(i) Canadians are currently experiencing unacceptable wait times at Canadian airports, even though airports are still operating at reduced capacity,
(ii) current restrictions have been cited by experts as ineffective and contributing to additional delays, costs, and confusion, as well as acute labour shortages,
(iii) Canada's international allies have moved to lift COVID-19 restrictions at airports and other points of entry,
(iv) Canada is losing business and economic opportunities,
the House call on the government to immediately revert to pre-pandemic rules and service levels for travel.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I am always honoured to rise on behalf of the constituents of Thornhill.
More than two years ago, travel and many other parts of normal life came to a compete standstill. Countries around the world shut their borders, their airports and virtually everything else, and it was necessary to do so. We were faced with a new virus that we knew very little about. We had to do this until we found a way to live with COVID. We had to do this until we learned more.
Two years ago, all of our allies were in the same place. We all shut our borders. We all had restrictions in place. Today, that is no longer the case. Countries around the world have dropped their restrictions and have cancelled mandates. Canada is no longer in line with the rest of the world. Canada is an outlier. We know that most governments make decisions based on science, research and advice from the experts. All of our allies are lifting the restrictions, so surely they cannot all be wrong. Surely the science cannot be different in Canada than anywhere else.
We might be able to understand the government’s thought process on this, if it would share the advice it has received and when it was received from the experts it claims have given them this advice. However, it has refused to tell Canadians what metrics it is using, what plan it has and what evidence these rules are based on. In fact, we have not been able to find anyone who has told the government to keep the legacy health restrictions and the assault on mobility rights in place. That leads us on this side of the House to believe that there is no evidence, there are no metrics and there is no good reason, other than the ideological drive to punish those who do not agree with the government.
Not only are these restrictions vindictive and discriminatory, which we have said a lot in this place, because it is true, but they are causing chaos at our airports, which the House and the ought to be concerned about. We have all seen photos of passengers lined up for hours and hours on end, with no chance of making their flights on time. They wait on the tarmac, only to be shepherded into a lineup that exceeds the size of the terminal or the CBSA hall. Passenger processing times have quadrupled, and in committee this week, industry experts told us directly that these restrictions and mandates are, in part, to blame.
Our airports are famous for all of the wrong reasons, and we can fix that today, at least in part. The world is opening and people are finally travelling, which is a good thing. Businesses are growing again. Canada should be a world-class destination for people to work and play, but what do people abroad see? They see long lines, chaos and a place they want nothing to do with. They see COVID restrictions that their countries did away with months ago. They see lineups that take longer than the flights themselves. They see a big neon sign at the border saying that Canada is closed for business. They will choose to go elsewhere.
The Toronto Region Board of Trade said that about 50% of travellers at Pearson, my home airport, as well as that of the , as it is the airport he goes to most often, had “extensive delays” last week. How does that create a good first impression? Our tourism sector cannot afford this. Our small businesses cannot afford this, and our country cannot afford this.
It has been two long years. They need as much help as they can get, and it is not just dollars and cents. These are peoples’ livelihoods, their years of hard work and their life savings. It is simply hypocritical for the government to claim that it has businesses’ backs when it continues to dig in its heels and stand by the measures that are now affecting everyone, not just those who opposed its views in the first place. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, tourism associations, the Canadian Airports Council and now doctors have all called for an end to border restrictions, vaccine mandates and the broken ArriveCAN app. They just want their livelihoods back.
There are acute labour shortages in this sector, we know that, and while the blames travellers, saying that they are out of practice, we know the problem lies in part with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, which is under his purview. Of the security workers lost during the pandemic, 10% to 30% were never replaced.
Surely a room full of people, many of whom use airports on a regular basis, would show an ounce of humility and listen, instead of doubling down on outdated practices and more outdated talking points.
The Ottawa airport alone needs 350 staff to operate properly. Right now, it has 172 who are fully trained and cleared. That is less than 50%. In every sense of the word, that is a failure, and we saw it coming.
Canadians should know that CATSA is a user-pay model. That means those who use it actually pay for it. It is not a run-of-the-mill government agency. It should be the best.
The government runs a profit off travellers. What are travellers buying with their money? They are buying longer lineups, some of the most archaic screening in the western world, and missed flights. Airlines in Canada are fined for delays and poor service, but what is the government’s liability when it is responsible?
Even the president of PHAC told carriers and airports it would remove testing from airports in January. It is May. Instead, the government launched a new strategy consultation this week. I cannot think of a more worthless remedy in this environment: A government that cannot provide services that have already been paid for by the traveller is going to develop a strategy for people it has punished and blamed already.
The workers who have not been fired yet are subject to this incompetence as well. They are being forced to keep families on airplanes in 30° weather. There is more outrage when a dog is found locked in a car in the summertime in a Costco parking lot.
Why will the Liberals not listen? We know they have problems accepting diversity of thought and differing viewpoints, but are they seriously vindictive enough that they will continue to allow our economy to suffer, just to prove a point?
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Ms. Melissa Lantsman: Mr. Speaker, they are laughing at this. We are hearing laughter on the other side of the House at the suffering of Canadians.
The people's voices this party brings forward in this House each day might seem like strangers to the people laughing on the opposite side of this House. They are not strangers.
Some of the hon. members forget that those they have othered, the ones they continue to actively disparage and look down upon, are people too. They are parents and grandparents and they are nurses and tradespeople. They are everyday Canadians whom we know in our communities. They have missed birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and funerals. They are hurting. Now the ideological crusade on them has crossed into affecting everyone else. It is affecting everyone who did everything they were asked to do throughout this pandemic.
The vaccine mandates imposed by the federal government do not just restrict travel. They restrict our workforce.
The acknowledged that the issues we are seeing at airports would not be solved immediately. Some say those delays and long lines could last until Christmas or later.
We are not saying removing the restrictions is a magic bullet. It is not going to solve all of the problems overnight, but surely airlines, associations, unions, chambers of commerce, businesses and now doctors cannot all be wrong that these restrictions are causing delays. We owe it to them to support them after two years of closures and lockdowns in this country.
We owe it to our constituents to listen to their concerns. We owe it to the millions of struggling Canadians who just want to see their economy reopen and start getting real paycheques again. We owe it to travellers to allow them to finally travel quickly and easily. We owe it to everyone in this country and everybody coming to this country.
Surely the government trusts Canadians enough to allow them to travel freely. Surely members in this place want to see our economy back on track. Surely they want to support our tourism sector and our small businesses. Therefore, surely they will vote with our party to lift the mandates, end the restrictions and immediately revert to prepandemic rules and service levels for travel. Our economy depends on it.
Mr. Speaker, I salute my colleague, who does incredible work on her transport file. She speaks on behalf of thousands of Canadian travellers who are asking themselves a lot of questions about why the federal government truly wants to maintain the health measures in airports and at land borders. We have a lot of questions.
We have been asking for evidence and documentation from the beginning and have been calling on the to table any advice in the House that he has received telling him to maintain the restrictions. We are unfortunately not hearing anything from the government, which has no justification for maintaining the many health measures that are no longer required here in Canada. The government is not listening to experts, who are saying that we must now start thinking about transitioning back to prepandemic times.
Like always, the and his government are doing nothing, which is the main reason our airports have been plunged into chaos—not to mention the chaos with immigration services at Service Canada and with every single public service that the Liberal government has its hand in. The government cannot deliver.
What we have seen at airports in recent days and weeks is particularly concerning: long delays, endless lineups, never-ending processing delays, bottlenecks and missed flights. People are missing their flights while others have to wait for hours on an aircraft before being able to disembark. That is the new reality. If we let the Liberals continue, this will unfortunately be the new Liberal standard at Canadian airports.
This spring, Toronto's Pearson Airport even advised passengers departing for other countries to arrive a minimum of three hours before their flight to make sure they do not miss it. For some travellers, that is longer than the duration of the flight itself. That is completely unacceptable, but that is what the government has unfortunately brought us to.
I remind members, as did my colleague, that for months, the United States and the main allies of the European Union have been gradually eliminating the restrictive health measures imposed on passengers. They are even talking about eliminating the requirement to wear a mask during flights and in airports, among other things. The situation is evolving everywhere else, but, here, in Canada, we remain attached to measures that the government was late in implementing at the start, and we should remember that. In fact, when the time came to protect people, the government was slow to act.
Now, however, the time has come to realize that the measures adopted, such as vaccination—which had a lot of uptake—and mask wearing have had the desired effect and we have begun another stage. However, the government is not moving forward. It is sitting back, to put it mildly, and prefers to wait for everything to sort itself out, just like the budgets. The Prime Minister has previously stated that the budgets would balance themselves.
However, the pandemic is not going to resolve itself, and people's freedom to resume their activities and the life they lived before the pandemic will not return by itself either.
Tourists arriving in Canada, foreigners and business people are extremely disappointed when they arrive in our country and have to face extreme delays at the airports because of the government's inaction. Then there is the infamous ArriveCAN application, which asks them to answer personal public health questions and complicates their arrival.
On that topic, let me tell you about something that happened in my riding, not at an airport. These situations happen to real people who want to travel. My riding, Mégantic—L'Érable, borders the United States and includes a border crossing.
A man from Lac‑Mégantic came to our office to get the infamous ArriveCAN receipt that border officers at the Woburn crossing asked him to obtain. However, he did not have his passport with him and was forced to come back to the office, the first unnecessary step.
Mr. Paré, who is 85 and does not have a smart phone or a computer at home, also had to come to our office. We had to open an account for him and fill out the ArriveCAN papers so that he could travel from one side of the border to the other. If we had not helped him out, he would not have been able to go see his relative, who lives 15 or 20 minutes away on the other side of the border. That is the reality. At 85, will he have to buy a computer and a smart phone? No, he will not. He came back to our office to get his paperwork filled out to be able to cross the border again. That is the reality.
