House of Commons Hansard #154 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was contracts.


The House resumed from November 15, 2022, consideration of the motion that Bill C-293, An Act respecting pandemic prevention and preparedness, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Warren Steinley Conservative Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to join in the debate to discuss Bill C-293, an act respecting pandemic prevention and preparedness.

I do not think we would find anyone in the House who would be against being prepared for when the next pandemic comes to our country. However, we would have a different way of going about it.

Looking through the bill brought forward by the member from the government's side, there are a few questions that come to my mind right away.

One of its sections talks about agriculture and industrial agriculture. It states:

(l) after consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Minister of Industry and provincial governments, provide for measures to:

(i) reduce the risks posed by antimicrobial resistance,

(ii) regulate commercial activities that can contribute to pandemic risk, including industrial animal agriculture,

(iii) promote commercial activities that can help reduce pandemic risk, including the production of alternative proteins, and

(iv) phase out commercial activities that disproportionately contribute to pandemic risk, including activities that involve high-risk species;

I do not see a definition of what those high-risk species. We have a question about that.

The section continues:

(m) include the following information, to be provided by the Minister of the Environment:

after consultation with relevant provincial ministers, a summary of changes in land use in Canada, including in relation to disturbed habitats, that could contribute to pandemic risk, such as deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats and urbanization and that were made, in the case of the first plan, since the last report on changes in land use published under the Federal Sustainable Development Act or, in the case of the updated plans, during the reporting period for the updated plan,

There are issues that will need discussion.

First, I would ask the member who brought the bill forward if he had discussions with the provincial and territorial health ministers already. When I read the bill, there is a lot of encroachment on provincial jurisdiction. I think some of the Bloc members would have concerns about that as well, moving to take over some of the things that should be in the province's jurisdiction.

I have another issue with respect to the agriculture file. I am on the agriculture standing committee and a few things in the bill could limit the use of agricultural land. That concerns me and the people who I represent across western Canada and in Saskatchewan. Our producers do a fantastic job with managing their land use. Part of this preparedness plan has some land use issues in it.

Talking about deforestation, one of the biggest countries that is in competition for agriculture, one that our producers compete against, is Brazil. Brazil is doing a lot of deforestation right now, putting more and more land into agriculture use. If we could use our land and produce more, we would be helping the environment on a larger scale by ensuring that other countries would not have to use deforestation. They would have to put that use of land into agriculture, which would be great for our environment.

More concerns around the pandemic preparedness act are some of the encroachments on our civil liberties. One thing that is mentioned a few times in the bill is the “one health approach”. Like many people, I did not know what one health meant, but I did get a definition from its website. It states:

One Health' is an integrated, unifying approach to balance and optimize the health of people, animals and the environment. It is particularly important to prevent, predict, detect, and respond to global health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The approach mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines and communities at varying levels of society to work together. This way, new and better ideas are developed that address root causes and create long-term, sustainable solutions.

One Health involves the public health, veterinary, public health and environmental sectors. The One Health approach is particularly relevant for food and water safety, nutrition, the control of zoonoses (diseases that can spread between animals and humans, such as flu, rabies and Rift Valley fever), pollution management, and combatting antimicrobial resistance (the emergence of microbes that are resistant to antibiotic therapy).

On the surface, it sounds like it is a pretty good approach, but one of the concerns I would have is the loss of our own ability to get ready for the next pandemic. The problem is that the one health initiative to integrate work on human, animal and environmental issues limits our ability to look after our own Canadians citizens. This, from the WHO, is more of an overarching approach to health care and that still should be central to governments in their own countries not to have that loss of control. We need to dive into this and look a lot closer at the one-health approach.

I hear my colleague from Winnipeg North speaking. I hope he gets up on his feet today.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives are concerned with most bills the Liberals bring forward. They take a decent idea in theory, but then they over-complicate it. That is what this legislation would do and that is one of the reasons we will be unable to support it.

Also, when it comes to the Liberals' approach to the pandemic, all we have seen throughout the pandemic is a lot of money being thrown at some of the issues when it comes to programming. We have found out now from PBO that 40% of that money was not even used for pandemic services. That is a big concern for us and we believe it is one of the major factors that has been hitting inflation so hard for Canadians across the country.

