Thank you, Madam Chair. I will continue.
Marginalized communities, those who are low income or racialized, continue to be hardest hit by COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. Lineups at vaccine clinics in COVID-19 hot spots powerfully show the demands in the community for vaccines and the lack of resources in marginalized communities.
I have come here to be a voice for the people I serve in Etobicoke North. I'm hoping I will not be repeatedly interrupted today for bringing the voice of Etobicoke North to this committee and for bringing science, evidence and fact to this debate on the amendment.
We often hear that this place is so toxic. Building an institution is not toxic; it's how we treat one another. We have a choice every day when we come to committee in how we choose to conduct ourselves. The young people in my life tell me over and over about how put off they are by what is rewarded here. “A good punch” are the words that are used, aren't they? A good punch. Hitting back. Beating back someone into submission. The young people in my life are especially sickened by it during a pandemic when their friends and families are getting sick and, in some cases, dying.
We've all recently put out tweets, statements against bullying and for Pink Shirt Day. It should be the goal for all of us to get many young people, particularly women, involved in politics. When they watch colleagues being interrupted, they're turned off. I hope the interrupting will stop today.
I know colleagues have talked about their first days on the Hill and not being interrupted, so I will just give a little bit of my history.
I left a job I loved at the university doing research and teaching our inspiring and outstanding students in order to serve the wonderful community of Etobicoke North. It's the place where I was born and raised. I had two areas of expertise, pandemics and pandemic preparedness and climate change. Our colleagues across the way are well aware of my background, my pandemic work, as the previous government, a Conservative government, reached out to me during the 2009 H1 pandemic.
I trust I won't be interrupted today for talking about Etobicoke North. The community I serve matters, bringing their voice matters, and their ideas are absolutely relevant to this discussion.
I also trust I will not be interrupted for talking about a global pandemic, a pandemic where Canadian experts were ringing alarm bells for weeks while this committee focused on a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic last summer. We're still in a pandemic, and we should absolutely hear from our Deputy Prime Minister.
I should point out that I'm not just an Etobicoke MP; I am an Ontario MP, and my job is to stand up for my province. Recently the co-chairman of Ontario's expert panel said Ontario's hospitals could no longer function normally, yet we continue with a partisan motion.
Dr. Brown said, “Our children's hospitals are admitting adults. This has never happened in Ontario before. It's never happened in Canada before.” Field hospitals are being set up in car parks.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the health care system was “already overloaded prior to the third wave, with hospitals still treating patients from the previous wave”. I continue the quote:
In many places, for example Ontario, we never really decompressed our intensive care units from the second wave. We had a third wave come in very short after the second wave, so you've got more explosive outbreaks with the variants that also caused more significant illness proportionally compared to the strains of COVID-19 we had earlier.
The trifecta of more transmissible variants that cause more significant illness and proportionately more people ending up in the hospital, rapid reopening that's providing more opportunities for transmission, and a healthcare system that still hasn't decompressed from the second wave really puts us into the mess that we're at right now.
Yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic, and we should hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.
Last week the rate of coronavirus infections in Ontario reached an all-time high as hospitals warned they were close to being overwhelmed. Ontario, at last, moved and introduced stricter public measures that were not rooted in science to control the spread of the virus, including closing playgrounds, while failing to move on measures that experts believed could decrease transmission, including paid sick days for workers. I'm glad to see yesterday there was movement in this direction.
One of the lessons of this pandemic has to be that this is a pandemic first and foremost, and that it requires paying attention to science, evidence and fact. It requires politicians paying attention to science, evidence and fact, and listening to experts.
There needed to be an understanding that the variants were fundamentally different. They were more transmissible and caused a higher severity of disease. Responding effectively to a pandemic requires seeing where the cases are going and taking early and preventive action, and not waiting until so-called fires are burning out of control.
Another lesson has to be about essential work and racialization, unfortunately a lesson that we have yet to learn. While many of us had the privilege of working from our bedrooms, kitchens or living rooms, essential workers kept our communities and country going.
