Madam Chair, I will be saying how much I appreciate the amendment that was brought forward by my friend and colleague, Mr. Turnbull. I have been clear that I think it would be really important to hear from the and the .
I will also make the same point that I have repeatedly made, namely, that there is nothing more important than the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is where our sole focus should be. Canada is in the third wave of COVID-19. We are in a race between the variants and the vaccines, and our health system in Ontario is literally on the verge of collapse. Ontario field hospitals are being readied, but it's not just beds that are needed. Critical care staff are needed. We are hearing that this is absolutely unprecedented. This is the—quote—“nightmare scenario” we were all afraid of, yet this committee remains focused on a political motion.
Our country reported over 9,200 COVID infections on Friday. That was the new single-day high since the start of the pandemic. We have had the highest number of COVID-19 cases, and yet there is a partisan motion.
Worldwide, more than 2,850,000 people have lost their lives, and all of us, we have lost them. Globally, new COVID-19 cases rose for a sixth consecutive week, with over four million cases reported in the last week. The number of new deaths also increased by 11% compared to the previous week, with over 71,000 new deaths reported.
Far too many health care workers have died in the pandemic and millions have been infected. The pandemic has taken a huge toll on their physical and mental health, with devastating effects on their families and communities. Anxiety, depression, insomnia and stress have all increased, and yet we have a partisan motion.
The pandemic is exposing, exploiting and exacerbating inequalities. COVID-19 pushed an estimated 120 million people into extreme poverty last year. Gender inequalities have increased with more women than men leaving the labour force. Rich countries are vaccinating their populations while the world's poor watch and wait.
Health inequalities are not just unfair; they make the world less safe and less sustainable. Yet there is a partisan motion.
Here in Canada, we have had over one million COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 23,250 Canadians. That's another 1,250 Canadians since I updated this committee on March 6—in fact, when I was repeatedly interrupted at this committee.
Madam Chair, I cannot imagine what could be more important than talking about COVID-19, the race between the variants and the vaccines and what this committee could actually do to ensure preparedness for pandemics going forward. The numbers of deaths are not just numbers. They were our grandparents, mothers, fathers, loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, lifelong friends, mentors and heroes, and they matter to so many more people.
All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in hospitals right now, the number of health care workers who have developed COVID-19 and the number of health care workers who have ended up in ICU. All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks in essential workplaces, in marginalized communities and in congregate settings.
A century after the 1918 influenza, poverty, hunger, well-being, gender, racialization and economic status still play a role in who gets sick, who gets treated and who survives COVID-19.
Non-emergency surgeries are on hold in Ontario hospitals as COVID-19 takes hold despite a backlog of postponed surgeries from the past year approaching 250,000. Ontario has not ordered such an across-the-board postponement of non-emergency surgeries since the first wave of the pandemic hit the province in March 2020.
Dr. Kevin Smith, the CEO of the University Health Network, has written, “This is going to be the most extraordinary and demanding time most of us have had in our working lives. It comes to us after a very long year which has left us feeling battered and drained.”
They are battered and they are drained. In the words of one physician, “It's never-ending high stress and I'm actually afraid. I've never been afraid, but it's different with the variants. You have no idea what we see, the fear from the patient, the fear of families saying goodbye over Zoom, the fear of our families when we come home. It's unrelenting.” But here we are focused on a partisan motion.
Let me be clear. We are still fighting the pandemic. Canada's cases have increased 82% over the last 14 days. In Ontario more COVID-19 patients are in the ICU than at any other point during the pandemic. The expectation is that we are locked in for a 5% to 7% daily increase in hospital admissions for the next two weeks. The number of new variant cases more than doubled in the last week.
An article states, “Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the rapidly spreading variants have now likely replaced the original virus, as more young people are getting sicker". This article is a few days old now, but it states that to date, “more than 26,000 cases linked to variants of concern have been reported” in Canada.
The variant initially reported in the United Kingdom accounts for more than 90%. For the variant first identified in Brazil, there have been more than 1,000 cases in Canada after doubling in the last week alone. The variant from South Africa is also picking up momentum, with cases in Ontario and Quebec. The article goes on to sate:
Hospital admissions are also on the rise as health-care staff try to keep up with overflowing ICUs. Experts say the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs continue to test hospital capacities with patients battling the disease.
My friends, we've done really good work in the past. Together we have done really good work. We did important work that allowed remote voting so that MPs weren't travelling back and forth to their communities and potentially spreading the virus. We did really important work in saying what was needed should there be an election during the pandemic. Now we have to step up again. We have to step up and do the work that's incumbent upon us. We need to look at the House of Commons' response so that we can make recommendations for when the next pandemic comes along. We need to do that work.
I'll come back to the motion that's before us. The original motion prejudges the need for prorogation. Mr. Turnbull's amendment refocuses the study on prorogation with research, evidence and facts, and reinviting our and the .
The prorogued in order to take the time needed to take stock of Canada's situation: How are Canadians doing? Where were we in the pandemic? How was the pandemic affecting jobs and livelihoods? How had wave one affected our seniors, and particularly those in long-term care? Where should we go as a country after looking at the science, evidence and facts and hearing directly from Canadians?
I remember last spring when our Conservative colleagues wanted in-person Parliament with MPs travelling back and forth to Ottawa, possibly spreading the infection. They wanted in-person voting in Ottawa rather than electronic or remote voting.
When dealing with a new disease, it's important to acknowledge that not everything is known. It's important to exercise precaution. With a new disease, new science and data, information will likely change. There will likely need to be adjustments and guidelines, policies and recommendations. If we look at what was known last January versus what is known today, there are a lot of differences: the role of aerosols, the role of indoor versus outdoor spaces and the role of masks. Scientific knowledge evolves over time, and decision-makers have to be open, flexible and willing to change course. Decision-makers must stay humble in the face of the new virus.
Colleagues, we're in the third wave. It is incumbent upon us to do our work so that in the future the House of Commons—Parliament—can be better prepared.
If the were here, we could ask about the evidence. We could ask about what consultations were taken during prorogation. It is for this reason that I am supporting my friend and colleague Mr. Turnbull and his amendment.
I'm here to represent the constituents of Etobicoke North. We are a caring, strong and resilient community. Many of our community members are essential workers.
I'm also here to debate the amendment at hand, which is to invite several ministers to appear in front of this committee. I support the amendment, as I said, but I would like to give further arguments as to why I think it's important to reinvite ministers.
Speaking for my constituents, I will first talk about COVID-19, as this is what is first and foremost—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
You're right. I did have my hand up. I was hoping to at least get on the record the last time we met a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately for me, I'll be able to get on the record now.
It's such a pleasure, it really and truly is, to be back on PROC and to be afforded the opportunity to speak. It's been a number of years. I've always thought of PROC as one of those standing committees that is held in fairly high esteem, Madam Chair, as you and other members are no doubt aware. Often other committees will look at what's happening in PROC and things that take place in PROC will often disseminate to other committees.
For many years I served in PROC, in particular while I was in opposition. Since being in government, some members may have preferred that I not attend PROC because I was a parliamentary secretary and maybe too strongly linked to it. Nowadays, given what's taken place....
The deputy House leader had it right on. I don't think anyone could have said it any better. The way in which she often speaks I always find very inspiring. She speaks at a level that embodies what I think all politicians strive for. That's to have emotional passion and connection with real people, demonstrating so well how we need to care for people. In that, I think she is second to no other inside the House of Commons in her ability to empathize and sympathize with the public as a whole and as individuals. That's why I appreciate some of the words that she was starting to say concerning what the priority of this government really is.
I've been afforded many opportunities to address a wide variety of issues inside the House of Commons. I've never taken it for granted, nor have I ever taken for granted what takes place in this particular committee. This committee, I believe, needs to be able to demonstrate leadership—leadership that says that in a pandemic, we can get the job done, the job that's necessary; that we're able to get it done.
I must say I am somewhat disappointed. I'm disappointed because I believe in part there's a certain faction rooted within the Conservative House leadership team but which goes beyond it, which is starting to play as a very destructive force. I've made reference to the destructive force inside the House of Commons. The opposition is using partisan politics at a time when we want Canadians and others, including parliamentarians of all political stripes at all different levels, to work closer together.
I have had the opportunity to watch over what's been taking place in PROC. I've witnessed the official opposition leading the charge in ensuring that PROC is not doing some of the things it could and should be doing. The official opposition is more interested in doing what it can to cause filibustering, as some refer to it. I refer to it as more an opportunity for government members, in this particular situation, to try to focus members of the standing committee on what Canadians are so passionate about today.
There is so much more that the PROC committee could be doing. I want to get into some of that, but not until I get rid of a few frustrations that I have.
There is a good example from earlier today. I was going into the chamber anticipating that the member for Elmwood—Transcona would be moving a concurrence motion. I must say I was getting a little agitated. I was thinking about why they would want to move another concurrence motion, especially with respect to PROC, because the member for Elmwood—Transcona would be very much aware of Bill . I'm sure that members of PROC are concerned about an election. After all, in a minority situation no one knows when the election is going to occur.
We continue to do whatever we can to stay focused on the pandemic, and minimizing the negative impacts of the pandemic. However, a part of that is that we need to be ready. As I say, the role that PROC plays is absolutely critical.
As I was going into the House this morning, I received a text. I'm not too sure exactly where it came from, but it implied that the NDP were going to be moving a motion for concurrence in an election report. I know the member for Elmwood—Transcona is listening. I suspect that was his intent this morning. I'm not trying to impute motive—I don't want to go against Beauchesne's here—but I would ask if that was the intent. The only reason it didn't happen is that the Conservatives moved another motion for concurrence. Right away, I'm starting to think, “Well, here we go again. The opposition is trying to frustrate the government.”
We are trying to deal with substantial pieces of legislation, and the opposition wants to play games. In one sense, I was expecting the member for Elmwood—Transcona to bring forward his concurrence motion, and then I was hearing that they were going to ask for leave to have the debate occur later in the day, after the House adjourned. I suspect at some point in time the member for Elmwood—Transcona will provide some clarification if that was the plan.
Here's why it's so important to this particular committee. When we talk about the agenda, when we talk about what it is that we should or could be talking about, staying focused on what the deputy House leader was talking about, and that is the pandemic, Bill is completely relevant and would be a wonderful thing for PROC to be dealing with.
I was hoping that I would get the opportunity in that concurrence debate to go into details about the PROC report. In fact, the first thing I did was call it up on my computer in anticipation that we were going to see a concurrence motion.
Now, that would not have been my first choice, because, as the government has said day in and day out, there is a legislative agenda that the government is trying to get through the House of Commons. At the same time, the government's focus is on the pandemic. I would have preferred, if we were going to be debating something this morning, that it wasn't going to be.... I believe that Bill is being debated right now, for the very first time. It's an important piece of legislation.
I would have preferred that as opposed to debating the concurrence report, we would be debating Bill . Bill should have been a major discussion, a topic area for debate inside the House, weeks ago. It has been sitting there for a long time. We've actually attempted—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'm not exactly sure what point Ms. Vecchio was attempting to make about relevancy. I'm just going to continue.
When we talk about having people appear before committees, we have seen throughout the last number of months standing committees calling for and receiving a wide spectrum of ministers attending. Using the finance committee as an example, I think is a positive thing and hopefully will contribute to part of the discussion that is taking place when we talk about ongoing committee meetings and who we're going to be hearing from and so forth. I want to emphasize that committee because it's something I was just talking about yesterday in the House, as it was information that was provided to me.
We had, as I indicated, the . There was the former minister of finance. We had the . We had the . We even had the Clerk of the Privy Council.
We've had endless other representations heard in committees from private citizens and organizations. In fact, on government supply—and this goes in part to what you were talking about in your explanation, Madam Chair, and I appreciate it—there was a great deal of information provided. It seems to me that we have more than one committee attempting to do the same thing that other committees are doing.
In this situation, when you talk about what was taking place in the finance committee, which was the WE Charity issue, and what PROC is looking at and follow some of the debates that occurred back then, there are some common themes.
There were 5,000 pages of documents provided to the finance committee—5,000 pages—dealing with WE Charity and the Canada summer youth program. There were documents that were also provided by the Prime Minister's Office. There were clerks who made presentations.
The has been very strong on the issue of what's taking place in standing committees and in recognizing that standing committees operate on their own and that it is the standing committee that will ultimately determine what its agenda is going to be. I believe that is why it's so important that we protect as much as possible the interests of that independence of standing committees. I believe what we have seen is an infection of sorts coming from primarily the official opposition, whose intent is to play partisan politics even more in our standing committees than we have seen before.
I've had opportunities to participate in PROC discussions in regard to the Canada Elections Act and the calling of witnesses, and who it is we should be listening to, and reports. I'm not 100% sure, but I believe we even submitted some form of a minority report from the past.
My concern is, at the end of the day, what is it that the official opposition is attempting to achieve. We have indicated from day one our expectation of dealing with the coronavirus. That is where our focus has been. I would like to pick up on that, Madam Chair.
Yesterday we had a very special celebration. The was there. I know Ms. Duncan was there also, as were you, Madam Chair. Today is Vaisakhi and I would like to say happy Vaisakhi to all members of the committee, but also to the broader population and those who are celebrating. Vaisakhi is a very special celebration in our Indo-Canadian community, but many others, including me, also acknowledge the importance of Vaisakhi and celebrate it.
A part of that celebration, as it was noted yesterday, is giving back, that we, as people, have a responsibility to give of ourselves to the community as a whole. What was so nice about yesterday's event is that it highlighted two things. It highlighted the richness of Canada's diversity and it allowed us to recognize that important issue that all Canadians are facing today: the coronavirus. That is what members of the Liberal caucus have been trying to get the focus on, whether it's in PROC or on the floor of the House.
At the celebration, that's what it was for me. In recognition of Vaisakhi, the said a few words, but more importantly, listened to what health care workers from across Canada had to say about the pandemic and the impact it was having on Canadians in a very real and tangible way. Ms. Duncan, Ms. Sahota and I were there, but I think all members of PROC would have benefited from listening to what was being said,
We were blessed to have had so many wonderful people not only wish us happy Vaisakhi but share with us their point of view as to what was taking place on the ground, and some of the things that we need to be working on. There were a couple of them that really touched me and made me think that we need to spend more energy and more time talking about them.
Ms. Duncan, I look to you and recognize your science background. We had the one doctor who talked about the backlogs of cancer patients that have been created because we've been so focused on the pandemic. The costs to our health care and our resources are so significant that we have not been able to do some of the things we've been able to do in the past in dealing with things like cancer detection. What is going to be the impact of that?
I appreciated those thoughts. Those are the types of issues that we need to be focusing on. We can all choose some very specific things. To use a few examples, I think, is good.
I'm genuinely concerned that there could be an election, and if there is an election, we have legislation that should be talked about.
I understand that we have a motion before PROC today that's talking about witnesses, that's talking indirectly about prorogation and why that had taken place. This is all related to it. What's taking place today is related to why prorogation was absolutely necessary back in August, which is the reason PROC is where it is today. I would argue that it is happening in that fashion because the Conservative party has chosen to politicize.
That's why I think it's good to bring up some examples of what real Canadians are saying. Towards the end of the discussion yesterday.... It didn't get anywhere near as much time as I and I'm sure other members would have liked to see. I know Ms. Petitpas Taylor, who is a former minister of health, is very passionate on the issue of mental health. Imagine the impact the pandemic will have on mental health. And you wonder why we wanted to refocus the House of Commons with a new throne speech.
You can only talk so much within the first hour or within one hour, and unfortunately, that was the limit we had yesterday in recognizing Vaisakhi and listening to those front-line health care workers who worked in emergency room settings and community settings. I can tell you that, even though it didn't get as much time, I believe that we have our work cut out for us on the mental health issue. It's absolutely critical that we reflect on the impacts that the pandemic has been having.
You see, prorogation ensured that the House of Commons would refocus its attention, because the first throne speech that we presented talked more about the economy, going forward and the previous four years when there were a lot of things that were done. The throne speech we heard back in September, I believe, allowed all of us, all political entities in the House, to recognize that there was a need for us to pay attention to what was the first priority for for all Canadians.
I was really encouraged yesterday when the indicated that we are now on track to get 44 million doses of vaccine by the end of June. We need to recognize that the population of Canadian is 37.5 million, or maybe a little more than that. Depending on how provinces prioritize and how they administer the vaccines, Canada is in good shape today for a wide spectrum of reasons.
When it comes to the ultimate answer of vaccines, we have reason to be optimistic and hopeful. I think that's the type of thing for which all of us, whatever political affiliation we may have, can take some responsibility and start encouraging even more people to get engaged with the whole vaccination process.
I look at the types of actions that we have seen from the government that encouraged the prorogation. We often talk about day one, when it first became very clear that we had something that we needed to deal with, that there was no choice in the matter.
I can remember getting ready for budget 2020. We had the pre-budget consultations, which are fairly extensive in themselves. We were getting ready to present that budget on the floor of the House. Then we started to hear more about the pandemic. We started to hear from the health experts from the World Health Organization, from non-profits, from the private sector, from provinces, and the list goes on.
The made it very clear that the priority of the Government of Canada would be to have the backs of all Canadians, to be there in a very real and tangible way. There was a high sense of co-operation. There was very much a team Canada approach that we saw first-hand. We saw people of different political parties, different levels of government coming together and working out what was necessary in order to get us started on this path. Even the official opposition back then recognized the value of it.
We, with the support of so many, created programs that were absolutely non-existent prior to that time. We went from nowhere to a program that served almost nine million Canadians in every region of our country. Everyone knows it as CERB.
That was the beginning. As we started to move more and more into it, we saw the need to hit the reset button. That was a decision that the ultimately had to make. I support that decision. I support that decision because it reflects what Canadians expect of the government given the time. There was so much that was taking place.
I can remember how fluid things were and how things were changing. First the message seemed to be to wash your hands and keep your hands clean and to make sure that when you're speaking, you're not spitting—either intentionally or unintentionally, obviously—on others. That's how the coronavirus passed. Masks weren't compulsory anywhere. They weren't being made compulsory.
Remember we were talking about staying below the curve. Everything was about the curve. We talked so much about the curve. Do you remember the need for sanitizers for your hands? The educational component was so high at the beginning. People had no real idea what they needed to do. They really did not.
For the first number of weeks going into months, it was about education. It was about coming up with the support programs. It was about remaining under the curve. With the team Canada approach that was almost completely universal, we made a difference in a significant way.
Because of the experiences through that first wave, we were better able to deal with the second wave. Three weeks into it, how many people could have gone to a store and bought hand sanitizer? Do you remember the rush on toilet paper? PPE was very scarce. We were fighting to get PPE. We didn't have the stuff being produced or manufactured here in Canada. It was that first wave that woke everyone up. It was so encouraging to see that high sense of co-operation.
I said that we were just getting started on the debate on the 2020-21 budget. We were anticipating it. The House was going to be sitting and going ultimately into a budget debate, but then it was agreed amongst all the political parties that we needed to come up with some sort of a hybrid system. Even before then, we recognized that we needed to take a break and extend that break because of the coronavirus.
How many of us back in March last year anticipated that we would be doing what we're doing today? Very few really understood it. Today, because of the education, because of the programs that were put into place, we are in a much better position.
There should have been no surprise about the need to prorogue. That was something I would have thought was almost a given. Quite frankly, it was a bit disappointing to see the resistance toward it. If you go back, my belief is that sometime between June and July, you started to see at least a different attitude coming from some members, particularly in the opposition. We started to see more partisan politics being brought in at the national level.
That is why we needed to prorogue the session. I wish that the non-partisanship that we saw back in April, May and most of June 2020 would come back. We would be able to accomplish so much more if were able to see that happen.
I support the idea of having studies done at PROC on House procedural matters, including prorogation. I wouldn't have a problem arguing that this is probably one of the best examples that one can give for proroguing a session. I couldn't think of a better example, other than a war maybe, but beyond that, it would be pretty tough to convince me.
I would have no problem at all comparing what our did in terms of the prorogation and the justification for it, to the last time under a different administration when the session was prorogued. I wouldn't have any problem at all doing a comparison of the two. I suspect that most Canadians would support what was done by the current Prime Minister.
Read through the throne speech. Maybe later on tonight I'll get the opportunity to go through the throne speech, and you'll see very clearly what's in that throne speech. The focus of that throne speech was about being there for Canadians in real and tangible ways.
I go back to when I emphasized the importance of education. Very few of us had any real understanding of the depth of what it was the world was getting into with the coronavirus. The death, sickness and costs to society have been enormous.
Are there things we could have done better? I'm not arrogant to believe we have been absolutely perfect. There has been, at times, a need for us to make adjustments. We have done that. We have listened and made adjustments where it has been necessary.
I mentioned the creation of programs. There is a suite of programs out there as a result of the coronavirus.
We continue to make changes all the way up to legislation that was being debated yesterday for Bill .
When we talk about being there, working together and trying to provide the supports that Canadians need, there are the two extremes. I started off a few minutes back talking about how we were working so well together back in April, May and most of June. Contrast that with what's happening today.
Look at Bill . It's an excellent example. I don't know if it's because minority governments typically last 18 months and some people are getting the itch that they have to see something happen because of that. For me and I know for my colleagues, our focus continues to be on the pandemic.
I mention Bill , because I think it's a great example of how the opposition has not responded well with the new throne speech. We prorogued Parliament. We came in with a new throne speech. Committees, including PROC, started to meet and they wanted to do X, Y and Z. We're saying that we want to continue to focus, as we should, on the pandemic and fighting and minimizing the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Bill , as many will recall, was necessary because of the fall economic statement made by the back in November of last year. The legislation was tabled in December, I believe. Think of what is in that legislation. There are things to support Canada's middle class through the child benefit program, for businesses and the government's ability to borrow. There are things there that are absolutely essential.
Government has called the bill on many occasions. It gets talked out or things will be brought up to prevent it from being debated. The only reason it passed—and I remember back in January getting it out of second reading—was that the opposition parties were shamed into seeing why they weren't passing this necessary legislation. I hope to expand on that later.
I can tell you that when we look at prorogation and you talk about wanting witnesses, or talk about who you should be calling, I think the is someone who would be able to provide a lot of detail as to why it is so important that we remain focused on the coronavirus and the impact it's having on our society. We should be taking advantage of the work that has been done by so many and looking at ways we can improve upon it.
Our often talks about building back better. That's not just a phrase; that's a reality. We can do that. The opportunity is there. It's real. It's tangible. I'm even hopeful that we're going to see some of that—more of that—in the upcoming budget on the 19th.
I think we have an opportunity, in whatever capacity that we play, whether it's sitting in PROC and determining what it is we should be talking about, or the agenda of PROC and how we might be able to assist the process, or in some other capacity. If you believe that the pandemic is the number one concern of Canadians, as I do, as Liberal members of Parliament do, you can still be a viable, strong and healthy opposition. I believe there is a need to refocus.
I've been a parliamentarian for 30 years. I spent over 20 of those years in opposition. I've said on several occasions before that being positive and creative didn't hurt me when I was in opposition. There are still many different areas in which one can explore and contribute. Canadians aren't stupid. They will recognize the value of hard work.
Earlier I referenced the CERB program. I said it was a program that started from nowhere—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I think it's important that when we talk about programming and we talk about witnesses, whoever the witnesses might be and whatever the agenda—prorogation and the need for prorogation—we need to take into consideration what has been taking place in the last 12 months.
That's why I quickly made reference to CERB. I think it's an important part of the discussion and the debate, and it could even be something that might be raised with people who would be appearing before the committee, if in fact the committee is genuinely interested in what Canadians want Parliament to be talking about. That's why I believe that, in going to use CERB, looking at what it is that the government has done that justified it calling for a prorogation is really important.
We have, for all intents and purposes, provided a wide spectrum of programs. Those programs were put in place in good part in those months that followed the alarms going off on the coronavirus. Then, once we got into the summertime, what became very clear was the need to make changes to these programs, because they were not perfect.
I would recognize they were not perfect programs. That is one of the many reasons there was justification for prorogation. Going forward, if you're going to be dealing with the issue of prorogation or changing the rules or anything of that nature, there is a responsibility of committee members and others to understand what led to prorogation. It is why members, in particular those of the Liberal caucus, have chosen to talk about the coronavirus as the number one issue facing Canadians today.
I'm hoping that helps Ms. Vecchio understand why I'm talking about the program.
Madam Chair, I indicated that out of the suite of programs, the one that really comes to my mind is the CERB, because of the numbers and where it came from. It came from virtually nothing to a program to service just under nine million Canadians.
Why were programs of this nature so important? If you check with what people in our communities had to go through, one very quickly understands the importance of government having to be there for Canadians in a very real and tangible way. That's what CERB was. Imagine, if you will, where concerns are being raised, whether it's in the province of Ontario, the province of Manitoba, or any other province or territory, for that matter. There's a need to have people stay at home, to not go to work.
If people can't go to work, and they work at store X, they will likely lose their income while they're not there. In a situation like that, we need to recognize that the same principle doesn't apply for utility bills or mortgage payments or the need to buy groceries.
That is the reason the government had to bring forward a program that would support Canadians. That was the essence of the CERB. It allowed Canadians to have a disposable income during a very difficult time. It was absolutely critical for the Government of Canada, and I think most parliamentarians to support the need for that particular program.
That's the best example I could give for individuals. Then there are the small businesses. When you stop and think about the damage to the economy and the impact on the economy, is it any wonder that the would have given that extra consideration going into the need to prorogue the session. We've never faced that sort of situation in our past, where many businesses are being forced to shut down. It's not an option. Businesses were having a very difficult time. Once again, the government needed to respond. Much like with the CERB, of course there were going to be some modifications to the program.
The Canada emergency business account was there to protect the long-term interests of Canadians as a whole. Let me explain. When we take a look at Canada's economy, we need to recognize that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Even my Conservative friends will acknowledge how important small businesses are, and I appreciate that. These programs that we're having to reflect on in terms of being able to justify prorogation made a difference in a very tangible way. Let me give you some details on that, Madam Chair.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a small business, and you are being told that you're going to have to reduce your business expectations because of the coronavirus. As a result, you're now going to have to lay off some people. Those people who you're laying off are going to be falling on some hard times. You might not even be able to start up again quickly. What could government do to support situations of that nature?
The wage subsidy program literally provided support to tens of thousands of businesses across this country. It enabled businesses to survive and employees to keep their jobs. By doing that, when the time is right and we're in a position to recover, we will see us in a better position, because there will have been fewer bankruptcies. It's the same thing with the rent subsidy program.
Every government program that prevented a company from going bankrupt, or that assisted employees in keeping their jobs, made a huge difference. They continue to do so in Canada's ability to build back better going forward and to keep those jobs.
In fact, after the second wave, I remember the in the House talking about how Canada, as a whole, was having far greater success than other countries around the world, in particular, the United States, in recovering the jobs that were lost because of the coronavirus. We were very successful because we came up with programs to support small businesses.
By supporting small businesses and people through programs like the CERB, the federal government was in a good position to protect our long-term interests. At the same time, the government has been there for Canadians in a very real and tangible way during this very difficult time.
I am not going to be able to stick around for much longer, but I did want to pick up on a couple of other points. When I talk about small businesses, there is one other aspect in which the government played a very important role. I could very easily have talked about other aspects of supporting small businesses, like the emergency business account, the credit availability account and the regional relief and recovery funds. There are different programs that have been put into place.
There's one thing on which I want to provide a brief comment. It's not just the Government of Canada, but there were other stakeholders, beyond the national government, the provincial governments and territories, indigenous leaders, non-profit organizations, for-profit organizations. Some of these companies have been absolutely incredible.
I talked about how this thing got under way in the first place, going back to March 2020 and how much PPE was actually being produced in Canada. Do a comparison today, and look at the companies today that are providing PPE for Canadians. There's no shortage today at all. It's there, and it's very real. I'm talking in particular about things such as masks for the public and hand sanitizer.
If I were the PS for procurement, I could probably go on and on, but I'm sure could speak endlessly on this issue regarding the number of companies, and how they contributed to take back industries that we had lost, and how we've stepped up.
When you talk about the situation that we were thrown into, that's what has impressed me the most.
Prorogation was necessary because it ensured that the focus of the House of Commons would be on the pandemic and minimizing the impacts of the coronavirus. All we needed to do was to take our lead, as the did, from what Canadians were saying and doing. Whether it was the individual, the private company that retooled or the non-profit organizations that stepped up to the plate, I hope to be able to expand on a number of these things later tonight when we talk about the immense contributions made that sent a very clear message. That message was very simple, that as a Parliament, we needed to be focused on the coronavirus and minimizing the negative damage that was being caused by it.
I am very proud of the 's decision to prorogue the session. I'm quite happy at any point in time to have a discussion about when a session should be prorogued. I would welcome that sort of a discussion, but I think it's important that, as parliamentarians, we be aware as to why the Prime Minister prorogued. It's there. It's real. It's tangible. From my perspective, I couldn't think of a better reason to do it. I believe Canadians see that and we are starting to see results.
It's important to recognize that we are not out of it. The third wave is here. It's real. It's killing people. Our hospitals are filling. We need to be aware that the third wave is here and it's real.
That said, one of the most important things the Government of Canada had to do was to acquire vaccines. We made that very clear. Months ago, we set the target of six million doses by the end of March. We exceeded that. We got close to 10 million. We will get close to 44 million by the end of June. Vaccine doses are coming.
That does not mean that we should lose our focus. We still have to do what we can. That's why I hope in the next go-around to be able to talk a little more positively about some of the things PROC could be doing, while reflecting, of course, on the amendment. I will be sure to read through both the motion and the amendment prior to this evening in case I might have deviated somewhat.
I can assure members that I really do appreciate the time that has been afforded to me this morning, and I look forward to being able to return later this evening.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank my colleague, Mr. Kent.
Maybe, Mr. Kent, the delay in translation didn't allow you to really see the link I'm trying to draw, but there is a very important link here, because if you look at our amendment, it's about, as you said, hearing from the and hearing from the about COVID.
