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

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, the London Abused Women's Centre is special in the hearts of anyone who has represented that area and all of the great work Megan Walker and her team have done.

Whether it is domestic abuse, sexual assault or human trafficking, we have seen those numbers rise during this pandemic. Unfortunately, the MAPI, the measures to address prostitution initiative, has been exhausted and the government has not implemented a program that would allow front-line workers to actually be able to work with sexually exploited people, whether they be young girls, young boys or women.

London lost the funding and luckily the community came together to support that program for one more month, but the government needs to step up. I believe the best thing we can do is to continue to voice that loss to the government benches, continue to voice the needs of the vulnerable young women and girls and to make sure there are people available to talk to them and to get them through this awful time and make sure they are not exploited by these creeps.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her excellent speech and comments about the need for Parliament to sit. I wonder if she could talk about some of the challenges her constituents are facing during this pandemic. Although there has been some support from the government, it seems that every time the Liberals roll out the support, there is a mistake they have to fix. Those things would have been dealt with had we been able to have Parliament sitting and to talk about some of the programs and deal with them as a Parliament. I am wondering if she would comment on that.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank our incredible House leader. She has done a great job since she took on this incredible role, and on March 12 as everything changed, she made sure that we were all on the same page. I appreciate her incredible work.

Everybody has seen many challenges, but one of the biggest challenges is if people cannot get out to make a few extra dollars they may need. Whether they are on GIS or old age security or maybe are part-time workers, there are a lot of people who do not have the money they need.

One of the members from Saskatchewan talked about the child benefit and I wondered if I got the child benefit. Yes, despite the fact I am a member of Parliament, I was paid $289 by the federal government last week for my 17-year old son. People know how much money I make as a member of Parliament. What the heck do I need that money for when there are seniors in my riding who are going without food, when we meet so many people needing food banks? Yet the government sent me $289 by way of the Canada child tax benefit, while giving our seniors $300 in old age security despite the fact they are making less than $20,000 a year.

This shows the incredible inequities, the scope of the fact that they have not looked into these programs and that a person making the amount of money I am making is being paid the same amount as a senior on old age security during this pandemic. Shame on you.

Not you, Mr. Speaker.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I am glad the hon. member clarified that.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am also very pleased to join this debate. I want to note that within a couple of hours this will probably be the last debate we have in the House in a normal Parliament until September 21 because of the motion we are debating, which to me is quite a shame. I hope to talk about that a bit later in my speech.

I want to start by acknowledging the incredible work being done by our health care providers, the people who go to work every day, our grocery stores, which sometimes have customers who are feeling a little anxious, and the truck drivers who are having challenges finding basic things like washrooms and a place to buy their food. We all need to appreciate the amazing work they have done to keep us going for the last couple of weeks.

I also want to share my condolences with all of the families and friends who have lost someone to COVID. It breaks the hearts of everyone in the House to know that people who have lost a relative, friend or mother were not able to be with their loved one. Rather, there was someone dressed in protective gear, maybe holding a iPad with FaceTime up for those people, but they were not able to be there to hold the hand of their relative.

A lot of people have talked about their staff. I also want to do a shout-out about my staff both here in Ottawa and in my riding. What has not been discussed and what I want to talk about is what the staff have been doing. Mostly, they have had to quickly transition to an adapted work environment. Then they have had to deal with probably the biggest volume of emails, phone calls and issues they have ever faced. I will give a couple of examples.

With travellers, for example, we have had hundreds of thousands of Canadians who were all over the world. Here I will acknowledge Global Affairs and the work its public servants have done in trying to help repatriate Canadians who were stuck in many places. I certainly have staff members who were up in the middle of the night phoning India to help support people through the process they had to engage in to get into the government system.

We had individuals who did not know where their next meal was coming from. They had lost their job, did not qualify for EI and were not sure how the EI and CERB were going to work, so my staff provided those folks with guidance, especially those with disabilities or those who had lost their jobs and were concerned. Unfortunately, Service Canada was closed and could not help those folks, so the staff helped them and the businesses. Who among us has not received a call from people who have put their life savings into a business that has been shut down and they do not know if it will open again or how they will survive, causing them pain and anxiety? The programs are helpful, but as we have already stated, some of them were flawed. Some of the flaws have been fixed, but there are still flaws in some of these programs that were brought in to see folks through these difficult times. Essentially, we had a country and global environment that was really up-ended very quickly. That is very important to know.

