Evidence of meeting #27 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was prorogation.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Justin Vaive
Andre Barnes  Committee Researcher

1:55 p.m.


Ginette Petitpas Taylor Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I'm going to repeat, this time more slowly, the investments that were made in New Brunswick under the financial assistance programs for the businesses and people of our province.

Starting with the Canada emergency business account, as of April 15, 11,870 loans had been made to businesses for a total value of $626 million.

As for the Canada emergency rent subsidy, as of February 24, 1,364 tenants in New Brunswick, representing 10,200 employees, had received total funding of $11.59 million.

For the Canada emergency rent subsidy and lockdown support, as of February 13, we had approved 3,210 applications for total subsidies amounting to $7.4 million.

As for the Canada emergency wage subsidy, as of March 7 of this year, we had approved 55,000 applications for a total of more than $1 billion in subsidies. That helped protect 91,000 jobs in our small province of New Brunswick.

Now let's look at the figures for the Canada emergency response benefit. As of October 4, more than 165,000 New Brunswickers had applied for it. As you can see, that helped the population, one fifth of which received funding under that program.

With respect to the Canada recovery benefit, as of April 11, $209.8 million had been allocated among 27,000 New Brunswickers.

Lastly, thanks to the Canada recovery sickness benefit, as of November 11, $5.5 million had been allocated among approximately 6,000 New Brunswickers.

I'm citing those figures from a few searches that I did last night. When you look at the support the federal government has given to the provinces and territories and to the people in our communities, you can see that a lot of thought went into this. A lot of investments were made. If we invited the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. Freeland, she could come and see us, and we could ask her questions on the subject. She could tell us what she thinks worked or didn't work and tell us what changes were made to all those programs along the way. I think she could broadly clarify certain points for us.

The funding provided helped Canadians meet their basic needs. Our government put several programs in place to ensure people would be supported.

I speak to my fellow citizens in the beautiful region of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe every day to see how their families are doing. I ask them what additional assistance they need. We generally hear that the CERB was really a lifesaver. It helped people pay their rent and pay for their groceries and transportation. Most importantly, it made it possible for our fellow citizens to stay at home when we asked them to do so to prevent the virus from spreading.

Our government also introduced the Canada emergency wage subsidy, which supported three million Canadian workers so they could stay on employer payrolls.

It should also not be forgotten that our local businesses are the heart and soul of our communities. They're run by our friends and neighbours. We can support them by ordering meals from neighbourhood restaurants and buying local. I think the pandemic clearly showed how important it is to support our local merchants.

These economic programs are good reasons to invite the Deputy Prime Minister to come and speak to us directly. She could give us an overview of the thinking and discussions that took place during the prorogation period.

Our government also realized that parents were concerned about the costs associated with raising their children, which is why we invested in families.

We increased the Canada child benefit for 2020‑2021. The maximum annual benefit will rise to $6,765 per child under 6 years of age and to $5,708 per child 6 to 17.

We subsequently invested $625 million in emergency federal support to ensure the safety of child care services, the number of available spaces and affordable access to those services. We aren't here to discuss the budget introduced yesterday, but I was very pleased to hear that our Deputy Prime Minister's priority is to make the necessary investments in a national plan for affordable child care centres. We can thank Quebec and our Quebec colleagues Mr. Lauzon and Mr. Therrien for that. Quebec has outstanding childcare services and has developed a plan that we can follow. We've learned a great deal from Quebec. The province is progressive and we have to take a look at what's worked well for it.

Our government also understood that additional support was needed for food banks and food organizations. Without that support, COVID‑19 would have had an additional impact on vulnerable communities. We know that many Canadians rely on food banks and local community organizations to feed their families and for support during tough times.

I'd like to take a moment to thank the organizations in my community of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe such as Food Depot Alimentaire, the Peter McKee Community Food Centre and the United Way Greater Moncton and Southeastern New Brunswick for their efforts in providing our families with healthy and nutritional food.

I like to talk about Moncton's community organizations when I have the floor. Food Depot Alimentaire provides healthy and nutritional food to thousands of families in our community with the help of volunteers. This week is volunteer week. We have to thank all our community organizations and their volunteers for their hard work.

I'd like to talk about the United Way Greater Moncton and Southeastern New Brunswick organization. I think I raised the subject when we debated Ms. Vecchio's motion. We're fortunate to have a seniors program in Moncton. People at the United Way prepare meals for our seniors and deliver more than 600 meals every week. Volunteers prepare the meals and deliver them as well. We're glad we invested in helping them continue that important work.

Since our government also understood that young Canadians were facing unprecedented challenges, we doubled the Canadian student grants and created the Canada emergency student benefit. We wanted to ensure that students had the assistance they needed to continue their education. Students received that necessary assistance thanks to the investments we made.

Vaccine equity is another subject that our Deputy Prime Minister could discuss. The world needs vaccines to help reopen our societies and defeat this virus.

We know the third wave is vicious. More transmission means more variants, and the more variants there are, the more likely it is they'll elude vaccines. As long as the virus continues to spread, people will keep dying, business and travel will remain disrupted and economic recovery further delayed.

The global vaccination campaign is the greatest moral test of our time, but many low-income countries have yet to receive a single dose. Canada has agreed to increase funding for vaccine deployment in low-income countries. It has also committed to providing $75 million more to the international vaccine-sharing program as other wealthier countries step up their own commitment.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. Freeland, could also come and discuss that subject. That would help us answer certain questions. She could give us her thoughts on the subject, particularly during the prorogation.

This new commitment raises Canada's total contribution to $940 million, which will help provide vaccine doses to other countries. It would be good to hear the Deputy Prime Minister's thoughts on how the world should come together to produce and distribute enough vaccine for everyone. This means that global manufacturing capacity must at least be doubled.

