Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House on this important issue.
I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for , who will also speak to the importance of today's motion.
The Conservatives have brought forward this motion calling on the government to end all federal vaccine mandates now. After two years of Canadians doing all that was asked of them, including following the rules and being in lockdown, unable to visit their family or travel, the effects of these restrictions exacerbated the mental health challenges of many Canadians and was incredibly difficult for those who are on the margins of our society. These restrictions also caused delays and the postponement or cancellation of diagnostic screening appointments and treatments, leaving patients lacking for care. Canadians did everything that was asked of them, even boasting some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, but we cannot live under these restrictions indefinitely.
When we look to countries around the world, our allies, and provinces across this federation, they are ending the mandates. Every province in this country, following the advice of their chief medical officer of health, has either lifted the mandates or has publicly released their plan to lift the mandates. However, Ottawa, which is governed by this NDP-Liberal coalition, is not following medical science; rather, it is looking to the political science it has used to divide Canadians and communities at a time when we have needed real leadership.
I want to take members back to the beginning of this pandemic, when members on this side of the House, without wavering and without hesitation, were prepared to support reasonable efforts to make sure we could get Canada in a position to manage the great unknown at the time, which we now know to have been COVID‑19. Co-operation and collaboration were the name of the game.
However, as we moved through the pandemic, we saw many examples of the taking every opportunity as a political opportunity. Even in those early days, when we looked to offer unwavering support to Canadians, the looked to undertake a historic power grab that would have given the government the ability to tax and spend without parliamentary oversight for two years.
We then heard unbelievable language from the in the intervening period, calling people misogynists or racists if they did not agree with his policies on COVID‑19. Recently, we heard condemnation, not just from across Canada, but from around the world, for this type of divisive language. In all of these examples, he was not making decisions based on science. Therefore, when we are having this discussion today, I encourage all hon. members to ask the government which federal agencies and which doctors called for these mandates, these lockdowns, and the vaccine and mask mandates that the federal government is responsible for.
Now, we know that 10 out of 10 doctors in the provinces agree, and all provincial chief medical officers of health agree, on the medical science that says it is safe to lift these requirements.
Canadians are rightly confused. People can go into a sporting venue in this country and sit shoulder to shoulder with neighbours and members of their community, people who they have been hoping to see for two years, wearing the same jerseys and cheering on a sports team without proof of vaccination or a mask required, because the top doctors in all of the provinces have said it is safe to do that.
The is saying that while people can sit together in a theatre with their families, neighbours and members of the community to enjoy an experience they have not had in a long time, and watch a movie together without proof of vaccination and without wearing a mask because it is safe to do, they cannot get on a VIA train or a plane for 30 minutes or 10 minutes unless they show both of those things.
Today, I hope members in this place ask members of the government what the federal government knows. What science is the federal government withholding from the chief medical officers of health for all of the provinces? What science does the federal government have access to that it is not sharing with our international allies that shows that it is unsafe? We know that the government will not give an answer. It may reply and it may try to scare Canadians, but that is more of that fear and division that it is trying to sow on this issue.
Again, we are one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. Canadians did their part. They did what was asked of them, but that was not enough. Instead, the government looks to turn the screws on members of the federal public service, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and federally regulated employees.
Even today, in every provincial jurisdiction where they all work, the chief medical officers of health, following the science, have said that it is safe to gather and work without those vax mandates and mask mandates. The government has not said it is going to offer those folks their jobs back. It has not given them a path to re-entry, and to what end? What is the benefit to Canadian society when these people are unable to provide for their families? After offering themselves in service to this country in the federal public service, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces and members of our Royal Canadian Mounted Police putting on a uniform, they were unceremoniously booted from their jobs and told they did not have a right to provide for their families anymore because the saw a great political opportunity.
Let us take a new opportunity today to follow the medical science, to listen to those chief medical officers of health across the country, including in the province where this place is located. People can gather at an arena with friends and family unmasked and without that vax passport. Why is the government saying that it knows better than the experts and the physicians: the top physicians in our province?
Canada's Conservatives are going to stand up for Canadians. We are going to stand up for the science. We are going to stand up for what is right. It is time to end the mandates.
Mr. Speaker, what a great presentation by our colleague, the official opposition health critic. This excellent presentation illustrates how well the official opposition has been doing its job here in the House for weeks and months now, by calling for one simple thing: a plan for lifting federal health measures.
We started off by asking questions, asking whether the Liberals could provide Canadians with any dates, a path forward, or any hope that these measures would be lifted. From across the way, we got answers filled with statistics, case numbers and vaccination rates. We were told that the situation was worse here than anywhere else or, alternatively, that it was less bad. We got all sorts of answers except for the answer to our question. We wanted a plan with dates, and we wanted to know what criteria the government would set and evaluate for determining the end of the federal health measures.
It is always the same thing with the Liberals. We are always wondering when they are going to take action. At the start of the pandemic, they were behind the curve. They were late realizing that there was a pandemic. They were late purchasing vaccines in the beginning. They were lagging behind on just about everything. Now that the provinces are starting to lift health restrictions, the Liberal government is once again lagging behind. It is lagging behind the science and the decisions of the provinces and also of other countries.
The NDP-Liberal government is incapable of making decisions at the right time. Who is paying for the price? All Canadians. The fact that we are talking about this again today demonstrates that this government is incapable of taking action, and that it does not care about its own employees, its officials, the country's economy, cross-border trade, the tourism industry or all the federally regulated workers across Canada. All that is no big deal for the government.
It has become clear since Monday that this NDP-Liberal had other things in mind than lifting health restrictions in this country. In the current context, how can this NDP-Liberal Prime Minister justify keeping the restrictions in place while the provinces are systematically lifting them?
We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, because Canadians have stepped up and gotten vaccinated. I would remind members that at the beginning of the pandemic, no one knew anything about this disease. Science stepped up, and people stepped up by getting vaccinated in huge numbers. I commend all Canadians who did so, all the health care workers who worked so hard in such uncertain times when we did not know what we were dealing with, and everyone who worked on the front lines to be there for Canadians and ensure their health and safety.
The situation has changed in two years. I know that the NDP-Liberal Prime Minister likes to live in the past, but a lot of things have changed. For the first time in two years, Canadians have hope that life can get back to normal. Why does the Prime Minister insist on contradicting the experts? That is the real question. We do not have an answer to that. Why does this NDP-Liberal Prime Minister not want to listen to the experts? Why is he not doing what his provincial counterparts are doing? Does the Prime Minister now think that he is more important than the scientists whose recommendations he claimed to be following throughout the pandemic? Now, it is no big deal if he does not listen to scientists.
As my health critic colleague was saying, the Prime Minister is following political science, not medical science. That is what we are now realizing. He was unable to win the majority of Canadians' votes by calling an election in the midst of a pandemic. No one wanted an election, but he chose to do what he pleased and call an election anyway. It was no big deal, even if it broke some of the rules. He absolutely had to do it. He wanted his government to win a majority to lead the country. He did not succeed. Canadians were clear. They told him no.
What did the Prime Minister do? He bought a majority in Parliament through a coalition with the NDP. That was his response. That is what he has been spending the past weeks and months doing instead of thinking about public servants, Canadians and all those who are unable to do their jobs because the federal government decided to maintain vaccine mandates, which are no longer needed, according to the public health experts of all the provinces and many other experts around the world.
Speaking of experts, Quebec's health minister recently said that they were working towards lifting restrictions and that we need to learn to live with the virus. That is what the Liberals should be focusing on. I am not the only one saying this.
Two medical experts told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health that there was limited scientific basis for vaccine mandates. Dr. David Jacobs, the president of the Ontario Association of Radiologists, spoke about the immature actions of the Prime Minister of Canada, which is not nothing, and about how he added fuel to the fire when he called unvaccinated people a fringe minority and racists. Those words are not becoming of the Prime Minister of Canada, or, I should say, the NDP‑Liberal Prime Minister of Canada.
According to Dr. Jacobs, unvaccinated Canadians are people who are just simply afraid or who have looked at the research and disagree with the findings. He was essentially saying that one would expect the Prime Minister to be more open-minded.
Dr. Shirin Kalyan, a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, also expressed similar doubts about the current blanket vaccine mandates.
In January, Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer of Canada and one of the experts advising the NDP-Liberal government, went even further and stated that vaccination should be voluntary. I do not know what science the government says it is following, but we cannot find it. We would like to see it, as well as the advice that led it to make vaccination mandatory for federal or federally regulated employees. Unfortunately, it does not seem to exist. The advice always stated the opposite.
Yes, vaccination was highly recommended. However, did vaccination have to be mandatory? I remember a certain Prime Minister saying that he would never force Canadians to get vaccinated. Who was that? It was the NDP-Liberal Prime Minister.
All of a sudden, two days before a certain date in August, vaccine mandates became the thing to do. Two days later, an election was called, and the pandemic became an election issue. The pandemic was exploited for political purposes. The Prime Minister paid the price, because Canadians said no. However, as I said earlier, he has since bought himself a majority, but that is another story, and we can talk about that later.