The government is not considering that reality, what Canadians have to go through. It is unacceptable how disconnected this government is from reality. Their many measures, now unnecessary, are causing delays and inconvenience to Canadians, particularly at airports. Who is affected by them and who is suffering? Travellers, tourists, business people, that is who. Plus, it is easy to forget, but the people working at airports have to endure the wrath and anger of the public, of everyone who is kept waiting. They have to enforce the rules that this government is imposing, even though they know full well this should not be the case. That is the reality.
As we know, the last two years have been very hard on the airline and tourism industries. Both have suffered greatly from the pandemic as they were among the hardest hit. For the past two years, my Conservative colleagues and I have been staunch defenders of these two sectors that are vital to our economy, especially because they are also vital to Canada's economic recovery.
Unfortunately, once again, the Liberals seem to be completely blind to this reality and to all the damage they are doing now, which will have long-term consequences. The Liberals, with their harmful policies and their usual who-cares attitude, are a real threat to the Canadian tourism industry. Something has to be done before this Liberal government completely destroys Canada's reputation as an international tourism destination of choice and as an investment destination for business people.
In 2019 and 2020, before the pandemic, it took about 15 to 30 seconds for a Canada border services officer to process an international passenger on arrival. Now, health questions and COVID‑19 measures have increased to the point that processing takes two to four times longer. Sometimes it can take as long as two minutes. If we multiply two minutes by thousands of people, that makes for endless wait times and people complaining and dreading having to travel by plane.
Instead of accepting full responsibility for this, the chose to blame delays at various entry points on out-of-practice travellers. That is how the Liberals always operate. When they do not have an answer or a solution, they find someone else to blame. This time, they are pointing the finger at travellers, the people receiving services from this government.
I hope members of the House will send a clear message to the Liberal government that enough is enough. We have to do what other countries around the world are doing. Those countries have experts and scientists too, and they understand that we need to get back to a more normal prepandemic period for everyone. I encourage all my colleagues to vote in favour of this motion. In particular, I encourage the Liberal government to show us why this motion should not be adopted. The Liberals will not be able to do that because they like chaos and they like not being able to deliver services.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for for having raised this important question, which I know is a concern for many Canadian travellers.
I will begin by saying that I understand and share their frustration. I myself am a traveller, and I have experienced delays at the airport. I know it can be aggravating. I also know that airport delays have an economic cost and that they do not help the recovery of our airline and tourism sectors, which are major economic drivers for our country. I also recognize that all Canadians, myself included, are tired of the COVID-19 protocols and hope to return to a prepandemic normal.
Since the vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, and since we have observed an improvement in the situation in our hospitals and communities, it is understandable that many Canadians are increasingly eager to see the remaining public health measures relaxed so they can return to their prepandemic lives. COVID-19 fatigue is a real thing and a perfectly normal instinct. Like many of my colleagues in the House and many Canadians from coast to coast to coast, I do not want these measures to stay in place any longer than necessary.
I hear every day from Canadians who are angry that some mandates remain in place. I am sure we all do. Like them, I would like to put this long ordeal behind us, and yet COVID is not behind us. It is very much still in our midst. One lesson that many Canadians learned over the course of this pandemic was the danger of relaxing public health measures prematurely. Over and over, we saw this play out in different jurisdictions across the country and around the world.
Policy-makers, eager to deliver a return to normal to their constituents, eased measures prematurely only to be faced with a new variant: a new wave of disease that started filling up ICU wards again. It was overwhelming our health sector and prompting new, sometimes stricter, lockdowns. This back-and-forth pattern was very damaging for our economy, as it made it difficult for businesses to make future plans and to retain workers and customers. What is more, it sapped hope and exhausted Canadians.
Luckily, the remarkably quick development and deployment of very effective vaccines has greatly improved the outlook we currently face. However, we should remember the hard-fought lessons we learned. Countries such as Canada may have successfully vaccinated much of their populations, but lower-income countries have not had the same access to vaccines, which is providing opportunities for new variants to emerge. While we know much more about COVID than we did a couple of years ago, much remains unknown about aspects of the virus, such as long COVID.
Given these unknowns, let us remember the benefits of a cautious approach. That has been the approach taken in Canada in general, and by this government in particular. By deploying a series of public health measures, including in the airline sector, we were relatively successful in protecting Canadians' lives and health.
COVID-19 claimed the lives of approximately 40,000 Canadians. That is tragic, but let us compare our situation with that of our neighbours to the south, where more than a million Americans died of COVID-19. Even if we take the different populations into account, the difference is staggering. According to the latest estimates published by Our World in Data, the United States suffered three times more deaths per million people than Canada.
Lastly, here is the most important yardstick: Although we need to take into account the inconveniences and economic disruptions caused by airport delays and find solutions to minimize these impacts, we also need to weigh them against the lives of Canadians, our grandparents, our spouses, our children and our friends.
Let me turn now from the big picture to the more specific topic raised by the opposition motion today dealing with airport delays.
First, let me say that Canada is not alone in seeing such delays. There are, in fact, reports from all over the world of similar delays. They are not always caused by the same factors. Sometimes there are shortages of baggage handlers, sometimes of border agents and sometimes of security screeners, and sometimes large numbers of flights are cancelled unexpectedly. It all amounts to passengers stuck in long lines, some of whom miss their flights and all of whom experience frustration and stress.
For example, in April, The New York Times wrote, per The Latch, that “the post-pandemic return to travel has simply swamped unprepared airlines”. The Latch continued:
[They] have been unable to hire adequate staff due to the financial pressures brought about during lockdowns. The big picture is that airlines simply didn’t predict people would be travelling again in such huge numbers so soon. Layoffs or resignations, in the tens of thousands across the global industry, have just not been made up for.
Similarly, on May 5, Euronews reported that:
Although air travel is still below 2019 levels, traffic peaks are in fact higher than pre-pandemic levels at many larger airports.
“Coping with this sudden increase and concentration of air traffic has been challenging for airports and their operational partners—in particular ground handlers,” says the joint statement from [Airports Council International] Europe....
“This has resulted in an increase in flight delays and cancellations, and more generally a degraded passenger experience at many airports.”
Along the same lines, NCA NewsWire in Australia reported this on May 9:
Sydney airport has once again descended into chaos as staff shortages continue to create massive queues due to closed security gates.
Both international and domestic terminals are impacted by the delays forcing thousands of passengers to wait in queues.
Many have taken to social media to vent their frustration at the travel chaos as the airport enters its third month since international borders reopened and increased the number flights moving in and out of the major airport.
The article also notes, “A spokesman for Sydney Airport predicted at the time that major delays would run through the school holidays, peaking over Easter and Anzac Day with passenger levels close to 90 per cent pre-pandemic.”
This may sound familiar to consumers of Canadian news over the last couple of weeks. The fact that other countries are also experiencing similar problems does not make things any less frustrating for Canadian travellers. However, it does provide some necessary context in the face of commentators who claim that we have never seen the chaos we are experiencing at Canadian airports currently or that Canada's reputation will be irreparably harmed.
With a view to providing the necessary context, let me explain why there are delays at Canadian airports. The simplest and most common explanation is that the delays are caused by a shortage of CATSA screening officers. However, there are other factors that also come into play.
CATSA is indeed having difficulty rehiring staff in prepandemic numbers. However, as Minister recently pointed out, CATSA's staffing levels have returned to approximately 90%, while the travel volume has returned to only about 70% of prepandemic levels. It is more than a simple labour shortage issue.
What appears to be happening is that the airlines are providing less accurate information about anticipated passenger volumes, and in a less timely manner. It is therefore difficult for CATSA managers to properly plan staffing levels. I am not saying that it is the airlines' fault. It is not surprising that they are finding it hard to predict how fast the number of passengers will increase and to plan the number of flights accordingly. This highlights the need for better communication between the various stakeholders in the airline sector, and that is exactly what the minister and Transport Canada are working on. I will get into more detail shortly.
Another example of the complexity of the problem is that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are also having problems rehiring staff to prepandemic levels. This sometimes results in U.S. officials asking CATSA screeners to slow down or pause the security screening of travellers. CBSA is also experiencing similar staffing issues, resulting in longer than usual lines for travellers arriving from international destinations.
In fact, worker shortages being experienced all across airports, the air sector and the labour market more broadly are affecting how efficiently our airports work. For example, some CATSA employees who were laid off during the pandemic have since been hired by airport subcontractors as baggage handlers or in other roles at airports. Again, I offer this to provide necessary context so that Canadians can understand what is behind some of the delays at our airports.
My friends on the opposition side will oversimplify things and suggest that it is only public health measures that are slowing down air travellers and clogging our airports, but that is simply not the case.
They are also unaware of the advantages of the measures still in place. For example, random testing in airports helps us detect in a timely manner new variants that might be entering the country and to trace their origins. This will not prevent variants from entering Canada, but it will provide invaluable data and help our health care sector prepare for any changes. It could help slow the spread of new variants and save us precious time. Contrary to what some have suggested, we cannot get the same result simply by analyzing the general population's wastewater.
Other measures such as mandatory vaccination, ArriveCAN and mask wearing provide travellers and airline workers with additional layers of protection, while offering Canadian travellers peace of mind, since they know they are travelling with other people who have chosen to be vaccinated. Vaccination is the best protection against the most serious consequences of COVID-19.
My Conservative colleague from has selectively chosen to quote from testimony heard from business groups, but she neglects to mention that when asked at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities whether they would disregard advice from public health officials to maintain certain public health measures, they demurred, acknowledging they were not public health experts. I think this is important for Canadians to retain. They should weigh this when considering calls to immediately dismantle public health protections and should consider who is proposing such a step and what that person's qualifications are.
This also reminds me to consider another source: the Conservative Party of Canada itself. I think it is important for Canadians to remember this is the same party whose former leader allowed unvaccinated candidates to go into seniors' homes during the most recent federal election. It is a party that had in its ranks an MP who presented a petition calling on the government to suspend the use of all COVID‑19 vaccines.
Another Conservative member claimed his own research showed that people were “13 times more likely to die from the delta variant if [they] were double vaccinated than if [they] were unvaccinated.” Needless to say, this was completely false.
