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

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I am concerned about her comments on the economy roaring back. What we have learned with COVID is how quickly it has devastated our conceptions about the economy. The idea that we are going to simply switch the lights back on and everything is going to go back is not realistic. We certainly know there will be devastation in the restaurant sectors in the big urban centres. We saw how the oil sector collapsed before COVID. Now international investors have moved out all together.

There will need to be a long term vision. Part of that is what we will do with the workers who are on CERB now? Many of them have no work to go back to. Is the government willing to play the role that will be needed to build and start the economy, carefully continuing its investments and ensuring that come August or October people are not simply cut-off from CERB if they have no work to go back to?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Patricia Lattanzio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed our contention that we cannot just switch the light back on. It takes time. That is why our government has put in place various programs and measures to give Canadians the opportunity to settle in, to respond to their immediate needs, so when we are ready to relaunch the economy and build it back better, we will be ready.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

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

She spoke a great deal about the economy and the importance of helping our businesses get through the crisis. I would remind members that the Bloc Québécois made a proposal concerning fixed costs, which could be extended to tourism businesses.

I am from Shefford. In my riding, in the Eastern Townships, tourism is an important industry. At this time, the current program and assistance programs are not designed for tourism businesses, which require greater flexibility with respect to fixed costs to help them get through the crisis. They were among the first to be affected and will probably be among the last to be able to start up again.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Patricia Lattanzio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. Tourism has indeed suffered during this pandemic and will continue to suffer even more.

I just want to tell the member that our minister responsible for tourism has spoken with industry stakeholders many times. She has implemented measures to help them, using the three Rs, in order to lighten the burdens of these businesses.

We in Quebec are also suffering as a result of losses in tourism, but our minister is always looking at how to improve the measures to help this unique industry.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Tracy Gray Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, there was a lot in the member's speech around the economy. What has been proposed by the government is to not have all committees sit. When we look at a lot of the committees that really would be very important at this time, for example, international trade, transport, infrastructure and communities, why are we not going down the road of having all committees sit so we can have these important discussions?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Patricia Lattanzio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a notion that should be negotiated between our respective House leaders. The work we are doing here and the work we are all collectively and individually doing within our constituencies, such as answering questions, looking into various programs and looking at the territory we represent to see what the needs of our constituents are, is beneficial. When we then come the House, we can propose measures that would alleviate most of the problems being expressed by our constituents.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House on the subject of the debate before us with respect to how to structure meetings of Parliament going forward in the midst of this pandemic.

I am sure I do not need to remind the members of the House of the extraordinary times in which we are living. As we deliberate on how we will continue to meet, we must be mindful of the example we are setting for Canadians and the message we are communicating.

Before I begin the substance of my remarks today, I would like to extend my deepest appreciation for the excellent work undertaken by the Clerk of the House and the entire administration to give us options on how we can continue to meet and conduct business during COVID-19.

I do not need to remind the House that these are extraordinary times. Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I would first like to sincerely thank the security personnel, employees of the House Administration and all House staff. They are joining the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who continue to work in our essential industries. Whether they work in our long-term care facilities, our corner stores, our pharmacies or our hospital, the dedication of these workers is allowing our society to continue to function.

Turning now to the debate on the next steps for our sittings going forward, I find myself a bit puzzled by the arguments coming from my colleagues across the aisle. Allow me to once again clarify for Canadians that members of Parliament are meeting, that ministers are being held to account and are answering questions. In fact, over 300 questions were asked by members and answered by the government in a period of just three days. By comparison, in normal times, when the House sits for five days, members are able to ask, on average, approximately 190 questions.

Over the course of the debate yesterday on the motion before us, I have come to understand that the accountability that has existed, and that would certainly continue to exist under the proposal before the House, is not the problem for the Conservative. Rather, they are arguing that members of Parliament need to be sitting in their seats, under all the normal rules, in order to feel they are working.

I am a relatively new member of Parliament, elected just over a year ago, so perhaps I see things rather differently than my colleagues. For me, there is nothing more important than the work I do in my riding, serving my constituents.

