The House resumed from January 26 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill, and I would first like to give an update on what has been happening in my riding with regard to vaccines.
As members know, I represent an indigenous northern region of Canada. I am pleased to say that first nations communities have been vaccinated, and a number of our Inuit communities as well. All long-term care residents and the staff have received the vaccine, and other communities in the southern region of Labrador have been scheduled for vaccines. I am really pleased to see how this is rolling out and serving the people of Canada and the people I represent.
Canadians are very strong. I do not need to stand anywhere in this country to say that. We know that; we live that experience every day. We are known to care for each other. This pandemic is unprecedented, and it is something we have never seen or experienced before in this country. However, our response to it, by caring and supporting one another, is something we have become all too familiar with as Canadians.
When the government and Canadians were informed of the coronavirus pandemic and we learned what it would mean for the health of Canadians and the economics of our country, there was no blueprint or manual on how government should manage its way through it and keep Canadians safe during a time like this. It was very much uncharted territory for the , leading scientists and researchers, health organizations and institutions, and all of us as politicians and citizens. We knew it would require courage, outward thinking, strength and drawing upon Canada's very best in the scientific community, health care facilities and research institutions. Everyone stepped up.
Even the media stepped up. I saw the media reporting the facts and informing and education Canadians, not just editorializing everything that was happening. I think that is very important, because today in our country we often see that journalism is more about editorials as opposed to reporting facts and information. I think the media did well in this pandemic to inform Canadians.
People right across Canada are working from their kitchen tables to make masks to keep us safe. They are working from their home-based businesses, or doing their jobs from home. Students all across the country are using laptops to study and some finished up high school and university degrees. The adjustments that so many Canadians have had to make are remarkable.
When storefronts were closed down across Canada, and some continue to be closed down, businesses started to deliver. They were not going to see people stuck.
Everyone did their part. Everyone stepped up and they have continued to step up. They have not stopped. As a government, we also stepped up. We have not stopped and we will not stop. That is what this fiscal economic statement is about. It is about how we support Canadians at a time when they need it.
Not only the government but our had to enter uncharted waters. Ours was a world that came to a halt. Sometimes we fail to realize the huge significance of what this pandemic has meant to so many. However, not only did the world come to a halt, but Canada was vulnerable. For the first time in many generations, we were vulnerable, and protecting the health of people 24-7 and rising to that responsibility was left solely to the leadership of the government and Canadians.
The pandemic required the best of all of us, and it still requires the best of all of us. I am very proud of how the Government of Canada has stepped up for Canadians. I have seen first-hand in my riding the significance of government investments, government care and government outreach and how these have made the pandemic a little easier on a lot of people.
In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of banter back and forth by the opposition about the pandemic and the vaccine itself. I listened very carefully to what the had to say a few days ago, when he talked about the urgency of ensuring that Canadians had access to these life-saving vaccines as rapidly as possible, and that our government was operating with a sense of urgency every single day. Canadians know that and they understand that. With more than 1.1 million vaccines already distributed across the country to date, not only is Canada among the top five G20 nations for COVID-19 vaccines, we were also in the top two contributors to COVAX to ensure there would be equitable access to vaccines around the world, because that is what we do. We are Canada.
The , the and many others in the country, such as the people who have led behind the scenes to acquire those vaccines and do the work that had to be done, have all said, over and over, that even if no additional vaccines are approved by Health Canada, we remain on track to receive six million vaccines by the end of March, 20 million between April and June and a total of over 70 million doses by the end of September. Our government has been on top of this. Holding government accountable is a good thing, but focusing on politics for the sake of politics on issues such as what is happening around the vaccine does a disservice to all Canadians. It creates fear where there should be none.
Every day I hear the opposition talk about how the government has invested in people through this vaccine and that we are spending too much money. One day they tell us we are not spending enough, and the next day they tell us we are spending too much. I would like to review a couple of things.
I live in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Today, without the assistance of the federal government, communities would be experiencing tremendous challenges. People would be left behind without the supports the federal government stepped up to provide across the country and across Newfoundland and Labrador. I have one of the most rural northern ridings in Canada. It has made a difference.
In this pandemic, through the Government of Canada, the Canada health transfer increased in my province by $13 million over the last year. It was necessary to support the health of the people who live here. Nearly $150 million has gone to Newfoundland and Labrador through the safe restart agreement. That agreement allowed the province to look at testing capacity, to do tracing, to look at public health data and at ways to fight this pandemic and to keep the people of my province safe. That was a priority. That is not a waste of Canadian taxpayers' money. That is about saving lives. That is why I am always so taken aback when I hear the Conservative Party, in particular, continuously harp at the government for how we have stepped up for Canadians.
I wish no lives had been lost, just like every single person in the House of Commons. Every step has been taken—
Madam Speaker, seeing as this is my first speech in 2021, I want to start by wishing all of my colleagues a happy new year. I also wish a happy new year to my constituents of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford. I know we are all very hopeful that this is the year when we finally turn things around.
