Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to get up and speak in the House on behalf of the constituents of Saskatoon West.
Nearly six months ago we had an election call, and the Liberal Party leader said that this was the most important election since World War II. It has taken him months to swear in his cabinet and recall Parliament. It has been 69 days since the throne speech, and MPs are still here in the House debating that very first item of business on the government's agenda.
For some context, we had the election, and then Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, Christmas and New Year's. Now it is February, and we are still talking about this. I would suggest that this government is tired. It is struggling to get anything done. Fair enough; it has been difficult with COVID for all of these months, but this is exactly when our leaders need to step up and provide that inspiring leadership. This is when we need to lead.
With this in mind, there are too many things that I want to discuss today, but one is the trucker convoy protest, and the second is the situation in Ukraine.
We cannot help but notice the protests that are going on outside today. If we listen to the Liberals, the NDP or the media, we would think that Ottawa was under attack by these protesters. The NDP leader said, “I am concerned by extremist elements that are spreading misinformation and attempting to turn the convoy into a Canadian version of the terrorist attacks on the US Capitol.” I think the leader of the NDP needs to be concerned about his own spreading of misinformation.
The truth is that this was all started by our hard-working truckers, who are tired of COVID restrictions. If we spent any time among them, we would have seen tens of thousands of people of all races, colours, genders, sexual orientations and languages protesting vaccine mandates peacefully. We would see families, including young children who were either joining in the protest or giving encouragement.
Now, we also saw a few bad seeds joining in, and this is common for any public protest these days. Look at any Black Lives Matter event, and we will see a few troublemakers. In Canada, we have seen troublemakers knock the head off the Queen Victoria statue in Manitoba, tear down the Sir John A. statue in Montreal and put flags on the Terry Fox statue here, and we in this room condemn all of that. Of course, I condemn anyone promoting hate speech or hate symbols in this protest. However, I have also seen in this protest people picking up garbage, people cleaning up, people praying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. These are stories that the media fail to report.
Listen, I am not saying that I agree with everything they are protesting about, not at all, but when such a large group of Canadians take time off work and spend their hard-earned money to come to Ottawa, we have to hear them out. We have to listen to what they are saying. I am calling on all of us politicians to meet with these folks and listen to what they have to say, even if we do not agree with them. They deserve to be heard. I am asking the Prime Minister to talk with these folks. Do not be afraid of them. Do not hide, but go and actually talk to them. We might be surprised with what they say. If we talk to them, we will find normal, hard-working people tired of COVID. They want an end to lockdowns, vaccine mandates and disruptions.
Now, regarding the vaccine mandate for truckers specifically, what they are asking for is very similar to what Conservatives have been saying since last summer. First, we have been encouraging people to get vaccinated. Next, we have been encouraging employers to make accommodations for those people who do not want to get vaccinated. Specifically for truckers, our leader has been calling for measures to accommodate truckers since before Christmas. However, there is something deeper here, and it is what is causing tens of thousands of Canadians to honk their horns in support of the truckers and is at the root of this whole thing: People are tired of lockdowns. On this, I believe the protesters share the feelings of a great many Canadians.
The question in a nutshell is this: How do we get back to normal? I have always supported and encouraged vaccinations, and a great many of these protesters are vaccinated. In fact, we know that about 90% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated, but Canadians are tired. The government actions so far have had undesired side effects. There is tremendous division in our country. Good luck to someone who is on a surgery waiting list right now. Loneliness and mental health have brought much despair to people, causing suicides to go up. In short, we are giving up on all the things that give us life, and it has been two years. We are into the umpteenth variant, and thankfully, they are getting less deadly as we move forward, but people just want to know where we are going from here.
On vaccinations, Canada's stated goal is to achieve 80% of adults vaccinated for diseases like the flu, and COVID is no different. Here is the good news: We are there. Canada has greater than 80% of our population vaccinated, which is among the highest percentages in the world. Last July, the Prime Minister said that the country should be aiming to get more than 80% of the eligible population vaccinated if we're going to be safe.
