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

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2020 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to be in the House today to debate the important issue of the pandemic that this country is going through and the way in which our Parliament is responding to it, not only in terms of programs but also in terms of how we are organizing ourselves to function as a democratic voice, notwithstanding what I would call the greatest disruption in our country's history since World War II.

Before I start, I would like to take the opportunity to thank my staff. They have been indefatigable. I looked that up in the dictionary, not because I did not know what it meant but because I wanted a more precise definition. It means “persistently tireless” and that accurately describes my staff always, but especially over the last two months. I would like to name them individually: Maire Whitley, Joanna Markowicz, Alex Slusar, Ashley Sanchez, Lauren Roy, Philippe Guay, Paul Kaiser and Vicki Bas, who had to interrupt her hours here on the Hill but who will be an integral part of our efforts to get our offices up and running again.

They have done a wonderful job. They have helped constituents who called searching for answers. They have suggested improvements to programs, which I have then sent to other levels. I am happy to see that some of those improvements have been made as we have adapted the programs, not necessarily because of my intervention, of course, but because members of Parliament from all parties have been communicating with the government with their suggestions for how to make these programs broader, fairer and more effective at this time.

I forgot to mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for Pontiac.

As I said before when I stood to ask a question, this does feel like Parliament to me. Even though it is committee of the whole, it feels very much like Parliament. I am saying generally, in the last few days, even on Wednesdays when I have been here, so on and so forth. Also, the virtual sessions of the committee of the whole feel very much like Parliament. Members of the opposition have a chance to ask pointed questions, and those questions, at least the good ones, are reported in the media. That is all part of the accountability process that we are engaging in, albeit by different means than usual.

I have noticed during the debates that take place in the COVID committee that pretty much every topic under the sun can be mentioned or related in some way to the topic of COVID. That is obviously because of the latitude and open-mindedness that you have shown, Mr. Speaker.

We have heard in the House about people who work in retail in our communities across the nation, and I would like to tip my hat to them as well. They are essential workers. They have a very important job to do. They help ensure that our supply chains are functioning. However, retail outlets are taking precautionary measures. They are taking a variety of measures. I will describe some of them in relation to my last trip to the supermarket.

People had to line up outside, six feet apart. There was a long lineup alongside the supermarket. When we got in, we had to wash our hands and sometimes even answer questions about whether anyone in our family was ill. I know everyone has had this experience, as everyone has been doing the same thing to make sure we have what we need during this pandemic. When we get into the supermarket, there are arrows telling us which direction to go in which aisle. Of course, everyone has to stay six feet apart. When we get to the cash register, an employee points people to the cash register they need to go to depending on how long the lineup is.

That is effectively what we have done in this Parliament. We have implemented social distancing measures. That is why today, in this sitting of Parliament, we are not 338 members.

We have adapted. Just like the retail stores have adapted, we have adapted, and we have been able to use technology to adapt. I did not really know what Zoom was before the pandemic, to be honest, but I have adapted and I think I am pretty good at holding Zoom meetings now. Parliament has adapted as well. Because we have technology, we have been able to keep Parliament functioning. We have been able to keep debate going, and we have been able to see the opposition ask questions. The only real difference between the Zoom meetings and what we normally have here in the House is that there is no heckling on Zoom, so we can actually concentrate on what the questioner is saying and concentrate more on the answer. It is important that Canadians know that we have adapted and that we continue to function and continue to debate, despite the fact that we have to practice social distancing measures in the House.

I have also heard from the other side that we are principally talking about COVID. That makes perfect sense. This is an unprecedented challenge. It is one of the greatest challenges of our time. I would expect Parliament to be focusing almost singularly on that topic, with the leeway you provide us, Mr. Speaker, to bring in other issues. This is the challenge of our time. I know there have been comparisons to Parliament in England during World War II, but I would submit that its members spent most of their time talking about World War II. That is just the way it is. To suggest that we are going to function exactly the same way we did in February, with the same range of topics, is a bit disingenuous, because we are in the grip of a major pandemic that has turned our country and the world upside down. Yes, there are budgetary issues to discuss. The member from the Green Party brought up the issue of MAID. We have asked for one extension already. How are we going to deal with that? I am certain we will find a way to deal with the priority issues that also need to be discussed, along with COVID-19.