So far, the Prime Minister's inaction has hurt our economy, international trade and the Canadian tourism industry. It continues to cause irreparable harm, since thousands of federal employees and federally regulated workers are still out of work because the government is sitting idle and is not listening to its own experts.
In conclusion, I would like to know when the Prime Minister plans to get public servants back to work, lift the vaccine mandate and allow Canadians to get back to normal. It is time to stop playing partisan politics with COVID-19 and the pandemic. It is time to do what experts are urging us to do and end vaccine mandates across the country.
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise today in the House to address this very important topic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously impacted everyday life across Canada and around the world for two years now. It has also put our health care systems to the test, disrupted our economy, and altered our social and economic interactions.
In response to the crisis, the Government of Canada took serious measures to protect Canadians' health and safety. As the pandemic evolves, it is important to keep reviewing the effectiveness of the measures we have taken.
I understand what the Conservative Party and the House itself want, and I understand the importance today of reviewing various mandates, such as the vaccine mandate, because it is something the Government of Canada does every day. This is part of the ongoing review of the measures in place to fight COVID-19.
As I said earlier, the Government of Canada is constantly reviewing the measures and will continue to do so with a view to protecting Canadians' health and safety using the least restrictive measures possible, in order to minimize the impact of these measures on our individual, personal, family, economic and social lives.
There are real consequences to adding or eliminating any public health measure. That is why, before imposing these measures, we have always done a thorough analysis based on scientific evidence and consistently reviewed our decisions. It is important to point out that the situation today is totally different from the situation we faced in March 2020.
In the past two years, Canadians have rigorously followed public health measures to protect one another. Most of them got vaccinated, wore masks, physically distanced, and stayed home when they were sick.
Thanks to these often difficult efforts, we entered a phase where it is easier to participate in activities in person, to attend gatherings and to travel. We all did our part. We learned lessons. As a result, we are now better prepared to move forward.
As Dr. Tam reminded us again recently, COVID-19 is here to stay. We are monitoring the omicron subvariants and in particular the BA.2 subvariant, which have led to an increase in the number of cases in many parts of Canada and the rest of the world.
Although the number of serious COVID-19 cases is dropping in Canada and most other countries, several hospitals in Canada are still under considerable stress. The pandemic is therefore still putting pressure on our health care system and our health care workers.
We need to be able manage this pressure when public health measures are lifted in many parts of the country. We must also be aware that, during this transition period, we do not all see the lifting of health measures in the same light. Some people are thrilled to get back to their usual activities, while others are more careful and sometimes far less comfortable.
In the past two years, Canadians have shown incredible flexibility and great resilience, and they will continue to do so. They will make choices that reflect their own reality, based on factors such as their personal situation, their aversion to risk, their COVID-19 vaccination status, the number of COVID-19 cases in their environment, underlying medical issues, and the risk associated with contact with friends and others who are infected. For example, some people could very well continue to wear a mask, even if it is not mandatory in certain places.
We therefore encourage everyone to continue making informed decisions in order to protect themselves, their family and their community, and to respect others’ decisions by showing compassion.
Screening tests are among the tools that will help Canadians make informed decisions in order to manage their own health and safety. I would like to take a few minutes of your time to discuss them.
Rapid testing, in particular, empowers Canadians by providing them with the ability, on their own terms, to determine quickly and easily whether they have COVID-19, thereby building confidence and supporting reopening efforts.
Ensuring equitable and efficient access to COVID‑19 rapid tests will remain a priority because Canadians are increasingly relying on them to make decisions about things such as whether they should visit a loved one, particularly someone in a long-term care facility, send their kids to school or organize a family gathering.
The federal government started buying and providing rapid tests, free of charge, to the provinces and territories as soon as October 2020. In last December alone, the Government of Canada delivered more than 35 million rapid antigen tests to provinces and territories. Another 140 million landed in Canada in January.
In light of the growing demand for rapid tests across the country, the Government of Canada also introduced Bill . The bill, which received royal assent earlier this month, will provide Health Canada with $2.5 billion in funding and the statutory authority to purchase and distribute rapid tests across Canada. With this funding, the Government of Canada will be able to ensure Canadians continue to have the rapid tests that they need, free of charge and in all provinces and territories.
In addition to supplying provinces and territories and indigenous communities, the funding also allows Health Canada to continue to provide tests for distribution through important partners such as the Canadian Red Cross, chambers of commerce and pharmacies. This will allow schools to stay open and help protect our children, as well as our parents or grandparents in long-term care. With this funding, the Government of Canada will put in place critical contracts in a highly competitive global market to purchase efficient and sufficient quantities of rapid tests to meet the anticipated demand across the country.
As we continue to manage COVID-19, the Government of Canada is also making use of waste-water surveillance to help us understand the community transmission of COVID-19. This waste-water surveillance is an extraordinary tool, which PHAC, the Public Health Agency of Canada, is using independently of clinical testing so that we can learn whether the virus is increasing or decreasing in a community by testing the community's sewage.
Waste-water testing is conducted in collaboration with communities and local health authorities to help inform decision-making and public health guidance. The Government of Canada's scientists are working together on a community-level waste-water surveillance program in 65 locations across the country. Samples are then sent to the Public Health Agency of Canada's national microbiology laboratory in Winnipeg, and I know some of our members of Parliament will be happy to be reminded of the pride we have in that laboratory, for analysis and detection of the virus that causes COVID-19, including variants of concern.
Waste-water testing provides unique opportunities to detect and monitor emerging variants of interest and concern. With limitations related to clinical testing, for example, molecular and PCR testing across Canada, waste-water is therefore an important surveillance tool to provide a picture of the community burden related to COVID-19.
The testing and monitoring tools I just mentioned and briefly described all help orient our public health measures, particularly those in effect at the Canadian border. These measures, together with all the other COVID‑19 measures, are based on scientific data and evidence about the current epidemiological situation in Canada and around the world.
That is why, as of April 1, fully vaccinated travellers will not have to present COVID‑19 test results prior to entering Canada by air, land or sea.
We will obviously continue to review and adjust our border measures, as we have always done, in an effort to keep Canadians safe while ensuring efficiency at our borders for both travellers and trade.
Everything I just mentioned has helped put us in a position to be able to manage COVID-19 more effectively in the coming months. The measures will continue to change along with the epidemiological situation.
All the knowledge and tools we acquired over the past two years, including the strategic use of testing and tracing, as well as changing border measures based on the most recent data, will be very useful to us.
That being said, it is very important to remember that vaccination continues to be the most important tool for protecting against the serious consequences and spread of COVID-19. Over 85% of Canadians have already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and approximately 81% of Canadians are fully vaccinated. Nearly 18 million people received a booster dose, and approximately 57% of children aged 5 to 11 have now received at least one dose of the vaccine. Vaccination will continue to be essential as new variants and subvariants continue to emerge.
When it comes to COVID-19, we cannot afford to become complacent. This virus does not follow a predictable path. There will continue to be ups and downs. There will continue to be new variants, and there will continue to be new waves. We have to be prepared to manage that. This is a matter of responsibility and transparency. As well as we have done so far, we can always do better. In the short term, that means continuing to get vaccinated, including boosters.
About three million eligible individuals in Canada have not yet received the first or second dose of the primary vaccine series. In addition, approximately 60% of adults have received a booster shot, which considerably reduces the risk of serious consequences. That is not enough though. Even though we would like to put COVID‑19 behind us, we cannot take our success for granted.
In conclusion, over the past two years, the Government of Canada's approach to addressing COVID‑19 has always been based on scientific data, the epidemiological situation, and the precautionary principle, and that will not change.
We will continue to base our policies on the latest data and lessons learned over the past two years. Canadians expect nothing less. Even though many communities are beginning to reconsider their public health measures, we must acknowledge that COVID‑19 is still very much a part of our lives, which means we must continue to be careful.
As Dr. Tam said before the Standing Committee on Health on Monday, the epidemiological situation in Canada is improving but it is unstable. We have seen this in Europe, where there has been a resurgence of COVID-19 very recently.
The same thing could happen here in Canada because of the presence of omicron and the emergence of the BA.2 subvariant, which is 50% more transmissible and contagious than the original omicron variant.
As such, even as we carefully return to the many activities we have missed over the past two years, we must not let our guard down. Vaccination continues to be one of the most effective ways available to all Canadians to protect themselves and their family. This, combined with masking and other personal protection measures, will remain important in the weeks to come.
As I conclude my remarks today, I want to acknowledge the full range of emotions that we are feeling right now as jurisdictions adjust the public health measures that we have lived with on and off for two years now.
I strongly encourage everyone to be prudent and patient and compassionate toward others as we continue to adapt to the evolving pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Since the start of this pandemic, I have often asked myself the following question: What should I do? It is the pre-eminent ethical and political question.
