Madam Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House of Commons today on behalf of my constituents in Kelowna—Lake Country, as we debate an important motion, which will set the path of Parliament for the upcoming months and potentially years. I also want to take the time to thank my constituents of Kelowna—Lake Country for doing their part in helping to flatten the curve in Okanagan and British Columbia and, in fact, all Canadians for helping in their communities.
It was over 70 days ago when the House had its last regular meeting. It was on that day, Friday the 13, that our Canadian democracy was put to the test, and it is once again.
Since then, we have lost over 6,300 of our friends and relatives. Millions of Canadians have lost their jobs and livelihood and every one of us has had our lives affected in such a profound way that when we talk about getting back to normal, we are not really sure what that is or what it will look like. We do know it will not be exactly the same. We are seeing it already: Plexiglas everywhere and human touch discouraged.
The committees matter. Each and every committee in the House of Commons has a role to play in studying their area of mandate and how it has been effected. It is absolutely essential that all standing and special committees begin to meet virtually immediately and for all committees to have their normal powers restored.
As provinces and territories begin to open, Parliament has an important role to be present and sitting as this happens. The federal government also has a key role in ensuring the reopening goes effectively.
For example, I have been speaking with many business owners in my riding. In the sectors that are opening, they have raised concerns about not having enough PPE and cleaning supplies and not being able to safely reopen. These are important concerns.
This motion is misleading. What is being proposed is not Parliament. There are no opposition motions, no private members' bills and no emergency debates. It is not only about asking questions, although that is important. Let us be clear that what is being proposed today is not Parliament; it is a committee with limited functions.
Opposition day motions have value. The Liberals have 157 seats out of 338 and opposition parties can bring forth good ideas.
I have a list of some successful Conservative Party opposition motions we have had so far in this Parliament. First, we created a Canada-China committee. This was voted against by the Liberals. Second was auditing government infrastructure plans. This was also voted against by the Liberals. Third was a review of the Parole Board nomination process. Fourth was the tabling of economic downturn documents. Fifth was additional supply days, more opposition motions.
Why would the government not want Parliament to sit at this time and have regular opposition days? Is it because the Conservatives have good ideas and the Liberals feel we will upstage them? Is it because the Liberals feel a lack of control? All I know is that the opposition days are part of our democratic institution that the government has taken away for now and it will be at least four to six months before it will be returning based on what has been proposed.
In a time of crisis such as this, what we are facing now in the role of Parliament is fundamental and essential. Greg Tardi, a former lawyer for the House of Commons, told the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that if there was no Parliament, if there was no give and take, if there was no communication between the government and the people, essentially, in his view, democracy would break down.
I would also like to share a quote from my colleague, the member for Vancouver Quadra and Minister of Digital Government, which I feel effectively sums up the importance of having Parliament return. She said, “There is an economic crisis that needs us to band together and think about why we are here as members of Parliament. We are not here to spend government money. We are here to serve taxpayers and think about their well-being.”
Thinking about the well-being of our constituents during this pandemic is important, and I hear it every day. I have a few comments from my constituents on why they believe Parliament should return with full authority and functions.
Teresa from my riding emailed in saying, “I believe [the Prime Minister] has forgotten that a politician is there to serve the people of the country in a democratic way....I do not understand why the Conservatives are on their own as the other opposition parties are siding with the Liberals.”
Donna emailed me to inquire, “I would like to know why parliament is presently not in session and why PM...is making decisions without parliamentary input.”
Lloyd from my riding says, “The level of despair and frustration in my heart grows daily and I see no help on the horizon. Are there no checks and balances in our institutions? If there are, they are not apparent, at least not to me.”
Canada must be governed through Parliament, not from a podium in front of a cottage or in a committee. Questions are important, but they are not enough. Our institutions must have the tools and resources to scrutinize the decisions made during a time of crisis. This includes institutions such as the Office of the Auditor General. It concerns me greatly the lack of sufficient funding for that office, with outdated technology and insufficient staffing to effectively scrutinize government spending.
We are in a minority government. No political party, no caucus, has majority control of the House of Commons. Let us not forget the government called Parliament back in March to approve of its economic response plan. It added to the bill, at the last minute, the ability for itself to have the power to raise taxes, debt and spending without any parliamentary approval until January 1, 2022.
This is the same government that use an order in council to amend firearms legislation in the middle of a pandemic. One of the questions my constituents ask me often is what other orders in council the minority government is planning.
Crisis management 101 is identifying the crisis. The official opposition members were asking tough questions of the government in the House back in January. One has to put a plan together, and it has become evident the government did not put any kinds of plans together.
We were in a weakened economic position prior to the declaration of the pandemic. Our forestry and oil and gas sectors have been hit hard, mostly due to policies of the government; farmers are coming off a very financially challenging 2019; and we have had four years of deficits at a time when we should have been putting money away to weather uncertain times such as this.
Uncertainty causes a lot of stress for people, and yet the government has failed to address many of the concerns the Conservatives have raised. We have to create substantial plans to give business and our citizens certainty, and the official opposition has made very good recommendations. Are we simply wanting to get by or are we laying the foundation so in the coming months and years we can confidently say yes we will be getting ahead?
To quote a friend, “We need courage, strength and endurance to lead our country, Canada.” The decisions we make today will affect our future generations. This is important. While we follow safety protocols, we must allow all committees to sit fully and we must allow Parliament to sit with its full functions. Our democracy depends on it.