Evidence of meeting #10 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 economic.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

I call the meeting to order.

Welcome to the 10th meeting of the House of Commons Special Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Please note that today's proceedings will be televised in the same way as a typical sitting of the House.

We will now proceed to ministerial announcements.

The honourable Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development.

Noon

Peterborough—Kawartha Ontario

Liberal

Maryam Monsef LiberalMinister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Boozoo, aaniin and as-salaam alaikum, colleagues. I hope you're safe. I hope you're well, and I wish the same for your teams and for your loved ones.

It's a privilege to be back in the House, on the traditional territory that the Algonquin peoples have called home for so many generations.

Let me begin by first recognizing and appreciating nurses on the front lines of this work. Last week, as a country, we mobilized to celebrate them. Let me thank the nurses who were by the bedside of Sister Ruth Hennessey in Peterborough and saw her through her final moments, the nurses who were with my own grandmother in her own final moments, the nurses who are having very difficult conversations with their loved ones, explaining why they can't be close to them. We thank them, and we look forward to a day when their work and the demand on their services is less than it is today.

It is my honour to stand in the House and pay tribute to the incredible women, past and present, who have shaped Canada, who have struggled to create change in systems that don't always welcome it, who have pushed to create a stronger and fairer country, and who have led the way in the drive for equality. Our government will continue to take our lead from those on the front lines of the efforts to advance equality. We have worked with them every step of the way since we formed government. Our plan is working because we're working with them.

COVID-19 is a crisis unlike any other. It's hit women hardest with jobs lost and women taking on more unpaid work than they already were for their kids as well as their elders. Women are the majority of those on the front lines of the fight against COVID. That includes nurses, of course, but also personal support workers, other health care workers, child care workers, food sector workers and social workers.

The rates of domestic violence and gender-based violence were high in Canada pre-COVID, with a woman being killed by her intimate partner every six days. We were already moving ahead with a national action plan to address and prevent gender-based violence. We were already well poised to work with our territorial and provincial counterparts to make this happen. We were already adopting a trauma-informed, culturally sensitive and intersectional approach.

What the pandemic has done is exacerbate the vulnerabilities of too many women and their children. COVID-19 has resulted in a shadow pandemic, exacerbating the issue of gender-based violence. As a result of the necessary isolation measures, coupled with the pressures that people are experiencing, many of our partners on the front lines are telling us that the rates and severity of violence have increased. At the same time, some organizations are telling us that things are eerily quiet. This is especially true in more rural and remote parts of this country, where too many are without access to high-speed Internet.

The isolation measures in place mean that some women are unable to seek help due to increased scrutiny and control, compounded by a lack of access to friends, extended families, community centres, schools and places of worship. In too many instances, they're trapped at home with their abusers.

Just because we can't see it does not mean it's not happening. This pandemic has not made the violence stop. It's driven it further underground. We may not be able to see it, but we know it's happening.

Too many may not be aware that support organizations are open and are ready to help. Help is available. You don't need to stay at home if your home is not a safe home.

To ensure that these organizations are able to continue their critical work at this important time, our government announced $50 million to support them—$40 million being delivered through my own department and $10 million being delivered through the department of Indigenous Services Canada. I thank my colleague there for his strong partnership.

As well, $23 million has been provided to Women's Shelters Canada and the Canadian Women's Foundation, who worked quickly to get money into the bank accounts of front-line organizations. I thank Lise Martin and Paulette Senior for their effective leadership. Payments began to flow in April. As of today, I can confirm that 422 women's shelters and 89 sexual assault centres have received funding.

We've of course reached a separate agreement with the Government of Quebec, which is receiving $6.4 million in federal funding to flow to their front-line organizations. Those funds were transferred to the province in early May.

We're deeply grateful to women's and equality-seeking organizations across the country for providing services to women and to vulnerable children. They're providing critical supports, and we will continue to support them so that they can continue to be there for women and children in their hour of need.

Organizations are using these funds to keep their staff paid, to keep their doors open and to ensure that the most vulnerable in communities across the country have a place to turn to. The money is helping to assist them in purchasing cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to protect workers and those they serve, and in securing additional laptops and software so that they can support their clients remotely and allow for necessary physical distancing measures.

An additional $10 million will be distributed to address gaps and support hundreds of other organizations. All eligible organizations will receive funding by early June, and I will have more to share with my colleagues and with Canadians in the coming days.

