to the House upon completion and, notwithstanding Standing Order 109, that the government provide a comprehensive response to these findings within 30 days;
(s) evidence and documentation received by the committee during its study of the Canadian response to the outbreak of the coronavirus, commenced during the first session of the 43rd Parliament, be taken into consideration by the committee in the current study;
(t) that each party represented on the committee be entitled to select one witness per one-hour witness panel, and two witnesses per two-hour witness panel;
(u) an order of the House do issue for all memoranda, emails, documents, notes or other records from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Privy Council Office, the office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the office of the Minister of Health, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, concerning options, plans and preparations for the GPHIN since January 1, 2018;
(v) an order of the House do issue for a record of all communications between the government and the WHO in respect of options, plans or preparations for any future operation, or absence thereof, of the GPHIN, since January 1, 2018;
(w) an order of the House do issue for all memoranda, emails, documents, notes and other records from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Privy Council Office, the office of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the office of the Minister of Health, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, concerning plans, preparations, approvals and purchasing of COVID-19 testing products including tests, reagents, swabs, laboratory equipment and other material related to tests and testing applications used in the diagnosis of COVID-19, since March 19, 2020;
(x) an order of the House do issue for all memoranda, emails, documents, notes and other records from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Privy Council Office, the office of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the office of the Minister of Health, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada concerning plans, preparations and purchasing of PPE, including gowns, gloves, masks, respirators, ventilators, visors and face shields, since March 19, 2020;
(y) an order of the House do issue for all memoranda, e-mails, documents, notes and other records relating to the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force and its subcommittees;
(z) an order of the House do issue for all memoranda, e-mails, documents, notes and other records relating to the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution and monitoring strategy, including, but not limited to anticipated timelines for the distribution of an approved COVID-19 vaccine across Canada and the prioritization of population groups for vaccination;
(aa) all documents issued pursuant to this order (i) be organized by department and be provided to the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel within 15 days of the adoption of this order, (ii) be vetted for matters of personal privacy information, and national security, and, with respect to paragraph (y) only, be additionally vetted for information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with contractual or other negotiations between the Government of Canada and a third party, by the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel within seven days of the receipt of the documents, (iii) be laid upon the table by the Speaker, at the next earliest opportunity, once vetted, and permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Health; and
(bb) within seven days after all documents have been tabled pursuant to paragraph (aa), the Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry be ordered to appear separately as witnesses before the Standing Committee on Health, for at least three hours each.
She said: Mr. Speaker, the motion before the House today is probably the most important thing that Parliament could be dealing with right now and that is how we as a country collectively move forward to address the COVID-19 crisis. We are in the middle of a time when we are seeing increases in cases across the country. Provinces, workplaces, schools; everybody is concerned with this. We are seeing restrictions come back in cities across the country, people losing their jobs and people being separated from their loved ones.
We need to figure out how to move forward, given the uncertainty of a vaccine as we do not know when it is coming. We need a better plan forward than just an economic shutdown, endless quarantines and endless isolation. That is what this motion is designed to do. It was put forward at the health committee nearly two weeks ago today. Liberal members filibustered that motion.
I will be splitting my time with the Leader of the Opposition.
This motion is before the House. The motion is very simple. It outlines all of the areas that Parliament should be tasked with reviewing. We are trying to find out what is working and what is not, so that we can move forward so that Canadians can have certainty.
I had a whole speech prepared today, but then I got a call from a very close friend in Montreal last night telling me that her mother, Antonietta Ferri, had passed away from COVID-19. The circumstances in which she passed away could have been prevented if we had a better plan. My friend's elderly mother and elderly father did everything right. They completely isolated, but were infected by somebody who helped to care for them. They had the best of intentions but did not have access to testing and did not know who infected them. They ended up being separated during their hospitalizations. Can colleagues imagine being married for decades and then being separated while struggling and suffering? Now the family cannot be with the father because of the lack of access to tests.
When Barb told me about that last night, I thought, “This is why we need this motion.” This is what we all need to be working on right now. There is nothing in this motion that is partisan. It is just saying what is working, what is not working, what have we done, what have we not done, what is the best practice around the world and how do we move forward.
I have been very disappointed reading the media coverage of the Liberals on this last night and this morning. I want to go through the talking points that they are going to use today as I want to debunk them.
First of all, they are going to say that this is unfair to the civil service. I have great respect for Canada's public service. They are working so hard right now and I cannot believe that any single one of them would want to be unfair to Canadians and not provide this information to Parliament. We need to scrutinize this information. We have not had a budget in nearly two years and our committees have not sat because of prorogation. It is past due that every person in this place of any political stripe has access to this information, so that we can understand how we can best move forward.
Second, they have said that this motion would paralyze government. I saw that in a CP article today. Let us be clear. The only people who have paralyzed government are from the Liberal Party of Canada. They shuttered Parliament during the pandemic, they prorogued Parliament and now they are filibustering the health committee on this motion. If they actually wanted to study the pandemic or deal with the pandemic, as the said in his motion earlier this week, they will pass this motion. They will vote in favour of it.
The point of order that the raised earlier today about it being impossible to produce these documents is a matter for debate. If the Liberals think that is impossible, they need to explain and debate why that is so, and then propose a motion to be debated in this place to remind them that that is the function of this place. The function of this place is to figure things out and move forward, not just say that it is inconvenient for the to answer questions.
I remind them that this place has a role and it is completely right to ask questions like the one that the Canadian Press did not get an answer to yesterday. A simple question: Who gets the rapid test when, using what criteria? The Public Health Agency of Canada and the did not even bother returning the phone call, so we need these documents. We need to do the job. We need certainty. That is why we are compelling this today. There is no partisan language in here.
It is simply saying the health committee should be studying the pandemic in the middle of the pandemic. To do that, we need information so we understand what witnesses to call and where to dig. For months, we have not had the scrutiny and there has been paralysis in getting rapid tests. We do not know where $1 billion worth of PPE went because Liberals have been obstructing. We need clarity. We need to do this so we can plan to move forward. If we do not know what is working and what is not and we cannot get answers to basic questions, then we cannot have a plan going forward, and that is the role of government.
Yesterday the asked whether the Conservatives had confidence in government. This was a confidence motion. How can we know if we have confidence in the government's response to the pandemic if we cannot scrutinize its actions? That is what has happened over the last several months: the shuttering of Parliament, the prorogation of Parliament, committees not sitting and the filibustering of committees, especially the health committee. How do Canadians know if they should have confidence in the Liberal government?
Of course, the Liberals want everyone to have confidence, to think it is great, that everything is working, but there are basic questions that have not been answered. The fact is that Canada does not have widely available rapid testing. Those watching today should try to get a COVID test and get the results in 15 minutes. I challenge anyone watching this. They are not going to be able to do it.
It was only when Parliament started asking questions about this that we saw some acknowledgement that this was an issue. That is why Parliament matters and that is why this motion matters. It matters to people like my friend Barb and her mom Antonietta, who lost her life. We need to be asking these questions. She needs justice. We need to make sure that situation is not repeating itself time and time again across this country.
Nobody of any political stripe can accept that a committee cannot be looking into basic information around the pandemic. The documents that we are requesting are completely reasonable for the Canadian public to understand. For example, we are trying to understand why the government shut down the early pandemic warning system, what impact it had on the spread of COVID-19 and whether that led the government to rely on World Health Organization data as opposed to stuff that has already come in from the country.
Liberals are saying everything is fine, but their advice keeps changing. They have not said what best practice is, they are not saying who they are listening to. How can any Canadian take the advice of the government if the government is not clear on who it is listening to and why? The was asked a similar question in the press conference this morning. He was asked who he is listening to. Who is the government listening to? I would like to know. I would like those documents so I can review them.
What else is in the motion? We want to know what the government's procurement processes have been around things like PPE. We want to know information about the procurement for vaccines, how the government is going to distribute them and what is happening with all of these things. We want to know about the government's COVID-19 vaccine task force.
To anybody who is watching this and has heard to the , or the say that this is unreasonable, the only reason they will say this is unreasonable is because they have something to hide. The time for hiding stuff is over. They have had months of shuttering this place. It is time for Parliament to reign. If they are confident that everything is going well, there will be nothing in here other than accolades for them.
The goal of this information is not to do anything nefarious. It is simply to show Canadians that Parliament cares about figuring out the best way forward. By no standards right now can we say everything is fine. It is not an indictment of anyone. The number of COVID cases are rising, things are shutting down and we need Parliament to do its job, to scrutinize the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent on this and find out whether that investment is working. It is not enough for the Liberals to say we should just take their word for it. No, it is our job to scrutinize that. That is why Canadians pay us.
When the government talks about moving forward with a team Canada approach, I say giddy-up, let us do it. Let us get these documents, let us get this committee study going and let us get down to business.
Mr. Speaker, now that rapid tests have been ordered, my colleague from , the shadow minister for health, has in fact been the de facto minister of health because that should have been done months ago and was not until the opposition started pressuring. I would like to congratulate her on that.
The House of Commons did not sit for six months. The then prorogued Parliament. There has been no budget for almost two years. Liberals are suppressing questions at committee. What are we here to ask for today? The health committee would simply like to examine the biggest health crisis in our nation's history.
How shocking. We have reasonable questions about the health and well-being of Canadians.
They will not even let us speak about the most significant crisis our country has faced. They are saying that is going to involve printing a lot of documents.
My family has had a personal experience with this, and thankfully Rebecca and I have recovered. We received good advice from public health supports here in Ottawa. Our children were fortunate, through distancing, not to become infected. They had several tests and are now back at school.
We also experienced the uncertainty of the direction of the government, which has changed its mind several times on fundamental advice to the public. We were in line for hours, like Canadians across the country have been, because of the failure to follow through on the 's statements about rapid testing and tracing in March. The government was slow to close the border, which meant we had more transmission and community-spread cases. We have to learn our lesson.
My family and I waited in line for a long time to get tested. We dealt with the stress of getting contradictory information and we experienced first-hand the health effects of COVID-19. Fortunately, we made a quick recovery. We were lucky.
However, I am thinking of the thousands of Canadians who have lost a loved one, and of all those who would still be with us if we had been better prepared. Those families are what motivates me to hold the government to account, and small business owners who are struggling are what encourages me to find better solutions.
As I have said, Parliament did not sit through the worst of the pandemic, but Parliament is sitting now and has a responsibility to ensure that Canada learns the lessons from the first wave of the pandemic. We are in a second wave in some parts of the province, and it is clear the government has not learned. We are simply asking that the health committee of Parliament, Canadians of all party stripes, be able to examine this to make sure Canada strives to be the best in its response, not a laggard.
As I said, the government seems to take comfort in comparing itself to our friends from the south and comparing to the worst response. We should be comparing to the best. That is what I strive for in my life. It is what I know my colleagues do. The government has been out of touch, late, slow and confused in every single aspect of the response. That is why it does not want to answer questions.
