The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand in the 44th Parliament to once again represent the great people of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook. That is in Nova Scotia, of course. I want to thank them for electing me for a third time and giving me the privilege of continuing to represent them, speak on their behalf and advocate for them and all of the communities in my riding.
I also want to thank the volunteers in my riding who came out to support the democratic process and do the work that is so important in delivering the message of Canadians during an election. What we were committed to is how to deliver that. That is really important.
Finally, I want to thank my family, because we all know that when one of us is running, the whole family is in it together. It is a challenge, but it is an enjoyable experience and I would do it again, maybe.
I am very pleased to speak to the motion we are debating today, to bring back a hybrid Parliament, and in particular to speak on social topics such as our working and private lives.
More and more studies are showing that a flexible work environment has a lot of advantages. For example, it can reduce stress and increase satisfaction at work, on top of increasing productivity, which is a very important consideration.
Canadians continue to develop this work-life balance. I think COVID-19 has shown that people can be very productive and successful in this type of system.
A recent survey of Canada conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that decision-makers should look at implementing policies that would help Canada achieve a resilient and healthy post-pandemic society.
That is also why we promised during the election campaign to amend the Canada Labour Code with certain very important principles in mind. We want to strengthen the code's provisions to better support women who must be temporarily assigned to other duties during their pregnancy, include mental health in workplace health and safety standards, require employers to take preventive measures against stress and the risk of workplace injury, provide all federally regulated workers with 10 days of paid sick leave and work with federally regulated employers and groups representing workers to develop a policy on the right to disconnect, which would let workers disconnect without having to worry about their job security.
Since March 2020, the pandemic has forced us to change how we work and, to a certain extent, to reinvent work. An unprecedented number of Canadian employers have had to adapt and be more flexible over the past 20 months. Accordingly, telework and virtual schooling have led to huge changes with many positive effects. Virtual schooling has existed for quite some time and the pandemic has done much to advance this essential virtual programming.
Despite the many benefits of teleworking, the closure of schools and school day care centres caused additional stress for many parents. That is why our government strongly believes in the right to disconnect. We are doing everything we can to manage the pandemic and accept that a return to normal will require a healthy work-life balance.
The House of Commons Administration also demonstrated tremendous creativity and adaptability. It did an outstanding job delivering a hybrid parliament in such a short time. For 150 years, we had no other way to vote than to be physically present in the House. Suddenly, thanks to the exceptional work of the House of Commons Administration, we managed to do it, and we will be able to use this system for years to come. That is what it means to learn and to make the most of a difficult situation.
The motion we are debating today is very similar to the one we discussed in the last Parliament. Yes, the vaccination rate has increased, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children aged 5 to 11 and the third dose is available. However, the situation is still precarious, and the number of cases is increasing because of the season, as we are going into winter. We are already seeing those numbers go up across Canada, and that is why we need to find ways to make this work.
It is extremely important that we be able to work. Whether it is from this building or elsewhere, we must be able to work. Whether we vote here in the House or elsewhere, we must be able to vote and represent our constituents. If we find ourselves at home an extra day to participate in an important activity in our community, that is even better for our constituents. That is our job; we have done it before and we will continue to do it in the future.
Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to let you know that I intend to share my time with my delightful colleague from . I would like to wish her a very happy birthday once again. She turned 23 yesterday, so I would again like to wish my colleague a happy birthday.
I hope you do not mind, Madam Speaker, if I take this opportunity to recognize the people who supported me during the campaign this autumn. I am thinking of the family members who, by force of circumstance, have become our most fervent volunteers and our most fervent admirers. I am thinking of our teams around us and, above all, we are thinking of the voters who have given us their trust. As we all know, sometimes we can say that the first time is perhaps an accident, but I can confirm that the second time is a mark of confidence that is appreciated all the more.
My thanks to all the volunteers who worked on my campaign, I see them not only as thanks, but also as a prelude to what I am about to discuss, because this team was on the warpath for months preparing for an election that was coming, we did not know when. That is always what happens in a minority government. They were also called upon to reinvent themselves, according to the somewhat overused term we heard during the pandemic.