Information from last April shows diverse neighbourhoods were hit hard by COVID-19. An analysis done last April shows that the most ethnoculturally diverse neighbourhoods in Ontario, primarily those concentrated in large urban areas, experienced disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 and related deaths compared to neighbourhoods that were less diverse.
The rate of COVID-19 infections in the most diverse neighbourhoods was three times higher than the rate in the least diverse neighbourhoods. People living in the most diverse neighbourhoods were also more likely to experience severe outcomes, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths, than people living in the least diverse neighbourhoods. In fact, hospitalization rates were four times higher. ICU admission rates were four times higher. Death rates were twice as high. Yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We need to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.
Data from the City of Toronto last July showed the link between COVID-19 and racialization. The first release of individual level data findings captures information collected from May 2020 to mid-July 2020. It showed that 83% of people with reported COVID-19 infections identified with a racialized group. Yet this committee remains focused on a partisan issue. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.
More information from the City of Toronto in November showed a continuing picture about COVID-19 and racialization. In November, 79% of reported cases were among those who were racialized, while 21% of cases were among people who identified as white. While 48% of Toronto's population identifies as white, 52% of the city's population belongs to a racialized group. The COVID-19 infection rate among people in Toronto was higher for those identifying with racialized groups. These are appalling numbers.
This information required urgent action to protect those who are on the front lines. In February the chief public health officer for Canada showed that when it comes to COVID-19, it is clear that race matters. The report showed that although race-based data are not consistently available across Canada, local sources indicate that racialized communities are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. For example, surveillance data from Toronto and Ottawa indicates that COVID-19 cases are one and a half to five times higher—one and a half to five times higher—among racialized populations than among non-racialized populations in these two cities.
In April of this year, new research showed that the gap between who needs COVID vaccines and who's getting them was particularly bad. In Toronto, the neighbourhoods with the highest populations of racialized people had the lowest vaccination rates, despite the disproportionate impact of the disease on these communities. Last April data showed that racialized communities were hit hard. Last July it showed the same, as it did in November and, most recently, this spring. This is heartbreaking; it is wrong; it is systemic discrimination. The public health data is there.
More has to be done. Workplaces need to be safer. There need to be sick leave benefits, and vaccines have to go to the neighbourhoods that are on fire. Communities are strong, resilient and they are doing everything they can to fight the virus. It is not okay that in Ontario only one-quarter of the vaccines have been going to heavily hit communities. Yet we have a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic last summer and we're still in a pandemic. We should hear from our Deputy Prime Minister.
Let me be very clear. Collecting data does not mean change. It simply means information was gathered and perhaps collated. Telling a story does not mean change. Data collection must be used to improve lives.
Thankfully, after months of urgent calls about the need for paid sick leave by medical professionals, labour advocates, political leaders and even top doctors from some of Ontario's hardest-hit regions, the government has announced, now, a plan to provide three paid sick days through a temporary program. We'll see what more needs to be done.
I come from a community where people work hard for their family and work hard to make a difference in their community, and they do, each and every day. They make a difference in our community and they make a difference to our country. I come from a community where many people work on the front lines, and they put their health at risk in order to put food on the table and to keep the community and country going.
The community I serve wants us to do real work on their behalf, not be focused on a partisan motion, and yet we have a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer and we're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.
Thankfully, we're starting to see some improvement in Canadian case numbers, from a seven-day high of over 8,700 cases on April 18 to over 8,200 cases on April 24 to just under 8,000 cases on April 27. Ontario reported over 3,900 new COVID-19 infections this past Sunday, as the number of patients in intensive care units once again reached a record high. The number of patients in intensive care units and on ventilators reached new highs.
As of last Friday, there were almost 2,300 patients in hospital with the virus. A total of more than 830 people were in intensive care units, and more than 780 patients required ventilators to breathe.
On Monday, over 870 people with COVID-19 were being treated in intensive care units across the province, twice as many as there were at the beginning of April.
