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

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

I think part of your intervention is a point on relevance, and in terms of relevance I do think Mr. Turnbull has been linking it back to the reasons for proroguing.

Part of your comments are debate as to what cons have maybe come out of that as well, so I guess the debate portion is not really a point of order, but Mr. Turnbull could address it if he pleases.

I'll hand the floor back to Mr. Turnbull.

11:25 a.m.


Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

I'd be happy to address Ms. Vecchio's comments, as always.

I was actually getting to the main point or conclusion from the many—

Where did Ms. Vecchio go? You don't ask a question, and then disappear if you want an answer.

Oh, she's having trouble with her camera, I see.

What I was saying was that because immigrants and visible minorities were hit the hardest, which is a conclusion made by the chief statistician in the report that was produced right before prorogation, that information directly guided some of the work, and the themes that were in the throne speech.

If you remember, when I last spoke at length, I gave you, Ms. Vecchio, many examples of things that appeared in the throne speech which addressed systemic racism. Maybe I should go back and just repeat that, since perhaps you didn't seem to recollect.

There's action being taken on online hate and collecting disaggregated data. There's an action plan to increase representation in hiring and appointments in the public service. Steps are being taken to acknowledge artistic and economic contributions of Black Canadians. There were justice system reforms to address systemic racism and training for police and law enforcement. As well, one I'm very happy to see that was in the throne speech was about inclusion and diversity in public procurement.

Those were all things in the new throne speech that were supported by the evidence I'm citing from the chief statistician, and that is being worked on by our government. I have many examples, actually, if Ms. Vecchio would like to hear them, of what our government has actually been working on that relate to addressing systemic racism, which came—

11:25 a.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Chair, on a point of order, do I get to answer? He asked if I wanted to hear them or not. Do I get to respond? The answer would be no.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Mr. Turnbull, go ahead.

11:25 a.m.


Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Why did you ask the question then? You asked the question, and I am answering your question, and you don't want to hear the answer.

With all due respect, Ms. Vecchio, you don't seem to be interested in the arguments, the facts and the evidence. That's one of my main arguments I'm making here today. I feel pretty confident that even your [Technical difficulty—Editor] is another signal that you don't care about the facts and the evidence.

11:25 a.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Chair, on a point of order.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Ms. Vecchio, is it a point of order or debate, because I think it's going to a point where we're not using the Simms protocol to—

11:25 a.m.


Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

We're definitely not using the Simms protocol.

I really appreciate Mr. Turnbull, but please don't question my work ethic or what matters to me. That is really wonderful. That's lovely. However, no personal attacks are necessary.

I am happy to hear you speak. You asked a question of whether I wanted to hear it. I responded with a joke, because do you want to know something? Listening to this stuff for over 40 hours has been a joke. You guys have just continued to talk and talk and talk, and yes, some of the stories have been really interesting, but come on, guys. Stop talking about how everybody has messed with the plans of what's going on in this committee.

The only people who have been filibustering have been Liberals. This five minutes that I'm wasting of my time right now is because we can't get to a motion. Perhaps there would be better discussions if you actually proposed something that was actually going to get something.

We have been working behind the scenes, as you must know, Ryan, but you guys haven't changed things. Perhaps you should get more involved with the leadership and you would find out that nothing's changed.

I got stuff back. I've been very actively working on this, Mr. Turnbull. Please do not question my integrity, because that's probably the one thing I have going for me.

Let's stay relevant, okay? Let's question ourselves. Why are we still on this filibuster? Let's also recognize that you guys are the ones talking and not us.

If you wish to move on and get business done at this procedure and House affairs committee, then let's get it done, or if you want to continue to play political games, as you have done since February 23, keep on talking.

Thank you.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Ms. Vecchio, you have plenty of things going for you, and not just your integrity. Hopefully, no members will question each other's integrity on this committee.

As chair, I appreciate your reference to the work you've been doing behind the scenes, which is much appreciated, and will hopefully get us to some resolution soon.

I'll hand the floor back over to Mr. Turnbull.

11:25 a.m.


Ryan Turnbull Liberal Whitby, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thanks to Ms. Vecchio for her comments. I didn't at all mean to question her integrity. I was questioning the authenticity or genuineness of the question she asked me. When I was undertaking to answer that question and provide evidence and examples to substantiate what I was giving her as an answer, she promptly interjected that she wasn't interested in hearing that. It seems a little disingenuous to me when you ask a question but you then don't want to hear the answer.

That's all I'm saying. I'm not questioning your integrity as a member of Parliament, nor would I ever do that, because I don't believe in what are called ad hominem arguments: attacking the person rather than the argument. I can disagree with you and the things you say, but I would never disparage you as a human being because I respect you and I value you.

There's a big difference. I think Ms. Duncan talked about that and about bullying and the way in which we operate and conduct ourselves. I believe strongly that debate and differences of opinion and perspective and arguing about things from different perspectives make us all better and smarter and make our democracy work, but I think it has to be done with an authenticity to getting to the truth and to working together on our shared and common interests as Canadians. That's where I think perhaps we get snagged sometimes when parties or individuals put partisanship over progress.

That's how I'm feeling. I'm not saying that others have to share that perspective, but that's my perspective, and I'm allowed to express my perspective. In fact, it's my job, and to do so is also, as I've learned, a privilege that I have as a member of Parliament.

Getting back to my argument here, I was saying that immigrants and visible minorities are more likely to face harassment and stigma. Also, the evidence the chief statistician put together shows that at the time—I'm not sure, really, whether this has changed at all—the trend was that immigrants were more concerned with the health impacts and they were more willing to take precautions and follow public health advice, given the statistics at the time, but they were also less likely to get the vaccine. There was a higher degree of vaccine hesitancy among that segment of the population, statistically, at least, from the data that was gathered at the time. Again, this was relevant in August 2020.

