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.


Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, there are all kinds of things we want to discuss, but it always gets put off until the following week. Now we will likely be told that there are only four sitting weeks left in this reduced format with 15-minute periods of three five-minute questions for the Bloc Québécois people, provided others take an interest in the interests of Quebec.

We cannot get to all the things we want to talk about because something unforeseen happens every time, a negotiation on this or that, which means we can only ask questions on those negotiations. This creates an odd situation where the political parties realize that they cannot not denounce the situation and are forced to use their speaking time to denounce something that is simply unacceptable. For example, if people are interested in balancing the budget, I imagine they are already planning to pay back the money they got through a program to which they should not be entitled.

We have to quickly come back to our seniors, the survival of small businesses, protecting SMEs in Quebec and transitioning the Canadian economy from a dangerous oil-focused model to a much greener and more sustainable model. That is what we are concerned about.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the honour to take part in this debate.

I want to thank members for the opportunity to share my thoughts in this debate.

Throughout this pandemic we have been able to use the tools of Parliament to push for better for Canadians. In the negotiations about how we move forward, that should be our goal. For New Democrats, it is very clear: We are strictly focused on using the House to the benefit of people.

We have been able to fight for certain improvements that have helped the lives of Canadians. We fight to improve access to the CERB, to broaden its scope to include students who were ignored by the Liberal government, to include seniors who were also entirely neglected and to fight for commitments for Canadians living with disabilities. We were able to raise the amount of support from $1,000 to $2,000 and were able to fight for an increase in the wage subsidy from 10% to 75%.

All of these specific fights were to improve the lives of Canadians and to make sure Canadians were connected to their employment, to make sure Canadians were receiving the help they needed and to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks. Sadly, there are still far too many people falling through cracks, and that is why we need to continue to use Parliament as a tool to push for better for Canadians.

When it comes to the way we come together in Parliament, we have laid out a number of criteria. First and foremost, we want to make sure that all members of Parliament have their voices heard. Because they are representing thousands of constituents, we want those concerns and those voices heard here in Parliament. To do that, we want to make sure that Parliament is accessible to those members of Parliament who cannot travel here, to those members of Parliament who may be more susceptible or more vulnerable to COVID-19, and we want to make sure that the MPs who are challenged right now with child care, like so many Canadians, also have access to Parliament.

Millions of Canadians are using technology to work from home.

To take care of their children and their health, MPs can do the same thing. It is also important that we do not go three weeks without holding the government to account.

The other parties' approach, particularly the Conservative Party's motion, did not allow for MPs to participate virtually, nor did it allow for summer sittings to hold the government to account. That is why we believe that the motion put forward with the work of our House leader—a big shout-out to our House leader—and our entire team is one which would allow us to continue to fight for Canadians.

What are we fighting for? Today we made it very clear that our support for the motion is contingent on two very specific things. First and foremost, we will only support the motion if the government, the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party commit clearly to paid sick days for all Canadians. We are happy and encouraged to see that the government has announced it will follow through with our request to see a minimum of two weeks' paid sick leave for all Canadians.

We know this is vitally important, and we have raised this before. For people to get back to work they need three things. They need to know their workplace is safe, and we are going to continue to push to make sure all workplaces are safe. They also need personal protective equipment, and they need workplace practices that will keep workers safe.

Second, we know people have to have access to paid sick leave. No workers should be worried if they start to feel sick or have symptoms of COVID-19. If they are worried whether they have the illness or not, they should not for a moment hesitate about whether they should able to stay home or not. Right now, if people do not have paid sick leave, it is really a stark choice. Do they go to work sick, not knowing if they have COVID-19 but having some symptoms, and risk the potential to infect colleagues, or do they stay at home, not knowing if they will be able to pay the bills at the end of the month because they do not have paid sick leave? That choice should not be a choice Canadians have to make.

We also know that the lack of paid sick leave will particularly impact lower-wage workers, those who are precariously employed and those who are already the most vulnerable, for example, those in the service sector. These folks on the front lines are often the highest risk for spreading the illness. This is not just the right thing to do for justice and fairness for workers, but it is also the right thing to do in a public health response.

Imagine a restaurant server who has been off work for months and, now that restaurants are opening up, goes back to work and has mild symptoms. This server is forced to decide between staying at home because of mild symptoms to wait for testing, all the while not getting paid, not receiving tips and not earning a living to pay the bills, and covering up or ignoring the symptoms and going into work.

This is not to suggest in any way that a worker would do the wrong thing, but it is an impossible choice to make for a worker. That is why paid sick leave is so important and why we have been pushing for this for so long. This is why we have said that as a starting point to getting back to work, we need paid sick leave.

In order to recover and get back to work safely, people need to be encouraged to stay home when they are sick and to get tested. The lack of paid sick leave runs counter to this public health advisory.

We have laid out several ways with really clear paths for the federal government to do this. We are looking forward to hearing the details now that the Prime Minister has announced his commitment to paid sick leave. We want to see the ways in which this is going to happen.

I will lay out some of the potential options. We can make paid sick leave a condition of companies receiving the wage subsidy. This is a way to force them to ensure there is paid sick leave. We can also, and we must, work with provinces, starting with B.C. Premier John Horgan has been very clear in his support of this idea.

We can work on a federal-provincial plan to ensure there are supports that would allow for paid sick leave. We will continue to work with premiers in other provinces and territories to ensure that this is something we implement across Canada. We know that in a pandemic paid sick leave is the responsible thing to do, and I am confident that all leaders of provinces and territories will come onside with the idea of developing a long-term plan.

In the short term, the federal government has tools, such as the CERB, or using a modified version of employment insurance. There are ways we can ensure this is implemented immediately with federal support. However, the long-term goal, and the vision of New Democrats, is that today we lay the foundation for paid sick leave as a right across this country now and forever. That is the vision, and we are proud that we were able to take that first bold step towards a new national social program that is going to change the way we work.

No longer should it be a mark of courage to go into work sick. In fact, it should be the responsible thing for people to stay home when they are sick, and they can only do that when given the supports to do so.

We can also show some international and national leadership by amending the Canada Labour Code to provide, in legislation, two paid weeks of sick leave at the federal level as a piece of legislation, which would specifically apply to those workers who have a high rate of public exposure and public interaction, such as those who work in transportation, airlines and banks.

I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that we have used Parliament to push the government to do better for people. That meant that we followed up to ensure it actually delivered on its commitments. We had the commitment that students should not be excluded from supports, and the government followed up with the CESB after we had to push it, which is very important. The commitment alone has not been enough. We have had to continue to apply pressure. Other community activists and organizers have applied pressure, and we got the results.

