Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you so much for allowing us to have a short bio break. It has been a long afternoon, as was last night. I think we're probably all feeling a bit of the late night vote we had. Getting up at three o'clock in the morning is not always my favourite thing, but having done a lot of on-call work in my career, I'm lucky I'm able to get back to sleep, so that's a good thing.
Again, we are back here debating the motion of my friend and colleague Mr. Turnbull.
Ryan, we're so happy to see you in good form. Everyone's commenting on your hair today. Your hair always looks fine, but anyway, it makes me laugh that everyone has commented on that today.
I also want to take a moment to thank my good friend and colleague Dr. Duncan for her really thoughtful remarks today.
Kirsty, every time you speak at PROC, you educate us. I know you work really hard in all of your speeches that you prepare, and you stay up late at night in doing that, because you truly care about your folks in Etobicoke, and you believe in the science. This is your area of expertise, and when you speak, I truly believe we all need to listen. As the government, as parliamentarians, we are really better because of the contributions that you make, so I really want to take a moment and say thank you.
On that note as well, I would be remiss if I did not give you a shout-out on your motion 38 that you're putting together hoping for a standing committee on science. I think it's fantastic, and again, a continuation of the work you do. We're so proud of you, so thank you for that.
I also want to thank you, Ryan, for your thoughtful comments again today as always. Again, there's a lot of passion, and we really appreciate all the work you do. You may be a new parliamentarian, but you're an old soul, I have to say. You certainly contribute a tremendous amount to our committee.
Will, our friend and colleague, is gone, but, again, it was really great to get Will's perspective as well. I should probably call him MP Amos, but we're amongst family and friends here. He gave some really great comments.
Emmanuella, finally you had a chance to speak today. You have been with us on several occasions and we seem to always be cutting you off, so thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.
Finally, last but not least, is MP Long. Wayne always has an awful lot to say, and we always appreciate his sharing his thoughts and also speaking about—not the Wild Cats—the Sea Dogs. I better get that straight. He will be quite offended if I don't get it right.
Over the weekend I was thinking about this whole debate we have been having over the past several weeks now. Perhaps some of it sounds a bit redundant or a bit of a refresh, but when I was thinking over the weekend.... It's funny how I wrote something that my friend and colleague Ryan said today about the willingness to be influenced when we have a debate.
I wrote that down today when you said that, Ryan. I thought to myself that you were absolutely right, because this weekend, when I was reflecting on the motion before us.... For those of you who have been at committee for some time, you have heard my comments indicating that I was really prepared to go straight to writing the report.
If we look at the witnesses—and there are many new members with us today—in preparation of this prorogation study, we have heard from a number of witnesses who have appeared before PROC. We heard from many academics. We also heard from parliamentarians like Pablo Rodriguez and also staff from the Privy Council. With the thorough and thoughtful comments they made, I was really of the position that I thought we were prepared to go straight to writing the report. But, again, Ryan has brought forward an amendment, and, again, trying to be the mediator....
I always consider Ryan to be a bit of the mediator amongst us, always trying to find a spot for us to be able to agree upon. I started thinking over the weekend, though, yes, I conceded that I would agree with Ryan's amendment, but this weekend it dawned on me, and I don't know why I knew this, but it dawned on me that Minister Freeland is not only the Deputy Prime Minister, but she is the first female Deputy Prime Minister, I think, in Canada. She's certainly the first female finance minister, but even more importantly, why I think that Minister Freeland should be called before our committee is that she chaired the cabinet committee on COVID for a number of months, so who better than Minister Freeland to appear before our committee to really talk about the issue as to why government prorogued?
Ryan, to your point when you talk about the willingness to be influenced during debates, you know what I mean, to really challenge our thoughts, I think, more than ever, I absolutely agree with. Not only did you have to coax me, but now I say, yes, we absolutely need to have Minister Freeland appear here, because in actual fact, I truly believe that she'll be able to contribute an awful lot to this discussion. Again, she's the second in command, if you will, but more importantly, she chaired the cabinet committee on COVID. Over the past year and a half we know that our government has really been seized with this.
This morning, I have to share with you, I was speaking to one of my former colleagues who worked with me when I was in the health department. He called me regarding something. He had a baby a year and two months ago. I was asking him how his baby was, and he was telling me how she's growing up, but he shared with me something today that is relevant to this. He shared with me today that his daughter, at this point in time, is starting to talk a bit. What is she doing when she's playing with her dolls right now? She's taking a thermometer and checking the temperature of the doll's forehead, because when she goes to day care every day, that is what they do.
If we stop and think, just a year and a half ago, we would have never thought that our children would be playing with their dolls and putting a thermometer on their forehead to check their temperature. I just mention that short story, because when he said that it really made me reflect on how life has truly changed in the past year.
Again, when we look at the relevance as to why we're talking about the issue of prorogation and why that.... Again, I truly feel that we've done a great study, but we know we certainly can add the Deputy Prime Minister and also Minister Chagger. I guess I'm still stuck with the point that I know that many of our opposition colleagues have already prejudged the study. They've already made their points of view known. Even yesterday and over the past week or two I've been fortunate that I've had a lot of House duty, a lot of long hours in the House, and I've been able to listen to many debates.
Again, I'm hearing time and time again members of the opposition talking about the WE issue and making the link between that and prorogation. Again, I just feel it's a bit of a fishing expedition, and I truly believe that with the work we've done so far ,we are prepared to move on.
With that being said, I think that we also have to recognize that when we look at the realities of when we entered an election campaign in 2019 and when we came up with our throne speech, that was the reality of the time, and that was pre-pandemic. None of us anticipated that we would be dealing with this situation. We've been dealing with it over the past year and a few months, but, let's be frank, we know this pandemic is going to be with us for many more months to come, and we are going to have many challenges ahead for months, if not years.