There was also a huge amount of evidence that showed immigrants and visible minorities were overrepresented in low-wage jobs that were at risk of replacement by automation. This is another trend that I was shocked to see. I'm sure that some of my other colleagues perhaps know more about this than I do and know the true extent of it, but many of those low-wage jobs were at greater risk of being replaced by automation.

Again, for immigrants and visible minorities, the compounded layers of vulnerability and inequity they experience are so much greater than they are for many other Canadians. Again, I'm not saying that to disparage any other segment of the population at all. I think it's the reality that we have to acknowledge this coming out of this pandemic and to work towards corrective actions and solutions that help to address these massive structural inequities. They weren't intentionally done to anybody, but they're ways in which our economy and our systems function that perpetuate injustice in our society.

Again, to go back to the point of prorogation and the argument that I'm making, it is that these inequities are another reason, and a very substantive reason, for why the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth would be the most appropriate person to testify at this committee.

Ms. Vecchio, you can't say that this isn't relevant to the argument and the amendment that I've made, because it is. I mean, it's backing up why the amendment's focus is on those two ministers and why they would be the best politicians to come before this committee to testify as to those inequities that we've experienced, and I think they would be best to fairly represent the extent to which that's a reality across Canada, given their portfolios.

I want to move on now to the third major point, which is the environment, which I noticed was highlighted in the chief statistician's report. It was highlighted more as an opportunity for economic growth and resiliency, which was interesting. There are a few trends here that I think are important for us to keep in mind. I'm going to get to the main conclusion that I want to make, which is something that was said by several opposition members way back that really bothered me. I won't let it go, ever, because it really struck me as something that, again, was just untrue.

They claimed that the build back better message was nothing more than a token phrase, that it had no meaning. For me, as I've said and claimed over and over again, it has a hugely significant meaning for our economic recovery, for building a Canada that works for everyone and that's inclusive, equitable, just, fair, resilient and sustainable. That's what I stand for. I would work my whole life towards that vision. I feel very passionately about that, so I won't give that up, and I won't allow other members to claim that this is some empty phrase, because I feel so adamantly that this has so much meaning for us as a country.

On build back better, yes, we could change the phrase and market it in a different way. I don't care about that, but on the underlying meaning behind it, I subscribe to that, and the vision that it represents to me is something incredibly inspiring for us to work towards as a country, as I think our government is committed to. That's why I'm proud to be a member of the Liberal Party.

I can't let that go. I won't stand down. I won't give that up, because it's so important to me and, I will say, important to my constituents. I have many constituents who want to see us build a sustainable economy. I get people coming to my office and calling every day with ideas. They know me as someone who's interested in those innovative solutions that have social, environmental and economic impacts. They're interested in seeing us be a leader on the global front and leading the way.

Anyway, to go back to my argument, digitalization is a trend that was documented in the chief statistician's report, and it's driving structural change in all our industries. Employment growth was seen in the digital economy and in clean tech and environmental services, solutions and protection. It's interesting to look at that. The growth was pretty stable and significant. I'm sure my colleague Mr. Amos will be able to speak to this, if he wants to. I associate him with being a great champion for our environment in his role as a parliamentary secretary. I relate all of these innovative solutions around this as something that he is very passionate and knowledgeable about, so I hope that I'm not assuming too much, Mr. Amos.

Also, digitally intensive industries have higher growth and rates of innovation. This is another conclusion that was made based on the evidence and statistics in the report that I keep referencing. Also, teleworking and the prevalence of that was another major area that was highlighted.

Obviously teleworking increased significantly. People are working from home, but what's interesting to note is the share of businesses with at least 10% of the workforce that were teleworking doubled from 16.6% to 32.6%. Again, this is as of August. A greater number of businesses had at least 10% of their workforce teleworking, and one-fifth of businesses expect 10% of their workforce will continue to telework after COVID-19.

That was back then, so that trend has continued through wave after wave of COVID-19. Teleworking capacity is greatest in industries such as finance, education, professional services, information and cultural services and public administration. It's interesting to look at digitalization. It really does not equal jobs, and it's interesting to think about how automation is replacing low-wage jobs, and teleworking is allowing higher-income earners and families to be able to continue working in a pandemic or any other type of crisis.

Again, think about how the inequity is perpetuated by these two trends that we see within our economies, digitalization and teleworking. If you're a lower-wage worker, you're much more at risk of having your job replaced by automation and if you're teleworking, only those who are in higher-income brackets are the ones who are able to telework.

I also want to substantiate my argument around the environment and clean tech a little more as a key growth opportunity. I have a climate activist in my community who communicates with me all the time about every step we take. He was one of the founders of Pollution Probe and is the manager of sustainability at the region, or was, until he quit out of protest because our local region wasn't doing enough, in his opinion, to address the climate disaster that has long been predicted.

He reminds me that our government's work on climate change and climate action is progressive. It's increasingly ambitious, but it's not enough yet. We have to do more. We have to push ourselves and I think we're going to continue to do that. One of the things that he reminds me of is that we can't just look at.... We've said over and over again that the environment and the economy go hand in hand, and I do believe that's true. I believe the economy can grow when there are significant under-recognized or under-leveraged opportunities right across Canada to grow our economy and address climate change at the same time.