If you look at the initial motion by my colleague Ms. Vecchio, which is really about the reasons we had to prorogue, this is all linked together, so maybe you'll allow me to continue. Maybe I'll do it in English for a little way and then I'll come back, because I want Mr. Kent to really see the link as I try to draw that link clearly.
COVID is the issue and prorogation is a reason why.... I'll go into that afterwards, but this announcement was on an investment from the federal government that we're doing in all provinces, not just Nova Scotia. I'd like to say it's just Nova Scotia, but that wouldn't go well with you, Mr. Kent, and I could understand that. This is a federal government announcement, part of the $2 billion for education, to try to create space—outdoor classrooms. Again, as I was saying, we need to pivot now. This challenge, this crisis, is allowing us to better understand the gaps.
I'm a former teacher, Mr. Kent, and in my profession, we've been talking for probably 30 years—I'll be honest with you—about how important it is to teach outdoors and to have students actively participating and learning in the outdoor space, and here we are, finally. We've done something. It has been minimal to now, but here, finally, we officially are creating spaces and parks, or benches or seating areas, areas in which to play and learn at the same time. The announcement was a contribution of $5.6 million to help us through COVID in education, Mr. Kent, as you can understand. The province is coming in with, I believe, $1.6 million as well. So that's $7.2 million.
What's so important about the announcement is that, for one thing, we were able to do it in person, which COVID has stopped. In Ontario, it would be a dream, maybe, to get that done, but we were able to do it and keep our distance and wear our masks. Elbows were the closest way of touching, I guess. There were no handshakes, as you can understand.
It was so important. Because of this COVID challenge, this will create official space for every elementary school in the province of Nova Scotia. This is what I said to the people in the audience. For every elementary school in the province of Nova Scotia, they will have outdoor learning spaces, which they will choose with the school advisory councils and the school boards, to ensure that learning outside will be an integral part of learning in general.
That is extremely important. When we talk about young people, I want to stress that what we're seeing in this challenge, this crisis, is that there are more young people in Ontario and Quebec who seem to be experiencing COVID-19 challenges, more challenges than we have seen in the past. This is something that we really have to think about, because we saw a big gap in long-term care in terms of how we need to deal with that as politicians, as representatives of the people.
This thing about parties—Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Green—is not what it's about. This is a team Canada approach. We need to do the right thing, and to do that, we need to have our share with us some of the key things that we have done, that we are doing and that we need to do. That's extremely important by itself.
Now that I got that announcement by, I want to talk about prorogation, because that is actually the motion that Ms. Vecchio brought to the table, which is important. It is very important.
I'll be very honest with you. When the announced that we were going to prorogue Parliament, I stopped for a second and thought, “Why would we do that? Is it the right thing to do? Is it what Canadians would want us to do?”
I thought about that and the answer was very clear right away. I can tell you all that it doesn't matter which party and it doesn't matter which stripe, I would have agreed with any prime minister that prorogation was an absolute necessity.
I don't think anyone listening today would disagree with that. I know some of my colleagues might want to punch holes in that argument, but think, really think about what prorogation means. It means to restart, reset, refocus. Yes.
I guess the only other reason that might be as important would be a war. We had no choice.
As I have said before, I'm an educator by trade. All of us in all our professions, and I know, Ms. Petitpas Taylor in her work prior to being elected, at one point or another would have had to contribute to strategic planning, to setting an agenda, to setting a vision, to setting the steps that are necessary to achieve the outcomes we're looking for. We would have done consultations with all stakeholders to set that plan. I like to call it the map. Who's responsible for those achievements?
Well, my friends, we had no choice, because we as a country, prior to this prorogation, prior to this pandemic, prior to this challenge, were on the road of great success in a short period of time.
My friends, what I mean by that is in the four and a half or five years prior to COVID....
I still remember, as we all do, many of us, from different parties. I think, Ms. Vecchio, you might have been there, and Mr. Kent might have been there at the airport in the waiting lounge. We were going home on March 13. I thought we would be back in a month. We all thought we would be back in a month. We didn't realize the challenges that lay ahead. We just didn't foresee. Who could have foreseen at that time?
That's why we had to reset. We knew that we would have to have another look at the priorities we had laid out following the 2019 election. We would have to make sure that we were not trying to continue the great economy we had prior to March 13. You all know that Canadians had hired, and over one million new jobs had been created by Canadians. You all know that we had the lowest unemployment rate in the history, and they say in 40 years but there were no statistics prior to that. The economy was steaming ahead. We had lifted over 900,000 Canadians out of poverty. Those are major numbers.
The success was clear and we were on that track. It was a very positive track. Then we were faced with a cement wall, a crisis never experienced before. I say that but I have to share with you a very important story that is directly linked, Mr. Kent, to this very important discussion.
I'm from Nova Scotia, as you know, but I'm also from Cape Breton, which is an island off the mainland. You all know that, I think. What you may not know is that I'm actually from an island off the island of Cape Breton. It's a very small island
called Isle Madame. Mr. Therrien may visit my island one day. Some members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages had a chance to spend a few days there during the committee's trip.
I mention Isle Madame, which Mr. Therrien will soon be visiting, because a Samson family monument was erected in Lévis, Quebec, to celebrate Canada's 100th anniversary.
I want to speak to you about something very important.
In 1918, my friends, we were faced with a major pandemic. Millions and millions of people lost their lives. What I want to share with you—because this is similar, there are a lot of similarities—is that the island I'm from, Isle Madame, was actually the island hardest hit by the 1918 pandemic, per capita, in Canada. As I told you before, of course, we only had 6,000 people on the island. Now we're down to 4,000 and some.
Mr. Therrien, 99% of them are Acadians. The remaining 1% became Acadian indirectly, being anglophones from Newfoundland who married islanders. They were ship's captains and fishermen.
As you know, the Acadians were farmers before the expulsion. Then we became fishermen because we weren't allowed to return to our fertile lands in the valley. We were sent to live near the sea instead because we were considered poor at the time. We weren't allowed to communicate, but we were allowed to fish. Remember, and Ms. Petitpas Taylor and others can confirm this, lobster was considered a poor man's meal at the time.
Today, it's probably the richest meal on the table, or close to it, and guess what? The land is next to the ocean and the water is probably the richest as well, so the tables have turned.
We experienced challenges then. In those days, there were 10, 15 or 20 people in a family. I've seen families from that generation who lost 50% of their kids to the 1918 pandemic. This is serious.
They had their community and they had their family but government was not as present as it is today. That's why the struggle was even worse. Today, we have been able to support individuals and families.
Let me get back to prorogation, because that's what this motion is really about, and I don't want Mr. Kent to tell me that I am not linking this yo prorogation, because it is crucial. Again, there's no question it was a need that any government should have and would have done—I know that—and we did it because we had to.
You know, I had to do a little bit of homework, because I wanted to see the government prior to our government. I wanted to check what the government of our friend Mr. Harper did. Some of you may have been in that government, but most of you were not. Did he prorogue Parliament? Let's look at the importance that lies in prorogation. Well, I found out that, in 2008, the Harper government asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. You ask why. Well, let me share that with you.
It actually happened shortly before, not after, not during—you guessed it—a vote of confidence that would have defeated the Conservative government, the minority government. It would have probably been a coalition between the Liberals and the NDP at the time, supported, I might add—for Monsieur Therrien, it's important—by the Bloc at the time. He prorogued. Now, I have to weigh that with proroguing in a pandemic, one of the biggest challenges in the world, the 2020 pandemic: prorogue to set a new agenda or prorogue to hide from a vote of confidence. I think this one would win.
Let's go to 2009. Let's go to the next year because—you guessed it—there was another prorogation. The government of the day, the Harper government, said, “We're faced with an economic challenge. We know there was a recession in 2008. We know that. We're not going to deny that because we're team Canada here; we're working together.” The Harper government decided to prorogue to consult with Canadians, with the business community, to see if maybe we should do some adjustments, some resetting, some refocusing of our priorities. Well, that's better; that's much better, I have to say. Between 2008 and 2009, this one is better. It's still not as difficult and challenging as when you don't really, truly know what's coming at you, when it's directly linked to health, but, hey, the economy is up there. It's not as high as the one that we did in 2020, but it has more merit. I know that Mrs. del Vecchio will be pleased to know that this one is much better. I can understand the prorogation there.
Now I'll go to 2013, if you'll allow me. Yes, you guessed it again: the Conservatives, the Harper government, decided to prorogue again. Let's look now, because I want to go back to the question of Mrs. del Vecchio.
Am I pronouncing del Vecchio right? I want to make sure. She's a good colleague of mine.
It's Vecchio. There you go. Thank you. I appreciate that very much.
In 2013, Parliament was shut down by the Conservative government through prorogation—part of this motion—to avoid questions on the Senate expense scandal, a particular senator and the PMO. That one I think is going to go back down to maybe even lower than the first one that the Conservatives did in 2008.
The motion is asking what was the reason we brought this prorogation to the table. I think I've drawn a pretty clear picture that the reason was we needed to refocus, to reset, to re-examine what would become the priorities, and how we were going to help Canadians in crisis.
That was the big question. The economy, as I described to you earlier, was booming like it hadn't been for a long time and all of a sudden everything crashed. Let's not forget the main problem, the health and security of Canadians. With that came the economy. We saw millions of Canadians lose their jobs in weeks, in two or three weeks.
Prorogation you say. Absolutely. If anything, we probably should have done it a little earlier, but it had to be done. It had to be done because we needed to be out there supporting Canadians.
I don't know if you can imagine, but I just cannot imagine coming home, looking at my family.... You know, I have five grandkids now in five years, so things are going well. They're working hard. I love spending time with them. Actually, I get to spend a little bit more time with them these days than I would because I've been in Ottawa for a stretch of 10 weeks out of 11, as you know. But just try to imagine.
Let's just stop. This is not political. I'm speaking to every Canadian now, I believe. Imagine anyone who shows up at home, walks through the door.... Some may have not wanted to go home for a long time because it's depressing. It's challenging. But imagine someone arriving home, looking at their family and telling them, “I was laid off.” That in itself is scary. I just can't even imagine having to live through that. But that wasn't even the scariest, because the scariest is we are in lockdown.
I don't know if you heard what the Premier of Nova Scotia said. It went viral. You must have heard it because it's profound. He said, “Stay the blazes home.” Stay the blazes home. I'm telling you, he was serious. When he said that, it wasn't on day one. It was probably on day 30. Do you know why he said that? He said that because people were not respecting the health recommendations.
People were not social distancing. People were still gathering in big numbers. That, we know, cannot happen when this pandemic is still storming away in its third wave, with variants and variants. We hear it every day. They know it in Ontario. They know it in Quebec. They know it in western Canada, in B.C.
So, here you are. You arrive home, having been laid off. Nine million Canadians, in the end, had to go on CERB—nine million. I didn't teach math in high school, but we know that's about a quarter of the population of this country—9,18, 36; we're up at 37 million and something.
This was a crisis, but that's not the worst. The worst is we're in a pandemic. We don't have a vaccine. It takes years and years. Ms. Petitpas Taylor was minister of health. She knows how long it takes. It's scary when you know that you need something to help Canadians in their health, and you don't have it.
That's why our government right away focused on PPE, focused on investing in vaccine research, and asked companies in this country, “Can you help us? Can you find ways to help us through this pandemic? We need gloves. We need masks. We need gowns. We need and we need and we don't have.” This is the amazing team Canada. This is what Canadians are all about.
It's amazing. Thousands of companies within Canada—thousands—raised their hands to retool, to help, because the pandemic isn't just in Canada. The pandemic is across the world. We needed Canadians to come together. It wasn't a question of whether you were Liberal, NDP, Green, Conservative.
I say the only time politics counts for Darrell Samson is on election day. After that, I represent everyone, every citizen in the great riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook. Sackville is rural-urban, somewhat. For those who fly into Halifax, between the airport and downtown Halifax, or if you're going to Halifax, or to half the province, you're going to pass through my riding. If I put up a blockade, you won't get in.
It was so important. It was amazing how Canadians came together to help with what we needed, but we also needed the financial support. Stay the blazes home. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Don't gather in big groups. But if you're staying the blazes home, and you're doing what you can, you also need some money, food, shelter. That's another reason, which was crucial for Canadians.
I cannot thank doctors and the health professionals enough. If I did it every day, still it would not be enough.
I have to tell you that I also learned that the individuals stocking the shelves at Sobeys, Superstore, IGA, or Provigo—je crois que c'est à Québec—those people.... At the heart of the challenge, I think in April, May and June last year, people were scared. They're scared today, but there's hope today. Financially, they've been supported somewhat for now. Health-wise we have vaccines coming, but last April, May and June, people were scared to go outside. We needed food and we would make our way to the IGA, or whichever grocery store. I looked in the eyes of the individuals stocking the shelves or the cashier, and I thanked them.
Sometimes challenges are opportunities. We get to better understand and to see when there's a challenge. You look back at all the things you took for granted, and it makes you really focus on what it's all about. It's a lot bigger than politics; I'll tell you that. It's about Canadians; it's about communities; it's about a country working together to ensure that we have the successes that we should.
I could talk about the small businesses, because they, too, are struggling. Even with all the help, they're still struggling, but guess what? Communities are coming together. Instead of cooking these days, they're saying, “My son owns a little restaurant bar on that little island I described to you way back. He's only 26 years old. He called and said, 'Dad, now don't forget. You have to go out to eat three or four times a week. You have to help the small businesses, the small restaurants'”. That's how people are thinking today: local community partnership. That's what the focus has to be about. We all need to be thinking of ways that we can contribute together through this challenge.
Prorogation was absolutely necessary, and thanks to that prorogation, we have reset our agenda. I don't have any secrets to tell, but on Monday another big piece of the pie will come out, and I know.... I don't know what's in it. I told you I don't have all the secrets, as much as you might think so, or even as much as I would like to. I don't, but I have a feeling. I have a feeling there's going to be some more help for Canadians, not just in Nova Scotia, not just in Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, but right across the country, all the provinces, all the territories. I know that we will be there as we should, as Canadians expect of us.
Our has been out daily updating Canadians and sharing with Canadians what's happening, because as an educator, as I said to you before, one of the most important things you can do is to communicate. Communication is the key.
I can't thank Ms. Duncan enough for her communication work through this pandemic. Every night we were online talking about how we could help Canadians. The public servants came and worked non-stop. We've got to be talking about these things, but we've got to be talking about what we do next, how we get there and where we are going. Those are crucial.
For the business community, as I said, the emergency business account really helped a lot. It didn't help all businesses—we can do more—but that was big.
There was also the wage subsidy. People say the wage subsidy helped their businesses. Yes, it did. That was the priority, but it also helped the individuals. Do you remember when I was talking to you earlier about going home and telling your family you lost your job? Now you could turn around and say, “Well, the government, who can afford it more than we can, can help Canadians and can help us.” The government funnelled some funding for the wage subsidy to keep people working and to keep industry going.
Then there are the seniors. This has been very, very tough on seniors. We've done some key things to help them. There's more to be done. That's why we need to be talking about building back better.
We don't have all the answers, I don't have all the answers, but together we will find all the answers. That's what it's about. This committee is so important to help us move that agenda forward.
Let me stop for a second and reflect with you on Bill , which we might be able to get done in the next day or so. I'm hoping, with all the individuals across this country and 338 MPs working together, to get the supports out as quickly as possible to Canadians, to individuals and to families.
One of the key economic stimulus mechanisms in Atlantic Canada—to stimulate the economy because of some of our challenges—is the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. ACOA offers business development assistance to support and stimulate the economy. They need some funds to help them do their job.
We did have a system, the RRRF, through which we were helping companies that may have been missed. As I said earlier, Ms. Duncan and many of our colleagues helped us to talk not only about the programs and the initiatives we were bringing forward but also about how they were working.
We had MPs from right across the country. The parties didn't matter. That's an example of working together to make life better. We were all saying, “Yes, that's a nice program, but this group is falling through the cracks. We're not helping this group enough. What can we tweak to improve our programs?”
You know, I think that may have been my proudest time as a member of Parliament. I felt so connected to my community because they were sharing with me the challenges, and I was sharing those challenges with other MPs across this country. We were sharing this with government. We were sharing this with bureaucrats and we were tweaking programs and initiatives, tweaking them continually, to support Canadians. Think about that. That's what it's all about.
I was elected the member of Parliament for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook to make life better for individuals, for families, for communities. We know, and we don't talk about it enough, that there are so many organizations out there doing so much for Canadians.
We're dragging our heels on Bill C‑14; "on se traîne les pattes," to use that Acadian expression for Ms. Petitpas Taylor. We aren't moving very quickly to provide aid to Canadians.
We can't afford to play politics, particularly during a pandemic. The fact that debate on Bill C‑14 has been dragged out and the bill itself challenged [Inaudible—Editor]…
I want to thank my colleague for that, because I was going to land there soon. I'm glad that she helped point that out for all Canadians, because that's what team Canada is. You see how quickly she wanted to make sure that I didn't miss a step. She wanted to support me in my intervention and that's what it's about. She was coming to support us, because we're working together to achieve the same success, because Canada is a great country. Canadians are great people. We are proud of our country and we must continue to work together.
As my colleague noted earlier, yes, we'll finally be voting in a few hours. I hope all my colleagues and all parties can join with us in voting for Bill because Canadians have neither the time nor the appetite for partisan politics or strategies, at any time. They want us to work together for the welfare of Canadian citizens.
I want to get back to seniors.
I have to say that isolation is particularly hard on seniors. It's hard on us too because we like to see our fathers, mothers and grandparents, but we're afraid to visit them because we know we're in the midst of a pandemic and don't want to increase the risk of infection. These are tough situations as well.
Yesterday one of my constituents called me to discuss the difficult situation he was facing. He told me he hadn't seen his niece for more than a year because she had health issues, being acutely sensitive to environmental factors in particular and perhaps COVID‑19. He lives 10 kilometers away from her. Situations like these are really trying for many Canadians.
As I said a little earlier, there are two tunnels.
The first tunnel concerns the health and safety of Canadians and the second the economy and support for individuals, families and entrepreneurs. We know that women have been the hardest hit economically; they have found the situation even harder, considering the greater and tougher challenges they've had to face. That's also the case of young people. We've doubled funding for student summer jobs. That will help a lot.
In my riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook alone,
we just about doubled student summer jobs. This is crucial. Students need to work. They need to make money to continue their studies, and we need to support them.
We need to support them. That is why our government doubled our funding. I'm so proud of the support. Last year we didn't know if we could even get those jobs going or if companies would be able to function, but they found their way.
We work together, as we must continue to do today and tomorrow. It's crucial that we do it.
Getting back to seniors, we had to invest in certain areas to support them. I have so many stories. Down in Preston, a group of young people got together and brought some groceries to families. We had Beacon food bank, the Red Cross and the United Way. These organizations play such an important role. If government had to pay them to do work, we wouldn't be able to afford it. They volunteer and do so much outreach.
Transportation for seniors is crucial. I spoke to a few seniors the other day. Some of them haven't been out for months. They are just waiting now. They are hopeful. They are feeling much better today than they were feeling a month ago because the vaccines are coming out.
Our government announced that we would have six million vaccines by March 31. I hate to say it, but some parties on the other side said, “That's not going to happen. It's not possible. There's so much need across the world that we'll never get six million.” My friends, we got well over eight million vaccines. It's 10 million this week, and I think we're at 12 million next week. We're ramping up, and it's because of all of you and your support.
I know the opposition has a role to play, and you've played that role. It's important to give us suggestions, and to give us your comments and your opinions, but at the end of the day, we must govern. We must make decisions as government, and those decisions are very important.
Going back to Bill , we're going to see some help in it for Canadians, but my friends, more good news will be coming on Monday. Again, I don't have a crystal ball, but I know that we have been consulting with Canadians. We have been listening. We've been having those conversations, putting the time in that's so crucial to help Canadians, and now we will be able to deliver a budget that will continue to support Canadians.
If we had not prorogued Parliament, if we had not reset the agenda and refocused.... We've been doing that, to be quite honest with you, for a long time. Yes, we prorogued, but we're still working and focusing on where to put our priorities. That's what the fall economic statement allowed us to do, to start building that blueprint and start putting into action some key things that we've seeing through Bill .
Monday will be an important day for Canadians as we continue to support all Canadians right across this country. You know the old saying, from Newfoundland to Vancouver, and then the territories of course. I can't believe I skipped Nova Scotia and Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, but it's all provinces, all Canadians.
You know, when we're Canadian, we have to make sure.... When it comes to long-term care, we learned through this pandemic that there are gaps. We need to build national standards together. I have to say, that's where we need you to share with us what standards are necessary, to make sure that we continue to support and protect seniors. It's crucial.
I'm Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. Veterans are also struggling through this pandemic. It has been extremely difficult for them. It is our responsibility to care for, to support, to help and to work in partnership with our veterans community. I know that we work very hard to support organizations that support veterans across this country. It was very important to help those organizations stay afloat. I'm talking about the Legion, which is another organization that is so important.
I don't know if you know, but there are 1,382 Legions in this country. I'm sure that each and every one of you, if we took a poll right now, could tell me how many Legions you have in your riding. As I said earlier, I wasn't a math teacher—I've been in the profession of education for 30 years—but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that if there are 1,382 to 1,400 Legions across this country, and there are 338 members of Parliament from all sides, all parts of this country, on average, you have three Legions in your riding. I have five. Some may have two.
These Legions, these people volunteering in Legions are playing a major role in supporting our veterans and our communities every day. Legions were shut down. They couldn't raise money. The poppy fund was getting weaker and weaker as we moved about. We had no choice. It was simple. Government had to come to their support as quickly as possible. They're one organization.
There's VETS Canada. They reach right across this country, and they're supporting veterans on the ground every day. There's also True Patriot Love. There are so many great organizations out there, and we were able to get them some support, financial support. There was $20 million for all those organizations, about $14 million of which went to Legions because, as I said, they cover a lot of turf.
I want to thank all of you here today. It's because of you, all parties, team Canada, that we were able to deliver that funding and continue the supports on the ground for these individuals. It's very important.
I understand we're going to vote on Bill today. I would like to think it will receive unanimous support because there are important investments in individuals, in Canadians, in this bill. It's already late, but together, as team Canada, we're going to get there because we need to get there.
I could go on for another hour if you want and talk about where our investments need to be when we talk about building back better because it's crucial. This is what the committee is supposed to be talking about. How can we work together to put forward the programs and initiatives and to create the investment environment?
Mr. Long is a businessman. As he knows, government is not to lead. We are to create that positive environment for the business community to prosper. We need to get out of their way to some extent for them to do that, and this is what we can do together.
I would love to continue on. Maybe I'll get another chance sometime, but I have another meeting. This is my first reflection with this committee in which I've had a chance to talk about this important motion and the amendment. We should be focused on building back better, working together for all Canadians.
To all Canadians from Newfoundland, the Atlantic, Ontario, Quebec, the west, British Columbia and the territories, I say: together we can change things.
I'll conclude with the expression I used for 11 years as executive director: "Every problem has a solution; together we can change things."
Thank you very much.
Okay, my apologies. I hope I didn't take out the ears of our wonderful interpreters.
Also, MP Samson, I want to acknowledge the two wonderful Legions in my riding of , Legion branch 69 and Jervis Bay Legion. They do wonderful work in our community. You are right. I believe you said there are 1,300 Legions across the country. My respect goes out to each and every one of them, and I'm certainly glad that, as a government, we were able to step in and help them, and when we help them, they help others. It's certainly a win-win for all of us.
It has been an interesting day. I gave a lot of thought to this meeting, the meeting we're in now, and the situation we're in. I did some preparation, obviously, and certainly saw some news of the day where the came out with his climate plan. I looked at that with great interest. Certainly it looks like some parts of our plan are there.
I remark at the use of green screens now. The leader of the party was out in space at one point, and then he was over a lake, and then he was going through the forest, and then he was in the woods. It was remarkable to see. He was all over the place. Those presentations sometimes are difficult with green screens in the background.
I know certainly the did his supposed climate plan at what almost looked like Camp Crystal Lake from Friday the 13th. It was this small, little lake where he did his presentation. Not to harken back to movies, but I was always reminded of the movie Friday the 13th when he made his announcement.
I want to build on MP Samson's speech. I never say that I was a businessman; I still am a business person. I've had great success. I've been lucky; I've been fortunate. I've taken risks. I remember leaving a somewhat secure job. I had a $10,000 line of credit. I had two weeks' vacation. I remember sitting with my wife, Denise, and totalling up that I had about 10 weeks to make my business work, otherwise.... Denise at that point was home with our youngest son, Konnor, who was just two, and our oldest son, Khristian. I remember taking that risk. I remember being that entrepreneur. Sometimes people will look at entrepreneurs like they're just these risk-taking people, but that's how Canada was built. It was built by entrepreneurs and small business owners.
To link where I was as a small business person to where I am now, I love what I do. I thank God every day for the opportunity I have been given to represent my riding, my beautiful riding, its people and those who are in need and to be an advocate for them.
Being a small business owner, I had to meet payroll. I had to balance budgets. I had to run a deficit at times. I had to strategically invest. I had to do those things. I wanted to take those skill sets to Ottawa to contribute to our government and help with policy decisions and add my voice, whether it be in the New Brunswick caucus, Atlantic caucus or national caucus.
You know, I wouldn't say I've become disillusioned, not at all, but then you fast forward to my committee work. I love what I did at HUMA. I see MP Vecchio, who was a big part of our team in HUMA in the first Parliament. We travelled the country. We developed a report, if you will, a study on poverty reduction, which certainly was part and parcel of our poverty reduction strategy and our national housing strategy. I also sat on the ethics committee with MP Blaikie.
Committees can do great work. Look, I was the first person who was skeptical of committees: “Oh, yeah, committees, whatever. You go up there and you sit and you....” No. No. I tell my constituents that—no. We do work for Canadians in those committees, the work of Parliament—great work. We help with legislation. We help with bills. We study. We are the second sober thought at times.
Chair, we just talked about getting together in a more relaxed environment, maybe have a barbecue for some togetherness and fellowship. There's no committee that probably holds more esteem than PROC. It's a committee that a lot of MPs hold in the highest esteem.
Here we are. I understand that politics is politics, and the job of the opposition is to challenge the government, make government better, to hold government accountable. I get it. I get it absolutely.
I was elected in 2015. I guess I'm five and a half years in. I don't feel like a veteran. Some people call me a veteran, but I don't feel that way.
I think we need to step back, and we need to understand why we are where we are. MP Samson covered many, many topics and many, many issues. His speech was wonderful. I appreciate that. But in the end, to circle this back, we are here today and we're talking about MP Turnbull's amendment. Chair, correct me if I'm wrong here.
As I said the last time I spoke, this is like Inception. Have you ever watched that? You're at one layer and then you're at another layer and another, and then you're about four layers back, and then you have to try to crawl back up the ladder and get back to reality. Again, we're talking about MP Turnbull's amendment to MP Vecchio's motion.
For those Canadians who are listening, and I'm sure there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Canadians who are really tuned into this.... No, I can't say that with a straight face. As I did last week, and the week before and the week before that and the week before that, before I speak sometimes I like to just clear my head, so I'll go out. I'll turn the camera around and I'll show you. There's a route just outside my office door here into the mall. It's called Market Square. I just talk to constituents. I have my mask on and am obviously socially distanced. I talk to them about the issues of the day and what they want and what they're concerned about, and their hopes and dreams and their fears and concerns.
Their concerns are about a once-in-a-generation pandemic that we are in the midst of. They talk about COVID-19. They talk about vaccinations. They talk about our government delivering vaccinations to the tune of.... As for the numbers, as MP Samson said, we're ramping up. We have our foot on the pedal. We're full steam ahead here.
I apologize if I'm off, but we were supposed to deliver six million vaccines by the end of March. I believe we exceeded that by.... I think we were at eight, and then we were at 9.4. That number continues to grow and grow.
Later this afternoon I will be getting my AstraZeneca vaccine. I'm thrilled about that. As leaders in our communities, every one of us should absolutely fight back against vaccine hesitancy. I tell people that the best vaccine you can get is the first one available to you. My wife, Denise, and I will get the AstraZeneca vaccine later this afternoon. We're thrilled about that opportunity. We're going to continue to promote that and make sure all Canadians are vaccinated.
In fact, as we have said, we will make sure and certainly Premier Higgs in this province will make sure that.... Obviously, we're going to provide vaccines to Premier Higgs, but we're going to make sure that everybody can get their first vaccine by the middle of June. I think that will be a wonderful accomplishment. That's what people are concerned about. That's what people want us to be seized with, getting them through the pandemic, offering them support through the pandemic.
I'll be the first to tell you that I've gained a whole new appreciation for what a strong government can do for their country, their constituents and their citizens in times of crisis. Boy, have we as a Liberal government delivered for Canadians. We've been there when they needed us. We've had their backs.
I remember coming home on March 15 last year not knowing what we were going to face. I talked about that earlier. I don't think any of us from any party, whether it's MP Kent, MP Nater, MP Van Bynen or MP Simms.... I'm looking at the list here. I don't think any of us were really prepared for what we faced when we all came back to our constituencies in March—the fear, the uncertainty, what we saw going on in other parts of the world.
And we delivered—CERB, CEBA, commercial support for rent and rent support, loans, interest-free loans and working with banks on mortgage deferral. Then there was the CRB, expanded EI, caregiver benefits and sick leave. We have delivered programs for Canadians, and I'm proud of that. I know that Canadians are appreciative of what we have done as a government to be there for them.
Getting back to my being out in the—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Once again I want to thank my friend and colleague Mr. Long, from Saint John, who really has become a regular member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Thanks very much, Mr. Long, for your help in the past few weeks.
We very much miss Mr. Turnbull and hope he'll be back with us soon.
As we all know, our friend can't be with us because he's in the House.
Getting back to the motion we're debating today and the amendment Mr. Turnbull introduced some time ago. I've been very clear about my position on this from the start. I think we're actually ready to begin drafting the report on this study. I'm going to recap what we've heard to date from the many witnesses who've appeared as part of this study.