The advantage we have over the British Parliament is that we have communications technology. Another difference between the British Parliament and Canada is that one can get to the British Parliament from anywhere in England without taking a plane. That does not describe how transportation works in this country, with its huge land mass.

I would like to finish on the point the member for Lethbridge was making in her philosophical speech about the give-and-take of debate, synthesis and so forth. I would like to submit that the virtual Parliament, the hybrid Parliament that is coming out of this debate is very much in the spirit of synthesis. It is very much in the spirit of parties listening to each other to try to find a common, workable solution in a completely unprecedented situation.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a two-part question for my colleague across the aisle. He talked about his staff at the beginning of his speech. Obviously, we all rely on our staff and consider them to be extremely important.

I want to ask him if he applied to the program to receive assistance for his office staff. Obviously, his answer will be no, because his office budget has not been cut. The office budget has not suffered as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The funds made available to businesses are meant to save businesses that are struggling.

Here is the second part of my question. Hoping that his answer to the first part is “no”, how does he explain that his party has unscrupulously gone ahead and applied for public money that has been made available to help struggling businesses, when that same party refuses to fulfill its commitment to restore public funding for political parties?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, my office has not applied for the wage subsidy because my office is not a political party. We set partisanship aside in my office, just as I imagine my colleague does in his.

Indeed, the philosophy behind all the programs the government has created is to help workers and families. There are programs targeted at businesses, non-profit organizations and so on, but the common goal is to help individuals and families get through the crisis. I do not want to turn this into a partisan issue.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier it was indicated that we would have 338 members of Parliament here. One of my greatest concerns and challenges over the last few weeks is trying to say that I am sorry that someone is misleading people. I have heard this once again from the member today.

It is not just about the topic of COVID-19. Of course, this is a pandemic and we are all going through this. At the same time, the agricultural sector, the sectors that are dealing with businesses and our international trade, all of these continue to be huge hurdles we need to cross, and we are attempting to cross them. However, there is no ability to share the stories of the farmers in my riding, which I will be able to do so today, because we have been so constrained on what we can talk about.

We talk about democracy, but I saw an order in council from the government on May 1 regarding the firearms ban. Yes, I have been busy with the COVID pandemic, but if members want to go to Elgin—Middlesex—London and listen to over 150 firearms owners who are furious about this, I welcome them to come.

If the government is saying that we are only talking about COVID-19, then why the heck did it put through a firearms ban on May 1?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the motion passes, the hon. member will be able to ask a question on anything she wants.

With respect to the recent action on firearms, that was part of the government's platform. The measure enjoys the support of a majority of parties in the House and I would submit the support of a majority of Canadians. I would also remind the member that we have an order in council process, but all the regulations that are passed by order in council have to be routed and given authority by enabling legislation. That authority exists in enabling legislation that was passed in the House.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

We have time for a brief question.

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has 30 seconds to ask his question.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

I do not understand why the Conservatives insist on rejecting a solution that will work quite well. A hybrid Parliament will allow everyone to take part and ask the government questions, as we saw in Great Britain.

I would like my colleague's thoughts on the committee of the whole model. Personally, I very much like having this opportunity to spend five minutes talking to one or more ministers and having a more in-depth discussion than we normally can in the traditional version where we get only 30 seconds to ask a question followed by only a minute for the answer.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis has 30 seconds to answer the question.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question because in this short five-minute period for questions and answers, the person asking the question sets the pace of the exchange.

That way, if an hon. member wants to ask a seven-minute question, the minister has seven minutes to answer and the government is forced to follow the pace of the opposition. I think it is an exceptional formula. I very much enjoy following this virtual question period.

