Evidence of meeting #1 for COVID-19 Pandemic in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was point.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking



The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to the first meeting of the House of Commons Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, April 20, the committee is meeting for the purpose of considering ministerial announcements, allowing members to present petitions, and questioning ministers of the Crown, including the Prime Minister, in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available on the House of Commons website. So that you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.

I would like to remind members that as in the House or in committee, they should not take photos of their colleagues or film the proceedings today. Before we begin, I would like to make a brief statement.

In 1972 a radio station challenged its listeners to a contest of completing the following sentence: “As Canadian as...”. The winning entry, submitted by 17-year-old Heather Scott, was “As Canadian as possible under the circumstances.” This strikes me as an excellent description of how we as a people have been adapting and coping with many of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic here in Canada.

Here, in the House of Commons, members and their staff, as well as employees of the House administration, Library of Parliament and Parliamentary Protective Service, prove every day that our parliamentary democracy continues to operate.

The House of Commons prides itself on its ability to marry tradition and innovation. It is both a careful steward of parliamentary history and precedent and a forward-looking institution. This week, thanks to the remarkable work of the people I mentioned earlier, members are coming together to carry out our parliamentary responsibilities. We will be meeting both virtually, as we are today, and in person in the chamber. While we are mindful of the procedures and practices that govern the proceedings of the House of Commons and its committees, the meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic marks a new chapter in our progression. There may be technological challenges as we learn to navigate this less familiar work environment, but I'm confident that our proceedings will be as Canadian as possible under the circumstances.

I will ask you to keep that in mind and, in order to facilitate the work of the interpreters and ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.

Interpretation in the video conference will work very much like in regular committee meetings and in the House. You will have the choice at the bottom of your screen of Floor, which is “off”, or English or French.

Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like in regular committee meetings and in the House. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of either floor, English or French.

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize your name. When you are ready to speak, you can either click on the microphone icon to activate your mike or you can hold down the space bar while you're speaking. Some of us may remember walkie-talkies; some of us older folks here today will. That's how it will work. If you keep the bar down, it's taking what you're saying. The minute you let go, it comes off. I would like to remind honourable members that if you want to speak in English, you should be on the English channel.

If you want to speak French, you should be on the French channel. Should you wish to alternate between the two languages, you should be on the floor channel, so “off”. Please try to transition slowly between languages.

Please direct your remarks through the chair.

Should members need to request the floor outside their designated speaking times, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order.

If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal to the chair your interest to speak. In order to do so, you should click on “participants” at the bottom of the screen. When the list pops up, you will see next to your name that you can click “raise hand”.

Please speak slowly and clearly at all times.

When you are not speaking, leave your mike on mute.

The use of a headset is strongly recommended.

If you do not have one, please contact someone here in Ottawa, and we can have one sent to you.

Should any technical challenges arise, for example, in relation to interpretation, please advise the Chair immediately by raising a point of order, and the technical team will work to resolve them. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times.

If you get accidentally disconnected, please try to rejoin the meeting with the information you used to join initially. If you are unable to rejoin, please contact our technical support team.

Before we get started, please note that in the top right-hand corner of your screen is a button. You can use that to change views. “Speaker View” allows you to focus on the person currently speaking. “Gallery View” allows you to see a larger number of participants. You can click through the multiple pages in the gallery to view and see more participants.

Before we begin, today is April 28, and we mark the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured in the workplace. It is a day on which we pause to remember those who lost their lives in their workplace and those who are left to mourn their loss.

This is also a day when we are reminded just how important workplace health and safety are, in the hope that, one day, we will no longer have to mourn the loss of workers in our country.

I ask members to take a moment of silence in remembrance of them.

[A moment of silence observed]

We will now proceed to ministerial announcements.

A minister of the Crown may make a short statement. A member from each of the recognized parties, as well as a member of the Green Party, may then comment briefly in response.

The honourable Minister of Health.

Ms. Hajdu, please unmute your microphone.

12:05 p.m.

Thunder Bay—Superior North Ontario


Patty Hajdu LiberalMinister of Health

Got it. I'm sorry.

After that somewhat ineloquent beginning, thank you so much, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak at this historic first sitting of virtual Parliament. It is always an honour to occupy a seat in this House, and it is a special honour to represent the residents of Thunder Bay—Superior North on this historic day in our country.

Of course, this new way of pursuing our democratic process of governing Canada is precipitated by the crisis of a global pandemic the likes of which our world has not seen in over 100 years. Despite the work Canada has done to prepare for outbreaks and epidemics, the scope of COVID-19 has left no country untouched. Sadly, this epidemic has claimed thousands of lives worldwide, and Canada has not been immune. My heart goes out to all of the loved ones of those whose lives we have lost here in our country and around the world.