I've prepared a brief list. We heard from Kathy Brock, Prof. Hugo Cyr, Duane Bratt and , who spent a great deal of time with us discussing the prorogation. We also heard from expert Allen Sutherland, Barbara Messamore, Prof. Philippe Lagassé, Lori Turnbull, Ian Brodie and members of the Privy Council.
So many witnesses have appeared. I genuinely think we're ready to draft the report.
Having said that, I'll be flexible. I really want to reflect on this today and share my thoughts about why we should consider the amendment proposed by our friend and colleague Mr. Turnbull. Those of us who know him can say he's attempting a mediation because he wants to come up with wording we can all agree on. He makes some good points and I want to share my thoughts on the subject.
We should absolutely invite the and the to appear before the committee. There are probably many questions we could ask them about the situation to ascertain their views. We could also ask them for their thoughts on the prorogation and why it occurred. After all, the government believes that its ministers are responsible, effective and transparent, that they set a high bar for openness and that they answer questions asked by members of the committees.
Although I'm speaking directly to Mr. Turnbull's motion, I want to make clear once again that there's nothing more important than addressing the global crisis caused by COVID‑19. As I mentioned when we were debating Ms. Vecchio's motion, I'm hearing nothing about prorogation in my riding right now. However, people are extremely concerned about rising COVID‑19 case numbers and this global health crisis that has affected us all.
While we discuss politics, we have to acknowledge that millions of people around the world have contracted COVID‑19, and Canada hasn't been spared. Many lives have been lost and we really must recognize that this crisis has caused suffering around the world. We can see exactly what's happening in many provinces that have recently been harder hit. I consider myself lucky because there are 158 active cases here in New Brunswick today. We're a small province, so that's definitely troubling, but we're managing the situation well compared to other regions. However, we have to be vigilant because the situation can change quickly. So many lives have been lost as a result of this crisis. When we look at the number of deaths, we also have to acknowledge that they aren't just figures; they represent our grandparents, our immediate families, our neighbours and so many others.
My heart goes out to those who have lost family members, friends and people close to them. I honour all the healthcare workers for their dedication and sacrifice and all the other essential workers who have made it possible for life to go on.
Those workers put the interests of their neighbours, their community and their country ahead of their own needs, and they do it every day. In addition to thanking them for their heroic efforts in combating the COVID‑19 pandemic, every one of us will strive to slow the spread of this virus. Since the COVID‑19 pandemic is an unprecedented global health crisis—especially now that we're seeing the consequences of the third wave—that has shaken the foundation of our economic, political and social security, it should our main focus and that of this committee.
However, as regards the amendment before us and my thoughts on the matter, let me explain why I think we should reinvite our Deputy Prime Minister. She is a remarkable woman, and I'm sure she played a key role in the prorogation discussions that took place between the and members of the cabinet. I believe she could tell us what they were thinking and their reason for deciding to prorogue Parliament. I think we already have the information we need, but if committee members want to hear more, I'm sure the Minister of Finance would be the right person to tell us more and answer our questions.
Our government understood from the start of the pandemic that COVID‑19 was truly disrupting all our lives. Who would have thought last year that we'd still be working on Zoom? I bet everyone of us thought at the time that we'd all be back in Ottawa sitting together in the committees as one big family. In the end, we're still isolating at home. Office buildings are empty, streets are quiet, and schools in many places are closed.
We in Acadie really can't complain because we're starting to resume our routines and lives. However, cases are increasing for my colleagues from Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, and they're facing a truly serious third wave. We have to continue following public health guidelines and encouraging people to get vaccinated, since that's what will help us get through this crisis.
However, I must say I'm very proud of Canadians and our communities. People have really adapted. Our government had to strike a balance between health and the economy. In some public debates, people said we had to choose between health and the economy in responding to the pandemic. But that's a false choice, as the Minister of Finance has said on numerous occasions. We have to understand that health and the economy are joined at the hip. As we often say, health and the economy go together.
We promised to be there for Canadians during the pandemic until order was restored in society. That's a promise that we made and will keep. Our government had a number of general objectives: to protect the health and safety of Canadians, to provide them with the economic support they needed to self-isolate at home in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus and, lastly, to protect their jobs and livelihoods.
We asked Canadians to do some extraordinary things, to stay at home, because we wanted to prevent the virus from spreading. Most Canadians have listened to us. We have to be there to help them and to support them through these incredibly trying times.
We shut down the borders to protect the health and safety of Canadians. We provided the provinces and territories with $19 billion in funding under the safe restart agreement. We purchased personal protective equipment and screening test kits and pre-ordered and delivered vaccines, and we're still delivering them.
The most important things we can do to slow the spread of COVID‑19 are to vaccinate, test, conduct contact tracing and self-isolate. I think testing and contact tracing were the magic bullet in Atlantic Canada. They really were our key to identifying and isolating infected individuals.
Our provinces are definitely smaller, but I believe those screening efforts are part of the magic solution that has protected Atlantic Canada. Our government purchased vaccine doses and tests and provided contact tracing.
I also think that, if we invited , she could explain to the the committee the government's thinking on the prorogation and its purpose and describe those discussions to us.
The most extensive vaccination campaign in the country's history is under way here in Canada. According to Canada's top vaccine coordinator, we should have access to enough COVID‑19 vaccine by the end of June to give every Canadian a first dose. Mr. Fortin frequently tells us we're on track to take delivery of at least 44 million doses of vaccine by the end of June and should have more than 100 million doses of various vaccines by late September.
Consequently, with vaccines being deployed, there's light at the end of the tunnel. Once again, we can't put all our eggs in one basket. We're eager to get the vaccines, but we also have to keep following public health guidelines, since vaccines alone won't get us through this crisis. We have to keep following those guidelines.
When we needed help from the men and women of our armed forces in the spring, they came in and took care of our seniors. My friend and colleague Mr. Lauzon spoke passionately about the work they did and the services they have provided to Canadians during the crisis.
The long-term care homes were hit hard by the first wave of COVID‑19, and more than 70% of COVID deaths occurred among persons over 80 years of age, approximately twice the average for the other developed countries. It was truly tragic to witness the damage this pandemic caused initially and unfortunately once again during the second wave.
I'm thinking of the many long-term care homes in my community of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. The seniors who died weren't just numbers. Seniors are people we know. I regularly visit long-term care homes every year as a member of Parliament. The people there love to chat and hear what we're doing and what our policies are. They want to know if and when pensions will be increased. We often dance with them. They aren't just numbers; they're our friends, our neighbours. I miss them and they miss me; we all want to gather again soon and spend some time together.
We owe everything to our seniors, who have helped build this country, including safe and dignified care. I realize we're here to discuss the budget that was announced yesterday, but I was very pleased to learn that $3 billion will be invested to assist long-term care homes because we acknowledge that those institutions need more help.
The lives lost in long-term care homes are the greatest tragedy of this pandemic. Many of us have expressed our concerns on numerous occasions. We must make every effort to ensure that our seniors receive necessary services and attention. Although long-term care is a provincial and territorial jurisdiction, our government will take every possible measure to support seniors in cooperation with the provinces and territories. Our government will work with Parliament to amend the Criminal Code to penalize specifically those whose neglect of the seniors under their care would put those seniors at risk.
Our government will also cooperate with the provinces and territories in establishing new national long-term care standards to ensure that seniors receive the best possible care. I won't repeat the comments made by my colleague Mr. Lauzon, the parliamentary secretary to the , since he's given us a very good recap of everything that has to be done to correct the situation.
Once again we must emphasize that the creation of national standards for care facilities is a necessity. We have to introduce additional measures to assist people, and, I would say, not just to provide them with long-term care, but also to assist them in living at home as long as possible.
I know our seniors here in New Brunswick tell us that if they had a choice whether to live at home longer or to move into a seniors' residence, they would prefer to stay at home. I'm sure that situation isn't unique to New Brunswick, that it's the same across Canada. In New Brunswick, we conducted a pilot project with the province's assistance two years ago to establish programs enabling seniors to stay at home as long as possible. We could invite Minister to come and tell us about their options in that regard. This is clearly a valid option if we want to protect our seniors in this manner.
Some significant measures were outlined in the Speech from the Throne, which was delivered following the prorogation and extensive consultations. I'm sure a lot of my colleagues held many consultation sessions, as I did, in our communities during the prorogation period. People told us about their priorities, particularly during a global pandemic. The priorities outlined in the 2019 Speech from the Throne were similar to those in place during the pandemic, although there were also some differences. Priorities changed. The prorogation period helped us self-evaluate and assess the government's priorities. I think it might be a good idea to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister on where we stand in implementing those priorities.
Seniors are an integral part of all our communities, and we must do everything in our power to protect their health, rights and well-being. We must value their experience, knowledge and talents, and we must address the challenges they face in society.
To preserve jobs and livelihoods, the government put strong measures in place to protect businesses and workers. I think Ms. could tell us what she thinks of those measures if we invited her to appear before the committee.
We had to take those strong measures because the virus could only be slowed down and stopped by limiting social contacts, which meant restricting economic activity. That meant shutting down workplaces and limiting the number of persons served in restaurants. As we can see now, contacts need to be limited further to address the pandemic as a result of the third wave now under way in many provinces.
It also meant isolating people at home after work, if they were sick or if their children were sick. It would simply have been unfair to ask businesses to shut down and workers to stay at home without compensating them for lost income.
Less than a week after our country shut down, the government announced a recovery plan including $27 billion in emergency assistance for workers and businesses and $55 billion for tax payment deferrals. We provided billions of dollars to assist businesses in obtaining [Technical difficulty—Editor] and keeping workers on their payrolls, while enhancing federal benefits and support programs for individuals who had lost their jobs.
I'm sure you remember very clearly the daily calls and conversations we had with officials in the departments responsible. As a parliamentarian, I was pleased to see all the political parties working hard together to develop the best possible programs. At first, the programs obviously weren't perfect. We didn't have all the answers, but together we modified those programs to meet Canadians' needs. Once again, Ms. Freeland could tell us what she thinks of them if we invited her to come and speak to us.
The funds released would help Canadians pay their rent and buy groceries and assist businesses in continuing to pay their employees and suppliers.
I did a quick search yesterday, focusing solely on New Brunswick, to see what spending or investment is being provided here, just to give you an idea.
If you look at the Canada emergency business account, as of April 15 of this year, 11,870 loans had been made to businesses for a total value of $626 million.
For the Canada emergency rent subsidy, as of February 24, 1,364 tenants in New Brunswick, representing 10,282 employees, received total funding of $11.59 million. That's a really impressive number.
As for the Canada emergency rent subsidy and lockdown support, as of February 14, we had received 3,210 applications, which were approved for total subsidies amounting to $7.4 million.
I'm going to repeat, this time more slowly, the investments that were made in New Brunswick under the financial assistance programs for the businesses and people of our province.
Starting with the Canada emergency business account, as of April 15, 11,870 loans had been made to businesses for a total value of $626 million.
As for the Canada emergency rent subsidy, as of February 24, 1,364 tenants in New Brunswick, representing 10,200 employees, had received total funding of $11.59 million.
For the Canada emergency rent subsidy and lockdown support, as of February 13, we had approved 3,210 applications for total subsidies amounting to $7.4 million.
As for the Canada emergency wage subsidy, as of March 7 of this year, we had approved 55,000 applications for a total of more than $1 billion in subsidies. That helped protect 91,000 jobs in our small province of New Brunswick.
Now let's look at the figures for the Canada emergency response benefit. As of October 4, more than 165,000 New Brunswickers had applied for it. As you can see, that helped the population, one fifth of which received funding under that program.
With respect to the Canada recovery benefit, as of April 11, $209.8 million had been allocated among 27,000 New Brunswickers.
Lastly, thanks to the Canada recovery sickness benefit, as of November 11, $5.5 million had been allocated among approximately 6,000 New Brunswickers.
I'm citing those figures from a few searches that I did last night. When you look at the support the federal government has given to the provinces and territories and to the people in our communities, you can see that a lot of thought went into this. A lot of investments were made. If we invited the , she could come and see us, and we could ask her questions on the subject. She could tell us what she thinks worked or didn't work and tell us what changes were made to all those programs along the way. I think she could broadly clarify certain points for us.
The funding provided helped Canadians meet their basic needs. Our government put several programs in place to ensure people would be supported.
I speak to my fellow citizens in the beautiful region of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe every day to see how their families are doing. I ask them what additional assistance they need. We generally hear that the CERB was really a lifesaver. It helped people pay their rent and pay for their groceries and transportation. Most importantly, it made it possible for our fellow citizens to stay at home when we asked them to do so to prevent the virus from spreading.
Our government also introduced the Canada emergency wage subsidy, which supported three million Canadian workers so they could stay on employer payrolls.
It should also not be forgotten that our local businesses are the heart and soul of our communities. They're run by our friends and neighbours. We can support them by ordering meals from neighbourhood restaurants and buying local. I think the pandemic clearly showed how important it is to support our local merchants.
These economic programs are good reasons to invite the to come and speak to us directly. She could give us an overview of the thinking and discussions that took place during the prorogation period.
Our government also realized that parents were concerned about the costs associated with raising their children, which is why we invested in families.
We increased the Canada child benefit for 2020‑2021. The maximum annual benefit will rise to $6,765 per child under 6 years of age and to $5,708 per child 6 to 17.
We subsequently invested $625 million in emergency federal support to ensure the safety of child care services, the number of available spaces and affordable access to those services. We aren't here to discuss the budget introduced yesterday, but I was very pleased to hear that our 's priority is to make the necessary investments in a national plan for affordable child care centres. We can thank Quebec and our Quebec colleagues Mr. Lauzon and Mr. Therrien for that. Quebec has outstanding childcare services and has developed a plan that we can follow. We've learned a great deal from Quebec. The province is progressive and we have to take a look at what's worked well for it.
Our government also understood that additional support was needed for food banks and food organizations. Without that support, COVID‑19 would have had an additional impact on vulnerable communities. We know that many Canadians rely on food banks and local community organizations to feed their families and for support during tough times.
I'd like to take a moment to thank the organizations in my community of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe such as Food Depot Alimentaire, the Peter McKee Community Food Centre and the United Way Greater Moncton and Southeastern New Brunswick for their efforts in providing our families with healthy and nutritional food.
I like to talk about Moncton's community organizations when I have the floor. Food Depot Alimentaire provides healthy and nutritional food to thousands of families in our community with the help of volunteers. This week is volunteer week. We have to thank all our community organizations and their volunteers for their hard work.
I'd like to talk about the United Way Greater Moncton and Southeastern New Brunswick organization. I think I raised the subject when we debated Ms. Vecchio's motion. We're fortunate to have a seniors program in Moncton. People at the United Way prepare meals for our seniors and deliver more than 600 meals every week. Volunteers prepare the meals and deliver them as well. We're glad we invested in helping them continue that important work.
Since our government also understood that young Canadians were facing unprecedented challenges, we doubled the Canadian student grants and created the Canada emergency student benefit. We wanted to ensure that students had the assistance they needed to continue their education. Students received that necessary assistance thanks to the investments we made.
Vaccine equity is another subject that our could discuss. The world needs vaccines to help reopen our societies and defeat this virus.
We know the third wave is vicious. More transmission means more variants, and the more variants there are, the more likely it is they'll elude vaccines. As long as the virus continues to spread, people will keep dying, business and travel will remain disrupted and economic recovery further delayed.
The global vaccination campaign is the greatest moral test of our time, but many low-income countries have yet to receive a single dose. Canada has agreed to increase funding for vaccine deployment in low-income countries. It has also committed to providing $75 million more to the international vaccine-sharing program as other wealthier countries step up their own commitment.
The , could also come and discuss that subject. That would help us answer certain questions. She could give us her thoughts on the subject, particularly during the prorogation.
This new commitment raises Canada's total contribution to $940 million, which will help provide vaccine doses to other countries. It would be good to hear the 's thoughts on how the world should come together to produce and distribute enough vaccine for everyone. This means that global manufacturing capacity must at least be doubled.
We have to understand that this is very important and that it really counts. The unfair distribution of vaccines is a moral outrage and both epidemiologically and economically self-destructive. The only way we can put an end to this pandemic, recover and restore our economy is by working together.
We know that the speed and extent of our economic recovery will be directly proportionate to our ability to limit the economic damage caused by the coronavirus.
Another compelling reason to invite the to meet with us would be to hear her discuss the economic recovery. We were in a sound fiscal position when we entered this crisis: Canada's net-debt-to-GDP ratio was the lowest of the G‑7 countries when COVID‑19 hit.
What investments will help make our economy stronger and assist us in laying the foundation for a green economy, an innovation economy and an equitable economy that supports good jobs for all Canadians? We want to emerge from the pandemic healthier and wealthier and with a greener economy. For the moment, we're still focusing on combating the pandemic. The health and safety of Canadians are still our priority. We're doing everything in our power to ensure the health, safety and solvency of Canadians.
The could also offer us her thoughts on lessons learned. That would be another reason to invite her. On that subject, my friend and colleague Kirsty Duncan has introduced a motion that we could consider.
Let me be absolutely clear: we will have ample time to consider our response in future, but, to date, what thoughts have we had about preparation? I think we all have to be ready: governments, private sectors, government organizations, non-governmental organizations and international organizations. When you aren't prepared, you suffer serious repercussions, devastating economic consequences and a raft of new inequalities and vulnerabilities. A virus can quickly erase all economic progress.
I'd also like to suggest that we hear what the has to say about the other global crisis we're facing—climate change—but let's set that issue aside for the moment, since we're considering the health crisis and COVID‑19 today. However, we could nevertheless ask her for her thoughts on that subject.
The final reason why we should invite the would be to ask critical questions about what issues affect and concern people in our community. I'm sure that Mr. Lauzon, Mr. Therrien, Ms. Vecchio, Mr. Morrissey, Ms. Duncan, Mr. Blaikie, Mr. Long and Mr. Nater are all aware of issues that concern the people in their communities. If the Deputy Prime Minister were here, we could ask her questions about the post-COVID‑19 economic recovery.
My priority is still to serve the people in my riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, an exceptional community of people who want to help each other. We have to be there for them. I want them to know that we're getting through this difficult period together and that I'll always be there to assist and support them in these tough times.
The pandemic has hit seniors, persons with disabilities, women, girls, indigenous peoples and racialized persons. We must understand that systemic racism is real, that unconscious prejudices are real and that these phenomena also occur in Canada.
It has now been a year since George Floyd died. We're discussing the issue of unconscious bias, and I think that event encourages us to assess what's happening in our communities. We can see that the pandemic has triggered feelings of hate, scapegoating, alarmism and xenophobia around the world. Once again, we have a lot of work to do on this subject.
We need to support all those who experience racism and whose human rights are violated. Canadian MPs met and adopted a motion condemning the rise of racism and racist attacks against Asia in North America and expressing our unanimous horror at the shootings that occurred in Georgia. Because COVID‑19 seems to have come from Wuhan, China, people have used shocking and appalling language to designate the inhabitants of that region and we've seen an increase in discrimination and violence against Asians as a result.
In July 2020, Statistics Canada data suggested that Asian Canadians were more likely to report that they had observed a rise in racial or psychological harassment during the pandemic. The largest increase was observed among persons of Chinese, Korean and South Asian decent. According to figures from a separate report prepared by the National Research Council Canada and released in September 2020, the number of racist incidents reported against Asians is higher in Canada than in the United States on a per capita basis.
We must promote inclusion and a sense of belonging among people to guarantee the safety of all Canadians. Since the mission of the is to help build a country where every individual has an equal chance of success, to defend all the dynamic diversity in Canada and to promote greater inclusion, I think this would be a good opportunity to ask her questions on that topic. We must work together to build a fairer future for all of us. We must always combat racism and prejudice and promote respect, compassion and equality.
Madam Chair, I see I've spoken at greater length than anticipated. I would like to discuss other thoughts as part of this debate, but I'm going to yield the floor to my friend Mr. Lauzon or Ms. Duncan. I don't know who's next on the list.
Madam Chair, thank you once again for the opportunity to make some important points on the subject.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I will begin by thanking my friend and colleague, the honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, for her compassion, caring, her commitment to community and for her important speech.
It's important for people to know she's our former health minister. Her expertise is so appreciated. I would really like to thank her for her important comments regarding vaccine equity.
I will also thank my colleague and friend, Mr. Wayne Long. I not only appreciated his speech, but I also have very fond memories of seeing Mr. Long in his community and his joy of serving was so apparent.
I want to say how much I appreciate the amendment brought forward by my friend and colleague, Mr. Turnbull. I have been clear that I think it would be really important to hear from the and the .
I will also make the point that I have repeatedly made, namely, that there is nothing more important than the COVID-19 pandemic and that is where our sole focus should be. I think there are absolutely more important issues this committee should be studying. In fact, I have a motion calling for the review of Parliament's response to COVID-19 identifying lessons learned and putting forth recommendations so that future parliaments are better prepared for a pandemic.
As I said, there is nothing more important than the COVID-19 pandemic right now. This is where our sole focus should be.
Canada is in a third wave of COVID-19. When I was preparing last week, cases had increased by 82% over the previous 14 days. We are in a race between the variants and the vaccines.
While this committee does not oversee pandemic response, and we must be focused as a country on the response, we absolutely have a role to play in pandemic preparedness for the future. It is incumbent upon each of us to ensure that the House of Commons is prepared for the next pandemic, because in all likelihood, there will be a next time. COVID-19 is not going to be the last pandemic. Going forward, the House of Commons, Parliament, governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and international organizations must all be better prepared. When we are not prepared, we face not only deadly impacts, but also devastating economic consequences and new inequalities and vulnerabilities.
All of us on this committee, all of us in our communities and right across this country have been touched by the pandemic. We have to learn from the crisis. We can't forget what we have all been through. We need to prepare for the future. This includes our work at this very committee.
The job of the procedure and House affairs committee is to study and report on, among other things, the practice of the House and its committees, the internal administration of the House, and services and facilities for members of Parliament.
All of us need to be asking about the House of Commons' response to COVID-19. This is not partisan. It's real work that needs to be done, just as we have done real work on studies on remote voting, and how to promote democracy and public health and safety should there be an election during the pandemic.
Undertaking this study, as I have raised before, is important. Past crises have shown that once an outbreak is under control, organizations tend to turn their attention to other pressing concerns. If this committee does not do this study now, when will the study be done? What happens if an election intervenes? It is our committee members who have direct experience and it is our members who should be asking questions.
The point is we need to review the response to see what action was taken, when action was taken and what recommendations we can make to be better prepared for next time. We need to think of the thousands who work here in the parliamentary precinct. They are our colleagues, our friends, who work to maintain the people's house. We need to be thinking of protecting our democracy during a pandemic or another disaster.
Let me bring it back. Canada is in a third wave of COVID-19. We are in a race between the variants and the vaccines. Our health system in Ontario is literally on the verge of collapse and our health care professionals are exhausted, yet this committee remains focused on politics.
Our country reported 9,200 COVID-19 infections two Fridays ago, the single-day high since the start of the pandemic. Yesterday, Ontario reported over 4,400 cases of COVID-19, while the number of hospitalizations topped 2,200. It was the sixth straight day of more than 4,000 new infections in the province—six straight days of more than 4,000 cases—yet we have a partisan motion in front of this committee.
Worldwide we have seen increases in the number of new cases of COVID-19 for the eighth week in a row. More than 5.2 million cases were reported last week. That is the most in a single week so far. Deaths rose for the fifth straight week. More than three million deaths—let me repeat that—more than three million deaths have been reported by the World Health Organization. It took nine months to reach one million deaths, four more months to reach two million, and three more months to reach three million. Big numbers can make us feel numb, but each of these deaths is a tragedy for families, communities and countries, yet this committee remains focused on politics.
More than 900 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, but there is a stark gap between vaccination programs in different countries, with some yet to report a single dose. Eighty-three per cent of the shots that have gone into arms worldwide have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Only 0.2% of doses have been administered in low-income countries. This, unfortunately, is not surprising. When HIV emerged 40 years ago, life-saving antiretrovirals were developed, but more than a decade passed before the world's poor got access.
While vaccines are a vital and powerful tool, they are not the only tool. Physical distancing works. Masks work. Hand hygiene works. Ventilation works. Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine and compassionate care all work to stop infections and save lives.
It is important for people to understand that young, healthy people have died. We still don't fully understand the long-term consequences of infection for those who survive. Many people who have suffered even mild illness report long-term symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, brain fog, dizziness, tremors, insomnia, depression, anxiety, joint pain, chest tightness and more, all of which are symptoms of “long COVID”.
Far too many health care workers have died in the pandemic. Millions have been infected and the pandemic has taken a huge toll on their physical and mental health, with devastating effects on their families and communities. Anxiety, depression, insomnia and stress have all increased.
One nurse said she's tired of seeing young people die. She keeps hearing that more people are getting sick, so more beds are needed. She's tired and she says it's demoralizing.
Another nurse says the daily scenes unfolding before her eyes—more acutely COVID-19, more acutely ill COVID-19 patients and young people fighting for their lives—weigh heavily on her. There's no escaping the hospital, even when she's home with her family. She tries not to burden them with her worries. She explains, “Sometimes when I sleep, I just keep thinking. Those things are going through my mind, and I just want to shut it down, just shut off for a minute.” She says, “We are not only taking care of the patients. We have to take care of our staff. Everyone's burned out.”
Heads of hospitals are worried about the number of people who are getting sick, their colleagues in cardiology and neurology, and the cancer rates that will follow, yet this committee has a partisan motion.
The pandemic is exposing and exacerbating inequalities. COVID-19 pushed an estimated 120 million people into extreme poverty last year. Gender inequalities have increased with more women than men leaving the labour force. Rich countries are vaccinating their populations while the world's poor watch and wait. Health inequalities are not just unfair; they make the world less safe and less sustainable, yet there is a partisan motion in front of this committee.
Here in Canada we have had over one million COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 has claimed more than 23,600 Canadians.
I cannot imagine what could be more important than talking about COVID-19 and the race between the variants and the vaccines. The numbers of deaths are not just numbers. They are our grandparents, mothers, fathers, loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, lifelong friends, mentors and heroes, and they matter, and they matter to so many more people.
All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in hospitals, the number of health care workers who have developed COVID-19 and the number of health care workers who've ended up in the ICU. All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks in essential workplaces, in marginalized communities and in congregate settings. All of us should be pushing for vaccine equity.
Throughout the pandemic, racialized communities have been hit hard. In the spring of 2020 in Ontario, the most diverse neighbourhoods were hit hard. Hospitalization rates were four times higher. ICU admission rates were four times higher. Death rates were twice as high. Data from the fall in Toronto show that 79% of reported COVID-19 cases were among those who identified with a racialized group. In Toronto, the neighbourhoods with the highest populations of racialized people had the lowest vaccination rates, despite the disproportionate impact of the disease on these communities.
A century—a century—after the 1918 influenza, poverty, hunger and well-being, gender, racialization and economic status still play a role in who gets sick, who gets treated and who survives COVID-19. Here in Ontario, surgeries are cancelled as the province braces for more COVID-19 patients. Cases of more transmissible coronavirus variants are surging in Ontario, and strained hospitals are forced to cancel elective and non-urgent surgeries. Cataract, joint and cancer surgeries are all cancelled despite a backlog of postponed surgeries from the past year approaching 250,000. One emergency doctor says, “If alarm bells are not ringing now, I don't know what it will take.”
The system is straining to keep up. Dr. Kevin Smith, CEO of Toronto's University Health Network, said, “This is going to be the most extraordinary and demanding time most of us have had in our working lives. It comes to us after a very long year which has left us feeling battered and drained.” They are battered and they are drained, but this committee is focused on partisan politics.
Let me be clear. We are still fighting the pandemic. In Ontario, more COVID-19 patients are in the ICU than at any other point during the pandemic. Canada's chief public health officer has said that the rapidly spreading variants have now likely replaced the original virus as more young people are getting sicker. Hospital admissions are also on the rise as health care staff try to keep up with overflowing ICUs. Experts say the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs continues to test hospital capacities with patients battling the disease.
Coming back to the amendment, the original motion prejudges the need for prorogation. Mr. Turnbull's amendment refocuses the study on prorogation with research, evidence and facts and reinviting our and the .
The prorogued in order to take the time needed to understand what Canadians needed during the pandemic. How were they doing? Where were we in the pandemic? How was it affecting their jobs, their livelihoods? Could they put food on the table? How had wave one affected our seniors, particularly those in long-term care? Where should we go as a country after looking at the science, the evidence and the facts and hearing directly from Canadians?
When dealing with a new disease, it's important to acknowledge that not everything is known. It's important to exercise precautions. With a new disease and new data, information will likely change, and there will likely need to be adjustments in guidelines, policies and recommendations. If we look at what was known last January versus what is known today, we see there are a lot of differences. Science evolves over time, and decision-makers have to be open, flexible and willing to change course. They have to stay humble in the face of a new virus. If the—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank Mr. Nater as well. I'm so careful, and I'd just like him to know. In fact, last night I checked the blues that were available on the PROC website to make sure I wasn't repeating anything, so I really hope that I have not.
In terms of new figures, I was talking about the importance of jobs. Of course, we saw that in the budget yesterday. I think it's really important that we hear from the , because she talks about a resilience agenda. What does that mean for health care? What does it mean for our social systems? We entered the pandemic in a strong fiscal position. It allowed us to take quick and decisive action supporting both people and business. The biggest danger we could have had would have been not doing enough.
I'd like to talk about addressing the gaps in our social system. For me, one of the most important things, the worst tragedy, was what happened in long-term care. It broke my heart. It broke my heart. Before I ever entered politics, I used to take the children I taught dancing to into the seniors homes in Etobicoke North. They knew these seniors for many years. To see what they have lived through.... I've known these seniors in these residences through politics an additional 12 years. I will be afraid to see, when we go back, who we have lost. They deserve to be safe and respected and to live in dignity.
I want families to know this: I know your loss. I know your terrible pain. I know it first-hand. I will absolutely raise long-term care again and again and again.
I'd like to recognize Monsieur Lauzon's leadership here. We've all heard about his caring and compassion for seniors. He's the parliamentary secretary to the minister. I'm glad to see in the budget another $3 billion for long-term care. We will be investing $12 billion over five years to increase old age security for seniors aged 75 and older.
