The House resumed from November 24 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to conclude my remarks with respect to this motion. While we heard great enthusiasm from the government benches and their coalition colleague, the independent member for , I would expect, of course, nothing but silence and peak attention from the government benches as we discuss this important motion.
We have a situation following nearly 20 months of real change in the way we have had to do things in this place, and now the government is looking to do what it has done many times over that 20 months, that is, to limit accountability and hide from its responsibilities to answer to Canadians, to answer to the opposition and of course to answer to the media.
While Canadians have returned to their workplaces and while they follow the best public health advice, we too, as parliamentarians, continue to do the same. However, what is different here? Unlike most Canadians, the Liberals are looking to pull a fast one and take advantage of Canadians while they are still settling into a new way of doing things during the pandemic, a new way of going to work, with masking and the like. They are looking for an opportunity to hide from accountability. While the rest of Canadian society looks to get back to a new normal, they are looking to do anything but.
We saw it all during the previous Parliament. There were technical difficulties that would not allow them to participate. We saw ministers on the Hill who had travelled to Ottawa but would not come into the chamber. We have seen them avoid the scrutiny of media by making sure they did not have to face any of them in person, getting out of their chauffeur-driven cars to go into their offices, and going back to their chauffeur-driven cars and then home. They never had to face a scrum and opposition politician in person or, heaven forbid, a Canadian on the street.
What we are looking for is simply a return to normal. What would I suggest as an alternative to the government proposal? Should a member, heaven forbid, fall ill, we should revive an age-old, time-tested reliable practice and allow members to pair with another member. If there is care and concern on the other side for a member on this side, which I believe there is, offer the pairing process again.
We have an opportunity to show Canadians that we are willing to get back to work. The time has come. Here we are operating safely. We are committed to that process, and we are looking for the government to be committed to a process that is accountable to Canadians and truly accountable to the responsibilities that members were elected to uphold.
It looks like I do not have any time left, but I do look forward to taking questions from my colleagues. I hope that should this motion pass, members continue to come to this chamber to be accountable to Canadians through questions in this place, accountable at committee and accountable to the media.
Madam Speaker, today we are debating a motion put forward by the Liberals that would take away several vital components of the functioning of Canada's democracy. With this motion, the Liberals are suggesting that members in this place should not be attending this place, and that to me is very unreasonable. I am going to lay out why.
First of all, the called an election in the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic. Every person in this place, I would hope, knocked on thousands of doors and talked to thousands of people during the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic. I maybe could have bought the argument that in-person interactions cannot be managed safely if he had not gone to this unnecessary election, but come on.
In fact, during the unnecessary election, on August 27 the held a campaign stop in a restaurant in Mississauga, where capacity was exceeded. On September 14, he held a campaign rally in Brampton featuring former prime minister Chrétien, with over 400 people in a banquet hall. The argument that somehow we should not be attending this place is bunk.
For the people watching this today, it is a little ridiculous to say that members of Parliament should not be showing up to work, when they have been asked to make every accommodation to get to work, as many across the country do not have the ability to work virtually.
The reason the wants to pass this motion to not be here in person is very simple. He does not want to be here to be accountable. That is it.
During the last several months, in the lead-up to the unnecessary election, which saw us knock on tens of thousands of doors across the country during the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic, the ministers of the governing party would sit in their offices or in their homes and read talking points off a computer screen. That is not accountability. They do not want to be here because they do not want people like me, who are very good at their jobs, holding them to account. They do not want to answer the questions of my colleagues.
That is the antithesis of democracy. We have this place for this reason. Again, we just went through a federal election, where the held campaign rallies. He does not want us to be here because he does not want to be held to account. We have seen this before. In previous parliaments, the Liberals suggested we should not show up for work on Fridays. They tried to cancel question period on Fridays. They tried to do all sorts of things.
The other reason the Liberals put this motion forward is our parliamentary committees. In a minority Parliament, our parliamentary committees are an excellent tool to hold the government to account. People who are watching this today may have watched my NDP colleague from and I being stymied as the Liberals shut down our committee because there were not any resources to be virtual. They want this motion to pass because they do not want to be held to account.
Liberals are using this argument of safety as well, that they are trying to keep everyone safe. If they were trying to keep people safe in this place, they would be looking internally as to why there are unresolved allegations of sexual harassment with former Liberal staffers that keep getting swept under the rug. Their argument is bunk.
Now I want to make an argument in favour of being here that every member in this House should support, and I want to make a particular appeal to members of the governing party. We gather in this place so that we understand each other's differences and that we understand the needs of the people who are in our vast and diverse country. There are members of other parties who are asking why we should not do this if Manitoba is doing it.
Our country is very diverse. From being on the ground, I know from the residents of Skeena—Bulkley Valley that their member of Parliament should probably be talking to the member for . Why? It is because, if we are going to be united as a nation in this place, we need to talk to one another.
The governing Liberal Party is not particularly good at this. In my time here, I have known that the Liberal desire is to beat me and my constituents rather than work with us for the betterment of our country. I also know that that is the spirit of this. It is a lot easier for the governing party's whips to keep its caucus members managed and under control if they are not here, not talking to us and not opening their minds to what is in the best interest of this country or to looking for commonalities.
In my time in this place, my viewpoints on issues have been changed by people who come from other parts of this country. When they say that something is not in the best interest of their part of the country, or when I say the same thing to them on behalf of my constituents, we try to work to forward towards consensus. That could not happen if we are not interacting with each other. Every Canadian who has been on Zoom for the last 18 months knows that we cannot get the same interaction, those whites-of-the-eyeball interactions, if we are sitting at a computer screen with our pajamas on in our dens.
I send an appeal to my colleagues in the NDP, who it seems are going to support this motion. This would prevent them from being an active voice for their constituents on parliamentary committees. Members from the NDP have sat on committees with all of us when we have tried to get motions passed, and all of a sudden there are conveniently no resources because one of the Liberal chairs said so. Members of the NDP have tried to get questions answered on behalf of their constituents, and the ministers would not show up or would not do press conferences.
Every Canadian, even if they vote Liberal, should be concerned that the of Canada and the governing party are trying to make it so people cannot be here. It is actually crazy. We should be showing up for work. Let us think about this.
We are actually saying that somehow this does not matter, but it matters. Every day my eyes are opened up to what is happening across this country by people who represent other parts of it. I do not have to agree with everything. That is supposedly what this place is for.