We talk about the role of a parliamentarian. I have to say I have been very appreciative of the opportunity to be home in the riding I represent for the last two months to focus on its needs and to help deal with all of the issues that were presenting themselves. Therefore, I appreciate the fact that Parliament had not been sitting over the last two months. However, I was thinking that it is time. I knew that May 25 was coming and that typically May and June are incredibly busy in the House and thought it was time. Things have eased a bit. We were starting to talk in our office about how we would reopen and we made the adjustments we needed to make, so it was time for Parliament to sit again.

When we saw the motion that the NDP apparently bought into and the Liberals presented, it was better than what we had been doing, but we need better than that. It was time to do better than what we had done. Yes, we had been having some committee meetings, but it was not Parliament. As our House leader likes to say, it is a fake Parliament. Her point is that it is not Parliament.

The Liberals have tried to present this as something where there is going to be so much more time for members to ask questions. To be frank, I would rather have less time to ask questions, because I am not particularly impressed with the answers we get, and more time for debate, like the debate we are having today, for the tools we have as parliamentarians to actually get answers to real questions and hold the government to account. What the Liberals have proposed is basically shutting down Parliament, except for one day with very prescribed circumstances so they can spend some money, and an opportunity for us to ask lots of questions and maybe every now and then be fortunate enough to get an answer.

It will be committee and questions. There are some committees that the Liberals have agreed can sit. To me, it has been a real puzzle. I am not quite sure of the dynamics in deciding which committees can sit or not. I sit on the natural resources committee, and natural resources are going to be incredibly important for the economic recovery of our country. We had a forestry industry in crisis and Alberta had significant issues. I can understand why the government would not want the natural resources committee to meet. It does not want to be embarrassed by what might come out of that committee. A few committees are going to meet, and we are going to have lots of chances to ask questions with no answers, but we are not going to have an economic statement or a budget.

My colleague talked earlier about private members' business. What about the bill regarding transplants? There are things happening in this country that are about more than just COVID. I know we have to be predominantly focused on COVID, but we need to also focus on other areas. Just yesterday, Liberals voted against allowing the special committee on China to look at the issue around Hong Kong. Perhaps an opposition day may have had a different outcome for that particular conversation. At least it would have provided an opportunity for some significant debate.

One of the most important things parliamentarians do is scrutinize the spending of the government. We will be back June 17, when there will be a process, I would say a sham of a process, to approve the estimates. For those listening, typically the committees that understand the departments, be it national defence or indigenous services, understand the spending and those budgets. They will typically have a minister come to the committee to defend the estimates to the committee, which can make changes. That whole process has been wiped out.

Therefore, we are not able to scrutinize the spending and we are not getting an economic update. The government is going to spend $250-plus billion, taking our deficit to potentially $1 trillion, and we will not be able to talk about that in this House. As we have seen in committees in the past couple of weeks, when the Conservative finance shadow minister asks questions, there have been very unsatisfactory answers from the finance minister. Therefore, there will be no debates on that particular area.

In British Columbia, there is the Wet'suwet'en agreement. That was done in secret with the hereditary chiefs. The elected chiefs are very concerned, but we are not going to be able to talk about it.

In closing, it is a difficult time for many. I know parliamentarians across this country are working very hard for their constituents in their ridings, but it was time for them to start working hard for them here in Parliament and doing one of our fundamental tasks, which is holding the government to account. This motion is a sham. The NDP should be embarrassed to be supporting it, and the Liberals should be embarrassed that they are once again shuttering Parliament.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague said she is eager to get back to committee work, and so am I. A firearms ban was introduced in recent weeks. As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I am eager to talk about that.

I am also a member of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources. Quebec has an amazing resource that could contribute so much if it were optimized. I am talking about the forestry industry, of course. It could be more profitable than developing other resources such as fossil fuels and oil sands. Given the opportunity, we can come up with solutions.