If your home is not a safe home for you or your family, you don't have to stay. Reach out to a local organization directly or talk to someone you trust to discuss your options and plan your exit. Visit sheltersafe.ca. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency services. There are people answering crisis lines across the country and they can help you even if you have only a few minutes to talk, including the kids helpline. You can reach them at 1-800-668-6868.

If you can't speak on the phone, the signal for help is a simple one-handed sign you can use during a video call. It can help you silently show that you need help and want someone to check in with you in a safe way. Put your palm to the camera, tuck your thumb and trap your thumb. If you see someone signalling for help, call and ask them open-ended questions like “Are you okay?”, “Do you want me to call 911?” or “Do you want me to check in with you regularly?” Visit the Canadian Women's Foundation website for more details. They have created this hand signal.

No one should have to live through violence, whether it's physical, psychological, financial or sexual. I want to assure all those impacted by gender-based violence, and indeed all Canadians, that we will continue to be there for you throughout the pandemic, and that as we move forward together, things will get better.

Thank you.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We'll now go to Ms. Dancho.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Raquel Dancho Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It’s an honour to be back in the House representing the people of Kildonan—St. Paul. They elected me to fight for everyday Canadians, and I’ve been working hard to deliver that to them during this devastating pandemic.

I’m proud to say the Conservative team has made real progress over the last two months advocating for people left behind by this government. Before I get started, I would like to sincerely thank my Conservative colleagues from Elgin—Middlesex—London and Calgary Skyview, as well as our shadow minister of employment, on their excellent work advocating for Canadian women.

This Liberal government has left many women behind during this pandemic, and were it not for the dedication and perseverance of my colleagues, many would still be without support. They are making real change in the lives of Canadian women, and I’m proud to serve alongside them. While I thank the Minister for Women and Gender Equality for providing us with an update on how previously announced funding is being spent, I have grave concern for the vulnerable women’s organizations whose funding has been cut by her government and must be restored.

This is very troubling because the true heroes are on the front lines working tirelessly every day during this pandemic to support Canada’s most vulnerable women and girls, yet last week we learned that nine organizations across Canada, organizations like the London Abused Women’s Centre, that support women who are victims of sex trafficking were hit with the devastating news that this government was cutting their funding. The federal government cut their funding for programming that worked to stop the sex trafficking of women and girls. By the end of May, they will no longer be able to provide sex trafficking counselling to women in need in London. This is devastating news because this program provided support to over 3,000 women and girls over five years. This program was originally funded under the previous Conservative government.

Executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, Megan Walker, has bravely stood up against the Liberal government’s cuts. Her recent remarks really hit home for me. “I feel sick,” she said. “All we know is there’s no funding for programs like ours across the country. The individuals who are going to suffer are those who are sometimes the most marginalized in our society—women and girls who are forced into the sex trade to do horrendous things. It’s actually really heartbreaking.” The Conservatives agree wholeheartedly with Megan, and we stand with her and the eight other organizations across Canada that have had their funding cut and will no longer be able to support vulnerable women as they did before this government’s cuts.

The minister mentioned in her remarks that $10 million of previously announced funds will be redistributed to, as she said, “address gaps”. This sounds nice, but there are no real details or any commitments being made to these organizations. Meanwhile women’s groups are reporting that sex trafficking has been on the rise in this pandemic. I’m sure many of these groups will hear the minister’s remarks today. She could take the opportunity in the House at any time to announce that funding will be restored for these nine organizations and, really, it would be quite simple for this government, given that they’re shovelling billions of dollars out the door every day. This is really just a drop in the bucket for these organizations, but it would mean a world of difference to them. I hope the minister makes the choice to put these organizations at ease by standing up today in the House, on the record, and restoring their funding.

If the minister does choose to do this, it may provide more public confidence in her government with regard to their ability to support women impacted by the pandemic, which is important because, as she well knows, the economic impact to Canadians has been especially severe for women. There were just over three million jobs lost in March and April alone, with women facing a higher rate of unemployment according to Statistics Canada. Female employment dropped 17% compared to 14% for men, with women 15 to 24 years old suffering the biggest drop, at a 38% decline in employment. In my home province of Manitoba, 56% of Manitobans who lost their jobs between February and April were women, compared to 44% who were men.

