Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to be here today. I think of how much the world has changed since the last time I was in this House. I have just spent a little more than 40 days basically in isolation. I started to think about the term “quarantine”, which means 40 days. It is a biblical image of the 40 days Jesus was wrestling in the desert. There was 40 days and 40 nights of floods. The Israelites were in the desert for 40 years. What is really profound about it is the term “quarantine” comes from the age of the black plague, because it was one of the only tools to fight the pandemic. It is sobering to realize that in the 21st century we are having to return to the tools that were used in the Dark Ages to fight a pandemic we do not fully understand and to realize how quickly that virus up-ended everything that our world has talked about and taken as absolute basic truths that could not even be argued: 40 years of economic and social policies overturned as quickly as the Soviet wall in Berlin fell over.
What fell over within the first week of COVID? The belief in the natural superiority of globalization, the belief that we do not need to have industry in Canada to look after ourselves because we can trust our allies. When Donald Trump seized medical equipment that was bound for Canada, that globalization agenda failed. When we were getting substandard health products from China, that globalization agenda failed. We heard people across the political spectrum talking about the need for an industrial policy so that Canada would never again be left in a lurch like that.
We learned about the whole privatization agenda, the “get government out of our way” view, that the “for profit” is so naturally superior. We saw the horrific death levels in the for-profit seniors homes that we are now having to send the army in to try and keep old people alive. We can never again be in that situation. We can never again be in a situation where we have crowdsourcing on Facebook for our front-line medical workers to have medical gear to protect them in a pandemic.
There are other things we have learned as well. We learned the incredible social solidarity of Canadians, that Canadians look out for each other, that Canadians do not believe in the race to the bottom, that Canadians do not throw each other out of the lifeboat. I arrived in Ottawa last night and my daughter told me that neighbours came up and put a sign on her door saying that they knew there were students there who may not have any family here and if they needed any help to call them. That is who we are as Canadians.
We also learned of the incredible economic power the government has. After all the degrading of federal spending and government money and the Conservatives always telling us that it was going to be the corporations, the private sector and the entrepreneurs, within a week of COVID everybody was looking for a backstop to stop the worst economic catastrophe in memory.
The steps we have been debating here have been about the power of social spending to keep our cities livable and our families afloat. I would put to the House that there is no going back to normal, that the world that was here at the beginning of March that we were debating is gone. The choice we need to make is where we are going to go as a nation. The idea that the market is going to miraculously come back is obviously a myth.
What is going to get us out of COVID is going to require intense public investment over the next few years. If we are going to be spending those public investments to get our economy back up, then the fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is what kinds of investments should we be making, because it is public money and it is about the public good. The steps we take every step of the way, whether it is supporting university students or supporting people with the $2,000 a month basic income that we have supported, must be the new floor to ensure that we are never again left in a situation as precarious as we were in and that our health care system is never again left in that situation.
I think of Ontario. I congratulate Premier Doug Ford. He has certainly shown some passion on this issue, but just before the pandemic they were shutting down all the public health units because they did not think we needed them, and these public health units have been the front lines of defending us and saving us right now. We are not going to go back to nickel-and-diming health care into the ground. That is not going to happen on our watch.
Regarding the idea of the $2,000 minimum, we can hear from the Conservatives, their right-wing think tanks and the National Post that people are going to sit on their duffs and hang out in their hammocks. It is like the Conservatives just cannot wait for the moment when they get to decide who gets thrown out of the lifeboat.
The reality is that we have seen that millions of Canadians, within one week of COVID, did not have enough savings to pay their rent. It is a staggering indictment of an economic system that has not made sure that we live to the standard that we should be able to live to. That $2,000 a month certainly did not come from the Conservatives; they were too busy making a tax on people of Asian origin. The $2,000-a-month minimum wage idea came from the New Democrats, who said that this is the new base, and we got the support of the government because it recognized that.
How do we go back and say that now people are going to go back to lousy jobs and lousy contracts in an economy that is not going to have a lot of those jobs for a long time?
The new normal is about ensuring that the investments we make from now on build a better society. It gives us an incredible opportunity. What are we going to do in terms of the billions of dollars that we will need in infrastructure to make cities more livable, more sustainable and to make our society more inclusive and fair? That is our opportunity. We could just give it away to the corporate sector, as we have done year in, year out, but I think that would be a terrible failure, given the fact that we have left Canadians in the situation they have been left in.
These are the issues that we have brought forward as New Democrats, compared to the Conservatives on this issue. We said $2,000 a month was the minimum, and then we realized that the government was still not working with us on making it universal. They wanted to have limits on it. We asked, what about someone who is earning some money? Are they going to be kicked off? What about people in the gig economy who have a bit of money coming in? To have the $2,000 plus the $1,000 has been a fair move, and the government has recognized it. It was the New Democrats who said that the wage subsidy at 10% was not enough and that it had to be 75%. While the Conservatives were all demanding that we start this new cold war with China, and they were all waving their flags and pumping their fists, we were speaking about small businesses and saying that we needed to make this fair to them, and we got those changes.