We have to understand that this is very important and that it really counts. The unfair distribution of vaccines is a moral outrage and both epidemiologically and economically self-destructive. The only way we can put an end to this pandemic, recover and restore our economy is by working together.

We know that the speed and extent of our economic recovery will be directly proportionate to our ability to limit the economic damage caused by the coronavirus.

Another compelling reason to invite the Deputy Prime Minister to meet with us would be to hear her discuss the economic recovery. We were in a sound fiscal position when we entered this crisis: Canada's net-debt-to-GDP ratio was the lowest of the G‑7 countries when COVID‑19 hit.

What investments will help make our economy stronger and assist us in laying the foundation for a green economy, an innovation economy and an equitable economy that supports good jobs for all Canadians? We want to emerge from the pandemic healthier and wealthier and with a greener economy. For the moment, we're still focusing on combating the pandemic. The health and safety of Canadians are still our priority. We're doing everything in our power to ensure the health, safety and solvency of Canadians.

The Deputy Prime Minister could also offer us her thoughts on lessons learned. That would be another reason to invite her. On that subject, my friend and colleague Kirsty Duncan has introduced a motion that we could consider.

Let me be absolutely clear: we will have ample time to consider our response in future, but, to date, what thoughts have we had about preparation? I think we all have to be ready: governments, private sectors, government organizations, non-governmental organizations and international organizations. When you aren't prepared, you suffer serious repercussions, devastating economic consequences and a raft of new inequalities and vulnerabilities. A virus can quickly erase all economic progress.

I'd also like to suggest that we hear what the Deputy Prime Minister has to say about the other global crisis we're facing—climate change—but let's set that issue aside for the moment, since we're considering the health crisis and COVID‑19 today. However, we could nevertheless ask her for her thoughts on that subject.

The final reason why we should invite the Deputy Prime Minister would be to ask critical questions about what issues affect and concern people in our community. I'm sure that Mr. Lauzon, Mr. Therrien, Ms. Vecchio, Mr. Morrissey, Ms. Duncan, Mr. Blaikie, Mr. Long and Mr. Nater are all aware of issues that concern the people in their communities. If the Deputy Prime Minister were here, we could ask her questions about the post-COVID‑19 economic recovery.

My priority is still to serve the people in my riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, an exceptional community of people who want to help each other. We have to be there for them. I want them to know that we're getting through this difficult period together and that I'll always be there to assist and support them in these tough times.

The pandemic has hit seniors, persons with disabilities, women, girls, indigenous peoples and racialized persons. We must understand that systemic racism is real, that unconscious prejudices are real and that these phenomena also occur in Canada.

It has now been a year since George Floyd died. We're discussing the issue of unconscious bias, and I think that event encourages us to assess what's happening in our communities. We can see that the pandemic has triggered feelings of hate, scapegoating, alarmism and xenophobia around the world. Once again, we have a lot of work to do on this subject.

We need to support all those who experience racism and whose human rights are violated. Canadian MPs met and adopted a motion condemning the rise of racism and racist attacks against Asia in North America and expressing our unanimous horror at the shootings that occurred in Georgia. Because COVID‑19 seems to have come from Wuhan, China, people have used shocking and appalling language to designate the inhabitants of that region and we've seen an increase in discrimination and violence against Asians as a result.

In July 2020, Statistics Canada data suggested that Asian Canadians were more likely to report that they had observed a rise in racial or psychological harassment during the pandemic. The largest increase was observed among persons of Chinese, Korean and South Asian decent. According to figures from a separate report prepared by the National Research Council Canada and released in September 2020, the number of racist incidents reported against Asians is higher in Canada than in the United States on a per capita basis.

We must promote inclusion and a sense of belonging among people to guarantee the safety of all Canadians. Since the mission of the Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth is to help build a country where every individual has an equal chance of success, to defend all the dynamic diversity in Canada and to promote greater inclusion, I think this would be a good opportunity to ask her questions on that topic. We must work together to build a fairer future for all of us. We must always combat racism and prejudice and promote respect, compassion and equality.

Madam Chair, I see I've spoken at greater length than anticipated. I would like to discuss other thoughts as part of this debate, but I'm going to yield the floor to my friend Mr. Lauzon or Ms. Duncan. I don't know who's next on the list.

Madam Chair, thank you once again for the opportunity to make some important points on the subject.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Thank you, Ms. Petitpas Taylor.

Next we have Dr. Duncan on the list.

1:55 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I will begin by thanking my friend and colleague, the honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, for her compassion, caring, her commitment to community and for her important speech.

It's important for people to know she's our former health minister. Her expertise is so appreciated. I would really like to thank her for her important comments regarding vaccine equity.

I will also thank my colleague and friend, Mr. Wayne Long. I not only appreciated his speech, but I also have very fond memories of seeing Mr. Long in his community and his joy of serving was so apparent.

I want to say how much I appreciate the amendment brought forward by my friend and colleague, Mr. Turnbull. I have been clear that I think it would be really important to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

I will also make the point that I have repeatedly made, namely, that there is nothing more important than the COVID-19 pandemic and that is where our sole focus should be. I think there are absolutely more important issues this committee should be studying. In fact, I have a motion calling for the review of Parliament's response to COVID-19 identifying lessons learned and putting forth recommendations so that future parliaments are better prepared for a pandemic.

As I said, there is nothing more important than the COVID-19 pandemic right now. This is where our sole focus should be.

Canada is in a third wave of COVID-19. When I was preparing last week, cases had increased by 82% over the previous 14 days. We are in a race between the variants and the vaccines.

