Evidence of meeting #4 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 crisis.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:30 p.m.


Nelly Shin Conservative Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to share this time with my colleagues from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan.

As I rise to speak in the House today, I do so with deep gratitude. I am grateful for the privilege of serving my constituents in Port Moody—Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra during these unprecedented times. I am grateful to be here in the chamber, where the dignity, dreams, lives and hopes of the people are shaped by the laws we make in this great democratic institution. I am proud to be Canadian more than ever before, because I see people in our country and in my community putting their compassion, generosity and resilience into action in a time of great need. I am humbled by the honour of serving my country in a time of adversity.

I'd like to take this time to thank the health care practitioners and staff at Eagle Ridge Hospital for their daily sacrifice. I'd like to thank the first responders and essential workers in my riding, who keep us safe and fed, and maintain a certain level of normalcy for us in a time of instability. Thank you all for putting yourselves at risk on the front lines as you take care of us. You are the heroes in this war against COVID-19.

I'd also like to say a special thank you to all who have been showing great initiative by raising support for food banks through virtual concerts and galas. I'd like to thank Share Family & Community Services and other societies and groups in my community for continuing to meet the needs of food and security for the homeless, seniors and vulnerable families. I'd like to thank individuals and groups for their efforts in making homemade masks and donating them to health care workers and seniors.

There is another demographic of vulnerable Canadians who are facing unprecedented struggle right now, and that is the business community. With so many shutdowns, revenue losses and the challenges of paying rent and utility bills, all the while facing disappointment over gaps in the emergency benefits that disqualify some business owners.... I recognize it's a process, but it's been a daunting one for several weeks. Therefore, I'd like to thank Michael Hind and the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce for doing an excellent job of keeping business owners updated on different government benefits and encouraging the people. To the sponsors of the shop local campaign to help urban businesses survive the pandemic, thank you for giving hope to our entrepreneurs. Canada needs our businesses to survive past this pandemic.

In the midst of struggle, there have also been moments of celebration. I'd like to congratulate Dr. Mary Anne Cooper, a resident of Port Moody, for receiving the B.C. Achievement Community Award. We celebrate her exceptional contributions to our local heritage and our green spaces, and her advocacy for seniors.

I'd also like to congratulate Novo Textiles, a company in my riding of Coquitlam that, without government funding, has managed to retool their factory to manufacture surgical masks. They are now supplying masks to the B.C. Provincial Health Services Authority, Alberta Health, Nova Scotia fish-processing companies, B.C. Search and Rescue, and the Port of Vancouver. In a short time, they'll be manufacturing N95 masks using a Canadian machine and Swiss-made fabric that has a strong antiviral and antibacterial effect that can kill bacteria upon contact.

This success story and the similar stories that are starting to pop up across our nation demonstrate not only their efforts against COVID-19 but also their entrepreneurial, innovative and pioneering spirit, which is the essence of the Canadian spirit. I'm so proud to see it happen right here in my own community. It was a privilege to be part of expediting the process for Novo Textiles' transition to becoming one of Canada's first manufacturers of N95 masks.

In continuing to celebrate our Canadians, I'd like to wish all members of the Dutch, Asian and Jewish communities a happy heritage month, and celebrate their history, culture and contributions that enrich and strengthen our country.

This week we also observe Mental Health Week, and I'm so glad to hear in the House many sensibilities spoken about this. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested many aspects of our human condition. It has particularly had a toll on our mental health individually and collectively. There's been a lot of shock and change, and much to grieve and process.

It didn't even dawn on me personally until I went to Vancouver International Airport for my flight here and saw the empty airport and recognized the situation we truly are in and the vulnerability of our economy. I did not see people, the crowds that I'm used to seeing, which mark a healthy industry. We are in challenging times.

I recently spoke with a non-profit organization, Not 9 to 5, that advocates for mental health awareness and support for the hospitality industry. Of the many industries hit by COVID-19 shutdowns, the hospitality industry is perhaps one of the most vulnerable. It's certainly an important part of my constituency and of British Columbia.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, substance use, socio-economic insecurity and unemployment are high risk factors for suicide and suicidal behaviour. According to Not 9 to 5, the hospitality industry already had a severe mental health crisis on its hands before the coronavirus pandemic, but now with the added challenges of isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic, a rise in suicide rates is expected.

This points me to a greater overarching pandemic. Hospitality is one industry, but Canadians at large are facing an unprecedented time of trauma, fear, anxiety and hopelessness with all the challenges of financial loss, isolation, fear of the COVID-19 virus itself and uncertainty about the future. I know many have not had a chance to grieve and come to terms with what's happening right now. In a matter of weeks and months, I don't even know what that will look like.

It is at a time like this that I feel that it is important for us as parliamentarians, and especially for the government being in a position to take action, to really consider the long-term impact of this crisis pertaining to mental health and to perhaps view the situation as an opportunity to do a reset in how Canadians perceive mental health and how we respond. It is perhaps not something that should just be left to the provinces. Instead there should be a federal framework that we can provide not only for immediate intervention but for long-term solutions.

I would ask all members across all aisles to consider what that framework would look like, to not only help Canadians through this pandemic but also set a long-term course through which mental health care is accessible and part of everyday care like physical health care.

In 2006, the Conservative government proposed legislation for a mental health act. We acknowledged the need for oversight on mental health, but it's been 14 years. We need to revisit mental health and take it to the next level. There's no better time than the present, and if necessity is the mother of all invention, let the necessity of oversight and funding for mental health care today, in partnership with all tiers of government and front-line organizations, mark its beginning.

Today there is another pandemic that is running parallel to COVID-19 and that is the pandemic of domestic abuse. In 2018 about one-third of all violent crimes reported to the police were committed by intimate partners.

COVID-19 has created a perfect storm for domestic violence to escalate. Tri-City Transitions is a women's shelter and service provider for families and victims of domestic violence in my riding, and I'm grateful that my community has an organization like Tri-City Transitions, which has programs for immediate needs and long-term restoration and has served the community for 45 years. I spoke with Carol Metz, who has worked for many years for the shelter, and in a Zoom interview, she stated that since the COVID-19 pandemic caused social distancing and shutdowns, they have opened 20 new cases. Families are being strained relationally, and even the most solid relationships are being tested.

While emphasizing the need for more long-term programs to support women, who form 80% of the victims in intimate partner violence, she also stated the need for programs to help the abusers deal with the issues that translate into their anger, violence and abusive behaviour.

While the government has stated that the funds are flowing to the bank accounts of shelters and sexual assault centres, we don't know the details of how the support is being distributed, so there is no way of determining the gaps. It is time to take a deeper look at domestic violence and deal with these issues or else we will have a whole generation of families with PTSD and all kinds of trauma. The cycle needs to end. We need to mitigate now with solutions that speak not only to immediate relief but also in the short term and long term work toward restoration.

I'm glad to see the initiatives the government has undertaken to bring more awareness, but it needs to go deeper. Counselling is a journey that needs to begin and end with consistency, and I hope some of the counselling will provide long-term journeys to help people find stability in those counselling relationships.

Moving forward, I hope that during this Mental Health Week all members will give deep thought to what mental health care should look like today and for the next generation.

Thank you.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We have a point of order.

May 6th, 2020 / 3:40 p.m.