Just like yesterday, when the Liberals did not want to answer questions on sending millions of dollars to insiders and friends of the and an elite few in the Liberal Party, now they do not want to answer questions about the well-being of Canadians. That should concern Canadians. That should concern the , whose duty it is to report to Parliament and be held to account. Only the arrogance of the Liberals would lead them to think they are beyond questioning, and that we could not possibly do anything better because the Liberal Party is in charge. It is that entitlement and arrogance Canadians are tiring of.
During my time in the Canadian Armed Forces, we had something called lessons learned: the after-action report. In the private sector, there is process improvement. There are even systems like Six Sigma and others. Every serious organization in the world learns from experience and makes sure to get it better next time. In the military, it is literally life or death. In a pandemic, it is life or death too.
That is the reason for today's debate. We have to learn from the first wave of this pandemic. That is why we will continue to ask reasonable questions for the health and well-being of Canadians. That is our role.
This will be a good review for the . I am glad she is here. In January, five departments of the federal government were aware of the risks of the pandemic: The Canadian Armed Forces, Foreign Affairs, Public Works, the Privy Council and the 's Office were all aware of the risks. They did nothing. We would have been even better prepared if, the year before, the Liberals had not killed the intelligence warning system. The Global Public Health Intelligence Network was a world leader until they stopped it and substituted data from China for data from our experts. We were ill prepared when it hit. When the first warnings came in, the Liberals ignored them. In fact, they were warned, and I know from talking to suppliers that China was hoarding PPE in late January and early February.
What did the government do? It sent PPE to China, which was probably the most boneheaded decision in history of a government during a pandemic.
Then the Liberals were late on the border, as I said this morning in my press conference. Since the Middle Ages, closing the border has been used to stop the spread of pandemics. The should read some history. When there is uncertainty about transmission, the government should put the public health of Canadians first instead of tripping along, relying on friends from Beijing. The minister said there was no person-to-person spread, no risk of closing the border and, on some occasions, accused reporters and opposition parliamentarians of being intolerant for even asking those questions. Again, it was the arrogance of the government.
We all remember the flip-flopping on mask usage. Many people were asking about mask usage in Europe. Facebook told them that they should change their minds on mask usage. People were sharing information and best practices that the government was not providing them.
Then, of course, there are the provinces. They were the front lines. Because we were two months late with the border, the community spread in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver largely originated on flights from China, Iran and Italy. The slow movement by the federal government led to more community spread. That same slow movement on rapid tests, until my friend from started pushing, has our airports less equipped than most of our OECD allies'. Italy has rapid tests in some of its airports. I would like to see the government not striving for the bottom, but striving for the best when it comes to the health and well-being of Canadians. That is what an opposition does: It holds the government to account, asks questions and demands a better response.
This motion will look at the adequacy of the current levels of federal health transfers to the provinces. It is not right that the federal government is not helping the provinces more in the middle of a pandemic.
The committee will also have to look at the COVID Alert app to ensure that the messages are being sent in both official languages. That is what Quebeckers, Canadians and francophone communities expect from coast to coast to coast.
I would like to thank my colleague from for making the government strive to be better and not be satisfied with bad results in comparison to the worst student in the class. Let us strive to be the best. That is what we all tell our children, and the Liberals do not even want us to ask questions.
Once again, I am asking Canadians. The , who admitted he did not consult Dr. Tam before threatening an election, is willing to be cavalier with the health of Canadians for his own political skin. We, as parliamentarians, are sent to Ottawa by our constituencies to ask questions. The modest proposal we have today is that the health committee analyze our response to the biggest health crisis in our country. Is that so unreasonable?
I am proud of this team, the government in waiting, that is going to push for better. Better is always possible, and we will make sure of that today.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to address the motion from the hon. member for . I share the member's deep concerns for Canadians during this unprecedented health crisis.
The emergence of COVID-19 has changed how we live, how we work and how we interact with friends and family. It has disrupted our lives and our communities in ways that we could not have conceived of a year ago.
As we emerged from the first wave, we saw cases go down over the summer, giving Canada a bit of a reprieve from this terrible virus. However, by fall, case counts began to increase, first in young people but then spreading to others, including, most alarming, to elderly people, who we know are most at risk of dying of COVID.
Most Canadians are worried, and many are frustrated to see our country experience, like so many others around the world, a resurgence of the disease. With winter approaching, Canadians are looking for information. They want the facts. They want to know what is happening and what we are going to do next, as leaders and as citizens, to protect one another.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information circulating on line and in social media. This amplifies the anxiety that many people are feeling right now. Earlier this week, Dr. Tam spoke about false information that is spreading faster than the virus.
This is a dangerous development. We have to work together to combat false information. That is why strong public health leadership is essential during a coronavirus pandemic, and why upholding confidence in our scientists and researchers, indeed in our experts, is so important. The Public Health Agency of Canada has consistently provided strong leadership since the first reports of COVID-19 started coming in late December. The agency has provided clear and direct information to Canadians about how they can protect their health and what they can do to protect the health of each other.
A critical part of the agency's work has been to bring together the public health officials across the country to coordinate our nation's response. Provinces and territories have stepped up measures to contain the spread, declaring states of emergency, closing schools and day cares, and providing other public supports. They have prepared their hospital systems, while continuing to deliver needed services, increasing intensive care capacity and making sure that they have the equipment on hand to deal with every situation. Governments at all levels are taking every step necessary to protect their residents.
Canada has demonstrated an organized and collaborative approach, with partners working together and supporting each other. In fact, this collaboration is exactly what Canadians need so that they can have the tools, the support, the information and the confidence to slow the spread of this virus.
Our government acted quickly to help Canadians during the first wave. We put more resources online to help them take care of their mental well-being. We also developed apps to inform Canadians and better combat the virus. In May, we confirmed a $240.5-million investment to work with the provinces and territories to provide better access to virtual health care services.
Virtual tools allow Canadians to engage safely with their regular health care providers via phone, text or video conference. They have also allowed patients to access specialist services during this time of uncertainty. Virtual tools have also provided access to trusted information, including the Canada COVID-19 mobile app, so that Canadians can understand and track their symptoms, and learn more about how to stay safe during the pandemic.
We also recognize that Canadians have been coping with the effects of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective, and they are facing different degrees of stress. That is why we launched Wellness Together Canada, a free online portal that offers virtual mental health, well-being and substance use supports to any Canadian who needs it.
Our government is working closely with provinces and territories, innovators and others to support the rapid expansion of virtual care services and to continue to make these tools available to Canadians and their families. This is a key component of our government's work to keep Canadians safe.
For months, scientific teams around the world have been racing to develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 disease. Some of the vaccine candidates are now in phase three clinical trials, the final stage of the process before their potential approval. Today I will give the House an update on our work to secure a COVID-19 vaccine for Canadians.
Health Canada has now received submissions for authorization of three vaccines, from Pfizer Canada and BioNTech SE, from Moderna, and from AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford. The safety and effectiveness reviews of all of these vaccines have begun and will continue in real time as more data become available. These are very important steps on the path to a vaccine, and we expect to receive submissions from other manufacturers soon.
Health Canada has a rigorous and independent scientific review system in place to ensure that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing the disease they target. The decisions are always rooted in evidence and science. Health Canada will only authorize a vaccine after careful review if its benefits clearly outweigh any potential risks.
As the work continues on vaccines, we are also pursuing new tools, as quickly as they are invented, that will help us live safely with COVID-19. This includes fast and effective testing and screening. Health Canada is working full speed to improve rapid point-of-care diagnostic and monitoring tests based on nucleic acid and antigen technologies to meet Canadian testing needs, without compromising on standards for safety, effectiveness and quality.
As of October 21, Health Canada has authorized two antigen tests for the diagnostics of COVID-19, the Abbott Panbio and the Bd Veritor system. Antigen testing is one of the several emerging technologies that can be used to determine if a person is, in fact, infected with COVID-19. The test works by detecting specific proteins associated with the virus. Samples for these tests need to be collected using a nose swab and are designed to provide results within twenty minutes, and the test needs to be carried out by a health care professional. To date, Health Canada has authorized 41 COVID-19 testing devices for sale in Canada, and a complete list of authorized testing devices is available on Health Canada's website, along with many that are under review.
In addition to this, as Minister of Health I signed an interim order that has helped speed up access to COVID-19 test kits. This follows the interim order I signed in March, which allowed for the exceptional importation of products related to COVID-19. When drugs are not available, Health Canada now has a legal pathway to bring alternative supplies of drugs to the Canadian market. A similar approach is also in place for medical devices. Health Canada is also doing what it can to plan ahead so that our country is in the best possible position to access drugs to treat and prevent COVID-19 as they become available.
The health and safety of Canadians is the government's top priority. Before any test is authorized for use in Canada, it is subject to a thorough assessment by Health Canada's regulatory process to ensure that it is supported by sufficient evidence of safety, effectiveness and quality. We continue to engage with international regulators so that we can share this knowledge about new developments related to testing. We proactively approach companies that have received approvals for testing technologies from other regulators, and we invite those companies to apply for authorization in Canada.
We are also committed to global collaboration to end this pandemic, because this government knows that we will not see an end to COVID-19 unless we work together with all other countries. We are supporting multiple organizations that are working at unprecedented speed to develop candidate vaccines. Last month the government committed $440 million to the COVAX Facility. Of this amount $220 million will secure additional options for Canada to purchase doses of vaccine for Canadians. The other $220 million will finance the procurement of doses for low- and middle-income countries through the COVAX advance market commitment. We have also previously provided an initial contribution of $25 million to the COVAX Facility.
By joining this initiative, Canada is contributing funds toward collective efforts to develop a safe, effective and accessible COVID-19 vaccine for 172 participating economies across the world. This mechanism also allows Canada to secure additional options for vaccine doses for use here. This approach complements the bilateral arrangements that we have in place with vaccine manufacturers and diversifies our investment in potential opportunities, but supporting other countries in their fight against COVID-19 is an investment to protect Canada and Canadians because this virus truly knows no borders.
The government is also working to ensure that health care and frontline workers have the PPE, medical equipment and supplies that they require to do their jobs. We are doing this through collaborative procurement with the provinces and territories, building domestic production capacity and identifying potential alternatives and ways to extend product life. We have worked very rapidly to allocate PPE, medical equipment and supplies to the provinces and territories. I want to thank my colleagues, the ministers of health from across the country, for agreeing on an approach that is supported by all levels of government.
We sped up the process for manufacturing equipment in Canada to meet our current needs and to plan for the future.
Public Services and Procurement Canada is working directly with suppliers across the country to find the PPE and medical equipment needed to protect Canadians and health care workers.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Canada, long-term care facilities suffered a disproportionately high number of cases and, sadly, many deaths as well.
In early April, the Public Health Agency of Canada released evidence-informed guidance for long-term care homes to help resident seniors and health care workers in long-term care homes remain safe and healthy. The guidance provides recommendations that complement provincial and territorial public health efforts to prevent and control health care associated infections. It was developed with the National Advisory Committee on Infection Prevention and Control and endorsed by the pan-Canadian Special Advisory Committee.
