Madam Speaker, I want to thank the NDP House leader for his version of Liberal karaoke. That was very nice, and I appreciate his interjection.
I will continue with what we talked about as far as the pairing situation, which is an option. Since, and well before, Confederation, politicians have contracted serious illnesses, suffered critical injuries, welcomed new children into their families and said tearful farewells to loved ones, among other significant life events. In short, life happens to members of Parliament, just like it does to all other Canadians.
For the first 153 years of Confederation, we ably managed to square our personal circumstances with our professional lives, even if it might not always have been ideal. As unprecedented as some aspects of the pandemic were, the demands on us to balance our personal and parliamentary responsibilities are not, and we can easily revert to the tried and true practices that we know work.
Again, on the issue of pairing within the standing rules and Standing Orders, while pairing has been largely based on a series of customs and practices, with only a tangential appearance in our rules via Standing Order 44.1, we would be open to considering proposals to strengthen these arrangements, to render them more transparent or to empower further individual members. If there were ideas on this front, I would have been happy to entertain them. Otherwise, I suspect that this will come up in the procedure and House affairs committee, as it is charged with studying and issue, which I know the Liberals and the NDP want, and that is a more permanent movement toward a hybrid Parliament.
Speaking personally, I got elected to Parliament with an understanding of what that responsibility was, and it is a great responsibility, as we know, to represent, in my case, the residents of Barrie—Innisfil.
I also understood, and my family understood, that there was a requirement for me to come to Ottawa. Being elected in 2015, and with the pandemic happening in 2020, it was common practice for me, and all of my colleagues, all of us in the House, to show up in the seat of Parliament. There is the constitutional requirement for us to be here in Ottawa.
As difficult as that was, that was a choice I made. It is a choice that all of us make. Notwithstanding some of those family pressures that I highlighted or outlined and some of the demands that go with this job, it is an incredible privilege to be able to sit in this place, to be able to come to Ottawa and represent my constituents, not just to engage in debate, not just to engage in the committee work that we do and interact with all of our colleagues on all sides of the aisle, but to actually sit in this seat and be able to vote and to stand up and be counted in person. Those were the expectations that I had when I was to become a member of Parliament and those expectations continue today.
As I said earlier, one of the issues that came up in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was the concern that there would be perpetual electioneering in those close ridings.
I say this with great respect, that if it is one's intent to be elected as a member of Parliament, the reasonable expectation of that intent is to come here to Ottawa. If a person is not willing to do that, if they want to stay in their community to continue to electioneer, perhaps the choice that they should make is to run for mayor, council or school board trustee if they are concerned at all with any imbalance in their lives because, as we know, this is a difficult job and a difficult thing to do, to be away from our family, in some cases, 29 or 31 weeks a year.
It is hard. It is a choice we all make because we want to be here to do the best for the people that we represent and the people in this country.
It is a vast country. It is a transcontinental country, from coast to coast to coast. People get elected to be representatives in our House of Commons and the expectation was, is, and should always be that this is the place that they take their seats. Members can call me a traditionalist. Members can call me a Conservative, as long as they call me someone who believes in our institutions, who believes in the institution of Parliament and who believes in the institution of our democracy.
The challenge I have with everything that has been going on in the last little while is that we have really seen a decline in our democracy. When government ministers are not held to the same account and transparency as they typically are by being here, and not just by us as an opposition but also by the media, it poses challenges.
There is no greater evidence of that than what we have seen over the last couple of months, particularly when we were going through the WE scandal, which was happening a year and a half or two years ago. All of that was happening on Zoom, and there were technological challenges going on with that. It was difficult. It was not the same dynamic as in-person committee meetings or the same fiery exchanges we would see, which is all a healthy part of our democracy.