While this committee does not oversee pandemic response, and we must be focused as a country on the response, we absolutely have a role to play in pandemic preparedness for the future. It is incumbent upon each of us to ensure that the House of Commons is prepared for the next pandemic, because in all likelihood, there will be a next time. COVID-19 is not going to be the last pandemic. Going forward, the House of Commons, Parliament, governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and international organizations must all be better prepared. When we are not prepared, we face not only deadly impacts, but also devastating economic consequences and new inequalities and vulnerabilities.

All of us on this committee, all of us in our communities and right across this country have been touched by the pandemic. We have to learn from the crisis. We can't forget what we have all been through. We need to prepare for the future. This includes our work at this very committee.

The job of the procedure and House affairs committee is to study and report on, among other things, the practice of the House and its committees, the internal administration of the House, and services and facilities for members of Parliament.

All of us need to be asking about the House of Commons' response to COVID-19. This is not partisan. It's real work that needs to be done, just as we have done real work on studies on remote voting, and how to promote democracy and public health and safety should there be an election during the pandemic.

Undertaking this study, as I have raised before, is important. Past crises have shown that once an outbreak is under control, organizations tend to turn their attention to other pressing concerns. If this committee does not do this study now, when will the study be done? What happens if an election intervenes? It is our committee members who have direct experience and it is our members who should be asking questions.

The point is we need to review the response to see what action was taken, when action was taken and what recommendations we can make to be better prepared for next time. We need to think of the thousands who work here in the parliamentary precinct. They are our colleagues, our friends, who work to maintain the people's house. We need to be thinking of protecting our democracy during a pandemic or another disaster.

Let me bring it back. Canada is in a third wave of COVID-19. We are in a race between the variants and the vaccines. Our health system in Ontario is literally on the verge of collapse and our health care professionals are exhausted, yet this committee remains focused on politics.

Our country reported 9,200 COVID-19 infections two Fridays ago, the single-day high since the start of the pandemic. Yesterday, Ontario reported over 4,400 cases of COVID-19, while the number of hospitalizations topped 2,200. It was the sixth straight day of more than 4,000 new infections in the province—six straight days of more than 4,000 cases—yet we have a partisan motion in front of this committee.

Worldwide we have seen increases in the number of new cases of COVID-19 for the eighth week in a row. More than 5.2 million cases were reported last week. That is the most in a single week so far. Deaths rose for the fifth straight week. More than three million deaths—let me repeat that—more than three million deaths have been reported by the World Health Organization. It took nine months to reach one million deaths, four more months to reach two million, and three more months to reach three million. Big numbers can make us feel numb, but each of these deaths is a tragedy for families, communities and countries, yet this committee remains focused on politics.

More than 900 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, but there is a stark gap between vaccination programs in different countries, with some yet to report a single dose. Eighty-three per cent of the shots that have gone into arms worldwide have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Only 0.2% of doses have been administered in low-income countries. This, unfortunately, is not surprising. When HIV emerged 40 years ago, life-saving antiretrovirals were developed, but more than a decade passed before the world's poor got access.

While vaccines are a vital and powerful tool, they are not the only tool. Physical distancing works. Masks work. Hand hygiene works. Ventilation works. Surveillance, testing, contact tracing, isolation, supportive quarantine and compassionate care all work to stop infections and save lives.

It is important for people to understand that young, healthy people have died. We still don't fully understand the long-term consequences of infection for those who survive. Many people who have suffered even mild illness report long-term symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, brain fog, dizziness, tremors, insomnia, depression, anxiety, joint pain, chest tightness and more, all of which are symptoms of “long COVID”.

Far too many health care workers have died in the pandemic. Millions have been infected and the pandemic has taken a huge toll on their physical and mental health, with devastating effects on their families and communities. Anxiety, depression, insomnia and stress have all increased.

One nurse said she's tired of seeing young people die. She keeps hearing that more people are getting sick, so more beds are needed. She's tired and she says it's demoralizing.

Another nurse says the daily scenes unfolding before her eyes—more acutely COVID-19, more acutely ill COVID-19 patients and young people fighting for their lives—weigh heavily on her. There's no escaping the hospital, even when she's home with her family. She tries not to burden them with her worries. She explains, “Sometimes when I sleep, I just keep thinking. Those things are going through my mind, and I just want to shut it down, just shut off for a minute.” She says, “We are not only taking care of the patients. We have to take care of our staff. Everyone's burned out.”

Heads of hospitals are worried about the number of people who are getting sick, their colleagues in cardiology and neurology, and the cancer rates that will follow, yet this committee has a partisan motion.

The pandemic is exposing and exacerbating inequalities. COVID-19 pushed an estimated 120 million people into extreme poverty last year. Gender inequalities have increased with more women than men leaving the labour force. Rich countries are vaccinating their populations while the world's poor watch and wait. Health inequalities are not just unfair; they make the world less safe and less sustainable, yet there is a partisan motion in front of this committee.

Here in Canada we have had over one million COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 has claimed more than 23,600 Canadians.

I cannot imagine what could be more important than talking about COVID-19 and the race between the variants and the vaccines. The numbers of deaths are not just numbers. They are our grandparents, mothers, fathers, loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, lifelong friends, mentors and heroes, and they matter, and they matter to so many more people.

All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in hospitals, the number of health care workers who have developed COVID-19 and the number of health care workers who've ended up in the ICU. All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks in essential workplaces, in marginalized communities and in congregate settings. All of us should be pushing for vaccine equity.

Throughout the pandemic, racialized communities have been hit hard. In the spring of 2020 in Ontario, the most diverse neighbourhoods were hit hard. Hospitalization rates were four times higher. ICU admission rates were four times higher. Death rates were twice as high. Data from the fall in Toronto show that 79% of reported COVID-19 cases were among those who identified with a racialized group. 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.

