Madam Speaker, my whip gave a much better response than I will. On behalf of the good people of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, it is an honour to speak after the master class; that is the member for Thornhill.
This year has been unlike any other in at least 100 years. A deadly virus has impacted all our lives and necessitated a significant pause on our economy. Just yesterday the total worldwide death toll from COVID-19 passed one million people. Even now that things are opening, until the virus is dealt with, there can be no going back to normal.
In the face of unprecedented job and economic impacts, the government has created the largest social assistance program ever, the Canadian emergency response benefit. In the face of a recovery insurance system that simply could not manage the scale of requests and millions of Canadians were not even eligible for EI, all parties came together to support this program.
As we now debate the next phase of COVID benefits, I want to be clear that we will not stand in the way of Canadians getting the benefits they need. Many sectors of the economy are still paralyzed by COVID and may not come back any time soon.
Those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic need support. However, the government's handling of this benefit has been shameful.
The Prime Minister prorogued the House to avoid scrutiny on his WE scandal. We all know this. The day after prorogation, the government announced these benefits, several of which would need legislation. Instead of spending time over the last month debating and passing these benefits, the Prime Minister shut down Parliament. Now that the CERB has ended and many Canadians are not eligible for EI, the government is playing politics with the well-being of Canadians.
They come to us and tell us that if we do not pass everything at once with no debate, people will not get support.
We could have debated this three weeks ago, and it could have gone through proper parliamentary review. The government is becoming far too contemptuous of the House.
At the beginning of the crisis, we all understood the urgency and need to pass bills quickly, but now the government thinks that this is how all bills should be passed. Why have real debate when the government can pass everything it wants immediately and blame the opposition for being callous when it wants to have even the bare minimum of scrutiny?
What the government wants is to eliminate Parliament and treat the House as a rubber stamp for its program.
This is unacceptable, and it cannot go on.
We wanted to work on this bill over the weekend and the government said no, that it would rather pass it on Monday with no debate. Canadians deserve better. They expect better from the government. I will do my job for the people who have sent me here and participate in the sacred responsibility with which I have been entrusted.
Parliament is not an inconvenient annoyance for the government that believes it knows better. It is a demonstration of the democratic will, the will of the people of Canada, not the unelected staffers in the Prime Minister's Office.
When the question emerges as to why debate and scrutiny are so important, I have a good example why. When the government proposed the CERB originally, people lost the entire benefit if they made one dollar. In many cases, people were forced to chose between the CERB or turn away clients who kept their doors open, but could not pay their rent or put food on the table.
The opposition pointed this out, but it took a while for the Liberal government to pay attention and set a $1,000 threshold. That was certainly better, however, there were still major problems. Through the spring and summer, we in the opposition repeatedly pointed out how the threshold would be a disincentive for workers to pick up extra shifts. Doing so put them right above that $1,000 threshold that would remove their entire CERB. We proposed a back to work bonus where workers would have their CERB slowly phased out to ensure people were never worse off for having worked. We presented it and the government ignored it.
The minister even said that the disincentive to work, the CERB, was problematic. That was at the beginning of the summer, and the government had options. What did it do?
The government refused to make any changes and just accepted the problems in the CERB until now, in the fall, when it is getting around to making this change. The Liberals were either stubborn or lazy, or did not want to admit the opposition was right or maybe just did not care. If we had a chance to debate these bills and study them at committee, we could uncover these issues and propose changes that would make the bill better.
Another bill the government put forward this summer was designed to create a one-time payment for people with disabilities, a payment I will note that has not been given yet. When the government first proposed the payment, it only applied to existing disability tax credit holders. Many people highlighted that was far too narrow a group and it should apply to Canada Pension Plan Disability recipients as well as those on a veterans disability benefit.
I and many opposition MPs were ready to debate it and work to make that bill better. However, the government refused to allow a debate, demanding to pass the bill immediately or not at all. Our then leader, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, proposed a full debate and the government said no. Therefore, no improvements could be made.
Soon after that, the government introduced a new bill to make these changes. However, the purpose of this assembly is to improve bills or reject them if they are a bad idea.
Rather than work with others, the Liberal government took a much longer road to pass a bill to support people with a disability, support, as I said, has not even come yet.
We have all been sent here for a reason. I was sent here by my constituents just the same as the member for Papineau was sent by his. He should remember that. Why are these benefits important? As we see a surge in cases through the country, we are constantly reminded of the danger of this pandemic to our health and to our economy.
I have heard workers say they really have no idea when they can go back to work. Entire sectors of our economy, such as hospitality, food services and entertainment, could be shut down for quite some time. Those affected by these job losses did nothing wrong; they are the victims of a terrible virus, and they need support.
I think of parents who are unable to go to work. Their children cannot go to school because they have medical issues that make it far too risky. I think of people who develop symptoms and must wait a week or more for test results and cannot work during this time even if they want to.
Data comparing this recession to the previous one shows that people are looking for work in the same numbers as before despite the new benefits. We know Canadians want to work. Many can however many cannot. That is why we are not standing in the way of these benefits. Our system was simply not designed for this situation. Our EI system is built on a house of spaghetti from the 1970s.
In a briefing earlier this year, I was told by government IT officials that fixing the system would take a decade. Many people have not paid into employment insurance, usually due to being self-employed or gig workers.
However, in a time of crisis, those individuals need support. The impact the pandemic is having on white-collar jobs has been largely addressed. Workers in lower-paying jobs are the ones still feeling the worst repercussions of these job losses.
Sectors like accommodation and food services are significantly down, as are sectors that generally employ lower-paid workers. We see from Statistics Canada data that unemployment remains considerably higher than average among racialized Canadians. The people with the least are bearing the largest burden, and they need help.
I understand the need for new benefits to flow to people who need them, but the government has to stop playing political games. It is clear as crystal what the Liberals are doing here. They prorogue and wait until the last possible moment to introduce this bill and then exclaim that if we do not pass it all today at once, people will not have support.
We could have done this last month. Instead, the government continues to play political games with benefits and gets up in arms when the opposition dares to propose that Parliament operate as it is supposed to: as a deliberative body. In the Liberals' minds, Parliament is an inconvenience at best. They know what is best for everyone and they will do it, Parliament be damned.
I was sent here by the voters and I will come here every day to do my best to make government programs work. I wish that the Prime Minister and his marketing department at the PMO would understand that too.