We also wondered why the Liberals called an election during a pandemic. In Parliament, we even voted on a motion stating that it was irresponsible to hold an election during a pandemic, but that clearly did not bother the government since it went ahead and called one anyway.
One also has to wonder what has changed so much since the time of the election and now, since during the election it was fine to travel from one province to another and the borders were not closed. What has changed so much that we now need to adopt a hybrid system of Parliament?
As far as I know, things have improved somewhat and some restrictions have been lifted. Restaurants are able to welcome more customers at a time and there are no longer any limits on the number of people allowed at theatres. We stopped limiting the number of people who can go into the grocery store at one time. I do not think that things have gotten so bad that we have to go back to a hybrid system of Parliament.
The current situation is not ideal. The ideal situation would be if there were no pandemic. However, there is one and we must live with it. In this context, I would say that the Bloc's proposal for how we should work during the pandemic is the most balanced and the most reasonable: The 338 members would return in person and everyone would provide proof of double vaccination. That is the closest to what we are seeing in all societies that have put in place strict health measures.
The arguments made by my colleague from to justify hybrid sittings do not entirely have to do with the pandemic. This further bolsters my belief that we are being fed false arguments and that the pandemic is but a pretext to avoid returning to the House and being accountable to the people we represent. I find that there are false pretenses behind this.
I hear arguments about sick leave, maternity leave or snow storms. I am not saying that those are not legitimate concerns, but now is not the time to be talking about them, and during a pandemic is definitely not the time to be having this debate. Last summer I sat on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where we nailed down the ins and outs of a hybrid Parliament. During our discussions, we said that it was not the time to be making these kinds of arguments for a broader discussion on a hybrid Parliament. I get the feeling that this is what people are doing here today.
The motion will clearly be adopted and the hybrid system will soon be back. People are telling us that a hybrid Parliament is so important because they are worried about their health and want to be safe. I do not think there is any guarantee that the people we see on Zoom will spend the rest of the week in their basement, avoiding meeting with constituents, turning down meetings, not going to bingos or spaghetti suppers, and not campaigning in their ridings while they are supposed to be here, in Parliament.
I really want to stress that hybrid sittings mean we lose the natural, organic contact with our colleagues that we have seen over the course of these four sitting days. We lose the opportunity for one-on-ones with a minister, a colleague, a critic or a fellow parliamentary committee member. That kind of thing is not easy on Zoom.
The same thing happened in parliamentary committees. Not only are Zoom committee meetings more arduous, but they also do not afford members the opportunity to glance at a colleague in a way that says, “Let us meet at the coffee station to discuss something” while still following the conversation. Zoom meetings are not nearly as effective.
I think the biggest downside of all is lack of accountability. That may be why government members are the ones who seem most keen on the hybrid model. Virtual attendance means no reporters waiting for them on their way out of the House of Commons. All they have to do is click on “Leave” to dodge any accountability to the fourth estate, the press.
We also forget the work of the support staff, who we burned out by using the hybrid model. I am thinking about the IT group. We have to tip our hat to them because they performed miracles, but we wore them out by using the hybrid model so much. I am also thinking about the interpreters, whose sound quality during Zoom meetings was quite bad most of the time. We exhausted them as well. Returning to normal would do them a favour.
I am anticipating certain questions, so let me answer them immediately. If I answer them ahead of time, then my colleagues will not need to ask them. I invite them to come up with other questions to ask me.
We have been asked how this will work if the situation deteriorates while we are in normal mode. In that case, we will do the same thing as last time. We will turn things around in 24 hours and bring in a hybrid Parliament, especially now that we already have the necessary technology.
There have also been questions about how we will know if the situation has gotten worse. We will just have to look at what is going on in the provinces and in Quebec. Any new lockdowns would be an indication that the hybrid system should be brought back. It would be a relatively simple and quick process. We already know that it is possible.