A century—a century—after the 1918 influenza, poverty, hunger and well-being, gender, racialization and economic status still play a role in who gets sick, who gets treated and who survives COVID-19. Here in Ontario, surgeries are cancelled as the province braces for more COVID-19 patients. Cases of more transmissible coronavirus variants are surging in Ontario, and strained hospitals are forced to cancel elective and non-urgent surgeries. Cataract, joint and cancer surgeries are all cancelled despite a backlog of postponed surgeries from the past year approaching 250,000. One emergency doctor says, “If alarm bells are not ringing now, I don't know what it will take.”

The system is straining to keep up. Dr. Kevin Smith, CEO of Toronto's University Health Network, said, “This is going to be the most extraordinary and demanding time most of us have had in our working lives. It comes to us after a very long year which has left us feeling battered and drained.” They are battered and they are drained, but this committee is focused on partisan politics.

Let me be clear. We are still fighting the pandemic. In Ontario, more COVID-19 patients are in the ICU than at any other point during the pandemic. Canada's chief public health officer has said that the rapidly spreading variants have now likely replaced the original virus as more young people are getting sicker. Hospital admissions are also on the rise as health care staff try to keep up with overflowing ICUs. Experts say the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs continues to test hospital capacities with patients battling the disease.

Coming back to the amendment, the original motion prejudges the need for prorogation. Mr. Turnbull's amendment refocuses the study on prorogation with research, evidence and facts and reinviting our Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

The Prime Minister prorogued in order to take the time needed to understand what Canadians needed during the pandemic. How were they doing? Where were we in the pandemic? How was it affecting their jobs, their livelihoods? Could they put food on the table? How had wave one affected our seniors, particularly those in long-term care? Where should we go as a country after looking at the science, the evidence and the facts and hearing directly from Canadians?

When dealing with a new disease, it's important to acknowledge that not everything is known. It's important to exercise precautions. With a new disease and new data, information will likely change, and there will likely need to be adjustments in guidelines, policies and recommendations. If we look at what was known last January versus what is known today, we see there are a lot of differences. Science evolves over time, and decision-makers have to be open, flexible and willing to change course. They have to stay humble in the face of a new virus. If the—

1:55 p.m.


John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Point of order, Madam Chair.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Mr. Nater.

1:55 p.m.


John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Madam Chair, there are rules against both relevance and repetition. I would note that Ms. Duncan is repeating word for word what she said in previous meetings.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

I don't have her speech saved, but I'll let Dr. Duncan respond to that.

1:55 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you so much, Madam Chair.

I would like to be clear that I spent last night updating this speech with the new facts, new evidence and new information from the World Health Organization and new information from the Province of Ontario. I'm here to represent the constituents of Etobicoke North, and I'll debate the amendment that is at hand.

I would like to speak about the issues that matter most to our community during this historic time, and this really is historic. It's 100 years since the last major pandemic—we also had influenza pandemics in 1957 and 1968—and it is tragically historic. It continues to inflict unprecedented harm on people, societies and economies around the world.

I would like to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister. We could ask her about the consultations that were made during prorogation, the investments that the government has made and what more needs to be done. Yesterday we heard that in the budget there will be investments of $100 billion in Canadians. This budget is about finishing the fight against COVID-19. It's about healing the wounds left by the COVID-19 recession. It's about creating more jobs and prosperity for Canadians in the days—

1:55 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Point of order, Madam Chair.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Ms. Vecchio.

1:55 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

I really appreciate all that Dr. Duncan is saying, and we have already invited the Deputy Prime Minister. We have yet to hear back. I just wanted to point that out.

Once again, could we get back to the actual motion? Referring to the budget is great, but let's go back to what actually happened. We're getting results, but we still don't know why we had to prorogue.


1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

At this time, we're speaking to Mr. Turnbull's amendment to reinvite the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Chagger and a few others as well. I think Dr. Duncan—I am following closely—is speaking to why we should be inviting these people to speak to why prorogation was necessary, so I think I will allow that.

1:55 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you so much, Madam Chair.

Yes, it is about hearing from our Deputy Prime Minister. I think it's important for Canadians to understand where we are in a pandemic, and the people of Etobicoke North and all Canadians want to know what will be done for them. That $100 billion announced yesterday is so important. It's investments in Canadians.

Right now, the priority is protecting the health and safety of Canadians, their jobs and their livelihoods. While the focus is absolutely on protecting health, the government must also be investing in the economic recovery. We must ensure that Canada builds back better, that we have inclusive growth and that we have green growth. I would like to hear the Deputy Prime Minister's thoughts on the economic recovery and, of course, the budget that she just released, the investments in Canadians of over $100 billion.

I know the community I serve would like to hear about the economy. I did hear from our community that they were pleased to see that the Speech from the Throne outlined paths to economic recovery. They felt that with the consultations that had been done by prorogation they had been heard. The throne speech planned for incentives for employers to hire and retain workers and for training to quickly equip workers with new skills.

We have an opportunity not just to support Canadians but also to grow their potential. Working with provinces and territories, the government will make the largest investment in Canadian history in training for workers. This will include supporting Canadians as they build new skills in growing sectors, helping workers receive education and accreditation, and strengthening workers' futures by connecting them to employers and good jobs—

1:55 p.m.


John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Point of order.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Mr. Nater.

April 15th, 2021 / 1:55 p.m.


John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I'm again reading word for word what Ms. Duncan is saying from a previous meeting. The last two paragraphs have been word for word what she said in a previous meeting.

The rule of repetition states that can't happen. If she has new information to bring forward, she should, but she should not be repeating word for word what has previously been said in this committee.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

I consider all members to be honourable. If Ms. Duncan says that she stayed up and submitted new facts and evidence to her speech to, essentially, make the guts of it different....

I'll confer with the clerk as well on this, if you would just give me a second.

