House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was women.


The House resumed from November 27, 2020, consideration of the motion that Bill C-237, An Act to establish a national framework for diabetes, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address the House of Commons this morning. It is a beautiful sunny day here in Winnipeg. Quite frankly, I would not want to be anywhere else.

Bill C-237 is an important piece of legislation. I want to recognize the member for Brampton South, who has put such a spirited effort into this bill in the previous legislature. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that her heart and mind are with this issue. I have heard her speak to it on several occasions, both inside and outside of the House of Commons. She is one of the most persistent and tenacious ladies I know, and she is trying to address a critically important issue in health care, no matter what province or territory one lives in.

As a former health critic who tries to understand the issues of health care in a broader sense, I can say that diabetes needs a lot more attention. We need to see different levels of government working together, not just the federal government working with the provinces and territories. We need to incorporate indigenous community leaders to be able to deal with even municipal levels of governments. Our school trustees, school divisions and education are so vitally important to the issue of diabetes.

The bill, although it is not complicated, if passed, would have a profound and positive impact on all Canadians in all regions of our country. We are not talking about dozens, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, but millions of Canadians who are impacted directly by diabetes, not to mention the indirect impacts on families and friends. Suffice it to say that this disease affects all of us directly or indirectly in one way or another.

The costs of ignoring the issue of diabetes is astronomical because it can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye issues, dental disease, and diseases related to nerves, legs and feet. From a personal point of view, one of the first real experiences I had regarding the severity of diabetes was when a good friend of mine had his leg amputated, which came as a bit of a shock to me. More of a shock was when, a couple of years later, he passed away. From what I understand, this was attributed to diabetes.

This is life-saving and the impact it could have is profound. That is why it is important that all members of the House recognize the true value of Bill C-237. I assure the member for Brampton South that I will be supporting this important piece of legislation. I would be shocked and disappointed if any members of the House did not support it.

In essence, the bill is asking for the design and development of a national framework to support improved access for all Canadians to diabetes prevention and treatment. How could one not support that? If we truly understand the issues of health care and look at the mobility of people today, it is a no-brainer that we need this type of legislation to move us forward.

There are even some time frames within the legislation for when it is passed and receives royal assent. Twelve months after coming into force, there would be a report setting out that national framework, which would be prepared and ultimately presented to Parliament. There is a sense of accountability from the Minister of Health, and a time frame for when the minister must report on the effectiveness of that strategy.

I believe these things would have a very strong impact on all of our communities. This one of the reasons this is something we should get behind.

Establishing a national framework would provide the Government of Canada the opportunity to work closely with many different diabetes stakeholders. There are some fantastic groups out there. I suspect one only needs to talk to the member for Brampton South, who could cite some of the stakeholders, individuals and constituents she has met with to address this particular issue.

Often when I make reference to stakeholders, I make reference to the different levels of government. We have some very strong advocates with the Canadian Diabetes Association, and many other organizations, which support people and advocate on this particular disease.

We need to be bringing those organizations together, and bringing in the different levels of government, including indigenous communities, as I consider them a level of government equal to the national government, to have that important dialogue on diabetes and understand the very basics. Back in the mid-1990s, general education on diabetes was in great need. Even with Google today, the need is still there.

We need to see this legislation passed. I look forward to it going to committee and hopefully getting through the House.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to continue debate on Bill C-237, which was brought forward by the member for Brampton South, and to listen to the previous member. I agree with him. I do not see much to disagree with in this private member's bill. It was in the format of a motion in the previous Parliament, and I know the member for Brampton South is well-meaning in the work she is attempting to have the House pass to committee to study this issue.

The contents create more reports to Parliament and parliamentarians in which we would get further information, hopefully from government sources, that will track and provide very specific timetables and details in the content of this report, which I am all for.

Generally speaking, we find that in government legislation there is simply an ask for a report to be made to Parliament, but often it does not ask for much detail. This one does. It has five points that would be in the report, including an explanation of diabetes and pre-diabetes. It also asks for things like data on the promotion of research, prevention and treatment. There are a lot of good things this bill is attempting to do.

It could have also asked the Canada Revenue Agency to provide more information on the disability tax credit, which we know many diabetics would like to use. In 2017 or 2018 the Liberal government made changes and thousands with type 2 diabetes were no longer able to obtain the DTC.

We also know that the DTC and the registered disability savings plan are two very important programs that a lot of people with serious disabilities make use of, and the DTC maximum payable tax benefit in 2019 was $8,416. This is a substantial amount of money to help people with a disability. For constituents with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, it is a very serious disability.

A mom came to one of my town halls, and at a later point to an annual general meetings in my local association, and she explained how difficult it is to live with a daughter who has diabetes. It involves waking up in the middle of the night because an alarm would go off on the diabetic pump. It is trying to ensure that they have enough insulin, especially after eating.

It is a serious condition, but I do not think many Canadians really understand the depth of how bad it can go. The member for Winnipeg North spoke to how serious this condition can be because of the complications that arise from being a diabetic, and of one of his friends having had a leg amputated.

I have a friend who was diagnosed later in life, and he had half of his foot amputated because of diabetes, so we know it is a very serious condition. Diabetes Canada and JDRF have done extensive, profound work to try to sensitize Canadians and governments across Canada to how serious this condition is, but also to the weight it places on our health care systems. It is one of the fastest rising chronic conditions in our health care system, and it is a big driver of Canadian health care costs.

If we look at Diabetes 360°, I think Diabetes Canada has put forward an excellent plan within it. This framework could be used to further those types of private sector projects that are trying to gather more support, both from government and from private sources. This funding is to ensure that we deal with the rising tide of diabetes diagnoses across our country.

There is a Yiddish proverb that says, “Spare us what we can learn to endure”. Diabetes is a difficult condition to endure. I have kids who have a chronic kidney condition, so I have an inkling of what goes into trying to manage a condition like this. A framework to Parliament is a simple ask by the member from the back benches in this Parliament for the government to build information and report it back to Parliament, so we can have good, solid evidence for decisions to be made in the future.

The disability tax credit is one of the key tools being used by those with a disability across Canada. Members will know I proposed Bill C-399 in the last Parliament. It never came to a vote because I drew too high a ballot count. It would have made changes to the DTC specific to diabetics. This is where it ties in with the national framework that the member is asking the House to pass to committee.

Making it easier to access the disability tax credit, or any type of disability program that the federal government could run, should be addressed directly in the framework. I would hope that the reports provided to Parliament in the future would specifically address the disability tax credit, how it functions, and how it addresses issues and conditions such as diabetes.

An important piece of evidence to be tracked is the cost per person, across all of Canada's health care systems, of a diabetic's condition as it worsens in later years. Its annual cost to the health care system would lead to better decision-making at the front end when considering different types of insulin and technology, and whether there is a government role or support that could be provided to bridge the gap for those who cannot afford it.

