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View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
NDP (QC)
Madam Speaker, as all parliamentarians here in the House have done, I would like to dedicate the first part of my speech to the victims of the appalling shooting that took place in Nova Scotia today and to their families. We are already going through difficult times as a community and a society. I cannot begin to imagine how dreadful this must be right now for that Nova Scotia community. In particular, my thoughts go out to RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, who lost her life to this unthinkable tragedy. I believe we will all have to collectively reflect on many issues, be it mental health or access to firearms.
Similarly, speaking of condolences, I would like to highlight the work of the first care attendant in Quebec to die from COVID-19, namely Victoria Salvan, who worked at the Grace Dart CHSLD in Montreal. After 25 years of loyal service and constant dedication to her patients, generously giving them much of her time, she tragically passed away this weekend as a result of this horrible pandemic.
I want to acknowledge the tremendous work of some of her colleagues. They are anxious and scared. It is understandable. On the weekend, I heard one of her colleagues say that she has decided to isolate herself from her children and no longer see them for as long as she continues to work with seniors at this long-term care home. She is not the only one to make that sacrifice. I think it is a major sacrifice that needs to be acknowledged.
I again urge the government to take every necessary measure to provide them with the best medical protective equipment and ensure their health and safety. I also want to acknowledge the recent work of union representatives, the local union president Jonathan Deschamps and union representative Alexandre Prégent.
That being said, I want to say a few words on the motion before us here in Parliament. It is an interesting motion. As I was saying before, it is a reminder of how our democracy works, the role of a Parliament and the role of MPs and parliamentarians in general. Obviously, our role is to find solutions and make proposals, but is also to keep the government accountable. Sometimes the government makes bad decisions, or no decisions, or the decisions it makes need to be changed and improved. The role of the 338 people in this room, although we are not 338 today, is to push the government to make the best possible decisions for our society and our community.
These are extraordinary times we are living in. I find that the proposal on the table is entirely reasonable and in line with the public health guidelines that we are all being asked to heed. I think that as parliamentarians and elected members we must lead by example and tell our constituents that the situation is serious and we must do everything we can to try to minimize the repercussions, while tens of thousands of people are already infected and hundreds of people have sadly died of this virus.
Getting together several times a week, even in limited numbers, is not necessarily the best idea. We represent Canadians in 10 provinces, certain territories and remote regions. By coming here and forcing House of Commons staff to put themselves at risk, given that they have to provide services while we are here, we are increasing the possibility of contagion and infection in our own homes, in our ridings and in our communities when we go home. We need to strike a balance between adhering to public health guidelines and enabling MPs to represent their constituents and ask questions, because some things need to be improved promptly.
The Liberal government suggested holding one in-person sitting and one virtual sitting per week. The NDP felt that a single 90-minute virtual sitting would not be enough, because it would only allow enough time for 18 MPs, not including those who are in Ottawa, to question the government every week. That did not seem like much to us. We countered by proposing a second 90-minute virtual sitting, which would bring up to 36 the number of MPs who would get to question the ministers and Prime Minister each week without having to be in Ottawa. Our proposal was accepted by the Liberal Party, and I think the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party also agreed.
The Conservative Party says its chief concern is to ensure that MPs can do their job and ask questions at least three times a week. However, the motion before us would do just that. It allows us to hold one in-person sitting and two virtual sittings to ask questions. We know that four parliamentary committees are currently meeting. They are using technology to question witnesses by video conference. I think we could just move forward and strike that balance between the need to protect ourselves and our constituents and the need to hold the government accountable.
Since we are talking about accountability, I want to address some things that are going on right now and that we, including the NDP leader, have mentioned. Students have been largely forgotten, since those who did not earn $5,000 over the past 12 months are not eligible for the CERB. Thousands of people are living with a lot of anxiety and are not getting any help. We are putting pressure on the government to find a solution.
If the government had accepted the NDP's proposal to make the benefit universal from the get-go, students would have been covered, as would seniors. We must all ask this government questions and put pressure on it to find a solution.
People are writing to our offices because they are impatient, anxious and stressed. They do not know how they will manage to pay their rent and bills. I have two stories to share. The first is from a couple of students at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. They told me that they had research contracts at the university that covered their rent, but these contracts had been suspended. Since they do not earn $5,000 a year, they told me that they were not eligible for the emergency assistance. They asked me if they could expect anything in the future.
I hope that asking questions of this government will eventually enable me to tell them that something is coming. That is our job as parliamentarians. I think we can all do our jobs virtually, by video conference or online.
The other example is a woman named Camille, a student in the psychoeducation program at the University of Montreal. She receives loans and bursaries for the school year, but she has not accumulated enough hours of work to qualify for EI. She had some animation contracts lined up outside of her academic activities, but they were all cancelled because of the pandemic. Since her income was under $5,000, considering her loans and bursaries, she is not getting anything. She planned to work as a day camp counsellor this summer, but she still does not know whether this will pan out. She also does not qualify for any social assistance because of her loans and bursaries. In her message, she said she was afraid of being told not to worry and that she would not be overlooked, when she is in fact being overlooked. She said she wants something concrete, that she is scared, sad and disappointed. She has always done everything she could to get by and ensure a brighter future, she said.
There are hundreds if not thousands of people like Camille who are knocking on our doors. They want us to take action and come up with real solutions. Yes, we need to pressure the government to help these people. That is our job as parliamentarians. However, we also need to set an example and not come together here in the House in large numbers several times per week.
I would now like to talk about another problem. The biggest food bank in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie cannot access the federal assistance program for food banks because it got a very modest donation from the United Way. There are some inconsistencies in the programs that have been implemented, and some improvements need to be made.
I understand that mistakes are being made because everyone is trying to work quickly. This is the type of situation where, as an opposition MP, I want to be able to ask questions, but I do not want to compromise the safety of my constituents by doing so.
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