The experiences of this pandemic have shown that we are not, in fact, all in this together. What is closer to the truth is that we are in the same storm, but we are in different boats. Some of those boats have certainly been much better at weathering this storm than others. Indeed, many have sunk. We have people right across the country who are in extremely dire straits and, in the immediate future, things are not going to get better. We are still in a very rough patch.
All around my riding, I have been witness to people who have lost their jobs, to small business owners who have shuttered their doors forever, and to many who are very much struggling to stay afloat. It is an open question as to whether they will continue to be able to do so.
We are now dealing with an outbreak in a local first nation. Cowichan Tribes has seen an outbreak of COVID-19 that, unfortunately, has led to a strong rash of racist incidents, which I am joining other community leaders in my riding to condemn.
I also want to acknowledge that many people have stepped up to the plate to support those who have been affected by the pandemic. I want to acknowledge the work of the local chambers of commerce. I have five chambers of commerce in my riding, and they have all been very strong advocates for their members and for the needs of small businesses throughout the region.
Families and workers continue to be concerned about the impacts of job losses and the worsening situation that we find ourselves in. When we come to actual measures that are going to provide assistance, while some parts of Bill are good, unfortunately it is a continuation of half measures. Given the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, including where we have been, where we are and where we are going for the foreseeable future, it is extremely important for us, as a House of Commons, to seize this opportunity to strengthen our social safety net by investing in programs that directly help people.
From the beginning, the goal of the NDP caucus has been to get more help to more people, more quickly. That has been our focus for the last 10 months. I believe that we were very successful in leveraging our position in a minority Parliament by working with the government and with our Conservative colleagues to make sure we could do things like increase the amount of the emergency response benefit. We managed to have that increased to $2,000 a month and we also managed to have it extended.
It was great to see our leader, the member for , join with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and unions like UFCW, Unifor and the United Steelworkers to ask the government to increase the wage subsidy from the initial 10% to 75%.
We have consistently pushed for more and stronger payments for students, for seniors and for persons with disabilities.
We were able to secure Canada's very first paid sick leave. That is incredibly important in the middle of a health crisis, because we do not want to see workers making the impossible choice between their health and their ability to earn money. If we are going to get through this pandemic, we absolutely must give workers a way to stay home if they are feeling sick. It is a way to not put anyone else in danger of catching COVID-19.
I looked back at the speech that the delivered in November: the fall economic statement. Bill , the bill we are discussing today, is meant to be the implementation act of that speech.
It is quite clear to all parliamentarians that we are not going to effectively get through this pandemic until we see a very strong rollout of Canada's vaccines. I know that the government has consistently come forward with the message of how much it has invested in vaccine agreements and how much it has secured in a domestic supply, but it has become clear, over the last number of weeks, that there are some holes.
Not to play politics about it, but it is really our job in the opposition to hold the government to account and ask these probing questions. Why is there a delay in the vaccine rollout? Why is Canada not receiving any doses in some weeks and going forward?
My colleague, the member for , in the emergency debate last night referenced the fact that this is the third time in two weeks that the federal government's delivery schedule has been revised downward. Canadians have questions about that, and I believe it is incumbent upon the federal government, the Liberals, to be up front and honest about where we are at and to provide answers to those very important questions.
When we look at Bill , we see that it is proposing a series of measures, including allowances for young children, a suspension of interest on student loans and an increase in the borrowing limit. I know my Conservative colleagues have great concern over that aspect, but if we look at the desperate times we are in, we can see that we absolutely need to have the federal government step in and provide that important backstop. The alternative is to have more and more businesses falter, never to open their doors again, and recovering from the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves will take so much longer.
I will concentrate on one particular aspect of the bill that has great significance for my riding. It is the fact that $64.4 million is being allocated for mental health and substance use in the context of COVID-19. Here in the Cowichan Valley, as in many parts of the country, we are still suffering through an opioid epidemic. Indeed, British Columbia posted record numbers of deaths last year from opioid overdoses. We have consistently asked the federal government to step in to do more to address this crisis, to provide more financial resources to the provinces, to declare a national health emergency and to start finally treating this problem like the health issue it is. We have to seriously look at criminal justice reforms and at decriminalizing possession of small amounts of illicit substances so that people do not have to fear the criminality of their actions and can actually get the help they need.
There were some missed opportunities, as I alluded to earlier. If we are going to make those bold policy fixes that are truly going to help Canadians get out of this crisis, we need to see massive investments in child care. It is one thing to give parents a financial contribution, but they will not be able to make much use of it if child care spaces are not available. I know that in Langford, which is one of the most rapidly growing urban centres in all of Canada and is full of young families, the lack of good available child care spaces is a huge concern to so many young parents and families.
Similarly, on pharmacare, I am glad to see the member for stepping up to the plate with his Bill , which would actually put Liberal promises into NDP action. This would make a huge difference, along with dental care, in actually addressing some of the real costs that so many working families have on their budgets.
We also need to have a serious conversation on how we are going to finance all of this. We have to have a serious talk about implementing a wealth tax to make sure that those very wealthy individuals and corporations that benefited from this pandemic and made profits in the billions of dollars are contributing their fair share and that the payment does not fall on the shoulders of working families.
