Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill , the economic statement that was introduced last fall. As has been noted by a number of speakers, there is a little irony to the debate today on this bill, because it has been superseded by a federal budget that will be introduced next week.
I have to point out for the record that it has been over two years since the last budget was presented by the government, and that is a record, but not a record of which any government ought to be proud. Every G7 country and every province and territory in Canada tabled a budget last year. When there is no budget presented by a government in Parliament, that constitutes a fundamental breach of accountability to the Canadian people and to Parliament.
When I was first privileged to be elected to this House some 12 years ago, one of the first things I learned was that one of the prime responsibilities of a parliamentarian is to scrutinize the spending of government. That is what we are sent here by our constituents to do. When a budget is not presented by a federal government, that is a fundamental violation of that core responsibility we hold to the people who elected us.
Having said that, this bill does give me a chance to raise certain critical issues that I believe Canadians wanted expressed back in the fall, when this financial statement and this bill were introduced, and as they want to see addressed in the upcoming budget. I am going to speak to several of these priorities that not only are priorities to the people of Vancouver Kingsway, but reflect the aspirations and needs of people across this country, in every single community.
It will not surprise my colleagues to hear me, as health critic, start off with some core health issues that I believe this upcoming budget needs to address and that the statement does not address in any real, meaningful way. It has been noted many times throughout the COVID pandemic that while this crisis has created many problems, it has also exposed many other problems of a serious and long-standing character. One of them is Canada's long-standing crisis in long-term care.
Recently, the Canadian Institute for Health Information published data that reveals Canada has the worst record of all developed countries when it comes to COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes. This follows previous reports that showed Canada's death rate in seniors congregate settings is the highest among OECD states. That is a matter of international shame. The data also reveals that many provinces and territories were slow to act and that steps could have been taken to avoid many of the deaths that occurred. The data internationally highlights that many other countries were better prepared for a potential outbreak of infectious disease and dedicated more resources and funding to this sector.
With notable exceptions, such as the province I come from, British Columbia, the CIHI report notes that the lessons learned from the first wave of the pandemic did not lead to changes in outcomes during the second wave last fall, resulting in a larger number of outbreaks, infections and deaths. This is inexcusable. It means that there were many deaths of Canadian seniors that could have and should have been avoided.
Certain provinces did take early and effective steps to address the long-standing issues in long-term care. Again, the NDP government in British Columbia was one such leader, taking timely action to expand resources to staff, prohibit working between multiple sites and raise standards of care. This leadership is borne out by the data, which shows that B.C. had the best numbers of all comparable jurisdictions. However, the crisis in long-term care, and the urgent need for resources and legislative change, is a national one. Seniors have a right to proper care in every province and territory, not just those fortunate enough to reside in select provinces that are responding to the problems.
The upcoming budget provides a timely and powerful moment to deal with the NDP's repeated call for urgent federal action to establish binding national standards in Canada's long-term care sector backed up by federal funding tied to meeting those standards.
These include very critical factors like meeting minimum hours of care, which I note recently has been described as a minimum of six hours of care for every senior in long-term care. We need patient-aide ratios that allow people who work in these homes to be able to give the kind of quality care they are trained to do and so desperately want to provide, and we need decent working conditions for all staff. It has been said that the conditions of work are the conditions of care. We must ensure that this skilled work performed by skilled workers, predominantly women, by the way, often racialized and historically undervalued, is finally recognized for the essential public health care it is, and paid accordingly.
Speaking of public health care, we finally must address the problems in for-profit delivery. It is time we built a long-term care sector that is built on non-profit delivery, preferably through our public health care system and the non-profit sector. The data is overwhelming, long-standing and clear that for-profit care reduces standards of care, because it is obvious it diverts money to shareholders and profit that ought to be going directly to our seniors, and it incentivizes cost-cutting. That is borne out in the fact that, generally speaking, the death rate, infection rate and poor standards of care are higher in for-profit delivery systems.
National problems require national solutions. It is time our federal government acted. Our Canadian seniors deserve it.
I also want to state that another long-standing problem that has been profoundly revealed to all Canadians as a serious failure of public policy for decades has been revealed for all to see, and that is Canada's lack of domestic capacity for producing vaccines and, indeed, most essential medicines. Some of my colleagues may remember that just a summer or two ago we faced a serious shortage of EpiPens in this country, and we were only weeks away from having Canadians, particularly young Canadians, left without this life-saving medication.