What he reminds me of constantly is yes, but it's just not about that. It's not just about growing the economy. We can't see addressing climate change as just embedded within the same economic model. We have to address it with the immediacy of a global crisis. What's interesting about that is, and I come back to what this pandemic is teaching us and has taught us, and it's we can't be stuck looking in the rear-view mirror. We have to be ahead of the curve and truly make progress on these global crises that we know are coming. Climate change is coming. Climatologists have been telling us the same story for 30 years. We're headed towards a wall. We are staring in the rear-view mirror and we can't afford to do that anymore.

This pandemic is teaching us to be resilient, to adapt more quickly, to change our systems and the way we work. It is teaching us to be more collaborative and more responsive and to listen faster and be attentive to the movements bubbling up from the grassroots and to be able to catalyze that momentum more quickly into direct action that's supported by all layers of government.

The pandemic has taught me that we need to do a better job of that. That's going to take a lot of work and a lot of transformational leadership, which is not the same as organizational leadership.

The chief statistician's report documents that the growth potential is highest in clean electricity, clean-technology goods and services, research and development in this space, construction services, and support.

I have all kinds of examples from my community of entrepreneurs and businesses that are doing great things. A gentleman has started a business that has created, essentially, a battery pack that attaches to your electrical panel. It can be hooked up to a solar panel on your roof. It will store energy to run your entire house and to get you through a blackout period for two to three days. If there was a natural disaster of some kind, you would be able to run your entire household.

I remember back when I was in university in Ottawa, we had the ice storm and it took out all the power lines. We had no power and heat for over a week. It's no big deal compared to what we're living with today, but I remember it was pretty shocking for people to live through. This gentleman and his business have come up with this great solution. It also saves people money because they can run off their battery pack during peak times when there's peak pricing. That's the type of pricing we have in Ontario. I'm not sure about other provinces. It's a really helpful energy retrofit to a home, for example.

There are so many other examples of great work that we can be leveraging. Ontario Tech University is in the riding beside mine, which is in Oshawa. Whitby is beside it. Almost 50% of their student body is from Whitby. I think I got that wrong; I might have overstated that. Anyway, there are a large number in some of their programs. They have partnered with a bunch of organizations to develop a battery cell centre of excellence where Canada can become a leader in developing advanced battery cell technology.

This is a really big thing when you think about what's ahead of us and how we need to electrify almost our entire use of electricity. We have to electrify cars. We have to electrify everything. We need renewable energy to be the source that we use to generate all electricity. That transition is going to take quite some time. I think solutions like the ones I'm talking about are things our government is looking to support.

Going back to the chief statistician's report, 3.2% of GDP overall is a fair amount. It could be more, for sure. Clean electricity makes up 40% of the GDP in the overall sector, so that's good. ECT—I guess it's the term used for this industry—offers 320,000 jobs across Canada. The jobs are relatively high paying and highly skilled. Of those, 92% are full time and 8% are part time. The average annual wage for ECT jobs is almost $75,000, whereas the national average is $53,000. Two-thirds of ECT jobs employ workers with some post-secondary education. Of these jobs, 72% are taken up by men and 28% by women.

I think this is a real problem. It's a problem that again points to the inequities we see. Even in the areas where we've identified growth opportunities, we need to also be looking at how we can further women's equality—and equity for all equity-seeking groups, in fact—to take part in the new green economy, which I'm passionate about building.

Again, I think these opportunities have been well documented. I'm sure the Minister of Finance, given the budget and the $17.6 billion that has been dedicated to this in many respects in the current budget.... To speak to those investments, and how the evaluation and re-evaluation of our agenda at the time of prorogation led to all these things, I have to acknowledge that some of this stuff was not entirely new, because our government had committed to many of these things prior to prorogation. But I think there was a lot of re-evaluation that was done and a lot of lines that can be drawn.

I definitely have more to say, but I think I've made my case for the moment in terms of why I think we need to build a sustainable economy, and why I think the amendment I made is more than reasonable, that prorogation was completely rational and justified. The outcome of prorogation was a new agenda, represented by the throne speech, and then built on through successive steps afterwards. I think that is all very consistent with what our government, our House leader and our report that's been tabled in the House and referred to this committee have said. I've tried to justify why I think the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister could be reinvited to this committee to testify and why that makes sense, given the context and the rationale, as well as the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. I think that's rational.

Thank you, Madam Chair, for the time you've afforded me. I appreciate being able to make my remarks and my argument, and to back it up with evidence.

I won't apologize for repetition. I did repeat myself a couple of times, but it was purely for emphasis' sake, just to make sure that members, opposition members in particular, don't forget. Repetition is a rhetorical device that's used to emphasize and make sure that human beings, who forget things or sometimes don't listen.... All of us are naturally inclined to occasionally tune out. I think repetition is a good device. It makes things stand out in people's memories.

I hope I didn't repeat myself too much, but I did feel like it was necessary to drive home my argument.

Thank you very much.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Thank you, Mr. Turnbull.

Ms. Petitpas Taylor.

11:25 a.m.


Ginette Petitpas Taylor Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'm going to cede the floor to Mr. Amos as he's new to our committee. I think he has some thoughts he wants to share with us.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Okay. Thank you.

Mr. Amos, welcome to procedure and House affairs. I know you've been here for the last several hours now.

Go ahead. The floor is yours.

April 29th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.


William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

What a privilege to join you today.

I hope we'll have the opportunity…

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Oh, no, Mr. Amos....

11:25 a.m.


William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Is the audio not working?

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

No. Your voice is echoing. It sounds like you're going, “It's nice to be here today, day, day, day.” It's the same thing that—

11:25 a.m.


William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Oh, no, no, no....

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

I don't think that was even a joke, but that was interesting.

11:25 a.m.

The Clerk

Madam Chair, it's Justin, the clerk of the committee.

