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View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
NDP (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to emphasize the severity of the crisis that we are all experiencing. Neither we nor our parents have ever seen its like. The only comparable situation seems to be the Spanish flu, which hit just over a century ago.
Tens of thousands of people are getting sick, thousands of people are being hospitalized and many people are dying. Scientists are saying that we are relatively fortunate that the mortality rate of COVID-19 is not higher or it would be truly catastrophic. However, we are all going through this situation together and we have no idea when we will see the end of it.
Canada's Parliament has been suspended. When it is recalled, only 10% of members are in attendance. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future. People are struggling in all of our communities. They are suffering and having trouble paying their rent and buying groceries, as I just said. Some experience anxiety and a great deal of stress. Community groups are telling us that there has been a resurgence in mental health problems that may have been resolved in the past but that are coming back because of a lack of resources.
Given that everyone is being asked to stay home, there are also terrible situations of domestic violence, and women are the primary victims. Home is not always the safest place. On the contrary, it is sometimes the most dangerous.
This situation is forcing us to do things differently, to be creative, to think outside the box, as they say, and to work together in a way that we have never managed to do in the past.
This reminds me of something our former leader, the late Jack Layton, said. He used to always tell us we had to work together. Now it is becoming clear that we are capable of working together as parliamentarians.
I want to take 15 seconds to thank a number of government ministers for their availability, their quick responses, their willingness to listen and their openness to suggestions from the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party and the Conservatives. Some of our proposals were accepted. Everyone wants to be constructive and come up with solutions to help people. Of course, we will always suggest doing more, but I have seen more open-mindedness and willingness to listen than ever before, and I wanted to emphasize that.
We have heard this a lot in the media over the past few weeks, but I too want to thank all our workers in the health care system: the doctors, nurses, orderlies, paramedics. They are doing tremendous work on the front lines. They are taking risks to save lives and take care of people. I tip my hat to them.
I also want to thank all the municipal employees, bus drivers, the people who keep our cities in operation. Thank you very much for a job well done. We need you in order to keep going.
Obviously, I want to thank the agricultural sector, the entire supply chain for our grocery stores and convenience stores. They are vital to allowing us to get through this crisis together.
I would like to take a step back and look at the crisis. We can already learn some lessons. Some observations can be made after just a few weeks, while our economy is in turmoil and many people are going through a tough time. I think the crisis reveals two things. First, inequality kills. Second, we need social programs and public services. We see it. After years of financial capitalism and neo-liberalism and austerity measures, people have become more vulnerable. In times of crisis such as this, the most vulnerable are more likely to fall ill, and they are also more likely to die.
Not so long ago, my colleague from London—Fanshawe noted that the inequalities in our society are such that half of all families are $200 away from insolvency. That means that our wealth redistribution mechanism is completely inadequate. Canada's big six banks made $46 billion in profits last year and there are still people who keep their money in tax havens.
People become vulnerable when we are not able to provide good care for people who have mental health or addiction problems. These people then end up homeless and on the street. When a crisis like this happens, they are the first to suffer. They are not on the streets because of chance or fate.
These people end up in these situations because of political and economic choices. This morning, an article in La Presse reported that COVID-19 had a higher than average mortality rate among African-American communities in the U.S. because these communities have long lived in poverty and in unsafe conditions that are associated with an increase in respiratory problems, heart problems and diabetes. People with these conditions who contract the virus are at higher risk of death. That is another example that poverty kills during a pandemic.
There is another example people will understand, and this is something the NDP tries to talk about as often as possible, because it is a major concern for some of our colleagues. I am talking about first nations, whose members are extremely vulnerable under these circumstances. They lack health and social services at the best of times. As the NDP leader said a little earlier today, when the nearest ventilator is a plane ride away, that puts people in a vulnerable position. When people do not have clean water, they cannot follow handwashing guidelines. When housing is a problem because homes in many indigenous communities are overcrowded, physical distancing guidelines just do not work. If the virus ever reaches those communities, the death toll could be staggering.
The reason things are so bad is that we have left them to fester for decades. We have a history of colonial treatment of first nations, and we need to recognize that. We must seize the opportunity afforded by this crisis to own that history and not make the same mistakes again.
I was talking earlier about the second thing that this crisis has made clear, and that is the importance of having a social safety net, universal social programs, a system that ensures that no one is left behind or falls through the cracks. I think we can get started on that. Of course we have to get through this crisis. We need to take care of people and find masks, gloves and everything else, but we have to come to the conclusion that a guaranteed income supplement might not be such a bad idea. It might helps us absorb the costs collectively when a crisis occurs, whether it is a social, health or economic crisis or even all three at once, as is currently the case.
We need to have a robust social safety net and universal social programs, and there must be oversight of the care provided, especially to seniors. In Quebec and Canada we are very proud to have a public and universal health care system. Imagine the situation for Americans. People without any insurance cannot go to the hospital because they are afraid of getting an exorbitant bill. We would be in a much tougher situation today.
Nevertheless, the private sector has been left to carve out its own leeway and space with regard to delivering certain services. Another example is very revealing. It is a shocking story that came out this morning about a private long-term care home in Dorval. Because of low wages and poor working conditions, the employees simply stopped going to work. Dozens of elderly residents were totally abandoned. The public health directorate of Montreal had to take over running the care home after residents suffered agonizing ordeals. That is the consequence of the political decision to let the private sector take over certain health care services. Maybe that should not even be the case, and that is something we should think about. Now is the perfect time to think about it, in fact. Residents who died were left in their beds, while others lay on the floor where they had fallen, dehydrated and starving. They had not received care or services in days. We need to collectively ensure that this never happens again.
People are saying that they cannot wait until things get back to normal. As progressives, we say that going back to normal is not the solution, because normality was part of the problem. We need to seize this opportunity to fundamentally change things in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of neo-liberal austerity and public service cutbacks. We need to ensure that the people providing services get good working conditions. Forget about going back to normal. We can do better. Everything will be okay, and we are going to do better.
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