Honoré-Mercier Québec


Pablo Rodriguez LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Chair, I am tabling, in both official languages, a revised version of part of the response to the order of the House of March 9, 2020, which was deposited electronically with the Clerk of the House by the Minister of Finance on April 29, 2020.

Because of the atypical work arrangements put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were technical difficulties with the translation of certain parts of these documents, such as authorization to translate a section of the documents not having been received when the documents were submitted. These problems have now been resolved, so I am tabling these documents.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We'll continue with the speeches now.

Mr. Martel, you have the floor.

3:45 p.m.


Richard Martel Conservative Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Chair, it's an honour to sit in the House today and voice the concerns of the people of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord in these uncertain times.

Parliament never closed down before. This is a first. With the nation in crisis, Canadians looked to their leaders. Sadly, for several weeks, we were at an impasse with the government, and we couldn't move forward on the issues that matter to them.

I went through this as a coach. It's not easy to innovate and improve when you're surrounded by people who think exactly the same way you do. That's why we fought so hard to be here. We would have preferred to meet several times a week, but we'll take what we can get.

During question period, I raised several issues that affect both individuals and businesses. I realize these are exceptional circumstances, that we're all moving forward together in uncertainty, and that the government is doing its best to help people in need. However, I would like the government to co-operate more with the Conservative opposition, because I believe we could all contribute to finding positive solutions to the COVID-19 crisis. The government would do well to work with us for the good of Canadians without wasting parliamentarians' time on partisan issues like controlling law-abiding gun owners.

That being said, in the spirit of collaboration, I want to highlight certain problems with the government's usual programs. We hope to enhance these programs to help a larger number of Canadians. I think that parliamentarians could be the government's greatest allies in the fight against COVID-19. We're the ones who listen to the problems brought to us by individuals and businesses and help them find solutions.

At Service Canada, measures have been taken to better support us as parliamentarians. At the Canada Revenue Agency, it's a little harder, not least because the parliamentary line has been shut down. Right now, people are falling through the cracks, and we're the only ones who can help. We realize that the government is announcing programs quickly, without necessarily having all the details, in order to respond as fast as possible. However, many Canadians are being left behind.

I know that our public servants are working very hard these days, but I think they should have the right to interpret vague regulations somewhat broadly. For instance, I'm thinking of people who were forced to apply for EI because of the rail blockades and people with above-average foresight who self-isolated before March 15. Unlike most people, they're not eligible for the CERB.

With regard to help for individuals, I'm shocked that the government provided such generous support for students, the very people who work for our essential services during the summer. They're the least vulnerable to COVID-19, yet they're the ones getting the most encouragement to stay home. The government is pandering to the lowest common denominator instead of incentivizing work. It's clear that certain businesses will struggle and won't be able to rehire their usual staff. We absolutely need to add an incentive to work. For instance, why not offer more loans and grants to those who choose to work this summer? That's the kind of policy that will minimize aid for youth and reward those who worked on our farms, in our businesses or even in front-line health care.

I would also urge the government to work with the provinces to increase support for seniors during COVID-19. Seniors are in forced isolation and are the most vulnerable to this virus. Many are being forced to buy electronic devices, get Internet installed to stay connected with their families, and do their grocery shopping online for their own safety. This crisis is increasing their expenses. Will any help be planned for them?

Now I'll turn to businesses. The Canada emergency business account is a good program, but it's far too restrictive. Why doesn't this program do anything to help start-ups that are newly established, businesses that unfortunately didn't have time to spend $20,000 on payroll this year, businesses run with a personal chequing account, businesses whose employees are issued T4As or are on service contracts, or businesses that pay themselves in dividends or revenue sharing? There are many different ways to run a business in Canada. I'm sure the Minister of Finance is aware of that.

Many businesses are falling through the cracks, even though it would be easy to provide them with a $40,000 repayable loan. It wouldn't be hard to improve the program. This program could be the difference between surviving or not for some businesses.

Speaking of businesses surviving, many of them were hoping to get the emergency wage subsidy to keep their employees on the job and keep our economy going. I see two huge gaps in this program.

First of all, why are non-arm's length businesses not eligible for this assistance? That makes no sense. The government is literally interfering in the management of Canadian businesses. Whether they're arm's length or not, they need help.

Second, for non-arm's length employees, they're being asked to look at the average earnings between January 2020 and March 2020. Many businesses in the tourism sector, including campgrounds for instance, have lots of seasonal workers who don't work between January and March. Under this rule, they won't get any wage subsidy.

As a final point, I'm a little puzzled by the emergency commercial rent assistance. Why is it that the government thinks it can interfere in the lease between two businesses and force landlords to accept a 25% rent reduction? The government is playing a dangerous game. It should either help tenants with 50% or 75% of the rent, or provide loans to landlords until their tenants can pay their rent again. However, forcing landlords to lower rents completely undermines the rule of law. This could be a very slippery slope. I therefore urge the government to approach this with caution and review the program's structure.

I really hope the Liberal government will consider my suggestions. After all, the issues I've raised here are not unique to Chicoutimi—Le Fjord; they exist across the country. Although this is the right thing to do, these programs will be enormously expensive for Canada, and we can't afford to pass this debt on to future generations. Already our tax system isn't very competitive compared to the rest of North America. Our tax system is cumbersome and inefficient. I would therefore caution the government against raising taxes in any way that would further squeeze Canadians and hurt our economic recovery.

In terms of a recovery plan, I urge the Liberal government to expedite infrastructure projects, to make it easier to invest in Canada and, most importantly, to support the private sector natural resource development projects worth around $200 billion that are currently being studied in Canada, such as the GNL Québec project in my riding.

Before the COVID-19 crisis struck, GNL Québec enjoyed around 68% support in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. This major green project will be ready for construction in 2021 and will definitely give the Canadian economy a boost.

In my region, we've been less affected by COVID-19, as everyone has been reviewing their hygiene practices. This is a perfect opportunity to decentralize investments in large urban centres and move them towards the regions. With programs that are more flexible and better suited to rural realities, the regions could take a leadership role in Canada's economic recovery.

If another wave of this or another health crisis were to strike one day, the regions, which tend to be more isolated, could help ensure a strong economy if the urban centres have to come to a standstill. I therefore urge the government to be bold and support investment in the regions. That is how we'll be able to reach our full economic potential and quickly pay down the enormous debt weighing down our country.

The COVID-19 crisis is unlike anything we have ever seen in the 21st century. We understand that the government is in a difficult situation. Today I want to reach out to the government and encourage it to remain open and flexible and consider some of the proposals I've suggested. I am confident this would help many people and many businesses, and that these recovery plans would help the country get back on track quickly.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in this debate. It was a privilege to share my constituents' concerns at this historic time.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We will continue with Mr. Lukiwski.

3:50 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I too, like so many of my colleagues before me have said, am extremely pleased, to be here today, albeit with a significantly reduced number of people in this chamber. I recall the first time I stood in this House to make some comments. It was over 16 years ago. I was intimidated. I was awestruck. I didn't know exactly what I would say and how I would get the words out of my mouth. I do recall standing up and seeing a lot of empty chairs in front of me.

I'd like to say to everyone here that, even after 16 years, it's apparent that I still have the ability to draw a crowd.

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:50 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

So to the people who are here today, I thank you for it.

Mr. Chair, we are living in a strange, strange world. I think everyone here knows that. No one can deny that. It's almost like the world has been turned upside down.

