House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was questions.

Topics

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, we have to keep two things in mind about the return of the House during this extraordinary environment of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need Parliament to fulfill its role, and we also need to follow the advice of our world-class public health officials. We need a plan that respects both. That is exactly what we have been doing. Reports from both the procedure and House affairs committee and the Speaker of the House of Commons are very clear that virtual Parliament works.

Canadians are finding new ways to adapt to this pandemic, and so should we. Parliamentarians should set an example for Canadians, as has been mentioned by my parliamentary colleague. We now have an action plan for the House that both increases parliamentary accountability and respects the advice that we have been given by our public health officials. I would urge my colleague opposite to follow that advice from our public health officials.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

May 25th, 2020 / 5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Denis Trudel Bloc Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague very much for naming all the measures that the government has put in place over the past two months. I believe that these are targeted measures. There is more work to be done. Seniors, children with disabilities and workers have been taken care of.

Over the past two months, the government has announced measures totalling between $250 billion and $300 billion. That is fine. As I mentioned earlier, 150,000 Quebec households were unable to pay their rent in April despite the CERB. In May, 10% of renters were unable to pay their rent. In Montreal, 15% were unable to pay their rent.

In a few days, the government managed to put together and enact a law that will send $73 billion to workers. That is fine. However, in the past three years, it has not managed to pay the $1.4 billion that would help Quebec with its housing crisis. In Quebec, 10 major cities have been asking for the government's help for years and telling it that they need the $1.4 billion now.

In Quebec, not-for-profit housing organizations, co-operatives, tenant associations, engineers and urban planners have been united during the pandemic in asking for the $1.4 billion needed to house the most vulnerable during this crisis.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, we want Quebeckers to receive their fair share of our historic investment in housing. We hope to enter into a bilateral agreement with the Government of Quebec and with the other provinces and territories. We made a commitment to enter into a bilateral agreement with Quebec based on the principles of partnership, collaboration, consensus and responsibility.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, four weeks ago it was agreed, and all the parties were told, that the government would implement without delay some financial help for people with disabilities. A lot of people with disabilities are suffering and they have limited income, just like our seniors, and their costs have gone up.

When is this financial help coming and why have they been left out?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I disagree with the hon. member. Canadians with disabilities have certainly not been left out. There is more to come, but we have already partially responded through the $350-million emergency community support fund to support vulnerable Canadians, and that certainly includes Canadians with disabilities.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in this debate. I am very pleased to speak here in Parliament and I am very pleased to speak during a so-called normal sitting of the House.

I wish to inform the House that I will have the pleasure of sharing my time with my colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis. He is a distinguished and honourable colleague who was once a cabinet minister.

We are meeting to debate this motion that seeks to determine whether we will continue as we are today or whether, starting tomorrow, we will use a new parliamentary hybrid approach where some members are here and others would be at home in their riding, taking part in the debates through the magic of the Internet. Those are the two options before us.

On this side, we believe we can do all this parliamentary work the way we are today, here in the House. Today, we had a debate, motions were moved, we heard presentations by members who had things to say on behalf of their constituents, what we in the business refer to as S.O. 31s. We also had debates on motions, heated debates, and that is exactly what the House is for. Every parliamentarian needs to be able to express points of view on which we agree and others on which we disagree. Such is democracy. Such is parliamentary business.

Today is proof that Parliament can indeed convene. The first version of the agreement was to bring in 31 out of 338 MPs. That was not a lot. It is barely one in 10. Take, for example, the Quebec National Assembly, where I had the honour to serve the people of Chauveau, who put their trust in my three times. I thank them. The National Assembly has 125 members and around 30 of them participate in the debates. That represents one in four members. The first version of the agreement presented here in the House of Commons was one in 10. I remind members that there are quite a few more than 31 of us here in the House. It is clear that more than 31 of us can be here, while complying with public health measures.

I remind members that contrary to what some, including the Prime Minister, have said, the Conservatives never wanted to bring all 338 MPs back to the House. That is not true. We always wanted to comply with social distancing measures.

