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Results: 1 - 15 of 115
View Stéphane Bergeron Profile
View Stéphane Bergeron Profile
2021-04-12 14:41 [p.5410]
Mr. Speaker, instead of trying to interfere in Quebec's jurisdictions, Ottawa should look after its own.
Had it managed the borders as everyone had been asking it to do since the start of the pandemic, our schools might not be overwhelmed by the variants right now. Had it been quicker and more efficient at procuring vaccines, we might not be in the dark red zone today. We are paying dearly for this government's failures with respect to vaccine access and border controls.
What makes it think it is in a position to lecture us today?
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
2021-04-12 14:41 [p.5410]
Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is going to have to make up its mind.
Two weeks ago, just before the break, the Bloc wanted to exempt all snowbirds, all of them, even those who had been vaccinated, from quarantines. Now, all of a sudden, it is saying that we must have more stringent border controls. We cannot do both. Which one is the Bloc supporting?
The Bloc must at least be clear about that. We have been clear from the outset. We established strict rules at the border, among the strictest in the world. Why? It is because our priority is the health and safety of all Quebeckers and all Canadians.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-03-26 11:32 [p.5357]
Madam Speaker, the Auditor General says the Liberals failed and put Canadians' well-being, safety and the economy at risk.
They delayed closing the borders when they should have, but were still unprepared. The border is in chaos. Agents cannot keep up with changes. The public safety minister still has not delivered training that he promised.
This week the Liberals voted against our call for a data-driven plan to get life and paycheques back to normal. How can Canada reopen safely with this ongoing incompetence and uncertainty?
View Joël Lightbound Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Joël Lightbound Profile
2021-03-26 11:32 [p.5357]
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the Auditor General for her report. The Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, accepts the Auditor General's recommendations and will take concerted action to implement them. The CBSA will continue to examine the findings and recommendations in the Auditor General's report and use them to guide its future activities.
I can assure the opposition member that a number of mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that border services officers have all of the information they need to do their job properly in these unprecedented circumstances.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-03-26 11:33 [p.5357]
Madam Speaker, the U.S.-Canada border moves $2 billion a day in goods that are crucial to Canada's economy.
For these essential workers, it is a gamble. They are told they are exempt by public health and overturned by border agents, and could even get a $3,000 fine while the NHL and elites get special treatment. An Ontarian, who has crossed between auto plants for 20 years, says it depends on which customs agent they ask.
I wrote asking for clear answers, but the public safety and health ministers cannot decide who is charge.
The U.S. and U.K. have recovery plans. Where is Canada's plan to secure our future?
View Joël Lightbound Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Joël Lightbound Profile
2021-03-26 11:33 [p.5358]
Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for that important question.
I would remind the House that in response to the pandemic and the closure of the Canada-U.S. border, for example for non-essential travel, the CBSA has expanded its support to front-line border services officers beyond what is required by current operational bulletins and guidelines. Officers now have direct access to support services 24 hours a day.
To ensure that officers understand all the border measures in place, the CBSA has also held information sessions to explain the order clearly so that all relevant information is available to officers.
View Chris Lewis Profile
View Chris Lewis Profile
2021-03-26 11:52 [p.5361]
Madam Speaker, the manufacturing sector in Canada and the U.S. has the best COVID protocols in place. They cannot afford to interrupt their supply chain and the flow of goods any longer. The government says it wants to “build back better”. To these business owners and their workers, it feels more like “build back never”.
Enough inaction. When is the government going to give clear and concise direction to CBSA and PHAC before more jobs and contracts are lost because of its inaction? When?
View Joël Lightbound Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Joël Lightbound Profile
2021-03-26 11:53 [p.5361]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his important question.
It is true that the closure of the Canada-U.S. border to non-essential travel has had its challenges.
I can assure the House that the Canada Border Services Agency operates a 24-7 service to provide the best information possible to officers working on the front lines, in order to ensure they are making the right decisions with respect to the essential workers crossing the Canada-U.S. border.