Who could have predicted, a scant two months ago, the type of world we are living in right now? Who could have predicted, two months ago, that we would be living in a world where there was a global lockdown, a world where people could not leave their houses, were told by their governments not to leave their houses, couldn't go next door to a neighbour's place to have a cup of coffee, couldn't ask their grandchildren to come over for a visit, and couldn't attend a funeral? Nobody could have predicted that.

Who would have predicted, two months ago, that literally tens of millions of people would lose their jobs literally overnight? Who would have predicted, a scant two months ago, that today over three and a half million people would have contracted this deadly virus? There's a death count in most democracies and the industrialized world, in fact in countries throughout our globe and throughout our planet; people are still dying because of COVID-19. Who could have predicted that? The answer, of course, is no one.

What have we done as a country? What have other countries done in terms of trying to combat this? I have to say that generally speaking, most countries that I am aware of have done good to exceptional jobs. They put in health protocols to help flatten the curve of this pandemic. They also did other things from an economic standpoint to try to support their citizens. They got money out the door to support those who lost their jobs. They got money out the door quickly to support those who had to close businesses.

Those economic initiatives were not only necessary; they have worked. The problem and the difficulty is at what cost, and at what cost economically? We are looking at a situation now in Canada where this year's deficit alone will be somewhat north of $250 billion. That figure is rising, and the spending tap has not been turned off yet. Was it necessary? Yes. But what will happen two months from now? The day of reckoning has yet to come upon us, but it will.

I want to spend the remainder of my time here to just reflect for a few moments on what this government has done to try to prepare for the situation that we find ourselves in now from an economic standpoint and compare that with a previous government, the government that I was a part of for nine years. I can tell you that despite the government's rhetoric that their own initiatives financially put their government in a good fiscal position to withstand something like we're seeing today, they did not. Yes, it's true that the net debt-to-GDP ratio is around 30%, in the low thirties. The government keeps touting that as an example of how their economy, while they were governing this country, was doing a good job.

I agree that the economy seemed to be humming along, but what this government will not say to Canadians, will not remind Canadians, is that in the first four years of this government's mandate, from 2015 to 2019, this government added over $70 billion to the Canadian debt. Any economist, any financial analyst, will tell you that during good times, that is the time when governments should be putting money aside for a rainy day. It should be paying down debt and saving money for the future in case a recession or some other unknown or untoward calamity washed up on our shores.

Right now it's not just raining; it is pouring. The government was, despite its rhetoric, in my view, completely unprepared from an economic and fiscal standpoint to deal with the situation that we have before us today.

How will we recover? That's a question I want to ask this government when the time is right. I recognize that now is not that time. Let's compare for a moment the situation this government finds itself in compared with some of the initiatives that the previous Conservative government embarked upon from 2006 to 2015. When I was first elected in 2004, we were in a minority situation, but we formed a government in January 2006. I can remind members that, in the first two years of our Conservative government, we paid down $40 billion of debt while at the same time reducing the GST from 7% to 5%.

In 2008-09, there was a recession that washed up on our shores, as it did throughout the world. That was the global recession caused by the subprime mortgage crisis initiated in the United States. As a government, we recognized we had to do something. We borrowed $50 billion to put into the economy as stimulus, primarily using infrastructure projects across Canada that were shovel-ready. What happened? It worked. Our economy came out of the recession before any other country's in the world. By the time we left office in 2015, we were back into a balanced budget.

That's fiscal responsibility and that's fiscal restraint, two themes I don't think this government truly understands.

I point out to members that, during our first four years in opposition after the 2015 election, we consistently asked the Minister of Finance when the government's budget would be balanced. There was steadfast refusal from the finance minister to answer that question. I'm sure it was not because the minister didn't want to answer the question. It was because he didn't know the answer to the question. He could not provide an answer as to when the government's budget would be balanced.

Think about that for just a moment. Arguably, the second most influential and powerful person in Canada, the finance minister of Canada, was not able to answer a simple question: When will your budget be balanced? If it was bad enough back then, when the economy was in relatively good shape, how will the Minister of Finance answer that question today? How could he possibly answer that question?

There are only two options that I see this government has as we move forward, as we hopefully leave the health crisis, the pandemic know as COVID-19, behind us. That is to do one of two things, either cut spending or raise taxes. My colleague who spoke before me already indicated that raising taxes would simply not be the right move right now because of the negative impact it would have on the Canadian economy. That leaves option number one: to reduce government services. I have never seen a government more unlikely to do that than the government sitting across from me today.

I look upon members opposite and ask them to think long and hard. What initiatives must they be faced with? What will they do to make sure that Canada's economy not only gets back on its feet, but that we start dealing with the massive debt we'll have to deal with. It's not me, not my children, not even my grandchildren. It's probably my great-grandchildren who will have to pay off that debt. That's an unfortunate circumstance that this government, in part, brought upon itself.

Mr. Chair, Canadians deserve better.

4 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We will now go to Ms. Larouche.

4:05 p.m.


Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would first like to inform you that I'll be sharing my time with my honourable colleagues from Joliette and Jonquière.

I must humbly admit that I'm surprised to find myself here again, for the third time since this crisis began, talking about the precarious situation facing seniors. We are meeting again today in circumstances that are as exceptional and dramatic as ever. At the risk of repeating myself, I only hope that we actually get something done this time and that the government will finally address seniors' concerns.

I feel I have a duty to fight for those who helped build Quebec, and even Canada, as we know them today. People aged 65 and over were born between the 1930s and 1950s, times of great upheaval and great change everywhere. These individuals definitely contributed to the Quiet Revolution and its repercussions. They have witnessed the birth and evolution of the welfare state.

Now they are seeing the flip side. They have contributed their entire lives to this society of solidarity, but at the end of the day, there is not enough money for them. These are our parents, our grandparents and even our great-grandparents. The rapid, furious pace of our so-called modern life has gradually pulled us further away from them. Many of them are really and truly alone.

I'm still young, and when I look at the current situation, I don't want to grow old in a world like this, where institutionalized ingratitude allows a certain degree of dehumanization. I'm not talking about professional and family caregivers. On the contrary, they are also victims. I'd like to see seniors get some of their dignity back. They obviously need us; they need us to bring in immediate, direct measures.

The current crisis is causing serious economic hardships for seniors. Some people seem to think that the economic shutdown does not affect seniors since they're no longer in the workforce, but that isn't true. First of all, a good many of them, mostly older women, do still work, which just goes to show, I think, how urgent these measures are. If they receive pension income and yet still feel the need to work, clearly, their income support is not enough.

On top of that, their investment income, in other words, the savings they accumulated for their retirement precisely so they wouldn't have to work or receive the guaranteed income supplement, has been decimated. Most seniors live on a fixed income, their pension, but the cost of living is going up for everyone, whether it be the cost of rent, groceries, medication and services.

In 1975, old age security covered 20% of the average industrial wage. Today it covers 13%. This means that old age security is often not enough to keep people from living in poverty. Increasing seniors' incomes will not only give them a decent standard of living, which they have long deserved, but will also help them deal with the current crisis. The Bloc Québécois has considered this a priority since long before the current crisis and has been asking for improvements to the guaranteed income supplement.