In this debate, we must consider the ethical principle of responsibility. That is the approach taken by the Bloc Québécois from the outset of the pandemic. Since the first wave, we have been making decisions by trying to predict the positive and negative impacts they would have on the future. We did not make decisions based on what had happened or what would happen. We owe it to the most vulnerable to do what is ethically responsible.
I will try not to make this a partisan debate. Obviously, everyone is fed up with the pandemic and tired of restrictions. When making public health policy, we must avoid making decisions based on whims or on which way the wind is blowing. As representatives of the people, we must avoid being opportunistic and partisan. Above all, we must make informed decisions that are based not on individual interests or how we feel that day, but on the common good and everyone's best interest. The position that the Bloc Québécois is taking today is guided by these ethical considerations.
It might be easier if we were in an endemic situation. Has the pandemic reached its endemic threshold? Some people think that, once we reach this threshold, we will be able to lift all of the health measures and act as if the pandemic and the virus no longer exist.
In the five waves that have hit us, what infuriates me is to see how some people and some members of the House have unfortunately appropriated the opinions of experts and scientists. We have embraced a new religion, scientism. Scientists, however are unpretentious people. Usually, they are certain only about their uncertainty. Science is merely the calculation of uncertainties. The difference between science and religion is that science can be falsified.
That being said, it is really tiresome to hear so many people say that we need to base our decisions on science. I do not have a problem with that, but scientists themselves cannot agree on many issues. Beyond the scientific facts, we need to apply the ethics of responsibility for the common good. That is the point to our discussion today.
Will immediately lifting all the health measures as proposed in today’s motion help or hurt the situation? That is the question.
I would like to talk about the endemic phase, because no one has brought it up during this debate. Some experts, if I may use the term, say that those who believe that the word “endemic” means living with the virus and lifting all health restrictions are wrong. It can even be dangerous to believe that, because it can lead to an excess of optimism and, by extension, unexpected waves of outbreaks.
In the endemic phase, we still need to control the disease. We need to limit the spread of the virus by providing better ventilation, controlling the spread and increasing hospital capacity, since some people will end up in hospital.
Point (a) of today’s motion says that we need to protect jobs. I looked at the employment rate recently. In February 2020, it was 5.7%. Two years later, in February 2022, after two years of pandemic, it was 5.5%.
Point (b) mentions enabling Canadians to travel unimpeded. As of this morning, according to the United States embassy and consulate, if I want to cross the border, I must show a passport, proof of vaccination or a negative test result. If I want to go to Europe, the same rules apply.
Just recently, WHO spoke out strongly against the lifting of measures in Europe. Were measures lifted too soon?
Earlier, I was listening to the member for , who talked about a plan throughout his speech. We agree that a plan is needed. The federal government should have tabled a plan like the provinces and Quebec did. A plan would enable us to plan and to adapt to the situation. There are some constants in this pandemic.
Quebec's plan includes lifting the mask mandate in some public places as of mid-April, but just having a plan gives Quebec the time to react if the number of cases grows, as is currently happening in Europe. It is therefore quite possible that the Quebec government will tell us that the lifting of the mask mandate is postponed for two weeks. However, the federal government did not table a plan, and that is shameful. It would be good if the government would think about that and if today's debate would inspire the government to table a plan.
Point (c) of today's motion says that we need to ensure the recovery of Canada's tourism industry. However, the day we lift all restrictions and face a resurgence in the number of infections, the tourism industry will be the first one affected.
One of the constants of this pandemic is that we have always had a month to see things coming. What happens in Europe happens here a month later. We thought we would be spared during the first and second waves, but that has never been the case, and we might be on the verge of a sixth wave.
Another constant that everyone has experienced is that infections surge every time restrictions are lifted. The restrictions were lifted for legitimate reasons, such as ensuring that people would keep complying with public health measures and messages, to protect mental health, or to give people a break over the Christmas holidays or March break, for example.
Implementing public health measures is akin to practising medicine on a large scale. If patients stop complying, there is nothing else that can be done. I believe that we are on the verge of a new wave, at least in Quebec.
The people who are saying that it is not so bad because omicron is milder should try saying that to patients with terminal cancer who do not have COVID‑19 and who feel abandoned. The pandemic is affecting our health care networks, which were already weakened. Our quality of life has been restricted because these networks have not been able to provide care to patients dealing with anything other than COVID‑19.
The federal government needs to increase health transfers immediately. It is inconceivable to think that the government would not provide more funding to strengthen our networks so that we can get through the sixth, seventh and eighth waves without having our lives disrupted like they were during the first five waves.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Montcalm for his speech and the essential work that he does for the Bloc Québécois on the very important health file.
I, too, am going to talk about the Conservative Party's motion, which calls on the government to immediately lift all federal vaccine mandates. I will not keep members in suspense for very long. I can say right now that my Bloc Québécois colleagues and I will be voting against the Conservative motion.
It would be both irresponsible and excessive to immediately lift all vaccine mandates, and the Conservatives chose a rather strange time to move this motion. I am wondering which media outlet the Conservative strategists get their news from.
I would like to inform my colleagues of the latest news. After a period of pandemic calm combined with the lifting of restrictions across the western hemisphere, we have been seeing a strong resurgence in cases of COVID-19 in Europe over the past week. According to the World Health Organization, or WHO, there has been a resurgence of the pandemic in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, France, Italy, Germany and 12 other countries in the European region. On Tuesday, the WHO director for Europe criticized European countries for lifting their COVID-19 restrictions too abruptly, saying this was likely responsible for the current rise in cases.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the COVID-19 waves have started in Europe and then come to Canada. There have been five waves in two years, so we are starting to get familiar with the pattern. There is nothing to indicate that the sixth wave will be any different. Just yesterday, Luc Boileau, Quebec's director of public health, announced that Quebec should prepare for a new wave of COVID-19 because of the arrival of the BA.2 subvariant of omicron.
According to published epidemiological data, this variant is responsible for one in two infections in Quebec. Moreover, this variant is 30% to 50% more contagious than omicron, which suggests that transmission of this variant is likely to accelerate in the coming days and weeks. Yesterday, new cases topped 2,000 in Quebec, a high that has not been seen since mid‑February. It seems irresponsible to demand that the remaining measures be lifted at this time. We run the risk of abruptly going from too much to too little.
We would be better off taking a cautious and well-thought-out approach that takes into account the epidemiological data on the ground. Decisions must be made based on the science. This type of motion is excessive and serves no purpose right now. This motion looks more like an attempt by the Conservatives to politicize the pandemic, vaccination and health measures. The Conservative Party is not the only one doing that, however. The Liberals and the are also guilty of fuelling the extreme polarization that Canadians deplore. I remind members that the Liberal Party made mandatory vaccination for federal employees a key part of their campaign during the election that they called last summer for no other apparent reason.
By constantly inserting the vaccination issue into political debate, the Liberal Party has helped turn this public health issue into an ideological one. That is bad. It has turned the choice not to get vaccinated into a political act, an act of protest. Rather than foster compliance and solidarity, it has kept Quebeckers and Canadians away from vaccination clinics and divided them.
The Conservatives, for their part, have adopted a frankly irresponsible attitude since the start of the public health crisis, and this has only gotten worse in recent months. They have become standard-bearers for the most radicalized elements of movements opposed to public health measures. Early last month, that opposition culminated in a full-blown siege of Canada's parliamentary precinct. For three long weeks, the day-to-day lives of the people of Ottawa and Gatineau came to a standstill. Businesses had to close up shop, and historic and symbolic monuments were desecrated by the invaders.
As this chaotic circus was unfolding just a few dozen metres from the House, the Conservatives were taking photos with the illegal protesters.
There are no winners in this ideological war being waged between the Liberal Party and Conservative Party. Everyone loses. In contrast to these two warring parties, which are ignoring science so as to further their political interests, the Bloc Québécois is rising above the fray and advocating a reasonable, transparent approach based on science rather than points in the polls. In that sense, we believe that the government must act prudently by lifting health measures gradually and in accordance with the evolving epidemiological data.
In addition, in order to encourage compliance with measures that need to be maintained for a while, the government needs to be transparent and explain why certain measures must be maintained. Pandemic fatigue is real, and people deserve information and some degree of predictability from their government. In that sense, the government needs to justify the measures it decides to maintain, while setting out, with the help of public health, the conditions and thresholds that must be met for them to be lifted.
I would remind members that these measures should protect the most vulnerable, our health care workers and our hospital system, which were hit even harder in the fifth wave. However, it would be false and dangerous to believe that the health care system is only vulnerable because a minority of people continue to refuse to be vaccinated. The system is vulnerable because, unfortunately, the federal government has slowly cut its investments in health care over the decades. In 1958, the federal government covered 50% of the system's costs, while today it funds only 22%.
The provinces and Quebec have had to steadily rationalize the services provided as they kept being forced to do more with less. Until we have a robust health care system, we will be vulnerable to health crises and at the complete mercy of the epidemiological ups and downs caused by the emergence of new variants. In March 2020, many believed that COVID-19 was over. Two years later, very few people dare to predict how much longer it could last.