Also in April, the Canadian Armed Forces received a request for assistance to help provide care to some of Canada's most vulnerable seniors in response to COVID-19. CAF deployed personnel in support of long-term care facilities across Quebec and in the Greater Toronto Area as part of Operation Laser.
Throughout these deployments, military personnel have worked closely with facility staff to help with day-to-day operations, support infection control and prevention, and provide general support and comfort wherever needed. I want to thank the serving members of CAF for their incredible generosity and kindness.
As we enter the second wave of the outbreak, though, it is incredibly important that we work together to ensure that seniors in long-term care homes are protected. That is why public health officials are closely monitoring COVID-19 cases in Canada and considering public health restrictions needed to protect the vulnerable. However, the epidemiology of COVID-19 is different across jurisdictions, which means that the approach across Canada will not be the same in every place and will need to be tailored to the unique challenges and contexts of the disease in each province and territory.
This summer, our government announced an agreement with provinces and territories that provides $19 billion to protect the health of Canadians, to get people safely back to work and to prepare for a resurgence. The safe restart agreement includes investments in priority areas for the next six to eight months, including supporting the most vulnerable, which includes seniors in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
Canada has successfully enhanced public health surveillance for COVID-19 in very short order, strengthening our ability to monitor the number of cases, trends over time, severity of cases and demographics of cases. This information is shared with the public, with regular updates made on the canada.ca/covid-19/coronavirus website. I am very happy that all levels of government are working so closely to share this information and to provide timely evidence, which not only informs and supports the public health response but provides access to researchers and scientists who are studying COVID-19 in the Canadian context and providing very valuable evidence that can draw our future responses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on needed improvements related to public health data systems in Canada, and this includes timeliness, completeness and granularity. Systemic and long-standing challenges affect Canada's health data system, including resources and capacity, IT infrastructure and clarity, and data governance. However, we need to make progress in these areas because federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions not only have an obligation to gather and make good use of data but their citizens require that data in order to stay safe.
In addition, the $19 billion invested in the safe restart agreement, which includes funding to increase testing, contact tracing and data management, included monies to ensure the safety of seniors in long-term care homes by improving infectious disease protocols. Our goal is to ensure that Canada has the data intelligence needed to identify, prevent, monitor and respond to current and future health issues, protect the health of Canadians and support the economy.
Across Canada, all levels of government are pulling out the stops to help slow the spread of the virus, but, ultimately, individual decisions and choices also have a critical impact on public health and safety. The Government of Canada has a consistent message to Canadians: “Protect yourselves and others, wash your hands, practise social distancing, stay home when you are sick and wear a mask.” These things can help manage the spread of the virus. Also, download the COVID Alert app to help slow the spread.
I am so proud of Canadians and the sacrifices they have made to keep each other safe. We need to keep it up until it is safe again to slowly and carefully dial back the measures that we now have in place.
This is just a snapshot of what the government is doing to protect the health and safety of Canadians from COVID-19. As we can imagine, an incalculable amount of work is going on behind the scenes with our many partners across all orders of government and indeed with researchers and scientists who are generously donating their time and energy to help all Canadians. All of this work deepens our understanding of the virus every day. It gives us the scientific evidence and the data we need to inform and evolve our public health response to help with decision-making and planning at local, national and international levels.
We have learned about this virus over the past year. We have learned that if we relax too much or too soon, COVID-19 will certainly come back. We must continue with strong public health efforts to reduce the transmission of the virus and minimize its overall impact, including the social and economic impacts on Canadians. We must also plan and be ready for the future as there is still so much that we do not know about COVID-19. As the situation evolves, so too must our response.
Finally, it is unfortunate that this motion is specifically designed by the member for for the government to have such a challenge to respond. Our initial analysis of the motion indicates that the very officials who are working day and night on Canada's response will be removed from their immediate tasks. In fact, instead of working together to protect Canadians during this difficult time, the member would prefer to divert their focus to an unnecessary task that does not help Canadians in any way manage the months to come, this at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging across the country and posing unprecedented challenges on Canadians.
We need to stay focused on what matters now. We do not do the post-battle review in the middle of the fight. I can assure everyone that the Government of Canada will continue to do everything within its power and jurisdiction to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the health, safety and well-being of Canadians during these difficult and challenging times.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
The first words out of my mouth when parliamentary activities resumed in the House were about patients who had been really hard hit by COVID-19. I expressed my compassion for the families, for those who are still suffering the after-effects of the disease, and for those who did not survive it. I also expressed particular concern for patients with diseases other than COVID-19, because the pandemic has definitely caused collateral damage.
Today is an opposition day, during which we will be debating a motion that should have been adopted on October 9. I will give a shout out to all patients with rare diseases who, had it not been for the Liberal Party’s systematic filibustering, were expecting us to adopt my motion on new guidelines for the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board on October 9.
Had the motion been adopted, we could have invited these patients to tell us how these guidelines are affecting their lives, their right to life and their access to innovative medications. I salute these patients because we often forget those who are currently suffering the collateral damage caused by this unprecedented global health crisis.
I hope that the House will adopt this motion and that my Liberal colleagues will set aside the powers of their executive authority. To sit in the House, a person must first be elected a representative of the people. Since democracy is based on legislative power and not on executive power, I am asking the hon. members of the Liberal Party to take on the role of legislators in their capacity as representatives of the people, and to take a step back from government requirements. I am asking them to do the same thing we are doing in the opposition, namely to review the Liberal government’s management of the pandemic and hold the government accountable, rather than act as the lackeys of the executive.
I am asking the House to adopt this motion so that the Standing Committee on Health can move on. I would have expected the representatives of the Liberal Party to be prepared, at the meetings following October 9, including the one last Monday, to introduce amendments. The told us that it would be helpful if we were a bit more flexible with wait times. What is he waiting for to propose amendments to the motion?
Now, this morning, we are discussing a motion in the House that should already have been adopted. During the first wave of the pandemic, there was a spirit of collaboration among colleagues, as we tried to find solutions and to understand what we were up against and how we could help fight the pandemic. All of the experts who came to see us told us that there would soon be a second wave, and that it could be even more deadly and more difficult to handle. Why? Because there is currently no vaccine, no medication and no reliable serological testing.
We are simply managing time and space: personal space of two metres and the time needed to develop a vaccine. Until we have a vaccine, we remain vulnerable. We have spent a considerable amount of money. We have spent billions of dollars, and that is okay because we need to support people and the economy. Of the $340 billion dollars spent, barely 2% went to health care, at a time when we are experiencing the world’s worst health crisis. There is a problem here.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer says that we must be careful, because if we incur deficits of $340 billion in the next two years, we will have a serious problem. To get through this crisis, we need to distinguish between one-off investments, or one-off spending, and sustainable investments that will help us get back on our feet. Health transfers, one of the items on the motion’s agenda, are a major component of the solution for fighting future pandemics—because there will be others.
Since Parliament resumed, the Liberal government has been playing the bully. It says that we failed in long-term care facilities and that it was forced to send in the army. In passing, Quebec taxpayers pay for that army. Sometimes we even send it on missions abroad. It was not unreasonable to ask it for help on the ground.
There was a shortage of personal protective equipment. Personal support workers and frontline workers were not properly protected at first, because there was a shortage. We quickly learned that the national stockpile was empty. We also learned that we had sent aid elsewhere, since we were certain we would never be affected. Cuts have been made to health transfers for the past 25 years. When you are managing health care and there are needs in your own back yard, you try to cover all bases and attend to the most urgent things first. Unfortunately, some employees had to work in two or three different long-term care facilities to make ends meet. That does not help when it comes to limiting contagion in a pandemic.
I would like us all to do some soul-searching and assume our responsibilities. We are able to impose standards on ourselves to ensure that we never again abandon our seniors living in long-term care facilities. That is clear. We are able to assume our responsibilities, but we do not want someone who has a 25-year record of broken promises to come and tell us how to work and how to do what is good for us. The Liberals are also saying that it is going to take money to implement standards. They do not even know what they are talking about when they talk about standards, because the issue of long-term care facilities is not the same in every province. I wish them luck. One need only look at the differences between Quebec and Ontario. The government does not have the expertise or the skills required.
Since everyone is concerned about health, the federal governments want to have a say. However, they have had 25 years in which to keep their word and allocate the funding needed to take care of people. It is our money and they need to give it back to us. We want transfers of 35%, not 22%. Now it looks like they might be more like 18%. We need $22 billion now just to make up for lost ground. The federal government is always saying that it gives a lot. However, the provinces contribute $188 billion, while the federal level contributes $42 billion.
There is not enough money, and it is time for the federal government to contribute instead of lecturing us. What we want the government to do now is tell us that it will support all the networks, invest, and do what Quebec and the provinces are asking it to do so that we can, at long last, rehabilitate our networks and take care of people in Quebec and elsewhere.
Mr. Speaker, dealing with a pandemic is not part of our normal routine.
The last pandemic, the Spanish flu, was over 100 years ago. Obviously, no one here today was alive at the time, not even the member for , despite what some people may think. As much as we would have liked to draw lessons from that last major pandemic, it would have been difficult because the context and realities were so different back then.
Over the past few months, we have experienced huge disruptions in all areas of our lives, including the personal, social, economic, technological and other aspects. We came together and worked shoulder to shoulder. We needed to act quickly to help our fellow citizens. What I have heard in my discussions with representatives from the Regroupement des gens d'affaires de Beauport is that the programs were not perfect, but quick action was needed.
We have not won the battle yet: The virus is still here. Our fellow citizens still need help and support, and they need reassurance about the future. Do we have everything we need to face another wave or another pandemic? How can we ensure that we can meet our health care needs as well as those of the public without getting so far into debt that we cannot get out again? How can we hold our heads high and still be a country aware of its own needs and those of less fortunate countries?
My training is in high school history and geography. Knowing our history helps us learn about our successes and failures both as humans and as a society. Knowing and understanding our past, even our recent past, helps us prevent certain errors and build on our successes. To accomplish that, like historians, we need more than one source of information. Today, my aim is to emphasize the importance of planning, openness and collaboration.
Let me go back a bit. In October and November 2019, when many of us, including myself, were barely starting to understand our responsibilities and duties as members, we learned of a new disease raging in Wuhan, China. The disease was so contagious that the authorities quickly decided to lock down the city. In fact, one of the first issues I was entrusted with had to do with repatriation. I made sure that, once citizens were back home, they quarantined. I also made sure that they had access to a support network during their 14-day quarantine.
Not long after that, we learned that the Chinese authorities had built two new hospitals in record time. I began wondering about our level of preparedness. What did we learn from the SARS crisis in Toronto? What would we need? Did we have it? If we did not have it, or if we did not have enough of it, how would we get it? Could we produce it ourselves? How long would it take? What would it cost? Are our health care infrastructures prepared? Are our government infrastructures prepared? What is our plan to help the population deal with the lockdown?