However, we know that there are still a number of Canadians who are falling through the cracks. One group in particular is Canadians living with disabilities. The government committed weeks ago, in supporting the unanimous consent motion that we put forward, to help out Canadians living with disabilities. They are facing extra costs right now, and they are already faced with challenges because of a society that is not barrier-free.

In addition, the complications and challenges of COVID-19 have made life harder for Canadians with disabilities, so they need support as well. We are committed to ensuring the government follows through on its promise to deliver that help. We are hopeful that help will come soon for Canadians living with disabilities.

While we have been going through this crisis we have talked about its various stages and phases. The first is the immediate emergency of making sure that we tackle the spread of COVID-19. We have to do everything we can to limit its spread by physically distancing and following the advice of public health experts.

As we return to work, I again want to reiterate that we need paid sick leave so that workers can go to work and, if they do ever exhibit any symptoms, they can be confident that they can return home, stay at home and still have their bills paid while they are recovering or getting tested.

Child care has become more and more of a major issue and a major area of concern. While Canadians are faced with different jurisdictions in terms of the return to school, parents are struggling with child care. They are trying to figure out how they can go to work and, at the same time, care for their children. We need to see commitments and investments at the federal level to support child care.

Finally, safety in the workplace is something that should be obvious, but is not. We are going to continue to put pressure on the government to ensure that all workplaces are safe, have access to the right personal protective equipment and have policies to ensure that workers are safe. The truth is that these three things are not in place yet. We heard a positive announcement today by the Prime Minister, but it is not enough. We need to see action as well. We are hopeful, though, that that action will be coming.

We also know that to respond to COVID-19 we need to see far more testing and more contact tracing. These are things that other jurisdictions have done, that other countries have done, and we need to increase what we are doing here in Canada.

I want to just take a moment to talk about the sacrifices Canadians have made. Over these past few months the sacrifices have been tremendous. People have lost their jobs and people have lost loved ones.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge those who have been lost in this crisis and commit to those loved ones and their families that we are going to do everything possible to prevent those losses from ever happening again, particularly in long-term care. We know that long-term care has been ground zero for the losses from COVID-19. It is just inexcusable that seniors, those who are most vulnerable, are the ones who are bearing the brunt of COVID-19.

We know that, in addition to many people losing their jobs, many people have lost their businesses, businesses they have built over a lifetime. We acknowledge that, and we want to find ways to support those who are going through this difficult time.

Too many people have lost loved ones without being able to hug them or hold their hands one last time. These sacrifices will be in vain if we do not become better prepared to stop the spread of this disease.

In looking at those who have been impacted and those who have been missed, one of the impacts of COVID-19 has been that municipalities are facing a massive blow to their revenue. That means that many cities are facing a funding shortfall. This funding shortfall will exhibit itself in two ways. The first is that workers are already losing their jobs in cities and municipalities. We are deeply concerned about that. In addition, the critical services municipalities provide, such as public transit, garbage pickup and water treatment, could be affected.

We have called on the federal government to provide some direct relief to cities. Our critic has also written direct letters to raise the question of how we can provide direct help to municipalities that are right now facing a very difficult challenge.

These are critical services that affect our daily lives. They transport people to work, keep our communities safe and offer recreational programs when life resumes.

The federal and provincial governments must support cities and municipalities now.

While many businesses have faced tough times, I want to point out that other businesses have enjoyed record profits, and some of these companies enjoying record profits are not even paying taxes in Canada. Here I think about Amazon, Netflix, Google and a number of others that have seen an increase in revenues, but we are not certain if they are even paying or contributing in Canada. In many cases, we know they are not.

Huge companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google are raking in huge profits and still do not pay their fair share of taxes. Netflix has gotten 16 million new subscribers since the beginning of the pandemic, but does not pay any taxes in Canada.

Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, is on the verge of becoming the world's first trillionaire. That is not a good thing, because it means our policies have failed. It is not clear whether his company pays taxes in Canada. On top of that, the government is making Amazon even richer by giving it a contract.

We have seen that in crises, it is working people, regular people, real Canadians, who bear the brunt of the crisis and that those at the very top do not bear the brunt and in fact find ways to profit in this crisis.

A recent poll shows overwhelming support in Canada for increasing taxes on the super wealthy, making sure that we have the revenue we need to help people recover.

I will close on this point. While we are talking about social programs, it is important to realize that there are those who are going to raise concerns about debt and deficits, and, of course, it is important for us to be fiscally responsible with where we spend money. However, in a crisis, if we do not invest in people, they are going to fall through the cracks and be worse off and the recovery is going to be more difficult. Those at the very top are going to find ways to make even greater profits, broadening the gap between the rich and the poor, making it even more difficult for others and making inequality even worse.

The right thing to do now is to invest in people, invest in programs that lift people up. Investing in and supporting social programs like health care and paid sick leave is the right thing to do. We also need to make sure that we are doing two things: one, that we are not giving money to public companies that cheat the system, such as those that use offshore tax havens and do not pay their fair share, and second, that we take a serious look at ensuring that those at the very top, the wealthiest companies, the wealthiest earners, those with the greatest fortunes, are paying their fair share. It is those at the very top who enjoy the loopholes and offshore tax havens that real people simply do not use, and we need to close down those offshore tax havens and loopholes to increase revenues and make sure that we tackle inequality in our society.

We have a terrible tragedy and crisis we are grappling with, but there is also an opportunity. If we make the right choices now, we can tackle inequality, lift people up and ensure that those at the very top pay their fair share, and we can build a brighter future.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I will continue referring to the Colocs to keep today's jovial mood going a little longer. What does the member for Burnaby South think of the Colocs' song entitled Tassez-vous de d'là? I am referring to the Canada emergency wage subsidy that a political party might turn to, as the Liberals and Conservatives seem inclined to do.

Does the member agree with the lyrics that “I have to go see my friend” and help myself, or does he believe that this money should go to small businesses and people who really need it rather than a political party that has to get its next election campaign ready?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. It is clear to me that the purpose of the Canada emergency wage subsidy is to help workers no matter where they work.

If a company, business or organization—even a political party—is experiencing difficulties and has fewer resources, that employer might cut the number of staff members. They will then have to turn to social programs like the Canadian emergency benefit.

We believe that it is better that people keep their jobs. That is why we support the Canada emergency wage subsidy to help workers, and that is why we support this approach.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


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, I appreciate the comments by the leader of the New Democratic Party. When we talk about the working person, the individual who is often in that lower-income spectrum, it is one of the reasons I think the CERB program is such a critically important program. Governments are there, whether at the national, provincial or municipal level, to support their citizens. In good part, I think we are seeing that being addressed.

I like what the member has been talking about with respect to the options for workers. What I want him comment further on is the idea that Ottawa itself cannot necessarily do it alone. It can show strong national leadership, but it is also going to become very important that we work with the provinces. He referred to the province of British Columbia.