The hospitality, retail and restaurant sectors, which employ primarily women, have been at a standstill since mid-March, as we well know, which has forced many women to apply for the CERB because the government’s rollout of the wage subsidy program has not been effective and, worse, their slow rollouts and the complicated, arbitrary red tape restrictions on program funding have shut out many female entrepreneurs in my riding from government support. Shamefully, this government originally left out expectant mothers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. They were unable to access the CERB for over a month. Many pregnant women faced losing portions of their maternity benefits that they were planning to use after their babies were born. Conservatives heard their concerns, held this government accountable on behalf of expectant mothers and changes were made, a victory for Canadian women.

Over the past week, our Conservative team has been calling on the government to find a solution for women whose ex-partners cannot provide spousal support. These women face the loss of thousands of dollars in spousal payments and they do not qualify for the CERB, but the courts are not enforcing the payment of these spousal support payments. The Prime Minister's response to this urgent issue was simply to ignore the women across Canada facing the prospect of either paying their rent or putting food on the table for their children. The minister does not have to wait another month to make a statement in the House in support of women. She can commit today to work with opposition members to find a solution for women facing severe shortfalls because of lost child support payments.

Canadians have seen first-hand that when the government works together with the Conservative opposition, Canada's women and families benefit.

Just last week, in fact, the Minister of Employment announced that much-needed benefits like the guaranteed income supplement, the Canada child benefit and the GST/HST credit would not be cut off for individuals and parents who do not file their taxes by June 1, so those who don't get their paperwork in won't automatically have their benefits cut off.

I am pleased that the minister considered and accepted this policy change proposal from my Conservative colleague, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry. His work will benefit millions of Canadians.

Before I conclude, I would like to bring to the minister's attention an issue that I've raised with her department before. The only Women and Gender Equality Canada regional office in western Canada is in Edmonton. As of last year, the six dedicated staff have helped women's organizations deliver programming in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

I know the minister would agree that western Canadian women need more support than this. The scale of the challenges facing women in Manitoba during this pandemic is daunting. We have the largest number of children in care, per capita, in the world, with over 10,000 children in the child welfare system, over 90% of whom are indigenous.

Additionally, gender-based violence continues to be a persistent issue in the Prairies, particularly in Manitoba where women face what are among the highest rates of domestic violence in the country. Just this past Friday, Marie Morin, a Winnipeg woman, was murdered, allegedly by her partner in what police called an act of domestic violence.

Manitoba women and girls need support. They need more help.

I would ask that the minister consider opening a Women and Gender Equality Canada regional office in Manitoba so that the federal government can do its part to better support my province's most vulnerable women and girls. The women's organizations that support vulnerable women in Manitoba are working overtime during this pandemic. It's really incredible, actually. I'm so proud of the hard work that organizations in my riding are doing to support our communities, organizations like Marymound, which is a safe place where young, vulnerable girls can go to heal and be supported and loved.

These organizations are so important, and I urge the government to do everything it can to support them during this challenging time.

Finally, given our important discussion today concerning victims of sex trafficking, I would be remiss if I did not give sincere thanks and acknowledgement to the former Conservative member of Parliament from my riding of Kildonan—St. Paul, Joy Smith. She made Canadian history as the first sitting MP to amend the Criminal Code twice, both times to better protect victims of human trafficking with mandatory minimum sentencing for traffickers of children, and to better protect Canadian citizens and permanent residents abroad from trafficking and exploitation. Joy Smith continues to do phenomenal work on this file, and I am truly honoured to carry the torch for Kildonan—St. Paul in the House of Commons to advocate for Canada's most vulnerable women and girls.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We will now move on to Ms. Chabot.

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.

Madam Minister, I would like to commend you for your testimony with regard to women and I thank you for it.

There are many exceptional women. I would say they are everywhere. In one way or another, they are confined in this whirlwind of disorganization and uncertainty. We find them on the front lines, in the health care and social services network, in the CHSLDs, in grocery stores, or at the bedsides of the sick. Some of them go home alone.

Given that equality between men and women is still far from being achieved, the pandemic is making an already problematic situation worse. Yes, the pandemic is shining the light on women's reality. However, before this pandemic, the face of issues like poverty, safe and good-quality social housing, seniors, caregivers, workers in the healthcare network or in essential services, and even the cases of violence, was still predominantly a female face. This crisis therefore is exacerbating what was already a problem, because women are being directly hit by the economic consequences of COVID-19 and by the social consequences of the lockdown.

