Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with my colleague, the hon. member for Carleton.
I would first like to send my love and prayers to the family of Diana Law, the dedicated 57-year-old local Peace Arch Hospital nurse and mother who leaves behind her husband and two teenage children. Diana died on April 14 from complications of COVID-19 after months of battling it and other health issues in our community.
As a nation, we have been through an unbelievable amount of pain in the past 14 months, but none more than the families whose loved ones have suffered or were lost. Our health care workers, like Diana, who put themselves at risk to help others, are true Canadian heroes.
Earlier this week, I asked the Prime Minister in question period if he was sure he had no regrets about his pandemic response. The Minister of Health answered by saying she had no regrets about “being there for Canadians and, indeed, for provinces...every step of the way.” I was amazed that she was able to complete that sentence with a straight face.
She said every step of the way, but how are these for missed steps?
Step one was to secure vaccines. As of today, 2.7% of Canadians are fully vaccinated and 30% have received only one dose. Since public health officials are tying vaccine rates to public health restrictions, these numbers have very real consequences for Canadian families that cannot wait to reunite and businesses praying that they can tread water long enough to one day reopen. At 2.7%, Canada ranks 76th in the world and second last in the G7.
As for the vaccines we do have, the government’s confusing messaging and conflicting advice have only caused more stress and uncertainty for Canadians. My constituents are constantly asking me why Canada is the only country with a four-month wait between doses, which ignores the direction of the vaccine manufacturers and the professionals that the member for Kingston and the Islands said the government relies on. The answer is simple: It is because of the government’s failure to secure vaccines.
On Monday, we learned that the European Union has launched a lawsuit against AstraZeneca for breaching their vaccine supply contract. Meanwhile, back home, shipments have been either cancelled or delayed countless times. There is a new headline every week, yet the Liberal government sits idly by bragging about the next shipment, which might arrive, and reassuring Canadians of the government’s diverse portfolio of vaccines. This is not a retirement trading account. It is a pandemic response amidst an urgent crisis. Canadians do not want eight different vaccines a year from now. Those who want them, want two shots of one vaccine now.
Step two was to secure the border. If it cannot secure vaccines, the government should at least try to keep the virus and variants out of the country in the first place through border restrictions and testing. Instead, the Liberal government claimed border measures do not work. In fact, on March 13 of last year the Minister of Health said, “border measures are highly ineffective and, in some cases, can create harm.”
We do not need to look very far to see that this is false. Atlantic Canada took this approach, with many provinces imposing restrictions, and it has worked. PEI has had 179 cases in total. Newfoundland has had just over 1,000. We can look at Australia and New Zealand. These countries, two of Canada’s closest friends and hopefully future CANZUK partners, implemented tough border measures on day one. This week, 50,000 Kiwis gathered shoulder to shoulder for a concert in Auckland’s Eden Park. New Zealand has had fewer than 2,300 confirmed cases. That is not a daily total; that is the total. Australia also acted swiftly and has never had more than 1,000 new cases a day nationally. That is pretty good for a country of 25 million people.
Enhanced border measures are what my Conservative colleagues and I have called for from the beginning. As far back as January 27, 2020, the member for Cariboo—Prince George asked the Liberal government when it would institute enhanced screening at the border. On February 3, the member for Edmonton Riverbend inquired about stopping flights from China. For weeks the Liberals ignored these calls.
On March 5, 2020, the Prime Minister said “knee-jerk reactions” are not helpful, and that Canada will not limit travel. Of course, the Liberals eventually changed their minds and implemented some of the most arbitrary and difficult-to-understand border measures in the world.
There was an unsafe, expensive, failed hotel quarantine regime for international travellers arriving by air, but individuals at land crossings, like the ones in my riding, were not required to be part of it. Private plane companies are advertising that their international passengers are not required to quarantine, and a robust taxi business is bringing people across the border, which allows them to fly up to the border and then cross in a car.
Just last week, 14 months into the pandemic, as cases surged and we were told the third wave was testing the limits of ICUs across the country, the government was still allowing travellers from the world's biggest COVID-19 hot spots to touch down at Canada's airports. Dozens of people on COVID-positive flights arrived in Canada in April alone, bringing new variants with them.
Either this is real or it is not. Either this is urgent or it is not. The government seems incapable of making up its mind.
In B.C., travel is restricted within the province. Just last week, a traveller from a country with 300,000 new cases a day could land at YVR, but a grandmother living in Surrey could not travel alone by car to wave through a window to her grandchild in Prince George. It was not until after countless calls from the Conservatives and our leader's press conference the morning of April 22 that the Liberals finally listened and temporarily stopped international travel from these regions, but only for 30 days. The reaction from most of my constituents was that it is too little, too late.
Step three was to secure mental health. In B.C., we are facing another emergency fuelled by this poor response to COVID-19: a mental health and addiction crisis. In February alone, B.C. lost 155 people to drug overdoses, a 107% year-over-year increase. In January, the number of deaths caused by overdose was tragically even higher, at 174. Overdose deaths per capita in B.C. are the highest they have been in 25 years.
These are not just numbers on a spreadsheet or in a House of Commons speech. These are Canadians' sons and daughters who needed help and did not get it. This is another tragedy. The Liberals' first budget in over two years does not do enough to address the ability of those suffering from addiction to access treatment. Where is the comprehensive recovery-oriented plan to tackle this opioid epidemic?
Another notable omission from the Liberals' 700 page of red ink was the absence of any increase in health transfers to the provinces. Why is Ontario calling for military assistance? Why are businesses and lives closed down? If there ever was a time to spend more within Canada, it would be in these circumstances, and the provinces have repeatedly called for this.
The government has not been there for Canadians every step of the way. It is time for a new talking point.
I will leave members with this. This third wave can be summed up with one word: avoidable. Consider our neighbours to the south, where vaccines have now been widely available for months to those who want them and where 29% of people are fully vaccinated. New cases have been steadily dropping since January. The U.S. has avoided Canada's recent surge. American families are reuniting, safely gathering in restaurants and going to hockey games. Disneyland and small businesses from New York to Los Angeles have reopened. Last weekend, Frances McDormand accepted her third Oscar in person, the same way she did her first two.
They are living in a different world, and it is especially frustrating in border ridings like mine. We can look around the world and see pubs opening in the U.K., street musicians and social gatherings in the streets of Moscow and huge festivals being held in China. Where are Canadians? They are isolated, isolating, frustrated and depressed.
This is particularly disheartening for the families separated by ever-changing public health restrictions that are in place provincially because of the Liberal government's avoidable failure to secure the border and vaccines for Canadians who want them. It is also frustrating for the countless businesses that are struggling and those in our community that have permanently closed, like Float House South Surrey.
Here we are, 14 months into the pandemic, with no end in sight, no road to recovery and more frustration. While our friends and allies around the world are getting back to the things and people they love, we are in the middle of a preventable deadly third wave that is taking lives, packing hospitals, causing extraordinary stress and mental health issues, leading to record overdose deaths in B.C., and causing businesses to close for good.
This was preventable. This is unacceptable. Canadians deserve more from their leaders. They deserve better.
It is time for an urgent response from the Liberal government. My Conservative colleagues and I have been calling for this for months. It is what we are calling for today, and it is what we will keep calling for until the Liberal government listens.