Mr. Speaker, I will pick up on what the member referenced, and that is the fact that the pandemic is the first priority, and should be the first priority, of all us in the House of Commons. There is absolutely no doubt about that. It has been the government's position since day one. Since day one, we have been working with provinces, territories, indigenous peoples, the private sector, non-profit organizations and the list goes on, so that people understand and appreciate the impact it is having around the world.
We have taken this issue very seriously. We have been working with political entities of all stripes at the different provincial levels. On occasion, yes, we have seen co-operation from opposition parties, even at times the Conservatives, but there is no doubt that the Conservative Party of Canada is playing games here in the House of Commons. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
Then the Conservatives try to come across as if, no, not them, they are not playing any games because they are focused on COVID-19. I have been a parliamentarian for 30 years. I can understand and appreciate when I see a game being played, and they are playing a game. They say it is about lives. Yes, the federal government, working with provincial governments and other stakeholders, has saved thousands of lives across Canada because there was a team Canada approach. People came together, recognizing what the Prime Minister was saying, which was that we needed to deal with the pandemic. That is exactly what we did.
One might ask why we are here today debating yet another game by the Conservative Party. I can understand why the Bloc would want to play its game. I can understand that. Bloc members are not big fans of Confederation. I am hoping that my New Democratic friends and my friends in the Green Party will realize the game that is being played by the Conservative Party. What is really interesting is how they try to turn it around. They try to say Liberals are hiding something. They say we are the ones who are not being “democratic”. Let me expand on a couple of those points.
Let me quote the member who introduced the motion we are debating today, the member for Calgary Nose Hill. I am glad she is listening very closely to this. She said, “but I think it behooves all committee members to remember that the committee is the master of its own destiny, and therefore, we are entrusted to take on studies that can look at anything we want.” That is exactly, word for word, what the mover of the motion said. I recommend that members look up the word “hypocrisy” in the dictionary.
We now have the very same member coming to the House of Commons with this motion, dictating to the health committee what it has to look at. There is no option. It does not matter who is on the health committee. It does not matter how many meetings it has had or that there have been over 100 witnesses already on COVID. The Conservatives do not care about that, no. Here is their agenda. This is what they want at a time when we are in the middle of a second wave. Members should think about that.
The information that Conservatives are requesting is extensive. There could be 14 or more reports just based on the motion put forward by the Conservative Party. One of the members across the way got it right: Shame on them. Shame on themselves. Think about it.
An amendment was moved and I asked the mover of the amendment, for just one clause, if it includes all memoranda. This is what the Conservatives want right now, within 14 days. They are saying they want all the civil servants working in those offices that have anything to do with this to stop what they are doing and focus their attention on this.
If they have to make calls to the provinces, if they have to talk to others about COVID-19, or if they are working on research, who cares? According to the Conservative Party, this is what they want them to do. This is one clause and, by the way, they have 14 days to do it:
(u) an order of the House do issue for all memoranda, emails, documents, notes or other records from the Office of the Prime Minister, the Privy Council Office, the office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, the office of the Minister of Health, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, concerning options, plans and preparations for the GPHIN since January 1, 2018.
That is just one aspect. The Conservatives are saying, “Who cares what the members of the health committee want to debate or study?” It does not matter to them. What matters is the Conservative Party has an agenda, and Conservatives believe they can hoodwink every other member of the House into believing that this is a good, positive way to proceed in a time of crisis here in Canada.
I believe the Conservative Party has it wrong, or the Conservative leadership within the party has it wrong. I have listened to some other members and to some of the speeches provided on this issue. I think a number of Conservatives might feel somewhat uncomfortable.
We have a standing committee, and they are critical. The Conservatives are saying that the Liberals are filibustering the committees. The poor Conservative Party of Canada: The Liberal Party does not want it to preoccupy the civil servants with its garbage, at least in part, in the fashion that the Conservatives want to deal with it. It is important stuff, there is no doubt about it, in many different ways, but the Conservatives are saying they need it and need it right away: Everyone should stop all things and get that information before the committee.
We have committees that are asking us to hold on. They are prepared to study the important issues. They want to study the important issues that Canadians have to face regarding coronavirus.
I have heard the issue of mental health is one example. Imagine the impact that the coronavirus pandemic is having on mental health in our country. I think that would be a worthy study. It is not for me to judge what would be worthy and what would not. I believe that the health committee is in a much better position to do that.
Conservatives are frustrated because they cannot get the health committee to do what they want. What they want is the only thing that can happen, so if the Liberals do not let them have it in committee, they will bring it to the House. The Conservatives feel they can trump the committee and force the committee to look at it.
However, a few years back the Conservatives talked, as the sponsor of this motion did, about how important it was that we respect our standing committees. Look who is not respecting those standing committees today. Look who is not interested in protecting the interests of the civil servants who are being called upon to deliver the best service they can to Canadians, whether by providing advice or participating in conferences or doing science or research: whatever it might be.
Instead, Conservatives are focused on committees producing papers. They want papers. They want thousands and thousands of papers in all forms. They are looking for a word: it might be “Liberal”, or it might be “Prime Minister”, or another minister. Then they are going to say there is a huge conspiracy, another ethical scandal, and then they will hammer on it.