One of the recommendations in the pre-budget report from the finance committee in this Parliament was to make the disability tax credit refundable. Because tax credits are administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, those types of decisions would be easier to make if a national framework, and a report from a national framework specifically on diabetes, provided information and evidence from the DTC program on the top 10 doctors in Canada who are approving the six-page form for the DTC, and if they are approving them specifically for diabetes. That would offer an excellent opportunity for parliamentarians to reach out to those doctors and ask them to describe their experience filling out these applications, how serious the condition is, what the downside is and what it can lead to. That would be an interesting data point, and we cannot easily get that information without having something like a national framework that produces evidence.

As I said, I would like to see the Canada Revenue Agency compelled, through a report tabled in Parliament through this national framework, to provide such information. I would also like to see which provinces are applying the most for this one condition, specifically diabetes. JDRF, Diabetes Canada and other stakeholder groups have all asked in the past for more information to be provided to us so that we could make better decisions.

Often, I find that the Canada Revenue Agency is a black box: It does not like to reveal any type of information. A few years ago, the Auditor General reported on the DTC and the program's performance and administration. It was not very good. It was not what we parliamentarians would expect to see in the administration of such an important tax credit for Canadians.

A report like this is important. It is beneficial. I applaud the member for bringing it forward. I have no doubt that we will be able to pass it to committee, and I am hoping at that stage there would be further consideration given to perhaps including a specific mention of the disability tax credit and other federal government programs specific to diabetics, and that we could address the specific lack of information in the framework. When the bill returns to the House and we have our final say before it heads to the Senate, we could add that important piece of information. The changes that were made a few years ago by the Canada Revenue Agency, as directed by the government, really hurt the case for thousands of diabetics across the country who were removed from the disability tax credit. It would be good for us all to have that type of information available.

I will be voting for this private member's bill. It is a good bill. It provides the foundations for better work to be done at committee to add the disability tax credit angle. Again, spare us not what we can endure to learn. Diabetes is a very serious chronic medical condition, and it is about time we had a framework in this country to deal with it.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Sébastien Lemire Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, it is important for me to speak to this issue this morning. I thank the member for Brampton South for giving us the opportunity to do so.

Unfortunately, despite the many efforts that have been made to combat diabetes in Quebec and Canada, this chronic disease continues to progress. The percentage of people with diabetes continues to grow. Nearly 8% of Canadians have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. More than 888,000 Quebeckers and 4 million Canadians have diabetes.

Today, the treatment and management of this disease and its impacts impose a financial burden estimated at $3 billion a year in direct and indirect costs. Diabetics require a range of health care services, mainly to treat and manage the disease but also to diagnose and treat related complications.

The direct costs are those associated with the health care services covered by public or private health insurance or by the individuals and their families. The indirect costs are those that are not related to health care and have an impact on the economy and individuals when a loss of productivity arises as a result of the disease, a disability or premature death.

Canada has a long history of fighting diabetes. In 1999, 4% of the population had diabetes, and that number has doubled in the past 20 years. Grabbing the bull by the horns, the authorities created Canada's first diabetes strategies, which involved collecting and sharing information and mobilizing stakeholders. Ten years later, in 2009, efforts to fight diabetes were augmented by funding for research and public awareness. Since 2019, organizations have been calling on the Government of Canada to set up a strategic framework and fund a national strategy. That brings us to today. Bill C-237 would create a Canadian national framework for diabetes.

What is a national framework? Its goal would be to improve access to diabetes prevention and treatment. That is a good thing. We have to act fast because the incidence of diabetes is rising at an alarming rate. I would point out that the purpose of Bill C-237 is to have Canada's Parliament recognize the need to be proactive in the fight against diabetes and to have the Government of Canada develop and implement a national diabetes framework.

The bill provides for the strategy to be designed in consultation with the provincial governments and Quebec. Organizations, provincial governments and the federal government must work together to develop this national framework and determine the broad themes to be included, such as education about diabetes, identification of needs, promotion of research, promotion of knowledge sharing and analyses of what is already being done to achieve health care equality.

The bill gives the government one year to develop the strategic framework and five years to report on its effectiveness. This is all well and good. The Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-237 as long as the Canadian national framework does not infringe on Quebec's jurisdiction over health care. Before the bill can move forward, the Bloc Québécois must ensure that the Canadian national framework reflects the demands of Quebec and respects its jurisdiction. As far as Quebec is concerned, the federal government should only be involved in the areas of prevention and research.

I want to acknowledge the efforts of the hon. member for Brampton South. I would like to highlight what our colleague has done in the fight against diabetes. She worked in the health sector for 15 years and devoted part of her career to the cause of diabetes, since it is very important to her. She took part in the Diabetes Canada 2018 forum. She has also moved three motions on diabetes to raise public awareness. She wrote a report entitled “Defeating Diabetes”. It presented a cross section of the various stakeholders that are likely to make an impact on the issue. We at the Bloc Québécois believe that her desire to contribute to the cause is sincere and that, at the very least, she knows what she is talking about.

More than ever, we must fund research. The way we beat diabetes is by ensuring better prevention and making discoveries that will lead to a cure. We must give more funding to research so we can contribute to the global effort on diabetes research. This research is making progress on many fronts. The latest advances include improved methods for insulin delivery and control of blood sugar, as well as better insulin pumps. The most significant breakthrough in all this is the transplantation of insulin-producing cells.

A number of researchers are working on transforming stem cells into healthy beta cells that can be transplanted into patients. We can now manage insulin-producing cells that act like the beta cells we have in the pancreas.

These are promising advances, but we cannot overlook any aspects of diabetes. Research is needed so that we can learn more about the mechanism of diabetes and expand our knowledge in such areas as pharmaceutical research, diabetes screening, food, weight issues and physical activity programs tailored to people with diabetes.

Let us talk about the close relationship between obesity and diabetes. The governments of Quebec and Canada have developed strategies to promote healthy lifestyles among Quebeckers and Canadians. Governments must continue to promote awareness, which is not easy to do, since big multinationals bombard us with advertising and sell us high-calorie foods that can cause obesity and, as a result, diabetes.

Governments must continue promoting physical activity through awareness campaigns but also through enhanced tax credits for sports. The rise of type 2 diabetes among young children is alarming, so we need to get kids moving. Governments also have to continue promoting healthy eating and a healthy weight. They must also provide financial support to organizations like Diabète Québec and Diabetes Canada.

I would be remiss if I did not remind the federal government that it needs to provide more help for Quebeckers and Canadians, and in particular indigenous communities, which have much higher rates of diabetes than the general population.

I want to throw out a question about COVID-19 vaccinations for us to think about. Should people with chronic diseases like diabetes get priority for the COVID-19 vaccine?

For all of these reasons, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of developing a strategy, provided that it respects the provinces' demands and the division of powers.

I would also like to point out the work being done by local and regional stakeholders. I especially want to acknowledge the work of my friend, Anne-Marie Trépanier, who has had type 1 diabetes since forever. Many people are battling diabetes and must develop a different lifestyle. We must be there for them because, from what I have understood by talking with my friend, they require a significant amount of psychological and physical support. Associations play a fundamental role in these areas. In terms of awareness of this disease, we must also think of local associations, which offer essential services.