The Liberals also missed a golden opportunity to fix the wage subsidy, in that start-ups that did not have payroll accounts before March 15, 2020, still cannot qualify for the emergency wage subsidy. I have one business in particular, V2V Black Hops Brewing, an amazing social enterprise that does work in my riding for veterans, that cannot qualify for the wage subsidy because of the payroll account issue. I implore my Liberal colleagues to please fix that in legislation, and this bill was a missed opportunity.
I will conclude by saying that Canadians can no longer wait for half measures. We need bold, decisive action.
Madam Speaker, once again I want to wish everyone, including all my constituents, a happy new year, as this is my first official speech in 2021.
I am extremely happy to be able to speak today on Bill . Before I do, I want to thank and congratulate the people of Nova Scotia. I know we are in the midst of a second surge right across this country, but we have been very successful in limiting the numbers in Nova Scotia. What people have done, what students and teachers have done in the school system is something to be proud of. It has been a success story on that front, even in these very challenging times.
The fall economic statement focus for me today is on protecting the health of Canadians, ensuring that individuals and businesses have the opportunity to continue to work and prosper and making sure we build better as we move forward. The fall economic statement is an important piece of that delivery.
I cannot thank front-line workers enough for the work they have done. We are faced with health challenges, and they have to go to work in dangerous places because of the disease. They are there on the front lines, and it is just amazing. We have seen that throughout the pandemic. For people working in grocery stores, students in schools, and so on, it has been very challenging.
I want to thank the Canadian Armed Forces for the work they have done with the long-term care facilities throughout the pandemic. We have heard some very sad news. We have also heard about the improvements that are needed, and I will talk about that later.
We have invested over $1 billion in vaccine agreements, which allows us to have seven promising candidates and over 400 million doses of vaccine. We are in a very good position; in fact, it is one of the most extensive vaccine portfolios in the world. We are providing the vaccine free to all Canadians. As well, we have procured over 38 million rapid tests, and I am proud to talk about our COVID app, which 5.5 million Canadians have downloaded to help them identify possible exposure.
Again, we should talk about PPE. We have invested $2 billion in personal protective equipment. Many companies, even here in Nova Scotia, made changes to their manufacturing so that they could manufacture products that would help us through COVID. What they were willing to do to help Canadians is pretty impressive.
Also, we have made investments in mental health and the challenges around mental health, such as the opioid crisis and homelessness. Trying to find ways to prevent the spread of COVID in those areas is very important.
Throughout the pandemic, we have identified major gaps in long-term care facilities that we need to deal with. Most deaths that we have seen in COVID-19 have taken place in long-term care facilities. Our government has indicated that we will move forward to negotiate national standards with provinces, which is crucial, and Canadians expect us to do so.
We have been faced with the deepest and fastest recession since the Great Depression. We saw a decline in our GDP in March and April and the second quarter of last year like we have never seen before. We have seen over three million Canadians lose their jobs. Can we imagine people losing their jobs and not having any revenue?
Our government needed to respond to this unprecedented challenge with an unprecedented response, and we did so by investing over $400 billion to help ensure the health and security of Canadians, to help with financial benefits and to brace the business community throughout this crisis.
That is 19% of our GDP. It is the largest relief package since World War II. However, today, as difficult as it is, about 80% of the jobs have returned compared to the United States where it only has about half that number.
We were very quick in trying to help young families with the Canada child benefit and the increases on that front, now adding $1,200 per child under age six depending on the family income.
CERB helped Canadians. One in five Nova Scotians received the CERB to help him or her through this tough time. Those are big numbers.
The Canada emergency student benefit supports young people, who are very much challenged through this tough time as well. We have increased the Canada summer jobs program and we will increase it again this year by another 40,000. We have invested in the youth employment and skills strategy for another 45,000 jobs.
We have supported seniors with $300 or $200 depending on their income for the OAS. We have to move forward on long-term care and pharmacare as we said we would. We are working with provinces as we speak.
In Nova Scotia, 32,000 companies were able to take advantage of the wage subsidy, which is very impressive. Also, 15,000 companies in Nova Scotia were able to take advantage of the Canada business account.
We know the challenges around the airlines and we have helped them through wage and rent subsidies and supported them through rent relief and other ways as well.
We have helped communities in Nova Scotia. We increased the equalization payments. We increased the Canada health transfers and the Canada social transfers. Those are all extra investments to help us through this as well as adding a regional relief and recovery fund. Let us keep in mind that these businesses were not able to get any financial supports through the other programs and this picked up the extras that did not get support through those programs. It is a way of trying to catch everyone as best as we could.
With regard to build back better, our government, in our economic statement, will invest around $100 billion over the next three years, which is 3% or 4% of GDP, to stimulate the economy. That will be focused on a greener, more innovative, more inclusive and more competitive economy. This is the Canadian way.
We need to invest in early learning and child care, and we will some investments in that. This will increase the accessibility to high-quality child care. It will give children a better start and will allow both parents to work if they so desire.
