Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the brilliant, fantastic and magnificent member from .
I am happy to be able to discuss and debate the motion concerning Bill with my colleagues, because I have devoted my life to seniors since I was 23. I spent my career serving seniors, both providing home care in local community service centres and working in long-term care homes as a social worker and health care network manager. It is therefore an honour for me to contribute to the debate we are having today.
First of all, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois agrees with Bill C‑12. There is no doubt about that. We know that this bill is very important and that it is urgent.
However, we disagree with today's motion, which is disrupting the legislative process. It is important to point out that the bill has only one clause. It amends the Old Age Security Act to prevent a deplorable situation, where 183,000 vulnerable seniors had their guaranteed income supplement cut, from happening again after July 1, 2022. That is the purpose of Bill .
All of the opposition parties proposed legislative work to the government for this week, because we could have managed without the closure motion, which should only be used in exceptional and urgent situations. We could have finished our work properly, in accordance with the legislative process, because this bill has not garnered much opposition. On the contrary, we are pretty unanimous about it in the House.
The bill is important, but let us be clear: It does nothing to change the situation of seniors whose GIS has been slashed every month for the past eight months. It changes nothing at all. When we saw the bill, we wondered why the date was set at July 1, 2022. Why not March? That way, those whose GIS is currently being cut would not have their benefits reduced.
Based on the minister's announcement, we know that there will be a one-time payment. Initially, this payment was to have been made in May, but after the questions we asked the minister and with the pressure she was under, she succeeded in convincing her officials to move the one-time payment up to April 19.
In my opinion, that is still unacceptable. It is two weeks earlier, and some will say that is better than nothing, but it is unacceptable that computer issues can prevent us from returning the money that was taken from vulnerable seniors before April 19. It seems to me that that could have been done by March, or even early April.
This week, the minister appeared before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, where she answered a question from my colleagues in the third opposition party. She said that it would be done by April 19 and she was proud of that. Honestly, I would not be so proud in her shoes, because that is shameful. On April 19 it will be almost 10 months that people have had their GIS benefits cut month after month.
Today, in an article in the Journal de Montréal, two seniors who had their benefits cut described their situation to Canadians. Bob Petit, an 82-year-old senior, had his GIS benefits reduced by $350 a month, while Jacques Rhéault, a pensioner in Louiseville who worked hard all his life in a factory in Contrecoeur, lost his GIS benefit.
These two people are the luckiest people in the world, because they have the support and assistance of a very active MP who has been championing their cause from the start. Let us keep in mind that these people’s benefits have been cut since July 2021. The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé represents and supports them through all of the system’s bureaucratic procedures.
However, regardless of how good an MP he is, we have learned that, although the appears to have a good heart and to listen to seniors, she cannot do more because of the technical and technological limitations of the tools she will be using to issue a nice cheque to each senior who was unfairly affected by the cuts. That is quite a long time.
I cannot help but make connections with other people’s problems. Consider sick workers. They are entitled to just 15 weeks of employment insurance in case of illness. The Bloc would like to see that increase to 50 weeks. The minister said that that was too much, that the government was looking at 26 weeks, but that computer problems were preventing it from doing anything right now.
The Department of Citizenship and Immigration is telling us that they want to accelerate the processing of work visa and permanent residence applications, but that there are computer issues. I am starting to wonder whether the government’s key departments, which are there to serve Canadians, are paralyzed by their computer systems.
That makes me think there has been considerable negligence in maintaining our infrastructure. As a result, vulnerable Canadians are finding it difficult to pay their rent and buy their medications and are grappling with anxiety and stress every month. We are talking about seniors who are vulnerable and who will be affected by Bill .
I do not know if it is possible to paint an accurate portrait of these people. These are seniors who, very often, have worked all their lives. These people, who may not have been unionized and who did not necessarily earn a big salary, are now retired, and tired, at age 65. Tired and without much income, they are entitled to the guaranteed income supplement. For the past eight months, since July 2021, these people have received less money because the CERB was calculated as income. That is what Bill C-12 is intended to correct, to prevent other seniors from being penalized next year.
