House of Commons Hansard #45 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. 10Government Orders

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Chair, throughout this crisis, the official opposition has been asking questions and proposing policies to the government, policy ideas that would support Canadians dealing with the pandemic and eventual recovery.

Unfortunately, the government has refused to listen to the good ideas or even listen to the pleas of Canadians. From the very beginning of this crisis, we have been hearing from new and expectant parents who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and who will not have the qualifying hours to access parental benefits through employment insurance. I heard from one parent this week who will be eight hours short.

Over the last number of months I have repeatedly asked the minister why she has not yet fixed this problem. She stated that it would be fixed, maybe, at some point in the future.

This is not a “tomorrow” problem. People are having children today, right now, with zero certainty on where they stand. Service Canada is telling them that they simply do not qualify unless policy changes. In at least one case, a new parent was callously told by government staff to go back to work.

Just imagine a young parent, perhaps a single parent, who is already scared to be having a baby during a pandemic, and who is just 25 hours short of qualifying for benefits.

People are being told to go back to work, but now their job is gone. Not only do new parents need time with their newborn, but they are being asked to go back to work. Many sectors quite simply do not exist right now, and there is no work to go back to.

Having a baby should be the happiest time of a person's life, but because of the government's refusal to address this problem, it has become a time of anxiety and fear.

If the government does not intend to fix this problem, it needs to stop saying it will and stop raising false hopes. The government is letting down an entire generation of Canadian families, and we will never stop fighting on their behalf.

Another major issue is that people who are on the CERB, but now have jobs to go back to, are unable to do so if their employers are using a work-sharing agreement. Work share allows employers and the government to split the wages of workers in an effort to get people back to work, and has been a part of the EI system for some time. Unfortunately, people who were on the CERB are being told they are not able to access work share until the minister makes a policy change allowing that transfer.

Again, Service Canada staff are telling employers and members of Parliament's offices that the only delay is coming from the minister's office.

Why will the government not make this change? It is baffling. These people have job opportunities. They want to work, but a technicality is preventing them from working, a technicality the minister can fix today.

When we asked the minister's staff when this would be fixed, they told us that the real problem was that the worker had made a mistake and incorrectly applied for the CERB rather than the work-sharing program. They blame the victims and refuse to fix the problem.

Fixing parental leave and adjusting the work-sharing program are simple changes that would help people immediately. The minister could go back to her office and fix these problems today. I hope she does.

A major policy suggestion the opposition has made was for a back-to-work bonus. The CERB is punitive in that it cuts off someone's entire benefit the moment they make over $1,000 a month. No government program should dis-incentivize work, but that is exactly what the CERB does when it does not have to.

We have provided a perfect policy option that would make the CERB more generous, more flexible, and make work more attractive. The government, of course, has ignored it completely. Canadians need support to transition into the work force and ensure that local businesses can still fill their shifts and get back on their feet.

At the same time, we know that the CERB is still essential for a great many Canadians.

Our economic recovery will be driven by Canadians' hard work, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. We tried our best to make sure Canadians would get the support they needed. However, the government rejected our fixes over and over, without explaining why.

What was its response to new parents? Crickets. The response to people interested in work-sharing? Crickets.

What was the response to a proposal to make sure that people can work more and keep their benefits? Crickets.

The government is bending over backward to reward their friends with hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts while ignoring average Canadians who need the help getting back on their feet. For new parents begging for help, they are told to go back to work. For Liberal friends, it is buckets of cash heading out the door.

Now we come to the subject of the future of EI. The government announced that the CERB would be coming to an end and that people could go on EI. The millions of Canadians who do not qualify for EI will probably get something else, but who knows what that will be?

All that Canadians have gotten from this government is uncertainty and not enough information. Making sure people will be able to pay their rent and provide for their families is certainly one political issue that the government is responding to as ambiguously as possible.

When I first got the honour of filling this shadow cabinet position, I had a series of briefings with the ESDC staff. One of the topics was the future of the EI system. The expert in charge told me that if everything went well, it might still take a decade to transition to a new and modern EI system. They also said that implementing any change to EI would take 16 months to implement, yet the Prime Minister seems to be saying that such a transfer will happen next month, but that the government can't give us any details, but just to hang tight.