The approach the Conservatives are taking is that we would like to see a little more control and a lot more consultation. I asked about the dental program that my friends across the way hail so largely. I asked the Minister of Health if he consulted with the health ministers of the provinces and territories before the Liberals brought forward the dental program. To this date, he has never answered me. I would really like to see some follow up on the consultations the member did on his private member's bill with the other jurisdictions, the municipal and provincial leaders. I would also like to know if they had any input into bill before it was tabled.

I would like to see some follow up on the consultations that were had with the appropriate health ministers and also with the agriculture ministers. The Liberals talk about agriculture, land use within agriculture and animal health, so I also wonder if the member, before putting his private member's bill forward, had discussions with all the agriculture ministers across the country as well since they are talking about changes to land use in agriculture land.

I have not heard whether the member spoke to the Saskatchewan agriculture minister. I wonder if there were any conversations with those ministers. When we talk about consultation, we talk about working together in other governmental jurisdictions, with provincial, territorial and municipal leaders. I believe the government has failed on those consultations many times. I wonder if this is another stack of failed consultations that should have been done before the bill was brought forward.

I look forward to hearing other speeches and whether other members will or will not support the bill. I am happy to stand and lay out some of the reasons why I feel the government does not have the capacity to be prepared for the next pandemic. I hope that we can work together with our provincial and municipal leaders to ensure we have things in place. The Conservatives believe that we have to be ready for the next pandemic, but we do not think this bill would get the job done.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, for most of us, March 12, 2020, marked the official start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a major impact on the life of our communities and the organization of our societies and our work. It had an especially big impact on our social interactions.

Three years later, we have the right, as citizens, to know what really happened so that we can learn from this unprecedented public health crisis, even though we hope such a crisis never happens again.

Bill C-293, an act respecting pandemic prevention and preparedness, seeks to require the Minister of Health to establish an advisory committee to review the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. Obviously, we are not against doing the right thing. If, of course, the intention of the bill is laudable, then, as the Bloc Québécois has said, and as I will say again today, an independent public inquiry is the only acceptable way to judge the government's actions. In order to shed light on the complete chain of events, we need to calmly hold an independent, transparent national inquiry, without partisanship, by opening a constructive dialogue with the various stakeholders.

We have heard the horror stories from the book entitled Le printemps le plus long, or the longest spring, a journalistic account written by Alec Castonguay. I encourage my colleagues to read it, as it is full of examples of the Liberal government's chronic lack of preparation. The threat level moved from high to critical, but the Liberal ministers' typical inaction—even though the alarm had been sounded—had serious and catastrophic repercussions on everything, including our health care systems in Quebec and in all the provinces.

I would like to highlight the Global Public Health Intelligence Network, or GPHIN. Essentially, it is the Public Health Agency of Canada's version of CSIS. It is an invaluable governmental tool, and it is a reference in the prevention field.

Canadian scientists are the go-to source for health alerts for 85 countries. They are able to detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear public health threats while constantly scanning public open-source news in real time.

In his investigative work, Alec Castonguay wrote that the GPHIN, a victim of PHAC leadership's changing priorities, was unable to sound the alarm earlier. That is the first thing we need to get to the bottom of, and that is why we need an independent public inquiry.

The Liberals changed the GPHIN's mandate because they wanted to control the message. This is the same government that, in 2015, said it would no longer muzzle scientists. The Liberals are doing the same thing as the previous government. That is unacceptable. Our people deserve so much better than what they have gotten over the last few years.

It was not until July 2020, after journalists once again uncovered the truth, that the then-health minister was forced to launch an internal inquiry to find out why officials did not sound the alarm earlier. Will we ever find out why? Honestly, I doubt it.

There are other examples. In the 1950s, during the Cold War, the Canadian government created the national emergency strategic stockpile. Essentially, its purpose is to store pharmaceuticals and supplies used by social services. It is a stockpile of medical assets, equipment and supplies. This strategic stockpile is intended to be used specifically during a pandemic or health disaster. When the Liberals came to power, they neglected this strategic resource, which is why thousands of items of personal protective equipment, including the well-known N95 masks, had to be destroyed.

If we look back, members will recall that the U.S. President at the time decided to invoke the Defense Production Act to stop the shipment of materials to fight COVID-19 to other countries, including Canada. More than 500,000 N95 masks were stuck in the United States. Thousands of health care workers were put at high risk because of this government, which might lead one to question whether it is running the country in a serious and thoughtful way.

It was Quebec that had to charter the biggest plane in the world, have it travel from Ukraine to China to fill up with protection equipment, pay the people on the tarmac at the Shanghai airport in cash and have the plane land in Mirabel, because the federal government is unable to properly manage its supply of masks. Seriously, it is a nightmare.