The Conservative member for was ultimately forced to apologize after minimizing the risks of COVID by comparing it to polio, a disease that at its peak in 1953 claimed the lives of 500 Canadians. Let us remember we are now tragically at over 40,000 lives lost due to COVID.
The Conservative leader at the time remarked about these comments, stating:
There’s a big difference between advocating for your constituents who may need reasonable accommodation and creating confusion about public health measures. It’s a great example of why members of Parliament of all stripes should let the professionals, let the public health officials, let the physicians answer questions about the efficacy of vaccines.
I agree. Let us let our public health experts determine the most appropriate time to phase out the remaining public health measures at our airports.
With this essential reminder out of the way, I will now address what and our government are doing to help our airports and Canadian travellers.
For now, I will leave aside the many billions of dollars our government has provided to help support the airline sector during the pandemic, including some $1.4 billion earmarked exclusively for airports under the airport critical infrastructure program, the airport relief fund, the enhanced airports capital assistance program, the rent relief for airport authorities, and broader initiatives from which airports benefited, such as the Canada emergency wage subsidy.
As I mentioned earlier in my speech, at first glance, many of the problems currently being experienced in our airports seem to stem from more than a simple shortage of security screeners. The larger problem seems to be that different parts of the system are not communicating effectively with one another and not working together to better plan for increased passenger volumes as the air sector recovers.
As I have mentioned throughout, we recognize the impact that wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travellers and we are working with our partners to take action and find solutions. CATSA is working to increase the number of screening officers at passenger screening checkpoints. There are currently approximately 400 new screening officers in different phases of their training across the country.
Last week, met with Mike Saunders, the CEO of CATSA, and in the previous week he met with the four major airports to hear—
Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I am grateful for the opportunity to address this subject today. I was very happy to see the hon. member for 's motion. There is a lot of talk in the media and from our constituents about wait times for passports and delays at the airport. People pretty much everywhere, including in my riding, are eager to get back to normal. The pandemic is winding down, and people want to start travelling and visiting sun destinations again after two difficult years.
That is why I think this is an important matter. Moreover, we have been in a pandemic for more than two years now. That has forced governments to implement measures that may have curtailed our freedoms, but that were needed because they were there to protect the health of the population.
The Conservative Party has always opposed these measures. It has constantly tried to limit their scope. We saw this with the many questions they have asked in the House since the beginning of the 44th Parliament, as well as with the opposition days they devoted to the issue, when they demanded the immediate lifting of all measures. They did not adopt a gradual approach. They really wanted to lift all measures immediately.
Although it is true that the Conservatives were pandering to libertarians on this matter, it is also true that the Liberals also did not hesitate to politicize the issue and to use unvaccinated people for political purposes. We saw this in the last election campaign. The government suddenly announced a vaccination requirement for all federal employees, while still refusing to present a plan for lifting the health measures. At every turn, the two parties accused each other of dividing the population, on the one hand with health measures, and on the other with disinformation. I think that it is crucial to avoid politicizing this issue. As members of the Bloc Québécois have said many times, the only thing we should do in this situation is listen to the science. We are not the experts. We must listen to the public health experts.
As I mentioned earlier, the member's motion addresses problems at airports. Just this past Monday, the Canadian Press reported long lineups at airports and even said that it was taking four times longer to process incoming passengers than it had before the pandemic. It seems likely that the more travellers there are, the worse the problem will get. The Conservative Party is therefore asking the government to immediately revert to prepandemic travel rules and service levels. According to the Conservatives, the problem is the restrictions, the mandates they have been condemning for months. Their solution is to lift them all.
In my opinion, the Conservative Party is misguided in laying all the blame for airport wait times on the COVID‑19 restrictions, when that is not necessarily the case. Just yesterday, the Customs and Immigration Union publicly called on the and the Canada Border Services Agency to increase the number of border officers assigned to passenger operations at Canadian airports, in order to alleviate the pressure on both airport staff and passengers. Union president Mark Weber said that there are simply not enough officers.
These delays are a source of frustration for everyone, but the union's solution is to bring in more officers, not to get rid of measures that are designed to keep the public and travellers healthy. The union said that this situation was foreseeable, noting, “Over the past decade, the number of officers assigned to passenger operations has decreased dramatically”. At present, at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, it is estimated that fewer than 300 officers are active in the passenger operations section, which is nearly half of the number needed to process inbound travellers in a timely manner. This is not unique to Toronto, either, with both Vancouver and Montreal facing similar issues.
One sentence caught my attention in the press release I read this morning. To quote Mr. Weber:
The reality is that even with the eventual lifting of current public health measures, significant delays will likely persist, not only due to the critical shortage of officers in most border operations across the country, but also due to an over-reliance on inefficient technologies.
Mr. Weber said that an officer can process a traveller twice as fast as the automated primary inspection kiosks. Essentially, he attributes the excessive delays at the airports to the staffing shortage and the inefficient technology.
At the end of the day, these delays should come as no surprise. They were foreseeable. Mr. Weber says that we could have seen them coming for the past 10 years, having watched the situation deteriorate. What he is asking the and the Canada Border Services Agency to do is to add more staff.
We are seeing the same issue in almost every domain. I met with representatives of the National Police Federation last week who told me the same thing: The police is short on human resources, staff and security officers, including at the borders and at airports. Lifting the health measures will not necessarily make the lines shorter. There needs to be more people on the job.
I would like to come back to paragraph (iii) of the member for 's motion, which states that several countries “have moved to lift COVID‑19 restrictions at airports and other points of entry”. That may be true, but only partially. Some countries have gone ahead and lifted all restrictions, but most still have some restrictions in place, particularly when it comes to people who are unvaccinated. For instance, the United Kingdom and Ireland have lifted most of their measures. However, in France, only fully vaccinated travellers can arrive in the country without having to be tested, and those without proof of vaccination must show a negative test upon arrival. In the U.S., our biggest partner, travellers must be fully vaccinated in order to enter the country. It is the same in Spain.
No matter what standard of comparison we use, I think that it is reasonable to say that so far, Canada has followed the science and public health advice on what should be done to protect the public. However, if anyone asked me whether the government has managed the borders properly since the start of the pandemic, I would instantly answer no.
I refer to what my colleague from said about the Auditor General's comments on border management over the last 27 months. There is a pretty long list of things that did not go well: a lack of border testing; a failure to respond properly to emerging new variants; a lack of quarantines during peak waves; a lack of service in French from testing companies; a lack of coordination with hotels to provide accommodation for quarantining travellers, and members will recall that the chaotic quarantine situation at hotels made the headlines several times; delays in getting test results, as many people took a test and sent it in, but never got the result, leaving them unsure about their status; no follow-up for travellers who complied with their quarantine; and a lack of staff to enforce the requirement to quarantine at home.
I am not even going to delve into the passport saga because I will run out of time. Passport Canada is in total chaos right now. Call volumes have doubled or tripled because, as I said, people are itching to travel again. They realize that their passport expired and want it renewed quickly, but that is impossible because there is not enough staff. The fact that the government decided to keep these offices shut for so long, while public servants worked from home as a precaution, may also explain the current situation. In some cases, the government waited until May 17 to call employees back to work to open service points. This could have happened more quickly, considering that it has been demonstrated that certain businesses and service points could provide services to the public without endangering the workers. This government's failure to be proactive could very well explain this whole thing.
Unfortunately, we are experiencing a labour shortage, which is why I do not fully agree with all the points raised in the Conservative Party's motion.
As I said a little earlier when I asked the parliamentary secretary a question, I think we could work out a compromise instead of demanding the immediate lifting of all health measures, even it it is stressful to arrive at the airport and have to wait, and even if we are fed up with all that. We were very happy in Quebec when the mask mandate was lifted last week. I think it is still important to listen to and respect what public health experts are telling us.
I believe that the government could come up with a plan for gradually lifting the health measures. The Bloc Québécois will therefore be moving an amendment to the member for Thornhill's motion to ensure that we can find common ground.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by telling my colleague from that I think she is a very dynamic person and that I think highly of her. I hope she will not take offence at the comments I am about to make.
On the last Bloc opposition day, my Conservative colleagues talked a lot about the relevance of our motion, which had to do with prayer. They wondered why we had raised that subject at a time when no one was talking about prayer and when, in their opinion, we should have been talking about inflation and gas prices.
I am therefore surprised that my Conservative colleagues have not put forward any motions on gas prices or inflation on their last two opposition days. I do not hold it against them, but I would like to do the same for them. I may not talk about the relevance of their motion, but I would like to talk about their intent. What is my Conservative colleagues' intention? What is motivating them today to call on the government to immediately revert to pre‑pandemic rules and service levels for travel?
First, I believe that, before we can immediately revert to prepandemic rules, we must necessarily rely on public health guidance. Here, I would like to make a first distinction. On the one hand, there is the science and public health objectives, which involve establishing truths that are sometimes difficult to establish, especially during a pandemic. On the other hand, there is political partisanship or the desire to promote a political ideology, which often involves advancing a political agenda.
In my view, the purpose of the motion before us today is to advance the political agenda of the Conservatives rather than really determining whether the public health situation permits a full reopening and the lifting of certain measures.
I do not want to hurt the feelings of my Conservative friends, because, after all, I am a caring person. That said, the reason why I am talking about the Conservative political agenda is because I think that there is a phenomenon that is plaguing my Conservatives colleagues, and that is populism. There seems to be a form of populism embedded in Conservative Party rhetoric, and the proof of that is in the favourite topics of the member for , whom I admire. In the cut and thrust of debate, the member for Carleton is exciting and interesting, and we want to hear him, but, unfortunately, the issues that he brings up often relate to some form of populism. I am thinking of all his speeches about the need to take back control of our lives. I will come back to that later.
I do not know what other people are going through, but I for one have not lost control of my life. I may have lost control of my weight, but sooner or later I will be able to get that back under control. However, I have not lost control of my life.
