House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, the whole point of the wage subsidy program is to save our businesses and keep their employees employed. We know that businesses are stronger when their employees are together with them and when that team is together. This wage subsidy is going to help these businesses prime for recovery, and we are going to continue to work with all businesses in Canada so they can support their employees through this very difficult period and can be primed for recovery at that time.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, in times of crisis, not-for-profit organizations and charitable organizations are more vital. In my community of London, I have been participating in some of the local city-run phone calls that have taken place to try to bring forward a lot of the issues and struggles of people, and so I am hearing from them directly.

We certainly welcome the adjustment to the eligibility criterion that the Minister of Finance announced earlier this week, but we hope that the government will continue to work with these organizations to ensure that they can continue to pay their employees and provide the services so desperately needed by a growing number of the public.

Does the minister agree and support the idea that the wage subsidy should apply to charities like food banks that are seeing demands skyrocket while resources are decreasing?

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, those very charities and not-for-profit organizations do such important work for our communities all across the country, and I am very pleased that the wage subsidy will indeed apply to both charities and not-for-profit organizations.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to bring to the attention of the government a group of Canadians who are falling through the cracks.

Recently, Bell, Rogers and Telus announced the lifting of Internet data caps. This is a welcome announcements and will greatly help Canadians living in cities, but millions of Canadians who live in rural areas are not eligible for the lifting of these data caps. Many of these customers rely on products like Rogers' Rocket Hub or Bell's Turbo Hub, and their data caps have not been lifted. For a typical family of mom and dad who have to work from home, with two kids at home who have to do online learning through video, they could easily go through 250 gigabytes of data a month, incurring a $1,000-Internet bill.

Could the government comment on this situation and what steps it is taking to address it?

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Mary Ng Liberal Markham—Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, during this very important time when all of us are doing extraordinary things to plank the curve and to ensure that those very businesses and Canadians are supported through this period, we are working to make sure that these measures and many of our measures are helping those very Canadians in all our communities.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, once upon a time, an angry dog chased a cat. The cat ran up to the top of a tree, and so the cat lived happily thereafter. Right? Well, wrong, because, of course, the cat had to come down the tree at some point, and the dog was still waiting there. We are kind of in the same situation, as Dr. Fisman explained, an epidemiologist from whom I borrowed the analogy. We are all safely in our homes away from the COVID dog, but at some point, we will have to come out into the world if we are going to earn a living and pay our bills. That is ultimately the problem we will be faced with in the medium term.

Today we are debating measures, for example, that are at once both too exorbitant and too inadequate. How is that possible? Well, they are too exorbitant because they will drive our deficit to at least $186 billion this year, almost four times the previous record. That is only to pay for measures that take us to the end of the summer, barely a fiscal quarter into the year. That total does not include provincial deficits or the reduction in the book value of the Canada pension plan investments, which surely will drop given that markets are down by a third since the crisis began. That is why I will be sharing my time with the member for Kelowna who will comment on some solutions to that problem. He will also bring forward concerns from Central Okanagan.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, and I thank members of the House for their help, the reality is that we cannot as a nation, and no nation in fact, can go on borrowing this much this fast. We know this for a fact, because we already cannot borrow enough in international markets. The Bank of Canada has announced that it is going to print $5 billion a week, a quarter of a trillion dollars a year for almost the exclusive purpose of lending to governments. In other words, we are beginning to pay our bills with money that the Bank of Canada is literally fashioning out of thin air. This can only go on for so long as necessary, which these very legitimate measures in fact are.

At the same time, as big as these measures are, they are still not solving all of the problems. For example, there are businesses who will benefit from none of these proposals. For example, if one has a payroll of over $1 million, one cannot get the $40,000 emergency loan. If one's business is shut down by the government, it does not matter if one has access to a wage subsidy, because there is no work and, therefore, no wages to pay. In other words, one would still be paying a mortgage, property taxes and utilities, etc., but none of the $76 billion in measures for businesses will be effective whatsoever. I know of one such businessman who came here penniless as an immigrant from Italy 50 years ago and built a great business. At the beginning of March, he dropped off $800,000 worth of food that he distributes to restaurants. At the end of March, guess what happened? Those restaurants could not pay for any of the food because they were closed. In fact, much of it went bad. Well, he is not eligible for any of the benefits so far. His life savings are now gone.