We saw it recently again with Bill C-11. I am not even sure how many times the chair of the committee has been in Ottawa, but she was chairing a committee virtually on a substantive piece of legislation such as Bill C-11, which the government rammed through. We saw how difficult it was to deal with the amendments going through, and the chair was on Zoom. Anybody who was watching those exchanges in the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage could see just how dysfunctional this system has become, especially when people are not present.
Some of the other things we talked about, as I said, is that we were open-minded to meeting and supporting the pairing needs of all colleagues in this House. The current hybrid system, with minor modifications, could be reactivated in the event of a serious reversal of the current trajectory of public health guidance concerning COVID-19, upon the agreement of recognized parties and House leaders, for a period of time they agree on.
That simply means that, instead of precluding some southern hemisphere variant I have heard about from the two doctor House leaders in this place, why could we not revisit this in August? Why could we not come back in September and look at the situation to see if there was a need to flip to a hybrid Parliament? We have learned our lessons over the past couple of years, and that should be an easy thing to do, so why could we not do that in August or September?
Instead, as I said at outset, here we are in the last couple of days of this session of Parliament before our summer break, and we are dealing with and precluding something none of us can predict. In fact, we can in a way because the world has moved on at this point. Public health measures have been eliminated, but not in this place. There is no reason we cannot come back in August and September to revisit this situation.
I did speak to the government House leader and gave him my word, because I will still be House leader at that point, that if there was a need at that point to flip the switch on a hybrid Parliament and get back to the virtual voting app, we would be open to it. I am not unreasonable. I can read the room. We would be open and amenable to doing that.
Some of the other things we were focused on in my May 31 letter to the other government House leaders is that the arrangements we were talking about could take effect, as I said, after the current arrangements expire, which is happening tomorrow and hence the rush for this, and be in place for a year. The House would be instructed to acquire an adequate supply of N95 face masks to allay the concerns some of our colleagues may have going forward.
This is a suggestion I made. There is no masking requirement outside of this place. I gave the example of members of Parliament, including Liberal members and NDP members, at receptions not wearing masks when they are required to, and even on the parliamentary precinct, so this theatre needs to end.
We are at a point right now where if an individual requires or wants to wear a mask, they should have the option of doing that. Those who choose not to wear a mask, just like the rest of the world and the rest of Canada is going through right now, maybe we can supply them with a higher quality mask like an N95 just to allay their fears and make them feel a little more comfortable. It should be the right of an individual, if they choose, to wear a mask. For those who do not want to wear a mask, they should not have to wear a mask. That was in the proposal.
The procedure and House affairs committee would be instructed to study these arrangements with a view of producing a report next May, ahead of the scheduled expiry of these proposed arrangements.
We believe in the work of committees. We believe in the ability of the procedure and House affairs committee to look at this and to revisit the issue, as we did a couple of years ago, but in anything the committee does, any work it engages in, it should never be under the guise or direction of moving to a more permanent system of hybrid. We should not be doing that. We need to be here in Ottawa.
The tide is turning on this. Just this past week, when the issue of Motion No. 19 came up and the government indicated, with the help of its NDP partners, that it wanted to move to a year's prolongation of the hybrid system, we were starting to see pundits and people who watch this place really start to turn on this and ask why we are not getting back to normal, why we are not getting back to a level of accountability and transparency that this place is designed and structured to do, when everybody else is returning to normal. We have seen editorials that have occurred. Here are some of the comments we have seen in these editorials:
That’s all well and good, but the government has not yet properly addressed the toll the hybrid system is taking on the support staff who make it possible for Parliamentarians to work remotely, especially the interpreters—a limited workforce without whom parliamentary work cannot function.
I addressed that earlier, and I think that we have to be empathetic to the plight of our interpreters and the interpretation bureau. It is becoming a real problem, one that is going to manifest itself if we continue down the path we are on with this hybrid system.
Just the other day, Campbell Clark of The Globe and Mail wrote about this. His editorial piece starts with this:
Another year of hybrid Parliament? No.