There are also green investment grants for homeowners to improve energy efficiency. Charging refuelling stations will be very important as well. There will be the planting of two billion trees to fight climate change and protect the forestry. Our Canadian net-zero emission accountability act will be binding, and of course reporting annually.
Finally, I want to talk about the student loans to help students through tough times. This coming year the interest on the student loans on federal money will not exist and that will help them as well.
Through this very difficult time, through COVID-19, we were able to help in the health and security of Canadians. We were able to help them financially. Now we need to ensure, as we continue, we are able to jump-start the economy as quickly as possible so all Canadians will benefit. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am confident we will be successful as we move forward.
Madam Speaker, here we are debating the economic statement implementation act, following a throne speech after prorogation, but before I get into the substance of my speech, I think it is important to again put on the record the context that this debate is taking place about 600 days since the last federal budget. It has been 600 days since Canadians had a full view of the finances of our nation. Certainly, I think that reality should cause many to pause and question the objectives and agenda of the federal government.
We all understand the unprecedented times we face. However, provinces, other jurisdictions and cities have all been able to figure out how to present, approve and manage the budgetary process, yet here we are 600 days later. Conservatives certainly were calling for full economic details the entire way, but we have not gotten those, which is incredibly troubling. That is the context, the 30,000-foot view of the bill we are debating, Bill .
I spent a lot of time on the phone last night with constituents. The Liberals are very, very quick to brag about the way they have handled this crisis. In fact, the associate minister and parliamentary secretary just prior to me were bragging about how much they spent, $400 billion. However, one has to consider not just the dollars that are spent, but also consider how effectively those dollars are being spent and what the result is. Certainly, when any Canadian goes shopping, they do not simply look at who can spend the most. They look at the value for the dollars being spent. That is just part of simple budgeting, which speaks to my initial point.
On this side of the House we have great concern about the effectiveness of some of these dollars. Supports have been needed. I know the Liberals are quick to say that Conservatives would not have done all of this. We have been collaborative throughout the entire process, but critical at the same time because there is much to be critical of. When we look at the results of what has been spent, there are some serious questions. That is what I heard from constituents last night.
I want to bring together the speech I made a couple of days ago and what we are discussing today, specifically the economic realities that my constituency is facing. I spoke to a rancher in a small community in my constituency. She was almost in tears on the phone and said that we should share with the and the Liberals this comment: “Look me in the eye and tell me there's no future for my kids in Alberta.”
We were talking about the economic circumstances of Alberta and Alberta's place in the federation. It is heartbreaking the number of people whom I speak to who think that Alberta might be better off alone. I know that the members opposite will want to play politics with that issue, but I will say that as a member of Canada's national Parliament and a proud Canadian, to hear so many who feel that Canada has given up on them and that they have no choice is tragic. That should cause all involved in national leadership to pause. Certainly, that relates directly to what we are talking about here today.
I also got an email that sums up quite a few of the other calls I got last night. I will not read it all, partly because the language used is not parliamentary, but it still provides the context of the devastating circumstances around Keystone, the energy sector and the economy, with the service sector being pummelled and hotels being closed. All of these things are seeing a level of tragedy that is unbelievable. This is talking about the mental health effects specifically. In this case, two parents from her son's class saw no hope and committed suicide. I have put that on record because it provides the context of how important it is to get this right.
There is a whole host of issues addressed in this bill and, quite frankly, there are some things that need to be addressed. Some of it is fixing some of the issues with previous legislation that was brought forward. Some of the issues were identified early but we are only now fixing. Some of them are promises that were made in the throne speech that the government is now attempting to actualize. Some issues have been mentioned, such as that the entire House agreed on the need for action on student loans, but which we are only now seeing the government get to.
There is a bit of understanding of something that I would like to bring into context with regard to the spending part of what this bill addresses. There is certainly some concern when it comes to the overall spending, although there has been no question that supports have been needed. That is why Conservatives have stepped up to the plate. In fact, we attempted to collaborate, and here I can give the government a bit of credit because in some cases there has been successful collaboration. Unfortunately, there have been other times when there was unwillingness on the part of the government to come forward in a fair and transparent way. We can reference its attempted power grab early in the pandemic when the Liberals wanted unlimited tax and spending powers and attempting to roll back 800 years of parliamentary tradition. There have been scandals, which we certainly are still demanding answers on, such as WE Charity and Baylis Medical, among others.
There was the prorogation for no other reason than the fact the was trying to hide from his own mistakes, and so he prorogued Parliament. Although the Liberals will claim they only lost two days of parliamentary sittings, Canadians can see through that. When we look at the facts, about 35 days were lost, especially when we include the bills on the Order Paper that had to be reintroduced and debated, many of which came back exactly the same, even though issues had been identified with them.