To be adequately equipped to deal with the pandemic and stop the revolving door, the first step is for the federal government to restructure health care funding. On that point, the Liberal government needs to understand that it is completely alone in its stubborn decision to keep transfers too low or to postpone until after the pandemic negotiations with Quebec and the provinces to increase health transfers. Every opposition party is united in support of a major increase in health transfers. The premiers of the provinces and Quebec are united in condemning the federal disinvestment in health. On hospital floors, health care workers are expressing the urgent needs they see and the inhumane conditions they have to work in because of the lack of resources. Even PHAC is inviting the government to learn from the pandemic and ensure that there is stable and ongoing funding for public health expenses.
I will conclude my speech by calling on the Liberal government to take note of the consensus expressed at all levels of Quebec and Canadian society and realize that we cannot fully and sustainably get out of this pandemic without a robust and sound health care system. The government needs to increase health transfers to 35% of the cost of the system and guarantee a subsequent annual escalator of 6%. These transfers also need to respect the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, which have the expertise and the constitutional prerogative to lead their respective health care systems.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
It is my great honour, as always, to stand in this place and address my colleagues, and I want to start by acknowledging something that I know we all know. We all know how difficult COVID-19 has been on us. We all know how hard it has been on children and we all know how hard it has been on parents and families. I am a mother myself, and to see my teenage children missing parts of their childhood and parts of their teenage years has been very hard. To be trapped in a house with a very active 14-year-old boy is not easy for any of us, and I sympathize with families across the country and around the world that have had to deal with that.
This pandemic has been very difficult on people's livelihoods and on businesses too. There are businesses in my riding that started right before the pandemic and could not access supports throughout this pandemic, and it has been heartbreaking to see that. We have seen the impacts on women, and not just women in Canada but women around the world, who have been set back decades by what has happened during this pandemic.
Of course, my heart breaks for the people who have lost their lives and for the families that have lost children, mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters. My heart breaks for them. In my province of Alberta, over 4,000 people died. That is 4,000 families. That is a massive impact in a province like Alberta.
When I think of all of these things and our best way forward and the best way we can work together to come out of COVID-19, what I keep thinking is that we cannot and we must not ever politicize something like a global health pandemic. We must listen to science. We must listen to medical professionals. I am not a doctor; that is not my role in this pandemic. My role will be to listen to doctors, to listen to scientists and to listen to experts. What I know is that experts are telling me that COVID-19 is not over.
I do want COVID-19 to be over. That is fine. However, that is not how global health pandemics work. It is not over. We have numbers spiking around the world. We have numbers spiking in places as far away as South Korea, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The numbers are climbing; the variants are developing.
I am going to talk today a bit about the need to have a global response. I do not think anyone in this place will be surprised that vaccine equity is one thing that is vitally important to me and a tool we need to use. I also want to talk a bit about what results when we politicize this pandemic, and I am going to use my province as the example for that.
Members all heard the Premier of Alberta tell us that last summer was going to be the best summer ever. My premier went so far as to print hats that said, “Best summer ever”. Do members know what it became instead? It was a cautionary tale for provinces and countries around the world. We know what happens when COVID-19 is politicized. All we have to do is look at Alberta.
Albertans have been hit hard by COVID-19, and when the premier's poll numbers were hit just as hard by his terrible decisions, he decided to do the wrong thing. He decided to politicize COVID-19. He put politics, or in this case his own political survival, ahead of the interests of Albertans. He said, “influenza...does not generally threaten life apart from the elderly and the immunocompromised”. He said it is a flu. He mimicked Donald Trump's lines and even pushed ineffective and potentially dangerous treatments.
During the third wave of COVID-19, Alberta had one of the highest infection rates in Canada. It had one of the highest infection rates in the world. This is what happens when we politicize this.
I also want to talk about an idea. I think all of us in here could recognize, at least intellectually, that if we want a global health pandemic to be over, we need to have a global response. We need to make sure vaccines are available for everyone. We cannot have a motion that asks us to ignore science and thinks that is a reasonable response to the global health pandemic.
What I would have liked to see is the Conservative Party bring forward a motion that said something like, let us update our Canadian access to medicines regime to include COVID-19 medications. Let us work together to make sure that Canada is playing an active role in waiving intellectual property rights so that countries around the world can produce their own vaccines for their own populations, and let us work with countries around the world to help with vaccine hesitancy, to make sure that when vaccines are delivered, there are supply chains, there are syringes and there are all those things that need to happen so that people can actually get vaccinated.
I would have loved, and would have been so supportive of, a Conservative motion that called for the Canadian government to finally live up to its obligations to deliver the promised doses to COVAX. COVAX is a system that was supposed to ensure that the world was vaccinated. However, that system does not work when countries such as Canada have bilateral agreements and take all of the vaccine stock, and leave countries that desperately need doses to vaccinate their health care workers and their vulnerable populations with none.
This is the opposite of a good global health response. This is the opposite of what we need to do. I have to say that I look at our response to COVID-19, and I think to myself: We face a global challenge with Ukraine. We face a fundamental global challenge with climate change, and our global responses have not lived up to that task. I worry that these are showing us what a global response will look like in the future for other challenges.
I am not a virologist. I am not an epidemiologist. I am not a physician. I am pretty sure there are few of us in this chamber who are. This motion that has been brought forward is asking us to be all of those things. It turns what should be a scientific decision into a political decision, and that is wrong. It is not up to us to make scientific decisions. It must never be our role to make scientific decisions. Our job is to develop policy and legislation that is in the best interests of Canadians.
In my province of Alberta, we have lost more than 4,000 people, and we are going to lose more. Yesterday we had 500 more cases reported, and variants continue to threaten us. Until we are able to vaccinate the world, and until Canada does its part to vaccinate the world, including by signing the TRIPS waiver, the virus is going to continue to evolve, and variants are going to continue to plague the world, including our country of Canada.
This motion asks us to give up the hope that we will get through this pandemic. This motion asks us to give up our fight against this virus. It asks us to surrender. It asks us to ignore public health and science. It asks us to pretend to know better than scientists. Canadians are better than this. We care about science. We are not about to surrender at the end. We are going to continue to care for one another.
Mr. Speaker, as we enter the third year of this pandemic, Canadians are feeling exhausted, frustrated and anxious about the future. Instead of divisive political pandering, they deserve honest answers and responsible leadership from their elected officials.
Far from feeling this pandemic is over, Canadians are deeply concerned about what is coming next. People are worried about the emergence of new variants and the potential that COVID-19 will be circulating for years to come. However, after two years and many flawed and changing public health measures, New Democrats believe that Canada is due for a re-evaluation of our public health strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why New Democrats are taking a responsible and science-based approach, calling for a review of all federal public health measures that is transparent, data-driven and informed by the advice of public health experts.
New Democrats believe the prompt completion of this review is in the public interest and should proceed without political interference. That is why, last week, we wrote to Canada's chief medical officer and requested that the Public Health Agency of Canada conduct a thorough review of every federal COVID-19 health policy based on data and science, with a goal of either confirming that we are on the right path or making changes if we are not. Unfortunately, the motion introduced by the Conservative opposition today is the opposite of this approach.
By calling for an immediate end to all federal vaccine mandates, the Conservative motion is premature and politicizes a decision that should be based on science. Wedge politics and polarization are not going to end this pandemic. Rather than reckless declarations from the floor of the House of Commons, New Democrats believe that we must take a cautious and informed approach to protect public health until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
This motion before the House violates these principles and this approach in a number of ways. First, it is premature and a threat to public health. This motion assumes, incorrectly, that we are done with the pandemic. It assumes, without scientific basis, that we have entered the endemic phase. This is something no responsible science has declared. It ignores what is happening in countries around the world, especially those that have relaxed their public health measures too quickly.
Second, it is politically motivated. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have played partisan politics with the pandemic over the past two years. That has been irresponsible and dangerous. I can do no better than to quote a Liberal member of the government: the MP for . He stated:
I can’t help but notice with regret that both the tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve and during the last election campaign. From a positive and unifying approach, a decision was made to wedge, to divide and to stigmatize.
I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions.
He was right. Politicians should not be deciding public health measures; health professionals should. Public health decisions should be based on data, evidence and science, and not on political considerations. This motion reflects the Conservative Party playing the very same game.
Third, it is precise yet overly broad. This motion calls for the immediate lifting of all vaccine mandates, yet there are very different mandates with different purposes and impacts. For example, there is a clear difference between requiring vaccination for a federal health professional who visits a remote indigenous community to treat vulnerable seniors with compromised immune systems and for an Ottawa bureaucrat who works from home, yet this motion makes no distinction whatsoever and would immediately remove both. There are different considerations when we consider passengers on an airplane sitting inches apart in a closed environment for many hours, than for those on a bus where people may be able to physically distance. Some mandate aspects might indeed be properly removed, yet it may be prudent to retain or perhaps alter others. This motion precludes that approach.
