Madam Speaker, I would like to give a shout-out to the member for Courtenay—Alberni. We are in neighbouring ridings on Vancouver Island, and I always appreciate his interventions in the House and the work that he does on behalf of his constituents.
I am also pleased to be participating in today's debate to represent the good people of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford and give some of my thoughts on Bill C-14, which is coming back to the House after its long journey through committee and is to implement certain provisions of the economic statement that was tabled in the House all the way back on November 30, 2020. I have a feeling that the bill, in a week's time, is going to be greatly overshadowed by the federal budget: the first one we are going to have seen in two years. It is going to be interesting to see what the government does with its budget implementation act and with Bill C-14, because it has taken a long time for us to get to this stage.
This is important to underline because a lot has changed in our country and around the world since the economic statement was delivered in November. In those days, we were just starting to get into the throes of the second wave of the pandemic. A lot of people were hoping that, by the spring, public health measures would have taken effect and we would largely be getting out of this ordeal, but that has not come to be. We are now very much in the grip of a third wave, and this one is very concerning because of the dangerous spread of variants of concern. Provinces such as Ontario and my home of British Columbia are seeing very worrying spikes, and this is certainly not a time for us to let up on our guard. It is certainly not a time, in particular, for the federal government to contemplate anything like an election, but it is a time to make sure the government is still there for individuals and for small businesses until our public health experts give us a clean bill of health. Until they declare that this pandemic is over, it is very important that all levels of government continue to focus on getting us through this.
I want to underline that people are exhausted. Pandemic fatigue is very much in place. We have been going through this for over a year. People are scared. They are worried about their futures, and people are wondering how much more we can go through. That underlines the importance of the federal government still being there.
I want to give a shout-out to communities like Port Renfrew, Lake Cowichan, Chemainus and Crofton, all the way down through the Cowichan Valley to its southern tip and the great city of Langford and the District of Highlands. The story is the same no matter which one of those communities people are in. Businesses have closed or they are operating on a razor's edge. People have lost their jobs. Front-line health care workers in hospitals in the region are dealing with so much. I want to give a shout-out to their efforts and say that we are certainly not all in this together, but we are in the same storm. Some of us have had a far greater ability to get through this than others, and for those who have been less fortunate it is very important that we collectively look after their interests.
In order for us to get through this pandemic, Canadians are looking for some semblance of normalcy. I agree with that, but I also think they are looking for innovative and ambitious measures to fight the pandemic and to get us on to the recovery. While there are a lot of things in Bill C-14 that I can support, unfortunately there are a lot of half measures. I want to see far more commitment to strengthening our communities over the long term.
For example, I know there have been commitments made recently by the finance minister with respect to strengthening our child care system. Unfortunately, this is a promise that we have seen all too often from the Liberal Party and, while in Bill C-14 we see measures to increase child benefit payments, it remains to be seen what kind of measures will actually be in next week's budget about strengthening the child care system. When I speak to many parents in my riding, the biggest concern aside from cost is availability. There simply are not spaces.
If we truly want parents to have full economic opportunity to participate in the workforce, particularly women who have been among the hardest hit in this pandemic, it makes economic sense to have those child care spaces so that small businesses are not losing valuable employees. When businesses are working with a staff of four or five people and they lose one, it can be devastating. It makes economic sense to be putting in these measures.
I want to go over a few things in Bill C-14. One helpful thing it would do is lift the interest on student loans for a full fiscal year: from April 1, 2021, through to March 31, 2022. However, this clause is a perfect example of how the Liberals like to govern: It appears they are tackling a problem, but they are really only paying it lip service.
Students have been particularly hard hit by this pandemic. I recently spoke with the Simon Fraser University Student Society. They are reporting that many of their members are using the food bank and skipping meals every single day to make their monthly budgets stretch.
Why not be bolder? Why not eliminate the interest on student loans altogether and give young people a real chance and opportunity at a time when society expects them to be at their most productive?
The federal government should not be profiting on the backs of students, through loans. We should be bold and get rid of the interest on student loans altogether. Let us give young people a real hand up to make their way in the world once they exit post-secondary education.
A part of Bill C-14 refers to payments from the consolidated revenue fund toward some regional development agencies. That is good to see, but members will recall that the federal government recently made a big announcement about British Columbia getting its very own regional development agency. That is a great thing. Our province is unique. It needs to be split off from the other western provinces to recognize our unique needs.
However, since the announcement, we have heard nothing else. The details on how this new B.C. RDA is going to come into being remain scarce. I certainly am hoping for much more detail on it.
In the final bit of my speech, I want to speak specifically on the opioid crisis. In Bill C-14, there is an authorized payment of $64.4 million for mental health and substance use in the context of COVID-19. I want to be very clear that I think any investment in this area is welcome news. My main problem is with the amount: $64 million of investment.
I acknowledge previous investments have been made, but $64 million spread across the country is very much a drop in the bucket. Communities like mine of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford are suffering under the opioid crisis. Every single death from fentanyl poisoning is preventable. I really need to give a shout out to the small business owners and front-line health care workers who are in the middle of this every single day. I live in a province that has been dealing with this crisis for many years, but last year we had a record number of deaths. The problem is not going away.
We do not need just $64 million of investment. We need a federal government that is going to step up to the plate, declare a national health emergency, and work with full decriminalization of personal amounts. I know the government has introduced Bill C-22 with a declaration of principles, but that is not going to go far enough. When the Province of B.C. and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police are both asking for decriminalization and the federal government does not deliver, that is a very big problem.
The federal government needs to step up to the plate. The time for half measures in this area is well and truly over. We need bold policy.
There is a lot to speak to in Bill C-14. It is quite a big bill. At this point, I would welcome any comments and questions from my colleagues.