I was conferring with the clerk as I want to take Mr. Nater's point of order seriously and give Dr. Duncan the respect she deserves as well, and the opportunity to make her point.

I'll just remind members that repetition, especially if it is word-for-word repetition, is not allowed. If there are new facts in evidence, then try to focus on those new facts in evidence and to refrain from repeating anything verbatim.

I guess that reminder goes to everyone.

Mr. Nater, thanks for raising that point of order.

I'll give Dr. Duncan the floor.

1:55 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd like to thank Mr. Nater as well. I'm so careful, and I'd just like him to know. In fact, last night I checked the blues that were available on the PROC website to make sure I wasn't repeating anything, so I really hope that I have not.

In terms of new figures, I was talking about the importance of jobs. Of course, we saw that in the budget yesterday. I think it's really important that we hear from the Deputy Prime Minister, because she talks about a resilience agenda. What does that mean for health care? What does it mean for our social systems? We entered the pandemic in a strong fiscal position. It allowed us to take quick and decisive action supporting both people and business. The biggest danger we could have had would have been not doing enough.

I'd like to talk about addressing the gaps in our social system. For me, one of the most important things, the worst tragedy, was what happened in long-term care. It broke my heart. It broke my heart. Before I ever entered politics, I used to take the children I taught dancing to into the seniors homes in Etobicoke North. They knew these seniors for many years. To see what they have lived through.... I've known these seniors in these residences through politics an additional 12 years. I will be afraid to see, when we go back, who we have lost. They deserve to be safe and respected and to live in dignity.

I want families to know this: I know your loss. I know your terrible pain. I know it first-hand. I will absolutely raise long-term care again and again and again.

I'd like to recognize Monsieur Lauzon's leadership here. We've all heard about his caring and compassion for seniors. He's the parliamentary secretary to the minister. I'm glad to see in the budget another $3 billion for long-term care. We will be investing $12 billion over five years to increase old age security for seniors aged 75 and older.

If the Deputy Prime Minister came to our committee, we could ask her questions on behalf of our seniors. I know that the seniors in our Etobicoke North community, for example, our Humberwood seniors, our Sri Lankan Tamil seniors, our St. Andrew's seniors, to name just a few groups, would be really eager to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister.

I want to talk a bit about how COVID affected congregate settings and particularly people with disabilities. I've been a lifelong advocate for disability rights. I've worked with and learned from—learned from—persons living with disabilities all my life. I've worked with children with autism spectrum disorder. I've worked with adults with developmental delays. We saw with the pandemic that the disease spread quickly in these residences.

If we look at the survey on disability, we can see that more than six million Canadians identify as having a disability. That's important for this committee to know. When we look at employment, only 59% of Canadians with disabilities from age 25 to 64 are employed as compared with 80% of Canadians without disabilities. They also earn less. It's 12% less for those with milder disabilities and 51% for those with more severe disabilities. They're more likely to live in poverty.

I think it's incumbent upon all of us to build a fairer future where we all have an equal opportunity to succeed. If I look back to the last Parliament, our government undertook the most inclusive and accessible consultation with Canadians with disabilities and brought forth historic legislation.

There's more work to do. Our government will bring forward a disability inclusion plan and a new Canadian disability benefit modelled after the guaranteed income supplement for seniors. I think it would be really important to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister on these initiatives.

Next, I'd like to talk a bit about health. I would like to recognize my friend and colleague, Madam Petitpas Taylor and her tremendous work when she served as the minister of health for Canada. I hear regularly from the medical and research community that really recognized how she listened and what she achieved for our country. I will just highlight her work on the food guide, healthy food choices, and financial support for thalidomide survivors. Of course, I could go on.

Over the last many months, it's become clearer that we need a resilient health care system. Everyone should have access to a family doctor. We've seen with COVID-19 that our system has to be more flexible to be able to reach communities. I know from helping families in my own community that it's been really hard. It's been hard to reach a doctor during the pandemic. Many doctors are not operating. If they were operating, it's hard to get an appointment. If you could get an appointment and then you needed to see a specialist, that took more time. I'm really concerned about what we're going to see in the future in terms of cancers being diagnosed later, and heart and neurological issues.

I'd like to talk a bit about hearing from the Deputy Prime Minister when it comes to mental health initiatives.

I'd also like to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister about how we build safer, stronger communities and the importance of having a home. No one should ever have to survive a Canadian winter on the street. Everyone needs a home. It's one of the most important issues to our community. That's why I fight so hard for affordable housing. It's something everyone deserves. It's also a key driver of the economy.

Another issue that's really important to the people of Etobicoke North is ending gun violence. It's something I've fought for since I arrived in Parliament. I remember back in 2013, a group of grieving Somali mothers came to see me in my constituency office. They gave me a list of 50 young Somali Canadian men who had died violently, largely in Ontario and Alberta. Many of their deaths remain unsolved.

In 2012, it was that terrible summer here in Toronto when we had 33 Toronto shooting deaths that took the lives of Somali Canadian men. When I go to a meeting and 100 people are there—obviously, this is during non-COVID times—it's common for four mothers to come up to me and say that they are the parent of one of those young men. These are Canadian-born young men. Grieving mothers, community elders and imams say these were the children who were supposed to bury them. No one asks about their pain because no one wants to know.

Positive Change writes in their brochure, “50 sons, brothers, grandsons, friends lost. Together let's stop the violence”. It's really important that we do more. I think it would be important to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister on gun violence.

What matters to my community is having a job, having a home, having a safe community and addressing inequality and health care. What I hear from the youth in our community is that we're in a climate emergency. The global response has been inadequate, and we must urgently change course. It's important for people to understand that we've really faced three global emergencies this past year. There is the pandemic. There is the climate crisis. There is a crisis of injustice. The young people in my community—and we see youth leading around the world on climate change—want us to speak up for planet Earth. I think it's really important. We have to increase the level of ambition.