No matter how much government spends, it cannot replace that. I am not saying this to disparage the measures before the House, but there is nothing that can replace the extraordinary power of our 20 million Canadian workers. There is no government program that can rain down enough money to compensate for their demobilization. There is nothing that can replace the entrepreneur that goes with heart and soul into their business every single day to employ their workers and serve their customers. No government program will ever replace any of that, and so we are still the cat on top of the tree. That is is true, and we have to hide there, because there is this dog at the bottom of the tree waiting for us when we get down, but we do need a plan to get down.

Health experts tell us that the only way to get rid of the COVID dog is to have a vaccination or a cure, but that might not happen for as long as a year and a half. I have already explained that we are going to go $186 billion into deficit simply to respond in one quarter of one year. We can do the math. This cannot go on, at least in its current state, for that length of time, and so we need an interim plan to get out of the tree safely and back to life so we can resupply our economy and produce the wealth that we continue to consume.

What is that interim plan? We can only study those places that have found ways to make it work. The exemplary cases are South Korea and Taiwan. What have they done? In South Korea they began very well-targeted testing to find out who has actually contracted the disease and, therefore, has been spreading it. Once those people are identified, they are quickly isolated and treated.

Here in Canada we have tested about 1% of the Canadian population. In six weeks that is far too slow. The good news is that an Ottawa company, Spartan Bioscience, is now signing agreements with governments at all levels, including the federal government, to the government's credit, to provide a coffee-cup-sized box that can conduct a test every half-hour. Dr. Paul Lem, the genius CEO of this company, has now signed an agreement to sell over $800,000 of these devices to the Government of Ontario. Each device can do 15 tests a day. That means that almost every single Ontarian could be tested once a day with this technology. Some employers in Taiwan, for example, are testing people as they come in every couple of days so they can quickly take people out of the work force if they are identified as having COVID-19. This kind of technology could provide us with the same nimble ability to identify the sick and take them out of circulation so they do not transmit the virus.

We can also prioritize the workers in hospitals and seniors homes, so that not just the workers, but anybody who goes into these facilities is instantly tested and given a result within 30 minutes. I know how important that is. I was tested for COVID-19. It took 12 days for the results to get back. When they did, I had a false positive. I had to call and speak to five different people at the hospital to find out whether I had contracted it. That is clearly too slow and clumsy.

There is no way we can broadly test our population unless the system speeds up. Spartan Bioscience has the technology and is deploying it rapidly with companies right across the country to help with its manufacturing. That will be absolutely necessary.

We need to slowly ramp up industries where human interaction is less frequent and where surfaces are less likely to be infected, and where anybody who comes into regular contact with others around them is regularly tested so that they do not become a host transmitter to another person.

These plans need to be in the developmental stage right now.

We also need to signal to Health Canada the need to approve treatments, testing and potentially vaccines and cures much more quickly than normal. There are far too many stories of treatments for children's cancer, for example, that are available south of the border but not here in Canada because Health Canada has been too slow. That kind of bureaucratic delay is, most times, tragic and now intolerable. We must clear the way for innovations and new solutions to hit the marketplace and deliver benefits to people so that we can tackle this urgent and unprecedented problem.

Finally, we will need a new and more competitive approach to finding a vaccine. Senior U.S. authorities testified before Congress that finding and deploying such a vaccine might take 18 months. There is no way we can wait that long; our economies would collapse and too many people would die in the meantime.

We need to break free from our traditional models of R and D and unleash the power of competition to put all of the best minds in pharmaceutical industry and science to work on solving this urgent problem. Then, and only then, can we stop this disease and free ourselves from the captivity that has ground our economies to a halt and led to so much human tragedy. That is the approach that will allow us to overcome the situation that we now find ourselves in and I, along with all members of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, under the leadership of our capable leader, offer ourselves to the government and to the nation in helping to bring about that solution.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gabriel Ste-Marie Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Carleton.

