House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

Karen McCrimmon Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, this was an unprecedented crisis that really demanded a unique response, which depended on our agility and ingenuity to make it happen. Is it perfect? No, it is not perfect. Nothing ever done in the House ever is, but when we talk about CERB, somewhere between 8 million and 9 million people have been helped. When we talk about the wage subsidy, it is another 3 million people. When we talk about getting GST credits out there, that is more people. That was our aim: to help as many people as we possibly could through this crisis.

Things will change, because we are learning as we are going through this, but helping people was our first priority.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this take-note debate, because there is so much of which to take note.

First, it was satisfying to see the members of the House, proven by our attendance here under almost normal procedures and practices, on Monday and Tuesday for debate and passage of Bill C-20 and to correct and improve emergency funding for the wage subsidy program and one-time payments for persons with disabilities, who were, like seniors and students, somewhat of an afterthought for the government in its COVID emergency funding programs.

The Monday and Tuesday sittings, unlike this now outdated hybrid talking shop, has proved that we can endure a prolonged arrhythmia that has been imposed on the beating heart of our Canadian democracy by the Liberal government, which finds transparency and accountability inconvenient.

As many, if not most, communities in Canada, certainly in the national capital region, return slowly, with precautions, to normalcy, surely this place should do the same. I hope we will have more members physically present for more days at a time and more committees meeting regularly in place with appropriate safety measures.

I would also like to take note of the exemplary service of my Hill and Thornhill constituency office staff during the lockdown, Michael, Judith, Braydon, Beverley and Perri-Anne, working largely from home to serve the range of extraordinary requests for assistance, assisting folks stranded abroad, employees and employers trying to navigate the ever-changing range of emergency funding programs, visa and passport issues, families divided by non-essential travel restrictions, the interruptions of wedding plans, funerals and university studies, the distribution of personal protective equipment and support for food banks.

The lockdown caught us in the midst of relocating our constituency office from Clark and Yonge in Thornhill to Centre Street just west of New Westminster, but we completed the move, finally, in June and are up and running, although not yet accepting visitors inside the office. The major limitation of normal services now involves passport renewal and visa support, awaiting the reopening of Service Canada and other agency offices.

Absolute normalcy, whether in our ridings or on the Hill, is still some time off. However, as we encourage, as parliamentarians, employers to reopen and resuscitate dormant sectors of Canada's economy, so too do we in the official opposition encourage the Liberal government to revive, as I have said, this place, the beating heart of our Canadian democracy. The Liberals prefer government by news conference and sermons from the PM's cottage stoop, but it is time to get back to parliamentary basics, which brings me to another matter of which I want to take note.

For decades, in power and out, the Liberals have advocated—

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I will interrupt the hon. member for a moment. We seem to be having trouble with sound today, but I think we are back up and running.

I will let the hon. member continue.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, would you like me to start from the beginning or could you tell me precisely where we lost sound?

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member can continue from where he left off. I believe the sound issue was for one case, in particular. I do not see it being a unanimous problem, so hopefully we will get that fixed.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, for decades, in power and out, the Liberals have advocated the replacement or reduction of many of our parliamentary practices and procedures. They regularly float the idea of a four-day work week, no Fridays, and since the mid-1990s, they have pushed for electronic voting in the House of Commons. They said that it would free members and ministers for travel and work outside the House.

Now, under the guise of a health precaution in the time of COVID, the Liberals in the past couple of months have pushed in the procedure and House affairs committee for major changes in the way government is done, including remote electronic voting that would be permanent.

The Liberals claim that remote voting is just a pandemic measure, but some Liberals are saying, on the record, that they want to vote from afar so they can spend more time in their ridings. Others have made it clear they are looking for a digital voting application that would effectively be permanent modernization.

Though the majority on the procedure and House affairs committee recommended that various voting procedures be tested before being adopted, the Liberals have pushed ahead with their web ambitions, propped up by the Bloc and the NDP, ignoring what is going on in other legislatures in Canada and other democracies.