If the Liberal government wants to extend this semi-artificial version of the people's house, it can come back to the House of Commons in September and ask for a month. If it absolutely feels another 30 days is needed, it can ask MPs to vote again.
That goes back to the suggestion I made earlier. Why are we dealing with this now? There are so many important issues in this country that we have to deal with, such as affordability, the inflation crisis that is going on, and the fiasco going on with the government's ability to provide the most basic services to Canadians, and of course over the last couple of days we heard about Nova Scotia and political interference. Why we are dealing with this now and not in September is beyond me. This is what causes me great anxiety.
The Toronto Star talked about the decline in our democracy and how we need to get back to some sense of normalcy. That is really the theme of what I am talking about tonight, this decline in our democracy and the fact that the hybrid system is proving itself to be an old and tired system. Yes, it was needed at the height of COVID, but we need to get back to some sense of normalcy. That is what I expect.
One of the other things that we found over the course of the last couple of years was that when Canadians were not allowed to travel, when there were mandates that restricted them from boarding airplanes, the Prime Minister had no problem travelling all over the world. It was hypocritical that he could just get on his government jet and travel anywhere he wanted when Canadians were restricted by the government's policies. We have seen this over the course of the last several years. I gave the example of the chair of the heritage committee, who was sitting in her apartment. I do not know whether she has even been to Ottawa once. She may have, and I have not checked, but certainly not during the course of dealing with this substantive bill. She was sitting there while the committee was doing its work here. It created chaos within the committee. That did not deter the Prime Minister from travelling all over the world when Canadians could not.
I will give members an example of how much the Prime Minister has travelled, just in 2022. On March 4, he went to Toronto. On March 6-11, he went to the U.K., Latvia, Germany and Poland. On March 16-17, he was in Alliston, central Ontario. On March 23-25, he went to Belgium. On March 27-30, he went to Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Williams Lake. On April 8, he went to Hamilton. On April 11-18, he went to Victoria, Edmonton, Laval, and Whistler. He flew from Edmonton to Laval for a morning of promoting the budget on April 13, before flying to Whistler that afternoon to start his vacation. On April 19, he went to Dalhousie, New Brunswick; April 20, Waterloo; April 22, Winnipeg; April 29, Montreal and Toronto. That is half of the list. Here comes the second half: May 2, Windsor; May 3, Montreal; May 6, GTA and Hamilton; May 8-9, Ukraine and Poland; May 17, St. John's, Newfoundland; May 20, Sept-Îles, Quebec; May 23-25, Kamloops, Vancouver, and Saskatoon; May 27-29, Nova Scotia; June 2, Siksika, Alberta; June 5, London, Ontario; June 7-11, Colorado Springs and Los Angeles; and today, the Prime Minister left for Rwanda.
Now, the Prime Minister can fly all over the place. He can go to places where arguably the virus is still active, but parliamentarians cannot come to this place. It just does not connect.
I know that the Prime Minister has a job to do, and I know that he represents Canada around the world, but he can fly to places that do not have the same vaccination status that we do in this country, and put himself at risk. He had COVID last week, and he has had COVID twice in the last couple of months. If he can put himself at risk by doing that, then there is no reason, given the safety measures that are in this place, the option to wear a mask if members choose to and the safety that is in aircraft across this country, why members of Parliament cannot be here, unless, of course, they do not want to be here, unless they want to be in their ridings to perpetually electioneer if they are in a close riding so that they can do everything they can to win the next election, or unless they want to hide behind the virtual Parliament and the voting app. It does not make any sense.
I know there are members who are flying across the country and perhaps not coming here, but we can check. There is public disclosure, and we know where people can go. People are flying to other parts of the country, but they are not coming here. Why? This is their job. This is what they were elected to do.