A contract to produce ventilators was hastily awarded to Frank Baylis, a former Liberal MP who was a friend of the government. I met him at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. According to the worst-case estimates, we needed 13,500 ventilators, but 27,148 were ordered. That is twice as many, but, after all, “a friend is a friend”.

There was chaos at the border as well. Valérie Plante, the Montreal mayor, and François Legault, the Quebec premier, had to coordinate to send public health officers from Montreal to the Trudeau airport to enforce quarantines. I saw it with my own two eyes. In the meantime, the Trudeau government, which is often more concerned with its image than with results—

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I want to remind the hon. member that we do not use the names of members in the House.

The hon. member for Laurentides‑Labelle.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you for the reminder, Madam Speaker. We will have to make changes in 2023. I will resume my speech.

I have to say that in Laurentides-Labelle my team and I worked tirelessly to bring home our constituents. More than 50 families were stranded abroad and abandoned by the government. It was an urgent situation. I remember that it happened during the school break, a time when thousands of Quebeckers go abroad every year. We wondered if we needed to do something. That is pretty much the only responsibility the government has in health and it was still unable to carry it out. I cannot imagine what would happen if there were national standards, but that is another debate.

There have been more than 6.5 million deaths from COVID-19 around the world. In Canada, 45,000 people died. Those 45,000 families are owed answers. The role of MPs in this place is to monitor government action. We cannot shed light on a critical and tragic period by meeting behind closed doors. What we went through is not insignificant, and we all know it. People have died.

Of course, it was urgent to take action then, but we must investigate what was done so that we can do better. Our style of government is based on ministerial responsibility, and the government is responsible to the House. We, MPs, are the representatives of Canadians in 338 ridings, the people across the country who were strong and worked together during that time.

As a G7 nation, we owe it to our citizens. A national independent public inquiry is the only way forward, and that is why we will vote against the bill.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Bonita Zarrillo NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, the pandemic has been difficult for Canadians, and it has been especially difficult for frontline workers: nurses, physicians, long-term care workers, cleaners, retail staff, transit workers and others. They have been there for us throughout this pandemic, but the government has not been there for them. For three years, they have been on the front lines with no relief in sight.

The government called them heroes, but this accolade has not been backed up with tangible investments in their pay, working conditions or mental health supports. It is absolutely unacceptable that investments in mental health have not come to frontline workers while the Liberal government sits on $4.5 billion of unspent mental health funding. That needs to change.

As the premiers arrive this week for health care negotiations, I think about the workers who are part of the growing care economy. This includes nurses, who are disproportionately women, especially immigrant women. They have been underpaid and undervalued for decades because of gender discrimination.

Now is the time for the federal government to step up and end that discrimination and to do the work required to improve the working conditions of nurses across this country. As Linda Silas of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions has long said, it is past time to address, with actions, the dire shortage of nurses in this country.

With that in mind, I highlight for the Liberal government a study that has been going on in the HUMA committee for nearly a year on labour shortages. Its imminent report will hold critical testimony that outlines solutions to improve working conditions for health care workers and to attract and retain more nurses. It was informed by unions across the country that understand first-hand this critical problem. The government must listen to them and act with urgency.

Action is not something we see much of from the Liberal government, and it is one of the shortcomings of Bill C-293. Bill C-293 represents an unacceptable attempt to provide the illusion of action, accountability and oversight with respect to Canada's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will not actually achieve it. What is really needed is what the NDP and the member for Vancouver Kingsway have called for throughout this pandemic: “a root-to-branch, independent, penetrating and comprehensive review of Canada's COVID-19 preparedness and response.”

An advisory committee approach, as proposed in Bill C-293, has not shown great results. The proof is in the fact that even after the SARS advisory committee recommendations, Canada was ill-prepared for COVID-19.

Some good things did come out of the National Advisory Committee on SARS, like the initial emergency stockpile of PPE. However, as mentioned today, it was proven to be not properly maintained, given the millions of N95 masks that had expired and needed to be destroyed when the pandemic began. As COVID-19 hit, workers did not have the PPE supplies they needed in order to stay safe.

A May 2021 report from the AG confirmed that negligent management of Canada's emergency stockpile resulted in shortages of PPE for essential workers. Serious issues with the stockpile had been raised for more than a decade, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, with its specific mandate to plan and coordinate a national response to infectious diseases, was reported to have limited public health and emergency response management expertise in its own agency. How is it that PHAC did not have the required expertise to manage PPE stocks?