At Westminster, the mother Parliament, the House has adopted physical distancing to its regular voting process; applied attendance limits; authorized remote voting, then reverted to in-person voting; and tried proxy voting, then returned to lobby-based voting. As well, all committees have been productive while experimenting with these various procedures, while our Canadian House has been dormant, with neutered sessions like this, and a few days devoted to compressed sittings to pass and correct emergency funding legislation.

During this time, Ontario's legislative assembly continued its spring session until today, with a new voting procedure in lobbies. British Columbia's legislative assembly resumed June 22, with hybrid sittings, and is expected to sit until mid-August. Saskatchewan's legislative assembly sat, with attendance limits and using a proxy voting procedure, from mid-June until July 3. Alberta's legislature will continue its spring session until tomorrow. The only provincial legislature without effective pandemic sittings worth noting is Nova Scotia's. It is the only one with a Liberal majority.

We may have had reason in March and April to suspend proceedings, but arguments for resumed sittings in May were valid, and those arguments are much stronger today. Our Conservative members on the procedure and House affairs committee were reassured by the House administration's analysis, showing that 86 members plus the Speaker could be seated in this chamber in full compliance with physical distancing. While members from distant ridings may have to adapt to multi-week blocks without the usual weekend flights home, this would be, as my colleagues on committee have observed, a trifling sacrifice compared to the hardships of Canada's earliest parliamentarians.

Therefore, safe, responsible, in-place voting is responsible and you, Mr. Speaker, have offered six different voting methods, each compliant with public health guidance. Our Conservative plan for safe, responsible House sittings would bring Canada's democracy out of its Liberal-induced coma and would have the government properly held accountable.

The final matter which I find worthy of taking note involves the Prime Minister's ethical failings, ethical failings which have infected others in his cabinet and caucus.

When our Conservative government created the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, it was thought that the commissioner's investigation of violations of the Conflict of Interest Act or code by ministers or members required no major penalties, that naming and shaming of a minister or a member's ethical breaches would prevent further violations. As we have seen over the past five years, naming and shaming simply do not work with a shameless Prime Minister.

We have had two major investigations of the Prime Minister which reported in findings of major conflict of interest violations. Let us remember that there are still loose ends to both the “Trudeau Report” and “Trudeau II Report”.

In the case of the first report, a Federal Court ordered the current Commissioner of Lobbying to review the decision by her predecessor to not investigate the lobbyist in the matter of the Prime Minister's illegal vacation. That order is still pending, although it was suspended when the Prime Minister's Office immediately appealed that Federal Court ruling.

In the case of the second report of the SNC corruption scandal, the Ethics Commissioner concluded that while he gathered sufficient factual information to find the Prime Minister guilty of violating the Conflict of Interest Act in attempting to improperly influence his attorney general, directly and indirectly, he was “unable to fully discharge the investigatory duties.”

Also, the Liberals often choose to forget the $100 fine imposed by the commissioner on the Prime Minister for failing to report receiving a gift of expensive leather-wrapped sunglasses in 2017.

Now there is the WE to me to he to his scandal, which the Ethics Commissioner is now again investigating the Prime Minister, a scandal that has cast a long shadow on others in cabinet and the PMO.

This scandal is yet another powerful reason for the restoration of all the practices and procedures of the House.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:35 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for talking about how we can try to safely resume our activities as parliamentarians and at the same time ensure we do not become vectors for spreading the virus.

As an Ottawa MP, I am very concerned when it comes to members from 338 parts of the country travelling by airplane to Ottawa, possibly staying in hotels and going to restaurants. Also, many of the staff, those in security, the pages, clerks and the interpreters, live in my riding in Ottawa. They are taking public transit and are possibly being exposed.

I love being in the House. There is nothing more honourable and better than being here with other parliamentarians, but we are in a pandemic and we have to be responsible.

