That, notwithstanding any standing order, special order or usual practice of the House, beginning on the day after this order is adopted until Thursday, June 23, 2022:
(a) members may participate in proceedings of the House either in person or by videoconference, provided that members participating in person do so in accordance with the Board of Internal Economy’s decision of Tuesday, October 19, 2021, regarding vaccination against COVID-19, and that reasons for medical exemptions follow the guidance from the Ontario Ministry of Health document entitled “Medical Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccination” and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI);
(b) members who participate remotely in a sitting of the House are counted for the purpose of quorum;
(c) any reference in the Standing Orders to the need for members to rise or to be in their place, as well as any reference to the chair, the table or the chamber shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the virtual nature of the proceedings;
(d) the application of Standing Order 17 shall be suspended;
(e) the application of Standing Order 62 shall be suspended for any member participating remotely;
(f) in Standing Orders 26(2), 53(4), 56.1(3), and 56.2(2), the reference to the number of members required to rise be replaced with the word “five”;
(g) documents may be laid before the House or presented to the House electronically, provided that:
(i) documents deposited pursuant to Standing Order 32(1) shall be deposited with the Clerk of the House electronically,
(ii) during Routine Proceedings, members who participate remotely may table documents or present petitions or reports to the House electronically, provided that the documents are transmitted to the clerk prior to their intervention,
(iii) any petition presented pursuant to Standing Order 36(5) may be filed with the clerk electronically,
(iv) responses to questions on the Order Paper deposited pursuant to Standing Order 39 may be tabled electronically;
(h) should the House resolve itself in a committee of the whole, the Chair may preside from the Speaker’s chair;
(i) when a question that could lead to a recorded division is put to the House, in lieu of calling for the yeas and nays, one representative of a recognized party can rise to request a recorded vote or to indicate that the motion is adopted on division, provided that a request for a recorded division has precedence;
(j) when a recorded division is requested in respect of a debatable motion, or a motion to concur in a bill at report stage on a Friday, including any division arising as a consequence of the application of Standing Order 78, but excluding any division in relation to motions relating to the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, pursuant to Standing Order 50, the budget debate, pursuant to Standing Order 84, or the business of supply occurring on the last supply day of a period, other than as provided in Standing Orders 81(17) and 81(18)(b), or arising as a consequence of an order made pursuant to Standing Order 57,
(i) before 2:00 p.m. on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, it shall stand deferred until the conclusion of Oral Questions at that day’s sitting, or
(ii) after 2:00 p.m. on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, or at any time on a Friday, it shall stand deferred until the conclusion of Oral Questions at the next sitting day that is not a Friday,
provided that any extension of time pursuant to Standing Order 45(7.1) shall not exceed 90 minutes;
(k) if a motion for the previous question under Standing Order 61 is adopted without a recorded division, the vote on the main question may be deferred under the provisions of paragraph (j), however if a recorded division is requested on the previous question, and such division is deferred and the previous question subsequently adopted, the vote on the original question shall not be deferred;
(l) when a recorded division, which would have ordinarily been deemed deferred to immediately before the time provided for Private Members’ Business on a Wednesday governed by this order, is requested, the said division is deemed to have been deferred until the conclusion of Oral Questions on the same Wednesday;
(m) for greater certainty, this order shall not limit the application of Standing Order 45(7);
(n) when a recorded division is to be held, the bells to call in the members shall be sounded for not more than 30 minutes, except recorded divisions deferred to the conclusion of Oral Questions, when the bells shall be sounded for not more than 15 minutes;
(o) the House Administration be directed to begin as soon as possible the onboarding process of all members for the remote voting application used in the 43rd Parliament, that this process be completed no later than Wednesday, December 8, 2021, and that any member who has not been onboarded during this period be required to vote either by videoconference or in person;
(p) until the onboarding process is complete, recorded divisions shall take place in the usual way for members participating in person and by roll call for members participating by videoconference, provided that members participating by videoconference must have their camera on for the duration of the vote;
(q) after the onboarding process outlined in paragraph (o) has been completed, the Speaker shall so inform the House and, starting no later than Thursday, December 9, 2021, recorded divisions shall take place in the usual way for members participating in person or by electronic means for all other members, provided that:
(i) electronic votes shall be cast from within Canada through the House of Commons electronic voting application using the member’s House-managed mobile device and the member’s personal House of Commons account, and that each vote requires visual identity validation,
(ii) the period allowed for voting electronically on a motion shall be 10 minutes, to begin after the Chair has read the motion to the House, and members voting electronically may change their vote until the electronic voting period has closed,
(iii) in the event a member casts their vote both in person and electronically, a vote cast in person takes precedence,
(iv) any member unable to vote via the electronic voting system during the 10-minute period due to technical issues may connect to the virtual sitting to indicate to the Chair their voting intention by the House videoconferencing system,
