Madam Speaker, as always, I am incredibly honoured to rise in the House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and to speak to Bill , a bill that we need to pass as quickly as possible. There is an urgency to act because so many people are out of work and their EI is running out.
This is the anniversary of the calling of the pandemic. I think of how our world has been turned upside down and how it has been fundamentally transformed 365 days ago. I look back to a year ago today when we realized Parliament was going to be shut down. We thought it would maybe for two weeks. It was just impossible to think that it could be shut for three weeks. We did not have the cultural or historic imagination to find ourselves and understand ourselves in a pandemic.
I think of the first time I walked the streets wearing a mask and how strange I felt. We did not understand how the pandemic had such a powerful effect.
I have been reading Camus throughout this pandemic, because I though there had to be a way to understand it. What Camus said so powerfully of his people, his village, was that they were not any more arrogant or dismissive than anyone else, but they had forgot to learn to be humble in the face of a pandemic. We understand wars, Camus said, but we do not understand pandemics because we cannot see them, yet they upend and transform us.
Over the past year, we have seen a complete upending of so many of our preconceived ideas. A year ago, when the pandemic was called, within two weeks, millions of Canadians could no longer pay their rent. That is a staggering thing for a who talked about the middle class and those wanting to join it. The line again and again was the middle class and those wanting to join it. What we have realized from the pandemic is that the middle class has been wiped out, that middle class no longer exists. What exists is precarious work, people without pensions, people working on contract. It is not just a blue-collar issue. Professors working in universities, without any kind of tenure, without any kind of support, get paid basically what people get paid at Tim Hortons. People have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their education. They are burdened with student debt. When the pandemic came, they, like front-line workers and people who work in groceries stores, could not pay their rent if they were not able to work.
The pandemic showed us that our notions of our Canadian health system were based so much on hope and myth of this ideologized system, yet we were unable to protect the lives of hundreds of senior citizens who died needlessly in long-term care homes that were run for profit. We learned that we did not have the capacity in a nation as big as ours to produce our own PPE to keep workers safe, and we had to beg for it from other countries.
Of course, we suddenly remembered all those great ideas that Brian Mulroney, Pierre Trudeau, Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien had about not needing our own system, that we could rely on global markets, that we could not produce our own vaccine. A hundred years ago, Canada established the Connaught Labs to be a world leader in vaccine production, and it was. However, the privatization agenda of the Liberals and the Conservatives erased that.
I have been thinking about my grandmother, Lola MacNeil, who was a tough woman. She same from the Ottawa Valley and went to northern Ontario where the mining camps were booming. She met my grandfather who was a Cape Bretoner, Joseph MacNeil. He had broken his back underground in the mines. My grandmother was in the first graduating class of St. Mary's Hospital, working under the nuns, and she nursed my grandfather back to health.
My grandmother worked 12-hours shifts. When I was a child, my grandmother was hard with me sometimes. In those 12-hours shifts, she had dealt with diphtheria, small pox and she was haunted by polio.
I remember that she did not want us to go swimming up at Gillies lake, which was a little lake in Timmins. It was an offshoot of the water from where the Hollinger mine used to dump its water. My grandmother would tell us not to go swimming there, that this was where we would get polio. I asked my grandmother what polio was. When we would go to the doctor because we had a little toothache, we would get penicillin. We thought we were immune from all these things.
We did not have the cultural or historic imagination to understand the pandemic. I have been conjuring my grandmother Lola. She would know what to do. She would know how to prepare
I would like to say that we have learned things that will transform how we see the world for the coming generations and this young generation, generation Z. This generation has been schooled and transformed and will never see the world in the same way again. The many the things of this pandemic is the failing to generation Z, to this young generation coming up that is living in such precarity. This is why we need to get Bill passed.
I know many people who have no work to go back to, people who are doing precarious work, people who are working in the arts, the incredible arts network that we have across Canada. People have gone a year without working and their EI is running out. I think of people who worked multiple jobs in restaurants, but restaurants are no longer around. Their EI is running out.
The Conservatives always talk about the debt that we will be leaving. The biggest debt that we could leave would be the debt of destroying the family and personal economies of Canadians. Through no fault of their own, they were victims of a pandemic that upended the economic system that had existed through the 20th century.
Coming out of this pandemic, we need a vision for a 21st century economy and to understand the old 20th century ideologies of trusting the market, that things will be okay, that we will give to the big boys, such as the cut a deal with Amazon, one of the crappiest corporations in the world. It is a corporation where the billionaire class has made more and more money, while their workers have suffered on the front lines, keeping the economy going.
We need a 21st century economy coming out of this, one that is resilient, one that understands that we have to rebuild some of the social supports our grandparents built coming out of the Second World War for a proper social safety net so no one is left behind. We need to rebuild a strong health care system, one that the profiteers are unable to exploit our parents and our grandparents in long-term care, so no one ever has to call in the army again to keep senior citizens from dying. We need to build that type of economy. To get there, Bill is one of the intermediate steps that we need to have in place.
While we reflect on the issue of our society suddenly having to deal with precarity and insecurity, many people in the country have lived with precarity, insecurity and failing health systems for decades. They are the first nations peoples of our country, living in reserves on incredible territories of natural wealth. The treaties took them off their territories and put them on what are essentially internal displacement camps with substandard housing, substandard infrastructure and no access to clean water. I mention that because yesterday the made an announcement that he would create a new website to deal with the water crisis, a website.
When the was first elected, he said that his number one priority was to guarantee clean water to first nations. People across Canada said, of course. How could one of the richest countries in the world not guarantee clean water for its citizens? Citizens questioned how it was possible that in a country with so much beautiful, natural clean water people would have to drink from dirty and polluted water, not just in one community but in community after community. The Prime Minister said that we would have mission accomplished by March 2021. We are not even close to that. Last week, the Auditor General put out in a damning report that it would be years. The website that the minister is bringing out is to show the successes that the government has had, to turn away the attention from the ongoing systemic failures.
I mention this issue with respect to the pandemic because of the insecurity, the precariousness and the need to get these false 20th century ideologies that somehow it is the fault of the first nation communities for the fact that they do not have access to clean water. These systems have been put in place by Indian Affairs. They remain in place despite the fact that in 2005 the auditor general wrote a condemning report about Indian Affairs and the crisis in water. I remember when Paul Martin announced that he would spend billions of dollars to clean the water systems. Was his mission accomplished? Not a chance.
In 2011, the auditor general wrote a damning report on the crisis of water. People might not remember, but one of the very first acts prime minister Stephen Harper brought in when he was elected was a plan to get clean water to reserves, yet in 2011 the Auditor General report read just like in 2005.
In 2018, the parliamentary budget officer issued a report that said the government would not meet its promise. Of course, last week we had the damning report by the Auditor General.
This is not a great mystery, and I would like to walk people through why these things happen. It is structural, it is systemic and it is based on a system of racist colonialism. What happens with first nations communities is that the federal government will always insist on spending the cheapest amount of money to fix the problem. This policy of the lowest bid has meant that we have had in community after community operators come in and say they will do the job for cheap, because other more credible companies will not touch the project. They are doing them in isolated fly-in communities, where the costs are elevated. These companies know this. They will take the bid, there will be cost overruns, there will be delays and if there are problems, they will just cut corners.