At a press conference earlier, his leader said it was possible for Parliament to sit four days a week in person while adhering to public health directives.

However, one of the directives forbids travel between regions, to avoid spreading the virus. For instance, there are police checkpoints set up on roads between regions, including the bridges between Ottawa and Gatineau.

In the member from Carleton's opinion, does that mean a Parliament composed exclusively of people from the Ottawa area, including himself? Can he elaborate on that?

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I see some members here who are not from Ottawa. This concern about only having members from Ottawa in Parliament is not valid. We can see that for ourselves.

I think it is a little strange for politicians to say that no, they cannot work in the House. They expect other people, working-class people, to work in stores and sell groceries. There are also truckers and other people who are still working. Their lives are as valuable as ours. I think we need to recognize that we are demanding that other people work.

The sacrifices we are making here are small sacrifices. We are lucky. We need to show our appreciation for the people we are asking to go to work in other parts of the country.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by thanking all the front-line workers in Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne who are working at Charles-Le Moyne Hospital, the police, all my constituents and also the staff of the MPs' offices in the greater Longueuil area. For the past four weeks, we have all been working together to help the people of Longueuil.

I would like to thank the member opposite for his speech. I am very happy to hear that he did, in fact, test negative. I am happy to hear that and I hope he and his family are staying safe.

With that, we were here four weeks ago. In four short weeks, we went from sitting right in this chamber to dealing with a pandemic that has killed many across Canada and many in my home province of Quebec.

I ask the member what his view is in terms of our working collaboratively with our provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as municipal counterparts, because it is going to take all of us to beat this pandemic. I would like to ask the member's opinion in that regard.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her good wishes. I would also like to add my thanks to my constituents who have risen up heroically to help one another, in particular, my case worker J-P Mitton and my other staff members, Jeremy Liedtke, Lucille Pakalnis, Craig Hilimoniuk and Manjit Athwal, who are all working to serve our constituents in the beautiful Carleton riding on an urgent basis, with much goodwill, I should say, from the senior public servants. This includes the public servants at large and the many staff members in the minister's office. I thank them for that. There is much goodwill back and forth.

I think the member is absolutely right. Now is a time when we, as opposition, will continue to fulfill our role to hold the government to account, not because we bid them any ill will but because we want to drive them to the maximum possible excellence. That is the role of Her Majesty's opposition, to point out every flaw so that the government will strive every day to be flawless. Now is a time when we must be flawless and we must expect even more from our leaders.

We know that any leader capable of confronting a crisis like this will not be so fragile as to be incapable of receiving criticism and, therefore, that criticism is done in the spirit of Her Majesty's loyal opposition. Our opposition, by its nature, is loyal. That is how our system is designed and we will fulfill our role in that regard in every day and every way.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to take a moment to thank all my colleagues for being here to take part in this important debate. I can think of many places we would rather be spending this Easter weekend. However, what we are doing here is extremely important, and I want to thank all my colleagues for being here.

When I gave the response to the original COVID-19 fiscal response by the government on behalf of my caucus, I indicated that the largest gap in the government's response was supports for small and medium-sized businesses. I also commented that whatever the government did, it must be fast, responsive to the need and must act as a temporary bridge until we can get back to normal. As we do not know what time normal will occur, I will focus today on the necessity for the government to be both fast and responsive.

It may seem like a formality to pass this bill to enable the wage subsidy program, but we must never forget this place solely exists to serve those who elect us. Ottawa, our country's capital, exists to serve as the home to provide critically needed federal services to Canadians, but the one thing we must bear in mind is that every single one of these services delivered by faithful servants of our public service is 100% paid for by the private sector. Without a thriving private sector, there can be no viable and effective public one.

Many British Columbian municipalities right now, which, by law, must balance their budgets, are having to lay off significant numbers of city staff and are curtailing services because revenues are drying up.

