Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to the committee for welcoming me today. This has been a very interesting discussion already.
I want to note my appreciation for MP Turnbull and MP Duncan, whose learned and helpful comments I think are advancing the conversation around this amendment.
I'd like to start from a place that will lead into my comments around the pandemic and prorogation and the importance of this amendment. I want to start with the land recognition for the Algonquin nation on whose territory I sit here in the small town of Chelsea, Quebec.
It's a well-known fact across the country that Parliament, of which the House of Commons is a part, in the National Capital Region, is situated on unceded traditional land of the Algonquin people. Of course, all of us acknowledge the importance of the indigenous peoples, with whom we have a very special relationship. In the context of this pandemic, it's very important for me to greet the Algonquin people and rightly to recognize it, if only because we have learned a great deal from that people during this pandemic.
When we discuss prorogation as we discuss the amendment brought by MP Turnbull, which contemplates the bringing forward of two exceptionally important witnesses to help the public understand the relevance of a parliamentary reset at this critical juncture of Canadian history, it's important to understand how each of our communities is experiencing this moment.
MP Duncan did a fabulous job, I thought, of bringing the voice of her constituents forward to this committee to help us appreciate the importance of the amendment in relation to our constituents.
I would like to do the same, starting with the experiences I learned from with the Algonquin communities of Kitigan Zibi and Rapid Lake. These communities, along with so many, have been turned upside down and had to fundamentally reconsider what it is to be in a community, to provide security, safety and adequate health services to their people. That is what we're doing across the country. That's what we have been challenged with since day one, on that fateful day the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization back in March 2020.
I think it is germane to the conversation of prorogation and to our government's desire to take a step back, assess the broader needs of the country, be accountable and step forward with a Speech from the Throne that would be reflective of that particular moment.
As we, as members of Parliament, have reflected on our constituents and their experiences, we've had the opportunity to bring this information back to the government. Certainly in the context of the communities of Kitigan Zibi and Rapid Lake, it has been very helpful to our government to understand the distinct experience they have had.
I'd like to underscore how particular it is on many first nations reserves across Canada. It is so particular because quite often the provision of health care services is a partnership between the community, health care professionals and the Government of Canada.
This is certainly the case in the Algonquin communities that I represent—whether it's in relation to the procurement of vaccines and the distribution of vaccines to these communities, whether it's in relation to the procurement and distribution of rapid testing in these communities, whether it's in the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment. On all of these health care fronts, there have been distinct conversations that have been very challenging at times, because the communities recognize that the danger they face is a distinct one.
There are many elders whose knowledge of the culture and the language and whose health circumstances are so threatened. It doesn't just threaten human individuals and family members, which is tremendously serious, but it literally affects the nation. One can count the number of fluent Algonquin speakers—not on two hands, of course, but they do not number in the thousands, and many of them are older and most vulnerable.
These are the circumstances in which the conversations have come up around what the next steps are, what the needs are, and how we are going to move forward as a nation, as a Canadian nation, as an Algonquin nation. These are the kinds of conversations that have come up.
I have been particularly blessed to have the learning opportunities with my colleagues Chief Whiteduck in Kitigan Zibi and Chief Ratt in Rapid Lake as they have, themselves, struggled and wrestled with the implications of this pandemic.
There have been outbreaks, and those outbreaks have caused great consternation among the members of the nation, far and wide, and in communities that may not have been suffering an outbreak, because there are so many families that are connected in the language tradition, which is so linked.
I think we can all appreciate, as distinct members of Parliament representing different regions, that the lived experience of every Canadian through this pandemic has been one that is unique and distinct. Each one of us has a particular voice that is so important to bring forward, whether in the context of this standing committee or in relation to the government's broader performance.
Therein lies the relevance of the prorogation process, of that reset, that stock-taking—the ability to come together, assess, and project a vision forward that satisfies and maintains the confidence of the Canadian people. That, to my mind, was the fundamental significance and importance of prorogation.
I think the witnesses whom MP Turnbull prioritizes for this motion are altogether the appropriate witnesses. I'm not going to get into the partisan dimensions of it. At the end of the day, this committee is the master of its undertakings. It can determine at a later point if further witnesses may be needed, but I think it would be a great start to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister and finance minister and from Minister Chagger. They can shed important light on what was going on in the run-up to prorogation, and certainly we now have the benefit of hindsight. MP Turnbull spoke to this in the latter stages of his commentary. We are all well aware now of the chain of events that started with prorogation and then went through the Speech from the Throne, into late November and a financial update, and then through the budget process, culminating recently in the federal budget.