That is the first failing. The minister has refused to change the policy on that.
The second issue, as the Auditor General points out, is that the government is using the same failed funding formula that goes back over 30 years, which is the refusal to put in proper operations and maintenance funding. Indian Affairs wants to keep the ministers happy and the ministers want to cut a ribbon. They want to announce “mission accomplished” and move on. However, if we do not have an operations and maintenance budget, the plants fail.
In Marten Falls First Nation, lightning hit the sewage lift. It is an isolated community, so how will it fix that on its own? The government says that it is not its problem. A failed sewage lift begins as a problem, then becomes more systemic and then the government will spend upwards of $2 million a year flying bottled water into a community like Marten Falls, but it will not deal with the systemic failings in the first place. We need to have operations maintenance training to ensure these plants work.
The other issue that the government has is that it will build a plant and declare victory. Plants have been built that do not meet building codes. If that happened in a provincial jurisdiction or in a municipality, there would be an investigation. When it comes to Indian Affairs, it is just another day at the office. The company that did not meet the building code at one project can get hired at the next project. Why? Because it will do it on the cheap.
We had a community in the northwest where a water plant was built, the ribbon was cut, an announcement was made and people left. The next day grandmothers had to walk to the river with buckets for water. Why? The water plant was built but no money was set aside to get pipes into the homes. Again, if that was done in a municipality, there would be an investigation. If it was done at the provincial level, people would be fired. If it was done at Indian Affairs, someone might get promoted, because it is another day at the office.
These inequities are not just in the far north. I will talk about Maniwaki. It is just up the road. There is a municipality in Maniwaki and there is the Kitigan Zibi reserve. One has clean water and one does not. How is that possible? One is under the provincial jurisdiction in Quebec that has water standards and the other is under the federal government.
In Attawapiskat, as well as in many other communities, they will not look at the source of where the water comes from. They want to take it from the cheapest source. If we take water from a stagnant pool, we are going to have problems. However, if the stagnant pool is close to the plant, then Indian Affairs says that is the water source. There might be a much cleaner source down the road, but Indian Affairs will not spend that money. They will take a stagnant water pool, run it into the plant, which means they will have to use an enormous amount of chemicals to keep it clean, and then they will run it through substandard pipes that cause more chemical contamination. The point is that by the time the water reaches people's homes, it is toxic.
Every region of this country has water standards that have to be met. The only place where water standards do not exist is on reserve. Why is that? The reason is that if the federal government actually had standards, it would have to spend money, and it will not spend money.
The other issue is that with the website the government is going to create, every community is going to have its own page on a website. We already have a website and the government lies on the website. The government has, for instance, Bearskin Lake as “under construction”. Bearskin Lake is not under construction. We have been waiting over a year to get the feasibility report agreed to.
I have a report here called “The Project Implementation Procedures Manual for Water and Wastewater Systems” by the Public Works and Government Services Canada client service team for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. I run out of breath just saying that title. If we look at this report, it consists of page after page of hoops that indigenous communities have to jump through to satisfy the department, despite many of these communities being impoverished and in the far north.
Chief Shining Turtle, who has been a very strong voice on the need to listen to first nations and to put in place coherent systems, has told the government again and again that these manuals are manuals for failure. When I hear the say that the department does not want to impose a solution and wants to work with them, he is making it sound like he is their best life coach. What he is really doing is gaslighting communities by making it seem as though it is their fault that bad decisions are made. We look at these reports and the number of hoops communities have to go through, and yet we still see communities ending up with underfunded systems that fail.
I want to give people a couple of more examples so that they really understand how this failure works systemically. The government will say that a community will get clean water, say in Attawapiskat, but it does not want to look at the whole system. The fact is that we might build a water system, a water plant, but we do not have the proper pipes to actually get clean water, so by the time the water runs through the plant to the homes, it is already contaminated with chemicals.
The government says it will get the mission accomplished on that, but what does that mean? That means that a little girl who heard that I was coming to Attawapiskat met me on a street corner. She was wearing a cardboard sign that said that she had only one kidney and needed fresh water to live. No child should have to put on a cardboard sign to say how their very life is threatened by bad water. Why does that child have only one kidney? It is because in Attawapiskat the children have been poisoned for decades by toluene and benzene that was underneath a school. Kidney damage is one of the fundamental symptoms of that.
I think of the little girl in Kashechewan whose skin rashes are so bad that the international media covered it and said that this is Canada. Every few months, my office sends her medication because they are 600 miles from a pharmacy. That is the failure of government. These are children whose lives get cut short by a precarious failed system. We are here today to push through the legislation to keep workers safe, but my call to the government is that it needs to stop playing games with the lives of first nations people when it comes to water and that we need to get a credible system in place.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my excellent and hard-working colleague from .
Today, we are debating Bill . I have a couple of quick observations about the context of this debate. This is another example where we can clearly see the willingness of the Conservatives to work constructively on areas where we share a perspective on the need to move forward with the government on a particular bill. We saw this earlier this week: As a result of a Conservative motion, we were able to debate quickly and pass Bill . Today, we have worked with the government to create a framework to move forward on Bill .
In the case of both of these bills, there is a relevant deadline the government has ignored up until this point. The leadership of our party has pushed the government to move forward with things that are supposed to be its legislative priorities but have clearly not been. We see how the has been trying to spin a narrative that Parliament is not working, as a way to justify his plans for an election in the middle of a pandemic.
There is no doubt that the Conservatives do not support some aspects of the government's legislative agenda, and some require further study and debate. However, in this Parliament in particular, the 43rd Parliament, the Conservatives have worked constructively to quickly advance legislation when there is a shared sense of essential urgency on matters.
Bill , like Bill and other legislative measures we have seen in this Parliament, is in the category of measures that we are supporting and have worked with the government to move forward. I hope the government, members of the media and the public will take note of the instances of co-operation that have taken place, often led by the Conservatives, and will point out the flaws in the narrative the is trying to spin to justify his pandemic election plans.
Bill is an important bill that expands benefit programs in the context of the pandemic, and the Conservatives are supportive of it. At the same time, we have highlighted the need for the government to have a broader vision of where our country is going economically in the midst of the pandemic and what we hope will soon be the economic recovery coming out of it.
While other parties are talking only about spending and the benefits, the Conservatives recognize the need to have strong economic growth as the basis for providing strong benefits. We have legitimately pointed out the issues around the significant debt and deficit we are accruing during this period of time. Other parties in the House want to present a false choice: either we support benefit programs and have dramatic growth in our debt and deficit or we do not have the debt and deficit and leave people out in the cold. We view that as a false choice. We believe it is very possible and indeed important to support a strong social safety net, but that exists on the foundation of a strong economy. If we support the development of a strong economy, with a vision for jobs, growth, opportunity and investment in this country that gives people the opportunity to work, then we also increase our capacity to provide people with support when they find themselves in situations where they are not able to work.
Our vision for an economy of the future is one that involves a strong economy, a strong community and a strong social safety net. We believe those elements need to exist in tandem. A strong economy means repealing some measures the Liberals have put in place, like Bill and Bill , which impede the development of our natural resource sector. It means working to strengthen our manufacturing sector. It means taking note of some problems, like the slave labour around the world that is producing cheap products that come into the Canadian marketplace. That is obviously terrible from a human rights and justice perspective, but it also impacts Canadian workers. It is an economic issue and a justice issue when human rights violations are linked to unfair trading practices.