During the election campaign, the Liberals seemed to be aware of the problem and promised to increase old age security by 10%. If they had actually done so, this measure would have definitely made a huge difference in the current crisis. In committee last Friday, the president of the FADOQ network, Gisèle Tassé-Goodman, urged the government to keep that promise. However, that commitment was limited to people aged 75 and over, which makes no sense. We must not discriminate based on age and create two classes of seniors. Seniors also have needs. They don't all live in long-term care centres or posh seniors' homes. Ageism will not encourage the proper treatment of seniors.

The first obvious conclusion is this: Seniors are also greatly affected by this crisis, not only economically speaking, but also in terms of their daily life, considering the lockdown and isolation. They're no longer getting help from their family members or home care, for instance.

Another aspect I want to talk about is the fact that the economic crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic will unfortunately put many businesses in a precarious situation. Workers and, more importantly, pensioners with those companies will once again be the hardest-hit. They risk losing their pension funds or a large part of those funds.

That is why the Bloc Québécois has been proposing measures to protect investment income when stock markets plunge since long before this crisis began. Again in committee last Friday, the president of the FADOQ network, Gisèle Tassé-Goodman, also expressed support for the measure the Bloc Québécois has proposed in House, namely that pensioners be considered preferred creditors in the event of bankruptcy, by amending the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act.

This brings me to the second conclusion: Even retirees with a pension plan are not immune from the potential financial consequences of COVID-19.

We have to face the situation with a clear head and acknowledge our problems, but this is not the time for partisanship. In any case, that is not what we usually do. I therefore reiterate our willingness to work with the government so we can find solutions now. At the very least, a decent income could have helped seniors deal with the crisis on their own, plan more effectively for their confinement, stay connected with family and friends, for example through the Internet, and purchase essential goods online. This economic security and the reassurance that they weren't completely alone would have done much to reduce this stress, which they don't need at this stage of their lives.

We appreciate that the government welcomes and listens to our proposals. As parliamentarians, we want to contribute as much as we can. We have an extraordinary role to play and an exceptional forum, and we have a duty to use them wisely.

The third conclusion is that the current situation is only exacerbating a problem that has been plaguing us for a long time. It's sad that it took a health crisis for the government to act and for all of us to become collectively aware of the situation of seniors and the people around them.

In the face of these three conclusions, doing nothing is not an option. In fact, doing nothing was not really an option before the crisis and neither are further delays. Given that various segments of the public received assistance relatively quickly, every day that no assistance reaches those who are the main victims of this health crisis makes the government more unworthy of its mandate.

Rather than taking our criticism as a guide to act often too late, wouldn't it be better for the government to get us directly involved? Maybe then we would be able to act in a timely manner. If the government is short of time or creativity, it can take advantage of our strength as a group and ask other parties to help.

There are solutions. Increasing retirement income is an option that has been advocated many times by our party and is supported by such organizations as the FADOQ. Moreover, this increase was a promise made by the Liberal Party during its election campaign. All we have to do now is to implement it.

Because seniors are not just an economic weight but a grey source of strength, and because they have the right to age with dignity, let's act now.

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

Mr. Simard, you have the floor.

4:10 p.m.


Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm glad you're back. I almost missed you. I'm happy to see you again today.

I will start by commending the work of the essential services workers in my riding, who do a fantastic job and who have to go to work, sometimes even despite the incentives to stay home, such as the CERB. I think they are very brave people who have their priorities straight.

Before I start my speech I would like to make a brief aside.

Several people in my riding have called my office for information on the CERB. One of them was a gentleman who was working under the table. He thought it was totally unfair that people who do not declare their income do not have access to the CERB. I lectured him a bit by telling him that when he goes to the hospital and uses public services, our taxes pay for those services.

I find it rather ironic that earlier, in response to some questions, I heard members opposite say that we were going to allow companies registered in tax havens to benefit from the measures the government is implementing. Let's just say that this is a tad inconsistent with the lecture I gave this citizen who works illegally. I would even say that this encourages people to work under the table. In any event, there is someone better placed than me, my colleague from Joliette, who will be able to explain it to you later.

This time last year, if I had told anyone that we were about to have one of the worst health crises in Canada, probably no one would have believed me. That's what a crisis is like. As long as it is just a possibility, we pay no attention to it. We are living through this actual, real crisis, which some people predicted by talking about a possible SARS pandemic. They had already given us an indication of how this could develop.

I am thinking of what we did a little earlier when we marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. When we're in a crisis or a war, sometimes we tell ourselves, “never again”. We want to make sure it never happens again.

I will use this as a starting point to discuss what role science might play in this crisis. I am my party's critic for science and innovation.

Let's just say that we, as public policy-makers, have a moral obligation. We must ensure that the current crisis never happens again. The direct consequences of this crisis are very problematic. We only have to think of our seniors who, as my colleague said earlier, are being left to cope on their own because we need to implement health measures. How are we going to resolve this situation? Health care funding will certainly be part of the solution. I will come back to that.

I would like to come back to the approach my party has taken since the beginning of this Parliament.

The Bloc Québécois has committed to co-operate with the government. This has earned us some successes, especially in the aluminum file. However, I feel that we need to revitalize this approach of co-operation. To help solve this crisis, our party could make a contribution, as it did for the implementation of the CERB, by putting forward its ideas.

I would like to brainstorm with you and share a few points with the government about a strategy to recover from the crisis.

A crisis occurs in two waves. During this first wave we are experiencing, the government acted in reactive mode, in other words, it responded by putting out fires. That is what it did in part by introducing the CERB and the Emergency Wage Subsidy. It had to deal with the most urgent situations. In the second wave of the crisis—and this is where things will get interesting for us—we will instead rely on an analytical or prospective mode, to use big words. In short, we will try to “understand”, “prevent” and “anticipate”, and we will propose concrete, feasible solutions.

To that end, we cannot avoid engaging in a serious reflection on research, since it is effectively through research that we can manage to control something like the current pandemic.

I therefore see two major approaches to overcoming the crisis. We will have to develop mechanisms that will help us control infectious diseases, but there is also another interesting approach that goes hand in hand with economic recovery. What will we learn from the crisis? Maybe something as abstract as climate change can become more real to us. As part of the economic recovery, we will have to use our scientific resources to find ways to prevent future uncontrollable crises, such as global warming.

There are then these two major aspects, but I am still a bit concerned because, earlier, our friends in the Conservative Party talked about the public debt as a way out of the crisis. I am well aware that public debt rises in times of crisis, but the federal government should not go back to its old ways of cutting transfers to the provinces. That is what led to the fiscal imbalance, which has resulted in chronic underfunding of health care. We are now suffering the consequences of this in Quebec. This underfunding has led to inadequate services in some seniors' centres. We will have to pay particular attention to this. It is true that we do not have unlimited resources and that we must ensure that public finances are sound, but we must not go back to a fiscal imbalance and the underfunding of health care.

There is another important issue to consider as we work to exit from the crisis. I fear that the government will decide to invest massively, as it has already done to some degree, in oil and gas. The oil sands are no longer a profitable source of energy. It would therefore be an obvious mistake, in my opinion, to want to save the oil sands as a way out of the crisis, when there are other very attractive economic sectors. I am thinking in particular of the forestry industry, which is very promising. It would be a good strategy to invest in the forestry industry as we emerge from the crisis. We should think about wood construction and forest biomass utilization. These are very promising sectors that are not unique to Quebec. They can also stimulate the economy in British Columbia. There is a whole area of research focusing on the forestry industry to help make the energy transition a little smoother. If the government decides to go in that direction, we will certainly work with it. There is then that possibility for bringing the economy out of the crisis.