I, and I am sure many others in the chamber, have been working 24/7, literally seven days a week, from the very early morning until the very early morning the following day. Whether I am speaking to seniors in long-term care homes who are concerned about their health and safety, or people who would like to understand how to access the emergency benefit of $2,000 a month, which over eight million Canadians have applied for and received, or mothers who call me for help in order to bring their children home from overseas while on an exchange or students who are reaching out to their members of Parliament for the very first time in order to discuss the measures we have put in place to support them and the jobs that might be available to them this summer, this is important work.

How important is it that charitable and not-for-profit organizations serving our vulnerable communities, literally putting food on the tables of families that need it, receive government funding? It is critical, and we are there to support them.

Our local organizations are working hard. I am thinking of the MultiCaf community cafeteria in Côte-des-Neiges, Le Chaînon, a shelter that helps vulnerable women, the Mile End Community Mission, which provides food for residents of the eastern part of my riding, Sun Youth, which does an enormous amount of work in delivering food throughout Montreal, as well as many others. I am working hard to support the charitable organizations in Outremont, Côte-des-Neiges and Mile End.

Extraordinary things are happening. There are even new organizations that are being created in response to the current crisis. An MP's job is to support them. The Fondation Aide Outremont COVID-19 is doing an extraordinary job of helping our older and more vulnerable residents. This wonderful team of community volunteers has already delivered groceries and prescriptions to many hundreds of people.

As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business, over the course of the last 10 weeks, I have spoken to thousands of entrepreneurs in my riding and across the country. They needed to speak to someone in government. They needed to have their questions answered and I needed to hear them out.

The work that we have been doing with the private sector and business owners is what has fuelled the adjustments and modifications to our support programs. The feedback that I have been getting so far from all of these calls, from all of these virtual meetings is, “Wow, thank you. Thank you for focusing on us. Thank you for being there. Thank you for working for us.” This is what government is for.

The work we do in service of Canadians in our communities is absolutely necessary. It is insulting to me and it is insulting to Canadians to suggest that we are not working if our bums are not in these seats. It was important for me to clarify that and put it on the record.

I will now get into the details of what we are proposing. What we are proposing would allow us to continue this important work in our ridings. What we are proposing would allow us to meet in this chamber, while respecting physical distancing and other health and safety guidelines, while allowing every member from every part of the country to take part in these proceedings virtually and, importantly, allowing us to continue to be accountable to opposition members and continuing to answer their questions.

I will get a bit more into the details of the proposed hybrid model approach. For members who are physically present in the House, there will be no changes, and the experience will be identical to a normal sitting. The members will be able to hear colleagues who are participating virtually by using the earpiece and will be able to see them on two screens installed on either side of the Speaker's chair.

Members participating virtually will be able to access the House debates through a very user-friendly online video conferencing platform that is integrated into the existing House of Commons infrastructure and systems. When members participate by video conference, they will be able to watch the proceedings of the House when other members are speaking. They will also have access to a video of their other colleagues who are participating virtually. All members will have access to simultaneous interpretation at all times, and all members, including those participating by video conference, will be free to address the House during debate or raise a point of order.

Once the hybrid model of House sittings was established, the House administration carried out a simulation of a debate, and the results were excellent. Consequently, the Speaker of the House wrote to the House leaders to inform them that the hybrid model could be used.

In developing a hybrid model of sittings, the House administration was able to review different approaches that other legislatures in Canada and around the world had adopted to take into account the challenges posed by this pandemic, while ensuring urgent parliamentary business was attended to. More specifically, the administration consulted 30 parliaments and collaborated closely with several legislatures that had similar requirements. This included testing solutions and sharing operational strategies, experiences and results daily.

In addition to working with other legislatures, the administration also conducted extensive independent market research and worked with industry leaders and international national security partners. In working with these partners, the administration set a goal of ensuring that the broadcast production of a sitting would be seamless and that the public coverage would continue to be of excellent quality. This is the proposal we are putting forward.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across the way talked about the compartmentalization of her job, and that somehow her constituency work was more important than the work being done here on Parliament Hill in the House of Commons. I would like to suggest that both are important. To disregard this place, or to give this place a space of less importance, is actually to misunderstand the fundamental role of Parliament.