Fourth, it is factually incorrect and misleading. The motion erroneously claims that all provinces have lifted or have plans to lift their vaccine mandates. What is correct is that all provinces have lifted their proof of vaccination requirements for people attending certain social and recreational settings and events, except for British Columbia. The requirement will be lifted there on April 8. In British Columbia, mandatory vaccination policies remain in place for workers in health care, long-term care and public service. New Brunswick has dropped its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for most employees, except for those who work in health care and other vulnerable sectors. The Government of Nova Scotia has indicated that higher-risk areas in the front lines of health care and long-term care will still require COVID-19 vaccinations when the mandates in other sectors are lifted in the province.
When the motion claims that Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, it is referring only to a two-shot vaccine series and ignores the third booster vaccination figures. While it is correct that the two-jab rates are in the 82% range, still leaving almost 20% without full vaccination, incidentally, that rate drops to less than half of Canadians, 46%, with booster shots. This motion misrepresents the vulnerability of Canadians and risks their health in doing so.
We know that vaccination continues to be the best course of action to protect Canadians from serious illness, hospitalization and death. According to Canada's chief public health officer:
...with the Omicron variant, having two doses—the protection against infection and further transmission goes really low. You really need a third dose to provide augmentation against transmission. All that should be taken into account as the federal government looks at the policies going forward.
In addition, we need to study the impact of infection-acquired immunity, transmission dynamics and the viability of future treatments.
We also know that this virus knows no borders and what happens elsewhere is certain to affect us in Canada, so let us look at the current state of COVID-19 cases globally. After a consistent decrease since the end of January, the number of new weekly COVID-19 cases globally has now increased for a second consecutive week, with a 7% increase reported from March 14 to March 20 as compared to the previous week. According to the World Health Organization, a combination of factors is causing the spike, including the highly transmissible omicron variant and its BA.2 subvariant, as well as the lifting of public health and social measures.
The emergence of the BA.2 subvariant has led to a steep rise of cases in the U.K., Germany, Finland, Switzerland and other European countries in recent weeks. Hong Kong is now reporting the world's highest death rates from COVID-19. China is also seeing major outbreaks in major cities, putting millions of people under lockdown and halting production in major international manufacturing centres, providing grave implications for supply chains. South Korea recently set a new daily record, with reported infections topping 600,000. Australia and New Zealand, which had previously held cases to low levels, have also seen spikes in recent weeks, as have Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Here in Canada, a spike in early surveillance signals across the country has experts worried we could be on the verge of another resurgence. While BA.2 does not appear to be associated with more severe illness in vaccinated populations, it is still capable of causing severe disease among people without prior immunity, which underscores the importance of getting up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, including a booster.
What do respected health experts say as opposed to Conservative politicians? The WHO director said this:
There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out, and how the acute phase could end—but it is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant, or that we are in the endgame.
On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital and member of Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine task force, said this:
Even though we're in a much better place now than we were one and two months ago, there's still a lot of COVID around and there's still a lot of people in hospital with COVID....
Sadly, this is not over yet.
Finally, Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba and Canada research chair of emerging viruses, stated:
Watching what's going on in terms of case numbers in Europe, I think should be certainly a bit of a stark reminder that the virus has not disappeared....
BA.2 should, in my mind, kind of reinvigorate us to realize we're not through with this yet and in fact the virus can still change.
The NDP is fully committed to reviewing all federal vaccine mandates and restrictions, as I said earlier, so we would propose that we amend the motion in the following way.
I move that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “has lifted or” and substitute the following: “is planning to lift vaccine mandates, the House call on the Public Health Agency of Canada to conduct a comprehensive review of all federal vaccine mandates and restrictions based on the most recent data and best available evidence to determine whether such mandates should remain, be lifted or be altered and request that this review be tabled in the House within four weeks following the adoption of this motion.”
By accepting this amendment, we can put this decision in the hands of those it should be, those of scientists, based on data, based on evidence and for the protection and best health of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, it is good to see you in that chair. I am going to split my time with the member for .
For two years, Canadians have been living with COVID-19 restrictions. That is two years of lockdowns, of not being able to visit loved ones and of not being able to travel. It is two years of isolation. While Canadians understood the need for various restrictions applied during the pandemic, despite the lack of consistency, despite the mixed messaging and despite the confusion, Canadians have done what was asked of them.
However, today what they can no longer be expected to live with is the indefinite nature of these restrictions and timelines and the lack of data. They are noticing that leaders across the country, 10 provinces, are following the evidence and advice from public health officials, evidence that supports ending the mandates.
Provincial leaders have lifted or have plans to lift mandates in their provinces. The only government in Canada that has no plan to lift restrictions is this one. I am sure that members opposite will argue that their compulsion for continued mandates is somehow justified by public health officials, but Canada's own top doctor says that the omicron variant is a game-changer and that it has forced us to rethink vaccine mandates.
Dr. Tam said that we are at a “very important juncture” and that COVID-19 policies need to shift from “an emphasis on requirements to recommendations.” That is the government's own adviser. The government's own adviser says that federal vaccine mandates are under review now, because the science tells us the COVID-19 vaccine, or at least the first two doses, offers very little protection against the transmission of the variant.
Advice once valued by the government is now suddenly ignored in an attempt to drive division and dehumanize those who do not agree, doubling down on a tactic that some members of their own caucus have called out.
The travel vaccination mandate has prevented approximately six million Canadians from travel within Canada and it prevents them from flying out of Canada. They cannot travel. They cannot visit family and friends. They cannot take international vacations or even fly across the country. They cannot live ordinary lives.
Canada is the only country in the developed world that bans citizens from air travel. If we couple that with Dr. Tam's statements of re-evaluating mandates, one can deduct that the rationale for a ban on air travel is no longer justified. However, the government seems to have a different view, one that suits its political narrative. It may see travel as a luxury, but what about work across federally regulated industries?
Let me tell members about one of those industries that is pleading for fairness, common sense and conditions in line with anywhere else in the world today, even with its competitors in our own airports: the air travel industry. The 's mandate for vaccinations, enforced through interim orders, was implemented swiftly across the industry. Despite this being a matter of health and safety, employers developed and implemented mandatory vaccination policies without consultation.
The majority of airline workers complied with their employer's policies, while other workers were placed on unpaid leave without benefits or access to medical benefits. The industry fully supported efforts to ensure the safety of workplaces, workers and the public, as did all members of the House.
It is important to point out that unvaccinated people are being disproportionately penalized. These workers were required to work during the pandemic. In many cases, they kept going to work during the pandemic, unlike other workers whose workplaces were closed but who were able to continue working from home. These workers flew personal protective equipment to other parts of the world, ensured the supply of basic necessities and even worked under conditions where their health and safety were not protected.
In the travel sector, vaccinations ended up being the only tool employers relied on in the fight against COVID‑19, yet there are many tools to achieve the same goal. We know that. We have used them in other industries.
We kept each other safe. Most were unimpeded by severe outbreaks, and at a time when employers were experiencing worker shortages, particularly in this industry, they were terminating experienced and seasoned workers. Employers and workers have the equal responsibility to keep workplaces safe, yet the failure to do so results in uneven and disproportionate consequences.
For workers, the consequences of the loss of employment of well-paying, unionized jobs, those with benefits and pensions, will impact not just the individual but the entire family. It is unlikely these workers will find other employment that is unionized and stable, which will inevitably impact their family's standard of living. No one should lose their livelihood because of personal beliefs, particularly when alternatives to reach the same goal exist. The government knows that.
We think workers who kept the industry flying during the most challenging times of the pandemic deserve better. By creating an end timeline, an end to this interim order, and a path forward, the government can eliminate the need for these employers to terminate the frontline workers we depended upon and celebrated during the height of this pandemic. It could do that today. Cases of the variant are receding in most parts of the country, and advocates for continued mandates are claiming the mantle of science to justify political positions instead of evaluating the scientific findings that have turned up in each one of our provinces and across the globe.
Just this week, a member of the House stood and offered masking advice to other members in a contrived attempt to virtue signal superiority, despite the clear rules of this place. These are based, of course, on expert evidence, presumably science, the same science the government is relying on, and which are, it is also worth noting, completely in line with what happens outside the door of this place. That exchange not only suggests a disdain for those who follow the rules the member does not like, it creates an arbitrary standard of opinion masquerading as science. That is exactly what we are hearing today. It is gross. It is purposeful, and in some respects, it speaks to a continued deliberate attack on those who do not share the views of the government. We have seen that.
When Canadians see behaviour like that, they lose their confidence in those who are responsible for public health decisions. The trust erodes. It suggests to them that the same disdain displayed for members may extend to people outside of the House. Perhaps it does because, in the absence of any data, benchmarks, timelines and plans to end these mandates, there really is nothing to suggest that continued mandates are not just an opinion of the government. If they are, that is troubling. If they are not not, they require an explanation that has not been shared, other than talking points about science.