In this pandemic, those most at risk, physically financially, socially or psychologically, are women. In Canada, almost 90% of hospital nursing staff are women. About 80% of the orderlies, whose contribution we highlighted yesterday, are women. Most family caregivers, 77% of them, are women, generally women older than 45. Since their life expectancy is higher than that of their spouses, they often survive them after they have taken care of them. The majority of seniors are also women living alone.

Although their level of education is higher than men's, women still represent three-quarters of part-time workers. Some may say that some of them choose that situation in order to achieve a work-life balance. Even then, domestic and family responsibilities fall to women. However, other factors also explain the disparity. Women are overrepresented in certain areas of employment, such as hospitality. In service sectors, like hotels, restaurants, and retail, the jobs are mostly part-time. So women are not working part-time by choice, but because they are not offered anything else. We are told that by a sociologist.

In addition, women receive lower salaries than men. Even though equality exists in law, actual equality is often harder to find. Women are often working part-time. I would also emphasize that they face more difficulties. Only one- third of them qualify for benefits such as employment insurance. I can show you all those figures to demonstrate that, while the face of the current crisis is female, it is also a reality that we have to consider. The problems existed well before the crisis and they must be dealt with.

According to her mandate letter, the Minister of Employment must implement Canada's Pay Equity Act. This is a matter of urgency. She must also work with the provinces and territories on the ratification of the ILO's 2019 Violence and Harassment Convention. That is also a commitment that we must make. In fact, according to figures published by Statistics Canada, one woman in 10 is worried about being affected by a situation of violence and a number feel that they will experience a situation of domestic violence. That is quite startling.

Against such a background, we must not lose sight of the fact that we must hear people's testimony, simply to emphasize the importance of the role of women. The goal is also to remind ourselves that our work on behalf of women—in terms of their reality and their absolute right to equality—must be work that we do every day, work that we cannot lose sight of. This is particularly important during these crises, which bring with them issues that are not only social but also financial.

We must also remember this government's commitment to conduct a complementary gender-based analysis of its financial, economic and social policies. In Quebec, we call it a gender-differentiated analysis. We must ask ourselves whether each action we take discriminates against women or whether we are supporting them with gender equality so that the discrimination disappears.

The fight for women is a one that society as a whole must fight, in all its forms. I believe that it is even more important to remind ourselves that the women we are not talking about and not worrying about are working and are in the front lines. We have finally realized how important their work is. We must not simply thank them, tell them how good they are and that we need them.

It is not enough to acknowledge how important they are for a day, or during a crisis. We must acknowledge that they are essential for society every day.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We will now go to Ms. Mathyssen.

May 20th, 2020 / 12:25 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We stand at a pivotal moment, a moment that will be looked back on for how Canadian society and the global community banded together to help one another fight an invisible enemy. Hard decisions had to be made and, with the spirit of collaboration, parliamentarians have come together to deliver programs that are helping millions of Canadians weather the storm of the pandemic.

While we are all in the same storm, Mr. Chair, we are not all in the same boat and, sadly, many are taking on water. COVID-19 has exposed the many cracks in our system and has highlighted the millions of Canadians who were struggling before the pandemic even began.

I think of the many people in my constituency who have no access to health benefits. With fewer employers offering benefits, people are having to pay out of pocket for needed medications. There are those workers who are deemed essential and who fear falling ill, as they have no sick leave and, with poverty-level minimum wages, they struggle to pay rent and put food on the table. There are seniors struggling on fixed incomes, who see the costs of everyday goods continuing to rise and the money they receive from their pensions covering less. As well, I often speak to younger Canadians who do not even know what a workplace pension is because they are becoming increasingly rare.

Daily, I speak with women who face incredible barriers, barriers that generations of women have been fighting to tear down, yet they still stand. Those barriers existed through government after government. Those barriers continue to stand under this Liberal government. You can forgive those who are discouraged by the fact that they still must fight the battles of generations past, despite its being 2020.

While we are still experiencing the effects of COVID-19, there is hope that we will soon see the other side of this pandemic. At that time, we will stand at the crossroads, and we'll have to decide how we go forward. What kind of Canada do we want to see? Already, like clockwork, you can count on those in the right wing sirening a call for austerity and a devastating agenda of cuts that will prolong the sufferings of Canadians and what they are already feeling.

