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View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
2020-05-26 10:05 [p.2399]
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Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties, and if you seek it, I think you will find unanimous consent to adopt the following motion.
I move:
That, notwithstanding any standing order, special order or usual practice of the House, the application of Standing Orders 15 and 17 be suspended for the current sitting; and that the provisions of paragraphs (l) and (n) of the order adopted on Saturday, April 11, 2020, continue to apply to committees scheduled to meet by videoconference later this day .
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View Candice Bergen Profile
CPC (MB)
View Candice Bergen Profile
2020-05-26 10:06 [p.2399]
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Mr. Speaker, can I have clarification? My interpretation said Standing Orders 7 and 8, but I believe it should be Standing Orders 15 and 17. Could the House leader clarify?
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View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Pablo Rodriguez Profile
2020-05-26 10:06 [p.2399]
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Mr. Speaker, I thought I was speaking clearly when I said the numbers 15 and 17. If it was unclear, I apologize. It was indeed Standing Orders 15 and 17.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 10:07 [p.2399]
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It is my duty to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 79.2(2) of the Parliament of Canada Act, a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, entitled “Reporting of Gains and Losses in the Government's Financial Results”.
Pursuant to Standing Order 32(5), this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-05-26 10:07 [p.2399]
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Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8)(a), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to one petition. This return will be tabled in an electronic format.
While I am on my feet, I move:
That the House do now proceed to orders of the day.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 10:08 [p.2399]
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Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Speaker: All those in favour of the will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Speaker: All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Speaker: In my opinion the yeas have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Speaker: Call in the members.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
The member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie on a point of order.
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View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
NDP (QC)
View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
2020-05-26 10:13 [p.2400]
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Mr. Speaker, you will have noticed that the voting was carried out in such a way that members opposed to the motion had to rise very quickly, which meant that the NDP caucus did not have time to stand up to have their vote recorded.
Our vote was not recorded at all, and I consider having our votes recorded to be part of our parliamentary privilege. For procedural reasons, there are far fewer of us in the House today. Things went a little faster than expected, and our vote was not taken into account.
The NDP caucus would therefore like its vote to be counted.
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View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
View Cathy McLeod Profile
2020-05-26 10:14 [p.2400]
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Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the NDP did not have its act together in knowing how to vote, but the rest of the House did. You have announced the result of the vote and I suggest that it stand.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-05-26 10:14 [p.2400]
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Mr. Speaker, in the confusion, when I stood was my vote recorded? If so, for which side was it recorded? You will find, if you look at the recording, that I did stand during this process.
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View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
View Alain Therrien Profile
2020-05-26 10:15 [p.2400]
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Mr. Speaker, they had plenty of time to stand up. I do not know what happened.
Maybe they were on sick leave?
In any case, it hardly matters. They did not stand, so I think the decision should be easy to make.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 10:16 [p.2400]
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The hon. member for Hamilton Centre voted nay, against the motion.
I want to remind hon. members that normally the procedure is that if a member votes one way and wants to change that vote, the member can rise on a point of order and ask that the House see it differently. However, the member needs the unanimous consent of the House for a vote to be changed.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-05-26 10:16 [p.2400]
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Mr. Speaker, given the confusion and the irregular nature of today's sitting, I would ask that my vote be changed.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 10:16 [p.2400]
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Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-05-26 10:17 [p.2400]
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Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 10:17 [p.2400]
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Is that agreed?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 10:18 [p.2400]
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The hon. member for Foothills has 10 minutes left. Actually, I just want to clarify that there are 16 and a half minutes remaining. There is a discrepancy between what is on screen and the facts.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Foothills.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-26 10:18 [p.2400]
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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.
Karen wrote:
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.
Rick wrote:
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.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-05-26 10:34 [p.2403]
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Mr. Speaker, the member is missing a very important point. We in the Liberal caucus can assure the member that we work whether we are in Ottawa or in our home constituency. At the end of the day, the role that a member of Parliament plays goes far beyond just representation inside the House of Commons. There is no doubt about it that this is an important aspect. It is absolutely a privilege. It is an honour to stand up and speak.
The motion we are debating today is going to allow, even during this pandemic, the opportunity to ensure that government is still being held accountable and that the institution continues to work. To try to give the impression that members of Parliament are not working is just wrong, at least from the perspective of the Liberal caucus. We work every day, whether it is inside or outside the House.
Does the member not realize that this work inside the House, in a hybrid fashion, will take place, even in the months of July and August, which will be a first?
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-26 10:36 [p.2403]
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Mr. Speaker, I can speak from my perspective, however, I want to take this moment to thank my staff from the bottom of my heart. They have been absolutely incredible. My constituency office has never been busier. We are having some very emotional discussions with our constituents and business owners, who are struggling through this process. I am not saying that we are not working in our constituencies.
Again, the parliamentary secretary the the government House leader just said that Parliament would be moving on. No, it is not. It is not Parliament, and he knows that. It is a virtual committee meeting, with many aspects of what is important to Parliament not happening.
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View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
View Cathy McLeod Profile
2020-05-26 10:36 [p.2403]
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Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank the staff in our constituency and Ottawa offices. They have been working tirelessly for the last couple of months.
The Liberals keep saying that this is great, that we will be able to ask all these questions. We know we can do that, but rare is the day when we actually get an answer. Therefore, it will just be more asked questions with no answers.
It is important to articulate the differences between Parliament and committee. What the Liberals are proposing is shuttering Parliament for another month.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-26 10:37 [p.2403]
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Mr. Speaker, my colleague is exactly right.
I know a large portion of Canadians are not following Parliament as a daily routine like we are. They may not see the intricacies and things that are a part of Parliament, like all the standing committees being operational, opposition day motions or the opportunity to fully debate issues.
For us and Canadians, it comes down to a matter of trust. When we have had this committee meeting, we have had the Liberals try to make an unprecedented power grab and put through a massive order in council, changing the criminal code. They have done these things with no public scrutiny and no debate, and it comes down to trust.
I am sorry, but right now my constituents and I do not trust this process.
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View Monique Pauzé Profile
BQ (QC)
View Monique Pauzé Profile
2020-05-26 10:38 [p.2403]
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Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say, as other colleagues have, that I am at work and that the team I work with in Repentigny and I are very proud of the work we do for the people of our riding.
I will go back to my colleague's remarks about the energy sector. I do not know if he is reading during the current lockdown, but some meteorologists, ecologists and scientists, the International Energy Agency and Stephen Hammer of the World Bank have come forward to say that this has to be a green recovery. Recently, yesterday and today, 40 million health care professionals called for a green recovery.
Why is his party unable to consider green, renewable and environmentally friendly energy?
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-26 10:39 [p.2403]
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Mr. Speaker, that question is extremely frustrating, and I think it goes to the lack of knowledge that my colleague has on the energy sector.
Between 75% and 85% of all green and renewable energy is done by traditional energy companies. If it were not for those companies, we would not have a renewable energy industry in Canada at all. Those are the companies that understand there will be a transition over time. They are the ones that are investing in that technology and innovation.
I would love to ask my colleague how she got here today. How is she communicating with her constituents? Does she really think that it is the end of the energy oil and gas sector? What would that future look like?
I would ask the member to start reading and get some real knowledge on what is at stake here.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-05-26 10:40 [p.2404]
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Mr. Speaker, to look at what real knowledge on what we are facing here, I would remind the House that there have been 6,180 deaths during this COVID crisis. There have been 81,765 cases. To suggest that this global pandemic, that this global tragedy is somehow of equal importance to the petro profits of the oil and gas sector is insulting to the families that have lost lives.
The suggestion to Canadians that we have not been working, I know that in my constituency we have been working harder during this critical crisis. What has the Conservative Party been doing over the course of this crisis?
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-26 10:41 [p.2404]
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Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting that the member is talking about this pandemic and the tragedies. I do not think anyone here is arguing that fact. However, how does he think we are going to address that pandemic? Personal protective equipment, vaccines and antivirals all come from the petro chemical industry. Without it, I am not sure where he would be. How would he be communicating with his constituents and working very hard? Would that be through hand signals?
Let us be realistic here. Questions like this, unrealistic questions, should not be coming from a parliamentarian who is representing his constituents, attacking one region of the country over another. We should be working together, as a nation, every industry, to get ourselves out of this, not dividing ourselves.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-05-26 10:42 [p.2404]
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Mr. Speaker, Canadians from all regions of the country deserve a great deal of credit for how they have responded over the last couple of months.
I much prefer using “physical” distancing over “social” distancing, because people can still communicate in various ways, but it is important that we maintain the physical distancing. We talk about washing hands and wearing masks. Canadians have really stepped up to the plate in so many ways to ensure that we minimize the negative impact of the coronavirus. We should all express our appreciation to Canadians in general for the way they have responded.
I would like to get my colleague's thoughts on that.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-26 10:43 [p.2404]
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Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more with my colleague. All of us have to take a moment to show our appreciation for Canadians across the country who have done everything they possibly can to deal with this pandemic.
When we were elected, I do not think anybody in this room could ever have anticipated that this was something we would have to deal with, not only in the House of Commons but certainly at home in our constituency offices. Again, I credit our staff who are doing the yeoman's work in trying to help our constituents navigate through this; our front-line workers, emergency and health care professionals and the kids at the grocery stores; all those constituents and Canadians who are doing all they can to ensure that the rest of us are safe and healthy, including our agriculture producers who are going to work every day to ensure we have food on our table and our grocery store shelves are well stocked.
My riding, in High River, had one of the largest outbreaks in the country because of the Cargill meat processing plant and some long-term care facilities.
I would like to take this moment to thank my constituents who work at Cargill Meat Solutions. They have worked so hard to protect themselves and their families, but still go to work to ensure that our agriculture and our processing industries are able to move forward. I thank them very much.
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View Omar Alghabra Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Omar Alghabra Profile
2020-05-26 10:45 [p.2404]
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Mr. Speaker, I would like to notify the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for Fredericton.
I would like to thank all our front-line workers who are serving Canadians and putting themselves at risk to ensure the rest of society is safe and able to access essential services. I also want to give a shout-out to our public service. Our public servants have been working around the clock providing support to Canadians when they need it during this pandemic.
It is important to highlight this starting point. We are going through a pandemic. Millions of Canadians have lost their jobs because public health advice has required people to stay at home to ensure that people are separated, so the virus does not spread even further and to minimize the loss of life. As a government, through the advice of science and public health advisers, we asked Canadians to stay at home. We asked Canadians to figure out how they could work differently. The same applies to Parliament.
One of the first things Parliament did, and it was a wise move, was ask the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study how Parliament could react in response to the situation. I am lucky to sit at that committee. Members of the committee went on to do its business. We did it virtually, interviewing and hearing from experts at home and from other parliaments around the world. We came up with a report that set out a road map for Parliament to resume.
We advised that Parliament needed to create a new set of standing orders for exceptional circumstances and that those standing orders would only come into play when all recognized parties in the House of Commons agreed to it for a defined period. If we were to extend that defined period, we would still need the consent of all parties in the House. We know that in extraordinary circumstances, we need all of us to work together. These exceptional standing orders would enable Parliament to work under these exceptional circumstances. We would revise how opposition days would be held. We would revise how bills would be tabled, how we would debate those bills and how we would vote on them.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs put together a road map for how Parliament could come back to work. However, for some reason, my colleagues in the Conservative Party were dead set against it. They disagreed. They tabled a dissenting report, and that is their prerogative. However, let me be very clear that the debate here is not whether Parliament is an essential service; we agree that it is. What we do not agree with is why the Conservatives are refusing to find alternative ways for Parliament to do its job.
Members of Parliament deserve equal access, so their privileges are protected. All members, regardless of where they live or what ridings they represent, must have equal access for their role as parliamentarians. That is why the committee asked Parliament to ensure we respected the privilege of every member. However, the official opposition is asking for us to have a reduced number of members here, which we understand, but how will other members of Parliament fulfill their duties? How will the privileges of other members be protected if the Conservatives are not willing to enable them or empower them to have the ability to participate?
