Normally I have a pretty good connection here, but thank you for that. It might be resolved, but if it continues, perhaps I can get IT support. If it's necessary, I'll let someone else take my spot and then pick up where I leave off.
In my remarks, I was just expressing this heartfelt conviction I have that if proroguing during COVID-19 is not deemed to be a good reason, we have a real problem, because when you look at past prorogations, even the one in 2008 and then the one in 2009, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper used his prerogative to prorogue, all the comments made in the media were that these prorogations were the result of the government's need to assess the economic uncertainty and impact and reset the agenda.
I have several quotes from Dimitri Soudas. In 2009, in the Toronto Star, he was quoted as saying that with the recession easing, now “is the time to engage with constituents, stakeholders and businesses in order to listen to Canadians, identify priorities and to set the next stage of our agenda.” This points to the relationship between the economic recession we were under, which was starting to lift, and the need to then re-evaluate and reset the agenda, which is very consistent with what [Technical difficulty—Editor] testified to and consistent with the prorogation report we've all seen and read at this point.
It's just a parallel. In comparison, it seems that this rationale was good enough for the general public and members of Parliament back in 2009, and what we're dealing with is a public health crisis first, but an economic crisis that's 10 times greater, at least, than what we saw in 2008 and 2009. I think that really underscores that the rationale provided should be, and is, a great reason for resetting the agenda and evaluating the priorities of Canadians and how to recover from this deep social and economic impact that COVID-19 has caused, and I would say, the public health measures that have been utilized to protect, to the greatest extent possible, human health and human life across Canada.
I would like to actually reference a document that I've been reading. I think it's really pertinent to our debate today. It's the six-month update, called “The Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19”. It was published in September 2020 by the chief statistician of Canada. It's a sizable document, so I wouldn't blame anybody for not reading it, yet I found it very interesting. It's 134 pages, and it outlines the really deep social and economic impacts of COVID-19 that we were all dealing with at the moment in time when our Prime Minister decided to use his prerogative to ask for prorogation and re-evaluate the government's priorities and reset the agenda. I think anyone can access this document. It's publicly available, and it's extremely useful in terms of outlining the depth of the impact on our economy.
I draw your attention to a number of points here that are also really reflected in the throne speech. I remember that in our last meeting I spent quite a bit of time delineating how the consultation process during prorogation was really in depth and thorough.
It really engaged members of Parliament. It engaged other parties in the discussions. It really looked at what data and evidence we had and what the priorities should be. I feel that the throne speech, although with broad strokes, of course—with some continuity, for sure, from the original priorities that were outlined in the platform prior, even continuity with the previous throne speech—largely reflected the needs that were expressed by my constituents and, I believe, Canadians in general.
I would go even further today and say that the needs that were reflected in the broad strokes of that new throne speech actually respond effectively to the major impacts that were outlined by the chief statistician of Canada in this 134-page document that I think is an incredible body of work. I'm not sure how many people it must have taken to produce such an in-depth report. I'm sure there were a lot of people behind putting this together. It's really useful.
I would like to quote something from the forward that I think is really important to keep in mind. It highlights the need for an inclusive, equitable recovery. The chief statistician of Canada wrote this forward, so it's a quote from him. His name is Anil Arora. He says:
The crisis has also laid bare many of the social and economic hardships facing marginalized Canadians, raising fundamental questions about the inclusiveness of the recovery.
That's one piece, I think, of an important argument to be made, which is to look at that statement, look at the evidence and really look at how the throne speech responds to that and how it outlines an inclusive, resilient recovery plan—again, in broad strokes because a throne speech is, as we know, not a detailed plan. It doesn't outline every single thing that the government is going to do in full detail, of course. I don't think it would be reasonable for us to expect that in a throne speech.
I would also say that Anil Arora says:
Responding effectively to a crisis requires timely, credible information. COVID-19 has substantially increased the demand for data and analyses that illuminate the challenges facing Canadians as households, businesses, and governments gravitate toward a new normal.
There's a lot of really good information in this document. I would like to just start by highlighting a few of the key findings that I think are really pertinent.
One of the key findings—and this is on page four—is that:
The health impacts of COVID-19 go beyond the effects of the virus.