I am also thinking of that word “justinflation” that the member for Carleton is always mentioning, and, of course, his rhetoric about freedom. Shouting “freedom” four or five times does not necessarily imply an understanding of that concept. I could refer to some concepts of freedom—
Mr. Speaker, that was a judicious intervention. I apologize for offending my colleague. It is an unflattering play on the word inflation and the Prime Minister's name that I feel conveys that populism.
Before I go on, I would like to define the word “populism”. Generally speaking, it is a style of politics that divides by attempting to simplify issues and amplify antagonism. It is us versus them. In this particular case, there are travellers on one side and the government on the other. A simplistic interpretation is that the government is preventing travellers from moving freely and that all it has to do is change the rules to solve the problem. That is simplistic because we know this is a public health issue.
When we talk about populism, we can also say that we are talking about personalized speech and behaviour that relies on rhetoric that combines utopia and demagoguery. In an ideal world, we are not affected by the pandemic. It does not affect us, and everyone can come and go as they please. If we were to take a demagogic approach, we would say that all of the border crossings can be reopened tomorrow morning, and there will be no problems. Generally, this sort of thing is done to pander to the people and pit them against the elite. The travellers, the people, the truckers, to use a term dear to my colleague from , have a view of society that is against the elite. That is populism.
Populists usually condemn institutions that do not sufficiently consider the public's aspirations. The government and public health do not care about the aspirations of the average person. Populists characterize political opponents as elites who care very little about the ideas of the people and popular common sense. Generally, when it comes to populism, the truth is in popular common sense.
That sets the table for a debate which, in my opinion, is a perfect example of what is wrong with politics today: the democracy of opinion. Those of us who know a bit about philosophy make that distinction. On the one hand there is opinion and doxa and, on the other, episteme, the sciences. Opinion is based on appearance. You say “it appears to me that,” without having checked the facts. On the other hand, science involves a deeper reflection.
I feel that that is what today’s debate is about. Conservatives are saying that it appears that the measures in airports are far too restrictive and that we are further along in the pandemic, but they have not taken care to consult a public health expert.
I said that I wanted to help my Conservative colleagues, who are poisoned by populism. I would like to cite Pierre Rosanvallon, an author I particularly like. When he speaks of populism, he says we must beware of the “threefold populist simplification”.
I would like to explain what threefold simplification means using my friend and colleague from Carleton. First, according to Pierre Rosanvallon, there is political and sociological simplification, where “the people” is a defined homogeneous subject. Considering the people a defined homogenous subject is the same as saying “Canadians think that”; for example, all Canadians think that we should immediately lift all measures in airports. It defines the people as different from the elite, in other words, from other politicians who think differently, as if the people were a monolith. On the one hand, there are truckers and unvaccinated people and, on the other, a form of elite that is completely disconnected from reality and that is hostile to freedom.
There is also, according to Pierre Rosanvallon, procedural and institutional simplification. This involves attacking institutions and politicians who think differently. I will give you an interesting example. My colleagues may have followed the debate between the hon. member for Carleton and Jean Charest. In the debate, my colleague from Carleton said to Jean Charest, “to hear you talk about law and order is a bit rich, given that your party, your [Quebec] Liberal Party, took a half-million dollars of illegal donations when you were the head of that party. The average trucker has more integrity in his pinky finger than you had in your entire...Liberal cabinet.”
We can see here that this is a populist discourse that attacks, in a manner of speaking, populist adversaries.
Let us take this a bit further, and consider what we heard from the hon. member for , who finds that what our friend from is doing on cryptocurrency is entirely inconsequential. Moreover, in response to a recent direct attack on institutions by the hon. member for Carleton and his threat to dismiss the Governor of the Bank of Canada, the hon. member for Abbotsford said, “We lose some credibility when we do this. It is fair to ask questions, to demand solutions to the skyrocketing cost of living. But we also have to respect the institutions that have been granted independence to ensure that they function apart from political interference.”
Members can then see a dynamic that reflects the lowest form of populism, which can even lead a member to call our colleague from Carleton to order.
I will conclude by addressing simplification that arises from populism. The hon. member for Carleton said in the House, “We are going to give Canadians their freedom back and make them the authors of their own stories. That is the approach we will take as Conservatives. Everybody has their story, and the story that I am hearing right now is that people feel like they are losing control of their lives.”
In my opinion, this is what is poisoning my Conservative colleagues in today’s debate: They want to make people believe that institutions are preventing them from taking control of their lives, and they are doing it to the detriment of science. It is a very dangerous game.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise. I will be sharing my time with the excellent member for this morning.
It is a pleasure to rise and speak about the situation in our major airports, a situation that I think by now pretty much every Canadian across the country is familiar with. It is a situation that is chaotic, and it is a situation that is having real impacts on a lot of people.
For over two years, Canadians were asked to put off travel plans. They could not visit family members; they missed major life events; they had to cancel long-awaited holidays; they could not travel to other parts of Canada or other parts of the world. People made significant sacrifices to protect each other, to protect their loved ones and to protect their communities. They helped buy time for frontline health workers before we had vaccines, and they kept it up when new variants emerged and threatened to derail our collective efforts. The vast majority of Canadians did their part, and for that they deserve our thanks.
With many restrictions now lifted, people are excited to travel again, which is understandable, and they are returning to our airports in huge numbers. Last week, an average of 120,000 travellers went through our major airports each day. That is a huge number, but once at the airports, they are being stuck in long screening lines. Planes are stuck on the tarmac without passengers able to leave. People are missing flights, and much more. Of course, people are rightly frustrated by this situation. These delays are creating stress and anxiety for travellers and they need to be addressed. This situation was foreseeable. It has been going on for weeks and the government needs to fix it.
Why is this happening? As we heard at the transport committee from the Canadian Airports Council, the biggest factor is staffing, especially the lack of screening personnel needed to move passengers through security. Screening capacity is a federal responsibility through the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, CATSA.
Like many sectors of our economy, aspects of the air transport sector have struggled to rehire employees laid off earlier in the pandemic, and we have heard about that challenge in today's debate already. As the hospitality industry has experienced, some staff simply are not available to hire back because they have moved on to other positions with better work conditions, better compensation and better terms of employment. The minister needs to ensure that the terms of employment related to these positions, the positions at our airports that are needed to screen passengers, are adequate to attract and retain the skilled workforce that we need to ensure safe air travel for all those who fly.
The other issue, of course, is the fact that the pandemic is still very much with us, and it is hard to maintain staffing levels when employees are catching COVID and leaving work because they are sick.
The government should have been able to predict that these challenges would emerge. It should have hired sufficient staff, and if it struggled to find people to do the work, it should have reviewed the terms of those positions to ensure that they are competitive and able to attract and retain the people it needs.
The Liberal government first announced it was relaxing travel restrictions on February 15, with mandatory arrival testing and quarantine scrapped at the end of February. Liberals were happy to go around saying how exciting it was that travel was back and Canada was reopening in time for the tourism season, but over three months have passed since those announcements, and it is clear that the government has not done enough to ensure that our airports are ready. Now Canadians are facing the consequences of the government's mismanagement and lack of preparedness. This was entirely avoidable. It should have been anticipated and it needs to be fixed.
We have seen the same mishandling from the government with passport applications. I am sure everyone in the House has heard from constituents who are facing incredibly lengthy delays and long lines at Service Canada offices because the government failed to anticipate an increase in demand for travel when the restrictions were relaxed. The same folks who were left scrambling to get their passports on time a few weeks ago are now at the airport experiencing long lines at security screening. They are frustrated and anxious because of the delays they are seeing.
Instead of acknowledging the government’s failure to prepare, the had the audacity to blame the travellers themselves, saying that it was their lack of practice and the slowness with which they took the liquids out of their bags that were leading to these long delays at the airport. Frankly, that is offensive.
Shifting to the riding I represent, I am particularly mindful of tourism operators in northwest B.C. and across Canada, who have looked forward to a season of welcoming back clientele from across Canada and around the world. I think of operators in the Bulkley Valley, the Bella Coola Valley, Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert. They are looking forward to finally getting their business back, and the last thing they need is their clients hearing that travelling to Canada is a hassle because of the delays at our airports. That is going to hurt the tourism business right across Canada, and it needs to be addressed.
The Conservatives have brought this forward because they see a very particular opportunity in this crisis, which is the opportunity to once again try their hand at removing every health measure, every restriction and every tool we have to protect Canadians and safeguard our country against future waves of the virus. We disagree with that approach.
We disagree because the pandemic is still very much with us and because there are some public health measures, we believe, that are likely still advisable for the ongoing protection of Canadians and the detection of the virus at our border. Most of all, we disagree because we believe important public health measures should be informed by public health science, not by politics.
The motion before us makes the claim that Canada’s international allies are removing all travel restrictions. Simply put, that is not the case. Just to the south of us, the United States still requires a predeparture COVID test. That is more restrictive than here in Canada. Almost every country requires proof of vaccination to enter. Saying that our international allies are lifting all restrictions is simply not accurate.
We have an opportunity to strike a balance between enabling the mobility of Canadians and keeping in place tools that allow us to respond to future public health threats. The question is, do the current pandemic travel measures strike the right balance? Are they defensible? Are they based on the best available evidence? How are they better than other, similar measures that have been proposed as alternatives? This is where the blame goes back to the Liberal government, which has been less than forthcoming of late when it comes to these pandemic measures.
In fact, the NDP wrote to Dr. Tam in March and called on her to conduct a full re-evaluation of Canada’s pandemic measures and report back to Canadians. The letter from the member for and the member for simply highlighted that creating trust in public health measures requires explaining the arguments and sharing the evidence on which they are based.
I have asked questions on this topic in this very debate today. I have asked the government to tell us when it will be reporting back from its review and how that information will be shared with Canadians, yet we do not get a response.
The questions are growing. Just last week, infectious disease expert Dr. Zain Chagla from McMaster University published an article stating that, in his view, Canada’s “current rules for travel do not make sense”. A few days ago, a Globe and Mail editorial asked whether the measures in place are still needed.
