(i) COVID-19 restrictions have had serious economic and mental health impacts on Canadians,
(ii) COVID-19 restrictions have been advised by the federal government, including specifically by the Prime Minister on three separate occasions in November of 2020, as temporary measures to alleviate pressure on the public healthcare system,
(iii) public health tools, such as rapid tests, shared data on how COVID-19 spreads and vaccines, have not been positioned as permanent solutions to replace COVID-19 restrictions by the federal government, including in areas of federal competency like air travel and border restrictions,
(iv) the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom have both released public plans for economic reopening, while Canadian officials have not yet given Canadians clarity on when regular economic and social life will be able to resume,
the House call on the government to table within 20 calendar days, following the adoption of this motion, a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Before I start, I want to tell Lynne Walker that this one is dedicated to her.
Yesterday in the House of Commons, I asked the what I thought was a very simple, non-partisan question. I asked when fully vaccinated seniors could give their grandchildren a hug. The answer we got back from the , a year into the pandemic, could be summarized like this: She does not know, is not sure she wants to tell us, and believes it is a provincial jurisdiction, but she will give the provinces advice.
That is not what Canadians want to hear. I think that answer encapsulates best the need for this motion.
We are a year into COVID-19, and enough is enough. A year ago, Canadians from coast to coast pulled together to say we had to shut down the economy and undertake these restrictions in order to buy time for public health experts, all of us here in this place, provincial governments and municipal leaders to figure out what COVID-19 was, how it spreads and who was most vulnerable, and to develop tools to permanently combat it, like therapeutics, rapid tests and vaccines. A year into the pandemic, those tools now exist. The problem is that in Canada, we have not had clear guidance from our health officials on the circumstances under which widespread mass lockdowns can safely end. That is a huge problem.
Those who are watching today need to understand that no level of government in Canada has issued any advice on what fully vaccinated people can do. The only thing the federal government has said to date, when asked, is that vaccinated people still have to go into controversial quarantine hotels. The federal government has to at least tell people what the plan is to develop benchmarks on how these tools are going to bring freedom, prosperity and normalcy back to the lives of Canadians. Today, we are calling on every member of this House to support the federal government in developing a plan within 20 days on the benchmarks by which these tools can be used in order to let life get back to normal.
We all acknowledge that it is important to combat the spread of COVID-19, important to protect people from serious illness, important to prevent death. We have been doing that for the last year, all of us in this place. What is missing now is hope for the future. Canadians have no idea when lockdowns are going to end, and that has to stop.
Why does that have to stop? It is not just me asking for this. We have Unifor asking for “a national recovery plan to include adapting border restrictions to safely reopen borders”. There is the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada has stated, “The news of COVID vaccine distribution gives us reason for cautious optimism”, but said that we need to plan for the recovery of Canada's tourism industry now. The Fitness Industry Council of Canada is asking for a plan. Mayors are asking for plans. Everybody is asking for a plan. It is not just stakeholders who are saying this; it is also medical experts who are saying, “We can't just live in a bubble and have a life of no risk. Everything we do has consequences.” We need a better path forward that uses these tools to protect Canadians' health while also ensuring that life gets back to normal.
These are stories from the CBC.
The federal government has to deliver this. Probably the most critical thing the federal government could do right now is deliver a plan with benchmarks on how lockdowns can be gradually, permanently and safely lifted.
We do not have that. How can businesses plan to reopen if they do not know the circumstances under which they are going to do that? Can we imagine being a restaurant owner right now, when every day it says in the news that we might lock down again, or we might not?
Public Health officials have not even been clear on the data showing where transmission is occurring and whether we are applying these tools to the most vulnerable places. A lot of Canadians are saying that it seems like a lot of reactive measures and a lot of guesswork.
Canadians have pulled together and Canadians have sacrificed a lot, but the federal government has to stop asking Canadians to sacrifice normal life. It has to stop asking people to sacrifice hugs, their mental health, their safety at home. It has to stop asking people to sacrifice those things, and it has to start giving them a plan for hope: “This is how we are going to reopen. These are the benchmarks. This is what we are using and this is how we are doing it.”
Other countries around the world are already doing this. This week Iceland has said that if people are vaccinated, there is no quarantine for them, and they can just come on in. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a reopening plan with benchmarks. Under the Biden administration in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC have issued guidelines on what vaccinated persons can do. They have set an aspirational target of July 4, Independence Day in the U.S., and Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that the United States is going to have a normal Independence Day.
Why can we not have that here in Canada? Why can we not have nice things too? I want to re-emphasize that the federal government has not told Canadians what they can and cannot do if they have received a vaccine. It has not told airlines any sort of plan for safe border reopening. This cannot be a taboo topic anymore. The federal government is spending billions of dollars on lockdown restriction measures, so it has a responsibility.
All of the Liberals who stand up to talk to this motion today are going to say that it is not the federal government's job, that it is the job pf the provincial governments. There is a big problem with that. We are in an emergency crisis situation, and it is the federal government's job to lead because it is spending billions of dollars, money that we do not have, to support continued lockdown restrictions with no plan to end them. To refute their talking points, that is problem number one.
Number two, has come out many times and asked for lockdown restrictions that are within provincial jurisdiction. On November 24, the Prime Minister said that the federal government is working with the provinces so that they can impose restrictions. He said that again on November 10 in a CTV article, and again in the Canadian Press on November 13. Those are just a few quotes from him that I pulled.
Yesterday in the House of Commons, to that question that I referenced around hugs, the said that the federal government is working with provinces and territories to develop guidance, with support from the federal government, on restrictions. The Liberals cannot suck and blow. They cannot say that it is politically convenient for them, ahead of a potential election that no one but the Liberals want, to offload this responsibility to the provincial governments.
To the bureaucrats who are watching this speech, if bureaucrats in Health Canada are advising the minister that it is not her job to provide guidance, why are we paying your salaries? If the is not asking her department, with its thousands of bureaucrats, for guidance on this, why are we paying your salaries?
We need hope. We are not saying that we should just willy-nilly do anything. What we are saying is that the federal government has to start issuing direction to the airlines, to hospitality and tourism, to retail, to marginalized communities, to women who are having domestic violence issues. We need this plan. It should be a no-brainer.
The motion we have in front of the House of Commons today is asking for a data-driven plan. This is what the ask is. It is that the House “call on the government to table within 20 calendar days, following the adoption of this motion, a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.”
I said I was dedicating this to my friend Lynne. Her husband passed away. She did not even get to see him when he went in for his heart attack. People should not have to say goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime.
The federal government needs a plan. Every person in this House and every Canadian should support this motion.
Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to the opposition day motion.
Before I get into the specifics on economic recovery, I would like to take this time to reach out and thank the many members of all parties and Canadians at large who have supported me and my family through the passing of my son, Garrett Cumming.
Garrett had an extraordinary life in his 35 years on this planet, and I am extraordinarily proud of him. Garrett was like many at-risk Canadians and spent the year very isolated. His struggles demonstrated the incredible importance of our work in this place and the importance of getting things back to normal as soon as possible.
We must all recognize that there is no feasible way that we, as a country, can make any kind of significant recovery without addressing and conquering this health crisis. Small businesses will continue to flounder until they are forced to finally close their doors. New graduates who want to get a job will find applications unfilled.
Single-parent households will have this $2,000 cheque, but they really want to get back to work to support their families. Sending out money as a crutch for individuals and businesses was needed to keep Canadians afloat, but it is simply not sustainable. We need to have strategies to plan and protect the compromised and get the economy back on track.
Spending to protect Canadians in the pandemic was the right thing to do and, frankly, Canada's Conservatives supported it, but we cannot pass unsustainable debt on to future generations. Once the recovery starts, we will need to get our spending under control and grow the economy. Only once we secure the health of Canadians will we be able to begin a meaningful talk on economic recovery, and the answer is not a lifetime of CERB cheques or government handouts, it is jobs. It is the dignity that comes with earning a paycheque. It is the freedom that comes from being able to control one's own finances at the moment.
Canadians are experiencing a joblessness rate that is 40% worse than the G7 average. At 8.2%, this means that more than 1.3 million Canadians are not working and could be working. We need a plan to come out of COVID-19 to create jobs, get our economy back on track and allow people to earn those paycheques. We cannot keep on putting this on the national credit card. Only jobs will provide Canadians with personal financial security. Jobs allow them to have good child care, education, nutrition and recreation. Jobs produce tax revenue, which helps reduce the government debt and protects our cherished social safety net.
Canada's Conservatives are offering a path, one of security and certainty. It may not be that glamorous, but it will safely secure our future and deliver us to a Canada where those who have struggled the most through this pandemic can get back to work.
Integral not only to our build back, but equally as important to sustain our country's growth, are two metrics that I have been following over the past year: Canada's competitiveness and Canada's innovation. With a country of our size and the sparsity of population, there is no way we can rely just on our internal economy to lead us to recovery. Canada will need massive growth in exports to fuel any kind of recovery. Spending on infrastructure should be predominately focused on those things that improve productivity, competitiveness and access to markets. Private sector innovation is what will lead us into the future and provide us with the technology we need both to shift to global sustainability and reinstate us as a world economic leader. This will give the world what it wants, which is more Canada.
The President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom have both released public plans for their economic reopening, while Canadian officials have yet to give Canadians the clarity for when regular economic activity and social life will resume. The U.S. is our largest trading partner, yet over a year has passed and we still do not have a reopening strategy for the border.
Carlo Dade, director of trade at the Canada West Foundation, said, “In 2019, the World Economic Forum's ranking of perception of quality of trade and reliability of trade infrastructure saw Canada drop 22 places...to 32nd in the globe.” Moreover, Canada has fallen out of the top 10 ranking of the world's most competitive economies, and we have fallen near the bottom of our peer group on innovation.
Little interest has been shown in expanding trade in industries in which we have a strategic advantage given our abundance. There is little mention about mining, the forestry sector, the agricultural sector and the resource sector. These are sectors that have proven in the past to drive the economy and contribute significantly to our economic health. The world wants and needs more of our natural resources and we should think about expanding our market share, not hasten its decline.
We need to stop scaring off investment like the government has done since 2015 and start encouraging it again. The most recent example is Chevron Canada, which stopped funding its Kitimat project. It is not surprising that it has had a difficult time trying to get someone to buy its interest in the project.