I actually want to ask my colleague, the previous Conservative speaker, about this. While I appreciate his remarks, he said that we were languishing behind, and I agree. Parliaments around the world are finding ways to conduct their work in either a hybrid fashion or a virtual fashion, but they have empowered their members to do their work.
However, the Conservatives are standing in the way. They are saying no, that we have to do it exactly the same way and get “back to normal”. That is an exact quote from the previous speaker. We know we are not in normal circumstances. We know that Parliament, the government and public health officials have asked the rest of the country to figure out how to do their work differently to ensure that they are respecting public health advice. Why can Parliament not do that? We have asked millions of Canadians to do so.
Will the Conservative members look their constituents in the eye and tell them that yes, they have asked them to stay at home, but they are not able to figure out how to do their work differently, and they are requiring MPs to come to Parliament? When they say they are not asking all 338 MPs to be here, how will the MPs who are not here be able to represent their constituents? How will they be able to participate in the debate? How will they be able to vote?
When I asked the leader of the official opposition that yesterday, he said this is what we should be spending our time on. We did. We spent our time studying this and the committee made a proposal, again with the Conservatives dissenting. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they want Parliament to work, but then when alternatives are proposed for how Parliament can work, they say no, they are not for that. How does that work?
I heard my colleague say this is not Parliament. I agree. That is right. When we go into committee of the whole, that is not a fully functioning Parliament. We are proposing that Parliament be fully functional, but when we present that proposal to the Conservatives they say no. What do they want?
One cannot be inconsistent and have a straight face. If they want a hybrid Parliament, they need to figure out what Standing Orders we need to change. How will MPs who are not here be able to debate? How will MPs who are not here be able to vote? They cannot say they do not want to talk about that, but Parliament must resume. It is inconsistent.
Other countries around the world have figured that out. Other legislators around the world have figured that out. Why can the Conservatives not figure that out? Why can the Conservatives not get with the times, recognize that we are in a pandemic and we have asked the entire country to find a way to work remotely, to work virtually and to respect public health advice? The Conservatives say the parties would select which MPs would be here, which MPs would not be here and which MPs would vote or not vote. That is a contravention of the privileges for members, who represent their constituents.
I agree with the Conservatives that Parliament is an essential service, and we all want to see Parliament fully functioning under these circumstances. The question is how we do so. We all agree that 338 MPs cannot be here physically. Good, we are making progress. We agree that it is essential and we agree that not all MPs need to be here, but how would the MPs who are not here, when we do have a fully functioning Parliament, participate and represent their constituents? I am hearing crickets. Conservatives are proposing no ideas on how to deal with that.
However, I have good news. The committee has made proposals. The committee is suggesting how Parliament and all MPs can represent their constituents while respecting public health advice, and while recognizing that we are in the midst of a pandemic that has, regrettably, taken away so many lives.
That is my challenge to my colleagues in the Conservative Party. Let us figure out how this Parliament can work under these circumstances, with all MPs' privileges and duties able to be fulfilled. Spare me all the rhetoric. We agree that Parliament is an essential service. Let us get our work done and make sure we represent our constituents. The opposition parties have a role to play and the government has a role to play. Canadians will benefit from a fully functioning Parliament that respects the advice of public health officials.
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View David Sweet Profile
CPC (ON)
View David Sweet Profile
2020-05-26 10:55 [p.2406]
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Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech with great interest. He asked me to look my constituents in the eye and ask them whether they want Parliament to sit because of public health information. I am asking him what constituents he would like me to ask.
Would he like me to ask the individual at A&W who served me my burger the other day? How about the health care workers, police and firemen who are out there every day? How about the couple that runs the Home Hardware, where I was able to get a light switch the other day? How about the employees at Home Depot or Costco and all the other employees working in my constituency who expect me to adhere to my responsibilities, the oath that I made to Her Majesty the Queen, and represent them here in this House?
Those are the constituents I would ask. Who would he want me to ask who would actually say they do not want me here?
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View Omar Alghabra Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Omar Alghabra Profile
2020-05-26 10:55 [p.2406]
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Mr. Speaker, I regret there is selective hearing going on here. I am saying Parliament needs to go back to work, but we should ask those brave workers my colleague is talking about if they have adjusted how they do their work. Have they made changes to how they conduct their duty?
He is suggesting having only a small number of us here. What about the MPs who are not here? How will they fulfill their duties? How will they vote on behalf of their constituents? Does he not want to respect their privilege? Does he not want to respect his colleagues who are not able to be here, but who should still have a voice and still want to represent their constituents?
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View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
View Charlie Angus Profile
2020-05-26 10:56 [p.2406]
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Mr. Speaker, I came down this week because we have so much unfinished business, and we need to make sure our Parliament is focusing on the crisis at hand. Within a week of the COVID shutdown, we had millions of people across Canada who could not pay their rent. That is a shocking statistic for a nation like ours.
Yesterday I did not hear any questions from the Conservatives about how people can no longer afford to pay their rent. I heard them go on about Margaret Thatcher, the Soviet Union, the red Chinese menace and the mystical hand of the market, but I did not hear them speak at all about having to send the army into long-term care facilities, where so many seniors have died. I have not seen them act in a manner that treats this pandemic with the seriousness it needs.
When we have had to do something extraordinary such as move to committee of the whole, and I would normally be very suspicious of changing the orders of Parliament, it is to allow us to focus, ask questions, and go back to our constituents and say that we are taking this pandemic seriously in a way that will really drill down to get the answers Canadians deserve.
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View Omar Alghabra Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Omar Alghabra Profile
2020-05-26 10:57 [p.2406]
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Mr. Speaker, Parliament has an important role to play here. It goes without saying that this unprecedented time has surprised us all. As a government, as MPs, we are trying to grapple with this fast-moving situation, and no one has the monopoly on the right answers.
That is why the voices of MPs, their participation, the questions they ask on behalf of constituents and the issues they raise which their constituents are dealing with are incredibly important. They have been helpful so far. It is really important for Parliament to figure out how all MPs can functionally represent their constituents and stand proudly to express their voices.
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View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2020-05-26 10:58 [p.2406]
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Mr. Speaker, in response to the NDP comment, I would love to hear the member say that I have not been working, because if he spoke to a single person in my riding, he would find that he is absolutely unaware of the work we have been doing.
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View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
View Charlie Angus Profile
2020-05-26 10:59 [p.2406]
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Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
I never said that the member never showed up for work in her riding, so I think she should correct the record and stick to the facts at hand.
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View Bruce Stanton Profile
CPC (ON)
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2020-05-26 10:59 [p.2406]
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I think we are getting into matters of debate on that, so I will let the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London finish her brief comment and we will get the response.
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View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2020-05-26 10:59 [p.2406]
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Mr. Speaker, in respect to the comments made about Thatcher and all of those different things, the member obviously did not hear the questions we had specific to the Canadian Armed Forces, which one of my sons happens to be a member of, and whose members are supporting long-term care homes.
Perhaps he needs to understand that we are all in this, and it is not that we are all in this together. We are all in this because all of our families matter and all of the constituents of Canada matter.
What matters to me is when I have letters coming to me from businesses that have had to close their doors and I write a letter to the Minister of Finance and he has not responded in two and a half months. It is concerning. Why is it not important to be able to have those opportunities to not only question but—
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View Bruce Stanton Profile
CPC (ON)
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2020-05-26 11:00 [p.2406]
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Our time is running out.
The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.
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View Omar Alghabra Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Omar Alghabra Profile
2020-05-26 11:00 [p.2407]
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Mr. Speaker, let me first thank my hon. colleague for her service to our country and also thank her son for his service to our country. We are proud of the service of our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces, especially in this difficult time.
I agree with her. I want every MP, opposition or government, to have the ability to ask questions and to participate in the debate. The question is how.
I want to close by saying I know the member is working very hard for her constituents, but is she meeting them personally? I doubt it. She is speaking to them on the phone and doing Zoom calls. If she is meeting with them, she is making sure physical distancing is respected. I am grateful she is respecting public health advice when she is fulfilling her duty with her constituents. We should be able to do the same as MPs here.
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View Jenica Atwin Profile
GP (NB)
View Jenica Atwin Profile
2020-05-26 11:01 [p.2407]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister for splitting his time with me today.
It is absolutely a pleasure, as it always is, to be here with all of you. I am delighted to see some members for the first time in months and I really did miss everyone. Once again, it was not easy getting here. I packed up my family and we drove here from New Brunswick. They are with me for the long haul. We will be here as long as we need to be to do the work of Parliament that is very critical and essential during this time.
I do think of all the MPs who are not here today, and it is not because they do not want to be here or that they are not working. As I look at this chamber, at the 30 or so of us spread out with several seats between us, I am reminded that each empty chair represents roughly 100,000 Canadians. Their voices will not be heard here today.
Certain members of this House believe that perhaps a responsible representation of MPs by party status is adequate for decision-making and questioning the government. However, let us not forget that our jobs are first and foremost to our constituents and not to our parties.
I am delighted to be here on behalf of the riding of Fredericton and raising the issues that are important to my constituents. Just like the member for Foothills said, this is also the thrill of my lifetime to be an elected member of this House and to stand here in this historic place, a symbol of our freedom and democracy. It is a place of honour and respect, yet there have been some disrespectful comments made, such as insinuations that our fellow members are not showing up to work because they cannot be here in person.
We have heard wartime anecdotes and quotes from Winston Churchill, among others, all suggesting that COVID-19 in the year 2020 is somehow the same as World War II or the influenza outbreak. Of course, we know this is not the case.
The word “unprecedented” has been used an unprecedented number of times to describe the situation that faces us. We are not seeing the forces of the world clashing under tyrannical regimes. We do not have bombs bursting overhead. We are facing an invisible enemy. It is an enemy that does not discriminate, that infects its host at a rate we have never seen before and that has left our communities vulnerable.
We most certainly have an essential role to play as parliamentarians, but it looks different than it has at any other time in our history. The motion before us asks us to be creative, collaborative and accommodating to our members of Parliament. I believe it is meant to allow the fulsome participation of all elected members of this House from all ridings across this great country.
Few other MPs from Atlantic Canada are able to be here today. That is concerning to me. The issues facing my home region are urgent and unique. Right now, our region of Canada is facing challenges with the lobster season, quotas for fishers and processors unable to recruit enough workers. Temporary foreign workers were only allowed in New Brunswick as of last Friday, meaning a delayed season with major implications for the economy and the agricultural yields.
There are also calls for a public inquiry into the handling of the Portapique tragedy. There is the broader conversation it has started about support for mental health initiatives and our collective response to domestic violence, especially in rural areas.
Cities, towns and villages in Atlantic Canada are much smaller than the major urban centres of other provinces, meaning that some of the federal funding earmarked for New Brunswick, P.E.I. and even Nova Scotia cannot be implemented by the municipalities that need it most.
Let us not forget New Brunswick's unique role as a bilingual province and the challenges faced by Canada's minority francophone population to receive accurate, current information about the virus. We also see that New Brunswick is one of the most enviable jurisdictions in the world in terms of its total number of cases and zero deaths. Finally, it pays to be a New Brunswicker.
Canada should be watching closely as my home province continues to open up elements of its economy as a test case for which businesses will flourish post-COVID-19, and which will need continued support. These issues are regionally specific and deserve to be voiced. Most of the MPs representing those voices cannot be here due to restrictions on interprovincial travel, limited domestic flights and the requirement for pared-down numbers in Parliament.
I also note that it is not safe for other members of this House, those who are from isolated communities or those who will put their or their communities' health at a greater risk of COVID-19 by travelling to Ottawa. How can we ask those who cannot be here today to risk becoming vectors of transmission? At the same time, how can we hope to make decisions and represent Canada without a single voice from these vulnerable regions?
It remains my opinion that until we can have a full integration of virtual participation with in-person meetings of the chamber or special committee, we are doing a disservice to rural, northern, Atlantic and west coast Canadians. As we stand here today, we are not ensuring equal representation for Canada, which is one of our most fundamental principles. Having said that, I see the effort the government is making with this motion to integrate virtual participation with the in-person sittings.
