Thank you so much.
Madam Chair, I will be saying how much I appreciate the amendment that was 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 same 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. Canada is in the third wave of COVID-19. We are in a race between the variants and the vaccines, and our health system in Ontario is literally on the verge of collapse. Ontario field hospitals are being readied, but it's not just beds that are needed. Critical care staff are needed. We are hearing that this is absolutely unprecedented. This is the—quote—“nightmare scenario” we were all afraid of, yet this committee remains focused on a political motion.
Our country reported over 9,200 COVID infections on Friday. That was the new single-day high since the start of the pandemic. We have had the highest number of COVID-19 cases, and yet there is a partisan motion.
Worldwide, more than 2,850,000 people have lost their lives, and all of us, we have lost them. Globally, new COVID-19 cases rose for a sixth consecutive week, with over four million cases reported in the last week. The number of new deaths also increased by 11% compared to the previous week, with over 71,000 new deaths reported.
Far too many health care workers have died in the pandemic and millions have been infected. 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, and yet we have a partisan motion.
The pandemic is exposing, exploiting 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.
Here in Canada, we have had over one million COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 23,250 Canadians. That's another 1,250 Canadians since I updated this committee on March 6—in fact, when I was repeatedly interrupted at this committee.
Madam Chair, I cannot imagine what could be more important than talking about COVID-19, the race between the variants and the vaccines and what this committee could actually do to ensure preparedness for pandemics going forward. The numbers of deaths are not just numbers. They were our grandparents, mothers, fathers, loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, lifelong friends, mentors and heroes, and they matter to so many more people.
All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks of COVID-19 in hospitals right now, the number of health care workers who have developed COVID-19 and the number of health care workers who have ended up in ICU. All of us should be asking about the number of outbreaks in essential workplaces, in marginalized communities and in congregate settings.
A century after the 1918 influenza, poverty, hunger, well-being, gender, racialization and economic status still play a role in who gets sick, who gets treated and who survives COVID-19.
Non-emergency surgeries are on hold in Ontario hospitals as COVID-19 takes hold despite a backlog of postponed surgeries from the past year approaching 250,000. Ontario has not ordered such an across-the-board postponement of non-emergency surgeries since the first wave of the pandemic hit the province in March 2020.
Dr. Kevin Smith, the CEO of the University Health Network, has written, “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. In the words of one physician, “It's never-ending high stress and I'm actually afraid. I've never been afraid, but it's different with the variants. You have no idea what we see, the fear from the patient, the fear of families saying goodbye over Zoom, the fear of our families when we come home. It's unrelenting.” But here we are focused on a partisan motion.
Let me be clear. We are still fighting the pandemic. Canada's cases have increased 82% over the last 14 days. In Ontario more COVID-19 patients are in the ICU than at any other point during the pandemic. The expectation is that we are locked in for a 5% to 7% daily increase in hospital admissions for the next two weeks. The number of new variant cases more than doubled in the last week.
An article states, “Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the rapidly spreading variants have now likely replaced the original virus, as more young people are getting sicker". This article is a few days old now, but it states that to date, “more than 26,000 cases linked to variants of concern have been reported” in Canada.
The variant initially reported in the United Kingdom accounts for more than 90%. For the variant first identified in Brazil, there have been more than 1,000 cases in Canada after doubling in the last week alone. The variant from South Africa is also picking up momentum, with cases in Ontario and Quebec. The article goes on to sate:
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 continue to test hospital capacities with patients battling the disease.
My friends, we've done really good work in the past. Together we have done really good work. We did important work that allowed remote voting so that MPs weren't travelling back and forth to their communities and potentially spreading the virus. We did really important work in saying what was needed should there be an election during the pandemic. Now we have to step up again. We have to step up and do the work that's incumbent upon us. We need to look at the House of Commons' response so that we can make recommendations for when the next pandemic comes along. We need to do that work.
I'll come back to the motion that's before us. 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 take stock of Canada's situation: How are Canadians doing? Where were we in the pandemic? How was the pandemic affecting jobs and livelihoods? How had wave one affected our seniors, and particularly those in long-term care? Where should we go as a country after looking at the science, evidence and facts and hearing directly from Canadians?
I remember last spring when our Conservative colleagues wanted in-person Parliament with MPs travelling back and forth to Ottawa, possibly spreading the infection. They wanted in-person voting in Ottawa rather than electronic or remote voting.
When dealing with a new disease, it's important to acknowledge that not everything is known. It's important to exercise precaution. With a new disease, new science and data, information will likely change. There will likely need to be adjustments and guidelines, policies and recommendations. If we look at what was known last January versus what is known today, there are a lot of differences: the role of aerosols, the role of indoor versus outdoor spaces and the role of masks. Scientific knowledge evolves over time, and decision-makers have to be open, flexible and willing to change course. Decision-makers must stay humble in the face of the new virus.
Colleagues, we're in the third wave. It is incumbent upon us to do our work so that in the future the House of Commons—Parliament—can be better prepared.
If the Deputy Prime Minister were here, we could ask about the evidence. We could ask about what consultations were taken during prorogation. It is for this reason that I am supporting my friend and colleague Mr. Turnbull and his amendment.
I'm here to represent the constituents of Etobicoke North. We are a caring, strong and resilient community. Many of our community members are essential workers.
I'm also here to debate the amendment at hand, which is to invite several ministers to appear in front of this committee. I support the amendment, as I said, but I would like to give further arguments as to why I think it's important to reinvite ministers.
Speaking for my constituents, I will first talk about COVID-19, as this is what is first and foremost—