We need to stand up for Canada's manufacturing sectors that may be impacted by those kinds of practices. We need to support the development of our natural resource sectors. We need to expand access to markets, especially in like-minded countries. That is why the Conservatives support working to expand trade and partnerships around the world with like-minded partners in the Asia-Pacific region. We are also looking to expand our economic engagement with Africa, building on some of the trade agreements we have signed previously, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Canada-EU free trade deal negotiated under the previous Conservative government.
We need to think about rationalizing regulations and approving projects that make sense so that Canada can once again be seen as an optimal destination for investment and growth. If that plan for investment, growth and jobs includes an appropriate respect for our natural resource and manufacturing sectors, we will be able to create the conditions that allow unemployed Canadians to get back to work.
That is the strong economy piece. Of course, a strong economy helps to generate the revenue for governments that allows governments to provide support to people without creating the kind of unmanageable deficits that we currently face. Having a strong economy is therefore very important.
I talked about a strong economy, strong communities and a strong social safety net. For many people who face challenges, whether they are unemployment challenges, health challenges or personal struggles of various kinds, the first line of support is the communities they are a part of. In recent decades, we have seen a decline in the strength of community ties, a greater social atomization. As a society, we need to think about how we can strengthen the forms of local community that are such a vital form of initial support. We should think of a big society, a strong society and strong community as being the first line of support and defence when people are confronted with various challenges in their lives.
Part of how the national government can be a part of supporting the idea of strengthening the community is to work constructively in partnership with community organizations and look for opportunities to learn from what communities are doing. These could be cultural associations, faith communities or service clubs. We should better partner with local organizations in the delivery of public services.
There are so many ways this applies. One thing that has been a great interest of mine is the model for the private sponsorship of refugees. Through it, the government works collaboratively with private organizations that are sponsoring refugees to come to Canada. We know that those who have community connections through private sponsorship generally have better outcomes than people who are publicly sponsored, because those who are publicly sponsored are not immediately brought into an existing community that knows them and wants to work with them. Across the board, whether it is combatting addictions, supporting families, addressing joblessness or addressing recidivism, the government needs to have a much better vision of the opportunity for partnership as a means of addressing challenges and building strong communities.
As I said, we need a strong economy, a strong community and then a strong social safety net. If we have the strong community and strong economy pieces in place, we will also be in a position collectively to put the full extent of our resources into supporting those who fall through the cracks with a strong social safety net.
The Conservatives are very supportive of that. We believe, though, that if we neglect the strong economy and the strong community pieces, it will become much more difficult to have a strong social safety net while preserving some degree of fiscal sanity. What we see with the government is a desire to push forward spending on the social safety net, but a lack of vision for the strong economy and strong community pieces.
The social safety net needs to be there for those who are not able to benefit from a strong economy or from strong community structures that are in place. However, if we only have the social safety net piece, and not the economy piece or the community piece, then the pressure that falls on that social safety net will be so significant that we will find ourselves in an unsustainable fiscal situation. That is the challenge we need—
Madam Speaker, I am very proud to be here today speaking to Bill .
I want to recognize the excellent shadow minister in charge of this process: the wonderful member for . It is excellent that she is leading the charge on our side for this. She is representative of a generation of young women who are excited about the potential future of our nation. The member and I are young mothers, but I am not as young as the member for Kildonan—St. Paul. My riding is also filled with young soccer moms who are excited about the future of Canada. With this opportunity for vision and clarity, and a strategy for our economy and our workforce going forward, I am very happy to have this opportunity.
I am going to continue the message that the previous speaker, the member for , spoke about. I would not doubt it if my colleagues from other opposition parties had the same sentiment of the necessity for us to hold the government to account, but also the frustration on two parts, the first being that we have had to return to this chamber to vote several times to fix legislation.
Of course, it was our duty to Canadians. This is what we do as the official opposition. We look for gaps and we attempt to address those gaps for Canadians. With each piece of legislation that is implemented, and as that legislation continues, we see further permutations of the legislation that we could not have possibly accounted for when we first brought the legislation forward.
In my role with the official opposition, and as the former vice-chair of the HUMA committee, certain examples of this come to mind in addition to Bill , which we are here fixing and amending today for the government. These include the wage subsidy, which started at a meagre, paltry 10%. Through our actions, we were able to improve it to 70% and really provide some sustenance to many Canadians and companies that required it. Maternity benefits are another example. I was just talking about the joy of being a mother, and I cannot tell members how many expectant mothers and families contacted my office when these programs were first implemented, to point out that they had been omitted. This includes the Canada emergency business account as well, and the changes that our side made to it.
Indeed, it is frustrating, but of course, that is our obligation. Frankly, it is insulting that this would be used against us to say we are not moving government business along for the benefit of Canadians when, in fact, it is the opposite. We are here to address the gaps for Canadians and to hold the government to account. We will continue to do that, no matter what the government says.
This brings me to our current situation, which is indeed very frustrating. I am sure members have heard the job numbers. We lost 213,000 jobs in January. When I think of those job numbers, I cannot help but think of what types of jobs we are creating in this nation at this time. I think of my incredible upbringing in Calgary Midnapore. Every day, my constituents and their parents were fortunate to go to stable, secure jobs with benefits and pensions.
Even as we see the job numbers slipping, what types of jobs remain? Canadians deserve jobs with benefits, pensions, certainty and stability. This is what we need during this time of the pandemic.
To add to that, Canada's unemployment rate is currently 8.5%, which is among the highest in the G7, despite spending more than any other country in the OECD. As of January 2021, according to Statistics Canada, Canada had 858,000 fewer jobs than it did in February of last year, before COVID-19 began. That number is very close to one million.
Canada has now gone 460 days without a federal budget. I check my bank balance every day, if not every second day, so to go this long without a federal budget is unbelievable. The has indicated that Canadians cannot expect one any time soon. Again, it is certainty and clarity that Canadians are looking for from their government at this time, and the government is not providing it.
As the shadow for this portfolio and our shadow finance have indicated, there has been no plan for how the government will set this ship straight, how it will get the economy back on track or how it will create a plan for jobs for all Canadians, and in particular, as I stressed within my speech, for 100,000 women. This is a “she-cession”, and we need to address that. The needs to address that, but he is not addressing it for women. He is not addressing it for the entire economy, for all Canadian workers.
Near the beginning of the pandemic, in the summer, I was very proud to complete the Calgary Midnapore Economic Recovery Taskforce report. This was an effort to evaluate the challenges businesses and workers were facing across my riding and how we could evaluate those, and then come up with recommendations for the government to move forward. I would suggest the could use this as a plan for the nation.
I want to thank all the incredible constituents from across my riding who took part in this, small business owners and the workers at small, medium and large enterprises, for their contributions. No doubt their current challenges include liquidity. Is that not always something a business is concerned about? As the proud daughter of small business owners, a business that has now been passed on within the family, we constantly worried about liquidity.