Maybe someday we will use the same set-up in the House of Commons. I do not know. It is not for me to decide, but my colleague raises a good point.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Pontiac Québec

Liberal

William Amos LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Innovation

Mr. Speaker, I would highlight for the House the fact that I will not be delivering my full speech. I will simply be thanking my staff, because my team in our constituency office has done such great work and have been there for the constituents of Pontiac. It bears mentioning to the public.

I am so happy to be able to celebrate their work. We do not always see the people working behind the scenes answering phone calls and emails. They have worked hard during this pandemic, and I know that the same goes for all of my colleagues from all parties in the House of Commons.

I really want to give special thanks to my team members.

Erin Davis is our team lead and has been with us since 2015. She is doing an amazing job coordinating the whole team. Jessica Forgues works in our Campbells' Bay office, obviously now virtually since the office is closed. She is front line, receiving all those calls, Stéphanie Lacroix does our administration and financial management. Francis Beausoleil also works with Stéphanie in our Chelsea office. Then there is Anick Caron has recently joined our team and is doing great work in our Gracefield office.

I want to thank Anick for her work in Gracefield, in the Gatineau Valley, and I also want to thank Geneviève Lemaire, our communications assistant.

Geneviève just recently joined our team, taking over from Maja Staka, who also did great work with our team.

These are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 period, from a politician's perspective.

When we represent our constituents, we need all of our assistants and our teams supporting us.

It is only with a team effort that we can serve the public, so I want to thank my Pontiac team. With that, I will conclude my speech.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will also take this opportunity to thank my team, starting with my chief of staff, Christian Rivard. He has worked non-stop during the pandemic and I can even share a story with you about that. We practically worked around the clock during the repatriation operations. I slept at the office and Christian did as well on other days. We set up a war room, even for all the assistance programs.

I would also like to mention Marie-France Beaudry, who helps me out with community organizations which, together with cultural organizations, had difficulty qualifying for assistance from the various programs. We had to be sensitive to this reality and guide these organizations.

There is also Valérie Lafond, who helps out on the administrative side, and Yves Dumulon, who has 20 years' experience providing services to constituents. As you know, the Canada summer jobs program is rather complex and expectations have been much greater this year. I also want to send best wishes to Philippe Guertin, another member of my team, who suffered a mishap during the COVID-19 crisis.

This is a question for the member from Pontiac. Earlier, he mentioned that his constituents were emailing him many questions. I know that Internet access is an issue that is particularly important to him. How is the Internet in his area? How can we make a real difference in terms of Internet coverage, which the COVID-19 crisis has confirmed is a problem?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my esteemed colleague on the other side of the House.

I also take this opportunity to thank Tyler LaSalle, one of my assistants, who took some time off to go and work in one of our seniors' residences in Ontario.

To go back to my colleague's question, the Internet is without doubt the main infrastructure concern and a matter of priority for the Pontiac. We have to admit that, all over rural Canada, high-speed Internet is a frustrating concern because there is no quick response.

However, since I was elected in 2015, we have been able to announce projects totalling more than $20 million, projects subsidized by the federal and provincial governments. Sometimes, the projects were submitted by not-for-profit organizations and sometimes by major telecommunication companies.

Does that solve the problem? The answer is no, not at all. We must move forward and I believe that our government has a plan to move forward very positively, with the collaboration of the provinces and funding of $750 million from the CRTC.

I believe that service improvement projects will be submitted in the Pontiac, because they are needed. We must also have patience, although all of my constituents want to have the Internet yesterday, not today or tomorrow.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for setting a good tone in regard to the gratitude we owe to our staff. I would like to thank Dan, Patricia, Liz, Simon and Jacob who, particularly in these times, not only answer constituent concerns but deal with an intensity that is unprecedented as well. I know the word “unprecedented” has been used a lot, but that is the case.