Instead of focusing on party platitudes, we need to get busy, help drive the recovery and get people back to work. If the government wants to focus on rebuilding the economy, it should consider some of the following. It should speed up approval of job-creating projects, large and small. The OECD ranks Canada 34th out of 35 countries for the amount of time it takes to obtain a permit for a new general construction project. All three levels of government have to participate in this. We need to be the quickest to build factories, shopping centres, business parks, mines and more. We should be removing, not adding, more regulatory burden. We should support the advancement of carbon capture technologies, unlock innovation in the technology sector, focus on the quantity and quality of R and D, and provide greater IP protection and policies that support retention in Canada, as well as have immigration policies that support the attraction of talent and, of course, we need greater access to offshore markets for our natural resources.
Economic recovery cannot be an Ottawa-knows-best approach where the government picks and chooses which jobs should be where, in which sector and which region. We can never recover if only the few get richer while working families get left behind. Specifically, I would recognize the government's failure when it comes to Canadians working in the tourism, airline and hospitality sectors, sectors that have been among the hardest hit. Conservatives would take immediate action in those sectors and get people back to work.
The tourism industry knows what needs to happen for us to head into a successful recovery. Across the board, stringent measures have already been implemented in an effort to assure that all tourism-related activities are safe, and it has communicated that to the public. It knows it has to build public confidence in travel and the risk perception surrounding it. That is going to determine the speed of this recovery. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada has said that “A plan to replace Canada’s current patchwork approach of reacting to daily numbers is overdue.”
While the government neglected to come up with a plan to innovate in tourism and hospitality, we saw fantastic collaboration from the Canadian airlines and our world-class institutions to provide solutions as the now-defunct rapid testing pilot program. This was a great example of a private sector success, only to be shut down by the federal government. Ed Sims, the president and CEO of WestJet, stated, “Countries around the world have taken action to limit or defer costs to the aviation industry, yet our situation remains exacerbated by double-digit increases that are beyond our control.”
At the end of the day, the government has an entire tool box at its disposal. It has a spending account in excess of $700 billion; it has access to the most educated population on the planet; it has more land than it knows what to do with and resource potential beyond compare. It has absolutely everything it ever needs to get this country well on its way to recovery, like other countries who have much less have done. We need to look at the data and science when it comes to recovery, not what will make Liberals more electable.
We are too small a country to trade with just ourselves. We have the potential to lift Canadians economically in all corners of this great country and we have proven industries that can help us build back. Canadians are amazing innovators and innovation must be part of the solution, but not the only solution. Our country has an incredible amount of potential and we, as Canadians, can bounce back if the government allows it.
Rather than emerging from this crisis by relying on government cheques and handouts, Canadians should trust that they will emerge from this crisis with resilience and all the tools they need to rebuild this great country. We—
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to speak on the floor of the House of Commons virtually.
I must say that I am a little bit disappointed. Here we have the first official opposition day and the Conservatives have a whole spectrum of things they could have chosen to talk about today. I was hoping they would have reflected on the past weekend and talked about climate change. I believe it would have been a great opportunity for the Conservative leadership and members to say something very simple that would be very important to all Canadians. It is not really that difficult to say that climate change is real. We recognize that the Conservative Party over the weekend denied that climate change is real. Members voted down the motion. I thought it would have been a wonderful, interesting debate to see Conservative member after Conservative member stand up and tell Canadians that climate change is not real, which we in the Liberal caucus and the Greens and New Democrats recognize as real. That is why I was hoping that we would talk about that today. It would have been a great platform for the Conservative Party to set the record straight on what their beliefs really are on this important issue.
Having said that, there is no doubt that the number one issue in Canada has remained the same in the last 12 months. Our government's top priority, as the has indicated day after day, is the health and safety of all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. That is why we continue to take scientific advice and use an evidence-based approach to fighting COVID-19.
We indicated very clearly to Canadians that our goal was for Canadians to have free, safe and timely access to an effective vaccine. Due to the hard work of many, in particular our civil servants and the working with the , we have put Canada in a good position. We have the highest number of doses per capita of any country in the world and the most diverse portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines. We are starting to see the tangible benefits of that work in terms of a number of doses being delivered. It is an ever-increasing number. That, I believe, demonstrates very clearly that we have turned the corner and that there is hope, so that we can look forward to things like the federal budget that will be coming down the pipe in the not too distant future, and that we will see the defeat of the coronavirus. At the same time, we still have to be very cautious. We all have a role to play.
With respect to the motion at hand, and after having an opportunity to ask a question, there are a number of thoughts that come to mind. The federal government does not have the constitutional authority that seems to be implied in what the Conservatives specifically want us to do. I posed that question to the mover of the motion. The Conservative Party, surely to goodness, understands provincial jurisdiction versus federal jurisdiction and who puts in the restrictions and the lockdowns. It is not Ottawa. That is provincial jurisdiction. We decided long ago, at the very beginning, that we were going to take a team Canada approach in dealing with the coronavirus, which meant that we were going to work with the stakeholders, in particular, our provinces, territories, indigenous leaders and so forth.
In a country as vast as Canada, the circumstances and situations vary significantly. In fact, the last time I was in Ottawa, Manitoba, on a per capita basis, was the worst in the country when it came to COVID-19 and the battle was not going well in that province. It put in additional restrictions and because it did that, it made an impact. Today, we are doing relatively well. The people of Manitoba and the provincial government took actions to reverse the wave, to bring it down to a much more acceptable number. Ideally we would like to be back where we were in June and July, and hopefully we will achieve that in the not too distant future.
Every day, if we listen to the local media, discussions take place about what should or should not be lifted and what Manitobans should be doing. Our situation is very different. We cannot say that what is happening in Manitoba is the very same as what is happening in Ontario, Nova Scotia or British Columbia. It varies. That is why we have constitutional authorities that reinforce the provincial jurisdictions and responsibilities of putting in these restrictions and are, in good part, for the provinces.
When I posed this question to the Conservative health critic, in her manner, she talked about travel restrictions. Just the other day, I asked a Conservative MP in the House if he supported the travel restrictions that were currently in place. He said, yes, that he supported them.
What the Conservatives want is something I suspect a vast majority, if not all, provinces would object to, which is having the federal government dictating when restrictions would be lifted. We need to continue to work with provinces, listen to what science and our health experts tell us and continue to build upon the momentum that is having a positive impact in all our communities across our country. We can best do that by working with Canadians, which the has done from day one.
When I say the , I say that intentionally, because the previous speaker challenged the leadership of the Prime Minister of Canada. The member's response to a question was that the Prime Minister should show leadership and that leadership had been lacking. Nothing could be further from the truth. From day one, the Prime Minister has been in front of this issue, working with Canadians and stakeholders in general to try to come up with ways to minimize the negative impacts of the coronavirus. The Conservatives have been at times supportive, but most of the time at odds.
As we continue to focus on the health and well-being of Canadians in developing policies and taking actions to support that, the Conservatives are looking under rocks, trying to find a scandal, or where money might have been spent that was inappropriate or trying to tarnish different aspects of the expenditures of government.
We saw that amplified during the months of June and July when the opposition had thousands of questions to ask. Did the Conservatives ask questions about the vaccine back then? Not that I can recall.
I know Conservatives will ask me some questions. Maybe they can do a bit of research in-between. I would ask them this: How many questions did the Conservatives ask about vaccines back in June and July of 2020?
The government, through the advisory committee, was aggressively looking at ways in which we could ensure we could acquire the vaccine from more than one company. That leadership was coming from our government. What leadership did the Conservatives have on the file? Then they get this brain wave.
I can recall back in the fall when the Conservatives were talking about rapid testing and, oh my God, the world was falling apart or the sky was falling. The Conservatives were trying to give an impression that the federal government had dropped the ball because we did not have rapid testing. There were 25 million-plus rapid tests, I believe, and less than 1% were actually being used back in February. Many provinces were in the decimals, yet we would have thought that was the answer to everything.
The government recognized that the best way to fight the coronavirus was to listen and follow the advice of science and health experts, to take a team Canada approach by working with provinces and territories, which are the bodies responsible for putting in the restrictions in their economies, and, most important from a national perspective, to have the backs of Canadians to ensure we were in a position to protect our economy. Having the backs of Canadians and protecting our economy puts us in a better position so that when the economy starts to reopen, when things get back to that new normal, Canada will be in a position to not only recover but to build back better.
The first few years, we emphasized, and we continue to emphasize, the importance of Canada's middle class and those aspiring to be a part of it. We have been trying to advance that very important initiative. We have not forgotten about it; we continue to work on that. We continue to work on economic measures so that when the time is right, we can see a healthier Canada, both physically and economically, where our society will be able to grow. That is one of the reasons why, for example, we have seen ongoing support toward trade agreements even though we have had to deal with the coronavirus. In other words, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, recognizing the importance of issues that have been emphasized through the pandemic. An example of that is supports for seniors.
All members of the Liberal caucus talk about how important it is that we support our seniors. We have seen that during the pandemic, we saw it pre-pandemic and we will see it post-pandemic too.
Where we could improve and make it better, we will do that on issues like pharmacare. We in the government understand what our responsibilities are. For those following this debate, we take that very seriously. The government's actions to date clearly demonstrate this.
That is not to say we are perfect. There have been some mistakes. There have been opportunities for us, through our constituents, to see programs modified or changed, and understandably so.
From absolutely nothing, from no existence to up and running, we developed, through civil servants, the CERB program. That program served almost nine million Canadians. To me, that demonstrates very clearly the government's leadership in supporting Canadians.
I would challenge any Conservative member to indicate another government that has done as well in bringing forward a program to support a population. Out of nothing, we developed the CERB program that served almost nine million of our population of 37.6 million people. That is one of the ways in which we were there to support Canadians. That is leadership.
We saw it with respect to supporting people with disabilities, seniors and students. Those types of programs, which were enhanced in some cases and brought into place in other cases, were there because the indicated at the beginning that we would have the backs of Canadians, and we did. That was only a part of the plan.