Operations are another worry, of course, and how to keep things functioning. Talent is another challenge, and is very important relative to the bill here today, as is the supply chain: being concerned about what is in the pipe and what we are going to push out. Government regulations are another challenge that have a considerable effect on the work of business. Anticipated challenges include talent, growth and adjusting to the new normal, which a year later we are just starting to do.
To delve into things such as liquidity, businesses overwhelmingly expressed that their credit and cash reserves were nearly or fully depleted, with 47% of businesses worried they would not be able to financially sustain themselves beyond one year. Deferrals were a concern as well. Regarding operations, 37% of businesses in my riding said they had diversified their business models and were adjusting to the new reality.
To summarize, many business owners identified a lack of predictability regarding regulations. I have said over and over that we need clarity at this time. Of course, business owners at that time were worried about the second wave, and we have come to see a third wave approaching. We hope not, but it seems to be on the horizon and is something we must consider.
These were the findings within my riding. I would ask that we look to the future, as I always like to do, with hope and optimism, which is what we are doing on this side of the House, instead of what the other side of the House is doing with ideology, political decisions and no coordinated strategy. I would suggest that the look to his Industry Strategy Council, which did an incredible overview of what will be necessary to do going forward. I would suggest the Prime Minister listen to the Business Council of Canada.
I would provide the with three recommendations. First, he should do a coordinated sector consultation. The government cannot even get a plan out for the sector I have been following so closely, the airline sector, so it should do a national coordinated sector consultation to determine a path forward for the economy. Second, as I have stated previously in the House, he should do a national inventory of our resources to determine what we have a surplus of to trade, as we discuss within the House the new NAFTA and the U.K.-Canada negotiations we moved forward with just yesterday. We need to evaluate mineral and technical resources. Finally, we need to think about our future workforce based on current trends. We need to look forward with hope, optimism and, most importantly, a coordinated strategic approach.
Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge my colleague, the opposition transport critic. That was an excellent speech. I would also like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from , in B.C.
Today we are debating Bill .
The past year has been an unusual one, so I want to spare a thought for everyone who has suffered because of COVID-19, for all those we have lost. I also want to take this opportunity to extend my condolences to everyone who lost a loved one or family member. I want them to know that they are in my thoughts. They have had to mourn under very unusual circumstances. My thoughts are with them today, but I want to remind everyone that they must remain in our thoughts every day, not just today.
We need Bill C-24 because the Liberal government was too hasty and did not do its job properly in September. Still today, the government continues to improvise. We know that we are in the midst of a pandemic, but we can still do things right even if we have to act quickly. We can do two things at the same time and do them properly and intelligently so that our efforts are successful and ill-conceived bills do not have to be fixed and reworked.
My colleagues and I are ready to work to improve the bill, and we have always been clear about that. Unfortunately, the government wants to make us look like the villains, the bad guys. I find that rather strange since we have been ready for six weeks.
My colleague, the House leader for the opposition and member for , has asked the government House leader countless times to introduce this bill. The Liberal government's political strategy has been to have us play the bad guys. Are they doing that in their own political interest or in the interest of Canadians? To me, the answer is obvious.
On January 2, we condemned the government's decision to extend the Canada recovery sickness benefit, commonly known as the CRSB, to Canadians returning home from holiday travel.
The government told people not to travel, but those who decided to head south for a little sun were given a two-week lockdown and $1,000 upon their return in the form of the CRSB. I am not criticizing those travellers, because they were allowed to travel. It is the government that did not do its job properly.
I will quote my colleague from who said, “If nothing is done, if the government does not take action, millions of dollars, billions of dollars will be at stake. People who would not normally be entitled to receive [the CRSB] will get it because this is a botched program that was poorly thought out and is being poorly enforced.”
I repeat, the government is improvising. This is more wasteful spending. The ultimately acknowledged the flaw in the bill.
On January 5, 2021, during his first press conference of the year, the Prime Minister said that the intention was never to send a cheque to those who decided to travel despite the public health advisories. He went on to say that those who travelled south would not be entitled to this financial assistance. On January 29, in front of his house on Sussex Drive, he announced he was fixing the situation with travellers who can receive $1,000 in financial assistance after travelling south.
Now on March 11, today, we are finally talking about it in the House of Commons. It is shameful because it was first brought up on January 5 and was clearly announced at a press conference on January 29. It took a long time for this to be brought before the House. It just shows the government's incompetence and inability to react quickly and conscientiously.
As I mentioned, the Conservatives are ready to work to help facilitate the business of Parliament, and yet, clearly, the Liberals' current strategy is to blame us by accusing us of filibustering. That is completely false.
I want to go back to September 28, 2020, when a bill was introduced. Today we are debating Bill , which aims to fix that legislation. A tremendous amount of time has passed between the two.
In September 2020, with the help of the NDP, the Green Party and independent members, the Liberals succeeded in limiting debate in Parliament.
It should be understood that if the Conservatives oppose the bill, hard-working Canadians who need help will accuse us of not wanting to offer them financial assistance. We would then be seen as the bad guys. If, on the other hand, we support the bill, we will be accused of taking the government at their word and wanting to rush through the process.
In times of crisis, we need to be able to compromise and to have faith in the government and its team to provide adequate financial assistance and programs. If adjustments need to be made afterwards, we can do so quickly.
This government has proven to be incapable of responding, by a multitude of metrics. This government is not able to stay ahead of the pack. It has not yet announced a recovery plan, while many countries announced theirs several months ago.
The United States has a new president, and it took him just a few days to announce his economic recovery plan.
Canada's , who was elected in 2015 and who is in his second term, has not managed to present an economic recovery plan. That is not reassuring.
I also want to talk about the commercial rent assistance program. In the spring, this program was originally designed for landlords, which proved to be a monumental failure. It took the government six months to adapt and come up with a new program, which now provides rent assistance to tenants.
Back in the spring the government set some very detailed eligibility criteria, which included arm's length tenants. That criterion has been left out of the renters' assistance program.
In my riding, a young business owner was entitled to assistance through his landlord in the spring, but due to the arm's length relationship criterium, he was not entitled to assistance in the fall.
I asked the minister to remedy that. Is that going to take another six months?
Meanwhile, the business owner, who wants to participate in the economic recovery, is unfortunately not getting the financial help he needs to get through the crisis. He will not be able to share in the prosperity of our country's economic recovery. I find that outrageous.
I would like us to take advantage of the current situation to encourage and invite the government to act quickly to give tools and carefully targeted assistance to those who really need it.
This government's problem, if I may so, is that it is cowardly. It implements universal programs but without the accountability and rigour needed to specifically respond to the needs of Canadians and business owners who want to participate in the economic recovery.
Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a pleasure to speak in the House on behalf of my constituents. We are here today to discuss Bill . Because of the government's failure to manage the House of Commons effectively, we are seeing its has created a crisis through its mismanagement. Once again we are up against a hard deadline, with benefits expiring for Canadians, and the government not managing the House calendar or its legislation so we can consider this fully. The bill before us today would expand the spending of the government by $12.1 billion. Because of how this is going to go, with members debating it for about six hours, that is about $2 billion an hour for every hour we will be able to discuss and review it here.