That is why our efforts here today are so critical. Our private sector, our entrepreneurs, especially our small and medium-size business owners, are depending on us to get this right. Canadians who depend on those employers for their paycheques are depending on us to get this right. We must not forget the critical importance of this.

Is this bill part of the solution? Yes it is, but we cannot overlook that when this government first announced a wage subsidy, it was at 10%, which was entirely insufficient to address a crisis of this magnitude. We are here today to fix that mistake. I know some will say that was the past and we are focused on the future, but keep in mind that many employers were waiting for that program. When they heard 10%, they knew that would not work, and they made decisions accordingly. People were laid off. Some business owners made the decision right then and there to pull the pin. Fortunately, the Liberal government, and I will credit them for this part, went from saying it thought 10% was enough to changing its messaging to an admission that it knew it needed to do more.

This brings us to today. When the government announced that it would make further changes for business owners who could afford to wait, they waited. Then they heard the revised announcement, this time with a 75% wage subsidy.

However, there were problems. One was having to demonstrate a loss from this time one year ago. Some of you will ask if I read the bill, because that is what we are here to change. I raise this point because when people heard they would not meet the former threshold, they, once again, made decisions. More staff were let go, leases abandoned and doors were closed, probably many permanently.

This is what this government has to understand. Every time they get this wrong, decisions are made by the Canadian public. By the time this government goes from saying it thinks this is enough, to yes, it knows it must do more, that delay results in small businesses shutting down and people being laid off.

That is the reality, and this brings me to what is perhaps the most important thing missing from this bill. There are no provisions to ensure that this assistance, which is so urgently needed, can get out faster. That is the government's biggest failure. Time is running out, and there is nothing in the bill about that.

As one small business owner recently shared with me, one does not throw out the life jackets six weeks after the ship has sunk, yet that is precisely what we are told this bill will do.

For five hours on Thursday morning, the Prime Minister blamed the official opposition for the delay. The Prime Minister was worried about that five-hour delay when he felt he could blame it on the official opposition. What about the six weeks or more delay in getting benefits? Who carries responsibility for that? Over those six weeks, how many more businesses will fold? How many more Canadians will be laid off? How many landlords will have a tenant default? Let us not forget landlords are also part of this.

I really do not want to be partisan here, but as the official opposition, we have suggested ideas that will put assistance payments out to businesses faster. However, as is always the case from the finance minister and the Prime Minister, they say that they think they have done enough, until they admit that they know they must do more.

That is really where we are today. In this case, we cannot afford to have any more Canadian business fail, because we all know the CERB is a temporary program financed by borrowed money. Yes, the wage subsidy program is designed to combat that, but because it will take six weeks or more to deliver, we may as well have Jeff Probst as finance minister, because businesses are caught in a real-world version of Survivor. Those who least need the assistance because they have the resources to wait those six weeks or more will survive to get the assistance.

Some will say that there is a guaranteed business loan program to bridge the gap. For the small business across the street from my Summerland constituency office that deals with the Summerland & District Credit Union, the Summerland & District Credit Union, like many small credit unions, is not on the finance minister's list of approved lenders for this program.

Some might say to switch to the big bank. Aside from the blatant unfairness to small credit unions, there are those who have tried, and they were told that only business accounts that existed prior to March 1 were eligible for the program. This also excludes many sole proprietors who often do not use business banking accounts because they use a personal one, and those accounts, much like many small credit unions, are not eligible.

Let us come back to small businesses in Summerland. Many of these small businesses employ people and pay taxes to Ottawa. Today, Ottawa is bringing in a program that excludes them. It is not designed to help them. What I mean by that is that the government is aware that the Summerland Credit Union, like many other credit unions, is not on the approved list.

Are credit unions like the ones in Summerland and elsewhere in the country not important? I would say they are.

This brings me back to the six-week waiting period for the business subsidy program. We know that those six weeks will leave many businesses behind that cannot afford to wait and they will close. I do not believe there is a member of Parliament in this room who doubts that. In fact, I know they are all working incredibly hard right now and I am certain they have probably heard from business owners who have shared with them that they need the government's assistance right now.