If the came to our committee, we could ask her questions on behalf of our seniors. I know that the seniors in our Etobicoke North community, for example, our Humberwood seniors, our Sri Lankan Tamil seniors, our St. Andrew's seniors, to name just a few groups, would be really eager to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.
I want to talk a bit about how COVID affected congregate settings and particularly people with disabilities. I've been a lifelong advocate for disability rights. I've worked with and learned from—learned from—persons living with disabilities all my life. I've worked with children with autism spectrum disorder. I've worked with adults with developmental delays. We saw with the pandemic that the disease spread quickly in these residences.
If we look at the survey on disability, we can see that more than six million Canadians identify as having a disability. That's important for this committee to know. When we look at employment, only 59% of Canadians with disabilities from age 25 to 64 are employed as compared with 80% of Canadians without disabilities. They also earn less. It's 12% less for those with milder disabilities and 51% for those with more severe disabilities. They're more likely to live in poverty.
I think it's incumbent upon all of us to build a fairer future where we all have an equal opportunity to succeed. If I look back to the last Parliament, our government undertook the most inclusive and accessible consultation with Canadians with disabilities and brought forth historic legislation.
There's more work to do. Our government will bring forward a disability inclusion plan and a new Canadian disability benefit modelled after the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. I think it would be really important to hear from the on these initiatives.
Next, I'd like to talk a bit about health. I would like to recognize my friend and colleague, Madam Petitpas Taylor and her tremendous work when she served as the minister of health for Canada. I hear regularly from the medical and research community that really recognized how she listened and what she achieved for our country. I will just highlight her work on the food guide, healthy food choices, and financial support for thalidomide survivors. Of course, I could go on.
Over the last many months, it's become clearer that we need a resilient health care system. Everyone should have access to a family doctor. We've seen with COVID-19 that our system has to be more flexible to be able to reach communities. I know from helping families in my own community that it's been really hard. It's been hard to reach a doctor during the pandemic. Many doctors are not operating. If they were operating, it's hard to get an appointment. If you could get an appointment and then you needed to see a specialist, that took more time. I'm really concerned about what we're going to see in the future in terms of cancers being diagnosed later, and heart and neurological issues.
I'd like to talk a bit about hearing from the when it comes to mental health initiatives.
I'd also like to hear from the about how we build safer, stronger communities and the importance of having a home. No one should ever have to survive a Canadian winter on the street. Everyone needs a home. It's one of the most important issues to our community. That's why I fight so hard for affordable housing. It's something everyone deserves. It's also a key driver of the economy.
Another issue that's really important to the people of Etobicoke North is ending gun violence. It's something I've fought for since I arrived in Parliament. I remember back in 2013, a group of grieving Somali mothers came to see me in my constituency office. They gave me a list of 50 young Somali Canadian men who had died violently, largely in Ontario and Alberta. Many of their deaths remain unsolved.
In 2012, it was that terrible summer here in Toronto when we had 33 Toronto shooting deaths that took the lives of Somali Canadian men. When I go to a meeting and 100 people are there—obviously, this is during non-COVID times—it's common for four mothers to come up to me and say that they are the parent of one of those young men. These are Canadian-born young men. Grieving mothers, community elders and imams say these were the children who were supposed to bury them. No one asks about their pain because no one wants to know.
Positive Change writes in their brochure, “50 sons, brothers, grandsons, friends lost. Together let's stop the violence”. It's really important that we do more. I think it would be important to hear from the on gun violence.
What matters to my community is having a job, having a home, having a safe community and addressing inequality and health care. What I hear from the youth in our community is that we're in a climate emergency. The global response has been inadequate, and we must urgently change course. It's important for people to understand that we've really faced three global emergencies this past year. There is the pandemic. There is the climate crisis. There is a crisis of injustice. The young people in my community—and we see youth leading around the world on climate change—want us to speak up for planet Earth. I think it's really important. We have to increase the level of ambition.
Earth Day is this week. There's also an important meeting taking place, a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate. We have to increase the level of ambition. We have to increase the action that will happen at COP26 this year in Glasgow.
Canadians understand that climate change threatens our health, our way of life and our planet. They want to see more action. I'm really pleased to see that our government is committed to that action. We saw that in the budget yesterday, with billions invested. I would like to hear from the about Canada's climate action and what more needs to be done.
Madam Chair, I've been speaking at length. I'm just going to finish by really bringing home that the sole focus of this committee should be the pandemic. It should be pandemic. It's what I hear in our community. It's what our community members are concerned about. I serve a wonderful community. It is the place where I was born and raised. It's very difficult, because our community works hard. Many are on the front line. They want to see members of Parliament fighting for them. They don't want to see politics.
Right now in Ontario our health care system is crumbling. The hospitalizations have increased. The ICU admissions have increased. Patients are being shipped around the province to make room for sicker patients. You can see the numbers increasing in other provinces. It's not just Ontario. We're seeing the numbers increase in other provinces.
I will make a plea to our dear colleagues on this committee. I so appreciate working with everyone. I think we have a good committee, and I think we've done good work. We did good work on remote voting. We did good work on putting in place recommendations should there be an election during a pandemic. I absolutely hope there is not an election during a pandemic. We do have work to do, real, meaningful work. There will be a pandemic in the future, and it is incumbent upon us to study Parliament's response and to make recommendations.
With that, Madam Chair, I will say thank you to my colleagues and friends and I will pass the floor to the next member.
Madam Chair, to be quite honest with you, I say—and I don't mean this as an understatement—the pleasure is all mine.
I want to thank Ms. Duncan for her interventions and for going through her experience, all of which you've just described aptly.
I want to say hello to my colleagues. It's been ages since I've seen you amongst the squares that unfold in front of my screen.
Yes, I see you too, Wayne. It's nice to see you as well. I included you in that, by the way, if you had any trepidation about that.
This is something I want to get into, because I took great interest in it. You may not believe me, but it is true. I'm taking a great interest in this and I'll tell you why.
When I was first elected in 2004, I think sideburns were a thing. I'm not sure we've progressed further in fashion since then; nevertheless, that's quite some time ago. I was so naive, so green towards the whole process of parliamentary procedure—this is an actual, true story—that I got to Ottawa for the first time and was standing in a lineup of about 50 people. The security guard came along. In those days you had various security guards. You had one set for the House of Commons and you had different security guards for the Senate.
A Senate security guard walked by, and I said, “Excuse me, sir, I'm just waiting to get in here, but do you know how long this will take? I have a meeting.” He said, “Who is your meeting with?” I said, “My meeting is with the Speaker of the House.” He said, “Are you from his area?” I said, “No, I'm from Newfoundland.”
We got to talking. He said, “What do you do?” I said, “I just got elected. I'm a member of Parliament—not sworn in yet, but I just got elected.” He just sighed and said, “Come with me, sir.” I said, “What did I do?” He said, “Sir, you can go wherever you want.” I said, “Really? I can go anywhere I want? I can walk in and see Paul Martin, the prime minister?” He said, “But not there.”
It was quite a journey. When I got in there he asked, “Are you okay?” I said, “Yes. Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Go ahead.” I said, “Where's the House of Commons?”
I was in the lobby of the western side of Centre Block. I didn't have a clue where the House of Commons was. Not only that, I also didn't really have much of a history of how it works. All I know is from question period, when you get up and ask a question and someone gets up and answers the question. Neither of the two relates to the other. What was asked and what was answered would seem to be madly off in different directions.
Of course, everything has changed since then, right?
I was looking for a reaction. I see it.
At the time, I was thinking to myself that I knew nothing about how this place operates, how this place works. I never undermined its importance. I just thought to myself, "How does this all work?"
I sat down with as many rules and procedures as I could and talked to as many people as I could. I'll never forget one individual. He was sitting in front of me in the House of Commons. He was a Liberal, like me. His riding was Peterborough, which I think is 's riding. His name was Peter Adams. He had a very thick English accent. He taught me so much. He has passed away since then. I haven't thought about him in ages until this very moment. He took on the role of mentor to me and several others. He walked me through a lot of things.
I realized that many things happen in the House of Commons that are not written down. It's based more on tradition than anything else, which we inherited from the U.K. parliamentary system. I'll get to that in a moment. I know you're dying in anticipation, but I'll get to it in a moment.
Shortly thereafter we went to an orientation session. It was one of the first times they had instituted an orientation session for new parliamentarians. These things are fairly regular now, but in 2004 they weren't that regular. They were just starting out.
I was sitting down with three other members of Parliament. Two of us were Liberals and two were Conservatives. We got to know each other. It was then that I realized we were members of Parliament representing areas of Canada, and with a lot of the same goals, because before you come into Parliament, what you think of partisanship and what you think of debate.... It's like something that is altruistic, in the sense that you're constantly debating the other. It's not like that. There is a lot that happens that you don't see on the screen, and I mean that from a CPAC perspective, not from Zoom.
I'll never forget the person I sat next to. As I said, we were all members of Parliament, but there was a guy named there. You probably know him. I remember having a long discussion with him. He, being from Saskatchewan—from Ottawa but representing Saskatchewan—and I being from Newfoundland, we shared stories about people we knew in either province and so forth. There was another MP there, Mike Savage, who's now the mayor of Halifax, and another guy by the name of Jeff Watson. Some of you know him. Jeff was in Essex, in southwestern Ontario. I think he lives in Alberta now.
Nevertheless, I was talking to Andrew and Jeff, and I realized that they had such wonderful families and great kids. I spoke to their spouses, their partners, who were wonderful people. You sort of get into the context of why we're there in the beginning, and it's not to be a Liberal or a Conservative or an NDPer, but to further your goals as a Canadian. Sometimes I worry that we're losing sight of that in this virtual world.
Now, you might be thinking that's probably not apropos to the conversation at hand, but I only say that to preface my comments by saying that I would like to get into how Parliament has evolved from a human dimension, as well as the rules and procedures that we're doing, because, quite frankly, we are talking about one of those tools that we have in the tool box, which is known as proroguing the House. People will know what proroguing is—not very many—but they know what it is as in the superficial meaning of the word “proroguing”. Far fewer, probably, know how to spell it, me included. I've been saying it for years and never knew how it was spelled, to be quite honest with you and, let's be honest, we're all honest.
It's a concept that I think is a tool we can use and which I think is a functional one. I think it's something that, as Canadians.... It evolved from a country outside of our own, but nevertheless, we've grasped this concept because we think it's one that is good, among many other traditions, customs and procedures of the House that we go through.
All that is to say that I'm glad to be a part of this, because I want to look at this from the functional aspect of what is proroguing of the House and, in a general sense, how our House operates, so that we can handle and pass laws in the most efficient way we know, and how the system has evolved.
Should the system be fixed? Yes, it should be. I looked on the screen here and I saw Mr. Nater earlier, who taught me a lot about the Magna Carta, stuff that I didn't know, from a session that went on and on—someone give me another word for “filibuster”. Okay, it was a prolonging of a discussion that we had. It was the prolonging of a discussion primarily by the Conservatives and also the NDP and Mr. Christopherson at the time, which I found rather enjoyable. I actually found it to be really good. It was quite informative, with characters like Mr. Nater and Mr. and others who talked about how the Magna Carta had such a deep impact. We're talking about a thousand years ago.
Just by way of quick facts, do you know why the House of Commons is green and the Senate is red? The Senate is red because it signifies royalty, the Crown, the Queen, the King and all throughout the history of the last thousand years. We all know that red means the Crown. The green in the House of Commons signifies grass. No, not that grass.
Let's back up for a minute. When the Magna Carta was signed, it was done outside. There was no place inside for people who were commoners. There was no institution that would sanction the fact that commoners were getting together inside to debate issues. They had to do it outside, so naturally, the green represents the green grass outside where they debated. Now, of course, loosely based on the modern sense of debating amongst our peers, you probably looked to Iceland and the Althing, way back when. Nevertheless, the Magna Carta was signed around the time of Runnymede. That's why you see the green representing the outside, where the commoners would have to gather to debate.
Going back to the basics, the Magna Carta gave us the power of the individual to live in this country, to live in this world and to make sure they had human rights. Essentially, the role of the Crown was not to be against the people they served, if I could put it that way. Obviously, it's more complex than that. I'm just simplifying it the best way I know how.
Over the following thousand years, all of this evolved into the common rules and procedures that we have now. During a debate we had a few years ago over prolonging the discussion, we'll say, of House rules, one of the things we talked about was how unique times can create different measures and rules by which we govern ourselves. This was not even taking into consideration what was around the corner—the situation we find ourselves in a year and a half later.
If someone had told me when that was happening in 2018 that I would be voicing the opinions of my constituents with a “yea”, “nay” or “abstain” in the House of Commons by using this, I would have said, “That's insane.” I never would have thought about it.
I remember a member of the European parliament who came over from Germany. She had spent 25 years in Brussels, I think. She was a very smart person, very experienced. I'm president of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, so I invited her and her colleague—
Thank you, Chair. I appreciate that.
I'm sorry, Ms. Vecchio. To be quite honest, you sounded a lot like my lawyer. I'm sorry. That was just an aside.
I'm sorry, Ms. Vecchio. I will lace up my running shoes and quickly run to the point in just a few moments. Before I do that, I want to sum up by saying that we find ourselves in a situation where so much has changed.
Anyway, to quickly finish that story—and I promise, Ms. Vecchio, I will finish it quickly—what she said was that she witnessed question period and then voting, because we had a vote after question period. In terms of question period, she said, “I really like question period; it's real 21st century stuff.” I asked what she meant. You have to understand that in European parliaments, most of them just stand up for 10 minutes, do their spiel, vent their spleen and then sit down. Each one does that, but there's no debate. She loved the back and forth. She thought that was real 21st century stuff, but she said, “I have a concern.” I asked her what it was. She said, “You debate like it's the 21st century, but you vote like it's the 19th century.” It's a good point. All we do is stand up and sit down every vote. There was no electronic vote then. Everyone else was doing electronic voting except for us, until this came along.
The point is that so much has changed in the House of Commons. How we conduct ourselves.... I see you all in a square that's so big in front of me, and I've been seeing that for quite some time, for almost a year now, if you look at the Zoom technology.
Our schools are this way. Broadband Internet used to be a wonderful tool to help with schooling in rural Canada. In rural Canada, broadband Internet is now the school. That's the school now, and not even just in rural areas but in urban areas, especially for those of you in Ontario and Quebec who are going through this latest situation. My heart goes out to all of you. I won't talk about that too much because I feel that Ms. Duncan did it so emotionally and appropriately that I would not serve it justice. It was quite something to behold.
The change that is thrust upon us has to take into consideration everything in the House of Commons. Why prorogue? What does it take? We used to joke that proroguing the House means that it's the old control-alt-delete of the political system, but actually, control-alt-delete is more of an election. This is more like the F5 refresh in terms of what is happening, what we have been doing and we're about to do.
Sometimes a government will exhaust itself to the point where we've done what we said we were going to do. Now, whether you believe that is a matter of debate, but nevertheless.... You're going to do all that you want to do, to a point where you say, “We've done that and where do we go from here?” Well, that calls for a Speech from the Throne. It calls for a direction. It calls for an indication to the people of where you want to go. That's the original purpose of this, but that's the government's decision.
What if the sands beneath us change and start to move? What if external factors dictate that life is not normal anymore, if what we knew as normal is no longer normal? Society has changed dramatically to the point where, when someone asks me, a politician, what's going to come of all this.... Who knows? Who knows what changes will come? What are the long-term effects of this? I don't know. How do you judge what the forest will look like if you're still amongst the trees?
I think that for us at some point we have to step back to a certain degree and try to refigure. The Speech from the Throne following the 2009 election had a distinct direction to it, whether you supported it or not. Whether you didn't like the direction or liked the direction, it had a path, but now the environment in which we walk has changed so dramatically that the path has to take a different way. Not entirely different.... It doesn't have to go backwards, but it has to change.
You have to think about what it takes to indicate to the country that things have changed, and now we have to think about that. Normally I would say to you to think of the budget from yesterday, but I won't get into the budget today. I won't talk about it because I know that's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about the motion and the amendment and so on and so forth. I think that I'm glad to be here because prorogation was the original factor by which we find ourselves in this prolonged discussion about what it is that we want to do and where it is that we're going.
Those are my thoughts on the changing of the House. I know that we all want to change the way we operate in the House of Commons in a way that's befitting of our current circumstances. I'm even willing to say that we should go beyond what has affected us through this pandemic and say that now that we have made some changes, finally, such as voting through my phone, we can make other changes to the House.
There's Mr. Blaikie. He has some good ideas. I think he has one great idea that he'll probably bring up later, but this is something that we have to discuss. I'm glad we're doing this, because we're talking about prorogation as one of those things.
Prorogation is not our invention, but it's certainly something we practise. Earlier, I mentioned the path that we're on now, the circumstances and how the ground beneath our feet that has shifted and therefore we have to make.... That's why I think prorogation was justified in this particular instance. I know that others would say to you that the circumstances of the situation with the WE Charity, as was said earlier, were dictating that, but I have to disagree, not based on the fact of where I sit in the House, but only because I think that this is one of those times.
The question is, would prorogation exist outside all the factors that you're talking about regarding the issue with WE Charity and others? Absolutely, it would. It would be completely justified. If you look at.... I'll only mention this about the budget. Look at it. Look at the face of it, at all the things in that budget that were affected by the pandemic. You may not agree with the actual substance within that budget, but on the topics, just look at the index. Look at the table of contents. There's not a lot about the table of contents that you can disagree with, no matter who you are, because these issues have to be handled.
The extension of benefits such as the wage subsidy or the CEBA, these things.... This is something that is providing a great benefit to this country, but these things do have an expiry date, and that has to be talked about. These sorts of measures were not to be talked about before the pandemic struck. We tried with EI from the very beginning. We went into the benefits, the CERB. Going into the CERB, we had to create this new dimension in financial arrangements with our constituents. The pandemic dictated all of that.
How does that relate to prorogation? Well, I think that all leads into a refresh of the House. Some of you might say, then why didn't you just call an election? Yes, well, I'm from Newfoundland and Labrador. Not so much.... How would I say this without being insensitive? We just had an election in Newfoundland, the likes of which I don't even know if the Commonwealth has seen before—not just Canada, but the Commonwealth. That's in the sense that voting in person got shut down the day before we went to the polls. Then you had to mail in your vote. We may end up with a challenge based on the charter and the right to vote. Who knows? It's possible. A lot went awry. Without pointing fingers at anybody in this particular situation, I'm sure that will unfold, and rightly so.
There's a lot to learn from this. The ultimate refresh is the election. It may have worked in other places. I've read about what they've done in British Columbia. I think they did some really good things. In New Brunswick, there were some good things there too. There are things that we will address down the line.
How many times did we debate about voting online? How do you accomplish voting online in a national election without trusting the system completely? That's a hard thing to do. Voting by phone.... Basically, voting remotely is what we're looking at. My goodness, in the House of Commons, we're already doing it. I'll never forget it when I first got into this thing. I was still saying, “Pinch me. I can actually vote on my phone in the House of Commons.”
Thank you very much. To say that I am as excited as you are is probably the understatement of the day, from my own perspective, of course.
I want to start by thanking everybody and by referring to the amendment by Ryan Turnbull that considers the witnesses in this particular case.
I'll get back to the witnesses in this particular case, or the amendment that attempts to do it, but I would like to go back to the issue of prorogation. As we discussed, I think it's very important to put this in the context of what prorogation is all about, what it was meant to be, what it has become. Whether it has veered off and gone madly off in different directions is another issue all unto its own.
Many parliamentary scholars around the world, but certainly in the Commonwealth, can debate quite extensively as to why we have prorogation. I think we do have it for the right reasons, for the grand reset, to use the vernacular. I mentioned this the last time, so to go back to what I said earlier, the grand reset is obviously an election, but for people like me when you're involved in parliamentary procedure so much—and I am sure I'll get a thumbs-up from Mr. Nater or Mr. Blaikie on that one as we delve into it.
I joked last time, but I'm somewhat serious as well, when I talk about how we look at how we've evolved over a thousand years of how we do democracy. Certainly for the Commonwealth nations, and this Westminster democracy that we have, goes back to the age of the Magna Carta, the original reason why we did this. The commoners massed outside every castle that you could think of in southern England. They wanted to bring power to the people through their own representation.
I think it was more at the time if you read the tea leaves, read through the language that was written at the time. Certainly if you read the Magna Carta you will see that there was an element of protection from absolute rule of the monarchy. There was some protection for them as well, and protection for others. It was the first time we were able to do several concepts a thousand years ago, which was the separation of what was royalty and what was the power to the people, and the protections for the common people who are subjects of the Crown.
On the other side, you had elements such as those who were being accused of doing something absolutely nasty that wasn't bearable by the commoners of England to be judged by one's peers, also spoken of in the Magna Carta and other documents. We all came from that, of course, as we know. Advance several years and you come to the Statute of Westminster where we find ourselves.
Basically, the Statute of Westminster tells us that we have a right to run our own affairs, but we still are attached to the Crown, to the Westminster traditions. I say traditions because even though we have a playbook that's about this thick, we still rely on a lot of customs and traditions when we go about our day in Parliament, whether it be in the House of Commons or in the Senate.
Of all the tools in the tool box, prorogation is actually quite prescriptive. Think about it. As I mentioned, sometimes you can take the interpretation and put it madly in different directions, but I think that prorogation has a prescriptive way about how we can accomplish something in Parliament when something comes to an end and we want a restart to do something else.
You can argue its existence from here to Sunday because why would you need that when all you need is an election or you just bring in different bills once the other bills are done? What prorogation does, specifically sparked by, of course, the Speech from the Throne, is that it indicates to the average citizen where you want to go. What's wrong with that? To me that's responsible government. It doesn't even have to be part of Westminster to say to the people, “This is where we want to go, this is the target we're trying to reach”.
As we know, since the word is thrown around so much in any democracy, whether it be here, or in any other democracy like that in the United States of America, South America, or throughout the rest of Europe, accountability is key to an informed decision to vote.
The right to vote is of course in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is a basic and inherent right to express oneself democratically to the people one wants to lead. Some might say, “I don't want to be a leader. I don't want to be in a position where I make decisions for the masses, but I sure as hell know who I want to do it. I know what I'm looking for when that direction is laid out amongst my peers who are seeking my vote.”
That being said, prorogation does several things. It stops and starts and it's a little more.... I think in a general sense the basic principle is that the people will look at us and say, “Where is it you want to go, exactly?”
They go about doing their daily business, and whether they introduce government bills, private members' bills, motions, committee work, studies or reports, all of this stuff that's contained within both the House of Commons and the Senate comes from a vision and direction put forward by the government. I was going to say the party with the most seats, but that's not exactly right. It comes down to a very essential concept, which is the party that commands the confidence of the House and the majority of the seats. That's what you have to do.
If you think about it, we could be in a situation in which within the ranks of one particular caucus we could be choosing the prime minister and the minister of everybody. It doesn't have to be the party with the most seats; it just has to command the confidence of the House. You can rely on people outside of your own caucus to give you that confidence.
You may recall how several years ago—I forget the date now but it was probably six or seven years ago—when Cameron was elected in the United Kingdom, he didn't have a majority. He had a minority. He had two choices: he could reach out to another party to make an agreement to govern for the next four years or he could just go about the daily machinations of governing and see what happened. Every day the House is sitting you're subjecting yourself to seeking the confidence in the House to pass legislation, particularly on confidence measures such as the budget or whatever is deemed confidence at that time.
What they did, obviously, was to reach out to those in receipt of the bronze medal, the third-place team. That would have been the Liberal Democrats. What was interesting, and what taught a lesson to a lot of people, was that you would think because the Conservatives had the most seats then, they had the prerogative to seek support from another party within the House of Commons to find themselves with the majority of seats and votes to keep them going.
Interestingly enough—at least I find this interestingly enough but I don't know if you do—there were also negotiations between those who had won the silver medal, the second-place team, which was the Labour Party, and the Liberal Democrats.
The first shot went to the Conservatives to reach out, and things were looking like “Well, we'll see.” I guess when the Liberal Democrats looked at it they said, “Well, to a certain degree I feel somewhat intoxicated with power being in third place. I may have the bronze medal, but I feel like I'm on top of the podium.” At that point they were the kingmakers.
In this particular case, things weren't going that well, so they reached out to the Labour side. How does second place team up with third place to be first? If you deal in an absolute world, you think that doesn't make sense, but it actually does, because second place combined with third place gets most of the seats in the House of Commons. You have the confidence.
A year later the Liberal Democrats said, “You know, it's all wonderful and grand, but this place is a little bit much for us. We're going to take the side door and walk out.” That means in a confidence vote if only the Labour Party would be a government, then they would lose confidence and then the Queen would have to decide whether.... Okay, she has a choice. She can either pick someone else or just go to an election.
The whole point is that when you look at things like prorogation, you look at setting out a direction in which the government wants to go, after the House has chosen who that government is going to be.
Let's go from the U.K. back to Canada. Back in Canada we had a situation where the Liberals had a conversation with the NDP. I say that like I was outside of it, but I was in on it, for complete transparency. We still did not have that confidence. We still did not have enough seats, but we had an agreement with the Bloc at the the time. The Bloc said, “I'll tell you what. We won't be part of your little game, your party, but what we'll do is stay out here, and we promise we won't take you down.”
The prime minister of the day did not like that very much. I'm trying to stay away from my opinion of the whole thing. I'm just trying to lay out what happened. Prime Minister Harper sought prorogation. Now we have a conundrum. What are we going to do?
Now you have to go to the Governor General and say, “I think we need a reset.” The Governor General naturally says, “Why would you want that?” The prime minister says, “Well, we want to reset. We don't want an election, but we just want to reset and probably do something a little different. We want to present a new vision of where we're going. Maybe it's not so much new, but a revised vision as to where we want to go.”
Some prime ministers went so far as to say that they were going to prorogue over several months, because people need to be comfortable. The MPs need to be comfortable with watching the Olympics. You'd probably think that what I just said is absolutely absurd, right? It's true. The Vancouver Olympics were happening; therefore, we need to prorogue Parliament. Listen, I'm not going to cast judgment, although the tone of my voice probably does.
Let me just back away from the tone of my voice by saying this. If this is nefarious at worst, and somewhat innocent at best, no matter where it lies, the argument was really about prorogation. What is it used for and why?
If you're going to use something like this, you better come with your game face, because this is something that's highly prescriptive, as I mentioned earlier. It is something that is incredibly useful for us as parliamentarians in our parliamentary democracy.
There are several other episodes of prorogation. Let's go from that one to the one we just had recently. This is where I may get a little bit more opinionated about how I feel about this particular prorogation, only because of what is happening right now.
Preceding my intervention at the last meeting, I congratulated my colleague, Ms. Duncan, who laid out what had happened over the past little while, which was the pandemic. She is a medical professional, so she's going to do far better than I am at doing this. Not only that, she also illustrated how in her riding and in her sphere of influence COVID-19 was affecting everyday life.
What she talked about, and it may sound bland, but you'll know what I mean when I say this is an understatement. What a game-changer for governments. What a game-changer for everybody. For those cited in the Constitution, national, subnational, federal, provincial and municipal governments, what a game-changer, right?
Ask every premier across the country. Yes, I'm in Newfoundland and Labrador. It's true our case numbers are not as dramatic compared to others. Just before I got on this call, I heard that this is not a good day for Nova Scotia. For Ontario and Quebec, to my colleagues who are on Zoom and outside of Zoom, I wish you all the best with staying safe.
Let me get back to prorogation. What I just illustrated was a change in vision by a particular government.
Yes, when a government finds itself in a position where it's close to exhausting its former mandate that it brought to the people, and it finds that it wants to do something that is essential for the country but may not have been laid out before, it does this. But again, this is the prerogative of a government that finds itself in a position where it wants to do something different and doesn't feel completely comfortable just doing this by sheer dint of its own personality and by saying, “Hey, look. We can do this. We're the government.”
What we have here is a different scenario. This is where the ground has changed beneath our feet in a major way. This is the stuff that we talk about when we change what we do because of a major war. In a sense, this is a war against the invisible enemy that is this virus. We're battling on all fronts. We are nurses. We are doctors. We are truck drivers. We are teachers. We are....
Just yesterday, I spoke to a gentleman who works as a technician to hook up Internet service. You might ask how he is a front-line worker: He's now bringing school to kids. Remember, the Internet for these small communities was a great tool for schooling, and now it is the school. Given what we're going through, it is the school now, so that person is vital in a way that we could never have imagined before any of this happened.
Has the ground changed beneath our feet? It sure has and, if nothing else, this will be probably be the most important thing I want to say today: If you cannot bring in what parliamentary procedure describes as a reset in prorogation, if you can't do it now, then when? When do you do it? It's a fundamental question.
Some people might say that it's not necessary. I know that great scholars, people smarter than I am, might say that, but you know, I go back to the experience that I've had. I've been here almost 18 years now. I've probably been here longer than some of the gargoyles that exist above the West Block, for God's sakes. In saying that, I've seen a lot of this come and go, and whether you think prorogation is used for nefarious reasons or for the right reasons, I've now come to realize that prorogation has to be used when it's absolutely necessary. This is a third dimension to it that I never thought of before, until now.
There have been several headlines going back to the few times that Prime Minister Harper did it, or back when Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien did it, and prorogation got lost in an argument of who gets the advantage here. It's like a game of chess. Whose side gets the advantage of doing this? I think this prorogation is bereft of anything that is strategy, which is being talked about here—I'll be honest with you—and, sure, I realize that's the side you would expect me to take, being on the government side, but, hey, listen. There was a time when prorogation happened during the Conservative years that I agreed with too. I disagreed with many of my own colleagues and my own party as a result of that. We're not doing this over so that we can be comforted in watching the full extent of the Vancouver Olympics. We're doing this because we're at war. There have been way too many lives lost in the last little while for us to get into this.
