Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to engage in this debate. What we are really debating is a bill that will rush through between 50 billion and 60 billion dollars' worth of spending, with virtually no oversight and no accountability.
The bill that this addresses is actually one that creates three benefits that we, as Conservatives, support. One is a benefit for workers who are unable to resume work or whose income has been reduced by 50% or more due to the COVID-19 crisis and are self-employed or otherwise ineligible for EI. That is one benefit.
There is a second benefit for workers who are ill or who must self-isolate due to COVID-19 and do not have paid leave or paid sickness benefits.
Then there is a third benefit for people who are unable to work because they are caring for a family member due to a school or daycare closure resulting from COVID-19.
These are things that we can support, but when we are talking about the spending of close to $60 billion, and we have a government that only wants to debate this for four hours, without any committee investigation or oversight, that is a failure in respect for this Parliament.
We cannot begin to understand it and evaluate the performance of the government on COVID unless we understand the context in which this is all taking place. Members know that Canada was already overloaded with debt before the pandemic hit us, largely thanks to four years of reckless spending by the Liberal government. Members may recall back in 2015 when the Prime Minister won an election promising to balance the federal budget. Members may remember Stephen Harper warning us about the Prime Minister's promise to run tiny deficits. Do members remember that?
Four years later, all the Prime Minister has to show for his broken promise is a string of massive deficits, which are piling more and more onto our national debt. Who is going to pay for that? The millennials are going to have to pay. I hope millennials are watching this. They are the ones who will be paying for the $400 billion of new debt that has been piled on just this year alone. They and other future generations will have to pay this back.
Canada entered the pandemic with our budgetary and fiscal situation severely weakened. Now we are facing an even graver crisis, a global pandemic for which our country was not prepared, financially or otherwise, and which has seen our national debt increase by a whopping 50% over the last six months. It is going to get worse before it gets better.
How did it come to this? Sadly, with a global pandemic looming, a situation where timing would be of utmost importance and leadership would be called for, the Liberals failed us on both counts. Over the last five years, the Prime Minister and his health minister allowed Canada's global public health intelligence network, which is our early pandemic warning system, to lapse. In fact, I was just reviewing the Globe and Mail article on it and it says that the government actually diverted resources away from global pandemic warning, analysis and intelligence to other functions. It is no surprise, then, that the Minister of Health did not act in a timely manner.
This morning I woke up to a screaming headline in The Hill Times: “Lapse in early pandemic warning system ‘a colossal failure,’ says former federal Liberal health minister Dosanjh”. A former Liberal health minister, the predecessor to the current one, claims this is a “a colossal failure” to plan and to warn Canadians. He says that it made him “angry” and it was “a near fatal mistake”. Those are his words.
What was the current health minister's response? She proceeded to throw Canada's Public Health Agency under the bus.
By the way, this is the Public Health Agency that the health minister is responsible for. Its website talks about the health minister's responsibility and accountability for the Public Health Agency. All she can do, if the members can imagine it, is throw the agency under the bus.
If one wants an assessment of the government's performance during the COVID pandemic, it is a “colossal failure”. It should come as no surprise that, as the health minister sat idly by, the virus spread around the world and across Canada. Day after day, week after week, the minister would stand in this House, and there is the seat she occupied at the time, and scold us for fearmongering. She repeatedly assured us that the risk to Canadians was low, day after day after day.
Those of us who were challenging her were saying that there were reports coming in from other parts of the world saying that this was serious. Her reply was that we were fearmongering. Flights from infection hot spots, such as China and Europe, Italy for example, continued to land at our Canadian airports and no one was checking passengers for infection. Our land borders remained wide open.
There is only one word that can adequately describe the minister's delay in acting, and that word is “reckless”. Now the government is compelled to borrow and print hundreds of billions of dollars to support Canadians during this incredibly difficult time. We want to be supportive of that, and we are, but what has led to this is a series of spectacular flip-flops on the part of the Liberal government.
As I noted, the Liberals originally told Canadians that the risk of human-to-human transmission was low. In fact, as late as March 10, the minister said that the risk of spreading COVID was low and that she was “well-equipped to contain cases coming from abroad”. One day later, she inexplicably proclaimed that COVID-19 could infect up to 70% of Canadians and that it was now a “national emergency and crisis”. How can one move from it being a low risk one day and suddenly it is an emergency and a national crisis?
There was more flip-flopping. Our Liberal friends implied that anyone who dared suggest that the borders should be closed was somehow racist. I guess that is what Liberals do when they are caught up in a colossal failure. They do what comes naturally and call those who are asking important questions racist.
Liberals also flip-flopped on mask wearing. They originally said that wearing a mask was ineffective. That was certainly convenient, because we now know there were not enough masks to go around. This was because the government had thrown out millions of masks and hundreds of thousands of gloves from Canada's national emergency stockpile. They even sent 16 tonnes of PPE to the Chinese communist regime in Beijing, of all places.
As we all know, when the pandemic really hit, Canada had depleted its PPE. Ill-prepared and facing a critical shortage, Liberals did what they do well. They misled Canadians by downplaying the risk and pretending masks did not help. Fast forward to today, and suddenly Liberals are the great proponents of wearing masks, as if they had always been in favour of wearing them. Again, it is convenient.
It was also the Prime Minister who had the idea, of course, to partner with China on a COVID-19 vaccine development. How did that work out? The moment China had our research, it said that it was not interested and that it was blocking Canada from being part of the rollout of the very vaccine.
The reality is that when Canadians needed leadership, our government failed us. It shut down our pandemic warning system, failed to shut down our borders and flights, misled us on the seriousness of the pandemic, discarded and sent our stockpiles to hostile countries, flipped and flopped on masks, was thoroughly hoodwinked by the Chinese, and then, to add insult to injury, shut down Parliament over the summer to escape the fallout from the WE Charity scandal.
I will not get into it, because I know I am running out of time, but this motion and bill are about spending $50 billion to $60 billion of taxpayer money and the Liberals want to avoid debating it. They want to avoid scrutiny. They want to avoid accountability.
I, for one, am not going to take this lying down. I am going to speak out about it. I am going to demand that the Prime Minister get out of the way and let us as MPs do our job.