Essentially, I wanted to know whether Canada had an emergency plan. Anyone who knows me knows that I am always asking 15,000 questions. Unfortunately, today, I cannot say that we had a plan, despite the fact that we lived through SARS and had a unique opportunity to see what was going on elsewhere in the world.
We rapidly established contact with Asian suppliers to obtain surgical and N95 masks, latex and nitrile gloves, and gowns. Ordinary folks stepped up. Distilleries like Stadaconé Distillery in Beauport—Limoilou and Vice & Vertu Distillery in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures began using their facilities to produce sanitizer.
Others retooled their production lines to manufacture respirators. A sewing cooperative in Montreal managed to recruit sewing enthusiasts to churn out thousands of masks. Individuals like my friend Daniel Carré used their own 3D printers to print face shields. Not only did the parties in the House work side by side, but the entire population joined in.
In terms of procurement, the contracting process was shortened to be able to meet demand promptly. Despite all the goodwill, there were shortcomings. We must learn from these shortcomings to avoid repeating them. We must protect our constituents’ health and our public finances. After all, we must never forget that the money we spend comes from somewhere, namely from the taxes paid by the public.
Procurement is a complex process. It involves keeping a lot of balls in the air, because every government department and agency has needs that require contracts for goods and services to be negotiated with suppliers.
History has shown us that preferential treatment does happen in times of crisis and only gets found out once the crisis is over. We need to prevent this from happening. We need to maintain public trust in our institutions and in what we do.
What we need most, as I have said before, is personal protective equipment. I will not go through the whole list again. Every week, the members of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates held conference calls with Public Services and Procurement Canada to track the procurement process and ask questions. In particular, they wanted to know why we were not prioritizing Quebec and Canadian suppliers, and they were told that it was because of a lack of resources.
How can we access these resources? What is the plan for reducing our dependence on China? Why did two planes come back empty? Why are we receiving so much non-compliant PPE? Can it not be tested over there instead of over here? How many companies have procurement contracts right now? Why did two million masks sit in a warehouse until they were five years out of date? Why is there no plan for purchasing and restocking supplies?
We have yet to get answers to some of these questions, even with a so-called “made in Canada” plan. It might be a good idea to have a “made in Canada” emergency plan. We have the innovation skills to pull it off.
To fight a virus, we need research on the virus's RNA, immune responses, treatments and vaccines. At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone agreed that we needed to ensure that industrialized countries did not monopolize access to the vaccine. Everyone agreed that if governments blindly invested public funds directly in private companies, it could result in a monopoly. Everyone agreed that the studies should be collaborative and should not lead to a new form of competition between countries. The boys' club culture among government leaders is getting tiresome. It used to be “my missile is bigger than yours”, and now it is “my country can produce a vaccine faster than yours”. Could we not all just work together for a change? That would be better.
Canada announced in April that it was going to invest in research for a homegrown vaccine. The day after this announcement, a company from British Columbia was given money. A committee was magically formed overnight, and no other company received money. Months went by before companies in Quebec and the other provinces got research grants to develop a vaccine. Meanwhile, contracts were being signed with foreign companies. Could we see those contracts?
Let us talk about rapid testing. The government invested in a company that was supposed to produce rapid tests. However, if I remember correctly, the tests cost $8,000 apiece and had too big a margin of error. What is happening with that contract? Is the company still doing research? We do not know. We need rapid tests, and we just found out that we have 100,000 available. That is great, but that number of tests would last Ontario and Quebec just five days, and then that is it.
Now I will move on to respirators. A Canadian consortium was created to manufacture innovative, lower-cost respirators with fewer parts. What is happening with that project? We do not know. However, we did find out that two guys set up a company and became multimillionaires 10 days later. Forget the American dream, this is the Canadian dream. How many of us could set up a company and become multimillionaires 10 days later? Not many.
I gave just a few examples, but I could go on for another 30 minutes. I am a teacher, so I am used to talking for an hour.
As I said, procurement is a big file, but it is also a hot topic. Procurement is where each and every procedural gap and error will stick out and every aspect of the process that needs to change will become obvious. This is the area where most scandals seem to come to light.
Quite frankly, my constituents and I have had quite enough of these scandals. We are sick of them. Like me, my constituents want us to act honestly and transparently. Not only are these values important to me, but they are what my constituents expect from me. I would hope that honesty and transparency are values that the government members and their constituents care about, too.
Madam Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues, I am honoured to speak to this motion as health critic for Canada's New Democrats.
I think there is broad agreement in the House that since early 2020, COVID has clearly been the number one public health issue facing the country. It is the most serious pandemic our world has faced in the last 100 years. It has profoundly affected the health of our population, costing some 10,000 Canadians their lives so far. It has profoundly affected the way our society operates and, of course, has caused unbelievable damage to our economy and the financial well-being of millions of Canadians. It has caused incredible dislocation and emotional, physical and social damage. It has also exposed pre-existing and serious deficiencies in our health care system.
In March, in the last session, the health committee started studying the COVID pandemic and the government's response to it, in broad terms. We were tasked with looking into any issue that related to COVID-19. We met twice per week, almost every week, until mid-July. We heard from many experts and stakeholders, some 170 witnesses: epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, public health officials, health professionals from every discipline, unions, emergency room specialists, researchers and international officials. What follows are some of the deficiencies the evidence revealed.
Canadians were horrified to see the appalling conditions in which many of our seniors in care lived. We witnessed a terrible spectre: 80% of the COVID-19 deaths in Canada were in Canada's long-term care homes. This is the highest percentage of deaths in long-term care of any nation in the OECD. This crisis was so severe that the army had to be called in to Ontario and Quebec. They detailed hundreds of examples of outrageously poor treatment of our seniors, ranging from poor nutrition to forced feeding to outright neglect. Seniors were left alone for hours, crying in pain, soaked in their own excrement, crammed four to a room with no proper infection control, being administered expired medication and dying alone without access to their families.
This exposed the absolute precariousness, inefficiency and inequity of job-based health benefits. Millions of Canadians have seen their coverage for prescription medicine, dental services and ancillary health services of all kinds disappear. They join the tens of millions of Canadians who have never had coverage for the medicine their doctors prescribe and the dental care they desperately need. The government and all governments before it at the federal level have allowed this to develop.
The evidence also exposed a decade of inadequate planning by successive Conservative and Liberal governments to properly prepare Canada for a major health emergency. Indeed, Canadians were shocked to see our health professionals, our nurses, our care aides, our hospital staff and first responders have to go without basic personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns because there was a national shortage as a result of poor public health planning.
We witnessed the government have to throw out over 2.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment because they were left to expire in a warehouse, the casualty of successive federal Conservative and Liberal governments that neglected to set up a proper inventory control management system for Canada's emergency stockpile of equipment. We faced the spectre of being caught without a sufficient number of ventilators, and narrowly dodged forcing our intensive care doctors to make the terrible choice that some countries had to make as to who did and who did not get access to life-saving intubation.
The evidence showed the negative effects of decades of neo-liberal trade policy that left Canada vulnerable and dependent on countries like China and Donald Trump's United States for basic medical supplies and equipment, made offshore by the cheapest manufacturers with no regard for the health threats this caused Canadian patients in their time of need. It revealed that the Liberal government inexplicably and irresponsibly dismantled Canada's excellent emergency early warning health system, the global public health intelligence network, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in Canada, costing us precious time, preparation and, in fact, the very lives of Canadians. It highlighted the totally misguided and poor public policy choice, first made by the Harper Conservative government, to limit federal health transfers to the provinces to 3% when actual health care costs in Canada rise by an average of 5.2% every year, causing a chronic and ever-worsening funding problem in our provincial health systems. This policy was adopted by the Liberal government, which had promised to do better but simply continued this damaging and dangerous health care underfunding.
Why is this motion before the House? Before adjourning in the summer, the health committee was preparing a report summarizing evidence and preparing recommendations to the government based on the excellent information we received. The government then prorogued Parliament in mid-August. This eliminated the health committee, along with all other committees, and wiped out all the evidence we had accumulated.
Upon returning to Parliament this September, we had to start from square one. We had a brand new throne speech. We had to reconstitute the committees. We had to re-elect the chairs and vice-chairs. We had to re-adopt the rules of the committees. We had to determine our new order of business.
I want to pause for a moment and mention the positive impact that the New Democrats have had on the throne speech from a health point of view. Through working with the government and using our leverage for Canadians, not our party interests, we successfully enlarged the Liberal plan to award paid sick days only to those with COVID-19 or awaiting diagnosis, giving them to all Canadians who have an underlying condition that may make them vulnerable to COVID-19. This brought the number of Canadians receiving paid sick days from the thousands, the amount the Liberal plan would have helped, to millions, because of NDP work. This pleases me, particularly as health critic, because ensuring that Canadians can stay home from work when it is necessary for their health is a critically important health measure, and one that is especially important when we are dealing with an infectious disease.
Because of the Liberal prorogation delay, since July and to this date, October 22, the health committee has met twice. For the record, as health critic for the NDP, I want to register my deep objection to the unnecessary and politically motivated prorogation, which was done transparently to cut off committee examination into various political scandals of the Liberal government, including the WE matter. I say this because in a global pandemic, every day, week and month matters. Canadians deserve and expect their political representatives to be focusing their attention on their health and economic needs, not on the partisan interests of the , the Liberal Party or his family. We have lost valuable time to do our important job as the House of Commons health committee not only to hold the government accountable for its decisions, but also to develop positive recommendations that can help it improve its delivery of health services to Canadians.
What happened at HESA in the last two meetings? The Liberals came to committee suggesting we study singular aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. One was the impact purely on long-term care and the other was the impact purely on mental health, each as a separate study and limited to those issues. They did not deal whatsoever with the evidence that had been given so far this year, presumably leaving that evidence to wither on the vine. The Liberals also had no suggestions for the production of any documents that may aid the committee in its work.
On behalf of the NDP, I served notice of three motions, proposing a study of the following, in this order. First I proposed to continue our study of COVID-19, adopting all of the evidence we heard in 2020, so that we did not lose this vital and valuable information. I proposed that we continue on with our COVID-19 study, unlimited in scope, and focus on any and all issues of concern now.
I also proposed that we did not need to go over already well-tilled areas, and that instead we should focus on the most important and productive things for preserving and protecting Canadians' health now. These are things such as the following: Where are we with vaccine development and access for Canadians? What is the distribution protocol for vaccines going to be? What is the status of potential treatment therapies for those with COVID-19? This is especially important in case we do not soon develop a vaccine. Why was the GPHIN dismantled by the Liberals, and more importantly, what is the status of this vital early warning system now? What considerations and resources are needed to deal with the second wave, which is clearly upon us, and maybe a third wave in the new year?