The member talked about electronic voting. I do not know if PROC has looked at this, but I would ask my hon. colleague to consider looking at two separate Standing Orders: one set of Standing Orders could be for normal times and one set for when we are in a pandemic, when we could very well become the vectors of infecting other Canadians by being too close together in this chamber. This way we would not have the issue, as the member mentioned, of having something that may be permanent, which would replace the very important face to face we have in normal times, but it would be a set of rules that would allow us to keep ourselves and our constituents safe.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for a reasonable suggestion, which unfortunately, in the House procedure committee, was pushed aside by the Liberal members on that committee, who were supported by the Bloc and the NDP.

Our issue is in regard to remote voting. It is not so much that we are against remote voting, but we have great concerns with the web-based system Liberal members have been proposing since 1997. We have seen in other legislatures and democracies video-based voting, using the technology we are using here today in the hybrid House, which would be equally effective here and certainly verifiable. We have security provisions with regard to who participates in these hybrid sessions. It is one of the six alternative voting procedures our Speaker has honourably presented to the committee.

Unfortunately, the Liberal members on PROC, again, supported by the Bloc and the NDP, have bowled ahead with this vision of voting via smart phone, on an iPhone, which we simply, in the Conservative Party, find unacceptable.

We also wish, and we discussed this at PROC, that we followed the mother parliament in the United Kingdom, where a variety of approaches have been tried, such as voting electronically, voting by video and voting in the lobby, one at a time, safely distanced from each other. As well, with regard to your point, which is a good point, about our far-flung members, some of them have underlying health problems or family members with underlying health problems, and now that social spacing is no longer allowed on our national airlines, there are considerations. Those alternates of video voting or voting by other means have been put forward and were discussed.

The official opposition's basic issue with the majority report, the Liberal, Bloc and NDP report from PROC, is that it did not adequately consider or test other approaches.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his speech.

Over the past few days we have heard a lot about the WE Charity matter. The Bloc Québécois wants the Prime Minister to take a step back, temporarily bow out and let the Deputy Prime Minister focus her attention on COVID-19.

As my colleague pointed out, our democratic processes have fallen to the wayside during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when we should be working twice as hard to help people. The Prime Minister is embroiled in a situation that, in my opinion, is similar to that of the sponsorship scandal, although I hope that is not the case.

I would like to know whether my colleague agrees with me that the Prime Minister must temporarily bow out so that we can focus on what is important to Quebeckers and to Canadians.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleagues is quite correct in remembering the Liberal adscam, the scandal that led eventually to the fall of a previous Liberal government.

We have just learned this afternoon that the finance minister has admitted to one of the greatest violations of the Conflict of Interest Act, accepting a sponsored vacation from the WE organization of which we continue to learn every day even more concerning details.

As I said in my remarks, yes, the Prime Minister appears to be guilty and we will wait for several months. Seven months is the average time for an investigation by the Ethics Commissioner. It was somewhat longer in the first “Trudeau Report”, because the Prime Minister found it inconvenient to meet with the then ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson. That became close to a year-long investigation. However, I would hope that the Prime Minister, his ministers and others in his Liberal caucus make themselves available soon so we can resolve these issues.

While we have not taken an official position that the Prime Minister step aside, his behaviour and performance over the last five years has proven him unfit to lead this country. We would certainly urge those in his cabinet who are not also complicit in his violations of the Conflict of Interest Act to take charge and to ensure that more due diligence is done with the treasure that the government is administering in emergency funding during the COVID pandemic. The close to $1 billion in this scandal raises the question of how many of the other emergency programs might be found to have similar violations and potential to be investigated.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring to the attention of my colleague something that happened right here as I was asking questions.

I was asking the Minister of Veterans Affairs if he was aware that flags were being placed on the files of veterans. He said that he was unaware, yet he sent a letter to a veteran, explaining concerns about that.

All my questions were simple, requiring quick yes or no answers. Was he aware? Are veterans informed when that happens? Are veterans services and funding impacted when there is a flag on a file? Can a flag be removed when it is clear that there was no wrongdoing? Does a veteran have to hire a lawyer to get that flag off? I asked all kinds of questions like this. Over and over again, the response from the minister was that this was not the place to discuss these issues. I sense that the attitude of the Prime Minister is permeating everywhere, that ministers do not want to have to respond to real, sincere, succinct questions for which they are accountable.