This lack of internal expertise played out in other ways too. When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the supply of essential medicines became a critical need, but Canada had walked away from investing in biomanufacturing capacity in this country decades earlier.

Fast-forward to March 2021, when the lack of domestic production capacity of vaccines was a problem for the Canadian government. In response to the insecurity of adequate supply for Canadians, a federal COVID-19 vaccine task force was formed to seek out high-potential Canadian candidates for the manufacturing of vaccines.

Of course, the first thing the Liberals did was outsource because the knowledge of Canadian companies with capabilities did not already exist within Health Canada. Deloitte was contracted, and at least one potential candidate was identified, Biolyse Pharma, which, as per John Fulton's testimony at INDU committee, was “several years into the construction of a biologics manufacturing centre”.

Biolyse could repurpose its facility for vaccine production with an investment from the federal government for as little as $4 million, yet the lack of government expertise, response and political will did not make this happen. I will mention at this point that this is the same for the TRIPS waiver.

I want to take a moment to recognize the hon. member for Oakville, the Minister of National Defence. Her skill and determination in securing life-saving vaccines for Canadians after initial government missteps should never be forgotten.

Going back to PPE, at the beginning of the pandemic, Canadian manufacturers stepped up with production. Companies like Novo Textiles in my riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam invested quickly to retool their facilities and take up the government's request for critical PPE. However, even though Novo Textiles and other members of CAPPEM made investments to ramp up production, the government did not come through with timely certifications or purchase orders to support these heroic initiatives.

To add insult to injury, it took a motion from an opposition party in this House two years into the pandemic to get the federal government to even purchase Canadian PPE for the Hill and federal staff. In this very place, there were no Canadian-made masks until 2022.

It seems that it is not a lack of government-created and government-chosen advisory board members, consultants and plans that is missing. It is the ramping up of internal expertise and the political will to act that is needed. That is why the New Democrats call on the federal government and cabinet to launch an independent public inquiry into Canada's COVID–19 response under the Inquiries Act without delay. As I mentioned earlier, my colleague from Vancouver—Kingsway has been calling for a comprehensive review of Canada's COVID–19 preparedness and response throughout this pandemic. It is the only way to have accountability and adequate preparedness and prevention management going forward.

Canadians want and deserve that too. According to an April 2022 poll from Research Co., 66% of Canadians support holding a public inquiry into the way the COVID–19 pandemic was managed by the federal government.

Last week, the director general of the World Health Organization noted the third anniversary of the declaration of the COVID pandemic and said that it continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern. This pandemic is not over, and the Liberals can no longer hold off on an independent inquiry into their handling of it. They must act now.

Although we are in a better position now than we were during the peak of the omicron transmission one year ago, this pandemic is not over. We cannot get complacent. Surveillance and genetic sequencing have declined globally, making it more difficult to track known variants and detect new ones.

At the same time, Canadian health systems are on the verge of collapse. Frontline workers have been heroic, yet it has resulted in burnout, fatigue and early retirements. As we work through this reality, more federal investments are needed in health care and nurses. There needs to be respect for women in the care economy, because they have always been the true backbone of the economy.

The current nursing shortage has certainly proved that the Liberals need to take the work of solving the nursing shortage seriously and take action. The Prime Minister must not let down nurses as the premiers arrive this week. The Liberal government has a responsibility to be part of the solution and to act on the health care crisis, which has been exasperated by COVID–19.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today to a bill put forward by my friend from Beaches—East York. I want to wish him well with his explorations regarding the provincial Liberal leadership here in Ontario. It will be interesting to see how he does with the caucus management side given his independent streak. The good news for him is that the Liberal Party caucus in Ontario is such a small caucus to manage that it should be a bit easier. I do wish him well—

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I would remind the member that this is not the business of the House, so let us please stick to the point.

The hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

I had a slogan suggestion for his leadership campaign as well. It was “Get high in the polls”, but anyway, I will carry on with my remarks here. I wish my friend well, but I will not be supporting his bill.