What is the status of testing and contact tracing? We have heard repeatedly that both are essential components of any successful battle plan against transmission of the virus. How can we develop safe protocols to help reunite families that have been cruelly separated for many months? How can we best utilize the best science and evidence-based advice, whether it is from global health organizations, other countries or within Canada? I propose this as the first order of business for the health committee as the COVID crisis is without doubt the most important health issue gripping our country.
Incidentally, I also served notice of two other important areas that I believe we need to study after we complete our COVID examination, whenever that may be. The first is universal dental care as an insured service for every Canadian, because some 12 million Canadians do not have any dental coverage whatsoever. Many more have substandard coverage for an aspect of our health that has been ignored and treated as a private matter for the wealthy or those who can afford it for far too long.
I also proposed we study indigenous health because indigenous people rank among the lowest in virtually every major metric of health. This is a statistic that ought to cause all parliamentarians to hang our heads in shame.
Procedurally, I tendered two motions to request the production of documents to the committee. These concerned necessary documents to help us understand the very secretive activities of the Liberal-appointed vaccine task force, a body that is filled with a mixture of industry and corporate representatives who have not disclosed their conflicts of interest, even as they make recommendations to the government for specific vaccine investments. The other motion concerned details about the government's plan on how it intends to roll out vaccines for Canadians, if and when they become available.
I will also note my disappointment that the has refused to answer my question in this House on whether vaccines will be made available at no cost to Canadians. The NDP believes this ought to be the case on the grounds of social justice and public health. The Conservatives tabled a motion very similar to that in the House today.
What happened at committee? The Liberals stalled consideration of this motion, arguing, in turn, that it is too broad or not inclusive enough. They have not made up their minds. They adamantly refused to consider any production of documents of any kind to the committee whatsoever, arguing mainly that their government and public servants are much too busy to be bothered to gather this information for Parliament.
They used the valuable time of the health committee during a pandemic to filibuster debate by talking out the clock to avoid any vote on this motion, which they knew a majority of committee members and parties, namely, the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP, supported. Therefore, nothing was done at either of the first two health committee meetings in any substantive manner because the Liberals refused to respect the will of the majority of the committee.
I will point out at this point some important facts. First, we are in a minority Parliament. In 2019, Canadians, in their wisdom, saw fit to give no party a majority claim on power. This means that it is the Canadian people's democratic determination and expectation that we work together and seek a majority across party lines. No one party can have a veto in this Parliament.
Second, this Parliament requires co-operation among the parties and parliamentarians. Canadians want us to make this Parliament work. They expect us to put down our partisan guards, at least to some extent, and make the necessary compromises that reason and fairness dictate. Therefore, I and my NDP colleagues intend to support this motion because it represents the will of the majority of members of the health committee.
We support it because it places COVID where it should be, which is as the health committee's number one priority. I support it because it would allow the committee to focus our attention in any area we deem most helpful and important, just like we did in the first session. It would provide each party with an equal number of witnesses at every meeting, ensuring that balanced and diverse viewpoints are heard and every committee member could call witnesses in the area they want to delve into. It would also allow each party to provide witnesses in the area they want highlighted, whether it is rapid testing, mental health, long-term care or vaccine development. All of these are priorities identified by each of the parties at committee, including the Liberals.
The motion would give the committee access to documents that are reasonable and necessary to hold the government to account in a responsible manner. On this latter point of disclosure of documents, the current pledged to Canadians, upon being elected in 2015, his government would be “open by default”. He said that he would unmuzzle scientists and civil servants. The Prime Minister promised that his government would be transparent and would not utilize the tools of secrecy and redaction that had become the hallmark of the Harper government that came before him.
How times change. We have seen far too many examples of this pledge being broken by the Liberal government, which now routinely refuses to produce documents, heavily redacts them and violates instructions to have redactions performed by parliamentary counsel instead of ministry officials. This must stop.
Committees have the powerful duty and right to order production of documents in unredacted or properly redacted form. This is a long-standing and crucial power of committees in a responsible and democratic government. It is essential to hold the government accountable. When a government refuses to disclose documents or heavily redacts them, as has unfortunately become routine practice by the Liberal government to avoid political embarrassment, it does much more than damage its own reputation. It tarnishes the authority of Parliament itself.
Contrary to what the Liberals have argued and will likely claim today, disclosure of documents to Parliament is not a burden or an inconvenience for public officials that is provided only when convenient or in times of insignificance. It is a core, important and full-time duty that applies at all times to all responsible and honest governments.
I note this motion would permit redaction for proper grounds such as national security, personal privacy, and in the case of the vaccine task force, to protect the integrity of contractual and other negotiations that may have taken place. I believe we are prepared to entertain further amendments if the Liberals propose reasonable ones in this regard. These document disclosures constitute reasonable and responsible requests that are targeted and rational for the health committee to review.
In summary, my NDP colleagues and I will proudly support this motion while being somewhat regretful that this matter had to be elevated to the House. I would like to thank my hon. colleague from for her initiative in moving this motion today.
I look forward to working with her and all my colleagues on the health committee for the benefit of all Canadians. We do so because the health of Canadians is our paramount concern, and the integrity of Parliament, underpinned by the values of transparency, accountability, democracy and good governments, demands it.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak about this very important issue. In fact, I think there is no issue more important than the review and study of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Canadians.
I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague for .
Before I get into the basis of my intervention today, I found it interesting to listen to the arguments from the Liberal Party when our and the hon. member for opened this debate. I find hearing the say that it is irresponsible for the Liberal government to change its tactics in the middle of a battle to be, in short, completely ridiculous. I am very happy that Sir Julian Byng and Arthur Currie did not have that same perspective and were not like the Liberals. When the Battle of Vimy Ridge was going on, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers were dying, they invented the rolling barrage in the middle of the battle to win Vimy Ridge. I would ask the to rethink her position on this and maybe start thinking of The Art of War by Sun Tzu and not Colonel Custer when she is putting the lives of Canadians at risk.
Also, we have many Liberal members saying that this motion is going to open up trade secrets with corporations and agreements that have been made with corporate Canada. It is interesting that just a couple of days ago there was an interim order granting the the authority, or new powers, to request documents from corporations and drug companies in Canada when it comes to COVID-19. The hypocrisy of that is ridiculous.
Why was the here arguing today that we should not be asking for government documents because they are not important, while at the same time she is giving herself new powers to do the exact same thing to Canadian corporations and drug companies?
When the Liberals argue that asking for these documents is going to put those agreements in the public eye, she is going to be doing the exact same thing. The hypocrisy of this, I find, is quite ridiculous.
In my discussions with my constituents, they want a strategy. They want to see a plan from the Liberal government on how we are going to deal with COVID and the pandemic. When the prorogued, it was the last step in what has been a very predictable process. When Canadians needed their elected officials and were relying on us the most to deal with one of the biggest threats we have had in a generation, this pandemic, the first shut down Parliament, then he prorogued Parliament. Now we are finally back and he is filibustering committees: ethics, finance and now health. Then, when he is not getting his way, he threatens an election in the middle of a pandemic.
When we went through prorogation, the whole idea was to have a reset, and that we would come back and have a clear vision of where Canada was going. We have seen none of that. We have wasted months of Parliament's time getting nowhere. All that we saw in the throne speech was a rehash of broken Liberal promises. We have seen nothing about a plan to access vaccines. We have seen nothing about a plan to access rapid testing. The only thing that we have seen from the Liberal government this far is planning an additional round of closures for businesses across Canada. Our economy cannot afford that. We cannot afford for closure to be the only alternative, especially knowing that there are other alternatives that jurisdictions around the world are using.
Germany, Japan, Austria and Iceland are all using rapid testing technology and reducing quarantine times to keep their businesses open, to keep schools open, to keep families united, to keep regions and communities connected, and to ensure that they can resurrect their airline and tourism industries. However, in Canada, we are falling well behind other jurisdictions around the world. We are using a 14-day quarantine that most of our partners are not using. In fact, more than 80 countries around the world are using this new technology, but Canada is not among them. It is very difficult for us to go back to our constituents and say, “You know what? Other countries have that technology.” We do not have to rely on a 14-day quarantine or closures. Most businesses will not survive a second closure.
How do we look them in the face and say we could be using this rapid testing technology or even home-based testing, but we prefer not to? That is absolutely out of touch with what is going on in our communities. I will give a quick example. In my riding, as I know many of my colleagues have done, we started what we call the Foothills recovery task force. We surveyed hundreds of businesses in my riding. We wanted to be a one-stop shop for them to come to with questions: to be a resource, when it came to federal and provincial programs, so that they knew what was available to them. What I found very interesting was that, when we surveyed these businesses, fewer than 30% of them could access, or were eligible for, federal programs like the emergency business program, the wage subsidy or even the rent subsidy, which we know has been an absolute failure. For months, the Liberals have been promising to change these programs to make them more broadly accessible.
That is not what is happening in my rural southern Alberta riding, where these businesses cannot access these programs. What they need is the ability to stay open, keep their workers employed, keep their business doors open and keep food on their families' tables. Rapid testing is one perfect example of a way for us to accomplish that. When that technology is being used in other countries and not here in Canada, I question that. That is really the basis of what the motion is today. We want to look at what got us here. What decisions did the Liberal government make to get us to this point?
We can use that as a starting point of where to go from here. What vaccine technology has been reviewed? How close are we to rapid testing? How close are we to home-based testing? What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Canadians? Those are the things that we want to discuss, which are quite prudent at the health committee.
What have we been faced with? Thus far, we have been faced with ridiculous filibustering by Liberal members at the health committee. We have heard that it is too much work for them to go through all these documents: that they want their Thanksgiving weekend and really do not want to have to do this right now.
Do those members of the health committee realize why they are here? They were elected by their constituents to come to the House of Commons, get their hands dirty and go to work. Yes, if we have to spend a weekend or a long night session reading documents that are pertinent to the health and safety of Canadians, damn right. That is what we have been sent here to do, and no excuses are good enough for that.
Two other members of the Liberal Party at the health committee said the font of the motions was too small and they could not read them. Are they kidding? Are they serious? Zoom in. They say it is going to take too long for our public sector workers to be able to access these documents. I have a lot of pride in what our public sector workers have done through COVID-19 and the response that they have had. Some of these programs could take months if not years to develop and roll out, but they have done it in sometimes days or hours. I applaud them for that. However, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and it does not take that long to type “search” into our computers and press print. That is what we are asking the public sector workers to do on this file. I understand it is a big job, but I am willing to do the job of reviewing these documents. It is absolutely not right for the Liberals to block this information that is crucial to Canadians. It is crucial that we keep our businesses open and resurrect our airline industry. What is clear, for example, is that rapid testing gives us a pathway to economic recovery.
In closing, I find it extremely frustrating that the Liberals are blocking this important debate, discussion and review at the health committee, but it seems to be that the government's hostility to the truth is only matched by the 's penchant for ethics and corruption violations.
Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent speech by my colleague from Alberta.
Essentially, he told us that our most important job here in the House is to be here for Canadians and implement effective measures to fight the pandemic.
