Mr. Speaker, with the rising threat of the omicron variant, it is absolutely crucial that Bill pass in order to bring in the supports that Canadian businesses and workers need.
What we have learned over the past 12 months is that the most important and effective economic policy is one that protects the health of Canadians.
I would like to remind the Conservatives and the NDP, who voted against the bill, that we are still in a pandemic, and our entrepreneurs and workers continue to face significant challenges. This is certainly not the time to let them down.
In these troubling times of rapidly increasing cases of the omicron variant, the federal government is ready to act, and we have the resources to do so.
In the economic and fiscal update presented earlier this week, our government announced the following investments: $2 billion to procure COVID-19 therapeutics and treatments that will save lives and help prevent hospitalizations, $1.7 billion to procure rapid testing supplies in order to identify infections earlier and break the chain of transmission, and $7.3 billion to procure vaccine boosters.
We are facing a serious threat, but we are prepared. Responding to this threat is obviously going to be the federal government's top priority.
Let us take a step back for a moment. When the pandemic hit us, our government rapidly rolled out a full range of effective, broad-based programs to support Canadians through our country’s greatest economic shock since the Great Depression. These actions were necessary and unprecedented in our lifetime.
A mere weeks after the start of the COVID-19 health crisis in Canada, we moved to introduce the emergency recovery benefit to ensure the Canadians who lost their jobs could keep food on the table and a roof over their head. We also introduced the emergency wage subsidy to help our businesses, particularly our small businesses, but also to help our workers and those working for our small businesses.
These supports have been absolutely critical, both for our economy and for our health. As the IMF recently said, “Government budget support measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have saved lives and jobs.”
It is therefore not a coincidence that we, here in Canada, have the second lowest COVID death rate out the G7. It is also no coincidence that we have the second strongest job recovery in the G7. This is a direct result of the resilience of Canadians, but it is also a demonstration of the impact a federal government can have when it puts people first.
Conservative members in this House seem to take a different view, choosing instead to demonize those Canadians that needed support during the depth of the pandemic. For example, the Conservative finance critic said yesterday that CERB recipients were fraudsters stuffing their pockets.
We are talking about a program that helped nearly nine million Canadians and was a literal lifeline for so many. We are talking about vulnerable seniors. We are talking about workers who lost their jobs and needed to put food on the kitchen table. These are our neighbours, our fellow Canadians. They should not be vilified.
I stand behind the supports we put in place. I also stand behind the decision to end the CERB once the economy reopened and jobs were again available. We can, and we have, made the right decisions at the right time in order to support those in need and support economic growth.
From coast to coast to coast, our programs have been a lifeline for workers and businesses. They have helped protect millions of jobs and helped hundreds of thousands of Canadian businesses get through the worst days of the pandemic.
However, let us be clear. These emergency measures were always meant to be temporary and to help us get through the crisis. Fortunately, we are in a new phase and it is very different from the darkest chapters of our fight against COVID‑19. Not only have we recovered 106% of the jobs lost during COVID‑19, but our economy is bouncing back exceptionally well. In the last quarter, the growth rate was 5.4%, which is twice as high as expected.
We also have the most effective and successful vaccination campaign in the world. Indeed, 64 million doses have already been administered and more than 80% of Canadians aged five and up have received two doses of the vaccine.
We have concluded agreements to receive millions of additional doses to ensure that all Canadians have access to the third dose of the vaccine.
Thanks to one of the most successful vaccination campaigns in the world, most businesses here in Canada have safely reopened and our country's employment is now back to well above pre-pandemic levels. However, we know there are still workers and businesses whose livelihoods are being affected as a result of public health measures. That is why it is important to pivot our supports to more targeted measures that will provide help where it is needed most, and continue to create jobs and growth while prudently managing government spending.
Some may wonder how we can tell that we have reached this turning point in Canada's economic recovery from the COVID recession. Allow me to highlight several markers of our government's successful economic response plan that has brought us to where we are today.
Last year, in the Speech from the Throne, our government promised to create one million jobs, a goal we achieved in September of this year when Canada recovered all of the jobs lost at the worst point of the recession. There have been three million jobs recovered since the spring of 2020, a very impressive number. Our plan is working. We have now surpassed our target and have, in fact, recovered 106% of the jobs lost at the peak of the pandemic, significantly outpacing the United States, where just 83% of lost jobs have been recovered thus far.
By delivering significant fiscal policy support to the economy and avoiding the harmful austerity policies proposed by the Conservatives after the 2008 recession, our Liberal government has supported a much more rapid and resilient recovery. In fact, our economy is now back to pre-pandemic outputs many months earlier than in the 2008 recession, even though the COVID recession was four times deeper and more significant.
However, as welcome as these economic markers and signs of recovery are, our government recognizes that not all sectors of the economy are there yet. Some of the necessary health and safety measures that continue to save lives continue to be restrictive for our businesses and for certain sectors of the economy, and with the threat of omicron looming, we need to continue to provide support where and when it is needed. What this means for our government is that we are entering what I truly hope and believe will be the final pivot in delivering the support needed to ensure a robust, inclusive and strong recovery for our country.
The service industry continues to stimulate the recovery, but the progress made in the retail sector has been erased in part by the losses in other sectors, including the accommodation and food services sector.
As the indicated earlier, many of the business support programs ended in October with the reopening of our economy. However, we know that the work is not over. The federal government must continue to be there to support Canadians. That is exactly what we are doing with Bill , which is before us today. We are moving on from broad, sweeping support, which was appropriate at the height of the crisis, to more targeted measures that will provide help where it is still needed.
This includes extending the Canada recovery hiring program until May 2022, which would help us finish the fight against COVID and continue to ensure that lost jobs are recovered as quickly as possible. For eligible employers with current revenue losses above 10%, our government would provide a subsidy rate of 50% to enable employers to hire the staff they need to grow. In addition, our government is proposing to deliver targeted support to businesses that are still facing significant pandemic-related challenges.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, I am particularly concerned with the struggles still faced by the tourism industry and those who depend on it. Let us not sugar-coat it: The industry has gone through an absolutely devastating 21 months. Tourism revenues decreased by almost 50% between 2019 and 2020, going from $104 billion to just $53 billion, while jobs directly attributable to tourism decreased by 41%. Those numbers are shocking. We must acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of workers in the tourism industry have lost their jobs, and that although many industries have seen strong and sustained recovery, the tourism sector is still struggling to recover its losses.
We must recognize the very difficult situation they face, and that is why we are moving forward in Bill with a new targeted tourism and hospitality recovery program. This new support program would provide wage and rent subsidies to tourism and hospitality businesses still facing serious pandemic-related challenges. Eligible applicants include hotels, travel agents, airports and other businesses directly related to tourism. However, we recognize that many more businesses rely indirectly on tourism. After all, about 10% of all jobs in Canada are dependent directly or indirectly on tourism. That is why we have expanded the list of eligible recipients to include restaurants, parks, sports facilities, theatres, festivals and more.
I know that this help is absolutely critical. I have spoken to hundreds of independent restaurant and tourism operators, and I have heard first-hand the distress and angst they have at the prospect of closing their businesses, often their life's work. Local businesses, like a favourite neighbourhood restaurant, are what make our communities and main streets home. We cannot leave them behind. That is why we have brought forward Bill and why it is so urgent that it pass.
To help these businesses that are still facing significant difficulties, our government is proposing to provide support through three new programs for businesses still grappling with major pandemic-related challenges.
The first is the tourism and hospitality recovery program, which would provide support to, for example, hotels, tour operators, travel agencies and restaurants with wage and rent subsidies of up to 75%.
The second is the hardest-hit business recovery program, which would provide support to other businesses that have faced deep losses, with wage and rent subsidies of up to 50%.
The third is the local lockdown program, which would provide businesses that face temporary new local lockdowns up to the maximum amount available through the wage and rent subsidy programs.
Finally, to ensure that workers who must isolate due to illness or must stay home to take care of a family member can continue to receive financial support, we are extending the recovery sickness benefit and the recovery caregiving benefit.
These measures are essential for our economy and to protect Canadians' health. They should be supported by all parties in the House.
As my time draws to a close in this debate on Bill , let me take this opportunity to address Canadians before we leave for the holidays. I would ask them to book their appointments for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The booster shot is incredibly important. As a mother to a young child, I will also take this opportunity to address Canadian parents from right across the country and encourage them to get their children vaccinated as well.
Let us do everything we can to help the provinces and territories avoid putting in place further lockdown measures. Let us do everything possible to avoid overwhelming our health care system and our hospitals. Let us do everything possible to keep each other safe and healthy.
As this may be my last opportunity to speak before the holidays, I wish you, Mr. Speaker, my colleagues and all Canadians a very happy holiday period, a safe holiday season and a healthy 2022.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday we learned that Canada's inflation rate is at its highest point in 30 years and that the 4.7% inflation rate is growing about 2% faster than Canadians' wages. For the average Canadian, that is equivalent to a pay cut.