I would like to know my colleague's thoughts on fossil fuels because I think we are headed for a brick wall if we keep subsidizing them. Why not develop our forestry industry, which could really benefit us going forward?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think this speaks to the arbitrary nature of which committees are going and which are not. I would suggest that the defence committee is absolutely critical and should be having conversations. I would suggest the natural resources committee. We were in the middle of a study on the forestry issue, and of course the forestry was in crisis before COVID.

The pulp industry is incredibly important for the production of the PPE that we use, the N95 masks. We need a solid supply chain. We should be looking at whether that supply chain is in jeopardy.

In terms of the energy industry, certainly my preference is that we would be looking at Canada, having New Brunswick and eastern Canada supported by Canadian oil. It is going to play an important role in the recovery of this country.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member brought up a very poignant and all-too-familiar heartbreak of seniors who have been left to die alone in long-term care facilities. I am reminded of my dear friend Mr. Lionel LeCouter, whom we lost just yesterday in a very similar situation, at a retirement centre in Hamilton where people were actually left to languish.

If we are still to go forward with the government's proposed position for the hybrid, what will the member and her caucus do to ensure that seniors who are languishing in our long-term care facilities and retirement homes are properly and well taken care of?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, the report that was revealed today, and it sounds like the government may have had it for some days before it became public, was horrific and very concerning for all of us. I know that my colleague is new to the House, and he was not here when we were suggesting to the government that it be very careful about a state-owned enterprise purchasing 22 seniors residences throughout western Canada. He might be aware that four of those were taken over by the health authorities pre-COVID because of conditions similar to what we heard in this particular report.

We had warned the government, but I remember that the industry minister at the time said that it was not a big deal, that the provinces had excellent systems and excellent care and not to worry about it. We were suggesting that the government should have actually considered what it was doing. We have asked the Liberals if they did the 18-month review that they were supposed to do under the act. We are not able to find that out because, of course, we cannot ask an Order Paper question. The minister will give a fuzzy answer, but we will not be able to dig into whether they actually did what they were obligated to do under the act.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2020 / 6:05 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I must first mention that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert.

We are here today to debate a motion that would allow us to debate more often and at greater length in this place. Debate is what drives us, what drives democracy, and we look forward to doing it.

I remember seeing Gilles Duceppe's troops arguing with passion and guts when I was younger. Since October 21, my Bloc Québécois colleagues have been doing so well that we are very much looking forward to being here again.

Of course, circumstances dictate that we must find hybrid ways of doing things, not only to debate but also to point out the flaws in the government's response to the COVID-19 crisis. It is our job as parliamentarians to put forward proposals and ideas, and we have spent enough time in our ridings to understand how our constituents are dealing with the crisis and need help.

Directly on the ground, speaking virtually with local stakeholders, we can see that government assistance in times of crisis is extremely important, essential even. We are talking about the survival of small businesses and the financial security of our own people.

Since the crisis began, the federal government has announced many assistance programs. I am sure that most of my colleagues will agree or will have made the same observations as I have. These programs, as generous as they may be, are not suited to everyone. In my riding, Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, many people are still falling through the cracks.

Today I would like to talk about one example in particular, Gaston Berthelot. I briefly touched on his situation earlier today, in questions and comments, but I would like to tell the House more about him.

He is a 60-year-old paramedic. He has a congenital heart problem and had to stop working for health reasons, because he could have serious complications if he were to contract the coronavirus. He called Service Canada, and an employee told him he was not eligible for the CERB because it was his decision to stop working. His employer refuses to compensate him, and so does the government.

I will digress for a moment. We often seem to forget something of great importance in these times. What is being done in Quebec, Canada and elsewhere in the world, namely putting the economy on hold, is being done for the sole purpose of protecting people's health. However, those people in fragile health are the very people who have been forgotten. I am not going to dwell on long-term care homes in Quebec. The most vulnerable are in precarious situations and have been forgotten in this crisis.

Mr. Berthelot is at risk of serious complications. I am not the one saying so, but rather his attending physician and also a representative of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada who was interviewed by Cieu FM, a radio station in Baie-des-Chaleurs that I want to salute.