Today was a normal day, and it works. There will be votes, and there will be debates. We are able to do it. It is unfortunate that others do not want to continue, because tomorrow we will learn about a new hybrid meeting format, in which there are members in the House and others participating virtually at home.

I remind members that the House of Commons in England did this experiment and concluded over the weekend that it may not have been a good idea. They have resumed a so-called traditional Parliament. We cannot deny that the House of Commons in London has historically served as a great inspiration for our sittings here in the House.

Let me remind members that in World War II when London was under fierce attack by the Nazis and being destroyed by the Luftwaffe, and when the House of Commons was attacked by those planes, the members stayed in the House of Commons. This is a clear demonstration for the House of Commons that, yes, if the English people were able to do that years ago, we can have our House of Commons here in Ottawa in 2020.

It is important to remember that, if there is a place that can inspire us, it is England. Despite the storm, the affronts and the attacks by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, the House of Commons continued to sit and Churchill could go to the House and give his great speeches that were so inspiring to the entire human race at that time.

We have already tried the online approach.

I want to heartily congratulate and sincerely thank all of the House of Commons staff who accomplished a fairly impressive technological feat in very little time, that of being able to hold a virtual House of Commons in 338 locations.

It is clear that the virtual House does not operate at exactly the same pace as a real parliamentary sitting in the House. Yesterday, in an interview with Radio-Canada and this morning with LCN, I said the same thing: There is nothing better than debating in the House and being face to face with one's opponent. There is nothing better than discussing, debating and talking directly to the person, asking the person a question and seeing that person's reaction. Talking to some type of computer using this or that program is not really the same thing. There is nothing better than a real parliamentary debate in person, and that is what we want.

Debates still have to produce results. When we have question period, I understand that it is question period and not answer period. However, it would be good to get answers when we ask questions.

In question period today, I asked two clear and simple questions of the government. One was what the deficit would be this year, and the government was not able to give a clear answer.

I have a lot of respect for the President of the Treasury Board, because the gentleman is my neighbour in Quebec City and I appreciate him a lot, but if the President of the Treasury Board cannot answer a clear question about what the deficit will be, then who can?

This could be a real economic tragedy for this country if we continue to spend without any control. The guy who is responsible for making sure that we control spending is the President of the Treasury Board and he was not able to answer this simple question.

On April 30, nearly a month ago now, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a document stating that Canada was heading for a deficit of $252 billion. That was true 25 days ago. Today, 25 days later, we are asking the same question again, because we know the government is spending a lot of money these days. However, the President of the Treasury Board has no idea what the answer is and is incapable of putting a number on the deficit.

It is great to be able to ask questions, and I can already hear the Liberals telling us later that we will be able to ask a lot more questions and get a lot more time. However, what matters is not the amount of time, but the quality of debate.

This is what the House of Commons is all about. We have different points of view, which is democracy and part of being a parliamentarian. This is why we have been elected.

We want to hold proper discussions and debates, but we obviously want to get answers.

We have another concern, and that is parliamentary committees. We know that the experiment was a success, that it works and that the parliamentary committees can meet virtually. That is good, but we would like to do more.

Ms. Levesque's killing in Quebec City was a tragedy that raised many questions about public safety, especially with regard to parole. As my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles so aptly stated in an interview this weekend, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security needs to meet to study this issue. Sadly, in the system that this government is presenting us with, we will not get that opportunity, and yet, this is something we need and want to do.

We also need to debate legislation. My colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis will have a chance to elaborate on that later on. It is not true that democracy can be done by decree or through an 11:15 a.m. press conference. It is not true that democracy can be shelved for so long. We need to have real debates here in the House.

Our most important duty is to be accountable, to ask the government questions and to have the government answer. The problem is not whether we agree or disagree, because that is democracy. However, we must go about it the right way.