One statistic that I think is worth pointing out is that:
The pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on the quality of life of Canadians, who have reported their lowest levels of life satisfaction since data became available in 2003.
That's one point. People report, and that's self-reported data. I would say that people's perceptions of their life satisfaction is the only thing that matters when doing that type of research. It's their perception of their quality of life. It's a good indicator of how much this has impacted Canadians.
Also, it says:
Fewer Canadians reported being in very good or excellent mental health—with young Canadians registering the largest declines.
Also, the report points out what it calls “excess mortality”. That's kind of a strange term. Essentially, looking at population level data, we would be able to predict the anticipated mortality rate of Canadians, and it graphs that out. It shows how many more deaths there have been during this crisis than what would normally be anticipated in the normal cycle of life of Canadians. That's another statistic in here that I think is very important.
Another key finding is that the economic impacts of COVID-19 have been uneven across population groups. I think this is really important for us to realize. I know that many other colleagues feel just as passionately as I do about the importance of supporting segments of the population that are marginalized and that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
The report states:
The historic declines in economic activity disproportionately affected many vulnerable Canadians, including women, youth, new immigrants, visible minorities and lower-wage workers.
Visible minorities are overrepresented in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, including food and accommodation services, contributing to high rates of unemployment.
We also see the research data pointing to the impact on indigenous populations:
36% of Indigenous participants reported that the pandemic had an impact on their ability to meet financial obligations or essential needs, compared with 25% of non-Indigenous participants.
That's a significant increase; that's 11% over non-indigenous individuals who participated. This points to the inequity we're seeing within the pandemic itself, and I think it's part of how the pandemic response needs to reflect the inequities that we see across the impacts.
Let me go even a little bit further here:
The impact of COVID-19 on economic activity has been unprecedented and highly uneven across sectors.
This is another point that the chief statistician said was a key finding of this extensive report. Again, think back to the throne speech that outlined supports for hardest-hit industries. I would add here that we're still trying to get that support through Parliament and to get some of the essential supports for the hardest-hit industries actually passed through the House of Commons. It is unfortunate that this is being delayed.
The report states:
The impact of COVID-19 on certain sectors, particularly those that provide consumer-facing services and rely more on travel and tourism, has been particularly severe. Lower-wage services have been impacted to a much greater extent than high-wage services.
This means that individuals who are staffing the firms that offer these lower-wage positions are ones that are also being impacted, because the economic impacts are hitting the service sector and consumer-facing services much harder. I think we've all seen that in retail, probably in our local communities. I've certainly heard it from my chamber of commerce and my business improvement area over and over, that these are the industries that have been hardest hit.
The report states:
The recovery in jobs will depend in large part on the ability of many businesses to adapt to changes in financial and operating conditions, including more uncertain demand for their products and services.
The report also goes into how this pandemic is having a “transformative impact” on existing business models. Similarly, businesses are having to digitalize. Obviously, more people are teleworking. In some instances, some of these lower-wage workers are also at much higher risk of having robotics or automation replace their jobs. This is a big trend within this report as well. In fact, there are many risks and many impacts on those lower-wage workers that the rest of us who are higher-wage don't feel and experience to the same degree.
Airline passenger volumes, measured year over year, remained down 94% in June. As of July, payroll employment in accommodation and food services industries was at about two-thirds of its pre-COVID level, so it was down one-third.
Again, these impacts were at that time. This report really outlines the impacts between when the pandemic hit, and basically, August. The report was produced in September, so it was actually used as a platform of foundational data that could then help inform the consultation process that was being undertaken at the same time.
If you keep drawing the lines between what the data tells us and what the throne speech says, I think you understand that we're not making this up. It made sense. It was rational. It was a good thing to do, to pause and reset the agenda and evaluate where we were at.
One of the other key findings that is important on the social impact side is that the social impacts have also been uneven. There have been greater impacts on those population groups with pre-existing vulnerabilities. This included immigrants and visible minorities, who, as I've already said, are overrepresented as frontline workers. They were also put at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, because many of them were on the front lines, working throughout the pandemic.
Also, it's important to point out that the data showed that visible minorities had perceived and self-reported an increase in harassment, attacks and stigma since the pandemic began. The rates were highest among Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian participants.