I have one minute left and I haven't gotten to the main point of my presentation yet. We also have an opportunity when it comes to health care. Today, I told the Minister of Health about a Quebec initiative involving a biobank that would work in the sequencing of the COVID-19 virus. I hope that the government is also prepared to support this initiative, which is already backed by the Government of Quebec.

In closing, I would like to reiterate that we are prepared to work with the federal government if it commits to harmonizing the recovery from the crisis with the fight against climate change, which is not consistent with cuts to health care. If that is the case, the Bloc Québécois will be there to help.

4:20 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Anthony Rota

We will now continue with Mr. Ste-Marie.

4:20 p.m.


Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Chair, many emergency economic measures have been adopted to date, but more needs to be done. Think about our seniors, lobster fishers, researchers and workers in the tourism, cultural, media, agricultural and forestry industries.

The Bloc Québécois expects the government to present an economic update before the summer. We are not talking about the budget, which we expect in the fall with a vision for the economic recovery. We want an update now because we want to get an overall idea of the situation, of the current circumstances and of all the emergency measures that have been adopted piecemeal.

We also expect the government to tell us its intentions for the summer. Will it extend the emergency measures? Will it extend them for specific sectors, such as tourism? Since the Minister of Finance has certain powers, we are asking him to share his intentions with the House.

In that regard, we are in the early stages of an economic recovery, but it may be slow going. Some restaurants will continue to make take-out meals and may soon open their dining rooms but only on Saturdays and Sundays. They will begin to hire their employees back, but only part time. It will be the same thing for hotel operators, who will also be hiring staff back part time. The same goes for SMEs and the manufacturing sector.

We can therefore expect a timid recovery with part-time workers. On one hand, that is encouraging because it marks the beginning of a return to a new normal. On the other hand, it creates new concerns because part-time workers may not earn enough to pay their bills but may earn too much to continue to receive the Canada emergency response benefit. I am therefore asking the government to adapt its emergency programs to take into account the part-time nature of the recovery. The health of our economy depends on it.

That is why we are asking the government to provide an economic update before the summer.

The time for the economic recovery will be in the fall. Hopefully the worst of the crisis will be over by then. It will be the beginning of a new normal. That is why the Bloc Québécois expects the government to table a budget when we return to the House in the fall to present its vision for that recovery. An economic recovery is an opportunity to lay the foundation for the economy of tomorrow. It is time to imagine the future we want. It is time to look forward.

Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter spoke of creative destruction. Economists use this expression to explain how economic crises are an opportunity to lay a new foundation for the economy of tomorrow.

Without in any way diminishing all of the problems this crisis has created, this pandemic also represents an opportunity to develop a vision for the economy of tomorrow, which should not cling to industries of the last century that are destined to disappear, with or without a pipeline. Tomorrow's economy involves embracing the clean energy transition and encouraging our businesses in that sector, which can shine on the international stage. Earth must make that change to respond to the environmental crisis. Quebec has everything it takes to succeed in that regard.

Tomorrow's economy involves supporting emerging technology companies and the innovation and research sector. It also means stepping up to help Canada's aerospace industry, which produces the cleanest aircraft in the world. Once again, Quebec has everything it takes to embrace this change. We will see whether the neighbouring government is up to the task.

The economic recovery also involves ensuring sustainable local agriculture and strong regional economies. That can be achieved through universal access to high-speed Internet. It is time high-speed Internet was considered an essential service, just as electricity was in the past.

The economic recovery involves supporting our culture and our artists. It also involves recognizing the role of our local and regional media outlets. In a time of fake news and conspiracy theories, reliable information must also be considered an essential service.

We also need to rethink our tax system. The report of the expert panel on sustainable finance provides food for thought in that regard. We need to think about that.

The current crisis brought to light the underfunding of the health care system. Ottawa originally committed to covering half the costs of the health care system. Today, it contributes only about 20% of the total cost and that contribution continues to drop every year. It is time for that to change. We need to be ready to deal with the next health crisis and, to do that, we need to strengthen our health care system.

The current crisis also reminds us just how unfair the tax system is. Everyone is paying his or her share except Toronto's big banks and the multinationals, which use tax havens. Now, in a time of crisis, they are asking the government for help, but the rest of the time, they are nowhere to be found. That needs to change.

We will have a $250-billion deficit. That means everyone needs to contribute and it will not longer be acceptable to use tax havens to avoid paying one's fair share of taxes.

In an interview with Gérald Fillion, tax expert André Lareau, who specializes in tax havens, indicated that $350 billion Canadian is sheltered in only 12 tax havens. Businesses use tax havens for activities related to financing operations and intellectual property.

Mr. Lareau also indicated that the government is aware of all the Canadian money that is being sheltered in tax havens but that it is not taking any action. He added that, given the current deficit, it is high time the government made a major change. He believes that, if we do not take this opportunity to change things, we will never change them. It is high time the government made things that are immoral illegal.

After the 2008 crisis, OECD countries created a working group to crack down on tax havens, or BEPS. We hope that the current crisis will be the time when the government makes the use of tax havens illegal. France, Denmark and Poland will not provide aid to companies that use tax havens. Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom and the European Union are currently considering the issue. Here, nothing is being done.

As I said earlier, the Journal de Montréal reported that businesses using tax havens will finally be able to benefit from federal assistance. After suggesting that the government would be placing restrictions on that, the Prime Minister changed his mind. That is unacceptable.

Canada is lagging behind other OECD countries in the fight against tax havens, and even when it comes to the illegal use of tax havens.

The Minister of National Revenue can boast all she likes about how her agency is doing more, but the numbers do not add up. For example, the $1 billion announced to crack down on tax cheats includes the salary of the person who was hired to replace someone who was retiring. That is ridiculous. This is not new money. It is nothing like what is being done in the United States or Europe.

The government also has a lax approach when it comes to credit card companies. They are doing what they want and getting off scot-free. In Canada, interchange fees are 10 times higher than they are in Europe and Australia. The government needs to act as quickly as possible. Visa and MasterCard are taking too much of our businesses' profits. Use of these credit cards is widespread in this time of crisis. Action is urgently needed.

Even today, my nation must rely on Ottawa's goodwill. The room to manoeuvre is here. In times of crisis, a central government is in the best position to implement emergency and recovery measures. The Bloc Québécois is satisfied with the various measures taken to date. The Bloc is also proud that it was able to contribute, in its own way, in order to better meet the needs of Quebeckers. However, that does not change the fact that the administration of my nation depends on the goodwill of its neighbour.

We have to accept decisions that we find unsatisfactory. Take for example the underfunding of our health care system. Ottawa is pulling out at the expense of our seniors and our sick. High-speed Internet is another example. Since Ottawa is giving Bell and Rogers carte blanche, our regions are paying the price and are not developing their full potential. Finally, let us also think of our farmers, our artists, our seniors and our media outlets.

I spoke about the government's lax approach to credit cards and the legal use of tax havens. In 2020, we are still not masters in our own house.

That being said, I would like to recap. We are asking the government to present an economic update by this summer so that we will know what direction it is going in and we can get an overall idea of the situation. With regard to the vision for the recovery, we expect the government to present a budget when the House comes back in the fall.

4:30 p.m.