To date, in Canada we have managed to protect our health care systems and avoid the kinds of surges that have led to even greater loss of life in other countries. There are many factors that have contributed to our current and, I would say, cautious progress on limiting the spread here in Canada. We have a public health care system that's accessible to all Canadians, strong local public health units and a culture of innovation and courage that has led to many Canadians and Canadian companies stepping up to fill gaps as they see them.

For more than a month, public health officials across the country have been asking Canadians to stay home and stay safe, and we're starting to see encouraging signs that our collective work and courage are indeed flattening the curve. Canadians are taking responsibility for their health and the health of others by practising physical and social distancing, by frequent handwashing and by isolating themselves if they are sick or have travelled.

I know I join all Canadians in offering a heartfelt thank you to all front-line health care workers: nurses and doctors, personal support workers, lab workers, cleaning personnel and support staff of all varieties. Our health care workers are front and centre in this pandemic. They are taking care of patients affected by COVID-19. They are taking care of senior citizens and other populations at a high risk of contracting COVID-19. It is hard and emotional work. There is a burden of trauma in work of such intensity, suffering and loneliness. I speak for all of us when I say that we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Together, all workers, all employers and all Canadians who are adjusting to this new and difficult way of adapting are slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Canada. We are protecting our health care systems, and we are undoubtedly saving lives together.

We are seeing hopeful evidence that Canada's COVID-19 epidemic is slowing down. For example, in late March we saw case numbers doubling every three days. More recently, the doubling time of cases has slowed to more than 16 days. At the same time, however, we continue to see a rise in cases, driven largely by outbreaks in long-term care and seniors homes, where older, medically vulnerable adults live. In fact, outbreaks in these institutions are responsible for more than three-quarters of all the deaths in Canada. This is indeed a tragedy, and it is one of the reasons we cannot let go or we could lose the progress we have made. We remain in a critical period, and we must stay focused and vigilant if we are to succeed in containing the spread of COVID-19. Our current public health measures remain essential to controlling Canada's COVID-19 epidemic.

The Government of Canada will continue to work with provincial, territorial and international partners to base our response to the epidemic on the latest science. We analyze data and clinical and epidemiological studies to determine where public health measures are working and where we may need or want to adjust our approaches. We are also collaborating with provincial and territorial governments and universities to forecast the possible future spread of COVID-19 in Canada. This will help us to continue to estimate a range of possible numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths that may occur in the coming weeks and months—critical information to continue to protect our health care systems and protect lives in Canada.

Today, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, is presenting an update to our national modelling. As you know, models cannot predict what will happen, but they can help us understand what might happen, and that can help us plan and take actions to achieve the best possible outcome. They also help us identify what combinations of public health measures are more likely to reinforce epidemic control.

I know that these are very difficult times for all Canadians. Over the past several weeks, I've been struck not only by Canadians' resilience but also by the great acts of kindness we are seeing across the country. I think of business owners who are lending RVs to front-line workers, and hotels that are opening their doors for free to health care professionals, so that they can get rest without risking infection to their families. I think of restaurant owners who are distributing meals to the elderly and to health care workers on the front line. There are so many stories and so many acts of kindness. Canadians are finding many different ways all across the country to support each other virtually and practically. My heart goes out to the people of Nova Scotia, many of whom came together virtually last Friday in a vigil to support one another in memory of the victims of the recent shootings.

There's a question on everyone's mind: How long will this last? Public health officials and experts project that the current wave of the epidemic here in Canada could last until the summer, followed by outbreaks that we will need to rapidly control over time. However, there is still so much that we don't know about the virus.

What I do know for certain is that the duration and severity of COVID-19 here in Canada depends on all of us, on our individual actions and how rigorously we follow public health directives. Containing the spread of the virus and keeping the number of deaths as low as possible will take continued collective and determined effort. As Dr. Tam said yesterday, the effort of getting through this will be like a marathon. We have to plan carefully and we have to pace ourselves. The decisions that we make now will determine critical outcomes across the country in the weeks and months to come.

Mr. Chair, let me conclude by thanking all parliamentarians for their work and ongoing support during this time. I also thank all of the hard-working staff and experts who have allowed us to convene in this new and unique way. I am confident that we will emerge from the pandemic stronger and more united as a country.

12:15 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable member for Edmonton Riverbend.

12:15 p.m.