I hear from women's organizations and charities about the kinds of supports they need. They and I humbly propose a different vision from the same old neo-liberal agenda that is on offer, one where the government stops the project-based funding model for organizations that support women and charities. That model has forced organizations to continuously address the symptomatic problems women and marginalized Canadians face, rather than address the real issues. We need to change how we fund these organizations. Until we get back to offering consistent, reliable core funding, we cannot begin to address the systemic barriers that keep people down.

In my home of London, Ontario, we saw a clear example of this just last week. Funding that was allocated for organizations to provide long-term support to trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls is being cut. These women already face incredible trauma and abuse. They need support and stability, and the government is taking it away because the project has ended—except people don't live in projects with hard timelines. I fear for the women who will come after and who are fleeing violence and now have fewer places to turn to because of the actions of this feminist government.

Because of the models of funding that governments have put in place, they starve women's organizations. They have to scramble to find whatever funding they can to deliver the critical supports they offer our communities across this country. Short-term funding can't solve long-term problems. Sadly, because of COVID-19, when more is being asked of them, when supports are needed the most, their ability to raise money has all but vanished. These organizations, like many Canadians, don't have rainy day funds. They don't own the buildings they are in, and they are scrambling to keep the lights on while helping people who desperately need it.

We can help them so that we can help Canadians. We need a government that will take some bold steps and show some courage.

Another simple but effective measure that can help women now and going forward is for Canada to establish paid domestic violence leave. From the government's own data, domestic violence accounted for 30% of all police-reported violent crime in Canada in 2017. Eight out of 10 times, women were the victims.

Many women and those who are marginalized not only suffer at the hands of their abusers but also suffer significant financial costs when they are trying to escape. We can and should put in whatever financial backing we can to help those who are fleeing that violence. What we need is a government that has the political will to do it.

Mr. Chair, women are still not equal in the workplace. Of course, we see this in a variety of ways. I'll quote the former member of Parliament for Qu'Appelle and the fifth woman ever elected to the House of Commons, Gladys Strum, who said:

I submit to the house...that no one has ever objected to women working. The only thing they have ever objected to is paying women for working.

For every 10 jobs that have been lost due to COVID-19, six were lost by women. We have seen the extreme toll that takes.

We have also seen women laid off, unable to acquire the needed hours to receive maternity benefits. Every week, expectant mothers reach out to my office to ask what will happen to them in a post-pandemic world where they are unable to return to work and fall short of the hours they need to claim the benefits they need.

There are many ways the work that women do goes unrecognized. Because of old, tired views of what constitutes work, enshrined by outdated laws and regulations, a lot of work is unpaid, overlooked and taken for granted. With children out of school, the home has become the day care or school. With a lack of supports for seniors at home, often the responsibility of caring for them falls on women.

While we have made a lot of progress since MP Strum said those words in the House in 1945, when it comes to recognizing the work of women and pay equity, a lot more needs to be done. Around 56% of women are employed in occupations involving the five Cs: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning. The differences in how female-dominated occupations are valued relative to male-dominated jobs contribute to gender-based pay inequality. Right now, Canadian women make 32% less than men do, and the gap is even wider for racialized women, immigrant women, women with disabilities and indigenous women.

Respect for indigenous women and girls and two-spirit people must be at the core of a new Crown-indigenous relationship, but for too many indigenous women, systemic discrimination and violence continue to be a reality.

After the Conservatives refused to address the tragedy of murdered and missing indigenous women for almost a decade, the Liberal government finally launched a long-overdue inquiry. However, they set it up with a limited mandate and failed to adequately care for the families who courageously shared their stories. The inquiry's finding of a genocide against indigenous women in Canada demands action from all Canadians. The report from the national inquiry must not sit on the shelf. The government needs to work in partnership with indigenous women, the families of the murdered and missing, and the communities, to implement the inquiry's call for justice and the calls to action brought forward by communities.

As more and more businesses are slowly allowed to reopen, people need to know they can return to work safely. They need to know their children will be cared for and kept safe. Many people don't have the privilege of working from home, and the government has a responsibility to guarantee them more security and supports. People have sacrificed so much, and Canadians did this in good faith. They put the needs of their communities first so we could weather this storm. The government must make public its plan to transition into our next phase so that those sacrifices are not wasted.

With bold thinking and political courage, we could bring forward some exciting new realities. Let's make workplaces safer and give workers 10 mandatory days of paid sick leave. Let's make child care available, affordable and accessible. Canadians want to go back to work. Let's make sure that when they go back, they can stay safe and stay healthy.