Now, some of my colleagues have also raised the fact that if somebody is sick, could they not represent their constituents? I have been sick before, and I have still managed to represent my constituents. That is part of work. Every Canadian across this country, at some point in time, is going to get ill and be away from their job. It does not mean that they are not going to go back to their job, or that they are somehow not doing their job.
I would say that my colleagues, particularly with the examples they are using of one of my colleagues who is fully vaccinated but contracted COVID-19, are saying that somehow he does not want to be in this place or show up for work. That is not what he wants. We all want to be able to come here and hold the government to account.
I get it. I get that the government wants to be draconian. I get that the does not want to show up for work. Frankly, I think they are scared to be held to account. They are scared to be held to account on inflation, on the rising costs of everything, on out-of-work Canadians, on our changing economy, on the lack of ability of the government to do anything that resembles positive foreign affairs or on anything.
They are scared to be held to account even on the billions and billions of dollars the government has spent without the scrutiny of this place during the pandemic, which has already, with just the minimal amount of review we have been able do, shown great scandal. Let us remember the WE Charity scandal and the Kielburgers. They do not want that to happen, and that is why they do not want us to come here.
From what I am hearing, the NDP is going to support this. This is crazy. It really is. There is value in the dignity of coming here, into this space, to stand up for our constituents. It is why our constituents pay our salaries. To have a motion that says that we should not come here to try to learn from each other and our constituents is bananas. I ask every member in this place to stand against this so that we can get back to work and stand up for the best interests of Canadians.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today. I will start by congratulating you on once again securing the very important position of . You certainly have shown that you are very capable of controlling this extremely chaotic room from time to time and I congratulate you on that.
This being my first opportunity to rise in the House since the election, I want to thank the people of Kingston and the Islands for sending me back to this place to continue to be their voice and to represent them. It is a true honour. I have been elected a number of times, both to this House and our local Kingston City Council. The feeling of knowing that I have the support of my constituents to represent them is truly humbling. I am very grateful for their support in sending me back here.
It is quite interesting that we are having our first debate on how the House should participate over the next number of months as we get through the rest of this pandemic. I will say I am quite surprised to learn the position of the Bloc Québécois members on this. They have always been very progressive with respect to the need to have proper measures in place to protect not just MPs, but more importantly the staff and administration of this House, so to see their position on this today is surprising for me.
However, I am certainly not surprised by the position taken by the Conservatives. This has been an ongoing thing for them. They always seem to be one step behind as it relates to public opinion and the need to take care of Canadians. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw they were the last to put on masks, probably begrudgingly. They certainly did not want to do that. They complained about vaccines not being ready. The member for said on a number of occasions that we were not going to have vaccines until 2030, which was not the case.
Mr. Garnett Genuis: Oh, oh!
Mr. Mark Gerretsen: I hear the member for heckling me.
It has been said many times that I was the only person in this House from the Liberal bench for a number of months. I may have been the only person physically here, but I certainly was not the only person participating. The Conservatives are laughing as though there is some kind of difference between participating virtually and physically here. We passed rules that said all privileges were extended to those who were participating virtually. Indeed, people from all parties participated virtually throughout that time.
I will get back to my point about what I experienced and the lack of seriousness the Conservatives have taken toward this pandemic. When I sat in this House, from time to time I would hear explosions of laughter coming from the opposition lobby, as if they were having a party or something back there. They just have not taken this pandemic seriously from the beginning and it is showing today in their position on this and some of the rhetoric that we are hearing—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Madam Speaker, thank you for that.
Of course, we have the most recent event, the creation of the freedom caucus, or whatever it is called across the way, of those who are fighting for the liberties of Parliamentarians or Canadians or whatever it is that really serves no purpose, other than to instill distrust, cross the line into conspiracy theory and promote policies that are not proven or based on science. That is what we have seen from the Conservative Party.
When we add up every position that the Conservatives have taken and where they are, refusing to say how many people are vaccinated, and we look at it holistically, there is not a single Canadian out there who actually thinks the Conservatives are taking the matter of the pandemic seriously. I think that is extremely clear.
I cannot understand why Conservatives do not just want to be upfront and provide the number of people who have been vaccinated. Why would they not want to do that? This is about showing leadership. The member for stood up and encouraged everybody to get vaccinated. Why do they not start talking about who is vaccinated on that side of the House? They would not even do it during the election when they were asked openly and publicly.
How can someone be a leader if they are not willing to, at least as a party, come forward and say they are making it a requirement that if someone wants to be a candidate in the upcoming election, they have to be vaccinated? Every other party did it except for the Conservative Party and the freedom caucus or the liberty caucus or whatever they have created over there to continue to promote conspiracies.
This is a motion that is really about ensuring that everybody can participate. The member for , who spoke before the member for , said that anybody who contracts COVID needs to be at home recovering. It is as though he is unaware of how this disease is spreading. Those who are double-vaccinated can actually contract the disease, continue to spread it and not even know that they are doing it because they have been vaccinated. There are a lot of people out there who can physically continue to participate but do not want to spread this disease.
For example, let us look at the member for . This member has not been able to participate in the election of the Speaker, the throne speech or any of the debates up to this point, or participate in a vote.
Mr. Speaker, I actually checked the voting record and saw that he did not vote, so I assumed that he was not here. I apologize if that did not get across to the member, but that is how I know for a fact that he was not here, because the voting record does not reflect it.
In any event, the point is that if there are members out there who cannot participate because perhaps they have come into close contact with somebody who has tested positive and are waiting for the results to ensure that they are not going to be somebody who continues to pass along the disease, then it is important that we provide opportunities.
The member for likes to talk about how we are doing things differently and work environments are changing. Canadians are getting back to work; they are wearing masks. That is, I guess, how he defines work environments being different, but there are a lot of people out there who are still working from home and in the workplace in a hybrid format. It is nothing new. The member suggests almost that this is something foreign, as though other people are not out there doing this. There are a lot of people who are out there doing this.
I think of my neighbours, for example, who are continuing to work from home three days a week and go into the office the other two days. It is very common for workplaces to establish practices like these in order to ensure that people can continue to participate and to do their jobs.
I have two children. One is just able now to be vaccinated and the other is not. What if I happen to, even though I am doubly vaccinated, catch COVID? Members certainly would not want me to come around here, and I certainly would not want others to come around here if that were the case and it happened to anybody else. If that does happen and I happen to catch COVID, even though I am doubly vaccinated and still totally able to function in my duties from a physical perspective, why would we not extend the ability for me to be able to do that virtually? That is all that this motion is talking about.