Now, if last August was not the time to prorogue and to do a reshift and a reassessment or retooling, if you will, I really don't know, again, what would justify proroguing Parliament. When I hear my colleagues.... I'm going to quote the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île when he said last year, “What purpose did...prorogation serve? It was used as a diversionary tactic, because the government was in a conflict of interest with WE Charity.” Another member, that same month, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé indicated, “The main reason for the prorogation was to put a lid on the WE scandal.”
If I truly felt that our colleagues were looking for more information with respect to why we prorogued, and if we really want to get the reasons for prorogation—the true reasons—I think we would have to look at having someone like Minister Freeland come to the table to share her knowledge with respect to all of the work that was done during the pandemic months and what we needed to do to move on. She's probably even better positioned to do so, because she was the captain of the ship, if you will, in many ways when it came to the COVID cabinet committee. I think she would have a lot to share with us.
Now I'm going to make a few comments in French.
We've heard many comments from our fellow citizens about the priorities the government established and included in the 2019 Speech from the Throne.
I'm going to speak in French now. I have a few more comments to make.
Let's talk about the priorities the government outlined in its 2019 Speech from the Throne. We really were inspired by what our fellow citizens had told us and established many themes for the Speech from the Throne. They included the themes that we had campaigned on but also the important ones our fellow citizens hoped we would address.
In my riding, the fight against climate change was a major issue. My fellow citizens are clearly very concerned about the situation and it's a priority for them.
The other theme we heard a lot about was the need to support the middle class and to help people who are trying to join it. We talked a lot about that.
We also talked about the path to reconciliation with indigenous peoples as well as the health and safety of all Canadians. It was an absolute priority for me as a former health minister to ensure that good programs were in place and that Canadians would have access to health services.
We also wanted to ensure that Canada had a good international image, and we campaigned on that theme.
These were all absolute priorities in 2019, but the situation quickly changed in 2020, as we all know. We all remember Friday, March 13, 2020, when we had to leave Ottawa. We flew home and many of us haven't been back to the capital since then. I was fortunate to be able to attend meetings in person for four weeks. Since my province was shut down, I had to self-isolate for two weeks before I could get back to my family. I was only able to be in Ottawa for four weeks.
As my colleagues mentioned, upon our return, we really had to make sure we met our fellow citizens' needs. We asked them to stay at home, practise social distancing and comply with public health measures. We asked them to do that and we also made sure we provided them with the necessary resources to pay their bills, feed themselves, pay their rent and so on.
The government and members of all the parties worked hard. I clearly remember receiving two or three calls a day from our colleagues. We discussed various issues. Sometimes we conducted a critical examination. We really wanted to ask the right questions so we could develop appropriate social policies. Members from the opposition parties asked appropriate questions. Lastly, we developed good policies. They may not have been perfect, but they were good.
I'm not going to review all the themes that were addressed in the 2019 Speech from the Throne, but, generally speaking, we did it all. Then the pandemic hit and we had to address all the related issues. We obviously didn't have the magic formula for managing a pandemic, but together we were able to do our best.
Then the pandemic hit again in August 2020. Many programs had been proposed and we had to continue putting assistance in place for Canadians. Since Parliament was prorogued at that time, the Deputy Prime Minister was available and we asked her why the government had prorogued the session.
Personally, I think it was the right time to do it. If you think back to the situation in August 2020, COVID‑19 cases were starting to decline. We knew that a third wave might be imminent. We were starting to develop vaccines and there was some light at the end of the tunnel, although we knew there was still a lot of work to do to help and support Canadians.
I think it was the right time to prorogue Parliament. We subsequently consulted Canadians and asked them what they thought we should do. We also reset our 2019 agenda since it didn't reflect the reality of 2020‑2021. So the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament.
I think all the members at today's meeting have spoken with people in their communities, with young people, and have conducted consultations. The Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe Youth Council in my riding meets every month. When I met with them during that period, we discussed what we should add to our new throne speech. I have to say that the young people in my riding are more politicized than others elsewhere, but they didn't know what a throne speech was. It was a great opportunity to explain to them what it was and to ask them what they thought we should do and what we should add to it.
I make telephone calls to my constituents every month—as I imagine many of my colleagues do—to ask them what their priorities are. In 2019, we heard a lot about their priorities. I really think the 2019 Speech from the Throne actually reflected what we had been told and what I'd heard from the citizens of Acadie and New Brunswick. They thought we should continue focusing on pandemic-related priorities and post-pandemic preparation. In the end, that's exactly what we did.
I've heard some colleagues say the Speech from the Throne wasn't ambitious enough. On the contrary, I personally thought it was very ambitious. It's a grand roadmap indicating where we stand right now and what we should do to help Canadians.
Providing assistance to Canadians during the pandemic was a central focus of the Speech from the Throne; it was the key message. We wanted to ensure that Canadians knew we were there for them for the short and long hauls. I feel the throne speech clearly outlined that plan.
I'm not going to talk about the budget that we introduced a few weeks ago, but I will say this: there was a subtle difference between the Speech from the Throne, or roadmap, and the budget. What we were going to do in an attempt to help Canadians was very clear: we wanted to help Canadians get through the tough times.
We introduced many economic programs for Canadians. I know that the citizens of my beautiful region, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, wanted the government to be there for them and to continue working for them.
Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe is the best riding in Canada, but I'm sure all members think the same of their constituencies.
To give a break to my anglophone colleagues, I'm going to speak in French and English today. I'm also trying to speak slower for interpretation because I know that sometimes when I get going I can speak very quickly.
Madam Chair, I hope I'm doing better today on that note.