Madam Chair, gilakas' la. I'd like to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
Our nation and the world, our ways of being, indeed our humanity, are being tested as we respond to COVID-19. This is unprecedented in recent times and our response will have far-reaching implications for the years to come. I think we all understand the gravity of the weight we feel in this place to get it right. Our hearts go out to all those suffering with the virus. We recognize the sacrifices being made to protect those most likely to succumb to the disease, it being not about what I can do for myself, but about what I can do for others.
We must also acknowledge the government, supported by civil servants, for the unprecedented steps it has taken to establish numerous emergency relief programs, from CERB to CEBA to mental health programs and many others. The emergency programs are helping, and new programs have been created and, aided by this place, adapted as needed.
That said, there are issues. My constituency office, like those of all MPs, has heard from many, including seniors, who are still struggling and are in need of government support. There are ongoing challenges for small businesses in meeting the criteria for CEBA, and there are issues about rents and what constitutes a livable income.
What is more, after some two months of extreme social distancing measures, the residents of Vancouver Granville, like all Canadians, are eager for some normality to return to their lives. While we wait for a vaccine, we turn our minds to what comes next as we move from the emergency response to the new normal, the end of the beginning, as has been said.
Clearly, physical distancing and proper hygiene are the new normal as we learn to live with COVID-19. In some cases, it will need to be institutionalized, particularly within situations of congregate living. Within long-term care facilities, there should be national standards that provinces adhere to in order for them to get a portion of financial support earmarked for elders. Further, there should be some standardization of pay, benefits and schedules for personal support workers.
As to the timing and the extent of removing restrictions, we of course must continue to be guided by science and our health experts. We must not be tempted to make the mistakes that are being made in some other jurisdictions. We do not save jobs and the economy by sacrificing lives.
As the pandemic has evolved differently across Canada, given our geographical and political diversity, the plans of the provinces and territories to reopen their economies will not be, and do not need to be, the same. However, given our system of co-operative federalism, there is a role for federal coordination. We are all connected and our Constitution protects mobility rights. We still need more efficient ways to test and track, and that need is national in scope. As electronic tracking and contact tracing become more widespread, we must be mindful of privacy rights and how we use data. We may need to regulate.
There is much to consider as we plan out our post-COVID economic strategy. Under the new normal, and even after restrictions have been lifted, it is unlikely that we will see people simply returning to life as before, at least not until a vaccine is found. Even with an optimistic 90% return to the pre-COVID economy, it will not be the same. There are longer-term fiscal implications. The federal debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to be 48.4% in 2020-21. While manageable, this is certainly not ideal, especially if we factor in provincial, municipal and indigenous debt. We need to consider the fiscal tools available to support provincial and other governments beyond the current transfers and stabilization mechanisms.
Other fiscal measures may be required. Some are suggesting raising the GST. What we do know is that the current level of expenditure to get us through the initial period is not sustainable.
At the same time, some are also leading us to consider new ways to deliver assistance to Canadians, such as potentially establishing a basic livable income, something that other nations are also considering.
Moving forward, not all businesses will survive, despite the emergency measures. We will need to decide what industries and businesses we offer additional support to, and under what circumstances. We should be providing essential products and services, and if we do intervene, it should be primarily through equity investment.
I certainly hope the Minister of Finance will be tabling the 2020 budget soon. We need projections, and we need to debate our plan.
Every day in Vancouver, as I know happens elsewhere, we make noise at 7 p.m. to support front-line workers. When I hear this, I cannot help but think how work is valued and how it is paid. While we show gratitude reflective of our reliance on each other, the gratitude is not matched in wages. In our society, we need to reward work on a different value system. We need to understand this and we need to be reflective.
Yes, we all support the middle class and those working hard to join it, but what this pandemic has shown us is that it is really the working class and the most vulnerable who need our help. Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable. If we had a society that truly supported one another, that had great health care for all, especially for our seniors and the most vulnerable, health care that provided them with the safety, care and attention they deserved every day, this crisis likely would not have been as much of a struggle for those people. If we cannot see that now, then when will we ever see it? If we are able to do something during a pandemic, then why not permanently?
Thankfully, and mindful of Alert Bay in my nation, there have not been major outbreaks of COVID in indigenous communities across Canada, but this could change. We must remain vigilant, and we must support indigenous communities that are taking steps to protect their communities from COVID-19 and affirm their inherent right to do so.
There are also growing mental health concerns in terms of isolation, particularly in remote communities. The pandemic only highlights the ongoing need for true reconciliation and a rights recognition framework so that we can properly address issues of overcrowding, lack of infrastructure, poverty and good governance.
Bringing back our economy is also a necessary lens through which we must view our post-pandemic socioeconomic plan to follow the lead of nations like Germany. The Prime Minister often says that the environment and the economy go hand in hand. The truth, and what this virus is showing, is that the environment, of which we are all a part, dictates the economy, and it will continue to do so more dramatically as our temperatures increase.
While stories of dolphins in canals in Venice may have been premature, the planet does appear to be healing. This is not to suggest for a moment that we should not restart our economy. Quite the contrary, but what it does make you think about is what sort of economy we should be restarting. It also makes one think about how we measure social well-being and success. It is not just about growth in the GDP.
GDP per capita has historically been used to make assumptions about the standard of living within a nation, the assumption being that the higher the per capita amount, the better the standards are. However, as I read in a recent article, GDP has mixed results when trying to measure the social well-being of a population. As an economic tool, it only makes assumptions about the basic standards of living, which can be different across the socioeconomic spectrum of a nation. Moreover, better standards of living do not necessarily equate to increased social well-being. We need to ensure that we look at this idea.
When we look at the crisis through the lens of our international relationships, it is coming at a time when democracy is under pressure and when the international rules-based order is being challenged and power is shifting. In many ways, COVID-19 is about a brewing perfect storm internationally. When the vaccine does ultimately come, Canada can show leadership and insist that it be made available to populations with the greatest need.
We have a lot to do, as members of Parliament in this House, and I know that when working together we can achieve many great things in terms of responding to this pandemic in a way that ensures we are caring and compassionate. As Bonnie Henry, our amazing public health officer in British Columbia, always sums it up: Be calm, be kind and be safe.