I would remind members that Mr. Berthelot is a paramedic and that it is a little harder for him to telework. He is in direct contact with sick people every day. Therefore, he had to stop working, but not because he did not want to work. He tried to work. People who want to go to work are being encouraged to do so. The assistance programs are there for people who cannot go to work, but he was penalized.

In the case of Mr. Berthelot, the federal government has obviously failed. Why does he not qualify for the CERB just because he, himself, made the decision to stop working? This is nonsense to me.

Here we have a perfect example of someone who wants to work. We often find that certain program criteria are too restrictive for some people and too lax for others. You guessed it: I am talking about the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party, which will use the Canada emergency wage subsidy to pay their employees, but that is another issue I will not get into.

Mr. Berthelot is in a very unfortunate situation, being without pay for two months. He is not the only one in this kind of situation, because the government has also decided to close its Service Canada offices. That was justifiable early on in the crisis for reasons we can all understand, but as the lockdown gradually eases and certain sectors of the economy reopen, our local merchants are proving to us that it is possible to reopen businesses and serve the public by putting in place a number of health measures.

Services provided by Service Canada offices are fairly essential, especially in times of crisis. People often forget that about 45% of Quebeckers are functionally illiterate, which means they struggle to understand what they are reading. That makes it virtually impossible for them to fill out forms online without help. Now those people are being asked to go online or call Service Canada, but it is practically impossible to get a hold of anyone there.

I do not know if you have ever tried it, Mr. Speaker, but I know a man in Baie-des-Chaleurs, Fortin De Nouvelle, who spent a whopping 18 days trying to reach an agent on the Service Canada line. He ended up calling my riding office, and of course my team rallied to help him out. We managed to put him in touch with an official, but we waited several days for a simple question, for a service that could have been provided while adhering to appropriate public health guidelines.

Forcing people to use online services completely ignores the reality of rural areas where, even in 2020, not everyone has Internet access. In my constituency office, we have received calls from families who were desperate because they could not register online, as they had no Internet access and could not talk to a Service Canada agent. Again, our office teams are taking action to help these people.

We end up wondering about the work that public service offices have to do and the work that constituency offices have to do. We want to be there for people, and it is our job to be there, but there is a certain amount of work in between that the government should be doing. These are not second-class citizens; there are no classes. They are entitled to effective service that should be available in times of crisis.

The solution is quite simple, and that is to reopen the Service Canada offices as soon as possible. I have just listed off some reasons, and it is possible to do so, unless the federal government has another motive, namely not to reopen them. I am thinking of the small regional offices, whose business hours have been cut back considerably anyway. Why not close them to save money? Maybe that is the government’s reasoning. Who knows? If it wants to come clean, let it make the announcement and we will fight that battle.

Another one of the federal government’s glaring shortcomings in this crisis is the silence surrounding the tourism industry in my region, the Lower St. Lawrence and the Gaspé Peninsula. We have heard my colleagues from eastern Quebec speak about this at length. Tourism is a major economic driver that is critical to our region’s survival. In our region, it accounts for 1,500 businesses and 15,000 employees, half of them permanent. It also brings in 1.7 million visitors and generates more than $6 million in economic activity each year. This is not insignificant for our population. The industry is in dire need of funding so that it does not collapse, so that it can restart and continue to showcase what the Gaspé and the Lower St. Lawrence have to offer.

We are still waiting for those announcements, because most of these industries are falling through the cracks of federal programs, again, because they are seasonal. Some of our businesses have been waiting for announcements and have been under stress since March 15, and there is still nothing for them. A vast number of programs have been announced for a vast number of sectors, but there are still people who do not qualify.

For a few weeks now in our region, the public health authorities of Quebec have set up roadblocks to prevent people from entering our region in order to protect the population. Only owners of a principal residence could travel there. The roadblocks were lifted on May 18, which caused a wave of concern in the region, and rightly so. People are worried. They want to welcome tourists this summer, but not at any cost. In order to reopen their doors and put health measures in place, restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions must have financial support, and they have yet to receive any.

The Gaspé and the Lower St. Lawrence are known for their lobster, but also their crab, a word that has a very particular pronunciation back home. Lobster fishermen were not fans of the assistance announced by the government, since it was too little. This industry sells the majority of its catch to the United States and has lost nearly all of its income. We are talking about tens of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, the measures that have been implemented are poorly designed, because the fishermen must be paid by percentage of catch and not by the week in order to be eligible for the program.