We did not stop there. We are making sure that the decisions are consistent all across the country. The work is ongoing.
View Michelle Rempel Garner Profile
That, given that,
(i) COVID-19 restrictions have had serious economic and mental health impacts on Canadians,
(ii) COVID-19 restrictions have been advised by the federal government, including specifically by the Prime Minister on three separate occasions in November of 2020, as temporary measures to alleviate pressure on the public healthcare system,
(iii) public health tools, such as rapid tests, shared data on how COVID-19 spreads and vaccines, have not been positioned as permanent solutions to replace COVID-19 restrictions by the federal government, including in areas of federal competency like air travel and border restrictions,
(iv) the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom have both released public plans for economic reopening, while Canadian officials have not yet given Canadians clarity on when regular economic and social life will be able to resume,
the House call on the government to table within 20 calendar days, following the adoption of this motion, a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Edmonton Centre.
Before I start, I want to tell Lynne Walker that this one is dedicated to her.
Yesterday in the House of Commons, I asked the health minister what I thought was a very simple, non-partisan question. I asked when fully vaccinated seniors could give their grandchildren a hug. The answer we got back from the health minister, a year into the pandemic, could be summarized like this: She does not know, is not sure she wants to tell us, and believes it is a provincial jurisdiction, but she will give the provinces advice.
That is not what Canadians want to hear. I think that answer encapsulates best the need for this motion.
We are a year into COVID‑19, and enough is enough. A year ago, Canadians from coast to coast pulled together to say we had to shut down the economy and undertake these restrictions in order to buy time for public health experts, all of us here in this place, provincial governments and municipal leaders to figure out what COVID‑19 was, how it spreads and who was most vulnerable, and to develop tools to permanently combat it, like therapeutics, rapid tests and vaccines. A year into the pandemic, those tools now exist. The problem is that in Canada, we have not had clear guidance from our health officials on the circumstances under which widespread mass lockdowns can safely end. That is a huge problem.
Those who are watching today need to understand that no level of government in Canada has issued any advice on what fully vaccinated people can do. The only thing the federal government has said to date, when asked, is that vaccinated people still have to go into controversial quarantine hotels. The federal government has to at least tell people what the plan is to develop benchmarks on how these tools are going to bring freedom, prosperity and normalcy back to the lives of Canadians. Today, we are calling on every member of this House to support the federal government in developing a plan within 20 days on the benchmarks by which these tools can be used in order to let life get back to normal.
We all acknowledge that it is important to combat the spread of COVID‑19, important to protect people from serious illness, important to prevent death. We have been doing that for the last year, all of us in this place. What is missing now is hope for the future. Canadians have no idea when lockdowns are going to end, and that has to stop.
Why does that have to stop? It is not just me asking for this. We have Unifor asking for “a national recovery plan to include adapting border restrictions to safely reopen borders”. There is the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada has stated, “The news of COVID vaccine distribution gives us reason for cautious optimism”, but said that we need to plan for the recovery of Canada's tourism industry now. The Fitness Industry Council of Canada is asking for a plan. Mayors are asking for plans. Everybody is asking for a plan. It is not just stakeholders who are saying this; it is also medical experts who are saying, “We can't just live in a bubble and have a life of no risk. Everything we do has consequences.” We need a better path forward that uses these tools to protect Canadians' health while also ensuring that life gets back to normal.
These are stories from the CBC.
The federal government has to deliver this. Probably the most critical thing the federal government could do right now is deliver a plan with benchmarks on how lockdowns can be gradually, permanently and safely lifted.
We do not have that. How can businesses plan to reopen if they do not know the circumstances under which they are going to do that? Can we imagine being a restaurant owner right now, when every day it says in the news that we might lock down again, or we might not?