Earth Day is this week. There's also an important meeting taking place, a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate. We have to increase the level of ambition. We have to increase the action that will happen at COP26 this year in Glasgow.

Canadians understand that climate change threatens our health, our way of life and our planet. They want to see more action. I'm really pleased to see that our government is committed to that action. We saw that in the budget yesterday, with billions invested. I would like to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister about Canada's climate action and what more needs to be done.

Madam Chair, I've been speaking at length. I'm just going to finish by really bringing home that the sole focus of this committee should be the pandemic. It should be pandemic. It's what I hear in our community. It's what our community members are concerned about. I serve a wonderful community. It is the place where I was born and raised. It's very difficult, because our community works hard. Many are on the front line. They want to see members of Parliament fighting for them. They don't want to see politics.

Right now in Ontario our health care system is crumbling. The hospitalizations have increased. The ICU admissions have increased. Patients are being shipped around the province to make room for sicker patients. You can see the numbers increasing in other provinces. It's not just Ontario. We're seeing the numbers increase in other provinces.

I will make a plea to our dear colleagues on this committee. I so appreciate working with everyone. I think we have a good committee, and I think we've done good work. We did good work on remote voting. We did good work on putting in place recommendations should there be an election during a pandemic. I absolutely hope there is not an election during a pandemic. We do have work to do, real, meaningful work. There will be a pandemic in the future, and it is incumbent upon us to study Parliament's response and to make recommendations.

With that, Madam Chair, I will say thank you to my colleagues and friends and I will pass the floor to the next member.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Thank you, Dr. Duncan. You always speak extremely passionately, but I've seen you first-hand in your community with your constituents. I'm amazed—and I think Wayne said this, too—at how many names you know, how many languages you know in order to communicate with the diversity you have in your riding. Even when you pop into our ridings, how quickly you connect with people is pretty amazing.

I'm really sorry about the loss in your own family and about how COVID has affected you. It's a real tragedy. It is hitting many of us close to home.

Next we have Mr. Simms. Then we have Mr. Lauzon after that.

Mr. Simms, welcome back to PROC. How are you?

1:55 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Madam Chair, to be quite honest with you, I say—and I don't mean this as an understatement—the pleasure is all mine.

I want to thank Ms. Duncan for her interventions and for going through her experience, all of which you've just described aptly.

I want to say hello to my colleagues. It's been ages since I've seen you amongst the squares that unfold in front of my screen.

Yes, I see you too, Wayne. It's nice to see you as well. I included you in that, by the way, if you had any trepidation about that.

This is something I want to get into, because I took great interest in it. You may not believe me, but it is true. I'm taking a great interest in this and I'll tell you why.

When I was first elected in 2004, I think sideburns were a thing. I'm not sure we've progressed further in fashion since then; nevertheless, that's quite some time ago. I was so naive, so green towards the whole process of parliamentary procedure—this is an actual, true story—that I got to Ottawa for the first time and was standing in a lineup of about 50 people. The security guard came along. In those days you had various security guards. You had one set for the House of Commons and you had different security guards for the Senate.

A Senate security guard walked by, and I said, “Excuse me, sir, I'm just waiting to get in here, but do you know how long this will take? I have a meeting.” He said, “Who is your meeting with?” I said, “My meeting is with the Speaker of the House.” He said, “Are you from his area?” I said, “No, I'm from Newfoundland.”

We got to talking. He said, “What do you do?” I said, “I just got elected. I'm a member of Parliament—not sworn in yet, but I just got elected.” He just sighed and said, “Come with me, sir.” I said, “What did I do?” He said, “Sir, you can go wherever you want.” I said, “Really? I can go anywhere I want? I can walk in and see Paul Martin, the prime minister?” He said, “But not there.”

It was quite a journey. When I got in there he asked, “Are you okay?” I said, “Yes. Can I ask you a question?” He said, “Go ahead.” I said, “Where's the House of Commons?”

I was in the lobby of the western side of Centre Block. I didn't have a clue where the House of Commons was. Not only that, I also didn't really have much of a history of how it works. All I know is from question period, when you get up and ask a question and someone gets up and answers the question. Neither of the two relates to the other. What was asked and what was answered would seem to be madly off in different directions.

Of course, everything has changed since then, right?

I was looking for a reaction. I see it.

At the time, I was thinking to myself that I knew nothing about how this place operates, how this place works. I never undermined its importance. I just thought to myself, "How does this all work?"

I sat down with as many rules and procedures as I could and talked to as many people as I could. I'll never forget one individual. He was sitting in front of me in the House of Commons. He was a Liberal, like me. His riding was Peterborough, which I think is Minister Monsef's riding. His name was Peter Adams. He had a very thick English accent. He taught me so much. He has passed away since then. I haven't thought about him in ages until this very moment. He took on the role of mentor to me and several others. He walked me through a lot of things.

I realized that many things happen in the House of Commons that are not written down. It's based more on tradition than anything else, which we inherited from the U.K. parliamentary system. I'll get to that in a moment. I know you're dying in anticipation, but I'll get to it in a moment.

Shortly thereafter we went to an orientation session. It was one of the first times they had instituted an orientation session for new parliamentarians. These things are fairly regular now, but in 2004 they weren't that regular. They were just starting out.

I was sitting down with three other members of Parliament. Two of us were Liberals and two were Conservatives. We got to know each other. It was then that I realized we were members of Parliament representing areas of Canada, and with a lot of the same goals, because before you come into Parliament, what you think of partisanship and what you think of debate.... It's like something that is altruistic, in the sense that you're constantly debating the other. It's not like that. There is a lot that happens that you don't see on the screen, and I mean that from a CPAC perspective, not from Zoom.