We talked about “Justinflation” and said the government was behind this inflation rate. What the Liberals said in their own defence was worse than the allegation. Let me explain. They said that the inflation rate was the result of global supply chains being disrupted by COVID-19, leading to higher prices. That is a bizarre explanation, since it is the prices for Canadian products that are rising the most. For example, the cost of home heating has gone up 26%.
In Canada, we have 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That domestic energy supply provides heating for Canadian families. It has nothing to do with global supply chains.
In addition, gas prices have gone up 43%. What do we have right here in Canada? We have the second-largest oil and gas reserves in the world. In that case, why are we relying on global supply chains?
Yesterday, the said that we are relying on foreign oil in order to save the planet. He even mocked the Conservative Party by saying that those who want to produce oil here simply want to “drill, baby, drill”. However, he is the one who wants to “drill, baby, drill”, just anywhere else in the world besides Canada.
The other day, I was in Saint John, New Brunswick. As I gazed out over the ocean, I saw a big ship that was carrying oil from the Middle East to Canada, oil coming from Egypt. Oil from the Red Sea was loaded onto that ship on Egypt's north coast, on the Mediterranean. How did the Egyptians get that oil from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean? They did so with the help of a pipeline.
The government is in favour of the pipelines that Egypt built to carry oil from the Middle East to a ship that has to cross the entire Atlantic Ocean. Ironically, that ship burns diesel fuel and increases the risk of oil spills in the ocean in order to bring that oil to eastern Canada at a higher price. Eastern Canadians are paying more for gas and other oil products. Why? It is because the Government of Canada blocked the extension of a pipeline from western Canada to Saint John, New Brunswick.
The says that the cost of gas is too high because of problems in the global supply chain. This policy is even more reprehensible when we know that if he had allowed a pipeline to be built and increased production of western oil, which is green, instead of importing more from the Middle East, our oil could have been delivered to Canadians in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and elsewhere in eastern Canada.
Thirdly, according to the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, the cost of food for a middle-class family will increase by $1,000 next year. A single mother will have to pay $1,000 more to feed her children.
Canada ranks third in the world for the amount of farmland per capita. Why is the government saying that global supply chains are responsible for the rising cost of food in Canada when we have the capacity to produce our own food? We have enough farmers and land to produce our own food, so let us take advantage of that.
In fact, if every Canadian had an equal share of that land, we would each have the equivalent of 33 football fields. Canada clearly has enough land to produce its own food and should be able to manage that, but it cannot because carbon taxes, red tape and other regulations prevent our farmers from producing more food more affordably.
Yesterday, the Canadian Real Estate Association announced that housing prices have gone up 20% to 25% since last year, despite Canada being second only to Russia in sheer size. Canada also has enough lumber to build more houses, so the Liberals cannot blame global supply chains for the rising cost of land in Canada, because the Earth was created thousands of years ago, long before we got here. That land is already here and is not dependent on global supply chains, so the problem is here.
Canada is not producing enough energy to heat our homes and put gas in our cars. We are not producing enough food to feed our people, and we are not building enough houses to shelter them. About 85% of young Canadians say they want to buy a house, but they cannot afford to. As the very wealthy owners of big cottages and palatial homes watch their property values rise, people who have to rent are getting poorer and poorer because the value of the dollar is shrinking by the day.
What are we producing here in Canada? We are producing money. We are printing more money. Perhaps the only way the government has found to support the forestry sector is to produce more paper money. The reality is that when there are 400 billion more dollars chasing the same number of goods, prices go up.
There is another way to go. For example, Switzerland has a 1.5% inflation rate. That is one-third of our inflation rate. Why is inflation lower in Switzerland? It is because they are not printing any money. In Switzerland, the money supply went up 6%, compared to 23% in Canada. Canada is printing four times more money, which is why our inflation rate is four times higher than Switzerland's.
People will say we cannot consume everything Canada produces. It is true that we could not possibly consume all the oil and gas, natural gas, food and all the other products we make. However, one way to fight inflation is to sell more products around the world in order to bring up the value of our dollar. If we export more of our high-value products, that has to increase the value of our dollar, and it means we can buy more on the world markets.
We are seeing this in Switzerland. Since the Swiss franc is worth 8% more than the U.S. dollar, Switzerland has a competitive advantage when purchasing products on the international market. The Swiss franc has far more power, because it is worth more. The Canadian dollar is worth 20% less than the U.S. dollar, so we have less purchasing power in international markets.
Using and producing more of our own resources is not only about providing products to our own population. It also serves to increase the value and purchasing power of our dollar internationally.
Before anyone rushes to say that a stronger dollar is bad for our exports, I would point out that that is not what happened in Switzerland. In fact, the Swiss enjoy a trade surplus in terms of international trade, meaning they sell more to the rest of the world than they purchase. Why? Because they give their businesses the freedom to produce more. The Swiss create products, while Canada prints money. That is what needs to change.
The Conservative Party's policy is about supporting the construction of new pipelines in order to provide clean, affordable energy to our own population and to export it to the rest of the world. It is about allowing our energy companies to produce natural gas to provide Canadians with more affordable heating options. It is about allowing our farmers to sell more of the food they produce at a more reasonable cost. It is about selling 15% of the 37,000 federally owned buildings that are underutilized, especially since the onset of COVID-19 and the increase in teleworking, and converting them into affordable housing.
Rather than printing money, we will create more products, which can be purchased with money. That is our approach: purchase more and spend less. Let us do this with paycheques, not debt.
Statistics Canada reported a 30-year high in inflation. Inflation rising 2% faster than wages means a real pay cut for Canadians, and the government's defence against the allegation that it was to blame was worse than the charge. It claimed that the cause is COVID disruptions to international supply chains. The question is this: Why would we need international supply chains for the products that are rising most quickly in price, when those same products are made here in Canada?
Energy, food and real estate have increased more than almost any other product in the basket of goods Canadians buy. What do we have? We have energy, we have farmland and we have land and lumber for housing, so why is our country so dependent on the rest of the world for the goods that we have beneath our feet right here at home?
Let us go through them.
Home heating has gone up 26% in one year. Canada has 1,300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Why are we depending on the rest of the world to heat our homes, when we have the energy to do it right under our feet here in Canada?
Gas is up 43%. What we do have here? We have the second-biggest supply of oil on planet earth, and yet the says we should not produce it here. He even tried to mock others by accusing them of them “Drill, baby, drill!”, but “Drill, baby, drill!” is his policy. He wants to drill oil wells all around the world; he just does not want any of the wages from those drilling projects to go to Canadian workers.
I stood at the Bay of Fundy, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean two weeks ago, watching a tanker that had travelled from the northern coast of Egypt through the Mediterranean and all the way to Saint John, where it will have been processed at the Irving refinery. Do members know how they got the oil onto that tanker? It was by a pipeline that went from the Red Sea across northern Egypt to the Mediterranean. Do not tell me this is against pipelines. He is in favour of every pipeline that one could build anywhere outside of Canada, as long as it does not use Canadian steel, pay Canadian wages, hire Canadian energy workers or provide jobs to refinery workers in eastern Canada. As long as the paycheques go to other countries, he is 100% in favour of pipelines.
Now, to go back to inflation, the question is this: Why are we paying a premium for Saudi, middle eastern, African and American oil when we have the second-biggest supply here in Canada? That should not be a question of international supply chains; it should be a question of domestic self-sufficiency.
The next issue is food, which is up $1,000 next year, according to Dalhousie University's food institute. It expects that the average family will spend an extra grand feeding itself next year. Why? We have the third-largest area of farmland per capita in the world, and we have the best farmers, so why can we not supply our own nutritious food? The answer is that our foreign competitors do not apply carbon taxes at our rate to the farmers who are producing their food, nor do they face the same kind of regulatory and red-tape obstacles that drive up food production. Therefore, our farmers have to pass those costs on to consumers in the form of inflation, and our consumers then have to rely, embarrassingly and humiliatingly, on foreign supply chains to feed ourselves, even while we have been blessed with the best and the third-largest area of farmland on planet earth.
Then we come to housing. Just yesterday, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported that Canada has seen a 20% to 25% increase in real prices, which is the single biggest increase on record ever. Not adjusted for seasonal variation, the average house now costs $720,000 and it is over a million bucks to buy the average house, not a mansion, in Canada's biggest city, Toronto.
We are developing in this country a landed aristocracy of extremely wealthy people who make more money through the appreciation of their real estate than they do from the wages of their labour, while we have a growing class of working millennials who now have no hope of ever owning a home.
According to an Ipsos survey, 85% of millennials say they want to own a home but cannot afford to. Who would be surprised about that when one has to pay a million dollars. One would have to save up $100,000 in order to make a down payment on the average home in Toronto today at 10% down. If a person is saving $500 a month, that is 200 months to save up for a down payment to have the privilege of then bearing a mortgage of $900,000.