We should suspend. We'll try to resolve the issue again, but it's not clear if we'll be able to resolve it expeditiously.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

We'll have a short suspension, then, to resolve it. If not, unfortunately we'll have to go to the next speaker.

1:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Next on the speakers list is Mr. Amos.

Mr. Amos, I think your problem could be intermittent. It seems to be resolved at the moment. Hopefully it doesn't re-emerge. You can start, and we'll have to stop you if it does occur again.

Go ahead. The floor is yours.

1:35 p.m.


William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to the committee for welcoming me today. This has been a very interesting discussion already.

I want to note my appreciation for MP Turnbull and MP Duncan, whose learned and helpful comments I think are advancing the conversation around this amendment.

I'd like to start from a place that will lead into my comments around the pandemic and prorogation and the importance of this amendment. I want to start with the land recognition for the Algonquin nation on whose territory I sit here in the small town of Chelsea, Quebec.

It's a well-known fact across the country that Parliament, of which the House of Commons is a part, in the National Capital Region, is situated on unceded traditional land of the Algonquin people. Of course, all of us acknowledge the importance of the indigenous peoples, with whom we have a very special relationship. In the context of this pandemic, it's very important for me to greet the Algonquin people and rightly to recognize it, if only because we have learned a great deal from that people during this pandemic.

When we discuss prorogation as we discuss the amendment brought by MP Turnbull, which contemplates the bringing forward of two exceptionally important witnesses to help the public understand the relevance of a parliamentary reset at this critical juncture of Canadian history, it's important to understand how each of our communities is experiencing this moment.

MP Duncan did a fabulous job, I thought, of bringing the voice of her constituents forward to this committee to help us appreciate the importance of the amendment in relation to our constituents.

I would like to do the same, starting with the experiences I learned from with the Algonquin communities of Kitigan Zibi and Rapid Lake. These communities, along with so many, have been turned upside down and had to fundamentally reconsider what it is to be in a community, to provide security, safety and adequate health services to their people. That is what we're doing across the country. That's what we have been challenged with since day one, on that fateful day the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization back in March 2020.

I think it is germane to the conversation of prorogation and to our government's desire to take a step back, assess the broader needs of the country, be accountable and step forward with a Speech from the Throne that would be reflective of that particular moment.

As we, as members of Parliament, have reflected on our constituents and their experiences, we've had the opportunity to bring this information back to the government. Certainly in the context of the communities of Kitigan Zibi and Rapid Lake, it has been very helpful to our government to understand the distinct experience they have had.

I'd like to underscore how particular it is on many first nations reserves across Canada. It is so particular because quite often the provision of health care services is a partnership between the community, health care professionals and the Government of Canada.

This is certainly the case in the Algonquin communities that I represent—whether it's in relation to the procurement of vaccines and the distribution of vaccines to these communities, whether it's in relation to the procurement and distribution of rapid testing in these communities, whether it's in the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment. On all of these health care fronts, there have been distinct conversations that have been very challenging at times, because the communities recognize that the danger they face is a distinct one.

There are many elders whose knowledge of the culture and the language and whose health circumstances are so threatened. It doesn't just threaten human individuals and family members, which is tremendously serious, but it literally affects the nation. One can count the number of fluent Algonquin speakers—not on two hands, of course, but they do not number in the thousands, and many of them are older and most vulnerable.

These are the circumstances in which the conversations have come up around what the next steps are, what the needs are, and how we are going to move forward as a nation, as a Canadian nation, as an Algonquin nation. These are the kinds of conversations that have come up.

I have been particularly blessed to have the learning opportunities with my colleagues Chief Whiteduck in Kitigan Zibi and Chief Ratt in Rapid Lake as they have, themselves, struggled and wrestled with the implications of this pandemic.

There have been outbreaks, and those outbreaks have caused great consternation among the members of the nation, far and wide, and in communities that may not have been suffering an outbreak, because there are so many families that are connected in the language tradition, which is so linked.

I think we can all appreciate, as distinct members of Parliament representing different regions, that the lived experience of every Canadian through this pandemic has been one that is unique and distinct. Each one of us has a particular voice that is so important to bring forward, whether in the context of this standing committee or in relation to the government's broader performance.

Therein lies the relevance of the prorogation process, of that reset, that stock-taking—the ability to come together, assess, and project a vision forward that satisfies and maintains the confidence of the Canadian people. That, to my mind, was the fundamental significance and importance of prorogation.

I think the witnesses whom MP Turnbull prioritizes for this motion are altogether the appropriate witnesses. I'm not going to get into the partisan dimensions of it. At the end of the day, this committee is the master of its undertakings. It can determine at a later point if further witnesses may be needed, but I think it would be a great start to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister and finance minister and from Minister Chagger. They can shed important light on what was going on in the run-up to prorogation, and certainly we now have the benefit of hindsight. MP Turnbull spoke to this in the latter stages of his commentary. We are all well aware now of the chain of events that started with prorogation and then went through the Speech from the Throne, into late November and a financial update, and then through the budget process, culminating recently in the federal budget.

All of these critical elements ensure that Canadian views are incorporated into a governance plan that makes clear what the government's priorities are and are not, which I think leads Canadians to an appreciation of how their values are or are not being reflected in the government's priorities. I think we saw some very important things in the Speech from the Throne pursuant to that prorogation, which made it very clear that the government did want to take a series of significant steps forward in a series of significant new directions that Canadians needed to understand clearly, that they needed to appreciate and assess in relation to their own priorities.

I know that my constituents in the fabulous and vast riding of Pontiac wanted to have their say. They wanted to convey their preoccupations, because they had lived, as we all had, through six months of pandemic—a lifetime of pandemic, it felt like, at the time—and they wanted to know where our next priorities were.