The intention of the mandates were predicated on increased vaccination rates. We have among the highest in the world. When that narrative is no longer supported because of those high rates, the goal posts move. This week it became about surgical backlogs, which is tragic and most certainly a capacity issue, but is still inexplicable in relation to the continued federal mandate. Then it was simply a shoulder shrug from the , while he stated that COVID is still here. Of course, it is still here. It will always likely be here, but I hope that has not become the benchmark by which to determine when to lift these mandates or drop these restrictions. I hope that is not the case. I hope we are not hearing about COVID zero from the government.
It is time to end these unjustified mandates. I hope members of the House realize that public experts, their own public experts, the government's own public experts, have said that it is safe. The provinces have said that it is safe. Public health officials have said it is safe. I hope they agree with the Conservatives and lift the mandates so Canadians can get back to work and get their lives back.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of our Conservative motion calling on the NDP-Liberal government to immediately lift all federal vaccine mandates.
When one listens to the members opposite and their friends in the NDP, we hear it is all about science, and that they are following the science. I ask members of the NDP-Liberal government this: Where is the science? Where is the data? Where is the evidence?
For example, where is the evidence that an unvaccinated trucker, who spends most of his or her day working in isolation, is a public health risk, which somehow merits them being fired from their job? It does not take much delving into science. Indeed, it simply takes a matter of applying basic common sense to recognize what an absurdity that is, but that is precisely the policy of the NDP-Liberal government.
In the face of vaccine mandates that have infringed so significantly upon the rights and freedoms of Canadians, the very least Canadians could expect is compelling scientific evidence to back them up to demonstrate a rational connection between the mandates, stopping transmissibility and keeping Canadians safe from COVID.
After six months, the government has failed to tender any science, data or evidence whatsoever to demonstrate such a rational connection. There is a very simple reason for that, and that is because there is no rational connection. These mandates have nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics, politics of the worst kind.
Millions of Canadians have suffered as a result. As a result of the NDP-Liberal government's punitive vaccine mandates, millions of Canadians are unable to travel freely within Canada. They are unable to get on a plane or a train. These same Canadians, who are our friends, colleagues and neighbours, cannot leave the country for work, travel or health reasons, or to be reunited with loved ones. They are stuck here at home.
This is a serious, unprecedented violation of the mobility rights of Canadians and is contrary to section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. When one thinks about not being able to travel within one's country, of not being able to be able to leave one's country, we think of the former Soviet Union, East Germany and Communist China, but this is Canada, and this is the reality millions of Canadians have been living through for the past six months.
So extreme are these NDP-Liberal vaccine mandates that Canada is the only country in the developed world that restricts air travel on the basis of vaccination status, the only country in the developed democratic world. Under the NDP-Liberal government, Canada is now an international outlier in restricting the freedom of movement of its citizens.
Again, it got to this point not because of science but because of an arbitrary policy of the , who said some months ago that it was the policy objective of his government to impose the most restrictive COVID measures in the world, no matter how unrelated and unconnected to the science they might be.
We are not talking about a severe infringement just on mobility rights; we have also seen tens of thousands of Canadians lose their jobs and the benefits they had paid into for their entire working lives, stripped of the dignity of work and the dignity of their career. They include men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who have fought bravely, putting their lives in harm's way to defend the freedoms that Canadians enjoy, who are now being threatened with dishonourable discharge because of a personal medical decision that they made. This is happening in Canada.
What these mandates are really about is control. It is about the government saying that Canadians must do as it says, and if they do not, they will be unable to travel, they will lose their jobs and benefits, they will be vilified and they will be treated as second-class citizens. How wrong. How un-Canadian.
Everywhere around the world, mandates are being lifted. In all 10 provinces, they have already been lifted or will be lifted, as well as in most of Europe. Yesterday even New Zealand, which had a completely failed approach of getting towards zero COVID, announced that is is lifting its mandates—even New Zealand. Here, we have a government that has not even provided a plan, has not even provided any metrics by which these mandates will be lifted. Instead, the government has allocated $37.4 million over the next three years to make what were supposedly intended to be temporary measures into permanent ones.
Canadians do not want to be controlled. They want to take back control of their lives. They want their freedom back, and they want it now. The only thing standing in their way is the and the NDP-Liberal government, its punitive, discriminatory, unscientific mandates that have caused enormous harm to Canadians.
When the Prime Minister talked about imposing the most restrictive mandates in the world, if the Prime Minister's definition of success is being punitive, he has certainly succeeded at that, at great harm to everyday, law-abiding, taxpaying Canadians who are upstanding members of their community.
End the mandates and end them now.
Mr. Speaker, I think if we were to canvass our constituents, taking a look at how the Conservative Party has brought forward this motion today, they would suggest that it has been greatly influenced by the far right. I really and truly believe that. Even the right-wing guru Jason Kenney from the province of Alberta, the one many Conservatives look up to, would not, I think, support this particular motion. It is quite possible that I could be wrong, but what I do know is that Jason Kenney was very critical of elected officials talking with individuals who were participating in the illegal blockades.
There is a reason I raise that. What were those individuals asking for? They were asking for an end to vaccines. The illegal blockades and the protests that were taking place were demanding an end to mandates, and today we have the Conservative Party echoing, at least in part, what the blockaders and the protesters were saying just weeks ago. That is, in fact, the case.
Let us take a look at what has actually happened. Right from day one, when the pandemic came to Canada and went around the world, the government responded by putting in a litany of programs and supports to be there for Canadians as we got a better understanding of the cost of the pandemic from a health perspective. We invested a great deal of resources, whether it was civil servants or financial resources, and had a team Canada approach in dealing with the many different stakeholders out there and in coming up with ways to minimize the damage of the pandemic. That was led by looking at science and listening to what health experts had to say.
Members should have listened to what the said in his opening remarks on this today. He talked about the easing of some restrictions on April 1 for pretesting when crossing the border. That is based on what we are being informed through the numbers.
We had a dramatic increase that occurred through the omicron variant, and we were not the only ones to put in place certain aspects to protect Canadians. We saw different provincial governments take action too. The Province of Quebec implemented a curfew. My home province put in more lockdown measures. Who would have anticipated this back in November and December?
The federal government provided somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30-plus million rapid tests to the provinces and territories in the month of December alone last year, which was more than a number of months prior when there was no demand for rapid tests. We had to put into place stockpiles in order to accommodate changes because the pandemic is not gone. We still need to be sensitive to what might be around the corner. As an increase in the demand for rapid tests came, in the month of January, through procurement, we received approximately 140 million additional rapid tests, in good part circulated to where the demand was: to our provinces and territories and, as I understand, even to businesses and other stakeholders.
At least on this side of the House, we recognize that the pandemic is not something people can just wish away. There is a responsibility for all of us to make decisions based on facts and science and to continue to listen to health experts. When members of the opposition talk about Dr. Tam, one might get the impression that she is saying to lift mandates. That is not the case. Our chief medical officer is saying that we need to be diligent. We need to have reviews and we are having those reviews. That is the responsible thing to do.
As for the , if we read his comments from earlier, we can see there is a plan in place that has some fluidity to it because circumstances change. We on this side of the House recognize that, and we wish the Conservative Party would do likewise.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak out against the revisionist party of Canada, also known as the Conservative Party of Canada, and its motion today to confuse and conflate what we are dealing with and every sacrifice that Canadians have made throughout this pandemic, as a way for them to try to save their floundering party and the division within it.
It is shocking to sit here and listen to the Conservatives today, although it should not be shocking after the last six years of being in this place with them.
Let us talk about the pandemic and the mandates across the country, in particular the fact that I do not think there is a single Canadian who has not been impacted by the pandemic and who does not want to see the lifting of these mandates. Everybody, on all sides of the House, wants to see a return of normalcy, but what Canada and countries around the world have done and what responsible governments around the world have done has been to implement public measures to keep people safe.
A recent Harvard study actually indicated that if it were not for vaccinations and strong public health measures, over 400,000 Canadians would have died during this pandemic.
I sat here today and listened to Conservatives scream and say they wanted their freedom back. What about the freedom of those 400,000 families that would no longer have that family member sitting across from them, or that employer who would no longer have that employee, or that young person who might have lost their grandparent before they had the time to have more cherished memories?
While the Conservatives say they want their freedom back, they mislead the House and they mislead Canadians with regard to the very real tragedies across the country. The actual number of Canadians who have sadly passed due to this pandemic has been over 37,000. It is a number that I find the Conservatives continue to gloss over.
They talk all about the inconveniences. Trust me, it is an inconvenience. It has been difficult not to travel like we want to, to wear masks and to have limitations, but the alternative has been losing lives, losing family members to this disease and having worker shortages across the country due to infection rates.
While the Conservatives scream and talk about freedom, they very much do not represent the reality of the over 37,000 Canadians who lost their ultimate freedom because they died due to this disease, and of the family members who have lost that opportunity to spend time with them.
With that said, obviously, the need to lift restrictions is inevitable. We have seen provinces and territories do it across the country, but what the Conservatives like to gloss over is the fact that, throughout the pandemic, over the last two years, every province and territory has experienced different things at different times. They have had the ability to adjust and put in place measures based on the risk profiles at the time. Leave it to the Conservatives to be out of touch and say they know better than provinces and territories what is needed in their local jurisdictions.