I also recognize that the day-to-day sittings would be in the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic rather than full sittings in the House of Commons, which would be more ideal.
With these elements considered, I will be supporting the motion because I believe it is in the best interests of democracy at this time.
When we have figured out how the whole virtual integration of MPs will work, we will need to see the House reconvene to table some pressing legislation, such as on medical assistance in dying. In February, the Minister of Justice asked the Supreme Court for a four-month extension to the ruling in order to avoid the creation of separate MAID frameworks in Quebec and the rest of Canada. We have already taken advantage of an extension. Difficult issues still need to be addressed and Canadians who wish to receive MAID depend on us to pass that legislation.
In March, the government introduced legislation to criminalize the cruel practice of conversion therapy. We need to commit to ban that practice without further delay. We also need to see the specifics of the firearms legislation meant to accompany the regulatory changes made on May 1. Canadians need to see the full details of this plan to end the suppositions on this issue that are polarizing Canadians.
Figuring out the integration of virtual MPs with those of us here in person will enable us to lead the way for Canada as the world of work shifts permanently through this period of history. Some Canadians will need to continue working from home for some time to come. Some will want to continue working from home. Some will need to work partially from their homes and partially from their offices. We are being creative. We will see less travel by plane. We will see less commuter traffic in general. Let us set the example for workplaces across the nation by enabling MPs to make the best decisions for their constituents and to engage fully in the debate and decision-making that occurs in the House.
My hope is that all Canadians will know how hard we are working for them every day. Whether in our living rooms with our kids hanging off us in front of a Zoom screen, or here on the floor of the House of Commons, our commitment and our efforts are unwavering.
My mind is constantly on those I know are still slipping through the cracks of our COVID relief initiatives: the not-for-profits, charities and church groups, which for one reason or another find themselves ineligible for the wage subsidy program despite the critical services they provide in our communities; the cleaners and cashiers who have been left out of the essential workers wage top-up in New Brunswick; the dentists who are concerned about their practices moving forward and are finding barriers to pursuing PPE; the international students who still do not qualify for the student benefits and who have nowhere to go and no support; the pregnant women who still do not have adequate answers about their parental leave benefits in the weeks to come, and so many others.
My colleagues and I work for them. I know that we can continue to do this work in a way that protects the health and safety of our home communities.
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View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
2020-05-26 11:09 [p.2408]
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Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the hon. member's speech. I focused on her comment that we are in fact here to represent our constituents first and our party second. Of course, our system works along party lines, and that is normal and good.
However, I have heard a lot from the other side about how we could just solve this problem by having voting rotations. I understand the intuitive appeal of that, but when I heard the member's speech, I thought what if a member is not on a rotation voting on a bill that is particularly important to him or her, but not to their whip? While I am not casting aspersions on our wonderful whip, what if a member insists on being in the House because the member wants to take a stand on that particular issue because it is important to their constituents?
How would a rotation preserve our parliamentary privilege?
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View Jenica Atwin Profile
GP (NB)
View Jenica Atwin Profile
2020-05-26 11:10 [p.2408]
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Mr. Speaker, the member is right that it would not protect our parliamentary privilege. We have the right to be here and to voice our concern on every issue that is put before the House. Being from a small party, I am responsible for many files as critic, so I have broader interests and responsibilities than perhaps other members do, so I want to participate in everything that goes on.
I really feel that this shows our ability to collaborate. We are being creative. We are being accommodating. This needs to move forward and it is something we can be excited about. This is a very neat initiative. Canadians will be excited to see how this works, and other jurisdictions are already doing it, so it is time that we give it a shot and a good effort. Our attitudes need to shift a bit.
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View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
View Kevin Waugh Profile
2020-05-26 11:11 [p.2408]
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Mr. Speaker, New Brunswick like Saskatchewan is well ahead of the curve. We have done very well in our provinces. I can see that Ontario and Quebec need to catch up to our two provinces.
I will say one thing to the member, who is new in the House, and it is that Private members' bills will not go forward. We are going to miss almost a full year of private members' bills in the House of Commons. They are an important privilege of members, enabling them to bring their issues forward.
What is the member's view on private members' bills being shut down until the fall or maybe even longer than that?
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View Jenica Atwin Profile
GP (NB)
View Jenica Atwin Profile
2020-05-26 11:12 [p.2409]
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Mr. Speaker, the member is right. Yesterday when he was speaking about private members' bills, I found myself nodding my head quite a bit. They are a critical component of what we do here in the House, and it is an unfortunate aspect of this new motion that they would not be included. I was not lucky enough to win the lottery; my number is quite a bit further down the line. That is perhaps why I am more willing to support this, but it is not fair to my other colleagues who do have private members' bills they would like to put forward.
The member is right. This is not perfect. It is not the ideal situation, but we have to do what is best for the health of our communities and, unfortunately, private members' bills will not fit into what is being proposed here today.
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View Andréanne Larouche Profile
BQ (QC)
View Andréanne Larouche Profile
2020-05-26 11:12 [p.2409]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. She touched on the issue of domestic violence.
In some cases, in her province and in Quebec, is it that programs could help more women get out of violent situations in this time of crisis, but that the provinces and Quebec are sometimes in the best position to recognize their areas of jurisdiction?
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View Jenica Atwin Profile
GP (NB)
View Jenica Atwin Profile
2020-05-26 11:13 [p.2409]
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Mr. Speaker, as allies of women on the issue of domestic violence, we are certainly doing all that we can. It is difficult across jurisdictions. We need to be very regionally specific because there are lots of cultural things to take into consideration around this issue. That is one of the important things that we want to discuss here in the House, but also to allow all of our colleagues across Canada to join us through a virtual Parliament as well. I am open to any idea that allows the fulsome participation of all voices to address very serious issues like domestic violence in Canada.
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View Lindsay Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Lindsay Mathyssen Profile
2020-05-26 11:13 [p.2409]
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Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed my colleague's speech today. She is very thoughtful and I always enjoy listening to her.
Here we are talking about return to work or a continuation of work and how things have to change. The member talked about her family and recognized that a lot of people are dealing with issues at home, where they have to balance home and work life. As we talk about that return to work, obviously the New Democrats are working on better ways. Paid sick leave is a huge part. I would also like the member to respond to how we move forward in a more supportive way on child care and a universal federally supported child care system.
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View Jenica Atwin Profile
GP (NB)
View Jenica Atwin Profile
2020-05-26 11:14 [p.2409]
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Mr. Speaker, schools and day cares are closed. My children are with me. It has presented many challenges along the way. That has perhaps been the biggest barrier. It is the work-home life balance. As I said, in Zoom conferences my children often appear on the screen, but that has added an element of humanity to our work as well.
Absolutely, there have been increased costs associated with day cares reopening. We need consider its affordability for Canadians across this country. If we want our economy to get back to work, we need day cares to be there for people and to be affordable.
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View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
View Alain Therrien Profile
2020-05-26 11:15 [p.2409]
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Mr. Speaker, Quebec is a distinct society. Even staunch federalist Robert Bourassa said so and championed the cause with other Canadians.
Among other things, “distinct society” means that most of us speak French. It is the only official language of Quebec. Our culture is different. We are no better, we are no worse; we are different.
We are also different economically. Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our province. The vitality of Quebec is built on the dynamism of Quebec business owners, who, by dint of their efforts and their toil, have been able to create businesses that were small to begin with, certainly, but that have become medium-sized, or even huge in some cases.
The pandemic is a threat to Quebec's industrial fabric, to that spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. On the brink of bankruptcy because of the pandemic, some SMEs will disappear. Other places in Canada may say the same thing, and I acknowledge that. However, in Quebec, SMEs are even more important given the difference in our industrial fabric.
These businesses are threatened not only by bankruptcy, of course, but also by the risk that they may be bought by foreigners. If that happens, all the effort and creativity will slip out of the hands of Quebeckers, and medium- and long-term decisions will be made in other countries. This threat may mean that businesses grappling with the temporary COVID-19 situation could suffer permanent harm. We must therefore be on our guard and make sure that this does not happen.
The Bloc Québécois's only objective is to look out for the interests of Quebeckers. That is why, on April 20 and 29, during debates on motions adopted in the House, with a government that was open to our input, we submitted proposals to protect entrepreneurship from the pandemic, where we knew we were vulnerable.
On April 20, when we brought up the idea of collaborating on the Canada emergency wage subsidy project, we knew that some businesses were quite vulnerable, as they had to cover their fixed costs despite not getting revenue. This could be a fatal situation for them. That is why we had asked the government to add additional assistance to the April 20 agreement to help with fixed costs.
We had a $73-billion wage subsidy proposal before us. We managed to convince the government to include in its motion a partial subsidy for businesses' fixed costs, an important measure that would prevent our future economic stars from going bankrupt. That is what we were proposing.
What did we get in return?
What we got was a program that offered almost no solutions for businesses. This program was too timid, too lightweight, and even inaccessible in some cases. Most businesses told us that this program was not good for them and they needed something else.
That is why we have been hounding the government and telling it to improve what was proposed in the motion. We reminded the government that it had made a commitment and that it had given us its word. We said that we needed to help businesses, because the situation is critical.
However, nothing has been done since then. It is radio silence. When the government tabled its motion 11 days ago, the Bloc immediately said that, to protect businesses, the support to help cover fixed costs had to be improved and increased.
Yesterday, the government House leader said that the government had taken a first step—a small step, if that. If that small step stops there, it is not enough, when in fact we were proposing continued assistance for these businesses. That is then a broken promise.
Mr. Speaker, I forgot to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Jean. Sorry about that. I am sure you will forgive me. You are so incredibly nice. You are the person I should be negotiating with in the future.
The second important point is that some businesses want to hire people and some municipalities need to hire people. Economic recovery seems to be on its way. We can see better days ahead. In order for businesses to find employees and for people to want to get back to work, we need to help them. We need to encourage people to work. We need to tell them to start working again and to contribute to the production effort. The economy in Quebec and in the rest of Canada will be better off for it.
On April 29, the government created the CESB, and we commended it for that because it is true that some students will not be able to find a job and they will need financial security to be able to continue their studies. We applauded that measure. When we analyzed the government's proposal, we found it contained a flaw that meant that students might be less inclined to work.
Do I think they are lazy? No, it is not laziness. However, as structured and written, the program ensures that students earn the same whether they work two days or or seven days a week. Even a trained monkey understands that, if its salary stays the same whether it works two days or seven, it should work two days. That is pretty clear, but it seems that the government has not understood, which is why we have asked the government to commit to encouraging students to work by ensuring that, in all circumstances, students' salaries would increase if they work more. Our support was conditional on that.
It is a fundamental rule of economics: the more you work, the more you earn. You do not have to put on a puppet show or draw a picture to understand this. The government told us that it was a good idea. The Deputy Prime Minister told the House that it was a good idea and that the government would work on it. Three weeks later, nothing; it has made no progress. It is worse than the fixed costs, where the Liberals took a single step and called it a day. In the case of the CESB, they have taken no steps at all.
We have a government that is not respecting its commitments. That is why we decided to sit that one out when a new round of negotiations started. We cannot negotiate with a government that promises us things it does not do. We have had a part in this bad movie before, and we are no longer interested.
We even gave them a chance. We were really very nice about it. We told the government to keep the two promises they had made. We gave them eight days, but they made no effort. They were supposed to take more action on fixed costs to build on their very tentative first steps, and then do what they promised to do.
We waited, but in the end they said no and and told us how things were going to work. That is why, today, we are saying how things are going work for us in the Bloc. We cannot work or negotiate with people who have little regard for their word.
We have our word and we have very clear ideas. What is good for Quebec is good for the Bloc Québécois. What is good for the nation of Quebec is good for the people of Quebec. We have to help small and medium-sized businesses survive the pandemic, those budding businesses that will eventually grow into Bombardiers. They must be given a chance to survive, and that is what we have been doing from the start. We are working hard on this and we will not give up. Our platform is clear and simple: what is good for Quebec is good for us.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-05-26 11:25 [p.2410]
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Mr. Speaker, my friend makes reference to the connection between the need to support workers and the need to support businesses. Whether in the province of Quebec or my home province of Manitoba, small businesses are hurting, just as workers are hurting. That is one of the reasons the government has spent so much energy and many resources to make sure minimal damage is done to that aspect of our economy.