I can think of no better witnesses than those proposed by MP Turnbull. I look to the Speech from the Throne. I look back with hindsight and I see so many distinct priorities that did require elucidation through that Speech from the Throne to ensure that Canadians were being brought along in understanding where our government was going. For example, I don't take it as a given that every constituent of mine in the Pontiac was aware of our government's priority of reforming the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. I don't take that as a given at all. It was important to indicate clearly that this was a direction our government was going to go in.

If I take a further step back, because I would like to return to that theme of clearly identifying to the Canadian public priority areas where our government was going to move forward, I think it's important to recognize that the government was in a situation where there was a pandemic to manage as the number one priority, and everything else was going to be secondary. That's what the Canadian people expected.

The economic challenges associated with the pandemic were to be another top priority—understood—but Canadians such as my constituents in the Pontiac, whether they're from small towns in the upper Pontiac like Chichester, L'Isle-aux-Allumettes and Sheenboro—tiny places, some of them, of 200, 300 or 400 souls—or whether they're in the suburbs of Gatineau, which I also represent, also sought assurances.

They sought assurance from our government, and clarity in direction from our government, around our ability to not fall victim to what Mark Carney referred to as the “tragedy of the horizon”. In my riding, we sometimes like to say it's being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Some people like to text at the same time as they do those two things.

The point is that they wanted to know that we would be able to manage a pandemic and cope with the economic struggles that so many are facing, whether it's small businesses, workers, distinct sectors or family units. They wanted to know that we could cope with the immediate crisis related to health and the economy while still being able to focus on the future and while maintaining our gaze on those issues that are top priorities for the country at any point in time—issues such as climate change. We all know the climate change crisis is not going away. We all know it's real. We all know we need to bring measures forward to deal with it.

The whole purpose of the prorogation process was to ensure that focus, that clarity of direction, and that ability to indicate exactly how we were going to deal with the pandemic. The fundamental approach that the Prime Minister adopted since day one was to stand behind all Canadians and to have their backs. It was also to be able to progress on files of significance that have a relationship with the pandemic but may not be strictly the pandemic and the economic recovery.

To go back to that logical sequencing of prorogation—the Speech from the Throne, the fall economic update, and through to the budget—we now have that hindsight, of course. We can see clearly the purpose of prorogation being to clearly outline these priorities.

MP Turnbull was very kind to point out a passion that he and I share, and that I know so many of us collectively share, around environmental protection. The Speech from the Throne was abundantly clear. In fact, there was an entire section dedicated to the new and stronger directions our government would be taking on a fact-first basis, on an evidence-based basis, to address climate change and to tackle toxic regulation.

I'd like to continue along the same lines and discuss the prorogation issue and its impact because I consider this discussion very important.

One of the impacts of the prorogation was the new plan to address climate change. That plan had been promised in the Speech from the Throne. Late in the fall of 2020, two months later, we delivered the most detailed plan in the history of Canada, one that outlines historic investments and combines industrial policy and economic transformation with environmental protection.

A few days later, we introduced Bill C‑12, which is designed to create an accountability framework for the implementation of the federal plan and the objectives to which we have committed internationally.

There followed a budget detailing historic investments and planning by milestone years. There is the net zero accelerator of the strategic innovation fund, but several other things as well. However, now isn't the time to discuss the budget because I don't want to stray from the subject covered by our amendment. What I'm trying to do, however, is demonstrate the unifying theme of Bill C‑12, from the prorogation process and Speech from the Throne to the climate change plan and fiscal investments to ensure climate change accountability.

International targets were recently revealed in an announcement that our Prime Minister made together with President Biden. We can see how the prorogation helped clarify the direction in which we as a government want to take Canada. It's essential that we show where we're headed, how we'll get there and through which processes and consultations. All that was revealed thanks to the prorogation.

I think it would be of vital interest for this committee to have an opportunity to hear the observations of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in particular and to ask her questions. The prorogation has obviously helped more clearly shape the direction in which the government would like to take Canada in a pandemic context.

I appreciate that we are now in a third wave and Canadians are looking to today, looking to tomorrow, and they want to know when they will be able to get back to normal. If they haven't had their first vaccine already, they're looking forward to it. These are the conversations, which are future-oriented, that Canadians want us to have, because they know we prorogued Parliament at the end of the summer so we could reset, get ourselves aligned, project forward our priorities, not fall victim to the tragedy of the horizon, be able to focus on the here and now, on the medium term, the long term, and that's exactly what has happened.

Canadians are now past that moment of the Speech from the Throne. They have absorbed it, and by and large I believe they have appreciated it. Certainly in the riding of Pontiac I've heard some very positive feedback. They have absorbed the fall economic statement. They are aware of how our government has gone through the process of procuring vaccines and distributing them to the provinces, and they are now witnessing before their very eyes the great lift, the massive acceleration. They're optimistic and wanting to focus on the future. I think we're all wanting to focus on the future.

I think that Canadians are also recognizing that the prorogation process ultimately, as MP Duncan so rightly pointed out, is fact-oriented, evidence-driven and, above all, science-focused. I tip my cap to MP Duncan for her incredible leadership, not just during the pandemic but well prior, putting in place the building blocks of scientific institutions in our Canadian governance system that have greatly assisted this government.

We need only look at the significant contributions of our chief science adviser, Dr. Mona Nemer, whose consistent advice, both to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is there because of MP Duncan's solid work as Minister of Science in our previous mandate.