Honestly, I am offended and angry to see how the government’s limitations are getting in the way of the assistance these seniors require. When questioned, the minister says that the government invested so many million dollars in this and so many million dollars in that. What seniors need is a decent monthly income so they can pay their bills, meet their responsibilities and live with dignity.
Right now, seniors are calling my office saying that they feel like beggars, if I can put it that way. It is a blow to their dignity, because these are people who worked, who earned an honest living and who have felt completely forgotten and abandoned since July 2021.
Members will understand why I am emotional talking about this. I live in a riding where a quarter of the population is aged 65 or over. Today, I think it is clear that the hon. member for Salaberry—Suroît is an unconditional ally of the seniors in her riding, that the Bloc Québécois is an ally of seniors, and that it will do everything it can to convince the minister to issue the one-time payment before April 19.
Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît for her excellent speech. It was very heartfelt and compelling. I do not know whether I will be as brilliant, but I will try to clearly outline the Bloc Québécois's motivations when it comes to seniors. We want to take care of them, look after them and listen to their needs.
I would like to remind the many people who are watching us on ParlVu that we are talking about Bill , which would exclude any emergency benefits from a person's income for the purposes of calculating the amount of the guaranteed income supplement and allowances payable in respect of any month after June 2022.
I think the bill is simple. It attempts to correct a problem as of June 2022. However, it is one year too late. Need I remind the House that it was in May 2021 that the trouble started and the issue was raised? Some seniors lost some or all of their GIS because they had received emergency benefits related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which they were entitled to.
No one in the government warned them that this would happen. Worse still, no one in the government had even calculated or foreseen this consequence, which is frankly ludicrous, considering old age security is a program that is entirely under federal jurisdiction.
It is terrible that the government showed such a lack of foresight by failing to anticipate the effect of these measures under a program that it is supposed to be responsible for. More importantly, it is terrible for the seniors who have missed out on a large portion of their retirement income for the past year. I could name several women and men in my riding who, for several months now, have been receiving $300, $400 or $500 less a month.
Those figures are significant, since only the lowest-income seniors receive the GIS. In all, OAS and GIS benefits represent almost $18,000 a year. My colleagues can surely imagine how much that comes to per month, so cutting even $100 from that monthly income is totally unacceptable.
On Monday, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities had the pleasure of receiving the . She came to tell us about her mandate letter and how much she cares about seniors. We believe her. She mentioned that she used to be a nurse, and she spoke about how seniors are faring in our health and social services networks, highlighting their vulnerability. I agree with her.
She underlined all kinds of consequences, but focused on measures this government will introduce to reduce seniors' vulnerability, such as national standards in long-term care homes, aging in place and so on. The government is devoting tremendous energy to overtly encroaching on provincial jurisdiction and so little energy to fixing a problem we are all very aware of and that is that seniors are economically vulnerable, and they are getting poorer.
I would like the to know that I, too, am a nurse by trade and that I was a nurses' union representative in Quebec for many long years and the leader of a major public service labour union. My professional and union experience gave me opportunities to advocate for better working conditions in Quebec and reforms to improve the systems we have in place to care for seniors and the rest of the population.
We have fought hard on these issues in order to push ahead and improve the quality of care and services, but at no point throughout my career would it ever have occurred to us to knock on Ottawa's door to ask for help, because it is none of Ottawa's business. This does not fall under Ottawa's jurisdiction. The only battle we have fought together with civil society and the government of our province is to demand that the federal government make a contribution through the Canada health transfers that is commensurate with the health and social services needs in Quebec and the provinces. This has been our struggle. I have been on the front lines for a long time on the issues that relate to the feds. However, our working conditions, living conditions for seniors and care conditions all come under our jurisdiction.
I have a suggestion for the government. It should drop those mandates, focus on what it needs to focus on and give the provinces health transfers covering 35% of costs. We could have asked for 50%, as was agreed to in the 1950s, but we did not. We have asked for 35% because we have been starving ever since. The government is starving the health care systems and making them vulnerable. To top it off, the government has appropriated the right to spend. However, it does not grasp the urgency of spending money in areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction, such as the GIS, which is one of the most important social safety nets for our retirees and seniors.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, pressure had to be applied for seniors to be recognized, and this earned them a meagre cheque of $500. On this issue, the government came in for more criticism than accolades.
