House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pandemic.

Topics

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedProceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Motion That Debate Be Not Further AdjournedProceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #25

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Resuming debate, the hon member for Battlefords—Lloydminster has two minutes and 30 seconds remaining for her discourse.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, once again, what I was saying was that it is not up to the government of the day to decide how it will be held accountable for its governing. When it comes to fiscal responsibility and accountability, the Prime Minister and the finance minister seem equally disinterested. They have refused to deliver a budget or even a fiscal update, or proper accounting for that matter, for their COVID-19 relief measures, and today's motion still offers no timeline on a fiscal update.

As we consider this proposal, we have to acknowledge the shortfalls of virtual meetings. While meting virtually is always preferred to not meeting at all, virtual meetings are not conducive to quality work. As a member of HUMA, I have experienced the shortfalls of technology first-hand. Our committee has been meeting virtually for the past month. Even a month in, the time spent on technological issues far outweighs the time spent on the meeting itself. These technological problems significantly hinder our effectiveness, and we have seen similar issues in the COVID-19 committee.

In-person meetings of the House would deliver better results for Canadians. There are those who would stand in this place and argue that in the name of health and safety this is not possible. To them, I would say that this very meeting shows that we can be in this chamber while maintaining public health guidelines. I would also like to point to examples of democracies around the world that have continued or resumed parliamentary activities. Just as the chamber should proceed with regular business, so should all of our standing and special committees. These committees should be getting back to their important work. It is in the long-term interest of Canadians.

A Parliament operating with its full authority can only better serve Canadians. This is not a partisan issue. This is a fundamental belief that Parliament is the bedrock of our democracy and that debate, oversight and transparency strengthen our democracy. Generations before us have shaped our democracy. They have safeguarded and improved it. It is our collective responsibility to do the same for the next generation. To do that, we must remain vigilant against intentional and unintentional efforts to erode or undermine our democracy. Safeguarding our democracy should be the priority of all of us.

We have to acknowledge that this motion would strip Parliament of some of its power. While governing in a minority setting may not be the Prime Minister's preference, it is what Canadians chose and he has the obligation to work with Parliament for the good of Canadians. Canadians expect more, and Canadians deserve more.

I would urge all members of this chamber to recognize Parliament as an essential service and to acknowledge that their responsibility to their constituents is crucial and their duty to uphold our democracy is paramount. A government without accountability fails our democracy and it fails Canadians. We must be focused on getting the best results for Canadians because they are counting on us. While we face a global health crisis, we cannot sacrifice the health of our democracy.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I would contrast Stephen Harper and the current Prime Minister any time and anywhere when it comes to defending the parliamentary institution. It was Stephen Harper who prorogued Parliament, meaning that he actually shut down Parliament and did not work with any opposition parties.

We can contrast that to what we have today: an ongoing commitment by the current Prime Minister to ensure, by listening to health experts and respecting the importance of this institution, that we are where we are today.

In fact, at the end of the day, we are going to have more questions being asked and petitions from Canadians across the country. We have the opportunity for members' statements. This is something that is hopefully going to work toward more of a full virtual integration, where all MPs will be able to be engaged by using technology. Hopefully, the Conservatives will realize the importance of looking at how we can ensure some form of voting so parliamentarians, no matter where they are, are able to place their vote. Then maybe we could proceed a bit further on some of the other changes that are so critical.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would actually argue that it is under this Prime Minister that we have seen attempts at unprecedented power grabs. We have seen attempts at silencing and taking away any ability that the opposition holds. It is not just in this Parliament; it was also in the previous Parliament. This is a trend with the current government.

If this is regarding virtual Parliament, sure, but not virtual committee. I would ask that the government stop misleading Canadians and call a committee a committee and Parliament Parliament. We are talking about a virtual committee, not a virtual Parliament.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary used an important phrase. He said that we must respect the importance of this institution. I could not agree with the member more. We do need to respect the importance of this institution, and that means it needs to come back as a full Parliament, not as a special committee, which is what the Liberals are proposing.

Would my colleague care to comment on this further? Again, the parliamentary secretary said that we must respect the importance of this institution.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I find it quite ironic that we debated closure on a motion. Here we are in Parliament, not at a committee, on a sitting day of the House of Commons, and we were debating closure because the government did not want us to debate any longer. I find it quite ironic that we were doing that for half an hour. We voted and the government was successful, with help from the New Democrats.

The government is not protecting democracy or our institution by moving closure to move forward with a virtual committee.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will use the same word my colleague used: “irony”. I find it especially ironic today to hear the Conservatives become the great defenders of institutions, parliamentary freedom, democracy and committees.

I was here for the nine years that former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in power. I saw more than a hundred closure motions. The Conservatives prevented debate in the House, systematically put the committees in camera and prevented federal government scientists from speaking freely to the media.

