Madam Speaker, I would like to wish everyone a happy new year.
We are jumping right into issues that will have a major impact on the future of all Canadian families across the country during the pandemic. I would like to start by talking about some of the impacts we have already seen. I know that my speech will be interrupted by question period and that I will finish it after that.
I would like to start by emphasizing how important it is for all parliamentarians to work together to mitigate this crisis, a crisis that is having a massive impact on every city and town in Canada and leaving no part of the country unscathed.
Just this weekend, we commemorated the sad one-year anniversary of the first COVID case in Canada. Since the identification a year ago of the first COVID case, 20,000 Canadians have died as the pandemic has ravaged this country.
I think all of us understand the importance of underscoring the incredible courage and bravery of front-line health care workers. They have gone to work often at peril of their lives, and dozens have perished during this pandemic. The impacts of COVID have been devastating, and we as parliamentarians need to underscore their courage and dedication in a time of immense tragedy, when in each and very case those health care workers were putting their lives on the line.
We are going through a pandemic that will have repercussions for years to come. I think back to the Spanish flu epidemic and the lessons we can pull out of what was such a tragic pandemic a century ago. In so many cases and in so many countries, the financial and economic repercussions of the Spanish flu, even afer the actual pandemic itself had lessened and then ceased, were felt for over a decade afterward, so my comments today are not just about what we need to do now, but also about what we need to do over the course of the next decade. This is when the financial and economic repercussions are felt.
We need to be bold. We need to take action in a way that not only brings Canadians through this pandemic, hopefully safely and with their health intact, but lays the foundation for rebuilding afterward in a way that ensures that the decade-long economic and financial repercussions that will hit so many Canadian families will actually be addressed by the federal government, and it will provide supports to communities right across the country.
Bill C‑14 is certainly not a bold response to the pandemic's devastating repercussions. A closer look at what is in this bill makes it clear that the government does not know how to respond boldly to all the challenges Canadians are facing.
When I look at the substance of this bill, I can see that it is a long way from meeting the expectations of Canadians going through this pandemic and taking a financial and economic hit. Overall, this bill offers a little help, and that is good. A little help is better than nothing, for sure.
It is important to say that the government could dare to do more and go much further. As the leader of the NDP, the hon. member for Burnaby South, and the entire NDP caucus have already made very clear, help is needed now. We need to look at each and every element of the bill and see what is missing.
Long‑term care is getting help, help that is clearly needed. We are seeing that the epicentre of this pandemic is in Quebec's long-term care homes and in long-term care centres across the country. In these places, we are seeing thousands of deaths resulting from a lack of rules aimed at reinforcing standards of care provided there.
Our seniors deserve better in all the services they receive. A billion is not much when we look at what the government has done since this crisis began. From the beginning, we have seen the government offer $750 billion to Canada's major banks. Government members will say that this liquidity support is not just coming from the government, but from a number of sources. The fact remains that in the few days when the pandemic hit hardest in March, the government had to act quickly, and its first act was to provide $750 billion to Canada's major banks. The government's first instinct was to say that it needed to come to the aid of Canada's banks, and it made $750 billion available to that sector.
If all the expenditures under this bill are spent, seniors will receive just under $1 billion. The ratio is 750 to one: $1 billion for Canada's seniors, who have died by the thousands during this pandemic, but $750 billion for the banking sector, which has already made $30 billion in profits since the pandemic began. What message is the government sending by throwing so much money at Canada's big banks? Is that our priority?
Meanwhile, this bill has only crumbs to offer, and that includes the Canada child benefit. Yes, $100 a month certainly helps, but what is really needed right away is a $2-billion investment to lay the foundation for a national child care system. The unemployment rate continues to rise, and economic difficulties have existed since before the pandemic. Canadian families already had, on average, the highest level of family debt among the most industrialized countries as a result of policies put in place by previous Conservative and Liberal governments. The government could have done better, much better, and been bold enough to do more than simply offer $100 a month to families struggling to keep their homes and put food on the table.
The bill also mentions student loans. The government is suspending student loan interest payments. However, students trying to get through this crisis as best they can still have to repay their student loans. Even if interest rates are lower, the amount of the loans are minimal when we think of all the difficulties they are experiencing. Just compare the amount of student loan interest that has been suspended with the $750 billion in liquidity supports given to major Canadian banks.
With respect to pharmacare, next month we will have the opportunity to vote on Bill C-213, which will establish the legal framework for pharmacare. I must say that we are seeing strong support for this bill across the country. As a Bloc Québécois member mentioned, dozens of Quebec municipalities have just expressed support for this bill, which will establish a universal pharmacare plan that all Canadians will be able to access. Unions in Quebec and across Canada are also calling for a plan that will leave no one behind.
With the pandemic, we are talking about tens of millions of people who do not have access to a pharmacare program, either because they lost their job or because they do not have access to a protection plan through their employer. Bill C‑14 could have included certain aspects that the NDP will bring forward during the vote in Parliament next month, but right now, that too is being left out.
I know that my time is nearly up, but I would like to say that the most disappointing thing about this bill, even though some aspects are rather positive, is the government's lack of ambition at a time when Canadians are going through an unprecedented crisis.