Could he pick up on how important it is that Ottawa work with the provinces and territories when it comes to defending the rights of workers?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, we absolutely believe that we need to work with the provinces to have long-term paid sick leave.

Let me clarify. Right now, what I am suggesting to the federal government is that it use the existing tools, like the CERB and employment insurance, to immediately deliver paid sick leave to all Canadians. The long-term goal, as I have stated before, is to see today as the starting point for paid sick leave as a right in Canada, now and forever. To do that, let us work with the provinces to develop a long-term program. It is something we have already seen some interest in. Premier Horgan in B.C. has indicated his interest. We have seen other premiers in territories exhibit interest in the idea of paid sick leave. Let us build on that and start with an immediate paid sick leave commitment. The Prime Minister has already made that commitment and we are going to make sure that it is followed up on. Then let us work with all provinces to develop a program that is permanent and will always be there so that we never again face a situation where workers have to make the impossible choice of either going to work sick or staying home and not knowing if they can pay the bills.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member rises to provide a most compelling and comprehensive list of all of the inefficiencies and inequalities that have been revealed during COVID, if not discovered.

We heard recently that CEOs have been named to lead Canada back into the economic recovery. It appears that there is always a deal on the table for big corporations and Bay Street bankers.

What, in the hon. member's view, is the new deal for the people that would represent a compelling and more compassionate alternative for the future of Canada?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, it is really a focus on people. Everything we do, and everything New Democrats have done so far, is to focus on what people need. Right now we have to counter some of the fear-mongering from the right and Conservatives about debt and deficits and instead make real investments in a brighter future for people. That means investing in health care that is head to toe. That means making sure that people have access to medications. During the pandemic, we have seen people lose their jobs and benefits, which means that even more Canadians are going without the medications they need. We need to make sure that we are investing in the future and making investments in infrastructure that builds more livable cities, that reduces our emissions and creates jobs here in Canada. We need to make sure that the wealthiest pay their fair share. We need to build a brighter future.

While this is a difficult and terrible time in a lot of ways for many families, businesses and people, it is an opportunity for us to chart a course forward for a brighter future. That is what we are discussing when we talk about health care and social safety net investments and the different way of approaching an economy that will be long-lasting and sustainable. That is what we hope to do together. That is what we hope to build on. I am confident we can come together and do what is right for Canada and our future.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I must admit that I did not hear all of the speech given by the member for Burnaby South. I did hear him talk about day care, sick leave and municipalities. However, I did not hear anything about federal jurisdiction. What he talked about falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. He never talks about the possibility of opting out with full compensation. When he talks about these things, he is just paying lip service because he always adds that it would be in Quebec's best interests to participate.

Could the member for Burnaby South be clear? What falls under Quebec's jurisdiction is Quebec's responsibility, and what falls under Ottawa's jurisdiction is Ottawa's responsibility.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to begin by saying that, yes, the New Democrats support the right to opt out with full compensation.

However, during a pandemic, the job of MPs is not to follow every rule and to say that we cannot deal with an issue, because there is a pandemic, a crisis in which people are dying and seniors are facing major challenges. This is not the time to talk about and debate jurisdiction. It is the time to figure out how we can work together to build a brighter future. It is the time to talk about how we can work together to promote social justice and reduce inequality. That is exactly what I want to do. We can work together, but now is not the time to get caught up in discussions about jurisdiction. It is time to move forward to help people.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, one of the ways we get through crises is remembering what happened in other crises. Do members remember 2008? It was the biggest economic crisis in memory, and Stephen Harper's big plan was to force through a massive austerity budget that would have crushed so many Canadians.

It was a minority government, and they panicked. What did they do? They shut Parliament down. Therefore, when we hear the Conservatives whining that we are meeting four days a week, I remember when we were not allowed to meet at all, because Stephen Harper refused to meet.

Then he came back and he blew through $50 billion. How many tourist kiosks did we set up in Tony Clement's riding? There were no accountability mechanisms; they blew through money on gazebos, sunken boats and everything they could put into Muskoka.

We have come here and have just won the right to sick benefits for all Canadians. That is what we do in a crisis. We find ways to put people first, not the ideologies of the Conservative Party, not Muskoka sunken boats and the ShamWow scams they ran. We do not prorogue Parliament and stand and whine day after day that we are not being heard if we're not offering anything positive.

We came here to fight for workers. We came here to fight for health. We came here to fight for small business, and we will continue to do that in a minority Parliament.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague about the work he has done in actually showing some leadership in the House while having to go along with the knuckle-draggers.

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12:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The hon. member for Burnaby South.

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12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

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12:55 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Could the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay maybe rephrase the comment, please?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, sorry, I did not mean it as a metaphor. I meant it as a simile that if people act like they are knuckle-dragging, they are not being helpful, but I would not suggest that they are knuckle-draggers. I am very glad I was corrected on that.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Jagmeet Singh NDP Burnaby South, BC

Madam Speaker, we are very proud that in this Parliament, we have been doing everything we can to fight for people, and though I do acknowledge that the government has come along, it has taken a lot of pressure, a lot of pushing and a lot of fighting.

I want to highlight how important it is for us to have this opportunity to be in Parliament to continue to push the government to deliver better for Canadians. We pushed for the inclusion of more people in the CERB, such as students, those with disabilities and seniors, and we're going to fight for paid sick leave and more.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


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, there are many different resources that Canadians can check into to get updates and all sorts of incredible information. I always tell constituents and anyone who wants to know that it never hurts to get the applications that are there for smart phones as ways in which people can keep on top of the many changes that are taking place. I want to commend the individuals in the Government of Canada who are responsible for maintaining and putting that information on the web, and I want to thank them for the fantastic service they are providing to keep Canadians from coast to coast informed.

On that note, as of 11 o'clock this morning, 1,479,838 Canadians from all regions of our country have been tested. We can imagine the fear or concern of people that they might have the coronavirus, to such a degree that they felt it was important to get tested. Out of that, there are 85,103 total cases, and out of those there are 6,453 deaths. I would suggest that literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives have been saved to date. They have been saved because of Canadians as a whole and because of the actions of the national government, the provincial governments, the municipal governments, and the many different stakeholders, including non-profit organizations and so forth, recognizing exactly what COVID-19 is and the dangers it poses to our society. As a direct result of that, we have saved tens of thousands of lives and taken a great deal of pressure off our health care system as we try to make the changes that are necessary in order to be able to provide the quality health care services that are absolutely essential in order for us, again, to save lives.

