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.