I would like to encourage all my colleagues to be very attentive to the mental health concerns of their staff. When they get people from businesses calling, people who have worked for 20 years building their business and are in tears, or other people who have been unable to get on a program because they missed it by some avenue, it is troubling.

Last, we are all posting on social media. I have noticed an intensity of the posts as well. I would ask my colleagues, in a concern for mental health, to understand that people who have mental health issues can be very easily pushed into an anxious situation where they will make bad choices. I caution members trying to make political points out of the intensity of the pandemic and to be mindful of those very severe points members may make and how they will be received by people who are struggling with mental health.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for those wise and generous comments. I think all Canadians can learn from those contributions.

Certainly, the greatest success our team has had in sharing messages with the public on social media has been around celebrating our front-line service providers and celebrating our nurses. If I want to get a lot of likes and shares on our Facebook page, we are positive about the people who are doing the hard work. Yesterday, it was celebrating the Canadian Armed Forces men and women who are working so hard in our long-term health care facilities in Quebec and Ontario, and the response is overwhelming.

Canadians right now want to feel uplifted. They want to feel supported, and they deserve to be supported. We are all under stress, we are all under duress. We all know someone who is having a tough time right now or probably a dozen people who are having a tough time.

Our front-line service providers are worthy of that kind of celebration. I appreciate that we are able to celebrate the member's staff as well. They are doing a great job. I know everyone's team is doing a great job here. We are all just human beings after all.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay. Also, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you give me a two-minute warning. I tend to speak at length.

We have heard many passionate and compelling arguments related to the crisis we are currently in with COVID. Members heard me earlier in the House reference the 6,180 COVID deaths. Each statistic is a story, a family devastated by loss from this global pandemic. When we get into statistics that large, 80,000 cases, I do not believe that we are in a place right now where we are understanding the gravity of this. I do not believe that we have taken the time as a country to mourn these losses.

Yesterday we heard tributes to an officer and pilot who died in a tragic accident. I extend that same empathy in tragedy for the loss of thousands of Canadians across the country. I do that because we are in a historic moment. We have the opportunity within the House to craft the future path of the country. I admit that we have heard lots of rhetoric inflamed on all sides by all parties. When we hear about the idea that the government is misleading, or that a party is misleading, I believe it is deeply misleading to suggest that we are not working in this present crisis, or that this notion of going back to work betrays the very spirit of the previous speaker's assertion of just how hard the staff are working, and the intensity of the emotions. In our government operations committee, we are working diligently every day across parties to ensure that we have the highest amount of accountability from the government to the public.

I am happy to report to the House that I have worked with friends, along the way, from the Bloc and from the Conservative Party to ensure that we are adequately preparing for the next wave, which we know is going to happen. We know that the government was charged with creating a stockpile that would have had adequate protective equipment in place in the millions. We know that, at the onset of this, we could have used better evidence-based practices to ensure that the number of 6,000 dead may have been less. We will not know in this current crisis, but we do know that we have to begin to plan now for future deaths and future tragedies.

Every statistic is a story. Every life lost is a heartbreak for Canadians across the country. These are just the reported numbers. These are the numbers that keep me up at night. These are the numbers that wake me up in the morning to get to work, whether virtually from Hamilton Centre or right here today.

We are in historic times. The honour and privilege that our constituents have instilled in us, to be here representing not their financial interests but their very lives, which are at stake, is the single most important thing I will do professionally in my entire life. For that, I will make no apologies. I will make no apologies for the work that we have done in the House as New Democrats to deliver for Canadians. If there are members present here today who feel like they are not at work or who feel like they have not been able to get things done, that is on their own accord.

As New Democrats, when we put the proposal to create a hybrid system that would allow every voice across this country to be represented, we did it from a small but mighty caucus of 24 members representing every corner of this country, from Nunavut to St. John's to Windsor to Skeena—Bulkley Valley, way up in the north of B.C.