This bill is about a review of our pandemic preparedness and comes out of the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, it is sort of cliche to say but it is obvious, is the seminal event in all of our lives that has had so many dramatic consequences. There are the health consequences for so many people, but also the social and cultural consequences of the pandemic that have deeply shaped us and will continue to shape us. Most of those consequences, quite frankly, are negative and require a reaction to the social and cultural damage that has been wrought as a result of the divisions that have been created through this pandemic, some of them maybe just incidental or unintended, but some of them very much intentionally sown.

It is right that we, as politicians, as leaders but also as a society in general, should be evaluating and reviewing the effects of the pandemic and asking what happened here, how we got some things so badly wrong, what were the things that we got right, and how we could approach future pandemics in a better way. In principle, I agree with the idea of having a postpandemic review and having in place provisions to ensure that there is a plan for future pandemics. I do not regard this bill, sadly, as a serious approach to those things.

I will just mention some aspects of this. One is that Liberals love to put forward new advisory councils appointed by government ministers. We saw this with their child care bill, Bill C-35. We are seeing this again with Bill C-293, where they are saying they have this issue they have to think about and therefore they are going to have an advisory council that is going to be responsible for advising the government about it. The minister responsible for that area is going to appoint the advisory council. By the way, the advisory council should be, in certain respects, diverse, reflective of different kinds of backgrounds, experiences and so forth.

However, what guarantees diversity of thought in an advisory mechanism is diversity in the appointment process, that is, bringing in multiple voices in determining who are the right people to sit on this advisory council. If a minister chooses who sits on the advisory council, then obviously they are going to be tempted to appoint people who share their pre-existing philosophy and who are not necessarily going to dig into providing the kind of criticism that is required of the government's approach.

Various members have put forward proposals in terms of the kind of broad-based, genuinely democratic postpandemic review that we would need to have. Many of those conversations are already going on. There should be a mechanism within the government to have this kind of review. I know various provinces are looking at this already. There should be international mechanisms around pandemic review. All these things are important, but those review processes should not be a top-down, controlled whitewash. They should be authentically empowered to hold governments accountable, to ask whether we got some big things wrong in the context of the pandemic, why we got them wrong, and how we could ensure we fix those issues.

In the time I have left, let me highlight some of the things I think we got badly wrong about the pandemic, and some of the ways we need to think about how we go forward.

There were a lot of things that we did not know about COVID-19 when it started. Let us acknowledge that it was probably inevitable that we were going to get some things wrong, but at a basic level we should have had the stockpile of PPE that was required. This was coming out of past pandemics, so that people could eventually come to conclusions such as to what degree certain kinds of masks limit, or not, the spread of the virus. At the very beginning, before we knew anything, it would have been a good kind of default to say, let us make sure that we have protective equipment in place and that we have that stockpile available so that it could be available to people.

It was out of the discussion after the SARS pandemic a couple of decades ago that we created the Public Health Agency, which was supposed to help us be prepared for these things. We were not prepared. We did not have the stockpiles of PPE. In fact, we sent away PPE at a critical juncture early in the pandemic. There was a lack of preparedness, particularly around having the equipment that was required.

Members will recall, and it is important to recall, that the leading public health authorities in this country and in the U.S. said not to use masks and that masks are ineffective or even counterproductive. That was the message at the beginning. Likely, part of the reason that message was pushed, in a context where doctors and nurses were using that equipment but the general public was told not to use these things because they are counterproductive, was that there was a shortage of supply. The government could have been more honest about acknowledging the fact that there was a shortage of supply and that it had failed to plan and prepare for that reality.

This speaks to another point. There is the lack of preparedness in terms of having the PPE available, but also we would have been much better off if governments and public health authorities had been more willing to openly acknowledge the things they did not know. I think early discussions around masking were a good example of the tone we had. People were told that if they were for masking when they were supposed to be against masking, they were anti-science and they were pushing an anti-science message. Later, there was the revision, in terms of the government's messaging.

Our public health authorities and governments could have shown a greater degree of humility right at the beginning of the pandemic and said that there were just things they did not know and that masking was a reasonable precautionary measure. However, it was a very assertive approach that carried itself throughout the pandemic with respect to any diversity of opinion in terms of pandemic strategy. If people were disagreeing with the prevailing consensus, then they were supposedly anti-science. As members have pointed out, the way science progresses is through some degree of open debate and challenging presumptions. The reality is that public health bodies and governments were expressing certainty about things that they were less than certain about.