I have heard the previous two speakers talk about accountability, as though it is not possible to hold ministers to account. I heard the member for go after one of my colleagues a few minutes ago, saying that he is not doing his job. The irony of all this is that those who are participating virtually are probably doing a lot more actual legislative work in the virtual world than they were before we had this hybrid Parliament.
We had committees meeting every single week, even on constituency weeks.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
Mr. Mark Gerretsen: Now the members opposite are applauding that, and that is good, so why is it that they are against this virtual Parliament and having an opportunity to see this continue? That is the whole point. The whole point is to provide an avenue to enable people to continue to do their job.
I am really happy to see that there are at least some Conservative colleagues who would agree that members on this side of the House are doing their jobs and are working, because for the member for to suggest that any member of the House was not actually working during the pandemic because they were not able to physically be here is an insult not just to any particular member of this House but to people across Canada who were working virtually from home, as we saw thousands and thousands of people doing when we were directed to stay home whenever and if possible.
I do not appreciate the suggestion that colleagues are not doing their jobs. Despite the fact that I do not see eye-to-eye with Conservative members quite often, I would never suggest that they are not working. Maybe they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, but they are certainly working and they think that they are doing their job, so it is just as important.
We also have to look at what the difference is. I have heard on a number of occasions different people from the Conservative Party talk about the difference. They are trying to suggest that when members are physically here, they are more accountable or able to be berated more by the member for during question period. I do not understand what the difference is. I sat here for five months and I heard the questions and saw the answers come from ministers. Yes, very rarely, on occasion, there may have been an instance where somebody was not able to respond immediately because of a technical difficulty, but it was very rare. It rarely ever happened. If it happened one time per question period, I would say even that is a stretch.
It actually worked out very well, because of—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Mark Gerretsen: Despite the fact that the Bloc is heckling me on this, members know that it is because of the incredible staff that we have here who set up that system to allow us to be able to work virtually. I mean, come on, at least we can applaud for the staff. Maybe not, and that is fine, but I appreciate the Liberal members for doing that.
In conclusion, for me this is very easy: This is about whether or not we are taking this pandemic seriously from the beginning right through to the end. As I indicated at the beginning of my speech, it is quite clear to me that the Conservatives have never taken this pandemic seriously. They have dragged their feet and have been dragged into every scenario, whether it was the voting application, whether it was the hybrid Parliament, whether it was shutting down Parliament to start with or whether it was putting on masks. No matter what we brought forward, there has always been opposition from the Conservatives to doing anything that protects the safety of Canadians and in particular those who work in this House and in this place. I think it is absolutely shameful that they do not think it is important to continue to extend these provisions so that people can continue to participate virtually and in person as we move forward through the rest of the pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, rising for the first time in the 44th Parliament, I have in mind the mandate given to me by the good people of South Surrey—White Rock. However, before that, I want to commend all British Columbia MPs in the House who showed passion, care and solutions last night in the emergency debate on British Columbia.
The mandate I was given was made very clear to me when I met with neighbours, friends, struggling small business owners, some who lost their businesses during the pandemic lockdowns, and voters at their doors: Go to Ottawa for us.
Our Armed Forces members are demoralized by constant criticism, without the balance of recognition for their hard work and, indeed, their heroism. The CAF would have appreciated a shout-out from the throne speech this week, but there was nothing there. Veterans are suffering because the government left many Afghan allies behind to be hunted down by the Taliban. The issues we need to address in this Parliament are too numerous to outline in a short speech.
We are choosing here to either advocate for Canadians in person in the House or allow MPs, despite vaccination proof masks and precautions throughout the parliamentary precinct, to stay distant on Zoom screens. This is an unnecessary buffer between government and the scrutiny of the Canadian people through its opposition parties. It is like two people trying to talk to each other with two masks on each with a plexiglass between them. We have all been there.
The Liberal government received just 32% of the popular vote. Unfortunately, government is formed by which party wins the most individual ridings, not the overall vote count.
I forgot to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am splitting my time with the member for .
One would think that result would give the government some humility, some understanding that Canadians are looking for accountability and rigorous scrutiny, but no. The has said numerous times already that the government has a clear mandate. Does it, with 32% of the vote? I am not at all sure that Canadians would agree, and I know that people in my riding decidedly do not.
I am very proud of our Westminster parliamentary system, refined over centuries, of commoners elected by free people of free will in a free democracy, to hold those in power to account and, when required, to ensure a peaceful transition of power; a forum that provides a robust challenge function to those entrusted to govern us; a system where even the head of government and ministers are expected to participate in our form of question and answer debate, the back and forth of question period. This makes a prime minister and his or her leadership team directly accountable to the people.
Another hallmark is a professional civil service that supports our significant work here. Members of the public service are subject to the government's mandatory policies requiring them to be vaccinated or to prove an accepted exemption. They are here because they are in compliance. We are here because we are in compliance. There can be no honest suggestion that the House of Commons is somehow a more hazardous workplace than any other in Canada.
Her Majesty's official opposition is the caucus most seized with keeping the government in check and to stand ready to assume government. Equally tasked with upholding the best interests of the country writ large, it is built into this system that Parliament demonstrably provides the best way to hold government to account, which is and always has been in person.
The vast majority of workers in my riding do not have the option to work in a hybrid fashion, and are clear it is a condition of their continued employment to be double vaccinated and wear a mask. Some have lost their jobs as a result and are in great need. Most have obeyed these requirements and do not expect their MPs to be exempt from the rules by which they must abide. They do not expect us to have a elitist special accommodation.
We are here to represent them, not ourselves just because it is more convenient or comfortable for some to stay at home. No doubt we all want to be home more. As a B.C. MP, Ottawa is a 4,300-kilometre commute for me. However, we just had 20 months of doing our work from home and by Zoom. Should any individual MP require accommodation for a short time due to health, family or MP-related travel reasons, those exceptions can be made.
What about pairing, which has been brought up by others? Every opposition MP noted that even when we were allowed to be here in limited numbers, Liberal ministers often chose to participate by Zoom from their parliamentary offices. They should be in question period to answer the questions put to them; it is not backbench members of Parliament tasked with responding, ever.
Is it important to my constituents that we do our parliamentary work in person? Not one told me it was a good idea unless we had no other choice to be safe.
I would like to share with the House what some South Surrey—White Rock folks tell me, because they care about what we do in this place.
Dorothy said, “My only wish is that [the Speaker] will halt question period to new questions if the minister refuses to answer the question put forward. Canadians deserve better than they have been receiving from this Parliament.”
Don said, “Looking forward to seeing you in action in person.”
Speaking to the devastation in B.C., Patsy said, "Both levels of government were late to the table.”
Wade simply said, “Fix it.”