As I indicated earlier, we could talk about businesses. We could talk to our or the former minister, who I knew quite well because I worked with her while she was government House leader. Small businesses are the backbone of Canada's economy and are absolutely essential to our future. Every member of the Liberal caucus will say that.
We were there and we continue to be there for small businesses. We created the Canada emergency wage subsidy program. Millions of jobs were saved. Businesses might have closed had that program not been there. What about the rent subsidy program or the emergency business account program? We even have the credit availability program. There is the regional relief and recovery fund program. During the last wave, we talked about the lockdown support program.
All these programs helped workers and supported small businesses. By supporting small businesses, we prevented many bankruptcies, I would suggest tens of thousands of bankruptcies, from taking place. That puts Canada in a much better position to recover. These types of things have been taking place.
We will continue to work with provinces, territories, indigenous leaders and other Canadians to ensure we continue to move forward on the right track.
Madam Speaker, I want the sound quality to be good enough for the interpreters to do their extraordinary work.
I will then resume my speech.
I was talking about the article by journalist Joël-Denis Bellavance in today's La Presse newspaper. According to the article, there is a document circulating internally among deputy ministers and within the government to remind everyone what a fiscal imbalance is. It also explains just how unsustainable the financial situation facing the provinces is and that a solution absolutely must be found. This confirms what the Conference Board of Canada, the Council of the Federation and the Parliamentary Budget Officer have been saying. Year after year, the PBO publishes a fiscal sustainability report reminding us that the provinces are facing an untenable situation. This is primarily due to the underfunding of health care by the federal government in Ottawa.
The deputy government House leader said that the government has never spent so much on health, as if the problem were resolved, even though the opposite is circulating within his government. He said that Canada-wide standards are needed. That is tantamount to federal encroachment into Quebec and provincial jurisdictions. Not only is the government maintaining its underfunding, but it is also interfering in provincial jurisdictions.
Let me relate that to the motion we are debating today. The motion calls for a reopening plan. Back home, the Government of Quebec is in charge of health measures as well as the lockdown and reopening measures. These measures are debated at the National Assembly of Quebec and supported by Quebec public health. Decisions are based on scientific studies and analyses. That is how to do things. I really do not see how Ottawa has anything to do with that.
The government, the Liberal Party, is interfering by not fulfilling its role to properly fund health. The Conservative party is also interfering. The trend is to constantly interfere in other people's business and take over. The government misinterpreted its role during the pandemic on many fronts.
In the discussions over the previous speech by the Liberal member, an NDP member also said that interference is always used as an excuse for inaction, in other words, it is a good thing that Ottawa is interfering. The NDP always proposes those sorts of measures. Even my esteemed colleague from the Green Party said that although she is against the measure it is not because of interference.
If we exclude the Bloc Québécois, there is a sort of unanimity in the House about Ottawa having to interfere in jurisdictions, especially in the health sector. I find that completely unacceptable. The motion we are debating today is about health. Ottawa's primary role is to properly fund health care.
It is clear from opinion polls and from speaking to people on the street that Canadians are asking that health care be adequately funded. Although Ottawa is many years behind in this regard, that has to change. This is a priority.
Implementing a reopening plan is a decision that must be made by Quebec City, by Toronto, by the Government of Alberta and by every province. We must respect jurisdictions. In the House, we must deal with Ottawa's areas of jurisdiction.
I am certain that my colleague, who will be speaking after me, will talk about how the border and airports were managed. These are areas under federal jurisdiction. It has been a fiasco. The Liberal member spoke about the record number of doses of vaccines per capita that Canada has. I say bravo, that is very good, but can we get them in a reasonable period of time? Canada is truly behind compared to other countries, and that is unacceptable. I am not surprised, but, once again, I am very disappointed to see the approach and the actions of the other parties in the House.
I will come back to the motion to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions. I am sorry, but, according to public health authorities, we could unfortunately be facing a third wave very soon.
It makes no sense to permanently lift restrictions. We need to be practical and rely on the science. These measures are not taken lightly.
The government and the House can introduce good economic measures to get us through the pandemic. There are two aspects to the Bloc Québécois's approach.
During the pandemic, certain measures are needed to support people, businesses and organizations that are struggling. Since political parties are not struggling, they should not have had access to the wage subsidy. That was not stipulated in the act, and they should return this money immediately. The businesses and people who faced hardship need measures to help them through the economic crisis caused by this pandemic.
It is simple. We are calling for the support measures to be extended for the duration of the crisis, especially for the sectors that will experience long-term impacts from the pandemic. It is very important that the government commit to such support. We hope to see it and we demand to see it in the budget, which is long overdue, I might add. In addition, these measures must reflect reality. They must be targeted. These measures should not be like others we have seen in recent months that encourage people to stay home instead of returning to work once proper safety measures have been implemented.
We must also provide support for industries. I am thinking in particular of the cultural industry, for example, festivals, and of the hotel and restaurant industries, because they have been affected in more lasting ways. We need to support them until the crisis is over. We also need plans for targeted support for certain industries, such as the aerospace industry, which has been hard hit by the public health restrictions.
Why has Canada still not unveiled a targeted plan for these industries? That is very important. We are waiting and we hope that such a plan will be included in the upcoming budget.
I am almost out of time because of technical problems with the interpretation. I will therefore pick up the pace so that, in the minute I have left, I can at least list the subjects that I wanted to address.
The measures were extended during the pandemic, and now we are calling for a recovery plan that will help stimulate the economy and launch the industries of tomorrow that we believe in. Obviously, I am talking about the green economy and strong sectors. I spoke about the aerospace industry, but we also think it is important to have a strong pharmaceutical industry. Let us regain that expertise.
I will end there, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois and the people of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
I must say that there are a number of worthwhile points in the Conservatives' motion. It is true that the COVID-19 restrictions have had serious economic and mental health impacts on Canadians and Quebeckers. Governments around the world, in Quebec, in Canada, in the United States and in the United Kingdom had no choice but to implement increasingly severe restrictions to protect people from the spread of COVID-19. Some of the restrictions were questionable, but the majority of them were necessary. I am absolutely not trying to defend the government; I am simply trying to put things in perspective.
Yes, COVID-19 has had and continues to have some serious economic and mental health impacts. I read something on Twitter yesterday that really stuck with me. Jean-Marc Léger, an economist and the founding president of Quebec polling firm Leger, said, “The 1st wave was a health crisis and seniors were hardest hit. The 2nd wave was an economic crisis and companies, businesses and workers were hardest hit. The 3rd wave is a mental health crisis and young people are being hardest hit.”
He was referring to an article in Time about the deterioration of the mental health of youth in the United States. We can say that the situation is similar in Canada. According to one poll, psychological distress among young people 18 to 34 is greater than in other age groups. The social and emotional development of youth and the establishment of romantic relationships results from socialization with their peers. Restrictions that were designed to reduce gatherings, for example, have had a significant impact on youth. Experts say that the mental health of youth was already an issue before the pandemic. Today, 26% of millennials say they have suffered from depression. That is a very high percentage. There is a lot of talk about the economic cost of this pandemic, but, unfortunately, there will also be an extremely high cost in terms of mental health.
This is not the focus of my speech today because, as we know, health is a provincial jurisdiction. Quebec has everything at hand to efficiently manage its health system. All that is missing is the federal government's financial assistance, which it is still waiting for.
Certainly, governments had to respond to COVID-19 and rapidly institute temporary restrictions. These restrictions are temporary, not permanent, and that is an important distinction. Although some are more drastic than others, these measures are in place for a reason. As the motion states, the temporary measures were put in place primarily to alleviate pressure on health care systems. I think it is premature to lift some of those restrictions before the crisis is under control. The Conservative motion specifically targets restrictions in areas of federal competency, such as air travel and border restrictions. It calls for a clear, data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting these restrictions.
Thinking about lifting these restrictions makes me think of when they were put in place not that long ago. Today I would like to share with the House some particularly interesting tidbits I read in a very relevant book by the journalist Alec Castonguay entitled Le Printemps le plus long: au cœur des batailles politiques contre la COVID-19, a behind-the-scenes look at the politics of fighting COVID-19. The author interviewed dozens of key actors, politicians, bureaucrats and scientists who played a role in managing the crisis in Quebec and Canada. I learned a lot of things that are probably already public knowledge, but that I feel it is appropriate to mention here and now.
First of all, I was surprised to learn that the Global Public Health Intelligence Network did not detect any signals of the emergence of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. GPHIN, which is a unit of the Public Health Agency of Canada, acts like a smoke detector and was created in the late 1990s so that countries would not be taken by surprise by new fatal viruses, particularly following the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.
I was surprised because, over the years, GPHIN had become the main early warning system for emerging infectious diseases for 85 countries. Normally, the World Health Organization relies on GPHIN for approximately 20% of its reports of new viruses in the world every year. That is quite a lot. However, in the case of COVID-19, GPHIN was apparently unable to sound the alarm earlier, mostly because of a lack of staff and funding. In fact, it seems that GPHIN's role was called into question by Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2014 and that, since then, the work of its scientists has been valued less highly. Unfortunately, the arrival of a Liberal government in 2015 did nothing to change that. GPHIN scientists stopped issuing alerts in May 2019, seven months before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in China. Even the Minister of Health said that she did not know that GPHIN had ceased normal operations.
I may be droning on a bit about this, but I do have a point to make.
Scientists have been predicting a pandemic for decades, but we were not ready. The federal government was clearly not ready. The cuts to health care obviously did not help. One of the most overlooked aspects was the procurement of personal protective equipment, but that is a subject for another day.
According to the book, the Liberal cabinet first learned about the existence of the Chinese virus on January 18, 2020.
Let me briefly lay out the timeline of events. The WHO declared an international public health emergency a few days later, on January 30. As Mr. Castonguay put it, the alarm went off, but no one woke up. In late February 2020, Canadians returning from all over the world—not necessarily from China—began bringing the virus home to Canada. While public health experts around the world believed that all suspected travellers should be tested, not just those returning from China, the Public Health Agency of Canada maintained its risk level in Canada at “low”. With the exception of travel to China, Global Affairs Canada was not discouraging Canadians from leaving the country.
On March 11, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. On March 16, a team from the Government of Quebec and Montreal public health went to the Montreal-Trudeau airport to inform travellers, since, strangely enough, the federal government had yet to put strict screening and information measures in place. Let us not forget that the government had been aware of the virus for two months by then.
