Pandemic Day Act

An Act respecting Pandemic Observance Day

Status

Second reading (House), as of Oct. 17, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill S-209.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment designates March 11th in each and every year as “Pandemic Observance Day”.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

moved that Bill S-209, An Act respecting Pandemic Observance Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to move and speak to the bill on pandemic observance day. It was moved in the Senate by the hon. Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie, and was adopted by the Senate on May 12.

I know we all have “days of everything”, but I want to talk about why this is important and relevant. We need to bring an end to COVID-19 everywhere on the planet. There have been 6.5 million deaths worldwide and over 620 million cases of COVID. It is still considered to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization, even though all of us do not want it to be.

We need to help Canadians grieve and commemorate the efforts in getting through the pandemic. Over 45 thousand Canadians have died from COVID. More than 100 Canadians died from COVID last week in Canada.

We also need to reflect on ways to prepare for future pandemics.

Why March 11? On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization first characterized the coronavirus, the COVID-19 epidemic, as a global pandemic.

How should people commemorate on March 11? We are not going to try to prescribe any ways of doing this. I know the senator who originally moved the bill in the Senate feels it should be up to all Canadians and organizations to choose how and why they observe it and do it in the manner that is more relevant to their community, their needs and their province. The bill would not create a paid holiday.

This is very relevant to the health of people in Canada. It is our government's top priority. We know that it is still a real pandemic. The World Health Organization has not declared it over. We know that this virus has had an uncanny ability to mutate and evolve. Right now, omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are already in the northern hemisphere where we live.

As we close our houses in the fall and we are all inside, the risk of having another wave is very high. In the summer, we could be outside and that was helpful to us, but now that we are inside, we need to take care of ourselves.

The problem is that even though we have removed travel requirements, the Public Health Agency of Canada's chief officer has told everyone to please wear a mask, to get vaccinated and get boosted. We now know there is a new bivalent vaccine available to people, which might be helpful against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants. Our government has delivered all sorts of treatments that may be available if one does get COVID.

Recent studies show that for people who had COVID, even though it was mild, there is something called long COVID. These persons, even though they had a mild attack, would be subject down the road and over the years to chronic diseases. They will not be as healthy as they would have been. They can get all kinds of other diseases. For the sake of everyone's protection, try to follow what the Public Health Agency has asked people to do.

The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to ask Canadians to get their vaccinations, and I know a lot of people do not want get them. Nobody is forcing people to get vaccinated, but the thing about getting vaccinated is that it protects not only those getting it but it protects others around them. It also protects others in our communities who may be immunocompromised, who may have a chronic illness, who may be receiving cancer treatments or who may have all those things going on for them at the same time and be very susceptible.

Since the beginning of COVID-19, Canada has done very well. The reason we did was because we had vaccines, and many Canadians, more than any other country in the world, got vaccinated. That prevented us from having the sorts of results and outcomes that we saw in the United States, where millions of people contracted the disease and died from it.

We were lucky because we followed the rules and protocols. The thing about public health, pandemics and epidemics is that they are not going away. They will be here with us for a long time. It is the globalization of this. People are travelling. They are going everywhere in the world, visiting any country, going for holidays anywhere they want, and when they do that, they are subject to whatever little epidemic is going on in a country and they bring it back. That is how pandemics spread.

We know about the great flu pandemic in the 1900s, which killed a lot of people. We know better now. We know what we can do. We need to be reminded, always, every year at this time, even if we do not get a massive wave in the fall of this year, even though we may have all escaped and we are being vaccinated and are doing everything else, that this is not going to be our last pandemic. There are going to be various pandemics.

This one spreads by aerosol; in other words, it spreads in the air. That is why one of the things we need to do if we are in a closed room is open windows and ventilate the room as best we can, turning on fans to ensure the air is circulating. That is an important way to prevent us from breathing in this virus.

I am speaking right now at home because I am not particularly well, so I am doing this virtually, and I am not wearing a mask. However, if I were in the House, I would be wearing one. I would be speaking, and the drops from my mouth would be floating in the air and could infect other people in the room.

We want people to remember this pandemic in order to protect ourselves and others. The next pandemic we face may not be borne by aerosol; it may be contact, it may be sexually transmitted or it may be spread by feces and gastrointestinal products. Pandemics infect people in a lot of ways.