We have the second-biggest housing bubble in the world, according to Bloomberg. Again, how does one blame that on foreign supply chains? By definition, land does not have supply chains. It is already here under our feet, and we have the second-biggest land mass on earth. If we spread Canadians out evenly, each and every one of them would have 33 CFL-sized football fields to themselves. We would not actually be able to see another person in Canada if we were spread out evenly. We have more places in Canada where there is no one than we have places where there is anyone, yet we cannot find room to house our own people. This is ridiculous.
Vancouver and Toronto are the second and fifth most unaffordable housing markets in the world when we compare median income to median house prices, more unaffordable than Manhattan; San Francisco; London, England; Singapore and countless other places with less land, more money and more people. Why? One cannot blame international supply chains or COVID for that. In fact, all the land and almost all the housing on the market today was built before the first case of COVID even hit our shores. As a result, one cannot blame any of those things. This is, by definition, a homemade problem, pun intended.
The government's defence for its 30-year high in inflation is ironically worse than the allegation itself. It has created an economy where we cannot supply ourselves with the very things God blessed this land with before we even arrived here. We have more land, yet we cannot grow our own food. We have more lumber, yet we cannot build our own homes. We have more energy, yet we cannot heat or power our lives. We are hopelessly dependent on the rest of the world, and that is why, when prices go up, we are so weak in trying to pay the price for it.
Some will say it is not that simple and we cannot simply supply every Canadian with domestically generated goods. What we can do, where we have to buy on an international level, is have more purchasing power with a stronger dollar. When we compete for scarce global goods, we do so against countries that have real purchasing power.
I give the example of Switzerland. It has increased its money supply by 6% since COVID struck. We increased ours by 23%. What is the result? Its inflation is 1.5% and our inflation is more than three times higher, at 4.7%.
Part of that is because the Swiss franc has real purchasing power. The Swiss can go out into the world market and buy things with their money that we cannot. Their franc is worth 8% more than the U.S. dollar and ours is worth 20% less. Therefore, when there is a widget that a Canadian needs and a Swiss citizen needs and we both walk up and we have the loonie and they have the franc, let us be frank about who is getting that widget. They are getting it, because they have good, sound money. They produce things while we produce cash, and as a result, they have more valuable money.
Before we hear Liberals whine on about how we could not export goods if we had a powerful dollar on the international markets, the Swiss are running a trade surplus, because they do not rely on cheap cash to sell their goods. They rely on a productive economy that generates value to sell their goods.
That is how to increase the well-being of a population. It is how to lift people out of poverty and give them an opportunity. It is not by producing cash, but by producing more of what cash buys.
Let us unleash the free enterprise system to grow more affordable and nutritious food, to supply more affordable homes to our people and to bring the prodigious energy with which our land has been blessed to our consumers. In other words, let us make more and cost less, with paycheques, not debt.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague and friend, the member for .
Bill came back to the House after being examined and even improved in committee. I want to explain to the House why the Bloc Québécois supported the principle of the bill and voted in favour of it. As the omicron variant has unfortunately reminded us, we are still in the midst of a pandemic and many sectors are still struggling. From the outset, we collectively decided to support those sectors, knowing that we would need those workers and businesses when the pandemic was over.
Bill C-2 extends the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy, but in a more targeted way, in order to help sectors that are struggling, such as the tourism and hospitality industry. I am thinking here about the challenges facing large hotel groups, since international conferences and other such events have been put on pause. The bill also targets another sector that is very important to us, the arts and culture industry, and it contains measures for businesses in other struggling industries. The bill also proposes support for individuals who have to care for a sick person quarantined at home because of COVID-19, as well as support measures for provinces or regions if they have to go back into lockdown. We are in favour of all of that.
When we read the first version of the bill, we and many of our colleagues in the House noticed that self-employed workers had been overlooked, since the bill did not set anything aside for them after CERB ended. We wanted to ensure that self-employed workers in these struggling sectors would be supported.
The first question I asked the was about the absence of support measures for these individuals in the targeted sectors. She replied and repeated publicly that the program, the government and the department were not in a position to provide targeted support in those sectors, and officials appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance to confirm this. My colleague from also raised that issue at committee, as did my colleague from Shefford.
This is all very disappointing. After nearly two years of the pandemic, the government and its departments have not been able to evolve, move in new directions, be more flexible and better adapt the existing tools, especially by targeting certain sectors. This was done for the wage subsidy, but not for self-employed workers in the same sectors. It makes no sense.
Nevertheless, we negotiated and were guaranteed that there would be a support program for self-employed workers in the arts and culture sector. The Minister of Finance came to committee to tell us that, and the went into great detail explaining what it would look like, referring to the Quebec model in particular. In Quebec, the government supports foundations, which in turn support the self-employed workers in the sector. Since we found it unacceptable to leave out self-employed arts and culture workers, the guarantees we got suit us fine, and we are okay with things on that front.
The Bloc Québécois asked the government and the Minister of Finance for something else. The original version of the bill gave the minister and the Governor in Council sweeping power, in legal jargon, to change all of the terms of the bill and meet any new needs that might arise. According to the criteria, a businesses had to have lost 50% of its sales, or 40% for businesses in a targeted sector, during the qualifying periods in order to be eligible. Are those good percentages? Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore these issues in depth due to the short timeframe we were given.
The and government officials confirmed that Bill , as written, gave the minister the power to make changes by way of regulation and to adjust support levels for targeted sectors.
That is a crucial element for the Bloc Québécois. During a pandemic, the situation and the circumstances can change fast. Some sectors that we feel need support because they play a crucial and strategic role in our economy may find themselves struggling. We need to do something about that. We actually got confirmation on that from the Minister of Finance.
The Bloc Québécois will be there to remind her. Quebec's manufacturing sector has approached us about this. Because of the pandemic, there is a huge shortage of semiconductors, and major Quebec companies that use semiconductors have seen very uneven or slowed production. The Minister of Finance told us that the numbers show the situation is not as bad as we feared, and she promised to give us those numbers. I would like to remind her that we are still waiting for those numbers. It has been a week, and we have not received anything. She could certainly do better on that front.
What the Bloc Québécois likes about Bill is that, if the Minister of Finance needed to better support this sector, she would have the power to do so through regulations. This could be done quickly. The same goes for the aerospace industry. We are committed to talking about this at length when we come back to the House to see where things stand and how the needs have evolved. Again, the Bloc Québécois will be there to remind the Minister of Finance of the power she has and to remind her to use it for the good of the economy.
I will address another issue that is missing from Bill C‑2. It is an incredible injustice that has to do with a serious crisis. I am talking about the situation with seniors who had to rely on various forms of emergency benefits during the pandemic and who are now getting part of their guaranteed income supplement taken away, because the Canada emergency response benefit is not considered working income; their file was processed by Service Canada, which prevented them from proceeding with a new calculation for the current year; or they were required to make a repayment in the same year instead of in installments over a few years.
I am sure that my colleague from will speak to this in detail in her speech. The Bloc Québécois considers this a serious problem. We contacted the Minister of Finance and the respective ministers in Quebec about this both during and after the election campaign, urging them to act because this was important. We asked again in relation to Bill . The Minister of Finance promised to deal with the situation in the days to follow. We were led to believe that it would be in the economic update. We finally got $742 million. That is not what we were looking for, but it seems promising. We are waiting for the details before we make up our minds.
The big problem, however, is that the money would not be available until May 2022. Seniors have been living with reduced incomes for months now. The poorest seniors, the ones who receive the guaranteed income supplement, already have limited purchasing power. We are now struggling with inflation, but the fix would not come until next May. That is unacceptable. The Bloc Québécois will keep reminding the government that it needs to speed up the process.
We needed more time in committee. We were rushed, and it took the government two months to recall the House after an unnecessary election. Thus, we were unable to improve the bill as much as we could have.
However, I would like to remind members that we adopted an amendment proposed by my colleague from . That amendment does improve Bill . I imagine that my colleague will speak more about it during his speech. An amendment moved by the member for was also adopted. However, the study of a bill requires more time.
In closing, I want to thank my colleagues who supported me at the Standing Committee on Finance. I am thinking of the member for concerning arts and culture, the member for , who is interested in pandemic-related assistance programs, my colleague from , who is interested in seniors, and my colleague from , who also supported me.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my excellent colleague from , who is also the finance critic. He is doing a fabulous job of handling this file, and I would like to congratulate him for his work.
I rise to speak during this second reading of Bill in a collaborative spirit. Like my colleague, I will begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C‑2, which introduces new targeted assistance programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we know, the pandemic is far from over.
Having been elected in 2019, just before the pandemic started, I have seen collaboration happen. Since the beginning of the crisis, my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I have proposed dozens of improvements to the federal aid programs, particularly regarding business loans and the emergency wage subsidy. The emergency wage subsidy was very helpful for businesses in Shefford, allowing them to get through the crisis. For example, 70% of businesses in the Granby industrial park used the subsidy.
We have always made sure that the measures being taken increasingly meet the diverse needs of individuals and economic sectors and that they get adapted as the pandemic evolves. We will continue that work.
We have always insisted that we need to provide assistance for sectors that will take continue to feel the effects of the pandemic for longer, until business goes back to normal for them. The tourism, cultural, restaurant and event sectors are but a few examples. It so happens that these sectors are very important economic drivers that put Shefford on the map.