Between March 1 and March 21, 42,000 foreign travellers and nearly 250,000 Canadians arrived at the Montreal-Trudeau airport from all over the world, including several countries that had major outbreaks.
In addition, 157,000 Quebeckers returned home by land, and nearly 37,000 Americans drove in from especially hard-hit states, including New York and Massachusetts. Travellers brought back nearly 250 different strains of the virus to Quebec alone.
Looking back, it is clear that a travel ban should have been instituted in mid-February in order to have an impact on transmission. Canada had just a few cases at the time, and Quebec did not have any. We know that it would have been hard for the government to justify such a measure.
Could we have done better with the little information available to us? That is a good question.
Border restrictions could certainly have been implemented more quickly. I am convinced that more could have been done, and more quickly, whether it was checking travellers' temperature, requiring rapid tests before boarding, or banning non-essential travel.
There was a delay between the time when GPHIN and the Public Health Agency of Canada started to become increasingly concerned and the time when the Liberal government finally decided to act. Had there not been this delay, things could have been very different.
Delaying traveller screening may possibly have allowed the variants to spread more easily within our borders. This recent experience has shown us that it is never too early to make plans to better prepare for the future. However, as we enter the third wave of the virus, lifting restrictions appears to be premature.
Right now, vaccination is the best way to get out of this pandemic. Until the majority of Canadians and Quebeckers are vaccinated, it would be completely irresponsible to allow people to travel freely again. Vaccinations are finally happening, but there have been delays.
If the Liberal government had been more proactive, it would not have waited until June to create a vaccine task force. Because the government failed to be proactive, no vaccines will be manufactured here until the end of the year and, more importantly, Canada is fully reliant on foreign manufacturers for its vaccine supply.
I appreciate the Conservatives' motion and sincerely believe that the government must present some kind of plan for getting out of this crisis. I honestly do not think the government has had a plan all along. The government is acting blindly and focusing more on its election platform than on getting us out of this crisis.
However, before suggesting that the temporary COVID-19 restrictions be lifted, both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party should take the time to look back and admit that measures were too slow to be implemented and that if the government had acted more quickly, we could have saved thousands of lives. This is about lives lost. Just a few days ago, we paid tribute to the more than 22,000 lives lost, including 10,000 in Quebec.
I think that we have a short memory. We know that the financial and mental health consequences are enormous, but we have to remember that these measures are in place to protect our people's health and safety. I think that is what matters most during a pandemic.
There were definitely problems with the mandatory hotel quarantine, but we must remember that, before and during the holidays, the government was unable to make sure that returning travellers were actually quarantining. With variants surfacing around the world, I think self-isolating for 14 days upon arrival is still essential. The same goes for land border restrictions. People who do not have an essential reason to travel should stay home. That is part of the effort we must all make to combat this accursed virus.
The government could certainly be more understanding and more flexible in some situations, such as family reunification or if a person has proof of vaccination. However, given that managing travellers and borders was such a mess from the start, I feel it is all the more urgent that everything be in order before we consider lifting restrictions.
Madam Speaker, I am very honoured to rise on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
There has been incredibly beautiful weather in Ontario this week, and I see people out on the streets wanting to believe this nightmare is over. When I was in the market the other night, I saw many young people doing what young people do, hanging out and talking, believing that with leaving winter behind, so too have we left behind the nightmare of COVID, but that is not the case.
We know there are some very concerning new variants. The B.1.1.7 variant is spreading quickly across Canada. We are seeing multiple new cases and health organizations are telling us that this is putting us at the beginning of a third wave.
The crisis of new virulent variants hitting communities across this country happens as we are struggling to get the vaccine rollout. This is a race against time. The United Kingdom has 44 doses administered per 100 people. The United States has 37 doses per 100 people, and Canada is still down at 10 doses administered per 100 people. This is about the decisions that were made and the decisions that are being made.
My hon. colleagues in the Conservative Party were talking this morning about when the border will be opened. On the weekend, they said they did not believe in climate change. Maybe they do not believe in the new variants and that we should open border. We cannot open the border until we get the issue with the vaccines dealt with.
The issue with the vaccines, of course, comes down to the decision made by the government to trust that the private sector would get them through this. The Americans made the decision to invest heavily in vaccine production and research. We did not do that in Canada, and it has put us in a situation where we are behind. We are behind at a time when we cannot afford it because of these variants.
Reopening the economy is incredibly important because we know it has caused massive damage to small businesses and personal economies across this country, but we need to look at how the lack of rights that exist for many workers has exacerbated the crisis. Right now in Peel, there is a situation where 600 cases of COVID have been found at the Amazon warehouse. That is 600 cases.
This is not a flu we are talking about. It has been proven that COVID can have long-term neurological and health damage to people, yet Amazon allowed 600 of its workers to get sick in that plant. It is a number that I do not think has been as staggering anywhere, except at the Cargill plant in High River, where there was also about 600 cases.
Families are affected in Peel, which is continually in the red zone. We heard Doug Ford make it seem like the people in Peel were out partying and not listening to the rules, when the reason Peel has such high rates is because so many people are precarious workers. They work in warehouses like Amazon where they have no choice but to go to work. If we are going to talk about getting the economy reopened, we have to talk about protecting the workers who have been on the front lines and cannot take a day off if they feel sick. There is evidence of people who cannot even get a vaccine because they cannot afford to take a day off work. That is how precarious their situations are.
In Ontario, 15,000 people have gotten sick with COVID because of workplace exposures. There needs to be coherence in saying that to get the economy back on track, we have to shut down this COVID spread in workplaces. To do that, people have to have basic rights to have safe workplaces, and if they need time off when they are sick, they can take time off so they do not make other people sick.
The issue of Amazon is something to look at because Amazon is the symbol of everything that is wrong in the modern globalized economy. This is a company with 21st century technology and 19th century labour practices. The abuses of workers at Amazon have been documented again and again.
However, I will ask members to remember when all of the Liberals were talking about team Canada, with all hands on deck and that we are all in this together. At that moment, the shocked the country when he said who the partners would be for distributing medical equipment. It was not Canada Post or Purolator, places that have unions and good working conditions.
No, we were going to partner with Jeff Bezos, one of the crummiest human beings on the planet, and make him our partner. What the effectively did was privatize and outsource to Amazon a key element of the pandemic response, and it is not just that Amazon is a crappy company in the way it treats its workers.
While our small businesses were going down in flames across this country, Amazon was literally making out like bandits. Why was that? It is because Amazon does not pay taxes the way small businesses pay taxes. We would have thought the would have seen what a symbol it would have been to stand beside small business owners across the country, compared with standing beside Jeff Bezos, who has a massive tax loophole that has allowed him to become billions of dollars richer.
Two of the worst companies in terms of the profits they made were Amazon and Walmart. They are now $116 billion richer. Amazon and Walmart, by the way, were also two of the companies that gave the least to their employees. There are many big, big corporations whose executives actually said, “Hey, our employees are keeping us profitable. Our employees are going to get a better share.” Costco, certainly a big, big player, gave a fair share, but not Amazon and not Walmart.
Why do I mention that? I mention it because we know that Walmart stayed open through the whole pandemic while all our little, small-town stores and businesses were hanging by a thread, and the owners were begging for loans because their businesses had to be shut. It is about that inequity.
It is also about the choice that this made to tie himself to Amazon, of all companies, with the abuse of its workers and high injury rates, and the fact that we knew it was not going to protect its workers from COVID. We saw Tim Bray, vice-president of Amazon, quit over the firing of workers in the United States. A vice-president of Amazon quit because workers were fired for asking, in a pandemic, to expand sick leave, hazard pay and child care for the warehouse workers who were trying to keep the business afloat.
The issue of child care was huge because, in the first wave when children had to stay home, workers had to continue to go in, as there was no support for them. The Prime Minister decided that Amazon was the symbol of what was going to make the Liberal government look good in the pandemic. It sent a very wrong message.
What do we need to do? We need to work together at this point to get us through this third wave. I encourage people across this country not to let their guard down. This is the most dangerous point. We have come through two waves. In this third wave, we do not want to have ourselves hit again.
We need the government to have a plan for the vaccine rollout. It has been hiding again and again behind provincial jurisdiction. We saw how the United States brought the army in, and how it had a national strategy to get the vaccines out. We have a who is mister laissez-faire.
I mean no offence to the provinces, but Doug Ford failed the people of Ontario time and time again in not spending the money he should have spent. Regarding Jason Kenney, when everyone else in Alberta was doing their part, his MLAs were on the beaches in Mexico and Hawaii. Now he is using his $30-million war room to pick a fight over the historical accuracy of a cartoon about Bigfoot. Jason Kenney thinks the biggest priority now is that a cartoon about Bigfoot is somehow inaccurate. I know there are a lot of Bigfoots that probably do support Jason Kenney.
I am mentioning Jason Kenney and Doug Ford because we cannot simply leave something as big as a pandemic to them, if that is what their priorities are. We need leadership from the federal government, and we are not seeing it. We need a commitment at the federal level, where we have 180,000 employees, to have the Labour Code say that workers will be able to take time off for sick leave. That is a simple change the Liberal government could make now. If the Liberals did that, it would keep people safe. It would get the economy back up and rolling because we know that if people can take time off when they are sick, they are not going to make other people sick, and it will save us in the long term.
Therefore, I am encouraging my Liberal colleagues and my Conservative colleagues to push for this simple change that we can do at the federal level to make sure that the workers who need to take time off, and we have hundreds of thousands of them under the federal jurisdiction, can actually get the time off. This is so they are not spreading COVID or any of its variants.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start my remarks by outlining a few key principles I think are important for all parliamentarians to keep in mind.
One, all federal COVID-19 guidance must be based on the best available science and reflect both the state of the pandemic and the pace of the vaccine rollout across Canada.
Two, Canada's New Democrats understand that there is no trade-off to be made between saving lives and livelihoods. We know that we will not be able to get the economy back on track until we bring COVID-19 fully under control, and not the other way around.
Three, the federal government should provide Canadians with a clear path forward by releasing a comprehensive plan to put this pandemic behind us and begin the process of recovery.