Let there be no doubt whatsoever that we as a government, working with the many different stakeholders, are doing the very best we can, day in and day out, to minimize the negative impacts of the coronavirus or COVID-19, whatever one prefers to call it. We have seen profound impacts in all regions of the country. When taking a walk in different communities, urban and rural, one can see individuals wearing masks, continually washing their hands, knowing what to do if they need to cough, and knowing what type of symptoms require making a call. In the province of Manitoba, we call it Health Links; no doubt other provinces call it different things.

There has been an educational curve upward on this particular issue. I would challenge anyone to demonstrate where we have seen such a stark increase in the uptake of education on a specific issue. As a result of people from across our country listening to health care experts and following, for the most part, the requests from the different levels of government and agencies, we have been able to minimize this and be as successful as we have been. When I say “we”, I mean collectively, in the whole sense, not just the Government of Canada. We all have a very important role to play, each and every one of us.

As members of Parliament, we need to play a leading role. Who they are and the type of position they hold will often dictate the type of role people need to play. Canadians, in good part, have been very pleased with how the national government has responded to this epidemic.

The Prime Minister, with a very caring heart, has clearly demonstrated that he wants to see the national government do everything it possibly can to save lives and to condition our communities in the best way it can in order to fight this pandemic. We have initiated programs, virtually from ground zero, to the degree that we are now subsidizing a wide spectrum of people and organizations, both private and non-profit. We are talking about hundreds of millions, going into billions, of dollars that have been allocated in order to ensure that we continue to support Canadians in ever possible way imaginable.

We talk about the 100%. I know it is important to the cabinet, to the Prime Minister and, I would suggest, to all members of the House that we not leave people behind. Unfortunately, we do not necessarily live in a perfect world, and we might not be able to achieve 100%, but that is our goal. If governments were not prepared to get engaged, one can only imagine what the outcome of this would have been. Hundreds of thousands of people would have died, businesses throughout the country would have gone bankrupt and the economy would have broken. I cannot imagine what it would have taken to get us out of that situation, which is why the government had to get engaged. I am very proud of the way members of the House, particularly our Prime Minister, have led the country to make sure that we are covering all the bases we possibly can. It is hard to imagine the many thousands of policy decisions that are being made in a relatively short period of time.

I always like to say to the constituents I represent that, as a parliamentarian, I believe in our democratic institutions. I do not think that, even in pandemics, we should forgo the issue of accountability and the important role of the House of Commons. I am very happy that we have a Prime Minister who believes in this institution. This is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister, leaders of opposition parties and members of the House have been fairly clear in wanting to ensure that the House has some level of interaction, some level of accountability, and we have seen that in a very real and tangible way. In fact, more questions are being asked now than when we were actually sitting, in terms of question period versus a virtual Parliament.

I take this issue seriously. I stood up on my first question since getting back, which was related to the motion we are debating today, whether or not the House should be sitting and in what format. I have been a parliamentarian for nearly 30 years now. I actually have more experience in opposition, by far, than I do on the government benches. I understand the important role that opposition members, and in fact all members, have inside the House in terms of holding government accountable. I really and truly do not believe that we have lost focus on that issue, which is why we have a motion today that would ensure ongoing sittings and accountability in regard to the government. However, as a parliamentarian, I would argue that our first responsibility is to serve and be there for the constituents we represent.

I know the types of questions we get, whether by email or phone calls. I am learning more about Zoom and Skype and using my telephone more than usual in communicating with constituents, trying to answer questions and, in many ways, trying the best I can to help them in this very trying situation.

Within the Liberal caucus, we have a priority for members of Parliament to work with their constituents and be there in whatever way they can to get a good understanding of what is happening in our communities. We are afforded the opportunity to communicate those messages, as opposition members are, about issues related to COVID-19 and ideas we might have that would assist Canadians overall. I am very happy with individuals like our deputy whip, who, several days every week, is fielding questions that members of our caucus have in regard to COVID-19 and constantly asking us what is happening at the ground level.

We have members of Parliament who are in tune with their constituents so that we know what we should feed back to the government to try to change policies where we can. With the amount of change we have seen in a relatively short time span and the billions of dollars being spent, we all have an important role. Not only have government members been able to influence and make successful changes to policy, but we have seen members of the opposition do likewise.

The leader of the Bloc party brought up how important it is that people have trust and confidence in their leaders, whether they are members of Parliament, members of provincial legislative assemblies, city councillors, community leaders or premiers. I want to focus attention on the Prime Minister, because I have heard a little bit of negative feedback from the opposition bench, particularly the Conservative Party.

I believe the Prime Minister is working every day of the week. I believe his mind is on the issue every waking hour. I have seen that through presentations, media, telephone discussions and through many organizations that have been reaching out to ensure that the government is responding to the needs of our society, whether it is the economy or our social needs.

I know that many people look forward every day to hearing what the Prime Minister has to say. As the leader of the Bloc party has correctly pointed out, it is about confidence and trust. One of the ways to build that is by not hiding behind things and being prepared to come forward. We have seen our Prime Minister do just that.

We have seen great participation in the virtual Parliament. When I participate on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from my home in Winnipeg or the sectioned-off corner in my office, there are well over 250 MPs participating.

MPs are afforded the opportunity to ask the government a number of questions related to COVID-19. All in all, I do not necessarily agree with all of the questions, even the manner in which they are posed, but I respect them because this is part of the process. Having opportunities to come back to the House in a limited way is a positive thing.

There are checks being put in place to ensure that our parliamentary institution is not being neglected. Some parliamentarians, like me, are comfortable with the way the House of Commons is proceeding during this pandemic. We need to demonstrate leadership. If we were to put 338 members of Parliament in their seats today, that would send the wrong message. Pulling MPs from all regions of the country, putting them in airports and on planes, trains and so forth, is not what health experts would recommend. We need to be respectful of our health experts, who have done a phenomenal job in providing the information and science for us to make good, solid decisions.

The same principle applies to the House of Commons. We have opportunities to be engaged, and individuals have the ability to look at ways for us to possibly expand. That is why the procedure and House affairs committee is attempting to deal with the issue of how we can change some of the rules. All members of Parliament should have the opportunity to vote. That is really important. I would like to see changes that would ensure that takes place.

What seems to be in dispute right now is that the official opposition wants to have opposition days. It misses having them. I would remind my friends across the way to look at the crisis situation. Given the other things taking place, whether it is the standing committees or virtual Parliament, we can forgo opposition days for the short term, the short term being a few months. Members should think of the impact that this pandemic is having on all Canadians and small businesses.