Clearly, this has been one of the key problems behind Canada's painfully slow vaccine rollout, but it is not limited to pandemic vaccines. Our lack of Canadian production capacity is felt across many therapeutics, including numerous life-saving drugs Canadians rely on that routinely face crises in availability. This situation reveals how vulnerable Canadians are to the multinational private drug industry and indeed foreign governments in a time of crisis.
Of course, that was not always the case. For seven decades, Canada was home to Connaught Labs, a Canadian publicly owned enterprise that was one of the world's leading medicine and vaccine producers. Connaught Medical Research Laboratories was a non-commercial public health entity established in Toronto in 1914 to produce the diphtheria antitoxin.
It expanded significantly after the discovery of insulin by Canadians at the University of Toronto in 1921 and became a leading manufacturer and distributor of insulin at cost in Canada and overseas. Its non-commercial mandate mediated commercial interests and kept medicine accessible to millions of people who otherwise could not have afforded it. It also contributed to some of the key medical breakthroughs of the 20th century, including insulin, penicillin and the polio vaccine.
In 1972, Connaught was purchased by the Canada Development Corporation, a federally owned corporation charged with developing and maintaining Canadian-controlled companies through a mixture of public and private investment. Connaught provided vaccines to Canadians at cost, manufactured them here in our country, and sold vaccines to other countries at affordable prices. It operated without government financial support. It even made profits, which it reinvested in medical research. This was a fabulous example of public enterprise.
Despite this remarkable record, Connaught was privatized in 1986 by the Mulroney Conservatives for purely ideological reasons. The Liberals share squarely in the blame for this appalling, short-sighted public policy debacle that has left Canadians vulnerable in 2021. Despite being in power for 19 years after the privatization, 15 years in a majority government when they could have done anything they wanted to do, the Liberals never lifted a finger to re-establish public medicine production in Canada, so when they turn to Canadians and say that we cannot produce vaccines fast enough in Canada because we do not have the production capacity, Canadians have every right to look them squarely in the eye and ask them why they let them down.
Why did the successive Conservative and Liberal federal governments let Canadians down and leave us in this vulnerable position where we are dependent on a handful of multinational vaccine producers situated in other countries of the world for our essential life-saving vaccines? That is the result of the public policy decisions of the Liberals and Conservatives up to now, and Canadians need to hold them accountable for it.
Never again must Canadians be left in such a vulnerable position. As a G7 country, we deserve to be self-sufficient in all essential medications and vaccines as a public health priority of the highest order, so I am looking to the budget next week, and I would point out that this economic statement makes no mention of the establishment of a public drug manufacturer in Canada. By doing that, we could leverage public research done in Canada's universities, where, by the way, most of the new molecules and research for new pharmaceuticals actually comes from, and turn those into innovative medicines at a reasonable cost for the public good and not for private profit.
As we stand at the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin in Canada by Canadians, let us honour that legacy by building our Canadian medicine capacity. We have done it before. Let us do it again. I would like to see that in the budget next week or hear from my Liberal colleagues as to why they do not think it is a good idea.
Turning to another core foundational issue, the Liberals have been in power for six years now. That is long enough to be measured by their record. When they came into office in 2015, this country was facing a serious housing crisis. They have had six years to deal with it. Where is the affordable housing? The reality is that the crisis today is worse than it was prior to them taking office. Young Canadians across this country have no hope of purchasing any housing, and there are millions of Canadians in precarious housing who cannot live in dignified secure housing, whether rented or owned.
In my view, housing is a fundamental human right and a core foundational need. It is key to individual health and self-realization. It is also a foundation of health, as it is a central component of the social determinants that are so essential to keeping Canadians healthy. Housing should be available to every Canadian. It is simply unacceptable that a country as wealthy as Canada is unable to provide every citizen with the opportunity to own their own home. This is especially the case when we consider how large Canada is, how much land we have and how small our population is. Real estate is not just a commodity. It is a necessity.
I believe homelessness and precarious housing are social scourges that ought to shame us as a society, but homelessness and precarious housing are neither inevitable nor unsolvable. With enough political commitment and economic resources, there is simply no reason why a wealthy G7 nation such as Canada ought not to be able to ensure that every citizen can live in an affordable, secure and decent home.