The measures for family-owned businesses are also poorly designed.

There are a lot of family-owned businesses in the Gaspé, fishermen with their sons or uncles, but they do not qualify either.

I will stop there. I think my colleague from Longueuil—Saint-Hubert will carry on. I shared a lot of examples to show that, regrettably, the federal government's programs are poorly designed; it is our job to make them better.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her presentation. Clearly, the reality in the regions and in rural areas is quite different than that of large urban centres. My colleague said some measures were poorly suited, especially to the fishing industry. If she had had more time to continue her speech, what else could she have told us?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for giving me the opportunity to continue what I was saying about something I care deeply about.

On most of the wharves in eastern Quebec, close to 50% of fishers are related. As I was saying, the crew members are often family members. It has been that way for generations. However, this means that they do not qualify for federal programs.

It is the same thing for a host of seasonal industries. I am thinking in particular of day camps, an issue that I have been interested in given my role as the Bloc Québécois youth critic. The Association des camps du Québec polled its members, and 71% of them will not be able to reopen despite the Government of Quebec’s announcement giving them the go-ahead. They will not be able to reopen because they do not qualify for federal programs either, because they hire camp counsellors for only part of the summer, they are non-profit organizations, and so on. They have less revenue, because their revenue is in the form of deposits from parents. If parents cannot send their children to day camp, they will not put down a deposit, so the day camp will not have the revenue it needs to reopen.

There are many more examples like these, which show that the government could expand certain programs or make them more flexible, or provide direct assistance to those who need it most.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her passionate determination to defend her constituents, to know her riding and to memorize her constituents' names.

I know she has another passion: the environment. I would like to hear her talk a little more about that. She ran out of time, and I am sure she would have done so if she had had a little more time. Would she not agree that it is about time we started talking about a green recovery once the pandemic is over?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that my colleague is encouraging me to talk about this subject because it is another one of my passions.

It is crucial that we think about the future that we are going to leave to the next generations and even my generation. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how one looks at it, we are spending billions of dollars to help people in this time of crisis. By so doing, we are passing on a rather astonishing amount of debt to future generations. It is therefore time to think about our way of doing things and to come up with an economic recovery plan without forgetting about environmental measures. We have no other choice.

Shortly before leaving Parliament in March, I introduced a bill to compel the government to meet its climate change commitments. I was so looking forward to debating it, but we cannot do that in the current situation.

At some point, however, we will have to start talking about other subjects again, particularly the environment. That is absolutely essential. My colleague is working hard on a green recovery plan, and I am working with her. We are very much looking forward to debating it here in the House and to bringing forward suggestions, ideas and solutions that we will have no choice but to implement if we want to ensure a better future for generations to come.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has the floor, for a 30-second question, followed by a 30-second response.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the pandemic and the current crisis have exposed all of society's flaws and failures, vulnerable populations, the effects of privatization, the cuts and the austerity of unbridled capitalism.

Does my colleague agree with the NDP that things must not go back to normal, since what was considered normal before was a big part of the problem?

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his remarks. It is a very nice way of looking at things. I completely share his point of view. I think this crisis is the right time to rethink all the ways we do things, as I was saying earlier. Indeed, what was normal was not necessarily right.

We often talk about returning to normal after the crisis, but we do not want to go back there. Earlier today, I heard my colleague from Saint-Jean talk about the ice storm, and recall how quickly we forgot about it and went back to our old habits.

Our role as parliamentarians is to create something else, a different way of life from the one before. Of course, we would have preferred the pandemic not to have happened, but I think something good can come out of it, such as rethinking our way of life.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Denis Trudel Bloc Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the tone just changed. While I was listening to my colleague, I was thinking. As some of my colleagues know, I was an actor in a previous life. When I rise in the House, I always wonder if I am putting on a show for the camera or playing to the house.

Things are pretty strange right now. Because of the pandemic and social distancing, there are just 38 members here instead of 338, and right now it feels like I am playing to an empty house. This feels like the eighth performance of a pretty bad show that got panned by critics. The place is deserted, but nobody is going to listen to me anyway. Half the time, people are busy doing their own thing. Still, I hope people are following the debate.