There have been questions about members who may be immunocompromised and who may be afraid of coming to Parliament. I do not get the impression that the majority of members of Parliament are immunocompromised. If it turns out that there are members who are immunocompromised, which remains to be proven, they would probably be the exception. By bringing in a hybrid Parliament, the government is enforcing a universal standard to cater to special cases. The standard should be that members come in person because that is why we were elected. These supposedly immunocompromised members, if there are any here, probably campaigned outside of their basements.
We are also hearing the argument that some people have young unvaccinated children and they are worried about bringing COVID-19 home to them. We are about to start vaccinating younger children. Because of that, the argument already holds much less water. However, I would be curious to know whether members who have young children stop them from going to the movies, going to shows and seeing other people. Are they home-schooling to ensure that the children are not at risk? I think that is a fair question.
All that to say that the motion we are debating seems much more bogus. It seems to be using the pandemic for purely political and partisan purposes, and that is what I find really disappointing.
Moreover, the government is already anticipating that this measure will stay in place until June 23, 2022. June 23 is seven months away. If we go back the same amount of time, seven months ago, I could not even get on a waiting list for my vaccine. A lot of water has gone under the bridge in the past seven months. I expect that a lot will happen too. If the government wants to go so far with this right off the bat, surely that just confirms how partisan this measure is.
Madam Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment.
We have been discussing this issue for several hours now and many arguments have been presented. Everything has been said and the debate is winding down.
Since this is my first time rising in the 44th Parliament, I want to take the opportunity to express my thanks. I would first like to thank the people of Laurentides—Labelle who put their trust in me a second time. I am very proud of that, particularly since I won with an overwhelming majority.
My constituents can count on me to properly represent them and stand up for their interests. I will take all the time needed. In the end, we, as legislators, have 26 weeks to work here in the House and 26 more in our ridings to get to know our constituents and hear about their concerns. I would therefore like to tell my constituents that I will always be there for them.
I also want to thank my two beautiful daughters, Anne-Sophie and Ève-Marie, and my husband of 26 years, Yannick Thibault. They have been there from the start. In 2019, the Bloc Québécois faced quite a challenge, and I was very proud to be part of it. I thank them for their trust in me. Work-life balance is a team effort, and I thank them for their resilience and, above all, for their kind words. Yesterday, since I could not be there, we celebrated a birthday virtually. I cannot say it enough, my family members are at the very heart of my commitment, and the sacrifice they make is beyond honourable.
I also want to give special thanks to my volunteers. I will not name them all, as there are many, but they know who they are. I offer them my most sincere thanks. I can count on them, and I am fortunate to have such good people around me.
I also want to give a shout out to my constituency team. They work miracles every day. The pandemic has not been easy on anyone. In response to the alleged slowness of the decision-making process, I will remind you that we have wasted some time. People are having a hard time understanding why bills that were supposed to pass this fall must unfortunately go back to the beginning of the process.
At the Mont‑Laurier office, I want to say hello to Maryse Larente and Annie-Claude Poirier. At the Sainte‑Agathe‑des‑Monts office, I want to say hello to Maxime Caouette and Michel Kieffer, as well as our new recruit, Annie Lajoie. There is also Mathieu Laroche Casavant, who works on Parliament Hill and supports me in my parliamentary duties as well as in my duties as chair of the Bloc Québécois caucus.
Our loved ones are the most important people in our lives. My mother, Françoise, has enabled me to do what I am doing now, which is to speak to the members of the House, always to improve our collective well-being. I would also like to thank my parents-in-law, Solange and Lévis. I cannot forget my father, who is also in my thoughts every day. I hope he is proud of his daughter up there. In fact, I am sure he is, and I love him.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge my predecessor, Johanne Deschamps, who was the member of Parliament for Laurentides—Labelle for four terms.
Having said that, we are here to talk for a while longer about the motion that Parliament should operate in a hybrid format.
Yesterday I was talking to people in my riding and trying to find out what they thought. Since we are vaccinated, it is now possible to go to establishments offering various services and to see shows, while respecting the health measures proposed by the experts and scientists.