I will conclude by mentioning that this disease can strike anyone at any time. There is a strong link between cardiovascular disease and diabetes. My father passed away 10 years ago, and in his final days we suspected that diabetes was involved. Diabetes probably accelerated his failing health and contributed to his heart attack.

It is important to invest in research, especially in diabetes management, which could have given my father better health in his final days and extended his life so that he might have been able to enjoy his grandchildren for a few more years.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Windsor West. I will take this moment to wish him and his wife a happy anniversary.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, that is very gracious of you. I appreciate it, because it is a special day. I want to thank Terry for 24 years of putting up with this. I will take these glasses off because they will fog up as I talk in the debate today.

It is a great debate. It is something that I think the House will support, but it is also something that I am hoping, after my 18 years here in the chamber, will actually get some action. How many times do we have to talk about diabetes and issues like it and not have any real action. Why are we waiting? What will change between now and 10 years from now? Nothing. We know diabetes has a significant consequence on our population. We know it has a significant consequence on our economy and a significant consequence on what we do every single day, yet we still do not have a national strategy. We have not supported it through either a provincial or a federal plan.

I do not see this as a jurisdictional issue, whether it be Quebec, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan or Newfoundland. I see it as an issue that kind of brought me to politics. As an employment specialist for persons with disabilities and as a PSW, I met people with diabetes who had extra complications in their lives. Why we would not provide the support for medications and proactive engagement in their treatment is beyond me as a legislator in this House and in this chamber. Having discussions and spending time on this issue is kind of incomprehensible in many respects. We know that if we actually do the right things, we can support people. The modest things that are necessary would give them extra life, extra employment, inclusion and, most importantly, the sense of fulfillment that we all enjoy.

We know that the percentage of our population who have diabetes is rising and we know that there are solutions for that, yet here we are today, debating a bill, which is fine, but we are not acting. That is where I have an issue with this situation right now. It is that we need to move forward.

We all have a unified vision that this is a serious issue for all Canadians, and the House and the chamber acknowledge that, but we are still going through a process that is very draconian with regard to getting results for people who are suffering from diabetes. I am really happy to discuss this because it still raises this issue and brings us another step forward, but I hope we can actually go farther than that.

When we look at the issue of diabetes, we see it is one of those things that is affected by the consumer element and the products and foods being pushed onto people. At the same time, we expect people to manage their disease with medication, but some people do not have any choice. Some of us can drive to a grocery store or elsewhere to get food and other supplements that are better choices, rather than having go to stores in their own neighbourhoods, but other people cannot, because they have to take a bus or rely on other people or do not have the support or experience to look at all the ingredients on the labels of the products they need.

The situation is that diabetes is different for those privileged to have an income that allows them to deal with it through a logical plan and provides supports to do those things and make those choices. Then there are other people who have to deal with it but cannot get out of their apartment. They are stuck with limited choices. They do not have the choices that other people have to help themselves. They know that, so they have to do the things necessary just to manage the situation.

I am hoping this motion will propel the government to do something. We can have lots of slogans, different motions, committee studies, all of those different things, but we know diabetes affects people right now, as I am speaking. There are solutions for it, like insulin, which is a pride of our country in terms of its development and use in society, but it is not without cost or effect on populations.

Young people with juvenile diabetes organize and spend their time and their youth fighting for political change by us here, which is a sad thing. How wrong is that? How wrong is it that we are asking young people to spend their time and their youth advocating a public policy we know is true and just? That is what gives me difficulty in this whole situation and what is going on here when we have all of those tools.

We have seen the things that were impossible before COVID-19 and now are possible. We have bailed out banks. A good example is Bell. With $112 million of government assistance, Bell laid off people and made $5 billion in profit, but at the same time we cannot afford strategies for diabetes. Those are good examples of what was impossible before COVID-19 and are possible now.

I am hoping we will see the light with regard to diabetes through the legislation before us, Bill C-237, and other bills that come before the House. I am hoping we will actually start to act. It is important, because none of the debate here really matters, in the sense that it does not affect an individual at the end of the day unless it reaches the goal line. Hopefully, the discussion today will translate to real results.

The Liberal administration had a supermajority in the past Parliament but now has a minority, so we can push things like this forward. I am hoping the government will do that. I do not think we need a five-year study to tell us the effects of diabetes. We do not need more research and development to understand its connection to human bodies and how it affects us as citizens in our communities. We need action.

The discussion here today should be about whether we are going to act or not. That should be the benchmark. The benchmark should be whether we are going to act.

And we should act on this now, not in five years but in five weeks. There should be an initiative to support what needs to be done. The research is there and the population is there, and we can certainly see the inequity in the demographics and research, which shows that people can deal with this issue better if they have money versus not having money, which puts a greater onus on us from the expectations of the population.

It is of even greater importance than ever before for us to act now. Because of COVID-19, we know what we can do to prevent health issues. We can do that with pharmacare, dental care and a series of things, but if we do not act, it does not mean anything. That is the reality. Why do we need another study to understand diabetes? I do not understand that. I will support this bill and the NDP will support it. We will be behind it, pushing really hard for real results, but action is necessary now. It will save us money and give us the opportunity to save lives. I am thankful that this bill has come forward.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Oakville North—Burlington Ontario


Pam Damoff LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am speaking today on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. As someone who lives and works on the traditional territories of indigenous peoples, I recognize my responsibility to acknowledge and listen to their perspectives and interests.

I am thankful as well for the opportunity to speak in favour of the member for Brampton South’s private member’s bill to establish a framework for diabetes. I also want to commend her. Since she was elected in 2015, she has been tireless in raising awareness about diabetes and in advocating, as the chair of the diabetes caucus, to ensure the issue receives the attention it deserves. On this International Women's Day, I am so proud to serve in this Parliament with her.

Diabetes is an important public health issue that affects millions of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Diabetes happens when the body loses its ability to produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that controls blood glucose levels. When diabetes goes undetected or if action is not taken to keep it in check, serious complications can develop, and in some cases, premature death can occur.

As we know, there are three types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body is unable to produce enough insulin. It is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and is not preventable. My cousin Adam Fraser and my friend Dave Millar live with type 1 diabetes, and I have seen the challenges they face to manage their disease.

Type 2 diabetes generally develops in adulthood and accounts for 90% of all individuals living with diabetes. It is caused by several factors, including obesity, ethnic background, a family history of type 2 diabetes and other environmental factors.

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that is first diagnosed during pregnancy and usually disappears after delivery.

Many Canadians live with the impacts of this disease. Diabetes or prediabetes affects one in three Canadians. One in two young adults will develop the disease in their remaining lifetime.

Research has shown that some indigenous peoples and Canadians are more susceptible to diabetes than others in the general population. First nations and Métis people, Black Canadians and South Asian Canadians have significantly higher rates of type 2 diabetes than other Canadians. The increased risk for type 2 diabetes in these groups is often a result of inequities in social determinants of health related to income, education and the social and physical environment. These inequities can limit the ability of individuals to access nutritious foods and be physically active, and can increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and other major chronic health conditions.