Public Health officials have not even been clear on the data showing where transmission is occurring and whether we are applying these tools to the most vulnerable places. A lot of Canadians are saying that it seems like a lot of reactive measures and a lot of guesswork.
Canadians have pulled together and Canadians have sacrificed a lot, but the federal government has to stop asking Canadians to sacrifice normal life. It has to stop asking people to sacrifice hugs, their mental health, their safety at home. It has to stop asking people to sacrifice those things, and it has to start giving them a plan for hope: “This is how we are going to reopen. These are the benchmarks. This is what we are using and this is how we are doing it.”
Other countries around the world are already doing this. This week Iceland has said that if people are vaccinated, there is no quarantine for them, and they can just come on in. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a reopening plan with benchmarks. Under the Biden administration in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC have issued guidelines on what vaccinated persons can do. They have set an aspirational target of July 4, Independence Day in the U.S., and Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that the United States is going to have a normal Independence Day.
Why can we not have that here in Canada? Why can we not have nice things too? I want to re-emphasize that the federal government has not told Canadians what they can and cannot do if they have received a vaccine. It has not told airlines any sort of plan for safe border reopening. This cannot be a taboo topic anymore. The federal government is spending billions of dollars on lockdown restriction measures, so it has a responsibility.
All of the Liberals who stand up to talk to this motion today are going to say that it is not the federal government's job, that it is the job pf the provincial governments. There is a big problem with that. We are in an emergency crisis situation, and it is the federal government's job to lead because it is spending billions of dollars, money that we do not have, to support continued lockdown restrictions with no plan to end them. To refute their talking points, that is problem number one.
Number two, Prime Minister has come out many times and asked for lockdown restrictions that are within provincial jurisdiction. On November 24, the Prime Minister said that the federal government is working with the provinces so that they can impose restrictions. He said that again on November 10 in a CTV article, and again in the Canadian Press on November 13. Those are just a few quotes from him that I pulled.
Yesterday in the House of Commons, to that question that I referenced around hugs, the health minister said that the federal government is working with provinces and territories to develop guidance, with support from the federal government, on restrictions. The Liberals cannot suck and blow. They cannot say that it is politically convenient for them, ahead of a potential election that no one but the Liberals want, to offload this responsibility to the provincial governments.
To the bureaucrats who are watching this speech, if bureaucrats in Health Canada are advising the minister that it is not her job to provide guidance, why are we paying your salaries? If the health minister is not asking her department, with its thousands of bureaucrats, for guidance on this, why are we paying your salaries?
We need hope. We are not saying that we should just willy-nilly do anything. What we are saying is that the federal government has to start issuing direction to the airlines, to hospitality and tourism, to retail, to marginalized communities, to women who are having domestic violence issues. We need this plan. It should be a no-brainer.
The motion we have in front of the House of Commons today is asking for a data-driven plan. This is what the ask is. It is that the House “call on the government to table within 20 calendar days, following the adoption of this motion, a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.”
I said I was dedicating this to my friend Lynne. Her husband passed away. She did not even get to see him when he went in for his heart attack. People should not have to say goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime.
The federal government needs a plan. Every person in this House and every Canadian should support this motion.
View Tamara Jansen Profile
Madam Speaker, does my hon. colleague believe that a plan for border opening should be laid out clearly by the federal government? That is what we are asking for in this motion.
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
2021-03-23 11:37 [p.5100]
Madam Speaker, the motion may imply that, but that is not the only thing it implies. It is basically Quebec's and the provinces' job, and their respective public health authorities and legislative assemblies, “to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID‑19 restrictions”.
I hate the fact that the Conservative Party campaigns on respecting jurisdictions and giving the provinces a lot of autonomy and then, when it comes down to it, they show up today with a motion where that is not the case.
When I introduced the bill on a single tax return in Quebec, the Conservatives said they were in favour of it and that they would move a motion in the House. When it came time to vote, they abstained. The Bloc Québécois finds this approach by the Conservatives to be rather disappointing.