There are 338 of us in the House and we were all elected by our constituents to be their voice here. When we cease to show up for work here, then they cease to get their voice to Canada's Parliament. This is a problem. When their voices do not make it here, when we fail to show up in this place and engage in important discussions and engage in necessary debate, it means that for those Canadians who put their trust in us to represent them, we actually squelch their voice.

To say that the member across from us is somehow doing more important work for her constituency and therefore this place should cease to meet is absolutely wrong, and it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what this place stands for.

I would like to present to the member opposite that we go into our constituencies in order to listen to our constituents, in order to understand their stories and their experiences, so that they might inform the debate that takes place here and the decisions that come forward from this place. If we do not take the time to do that then we are, in fact, misrepresenting them, and that is a shame. However, if we also do not take the time to bring their voices here, that is equally a shame.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan Liberal Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify that I was responding directly to a comment from the Conservatives to the effect that we are not working if we are not in this place. We are always working. Through the summer and through constituency weeks, we are always working.

I would also like to signal that I am here in this chamber representing my constituents in this place. This place is extremely important to me, and I will continue to sit in this place as long as we are able to do so safely and effectively. The proposal that the government is putting forward is to continue to sit in the House to represent our constituents in the House, but it is a proposal that does so safely and that provides an example to Canadians of how we can continue to conduct our work.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting here for a couple of days and it sure feels like Parliament to me.

Many times, I have heard mixed signals from the other side and I would ask the member to comment in order to clarify for the people at home. I heard from the other side that everyone must be here. That was the word I heard. However, then the member said no, no she did not mean all 338. I heard “here” two minutes ago. Did the member not hear “here”?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan Liberal Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, what the government is proposing is that we continue to sit in limited numbers respecting social distancing and respecting all health and safety guidelines—

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Order. I am going to disrupt the parliamentary secretary. There seems to be some chatter. Members should know that they can cross the floor and discuss things much quieter than shouting across the floor while someone else is trying to speak. I want to indicate that.

On a point of order, the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I fully respect what you are saying, but when a question is put forward that is absolutely misleading the House, indicating that we have said in the House that we want 338 members of Parliament, and we well know that not a single member of our party has said that, why—

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I believe that is getting into debate. It was brought up and we will leave it at that, but we will go back to the hon. parliamentary secretary.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rachel Bendayan Liberal Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question raises perhaps the underlying question of how the members opposite expect us to vote if we are unable to vote virtually. Perhaps my colleague would care to comment on that, and also to comment on what exactly the problem is with the proposal put forward by the government.

Is the only thing missing that they are unable to have opposition days? From what I am seeing, the accountability is there in our proposal, and an opportunity is there for questions to be posed to the government.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in this place, with my feet on the floor of the House of Commons, and to have the opportunity to use my voice as the member of Parliament for Lethbridge to speak on behalf of my constituents, and I would even go so far as to say to what I am hearing from Canadians as a whole. I am thankful to have that privilege.

I was elected to represent my constituents, in 2015 after my first election and then in 2019 after my second one. As a member of Parliament I have the ability, along with other members in this place, to participate in the legislative process employed within this country, which we call a parliamentary democracy.

It is a position I hold with the weightiness it deserves and it is a responsibility I do not take lightly. Additionally, as a member of the official opposition, it is my constitutional obligation to join my Conservative colleagues in holding the Liberal government to account with regard to the decisions that it makes and to ensure that Canadians are rightly represented.

These roles and duties have been all but stripped from me during the past several months. Yes, I agree, I have been able to participate in makeshift accountability periods that have been put together virtually, and I have used social media in order to amplify my concerns and those of my fellow Canadians, but I have not been able to stand on the Commons floor and publicly address the government, as is my right and duty to do.

As word of the pandemic and its possible effects spread, we very quickly entered into a phase of closure. That was on approximately March 13. Knowing the pandemic was worldwide and spreading like wildfire, we agreed to suspend Parliament for a period of time. As the weeks went by and social distancing measures came into place, our return to Parliament, and the recalling of the House, became less and less certain.