All of these critical elements ensure that Canadian views are incorporated into a governance plan that makes clear what the government's priorities are and are not, which I think leads Canadians to an appreciation of how their values are or are not being reflected in the government's priorities. I think we saw some very important things in the Speech from the Throne pursuant to that prorogation, which made it very clear that the government did want to take a series of significant steps forward in a series of significant new directions that Canadians needed to understand clearly, that they needed to appreciate and assess in relation to their own priorities.
I know that my constituents in the fabulous and vast riding of Pontiac wanted to have their say. They wanted to convey their preoccupations, because they had lived, as we all had, through six months of pandemic—a lifetime of pandemic, it felt like, at the time—and they wanted to know where our next priorities were.
I can think of no better witnesses than those proposed by MP Turnbull. I look to the Speech from the Throne. I look back with hindsight and I see so many distinct priorities that did require elucidation through that Speech from the Throne to ensure that Canadians were being brought along in understanding where our government was going. For example, I don't take it as a given that every constituent of mine in the Pontiac was aware of our government's priority of reforming the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. I don't take that as a given at all. It was important to indicate clearly that this was a direction our government was going to go in.
If I take a further step back, because I would like to return to that theme of clearly identifying to the Canadian public priority areas where our government was going to move forward, I think it's important to recognize that the government was in a situation where there was a pandemic to manage as the number one priority, and everything else was going to be secondary. That's what the Canadian people expected.
The economic challenges associated with the pandemic were to be another top priority—understood—but Canadians such as my constituents in the Pontiac, whether they're from small towns in the upper Pontiac like Chichester, L'Isle-aux-Allumettes and Sheenboro—tiny places, some of them, of 200, 300 or 400 souls—or whether they're in the suburbs of Gatineau, which I also represent, also sought assurances.
They sought assurance from our government, and clarity in direction from our government, around our ability to not fall victim to what Mark Carney referred to as the “tragedy of the horizon”. In my riding, we sometimes like to say it's being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Some people like to text at the same time as they do those two things.
The point is that they wanted to know that we would be able to manage a pandemic and cope with the economic struggles that so many are facing, whether it's small businesses, workers, distinct sectors or family units. They wanted to know that we could cope with the immediate crisis related to health and the economy while still being able to focus on the future and while maintaining our gaze on those issues that are top priorities for the country at any point in time—issues such as climate change. We all know the climate change crisis is not going away. We all know it's real. We all know we need to bring measures forward to deal with it.
The whole purpose of the prorogation process was to ensure that focus, that clarity of direction, and that ability to indicate exactly how we were going to deal with the pandemic. The fundamental approach that the Prime Minister adopted since day one was to stand behind all Canadians and to have their backs. It was also to be able to progress on files of significance that have a relationship with the pandemic but may not be strictly the pandemic and the economic recovery.
To go back to that logical sequencing of prorogation—the Speech from the Throne, the fall economic update, and through to the budget—we now have that hindsight, of course. We can see clearly the purpose of prorogation being to clearly outline these priorities.
MP Turnbull was very kind to point out a passion that he and I share, and that I know so many of us collectively share, around environmental protection. The Speech from the Throne was abundantly clear. In fact, there was an entire section dedicated to the new and stronger directions our government would be taking on a fact-first basis, on an evidence-based basis, to address climate change and to tackle toxic regulation.
I'd like to continue along the same lines and discuss the prorogation issue and its impact because I consider this discussion very important.
One of the impacts of the prorogation was the new plan to address climate change. That plan had been promised in the Speech from the Throne. Late in the fall of 2020, two months later, we delivered the most detailed plan in the history of Canada, one that outlines historic investments and combines industrial policy and economic transformation with environmental protection.
A few days later, we introduced Bill C‑12, which is designed to create an accountability framework for the implementation of the federal plan and the objectives to which we have committed internationally.
There followed a budget detailing historic investments and planning by milestone years. There is the net zero accelerator of the strategic innovation fund, but several other things as well. However, now isn't the time to discuss the budget because I don't want to stray from the subject covered by our amendment. What I'm trying to do, however, is demonstrate the unifying theme of Bill C‑12, from the prorogation process and Speech from the Throne to the climate change plan and fiscal investments to ensure climate change accountability.
International targets were recently revealed in an announcement that our Prime Minister made together with President Biden. We can see how the prorogation helped clarify the direction in which we as a government want to take Canada. It's essential that we show where we're headed, how we'll get there and through which processes and consultations. All that was revealed thanks to the prorogation.