This is why we want the government to at least review its proposal. If not, at least we can see that two weeks ago, a single hybrid sitting day in the House was proposed. After that, two days were proposed. Last Friday, four days were proposed. This is nevertheless a step in the right direction and is proof that we have done well in the past few days to get more time in the House.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, the government has had a great deal of discussion in terms of where we should be going in regards to ensuring there is a high sense of accountability. That has been a high priority for the Prime Minister from day one.

When we talk about the importance of this institution, we have to recognize the institution, do the right thing, and at the same time respect what the health experts are saying. I think it is virtually unanimous amongst the members of the House that we could not have 338 MPs here.

The best way to accommodate 338 MPs would be to have some sort of a hybrid system that would enable MPs who choose to engage through the Internet, if I can put it that way, to be afforded that opportunity, while others could come down here. There could be rotations. Who knows?

The bottom line is that we are seeing the institution continue with a high sense of accountability and transparency. In fact, because of the changes to the rules that we are looking at today, we would, for the first time, actually be sitting some days in July and August. This is a first for the House of Commons, at least, from what I understand, in recent history.

My colleague and friend across the way has been recognized with a Parliamentarians of the Year award. Would he acknowledge that there are some positive things in our suggestion, and there is a high sense of accountability and transparency with this government?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, the proof of why we would like to have the House sitting is that I enjoy being in front of my colleague from Winnipeg North.

I agree with a lot of things the member said, and I agree with the fact that a few months ago I did get the award, but I disagree with some other things. I agree with him that it would be impossible to have 338 people in the House. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has said that the Conservatives would like to have 338 people in the House. That is not true. We always have in mind a respect for health procedures, and we will respect them, but I can assure the member that I enjoy being in the House in July, August, December, January, or any time. I love that.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for his remarks, and I would like to revisit some of the questions that came up earlier today. I am sure that will come as no surprise to my esteemed colleague.

We asked questions about the Liberal Party's and especially the Conservative Party's use of the Canada emergency wage subsidy. My colleague can correct me if I am wrong, but unless I am mistaken, this year the Conservative Party has the most money in its coffers and therefore does not need the subsidy. The point of the subsidy is to make money available to businesses that need it.

Members have pointed out that our party wanted political parties to keep getting public funding. Of course we wanted to keep getting it; it is a cornerstone of democracy, not a so-called misuse of funds, contrary to what I believe is going on now.

Personally, I do not think political parties, the very institutions that adopted these measures, should be able to milk the subsidy to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

I would like my colleague to answer the question without dredging up 15-year-old scandals. We all know what happened, and those involved accepted responsibility. What is important is what is happening right now. How can you be okay with that?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge his election to the House of Commons. I appreciated his comments and the remarks he made.

On the LCN network this morning, I had to admit that I did not agree with my party's position. It was a decision made by the party, not the caucus. I have expressed my dissent publicly. I am quite happy to repeat that, but not without reminding everyone that the two frontrunners in the Conservative Party leadership race, the member for Durham and the hon. Peter MacKay, have also indicated that they did not agree with that position and they would pay back those amounts if they won the leadership. This matter is therefore settled, more or less, since it will be resolved at a later date.

I would like to clarify one other thing. This morning, I did indeed talk about scandals that have happened in the past. I mentioned the former general director of the Bloc Québécois, and I want to point out that the the Board of Internal Economy found that public funds had been used inappropriately but not illegally.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his excellent argument in favour of this important institution that is our Parliament, where we have the privilege of sitting. It is not for nothing that he won the orator of the year award in 2018. He is the first francophone to earn that title. There is another title that he must certainly be proud of right now, that of grandfather. I congratulate the hon. member on becoming a grandfather.

My colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent mentioned that Parliament is one of the pillars of the House of Commons. Today, we are debating a motion moved by the government proposing a committee that would hold a question period four times a week. I would say that is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. A committee of the whole is just one of the tools of Parliament. The role of Parliament is fundamental to our democracy. As everyone knows, there are three pillars to our democracy, the executive, or the government, the legislative, or the House, and the judiciary. A democracy works when there is a balance of power, or checks and balances.