Matt Jeneroux Conservative Edmonton Riverbend, AB

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and thanks to you and your team for organizing the first virtual session here today. It's a historic day, and I wish you and your team much luck because, quite honestly, I think you'll need it.

I want to thank the Minister of Health for her department's work on COVID-19 over the past number of weeks and for taking the time today to address some of the concerns and questions many of us are hearing across the country.

I also want to take the time to thank the Public Health Agency of Canada for the direction and information provided to Canadians. I have no doubt that Dr. Theresa Tam and her team have been working tirelessly over the past number of weeks on the latest research into the virus in order to provide Canadians with daily up-to-date information. I know I'm not alone in extending my gratitude to the many officials working within the Public Health Agency of Canada. Quite simply, thank you.

Also, Canada's front-line workers have been working long hours and making immense personal sacrifices to help Canadians cope with COVID-19. Our doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, personal support workers and other hospital staff are showing true leadership and courage. Firefighters, law enforcement and other critical first responders continue to make sure that Canadians remain safe and secure through this crisis as we've recently witnessed during the horrific tragedy in Nova Scotia. Cashiers and fast-food workers have also continued to go to work every day to ensure that people can stock their pantries and feed their families. Our Conservative caucus has nothing but respect and gratitude for every single one of you. Thank you.

Our country has changed dramatically over the past three months. Our schools, workplaces and local businesses have all shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and do our part to flatten the curve. While Canada has seen close to 50,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, we know that our situation could have been much worse had Canadians not made the personal sacrifices necessary to stay at home. Although people are starting to get restless to resume their normal lives, I would urge everyone to heed the advice of our public health officials.

This virus has devastated our country. Thousands of Canadians are mourning the deaths of loved ones as a result of COVID-19. Many businesses will, unfortunately, be unable to reopen, leaving a huge hole in many communities. Many Canadian employees will not have jobs to return to when our country does reopen. The depth of this crisis cannot be understated. We are months, if not years, away from seeing our country begin to rebound to the levels we were at just a few weeks ago.

With Canadians facing so much stress and anxiety over what may be an uncertain future, I also want to highlight the critical importance of mental health. Half of Canadians are reporting increased feelings of anxiety and stress. Many are feeling financially insecure and also increasingly worried about the uncertainties around how long this virus will continue to alter their lives.

Last week I wrote to Canada's top mental health agencies to ask the federal government to ensure that these agencies have the supports to continue delivering these mental health services to Canadians. I'll be sharing my findings with the Minister of Health and our provincial colleagues so the government can prioritize these services for all Canadians. The increased demand for mental health services and the anxiety and stress that Canadians feel will continue long after the worst of COVID-19 has passed.

I'm amazed at the resiliency of Canadians and their willingness to help others. My office has received countless offers from business owners ready to reconfigure their factories to make hand sanitizers, testing equipment, PPE and other medical supplies for front-line workers. I have also heard from people in my community wanting to donate medical supplies. Some are making masks and other protective equipment to donate to local hospitals and care facilities. Others are donating to the food bank and local charities to ensure that supports are there for all Canadians who need them. It's incredible to see communities across our great country come together in times of great hardship.

However, this virus raises some serious concerns about our health care system, and Canadians are expecting us to work together to address these inadequacies. Our long-term care homes are floundering as a result of COVID-19. Staff have walked off the job because they are scared and don't have the personal protective equipment that they need. Families are not getting the communication they expect, and many are in the dark about how their loved ones are faring in the midst of some of the worst viral hot spots in the country. With so many immunocompromised residents in these homes, the virus is spreading much more rapidly, and a large number of lives that might have been saved with better precautions have been lost as a result.

Canada's seniors deserve much better treatment. We are hearing about residents who are left alone for hours because staff are overwhelmed. This fails to uphold the safety and dignity in our long-term care homes to say the least. We must do better for these residents. We need to do better for our seniors.

Canadians also have serious questions about the lack of preparedness. Our PPE stockpiles were not adequate. Some health care workers are saying they are forced to ration PPE at work. As well, many Canadians have questions about the slow reaction time to implement measures after first hearing about the virus. As well, the government needs to implement rigorous testing and tracing and rapidly approve new tests. Canadians are asking for these tests. We waited a very long time to receive data and modelling which was only released after significant pressure. The government needs to share the information it has with Canadians because we all want our economy to reboot as rapidly as possible.

These are good and fair questions that deserve fulsome answers and I look forward to working with the government and other opposition parties to conduct a full review of Canada's response to COVID-19. Conducting this review and learning from missteps will help us better prepare for the next potential pandemic.