As has been said, this would fix a problem that is a result of the government's first attempt to provide benefits to Canadians, Bill , which was rushed through the House at that time to meet a deadline the government knew about, but failed to plan for or to present legislation in a timely fashion to the House to address. That because the prorogued the House, shut everything down, eliminated all of the legislation that was on the Order Paper because of the WE Charity scandal. Things were getting a little too hot on that at the time, and it was time to shut down the investigations into the Prime Minister and his involvement in the WE Charity scandal, so he prorogued Parliament, which created this rush to get legislation before an October deadline when the CERB would end.
The bill was rushed through and Liberals did not realize that they had provided in that legislation a $1,000 bonus to people who had gone on leisure vacations outside of the country. People could apply and get $1,000 for the time they were at home during their 14-day quarantine after international travel. The bill passed, as has been said, because we needed to get the benefits to Canadians whose CERB was expiring, but there were no committee studies or debate in the House because of the government's mismanagement of this file. It saw a deadline, it did not care, and it rushed and made mistakes. That is indicative of the government's approach.
We are seeing it again today not only in this debate, but also in another important debate. I would argue that one of the most important debates the the House will have in this Parliament is on Bill and the Senate amendments to it. That debate is being cut short because of the government's failure to plan or provide legislation and opportunities for parliamentarians to intervene on behalf of their constituents. We have a situation where, later this day, debate will be shut down on Bill C-7 and the Senate amendments, which call for the expansion of medical aid in dying to include people who only have mental illness or disabling conditions and who will now have access to medical aid in dying, something that has not been studied by this Parliament or in committee.
Because of the government's mismanagement and failure to respond in a timely fashion to court decisions and legislative deadlines, we now have a situation where yet another bill, in addition to this one, is jammed up against a deadline. The Liberals are forcing parliamentarians to address complex issues, in this case, life and death issues, with almost no time in the House because of their failures and mismanagement. People in my riding are very concerned about this. They are concerned about the government's inability to manage the House and debate on legislation in a way that addresses their concerns.
People have written to me about it, and there is one organization in particular from my riding that I want to highlight. The Chilliwack Society for Community Living signed an important letter from the Vulnerable Persons Standard, calling on members of Parliament to do better. It says, “Bill C-7 sets apart people with disabilities and disabling conditions as the only Canadians to be offered assistance in dying when they are not actually nearing death.... Bill C-7 is dangerous and discriminatory.... Canadians with disabilities are hearing MPs and Senators arguing that lives just like theirs featuring disabilities just like theirs are not livable. This is harmful and hurtful and stigmatizing.”
It goes on to say:
Take your time, start over, and get this right. As you do so, be careful to heed the advice of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: "Listen closely to the most directly affected. Their antenna is highly attuned to ableism. When they see it, you should pause and reflect before proceeding."
Bill C-7 is not the answer.
This is another example, as is Bill , of a government failing to take the time to allow Parliament to deliberate to get something right. If we had had the time to deliberate on Bill , if the government had not shut down Parliament and rushed that up against the CERB deadline, I am sure that someone along the way, either in debate or as a witness at committee, would have identified this failure to focus the benefits where they were meant to be focused: on people who had to take sick leave because of COVID-19, not on those who needed to take a vacation. Had we had proper debate, that failure would have been identified.
Here again today, with just six hours of debate, it has to be rushed. After two hours, we are accused of being obstructionist and failing to do our job on behalf of Canadians. Only a Liberal government would think the solution to the problems it created by rushing a bill through Parliament previously could be solved by rushing another bill through Parliament again. That is the failure of the government.
What are we doing here? There is $12.1 billion to extend benefits to Canadians, which we have supported. All along we have supported the benefits going to Canadians who, through no fault of their own, have found their workplaces closed and their opportunities eliminated and have been forced into restrictive lockdowns. When governments force people out of their jobs and bring in conditions that restrict them from going to work, they have an obligation to provide them with an alternate income, but this cannot go on forever.
Here we are, and we are again extending it. The Conservatives support extending benefits to the people who need them, but what we also need is a plan to get past this, a plan to address the lockdowns, a plan to show Canadians there is hope for the future. That is why we have been calling on the to present that plan to Canadians. We have introduced a petition. The member for has called on the to use the tools we have gathered in the last year to help us get past this. We are calling on the to immediately present a clear plan to get Canadians safely out of lockdown. We are calling for it to include data-driven goals, a plan of action, and a timeline to achieve those goals and ensure the plan is articulated to Canadians so that they can have hope about when life and business will return to normal.
We know there have been some problems with vaccine procurement and rollout. We know there have been issues with conflicting advice being given to Canadians during this pandemic. Today we are a year into it; we have commemorated the lives that have been lost, but we also need to think about the lives that are being severely and permanently impacted right now. Some people are experiencing extreme mental health concerns. Others are not getting the health screening they need for cancer and heart disease. Other people are unable to join with others to worship freely, as is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
We need to plan forward so that we are not coming up against deadlines again and again, as the government has, to extend these benefits over and over again. We will be there when Canadians need us, but we also need to start talking about a plan and the way forward to ensure that these are not permanent benefits. The next benefit is to help our economy grow and help people get past these restrictions safely while listening to public health advice. We need a plan from the government, and we have not received it. All we have seen from the government is incompetence, mismanagement of the House, and mistakes being made time and time again. We need to do better.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Before I begin, I would like to take a moment, on this national day of remembrance for the victims of COVID-19, to express my sympathy to everyone who lost a loved one during the pandemic, particularly our highly esteemed colleague from , Louise, whose sister Danielle died from this awful virus.
The pandemic has hit us from all sides. People of every generation will have to live with consequences we have not even fully grasped yet. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable people, our seniors, have borne the brunt of the crisis.
It has now been more than a year since the people on the front lines and the entire population of Quebec joined together in a constant struggle to contain the pandemic so that we could stop counting victims and finally return to some semblance of normalcy.
Today, I will take a moment to recognize all of these people, the paramedics, health care workers, delivery drivers, police officers, grocery store employees and others who have been providing essential services to the public during the pandemic. To them, we offer our warmest thanks.
We are here today to talk about Bill , which has two major components. The first is aimed at making tourists who travelled south or elsewhere ineligible for the $1,000 benefit for people who have to quarantine. The second is aimed at extending EI regular benefits to 50 weeks.
The EI system as we know it today has failed to protect workers not only in times of crisis, but in normal times as well. The current crisis has exposed all of the flaws in the EI system, which needs a complete overhaul. The Bloc Québécois has been working toward this goal for two decades now, but unfortunately, every bill we have proposed has died on the Order Paper. If we want to help people, we need to do something different.
My predecessor fought all of these battles a few years ago. She significantly improved the lives of her constituents, particularly with respect to EI. I salute her. I too went into politics because I wanted to improve people's lives, and this issue is very important.
I hope that the employment insurance program will be improved, and I am certain that we can do so during this Parliament. Right now, as we all know, the plan is unfair, because it offers only 15 weeks of sickness benefits. We have no more control over our health than we do over whether a factory shuts down or stays open.
I must admit that the EI system has gotten better in recent decades. I will admit that. However, there are still a few things that need changing, and we need to make the system fair. Despite having payed into the system, most Canadians are not eligible for benefits. Let us focus on the word “insurance” in employment insurance. Is that not something that should help us in difficult situations, other than a fire or an event beyond our control? Employment insurance should live up to its name.