I would be remiss if I did not begin my presentation by acknowledging Quebec's front-line workers, especially those working in our long-term care centres and hospitals, including all the orderlies, nurses and doctors. They are on the front line. We, meanwhile, are on the third or fourth line. It is hard to say. We are definitely an essential service, because we take care of the people.

That is the main thesis of my presentation. I think we must come back to this place. Parliament must resume its work. We must find ourselves face to face with one another, with people from the other parties, including the ministers and the Prime Minister. This is not about having little Zoom conferences for two hours a day only to turn around and negotiate behind the scenes. Parliament needs to do its work, because there are serious problems to address.

Let's back up a bit. I was commending the nurses. They are running the show. It is no small injustice in this crisis that the soldiers on the front lines, those who come out of the trenches and go to the front, are earning minimum wage. CHSLD workers earn $13 an hour. That is an outrage. This is not Zimbabwe or Eritrea, it is Canada, the best country in the world, and yet the soldiers we send to the front lines are earning minimum wage.

Where is the answer to this crisis? It is here, in the House. We have been talking about health transfers for 30 years. Health care is underfunded. People are underpaid. We are looking for the problem in the CHSLDs. We all have a responsibility here to ensure that the federal government covers 50% of the provinces' health care costs to pay for doctors, hospitals, nurses, surgeons and orderlies. We must give them a decent wage. We have to take care of the people who take care of our people. Right now, the federal government is paying 23% of provincial health care costs. That is billions of dollars. What would we do with that money during this period? We would pay people well.

We all have the power here to change that. Are we going to use it, or are we going to continue to do little Zoom meetings from time to time, sitting comfortably in our living rooms, where we can see what books the ministers are reading and the hockey trophies they won when they were young?

We want to make meaningful decisions. We want to sit so we can take care of people's problems. That is what I am thinking.

I was speaking about nurses. I wanted to pay tribute to them because they are working on the front lines. We are debating whether or not we will continue with Parliament. In two months, the government signed cheques totalling $300 billion. It threw together some laws. For years, we came here to debate and try to do things. Three or four public servants and two or three ministers got together and in two months cheques totalling $300 billion were hastily signed.

That is unbelievable. They signed $300 billion in cheques to solve some problems. We want to continue doing that because there will be more problems after the crisis. There are problems now and there will be some after.

Our nurses are dying. That upsets me. That is another thing. I do not think that anyone is at risk by coming here. It is always possible, but it would be an accident. We could get hit by a car on Wellington, but that is not very likely to happen. Young men and young women, who often come from another country, which is another issue, get up every morning and may contract a deadly virus. They can wear protective equipment, but it could happen anyway. No one here can say the same thing. Our job is make sure that they do not get sick. We have that power. The best way to pay tribute to all these people is come sit here to do our work, vote on legislation and distribute money. We were able to inject $300 billion into the system. I think there is still some missing. Even today, long-term care homes in Quebec are having a hard time finding people. We have to find people, and for that we have to pay them. This money needs to go to serving these people, not into the pockets of the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party. People who are working need to get paid. That is what we want to do.

That is the kind of work I want to do. I want to come here and vote to give money to the people who really need it. It would be the best way to thank them. It is one of the needs that could be met.

I have three minutes left. I wanted to talk about housing.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Do not forget to talk about nurses.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Denis Trudel Bloc Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

I think I talked enough about nurses. That is one problem, but there is a slew of problems that could be resolved. We need to sit down here to do that.

Let's talk about housing in Quebec. There was a crisis, there is a crisis and there will be a crisis. Right now, we do not know what we are going to do, but all parliamentarians can take action in this regard. Three or four years ago, the Government of Canada implemented the national housing strategy. It promised that it would find housing for people, that it would take care of that. It allocated $55 billion, which was spent all across Canada, except in Quebec. Over the past two months, it has signed $300 billion worth of cheques. We need $1.4 billion to house people who are going to end up on the street in two months. When will the government give out that money? People are going to be out on the street tomorrow morning. We know that. Just ask all of the organizations involved in housing, homelessness or low-income housing. In three months, these people will be out on the street. Just ask all of the food banks. The crisis is happening now, but it will start all over again in six months.