I could talk about the many different programs. Sometimes a program is direct; sometimes it is indirect. I will use the example of seniors. The one-time increases to GIS and OAS, the $200 or $300 to help seniors, are direct. As for the indirect programs, there are the investments in the United Way to support seniors in communities and the dollars going into health care and the many other things we invest in. When it comes to businesses, the government is providing loans. It is looking at ways to support people with their rent and is providing wage subsidies and so much more, not to mention the CERB, which is becoming the backbone for ensuring that people have disposable income, which is absolutely critical at this time. Taking all of the programs into account, we are ensuring that Canada will be able to come out of this into a situation that is equal to or better than that of other countries of a similar nature, economic performance-wise, socially and so forth.

I will conclude my comments by recognizing the incredible work of the individuals who have contributed to allowing us to get to where we are today. I will expand upon that possibly during the time for questions and answers.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Madam Speaker, although we have an opportunity to debate today and hold the government to account in extended committees of the whole, this is still not a true functioning Parliament. We still are not at a point in time when all members have the ability, either virtually or in the House, to participate. I am sure the member realizes that even in our province of Manitoba there are some very bad connectivity issues with the Internet, especially in rural, northern and remote communities. Just last week in a virtual COVID-19 committee, my Internet gave out and I had to drive to the office. It took 40 minutes to get there and 40 minutes to get back. I spent more time on the road than I did participating in the committee meeting.

How does the member explain to his constituents where the budget is? Where is the ability for the government to set the path forward outside of the response to COVID-19 and the pandemic? Where are the financial plans and accountability that go along with presenting a budget so that the government can move ahead with all of the other programs and issues facing the country? Without all of the committees up and running, how am I, the vice-chair for the Standing Committee on National Defence, able to ask questions and have witnesses appear at committee to talk about the 29-plus members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have now become infected working in long-term care facilities as part of Operation Laser?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I am sure the member is aware that he can still ask those questions in many ways, and if not directly, then indirectly. There are opportunities, through virtual Parliament, to pose them.

We need to recognize that during the pandemic we cannot expect everything to be normal. Is it going to be perfect? I doubt it. I do believe, however, that whether through this particular motion or through motions that preceded it, we have been able to allow for accountability and transparency in the government. There have been more questions for the government in the last few weeks than there would have been had we been sitting inside the House. Things have been more focused, but at the end of the day there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that there is a very high sense of accountability through virtual Parliament. Once all is said and done, I am hopeful that PROC will come back with additional recommendations.

I do not believe that the concerns the member has raised have not been dealt with through the changes we have made to date to get us through this particularly difficult time.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Montarville, QC

Madam Speaker, I just want to point out to my hon. colleague that this proposal would mean fewer questions overall for the Bloc Québécois. We would get more time, but fewer questions overall.

During last week's virtual and in-person meetings, I watched attentively as our Conservative colleagues asked the government questions about the fact that the measures taken so far did not include parameters for preventing freeloaders from exploiting them. It was clear that the Liberal government was having a hard time creating parameters that would stop freeloaders from taking advantage of the programs it had implemented.

Now maybe we understand why it was struggling to define those parameters. We have seen freeloaders deciding to potentially exploit the programs that have been put in place. One notable example is the emergency wage subsidy. It is as if the Conservatives, astoundingly enough, and the Liberals had designed a program they just happened to qualify for.

I listened to my colleague's impassioned plea, claiming that the measures taken by the government had helped companies avoid bankruptcy. My question is perfectly simple: Did the Liberal Party apply for the emergency wage subsidy because it was on the verge of bankruptcy?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the programs were developed to support private companies, non-profit groups and individuals to minimize the negative impacts of the coronavirus. We have come forward with these programs because Canadians need them. Will there be individuals who will take advantage? I suspect there will be, and no doubt we will hear about that, but it would have been worse if a decision was made such that people who needed the program did not get the money, for whatever reason. There is no absolutely perfect system.

In regard to question period, as the member knows, there are 30 seconds for a question and 30 seconds for an answer. Through virtual Parliament, now we see more of a dialogue of questions and answers. As a parliamentarian, I would rather have five minutes with a minister, with differing amounts of time for questions and answers, than just have one question followed by one answer.

There are some good aspects to the virtual Parliament that our current Parliament does not have. There is a bit of a trade-off, in other words.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Scott Duvall NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to talk about something very important that some Canadians want an answer to.

Last month, after getting unanimous consent, the government agreed that it was committed to implementing without delay some financial aid to seniors and people with disabilities. The government has come through with some aid for seniors, which was not enough, as we were hoping it would be a continued payment, not a one-time payment, but it omitted people with disabilities. We have always heard the Liberals say they have Canadians' backs and don't want to leave anybody behind.

My questions to the parliamentary secretary are very simple. Why did the Liberals omit people with disabilities? Why has the government not had their backs? Why did it leave them behind?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, as I indicated, there are direct and indirect ways that government programs assist individuals. I cited the example of seniors. The poorest of all the seniors in Winnipeg North are the ones collecting the guaranteed income supplement, and the seniors most challenged by the coronavirus are those receiving the guaranteed income supplement. We are giving those seniors the most money, and we are giving other seniors $200. It is a significant amount of money, given what their annual income is.

We are trying the best we can to ensure that seniors have disposable income during this very difficult and trying time. There have been some additional costs. We recognize that. At the end of the day, however, the government is trying to support Canadians during this difficult time through a wide spectrum of programs both directly and indirectly, indirectly by using the United Way, for instance. United Way Winnipeg has been given millions of dollars to support our seniors. Disabled seniors would be included in that.

I cannot not give more detail offhand, but I appreciate the question.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan


Andrew Scheer ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Madam Speaker, the role of the opposition is key to our system of parliamentary democracy. As Sir Wilfrid Laurier put it so succinctly, “it is indeed essential for the country that the shades of opinion which are represented on both sides of this House should be placed as far as possible on a footing of equality and that we should have a strong opposition to voice the views of those who do not think with the majority”.

Faced with the greatest crisis of our lifetime, we need to hear the voices of all Canadians.

Sadly, the other opposition parties are clearly showing that they do not feel the same way. When the next election rolls around, they will have to answer for their actions. Their supporters will wonder why a vote for the NDP or the Bloc has turned into a vote for the Liberals.

In my role as leader of the opposition, I have travelled the country and met Canadians from all walks of life: farmers, who feed our cities; veterans, who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so we can live in peace and freedom; doctors and nurses, who provide comfort and care when we are at our most vulnerable; small business owners, who save and sacrifice to grow their businesses and, with them, the Canadian economy; new Canadians, whose fondest hope is to see their children avail themselves of opportunities they never had; and workers in essential service areas, bravely putting their communities first and ensuring we have access to the things we need most during this difficult time.

Whether in Ottawa, in Regina or in Quebec City, I see constant proof that Canadians are the most altruistic, most generous and hardest-working people in the world. It is an honour to serve them in the House. I only hope the government and the other opposition parties will let us do the job we have been tasked to do.