I respect the fact that you want to get to an issue that is of importance. I'll go back to Ms. Vecchio's motion and the amendment to follow about the situation with the charity, with the individuals involved who you want to bring here, such as the , and as the amendment points out, the Kielburger brothers. Look, I have as many questions as anybody else in this call—I do—and I am respectful of that, and I'm respectful of your initiative to get to the bottom of this.
Let's recall now that from 2006 to 2015 I was in opposition. I know how this works. I'm not in the middle of a filibuster; I'm in a prolonged conversation on what's going on.
We've all had our share of doing the things that we do for the good of the country. Some people might think it's not. We accuse each other of not doing so. Some people look at me and ask why I would be involved in a prolonged conversation that they would call a filibuster, so on and so forth, but it is a part of democracy. Every modern democracy has it, and when we look at this, you probably think, “Why would you be involved in these sorts of things when outside of this realm of Zoom there is some nasty stuff going on?”
Well, yes, that's right. There is, but I can tell you that we all come to this particular—I was going to say this committee meeting, but this committee Zoom meeting—from a virtual perspective only to say that we truly believe in what we're doing, all of us, and I don't doubt anybody. I'm not going to undermine anyone's argument as to why they want to bring certain witnesses in whom we've already heard, or there are delays to all of this because of the shenanigans that take place in the House of Commons. Many of these shenanigans that existed in the real world now exist in the virtual world. Well, that's fine because that's who we are, as parliamentarians.
This stuff isn't going to end, but only to argue your point, what bothers me a lot these days is that instead of fighting an argument with a counter-argument that bears, in my mind, complete logic, like why this prorogation should be now, you just want to shut people down. However, let's be honest. We have a right to talk our way through this, and we should.
When I first got into politics, a person with a great deal of experience told me that now that I was in politics, now that I was starting in politics, his advice to me was simple and based on math. I asked, “What's the math? If you get more seats, you get to be government?” He said, “No, it's not that. This is very simple math. This is called a 2:1 ratio.” I asked what was the 2:1 ratio, and he said, “You have two ears and one mouth. Play to the ratio that you have. Try to listen more than you speak, and as time goes on, you might find yourself in a position where you've done far more good than not.”
To paraphrase Shakespeare, you could just keep on going and it could signify nothing, or it could signify something that you're proud of at the end of the day.
Now, would I be proud of all this? As I mentioned earlier, I was in opposition. Am I proud of all the stuff that I tried to pull? No, but I'm proud of the fact that I did my best, and at the end of the day, I'm proud of the fact that I think I represented my constituents in the best way possible, and not just my own constituents but every Canadian who wants to live in a better place.
Let me go back to the prorogation issue again, because, to me, that's the essence of what prorogation is about. We are talking about two different things on two different planes when it comes to getting answers to questions on something that happened. You want these questions to be answered on one side, and then on the other side you have parliamentary procedure and why we use the tools that we have.
That said, prorogation started off long before we were around and long before I came around, and that's quite some time. However, as far as prorogation is concerned in this country, it has a base to it.
I'm going to read some of the very base of what prorogation is all about. I got here in 2004. I think it was 2010 when I learned how to actually spell “prorogation”. I kind of knew what it was, but I didn't even know how to spell it, for goodness' sake.
a prerogative act of the Crown taken on the advice of the Prime Minister, results in the termination of a session. It is possible to prorogue a session of Parliament by proclamation when the House is sitting or during an adjournment. Both the House of Commons and the Senate then stand prorogued until the opening of the next session.
Now, there is the timing. Sometimes you could go months, to the full extent until you get the expiration of something like the Vancouver Olympics, or you could do it the next day, because that has happened too.
The time period in the most recent prorogation I think was reasonable enough—a few weeks—to allow the government to basically reorganize its priorities, to the point where we put ourselves forward as to where we want to go.
Remember now, we're in the middle of a pandemic in this. I'm going to be quite honest with you. If the Conservatives were in government and prorogued at the time that we did and then reassembled with a Speech from the Throne, I'd be at a loss to say that it was nefarious, by any stretch of the imagination.
It's a pandemic. I don't know how I can say this more often, in the fact that we're at war. On governance, look at what we've done over the past little while: CERB, wage subsidies, all this stuff.
Let's take CERB as an example, which was needed by so many of my constituents. This was not only more money, it was a new concept. We originally started with EI and realized that the system wasn't working. To say that we had to change gears to go from EI to CERB is an understatement.
If you had said to me before the last election that we would need a whole new system by which we provide benefits to people who are in trouble, completely outside of EI, and it would be delivered through the Canada Revenue Agency, I would have said, “Good Luck. Three studies and eight years later there maybe would be a modicum of it.” We had to do it. I am just outlining the challenges we faced at that time.
As an individual MP sitting in your office taking calls from people, it was “Do I qualify? Do I not? What do I do?” This was at a time when these programs were coming out very quickly. To say that the government had to be nimble is also an understatement.
The wage subsidy is probably an even better example. You had so many companies that were slipping through the cracks that couldn't qualify, you had to manoeuvre it in such a way that these people now qualified. That was not because we felt it wasn't working for us, but because it had to work for them. The intent was to get most people covered. To do that, to be nimble, is an understatement.
I'm saying that because it paints the picture that invoking prorogation was appropriate.
With regard to the effects of prorogation, our House of Commons Procedure and Practice states:
Prorogation of a session brings to an end all proceedings before Parliament. With certain exceptions, unfinished business “dies” on the Order Paper and must be started anew in a subsequent session.
Again, you look at the situation that we were in. Some of the stuff on the Order Paper, yes, was very important, and so on and so forth, but then you have to come back to it. Keep in mind that a lot of this could be brought back from the former session, which any government or anybody calling for prorogation can take advantage of as well.
Bills which have not received Royal Assent before prorogation are “entirely terminated” and, in order to be proceeded with in the new session, must be reintroduced as if they had never existed. On occasion, however, bills have been reinstated at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached at the end of the previous session.
I heard someone describe prorogation as—and pardon my language; it's not my language, but pardon me for quoting it—“a guillotine”, or “slice it right down the middle and that's it, done.” That's not necessarily it. It's more like the big hand that comes and says, “Okay, you stop right there.” Some of it can be brought back. I'll continue:
On occasion, however, bills have been reinstated at the start of a new session at the same stage they had reached at the end of the previous session. This has been accomplished either with the unanimous consent of the House or through the adoption of a motion to that effect, after notice and debate. The House has also adopted provisional amendments to the Standing Orders to carry over legislation to the next session, following a prorogation
I'm looking to see if I lost anyone. No, you're still there. Then again, we're parliamentarians, so there you go.
I see Ken McDonald waving from way back in his office, somewhere in the deep, dark corners, in the beautiful riding of Avalon. Good to see you, Mr. McDonald.
Since 2003, prorogation has had almost no practical effect on Private Members’ Business.
So the sanctity of a private member's bill remains despite the prorogation:
As a result of this significant exception to the termination of business principle, the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business established at the beginning of a Parliament, and all bills and motions in the Order of Precedence, as well as those outside of it, continue from session to session.[
There's the sanctity of that too.
One person I'll give credit to for doing a lot of this stuff is Paul Martin, who brought in a lot of changes to our procedures, good ones too. Consider, for instance, private members' bills. Did you know that when we vote on a private member's bill we start in the back row? Why do we do that, you ask? I'm glad you asked, Wayne Long. The point is that you won't be influenced by the front bench of your party, so the back row gets to go first.
As an aside, we used to say that the worst place to be was in the opposition or in the backbench sitting up in the corner and you had to vote first.
Yes, I can, all the way from my little corner here in Grand Falls—Windsor, Newfoundland.
It's funny you mentioned that because if you look at all that has been done and the changes that we've made, I think we can make more, when it comes to the rules of the House of Commons. I do. Now I may go too far with it, but I think we've made some changes. That's another thing that's going to happen. That's another reason why we say the ground has shifted beneath our feet.
The last time I voted in the House of Commons—this is probably too much information— I was running on a treadmill in Sandy Point, Newfoundland and Labrador. I used this to vote. Yep. I voted. It's my right to vote. It's my responsibility to vote on behalf of my constituents. It was transparent. It was posted up there, and I realized that, my goodness, life has changed for us dramatically.
As I mentioned earlier, we used to vote like it was the 19th century, stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. It's fine if you like that, but it creates some long times in the House of Commons. You take people who are young parents, it's not easy when you have to be seconded into one little place and you have to stay there for hours doing the voting when you can now do this. Now that we've caught up with technology, that's great. If someone had said I could vote in the House of Commons on my phone after the last election, it was not even close to being possible. In the House of Commons, we don't even have a clock to tell you how long you have left to speak. We're probably the only place that does that.
Anyway, I'll even help the opposition by saying I've gone off topic, and I'll bring myself back. Sorry.
Ms. Vecchio, I apologize. I know it's your motion. Let me just get back to where I was.
Let's go back to prorogation again because I think that's the fundamental part about this. Members are released from their parliamentary duties after prorogation until the new session starts. The committees resume activities and are reconvened. We have to go through the process of committee work again, which makes sense. The government has a different direction or their policies are taking a different direction, then you have to dissolve the committees and put them back because the whole point of committee is to analyze legislation. So that needs to be reconfigured. That I get.
I'm glad private members' bills are okay because if you think about it, a private member's bill is something that you hold deep within your heart as a true piece of legislation that should be passed. Truly, it should be a law of this country or a motion to say that we should do good by this country. I don't think that changes much. Let's say you want to extend sick benefits from 15 to 26 weeks. I had a private member's bill which did that many years ago. Fortunately, it's done now. But at the time, that doesn't change. If 15 weeks doesn't cut it, we need more in the EI system to allow for people who are off work because they are sick through no fault of their own.
You're probably thinking now—and I'm just presupposing here—if this is prorogation in Canada, how does prorogation work for the people who invented it, the U.K.? Ken McDonald, I'm glad you asked because I know you're asking me. I could see your face in anticipation.
As for prorogation in the United Kingdom, constitutional law usually used to mark the end of a parliamentary session much like our own. It's part of the royal prerogative. It's the name given to the period between the end of the session of the U.K. parliament and the state opening of parliament that begins the next session. That's basically the same as ours. Nothing changes there. That's all part and parcel of where we got it from.
But it's very different in the origins of prorogation. The Queen formally prorogues Parliament on the advice of the Privy Council, the Privy Council, of course, being the cabinet. Prorogation usually takes the form of an announcement on behalf of the Queen. She did it recently. She prorogued parliament in her nineties. God love her. As with the state opening, it made both Houses...of course they have the House of Lords and House of Commons. MPs attend the House of Lords chamber to listen to the speech.
All of that is much the same. What happens to bills still in progress during prorogation? Prorogation brings to an end nearly all parliamentary business. I suspect—I don't know, but perhaps Mr. Nater could tell me the difference here as he's more of a scholar about this stuff than I am—they go further when it comes to prorogation and the determination of government business of the day, like the bills and so on and so forth. At least that's my impression. It's a serious thing, taken way back when.
Recently in the U.K., they went to the Supreme Court over the prorogation that was put on by Mr. Johnson at the time. It became very contentious, to say the least, because they were all bordering on the idea of minority parliaments. They twisted themselves into pretzels over how they were going to do this. That's when the Supreme Court got involved.
A session of parliament runs from the state opening of parliament. In the past, this has usually been November through the following November. They used to take longer periods of time to do this, up until recent memory. This is how they did things in the U.K.
At the origins of what was prorogation in the U.K., early prorogation ceremonies had four key elements. First the speaker made a speech mainly concerned with a subsidy bill. Now this is how they describe a subsidy bill. This is for sheer entertainment purposes. It's really kind of funny. They call it a bill “for the better support of Her Majesty's household”. I found that rather amusing.
Then there was the Lord Chancellor or the Lord Keeper, another official of the royal household. The person who was involved had a title and the person was the Lord Keeper. I'm not sure if it exists, but if you asked the average British person what a “lord keeper” is, you'd probably see the best goaltender in soccer in all of the U.K. Otherwise, the Lord Keeper actually has a title and is part of Her Majesty's household that deals with this sort of thing.
The Lord Chancellor either prorogued or dissolved parliament, according to the sovereign's instructions. The sovereign was customarily present on these occasions and, from the 17th century onward, usually made the speech before prorogation or dissolution. Well, how about that?
There were two elements of it, which we used to do as well, if memory serves, where you had a speech at the ending and then you had a speech at the beginning. Of course, the speech at the ending was probably more towards justification. I would assume that now with modern communications it's quite evident why or at least you have to explain why you are doing this prorogation. What's more important, though, is when the House begins and you have the Speech from the Throne.
That's not the only reason you prorogue, but that's the most important part. You have to lay out for the country exactly what you're trying to do and where you want to go. Where you want to go really reverse engineers an answer as to where you've been and why you've done what you've done.
Personally, I've never witnessed a speech at prorogation within the context of, say, a Speech from the Throne, but I wouldn't feel it's really necessary. I say that for any party that's in government. I think that's probably a bit much. In saying that, it is quite something.
At this stage you're probably wondering one of two things: one, when will he be quiet, and two, what do they do in Australia?
Let's go down under, shall we? What do they do? They, of course, have the same system as we do. That being said, let's get to it.
Listen, thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it.
There's quite a bit to unpack, but I will say this. One thing I will unpack in the beginning is where we find common ground.
First of all, let me just say this, as probably a large disclaimer to put out there. I was not in on the conversations to prorogue, how to communicate to prorogue or why you would want to do that, so I'll speak from my own logic and from my own little corner of the world here in central Newfoundland, as I feel I should.
First of all, I will give kudos to the for showing up in front of committee prior to this.
My apologies in advance to my Conservative friends. Listen, I had great respect for Prime Minister Harper, but as I have said before, and I will say again, Prime Minister Harper going to a committee.... He wouldn't go near a committee if he had to walk through it to get home, but we do have a current Prime Minister who did show up to that committee. I gave him kudos for doing that. We found out a lot from that, I think.
Let me go back to the proroguing issue. If there's one thing that I can probably reverse course on in what I'm thinking, given the conversation we're just having here, it's the old tradition of formally speaking on the proroguing itself and then bookending it with the beginning of the next session when you do your speech, so that basically you have a clear communication as to why you're proroguing.
Should the rules change around proroguing? I don't disagree with you at all, quite frankly. I think it is a tool to be used, but it's also a tool to be communicated, by which.... This is a serious thing, and if you do it, you have to justify it. On the element of bringing it forward for PROC—I should not talk in Commons speak—for the procedure and House affairs committee, I mean, to be involved in that decision, you know something...? That's not a bad idea. Again, I speak on behalf of my own self. I think that is something we should consider, because if you do this, the justification is there, and the transparency should be there for someone who wants to do something like this.
Mr. Blaikie, let me also talk about the timing of this. Again, this is from my own perspective. Let's pretend I'm prime minister. Don't be worried, anybody, as that's not likely to happen, but if I were, some of the elements.... I forget some of the timing you illustrated. I don't condemn the logic that you come from on this one when it talks about the fall, when it started and when it should go ahead. A lot of that is well founded. For me, there would be a decision on this and that, and on this day and that day, but one thing is that the proroguing of the House around the time we did, just before the House was scheduled to begin, I think was a good time to do that.
I say that for this reason. The functions of pandemic policy—the CERB, the wage subsidy, the rental alleviation, all the other elements that were involved in these new programs that were created because of COVID-19—I think had to play out further from the spring and into the summer. In other words, we as policy-makers had to get a better grounding in what we were dealing with, in what was working and what was not, before we decided to prorogue and have a Speech from the Throne that illustrates how we're going to go ahead in the future. To me, that's why you do it in the fall instead of the spring. It's hard to gauge where the forest lies when you're still going between trees.
That's basically what we were doing, especially on things like the CERB and others, and how the CERB, which was created outside of EI at that point.... I think we were going through a lot of that stuff before we found solid ground, enough of it to say, “We need to prorogue the House and do the reset and now is that time.” Anything later than the fall probably would have stretched out too far, I think, only because the session would have started the same way it had ended before, which was that there was a lot to do, but what do we do about the pandemic?
I take your point seriously. I think the timing of proroguing was logically...I won't say it was spot-on, as we say in Newfoundland, but it was within that window, I think, that served Canadians well.
Another point when you talk about the justification aspect of proroguing the House and doing this great reset, is if you have a private member's bill. I'd love to see it. That's something we could consider. But, again, I'm just speaking on behalf of myself, because I really love talking about procedure in our House of Commons. Not only is it something we use today to make the country better, but it's something we give our children to govern themselves. Conversations like this need to happen especially in this committee, which is an overarching and loving way to say I miss you guys, because I was on this committee in the last session.
Anyway, Mr. Blaikie, thank you for that. I greatly appreciate it.
Getting back to all things down under, I was going to talk about Australia. I need a show of hands of who wants to hear about Australia.
In Australia it's much the same. They talk about the same arguments in the past, some of which they used in a nefarious way, and in ways they're not supposed to used. You basically take a fundamental concept of resetting policy and being transparent to the people to allow them to see where you are going, but others say that you're being strategic for your own selfish purposes.
In Australia, a new parliament begins with the opening by the governor general on the first day the two houses meet after a general election. To prorogue parliament means to bring an end to a session of parliament without dissolving the House of Representatives or both Houses. Australia has a House of Representatives and a Senate.
The Australian upper chamber is an elected one, which is very interesting. I don't know if anybody knew that. It is done on a proportional representation basis. You're actually seeing people involved in this process whose upper chamber is also elected. How that affects the idea of prorogation, I don't know. I do know that when there is a conflict between the two houses there is a dispute mechanism. That is very interesting. It's something we may want to think about in the future now that we have a largely independent Senate. It's not elected, but it's a largely independent Senate. That is one of the great things that the did in the past five years or so.
Prorogation has the effect of terminating all business pending before the Australian Houses of Parliament. It does not meet again until the date specified in the prorogation proclamation. From that, I gather they do a lot more than we do. It may be, in essence, the true guillotine we spoke about earlier where they just cut things off and it's a complete and utter reset without actually calling for an election. However, some of the experts can dispute what I just said.
Do the Australians say how long the prorogation of parliament lasts? There is little direction for how long parliament should be prorogued. However, House of Representatives Practice states that the recess involved need only be very short, for example, over a weekend. How about that for being prescriptive? That's right. That's quite a weekend, isn't it? You end on Friday and start up again on Monday. Talk about a ruined weekend for a lot of people. That just ruins your weekend altogether.
The Australians do it much like we do. The Senate is not able to revive bills through the upper chamber that originated in the House without a request from the House, so maybe that's.... That's fairly recent for us, perhaps in the last 30 or 40 years about bringing bills back after a prorogation. It seems that in Australia, that has happened for quite some time, which is right. I agree with that, by the way. That's essential. I gave the example of private members' bills earlier where they are not touched. It's not even a question of bringing them back. They are there. To me, that is quite respectful for every individual member of Parliament.
There is no limitation on the Australian Senate introducing new bills and debating them, which is what we do. Their Senate may also add any other business it wishes to address, such as motions, orders and committee business, following prorogation.
That being said, what happens to committees? Practice differs between the committees of the House of Representatives and committees of the Senate and the joint committees. That is something that is different.
Committees of the Australian House of Representatives, which is their version of the House of Commons, generally continue to exist following prorogation, but do not meet during that time. Their committees for the most part stay intact. Committees of the House and joint committees appointed by—
Sorry, I'm reading really fast. My apologies to the interpreters. I tend to do that from time to time. That's a lesson for all of us. When you're reading from something, you should probably make a mental note to slow down. This is just a note to self for me.
House of Representatives Practice states:
Committees of the House and joint committees appointed by standing order or by resolution for the life of the Parliament continue in existence but may not meet and transact business following prorogation.
They may not meet, but they still exist. It's still there. That's a key difference.
Senate committees may continue to operate and meet following a prorogation. This is due to the Senate’s status as a continuing House, and due to resolutions or Standing Orders that allow for their continuation.
To summarize, it's much like our own system. It seems they keep more things intact, except for some of the bills. I think they take a lot of the bills out, but it's certainly something in the spirit of things. In the spirit of it, it's much like the U.K., which is much like ours.
All this to say, prorogation is a pillar of our democracy that not only has survived through time but has survived to place. It's one of those fundamental things of the U.K. parliamentary system that has been transferred to other jurisdictions and has remained relatively the same. Some of the traditions that were brought to us change. In the U.K., they have standing committees for legislation, but they also have standing committees, which they call select committees, that are on a more permanent basis. These are committees that do reports, and whenever a major bill is passed, they set up a new committee around that one.
Our standing committees do both. We function in parallel. We do reports. We do, as it were, the issue of the day. We have hearings on that, but we also, of course, of prime importance, study legislation.
Let's go to New Zealand.
I'm kidding. I won't get into what happens in New Zealand. That's no offence to anybody from New Zealand. Their system is very similar to ours. They have a different voting system where they do something along the lines of a mixed member proportional system.
I'm glad you brought up New Zealand for this reason alone: I don't know if they still do, but they had designated seats for the Maori, for the indigenous people, which is a very interesting concept. The last time time that has been floated here was during the Charlottetown accord way back when, when the idea was introducing the concept of indigenous representatives for the Senate, I think. That's very interesting, but I know New Zealand has gone further with it with their indigenous representatives. That's all I have to say about them right now.
I see that my time is winding down. First of all, I thank everybody for their patience. Ms. Vecchio is just brimming with glee that I'm going to be quiet for a while.
I'm just kidding. She's not saying that at all. That's just me having fun.
Thank you for putting up with me, and I thank Mr. Blaikie as well for bringing this up. He made some very good points.
Chair, the floor goes back to you. Thanks for the time.
Right. I'm a little off on my math there. I must be thinking of a few other things.
Scott comes at this from a certain perspective of an MP who has been around, seen it all, seen the good, seen the bad, and, really, in a non-partisan way, I will say. Scott certainly calls it like he sees it.
My perspective is different. I came to the Parliament to be an MP more recently, obviously, in 2015. I joked the last time I talked in PROC that I consider myself a seasoned veteran—but not really. I don't kid myself. I have so much to learn. I do the best I can. I want to be a good representative for my riding. I want to convey the hopes, the dreams, the concerns of my constituents in Ottawa. I want to represent this riding the very best way I can. I certainly would never say Scott hasn't been out in the real world, because he certainly has. I come at it much more recently, and from a different viewpoint.
I look at this as somebody who always is saying, “What do Canadians really think about what we're doing? What do Canadians really think about the motion, and to be perfectly honest, MP Turnbull's amendment to the motion?” I know there's give and take and there's compromise and there's back and forth.
Obviously, the Conservative Party has a certain outcome they want to see from this, which is fair, and we have a certain outcome we want to see from this. Typically when you have a motion and then an amendment, there needs to be some compromise. There needs to be a way to meet in the middle. I know my Conservative friends won't agree with this, but there's also a time when I think all parties need to step back and say, “Okay, we've made our point.” We could say, “Look, we've made our point. We've defended it.”
This is where I'm coming from, Madam Chair. A business person who lives in the real world—I shouldn't say the real world, because certainly this is the real world too—has to do things like balance budgets and make payroll and deal with agents and sign and trade players, all those things. There has to be a point where, as parliamentarians, we need to realize the country, our constituents, want us to move on. They want us to move past this.
As MP Simms has said, I think it's significant that the has testified. I think it's extremely significant, unprecedented, and wanting him to come back.... I hope MP Vecchio will indulge me here, but the original motion—and don't worry, Karen, I won't read it out; I promise—cast such a wide net, such a wide net, that it was blatantly obvious to me that the Conservative Party just didn't get the answers they wanted to get.
It's not that there weren't answers. It's not that there wasn't testimony from the Kielburgers, the Perelmuters, the or Minister Rodriguez. It wasn't that questions weren't being asked. It was that the answers weren't what the other parties wanted.
I'll very quickly give you some context. My riding, Saint John—Rothesay, is a great riding. I'm very proud of my city, as I'm sure anybody that ever hears me speak knows. I think it's on one of the Parliament sites, on ParlVU or whatever. You get that word chart or graph about words you speak most often. Mine was Saint John—Rothesay. I don't apologize for that. I'm proud of that. Every time I speak I talk about my riding.
I really wasn't a political person. I briefly served in the student union at UNB. I first became politically aware and cared about the riding when Elsie Wayne was the member of Parliament for Saint John—Rothesay. Elsie Wayne was larger than life. We couldn't have been further apart in our beliefs from an ideology standpoint and what we wanted to champion. Elsie Wayne was very well known and a long-standing MP of this riding. I think she was there for 11 or 12 years.
For one term the riding switched back to Paul Zed, who was a Liberal MP. Then from Paul Zed it swung back to the Conservatives, and MP Rodney Weston. Then, obviously, it went to me. If you go back through the long history of this riding, I'm actually the first member of Parliament to win the riding back-to-back as a Liberal. I'm really proud of that.
The riding itself is a mix between great business success and a lot of challenges with child poverty and social issues. The meat and bones of this riding are union, middle-class, hard-working Canadians, who are represented here and in many ridings across the country.
People in this riding are extremely concerned with respect to the pandemic we're in, number one. The variants are number two. International travel, vaccines.... I walked by the television on my way in about an hour ago and I saw a flash which said that India today—I may be a little off my numbers and I apologize for this—had 315,000 cases of COVID diagnosed in one day. In one day, India had 315,000 cases.
Madam Chair, you're absolutely right. It scares the you-know-what out of me. I walked in, got my coffee, looked at that and shook my head, scared.
Then we have Premier Ford doing a press conference, I guess a virtual whatever-you-call-it. He's obviously isolating right now. He was talking about his challenges and what's going on in Ontario. Again, it's horrifying to see what's happening in Ontario. You go from that and see the numbers in Quebec and then Alberta, and then we obviously have concerns here, too, now in Atlantic Canada. Our numbers are low. Thank God our numbers are low.
The variants are here; they're growing. The reason I'm bringing all this up is that we are in a—I don't want to say once-in-a-lifetime but—once-in-a-generation crisis. That's where we are right now, all of us. I know that everybody at PROC today is inundated with calls from constituents, from people who are scared, people who are concerned about what the future holds for them. That is what we should be seized with as parliamentarians. We have work to do, important work as government, and there's important work to be done as opposition. All of us, every one of us, needs to be pulling in the same direction.
Of course, as government we need to be challenged and we need to sometimes maybe readjust and think about some of our policies or what have you with unintended consequences and so on and so forth, but they're the kinds of things that we can be doing together. They're the kinds of things that this committee can be doing together, making sure that, even though we have disagreements, we will do the right things for Canadians.
For us to be literally stuck.... Let's just call a spade a spade. That's where we are right now. We're stuck. We're not moving forward. I've talked about the movies I've seen—Inception or Friday the 13th or the one I would mention today would be Groundhog Day. This is just the same thing again and again and again.
I won't pretend to be anywhere in the same ballpark as MP Simms and what he brings to the table with respect to his thoughts, but I do have a lot of thoughts. There's a lot I want to say. This is just a bit of a preamble before I get going, but I have a lot to say, and I can say it again, and I can say it again if I have to, because we need to find a way forward.
I think MP Turnbull's amendment to MP Vecchio's motion is extremely valid. MP Vecchio's motion—I won't read it—is an invitation to the , the and the .... Okay, that's in the amendment. Renew the invitation to Bill Morneau is in the amendment to the motion.
The issue that got all of us, if I can be so blunt, is the wide scope of the initial motion: , , former minister Morneau, Katie Telford, Marc Kielburger, Craig Kielburger, Farah and Martin Perelmuter from Speakers' Spotlight, documents, PMO, PCO, production of records, communications, WE Charity.... It casts a net so wide, it's almost like putting something out there. With the greatest respect, and I have a ton of respect for Ms. Vecchio, it's almost like throwing that motion out: “There's no way they're going to accept that motion, but let's get it out there, so we can make them say they won't accept it. Let's make them propose an amendment,” and we did. We proposed an amendment, a good and fair amendment.
It states to renew invitations issued to the . I'm so proud of her leadership. I'm so proud of the ceilings she's shattering, the barriers she's breaking down. She is the first female Minister of Finance to deliver a budget. I look at Minister Freeland and I'm inspired by her leadership, but it's not just her leadership. It's her style, delivery and authenticity. That's what we need as a minister of finance, somebody with that vision and leadership. Obviously, she delivered a wonderful budget 2021, which was delivered a couple of days ago. It was just an unbelievable budget.
There are those points in a country's history where you can drive that stake in the ground and say that this is a turning a point. This is a turning point not for our party, but it's a turning point for the country. It's a shift for us to finally come forth with a solid commitment to child care. I'm so very proud to be part of this government, and all of us will look back at a later date and say, “I was there when we moved forward with day care.”
Look at the plan and look at how ambitious it is. I don't know if Mr. Blaikie is still on the screen here. He might have needed to take a break. I don't see him. Correct me if I'm wrong and hopefully, I get this right, but the leader of the NDP called the plan bull.
He called the plan bull: to reduce day care costs by 50% in 2022. Within the next several years, the goal is to provide day care for $10 a day. That could save, give or take, the average family in my riding about $500 a month. It's transformational, absolutely transformational.
We are raising the OAS for those over 74 years of age, 75 and up, by 10%, because they are the most vulnerable seniors. They have increased costs. We ran on that. That was in our platform. That's not a surprise to anybody. We ran on that, so for us to fulfill that and for us to replenish the trade corridors fund, to replenish the housing money and to come up with new green initiatives and a massive investment in green technology and infrastructure....
One thing that flew under the radar, I believe, was the support for students and student loans and to continue with doubling the student grants. The other one that flew underneath the radar was the repayment of student loans, and the threshold of $25,000 is now up to $40,000. That's huge. It's unbelievably huge. Instead of 20% of gross income now, it's 10%. That's huge. It can shave off your payment per month from about $400 to $90. It's an incredibly important piece of legislation for students—unbelievable.
Look, I won't go on about everything in the budget, because obviously that's not on topic. Thank you for not calling me out on that. I thought it was important to talk about that. Then I'll dig back up a bit with respect to , who delivered that budget that will change Canadians' lives. Then I'll talk about the amendment to the motion that calls for renewed invitations to be issued to the and the , , to appear separately before the committee.