The government needs to be more transparent with Canadians about the evidence behind any remaining public health measures. It needs to clearly communicate the data and the science informing these decisions. The government needs to stand up and answer. The truth is that it has become less transparent and less forthcoming precisely at a time in the pandemic when the public needs answers more than ever.
It was not always this way. We remember the beginning of the pandemic, when Canadians received in-depth explanations of every measure and the evidence justifying it. The result was high public trust, high compliance with restrictions and guidelines, and a sense that we were all pulling in the same direction.
The situation at the airports is frustrating. People who are having their travel plans cancelled are under extreme stress. The government should have seen this coming and it should have fixed it. We need more answers and more transparency from the Liberal government.
Madam Speaker, as always, it is a privilege to rise in the House to speak to important issues of the day, not only on behalf of the great people of Vancouver Kingsway, but on behalf of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I want to start with an observation. As health critic for the New Democratic Party of Canada, I have had a front-row seat to the issues, unfortunately, since the beginning of this pandemic, having sat on the health committee way back in 2019 to 2020 when COVID-19 first emerged. One thing I can say for sure over the last two-and-a-half years of policy for COVID-19 is that Canadians are never well served when any political party plays politics with the pandemic. I think we have seen that practised by the government at various times. In fact, government members themselves have publicly stated that their own government has sought to use the pandemic and abuse the pandemic for partisan political purposes. I think we see it here today.
Any time that politicians prey on frustration, ignore science and data, use partial facts or misleading statements and practise poor public health policy, Canadians are not well served. I regret to say to the House today that this motion really has all of that. As my great colleague from just stated, this motion does contain some things that are true, but unfortunately it also contains some statements and conclusions that are dangerously false.
It is interesting to me that this motion was introduced by the Conservative transport critic, not the health critic. As the underlying issue here is public health policy and the pandemic, that speaks volumes about the motivation behind this, because the motion ignores fundamental truths and facts from the health world and attempts to exploit the frustration of travellers to result in what would be an incredibly ill-advised health policy decision.
I want to start with some things I agree with. I agree that the vaccine mandate ought to be questioned and replaced if it proves ineffective. There is growing and significant evidence that there is little impact of vaccination on the ability to transmit the virus, at least post-omicron. It is also the case that Canadian public policy has failed and continues to fail to recognize infection-acquired immunity. There is overwhelming evidence that infection-acquired immunity is real. There is substantial evidence that it is as strong and durable as immunity achieved from vaccination, and perhaps even more so.
Countries such as Austria have recognized this for many months. Citizens in that country can access public facilities and services by proving they are vaccinated, as we require in Canada, but if they can produce serology tests that prove they have been exposed to COVID and recovered, that is accepted as well, because it is basic vaccinology 101 that no matter how we recover from an infection and how our bodies produce antibodies, it has the same result.
Those two facts suggest that disallowing unvaccinated Canadians, particularly those who have been exposed to COVID and recovered from travelling, may not be science-based any longer. That, to me, should be explored and changed based on data and evidence. In fact, I have spoken to many constituents, as recently as last night, who question the vaccine mandate policy today in light of the mounting evidence.
Unfortunately, that is not what this motion before us states. It goes far beyond that to indefensible and unsafe areas. It wants us to agree that we should revert to all prepandemic rules. The motion says:
the House call on the government to immediately revert to pre-pandemic rules and service levels for travel.
That is completely irresponsible and belied by the science. For example, requiring foreign travellers arriving in Canada to be vaccinated is absolutely still necessary for one major reason, among others: to protect our strained health care system so that travellers do not get sick and clog up our ICUs. It is still the case, as we know, that being vaccinated significantly reduces one's chance of becoming seriously ill or dying.
Here is another example. Mask mandates are probably the single most effective measure we have for helping to reduce the spread of airborne viruses. This is especially the case in crowded indoor places, where physical distancing is not possible. I would venture to say that airplane cabins are, perhaps, the quintessential example of this, yet this motion introduced by the Conservatives states we should have no rules in this regard.
Every single expert who has appeared at HESA and been questioned on this issue has agreed that we need to maintain masks as a precaution. Not a single one has said it is wise or time to abandon them, yet the motion and the Conservatives ignore this fact. It is only common sense.
We know COVID is spread in aerosolized fashion as a respiratory illness. It is well established that masks help to stop the spread of such viruses. It is no surprise that the Conservatives would ignore that fact, as they continue to refuse every day, and in fact today, to wear masks in the House, a crowded indoor place, despite public health advice to do so—
An hon. member: Why aren't you speaking with one?
Mr. Don Davies: Madam Speaker, someone asked why I am not wearing one. We take masks off when we speak, and they know that. It is for the interpreters. The Conservatives understand that, but the fact that they would heckle on that point shows how bereft of rationality and evidence they really are.
Again, this motion calls for the policy to immediately revert to prepandemic rules. That assumes things have returned to normal. Like every Canadian, I wish that were so, but it is not. This motion presumes to refer to experts, but not one epidemiologist or public health expert has testified at the health committee that we are in an endemic phase. The Conservatives know that or they should know that.
I predict there is a high probability we will see a resurgence, perhaps a seventh wave, in the fall. Why? It is because nothing has changed. The virus is still present, mutations are occurring, the omicron BA.2 variant is still in circulation and there is detection of others, including something called the “deltacron” variant.
Vaccination in the developing world is still shamefully behind. We know vaccine efficacy wanes, and it does not prevent infection. Sloppy habits, like the Conservatives refusing to wear masks in crowded indoor rooms like this one, help contribute to the spread of airborne respiratory illnesses.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Don Davies: Madam Speaker, I hear the Conservatives laughing at that. Maybe they should go back to medical school and take a beginner's course in virology.
This motion also attempts to blame the problems of Canadian airports on public health rules. This fundamentally misunderstands what is happening.
The core problem is that there are few flights due to reduced traffic and, more importantly, reduced staffing due to the shortages of workers, especially in security and baggage handling. The causes of this are poor pay, poor hours, shift work and poor working conditions. Airports are having trouble attracting workers back to work because of these things.
Did I say that? No. People in the airline industry say that, yet the Conservatives vote against every attempt to improve workers' conditions. They will not raise minimum wages, they oppose better unionization rules, they fight occupational health and safety improvements and they even wanted workers to work until they were 67 years old before they could retire, which would be especially hard on blue collar workers, who find physical work and shift work more difficult as they age.
If we want to do something to help workers and get airports flying better, let us get improved conditions for workers in every airport in this condition. We are never going to get that from the Conservatives, but we will get that from New Democrats.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is an honour for me to rise in my place today to speak about a pressing issue facing Canadians and international travellers entering and exiting through Canada's various ports of entry, including airports, land border crossings, bridge border crossings and even CBSA marine reporting sites for small vessels.
My hon. colleague from has brought forward an excellent and timely motion today, one which I will be fully supporting. Ultimately, it calls on the government “to immediately revert to pre-pandemic rules and service levels for travel.” In short, the Liberal government's outdated COVID-19 protocols at airports and other international ports of entry are causing extreme delays, lineups, bottlenecks and missed connections. Worst of all, they are acting as a disincentive for those wishing to travel to Canada.
While the focus of our opposition motion today is on airports, it is very important and relevant that other international ports of entry are mentioned and included as well, because they are all connected in our economic ecosystem. These ports of entry support businesses and economic opportunities in many sectors, including tourism, which is very important in my riding, as we have the city of Niagara Falls and the towns of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie.
My Niagara Falls riding has four international bridge crossings. They are managed by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, respectively. These are the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, the Rainbow Bridge and the Peace Bridge. All have been hit hard by the two-year pandemic, and the federal government has done nothing to support these bridges, despite the heavy hardship of lost traffic due to extended border closures.
One of the biggest issues I hear about at our international bridge crossings is that of backlogs and delays being caused by the ArriveCAN app. In an email from March 24, 2022, the general manager of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority warned local politicians that their analysis showed the continued mandatory use of the ArriveCAN app would result in much longer processing times and lengthy border waits, which would significantly depress cross-border traffic at a time when we were moving into the 2022 summer tourism summer season.
Fast forward two months, and here we are. His prediction was right. I raised this issue with the federal government as soon as I could. What did it do to prepare for these border backlogs? It doubled down and decided to spend $25 million more in budget 2022 to continue to support the mandatory use of this application.
Along my border community riding, there are also a number of CBSA marine reporting sites for small vessels. They include the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club, the Smugglers Cove Boat Club, the Greater Niagara Boating Club, Miller's Creek Marina, Bertie Boating Club, and the Buffalo Canoe Club, amongst others. Out of all these sites I just listed, only one is operational. Miller's Creek in the upper Niagara River and Fort Erie is open, but all the other sites are closed.
Members can imagine, if someone is boating on the lower Niagara River in Niagara-on-the-Lake, they would have to travel all the way to Port Weller in St. Catharines to report in with CBSA. If they are on the upper Niagara River but closer to Chippawa and Niagara Falls, then they have to travel all the way to Fort Erie and all the way back just to report in with CBSA. This adds many kilometres to a voyage and is a huge waste of time and money for boaters, especially as fuel prices skyrocket to record highs.
These closures are a huge issue for local recreational boaters, especially as we approach the May long weekend and enter the summer boating season. We need the government to reopen all sites immediately. There is no time to waste.
Tourist businesses in my riding were hit first. They were hit the hardest, and they will take the longest to recover from COVID-19. The effect these failing Liberal policies are having on our boaters will only make recovery take that much longer. Tourist businesses in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie depend on domestic and international visitors travelling to our communities, spending their time and dollars and enjoying all that Niagara has to offer. The operation of attractions, historic sites, restaurants, wineries, craft breweries, cideries, casinos and many other businesses depend on this visitation.
In communities such as Niagara, international visitation is important. While they make up approximately 25% of our total visitor base, these international visitors account for over 50% of the dollars spent in our tourism communities. This spend helps support over 40,000 jobs that are reliant on a strong tourism industry, which we had in Niagara before this pandemic. That is why it is essential we welcome back our international friends, guests and visitors. That starts by giving them a great, quick and efficient experience at our international ports of entry.