When I posted my appointed as shadow minister for National Defence, Don wrote, “Canada so desperately needs a serious voice on our national defence.”
Julie said, “Got a big job there, but keep on the minister.”
Colin said, “Ask the new Minister of National Defence about her government's lack of commitment to the previously announced timeline for the $19-billion purchase of fighter jets.”
Marie said, “I do hope you will finally be able to get back to Ottawa should we have a real government some day.”
Alana said, “Please do what you can. It is very scary what is happening.”
I have so many examples of people saying that.
Of course we do work in our ridings, of course it is work and of course it is important, but what we do here is unique. We are voted in to represent people who cannot have a voice here.
Darlene said, “Ethics in government means everything to me. Let's change the culture of Ottawa: no more scandals, no more corruption.”
Other people's issues include rebuilding their families' devastated small businesses, deep deficit and the concern about the country perhaps going bankrupt.
Harveer said, “We need a government that cares about our economy. The Parliament is an absolute mess due to the present government.”
Veterans groups want a military covenant and a military bill of rights.
There are just so many issues that need to be addressed here. We have all struggled through poor audio; poor video; intermittent connectivity; MPs embarrassing themselves on screen, which seemed to usually be on the government side; missed votes; overzealous use of the mute button; and straining of resources in both the House and in committee. That is enough.
I urge my fellow parliamentarians not to give onto ourselves special accommodations not afforded to millions of workers in the country, not to choose comfort over solemn duty. If we can send 276 delegates to COP26, the most in the G7, we can buck up and have 338 MPs in the House of Commons.
We all just took a new oath to conduct ourselves in the best interests of our country. That means being in our workplace doing our work. We have riding times set aside. The voters chose us to be their voices in this place, in person. Let us get to work.
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first time on my feet in the 44th Parliament, I have a few words of thanks for the people who have allowed me to take my place in this august chamber once again. That starts with the voters of Regina—Lewvan.
This is my second term. The class of 2019 had an unusual first session of Parliament. We were in this chamber for about five weeks, at the start of our parliamentary careers, and then COVID hit on about March 13-14, 2020. It was a different experience for us. We went through the hybrid experience. Speaking for some on this side and maybe some others, that was not the best experience for us as parliamentarians. It added an extra level of difficulty. Being new members of Parliament also added to how we thought we needed to represent our constituents and how we needed to stand up for them in this place.
A lot of people who voted for me said, “Please be Regina—Lewvan's voice in Ottawa”, not Regina—Lewvan's voice on a screen and not Regina—Lewvan's voice sometimes in Ottawa. When the House is sitting, voters want us to be in our chairs here because that is our job. Our job is to represent our constituents in this chamber, to be their voice and to bring forward their concerns to the government. The opposition's job is to propose and oppose. I think that is very important for us to do. It is incumbent on all of us to think about how we could do that best. I have heard a lot of Liberal members say they are going to be here regardless of whether hybrid sittings happen. Why do we not continue with that tradition?
Members have talked about our member for . Is he the only person who has ever had a health care issue and could not come to the chamber? It has been happening since the start of sessions in the chamber. People have health care issues that mean they cannot come here. When they get better, they come back to sit in the House and do their jobs. It has always been that way.
I think the idea of pairing, which the member for brought up, is a very good idea. It is a proposition from us that suggests a different way of doing things without there being a bit of leverage for not being in the chamber.
Why could we not use pairing? I have not heard a response from the Liberal government, or from our NDP colleagues who are propping up the Liberal government's decision to take away accountability, about why that would not be an option for us to make sure that we could continue to do our jobs in this chamber.
I grew up on a dairy farm in Rush Lake, Saskatchewan. There was no way that we could ever virtually milk a cow. I represent people who have to go to work every day regardless of their health, regardless of whether they want to get up, and regardless of whether they had a long night the night before. People have to get up and they have to go to work. That is for dairy farmers, people who have to put hay up, ranchers and people who have to harvest. There is no virtual harvesting of products in Saskatchewan. People have to get up every day to go to work. My friend Dieter, who runs a cement company, cannot pour cement over a screen. People have to get up and go to work every day to make sure they can support their families.
That is what we are talking about today. Why do Liberal members think it is okay for us not to have to show up for the people we represent? They do it for us all the time. Every day they get up and go to work because they have to. During the pandemic, the people who work at grocery stores did not have the choice to say they were not going to go to work because they did not feel good or just did not feel like they wanted to.
That being said, members always have the ability to not come to the chamber. If a Liberal member does not feel well and wants to keep people safe, they can not come. If a person is sick, they should not come to the chamber. That is how this works. That is our responsibility. If someone does not want to spread a sickness, they should not come to the chamber if they are not feeling well. We have a personal responsibility as well. We are all adults in this chamber. Why can we not do that? Why does the government have to make a rule to tell people not to come to work if they do not feel well? That is what I ask. We can do that on our own. We are intelligent people.
Accountability is what this is all about. The government thinks it can hide over virtual Parliament until June of 2022. My constituents in Regina—Lewvan do not want that. They want us to be in this chamber. They want government ministers to be answering questions in person instead of having technical difficulties over Zoom. That is what I am talking about.
There are also two different sides to Liberal members. There are Liberal members and the House leader in the media saying it is all about safety. Then the cameras go off and they are hugging people all over during our opening day. Each and every one of these members went and hugged people throughout the chamber on opening day when we were here. What is the difference? Why is that okay? Is it because there are no media and they can feign their hypocrisy?
When the cameras are on, it is all about safety, hand over heart. Then they can jump on a plane, go to COP and rub shoulders with Leonardo DiCaprio. That is okay. They can go and hang out with their global elitists in Glasgow, but they cannot stand up for their constituents in this chamber. That is what we get with a few of the Liberal members.
Some Liberal members have the best intentions. I have worked with the member for on the agriculture committee and he has done his duty on agriculture, but I am sure he would rather be here. I am sure he would rather be in this chamber. Actually, I heard him say that. There is the Maritime bubble. If I am able, I would rather be in the chamber.
I wish some Liberal members would have talked to their leadership like that before this motion was brought forward. I think there are a lot of Liberal members who feel like their jobs should be in this chamber, and they want to be here as much as possible. However, they did not have a caucus meeting until 50 days after the election, so they probably never got a chance to have that conversation. Unfortunately, if there was a bit more collaboration on the Liberal benches, maybe they would have heard their members and said, “It is time for most Canadians to go to work to earn a paycheque and we should, too.”