I take the opportunity to recognize that, as prorogation was being contemplated, our government was in a state of constant review of advice that the chief science adviser was providing, which is ongoing today. Most recently—and this is available for the public and for MPs to review—I would commend to you the March 31 report by the chief science adviser related to scientific considerations for using COVID‑19 vaccination certificates, an important discussion that many of our constituents bring forward. I see correspondence on this issue regularly. This issue has been canvassed by our chief science adviser and by the network of Canadian scientists across so many institutions—academic, research and otherwise—who are bringing forward the best possible evidence and considerations as our government evaluates next steps.

Let's step backwards in time a bit to look at some of the important considerations at a scientific level. These all fit into a context of the importance of stock-taking, pressing pause on parliamentary proceedings and restarting in a timely manner, which was done through prorogation.

Back in September 2020, there was a report—again, available on the chief science adviser's website—on the role of bioaerosols and indoor ventilation in COVID‑19 transmission. We read about these issues in the news now, but we can't be blasé about the fact that so many Canadian experts in the field of bioaerosols and indoor ventilation came together to work with the chief science adviser to deliver pertinent information that has helped our government in the context of the Speech from the Throne, in the context of the measures identified in the fall economic statement and so on, which have helped define the path forward that our government has chosen.

Back in the summer of 2020, the chief science adviser issued a report on long-term care in COVID‑19. It was a report of a special task force that brought forward considerations around the improvement of long-term care. Having been beset by this pandemic for over a year, I think all Canadians will agree that we need our best and brightest non-partisan scientists, researchers, long-term care providers and medical experts. We need them bringing their most clear assessments and their recommended course of action to our government. We needed it then. We received that in the summer of 2020. Through the process of prorogation and subsequent Speech from the Throne, great clarity has been provided in relation to what our government's commitments are to improve care for our most vulnerable seniors.

Prorogation has enabled the consolidation of our best expert thinking and of external scientific expertise being brought to bear in a non-partisan, even-handed way, and of course for discussion with our colleagues and partners at the provincial, territorial, municipal, Métis, first nations and Inuit governance levels.

I think it's fundamentally important that we appreciate what MP Turnbull's amendment is all about. It recognizes that it's a good thing to discuss prorogation. It's a good thing to be accountable to Canadians for decisions related to prorogation and the subsequent pivot into a Speech from the Throne, which was a renewed direction being made clear to all Canadians.

It's so important to appreciate a very appropriate offer of key members of the government's executive—Minister Chagger and Minister Freeland—to be available. I think it would be a good thing for this committee to move forward on the basis as proposed by MP Turnbull. I think it could help bring us to a place where there is perhaps a greater appreciation of some of the items that were incorporated into the Speech from the Throne. These may not have been part of the public dialogue or the set of issues that were being debated through the spring and summer of 2020, when the focus was just so entirely on COVID and the economic ramifications. I think these witnesses are entirely well positioned to discuss this.

Having regard to the way the Speech from the Throne clearly identified.... I referenced this earlier in my remarks and I do want to allude back to this, because it's a matter of current interest and a matter of personal and Pontiac priority. The Speech from the Throne clearly indicated that our government was going to reform the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which is a law that ensures Canadians and their environment are protected from toxic substances. It ensures that such substances are properly regulated and stringently assessed for their impacts on humans and the environment.

This law has not been amended in 20 years. The Speech from the Throne clearly indicated to Canada that this is where our government is going. We are going to improve it. We're going to strengthen it. We're going to have regard for the experts, and we're going to have regard for the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which came forward with a committee report in 2017 that incorporated 87 recommendations.

The government said it was moving forward with this, and now here we are, in late April 2021. A couple of short weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of announcing with Minister Wilkinson the tabling of Bill C-28. It is another instance of our government delivering, in a forthright and very clear fashion, on commitments made in the Speech from the Throne.

Bill C-28 would bring toxics regulation in Canada back to the cutting edge, where it needs to be to protect humans. Again, I'll bring up the metaphor of the “tragedy of the horizon”. It's so important that our government demonstrates its vision to look beyond the pandemic and demonstrates to Canadians that we're capable of focusing on matters that ultimately go to our children and grandchildren and to all living organisms in the future. So many toxic substances are persistent and bioaccumulative and have long-term generational impacts.

Bill C-28 was tabled just as promised in the Speech from the Throne and just as enabled by prorogation. I'm sure the two witnesses whom MP Turnbull has proposed would be able to comment on the importance of that moment in helping bring us to the tabling of Bill C-28.

Let me see if I've forgotten anything.

In conclusion, I'd like to note that we've included in Bill C‑28 a very important partial reform of environmental rights in Canada. We propose to add the legal concept that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment. Perhaps my colleagues from Quebec, Mme DeBellefeuille, in particular—I don't know whether she's still here—know that section 46.1 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms grants Quebeckers that same right to a healthful environment. It isn't provided at the federal level, however, and that's a significant deficiency. We've just included it in Bill C‑28.

I know that the citizens of Quebec, more particularly my fellow citizens of Pontiac, Vallée-de-la-Gatineau and Collines-de-l'Outaouais, expect us to guarantee increased environmental protection. They expect us to manage simultaneously the pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, the problems associated with contaminants and climate change and privacy in this digital era. They expect us to be able to juggle these various public policy issues.

And that's what the prorogation has enabled us to do. It has helped us set the record straight and rely once again on various scientific views and evidence that lead us to take action and step up efforts in certain directions. It has enabled us to be accountable to Canadians by telling them where we now stand, what we've done to date and where we're headed.

I would conclude on a note of appreciation. It's rare to have an opportunity before colleagues to share an understanding of the importance of one particular moment, a moment of prorogation, as a matter of parliamentary procedure. It's rare to have the opportunity to consider a particular moment that of course has important consequences. It stops the business of Parliament and requires a restart.