Four, we think that the federal government should not wait until the pandemic is over to begin acting on critical lessons that we have already learned. As one example, the NDP believes it is time to bring in paid sick leave for every Canadian worker, national standards for long-term care, and a public vaccine and drug manufacturer. These are gaping holes in Canada's economic and health care fabric that we know need to be fixed. There is no reason to wait to get started on those issues.
While planning is always good, we must not prematurely ease essential measures that are critical to keeping Canadians safe. I will outline some of the major reasons why this is so important.
First, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the continued increase in variants of concern, maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial to reducing infection rates and avoiding a rapid reacceleration of the epidemic and its severe outcomes, including hospitalization and deaths.
The B.1.1.7 variant of concern, the one that was first identified in the U.K., is spreading quickly across Canada as we debate this today, causing doctors and experts to sound the alarm about a third wave of COVID-19 infections. Provinces have been easing restrictions after cases began to fall across the country in late January, and then the B.1.1.7 variant began spreading in earnest in mid-February.
Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia are each reporting more than 1,000 cumulative B.1.1.7 variant cases as of March 22. In fact, cumulatively, across Canada, we have 4,861 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant reported now. In addition, we have 244 cases reported across Canada of the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa. Finally, we have 104 cases reported across Canada of the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil. Therefore, we have an increasing spread of variants.
Second, we are clearly entering a third wave. The Ontario Hospital Association issued a stark warning on March 15, saying that the province has now entered into a third wave, citing a sharp increase in cases of new variants of concern and rising admissions to intensive care units. Just days ago the Ontario Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, confirmed that the province is now in the midst of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Ontario, variants of concern cases now exceed 50% of all cases. Here in B.C., on March 22, B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, confirmed that this province is experiencing a third wave of COVID-19 infection. She pointed to an increase in the seven-day rolling average of new daily cases over the last several weeks as an indication that this is B.C.'s third wave. Finally, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, nationally, COVID-19 activity levelled off at a high level since mid-February and that average daily case counts are now on the rise. The latest national level data show a seven-day average of 3,297 new cases daily.
Third, we have to look at the pace of the vaccine rollout. As of March 22, the United Kingdom has administered 44 doses per 100 people, with 3.3% of its population fully vaccinated. In the United States, 37 doses have been administered per 100 people, with 13.2% of the population fully vaccinated. Contrast that to Canada, where we have administered 10 doses per 100 people, with only 1.7% of our population fully vaccinated.
Fourth, if we compare strategies, in the coming weeks, the Biden administration in the U.S. will make every adult in the U.S. eligible for vaccination no later than May 1. Once all Americans are eligible to be vaccinated, the administration will ensure that every adult is actually able to get the vaccine by increasing the number of places Americans can get vaccinated, increasing the number of people providing vaccinations, providing tools to make it easier for individuals to find a vaccine and providing clear guidance to vaccinated Americans. The U.S. is also helping educators get vaccinated. The president has challenged all 50 states to get pre-K to 12 school staff and child care workers their first shot by the end of this month.
In the U.K., they have a similar strategy. The speed at which England will exit lockdown is set against four key tests: how the vaccine rollout is going, how vaccines are affecting hospitalizations and deaths, measuring infection rates and ensuring they are staying low, and ensuring that new variants are not undermining the other three criteria.
What do validators say about the state of affairs right now? Well, a joint statement by the International Monetary Fund and the World Health Organization states that “At face value there is a trade-off to make: either save lives or save livelihoods. This is a false dilemma – getting the virus under control is, if anything, a prerequisite to saving livelihoods”.
This is mirrored by many people across this country.
Tyler Shandro, Alberta's health minister, has said said, “There will be no easing of any restrictions at this time. This is the safe move. It's the smart move to make for our province right now and it's absolutely necessary to help us avoid a third wave that would take more lives and once again put more pressure on the hospital system.”
Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, has said that “It’s the presence of cases caused by new variants that’s alarming.... [The] curve has gone upwards and upwards. It's skyrocketing at the moment.... What we need to do is, we need go harder.”
Quebec Premier, Francois Legault, has said that “We look at what's happening in Ontario, in New York, in New Jersey and France and we have to worry. We have to be careful”.
Finally, Dr. Caroline Colijn, Canada 150 research chair at Simon Fraser University, has said that “We’re probably not going to win the race between vaccination and the B.1.1.7 variant and partly that’s because it’s here now, it’s already established and rising and it has a higher transmission rate, which makes it harder to control and so I think that’s the concern over the next few months.”
Colleagues, what I am saying is that we cannot prematurely exit at this point in time. We have to keep the existing measures in place, we have to deepen them, and now is not the time to premature exit from these very measures that, if we do not continue, would cost more lives and would increase the rate of transmission that we have worked so hard to stop.
I will pause for a minute and talk about paid sick leave in Canada.
A large proportion of COVID-19 transmission has occurred in workplaces in part because workers do not have access to paid sick leave. We know that some jurisdictions, like B.C. and Yukon, have stepped in to provide additional support, but we also know that this support is not available to every worker in the country. Canada's New Democrats are calling on the Liberal government to fix the flaws in its current program to make it easier for people to access the program and get help more quickly.
I would like to move that the motion be amended by adding the following after a semi-colon: and that in order to facilitate this lifting of restrictions, this plan ensure that every Canadian worker has access to 10 paid sick days, starting by amending the Canada Labour Code to include 10 paid sick days for all federal workers.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak to our Conservative opposition day motion.
I struggled a lot with what I was going to say in this 10-minutes speech. The reality is that I probably have had enough experience over the last year and, indeed, the last three decades dealing with mental health and the challenges our most vulnerable communities deal with to probably fill an hour or even more with respect to that.
COVID-19 has really shone the light on and amplified a national crisis, and that is the mental health crisis. I know I am not unique with this experience and that my colleagues from all sides of the House are feeling it themselves and are hearing this every day in their offices that Canadians are struggling, now more than ever. We need our government to lead. Canadians need hope. They need to know their government has a plan for recovery. We cannot have a plan for recovery without a mental health plan.
A mental health action plan is critical, now more than ever. Over 20% of Canadians are feeling more anxiety, more depression. We know that substance use and abuse, whether related to alcohol, tobacco or drugs, is up over the last year. Domestic violence is up over the last year. Calls to crisis lines and women's shelters have gone through the roof. We need to do better.
I was heartened last week when our leader detailed our five pillars for an elected Conservative government. The third pillar was putting forward a strong, mental health focused action plan for Canadians. As we move forward, the mental health and well-being of our nation must be at the heart of everything we do. There is no health without mental health. We need to view mental health the same as we view physical health.
I remember when a firefighter contacted me some time ago. He asked me why he had to become a statistic before anyone cared. I asked him to explain. He said that if he had a broken arm, or leg, or back or even had the flu, his colleagues would come around and would ask if there was anything he needed. He said that the brotherhood and sisterhood of first responders falls short when it comes to mental injury and mental illness. That is true with most Canadians. That alone fuels the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental injury. It is the unseen illness, the unseen injury, that Canadians are facing, and had been facing leading up to COVID, which has made it even worse. Sadly, all we have seen from the Liberal government is no plan, no hope and a website.
Yesterday, in question period, I asked the minister where the plan was to implement the simple three digit 988 national suicide prevention hotline. Instead, she doubled down on the website. When I am sitting with family members who have been left behind due to death by suicide, or those who have contemplated suicide or those who are struggling, I hear what I call the “if only” conversations: “If only I saw the signs.” “If only I knew that my brother, my father, my husband or my wife was struggling, I could have done something.”
Not once have I heard “If only there were as a website I could log onto or my loved one could log onto.” When I am talking to national organizations or grassroots organizations charged with delivering such critical care to the most vulnerable on the streets, whether it is with the opioid or homelessness crisis, they never talk about if only there were a government website they could go to. They talk about their concern of not knowing whether they will be able to keep their doors open. For addicts who come through their doors and finally say that they want and need help, they want to be able to put those people in beds and get them the help they need.
A real plan is exactly what we started to see with our leader last week when he announced our five pillars. The third pillar is so important, a real mental health plan, working with the provinces—
Madam Speaker, I am sharing my time with the hon. member for , a great colleague. I probably should have announced this earlier.
The plan our leader announced can be transformative. We will increase funding to the provinces and work with them on a mental health action plan. We will lead, not obfuscate, not push it aside and say that it is not our problem. We will implement the 988 national suicide prevention hotline. We will work with employers to incentivize them to provide adequate mental health support for their employees. It is so important to actually have a mental health action plan, now more than ever. An elected Conservative government will do that.
An elected Conservative government will put mental health at the heart of everything we do. It was our former Conservative government that launched the Mental Health Commission. In opposition, it was a newly elected Conservative MP who launched legislation that called on the government to develop the first-ever national framework for combatting post-traumatic stress disorder.
We have to be better. I have stood in the House and talked about this time and again. In our first emergency debate, we talked about the suicide epidemic in first nations communities, specifically Attawapiskat. My colleague from speaks so eloquently on this topic. One of our colleagues stood and said that he remembered that one of their first emergency debates 10 years ago was about the suicide epidemic in first nations communities. Sadly, we have not really moved beyond that.
I have stood in the House time and again and challenged our colleagues. For me, this is not a partisan issue; it is all our issue in being true leaders in the House. Our Conservative motion today calls on the government to show us the plan, to create hope for Canadians and to help those who are struggling.
Last month, a lady in my riding, Margaret Sweder, celebrated her 100th birthday. I called her and wished her a happy birthday. I do not know her. First, she was not going to answer the phone because she thought it was a CRA fraud call, because the number was from Ottawa, but then we talked. I asked her what she was missing most in this COVID pandemic and she said “a hug.”
This lockdown has had immeasurable impacts on Canadians, just the social aspect of being able to hug our loved ones, being able to spend time with loved ones—
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on a very timely motion moved by my colleague, the member for . Today I speak on behalf of my constituents of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, and as the official opposition shadow minister for agri-food and agriculture.
My office has received hundreds of calls and emails from constituents who feel abandoned by the Liberal government. Their concerns, interests and livelihoods have been sacrificed by waves of lockdowns. Canadians watch as countries around the world are safely reopening without seeing an end in sight to the heavy-handed restrictions we have here at home.
