Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a heightened awareness of just how divided Canadians have become.
This emergency debate is predicated on that very reality. A lot of people are angry right now. On any given day, I hear from people who think that we have too many restrictions, and I also hear from those who want further restrictions imposed. In all my years in politics, I have never seen such heated debates. They have caused a lot of tension in families and in communities throughout Canada.
To clear up any misunderstanding, I am vaccinated. I believe vaccines are safe and have helped to reduce hospitalizations. I believe they have saved lives, particularly of those who are older and those who have underlying health conditions. I have also encouraged others to get vaccinated.
However, I want to be able to question the Liberal government's COVID policies without being labelled anti-science and anti-vaccination, and without being discredited because I have the audacity to criticize government policies. For too long we have been given a false choice that either we acquiesce to every government measure or we are only lending credibility to those who spread false information. The one thing I know for sure is that the political environment we now find ourselves in is directly related to this mindset. Without a doubt, COVID-19 has been hard on all of us. Families have lost loved ones, and many individuals have suffered or are suffering illness.
Families in my constituency have been prevented from driving across the border to be with loved ones. University students have been unable to set foot in a real classroom to take advantage of a full educational experience. Health care staff, in particular, have been pressing on for two years to care for those with COVID and all other health care concerns. They provide an essential service, and we are grateful for their commitment and sacrifices on behalf of their fellow Canadians.
To those who think that protesting in front of hospitals is a good idea, I can assure them it is not. The doctors and nurses working in those hospitals are busy saving lives, not setting government policy. The last thing they should have to deal with, when coming off a long shift, is the sight of angry placards or shouting protesters.
Grocery store staff immediately come to mind, as do all those involved in our supply chain, including truckers. It may seem thankless to work in these positions during a time like this, but I hope every single one of them knows how critical they have been.
It was on this understanding that governments made a point of underscoring which workers were essential at various times throughout the pandemic. We all understand that we owe a debt of gratitude to these workers. We all want them to know how their contributions have helped all of us through this time, yet here we are today.
After two years of truckers being deemed essential workers, the Liberals decided they no longer were. After two years of praising their efforts of doing what they do best, delivering the goods we rely on, the Liberals decided truckers were really not essential after all. The obvious question is: Why? What changed? I get the fact that many do not understand why a certain percentage of truckers do not want to get vaccinated. I get the argument that the vast majority of other Canadians have gotten vaccinated, so why would the others not?
Regardless of the frustration with those who would not get vaccinated, we all must have compassion and try to understand that no matter the mandate imposed upon them, they simply will not. At this stage of the pandemic, we must ask ourselves what reasonable benefit society and our economy could attain from the trucker mandate. The Liberals have failed to give any rationale whatsoever for the decision. If they are holding on to data indicating that the truckers have been responsible for COVID outbreaks, they have never shared it with Canadians. This lack of transparency is unfortunate.
Canadians deserve to know whether the mandate on truckers is justified. They deserve to know whether the benefit of taking truckers off the road outweighs the impact to our economy. Worse yet, the government either has no framework for lifting mandates, or if it does, it sure has a funny way of communicating it to the public.
We can all appreciate that this situation is fluid, but the government should be able to explain what metrics it is using to determine the scope and speed for removing mandates. On what basis is it making its decisions? There is nothing strange about Canadians wanting transparency from their government.
In fact, had the government been more open with us with its federal response, perhaps we would not have seen the same levels of angst among Canadians. Perhaps we would not have seen the same levels of frustration from millions of Canadians who were eagerly awaiting an end to lockdowns and restrictions.
It should go without saying at this point, but people are tired. People are frustrated. After two years of personal sacrifices, many are looking to the government to explain the path forward, but to date it seems like they are waiting in vain.
Many Canadian public health officials are signalling they want to make a shift in policy. B.C.'s chief medical officer has indicated that the province's COVID response is transitioning to become “much more like how we manage influenza”. She stated:
We cannot eliminate all risk.... And I think that's something that we need to understand and accept. As this virus has changed, it's become part of what we will be living with for years to come.
In reply to the last question asked of my colleague, Ontario's chief medical officer also said something similar when he stated:
I absolutely think we have to start to learn to live with this virus and we’ve let our lives be controlled for the last two years in a significant amount of fear.
As well, Canada's top doctor is noting the need “to be able to address the ongoing presence of COVID-19 in a more sustainable way.”
Looking around the world, we see that many countries are removing restrictions or laying out their framework to do so. In the United Kingdom, vaccine passports have been dropped. This has been mentioned in the House many times today. Sweden is removing entry restrictions and domestic rules. Denmark ended its COVID restrictions last week.
A recent Angus Reid poll showed that a majority of Canadians “now say it is time to remove restrictions and let Canadians manage their own level of risk”.
If the Prime Minister disagrees with most Canadians, then it is incumbent upon him to explain his rationale. I doubt the Prime Minister wants to unfairly label millions of Canadians as quickly as he labelled those who partook in the convoy as it made its way through Canada.
Protests are occurring in communities across the country, but none is more pronounced than what we have seen outside this very place. The Prime Minister is painting every protester with a broad brush, name-calling and dismissing even the most genuine concerns about his government's actions over the last two years.
There were literally thousands of people lined up on highways in support of the convoys. The only message they are hearing from the Prime Minister is that because they are supporting the convoy, they, too, must be beyond redemption.
Make no mistake: I denounce all symbols of hate and have zero tolerance for illegal behaviour. Anyone who participated in that manner should be ashamed of themselves. Moreover, everyone outside should immediately minimize their impact on those who live downtown here in Ottawa.
My message to both the government and to the protesters is to turn down the rhetoric. Turn down the heat. We must remember we are all citizens and will remain so after this. We cannot continue to just talk past each other. We will get nowhere if we continue this.
The leader of the official opposition has requested a meeting with the Prime Minister and other party leaders so we can come together, depoliticize the response to the pandemic and talk about where we go from here. Canadians need leadership. They need to see a plan. They need hope.
On this side of the House, we are prepared to work together to end this protest and help families and communities return to their normal lives. I hope all parties will join in this effort.