Mr. Speaker, I have heard time and again in the House that no Canadian will be left behind. That sounds great, but how is it that we have the arrogance to think that our bureaucracy trickles down enough support to the average Canadian in ways that make this statement true, that somehow these words make everything okay, that an overused phrase can add money to the debit card of a stressed out individual whose card is declined at the grocery checkout? How can we have the hubris to believe that by creating a website we can stop someone from taking their life when depression refuses to loosen its grip, or the audacity to believe that words can find an appropriate, safe, affordable child care spot so mom can go back to work?
I sit here and listen to the same speeches being delivered by different members of the Liberal Party, who proudly repeat the details of a new suite of programs, a new headache for public servants and the CRA, a new batch of confusion for our constituents who will be calling us to clarify and to answer questions, including how they will pay their rent or Internet costs during the waiting period for these new benefits to come into effect.
As a member of Parliament, I have the honour of helping people navigate various government programs. Unfortunately, I am not always able to answer the many questions I get asked.
One of the questions I get asked the most is when the disability payment will be released. I voted to support Bill C-2 to ensure immediate relief for persons with disabilities through a one-time payment, although inadequate, because they had been waiting long enough and needed it so urgently. That was in July.
Not only do we expect persons with disabilities to live far below the poverty line, with much less than we have deemed livable according to the CERB, but we also expect them to keep waiting. All we have been told is to expect it in the fall. Well, it is fall, so I look to the government to finally deliver. Only then could I be happier with what is on the table now.
Having said that, I will be supporting this bill, as we do not have much of a choice since previous relief efforts have ended and Parliament was prorogued in the middle of a pandemic, as the second wave is hitting and as we send our children to school. I listened to the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader address this issue. He suggested that proroguing Parliament was no big deal, that it was only five weeks and that after sitting three short times in the summer, we should be happy with the level of engagement offered to us as opposition members.
If members recall, I had been supportive of efforts of the government to involve us, until this move to shut us out. I reject the premise that this is not a serious issue, because we were needed here in Parliament. We would not have allowed benefits to lapse, preventing us from being backed into a corner and rushing through this legislation.
As for the priorities of the bill, I am pleased to see changes to the EI criteria to allow Canadians to apply for benefits where they would not have previously been eligible. The 120-hour base is a welcome sight for the countless moms and pregnant women across this country who feared they would not meet maternity benefit eligibility. However, once again this comes far too late, after hearing their calls for help these past seven months. This would also help those in the gig economy, artists, musicians and so many others, those who we have also left hanging by a thread as we negotiate this bill.
My Green Party colleagues and my NDP colleagues have been pushing for a guaranteed livable income to help these same people. A GLI would eliminate the hoops and the burden of extra administration, as well as the associated costs. The most vulnerable, the perpetually left behind, would be financially okay. However, here we are, with a revamped EI program instead.
At least it provides answers to some questions in these uncertain times. I sincerely hope that we will continue to have discussions aimed at ending poverty in this country once and for all.
I am also concerned about the threshold included in the caretaker benefit and for paid sick leave. This has been promoted to Canadians as though they will receive 10 extra sick days to use as they wish. Well, this is not the case. For partners trying to share the caregiver burden, we are removing options from them by insisting that only one of them takes enough days off to qualify for the benefit. I can already predict the calls my office will receive from parents in crisis, with a sick child at home and an ultimatum from an employer. Students are also entirely left out of these new benefits.
My Conservative colleagues were bringing forward the idea that our children will have to bear the brunt of our national debt and our relief spending. Considering these children will first need to survive and live long enough for that to happen, it is clear to me that we must support survival above all else in these times. We need kids to have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, clothes on their backs, appropriate health services, a safe and healthy environment, and hope for the future.
I want all Canadians to have everything they need to survive and thrive.
A consistent piece missing in this puzzle is targeted efforts for mental health supports, and I must sound like a broken record at this point.
Canadians need tools to get through this next stage and what is likely to be a difficult winter.
We need increased funding for provinces to tackle this head-on, with counselling services, individual training and skill building to help others in our communities and to help ourselves. Money is not everything. Today, we need money in the hands of Canadians, especially the most vulnerable, but we also need compassion and an honest commitment to truly not leave anyone behind.
I think about the thousands of Canadians who are still separated from their loved ones: their lifelong committed partners, their new loves in a foreign land, their adult children. They need us to listen to them and to act. It is time to reunite. These Canadians have been left behind, and I fear for their mental health as their hearts break with each passing day and the silence from government leaves them more and more hopeless.
While we discuss proposed changes to the Labour Code and the veterans benefits code, we cannot forget the human side of relief efforts. We support those who have the luxury of work and the luxury of a roof over their head, but this still leaves people out.
This bill does not solve all the problems that all Canadians are facing.
It is a start, but I look forward to a bill that addresses the toll being taken on the resiliency and well-being of Canadians since the beginning of this pandemic, one that addresses the deep divisions in our country, the social inequalities, the rampant poverty, the racism. We can make the changes we need in Canada, during COVID and beyond, but we must do it together. No more games, no more platitudes: We need transparency and we need collaboration. We need our government to demonstrate that through its leadership, and I am waiting for that day.