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.