Higher rates of diabetes among first nations and Métis people reflect the long-standing effects of colonization that disrupted the transmission of culture across generations and resulted in physical changes to the environments of their communities. Among other negative impacts, these factors limit the availability of and access to important sources of nutritious foods as well as the ability to engage in traditional active lifestyles.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and unmasked the challenges faced by people living with diabetes. We now know that people living with diabetes are at increased risk of developing severe symptoms and dying from this infectious disease. We also know that people living with diabetes can face significant challenges to participating fully in the economic and social life of Canada. This debilitating disease exacts a significant toll on our nation’s economy and health care system.

I have had the privilege to work with Kimberley Hanson from Diabetes Canada and Mike Swartz from my riding to advance their Diabetes 360 initiative. Both Kim and Mike live with diabetes and have advocated that our government needs to do more. I agree. I sincerely hope our government provides funding to implement Diabetes 360 in our next budget.

A recent study estimated that new cases of diabetes between 2011 and 2021 account for $15.36 billion in health care costs. Beyond the immeasurable human costs of this disease, if prevalence grows by 40% in the next decade, as projected, the health care costs associated with treating people with diabetes in Canada will top $39 billion by 2028.

To reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the most common and preventable form of the disease, it is important to help Canadians in every way to develop healthier lifestyles. Canadians of all backgrounds and in all regions must have the opportunity to find ways to sit less, move more, eat more healthily and stop smoking.

During the pandemic, at a time when we encourage people to stay home, we can find ways to be active safely, such as going skating, skiing or snowshoeing or bundling up for a hike. Being active and promoting healthier weight are fundamental in helping to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Canada was the first country to develop 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years, children and youth. Through additional guidelines released last year, Canada now has a complete set of recommendations for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep across all age groups.

These guidelines are important in helping Canadians integrate healthy behaviours into their everyday lives, and reduce their risk of major chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Healthy eating is also a key factor in preventing diabetes.

The Government of Canada is taking action to help Canadians eat better and access nutritious foods. Through our healthy eating strategy led by Health Canada, we have strengthened nutrition labelling on food products, eliminated industrially produced trans fats in foods, and are working toward restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

In 2019, we updated and published a new Canada food guide, based on the best evidence available to promote healthy eating. Further, to help Canadians consume less sodium, last fall we released revised sodium targets for processed foods. The Government of Canada is also working with its partners to promote healthy living and prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

Being aware of one’s risk for diabetes is also key to helping people take action to prevent the disease. The Public Health Agency of Canada, in collaboration with its partners, developed and promotes a diabetes risk questionnaire called CANRISK to help Canadians understand their level of risk for developing pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

The Government of Canada is also investing in innovative community-based programming and public education to test and scale up projects that help to prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes, and encourage healthy living choices. The government is providing extensive support for diabetes research. From 2014 to 2019, the Government of Canada, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, invested approximately $229 million in diabetes research.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. I grew up in London Ontario, the home of Sir Frederick Banting. One of my high school’s rivals was Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School. Canadians should indeed be proud of the work that Banting and Best did with their discovery of insulin.

The Government of Canada is working with partners to commemorate this monumental Canadian innovation that has saved millions of lives world-wide. However, while this milestone is indeed worthy of celebration and a source of pride, we have more to do. Diabetes Canada has stated:

When the world looks to Canada in 2021 to see how we are faring at treating diabetes 100 years later, Canadians will have less to feel proud of. Double the number of Canadians lives with diabetes than did 15 years ago, and Canada is in the worst third of developed countries for both prevalence and costs of treating the disease. The problem of diabetes is very bad, and rapidly getting worse. We need to do something bold to address this problem and mark this important anniversary in 2021.

Eleven million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Chances are, the disease affects someone or someone they know.

I am pleased to support Bill C-237 as the government continues to undertake meaningful efforts toward preventing and reducing the impact of diabetes and other chronic diseases on Canadians. This bill reminds us that we need to increase our efforts and work together, alongside individuals living with diabetes, to reduce the burden of this devastating disease and improve health outcomes for Canadians and indigenous peoples.

Finally, I would like to again thank the member for Brampton South for bringing this bill before the House of Commons and for her tireless advocacy.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, Mitch Beauchemin was a lifelong resident of Ile des Chênes, Manitoba, in my my riding of Provencher. His family and friends described him as a quiet, gentle and generous individual, always ready to lend a helping hand, yet never needing recognition.

I am going to give him a little recognition this morning. Mitch was a member of the Ile des Chênes Knights of Columbus Council and an advocate for Diabetes Manitoba. He was passionate about supporting those living with diabetes, and he actively lobbied the government on behalf of those with the disease.

Mitch was not just an advocate; he lived with type 1 diabetes for 40 years. Then, early last year, Mitch was able to receive a kidney and pancreas transplant, effectively closing the chapter on decades of managing his diabetes.

Sadly, he passed away this past September, but not without leaving his mark. In 2016, I was invited to be one of several guest speakers at a fundraiser Mitch organized called “Let's Get Pumped”, with proceeds going to the Canadian Diabetes Association. It had all the trappings: a luncheon, live music, speakers and a silent auction, and a 50/50 draw. He was quoted in the Niverville Citizen at the time saying that he wanted to do this event, not only because of his own experience but also for all diabetics in the province.

Beyond this event, my office heard from Mitch from time to time, always making sure that diabetes was top of mind for decision-makers. Though I know many, including his wife, Cathy are missing him dearly, his memory lives on.

It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-237, the national framework for diabetes bill. I would like to think that Mitch would be pleased to see this conversation taking place today in this house in Parliament. I want to thank my colleague, the member for Brampton South, for bringing forward this legislation. Her advocacy has been generating general awareness about diabetes for several years now.

As Diabetes Canada so succinctly puts it, “Diabetes is a disease in which your body either can't produce insulin or can't properly use the insulin it produces.”

Some 11 million Canadians are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. If we consider an average 24-hour period, about 20 Canadians will die as a result of diabetes complications; 620 will receive a diabetes diagnosis, and 14 of them will have their lower limbs amputated. These numbers represent real people, family members, friends and neighbours, whose lives have been lost or dramatically changed as a result of this disease.

The national framework for diabetes bill seeks to develop a national framework designed to support improved access to diabetes prevention and treatment to ensure better health.

It looks to include measures to explain what diabetes and prediabetes are, identify the training and education needs of health care professionals related to the prevention and treatment of diabetes, and promote research and improve data collection.

Bill C-237 would also require the Minister of Health to hold at least one conference with relevant stakeholders to develop this framework, and within one year from when this act comes into force, the minister would have to report to the House on this framework. This is an important accountability mechanism that would ensure that the minister would do the work necessary to build this framework, although we must also be wary that there is no guarantee that the minister would meaningfully address issues that diabetics face here in Canada.

Canadians should have stable and reasonable access to the health care and the treatments they need. By working with stakeholders like Diabetes Canada we can take concrete steps forward to develop a plan for the prevention and management of diabetes in Canada through a national strategy.