I take this very seriously. Not only are visible minorities working in the pandemic on the front lines more hit by the economic impacts, putting themselves more at risk of contracting COVID-19, but they are also experiencing harassment, attacks and stigmatization as a result. Obviously, I'm really not happy about this. It's very hard to shoulder this and even process it, because it's exacerbating vulnerability on top of vulnerability and really providing evidence as to why we might see this resurgence in movements that are seeking greater equity for populations, or subpopulations, that are vulnerable and highly impacted by COVID-19.
Also, it's important to note that social isolation due to COVID had heightened the risk of family violence. From victim services, 54% of respondents reported an increase in the number of victims of domestic violence served between mid-March and early July.
Again, this highlights quite a few different important findings. If you look at the throne speech, again, you can make direct connections between what appears in the throne speech and some of the data that has been collected.
Another key finding is managing the pandemic, moving forward. Canadians are willing to take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19, but there are differences across groups, and that was apparent from the data. One example was that 90% or more of Canadians said they would take precautions such as handwashing, avoiding crowds and wearing masks. What I found encouraging about this particular portion of the report was that it shows how much Canadians in general are willing to do in order to protect the health and lives of others. It was very encouraging to me to think that we have data that shows that.
That data was shown to fluctuate depending on the severity and the number of cases that people were aware of. Think about how public health keeps reporting our daily numbers and how some of our extremely reputable doctors are putting that data out there to keep us all informed. That actually impacts Canadians quite a bit in terms of their willingness to protect others and take the pandemic seriously.
It's really important that this data is put out there because the data that the chief statistician gathered shows that it does impact what people are willing to do and give up in terms of the disruption to their lives. They understand that as case numbers are increasing, they have to do more and they have to abide by these public health measures. There's a larger degree of compliance as a result of their being aware of the case numbers going up.
These are all important points for us to keep in mind when we're thinking about the rationale for prorogation and making the link back to.... I'm not being unreasonable here. If former prime minister Stephen Harper prorogued for a recession that pales in comparison to this pandemic, then certainly the economic impacts of COVID-19 would merit the same consideration and provide a perfectly reasonable rationale for proroguing Parliament.
There were other findings here that I think are important. I'll try not to repeat myself. On changes in Canadians' concerns and response to COVID-19, it says that, as restrictions are lifted and activities resume, social interactions increase, particularly among youth, Canadian born and those living outside central Canada.
There are some other findings here:
Concerns remain about resuming certain activities such as attending events, travelling by airplane, and gathering in large groups—particularly among seniors, immigrants, and Ontarians.
Many Canadians at high risk of severe outcomes due to COVID-19 said that they would try to continue to work from home.
There are many other findings, but I think we see that as restrictions were lifted, the compliance with some of those public health restrictions were less. As such, we've seen a second wave emerge and now we're probably on the cusp of what we would call a third wave of COVID-19, which is deeply concerning.
I wanted to make a few other points about the health risk of resuming activities and willingness to take precautions, which I think is important to highlight. It is important to note that the throne speech recentred on the health needs of Canadians. That's why the throne speech, if you actually look at it, really does focus and is structured in a way....
We all were quite excited between the first and second wave. I certainly felt an energy that we were coming out of this. Then it quickly came grinding to a halt when we realized for sure that there was going to be a second wave, which I think any person who has studied pandemics would have been able to predict. I don't think it was actually all that surprising.
I can definitely tell you that I was caught up in the thought of focusing on recovery and addressing the inequities in our country and many of the other issues that are going to be important coming out of this.
When you look at how the throne speech is structured, it has four foundations. The first one was protecting Canadians from COVID-19. The second one was helping Canadians in businesses through the pandemic, and then building back better.
I remember one of the witnesses calling it a catchphrase. I have lots to say about that. It's not a catchphrase to me. It's a really important concept that is an inspiring vision for a new economy that can emerge stronger, more resilient, more inclusive, more equitable and more sustainable for the planet. That is something I would work until the day I die to achieve. It's something I believe in.
Then the last one was to stand up for who we are as Canadians.