We understand the complexities. We understand the passion of the small business owners who are about to lose everything after working decades to be able to provide for their families. We understand the workers who are forced into meat-packing plants like Cargill, knowing the risks they are going to undertake to ensure that we have food security. We understand what it is like for the single parents who are at home trying to make the heartbreaking decision of whether they are going to put food on the table or pay rent. There have been compelling visions for the future of this country presented throughout this crisis.

Let us be clear that the rush to get back to work is not coming from the working class. It is coming from the capitalist class. We have heard a lot of opinions about what socialism looks like. We have heard very maligning comments about how we got to work today and how we like oil and gas. I would ask members how they like health care, public education and all the goods and services that we cherish as Canadians? These were brought from a social democratic state and separate us from other countries around the world.

We have an opportunity in the House to deliver for all Canadians. We have an opportunity to deliver for every person who happens to be in the country during this pandemic. We have not only an opportunity, but a moral imperative regardless of people's citizenship. If people are temporary foreign workers or undocumented persons who have made it to this soil seeking freedom and the liberty that our Conservative friends talk about, everyone deserves to have a chance at life through this pandemic, and we know that not everyone is experiencing the pandemic equally.

As New Democrats, we are committed to working through this no matter what. We would work in a hybrid system, in a proposal that would provide a voice across all of Canada, that would work through the summer, that would work as much and as long as necessary to deliver for Canadians on a path forward. We are committed to doing that.

There was a very clear statement made by the Leader of the Opposition, who said that the rest of us here would prefer to look at Canada as how it could be, but the Conservatives would prefer to look at how it is. That is very telling. In Hamilton Centre, where I am from, I see suffering.

Is the reality we want to go back to the deep economic inequality, the racial disparities happening here, or the second-class citizenry of indigenous peoples across this land by the very definition of the Indian Act? No. I will never apologize for wanting to see this country become what it could be, not what it was.

That is where we are today. We talk about something as simple as extending EI health care to 10 paid sick days, as simple as providing universal pharmacare for everyone or as simple as providing the right to housing that would allow for the creation of 500,000 housing units across this country. We say that because we see the suffering. If members do not see the suffering, they have a deep privilege. If they do not see the suffering, I invite them to come to my riding, which has the third lowest income in the country. I will show them what it means in this moment with 6,000 deaths. When this is done there are going to be many more.

We have a moral imperative to do everything within our power legislatively. Whether we call it Parliament or a committee of the whole, whether it is virtually or in person, we have to follow the best practices that are provided by science and by doctors to model to the rest of the country just how dire this situation is. When this is all done, maybe as the House we can put politics aside and begin to mourn the thousands of lives that will have been lost. That is what I am here for. That is who I am here for.

With that I will take my seat and relinquish my time to my dear friend from Timmins—James Bay.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:10 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 appreciate the comments of my colleague across the way. I always put the residents of Winnipeg North and their concerns and issues at the top of my agenda. I appreciate the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent through this epidemic to support real people in our communities: young, not as young, businesses and so forth. It is critically important.

It is encouraging to see individuals from all political parties contributing to doing the tweaking that is necessary so that we can maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impact of the epidemic we are facing.

My question is related to the full virtual integration that we are hoping to achieve. Because of health-related concerns and advice from health experts, 338 members cannot meet inside the House and therefore are looking for that hybrid.

Could my colleague emphasize how important it is that we achieve that at some point?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, to borrow a Liberal phrase, there is certainly a lot of work to do. Although we are proud of the work that has been done in our committees, we know that there are still systems in place that leave far too many people out. We need to have a laser-like focus over the next four to six months on those Canadians who are deeply suffering. Our virtual Parliament proposal is to be able to provide a hybrid system that is going to do that: keep us on track and focus our attention on what is most important.