To date, Parliament has not been sitting for an obvious reason, and that is the pandemic. We are now in the process of “reopening” and activities are resuming gradually. The role of Parliament is legislative. It must review the legislation that the government proposes to implement. As the official opposition, we decided to let the government act more quickly during this crisis. The downside is that acting quickly and doing things well sometimes do not go hand in hand. We are doing our best. We appreciate it because we realize that Canadians are going through some very demanding times. That is why we have worked together with the government and we will continue to do so.

As my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent mentioned, people must be reminded of one thing. When the Prime Minister comes down the stairs and makes announcements worth billions of dollars, it is not his money. It is Canadians' money. Unfortunately, we know that this is borrowed money. That is one more reason to ensure that the money that is raining down on us is invested wisely and will help us support the economy during the pandemic and ensure its recovery.

In our opinion, that is the reason why it is important that Parliament fully assume its role. We are showing that we can do it with a small group of parliamentarians while respecting public health guidelines. Obviously, the Liberals enjoy trying to get us to say that we want us all to be crammed in here like sardines, one right next to the other. That is not necessary. We can be flexible when it comes time to sit, because we believe that Parliament is an essential service, particularly during a pandemic and particularly at a time when the government has thrown open the floodgates.

Sometimes, the way in which the government opens the floodgates has negative effects. That is precisely when it is important that the opposition play its role. Today, I would like to give a concrete example of the government putting the cart before the horse, as the saying goes. I am talking about the Canada emergency student benefit. We are aware that we need to help all Canadians. I will talk about a reality in my riding, which goes from Lévis, near the river, to Bellechasse and all the way to Etchemins. I would venture to say that, before the pandemic, my riding was at full employment. Of course, the unemployment rate has gone up, but we need people. There is a shortage of workers in my area of the country. In fact, businesses are currently hiring workers.

The government is supporting our economy by maintaining the employer-employee relationship. That is fundamental. Of course, summer is around the corner. That is the season when young people are looking for a job. I am sure that every member in the House knows young people who have found a job, are looking for a job or have already started working. I have had a young university student working in my riding office for two weeks.

This Université Laval student is doing a great job, and her work is related to her field of study. She is gaining experience while lending us a hand.

As my colleagues all know, the pandemic is creating a lot of work for our riding offices, what with workers not receiving their EI benefits, companies seeking to apply for various measures and families wanting to know how we can help them out. Naturally, there are also all the usual situations that individuals such as immigrant workers and foreign workers may be going through. Since we have a lot of work on our hands, we are happy to have this student's help.

This brings me back to what I was saying. Why did the government put the cart before the horse?

The first thing we can offer a student is a job. The first assistance the government should offer is support for hiring students. There are plenty of companies in Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis that are interested in hiring students.

Day camps are one example. We know that public health guidelines mean day camps will have to hire more counsellors. We also know they will have to implement special measures to clean equipment. They will have to adapt their practices, and they will need much more space. They will need more counsellors, more space, and more young people to clean and disinfect equipment. They will need more staff. There will not necessarily be more children. In fact, ratios will go down as costs go up.

Day camps need a helping hand. They need a government program that has been around for years. They need Canada summer jobs, a fantastic program that works well.

In my riding this year, we can barely handle half the applications. We have received almost 300 applications, but our budget will cover only 150. Unfortunately, the government was in a hurry to broaden certain criteria and, as a result, we are able to support fewer positions.

There is a pandemic. Our businesses need staff. The government has a program that can help businesses hire young people. However, rather than invest more money in a program that puts our young people to work, the government changed the program in such a way that fewer of them can work. That is a problem.

Some young people did apply. At this very moment, businesses are waiting to find out whether they will get any federal funds. At the same time, the federal government also brought in the Canada emergency student benefit. This sends a message to young people that, if they do not find work, there is a tool that can bail them out. Young people are not applying because jobs are not yet available and because they are getting the Canada emergency student benefit.