An example of that is the wage subsidy. By bringing forward a strong wage subsidy program, we are ensuring that both workers and employers will be protected. By ensuring that protection, we will be in a better position to grow our economy into the future. We are protecting jobs and at the same time protecting companies.
This is just one program of the many programs that are there, and it shows why it is so important that the Government of Canada works with provincial entities to make sure we minimize the negative impacts of the coronavirus. Does the member not see that as a good thing?
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View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
View Alain Therrien Profile
2020-05-26 11:26 [p.2410]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
Of course wage subsidies are important. Just look at the Liberals; they are certainly taking full advantage. It is clearly very important to them, but the problem is that the whole purpose of the program was kind of undermined when the government shamelessly helped itself to the Canada emergency wage subsidy. The Liberals are in no danger of going bankrupt. I am quite sure they will not go bankrupt this year.
Economics teaches about two kinds of costs businesses have to cover: fixed costs and variable costs. Variable costs are usually salaries, which are covered by the Canada emergency wage subsidy.
What we are proposing is even more important for Quebec because small businesses drive our economy. Yes, there are businesses in Manitoba, and that is fine. We are not saying this is bad for the rest of the country.
Getting back to fixed costs, of course businesses have to cover variable costs and payroll, but they also have fixed costs, which they have to cover even when they are not producing anything. That is the crucial point.
Just helping businesses cover their variable costs is not enough; we have to help them cover their fixed costs too. That is microeconomics 101, which I teach at CEGEP and university. We have to help businesses with their fixed costs. That is why we reached out to the government, but the government did not respond.
Is that because it forgot—
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View Bruce Stanton Profile
CPC (ON)
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2020-05-26 11:28 [p.2411]
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The hon. member for Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis has the floor.
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View Steven Blaney Profile
CPC (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from La Prairie a question.
Does the hon. member support the Conservative Party motion that is specifically designed to improve the Liberal programs?
The hon. member mentioned in his speech that the Liberal measures are too weak, too inaccessible, and poorly focused. Parliament can help the government, so that the measures help Quebeckers and Canadians.
Does he support the Conservative Party motion that we return to Parliament in order to have better legislation to serve the people of this country during this pandemic?
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View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
View Alain Therrien Profile
2020-05-26 11:28 [p.2411]
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Mr. Speaker, one thing is for sure: I do not support the fact that the Conservatives are also going to dip into the Canada emergency wage subsidy in order to try and wipe away their supposed financial problems, when they are as rich as Croesus. I might even say that Croesus was poor compared to the Conservatives. The two main, well-heeled parties have both hands in the Canada emergency wage subsidy. It is not a pretty picture.
Yes, Parliament should continue to sit normally. I agree with him. Yes, there are matters that remain pending. When we negotiated fixed costs around the government table, there were two absentees: the NDP and the Conservatives. Only the Bloc was pushing for improvements in the assistance that could be made available to companies. When companies survive, the economic fabric is stronger and jobs are long-lasting and of good quality.
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View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
View Christine Normandin Profile
2020-05-26 11:29 [p.2411]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank my esteemed colleague from La Prairie for sharing his time with me. I appreciate it.
I am sometimes asked how I imagine us emerging from this crisis or what I hope we take from this crisis. I have thought about it and I think it is important that we all think about it a bit.
I want to draw a parallel between this situation and a situation I remember when I was 13 or 14 years old, in 1998.
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View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
View Christine Normandin Profile
2020-05-26 11:30
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My region lived through the ice storm, which left a mark on our collective psyche. At the time, we saw people coming together, similar to what we are seeing now. People were helping each other. I remember my father went around with his generator to empty basements for people who lived on our street and whose pumps were no longer working because they had no electricity. Although I was too young to notice it, older people remind us about how when the lights came back on, people stopped coming together in the same way. Sadly, I worry that the same thing will happen once a vaccine is discovered. Right now, there is a huge push to buy local.
I would like to think that we will continue to see people supporting each other so wonderfully, but the government and Parliament will have to do some things to ensure that we are left with something from this crisis. It would be an insult to those who are suffering now and to those who lose their lives to COVID-19 if we do not learn something from this pandemic and take this opportunity to make improvements.
There are things that can be done now in some cases, but they could also have been done in the past, which would have made it a little easier to get through this crisis. I will give you three specific examples. There is the matter of seniors, which the Bloc Québécois raised on numerous occasions. Even before the crisis, even before we became aware of the risk of facing such a pandemic one day, the Bloc Québécois raised the question. When old age security was introduced, it covered the equivalent of 20% of the average industrial wage. Given the trend toward disinvestment in the ensuing years, it now covers the equivalent of 13% of the average wage. Seniors’ purchasing power has decreased significantly. We would like to be able to say that the $300 benefit is a good thing, but it should not be a one-time thing. Yes, it will help a little during the crisis, but seniors’ problems will not end with the pandemic.
Think about the cost of groceries in the fall, which could be extremely high, especially when it comes to fresh produce, in particular the fruits and vegetables grown by our own farmers. Something should have been done before the crisis, but we can still act now. We can increase seniors’ purchasing power and make sure that they continue to contribute to our economy, that they continue to buy from our local producers and that they continue to be economically active in society. Unfortunately, these are things that we may not be able to do if Parliament is limited to four question periods a week.
Health transfer payments are another point that we repeatedly raised before the crisis. For several years now, there has been a massive decrease in federal health transfer payments to the provinces and to Québec. In some cases, it could be argued that certain reforms introduced by the provinces were to blame. Even some of the people involved in these reforms acknowledge that the result was not perfect, that they could have done things differently and achieved a better outcome. Nevertheless, when you do not have the money, you are starting with a huge handicap. Federal disinvestment is the main cause of the current problems in the healthcare system. It was a problem before the crisis. It should have been dealt with before the crisis. What we are currently experiencing should at least make us admit that we do not want to see it happen again.
One thing that can be done right now is to ensure that companies that use tax havens do not get the wage subsidy. We did the math. The big banks save the equivalent of roughly $2.5 billion a year in taxes. Meanwhile, it would cost between $1.9 billion and $2 billion to restore the health transfers. By making sure that the real wrongdoers, those who legally but immorally use tax havens, pay their fair share of taxes, the health transfers could be restored.
No one wants this to happen, but we need to be ready in case another crisis arises. We need to make sure that we learn something from the current crisis.
Another subject I have really enjoyed talking about during the crisis is everything related to farmers, but more specifically, the issue of temporary foreign workers, who are the backbone of our production. These individuals are absolutely essential to our food security and food sovereignty, and they ensure our access to local, fresh products.
The problem of closed work permits has been around for a long time. Agricultural producers are complaining about the lack of flexibility of closed work permits. I will give a few examples from before the crisis.
First, consider a farmer who only needs someone part-time, maybe one day a week. It is not worth bringing someone in from Guatemala to work one day a week. However, closed work permits do not allow farms to exchange or share the work done by employees with other farms.
Moreover, the workload is not distributed in the same way from one farm to the next. For example, there is slightly less work on dairy farms at the end of the winter because it is not the beginning or end of the harvest. Conversely, the end of winter is a very busy period for maple producers, since that is when they begin planting. These producers are also prevented from sharing employees’ services to address the unequal workload. The problem existed before the crisis.
During the crisis, when there was a major shortage of temporary foreign workers, producers were unable to share workers at critical times. For example, apple producers needed to have their apple trees pruned at the beginning of the season. At the same time, and often on the neighbouring lot, maple producers, whose sugaring off season had been cancelled, had workers that they could not use and that they would have liked to share with the apple producers.
Another example is vegetable producers, who often have two harvests a year. As some workers harvest the vegetables, others behind them plant seeds for the second harvest. Most Canadian vegetable producers now have enough people for the first harvest, but not enough for the second planting. If all farms had agreed to make better use of the available workers, they could have had two harvests, which would have given them a better yield at the end of the year.
In the event of another crisis, it would be wise to consider new terms and conditions for closed permits. If farmers were allowed to share workers’ services, and if a hail storm destroyed my harvest but not my neighbour’s, my neighbour could save his harvest by using my workers. Closer to home, during the floods, the farm workers who had little to do at the time were unable to help lay sandbags to protect people’s homes.
This problem has been around for a long time and we could solve it. We continue to make proposals and recommending solutions, such as allowing workers with closed permits to work elsewhere for a certain number of days.
However, we cannot discuss all of these issues right now, because two parties decided to restrict our exchanges. Still, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was able to conduct a remarkable study on virtual parliament sessions.
I am disappointed that everyone recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is a huge problem, but then we tie our hands and prevent ourselves from finding solutions for now and for the future. In a sense, I think that not working right now to help people who are suffering and those who are dying from COVID-19 shows a basic lack of respect toward these people. It is unfortunate that the crisis is not bringing out the best in us.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-05-26 11:39 [p.2412]
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Mr. Speaker, the member brought up a number of issues, some of which I agree with and others I might question. For example, I believe that the government has invested more in health care, historical amounts, and I do not see the cuts that she has seen. However, the reason I am posing a question to the member is to make a connection between her comments and how important the motion before us really is.
Surely to goodness, we recognize that just a few months ago no one could have anticipated this. If we look at all that has been accomplished, whether it is the programs or the government's working with the opposition, we have accomplished a great deal in a relatively short period of time. Democracy is important. The idea of a full virtual integration has been talked about for the last couple of months, and we have moved significantly on this. That is what the motion is really about: advancing us further into this full integration so that all members can be engaged in Parliament.
Would the member agree that because of the motion, she would have far more latitude and a greater ability to question the government on all of the issues she has raised? She will be able to do this not only in the months of May and June, but also for the first time, from what I understand, in July and August.
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View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
View Christine Normandin Profile
2020-05-26 11:41 [p.2413]
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Mr. Speaker, I feel compelled to take this opportunity to talk about the issue of health transfers and remind the House that Quebec's minister of health and social services wrote to the Minister of Health to remind her that there was a problem when it comes to the transfers and that she was calling for those to be restored to 25%. This was in fact a common and unanimous request of all the provincial premiers at the Council of the Federation in December. I think there are others who share my point of view.
As far as the issue of Parliament is concerned, the motion before us allows us to question the government. That is good. I am not saying it is awful, but it is not enough. We do not have opposition days. We cannot introduce bills. We cannot debate motions. It is more of a question period than an answer period. Unfortunately, it is not enough to allow us to advance programs as much as we could. Indeed, things have been done. I do not deny that. However, the opportunity to do much more is being denied us today and that is what we take issue with.
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View John Barlow Profile
CPC (AB)
View John Barlow Profile
2020-05-26 11:42 [p.2413]
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Mr. Speaker, unfortunately my French is not yet good enough for me to ask my colleague a question in French, but hopefully it will be someday soon.
The member talked about her concerns with the agriculture sector. A constituent said to me the other day, which I thought was an interesting comment, that he wanted to have smart farming but cannot do that with dumb Internet.
As we have had to have these virtual meetings, I have seen that many of us in rural communities have not been able to participate to the extent that we would like. Again, that goes to the importance of having Parliament back in some format, whether it is hybrid or not.
I would like the member to comment on the impact that COVID has had on rural communities and the importance of having Parliament back in a traditional manner.
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View Christine Normandin Profile
BQ (QC)
View Christine Normandin Profile
2020-05-26 11:43 [p.2413]
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Mr. Speaker, I understand that the Internet is not always readily available everywhere. I grew up without cable and with limited access to the Internet unfortunately. I do not believe it need be an argument to prevent us from working virtually. Returning to the House in person would also indirectly be a breach of parliamentary privilege for those who live far away, who might not have access to air travel or who may be older and fear for their health, which would be understandable. It seems to me that a good option would be a hybrid Parliament, which has been successfully tested in other countries and in parliaments in the Westminster tradition. I do not believe that it has to be all or nothing. We can find an even better way forward and that is what I am recommending.