We have a lot of choices ahead of us. We can ensure a Canada that removes the barriers women and marginalized people face so that they can meet their full potential. We can address the core funding crisis women's organizations and charities face. We can work to change the laws to recognize all the many ways women work and contribute to our economy and society. We can address pay equity, an issue that is long overdue. We can redefine relationships with indigenous communities across Canada. We can move forward in a positive, progressive way. We can make further investments in the people who make up the neighbourhoods, organizations and communities we love. They are our foundations. They are our anchor.

It is certainly never too late to invest in people and the programs that reinforce our society. That ship hasn't sailed. In fact, the tide is just coming in.

Thank you.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

The next statement goes to Mr. Manly.

12:35 p.m.

Green

Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. To them, I say meegwetch.

Ideally, this response to the honourable Minister for Women and Gender Equality on behalf of the Green Party would be given by the honourable member for Fredericton, but I am on parliamentary duty today for the Green Party caucus, and I will humbly do my best to speak to this issue.

Honourable members in the House may have noticed that I wear a moosehide square on my jacket. The Moose Hide Campaign is a grassroots movement of indigenous and non-indigenous men and boys who are standing against violence toward women and children. The campaign was started in 2011 by Paul Lacerte, a member of the Carrier first nation, and his daughter, Raven. The idea came to them during a hunting trip on the traditional territory along the Highway of Tears, a stretch of highway in northern B.C. where many indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing.

Since the day Paul and Raven were inspired to start the Moose Hide Campaign, more than a million moosehide squares have been distributed. The moosehide square is meant to be a conversation starter, a way to engage men and to speak out against violence. As men, we have a responsibility to address the issue of violence towards women and children. It is up to us to promote peer-to-peer accountability and do the work required to end the cycle of violence.

Some Canadian households have managed to turn the social isolation experience into meaningful, positive family time with board games, craft projects, family cooking, adventures and more, but for many women and children, home is not a safe place at the best of times. Social isolation, financial difficulties and alcohol consumption have all contributed to an increase in violence against women and children.

In Nanaimo—Ladysmith, organizations like Haven Society, Island Crisis Care Society, and the Society for Equity, Inclusion, and Advocacy are on the front line of this crisis. I want to thank the people at the centres for their work helping women and children escape violence and abuse, and supporting families on their healing journey.

The increase in gender-based violence is one example of the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women. In the time I have today, I will highlight some other examples.

The pandemic has laid bare the inequalities in our society. It has laid bare our blind spots, because the things that are most deeply entrenched are often the most difficult to see.

As a nation, we watched Italy run out of ventilators and the world turn soccer fields into makeshift hospitals. Struck by the images of doctors and nurses struggling to keep pace, we quickly saw what Canada's own underfunded health care system was up against. In a rush to prepare, surgeries were cancelled and dentist appointments postponed. We hung up rainbows, banged pots and pans and said goodbye to family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

Unwilling to stand idle and allow the health care system to collapse, governments at all levels, parties of all stripes and citizens across the country committed to flattening the curve.

In a frenzy to order more ventilators and clear more hospital beds, we overlooked where we would be hit the hardest. COVID-19 left a path of devastation in long-term care facilities across the nation. The pandemic revealed gross negligence and inequality in the management and hiring practices of privately owned long-term care facilities.

Ownership changes led to contract flipping and union decertification. Workers were laid off and then rehired part time for lower wages and no benefits. These health care workers, the vast majority of them women, were compelled to work at multiple facilities to make ends meet. Allowing these workers to be devalued and exploited to increase profit margins created conditions that led to the rapid spread of COVID-19 from one long-term care facility to another.

This has been one of the harshest lessons of this crisis. Eighty-one per cent of the COVID-19-related deaths in Canada have been associated with long-term care facilities. The private, for-profit care facilities were hit the hardest. The front-line workers we bang pots and pans for every night are predominantly women. They are nurses, technicians, care aides, kitchen staff and cleaners in our health care system and long-term care facilities. They are low-wage workers in essential services. Their work is often unseen and unacknowledged. It's important that we cheer for them. It's even more important that we ensure they receive fair compensation for their work.

While the government has provided a lifeline to many Canadians who lost work as a result of COVID-19, too many are still struggling to keep their heads above water.