No one is going to choose Canada as a travel vacation destination if they have to risk waiting hours upon hours in stressful and frustrating lineups at an airport or a border crossing. Economic damage and missed opportunities are already being incurred. As the world reopens from COVID and other countries lift their restrictions, Canada looks to be stuck in the past and out of touch with reality. For example, the European Union and the United States have dropped their mask mandates for passengers on flights and in airports.
As countries around the world are reducing red tape and making it easier for citizens to travel again, the Liberals in Ottawa continue to impose their outdated and unjustified mandates, which are leading to longer lines and a slower recovery. As an example, fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Canada are still subjected to random COVID-19 testing, and in some cases, these travellers are not even told they have been selected until they get a surprise automated phone call or email a few days later from Switch Health.
This happened to Kathryn and her daughter, two constituents of mine. On May 10, they had an uneventful Nexus border crossing at the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia. They were never informed that they were selected for random testing, nor were they given a random test on their exit from their Nexus inspection. Three days later, they received multiple phone calls and emails from Switch Health warning them to get a day-one random test or else risk contravening a public health order with severe penalties, including fines upwards of tens of thousands of dollars and mandatory quarantine. It seems illogical for people to be told they have to take a random test and then wait for Switch Health to send it to them by courier so they can complete it a few days, if not weeks, later. How is this in the best public health interest of Canadians? Simply put, the incompetence of the government knows no bounds.
Many experts have called for the end of these ridiculous requirements. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has called for a step back to improve regulations in order for Canada to become more competitive. The president of the Canadian Airports Council has called for the removal of legacy public health protocols, noting that mandatory testing is leading to bottlenecks and hurting Canada's competitiveness. These requirements are stifling our hard-hit tourism industry and are leading to long delays for Canadians just looking to travel after a long two years of obeying government-induced lockdown measures.
All of these terrible travel experiences at our airports and border crossings are hurting Canada's economy, competitiveness and international global reputation as a top tourist destination. Since the world started reopening months ago, Canada has lagged far behind our international tourism destination competitors due to these bad federal government policies. On a scale this large, every port of entry across our country is negatively impacted, and this ripple effect negatively impacts every riding of the House of Commons, especially those, like Niagara Falls, that depend on tourism as a major economic driver. We all benefit from a strong tourism industry, and we all lose when it is weak and chaotic, like it is now.
After two long years of government shutdowns, lockdowns, border closures and stringent travel restrictions, many tourist businesses in my riding are counting on a significant rebound this summer. Unfortunately, due to these travel measures and issues at airports and borders, government policy is working to stifle, rather than support, an urgently needed recovery in our tourism economy in 2022. Through their lack of preparedness to keep Canadians safe and preserve our economic best interests, the Liberals and NDP are abdicating their responsibility to govern.
In my opinion, before COVID, Canada was the best place to visit and vacation. We can get back to being the best, and we should strive for nothing less, but we have a lot of work ahead of us, and it starts with objective of this motion, which is to get the federal government to immediately revert to prepandemic rules and service levels for travel. Niagara badly needs to achieve economic recovery this summer, and that is simply not going to happen if ArriveCAN and other federal travel and health restrictions continue at our airports and borders. It seems as though everyone wants to achieve economic recovery from this pandemic and a return to normalcy, everyone except the Liberal-NDP government, but it should know there is still time to save the 2022 tourism season if it acts quickly, and it should start by supporting today's common sense and timely motion.
Madam Speaker, almost every week, I have the privilege of travelling across this great country, from Vancouver to Ottawa and back. With a three-hour time zone difference, it is basically a day in travel each way. It can be a tiring part of a cross-country commute job, as it would be for any Canadian, but now it is gruelling. I am witnessing first-hand the Liberal government's outdated COVID-19 protocols at airports. They are causing extreme delays, lineups, bottlenecks and missed connections.
Travellers are frustrated and unhappy. They can watch a hockey game with thousands in an arena without a mask, but must wear that mask on a flight in between Canadian destinations, and in and out of Canada, with sometimes well over 150 other people. It is not rational or even logical.
The European Union and the United States have both dropped their mask mandates for passengers on flights and in airports. Meanwhile, travellers arriving in Canada are still being subjected to random COVID-19 testing and must answer personal, private health questions on the ArriveCAN app. Why is Canada's science different from the science followed by many of our international allies?
These unnecessary protocols are causing severe delays at Canadian airports. Customs has become so backed up that there is not enough physical space to hold the lineups, leaving passengers stuck on planes for over 75 minutes. I recently had the experience, on my Washington trip with the , of having to deal with the ArriveCAN app. Imagine seniors like me dealing with the issues on this app when trying to come home.
Every airport and airline is complaining that it is severely understaffed in all aspects. At YVR on Sunday, there is now a sign at the screening entrance stating, “Limited capacity due to staff shortages”.
Bags are not making the transfers between flights if a person has a layover in Toronto, despite long layovers. Security lines are ridiculously long. They do not have enough staff to open all the scanner lines, despite having the traveller traffic to warrant that level of operation. Meanwhile, airlines are ramping up their schedules very slowly, because they simply do not have the staff to service that many flights. I was told by one airport employee that Toronto's Pearson alone is 600 staff short. This means that if a person checks a bag and it gets on the flight, but the person does not make it because they are stuck in security, they may not see that bag for a long time. It may be days. Then, when the person misses that flight because security lines are so long, they cannot get another flight for several hours or they get one with a long, multi-hour layover.
Vancouver, like most international airports, has standard and express security lines, but even the express line was taking over one and a half hours last weekend, with people lined up way down to the international check-in areas. That means, for domestic flights, which usually recommend being at the airport 90 minutes in advance, we now need to allow for arriving two hours or more in advance to get our bags checked and through security on time.
Staff at the airports are so overworked and confused, with scarce resources and so many flights, that they are sometimes giving travellers false information about flights being held for them when they are not. Not only do we have the frustration of waiting, but then we have the surprise of no flight at the end of the security check-in process. I cannot even imagine travelling with young kids and dealing with these major hurdles. At YVR on the weekend, I saw a very pregnant woman with three kids racing through the airport, because the screening had taken so long, and no one was helping her.
It will come as no surprise to anyone in this place that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, or CATSA, is a federal Crown corporation responsible for all passenger security screening, and it is experiencing ongoing staffing shortages. CATSA said that it has been actively supporting its contractors to recruit and develop new staff. Screening resources are scheduled according to airline traffic.
Prior to the pandemic, resources could be utilized across the board between domestic and international checkpoints due to staggered passenger peaks, but as air travel has recovered we are observing simultaneous peaks with passengers flooding more than one security checkpoint at a time. Because of uncertainty about baggage handling, passengers are also travelling with more carry-on bags, resulting in additional time required to process them at screening and creating storage issues on board.
A CBC News article stated:
Mike McNaney, chief external affairs officer at the Vancouver International Airport, said an ongoing staffing shortage at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is contributing to the long lines and lengthy delays in processing passengers through security at the airport.
He went on to say these were “delays that we have not seen here before and were worse than anything that we have previously experienced throughout the pandemic.”
Anyone travelling even domestically knows this to be true.
The article continued:
He said the airport has been welcoming about 45,000 passengers per day and they expect that number to increase with the busy upcoming summer travel season.
He added there are “serious concerns about the summer schedule, when the demand will increase”, and whether CATSA even has a management plan, short and long-term, to address the challenges.
The aviation and tourism industry in Canada has been hit hard. We need to be supporting economic recovery in Canada instead of needlessly restricting travel. Airports are facing major staffing issues that the government is refusing to remedy.
CATSA itself said that at the beginning of the pandemic it employed 7,400 screening agents. Today, there are only 6,500, despite travel increasing. Our global reputation as a top travel location is at risk.
Recently, at the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Mr. Robin Guy, who is a senior director with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, testified that the Canadian aviation and tourism industries were particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know this.
The myriad of public measures taken to dramatically stem the transmission of the virus has resulted in a decline in travel by...95% of 2019 levels. The protracted pandemic will result in Canada's airports losing more than $4.6 billion in revenue in 2020-21, and adding $3 billion in debt to stay open and maintain safe and secure operations....
Prior to the pandemic, he said, Canada's airports contributed to major economic development. In 2016, those airports directly contributed $48 billion in economic output, $19 billion to GDP, almost 200,000 jobs and $13 billion in wages.
The government must work with industry to address the challenges the sector faces as it rebuilds itself post pandemic. First, the government must review all regulations introduced during the pandemic. With high vaccination rates and an easing of most public health measures, these pandemic regulations are now outdated and no longer required. There are massive delays in processing passports and NEXUS that are being felt across the transportation system.
Should a Canadian citizen renewing a passport really have to arrive in the middle of the night to wait and then still be told they did not make the top 10 list for processing?
Second, we need to invest in our airports' infrastructure, technology and innovation. Low-traffic volumes over the past two years have meant airports delayed much-needed capital projects.
We must recognize that air travel delivers a spectacular double-line benefit to the economy. Air travel is key to the travel and tourism industry, and that part of our national economy. Industry experts from a large variety of disciplines are calling on the government to abandon the travel restriction that causes numerous negative repercussions on our economy and international reputation.
The Liberal government needs to ensure that passengers have a seamless experience from couch to cabin and check-in to arrival at Canada's airports. It is time for us to get with the times instead of selective and secretive Liberal science that is hampering Canadians' lives and their ability to see loved ones and their families.
Madam Speaker, if I may, today is Vyshyvanka Day. That is why we will see members on all sides of the House from all political parties wearing these beautiful embroidered shirts, as the people of Ukraine and people well beyond the borders of Ukraine get an appreciation of Ukrainian heritage in a very beautiful way. This morning we had members of Parliament, as I say, from all sides of the House, along with interns, showcasing the embroidery and an appreciation of Ukrainian heritage.
