Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I'm not exactly sure what point Ms. Vecchio was attempting to make about relevancy. I'm just going to continue.
When we talk about having people appear before committees, we have seen throughout the last number of months standing committees calling for and receiving a wide spectrum of ministers attending. Using the finance committee as an example, I think is a positive thing and hopefully will contribute to part of the discussion that is taking place when we talk about ongoing committee meetings and who we're going to be hearing from and so forth. I want to emphasize that committee because it's something I was just talking about yesterday in the House, as it was information that was provided to me.
We had, as I indicated, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. There was the former minister of finance. We had the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade. We had the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. We even had the Clerk of the Privy Council.
We've had endless other representations heard in committees from private citizens and organizations. In fact, on government supply—and this goes in part to what you were talking about in your explanation, Madam Chair, and I appreciate it—there was a great deal of information provided. It seems to me that we have more than one committee attempting to do the same thing that other committees are doing.
In this situation, when you talk about what was taking place in the finance committee, which was the WE Charity issue, and what PROC is looking at and follow some of the debates that occurred back then, there are some common themes.
There were 5,000 pages of documents provided to the finance committee—5,000 pages—dealing with WE Charity and the Canada summer youth program. There were documents that were also provided by the Prime Minister's Office. There were clerks who made presentations.
The leader of the government in the House has been very strong on the issue of what's taking place in standing committees and in recognizing that standing committees operate on their own and that it is the standing committee that will ultimately determine what its agenda is going to be. I believe that is why it's so important that we protect as much as possible the interests of that independence of standing committees. I believe what we have seen is an infection of sorts coming from primarily the official opposition, whose intent is to play partisan politics even more in our standing committees than we have seen before.
I've had opportunities to participate in PROC discussions in regard to the Canada Elections Act and the calling of witnesses, and who it is we should be listening to, and reports. I'm not 100% sure, but I believe we even submitted some form of a minority report from the past.
My concern is, at the end of the day, what is it that the official opposition is attempting to achieve. We have indicated from day one our expectation of dealing with the coronavirus. That is where our focus has been. I would like to pick up on that, Madam Chair.
Yesterday we had a very special celebration. The Prime Minister was there. I know Ms. Duncan was there also, as were you, Madam Chair. Today is Vaisakhi and I would like to say happy Vaisakhi to all members of the committee, but also to the broader population and those who are celebrating. Vaisakhi is a very special celebration in our Indo-Canadian community, but many others, including me, also acknowledge the importance of Vaisakhi and celebrate it.
A part of that celebration, as it was noted yesterday, is giving back, that we, as people, have a responsibility to give of ourselves to the community as a whole. What was so nice about yesterday's event is that it highlighted two things. It highlighted the richness of Canada's diversity and it allowed us to recognize that important issue that all Canadians are facing today: the coronavirus. That is what members of the Liberal caucus have been trying to get the focus on, whether it's in PROC or on the floor of the House.
At the celebration, that's what it was for me. In recognition of Vaisakhi, the Prime Minister said a few words, but more importantly, listened to what health care workers from across Canada had to say about the pandemic and the impact it was having on Canadians in a very real and tangible way. Ms. Duncan, Ms. Sahota and I were there, but I think all members of PROC would have benefited from listening to what was being said,
We were blessed to have had so many wonderful people not only wish us happy Vaisakhi but share with us their point of view as to what was taking place on the ground, and some of the things that we need to be working on. There were a couple of them that really touched me and made me think that we need to spend more energy and more time talking about them.
Ms. Duncan, I look to you and recognize your science background. We had the one doctor who talked about the backlogs of cancer patients that have been created because we've been so focused on the pandemic. The costs to our health care and our resources are so significant that we have not been able to do some of the things we've been able to do in the past in dealing with things like cancer detection. What is going to be the impact of that?
I appreciated those thoughts. Those are the types of issues that we need to be focusing on. We can all choose some very specific things. To use a few examples, I think, is good.
I'm genuinely concerned that there could be an election, and if there is an election, we have legislation that should be talked about.
I understand that we have a motion before PROC today that's talking about witnesses, that's talking indirectly about prorogation and why that had taken place. This is all related to it. What's taking place today is related to why prorogation was absolutely necessary back in August, which is the reason PROC is where it is today. I would argue that it is happening in that fashion because the Conservative party has chosen to politicize.