This should not have come as a surprise to anyone. We were warned after our response to SARS in 2003. Canada was the hardest-hit country outside of Asia and at that time there was no public health agency and no chief public health officer. We will, in time, learn similar lessons from COVID-19 and our country will be stronger for it, but for now, we're all focused on the immediate future. When will we be able to see our loved ones again? Will our children finish the school year? When will we return to work? When will public parks open? When will life return to normal? When? How much longer? We're all wondering these things.

The first priority should be the health of Canadians. I, along with my Conservative colleagues, encourage everyone to follow the advice of the Public Health Agency of Canada and our respective provincial health authorities. Being impatient and breaking the current measures too early could result in a second wave of COVID-19 undoing all the hard work Canadians have managed over the past few weeks.

There's no doubt COVID-19 is a defining moment in all of our lives. We will all remember the time when the world came to a halt and seemingly shut down, the vacant images of Canada's greatest landmarks, the time when we were unable to run the simplest of errands, the time we had to visit our families through screen doors and windows, but over the past few weeks we have seen Canadians come together in an unprecedented way. We will prevail. We need to prevail. Together we can prevail.

This is our moment to show the rest of the world what Canadians can do when we are together. We will not let them down.

12:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly, Mr. Blanchet, has the floor.

12:20 p.m.


François-Philippe Champagne Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to start by extending my greetings to Quebeckers and to our Canadian friends. I assume this new exercise has piqued some interest and curiosity.

This exercise is also innovative in terms of the discussions we have had. Questions were raised about the risk of technical difficulties, but it does not seem to be an issue since things are going rather well from the outset. At the bottom of my screen, I can see that there are 297 members currently online. That is proof of the success of this virtual Parliament. I commend us all for being bold enough to make it happen.

It is not the same as being in Parliament and sitting across from one another. This is not a permanent replacement for a real-life Parliament in the flesh, where the exchanges, while not always decorous, are specific to the context. This approach could even be used in other circumstances.

Our duty now is to use it as a vehicle for content. The fact of the matter is there has been enough debate about the vehicle. Let us now deal with the substance. What are we going to discuss? How are we going to use this tool to make sure people are better informed—

12:25 p.m.


Kerry Diotte Conservative Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Mr. Speaker, I'm not hearing any sound.

12:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

There is a point of order.

12:25 p.m.


Kerry Diotte Conservative Edmonton Griesbach, AB

Now I am. It just started.

12:25 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Please continue, Mr. Blanchet.

12:25 p.m.


Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Let us pick up where we left off the last time we met. I had spoken with the Prime Minister about the funding for some of the measures that had been put forward. Much to my chagrin, the whole issue of help for seniors remains, and I will not back down. Such a measure could be funded—or potentially funded—by halting certain tax avoidance practices that cost the Canadian government hundreds of millions of dollars. The exact number depends on which study or source you consult, but we can all agree that it is an enormous amount of money that is eluding the Canadian government through perfectly legal, yet entirely immoral, means. However, other rich and highly industrialized countries, including the United Kingdom, Denmark and Poland, are refusing to make their programs available to companies that engage in tax avoidance.

We will come back to the matter because it strikes me as rather fundamental, especially at a time when so many are asking whether we can really afford to provide all these measures. Personally, I am more inclined to ask whether we can afford not to provide all these measures. By taking this action, the government is, of course, protecting its own revenues in the future. Nevertheless, that is obviously no excuse to leave potentially billions of dollars in the hands of the same companies that always benefit, companies that will bountifully pass the riches on to their shareholders.

That brings me back to seniors. I invited the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to work together, and I want to extend that invitation again. I would like to highlight the fact that working together was effective when it came to wage subsidies. Working together was effective when it came to support for students. Working together was effective when it came to additional supports for the social economy. In many ways, the government and the opposition have achieved better results by working together than if the government had gone off and decided everything on its own.

As we all know, seniors 65 and older, who make up 19% of Quebec's population, are far and away the people most vulnerable to the health risks of this crisis. They are also the people most vulnerable financially speaking, and by a wide margin. What is more, seniors are isolated, not just physically, but also socially. The places that are home to high numbers of senior residents are closed to outsiders. Not to mention, many seniors are isolated technologically, given that they are less familiar with the tools that make it possible to communicate with the rest of the world.

For some people, simply having to fill out the application for the Canada emergency response benefit is a heck of a challenge. Radio-Canada had something about it on its website this morning. I repeat my appeal to work together, because a lot of people so far have received assistance that we, too, feel is necessary. It would be an exaggeration, however, to say that everyone got something. In a very open and forthright way, we worked together to put this assistance in place.