As I come to the conclusion of my remarks, in part 7 of this bill, there is an increase in Canada's borrowing authority. We have seen unprecedented growth in the spending of our government and this economic statement that we will be voting on speaks to aspects of that.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, by the end of fiscal year 2023-24, the spending of the government, when it comes to debt financing requirements, will be $1.642 trillion. However, I would note that the Borrowing Authority Act asks for $1.831 trillion. There is a discrepancy there, doing math quickly in my head, of $207 billion. If the government plans to spend that $207 billion, it is the right of the government to bring forward that legislation and that plan to suggest so.
However, we have seen an unprecedented lack of transparency in the way the current government has operated and here we see a massive increase in the borrowing authority of the government for what is not the government's money. That is one of the frustrations. Whenever I hear a prime minister or a minister or any level of government say it is their money to spend, that is one hundred per cent categorically false. It is taxpayer money. It is hard-working taxpayers who spend that.
Therefore, I believe there are serious questions that need to be answered, whether in regard to Bill or the overall circumstances that we find ourselves in. I look forward to questions.
Madam Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity.
I will start by acknowledging that I am speaking from the traditional territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ first nation, the indigenous people of the territory that I am honoured to represent in Parliament.
Today, we are addressing Bill , which, of course, includes the legislative changes that are required as part of the fall economic statement that was tabled November 30. Although our commentary today should be limited to the legislative changes before us, and I know that some of the speeches have been quite wide-ranging, I want to reflect briefly on the fall economic statement itself, then turn to the legislation before us, and then to the things that are missing from it and that we wish were there.
The fall economic statement, at over 200 pages, is definitely wide-ranging. It references a lot of hard work, and I want to acknowledge the hard work of our , indeed, the government as a whole, with a good dose of gratitude.
There is no perfection to be found in the actions of any government around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some do better than others, and some do worse than others. I think we do better as Canadians when we try to work together.
That is the intent of Greens, whether we are elected federally or in the provinces across this country. We prefer collaborative efforts, co-operation and working through consensus. However, in looking at this document, it is extraordinary in detailing ambition around a wide range of issues.
First, on the question of a safe restart, there was about $20 billion put into a safe restart. We know that this was transferring money to the provinces for things as important as personal protective equipment, PPE, and getting the vaccines rolled out, which is a subject we debated until midnight last night with a lot of emotion and different opinions, but we have vaccines. We wish that they were being rolled out more quickly, but it does take federal-provincial co-operation. It also takes dealing with global multinational pharmaceutical companies. We are also looking at day care, so for the safe restart and a number of other aspects, there was $20 billion.
There are priorities in the fall economic statement that are not COVID-related but are high-priority items for Greens, particularly working towards indigenous reconciliation and moving towards pharmacare. I do not know why it is taking so long, but pharmacare is flagged in the fall economic statement.
Specifically, we should start looking at pharmacare in relation to rare diseases. I am part of a caucus, quite an informal caucus, with members of Parliament from every single party in this place, and that is a great place for collaboration. We are working with the CF Foundation and trying to get the life-saving drug Trikafta to patients in the CF community. We work together, and I think we are better when we do so.
On the opioid crisis, again, referenced in the fall economic statement, Greens favour decriminalization. We need to move fast to stop the deaths from opioid addiction, which is an extension of a mental health issue. It is a health issue. It is not a criminal issue.
On climate, which is also referenced in the fall economic statement, Greens are very keen on improving our east-west electricity grid and also improving its potential to reach north. We applaud the focus on interties that we have begun to see out of the Canadian Infrastructure Bank. However, we need more. We need more work on the electricity grid. We need more work on public transit, but it is flagged, as is the importance of electric vehicles.
Many climate-related measures are in the fall economic statement, including nature-based climate solutions. On the commitment to planting two billion trees, which we have heard of many times and look forward to seeing, it is critical that they are trees appropriate to the ecosystems in which they are planted. It is critical that we do the tree planting in ways that enhance carbon sequestration and protect biodiversity, such as along stream banks to help protect our wild Pacific salmon where they have lost so much habitat.
These are measures we support, but they are not enough. We have seen Bill , and they are referenced in the fall economic statement for climate accountability, but without major strengthening, such as a fixed dark target date of 2025 for carbon reductions, it will not be worth supporting.
When we look south of the border we see the steps the new Biden administration is taking, pursuing some of the courses Barack Obama left in place. This is also encouraging. Canada has scope, as is mentioned in the fall economic statement. With carbon and border adjustments, we can move our economies in the same direction and create more jobs while doing so. These are encouraging things.
We support Bill as far as it goes. The measures are important in order to get more COVID assistance to people to get more relief.
What is missing? There are many sectors that are not just falling through the cracks, but plummeting through a chasm. They need more help. I refer specifically to all the businesses in the tourism sector, particularly restaurants, but also bus services.
The fall economic statement refers to the highly affected sectors having more credit availability, but it is capped at $1 million per piece of assistance. I will specifically mention Wilson's bus lines, which provides not only charter service but also regularly scheduled service into first nation communities. It is an integral part of our tourism ecosystem here. It is being pressured out of existence by the commercial banks. The banks are demanding repayment. The $1-million capped loan will not be enough to save Wilson's.