The thing about public health is that it first finds out what is causing the pandemic. Once we have found out what the bacteria or virus as in this case of COVID, we are then able to decide how it is spread. Then we take the precautions with regard to how we get it from each other. Those precautions will be different depending on whatever the pandemic spread is.

We want to remember pandemics. We need to remember that they are going to be with us. We need to remember that we are living in a new world now, post-COVID, and we need to be careful. We need to care about others in our community, our loved ones, friends and people we do not even know, who live nearby. It is the only way we will be able to stop pandemics from spreading, to nip them in the bud and to end them as soon as we can.

This one has stayed for a long time because, as I said earlier on, this virus seems to have the uncanny ability to mutate, change, evolve and take different forms, so the vaccines that people get would not be as effective. We also know that vaccines have a time period after which they are not as potent and as strong a protection as they used to be. That is why we are doing the boosters.

We need to remind ourselves of what we have faced. I have talked about the tens of millions of people around the world who have died from this pandemic. This is not where we want to go. We have seen the outcomes of this pandemic. This pandemic created all kinds of economic restraints. Women were mostly affected by this pandemic. They were forced to stay home or quit their jobs. That individual family economic balance was disrupted. Women were also at the front lines as nurses or doctors. Many other women were working the hospitals and in the communities.

This pandemic not only affected women, but it also affected children and seniors, who tend to be immunocompromised because they have chronic illnesses. They have diabetes, chronic lung disease or heart disease, and this makes them more susceptible to getting COVID.

Some people may take medications because they have an autoimmune problem. Those medications alone could bring down their immunity and they could become what is known as an immunocompromised person.

I would be the first to say I am an immunocompromised person. I take a medication for an autoimmune disease that is at the top of the list for causing one to be immunocompromised. That is one of the reasons why I am very careful and follow the protocols. We need to remind ourselves of that. We need to remind ourselves that we are living in a different world. Therefore, observing this day is important, not just for our protection but we need to thank all those people on the front lines, who are now burnt out.

We need to look at what could happen to our hospitals if we have another pandemic or we have another COVID wave this fall. We need to know that we cannot cope anymore. Our systems were so beaten by COVID–19 over those two years that we do not have the ability to rebound in a way we used to. People are burned out. Some people no longer want to be front-line workers. Doctors and nurses no longer want to work in the system. These are the things a pandemic observance day would help us remember, that we must care for our system that has served us so well over such a long time, but is now under stress and is cracking and breaking.

People who live in our communities do not want to go to a hospital emergency room because it is so overcrowed. They cannot get in or cannot get a bed. All of these safety responses have changed and we need to be able to respond to them differently. This is a reminder that we need to care for our system itself, the whole way in which we have to respond.

A lot of people remember what happened when we, as a government, had to suddenly spend billions of dollars to help people who had lost their jobs, to help them keep a roof over their heads and pay their rent. We saw a large number of people visiting food banks. The community impact of this pandemic on families and people has been horrendous.

An observance day would remind us of this. It would remind us that we need to understand the impact of any pandemic, not just COVID. It would also remind us of what we may need to do in the future to react as soon as it happens, to have the resources to help the pharmaceutical companies create vaccines and to build our own vaccine ability in Canada so we do not have to beg other people to give us vaccines. We need to become self-sufficient and resilient, so we need not to have to do the things we did, such as going into lockdown and stopping people from going to work. We should not have to do all of those things, because we would have learned from this and built in new ways to cope and protect ourselves, and to prevent what happened with COVID–19.

A pandemic observance day would help us learn from what happened in the past. If we do not learn our lesson, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes we made earlier. Science has said that if we keep doing the same things over, such as denying that we are living in a pandemic, even though we do not like it, we are going to keep repeating the same mistakes. To continually repeat the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity. This would help us not feel as powerless as we felt during the pandemic. An observance day will help us remember. It will help us build a new and create resilience in our country, our communities and among ourselves. It will help us look at how we deal with long-term care facilities where seniors were getting COVID even though everyone was trying very hard to prevent it. The ventilation systems were carrying COVID throughout those buildings. We are going to have to learn how to build that kind of resilience in the future, so our seniors are not as vulnerable as they were.