The Bloc Québécois had to fight, apply pressure, write letters and come to the House to sound the alarm a year ago about the totally unfair situation of seniors whose GIS was reduced because they had received emergency benefits. The government said it had other things to do. Managing its own affairs must not be part of its responsibilities.
Now, here we are, almost a year later, with a bill that we will pass but that will only remedy the situation going forward to ensure this does not happen again. A bird in the hand is worth—
Madam Speaker, today is a great opportunity to rise in the House on this flag day. I want to note the importance and significance of today being the day we mark and recognize the Canadian flag, a flag we have seen on various people's knapsacks and backpacks throughout the world. It is a symbol people proudly wear to show where their home is. Unlike some other countries in the world, we are incredibly proud to show that flag as we travel in other parts of the world.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that it was MP John Matheson, who was from the riding just east of Kingston, the riding of Leeds, as it was called at the time, who played a key role in the development of the flag we now recognize as being the Canadian flag. I encourage those who are listening to look into the history of it a little. They will see the committee he led, and some of the different examples of flags that were brought forward. Ultimately, they settled on the one we have now come to cherish as the Canadian flag. I wish everybody a happy flag day. It certainly is an honour to come from the part of the country that was, at the time, led by an MP who gave a tremendous amount to the pride we now have and show through that flag.
It is an honour to rise today to talk about such an important issue. Right now we are debating the motion that would set the programming of how we will deal with this particular bill, which relates to the Old Age Security Act, and how we would make amendments to it in order to ensure those who experienced these clawbacks are properly taken care of.
I am concerned to see some of the posturing going on in the House today. We heard MPs from the Conservatives and the Bloc saying that they are supportive of the bill but not of this motion. Once again, I want to thank my colleagues in the NDP for recognizing the importance of this. The truth is we knew the Conservatives would be against it, which was a default, but the Bloc, quite frankly, is using this as an opportunity. It knows it has the luxury of voting against this motion because the NDP will be there to carry the weight the Bloc is unwilling to carry today. That is the reality of the situation.
We saw it with another equally important motion yesterday, where the NDP had to carry the weight of the Bloc, and now it is doing it again. I just want to thank my colleagues in the NDP for helping us get through this very important motion, and we know at the end of the day all members of the House will vote in favour of the bill because of the importance all members place on this issue.
This motion basically says that we would proceed moving forward with this bill in a very expeditious fashion, because it is very important to get it through. I can understand some of the need for rigorous studying of bills from time to time as they come to committee. I know members of the Conservative Party have said today that we need to study this bill and properly go through all of the details.
These are the same members who have been raising this issue time and time again and asking why something was not done yesterday. Now they have in front of them a programming motion that would basically expedite this and fast-track it, and they literally want to put on the brakes. They say that we need to hold on, study, give a lot of consideration in committee, and go through various procedural elements back and forth from committee and the House on what is an extremely simple bill.
The bill states:
for the purpose of determining benefits payable in respect of any month after June 2022, there shall be deducted from the person’s income for the year the amount of any payment under
It then goes on to list the four articles. That is literally the entire bill. I do not understand what could be studied in committee that would bring about some revelation of how an amendment should be made with respect to this.
This is an issue that all members of the House know about. I am happy to get into how we got to this point, which I will shortly, but it is an issue that all members of this House know about so well. They understand the content of it and exactly what this bill would do. To suggest that we should ensure that the proper, thorough, democratic process through the parliamentary system is maintained for a bill that is so direct in its nature of addressing a very specific issue is absolutely remarkable to me.
However, the Bloc has the luxury of not having to vote in favour of this motion so it can somehow stand on principle, but it only has that luxury because the NDP is once again creating a scenario for the Bloc to be able to do that. I again want to thank my NDP colleagues for staying above the partisanship of this and making sure we can move forward with this as quickly as possible.