I am wondering if you would like to comment on that as well.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to remind the members to place their questions through the Chair, not to the Chair. I am sure nobody really cares about my opinion. I just want to ensure we get the opinion of the person who is giving it.

The hon. member for Thornhill.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I apologize. I do sometimes get carried away when it comes to the Prime Minister's ethical behaviour or unethical behaviour.

We have known for some time that ministers answer important questions in the House, such as the questions the member asked in this hybrid Parliament. The excuse is always that it is question period, not answer period and the answers are generally deflections or non-answers. I think that once we get more of the committees up and running and in full operation, with full attendance under normal parliamentary rules, we will get revealing answers, which I think the veterans affairs minister would have felt compelled to give in committee, as the finance minister revealed his very serious violation of the Conflict of Interest Act this afternoon with his acceptance of sponsored travel.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

2:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to go back to the subject I talked about during members' statements on Monday. This time I will have 10 minutes to speak rather than just 60 seconds, so I can add some context to my remarks.

My statement on Monday was mainly about the delays in immigration processing, which were already way too long before the pandemic. Those delays are even more problematic now, since they are having even more dramatic consequences for families that are separated from their loved ones and deprived of their support because of the time it takes to process their applications.

To begin I would like to talk a bit about my professional experience because then the link will become clear. Before being elected to this place, I had a short but very rewarding career as a young lawyer. During that time, I worked on international child abduction cases.

International child abduction happens when two parents have different nationalities and one of them decides to take the child out of the country, or refuse to return, without the other parent's consent.

Over the years, my mentor, who worked on this type of file for a long time, noticed that there was an increase in the number of cases of parental abduction. That is not because people are abducting their children more often but simply because, over the past 30 or 40 years, we have had the capacity for international mobility, which has resulted in more binational couples, more families where the parents are not of the same nationality. That is a growing phenomenon.

If we do not do something about the delays in sponsorship processing times soon, the problem could get worse in the coming years, because Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will likely only get more and more sponsorship requests. We therefore need to nip this problem in the bud.

Over the course of my career, I also had the pleasure of working with immigration lawyers. Some of them decided to quit private practice for the greener pastures of legal aid. I want to give a shout-out to any of them who may be watching at home. When they made that decision, they were unable to keep all their files and I took over many of them, including sponsorship files. I was therefore able to see first-hand how the interminable delays and existing procedures were undermining the quick review of sponsorship files. Here are a few telling examples.

When I filled out sponsorship applications, I would take all the forms, put an ID sticker on each one, stack them in the right order, seal the file and send it to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. In many cases, the file was sent back with a note about a missing form. The returned file would be completely disorganized and would often include the supposedly missing form. If that happens when just one official has handled the file, I shudder to think what it would look like after passing through the hands of several officials.

I also frequently noticed a problem with the checklist of items required to evaluate a file. I would complete this list before sending the file. The official would check it, item by item, and return the whole file when he or she found that an item was missing. I would add the missing document and return the file. The official would continue to check the items on the list and send the file back again if another form was missing. I would then send the missing document.

In the meantime, a form might no longer be up to date and I would be asked to fill it out again. I had some clients in France who could easily sign documents. However, it was a little more complicated for my clients in Iran to sign the required documents. Another one of my clients was a member of the military in a jungle in Central America and his only means of communication was a satellite phone. Having him sign a document was a nightmare.

All of this happens just because the officials do not take the time to check the whole list before sending back the file. I have already pointed out these problems in committee.

It seems to me that the officials should open the files as soon as they get them. In fact, this is creating the false impression that the files are being processed more quickly than they really are. Sometimes it takes a year before the file is actually opened. Often the 12-month deadline is not actually met, but it is calculated from the moment the file is opened. In reality, the families are waiting much longer for their file to be processed.

There are also problems related to the fact that these are paper files. I occasionally received a file that was not addressed to me and had to do with a client I did not know at all. I have also found documents belonging to someone else in one of my files.

I have also heard some horror stories about paper case files. When a foreign visa processing office closed down for a move, someone discovered a whole bunch of files that had fallen behind a filing cabinet. They had been there for 10 years.