Even MP Turnbull was suggesting that. Again, just very quickly, it says:
by replacing paragraph (b) with the following, “(b) renew the invitations issued to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, each to appear separately before the committee for at least 90 minutes;”
Also, very quickly, it says:
by replacing paragraph (c) with the following: “(b) renew the invitations issued to the Honourable Bill Morneau, Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger, each to appear separately before the committee....
It's a good amendment.
It's a good amendment, and I appeal to members to consider the amendment. I'm not so bold to just ask for a show of hands, but accepting that amendment moves us forward. As I've said earlier, the has testified. The Prime Minister has appeared before a committee—just keeping it real, like MP Simms does.
Do we really expect, honestly, that we're going to hear anything different from what has already been said? Does anyone really believe that? I don't. He has already testified. He has already talked about it.
I know there are times when I get accused—I get accused of it all the time—of getting up there in that Ottawa bubble and thinking everybody cares about everything. It's like they're right. Some of my friends joke with me about that. They say, “You're in the Ottawa bubble; you don't really know what's going on, blah, blah, blah.” In this case, it's like we need to step back.
I won't do it now, but we need to reread MP Turnbull's amendment. I get the art of, call it what it is, negotiation. There needs to be win-win. There needs to be give and take. Both parties need to feel that they didn't get everything they wanted but they got enough.
Look, who am I? I'm a guy who loves his riding, who loves his country and who wants to represent his constituents. That's who I am. What you see is what you get. I know the art of negotiation from my time with the Saint John Sea Dogs. We had to negotiate contracts with players, with billets, with our landlord Harbour Station and the City of Saint John. There were times when we thought it wasn't really everything we wanted; we wanted a little more. However, there were also times when I would step back with my organization and say, “Look, it's enough,” because then we can turn the page and move forward and actually start to do things that matter, that mean something to Canadians.
I know that with this, I don't want to say “mass...”, but prorogation, the WE Charity thing is kind of in there. I know what we need to do to move forward as a group, and I know we need to be united facing what I think, or not think but know, is one of the greatest challenges this country has faced since World War II. It's probably the greatest challenge. It's one of the greatest challenges this country has ever faced and we need to face it together.
We need to show Canadians that we can work across the aisle, work in a bipartisan way to represent Canadians. I know, because I dealt with it this morning, how—“needy” is not the right word—but how much in need Canadians are of our support, how much in need businesses and industries are of our support and how appreciative Canadians are of the initiatives and programs we're moving forward.
Out of the budget I could pick the wage subsidy. We're extending the wage subsidy through to—and I may be off a day here—September 25. Then there's the rent support. We're extending it. What a lifeline that is, allowing businesses in our ridings to survive. We have also extended the EI sickness benefits. We're offering other programs too, like the recovery benefit and the caregiver benefit. These programs are needed.
said it best. We're going to be there as a government to get us through COVID. I believe she said “punch” through, but there's a reason I hesitate with the word “punch”. I do a bit of boxing, believe it or not, at my age. I've actually had the opportunity to spar with the a few times. I don't know if that's a—
I do, I do. I can actually show you a picture of me after one of my.... I'm zero for two. Believe this or not, I'm an actual, what would you call it, registered boxer in the Canadian boxing, blah, blah, blah, because I was intent, when I actually boxed—this will be real quick—that I didn't just want to do a charity event, but I actually wanted to do a competitive box. It's called masters boxing for older people like me. Boy oh boy, I'll show you the picture sometime. I was beaten up. My nose was not crooked, but swollen up, and my eye was kind of closed. Anyway, I lost, but it was a great experience.
Back to the help, we're going to punch through COVID. We're going to focus on support and recovery, and we're going to be ready to roll and help this economy recover. We're going to come back stronger and more united than we've ever been. I'm absolutely convinced of that. We will get up and we will move forward. Sure, we're going to invest in more local production and make sure that, God forbid, if this happens again, we're going to be more ready and more prepared.
Oh my Lord, I know you can't see outside my window, but it's actually snowing right now. What is going on out there?
There are those who will say, “You should have done this. You could have done this.” Look, we're going to do what we need to do to be more prepared in the future and to be more resilient as a country. I think that's one of my greatest frustrations.
Obviously, I think I wear my heart on my sleeve with respect to my riding. I care so much about my riding and its people because I feel that my constituents, all constituents across the country, clearly deserve members of Parliament who have their best interests in mind. That's key for me—their best interests, not my best interests. I want to make sure they're represented and that I can advocate for them, and I can take their voices and come back to them with meaningful programs, like the rapid housing initiative and the federal co-investment fund, where we can actually make investments in affordable housing in this riding and all of our ridings.
One of the greatest frustrations for me, to be honest with you, was with respect to housing. I was a rookie MP, and I remember my first month I was meeting with this group. I was going to do this with housing and do this with housing, and then all of a sudden somebody took me aside and said, “Wayne, you understand that housing is a provincial jurisdiction, right? We can do housing bilaterals until we're blue in the face, but the province needs to pull that money through.” That's the beauty of the rapid housing initiative and the federal co-investment fund. They're direct federal programs where we can deal with proponents, and the programs are stackable. They're wonderful programs and wonderful initiatives.
I'll get back to MP Vecchio's motion, and MP Turnbull's amendment.
I miss Ryan. I hope we see him back here soon. He's a great MP. Like I said before, and I'll say it again right now, we could all use more people like Ryan—and like Ryans in other parties. I certainly apologize. I know there are great MPs like that. What I love about it, and I'll be honest, I caught myself at the very start of this session....
Ryan and I sit together on HUMA. He's a wonderful addition to our group. I have been fortunate. MP Vecchio and I were on HUMA together also. We did great work together, especially on the poverty reduction strategy. We did temporary foreign workers....
One thing about HUMA is that it crosses three or four different departments and makes up a third of the budget, I think. The responsibility of HUMA is massive. I love being on HUMA. I feel that it's one of those committees where you can really.... I know all of us on our committees, of course, can make a difference, but especially here with the challenges we have in this riding with respect to poverty, child poverty, teenage pregnancy and so many other issues that just absolutely break my heart like housing, I can have a direct impact.
I remember Ryan and I were sitting together. Ryan was saying, “I'm going to propose this” and “I'm going to do this”. I said to him, “Oh no, don't. That's not going to work. Don't bother.” He asked, “Why?” I said, “That's just not how it....” I caught myself. I said, “Whoa.” I'm only six years.... It's not like I've been around for 60 like Scott has. I caught myself, and then I stopped.
That's what is refreshing about an MP like Ryan. He's not afraid to propose something, try something or put something forward. Just because it hadn't worked before, or just because that's not the way it should be doesn't mean you shouldn't move forward and try. That's why I'm so passionate about that.
I don't know if everybody's copy is highlighted like mine is, but this is Ryan's amendment to the motion. He brought the amendment forward because he wants to find a way out here. We all do. Come on. Let's call a spade a spade. I looked at the amendment. I thought it was fair. Obviously, again, here we are.
I know this has been discussed before, the prorogation and why it was done. Well, he did it to.... When I say “he”, with the greatest respect, I mean the did it to avoid this. I know MP Simms said the timing or this or that..... Look, if any of us had the option of going back and tweaking something differently, redoing something differently or proposing something differently, sure, but it's all in hindsight. It's all looking back.
I think that the motion, the resistance and the prorogation was to avoid.... I would say that the Conservative Party, at times, has a short memory. Obviously, and it's been talked about, but I think it's relevant to compare what happened with the Harper government prorogation—I'm much better at saying prorogation now; I've worked on it—and how prorogation worked with .
You've dealt with one of the worst crises in the country's history. The game changed. The floor changed beneath our feet. The rug was pulled out from under all of us. We needed to do a reboot, a reload, a refocus, a new throne speech, because we were dealt something no other government has had to deal with: a health crisis of worldwide proportion.
I laugh when I go back now and think about us. I made a statement once in the House about then prime minister Stephen Harper and the deficits he ran. I remember getting back, saying no, that doesn't count because we were in a crisis. I remember that's what I got back. We were in a major financial crisis. We had to invest and we had to do this and that, but yet now, what we're in is a thousand times more serious and worse and financially damaging than that. Now it's, “You shouldn't have prorogued. You didn't need to reset. You've invested too much in these programs. You need to cut programs back.” I say no.
We need to have respectful disagreements. I think we've shown as government that we will listen to the opposition. We will take suggestions and work with, whether it's the Conservative Party, the NDP, the Bloc or the Green Party, and we will come up with programs and policies that will support and be there for Canadians. Sure, we're going to make mistakes. Yes, we had to change course and pivot very quickly. But as I've said before, it's as if we're trying to put gas in the airplane while it's taking off. We don't have a playbook to go by here. We are doing whatever it takes to protect Canadians and to make sure we get through this.
Did we need to prorogue? Yes. We needed a new throne speech. We needed to reset and reboot, no question. The fact that the committee wants to study and analyze the reasons for prorogation, I get it. I understand. I know MP Simms tackled the same thing. I get it. I understand that. But then it's like this, as I've said before, and then the amendment. Let's move forward. Let's call some witnesses. Let's get it out there.
MP Blaikie certainly said there are questions he wants to ask the . Okay. This may be wrong to say, but there's the House of Commons. There's question period. There are all kinds of ways publicly to ask questions of the Prime Minister.
Again, it just takes me back to wondering what this is really about. What really is the end game here for this?
I wouldn't even be talking with as much passion as I can muster if not for the amendment. I would have been the first to say to my own party that we need to not just say no, that we need to offer something that is good, has credible people invited, is fair and will make us go forward.
Hopefully, I'm not talking too loud. Chair, is it fair to check with the interpreters? Is my voice coming through okay? Am I talking too loud?
Very quickly, the reason I brought that up was that I was on the road with the Dogs— I'm going to climb back up now—when former prime minister Harper prorogued. I remember sitting down with some people in our organization wondering what this was. What's this prorogue thing? What does it mean? I didn't know what it meant. I'd been to Parliament Hill two times in my life and really don't remember. I was very young at that point.
Let's call a spade a spade. Prorogations are widely used. As the government already said when we reported it, prorogation was for the purpose of responding to the ongoing COVID pandemic. As a government, we needed to plan. We needed to focus and really get ready for what I would call the second wave. We didn't know what we were facing when we needed to prorogue. None of us did. Come on. None of us knew. Think back now a year and four months ago to January or February 2020. We didn't know what was going to hit us. We saw news reports about Wuhan and what was going on in China.
What we were faced with was unprecedented. When we were all sent home, we didn't know what we were going to have to face—the fears, the challenges, the deaths and the devastation. It wasn't just economic devastation. My lord, there was the personal devastation. We didn't know.
When we prorogued.... I think it's extremely important to point out the differences, because MP Vecchio's motion—and I'm not going to read it; I promise—is in respect to the committee's study of the government's reasons for proroguing. The motion is about studying the government's reasons for proroguing. That's what is says.
Let's all take a step back and think about that. We need to study the government's reasons for prorogation. What were the reasons for prorogation? We were facing the crisis of our lifetimes. We needed to prepare for the second wave— to plan and pivot.
It's not just to study the reasons for prorogation, but also (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g) and (h). Let's invite the Kielburgers and the Perelmuters. Let's seize documents. Let's get this and let's call the .
Whether you agree or not, the reasons for prorogation were that we were faced with a crisis. I find it extremely interesting that, of course, the WE Charity makes its way in here. That's when even a guy like me.... I'm not, self-admittedly, the most partisan person in the world, but as soon as I read it...at that point, I really wasn't even involved with PROC. I was doing my thing on HUMA and life was good.
Then I read the motion, and come on. The first sentence refers to studying the reasons for prorogation, but then it's about this and that and WE. Then I said, “Well, hold on here. The has already testified, so why do you want him again?” We all know why. It's to get a clip or to get something in the news that night or try for a gotcha question.
The reasons we prorogued were that we needed to pivot, and pivot we have, and stand up for Canadians, and we have. The fact that we were asked in this motion to accept the study on the reasons for prorogation.... It is important to put into context how former prime minister Harper prorogued and the reasons versus what we did and how we prorogued.
For context, the people who are watching today will understand what we're debating, and obviously we're debating the amendment. I know people kind of get dug deep in this, but right now we are talking about MP Turnbull's amendment to MP Vecchio's motion.
Let's compare. I want to call that out. Let's compare that. We have prime minister Stephen Harper, who prorogued. There was an article. I'm not sure it's been quoted, but I know there was a New York Times article, and I won't read the whole article. I have them all here on my screen. I could read you enough articles, Madam Chair, on prorogation, the pros and cons and who did what and where that you wouldn't need a watch; you'd need a calendar to keep track of time for me. I have so much that I want to say about this and so many points I want to bring forward with respect to the motion and the amendment to the motion and so on and so forth.
Here's the article:
Canada’s parliamentary opposition reacted with outrage on Thursday after Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down the legislature until Jan. 26, seeking to forestall a no-confidence vote that he was sure to lose and, possibly, provoking a constitutional crisis.
He was going to lose that. For context, this is a New York Times article:
The opposition fiercely criticized the decision to suspend Parliament, accusing Mr. Harper of undermining the nation’s democracy. “We have to say to Canadians, ‘Is this the kind of government you want?’ ” said Bob Rae, a member of the opposition Liberal Party. “Do we want a party in place that is so undemocratic that it will not meet...?”
That sentiment was echoed by constitutional scholars, who lamented that the governor general might have created a mechanism that future prime ministers could use to bypass the legislature....
I have another one from the CBC about Canadians outraged by Harper's use of prorogation:
Thousands of people attended rallies in towns and cities across Canada on Saturday to speak out against Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision....
There were thousands of protestors, and so on and so forth.
Let's compare that to the articles on what happened with us when we prorogued. The Hill Times article has the headline “Trudeau government says prorogation bought time to ‘build a robust’ response to pandemic, in new report”. In it it says:
“We knew our plan would need to get us not just through the weeks and months ahead, but even further down the road,” the report said. “This gave us the time we needed to do exactly that: to build a robust, responsive, and comprehensive approach to the challenges....”
The prorogation that happened with us versus the prorogation that happened in the Harper era are like apples and oranges; they're not even the same thing. We were faced with the challenge of a lifetime. We needed to pause, to reflect, to rebuild, to reboot and to move forward in the name of all Canadians.
Again, I understand fully why the Conservative Party moved forward with the motion about prorogation. I get it. They want to study it. Study it? They wrote the textbook here in this motion. It's like, “Let's invite everybody and the kitchen sink to testify, and let's ramp this up and let's make it a big public affair.” I've been in the backrooms of strategy, whether it's hockey, the salmon business or what have you. I absolutely totally get it when you have the court of public opinion behind you. It's politics. I get it.
They're like this: “You know what? We've got momentum. We've got people. Our phones are ringing off the hook. Let's go. Let's get this going. It's going to be good for us.” Well, news flash—a Wayne Long news flash—nobody cares. They want us to work together. They want us to find a way forward. MP Turnbull's amendment to the motion takes us forward.
I did an AMA last night. I do these AMAs; they're called “ask me anythings”. I do them pretty much every two weeks. I get great views. I get anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 people watching them and, give or take, 200 or 300 questions in an hour. It's crazy. I always throw it out there and say, “Hey, it's Wayne. What's up?” I do a little ramble about what's going on in the riding. I do them live. Ask me anything, AMA, and talk about what you want, your concerns, your....
Since I've been subbing in here, I've done, I don't know, two or three of them. In the easily 3,000 questions, I would say, do you know how many questions I've had on prorogation? Do you know how many comments I've had about prorogation and PROC and amendments and subamendments? Do you know how many I've had out of the thousands? It's less than one. Okay? It's less than one. That's why I absolutely know that the right thing for us to do is to find a way forward, and MP Turnbull's amendment to the motion—we've held it up too many times—is a way forward.
Madam Chair, do you mind if I just take a drink of water? Is that okay?
I'm happy to oblige, Madam Chair.
The prorogation was important in that it let us make the pivot we needed. Our world wasn't what it had been when we came to power in 2019. There was no pandemic then, or even the slightest hint of one. We were dealing with other problems; we had other plans and we had been reelected on another platform.
However, prorogation became necessary when the pandemic hit and we were caught unawares by the crisis. It was really the only thing to do at the time, and we did it.
Let me be clear: the original motion, which calls for a study of the prorogation, is a bit of a shell game. What can I say about this set‑up to keep the WE Charity scandal alive? It's a set‑up; that's all I can see here.
Several other parliamentary committees examined more than 5,000 pages of documents in detail, heard hours and hours of testimony and found no evidence that anything inappropriate had taken place, nothing at all.
The real problem here is that the opposition parties can't stand the fact that they've wasted all this time, which they should have devoted to combating COVID‑19 and taking positive measures that might have helped both the federal government and the provinces organize the purchase and distribution of vaccines. On the contrary, they preferred to devote their time to the WE Charity issue.
We saw the frustration on their faces as they listened to officials testifying, one after another, that nothing had happened, which was subsequently confirmed by thousands of pages of documents. We saw the frustration on their faces after the appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance. His chief of staff and the ministers who appeared before the committee all said the same thing. They all said that the Canada student grant for full-time students was theoretically a good program.
That program was one of the dozens of programs that we introduced during this critical period, and we thought we had done a good thing. Unfortunately, we failed in its execution. The program didn't work. These are things that happen. Who has ever had a 100% success rate every time? I don't think it's ever happened, and certainly not in our profession.
We've seen this kind of thing before. That's why we have committees that conduct studies on government operations and the public accounts. This kind of work is always being done. We have to look at what we've done and determine how we can do things better. Sometimes that doesn't work. In some cases, we cancel everything, refund the money and the matter's closed. Then we move on to something else.
I heard the opposition members' comments on the subject. They definitely noted that more money was allocated for summer jobs in this year's budget. That measure was well received in Châteauguay—Lacolle, and it was a big success.
Officials and politicians worked countless hours to ensure that assistance programs for Canadians in difficulty were implemented. Some members previously mentioned this, but I repeat that programs such as the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy were very well received, especially here in Châteauguay—Lacolle. I think the same was true in ridings across the country.
As I said earlier, however, mistakes were made and the was the first to admit it. He apologized to the Canadian public. We were working at breakneck speed at the height of the pandemic's first wave, and that inevitably happened.
Members on the other side tried many times to fault the government. That's the reason we're here and why we're spending hours on these issues and committee hearings, particularly those of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, on which I sit. Opposition members see an opportunity to fault the government. They didn't succeed in doing so and apparently have nothing else to do but keep trying.
Late last fall, after hearing hours of testimony, supported by documents, and examining thousands of pages of documents, the opposition realized that it had overplayed its hand and rightly moved on to something else. I imagine all the members were contacted by their fellow citizens and urged to focus on the pandemic because that was, and still is, the only issue of any importance.
And yet the committee is once again considering a motion that clearly concerns the WE Charity issue but is disguised as a study of the prorogation in August 2020. What they're doing is so obvious it's almost funny. Mr. Turnbull's amendment is designed to make the scope of the main motion much more reasonable. It's an attempt to come up with something that satisfies everyone.
As some witnesses stated before this committee, under our constitutional conventions, the Prime Minister alone has authority to consult the Governor General on prorogation; that decision is no one else's. We also learned that the Prime Minister didn't need a reason to prorogue Parliament. Prorogation has been used throughout this country's history to reset the parliamentary agenda, as it were. The period between dissolution and a new throne speech has varied from a few hours to several weeks. It's a tool that prime ministers have used since our Parliament's inception. It's one tool among many, but it's nevertheless very important, particularly in a period of crisis.
I think it's interesting that the opposition used the time between the prorogation and the Speech from the Throne in September to claim that it was related to WE Charity. We were in the midst of a pandemic, and that was the concern of our government and of Canadians. We had to decide how we were going to organize our response to the pandemic. We obviously didn't know how long it would last. We knew it might go on for months, but no one knew exactly how long. And we're still in the midst of this crisis, aren't we?
Here are a few historical facts. In the fall of 2008, the former Conservative prime minister prorogued Parliament for several weeks before returning to the House. So I find it ironic that certain members who are sitting here and who were part of that government are now opposed to prorogation.
Prorogation as such is a political act based on political considerations, and there's nothing wrong or inappropriate about it. Politics is a set of activities and policies; it's the way we decide to organize the country's affairs. In times of great change, as is the case of the COVID‑19 health crisis, prorogation is definitely a political decision. We need to reset and turn the situation around.
Notwithstanding the opposition's claims to the contrary, there's nothing inappropriate in the Prime Minister's making that decision. The Prime Minister has the right to make that kind of decision.
Why is prorogation political, and why is it acceptable? Because a government's legislative agenda is political. Colleagues must distinguish between a political act and a purely partisan act.
Sometimes people here in the riding of Châteauguay—Lacolle tell me they don't like politics. It's not politics they don't like, because they're all involved in non-profit groups: they campaign for social housing or wetlands conservation, for example, and work to reduce poverty. We have good conversations. I tell them they're engaged in politics precisely because they're committed to various causes. Those are political acts. What they don't like is partisanship. I can understand that because they feel it makes no sense. They don't understand the disputes among elected members. That's why I always say that every party presents its policies and platforms during an election campaign, but elected members represent everyone once the campaign is over. They must avoid partisan actions. They must be there for everyone, and the same is true of the government. The government is the government of all Canadians, and it's elected based on its political agenda.
The Speech from the Throne is a political manifesto that lays out the government's roadmap. A responsible and transparent government provides a statement that clearly outlines for Canadians the basis on which it addresses the challenges facing it. Consequently, the decision to prorogue Parliament and reset that political agenda was entirely acceptable.
My friends, the present government delivered a Speech from the Throne in December 2019 that was based on the political promises it had made during the campaign leading up to the October 2019 election. However, no one could have foreseen the global pandemic that arrived in the space of only a few days in March 2020.
We all remember that week in March. We were in Ottawa and I had organized a small party at Darcy McGee's to celebrate St. Patrick's Day on the Monday of the week in question. There was a whole group of us, members from all the parties were present, and we had some good music. Some members are good singers and it was fun. I'm very pleased the party was a success. A few days later, Parliament shut down and the parties stopped. We love our political parties, but we enjoy our social parties even more.
All Canadians found themselves in the same situation at the same time. In the coming years and even decades, people will definitely study this historic event in an attempt to understand how we reacted to this unprecedented health crisis.
Of course, the agenda we put before Parliament in December 2019 became moot because there was nothing more we could do.
Madam Chair, will we have to go and vote in the House soon? You will let me know, won't you?
—but it's not actually what I have to say; it's ordinary Canadians who have been dragged into this, and they have a right to be heard.
Mrs. Perelmuter was in fear for her own personal safety for a while. She didn't want to leave the house. Some of their 27 employees, particularly young women on staff, were also concerned about their safety. Maybe it's laughable to some members here. Maybe it's something that's not important or germane to where they want to go, but this is what Canadians are in shock about. This is why we are here.
Chair, if in some measure I can protect at least a couple of Canadians from this kind of abuse, I will feel that my time has been well spent and that I am doing my job here.
Mr. Perelmuter says he understands that politics is a tough business, but he said that his company is not partisan. Again, the difference between politics, policy and sheer partisanship, just to score political points, drag anybody down with you, it doesn't matter, because we have to score those points.... These people were unfairly caught in the crossfire. His company had only a tangential connection to the WE affair and had nothing to do—nothing—with the student services grant at the heart of the controversy. The information they were looking for was from the times the and his wife, before he was prime minister, would have spoken to maybe a Legion or a charity affair; I don't know. It was ridiculous.
Mr. Perelmuter goes on to say, “It's something that I never thought we would have to deal with. We're not in a controversial type of business.” As part of its investigation into the affair, the ethics committee asked Speakers' Spotlight to turn over documents related to any fees earned by the Prime Minister and his family members for speaking engagements over the past 12 years. At that time, Parliament was prorogued, so the clerk informed Mr. Perelmuter that he no longer had to submit the documents requested by the committee. “Aha,” says the opposition. “There—you see? They wanted to stop those documents from being produced. That was the evil plan.”
At the same time, Conservative MP sent the company a letter the following week, which he released to the media before Mr. Perelmuter said he'd had the chance to read it, asking him to do the right thing and turn over the documents directly to the members of the then disbanded committee. So you see that Mr. Barrett had a plan to get to the bottom of all of this nefarious wrongdoing.
Mr. Perelmuter said the company's legal counsel informed him that releasing the documents in that manner, without an order from the committee, would violate privacy laws. We work by the rule of law. We have parliamentary tradition and parliamentary rules that we follow. Mr. Perelmuter said that he was upset that a member of Parliament would ask the company to break the law. This is what he told the committee.
's Facebook post came shortly after Mr. publicly released his letter. By making the request public, Mr. Perelmuter said, he “definitely felt like [he was] being intimidated” by Barrett. He said, “It was frankly quite shocking [to me] to be completely honest,” adding, about launching a lawsuit against Conservative MPs, that “certainly it's crossed my mind”.
That is where those Conservative MPs have brought us as parliamentarians.
I don't know about you, Madam Chair, and about other colleagues here, but my reputation, the honour, the privilege, as a parliamentarian is that what we do here is for the good of Canadians. We would never, never bring our position, our role.... I take my role as a parliamentarian on a committee, when we ask for witnesses and require witnesses to appear.... Anybody who has seen the work that we're doing on MindGeek and Pornhub will know that.
We are doing some very important work there, and we want to get to the bottom of those issues because that's what's important to Canadians. But to use those same powers against ordinary, innocent Canadians for partisan purposes, I cannot condone. I'm not one of those parliamentarians who gets up and rants and raves, so I think I may have surprised a few of my good friends here. This is what gets me, innocent people being dragged in.
Mr. participated in that committee hearing but he did not address the matter. He did ask Mr. Perelmuter several questions about some specific speaking engagements. I am extremely disappointed and shocked, but maybe not surprised. This is me saying that Mr. Barrett was present here and he did not use his time to offer a complete apology for his actions. That's what I said at the time, to give Mr. Barrett some time, the ample opportunity, to do the right thing. He's so keen on doing the right thing.
I and other members on the Liberal side, and Mr. from the NDP, did take that time to apologize to the Perelmuters and the chair of the committee. Mr. , as chair of our ethics committee, did the right thing by offering a sincere apology on behalf of the committee for any of the unintended consequences that came from any actions of the committee members in regard to the obligation of our office. Then once the committee...remember when the prorogation happened, that must have been the evil plan, but the committee was reconstituted in September after the prorogation was over, after we had the new throne speech and after we had done the reset.
Our committee then sent a narrower request to Speakers' Spotlight for records of the speaking fees earned by Mr. and his wife. The company complied with that request and those records were provided to the committee members for a week. I think committee members are familiar with how that's done, in privacy. We had all the time in the world to peruse them and guess what? No one, including Mr. , asked any questions about those documents at our meeting in December.
So that was the story of dragging in innocent witnesses with absolutely no connection to the matter at hand, except for a family name. Yes, that'll be just enough. They were dragged in front of the committee and their reputations and their personal well-being put up as fodder for the mill.
I'm going to keep saying that the opposition members on the committee presupposed the conclusion in this matter, exactly as the members of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics tried to do. They're doing everything they can to make the narrative fit the facts.
Unfortunately, we won't be satisfied with that response. Canadians have understood the game the Conservatives and their opposition collaborators are playing, and they aren't buying what they're selling. As Canadians, we will never allow a tribunal, whether parliamentary or otherwise, to render a decision before hearing the case put before it. That's the kind of judicial procedure used in dictatorships and oligarchies, not in Canada.
So I find it very interesting that, on the one hand, my opposition colleagues condemn authoritarian dictatorships that don't abide by the basic principles of legal fairness yet, on the other hand, sit on the committee and try to advance a process that has completely abandoned any semblance of legal fairness.
The scope of the motion before us is so broad and the motion itself so unrelated to this study that we, as members, have no choice but to reject it.
Rather than do that, my colleague Mr. Turnbull has introduced an amendment that will give the opposition another chance to take a crack at the settled matter of WE Charity's involvement in the student grant program. They're doing it under the pretext of a study on the prorogation of Parliament without however seeking the cooperation of the and his staff.
Reading the motion, which I hope will soon be amended, I thought it was interesting to see how obvious it was that the opposition had attempted to disguise its secret WE Charity study as a study of the prorogation. By simply looking at the dates of the documents requested, you can see that the opposition members aren't interested in the prorogation but rather are trying to connect WE Charity to this study.
If we support the amendment to the motion, they can still play that game, albeit in a slightly more limited way. I understand the frustration of my opposition colleagues, who have tried for months to raise the matter in several committees and the media, but without success. Now they're trying once again to make a final effort to embarrass the government over WE Charity. Seriously, where are their priorities?
These requests for witnesses and documents are nothing more than another set‑up designed to slow the government's work, bog down officials in paperwork and make them waste time sorting, examining and sending documents to an overworked Translation Bureau rather than work on implementing the government's programs.
I say that ironically, but I find it amusing to hear the opposition leader say he wants the government to succeed in providing vaccines to Canadians and restarting the economy. He should speak to certain members from his party, who take a different view. However, the opposition leader is allowing his members to slow down the machinery of government by introducing frivolous concurrence motions that effectively achieve that end. We need to move on to other matters. The Conservatives have to stop playing their games, and we have to focus once again on what's important for Canadians: economic recovery and emerging from the COVID‑19 crisis.
And on that note, I conclude my speech.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's a hard act to follow, in terms of following after my colleague Mrs. Shanahan, whom I have great respect for. I attended a couple of those meetings of the ethics committee, just a very small number. I know she has done great work on that committee and I thank her for speaking so passionately. I, too, share many of her concerns when it comes to bringing forth private [Technical difficulty—Editor].
In just a moment I will speak to my amendment, which does relate to that, but before I get started, I just want to say that I'm sorry I was away from the committee over the last two weeks. I want everyone to know that I wasn't avoiding this important and riveting debate. I was under the weather, but I'm feeling much better now and feel increasingly better every day. I extend my heartfelt thanks to my colleagues and my teammates who filled in for me while I was gone and checked in with me regularly. I really appreciate the fact that we have such a compassionate team.
