Mr. Speaker, rising for the first time in the 44th Parliament, I have in mind the mandate given to me by the good people of South Surrey—White Rock. However, before that, I want to commend all British Columbia MPs in the House who showed passion, care and solutions last night in the emergency debate on British Columbia.
The mandate I was given was made very clear to me when I met with neighbours, friends, struggling small business owners, some who lost their businesses during the pandemic lockdowns, and voters at their doors: Go to Ottawa for us.
Our Armed Forces members are demoralized by constant criticism, without the balance of recognition for their hard work and, indeed, their heroism. The CAF would have appreciated a shout-out from the throne speech this week, but there was nothing there. Veterans are suffering because the government left many Afghan allies behind to be hunted down by the Taliban. The issues we need to address in this Parliament are too numerous to outline in a short speech.
We are choosing here to either advocate for Canadians in person in the House or allow MPs, despite vaccination proof masks and precautions throughout the parliamentary precinct, to stay distant on Zoom screens. This is an unnecessary buffer between government and the scrutiny of the Canadian people through its opposition parties. It is like two people trying to talk to each other with two masks on each with a plexiglass between them. We have all been there.
The Liberal government received just 32% of the popular vote. Unfortunately, government is formed by which party wins the most individual ridings, not the overall vote count.
I forgot to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am splitting my time with the member for Regina—Lewvan.
One would think that result would give the government some humility, some understanding that Canadians are looking for accountability and rigorous scrutiny, but no. The Prime Minister has said numerous times already that the government has a clear mandate. Does it, with 32% of the vote? I am not at all sure that Canadians would agree, and I know that people in my riding decidedly do not.
I am very proud of our Westminster parliamentary system, refined over centuries, of commoners elected by free people of free will in a free democracy, to hold those in power to account and, when required, to ensure a peaceful transition of power; a forum that provides a robust challenge function to those entrusted to govern us; a system where even the head of government and ministers are expected to participate in our form of question and answer debate, the back and forth of question period. This makes a prime minister and his or her leadership team directly accountable to the people.
Another hallmark is a professional civil service that supports our significant work here. Members of the public service are subject to the government's mandatory policies requiring them to be vaccinated or to prove an accepted exemption. They are here because they are in compliance. We are here because we are in compliance. There can be no honest suggestion that the House of Commons is somehow a more hazardous workplace than any other in Canada.
Her Majesty's official opposition is the caucus most seized with keeping the government in check and to stand ready to assume government. Equally tasked with upholding the best interests of the country writ large, it is built into this system that Parliament demonstrably provides the best way to hold government to account, which is and always has been in person.
The vast majority of workers in my riding do not have the option to work in a hybrid fashion, and are clear it is a condition of their continued employment to be double vaccinated and wear a mask. Some have lost their jobs as a result and are in great need. Most have obeyed these requirements and do not expect their MPs to be exempt from the rules by which they must abide. They do not expect us to have a elitist special accommodation.
We are here to represent them, not ourselves just because it is more convenient or comfortable for some to stay at home. No doubt we all want to be home more. As a B.C. MP, Ottawa is a 4,300-kilometre commute for me. However, we just had 20 months of doing our work from home and by Zoom. Should any individual MP require accommodation for a short time due to health, family or MP-related travel reasons, those exceptions can be made.
What about pairing, which has been brought up by others? Every opposition MP noted that even when we were allowed to be here in limited numbers, Liberal ministers often chose to participate by Zoom from their parliamentary offices. They should be in question period to answer the questions put to them; it is not backbench members of Parliament tasked with responding, ever.
Is it important to my constituents that we do our parliamentary work in person? Not one told me it was a good idea unless we had no other choice to be safe.
I would like to share with the House what some South Surrey—White Rock folks tell me, because they care about what we do in this place.
Dorothy said, “My only wish is that [the Speaker] will halt question period to new questions if the minister refuses to answer the question put forward. Canadians deserve better than they have been receiving from this Parliament.”
Don said, “Looking forward to seeing you in action in person.”
Speaking to the devastation in B.C., Patsy said, "Both levels of government were late to the table.”
Wade simply said, “Fix it.”
When I posted my appointed as shadow minister for National Defence, Don wrote, “Canada so desperately needs a serious voice on our national defence.”
Julie said, “Got a big job there, but keep on the minister.”
Colin said, “Ask the new Minister of National Defence about her government's lack of commitment to the previously announced timeline for the $19-billion purchase of fighter jets.”
Marie said, “I do hope you will finally be able to get back to Ottawa should we have a real government some day.”
Alana said, “Please do what you can. It is very scary what is happening.”
I have so many examples of people saying that.
Of course we do work in our ridings, of course it is work and of course it is important, but what we do here is unique. We are voted in to represent people who cannot have a voice here.
Darlene said, “Ethics in government means everything to me. Let's change the culture of Ottawa: no more scandals, no more corruption.”
Other people's issues include rebuilding their families' devastated small businesses, deep deficit and the concern about the country perhaps going bankrupt.
Harveer said, “We need a government that cares about our economy. The Parliament is an absolute mess due to the present government.”
Veterans groups want a military covenant and a military bill of rights.
There are just so many issues that need to be addressed here. We have all struggled through poor audio; poor video; intermittent connectivity; MPs embarrassing themselves on screen, which seemed to usually be on the government side; missed votes; overzealous use of the mute button; and straining of resources in both the House and in committee. That is enough.
I urge my fellow parliamentarians not to give onto ourselves special accommodations not afforded to millions of workers in the country, not to choose comfort over solemn duty. If we can send 276 delegates to COP26, the most in the G7, we can buck up and have 338 MPs in the House of Commons.
We all just took a new oath to conduct ourselves in the best interests of our country. That means being in our workplace doing our work. We have riding times set aside. The voters chose us to be their voices in this place, in person. Let us get to work.