The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

We will go to the hon. member for Burnaby South, Mr. Singh.

4:30 p.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Thank you very much.

I'll be sharing my time with my honourable colleague, the MP from Nunavut.

We've said before that during this crisis people are struggling and that during the immediacy of the crisis we need to focus on three things: We need to get money in people's pockets; we need to make sure they have a safe place to live; and we have to make sure that there are jobs for people to return to.

Now we're talking about a potential return to work. In order for people to return to work, they need three things. They need to know that their work is safe: They need to know that if they go to work, they're not going to get infected or sick and that they're not going to spread infection to their loved ones when they come home. They need to be safe. In addition, there's no option: All workers in Canada need paid sick days. If a worker is sick and needs to stay home, they should not be forced with the impossible decision of “Do I go into work and risk spreading an infection to my colleagues, or do I stay at home, not knowing how I'm going to pay the bills?” That impossible choice should no longer be a reality for Canadians. Finally, we need to make sure that children are safe and that parents can go back to work knowing that there is child care for their kids.

The Conservatives talked about, essentially, making people so desperate that they have to go to work, that they're willing to work in dangerous conditions: take away benefits from workers to make them go back to work. That is dangerous, and that is irresponsible. That is not the way to get people to work. The way we ensure that people get back to work is making it safe to work and making it so workers are not putting themselves in danger. Making people desperate to work is not the way forward.

Talking about the safety of workers, we have some really troubling examples of what happens when workplaces are not safe. I want to talk about Hiep Bui. She was a worker at the Cargill meat-processing facility in High River, Alberta. She became infected with COVID-19 at her workplace and she died. She immigrated here from Vietnam. She was 67 years old, and her husband misses her desperately. The plant where she worked is the site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada at a workplace. Over 900 workers have tested positive so far. The fact is that workers should not have had to risk their lives going to work.

On Monday, that plant reopened its doors after being closed for two weeks. Workers and their union expressed concern about the inability to contain an outbreak in the plant and said that they are worried that the illness will continue to spread. This is a national problem. The virus has spread at other plants too. We need a national plan to keep our workers safe.

Cargill isn't the only food-processing plant where workers are at risk. We've spoken to union leaders and the UFCW president, and they have asked the Prime Minister to use the authority that the federal government has to ensure the safety of food to also ensure the safety of workers. Now, to the assertion that the federal government could use its authority to ensure that food is safe to also ensure that workers are safe, the Prime Minister responded by saying no. He said that our responsibility, his job, is to protect the food, not the workers. That is simply inexplicable. How could a workplace pass a food safety inspection if workers are getting sick in such huge numbers? If workers are sick and the work conditions are not safe, then the food obviously is not safe either.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced funding for food-processing centres, which is good, but no plans to keep workers safe. Again, this is wrong. Workers want to go to work. Workers want to be able to contribute, but they also want to be safe. If these plants are getting federal money, then the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that the workers at those sites are safe.

The government can't wait until the next outbreak to then raise the alarm bells. The government must respond now.

It is very important that Canadians have a safe food supply, but we cannot ensure food safety without ensuring the safety of workers. The lives of workers must be the number one priority. No workers' lives should be sacrificed.

New Zealand has put in place a national plan to ensure there is a COVID-19 safety plan for all workplaces, making sure that they're safe. Now, what the federal government needs to do is work with all provinces and territories, with unions and workers and businesses, to ensure the same exists here in Canada. Every worker needs to know that they have the right to refuse work that's dangerous, and they need to know the government has their backs. In addition, I want to make sure the government commits that no worker who refuses to do unsafe work will be denied the CERB.

In addition to being able to go back to a safe workplace, where workers are confident that they're going to be safe, workers now more than ever need to have paid sick leave. I'll admit that in the past there was a different notion around sick days. I remember that going to work when not feeling well was a badge of honour, an example of strength, and I would just tough it out. However, we have to change this mindset. Going to work with symptoms when one risks infecting someone else—a colleague, people at the workplace—is actually not the right thing to do. Many people don't have the privilege to just stay at home when they're sick. For them, there is that impossible choice of going into work and potentially getting sick or getting someone else sick, or staying at home and not being able to pay the bills because they're not getting paid to stay at home.

The government offers some paid leave, but it's not enough and it's not available to all workers. What I'm calling for, what New Democrats are calling for, is that, at a minimum, all workers need to have access to 10 paid sick days. If we look at that as a workweek, and we include weekends, that would give a worker over 14 days so that they can rest, heal, get better and then return to work.

We need to have a commitment from the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to develop this plan, to ensure that all workers can stay at home and still pay the bills if they're sick. No one should have to be forced to make that impossible choice.

We know that not all employers will be able to pay for sick leave because of the current crisis. We should plan to expand the employment insurance system and other types of assistance to help in the short term. The employment insurance system must also be modified so that it covers all workers. We cannot force people to make an impossible choice between working while sick and paying their rent.

Finally, in order to get back to work, parents need to know that their children are cared for. This crisis has shown how essential child care is. The economy doesn't work if parents don't work, and parents don't work without child care.

What we've seen in this pandemic is that in many ways women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Women are more likely to have lost their jobs in the last couple of months as a result of COVID-19. Statistics Canada released its March jobs report, which showed that six out of 10 jobs that were lost were lost by women. Women are also working in high-risk fields: hospitals, long-term care and grocery stores.

Without child care, more women will be forced to leave the labour market. Many day care centres are in trouble and many have been closed. Some have lost critical funding. Without a federal commitment to child care, it will be very difficult for people to return to the labour market.

We are calling for the federal government to put in place a funding guarantee for child care centres, so that child care centres can continue to operate, employ staff and be ready to open up. We also need to build an accessible, universal child care program as part of the recovery. We know that the impacts of this pandemic have affected women, specifically disproportionately affected women, so we have an obligation to respond in kind with investments in child care, with investments that will allow women to take part in the workplace and ensure that there are child care centres available so parents can get back to work.

I've taken a moment to talk about what it takes for workers to get back to work. Again, I want to be clear. Workers want to get back to work, but in order to do that they need three things: They need to know that their workplaces are safe; they need to have paid sick leave; and they need to know that their children are safe and that there's child care available.

Again, some people are going to talk about incentivizing work by removing benefits like the CERB. All that does is make workers desperate, so desperate that they're willing to put their lives in jeopardy or at risk, so desperate that they're willing to accept low wages with no benefits, benefits like paid sick leave.

The Canada emergency response benefit of $2,000 per month is equivalent to $12.50 an hour for a full-time worker. That is less than minimum wage in most provinces. If workers earn less than that at work, the solution is to increase wages, not to decrease or take away the Canada emergency response benefit.

We must make workplaces safe, we must give workers paid sick leave, and we must make child care available and accessible.

Canadians want to get back to work. Let's make sure that when they get back to work, they stay safe and they stay healthy.

Thank you.

4:40 p.m.


The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

We'll go to the honourable member for Nunavut.

4:40 p.m.


Mumilaaq Qaqqaq NDP Nunavut, NU

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I carry a lot of passion and strength, and I think the majority of that comes from my family but also from my constituents.

Before I really dive into anything, I just want to mention a couple of things.