View Kristina Michaud Profile
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois and the people of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.
I must say that there are a number of worthwhile points in the Conservatives' motion. It is true that the COVID‑19 restrictions have had serious economic and mental health impacts on Canadians and Quebeckers. Governments around the world, in Quebec, in Canada, in the United States and in the United Kingdom had no choice but to implement increasingly severe restrictions to protect people from the spread of COVID‑19. Some of the restrictions were questionable, but the majority of them were necessary. I am absolutely not trying to defend the government; I am simply trying to put things in perspective.
Yes, COVID‑19 has had and continues to have some serious economic and mental health impacts. I read something on Twitter yesterday that really stuck with me. Jean‑Marc Léger, an economist and the founding president of Quebec polling firm Leger, said, “The 1st wave was a health crisis and seniors were hardest hit. The 2nd wave was an economic crisis and companies, businesses and workers were hardest hit. The 3rd wave is a mental health crisis and young people are being hardest hit.”
He was referring to an article in Time about the deterioration of the mental health of youth in the United States. We can say that the situation is similar in Canada. According to one poll, psychological distress among young people 18 to 34 is greater than in other age groups. The social and emotional development of youth and the establishment of romantic relationships results from socialization with their peers. Restrictions that were designed to reduce gatherings, for example, have had a significant impact on youth. Experts say that the mental health of youth was already an issue before the pandemic. Today, 26% of millennials say they have suffered from depression. That is a very high percentage. There is a lot of talk about the economic cost of this pandemic, but, unfortunately, there will also be an extremely high cost in terms of mental health.
This is not the focus of my speech today because, as we know, health is a provincial jurisdiction. Quebec has everything at hand to efficiently manage its health system. All that is missing is the federal government's financial assistance, which it is still waiting for.
Certainly, governments had to respond to COVID‑19 and rapidly institute temporary restrictions. These restrictions are temporary, not permanent, and that is an important distinction. Although some are more drastic than others, these measures are in place for a reason. As the motion states, the temporary measures were put in place primarily to alleviate pressure on health care systems. I think it is premature to lift some of those restrictions before the crisis is under control. The Conservative motion specifically targets restrictions in areas of federal competency, such as air travel and border restrictions. It calls for a clear, data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting these restrictions.
Thinking about lifting these restrictions makes me think of when they were put in place not that long ago. Today I would like to share with the House some particularly interesting tidbits I read in a very relevant book by the journalist Alec Castonguay entitled Le Printemps le plus long: au cœur des batailles politiques contre la COVID‑19, a behind-the-scenes look at the politics of fighting COVID‑19. The author interviewed dozens of key actors, politicians, bureaucrats and scientists who played a role in managing the crisis in Quebec and Canada. I learned a lot of things that are probably already public knowledge, but that I feel it is appropriate to mention here and now.
First of all, I was surprised to learn that the Global Public Health Intelligence Network did not detect any signals of the emergence of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. GPHIN, which is a unit of the Public Health Agency of Canada, acts like a smoke detector and was created in the late 1990s so that countries would not be taken by surprise by new fatal viruses, particularly following the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.
I was surprised because, over the years, GPHIN had become the main early warning system for emerging infectious diseases for 85 countries. Normally, the World Health Organization relies on GPHIN for approximately 20% of its reports of new viruses in the world every year. That is quite a lot. However, in the case of COVID-19, GPHIN was apparently unable to sound the alarm earlier, mostly because of a lack of staff and funding. In fact, it seems that GPHIN's role was called into question by Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2014 and that, since then, the work of its scientists has been valued less highly. Unfortunately, the arrival of a Liberal government in 2015 did nothing to change that. GPHIN scientists stopped issuing alerts in May 2019, seven months before the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in China. Even the Minister of Health said that she did not know that GPHIN had ceased normal operations.
I may be droning on a bit about this, but I do have a point to make.