There is a real problem associated with paper files, and it is all the more pressing because of the COVID-19 crisis. Officials have not been able to telework because they are still working with paper files. As a result, applications have been languishing for months, adding to the existing delays.

That is one thing we absolutely must review quickly. It was already a problem before the crisis started, and it is even worse now. We need to push hard to get those files digitized.

Something else the crisis has taught us is that a lot of things can be done remotely. As we have seen, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has started holding virtual citizenship ceremonies for new citizens.

An interview is often required at the end of the sponsorship process, to authenticate the relationship between the sponsor and the person being sponsored. Why could that not also be done via video conference? This is a legitimate question. That would address another problem that existed long before the crisis. I want to talk about a situation we are now seeing in Cuba. The office in Havana closed its doors and is no longer conducting interviews in person. Individuals are required to travel to Mexico or Trinidad and Tobago for their landing interview, the final step in the sponsorship process.

This seems like a good time to say that it would fix the problem if the government started processing permanent resident cases through video conference. This has been done for citizenship cases and citizenship ceremonies. As a lawyer specializing in international family law, I knew about Zoom long before the crisis started. Since abduction cases are often handled very quickly, with hearings scheduled close together, our clients were not always able to appear at their hearings. We used Zoom in those cases. If Quebec's civil courts were able to do it, there is no reason why Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada cannot.

No offence to my colleagues, but I must say that my current role as immigration critic is probably the best portfolio, because it involves so much compassion. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most heart-wrenching portfolios. Since Monday, I have been getting a lot of comments on my Facebook page. People have been reminding us how hard it is to live without their families, how hard it is for young children to live without one of their parents at a formative time in their lives, how hard it is to be separated from loved ones during a pandemic. It was true before the crisis, and it is even more true now.

We need to work together to address the issue of processing delays. I doubt that the parties are going to make this issue political or that every party is going to fight tooth and nail to defend a different position. I do not imagine that any of my colleagues would say that processing delays should be even longer.

We need to bite the bullet and decide together to make this a priority. We need to put more personnel, and therefore more money, toward dealing with immigration files.

That is one thing I would like to see in the next budget, since we have not actually seen the March budget yet. I would like to see more money to clear up the massive backlog, which just keeps getting worse, and bring in a computer system that would fix a lot of problems.

Despite all that, I have not even touched on the issue of foreign workers, which has been a problem during the crisis. I have not even touched on how refugee cases are being handled, which has also been a problem during the crisis. I have not even touched on the issue of international students' applications.

Today I am making a heartfelt plea for everyone to work together to improve the whole immigration process, so that people will not have to make heartbreaking choices if ever there is another crisis. I am making this plea so that nobody ever has to choose between two equally distressing cases because we do not have enough resources to handle them properly.

I urge all my colleagues to work together to improve our immigration system.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Desilets Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Chair, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech, which was eloquent and clear, as usual.

What I took from her speech is that the delays are monumental. Of all the developed countries in the world, are there any examples of such a shift happening, and how did it happen?

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3 p.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, we do not have to look very far to see examples of when things have been done quickly. When Haiti was in crisis, we did it here. Processes that usually took 12 months were completed sometimes in as little as six weeks, because it was decided that a herculean effort was needed to process so many family reunification applications. We do not have to look very far.

There are also other examples elsewhere in the world, such as work permits. When someone has to move abroad for work, their spouse is automatically entitled to a work permit. They can start working immediately. In sponsorship cases here, I have seen it take up to 16 months to process work permits. We can look to many of our colleagues, and even ourselves, for examples. Clearly, where there is a will, there is a way.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Chair, I appreciated my colleague's speech very much. I am not as much of an expert in immigration as she is, and I learned a lot by listening to her, especially about the workings and procedures of the department and how certain procedures can apparently add delays to processing times.

However, I would like to come back to the issue of family sponsorship. This has always been a challenge for all governments. There are so many people who want to come to Canada to join their family. Two systems in particular have been tried over the years. There was the lottery system, which obviously had some shortcomings. It was replaced by a type of system involving a website where it was first come, first served. That also had its pitfalls.