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View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
2020-05-26 11:44 [p.2413]
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Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Outremont.
Over the past two and a half months, Canadians have faced a common threat to our health and our economy. Since COVID-19 emerged in Canada, our government has taken a coordinated approach that is consistent with our shared democratic values, whereby it puts people first and makes sure that no one is left behind. It is our responsibility to fight the spread of this pandemic and put our country on the path to recovery. We will do whatever it takes.
We are taking action to address the wide-ranging health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19. We are doing everything we can to help Canadians and businesses through this pandemic and give them the support they need. This includes taking strong, decisive action to stabilize our economy.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy is a key element of the COVID-19 economic response plan. For employers who have been significantly impacted by this pandemic, our government has put in place a program that will help them keep workers on the payroll and even rehire workers. This program is available for businesses, charities and non-profits alike. It is supporting Canadians at workplaces big and small in sectors across our economy.
The government established the Canada emergency wage subsidy to prevent further job losses and to encourage employers to rehire workers previously laid off because of COVID-19. It is there to make sure that families in every part of Canada know where the next paycheque is coming from. It is there to make sure that in this time of incredible uncertainty, they can benefit, knowing that they will have money for groceries, rent and prescriptions. This program also means that when businesses begin to pick up again, Canadian companies are ready with the right workers who know the businesses to prepare them to get operations up and running again.
The Canada emergency wage subsidy program provides a 70% wage subsidy, or up to $847 per week per employee, for employers in businesses of all sizes and across all sectors who have suffered a drop in gross revenue of at least 15% in March 2020 and 30% in the following months. On May 15, the government announced that we would extend the Canada emergency wage subsidy by an additional 12 weeks, to August 29, 2020. Extending the program will give workers greater confidence that they will continue to get the support they need during these difficult times. It also gives business owners more runway to get back up to speed. We know that reopening needs to be a gradual and careful process.
At the same time, we introduced regulatory amendments aimed at improving the subsidy and extending it to reach more employers. These amendments will ensure that the subsidy meets its objective of supporting the employers hardest hit by COVID-19, while protecting the jobs Canadians depend on.
Regulations have extended eligibility for the Canada emergency wage subsidy to the following employers: partnerships that are up to 50% owned by non-eligible members; indigenous government-owned corporations that are carrying on business, as well as partnerships in which the partners are indigenous governments and eligible employers; registered Canadian amateur athletic associations; registered journalism organizations; and non-public colleges and schools, including institutions that offer specialized services, such as art schools, driving schools, language schools or even flight schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on Canadians everywhere. All sectors of the economy have felt its relentless and disruptive presence. Our government has been working hard to protect jobs across our economy. We have listened to the concerns raised by employers of all kinds, from small neighbourhood businesses to some of Canada's largest corporations that employ thousands of Canadians.
We know that extending the wage subsidy will help more workers. The wage subsidy has meant that, even though our economy has come to a standstill, businesses can afford to keep workers and, as a result, are ready and poised to spring back into action as soon as it is safe. This is protecting jobs now and making sure that there is no sluggish restart. It is making sure that Canada is ready to come roaring back, strong.
This program is complemented by the many actions our government has taken to date to support Canadians and their families. We have provided the Canada emergency response benefit to over seven million Canadians so that everyone who is unable to work because of COVID-19 has money for essentials.
We have provided support for students, including investing in over 116,000 jobs and opportunities this summer to help them access the workplace experience they need to pursue their dreams.
The Canadian emergency business account has provided interest-free loans to over 600 small employers.
All of these measures, including others, have contributed to one of the most comprehensive and ambitious economic support packages in the world. We know that by investing in Canadians, we will bounce back faster and better.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on Canadians and around the world as a whole. It has crippled businesses around the entire planet. It has upended the global marketplace, dashing the hopes and dreams of workers and business owners. In these two and a half months, many business people in Canada and other countries have struggled as never before. Many have succumbed to the ravaging effects of COVID-19. However, through that time, our government has stood steady to take additional actions to stabilize the economy and mitigate the impacts of this pandemic.
Protecting the health of Canadians and ensuring their immediate needs remains the first priority of the government. We will continue to protect Canadian jobs and to support the Canadian economy as it navigates through the present and current crisis. When this crisis is over, we will be ready to work with Canadians to relaunch the economy and to continue to build a stronger Canada for tomorrow.
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View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
View Charlie Angus Profile
2020-05-26 11:51 [p.2414]
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Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I am concerned about her comments on the economy roaring back. What we have learned with COVID is how quickly it has devastated our conceptions about the economy. The idea that we are going to simply switch the lights back on and everything is going to go back is not realistic. We certainly know there will be devastation in the restaurant sectors in the big urban centres. We saw how the oil sector collapsed before COVID. Now international investors have moved out all together.
There will need to be a long term vision. Part of that is what we will do with the workers who are on CERB now? Many of them have no work to go back to. Is the government willing to play the role that will be needed to build and start the economy, carefully continuing its investments and ensuring that come August or October people are not simply cut-off from CERB if they have no work to go back to?
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View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
2020-05-26 11:52 [p.2414]
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Mr. Speaker, it is indeed our contention that we cannot just switch the light back on. It takes time. That is why our government has put in place various programs and measures to give Canadians the opportunity to settle in, to respond to their immediate needs, so when we are ready to relaunch the economy and build it back better, we will be ready.
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View Andréanne Larouche Profile
BQ (QC)
View Andréanne Larouche Profile
2020-05-26 11:53 [p.2414]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.
She spoke a great deal about the economy and the importance of helping our businesses get through the crisis. I would remind members that the Bloc Québécois made a proposal concerning fixed costs, which could be extended to tourism businesses.
I am from Shefford. In my riding, in the Eastern Townships, tourism is an important industry. At this time, the current program and assistance programs are not designed for tourism businesses, which require greater flexibility with respect to fixed costs to help them get through the crisis. They were among the first to be affected and will probably be among the last to be able to start up again.
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View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
2020-05-26 11:53 [p.2415]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. Tourism has indeed suffered during this pandemic and will continue to suffer even more.
I just want to tell the member that our minister responsible for tourism has spoken with industry stakeholders many times. She has implemented measures to help them, using the three Rs, in order to lighten the burdens of these businesses.
We in Quebec are also suffering as a result of losses in tourism, but our minister is always looking at how to improve the measures to help this unique industry.
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View Tracy Gray Profile
CPC (BC)
View Tracy Gray Profile
2020-05-26 11:55 [p.2415]
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Mr. Speaker, there was a lot in the member's speech around the economy. What has been proposed by the government is to not have all committees sit. When we look at a lot of the committees that really would be very important at this time, for example, international trade, transport, infrastructure and communities, why are we not going down the road of having all committees sit so we can have these important discussions?
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View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Patricia Lattanzio Profile
2020-05-26 11:55 [p.2415]
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Mr. Speaker, this is a notion that should be negotiated between our respective House leaders. The work we are doing here and the work we are all collectively and individually doing within our constituencies, such as answering questions, looking into various programs and looking at the territory we represent to see what the needs of our constituents are, is beneficial. When we then come the House, we can propose measures that would alleviate most of the problems being expressed by our constituents.
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View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
2020-05-26 11:56 [p.2415]
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Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House on the subject of the debate before us with respect to how to structure meetings of Parliament going forward in the midst of this pandemic.
I am sure I do not need to remind the members of the House of the extraordinary times in which we are living. As we deliberate on how we will continue to meet, we must be mindful of the example we are setting for Canadians and the message we are communicating.
Before I begin the substance of my remarks today, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation for the excellent work undertaken by the Clerk of the House and the entire administration to give us options on how we can continue to meet and conduct business during COVID-19.
I do not need to remind the House that these are extraordinary times. Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I would first like to sincerely thank the security personnel, employees of the House Administration and all House staff. They are joining the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who continue to work in our essential industries. Whether they work in our long-term care facilities, our corner stores, our pharmacies or our hospital, the dedication of these workers is allowing our society to continue to function.
Turning now to the debate on the next steps for our sittings going forward, I find myself a bit puzzled by the arguments coming from my colleagues across the aisle. Allow me to once again clarify for Canadians that members of Parliament are meeting, that ministers are being held to account and are answering questions. In fact, over 300 questions were asked by members and answered by the government in a period of just three days. By comparison, in normal times, when the House sits for five days, members are able to ask, on average, approximately 190 questions.
Over the course of the debate yesterday on the motion before us, I have come to understand that the accountability that has existed, and that would certainly continue to exist under the proposal before the House, is not the problem for the Conservative. Rather, they are arguing that members of Parliament need to be sitting in their seats, under all the normal rules, in order to feel they are working.
I am a relatively new member of Parliament, elected just over a year ago, so perhaps I see things rather differently than my colleagues. For me, there is nothing more important than the work I do in my riding, serving my constituents.
I, and I am sure many others in the chamber, have been working 24/7, literally seven days a week, from the very early morning until the very early morning the following day. Whether I am speaking to seniors in long-term care homes who are concerned about their health and safety, or people who would like to understand how to access the emergency benefit of $2,000 a month, which over eight million Canadians have applied for and received, or mothers who call me for help in order to bring their children home from overseas while on an exchange or students who are reaching out to their members of Parliament for the very first time in order to discuss the measures we have put in place to support them and the jobs that might be available to them this summer, this is important work.
How important is it that charitable and not-for-profit organizations serving our vulnerable communities, literally putting food on the tables of families that need it, receive government funding? It is critical, and we are there to support them.
Our local organizations are working hard. I am thinking of the MultiCaf community cafeteria in Côte-des-Neiges, Le Chaînon, a shelter that helps vulnerable women, the Mile End Community Mission, which provides food for residents of the eastern part of my riding, Sun Youth, which does an enormous amount of work in delivering food throughout Montreal, as well as many others. I am working hard to support the charitable organizations in Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges and Mile End.
Extraordinary things are happening. There are even new organizations that are being created in response to the current crisis. An MP's job is to support them. The Fondation Aide Outremont COVID-19 is doing an extraordinary job of helping our older and more vulnerable residents. This wonderful team of community volunteers has already delivered groceries and prescriptions to many hundreds of people.
As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, over the course of the last 10 weeks, I have spoken to thousands of entrepreneurs in my riding and across the country. They needed to speak to someone in government. They needed to have their questions answered and I needed to hear them out.
The work that we have been doing with the private sector and business owners is what has fuelled the adjustments and modifications to our support programs. The feedback that I have been getting so far from all of these calls, from all of these virtual meetings is, “Wow, thank you. Thank you for focusing on us. Thank you for being there. Thank you for working for us.” This is what government is for.
The work we do in service of Canadians in our communities is absolutely necessary. It is insulting to me and it is insulting to Canadians to suggest that we are not working if our bums are not in these seats. It was important for me to clarify that and put it on the record.
I will now get into the details of what we are proposing. What we are proposing would allow us to continue this important work in our ridings. What we are proposing would allow us to meet in this chamber, while respecting physical distancing and other health and safety guidelines, while allowing every member from every part of the country to take part in these proceedings virtually and, importantly, allowing us to continue to be accountable to opposition members and continuing to answer their questions.
I will get a bit more into the details of the proposed hybrid model approach. For members who are physically present in the House, there will be no changes, and the experience will be identical to a normal sitting. The members will be able to hear colleagues who are participating virtually by using the earpiece and will be able to see them on two screens installed on either side of the Speaker's chair.
Members participating virtually will be able to access the House debates through a very user-friendly online video conferencing platform that is integrated into the existing House of Commons infrastructure and systems. When members participate by video conference, they will be able to watch the proceedings of the House when other members are speaking. They will also have access to a video of their other colleagues who are participating virtually. All members will have access to simultaneous interpretation at all times, and all members, including those participating by video conference, will be free to address the House during debate or raise a point of order.
Once the hybrid model of House sittings was established, the House administration carried out a simulation of a debate, and the results were excellent. Consequently, the Speaker of the House wrote to the House leaders to inform them that the hybrid model could be used.