Scientists have been predicting a pandemic for decades, but we were not ready. The federal government was clearly not ready. The cuts to health care obviously did not help. One of the most overlooked aspects was the procurement of personal protective equipment, but that is a subject for another day.
According to the book, the Liberal cabinet first learned about the existence of the Chinese virus on January 18, 2020.
Let me briefly lay out the timeline of events. The WHO declared an international public health emergency a few days later, on January 30. As Mr. Castonguay put it, the alarm went off, but no one woke up. In late February 2020, Canadians returning from all over the world—not necessarily from China—began bringing the virus home to Canada. While public health experts around the world believed that all suspected travellers should be tested, not just those returning from China, the Public Health Agency of Canada maintained its risk level in Canada at “low”. With the exception of travel to China, Global Affairs Canada was not discouraging Canadians from leaving the country.
On March 11, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. On March 16, a team from the Government of Quebec and Montreal public health went to the Montreal-Trudeau airport to inform travellers, since, strangely enough, the federal government had yet to put strict screening and information measures in place. Let us not forget that the government had been aware of the virus for two months by then.
Between March 1 and March 21, 42,000 foreign travellers and nearly 250,000 Canadians arrived at the Montreal-Trudeau airport from all over the world, including several countries that had major outbreaks.
In addition, 157,000 Quebeckers returned home by land, and nearly 37,000 Americans drove in from especially hard-hit states, including New York and Massachusetts. Travellers brought back nearly 250 different strains of the virus to Quebec alone.
Looking back, it is clear that a travel ban should have been instituted in mid-February in order to have an impact on transmission. Canada had just a few cases at the time, and Quebec did not have any. We know that it would have been hard for the government to justify such a measure.
Could we have done better with the little information available to us? That is a good question.
Border restrictions could certainly have been implemented more quickly. I am convinced that more could have been done, and more quickly, whether it was checking travellers' temperature, requiring rapid tests before boarding, or banning non-essential travel.
There was a delay between the time when GPHIN and the Public Health Agency of Canada started to become increasingly concerned and the time when the Liberal government finally decided to act. Had there not been this delay, things could have been very different.
Delaying traveller screening may possibly have allowed the variants to spread more easily within our borders. This recent experience has shown us that it is never too early to make plans to better prepare for the future. However, as we enter the third wave of the virus, lifting restrictions appears to be premature.
Right now, vaccination is the best way to get out of this pandemic. Until the majority of Canadians and Quebeckers are vaccinated, it would be completely irresponsible to allow people to travel freely again. Vaccinations are finally happening, but there have been delays.
If the Liberal government had been more proactive, it would not have waited until June to create a vaccine task force. Because the government failed to be proactive, no vaccines will be manufactured here until the end of the year and, more importantly, Canada is fully reliant on foreign manufacturers for its vaccine supply.
I appreciate the Conservatives' motion and sincerely believe that the government must present some kind of plan for getting out of this crisis. I honestly do not think the government has had a plan all along. The government is acting blindly and focusing more on its election platform than on getting us out of this crisis.
However, before suggesting that the temporary COVID‑19 restrictions be lifted, both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party should take the time to look back and admit that measures were too slow to be implemented and that if the government had acted more quickly, we could have saved thousands of lives. This is about lives lost. Just a few days ago, we paid tribute to the more than 22,000 lives lost, including 10,000 in Quebec.
I think that we have a short memory. We know that the financial and mental health consequences are enormous, but we have to remember that these measures are in place to protect our people's health and safety. I think that is what matters most during a pandemic.
There were definitely problems with the mandatory hotel quarantine, but we must remember that, before and during the holidays, the government was unable to make sure that returning travellers were actually quarantining. With variants surfacing around the world, I think self-isolating for 14 days upon arrival is still essential. The same goes for land border restrictions. People who do not have an essential reason to travel should stay home. That is part of the effort we must all make to combat this accursed virus.