For other parts of our transportation infrastructure, such as regional airports, $1 million in loans is not going to help them. We need to focus on what is needed to save all of our transportation infrastructure that is at risk right now. I think the best way to do that would be for the or the to talk to all the CEOs of the big commercial banks and remind them they are making profits every quarter.
This is the most recent news. If we just scan the headlines of BNN Bloomberg, we see the new quarter, post-2020 into 2021, news. It is a kickoff for big bank earnings. They are doing great. They have adjusted fourth-quarter profits above the average analyst estimates. When the banks are doing well, maybe not as well as before the pandemic, but they are not struggling or about to go under, they need to help.
Similarly, we should not be leaning on Canadians who got the CERB in good faith because they thought they made $5,000 in the previous year. The qualifications to say they did not qualify came out later. Come on. Let us fix it in this bill to say that anyone who received CERB who received $5,000 gross income in 2019 is entitled. That would clear up a misunderstanding and remove the cloud over the heads of over 440,000 Canadians who received, and I think this is an Orwellian turn of phrase, an education letter.
The critical issue of long-term care homes is referenced quite a lot in the fall economic statement. It mentions long-term care home workers. One of the more disturbing stories I saw in the last few months was of an outbreak of COVID in an Ottawa shelter for the homeless. It turned out the homeless who were living there were actually workers in long-term care. They were earning so little as long-term care workers, they were living in the Ottawa homeless shelter because they could not afford a roof over their head.
We need to do much more. We need to get into those long-term care homes and make sure our seniors are vaccinated. We need to stop the senicide. We need to make sure we pay our workers adequately, whether they are front-line workers in long-term care or anywhere in our society. We really do need a guaranteed livable income to ensure equity and decency for every single Canadian.
This is just a quick scratching of the surface of what we see as a challenge to us as Canadians. The fall economic statement gives us a good direction, but it needs to be more ambitious. We need to ensure that as we come out of COVID we repair our social safety net so it is not a net full of holes, but an actual place of stability, decency and respect for every single one of our human beings in this society, whether homeless, indigenous, or a woman who cannot figure out how to go back to work. We need to rebuild. We need a society that lives up to our greatest aspirations, including acting on the climate emergency while we still have time.
Madam Speaker, this is my first speech of 2021, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and all my parliamentary colleagues a happy new year.
In these trying times of health and economic crisis, we are treading an ever more challenging path littered with stumbling blocks. Before getting into public life, I paid close attention to political affairs. My father and I spent many hours a week keeping abreast of what politicians and the official parties, both governing and opposition, were up to. At times, I would think to myself that, if I were in their shoes, I would say this or propose that and really try to make the people the focus of my thoughts and actions.
Now I am here, actively participating in a process brought on by the pandemic. We all know politics has never seen anything like this. I am proud to contribute to the process, and I am bringing the heart and soul of an artist and a businesswoman to the table. People all around me are working to help individuals grappling with all kinds of problems, and I am right there with them. We are, by nature, hard-working people, and that shows in our efforts to help others.
In politics, and in the context of the pandemic, as career politicians or newly elected members, we have to adapt to new variables and roll with the punches. We have to strengthen our resolve and even reconsider how we do things. It is essential that every elected member of this House set aside certain electioneering tendencies, redirect their attention away from their electoral plans and campaign photo-ops, and focus on all these social issues that are also calls for help.
Helping people in times of crisis is our role. It is a matter of prioritizing public safety and our social safety net. Leading anthropologists and sociologists will say that there are three types of social security: physical, psychological and financial. Citizens put their trust in us and hope that we can stay focused on what is essential and avoid the worst for now and the future.
What is the worst? Simply put it is insecurity and uncertainty. Under the guise of an emergency and without any clear direction, the CERB, wage subsidies and business loans were handed out haphazardly by the government, and the concept of emergency grew ever broader to justify the failure to act responsibly. Clear direction and better targeted assistance would have allowed us to adapt the various programs.
What seems obvious, unfortunately, is that the government is trying to provoke an election before this all backfires. The current situation points to a very worrisome future that will have to be meticulously planned and rigorously managed through an economic recovery guided by very clear priorities. Between $70 billion and $100 billion has been announced to that end. This investment must not serve only to further increase the deficit and make the rich richer. Consistency and political courage are needed to avoid dipping again and again into the pockets of honest taxpayers in order to avoid disaster.
While huge organizations are avoiding paying billions of dollars in taxes—I am talking about the web giants—I have to wonder whether there is anyone at the controls. This country, which is part of the G7 and G20 and brags about being a model in certain areas, is depriving its economy and its citizens of such huge amounts of money. Quebec, meanwhile, has had the courage to tax the virtual economy, so yes, Quebec is the real model.
How do we begin to address the security of people and businesses in a society such as ours? To ensure physical security, we must close the border and prohibit non-essential travel. We must also look after public health and the health of the most vulnerable by providing the maximum amount required to fund health care through transfers to the provinces and Quebec with no conditions, improving seniors' financial situation, increasing purchasing power strategically and investing in pharmaceutical independence. Psychological security and financial security pretty much go hand in hand. People cannot live serenely or maintain the mental health required to get through a crisis such as this if they do not have financial security, even if it is minimal.