CERB is ending, but there are still millions of active claims and the minister herself said earlier this year they had to put in CERB because the EI system could not handle that many claims. However, now the Liberals want people to just trust them, saying that it will all go well, without providing any proof that anything has been improved.

This week, the minister announced that he would set the unemployment rate at less than 13% across the country since young people need to work fewer hours to be eligible for regular EI benefits in regions where the unemployment rate is not as high. This seems like a makeshift technical solution to get the outmoded system to allow applicants to work fewer hours. This is not a new system. This is the same system that failed in March, requiring the implementation of the CERB, for which there was no oversight whatsoever. Just like parental leave, this is not a future problem, it is a current problem, and young people are scared.

Dr. Tammy Schirle from Wilfrid Laurier has posed this hypothetical question that I believe will illustrate a major concern well. It is as follows, “Joe got laid off in mid March and put in an EI claim right away, got CERB. Will that count as part of the 26 weeks of benefits? Or is the transition into EI a new claim?” People who applied for the CERB through EI would presumably have EI files. Will those be transferred to EI? How does the system know that the CERB time does not subtract from future EI time if it is the same claim? Is it the government's assertion that every single CERB claim will seamlessly transfer to an EI claim with zero issues?

What proof can the government give Canadians that it will work, that people should have faith that they will get a payment right away? The government has given none. It took a few days for CERB to get paid and EI took almost a month. Will people have to wait a month from the first transfer to get a payment? That would mean many people would go multiple months with zero support.

I am not asking these questions to scare people or to act like the sky is falling. I am asking these questions because we have zero evidence that the government is going to address them, and people need certainty.

I have not touched on many major aspects of this. For the people who are not EI eligible, the government says there will be something there for them. Will they go to EI? Will CRA manage a CERB-like program or will ESDC? Will this program pay a flat rate like CERB or a percentage of wages like EI? These are important questions that we deserve answers to.

Canadians deserve answers.

The government's response is to just wait and that everything will be fine.

As the official opposition, we are going to make sure that we hold the government to account and to seek real answers. Canadians deserve nothing less than that.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3 p.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to ask a question of my colleague. Before I do so, I would like to thank him for his French. He continues to improve his French language, and that is impressive.

I sincerely thank him and I hope he will keep up the good work.

This summer, I have been spending time in my riding, meeting and speaking with many people. Business owners, for example, have been talking to me about how important the wage subsidy has been for their businesses. Others have spoken to me about the rent subsidy and how that has helped their businesses, as well as the Canada emergency business account. These have all been key discussions with the business community.

I have also heard from veterans, families, seniors, youth, and middle-class Canadians how the supports that we have put in place to support these different groups of Canadians have been so effective.

My colleague speaks of delays. Can he answer why his party refused for over six weeks to financially support people with disabilities?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the member's observations on my French. I will try to improve even more.

It is important for us to look back at what exactly happened. The opposition leader said at that time that we would meet right then to discuss the government's bill. When I have spoken to people in disability groups, I heard that people who are receiving the Canada pension plan disability payments were not included. Neither were veterans, people whom this particular member of Parliament, as a parliamentary secretary, should be very concerned about.

We wanted to have a full discussion; the government did not. The government was in charge and decided not to have a debate, and stalled it further. What did we see? We passed a new benefit, and it includes veterans.

This member of Parliament needs to start looking in the mirror to his own government and ask, “Are we part of the problem here?”

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Chair, my friend from British Columbia very clearly brought forward the concerns that many of us have heard, particularly the uncertainty that many Canadians are facing going forward. The member's riding, Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, is a very beautiful part of our province. In a previous life, I was a tree planter and spent many years around the Merritt area and Princeton.

When we are thinking about the uncertainty, I think of the uncertainty that many applicants have had with the Canada summer jobs program. Unfortunately, many worthwhile organizations were cut off because the funding ran out. We juxtapose that with the student grants program that has now imploded because of the Liberals' mismanagement, which they tried to blame on the opposition, but the blame is entirely at their feet. I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on how that program, which was already in existence and already amended to suit the times we are in, could have been used to help many worthwhile organizations hire students, who could be working right now as we speak.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the member for even saying publicly again that he is my friend. He does not seem to learn.