Even if the bill is a necessary step forward, we must remember that it was just as necessary two weeks ago and it was rolled out last week. We cannot allow our private sector to fail.

Our future depends upon it.

Before I close, I would like to add one final comment. There will come a day when we look back at the days that are now before us. People will ask if we did everything we could as quickly as we possibly could have done it. I will leave that comment for this place to ponder.

While I support the legislation, I must again add that if we cannot find a way to provide support in a more timely way, as the official opposition has suggested various ways of doing, we will be failing many Canadian small business owners who are now most in need. We must not forget them. We must not fail them.

In closing, I want to thank all hon. members for listening to my comments today. I want to say a special thanks to all the staff who made this day possible. Canadian democracy is stronger today because of all their efforts. I thank them.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Lauzon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for his speech.

I would like to start by taking this opportunity to thank everyone on the front lines in Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation. They are working hard to serve the public.

My colleague opposite is well aware that the COVID-19 crisis did not come with an instruction manual. Our government implemented measures as quickly as possible.

My colleague opposite also knows that we have been collaborating fully with all members of Parliament via electronic means, Internet communications and mail.

My colleague opposite also knows that the measures we are taking today are important and that we are implementing them as quickly as possible. Talking to our small businesses and taking care of them was important two weeks ago, it is important today, and it will be important next month.

Can my colleague opposite tell me if he thinks we all worked collaboratively to make the decision before us today?

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate many of the things the member has said.

I want to start by thanking all of those in essential services in my riding who are on the front lines facing this fight against COVID-19. We appreciate them, as all leaders have said, and I want to add my voice to the member opposite's on that.

The member mentioned that there is no instruction booklet for this. However, in 2006, we did in fact have a report that outlined many of the issues that Canada would face as a country. We can argue about whether we should have prepared more, and I think we are going to have a lot of those debates moving forward, but I bet the Canadian public will want us to examine these questions more closely.

There is no instruction manual for the businesses that are having to make tough decisions, and they are making them regardless. I want to impress upon the government that many of the ministers here today are key decision-makers and must take action. We must realize that the support that Canadians needed three weeks ago will not suffice if we deliver it to them six months after. As I said, why throw out the life preservers when the ship has already sunk six weeks late? That is what I am concerned about, and I ask the government to move as quickly as possible.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, people certainly care about their municipal services. I am so grateful for the people who are working for the municipality in the city of London. They are doing an incredible job to make sure that necessary services continue to function, and I really want to thank them.

Unfortunately, the government is still not allowing municipalities to benefit from the wage subsidy. I would like to hear if the member supports extending the wage subsidy to municipalities.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will point out that the original legislation, Bill C-13, did not allow for that. Municipalities have it in their laws that they may not run a deficit, so it is unfortunate to see that in many cases they are making tough decisions. Those same tough decisions are being made by many small and medium-sized businesses right now, and not because of a law made by their provincial government but because of the law of economics.

There is zero cash flow coming in. Landlords are knocking on tenants' doors constantly asking when they are going to pay their rent. Employees are asking questions about whether or not they will have a job. Many small and medium-sized enterprises have said they will not be able to benefit from the Canada emergency bank account because they are below that threshold. It is extremely difficult for me as a member of Parliament to say, “I am sorry, but you have not been captured in this legislation.”

There are many who by design will not be captured in this legislation, and there will be many who will not be captured by accident. That is why it is so important that all members of Parliament convey their concerns, whether it be in this place, online or through written letters. I hope the Prime Minister and his cabinet are listening.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I should say that I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from La Prairie, or else I will end up with more time.

I am a little concerned that the subject we are discussing this morning has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves. I am also a little concerned that the Liberals think it is really nice of the Bloc to collaborate but may not really be listening to us. I have seen totally unsatisfactory statements in the media about foreign workers, statements that are not even close to satisfactory.