We made this request several times, including during the recent election campaign. It is now more urgent than ever given the current spread of the virus, which has resulted in many cancelled bookings. Since yesterday, restaurants, hotels and the tourism sector have been seeing numerous cancellations.
We believe that Bill C‑2 must be passed as soon as possible, since it ensures the continuity of the emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy. Some businesses are still fragile, but they will be able to get through the crisis thanks to the tourism and hospitality recovery program, the hardest-hit business recovery program and the lockdown support measure. The problem is that these programs are a bit harder to access and less generous than the previous iterations. However, these three new programs will provide a baseline level of support for SMEs that are still hurting from the pandemic.
I would like to remind the House that many SMEs are still having a hard time even though the economy is taking off again in every region. We will need to monitor the spread of the omicron variant. According to a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 58% of SME owners reported lower-than-normal sales. Like my colleague from Joliette, I can only lament the fact that a useless election delayed the implementation of these new programs.
Let us be very clear: The government had no valid reason to call an election. Its claim that Parliament was not running smoothly was just a pretext. It was not true at all. As I said before, the Bloc Québécois was collaborating with the government. The Liberals called an election for the purely egotistical reason that they wanted a majority. They failed miserably, because we still have a minority government. The rapid passage of the bills implementing the pandemic assistance programs shows just how well parliamentarians collaborated during the last Parliament, the 43rd Parliament.
The number one priority of every member should have been to be there this fall to respond to the pandemic. The Liberals chose to call an election. The result was a delay in discussions and work leading to the new iterations of these programs. These programs should already have been adopted by now. The delays are the fault of no one but the Liberals.
I would like to reiterate the three conditions set out by the Bloc Québécois for Bill C‑2.
First, the government must immediately commit to contributing to the Artists' Foundation to support self-employed workers in the arts and culture sector. This is a call that the government appears to have heard. We will monitor the situation closely. In my riding, artists are asking for help. As I said before, this is a very important sector in my riding of Shefford. We also need to continue monitoring certain definitions regarding the tourism sector in order to make sure no one is forgotten. Even suppliers of goods and services related to the tourism industry should have access to support.
Second, before the election campaign, we asked that the government stop penalizing working seniors who receive the guaranteed income supplement, the GIS, by considering the CERB as employment income in calculating the GIS. In my opinion, this is a key condition. One of the solutions we thought of was to allow for a recalculation of the GIS regardless of whether the request was made by Service Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency, in addition to allowing debts to be repaid over three years rather than one. We proposed solutions.
As the seniors critic, I have often risen in the House and asked for these solutions. I can point out that the minister announced this week in her economic update that she would fix this next May. That is all well and good, but with Christmas around the corner, seniors are poorer than ever. They were already in dire straits financially before the pandemic, and since July, things have gotten even worse. They will not get any gifts for new year, Valentine's Day or Easter either. May is way too far away.
In response to the economic update, my colleague from has already said that we will continue to work to get this problem solved faster. Obviously, we cannot help but notice that the months of pressure from our party have had some impact and that there would not have been any compensation if we had not been there. We must not forget that working seniors are bearing the brunt of these cuts to the GIS, even though they were legitimately entitled to claim the CERB during the first wave.
We also need to remember that those receiving the GIS are the most disadvantaged seniors, and that the federal government has been depriving them of hundreds of dollars every month since July. They no longer have the financial wiggle room to get through the next five months without having to make some tough choices, such as stopping certain medications or selling their possessions, given that inflation has pushed grocery prices up by 7%.
That is why the government needs to speed up the process. We will continue to demand that it reverse its ridiculous decision to create two classes of seniors, since the current financial situation of seniors proves that poverty does not start at age 75, that health problems do not start at age 75, and that the OAS must be raised by $110 a month starting at age 65, because the government is completely overlooking seniors between the ages of 65 and 74.
Last week, I replaced a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. As we were questioning officials from the Canada Revenue Agency, I was astonished to discover that, in 2021, a country like Canada is unable to find technological solutions more quickly. The CRA knew since the summer of 2020 that problems would crop up. Its officials told us that there were still too many technological challenges to address the issues of either seniors or workers in the cultural sector.
Our third condition is that the minister confirm that she intends to use the power to adapt the assistance measures in Bill by regulation in order to meet the needs of other industries that are currently excluded from federal support, including the aerospace industry, if a need is demonstrated. As the crisis continues to evolve, there may be still more upheaval ahead.
In conclusion, we definitely need to monitor the situation, and the programs will have to be flexible. Bill C‑2 makes it possible to help some sectors during this crisis by extending the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy. However, as my colleague from mentioned, nothing is being done about other serious problems affecting our businesses because of supply chain disruptions. Consider the microprocessor shortage, for example. This supply chain disruption is causing stoppages in several production chains in Quebec.
There is one final aspect that I would like to address. The government cannot claim urgency as an excuse when it is the one that delayed the work associated with the adoption of the new programs by calling the most expensive election in history just as the fourth wave began. We should already have addressed these issues affecting SMEs and businesses.
We need to adopt Bill because one thing is certain: The current situation being what it is, we cannot feel at ease rising for the holidays without passing this important bill. Let us work together for business owners and workers. Let us take action.
Madam Speaker, today, we are talking about a motion to see Bill move swiftly through the House. On behalf of the New Democrats, we recognize the urgent need for many people, in the face of the pandemic, to receive help. It is true that some of those people will receive some help through Bill C-2. That is why the New Democrats have not tried to filibuster or obstruct the passage of the bill, but we have not tried to hasten it. We have laid out very clearly a path through the NDP to try to expedite the passage of the bill.
We talked about the problem of benefit clawbacks, not just with respect to the guaranteed income supplement but the Canada child benefit and Canada worker benefit. We talked about the need for a CERB low-income repayment amnesty. We talked about some of the people who were seriously affected by the government pursuing them for debts they had incurred, sometimes without much choice, such as foster kids in Manitoba. They were told by the provincial government they had to apply for CERB or they would not be eligible to apply for social assistance in the province of Manitoba.
Other people took the government at its word when it said to apply if they really needed help in the struggle of the pandemic, not only because of employment loss but also because of sudden increased costs, such as hiring a laundry service because family members or their support network could not go into their place of residence to assist with those things or having groceries delivered. There were a number of other costs.
When we raised the problems with the CERB and folks not being able to access any financial assistance because they had not necessarily lost employment, members on the Liberal benches exhorted people to apply for the CERB, highlighting that it was a no-fail application process. Unanimous consent motions were passed in this place, which meant not one member in the House objected to them, saying that if people really needed help and applied in good faith, they should not be punished or persecuted. That was why we felt it was very important to have a CERB low-income repayment amnesty.
We also talked about the fact that if the government was willing to clawback benefits from the most vulnerable in Canadian society because they were not entitled to them, we wanted to see it take action on clawing back benefits from the largest corporations, which were obviously in a good financial position because they were able to pay dividends to their shareholders. We know that while many businesses have struggled, some businesses have done exceptionally well, much better financially than in the years preceding the pandemic. Therefore, we have been calling for some action on that.
The government chose not to negotiate with us on the passage of this bill. That is its choice. This is not a case of sour grapes. It chose to negotiate with the Bloc. We are here to stand up for the people who were left out with respect to Bill . The government had a choice. It could have worked with the NDP, in the name of the people for whom we are here to fight. It could have worked with the Bloc on the concerns its members chose to raise, or it could have worked with both of us. These were not mutually exclusive options. The government chose not to work with us or negotiate with us, so it is hard for us to expedite the passage of a bill that leaves too many people out, and the government has not worked with us to try to address those legitimate concerns.
I think there was a perception by the government in the last Parliament that somehow, because we are a responsible party and we knew Canadians did not want an election during the pandemic, it could take our support on things for granted. That was never true; it was not something to be taken for granted. It was true that we wanted to avoid an election. The leader of the Conservative Party did not think we should have an election during a pandemic and was not prepared to trigger one. The Bloc Québécois members did not want an election during a pandemic, that it would be irresponsible and they would not trigger one. The New Democrats voted accordingly and the broke faith with all of us in the House who had said we should not have an election.
The got past June 2021 without having this place vote non-confidence in him. We wanted to get through the summer without having an election, so Parliament could come back in a timely way in September and deal with some of the very real issues with which Bill purports to deal. It does deal with some of them but not enough.
Instead of honouring the real effort that parties in this place made, despite many of the shortcomings of the government, to preserve that Parliament, in August, the took it upon himself to call an election anyway, an election that nobody wanted, an election for which the House of Commons had not called. He did it under a pretense that was not a product of the summer months.
If the thought there were big decisions his government needed to make, that was not news at the beginning of August. He would have known that by June and he could have been honest about it in this place. Instead, he denied that he wanted an election. People on all sides of the House were glad to hear it. We behaved accordingly and he broke faith with this place and with Canadians by calling that unnecessary and unwanted election.
