Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene in today's debate. I want to start by recognizing how difficult the last 19 months have been for everyone.
It has certainly been difficult from an economic point of view, and I will be talking a little about that tomorrow in the debate on Bill C-2, and also difficult in terms of coping with the consequences of some of the public health measures that have had to be taken.
It has been difficult to be shut in our homes. It has been hard not to be able to go out and get together. I fully understand people's desire to get out and reunite with people. Indeed, I have enjoyed being able to come to this place and see some colleagues, even as I have some reservations about whether it is the appropriate thing to do and whether we are really there yet.
We know we are in the middle of a fourth wave. Depending on where we are in the country, our experiences of COVID are very different right now. There are provinces where ICUs are full and they are worried about the consequences for their medical system, and there are other provinces that are faring relatively well for the moment but are wondering what the future holds. We just heard the premier of Saskatchewan, today or yesterday, express some regret for not having implemented more strict public health measures earlier in the province's own fourth wave.
What have we done? We have followed the advice of public health officials, which is the right thing to do. I am an electrician by trade. I would not take kindly to somebody doing some research on the Internet and then coming to tell me how to wire something. I would tell them that I am a Red Seal electrician: I have the experience, and if anybody is going to correct me it would be somebody with similar training and experience, not somebody who had been investigating things on the Internet.
It has been right and good to follow the advice of public health authorities throughout the pandemic. They have told us to wear masks. They have told us to socially distance. Sometimes they have told us to stay home. They have told us to get vaccinated and that vaccination is our way through this. We are getting closer to a normal time, because more people are accepting that advice and choosing to get vaccinated. I commend them for that, and I encourage those who have not done that to do it soon.
For every person with some medical credentials out there who is a COVID denier, there are many more who accept the science. I do not believe there is any great conspiracy. Frankly, having spent six years here, I do not think the government is capable of the intelligence, discipline and coordination it would take to orchestrate a conspiracy that vast, nor do I think the so-called government-in-waiting is capable of such a thing. I find these conspiracy theories simply unbelievable.
If vaccination is part of the way for us to get back to normal, then I think it is incumbent upon us as elected officials to show leadership in that. One of the principle barriers to us being able to talk about how we conduct ourselves properly here, or to get back to some kind of normally functioning Parliament, is that the Conservative Party in particular has not been forthright about how many of its caucus members are vaccinated and how many are not.
The Conservatives say we should simply trust the system. I think we should expect more transparency from people who are elected to public office. We often hear from them about the transparency they want from the government, and about the right to demand more transparency from the government. We have to show that in the way we behave ourselves. We have a leadership obligation to get vaccinated and to show, be honest and report our own numbers. Every other caucus here has done that.
I take the Bloc's argument for an in-person Parliament to be a little different. The Bloc members are coming from a different place. They are saying that they did the right thing: They all got vaccinated, and they want to come and meet in person. I think that reasonable people can disagree about whether it is the right time to do that and whether we should have a hybrid Parliament. Their argument comes from a different place, because they have been transparent and have shown that leadership. I thank them for that, even as I disagree on the issue of whether a hybrid format should be available.
The member for Vancouver East made the point very well earlier when she talked about many of us having to get here on a plane. The fact is that if I am showing any two minor symptoms or one major symptom, I have to fill out a COVID screening on my phone to get my boarding pass.
If I have a scratchy throat and a runny nose, which happens often in Winnipeg in the winter, I either have to lie and get on the plane, doing the wrong thing, or I have to stay home. I would be glad for the opportunity to participate in Parliament from home, and do the right thing by avoiding getting on a plane when I am presenting symptoms.
I did a lot of work in the virtual Parliament. I was frustrated by some of the things that other members have raised. I was frustrated by committee meetings that were disrupted by technical difficulties. I was frustrated by problems with interpretation. I felt for and talked about and stood up for our interpreters who were facing a disproportionate amount of injury as a result of the hybrid format. All of those things are true, but I was able to get a lot of work done.
We got a benefit of $2,000 per month for people who could not go to work. We got a student benefit that would not have happened if it had not been for the interventions of the NDP. We got a sick leave program that would not have happened if it had not been for the interventions of the NDP.
It is not just what we managed to accomplish for Canadians in their time of need, but it was also some of the accountability work that we did. Some people around here may remember a guy by the name of Bill Morneau, who did the wrong thing with respect to the WE Charity scandal. It was in the virtual summer sittings and virtual committee meetings of 2020, which the NDP negotiated, that testimony came to light that brought Bill Morneau down for his wrongdoing on the WE Charity scandal. That summer, he resigned his position and ultimately left the government. If that is not accountability, I do not know what is.
The idea that there cannot be good parliamentary work in a virtual Parliament, both in terms of helping people and in terms of holding the government to account, simply is untrue. I do not accept those arguments.
As I alluded to earlier, in the lead-up to this Parliament feelers were put out to the Conservatives and the Bloc to talk about what our Parliament would look like, whether we would have a hybrid Parliament and, if so, what shape that might take. However, they chose to abstain from those discussions. We might have had a hybrid Parliament where committees met in person. That might have alleviated some of the burden on our interpreters. We might have had some kind of understanding about how many Liberals might be in the House. However, instead of being able to have a constructive conversation, the conversation was about the disorder in the Conservative caucus and whether the Conservatives were going to require their MPs to be vaccinated. They were splintering off into a bunch of subcaucuses, and we could not have the kind of real conversation that we needed to have in the lead-up to this moment, because now we are back.
Finally, Parliament has met again after the election. It took too long, but now we are here. Parliament is in session and there are things to do that are actually about the people we were elected to represent. Therefore, we should not spend all our time debating this. There was a window to talk about how we were going to do this. Some chose not to participate, so then what is the most reasonable thing to do?
The most reasonable thing to do, if parties are committed to having a hybrid Parliament in this time when the pandemic is not yet over, is to adopt the same rules that those parties once agreed to. If we were going to do something different, that would be worse from the point of view of forging a new path. This at least is what they once agreed to, so our hands are somewhat tied by the fact that they would not engage in good-faith conversations about what kind of alterations to the hybrid Parliament we might make or if there were ways that we might scale back the hybrid element in certain parts of Parliament.
I imagine this may happen again. This has a deadline, and the pandemic may not be over by June 2022. The next time we discuss this, I invite these parties to come to the table and talk about how to make Parliament work with the 21st-century tools that we have, in a way that makes sense during a pandemic.