Everyone agrees that losing a job or getting sick makes life difficult. I am speaking on behalf of dozens of residents in Laurentides—Labelle who came knocking on my door telling me such things as, “I have not completed my chemotherapy treatment, I only have one week of benefits left, I did not choose to be sick”. We saw that before parliament was prorogued for the nth time.
To fix the situation until September 25, 2021, we need to fix it permanently. The most humane thing to do for a sick person is to vote in favour of Bill , introduced by my colleague from . We owe it to all of the Émilie Sansfaçons in Quebec and Canada. We must never forget her smile, her strength, her courage and her engagement. We are thinking of her.
The other component of the bill concerns the $1,000 for travellers’ mandatory quarantine. In my opinion, it is high time we took action, because we have been talking about it for months now, or at least the Bloc Québécois has.
We did not see any type of bill until January 20. However, we immediately noticed that it was not retroactive to January 3. The Bloc Québécois therefore asked that it be revised and made retroactive to October 2. Taxpayer money should not be used to pay for a post-vacation vacation. The tireless leader of our political party, the hon. member for , told the government that the Bloc Québécois would support the bill if it were made retroactive to October 2. Then, what happened? Radio silence for two months.
The Bloc Québécois wanted the government to move forward, but carefully. As my colleague would say, it is important to remain vigilant in times of crisis. Unfortunately, that is not what the government did. That is why the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of Bill . We have actually been in favour for months. I suppose that, once again, the Liberals should have listened to us. Opposition parties are useful. Opposition parties ensure a democratic process. We need to take the time, listen, think and act; in a word, collaborate.
Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity today to express my sympathy and condolences to all those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic. Today is a national day of remembrance in Quebec, and we are carrying a white rose in their honour.
Let me remind members what Bill C-24 is about. It extends the maximum number of weeks of EI benefits to 50 weeks for people who apply by September 25, 2021, and makes vacationers ineligible for Canada recovery sickness benefits while they are quarantining after returning to Canada. These benefits provide $500 a week for two weeks, for a total of $1,000, which is why we keep referring to it as $1,000.
This bill fixes a loophole in the legislation and clarifies that this benefit was intended for emergencies, not to give vacationers a bonus when they return to Canada. This change corrects an injustice, a flaw in the legislation.
The Bloc Québécois is happy. We have been looking forward to this bill, and throughout the fall, we called for it to be made retroactive to October 2 rather than January 3. We know that Quebeckers travel at Christmas and over the school break, so we felt it was important that the bill be retroactive to October 2. Since the government listened to reason and is making the bill retroactive to October 2, the Bloc Québécois is going to support it.
However, I still have a little twinge of regret, because it would have been easy for the government to add a small amendment to the Employment Insurance Act.
Only regular benefits are taken into account in this bill. Those who are currently unemployed, who until now were entitled to 26 weeks of benefits, know that parliamentarians are going to vote today to pass a bill. I am sure that it will pass and that the number of weeks of benefits to which they are entitled will increase to 50 weeks.
However, I am sad to see that those who are sick, those who currently devoting all of their energy to fighting cancer or some other serious disease, got some very bad news today, because Bill C-24 does not cover EI sickness benefits.
I would like to use my time to speak on behalf of those who are doing everything they can to express themselves and be heard by the government when they say that 15 weeks is not good enough. When people are battling illness, they need more than 15 weeks of EI sickness benefits to cover the cost of living.
Today I would like to speak on behalf of the father of Émilie Sansfaçon. On February 18, he wrote an open letter in the papers for all of us to read. The letter was addressed to his MP, who happens to be the President of the Treasury Board. I would like to quote parts of the letter because it really says so much.
We are not talking about parliamentarians here. We are talking about a father who went through this with his daughter, a woman who battled illness for nearly two years before succumbing. This father talks about how she had no income while fighting her illness because the 15-week benefit period was not enough.
Here is an excerpt from his three-page letter:
Sadly, this issue has been dragging on since 2009. Mr. [President of the Treasury Board], how can you keep ignoring the more than 617,000 Canadians who called for this change in Marie-Hélène Dubé's petition?
Marie-Hélène Dubé is a cancer survivor who worked hard for years to make all parliamentarians from all parties understand the importance of amending the Employment Insurance Act.
How can you ignore the 11 bills that have been introduced on this? How can you ignore the promise by the [Prime Minister] and [the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion] to do better than the proposed 26 weeks?
Just recently, on February 16, the minister said in the House of Commons that her government would soon amend the bill on employment insurance to increase the number of weeks to 26. It is truly hard for Mr. Sansfaçon to hear that since that is what was already promised in the Speech from the Throne and the budget will be tabled soon.
We are not fighting to get 26 weeks. We are saying that the government needs to listen to workers who are sick because they need to receive benefits for more than 26 weeks.
Émilie Sansfaçon's father made an appeal, writing a letter to the , who, again, is the member for his riding:
Sir, in October 2019, I personally and publicly appealed to you during a pre-election meeting. Tersely, yet with the emotion the situation called for, you said your government intended to grant 26 weeks of sickness benefits “to show that it is listening, changing and improving”.
This response was extremely insulting to many workers who are currently fighting for their lives. It has been well documented that 26 weeks is not enough and, if I have any time left, I will indicate exactly how many weeks are needed.
The Bloc Québécois wants to ensure fairness by giving individuals who are sick the same entitlements as workers, namely, 50 weeks of benefits. Will 100% of sick workers who are fighting for their lives take all 50 weeks? No, but they should have the opportunity to take them if they need them. This is what must be put in place.
We need to convince the government and the members opposite that the 26 weeks publicly announced by various ministers that will be included in the upcoming budget are not enough at this time. I would even say that it is insulting and demeaning to workers who are fighting for their lives.
I would like to quote Émilie Sansfaçon's father on last time:
The 26 weeks you are proposing are unrealistic. Even the Canadian Cancer Society has pointed out in a press release that the majority of EI recipients are off work for an average of 41 weeks.
The 41-weeks figure comes from an analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, someone who understands numbers. He essentially said that 59% of workers diagnosed with a serious illness needed at least 41 weeks before they were able to return to work. Treatments and drugs have become so effective that today people are able to survive cancer and other illnesses and live longer lives. In 59% of cases, these people need 50 weeks of sickness benefits.
In closing, I would like to point out that the Quebec Cancer Foundation agrees that people need at least 50 weeks of sickness benefits.
The best way to reassure everyone is to support my Bill , which will be examined on April 19. The government missed an opportunity with Bill , but it will have another chance on April 19 by supporting my bill.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from . Indeed, I will be splitting my time with my colleague.
As I said, if we were playing baseball, the umpire would have called the government “out” by now. That is not all. Even CERB, EI, had multiple changes, which is the main part of this bill after all. Canadians have been relying on those programs over the course of the pandemic. It is no surprise that the Liberals did not have them down pat. One would think that by now they would get it, or at least after three or four tries, but it seems we are still dealing with the same dilemma.
We know how the government loves to put things off to the last minute, and it has become what I call a “piecemeal” government. We see this again, with these new suggestions for implementation. Am I shocked? Of course, not. The mentality of the government to leave everything to the last minute, even its agenda, is well and good during normal years. We experienced that in the 42nd Parliament, and we see the same thing happening right now.