I said “pretense” earlier. Why do I call it a pretense for an election? Because the said big questions had to be decided and the government may need to implement some major new initiatives. He took his sweet time and we came back late after the election. Then when we got back here, we had a Speech from the Throne that had nothing new to offer in terms of a change in pattern or major new policy direction by the government in the face of the pandemic.
Bill is not a big, bold move except to the extent of abandoning hundreds of thousands of Canadians in the midst of a continuing pandemic and difficult economic times. However, he did not ask for a mandate for that. In the election, he said he would have the backs of Canadians. He never did go to Canadians in the election and he never was honest with them about the real turn he was going to take.
It turns out that the reason for the election was a pretense. While the tried to contrast himself with the Conservatives on the pandemic recovery during the election, on October 21, just a month after the election, he would take their advice and cancel the Canada recovery benefit with just two days' notice for people who were on the program, almost 900,000 of them.
There was nothing really new in the Speech from the Throne. The big job, agreeing with the Conservatives on how to handle the pandemic recovery, had already happened in October before the even had the decency to reconvene this place. The Speech from the Throne was not where he was going to make good on his commitment to Canadians to announce the new direction for which he needed a new mandate.
Maybe it would come in the fall economic statement, which happened this week. I am sorry to report that I do not see anything particularly new, bold or exciting. In fact, we did not even see a commitment to urgently implement some of the campaign promises the Liberals made.
What we did see the day before was the , who had an election to get a mandate to distinguish himself from the Conservatives, taking their advice to renew the mandate of the Bank of Canada, without any larger discussion as is happening in some other countries.
We know the United States has a dual mandate, employment and inflation. We know that New Zealand recently introduced its concern for the cost of housing in the mandate of its central bank. We know that the U.K. has recently asked its central bank to consider the impact of monetary policy on the battle against climate change.
Our allies, who are themselves competent financial managers, are talking about different ways to rebuild their economies coming out of the pandemic. However, the Liberals decided to take the advice of the official opposition after causing an election, because they said there was a huge difference about how they were going to handle things.
We stand in this place with a who broke faith on not having an election during a pandemic. We stand here with a Prime Minister who went to Canadians, saying he needed a mandate for something very different between he and his Conservative opposition. Then he proceeded to largely take their advice on the basic core elements of the pandemic recovery, something that is represented in this bill.
We stand before a government that has decided not to work closely with the NDP to address some of those things. However, we know the bill will pass quickly and the people who can get help through this little bill will get it, because the government chose to work with somebody else, as its right, However, if the government wants our support on things like this, then its members need to sit down and talk to us. They need to talk to us about the people who we are here to represent and fight for, and that means seniors.
We have talked a lot about the guaranteed income supplement. The government made an announcement on Tuesday. We had been asking for a long time what it planned to do. The Liberals have told us, along with everybody else, in the fall economic statement, and there are a lot of questions about the adequacy of that solution. We would have been very happy on this side of the House to provide some feedback in advance of the announcement to ensure it would work for more people.
We will not get everything we want until we are in government, but I will give an example: the payment for people living with disabilities. This is a one-time payment, but it should be an increase in a regular benefit, something the Liberals went on to promise, but we have not heard anything about how they plan to deliver that. The Liberals initially announced that it would apply to people who received the disability tax credit. We had an opportunity to negotiate that, because we knew that was not good enough.
Not all people living with disabilities receive the disability tax credit. There are a bunch of reasons for that. First is that it is expensive and difficult to get certified for the disability tax credit. A lot of people living with disabilities live in poverty. They do not have the $20 to $40 for the administrative fees at the doctor's office to get a successful application for the disability tax credit.
Beyond that, a lot of them do not have an income that would allow them to benefit from a tax credit. They need to have enough income to pay taxes to benefit from a tax credit. Unfortunately too many people living with disabilities do not have enough income. Therefore, it was a bad way to deliver help to the people who needed it most.
The second problem was the one-time payment disproportionately would go to the people living with disabilities who had the highest incomes. That did not make sense from a policy point of view, because the money would not get where it was really needed and it would not get there quickly. Then there were long delays in that payment. My point is that we were able to expand the number of people who received that payment and help get it to more of the people who really needed it.
Now we have a situation where the government has announced another one-time payment to fix the GIS problem. It sounds like there is going to be another long delay in getting that help to people, people who are already homeless and do not have months to wait. We could have talked about a solution to that and have more assurances it would work well and work quickly. That did not happen
I am glad the government responded to public pressure. I am proud of the role the NDP has played in putting that pressure on the government. While I am also glad the government felt the need to respond, responding to public pressure and pressure of a political party in the House are not the same as negotiating a solution in the context of a bill.
We are not just here for seniors; we are here for workers. Many workers are being let down right now by the employment insurance system. The Liberals have said they will fix it, but we do not know when. There has been no clear signalling about when a fix for EI is going to come. Our constituency offices are hearing from people who are applying to EI and it is not there for them. The system cannot keep up with what is going on in the economy. That is why we needed exceptional pandemic benefits, the benefits the government just cancelled without having done the work of reforming employment insurance.
I was just talking to my colleague from about constituents who she was hearing from in her home province of Alberta. They cannot get financial assistance through employment insurance, despite having worked hard and paid their dues to the employment insurance system. They have been unable to access it when they need it.
We are here for people living with disabilities who are getting short shrift from the government. The Liberals say a lot of words, but they do not have a lot of action that will really help people in a timely way.
We have been here to advocate for students. The Canada emergency student benefit was not something the government was even contemplating, except for the pressure and the negotiation of the NDP.
Folks in this place might remember that the Canada emergency student benefit paid less than the CERB. Our position was to make students eligible for the CERB like everybody else. Students needed to pay their tuition in the fall of 2020, and they were not going to be able to get jobs in the summer. The government thought that students were naturally lazy: it could not just have them sitting around at home. It was not going to pay them to sit around and do nothing, so the government was going to pay them less than the CERB, but would create a phenomenal jobs program that would hire them in the summer.
Does anyone remember, in the lead-up to the summer of 2020, the jobs program that the Liberals were contemplating? That program came to be known as the WE Charity scandal. The money never got out the door, which was a good thing in hindsight, because we had no idea how they were contemplating rolling out that program. The point is that the program for students never happened. The jobs never came and they continued to have a reduced benefit on the false pretense that there were going to be jobs coming to them that would help them make up the difference and pay their tuition in the fall. That never happened.
There have been moments of co-operation in this Parliament, and we are willing to co-operate in expediting legislation when it reflects the priorities of the people we are here to represent. For folks in the LGBTQ2S community, we worked with the government to expedite passage of the bill banning conversion therapy. This is something that Sheri Benson, who was elected from Saskatoon alongside me in 2015, first brought to the House. My colleague for has done a lot of excellent work in advancing it. Where there was something for the people that we are here to represent, and the government was doing it in a good way without leaving out a whole bunch of other people, we were happy to co-operate, just as we have been happy to co-operate on a bill that would finally bring 10 paid sick days to workers across the country.
Again, it is not a perfect bill. We think that there should be 10 paid sick days for workers across the country, but the bill says that a person would collect one sick day a month, so a person would have to wait 10 months to get those paid sick days. We are in a pandemic. The idea behind giving sick days was that if people were not feeling well, they would not have to go to work. The idea was not to have them work sick for 10 months while they accumulated the time they needed to protect themselves and everybody in their workplace from COVID-19. The idea was to give them that time so they could do the right thing and protect everybody in their workplaces and in their communities.
Nevertheless, we have been working with the government to quickly pass that legislation, because we recognize that, while it is not how we would do it, it is the best on offer and we have been fighting hard to make it better. We presented amendments in committee that would have found a compromise position on this long, 10-month wait. It would have made sure that workers had at least four days up front so that they could do the right thing. However, it was voted down by the Liberals, so we know that this is as good as we are going to get for now and we recognize that it has to be in place quickly. At least there was some discussion and negotiation around that.
This is all to say that New Democrats are here to fight for the people we represent. We are here to fight for seniors. We are here to fight for students. We are here to be a voice in this place for people living with disabilities across the country. We have been fighting for women, such as the women in the travel industry who were left out of Bill . We are here for independent travel agents who work for themselves and have been doing work for their clients: First, at the beginning of the pandemic, they helped them to figure out cancelled trips, vouchers and rebates, and now they are doing bookings as people, in a sense of optimism, are starting to book travel. However, they are only going to get paid when people take those trips, and of course omicron is calling that into question. We are here to speak for them.
When the government is willing to work with us to make sure that those people are not left behind in the bills that it presents, we will be there to try and make sure that the legislation advances quickly. When the government chooses other partners, that is its business, but it is leaving a lot of people behind in Bill . I wish there was more time to fix it and leave fewer people behind, which is why we are not voting to expedite the bill, knowing full well that it will be expedited according to the program that the government has chosen by choosing its partners. We invite government members to work with us in the future to create better legislation and leave fewer people behind, but it just does not seem to be the approach that they are taking so far in this new Parliament.