Bear in mind that recipients of the Canada emergency response benefit will get $2,000 a month and that eventual recipients of the Canada emergency student benefit will likely qualify for $1,250 a month, while old age security recipients collect just $613 a month. No doubt, people will say that seniors do not have the same needs and obligations when it comes to transportation and child care. I can appreciate that, but they do not deserve a third of what a recipient of the Canada emergency response benefit gets. By giving others two to three times more, the government clearly recognizes that $613 is not sufficient. Obviously, the cost of groceries has gone up and a good many services are no longer available to seniors. Therefore, we need to do something to help seniors, and the Bloc is adamant about that—make no mistake.

I have lost track of how long I have been speaking, but I would like to revisit the assistance planned for students.

We are voting tomorrow on a piece of legislation that will bring in a measure sought by the Bloc Québécois. The NDP made a tremendous contribution as well.

It is out of the question that young people across Quebec and Canada—who will not get jobs in arts, culture or tourism, working in festivals and restaurants—have nothing to get by on immediately and no way to save money to live on during the school year. Something had to be done. A measure is in the works, and we support that.

Not surprisingly, the Bloc Québécois wants the legislation to include a provision that gives Quebec the right to opt out with no strings attached and with compensation. Since the measure is meant for students, it involves education. None of the 297 members participating in this meeting is an education minister—because education is not in the federal domain. This is a form of intrusion, then. Nevertheless, I accept it. It was not Quebec's wish, perhaps for administrative reasons or expeditiousness.

However, Quebec raised concerns, chambers of commerce raised concerns, farmers raised concerns and municipalities raised concerns. I am not convinced that the measure is a disincentive to employment, because I think young people want to work just as much today as they did back when I was young. Still, people are worried that the measure discourages young people from working.

The Bloc Québécois is therefore proposing a measure that could be added to the original motion and have the effect of strongly encouraging employment. If, as is the case in other areas, the first $1,000 earned by a student was not deducted from their benefit, that, right there, would be a strong incentive. In addition, though, if—similar to employment insurance—for every additional dollar earned, 50¢ came off the benefit and the other 50¢ stayed in the student's pocket, the incentive to work would be very strong indeed.

We think that would alleviate the concerns of Quebeckers and demonstrate to farmers that they would have access to labour. The same goes for municipalities and chambers of commerce, which represent a large number of small and medium-sized businesses. That is what we are proposing, and it makes the measure even more beneficial.

We are all worried about the public purse. Eventually, we are going to have to pay the piper. In that regard, what we are proposing could save the government tens of millions of dollars. We also think this add-on could apply to the Canada emergency response benefit, in its current form, serving as a way to incentivize work, bolster the economy and, to a lesser extent, create potential tax revenue. We therefore encourage the government and other parties to consider the measure, which would probably serve all areas under Quebec's and Canada's jurisdiction well.

I assume I am almost out of time, but other issues that need to be addressed are research, tourism, culture, fisheries and trade. Those are all areas that require our attention, but not always with a view to committing more money. Adjustments can be made, since there is indeed a limit to just how deep into collective debt we can drive Quebeckers and Canadians. I think we will have to take that approach in terms of public finances. Soon, we will have to prohibit any spending that does not have a direct impact on economic development or the economic recovery. Those are two fundamental categories. The first obviously involves infrastructure. There is significant pressure from municipalities on that front, but there is also direct support for economic development, which, starting now, should be geared towards forward-looking sectors, more than they were before, especially oil and gas. Those who work in oil and gas should not be sitting on the bench. We can get back to where we were. Any future investment, any future development, must be geared towards renewable energy and green technology, with the huge export markets they represent.

12:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

I have to interrupt quickly to let you know that you have been speaking for almost 10 minutes. I will let you finish.

12:35 p.m.


Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

All right. I had lost track. I am very embarrassed and sorry, Mr. Chair. I was just wrapping up.

In conclusion, I encourage us all to think about what I have proposed in a spirit of vigilant collaboration, as I like to say, to arrive at solutions swiftly. If the worst of the crisis lasts four months and it takes two, three or five weeks before a measure is implemented, we are leaving people to their own devices, without any help when they need it most. Let us work together constructively so that when we do meet formally, all we have to do is approve what we have already discussed and pass the legislation to implement the measures people need.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for your patience.

12:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable member for Vancouver Kingsway, Mr. Davies.

12:35 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Chair, on behalf of my colleagues in the New Democratic caucus may I begin by extending our deepest sympathies to families and friends of the victims of the horrific crime recently committed in Nova Scotia and to all Nova Scotians who we know have been deeply affected by that senseless tragedy. We stand with you in your time of grief and send our most heartfelt thoughts of healing and support.

