Mr. Chair, it is good to be here in person in the chamber representing my constituents, the wonderful people of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford.
Looking back, I do not think any of us, when we were making our New Year's resolutions back in January, could have predicted how this year would turn out. It has certainly been a year of great upheaval, a year of great uncertainty and a year of great anxiety. We are here to reflect accurately the struggles that many small businesses and individuals have had to endure during a very tumultuous time. The same goes for the people in my riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, who are still dealing with the economic and social consequences of COVID-19.
This pandemic has very much laid bare the inadequacies of our social safety net, and it has also made us realize the dependence we have on essential workers who are doing that front-line work, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk, often for low wages. There are several tiers of workers in this country, and those who make the least and struggle with multiple hours a week are often the ones putting themselves in danger. We also have been forced to confront the systemic inequality, poverty and, indeed, racism, that has very much come to the fore in 2020.
The NDP's goal throughout this pandemic has been to get more help to more people, more quickly. When the government rolled out its programs, they were, in many cases, inadequate at first blush. Based on the feedback that the opposition gave, we were able to make them better. Yes, there are still gaps that exist, but I believe that if we look at what was on offer in late March and early April, we have made measurable successes and improvements, and that is a testament to the hard work of members of the opposition. It is also a testament to the constituents who informed us, as their members of Parliament, of what was working and what was not, and a testament to the fact that we were able to bring those voices to this place and get the changes that were sorely needed.
Unfortunately, in these last few weeks, we have had this scandal erupt with the WE Charity. It is a scandal that has taken all of the political oxygen out of the room. This is a time when Canadians expect us to be focusing on them and focusing on the recovery efforts, and unfortunately we have a Minister of Finance and a Prime Minister who are suffering, yet again, from self-inflicted wounds.
The most important document any cabinet minister should be reading when he or she takes office is the Conflict of Interest Act. It very clearly states that one should recuse oneself when dealing with a situation that could involve benefit to oneself, family members or friends, and that ministers should not accept free travel when carrying out their duties, especially with an organization that has the potential to benefit from government contracts and services. Unfortunately, because of the Liberals' ability to step on every ethical rake on the lawn, we are dealing with that situation when we could very well be dealing with the important matters that face our constituents.
Specifically, many small businesses in my riding, and across Canada, are suffering very much. If we look at the statistics from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, most businesses that were surveyed were reporting a decline in income that resulted in the loss of employees. Each one of those employees was another person who was unable to provide for his or her family, and who had to find a way to make home finances work. It was a very significant and disconcerting event for many people.
There are two particular examples in my riding. I will highlight V2V Black Hops Brewing, which is in Langford. It is sort of a social enterprise brewery that donates some of its profits to helping veterans, particularly homeless veterans. It is a very noble cause, because even though the government has been given the money by Parliament to try to address veterans' issues, unfortunately, we still have a big problem with providing adequate veteran services and benefits.
This great program, run by V2V Black Hops Brewing, exists in Langford. Unfortunately, the company was unable to qualify for the Canadian emergency wage subsidy and also had problems with the commercial rental assistance subsidy because of problems with the CRA. My office has repeatedly tried to get assistance from the Minister of National Revenue on this, but so far there has been radio silence.
I also think of the retailer Sports Traders Duncan, which has been owned and operated by Richard and Maureen Ellis since 1995. Of course, they saw a precipitous drop in their business because there have not been any team sports happening. No one is coming in to buy sports equipment, so they saw a huge drop in their revenues. It was a calamitous drop for a business that has existed in my community for about 25 years. They were in a situation where their landlord did not want to participate in the commercial rental assistance program. Unfortunately, the Liberals designed the program so that it required buy-in by the landlord.
What does a business do when it has an uncooperative landlord? There was no other route to take, even though I brought this to the attention of several ministers. Unfortunately, this business, which has been a pillar of our community for so many years, is now facing bankruptcy. We are probably going to lose it, although it is owned by two outstanding members of the community, and it will probably never be seen again.
I want to highlight the efforts that have been made by two individuals in our caucus: the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, who is our finance critic, and the hon. member for Courtenay—Alberni, our critic for small business and tourism. Both of whom have repeatedly called on the government to make improvements to this program. Unfortunately, they were met with inaction.
Those are the things that we need to address. I know that small businesses continue to look to their elected leaders here in the House to find ways to make sure they are going to recover as we move into later stages of dealing with this pandemic.
Coming from British Columbia, I would be remiss if I did not talk about the ongoing opioid crisis. The opioid crisis continues to ravage my communities. In British Columbia in the last couple of months, we saw a record number of deaths. Unfortunately, because of a toxic street supply of drugs, we are continuing to see these overdose death rates.
I will commend both the federal government and the B.C. government for starting pilot projects under the substance use and addictions program to try to deal with this, and get a safe supply of drugs to users so that they will not be exposed to that toxic supply. However, it is time for the next bold step from the federal government. I need the federal government to step up to the plate and join the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, several medical health officers from across the country and the premier of British Columbia to finally institute the decriminalization measures that we need to see. The biggest roadblock that we still have is the stigma of ongoing criminality for possession of a small amount of drugs. We need to find a way to make people come forward with the problems they have, so that they are not afraid that the criminal justice system is going to pounce on them if they try to get the help they need.
I'm not talking about legalizing drugs. I still believe that we need to have penalties in place for people who traffic and deal drugs, but for those who are suffering under the curse of addiction, we need to get the criminal justice system out of the way. We need a social and health approach to this very deep and ongoing problem.
Just in the last minute I have, we are at a moment in time when it seems like a giant pause button has been pressed on our society. I think we have collectively been given the time and space to think about where we have been, where we are now and where we want to go in the future. It is quite obvious that we cannot return to the way things were, not only because of the inadequacies of the social safety net, the fault lines that exist and the deep inequalities. This is a time for us to really think about the kinds of measures that we can put in place, not just shovel-ready projects but shovel-worthy projects, really making sure we are looking after people, giving them an adequate income to live on, and making sure that we are investing in energy and infrastructure projects that truly meet the needs of a 21st-century Canada.