I want to take a few minutes to congratulate the new on tackling this issue. She had not been a minister prior to this session of Parliament. She is the member for Brampton West. When she was appointed, she tackled this issue head-on, along with her parliamentary secretary, the member for .
As she indicated in her comments earlier today, she made sure she consulted with various parties. She made sure she went to committee and answered the questions of committee members. She made sure she communicated with various seniors groups and groups that represent seniors' interests and that when she did this, she would get this right, in line with her mandate letter from the and in line with the very reasonable requests being made by seniors throughout the country.
I want to thank the for the work she has done to get us to this point, so we can ensure that seniors who experienced clawbacks relating to the CERB and other programs indicated in the bill are properly taken care of. Her mandate letter specifically says that she will, “Ensure seniors' eligibility for the Guaranteed Income Supplement is not negatively impacted by receipt of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit...and the Canada Recovery Benefit”, and that is exactly what this bill would do.
Bill builds on our commitment to old age security, to increase the guaranteed income supplement by $500 for single seniors and $750 for couples starting at the age of 65. Bill C-12 would also ensure that GIS cutbacks due to collective COVID supports will not happen again in future tax years. All parties, as I indicated, have raised this issue for sometime, so it is very odd to see that our Conservative friends across the way and the Bloc wanting to drag the parliamentary process down with this motion as opposed to just passing it so we can eventually vote on the bill.
I would like to go back to the creation of these particular programs and how we got to the position we are in. I found it very fascinating and quite perplexing, while listening to the member for this morning, when he pointed the finger at the government, as though the government is solely responsible for the issue that has been created. I would remind all members that these programs were passed by unanimous consent, by all members of this House.
Unanimous consent, for those watching, is when all members of the House agree to bypass a number of parliamentary procedures in order to get programs into place immediately. That is the manner in which unanimous consent was used back in March of 2020 and a few times afterward. Unanimous consent basically means that everybody agrees.
If one person disagrees with unanimous consent, it would shut it down, right there in its tracks, and the various pieces of legislation would have to go through the regular parliamentary process. However, we agreed to unanimous consent at the time because we recognized the incredible need that was out there for Canadians at the time.
Not only that, the minister at the time, Minister Morneau, went to great lengths when we heard the complaints about various different pieces of the supports from the other side of the House, and they were improved upon. I can remember, for example, that the original proposal by the government on the wage subsidy fell short, quite frankly, of what was really needed. The Conservatives were there to highlight that issue and to say that this particular support was not good enough and that we needed to do better. As a result, by working with the minister behind the scenes and outside of this chamber and fixing the legislation, we saw much better wage subsidy legislation end up coming forward.
If the member for is somehow saying that the government completely botched this legislation, well, he and the Conservatives had the opportunity to try to improve upon the programs at the time. In some instances they did, and in some instances issues were missed, but let us remember where we were at the beginning of this pandemic. At that time it was absolutely critical to get supports to Canadians as quickly as possible to support those in need, those who were affected.
Let us remember that at the beginning of the pandemic, nobody had any idea what was happening. We were shutting down businesses throughout the country. Provinces were bringing in lockdowns. We did not have the luxury of knowing what a lockdown is, as we do now. If a lockdown was brought in now, we would know what to expect. Back in March 2020, we had no idea what it meant, what the short-term, mid-term or long-term impacts of a lockdown would be. We have that luxury now, because hindsight is 20-20, but back then we did not. We did not understand what was happening.
The government—with the incredible support of the public service, I might add—developed these programs, working day and night, with the objective of helping as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Perfection was not an issue at the time. It was not seen, in my opinion, as a priority at the time. The priority was getting the supports out to people who needed them the most. That is what happened. That is what the government was able to deliver on, again with the incredible support of the public service.
I have said it a number of times in this House, and I will said it again: 5.4 million Canadians had money in their bank accounts within five weeks of the World Health Organization declaring a global pandemic. Let us compare that to the United States or any other jurisdiction in the world. It was regarded as the gold standard for taking care of Canadians in their absolute dire moment of need. That is what the public service was able to deliver for Canadians. That is what we were dealing with at the time.