(v) following any concern, identified by the electronic voting system, which is raised by a House officer of a recognized party regarding the visual identity of a member using the electronic voting system, the member in question shall respond immediately to confirm their vote, either in person or by the House videoconferencing system, failing which the vote shall not be recorded,
(vi) the whip of each recognized party have access to a tool to confirm the visual identity of each member voting by electronic means, and that the votes of members voting by electronic means be made available to the public during the period allowed for the vote,
(vii) the process for votes in committees of the whole take place in a manner similar to the process for votes during sittings of the House with the exception of the requirement to call in the members,
(viii) any question to be resolved by secret ballot be excluded from this order,
(ix) during the taking of a recorded division on a private members’ business, when the sponsor of the item is the first to vote and present at the beginning of the vote, the member be called first, whether participating in person or by videoconference;
(r) during meetings of standing, standing joint, special and legislative committees and the Liaison Committee, as well as their subcommittees, where applicable, members may participate either in person or by videoconference, provided that members participating in person do so in accordance with the Board of Internal Economy’s decision of Tuesday, October 19, 2021, regarding vaccination against COVID-19, and that reasons for medical exemptions follow the guidance from the Ontario Ministry of Health document entitled “Medical Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccination” and the NACI, and witnesses shall participate remotely, provided that priority use of House resources for meetings shall be established by an agreement of the whips and, for virtual or hybrid meetings, the following provisions shall apply:
(i) members who participate remotely shall be counted for the purpose of quorum,
(ii) except for those decided unanimously or on division, all questions shall be decided by a recorded vote,
(iii) when more than one motion is proposed for the election of a chair or a vice-chair of a committee, any motion received after the initial one shall be taken as a notice of motion and such motions shall be put to the committee seriatim until one is adopted,
(iv) public proceedings shall be made available to the public via the House of Commons website,
(v) in camera proceedings may be conducted in a manner that takes into account the potential risks to confidentiality inherent in meetings with remote participants,
(vi) notices of membership substitutions pursuant to Standing Order 114(2) and requests pursuant to Standing Order 106(4) may be filed with the clerk of each committee by email;
(s) until Friday, December 10, 2021:
(i) Standing Order 81(5) be replaced with the following: “Supplementary estimates shall be deemed referred to a committee of the whole House immediately after they are presented in the House. A committee of the whole shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than one sitting day before the final sitting or the last allotted day in the current period. On a day appointed by a minister of the Crown, consideration of the supplementary estimates shall be taken up by a committee of the whole at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, for a period of time not exceeding four hours. During the time provided for the consideration of estimates, no member shall be recognized for more than 15 minutes at a time and the member shall not speak in debate for more than 10 minutes during that period. The 15 minutes may be used both for debate and for posing questions to the minister of the Crown or a parliamentary secretary acting on behalf of the minister. When the member is recognized, he or she shall indicate how the 15 minutes is to be apportioned. At the conclusion of the time provided for the consideration of the business pursuant to this section, the committee shall rise, the estimates shall be deemed reported and the House shall immediately adjourn to the next sitting day.”,
(ii) Standing Order 81(14)(a) be amended by replacing the words “to restore or reinstate any item in the estimates” with the following: “twenty-four hours’ written notice shall be given to restore or reinstate any item in the estimates”,
(iii) Standing Order 54(1) be amended by adding the following: “Notice respecting a motion to restore or reinstate any item in the Supplementary Estimates (B) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, shall be laid on the table, or filed with the clerk, within four hours after the completion of consideration of said supplementary estimates in committee of the whole and be printed in the Notice Paper of that day.”.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this House, particularly on this issue.
I hearken back to March of 2020, as the pandemic became a reality for all of us and we tried to grapple with how this place was going to work. I really want to take a moment to thank the opposition House leader and the opposition whips from the Conservatives, from the NDP and from the Bloc Québécois, as we all worked very effectively. We were dealing with an extraordinarily challenging time, and we had to determine how we were going to continue to do the business of the nation.
I have to also thank the House administration for the incredible work it did as we worked and talked together to build a system that would allow us to continue as members of Parliament and to retain our privilege and be able to vote and debate and do the things we do here that are so important in service of our constituents and all Canadians.
As I stand here, of course I also have to hearken back to my first time in the House as a member of Parliament. Every member of Parliament takes enormous pride in being able to stand in their place on behalf of their constituents. The first time they enter this chamber, they feel that sense of awe and humility at getting to do that on behalf of the people they live with, their home communities. It is pretty remarkable.
It is not a light thing to be away from this place, but of course we were in a global pandemic.
We created a hybrid system that worked very well, thanks to the House administration. All members were able to participate in debates and motions. Members could participate virtually during question period, and ministers could answer questions. The committees were able to sit.