It's so important to be able to reflect back on that moment and understand the why, and to then be able to shift our focus towards what happened thereafter, why that prorogation was so relevant, and how it enabled where we are now. It's fundamentally important, because where we are now is in a much stronger place, with an economy that is rebounding faster than the vast majority of economists ever expected. We still have work to do. We still have jobs to recover. But month by month, quarter by quarter, the acceleration of our GDP growth is nothing short of remarkable. Don't take my word for it. You just have to listen to the latest pronouncements from the Bank of Canada or any of our major banks.

We're on the right path. We're getting vaccinated. Canadians are optimistic about this summer. They're appreciative of the fact that we laid out a clear path through prorogation and through the Speech from the Throne to deliver on commitments that go beyond health and the economy, to link in matters of environment, to link in matters of indigenous reconciliation, and to link in matters of the transformation of Canadian society towards one that is much more appreciative of the important contributions to our future productivity that bringing in more workers can provide, whether that's through immigration or through a child care plan that can benefit so many people. We have the benefit of hindsight to see what prorogation was all about. It's so much easier to understand why we're in a strong posture now.

Once again, I thank my colleague MP Turnbull for making me feel so welcome, occasionally making me laugh, and making me feel as though we are in this process together. I think we can all recognize that not everyone on this committee is going to share the same views and that we're going to have sharp debates. That is good and appropriate, so long as we all treat each other with common decency and respect, which on occasion has lacked. We know that we are all in this together. Our constituents expect us to work hard together.

Thank you for the opportunity, Madam Chair, and thank you to my colleagues for their patience.

1:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Ruby Sahota

Thank you so much, Mr. Amos.

Next up is Ms. Lambropoulos.

Welcome to the committee. Please go ahead. The floor is yours.

1:35 p.m.


Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you so much, Madam Chair.

It's actually my first time speaking at PROC, even though I have attempted several times to speak at this committee. We always happen to adjourn right before my turn, so I'm really excited to share my thoughts on this with you today.

Today we continue to debate an amendment brought forward by my colleague Ryan Turnbull, which I've had the opportunity to take a look at, as well as the original motion on the floor, brought forward by MP Karen Vecchio.

I want to take this opportunity to comment and add my two cents to the discussion at hand, and why I support the amendment. I apologize in advance if I repeat anything that has already been said, as I have not heard everything that has been said before my arrival. Luckily, I did come in time to hear several of my colleagues at the last few meetings. I agree with a lot of what certain of my colleagues have said.

During these unprecedented times, I think it's completely normal and completely expected that the government would have prorogued Parliament last summer. The removal and replacement of a finance minister, the most important role in cabinet, makes it very obvious why we would need to prorogue and why people needed to set their priorities straight for the year ahead, especially during such unprecedented times. I don't see why we're really continuing to talk about this a year later.

To the first point in the amendment, regarding the removal of point (a) from the motion, I do agree that this would be a good move. It seems to me that the Prime Minister has a lot to do and is working hard for Canadians.

The Prime Minister has truly done his best to assist Canadians across the country since the start of this pandemic. It is extremely important that he continue that essential work, and Canadians want him to do so.

Frankly, rather than living in the past, Canadians wish to know that the Prime Minister and the government in general are working for them during this time of crisis.

The number of cases in Canada is at an all-time high in some provinces, such as Ontario. It just seems to me that the Prime Minister is probably quite occupied with helping us survive this pandemic and seeing how our government could further help Canadians and their businesses during this time of uncertainty.

I really don't see how requesting his presence for a minimum of three hours, as the original motion proposes, to discuss why Parliament was prorogued a year ago, would be an overall benefit to Canadians. As I mentioned at the beginning, it's obvious, and it should be an obvious enough point. Once again, the finance minister needed time to set her priorities for the year ahead, and that's pretty understandable.

As for the removal of point (e) from the motion, I agree with that as well, with regard to the production of records—as stated in the motion, “of all memoranda, e-mails, text messages, documents, notes or other records from the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office, since June 2020”. In general, I just don't think this is a path that we should want to go down. There's a reason why the Access to Information Act has certain exclusions and exemptions, as it strikes the balance between the citizens' right know and the need to protect certain information in the public interest.

With regard to cabinet confidences, in order to make important decisions on government policy, ministers meet to exchange views and opinions on policy matters in order to come to a consensus. This decision-making process has an impact on all legislation, including the legislation that has been adopted at a quicker pace, luckily, during this pandemic to bring help to Canadians when they needed it most. For this decision-making process to be fully effective, it is important for cabinet ministers to be able to have full and frank discussions and exchanges among themselves and, of course, to have the assurance that these exchanges will be protected. The privacy of these deliberations is protected by the privilege associated with cabinet confidences.

When ministers are sworn into office, once they've been appointed, they take the privy councillor's oath, which requires them to maintain secrecy of the matters they discuss in council, and I think this indicates just how important these cabinet confidences are.

The Supreme Court of Canada referred to cabinet confidentiality as “essential to good government” and to the inner workings of government:

The process of democratic governance works best when Cabinet members charged with government policy and decision-making are free to express themselves around the Cabinet table unreservedly.

While I understand that in politics sometimes people choose to play games and sometimes they choose to find creative ways to make opposing parties look bad, when it comes to matters as important as this, matters that affect the way government is run—especially at a time when the government has done its absolute best, I would argue, to support Canadians through COVID-19—it seems to me to be completely irresponsible. It just seems that by asking to produce documents that are protected by cabinet confidentiality, that should be protected by this confidentiality.... We have to make the public aware of what the implications of this could be for our country.