Having said that, and Mom always says to try to say something nice, I would like to get into the meat of what we are talking about today. There are a couple of things that I want to focus a bit of time on.
If we listen to the Conservative Party, that could be a bad thing, because we get this impression that Canada is alone in the world, that we are the only country in the whole world that has any sorts of mandates in place in our airports. That is what we would be led to believe. That is the Conservative spin, or the member for 's spin, I should say.
I just did a very quick inquiry and found out this. The U.S., Japan and Israel continue to require predeparture testing. Italy, Japan, Australia and Israel require intercountry testing for some travellers. The U.S., Japan, Australia and Israel require some form of vaccine in order to enter the country. France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Australia and Israel still require masking in their transport sectors.
If we listen to what the Conservatives are saying, not only today but for a long time now, it is this: We do not need mandates. It is as simple as that. That is the Conservative Party's line. Is it based on health or science? No. It is based on the member for . The member for Carleton has said mandates are not necessary. That should not surprise us; he has been saying that for months.
He is consistent, anyway.
Madam Speaker, he is consistent. The member is right. I will give him that much. The member for is consistent. If someone is a Conservative member of Parliament, they do not need to listen to health experts. They do not have to look at science, but just look to the member for Carleton and they will understand why it is they do not need mandates.
Members will understand why it is that everyone else in the chamber is more skeptical in terms of what members of the Conservative Party of Canada are saying. We believe that we should have more faith in health measures, with the experts and the science. Therefore, as the members of the Bloc and the NDP and the Green Party and, yes, the Liberals, we will continue to follow the science and listen to the health experts. We will do what is right for Canadians.
We are very much aware that Canadians are feeling frustrated with regard to the lineups and the delays at airports. We are very much aware of that. In fact, not only am I aware, but I will be sharing my time with the member for , and members will find that she will no doubt even be embellishing on some of the points I am making.
Before I get back to some of the other things that I was going to say, I will just pick up on the member for . It is an interesting thing when the member for Carleton will say “freedom” and “speaking truth to power”. Do members remember him saying that? What happened to the member for ? My goodness, did members catch the news lately? What happens there if someone voices their opinion?
The member for and I often disagree, but I agree with him in terms of it being a dumb idea to fire the Governor of the Bank of Canada. I am inclined to agree with the member for Abbotsford. Speaking that kind of truth to power and having the freedom to be able to say that has been kind of lost within the Conservative Party under the leadership potential of the member for .
Is it any wonder now, considering the member for says we do not need mandates, that Conservatives are jumping up from their seats saying we do not need them? They do not have to listen to the health experts or science. I think that is wrong.
We have recognized that what is happening in Canada is not unique to Canada alone. There are airports around the world that are experiencing the same sorts of issues we are facing here in Canada. It is not to try to marginalize the issue. Whether someone is the , the or any other member of this House, they are concerned about what is taking place in our international airports. The Minister of Transport is actually getting committees together. Transport Canada is working with stakeholders.
We understand the importance of the tourism industry to our country a whole lot more than the Conservatives do. In fact, we were there to support them during the pandemic. We provided direct support to airlines and industries such as restaurants, and to a festival that I often make reference to, which is a great tourist attraction in my own province of Manitoba, Folklorama. Talking to restaurant owners or reps in the hospitality industry, one of the most common comments I receive is that they were very happy and grateful to see that there was a wage subsidy program. They understood the importance of a government taking action to support the hospitality and tourism industry.
We understand that the peak season is around the corner. We would like to get back to our new normal as quickly as we can, but we are not going to do what the Conservative Party of Canada/member for has to say on the issue. Rather, we are going to continue to look at the science. We are going to continue to listen to what the health experts say. At the end of the day, that is where we are going to fall on the issue of policy.
If colleagues take a look at our record as a national government, working with Canadians and other levels of government and stakeholders, they will find that Canada is doing quite well going through this pandemic. The Conservatives might like to think that we can just wish it away, but it does not work that way. There is a process in place to ensure that it is done in an orderly fashion, so that we can, in fact, ensure that the health and well-being of Canadians in all regions of our country are being taken care of. We continue to look forward to the weeks and months ahead.
Earlier this month, in May, the province of Quebec lifted the mandatory masking requirement. Quebec is not alone. There are other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world that still have some form of mandate out there. It seems to be only the Conservative Party of Canada/member for that believe mandates have no role at all. I would hope that the membership of the Conservative caucus will have the freedom to get onside with science and health experts and defend what is important: the health and well-being of all Canadians. That would be my recommendation.
We have seen the hiring of 400 people to help out with security clearances. Airports are working with airlines and Transport Canada on ways in which we can speed up the process. We understand the issue, and we will do what we can to try to fix it as quickly as possible.
Madam Speaker, that is not a problem. I will not use things that excite the members, when they are unable to control their emotions in this House. I will move on to the rest of the point, because I clearly upset the members opposite.
What I will speak about is simply the fact that the Conservatives have not based policy decisions in this House on experts, on science or on the testimony we heard at the health committee, when I was a member of that committee. We stand here today and members opposite talk about listening to the science. Time and again we heard experts. Our chief public health officer, Dr. Tam, was personally attacked by Conservatives when they disagreed with her expertise.
I find it a bit rich to stand in this place and to hear the Conservatives say, “Bring out the experts; bring out the testimony.” When we do that, when we table that information, when we have witnesses at committee, when we have reports and when we have that expert testimony, the Conservatives make personal attacks against our chief public health officer. I notice that the heckles went silent, because the Conservative members know it is true, that there are those on their benches who made personal attacks against public health officials who disagreed with them.
In addition to that, we talk about the mandates or any protections across the country throughout the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, we constantly said that there is no silver bullet and that vaccines are the safest, most effective way for us to get through this pandemic, but there are also layers of protection, and that is crucially important. Those layers of protection are going to help prevent people from getting severely ill and clogging up our emergency rooms and hospitals, and that is what the Conservatives do not understand.
There are layers of protection, not only to protect the most vulnerable, but to protect businesses by not having to enter lockdowns. If we remove every layer of protection throughout this pandemic and businesses have to close, where would the Conservatives be to defend and support those businesses? I know Conservatives did not support them when we moved measures in the budget and in Bill . They voted against the supports those businesses needed.
We put in place layers of protection to help ensure, as the pandemic unfortunately is not over and COVID is still around, that we protect society, protect individuals, protect businesses, and protect our health care workers and our health care system. These are the very people those members call heroes and then attack at committee and try to discredit on social media.
I find that, while the Conservatives might try to position or package some of their motion to act like they are on the side of people, throughout this pandemic they have flip-flopped consistently whenever they felt the political mood suited them.
I turn to some of the comments I heard in this place earlier that accused the government of simply trying to punish people who have differences of opinion or who want the freedom to have a different view on things. I find this incredibly rich, considering what we all saw last night. Among the Conservative benches, they do not have the freedom to listen to science, and they do not have the freedom to speak out and have their own opinions. I heard heckles yesterday when members of our side voted in a free vote. The Conservatives criticized our members for having free votes, yet yesterday the member for rightly pointed out the dangers the member for was spreading about our democracy and the independence of the Governor of the Bank of Canada. What happened to the member for Abbotsford? He got the boot.
When it comes to Conservatives, the only freedom of choice they have is to listen to whatever leader happens to be running the show at the time. Therefore, it is really hard to take the Conservatives seriously when they talk about mandates, the health and safety of Canadians, and freedoms, when the Conservative benches do not even have freedom of opinion or freedom of speech. Frankly, the member for spoke truth to power, and he got booted to the backbench.
It is really hard to sit here and listen to Conservatives try to defend the health and safety of Canadians when they themselves are not open to listening to experts and scientists or understanding the layers of protection in place to help keep Canadians safe, keep businesses open and keep travel available. They speak about restrictions around the world, but Canadians going even to the U.S. still require testing. There are protections there. There is nothing wrong with the Canadian government doing everything in our power to ensure that there are no lockdowns in this country, that businesses can stay open, that Canadians can remain safe and that our health care heroes can have the ability to keep our health care system functioning well.
The key here is that, if we truly believe in freedom and supporting Canadians across this country, then we should not be listening to the Conservatives, who block freedom of speech and ignore when their own members speak truth to power.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I have had the misfortune of listening to this debate for the past hour and a bit. When I use the term “misfortune”, it is because of the absolute opacity of the government. It refuses to answer even the simplest of questions during debate. Liberal members give speeches where they are obsessed with the member for , when we are supposed to be discussing the very serious issue of chaos at airports and the restrictions that are in place.
Rather than talk about that, the Liberals are going on long diatribes about independence, other members and leadership matters. I think we have to ask ourselves why. If they cannot talk about the subject matter before us, it is probably because they have almost nothing to say. That is the absolute problem with the government and these members participating in the debate.
Why are we here? Day after day, questions are asked about when the mandates will end, and what circumstances are needed in order to do that. These are not ridiculous partisan attacks, as the members across seem to suggest. I did not know they were so fragile that a direct question would be seen as a terrible partisan attack.
We keep coming back and asking reasonable questions. We brought forward a motion ages ago, just asking what conditions, metrics or benchmarks the country had to hit so restrictions could be removed. This is not asking for them to be removed. It is asking what the benchmarks are and what Canadians could look to. The Liberals would not even vote for that. The government cannot do anything reasonable with respect to things like this.
When we ask questions, we get answers like the one from the , who said that travellers are out of practice and that is why the airports are backed up. Actually, that is, unfortunately, probably the best answer we have had from a minister or a member of the government with respect to what is going on, because at least it was an answer.
We have questions, real questions, the questions Canadians are asking. I know these members get the same emails from Canadians. They cannot live in some strange Liberal bubble where everyone thinks things are perfect. They must get questions about what is happening at the airports and what are they going to do to fix it. I know I get them. I bet the Speaker is getting them as well.