We were able to do our jobs and address Canadians' top priorities. We created a new voting system and a new system for debate. We used new technology. It was a remarkable time, a time of transformation.
That is where we are today, with a system that worked and served us well, but we are not out of this pandemic. This pandemic, which has claimed 30,000 Canadian lives and affected more than five million Canadians across the country, is real. We do not know how it will end. All we know is that we continue to be within it.
We hit an incredible milestone as a nation, with 90% of eligible Canadians getting their first shot and over 86% of eligible Canadians getting their second shot. All Canadians can take great pride in that, and we in the chamber can take great pride in the way we worked with one another to advocate for vaccines being the only path out of this terrible pandemic, the only path to save lives and the only path to make sure that the most vulnerable do not end up in ICUs or, even worse, in morgues.
As we continue to push that number higher, any debate, frankly, that calls into question the efficacy or the importance of vaccines is incredibly disappointing. It is disappointing because it lends credence to the conspiracy theories and junk science that we see on the Internet that is making people fearful of doing the right thing to protect themselves and their families.
Some people have compared this place to a sports arena or a restaurant and asked why, if they can go to a sports game, members of Parliament cannot be in Parliament. Let us talk about that for a second and what the distinctions are. If I were to go to a sports game, I would not fly across the country. In fact, it would be equivalent to having a sports game where every participant viewing said sports game came from a different corner of the country.
Also, they do not spend three hours watching a game. No. They will spend 12- and 13-hour days inside that facility. The individuals who go to that sporting game would have a choice, if they were immunocompromised, on whether they would enter the facility. Members of Parliament have no such choice, because without a hybrid system they have no way to exercise their privilege and no way to represent their constituents.
Unlike a voluntary sporting match, where people can choose as vaccinated individuals whether they want to make that choice based on their own health, no such choice exists for members of Parliament. I do not think it is at all acceptable that members of Parliament should have to choose between their health and representing their constituents, particularly when we have already demonstrated a system that avoids that very problem now, in the midst of a pandemic that is continuing to claim lives.
I also do not want to relitigate this matter. With all due respect to everybody involved, we have talked about this too much. We have had to shut down the House entirely at one point in time, and at various points in time we ate up all kinds of time with the House that could have been used on other priorities, to debate having the flexibility of this system.
With all due respect to the members who are opposing this, I ask what they will do if in February or March there is a new variant or if there is a surge in cases and it is no longer possible. Do they honestly propose that we should debate this again, when we already have a system in place that is effective? I do not think that is a good use of this time, the precious time that we have as members of Parliament to answer the call of Canadians and their priorities.
The other thing that concerns me is that it would give members a terrible choice when they may be feeling a little under the weather or wondering whether they should come in. Do they miss that important vote and have to answer to their constituents? Do they skip that debate because they are feeling a little ill that day, or do they risk it and come in? If they risk it and come in, what is the impact on others' health?
In the midst of all this debate, underscoring it is something very concerning, which is that there are a few things we do not know, even being here in the chamber today. I do not know how many members are unvaccinated within the Conservative Party. They have not provided that number. We know that a member within the Conservative Party tested positive for COVID-19 just last week. We know as well that there are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven or I do not know how many MPs in the Conservative Party who are unvaccinated and who would have been in contact with that member of Parliament.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Mark Holland: Mr. Speaker, I am sorry. I am happy to talk outside the chamber if people have questions, or they are going to have a moment in a second to ask questions. We do not know whether they were in contact with that member. Let us be clear on what the public health rules are when someone is in contact with somebody with COVID-19 and they are unvaccinated. They are to go into isolation and they are to do so for the protection of those around them.
I repeat that I know for a fact that there are members of Parliament who are in immunocompromised situations. We potentially have an unvaccinated member of Parliament entering this chamber who has had direct contact with somebody with COVID-19, and we do not know if they have been in this chamber under that circumstance, in violation of public health. That is deeply concerning.
What is even more confusing about that position is that there is a solution for the member or members who are unvaccinated. There is a solution for the member who tested positive for COVID-19. It is hybrid, but in blocking hybrid, the Conservatives are effectively saying they want to remove the ability of that member to represent their constituents. They effectively want to disenfranchise their own members' ability to serve their constituents. That is not acceptable.
With respect to exemptions, because we do not know how many exemptions have been sought, this motion addresses them. Let us be very clear. The chief medical officer of health and the documents that come from the Ontario Ministry of Health, which is the jurisdiction we are in, include a clear document entitled “Medical Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccination”. It clearly lays out what is and what is not acceptable in terms of exemption. That should constitute roughly one in 100,000 individuals.
With a sample size of 119, which is the size of the Conservative caucus, if one in 100,000 results in one, those are some pretty unlucky numbers. If it is three Conservative members who have it, that is odds of one in 40. If a Canadian is in a workplace with a vaccine mandate, there is a one in 100,000 chance. For a Conservative, it is one in 40.