How much longer will Canadians have to wait to access COVID-19 immunizations? They need a concrete plan from the Liberal government on when and how COVID-19 restrictions will finally be safely and permanently lifted.
One year ago, on a public health directive, the federal government began locking down public places, the U.S.-Canada border, airlines, businesses, restaurants, schools, hospitals, assisted living and extended nursing facilities, churches and even family homes.
We have seen the consequences for businesses and people's livelihoods. These include cross-border tourism business in stores and restaurants in resort towns. As well, it has been difficult to get farm machine parts, and the technicians who service the machinery, across the border. The consequences have affected young people's educations and the relationships, family lives and personal well-being of the young and the elderly.
Let us look at some of these consequences in more detail. In March 2020, when the lockdown began, Canada's GDP started to decline rapidly. Our unemployment rate rose immediately. Canadians began losing their jobs en masse as businesses were forced to close their doors. Sales at restaurants went down by 46% in March 2020, and by more than 56% in April. When restaurant sales are down, it creates a domino effect on the whole supply chain including farmers, food importers and wholesale food distributors. Families' entire life's work of building and running businesses has either been completely wiped out or, if they are fortunate, they may still be hanging on by a thread.
Mass economic lockdowns should never have been viewed as a long-term measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Lockdowns and restrictions were put in place to buy governments time to get permanent solutions, such as vaccines, rapid testing and variant testing. These tools now exist, so where is the plan?
Last year air travel plummeted, and travel to Canada was practically shut down. This is important to note, because most Canadians do not realize that their fresh produce in the winter, particularly tropical fruit, is imported as air cargo on commercial passenger planes. When commercial planes do not fly, importers are forced to pay a higher fee for air cargo. That cost is passed on to the consumer, which means higher grocery bills or having to forgo buying a favourite fresh produce.
These are some of the economic activities that have been affected, but how have the COVID-19 lockdowns affected Canadians' sense of well-being? As one might imagine, the segment of Canadians who rate life satisfaction as “high” fell from 72% in 2018 to 40% in June 2020. Young Canadians have experienced the greatest decline in mental health. Pre-COVID-19, 60% of young Canadians reported excellent or very good mental health, but by July 2020, that had fallen to only 40%. This is tragic.
Since the COVID-19 lockdowns began, parents' concern for their children's well-being has skyrocketed. Children are spending hours a day in front of screens with limited interactions with their friends. They are suffering from loneliness due to forced isolation.
Let me add that in rural Canada, as in much of Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, high-speed Internet access and the cost of cellular data are very real and ever-present challenges. These are real-life problems that cannot be ignored.
The consequences for the mental health of Canadians are significant. Prolonged lockdowns across Canada have led to increases in domestic violence, opioid deaths, mental health crises, business closures and mass unemployment.
These are real-life consequences of the COVID-19 government lockdowns. They are not nameless statistics. These are Canadians whose quality of life has been sacrificed for long enough. Canadians need hope. They need a clear, permanent path out of the lockdowns to preserve their mental health, and they need a plan to save their livelihoods while using any and every tool available to prevent COVID-19 deaths.
People need to live in order to live. The government's failure to approve and distribute rapid tests early on, its failure to secure reliable contracts and its inability to come up with a plan to get the country back on track are costing Canadians dearly.
I am going to shift my focus now to the consequences for the thousands of Canadians involved in agriculture supply chains. Let me speak first to the agriculture sector I know best, from personal experience. I grew up on a potato farm in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex. My family grew and sourced potatoes for domestic and U.S. markets, so I have personal knowledge of fresh table food production in Canada. Even before the COVID-19 lockdowns, fruit and vegetable producers faced labour shortages. These producers cannot find enough willing Canadians to help plant, tend and harvest crops of fruits and vegetables. That is why Canadian farmers bring international workers to Canada, under the temporary foreign worker program and the seasonal agricultural worker program, to help with the growing season from January through harvest. They are critical to Canada's food sovereignty.
Last year growers near my riding lost millions of pounds of fresh produce that was nearly ready for harvest because of COVID-19. About a year ago, I began flagging to the government potential consequences for the 2020 season of fruit and vegetable production but, sadly and largely, it was to no avail. Last November, I asked the and the how they planned to handle the entry of thousands of international farm workers for the 2021 season. I asked them for their rapid testing plan. All I got was radio silence.
As recently as the weekend before last, I heard from producers who were attempting the impossible: to comply with unworkable regulations from the government on quarantine for workers entering into Canada. For example, farm workers who only speak Spanish are required to phone nurses who speak only English or French. Employers have been required to forward test samples by Purolator courier from places where there is no Purolator service. Mixed messaging, excuses and shirking responsibility are not what Canadians expect from their government in a time of crisis.
Beef, pork, chicken, turkey and egg producers and processors have also been affected by COVID-19. Capacity on these processing lines has been severely reduced by social distancing measures and temporary plant shutdowns. This has led to weeks of backlogs. Beef and pork producers' capacity has been significantly impacted. At times, this has risen to a level of crisis for producers and processors.
Canadians have questions and, after a year of putting up with restrictions and lockdowns, they deserve answers. Any restrictions on Canadians' charter rights and freedoms must be demonstrably justified, meaning that the burden of proof is on the government to prove that the limits it has imposed are reasonable. Canadians know this is not happening.
We have heard, over and over again, from the Liberal government and its that these are unprecedented times. Though this statement rings true, it has been used and misused to justify the worst behaviour unbecoming of any government in a western democracy. It is time for the government to make Canadians' freedom its priority. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts...”. It is time for the government to stop treating Canadians like children in need of a caregiver. They want their lives back. They want to start earning paycheques and stop receiving government cheques.
In conclusion, Canadians want and deserve a clear plan that shows a path and a timeline to end the lockdowns. By now, Canadians should know when things are going to get better and what metrics their government is using to determine the timeline for reopening. They deserve a clear, data-driven plan to support safely and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions. The Liberal government cannot keep asking Canadians to sacrifice more without being clear about when the restrictions will be lifted. The needs to lay out a plan that will give Canadians a clear expectation of when life and business will return to normal.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I do want to address this motion. I am glad that the member for asked a question last, because she hit on something that hit a nerve this morning, and rightly so.
The member for , who moved this motion, said that this motion was about benchmarks and establishing various different degrees by which things should occur, but it is not. The motion does not talk about that at all. We can have all the preamble that we want in the “whereas” clauses, but the only thing that matters is the “resolved” clause in a motion. In a properly written motion, we should be able to strip away the preamble and just use the “resolved” clause to give the direction that it needs.
The “resolved” clause says that “the House call on the government to table within 20 calendar days, following the adoption of this motion, a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.” There is nothing in the motion about establishing benchmarks.
I want to spend some time talking about the confusion within this motion. There are really two parts to this, because this motion is not completely within the provincial jurisdiction, in my mind. There are some aspects that fall within the federal government and some that fall within the provincial government. I will start by talking about some of those that I see as falling within the federal government but that I find very problematic in terms of the way the motion is set up.
The member for mentioned a couple of things in her opening remarks, borders and the airline industry, that are good examples of things over which the federal government has jurisdiction. The federal government has jurisdiction over the matters that are constitutionally given to it and that are set up through the practices of our country since Confederation.
The reality is that for something like borders, there is a role for the federal government, but the question is whether the federal government should be required to come back to this House in 20 days and say, “This is how we will open the borders. This is the timeline.” That could only ever be the situation if we were able to know not what the results of the variables would be but what the variables are, and the reality is that we do not.
When we talk about opening a border between Canada and the United States, we have to realize that so much of it is heavily dependent on what they do in the United States, what action they are taking and where their numbers are. If we do not have the ability to influence that variable, how would we ever be able to say what the exact plan will be for how things will reopen? It just cannot be done.
The Conservatives talk about putting together a plan. I happen to think that it is a pretty good system that is in place. It is reviewed on a monthly basis by the . He reviews it with the expert advice that he has, and he decides whether or not to extend it for another month. If the U.S. situation improves dramatically and the expert advice is that we should open that border, I am sure the minister will take that very important advice under consideration.
The same can be said about airlines. Canada is only half of the equation for international flights. Where are the flights going? Where are they coming from? So much of it depends on that and those other variables, so it is very challenging.
Let us turn to the other part of this, which is the discussion about provincial jurisdictions that has been coming up quite a bit today. Notwithstanding the fact that the member for and other members have stood up and said Liberals are just going to say that they cannot do anything because it is not their jurisdiction, in fact some things are not our jurisdiction, as is constitutionally afforded to the two different levels of government in this case.
When I think of some of the things that have happened in my riding, of the lockdowns that have come into place and how they have been lifted, I have an incredible amount of respect for Dr. Kieran Moore, our chief medical officer of health, who has steered our community through this wave. It has been incredible. We have had only one COVID death in our health unit in Ontario, and a lot of that has to do with the incredible work of our local medical officer of health, who is of course empowered by the provincial government. I think to myself, “Why would we think we have some kind of jurisdiction over our local medical officers of health and the jurisdiction to close businesses?” We do not regulate how businesses open and close. It is not within the purview of the federal government.
I quoted Sylvia Jones, the Ontario solicitor general, to the member for . The solicitor general said that it is not the role of the federal government to advocate for or against lockdowns and went on to say that the Ontario framework is working very well. I thought this was a pretty good quote, so I took this quote and I tried to tweet it to the member for . What happened? She has blocked me. The member for Calgary Nose Hill has blocked a member of the House on Twitter, and when I raise this concern, other members from the Conservative Party are chanting “Hear, hear.” Are they even really interested—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Mark Gerretsen: Go on, go on. Do you have more to say? Please, keep digging—
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the motion before us today.
I will start by acknowledging that it has been a very difficult year for all Canadians. Everyone has been affected by this pandemic in some way or another. In Newmarket—Aurora, we have shared in the suffering from the loss of life, fears for the future, the impact on mental health, the loneliness, and the challenges faced by small businesses, their owners and employees.
Let me assure all Canadians that the government remains committed to doing whatever it takes to help Canadians and Canadian businesses survive through this crisis.