Despite our willingness to work collaboratively with the government to ensure each other's safety, it soon became apparent, to the detriment of Canadians, that the Prime Minister was using this pandemic in order to avoid an element of accountability. He was perfectly comfortable issuing media statements from his front doorstep, but on the whole he was unwilling to take questions from members of the opposition. It took days of negotiation for the party opposite to finally agree to one House sitting per week. Even then, the Prime Minister could be seen here for several moments, but not long after.

If we suggest that Parliament's role is optional, as we have heard time and time again from members opposite, then we are effectively telling Canadians that there is no difference between a democracy and an autocracy, and that is a shame.

If the people's voices across this country do not matter in the midst of a crisis, then do they matter in the time period when there is good?

Is this simply an optional activity, or are we doing important work in this place?

Can we shut the doors and see no difference in our country, or do those doors need to be opened in order for us to continue and move forward as a nation?

By refusing to have Parliament resume, the Prime Minister is sending a strong message to Canadians that he alone is the one who matters. I would propose that is absolutely wrong. Parliament is essential. Parliamentarians are essential workers. Especially during a time of crisis, Parliament has the responsibility of holding the government to account, and this accountability best takes place right here, in the House of Commons.

Make no mistake. What the government is proposing today is not a resumption of full Parliament. It would like Canadians to believe that is the case, but it is simply not true. What the government wants to do is actually assemble what is called a special committee, or a committee of the whole. It is stripped of some key powers and responsibilities. For example, the government would still refuse to allow for opposition day motions. It would not allow for the request of emergency debates. It would not allow for the debate of private members' bills. The order of publication of government documents, and the debate and vote on committee reports, would not be allowed, either.

If the Prime Minister is willing, however, to now do four days here in the House as a committee of the whole, then he is proving, or showing the Canadian public, that it can be done safely. We can assemble in this place and do so while respecting one another's safety.

If that is possible, then why not resume Parliament in its full function to allow us to debate the necessary issues of the day? Why not allow us as Parliamentarians to do the important work that our constituents sent us here to do?

What the government is doing at every turn is skirting accountability. As many of my constituents have conveyed to me again and again, if grocery store clerks, restaurant workers, hairdressers, farmers, nurses, doctors and front-line workers can work, if they can look after Canadians, then surely parliamentarians can meet again in this place in a regular and safe manner. They can do so in a way that brings Parliament back in full force.

I have received hundreds of phone calls, emails and messages from constituents urging us to start sitting together as a full Parliament. Indeed, they understand that there is important constituency work to do, but they also see the value in Canada's Parliament, and they want to know that parliamentarians are debating the issues of the day and making sure that their voices are heard here in our nation's capital.

Here are a few notes that I have received.

“If the Prime Minister is staying in house arrest, he should not be allowed to make decisions.”

“Why is this even a thing?”

“Parliament needs to open up all powers required to run this country immediately.”

“Parliament must sit now.”

Parliament is an essential service and MPs are essential workers. When each of us put our name on a ballot, we should have done so with great sobriety and out of an underlying conviction that we exist to serve. We serve in the good times and we serve in the bad times. That is what it means to put our name on a ballot. These happen to be the bad times, but that does not mean that we run and hide. It does not mean that we stay within the safety of our own homes. It means that we, as 338 privileged individuals who have been sent here to be the voices of our constituents, come and we sit and we look after our country.

As Marc Bosc, former acting Clerk of the House, said:

The House of Commons needs to be functioning and to be seen to be functioning....[It] is an essential service to the country. Members of Parliament are... essential workers.

We need to be functioning and be seen to be functioning, which means we are here in this place. The place to engage in robust debate is in the House of Commons. It is not Facebook. It is not Twitter. It is not the mainstream media. It is here. That is what our parliamentary system is based on. That is the historical nature of this place. That is what the health and prosperity of our country so much relies on.

If members feel that their work is non-essential, then I would suggest that they fail to understand their roles and responsibilities, and they ought not put their names on ballots in the next election. This is not simply a place of process. It is a meeting ground where we use our minds and skills to convince our political opponents of our positions. It is where we give impassioned speeches and where we vocally express our dissatisfaction with a less-than-sufficient government response. If we allow it to, the back and forth of exchange can produce excellence. One side puts forward a thesis, the other sides puts forward an antithesis, and then the synthesis of ideas takes place. That is what democracy is about. It is the exchange of ideas. When did we lose an appreciation for this?