Madam Speaker, what a moment. What an experience to stand in the House of Commons. I thank my constituents of Peterborough—Kawartha. I am here because of their support. I am here because they believed in me. I promise to do my best and do what I learned growing up in Douro, Ontario: work hard. Just like the Journey song says, I am just a small-town girl, and I truly believe in the lessons a small town teaches: help others with genuine service.
I want to take everyone back to June 2021. I received a call from a very distraught mom named Kim, whose daughter Cassy was missing. Cassy suffered from schizophrenia, and Kim felt the media was not giving her disappearance the attention it deserved, because she was a person who lived on the street. Kim did an interview with me on my social media, pleading with people to get Cassy home. Within 72 hours, Cassy was located in the sex trade in Toronto and brought home to Peterborough—Kawartha, thanks to the people on social media who shared that.
I never met Cassy. I just chatted with her mom, but I want to fast-forward to August 2021, during the campaign. Just outside of my campaign office was a very distraught and distressed woman. I approached her and asked how I could help. She looked into my eyes and told me she was scared. She told me she had nowhere to live and the people on the street were hurting her. I noticed a wings tattoo on her chest, the same tattoo her mom Kim had described to me when we put out a call to find her. I wondered if this could be her, so I asked if her name was Cassy. She said yes.
Cassy was like many people who are forced to live on the street and struggling with mental illness and addiction. She had a mom and a family who loved her, but that is not always enough. Trauma and circumstance landed Cassy here. She did not choose this life.
I want to point out that I am splitting my time with the member for .
Cassy did not choose this life. I did not see Cassy every day, but when I did, she was distraught, exhausted, hungry and afraid. She did not have a home, and she did not have the intervention to help get her the treatment she needed. On September 20, 2021, yes, the day of the election, while I was running around with my team, I received a text that cut me to the core. The text was from Cassy's mom, and it read, “Cassy is dead. She was the body behind the music store. Family still to be notified so I don't think they have released her name to the media.” I was absolutely shattered. I was gutted emotionally and heartbroken. I felt I had personally failed Cassy.
How did the system fail Cassy? How many more people like Cassy will be failed? In that moment, I questioned why I was running in politics and why it mattered. My partner Ryan was with me and, like a great partner does, he recalibrated me and picked me up. He took my hand and said that by taking this job as a member of Parliament, I could be part of the change that was needed for all people like Cassy.
I applied for this job because I know we can do better. We need to change how we talk about mental health; we need to better understand the complexities of addiction, and we need to change policy that intervenes when people like Cassy do not have the capacity to take care of themselves. We need the infrastructure and resources dedicated to building forward-thinking mental health treatment facilities. Mental health impacts every single one of us.
We have heard about so many programs and so much money being dumped into mental health, but the reality is that things are not getting better. They feel worse. Money does not solve everything. If we are not spending money in the right places or we do not have a reasonable timeline to allocate funds, vision or an innovative plan to partner with money, we cannot expect change. We need to change how we think and talk about mental health. This is what will help us change how we treat it. Humans have an incredible track record of not understanding something until we experience it.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, most of us have experienced how devastating mental illness is. Most of us know that our mental health contributes to our happiness, our creativity and our productivity, which are directly linked to our economy. Our economic crisis is a mental health crisis. How can we expect people who cannot afford food or a home to get out of the poverty cycle? We have to get the cost of living down if we want to be serious about mental health. We have to create an environment that fosters independence and confidence.
I was appointed as shadow minister of tourism, and I know first-hand how much this industry is suffering. Many of those devastated by the pandemic do not want more loans; they want to work. One of my favourite economic solutions comes from the member for , who said that programs and subsidies need to be three things: timely, targeted and temporary.
Much like I said earlier, this economic crisis is a mental health crisis, and I will work diligently to help in the recovery of lost jobs. We need to be reunited with friends and family. We need each other more than ever. We need to acknowledge and respect public health guidelines, but we also need to be more prepared to deal with what is our new normal. We need to transition to learning to live with COVID.
This pandemic has magnified the opioid crisis. My riding of Peterborough—Kawartha has one of the highest rates of opioid deaths in the country. We have the second-highest overdose rate in the province of Ontario. We have people dying in the streets and in their homes. I myself have lost friends and family to overdoses and suicide.
As I stand here today, I want to leave this message for myself and for all of the people of my riding of Peterborough—Kawartha: We cannot give up; we cannot stop. We must work every day to learn what works, but more importantly, what does not work. I will work for Peterborough—Kawartha and for every Cassy who was failed by the system, because I believe that when we take care of our neighbours, we take care of our entire country. We cannot stop believing.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill . In the last couple of weeks as a member of the finance committee and of the House of Commons, I learned something really interesting. One of the first questions that was asked in committee was, “Where is the money coming from?”.
The Liberal government is going to spend $7.4 billion on programs similar to CERB and the other programs in the original suite of benefits it put out during the pandemic. However, we have since learned that some of that money actually bled into criminal organizations. People were able to scam the public's money for criminal intent, and the Liberals are okay with that because just recently they lessened offences for using firearms and other violations.
We know that the Liberal government is weak on crime and soft on criminals. Canadians know this. However, if we look at what the Liberals are doing right now, they are going to take $7.4 billion and dole it out, but they have no oversight of that. The Canada Revenue Agency has no oversight of it. The FINTRAC report showed us that millions and millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars were scammed by criminals. Other monies went to prisoners. If there were even the potential that those hard-earned Canadian tax dollars bled into terrorist organizations, could members believe the Government of Canada would allow this to happen, but more so, could they believe it would do nothing about it?
The people of Miramichi—Grand Lake do not want to fund terrorist organizations. They do not want to fund prisoners. They do not want to fund organized crime. They do not want to fund criminals in whatever behaviours they are up to, and they certainly do not want to see firearms charges lessened.
The Liberal government right now is sending Canada backward in so many avenues. Let us talk about this first question, which my colleague from asked at committee: “Where is the money coming from?” The Government of Canada has no concept of where that $7.4 billion is coming from. Eventually it said it is coming from the contingency fund. That is nice, but where did that money come from?
I would like to focus on how that money would be coming from energy revenues. This country is a leader in the energy sector. Whether it is oil and gas, minerals or mining, we are actually a world leader in the development of those industries, and that is where a serious bulk of revenue flows in for our country and its taxpayers. The Liberals are actually funding the CERB and other programs with no oversight using the very tax dollars from the very industries they are trying to kill in front of the rest of the world.
Right now, they cannot solve the softwood timber tariffs. Because the United States needs more oil, they have to go to OPEC and other countries to get help with oil and pipelines. We have to wonder if the Canadian government could say, “We will help you with some oil. Let us build a pipeline together, and by the way, can you take that tariff off our softwood?”
It seems like a general argument. It seems very basic, but I bet the Liberals have not even tried it. They have not tried it because they have no plan for our country. They have no plan for Miramichi—Grand Lake. The only thing they want to do is talk about the climate crisis and having everyone's back. They had the back of the first nations in this country so vastly that they did not even attend the first Truth and Reconciliation Day. They held the flag at half-mast for six months of the year.
We are talking about a government that has no regard for the Canadian public, no regard for the hard-earned taxpayer dollars that are coming from Miramichi—Grand Lake and New Brunswick and the rest of the provinces and territories. We are talking about a government of this country, where the rise in inflation is second in the world.
I am 43 years old. I was fortunate to buy a house built in 1919. I got it in rural New Brunswick. It was very cheap, and I have done a lot of work to it over the years. There are people my age and a little younger than me who are never going to own a house in this country.
I bought a house for $40,000 back in 2006. I could sell that house today for $160,000 or $170,000. I live in a very small town in the middle of rural New Brunswick, where the Internet is terrible and the only industry we ever had was forestry, and I have watched the demise of that over the course of time. If my house went up that much, imagine what a $300,000 house bought in 2005 is worth today. It is probably worth millions of dollars.
People are not going to be able to afford a house in this country. They are not going to have kids. We need to grow our population. I have four children. I can say that having four children in today's Canada is a very expensive endeavour. I would do it all again. I love the fact that I have four children.
However, imagine being 28 or 29 years old today. That person wants to own a home, which should be worth $250,000, but now costs $800,000. They have a partner who wants to have children, and they cannot even afford to have one of them. This is the country that the government is leaving to our children and to the grandchildren we have not met yet. That is wrong.
As a member of the Conservative team, we have to go to committee to make sure that the Canada Revenue Agency is brought in to have oversight of those hard-earned Canadian tax dollars, and to make sure that the Auditor General is coming in to ask those serious questions. It is also so we can ask why they are choosing not to audit the people who scammed Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars.
Why is it happening? How could the of Canada support this endeavour? How could he continue to talk about having the backs of Canadians, when people in their 20s and 30s are never going to be able to own a house in this country? How can he say he has their backs? He is causing this inflation on the cost of housing. The cost of bacon has gone up 30% to 35% just in the past year or two. People cannot even afford bacon anymore.