That is what the Conservative focus has been, even before the Prime Minister became the Prime Minister. That is why, when I stood up on Tuesday, I talked about Conservatives' priorities and the games they play, even when we are in a pandemic. I asked them to put a pause on it. There are many other things the opposition party could be doing. I know: I was in opposition for over 20 years. There are many things that they could do during a pandemic.
I would think the Conservative leadership team would understand that. Conservatives make reference to the proroguing of Parliament and ask why we had a prorogation. People who are following the debate should know that the last time the House sat in the summertime was back in 1988. We sat in July and August. Yes, technically it was not a formal sitting of the House, but the House still was here and there were questions and answers were being provided. Opposition parties, all members, were afforded the opportunity to ask hundreds of questions on a wide variety of issues. Members who are interested to know what kinds of questions were asked can look at Hansard. It is there and they can read all they want.
We sat more days in the summer months than we lost because of prorogation, but we would not know that if we listened to the Conservatives' spin on the issue. One would think that democracy is falling because of it. The reality is that it is true only if it is convenient for the Conservative Party.
As for filibustering in committees, my goodness, has anyone ever seen a Conservative filibuster a committee? I have seen some boring stuff come from Conservative filibusters. I sat in the chamber and listened to the member for Carleton speak for 14 hours on a budget, and he was talking about all sorts of little rocks and the building. There was 14 hours of it. Do you want to talk about a filibuster? I think he sat down for the last half-hour so the New Democrats or another party would be able to speak, but he prevented any other member from speaking.
I know what a filibuster is, and the Conservatives are good at it. They are very good at filibusters, but when they do not like the filibuster then automatically it is a bad thing and is undemocratic. If my Conservative friends do not want to see ongoing dialogue and discussion in some of those committees, then maybe sit down and work out what it is they would like to be able to talk about.
I sat on committees, and generally speaking, what happens is that there is a consensus about what the agenda is going to look like and what sorts of studies will be done. There are Liberal members of that committee who are very concerned. They want to start looking into some of these very serious impacts of the COVID-19 virus. Mental health is an excellent example.
What about the issue of home care services? Look at the percentage of seniors who are dying as a result of COVID-19 in care facilities. Liberals, and I hope all members, should be very much concerned about that. Maybe it is time we focus the Standing Committee of Health on that issue. These are just ideas that come to my mind. I suspect if we were to canvass the members of the committee we would find there are many different ideas.
The member for Calgary Nose Hill, who moved this motion, said that it was the standing committee that sets the agenda and she was right. Allow them to do their job. She does not want to do that. The Conservative leadership does not want to do that now. Why? It does not quite fit what it is they want.
I believe the Conservatives duck here, hide around there, say what it is they want and try to give the impression they are fighting for Canadians when, in reality, there has been absolutely zero change in the priorities of the Conservative Party since Stephen Harper was the prime minister and they lost the election five years ago.
I witnessed that when I was sitting in the third party when our current Prime Minister was elected as leader of the Liberal Party. At that time, the Conservative Party spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, trying to tell Canadians how bad the Liberal leader was at the time. Nothing has changed. The Conservatives continue to do that, and that is why I believe that the Conservatives have zero credibility on the issue.
Even today, how many of them want to talk about scandals? I have far more confidence in the Commissioner of Ethics than I have in the Conservative Party, as all Canadians do. The Office of the Ethics Commissioner is very new to Parliament, as an independent office. Imagine if the office had been here during the in and out scandal or if it had been around here when we had one Conservative member go to jail in handcuffs? What about the Airbus incident?
The Conservatives like to say, “Oh, those Liberals and the Ethics Commissioner.” The Ethics Commissioner is doing a job that we expected them to do. There will be modifications over the years as the Ethics Commissioner educates all of us in terms of what our responsibilities are.
The Conservatives mentioned Frank Baylis. I know Frank. Listening to the Conservatives, we would think that there is a contract between Frank Baylis and the Government of Canada. That is just not true, but yet they will still say it because they want CTV, CBC and all the TV networks to say, “There is this huge conflict. Let us get to the bottom of this.” The Conservatives have no qualms about exaggeration, rumours, hearsay or anything of that nature. That is their priority.
From day one and continuing, as the Prime Minister himself said just the other day, we are not going to continue to allow the Conservative Party to play the games of obstruction and trying to take civil servants away from what they need to do and they do best, which is to serve Canadians so that we can have an economy and a society as a whole that is healthier and able to do the things that we need to do.
As a government, we have an obligation to support Canadians as a need. Yes, it is a minority government and we will continue to work with opposition parties, even the ones that are challenging most of the time, but we still continue to work. Let me remind members that as much as it is important that the Liberal Party understands it is a minority, it is important to recognize that the opposition parties also have a responsibility.
At this point in time, I would like to move, seconded by the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, that the amendment be amended by deleting all the words starting with “minutes” and ending with the word “committees”, and replacing them with the following: “documents or information that constitute cabinet confidences or that could jeopardize the health and safety of Canadians as determined by the Clerk of the Privy Council”; and, by adding after “seven days”, the words, “at a time”.