However, now we are dealing with a pandemic. Everything is an emergency and is taken with a different approach. We must be aware that we cannot do things the regular way. This is a time when governments need to be more proactive and determine how to get the best results from the best plans. The only words that come to my mind with what the government has come up with now is “not good enough”.
While obviously I do not agree with my Liberal colleagues on most things, I would have thought that we would agree that Canadians needed us to get this right the first time. This is the bottom line. We need to get it right the first time, not the second, third or fourth time. I have no idea why this is happening.
Now we have the highest unemployment rate in the G7. It is not acceptable for the government to get those programs wrong again and again. The government has to stop to think about what is going on and why we are facing these experiences again and again every time it comes near a new law or legislation.
As of January 2021, 213,000 Canadians lost their jobs due to the pandemic. That number is huge. Those 213,000 people are relying on us to get this bill right and get proper legislation passed that will serve them and help them carry on with their lives. Canadians do not expect us to keep screwing it up, not the first time, the second time or the third time, nor leave it to the very last minute by not planning properly.
The failures add up. For example, high school students cannot have money now for university. University students cannot find jobs after they graduate or pay for their tuition. Young Canadians who are looking to start their careers are facing barriers as tall as the CN Tower. New Canadians, who only arrived in our country last year or this year, are also struggling to find jobs and starting their lives here.
What has the Liberal government been doing all this time? It has not been getting support programs right the first time; it has not been getting it right the second time; and the money, of course, was delayed getting out the door. After all, it takes four months just to send Bill to the finance committee and now we find out that we do not have a budget this March either. It has been two years without a budget. This has broken the record as far as how we do finance in the country.
We have seen everything come in at the last minute. Last minute does not come without mistakes. Last minute does not come with proper results.
We know what the government has been doing. It has been sitting back, twiddling its thumbs and introducing bills that, honestly, Canadians never asked for and certainly do not want at this time, such as Bill and Bill . Instead of debating bills on which Canadians are relying, ones that would fix programs that Canadians have been counting on getting fixed, the government has been debating, for example, a bill that would prepare the government to call an election during a pandemic and a bill that would lessen the penalties for violent offender rather than the bills that can support Canadians to get jobs, to get their lives in order and, of course, to get the economy back in order.
It is a very dark picture. It is very sad that Canadians do not get the support they need, but criminals, for example, face lesser penalties. The PMO is clearly lives in some sort of bizarre world to think that this is the way to go.
That is just begging the umpire to point to the government and say, “You are out”. I seriously cannot reiterate enough just how much of a disappointment this has been. The government does not have a plan for economic recovery. The support programs that the Liberals created have been without economic recovery. The programs have to be amended time and time again and that delay causes Canadians to suffer because it takes longer now to get needed support out to them. The list goes on and on.
Canadians cannot afford to wait around for the Liberals to finally get the programs in working order. They cannot afford to wait for vaccines to trickle in slower than a snail. They cannot afford to wait for the government to finally present us with a plan so our country and our fellow Canadians can start to recover from the effects of this pandemic. Canadians simply cannot wait.
When the government waffles and delays for months then suddenly introduces the bill, trying to rush it along, it is simply not right. It means we get poorly created programs that need to be taken back to the drawing board. It means there is a lack of transparency and accountability that we would normally afford a bill. It means that Canadians get stuck with an even longer—
Mr. Speaker, it is such a great day to be debating in the House of Commons. Before I begin, I want to give a big shout-out. I have been in Ottawa for a while, and I think all House of Commons staff are doing an excellent job of keeping us fed and making sure that our system works for the well-being of Canadians. I really felt that this week. They are doing a great job.
Now I will get to Bill .
Bill would increase the maximum number of weeks available to workers through EI, with up to a maximum of 50 weeks for claims established between September 27, 2020, and September 25, 2021. It would also change rules for self-employed workers who have opted into the EI program to access special benefits. This legislation would allow them to use their 2020 earning threshold of $5,000, compared with the previous threshold of $7,555. Also, it would fix the Liberal-caused loophole in the Canada recovery sickness benefit for international leisure travellers.
The Conservative Party is supportive of Bill . These changes are necessary and long overdue. We must get help to Canadians in need whose jobs have been eliminated as a result of the government-mandated restrictions and closures in response to the pandemic. Lockdowns are still in place in many parts of the country, and businesses cannot get back to normal even though they are working incredibly hard to do so.
My constituents in Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon are frustrated. They cannot go to church. They cannot earn an income the way they want to. They cannot live their lives the way they want to either.
The Conservatives' track record in this Parliament is strong. We have been behind pandemic assistance for Canadians throughout the entire COVID-19 period. We supported Bill one year ago, in March 2020. It brought in the Canada emergency wage subsidy for small businesses, a one-time additional payment under the GST/HST tax credit, temporary additional amounts to the Canada child benefit, a 25% reduction in required minimal withdrawals from registered retirement income funds, and the Canada emergency response benefit.
Last April, we supported Bill and Bill , which improved the wage subsidy and implemented the Canada emergency student benefit. In July it was Bill , to extend the wage subsidy. In September it was Bill , for a CERB extension, the Canada recovery benefit, the Canada recovery sickness benefit and the Canada recovery caregiving benefit. In November it was Bill , the emergency rent subsidy and wage subsidy expansion.
The Conservatives have been there to support Canadians every step of the way. What we are not supportive of, though, is the Liberal government's blatant disregard for parliamentary process, their lack of respect for Canadian democracy and their incredibly poor ability to manage the legislative agenda of the House to ensure that we can move past the pandemic.
Two days ago, the member for , who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, popped into the HUMA committee and table dropped a substantive and constrictive motion for a prestudy of Bill . Neither the text of the motion nor its intention was shared in advance. He ignored the proactive efforts of my colleague, the member for , who had reached out to him as soon as Bill C-24 was tabled in the House.
The deadline at the end of the month, which the Liberals are trying to beat, is not some surprise that was sprung on them. To further illustrate that the right hand of the government does not know what the left hand is doing, the member for had to direct the member for to pick up the phone and talk to his House leader during committee because the motion he was attempting to ram through was no longer necessary. We had come to an agreement outside of his ham-fisted efforts.
Cross-party collaboration is more than possible. Think of all the time that could have been saved if the parliamentary secretary had attempted to engage himself in that process with committee members.
The Liberals love to complain that the opposition is holding up important legislation, yet here we are, in March 2021, debating necessary updates to legislation from September 2020. The Liberals knew for months that benefits would be expiring, but they failed to act until the last minute. They have repeatedly missed the mark on legislation for emergency supports, leaving thousands of Canadians behind.
A key component of this legislation is addressing the incredibly flawed Canada recovery sickness benefit. Because of the Liberals' disrespect for Parliament and their poor legislative drafting, a loophole was created that allows international leisure travellers to receive the CRSB during their quarantine. This is completely unacceptable. The CRSB is for individuals who must miss work because of COVID-19, not for subsidizing the quarantine period of international leisure travellers. This oversight is a direct result of the government's rushing legislation through Parliament because of its prorogation. It is outrageous that the Liberals waited months to fix their mistake.