I think I speak for all Canadians when I say that we are experiencing a phenomenon of unprecedented and truly stunning proportions. Six months ago, if you had asked any citizen in any province or territory in the country whether they could conceive of a health crisis of such magnitude that it would be necessary to batten down our borders, isolate our communities, close our schools, shutter our businesses, quarantine our homes and focus our hospital resources on a single pathogen, no one could have imagined such a scenario. Yet here we are in the midst of just such a crisis.

The human and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has been as devastating as it was unforeseen. Today, on behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada, I express our deepest condolences to all Canadians who have lost a loved one to this deadly virus. We extend our heartfelt thoughts to all those living in isolation and vulnerability and send our fervent message that you are neither alone nor forgotten. We convey our most profound gratitude to all those brave Canadians working on the front lines of this epidemic and to all those toiling to keep our communities stocked and running, often at risk to their own health and safety. Today, as we mark the National Day of Mourning, we take special note of all those workers who died on the job serving in this time of emergency. You are true heroes and your sacrifices and deaths will never be forgotten.

Although public health measures have forced us apart, Canadians have come together throughout this crisis in a manner that is truly extraordinary. Compassion, generosity and solidarity have been more contagious than the virus itself.

If the COVID-19 crisis has underlined one overarching issue, it is the immeasurable value of our cherished public health care system. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine the stress that Canadians would feel for their health and that of their loves ones and the additional economic anxiety they would experience if their access to health care depended on their ability to pay. Thankfully, we are spared that awful predicament.

Fifty years ago, it was the aspiration and dedication of Tommy Douglas and those inspired by him that built our present system, which ensures every Canadian can access physician and hospital care anywhere in this country as a matter of right.

Universal health care has become a hallmark of Canada, an institution cherished from coast to coast to coast, something that binds us together and comprises an achievement of which Canadians are most proud. It is the New Democrats' hope today that we will seize this moment in history to recognize this fundamental health, social and economic accomplishment and take this unprecedented opportunity to build on it.

It has been said many times in the last weeks and months that we should not waste a good crisis. Let us heed that advice.

Never again should Canadians be vulnerable to a shortage of personal protective equipment for our vital front-line health care workers or those who must deal with the public at a time of pandemic. Never again should we be dependent upon the vagaries of other nations, be it China or Donald Trump's America, for our essential medical equipment and supplies.

Never again should we leave millions of Canadians at the mercy of precarious employment-based health benefits where folks are one layoff away from losing access to life-saving medicine. Never again should a child with a rare illness or vulnerable condition go without their medicine because their family can't afford it. Never again should we witness a single senior citizen live or die in long-term care in disgraceful conditions, soil, neglect or indecency.

Let us cultivate a vibrant, made-in-Canada health industry for our national self-sufficiency and economic advancement. Let us act with haste to create pharmacare, the next phase of medicare, by adding prescription drugs and devices to our public health care system. Let us create national standards for long-term care, respected and enforced with a federal transfer to the provinces and territories contingent upon meeting high-quality standards, good wages and working conditions, and public delivery. Let us rapidly expand virtual care so that every Canadian can get access to quality services no matter where they live, especially those who live in rural or remote areas of our great country.

Let us get to work on the myriad other ways we can improve Canada's health care system, from dental care to community delivery, and smart investments in illness prevention like school nutrition programs.

As the minister said, we must remain vigilant. It is entirely possible, perhaps even a certainty, that this virus will come again until a vaccine is developed, either as an echo in the hall or in the form of another pandemic in the future.

Though I said at the outset of my remarks that this pandemic was unforeseen, that is not entirely accurate. Epidemiologists, researchers and others have been warning us since SARS 17 years ago that we must be prepared. As parliamentarians, let's respect that advice and dedicate our resources to becoming prepared. Let us learn the lessons from this crisis and use the precious time ahead of us to get ready. Let us invest in and expand our quality public health system, which has served us well to date but can and must do better in the future. We no longer can say we were not warned. As the economic shock of COVID-19 so vividly attests, illness and disease are much more costly than health and prevention.

A crisis such as what confronts us today delivers us the gift of understanding what is truly important in our lives. We know well there is nothing more important than the health of our loved ones. As parliamentarians, I think we are all united in our belief that our highest calling is the safety and security of those we serve. Let us not fail them in this duty.

Medicare was Parliament's legacy of the 20th century. Let's work together to build on that foundation by giving Canadians the best, most accessible and most comprehensive care possible. Let's make that this Parliament's legacy for the 21st century. Canadians deserve it.