Today we must have cool heads and think about what we can do to adapt to the circumstances of this pandemic we are in.

We will continue to sit four days a week until June 18, as we normally would more or less. In fact, sittings were added to the summer schedule and we will be able to sit and ask the government questions. That is progress because we usually do not sit in the summer.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, honestly, I am at a loss for words, because it is ironic. The New Democrats just voted for closure on what we are debating. All day today and yesterday, the Conservatives have been debating the importance of Parliament, and the importance that it has over a committee. I find his question quite ironic.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, private members' bills have been brought up repeatedly, and rightfully so. Fortunately, I am one of just over 300 members of Parliament who have had a private member's bill pass the House and the Senate and become law. That has helped victims of violent offenders immensely.

How does my colleague feel about the fact that with the rubric we just voted on, individual members will no longer have the ability to represent the constituents who elected them and bring about private members' bills to change the course of their lives for the better?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, again irony comes to mind. I am surprised that any member not sitting in the front benches of the Liberal government would vote for closure or vote to have a committee. They are giving away their opportunity to have private members' business, to move bills forward and create new legislation.

It is so unfortunate that there are members in this place who were willing to vote away the opportunity for Parliament to sit and, in essence, give away their opportunity to bring forward private members' business.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have so many things to say that I do not know where to start.

I would like to come back to the idea that the functioning of Parliament will be improved as of tomorrow, that is to say from the moment we no longer do what we normally do as parliamentarians.

Like all members of the House, I was elected because voters wanted me to work for them. We know how difficult times are for people in our ridings right now. I am from a rural riding. I am thinking of people in the tourism industry, people in the fishing industry, indigenous communities and all the small and medium-sized businesses.

There are natural resources in my riding. My region is what is called a resource region. All these large companies work with small businesses that are really struggling right now. For instance, the paper, aluminum and forestry sectors are having a very hard time.

Two ideas came to mind at the same time. I have the impression, or rather the certainty, that someone is trying to make me swallow a big fat lie. I am being told that, starting tomorrow, I will be able to do more than if I were in Parliament. What is more, I am being told that this is exactly what people are asking for, yet that is not what people are asking us to do.

We have talked a lot about people who have lost their jobs, people who are sick and families who are struggling to make ends meet because they do not know which way to turn. People have to take care of their sick loved ones or their children, all while trying to work at the same time.

I know that my colleagues are doing a tremendous amount of work in their ridings. We are being told that they have found a solution for parliamentarians. We are being told that the work we do in the House is not useful, that we have to call our constituents and that we have to set aside our work as legislators and our work in committee.

We are being told that by doing less in the House, we will be doing more in our ridings. Personally, I believe that the ideals of dignity, respect and effort, as part of our duties as elected officials, should be reflected in the work of the House. I am quite open to the idea that this work should adapt to the current situation. However, no one can say that there is no longer a legislative agenda, that not all committees can sit, and that we cannot have all the space we can in committees because of the pandemic.

Instead, we should capitalize on the situation. More than ever, we need to find ways to do our job as lawmakers in the House and in committee, while working in our ridings and dealing with the pandemic.

I feel like we are on pause. Quebec and all the provinces have also been on pause. People are going back to work and getting on with their lives. However, the signal we are sending them is that we are not fast enough, that we are not working hard enough, and that we do not have the will to do the work that we usually do.

I think that today we have shown that we are able to work together safely, since we are observing social distancing. Later today I will be going to committee and doing my job. If we are able to do that, why would we not?

All my constituents, as well as Quebeckers and Canadians, must be telling themselves the same thing: that we are asking more of them. They are being asked to go to work, to make sacrifices, and to put themselves a little more at risk. We, their representatives, should be flawless. I say flawless, but we certainly all have flaws. However, we should lead by example. Right now, the message we are sending is that we want to do less.

I can give an astonishing number of examples.

I come from a rural region. I am from eastern Quebec. I have been working with my colleagues from Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques for the past few weeks to jointly serve our constituents. Although video conferencing is available, we know that when we are back home in our ridings, we do not have a place for dialogue, a place to get answers and get things done. We need to be able to get things done with the House, with colleagues, like we usually do.

I spoke about small and medium-sized businesses, tourism, fisheries and forestry. Ridings as big as mine, which, at 350,000 square kilometres, is one of the largest in Quebec and Canada, are home to many isolated communities, communities of 200 to 300 people, indigenous communities that are struggling and very vulnerable right now. The House does not necessarily deal with issues of concern to these communities, since those issues seem to be less important from a purely demographic standpoint. However, these people are entitled to the same representation as everyone else. I want us to be able to move forward, to present and talk about these realities in order to find solutions. We must remember that it took weeks before the fisheries sector got any assistance.

Coming to work in person in the House also allows us to speak to the Prime Minister and all of our colleagues, to get a specific topic out in the open and to find solutions.