When it comes down to it, what we are really talking about is the need for us to be leaders and to show the people who sent us here, after a $600-million cabinet shuffle, that we are going to be here and standing up for their rights. Liberal members must feel that same way, because I do not think someone puts their name on a ballot to sit in front of a screen. I do not think any of them did that. I believe in my heart that they want to represent their constituents as well.
I am hoping that when all is said and done, we make sure the Liberal front benches hear from their back benches that they want to come to work, too. To have this motion on the Order Paper and say we are going to shut down real Parliament until June 2022 shows that this is more about political gamesmanship than about the safety of those here. I believe that the parliamentary precinct has done a great job of making this a safe place. I believe they worked hard and they did all they could to make sure we could do our jobs over virtual Parliament when we had to, but now we can do this in person.
I will give a shameless plug to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. They are having a home playoff game on Sunday. There are going to be 33,000 people at Mosaic Stadium watching our Riders beat the Calgary Stampeders. If we can do that, if we can fly to Glasgow and rub shoulders with global elites at COP, 338 of us can sit here in this chamber to make sure we are passing laws for the people of Canada and make sure we are going to work to represent our constituents.
That is what I want to do and that is what my request is. To some of the back bench Liberals, talk to the front benches and ask if it is not possible that we can sit here in person and make sure we are doing our jobs so that each and every Canadian has a representative in this chamber.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Since this is the first time that I am standing in the House in the 44th Parliament, I want to thank my constituents of Ottawa West—Nepean for putting their faith, confidence and trust in me once again as their member of Parliament.
I would also like to thank my family, especially my husband Don, my stepdaughter Courtney and my mom Maria, for always being there and supporting me throughout, as well as my volunteers and supporters.
I am pleased to participate in the debate on the government's motion to implement a hybrid sitting approach. The motion is proposing that we adapt our procedures and practices so that all members can fully participate in the proceedings of the House either in the chamber or by video conference. It is an important motion. The pandemic is ongoing and we require the flexibility that a hybrid system would provide.
I would like to paint a complete picture of the government motion.
First, the motion would allow all members to participate in the proceedings of the House in person or by video conference. The members who would attend in person would have to be double-vaccinated or have a valid medical exemption in accordance with the Board of Internal Economy's decision of October 19, 2021.
The motion also proposes certain changes to the Standing Orders of the House to take into account the virtual participation of members. For instance, members who participate remotely would be counted for quorum purposes. All standing orders relating to such requirements as standing when speaking, or being in one's seat in the House, would be amended to allow for participation by video conference.
The motion would also allow documents to be tabled or presented to the House in electronic format. For instance, members participating by video conference could table documents or present petitions or reports to the House in electronic format during Routine Proceedings. However, the documents would have to be forwarded to the Clerk prior to the members' intervention.
With respect to committees, the motion would allow members to participate in committee meetings remotely or in person on the condition that they meet the vaccine requirements set out by the Board of Internal Economy.
The motion proposes a process for recorded divisions in hybrid proceedings. The motion would bring the remote voting application back into use. This application was used successfully for over 120 votes in the second session of the 43rd Parliament. The remote voting application would also allow members to cast their votes safely, securely and conveniently. However, the motion takes a cautious approach. It would direct House administration to carry out an onboarding process of all members, which would be completed no later than December 8, 2021. The remote voting application would be put into use no later than December 9.
Until the remote voting application was implemented, members of the chamber would continue to vote by standing votes, and members participating remotely would be called one by one to cast their votes. The motion proposes measures to ensure the integrity of the remote voting application. Votes would need to be cast from within Canada using a House-managed device. A member's visual identity would need to be validated for each vote. Any member unable to vote because of technical issues would be able to connect to the virtual sitting to indicate their voting intention.
Lastly, the motion also proposes a process for the supplementary estimates (B) for the current fiscal year.
The motion provides that, 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. At the conclusion of the four hours allotted for consideration, the committee shall rise, and the estimates shall be deemed reported. This is the approach that was used at the beginning of the last parliamentary session because the composition of the standing committees had yet to be established.
It is important to note that the motion states that this method of operation would be in effect until June 23, 2022, the last day on the sitting calendar before the summer break.
The government is proposing a reasonable and pragmatic approach to ensure that members are able to participate in House proceedings while respecting public health guidance. This motion supports the fundamental role of members of the House.
The government has always recognized our essential role in representing our constituents and holding the government to account. The government has supported members in fulfilling this role since it came to power. The government has promoted free votes for members of the governing caucus and established the 's question period. When the House was adjourned at the beginning of the pandemic, the government sought ways for members to fulfill their roles.
The former government House leader wrote to the Speaker to ask whether House administration would be able to implement virtual sittings. This is because the government wanted to ensure that the House could continue to hold the government to account during the pandemic. The House passed government motions in April and May 2020 to instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study how members could fulfill their parliamentary duties while the House was adjourned during the pandemic.
The committee undertook two thoughtful studies on this issue. In its second report, the committee recommended a detailed set of standing order amendments that would codify procedure for hybrid sittings and remote electronic voting. The committee also proposed guidance for the development, testing and implementation of a remote electronic voting application. The committee's reports provided valuable guidance to the House and to House administration in implementing a hybrid sitting approach in September 2020.
I want to stress this point. The motion does not propose anything new. During the last Parliament, in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis, the House adopted creative and innovative ways to debate, transact business and make decisions using a hybrid approach. From September 2020 to June 2021, the House sat with members in the chamber and members participating remotely. All regular business of the House was conducted, including consideration of government legislation and private members' business.
During this time, 19 government bills received royal assent. This legislation has a real impact on the lives of Canadians. For example, Bill created three new temporary recovery benefits to support Canadians who were unable to work because of COVID-19. Bill put in place targeted support to help businesses with emergency rent and wage subsidies. I hope members will come together to support the important economic measures that the government is proposing in Bill to address the current phase of the pandemic.
Regarding private members' business, six private members' bills received royal assent and six private members' motions were adopted during hybrid sittings. This success shows that it is possible to consider legislation and other important matters in a hybrid approach.
A hybrid parliament would also allow for better work-life balance, especially for members with young children. During the debates on the Standing Orders and House procedure in February 2021, several members from different parties mentioned the importance of work-life balance. Several members also noted that the hybrid Parliament and electronic voting made it easier for them to juggle their various responsibilities during the 43rd Parliament. Allowing members to choose whether to take part in House proceedings in person or remotely would make it easier for them to balance their responsibilities at home and at work.
I certainly hope that all members of the House will pass this reasonable motion so that we can do our work in a safe way for our constituents.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to stand in the House in this new Parliament. I will therefore take a minute to thank the voters of Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges and Mile-End for their renewed trust.