Issues are going to come up, as the member for has indicated now that he has luxury of looking back on it 24 months later. Issues are going to pop up. The key is how we deal with those issues now to make sure that people are treated in a fair manner. That is exactly what we are seeing now. We are not only fixing some of those problems that existed before but also putting safeguards in to make sure that they do not continue to happen. It is the reasonable and responsible thing to do. It is the thing the minister was tasked to do in her mandate letter from the , and she has moved very quickly on it with her department.
I also find it extremely rich when I hear my Conservative colleagues across the way in particular trying to position themselves as the champions of seniors. It is absolutely remarkable when I hear the rhetoric that comes from across the way.
This is the party that in the last government sought to increase the age of retirement to 67 from 65. What grounds they think they have to stand on this issue as it relates to seniors I do not understand. I do not know where they are coming from. That is their record. They increased the age of retirement from 65 to 67. That is their record.
Our record is this: We enhanced the CPP. The QPP followed suit. We strengthened old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. We increased in general the number of services available to seniors. We provided a one-time $500 payment to seniors. This year we are increasing old age security by 10% for those seniors over the age of 75 because we know that once they get into that age category, they need more support. The data shows that as they reach the age of 75 and older, seniors have burned through more of their savings, their medical expenses are higher, and as such they need more resources in order to support themselves. We want seniors to support themselves. That is the objective, so increasing the old age security benefit for those who are over the age of 75 is an investment.
I am absolutely perplexed by the position of the Conservatives when they try to tout they are the champions of seniors, but I am equally concerned about what I hear coming from the Bloc. The last two Bloc members who spoke made reference to a unanimous consent motion when I asked a question. Let us understand this. Eight months ago, the Bloc members brought forward a unanimous consent motion. At the time, they were willing to deal with this problem through unanimous consent, as I described earlier, but now they are not even willing to vote in favour of this motion that expedites the process.
That is the hypocrisy. They referred to a unanimous consent motion to fix the entire problem through that one quick motion back in May, which they felt was fine to do then, and they chastised us for not agreeing to it; now we have a programming motion that would allow us to do this quickly, but they are totally unwilling to vote in favour of it. Again, this goes back to the luxury of not having to do it because the NDP is picking up the slack for the Bloc, as we are seeing.
I have already talked about the unanimous consent motion that the Bloc brought forward and the problems that existed with it. It was not indexed over time. It did not take into account the length of time that people had been in Canada. It did not have any kind of clawback based on income so that higher-income individuals would get less than those who really needed it. It was extremely problematic, yet they were willing to do that through a UC motion. Unfortunately, that just comes down to the politics of this place that we see time and again.
Quite frankly, we see it more often from the Conservatives. They bring forward these unanimous consent motions not because they think they will pass and fix the problem, but so the Bloc members can then go back to their constituents and tell them that they tried to help them but nobody wanted to agree with them and help them out. That is what we are seeing. Quite frankly, that is what the Bloc Québécois is doing in partnering up with the Conservatives. We saw it yesterday and we see it today. The Bloc and the Conservatives are continually partnering up together, and it makes me wonder why. I thought the Bloc was more concerned about seniors, as opposed to playing politics in this place in dealing with this bill.
I see that my time is coming to an end. I appreciate the opportunity to have provided some comments on this process and I look forward to any questions my colleagues might have.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join the debate on Government Motion No. 7, particularly the amendment from my colleague for .
Toward the end of my speech, I will make some comments on Bill , a bill with respect to seniors. It is a bill that Conservatives support. It is a bill that would address long-standing gaps in government support for seniors: perverse outcomes of some of the measures that came in during the pandemic. It is important to speak to those.
The specific issue that we need to discuss in Motion No. 7 is a programming motion by which the government seeks to set the agenda of the House and dramatically change the normal operating procedures for passing legislation. It is important that we talk about this, because this is one in a long list of things that we see from the government that really is an attack on the normal, proper functioning of our democratic institution.
To see the nature of that attack, one only needs to listen to what the government members are saying. We can listen to the member, for instance, for , who spoke before me. He was so dismissive of alleged games being played. It is the expectation of members of some opposition parties, at least, that they have an opportunity to debate legislation and to see that legislation studied in committee, to see opportunities for amendments to be brought to that legislation, and then to see follow-up debate and a final vote.