In developing a hybrid model of sittings, the House administration was able to review different approaches that other legislatures in Canada and around the world had adopted to take into account the challenges posed by this pandemic, while ensuring urgent parliamentary business was attended to. More specifically, the administration consulted 30 parliaments and collaborated closely with several legislatures that had similar requirements. This included testing solutions and sharing operational strategies, experiences and results daily.
In addition to working with other legislatures, the administration also conducted extensive independent market research and worked with industry leaders and international national security partners. In working with these partners, the administration set a goal of ensuring that the broadcast production of a sitting would be seamless and that the public coverage would continue to be of excellent quality. This is the proposal we are putting forward.
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View Rachael Harder Profile
CPC (AB)
View Rachael Harder Profile
2020-05-26 12:06 [p.2416]
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Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across the way talked about the compartmentalization of her job, and that somehow her constituency work was more important than the work being done here on Parliament Hill in the House of Commons. I would like to suggest that both are important. To disregard this place, or to give this place a space of less importance, is actually to misunderstand the fundamental role of Parliament.
There are 338 of us in the House and we were all elected by our constituents to be their voice here. When we cease to show up for work here, then they cease to get their voice to Canada's Parliament. This is a problem. When their voices do not make it here, when we fail to show up in this place and engage in important discussions and engage in necessary debate, it means that for those Canadians who put their trust in us to represent them, we actually squelch their voice.
To say that the member across from us is somehow doing more important work for her constituency and therefore this place should cease to meet is absolutely wrong, and it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what this place stands for.
I would like to present to the member opposite that we go into our constituencies in order to listen to our constituents, in order to understand their stories and their experiences, so that they might inform the debate that takes place here and the decisions that come forward from this place. If we do not take the time to do that then we are, in fact, misrepresenting them, and that is a shame. However, if we also do not take the time to bring their voices here, that is equally a shame.
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View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
2020-05-26 12:08 [p.2417]
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Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify that I was responding directly to a comment from the Conservatives to the effect that we are not working if we are not in this place. We are always working. Through the summer and through constituency weeks, we are always working.
I would also like to signal that I am here in this chamber representing my constituents in this place. This place is extremely important to me, and I will continue to sit in this place as long as we are able to do so safely and effectively. The proposal that the government is putting forward is to continue to sit in the House to represent our constituents in the House, but it is a proposal that does so safely and that provides an example to Canadians of how we can continue to conduct our work.
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View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
2020-05-26 12:09 [p.2417]
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Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting here for a couple of days and it sure feels like Parliament to me.
Many times, I have heard mixed signals from the other side and I would ask the member to comment in order to clarify for the people at home. I heard from the other side that everyone must be here. That was the word I heard. However, then the member said no, no she did not mean all 338. I heard “here” two minutes ago. Did the member not hear “here”?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
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View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
2020-05-26 12:09 [p.2417]
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Mr. Speaker, what the government is proposing is that we continue to sit in limited numbers respecting social distancing and respecting all health and safety guidelines—
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 12:09 [p.2417]
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Order. I am going to disrupt the parliamentary secretary. There seems to be some chatter. Members should know that they can cross the floor and discuss things much quieter than shouting across the floor while someone else is trying to speak. I want to indicate that.
On a point of order, the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.
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View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2020-05-26 12:10 [p.2417]
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Mr. Speaker, I fully respect what you are saying, but when a question is put forward that is absolutely misleading the House, indicating that we have said in the House that we want 338 members of Parliament, and we well know that not a single member of our party has said that, why—
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 12:10 [p.2417]
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I believe that is getting into debate. It was brought up and we will leave it at that, but we will go back to the hon. parliamentary secretary.
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View Rachel Bendayan Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Rachel Bendayan Profile
2020-05-26 12:10 [p.2417]
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Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question raises perhaps the underlying question of how the members opposite expect us to vote if we are unable to vote virtually. Perhaps my colleague would care to comment on that, and also to comment on what exactly the problem is with the proposal put forward by the government.
Is the only thing missing that they are unable to have opposition days? From what I am seeing, the accountability is there in our proposal, and an opportunity is there for questions to be posed to the government.
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View Rachael Harder Profile
CPC (AB)
View Rachael Harder Profile
2020-05-26 12:11 [p.2417]
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Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this place, with my feet on the floor of the House of Commons, and to have the opportunity to use my voice as the member of Parliament for Lethbridge to speak on behalf of my constituents, and I would even go so far as to say to what I am hearing from Canadians as a whole. I am thankful to have that privilege.
I was elected to represent my constituents, in 2015 after my first election and then in 2019 after my second one. As a member of Parliament I have the ability, along with other members in this place, to participate in the legislative process employed within this country, which we call a parliamentary democracy.
It is a position I hold with the weightiness it deserves and it is a responsibility I do not take lightly. Additionally, as a member of the official opposition, it is my constitutional obligation to join my Conservative colleagues in holding the Liberal government to account with regard to the decisions that it makes and to ensure that Canadians are rightly represented.
These roles and duties have been all but stripped from me during the past several months. Yes, I agree, I have been able to participate in makeshift accountability periods that have been put together virtually, and I have used social media in order to amplify my concerns and those of my fellow Canadians, but I have not been able to stand on the Commons floor and publicly address the government, as is my right and duty to do.
As word of the pandemic and its possible effects spread, we very quickly entered into a phase of closure. That was on approximately March 13. Knowing the pandemic was worldwide and spreading like wildfire, we agreed to suspend Parliament for a period of time. As the weeks went by and social distancing measures came into place, our return to Parliament, and the recalling of the House, became less and less certain.
Despite our willingness to work collaboratively with the government to ensure each other's safety, it soon became apparent, to the detriment of Canadians, that the Prime Minister was using this pandemic in order to avoid an element of accountability. He was perfectly comfortable issuing media statements from his front doorstep, but on the whole he was unwilling to take questions from members of the opposition. It took days of negotiation for the party opposite to finally agree to one House sitting per week. Even then, the Prime Minister could be seen here for several moments, but not long after.
If we suggest that Parliament's role is optional, as we have heard time and time again from members opposite, then we are effectively telling Canadians that there is no difference between a democracy and an autocracy, and that is a shame.
If the people's voices across this country do not matter in the midst of a crisis, then do they matter in the time period when there is good?
Is this simply an optional activity, or are we doing important work in this place?
Can we shut the doors and see no difference in our country, or do those doors need to be opened in order for us to continue and move forward as a nation?
By refusing to have Parliament resume, the Prime Minister is sending a strong message to Canadians that he alone is the one who matters. I would propose that is absolutely wrong. Parliament is essential. Parliamentarians are essential workers. Especially during a time of crisis, Parliament has the responsibility of holding the government to account, and this accountability best takes place right here, in the House of Commons.
Make no mistake. What the government is proposing today is not a resumption of full Parliament. It would like Canadians to believe that is the case, but it is simply not true. What the government wants to do is actually assemble what is called a special committee, or a committee of the whole. It is stripped of some key powers and responsibilities. For example, the government would still refuse to allow for opposition day motions. It would not allow for the request of emergency debates. It would not allow for the debate of private members' bills. The order of publication of government documents, and the debate and vote on committee reports, would not be allowed, either.
If the Prime Minister is willing, however, to now do four days here in the House as a committee of the whole, then he is proving, or showing the Canadian public, that it can be done safely. We can assemble in this place and do so while respecting one another's safety.
If that is possible, then why not resume Parliament in its full function to allow us to debate the necessary issues of the day? Why not allow us as Parliamentarians to do the important work that our constituents sent us here to do?
What the government is doing at every turn is skirting accountability. As many of my constituents have conveyed to me again and again, if grocery store clerks, restaurant workers, hairdressers, farmers, nurses, doctors and front-line workers can work, if they can look after Canadians, then surely parliamentarians can meet again in this place in a regular and safe manner. They can do so in a way that brings Parliament back in full force.
I have received hundreds of phone calls, emails and messages from constituents urging us to start sitting together as a full Parliament. Indeed, they understand that there is important constituency work to do, but they also see the value in Canada's Parliament, and they want to know that parliamentarians are debating the issues of the day and making sure that their voices are heard here in our nation's capital.
Here are a few notes that I have received.
“If the Prime Minister is staying in house arrest, he should not be allowed to make decisions.”
“Why is this even a thing?”
“Parliament needs to open up all powers required to run this country immediately.”
“Parliament must sit now.”
Parliament is an essential service and MPs are essential workers. When each of us put our name on a ballot, we should have done so with great sobriety and out of an underlying conviction that we exist to serve. We serve in the good times and we serve in the bad times. That is what it means to put our name on a ballot. These happen to be the bad times, but that does not mean that we run and hide. It does not mean that we stay within the safety of our own homes. It means that we, as 338 privileged individuals who have been sent here to be the voices of our constituents, come and we sit and we look after our country.
As Marc Bosc, former acting Clerk of the House, said:
The House of Commons needs to be functioning and to be seen to be functioning....[It] is an essential service to the country. Members of Parliament are... essential workers.
We need to be functioning and be seen to be functioning, which means we are here in this place. The place to engage in robust debate is in the House of Commons. It is not Facebook. It is not Twitter. It is not the mainstream media. It is here. That is what our parliamentary system is based on. That is the historical nature of this place. That is what the health and prosperity of our country so much relies on.
If members feel that their work is non-essential, then I would suggest that they fail to understand their roles and responsibilities, and they ought not put their names on ballots in the next election. This is not simply a place of process. It is a meeting ground where we use our minds and skills to convince our political opponents of our positions. It is where we give impassioned speeches and where we vocally express our dissatisfaction with a less-than-sufficient government response. If we allow it to, the back and forth of exchange can produce excellence. One side puts forward a thesis, the other sides puts forward an antithesis, and then the synthesis of ideas takes place. That is what democracy is about. It is the exchange of ideas. When did we lose an appreciation for this?
Diefenbaker famously said that “Parliament is more than procedure. It is the custodian of the nation’s freedom.” The House of Commons is not some random place simply used to facilitate the goings-on of Parliament. It is a crucial part of upholding democracy with debate, scrutiny, opposition and questioning of the government on all matters that affect the Canadian public. To characterize it as anything less than essential is an utter degradation of our Constitution and the fundamental freedoms for which our ancestors fought. At the very heart of democracy is the preservation of personal liberties, and the guardian of those liberties is Parliament.
Again, there are 338 of us who have been given the grand privilege and the sobering responsibility of being in this place in order to represent Canadians. If we are not here doing that, then who is?
For the government to use this pandemic to avoid accountability and to have us meet only virtually, where dissent can literally be silenced by the click of a button, is unconscionable.
There was a man who worked at a sawmill, and he would faithfully go to work day in and day out, and at the end of the week on Friday, he would exit the compound. Going past the security guard, he would be pushing a wheelbarrow full of sawdust. The security guard would look at the wheelbarrow and ask him what he had in the wheelbarrow, and he would reply that it was just a bit of sawdust, and the security guard would say that it was okay and to go on through.
The next week, the same worker would come back to work on Monday and work faithfully on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday would come around and this worker would fill his wheelbarrow again with some sawdust and go past the security guard, who would ask him what he had in his wheelbarrow. The employee would reply that it was just a bit of sawdust and continue on his way.
This happened for several weeks. Finally, the security guard pulled him over one Friday and asked him if he did not mind his asking what he used the sawdust for. The employee, not missing a beat, leaned in, and asked him in a whisper if he could keep a secret. The security guard said that he could, and the worker said that he was not taking the sawdust but stealing wheelbarrows.
How easy it is to be distracted from the real things going on before us. Indeed, the government must respond to the current pandemic and ensure the safety and security of Canadians. This is, in fact, the first responsibility of any government, but there is more taking place here than what meets the eye.
The Prime Minister will take the media's questions from the comfort of his home, but he is unwilling to take questions from the people of Canada, through their representatives right here in Parliament. The Prime Minister is willing to hand out money to individuals, businesses and not-for-profits, but he demands something in return.
