Madam Speaker, before I begin I want to let you know that I will be sharing my time with the member for Winnipeg North.
It is a pleasure to be here today, virtually from Surrey, B.C., during these extraordinary times. I am honoured to have this opportunity to speak on the Speech from the Throne.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world as we know it. We find ourselves with the remarkable opportunity to make our country, and our world, a better place than it was before. We have the opportunity to build back better, to make sure Canadians have the support and resources they need to feel safe and to get through anything that may arise in the coming months and years. By making sure we support Canadians today and tomorrow, we are ensuring the success of our great country. The four pillars of the Speech from the Throne lay a roadmap for just that.
The last few months have been an incredible challenge in so many ways, but we have come far since the beginning of the pandemic. As we begin to see signs of the second wave in parts of the country, we need to remain vigilant. We must all continue to do our part by listening to the expert advice of our public health officials, keeping our social circles small, physically distancing from each other, wearing masks when keeping a two-metre distance from others is not possible, and practising good hand hygiene.
Canada fared well in the first wave. Our hospitals did not become overwhelmed, and individuals did their part by staying home. We were able to keep our case numbers manageable compared with many other countries around the world. We know so much more about the spread of the virus now than we did in the early days of the pandemic. We know how important testing and contact tracing are. My incredibly hard-working and dedicated colleagues and their teams have been working around the clock to make sure that Canadians have access to PPE, testing kits and, in the future, vaccines.
So far we have approved 36 tests, including two that are point-of-care, to help with rapid testing in specific populations, such as rural and remote communities. The Vaccine Task Force is helping the government with the procurement of new vaccine candidates. Just last week, Health Canada announced that it had received its first submission for authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Half of our country's PPE needs are now being manufactured domestically, compared with nearly none a few months ago. We saw incredible resourcefulness and innovation across the country. Breweries and distilleries have restructured to make hand sanitizer, clothing companies are making gowns and face masks, and sporting goods companies are making face shields. In my own community, Surrey-based Central City Brewers and Distillers began producing hand sanitizer.
We have been working closely with the provinces and territories from the outset to acquire PPE, making sure Canadians and businesses had the support they needed to weather the storm. Over the summer, our government announced the $19 billion safe restart agreement with the provinces, and an additional $2 billion for the safe return to class fund.
We are working hard to restore employment levels to what they were pre-pandemic. We created one million new jobs before, and we will do it again. However, we know that, even with the continued positive news from recent labour force surveys and the return of many jobs, there are still a lot of Canadians without work who continue to struggle. Nearly nine million Canadians received support from the Canada emergency response benefit and 3.5 million were supported by the Canada emergency wage subsidy. I know from speaking with many of my constituents in Surrey Centre that these benefits, and the measures introduced earlier on, were vital to them.
To help Canadians return to the workforce, we will create direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to retain workers. This will be vital to our energy sector workers as we transition to a greener and more sustainable economy so we are able to meet our environmental goals and slow climate change.
We also know that youth across the country have had a particularly challenging time, facing the loss of job prospects. We will scale up the youth employment strategy to create more jobs for young people.
While we work to return these jobs to address the continued needs of Canadians, we have begun transitioning many Canadians back to an expanded EI and have created the new Canada recovery benefit, Canada recovery caregiver benefit and Canada recovery sickness benefit.
We have also extended the wage subsidy until next summer so employers can keep their employees on the payroll. My community has many small and medium-sized businesses that have been relying on the wage subsidy, the Canada emergency business account and the business credit availability program to keep afloat.
To further assist small and medium-sized businesses, we recently announced $600 million in addition to the $962 million in funding already allocated for the regional relief and recovery fund. This funding will especially help industries related to events and tourism, including banquet halls, caterers and hotels in Surrey.
We continue to work with local organizations that know the needs of their communities best. Recently, the Surrey Board of Trade received $50,000 in funding for business economic recovery services, and SurreyCares Community Foundation has been distributing thousands of dollars in grants to local organizations through the federal emergency community support fund.
The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the inequalities in our country. Women, especially low-income women and women of colour, have been hit hard by job losses. They have left jobs to care for their children or relatives, or are more likely to be working on the front lines in low-wage positions. We will be creating the action plan for women in the economy to make sure that the gains women have fought so hard for, socially and politically, do no reverse. We know the importance and benefits of having equal representation in our workforce.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, we have been assisting parents with child care support, including the additional $300-per-child payment as part of the Canada child benefit. We will continue to give parents access to affordable, high-quality and inclusive child care. We know this is needed in order to make sure that women have the opportunity to get back to work.
We can no longer say we did not know. We know the struggles faced by Canadians. There has been grief and worry, and our government will continue to address the needs of our most vulnerable. These gaps in our social system need to be closed. In 2020, it is unacceptable that we continue to have members of our communities being left behind.
We will build our communities back stronger and more resilient than before by investing in infrastructure like public transit, energy efficient retrofits, clean energy, rural broadband and affordable housing, particularly for indigenous peoples and northern communities.
For seniors, we will continue to work with the provinces and territories to set new national standards for long-term care so seniors get the best support possible. We will also ensure those who mistreat and neglect seniors will be penalized, by working with Parliament to change the Criminal Code.
The disability inclusion plan will include a new benefit modelled around the GIS and create a better process to determine eligibility for government disability programs and benefits. Our government has been committed to achieving national, universal pharmacare and we will be working with the provinces and territories to ensure we move quickly to create it.
We also know the inequalities we are seeing in our society are not only a result of the coronavirus pandemic. They have much deeper roots in systemic racism and discrimination. Visible minorities in Canada are hurting, and have been hurting for years.
We are committed to walking the shared path of reconciliation with indigenous peoples by accelerating work on the national action plan and on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, as well as continuing to close the infrastructure gap in indigenous communities and working on a distinctions basis with first nations, Inuit and the Métis nation to accelerate the government’s 10-year commitment.
We will continue to support racialized Canadians. The Parliamentary Black Caucus has championed these rights, and their advocacy is reflected in the Speech from the Throne. The Black entrepreneurship program will ensure that those who face systemic racism and discrimination have access to tools for economic empowerment and increase the diversity in procurement. There is still a lot work to do, but we are moving in the right direction.
We have seen how coming together in the House and in our communities has benefited Canadians. We are still very much in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and now is not the time to let our guard down. Cynicism and fear did not get us through the first wave and it will not get us through the second. The only way forward is through working together.
Most encouraging, though, is all the organizations that have contributed to a team Canada style support for their neighbours. Here in Surrey, Kiran Saluja and her volunteers at the Sewing Army, an organization of 18 seniors, made over 15,000 masks from their homes and and gave them to non-profits and those in need.