Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise again today.
I want to begin by acknowledging that we are all on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation and express our deep appreciation for their patience as we remain on unceded territory. Meegwetch. We need to re-establish in every speech, at every opportunity, the ongoing demands of reconciliation, and it has to be more than a land acknowledgement.
Today, I stand to speak at report stage on Bill C-8, a bill I support and which I have spoken to at previous stages in this place. Report stage gives us an opportunity to look at where we are on the verge of the bill passing and going forth to the other place. Some concerns have arisen, and I want to address those because I would like to know from the government that there is a plan to address issues that surfaced from the hard work and diligence of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
I also want to reflect, as we have this opportunity at report stage, when we are more than two years into a pandemic, to perhaps look at some of the elements that are at a higher level of abstraction in the bill before us, but which are related. Nothing will be off topic, but I do want to reflect on where we are now two years into the pandemic.
First, let me address what Bill C-8 is, just as a quick refresher. This is a bill in seven parts exclusively in response to COVID-19 at various aspects: its health impacts; the essential equipment that we need, such as rapid testing; and impacts on different sectors, including schools, businesses, individuals and workers. It is one more of the many, many bills we have seen since we started down this road March 13, 2020, when this place adjourned because we realized we were in a global pandemic and we could not continue meeting as we had. Since that moment on March 13, 2020, we have in this place, generally by unanimous consent, approved tens of billions of dollars of relief similar to what is in the package before us today in Bill C-8, which I support.
We have things like rapid tests, ventilation for schools, delays for small business for when they have to start repaying loans. It is a package with which I think all of us in this place are now very familiar. One thing was surprising, and I want to dive into it a bit because the citizens of Canada need to know that we are paying attention to the billions of dollars we pass in this place, and that was a certain redundancy, which the sharp-eyed people at the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer noticed. It is in relation to spending for rapid tests, which again, I support.
There is $1.7 billion for rapid tests found in Bill C-8. There was $2.5 billion for rapid tests found in Bill C-10, and then there was the $4 billion in the supplementary estimates that we have also passed. The question is this: Are we paying more than once for rapid tests? The answer is yes. The money is allocated, at least $4 billion, twice. I see an alarmed parliamentary secretary looking my way, yet Yves Giroux, our Parliamentary Budget Officer, has confirmed that there is in fact more money allotted than is needed.
I will quote the Parliamentary Budget Officer speaking in the other place:
When we asked questions about the intended use of this funding, it was to procure rapid tests for COVID-19 and to distribute them to provinces and then to Canadians. When we [the Parliamentary Budget Office] asked why try to have it go these two different routes to get to the same end, the government responded that it wants to get the funding as soon as possible, so they’re trying this through Bill C-10 and Bill C-8, as well as Supplementary Estimates (C). They will use whichever authorities come first to procure these tests. However, they have already started procuring these tests, so they are doing some risk management should the spending not be approved. That seems to be the reason why they are pursuing the two different approaches.
The discussion in the Senate then went on to discuss if would we spend $4 billion twice, or would there be some way of stopping the additional approvals once the tests are purchased? I do not really feel I have an answer to that question in this place.
I am still voting for Bill C-8. I want to make sure we get the rapid tests. I want to make sure we know what we are spending the money on, but I would also like to register now in this place, especially to government members, that we want to make sure there is some mechanism in place to avoid spending $4 billion twice. It appears from the Parliamentary Budget Officer's questioning of the government that this was not by accident, but I would like to flag that I have never seen it before, and I think it is quite unusual to approve spending $4 billion twice to make sure we get it once.
With that, I want to turn to a key area I think is, at a higher level of distraction, a problem with our federation. I am not proposing ways to fix it, but I want to flag it. It has been the reason we failed to meet our climate targets. I do not mean just recently; I mean over the last three decades. It is a reason why, I think, we have been less effective as a country, and I am not speaking of a particular government or political party, than we could have been in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. My thread on this is that, spoiler alert, I do not think the provinces and the federal government work particularly well together. They should, and we must.
I note that on COVID-19, eight dollars out of every $10 spent on COVID relief came from the federal government. We passed that in this place. Collectively, we did that. However, there was the speed with which we acted. The federal government might have been ready to act on numerous occasions, but the provinces were not, and if the action was in an area of provincial jurisdiction, we were delayed.
I definitely know this is the case on the climate emergency. Ironically, the European Union, which is made up of more than two dozen independent separate sovereign nation states, has done a better job than our federal government, our 10 provincial and three territorial governments, all together in one country, being able coordinate, negotiate and come up with a shared solution.
Leaving the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the European Union went back to home base and within weeks had negotiated a global agreement, global meaning all the EU countries in a bubble, on who would do more cutting of greenhouse gases and who would do less, so they could achieve the target they collectively negotiated. They are now collectively about 40% below their 1990 levels of emissions. Canada is about 20% above our 1990 levels of emissions, and I think a lot of this is because of federal-provincial tensions and a failure of collaborative leadership. I do not know how else to put it.
In the case of the ventilation for schools, which is my thread here, I worked all summer of 2020 on an idea I got for how to get kids back to school safely. I thought about it, and I thought of all of these tourism facilities, as I am very committed to the tourism sector, such as convention centres and hotels, that were vacant because of COVID-19. They would like to be able to put people to work. We had schools that would have overcrowding if kids went back to school. I wondered why we could not take the places that were empty because of COVID and allow schools to take place there. Then they would have had a lot more air and a lot more ventilation. It might have worked. I started talking to people, like the brilliant Paul Nursey, who heads Destination Greater Victoria. I started talking to people who run convention centres. They said they loved the idea and that it could work.
I will fast-forward to how many people and groups I got involved: People for Education in Toronto; the Tourism Industry Association of Canada; the Canadian Teachers' Federation, the union that was negotiating and talking to other levels of government; and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities gave me the time of day too. We started thinking we could put this together, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of this nation and her staff were interested in the idea. The one place I could not get any pickup at all, where I could not get anyone to pick up the phone and call me back, was the provincial ministry of education, and no one was going to go anywhere with this idea unless the provincial minister of education signed on.
Now we have here in Bill C-8 one of the things I was trying to address in my completely ad hoc volunteer way to try to get something to happen, and we are now approving ventilation for schools. That is provincial jurisdiction. We should have acted on that a year or more ago, and in my opinion, the reason we are approving it now in the federal Parliament, as opposed to much sooner, is that we could not get the provinces on board.