When I was younger, I worked on a farm for years. That is how I paid my tuition. It was a different time, of course, and things have changed a lot. One thing has not changed, though. If I put myself in quarantine, as a colleague has done, I would have my own room in my house, my own bathroom, kitchen, stove and refrigerator. I would find the two weeks long, but I would have all the facilities I need. If there are 2, 3, 5 or 12 foreign workers at a farm in Quebec, there will not be 12 bathrooms, 12 kitchens, 12 fridges and 12 closed rooms. It is not true that if people stay six feet away from each other, they will be fine. It is not that simple. We are going to have to take this much more seriously.

Before community spread started, officials had been saying for a long time that travel abroad was the highest risk factor. Again, we want to bring in these workers. They are very important to the economy of Quebec and Canada and to our regions. We want them to come.

It has already been confirmed that some 2,500 people, mainly from Guatemala and Mexico, will be coming to work in Quebec. I want to reiterate for the benefit of the media and my colleagues, and it could not be clearer: These individuals will not have been tested for COVID-19 before boarding the plane, and they will not be quarantined for 14 days.

When they disembark, they will not be tested for COVID-19, and they will not be quarantined for 14 days. An organization that is not under the direction of public health or the government will put them on a bus and take them to drop-off locations that are not likely to be equipped to do it properly. This is no small matter.

Saying that everything will be okay is fine when it comes to putting pictures of rainbows in windows, but we cannot just say that everything will be okay when bringing thousands of people to the province who should be better monitored, in their own best interests. I want to emphasize that.

Imagine the risk. According to various scenarios, 30% to 70% of people in a given area will contract COVID-19. Being a foreign worker or being in Quebec or Canada does not make one immune. There is a risk that there will be cases of the virus.

We have a duty to minimize the risk of having cases of infection. The science has shown that quarantining and screening will not ensure that there are no cases, but it will reduce the likelihood. Even quarantining and screening combined is not a guarantee, but it does provide an acceptable probability. At the very least, I am sure that nice slogans are no remedy and will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. It will take concrete measures and action.

Imagine if there were a case on a farm somewhere. A foreign worker tests positive and has been in relatively close contact with others. Then two or three cases appear. The media will seize on that, of course, and fear and concern will spread faster than the disease. Public opinion will not be kind to these workers because of the general concern. Farms will end up paying the price and will be adversely affected. If the Canadian government does not take action in the meantime, it will be told that it did not do its job.

In light of all the resources that are being deployed, is it not our duty to ask what resources are necessary to prevent a proverbial flaw in the system from destroying some of the results being obtained by public health efforts? More needs to be done. Fine words will not do. We remain available to attend a video conference meeting in the very short term and work out the measures.

I want to go back to another topic briefly. This morning, I said in good faith and in all sincerity that I believe the government can easily, and should, support jobs in the oil industry to get them back to the level they were at before the crisis. This oil is being sold. People are using it. For those who think we get our oil from the moon or from Saudi Arabia, let me point out that Quebec gets its oil from western Canada and the western United States. Furthermore, we pay for it. We are not getting it for free or even getting a deal. We believe that jobs should be restored to the same level as before, but that any new project or expansion of energy production should be based on renewable energy. We believe that a lot of money would eventually have had to be invested in the renewable energy sector. However, that money has gone out much faster, for other reasons. We should take advantage of this time to invest in renewable energy. I would fully understand if the bulk of this money was used to mitigate the economic situation in Alberta, western Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, which I realize are much harder hit than others.

Moving forward, we will have to plan to undertake an energy transition, particularly by supporting the regions of Canada that are hardest hit by this crisis, namely the oil-producing regions. I also think we should consider special programs to stimulate businesses across Quebec and Canada that are developing environmental technologies to offer alternatives to the existing system. There will be a huge global market for this, and it is the responsible thing to do. I could name 25. These are topics that we should continue to consider and debate, preferably in a virtual forum, in my opinion, only coming back here to vote.