That is exactly what we are talking about today. Basically, the motion before us is asking the Standing Committee on Health to do everything it can to ensure that the government's response works. We have to implement effective measures to fight the pandemic and be transparent.
The issue we are tackling today is the lack of transparency and effective measures to fight the pandemic. Would every member agree that we are here in Parliament to make sure the government helps businesses?
One such business is Autocar Excellence in Bellechasse, which has some beautiful brand new buses in Bellechasse but cannot use them for obvious reasons. Another is Prevost in Sainte-Claire, maker of those very buses, for which demand is very low now that we are in the second wave.
Our role is to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, especially on health. The Standing Committee on Health has important work to do, and that is what we are asking of it today. Unfortunately, it appears that the Liberals are trying to hide something. If they are so proud of how they have handled the pandemic, they should open up the books so we can see what we can improve and how.
The fact is, when the Conservatives sounded the alarm back in January about what lay ahead, the said that closing the border would not be a very effective tool for fighting the pandemic, and yet that is how the virus first got here, across the border. From day one, the government has been caught with its pants down, as we like to say back home.
What we want is to be able to respond better. In the first wave, the measures that were implemented were improvised and took away Canadians' motivation to stay at work.
The Liberals then started giving contracts to their friends. Yesterday, we had a vote on the WE Charity scandal. When the Liberals felt things starting to heat up at committee, they shut down Parliament and the finance minister resigned. Yesterday, they made the ultimate threat that they would trigger a general election. As my colleague stated, the Liberals were willing to hold an election to cover up a scandal.
We want to dig deep by demanding transparency and dealing with the pandemic efficiently. That is our job as parliamentarians. From the Bloc Québécois to the NDP, MPs are saying today that they want to work together to ensure that the government's response is effective.
In its throne speech this fall, the government listed many priorities. Once again, however, it was all over the map, with no clear proposals and nothing about efficient testing measures.
We want efficient testing. Right now, people are being diagnosed with COVID-19 and having to stay home. The faster we can identify these cases, the faster they can go back to contributing to the economy. I am thinking of parents in particular.
No one is talking about all the indirect effects of the pandemic, such as loneliness among seniors and many other people. That is why the government must adopt the most effective response possible. We Conservatives and the members of the other opposition parties are prepared to make the effort to implement effective measures. Unfortunately, as I was saying, we are up against the less than transparent Liberal Party, which appears to have something to hide.
This week, it was reported that friends of the Liberal Party obtained contracts to supply medical equipment at almost twice the going rate. We understand why the Liberals would want to hide these types of things.
There are lives at stake, and there are also colossal amounts being invested in the fight against the pandemic. That is one more reason why we should be vigilant and implement effective measures. The Liberals' mismanagement of the pandemic makes the opposition’s work all the more important.
Unfortunately, the parties' hands are tied because the Liberals seem to be hiding something.
In today's motion, we are calling for effective tools. Alberta, Quebec and the other provinces need targeted measures, such as testing, effective vaccines or treatments, so that their floundering health care systems can meet this challenge.
Back when the Liberals were saying that there was no danger, they sent PPE to China. That is pretty outrageous. They sent hundreds of thousands of masks, gloves and gowns from our stockpile to another country. A few weeks or months later, we had a shortage. On top of that, we used to have an early pandemic alert system, but it was shut down before the pandemic.
Not only did the government not have the right tools in place, but it also implemented measures that turned out to be counterproductive. That is why it is important to let the Standing Committee on Health do its job. Starting now, how can we work constructively to make sure the government's pandemic response is effective and supports businesses, families, the health care system and the provinces?
We think keeping the border closed is important. Once again this week, American billionaires came over to hang out in COVID-19 hot spots. How could Canada's let these people in and put others in danger, when Canadians are being told to stay home, limit their activities, and self-isolate when they return to the country? We do not want a double standard. These are legitimate questions that opposition members are asking themselves. We want answers from the government, but it is like talking to a brick wall.
When it comes to mask wearing, the government initially said that it might not be effective. In fact, the government actually advised against wearing masks, but we now know that wearing a mask gives us the best chances to stay safe. In fact, what we want to do at the Standing Committee on Health is give ourselves the best chances to have effective measures.
We want to speed up testing. I will come back to that because it is important. As my colleague was saying, many countries have a host of mechanisms to allow people to get a quick diagnosis and take the necessary measures when they have reason to believe they contracted COVID-19. Time is money, as the saying goes. The government's slow response is costing us a lot of time.
I am asking my Liberal colleagues if they are prepared to work with us on fighting the pandemic and taking effective measures. We are prepared to do the work. We are reaching out to the government and saying, let's work together. These are exceptional times. We are in a health crisis. It is time to pull together, work together and have a Parliament that works.
Why are the Liberals rejecting our offer of help to turn this pandemic into nothing but a bad memory?
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Today, I am giving my comments on a hyper-partisan motion from our Conservative colleagues.
I am proud to have sat on the health committee since the beginning of the pandemic. The committee has been working hard studying COVID-19 and the government's response. Since January, the health committee has held 34 meetings and heard from 171 witnesses as part of its study on COVID-19. The motion's goal is not to continue the good work for Canadians, but to send our health committee down a road of never-ending, counterproductive work.
The opposition says they are acting in the best interests of Canadians. However, in speaking about the motion, this is what the member for has to say to her Facebook audience. I am going to read the titles of the member's Facebook videos before speaking about the health committee. I want to see if members can get the tone she is conveying to her audience. She posts a video about a “Snap election alert” with a link to her website. Then she adds another “Snap election update”, another “snap election update” and then finally, a full election alert titled “Confidence motion on Trudeau scandal—full breakdown on what’s happening in Ottawa!!!!”
I am hearing the member opposite say we should work shoulder to shoulder. We are ready to work shoulder to shoulder for Canadians.
I ask all those listening, “What is the member concerned about?” If the Conservatives were really concerned about long-term care or even health transfers to the provinces, they would present studies on these specific topics at the health committee.
The members of the party opposite continue to be focused on political games. On this side of the House, we are focused on Canadians. As many members in the House have said previously, what happened in our long-term care homes in the first wave of COVID-19 was without a doubt a tragedy. I think the majority of the House would agree with that fact.
This is why I am disappointed that this motion only briefly mentioned long-term care homes, among a wide range of 16 other topics. When the member for brought the motion to the Standing Committee on Health, it was disappointing to see long-term care referenced among 16 other topics. What happened in our long-term care homes deserves its own separate study at the health committee.
The motion would send the health committee on a never-ending study to look at issues that are most important in the member's riding. Many members are concerned about that. However, maybe for some members of the Conservative Party this is important.
From our very first meeting, the Liberals at committee came forward with a motion to study the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, and my motion is to study its impact on long-term care. While respecting provincial jurisdictions, we want to continue to get good work done for Canadians on committee. This unreasonable motion does not do that.
The conditions reported by the Canadian Armed Forces in five long-term care homes in Ontario are deeply concerning and disturbing. One of these long-term care homes is located in my community of Brampton South. What we are seeing is the result of a pattern of neglect of long-term care facilities in Ontario. There is no excuse for the conditions that were reported. A lack of proper use of personal protective equipment, mistreatment of residents and poor facility conditions are unacceptable.
I would like to thank the CAF for their service to Canada and their bravery in coming forward with this report. It is up to us as elected officials to be part of the solution to this problem. Over 80% of all COVID-19-related deaths happened in long-term care homes. Our seniors deserve so much better than what they got.
Some homes saw over one-third of their residents pass away. Over 1,900 seniors died during the first wave in long-term care homes in Ontario alone. This is not to say that all long-term care facilities are bad. In fact, there are many excellent facilities across the country. Deaths in Ontario have occurred in only 60% of the homes, and half of all deaths occurred in just 23 homes across the province.
It is about figuring out what went wrong in the homes that had COVID-19 deaths, in many cases while respecting provincial jurisdictions, which my motion at the health committee acknowledges. It is extremely important to analyze how we can better protect our seniors in the future. The federal government and I, as a member of Parliament, have no interest in stepping on the toes of the provinces when it comes to long-term care. This has been a long-standing issue, and COVID-19 has presented a moment where all of us can step up and say, “No. We will no longer allow seniors to receive less than they deserve.”
Now we are being hit with the second wave. We are seeing cases start to trickle into long-term care homes once again. Experts are ringing alarm bells once again:
“I absolutely am very terrified and worried,” said Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician specializing in long-term care who witnessed first-hand the devastation of the first wave in GTA facilities. “We have to really realize that long-term care is not a parallel universe. More spread of COVID-19 in the community increases the risk of an outbreak starting in long-term-care facilities.”
In Ontario alone, there are 71 outbreaks in long-term care homes. The federal government has sent the Red Cross into seven Ottawa long-term care homes, in addition to the more than 600 Red Cross workers who have been helping in 25 long-term care homes in Quebec.
There have been 40 COVID deaths in Ontario long-term care homes over the past month. Last week alone, seven people in long-term care died as a result of COVID-19. This issue is not going away and highlights the importance for the health committee to give this issue the study it deserves.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the heroes working in long-term care homes. I thank them for going above and beyond to support our dear long-term care residents. During these challenging times, Canadians are grateful for the work that is being done to protect our seniors.
With that being said, we have all heard about the staffing shortage in Ontario and across the country. This issue must be studied to ensure we can avoid any tragic situation like what happened in the spring. This is a provincial jurisdiction, but, as our government has said before, we are all in this together.
Some provinces have been proactive about this issue, and that is great to see. From the very beginning, we have seen provinces take different approaches to keeping residents in long-term care homes safe. For example, the Province of Quebec launched a recruitment drive in June to hire and train thousands of staff members and a manager for each long-term care home to oversee the COVID-19 response. It would be beneficial to learn from experts in Quebec and other provinces and to hear what actions they are taking to safeguard long-term care homes as we endure the second wave of COVID-19.
COVID-19 is also having a serious impact on the mental health of Canadians. Loneliness is taking a toll on Canadians. The latest finding from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is that a substantial portion of the population is coping with a mental health issue. My colleague, the member for , presented a motion at the committee to study the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health and well-being of Canadians.
This silent pandemic is another issue that I have heard about from many constituents. In my riding of Brampton South, one constituent of mine, Michelle, has two elderly parents in long-term care homes and has been advocating for change in these homes ever since the start of this pandemic. She has worked with other families in similar situations and even secured 70,000 signatures on a petition, asking for all governments to take action. People like Michelle are counting on us to do the right thing by their families.
While one small aspect of this motion commits to looking at long-term care in some capacity, this issue deserves its own study by the health committee.
Madam Speaker, since the beginning of the pandemic, the Standing Committee on Health has worked long hours to ensure that we heard from stakeholders across Canada on the government's response to the outbreak of COVID-19. I am proud of the work we have accomplished and I am especially proud of the way committee members were able to work together collaboratively to do our jobs and support Canadians.