Instead of introducing incentives to encourage our young people to work, the government brings in a program that does the opposite. This will be a significant factor in our economic recovery and it will be very important to how we do now, in the summer. After enduring these really tough few months, businesses need some help, because customers might not be so quick to return once things open up. This new reality is also leading to additional expenses.

The role of the opposition and of Parliament is to make sure the government does things properly and in the right order. In this case, I think more money needs to be invested in the Canada summer jobs program.

Where can a parliamentarian engage with another parliamentarian? Where can he have the public's attention to raise awareness about these issues instead of having an individual come down some stairs to hand out billions of dollars without any real sense of how it will be used?

That is the role of Parliament. That is why we are asking that Parliament be restored to its full capacity to the extent that public health rules allow. We want Parliament to play its role in the interest of Canadians and the government, since we are here to improve its policies.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, members of the opposition actually worked with the government to ultimately come up with what we believe is a good package. At the end of the day, members of Parliament from all sides will be able to be engaged in a hybrid model that will allow us to have adequate numbers here while respecting physical distancing and enable MPs to stay in their communities where they can continue to serve other constituents.

Would my colleague not agree that, given today's pandemic and the things happening in our communities, it is the best way to go? One of the issues that is being suggested is that we look at ways in which we could also incorporate electronic voting as an option.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, the member has actually described, quite appropriately, the work of Parliament.

This is exactly what we are seeking. Unfortunately, in the Liberal motion, they limit this whole array of activities to committees only, which have no power whereby we could properly try apply our influence, as any citizens, because we do not have the tools. The perfect tool is Parliament, so why do we not to use the full extent the tool that has been working for centuries, Parliament?

Restore Parliament in all its capacity.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

I was also concerned about the issue of day camps. I totally agree with my colleague on the fact that the government should invest more in the Canada summer jobs program.

There is another solution: make the Canada emergency wage subsidy more flexible. Day camps are often non-profits. For many reasons they are not eligible for the different programs the government has put in place. For example, the 30% payroll and seasonal work of the counsellors do not necessarily meet the criteria.

Does my colleague agree that the government should also make this emergency program more flexible to allow day camps to run this summer and allow parents to send their children there so they can return to work?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

During my speech, I mentioned that Parliament is an essential service. Similarly, day camps are an essential service in Canada this summer. They make it possible for parents to return to their professional activities.

My colleague has submitted an interesting proposal. I am certain that had we had the benefit of Parliament's efforts over the past two months, we would have been able, as she just highlighted, to improve programs and change measures implemented by the government to achieve even better results.

I would say to my colleague that that is the reason why, in the context of the motion, we are quite open to proposals such as hers. We are open to debating them in Parliament rather than in the strict confines of a plenary committee because it would allow us to make laws, change the criteria and, as we have been doing in the most efficient way possible over the course of recent months, ensure the effective use of the money injected by the government.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Madam Speaker, one item that has not been addressed here is private members' bills. This is all about Parliament. For a number of us, this is the most important thing that we have for our constituents, a private member's bill, and the current government has shut us down.

When we left on March 13, we had a number of first readings of private members' bills, including mine. It won the lottery at number seven, but now it cannot come forward. This is a committee of the whole; this is not democracy. The private member's bill is one of the most important privileges we have as members of Parliament, and it has been taken away by the Liberal government.

I wonder if the hon. member from Quebec would like to comment on that. A number of us who won the lottery have been shut out.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, we need those private members' bills. I am waiting to have a real debate in Parliament on a private member's bill that would impact farmers and business owners in my riding so that they would be able to transfer their own businesses to their kids without extra fees. That is an example of how a private member's bill can change Canadians' lives for the better, and for this we need Parliament.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-France Lalonde Liberal Orléans, ON

Madam Speaker, before I start, I would like to greet my colleagues and also mention that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Ottawa West—Nepean.