That's how the throne speech was structured, so it really centres on protecting Canadians, first and foremost, from COVID-19. It then talks about how to get Canadians and businesses through the pandemic, and then how we recover in terms of building back better and standing up for Canadians.
I really do feel that it reflects a lot of the data, even just in the way that it's structured.
I am going to make a few more points here about how concerns about overwhelming the health care system remained at that point and ensuring that we made workplaces safe. Approximately half of at-risk individuals who were employed rated their risk among employed individuals as higher. In terms of absolute numbers, sectors with the highest estimated number of workers at risk of adverse outcomes of COVID-19 were in health care and social assistance. That's not surprising given those folks were working on the front lines and caring for people during the pandemic in retail trade; manufacturing; construction; professional, scientific and technical services; and transportation and warehousing.
You can see how many of these were considered essential services, and those individuals were definitely at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and, in many cases, were also at greater risk of having underlying health conditions as well.
I would just like to skip to another section in this report, which I think really speaks to the economic impacts and the depth of the economic impacts. This is on page 44. Maybe I'll just cover the summary. The summary is on page 43.
Regarding economic impacts and recovery related to the pandemic, “Output is recovering as businesses reopen” so, again, this was written in a time when some businesses were able to reopen to a degree, but there were “stark differences across sectors. Output in accommodation and food services in June was at 55% of its pre-pandemic level.”
Another finding was that, “Employment is recovering, but steep losses remain in certain highly impacted sectors.” Again, “Youth, less educated workers, women, recent immigrants, and temporary employees” were hit the hardest.
“Prior to the pandemic” is a summary, and I have more detail on some of these points that I think is important, but firm creation is in the start-up space. Before the pandemic, new businesses being launched were on an upswing. There had been a rise in the number of businesses that were being started in Canada, and the financial position of the firms had been improving. It continues:
Closures rose dramatically during the shutdowns as employees left payrolls—62,600 business closures were observed in May, 29% less than in April but still 59% higher than pre-COVID-19 levels observed in February.
It's important to remember that those shutdowns weren't complete closures of those businesses. They were shutdowns due to the public health measures that were implemented by provinces and territories to protect people from contracting COVID-19.
There are also structural challenges in heavily affected sectors. The retail sector rebounded quickly from storefront closures, as companies developed and enhanced their online platforms. Some of them were able to move online and did rebound somewhat. Again, they were nowhere near their pre-pandemic levels, but it's a good sign that businesses can pivot, start to change their business models and rebound somewhat.
In terms of the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the economy, we can see unprecedented declines in output. There's a really great graph on page 44 of the report that I keep referring to. It shows what the output in our economy was from 2007 to 2020. You can see on the graph the size and scope of the 2008-09 recession. Annual GDP fell 2.9% in 2009. You can compare that with the economic growth over the period of 2018-19, and even prior to that there's considerable economic growth. You can compare that with the COVID-19 pandemic, with severe declines in household spending, business investment and trade, all of which amount to about five times the impact of the 2008-09 recession.
The chief statistician or the team that wrote this report.... I don't pretend that the chief statistician necessarily wrote the entire report; they probably had a team of people helping. It says, “As a purposeful, policy-based response to a health crisis, the COVID-19 restrictions brought about severe contractions in most industrial sectors, including in many service-based industries that typically support the economy during conventional downturns.”
I have another note that I think is important to recognize. I have some other articles on the difference between the 2008-09 recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. There's a great article in First Policy Response that compiles a whole bunch of opinions from different experts who talk about how the economic impact of COVID-19 is far greater and much different qualitatively than that of the 2008-09 recession.
The 2008-09 recession was a demand-side recession. This is totally different from what we have seen during COVID-19, which is a supply-side shock recession. We would therefore expect it to be not only much greater, but different in kind. It requires a very different set of measures, a different way of thinking and a different set of policies and strategies for dealing with it. I won't go into depth on that right now, but I think that's important.
It's also important that the chief statistician outlines, “The road to recovery will involve major adaptations for businesses and households, which pose challenges for an equitable and resilient recovery.” That's interesting when you think about how we've identified that the impacts of COVID-19 have not been equally distributed. In fact, they've impacted populations that were already much more marginalized or vulnerable. I think the chief statistician is saying that this creates additional challenges for our recovery.
