Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks today by expressing my heartfelt condolences on behalf of my entire caucus and our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Constable Heidi Stevenson and all those who lost their lives in the senseless attack over the weekend in Nova Scotia. As more and more details come out as to the scale of the tragedy, I know it is weighing heavily upon all Canadians at this time, and all members of Parliament. To those members of Parliament from Nova Scotia, I would particularly like to convey, through them to their constituents, our solidarity with them. I know the whole country is grieving with them for their loss as well. We are also praying for a speedy recovery for the RCMP officer who was injured in the line of duty. Each one of the victims leaves behind heartbroken family, friends and a community reeling from such an unthinkable act.
I wish to extend my sincere condolences the family and friends of Constable Heidi Stevenson and all those who lost their lives in this senseless attack in Nova Scotia on the weekend. I also wish a speedy recovery to the RCMP officer who was injured in the line of duty. Every victim leaves behind a family, friends and a community torn apart by this outrageous act.
It is made all the more difficult because, in this time, comfort will have to be offered at a distance, but as we, as a nation, mourn with those who mourn, I hope that the affected families and communities know that right across Canada we hold them closely in our hearts.
These are difficult times. There has been far too much sadness and grief in our nation over the last month. Over 1,600 Canadians have now died from COVID-19, and more than 36,000 Canadians have fallen sick. Canadians' lives and livelihoods literally depend on the government getting the response to this pandemic right. Given what is at stake, Conservatives would like to see more than the one accountability session per week that the other parties appear to have agreed to.
We also believe that virtual accountability sessions should be designed in the all-party forum that is already working on this issue.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs held its first meeting last week, and it should be allowed to carry out the job it has been assigned. If the NDP and the Bloc have agreed with the Liberals to limit accountability, they will have to explain themselves to Canadians in the coming weeks.
Conservatives believe in oversight and accountability. Millions of Canadians are going to work every single day to help their neighbours get through this pandemic. Parliamentarians should be doing the same thing. Right here on Parliament Hill, construction workers are continuing to renovate Centre Block, a project that is expected to take at least 10 years. If they can safely renovate the building that houses our Parliament, then surely we can do our duty to uphold the bedrock of our democracy.
That is the issue: democracy. Canadians have the right to be represented by their government. Their concerns must be heard and their questions must be answered.
There have been so many questions raised throughout this pandemic, and Conservatives have been asking those questions. We have not always gotten answers, but we are going to continue to press for them. The need for these accountability sessions is made evident day after day.
Why can the Prime Minister not tell Canadians when new ventilators will arrive? It was in this chamber, on March 12, when I asked the Deputy Prime Minister what the government was doing to obtain new ventilators. She said at that time that the government was leading a national procurement strategy. Thirty days later, the Prime Minister, in this chamber, said that the first ventilators would be weeks away. That is unacceptable.
Why were millions of masks and protective equipment destroyed and not replaced? Why are government programs changing every single day? These are the kinds of questions that Canadians have, and they deserve answers from their government, because vulnerable Canadians do not have another month to wait around for help.
Canadians' lives and livelihoods literally depend on the government getting its response to this pandemic right.
The Prime Minister continues to warn that this process will be long and arduous, but so far that has not just meant dealing with this pandemic but also the decision-making process. We owe it to Canadians to work our absolute hardest to get this right.
Since this crisis first began to take shape, it has been the opposition that has often been leading the way on the useful, practical actions that have been taken to protect Canadians. We called for tighter restrictions on travel and at the border. We called for the wage subsidy to be raised from 10% to 75%. We called for seasonal workers and those with limited incomes to qualify for the emergency response benefit. The Prime Minister said that he wanted a team Canada approach, and we have given him one, putting forward constructive solutions every day to help Canadians affected by this crisis.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and his ministers have chosen to try to do this on their own, and the result is that virtually every day they are having to make changes to their policies. If we were working these policies out together, each side playing to its strength, every region of this country represented as it is supposed to be, the government would get things right the first time around more often.
The Conservative caucus is determined to do the job we were elected to do: represent the voices of Canadians from coast to coast to keep Canadians as healthy and safe as possible. We are here because we know that Canadians are depending on us, and in this Conservative caucus we will not stop working.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said that the government continues to reach out a hand of co-operation. I assure him that the same is true for the opposition.
The government House leader said that this is not about partisanship. I will remind him that it was his leader, his Prime Minister, who yesterday told something to Canadians that he knew was not true. He said that today there would be 338 MPs. I invite members to look around. We have done exactly what we told Canadians we would do: We would be here in a responsible manner, respecting public health guidelines while still representing Canadians.
For the Prime Minister to try to conjure up fears when he knew that was never going to be the case not only was disingenuous, but it undermines his credibility. At a time when Canadians are looking to him to be open and forthright, when he does things like that it shakes the confidence that Canadians have that he is being truthful on other matters. It was a shameful example of partisanship yesterday.
I have heard so many comments from members that, to me, indicate they are allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. It is clear that there are going to be challenges for in-person sittings. We could have spent the last two weeks talking about how best to deal with that, how best to limit the impact in the House of Commons and how best to ensure that representations from each caucus would be allowed to participate.
The default position is for Parliament to sit, and it is incumbent upon the government to explain why it should not in a time of crisis. We have already seen examples of the government using this crisis to its advantage. Do members remember the first time we were called here? I know the hon. House leader does, because we were both here until very early in the morning. When we were told to come to Ottawa to pass legislation to help get benefits into the hands of Canadians, the current government wrote itself massive new powers, giving itself broad powers, ignoring the role of Parliament in terms of taxation and spending. It was because Conservatives refused to go along with that that we were able to protect our democratic institutions.
The second time we came here, we were given a bill and we were told that it had to be passed by the end of the day on that Saturday. We rolled up our sleeves.
Other parties such as the Bloc Québécois gave the government carte blanche by stating that they would support the bill. However, our team did its job last weak. We identified weaknesses in the government's bill and our efforts improved it. Although the other parties do not want to do their job, we are ready to do the work that Canadians have asked us to do.
On behalf of the millions of Canadians whom we represent here, I move:
That the motion be amended, in paragraph (h),
(a) by replacing subparagraphs (iv) and (v) with the following: “(iv) during the period the House stands adjourned pursuant to this order, the committee shall meet in the chamber at noon every Tuesday and Wednesday, provided that the committee shall not meet on a day referred to in Standing Order 28(1),”;
(b) by deleting, in subparagraph (x), the words “or a Thursday”;
(c) by deleting, in subparagraph (xi), the words “and Thursdays”; and
(d) by replacing subparagraph (xviii) with the following: “(xviii) following the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs pursuant to its order of reference of Saturday, April 11, 2020, if that committee recommends the implementation of virtual sittings and if the Clerk of the House indicates that they are technologically feasible, the House leaders of all four recognized parties may indicate to the Speaker that there is an agreement among the parties to hold one additional meeting of the committee each week by videoconference, notwithstanding subparagraph (iv), with members participating by videoconference, and the Speaker shall give effect to that agreement;”.