I do not buy that math. With all due respect, it stretches the boundaries of what is mathematically possible. In fact, I tried to take a look at what would be a statistical equivalent of that kind of math, and I am simply unable to find it on this earth.
This is not only a place where we have to worry about the privileges or the health of members. As I stand here and as I look at you, Mr. Speaker, I see pages who are working for us. I see journalists, and I see people within the House administration. I know that down these corridors walk staff who are diligently trying to serve this place and serve our democracy.
When I see those people, I wonder to myself, though sometimes I do not have to wonder because they tell me, how safe they feel. Is that fair? Is it fair that people are entering their workplace and are being left with huge questions about whether basic public health practices are being carried through?
Even if we say that we put our name on a ballot, and even if we say that as a result of putting our name on that ballot we accept a greater risk, do we also say that those who would serve us in this place, whose names never went on a ballot and who never made that choice, should face this kind of risk? Can we look them in the eye and tell them that they must face a higher public safety risk simply because people do not want to use a system that worked, or people do not want to use a system that was entirely effective?
Another thing that concerns me is that I have made offers. I have asked what needs to be changed and what we need to do so we can continue to follow public health guidelines, have this flexibility and have some modicum of social distancing, and so we can take advantage of the fact that people who are in a vulnerable health situation or who are immunocompromised could work at distance. I asked for them to give me something and to work with me, but there was nothing. There was no interest. It was too bad for every single person here in the middle of a pandemic, regardless of their health situation. I do not think that is acceptable.
We have on the other side an old, outdated and, dare I say, dangerous view of what has to happen. Damn the torpedoes and damn the consequences. Forget the technology available or the public health circumstance. Let us shove everybody in here. I do not want to think about what the consequences of that kind of thinking could lead to. It is not right. It is not right in this workplace, and it is not right in any workplace.
Members could, with these hybrid provisions and this motion, represent their constituents. They could hold the government to account. They could vote, debate and participate in committee, and they could do it all safely. With this motion and the suspension of Standing Order 17, they could also speak freely in all sorts of different places in this space so we can have some kind of social distancing in here, something else that is not now allowed. The production of documents would also be allowed to be done electronically. In short, the motion allows for the safe extension of a member's full and entire privilege in a time of a pandemic. It allows us to do the business of Canadians safely.
There are many debates that we have here where the science and the evidence leave some grey areas in between. I will finish on this note: There is no grey area of science here. There is no area of ambiguity in terms of the imperative action we need to take to protect not only members but also the people who work here.
I am saddened that this has come to debate. I wish that, like other matters that we dealt with so effectively, we could have reached unanimous consent, but here we are. Let us at least dispose of this quickly so we can get back to the business of this place.
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to see you here in the Speaker's chair and to be together again in a normal House. That is what Canadians want to see.
On Monday, all 338 members were present here in the House of Commons. On Tuesday, all of the members were in the House of Commons. Today, all of the members are in the House of Commons. We had our first question period with the and his members, the members of the official opposition party, the second opposition party and the third opposition party, and the independent members. We had a so-called normal day in a normal Parliament.
As long as this motion is not adopted, Parliament will run normally. That is why we seriously believe that this is not the right motion. On Monday, Tuesday, today and most probably tomorrow and later on, we proved that Parliament works in its usual form, and that is what we want.
First off, this is the sixth time in this Parliament that I have had the privilege of standing in the House. I would like to sincerely thank the people who made it possible for me to enjoy the privilege of once again being here today among my colleagues in the House as the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.
This is the third time that the people in my community have put their trust in me to represent them in the House of Commons. It was the sixth time that I had the pleasure and the honour of being elected, either to the National Assembly or to the House of Commons. Being elected six times in 13 years is an honour and an extraordinary tribute that we must accept with all due humility.
Basic math tells us six elections in a little less than 13 years comes out to one election every 25 months. I admit that I am becoming pretty experienced. I can think of another adjective, but for now I will use the term “experienced”. I would like to thank the people of Louis-Saint-Laurent from the bottom of my heart for placing their trust in me again. I would like to congratulate all those who ran in every riding in Canada, especially my worthy opponents in Louis-Saint-Laurent, because the campaign lived up to all Canadians' expectations. I would like to thank them and congratulate them.
I would also like to thank and acknowledge my leader, the hon. member for and leader of the official opposition, for his renewed trust in appointing me to the very important role of House leader, which comes with significant responsibility. I very humbly accepted his offer to be House leader of the official opposition for the second time. I was pleased to serve with the leader in this position last year. Since I have been again confirmed, I would again like to thank the hon. member for Durham and leader of the official opposition.