Let us acknowledge that throughout the pandemic there were various revisions. I recall, for example, that when vaccines first came out the government's message was to take the first available vaccine. Then the government said not to take AstraZeneca and recommended Pfizer or Moderna but not AstraZeneca. At the same time as the government was not recommending AstraZeneca for Canadians, I had constituents who did what the government told them to do with the first shot, and now it was telling them that they were supposed to have a second shot of a different kind, which was apparently totally fine in Canada, whereas other countries were saying that people needed to have two doses of the same kind. I understand that as the science is unfolding there are going to be things we do not know, but if the government had been willing to acknowledge in a more honest, transparent way throughout that process that there were some things we did not know, we would have been much better off.

I want to conclude by saying that I am very concerned about some of the social and cultural impacts of this pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, we were already seeing trends where there was sort of a breaking down of traditional community and a greater political polarization. People were less likely to be involved in neighbourhood and community organizations, community leagues, faith organizations and these kinds of things and were becoming more polarized along political lines. Those existing trends were dramatically accelerated through the pandemic, where the restrictions made it difficult for people to gather together in the kind of traditional community structures that had existed previously, and we have seen a heightened political polarization, with people being divided on the basis of their views on masks and their vaccination status.

As we evaluate what happened in the pandemic, and this is more of a cultural work than a political work, we need to think about how we can bring our communities back together, reconcile people across these kinds of divides and try to rebuild the kinds of communities we had previously, where people put politics aside and were willing to get together and focus on what united them.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, 35 months ago, almost to the day, everything came to a halt in Canada and around the world. It was a stressful time that I sincerely hope we will never experience again. That said, it makes sense to be rational without being alarmist: Epidemics and pandemics are bound to happen more frequently, for a variety of reasons.

Today we are considering Bill C-293, which seeks to help the country prevent and prepare for future pandemics. When I saw it appear on the Order Paper, I must admit that, for a moment, I was dismayed.

I would like to take my colleagues back to 2020 to explain why I was dismayed. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I reassured myself and my family by saying that epidemiologists had been warning governments everywhere that the next big post-SARS pandemic was bound to be a coronavirus pandemic.

I want to take a small detour for a moment. Epidemiologists suspected a coronavirus pandemic because, thanks to SARS, they realized that we did not know much about these viruses. They knew that we were not necessarily prepared to deal with coronaviruses, since we knew so little about them. This is not a conspiracy, just a simple logical analysis. That is all I am going to say about that.

Given that we had been on alert since the SARS crisis and given that we had a bit of a trial run with H1N1 in 2007-08, I figured that we were ready to handle the pandemic and that Canada and the provinces were properly equipped.

That was not the case, though. Masks were expired. There were no respirators. Investments were made in test cubes that cost $8,000 apiece but never amounted to anything. The government had trouble finding reliable suppliers. They had to play catch-up and on and on. I will not go over everything that happened over the past three years.

To err is human. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes. Planning something and making a mistake is one thing. Not planning, flying blind, awarding contracts that turn out to be overpriced to unknown parties that subcontract the work to a Liberal member who very recently gave up his seat? That is not human error. That is a boondoggle.

Whenever I think about all that, it reminds me of a scene in a movie where a guy is trying to make a hasty exit while getting dressed because his lover's husband has just come home. He would never have found himself in such an awkward position had he had the sense not to pursue another man's wife in the first place.

There is a reason I am reminding my colleagues how surprised I am to see the lack of preparation in Canada and around the world, despite more than 15 years of warnings. This is directly related to Bill C-293, which shows that the government was not adequately prepared. If the mechanisms had already been in place—and they actually were in place, but I will come back to that—would new legislation have been needed? The answer is no. We would have simply needed to adapt existing legislation, policies, regulations and working methods.

Once the shock of all this passes, we still need to read the bill. The preamble sets the stage. As the first paragraph indicates, it costs a lot less to prevent than to cure. I will not dwell on that.

The second paragraph states that “Parliament is committed to making efforts to prevent the risk of and prepare for future pandemics”. Should this not have been started back in 2003 or 2004, by any chance, after SARS? Why did Jean Chrétien, then Paul Martin and then Stephen Harper do nothing when they were in power?

Prevention involves a lot of measures, particularly environmental and health measures. The more money is invested in forms of energy that produce greenhouse gases, the more temperatures rise. This causes icebergs and the permafrost to melt, releasing viruses and bacteria. Work on pandemic prevention should have started a long time ago, but it is never too late to do the right thing.

In health, the individual behind the cuts in transfers to Quebec, the provinces and the territories was Jean Chrétien. If, starting in 2003-04, health transfers had been restored to the levels intended by the Constitution, the pandemic's impact on our health networks would have been far less severe.