It will be extremely important to ensure that the government directs its assistance to Canadians and its support for businesses in the same way, that is by channelling financial assistance to those most impacted by this crisis, even if it means increasing taxes for those who were able to profit from the pandemic.
In speaking of the most impacted, I do not hesitate to say that, after considering the sad plight of seniors, who were especially hard hit by the virus, the arts and culture sector was the first to be brought to its knees and will be the last to emerge from this crisis. What did the culture sector receive? The CERB and emergency programs evaporated like the rain from a storm. Hundreds of artists, creators, self-employed individuals and sole proprietors fell through the cracks of programs and received no money for lack of funds or because the eligibility criteria did not mesh with these people's reality.
Now we are getting promises that other announcements will be made soon. That is the thrust of my speech. This promise holds the very future of our culture in its hands and, by extension, a large part of the mental health of Quebeckers and Canadians. These people will be desperately craving forms of entertainment, looking for magical places to come together, places filled with extraordinary creators, visionaries who weave the stories of our collective imagination.
Where will these places be? What will have happened to the artists? Will they still exist? These storytellers, production designers, directors, some world-renowned and others on their way there: Will they be able to continue creating without a decent income? Will our technicians be able to continue innovating and bringing our creators' imaginations to life?
Will our culture, our national pride, endure? Where will we find the stages featuring our up-and-coming architects of joy, our purveyors of the future and champions of our values? Where will we find consciousness-raisers and the people embracing free expression with ships of gold? Where will we be able to nurture our Leclercs, our budding Vigneaults or our future Beau Dommages? Where will we find our Cormiers, our Michauds, our Cowboys Fringants, our Charlotte Cardins, our Geneviève Jodoins or our Vent du Nords?
We must also think of our wonderful artists, the dancers, the circus performers, our favourite authors. Will our entrepreneurs and cultural organizations still be there to provide events and stages for all those beloved artists? How many of our museums, art galleries, festivals, theatres, cinemas, all those event spaces that drive, promote and disseminate our culture, will still be there? What about our wonderful media outlets that surround our artists, that promote and critique them, will they be forever changed? Will the individual financial assistance and programs we are asking for to support culture have been sufficient and properly distributed? Will the major legislative reforms that are necessary for the survival of the creative industry, such as Bill , have been sufficiently robust and comprehensive?
Will our legislators have been courageous enough and determined enough to conduct a thorough review of the laws governing creation, creative content, its areas of application, and the obligations of users and aggregators?
To date, over 100,000 cultural workers have changed fields. It breaks my heart. We have already lost so much expertise, talent and resources that are vital to the evolution and development of our signature culture. I am asking the government and all of Parliament to recognize the value of culture and treat it accordingly. Culture is a service that is essential to society's mental, physical and financial health. It is a profitable essential service because the creative industry makes a vital contribution to Canada's and Quebec's GDP and serves as an important tool in promoting the vitality of parent economies, such as tourism. We have heard that some sectors of the economy will have practically disappeared by the end of this crisis, while others will shift to a more virtual economy. However, culture is not suited to a virtual experience, no matter how lifelike. Let us be realistic. Not everything is suited to the virtual world, particularly not culture. Arts and culture are living, breathing human things. They are about emotion and they are at the heart of every individual's socialization. Culture is vital.
Circumstances conducive to getting cultural activities back up and running may not be in place until 2022, maybe even 2023. Culture is going to need help. We all want life to get back to normal, but the only way that can happen is if we make sure artists get the support they need to stay in the business. Culture cannot and must not be the pandemic's next casualty. It is our duty to protect our society's cultural health because all forms of art immunize us against bitterness and distress. Culture is the most effective treatment for post-traumatic stress humanity has ever devised.
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin my speech by reminding members of a few things that have happened in recent weeks and months.
Members will all recall that, in December, the stood before the door of Rideau Cottage and announced that Canada would receive 125,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine every week in the first month of 2021.
On January 5, the Canadian Prime Minister once again stood before the door of his cottage and told us that he was frustrated with the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. During a press conference at Rideau Cottage, he said, “Canadians, including me, are frustrated to see vaccines in freezers and not in people's arms.” That is what was reported by CBC, and those who were watching him heard him say that.
This proves that the Prime Minister had absolutely no idea what he was talking about or what was going on at that time. In fact, the Premier of Quebec was quickly rebuked by his federal counterpart when he also made a statement at his press conference indicating that all the vaccines Quebec received every week were used every week and that Quebec had the capacity to vaccinate 250,000 people per week. However, the federal government planned to send only 233,000 doses to the province by the end of January.
That was in early January. The Quebec government also said at the time that it could be vaccinating four times as many people, but it did not have enough doses. Those statements were made at a time when the Prime Minister was saying there would 125,000 doses available per week in Canada. That is how January began.
We are currently in the last week of January, and what is happening? Whether in Quebec, western Canada, Ontario, the Maritimes or the territories, it is the same everywhere. One number comes to mind when we think of the number of people vaccinated this week: zero.