I would also like to give a shout-out to my counterparts across the aisle, because it is all of us, all the House leaders, who ensure the smooth operation of Parliament with the support and collaboration of our members. I would like to acknowledge my ministerial counterpart, whom I obviously knew by reputation. I have been here for six years, so I have seen him proudly defend his government, as we all, of course, proudly defend our political positions. I know that he was somewhat embarrassed earlier to speak in French, saying that he appreciated the people listening to him. I can assure him of one thing: his French is impeccable and inspiring. I offer my sincere congratulations. I may have less flattering things to say about him later on, but I recognize that the hon. member, who has several years’ experience, will be a tough opponent. I am sure of it, but so much the better. That is the beauty of democracy.
I would also like to give a shout-out to his predecessor, the hon. member for , with whom I have had my fair share of discussions in the context of political debates, television debates and my first campaign in 2015, but with whom I had a good and honest working relationship when he was House leader. On behalf of all Canadians and this country, I wish him the best in the new ministerial responsibilities entrusted to him by the hon. member for his neighbouring riding of , the Prime Minister of Canada.
I would like to acknowledge my old colleague from the National Assembly, the House leader of the second opposition party, the Bloc Québécois. I apologize if I had difficulty identifying the individual in question, but I would like to say hello to my colleague, with whom we have always had a good working relationship that has benefited all of Canada and Quebec. That is how it should be. We have work to do and we do it properly.
I would also like to applaud my NDP counterpart, whose French is more than inspiring; it is exemplary. It is also good evidence that people can indeed learn a second language. I do not mean a true “second” language, because each official language is as important as the other. I am referring to the second language he learned later in life. I just wanted to point out that the House leader of the NDP has shown on numerous occasions just how good his French is.
We often agree to disagree. It is true that, on the political spectrum, we in the Conservative Party are very different from NDP members, but that is as it should be. That is the beauty of the parliamentary dynamic that we must all fight to preserve here in the House.
Why are we assembled here, and why are we debating the motion?
In the last two years, our country and those around the world have had to address the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let me remind members that about 20 months ago, when the first signs of the COVID pandemic arose around the world, we were very cautious. Everybody was looking at it. We were not quite sure how to address it in March when everything happened in our country.
I want to pay my respect to all civil servants who worked tirelessly, many times 24 hours a day, to ensure we could have a hybrid Parliament. Why? Because at that time, it was a real tragedy. There was a pandemic in Canada, from coast to coast, and all around the world. Yes, in a very excessive situation, we needed real, true solutions.
That is why all the parties worked shoulder to shoulder and did their part. We closed ranks to create this hybrid parliament. If I may, I would like to salute and thank, as I did a bit earlier, the House of Commons staff, whose extraordinary work over a few days, or perhaps a few weeks, helped us create a virtual parliament and allowed Canada’s parliamentary democracy to carry on despite the serious crisis.
I would also like to thank the individual—whom unfortunately I cannot name—who used to hold this position in our caucus. I can say that I humbly agreed to succeed her and am very proud to do so. She and others worked very hard to respond to the pandemic and meet health requirements by creating a virtual parliament.
Two years ago, we saw everyone working together. However, I must say that, about 11 months ago, when Parliament resumed in January, the government unfortunately decided to politicize the House of Commons and teach everyone a lesson.
I want to be very honest and sincere. We still have not seen more than one government member in the House. Here I would like to sincerely commend the hon. member for , whose perpetual presence in this chamber has ensured government authority in the House. I asked him how it was that he was the only one here, but I will let him answer the question himself because I would not want to reveal any of his secrets—I am saying this with a smile on my face.
I want to pay my respects to my colleague from , who served as the only soldier of the Liberal government in the House of Commons. It is a personal achievement, but also a shameful achievement of the government. Why? Yes, we saw one member attend in the House on a daily basis, but all the others spent their time in their ridings, in their houses and also in their offices, which were not far from the House.
That is why I want to strongly condemn the attitude of the government party in the first six months of 2021.
We saw members and ministers perform their duties while strictly following the rules imposed on them by the Prime Minister and their party, namely staying at home, not crossing any borders and working from home, their department office or their constituency office. They were not to budge from there, period.
I want to point out that, indeed, ministers have acted according to these rules imposed by their own party. I want to point out, among others, the member for , who headed two very important departments during that period: the Department of Transport and the Department of Foreign Affairs. I do not remember seeing the member for Notre‑Dame‑de‑Grâce—Westmount anywhere but in his house. I say that with a smile because we recognized the pictures behind him of his children. For several days there was even a ladder leaning on the wall behind him. A little more and I would text him to ask if he would put the ladder away at some point. I say this with a smile because we have all experienced similar situations. He respected the rules. Not all parliamentarians have respected the rules they have imposed on themselves.
Among others, I must unfortunately point out, the one whose supreme duty is to ensure law and order in this country, that is, the , has done as he pleased. The Minister of Justice is the member for , in Quebec. We saw him here in the House, often in his ministerial office, which is in Ontario. That means that the minister was crossing the border while many members and ministers, including my colleague at the time, the member for —
Madam Speaker, I thought I missed the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands. Now, I am not sure I miss him that much anymore.