The NDP members have raised a number of criticisms on the student service grant, one of them being that people would get less than minimum wage. They have asked a lot of good questions around this, so I applaud his party for doing that.

However, the focus should have been always on how we get resources to those who have the least and are in the biggest need. That is something we should be asking ourselves constantly when we are in a crisis. How do we help those the most?

We have an existing program that has large support in the chamber, and that is the Canada summer jobs. I have had entrepreneurs and not for profits coming to me saying that they could have given great jobs to people and helped them to support them so did not have to get big loans later. That would have been a much better situation. It would not have caused a controversy. It would not have distracted the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to such an extent that they are basically unable or unwilling to do their jobs in the middle of a pandemic.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Chair, we heard before an accusation by the member from Nova Scotia that somehow it was Conservatives who stalled the disability part of the bill. In fact, it was the government that stalled it. We proposed, as the hon. member said, that we deal with that issue that day and it ended up being stalled.

The opposition has brought other issues to our attention in this team Canada approach, including the student payments and the emergency wage subsidy, which were significantly lacking in the beginning of the announcements of those programs.

Could the member highlight for Canadians the efforts and effects that the role of the opposition has played throughout this crisis?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Chair, I would just go back to our original discussions around Bill C-13. The Liberal government made an unparalleled power grab and the opposition leader pushed back, along with many members of the opposition parties, to say that we were not going to give unfettered, unheralded power to amend our laws without going through Parliament.

What we did give the government was a lot of power to introduce programs. This is where it is really important for us, as members of Parliament, to be relating the experiences on the front lines of the pandemic in our ridings. Ottawa is very far away from British Columbia.

When we bring up suggestions, for example, about the Canadian emergency business account, stating those loggers, realtors and barbers using a personal chequing account are now at a disadvantage to their competition across the street who have been using a business chequing account, it is really unfair. In May, the Prime Minister said that the government would fix this, but it still has not done that.

We have done a lot of good things on this side, such as the Canadian emergency wage subsidy among others, and a lot of other parties have contributed to that. However, the government needs to continue to understand that we are on the front lines and that members of Parliament do understand the problems in their ridings. The Liberals need to respect that and start listening. Again, if we are to see the country get through this pandemic, it will be because Canadians bring the problems to Ottawa and they are heard and responded to ably.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Chair, in response to the member for Barrie—Innisfil and the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, when the issue of the disability bill came forward and the Conservatives wanted to debate it, there were two other opportunities on that day to do so, but they voted against it. Let us celebrate the fact that there is meaningful legislation right now that is taking care of those people who really need this.

When the member talks about businesses, giving supports to them and the government not listening to what is being said by members of Parliament, we had a number of programs that were literally built, developed and implemented in a matter of days, programs that probably would have taken a year to 18 months to develop and deliver by any other standard.

In fact, the government did listen to stakeholders and members of Parliament who raised concerns about various programs and reacted very quickly to making changes on those, whether it be the CERB or the wage subsidy program.

Would the member not agree that there was at least some back and forth among the government, members of Parliament and stakeholders to ensure those programs were as robust and meaningful as possible?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Chair, I come from British Columbia, so I am not really aware of the rules in Ontario. However, under stage 3, political back massage parlours are still not open. The MP just gave himself the biggest amount of pats on the back I have every seen.

Perhaps we need to focus on what is true. What is true is that we are in a minority Parliament. The government put forward a proposal, an expanded one that included veterans and people with Canada pension plan disabilities. That was a good thing and it had support for it. However, the member is giving himself a pat on the back for something that has still not been made available. The Liberals will not tell people with disabilities when this will happen. It will probably be in autumn, months after.

The government seems to think that all it has to do is say the right words in this place, that everything is fine and it should be congratulated. The Liberals have a job to do. They were elected to do that job. We were elected to make sure they do it.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Chair, again, I am in the interesting position of supporting my Conservative colleague's comments that the Liberals tend to embellish and boast about things that happened a long time ago.