Let us be very clear: What is most important in the House are the lives of the people living in this country. It is not the profits of petroleum companies or the other stuff that is going to be brought in to distract as a sideshow. We need laser-like focus on the lives lost in this pandemic. If it is virtual, online, or here in the House in this hybrid system, we fully support it.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tracy Gray Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member gave a very impassioned speech. To use his own words, he mentioned that we need to do, legislatively, what we can. He also mentioned we could call it Parliament or call it virtual Parliament, whatever one wants.

In fact, what we are talking about today is neither of those. We are not talking about Parliament or virtual Parliament. What we are debating today is a committee, which is not Parliament or virtual Parliament. Under that role there is no legislation that we will be able to vote on.

What is the member's understanding of what we are voting on today, and how would he expect the legislation he might be interested in to come forth when we are actually not discussing Parliament?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can appreciate the legalistic terms that will be used. I am talking about the spirit and intent of running government using all the aspects that we need to ensure that Canadians get what they want. I will note the heckling that is happening right now. There is a certain spirit from the Conservative caucus that we need to get back to work. I would assert that we have been working. We have accomplished so much as a small caucus. In fact, if there was an opposition to be had, it would be had right here by working for Canadians day in and day out.

I can certainly appreciate the reactionary response from the Conservative caucus. They would prefer to cherry pick the people they have come here. This group would adhere to free speech. I see I am out of time. I am sure I will be able to elaborate on my free speech in a future question.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague's party is always quick to stand up for the most vulnerable, much like the Bloc Québécois stands up for Quebeckers.

A 60-year-old paramedic in my riding has congenital heart disease and had to stop working because his job puts him in daily contact with the public, which could put his health at risk. As a result, he does not qualify for the CERB, even though it was recommended by his doctor. He is not eligible for any kind of government assistance. I find that a bit ironic, since the government provides these programs, but with criteria that are often too strict for some people and too inclusive for others.

What does my colleague think?

What can we do to improve this situation from here, whether it is in a virtual or hybrid Parliament, to propose solutions to the government?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is critically important. Like I said, to borrow the Liberal term, there is much work to be done.

Members will recall that the first iteration of the Liberals' support was the mismatch of EI, which was undefined and certainly did not provide for the most vulnerable. As New Democrats, we fought for the universal application of $2,000 to be provided to every single person in this country. What did the Liberal government do? It provided means testing that filtered very vulnerable people out: people who might have made a little money or been sole proprietors of their businesses and not paid out in the dividends that were required by the government.

To make matters worse and add more confusion, we had senior members of the Liberal Party telling everyone to apply. Our assertion from day one has always been getting more help to more people more quickly, instead of designing programs that are obsessed with filtering people out.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour, as always, to rise in the House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay and be here at a moment when our world has fundamentally changed forever. What we need to come to terms with in the House is that we are in the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis, and the role of Parliament is to come together to find a way to establish a means of working to address the nature of it.

Before I spoke, we heard a report that the Canadian military, which has been in long-term care homes, has found blatant disregard for the lives of seniors, with abuse and negligence in the for-profit care system. Canadians are looking to this Parliament. They will look to us and ask what we will do to ensure that this never happens again. We will hear some say that this is under provincial jurisdiction, but the negligence happened under provincial jurisdiction and in numerous jurisdictions. These seniors deserved better, and we will have to look at how we envision health care in the 21st century.

COVID has exposed very clearly the myths of our society and the smugness. It has laid bare the inequities, and it has made us start to address this. Canada is now in the new century, and the old century and its old smug assertions are gone forever.

Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition talked about the magical, mystical hidden hand of the market that creates everything we need. That is a really bizarre thing to say when this nation did not have PPE, when our closest neighbour, the United States, was stealing our medical supplies and when front-line medical workers had to crowdsource because our nation did not have the capacity to handle the pandemic.

People will look to this Parliament to ask what we are going to do to make sure that never happens again. We should never ever to be in a situation where we have to send in the army to keep our seniors alive. We send in the army for earthquakes in Haiti. That is where we send the army. We send it to catastrophic floods and fires. We had to send in the army because we have been so negligent in the health care of seniors, and the reports speak to the blatant disregard and abuse.