The chief statistician's report also says:
During [the second quarter of 2020], household spending fell by a record 13% as families faced heightened levels of job and income uncertainty.
Employment earnings fell by almost 9% in the second quarter. At the same time, household disposable income rose by almost 11%....
This is really important for us to think when we are thinking about recovery. We saw that household spending fell by a record 13% as families faced the uncertainty of the pandemic and income loss, and employment earnings fell almost the same amount—not quite but 9%—in that second quarter. At the same time, due to our government's measures and supports, the COVID-19 relief, economic relief or financial relief supports, disposable income rose by almost 11%.
That's interesting when you think about the elasticity of market and the supply-side shock on the economy. When you put money into the pockets of Canadians to help them get through a crisis, and to some degree there's an increase in their disposable income, they're not spending it.
This pushed the household savings rate to just over 28%, up from about 8% in the first quarter of 2020. Again, when the Prime Minister keeps saying that the economy's going to come roaring back, this is what he's talking about. Why is it going to come back? We are already seeing the chief financial advisers for, I believe, TD and CIBC.... I've been putting these bits of information out there as I see the articles. They're already saying that the rebound of our economy is starting to happen. There's evidence of that.
Again, this is the result of severe declines in most types of economic activity, but in terms of our fiscal measures and support measures, I think we can see that they were targeted. Some of those were outlined in the throne speech. Some of them were continued on, but a lot of them were restructured around that time as well. If you remember, the wage subsidy, for example, was completely restructured to be indexed to the revenue loss of the businesses that are out there. That makes perfect sense.
I think opposition parties were in agreement that those revisions and adaptations of that support were important to not only support businesses to get through this but also to help the support be structured in a way that allows them to actually recover and lift them out of the pandemic. That has created an impact on their businesses.
To me, again, this just seems like it's all very rational and based in evidence. I know that's what I hang my hat on, that as a party and as a government, we've been putting the health and safety of Canadians first. We've been seeking evidence and consulting with key stakeholders across this country, including opposition parties, and attempting to implement measures that are the most effective at both protecting Canadians' health and safety, and helping our economy recover and Canadians get through the crisis. To me, that gives me reassurance.
Historic declines in labour market activity were another impact of COVID-19. It continues, “Employment losses totaled 3 million from February to April, almost 2 million of which were in full-time work.” This is on page 47 of that report. “Employment rose by 1.9 million from April to August. Total employment in August was 5.3% below its pre-pandemic level.” This shows how quickly businesses started to recover and unemployment started to decrease as we came out of the first wave of COVID-19.
It still was below pre-pandemic levels, of course, because we hadn't gotten through the crisis yet, and certainly we know now that the second wave of COVID-19 was much worse so the impact on our economy has only gotten greater as a result of managing this crisis through the second wave.
Now, perhaps we could have a third wave, which could be avoided, quite honestly. If we stuck with our public health measures and didn't lift them prematurely, I think we could avoid a third wave, which would benefit our economy and all of Canadians as well as their health. Of course, the most important part of dealing with a pandemic is the health and safety of people.
I was really heartened by the fact that the Prime Minister called for March 11 to be a day to observe the incredible loss of life during COVID-19. I don't know how many people have been impacted by this exactly, but I know that 22,269 people have lost their lives in this pandemic over the last year.
I think about the ripple effects on all of the people who were in their families, all of the friends, all of the communities that are experiencing those losses, and we need to remind ourselves that every life matters, every single life matters. We can't ever become desensitized to the loss of life that's occurred from this pandemic.
While most of my speech has focused on the depth of impact on our economy and on our society, I really think that the impact and the loss of human life is something that we can never lose sight of.
Maybe I'll leave it there for the moment because I have so much more to say and there are so many more good points in here, but this might be a good time for me to take a moment. I feel myself getting a bit emotional, which is I think is natural, given how hard we've all been working for so long and how long I've just spoken for. That's a heartfelt reminder of the loss of human life that's happened in this pandemic, which I take very seriously.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'll maybe resume again after some of my colleagues have had a few words, but that is a good place for me to stop for the moment.