Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in this debate. I am very pleased to speak here in Parliament and I am very pleased to speak during a so-called normal sitting of the House.
I wish to inform the House that I will have the pleasure of sharing my time with my colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis. He is a distinguished and honourable colleague who was once a cabinet minister.
We are meeting to debate this motion that seeks to determine whether we will continue as we are today or whether, starting tomorrow, we will use a new parliamentary hybrid approach where some members are here and others would be at home in their riding, taking part in the debates through the magic of the Internet. Those are the two options before us.
On this side, we believe we can do all this parliamentary work the way we are today, here in the House. Today, we had a debate, motions were moved, we heard presentations by members who had things to say on behalf of their constituents, what we in the business refer to as S.O. 31s. We also had debates on motions, heated debates, and that is exactly what the House is for. Every parliamentarian needs to be able to express points of view on which we agree and others on which we disagree. Such is democracy. Such is parliamentary business.
Today is proof that Parliament can indeed convene. The first version of the agreement was to bring in 31 out of 338 MPs. That was not a lot. It is barely one in 10. Take, for example, the Quebec National Assembly, where I had the honour to serve the people of Chauveau, who put their trust in my three times. I thank them. The National Assembly has 125 members and around 30 of them participate in the debates. That represents one in four members. The first version of the agreement presented here in the House of Commons was one in 10. I remind members that there are quite a few more than 31 of us here in the House. It is clear that more than 31 of us can be here, while complying with public health measures.
I remind members that contrary to what some, including the Prime Minister, have said, the Conservatives never wanted to bring all 338 MPs back to the House. That is not true. We always wanted to comply with social distancing measures.
Today was a normal day, and it works. There will be votes, and there will be debates. We are able to do it. It is unfortunate that others do not want to continue, because tomorrow we will learn about a new hybrid meeting format, in which there are members in the House and others participating virtually at home.
I remind members that the House of Commons in England did this experiment and concluded over the weekend that it may not have been a good idea. They have resumed a so-called traditional Parliament. We cannot deny that the House of Commons in London has historically served as a great inspiration for our sittings here in the House.
Let me remind members that in World War II when London was under fierce attack by the Nazis and being destroyed by the Luftwaffe, and when the House of Commons was attacked by those planes, the members stayed in the House of Commons. This is a clear demonstration for the House of Commons that, yes, if the English people were able to do that years ago, we can have our House of Commons here in Ottawa in 2020.
It is important to remember that, if there is a place that can inspire us, it is England. Despite the storm, the affronts and the attacks by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, the House of Commons continued to sit and Churchill could go to the House and give his great speeches that were so inspiring to the entire human race at that time.
We have already tried the online approach.
I want to heartily congratulate and sincerely thank all of the House of Commons staff who accomplished a fairly impressive technological feat in very little time, that of being able to hold a virtual House of Commons in 338 locations.
It is clear that the virtual House does not operate at exactly the same pace as a real parliamentary sitting in the House. Yesterday, in an interview with Radio-Canada and this morning with LCN, I said the same thing: There is nothing better than debating in the House and being face to face with one's opponent. There is nothing better than discussing, debating and talking directly to the person, asking the person a question and seeing that person's reaction. Talking to some type of computer using this or that program is not really the same thing. There is nothing better than a real parliamentary debate in person, and that is what we want.
Debates still have to produce results. When we have question period, I understand that it is question period and not answer period. However, it would be good to get answers when we ask questions.
In question period today, I asked two clear and simple questions of the government. One was what the deficit would be this year, and the government was not able to give a clear answer.
I have a lot of respect for the President of the Treasury Board, because the gentleman is my neighbour in Quebec City and I appreciate him a lot, but if the President of the Treasury Board cannot answer a clear question about what the deficit will be, then who can?
This could be a real economic tragedy for this country if we continue to spend without any control. The guy who is responsible for making sure that we control spending is the President of the Treasury Board and he was not able to answer this simple question.
On April 30, nearly a month ago now, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a document stating that Canada was heading for a deficit of $252 billion. That was true 25 days ago. Today, 25 days later, we are asking the same question again, because we know the government is spending a lot of money these days. However, the President of the Treasury Board has no idea what the answer is and is incapable of putting a number on the deficit.
It is great to be able to ask questions, and I can already hear the Liberals telling us later that we will be able to ask a lot more questions and get a lot more time. However, what matters is not the amount of time, but the quality of debate.
This is what the House of Commons is all about. We have different points of view, which is democracy and part of being a parliamentarian. This is why we have been elected.
We want to hold proper discussions and debates, but we obviously want to get answers.
We have another concern, and that is parliamentary committees. We know that the experiment was a success, that it works and that the parliamentary committees can meet virtually. That is good, but we would like to do more.
Ms. Levesque's killing in Quebec City was a tragedy that raised many questions about public safety, especially with regard to parole. As my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles so aptly stated in an interview this weekend, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security needs to meet to study this issue. Sadly, in the system that this government is presenting us with, we will not get that opportunity, and yet, this is something we need and want to do.
We also need to debate legislation. My colleague from Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis will have a chance to elaborate on that later on. It is not true that democracy can be done by decree or through an 11:15 a.m. press conference. It is not true that democracy can be shelved for so long. We need to have real debates here in the House.
Our most important duty is to be accountable, to ask the government questions and to have the government answer. The problem is not whether we agree or disagree, because that is democracy. However, we must go about it the right way.
This is why we want the government to at least review its proposal. If not, at least we can see that two weeks ago, a single hybrid sitting day in the House was proposed. After that, two days were proposed. Last Friday, four days were proposed. This is nevertheless a step in the right direction and is proof that we have done well in the past few days to get more time in the House.