I want to thank the members and hope they will support this Senate bill. It is really important for us to move forward to be resilient and to build a new Canada post-COVID.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Ellis Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, a lot has happened with respect to the pandemic. That is undeniable. My question relates to the fact that it is very clear, as stated by the president of the Canadian Medical Association, that the medical system is on the brink of collapse. I do not believe that a private member's bill with respect to remembering there was a pandemic is going to, in any way, shape or form, help the catastrophe that is happing in the medical system. Why not bring forward a bill that would actually address the deficiencies in the system that the government has allowed to happen over the last seven years?

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I understand the logic behind the hon. member's question. However, the thing about remembering is that when we do not remember, we do not learn. This is not just saying, “Let us remember.” It is saying let us look at what we build to protect ourselves the next time around. One of those things is obviously going to have to be to shore up our health care system. One of those things is going to be to make sure we have frontline workers; to make sure we do what we need to do to keep, recruit and retain nurses; and to look at physicians. In British Columbia alone, we are now looking at helping family physicians to go back and practise family medicine. We are looking at incentives. Those are some of the things we do.

As I said in my speech, what we do not do is just sit there and say we remember. Of course, that would be a ludicrous thing to do, but by remembering, we find out what we did wrong; we look at what the outcomes have been, and we try to prevent those things from happening again by creating new systems and by helping to build a new resilience to everything. That would mean—

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I have to allow for other questions. There is only five minutes of questions and comments.

The hon. member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, I do not necessarily have a question for my colleague, but I thank her for her speech.

Perhaps I will just make a comment. Rather than looking at what was done or not done and recapping the day or what was done during the pandemic, I think that this day must be dedicated to the families of those who died from COVID‑19. In Quebec, that is over 45,000 people. I think that we need to dedicate it to health care workers, those who worked on the front lines and provided essential services.

I watched the TV series De garde 24/7 on Télé-Québec. I read Dr. François Marquis's book, and I think we need to dedicate this day to those who were on the front lines of this pandemic.

I am pleased to see that the House seems to be unanimous on that.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, I agree with the hon. member. We need to remember all those people who passed, all those people who are now chronically ill, and all of those people who were overworked, overwrought and burned out, as we are seeing right now in the system. This is about remembering all of that, but it is also about remembering what we must do and what we did not do, and about learning lessons. Therefore, I want to thank the hon. member for her support.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member could provide her thoughts in regard to the importance of reflection, whether it is on our health care professionals or on children in our schools, and of having an opportunity to focus on the issues related to pandemics. Could she just share her thoughts on that?

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Madam Speaker, at the heart of what I do as a physician and what all physicians and nurses and health care professionals know is that we have to learn from our mistakes. We have to reflect on what went on and what we could do again.

The word post-mortem is a much bandied-about word, but it means looking back and seeing what one did. Was it good? Could we have done better? What would we have done differently if we had to do it again? That is what this reflection on this observance day would be all about. It is about not waiting to get another one before we think about where we go and how we deal with it and how we reflect on the mistakes we made and what we can do better.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Stephen Ellis Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise, as always, in the House of Commons and to address legislation before the House.

I think one of the important things is to understand that I do not think we need a pandemic observation day, observance day or any other day to remember the pandemic. How could we possibly forget the pandemic? Very clearly, we can all remember that in 1918 there was a pandemic. I do not think there is anybody who forgets there was a pandemic in 1918.

I very clearly remember what happened during the pandemic. My wife and I were fortunate enough to be away on vacation. While there, it became very clear, and there were multiple news reports coming in from around the world, that this virus was approaching Canada. As we now know, it was probably here.

Friday, March 13, 2020, came around, and I can remember having spoken to folks in my office, saying that we needed to get ready for this pandemic and that we did not know what was coming. Unfortunately, like many of us, some people did not really believe it was coming.

March 15 came along. That was a Sunday, and I can remember very clearly going to our local hospital and really understanding that there were two people planning for the pandemic. When I went into that room, they asked if I would like to join them, and I did. That led, of course, to our setting up the northern Nova Scotia response to COVID-19, which we ran successfully for a very long time. Sadly, it went on and on and on.

One of the interesting things I will always remember is the sense that, even at that time, when we really did not know anything about COVID-19 and how it was going to unfold, even then people joined together as a team to staff that unit and look after patients who were going to be sick with COVID-19 in that northern zone of Nova Scotia. We thought there was a better than average chance at that time that many of us would die from COVID-19, and thankfully none of us did in that unit. We are very happy to have come through the pandemic without those burdens upon us.

