Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's discussion on the Bloc Québécois's opposition motion.
It gives me an opportunity to comment on something that New Democrats care a lot about, and that is the ability to stay the course and be consistent. Not every political party has that ability, and I find myself in a rather unusual position in that I support the motion but am struggling to understand the Bloc Québécois's approach.
I would like to reread the motion:
(a) the House remind the government that a general election was held in October 2019 and sadly note that more than 1.3 million Canadians, including almost 360,000 Quebecers, have been infected with COVID-19 and that nearly 25,000 people have died as a result; and
(b) in the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible, and that it is the responsibility of the government to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls as long as this pandemic continues.
That is good. That is what the NDP has been saying for months, but is it what the Bloc Québécois and the member for Beloeil—Chambly have been saying for months?
I have here a Radio-Canada article from about six or seven months ago. I will read the end of the article, which shows that things have changed dramatically.
The article says, “As for whether a second COVID-19 wave could interfere with his plan, [the Bloc Québécois leader] says there are ways to keep people safe at the polls. He thinks COVID-19 itself is not enough of a reason to avoid triggering an election. ‘If we follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion, that would mean that as long as we are in a pandemic, we live in a dictatorship.’” That was the Bloc Québécois leader's conclusion then.
I wonder what happened. The only explanation I can think of is that the Bloc Québécois caucus and members did a little soul-searching and thought about whether holding an election during a pandemic would be the safe, sensible and responsible thing to do, given the presence of the virus and its variants. I am happy that the Bloc Québécois has come on side with the NDP and its leader, who have been arguing for months that it would be unwise.
An election could put people at risk. Hundreds of cases are being diagnosed every day. Not long ago, Quebec, Ontario and other provinces were reporting thousands of cases. The Bloc Québécois's change of heart is hard to comprehend.
A short while ago, the Bloc Québécois was boasting that it would hold to its convictions, that the NDP would save the Liberals and that it would be all right if there were an election because the Bloc was standing tall. Today, the Bloc is presenting a motion saying it would be a bad idea to hold an election. What happened?
I get the impression that the member for Beloeil—Chambly had a road to Damascus moment. He saw the light and fell off his horse. Something must have happened to him for him to say that he would avoid an election out of respect for Canadians. I find it extremely interesting to see the Bloc Québécois finally come around to the NDP's sensible, reasonable and responsible arguments. We have been saying over and over for months now that we will not risk our constituents' health and safety by holding an election no one wants.
None of my constituents in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie are telling me that it is time to hold an election and that it is really a priority. No one is telling me they would be happy about it, that it would be a good thing, that it would be easy and fun. We saw quite clearly what happened with the election in Newfoundland and Labrador.
For months now, the Bloc Québécois has been threatening to trigger an election. They did it during the first, second and third waves. Today, they came around to the NDP's arguments, and that is just fine. I will take it, but I am having trouble following the Bloc's reasoning. That is why I said how important it is to stay the course and be consistent.
This week is National Nursing Week, a time to recognize the work of nurses, who are doing a fantastic job. For over a year now, nurses have been on the front lines in our health care facilities, saving lives, often at the risk of their own. Let us not forget the other health care professionals either, like physicians, orderlies and technicians.
I think that, out of respect for these people, the work they do and the risks they take, the Bloc should have said from the outset, as the NDP did, that it would not increase the risk of spreading the virus by triggering an election, which involves door-knocking, rallies and line-ups to vote. That would have been the right thing to do from the beginning.
In the article I quoted from a few months ago, did the leader of the Bloc Québécois forget to respect the work of these professionals? I am not accusing anyone. I am simply asking valid questions. It seems to me that this is something that can be done, since I have already heard it somewhere.
If we want to avoid putting the people who work in our health care system at risk, people who have had it tough for months, who are dropping like flies and whose working conditions are challenging, the right thing to do is to say that there should not be an election as long as the pandemic continues.
I sincerely wish the Bloc Québécois had said so much sooner and shown consistency out of respect for health care professionals and the health and safety of all Canadians. It is good that it got there in the end.
Going back to health care professionals and National Nursing Week, I think we obviously need to talk about the federal government's responsibility to provide the best possible working conditions for these professionals. They are working extremely hard to care for our seniors and our sick. They are saving lives and caring for patients who have been suffering intensely for weeks, if not months.
I must draw my colleagues' attention to the Liberal government's failures with regard to provincial health transfers. We unanimously agree that the federal government needs to do more and increase its share of funding for the public health care system to cover 35% of the total. Right now, federal funding is hovering around 20%, which is woefully inadequate and puts tremendous pressure on the provinces, including Quebec. Austerity measures have been introduced in recent years, and they have had an impact on working conditions, particularly orderlies' wages and nurses' schedules, making their job all the more challenging and difficult.
The pandemic revealed the extent of the crisis and exposed just how badly our health care system needs more funding and a better structure, and how the people who work in it deserve more respect and recognition. The federal government needs to contribute to this effort, but it is not doing so, preferring to inject funds on an ad hoc and temporary basis so as to avoid responsibility. Injecting billions of dollars here and there is all well and good, but it all comes to an end eventually. Then the provinces, the hospitals and the health care professionals are left with the same problems.
What we are asking for is stable and permanent transfers from the federal government to the provinces in order to improve our capacity and our health care and to ensure proper care for our seniors, so that the carnage we saw in long-term care centres never happens again.
Working together is the least we can do. We have a shared responsibility, as representatives of our constituents, to work hard to ensure a modicum of decency for our seniors, so they can live out their lives in dignity, without their rent becoming someone else's profits.
As the NDP leader keeps saying over and over, profit and the private sector have no place in long-term care facilities. That is what we need to fix to help our seniors. We must prevent the problems we saw in Dorval, where some people were pocketing thousands of dollars in profits every year on the backs of these seniors, only to abandon them when the crisis came. These seniors ended up alone, dehydrated, lying on the floor, with rotten food and no one to take care of them. We have to work together to prevent this from ever happening again.
A day will come when there will be an election and people will have choices to make. This government's preferences for billionaires, big business and web giants are bad choices that do not serve the public interest, public services or the common good. Until that day comes, however, let us be responsible and avoid having an election. I am pleased that the majority of parties have come around to the arguments that the NDP has been making for months now.