The government could certainly be more understanding and more flexible in some situations, such as family reunification or if a person has proof of vaccination. However, given that managing travellers and borders was such a mess from the start, I feel it is all the more urgent that everything be in order before we consider lifting restrictions.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today. I will be sharing my time with the member for Newmarket—Aurora.
I do want to address this motion. I am glad that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands asked a question last, because she hit on something that hit a nerve this morning, and rightly so.
The member for Calgary Nose Hill, who moved this motion, said that this motion was about benchmarks and establishing various different degrees by which things should occur, but it is not. The motion does not talk about that at all. We can have all the preamble that we want in the “whereas” clauses, but the only thing that matters is the “resolved” clause in a motion. In a properly written motion, we should be able to strip away the preamble and just use the “resolved” clause to give the direction that it needs.
The “resolved” clause says that “the House call on the government to table within 20 calendar days, following the adoption of this motion, a clear data-driven plan to support safely, gradually and permanently lifting COVID-19 restrictions.” There is nothing in the motion about establishing benchmarks.
I want to spend some time talking about the confusion within this motion. There are really two parts to this, because this motion is not completely within the provincial jurisdiction, in my mind. There are some aspects that fall within the federal government and some that fall within the provincial government. I will start by talking about some of those that I see as falling within the federal government but that I find very problematic in terms of the way the motion is set up.
The member for Calgary Nose Hill mentioned a couple of things in her opening remarks, borders and the airline industry, that are good examples of things over which the federal government has jurisdiction. The federal government has jurisdiction over the matters that are constitutionally given to it and that are set up through the practices of our country since Confederation.
The reality is that for something like borders, there is a role for the federal government, but the question is whether the federal government should be required to come back to this House in 20 days and say, “This is how we will open the borders. This is the timeline.” That could only ever be the situation if we were able to know not what the results of the variables would be but what the variables are, and the reality is that we do not.
When we talk about opening a border between Canada and the United States, we have to realize that so much of it is heavily dependent on what they do in the United States, what action they are taking and where their numbers are. If we do not have the ability to influence that variable, how would we ever be able to say what the exact plan will be for how things will reopen? It just cannot be done.
The Conservatives talk about putting together a plan. I happen to think that it is a pretty good system that is in place. It is reviewed on a monthly basis by the Minister of Public Safety. He reviews it with the expert advice that he has, and he decides whether or not to extend it for another month. If the U.S. situation improves dramatically and the expert advice is that we should open that border, I am sure the minister will take that very important advice under consideration.
The same can be said about airlines. Canada is only half of the equation for international flights. Where are the flights going? Where are they coming from? So much of it depends on that and those other variables, so it is very challenging.
Let us turn to the other part of this, which is the discussion about provincial jurisdictions that has been coming up quite a bit today. Notwithstanding the fact that the member for Calgary Nose Hill and other members have stood up and said Liberals are just going to say that they cannot do anything because it is not their jurisdiction, in fact some things are not our jurisdiction, as is constitutionally afforded to the two different levels of government in this case.
When I think of some of the things that have happened in my riding, of the lockdowns that have come into place and how they have been lifted, I have an incredible amount of respect for Dr. Kieran Moore, our chief medical officer of health, who has steered our community through this wave. It has been incredible. We have had only one COVID death in our health unit in Ontario, and a lot of that has to do with the incredible work of our local medical officer of health, who is of course empowered by the provincial government. I think to myself, “Why would we think we have some kind of jurisdiction over our local medical officers of health and the jurisdiction to close businesses?” We do not regulate how businesses open and close. It is not within the purview of the federal government.