Clearly, the present situation is a result of decades of poor policies at every level of government, federal, provincial and municipal. I believe there are a number of contributors to this calamity. These include a federal government that has been largely absent from the housing file since the late eighties, a lack of public investment in affordable housing of all types, extremely lax laws that permit extensive foreign capital into our communities that destabilizes domestic housing prices, and a misguided belief that the private sector development industry can and will provide affordable housing. All of these have contributed to a disastrous situation where people who have sacrificed enormously and done everything right cannot even purchase a modest home in the communities in which they live and work.
I believe we need a multipronged approach to address this unacceptable situation, and we will be keeping a keen eye on the budget coming up to see if these suggestions are contained in that budget. I think this requires a national program with federal leadership and harnessing local creativity and innovation. Most importantly, it involves public enterprise.
Solutions include strong and effective curbs on foreign capital investments in residential real estate, particularly in overheated local markets where the cost of housing bears no relationship whatsoever to the average income or wages earned by people in that community. If anybody is looking for any proof of the destabilizing impact of foreign capital, they only have to look to a place like the Lower Mainland where houses are going for $2 million, $3 million, $4 million and $5 million, and 98% of the people who work here cannot afford those houses. Who is buying them? It is certainly not people in our communities.
We need tax incentives that promote the construction of affordable rental buildings, not just market rental buildings, but affordable rental buildings. We must ensure that all developments over a certain size include a minimum number of truly affordable units owned, perhaps, by the municipalities in perpetuity, like they do in Vienna.
We must create an ambitious national co-op housing program, targeted at building 500,000 units of housing over the next 10 years. This could be a modern version of the extremely successful program of the 1970s and 1980s with expanded targets and with an ironclad commitment to the principle of tying rent to income, say no more than 30%. While I know that co-operative living is not for everyone, it does represent a demonstrated successful model that houses people from varied family situations across all age limits and socio-economic categories and permits security of tenure, affordable housing and ability to age in place.
Vancouver Kingsway has many of these wonderful communities still in operation, and I believe this concept can be harnessed to house a new generation of Canadians. Let us see if next week the Liberal government has the creativity to bring in a strong national co-op housing program.
We need to implement each of the suggestions in the recovery for all campaign's initiatives. I think every parliamentarian has likely received this, which contains excellent suggestions for federal policy on things that they can do in their jurisdiction. We need an effective national housing strategy act, the appointment of a federal housing advocate and members of a national housing council with teeth.
In the end, secure, dignified housing represents a foundational, core need for people without which their ability to participate meaningfully in society or to reach their potential is seriously impaired. It must be a priority of the first order. I wish I could say that this is regarded as such by the current Liberal government, but its lack of meaningful progress to date on this critical file leaves me with no other conclusion than that they are not prepared to allocate the kinds of resources or policies that are truly needed to adequately address this crisis.
Now I know that Liberals will stand up in this House and say it is a priority for them, but I ask them once again to show me the housing. After six years in office, can they show me where the tens of thousands of affordable housing units are that could and should have been built in the last six years. They cannot. They will make all sorts of weak excuses like housing takes time. I would remind them after World War II, the Government of Canada built 300,000 units of affordable housing for returning soldiers in 36 months. That is what a government committed to housing can and will do.
I urge the present government to make the creation, building and expansion of affordable housing of all types as a matter of prime political priority in the upcoming budget. After all, making sure everyone in our community has appropriate housing is the responsibility of us all.
Finally, I want to say a word about climate change. There are few issues that are existential in nature in politics. The climate crisis facing our planet is one of those. The IPCC has repeatedly stated that we have less than 10 years to take meaningful action and reverse the calamitous impacts that will occur if we do not do so. I would note that carbon emissions have gone up over the course of the government's tenure since 2015. In fact, since the early 1990s, despite repeated pledges to reduce carbon emissions by such or such a date, no government has ever hit them. This must change—
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill , which would implement certain provisions of the November 30, 2020, economic statement and other measures.
It is rather unusual that we are still talking about the economic statement on April 13, when a budget is being announced on Monday. That is part of the delays inherent to this type of parliamentary process, and we need to live with it.
Our position is no secret. As the Bloc Québécois said some time ago, our party is in favour of the bill, but not enthusiastically so. This bill does not reinvent the wheel, as the saying goes, but our position is clear: We will support any initiative that seeks to support Quebeckers. In that respect, the bill contains a number of interesting measures that we think are good, but there are others that we need to approach with caution.