If the government tried implementing the transparency it espouses to employ, so much headache would have been avoided. For instance, if the Liberals had tabled a federal budget at the beginning of March, this would have ceased to be an issue entirely. There is even a precedent by the government for including employment insurance updates in federal budget legislation. In 2018, the government proposed amendments to the Employment Insurance Act to implement a number of reforms related to the extension of parental benefits.
We have not seen a federal budget in 723 days. This is the longest period in Canadian history that we have been without one.
Even setting aside our criticisms, we cannot ignore how the non-partisan Parliamentary Budget Officer has repeatedly called out the government for its lack of fiscal transparency. In a PBO report issued on November 4, 2020, on supplementary estimates (B), we found out that the Department of Finance, which under Bill Morneau had been issuing biweekly updates to the finance committee during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic, stopped providing this information once Parliament was prorogued and Morneau had resigned. We are talking about tens of billions of taxpayer dollars heading out the door under the guise of COVID relief measures, and the government has revealed precious little about where these dollars are going.
From the same November 4 report, the PBO underscored that our role as parliamentarians is being obfuscated and obstructed by the government. As the report notes, “While the sum of these measures is significant”, some $79.2 billion, of which 91.5% was related to COVID spending, “the amount of information that is publicly available to track this spending is lacking, thus making it more challenging for parliamentarians to perform their critical role in overseeing Government spending and holding it to account.”
There is no publicly available list of all federal COVID-19 spending measures. There is no consistency in the reporting on the implementation of these measures. There is less and less information being provided transparently to parliamentarians and the PBO. The government could not do a better job of keeping its finances secret if it provided everyone in the House with blindfolds.
However, to its credit, the government has made some efforts to provide additional financial information. As the PBO noted in its February 24, 2021, report on the supplementary estimates (C), “Notable improvements include a complete list of Bills presented to Parliament to authorize spending for COVID-19 related measures”, which is information anyone could find on LEGISinfo, “and a reconciliation table between the Fall Economic Statement 2020 and the Estimates documents”. Still, as the PBO reminded us in February, “The frequency at which the Government provides an updated list of COVID-19 measures in one central document...and the inconsistency to which actual spending data on COVID-19 measures is made publicly available remain areas of concern.”
These are baby steps, but bigger leaps are needed from the government when it comes to fiscal transparency. We as parliamentarians depend on the government to provide us with accurate and timely information about federal finances. We cannot do our work of keeping the government accountable for its spending choices if it does not respect us enough to provide the necessary information to allow me and all of my colleagues to do our jobs effectively.
Again today, it is up to the opposition to correct the continued mistakes of the government. This is disrespectful to us as parliamentarians, it is disrespectful to this hallowed institution and it is disrespectful to the Canadian people, for whose tax dollars we are ultimately responsible.
Mr. Speaker, it is always great to rise here in the House, virtually at this time, and represent the wonderful folks from my riding of Vaughan—Woodbridge.
I want to acknowledge that I am joining virtually from the traditional territory of the Wyandot, Anishinabe and Haudenausanee peoples. I will be splitting my time with the learned member for .
We all know that things are getting better, and as things continue to get better we can continue to support Canadians, including the many individuals still impacted by COVID-19 in my riding. The bill before us, Bill , would make sure Canadians continue to get the support they need to weather the pandemic. The proposed amendments to the Employment Insurance Act, the Canada Recovery Benefits Act and the Customs Act would build on the work we have already done from day one. I would like to use my remarks today to focus on what we have done.
There is no denying the past year has been hard for many workers in Canada. Employment went from the highest on record in early 2020 to the lowest, and while unprecedented federal investments helped to recoup many of those jobs, new waves of the virus and ensuing public health measures, such as lockdowns, have resulted in further losses.
During this difficult year our programs have been there to support Canadian workers and their families. With the co-operation of all members in the House, we suspended interest on student loans and created the Canada emergency response benefit. Through the CERB we were able to deliver, within weeks of the first shutdown, support to more than eight million Canadian workers at a time of great difficulty and uncertainty. We swiftly followed the CERB with the Canada emergency student benefit, as we saw students struggling to secure summer jobs and training opportunities. We provided payments to seniors, families and persons with disabilities, as well as extra supports for charities.
In September we began a transition for most workers who still needed support from CERB to a simplified employment insurance program. For workers who were not eligible for EI benefits, the recovery benefits are there for them. This includes the Canada recovery benefit, the Canada recovery caregiving benefit and the Canada recovery sickness benefit.
As the legislation before us focuses on the EI program, I would like to use some of my time to speak about the changes we made to it last summer. We made changes through interim orders so that more Canadians could have the hours they need to qualify for EI benefits. Today, the EI program provides claimants with a one-time credit of 300 hours for regular benefits and 480 hours for special benefits. This enables workers to establish their EI claim with as few as 120 insurable hours across Canada. This latter measure was retroactive to March 15, 2020, for maternity and parental benefits, which meant that new parents who welcomed a baby or adopted a child and were looking to transition early from the CERB to EI maternity or parental benefits could retroactively apply for those benefits.
The second thing we did is set a minimum unemployment rate of 13.1% for all EI economic regions. EI regions with a higher rate than 13.1% kept the higher rate. This provided eligible workers with a minimum of 26 weeks of regular EI benefits.
The third measure we undertook with the EI program was freezing the EI premium rate for two years, which has helped both employees and employers, especially in small businesses.
It is time for some fresh thinking to figure out an EI system that reflects how Canadians work now and how we can better support them, not only today, but for the future. Now, our government is looking at engaging with key stakeholders on options for permanent changes to the system, but in the meantime we will still need to deliver for Canadians, and that is what Bill would do.
A second wave of the virus, more stringent public health measures and the emergence of new variants have all contributed to an ongoing climate of uncertainty. Bill is here to ensure continued support for Canadians from coast to coast to coast whose employment has been affected by COVID-19. If passed, it would provide Canadians with additional support during these difficult times. With the bill before us today, we would increase the number of weeks of EI benefits available to a maximum of 50 weeks for claims that are established between September 27, 2020, and September 25, 2021. In addition, self-employed workers who have opted in to the EI program to access special benefits would be able to do so with a 2020 earnings threshold of $5,000, compared to the previous threshold of $7,555. This change would be retroactive to claims established as of January 3, 2021, and would apply through September 25, 2021.
As part of this proposed legislation, all international travellers who need to quarantine or isolate upon their return to Canada, including people returning from vacation, would be ineligible to receive support from any of the Canada recovery benefits for the period of their mandatory quarantine or isolation. These changes would be retroactive to October 2, 2020.
In parallel to this legislation, as was announced on February 19, 2021, we also intend to make regulatory amendments to increase the number of weeks available under the Canada recovery benefit and the Canada recovery caregiving benefit to 38 weeks from 26 weeks. In the same way, we could also increase the maximum number of weeks under the Canada recovery sickness benefit from two weeks to four weeks.
To ensure employees in the federally regulated private sector can access the proposed additional weeks of CRCB and CRSB without the risk of losing their jobs, the maximum length of leave related to COVID-19 under the Canada Labour Code would also be extended through regulations.
In conclusion, the pandemic is not over. Vaccines are here and coming in greater numbers. There will be eight million by the end of March and tens of millions by the end of June. By the end of September, there will be enough vaccines for all Canadians.
We need to continue to be there for Canadian workers and their families at this most difficult time. The bill before us would allow us to do just that.