I would to know what the hon. member has in mind. Given all her knowledge on the subject, what solutions does she have for this problem that, as I said, has been a challenge for quite some time?

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3 p.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I sincerely thank my colleague for his question.

I do not claim to be an immigration expert. However, I do know that we should distinguish between the sponsorship of a spouse and the sponsorship of parents and grandparents. The government set a quota for the sponsorship of parents and grandparents and that is why we have a lottery or selection system. That is not the case for the sponsorship of a spouse, which does not have a limit. There is a distinction to be made between the two.

However, I do have a few recommendations to make about the sponsorship of parents and grandparents, since that is the question that was asked. In Quebec, for the sponsorship of a spouse, there is no assessment of the spouse's financial capacity. The sponsor does not have to prove that they are on fairly solid financial ground to sponsor their spouse. Other provinces set out specific amounts. In Quebec, the only stipulation is that the sponsor cannot be on welfare.

For parents and grandparents, sponsors must prove that they have enough income to support their parents and grandparents for a given period of time. Unfortunately, I noticed that with the lottery system, anyone can apply for the lottery without having to prove that they have enough money. There is not even a quick assessment of their financial capacity.

In some cases, I filled out sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents knowing full well that the applications would ultimately be rejected on financial grounds. These people were taking a spot from others who would have been able to sponsor their parents or grandparents. A simple pre-assessment could improve the system.

I think we could have a great many debates about which system to use. Is the lottery a good thing, considering that technologies are not the same around the world? This system gives an advantage to those who have faster access to the Internet. Many aspects are in need of review. It would be worthwhile to look at whether we can pre-assess a sponsor's financials.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

July 22nd, 2020 / 3 p.m.

Bloc

Martin Champoux Bloc Drummond, QC

Madam Chair, I commend my colleague for her speech. I would urge my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis to contact my colleague from Saint-Jean for help with his constituents' immigration files. He should not hesitate to reach out to her. She is very efficient and approachable, and she knows how to get files moving.

Like many of my colleagues in the House, I have immigration cases in my riding that have been delayed, that have been held up. Some are pretty heart-wrenching, because they are applications for family reunification. Some of these cases have been dragging on for years. In one case, Ms. Gaudreau of Drummond has been waiting nearly 10 years. Her partner is Cuban, and they have a special-needs child. His file has been dragging on for an unbelievably long time.

I can tell you about another case where a woman had a baby with her Cuban partner, and they trade off who travels to see the other. Lately, this gentleman has been unable to get a visitor visa because officials believe he will not want to go back to Cuba. However, since he has a child living here, I think it can be presumed that he would be willing to take steps to stay with his family.

That is what I am getting at. I feel like visa applicants and potential immigrants are often viewed in a bad light. I think that we should be trying to challenge that perception and change attitudes towards the whole immigration application process.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on that, because this is an issue that I am beginning to be very concerned about, especially as regards my constituents.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for not putting any pressure on me with regard to managing and resolving cases.

The issue of whether someone does or does not need a visa to be sponsored is indeed a concern. During the crisis, we saw that sponsored individuals from countries where a visa is not required were able to come join their families, whereas those who were from countries like Cuba could not. I would like to point out that this was already the case before the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was not the pandemic that created this situation.

It has been suggested that a special visa could be created for these people. I think that idea is worth looking into, but I see where it might lead to problems.

It was suggested that this type of visa could be issued only after a security screening, an assessment of genuineness of the relationship and acceptance of the sponsor based on financial criteria. However, if all those steps are required to obtain a visa, why not just process the sponsorship application? If an individual already has to go through all those steps to get a visa, there is not much left to do in terms of processing the sponsorship application, so the process would become almost meaningless.

I am concerned that if the government starts issuing this type of visa, the prior existence of a sponsorship application could be used to deny a tourist visa. A sponsorship application should not compromise one's ability to get a visa, especially when the applicant has made it clear their goal is to immigrate.