I think what we have is an abuse of power. We have a , who is out of touch with all Canadians. He is certainly out of touch with rural Canada. He is out of touch with people in Miramichi—Grand Lake.
I have the FINTRAC report right here. I could not believe that it says CEBA-related fraud was carried out in a similar fashion with the loan being transferred from the applicant's business account to their personal account, then withdrawn for cash. We have people in this country who are taking tax dollars for their own benefit. We had a million jobs unfilled, a houses that nobody can pay for and food that nobody can pay for.
That is the beauty of being in the House today. I have a good friend here beside me from Nova Scotia. My dad is from Nova Scotia. I have another buddy over here from Newfoundland, and they are here working for the Canadian people who put them here. They are in this House, and they are working for the hard-earned taxpayer dollars to make sure that there is oversight on that money.
The Conservative Party of Canada is the only party that ever had oversight of hard-earned Canadian tax dollars. We have to hold the government accountable because the is out of touch, not just with rural Canada, not just with Miramichi—Grand Lake, but with all Canadians.
We have to ensure that Canadian taxpayer dollars are not funding terrorist organizations, criminal organizations, scam artists and petty criminals. We cannot afford to have the hard-earned dollars of Canadians bleeding into those organizations.
We put forth a motion at committee. The Conservative Party, members of that committee and all members on this side of the House want oversight of the because Canadians are worth it, their tax dollars are worth it, and we have to make sure that we put the Canadian people first.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
The ask in Bill is $7.4 billion, and the bill is being rushed through the House, with little time at committee to deal with another $7.4 billion expenditure. A lot of these types of situations have happened over the last couple of years, since the pandemic started. I recall that back in early 2021, there was a $52-billion spending bill, and the government wanted Parliament's approval in literally four hours, with little opportunity for oversight and little opportunity to provide any sort of transparency or accountability on that spending. Now, here with Bill , we are being asked to approve $7.4 billion.
I want to focus on a couple of points today. Number one is who is left out in Bill . I think it is very important that we recognize who is being left out in the bill. Second, I want to focus on the issue of accountability, transparency and oversight, which are severely lacking in the bill. The member for asked finance department officials where this money was coming from, and all we heard were crickets. He suggested that maybe there is a money tree in this country that the government is picking money from, but there was no answer. These are the types of questions we could deal with if we had more time.
I am really fortunate to come from the riding of Barrie—Innisfil, which is also known as “Terminal 4”. There are a lot of Pearson airport employees and airline, travel and tourism employees who live in my riding. Many of them have felt anxiety not just over the past 18 months in trying to pick up the pieces of their lives as the travel and tourism industry has been decimated, but also over the fact that in the last couple of days, we have seen advisories from the Government of Canada on travel. They are really curbing back some of the decisions that Canadians have made to travel over the holidays, to travel internationally to warm destinations, which typically Canadians do, or to travel to simply visit family in the United States. A lot of that is not happening, and it is having a serious impact on our travel and tourism industry, particularly the airline sector, which we know has been hard hit over the course of the last 21 months, and those in the travel adviser business, such as travel agents, many of whom have been left out over the course of the last 21 months from many of the benefits the government has provided for relief. Now they are being left behind again.
I heard the say that they will have to apply just like everybody else, but from the discussions I have had with the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, applying simply does not work. These people did not qualify because many of them are independent travel advisers. They do not have brick-and-mortar properties and do not have storefronts. They work out of their homes. However, they provide $2.4 billion in revenue, at least they did in 2019 before the pandemic hit.
Many of the 12,000 independent travel advisers in this country, like Heather Kearns and Charlene Caldwell from my riding, did not qualify for any of the pandemic benefits. As a result, they have seen a drop, like a drop off a cliff, in their businesses. Oftentimes, they are paid for bookings when those trips happen, so members can imagine what it would be like if we booked travel and that travel got cancelled and clawed back, or if we did not get paid for anything we thought we would be booking.
It has been an awfully difficult 20 months for travel advisers, and it is going to continue that way. What Bill does not address directly is the demand from the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, which is for some sort of bridge financing to make it much easier for them to access government programs. I think that is a failure of Bill .
The other thing, which we have heard about from seniors, is the GIS clawback. Many seniors are suffering right now. There is an affordability crisis going on this country, and the cost of home heating, gas, groceries and hydro is disproportionately affecting seniors not just in my riding but right across this country. Many seniors thought to apply for the CERB, and as a result of receiving it, they are now finding out there are GIS clawbacks. The government does address this, but not until May 2022, so many of those seniors will continue to suffer as a result of the affordability and “just inflation” crisis that is going on right now.
Those are a couple of what I think are serious faults in this piece of legislation.
Over the last couple of days, I have heard, as I expect many colleagues in the House have, from travel advisers and other people in the travel and tourism industry about how worried they are over the latest travel advisories, particularly at a time when Canada will be seeing its busiest period of travel. Many of those travel advisers will simply lose more income, so we should have broader supports available in Bill for the travel and tourism industry. They are not addressed in this piece of legislation, and those independent travel advisers will be severely impacted by this.
The other thing we want to see in Bill , and this to me is extremely troubling, is the level of accountability and transparency that was requested by members of the Conservative Party at the finance committee, in particular for oversight. A FINTRAC report was done, and I will remind Canadians that FINTRAC stands for the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada. Its job is to monitor literally every financial transaction that happens in this country. It issued a report, and it was not until an ATIP request made by Mr. Ken Rubin, who is an Ottawa researcher, was received that the extent, scope and scale of the CERB fraud occurring in this country was known. What the Conservatives were looking for, as part of the amendments to Bill that were not included in the latest iteration of the bill, was an audit, based on the FINTRAC report, by the Auditor General, a review of some of the CRA actions that have gone on to investigate this simply to pursue the fraudsters.
I will provide some examples of what was in the FINTRAC report, and why this is so disturbing and should be disturbing to Canadians, given the scale, scope and amount of fraud. Who was involved in the fraud is also important.
This report was first published in 2020 by FINTRAC. Do members know how many investigations have been done by the Canada Revenue Agency since? It is zero in 21 months. That in and of itself is disturbing. What the Conservatives were trying to do was bring amendments to the bill so we could investigate that on behalf of Canadians, or at least allow the agencies responsible for investigations to look into the issue of fraud.
The FINTRAC report is an interesting read, and I encourage everybody to read it. I will certainly post it on some of my social media sites. There is a great summary in it, but a lot of the information is redacted. I know my time is short, so I will quickly summarize some of the challenges that went on with FINTRAC and why it was important that they be investigated. It states:
Reporting Entities indicated that criminal organizations, using stolen IDs and individuals recruited via social media, are operating "CERB scams" in certain cities....
This was in 2020, so it is in the present tense. It continues:
...prepaid cards are loaded with CERB benefits and other laundered funds.
Reporting Entities indicated that clients who do not meet the CERB eligibility requirements, or who are fully employed, still apply for, and receive CERB benefits....
A Reporting Entity noted that scammers are using stolen personal identifying information to apply online for CERB/GST refunds and arranging for funds to be deposited onto prepaid/reloadable cards.
We also heard about the gangs and criminal organizations that were using the CERB to fund the purchase of guns.
This is critically important to Canadians. The government shovelled billions of dollars out the door with no oversight, accountability or transparency. We as Conservatives think it is important to investigate this.
There is one other thing I will say. The other day at the ethics committee I asked for members to consider a motion to look into the over $600 billion in pandemic spending that has not been accounted for by the government. That motion was rejected at committee by the Liberal members.
We need to get to the bottom of this so that Canadians have confidence and trust in the government and to make sure we understand where the money is going. It is disappointing to see that amendments on accountability and transparency were not part of the amendments accepted for Bill , and it is difficult to understand why.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be following the hon. member for Barrie—Innisfil, who spoke so eloquently about the struggles that independent travel advisers are having. I have met with many of them as well. Absolutely, they do feel left out of what the government is doing.
The government is essentially proposing in Bill that we give it all the money it needs right now and it will worry about accountability and transparency later on. I think the member went through some of the FINTRAC issues that were reported and the fraud issues that have been mounting. I will return to FINTRAC in a moment to read off some of its other concerns.
We, on this side of the House, supported Canadians who were banned from returning to work because of various health restrictions. We opposed the Liberals giving COVID cheques to prisoners, organized criminals, suspected fraudsters, and corporations paying out bonuses and dividends to executives. We did not support paying people not to work while the economy was open and there were a half-million vacant jobs. I remember my province of Alberta did reopen briefly.
I was just speaking with a hotelier who said that they can only reopen their kitchen three days a week because they cannot find staff. They are cleaning rooms all day long and until all hours because they just cannot find enough people to work during those key morning hours when they are trying to turn over a room for their next guest. Having a major hotel kitchen being open three days a week is not a way to run a business. It is going to lose business. People simply will not travel. The hotels are also losing out on the income needed to keep paying people for their work. It is a struggle on both sides, for employees and employers but we, on the Conservative side, are there for them.
