Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your giving me that extra six and a half minutes, because I was mentally prepared for 16 and a half minutes, and I appreciate your clarifying that time.
I was listening to an online conference of Alltech, a large agriculture company, this week. One of the presenters said, “A crisis does not build character; a crisis reveals the character of you and your team.” I think that is very apropos right now, because Canadians are looking to us not only as parliamentarians, as elected officials, but certainly as their beacon of democracy, of what Canada stands for. They are looking to us for inspiration and to be leaders. In a time of crisis, we are the ones who should be at the forefront, taking the leadership role. I think that leadership role includes going to work.
I want to give those in the House who were not here yesterday a bit of a review.
Yesterday, my colleague from Ottawa West—Nepean said in her speech that the House does not matter and that being in Parliament should not matter. I think that is wrong. I know for us there is no greater honour than being elected by our constituents and representing them here in Parliament, in the House of Commons. I believe that this is the foundation of our democracy.
Somebody told me once that there have been fewer members of Parliament than there have been hockey players in the National Hockey League. I am sure most of us had our parents tell us we would never make it in professional hockey, but I do not know if they would have ever said we would never be members of Parliament. Here I am, and that is thanks to my constituents.
When I was elected by the constituents of Foothills, I believed it was my job to be here to represent them, to be their voice in the House of Commons, and to be in Parliament. I would hope that my colleagues from all parties would understand that being here is an integral part of the job of being a member of Parliament. If they do not want to be here, I think they have to look internally to what they want to accomplish in their career as elected politicians and elected officials. If being here in the House of Commons, in Parliament, is not something they see as an essential service or a priority, they should really be taking a hard look at whether this is something they want to do, because being here is a large part of that job. It should be an honour. It is something we should all take a great deal of pride in, no matter what party we represent, and certainly our constituents are expecting us to be here.
Last night, I went through some of my emails from my constituents. We have certainly had a number of them. I know we all have. My constituents in Foothills are asking me to come back to work, not just to be in a virtual committee meeting, but to have Parliament up and running. I would like to read some of the comments that I have from some of my constituents.
Missy in Twin Butte, Alberta wrote:
Keep the pressure up for our government to get back to work! Is it not an essential service? There needs to be some opposition feedback and some questions allowed to [the Prime Minister]. At the moment there are no checks and balances....scary!
Pat in High River wrote:
I would like to know what, if anything you are doing to get the liberals back into the house so you can all do what we are paying you to do.... Letting this virus hold you back is total crap, the people that work in grocery stores and other stores are working. [Why aren't you?] I don't see any reason why you and [parliamentarians] shouldn't be working as well. If the liberals won't go back [to] parliament [it should be] dissolved and an election called.
I’m extremely disappointed that the Federal government feels that Parliament is not an essential part of the running of Canada. The justification [for this] is a slap in the face to those [of us] who work every day.... [It is] time for Canadians to be allowed to get back to work.
Parliament needs to reconvene, even in a condensed version. I watched the sitting last week and there was some great issues/ideas put forward by the opposition. this inadequate [version of] government cannot continue on its own.
Ellen in High River wrote:
We MUST get parliament back in session !!!!! [That is an] understatement. There must be some way to make [the Prime Minister] recall parliament, short of a million people descending on Ottawa [and demanding so].
Those are just a few of my constituents' comments about where they feel the critical role of Parliament is.
Yesterday, we had the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development saying that we are in a virtual Parliament. We are not in a virtual Parliament; we are in a virtual committee meeting, a committee of the whole. That is very different from Parliament.
It is disingenuous and misleading by the government to say that we are in a virtual Parliament, because we are not having opposition day motions, we are not dealing with legislation outside of COVID-19, and we are not dealing with having the majority of committees up and running. There is no question that dealing with COVID-19 is a priority for all of us. I do not think any of us would disagree with that. However, to say that there are no other issues that are almost as important is simply not true.
The leader of the official opposition yesterday talked about energy projects that are languishing at the cabinet table, 85 billion dollars' worth of energy projects. One of those projects is the Riversdale coal mine in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, in my riding. This is metallurgical coal, which shows the lack of knowledge of the Liberals, who are now chirping at me about shutting down the coal industry. This is a metallurgical coal mine that mines coal for steel, just in case members want to do some homework.
It is interesting that she is already yelling to shut down that industry, not understanding that thousands of people in that community rely on that industry. Having the Riversdale mine would be a game-changer for that community, a community that is not doing well. This is an opportunity for more than 1,000 jobs during construction and hundreds more during operation.
It is not just about the mine and the fact that it is waiting in limbo to be approved or not. It has gone through every process. It has one permit left to go and the approval of cabinet, but imagine what that does for that community. Imagine what that does for Blair's hardware store, Dawn's bed and breakfast and restaurant, Lisa's newspaper, or events operations, or other businesses in that community.
That community is waiting with bated breath on the decision for that mine but sees it languishing at the cabinet table or within government because of COVID-19. I hope the government can walk and chew gum at the same time, so that we can deal with COVID-19 but also have Parliament back to deal with other issues that are just as important.