I am very pleased to join today's debate on the motion that sets out how Parliament will once again adapt to the unparalleled circumstances that we face with the COVID-19 pandemic. This motion will help ensure that the important work of parliamentary democracy is maintained and carried out in a way that is both responsible and safe.

I would like to use my time today to focus on three of the motions that we have previously adopted that progressively changed how Parliament would operate during the pandemic. The first was on March 13, the second on April 11 and the third on April 20. Looking at the steps these motions took will clearly demonstrate how today's motion marks a logical evolutionary step forward in restoring the daily activities of this place while still ensuring the safety of all of the people who make this place work, and demonstrating leadership to Canadians who have had to make sacrifices and adapt their lives as well.

On March 13, the final day of our regular sittings, all parties unanimously adopted a motion, based on significant discussions and negotiations, to adjourn the House until April 20. It was clear at that time that having 338 parliamentarians and their staff working in close proximity and travelling between Ottawa and their constituencies would be dangerous and irresponsible given what we knew about the disease, which was quickly spreading throughout the world. We were asking Canadians to stay home, to cancel their travel plans and to physically distance themselves from each another. We had to take a leadership role in demonstrating the serious dangers that COVID posed at a time when governments around the world were being faced with similar decisions.

Parliament agreed that our government should be laser focused on the task of getting help to Canadians who were facing job losses and changes to their way of life, as well as dealing with the psychological impact of social and physical distancing and isolation. The motion that we adopted when we adjourned the House also required that any recall of this place would have to be for the purposes of considering measures to address the economic impact of COVID-19 and the impact on the lives of Canadians. With that in mind, we all left and returned to support our constituents back in our ridings, hoping, albeit with a certain measure of uncertainty, that by the time Parliament was set to resume on April 20, we might be in a position to resume normal sittings.

We were able to use the processes put in place by this initial motion to recall Parliament twice during this period to urgently pass two COVID-19 emergency response acts, which provided important financial supports to Canadians in their time of need, including the creation of the Canada emergency response benefit, CERB. This was thanks to the co-operative and collegial support of all members of Parliament to be flexible and adjust the regular parliamentary rules as needed to allow this to happen.

The second motion I would like to focus on was adopted on April 11 as Parliament met to consider the second COVID-19 emergency response act, which brought the wage subsidy program into being. What I would like to highlight in that motion were the changes that were made with respect to committees.

Very importantly, the motion adopted that day allowed certain committees, including the Standing Committee on Health; the Standing Committee on Finance; the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates; the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities; and the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, to meet either by video conference or teleconference while the House was adjourned in order to receive evidence related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also enabled the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to undertake a study on how parliamentarians could fulfill their duties even when Parliament was adjourned. It is a report which I am sure many members have reviewed, and its was recently tabled.

The report raises important issues that we will need to consider as we move forward with alternative and virtual sittings of the House. Furthermore, we have added other committees to the list of active committees, allowing members yet another venue to gather information and raise issues with the government.

The motion we are discussing today would even further empower committees to continue their important work. We saw an incremental return to the some of the types of activities that normally took place in Parliament, using technology to allow ourselves to do so while continuing social and physical distancing guidelines. These early committee meetings provided an opportunity to test our meeting virtually, which helped us to learn how eventually this technology could be used to allow for virtual sittings of the House.

As we came closer to the date when Parliament was set to return, as prescribed by the motion on March 13, it became clear that we would not be able to safely return to full sittings. Instead, we would be able to make use of technology to help take small but safe steps toward to reopening Parliament.

This lead us to the third motion. On April 20, I returned to Parliament and after many hours of negotiation, a new motion was adopted by Parliament. This one recognized that there was a need for Parliament to return in some form to provide a regular forum for MPs to question the government, while still ensuring the safety of all members. A unique solution was put forward to adapt to the challenging global circumstances that we faced.

We agreed to a special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic, which would serve as a temporary replacement for what would normally have been daily question period. That committee would start meeting two days a week, beginning on April 28, with a virtual sitting on Tuesdays and an in-person sitting on Wednesdays, with a reduced agreed upon number of us in the chamber. The next week, as our Parliament became more comfortable with the technological requirements of holding virtual meetings, a third sitting began, being held virtually on Thursdays.