I think it would be of vital interest for this committee to have an opportunity to hear the observations of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in particular and to ask her questions. The prorogation has obviously helped more clearly shape the direction in which the government would like to take Canada in a pandemic context.
I appreciate that we are now in a third wave and Canadians are looking to today, looking to tomorrow, and they want to know when they will be able to get back to normal. If they haven't had their first vaccine already, they're looking forward to it. These are the conversations, which are future-oriented, that Canadians want us to have, because they know we prorogued Parliament at the end of the summer so we could reset, get ourselves aligned, project forward our priorities, not fall victim to the tragedy of the horizon, be able to focus on the here and now, on the medium term, the long term, and that's exactly what has happened.
Canadians are now past that moment of the Speech from the Throne. They have absorbed it, and by and large I believe they have appreciated it. Certainly in the riding of Pontiac I've heard some very positive feedback. They have absorbed the fall economic statement. They are aware of how our government has gone through the process of procuring vaccines and distributing them to the provinces, and they are now witnessing before their very eyes the great lift, the massive acceleration. They're optimistic and wanting to focus on the future. I think we're all wanting to focus on the future.
I think that Canadians are also recognizing that the prorogation process ultimately, as MP Duncan so rightly pointed out, is fact-oriented, evidence-driven and, above all, science-focused. I tip my cap to MP Duncan for her incredible leadership, not just during the pandemic but well prior, putting in place the building blocks of scientific institutions in our Canadian governance system that have greatly assisted this government.
We need only look at the significant contributions of our chief science adviser, Dr. Mona Nemer, whose consistent advice, both to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is there because of MP Duncan's solid work as Minister of Science in our previous mandate.
I take the opportunity to recognize that, as prorogation was being contemplated, our government was in a state of constant review of advice that the chief science adviser was providing, which is ongoing today. Most recently—and this is available for the public and for MPs to review—I would commend to you the March 31 report by the chief science adviser related to scientific considerations for using COVID‑19 vaccination certificates, an important discussion that many of our constituents bring forward. I see correspondence on this issue regularly. This issue has been canvassed by our chief science adviser and by the network of Canadian scientists across so many institutions—academic, research and otherwise—who are bringing forward the best possible evidence and considerations as our government evaluates next steps.
Let's step backwards in time a bit to look at some of the important considerations at a scientific level. These all fit into a context of the importance of stock-taking, pressing pause on parliamentary proceedings and restarting in a timely manner, which was done through prorogation.
Back in September 2020, there was a report—again, available on the chief science adviser's website—on the role of bioaerosols and indoor ventilation in COVID‑19 transmission. We read about these issues in the news now, but we can't be blasé about the fact that so many Canadian experts in the field of bioaerosols and indoor ventilation came together to work with the chief science adviser to deliver pertinent information that has helped our government in the context of the Speech from the Throne, in the context of the measures identified in the fall economic statement and so on, which have helped define the path forward that our government has chosen.
Back in the summer of 2020, the chief science adviser issued a report on long-term care in COVID‑19. It was a report of a special task force that brought forward considerations around the improvement of long-term care. Having been beset by this pandemic for over a year, I think all Canadians will agree that we need our best and brightest non-partisan scientists, researchers, long-term care providers and medical experts. We need them bringing their most clear assessments and their recommended course of action to our government. We needed it then. We received that in the summer of 2020. Through the process of prorogation and subsequent Speech from the Throne, great clarity has been provided in relation to what our government's commitments are to improve care for our most vulnerable seniors.
Prorogation has enabled the consolidation of our best expert thinking and of external scientific expertise being brought to bear in a non-partisan, even-handed way, and of course for discussion with our colleagues and partners at the provincial, territorial, municipal, Métis, first nations and Inuit governance levels.
I think it's fundamentally important that we appreciate what MP Turnbull's amendment is all about. It recognizes that it's a good thing to discuss prorogation. It's a good thing to be accountable to Canadians for decisions related to prorogation and the subsequent pivot into a Speech from the Throne, which was a renewed direction being made clear to all Canadians.
It's so important to appreciate a very appropriate offer of key members of the government's executive—Minister Chagger and Minister Freeland—to be available. I think it would be a good thing for this committee to move forward on the basis as proposed by MP Turnbull. I think it could help bring us to a place where there is perhaps a greater appreciation of some of the items that were incorporated into the Speech from the Throne. These may not have been part of the public dialogue or the set of issues that were being debated through the spring and summer of 2020, when the focus was just so entirely on COVID and the economic ramifications. I think these witnesses are entirely well positioned to discuss this.