I understand that we are treading on thin ice here with this subject. I do have grey hair and experience, and I like that, but the reality is that the intervention by my colleague from Kingston and the Islands illustrates in all its ugliness the reality of what this party has done in the first six months of 2021. That is why we are having this debate today. That is also why I will beat around the bush a little bit to say exactly what I said earlier.
The extension of the House is indeed the hybrid Parliament, regardless of where the person is, but we still have physical realities. If a minister happens to be exactly 1,009 feet from the House of Commons because he or she is in a ministerial office, that is indeed an extension of the House. I recognize that.
However, I also acknowledge that, physically speaking, he is barely 1,000 feet from his seat here in the House. He could very well have come, especially since he comes across many people on his way to the office and back to the car, and then he crosses the border only to cross it again in the morning.
That is the exact opposite of what those who are lecturing us were hoping to achieve, but that is what was going on. Worse still, press conferences were held here in the basement of the House of Commons. They came to the building to give press conferences, but refused to come here to the House, to their parliamentary office, where their job is to answer questions.
That is why we are very suspicious of the government when it says that its members and ministers will be there to answer questions. Unfortunately, what we saw was a party that said one thing and did the opposite, and we are very suspicious of the government's approach and its desire to return to a hybrid Parliament. We have shown without a shadow of a doubt in the past three days that regular parliamentary sessions can be held properly and that things work in a regular Parliament.
What can we say about the election?
I heard my counterpart mention earlier how important it was to protect people's health and especially that of those who fly across the country.
Let us consider the facts. The voted in favour of a motion not to hold an election during the pandemic. One Wednesday in August, just a few short months ago, Dr. Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, declared that Canada was officially entering the fourth wave of the pandemic. The following Sunday, the Prime Minister went to Rideau Hall to dissolve Parliament and trigger an election. Despite the fact that they did this in the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic, they have the gall to lecture us today.
What happened during the election campaign?
All of the parties ran hybrid campaigns. Twice a week, our leader held hybrid gatherings. The Bloc Québécois and the NDP did the same, and I assume the same is true of the Green Party. That is not what the Liberals did, however. On the contrary, the Prime Minister flew across the country in his plane. In a mere 50 hours, he flew across the country twice. He left Toronto for Vancouver, then flew to the Atlantic provinces and back to British Columbia.
The Prime Minister did all this is barely 50 hours. Today, the Liberals are lecturing us. They are telling us to be careful, not to fly. They mentioned that people who fly will cross the country, but that is exactly what they did for an entire month in the middle of a pandemic.
Need I remind the House that there was a rally of Liberal Party supporters in Hamilton? Hamilton is a beautiful city, by the way, and the birthplace of Tim Hortons restaurants. How many supporters were in the room again?
There were 400. I do not have a problem with partisan rallies, but I certainly have a big problem with being lectured by people who flout public health rules and then act holier-than-thou and tell us to follow the rules. The government party did not do what they were supposed to during the election campaign when it came to health rules.
Earlier I greeted my opponents in Louis‑Saint‑Laurent. I would also like to greet my Liberal opponent in my riding, although I do want to point out that when the Prime Minister came to the Quebec City area to make announcements and play politics, which is perfectly legitimate during an election campaign—he was quite welcome in Quebec City, as everyone is—my Liberal opponent had his picture taken with his leader. This happens all the time. I did not get out a ruler to measure how far apart they were, but they were pretty close. Neither of them wore a mask. However, the rules state that when people are close together, one or both must wear a mask. Seeing people say one thing and do the opposite sometimes makes the public cynical about politics.
At the beginning of 2021, the government sought to portray itself as a paragon of virtue when it said that it would keep the number of individuals in the House to the bare minimum and that people would work from home, in the spirit of extending the House of Commons. We recognize that.
However, some senior ministers did the opposite. They attended from their ministerial suite instead of being here in the House. I recognize that their offices are an extension of the House of Commons, but let us also recognize that they were not physically present in the chamber. That goes against the principle of the thing, particularly because, in some cases, some ministers, like the , barely set foot in the chamber. They crossed plenty of borders and visited plenty of government offices and buildings and could very well have come to the House. What is worse, they held meetings in the basement of the House of Commons, but they did not want to come here, 10 feet up, to answer questions. That is why we want to hold sittings in person.
This government has been disappointing us for over a year, whether it was during the early months of 2021 or during the election campaign. After the election, we had to wait 63 days before we were able to come back here. Two whole months went by when, in the end, the House looks pretty much the same as it did before. The election campaign cost over $600 million and the only thing that came out of it was a cabinet shuffle. For $600 million, it is likely the most costly cabinet shuffle in the history of Canada. That is typical of this government.