When we come out of COVID-19, we are going to be in a deep financial hole. We have seen from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that the deficit right now is about $252 billion. I would suspect that, with the extension of the CERB and the wage subsidy, it could double and we will see a trillion-dollar debt for Canada. To come out of that, we are going to be relying on a few industries to help carry or dig Canada out of that financial hole.
There are only a couple of industries with the landscape out there right now that Canadians can look to and government should be looking to, to ensure that they are on a strong footing. Examples are energy and agriculture. No matter what happens coming out of COVID, people are still going to heat their homes. They are still going to put fuel in their cars, buy groceries and feed their families. As part of that, there is very real discussion of having a global food shortage. Countries around the world are going to be looking to Canada to try to address that problem because of our farmers here. Would it not make sense to have those two industries as strong as possible coming out of COVID-19?
Those are two of the industries that the Liberal government is neglecting, when it should be looking at those two as pillars of our economy, pillars of our recovery. It does not make a lot of sense that they are not. If we have Parliament back, we can have those discussions here.
For example, in the energy sector, the Standing Committee on Natural Resources is not sitting. Why? It is one of the most important industries we have in this country, with more than $60 billion in royalty revenue alone going to the federal government. That does not count the hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes that go to provincial, municipal and federal governments through income tax. That is an essential revenue source for this country coming out of COVID-19, but we cannot have those discussions, because we are just having what is essentially a committee meeting and we cannot talk about issues outside of that committee meeting.
There are projects like the Riversdale mine, which are essential to communities like Crowsnest Pass in my riding. That is just one project of dozens in constituencies and regions across this country. If I am hearing from my constituents about a project of that magnitude and the impact that it could be having on their economy, I am sure others among my colleagues are having the same conversations with their constituents.
As we go through this pandemic and we start looking forward to reopening our economy, in whatever manner that happens, as provinces will have a lot of say in how that happens and we want to ensure we do that as safely as possible, we can imagine where we would be as a country and an economy if we had a strong energy sector and a strong agriculture sector. We would be in a very different position, because we were coming into COVID-19 on very weak financial footing as a result of out-of-control spending by the Liberal government.
I recall the election in 2015, when the current Prime Minister said that we were going to have deficits of $10 billion for four years and in 2019 we would have a balanced budget. That obviously did not happen. We have now seen deficits as high as $28 billion. That was even before the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw detrimental legislation like Bill C-69 and Bill C-48, which have devastated the energy sector. We have seen illegal blockades, carbon taxes and rail backlogs that have devastated the agriculture sector, not to mention more than $5 billion in lost foreign markets as a result of political blunders by the Prime Minister.
Members can imagine where we would be if those two industries were doing well coming into COVID. It would put us in a decent position to come out of this pandemic, but unfortunately that is not where we are. That is unfortunate, because those people would be working. Certainly for us in Alberta, with close to 200,000 energy workers out of work well before COVID-19, that is certainly not getting any better as a result of what we are going through right now.
When I am speaking to my constituents, they understand the position this country is in with the pandemic. We all want to ensure that our families and our friends are safe, but they also want to be back to work. I find it difficult. My wife and I leave home now and again to get groceries, and on the weekend we went to a garden centre and bought some trees and flowers for the yard, and there are 15-year-old teenagers working there. They are helping serve their community in their way, and I find it tough that we cannot do the same thing and serve our community right here in the House of Commons.
What are my Liberal colleagues and those in the Bloc and the NDP trying to hide? Why do they not want to be here? What is holding them back? We are here all this week as 60 members of Parliament, but just in a committee meeting. Why can we not go that extra couple of steps and get ourselves back to normal? I think that is what Canadians are asking us to do. As I said at the beginning of my speech, we are supposed to be the leaders, so why are we languishing behind everybody else? Why are we asking Canadians of every walk of life to start going back to work, except we are the ones who are saying “but not us”? We are saying, “It is good enough for you, but it is not what we should be doing.” I think that is wrong. It sends a horrible message to Canadians. They are looking to us every single day, as their elected representatives. They chose us. They elected us to come here and be their voice, and for the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc and the Greens to be muffling that voice is wrong.
I do not know how they can go back to their constituents, look them in the face and tell them they need to go to work in that grocery story, in that hospital, in that pharmacy and in that hardware store, but the members of Parliament are not going to go back to work. If that is truly their attitude, they need to look at their constituents and ask themselves why they ran in the first place to be a member of Parliament if they are not willing to be out in front, be that leader, be that inspiration to the rest of Canada, be the one who shows that everything is going to be okay. We are going to be here to make the tough decisions on behalf of our constituents.
What it really comes down to is holding the government to account. We cannot have an ongoing process of doing government by press conference. Our democracy is not about that.
I know my constituents are sick and tired of the Prime Minister coming out of the cottage every morning, making his announcements, going back in and then that is it. They want some accountability. In many cases, they agree with the programs that have been put forward, and they certainly appreciate the improvements that the official opposition has forced the government to do. However, they are looking to us to be leaders, not followers. They are looking to us to get back to work, and the government should follow that lead.