To quote Martin Luther King Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
From day one, this government has been there with a comprehensive and fiscally responsible support package to help Canadians and businesses of all sizes weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, we have been able to respond from a position of strength. Canada entered this crisis in a strong fiscal position, allowing the government to take decisive action to provide the support that was needed to weather this storm.
We started with a low debt position and have been able to maintain that advantage relative to our peers, and with historically low debt servicing costs, the government has been able to afford to take on debt so that Canadians do not have to. Federal debt servicing costs relative to the size of our economy are at a 100-year low, and we are locking in these low costs by issuing more debt in longer-term instruments at historically low rates.
The federal government has provided more than eight out of every 10 dollars spent in Canada to fight COVID-19 and support Canadians. These investments represent Canada's largest financial response since the Second World War. The International Monetary Fund in its recent staff report for the 2021 article IV consultation estimates that without Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan, real output would have declined by an additional 7.8% in 2020 and the unemployment rate would have been 3.2% higher. By providing Canadian businesses and families a financial lifeline to pull them through the crisis, the government has helped Canada avoid widespread business and personal bankruptcies and the possible negative impact of that for generations of Canadians.
However, it is not just support programs that the government has deployed. In fact, the very first thing the government and its partners did at the start of the crisis was to make sure that businesses had access to credit. Indeed, the first coordinated package of measures supported financial sector liquidity, the functioning of markets and continued access to financing for Canadian businesses. This included the business credit availability program in which the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada have cooperated with private sector lenders to make financing and credit insurance available to Canadian business.
An important part of the program is the Canada emergency business account, which provides small businesses with access to interest-free loans of up to $60,000, one-third of which is forgivable if repaid by December 31, 2020. After listening to Canadian business owners, the government modified or expanded the program several times, making it available to self-employed business owners and also increasing the maximum loan by $20,000. As of March 11, more than 846,000 businesses have been approved for loans, for a total of more than $44 billion.
The government has also provided $306 million in short-term, interest-free loans and non-repayable contributions through aboriginal financial institutions, which offers financing and business support services to first nations, Inuit and Métis businesses.
Furthermore, the government deferred the collection of income and sale taxes from businesses, freeing up valuable short-term cash when they needed to cover other costs.
This comprehensive package of support has helped ensure that Canadian businesses were able to continue to pay their employees and their bills during a time of uncertainty.
Fighting COVID-19 and getting the economy back on track is not infinite. Once the need for support throughout the crisis has passed, the time-limited measures will be prudently withdrawn.
As government supports transition in the next few months from mitigation to recovery, we will draw upon the lessons learned from the experience of many countries following the 2008-09 financial crisis and during recoveries from earlier deep recessions. This experience suggests that most economies that withdrew fiscal support too quickly experienced slower growth afterward, and Canada will follow the advice of the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that governments maintain substantial fiscal support through the crisis and over the recovery phase.
As we normalize our fiscal position in the wake of the virus, we will once again do so from a position of strength. While the federal debt is significantly higher than in recent years, it will be far more manageable than at its historic peak in the 1990s.
When the virus is under control and our economy is ready for new growth, our government will deploy an ambitious stimulus package over three fiscal years to jump-start our recovery to support and grow the middle class. This additional spending has not been formally included in the government’s fiscal framework yet, as the ultimate size and timing is highly dependent on the evolving health and economic situation.
Therefore, to ensure that Canada is prepared, our government is planning for four different scenarios regarding the timing, size and profile of the stimulus spending. The growth plan for strong recovery will take us toward an economy that is greener, more innovative, more inclusive and more competitive. The government has been working with Canadians to plan and prepare our investments for when the virus is under control. The key to this plan will be smart, time-limited investments that act fast while also making a long-term contribution to our shared prosperity, competitiveness and our green transition.
Despite recent encouraging signs of recovery, we have not yet turned the corner. About one million Canadians who had a job before the crisis are still out of work or working sharply reduced hours, and many small businesses continue to be greatly impacted by the crisis. The Government of Canada will continue to deploy the necessary fiscal firepower to fight the pandemic and then for us to recover strongly, while continuing to manage its finances prudently, retaining its low-debt advantage among G7 peers. The government’s strategy will be implemented responsibly, with a sustainable approach for future generations.
Madam Speaker, before I address directly the motion before us today, I will first relay a story.
Back in 2017, the had an idea. His idea was to use an omnibus budget bill to create a new excise tax escalator on alcohol sold in Canada. This meant that the tax on most wine, beer and spirits sold in Canada would, by default, be increased every year without having to come to the House for debate. As opposition, we opposed this.
I warned the Liberal government what would happen if Canadian wines produced with 100% Canadian-grown grapes received an excise exemption. According to Wine Growers Canada, this excise exemption “resulted in more than 400 new wineries and 40 million litres of new wine sales....The annual economic impact of this growth is $4.4 billion annually.”
As I warned the Liberal government, the problem with the excise tax escalator was that it would make wine produced elsewhere but sold in Canada more expensive against Canadian wines that used 100% Canadian-grown grapes and that there would be a trade challenge on this. To make a long story short, there was. The same Liberal government capitulated and agreed to remove the excise exemption previously enjoyed by Canadian grape growers. In turn, the Liberal government promised a plan to offset the economic damage it created in this industry, but here we are in 2021 and there is still no plan.
I do not share this story today to say “I told you so”. I share this story with everyone as a reminder that when governments do not think ahead of their actions, they can make mistakes with serious consequences. Now more than ever, we need to be vigilant and plan; we need to plan for our future today.
Canada has fallen massively behind other countries in how we have dealt with this pandemic. We were slow to close the borders, we were behind on things like PPE and rapid tests and now we are behind on vaccines. We have spent the most for a country of our size, but we all know we have not gotten the results we desperately need. I do not say that as a finger-pointing exercise. No prime minister would want to willingly be in this situation. COVID-19 is certainly not his fault, but, as the highest office in the country with the most resources to do something, he is responsible.
How has the responded? Indeed, as many released documents under production orders are illustrating, the Prime Minister's Office has often tried to manipulate, hide, deceive or distract from these ongoing failures. Now, here we are. We as parliamentarians must do our jobs to do everything we can do to help with this recovery. If members are in doubt of that, I will share a few thoughts and observations that, if some members have not been thinking about, we need to start thinking about collectively.
Let us will start with employment insurance. We know that with the phase-out of the CERB, many have transitioned to EI. People who would not normally be eligible are now receiving record amounts from EI. The challenge is that EI, by law, is required to be a sustainable program. While the Liberal government refuses to disclose the current status of the EI account, we know that the parliamentary budget officer has forecast that the EI operating account is on track for a cumulative deficit of $52 billion by the end of 2024, and that is just an estimate. For every day of delay that we cannot deliver a plan to get our own economy back on track, the EI expenses will continue to exceed revenue.
This is not partisan politics. That is not some isolated situation. This is occurring in every region of our country today. Again, EI must be sustainable. The EI account will not balance itself; it will require a serious plan. If employers are not hiring or are continuing to bleed staff, that will result in more weight on our EI system. That means higher EI premiums to make up the shortfall on those employers and fewer and fewer employees, yet the and his ministers continue to ignore this reality. I believe we all know, collectively, that Canada ignores problems like this at our peril. That is just one example of a need for an economic recovery plan.
I will give another from my riding.
The Okanagan, like other regions of Canada, relies heavily on tourism. We now have situations where American citizens who have been fully inoculated, 200 million-plus more every day, are calling to make reservations for upcoming summer and winter vacations. If we do not start signalling by what science-based metrics we will abide by as well as who and under what conditions these tourists can come, they simply will go to other places and spend their dollars somewhere else, not here in Canada, where our small-scale accommodation providers and those small businesses that have been absolutely decimated by this pandemic are in a situation where many are living off credit. They are having tens of thousands of dollars of bookings being thrown at them and they have no idea what to do. Why? Because the Prime Minister has been totally silent in announcing any kind of recovery plan.
While a lot of tourism is road traffic, let us not forget that many travel to my home province of B.C. by airplane. For those in the aviation sector, it has been just devastating. Here we are, one year into the pandemic and there is no plan, not even an assistance package for this critical industry. What will be the long-term impacts for Canadians be if our aviation sector cannot survive? What of our tourism sector?
Here is something I thought I would never see in my region. Kelowna International Airport is a major artery for economic development of the Okanagan, yet due to its ownership under the City of Kelowna, it has not received a dime in support from the federal government's wage subsidy.
In 2019, YLW was booming and had large and ambitious expansion plans. Major parts of that plan have had to be put on hold because of the pandemic. Without any strong COVID recovery plan, like the has called for, the failure of the to act means less opportunity for jobs and investments both at the airport and around our region that rely on YLW.
The director of Kelowna International Airport, Sam Samaddar, has said that without immediate changes, our country could see Canadians driving to the U.S. to catch cheaper flights from American airports when things return to normal in the future, because of Ottawa's low level of assistance now.
In the Kelowna Daily Courier last week, Sam Samaddar said:
The Canadian government’s investment in the aviation industry, it’s been appalling to be honest with you....And here we are a year into the pandemic and I can’t believe we still do not have automatic contact tracing.
We are behind on contact tracing and on stockpiling PPE, rapid testing and vaccines. Speaking of vaccines, the has suggested that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be so by the end of September. The problem is that losing another summer for tourism is a price that many can no longer afford.
I am certain I am not alone in seeing a growing number of “For lease” signs going up in many downtowns throughout my riding. Many of these small businesses that are closing have been around for many years. Most that I have heard from are either closing because they can no longer afford to keep the doors open or, in some cases, they do not see any clarity, they do not see any point and would rather cut their losses now.
Again, there is no plan from the . What we have heard is things like “build back better”. What does that even mean? People cannot build anything without a budget. The Prime Minister has refused to table a budget for over two years. To build back better without a plan, nothing can be built. Essentially “build back better” is just another series of buzzwords.
When we look around our communities, nothing is being built by the government right now. A revised mandate letter was sent out earlier this year, in which the instructed his not to commit to any new permanent spending. Only months later, the same Prime Minister promised to permanently increase transit spending, most of it five years down the road. That is the problem.
The literally makes it up day by day. First, we are not increasing permanent spending, until we are. Most of it is five years down the road. We have no budget to show how that promise will actually get paid for. What could go wrong here? I think we all know that is not good governance.