Officials could justify not processing an application any faster on the grounds that at least the person has access to their family in the meantime. The problem is that, even if a tourist visa gives them access to their family, the visa prohibits them from travelling. They also have to pay higher tuition fees, and they cannot use the health care system.

All that could delay processing of sponsorship applications because that is the crux of the issue. We cannot let a band-aid solution distract us from the real problem: processing delays.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Chair, the member has been talking about the gaps in immigration. My question relates to the ruling today by the Federal Court that the safe third country agreement, which allows Canada to send certain refugee claimants back to the United States, is unconstitutional. Justice Ann McDonald explicitly states that the U.S. is no longer a safe country for refugees to be sent back to from Canada, and the court found that people's fundamental rights are being violated and that Canada is not a passive participant in this actions.

Does the member agree that the government needs to address this immediately and that it should not appeal this decision?

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The hon. member for Saint-Jean has 10 seconds to answer the question.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, that is an important question, one that would be hard to answer in 10 seconds.

I have not had a chance to read the ruling, since we are sitting here today. However, I would remind my colleague that the Bloc has long supported either suspending the safe third country agreement with the U.S., not enforcing it for a few months, even scrapping it altogether. Perhaps that gives some idea of what our position will be once we have a chance to issue a formal response.

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Chair, I would like to start my comments today by thanking the Government of Canada for bringing forward the legislation this week. I thank the members of the government for listening to and working with our leader, and with me and the New Democratic Party.

During this period of unprecedented upheaval and insecurity, it is vitally important that all parties, all politicians and, indeed, all Canadians work together to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that it is only through our collective work that we can ensure that no one will be left behind and no one will fall through the cracks, and that we can rebuild our country and our communities in the months and years ahead.

There are great pieces in the most recent legislation, and I thank all parliamentarians for passing this bill. Nearly two million Canadians living with a disability will finally get support; small businesses will have more protection under the wage subsidy program; and people who mistakenly accessed the CERB will not have to worry about facing punitive actions.

I also want to applaud the members of the House for their flexibility and accommodating spirit that have allowed us to continue the important work of democracy in the face of COVID-19. We have had to be creative and nimble in the face of a reality that has turned our collective ways of working on their head. Our normal way of doing things was impossible; and, all things considered, we have done an admirable job of representing our constituents, working hard for Canadians and ensuring that our COVID-19 response was one we could all be proud of.

However, let us not forget that we could have avoided so much stress and uncertainty over the past four and a half months. We could have implemented a universal support system that would have ensured that every Canadian was protected. That is what the NDP called for, and it would have gotten more help to more people, faster. It would have meant that people living with disabilities would not have had to wait over 130 days to get the support they desperately needed. It would have meant that students and recent graduates would not have had to bear the terrible burden of not knowing how they were going to afford to go to school in the fall and, let us be honest, it would have made the embarrassing spectacle that we are currently looking at with the government giving money to a certain foundation unnecessary. It would have made life easier. It would have made it less stressful for workers, families and seniors, and it certainly would have been a more elegant and simpler solution compared with the bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece rollout of support we have experienced.

I do want to talk a bit about some of my concerns with the COVID response and some of the things we need to continue to look at going forward.

First, we heard for weeks on end from the Prime Minister that people living with disabilities would get the help they needed to get through this pandemic. Then, when the government finally did bring a motion forward, it managed to leave out the majority of Canadians living with disabilities. The current government is very good at making promises. It is very good at announcing solutions. The only problem appears to be actually delivering on these promises.

This week, the government has brought forward a new program to help people living with disabilities, but once again it is not sufficient. It still leaves out many Canadians who need the support. The NDP voted for this legislation because it means that thousands more people in ridings like Edmonton Strathcona will get the help they desperately need, but once again too many people living with disabilities are being left out. The government must commit to working with the provinces to ensure that every Canadian who is living with a disability is protected and can live in dignity. Dignity is not negotiable. Dignity is a right of every Canadian, and people living with disabilities deserve no less.