As always, New Democrats are ready to get to work to help deliver it.

12:45 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable member for Fredericton, Ms. Atwin.

12:45 p.m.


Jenica Atwin Green Fredericton, NB

Mr. Chair, I come to you today from the beautiful traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik.

I will start by sharing my condolences for my neighbours in Nova Scotia, and indeed all Canadians. We are in mourning. I wish to send love and peace your way. Life is fragile and we have all been reminded how much we want to protect it.

I'd like to thank the technical teams behind our virtual meeting today, and the optimism and forward thinking of my colleagues that enabled this to happen. Obviously, we will experience some growing pains as we all get used to this, but I'm thankful for the opportunity to represent my constituents while practising the same physical distancing we expect them to adhere to.

I thank the Minister of Health for her speech today and for keeping us informed throughout this process.

I wish to also thank my fellow members for their hard work for Canadians. I know our teams have all been extremely busy helping constituents navigate this new reality as we, too, face it with our loved ones.

Our schedules, filled with events and gatherings, have been turned upside down, but we have been creative in finding ways to preserve the strong ties with our constituents. So far, my team has set up three national webinars and one community meeting, with many more to come.

Many people have been left behind as we deal with this pandemic. We are working very hard to make sure their voices are heard. I have witnessed more co-operation amongst my fellow members than I ever have. The adjustments made to the programs introduced have yielded results. Our work is not done, though. We must keep up our efforts to make things better for every segment of the population.

I also wish to express my gratitude to those across this country who have demonstrated such excellent leadership in the face of COVID-19. I'm thinking of indigenous leadership, community governance and friendship centres; the premiers and elected provincial and territorial representatives; as well as mayors and municipal councillors who have made tough decisions early on to keep us safe.

I'm thinking of the community leaders who have been serving Canadians. In my riding I think of the chamber of commerce that has been keeping its members up to date with accurate information on support for businesses, the teams at the Greener Village, the community kitchen and the Oromocto & Surrounding Area Food Bank who are doing incredible work, and the leadership at the Fredericton Community Foundation, which has already exceeded its goal by raising over $200,000 towards immediate relief.

There are so many examples in my riding, and I have no doubt that each and every hon. member here today has experienced the same thing in their own riding.

I am particularly thankful for the provincial leadership in my home province. We are thankful for our current numbers in New Brunswick. Quick thinking on the part of our education minister to shut down schools sent a message to New Brunswickers that this was something to take very seriously.

Wise leadership at the legislative assembly saw the appointment of an all-party cabinet committee to manage the province's response to COVID-19.

As we know, we are not out of the woods yet. We must continue to approach health and safety in a slow and steady manner. The fact that we now have the time and opportunity to plan out a recovery that is fair for all gives me hope.

In the required rush to get relief programs off the ground, to help as quickly as possible, the unintended consequence has been to leave people behind, exaggerating the marginality of already vulnerable groups of people, particularly women.

Our recovery plans will not need to be rushed in this way. We can direct our energy now to addressing the gaps created by CERB and CEBA, or the student relief program, which must include international students. We can make these changes while addressing the longer standing inequities faced by minimum wage and underemployed workers and those living on meagre government assistance programs.

We have heard a few phrases about COVID-19 again and again. Some ring truer than others. We are all in this together in Canada, but we're not all in the same boat. Some Canadians are barely floating on a piece of broken furniture. Some are sitting on an inflatable dinghy with a slowly leaking hole. Part of the learning curve of this pandemic experience is in evaluating our systems, and not all of them are going to get a passing grade.

There will need to be many phases to the reopening of our communities, and there will need to be many phases of retooling and readapting to our new reality. We cannot go back to the way it was before.

Nursing and special care homeworkers need to be valued and respected. They should not need to have multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. We need to start compensating labour in an ethical way, starting by increasing the federal minimum wage floor. We need to recognize the value of work traditionally done by women. We are going to need to invest in the public sector. Increasing the client services within Service Canada and the CRA will be an obvious start. Those who are working in our oil-based resource economy are going to need support to participate in the transition that is already happening. The economy has left these workers behind. We cannot.

We need to recognize that our relationship with the planet and our relationship with indigenous communities go hand in hand. We need reconciliation, and we need to pair it with a respect for the natural world. We need to build a better, stronger, cleaner Canada that promotes health and fosters well-being.

In preparing my words for today, I sat and I thought, what do Canadians want to hear from us? What do we want to hear from each other? Well, we want answers. We want solutions. We want a road map to a post COVID-19 existence that is both free from the pandemic and prepared in the event of its reoccurrence, and we want the vision of that world to bring us hope that we can rectify some of the inequity that has long plagued our communities.