While I was resting and trying to get better, I probably held on to some vain hope, a small grain of hope and optimism for returning and finding us having made progress on this motion and the proposed amendment, but alas, here we are, still debating this. It's unfortunate.
I have quite a few remarks. I've had lots of time to reflect and had lots of thoughts prepared before I fell ill and was away for a little while, and I'd like to get them on the record.
First of all, the amendment that I put forward was an attempt to compromise. You have to give something to get something. However, the members of the opposition on this committee have to give too, and so far, I don't think there has been a willingness to be flexible and to give a little on the original motion.
I really don't think we need to hear from the Kielburgers and the Honourable Bill Morneau. Let's be honest. I think Mrs. Shanahan's comments are really poignant and point to the harm that can be caused, inadvertently, of course. It's not necessarily intentional, but it is harm that members of the public—private citizens, business owners, and so on—can experience as a result of being called before these committees. I think that's an important consideration.
Now, I left those two invitations, those renewed invitations, in the proposed amendment as a way to say to the opposition parties, “Okay, here is something perhaps that would appeal to your interests,” which I think clearly we all know are for partisan purposes, or at least I suspect that, based on all the comments I've heard.
What I really think is that the added testimony from the and the would actually be relevant to extending the study, and hearing from them would add to the testimony something perhaps that we haven't heard before.
These witnesses are important because we can get a sense of the depth and breadth of the economic impact, as well as the significant data and evidence, not to mention the first-hand experiences relayed to us from our constituents about the inequities and vulnerabilities that Canadians are living with or are experiencing due to COVID-19, which is a reason that the would be appropriate, in my view, because this is her expertise. This is her mandate and file.
We also know that economic impacts have not been distributed evenly across our economy. Quite the opposite, they've been distributed unevenly. It goes without saying, and I think we've all heard this over and over again, that some industries have been decimated while others have prospered. Some will bounce back quickly and others will take years to return to pre-pandemic levels.
I remember in one of the previous meetings, before I was away, Mr. Blaikie made a comment. I think he said that the pandemic “also matters”. I don't mean to quote him out of context, because it was within what he was saying and I'm sure he didn't mean this, but it seemed to me that it was sort of implied in his remarks that the pandemic was the distraction from what the opposition was really looking for in this study. Only a party focused on playing political games would characterize a global pandemic as an afterthought or a distraction.
The pandemic clearly is what we all, and certainly this committee, need to be completely seized with and focused upon at every moment. We are in a third wave of a global health crisis of epic proportions. Canadians need us. They care that their government is working for them, at all levels, to essentially meet their needs and protect them from the worst parts of this crisis—or help them get through this.
Canadians are rightfully exhausted by this and are counting on us to help. We can't afford to be looking backwards and to be distracted with partisan games, which is really what the original motion is about.
I think extending it, with a couple of witnesses, is a more than reasonable solution. It's an attempt at compromise. However, I see that this doesn't satisfy the opposition.
I want to quote someone. There's a gentleman I heard recently, who I'm sure some of my other colleagues probably know and admire. In a recent interview, Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization's health emergencies program, said:
I think what we've learnt in Ebola outbreaks is you need to react quickly, you need to go after the virus, you need to stop the chains of transmission, you need to engage with communities very deeply; community acceptance is hugely important.
You need to be co-ordinated, you need to be coherent, you need to look at the other sectoral impacts, the schools and security and economic.
So it's essentially many of those same lessons but the lessons I've learnt after so many Ebola outbreaks in my career are be fast, have no regrets; you must be the first mover. The virus will always get you if you don't move quickly and you need to be prepared and I say this.
One of the great things in emergency response—and anyone who's involved in emergency response will know this—if you need to be right before you move you will never win.
“Perfection is the enemy of the good,” which is something our says often, “when it comes to emergency management.”
“Speed trumps perfection and the problem in society we have at the moment”—and he's speaking to this global pandemic—“is everyone is afraid of making a mistake, everyone is afraid of the consequence of error.”
“But the greatest error is not to move, the greatest error is to be paralysed by the fear of failure and I think that's the single biggest [lesson] I've learnt in Ebola responses in the past.”
That's what Dr. Michael Ryan said in a recent interview. I thought, wow, this is powerful advice. It really speaks to the need for us to move quickly, to focus on the future and not the past, and to not be debating, for months, a motion that has absolutely no relevance to managing the crisis we're in.
It is nothing but a political game, and the opposition parties, for some reason, persist. I understand that they want to win political points and get an uptick in the polls. I understand that. I understand that there's partisanship here, and it's always present. However, can we not put that aside and focus on what really matters?
We're heading into a wall, and we're looking in the rearview mirror instead of being focused on preparing for the fourth wave. I hope we don't have a fourth wave, but my colleague Dr. Duncan and people who have studied virology and understand pandemics....
There is so much work for us to be doing. I'm lying in bed for two weeks trying to get better, and all I can think about is how I can possibly rest when there is so much damned work to do that matters to people out there in the world—work that they're counting on me and us to do for them.
Here we are—what is it?—one month later, still debating. I don't know how many weeks it's been, but it seems like forever to me, because there are so many more pressing things coming into my constituency office, and so many other things, even within this committee, that we could be focusing on. It's just disheartening, to say the least. I say it's really disheartening.
Some of my colleagues on this committee have made it seem as though this is just a matter of how much time we use for this study, but I think it's about more than that. It's about what we invest our time in, what we choose to spend our time on. We're making decisions about what to focus on. We know that standing committees are masters of their own domain. We could be pursuing other more important topics, and there's a long list.
I do think this is relevant because what I'm advocating for is an amendment to the motion. It would narrow the scope of the motion that was put forward, which would free up our time to focus on other items. It is therefore relevant to the argument I'm making. Again, there are much more important tasks here in my view, and I think many members, in the Liberal Party at least, would agree with me. They would be a much better use of our time and Canadians would appreciate our focusing on them.
Misinformation in elections and deliberate misinformation are issues that we all need to be concerned about, especially given the time we're living in, a time when people are consuming a lot more information online. I think there's a lot more partisanship and lots of polarization within our democratic society. That's deeply concerning to me, especially given what we saw happen during the election in the United States. I think we can all agree that it would be good for us to to address some of the root causes there and look at how we can avoid making some of the same mistakes that perhaps precipitated the insurrection in the United States.
I will leave it at that, on those points anyway. I have lots more to say, so I'll get back to the motion by Ms. Vecchio.
It has been said, which I need to say myself with conviction, that there was a motive, and the opposition is assuming that prorogation couldn't have happened for legitimate purposes. I find that so hard to believe because if a global pandemic is not a good reason for proroguing, what is a good reason? Honestly, I can't think of a bigger crisis and issue.
Stephen Harper and his government prorogued twice, once in 2008 and once in 2009, and cited the economic recession as their primary reason for proroguing. Certainly everyone suspected there were more partisan reasons and political reasons for doing this, but, legitimately, they cited that as their reason. Why, therefore, in a global pandemic of epic proportions, the biggest crisis in 100 years, can we not see a rational justification for proroguing Parliament?
I will go further in my remarks and say that there is no justification for prorogation that will satisfy the opposition parties because they are not interested in evidence, facts, data, arguments, reasons or reality. This is not about facts and getting to the truth. This is about pure partisanship, facts and reasonable arguments be damned. It seems the Conservatives have a tendency toward, and a growing fascination with, adopting views and positions that have no basis in evidence and reality.
If it's evidence you want, the committee has received a substantive report, which has been tabled, on the reasons for prorogation. It has heard from a selection of witnesses, and the majority of them were of the opposition's choosing. Our witness list had almost none. I don't think we even submitted any witnesses. The opposition parties are the ones that submitted the long list of witnesses they wanted to hear from, and many of them came forward and attended the committee. Members had ample opportunity to ask questions.
I've put forward a motion that allows a few more witnesses to be reinvited, which is a compromise, but there is still no movement. They want the . They have a vendetta against Justin Trudeau. This is not about anything other than a ploy to spin a story, get a headline and cause a small uptick in the polls. We know what this is about.
This is all at the expense of the Canadian public. The public is relying on us.
I shouldn't even be laughing because, in a way, it's just absurd that we're here and that I'm speaking to this.
Let me again represent my views on prorogation, which are supported by the evidence and facts. I have maintained and argued that the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 are deeper, more substantial and in fact many times greater and exponentially more severe—at least 10 times greater, according to many experts and our own chief statistician, on many of the indicators—than those of the 2008-09 recession.
Again, that recession was cited by Stephen Harper as the reason for two prorogations and, some would say, to avoid a confidence vote, and there are other reasons. I would just say that if those were good reasons for the Conservative Party back then, why is it so unbelievable to cite the same sorts of reasons for the most recent prorogation?
I think this is why, from my perspective, hearing from would be beneficial, because who else can speak to the significance of the economic impact? Similarly, I thought that having the come to testify might help illuminate the many inequities that COVID-19 has laid bare. This makes sense. In fact, it's common sense, in my view, and if you were looking for the truth and looking for facts and information that are relevant, I think that would be more than acceptable to focus on.
Let us not forget that it was our government in the last Parliament that made the change to the Standing Orders that led to the submission of a report that provided a rationale for prorogation. For the first time ever in the history of our great country, we have a report tabled in the House of Commons and referred to this committee that we've all had a chance to review. Let that sink in for a minute, colleagues and Madam Chair. Never before has any prime minister or any government in Canada's history been required to provide a reason for proroguing Parliament. Never have they had to write and table a report. Never has PROC had to study such a matter. I think there have probably been some other studies that were decided on by the standing committee, but it was never required.
Mr. Blaikie has remarked several times that this would be precedent setting, and I think we've already set the precedent to a much higher standard and to a higher degree of transparency by having a report be something that's necessary, by following through on that and by even entertaining a study. We weren't required to have a study on prorogation just because a report was tabled. This committee chose to do that. We were willing partners in that pursuit. We voted to support that. We heard from witnesses, but now this is still not good enough. It's still not enough. Why? The opposition members didn't hear what they wanted to hear.
To be honest, I haven't even heard opposition members speak to the merits of the report that was tabled. If you were really concerned about that report being deficient in some way, you would be able to provide me with real reasons and arguments as to why it was deficient. Where is it deficient? It provides a great rationale that I think is very sensical and very much based on evidence and research. I think the opposition members have decided from day one what they want to get out of this and never for a second have they entertained any other possibility.
I have mountains of evidence to demonstrate that proroguing Parliament made sense; that it has led to a process of consultation and re-evaluation; that it was timed perfectly between the first and second waves and to reduce any losses in sitting days in the House of Commons; and, that the priorities and themes of the throne speech, the specifics of the fall economic statement and the budget all reflected what we heard from Canadians. It's responsive. It makes sense. It's backed by data and evidence. It's consistent with the report that was tabled and the testimony given by the government House leader.
What more does the opposition need or want? If this were about reason and evidence, this would have been over a long time ago.
The timing made sense. Between the first and second wave of COVID-19, we took some time after many months of an all-hands-on-deck, full-court-press agenda supporting Canadians. We were moving an agenda forward that supported Canadians. Everyone was working full steam ahead.
We took a hiatus, a time to reassess priorities, to reset the agenda. Did that not make sense, between the first and second wave? It seemed to make sense to me.
I think any Canadian listening in could understand that this government had been working around the clock to serve Canadians, getting supports and programs designed in weeks instead of years, and that it took some time to re-evaluate priorities [Technical difficulty—Editor] at a time when Parliament would normally not be sitting anyway, between the first and second wave of the pandemic. It just made sense.
Why can't the opposition compromise a little on their original motion?
Opposition parties act as though they haven't had a chance to study prorogation, but we've had numerous meetings on the topic. We've heard from the who was willing to attend and who answered our questions. We heard from multiple other witnesses who testified before this committee. It was fair and transparent. All members had a chance to ask questions. The opposition provided their lists of witnesses and they now have testimony from academics, procedural experts, historians, officials and the . We have material that could be used to write a report.
Some of the opinions shared by witnesses even favour the opposition's preferred interpretation. Why can't we move to writing a report? They already have some evidence or some opinion, I would say, that supports their narrative. What more do they need?
The opposition has also, over and over again, claimed that the throne speech had no substance, which I emphatically deny. I say that's false. They still won't listen or concede that the throne speech has substantive themes and very specific measures that reflect the needs of Canadians. It is in fact true that it outlines priorities that relate directly to the information gathered by the chief statistician of Canada and the extensive consultation that was done during the time that our government was prorogued.
To be clear, our caucus was not on vacation during the time of prorogation. We weren't twiddling our thumbs or sitting on our hands. There were many stakeholder consultations, constituent surveys, caucus consultations, meetings with opposition parties, departmental and interdepartmental discussions during that time, all of which helped to inform the throne speech. Again, these things led to themes that appeared in the throne speech that were new and the relevance of which was directly tied to the pandemic and its deep, far-reaching impacts and were evidence-based.
Notable examples include additional supports for small businesses: the wage subsidy, the commercial rent subsidy, the redesign and improvements to the Canada business credit availability program, and expansion of the CEBA. These are huge supports for small businesses. I've heard over and over again how these have literally saved very many of our small businesses from going under due to the effects of this pandemic and the public health restrictions that have been necessary to protect Canadians.
Our supports for workers, the wage subsidy, the Canada recovery benefit and the central reforms to EI were outlined in the throne speech. They were not in the previous throne speech. They were new initiatives that were a direct result of taking some time to reflect on what Canadians needed.
On supports for the hardest-hit industries, we know there's a long list of industries that have been hard hit: hospitality, tourism, retail, and cultural industries. The list goes on and on.
National standards for long-term care weren't in the original throne speech. That is something I've spoken to before. My colleague, Mr. Lauzon, is not here today, but he speaks very passionately and is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors, and he has spoken to this as well.
Those national standards for long-term care were in the throne speech. They were a direct result of the consultation that was done. Many of my colleagues and I advocated for that national standard to be in the throne speech. We're quite happy to see that it got in there.
These are just a few examples, but I'm going to give you others as well.
No one can say that addressing systemic racism was not in the previous throne speech. There were numerous actions outlined. I'm very proud that it appeared in the throne speech after prorogation, that it was a direct result of realizing the inequities that many racialized Canadians and many others were experiencing due to the pandemic. It's not that they weren't experiencing those before. They, in fact, had been for generations, but the pandemic and its impacts laid it bare. It showed us and taught us all about how deep those inequities are, and how deep racial injustice is in our country.
That appeared in the throne speech. It wasn't there before. It's something I'm very proud of, and I take very seriously. It speaks to the responsiveness of a government that took the time to reflect, and ask what Canadians need us to be focusing on. How are our agenda and priorities shifting and changing?
Some of the things in there are already under way, which is incredible. I'm particularly passionate about the inclusive and diverse public procurement, which has been an area of passion for me for a long time. Seeing that in the throne speech was something I felt very proud of.
I was pleased to see that we were taking action on online hate, making sure we have disaggregated data, so we can see the inequities better and identify how those play out, and how we can then develop policies based on that information.
There is also an action plan to increase representation in hiring and appointments in the public service. There are steps to acknowledge artistic and economic contributions of Black Canadians. Included are justice system reforms to address the overrepresentation of Black, indigenous and people of colour in our justice system. There is training for police in law enforcement. These things are incredible steps toward realizing greater degrees of justice in our country, and eliminating to the greatest degree possible systemic racism.
The opposition parties still continued to maintain that our throne speech had no substance to it, that it was no different, that we didn't need the time to reflect and re-evaluate. Would these themes and important measures be a priority for our government if we didn't take the time to do that work? I would say maybe not.
What about gender equality? There is an action plan for women in the economy, the Canadian-wide early learning and child care system, acceleration of the women's entrepreneurship strategy. These were all in the throne speech. Our government is deeply committed to realizing greater degrees of gender equity and gender equality. We have been working on that from day one. To have these specific measures identified confirms continued action and continued priority on realizing gender equality in Canada which, again, is something we've learned—
The other thing that appeared in the throne speech that I'm also very passionate about and pleased to see was the disability inclusion plan. That's a threefold commitment to income support, employment support and changes to eligibility criteria. This is very welcome.
Last, the throne speech also had the term "build back better". I know opposition parties—and I'll speak to this a little more later—have claimed that this is some token phrase. They've said this over and over again. I'll fight them to the end of the earth on that one and argue until the day I die. Literally the most important thing we need to do, in my view, is to build back better. That message is not a token phrase. It refers to realizing the many deep impacts and inequities and the ways in which our economy doesn't support full social and environmental responsibility.
It's referring to building our economy in a more intentional way so it really supports people and the planet. This is not socialism and communism, and the oppositions parties and the conspiracy theorists out there will tell you this is the great reset.
It's not the great reset. It's dealing with the very specific ways in which our systems are flawed, that are impacting people and the planet and creating the massive inequities and injustices that we see jeopardizing our future and our children's future. Things in the throne speech related to build back better, and that message is exceeding Canada's 2030 climate goal. We've seen our government put forward a new ambition and an ambitious target for a better target. I want to be more ambitious about that, as ambitious as we can possibly be.
This is really important. There's a new fund to attract investments in zero-emission products and to make Canada a leader in clean technology. I will say more about this because it's an area that I feel very strongly and passionately about. I think we still have lots of work to do. We have to go much further.
I want to reiterate that I find it just doesn't respect the value of that build back better phrase.... I know it sounds like a key message or a marketing strategy, but I think it's a very small packet of words that has a lot of meaning to it. For me, it really is important. It's what we heard from a lot of constituents.
Certainly in my riding, I have many climate activists and people who want serious and progressive change to be made on addressing climate change. They feel that this pandemic is a wake-up call for us to begin to realize just how better prepared we need to be. We have to realize how much better our systems and our politics and political system have to work to address major crises that we have not addressed over many generations. They have been accumulating in importance. We've left it to the bitter end. We can't do that anymore. We have to collaborate and find ways to address the impending climate disaster that I know climatologists have been predicting for at least 20 or 30 years. It's probably even more than that.
I have a colleague who was a part of Pollution Probe, which is one of the first environmental organizations. He was one of the co-founders. He's been actively working towards climate action for over 40 years. He's been frustrated. He is now retired but still active, no matter what.
Anyway, I want to get back to my main argument. I feel like I have so much to say and I don't want to take up too much time. I was away for two weeks reflecting, so a lot of things have been percolating. I really value the opportunity to express myself fully and give my point of view, which I know is part of my responsibility. I take it very seriously.
Let me tell you a little bit more about my argument and why we need to get on with things but also hear, at least, from the and the . I'm not going to speak too much more to the Kielburgers and the Honourable Bill Morneau. I left those reinvitations in there as a compromise with Ms. Vecchio and the Conservative Party members. I really want to speak to my argument as to the importance of hearing from two more witnesses. I think it would be valuable. This speaks to the heart of my proposed amendment.
Again, I'm going back to a document I've referred to multiple times before, because I love data. I'm a bit of a data nerd. I think we have to base what we're doing on research and data. It's a report on the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, a six-month update released by the chief statistician of Canada in September 2020.
The reason I'm referring to that particular report is that the whole thing looks backwards in time and talks about why we prorogued. That report took statistical information on the social and economic impacts up to about August, then released a report on it in September. It really would have been some of the most relevant and substantive information available at the time. The reason it's relevant and important is that it demonstrates why the government did the things it did and how that information factored into resetting the agenda during prorogation, which is reflected in the throne speech.
I'll try to quickly summarize the main findings and then I'll go into more detail. I will summarize by saying there are three major findings. There's a lot to say about each one of them. I could probably talk for two or three meetings on each one, but let's just start with the first. The evidence collected shows there's been an unprecedented depth of economic impact in every category. It's also been uneven and inequitable across industries. I've already said this but there's a lot more information on the extent and the depth of that economic impact, which I think is pretty substantive.
For example, it's uneven across industries. The declines in outputs are five times greater than in 2008, and that was only in August 2020. Just think, we've now been through the second and third waves of this pandemic. The economic impact of COVID-19 has been far, far greater, at least 10 times greater. It could be even more than that by now. I haven't looked at the most recent statistics yet.
There was a historic decline in all economic activity. This comes directly from the chief statistician's report. It doesn't matter what measure we use. There's a historic decline in imports, exports, business investment, household spending, real GDP and market prices. The recovery is also uneven. In other words, we saw some industries bounce back between the first and second waves. The retail industry, for example, started to bounce back much more quickly than some of the other industries. Just how resilient different industries are to this specific type of shock to the economy is very uneven. It requires a lot of exploration, reflection and data gathering.
I remember at that time I was saying, "What is the economic impact of all of this?" I remember in August that I didn't know about this chief statistician report. It was only later that I found it, and I really find it valuable.
There is also historic declines in the labour market activity. There are steep losses in the highest-impacted sectors. We can think about retail, cultural industries, hospitality, tourism and many others. I have that data here as well.
There are also structural challenges in heavily impacted sectors. That impacts the recovery of some of those heavily impacted sectors. It's not only that they had the highest losses, but they also have structural challenges within them in terms of recovering. It's also led to an overall context of business uncertainty, which the report goes into quite a few details about.
This is just the economic impact. Understanding how historic those declines are and how significant and deep the economic scarring was, or the potential for economic scarring, highlights the importance of hearing from Chrystia Freeland, the .
Understanding that depth of economic impact.... And I'm not even speaking to the health impacts, which are really the most important parts of all of this. I know my colleagues Dr. Duncan and Ms. Petitpas Taylor have spoken to those in previous meetings. I feel just as passionately about those. I perhaps will bring more comments on those at a later time. Because they've focused on those areas, are extremely knowledgeable and have expertise in that area and are very eloquent, I'm focusing on the economic and social impacts in my remarks today.
The other major finding of the report is inequity. If you were struggling or were on the margins before this pandemic, it only got worse. This includes the impacts on women, immigrants, visible minorities, people with disabilities, low-wage workers, youth, and the list goes on and on. There are other groups, but those are some of the main ones that are identified in the statistical data that was provided by the chief statistician.
When I spoke to what was in the throne speech and hearing the evidence and data, you can draw direct links between them. I could create a map if you wanted me to—which I like to do—and I could draw lines between things and make those associations and connections. This is reasonable. For a rational person and someone who is very much interested in research and evidence-based thinking and policy solutions, this all connects. It adds up. If there was something fishy going on or some other nefarious activity, things probably wouldn't add up so well. They wouldn't make sense. They wouldn't be rational. There wouldn't be all of these very logical conclusions and arguments that could be made.
This is why I think it's so important for me to provide these sorts of rational arguments and draw these connections, because it goes to the heart of what this study is supposed to be about. We're now debating a motion and debating an amendment, which I'm trying to be very reasonable about, when opposition parties keep claiming that we don't want to study this or do that or provide reasons. They're assuming all of these motives. I thought, “ We've provided evidence and rationale. We've been transparent. It makes sense, so what do you want?”
I digress on that. Getting back to the point I was making, there are three main conclusions that I drew from the evidence that the chief statistician provided.
The last one is the looming existential threat of climate change. It's not mentioned that way in the report, but what's mentioned in the statistics is just how much environmental services, clean-tech industries, are almost pandemic-proof or shock-proof. They represent massive economic opportunities for a country that's in the deepest economic crisis probably since the Great Depression.
What's interesting is the evidence shows that those industries really represent a lot of hope and opportunity for us, not to mention help us. Not only do they create the economic growth and prosperity we're looking for, after the deep scarring and hardship experienced by Canadians, but they also are the right thing to do. We must think about this pandemic as a wake-up call to the impending climate disaster that will be coming in the near future if we don't wake up and act in the way that Dr. Michael Ryan was speaking to, in the quotation I gave, with the same degree of urgency and immediacy that is required for this pandemic. That's the kind of full court press we need for fighting climate change.
I would say that our party and the throne speech and the data support this as not only being the right thing to do for many reasons, but as also representing some of the biggest economic opportunities for our country. When we say that the environment and the economy go hand in hand, this is why. There is actually evidence to suggest that this makes sense, too.
I want to speak a bit more about the inequities. No, let me say a few words just briefly about the economic impact, because I covered some things that I wanted to say in comments I gave in previous meetings, but I didn't cover everything I wanted to say, and there are quite a few important impacts.
One in particular that I feel pretty passionately about is the level of business uncertainty that the pandemic has created for business owners and entrepreneurs. Just in May 2020, that is, three months into the pandemic, a quarter of businesses had been granted rent or mortgage deferrals. At this point, the number is probably much higher than that, but just think about their being granted mortgage or rent deferrals at the time. This was before we had the rent subsidy. It was redesigned later on and I think worked much better. That was another example of our government's listening and responding to the needs of businesses.
Just having those deferrals add up—and remember, a deferral is a deferral; you still have to pay for a small business....
I was a small business owner for 12 years and helped other small businesses. I've helped more than 250 small businesses start up. I only worked with businesses that had a triple bottom line, ones that believed in social and environmental impact and integrated that sense of sustainability into their business models. That's my specialty.
For me, when thinking about business uncertainty and the impact of this pandemic and the kinds of opportunities it creates, but also about the way our government is responding to it, it's important to understand the kinds of uncertainties businesses are facing—or I should say “were facing” at the time we prorogued.
There's also evidence in the chief statistician's report that says many businesses will be reluctant to invest in the near term, and that means invest in their own businesses. They talked about businesses trying to protect their balance sheets and debt service.
The idea is that many businesses have planned expenditures in their businesses as they made a profit. They put the money back into their business to continue developing. It might be opening new branches, facilities; it could be in HR, personnel. There are all kinds of system improvements and operational pieces of their business that they might be planning in the near future to invest in.
I remember, as an entrepreneur, going from being a sole proprietor to a corporation to a mid-sized consulting firm over 12 years. You did business planning in order to anticipate the growth. Then you hustled to meet these targets so you had enough as an entrepreneur or a business owner to invest back in your business so you could continue to grow and develop and achieve your mission and purpose as a business. Just think about the fact that many businesses were reluctant to plan any expenditure and were protecting their balance sheet by saying, “We're not going to spend any money.” Think about what that says about our economy.
Seventeen per cent had an annual decrease in private sector capital spending as well. Firms sharply downgraded their capital spending plans, so private sector decreased planned capital spending by 16.6%, which is equivalent to going from $178 billion to $147 billion. That's only a 16.6% decrease, which seems small at this point. Now, after a second and third wave, I'm sure it's much, much, much higher. I don't have that number for you right now, but I think the chief statistician's most recent update would probably provide a useful comparator for us to understand the trend. For now just know that at the time, in August, it was literally a $30-billion hit to private sector capital spending. That's huge. There was a 39% decrease in planned capital spending for accommodation and food services—a 39% decrease in that industry. It was much greater in some industries versus in others. A 27.2% decrease in capital spending planned for the oil and gas industry is another example.
Also, small service-based companies were disproportionately impacted. Three-quarters of small businesses have taken on debt as a result of COVID-19. I'm sure, again, that number is much higher today, but at the time 75% of small businesses had taken on debt. You can just think about how that's going to impact their ability to recover. Some of those businesses have told me that if we come roaring out of this pandemic with economic recovery, it will be almost a miracle if they can service the debt they've accumulated over the course of the first, second and third wave of this pandemic. That's why I've been a vocal advocate for “COVID zero”, which is an approach that is different from what some of our provinces and territories have taken. I think the Atlantic provinces have shown us the light and the way in terms of managing the pandemic without the continuous open-close, open-close, open-close disruption of our economy and our society over and over and over again.
Anyway, that's a bit of a side note.
I'll go back to the small service-based companies that have been disproportionately impacted. Sixty-eight per cent of those with debt estimated it would take them more than one year to pay that debt off. Again, that was in August 2020. A lot has happened since then. If 68%, almost 70%, would have taken a year to pay off their debt at that time, just think about how many years it's going to take them now. That debt has only gotten greater through the open, close, open, close of our economy.
On new firms and start-ups, again, I was highlighting these before I knew only too well. Since 2015, when the Liberal Party formed government, the number of new firms, so new business start-ups entering the market, was on average 16,500 on a quarterly basis. Every three months there were 16,500 new businesses in Canada from 2015 until the time this report was written in September.
Start-ups account for 45% of gross domestic product, so 45% of the output of our economy is essentially new start-up businesses. There were 88,000 business closures in April 2020 and 62,600 closures in May due to COVID-19. Those were closures, not bankruptcies or anything. Those businesses closed down. That's not to say they necessarily went completely out of existence or folded up, but they closed down.
You can see how many businesses were impacted. There were 100,000 fewer active businesses in May 2020 compared to May 2019. One hundred thousand fewer active businesses—that's unheard of. Think about how many businesses are going in the opposite direction. Whereas we have had 16,500 new businesses being started up in every quarter in Canada since 2015, now we have the reverse direction, which is these 100,000 fewer active businesses in May 2020 compared to the previous year.
I don't know if we can even really fathom.... I spent 12 years working with about 250 businesses, and I can tell you about the work those people put into building their businesses. To have all of that lost due to a public health crisis is just astronomical. It's very hard to fathom the depth of that impact, how far-reaching it is and how much it impacts those family-owned businesses, those individual entrepreneurs and those small partnerships and franchises: so many businesses and good people working their tails off to make a living and to do something they believe in that's often good for the community, good for the economy and good for them at the same time.
Business failures among small firms dwarf the lack of new entrants. Again, the amount of failures in the economy of those small businesses was far greater than any new start-ups during the pandemic.... There's a quote in the chief statistician's report that says, “The pace of...job recovery will depend in large part on the extent to which...companies...can remain viable...”. That's on page 66. It goes without saying that if our small businesses make up such a huge portion of our economy and employ the largest number of people in our economy, I would say that they're the engine of our Canadian economy, and if we're seeing that many failures out there or that many closures and not as many new entrants, we're going to have a severe problem that's long term, right?
Our measures and supports that our government launched and were in the throne speech were designed specifically to help the most small businesses get through this crisis. For me, I've heard over and over again that for some small businesses that were family run or run by sole proprietors, the wage subsidy and the CERB were life-saving measures, supports and financial assistance for them.