This is the process we have for legislation. It is not a game. It is the way the process is supposed to work. Since the beginning of our country, we have had this process in place for how legislation has operated through Parliament.
When Conservatives were in power, from time to time we used mechanisms of closure to limit the time spent on debate at a particular stage of a particular bill. However, the government has gone so much further than that. It promised, in the 2015 election, to do away with the closure mechanism and not use closure. The Liberals were very critical of Conservatives for that closure mechanism, which limits the time spent in debate on a bill at a particular stage without limiting the study that can take place at committee and without trying to combine a bunch of stages into one.
In 2015, the Liberals were still very critical of the use of that procedure. However, now not only have they been using closure themselves, but they have gone further. They are putting forward motions that essentially wrap together all of those stages of legislative study and, for all intents and purposes, entirely skip the process of committee study.
This is a serious attack on the functioning of our democratic institutions. It is important to say that it fundamentally does not matter whether one agrees with the bill or not. We could be talking about a programming motion on a great bill, a terrible bill or a bill somewhere in between. The reason we have a legislative process for studying bills, and for understanding whether they work, is to be able to determine through that process of study how the bill would apply and what was missed in the bill.
It is possible that a bill could be motivated by an intention that everybody agrees is good, but then the process of committee study could reveal that there were some legal technicalities that lead to the bill having a perverse outcome. It is possible that there are some unintended consequences of the bill that are just not considered.
When I was a high school student, I remember that we spent some time at the Alberta legislature learning about the legislative process. One of the students asked about second reading, committee studies and third reading, and asked if it was possible to skip over this process as it seemed to take so long. The legislator who was speaking at the time said, I think wisely, that there were processes by which things could be skipped over, but there was a history of very bad outcomes associated with it.
He pointed out at the time that a terrible piece of legislation, a blight on our history, was passed at the beginning of the 20th century. It was a mandatory sterilization act that existed in Alberta for a number of decades. It passed extremely rapidly without the normal process of legislative study, because it seemed like a good idea to the people who were there at the time.
The lesson I learned, as a young student, and one that I have carried with me, is that one might be in a place in a moment in time when something seems like a good idea. That does not take away the importance of a process to study, and to reflect on, the value of the legislation.
On this point, I am often drawn to reflect on a particular exchange from the great play, A Man for All Seasons. The character representing Sir Thomas More is in dialogue with his son-in-law, William Roper, and Roper says, “So now you give the devil the benefit of the law,” and More says, “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” His son-in-law replies, “Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!”, and Sir Thomas More replies:
Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
The point is valid, even if we feel very strongly about a particular piece of legislation, or even if we feel very strongly that our cause is just and that our opponents are on the wrong side.
I understand the member for is very critical and partisan in his tone about Conservatives. I am not that enthusiastic about the Liberal government either, but respect for Parliament and respect for the process of studying legislation, even when we disagree, is how we ensure we leave in place what More's character in A Man for All Seasons calls “Man's laws”, which protect all of us from the perverse outcomes that come when we start to cut corners and say we do not need committee study, we do not need third reading, we do not need substantial debate at second reading, or that we all basically agree with an idea, so let us just rip it through quickly.
What happens then, when we have established that precedent, is that we start to do that more and more, and pass bills that are maybe still motivated by good intentions, but we start to miss more things, and we find out we have more problems because we are not doing the analysis work that our legislature is supposed to do.
The other thing I was struck by, in the comments of the previous , was that he spoke about how, at the beginning of this pandemic, all parties worked together to very quickly pass, by unanimous consent, a number of measures that were urgently needed in the context of the pandemic. Let us recall that was at a time before we knew much of anything about the operation of the virus, and before we were set up to do any kind of virtual Parliament. This was even before there was the same awareness there is now about the impacts of masks.
