Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by extending a respectful greeting to all my colleagues in the House and, above all, my most compassionate regards to seniors.
I cannot imagine the day-to-day life of elderly people living in one of the many types of residences in Quebec and Canada. They cannot be with their loved ones, and they are exposed to a disease that could very well claim their lives before they have a chance to see their children and grandchildren one last time. That is indescribably sad.
I am also thinking of other seniors, those who are not directly exposed or not frequently exposed, but whose retirement accounts are declining in value, who are feeling isolated, who live in remote areas, and whose family members live far away and cannot visit them. I am thinking of those people.
This is a little off-topic, by I have also sent the Prime Minister some recommendations and suggestions to help those people as much as possible.
I am thinking of workers who cannot work. Helping them is the reason we are gathered here today.
This may seem odd, but I am thinking of our young people. Youth is the most sociable time of life. We are locking our young people in the basement, making them feel like they cannot see their friends except on their phones, with limited exceptions. I am also thinking of the parents who have to deal with kids expressing their impatience as only kids can.
I am thinking of the health care workers who could theoretically choose not to go to work, but who are showing up day after day, answering the call of duty. Health care workers are exposed beyond all reasonable bounds. I have the greatest respect for the. Unlike us, they cannot work two or three metres apart.
I am thinking of workers in the transportation sector, who are working insane hours under uncertain conditions. Many of them are being denied access to basic facilities along the way, like showers and food, and their determination warrants more respect than they are getting. I also salute agricultural workers, who are dealing with unique challenges. In addition, I salute my colleagues for working together, even though I may seem like an awkward fit on Team Canada.
The past few weeks have proven that collaboration can fuel success. This is really important to me. From the beginning of this crisis, we have overcome the temptation to score points and instead offered our fullest and most sincere collaboration.
Today we are going to pass legislation. Of course, there are some people in this House who would say that, when summer comes, it will be thanks to them. I think that we need to set all that aside today. We need to say that it will be thanks to “us”, an “us” made up of 338 people chosen by 36 million Canadians, including 78 people chosen by 8.5 million Quebeckers.
Our SMEs, which are the backbone of Quebec's economy, will find a crucial tool in this bill. However, I am looking at it through the eyes of the workers, primarily because this bill will protect purchasing power to benefit workers beyond what EI would do.
That is, in itself, a way to support the economy. In essence, the billions of dollars the Canadian government is investing in people and businesses will serve to protect its own future revenues, its tax revenues.
It is wise and necessary to do so and I would point out, and everyone can make of this what they will, that this is a demonstration that history will not soon forget of the government's crucial and essential role in the economy, of the legitimacy of government intervention in the economy and the fact that less government is far from the best solution.
The families of these workers will have a sense of security. The parents of these workers will have a sense of security. Research and science will find a remedy for the virus, but a sense of security is the remedy for anxiety, anguish, concern and fear for the future. It is one of the fundamental roles of this legislation.
There have been some collaborative efforts that we are pleased to have participated in. I will not go so far as to say that we want credit for any measure in particular, but I will say that it might not have existed without our contribution. We want to retain a little modesty.
With respect to start-ups, the Minister of Finance was willing to take them into consideration. Several people raised this issue. High-growth businesses were facing a particular risk; that was addressed. Social economy enterprises, which I am especially fond of, have been recognized within some of the programs. A lot has been done—and I am glad this aspect was included in the motion—to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses would not have to replace the entirety of their lost income, which they will not get back, with debt. Such debt would add to the burden of those businesses when they are trying to get up and running again.
It was especially important to me that the government bring in a measure to provide small and medium-sized businesses across Canada and Quebec with non-repayable support. I truly do appreciate that the government was willing to consider such measures. I think that is how we will make progress.
I have been calling this “vigilant collaboration”. I think Quebeckers and Canadians expect us to work in their best interests. Of course, we live in a democracy where, particularly since the last election, Canadians and Quebeckers are keeping an eye on us. That is entirely appropriate. We must have the tools to do so, and I know that has been part of the thinking. I therefore see some good points in this.
There is one aspect that has been lacking. I want to come back to it now, so we can begin thinking about it right away. We will defeat this virus, as others before us have and perhaps more after us will, by paying attention to science and research. Some research centres do not qualify for the various measures at this time, so their staff are being recruited elsewhere because the centres cannot offer the same appeal in order to hang on to their employees.
We need to work on research. Every time we read a great newspaper article, we need to have the intellectual honesty to read a scientific article, to learn about how it works, what is going on and what has been done elsewhere. I spoke to some Quebec scientists this week, and we need to make sure that scientists and researchers are well supported.
I would like to say a few words about the Canada emergency response benefit. This initiative is somewhat a victim of its own popularity, although less so than we had feared. We are very happy that the proverbial shortcomings were addressed for volunteer firefighters, artist copyrights and small business owners who pay themselves dividends.
These improvements were made after calls, not from a political party or from the best or nicest member, but from real Quebeckers and Canadians who contacted us on social media and at our riding offices to ask what we were doing for them. Good discussions resulted in solutions.
We are also discussing the notion of a virtual Parliament, but a virtual one will not be any less real. We are not required to by physically seated on green velvet to engage in debate. Everyone can do so from their own home. We will come up with a process or something, but it can be done.
I understand that votes need to happen here. I understand that we will have to come up with a procedure, because our sacrosanct rules cannot just be changed so easily. However, we are in favour of this, since a long time ago we spoke about creating a virtual Parliament.
Unfortunately, it is not too late, and I am speaking in the spirit of openness.
Some time ago, we raised the issue of how to deal with people arriving at the borders of Canada and Quebec through various routes. I must say that I am deeply troubled about this issue. After everything we have said and done, and despite knowing what percentage of coronavirus cases have entered from abroad, I cannot understand how this is possible. Let me say that I have the utmost respect, affection and openness in my heart for these people. However, I am extremely worried about the fact that 159 Mexican workers got on a plane and landed in Dorval this morning without having been either tested for COVID-19 in Mexico or quarantined on arrival. They were not ordered to be tested for COVID-19 by Canadian customs, nor were they quarantined in any of the thousands of hotel rooms around the airport. They were handed over to an organization that took them deeper into Quebec, in this case to the regions north and south of Montreal.
Knowing the characteristics of this virus, knowing that statistics say that between one-quarter and half of carriers are asymptomatic, and knowing that testing someone who is not showing symptoms could be pointless, are we not running a risk that could easily have been contained?
We have contacted the government privately about this a number of times, and now I am doing it again. With all due respect for institutions and people, I would urge everyone to be open-minded. As I have said, if the government can invest tens of billions of dollars, as we have just seen, then it can invest a few tens of millions more in restoring a sense of safety for rural communities in Quebec and Canada by making sure that foreign workers coming in are quarantined and tested for COVID-19.
That is the best way to help those workers, their home countries and farmers, who do not have that expertise and cannot just bring foreign workers into their homes and put them in quarantine in the basement. That will not work. This is the state's solemn duty. It is the responsibility of Canada customs, which does not answer to Quebec and the other provinces.
Other than the 159 people who are already gone but who could be tested somehow or other, I would encourage the government to make an announcement very soon about measures to isolate people upon arrival and test them for COVID-19 so they can receive a proper welcome to Quebec and Canada and make a positive contribution to our economy.
As I said, our approach is one of vigilant collaboration. In this case, our collaboration is a given. I am not criticizing the government, but I am making this request because it is our duty to keep a close eye on each other and because we are constantly coming up with solutions to the new problems that arise on a daily basis.