I think the principle we should remind ourselves of is that, if a provincial government or a federal government takes away someone's ability to earn a living, it owes them compensation. I would call that a regulatory taking. It took something away from a person through no fault of their own so it should compensate that person, but that compensation should not extend to periods where the person chose not to work; made a choice. As well, if a person is engaging in criminal activity, of course that person should not be getting government benefits to facilitate their criminal enterprise.
We want help for tourism and hospitality companies hit by travel restrictions, but we oppose legislation like this that opens the floodgates to do whatever the government thinks necessary. This is $7.4 billion of new spending on top of all the other spending it has been doing.
The House has already heard from two of my colleagues already who said that they tried to fix this at committee. We offered ideas to improve things. We set out four conditions that we thought would drastically improve this bill.
I was here during the last Parliament and we saw the government go out of its way to rush bills through the House and only come back later on to fix the errors that were made. Typically, those errors resulted in billions of dollars of taxpayers' money either being spent unwisely or being impossible to spend because the program just did not work for the people for whom it was designed. All of those things typically get fixed at a House committee. That is where witnesses testify whether the programs will work the way they are identified and where federal officials come to actually explain the programs.
We saw at the Standing Committee on Finance that there was a complete inability of officials to explain where the money was going to come from. I thought it was a very simple question, needing only a referral to the estimates. I have a Yiddish proverb, which I know many members expect. It is that, “Sins hide not in your sleep but in your dreams.” I remember the debate on a different bill in this House just a few days ago. I mentioned that usually with government legislation there is a difference between what the bill says and the intentions that the government has behind the bill. The two are usually completely separated from each other. The sins in this bill are that there is not enough accountability and transparency for the taxpayers who are being asked to shoulder a huge bill to get our country back on track.
The member who spoke previously talked about FINTRAC, so let me just continue reading off some of its summary concerns. “Reporting entities indicated that clients have applied for and received CERB despite not living in Canada and they appear to be residing in a 'jurisdiction of concern'.” We are paying for people outside Canada to get taxpayers' money that we really have no way of verifying whether they should be getting any of these funds and they are outside Canada. It is difficult for me to explain at the doors, through emails and on phone calls to taxpayers as to why they are subsidizing people outside of the country. “Reporting Entities noted that clients received multiple CERB deposits over a one-week period/made multiple applications for CERB benefits using one or multiple identities/conducted transactions to cash CERB cheques at multiple locations.”
In any normal situation, this would be considered fraud. It would be something that we would be very concerned about and we would be looking for opportunities to restrain, constrain and stop it at the earliest of opportunities.
“Reporting Entities indicated that clients who appeared to be engaged in illegal or suspicious financial activity are also in receipt of CERB payments and employment income.” Last, “Reporting Entities indicated that clients appeared to receive CERB payments while also receiving income from their business and/or are receiving CEBA while also engaged in suspicious or fraudulent activity.” This is an indictment. The member who spoke previous to me started down this path. We rely on FINTRAC. I used to be a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, and I have had in-camera briefings where FINTRAC explains this. It is an amazing service that it provides to the Government of Canada to ensure that we do due diligence when we hand out benefits. Benefits must go to the people who are most in need of them, and it saps trust in government when it simply says it is going to open the floodgates and everyone will figure it out after the fact.
There is an Auditor General's report that has come out regarding border controls with the testing of individuals at the border and then following up with them as to whether they have actually quarantined. It is a damning report. I know you, Madam Speaker, have served on that committee before and you enjoy Auditor General reports, likely as much as I do. It is a damning report that in a situation where the government set up a program such as for cash payments that go out to people who need them, there is always a small group of people who will engage in fraud. The system should be designed to ensure that does not happen, so that taxpayers and citizens trust the system and trust that the government has a handle on this situation and that it will pursue those who abuse the system. It is reasonable for taxpayers and citizens to expect that we do this.
We have spent a prodigious amount of money and we are being asked to approve even more spending in this bill. We have proposed amendments that would drastically improve this bill to ensure we have that accountability and transparency mechanism. We just saw a fall economic statement that called for even more spending. There is more revenue and more spending going down, and in my riding residents are asking who is going to pay for all of these bills.
At the end of the day, this pandemic will end. I always tell people that this will end. I do not know when; I am not a doctor or a scientist. It will end and, at some point, these bills will come due. We are going to have to be rolling over some of this debt. Who is going to pay for all of this spending? We are well over a trillion dollars in debt.
I am reminded of John Diefenbaker. I was talking to my caucus and it reminded me of a quote from the 1960s when the great Diefenbaker was in this House debating with a Liberal, Pickersgill, on the other side and describing at the time some of their financial measures. The fall economic statement reminds me of this. He said that it is like homeopathic soup made from the shadow of a pigeon that died of starvation. I cannot imagine a better description of what I see there. Diefenbaker said it 50 or 60 years ago and nothing has really changed with the Liberal government. It is the same thing all over again. There are vast amounts of spending and very little in constraints and controls.
I can bring up another example. A PBO report came out just today on the icebreaker program. Two icebreakers were supposed to cost $1.3 billion back in 2013. That cost now has ballooned to $7.25 billion. They are not getting more icebreakers; they are just getting the two. It is cost controls and project management. The current government has been in power for six years, and this is entirely on it. The Liberals cannot blame anybody else.
In 2015, they were handed excellent books with balanced budgets. We repeatedly told the Liberals to get ready for a disastrous situation or a downturn. We could never have predicted that there would be a pandemic like this, that would be a drastic downturn in the nation's finances, where people would be told to stay at home. They would be prohibited from working so they would lose their livelihoods. In that situation it is absolutely legitimate for the government to step in and support people. Some would take advantage of it unfairly and we would have to follow up and make sure that fraudulent benefits were repaid to the taxpayer. In situations like that, I understand that we should support people.
However, taxpayers are asking themselves, “When is it enough?” They are asking when government will actually provide the transparency and the accountability that is expected when it borrows on the nation's credit card that all taxpayers are responsible for.
Like I said in my proverb, “Sins hide not in your sleep but in your dreams.” The government is dreaming that either the fall economic statement or a bill like this will restore trust in government.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this bill and to go through our concerns about being asked to approve another $7 billion-plus. I will be splitting my time with my friend, the member for . I appreciate his contributions and look forward to his speech.
We often hear the Liberals say that they have a plan for the economy, but I think we all know that means a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats sitting around a table and coming up with yet another government program on which they can spend money.
We are being asked to scrutinize legislation that asks for over $7 billion in additional funding. We have said many times in this place that the printing of money, the $400 billion, is causing massive inflation problems right across the country. It is causing the price of pretty much everything to go up, making things more expensive, such as every day goods, hurting those who are living off their pay cheques and struggling to get by every day.
As we all know, every time a new plan is constructed, it eventually fails. Then we have the government saying that something is going wrong and it needs to come up with another program to fix the program it just had. It is like going to the doctor for high blood pressure and the doctor prescribes a pill. Then it is dry mouth and the doctor prescribes another pill. After that, it is high blood pressure again and that is another pill. The list goes on. It is the exact same issue we are dealing with here.
In this case, the government is talking about a new day care program, a program that, on its merits, looks like it will be deficit financed well into the future. It is a program that is going to cause significant issues for parents trying to access already limited spaces. What the government does, as we all know when it comes into the marketplace, is it eviscerates competition. It creates an uneven playing field with other operators.
We are talking about people who operate day cares from their basements, which are regulated but are provided in that neighbourhood home. The government, by putting in dollars and distorting the price, causes those spaces that would otherwise be provided in the free market to go away, causing more problems and more wait-lists. If people think day care is expensive now, wait until the government gets its hands on it fully.
It seems the government has two speeds: big government and bigger government. The day care is one, but we are talking about the expansion of a number of these programs.
We have said all along, as my friends have already pointed out, that when the government was telling people to stay home and businesses to close because we were dealing with the pandemic, and no one really knew what was going on, they deserved to be compensated, and we supported those programs. There were some problems with those programs, such as the wage subsidy, the rent program and many others, that we in the opposition brought to the government's attention. In some cases, changes were made and in some cases they were not made. A number of businesses were not able to qualify for these programs despite attention being given to these programs.
We are now finding out that possibly CERB money was given to organized crime potentially contributing to the already growing crime problem in some of our major cities. That deserves a level of scrutiny. That deserves responsibility by parliamentarians to do our job to find out what is going on, what is working and what is not working with this program.
As we know, the government does not have divine resources. The only thing the government has is the taxes we pay and if the government borrows money, it puts us in debt. If it prints money, it is the back door to taxing people. It is taxing savings and making the savings of many in the working class worth less.
As was pointed out many times in the House, those who are sitting in big mansions or on massive assets have seen their wealth grow. However, there are those people who are struggling to get by, struggling to find a house, struggling to even get into the housing market, struggling to pay their bills or even just going to the grocery store and realizing their cart is not as full as it used to be but the price at the till is the same. That is because the government has thrown all this money up into atmosphere and refuses to change course.
During the height of the pandemic, the first thing the government did was to try to seize absolute power to tax and spend on whatever it wanted for two years into the future.