Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in the House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and be here at a moment when our world has fundamentally changed forever. What we need to come to terms with in the House is that we are in the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis, and the role of Parliament is to come together to find a way to establish a means of working to address the nature of it.
Before I spoke, we heard a report that the Canadian military, which has been in long-term care homes, has found blatant disregard for the lives of seniors, with abuse and negligence in the for-profit care system. Canadians are looking to this Parliament. They will look to us and ask what we will do to ensure that this never happens again. We will hear some say that this is under provincial jurisdiction, but the negligence happened under provincial jurisdiction and in numerous jurisdictions. These seniors deserved better, and we will have to look at how we envision health care in the 21st century.
COVID has exposed very clearly the myths of our society and the smugness. It has laid bare the inequities, and it has made us start to address this. Canada is now in the new century, and the old century and its old smug assertions are gone forever.
Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition talked about the magical, mystical hidden hand of the market that creates everything we need. That is a really bizarre thing to say when this nation did not have PPE, when our closest neighbour, the United States, was stealing our medical supplies and when front-line medical workers had to crowdsource because our nation did not have the capacity to handle the pandemic.
People will look to this Parliament to ask what we are going to do to make sure that never happens again. We should never ever to be in a situation where we have to send in the army to keep our seniors alive. We send in the army for earthquakes in Haiti. That is where we send the army. We send it to catastrophic floods and fires. We had to send in the army because we have been so negligent in the health care of seniors, and the reports speak to the blatant disregard and abuse.
We have had to adjust how Parliament works as well, and I will say one thing for sure: In opposition, members never give up time. It is their one tool. Members never shorten debate or give up an opportunity to speak, because it is the one tool we have. In the face of this crisis, we recognized that we had to pull back from Parliament and think about how we were going to do this. The New Democrats said that as we are in a minority government, we will begin to negotiate. That is what we do in a minority government.
The first negotiation was based on the fact that suddenly millions of Canadians could not pay their rent. So much for this myth of the middle class and those wanting to join it. What we see are millions of people in the gig economy and millions of contract workers who were not going to have the ability to pay their rent. Then we started to push the government.
In the original talk, the government said it was going to tinker with EI and that it had a little more money for the Canada child benefit. The New Democrats said the extent of this crisis was such that we have to do something extraordinarily different, something that would have been thought impossible in February: a $2,000-a-month minimum to keep people afloat. We worked with the government on that. We never got any support from the Conservatives. They were all howling. They talked about the shirkers and people sleeping in their hammocks. We worked with the government but said the plan was too restrictive, and we asked about the self-employed. We had to change it, and each step of the way we had to negotiate. This is what we can do in a minority government.
People in the United States got a one-time payment of $1,250. No wonder there is so much social unrest in the United States right now, a breakdown of social solidarity. If we had given a one-time payment of $1,250 in March, it would have been an economic catastrophe for Canada. We recognized that we had the power of the federal government, a power that the provinces do not have. We have the Bank of Canada to backstop this. We knew we could give $2,000 a month as a bare minimum, so we included the self-employed.
Under Boris Johnson, England went with a base income as well, but it does not include the self-employed until June. If we had done the same thing in Canada, millions would have been wiped out.
This is how we negotiated. We gave up our time, which we fight for to stop the government from shutting down debate and fight for at committee. We gave that up because there is a bigger principle at stake: the crisis that Canadians are facing.
We negotiated with the government about small businesses. The original plan the government had was for a 10% wage subsidy. We said that 10% was not going to do it and that it had to be 75%. We negotiated that. That is what we do in a minority. We have the capacity.
The government has now brought in a motion for the committee of the whole to meet four days a week. People back home have never heard me explain the ins and outs of how Parliament works because I do not tend to do that, but the idea that this is a fake Parliament or not a real Parliament is a complete misrepresentation and falsehood. We have been able to zero in with ministers, asking very specific questions to push much harder.
We asked how we would get to the end of June. We are not shutting Parliament down permanently.
How do we get to the end of June? We said there were two clear things for us.
We wanted some sessions in the summer because we do not know how COVID will change in the summer. We heard nothing from the Conservatives about wanting to show up for work in the summer. Parliament does not sit in the summer, but we got those meetings.
We also said we would support the government on this key issue if it considers workers who are going back to work. They get $14 an hour and have no sick time. We never see the Conservatives stand up and talk about people making $14 an hour, unless it is to thank someone who served them a burger in the morning after they went through the drive-through. It is great that an hon. member thanks a guy at the drive-through, as I heard earlier, but the Conservatives offer nothing about the fact that if workers gets sick they cannot take time off.
The 10 days we negotiated with the government is extraordinary. It is also extraordinary because we realized, which my friends in the Bloc will lose their minds over, that we have to start talking at a federal level about how we can do this across Canada in a pandemic. We will have to negotiate a solution here.
We will now be speaking until the end of June about where we need to be, but coming out of this, we need to have a very clear vision. The economy is not simply going to turn itself back on and roar back into life.
We heard the Leader of the Opposition say that we have to get government out of the way because we want people to be able to make choices. Mr. 20th Century Man talks of making choices when millions cannot pay their rent. Let us get government out of the way. Let us just have the private sector do it all. Anyone who is dealing with industries has heard from industry after industry that they will not come back without some kind of vision and support.
We are talking about what the role of government will be. We have been here two days, and we have heard many things from the Conservatives. They went on about Margaret Thatcher. Remember her? She said there was no such thing as society. Guess what? COVID showed us that this is not very credible. Of course, they always mention Winston Churchill. They started off with Winston Churchill, then went to Margaret Thatcher and then to the Soviet Union, with the old “follow the Soviet Union” approach. The only thing they were missing was that we had to hold the line in the Mekong Delta so that the dominos did not fall.
What we are hearing are the tired old excuses of a 20th century vision that does not cut it. What COVID has shown us in 2020 is that those old myths are not going to cut it. We will need a new vision for public investment in health care. To end the precarious nature of work, we will need a public commitment with standards, not just to get government out of the way. We will also need a vision for building our economy.
We are willing, as the New Democrats, to give up some of our time in order to negotiate in a minority to put the people of Canada first. That is what we will continue to do. We will leave the Conservatives to howl at the moon or jump on the back benches. Maybe they will mention Castro next or someone else from their 20th century greatest hits. We will focus on what we need in the 21st century.