Sadly, as the member for Vancouver Centre readily points out, there were many Canadians who did not fare as well as those of us who did. However, I think it is also important to underline the fact that for many people, the trials and tribulations they had to suffer during the pandemic are things they will never forget, and that they might even want to forget, so our continuing to have a pandemic observance day does not seem to make any sense to me.

I do not believe it is a place to look at the systemic failures of our health care system, which, as I said briefly in my question, is on the brink of a catastrophic failure, when we have, in Nova Scotia alone, 100,000 people without access to primary care. When I look at those things, they are a system failure. When 100,000 Nova Scotians and a million people in Ontario do not have access to a family physician or primary care, I do not think we need a pandemic observance day to remind them how terrible the system is.

What we need, very clearly, is for the government to get acting on these things. We need action. We need somebody to do something. We need to stop talking about it and blathering on about all of these things the Prime Minister has said about 7,500 doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners. Where are they, and what are they going to do in a system that is short by at least 60,000 to 70,000 nurses?

We have seen none of the 7,500, and that makes me sad. That means, as I said previously, that we have a government of inaction. We need to stop talking about things, and we need to actually get things done. If we do not begin to do things, having another observation day would only enrage those Canadians, in my mind, who are unable to access appropriate care in this country, in which medical care is part of those things we hold near and dear to our hearts. It is a very important thing.

I do not say that simply because I am a family physician; I say that because I am a Canadian, and those are things that are important to us. When we look at those things, do we need a day to allow us to remember that the system is crumbling in front of us? No, we need look no further, in many cases, sadly, than our own families, and we are certainly within two degrees of separation of somebody who suffers without being able to access primary care.

To further build upon that, I do not think we need a pandemic observance day to remind folks who could not be with their loved ones during their final days; they are not going to forget that. We do not need to remind them that they could not have funerals. We do not need to remind them that people could not celebrate birthdays or anniversaries. My own son's graduation was an event where we drove by in our cars and, from some distance, he received his graduation certificate. These are things we will not forget, and we do not need a day to remember them.

We do not need to have a day to remind us that we could not socialize with people in the manner we wanted to, that we could not travel and experience the great things the rest of the world has to offer and have learning experiences that make us better, richer people from a personal, social and spiritual point of view. We do not need a day to remind us that we were unable to do those things.

We are now learning to live with COVID-19, and I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned. We need to look at the science behind it and the science behind this new group of mRNA vaccines to understand what the science is telling us. As the member for Vancouver Centre talked about repeating mistakes, if we do not have the courage to look at those vaccines and the outcomes, then we are doomed to make mistakes, which I think is going to be an important thing going forward. Do we need a day to do that? No. We need to be working on that now, and we need to do it day after day. We do not need one day to remind us to do that; that does not make any sense.

We also do not need a day to remind us that our Prime Minister lashed out at many Canadians and called them racist and misogynist. We do not need a day to be reminded of those sad days. We do not need another reminder of the division that this Liberal government has created in Canada.

Therefore, as we begin to look upon this, I really believe that people will not forget the pandemic, which began in 2020 and as yet is still not declared over by the WHO. We know that perhaps the pandemic emergency will soon end, but we need members of the House to have the courage to come forward with the appropriate private member's bill that will give us hope for the future, that will bring us forward, that will look at systemic failures and the failures of what happened in managing the pandemic, that will look at things that are near and dear to all of our hearts, like the health care system, and that will allow us to say, “How are we going to change things? How are we going to make it better? How are we going to repair this?” That is what we need to be thinking of.

Do we need to have a day to do that? We do not need a day. We need multiple days; we need years; we need people to dedicate themselves to doing that, and I believe they are. Once again, this government of inaction needs to move forward to action and actually do something about it, as opposed to having another day to talk more about it.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:30 a.m.
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Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this topic this morning.

There are different ways of seeing things. Some people say that we do not need a day. However, that day already exists. Last year, on March 11, there was a rather solemn commemoration. Two years ago, we also commemorated the day in a meaningful way—

Madam Speaker, I would like to be able to hear myself speak.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order. There are individuals having conversations in the House, and it is sometimes hard for members to hear themselves speak.