I found it interesting to hear what my Liberal counterpart said earlier.
They say that we have to use the precious time we have in the House of Commons correctly and that we should adopt this on unanimous consent. That is fine. I do understand that sometimes we can agree, obviously, on some issues, but we can also disagree on those issues. Democracy is all about that.
I think members will recognize that two parties are working hand in hand on this motion and another two parties are not supportive of the motion. Democracy is all about that. We shall preserve that democracy. We shall preserve the fact that we can say that we agree to disagree. That is part of the debate. This is why we are here. This is why our people voted for us. This is why we are here as representatives of the people in our ridings, and we shall always keep in mind that we are here for Canadians and for Canada.
If we have debate, we have to keep it that way. We have to be respectful of those who do not share our point of view and address some aspect of that with good, frank, strong arguments instead of saying something bad about the opponent.
I said earlier that I have a lot of respect for the member opposite, but I was extremely disappointed in what he said during his scrum on Monday.
I have no problem with an opponent attacking us. There are 1,000 right ways to attack an adversary. Unfortunately, the went about it the wrong way. That happens to us all. However, if we are waging political battle, let us keep it in the political arena and not fight that battle at the expense of other people.
The government House leader cast aspersions not only on the work of the Conservatives and anyone who is against him, but also on the work of the Sergeant-at-Arms. He explicitly cast doubt on the integrity of the Sergeant-at Arms's judgment when the latter decreed that members could be granted exemptions in certain cases.
Neither the Liberal Party, nor the Conservative Party, nor the Bloc, nor the NDP nor the Green Party has the right to grant exemptions. Exemptions are granted and recognized by the House of Commons following consultation with medical experts. I know what I am talking about, and I will talk about what happened with us shortly.
However, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said during a press conference that he thought it was very curious that, mathematically speaking, so many people got exemptions. It is sad, because he was not actually attacking the Conservatives. He was attacking the Sergeant‑at‑Arms, whose sacred duty is to abide by the rules established by the House of Commons.
Let us talk about those rules. At first, there was no issue with exemptions. Now that a few Conservatives have an exemption, that no longer works. Need I remind colleagues that someone in the Liberal government had an exemption at one point? The Prime Minister was proud to say that the person had finally seen the light and no longer had an exemption. That is his right. I do not have a problem with that, but I do have a problem with people questioning exemptions now, when they themselves have had them in their party. At the risk of repeating myself, a person who is two-faced has twice as many cheeks to slap. That is what we are seeing right now. That is why we need to avoid any partisan debate when it comes to public health and people's health.
Unfortunately, those people chose to engage in partisan politics, raking the Sergeant-at-Arms over the coals instead of acting with honour and dignity. I want to make a point of saying so and strongly condemning them for this attitude. Yesterday, we raised a question of privilege regarding the management of the Board of Internal Economy and the behaviour of the Clerk of the House of Commons, which is part of the public debate, as we saw in a CBC news report. I am still waiting for the French version of that report. I have not found it. Who knows if one will ever be found. If anyone finds it, please send it to me, but it seems that it was not translated. For the record, the CBC is not a rag. The report included evidence, witness accounts, documents and all that. I will not get into the details, but the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons defended an employee of the House tooth and nail. That is fine, but 24 hours earlier he was raking the Sergeant-at-Arms over the coals. They say one thing and do another when it suits them. It is a shame to see the attitude of the current government House leader. I must say that I have a great deal of respect for him, but politicizing public health in this case is quite sad.
Earlier, he was talking about how rules must be followed, and that is what we are doing. The Conservatives have always followed the rules established and managed by the House of Commons, not by political parties. That is why we are very proud to say that all of our members are double-vaccinated or obtained the exemption provided by the House of Commons, which consulted experts and not a political party. All of the measures that were implemented have been followed. I want to point out that our colleague, the member for , had COVID-19, even though he was double-vaccinated. No one is immune. Double vaccination is the best way, in combination with other methods, to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19, but no one is immune.
In Quebec City, a member of the official opposition at the Quebec National Assembly got COVID-19, even though he was double-vaccinated. The Montreal Canadiens' general manager was double-vaccinated but still got COVID-19. No one is fully immune.
We are in favour of vaccination and double vaccination. Let us not forget the many debates in this House when we fought tooth and nail for access to vaccines. We still think they are important. Members will recall that we asked dozens of questions after we noticed that this government had put all its eggs in the same basket, that of CanSino Biologics, which ended up dropping Canada in July. Unfortunately, this resulted in a delay that had serious consequences for Canada, which eventually pursued other manufacturers.
It was around this time a year ago that we were asking dozens of questions about the importance of having access to vaccines, and we should remember what happened. After Canada received tens of thousands of doses of vaccine, the government made a big show of it, saying that vaccines were here for Canadians right before Christmas and that everything was hunky-dory.