I am going to make a suggestion, and I may bring it up at the BOIE committee, for members who want to be here on a part-time basis and who do not want to be in Parliament. There are many situations where apartments around this precinct are being paid for, in some cases $2,500 a month, and not being used. Why are taxpayers expected to pay for those apartments if members do want to be here? I think it is a fair question. Maybe there are other expenses that are being put in, and we can certainly look at that. However, if members do not want to be here, in their proper seats, then why are taxpayers subsidizing their apartments here, which are sitting empty? I think that is a fair question to ask.
As I said, the tide is turning. I was hoping, by sending that letter on May 31, that we would actually engage in and initiate some consensus. I was really hoping that the government House leader and his partner in the NDP would actually see the sense of what we were proposing. The unfortunate reality is that they did not, and we are in the position that we are in right now, where we are dealing with Motion No. 19 and the government is going to propose closure on this motion. We are effectively going to have a few hours to debate it. I know that it disrupts the plans of NDP members to discuss this, because what they want to talk about, as is their common theme, is the Conservatives obstructing things.
The reality is that the Conservatives are doing their job. They are actually fulfilling their constitutional obligation, as is the Bloc Québécois, to hold the government to account. We were elected in this place in a minority government. The government was sent here with less than a majority, and it was not until the coalition agreement with its partners in the NDP that it actually formed a majority.
I can tell members that I went through the election and I was certain, at the time, that all the Prime Minister wanted was two things. He thought people were going to throw rose petals for the way he handled COVID and the billions of dollars that flowed through the treasury, which we are now paying for with inflation. He thought people were going to throw rose petals at his feet for the way he handled that, and he wanted a majority government, but he did not get it. The reason he wanted a majority government is that he knows, and we knew at that time, that there was a convergence of factors that was happening.
One cannot print that much money and inject that much liquidity into the system and expect that there would not be an impact on inflation and that it would not increase inflation. When we have more money chasing goods, the resulting effect of that is what we are seeing today, what was announced today, 7.7% inflation, and it is only going to get worse.
We are seeing that interest rates have gone up almost a point in the last month. The expectation is that on July 13, in order to fight inflation, the Bank of Canada is going to increase interest rates by another three-quarters of a point. We can think about the impact that is going to have on the lines of credit that people have. We can think about the impact that would have on variable-rate mortgages. If we have an affordability challenge now and Canadians are anxious and angry about their situation, it is only going to get worse as long as the Liberals continue to pour gas on a raging inflation fire.
We were predicting this a year and a half ago. It is not that we did not want to support them, because we did support many of the programs the government was proposing. The challenge was that there really was a lot of money going out and it was not targeted into those areas of the economy where it needed to be in order to support the economy. The Liberals basically let money rain. They were printing money like crazy, and we predicted a couple of years ago that this would happen.
Now, because of these converging factors, all of them, the economy, interest rates and the inflationary pressures that are going on right now, we are in a situation where Canadians are hurting, and I said this the other day. We had better start listening to what they say. I know I am listening to my constituents, but we all need to do a better job of listening and understanding where that anger and anxiety are coming from, because they are coming from fear. People are afraid right now, because debt levels are so high and interest rates are going up, and that is causing significant challenges.
We were talking about this a couple of years ago, and I remember my mom, when we were together two or three weeks ago, reminding me of something I said two years ago. She was upset about some of the government policies that were going on, and I said that until and unless it starts affecting people in their pocketbooks, people will not be concerned about what the government is doing. Now, we are at that point and people are genuinely concerned, because it is impacting them in their pocketbooks.
Many of us were projecting this, including some of our finance critics, our industry critics and others. They were standing up, and I was standing up, saying this is a disaster waiting to happen. What it comes down to is this: People of integrity expect to be believed, and when they are not, time will prove them right. Unfortunately, right now, with all that is going on, time is proving us right about the things we were predicting two years ago.
I really worry for my constituents. I worry for Canadians in general, because despite the lollipops, gumdrops, rainbows and unicorns the government is projecting right now, I do not think that reflects the reality. I know it does not reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground and the anxiety people are feeling, especially those who overleveraged in an inflation-induced real estate market.