Having regard to the way the Speech from the Throne clearly identified.... I referenced this earlier in my remarks and I do want to allude back to this, because it's a matter of current interest and a matter of personal and Pontiac priority. The Speech from the Throne clearly indicated that our government was going to reform the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which is a law that ensures Canadians and their environment are protected from toxic substances. It ensures that such substances are properly regulated and stringently assessed for their impacts on humans and the environment.
This law has not been amended in 20 years. The Speech from the Throne clearly indicated to Canada that this is where our government is going. We are going to improve it. We're going to strengthen it. We're going to have regard for the experts, and we're going to have regard for the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which came forward with a committee report in 2017 that incorporated 87 recommendations.
The government said it was moving forward with this, and now here we are, in late April 2021. A couple of short weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of announcing with Minister Wilkinson the tabling of Bill C-28. It is another instance of our government delivering, in a forthright and very clear fashion, on commitments made in the Speech from the Throne.
Bill C-28 would bring toxics regulation in Canada back to the cutting edge, where it needs to be to protect humans. Again, I'll bring up the metaphor of the “tragedy of the horizon”. It's so important that our government demonstrates its vision to look beyond the pandemic and demonstrates to Canadians that we're capable of focusing on matters that ultimately go to our children and grandchildren and to all living organisms in the future. So many toxic substances are persistent and bioaccumulative and have long-term generational impacts.
Bill C-28 was tabled just as promised in the Speech from the Throne and just as enabled by prorogation. I'm sure the two witnesses whom MP Turnbull has proposed would be able to comment on the importance of that moment in helping bring us to the tabling of Bill C-28.
Let me see if I've forgotten anything.
In conclusion, I'd like to note that we've included in Bill C‑28 a very important partial reform of environmental rights in Canada. We propose to add the legal concept that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment. Perhaps my colleagues from Quebec, Mme DeBellefeuille, in particular—I don't know whether she's still here—know that section 46.1 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms grants Quebeckers that same right to a healthful environment. It isn't provided at the federal level, however, and that's a significant deficiency. We've just included it in Bill C‑28.
I know that the citizens of Quebec, more particularly my fellow citizens of Pontiac, Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and Collines-de-l'Outaouais, expect us to guarantee increased environmental protection. They expect us to manage simultaneously the pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, the problems associated with contaminants and climate change and privacy in this digital era. They expect us to be able to juggle these various public policy issues.
And that's what the prorogation has enabled us to do. It has helped us set the record straight and rely once again on various scientific views and evidence that lead us to take action and step up efforts in certain directions. It has enabled us to be accountable to Canadians by telling them where we now stand, what we've done to date and where we're headed.
I would conclude on a note of appreciation. It's rare to have an opportunity before colleagues to share an understanding of the importance of one particular moment, a moment of prorogation, as a matter of parliamentary procedure. It's rare to have the opportunity to consider a particular moment that of course has important consequences. It stops the business of Parliament and requires a restart.
It's so important to be able to reflect back on that moment and understand the why, and to then be able to shift our focus towards what happened thereafter, why that prorogation was so relevant, and how it enabled where we are now. It's fundamentally important, because where we are now is in a much stronger place, with an economy that is rebounding faster than the vast majority of economists ever expected. We still have work to do. We still have jobs to recover. But month by month, quarter by quarter, the acceleration of our GDP growth is nothing short of remarkable. Don't take my word for it. You just have to listen to the latest pronouncements from the Bank of Canada or any of our major banks.
We're on the right path. We're getting vaccinated. Canadians are optimistic about this summer. They're appreciative of the fact that we laid out a clear path through prorogation and through the Speech from the Throne to deliver on commitments that go beyond health and the economy, to link in matters of environment, to link in matters of indigenous reconciliation, and to link in matters of the transformation of Canadian society towards one that is much more appreciative of the important contributions to our future productivity that bringing in more workers can provide, whether that's through immigration or through a child care plan that can benefit so many people. We have the benefit of hindsight to see what prorogation was all about. It's so much easier to understand why we're in a strong posture now.
Once again, I thank my colleague MP Turnbull for making me feel so welcome, occasionally making me laugh, and making me feel as though we are in this process together. I think we can all recognize that not everyone on this committee is going to share the same views and that we're going to have sharp debates. That is good and appropriate, so long as we all treat each other with common decency and respect, which on occasion has lacked. We know that we are all in this together. Our constituents expect us to work hard together.
Thank you for the opportunity, Madam Chair, and thank you to my colleagues for their patience.