We are there. We have achieved our goal. Let us celebrate and start working to dismantle some of the restrictions.
Let us look at Saskatchewan. We have taken a “less lockdown” approach here. We have had no restrictions on restaurants and no gathering limits for the past few months. Rather than having government restrictions, we have empowered our people to do their own rapid tests and make their own decisions about whether to gather or not. The result of this is that the COVID situation in Saskatchewan is the same as or a bit better than everywhere else in Canada. In our experience, strict government regulations and restrictions are not a factor in the results. In fact, more loosening is coming to Saskatchewan very soon. The Premier said that Saskatchewan will be ending our proof of vaccination policy in the very near future. Why is that? It is because the policy has achieved the goal it set out to reach. We have been successful at getting people vaccinated.
To come back to the truckers' protest, they want to know when this is going to end. They want to know that all this sacrifice has been leading somewhere. Many scientists now agree that we need to learn to live with COVID. That is what the truckers are asking for, and most Canadians would agree. Let us find a way back to a new normal. Instead of creating a division, it is time for our leaders to step up and lead.
On Ukraine, Canada's overseas foreign relations are also looking very tired. Once a trusted ally and reliable partner, Canada has been reduced by the Liberals to being a bit player with little to offer our allies. Now we are facing something we have not seen since World War II. We are moving from peace to the prospect of war in Europe. Our allies in Ukraine are asking us for help, and we are offering hollow words, gestures and hashtags when our friends and allies are asking for much more.
There is a significant Ukrainian diaspora on Saskatchewan. Over 16% of Saskatoon's population is of Ukrainian origin. Canada has the third-largest ethnic Ukrainian population on the planet. I grew up in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, which has a very large Ukrainian population, and community get-togethers as a kid always involved awesome food like borscht, perogies and cabbage rolls. Of course, in Saskatchewan we are very proud of Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn, who is of Ukrainian heritage.
Conservatives are fully supportive of Ukrainians throughout Canada and the democratically elected Government of Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine.
In my riding of Saskatoon West, the Ukrainian community has reached out to me. On Sunday, Martin Zip, president of the All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Brotherhood, wrote to me as follows:
I call on you to support:
1. Accelerating a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine;
2. Increasing sanctions on Russia to deter further aggression against Ukraine;
3. Ensuring that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline never becomes operational;
4. Increasing the provision of military equipment and defensive weapons to Ukraine;
5. Extending and expanding Operation UNIFIER, Canada's military training mission in Ukraine.
After our pushing the issue, the Liberals finally agreed to extend the training mission, Operation Unifier, by three years, and they also provided a $120-million loan, but this falls very short of what our friends actually asked for. What about the other requests?
The Conservatives are calling for providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine. Ukrainians are facing a much larger, much better equipped Russian army right on their doorstep. In their hour of need, they are begging their allies for support and equipment. Other nations have answered the call. The U.S., the U.K., Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, the Czech Republic are all there. Where is Canada? We are sending tweets.
We also need to restore the RADARSAT imaging that was previously provided when we were in government. It provides key world-class intelligence information. It is a very simple thing that we can do to help our friends in their hour of need.
What about their request for sanctions? Sanctions on American and European goods and services technology could do significant damage to the Russian economy. We could remove Russia from the SWIFT banking system. We could imposed Magnitsky sanctions on the individuals holding the wealth of Putin and other Russian leaders. This would freeze their assets outside of Russia.
Our tired Liberal government needs to step up and help our friends in their time of need. I long for the days when Canada was a real leader on the world stage. I remember when Prime Minister Harper looked Putin in the eye and said, “Get out of Ukraine.”
Today Canada is missing in action. What do Ukraine across the planet and truckers here at home have in common? It is a tired Liberal-NDP government in Ottawa that has run out of ideas. The throne speech said, “Canada must stand up on the pressing challenges of our time”. With nearly six months of pressing challenges, including truckers, Ukraine, inflation and the housing crisis, there is very little engagement and very little action. This is a tired government, intent on creating division rather than on leading. It is time for us to step up and lead. It is time for the last and final chapter of the COVID era.