I quoted Sylvia Jones, the Ontario solicitor general, to the member for Sarnia—Lambton. The solicitor general said that it is not the role of the federal government to advocate for or against lockdowns and went on to say that the Ontario framework is working very well. I thought this was a pretty good quote, so I took this quote and I tried to tweet it to the member for Calgary Nose Hill. What happened? She has blocked me. The member for Calgary Nose Hill has blocked a member of the House on Twitter, and when I raise this concern, other members from the Conservative Party are chanting “Hear, hear.” Are they even really interested—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Mark Gerretsen: Go on, go on. Do you have more to say? Please, keep digging—
View Dan Albas Profile
Madam Speaker, before I address directly the motion before us today, I will first relay a story.
Back in 2017, the Prime Minister had an idea. His idea was to use an omnibus budget bill to create a new excise tax escalator on alcohol sold in Canada. This meant that the tax on most wine, beer and spirits sold in Canada would, by default, be increased every year without having to come to the House for debate. As opposition, we opposed this.
I warned the Liberal government what would happen if Canadian wines produced with 100% Canadian-grown grapes received an excise exemption. According to Wine Growers Canada, this excise exemption “resulted in more than 400 new wineries and 40 million litres of new wine sales....The annual economic impact of this growth is $4.4 billion annually.”
As I warned the Liberal government, the problem with the excise tax escalator was that it would make wine produced elsewhere but sold in Canada more expensive against Canadian wines that used 100% Canadian-grown grapes and that there would be a trade challenge on this. To make a long story short, there was. The same Liberal government capitulated and agreed to remove the excise exemption previously enjoyed by Canadian grape growers. In turn, the Liberal government promised a plan to offset the economic damage it created in this industry, but here we are in 2021 and there is still no plan.
I do not share this story today to say “I told you so”. I share this story with everyone as a reminder that when governments do not think ahead of their actions, they can make mistakes with serious consequences. Now more than ever, we need to be vigilant and plan; we need to plan for our future today.
Canada has fallen massively behind other countries in how we have dealt with this pandemic. We were slow to close the borders, we were behind on things like PPE and rapid tests and now we are behind on vaccines. We have spent the most for a country of our size, but we all know we have not gotten the results we desperately need. I do not say that as a finger-pointing exercise. No prime minister would want to willingly be in this situation. COVID-19 is certainly not his fault, but, as the highest office in the country with the most resources to do something, he is responsible.
How has the Prime Minister responded? Indeed, as many released documents under production orders are illustrating, the Prime Minister's Office has often tried to manipulate, hide, deceive or distract from these ongoing failures. Now, here we are. We as parliamentarians must do our jobs to do everything we can do to help with this recovery. If members are in doubt of that, I will share a few thoughts and observations that, if some members have not been thinking about, we need to start thinking about collectively.
Let us will start with employment insurance. We know that with the phase-out of the CERB, many have transitioned to EI. People who would not normally be eligible are now receiving record amounts from EI. The challenge is that EI, by law, is required to be a sustainable program. While the Liberal government refuses to disclose the current status of the EI account, we know that the parliamentary budget officer has forecast that the EI operating account is on track for a cumulative deficit of $52 billion by the end of 2024, and that is just an estimate. For every day of delay that we cannot deliver a plan to get our own economy back on track, the EI expenses will continue to exceed revenue.
This is not partisan politics. That is not some isolated situation. This is occurring in every region of our country today. Again, EI must be sustainable. The EI account will not balance itself; it will require a serious plan. If employers are not hiring or are continuing to bleed staff, that will result in more weight on our EI system. That means higher EI premiums to make up the shortfall on those employers and fewer and fewer employees, yet the Prime Minister and his ministers continue to ignore this reality. I believe we all know, collectively, that Canada ignores problems like this at our peril. That is just one example of a need for an economic recovery plan.
I will give another from my riding.