That's why I think it's good to bring up some examples of what real Canadians are saying. Towards the end of the discussion yesterday.... It didn't get anywhere near as much time as I and I'm sure other members would have liked to see. I know Ms. Petitpas Taylor, who is a former minister of health, is very passionate on the issue of mental health. Imagine the impact the pandemic will have on mental health. And you wonder why we wanted to refocus the House of Commons with a new throne speech.
You can only talk so much within the first hour or within one hour, and unfortunately, that was the limit we had yesterday in recognizing Vaisakhi and listening to those front-line health care workers who worked in emergency room settings and community settings. I can tell you that, even though it didn't get as much time, I believe that we have our work cut out for us on the mental health issue. It's absolutely critical that we reflect on the impacts that the pandemic has been having.
You see, prorogation ensured that the House of Commons would refocus its attention, because the first throne speech that we presented talked more about the economy, going forward and the previous four years when there were a lot of things that were done. The throne speech we heard back in September, I believe, allowed all of us, all political entities in the House, to recognize that there was a need for us to pay attention to what was the first priority for for all Canadians.
I was really encouraged yesterday when the Minister of Public Services and Procurement indicated that we are now on track to get 44 million doses of vaccine by the end of June. We need to recognize that the population of Canadian is 37.5 million, or maybe a little more than that. Depending on how provinces prioritize and how they administer the vaccines, Canada is in good shape today for a wide spectrum of reasons.
When it comes to the ultimate answer of vaccines, we have reason to be optimistic and hopeful. I think that's the type of thing for which all of us, whatever political affiliation we may have, can take some responsibility and start encouraging even more people to get engaged with the whole vaccination process.
I look at the types of actions that we have seen from the government that encouraged the prorogation. We often talk about day one, when it first became very clear that we had something that we needed to deal with, that there was no choice in the matter.
I can remember getting ready for budget 2020. We had the pre-budget consultations, which are fairly extensive in themselves. We were getting ready to present that budget on the floor of the House. Then we started to hear more about the pandemic. We started to hear from the health experts from the World Health Organization, from non-profits, from the private sector, from provinces, and the list goes on.
The Prime Minister made it very clear that the priority of the Government of Canada would be to have the backs of all Canadians, to be there in a very real and tangible way. There was a high sense of co-operation. There was very much a team Canada approach that we saw first-hand. We saw people of different political parties, different levels of government coming together and working out what was necessary in order to get us started on this path. Even the official opposition back then recognized the value of it.
We, with the support of so many, created programs that were absolutely non-existent prior to that time. We went from nowhere to a program that served almost nine million Canadians in every region of our country. Everyone knows it as CERB.
That was the beginning. As we started to move more and more into it, we saw the need to hit the reset button. That was a decision that the Prime Minister ultimately had to make. I support that decision. I support that decision because it reflects what Canadians expect of the government given the time. There was so much that was taking place.
I can remember how fluid things were and how things were changing. First the message seemed to be to wash your hands and keep your hands clean and to make sure that when you're speaking, you're not spitting—either intentionally or unintentionally, obviously—on others. That's how the coronavirus passed. Masks weren't compulsory anywhere. They weren't being made compulsory.
Remember we were talking about staying below the curve. Everything was about the curve. We talked so much about the curve. Do you remember the need for sanitizers for your hands? The educational component was so high at the beginning. People had no real idea what they needed to do. They really did not.
For the first number of weeks going into months, it was about education. It was about coming up with the support programs. It was about remaining under the curve. With the team Canada approach that was almost completely universal, we made a difference in a significant way.
Because of the experiences through that first wave, we were better able to deal with the second wave. Three weeks into it, how many people could have gone to a store and bought hand sanitizer? Do you remember the rush on toilet paper? PPE was very scarce. We were fighting to get PPE. We didn't have the stuff being produced or manufactured here in Canada. It was that first wave that woke everyone up. It was so encouraging to see that high sense of co-operation.
I said that we were just getting started on the debate on the 2020-21 budget. We were anticipating it. The House was going to be sitting and going ultimately into a budget debate, but then it was agreed amongst all the political parties that we needed to come up with some sort of a hybrid system. Even before then, we recognized that we needed to take a break and extend that break because of the coronavirus.
