Mr. Speaker, to start things off, I will list a number of points that are important as we continue to debate this today.
First, it is important to recognize that the government does consider this to be a matter of confidence, because the House cannot establish a committee looking into government corruption and, at the same time, claim it still has confidence in the government. Additionally, the motion is nothing more than a blatant partisan proposal that seeks to paralyze the government at a time when the entire government should be focused on keeping Canadians safe and healthy during this second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Second, we cannot have committees finding public servants in contempt without even providing them the opportunity to explain why they made lawful redactions to a small number of items within more than 5,000 documents released to the finance committee.
Third, we cannot turn our committees into partisan tools to force private citizens to release personal financial information. Where would that end?
Fourth, we cannot have Conservatives drowning the government in requests for documents and arbitrary deadlines that are designed to be impossible to meet, forcing public servants to drop their work on supporting Canadians during this pandemic.
Fifth, the Conservative motion is just proposing more political games. It is not a serious effort to examine all the areas of pandemic spending.
Sixth, Canadians want their politicians to work together in this pandemic, not throw mud at each other.
Seventh, we have proposed a path forward for this Parliament with a serious committee that will do serious work.
Eighth, we do not want an election. Canadians do not want an election. We have important legislation before the House, including MAID, conversion therapy and sexual assault training for judges, and legislation upcoming on wage subsidy, rent support and the Canada emergency business account.
Finally, I would hope all parties will work with us in support of Canadians.
I wanted to highlight these items, prior to my responding to some of the things I have heard from both the leader of the Conservative Party and the Conservative opposition House leader, because I think they are really important.
To start, the leader says we need to evaluate why we are here in the first place. I would suggest the leader is right. We are here in this House because Canadians have bestowed upon us their trust and confidence. When I say “we”, I am referring to every member of Parliament, no matter what side of the House they sit on. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to our constituents.
If the Conservatives were to consult, as we have been and as, I believe, most members of Parliament have been with their constituents, they would find the number one concern facing our country today is the coronavirus. What we can do collectively in order to fight the coronavirus and protect the health and well-being of Canadians, while at the same time protecting our economy, is the priority in Canada today.
What we hear, day in and day out, from the Conservative Party is the issue with WE. Opposition members want to say it is this huge mountain of corruption. I have been in opposition for many years, and boy they sure can make something look awfully big. I would suggest that, in comparison with other administrations, it is very minimal. It is something a committee could deal with along with all the other things that are done at the House of Commons.
The leader of the Conservative Party said to reflect. I suggest that Conservative members of Parliament need to realize that the track they took in 2015 of character assassinations of politicians on the government side is wrong. I suggest that they put that on hold and start dealing with what our constituents want us to deal with, and that is fighting the pandemic.
What is interesting is that, whether they are in non-profit organizations or governments of different levels, indigenous people or private individuals, people across our country not only recognize but also understand the importance of working together. The only group of people that seems to be so focused on being a destructive force is the Conservative Party of Canada.
For example, its members talk about WE. The leader said WE is an extension of the Liberal Party. Let me tell the leader of the Conservative Party that the WE organization got an annual grant from the Manitoba government. The last time I looked, the Manitoba government was a Progressive Conservative government. That was an annual grant. That is hard to believe based on what the leader of the Conservative party has been saying.
My job is not defend WE. My job is to assure Canadians that, as much as the Conservative Party is so bloody focused on this issue, we are going to remain focused on the priority of Canadians, which is to combat the pandemic. We will work with those who want to work with us, and the list is endless, to ensure we are doing what is absolutely essential to protect the health and well-being of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, while at the same time working on our economy.
I have made reference in the past to what we have been able to do by working with Canadians. We have come up with some wonderful things out of nothing. On the other hand, the Conservatives criticize and black-mark our civil servants, yet it was those civil servants who put together and created the CERB program, which assisted millions of Canadians in every region of our country. It is the credibility of many of those same civil servants that is being called into question by the Conservatives.
In part, they are the same civil servants who put together programs such as the wage subsidy program. By listening to what members of Parliament from different political parties said, including many people from opposition parties, regarding the importance of our seniors, they developed programs that would assist our seniors. We have done that in different ways, such as a one-time payment to the GIS and OAS, which are retirement programs. I am especially proud of the GIS, which is for the poorest seniors in our country. We recognize the importance of and the need for additional expenditures.
This is the type of thing we should be talking about inside the House of Commons. The Conservatives want to make a change here. I hope they are not going to hoodwink our friends in the New Democratic Party, who have been very critical of the many government ideas and programs we have brought forward. I will not take that away from them. That is part of what they and the Conservatives should be doing as the opposition, which is to look for ways the government can improve the system and take advantage of the opportunity to communicate with ministers during a pandemic.