Once again, it is never too late to do the right thing. There is a meeting coming up. I hope the outcome will be that the federal government is forced to abide by its own Constitution.

Let us come back to the bill's preamble. The third paragraph sets out a list of viruses and diseases that have affected the world, though they may not necessarily have hit Canada that hard.

The fourth and fifth paragraphs state that a multisectoral and multidisciplinary collaborative approach is central to taking preventive action. I agree with that. With regard to collaboration, we need only think of the constitutional agreements on health transfers. Had those agreements been respected starting in 2003-04, then the federal government would not have had to give Quebec and the provinces and territories so much money during the pandemic to support their respective health care systems, because they would have been resilient enough to deal with the situation. When a person, business, non-profit organization or government has to do without up to 32% of their budget for 30 years, it leaves a mark. It makes it more difficult to act in a time of crisis.

Before my colleagues tell me off by talking about how much money the government gave the provinces and territories during the pandemic, I would like to remind them that it is part of the federal government's constitutional role to provide help when a major crisis occurs. Canada does not have a constitutional agreement with the other countries in the world, but it gives them money, as well as help and services on the ground. We do have constitutional agreements, so it is not fair to tell us off when we are pointing out needs that are there.

To sum up, Canada is responsible for its own lack of pandemic preparedness. The Global Public Health Intelligence Network alert system was deactivated in 2019. The national emergency strategic stockpile was so grossly mismanaged that millions of masks that hospitals desperately needed had to be thrown out because they were expired. I could also cite the chaotic management of the borders and quarantines and our pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, which has been put in jeopardy over the past few decades.

Some may be wondering if I can think of anything good the government has done. Once it had made up for earlier mistakes and its lack of planning and prevention, the situation did end up improving. I commend the unparalleled work done by the then minister of public services and procurement and her team, who worked around the clock.

The way the pandemic was managed needs to be analyzed honestly and calmly. Complete neutrality is absolutely necessary to shed light on what the public and the health care system went through. Let us take this out of the hands of the politicians who were at the centre of the storm.

The bill is certainly interesting. It calls for an advisory committee to study the “before” and “during” and make recommendations, yet the bill already includes a whole list of things that a plan must include. What is the point of recommendations if the plan's contents have already been decided? We need to take the politics out of it.

I applaud the goodwill of my colleague from Beaches—East York. I consider prevention to be a much easier remedy to swallow than treatment. However, in order to ensure that this remedy is non-partisan, it is imperative that it be created outside this political arena. That is why we need an independent public inquiry. Only an independent public inquiry can ensure an unbiased, non-partisan analysis. Complete neutrality is absolutely necessary to shed light on what the public and the health care system went through. Let us take this out of the hands of the politicians who were at the centre of the storm.

I would like to hear what the member for Beaches—East York has to say on his right of reply.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Liberal Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask everyone to consider what the role of a member of Parliament is with respect to private members' business. I am not a member of the government. This is a private member's bill. For all of us across party lines who have introduced private members' bills, we know how much work goes in to them, the guidance we receive as a parliamentarians and the convention, as it were, if we respect it.

I heard my colleague for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan say that, in principle, he agrees. I heard the Bloc say that the intent is laudable. I heard NDP colleagues say that they agree with the general purpose of a pandemic prevention and preparedness strategy, but that it needs to be an independent review.

If one agrees in principle with a bill, and if one takes one's role seriously, not as a cabinet minister who is seized with government legislation but as a member of Parliament considering backbencher and private members' business, one should send to committee the legislation we agree with in principle and we could work out the details.

I am certainly open to amending the legislation based on the details, but surely we should not kill a bill at second reading that has merit in principle. We have just lived through our most serious health crisis ever, and here is a bill to make sure we are more prepared next time.

The conversation for today is that it sounds great, but we are going to kill it right now before we have experts, provincial ministers and PHAC attend committee. We do not actually want to think about this issue again. We just want to rail in a political way about an independent review.

Therefore, let me turn to the need for an independent review. Of course there should be an independent review. The NDP referenced SARS, and good on its members for referencing the independent SARS Commission led by then Justice Campbell. There was also a national advisory committee, which was a separate dual-track process under Health Canada, led by David Naylor. There were recommendations from that national advisory committee that were implemented ultimately by the government. That is why we have the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Forgive me if I am astounded at the lack of history from my colleagues who say we need some independent review, and therefore we need to kill this piece of legislation. No, we need both. In this particular instance, the core accountability to a law like this is not in the review function. That is laughable. The core accountability in this bill, Bill C-293, is parliamentary accountability. The government should be accountable to us as Parliament with respect to its pandemic prevention and preparedness efforts.