Last week the Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce and the Dream Legacy Foundation released the results of a national survey of close to 350 diverse entrepreneurs, including women, visible minorities, indigenous, LGBTQ+, refugees and immigrants. They found that these business owners are experiencing greater impacts resulting from the COVID-19 crisis than other segments of the population. Fifty-three per cent of women entrepreneurs reported an additional burden of child care, compared to 12% of male entrepreneurs. Sixty-one per cent of women-owned businesses reported loss of contracts, customers and clients. In contrast, 34% of businesses across Canada reported cancellation of contracts.

In Nanaimo—Ladysmith I've heard from countless business owners who are experiencing COVID-related loss of revenue. I know that even with government assistance, many businesses will not survive this crisis. Most of the micro-business owners I've heard from are women. Many of them have reported they are unable to access government assistance. Many of the small business operators who are telling me their businesses are unlikely to survive through this year are women.

I'm thinking of a newly opened restaurant that doesn't have enough of a business track record to access help and is hanging on by a thread. I'm thinking of a day care operator who qualified for provincial assistance funding to cover her business's fixed costs, only to discover she is now ineligible for the CERB and cannot afford her personal cost of living.

As Canada recovers, we cannot afford another misstep. We must think of those who are vulnerable, those who have fallen through the cracks.

Yesterday, my colleague the honourable member for Fredericton stated that she spoke with the leadership of the Native Women's Association of Canada. They told her they did not feel heard within this government. They expressed frustration with the red tape and colonial criteria of funding applications. They told her they wrote to the Prime Minister last month to express their disappointment in being left out of critical decisions. My honourable colleague asked, in light of the approaching one-year anniversary of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry report, and considering the recent spike in indigenous women experiencing violence due to COVID-19, would the minister commit to direct, solid core funding for the Native Women's Association of Canada?

Very few Canadians are aware that one of the top recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was to create a guaranteed annual livable income for all Canadians, taking into account diverse needs, realities and geographic locations. In two short months the idea of a guaranteed livable income has gone from a relatively obscure policy discussion to a mainstream debate. It's an idea that has gained support across the political spectrum. Spain recently announced its intention to institute such a program. A guaranteed livable income would reduce inequality in this country and alleviate many of the social issues associated with inequality. I urge the government to give it the serious consideration it deserves.

We must invest properly in the structures that hold us together, or we risk our country coming apart. I want to see our commitment to protect our health care system from being overburdened mirrored in our response to the mental health crisis, the housing crisis, the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and the crisis of domestic violence.

Too many Canadians are falling between the cracks, and a disproportionate number of them are women. We in this Parliament can make policy choices that will flatten the curve of inequality in this country and around the world. That is the curve I want to see flattened.

Thank you.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We'll now proceed to the presenting of petitions, for a period not exceeding 15 minutes.

I would like to remind honourable members that petitions presented during a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic must already have been certified by the clerk of petitions.

Once a member has presented their petition, we ask that they please drop off their petition at the table.

Mr. Genuis.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Chair, I'm pleased to be presenting four petitions today.

The first petition is in support of Bill S-204, which opposes organ harvesting and trafficking.

While organ harvesting from unwilling prisoners is a well-documented phenomenon in China, the World Health Organization under its current leadership has actually praised China's organ transplant system. For example, Francis Delmonico, chairman of the organ transplantation task force at the WHO, said at the end of last year, “The biggest feature of the Chinese experience in organ transplantation is the strong support from the Chinese government, which is an example that many countries should follow.”

This is another demonstration that the capture of the WHO by the Chinese state requires scrutiny and accountability, and the petitioners believe that Canada must act in the meantime to combat forced organ harvesting and trafficking by passing Bill S-204.

The second petition deals with the terrible persecution of Afghanistan's dwindling Sikh and Hindu minority community. On March 25, dozens of people were killed by a suicide bomber who attacked a prominent gurdwara. After this, the funerals of the victims were also attacked.

I join with the petitioners in calling on the immigration minister to create a special program to allow the direct sponsorship of vulnerable minorities. The petitioners note that the community in Canada is ready to act to put up the money and provide the support, but the government must create the mechanism by which this sponsorship can occur. I note that the member for Cloverdale—Langley City has been leading on this issue by sponsoring e-petition 2501, for those who want to sign it.

The third petition deals with government Bill C-7. The petitioners are very concerned that the government is seeking to remove safeguards, which they once thought were vital, associated with the euthanasia regime. In particular, the petitioners are concerned about the fact that the government is trying to eliminate the 10-day reflection period that normally exists prior to a person's receiving euthanasia.