It is true that at the beginning of the pandemic, the government sought unprecedented special powers to deal with an unprecedented crisis and that, for a while, the government was open to a number of suggestions from the opposition parties. During this time, no one was questioning the urgency of the situation. The Liberal Party later slipped back into old habits and became the party we knew in the early 2000s. Members will recall the scandal that happened back then. The Liberals, showing a naïveté that would make Voltaire rethink Candide, thought no one would notice anything, as they took advantage of the special powers Parliament granted them, even though they are a minority government. One morning, a case popped up, and then another one. More cases could emerge. This is concerning.

I wanted to be here today. That is not the case for everyone, but I will definitely respect the rules of the House. I would not want to disturb the very large number of Liberals in the House, who I can count on both hands. I have far too much respect for elected officials and institutions to not show up one day out of five weeks in Canada's House of Commons. I was just wondering why, as a sovereignist, I sometimes have more respect for federal institutions than the members of the federal government do. There is something odd in this situation. It led me to consider something I shared with the media this morning, which was a fundamental question: Does the Canadian government deserve the confidence of Quebeckers and Canadians? That is not a trifling matter. It is the foundation of our democracy. There is no surefire way to confirm it. Quebeckers and Canadians are not connected to a “confidence meter”.

Canadians entrusted 338 members, who are the voice of the people, to manage the nation's affairs, and it is up to those 338 members to grant or withdraw their confidence in the government. The Liberal's performance, answers and attitude here today truly seem to suggest that the members on that side are somewhat lacking when it comes to inspiring confidence. It is our duty to raise the question because, as I was saying earlier, this Parliament granted the government exceptional powers in good faith. A few months later, we discovered, of course, the now infamous WE Charity, which will go down in history. I once again want to emphasize that the organization was later named UNIS, as though it somehow catered to francophones, when francophones in Quebec and Canada were not even on WE Charity's radar.

We are talking about astronomical amounts of money, mind-boggling amounts, and the participation of the contract recipient in the implementation of a program that was obviously tailor-made to ensure the government could claim that public servants were not capable of managing it. How insulting. Then, the managers of WE Charity, who had other governance problems, said that they were withdrawing, and the government gave the program back to those same public servants who it had claimed, not too long before, did not have the necessary expertise to manage the program. Eventually, there will be another scandal, and it will be the same old story all over again.

A Crown corporation agency is going to outsource it to a private company because it cannot manage it itself, even though it is bigger than the private company. That is appalling, because it amounts to the government failing to recognize the skills and qualifications of Canada's public servants. It makes no sense. On top of that, the government has a nasty habit of having friends who magically appear at just the right time to take on contracts for tens of millions of dollars. It is quite something. That is where we are at.

I have been taking notes this whole time. No one is talking about an energy transition, even though that should be a priority, since public investment in the economic recovery will also be historic. No one is talking about creating industrial innovation clusters. No one is talking about electrifying heavy-duty vehicles. I saw a report on that topic this morning. No is talking about a number of things that could offer a way to get out of this crisis by creating economic activity.

No one is talking about fixes to certain programs that still fall short. Our colleague mentioned that earlier. Initially, we completely understood that there could be some gaps, since the program was created hastily and urgently, but after a while, enough is enough, and those gaps need to be filled. No one is talking about that. They are talking about the scandals.

Seniors who got a cheque that was supposed to cover a three-month period are not getting a second cheque. The three months ended a long time ago, and when they got their cheque, another one was supposed to be in the works. Seniors received $300 to get through the crisis, while the Liberal Party paid itself $850,000 through the wage subsidy program. Soon the Liberal Party will have $1.8 million in its pocket that it can use for the next election campaign. Seniors are being offered $300. If they get the guaranteed income supplement, they receive an extra $200. Seniors feel like this government is laughing in their faces.

Meanwhile, they have not written the second cheque to farmers for supply management. They could very well have done it, as they do not need to table a budget to pay out the second year of the compensation that the government promised. Meanwhile, the fundamental problem with the scholarship program that was to have been managed by WE Charity has not been resolved, even though it falls under Quebec's jurisdiction.

It is easy to manage the WE Charity. The government has to calculate Quebec's share, write a cheque and send it to the Legault government. He will manage it because it is within his authority. No, the temptation is too strong. The Liberals want to centralize everything, interfere in Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction and hand out contracts to their friends. Then they wonder why some people, like us, have serious reservations.