We are seeing this now with tourism. I keep bringing it up, but I am thinking of all those people who rely on tourism and whom I see every day all over my riding. Some families that live off tourism are struggling to make ends meet and have no idea what is going to happen next week, next month, or even in September, when they may not have accumulated enough hours to qualify for employment insurance. I cannot imagine what kind of year these people might have. I keep hoping that something will happen for them. We need to work for these people. I want their voice to be heard, here as well as in committee.

I do not want us to have fewer opportunities to defend our people and propose solutions. That is Parliament's role.

We talked about the CERB earlier. It is an extremely important topic in Quebec as well. I have spoken to businesses that are in desperate need of workers, especially in the remote regions of Quebec. This benefit deters people from working. Our people need to work to survive. We are talking about families and individuals, but this benefit will also have an impact on the community and on our businesses if people do not go back to work.

Improvements need to be made, and I think that Parliament is still the best place to do that. The Liberals are not going to make us believe that we will be able to get more done better with less time, fewer committees, and fewer answers and discussions amongst ourselves and with our colleagues. I find that very hard, if not impossible, to believe.

Of course we need to keep working on these issues. I also raised the matter of indigenous peoples, which is a very important issue for me. The Innu and Naskapi make up 15% of the population of the riding of Manicouagan. We know that these populations are very young and still growing. I experienced this crisis, this pandemic, with them. I saw all the needs they had and still have, needs that still have not been met. Yes, millions of dollars have been provided, but these populations are fragile and vulnerable because of their isolation and their health issues. I would like to discuss their reality and their needs here in Parliament.

Yes, there is the regular business of the House and committees, and we need to make legislation. However, now there is also all the work that comes with the pandemic.

I always feel like we are lagging behind. We are lagging behind in terms of what happens next. There is nothing stopping us from thinking about the recovery, what is going to happen this fall or a second wave. We are not really talking about those things, but I believe it is our duty to anticipate them and to be ahead of the curve in terms of what is going to happen and what we can do to make sure that the impact is not as big as it was at the beginning of this crisis. We need to prepare. I say this for indigenous communities, for our businesses, for our workers and for all our communities. That is what they need. We have enough work to do, and we have the means to do it. We have more work than we would normally have. When I am told that we are going to meet once, twice or three times this summer, I do not feel that is enough. If I had to, I would come all summer long so that I could give even more to my constituents, so that I could defend them and find solutions.

For the sake of my constituents, I hope we can come up with something other than what we are seeing right now. We are being told to just go home and make calls, when there is so much to be done here. That is what the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons told us earlier. That is disappointing. In some respects, it is almost shameless given what we talked about yesterday when we learned that the two major political parties, the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada, had decided to apply for the wage subsidy.

At the beginning of the crisis, I noticed that indigenous people in my riding did not have masks. SMEs in my riding are telling me that they cannot make ends meet and are going to go bankrupt. I see fishers who know that they are going out on the water at their own expense and are going into debt. I see workers who have had to leave their jobs because they have sick children. The government is not improving these programs, these subsidies. It is not trying to adjust them based on real needs. Emphasis on the word “needs”. The Liberals have brushed all that aside, while at the same time taking money from the pot, claiming they need it. The richest party in Canada decided to avail itself of that subsidy even though it had absolutely no need for it. I think that is terribly shameless coming from any party.

The government is creating subsidies, and some of the wealthy are taking advantage. Then, in the same breath, it tells us that in order to work for our constituents, whose needs are so great, we should stay home and not work in the House, since we are able to.

Where there is a will, there is a way. We can do it, and the Bloc Québécois wants to do it. I want us to continue doing our work, in all moral conscience as elected representatives. We need to be aware that what we are doing is not for our party or ourselves, but for the people we serve. In my case, that is the people of the North Shore. I want to be on duty here as much as possible so we can find solutions fast.

We have been to the moon, so I think we can find a way to vote electronically pretty quickly. There is no earthly reason the work of the House should not proceed as productively as possible. I urge all members of the House to say they want us to get back to work, and serious work at that. That is what our people need. It is what they want, and we are here for them.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I miss working with my colleague in that very short period of time on the fisheries committee, and hopefully we will get back to that committee.

The word “unprecedented” has come up a lot. This is a very interesting and unprecedented time, what has been described as a “she” session. This COVID-19 pandemic has had an inordinate impact on women and everybody in the precarious occupations, mainly. Given the kind of social and economic disruption this has caused, along with, of course, the sickness, I am concerned that I may have misunderstood what our friends across the way have been talking about today.

Are they talking about opening up Parliament to discuss a whole variety of things that Parliament would ordinarily deal with, or does my friend believe that dealing with the pandemic is and should remain the focus of the work done in the chamber and virtually?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is not a dilemma with just two choices.

