Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster.
I am glad to be back in the House. I love being in the chamber. One of my friends in the media calls the day that he puts the newspaper together with the stories and the pictures “magic day”, and this is where magic happens for us as politicians, right here in the chamber. It is the only place, I think, where we can get the real feel of how Parliament is meant to work.
I appreciate that a number of colleagues are giving shout outs to their staff, and I would like to do the same. My staff works so diligently and hard on behalf of our constituents who have been struggling during this outbreak. I want to give a big thanks to Dana, Lisa, Laura, Lindsay, Megan and Gianfranco. The service they provide to our constituents is bar none, and I am proud of each and every one of them. I know the incredible amount of effort and skill they apply to each case that has come to our attention through the mailbox, by email or by phone. Even though we are not yet allowing visitors in our office, we are working to put in place the proper safety protocol so that we can start meeting with our constituents again when a phone call is just not enough.
Meeting here and having these discussions is something that is fundamental to democracy. As Conservatives, we have been saying that Parliament needs to meet, as we are doing here today, and it needs to do so consistently. Now, we are not saying that we need all 338 members here. We can use a hybrid system, which we are going to try out going forward with the special committee of the whole on COVID-19. There are ways for us to do that, as well as to vote. We are looking for a compromise where we can have Parliament function and deal with the business of the day.
Our municipalities are meeting. Our town councils and municipal councils are meeting every month dealing with things on behalf their ratepayers. Every provincial legislature is still meeting. They are acknowledging the need for social distancing while still doing the business of the day to ensure that they are on top of the COVID-19 crisis, and also dealing with all of the issues that government is charged with.
If we look around the world, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia and even China are meeting. I am sure that the Prime Minister, with his admiration for the “basic dictatorship” in China, is watching closely as the National People's Congress of China is meeting shoulder-to-shoulder. If members watched them on the news, they are all wearing masks, but they are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in their chamber. It is important that parliaments gather. We exchange ideas and have rigorous debate, which is not possible through Zoom with the technological problems, the inability to hear each other and the cutting in and out.
I am sure that the member for Timmins—James Bay will be glad that I am going to give a Winston Churchill quote, as follows:
It is difficult to explain this to those who do not know our ways. They cannot easily be made to understand why we consider that the intensity, passion, intimacy, informality and spontaneity of our Debates constitute the personality of the House of Commons and endow it at once with its focus and its strength.
That is the best way to describe why we need to be in here carrying out these debates, including the heckles. It is where we have an opportunity to have an exchange of ideas and to see the reactions and to be able to feed off each other's emotions to some degree, as long as it does not escalate too much. It is the role of parliamentarians in the House of Commons to have these discussions. Although the government motion refers to having a 95-minute question time during the committee of the whole with five minutes of back and forth, it still does not replace what we do in here via conversations and discussions on the bills of the day, which is something that we are not dealing with at all while we are in this special parliamentary committee format. For instance, we are not dealing with a budget, and I will get to that later.
Professor Christian Leuprecht from Queen's University has said:
Ultimately the underlying primary constitutional principle here is the principle of responsible government. It is about ministerial responsibility, first and foremost, during a crisis and an emergency...
Especially during a time of crisis, Parliament has a supreme duty to hold the executive to account. Canadians need continuous parliamentary audit of the executive and the bureaucracy's judgment.
This is the role of the opposition and the backbench of the government in the House, that we ask the tough questions. Our Constitution, our Westminster parliamentary system, is built upon that ministerial accountability and that is not happening when we are working off Zoom.
There are concerns in my riding. When I am here I can have my 10-minute speech and I can have my time in question period and I can have time at committee to raise concerns from my constituents. I want to raise a few of those right now.
One of the small business owners in my riding owns a couple of businesses and said she had to shut down because of the types of businesses she operates and is having trouble paying her rent. Unfortunately, her landlord refuses to participate in the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance and so she is going to be forced to leave and he is going to have to chase after her for the lease payments that are left. It is going to end up in court and could actually affect her other businesses because she is financially strapped now.
If I get a chance through the special committee and the 95 minutes of questions and answers maybe I will get the chance to get these answers from the minister, but if we are here all day long, I have a greater opportunity to raise these issues directly with the minister.
On the agriculture side, farmers are really struggling. The Interlake area I represent has gone through drought after drought. Before that there was BSE and flooding along Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, so a lot of farmers have been hit hard. They are trying to get crops in the ground and cattle fed through the winter, having enough pasture. On top of that, as we already heard, and I thank my colleague from Battle River—Crowfoot for the great job he does as the shadow minister of agriculture, we are seeing meat prices go up because there is less beef being processed in our meat packing plants because the slaughter facilities are being impacted by COVID and workers cannot get to work and, ultimately, prices on the retail side are going up.
The opposite is happening because of oversupply in our feed lots and among our cattle calf operators. One of my constituents lost $600 per head on the calves he held over the winter, as he always does. He sold them in the spring and received $600 less than he did the year before. Most operators will not be able to sustain that. That is over a $60,000 loss for that one single farmer.
There is also a commercial fishery in my riding, and it has raised many concerns. The Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation has quit buying pickerel from Lake Winnipeg and will not even try to market it because all the restaurants they sell to have shut down and there is an oversupply sitting in storage. Fishermen and their families have to go out onto the lakes and are not able to catch anything of value, like pickerel and whitefish, to sell.
One thing that is missing in all of this process is a budget from the government. We are spending money this year that could very well see us having a deficit equal to the budget we had last year of $350 billion. We could have a $350-billion deficit with the shrinking economy and the growing government spending in response to COVID-19. We still have not seen a budget from the government and accountability on how it is going to spend this money without crashing the economy, without putting us in such crippling debt that we may never be able to crawl out from underneath it.
It is our job as parliamentarians to look after the taxpayer, and that is not happening because of this special committee.
I can go on and on. Firearms owners in my riding are upset. These issues need to be discussed at committee, but we do not have every committee going. The public safety committee is not going. The national defence committee that I am vice-chair of is not operating. Without having those committees operating, we cannot deal with issues of the day in a timely manner to address the concerns of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.