I think it was CMHC that recently said that 52% of Canadians have variable rate mortgages. Just think of how susceptible they are to these increases in interest rates, and the impact that these are going to have on their household budgets and their ability to pay not just for housing, but also for the costs and inflationary pressures that are being borne right across the economy by the supply side because of the price of gas.
Gas is $2.09 a litre. For people in my riding of Barrie—Innisfil who have to go to Mississauga, Markham, Vaughan or other communities around the GTA, and who are doing that five days a week, they are putting $115 or $120 in their little cars. Business owners and construction workers, for example, are putting $245 or $250 worth of gas in their trucks and getting three or four days out of that. They are not even getting three or four days out of that when they are driving to Mississauga or Markham every day. That adds up and eats into the household budgets.
Not least, we need to be concerned about our seniors: those on fixed incomes and those who are seeing, because of the stock market right now and as a result of what is going on in the economy, their investments start to diminish. They are watching that closely. It is creating even greater fear and even greater anxiety for them.
When we sit here and talk about a hybrid Parliament and try to project or predict something that is going to happen in September, I am not sure why we are not dealing with those particular issues that are of grave importance to Canadians. We are dealing with this, when Canadians are moving on. When Canadians, health experts, legislatures around the world and legislatures in Canada have all moved on, we are sitting here debating something that we should not be debating.
There is another thing that I would say in terms of the tide turning, and it kind of gives me a chuckle. Dale Smith sits up here almost daily in Question Period. I do not know if he has missed any, quite frankly. We have been on the opposite sides of issues. I have a lot of respect for the work that Mr. Smith does. He kind of leans or works toward the government on a lot of issues. Even he, in a series of tweets over the past couple of days, has said that the acoustic injuries and possibilities of permanent hearing loss are well documented, and that this is taking an unconscionable toll on the interpretation staff.
In another tweet on June 20, he said, “Imagine telling the interpreters, 'Sorry, but you have to face the possibility of permanent hearing loss, but we can't,'” here he uses a slight expletive, “'ourselves to take reasonable COVID precautions in order for us to do our jobs', which is unacceptable”.
There were a few more tweets that he put out there.
Like me, he is a traditionalist. He believes that we are near the end of the pandemic, and that we have to return to some sense of normalcy. We actually have to signal to Canadians that this beautiful place is back to normal, and that all is right in the land. That is not to say that we do not have to be cautious or we do not have to remain diligent as to what could happen. I do not disagree that there may be some other things that we may be facing, but that does not mean that at this current moment we move into what I predict would become a permanent solution of this hybrid Parliament.
We do not move in that direction at this point. We could certainly come back in August or September to deal with it at that time. As I said earlier, we have seen a lot of hypocrisy and a lot of theatre by the government on this issue. I am not diminishing, in any way, the toll that this has taken. I had two friends who died directly as a result of COVID, but we are certainly past the point of where we were not just in March 2020, but at the height of some of the new variants.
We have a 95% vaccination rate in this country, and that is a credit to Canadians who decided to take the vaccine. I had never injected myself with anything. I was a firefighter. I never took a flu shot. I just did not feel comfortable doing that, but I did take a vaccine. I have actually taken three shots right now, and I am not ashamed to admit that. I did that because I know how concerned my mom and dad were. I wanted to make sure that I protected myself, first and foremost, but it was also to protect them as well. I made that determination for myself.
There were many Canadians who felt the imposition of a mandate or the suggestion that they should be vaccinated. Even friends of mine who took the vaccine and had adverse reactions to the vaccine were told by their doctors that they should not get another shot. In one case, someone spent three days in hospital because of a severe allergic reaction to her first dose. Her medical doctor suggested that she not get another dose because of this allergic reaction. Despite the effort of trying to get a vaccination, that effectively made her a prisoner in her own country. I was down in Florida in March with her husband and she could not come.