What has really been the common thread through the evolution of society over the last how many hundreds or thousands of years? It is that we have been moving away from a system that was arbitrary, sometimes cruelly arbitrary, where power resided in a tyrant or a king who could make decisions on a whim that caused great harm to some people. We are moving slowly—and sometimes up and down, I agree, as Mr. Fergus said—towards a system that is not governed by the subjective but by the objective, a system that is not arbitrary but system-based, a system that is rational, I should say, a system where, while we recognize that politics is fundamental to democracy, we also recognize that there are certain instances when, for the greater good of the system itself, for the integrity of the system itself and for the faith that people who vote place in the system, we have to take politics out of the process. We do this with courts of law.
You know, there's a misunderstanding generally, I think, in many quarters—and this is natural, in a way—that when a judge hands down a decision, somehow it's a matter of opinion, like, “Oh, yes, the court decided this because that's the judge. Whatever, that's his or her experience, and his or her bias.” But the system we've built painfully over decades and centuries is a system whereby those who are making decisions of that nature must take themselves out of the decision. They must base their decision on logic, on law, on rules, on evidence, on precedence, and of course, we know that precedence is very important in our system.
This is the kind of world that we are wisely moving towards every day, and as part of that process, we've taken many important steps forward since the time Mr. Angus and I came to this House. When I arrived here, I sat on the government operations committee. I would actually encourage every new member to try to sit on that committee, because it looks at the essence of how government operates and it deals with all kinds of ethical questions as well.
One of the first things we did on that committee, after I was elected, was to review a law called the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which was another attempt to take politics out of important matters of government. We heard from witnesses who had been whistle-blowers and had been treated the way that subjects might have been treated under kings and queens 500 or 600 years ago. They were humiliated because they brought a wrong to the fore. They were mistreated. They lost their jobs. They were under incredible mental stress, and this law was brought in to give them due process, to make sure that they could lodge a complaint without experiencing retribution, but that law is a non-political law. That's a non-political process because it's a very important part of maintaining a system of government based on rule and integrity.
The Ethics Commissioner's position is very much the same. It's an attempt, and a successful one, to have someone who is not political make decisions about very important matters. I think this is very important to keep in mind. We're a political committee. I know I'm not normally a member of this committee, but it's a political committee, and the Ethics Commissioner is a non-political person who cannot afford to let politics enter into the process that he oversees.
I think it's very important that we understand that the public is very cognizant of what constitutes overreach. I've been in politics for a number of years, and you can tell right way that the public can see through a ruse or some kind of situation that really goes beyond what is necessary. I think the public understands that dragging those who are not part of the immediate family of a politician before a political committee for the purpose of maybe scoring political points and exposing their employment activities may not be fair and that it is best left to a non-political person to examine those relationships and those employment activities and to report on them.
I think the public understands what is fair and decent. I would submit that to examine the contracts of someone who is not part of the immediate family that would normally have to report their activities anyway to the Ethics Commissioner, and to extend that scope to people who are really not directly related to the situation at hand is not necessarily the most effective and decent approach.
I would also like to take a couple of minutes to talk about the current context in which we are living. This is the greatest national emergency situation since the Second World War. I think everyone recognizes that. The government is not perfect. That's why we have an opposition. The government has rolled out a series of programs—in electric speed, really—designed them and rolled them out with great alacrity in a very short period of time. Yes, there will be bumps in the road.
The government recognizes that no program will be perfect and, therefore, it has adjusted a number of programs. It adjusted the CERB when it realized that those whose incomes might have dropped by 90% but who were still working would have no support. It decided that there should be a ceiling on how much you could earn before you lost the CERB. That ceiling was determined to be $1,000. It then adapted the wage subsidy program, including extending the timeline for the wage subsidy program.
It brought in a special loan program for small and medium-sized businesses, and when it found that some of the criteria were too restrictive, it admitted that it was not a perfect design and it adapted the program so that more business people could benefit from it.
Then it realized that students were put in a very difficult position. Students, by the way, whose unemployment rate is over 30%, were in a very difficult position because, through no fault of their own, they saw the prospects of their summer employment evaporate overnight, summer employment on which they depend to earn money to pay tuition but also other living expenses. The government brought out a program very quickly to help students as well. Again, it allowed students to earn up to $1,000 and still benefit from the Canadian student emergency benefit.
It's often said that youth, our students, are our future. It's not just a cliché. We were talking about universities and the education system. We have one of the best in the world. The more students who benefit from an education, the better our country will be in the short, medium and long term, so it's very important to support students. We know that through the introduction of all of these programs—I think Canadians know this, they know it deep down—the intent of the Prime Minister and of the government was first and foremost, in every case, to stand by Canadians in their moment of need, including students.
We've heard, for example, from the volunteer sector. We all have many non-profit groups and charities in our ridings, and I think, as members of Parliament regardless of party, we know these groups very well. We know the important work that they do, and we know that there is a crisis in volunteering, Madam Chair. A generation that ardently contributed to the voluntary sector is now retired, and they have to pass the torch to another generation.
We've heard anecdotally, but also I think it's in serious studies, that there's a shortage of volunteers and that maybe not as many young people are stepping in to take up the challenge of volunteering. We know that, when a person volunteers, the impact on them is profound. The feeling they get of doing good and of contributing is so powerful that they remain volunteers for the rest of their lives.
This program was designed in good faith and it was not perfect but had to be rolled out very quickly. This program was intended to connect young people to the volunteer experience, not only to allow them to acquire skills that would help them in their careers but also to create a lifelong engagement towards volunteering activities, which will only be of positive benefit to our society in the long run.
I think it bears mentioning that government cannot do everything. I know my colleagues across the way—