Is it better to trigger an election if this government refuses to change some key players? Is it better to let the government continue like this than to trigger an election? This is not a disease. This morning, the government said that calling an election would be risky because of the pandemic. That is true. This all started with the pandemic. That may be true, but the government still needs to address the real issues. If we were to agree that we cannot call an election while a second and third wave are looming, this government would continue to act as though it were a majority government, a government that ignores its own scandals and acts as though we are living under a temporary dictatorship. That is obviously a preposterous notion.

That is why the Bloc Québécois is saying that some people need to go. The Prime Minister needs to go. The Minister of Finance needs to go. They may be prepared to agree on this, but throwing one person under the bus will not save the other. The Prime Minister's chief of staff needs to go, so that people who are ostensibly qualified can take over for at least six months and manage this crisis effectively. After six months, I can make no promises.

It is only natural that Parliament ask questions about the fact that the management of the crisis was used to the advantage of the Liberals to help them get re-elected or to help out their friends after they or members of their families received sums of money much larger than what would have been needed to save many businesses in Quebec and Canada. For that reason, we need to ask ourselves some important questions.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:20 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. Chair, I completely disagree with the leader of the Bloc party. We have a Prime Minister and a Minister of Finance who have done an exceptional job in the last number of months given everything that we have had to overcome in bringing forward a wide spectrum of programs, which have assisted millions of Canadians by providing them with money in their pockets and saved hundreds of thousands of jobs. This has put Canada in a good position to be able to recover from the pandemic. The leader of the Bloc is more concerned about his political future and that of the Bloc party itself.

The Bloc wants to outdo the Conservatives with character assassination, it seems. I would suggest that whether someone is a resident of the Province of Quebec, Manitoba or any other province, they want us to remain focused on Canada and to do what is in the best interests of Canada as a nation. That includes the people of Manitoba, Quebec and other jurisdictions.

Does the member not see that there is a strong, important role that Canada needs to play in co-operation with all of the different levels of government to make sure that we can get through this pandemic in a positive way?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Chair, I have two things to say.

First, and I will not translate all that for Quebeckers, if the hon. member said that I want to serve my party, it is because he recognizes that my party is currently doing very well. I thank the Liberals for that because it is partly due to their own incompetence.

Second, are the Liberals sometimes capable of doing good things without lining their friends' pockets?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague.

Earlier, I called this government a kleptocracy. In a kleptocracy, corrupt politicians enrich themselves secretly outside the rule of law through kickbacks, bribes and special favours, or they simply direct state funds to themselves or their associates.

Given all the scandals, would my colleague agree that the Liberals put the interests of their families, friends and connections first?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Chair, I would not go so far as to call it a kleptocracy. We will wait a few weeks before going there.

However, I understand that some people are very worried: people who pay consumption and income taxes, people who work, people who want to work but cannot, and people who should return to work but are deterred by the programs. There is a problem and we have to find solutions for the common good.

It is a real problem when we continue to hear that public money that could save dozens of companies ends up in the pockets of people who, oddly enough, are close to the system or, even worse, in the pockets of people who channelled tens of thousands of dollars to the families of the two main leaders of this government.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Chair, the leader of the Bloc mentioned supply management. As my party's agriculture critic, that is a very important thing. I would agree that this self-imposed crisis that the Liberals have brought on themselves has sucked the political oxygen out of the room, and as a result we are spending so much time on this when we could be spending time on other things.

We have heard radio silence from the Minister of Agriculture, particularly on compensation for our chicken, egg and turkey farmers for the CPTPP and now the upcoming agreement with the United States. When those trade deals come into force, we are going to see massive amounts of poultry and eggs flooding our market, and still we have no word on what the compensation is going to be. We have no word from the Minister of Agriculture on who is going to be on the advisory council to help implement the national food policy.

I would like to hear from the leader of the Bloc on this because I know that supply management is very important in the province of Quebec. Perhaps he could tell the House what the farmers in Quebec are saying, because I am pretty sure that is being echoed right across the country.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Chair, as I said earlier, there are things that Parliament and the government are not doing because they are busy dealing with some not-so-good things. It is true that, not too long ago, the government seemed to be on a roll, perhaps leading it to believe that it might stick around.