As Canadians, we are keepers of a proud history. We have fought and defeated forces of tyranny, and helped to bring peace and freedom around the world. We are the stewards of breathtaking natural beauty, from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic. We are the protectors of a rich democracy, one rooted in a commitment to pluralism, personal freedom and individual responsibility.

Those ideals do not just happen, and we certainly cannot take them for granted.

It is here, in Parliament, that this important work is done. It is here that we ask difficult but necessary questions. It is here that we improve public policy by holding robust debates. It is here that we ensure that the government remains focused on the needs and priorities of Canadians.

The House traces its lineage back some 800 years to a water meadow along the River Thames in Surrey, where King John, faced with a rebellion of disenchanted barons, signed the Magna Carta in 1215. Almost 50 years later, in January 1265, the first example of something akin to the modern House of Commons sat in London.

While democracy has unquestionably evolved in the intervening centuries, one of the few constants amidst this change is that the House of Commons always meets in person. It met during the cataclysm of the First World War that violently ended a century of relative peace and prosperity. It met when the threat of Nazi Germany set fire to the world with its blood-soaked march through Europe, Russia and North Africa. It met when tensions between the two superpowers of the day threatened the world with nuclear annihilation. It met through other pandemics as well.

Abandoning meetings in person is no simple matter. The recent calls for the House to “just get on Zoom, already” bring to mind the words of Winston Churchill:

It is difficult to explain this to those who do not know our ways. They cannot easily be made to understand why we consider that the intensity, passion, intimacy, informality and spontaneity of our Debates constitute the personality of the House of Commons and endow it at once with its focus and its strength.

Parliament must meet. Its role and its place are fundamental. The House, our elected legislature, is the beating heart of our system of government. It is where the viewpoints from all corners of the country have their voice and where the executive government accounts for its choices, priorities and actions.

As political scientist Christian Leuprecht said in his testimony last month to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, this role is even more critical during times of crisis:

The underlying primary constitutional principle here is the principle of responsible government. It is about ministerial responsibility, first and foremost, during a crisis and an emergency.

Especially during a time of crisis, Parliament has a supreme duty to hold the executive to account. Canadians need continuous Parliamentary audit of the executive and the bureaucracy's judgment.

The official opposition could not agree more. Canada's democratic institutions should never be treated as an inconvenience. The House of Commons needs to be functioning and needs to be seen to be functioning during this crisis. Contrary to what the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc may think, the House is an essential service to the country and we, its members, are essential workers.

I have never seen so many members of Parliament work so hard during an election campaign to get elected and then work hard to not have to work hard. They have spent the last few weeks making arguments, telling Canadians that they should not be doing their jobs during this time of crisis. Even this week, they are arguing against the return of Parliament. Even as more and more provincial health restrictions are lifted, they are still making the case that Parliament cannot do its job.

I have a friend who is going back to work at Mattress Mart today. People can take their pets to dog groomers in Ontario, but somehow Liberals, NDP and Bloc MPs are saying that we cannot do our job here. Conservatives disagree with that. We believe members of Parliament should be showing up to work in the House for a full return to parliamentary functions.

The simple act of asking questions, and of knowing that questions must be answered, requires a government to up its game. Asking questions and giving voice to concerns generates constructive solutions to policy shortcomings.

With respect to COVID-19, the opposition managed to increase the emergency wage subsidy and support for students, reduce penalties for part-time workers, prevent new parents from losing their benefits, authorize credit unions to provide loans, and connect employers and potential employees. These are important enhancements for Canadians and have all resulted from the questions that opposition members asked about government programs.

In the last few weeks, government scrutiny has largely been left to press conferences that the Prime Minister controls. The Prime Minister hosts a morning show at his doorstep, followed by a late show often hosted by the Deputy Prime Minister for ministers, mere feet from this chamber.

Unique circumstances may have made this a necessity in the pandemic's first few days, but we are long past that. The minority government seems to find it more comfortable to face the parliamentary press gallery than its parliamentary opposition. To their shame, the NDP and Bloc have so far meekly gone along.

I am especially disappointed with the leader of the Bloc Québécois. I served in the House with Gilles Duceppe for many years. We did not always agree. In fact, I believe the only thing we agreed on was that Quebeckers form a nation within a strong and united Canada.

Although we disagreed on many things, I had a certain degree of respect for Mr. Duceppe. He knew that his role in the House as the leader of an opposition party was to hold the government to account. Mr. Duceppe worked hard to ensure that successive governments faced real and sometimes brutal opposition. He was not afraid to ask difficult questions. He did not hesitate to expose the gaps in legislation and he never turned a blind eye to the Liberals' mistakes.

That is in contrast to the current Bloc leader who, during his first round of negotiations, went home for supper and gave the government free reign. The Conservatives stayed here all night and produced real results for Canadians.

Parliament has been getting results for Canadians thanks to the hard work of opposition parties and it should keep it up. Press conferences are not a substitute. Around the world, from the United Kingdom to Australia to New Zealand, other countries are resuscitating parliamentary life.

Every day, we see the Prime Minister emerge from his residence to announce yet another multi-million-dollar initiative. The Prime Minister says that his government's prudent management of Canada's finances enables us to spend that money. That is a false statement based on false information.

The government is not drawing money from a rainy day fund. We must remember that when the Liberal government was first elected, it told Canadians that the measure of its fiscal responsibility would be small and temporary deficits: just $10 billion over four short years. How did that work out for them? Those small, temporary deficits turned into massive, permanent deficits. We went into this pandemic in a weakened state because of the government's wasteful spending.

The Liberals gave $12 million to Loblaws and $50 million to a credit card company, Mastercard. They gave $50 million to a credit card company that makes its money off hard-working Canadians who cannot afford to pay their full balance. That is who the government showered with riches. That is where the money went. Wasteful spending by the Liberal government led to massive deficits, which meant we went into this pandemic in a weakened state.

After that, it became clear there was no way the Liberals were going to be able to hold to their solemn election promise. I remember the Prime Minister looking into the eyes of Canadians and saying he was being as honest as he possibly could be. We now know what that means. Once he knew there was no way he could hold to that promise, he started to move the goalposts.

Then it was all going to be about debt-to-GDP ratio: in other words, the percentage of the national debt as measured against the total economic output of the country. As long as that was under control, then everything would be okay. When signs of a made-in-Canada recession started to appear, even before this pandemic, the government abandoned that as well: “Never mind that debt-to-GDP ratio thing we were talking about just a few minutes ago. It is all about our credit rating. As long as we still have that credit rating, we will be okay.” I remember a comedian who used to say, “How can I be broke if I still have cheques in my cheque book?” That is the example this Prime Minister is giving to Canadians.