Why? Because zero is the number of vaccines Canada got from Pfizer this week.
What does that mean? Clearly, it means that no one was vaccinated this week: not one vulnerable person, not one senior, not one essential worker.
When we see what is happening in other countries, what we must ask ourselves is, why? Why did Canada not have access to any vaccine doses in the last week of January?
We do not know how many doses we will receive next week, but we are still being promised that hundreds of thousands will arrive in the coming weeks and months and that the majority of Canadians who want the vaccine will be vaccinated by September.
I would like to remind members that the Prime Minister is making these announcements when just two months ago, he was saying we would receive 125,000 doses a week from Pfizer. One month later, we are coming to realize that his plan was untenable. How can we believe the Prime Minister when he tells us that all Canadians who want the vaccine will be vaccinated by September 2021?
Why is the Prime Minister acting this way? It is simple. He prefers his daily show at Rideau Cottage. He can give Canadians information while knowing that he can give more the next month, and the next, for as long as he gets to give press conferences in front of Rideau Cottage.
Why are there no vaccines? It is because the Prime Minister staked everything on one contract, with a Chinese company, instead of trying to sign agreements with pharmaceutical companies so that we could manufacture the vaccine here in Canada.
While the Liberals were staking everything on the Chinese vaccine last spring, our allies were signing agreements with AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer. Canada did not sign agreements with these pharmaceutical companies until months later.
All Canadians are paying the price for this leadership failure, because the Prime Minister is not being straight with Canadians, he refuses to disclose the agreements signed with the pharmaceutical companies, and the Liberal government is governing by the seat of its pants, with no plan and no expertise.
The vaccination plan is chaotic at best. We still have a lot of questions to ask to find out what went wrong.
Many of our allies have vaccinated a considerable portion of their population, while we are still in lockdown and worrying about the spread of new COVID-19 variants.
Again today, during question period, the gave us the same empty rhetoric we have been hearing for weeks now. He said that Canada has acquired more vaccine doses per person than any other country, that we will have more doses than anyone else, but we do not know when we will get them. There was not much point in signing so many vaccine agreements if we are going to be the last to get the vaccines. Canada did not receive any vaccines this week. None.
While the Liberals were wasting precious time, thousands of Canadians lost their lives to COVID-19. Businesses had to close their doors. Canadians had to deal with the consequences of the lockdown. How many people got COVID-19 this week? How many of them will die because the government failed to provide the provinces with vaccines? Seniors are the most vulnerable. They deserve better.
Today we are debating Bill , legislation that delivers on promises made in the fall economic statement. That economic statement included some important measures, such as measures for Canadian families, that the Liberals opted not to implement before the holidays. The main reason they held off is that the Liberal government and the Prime Minister are in election strategy mode.
It is obvious that the Prime Minister does not like Parliament. It is even more obvious that he does not like consulting opposition parties about anything and that what he wants most of all is an election. When he had a majority, he could make all kinds of mistakes with impunity. Now he has to contend with opposition parties whose members are not as docile as those of his own party, and his convoluted explanations for those gaffes are falling on less forgiving ears.
A recent example is the fiasco of the appointment of the former Governor General. Today I called for the to accept responsibility. Employees who quit their job are not entitled to employment insurance. That applies to all workers except for the former Governor General, who was hand-picked by the Prime Minister. Friends of the Prime Minister who leave their job get a gold-plated pension. The former Governor General will get $150,000 a year for life and a similar expense budget, and this is all despite the revelations in the much-anticipated report. It has not yet been made public. It will be released at the pleasure of the President of the Privy Council, who will decide what will be published in the report and when. It is a much-anticipated report.
In the meantime, we are victims of a totally unacceptable fiasco with this minority government. This is truly wilful blindness on the part of the and his cabinet. They had to have turned a blind eye when they proceeded with this appointment, otherwise they would have known what happened. The Conservatives put an excellent viceregal appointment process in place to avoid this kind of fiasco. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister decided to disregard it. That was his choice. What the Prime Minister wanted took precedence over the health and future of Canadians. What Canadians want is to get out of this pandemic. They want to be healthy and go back to seeing their friends. They want lockdown to end and to get the vaccine the Prime Minister promised to provide them. They want a real economic recovery. There is nothing about any of that in Bill .
Last fall, the and the Liberals missed a golden opportunity to use the economic statement to present a plan to return to normal. Millions of Canadians were abandoned during the pandemic because of the Prime Minister's incompetence. He put our workers and our economy at risk because of his failures on the vaccine front. There is only one way for us to protect our future. Under the leadership of the hon. member for , the Conservatives will be able to ensure the safety of Canadians.
Unfortunately, what the Liberal government has taught us is that it is possible to spend billions of dollars and still leave behind millions of Canadians. As the has confirmed, we are on track to having a historic deficit of almost $400 billion. The economic update clearly indicates that the Liberals still have no plan to help the millions of Canadians looking for work or the tens of thousands of businesses hit hard by the pandemic.