I come from Ontario, and we have had a very different experience than, for example, my friends and colleagues from Nova Scotia have. Does that mean that the Conservatives know best and they will just implement whatever they want, no matter the local dynamics at the time?
It is no wonder that Canadians did not trust Conservatives in this place to deal with their health care needs.
Let us talk about flip-flopping and changes in positions, because I have listened to the Conservatives. The member for actually said in his speech, or in a reply to a question from me, that the Conservative position has never been to restrict Canadians' travel abilities. It was actually his former, former, former leader. I forget now how many they have had, as there have been so many. It was the member for , who in April 2021 slammed our government for not restricting travel more.
Also, the member for , who I sat on committee with when I was parliamentary secretary to the minister of health, demanded that we put more travel restrictions in place, but then a few months later, once the Conservatives had another leadership convention, they changed their position back.
Let us talk about the ultimate hypocrisy coming from the Conservatives. Their former leader, the member for , said in the last election campaign that anyone travelling with him or his family had to be fully vaccinated, yet for the rest of Canadians travelling on planes, buses or trains, that requirement was not there. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander, but we know that when it comes to members of the Conservative Party, they will take measures to protect themselves, but then try to stoke up the flames of the party's base.
Let us also talk about the fact that I have listened in this place to the members opposite say that they support science and that there is no science for these mandates. It is a little rich to hear members of a party still debating whether or not climate change is real say that Canadians should listen to them on their accreditations about science. Even without that, if the members opposite truly care about science and think that science is going to lead us out of this pandemic, which I certainly believe, then why is it that they still allow members, such as the member for , to actually promote Ivermectin as a treatment? It is horse dewormer. I am sorry. The Conservatives are correcting me on the pronunciation. It is something that they have been researching and promoting.
Conservatives suggested that instead of vaccinations, Canadians should use horse dewormer. This has been widely proven to be false information, but those are still the voices in the Conservative Party that they want Canadians to listen to. They say they are the arbiters of science. There was also the member for who had to apologize in this place because he made the claim that double vaccines were 13 times more likely to kill people than the delta variant. The member had to apologize. He is still a sitting member in this place on the Conservative benches.
It is outrageous to think that Canadians should trust the Conservative Party of Canada with their health or with the decision of when mandates should be lifted. There is no question that all mandates will eventually be lifted, as they should be and as we have been doing constantly. As the pandemic has changed, so have our mandates because we have been following the science. What I think Canadians find truly offensive, and certainly I do after listening to the debate in this place, is the suggestion by the party of climate change deniers and horse-dewormer medication strategies that vaccines are not safe. It will not even disclose who is vaccinated or not, and its members continue to spread conspiracy theories on their social media and in this place. Those are not the people who Canadians have trust in to lift mandates and take care of their health.
The pandemic has been incredibly difficult for everybody, but we must never forget the lives lost and the heroes throughout this pandemic, such as health care workers who are still overwhelmed in hospitals and still care for residents in long-term care homes. We want out of this pandemic, but the only way to do it is through science-based decisions, not the revisionist type of conspiracy theory policies that Conservatives have put forward.
On this side of the House, we will continue to look out for Canadians, for their health and for the well-being of their families and the economy, and we will reject the politicized alt-right policies of the Conservatives.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today. I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak to our Conservative motion, which reads:
That, given that Canada has one of the world's highest vaccination rates and every province across Canada has lifted or has a plan to lift vaccine mandates, the House call on the government to immediately lift all federal vaccine mandates in order to:
(a) protect the jobs of federally regulated employees;
(b) enable Canadians to travel unimpeded;
(c) ensure Canada's tourism industry recovery; and
(d) allow for the free flow of goods across the Canadian border.
Of course, before my colleagues across the way try to shame and attack me for various and sundry, let me give a full disclosure for the record. I have had my vaccinations and I have also had COVID-19 twice, once at the beginning of the pandemic and once at Christmastime. I also know quite a bit about science. I have been a chemical engineer for nearly 40 years, so I would like to approach this from a scientific point of view.
I will start by talking about the charter rights violations.
This government has trapped almost three million Canadians in the country. They cannot take a plane, they cannot take a train and they cannot cross at the land borders. There was a point in time when this would have been considered a reasonable measure, according to the medical health experts and the World Health Organization, because we were in the time of trying to control the transmission of the disease. However, with omicron, we are now at a place where the World Health Organization has said that omicron is everywhere. Therefore, these types of restrictions are no longer working, and that is the reason countries all over the world are opening up.
If we think about it, we have quite a high rate of vaccination in Canada, and those people can get and transmit COVID-19. I talked about having it myself. The had it. The member for had it. A lot of members in the House have had COVID-19, and we have all had our vaccines. Therefore, if we have almost 90% of those people going back and forth across the border, what is the additional risk of allowing another 10% of people who can get COVID-19 and transmit it from going back and forth across the border? There actually is no difference in risk from a science perspective. The government can no longer rely on section 1 of the charter, which allows it to temporarily infringe the charter rights of Canadians to freely come and go. That is one mandate that I would like to see dropped immediately.
The second thing I will talk about is the people who were fired for not being vaccinated.
First of all, I think this is just wrong on so many levels, but let us talk about it from a science perspective. Let us take a person who is a federal employee working from home who is vaccinated. What is the chance of that person spreading their germs to somebody in another building who is also working from home? The answer is, quite simply, there is zero risk. Now, if one is an unvaccinated federal worker who is working from home, what are the odds that this person is going to transfer their germs to somebody who is also working from home in another building? The answer from a science perspective is, again, there is zero risk, but those people were fired by this Liberal government. That is discriminatory. It is not based on science, and it is just one example of the many things this government has done to deliberately punish people who chose not to get vaccinated.
I have had many people approach my office who wanted to get an exemption because they had a history of stroke or a history of heart and kidney problems or other comorbidities. Originally, many of them received exemptions from their doctors, but then the Royal College of Physicians overturned all of those exemptions and threatened the medical licences of doctors in this country if they wrote exemptions for anything other than an anaphylactic reaction to the first vaccine. That is the reason many people were not able to get their exemptions, but they still had valid reasons for not taking the vaccine. I would like to see the federal government hire back every person it fired who is working from home regardless of vaccination status.
Now all provinces have started to lift their mandates. Let us take Ontario, for example. We have vaccinated and unvaccinated people whose children are going to school without masks, who are going to malls, who are eating in restaurants and who are all breathing the same air, so it is ridiculous to think that we have to protect them in some way in other places when they are already exposed. That is why, for all these mandates that have to do with the requirements on planes and trains and keeping unvaccinated people out of that line, the science is not there. These people are already exposed to omicron, just like the vaccinated. Everybody can get it and transmit it, so that needs to go.
With respect to the things causing problems at the border, let us talk about ArriveCAN and the ability to input all of that stuff. Some people do not have cellphones. A lot of seniors are not computer literate. What is the increased risk of exposure to COVID‑19 if the federal government eliminated the need for ArriveCAN today? What is the difference? There is no scientific risk of increased COVID exposure related to an application. It can get rid of it today, and I suggest it does.
At the same time, I am very concerned about some of the privacy invasions that happened during the COVID‑19 pandemic. We have seen privacy issues that have been put forward to the Privacy Commissioner. We have also seen the digital tracking of Canadians. I am concerned about those things as well.
Some members may know that at the beginning, when we returned to this parliamentary session, I was quite passionately standing up for civil liberties. I had meetings with MPs who had their concerns. I happened to keep the paper with the list of things we wanted to see addressed, so I thought I would tick these off one at a time.
There was the elimination of the PCR test for vaxxed and asymptomatic people. I am glad to see that was removed. There was no scientific evidence that it was needed, so that went away. I talked about ArriveCAN and the rules at the border. With respect to those things as well, there is no scientific merit to keep them in place. They are not going to prevent the spread of omicron and need to go. There were the medical privacy violations. I just spoke about that one. Then there was trapping Canadians in their own country. I just spoke about that one. Finally, there was the firing of the unvaxxed, and I just spoke about that one.
I would like to share a little story. In my own riding of Sarnia—Lambton, Bluewater Health fired 18 medical workers and forced 300, under duress, to take the vaccine or lose their jobs. Four weeks after it did that, there was an outbreak of COVID‑19 among the vaccinated medical staff. What was accomplished? It was absolutely nothing but misery for the 18 families of the people who lost their jobs.
Keep in mind that these are health care workers who, from the beginning of the pandemic, were dealing with COVID on the front lines with their personal protective equipment. Nobody was vaccinated then and they were considered heroes. Then, fast-forward, they were fired. Really, they were the safer ones. They were getting rapid-tested every day and wearing their PPE, whereas the vaccinated ones who ended up having the outbreak were not. Therefore, we can see that all of these mandates are intended to discriminate and punish, but they are not based on science and they do not accomplish anything.
