Madam Speaker, I am happy to be in the House with my colleagues. Once again, it was quite a journey to get here, especially on short notice, but I know there is important work to be done.
I have been supportive of the government as we navigate COVID-19. I also want to thank fellow opposition members for their hard work and for getting things done. I am honoured to be a member of the 43rd Parliament and am proud to be Canadian.
I do have one regret: partisan politics. Quite simply, it has made a mockery of our institution. It has allowed us to perpetuate systemic issues within the House and has pitted us against each another. It inflames hatred and fear, the type that one can read about in the manifestos of domestic terrorists.
I want to offer my sincere concern for our Prime Minister and his family, as well as the Governor General. I think we should all reflect very deeply on what has occurred at Rideau Hall and commit to doing a better job of teaching love in our communities.
Our system sees its members fighting for credit and recognition, and tearing each other down at every available opportunity. It is the people of this country who are suffering. I think of all the Canadians who are eagerly awaiting the one-time payment for persons with disabilities that was proposed in June. It was poor planning and political posturing that has left these Canadians an extra month without aid.
I too have been made to draw lines in the sand where I did not want to. There is no definitive wrong or right side. If we are truly here in the best interests of Canadians, the taxpayers who elected us, then I must ask us all, what are we doing? Why pour our energy and resources into one-upping each other?
This is in no way to say that we are not to disagree, seek clarification, challenge evidence or hold the government to account. On the contrary, what I am calling for is increased participation and collaboration. I am calling for respect. Call it decorum or call it human decency.
On that note, I would like to speak about some of the specifics of Bill C-20. The most important thing we can be doing right now and in the coming months is to ensure that Canadians have the resources they need to meet their needs. I applaud the move by the government to support wages for Canadians. I question the complexity of the system it has devised and I am particularly concerned that the ongoing lack of clarity about the details of this program will make business owners vulnerable to audits and investigations to come.
It is essential that one year from now, or seven years from now, we remember that these programs were evolving in real time and that Canadians who accessed the wage subsidy, the emergency response benefit, the emergency student benefit, etc., did so in good faith based on the information they had available to them at the time. Heavy-handed, retroactive penalties will be the wrong approach.
I am pleased to finally see the one-time payment for persons with disabilities being passed, hopefully. My own province has the highest rates of disability in Canada, and many of those with disabilities live in rural communities. The nature of New Brunswick as Canada's only bilingual province means that many francophones living with disabilities are also trying to find adequate resources in their mother tongue. This funding is a step forward, but it should never have taken this long.
I would like to read an excerpt from a letter to the minister responsible for disability inclusion from a newly formed group, the New Brunswick Coalition for People with Disabilities:
...day after day during his daily briefings, the Hon. [Prime Minister] hardly ever even mentioned people with disabilities. Then, when a promised payment of $600.00 failed to get approved at the House of Commons, we told ourselves maybe we should "let the adults hash it out". But then, we said no. No, we will not sit quietly anymore. This is what has been expected of people with disabilities for too long.... Let's be honest here. [The Prime Minister] said that Covid19 had exposed some "uncomfortable truths" about how we look after our seniors. The truth of the matter is, should we not also be embarrassed of the way we have been treating people with disabilities in this country? Here we have a group of people who live below the poverty line month after month, year after year. With no chance of EVER going back to work.... And we sit in the sidelines, watching as the Prime Minister of our beloved country decides that $2000 per month is the amount needed to get by in this country. And yet... We are asking people with disabilities to get by on so much less. And then, in a time of crisis, we tell them—by not saying anything at all—that we will deal with them last. And when we do decide to help them with a one-time payment of $600.00, well...it doesn't go through. The only financial aid during this whole Covid nightmare that does not go through.
It is the responsibility of those with power to ensure that the most vulnerable among us are receiving the support they need. Many Canadians were already struggling to make ends meet, particularly because they could not access employment before COVID. For those relying on provincial social assistance programs, CPP or the disability benefit, their regular activities have been terribly interrupted by COVID.
The precariousness of housing, loss of community kitchens, closure of public spaces and limitations on public transit have all had financial consequences for people who are already living on the edge. These citizens should have been among the first to receive aid. Instead, most of them have still received nothing and those living with disabilities have waited five months for a one-time benefit. It is not good enough. There are two weeks before the House is scheduled to sit again and I encourage my colleagues in cabinet to come back to us in two weeks' time with a meaningful pitch to support all Canadians who are the most financially vulnerable.
I am also encouraged to see that the Canada-China relations committee will be able to continue its work. My hope is that we will be brave enough to be outspoken about China's occupation of Tibet and its treatment of religious minorities, including the Uighur concentration camps, and about the recent security law in Hong Kong.
I am also pleased to see the commencement of virtual meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. We have incredibly important work to do as parliamentarians, and the more we enable this activity virtually, the better served each of our constituents will be.
I look forward to seeing how we address the question of virtual voting, especially as we expect a second wave of the pandemic to occur this fall. It would be irresponsible of us to become vectors of transmission in our communities. However, there is no question that we must get on with the regular business of the House to debate and pass important legislation.
This brings me back to my opening comments about partisan bickering hurting Canada. I encourage all members of the House across party lines to consider how we can work together to ensure that the needs of our constituents are best met, rather than the various partisan interests we represent. We have all been experiencing the pandemic as parliamentarians and as individuals. I wish my colleagues well. I hope they are all doing okay.
I know how this experience has affected my family and friends, my staff and their families. There is a collective struggle occurring across Canada and the globe. In this time of crisis, we need to tear down the barriers inherent to our ideologies and find ways that we can align. We need each other. We cannot get through the next phase of this virus without supporting each another as Canadians. We are stronger united. We must be able to have discussions, to challenge norms and stigmatization, but let our example of human decency in the House set the tone for the respect, kindness and compassion we want to see in communities across this country.