The Okanagan, like other regions of Canada, relies heavily on tourism. We now have situations where American citizens who have been fully inoculated, 200 million-plus more every day, are calling to make reservations for upcoming summer and winter vacations. If we do not start signalling by what science-based metrics we will abide by as well as who and under what conditions these tourists can come, they simply will go to other places and spend their dollars somewhere else, not here in Canada, where our small-scale accommodation providers and those small businesses that have been absolutely decimated by this pandemic are in a situation where many are living off credit. They are having tens of thousands of dollars of bookings being thrown at them and they have no idea what to do. Why? Because the Prime Minister has been totally silent in announcing any kind of recovery plan.
While a lot of tourism is road traffic, let us not forget that many travel to my home province of B.C. by airplane. For those in the aviation sector, it has been just devastating. Here we are, one year into the pandemic and there is no plan, not even an assistance package for this critical industry. What will be the long-term impacts for Canadians be if our aviation sector cannot survive? What of our tourism sector?
Here is something I thought I would never see in my region. Kelowna International Airport is a major artery for economic development of the Okanagan, yet due to its ownership under the City of Kelowna, it has not received a dime in support from the federal government's wage subsidy.
In 2019, YLW was booming and had large and ambitious expansion plans. Major parts of that plan have had to be put on hold because of the pandemic. Without any strong COVID recovery plan, like the Leader of the Opposition has called for, the failure of the Prime Minister to act means less opportunity for jobs and investments both at the airport and around our region that rely on YLW.
The director of Kelowna International Airport, Sam Samaddar, has said that without immediate changes, our country could see Canadians driving to the U.S. to catch cheaper flights from American airports when things return to normal in the future, because of Ottawa's low level of assistance now.
In the Kelowna Daily Courier last week, Sam Samaddar said:
The Canadian government’s investment in the aviation industry, it’s been appalling to be honest with you....And here we are a year into the pandemic and I can’t believe we still do not have automatic contact tracing.
We are behind on contact tracing and on stockpiling PPE, rapid testing and vaccines. Speaking of vaccines, the Prime Minister has suggested that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be so by the end of September. The problem is that losing another summer for tourism is a price that many can no longer afford.
I am certain I am not alone in seeing a growing number of “For lease” signs going up in many downtowns throughout my riding. Many of these small businesses that are closing have been around for many years. Most that I have heard from are either closing because they can no longer afford to keep the doors open or, in some cases, they do not see any clarity, they do not see any point and would rather cut their losses now.
Again, there is no plan from the Prime Minister. What we have heard is things like “build back better”. What does that even mean? People cannot build anything without a budget. The Prime Minister has refused to table a budget for over two years. To build back better without a plan, nothing can be built. Essentially “build back better” is just another series of buzzwords.
When we look around our communities, nothing is being built by the government right now. A revised mandate letter was sent out earlier this year, in which the Prime Minister instructed his finance minister not to commit to any new permanent spending. Only months later, the same Prime Minister promised to permanently increase transit spending, most of it five years down the road. That is the problem.
The Prime Minister literally makes it up day by day. First, we are not increasing permanent spending, until we are. Most of it is five years down the road. We have no budget to show how that promise will actually get paid for. What could go wrong here? I think we all know that is not good governance.
In the absence of a plan, that is what we get: made-up promises as we go along. Five years from today, that massive EI deficit in the billions is going to need to somehow be paid for. How? By who? Will workers premiums be further increased? If so, that leaves less net take-home pay at a time when inflation may be undermining our dollar. Is that what building back better looks like? If so, many would dispute that this is a better outcome.
One thing we do know is that these problems will not solve themselves. We all know that this current level of spending is not sustainable. I expect that when the Prime Minister first told his finance minister not to create any new permanent spending announcements, he did so with good reason. We also know that an election is coming at some point on the horizon and that the Prime Minister will only announce more spending. It is what he does.
The challenge is that we need a plan today, one that is scrutinized in this minority Parliament, one that is data-driven, that gives people hope and certainty. We need a plan that will help serve as our road map for how we deal with other countries that are ahead of us in dealing with the pandemic. We critically need to help small business. Let us not forget—
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