While not considered a regular sitting of Parliament, this committee provided more time for opposition parties to question the government than they would have had during regular sittings. While there have been some minor technical challenges, we have overcome many of them.

The motion not only reinforces all the work that has been done, but also brings us closer. When I reflect on today and all of us, we work in a safe manner. When I look at question period and the way the government has proposed it, I would certainly appreciate that all my colleagues would have equal opportunity to represent their ridings the same way we do. This is what we are proposing in the motion, to sit four days.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, it is wonderful to see you in the chair and back in Parliament today.

I am from southwestern Ontario. I have access to the Internet, which is wonderful. However, when I hold a staff meeting in my riding, and there are six of us, Cathy, who lives off Highway 73, 10 minutes south of the 401, cannot get Internet and we cannot use Zoom for our meetings. In many parts of Canada, this is not an option. When I am speaking to the member for Sarnia—Lambton, it could be in and out all the time. This past week when I was on the Internet, I missed most of Parliament because the Internet froze on a lot of people.

I look at the issues and the Status of Women is something I take with great pride. Through this pandemic, we are seeing increased abuse. We sent out $50,000, but we do not know exactly where it has gone. The human trafficking funding has been cut and is not going to be re-established until 2021. When the CERB program was established, it did not apply to GBA+, a mandatory program of the government. Therefore, I believe the problem applies to any of the COVID response plans.

When we know that women are having an totally awful experience through this pandemic, why is it okay that only some committees need to meet and not others? If our job is not important, why are we here five days a week? Should we only be here for one hour day? We have a lot to contribute. We all bring so much personal experience to contribute. Why can we not also provide the answers with our expertise and background?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-France Lalonde Liberal Orléans, ON

Madam Speaker, the member is asking a very important question, but at the same time, what we are proposing is a hybrid model, a place where parliamentarians will be able to sit in the comfort of their homes or in here. I would venture to say that each Canadian, as this unique situation occurred, had challenges with technology.

I realize that in certain parts of Canada and across Ontario that we do have challenges with the Internet. However, I would not want to be the member of Parliament who is far away and not able to come to the House and represent their constituents. I am privileged, as it takes me 20 minutes to drive here. However, I would like to think that the proposed motion by the government would allow every one of us, in a safe and measured way, to represent our constituents.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

She spoke a lot about the importance of debates and democracy. However, democracy also involves respecting motions that are passed in Parliament. This is the fourth time since the beginning of the crisis that I have been repeating the message about seniors, among others.

I also want to speak on behalf of businesses in my riding. During the summer, they would have students come help them. However, since the CERB does not include any incentives to work, which is what the government should do, the problem has not been fixed. The same goes for seniors. In the motion, the government committed to looking for a way to provide tangible assistance to seniors in the long term. Seniors are among the most disadvantaged during this crisis.

I would like to hear my colleague speak about the importance of keeping one's word and respecting motions passed in the House.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marie-France Lalonde Liberal Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raised some very good points.

I worked with seniors for 17 years. Their situation is unique. We have certainly provided assistance to the most vulnerable seniors. This population is most affected across Canada and has seen the most deaths. I want to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to the families of seniors who have died and to the families who were not able to attend funerals.

As for students, I have faith in them. Over the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of interacting with students in Orleans. I can say that every of them wants to find a job, but they are also looking to improve their chances of finding a job after school. I was a businesswoman and I can guarantee that Canadian students are looking for jobs.

Notice of Closure MotionBusiness of the House and its CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Honoré-Mercier Québec

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the consideration of Government Business No. 7 I wish to give notice that at the next sitting of the House I shall move, pursuant to Standing Order 57, that debate be not further adjourned.

Notice of Closure MotionBusiness of the House and its CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The House appreciates the notice.

Resuming debate.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.