There is something else we need to do, and it has not been talked about enough. I have not talked about it enough and I want to. Now is the time. We proposed a series of measures to help seniors, who are most vulnerable in this crisis, who suffer the most from the isolation and who may end up worst off financially at the end of this. We have already asked for increases to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement; improved access to high-speed Internet to combat isolation; lower drug prices; protections for pension plans at companies that are on the verge of crisis and risk being bought out by other companies that will not want to take on the pension plans; and full elimination of restrictions on individual retirement accounts. Right now, these plans are getting negative returns. I would ask that this series of measures be considered as soon as possible. Furthermore, these measures were developed in collaboration with the FADOQ and seniors' associations. Once again, we are making these suggestions in good faith. We hope that they will yield results, but there are still limits to our patience. We want quick, measurable and tangible results. That is what foreign workers, farms and seniors need right now.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Généreux Conservative Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my question by teasing the leader of the Bloc Québécois a little. Since he blocked all of my colleagues on Twitter, I am going to ask him a question here in the House. He cannot block me. I do not really use Twitter.

Just two days ago, he gave the government a blank cheque to do its work. Today, he is complaining that the government is not doing everything it should. Why did he so quickly announce on Twitter that the Liberal Party could move forward and that there were no problems when there were in fact still problems?

I agree with him. How is it that the government is still unable to test people who are entering Canada?

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I was young, children used to do the same thing in the school yard. It is rather uncouth.

I certainly did not block his colleague, Mr. Paul-Hus, because he just said on Twitter that he agrees with what I said about foreign workers. If the Conservatives get their act together and work together, everything will be fine. Obviously, there are a few Conservative members that I did not block, but give me time and I might block them too. They often deserve it.

That being said, I will say again that we are here for reasons other than trying to anticipate the date and results of the next election.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to remind members that they must refer to other members by their riding name or title and not by their name. I think the member was referring to the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.

The hon. member for Outremont.

COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, No. 2Government Orders

April 11th, 2020 / 4:40 p.m.

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking all the health care workers at the CHU Sainte-Justine, the Jewish General Hospital and St. Mary's Hospital in my riding. I thank them for their incredible work.

I also want to thank all my constituents. There are many people back home who are volunteering for charities. Two in particular come to mind, Astrid Arumae and Vanessa Reid in Outremont and Mile-End, who are organizing teams of volunteers on the ground.

I would also like to thank my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly and all my Bloc Québécois colleagues for their work and their very constructive suggestions these past few weeks. I have a very simple question for my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly.

Do you think the billions of dollars we are investing to support Canadians and Quebeckers through the Canada emergency response benefit and the wage subsidy is a good investment?

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Once again, before we hear the response, I would like to remind hon. members to direct their questions through the Speaker and to not address one another.

The hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had no idea what my esteemed colleague's riding is called.

In answer to the question, there will always be a way to do a little more, to do a little better. There will always be room for improvement.

This situation reveals a number of things. One of the first is that those who think the government is an unnecessary nuisance and that it has no business intervening in the economy will have to think again. Without a powerful response by the governments of industrialized nations, the global economy would have collapsed by now.

The government makes decisions about how to do things. Wage subsidies were already being implemented around the world. We talked about it with the Minister of Finance, and it was implemented here. There is always room for improvement, but I think we have come up with something excellent that just needs a little tweaking.

I have seen other proposals related to the Canada emergency response benefit. I saw the NDP's proposal to make it universal. That might be a good policy someday, but I think we need to take more urgent measures in a crisis. In many cases, we have to lower our expectations and focus less on perfection so we can get a consensus that works in the short term.

For right now, this is clearly a very good solution.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the situation is critical. Everyone here knows it. We are facing an unprecedented crisis. We are literally making history. People will be talking about this for years to come, 10, 20, 30 years down the road. Maybe I will not do it myself, but when this crisis is talked about in 30 years and explained to future generations, they will have a hard time believing that the streets of Montreal were deserted, that the movie theatres and restaurants were empty because everything was closed, and that we all stayed home, self-isolating. Everyone made their own daily sacrifice.

Quebec has 12,292 cases of COVID-19, that silent, invisible killer. So far, there have been 289 deaths in Quebec. That number is not just a statistic. It represents 289 people whose families are grieving. That is important.