What about that credit rating? We know that we have been in rough shape throughout this pandemic because of the extra pressures that have been put on the fiscal system. The government was borrowing and spending with abandon well before the pandemic hit. As the Parliamentary Budget Officer announced last week, the national debt could top $1 trillion by the time this crisis ends. One trillion dollars. The Prime Minister added $87 billion of debt during his first four years of power and this year, he will pile on at least a staggering $252 billion. That is according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

This year's deficit could reach $300 billion or $400 billion. We do not know. The government refuses to give us an update. It refuses to give us even a fiscal update, never mind a full budget. The risks are enormous, and we are starting to see signs of a credit downgrade.

Normally, a government running a deficit equal to 12% of GDP or more would see a massive surge in borrowing costs. Normally, a government would have to outbid the private sector for those funds. It would have to borrow that money and compete with other people. Now we have a scenario in which the Bank of Canada is creating digital money to buy up government debt, at least $5 billion a week. The Bank of Canada is not just buying federal debt. It is buying corporate bonds, provincial government bonds, mortgage debt, commercial paper and bankers' acceptances.

The Bank of Canada has bought up so much of this that the total assets it holds increased from $120 billion at the beginning of March to $442 billion by last week. It has almost quadrupled its balance sheet in just two months. This is the biggest expansion of the money supply, in such a short period, in Canadian financial-system history.

However, this is nothing new. Governments have done this throughout history. We can look back to Roman times, when emperors would add more and more lead into the currency to keep up with government spending.

The actions of the Bank of Canada are going to have an impact. We would like to know what those impacts will be. We would like to know what the consequences will be. We have important questions in this chamber, in this Parliament, as the official opposition, so that Canadians can understand the consequences of all the options that the government is pursuing. How will the bank unwind all this stimulus? Will we see inflation or currency depreciation? We are deeply worried about the impacts this will have in the long term.

Are Canadians and businesses getting the help they need? Are we actually protecting jobs with these programs? Are we preparing the ground for the reopening and the revitalization of our economy? When we Conservatives ask hard questions, it is because the well-being of Canadians, their health, their jobs and our financial system depend on it. In a crisis, more than ever, those hard questions are critical.

I want to highlight several real examples. Clear-eyed foreign policy has real, tangible results. Conservatives see the world as it is, not the way we wish it were. We saw the real consequences of the Prime Minister's weakness on China: our citizens imprisoned and our trade interests and Canadian farmers hurt by unjustified import blockades.

Then the global pandemic began. Australia and New Zealand did not believe the false information coming out of the PRC, and repeated by the WHO, that there was no human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.

In early February, Australia banned visitors from mainland China. Similarly, New Zealand imposed a ban on foreign nationals entering the country from China as well. No one would characterize the prime minister of New Zealand as a conservative hard-liner or a foreign policy hawk, but she was rightly skeptical about information coming from a Communist authoritarian regime that imprisoned doctors for speaking out about the true nature of this virus.

Here in Canada, the Prime Minister sided with the PRC. There was to be no ban on travel from that country, no restrictions at all, and a full month later, he was still defending that decision. Despite opposition calls, the Liberals refused to impose mandatory quarantines. The Prime Minister and his ministers dodged questions and maintained that enhanced screening measures were in place. However, there were endless reports on social media about Canadians returning from the most affected countries without even being asked any questions.

By mid-March, Quebec, Alberta and Nova Scotia had all sent provincial health officials to airports because the federal government was not doing its job. By the time the federal government reversed course and finally announced a ban on international visitors, it was already too late.

Just last week, the country's chief public health officer said that quicker action could have been taken in responding to the global pandemic and that action might have saved lives. Today, New Zealand has zero new cases. It had a total of 21 deaths. Australia still has a few new cases and it has seen a total of 102 deaths. In Canada, more than 6,500 people have died to date.

Throughout this health crisis, the federal government has been either wrong or slow to act: wrong to dump medical supplies without replacing them; slow to close our borders; slow to advise Canadians that they should wear masks after being wrong about telling them not to; slow to roll out programs to help Canadians struggling; and still, so far, no fixes to the gaps that people are finding themselves falling through.

We have proposed concrete solutions to help those programs capture more people. So far, the government has been extremely slow to make those changes.

That is why parliamentary scrutiny is so important. We can get better results for Canadians, but to do so, the House must sit.

Provinces are now easing health restrictions and reopening, so where is the federal government's plan to support them and to do the same? Canadians are optimistic people and they want the federal government to show signs of that optimism by supporting provincial government plans. There is no plan to stimulate and attract business investment, to create jobs, to help restaurants and retailers reopen and to give entrepreneurs hope.

Clearly, we cannot just wish away the virus, but we can restart and re-energize our economy through adaptation. Through increased testing and contact tracing, through masking and through other adaptations, people can get back to work while staying safe.

When we emerge from this crisis, Canada will find itself at a cross-roads. Will we continue down the Liberals' chosen path of government knows best, of ever-greater spending, even higher taxes and ever-growing government or will we rebuild civil society, revitalize our communities and recharge the economy by embracing the proven formula of liberty, personal responsibility and limited government? As former British prime minister David Cameron said: a bigger society, not a bigger government.

Other parties can talk about how much they love people, but they obviously do not really believe in people. In contrast, the Conservatives have great faith in people's ability to make responsible decisions and run their own lives. We believe in their future, and we have faith that Canadians' talent and ingenuity will carry us forward.

Canadians are an endlessly enterprising people. Perhaps it is a product of our immigrant society, where people leave the familiarity of a home for a shot at a better life on the other side of the world and then work hard to achieve it.

Perhaps it is the inspiration we take from indigenous peoples, resilient men and women who built Canada's first communities in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Perhaps it is our spiritual inheritance that emphasizes individual sanctification, not the creation of a perfect system or utopia here on earth as the path to a better world.

No matter the reason, Canadians have consistently shown that, if they are freed from state control and regulation, they will find ways to keep themselves busy. They will not only meet their essential needs, but also create the kind of prosperity and well-being that previous generations could not even have imagined.

Again, we only need to look to our history for inspiration.

Freed from the top-down control and the high taxes of the national program, Canadian industry and society began to flourish, drawing immigrants and capital from around the world. In 1939 and 1940, freed from the regulation and government burden of the Great Depression, Canadians found ways to industrialize our economy and meet the needs of not only defeating tyranny, but then liberating Europe from want. Freed from the government's all-encompassing war effort following the defeat of the Axis powers, Canadians built one of the most prosperous and peaceful societies the world has ever known. In the mid-1980s, freed from the abusive and destructive regulation of Pierre Trudeau's national energy policy, Canada's energy sector embarked on 35 years of growth, innovation and environmental sustainability that was only ended by this government's heavy-handed intervention.

