Madam Speaker, today I stand to intervene on the motion introduced by the member for Calgary Nose Hill.
As Canadians are experiencing a devastating second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, it is our duty as a government to ensure that the focus remains on the health and well-being of Canadians and that we continue to do everything to support them. Yesterday, there were over 2,600 new cases of COVID-19 and over 22,000 active cases. I suggest we need to focus on that.
My intervention will focus on four key sections of the motion as it relates to COVID-19, specifically the motion to study the adequacy of health transfers, the adoption of the World Health Organization advice, matters related to the COVID-19 Alert application and the impact of COVID-19 on mental health.
As the co-chair of the Parliamentary Mental Health Caucus, I was delighted to hear that the member for Newmarket—Aurora had tabled a motion to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and well-being of Canadians, including indigenous and racialized Canadians.
The speaker before me, the chair of the health committee, indicated that this motion was shut down without debate. The result of the study would have identified that many socio-economic gaps that exist within our society have been further exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. By addressing these gaps in our society, we as a government could address the increasing demand on our health care systems.
However, as I said, the motion introduced by the member for Newmarket—Aurora was rejected by the health committee. I would like to note that the member for Calgary Nose Hill voted against it as well.
Therefore, I was a little surprised to see that the motion on mental health, which was rejected, is now included as a line item in this omnibus motion, with its intention to paralyze the work of the government.
As I mentioned previously, I will limit my intervention to specific sections of the motion today, mainly sections (i), (j), (l) and section (n) from another motion that was put forward at the health committee.
In section (i), states, “the adequacy of health transfer payments to the provinces, in light of the COVID-19 crisis.” I find it interesting that the member for Calgary Nose Hill wants to study the adequacy of health transfer payments as it relates to COVID-19. As we all know, the current formula was adopted back in 2014 by former Prime Minister Harper's cabinet.
Our government has invested more in health care transfer payments since coming to power and will continue to do so. We know that governments at all levels are working together to keep Canadians safe from COVID-19.
Each year provinces and territories receive $40 billion through the Canada health transfer. In March 2020, we committed $500 million to provinces and territories to support their health care systems and their mitigation efforts in light of the crisis. Since then, our government has announced over $19 billion for the safe restart agreement to help provinces and territories restart their economy safely while we continue to respond to COVID-19.
The health and well-being of Canadians remains our top priority and the government realizes that engaging with provinces and territories to address key health priorities is important, now more than ever.
In 2017, we committed $11 billion in health care investments over 10 years to the provinces and territories, with targeted funding of $5 billion to improve access to mental health services. The study of the adequacy of transfer payments also needs to address the need for an appropriate evaluation method and issues related to the oversight of the management of the fund. This cannot be addressed until we clearly identify the existing gaps in the delivery of the program and services, especially those that may disproportionately affect the most vulnerable Canadians.
However, this topic cannot be studied as part of an omnibus motion in the committee. It needs to have its own separate study. We will keep working with the provinces and territories to fight COVID-19.
Section (j) states, “the impact of the government’s use of World Heath Organization (WHO) advice in early 2020 to delay the closure of borders and delay in the recommendation of wearing of masks on the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.” While I am not a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I do follow the study of motions in this committee because of my keen interest in mental health. As such, I am aware that the health committee has already studied these exact provisions over the summer and has already received a great deal of evidence as was highlighted by the previous speaker.
As I was reviewing this section, I was wondering what the scope of this section should actually be to further augment or build on the study that was already conducted rather than opening up the whole box again. Our government has been following the advice of public health officials since the beginning. In January, we took multiple measures at our border. At first, we took enhanced measures for travellers from hot-spot countries and as soon as it became evident that COVID-19 could no longer be traced to a handful of countries, we restricted non-essential travel for travellers from all countries.
We also know that masks have been recommended for symptomatic people suspected of or confirmed to have the virus. In most cities and towns, masks are mandatorily worn to protect against exposure. The policies and practices around masks have changed as medical professionals have learned more about the virus.
Section (l) states, “the development, efficacy and use of data related to the government’s COVID Alert application.” Our government, in collaboration with other sectors, has developed the COVID-19 Alert app to let users know if they have been exposed to COVID-19. With most illnesses, early detection plays a key role in improving health outcomes for those who may be infected, but also protecting our loved ones and limiting further infections.
The COVID Alert app is an important public health tool that will help Canadians identify if they may have been exposed to COVID-19. While downloading the app is voluntary, we are encouraging Canadians to download it. So far over four million Canadians are using it. It has been great to see that most provinces have already integrated this app into their health system and more jurisdictions will be joining soon.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, I know this provision has already been studied and results have shown that the rate of adoption of 60% to 80 % is needed for any application to perform at its highest capacity.
As all members can attest, our government has approved and promoted the use of this application at the highest level of our government. All information collected under this application is anonymous and provided voluntarily by users. The app uses Bluetooth technology and does not record the locations of users or other personal information.
It is worth noting that Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has called COVID Alert “an example of how privacy respectful practices can be built into the design of an initiative to achieve public health goals.”
Applications and portals, such as the Wellness Together app, play a key role in integrating access to health care services to Canadians in this incredibly difficult time. Since the launch of the portal, more than 428,000 Canadians have used the supports. In July, the Canada Suicide Prevention Service responded to double the requests from March.
Then there is section (n), the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health, from another motion. As mentioned at the outset of my intervention, Canadians have been worried about the second wave and what it means for their jobs and livelihoods. It has increased the prevalence of depression, psychological distress, substance use, PTSD and domestic violence. The all-party Parliamentary Mental Health Caucus in the 43rd parliament, which includes members from both Houses and all parties, is actively investigating all of these.
In light of the pandemic, our government has invested $11.5 million, distributed through the Public Health Agency, to promote mental health and well-being in our communities. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has invested more than $10 million in 55 research projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By introducing an omnibus motion that sets out 17 different areas of study and six requests for production of papers that have already been studied in committee is tying up our administrative capacities, and that cannot be allowed. Our committees are tools that allow us as parliamentarians to better serve Canadians by delving further into the issues mentioned earlier in my speech. This motion minimizes the importance of issues that are currently affecting Canadians. As such, I am not supporting the motion.