Hospitals across Ontario are stretched to capacity amid a surge of COVID-19 cases in the third wave. Ornge, the organization in charge of patient transport, says patients are being moved in record numbers, mostly by its critical care land ambulances, but also by its helicopters and airplanes and with the help of local paramedic services. Between April 1 and April 23, Ornge says 747 patients were transferred to out-of-town facilities to make room for new patients. Seven hundred and forty-seven: To put that figure into context, 209, 217 and 242 patients were transferred in January, February and March respectively.
We're starting to see change. On Tuesday, Ontario reported a fourth consecutive single-day drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases, but the province's test positivity rate remains high. Cases were almost 4,100 on Saturday, almost 3,950 on Sunday, almost 3,500 on Monday and over 3,250 on Tuesday, but the test positivity rate stands at 10.2%.
All of us should be concerned—all of us—about what's happening to Ontarians and what Ontarians have been facing and continue to face, yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion. Let me be clear. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from our Deputy Prime Minister.
I've been raising the COVID-19 pandemic every time I had a chance to speak during this debate, and this committee actually has something it could do. It could study the House of Commons response to the pandemic so that there is better advice for future parliaments when a future pandemic or disaster strikes, because there will be a next time, and pandemic preparedness and readiness is a constant. There is no beginning, no end and no peacetime.
In 1918, the Spanish flu sickened half the population. Churches, governments and ministries closed. Private buildings were pressed into service as hospitals. Losses to businesses were staggering. I'm going to quote from a speech I delivered often and around the world in the early 2000s about pandemics predicted and past: “All countries will be affected. Widespread illness will occur. Medical supplies will be inadequate. Large numbers of deaths will occur. Economic and social disruption will be great. Global economic activity could weaken. Supply chains could fail. Once a vaccine is ready, who gets it? Health care workers? Essential service workers? At-risk groups? After a pandemic, millions will be affected in profound ways. From depression to the loss of friends and relatives to financial loss resulting in disruption to business, governments, society and corporations will have to ensure financial, psychological and social support for affected families, companies and the rebuilding of society.”
Does it sound familiar? The point is that we have learned the same lesson time after time, most recently after the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, yet instead of doing what is required, namely, to be prepared for next time, we remain on a partisan motion.
We were in a pandemic last summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the Deputy Prime Minister. Let's not make the same mistake. Let's learn from this pandemic so that we are better prepared going forward. Instead of focusing on politics, we should be focused on learning from the pandemic. It should be part of this committee's work to review any pandemic plan that existed for the House of Commons.
I don't know if there was one. Was there one? We had officials here. I asked if there was a plan. They didn't know. Was there a plan? Who drafted such a plan? Who was consulted? Who signed off? Who was the plan communicated to? How often was it reviewed? What did the cases look like here in the parliamentary precinct? Who was affected? What lessons have been learned to date?
Those are important questions. It's this committee that should be asking them, and it is this committee that should be driving continual improvement of any pandemic plan for the House of Commons.
Pandemic preparedness cannot be so-called hot for just a few years following a pandemic. It has to remain on the agenda. Science, research and public health have to remain on the agenda. It has been said we remain with a partisan motion. We were in a pandemic in the summer. We're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.
It is very clear that in 2020 Canada faced an unprecedented time in Canadian history. We were facing the worst pandemic since 1918. If we look back to 1918, tens of thousands of Canadians died. In Montreal the demand for transporting coffins was so great that trolley cars had to be converted to hearses that could carry 10 coffins at a time. Eight cabinetmakers worked around the clock in Hamilton, Ontario, to keep up with the demand for coffins. Undertakers would take one casket to the cemetery and hurry back to the church to pick up the next. In Toronto funerals were allowed on Sunday. White hearses for children became a common sight.
No one knew what this pandemic would bring. It was a novel virus in 2020.
Let me be very clear. Our very special Etobicoke North community is focused on the pandemic and getting through it. They are focused on their health, their safety, their jobs and their livelihoods, yet this committee remains focused on a partisan motion.
We were in a pandemic in the summer and we're still in a pandemic. We should hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.