The free market is the greatest wealth creation enterprise ever developed. Individuals buying and selling freely, choosing what to exchange their goods and services for is the primary source of wealth and prosperity. That is what lifts people out of poverty. Voluntary exchange always enriches both the seller and the buyer, otherwise they would not do it.

As we contemplate how much faith to put into government to get us out of the economic crisis, I am reminded of a fantastic story that Yuval Noah Harari recounts in a book of his called the Homo Deus. It relates a story of officials coming from the Soviet Union to study the United Kingdom and its systems. This was during Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost period. The story goes something like this.

The British hosts were taking the Soviet officials around London. They were showing them different things, such as the London School of Economics and the Stock Exchange. This one official was getting more and more puzzled by something as they were driving around London. He finally stops and says, “Listen, I have a very important question. We've been going back and forth across London for a whole day now and there's one thing I can't understand. Back in Moscow, our finest minds are working on the bread supply system, and yet there are still such long queues in every bakery and grocery store. Please, take me to the person who's in charge of the bread supply in London. I want to meet the person and learn the secret of how a city this big, this vibrant, ensures that its people have bread every day.”

Of course, the British officials were puzzled. There was no such person. There was no one person in charge of something as important as the bread supply in London. The free market did that. To someone, especially at that period of time, especially in a system where the state controlled everything, that was inconceivable. How could one leave to chance something so important as feeding the people of a city? That is what the free market does. The free market takes care of the needs of people instantaneously. The invisible hand ensuring that people who have particular skills employ those skills to the benefit of everyone else.

We are all far more better off from the work of individual producers than that person alone, with the clothes we wear, the tools we have, the iPhones we have. Our lives are enriched by the free market, by people buying and selling goods freely. In a free market, there is no overarching, central plan for the whole. The larger outcome, plentiful, affordable goods, is ordered seemingly out of chaos, but it is free people pursuing their enterprising natures that provides for our needs. This is why it is so imperative that we embrace those principles as our economy reopens.

Once the COVID-19 crisis has passed and we have had time to reflect, I am confident we will better appreciate the importance of freedom in building safe and resilient societies.

Freedom does not just give space for the creation of a great economy; freedom creates space for the emergence of a great society.

Let us remember that it was the Chinese regime's oppression of freedom that led it to silence the doctors who tried to raise the alarm about a terrifying new virus in Wuhan. It was the PRC's regime of oppression of freedom that led it to intimidate the brave few doctors who were raising the alarm, who felt obliged to warn the rest of the world. It was the Communist regime's oppression of freedom that led it to put pressure on the World Health Organization, to repeat that government's talking points and to undermine the global response to the pandemic.

Countries around the world must never forget the corrosive effect the PRC's oppression of its own people has had on the entire world. Hundreds of thousands of people have died terrible deaths, oftentimes without the comfort of their loved ones at their bedside. The actions of the PRC have made that worse. The global economy has imploded, with hundreds of millions of people losing their jobs and savings. I hope no one ever expresses admiration for China's basic dictatorship ever again. I trust that those who do have learned the gravity of their mistake.

There is no secret formula to human advancement. We have a choice right now. As history has proven time and again, freedom, liberty and democratic governments are the surest path to humans flourishing and prosperity.

Let us look at the things for which the current government was directly responsible.

It left the borders open and refused to put in travel restrictions. It was so slow putting in airport screening. Dozens of plane-loads of people coming from a highly infected area were met with normal operations at those airport.

The government was in charge of the pandemic stockpile and what did it do? It dumped millions of pieces in a dumpster. We only know this because in my hometown of Regina someone who owned a dumpster company put a bid in to get the contract to dispose of millions of pieces of personal protective equipment.

The programs the government has put in place have major gaps and impediments to people being able to survive this pandemic economically. People who earn $1 more than $1,000 lose their entire CERB benefit. Small businesses are unable to access programs like the wage subsidy or rent relief program.

What is that proven formula? It is lowering taxes. It is leaving money in the economy where it will always do more good than in the hands of a government official. A dollar left in the hands of a hard-working taxpayer who earned it is always better spent than in the hands of a politician who taxed it.

It means getting rid of duplicate regulations. The government has so many brakes on the economy that serve no public policy interest. There is duplication at federal and provincial levels. We need to get government out of the way to allow for dynamic growth to return.

Part of that includes the impediments that the current government has put on the energy sector. The energy sector, prior to this pandemic, had $25 billion worth of applications sitting on government desks. This is money that was not being put to good use. Those are investments that were hanging in the balance.

The government likes to talk a lot about the overall debt-to-GDP burden, but let us remember there is only one economy in Canada. Our shadow minister for finance had a great metaphor the other day. He was talking about how the government focused on the overall debt-to-GDP ratio, which has ballooned. Also, the economy is shrinking during this time, so that proportion is changing.

Then we have to add to that all the provincial, municipal, individual and corporate debt. If we think of the economy as a horse and everyone is saddling more debt on that horse trying to pull everything up the mountain, at a certain point it cannot, especially when we stop feeding the horse.

At least in the last downturn, in the great global recession of 2008, our government, the previous Conservative government, recognized that we needed to strengthen the economy, pulling the cart up the hill, and that we could do that by ensuring the energy sector was vibrant.

In fact, if one looks at the statistics it is astounding that since 2018, Canada's oil and gas production industry has directly paid almost $240 billion to provincial governments and $66 billion to Ottawa. In addition, its employees paid nearly $54 billion in federal and provincial taxes.

According to Statistics Canada, the energy industry has provided $65.9 billion in federal corporate taxes alone, more than banking, more than construction and more than real estate. That was our low-tax plan. We kept taxes low. We eliminated wasteful and duplicative regulations.

I see that it is almost two o'clock and we are going to start Statements by Members, so I will stop here and resume after Oral Questions because I still have some more great points about the benefits of freedom and the free market bringing Canada out of this economic difficulty.

Front-Line WorkersStatements By Members

May 25th, 2020 / 2 p.m.


Jenica Atwin Green Fredericton, NB

Madam Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the essential workers who have kept us safe and who are continuing to do so: the nurses, the long-term care home workers, the paramedics, doctors, social workers, the people who work in grocery stores, the people who clean, the waste collectors and so many others.

Too often their work is in the shadows and some of them are not receiving the financial compensation they deserve. By working to keep us safe, they are making tremendous sacrifices, and for that we are grateful. If this pandemic is teaching us one thing, it is the true meaning of what is essential: our families, our health, our friends and the well-being of our planet.

We are getting through this by taking care of each other, and essential workers embody the hope and confidence we need to build a better tomorrow for all. We thank them for their courage, tenacity and persistence. I invite all members to join me in expressing our sincere gratitude.