When the health committee studied this subject in 2019, it made important recommendations that bear mentioning. The first one was that the Government of Canada, in partnership with provinces and territories, and in collaboration with stakeholders, such as Diabetes Canada, plan and implement an approach to the prevention and management of diabetes in Canada through a national diabetes strategy.

Second, as part of a national diabetes strategy, the Government of Canada, in partnership with the provinces and territories, and in collaboration with stakeholders, such as Diabetes Canada, should explore options for establishing a national diabetes registry for people living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes; explore options to reduce diabetes-related stigma; and, finally, explore options to improve public health awareness and education on diabetes, particularly through community programming, including public awareness of the relationship between nutrition and diabetes.

The bill serves to answer the call of these 2019 recommendations, but it is worth noting that programming already exists to address common risk factors of diabetes within the integrated strategy on healthy living and chronic disease. In going forward with the bill, there must be clarity about how the national strategy would tie in with existing programming.

A number of previous governments have taken important steps forward on diabetes as well. In 1999, the federal government created the Canadian diabetes strategy to further the prevention, early detection and self-management of diabetes and its complications, and national surveillance. It committed $115 million over five years for that strategy. In 2005, the Canadian diabetes strategy became part of the integral strategy on healthy living and chronic disease. Funding for the Canadian diabetes strategy was renewed in 2005 and $18 million a year was introduced for the Public Health Agency of Canada's diabetes programming. Funding for diabetes research is also disbursed through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In 2010-11, under the previous Conservative government, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded approximately $44 million in diabetes research.

As I reviewed this history, I was struck by the gap between the previous Conservative government's funding and where we find ourselves today. When the health committee's recommendations that I highlighted earlier were laid out, the committee had a Liberal majority, which was supported by Conservative members of the health committee, and it was understood that the government needed to act. Unfortunately, we have not seen much action by the current Liberal government in recent years. As a government, it could have introduced a government bill, but no such bill was introduced—not when the Liberals had a majority and not now in the current Parliament. Had they chosen to introduce a government bill, Parliament could already have had work under way to develop this framework. Bill C-237 is important, but Canadians with diabetes also know that it is late.

It is also troubling that the Liberal government's most memorable connection to diabetes is when it oversaw a Canada Revenue Agency crackdown on access to the disability tax credit, which is a non-refundable tax credit that helps persons with diabetes reduce the amount of income tax they might have to pay. In 2017, the CRA began restricting access to this disability tax credit, which affected hundreds of Canadians living with diabetes and other rare diseases. This happened because officials changed the interpretation of the rules around life-sustaining therapy and associated requirements for those diseases. Our Conservative opposition sounded the alarm and stood with organizations demanding that Canadians continue to receive the benefits they ought to have access to. Given this history, I think there would be value in including an amendment to ensure that the Canada Revenue Agency is administering the disability tax credit fairly and that the disability tax credit is designed to help as many persons with diabetes as possible. This is something that the committee can look at when the bill is referred to it. I think we can all see how this would give greater certainty to those folks who rely on the disability tax credit.

It is my duty as an opposition member to constructively critique the proposal. I have highlighted where I think it could be better, but I do not want to dwell on that. I appreciate that the member for Brampton South is stepping up in the absence of action from her government. She is using the opportunity that she has been afforded through the private members' bill lottery to move the dial forward on this issue, and I commend her for that. At a time when so much attention has been dedicated to COVID-19, it can be easy to forget that the daily challenges faced by individuals with diabetes have continued without their receiving much media attention and without widely publicized diagnosis.

The final word is this: There is merit to committed and coordinated federal leadership to tackle diabetes in Canada. We have an opportunity to move the ball forward and a strategy that could help support those living with diabetes and help prevent millions of potential cases. As I said before, we are talking about real people, and this could better the lives of millions today and in the future. I encourage all members to move the bill forward to committee so that we can take a long overdue step.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank all the members who spoke to this bill: the members for South Okanagan—West Kootenay, Winnipeg North, Calgary Shepard, Abitibi—Témiscamingue, Windsor West, Oakville North—Burlington and Provencher, and the members who spoke during the first hour of debate. The member for West Nova, whom I serve with on the health committee, spoke about his son's diagnosis. The member for Shefford told us about her relative's diagnosis. My friend from Brampton North told us about her grandmother and her childhood friend who would later pass from complications related to diabetes. There are too many heartbreaking stories like these.

Almost 11 million Canadians live with diabetes or prediabetes. The number of diagnoses has doubled in the past 20 years, and every three minutes another Canadian is added to the list. In my city of Brampton, every sixth Bramptonian lives with this disease.

For 18 years, working in health care, I saw how diabetes impacts Canadians. Often I would see patients with cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, amputation or high blood pressure, and diabetes was often an underlying and complicating condition. Diabetes also disproportionately impacts Canada's indigenous and racialized communities because of socio-economic factors.

In the last term, I met with Canadians through my cross-country consultation and with world-leading experts through international conferences. If we rededicate our efforts in reducing the number of cases and improving treatment and care for those living with this disease, we make progress in the battle against diabetes.

I would like to take a moment to thank the individuals who have supported this bill and helped it come together. I want to thank the mayor of the city of Brampton, Mayor Brown; city council members, including Councillor Medeiros; the Peel medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh; great advocates like Laura Syron, Russell Williams and Kim Hanson at Diabetes Canada; organizations like JDRF, CNIB and the Canadian Nurses Association; and of course my colleagues in the all-party diabetes caucus and the JDRF caucus, as well as many others.

As someone who has served on the Standing Committee on Health since 2016, I was proud when we brought forward a report calling for a strategy, such as Diabetes 360°, to fight diabetes. It was concluded that diabetes would cost Canadians almost $40 billion a year by 2028. We need to work with the provinces and territories, indigenous groups, medical professionals and community organizations so that we can best serve patients living with diabetes and advance the research that will end it.

Bill C-237 calls on the government to do that and create a national framework for diabetes. As parliamentarians, let us recommit to helping everyone battling this chronic disease, whether they are patients, doctors, researchers or loved ones, and continue fighting it so that more Canadians can lead a healthy life.

This year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin by Frederick Banting, which is recognized as one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century. Since then, we have continued to lead the way with stem cell research, which could one day lead to a cure.

Canada gave insulin to the world. Why can we not lead the way in defeating diabetes? I hope all members will join me in supporting my bill, Bill C-237.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business



The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I want to remind members, if they know they are coming up to speak, to make sure their mikes are selected correctly before they start to ensure that the interpreters are able to interpret what they are saying in both official languages. We do appreciate the fact that documentation is being provided ahead of time, which means if there is an issue, the interpreters are still able to continue to interpret.

The question is on the motion.

If a member of a recognized party present in the House wishes to request a recorded division or that the motion be adopted on division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business



Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I request a recorded division.

National Framework for Diabetes ActPrivate Members' Business



The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to order made Monday, January 25, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 10, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

Interpretation Services in the House of CommonsPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege following a point of order raised on Thursday, February 25 regarding the use of masks during speeches in the House.