It was not complicated. They thought that we took advantage of the pandemic to be somewhat comfortable and relaxed, but what about the work that we do beyond speeches and the House of Commons? How about what happens when we walk to the Hill and have meaningful discussions?
When I arrived on Monday, after greeting my colleagues and the new members, I realized how much work can get done on a very specific issue that matters to our constituents, all with a simple discussion. People may already realize this, but I unfortunately did not have much time in a normal Parliament before the pandemic arrived.
It was even more difficult in committee. There was a lot of obstruction. Things can sometimes be much more efficient and effective in person. We can come to an agreement much more quickly when we have discussions with our colleagues. We cannot forget about language. I must say that the interpreters did an excellent job. I congratulate and thank them.
Technically, everyone here should be bilingual. Having said that, it is not right that an MP has to listen more closely to the original to be certain they have not missed anything. In fact, people speak too quickly and this makes interpretation more difficult at a time when we want to intervene to ensure that we have understood before voting. It is too late when the voting begins.
I came to realize that it was not the right approach for us because committees must meet in person and that goes for the House as well. I also think it is difficult to get used to speaking without looking at one another, and I enjoy speaking with people in person and not on a screen. Otherwise, we would have chosen other careers. My job is to speak on behalf of people and to have discussions with my colleagues.
I realize that we got it right when the pandemic first started. We were able to show our fellow citizens that, as my colleague mentioned earlier, in 24 hours we were able to turn on a dime. We were able to do it. We had to find and use the technology that was crucial at that time.
Now we have confidence, we want to make the most of our time and maybe try to do two or three things at once. This is critical. When we are here in person, we are able to focus on what needs to be done.
Personally, I trust the experts and I am sure that my colleagues trust the science. If we need to make a quick change some day, we will do so. We have shown that we are able to adjust.
To us in the Bloc Québécois, there is no good reason to not return to the House if we are double-vaccinated and if we obey the rules that have been established. On Monday, people could see in the first five minutes that there was no distancing. Everyone greeted each other and shook hands. Come on.
It is okay to be cautious and concerned, but I think we need to do our job the way it has been done for many decades now.
Madam Speaker, I will note, with pleasure, that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I want to spare a moment for all of us in British Columbia. There are more weather events on the way. Our thoughts are with our emergency services people and everybody else still trying to recover.
After almost 20 months, so many aspects of our lives have been upended by this once-in-a-century pandemic. As difficult as it has been, Canadians have found ways to adapt. This includes finding new ways of working and doing business that minimize the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus.
The House has not been an exception. In the last Parliament, we agreed to modify our proceedings in accordance with public health guidelines. This included a hybrid approach, with members participating in the House and committees proceedings both in-person and through video conference.
This was a reasonable approach, because it allowed all members to participate in all types of House business, while limiting close physical contact with too many people. We know that limiting close contact is a key measure to stop the spread of the virus. It was the right thing to do, not only because we wanted to keep parliamentarians safe but we also wanted to keep safe the staff who support us, our families and our constituents.
COVID-19 is unpredictable. I know a family of three, two people in their late 50s and a mom in her 80s, all with compromised health systems, and all who had COVID and did not know it. On the other hand, a robust chap in his late 50s, an outdoorsman and enthusiastic bhangra dancer, the husband of one of my staff, in fact, ended up in an induced coma for two months, a candidate for a lung transplant, still doing his best to walk for more than a few minutes without needing to rest.
We have seen examples of long-haulers, who suffer for extended periods. A recent Washington Post article noted, “The worst effects include debilitating weakness and fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, difficulty thinking, and hard-to-define challenges functioning in daily life. Family members, suddenly thrust into the role of caregivers for a seriously ill loved one, endure emotional and practical difficulties of their own.”
A year ago next month, we thought we would see the end of the pandemic in sight, thanks to Canada's world-leading vaccination program rollout. Unfortunately, at the outset of this 44th Parliament, the pandemic lingers, longer than we had hoped. We are getting close to finishing the fight against it, but we still must remain vigilant.