For instance, we are in favour of eliminating interest on student and apprentice loans for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Students deserve help. This will impact almost 1.4 million borrowers outside Quebec. However, let us not forget that Quebec has its own student loan program. We must absolutely ensure that Quebec youth receive prorated compensation based on the number of post-secondary students. I was in school for a long time. I left university in 2018 at the age of 30 when I completed my Ph.D., and I am well aware of this reality. It is important to compensate students and to help them. I recently gave an interview to the Saint-Hyacinthe Cégep student organization in my riding. I spoke to them about this issue, and they most definitely understood it. In many ways, they probably understand it better than all of us, because it is their everyday reality.
I do, however, want to talk about the industries that were left out of this economic statement. I touched on them earlier during question period, and I also signed an open letter in today's edition of Le Journal de Montréal on the aerospace industry, which was left out of this economic statement and the throne speech. I sincerely hope that the industry will be mentioned in Monday's budget, since now is the time to act.
When the late Jean Lapierre sat in the House, he said that the aerospace industry was to Quebec what the automotive industry was to Ontario. He was right, because the aerospace industry is a strategic industry. I want to emphasize the word “strategic”. Although the government often overlooks the industry's importance, greater Montreal is the third-largest aerospace hub in the world, behind Seattle, with Boeing, and Toulouse, with Airbus. There are just three places in the world that have all of the parts and components to build an entire aircraft from nose to tail, and Quebec is one of those places. We are proud of that.
Quebec's aerospace industry consists of 220 companies, including 200 SMEs, and represents over 40,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs. It is Quebec's primary export sector. That is why I called it a strategic industry. With annual sales of more than $15 billion, this sector alone accounts for about half of Canada's aerospace business. For instance, our industry manufactures the best airplane in the world, which causes the least pollution and replaces the cabin air in flight. Our researchers are even envisioning a zero-emission plane. Considering the environmental challenges that have been plaguing us for so long and that are increasingly the focus of public debate, is that not where we should be headed in the 21st century? This sector is a real R and D hotbed. It would be truly irresponsible to ignore it.
There is no end to the stats and figures I could share to show how much the aerospace sector contributes to Quebec's reputation and, by extension, to our pride. However, with that pride come serious concerns, and not just because of the health crisis.
Ottawa's lack of vision and political will have undermined the aerospace sector for many years, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this precarious situation, as it has in so many other cases. Take health transfers, for example. The needs were there before the pandemic, the population is aging, the costs are skyrocketing and the provinces need to hire staff, but the money stays in Ottawa.
In aerospace, it is more or less the same thing. The pandemic is making the ups and downs more intense, but it did not create the problem. As everyone knows, the COVID-19 pandemic has grounded planes. Maintenance operations are limited, and orders for new aircraft are way down, not to say non-existent. Obviously this has repercussions on the technicians, who are being pushed into the construction industry just to make ends meet. As a result, we could lose their expertise and the ability to bounce back post-COVID.
The federal government constantly urges us to look to the post-COVID future. However, it is time to walk the talk, because federal inaction could destroy in a few months what it took generations to build. The sector is suffering and is worried about Ottawa's wait-and-see approach. It is worried that, by holding back, Ottawa is condemning 20,000 people to lose their jobs in the next 18 months. It is worried to even think that that may be what Ottawa secretly wants. Dear colleagues, silence speaks volumes, and the continuing silence is condemning an entire sector, its know-how and its local expertise. Every day, the Achilles heel of our aerospace sector grows, and the injury gets worse. This sector is becoming increasingly vulnerable and obvious prey for foreign investors. Why are we not taking action?
Targeted financial assistance to the most vulnerable sectors is necessary. Yes, we were in favour of certain measures, and we even suggested several others. We helped improve them and made many suggestions to enhance the assistance programs in general. However, specific aid for the sectors that are most in trouble is necessary, and that includes the aerospace sector. It is imperative that the next federal budget allocate the required funds.
This is something the Bloc Québécois has been working on for a long time, but the majority needs to understand exactly what we are talking about. The throne speech completely ignored the very existence of this key industry, but I remember questioning the , the , the and the about it repeatedly. Each of them spouted the governing majority's lines about how Ottawa is working very hard for the “air” sector. That is the same kind of answer I got again earlier today, in question period. I asked the government a question about support for the aerospace industry, and I got an answer about yesterday's announcement regarding aid for Air Canada.