Diefenbaker famously said that “Parliament is more than procedure. It is the custodian of the nation’s freedom.” The House of Commons is not some random place simply used to facilitate the goings-on of Parliament. It is a crucial part of upholding democracy with debate, scrutiny, opposition and questioning of the government on all matters that affect the Canadian public. To characterize it as anything less than essential is an utter degradation of our Constitution and the fundamental freedoms for which our ancestors fought. At the very heart of democracy is the preservation of personal liberties, and the guardian of those liberties is Parliament.

Again, there are 338 of us who have been given the grand privilege and the sobering responsibility of being in this place in order to represent Canadians. If we are not here doing that, then who is?

For the government to use this pandemic to avoid accountability and to have us meet only virtually, where dissent can literally be silenced by the click of a button, is unconscionable.

There was a man who worked at a sawmill, and he would faithfully go to work day in and day out, and at the end of the week on Friday, he would exit the compound. Going past the security guard, he would be pushing a wheelbarrow full of sawdust. The security guard would look at the wheelbarrow and ask him what he had in the wheelbarrow, and he would reply that it was just a bit of sawdust, and the security guard would say that it was okay and to go on through.

The next week, the same worker would come back to work on Monday and work faithfully on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday would come around and this worker would fill his wheelbarrow again with some sawdust and go past the security guard, who would ask him what he had in his wheelbarrow. The employee would reply that it was just a bit of sawdust and continue on his way.

This happened for several weeks. Finally, the security guard pulled him over one Friday and asked him if he did not mind his asking what he used the sawdust for. The employee, not missing a beat, leaned in, and asked him in a whisper if he could keep a secret. The security guard said that he could, and the worker said that he was not taking the sawdust but stealing wheelbarrows.

How easy it is to be distracted from the real things going on before us. Indeed, the government must respond to the current pandemic and ensure the safety and security of Canadians. This is, in fact, the first responsibility of any government, but there is more taking place here than what meets the eye.

The Prime Minister will take the media's questions from the comfort of his home, but he is unwilling to take questions from the people of Canada, through their representatives right here in Parliament. The Prime Minister is willing to hand out money to individuals, businesses and not-for-profits, but he demands something in return.

The government wants the Canadian public to be informed, but only with the information the government carefully curates. In March, the Liberals indicated that they were looking at the possibility of implementing legislation that would crack down on what they were calling “misinformation”, information that the government deemed unhelpful.

Further to this, the heritage minister recently confirmed that millions of dollars are being spent on censorship. No legislation was presented in this place on that, no debate took place here and no discussion was had. The Liberals have crowned themselves now as the czar of what is true and what is false, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what gets to stay and what has to go.

Since when is it the government's responsibility to arbitrate truth? This is not democracy, and these types of silly things are the things that happen when this place ceases to meet and when the official opposition is unable to hold the government fully to account. This is a direct infringement of our freedom.

I recognize that no one likes misinformation, but since when is it okay for the government to determine what is wrong, what gets to stay and what has to go, what is in and what is out? It is a massive overreach of power. I find this particularly unsettling given the fact that the current government is actually responsible for spreading some of the most dangerous misinformation that has been put out there. Canadians will recall that it was the government that initially propagated the false notion that COVID-19 could not be spread by human-to-human contact. That was proven false. It was the health minister who declared that closing Canada's borders was not necessary to protect Canadians because COVID-19 would pass quickly. That was false. As well, it was the government that misled the Canadian public into believing that a mask over one's face was not necessary and would not be helpful. That was false too.

If these are not examples of misinformation, then I do not know what is. If the government is looking to crack down on unhelpful or misleading information on COVID-19, then it really need look no further than in the mirror, or at least that is where it should start. The reality is that the government does not have all the answers. We are in this together, learning and discovering. Information is evolving.

Free speech is part of a thriving society. Free speech is what helps us maintain our fundamentals as a nation. It is how we share ideas. It is how we engage in creativity. It is how we advance. It is how we innovate. It is how we move forward. When did we become afraid of robust discussion? When did we become unable to disagree without being disagreeable? When were these ideals eradicated from our Canadian values, from the social fabric that we call home?