We are dealing with a fundamental issue here, and we ask that the Speaker rule on it. The House of Commons interpreters must be allowed to do their jobs in compliance with the Official Languages Act and out of respect for both official languages. It is clear that the use of certain masks is impeding the interpretation of the proceedings of the House, and the events of February 25 confirm that.

Last Thursday, the Liberal member for Kingston and the Islands made some comments that call into question the fundamental right of members of this House to properly understand the debates. He said, and I quote:

...this is the second time during the last several weeks the Bloc Québécois has brought up that wearing a mask is what is interfering with the ability of the interpreters to do their work. I do not know if it is up to us to decide what is effective or not. I do not think anybody in this room is qualified to assess if it is specifically a mask that is interfering with that.

The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that the use of certain masks undermines the interpreters' ability to do their job. As my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles said, “Masks muffle sound. Thicker masks muffle it even more. The interpreters cannot make out the words. It is as simple as that.”

Unlike the member for Kingston and the Islands, I do actually believe that the Chair is well positioned to indicate to all hon. members the appropriate balance between the use of masks and the right to interpretation services.

I would like to remind the House that interpretation in the House is an essential service. In 1958, the House agreed to set up a simultaneous interpretation system for both official languages. The Official Languages Act states that English and French are the official languages of Parliament and protects the right of members to use either language in any debates and other proceedings of Parliament. The act goes even further, guaranteeing in part I the right to simultaneous interpretation of parliamentary debates and other proceedings. I would like to read the beginning of section 4 of the act, which relates to parliamentary debates and proceedings:

4 (1) English and French are the official languages of Parliament, and everyone has the right to use either of those languages in any debates and other proceedings of Parliament.

(2) Facilities shall be made available for the simultaneous interpretation of the debates and other proceedings of Parliament from one official language into the other.

For one thing, the interpretation service enables all MPs to understand their colleagues' speeches. When minor technical difficulties crop up, the House typically suspends debate momentarily so the interpreters can do their work.

There are also times when the Speaker brings in new procedures in the interpretation service so that our practices can better meet the House's emerging requirements. In a June 20, 2017, ruling in connection with a question of privilege raised on June 8, 2017, by the hon. member for Winnipeg-Centre regarding the right of members to speak in indigenous languages in the House, Speaker Regan said the following about interpretation services:

This critical service, which began by way of an order of the House when members unanimously agreed to a government motion on August 11, 1958, continues to provide integral support to members as they search to understand and participate in parliamentary proceedings.

Speaker Regan also said that members need “not only to be free to speak but also to be understood.” He added that the “right of members to speak is not what is now being questioned; rather, it is the right of members to be understood immediately when they speak in a language other than one of the two official languages that is being raised.”

Another aspect of interpretation services is to ensure that hon. members can freely express themselves and be understood.

In its June 2018 report entitled “The Use of Indigenous Languages in Proceedings of the House of Commons and Committees”, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs stated, and I quote:

Members of the Committee are of the view that all members' ability to effectively carry out their parliamentary functions are adversely affected when they are unable to immediately understand a speech being made by a member in a language recognized by the House other than French and English.

The committee also emphasized the vital work of interpreters:

Currently, the simultaneous interpreters for English and French working in Parliament are required to possess a master’s degree from a recognized university program and are certified by Board of Examiners of the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council. The Committee heard this degree of rigour was important because the consequences of an interpreter committing an error can be significant and because interpreters must be capable of interpreting immediately without the opportunity to refine, edit or revise the interpretation.

A third aspect of interpretation services is that interpreters must be able to do their job properly. Because of the pandemic, Parliament has had to adapt its practices. We are now working in a hybrid Parliament with simultaneous interpretation occurring both off-site and in the House and the debates being broadcast in French and English.

A lot has been accomplished in the past year. The fifth report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, entitled “Parliamentary Duties and the COVID-19 Pandemic”, which was presented on May 15, 2020, recommended that the House respect the Official Languages Act during the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that simultaneous interpretation of indigenous languages continues during the pandemic. The report also recommended that the minimum standards set by the Clerk of the House, in consultation with the Translation Bureau, be respected by all members and witnesses, for example, with respect to using a headset or microphone; that it be recognized that the burden of simultaneous interpretation during the pandemic is higher for francophone interpreters; and that measures be taken to alleviate this burden and protect the health and physical well-being of parliamentary employees, including the interpreters.

Since then, a new issue has found its way into the House: the wearing of masks and the impact on the ability of interpreters to do their job properly. Last Thursday, the Liberal member for Kingston and the Islands made unfortunate remarks that called into question the fundamental right of members to properly follow the debates in this chamber.

He stated the following:

...this is the second time during the last several weeks the Bloc Québécois has brought up that wearing a mask is what is interfering with the ability of the interpreters to do their work. I do not know if it is up to us to decide what is effective or not. I do not think anybody in this room is qualified to assess if it is specifically a mask that is interfering with that.

Madam Speaker, unlike the member for Kingston and the Islands, I do believe that you are well positioned to indicate to all hon. members the appropriate balance between the use of masks and the right to interpretation services.

I believe that the blue surgical mask is a good compromise for those who want to wear a mask when speaking. I would like to thank the member from Orléans, who clearly understood the Bloc Québécois's arguments about the importance of the interpretation of the House of Commons debates and agreeing to change his mask and wear a blue surgical-type mask.

Interpretation Services in the House of CommonsPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, on this question of privilege, I would raise two quick points and then I would ask that perhaps you would hold off on your ruling until I have had more time to digest what the member from the Bloc has said and then respond in due course.

For starters, my comment about how many times the Bloc had intervened on this point was with respect to the fact that a couple of weeks ago Bloc members had an issue with the fact that the member for Ottawa West—Nepean was wearing a mask when she was speaking and then again when the member for Orléans was speaking.

On this side of the House, we are very concerned about the fact that more variants are out there with respect to COVID-19. When I am standing and speaking, there are staff people near me. When the member stood up to speak, there was a staff person two metres in front of her. My understanding of the way the virus is spread, and of course it is just my understanding, is that when I am speaking and projecting, I am possibly putting other people who are in front of me at risk, namely the folks who are making this operation work for us, the people at the table and the individual who is sitting right in front of the member who was just speaking.

Therefore, we have taken the position that until such time that it is deemed safe, it is probably in the best interest of members to wear a mask while they speak. I respect the fact that other members of the House might feel differently, and that is entirely fair. None of us are experts and we have to get through this in the best way we see fit.

I would leave it at that for now, Madam Speaker, but I would ask that before making a ruling on this you would let me consider, in more detail, the comments made by the Bloc member so I can respond perhaps more appropriately.

Interpretation Services in the House of CommonsPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.


Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to make sure that members understood what was being said. The Bloc Québécois never suggested that the solution was to prohibit members from wearing masks. The solution that was humbly submitted to the Chair was for members to wear a surgical mask. I want to make sure that members understood that the Bloc Québécois is not asking members to take off their masks when they are speaking.