I'll never forget the person I sat next to. As I said, we were all members of Parliament, but there was a guy named Andrew Scheer there. You probably know him. I remember having a long discussion with him. He, being from Saskatchewan—from Ottawa but representing Saskatchewan—and I being from Newfoundland, we shared stories about people we knew in either province and so forth. There was another MP there, Mike Savage, who's now the mayor of Halifax, and another guy by the name of Jeff Watson. Some of you know him. Jeff was in Essex, in southwestern Ontario. I think he lives in Alberta now.

Nevertheless, I was talking to Andrew and Jeff, and I realized that they had such wonderful families and great kids. I spoke to their spouses, their partners, who were wonderful people. You sort of get into the context of why we're there in the beginning, and it's not to be a Liberal or a Conservative or an NDPer, but to further your goals as a Canadian. Sometimes I worry that we're losing sight of that in this virtual world.

Now, you might be thinking that's probably not apropos to the conversation at hand, but I only say that to preface my comments by saying that I would like to get into how Parliament has evolved from a human dimension, as well as the rules and procedures that we're doing, because, quite frankly, we are talking about one of those tools that we have in the tool box, which is known as proroguing the House. People will know what proroguing is—not very many—but they know what it is as in the superficial meaning of the word “proroguing”. Far fewer, probably, know how to spell it, me included. I've been saying it for years and never knew how it was spelled, to be quite honest with you and, let's be honest, we're all honest.

It's a concept that I think is a tool we can use and which I think is a functional one. I think it's something that, as Canadians.... It evolved from a country outside of our own, but nevertheless, we've grasped this concept because we think it's one that is good, among many other traditions, customs and procedures of the House that we go through.

All that is to say that I'm glad to be a part of this, because I want to look at this from the functional aspect of what is proroguing of the House and, in a general sense, how our House operates, so that we can handle and pass laws in the most efficient way we know, and how the system has evolved.

Should the system be fixed? Yes, it should be. I looked on the screen here and I saw Mr. Nater earlier, who taught me a lot about the Magna Carta, stuff that I didn't know, from a session that went on and on—someone give me another word for “filibuster”. Okay, it was a prolonging of a discussion that we had. It was the prolonging of a discussion primarily by the Conservatives and also the NDP and Mr. Christopherson at the time, which I found rather enjoyable. I actually found it to be really good. It was quite informative, with characters like Mr. Nater and Mr. Genuis and others who talked about how the Magna Carta had such a deep impact. We're talking about a thousand years ago.

Just by way of quick facts, do you know why the House of Commons is green and the Senate is red? The Senate is red because it signifies royalty, the Crown, the Queen, the King and all throughout the history of the last thousand years. We all know that red means the Crown. The green in the House of Commons signifies grass. No, not that grass.

Let's back up for a minute. When the Magna Carta was signed, it was done outside. There was no place inside for people who were commoners. There was no institution that would sanction the fact that commoners were getting together inside to debate issues. They had to do it outside, so naturally, the green represents the green grass outside where they debated. Now, of course, loosely based on the modern sense of debating amongst our peers, you probably looked to Iceland and the Althing, way back when. Nevertheless, the Magna Carta was signed around the time of Runnymede. That's why you see the green representing the outside, where the commoners would have to gather to debate.

Going back to the basics, the Magna Carta gave us the power of the individual to live in this country, to live in this world and to make sure they had human rights. Essentially, the role of the Crown was not to be against the people they served, if I could put it that way. Obviously, it's more complex than that. I'm just simplifying it the best way I know how.

Over the following thousand years, all of this evolved into the common rules and procedures that we have now. During a debate we had a few years ago over prolonging the discussion, we'll say, of House rules, one of the things we talked about was how unique times can create different measures and rules by which we govern ourselves. This was not even taking into consideration what was around the corner—the situation we find ourselves in a year and a half later.

If someone had told me when that was happening in 2018 that I would be voicing the opinions of my constituents with a “yea”, “nay” or “abstain” in the House of Commons by using this, I would have said, “That's insane.” I never would have thought about it.

I remember a member of the European parliament who came over from Germany. She had spent 25 years in Brussels, I think. She was a very smart person, very experienced. I'm president of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, so I invited her and her colleague—

1:55 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a point of order.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota


1:55 p.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Although I am truly enjoying Mr. Simms' intervention and I believe that we all have a lot to learn from his 17 years of experience, perhaps we can get back to the motion.

1:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

I think Mr. Simms is going somewhere. However, I will remind you that we are on the study of prorogation and within that study, Ms. Vecchio has called for some witnesses to be reinvited. Then there is the amendment we are now debating, a different version of that list of witnesses, which would essentially remove the Prime Minister and his chief of staff from the list.

Anyway, that's the amendment at hand, within the scope of a prorogation study. I'll just gently remind you to bring your comments back to that issue. I do enjoy as well, Scott, all of the knowledge you bring each and every time you speak at committee, in the House or anywhere. Hopefully, within that argument, we'll still gain a whole bunch of knowledge and your perspective on it.

1:55 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Thank you, Chair. I appreciate that.

I'm sorry, Ms. Vecchio. To be quite honest, you sounded a lot like my lawyer. I'm sorry. That was just an aside.

I'm sorry, Ms. Vecchio. I will lace up my running shoes and quickly run to the point in just a few moments. Before I do that, I want to sum up by saying that we find ourselves in a situation where so much has changed.