My riding is also home to hundreds of small, independent businesses: restaurants, bars, creative shops, things that are not found anywhere else in the world. These businesses are crucial to our local economy, and I am worried that many of these shops that make Edmonton Strathcona feel like home are not going to exist in a few weeks. So many of these businesses, including the salons, the tattoo shops, the dance studios, clothing stores and gift shops could have benefited from the Canada emergency business account program, but they could not access those loans due to their business and employment structure. When the changes came, they were too little and too late.

The commercial rent assistance program has been a demoralizing experience for so many small business owners in my riding. For example, every day for the past three months I have heard from people like Claire, who owns a wellness clinic. She is eligible for the CECRA program, but her landlord refuses to participate. Too many landlords like Claire's simply refuse to access the program, as it would take money out of their pockets.

Commercial rent assistance is a critical piece of this puzzle, and if the assistance had gone directly to tenants and businesses, rather than to landlords, we could have saved thousands of small businesses. Now those businesses may be gone. Those business owners' dreams are over and their employees are looking for work.

Within two days of the pandemic being declared, the government made tremendous efforts to ensure the liquidity of our financial system, guarantee export contracts and underwrite risks for very large businesses in Canada. We should have used that same initiative to support our small businesses.

My riding of Edmonton Strathcona is home to a number of universities, colleges, post-secondary institutions and campuses. The University of Alberta is the largest. It has a long and illustrious history of being a Canadian university that we can all be proud of. It is, in fact, the university that I am an alumni of, like many members of the House. However, the impacts of COVID-19 on universities and colleges in Alberta are dire. For example, the University of Alberta currently has an infrastructure deficit of over one billion dollars. With COVID-19 impacting tuition, revenue opportunities are important. Post-secondary institutions are at risk.

Let us not forget the students who attend these devastated institutions. Students and recent graduates need the support now. Actually, they needed that support in April. Do not forget that students and the Canadian Federation of Students have been asking since April for the federal government not to forget Canada's millions of students and recent graduates left behind during this crisis. This group noted that the Canadian youth unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 29.4% in May. August is a few days away. Students cannot afford to wait for more bungled programs that pay less than minimum wage. Let us find a way to ensure that students on the CESB receive $2,000 a month, the bare minimum given to every other struggling person in Canada.

I want to thank the government for creating the Canadian emergency response benefit and for working with the other parties to include more people in the CERB. It has been a lifesaver for thousands of people in my riding, as I am sure it has been for thousands in every riding across this country, but we still have people who have been left out.

Yesterday, I tabled a petition in the House calling on the government to allow people who voluntarily leave their employment due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns to access the CERB. Canadians have the right to refuse unsafe work. That is fundamental, but do they really have the ability to refuse unsafe work?

COVID-19 has changed our understanding of the workplace. In my province of Alberta we saw the devastating impacts of the virus, as workers have been forced to work in unsafe conditions. Hundreds of meat packers became sick with COVID-19 and three people died as a result.

Is this what Canada is about, forcing people to choose between their health, the health of their families and paying the bills? In March, the Minister of Finance said that people who were uncomfortable with the safety of their workplaces could apply for CERB, but that is not the case. In May, the deputy prime minister responded to my question on this matter saying that “no Canadian worker at any time should feel obliged to go to work in unsafe conditions”, but we know that that is not the case either. The Canada emergency response benefit should exist to help everyone.

Like so many Canadians, I am excited about the future of our country. We have an opportunity right now to restart. We have an opportunity to build back better, to create a Canada where all Canadians have support and the opportunities they need to thrive, a more equal Canada, a more just Canada that does not privilege corporate interests and big business, but instead protects workers and their families, that taxes the ultra wealthy and does not allow our corporations to hide wealth in offshore accounts.

Let us build a Canada that finally respects our indigenous people and commits to UNDRIP and to true, meaningful reconciliation. Let us build a Canada that recognizes the racism that our racialized brothers and sisters face every day in this country and do what needs to be done to finally fix the systematic, institutionalized structural violence in our country. Let us build a Canada that takes climate change seriously—

Government Business No. 9Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Chair (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

It is time for questions and comments. I thank the member for Edmonton Strathcona.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.