I definitely think we can do both. We can sit. Of course, if there is an emergency, we can focus on the emergency. That should not prevent us from doing all the other work.

I believe I am capable and fit enough, and I will give all of my time to this. I would expect no less from all my colleagues, as I am sure all my constituents expect no less from this Parliament.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned quite a bit in her speech the difficulty that businesses in her riding are experiencing, particularly getting workers back to work and the programs the Liberals have put in place that are making it difficult to get those people back to work. I would like her to elaborate on that a bit more.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.

That is something that is very important to me. The people back home and elsewhere are brave and hard-working. They want to work and contribute to the effort in their way, by having their own job, but having a job penalizes them. Obviously people think of their families first, but we have to think about the greater community, and that is what the government should do.

What the Bloc Québécois is proposing is not to penalize the people who want to work, quite the contrary. We have to give them access to the benefit, but once they earn money, they should be able to get ahead and increase their income. I think that is a solution worth considering.

The government should do this quickly. Yes, there is a crisis, but as I mentioned earlier, there is also the recovery. This is no longer the beginning of the crisis. We are at a different stage. We have to adjust our measures and adapt to things as they come. We also have to think about the future.

I certainly agree with my colleague. We have to find incentives to get people to return to work and contribute to economic recovery.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his efforts and his passion for the Côte-Nord. It is very evident.

This is not an ideal situation. We are going through a crisis. There is a pandemic. I believe that everyone is trying to find ways to help people and to keep Parliament working.

We have made some progress with the new motion that we voted on. Until June 18, we will sit four days a week. We will have more time than usual to put questions to the government.

Typically, Parliament rises for the summer around Quebec's national holiday and we resume in late September.

However, we have ensured that Parliament will continue its activities, and we will meet at least once a month during the summer on a regular basis. This will ensure that by means of video conferences and a hybrid Parliament, we will be able to continue our discussions, put questions to the government and try to work on improving existing programs.

We will also be able to work on creating new programs. For example, there is one thing that is important to NDP, and I am sure it is to the Bloc as well. I am referring to compensation for artists whose exhibits, shows, tours and festivals were cancelled this summer. They have not yet received any assistance.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for his work, which I greatly appreciate. I would like to tell him that.

However, I do not think that we are gaining anything. I find it unpleasant to hear almost the same words that the leader of the government was using earlier about making gains. Having less is not a gain. Less is still less. I am saying this as an arithmetic lesson for the leader of the government in the House: less is still less.

Now I am being told that there may be a day this summer when we will be able to talk about programs and that we can do so through committees. However, we could be doing that tomorrow. If we vote against the motion, we will be in the House again tomorrow. We could already start working on it.

Once again, I am having a hard time understanding certain things. Can someone help me understand how it is possible that, by doing less and having less, we will be able to do more?

Of course, this is an extreme analogy, but what would we do if we were at war? Would we stay home? Would we be asked to do more? Would we say no, we cannot do anything and we are being asked to do too much? Would we say that there is a crisis, that we are going through a crisis?

My impression is that there is a lack of will. I hope that it is not the case, that it is simply the wrong perception. I am ready to work. The Bloc Québécois is ready to work. I think that the Conservative Party is ready to work.

Why are we halting the sittings of the House rather than continuing them and working even harder, as all of our constituents have been asking us to do since the crisis began?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Manicouagan.

Can she give us a concrete example of a situation where the current format might prevent us from moving things forward and properly representing our constituents? I am thinking specifically of not being able to work in committee.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question. He is very attuned to the concerns of the regions. We both come from rural regions and are well aware that Internet access is problematic, deficient, difficult and sometimes non-existent. This makes our jobs extremely difficult.

Even in the context of these committees, we are interrupted much of the time because people are not using their headsets or because the interpretation service is having difficulties. What this means is that, once again, we have less, not more. Every time we are interrupted, or we have to repeat ourselves or there are technical difficulties means more time wasted. Things simply come to a halt. How many times have some of my colleagues been deprived of their right to speak, their right to ask questions? We can never make up for lost time.

I find that very problematic. We are often stripped of our parliamentary privilege, and that has to stop. Obviously, it would be better if we could work together here in person, since no one would cut me off, except you, Mr. Speaker. We are perfectly capable of doing the work we were elected to do.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I will try to keep this short.

If this motion passes, the member will be provided the opportunity to present all of the different issues she has raised, whether in question period, members' statements, petitions and so forth. There is a major flaw in the argument the Bloc and the Conservatives are putting forward. On the one hand, they say that health experts say that 338 people cannot be inside the chamber at one time, but the Conservatives are also saying they are not prepared to go to electronic voting. There is an impasse that has to be resolved for us to move forward. We have to allow for 338 members of Parliament to be able to vote when it comes to issues like opposition motion days and private members' bills. Would she not agree?