I would ask members, if they want to have conversations, to please take them outside the chamber, out of respect for those making speeches in the House.

The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:30 a.m.
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Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues for their co-operation.

As I was saying, this day already exists. March 11, 2021, was designated as a national day of remembrance. There was also a commemoration in 2020, as I mentioned earlier.

Today, we are creating an official, permanent day of remembrance. We are not creating a statutory holiday or anything like that. This day will be marked on the calendar and will be an ongoing reminder of what we need to do.

We need to remember what happened and take into consideration the mistakes that were made. We all know that this was exceptional and that it was extremely difficult to find the right path. However, we must still learn from what happened. That is the purpose of creating this day. Essentially, we are looking to establish a symbolic day.

I had assumed that the House would be unanimous on this issue this morning, but that is not the impression I am getting. We will see what happens when it comes time to vote.

The important thing to do now is express, yet again, our sincere condolences and our compassion. We must make it abundantly clear that we stand with everyone affected. Yes, we remember those who were lost, and we also remember the families that were unable to visit their loved ones before they passed. That is a terrible thing to go through, and we have to make sure it never happens again. We need to remember that every day.

I am speaking on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, but I daresay I am speaking on behalf of the House, because I do not think anyone here lacks sympathy for those affected.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the frontline workers.

We were among the lucky ones who could telework. When we were able to come here, we did so in small groups. We practised social distancing and many other measures that helped us feel pretty safe most of the time, but that was not the case for everyone, including health care workers.

The previous speaker, who is a doctor, talked about doctors, but we also need to think about the nurses and personal support workers. There were times when it was the PSWs who were picking up the slack. I want to acknowledge the work done by everyone who volunteered to help out at the long-term care facilities. It was truly remarkable. People I know very well, who were on forced leave from their work, voluntarily risked their lives daily to help others. This deserves to be remembered and respected.

I am also grateful to the guardian angels, the asylum seekers who agreed to work in the long-term care facilities as PSWs to try to save people and take care of others. We have a moral obligation to them.

We are currently debating the creation of a day of observance. I do not think this is the time for criticism, but let us keep in mind that the cases of those who helped have not all been settled. This has been dragging on and it is important to wrap it up. I am calling on the government members, the people in charge, to pick up the pace. These days it is tough to pick up the pace where immigration is concerned, but I think we can manage. The people involved have already been identified.

In terms of frontline workers, I just mentioned orderlies, but maintenance workers, janitors, parking lot attendants and grocery store clerks also come to mind. Although some of these workers eventually got bonus pay, they still earn minimum wage and face the risk of getting COVID-19 every day. We have to think about these people and the dedication they have shown day after day.

Dedication can take many forms. I am thinking of delivery drivers, truck drivers and other drivers. I am thinking of teachers, who were initially forced to take leave or work from home and who later had to work in extremely difficult conditions.

I am thinking of hairstylists who had to cut hair while wearing a visor. I love my barber, and she actually told me that she was thinking about retraining as a truck driver. Apparently, cutting hair with a visor on is not easy. Depth perception can be affected, and it can be especially difficulty if the visor fogs up.

We also have to think of police officers, peace officers and highway workers. It is important to think of all these people.

As for our youth, they found themselves in an unfortunate situation. My parliamentary assistant had the misfortune, if I can call it that, of doing almost his entire bachelor's degree online. Last week, we talked about our respective university experiences. I will not go into the details, but I will say that we did not have the same experience. I find that sad.

All these people had to make sacrifices. Of course they developed other strengths, and that is what we all have to do when facing adversity. I always say that, like in judo, the thing to do is to move quickly and turn the situation to your advantage. Those people also suffered.

I mentioned university students, but we could also talk about high school students. They, too, did not have the same experience. There were no proms, for example. These things may seem mundane, but they are milestones in these young people's lives that they did not get to experience.

We must remember all of that. I cannot name everyone and I have no intention of even trying to name and thank all the groups of workers who worked so hard during the pandemic.

We should keep in mind, however, that the pandemic is not over yet. I will issue a gentle reminder: Getting vaccinated is a darn good idea for anyone who can get the shot. I personally received my fourth dose last week and am very happy about it. I am now “bivalent”. I suppose I am better protected than I used to be. As a vaccination ambassador for the health and social services centres in la Mauricie-et-du Centre-du-Québec and Lanaudière, I encourage people to get vaccinated.