We know that government members, members from the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party are fully vaccinated. Personally, I do not see any problem disclosing my status as a breach of my right to privacy; rather, it is a signal to our families, staff and everybody here that I am not among those more likely to spread the virus. However, if I am unlucky enough to be laid low by COVID-19, I owe it to the people of Fleetwood—Port Kells, who I thank for honouring me with my third term, to keep doing what I was elected to do. What our government is proposing will allow that.
It is a mystery that the would want to deny that ability to anyone in this place, especially members of his own caucus. However, his opposition to a reasonable tried and tested alternative will do just that.
It is a further mystery why Ottawa's best-kept secret is whether a Conservative MP next to other members in the lobby or at committee is vaccinated or not. I would not be surprised if a Conservative raised a question of privilege on that matter, the right to a safe, secure workplace. We saw a member of the Bloc do so a couple of days ago, and it is a mystery to see the Bloc's position on this.
I would point out that vaccine mandates are not new. The United Kingdom had one in 1853 to address the smallpox epidemic. In 1905, the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, upheld the constitutionality of mandatory smallpox vaccination programs to preserve public health.
The Conservatives might think of themselves as the freedom party, but those freedoms exist in the context that also recognizes the duty we have to one another in the interests of the common good. As the party of the charter, we Liberals fully understand that in some ways personal choice should not trump our collective rights. It is a matter of reasonable vigilance.
That is what the motion before us today is all about, vigilance. The motion is about allowing all members of Parliament to fulfill all their duties safely. As noted, we have a tried and tested model of a hybrid Parliament that was used in the second session of the 43rd Parliament, and the motion before us would mostly reinstate the approach used then.
The motion mainly seeks to do five things. First, it would allow members to participate in proceedings of the House, either in person or by video conference, provided that members participating in person did so in accordance with the Board of Internal Economy's decision of Tuesday, October 19, 2021, regarding vaccinations against COVID-19, and that reasons for medical exemptions followed the guidance from the Ontario Ministry of Health entitled “Medical Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccination”. As well, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization informs us on this. The motion temporarily suspends or alters a few Standing Orders to facilitate this move.
Second, the motion would similarly allow members to participate in committee meetings remotely or in person provided that they met the vaccine requirements set out by the Board of Internal Economy.
Third, it would provide for documents to be laid before or presented in the House electronically. This includes the documents that the government is required by statute to table as well as petitions or other documents that any member may wish to provide.
Fourth, the motion sets out how and when recorded divisions are to be taken in the hybrid format. I will return to this in a moment.
Finally, for the current supply period, it provides for Supplementary Estimates to be referred to and considered by a committee of the whole. This is in keeping with past practices of the House to allow for scrutiny of the estimates early in a new Parliament before standing committees have been constituted.
The motion would keep these measures in effect from the day it is adopted until Thursday, June 23, 2022, before the House adjourns for the summer. This time frame would allow the House to safely conduct the business Canadians sent us here to accomplish for them. After June, we could have another look at how we conduct our proceedings, taking into consideration the best health advice at the time.
Focusing now on the motion's provisions relating to voting, I wanted to first acknowledge how this single act is one of the most important that parliamentarians carry out. During the early months of the second session of the last Parliament, members in the chamber voted by the traditional process of row-by-row. Members participating by video conference were called on one by one to cast their votes orally. While these voting arrangements were successful and used for over 50 votes, they were time-consuming. Some votes required as much as 50 minutes to complete. However, the House also agreed to develop and test a remote voting application, and one was introduced in March. With this application, a vote could be completed in 10 to 15 minutes. The remote voting application was used successfully for over 120 votes.
Today's motion would put this app back into use, allowing us to express our will safely, securely and conveniently. Although the remote voting app was successfully used in the last Parliament, the motion would take the prudent step of directing the House administration to carry out an onboarding process of all members for this app to be completed no later than Wednesday, December 8, 2021. Once the onboarding is complete, but no later than December 9, the app would be put into use.
Paragraph (q) of the motion ensures that there would be integrity in the use of the app.