We put forward a motion like this to say that Canadians have had enough, that they want to see some action. They want something done. We would expect a reasonably serious response. However, for some reason, Canadians are not entitled to that. When we are here, we are the voice of not only our constituents, but also of other Canadians as well. These are the serious questions that are being asked. It is so insulting to them. I do not care about the insults that government members throw at us. We can take it. Over here, we are not so fragile. We can take the insults, but Canadians deserve those answers.
We heard the member for giving his speech. I had the opportunity to ask him what the advice was, whose advice it was, what was the actual advice is, and if he could table the advice. They were insane, ridiculous questions. How dare I ask the Liberals to share the advice they had with Canadians to show why they would not remove any of the restrictions.
We have heard the terrible stories, which is why we are asking the questions. We heard the member for talk about a terrible experience he witnessed at the airport. I have seen that as well. People who are desperate and missing their flights. People who are having all kinds of trouble. There is not even a semblance of regret from the government about that.
That is fine. If the Liberals do not want to say to Canadians that they are sorry they are going through this, then that is on them. However, Canadians deserve an explanation.
The Liberals must have meetings. They must be talking to experts, because they say, “We follow the experts' advice.” How hard is it? Throw Canadians a bone. They could give us a scrap of information, or maybe put a tenth of the report on the table so that we can see that there actually is a report, but they will not. If they will not do it, we have to ask ourselves why, right?
When a child goes to school and says, “The dog ate my homework”, the teacher asks, “Show me the shredded pieces and then I will believe you.” That is what these guys are doing all the time. They are saying, “The dog ate my homework.” Well, they should show us the scraps, but we cannot even see that. They are not going to give us even that little tidbit.
Canadians are frustrated. There are a lot of Canadians who cannot travel. I do not know if members have heard the stories, but I certainly have in my riding about people who cannot travel and miss all kinds of things. The Liberals might say, “Well, get in a car.” However, an 80-year-old unvaccinated woman from my riding cannot drive 1,800 to 3,000 kilometres to B.C. The Liberals' answer is: “We do not care. We refuse to give any information on when that person is going to be able to travel. We refuse to give any information as to why we are saying that person will not be able to travel. We refuse to give any information as to when that person can travel.”
It is as though we are asking for the most unreasonable, unrealistic things. That is how the Liberals paint the debate. They cannot answer the debate directly. They cannot answer the debate forthrightly. If they really wanted to debate this issue, they would put their advice on the table so that we could all see it and debate it like adults, but they do not want to. They would rather give speeches talking about the former shadow minister for finance. They want to talk about the member for , because that is so pertinent to the debate. It is so childish and insulting to Canadians who are asking the very serious questions that we are raising in this motion to have members over there treat them with so much disdain and disrespect.
I cannot believe it. Canadians who are unable to travel, unable to visit family and relatives, are watching this debate and listening to the kinds of speeches that these people are putting out, joking and laughing about the member for . It is beyond shameful. It is embarrassing, and they should be embarrassed for participating that way.
We want things to move forward for Canadians. We want answers. We tried for a motion to ask the Liberals to put the benchmarks out for everyone to see: When we get to this, we will do this, and when we get to that, we will do that. The Liberals voted down the motion, unfortunately, with help from the NDP. We had a wonderful NDP member asking some great questions, but they voted down that motion as well, and I am disappointed about that.
We have to ask ourselves: Why will the Liberals not do any of these things? It is probably because they have not set that plan out, because this is a government that cannot do more than one thing, as we have learned. They sort of stumble from one crisis to another. We choose to joke and say: “You cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.” That is kind of what we have happening here.
Now, we are back to another motion saying, “You would not give us the benchmarks, all the rest of the world has moved forward, they are lifting all these things, so let us get on with it.” Let us get on with it. Let us actually say that this is what we are going to do.
I, of course, will be voting in favour of this motion. I know that the Liberals will not be, but I am hoping other parties will. I am hoping that other members listening today will decide not to talk about the member for and will actually stand here and debate this issue, because if they do not, it tells us exactly what we need to know about them, which is that they have nothing to offer on this subject.
Madam Speaker, today I rise to support this motion and add my constituents' voices to the growing concern about the legacy of Liberal-made backlogs. Canada faces massive delays for passports, veterans and seniors’ services, and 2.1 million people are stuck in the IRCC’s backlog. Now, we are seeing the same backlogs happening at airports due to inconsistent policies by the Liberal government. If there is one thing the Liberal government is good at, it is making everyone miserable.
The government's biggest example of mismanagement is the mess in our immigration system. This is just an example that I will use to lead to the mismanagement happening at the airports. People looking to come to this country face growing processing times and absolutely no communication. Their applications disappear into a great bureaucratic black hole, along with their emails and phone calls. Newcomers can end up stuck waiting for months, if not years, to have their cases processed. As a result, families are left separated from their loved ones and refugees are left stranded in the hands of the Taliban. This is the reality that backlogs impose on real people.
Our country faces a labour shortage crisis and there is a real need for new immigrants to help fill these gaps, yet instead of taking action the government has economic-class newcomers waiting in limbo. The economic-class backlog stands at over 235,000 people. That is 235,000 lives that are now on hold: workers who are unable to contribute to Canada’s economy and families who do not know if they will have a future here.
For families of new Canadians, family sponsorship is also a nightmare. The backlog there now stands at almost 109,000. That means families remain separated, their mental health suffers and divorce and suicide rates are going up. I imagine all MPs' offices hear about these cases every single day, as mine does. I speak to constituents who tell me they do not know when they will see their spouses or children. They do not know how to go on, and it is heartbreaking.
Backlogs are also hurting Canadian businesses and our economy. Employers and businesses share with me that the work permit and temporary foreign worker situation in Canada is alarming. My office heard from a small business owner in northern Ontario. She cannot get workers, and is now relying on one person on a work permit to help her husband run their mechanic shop. In tears, she explained that her last employee has been unable to renew his work permit because of this Liberal-made backlog. Most likely, he will lose status and have to leave. She told me that she would have to close her shop because it is impossible to quickly get LMIAs and work permits. The hospitality and tourism sector are other industries hit hard by this backlog, but if no one can travel or afford to go on vacation, I guess the government does not really care.
Inflation is now at 6.8%, which is a new 31-year high, yet as inflation for food grew by the largest increase since 1981, and shelter and fuel inflation increased by 22% and 64%, respectively, the and his ignored Canadians' pain. Experts warn that inflation will continue to rise while wages barely grow and fall way behind.
If inflation was not enough, the government went ahead and increased the carbon tax yet again. That is after years of kicking the energy industry when it was down and hating on it when it made gains. Those negative effects on the oil and gas sector directly affect our ability to afford groceries and home heating, or to drive ourselves to work; that is, if a person even has a job. The government’s unscientific and vindictive COVID policy has made millions of Canadians second-class citizens. That includes public sector employees and workers in federally regulated industries. For people exercising their freedom to make their own medical decisions, the government will take away the right to work, travel and be an everyday Canadian. Not only is it not enough for the government to make everyone’s life miserable economically, but it is also discriminating against our fellow Canadians.
For those who can travel, the misery does not end. If Canadians planned on getting away from the high inflation and division of the Liberals, they apparently should have planned that back when they first got their passport. For some reason, the government could not figure out that if someone got a five-year passport five years ago, they would need to renew it now. After two years of lockdowns, it is no surprise that Canadians would want to travel and get away from the mess these Liberals have created, but they have even made that hard to do. The fact that, in 2022, someone must line up for three or more days or pay hundreds of dollars for someone else to stand in line to get essential government services is ridiculous. What choice do people have? The hotline has gone cold and people cannot get through to a human who can answer their questions or provide status updates. The website tells people to call, so the only option is to stand in line.
Like in the immigration system, people's applications for passports are now disappearing into the system. They cannot even get an estimated time when the government will send their passport back to them. Canadians are paying higher fees and extra payments to expedite applications, but then nothing happens. This should not be the way it works. Instead of letting public sector workers come back to the office, the government's solution is to throw more money at the problem and promise to hire more workers. It makes for a nice announcement, but we have seen what this promise has done in IRCC; the backlog has only grown.
The reality is that the Liberals have both failed to plan and planned to fail. After keeping public service employees at home and putting unvaccinated workers on leave, the government failed to prepare for the influx of travellers and passport requests. Now we see that failure impacting the lineups at airports. The out-of-date mandates and COVID policies are forcing significant delays. The ArriveCAN app, random testing and other protocols mean customs services have become so backed up that there is not enough capacity at some airports to accommodate the lineups. That is leaving passengers stuck on planes on the tarmac, because they have nowhere else to go.
Before the pandemic, CATSA had 7,400 employees and now, even after bringing back its staff, it has only 6,500 employees. Airports are also facing staffing shortages because of the mandates. This is at a time when the air travel and tourism industries in Canada usually reach their busiest season. Instead of working with the industry and addressing the real issues, the would rather blame passengers. People are sick of the long lines and never-ending flight delays, and of the Liberals blaming them for the government's failures.
Even airports and airlines are calling for eliminating out-of-date, unscientific restrictions on travellers. The EU, the U.K. and lots of other countries worldwide, many with lower vaccination levels than Canada, have scrapped the mandates. In these countries, families can reunite with their loved ones, people can work without government discrimination, and travel is not the chaotic mess that we see here in Canada. As the Liberals continue to discriminate, divide and promote fear, Canada, our economy and Canadians are the ones that suffer. The government seems to want to make as many people miserable as possible.
We still face an immigration system unable to meet our labour demands, let families reunite or even get our friends and allies out of war zones. The financial situation for Canadians is devastating, and inflation and affordability have hit a crisis point. Our travel and tourism sectors are in chaos. Passports are impossible to get, and lineups and delays at airports are never-ending. This is the result of a government that is failing to plan and planning to fail.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected all of us, but we now need an approach that will fix this disaster for all Canadians. We have an opportunity today to support this motion and show our support for the people of this country. I ask my colleagues in the other parties to do the right thing and join the official opposition in calling on the government to revert to prepandemic rules and service standards and to begin the process of cleaning up its mess, ending the misery for all Canadians.