My constituents sent me here with a clear message. They want to see progress in the fight against climate change, and they hope that the housing crisis will be resolved, that gun control measures will be strengthened and that the economic recovery will be strong, green and fair. I am eager to start work on these issues.
As this is my first time rising in this chamber in this new Parliament, I would like to take a moment to thank my family, particularly my husband for his incredible support, as he is back home in Outremont with our young daughter so I can be here in Ottawa. I would also like to thank all of my volunteers and supporters, in addition to, of course, all of the voters in Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges and Mile End for their renewed trust and confidence in what was my third election in two and a half years. I will tell them, as well as all of my colleagues in the House, that I am just getting started here.
I am pleased to comment today on this motion to allow Parliament to operate using a hybrid format. As many people have mentioned, the pandemic is not over yet, and we need the flexibility that a hybrid system would provide. This system works. Our adaptability and ability to leverage new technologies enabled us to truly transform the way we carry out our parliamentary duties.
The hybrid Parliament allowed us to fulfill our obligations toward Canadians as elected officials, while protecting our colleagues and support staff.
I must admit that I am disappointed that the parties in the House were unable to reach an agreement on how we could adapt our procedures for this new session. I hope that we will be able to reach a consensus in the House to reinstate a hybrid system.
With this in mind, I would like to point out that the motion before us today would allow all members to decide whether to take part in proceedings of the House in person or by video conference. Each member would get to choose for themselves, and that is a very important point for me.
The proposal that is on the table does not prevent any member in this House from being here in person to take their seat, nor does it dictate when or how members can participate in the deliberations of this chamber. Members have the choice of participating in person if they wish. Giving maximum flexibility within the parameters of the public safety regulations that will be enforced is what this motion is all about.
This is important for me, as I know it is for other colleagues. Our ability to stand in this chamber to speak on behalf of our constituents is critical to me and to others, and it is entirely protected by the proposal put forward in this motion. What is also protected is the ability of members who may be symptomatic, or sick, or even members who were in contact with someone with COVID-19 and therefore need to isolate, to continue doing the job of representing their constituents and having the opportunity to vote and make their voice heard.
What I think I have been hearing from some of my Conservative friends is that, if I get a notice on my COVID-19 alert app saying that I have been in contact with COVID-19, then I cannot vote. That is ridiculous. I should always, always be able to vote. I should not be denied the opportunity of casting my vote on behalf of the constituents that sent me there.
I believe those Conservatives speaking out against this motion are actually arguing that we need to limit the ability of members from participating in Parliament and doing our job. I ask them this: Why?
There is a way to ensure that through a hybrid formula, a virtual option, all of us can do the job of representing our communities. Why do they wish to deny that of me and other members? I do not know.
Nothing in this motion prevents us from interacting in this place in person, absolutely nothing. The motion simply provides the opportunity to those who cannot be here in person to continue doing their jobs, which is what Canadians have sent us here to do: our jobs.
As we know, the motion before us today provides that those who take part virtually will be counted for the purpose of quorum.
The motion also provides for changes to the Standing Orders to take virtual participation into account. For example, all references in the Standing Orders relating to certain requirements, such as the need for members to rise when speaking or to be in their place in the House, will be changed to take the virtual nature of the proceedings into account.
The motion also allows documents to be tabled or presented to the House electronically, and that is a good thing.
In the current circumstances, we must be innovative and flexible to continue to represent our fellow citizens as safely as possible. That is one of the reasons for this motion to create a hybrid Parliament.
I would now like to address the issue of safety and security, and I do not bring this up in the context of my own safety. I recognize that I have been sitting in this chamber of 338 seats. I also recognize, as is quite obvious to everyone now, that when we rise to speak, we take off our masks. However, what concerns me is not my own health but that we are each, as leaders of our communities right across the country, travelling back and forth to our constituencies.
We will go back to meet with and serve the people we represent this weekend. There will be the people we see at spaghetti dinners and the children at the community fairs. Those are the people who sent us here, and there is nothing more important to me than protecting them. When I hear that many, possible dozens as we do not know, Conservatives appear to have exemptions allowing them not to prove their vaccination status, I wonder what higher principle they are defending.
We know that only about 0.001% of people are expected to require a medical exemption from vaccination. That is what the science says. Therefore, I question what is going on here. Are those Conservative members fighting for an issue of personal freedom over the collective well-being? If that is the case, let us address that debate head on and not mask it, if members will permit the expression, with debate on whether the option of participating virtually in order to vote means that we are doing our job.
While I am, like many Canadians, happy to return to restaurants after showing proof of vaccination, and I encourage everyone listening to support our small businesses and our hospitality sector, and while I, like many Canadians, am happy to get back to work in person to see my colleagues and do the work that we know often needs to be done in person, I also want to ensure that we are not vectors for the spread of this disease to different regions of our country. We can do that most effectively by ensuring that there is, first and foremost, a strict vaccine mandate for those entering this chamber and also by providing options that would allow members to do their job from outside this chamber if they are experiencing symptoms or if they have been in contact with COVID.
The vaccination debate is polarizing, I know. We are all free to make choices, including personal choices about our health. However, some choices are simply unacceptable, like refusing to show proof of vaccination to enter the House alongside almost 400 people from around the country who are in contact with many other people.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As this is my first opportunity to rise in the House, I will take a moment to thank the constituents of Mégantic—L'Érable for their support, the volunteers, and everyone who worked on the last election campaign. I am very proud to represent them in the House, in this chamber where so many things have happened over the past few years. I owe it all to them. I thank them very much.
We are gathered here today to discuss something very important, but we are also talking about something else that should have been left off the agenda. We are talking about the possibility of having a hybrid Parliament. The government chose to discuss this motion, in one of its first acts, by muzzling the opposition parties who want to discuss the best way to hold hybrid sittings and act for the people of Mégantic—L’Érable and all the other ridings.
The Liberal government chose to limit debate on its very first motion. That gives us an idea of what to expect in the coming weeks and months. It is all hypocrisy, with the speeches we have heard from a number government members since this morning, and especially from the . I will get back to this later.
It is pretty much the same thing with the NDP, who chose to support the Liberals in this closure motion. To a lesser extent, it is the same with the Bloc Québécois. At least the Bloc Québécois members agree that we should continue to be physically present in the House.
I will get back to this morning’s comments by the government House leader. He was very eloquent, very loquacious, and especially very much the political hack. I do not know how many times he repeated that the Liberals are eager to get back to work. However, at the first opportunity, as I mentioned, they imposed closure on an opportunity to get to work to ensure that Canadians across the country have a voice in the House.