However, once again, the government has shot itself in the foot. It is spending all of its time shooting itself in the foot, and we are now faced with a series of scandals that have Quebeckers and Canadians saying, “same old story, same old gang”.

Those are definitely a concern, but as a result, we have failed to adequately address issues such as supply management and the payment of compensation. We have not spent enough time talking about some other supply managed sectors, namely, the egg and poultry sectors.

Again today, there are several issues that we did not spend much time on.

We in the Bloc Québécois will address these issues; we will talk about aluminum shortly. It is important. It is major. It is vital for Quebec, but today, we are addressing Liberal turpitude rather than dealing with serious issues. Aluminum was not properly protected and the protections against what the American government had basically already announced were not discussed, considered or implemented. We presented a series of proposals to the government and we are asking that it find someone who has time to look at them in order to protect Quebec aluminum.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Alain Therrien Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Chair, the Liberal Party really suffered as a result of the sponsorship scandal in the early 2000s. Canadians put the Liberals in the penalty box for over 10 years. Now, with the WE Charity and the wage subsidy program, they have been caught with both hands in the cookie jar. It seems this sort of behaviour is in their DNA and they are unable to change. They see a cookie jar and they just cannot help themselves from digging in.

I have a simple question for my colleague, who I commend for his speech. Let us consider the sponsorship scandal. Is there not a resemblance to today's WE Charity scandal? Are we not seeing the same old Liberal patterns playing out?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Chair, it would be so easy to agree, but I do not want to say yes, because we have other work to do.

Of course, for the media and for many parliamentarians, the big question is this: Will the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives manage to convince the NDP to stop supporting the Liberals? That, however, is not the real question.

The real question is whether the government can survive for six months by replacing the bad guys with good guys. That is all we are asking for. If we could have that, the government could avoid all the comparisons with other scandals that were awful for Quebec, for Canada and for the LIberal Party. The Liberal Party certainly has no desire to return to the back benches. Can we simply put the right people in the right place to get good results? That way, no one would have to be brought down.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

We have just enough time for one short question.

The hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

August 12th, 2020 / 3:30 p.m.

Saint-Maurice—Champlain Québec

Liberal

François-Philippe Champagne LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I thank you for recognizing me. I could not resist the temptation of asking the leader of the Bloc Québécois a question.

He was telling us that he went on vacation in the Gaspé. He told us to stay the course. Staying the course is exactly what this government is doing. I would ask the Bloc leader to talk to us about creating jobs, the economic recovery, and health and safety because the school year is about to begin. We want constructive ideas.

We are aware that in a democracy like ours, the people across the way in the opposition parties have a role to play. Today, I am giving the leader of the Bloc the opportunity to give us constructive measures that we might use to create jobs, help the economy recover, and ensure the health and safety of the young people who will be going back to school very soon.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves-François Blanchet Bloc Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Chair, that is all well and good, but our situations are rather different.

I am doing my job of looking after my riding and, when I am not there, I am visiting the rest of Quebec. By the way, the Magdalen Islands are not part of the Gaspé region. The hon. minister's job is to travel around the world. Of course, when he returns, he must do a little tour of the Mauricie, which is a wonderful region.

Just a few minutes ago, I proposed some economic measures, but I will make one specific proposal to the minister.

Would it be possible to establish funds and empower the regions to determine their own economic future based on their specific characteristics, expertise, vision and desire to have greener technologies and create wealth?

These decisions must be made by the regions. To that end, the pandemic recovery strategy must be driven by Quebec's regions and not by a foreign multinational in 2021.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Chair, it is good to be here in person in the chamber representing my constituents, the wonderful people of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford.

Looking back, I do not think any of us, when we were making our New Year's resolutions back in January, could have predicted how this year would turn out. It has certainly been a year of great upheaval, a year of great uncertainty and a year of great anxiety. We are here to reflect accurately the struggles that many small businesses and individuals have had to endure during a very tumultuous time. The same goes for the people in my riding of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, who are still dealing with the economic and social consequences of COVID-19.

