Mr. Speaker, as a first-time MP, this has been quite the introduction into federal politics. I have received a quick schooling on what is truly important to the people in my riding, how things work in this government environment and the ways that I can contribute.
After the initial post-election excitement, the reality of setting up an office in Ottawa and the constituency set in. We got to work putting together a team to serve the people of Fredericton and represent Canadians.
We spent the five months following the election in a typical rhythm of Parliament before the pandemic took hold in our nation. We have now spent just as much time involved in the emergency public health, social and economic relief efforts associated with COVID-19.
As many members know, I am a teacher by trade. Teaching is not the traditional path to politics, but there is nothing traditional about this Parliament for me. I spent a decade teaching youth to have a critical lens, to stand up for what they believe in and to not accept injustice. I applied those lessons to my work here as an MP, and I am honoured to be able to share them with my colleagues in this venue.
Despite the change in career, I have kept my priorities and passions. I came here to create a better world for children and youth, and to create better communities for them to grow up in. In today's take-note debate, I want to talk about families, students, some of the realities of this pandemic experience and the ways we can keep moving forward to get through this together.
My family means everything to me, and they have been along for this intense journey. For us, the pandemic has meant months in intermittent isolation and a family bubble, days in the car to get here and back to New Brunswick, and only about eight hours, since March, that I have been without my two children, except for the hours I have spent sitting in this House. This is perhaps why I have one of the best attendance records.
If my colleagues did not catch the humour in that, they can rest assured that I love my children and they love me, but we are looking forward to our routines returning to normal. The point is, as a working mom, having no school or day care these past months has been like maternity leave without the leave. Full-time work while providing child supervision and care is simply not possible, especially with the added responsibilities of home schooling.
I have heard from many parents of the struggles and concerns of parenting in a pandemic. Parents in Canada need a break, especially parents of children with disabilities, autism or behavioural challenges who need educational assistance, resource teachers and guidance counsellors.
Children also need a break from their parents, especially the children who are perhaps experiencing neglect or abuse. Those children have been on my mind these past few months. Children need to hear from other adults, coaches and role models. Let us take this time to sincerely appreciate our early childhood education and public school systems and the people we rely on to make them work.
As a government, we must ensure that all parents, children, teachers and staff feel safe as they return to the classroom.
Families are stressed and apprehensive with a variety of tough choices ahead. I know there are innovative solutions and ideas out there, and I trust the government to assist provinces as they reopen schools with clear and cautious health advice.
I think also about the families separated by our border closure. Foreign national long-term partners and adult children remain unable to enter Canada to see their loved ones. These families have spent five months separated already. While enforcing two-week quarantines, we could lighten travel restrictions for students and immediate family, enabling them to return to their Canadian families and communities. These changes, coupled with the reminder that Canada is home to people from all over the world, would go a long way to combat the isolationism that has been known to breed contempt, which may already be being directed at the international students trickling into our country.
Fredericton is home to two university campuses and several colleges.
The international students who arrive in Fredericton each year are a critical component of our local communities. Having so few of them returning to us in person this year is a major loss. The universities in my home province have been announcing pandemic protocols for the coming semester. There are a lot of pressures on these institutions, but I cannot help but think of the impact on students.
On top of the anxieties the last five months have brought for all of us, they are facing the choice of continuing to take on personal student debt at a time when it is not clear what sort of economy they will graduate into. We will need the government, and likely the next government to come, to stand beside these students as they work to pay off the student debt incurred at this juncture in their lives.
Speaking of student debt, we are coming up on the end of the government's initiative to pause student loan repayment obligations for recent graduates. This will mean hundreds of dollars a month that these debt holders will need to begin paying again. This program should be extended for at least another six months, and we should start talking meaningfully about student debt forgiveness.
We need to support families, especially children, adolescents and young adults, during these uncertain times.
The public health emergency over the last months has been coupled with civil unrest and action. We have seen deaths in our streets, ongoing oppression and injustice. I think of the world that my children are inheriting, all children, the world that youth and students are inheriting across Canada. I look around, I watch the news and I read the comments on social media, which maybe I should not, because they lead me to shake my head. Our kids will have questions of all of this, and we had better have decent answers for them.
We must seize this opportunity and wield the responsibility we have as parliamentarians to address the prejudices that blind us: rampant systemic racism; hiding the many microaggressions and overt acts of racism present in our everyday lives; toxic masculinity that seeds silent acceptance of a rape culture, violence against women and girls and members of the LGBTQ2IA+ community; privilege that shrinks our world view, making invisible those living in poverty with insecure housing, with disabilities, fighting addictions and surviving trauma. We need to start seeing one another again and finding compassion for our neighbours.
Since being elected as a member of Parliament, I have been actively involved in calls for equality and systemic change. Recently, and in light of international and local tragedies, I have supported a call for a national Senate inquiry into wellness checks as a police response to mental health issues in Canada; I attended a healing walk for Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi; I made a public pledge to call out racism when I see it online or otherwise; I signed a petition calling for a review of systemic racism in police forces; I submitted a letter to you, Mr. Speaker, to address systemic racism in this institution; I have questioned the Minister of Health about actions on her mandate to address racism in the health care system; and I asked the Public Safety minister to declare his outrage and commit to protecting all black, indigenous and people of colour from racial injustice.
These are the promises I made to my youth, the ones that I worked with, my students. I taught them to be activists. If we see something is wrong, we do something about it. If someone's voice cannot be heard, we find ways to amplify it.
As I prepare to send my kids back to school, I have been reflecting on the immense responsibility our teachers will shoulder in this school year. They will balance public health protocols with school curricula and changing class composition. They too will face the questions of curious young minds about the world we live in. Their answers will be instrumental in shaping the minds of a coming generation of leaders.
Teachers need our support, our patience and our encouragement.
Just as our health care professionals have stepped up to respond to this pandemic, our teachers are being called to step up now to do the important work of helping to raise children, to educate them and to help them build resilience in the face of uncertainty. I thank them for their service, and I stand with Canadian families.
To the young thinkers and learners across this country, I am listening. Your leadership is essential as we face down our challenges, and we will get through this together. Please reach out at any time.