Canadians will want to know that we have learned from all of this. I hope we have learned that we need to be proactive with our health. A future with precautions is necessary. Preventative medicine, and even personal protective equipment, will have to be our priority across sectors.

I know we have learned the value of human contact. That's for sure. I consider now the trust of a handshake, or the warmth of a hug, and how important that is and how much I miss it.

We learned of the need for universal financial stability, the need for a livable income for all Canadians.

We have learned what essential work is, and we were forced to realize that we have undervalued and underfunded those jobs. We have learned that we can put partisanship aside to accomplish great things in record time.

I thank you all for that.

We have a choice now to turn the corner, to take these lessons and forge a new path forward, one that truly leaves no one behind, one that doesn't pit some of us against others, one that breeds love, respect and prosperity. That is the path that I choose.

I wish you all good health and the strength required to keep fighting this invisible enemy.

Go team Canada. Thank you. Welálin.

12:50 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Thank you.

I would like to remind the hon. members that this is a parliamentary committee and that taking photos is prohibited. I know this is a historic day. I have seen some members taking photos, but I hope they will not be posted on social media.

We will now proceed to presenting petitions for a period not exceeding 15 minutes.

I would like to remind members that petitions presented during a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic must have been certified by the Clerk of Petitions prior.

In addition, to ensure a petition is considered properly presented, the certificate of the petition and each page of the petition for a petition certified in a previous Parliament should be emailed to the committee no later than 6 p.m. on the day before the meeting.

I thank members for their usual collaboration.

The honourable member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

Mr. Manly...?

Okay, we'll go on. There might be some technical problems. I'm sure Mr. Manly will come back to us.

We'll go to the honourable member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.

12:50 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Chair, I'm pleased to be presenting a petition in support of Bill S-204. The text reads Bill S-240 because it was a petition signed during the previous Parliament, but the same bill has been put forward in this Parliament as Bill S-204. It seeks to address the scourge of forced organ harvesting and trafficking. This can happen in many different contexts, but the particular genesis of this is the targeting of Falun Gong practitioners and others in China through an aggressive policy of organ harvesting. There's concern that Uighurs are now being targeted, as well.

The petitioners hope that members of Parliament will support this bill and that this, the 43rd Parliament, will be the one that actually moves forward with action to address the terrible human rights abuse associated with forced organ harvesting and trafficking.

12:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable member for Winnipeg North.

12:55 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Chair, it's with pleasure that I table another petition regarding a national pharmacare program. My constituents have signed numerous petitions of this nature.

They're asking that the Prime Minister and all parliamentarians get behind the idea of having a coast to coast to coast national pharmacare program, recognizing that we need to work with the provinces in order to make it possible.

It's a great pleasure through this historic moment of a virtual Parliament to present a petition of this nature on behalf of the constituents of Winnipeg North.

12:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The honourable member for Courtenay—Alberni.

12:55 p.m.


Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Chair, before I present the petition, I wish to extend my heartfelt condolences on behalf of the people from Courtenay—Alberni and send our love and kindness to all of our brothers and sisters in Nova Scotia at this very difficult time.

Today I'm tabling a petition on behalf of independent harvesters on the west coast who are enduring an inequitable distribution of risks and benefits, difficulty in access for new entrants and a lack of availability and transparency regarding the quota licence system and socioeconomic data on the west coast fisheries.

The petitioners point out to the government that in May 2019, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans provided 20 recommendations to the government for changing its current management of commercial fisheries in British Columbia. After consultations with independent fish harvesters, community organizations, industry and academics, the report identified a need for transparent fishing licence and quota ownership, and it's currently not known where the benefits of fish resources are flowing.

Among its recommendations was a call for the set-up of a public online database to track the buyers and sellers and sale-lease prices, as well as an end to the sale of fishing quotas and licences to non-Canadian interests. Therefore, the petitioners are calling on the government to commit to a timeline and a plan that respects and addresses the 20 recommendations laid out in the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans entitled “West Coast Fisheries: Sharing Risks and Benefits”.

12:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

I see that Mr. Manly is back. We'll see if we can connect.

Mr. Manly, please proceed.

12:55 p.m.


Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I am presenting a petition today about electoral reform. This is about the unbalanced electoral system we have in Canada. The undersigned petitioners are asking for a national citizens' assembly on electoral reform and require that the citizens' assembly would complete its work in 12 months and adopt any recommended changes to our electoral system before the next federal election.