The government wants the Canadian public to be informed, but only with the information the government carefully curates. In March, the Liberals indicated that they were looking at the possibility of implementing legislation that would crack down on what they were calling “misinformation”, information that the government deemed unhelpful.
Further to this, the heritage minister recently confirmed that millions of dollars are being spent on censorship. No legislation was presented in this place on that, no debate took place here and no discussion was had. The Liberals have crowned themselves now as the czar of what is true and what is false, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what gets to stay and what has to go.
Since when is it the government's responsibility to arbitrate truth? This is not democracy, and these types of silly things are the things that happen when this place ceases to meet and when the official opposition is unable to hold the government fully to account. This is a direct infringement of our freedom.
I recognize that no one likes misinformation, but since when is it okay for the government to determine what is wrong, what gets to stay and what has to go, what is in and what is out? It is a massive overreach of power. I find this particularly unsettling given the fact that the current government is actually responsible for spreading some of the most dangerous misinformation that has been put out there. Canadians will recall that it was the government that initially propagated the false notion that COVID-19 could not be spread by human-to-human contact. That was proven false. It was the health minister who declared that closing Canada's borders was not necessary to protect Canadians because COVID-19 would pass quickly. That was false. As well, it was the government that misled the Canadian public into believing that a mask over one's face was not necessary and would not be helpful. That was false too.
If these are not examples of misinformation, then I do not know what is. If the government is looking to crack down on unhelpful or misleading information on COVID-19, then it really need look no further than in the mirror, or at least that is where it should start. The reality is that the government does not have all the answers. We are in this together, learning and discovering. Information is evolving.
Free speech is part of a thriving society. Free speech is what helps us maintain our fundamentals as a nation. It is how we share ideas. It is how we engage in creativity. It is how we advance. It is how we innovate. It is how we move forward. When did we become afraid of robust discussion? When did we become unable to disagree without being disagreeable? When were these ideals eradicated from our Canadian values, from the social fabric that we call home?
Having convinced the security guard that he was simply taking sawdust, the man cleverly pushed his employer's wheelbarrow home knew there was profit to be made. Things are not as they immediately seem. Things are not fully what they appear to be to the naked eye. As Canadians, knowingly or unknowingly, we are being asked to exchange our freedom for what the government is calling “security”, but to what end.
When Parliament fails to meet and the government ceases to be held accountable, it is safe to say that democracy is in fact under siege. I am concerned that so many have been willing to short-circuit democracy when times are difficult. I have heard members talk about the added travel time it would take to get here, the extra safety precautions they would have to take, the strain it would put on them physically, and so on and so forth. Some members have expressed concern about social distancing. We appear to be doing that quite effectively today and could probably continue it.
We swore an oath to serve our country in good times and bad, in convenient times and inconvenient times. Since when did the members of the House start putting their name on a ballot out of convenience? There are plenty of other careers that people could have pursued if that was their ultimate goal. If life were meant to be convenient, if that is what people in the House are seeking, then this is not the place for them. Rather, this is a place of service. This is a place where 338 individuals from across this country come together and engage in robust and productive discussion for the sake of Canadians. This is a place where the exchange of ideas occurs and where legislative decisions are made. This is a place where the voices of Canadians are meant to be represented. When we fail to show up in this place because it happens to be inconvenient, that is a shame, and it is not a shame on Canadians, but on all of us in the House.
This place is essential and we are essential workers because Canadians are the ones who are being represented here and they deserve to have their member of Parliament in this place, speaking on their behalf, making decisions for the greater good of this country.
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View Charlie Angus Profile
NDP (ON)
View Charlie Angus Profile
2020-05-26 12:30 [p.2420]
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Mr. Speaker, that was a fascinating 10 minutes of my life.
Just because we have so much revisionism going on the House, I would like to speak about the incredible work that was done when the economic crisis hit. When the government started talking about tinkering with EI and child tax benefits, we knew that it was not going to work and that they needed to create a whole new program, something the Conservatives were not supporting at all.
It was the civil servants who worked through the Easter weekend and at night to get the CERB out. We know that the Conservatives are attacking CERB relentlessly and talking about people sleeping in their hammocks and not going to work. However, there is the work of the CRA in Sudbury and the Service Canada offices in Timmins and Thunder Bay, as well the incredible work of Community Futures and FedNor across the north, stabilizing our region, and the fact that we have $50 million of new money coming into the north at this time. We have extraordinary civil servants who stepped up, and it is really important that we recognize the work they did in getting this program off the ground, working under very difficult conditions to make sure that millions of Canadians did not lose their economic security and were not wiped out at a time of unprecedented crisis.
This is an important moment for us because we are back in the House and seeing all manner of revisionism. I want the historical record to show the work of our civil servants, who stood up at a time of unprecedented crisis, and how we were actually able to work in Parliament to change the CERB to make it workable.
I say this because in the United States, the Americans have a one-time payment of $1,250 under Trump. In England, under a majority government, there has not been any money for the self-employed people. It will not come until June. That delay would wipe people out.
However, here in Canada, because we are in a minority Parliament and because New Democrats were willing to negotiate to get something done, we got this thing through. Our civil servants did an extraordinary job, so I want to thank them.
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View Rachael Harder Profile
CPC (AB)
View Rachael Harder Profile
2020-05-26 12:32 [p.2420]
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Mr. Speaker, during my speech I talked about being able to disagree without being disagreeable. I talked about this place being an opportunity for 338 of us to come together and engage in productive dialogue, where we might be able to exchange ideas in a way that we might disagree, but could still honour one another.
I find it very disheartening that the member opposite felt the need to start his statement with a personal attack and follow up with some further slimy comments. He did that yesterday as well. I think it is really inappropriate. It shows a lack of maturity and a lack of leadership on his part. It is very sad.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2020-05-26 12:33 [p.2420]
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Mr. Speaker, I want to be as concise as I can on what we are actually debating today and why I would highly recommend that the member opposite support where we are today. The Prime Minister has been here and has been held to account for government decisions, whether here or in the virtual Parliament over the Internet.
From the Conservatives perspective, what we are really talking about is their wanting an opposition day and private members' business. Maybe those can come with time. We need to focus on how we can continue to move forward with a virtual Parliament, a hybrid system that will enable all members to participate.
I want to give a specific example. If we have an opposition day, at the end of the opposition day there needs to be a vote. However, because of physical distancing we cannot have 338 members sitting in the chamber. Even the Conservatives seem to agree with that particular point. We have to allow for some sort of a voting process, yet the Conservatives refuse to have a voting process. Whether we are talking about opposition days or private members' bills, therein lies the problem. That problem needs to be resolved. The House leadership teams need to come together and work through it.
Would the member not agree that today we are talking about having more questions than we have ever had? We are going to be sitting in the summer, which we have never done before. There is going to be a wide variety of issues to talk about at length, both virtually and in Parliament. In fact, the Prime Minister and Liberal caucus have made a commitment to the parliamentary process and serving their constituents.
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View Rachael Harder Profile
CPC (AB)
View Rachael Harder Profile
2020-05-26 12:35 [p.2420]
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Mr. Speaker, the member opposite used an important term. I believe he misspoke and might want to retract it. He used the term “virtual Parliament” when, in fact, that is actually not what the Liberal government is proposing. That is not the proposal. That is not the motion. He is actually misleading the House. I would give him the opportunity to retract that statement should he wish to do the right and honourable thing. He is not presenting a virtual Parliament. That is not what we are discussing here today.
If that were in fact what we are discussing, a hybrid, full Parliament resuming, we would be willing to discuss it. However, what is on the table is actually the meeting of what is called committee of the whole or a special committee. It strips us of some very important powers and opportunities as parliamentarians. Again, for the member opposite, who I know knows better because he is quite an intelligent gentleman, to mislead the House the way he is doing is absolutely atrocious and he should stand up and apologize to Canadians.
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View Denis Trudel Profile
BQ (QC)
View Denis Trudel Profile
2020-05-26 12:36 [p.2421]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech.
It was fascinating to hear her talk about ideals, about what we should be doing, and about how the government should respond to the crisis.
Let's go down the list of the people who need help from the government during the crisis, who need programs like the CERB and the emergency wage subsidy. That list includes workers, seniors, students, community groups, very important food banks, sick people, fishers on Canada's east coast, the tourism sector, which is huge, single moms, people with disabilities, indigenous individuals, people working in grocery stores and hospitals, and artists. The cultural sector was the first to shut down and will be the last to open up again. Our society needs theatre and the performing arts.
The thing is, I do not see either the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party on the list of people who need government help, yet both of them availed themselves of the Canada emergency wage subsidy. We recently learned that the two leadership hopefuls and other members were against that.
I would like to ask my hon. colleague if she thinks the Conservative Party, which raised almost $4 million in the first quarter, really needs the help that should be going to all those other people.
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View Rachael Harder Profile
CPC (AB)
View Rachael Harder Profile
2020-05-26 12:37 [p.2421]
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Mr. Speaker, the member is, of course, correct when he says that for workers, students, indigenous people, artists and seniors, there is basically a benefit for every single person.
During this unprecedented time in Canada's history, there are an incredible number of men and women who are without work. As a result, they would be unable to pay for their rent, mortgage, the food on their table, the fuel that goes into their vehicle and the clothes on their back without a handout, so the government stepped in and put a number of benefits in place. I can see some flaws in those benefits; nevertheless, I also see the intent to help Canadians.
In terms of that, within the Conservative Party of Canada, there are employees. There are men and women who work incredibly hard to put food on their table, put a roof over their head and look after their family. The party saw it fit to take advantage of the benefit that was made available, in order to pay those employees so that they could continue to take care of their families. I was not a part of making that decision, so I am unable to answer for the motivation. However, I can say that there are 60 families that are being well taken care of now.
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View Rosemarie Falk Profile
CPC (SK)
View Rosemarie Falk Profile
2020-05-26 12:39 [p.2421]
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Mr. Speaker, we were talking about a virtual committee, not virtual Parliament. That is the motion before us.
I have a rural riding. I have trouble accessing the Internet as it is. Usually, it is pretty choppy. I wonder if my colleague could talk about some of the flaws in this and how members will be able to participate virtually, because that is not necessarily possible for all 338.
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View Rachael Harder Profile
CPC (AB)
View Rachael Harder Profile
2020-05-26 12:39 [p.2421]
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Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises a good point, which is that not all of us live in urban centres. I face this challenge as well. Internet access can sometimes be somewhat dicey and not always predictable. Sometimes we get cut off and have to re-enter the Zoom call that is taking place, which hosts our virtual sessions.
There are certainly many glitches, Mr. Speaker, as you yourself are aware, as you have had to deal with them and done quite well.
All of us have had to make adjustments as there are many glitches within the system we have been given. That said, when we talk about a hybrid system that would be in part virtual and in part in the House, I think we can remedy some of those problems. The key is that it is not just a committee with limited power, but that it is a re-establishment of full Parliament.
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View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
2020-05-26 12:40 [p.2421]
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Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be in the House today to debate the important issue of the pandemic that this country is going through and the way in which our Parliament is responding to it, not only in terms of programs but also in terms of how we are organizing ourselves to function as a democratic voice, notwithstanding what I would call the greatest disruption in our country's history since World War II.
Before I start, I would like to take the opportunity to thank my staff. They have been indefatigable. I looked that up in the dictionary, not because I did not know what it meant but because I wanted a more precise definition. It means “persistently tireless” and that accurately describes my staff always, but especially over the last two months. I would like to name them individually: Maire Whitley, Joanna Markowicz, Alex Slusar, Ashley Sanchez, Lauren Roy, Philippe Guay, Paul Kaiser and Vicki Bas, who had to interrupt her hours here on the Hill but who will be an integral part of our efforts to get our offices up and running again.
They have done a wonderful job. They have helped constituents who called searching for answers. They have suggested improvements to programs, which I have then sent to other levels. I am happy to see that some of those improvements have been made as we have adapted the programs, not necessarily because of my intervention, of course, but because members of Parliament from all parties have been communicating with the government with their suggestions for how to make these programs broader, fairer and more effective at this time.