Having convinced the security guard that he was simply taking sawdust, the man cleverly pushed his employer's wheelbarrow home knew there was profit to be made. Things are not as they immediately seem. Things are not fully what they appear to be to the naked eye. As Canadians, knowingly or unknowingly, we are being asked to exchange our freedom for what the government is calling “security”, but to what end.

When Parliament fails to meet and the government ceases to be held accountable, it is safe to say that democracy is in fact under siege. I am concerned that so many have been willing to short-circuit democracy when times are difficult. I have heard members talk about the added travel time it would take to get here, the extra safety precautions they would have to take, the strain it would put on them physically, and so on and so forth. Some members have expressed concern about social distancing. We appear to be doing that quite effectively today and could probably continue it.

We swore an oath to serve our country in good times and bad, in convenient times and inconvenient times. Since when did the members of the House start putting their name on a ballot out of convenience? There are plenty of other careers that people could have pursued if that was their ultimate goal. If life were meant to be convenient, if that is what people in the House are seeking, then this is not the place for them. Rather, this is a place of service. This is a place where 338 individuals from across this country come together and engage in robust and productive discussion for the sake of Canadians. This is a place where the exchange of ideas occurs and where legislative decisions are made. This is a place where the voices of Canadians are meant to be represented. When we fail to show up in this place because it happens to be inconvenient, that is a shame, and it is not a shame on Canadians, but on all of us in the House.

This place is essential and we are essential workers because Canadians are the ones who are being represented here and they deserve to have their member of Parliament in this place, speaking on their behalf, making decisions for the greater good of this country.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was a fascinating 10 minutes of my life.

Just because we have so much revisionism going on the House, I would like to speak about the incredible work that was done when the economic crisis hit. When the government started talking about tinkering with EI and child tax benefits, we knew that it was not going to work and that they needed to create a whole new program, something the Conservatives were not supporting at all.

It was the civil servants who worked through the Easter weekend and at night to get the CERB out. We know that the Conservatives are attacking CERB relentlessly and talking about people sleeping in their hammocks and not going to work. However, there is the work of the CRA in Sudbury and the Service Canada offices in Timmins and Thunder Bay, as well the incredible work of Community Futures and FedNor across the north, stabilizing our region, and the fact that we have $50 million of new money coming into the north at this time. We have extraordinary civil servants who stepped up, and it is really important that we recognize the work they did in getting this program off the ground, working under very difficult conditions to make sure that millions of Canadians did not lose their economic security and were not wiped out at a time of unprecedented crisis.

This is an important moment for us because we are back in the House and seeing all manner of revisionism. I want the historical record to show the work of our civil servants, who stood up at a time of unprecedented crisis, and how we were actually able to work in Parliament to change the CERB to make it workable.

I say this because in the United States, the Americans have a one-time payment of $1,250 under Trump. In England, under a majority government, there has not been any money for the self-employed people. It will not come until June. That delay would wipe people out.

However, here in Canada, because we are in a minority Parliament and because New Democrats were willing to negotiate to get something done, we got this thing through. Our civil servants did an extraordinary job, so I want to thank them.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, during my speech I talked about being able to disagree without being disagreeable. I talked about this place being an opportunity for 338 of us to come together and engage in productive dialogue, where we might be able to exchange ideas in a way that we might disagree, but could still honour one another.

I find it very disheartening that the member opposite felt the need to start his statement with a personal attack and follow up with some further slimy comments. He did that yesterday as well. I think it is really inappropriate. It shows a lack of maturity and a lack of leadership on his part. It is very sad.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2020 / 12:30 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 want to be as concise as I can on what we are actually debating today and why I would highly recommend that the member opposite support where we are today. The Prime Minister has been here and has been held to account for government decisions, whether here or in the virtual Parliament over the Internet.

From the Conservatives perspective, what we are really talking about is their wanting an opposition day and private members' business. Maybe those can come with time. We need to focus on how we can continue to move forward with a virtual Parliament, a hybrid system that will enable all members to participate.