The situation is critical, and I am going to prove it in a simple way. Back when I was elected on October 21, if someone had told me that in six months, the House of Commons would be voting on a bill providing for a one-time expenditure of $73 billion and that the House would support it unanimously, I would never have believed them. Even the Conservatives are supporting it. It is unbelievable. No one would ever have believed it could happen. This goes to show just how unusual the situation is.

This situation is critical. This is no time to be partisan. That would be easy. The government makes decisions, reconsiders, adjusts. It is constantly looking for solutions. We can criticize, we can be partisan, and we can play the political game, but this is not the time for that. This is a time for vigilant collaboration, as my leader would say.

We have collaborated from the start, but that does not mean we went along with whatever they said. We put ideas forward and defended them. We discovered that, when facing an extreme emergency, the government listened. Had anyone told me on October 21 that the Liberals would listen to me, I would have said no way, but sometimes, when we come up with a good idea, the Liberals themselves acknowledge it.

This is a time for teamwork. We all have constituents to serve in our ridings. We need to think of their well-being. I want to thank the amazing team at my riding office, who are there to help when people call. We all have amazing teams on the ground. I am pleased to say that, yes, we have solutions and we have worked together.

Is the Bloc Québécois responsible for coming up with certain ideas? Obviously, yes, sometimes that is the case. However, the most important thing is ensuring the well-being of the population. That is where we are at. Now is not the time for the one-track neo-liberal thinking that we often hear and that claims that less government is better. That is not where we are at. As my leader said, the government is not necessarily a hindrance to the economy. If there were no government, we would have even bigger problems than we have today. The government has its uses.

I heard my colleague, the opposition leader, talking about the deficit, which will total approximately $180 billion. When faced with such a deficit, we need to work hard to find some good news, but at least we can say that this is not chronic or ongoing spending. At least there is that. It is not as bad as a $30-billion deficit with ongoing spending.

This is therefore not the time to reject everything the government is doing. Now is the time to say that the government has an important role to play and that it can resolve many problems. Now is not the time to look for a scapegoat. We could say that the government did not manage our borders properly in the beginning. We could have gotten into all that and brought that up. We are past that point.

Now is the time for solidarity, and when I talk about solidarity, I always think of our seniors. They are in a difficult situation. They are the ones who are suffering the most from our current situation.

That is why when I say we need to keep working, I mean we must not stop with this bill; further improvements can be made. The Bloc Québécois has already made some very clear suggestions to help seniors specifically.

When we talk about collaboration, that is what we mean. We make suggestions and hope they will be picked up. We must help our seniors; we must support them.

It is rare for me to quote the Prime Minister, but I want to take this opportunity because he said something that I thought was pretty good. He said we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

Well done, Prime Minister. That is great, so now it is time to think of them and take care of them.

In addition, some might consider the issue of seasonal workers to be of secondary importance, but I certainly do not, and many of my colleagues share my concerns. Indeed, there are foreign workers in my riding.

Imagine: we are working hard, remaining isolated, making sacrifices to forgo certain activities and to stay away from each other. We are putting our everyday lives on hold. If, by some misfortune, some of these people who come here in good faith end up carrying the disease because their health was not checked and they infect people here, lives could be lost. More people will be in mourning. Think about it. It is serious. Some people might die because of some flaws in the government's response that we could correct immediately.

We are not looking for political gains. We are looking to act in solidarity, in furtherance of the common good and in service to the public. That is what we have to stand up for. In every one of our actions we have to think of the repercussions that could be catastrophic for some people and some families.

That is why the leader of the Bloc Québécois mentioned earlier that it is important that we sit down together and find solutions quickly so that the people coming to our region are coming because we need them to and without jeopardizing the health and safety of our own. Once again, we are appealing to the government.

In conclusion, yes, the Bloc Québécois will collaborate, but we will be vigilant. Much like I told my children that I was watching them, we are watching the government because it has a job to do. The government has a huge job ahead of it, and we are here to help, because the Bloc Québécois cares about the whole. The Bloc Québécois cares about public service, in addition to social conscience. What is good for Quebec in these tough times is certainly good for the Bloc Québécois.