In the absence of a plan, that is what we get: made-up promises as we go along. Five years from today, that massive EI deficit in the billions is going to need to somehow be paid for. How? By who? Will workers premiums be further increased? If so, that leaves less net take-home pay at a time when inflation may be undermining our dollar. Is that what building back better looks like? If so, many would dispute that this is a better outcome.
One thing we do know is that these problems will not solve themselves. We all know that this current level of spending is not sustainable. I expect that when the first told his not to create any new permanent spending announcements, he did so with good reason. We also know that an election is coming at some point on the horizon and that the Prime Minister will only announce more spending. It is what he does.
The challenge is that we need a plan today, one that is scrutinized in this minority Parliament, one that is data-driven, that gives people hope and certainty. We need a plan that will help serve as our road map for how we deal with other countries that are ahead of us in dealing with the pandemic. We critically need to help small business. Let us not forget—
Madam Speaker, I want to share some good news with the House. The Seattle Mariners will host 9,000 fans. They just got approval from Washington State, a very progressive and woke state south of the border, whose ideological inclinations are very similar to the government's. They have signed off on a safe plan, according to that state, to allow 9,000 fans to participate at a major sporting event in Seattle.
Simultaneously we got the news that our Toronto Blue Jays are not going to be able to do anything similar. In fact, they put out a statement in which they said, “we had hoped to see improvements in the public health outlook as we neared the baseball season. With the ongoing Canada-U.S. border closure, we have made the difficult decision to play the first two homestands of the 2021 regular season...at TD Ballpark in [Florida]”. The Floridian businesses will get all of the benefit of that major sporting event.
It is not just sporting events that are reopening around the world. Australians and New Zealanders are finalizing plans for quarantine-free travel across the border between their two countries. Then there is Taiwan, which has pretty much the lowest COVID mortality rate on planet earth, even though it is right next door to the country from whence COVID originated.
The Brookings Institution, a progressive U.S. think tank, stated:
Taiwan has managed the spread of COVID-19 far better than most: It suffered only seven deaths among its 23.5 million people in 2020. Except for a few short weeks of lockdown in March last year, life in Taiwan has been normal. Schools, offices, and restaurants have been open as usual, although with temperature screening, hand sanitizing, and social distancing. Live concerts by Yo-Yo Ma and performances of “Phantom of the Opera” have attracted thousands of people into indoor arenas.
All of this is happening with seven deaths. It is not seven deaths per 100,000 or seven deaths per million. It is seven total deaths since COVID started in the country right next door. In fact, Canada now has 601 deaths per million; Taiwan has 0.42; Singapore has 5.13; and Australia has 35.6. In other words, even if we just compare Canada to Australia in that group, we have a factor of 20 times higher deaths per capita than they do, and we have among the most severe restrictions on our lives.
It is easy to wave one's hand and ask who cares about baseball or artistic conferences or travel between countries, as none of those things are core to human existence, so we ought not worry about the fact that they are still largely eliminated and restricted. However, the reality is they are but symbols of the massive human sacrifice that our people are being forced to make. Not only do we have a ranking of roughly 45 vaccinations per capita, we are ranked 11 out of 15 in the misery index. That is the overall combined misery that we have suffered during the COVID pandemic, according to the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
This is not just numbers and statistics. It is human lives. Calls to one suicide prevention line have risen 200% over the last year, reports CBC. That has prompted a Conservative MP from British Columbia to put forward a motion for a single suicide hotline. It is a good idea, but one that we wish we did not have to pursue. We wish there was no need for suicide hotlines, but the University of Calgary has found that for every one percentage point increase in unemployment, there is a two percentage point increase in suicides across Canada. That is the human cost.
Let us go not just to suicides, but also to drug overdoses, which have also spiked during the pandemic. They were up 50% in both Alberta and Ontario during the times Canadians were forced to lock themselves down. These statistics reflect what has happened right across the country.
Even the chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, wrote, “Statistics Canada found lower life satisfaction among unemployed Canadians and noted that this relationship is about more than just money”. She is pointing out in that statement what Canadians who are suffering lockdown in their homes or are restricted from their jobs have known all along.
This is not just a massive $100-billion economic crisis, though it definitely is that. This is not just about a $400-billion deficit, which is by far the biggest in Canadian history. This is about people's human and very real suffering, which has led to higher mortality rates in countless other areas. I think not only of the drug and opioid overdoses, but also of the suffering of seniors, many of whom, in the tragic stories we have all heard, have had to die alone, separated from the loved ones they have known all of their lives.
In a message I received recently from a senior, she told me she does not know what she has to live for. She has not seen her grandchild for a year and has not seen some of her children for an equally long time. Many of the activities that she enjoyed doing are now banned, and because she is over 80, she does not know how much time she has left. For someone in that age bracket, time is a precious and shrinking commodity, a reality the government, through its incompetence in managing the COVID situation, has exacerbated day by day. This is the very real human suffering that has resulted from the government's failure to safely protect our country from this pandemic and allow us to go forward and reopen our economy while protecting human lives.
For example, I think of our friends in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on the phone at 3 a.m. with the companies responsible for delivering the vaccines. As a result, he was able to deliver more than 100 vaccines for every 100 Israelis, whereas we are now at around five. Tiny Israel, a small country with endless security and economic challenges, surrounded by hostile states, many of which are controlled by terrorists and tyrants, is managing to outperform Canada.
Then we can look at the other countries of the world, such as Singapore, a tiny island with no resources, and Taiwan, which is right next door to the origin of the disease. I know the Liberals across the way are thinking that Israel, Taiwan and Singapore are ahead of Canada because they are such advanced countries with which we cannot expect to compete.
There was a time when Canada had an advanced economy and was among the best places on earth to do business and deliver the necessities of human life. Sadly, those days are slipping away. I fear that we are accepting slowly, as the frog in the heating water, the “loserdom” the government is bringing us into. We have the highest deficit as a share of GDP in the G20, the worst vaccination rates in the G7 and the highest unemployment rate in the G7. These are the results for Canada.
There is almost a quiet acceptance that Canada, a country that used to be the best, can be behind the rest of the world. It used to be that the United Nations would say we were the best place on planet earth to live. We do not hear people talking like that anymore. They now talk about Ireland, which has a GDP per capita that is 70% higher than Canada. That is a country with a fraction of the resources and land of Canada, and nowhere near the geographic advantage we enjoy here.
We have to say enough is enough, that we are not going to accept “loserdom” anymore. We as a country should be the best, not just at procuring vaccines and protecting our population, but also at everything else. We have been blessed with more natural advantages than any country on earth and maybe any country in the history of the world.
It is time for us to hold ourselves and our government to a higher standard, so we can live up to the expectations we as Canadians had for so long. We need to pass on to the next generation a country that is second to none.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I will begin where we left off, with the Conservative members.
All day long, I have been listening to the Conservatives speak, such as the member for who spoke about “loserdom”. I should not be surprised, but I cannot believe I am hearing members of the opposition speaking about a public health crisis, which every single country is facing, in this manner. Every measure that has been put in place has been done with the health and safety of Canadians at the forefront.
As other members have pointed out throughout the day, the member for went through the technical issues with the motion before us, and the fact that members on the floor from the Conservative side are trying to rewrite or downplay the language in the motion to suggest that it is somehow to come up with a framework. However, every speech I have listened to from Conservative members today speaks about the need to just reopen. It is like they have completely forgotten about the fact, or do not want to be confused by the fact, that there is a global health pandemic crisis ongoing.
Recently, we have seen over 5,100 new COVID cases involving the highest transmission strains. The highest numbers are in Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. However, the Conservatives stand and speak, one after the other, to say that we just have to reopen, and they point to the U.S. time and again as an example of reopening. The member for referred to the U.S. and Florida. Has anybody from the Conservative Party been watching what is happening in Miami, Florida right now? Are they seeing the incredible number of cases on the rise, and the number of people gathering? In fact, the Miami local government has issued curfews, road closures and, incredibly, more restrictions.
The Conservative Party is not known as the party of science and facts. I guess it never was, but it reconfirmed that over the weekend. This is a party that does not even understand that climate change is real. Conservatives claim that climate change is not real and therefore nothing should be done about it, and they want Canadians to put trust in them to handle a pandemic for which trust in scientists is at the forefront. Instead, they believe they know better than the experts, because they say so.
We are here to say that we are following public health guidance. We are going to listen to scientists and experts, because that is the way we are going to keep Canadians safe and ensure that we can open the economy safely and successfully in the future.
The other point I would like to raise is on the disinformation that the Conservative Party, starting with its , puts out. Conservatives continue to say that the Liberals want us to live in lockdown forever. This could not be further from the truth. The member for always references the “misery index”. Canadians are absolutely tired of this pandemic. We, as Liberals, are tired of this pandemic. Nobody wants to see their friends, family or neighbours get sick. However, if we do not have restrictions in place, and if we do not put strong health measures at the forefront of our policy, then what is even more miserable is seeing a loved one die. It is never being able to hug that loved one again because they have died.
With all the hyperbole that is going on with the Conservatives, I think that Canadians want to be assured that their leaders are following the best possible advice to ensure that Canadians remain safe. Hopefully, we can get through this crisis together and resume normal life again, but we are not going to get there with Conservatives rushing to a conclusion that is not based on science and evidence.
I want to go over a few of the areas the Conservatives continue to talk about. They say that it is time to reopen and keep pointing to the U.S. and the U.K., but I already brought up what is happening in Miami and the U.S.
It is nice the member for supports the state of Washington making its own local health decisions, but somehow Conservatives do not think provinces and territories have the ability and know-how to do that in this country, and want the federal government to go in with a top-down approach. It is interesting that they support U.S. state autonomy but not Canadian provincial and territorial autonomy.
Let me go over a few of the global health reactions right now to give Conservatives some perspective, because they seem pretty closed-minded to what is happening around the world. We are seeing lockdowns in Germany over the Easter holidays. Paris and France are entering a third-wave lockdown that includes 21 million people. Italy is having another Easter lockdown. Greece is currently closing schools and extending closures. The Czech Republic, one of the hardest hit countries in the EU—