I want to give a specific example. If we have an opposition day, at the end of the opposition day there needs to be a vote. However, because of physical distancing we cannot have 338 members sitting in the chamber. Even the Conservatives seem to agree with that particular point. We have to allow for some sort of a voting process, yet the Conservatives refuse to have a voting process. Whether we are talking about opposition days or private members' bills, therein lies the problem. That problem needs to be resolved. The House leadership teams need to come together and work through it.

Would the member not agree that today we are talking about having more questions than we have ever had? We are going to be sitting in the summer, which we have never done before. There is going to be a wide variety of issues to talk about at length, both virtually and in Parliament. In fact, the Prime Minister and Liberal caucus have made a commitment to the parliamentary process and serving their constituents.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite used an important term. I believe he misspoke and might want to retract it. He used the term “virtual Parliament” when, in fact, that is actually not what the Liberal government is proposing. That is not the proposal. That is not the motion. He is actually misleading the House. I would give him the opportunity to retract that statement should he wish to do the right and honourable thing. He is not presenting a virtual Parliament. That is not what we are discussing here today.

If that were in fact what we are discussing, a hybrid, full Parliament resuming, we would be willing to discuss it. However, what is on the table is actually the meeting of what is called committee of the whole or a special committee. It strips us of some very important powers and opportunities as parliamentarians. Again, for the member opposite, who I know knows better because he is quite an intelligent gentleman, to mislead the House the way he is doing is absolutely atrocious and he should stand up and apologize to Canadians.

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Denis Trudel Bloc Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her speech.

It was fascinating to hear her talk about ideals, about what we should be doing, and about how the government should respond to the crisis.

Let's go down the list of the people who need help from the government during the crisis, who need programs like the CERB and the emergency wage subsidy. That list includes workers, seniors, students, community groups, very important food banks, sick people, fishers on Canada's east coast, the tourism sector, which is huge, single moms, people with disabilities, indigenous individuals, people working in grocery stores and hospitals, and artists. The cultural sector was the first to shut down and will be the last to open up again. Our society needs theatre and the performing arts.

The thing is, I do not see either the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party on the list of people who need government help, yet both of them availed themselves of the Canada emergency wage subsidy. We recently learned that the two leadership hopefuls and other members were against that.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague if she thinks the Conservative Party, which raised almost $4 million in the first quarter, really needs the help that should be going to all those other people.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member is, of course, correct when he says that for workers, students, indigenous people, artists and seniors, there is basically a benefit for every single person.

During this unprecedented time in Canada's history, there are an incredible number of men and women who are without work. As a result, they would be unable to pay for their rent, mortgage, the food on their table, the fuel that goes into their vehicle and the clothes on their back without a handout, so the government stepped in and put a number of benefits in place. I can see some flaws in those benefits; nevertheless, I also see the intent to help Canadians.

In terms of that, within the Conservative Party of Canada, there are employees. There are men and women who work incredibly hard to put food on their table, put a roof over their head and look after their family. The party saw it fit to take advantage of the benefit that was made available, in order to pay those employees so that they could continue to take care of their families. I was not a part of making that decision, so I am unable to answer for the motivation. However, I can say that there are 60 families that are being well taken care of now.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rosemarie Falk Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, we were talking about a virtual committee, not virtual Parliament. That is the motion before us.

I have a rural riding. I have trouble accessing the Internet as it is. Usually, it is pretty choppy. I wonder if my colleague could talk about some of the flaws in this and how members will be able to participate virtually, because that is not necessarily possible for all 338.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raises a good point, which is that not all of us live in urban centres. I face this challenge as well. Internet access can sometimes be somewhat dicey and not always predictable. Sometimes we get cut off and have to re-enter the Zoom call that is taking place, which hosts our virtual sessions.

There are certainly many glitches, Mr. Speaker, as you yourself are aware, as you have had to deal with them and done quite well.

All of us have had to make adjustments as there are many glitches within the system we have been given. That said, when we talk about a hybrid system that would be in part virtual and in part in the House, I think we can remedy some of those problems. The key is that it is not just a committee with limited power, but that it is a re-establishment of full Parliament.