Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Bow River.
As this is my first opportunity to address the chamber during debate, I will first express my appreciation to my fellow parliamentarians on selecting you, Mr. Speaker, as our Speaker. You have also selected an excellent group of parliamentarians to serve us in your stead, so thank you very much.
Before I proceed with my points on Bill C-3, please allow me to also thank the fine people of Red Deer—Mountain View, who have honoured me with the privilege to serve as their representative once again here in the House of Commons.
None of us makes it to this place on our own, and from that perspective, I wish to recognize not only the numerous volunteers and staff who have supported me, and many throughout the five campaigns I have been in, but also my devoted family, who have stood steadfast beside me. Although serving my community is a tremendous honour, it can also take a toll on my family, and I am eternally grateful for their support. My wife Judy; our son Devin and daughter Megan; our son-in-law Hanno; and our grandchildren Julian, Serena and Conrad are indeed the inspiration for my service to my community.
I would like to particularly highlight Julian, who will be turning eight this month, and put on my proud grandfather hat for a moment. Julian has a skill that I wish I had as a politician. When he asks someone their name, whether they are a clerk in a store, people at a library or teachers and students in his school, he knows and remembers their names and, with that, everything they would have spoken about in conversation. That ability is every politician's dream.
Throughout Julian's journey in the health care world, he has never hesitated to put a smile on the faces of those caring for him. He has bravely faced procedures that most would struggle with and has never complained. He can manoeuvre his electric wheelchair better than most truckers, and I have seen first-hand the impact his nurses and doctors have made on his physical health and sense of security while in their care.
It has been through this journey that Julian has given me the greatest pause to reflect upon the legislation that we have before us. I have a passion not only for everyone who seeks help in our health care system, but for those amazing individuals who help us through some of the most difficult and turbulent times of our lives. Indeed, they continually go above and beyond any part of their job description so that we can feel safe in our most vulnerable moments.
My family, like most, is no stranger to all sides of the health care system. Because of this, I have looked intently at the legislation presented by the hon. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, legislation that would enact amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada to create offences around the intimidation, obstruction and interference of health care workers. The commission of such offences against a health care provider or against someone seeking to obtain such health services is to be treated by the courts as an aggravating sentencing factor, thus giving the courts specific directions at the time of sentencing.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a more urgent need to protect those who care for our loved ones when they are defenceless in the face of illness. The stress that accumulates around health care professionals in the best of times is overwhelming, and we must have the full weight of the law behind us to stop intimidation, obstruction and interference as they work tirelessly to do their jobs. Working without the threat of intimidation should be the most basic of rights that we afford to the most valuable assets of our health care system.
We need to thank our health care workers with actions, not words. Even though the changes Bill C-3 seeks to address within the Criminal Code are not a new problem, we must send the bill to committee for further study and modifications to try to better protect our health care workers and patients. I am aware the Criminal Code already covers similar offences, such as intimidation, harassment, assault and incitement of violence, so if the courts already have authority and responsibility to assess the severity of the crime in sentencing, what are we really hoping to achieve?
Believe me, no one wishes more than I do that we ensure the safety of our medical professionals and reduce the stress they may endure. However, will this legislative tool help? We will not know unless we send it to committee to study it further and, if need be, amend it.
Recently I was sent the stories of 40 health care workers from central Alberta. What stood out was the number of times the words “stress”, “harassment”, “overworked”, “burnout” and “anxiety” were used as they spoke about their work environments. If the pandemic is to teach us anything, it is that we must look in depth at the giant holes we have in our system, holes that fail to protect the people who help us navigate our health care needs. More than ever, we see the importance of studying the protections already outlined in the Criminal Code and discussing the consequences of those harassing and vilifying patients and workers.
With respect to the need to protest, it cannot come at the expense of our health care workers and patients. We cannot allow threats and bullying to limit access for those seeking and providing health care. We must study the bill at length and make sure we can strike a balance between our right to be heard and our right to be safe.
Getting to know so many nurses, doctors and staff motivated me to follow in my father's footsteps as the chairman of the Elnora General Hospital board. I speak from both my heart and my experience when I express the need for this bill to be sent to committee, as it is crucial that unintended consequences of potential laws are investigated.
There has always been an ongoing debate about omnibus legislation and, sadly, this bill is a shining example of how this process can sometimes be abused. However, we cannot let this technicality limit the wide-reaching potential the bill has and interfere with opportunities for debate and scrutiny. We must not lose sight of the one basic principle which ties together all of the proposed enactments: the principle that our health care professionals deserve more.
I want to thank Sarah, a registered nurse providing care for patients in rural Alberta hospitals. She reached out to say that she did her very best throughout every single understaffed, overworked, stressful mandated shift, even when supplied with inadequate PPE. We owe Sarah our very best for further scrutiny of Bill C-3.
Although she wishes to remain anonymous, my gratitude goes out to a registered nurse of 22 years who currently works at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. She expressed that the last 18 months have been eye-opening, heartbreaking and exhausting. However, despite the difficult year, she has never wavered from her work at the labour and delivery unit. Not once did she put her fears and needs above those of her patients.
I also thank Suzanne, who told me that being hired as a social worker at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre was one of the proudest moments in her life. Despite the unprecedented stress and anxiety she faces, she still loves her job as much as the first day she started.
These are the stories of the heroes we could honour and further study with this bill. These are the voices that encourage me to stand here today and speak. As I mentioned earlier, I know from a profound personal place the importance of caring for those who care for us. We must ensure their safety and reduce the stress and anxiety that our medical professionals endure. It is time to send Bill C-3 to committee so that we can vet it at every possible stage.
In closing, I once again thank you, Madam Speaker, for your service and for allowing me to thank the people who are most special to me. I thank you for letting me highlight the health care professionals who took the time to share their stories.
I hope that as parliamentarians we can look for common-sense solutions to the potential overreach and unintended consequences regarding places where medical services are provided. I also hope the well-being of all involved is taken into consideration so that our doctors and nurses can concentrate on the myriad diseases and conditions that are taking their toll on the physical and mental health challenges facing society today.
We must remember who we are fighting for and that they have never failed in fighting for us in our times of need. Health care workers may be human by birth, but they are heroes by choice.