I do not think we need to talk about the provincial mandates. There are plenty enough at the federal level so we do not need to bring a lot of that in, but it is the same sort of thing. We need to look at the World Health Organization, which is recommending that we drop these mandates. We need to look at the other countries that have opened up. We need to look at the U.S., where 40 states have dropped all of their mandates. We need to look at the provinces, which have all dropped or are dropping their mandates.
The current government needs to get rid of these things immediately. We all want to work together. The people who are vulnerable will want to continue to protect themselves, and I support that, but at this point in time we need to learn to get on with our lives. We need to stop punishing people. We need to stop violating their charter rights.
Together, we will be better prepared for the next pandemic when it arrives.
Mr. Speaker, everything has an expiration date. Our country was hit with a pandemic that no one had experienced before. We implemented measures we thought were best, and Canadians really delivered on what was asked of them.
An emergency plan needs to be three things: timely, targeted and temporary. We do not even have a plan, and it has been two years. Every province has lifted, or has a plan to lift, mandates. I can, in fact, go outside of this federal building right now and not show my vaccine passport or wear a mask, yet I have to in here.
How is the science outside of this federal building different than a non-federal building? People can attend an NHL game with 20,000 unmasked and unvaccinated people, but we still have not fully opened our borders. Why?
As shadow minister of tourism, I can tell members the travel industry is without a doubt one of the hardest-hit sectors. It is important to take this time to truly convey the magnitude of this industry and how hard it has been impacted by these travel restrictions. People have been shamed for wanting or needing to travel, and that is wrong.
Many people will say that travel is privilege, but I challenge everyone to think about the millions of people who have a job, a paycheque and a purpose because of the travel industry. People have saved their life savings to go on a trip. I challenge everyone to think about family members who need to travel to see each other.
Before this pandemic, Canadian tourism was a $105-billion industry. It has been slashed to less than half of that, and unless we take action today, it may not recover.
It is time to drop the federal mandates and the confusing restrictions. Canada is lagging in the world of travel, and we need to restore travel confidence today. Canadians and international travellers are travel hesitant. The rules and unnecessary restrictions are huge barriers to this industry recovering.
People will book a trip to visit family or to get away, only to cancel it shortly thereafter because the rules keep changing. We need to move forward. We need to learn to live with this virus, and we need to restore travel confidence. That is key in the recovery.
Each week, I receive hundreds of heartbreaking stories from constituents who have not been reunited with family and friends. I have a friend who never got to say goodbye to their mother, who passed away alone. This is all connected to the travel industry. Whether one travels by plane, train or automobile, one needs to rely on the tourism sector when one travels.
Maybe someone needs a dog kennel, a hotel, a restaurant, food, supplies, gifts or clothes. Maybe someone wants to visit the spa and get their hair or nails done before they leave or while they are at their destination. All of these businesses have been decimated, and it is our duty to help them recover.
The Canadian tourism and travel sector cannot recover without the support of the government. The government took travel confidence away from Canadians, and it is its job to restore it. We need to restore travel confidence and fully open the border. The government needs to show the world Canada is safely open for business. It also needs to take the action to prove it, and not just say it.
The tourism industry relies on plans that are months out, and our window gets smaller and smaller every day to help this sector recover and restore travel confidence. Travellers who are currently making summer, fall and winter 2023 plans will bypass Canada if we do not act today.
Travel and tourism is both a foundation for our economy and our mental health. Those who work in the industry are suffering and those who travel are suffering. This is a huge industry that impacts all demographics. People need hope and relief.
Tourism is the backbone of many local economies across our country, including in my riding of Peterborough—Kawartha. Rhonda Keenan of Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development says that 87.5% of arts, entertainment and recreation businesses were closing their doors or cancelling.
Many businesses in the tourism sector have shared heartbreaking stories with me about their struggles. Many have invested their life savings, remortgaged their homes or can no longer afford their homes. These businesses cannot endure another season of closure and uncertainty.
I want to share some stats with you. The Canadian Federation of Outfitter Associations is a voice for resource-based Canadian tourism. The industry has an economic impact of over $5 billion annually and provides over 35,000 jobs. The industry can accommodate over 700,000 clients for fishing and hunting, many of whom come from outside of Canada. Clearly, this is a significant industry and it needs our help to recover. Ending federal mandates would help it recover. The Saskatchewan Commission of Professional Outfitters reported decimating revenue losses of up to 100%. One in five outfitters did not open its camps in 2021.
Next, I want to share the experiences of Brian Edwards of Rocklands Entertainment Canada. Brian has been in the industry for decades. He, like so many others, has seen it destroyed. Brian wrote to me recently saying that I was 100% correct that tourism and entertainment are about as connected as one can get. He described how every year they booked hundreds of airline flights, hotel rooms, buses and meals. The bus groups they worked with all across Canada in some cases survived entirely on taking people to entertainment venues. He also said that, for the mental well-being of everyone, including, but not limited to, artists, producers, technicians, promoters, agents, managers and, last but not least, the audience, it needs to survive. He asked if I could believe that one of our most celebrated and successful Mirvish productions, Come From Away, had had to shut down and cease production.
As we start to hear these stories, we are reminded just how big the travel and tourism industry is and how many lives it impacts. Stewart Grant from Stonetown Travel said that revenue is down over 90% and 50% of retail travel agencies had been lost in their constituency. ITAC, which is the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said that Canada's indigenous tourism sector has experienced an almost 70% decline in direct GDP and a 59.4% decline in employment. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada, TIAC, is still at 50% of where it was in 2019.
Since the pandemic started, only 1% of all cases of COVID-19 in Canada have been related to travel, yet it is portrayed and perceived as an unsafe thing to do. The constantly changing restrictions also cause so much confusion. To put this into perspective, in 2021, which was supposed to be a year of recovery, the industry reached only 13% of the total number of international visitors compared to 2019. The year 2021 was worse than 2020 in terms of international inbound travellers.
The tourism industry was the first hit. It was the hardest-hit. It will be the last to recover if we do not plan and act now to remove the unscientific mandates. It is time for the NDP-Liberal government to give hope and relief to the tourism sector and end the restrictions that continue to hold their businesses back.
Why are we punishing the industry that brings us the things that we need the most right now: jobs, mental health, a thriving economy, happiness and hope? It is time to end the federal mandates.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It was kind of you to point that out.
I will be sharing my time with the member for today after my speech.
It has been two years now, and I still remember on March 13 getting ready to board a plane to return home on a Friday afternoon on Friday the 13th. It has been two years now, and we have been through a lot as a country and as a world. It was a global issue, but from day one the focus of our government has been on supporting the health and security of Canadians. The second objective, of course, was to help them financially through many of the challenges they faced.
I have to be honest. When we were faced with a global challenge and trying as a government to put programs together to meet the needs of Canadians, with everybody in this game and all members of Parliament from all parties needing to be engaged because we needed to make sure we were supporting Canadians quickly, doing that while we were moving forward at 150 miles per hour was very difficult. I remember spending 67 consecutive nights talking with colleagues in our party and with ministers and the about the various programs that would be needed, because we were getting information about what would be needed from our constituents, the people on the ground who were facing the challenges.
There were three million jobs lost overnight. What did we do to help them? Canadians have been there with us, paying taxes for years, and they were in need. We were in a much better position as a government to help them financially rather than to ask them to be burdened by that expense, which would be tremendous. I remember each day getting more information from our constituents, and then in the nighttime talking to members and colleagues and saying that some things were not going to work for a company and that some things were just not going to work for an individual. We put our heads together to find solutions and tweaked the various programs to meet the needs of the people on the ground.
That is tremendous, in my opinion. That is why I came into politics. It was to help and support people and Canadians, and we were doing that every single day, seven days a week. That, in my opinion, is very important. That is why I want to thank all Canadians, but I also want to thank the individual frontline workers, because most people were scared to leave their homes, yet those workers were going to work every day. I cannot thank them enough, nor our teachers. We have seen our school systems right across the country stay open and continue to ensure solid education for all students, which is crucial.
I have to thank the businesses, because we were quickly in need of PPE, gowns, gloves and whatnot. Our companies right across the country, from all provinces and all ridings, were able to find ways to support Canadians, and that was extremely important. Then it was a question of making sure we could find vaccines, and it is a very tough challenge to be able to get that done very quickly. Again I want to thank our researchers and the health organizations. All countries were working together to help and to meet those needs, and we were ahead of everybody in the G7 in getting vaccinations. Today, as we speak, over 90% of Canadians have had at least one dose.
What types of programs did we use to help Canadians? We had the CERB for people, which guaranteed $500 a week for up to four months to help them. We had the wage subsidy, because we wanted people to stay at work if at all possible. We knew companies were struggling and could not keep people at work, but instead of keeping them at home, we could keep them at work, so we offered the wage subsidy at 90%, which was extremely important. Then we moved forward all kinds of recovery benefits as well. Those are some of the programs we put together to allow Canadians to pull through this pandemic.
I will have the opportunity to go into more detail on how our government invested in various funding. I can tell members right now that we have spent over $72 billion in supporting Canadians through the pandemic, and we will continue.