The fourth and final petition deals with human rights concerns internationally, in particular in Pakistan and Thailand. The petitioners highlight the plight of Pakistani asylum seekers who are in Thailand. The petition calls on the government to do more to support these vulnerable asylum seekers and seeks the repeal or reform of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are often used perversely against minority communities. It's important that we not forget about vital international human rights issues, especially when crackdowns may be worsening in the midst of this pandemic.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Ms. Findlay.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Mr. Chair, this petition urges the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to use the powers granted to him to create a special program to help persecuted minorities in Afghanistan. The recent bombing in early July killed leaders from both the Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan and demonstrates their ongoing vulnerabilities, especially since these leaders were on their way to meet the president.

These Sikh and Hindu communities are ready to sponsor Afghan minority refugees, and this petition is being put forward to urge a change in approach.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mr. Barsalou-Duval, the floor is yours.

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Mr. Chair, I present petition No. e-2429, the objective of which is to create an ombudsman for immigration.

Many in my constituency are frustrated by cases that are often bungled or processed too quickly by the officials. They are seeking additional protection for those cases, a second look at the processing of immigration claims.

I must say that this is a wish that other hon. members have expressed. We have the impression that MPs' offices have become ombudsman's offices, in a way. When there is a problem, MPs' offices are used like Service Canada offices. We believe that it is not our role to complete all the claims again and to review the procedures. There should be government services for those kinds of things.

Clearly, in an ideal world, the entire immigration system would be in the hands of the Government of Quebec.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mr. Manly.

12:50 p.m.

Green

Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Chair, I have two petitions today.

The first one calls upon the government to issue a statement condemning the People's Republic of China's persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners. They request that the Crown's Minister of Immigration, Refugee's and Citizenship list the PRC as a refugee source country, thereby allowing swifter accommodation for those fleeing its persecution.

The second petition is from many of my constituents in Nanaimo—Ladysmith. They want us to follow the example of the European Union. They are calling on the government to ban the sale and/or manufacture of animal-tested cosmetics and their ingredients in Canada moving forward.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mr. Barrett.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Mr. Chair, following the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, I would also like to present a petition where the signatories have grave concerns with respect to human organ trafficking. As the member stated, Canadians can be rightly concerned with the WHO's endorsement of practices that are currently being undertaken by the state in China, so we're looking for support for Bill S-204.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We'll now proceed to the questioning of ministers.

Please note that we will suspend the proceedings every 45 minutes to allow the employees supporting the work of the sitting to replace each other in complete safety.

The honourable Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Scheer.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Canadians are gradually going back to work and expecting their elected representatives to do the same thing. Next week, the legislative assembly of Quebec will sit three times a week. Then it will sit four times a week during its two sessions in June.

Can the Prime Minister tell Canadians why he feels that we do not have to come back to work here in the House of Commons?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

For several weeks, the House has been sitting three times a week, including twice by virtual means so that hon. members across the country, not just those who live in Ottawa, can be here to represent their constituents.

We will continue to ensure that Parliament is functioning, even when we are in this crisis situation.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Chair, the Prime Minister knows that the House is not sitting normally. This is a committee of the whole. It's not the normal way that the House of Commons does its business and the Prime Minister should acknowledge that.

I've raised the issue of Brandt Tractor in my riding numerous times with the Prime Minister. I'd like to do so again today because Conservatives have been asking for weeks for the Liberals to amend the wage subsidy to allow companies that have acquired another company to compare their revenues based on the combined revenues of those two previous companies.

Last week the government announced a change to eligibility for the wage subsidy for companies formed by an amalgamation but not for acquisitions. There are many employees whose jobs depend on the answer to this question.

Can the Prime Minister confirm whether these same rules will be extended to acquisitions?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Chair, in response to the honourable member's first comment, these are not normal times. We are in a pandemic situation where Canadians are having to adjust in many different ways. At the same time, it is important that we keep our parliamentary institutions going and that we provide opportunities for MPs to ask questions of the government on behalf of their constituents. That's why we have had three sittings a week over the past number of weeks.

In regard to the business in the member opposite's riding, I can highlight that finance officials have been in touch with that company and we continue to look at ways of closing further gaps. Even as we've helped millions of Canadians and hundreds of thousands of companies, there is more to do and we will keep working on that.