I often wear these earrings, made by a young lady in Nunavik, who is working on graduating and has young children with her. My support of her means that she is able to attend school. The sealskin bracelet is from a Canadian Roots Exchange event that brought together hundreds of individuals, indigenous and non-indigenous, from across the country. I wear a HopePact bracelet from the We Matter campaign, which promotes youth by creating positive messages to share with one another. Often for indigenous peoples we see very devastating rates of violence and suicide, so it's a platform that allows for positive messaging to be sent out. In regard to yesterday, as well, I also have on a MMIWG red dress to show support and solidarity with our stolen and missing indigenous sisters, and to promote that awareness as well. I have kamik or sealskin boots on, which you can't see. Those come from Arviligjuaq. It's really important and it directly, in my view, reflects the challenges we face all too often as indigenous peoples, but also the beauty and strength that comes from it.

When I walk around, and especially here in the House of Commons, I like to think that I'm representing more than what you sometimes see me standing here for.

COVID-19 and our time during this pandemic have done a lot to highlight all the inequalities that we see in my riding, throughout Nunavut and throughout Inuit Nunangat, throughout communities that contain a majority of indigenous peoples. This pandemic has done nothing but shine that bright light on things we often hear, especially here in the House of Commons, which we know are still issues.

The frustrating aspect about that is that there are a lot of things that could have been prevented if measures had been taken so that my constituents weren't as frustrated or stressed or scared. There are so many unanswered questions, Madam Chair.

These inequalities are something we've been experiencing in the territory for decades and on which we've been needing action for a long time. When I'm talking about action, I'm talking about basic human rights. I'm talking about the fundamental aspects of being a human being and being in this country and being a Canadian. I'm talking about year-round clean drinking water. I'm talking about being able to afford to feed yourself and your family. I'm talking about a safe place to live. That is not what I, as the representative of an entire territory, should be standing here talking about in 2020. If we are going to come out of this pandemic in a manageable state, the federal government must address these basic human rights that we need to see more of throughout my riding.

Frustratingly, we've been seeing funding being promised but not actually coming to the territory. It has been asked for three times. One of my colleagues asked during a finance committee meeting when the territory could expect to see that money. I asked at my committee as well. And here I am asking for a third time, still with no answers.

Luckily, we do not have any confirmed positive cases yet. We had an incident in the territory, in Pond Inlet, that was deemed to be a false positive. Pond Inlet is also already facing major issues with water infrastructure and access to clean drinkable water. They have been facing these since October, well before this pandemic.

I would really love to give credit to the Government of Nunavut, to the chief public health officer and to Pond Inlet for reacting so quickly and already having their plan in place, and using the limited resources and equipment they have to respond to it so well.

As I've also mentioned...and I hope I don't have to do it for much longer, but I'm going to do it until it's something that is actually addressed. For so many of my constituents, so many Nunavummiut, primarily Inuit, and we see this throughout Inuit Nunangat as well, throughout the four regions, housing is a major issue. It's the lack of housing, and also housing that is black mould-infested. I get dozens of pictures all the time, and it's absolutely appalling what people are living in. We know this is an issue, and we've heard it from multiple individuals in the House of Commons that we know these are still issues.

The last federal budget, unfortunately, resulted this year in even less housing than we've seen in previous years. Already we have that glaring gap, but we're seeing things being cut from us.

The rates of respiratory illness are very high in my constituency. Tuberculosis, for Nunavummiut versus non-Nunavummiut, is still 290 times the rate. I believe it's even worse in Nunavik. Tuberculosis is an issue throughout Inuit Nunangat, and we continue to see.... I don't even know if I can say “failed efforts”, because I don't even know how much effort has actually been put in.

Nunavut unfortunately only has seven ventilator units. If there are any more pressing health concerns that might require even minor surgery, things like having a child, most often we see people having to leave the territory. Can you imagine having your first child and not being able to be around your family and friends, because you can't even have a child in your home community?

Heath services have been very much lacking for a long time. We need further clarification as to how and when the federal government will make key items like personal protective equipment come to the territory. That is something that I know is pressing throughout the country, but these are also opportunities to start initiatives where we get to work with our seamstresses. We can promote items that create the well-being of the community, that sense of community.

We've been waiting for critical answers on resources and services for weeks from multiple ministers. As I have said before, I continue to see no concrete answers. A lot of the time we are forced, as Nunavummiut and Inuit, to accommodate a southern way of thinking or a southern way of doing things, when accessing resources and services is already so limited. A lot of the time it doesn't even make sense. It doesn't have the culture of humility aspect.

As I had previously mentioned, medevacs and serious conditions need to be sent out of the territory. As of right now, my riding has one of the most, if not the most, restrictive travel policies around it. All of the surgeries that can be put on hold are now put on hold. We need to ensure that when we come to what our new normal is we are not facing backlogs and we don't have people who potentially have serious illnesses now because they've had to wait for their surgeries or their follow-ups. We need to make sure there is a plan for individuals past this pandemic.

We see a lot of wait times for getting our testing results back. Luckily, I have very patient constituents in my riding, because it's frustrating. The housing that I've mentioned, already being in overcrowding, already not having as much access to food, to water, these are all issues. How can we be asking Canadians to do these things when those services and resources are not even there to begin with?

During normal times, Nunavummiut in some communities in particular, more than others, especially during our spring melt, see that inconsistency of clean drinking water year-round. This is when we see a lot of boil water advisories. This is when we see infrastructure often failing because of our circumstances in the north.

How are we supposed to ask a community to make sure they're constantly washing their hands and to make sure they're disinfecting and keeping their homes clean when the community doesn't even have the infrastructure to provide accessible clean drinking water?

I also had the opportunity to talk at committee about Internet service in my communities. It's not great, to put it nicely. I don't know if I could participate in virtual Parliament from my riding. I cannot confidently say that I could. The number of megabits per second and that kind of stuff in some communities is absolutely devastating.

Now, a lot of the time we talk about individual effects. What we don't talk about are the bigger items. When you're applying for Government of Nunavut identification or your driver's licence, because of the lack of bandwidth it actually gets sent down here to Ottawa and then sent back to our communities. We have people who wait months. I have constituents reaching out to me who are sometimes waiting for over a year for their piece of ID.

How are they going to access the many things that are tied to that? There are so many things you need that information for. I guess it's a glimpse of the reality that something as big as that, which should be accessible, is not. Also, how are we going to ask you to work from home on that poor bandwidth? How are we going to ask you to access online resources for your children in school? These are the kinds of things that aren't taken into full consideration, I think, especially when it comes to my riding. Even though it seems like one smaller aspect, the trickle effect, with the connectivity that it has to so many other issues in my riding, is very alive and well, unfortunately.

Take access to banking services, whether online or not. In my hometown, I've been with a particular bank for a number of years. I could never access that service except by phone, because we don't have a branch in my hometown. The next branch is a 40-minute plane ride and about an $800 ticket. That doesn't make sense. Accessibility is something that is so key, and it is something that is very much failing in my riding.

We have seen announcements made, like the $25 million for the nutrition north program. That program does not at all address the root cause of food insecurity in my riding. There are so many issues in that program already. Layer on a pandemic, and it doesn't make sense for my riding and my constituents even more so.

As I mentioned, the Government of Nunavut is still waiting for the $30.8 million that was promised out of the $42 million requested. I hope to have an answer soon on that. I will keep pushing until I do. We're still waiting to hear more information about the support from territorial grants and the Canada emergency student benefit, in direct relation to providing assistance to our students.

