Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the motion moved by my colleague from Calgary Nose Hill, for whom I have great respect.
Committee work is essential to the proper functioning of our parliamentary system and our democracy. As the last parliamentary session drew to a close, I was able to participate in the Standing Committee on Finance's examination of the last budget of the 42nd Parliament. I was also a member of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. We worked very hard to adopt a number of extremely important reports.
I firmly believe in the role of parliamentary committees and I also believe that the motion before us deals with a subject that warrants the attention of the Standing Committee on Health. However, I must admit that I have some concerns and reservations about the details of this motion, which I could almost describe as an omnibus motion, since it contains 28 clauses.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, I make a point of looking at every proposal, every motion, including the motion that is before us today, from the perspective of our business owners, of our SMEs.
As the members here know, the motion lists 16 areas of study within 28 different clauses. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, I will focus on the areas of the motion that I believe will impact our Canadian businesses, as well as areas of international procurement.
The motion proposes to study the availability of paid sick leave to those in quarantine and voluntary isolation. I believe this is an absolutely critical aspect of our government's response to COVID-19. We all know how important it is to continue to keep our businesses open and running, while protecting the health and safety of one another. We know that the balance between the two is certainly a hard one to manage.
The thinking behind the government’s proposal with respect to paid sick leave is rooted in the belief that nobody should have to choose between staying home because they have symptoms of COVID-19 and being able to pay for groceries or rent. That is why we introduced Bill C-4, which included the Canada recovery sickness benefit that provides $500 per week, for up to two weeks, to Canadians who are either experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, are in self-isolation because they have COVID-19 or have underlying conditions that would make them more susceptible to the virus.
As we all know, the bill received the unanimous support of the House and I believe it also passed royal assent within three days. This is an extremely good example of the speed and efficiency that is possible when we all work together.
The sick leave benefits that the motion proposes to study in committee fulfill the Government of Canada’s commitment under the safe restart agreement with provinces and territories. Already now, Canadians have been able to apply for the benefit since October 5, and as of this past Monday, October 12, Canadians who are not eligible for employment insurance have been able to apply for the Canada recovery benefit.
We know that right now our business owners cannot afford to pay for new benefits. We also know that Canadians were asking for this support. It was up to our government to respond. We will continue to respond to the needs of Canadians throughout this pandemic.
I would now like to approach the motion from the perspective of employers. We know that our workers and our businesses are facing a lot of uncertainty right now. There is not as much money coming in and our business owners cannot afford to provide additional benefits even if they wanted to.
The Canada recovery sickness benefit is there for employed individuals who are unable to work because they are sick. The $500-a-week benefit for two weeks not only supports our workers, but it is also essential for our businesses.
We have all seen schools, offices and factories forced to close due to outbreaks of the virus. This benefit helps employers protect their teams without having to face the impossible decision of determining whether one of their employees is too sick to come to work.
The federal government is there for them and will cover two weeks of paid leave. This is a first for Canada. The program provides a win-win solution for our SMEs and our workers while also limiting community transmission of the virus.
I have to be honest. It is not clear, on the basis of the motion before the House, what aspect of paid sick leave is being proposed for study. The motion refers to the availability of sick leave, but as the House knows, this benefit has already been available to hard-working Canadians for two weeks now. It is therefore perhaps a bit late to study whether or not this measure should go forward, and as I have explained, I believe this program to be absolutely critical. I would assume, on the basis of the fact that the bill in which this measure was included was passed unanimously by the House, that every member of the House agreed with that.
If the motion is proposing to study how well the benefit is working, with only two weeks of usage I would suggest that it is perhaps premature to study its effect at this time. It might be more useful to study this issue independently in a stand-alone study once a longer period of usage exists and more data can be evaluated by committee members.
Let me now turn to another aspect of the motion that touches on international procurement, including the proposal in the motion to study the procurement of vaccines. While I understand the spirit of what is being proposed here, when I read the fine print of the motion, included therein is a requirement to disclose all documents concerning the purchase of these life-saving drugs. The motion would therefore effectively make us hand over details of our negotiating positions and considerations for deals that are not even yet complete.
I cannot emphasize enough how this would jeopardize our ability to compete and procure what Canadians need in order to survive this pandemic. If other countries find out the good prices that Canada was successful in negotiating with suppliers, they could try to buy the order out from under us. Let me detail this a little further.
We could be forced to reveal the pricing and sales terms we obtained in our international vaccine procurement process. This would expose us to two very serious potential problems.
If another country finds out our terms, it could decide to outbid us and hijack our order.
In addition, this information could undermine the Canadian government's credibility with our suppliers. The last thing we need right now is for our suppliers to decide that Canada is not a reliable partner and sign an agreement with another country that does not require them to disclose information about their terms and conditions. This is a real risk. There are quite a few other potential customers looking to procure these same vaccines.
The last thing I believe we want to do in the House is to endanger hard-fought procurement deals that will ensure that Canada has the best possible set of vaccine supply contracts. We need companies to feel confident that the Canadian government will remain a reliable partner and not look to publish reams of sensitive information regarding the company's pricing, conditions or scheduling.
We know there are real risks in this ultracompetitive bidding environment. It is a global pandemic impacting countries all over the world. The competition, therefore, on the international stage is incredibly fierce. We must continue to be competitive in our bids. We must continue to be a country that vaccine suppliers wish to partner with, and our priority must continue to be to ensure that Canada has access to vaccines against COVID-19.
These are just a few of of the problematic issues I see in the very large motion before us. I therefore cannot support the motion as it is currently written, and Canadians cannot afford to have us jeopardize our ability to procure a vaccine to COVID-19.