How many of us back in March last year anticipated that we would be doing what we're doing today? Very few really understood it. Today, because of the education, because of the programs that were put into place, we are in a much better position.
There should have been no surprise about the need to prorogue. That was something I would have thought was almost a given. Quite frankly, it was a bit disappointing to see the resistance toward it. If you go back, my belief is that sometime between June and July, you started to see at least a different attitude coming from some members, particularly in the opposition. We started to see more partisan politics being brought in at the national level.
That is why we needed to prorogue the session. I wish that the non-partisanship that we saw back in April, May and most of June 2020 would come back. We would be able to accomplish so much more if were able to see that happen.
I support the idea of having studies done at PROC on House procedural matters, including prorogation. I wouldn't have a problem arguing that this is probably one of the best examples that one can give for proroguing a session. I couldn't think of a better example, other than a war maybe, but beyond that, it would be pretty tough to convince me.
I would have no problem at all comparing what our Prime Minister did in terms of the prorogation and the justification for it, to the last time under a different administration when the session was prorogued. I wouldn't have any problem at all doing a comparison of the two. I suspect that most Canadians would support what was done by the current Prime Minister.
Read through the throne speech. Maybe later on tonight I'll get the opportunity to go through the throne speech, and you'll see very clearly what's in that throne speech. The focus of that throne speech was about being there for Canadians in real and tangible ways.
I go back to when I emphasized the importance of education. Very few of us had any real understanding of the depth of what it was the world was getting into with the coronavirus. The death, sickness and costs to society have been enormous.
Are there things we could have done better? I'm not arrogant to believe we have been absolutely perfect. There has been, at times, a need for us to make adjustments. We have done that. We have listened and made adjustments where it has been necessary.
I mentioned the creation of programs. There is a suite of programs out there as a result of the coronavirus.
We continue to make changes all the way up to legislation that was being debated yesterday for Bill C-14.
When we talk about being there, working together and trying to provide the supports that Canadians need, there are the two extremes. I started off a few minutes back talking about how we were working so well together back in April, May and most of June. Contrast that with what's happening today.
Look at Bill C-14. It's an excellent example. I don't know if it's because minority governments typically last 18 months and some people are getting the itch that they have to see something happen because of that. For me and I know for my colleagues, our focus continues to be on the pandemic.
I mention Bill C-14, because I think it's a great example of how the opposition has not responded well with the new throne speech. We prorogued Parliament. We came in with a new throne speech. Committees, including PROC, started to meet and they wanted to do X, Y and Z. We're saying that we want to continue to focus, as we should, on the pandemic and fighting and minimizing the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Bill C-14, as many will recall, was necessary because of the fall economic statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister back in November of last year. The legislation was tabled in December, I believe. Think of what is in that legislation. There are things to support Canada's middle class through the child benefit program, for businesses and the government's ability to borrow. There are things there that are absolutely essential.
Government has called the bill on many occasions. It gets talked out or things will be brought up to prevent it from being debated. The only reason it passed—and I remember back in January getting it out of second reading—was that the opposition parties were shamed into seeing why they weren't passing this necessary legislation. I hope to expand on that later.
I can tell you that when we look at prorogation and you talk about wanting witnesses, or talk about who you should be calling, I think the Deputy Prime Minister is someone who would be able to provide a lot of detail as to why it is so important that we remain focused on the coronavirus and the impact it's having on our society. We should be taking advantage of the work that has been done by so many and looking at ways we can improve upon it.
Our Prime Minister often talks about building back better. That's not just a phrase; that's a reality. We can do that. The opportunity is there. It's real. It's tangible. I'm even hopeful that we're going to see some of that—more of that—in the upcoming budget on the 19th.
I think we have an opportunity, in whatever capacity that we play, whether it's sitting in PROC and determining what it is we should be talking about, or the agenda of PROC and how we might be able to assist the process, or in some other capacity. If you believe that the pandemic is the number one concern of Canadians, as I do, as Liberal members of Parliament do, you can still be a viable, strong and healthy opposition. I believe there is a need to refocus.
I've been a parliamentarian for 30 years. I spent over 20 of those years in opposition. I've said on several occasions before that being positive and creative didn't hurt me when I was in opposition. There are still many different areas in which one can explore and contribute. Canadians aren't stupid. They will recognize the value of hard work.
Earlier I referenced the CERB program. I said it was a program that started from nowhere—