A lot has changed since then. While claims have been made on intentions to collaborate, there has been no action to prove it. I am frustrated and disappointed in the Conservatives' new approach on the health committee. We did not always agree before, but it was always clear that everyone on the committee had a common goal to be productive rather than play partisan games.
The motion before us today sets out 16 areas of study and six requests for the production of papers, again 16 areas of study. This will prevent the committee from doing a proper study on any of these issues, looking at key issues and hearing from important witnesses across the country.
Earlier this year, in over 34 meetings of the health committee, we heard from 171 witnesses and received 51 informative briefs covering many important issues. However, only one of the 34 meetings that we held over the spring and summer focused on mental health. While it was enough to open our eyes, it was certainly not enough for us to get a better understanding of the situation we were facing relative to the mental health of Canadians.
With this in mind, when we met again on October 9, I introduced a motion to the committee to study the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health and well-being of Canadians, including recommendations to specifically look at the impacts on indigenous peoples, racialized Canadians and vulnerable populations, the effectiveness and availability of virtual mental health services and how our government could assist the provinces and territories. I was disappointed when my colleague from moved to adjourn debate on this study, without so much as an opportunity for us to discuss its importance, so her motion could be introduced, but not before saying:
I really do find a lot of encouragement in the spirit of this motion that's on the floor. I try not to put my personal life into the public domain, but as somebody who is separated from her family due to COVID-19 measures, I understand the impact on mental health of some of these measures. Talking to other people who are in situations similar to mine, I know that's tough, and that's just one group of people. There are people who have lost their jobs or who are experiencing domestic violence or mental health breakdowns. It's certainly something that I think is important for our committee to look at.
However, her own October 19 motion had mental health listed as only one topic of 17 to study, only one out of 17.
In the motion before us today, that number is zero. That is unacceptable, but apparently that is how important my colleague sees mental health to be, not even worthy of mention. While I appreciate the member for finding encouragement in my motion, I wish I could say the same for the one that was presented in committee and the one that is being debated today. In fact, I am actually discouraged by these motions and their complete disregard for Canadians during these challenging times.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has been one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced. Across the country, we are hearing lots of anecdotal evidence about the increased risk that some people may have in terms of depression, psychological distress, substance abuse and PTSD surfacing as a result of the pandemic. Many experts have labelled this mental health situation as a second pandemic, that is how serious it is. However, there is no doubt that mental health needs to be a priority for all of us right now.
We need an informed strategy on mental health going forward and, most important, we need to act while we have time before this crisis becomes worse. I am by no means suggesting that this is the only good idea, much less the only key issue, surfacing from the pandemic. The essence of committee work and of compromise is to work as a team in the best interests of Canadians in setting priorities to study.
What we have found in front of us today is a motion that sets out 16 areas of study and six requests for the production of papers. A general, all-encompassing motion such as this one takes away the opportunity for the committee to properly focus on priority areas like the ones recommended by the 171 witnesses we heard earlier this year. One of the strengths of smaller studies is that we are able to make well-informed, targeted recommendations that will have a real impact on the lives of Canadians. A scope as large as 16 areas of study waters down our ability to do that.
I am genuinely concerned that out of the 16 areas of study before us today, there is not a single mention of looking at the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health and well-being of Canadians. This is unacceptable. I also do not see a mention of looking at the impacts of the pandemic on high-risk groups, such as indigenous people, racialized Canadians and vulnerable populations. We need to consider these groups so we can develop programs to effectively help them.
As I have said before and will say again, if we have too many priorities, 16 to be exact, we have no priorities at all. Do members want to know what is not a priority in the motion presented today? The mental health of Canadians during these challenging times.
I will not be supporting the motion and I hope my colleagues will follow suit. All members in the House have an opportunity to get ahead of the second pandemic, but what is being proposed today will not get us there. If we do not take the appropriate steps to act now, while we can, the outcome will be on all of us and especially on those who choose to move forward without giving this matter the attention it deserves. This second pandemic cannot be fixed with a vaccine, but we can get ahead of it if we collaborate and focus our work on how we can best support Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is a pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to our opposition day motion and to, frankly, agree with the government. It has said it wants to talk about the response to the pandemic and talk about COVID-19 to help Canadians in every part of the country get through these challenging times. However, I have been listening with interest as Liberals come up with every reason they possibly can not to support our looking into the government's COVID-19 response.
I want to thank our shadow health minister, the member for , for her fantastic work on this issue. The Liberals are trolling her Facebook page for quotes and coming up with reasons not to support her, but she is idolized on this side of the House. Apparently she is even idolized on the government side, as they have been tracking her every move these last few days. I think that speaks volumes about the need to be back in Parliament to ask tough questions.
In my previous work, before becoming a member of Parliament, I proudly served as the mayor for the township of North Dundas, which is just south of Ottawa, and on the United Council of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. I know what it is like to have to govern. A key part of all municipal work is scrutiny and accountability, and that is required when we make tough decisions.
Yes, we are in challenging times and our party and this Parliament have responded by helping Canadians get the assistance they need. However, a key part of being on the opposition benches is asking tough questions, scrutinizing and getting the information that Canadians deserve. Remember, never before have we seen this amount of money go out in the period of time we have seen.
We are now into the second wave, and I am pleased to support this motion, which looks at how to get through the second wave and help Canadians. As I said last night when doing some media interviews and talking to constituents on the phone back home, this motion helps us move forward and improves our response to COVID-19 by going back and looking into the expenditures and the way things were done. The health committee is the appropriate spot for this. I also agree with my colleague from that we have to bring this to the floor of the House of Commons, because the Liberals are filibustering on COVID-19 at the health committee.
We need to scrutinize and we need to get the documents, but not just the documents the government wants us to take a look at. We need all documents that are relevant for us to make an assessment and do an analysis, going through the law clerk and through a procedure, and making sure of that. Yes, there is quite a long list of documents being requested, but hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in the last seven months. This is what Parliament is for. This is our job as the opposition. We work together where we can but also scrutinize and get answers.
I can say Bill Morneau's name now in the House because he is not here anymore. We have seen a key theme: filibustering. It was nothing to see here, nothing to do. A few months later, the former finance minister saw a different path and now he is no longer the finance minister for Canada or the member for Toronto Centre, which is in the midst of a by-election. It is when the opposition gets the opportunity to ask tough questions, dig and scrutinize that we can get the truth out, not the rosy picture that we always see.
One thing I want to focus my comments on today is rapid testing. We have been asking lots of questions on this in question period, and the media has been picking up this issue. Most importantly, Canadians are realizing it. What the heck is happening with rapid testing? It is a massive failure on the government's part, for small businesses, parents, students and everybody else. It has been months and months since COVID-19 hit us here at home. We have worked with countries around the world, such as Japan, Germany, the U.K. and the United States, in sharing national intelligence, for example. We have a good working relationship with them on this matter, but when it comes to looking at approvals for rapid testing, they approved rapid testing months ago and tests are nowhere to be found in Canada. We are months behind. The Conservatives are rightfully asking about what has gone wrong. Why are we months behind? When we share intelligence information with those countries, why can we not share some of the health best practices in this serious economic and health crisis we are facing?
We need all hands on deck, we need to get access to the information, and we need to be able to pressure this government to treat this issue with the urgency that it deserves.
When I speak in the House, I always try to bring a context of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry into the chamber, and I want to share the story of Krista and Mike O'Neill from O'Neill's Pub in Long Sault. Our eastern Ontario health unit had been contemplating for the past few days reverting to stage 2 in our region. The outcry from businesses was very emotional and overwhelming, and Mike and Krista posted on their Facebook page of O'Neill's Pub. I printed it off last night, and there were 1,200 shares and counting. It was talking about the desperation and frustration that small businesses like their restaurant are facing. If we go back, and if they cannot keep their doors open, they are panicking and worried about going bankrupt.
I just want to make sure that I put into the record an acknowledgement of their work, effort and stress and also note that while the testing, the testing sites and the response on the front lines is handled at the provincial level, it is Health Canada that has not delivered good options to businesses like O'Neill's Pub in Long Sault. If they had access to rapid-testing options, like many other advanced countries did months ago, they could have that tool at their disposal to test their employees every day to build an even better case of staying open and staying in business. That is the contrast that people are facing and it is the frustration people are facing, because this technology, these advancements and this whole process has not been there.
We have seen lineups of cars miles long in eastern Ontario in Casselman. In Winchester, the assessment centre for the testing model saw 1,000 phone calls on a Friday morning when the wave hit. It is not sustainable the way the government is operating these testing options and approvals. We want to get access to those documents. We want to see what they did, frankly, what they did not do, to get a proper process in place to make a tangible difference as we get through the second wave. I look forward to getting those answers and asking those tough questions for the betterment of a wide variety of people.
I mentioned the restaurant industry in my riding. I think of the Glen Stor Dun Lodge in Cornwall or the Hartford Retirement Residence in Morrisburg. If they had access to rapid testing now, like many other countries have and have done approvals, I think they would feel a lot more comfortable in the coming months as we get into this second wave.
I also want to touch on the frustration I have with the line of this Kumbaya approach that I have heard from the government the last little while: We work with provinces and territories and all the stakeholders, and it is all wonderful. There has been progress. Our colleagues here on this side of the House have supported where need be, but I also want to highlight that when it comes to rapid testing, there are far from pleasant reviews from our provincial partners on this.
The Government of Manitoba had issued a press release begging the federal government to not block their work on rapid testing to help the province out. To have to beg for that through a news release in the news media does not symbolize to me a good, collaborative working relationship that is set on good communication.
About a month ago, I quoted the Premier of Ontario who talked about the rapid-testing failure. He was doing an event in Huntsville speaking with passion about the frustration on the delays that he had with Health Canada. I just want to read this into the record and make sure that Canadians see that it is not all rosy, it is not all perfect. There are tough questions that need to be asked.
He said that:
The reason there are lineups, very simply, is Health Canada. We have been waiting for months for the antigen tests, the saliva tests. God bless them, they work hard, but they need to get moving on this. This is affecting the whole system. Nothing is more important to the people of Ontario right now than getting Health Canada to approve the test. I am hearing crickets, nothing, silence. How do you expect us to plan?
On something so fundamental, we need access, and not just to the documents that the Liberals want to give but access to them all to see the full story and, most importantly, allow us to advocate how we can get through the second wave and get this issue to the health committee so that we can get results for Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I just want to take a moment, as my colleague from just did, to thank my friend and colleague, the member for for drafting this motion.
In just a very short time, she shone a giant spotlight on how ill-prepared the Liberal government originally was to deal with the pandemic. Now, the member for confirms what many of us have suspected all along, that the had no plan for the second wave.
Right now there are thousands of Canadians waiting in lines to get a COVID-19 test. In fact, I and my Manitoba colleagues wrote a letter to the to let her know how disappointed we were that even though the government had authorized rapid tests, Manitoba could not access them, because of her government.