This pandemic has very much laid bare the inadequacies of our social safety net, and it has also made us realize the dependence we have on essential workers who are doing that front-line work, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk, often for low wages. There are several tiers of workers in this country, and those who make the least and struggle with multiple hours a week are often the ones putting themselves in danger. We also have been forced to confront the systemic inequality, poverty and, indeed, racism, that has very much come to the fore in 2020.

The NDP's goal throughout this pandemic has been to get more help to more people, more quickly. When the government rolled out its programs, they were, in many cases, inadequate at first blush. Based on the feedback that the opposition gave, we were able to make them better. Yes, there are still gaps that exist, but I believe that if we look at what was on offer in late March and early April, we have made measurable successes and improvements, and that is a testament to the hard work of members of the opposition. It is also a testament to the constituents who informed us, as their members of Parliament, of what was working and what was not, and a testament to the fact that we were able to bring those voices to this place and get the changes that were sorely needed.

Unfortunately, in these last few weeks, we have had this scandal erupt with the WE Charity. It is a scandal that has taken all of the political oxygen out of the room. This is a time when Canadians expect us to be focusing on them and focusing on the recovery efforts, and unfortunately we have a Minister of Finance and a Prime Minister who are suffering, yet again, from self-inflicted wounds.

The most important document any cabinet minister should be reading when he or she takes office is the Conflict of Interest Act. It very clearly states that one should recuse oneself when dealing with a situation that could involve benefit to oneself, family members or friends, and that ministers should not accept free travel when carrying out their duties, especially with an organization that has the potential to benefit from government contracts and services. Unfortunately, because of the Liberals' ability to step on every ethical rake on the lawn, we are dealing with that situation when we could very well be dealing with the important matters that face our constituents.

Specifically, many small businesses in my riding, and across Canada, are suffering very much. If we look at the statistics from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, most businesses that were surveyed were reporting a decline in income that resulted in the loss of employees. Each one of those employees was another person who was unable to provide for his or her family, and who had to find a way to make home finances work. It was a very significant and disconcerting event for many people.

There are two particular examples in my riding. I will highlight V2V Black Hops Brewing, which is in Langford. It is sort of a social enterprise brewery that donates some of its profits to helping veterans, particularly homeless veterans. It is a very noble cause, because even though the government has been given the money by Parliament to try to address veterans' issues, unfortunately, we still have a big problem with providing adequate veteran services and benefits.

This great program, run by V2V Black Hops Brewing, exists in Langford. Unfortunately, the company was unable to qualify for the Canadian emergency wage subsidy and also had problems with the commercial rental assistance subsidy because of problems with the CRA. My office has repeatedly tried to get assistance from the Minister of National Revenue on this, but so far there has been radio silence.

I also think of the retailer Sports Traders Duncan, which has been owned and operated by Richard and Maureen Ellis since 1995. Of course, they saw a precipitous drop in their business because there have not been any team sports happening. No one is coming in to buy sports equipment, so they saw a huge drop in their revenues. It was a calamitous drop for a business that has existed in my community for about 25 years. They were in a situation where their landlord did not want to participate in the commercial rental assistance program. Unfortunately, the Liberals designed the program so that it required buy-in by the landlord.

What does a business do when it has an unco-operative landlord? There was no other route to take, even though I brought this to the attention of several ministers. Unfortunately, this business, which has been a pillar of our community for so many years, is now facing bankruptcy. We are probably going to lose it, although it is owned by two outstanding members of the community, and it will probably never be seen again.

I want to highlight the efforts that have been made by two individuals in our caucus: the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, who is our finance critic, and the hon. member for Courtenay—Alberni, our critic for small business and tourism. Both of whom have repeatedly called on the government to make improvements to this program. Unfortunately, they were met with inaction.

Those are the things that we need to address. I know that small businesses continue to look to their elected leaders here in the House to find ways to make sure they are going to recover as we move into later stages of dealing with this pandemic.

Coming from British Columbia, I would be remiss if I did not talk about the ongoing opioid crisis. The opioid crisis continues to ravage my communities. In British Columbia in the last couple of months, we saw a record number of deaths. Unfortunately, because of a toxic street supply of drugs, we are continuing to see these overdose death rates.