In his speech, the government leader wondered why the official opposition would refuse to give its unconditional consent for a hybrid parliament until June 2022, as we did the first time. The opposition is not the reason and that is not where the answer lies. If we do not consent, the government leader should rather look to his own side of the aisle. He should look around him to understand why the Conservatives cannot give their consent to today’s motion, why they cannot blindly trust the government.
We want to talk about inflation, the labour shortage, the economic recovery, or the cost of living, which is rising at an alarming rate. We also want to hold the government to account for the CanSino agreement that deprived Canadians of the vaccine at the start of the pandemic, when they really needed it, for the lab in Winnipeg and the government’s deliberate decision to keep important information from Canadians, and for the decision to trigger an election in the middle of a pandemic, an election that nobody wanted and that clearly showed that the is completely disconnected from what Canadians really want.
When he called the election, the Prime Minister even said that this would be the most important election since World War II. He was certain he would win a majority government. Otherwise, he would not have called an election. I can imagine the Prime Minister picturing himself winning the most important election in Canada's history. He gambled and lost. We still have a minority government, and Parliament has barely changed, except for a few nice surprises: some eager new Conservative members have joined us and are now here in the House.
This morning, the was getting melodramatic, saying that, by refusing to support this motion, the opposition was preventing Parliament from resuming its activities by delaying it by a day.
How much time did it take for the to recall Parliament after his failed bid to seize full control of the House? How long did it take before he met with members of his own caucus? One thing is certain: it took him far less time to organize a couple of days of surfing in Tofino. It took more than two months before the Prime Minister deigned to recall the House, two months after an election that nobody wanted but that was so important to him. Today, the Liberals are trying to make Canadians believe that time is short. I have never seen anyone so good at talking out of both sides of their mouths.
I would like to tell Canadians what went on in the House in the final months of the 43rd Parliament. When members were allowed to attend in person, in numbers set by the parties and the House in accordance with all public health guidelines, which parties showed up to represent their constituents? Which members came to the House in person? Which ministers looked the opposition parties in the eye and answered their valid questions?
I was sitting over here, and I asked questions every time the rules allowed me to. I asked questions about WE Charity, the Lac-Mégantic bypass and the labour shortage. We were used to hearing ministers read prepared answers, but what we saw during that period was worse than ever. The Prime Minister's lines came in so fast, it felt like the ministers were receiving their answers by email on their computers.
I sat here as often as the rules allowed, as often as the House wanted, and I noticed just how much the Liberals, by which I mean all of them, not just the members and ministers, preferred to stay in the comfort of their own home or even their office on the Hill a few feet away rather than enter the hallowed walls of this House.
The leaders had decided how many members of each party could sit here safely. We followed the rules to the letter. We were allowed about 20 members on this side. On the other side of the aisle, they were allowed about 30. Each time I came, I took the time to see whether people were following the rules. I would start by looking at the Liberal benches and counting the empty seats—
Mr. Speaker, in response to this point of order, I was not referring to any one member in particular but to all of the empty seats on the other side of the House. There is only one seat that was not empty and has not been for a long time, and I was happy to see that.
I did the same thing with the ministers, but I will not repeat what I said to avoid another point of order. However, I can say that the number was not one. It was zero. There was nobody here to look me in the eye and answer my questions. The ministers chose to respond on screen. They chose to answer on camera instead of looking me in the eye and answering my questions.
We are here to discuss a hybrid Parliament, and it is important to raise that issue. Today, the told us that, by some miracle, the ministers will be here and will answer our questions, and members have repeated that. However, the ministers could have been doing that for months now, but they have not done so. They have not shown up at all to answer the opposition members' questions. How can we trust them now?
The clearly likes crowds. People like asking the Prime Minister questions. However, do my colleagues honestly believe that the Prime Minister will show up in the House to answer questions at any time other than Wednesday without his scrum of supporters right behind him?
All members have the right to ask questions and to expect meaningful answers for their constituents. That is why, as the member for Mégantic—L'Érable, I will be here. I hope that all my colleagues, whatever their riding across the country, will follow my lead and want to show up on site, take their seats, and stand up for their constituents.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise for the first time in the 44th Parliament. I want to congratulate you for your ascension to such a great chair and presiding over these important meetings. I also want to thank all the voters back in Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman for putting their trust in me for the seventh time. I thank my family and, of course, all the great volunteers who worked tirelessly on our campaign.
This is such an important debate. The idea that again the Liberals, with the NDP, want to go back into their basements and Zoom Parliament is so disheartening. As someone who has been in the chamber since 2004, it is important that we have the opportunity to look each other in the eye, to carry on these discussions, to be empathetic and to read the room.
We cannot do that when we are sitting in a Zoom call. We cannot do that when people are shutting off their cameras and wandering away from the computer. They are not able to see every member in the House. Nor do they have the ability to have the sidebar conversations with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle, with all parties.
For all the newly elected MPs sitting in the Liberal caucus right now, as well as our own MPs who were just elected, some of the most important work they will ever do for their constituents is by having the opportunity to approach the ministers right in the chamber, to pass them a letter from a constituent, to sit down and talk about a problem with an infrastructure project that may be under way in their riding or to talk about refugee files and immigration cases directly with the minister or the parliamentary secretary. When we try to do that on Zoom, people are just too busy and shut off the camera or mute their microphones.
That is not the way Parliament is meant to work. If we respect this institution, we will do what the people elected us to do in all 338 ridings. That means taking our place in the chamber, in our seats, and advocating for them publicly in this forum or in private sidebar conversations we can have in the chamber, in the lobbies or in the committee room.
One of the reasons the Liberals want to close down Parliament to in-person sittings is that it works so well for them to be non-transparent and not to be held accountable. A case in point is what happened to the Standing Committee on National Defence, which, in the last Parliament, was doing a study into sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces by former chiefs of the defence staff. The Liberals were able to use the argument that there were not enough House resources for the committees to keep meeting, and would suspend meetings indefinitely. They never had the ability to adjourn a meeting because they did not have consent, so chairs were instructed by the Liberal whip to just suspend, and the Liberals would leave the room.