I also want to thank the scientific community. It was not easy. We were facing the unknown. Scientists had to make the information more accessible, inform the public and search for the truth all at the same time. It was a challenge not to instill fear in the public while also having to ask people to be diligent and follow rules. That is an extremely difficult thing to do.

I salute everyone who worked during the pandemic. I think this day is important. I heard earlier that we do not need a day, that we need to reflect on this all year long. Still, having a day on the calendar forces us to remember and reflect. The Bloc Québécois is therefore in favour of this day.

We need to make sure that we do not repeat past mistakes. One thing this must include is adequate funding for our health care system. We have to work on preventing errors and duplicating services. The tone is friendly today, but there is a history here. We must be proactive for the future. We need an efficient health care system, and employees must be treated properly. People with a strong foundation in their work environment will respond better to this kind of disaster.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to debate Bill S-209, an act respecting pandemic observance day, proposed by the hon. member for Vancouver Centre, which would designate March 11 of each year as pandemic observance day to give Canadians an opportunity to commemorate the efforts to get through the pandemic, remember its effects and reflect on ways to prepare for any future pandemics.

First of all, it is important that we first recognize the incredible toll COVID has taken on our country and indeed our world. In Canada, already more than one in 10 Canadians has had some form of COVID. Almost 50,000 Canadians have died as a result of COVID-19. Around the world, the numbers are horrific: 625 million people infected and over 6.5 million deaths.

We know people's lives have been shaped irreparably, in some cases, as a result of COVID. Lives have been put on pause, finances have crumbled, and weddings, funerals, new births and last moments have been missed. Special moments and milestones with loved ones have been missed as well. I would argue there is not one family in our country that has not been touched by the tragedy of COVID-19.

What we are also here to talk about today is the clear fact that much more could have been done, both within our borders and abroad. If we look back to the last couple of years, we need to talk about the support Canadians so desperately needed. We cannot forget the Liberals only wanted to support Canadians with a one-time payment in the face of not just a public health emergency but also a financial crisis for many Canadians. It was the NDP that successfully fought for regular CERB payments, which helped to lift many people up during this time of crisis.

Now, unfortunately, the government is targeting the benefits of people who relied on CERB throughout the pandemic, including many in our region. All the while, wealthy CEOs, who used tax avoidance schemes to avoid paying taxes, and who received support during the pandemic, are getting a free pass. We need to see amnesty for those who needed CERB and applied for it.

Unfortunately, this is in character for the government. It cut the guaranteed income supplement for the most vulnerable seniors, leaving low-income Canadians in desperate situations until New Democrats forced it to reverse the cuts. Recently we learned it cut the Canada child benefit for families struggling to feed their children. It is clear whose side the Liberals are on.

Rich companies that used the wage subsidy, even though they were making profits and gave millions in dividends to their shareholders, are not being asked to pay the money back they received. The government is not hesitating to make hard-working Canadians, who are struggling to make ends meet, to pay back the CERB they desperately needed throughout the pandemic. The reality is that the COVID-19 crisis held up a mirror to the country we have built and the cracks at its foundation.

No one need to look further than the reality of first nations during the COVID-19 pandemic. First nations in our region, such as the Island Lake first nation, which does not have regular hospital access, communities such as OCN, Shamattawa, God's River and others, had such bad COVID outbreaks that the military needed to come in to help. A lack of PPE, testing kits and even nurses and doctors left communities fending for themselves. They were scrambling and without support.

Then we had communities such as Pukatawagan, where the government decided the best way to help community members to isolate was to give them tents in the middle of winter, which nobody from that community asked for. It was not quite the heartlessness of the Harper government sending body bags during the SARS pandemic and H1N1, but it was awfully close. The worst part is that no one in the community even asked for this. We looked into it, and it turned out a board member of the company that made the tents also sat on the COVID-19 supply council, whish was designed to advise the government on procurement during the pandemic. When this came to light, that person was forced to step down.

COVID showed us how vulnerable so many of our institutions are and how ill-prepared we were. A COVID outbreak at a Cargill meat processing plant highlighted how unserious our country is about workers' safety. Over 1,000 cases were linked. People died because they worked in unsafe workplaces.