Again, our system of democracy depends on electoral, parliamentary and decision-making processes in which political parties and political considerations play a vital role, and these processes require confidentiality in order to function effectively and fairly.

On a completely separate note, in relation to the removal of points (f), (g) and (h), with regard to WE, I have spoken about this on different committees, because obviously at different points this year similar motions have been moved in different committees. It's something that I want to repeat, because it's really important to me in particular.

WE is an organization that I knew as a high school teacher before coming to Parliament. I personally know students who have benefited directly from activities organized by WE. What WE has recently gone through because of politics is completely unfortunate. They really do great work and they've helped thousands of students over many years get really great experience that would prepare them better for their future. At a time when young people are making such a huge sacrifice to help us get out of this pandemic more safely, a pandemic we're still very much in the middle of, they need our support, our help. They need programs to help get them out of the house and into the workforce and into new opportunities that will allow them to grow.

So many of my constituents have told me how difficult it has been to keep their teens at home recently. While schools are open, they're not open for everyone every day. There are often closures of classrooms due to outbreaks within a class or within a school.

Students who have just begun their university experience are doing it from home. I'm sure everyone on this call remembers what university was like for them, what their university years were like, and that they were life-changing. I met most of the friends I have today at university, yet these kids, depending on their age, may never have that opportunity. They'll possibly never get to experience that and they're taking classes online. They're building friendships behind a screen, if they even have the opportunity to do so. Their lives have been significantly disrupted in so many ways, yet we're making this a political issue.

For teenagers, and I'm speaking to this again because I was a high school teacher, the restrictions we're facing have meant months and months—we're past the year mark—of virtual learning, more time isolated from their friends, the cancelling of important school activities.

Extracurricular activities everywhere have been cancelled. Students are following strict rules at school as a result of the pandemic. Even if they go to school every other day—if it's not shut down as a result of the pandemic—they can't enjoy themselves the way they used to. It's a very different life. They're afraid. Most of the students who are trying to obey the rules the government has set are afraid to be at school, but they're there. They're living in fear.

They are literally living in fear because of this pandemic. They are afraid of getting out of the house. At home, what do we talk about? The only thing we talk about is COVID-19 and how many cases there are and whether or not there are outbreaks in the school. These kids have had their lives changed from one day to the next, and these are extremely important years for them. They're developmental years. This has left them so much more susceptible to declines in psychological health.

The government tried to do a good thing. It wanted to partner with a very well-established organization that was ready to give thousands of Canadian youth leadership opportunities that were so very needed at this time. I was very saddened to see what WE Charity went through for political reasons, sad for a great organization, sad for the young people who didn't get to take advantage of an amazing program.

That's why, more recently, I was so happy about the companies and organizations in my riding that luckily this summer will be able to hire so many students and young people through the Canada summer jobs program, so at least there is a silver lining in some areas. We have some other great plans for youth in the coming year, thanks to budget 2021, so things are starting to look up.

Committees have already seen the Prime Minister, the founders of WE, and pretty much everyone else who's listed in the original motion put forward by MP Vecchio. I don't really see how we would have any value added from a meeting like this or from a study like this.

My colleague Ryan Turnbull has come up with a great amendment that would still allow for some of the questions in the motion to be answered. I can live with that. Again, I don't think it's necessary to talk about the same thing over and over again. I think Canadians definitely want us to be focused on things that are more important, on moving forward on the programs we're going to continue to offer them to help them get past this.

Literally zero of my constituents have reached out to tell me that this is what they want the Prime Minister to spend his time doing right now, talking about last year's prorogation—not a single one of them. What Canadians across this country want to know is that our government is there for them during this pandemic and that we will help them get through it, whether we're talking about supports to businesses, help getting back into the job market if they aren't already, financial support when they fall sick or when they need to quarantine because they've come in contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19, or getting access to vaccines so they can finally get back to their lives. The one thing everybody wants right now is to get back to normal. Rehashing something from last year just isn't really moving in that direction.

Again, I think most Canadians understood why we prorogued. Even when we prorogued last summer, not one person out there complained to me that we had prorogued. They were very understanding of the fact that it was necessary at the time in order for Minister Freeland to be able to properly plan, with the Prime Minister and cabinet, to see what the priorities were going forward and what types of extra supports they could give to Canadians during this unprecedented pandemic. This is an unprecedented time we've never had to experience in the past, at least not in my generation and not in the generation of most of the people on this call. Canadians want to know we're there for them.

Getting access to vaccines is top of mind right now. I know in Quebec that's the number one thing people are speaking to me about when I make calls during days when I call my constituents. That is the main thing they're concerned about. Today it was announced that people in my age bracket will finally be getting access to vaccines in early May, so I'm really happy about that, and all adults will be able to get vaccinated, at least in Quebec. I don't know how it's going in the rest of the provinces.

I think these are the things that Canadians want us to focus on, and finding out whether or not we're going to be able to supply our own vaccines in the coming year. We've obviously invested a lot of money in our budget 2021 to be able to do biomanufacturing here in Canada. I think those are the most important issues right now. That is what they want the Prime Minister and the government to be focused on.

I don't know how many times I can say it, but I really support my colleague MP Turnbull's amendment to the original motion. If it were up to me, not even that would be done, because I think this committee could be utilizing its time a lot better than talking about this motion and doing this type of study. I think we definitely have a lot more important things that we could be discussing at a time like this.

I just wanted to add my two cents to this discussion. I thank you all for allowing me to speak today.

I may be back; we don't know. Your speeches may inspire me to come back and maybe add more. Thank you.