I even remember a commentator in La Presse saying how mean we were being, because everything was fine and everything was going great. He even mocked us by saying that the only question the Conservatives did not ask was what colour the vaccine delivery person's hat was.
Unfortunately, what happened in January and February? We went through a 10-day void. For 10 days, Canada did not receive a single dose of vaccine. This made the third wave worse. It was much more severe in Canada than anywhere else because of that 10-day gap in January and February. Funnily enough, nobody was talking about the colour of the hat anymore, like we had read in La Presse.
We did our job and urged everyone to get fully vaccinated. Personally, I got both my shots, and each time, I put my smiling face on Twitter, Facebook and social media, as did many of my colleagues, to encourage people to get vaccinated. I received a few comments that were rather critical, to put it nicely. It was not pleasant to read those comments, but it was the right thing to do and the right thing to say.
We always follow the rules. That is why tomorrow, at eight o'clock, I will be getting a second test to find out whether I have COVID-19. One of our colleagues had COVID at a time when we were in close proximity to him, so everyone who was around him during the period defined by the public health rules had to get a first test. I will be getting my second test tomorrow, as will many of my colleagues.
We are not reinventing the wheel. All we are doing is following the rules. Just a few hours ago, I was in contact with a nurse who works for the House of Commons, not for the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party, but for the House of Commons. That is how it should be. We trust the House of Commons to act in accordance with the rules that have been set out. That is why we need to be very careful when we say that.
I would like to remind the House of the mathematical equation that my counterpart mentioned. According to science, only one in 100,000 people can get an exemption. In his opinion, it does not make sense for the Conservatives to have so many exemptions. He said that it does not fit with the mathematical equation because the odds for the Conservatives are one in 40, or something like that.
How many Liberals have been vaccinated? I ask because for months, there was one person on their side who had an exemption. I do not have a problem with that, but they seem to have a problem with people who have exemptions. Did they have a problem when their member had an exemption? No, but they do have a problem when it comes to Conservatives who have an exemption. The problem lies in politicizing a public health issue for partisan purposes.
Have we heard any Conservative members denounce, question or voice any suspicions about a Liberal with an exemption? No. Have we heard anyone from the Bloc Québécois rant and rave because someone from the Liberal Party had an exemption? No. Have we had someone from the NDP stand up and say that it did not make sense that someone from the Liberal Party had an exemption? No. Even the Green Party did not do that.
Why are the Liberals acting holier-than-thou today because Conservative members were given exemptions by the House of Commons, which consulted its experts? They were okay with it when there was only one, but not anymore. How sad. This is not the way to tackle the issue of COVID‑19 and find common ground.
I just want to be clear, because it is very important for us to stay focused on why we are here. We have been elected by our people. We have been sitting here in this House, on Monday, Tuesday, today and we will be here tomorrow too, if this motion is not adopted, with a normally sitting House, with a full crowd in the House. Just a few hours ago, we saw a very interesting, feisty question period with a full crowd here in the House. That was quite good.
That is what politics is all about. That is what democracy is all about. That is what parliamentary life is all about. It is about being here in this House, fighting for our principles, asking the tough questions and listening to the answers. That is what politics is all about.
Now the Liberals want to see us get back to a virtual Parliament. They want to ask what we would do if we continue and there is a huge crisis. If there is a huge crisis, we would do exactly the same thing we did two years ago. We would address it correctly.
This is not the case now, and we have proven that conscientiously and in a very good manner over the last three days. Yes, we can have a full House sitting and achieve great things.
We have to hold the government to account. We saw, at the beginning of 2021, that so many fewer members were here in the House. Yes, they were technically in the House because we had a virtual Parliament, we know that, even if they were in their offices a few yards away from the House of Commons instead of being in the House.
This is why we need better than that.
We have proven that we are capable of having a full House sitting, with vigorous debates, as we did earlier in question period. Members aimed questions directly at the government, asking what the government is up to. The responded. That is democracy. We must preserve that, and that is why we oppose the motion.
I would like to table the following amendment:
That the motion be amended as follows:
(a) in subparagraph (s)(i) by replacing the words “a day” with the words “two days”, by adding after the words “not exceeding four hours” the following: “each day”, and by adding after the words “consideration of the business” the following: “on the second appointed day”; and
(b) in subparagraph (s)(iii) by deleting all the words after “adding the following” and substituting the following “Notices to oppose an item and respecting a motion to restore or reinstate any item in the Supplementary Estimates (B) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, shall be laid on the table, or filed with the clerk, within four hours after the completion of consideration of said supplementary estimates in committee of the whole and be printed in the Notice Paper of that day, provided that no more than five opposed items shall be selected by the Speaker and that the remaining notices of opposed items in the said supplementary estimates, if any, shall be deemed withdrawn.”.