Anyway, to quickly finish that story—and I promise, Ms. Vecchio, I will finish it quickly—what she said was that she witnessed question period and then voting, because we had a vote after question period. In terms of question period, she said, “I really like question period; it's real 21st century stuff.” I asked what she meant. You have to understand that in European parliaments, most of them just stand up for 10 minutes, do their spiel, vent their spleen and then sit down. Each one does that, but there's no debate. She loved the back and forth. She thought that was real 21st century stuff, but she said, “I have a concern.” I asked her what it was. She said, “You debate like it's the 21st century, but you vote like it's the 19th century.” It's a good point. All we do is stand up and sit down every vote. There was no electronic vote then. Everyone else was doing electronic voting except for us, until this came along.

The point is that so much has changed in the House of Commons. How we conduct ourselves.... I see you all in a square that's so big in front of me, and I've been seeing that for quite some time, for almost a year now, if you look at the Zoom technology.

Our schools are this way. Broadband Internet used to be a wonderful tool to help with schooling in rural Canada. In rural Canada, broadband Internet is now the school. That's the school now, and not even just in rural areas but in urban areas, especially for those of you in Ontario and Quebec who are going through this latest situation. My heart goes out to all of you. I won't talk about that too much because I feel that Ms. Duncan did it so emotionally and appropriately that I would not serve it justice. It was quite something to behold.

The change that is thrust upon us has to take into consideration everything in the House of Commons. Why prorogue? What does it take? We used to joke that proroguing the House means that it's the old control-alt-delete of the political system, but actually, control-alt-delete is more of an election. This is more like the F5 refresh in terms of what is happening, what we have been doing and we're about to do.

Sometimes a government will exhaust itself to the point where we've done what we said we were going to do. Now, whether you believe that is a matter of debate, but nevertheless.... You're going to do all that you want to do, to a point where you say, “We've done that and where do we go from here?” Well, that calls for a Speech from the Throne. It calls for a direction. It calls for an indication to the people of where you want to go. That's the original purpose of this, but that's the government's decision.

What if the sands beneath us change and start to move? What if external factors dictate that life is not normal anymore, if what we knew as normal is no longer normal? Society has changed dramatically to the point where, when someone asks me, a politician, what's going to come of all this.... Who knows? Who knows what changes will come? What are the long-term effects of this? I don't know. How do you judge what the forest will look like if you're still amongst the trees?

I think that for us at some point we have to step back to a certain degree and try to refigure. The Speech from the Throne following the 2009 election had a distinct direction to it, whether you supported it or not. Whether you didn't like the direction or liked the direction, it had a path, but now the environment in which we walk has changed so dramatically that the path has to take a different way. Not entirely different.... It doesn't have to go backwards, but it has to change.

You have to think about what it takes to indicate to the country that things have changed, and now we have to think about that. Normally I would say to you to think of the budget from yesterday, but I won't get into the budget today. I won't talk about it because I know that's not what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about the motion and the amendment and so on and so forth. I think that I'm glad to be here because prorogation was the original factor by which we find ourselves in this prolonged discussion about what it is that we want to do and where it is that we're going.

Those are my thoughts on the changing of the House. I know that we all want to change the way we operate in the House of Commons in a way that's befitting of our current circumstances. I'm even willing to say that we should go beyond what has affected us through this pandemic and say that now that we have made some changes, finally, such as voting through my phone, we can make other changes to the House.

There's Mr. Blaikie. He has some good ideas. I think he has one great idea that he'll probably bring up later, but this is something that we have to discuss. I'm glad we're doing this, because we're talking about prorogation as one of those things.

Prorogation is not our invention, but it's certainly something we practise. Earlier, I mentioned the path that we're on now, the circumstances and how the ground beneath our feet that has shifted and therefore we have to make.... That's why I think prorogation was justified in this particular instance. I know that others would say to you that the circumstances of the situation with the WE Charity, as was said earlier, were dictating that, but I have to disagree, not based on the fact of where I sit in the House, but only because I think that this is one of those times.

The question is, would prorogation exist outside all the factors that you're talking about regarding the issue with WE Charity and others? Absolutely, it would. It would be completely justified. If you look at.... I'll only mention this about the budget. Look at it. Look at the face of it, at all the things in that budget that were affected by the pandemic. You may not agree with the actual substance within that budget, but on the topics, just look at the index. Look at the table of contents. There's not a lot about the table of contents that you can disagree with, no matter who you are, because these issues have to be handled.

The extension of benefits such as the wage subsidy or the CEBA, these things.... This is something that is providing a great benefit to this country, but these things do have an expiry date, and that has to be talked about. These sorts of measures were not to be talked about before the pandemic struck. We tried with EI from the very beginning. We went into the benefits, the CERB. Going into the CERB, we had to create this new dimension in financial arrangements with our constituents. The pandemic dictated all of that.

How does that relate to prorogation? Well, I think that all leads into a refresh of the House. Some of you might say, then why didn't you just call an election? Yes, well, I'm from Newfoundland and Labrador. Not so much.... How would I say this without being insensitive? We just had an election in Newfoundland, the likes of which I don't even know if the Commonwealth has seen before—not just Canada, but the Commonwealth. That's in the sense that voting in person got shut down the day before we went to the polls. Then you had to mail in your vote. We may end up with a challenge based on the charter and the right to vote. Who knows? It's possible. A lot went awry. Without pointing fingers at anybody in this particular situation, I'm sure that will unfold, and rightly so.

There's a lot to learn from this. The ultimate refresh is the election. It may have worked in other places. I've read about what they've done in British Columbia. I think they did some really good things. In New Brunswick, there were some good things there too. There are things that we will address down the line.

How many times did we debate about voting online? How do you accomplish voting online in a national election without trusting the system completely? That's a hard thing to do. Voting by phone.... Basically, voting remotely is what we're looking at. My goodness, in the House of Commons, we're already doing it. I'll never forget it when I first got into this thing. I was still saying, “Pinch me. I can actually vote on my phone in the House of Commons.”