In some cases, people have been standing in line for hours, hoping they will get tested. Some might get their results tomorrow, while many will have to wait days to find out the results. Right now, we have an entire airline industry on the ropes, and the livelihoods of its employees are threatened as well. Just yesterday many of them were outside of Parliament, protesting this very Liberal government.
While the Liberals tell us that they have a plan, they should try telling that to these airline employees who do not know if they are going to have a job to return to, or they should try telling that to those who have not seen their loved ones in months because the Liberals have yet to find a way to reunite them while keeping Canadians safe.
I want those watching this right now to know why we are debating this motion. As a member of the health committee, I have now sat through two meetings, approximately four hours, of the Liberal MPs filibustering and talking out the clock. Why are these Liberal MPs filibustering? To begin with, those pesky opposition MPs just want access to information and documents that Canadians are asking for.
The motion we are debating here today is almost identical to the motion we have been trying to vote on at the health committee, but because the Liberal MPs refuse to have a vote in our committee, we are using an opposition day to advance this cause.
What documents do we want that the and the Liberal MPs do not want us to see? Let us start with the record of communications between the government and the World Health Organization. What did the government know, and when did it know it? Many Canadians might be interested to know that we, as opposition MPs, have no idea what internal information was shared by the World Health Organization with the Government of Canada.
Given the serious concerns that are being raised by China's influence over the World Health Organization, Canadians deserve to know if the minister had concerns or doubted the early information she was getting. We have no idea what the World Health Organization was telling the . We have no idea if the Minister of Health questioned that information. We have no idea if the Minister of Health took decisive action to check on Canada's supply of PPE or other necessary equipment.
What we do know is that even after outbreaks in China and multiple other countries, the kept telling the House that the risk was low. I want to know what information she had at that time that led her to that conclusion.
In preparation for this debate, I reviewed the February 3 health committee meeting minutes, specifically on Canada's preparation for COVID-19. The president of the Health Agency of Canada said:
Canada's public health system is well-equipped to contain cases coming from abroad and their potential for spreading within Canada.
We now know that that was not true. We did not have enough PPE. We had people coming into the country without any extra level of screening, other than being asked if they had visited Hubei province.
The president of the Health Agency of Canada went on to say:
The system is working as it should to protect Canadians against this novel coronavirus, and the overall risk to Canadians in Canada remains low.
I wish that was true. I wish that our system had been ready for what descended upon us. At the time of this February 3 committee meeting, COVID-19 was already in 27 other countries. Thousands and thousands had already contracted the virus, and many had died.
I want to remind the House what action the Liberal government took at the time. As of February 3, only three airports in Canada had the CBSA agents asking passengers if they had visited Hubei province.
In seven other airports, passengers could self-report at an electronic kiosk if they visited Hubei province. I want to thank my Liberal colleague from who was at that committee meeting and asked a great question about the screening process. He wanted to know if the CBSA was asking passengers if they had visited other provinces in China, other than Hubei, in order to be properly screened. He was told, no, the CBSA was only asking passengers if they had visited Hubei. That response boggles the mind.
It even bothered my colleague from and he pushed back, saying, “My understanding is that there are two other provinces with almost 900 cases. There are a number of other provinces with over 500 cases. That's gone up pretty dramatically over the last couple of days, from when it was almost half that number.”
The next question he asked was this: “My understanding is that the United States is asking all people returning from China to voluntarily self-isolate for two weeks.... Has Canada contemplated doing the same thing, asking all people returning from China to self-isolate for two weeks?” Remember, that was February 3. What a great question. Sadly the answer he received was that the government was only recommending people limit their contact with others if they had visited Hubei province.
I am starting to wonder whether, if the member for was our health minister, we could have been far better prepared.
The other issue in our motion that I want to speak to is our efforts to get more information and how the government responded and is continuing to respond to the issue of purchasing COVID-19 test products.
As many have heard, we still do not have widespread access to rapid test kits. Just yesterday, the government announced it had gotten its first shipment, but we still do not have any idea where they are going. Now we have heard some conflicting words from the on rapid tests. For a government that just purchased 100,000 of them, why did the minister say, just a couple of weeks ago, “many jurisdictions that have used rapid tests in that way have seen a worsening of their outbreaks”? She went on to say that “around the world there are very high-profile examples of how rapid tests have actually added confusion and increased the risk of infection.”
These are not words from a pundit. They come from the one person in the country who is supposed to be in charge of the federal government's COVID-19 response. While the minister may think Canadians are not paying attention to what is said in this place, I can assure her they are. It is very disconcerting that, while the government is seemingly getting around to approving and purchasing rapid test kits after much pressure, the minister is sewing doubt about whether they can be trusted. That in itself is very troubling. I question whether the minister said those words because she did not like the questions posed to her from the member for , or if her officials told her to say that. Who knows? However, I want to get to the bottom of it.
In closing, I implore my colleagues to vote in favour of the motion. Let us review what steps have to be taken so that we can provide the best recommendations to the government moving forward, and the sooner the better. Canadians are counting on us.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to share my time with my colleague, the member for .
I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House to speak to the motion put forward by my hon. colleague.
As we all know, this pandemic is the worst and most serious public health crisis that Canada has ever faced. We have taken a proactive approach. We have taken a productive approach. We have taken a transparent approach. Most of all, we have taken a co-operative, team Canada approach, one that I humbly submit is not reflected in the motion that we are debating here today. We have consistently informed parliamentarians and Canadians, frequently and regularly, about the work we are doing.
From the start of this crisis, our government has remained focused on one thing: taking care of Canadians. We have their backs. Nothing has been more important to us than making sure Canadians have the support they need to make it through the pandemic while remaining healthy and safe.
A significant part of our government's action to meet the challenges of this crisis has involved procuring the essential supplies that Canadians need to protect themselves against COVID-19. Our government, through the hard work of procurement officials, has worked incredibly hard over these last few months to put in place a solid strategy to get supplies into the hands of those who need them the most. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and to highlight some of those efforts.
I also commend the people of my riding, Gatineau, who, like people everywhere in the national capital region and across Canada, are working around the clock to help us get through the pandemic.
I will also highlight the extraordinary efforts we have gone to in providing transparency to Canadians with regard to procurement contracts.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Public Services and Procurement Canada officials have been working around the clock to procure personal protective equipment.
This equipment includes masks, N95 respirators, face shields and hand sanitizer as well as protective gowns and gloves. In total, we have acquired more than 2 billion pieces of personal protective equipment and we continue to receive more every day. We are making every effort to procure the materials needed to administer COVID-19 tests, including test kits, swabs and reagents.
To obtain such huge quantities in such a short period of time, our government has taken a two-pronged approach. At the beginning of the pandemic, we faced a volatile market amid scarce resources and fierce global competition. We had to be aggressive in our procurement efforts, often with new suppliers. We also had to create new supply chains and sort out warehousing and shipping logistics, all while making sure that all products meet Health Canada standards.
Second, as we continued to deal with firms overseas, we also turned to domestic manufacturers and suppliers. We issued a call to action to Canadian businesses, and thousands of them responded. These companies stepped up to contribute to the national effort and retooled their assembly lines to design entirely new products, so that we could establish secure supply chains right here in Canada. This unprecedented mobilization of domestic manufacturing not only helped to save lives but also helped to keep people employed and contributing to our economy when this country needed it the most.
Because of our strategy, more than 40% of the dollar value of our contracts is for made-in-Canada goods, like surgical gowns, non-surgical masks, face shields and hand sanitizer. These domestic suppliers significantly add to the regular shipments of personal protective equipment that we continue to receive from overseas and will do so for months to come.
Buying PPE will not get us through the pandemic. We will not be out of the woods until we have a safe and effective vaccine.
I can assure the House that the government is working hard to get ready for that. Once we have approved vaccines, we can start vaccinating Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We had to be aggressive in sourcing PPE domestically and abroad, and now we have to be aggressive in negotiating access to potential vaccines.
Once again, Canada has to navigate a volatile market. We have to be ready for the unexpected. Even though we do not yet know which vaccines will be successful in clinical trials and get approval, we cannot stand by and wait. That is why we are making vaccine procurement decisions based on the advice and recommendations of the COVID-19 vaccine task force and on the latest scientific evidence.
To date, we have signed agreements with six of the most promising vaccine candidates: Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline. Moreover, the government continues to negotiate additional agreements with both domestic and international supplies to establish a guaranteed supply of a potential vaccine.
We know that with renewed efforts to keep community transmission at a minimum, testing for the virus and tracing where it may have spread is more important than ever. To that end, we are pursuing rapid test solutions to help us meet urgent demands from provinces and territories to reduce wait times for results. This is key to reducing the spread of the virus.
In addition to these bilateral agreements made directly with pharmaceutical companies, we are also collaborating with our global partners to fight the virus. Our government is investing in the Gavi COVAX Facility, a pooled procurement mechanism for purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and allowing them to be distributed equitably around the world. This pandemic cannot be fought at the domestic level alone. We know that in order to come out the other side, we need to do our part to protect other countries as well.
I want to reiterate our government's commitment to procuring supplies to fight against COVID-19 in a transparent and responsible manner by giving hon. members and all Canadians as much information as possible on the efforts we are making. Since there is a global shortage of the supplies we are procuring and we are competing with other governments, it has not always been possible to immediately disclose certain confidential details about the contracts. That remains the case.
In any event, I am pleased to inform the House that we have taken various measures to disclose as much information as possible. For example, Canadians can go to our website and get informed on the procurement and delivery of essential supplies as well as the names of the suppliers and the value of the contracts for COVID-related procurement. In addition, we regularly update Canadians on agreements the Government of Canada reaches for obtaining access to promising vaccines that are being developed around the world. We also update them on agreements that are signed to gain access to the most effective testing solutions possible, because the technology is rapidly evolving. I am proud of the efforts our government is making to keep Canadians informed about how we are acquiring these much-needed supplies.
Overcoming a pandemic requires the work and resolve of every single Canadian. On all fronts, we have made significant progress, but our work is far from done. Now that we are in the middle of the second wave of infection in many parts of the country, we know it is time to return to those actions that allow us to minimize community transmission and successfully flatten the curve early on.
To support these actions, our government will continue to ensure that Canadians have access to PPE, testing solutions and, one day, a safe and effective vaccine. Canadians are counting on the government to do everything in its power to help them get through this pandemic, and we will do so with the help of our procurement activities and strategies.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, the government has sought to co-operate with the private sector, with provinces, with suppliers, and co-operate and challenge Canadians to come up with domestic supply. I do note the auto parts manufacturers saying today that firms from across the country dropped everything to help save lives by making critical medical goods for every government in Canada, every political stripe. We did this together. That is what team Canada is.
What team Canada is not is driving the bus from the rear with a motion that goes from A to Z and starts over again, that seeks to micromanage, that seeks to have the government spend all its time with document retrieval and not in solving and protecting Canadian's public health. The government will keep being transparent and co-operating. The government will keep having the backs of Canadians.