There is a long way to go. We recognize that it is unrealistic to expect people to understand what an aerospace policy is, if they do not even understand what the aerospace industry consists of.
It is not complicated. Air transportation includes commercial, diplomatic and leisure flights. In short, it involves planes and buying tickets. The aerospace industry includes the SMEs that maintain, build and recycle parts, and it is also an absolutely remarkable research and development cluster. Is it now clear that they are not the same thing? Of course there is a link between the two, and that is the order book, but the two sectors are not the same. They are not synonymous, and the government needs to stop claiming that they are.
This dissonance, this disconnect between reality and the Liberals' perception of it, makes it abundantly clear that they do not understand what we are talking about at all. As my party's aerospace critic in this chamber, I will say that there is no question financial support is needed, and that is what the Bloc Québécois is calling for.
When Ontario needs help for the auto industry, it gets it. When the west needs help for the oil industry, it gets it. We are asking the federal government to make sure its recovery plan does not neglect this brilliant but struggling sector. This is consistent with the long-standing position we share with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and Unifor. We want to make some good come of the public health crisis by developing a genuine aerospace policy. Our sovereignty and our ability to preserve this iconic industry are at stake.
To draft the kind of aerospace policy I am talking about, we need a permanent round table that includes Ottawa, Quebec, the industry and unions. Ottawa has already done this for the auto industry, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. It is not that complicated. However, there are quite a few issues to work on.
Last fall, I gave a speech about the aerospace industry. There are lots of things we can do. We can initiate a green shift. We also need a policy on parts recycling. Quebec has expertise in that area. It can be done.
Greening conditions need to be attached to the financial assistance. We are in favour of providing financial assistance, but not without conditions. The industry we want to support must adhere to certain conditions, and greening is one of them. A Quebec company invented one of the most environmentally friendly airplanes in the world. Going green will pay off for us.
We also need to look at maintenance policies, liquidity provision, loans for buyers, a military procurement policy, and support for R and D, which is extremely important in this field. I will explain how important this is, and not only in Quebec. European researchers have invented a heart valve based on airplane parts. This shows how advanced aerospace R and D is around the world. Of course, there is a workforce training policy.
Various elements should be combined to create a coherent program that recognizes the aerospace sector as its own ecosystem. Quebec has had an aerospace policy for about 20 years. However, our ability to act is obviously limited, as there are things that a province cannot do.
Among all the countries that have a major aerospace industry, Canada is the only one that does not have a policy framework supporting its development. This needs to end. There needs to be a policy. We have to prevent this slow-motion suicide.
If Ottawa does not take action, then perhaps we should consider giving Quebec the freedom to be the sole architect of this long-awaited reaction. I said “perhaps”, but of course I said it with some assurance. It is a rhetorical question, but I already know the answer.
To illustrate what I mean, I will share the symbolic example of Bombardier. Often there is a misconception that aerospace starts and ends with Bombardier. It is certainly the flagship, but it is not the only company that works in this field. In fact, there are 220 companies that work in this field. I know that the construction, maintenance and all the rest does not come from Bombardier alone, but I will provide the following example nonetheless.
In February, I expressed my sincere solidarity with the 1,600 workers who were laid off by Bombardier, while denouncing once again Ottawa's inability to support the sector hard hit by the pandemic. Among the positions that were cut, 700 were in Montreal and several were connected to the Global business jet, for which the interior finishes were done in the Montreal area. Added to this sad loss are the 2,500 jobs, mostly in Quebec, that were cut by the company in summer 2020.
As a parliamentarian, I have a duty to oppose the direction that Ottawa is forcing the provinces, and especially Quebec, to take with the aerospace industry. Here are some examples illustrating how we are headed in the wrong direction. Bombardier sold its transportation division, exited the A220 program and, forsaken by the government, made a painful decision to sell its C Series to Airbus.
We do need to help our sector, but there are some conditions. In light of the size of this industry, Ottawa must provide certain guarantees that it will protect the independence of the aerospace industry, on top of providing assistance. This money must be put towards the workers and innovation, not the executives. The industry must remain in Quebec. That can be done.