I find this motion, which I would classify as a confidence motion, to be amazing. The Conservatives should look at the details and read it thoroughly. It will take quite a while to read, because it is a very lengthy motion.
This all goes back to what it is the Conservatives have been up to for the last five years. They may as well not have had a change of leadership, because it is almost as if Stephen Harper is still here.
At the end of the day, the Conservative Party needs to get on track. It needs to put less attention on some issues and more attention on this issue, the issue of the pandemic. We are now well into the second wave.
I made reference to organizations. I had discussions with Folklorama, an organization I am very proud of. It is such an economic driver for the city of Winnipeg. It is an organization that really amplifies and embodies Canada's diversity. It does so much good for my city, and in fact, our country. It is the longest running multicultural ethnic event of this nature in North America, and someone once said to me of the world, which I suspect could be the case.
Folklorama has now been going on for over 50 years, but not this year. This year we did not have those two weeks of celebration of diversity, with displays of culture and heritage, entertainment in the forms of dance and song, or the gathering of hundreds of thousands of people in the city of Winnipeg to appreciate our diversity. The reason for that was the pandemic.
The Government of Canada, through the wage subsidy program, was able to assist Folklorama. This is one organization. Some of its members said they were not sure if it would be able to survive this year because of the pandemic.
Another great program is 211. We finally have a national 211 program in Canada because of funding that in part came from Ottawa. Obviously it is also the United Way and some wonderful people. I think of Ms. Walker in particular, who did a fantastic job in advocating for 211. Now there is an Internet presence, and most importantly, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week phone line that can be accessed from anywhere in Canada, from what I understand. By calling 211, people can access all sorts of different programs.
Those are the types of things having a positive impact on real people in all of our communities. I remember months ago talking with the United Way about the program and how important it was to try to incorporate it to its fullest extent in the province of Manitoba. I was so pleased the other week when we finally saw it come to fruition.
There are endless examples of small businesses that are here today because of the support they received from the government. I reference the CERB program. Disposable income that Canadians rely on day in, day out is absolutely critical. That particular program, which came from nowhere and is a direct result of the pandemic, was there for over eight million Canadians. It allowed them to purchase the groceries they needed. It allowed them to get the things that were important to their lives.
On co-operation and recognizing how important the pandemic is, we have been working with provinces. I believe the amount was over $19 billion for the safe restart program. The Government of Canada worked with provincial and territorial jurisdictions in order to ensure we have in place what is important to help us all get through a second wave.
Liberals understand, and I like to think most members of Parliament understand, why we need to be here. We get criticized for proroguing the session. Let me remind members that there was an agreement by the majority of the House when we rose earlier this year that we would come back on September 23. We had agreed to that. We also agreed that we would sit, albeit in committee of the whole, on the floor of the House during the summer. We would have to go back to 1988 to find the last time the House of Commons sat in July and August.
When we were sitting here, I had never before witnessed the opportunity for opposition parties to contribute to policy development for the Government of Canada, never. They had the opportunity not just to ask one question and a supplementary question. They had five-minute slots. We were going for well over two hours, during which hundreds of questions were being asked by opposition and government members of ministers to try to influence policy.
There were more days that we sat in the summer than we lost because of prorogation. Prorogation is utilized, even in the province of Manitoba. Here is a bit of hypocrisy. How can a Conservative member of Parliament criticize proroguing a session, especially if the member is from Manitoba, when the Manitoba government prorogued its session? Go figure. Yes, there is a pandemic in Manitoba, too. It is across Canada. Yes, WE does get money from the Province of Manitoba, too.
The point is that the Conservatives will do whatever they can to twist things. The opposition House leader said the Prime Minister has been investigated by the commissioner more than any other prime minister. We hear that every so often. It was Stephen Harper who established the commissioner. How stupid a comment from the Conservative Party saying the Prime Minister is the worst.
I have far more faith in the commissioner than I do in the official opposition, far more faith, the reason being that the Conservatives obviously have a bias. They have demonstrated that bias since the day after the Liberals were elected five years ago, five years plus a day. Five years ago, the Conservatives started their character assassination and they have not stopped since. Why should people believe what the Conservative Party has to say on the issue of corruption?
Do members recall the Senate scandal during the Stephen Harper government? Do they know how many people were linked to the PMO during the Senate scandal? That is where there was a payout. If we really think about it, the commissioner is there to ensure that the political partisanship we see from the Conservative Party is put to the side and we stick to the facts. The facts on that issue are that it was public civil servants who made the recommendation.
I see my time has expired. I would ask for leave to continue, but I expect the Conservatives would not want this continual barrage of reality.
At the end of the day, I am hopeful that members will see the Conservative interference in the House of Commons, which is having a negative impact on Liberals being able to do what we need to do with regard to fighting the coronavirus that is impacting every region of our country.
That is what Canadians want us to be focused on. That is what the government will continue to be focused on.