There was no viable way for all members of Parliament, or most members of Parliament, to get together in Ottawa. There was not that awareness about masks, and we did not have the tools to meet virtually, so in an extremely exceptional circumstance, we worked with the government with unanimous consent to adopt some pandemic measures. I think, importantly, that those of us at least on the Conservative side saw this as a very exceptional situation and believed that it should not, under any circumstances, be precedent-setting.
However, members of the government are now invoking some of these past precedents, as if to say, “We did it in extraordinary times, so why can we not just do it in normal times?” This is the problem. When we suspend normal rules, even in extraordinary circumstances, we get people such as members of the government saying, “If we could do it in that situation when we really needed to, why do we not have these kinds of programming motions skipping committee study and analysis, even when we do not need them?”
We do so much better as a legislature, and we do our jobs as legislators, when we actually study and analyze bills. This means voting on the principle of second reading, sending bills to committee where they can be studied and where questions can be asked and answered, and experts can weigh in, and amendments can be sent back for a final decision at third reading.
That would be the right way of proceeding. Instead, we have this draconian programming motion from the government that says we would have a limited number of speakers from each party, and then after those speakers were finished speaking the vote on the bill would take place, and then it would immediately be deemed to have gone through all of the remaining stages without any of the consideration that normally takes place at committee.
We are under the general terms of the debate on the government motion, but in particular what we are debating is an amendment from the Conservative Party caucus. We have tried to meet the government partway here, in terms of saying we understand there is value in passing this bill quickly, and we understand that bills on which there is general agreement do not require the same level of debate as bills on which there is substantive philosophical disagreement that has to be worked through. We accept that it is reasonable for different bills to be debated for different amounts of time.
What we are trying to do to meet the government halfway here is say that we will have the debate and then the bill will be quickly referred to the Standing Committee on Health, where the will be ordered to appear as a witness. That committee hearing will occur the day after the bill is passed, and clause-by-clause consideration will have to be completed effectively by 11 p.m. that night. If it is not completed by then, all remaining amendments and clauses will be considered immediately without further debate. We would put in place a mechanism that is extraordinary anyway, and it would involve the bill being able to progress very quickly. However, it would still involve the committee looking at the bill, hearing from witnesses, hearing from the minister responsible, considering possible improvements or amendments and then referring the bill back to the House.
We hear members say that it is a simple bill and they ask, “What possible amendments?” However, that is really not the point. Regardless of the particulars of the bill, the committee and the members of Parliament who are responsible for being experts on the bill should have the opportunity to weigh in on it. We have put forward a reasonable amendment to a very draconian programming motion, and I hope members will look at it and consider it.
Frankly, we see many ways in which the governing Liberals have been willing to attack and weaken our democratic institutions. I am particularly disappointed that the federal NDP is joining arm in arm with the government. This is, I suppose, consistent with what we have been seeing in this Parliament, which is a de facto coalition between the federal NDP and the Liberals. In the past, NDP members have generally always opposed even closure motions, yet they have gone from opposing closure motions across the board to joining in with the government on a programming motion that skips all of the stages, not just limiting time at a particular stage. It skips through all of the subsequent stages of the bill. It is disappointing to see these two parties standing together in this attack on our democratic institutions.
It is important to remind my colleagues that the use of these programming motions is not happening in isolation. It is part of a broader pattern of behaviour. We have seen the government's refusal to hand over documents ordered by Parliament in the Winnipeg lab affair. The Speaker ordered the government to hand over the documents and said that Parliament had a right to request them, and in defiance of the legal and constitutional authority of Parliament, the government refused to hand over those documents.
We saw the attempt initially, at the start of the pandemic, to effectively shut down Parliament and give the government the power to make laws, introduce new taxes and raise taxes without consultation with Parliament, effectively trying, for a relatively extended period of time, to negate the basic principles of parliamentary supremacy. Of course, the Conservatives stood against that and were able to stop it at the time. However, it shows the government's horrific ambition to weaken our parliamentary institution.