The work on the commercial rent assistance and how the program was redesigned was done after prorogation. It was something we heard strongly during the prorogation. The small business tenants in commercial properties wanted the support to go directly to the small business owner so that they could pay the rent with resources instead of having it go through a more complex scheme, through their landlord, which clearly wasn't working, although it was a good intention on the part of our government. It didn't work as planned or as well as we had hoped, and it was redesigned promptly. I think it really was appreciated.
There were higher operating costs for many small businesses and definitely weak demand. They were anticipating a weakness in the demand for their services.
This wasn't the case with every industry. Certainly, I know of some examples in my community where some larger businesses did quite well in the pandemic. For the most part, though, the highest impacted sectors and industries and the small businesses that operate within those really were affected by a weak demand for their services and products.
Also, if they were to operate, they had higher operating costs. They had social distancing. They couldn't service as many individuals or take the volume of sales. There were all kinds of things they had to do to manage or prevent infection, control and operate with health and safety at the forefront, and develop protocols. There was all kinds of extra work they had to do and there were some extra costs for many of them.
Trade flows between the U.S. and Canada were impacted greatly by case numbers. As the case numbers went up and down in the United States and in Canada, they impacted the trade flows between the U.S. and Canada despite the fact that our government, I think, has done a lot of work to try and keep the trade flows between Canada and the U.S. going during the pandemic and to not have major interruptions. There's some evidence in the report to show that the trade flows with the U.S. were impacted by the case numbers of people suffering from COVID-19.
I also want to speak a little bit about the structural challenges in heavily impacted sectors. The transportation and warehousing sector employs a million people across Canada. Fifty per cent of employment is in accommodation and food services. For tourism, 22.1 million tourists from abroad would have come into Canada. Travellers spent over $22 billion in Canada previously, and spent approximately $1,640 per trip. That's in 2018. Just think about how many fewer people came into Canada. I think we heard from the back then that travel was down about 98%, if I remember correctly.
Just think about the 22.1 million tourists who would normally come into Canada and all of the economic activity and revenue that would be generated for businesses that serve those travellers, which was estimated at $22 billion a year. When tourism is down that low, just imagine how much our economy is impacted by that.
In 2001 after 9/11, the airline industry declined by 26%. In 2003 after the SARS outbreak, the decline in the industry was 26%. These were unprecedented numbers for impacts on the airline industry. It was 26% after 9/11 and a 26% decrease in the industry after the SARS outbreak. In 2020 after the global pandemic, decline in the industry was 97%.
Have I made my point clear yet? This is unprecedented. I hate to use that word at this point because people use it so often. I'm sick of hearing it and I'm sick of saying it, but it literally is unprecedented. The evidence is clear. After 9/11, there was a 26% decline in the airline industry. It was 26% after the SARS outbreak, but 97% during COVID-19.
The list goes on and on. I have so much more data and information that I feel like I could speak forever. I don't know whether my other colleagues want a chance to speak, but I have a lot more to say, Madam Chair. I also don't want to dominate the airwaves and not give my other colleagues time to speak.
I want to follow through with my argument, but perhaps I'll take a little break and let one of my other colleagues say a few words. I'll get back on the speakers list to continue my argument because by no means am I finished and I have quite a bit more to say on this matter. I would be grateful for some more time to express my thoughts.
I'll turn it over to the next member on the speakers list. I'm not sure, but I think it might be my friend and colleague Darrell Samson, if I'm not mistaken.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I will continue.
Marginalized communities, those who are low income or racialized, continue to be hardest hit by COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. Lineups at vaccine clinics in COVID-19 hot spots powerfully show the demands in the community for vaccines and the lack of resources in marginalized communities.
I have come here to be a voice for the people I serve in Etobicoke North. I'm hoping I will not be repeatedly interrupted today for bringing the voice of Etobicoke North to this committee and for bringing science, evidence and fact to this debate on the amendment.
We often hear that this place is so toxic. Building an institution is not toxic; it's how we treat one another. We have a choice every day when we come to committee in how we choose to conduct ourselves. The young people in my life tell me over and over about how put off they are by what is rewarded here. “A good punch” are the words that are used, aren't they? A good punch. Hitting back. Beating back someone into submission. The young people in my life are especially sickened by it during a pandemic when their friends and families are getting sick and, in some cases, dying.
We've all recently put out tweets, statements against bullying and for Pink Shirt Day. It should be the goal for all of us to get many young people, particularly women, involved in politics. When they watch colleagues being interrupted, they're turned off. I hope the interrupting will stop today.
I know colleagues have talked about their first days on the Hill and not being interrupted, so I will just give a little bit of my history.
I left a job I loved at the university doing research and teaching our inspiring and outstanding students in order to serve the wonderful community of Etobicoke North. It's the place where I was born and raised. I had two areas of expertise, pandemics and pandemic preparedness and climate change. Our colleagues across the way are well aware of my background, my pandemic work, as the previous government, a Conservative government, reached out to me during the 2009 H1 pandemic.
I trust I won't be interrupted today for talking about Etobicoke North. The community I serve matters, bringing their voice matters, and their ideas are absolutely relevant to this discussion.
I also trust I will not be interrupted for talking about a global pandemic, a pandemic where Canadian experts were ringing alarm bells for weeks while this committee focused on a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic last summer. We're still in a pandemic, and we should absolutely hear from our .
I should point out that I'm not just an Etobicoke MP; I am an Ontario MP, and my job is to stand up for my province. Recently the co-chairman of Ontario's expert panel said Ontario's hospitals could no longer function normally, yet we continue with a partisan motion.
Dr. Brown said, “Our children's hospitals are admitting adults. This has never happened in Ontario before. It's never happened in Canada before.” Field hospitals are being set up in car parks.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the health care system was “already overloaded prior to the third wave, with hospitals still treating patients from the previous wave”. I continue the quote:
In many places, for example Ontario, we never really decompressed our intensive care units from the second wave. We had a third wave come in very short after the second wave, so you've got more explosive outbreaks with the variants that also caused more significant illness proportionally compared to the strains of COVID-19 we had earlier.
The trifecta of more transmissible variants that cause more significant illness and proportionately more people ending up in the hospital, rapid reopening that's providing more opportunities for transmission, and a healthcare system that still hasn't decompressed from the second wave really puts us into the mess that we're at right now.
Yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic, and we should hear from the .
Last week the rate of coronavirus infections in Ontario reached an all-time high as hospitals warned they were close to being overwhelmed. Ontario, at last, moved and introduced stricter public measures that were not rooted in science to control the spread of the virus, including closing playgrounds, while failing to move on measures that experts believed could decrease transmission, including paid sick days for workers. I'm glad to see yesterday there was movement in this direction.
One of the lessons of this pandemic has to be that this is a pandemic first and foremost, and that it requires paying attention to science, evidence and fact. It requires politicians paying attention to science, evidence and fact, and listening to experts.
There needed to be an understanding that the variants were fundamentally different. They were more transmissible and caused a higher severity of disease. Responding effectively to a pandemic requires seeing where the cases are going and taking early and preventive action, and not waiting until so-called fires are burning out of control.
Another lesson has to be about essential work and racialization, unfortunately a lesson that we have yet to learn. While many of us had the privilege of working from our bedrooms, kitchens or living rooms, essential workers kept our communities and country going.
Information from last April shows diverse neighbourhoods were hit hard by COVID-19. An analysis done last April shows that the most ethnoculturally diverse neighbourhoods in Ontario, primarily those concentrated in large urban areas, experienced disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 and related deaths compared to neighbourhoods that were less diverse.
The rate of COVID-19 infections in the most diverse neighbourhoods was three times higher than the rate in the least diverse neighbourhoods. People living in the most diverse neighbourhoods were also more likely to experience severe outcomes, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths, than people living in the least diverse neighbourhoods. In fact, hospitalization rates were four times higher. ICU admission rates were four times higher. Death rates were twice as high. Yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We need to hear from the .
Data from the City of Toronto last July showed the link between COVID-19 and racialization. The first release of individual level data findings captures information collected from May 2020 to mid-July 2020. It showed that 83% of people with reported COVID-19 infections identified with a racialized group. Yet this committee remains focused on a partisan issue. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the and the .
More information from the City of Toronto in November showed a continuing picture about COVID-19 and racialization. In November, 79% of reported cases were among those who were racialized, while 21% of cases were among people who identified as white. While 48% of Toronto's population identifies as white, 52% of the city's population belongs to a racialized group. The COVID-19 infection rate among people in Toronto was higher for those identifying with racialized groups. These are appalling numbers.
This information required urgent action to protect those who are on the front lines. In February the chief public health officer for Canada showed that when it comes to COVID-19, it is clear that race matters. The report showed that although race-based data are not consistently available across Canada, local sources indicate that racialized communities are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. For example, surveillance data from Toronto and Ottawa indicates that COVID-19 cases are one and a half to five times higher—one and a half to five times higher—among racialized populations than among non-racialized populations in these two cities.
In April of this year, new research showed that the gap between who needs COVID vaccines and who's getting them was particularly bad. In Toronto, the neighbourhoods with the highest populations of racialized people had the lowest vaccination rates, despite the disproportionate impact of the disease on these communities. Last April data showed that racialized communities were hit hard. Last July it showed the same, as it did in November and, most recently, this spring. This is heartbreaking; it is wrong; it is systemic discrimination. The public health data is there.
More has to be done. Workplaces need to be safer. There need to be sick leave benefits, and vaccines have to go to the neighbourhoods that are on fire. Communities are strong, resilient and they are doing everything they can to fight the virus. It is not okay that in Ontario only one-quarter of the vaccines have been going to heavily hit communities. Yet we have a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic last summer and we're still in a pandemic. We should hear from our .
Let me be very clear. Collecting data does not mean change. It simply means information was gathered and perhaps collated. Telling a story does not mean change. Data collection must be used to improve lives.
Thankfully, after months of urgent calls about the need for paid sick leave by medical professionals, labour advocates, political leaders and even top doctors from some of Ontario's hardest-hit regions, the government has announced, now, a plan to provide three paid sick days through a temporary program. We'll see what more needs to be done.
I come from a community where people work hard for their family and work hard to make a difference in their community, and they do, each and every day. They make a difference in our community and they make a difference to our country. I come from a community where many people work on the front lines, and they put their health at risk in order to put food on the table and to keep the community and country going.
The community I serve wants us to do real work on their behalf, not be focused on a partisan motion, and yet we have a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer and we're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the .
Thankfully, we're starting to see some improvement in Canadian case numbers, from a seven-day high of over 8,700 cases on April 18 to over 8,200 cases on April 24 to just under 8,000 cases on April 27. Ontario reported over 3,900 new COVID-19 infections this past Sunday, as the number of patients in intensive care units once again reached a record high. The number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators reached new highs.
As of last Friday, there were almost 2,300 patients in hospital with the virus. A total of more than 830 people were in intensive care units, and more than 780 patients required ventilators to breathe.
On Monday, over 870 people with COVID-19 were being treated in intensive care units across the province, twice as many as there were at the beginning of April.
Hospitals across Ontario are stretched to capacity amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the third wave. Ornge, the organization in charge of patient transport, says patients are being moved in record numbers, mostly by its critical care land ambulances, but also by its helicopters and airplanes and with the help of local paramedic services. Between April 1 and April 23, Ornge says 747 patients were transferred to out-of-town facilities to make room for new patients. Seven hundred and forty-seven: To put that figure into context, 209, 217 and 242 patients were transferred in January, February and March respectively.
We're starting to see change. On Tuesday, Ontario reported a fourth consecutive single-day drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases, but the province's test positivity rate remains high. Cases were almost 4,100 on Saturday, almost 3,950 on Sunday, almost 3,500 on Monday and over 3,250 on Tuesday, but the test positivity rate stands at 10.2%.
All of us should be concerned—all of us—about what's happening to Ontarians and what Ontarians have been facing and continue to face, yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion. Let me be clear. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from our .
I've been raising the COVID-19 pandemic every time I had a chance to speak during this debate, and this committee actually has something it could do. It could study the House of Commons response to the pandemic so that there is better advice for future parliaments when a future pandemic or disaster strikes, because there will be a next time, and pandemic preparedness and readiness is a constant. There is no beginning, no end and no peacetime.
In 1918, the Spanish flu sickened half the population. Churches, governments and ministries closed. Private buildings were pressed into service as hospitals. Losses to businesses were staggering. I'm going to quote from a speech I delivered often and around the world in the early 2000s about pandemics predicted and past: “All countries will be affected. Widespread illness will occur. Medical supplies will be inadequate. Large numbers of deaths will occur. Economic and social disruption will be great. Global economic activity could weaken. Supply chains could fail. Once a vaccine is ready, who gets it? Health care workers? Essential service workers? At-risk groups? After a pandemic, millions will be affected in profound ways. From depression to the loss of friends and relatives to financial loss resulting in disruption to business, governments, society and corporations will have to ensure financial, psychological and social support for affected families, companies and the rebuilding of society.”
Does it sound familiar? The point is that we have learned the same lesson time after time, most recently after the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, yet instead of doing what is required, namely, to be prepared for next time, we remain on a partisan motion.
We were in a pandemic last summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the . Let's not make the same mistake. Let's learn from this pandemic so that we are better prepared going forward. Instead of focusing on politics, we should be focused on learning from the pandemic. It should be part of this committee's work to review any pandemic plan that existed for the House of Commons.
I don't know if there was one. Was there one? We had officials here. I asked if there was a plan. They didn't know. Was there a plan? Who drafted such a plan? Who was consulted? Who signed off? Who was the plan communicated to? How often was it reviewed? What did the cases look like here in the parliamentary precinct? Who was affected? What lessons have been learned to date?
Those are important questions. It's this committee that should be asking them, and it is this committee that should be driving continual improvement of any pandemic plan for the House of Commons.
Pandemic preparedness cannot be so-called hot for just a few years following a pandemic. It has to remain on the agenda. Science, research and public health have to remain on the agenda. It has been said we remain with a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the .
It is very clear that in 2020 Canada faced an unprecedented time in Canadian history. We were facing the worst pandemic since 1918. If we look back to 1918, tens of thousands of Canadians died. In Montreal the demand for transporting coffins was so great that trolley cars had to be converted to hearses that could carry 10 coffins at a time. Eight cabinetmakers worked around the clock in Hamilton, Ontario, to keep up with the demand for coffins. Undertakers would take one casket to the cemetery and hurry back to the church to pick up the next. In Toronto funerals were allowed on Sunday. White hearses for children became a common sight.
No one knew what this pandemic would bring. It was a novel virus in 2020.
Let me be very clear. Our very special Etobicoke North community is focused on the pandemic and getting through it. They are focused on their health, their safety, their jobs and their livelihoods, yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion.
We were in a pandemic in the summer and we're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the .
Well, wonderful. Buckle up because I have quite a lot to say.
I hadn't finished making my argument in our last meeting, but I ceded the floor to one of my colleagues because I felt I was slightly dominating the airwaves and I don't like to do that. I believe that everyone on this committee deserves a chance to express themselves. We're all equal members of Parliament. We all represent constituents who have points of view that are exceptionally important to us, and it is our job to express those points of view.
I have made an argument that is directly relevant, Mr. Nater, to the amendment that I put forward. I've been making it for multiple weeks.
As you know, I was away for a short period of time due to sickness, but I'm glad to be back so I can make my views known.
My argument is building. Each of my speeches and remarks builds one on the other. Like Ms. Duncan, my colleague whom I respect and admire so much, I really believe in science, evidence, facts and research. I believe in making rational arguments and I've mapped out my logical argument.
I took enhanced logic way back when I was in my undergrad in philosophy. I use it every day because I think it's really important that we understand the logic behind the arguments that we make and that when we come to debate, we actually debate things in a way where we're willing to be influenced by each other's point of view. I think that's the very heart of democracy. Dialogue, actually, and dialectics, which is the heart of democracy, is that we approach truth through an open debate process, whereby the principle of sufficient reason actually is the principle that we all subscribe to, where we approach the truth together. Although we disagree along the way, we express varying perspectives that differ, but that we give up something every step of the way.
Compromise is built into the very art of debate, but we don't see that in many of our debates, especially on this committee. We see, as Ms. Duncan said, partisanship over truth, over facts, over reason. I really feel strongly that what I've put forward as an amendment to Ms. Vecchio's motion was really an attempt to compromise. It gives you something. It gives the opposition parties something they wanted, i.e., I've left in the Honourable Bill Morneau and the Kielburgers to be reinvited to the committee, who I don't really feel need to be brought to the committee, to be honest, but I left them in as a bit of an olive branch.
The two ministers that Ms. Duncan spoke eloquently to wanting to hear from—and it's very intentional that they were left in there—are the honourable , Chrystia Freeland, and the honourable , Bardish Chagger. There are very good reasons those two were left in there. Before I get into that, I want to summarize the argument that I've been making.
I'm glad you are here today, Mr. Aitchison. I don't know if you've been at PROC this time around, but it's great to have you and I'm glad you're here to hear the summary of my overarching argument.
My colleague Mr. Amos is also here, who hasn't been in attendance on this committee as far as I recollect. It is great to have you, Mr. Amos. I know you're a real advocate for the environment and climate action, among many other things. I have such respect for you. I will be making some remarks related to that.
I think this pandemic has taught us something about the inequities in our society and the deep economic impacts we need to recover from, but also the opportunities that we have to build a stronger economy that's more sustainable and helps protect our planet while hopefully protecting us to some degree from more incidents and public health crises like the one we're going through now. I think climate change can be linked to the incidence of communicable disease and I know that pandemics could be far more frequent in the future as the climate warms.
I won't go there yet because I want to summarize my argument. I'll make a few points and then I'll go into more depth and detail. I hope Mr. Nater hasn't tuned out and is still listening.
First of all, I want to say that our government has been more transparent than any government in Canadian history when it comes to prorogation, okay? I've said this, but I'm saying it again. I am repeating myself, because I don't think it has sunk in for some folks out there that we've tabled a report. Our government, in the past Parliament, actually is the one that changed the Standing Orders to require a report to be tabled in the House of Commons to explain the rationale for prorogation. That was the first time in history this change was made to the Standing Orders, and it was done by our government.
We prorogued, which hadn't been done in the entire term of 's Liberal government, whereas it was done four times, I think, in Stephen Harper's time. When you think about it, we only used prorogation for a very good reason and we complied with the rule change to the Standing Orders, which required a greater degree of transparency. We provided a rationale and a report—a significant report. I've read it. I'm not sure whether every member on the committee from the opposition parties took the time to read it carefully, but I certainly feel that, based on their remarks in the past, they haven't really assessed it on its merits. I think there are merits to that report.
There are also merits to be given to the testimony of our and the many others who came before this committee, as we, the Liberal members on this committee, agreed to do a study on this very topic. It wasn't required for us to do that. We agreed to that. We allowed opposition parties to call witnesses. We all had a chance to scrutinize the testimony of those witnesses, ask them questions and make our arguments.
Now, what we have at the end of this, despite the willingness on our part and the commitment to that level of transparency, and no real argument that the opposition has made against the merits of that report or the testimony, a presumption that somehow there's some ulterior motive that is political in nature. This seems to be the driving force behind Ms. Vecchio's motion. I feel very frustrated by that, because I think we've made major improvements. There are so many other things to focus on. We've been more transparent than any government in Canadian history when it comes to prorogation, and still that's not enough.
Still that's not enough, so what more does the opposition really want here? What really is the driving motive behind the motion that Ms. Vecchio put forward? I would say that the WE Charity issue has been studied over and over again at other committees. Ms. Shanahan has been involved in some of that and spoke in our last meeting about how that work continued even after prorogation. There's really no reason to go on another fishing expedition in this committee, PROC, which is, I'm told, the mother of committees. I think we have other really important business to attend to.
All that said, in an effort to compromise and give a little more opportunity to extend this study and have a few more witnesses attend and give testimony, I put forward an amendment that I thought was very reasonable, and still there's no movement. It's partisanship over science and evidence, and over facts and information, in a global health crisis the proportion of which we have never known in our lifetimes, in a hundred years. We say it's unprecedented. I've said this before. I hate using that word these days because it's just so overused, but it really is something that I never thought I would live through or experience in my lifetime, to be honest.
My parents, and even my grandmother, who passed away this year during the pandemic, never lived through a crisis like this. Really, we have almost no.... Although we've learned a lot from other outbreaks that have happened—the SARS outbreak, Ebola, etc., and other communicable diseases that I think have taught us things—we really haven't learned the lessons.
We don't have any real memory of the—I know it's called the Spanish flu, and that's probably not the right term to use. I know that it was named and there's probably some controversy around that. Maybe Ms. Duncan can speak to that at a later date. She probably knows infinitely more than I do about that. I'll just refer to it as the Spanish flu for the moment. I know that's incorrect, so my apologies to her for all her astounding work in the area.
I want to get back to my argument, which is that we prorogued Parliament. There's that word, “prorogation”, that Ms. Vecchio was looking for, so this is relevant to prorogation. Prorogation was done at a time when doing so made complete sense. It was absolutely rational for a government that was working at full court press for many, many months in a row to reassess and re-evaluate between the first and second waves of a pandemic. That makes sense to me.
In addition, during the process we went through, as I've said, we didn't sit around and do nothing during that time. There was so much work and consultation that was undertaken during that time. There were interdepartmental meetings. I personally participated in something like 15 to 20 different consultation sessions, some in my community with constituents and some with caucus, the various caucuses we had, and those all informed a new Speech from the Throne. When you look at that Speech from the Throne—and opposition parties have stated over and over again that there's nothing of substance in the Speech from the Throne. I've heard them say this over and over again, and I wonder how anyone can say that.
I've done a full analysis of it. The last time, I actually outlined about 15 or 20 themes and parts of that throne speech that are unique, that were not there before and that were context dependent. In other words, they were grounded in the public health crisis. They came out of that, and they're supported by evidence, research, and consultation work that was done. It wasn't as if they came from nowhere. They came from the very process that was undertaken during the time of prorogation.
Again, this seems to be common sense. As I have reflected on it over and over and over during the time we've been debating this, I have come to the same conclusion. I'm very much a critical thinker. I studied philosophy for eight years in university. I have taught it around the world. I'm a critical thinker. I criticize myself just as much as I do the opposition members or anybody else. Reflecting deeply on this, I still can't find any reason to really support the opposition's intended motive or the narrative that they seem to be adamant about trying to boost or prop up at all costs.
Here's the main point, though, that I want to make. I've made this over and over again. It's repetition for emphasis' sake: if a global pandemic is not a good enough reason for proroguing Parliament, then nothing is. Nothing is. Literally, I can't think of a better way to say it than that. I've reflected on it over and over. Stephen Harper prorogued twice, once in 2008 and once in 2009, and he claimed that the recession at the time, so the shock to the economy of that recession, was his reason for proroguing not once but twice to re-evaluate and assess the impact on the economy and work on the plan to help the country recover.
What I've maintained and I've argued and I have ample evidence for—piles of evidence for, Mr. Kent—is that this pandemic is at least 10 times worse in terms of economic impact than the 2008-09 recession was, at least 10 times. That is based just on information that was available in August 2020. At this point, we've gone through the second and third waves, which were much greater than the first.
I'm using information that's based on the time when prorogation actually happened, that was available at that time, to demonstrate to you that the government in power, which I'm very proud to be a part of, was using that information to inform decisions that were made about what appeared in the throne speech, what then appeared in the fall economic statement and what then appeared in our 2021 budget.
Again, when you can draw direct links, logical links, rational links that are based on evidence and consultation across Canada, to the things that appeared in the throne speech, how can anyone even maintain the claim...? How can any rational person maintain the claim that there's nothing in the throne speech that justifies reasons for prorogation? It makes absolutely no sense. It's nonsensical. It's absurd. It's absurd, given the evidence that we already have.
So, why are we here? Why are we doing this? There are at least four other motions in this committee that my colleagues and I have put on notice that we could be doing and which are significantly, exponentially and infinitely more important than this staring in the rear-view mirror.
I quoted last time a highly respected doctor at the World Health Organization, Dr. Michael Ryan. He said that we just can't afford to be staring in the rear-view mirror. We need to be ahead of the curve of this pandemic. Curve after curve, wave after wave, we, as Canadians, have been behind. We're not in front. Dr. Duncan said this so eloquently, but I believe it wholeheartedly, too. We are behind the curve every time. We need to move faster.
Thank you, Mr. Nater. I appreciate your points, as always.
I do have a little bit more to say, though, to fill out my argument. I've highlighted some of the architecture of the argument, some of the main features of it, the sort of beams, but I want to build out with some of the material that I've prepared to substantiate claims.
I don't make claims to things that aren't based on evidence and fact. Certainly, occasionally I would put my opinion into my argument and perhaps overextend a little bit—I'm only human—but, in general, I would re-evaluate if someone contested that.... I would think critically about what I said and try to find out whether my opinion was something that was based in facts and evidence. Then I would revise my opinion, if I found that it wasn't substantiated by facts and evidence.
Again, this is literally the heart of democracy. I think if we lose the sense of the pursuit of truth, then our democratic system will suffer dramatically over time. This is why I speak out against disinformation coming from the opposition, which I've seen over and over again. I cannot stand by and let the public be intentionally misinformed—at least, I feel—in many cases.
I'm going to go back to my argument.
Mr. Kent, the main point of my argument is that the global pandemic, in terms of economic impact, is at least 10 times greater than the 2008-09 crisis or recession. It's almost a blip at this point compared to what we're living through today. For me, when I think about it, the evidence that's out there is supporting the fact that this pandemic is greater, and exponentially greater, in terms of impact.
I see this through the sustainability lens, so I'm looking at the economic impact, the social impact and the environmental impact, and thinking about how we recover from this;, and how, at the time of prorogation, the government took some time to re-evaluate and reset the agenda so that it could really understand these impacts in a fulsome way and come out with an agenda that focused on the needs of Canadians. I think that process was rigorous. It was authentic. It was genuine. It was evidenced, informed. There was a lot of listening that was done. It was true to what I believe is good and responsible governance.
In terms of the economic impact, the depths of the economic impact cuts are uneven across industries, which I've said before. We've seen remarkable declines in output from the economy—five times greater in August 2020 than in 2008-09. We've seen historic declines, in all economic activity. The recovery has been uneven across industries. There have been historic declines in labour market activity, steep losses in the highest impacted sectors. There's an overall context of business uncertainty. This is where I went into more detail last time. Then, there are structural challenges in the heavily impacted sectors that are limiting them from being able to recover from this pandemic at the same rate. There are many examples that I have of this impact.
Last time, I went into depth on the heavily impacted sectors and some of the statistics on those. However, before I go back to some of those thoughts and remarks and some of the evidence I've gathered, I would like to outline the rest of my argument.
Notice that there are deep economic impacts that are unprecedented, and I've covered sub-points there that support that. This also provides a rationale for why the would be a good person to have appear before this committee.
Really, if we're entertaining that and the extending of this study, when it comes down to it, I don't think it's completely necessary because, as I've argued over and over again, the evidence stacks up in favour of the explanation we've given being sound, rational and well supported by evidence and data.
I am again saying that if there were a need to gather some additional testimony or have some additional testimony at this committee during this study, the would be one of the most appropriate individuals to have before us, because who better than someone who has been studying this and has a whole ministry that is responsible for understanding the depth of economic impacts? For that reason, I really think it would be great to have Chrystia Freeland, the come before the committee.
My second major claim is that there have been social impacts during this pandemic. I outlined a whole bunch of those many meetings ago, but I also have a lot more equity issues, inequities that the pandemic has caused. I shouldn't say that it caused inequities, because those inequities preceded the pandemic, but it exacerbated many of them. It highlighted them in a way that is unignorable at this point.
We cannot go back to the same systemic barriers that racialized minorities in this country have faced for generations. We cannot go back in terms of the hard-fought gains won by the women's movement in this country. We cannot afford to allow women's equality and equity and full participation in the workforce to be hindered by this global pandemic. We need to address these structural and systemic inequities that are present, and there are many more of them. I'm highlighting just a couple.
We've seen that there are unequal impacts on Canadian workers. These create challenges for robust and inclusive growth. Visible minority groups were at much higher risk of work stoppages during the first wave of the pandemic, but also, I think, in succeeding waves. There has been an unequal impact on low-wage workers far greater than in 2008-09. There are long-term effects of COVID‑19, depending on the degree to which layoffs become permanent job losses. This is just part of it, but it really highlights the unequal impacts on Canadian workers.
There's another point that I would like to make related to equity. Immigrants and visible minorities have been the hardest hit. There is the September 2020 report on the the social and economic impacts of COVID‑19, which is a six-month update. Again, I'm using data from the point in time that I think would have been most relevant at the time of prorogation and would have informed the throne speech. It only included data from March through to August, I believe, the point being that the data shows, I think, that this would prove over and over through updates that have been given by the chief statistician of Canada to this report.... I haven't gone back and done the comparison, but I do have the other reports. I just haven't had time to go through them, but if this debate were to persist, I could always do an analysis.
I'd be happy to do that, because I feel that this is an opportunity for me to learn, to be a better member of Parliament and to be able to advocate for my constituents and in fact all Canadians by understanding the depth of the social, economic and environmental impacts of COVID‑19. I should say “and/or” opportunities, because I think that with some of this what we can see is that these challenges and this crisis have shown us that there are opportunities to address the systemic issues that we have in this country.
I think that's why folks, like my colleague, Mr. Amos, and his work as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, are so important to me, and inspiring. Our ministry, under his leadership and Minister 's leadership, and Mr.' before him, is really looking to build back better and find innovative solutions that are market based and that leverage our strengths and deal with inequities.
They launched the 50-30 challenge, for example, which I was over-the-moon excited about. It encourages much more diversity, equity and inclusion within all organizations and employers across Canada. People can voluntarily sign up for that challenge, to ensure that at least 50% of the workforce is represented by women, especially in management and board level positions, ensure that there's upward mobility in those companies and organizations for all women, but also for 30% to be from equity-seeking groups.
I think workforce diversity is something that, if we can get more employers to be voluntarily