I will commend both the federal government and the B.C. government for starting pilot projects under the substance use and addictions program to try to deal with this, and get a safe supply of drugs to users so that they will not be exposed to that toxic supply. However, it is time for the next bold step from the federal government. I need the federal government to step up to the plate and join the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, several medical health officers from across the country and the premier of British Columbia to finally institute the decriminalization measures that we need to see. The biggest roadblock that we still have is the stigma of ongoing criminality for possession of a small amount of drugs. We need to find a way to make people come forward with the problems they have, so that they are not afraid that the criminal justice system is going to pounce on them if they try to get the help they need.

I'm not talking about legalizing drugs. I still believe that we need to have penalties in place for people who traffic and deal drugs, but for those who are suffering under the curse of addiction, we need to get the criminal justice system out of the way. We need a social and health approach to this very deep and ongoing problem.

Just in the last minute I have, we are at a moment in time when it seems like a giant pause button has been pressed on our society. I think we have collectively been given the time and space to think about where we have been, where we are now and where we want to go in the future. It is quite obvious that we cannot return to the way things were, not only because of the inadequacies of the social safety net, the fault lines that exist and the deep inequalities. This is a time for us to really think about the kinds of measures that we can put in place, not just shovel-ready projects but shovel-worthy projects, really making sure we are looking after people, giving them an adequate income to live on, and making sure that we are investing in energy and infrastructure projects that truly meet the needs of a 21st-century Canada.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:40 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. Chair, we know the CERB program came into existence because it was generally felt that we needed to get money into the pockets of Canadians who found themselves out of work as a result of the coronavirus. The program was a huge success. Over eight million Canadians ultimately went on the CERB program. My question is related to that.

We had the employment insurance program, which would not have been able to achieve what the CERB program could. To try to make those modifications would not have worked, so we have the CERB. Now we are looking at transitioning the CERB program.

I am wondering if my colleague could provide his thoughts as to what he, or the NDP, would like to see in that transition from the CERB to employment insurance. Moving in that direction seems to be more of a long-term solution for not only many of his or my constituents, but in fact for all Canadians.

Would he agree?

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Chair, I would like to remind the parliamentary secretary that what the government first put on offer at the end of March was not the CERB. It was a result of the NDP pushing the Liberals that we finally got the CERB. If the hon. member remembers, right from the get-go the NDP was calling for $2,000 per month for every person in Canada, a sort of universal basic income to make sure no one was falling through the cracks. It was a simple program that would ensure that everyone had enough income to adequately deal with the acute phase of the crisis.

While the CERB was a partial answer to that, unfortunately a lot of the other programs became overly bureaucratic and had a lot of hoops to jump through. We were forced to make little band-aid patches along the way.

Going forward, I think it is incumbent upon the government to adequately explain what its plans are as we transition from CERB to EI. How much are people going to earn? What kinds of qualifications are going to be needed in order to transfer to EI?

We know that with the employment insurance program, as it existed pre-pandemic, there were still a lot of workers who were not covered, and EI required a certain number of hours, which was also a disqualifier. Yes, I understand this transition is coming, but we have to remember that there are still so many people suffering through this crisis who work in industries that have not seen the jobs return. We need to have a plan in place to make sure those people are looked after.

Just in ending, I am happy to report that one of our members, the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, has brought forward a motion in the House. I believe it is Motion No. 46. I would encourage the government to look at that and the ideas the NDP is bringing forward and make sure we are looking after everyone equally.

Government Business No. 10Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Chair, I certainly appreciate this member's contribution to today's debate. One of the things he mentioned was the commercial rental subsidy assistance program the government put in place. I will note that I have read that the finance minister of British Columbia, Carole James, said that every week her office phones the finance minister's office to ask if any changes have been made to the program because it is not well designed. I think she even said her own constituents are finding it difficult to reach that program.

I am also concerned the Liberals patted themselves on the back too early. They have established a 60-day period in which people could go to their doctors and go through a process to be certified eligible for the disability tax credit.

Is the member concerned, as I am, that the process is going to face complications due to COVID-19? Certain provinces are going to have different processes for it, and may have different timelines.

Second, I know that at the best of times 60 days is not a lot of time to make sure people get that help and support. Is the member concerned the program period for eligibility is too tight and may create complications for his constituents?