Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to talk about the importance of this institution and why we are here and should continue to serve.
Before I do, I would like to send my heartfelt and sincere condolences to all the families and friends of the victims of the horrible tragedy that unfolded in Nova Scotia this past weekend. I, like my colleagues in this House, pray for the speedy recovery as well of the RCMP officer in hospital. A nation mourns with Nova Scotia. Every Nova Scotian is in our hearts at this moment.
Bringing important matters that happen in our own constituencies to the attention of all parliamentarians is one of our jobs while in Ottawa. Typically, when I rise in this place to speak about the village of Bobcaygeon and the amazing people who call it home, many Ontarians will know it as the home of Kawartha Dairy, or for its beautiful rivers, lakes, outdoor activities, cakes, cafés, restaurants and boutique shops.
Those living outside of Ontario will most likely recall Bobcaygeon from the Tragically Hip, who, in the year 2000, won a Juno for song of the year for their song named after that village. The song was about the stressful life of a Toronto police officer who found the job getting harder and often contemplated quitting, but it was the village of Bobcaygeon where that officer came to unwind, relax and put life into perspective.
Unfortunately, as we are all aware, many nursing homes throughout Canada have been affected by COVID-19. Sadly, today I mention Bobcaygeon as part of a growing list of nursing homes throughout Canada affected by the virus. We have all suffered terribly with the heartbreaking news coming out of the Pinecrest Nursing Home. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with the residents, the staff and their families as they cope with this tragedy. However, out of this darkest situation, there have been so many bright lights that demonstrate the kindness, generosity, compassion and sense of good that comes with living in a small community. The staff at Pinecrest, knowing the risks, were not deterred in their duty to care for the residents of that home. Their courage and self-sacrifice are an example to all parliamentarians, illustrating the importance for us to do our duty.
I say to the volunteers and the community of Bobcaygeon, where I actually grew up, that their strong spirit and resolve to help those in need is an example for all, including those who line the highway to honk in support of those inside Pinecrest, those who made signs to encourage those fighting and serving, and the musicians who decided to hold impromptu concerts, providing entertainment and reminding everybody that the members of this small community of about 3,000 people are behind them.
While the deaths surrounding Pinecrest are tragic, I am encouraged this week with news that one resident, 91-year-old Lorraine Button, has recovered from her positive COVID-19 diagnosis. She even took a lap around the facility to celebrate. There are many other stories of volunteers and service groups around my riding banding together to deliver groceries to those living in isolation, running errands and helping with minor repairs, especially for those who are elderly, and doing it in a safe manner.
There are a number of companies stepping up to retool their operations to meet a new demand for medical supplies and equipment. DVine Laboratories in Lindsay is producing hand sanitizer. Tekrider near Minden is now making personal protective equipment; it used to make snowmobile equipment. Rockwood Forest Nurseries in Cameron is working to increase its supply of locally grown food and then donating that food to the local food banks. These are just a small number of humbling examples to all parliamentarians in this place that this is the resolve we need to demonstrate here in Ottawa.
One of the things I could be doing as an MP, and I cannot think of a more important one, is representing my constituents in this place and advocating for the resources they need. I do not think we can ask front-line workers, health care professionals, grocery clerks and many other essential service providers to do what we members of Parliament are not prepared to do in this painful time.
Canada's Parliament has three functions: making laws, overseeing the government and, most important, representing the electorate. Parliament by its nature is an essential service. It was illustrated quite clearly by all parties on this side of the House in question period today that there are many more questions we, as opposition members, can ask the government. It was a great debate today; there is no doubt. However, meeting once in a while is not good enough. Canadians need accountability, particularly now with the government pushing billions and billions of dollars out the door, money that Canadians and small businesses are having a hard time accessing. I believe that frequent accountability sessions in Parliament would get better results for Canadians. We have repeatedly demonstrated how debate and discussion in the House of Commons improves government.
The lives and livelihoods of Canadians literally depend on the government getting its response to the pandemic right.
The history of Canada's democratic institution is based on the right of representatives to gather, discuss and debate. There is a litany of uprisings that underscore this very important and hard-fought right. Indeed, these rights were forged in rebellion and war through executions and acts of despotism. The evolution of our modern Parliament is long and storied. It heralds directly from the long tradition of having a body of people who would assist and advise the king on important matters and has moved to where we are today. It is there that Canada's modern government, Parliament, the higher courts of law, the Privy Council and cabinet find their origins.
Mr. Speaker, you might recall that just a few weeks ago, while Parliament was suspended, the government took it upon itself to write a whole host of new powers that would have circumvented the authority of the House of Commons if not for the opposition parties pushing back against it. If there was ever an instance of the circumvention of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot, that was it.
Canada's parliamentary democracy is modelled on the Westminster system created many years ago in England, much of it developed against the wishes of the ruling king and other monarchs. Over time, the power of Parliament increased considerably and ensured an unprecedented stability that included moving the monarch to more of a ceremonial role. More stability in turn helped ensure more effective management, organization and efficiency. The rise of Parliament proved especially important in the sense that it limited the repercussions of dynastic complications that had so often plunged England into civil war. Parliament still ran the country, even in the absence of suitable heirs to the throne, and its legitimacy as a decision-making body reduced the royal prerogatives of kings. An important liberty for Parliament was its freedom of speech, which I am actually practising right now and am not sure will extend to virtual sittings.
As I stated earlier, Parliament's role in the government is significant and has changed over the years. There has been a number of conflicts and even the creation of the Commonwealth, and look where we are now. However, as we have seen throughout history, pandemics have led to an expansion of the power of the state. When the black death spread across Europe in 1348, the authorities in Venice closed the city's port to vessels coming from plague-infested areas and forced all travellers into 30 days of isolation. That eventually became 40 days, hence the word “quarantine”. A couple of centuries later we had the plague in England, which allowed authorities to shut individuals in their houses for up to six weeks while the plague was active. In 1604, criticizing measures imposed by the government was made illegal.
There are countries right around the world where democratically elected opposition parties are being shut out of debate and governments are seizing unprecedented power. With a simple Google search, members can read articles about this very thing. People are scared. They are looking to their representatives to protect their hard-fought democratic rights, inherited over centuries of parliamentary traditions.
There is also precedent for a Parliament sitting through difficult times. Throughout the history of representative democracies, parliaments have continued to sit no matter what crisis confronted nations, whether war, natural disaster, social tragedy or economic upheaval.
At the peak of the Spanish influenza epidemic in 1920, the House of Representatives sat for 114 days and the Senate sat for 76. That is more for either chamber than during each of the last three years of World War I, from 1916 to 1918. During the Second World War, not only did the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which was being bombed, continue to sit, but the contest of parliamentary democracy remained vigorous.
It is at these times that the representation of the most vulnerable in our society is the most important. It is at these times that civil and industrial rights need to be protected. It is at these times that the governance of this country should be scrutinized and the accidental or intentional encroachment on civil liberties should be halted.
To quote some very famous words, if we do not know where we have been, we cannot know where we are going, so let us make no mistake: COVID-19 is serious and the Conservatives take it very seriously.
I look forward to questions.