We are still seeing so many holes in the small business loans. CERB sometimes is inaccessible for my constituents. I have so many jewellers, carvers, musicians, artists, artisans and so many other people being left out. This is across the country as well. Many indigenous artists and artisans are falling through the cracks.

With all this being said, I would like to try to put it into perspective as, I guess, a race. Let's say we were all lined up together and were told this at the start: “Please step forward if you grew up in a safe, comfortable home that wasn't overcrowded.” I would need to stand back. “Step forward if you've never been affected by suicide.” I would need to step back. “Step forward if you can afford to feed your family.” In so many instances, I, as a representative of my constituents, would be at that same line while so many other people would be way ahead of me already.

That's the gap right there. That's what we need to close.

Help me assist my constituents to have an equal starting line so that they are able to do the things that we all should be able to do in life as Canadians with every equal opportunity.

4:55 p.m.


The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The honourable member for Vancouver Granville.

4:55 p.m.


Jody Wilson-Raybould Independent Vancouver Granville, BC

Madam Chair, gilakas' la. I'd like to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.

Our nation and the world, our ways of being, indeed our humanity, are being tested as we respond to COVID-19. This is unprecedented in recent times and our response will have far-reaching implications for the years to come. I think we all understand the gravity of the weight we feel in this place to get it right. Our hearts go out to all those suffering with the virus. We recognize the sacrifices being made to protect those most likely to succumb to the disease, it being not about what I can do for myself, but about what I can do for others.

We must also acknowledge the government, supported by civil servants, for the unprecedented steps it has taken to establish numerous emergency relief programs, from CERB to CEBA to mental health programs and many others. The emergency programs are helping, and new programs have been created and, aided by this place, adapted as needed.

That said, there are issues. My constituency office, like those of all MPs, has heard from many, including seniors, who are still struggling and are in need of government support. There are ongoing challenges for small businesses in meeting the criteria for CEBA, and there are issues about rents and what constitutes a livable income.

What is more, after some two months of extreme social distancing measures, the residents of Vancouver Granville, like all Canadians, are eager for some normality to return to their lives. While we wait for a vaccine, we turn our minds to what comes next as we move from the emergency response to the new normal, the end of the beginning, as has been said.

Clearly, physical distancing and proper hygiene are the new normal as we learn to live with COVID-19. In some cases, it will need to be institutionalized, particularly within situations of congregate living. Within long-term care facilities, there should be national standards that provinces adhere to in order for them to get a portion of financial support earmarked for elders. Further, there should be some standardization of pay, benefits and schedules for personal support workers.

As to the timing and the extent of removing restrictions, we of course must continue to be guided by science and our health experts. We must not be tempted to make the mistakes that are being made in some other jurisdictions. We do not save jobs and the economy by sacrificing lives.

As the pandemic has evolved differently across Canada, given our geographical and political diversity, the plans of the provinces and territories to reopen their economies will not be, and do not need to be, the same. However, given our system of co-operative federalism, there is a role for federal coordination. We are all connected and our Constitution protects mobility rights. We still need more efficient ways to test and track, and that need is national in scope. As electronic tracking and contact tracing become more widespread, we must be mindful of privacy rights and how we use data. We may need to regulate.

There is much to consider as we plan out our post-COVID economic strategy. Under the new normal, and even after restrictions have been lifted, it is unlikely that we will see people simply returning to life as before, at least not until a vaccine is found. Even with an optimistic 90% return to the pre-COVID economy, it will not be the same. There are longer-term fiscal implications. The federal debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to be 48.4% in 2020-21. While manageable, this is certainly not ideal, especially if we factor in provincial, municipal and indigenous debt. We need to consider the fiscal tools available to support provincial and other governments beyond the current transfers and stabilization mechanisms.

Other fiscal measures may be required. Some are suggesting raising the GST. What we do know is that the current level of expenditure to get us through the initial period is not sustainable.

At the same time, some are also leading us to consider new ways to deliver assistance to Canadians, such as potentially establishing a basic livable income, something that other nations are also considering.

Moving forward, not all businesses will survive, despite the emergency measures. We will need to decide what industries and businesses we offer additional support to, and under what circumstances. We should be providing essential products and services, and if we do intervene, it should be primarily through equity investment.

I certainly hope the Minister of Finance will be tabling the 2020 budget soon. We need projections, and we need to debate our plan.

Every day in Vancouver, as I know happens elsewhere, we make noise at 7 p.m. to support front-line workers. When I hear this, I cannot help but think how work is valued and how it is paid. While we show gratitude reflective of our reliance on each other, the gratitude is not matched in wages. In our society, we need to reward work on a different value system. We need to understand this and we need to be reflective.

Yes, we all support the middle class and those working hard to join it, but what this pandemic has shown us is that it is really the working class and the most vulnerable who need our help. Societies are judged by how they treat their most vulnerable. If we had a society that truly supported one another, that had great health care for all, especially for our seniors and the most vulnerable, health care that provided them with the safety, care and attention they deserved every day, this crisis likely would not have been as much of a struggle for those people. If we cannot see that now, then when will we ever see it? If we are able to do something during a pandemic, then why not permanently?

Thankfully, and mindful of Alert Bay in my nation, there have not been major outbreaks of COVID in indigenous communities across Canada, but this could change. We must remain vigilant, and we must support indigenous communities that are taking steps to protect their communities from COVID-19 and affirm their inherent right to do so.

There are also growing mental health concerns in terms of isolation, particularly in remote communities. The pandemic only highlights the ongoing need for true reconciliation and a rights recognition framework so that we can properly address issues of overcrowding, lack of infrastructure, poverty and good governance.

Bringing back our economy is also a necessary lens through which we must view our post-pandemic socioeconomic plan to follow the lead of nations like Germany. The Prime Minister often says that the environment and the economy go hand in hand. The truth, and what this virus is showing, is that the environment, of which we are all a part, dictates the economy, and it will continue to do so more dramatically as our temperatures increase.

While stories of dolphins in canals in Venice may have been premature, the planet does appear to be healing. This is not to suggest for a moment that we should not restart our economy. Quite the contrary, but what it does make you think about is what sort of economy we should be restarting. It also makes one think about how we measure social well-being and success. It is not just about growth in the GDP.

GDP per capita has historically been used to make assumptions about the standard of living within a nation, the assumption being that the higher the per capita amount, the better the standards are. However, as I read in a recent article, GDP has mixed results when trying to measure the social well-being of a population. As an economic tool, it only makes assumptions about the basic standards of living, which can be different across the socioeconomic spectrum of a nation. Moreover, better standards of living do not necessarily equate to increased social well-being. We need to ensure that we look at this idea.

When we look at the crisis through the lens of our international relationships, it is coming at a time when democracy is under pressure and when the international rules-based order is being challenged and power is shifting. In many ways, COVID-19 is about a brewing perfect storm internationally. When the vaccine does ultimately come, Canada can show leadership and insist that it be made available to populations with the greatest need.

We have a lot to do, as members of Parliament in this House, and I know that when working together we can achieve many great things in terms of responding to this pandemic in a way that ensures we are caring and compassionate. As Bonnie Henry, our amazing public health officer in British Columbia, always sums it up: Be calm, be kind and be safe.


5:05 p.m.


The Acting Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Thank you very much. Thank you all very much for your collaboration, and thank you to our interpreters.

The committee stands adjourned until tomorrow at noon.