Interpretation Services in the House of CommonsPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Thank you for your comments.

The member for Kingston and the Islands is free to raise other points. The Speaker of the House will be the one to answer the question.

I appreciate all of the input that was given today. We will consider it because this is a very important issue. The Speaker will get back to the House on this as soon as possible in order to resolve the problem.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Dominic LeBlanc LiberalPresident of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

moved that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (COVID-19 response), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to begin the debate at second reading of Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, COVID-19 response.

Across Canada, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change the way we live and interact to protect the health and safety of our fellow Canadians. Elections have been no exception.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Canada has experienced two federal by-elections, four provincial general elections and seven local elections. These elections were delivered in a way that aligned with public health guidelines and sought to provide electors, particularly those who are most at risk of infection, with a variety of ways to safely exercise their right to vote.

With lessons learned from other jurisdictions and building on the recommendations of Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, we have an opportunity to take action to ensure that, should an election be required, a federal election held during the current pandemic can be even more safe and more secure. This is why, on December 10, 2020, the government introduced Bill C-19, which, if passed, would temporarily supplement provisions of the Canada Elections Act in support of a safe, secure and accessible election during the pandemic, again, should one be required.

Bill C-19 would reassure voters, election workers and all other participants that the federal electoral process remains safe, secure and accessible, despite the pandemic. To that end, the bill would give voters unprecedented opportunities to vote during the pandemic, whether it be in person or from the comfort and safety of their home.

This bill is based on the October 2020 recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer regarding holding an election in the context of a pandemic and the work of our colleagues, who carried out a study on the same topic.

Bill C-19 contains four elements that I will explain in greater detail: a three-day polling period, the safe administration of the vote to residents of long-term care facilities, increased adaptation powers for the Chief Electoral Officer, and the strengthening of measures related to mail-in voting.

To ensure that electors who make the choice to go to vote in person are as safe as possible, the legislation proposes spreading the polling period, in other words the voting day, effectively over three days. Instead of one 12-hour voting day, Bill C-19 would establish a three-day polling period, with eight hours of voting on both Saturday and Sunday and the traditional 12 hours of voting on Monday.

Extending the voting period over three days will prevent overcrowding at polls and support electors and poll workers in maintaining physical distancing protocols. Maintaining the Monday would also ensure access to some individuals who may not be able to vote on a Saturday or Sunday. For instance, it recognizes that electors and candidates alike might have religious obligations that inhibit them from voting or campaigning over a weekend.

In addition, maintaining the Monday recognizes that public transit may offer reduced schedules over the weekend and child care options may also be less over the weekend.

With Bill C-19, we are working to reduce barriers for electors with disabilities and electors with young children who may be facing particular challenges during the pandemic.

As the Chief Electoral Officer indicated in his recent report, a pandemic election could complicate efforts to find polling places and recruit election workers. In light of this, a three-day polling period would provide Elections Canada with more opportunities to identify polling places. As the Chief Electoral Officer has stated, Elections Canada may also seek out non-traditional polling places such as arenas or hotels.

In advance of every general election, Elections Canada recruits more than 230,000 Canadians to work at polls across the country. However, as the Chief Electoral Officer highlighted in his recommendations report, recruiting that many election workers during an ongoing pandemic could possibly provide some challenge.

During the 2019 general election, close to half of those workers were 60 years of age or older. Given that this age cohort is at an elevated risk if they contract COVID-19, these people may be less inclined to work the polls during a pandemic election.

Importantly, at least one legislative change made through the 2018 Elections Modernization Act may help mitigate potential recruitment issues. As colleagues will remember, that bill allowed Elections Canada to hire 16 and 17 year olds as election workers, opening up an entirely new contingent that may be open to working at the polls.

Finally, a variety of other in-person voting opportunities will be maintained under these proposed changes. This includes four days of advance polling, with 12 hours offered on all four days as well. To account for the three-day polling period, advance polls would then be shifted to the Thursday through Sunday in advance of the first day of the polling period.

As we all know too well, long-term care facilities have borne the brunt of COVID-19. Many deaths associated with the pandemic have been linked to long-term care facilities and many facilities, sadly, continue to endure outbreaks. In an effort to curb infections, many facilities limited access to outside visitors. This has been hard on families and friends because they have been unable to visit a loved one in person. Lockdowns at these facilities and differing public health orders in effect across the country make it necessary for us to ensure these residents can still cast a ballot should an election be held during a pandemic.

Accordingly, Bill C-19 takes a number of steps that would ensure these electors could safely exercise their right to vote.

First, the legislation proposes a 13-day period prior to the beginning of the three-day polling period that would better facilitate the administration of votes in these facilities. Rather than administer the vote in these facilities exclusively on election day, which is now how residents would have been able to vote in past federal elections, the legislation proposes establishing a lengthier period which the vote could be delivered, for example, by mobile polls. As COVID-19 conditions vary across provinces and territories and from region to region, this period would enable Elections Canada to better plan according to the unique context of each long-term care facility.

Bill C-19 would also allow returning officers to establish a polling division composed of a single long-term care facility or of a particular part of a long-term care facility. This amendment recognizes the existence of dedicated quarantine zones in some long-term care facilities and ensures a positive COVID-19 test will not impede a resident of these facilities from being able to vote.

Taken together, these amendments aim to ensure that senior citizens and those living with disabilities in long-term care facilities, citizens who are among the most vulnerable populations in this pandemic, have safe and reliable opportunities to exercise their right to vote.

At present, subsection 17(1) of the Canada Elections Act authorizes the Chief Electoral Officer to adapt provisions of that act, “if an emergency, an unusual or unforeseen circumstance or an error makes it necessary...for the sole purpose of enabling electors to exercise their right to vote or enabling the counting of votes”.

In the last election, this is one of the powers the Chief Electoral Officer exercised in order to allow workers temporarily residing outside their electoral districts to vote.

However, the ongoing uncertainty generated by the current pandemic justifies broadening the grounds for adapting this legislation.

Under Bill C-19, therefore, the Chief Electoral Officer would have the power to adapt the provisions of the act to ensure the health or safety of electors or election officers.

This amendment is particularly important to protect not only voters but also the election workers and volunteers who dedicate themselves to the democratic process. As I said earlier, Canadian election workers are older on average. If older individuals decide to work once again during a general election—and of course we hope they will—we must do our best to ensure that they can do this important work safely.

Over the last year and during the pandemic, jurisdictions in Canada and abroad that held elections witnessed a significant increase in the use of mail-in ballots: for example, British Columbia and its October 2020 election, the United States' November 2020 presidential election and, most recently, Newfoundland and Labrador's election. In response, Bill C-19 includes measures designed to improve access to mail-in voting. Mail-in voting, which is safe and secure, has been instrumental in providing opportunities to older electors, electors with disabilities, immunocompromised electors and those who are unable to vote in person because of the pandemic.