We have had to adjust how Parliament works as well, and I will say one thing for sure: In opposition, members never give up time. It is their one tool. Members never shorten debate or give up an opportunity to speak, because it is the one tool we have. In the face of this crisis, we recognized that we had to pull back from Parliament and think about how we were going to do this. The New Democrats said that as we are in a minority government, we will begin to negotiate. That is what we do in a minority government.

The first negotiation was based on the fact that suddenly millions of Canadians could not pay their rent. So much for this myth of the middle class and those wanting to join it. What we see are millions of people in the gig economy and millions of contract workers who were not going to have the ability to pay their rent. Then we started to push the government.

In the original talk, the government said it was going to tinker with EI and that it had a little more money for the Canada child benefit. The New Democrats said the extent of this crisis was such that we have to do something extraordinarily different, something that would have been thought impossible in February: a $2,000-a-month minimum to keep people afloat. We worked with the government on that. We never got any support from the Conservatives. They were all howling. They talked about the shirkers and people sleeping in their hammocks. We worked with the government but said the plan was too restrictive, and we asked about the self-employed. We had to change it, and each step of the way we had to negotiate. This is what we can do in a minority government.

People in the United States got a one-time payment of $1,250. No wonder there is so much social unrest in the United States right now, a breakdown of social solidarity. If we had given a one-time payment of $1,250 in March, it would have been an economic catastrophe for Canada. We recognized that we had the power of the federal government, a power that the provinces do not have. We have the Bank of Canada to backstop this. We knew we could give $2,000 a month as a bare minimum, so we included the self-employed.

Under Boris Johnson, England went with a base income as well, but it does not include the self-employed until June. If we had done the same thing in Canada, millions would have been wiped out.

This is how we negotiated. We gave up our time, which we fight for to stop the government from shutting down debate and fight for at committee. We gave that up because there is a bigger principle at stake: the crisis that Canadians are facing.

We negotiated with the government about small businesses. The original plan the government had was for a 10% wage subsidy. We said that 10% was not going to do it and that it had to be 75%. We negotiated that. That is what we do in a minority. We have the capacity.

The government has now brought in a motion for the committee of the whole to meet four days a week. People back home have never heard me explain the ins and outs of how Parliament works because I do not tend to do that, but the idea that this is a fake Parliament or not a real Parliament is a complete misrepresentation and falsehood. We have been able to zero in with ministers, asking very specific questions to push much harder.

We asked how we would get to the end of June. We are not shutting Parliament down permanently.

How do we get to the end of June? We said there were two clear things for us.

We wanted some sessions in the summer because we do not know how COVID will change in the summer. We heard nothing from the Conservatives about wanting to show up for work in the summer. Parliament does not sit in the summer, but we got those meetings.

We also said we would support the government on this key issue if it considers workers who are going back to work. They get $14 an hour and have no sick time. We never see the Conservatives stand up and talk about people making $14 an hour, unless it is to thank someone who served them a burger in the morning after they went through the drive-through. It is great that an hon. member thanks a guy at the drive-through, as I heard earlier, but the Conservatives offer nothing about the fact that if workers gets sick they cannot take time off.

The 10 days we negotiated with the government is extraordinary. It is also extraordinary because we realized, which my friends in the Bloc will lose their minds over, that we have to start talking at a federal level about how we can do this across Canada in a pandemic. We will have to negotiate a solution here.

We will now be speaking until the end of June about where we need to be, but coming out of this, we need to have a very clear vision. The economy is not simply going to turn itself back on and roar back into life.

We heard the Leader of the Opposition say that we have to get government out of the way because we want people to be able to make choices. Mr. 20th Century Man talks of making choices when millions cannot pay their rent. Let us get government out of the way. Let us just have the private sector do it all. Anyone who is dealing with industries has heard from industry after industry that they will not come back without some kind of vision and support.