When we had reports to write, when there were witnesses to be called, the Liberals would suspend the meetings indefinitely. Meeting 26 of the Standing Committee on National Defence was suspended from April 19 to April 23. It was the same meeting running over all those days. Meeting 28 was suspended from April 30 to May 7. Then they realized this was working so well that meeting 32, when we were trying to draft the report to come back to the House on how to deal with sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces, the Liberals filibustered committees and suspended meetings endlessly from May 21 to June 21. There were 21 sittings days, 505 hours of filibuster, and there was no report to table in the chamber. That is not only a failure of our democracy; it is a failure to the brave women and men who serve in our Canadian Armed Forces. We could not even get a report tabled in the House. That is not how Parliament is meant to work.
If there are going to be difficult conversations, then let us have those difficult conversations in committee. If that means committees are sitting for hours on end because of procedural moves that members will take, both in government and in opposition parties, to filibuster, let them talk it out. At some point in time a decision will be made. However, to use technology and the argument of the lack of resources from the House of Commons is no way to conduct the business of the people of Canada.
I know it is great to be at home with our families. It is great that while we are there, we can be a little more in touch with our constituents. However, during COVID there were not as many activities and events to attend. Some of that is starting to come alive again.
When we were door knocking, canvassing our constituents and asking for their support, they were not saying they wanted us to be at the Rotary club breakfast or to stop by the legion for the meat draw. It is great that we can do those things, but our constituents have elected us to be here.
Again, it comes down to this being all about the Liberals trying to cover up, not to be held to account and us not having the ability to interact with cabinet. One of the great things in our Westminster system is that the executive branch of government sits in the House of Commons with the legislators.
An hon. member: Not anymore.
Mr. James Bezan: No, not anymore, because the , who definitely does not like coming here, and it is debatable whether he even likes his job anymore, is trying to avoid listening to all the voices in the chamber rather than just who sits at the cabinet table.
It is so disheartening to see the New Democrats being the enablers. If NDP members are going to sit here and take their orders from the Liberal whip and House leader instead of standing up and being independent members, then maybe they should be telling all their constituents back home to vote for a Liberal instead of an NDP member. The Conservatives will be more than happy to put forward strong Conservative candidates in those ridings next time around, who want to be here, who want to serve the people and who want to carry forward the constituents' voices and the issues they need addressed in the chamber.
We can see the Liberals coaching the NDP members. It is great that their coalition is working so well and that they get along like that.
We are here to carry forward the voices of the people who elected us. We are here to protect this institution, which should be treasured by each and every one of us. While sitting in our basements and home offices, turning off the camera, turning it back on when when we want and using the voting app might be convenient, that is not how democracy works. That is not how Canadians expect us to be. They are generous and charitable in how much we are remunerated for this job and they expect us to do the hard work, which requires us to be in our seats representing their views, their values and the important things in our ridings.
Mr. Speaker, this morning I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from .
I will begin by taking a moment to congratulate you on your appointment to the chair, Mr. Speaker. It is good to see a fellow Nova Scotian in the chair. I wish you good luck for the day ahead.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the staff and people involved who allowed parliamentarians to participate in the 43rd Parliament. I want to thank the interpreters in particular, especially now, as I know my French is far from perfect.
Today we are here to talk about government Motion No. 1 to create a hybrid Parliament.
I had the privilege of sitting in the House for the first time after the 2019 election. I had roughly 12 weeks of parliamentary sittings before the world changed completely. I remember taking the plane home on March 12, 2020, and we were thinking this might last two weeks. Of course the situation was far more serious than we thought. The Atlantic provinces restricted travel and ended up creating the Atlantic bubble. I had to quarantine for two weeks to come back and take my seat in the House of Commons.
The hybrid Parliament system allowed me to do my job when I otherwise would not have been able to. Would I rather have been in Ottawa in person? Absolutely, but the circumstances forced us to work remotely. Although it sometimes felt isolating, I think we all need to remember that we were privileged to have been able to work remotely.
When I look at this motion, I truly believe that it is reasonable. Let us identify some of the realities of where we are today.
COVID is still prevalent. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic. The United Kingdom, just three days ago, reported over 40,000 cases on that day alone. We see in Europe that in some situations there is truly a fifth wave occurring right now and variants remain a challenge.
While we are in a different situation than we were over a year ago and members of the House are able to gather, the reality is that provincial and territorial health protocols still dictate that if an individual is exposed to COVID or contracts COVID, they are required to isolate for two weeks. This motion at its fundamental core is about allowing individual parliamentary privilege.
I have had the opportunity to be here all morning to talk about this motion, and I stress this point to my colleagues: I want to be here in person in Ottawa. I will commit publicly that I will be here in Ottawa. However, what if something arises, like my fiancée is exposed? I mentioned to my colleagues that she is a lawyer in Halifax. She works with her colleagues. What if one of them is exposed and she is required to self-isolate? Do I want to potentially bring COVID back to my colleagues as we sit shoulder to shoulder in the House? I would like for my colleagues not to be exposed to COVID-19, although my preference, of course, is to be here.
Today, the Conservatives seem to be talking a lot about accountability. I just asked a member opposite about those in our front bench, such as the , the and the . I want to hear from them. If members have questions, I want to hear the ministers respond. They will have the opportunity, if God forbid they are exposed to COVID, to be able to do so virtually. Otherwise they would not be able to participate.
Right now the member for has been exposed to COVID-19 and is unable to join us. That is a sin. He should have that opportunity, and that is exactly what this motion seeks to do.
There has also been a lot of talk about the work of members of Parliament. As I mentioned earlier in my speech, I had 12 weeks before the world changed and the parliamentary precinct as we knew it had become fundamentally different. If members look at the Hansard record or the committee evidence, they will see that I was absolutely working, as were all of my colleagues on this side of the House and indeed, I presume, on the other side of the House. However, it was done in a virtual manner.
Do I take the point raised by some of my colleagues in the debate here that there is a benefit to being together? Absolutely; I do not disagree. However, why is there such a restraint on the other side of the House to allow flexibility, given the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic? I look around and see masks everywhere, which is a sign that we still have to protect one another against COVID-19, so I have real difficulty in understanding why there is such hesitation on the side opposite.
I am proud to be the chair of the Liberal rural caucus. There is one very important part of this motion about holding votes at specific times in the week, but I have not heard much talk about it. Many of our colleagues from rural regions do not have transportation options to travel to Ottawa. Not only are these provisions fair and equitable for them, but they are also reasonable for all members.
I had the opportunity to speak to the this week, who is also the member of Parliament for . It is quite a struggle for the hon. member to get to Ottawa. She is dedicated and will be here, but she does not have the ability get here by plane the same way. She has to go from her riding to Quebec City to Montreal and then to Ottawa. Members like her need to have the ability to participate.
I see I am coming to the end of my time. I look forward to continuing this after members' statements.