While electors in Canada have long been able to vote by mail and Elections Canada has significant experience safely administering the federal vote-by-mail system, Bill C-19 proposes specific amendments in anticipation of a sharp increase in mail-in voting. First, Bill C-19 would allow electors to apply to register to vote by mail online rather than through the mail or in person, as is currently the case. Providing this option would not inhibit registering to vote by mail or in person for those without access to the Internet. By allowing online registration, we are simply giving Canadians one more option to register to vote by mail.

Finally, in an effort to further simplify the registration process, Bill C-19 would provide electors with the ability to use an identification number, such as a driver's licence, to establish their identity and residence when registering to vote by mail. Presently, electors are required to provide a copy of their ID when registering to vote by mail, which may inhibit voting by individuals without access to printers, scanners or photocopiers at home. More precisely, it would allow Elections Canada to use information already in its possession to confirm an elector's identity and residence.

In recognition of potential privacy implications, electors would need to explicitly consent to Elections Canada using this identification number to facilitate their vote-by-mail registration. Some electors may choose to register to vote by mail, but with circumstances changing regularly across the country, they may not be able to return their ballot kits by mail in time. In anticipation of this, Bill C-19 proposes the installation of secure mail reception boxes at every polling station across the country.

Bill C-19 would also allow electors who initially chose to vote by mail to change their minds and vote in person. However, to do so, electors would need to either return the mail-in vote kits they received from Elections Canada when they went to vote in person or sign a declaration that they had not yet voted. Elections Canada has a robust series of measures to deter electoral fraud. Returning the mail-in vote kits or attesting in writing that electors had not yet voted would act as a deterrent to any malicious actors and would support the integrity of the vote. These measures would also help create an appropriate paper trail for auditing and enforcement processes.

It is important to remember that we are not proposing permanent changes to Canada's electoral law. All of the proposed legislative amendments that we have outlined are temporary. They would only apply to an election that is called 90 days after this legislation receives royal assent or earlier if the Chief Electoral Officer has indicated that all the necessary preparations have been completed.

Moreover, these legislative changes would cease to be in effect six months after a general election was administered during the pandemic or earlier, as determined by the Chief Electoral Officer after consultation with Canada's chief public health officer.

With Bill C-19, we are maximizing electors' opportunities to exercise their right to vote. If the bill is passed, electors will get four days of advance polling, three days of regular polling and better access to mail-in voting. Bill C-19 would also give Elections Canada greater legislative flexibility and authority to safely administer an election.

In closing, I invite our colleagues to examine Bill C-19 so it can be studied by a committee and amended if necessary. We want to work with all parliamentarians to ensure that elections will be safe and accessible for all Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Madam Speaker, through you, I want to say how good it is to see the minister looking as robust as he does. It is a real pleasure to have him back in full fighting form. Parliament as a whole, and the government, can certainly use his services as I believe he is the longest-serving parliamentarian in cabinet.

I want to ask a question on the issue of non-traditional voting locations and accessible voting requirements. Long-term care facilities frequently have the best accessibility. In some small villages these are the only accessible locations. The Human Rights Commission has required that certain accessibility criteria be met in order to allow voting to take place.

Would it be possible to have slightly less accessible locations in some cases for voting under this legislation? If so, would the government contemplate allowing such a thing to make sure it is possible for people to vote, especially in smaller locations?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, my colleague and I have served on a number of committees together as well as in the House of Commons. On a personal level, I very much appreciate his kind remarks and thank him for that.

Our colleague from Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston has a lot of experience regarding Canada's Elections Act. He has been a steady and effective voice on these issues for a long time. I served on the procedure and House affairs committee with him in that context.

Obviously, the government would not seek to reduce accessibility with respect to polling stations, but rather would have faith in Elections Canada by increasing its authority and ability to adapt to an election in a pandemic. We have every confidence it would find the right way for people to vote without limiting accessibility for Canadians living with disabilities.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, I agree with regard to mail-in ballots, but I am concerned about people being able to change their minds and go vote in person by simply signing a declaration.

I expect people to be honest. However, some people who mail in their ballots could then vote in person by signing a declaration that they did not use their kit.

I am having trouble seeing how we will be able to prevent this.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Beauport—Limoilou, for her question.

That is an example of the kind of adaptation we would like to put forward. I am sure we all want to eliminate the possibility of electoral fraud. Nobody in the House wants to enable people to cheat.

We believe that signing a declaration should deter people with dishonest intentions. It will be pretty easy for Elections Canada to find out if that person voted, and anyone doing so would be subject to rather serious quasi-criminal prosecution.

However, if the bill goes to committee and my Bloc Québécois colleagues want to amend or adjust that part of the bill, we will certainly work with them. My colleague from Beauport—Limoilou and I are very much on the same page.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, my thanks to the minister for bringing this legislation forward. I think it is an important issue we need to address. I am wondering about his openness to considering amendments at committee. I think there are some important extant issues. Some of these may need to be addressed in legislation, while others may not.

I hope the idea here is to collaborate, so that all parties in the House can agree on the ground rules for a possible pandemic election. If so, there are some things that I wonder if he might consider. In particular, we have seen a lot of online applications for some things throughout the pandemic. We know these are a barrier to many people who do not have the technology or know how to use it.

Is the minister open to having in-person registration for special ballots occur at Canada Post outlets, and maintaining the campus vote program in a pandemic election as well?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona has offered very constructive suggestions in the past with respect to the elections act. It is obviously the government's intention to work with all parties and all colleagues in the House to find the appropriate temporary amendments to the Elections Act that would make an election more accessible and safer for Canadians should one be required.

Are we open to amendments and working with other parliamentarians? The answer is obviously yes.

Voting on campus is certainly a priority for us. We think it is important. I know my colleague has spoken publicly about that. We would welcome an opportunity to work with him to ensure that it is reflected in the legislation.

I very much like his suggestion of allowing people to register at post offices to be able to vote in person. It is something that would make it more accessible in small communities, such as mine in my riding. The post office is a site where people could safely do this, and I would welcome that kind of suggestion.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada will remember that in Guelph we had robocalls a few elections back where Conservatives were calling people in my community saying that election locations had changed. They also went on campus to try to take one of the polling boxes from our campus.

Having consistent polling election locations for the pre-votes and the day of the vote would be important, as are the changes made in Bill C-76 to modernize the Canada Elections Act and have the Elections Canada commissioner be able to communicate to Canadians the best way to vote in their communities, the locations of polling stations, and having some means to promote the vote.

Could the president comment, first of all, on how we can maintain consistency of polling locations, if that is possible, and also how Elections Canada can communicate those to our communities?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, when Frank Valeriote was the member of Parliament for Guelph, I remember that there was some controversy surrounding robocalls and some attempt to suppress the vote in that election.

Obviously I share our colleague's view that having consistency in polling locations increases voter reliability and accessibility.

We would support any enhancements that would allow Elections Canada to properly communicate polling locations to voters. It is precisely why we think it would be helpful if this legislation could be sent to the procedures committee. There, colleagues could offer constructive amendments and suggestions that would improve the bill, while also hearing from electors and Canadians about their experiences to ensure that the legislation reflects the security and safety of elections and that an election would be accessible, should one be required, in the context of a pandemic.