Now we are in a context where the government has decided, for the first time in history, to use this legislative instrument called the Emergencies Act, and I think the trust that many Canadians had in the government prior to the invocation of the Emergencies Act impacts how they view its use. We have a government with a long-running pattern of disrespect for Parliament in refusing to hand over documents ordered by Parliament and trying to shut down Parliament and give itself the power to rule by fiat. The government has done all of these things. It does not think its bills deserve to be studied by committee and it thinks that trying to spend more than a single day on a piece of legislation is playing games. However, now they want to use the Emergencies Act and tell us not to worry because they are going to be very cautious and measured in how they apply it. There is a lot of broken trust between Canadians and the government when it comes to whether we can have confidence in its ability to use very severe and potentially dangerous instruments in that way.
This is on the minds of many Canadians. It is a lack of regard for the democratic process, and it is kind of a precursor to the step the government has now taken of using the Emergencies Act. We have to be very careful. I think it is important that we do not take our democratic institutions for granted and preserve the functioning of Parliament as the people's House, as a democratic institution that studies legislation. It does not just exist as a group of spokespeople for government legislation. It exists to challenge, to question, to reflect, to analyze and to make laws better. We need to protect our democracy by protecting our democratic institutions, Parliament foremost among them.
In the time I have remaining, I want to make some brief comments on Bill .
I support this bill. We need to do more to help and protect seniors, especially during the pandemic.
However, the Liberal government has done too little, too late. The Liberals were well aware of the problems caused by the clawback of the GIS and CERB almost two years ago, and yet it took them nearly eight months to come up with any solutions and fix these problems. That is simply unacceptable.
I have heard from many seniors in my riding who are still waiting for their payment from the government. They are expecting it to be tax-free. What took so long, and why are seniors being arbitrarily penalized by the government's mistakes?
Furthermore, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has stated that the cost of clawing back the GIS and CERB is $400 million, but we know that the government has set aside $742 million for the clawback. The Liberals need to explain the huge discrepancy between those two numbers.
This reminds me of the net versus gross income issue when it comes to CERB. The Liberals made the mistake, but Canadians have suffered the consequences. The Liberals need to explain how they are going to get this money to the right people and make sure there is no fraud.
That is why I support this proposal to amend the Old Age Security Act. Bill will help correct one of the many mistakes made by this government during the pandemic, especially with regard to seniors.
Essentially, the need for this bill demonstrates the importance of careful study of legislation. The reason we need Bill , the reason we support Bill C-12, is that it corrects an error in previous legislation, an error that effectively would limit seniors' ability to access their regular benefits based on support they received during the pandemic. We need this bill to protect seniors from facing clawbacks to their regular benefits as a result of what they received during the pandemic.
Here is the point. This bill underlines the fact that governments, hopefully with the best of intentions, make mistakes in the legislation they put before Parliament. That is why we have Parliament. The government, with all its access to information and experts, puts forward a bill in good faith before Parliament, and then it is critiqued and analyzed by opposition parties and hopefully by backbench members of the governing party. It then goes to committee, where experts outside of government can testify and raise concerns, and amendments can be put forward. Problems with the bill can be identified and then perhaps the bill moves forward in the same or amended form. There are many cases, actually, where government members have moved amendments to government legislation at committee. This is an important part of the process.
We have this bill before us because the government failed to take important issues into consideration in its previous pandemic benefits. It is ironic: On a bill that corrects an error existing in previous benefits because of insufficient attention to detail, we are being told we need to pass it without attention to detail. Some members of the government say they have a problem and they want to be able to pass more bills. They say the opposition wants to spend all this time talking about bills and it slows down the ability to pass bills. Well, if we did not have to pass bills correcting errors in previous bills, then maybe the government would not have a problem in moving forward aspects of its legislative agenda. However, I still say that if we spent two or three days on this bill instead of just one, we would be doing Parliament a great deal more credit than we are doing it right now.
I encourage members to take into consideration the reasonable amendment from the Conservatives, which still involves dramatically expediting the bill, but also creates some mechanism and some opportunity for committee study on the bill. I think that is the least we can do to show Canadians that we have a real job as members of Parliament. We are not just here to provide a rubber stamp. We are here to make Parliament function and do a service on behalf of Canadians, which is to study legislation that comes before us, to understand it, to analyze it and to make it as good as possible so that we can then assure Canadians that the bills we are passing have gone through the due diligence they deserve.