We are talking about what the role of government will be. We have been here two days, and we have heard many things from the Conservatives. They went on about Margaret Thatcher. Remember her? She said there was no such thing as society. Guess what? COVID showed us that this is not very credible. Of course, they always mention Winston Churchill. They started off with Winston Churchill, then went to Margaret Thatcher and then to the Soviet Union, with the old “follow the Soviet Union” approach. The only thing they were missing was that we had to hold the line in the Mekong Delta so that the dominos did not fall.

What we are hearing are the tired old excuses of a 20th century vision that does not cut it. What COVID has shown us in 2020 is that those old myths are not going to cut it. We will need a new vision for public investment in health care. To end the precarious nature of work, we will need a public commitment with standards, not just to get government out of the way. We will also need a vision for building our economy.

We are willing, as the New Democrats, to give up some of our time in order to negotiate in a minority to put the people of Canada first. That is what we will continue to do. We will leave the Conservatives to howl at the moon or jump on the back benches. Maybe they will mention Castro next or someone else from their 20th century greatest hits. We will focus on what we need in the 21st century.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sherry Romanado Liberal Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague brought up something that I want to highlight. In my home province of Quebec, we have been devastated by COVID-19, especially in the CHSLDs. It is not normal that members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to our seniors residences. I want to thank my colleague across the way. Her son, like mine, is serving in a CHSLD. I thank all the members who are deployed on Operation Laser for what they are doing, including the 36 members who have now been diagnosed with COVID-19, catching it during this deployment.

We have seen something we have never seen before. We have seen the House come together, across party lines, during a pandemic. We have brought our voices together to make things better with the sole goal of helping Canadians get through this. I think that gives us hope. I know Canadians absolutely want us to work together for the good of the country.

Could the member elaborate a little more on how we can continue to work together to help Canadians in their time of need?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been here many years. Nobody is ever going to accuse me of being non-partisan. I drop the gloves without thinking twice, because that is how Parliament has worked and it is the Parliament I have grown up in. However, we see something bigger than us, something bigger than we could possibly imagine. Timothy Morton calls it a hyperobject, something we cannot even completely comprehend. That is the power of this pandemic.

I hear the Conservatives talk about coming back here as if it is an inconvenience, but I do not see this as an inconvenience. My family worries when I come here and tell me I have to stay home for two weeks. What about my children? I see what people are doing back home. They are concerned. As my colleague from Hamilton said, it is not the working class who are itching to get back to work, because they know they are going to be on the front lines.

Canadians have taken an extraordinary step of social solidarity. I am so proud of Canada at this time. We need to show Canadians that when we meet to talk about these issues, we are focused on drilling down on the crisis that we are facing so that we will come out more resilient, stronger and more just. That is the task before us, and we will get there.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Perron Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his presentation.

I have been sitting in the House on and off since October 21. I have noticed that we often agree with the NDP on the substance of things, such as support for the public, decent health care, and so on. However, there is a big disconnect between us. It looks like they did not read the contract they signed behind our backs in 1982. Health falls under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, period.

No, it is not normal for the army to have to come help in long-term care homes in Quebec. No, the current situation is not normal. How did we get to this point? In Parliament, they are trying to pin the blame on Quebec, but that is not where the blame lies. This is happening because of the fiscal imbalance and the many years of gross, appalling and scandalous underfunding of our health care system. The federal government taxes half, keeps the money and does what it wants with it. It has been rationing it out to the provinces and Quebec for many years. Mr. Chrétien even bragged about it in Europe. It is simple: they make cuts and the people complain to the provinces.

I will try to calm down, but it is hard to stay calm sometimes.

I will explain to the NDP what the solution is, and that will be the point of my question.

Does my colleague from Timmins—James Bay not think that the federal government should simply increase health transfers, as we have been calling for and as all the provinces and Quebec have been asking for in a reasonable, intelligent and rational way?