Throughout the pandemic, we also saw how ill-suited our institutions were in ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society were protected. Our health care system, for which the Prime Minister and the government never replaced the cuts to transfer payments brought in by the previous Conservative government, was stretched beyond its absolute limit. Nurses complained about the lack of PPE while they put their lives on the line to keep people safe and to save what lives they could.

Our behaviour as a country was no better abroad. It was the Liberal government that blocked countries like Bolivia from accessing a Canadian-produced generic vaccine, preferring to put the economic profits of giant pharmaceutical companies ahead of the lives of people around the world. Do not forget that Bolivia reached an agreement with the Canada-based drug manufacturer Biolyse to acquire desperately needed vaccines for a country that, at the time, had only been able to vaccinate 5% of its population. The government, despite publicly stating that it was doing everything in its power to get the vaccine to the global south, worked to block Bolivia's efforts at the WTO. Canada has put lives at risk.

It is abundantly clear that much more could have been done and could still be done, both at home and abroad. The government did the bare minimum and it was up to Canadians to pick up the pieces, with people checking in on their neighbours when they were sick and helping them out with things like groceries and basic necessities.

When we talk about the cracks in our foundation, we also saw the way in which the loss of our vaccine production capacity rendered us at risk. The inability to produce the PPE we needed here at home put us at risk. Publicly owning the capacity that we need to be safe in a pandemic is something that we as Canadians need to act on. We cannot be vulnerable the way we were during the pandemic.

I also want to highlight that many have pointed to the lessons we should be learning from this pandemic. I appreciate the work of Nora Loreto, who wrote a book called Spin Doctors: How Media and Politicians Misdiagnosed the Covid-19 Pandemic. It talks about how the media, in many cases the mainstream media, overlooked the reality that was afoot in our country, and how politicians and public health officials were mostly given the benefit of the doubt that what they said was true and that they acted in good faith, when, in many cases, we know that this was not necessarily the case.

Her book documents each month of the first year of the pandemic and examines the issues that emerged, from the disproportionate impact on racialized workers and the people who died in residential care to policing. Her book demonstrates how politicians and uncritical media shaped the popular understanding of the issues. It very much argues that we desperately need to move beyond the idea that individual actions will keep us safe and move toward collective action, backed up by the political will to ultimately put people's lives ahead of profit, something that we did not see happen the way it should have throughout the pandemic.

In wrapping up, I want to share my thoughts with the many people across the country, including here in our north, who lost loved ones to COVID-19. Our thoughts are with them.

We also know that thoughts are not enough. What we need is clear action, so that lives that were lost were not lost in vain and so that we are there to protect workers, people on the margins, indigenous communities and people living in long-term care. We need to protect them going forward.

This requires political will. This requires public investment. This requires supporting our health care system and our health care professionals. It requires public ownership when it comes to the production of vaccines, PPE and the materials we need to keep our community safe. It requires ending the housing crisis in first nations and building hospitals where they are needed for indigenous communities. It requires lifting people up in concrete tangible ways and ultimately making it clear that lives, whether they are in Canada or around the world, are much more important than profit.

We need to act now.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-209, which was introduced by Senator Marie-Françoise Mégie and which seeks to designate March 11 as pandemic observance day to commemorate the efforts Canadians have made and continue to make to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

I want to take this opportunity, first, to thank the senator for developing this bill and, next, to thank my colleague for Vancouver Centre for presenting the bill in the House of Commons. I would also like to thank her for her decades of service as a former minister, member of Parliament, physician and someone who knows first-hand how important it is to save lives.

A national day of observance matters. It would commemorate the people who lost their lives during the pandemic and the significant impacts we have all felt because of COVID-19. All of our lives, the lives of everyone around the world, were forever changed by the emergence of COVID-19.

Today, we mourn the tragic loss of more than 45,000 Canadians: grandparents, parents, heroes, siblings, friends and loved ones. They mattered to so many. Each of these losses cascaded through families and communities, leaving many more thousands bereaved. Because of restrictions around traditional mourning customs and rituals, heart-wrenchingly, many families were unable to even say goodbye. We did not get to be by our family member's side to hold their hands and to comfort them in their last hours. Instead, some of us said goodbye over Zoom with little or no funeral afterward. Today, COVID-19 has infected over four million Canadians.

The pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on how we work, learn, connect with family and friends and live our daily lives. All Canadians have experienced sacrifice and loss over the past years. Seniors were isolated from the ones they love. Our children missed birthday parties, friends and sports. For far too many, the virus meant the loss of their jobs or the closure of their businesses.

Our health care workers have been heroic for almost three years now, initially putting the interests of their neighbours, communities and country ahead of their own. While many of us could work from home, health care and other essential workers could not. The farmers who ensured that we had food on the table, the truck drivers who made sure that food got from the farm to the grocery stores, the grocery store workers who kept the shelves stocked, the teachers and child care workers who comforted our children, and the women and men in uniform who helped care for our most vulnerable, they worked long hours so that we could get the services and care we needed. They were the everyday heroes who we cheered on and hung signs in our windows for. We witnessed Canadians at their very best. We came together, remained strong and lent a hand to neighbours and organizations whenever possible.

It is important that we commemorate the pandemic to remember how our world changed forever and how, once again, human resilience is succeeding. This bill would create the opportunity to come together each year to honour the memory of those we lost, to recognize everyone who was impacted by COVID-19 and to pay tribute to all those who continue to work hard and make incredible sacrifices in our fight against the virus, because the pandemic is not over.

We need to be prepared to use the tools we have. The flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine help prevent people from getting seriously ill, prevent further delays in scheduled hospital care and support worn-out health care workers. Internationally, we need to close the booster gap. In low-income countries, only 35% of health care workers and 31% of older populations are fully vaccinated and boosted. We must be prepared for the next time, because there will be a next time. History is clear on this.

More than six distinct influenza pandemics and epidemics have struck in just over a century. Ebola viruses have struck over 25 times in the past five decades, and we have seen the impacts of SARS, MERS and COVID-19. Internationally, governments and private funders poured billions of dollars into building preparedness. Plans were tested and evaluated, and still COVID-19 demonstrated that the world was not sufficiently prepared.

This is the time we should all be asking why this broke down and what must change. We should also be studying the lessons learned to date from COVID-19: our state of preparedness prior to the pandemic; the impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians, business, industry, the economy and public services; the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on some communities; and what actions and investments are being made to be better prepared for the next pandemic.

We should also pay attention to antimicrobial resistance, a global crisis that threatens a century of progress in health and achievement of the sustainable development goals. Because the drivers of antimicrobial resistance lie in humans, animals, plants, food and the environment, a sustained one-health response is essential. There is no time to wait.

We should learn what we always learn during a pandemic, namely, that science, research and public health matter, and not just when we are in crisis. They are fundamental building blocks of our country, which require attention, nurturing and and support, and they cannot be neglected. We need enhanced competitive investment in science and research to keep the best and brightest in Canada.

We cannot afford to forget because we have forgotten before. In 1918-19, influenza swept the world and killed more than 50 million people, more than the number that died in all of the fighting in the First World War. Many victims were healthy young people in the prime of life. There was a shortage of medical personnel. There were no effective treatments. There were no flu vaccines, antiviral drugs, antibiotics or mechanical ventilation.

To slow the spread of the disease, governments implemented quarantine, placarded homes, closed public places and regulated and enforced mask wearing. Individual citizens closed their doors to the outside world and communicated via letter. In Canada, between 30,000 and 50,000 people died. In Montreal, the demand for transporting the dead was so great that trolley cars had to be converted into hearses that could carry 10 coffins at a time. Whole families disintegrated and young adults left behind children who were forced into orphanages. Losses to businesses were staggering. Merchants lost their livelihoods because staff were absent with flu and customers were too ill to shop. Restaurants and theatres all lost heavily.

It was one of history's deadliest pandemics, but people did not want to talk about their experience during the pandemic. Because they were reluctant to talk or write about the pandemic, future generations were not always aware of it. Historian Alfred Crosby called it the “forgotten pandemic”. People wanted to forget difficult times, move on with their lives and think about a happier future.

This time is different. There are innumerable memorial projects and memorials under way around the globe. Here in Canada, there is an obituary project to pay tribute to everyone who has died of COVID-19 and every Canadian who died of the disease abroad. It is called “They Were Loved”. That is why this bill matters: because they were loved.

Pandemic Day ActPrivate Members' Business

October 17th, 2022 / noon
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NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.