A woman from one of the food banks in my riding told me that if she does not bring in $80,000 over the coming year, she will have to shutter the place. That woman feeds 100 people every week. Where will she find the money? On the housing front, Quebec needs $1.4 billion to house its people. Just because of a flag, the government across the way is refusing to hand over $1.4 billion even though it has pumped $300 billion into the system over the past two months. That is unacceptable. Parliament must sit. We will not do this online. We need to be here, face to face, talking about what folks need and cutting people cheques.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:30 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, one thing that Bloc members have in common with the Conservatives is their Confederation approach to dealing with things such as housing and health care. If it were up to the Bloc and the Conservative Party, there would be virtually no role whatsoever for the national government to participate in housing. As for health care, under the previous Conservative government there was a genuine lack of commitment to it, and the Bloc would suggest that the federal government has no role to play there.

Being a nationalist who believes in all regions of our country, I am very proud of the fact that we, as a government, have committed to a national housing strategy, lifting many people out of very serious situations. We have committed historic amounts of health care dollars. There were increases, actually, even though Bloc members will often say in their speeches that there were decreases.

All of the issues the member across the way talked about could be addressed if this motion were to pass. It allows for a wide spectrum, with debate, questions and answers, petitions from his constituents, members' statements and more.

I encourage the member to recognize the very nature of the pandemic and look at the motion as a way forward for us to ensure that the institution is providing a high sense of accountability. That is happening with this motion.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Bloc

Denis Trudel Bloc Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I understood what my colleague said, since I switched over to the interpretation a bit late.

I will say it again. There are needs, especially with respect to housing. I did not mention figures earlier, but 150,000 households in Quebec did not pay rent in April as a result of the crisis. That is a whole lot of people. That figure comes from Minister Laforest, in Quebec City. On May 6, we already knew that people had not paid their April rent, even if they had received the CERB cheque. The same is true for May: 10% of Quebeckers did not pay their rent. The figure for Montreal is worse, at 15%. That is not nothing.

I have some interesting figures from another study. In the past two months, 300,000 Quebeckers went to a food bank for the first time in their lives. Three hundred thousand people were already using food banks, so that brings the total to 600,000.

I have one more thing I want to say about that. In a survey, people said they already knew that within a month of these measures ending, they would not be able to feed their families. These are real issues. I want to know how we are going to solve these very real problems, which are going to smack us in the face in the coming months. I want us to be able to talk in person.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When my colleague gets emotional, his voice gets a little raspy and he reminds me of Jean Garon.

I just want to say two things, Mr. Speaker.

First, I completely agree that we must improve the working conditions of front-line health care workers. These workers are often nurses or orderlies.

The NDP has been saying for a long time that we must increase provincial health transfers. However, with regard to increasing orderlies' wages, we should not meddle too much in provincial jurisdictions. I am nodding to my colleague as I say that it is Quebec's jurisdiction.

Second, two weeks ago, the government did an interesting about-face, and I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Countries such as Denmark, France, Poland and even Scotland stated that if businesses resort to tax havens, do not pay their faire share, cheat and do not contribute to the public coffers, they will not be entitled to government assistance.

The Liberals woke up one morning and announced that they were going to do the same thing. It took less than 24 hours before we heard the “beep, beep, beep” of the government backing up. It was no longer going to do that.

I would like the member to tell me why he thinks that the Liberal government is incapable of mustering this political courage.

Proceedings of the House and CommitteesGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Denis Trudel Bloc Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

That is another thing I do not have enough time to talk about. I have eight pages of things that are not working in Canada during the pandemic, including tax avoidance.

Billions of dollars are legally held elsewhere. I am not even talking about tax evasion. This is allowed under tax laws. God knows that people who have that much money can afford the services of people who spend days finding loopholes in the law and figuring out ways to take advantage of them.

Earlier there was talk of what happens after the crisis and everything we might do, including with regard to the environment. We might also deal with tax avoidance. Is this not the right time to do that? We need billions of dollars, and billions of dollars happen to be lying around.

That is not what the government across the way is doing. It is even worse. It is giving money to those companies. We immediately asked them multiple times not to give money to people who avoid taxes. They told us no.