I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Pontiac.
As I said before when I stood to ask a question, this does feel like Parliament to me. Even though it is committee of the whole, it feels very much like Parliament. I am saying generally, in the last few days, even on Wednesdays when I have been here, so on and so forth. Also, the virtual sessions of the committee of the whole feel very much like Parliament. Members of the opposition have a chance to ask pointed questions, and those questions, at least the good ones, are reported in the media. That is all part of the accountability process that we are engaging in, albeit by different means than usual.
I have noticed during the debates that take place in the COVID committee that pretty much every topic under the sun can be mentioned or related in some way to the topic of COVID. That is obviously because of the latitude and open-mindedness that you have shown, Mr. Speaker.
We have heard in the House about people who work in retail in our communities across the nation, and I would like to tip my hat to them as well. They are essential workers. They have a very important job to do. They help ensure that our supply chains are functioning. However, retail outlets are taking precautionary measures. They are taking a variety of measures. I will describe some of them in relation to my last trip to the supermarket.
People had to line up outside, six feet apart. There was a long lineup alongside the supermarket. When we got in, we had to wash our hands and sometimes even answer questions about whether anyone in our family was ill. I know everyone has had this experience, as everyone has been doing the same thing to make sure we have what we need during this pandemic. When we get into the supermarket, there are arrows telling us which direction to go in which aisle. Of course, everyone has to stay six feet apart. When we get to the cash register, an employee points people to the cash register they need to go to depending on how long the lineup is.
That is effectively what we have done in this Parliament. We have implemented social distancing measures. That is why today, in this sitting of Parliament, we are not 338 members.
We have adapted. Just like the retail stores have adapted, we have adapted, and we have been able to use technology to adapt. I did not really know what Zoom was before the pandemic, to be honest, but I have adapted and I think I am pretty good at holding Zoom meetings now. Parliament has adapted as well. Because we have technology, we have been able to keep Parliament functioning. We have been able to keep debate going, and we have been able to see the opposition ask questions. The only real difference between the Zoom meetings and what we normally have here in the House is that there is no heckling on Zoom, so we can actually concentrate on what the questioner is saying and concentrate more on the answer. It is important that Canadians know that we have adapted and that we continue to function and continue to debate, despite the fact that we have to practice social distancing measures in the House.
I have also heard from the other side that we are principally talking about COVID. That makes perfect sense. This is an unprecedented challenge. It is one of the greatest challenges of our time. I would expect Parliament to be focusing almost singularly on that topic, with the leeway you provide us, Mr. Speaker, to bring in other issues. This is the challenge of our time. I know there have been comparisons to Parliament in England during World War II, but I would submit that its members spent most of their time talking about World War II. That is just the way it is. To suggest that we are going to function exactly the same way we did in February, with the same range of topics, is a bit disingenuous, because we are in the grip of a major pandemic that has turned our country and the world upside down. Yes, there are budgetary issues to discuss. The member from the Green Party brought up the issue of MAID. We have asked for one extension already. How are we going to deal with that? I am certain we will find a way to deal with the priority issues that also need to be discussed, along with COVID-19.
The advantage we have over the British Parliament is that we have communications technology. Another difference between the British Parliament and Canada is that one can get to the British Parliament from anywhere in England without taking a plane. That does not describe how transportation works in this country, with its huge land mass.
I would like to finish on the point the member for Lethbridge was making in her philosophical speech about the give-and-take of debate, synthesis and so forth. I would like to submit that the virtual Parliament, the hybrid Parliament that is coming out of this debate is very much in the spirit of synthesis. It is very much in the spirit of parties listening to each other to try to find a common, workable solution in a completely unprecedented situation.
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View Yves Perron Profile
BQ (QC)
View Yves Perron Profile
2020-05-26 12:50 [p.2422]
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Mr. Speaker, I have a two-part question for my colleague across the aisle. He talked about his staff at the beginning of his speech. Obviously, we all rely on our staff and consider them to be extremely important.
I want to ask him if he applied to the program to receive assistance for his office staff. Obviously, his answer will be no, because his office budget has not been cut. The office budget has not suffered as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The funds made available to businesses are meant to save businesses that are struggling.
Here is the second part of my question. Hoping that his answer to the first part is “no”, how does he explain that his party has unscrupulously gone ahead and applied for public money that has been made available to help struggling businesses, when that same party refuses to fulfill its commitment to restore public funding for political parties?
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View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
2020-05-26 12:51 [p.2422]
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Mr. Speaker, my office has not applied for the wage subsidy because my office is not a political party. We set partisanship aside in my office, just as I imagine my colleague does in his.
Indeed, the philosophy behind all the programs the government has created is to help workers and families. There are programs targeted at businesses, non-profit organizations and so on, but the common goal is to help individuals and families get through the crisis. I do not want to turn this into a partisan issue.
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View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
View Karen Vecchio Profile
2020-05-26 12:52 [p.2423]
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Mr. Speaker, earlier it was indicated that we would have 338 members of Parliament here. One of my greatest concerns and challenges over the last few weeks is trying to say that I am sorry that someone is misleading people. I have heard this once again from the member today.
It is not just about the topic of COVID-19. Of course, this is a pandemic and we are all going through this. At the same time, the agricultural sector, the sectors that are dealing with businesses and our international trade, all of these continue to be huge hurdles we need to cross, and we are attempting to cross them. However, there is no ability to share the stories of the farmers in my riding, which I will be able to do so today, because we have been so constrained on what we can talk about.
We talk about democracy, but I saw an order in council from the government on May 1 regarding the firearms ban. Yes, I have been busy with the COVID pandemic, but if members want to go to Elgin—Middlesex—London and listen to over 150 firearms owners who are furious about this, I welcome them to come.
If the government is saying that we are only talking about COVID-19, then why the heck did it put through a firearms ban on May 1?
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View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
2020-05-26 12:53 [p.2423]
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Mr. Speaker, if the motion passes, the hon. member will be able to ask a question on anything she wants.
With respect to the recent action on firearms, that was part of the government's platform. The measure enjoys the support of a majority of parties in the House and I would submit the support of a majority of Canadians. I would also remind the member that we have an order in council process, but all the regulations that are passed by order in council have to be routed and given authority by enabling legislation. That authority exists in enabling legislation that was passed in the House.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 12:54 [p.2423]
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We have time for a brief question.
The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has 30 seconds to ask his question.
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View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
NDP (QC)
View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
2020-05-26 12:54 [p.2423]
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Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.
I do not understand why the Conservatives insist on rejecting a solution that will work quite well. A hybrid Parliament will allow everyone to take part and ask the government questions, as we saw in Great Britain.
I would like my colleague's thoughts on the committee of the whole model. Personally, I very much like having this opportunity to spend five minutes talking to one or more ministers and having a more in-depth discussion than we normally can in the traditional version where we get only 30 seconds to ask a question followed by only a minute for the answer.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-05-26 12:55 [p.2423]
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The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis has 30 seconds to answer the question.
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View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Francis Scarpaleggia Profile
2020-05-26 12:55 [p.2423]
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Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question because in this short five-minute period for questions and answers, the person asking the question sets the pace of the exchange.
That way, if an hon. member wants to ask a seven-minute question, the minister has seven minutes to answer and the government is forced to follow the pace of the opposition. I think it is an exceptional formula. I very much enjoy following this virtual question period.
Maybe someday we will use the same set-up in the House of Commons. I do not know. It is not for me to decide, but my colleague raises a good point.
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View William Amos Profile
Lib. (QC)
View William Amos Profile
2020-05-26 12:55 [p.2423]
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Mr. Speaker, I would highlight for the House the fact that I will not be delivering my full speech. I will simply be thanking my staff, because my team in our constituency office has done such great work and have been there for the constituents of Pontiac. It bears mentioning to the public.
I am so happy to be able to celebrate their work. We do not always see the people working behind the scenes answering phone calls and emails. They have worked hard during this pandemic, and I know that the same goes for all of my colleagues from all parties in the House of Commons.
I really want to give special thanks to my team members.
Erin Davis is our team lead and has been with us since 2015. She is doing an amazing job coordinating the whole team. Jessica Forgues works in our Campbells' Bay office, obviously now virtually since the office is closed. She is front line, receiving all those calls, Stéphanie Lacroix does our administration and financial management. Francis Beausoleil also works with Stéphanie in our Chelsea office. Then there is Anick Caron has recently joined our team and is doing great work in our Gracefield office.
I want to thank Anick for her work in Gracefield, in the Gatineau Valley, and I also want to thank Geneviève Lemaire, our communications assistant.
Geneviève just recently joined our team, taking over from Maja Staka, who also did great work with our team.
These are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 period, from a politician's perspective.
When we represent our constituents, we need all of our assistants and our teams supporting us.
It is only with a team effort that we can serve the public, so I want to thank my Pontiac team. With that, I will conclude my speech.
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View Sébastien Lemire Profile
BQ (QC)
View Sébastien Lemire Profile
2020-05-26 12:58 [p.2424]
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Mr. Speaker, I will also take this opportunity to thank my team, starting with my chief of staff, Christian Rivard. He has worked non-stop during the pandemic and I can even share a story with you about that. We practically worked around the clock during the repatriation operations. I slept at the office and Christian did as well on other days. We set up a war room, even for all the assistance programs.
I would also like to mention Marie-France Beaudry, who helps me out with community organizations which, together with cultural organizations, had difficulty qualifying for assistance from the various programs. We had to be sensitive to this reality and guide these organizations.
There is also Valérie Lafond, who helps out on the administrative side, and Yves Dumulon, who has 20 years' experience providing services to constituents. As you know, the Canada summer jobs program is rather complex and expectations have been much greater this year. I also want to send best wishes to Philippe Guertin, another member of my team, who suffered a mishap during the COVID-19 crisis.
This is a question for the member from Pontiac. Earlier, he mentioned that his constituents were emailing him many questions. I know that Internet access is an issue that is particularly important to him. How is the Internet in his area? How can we make a real difference in terms of Internet coverage, which the COVID-19 crisis has confirmed is a problem?
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View William Amos Profile
Lib. (QC)
View William Amos Profile
2020-05-26 12:59 [p.2424]
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Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my esteemed colleague on the other side of the House.
I also take this opportunity to thank Tyler LaSalle, one of my assistants, who took some time off to go and work in one of our seniors' residences in Ontario.
To go back to my colleague's question, the Internet is without doubt the main infrastructure concern and a matter of priority for the Pontiac. We have to admit that, all over rural Canada, high-speed Internet is a frustrating concern because there is no quick response.
However, since I was elected in 2015, we have been able to announce projects totalling more than $20 million, projects subsidized by the federal and provincial governments. Sometimes, the projects were submitted by not-for-profit organizations and sometimes by major telecommunication companies.
Does that solve the problem? The answer is no, not at all. We must move forward and I believe that our government has a plan to move forward very positively, with the collaboration of the provinces and funding of $750 million from the CRTC.
I believe that service improvement projects will be submitted in the Pontiac, because they are needed. We must also have patience, although all of my constituents want to have the Internet yesterday, not today or tomorrow.
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View David Sweet Profile
CPC (ON)
View David Sweet Profile
2020-05-26 13:01 [p.2424]
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Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for setting a good tone in regard to the gratitude we owe to our staff. I would like to thank Dan, Patricia, Liz, Simon and Jacob who, particularly in these times, not only answer constituent concerns but deal with an intensity that is unprecedented as well. I know the word “unprecedented” has been used a lot, but that is the case.
I would like to encourage all my colleagues to be very attentive to the mental health concerns of their staff. When they get people from businesses calling, people who have worked for 20 years building their business and are in tears, or other people who have been unable to get on a program because they missed it by some avenue, it is troubling.
Last, we are all posting on social media. I have noticed an intensity of the posts as well. I would ask my colleagues, in a concern for mental health, to understand that people who have mental health issues can be very easily pushed into an anxious situation where they will make bad choices. I caution members trying to make political points out of the intensity of the pandemic and to be mindful of those very severe points members may make and how they will be received by people who are struggling with mental health.
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