The member for Port Moody—Coquitlam said that we need more emphasis on nurses. Guess what. This bill would require that the government table, every three years, to us in Parliament, a pandemic prevention preparedness plan that speaks to supporting local public health and primary care capacity building. Yes, it speaks to nurses. It also speaks to the working conditions of essential workers across all sectors.

The government should be creating these pandemic prevention preparedness strategies and then tabling those strategies to us in Parliament. If we kill this bill, yes, it means we could rail about an independent review. However, it functionally means that it would be this government and future governments that would create those strategies, and they would not be accountable to Parliament for those strategies.

For the same reason, we need climate accountability legislation. It does not mean some independent review of how climate change is occurring. It means that the government is accountable to Parliament for its climate action plan. Similarly, for the accountability mechanism in this bill, the government is accountable to us for its prevention and preparedness strategies.

I heard my colleague from Regina—Lewvan read out the “one health” approach and say that maybe it was a good idea but it sounded too international for him. We literally have a one health approach in Health Canada to prevent antimicrobial resistance.

If people are going to vote against this bill, please, just read it first. Do not read it for the first time in Parliament, while railing against it. We need a pandemic prevention preparedness plan, full stop. We need accountability to Parliament, full stop. All members know I have supported not only Conservative bills but also NDP bills to get to committee. My instinct and my role in this place, and I hope members see their role in the same way, is to get bills that we agree with in principle to committee so we can improve them.

Thanks for the time. I hope we all change our minds.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The question is on the motion.

If a member of a recognized party present in the House wishes that the motion be carried or carried on division or wishes to request a recorded division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, we would request a recorded vote, please.

Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, June 23, 2022, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, February 8, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

Sitting SuspendedPandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Is there unanimous consent to suspend the sitting until 12:01 p.m. and reconvene at that time?

Sitting SuspendedPandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members


Sitting SuspendedPandemic Prevention and Preparedness ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:56 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:01 p.m.)

The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Investment Canada Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

National Security Review of Investments Modernization ActGovernment Orders



Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill C-34, an act to amend the Investment Canada Act.

Bill C-34 implements a set of amendments to improve the national security review process of foreign investments and modernize the Investment Canada Act. Collectively, these amendments represent the most significant legislative update of the ICA since 2009.

These amendments would also ensure that Canada's review process is consistent with those of our allies. This consistency is something that business owners and stakeholders within the riding of Waterloo have also spoken to me about. It is something that is important to them, as Canada is a trading nation and being aligned with our allies is something of importance.

Canada has a long-standing reputation for welcoming foreign investments and a strong framework to promote trade, while advancing Canadian interests. In fact, Canada has one of the earliest and most robust screening processes for foreign investments in the world.

For some history, the Investment Canada Act was enacted 38 years ago in 1985, to encourage investment in Canada that contributes to economic growth and employment opportunities. The act allows the government to review significant foreign investments to ensure that these benefits exist. The act was updated in 2009 to include a framework for a national security review of foreign direct investments. Since then, and for the longest time, the ICA has been one of the only pieces of legislation in the world that provides a reviewing mechanism for the net benefit and national security threats of foreign direct investments.

It is clear that the federal government has long played a leadership role in setting a framework for investment review that attracts needed positive foreign direct investments without compromising on national security. However, the world looks a lot different now than it did in 2009. The global market has rapidly changed along with shifting geopolitical threats. Canada is growing and our interactions with the rest of the world are changing.

The government has seen a rise in state-sponsored threat activities from hostile state and non-state actors. They are attracted by Canada's technologically advanced open economy and world-class research community. This is something we know very well in the riding and region of Waterloo.

The level of sophistication of these threats has also increased. Hostile state and non-state actors are deliberately pursuing strategies to acquire goods, technologies and intellectual property through foreign investments that could damage Canada's economy and undermine national security while possibly controlling the supply chains of critical goods. These concerns are real and are why debating and advancing legislation is necessary.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional vulnerabilities that could lead to opportunistic and potentially harmful investment behaviour by foreign investors. In response, the government has taken swift, concrete action to enhance scrutiny on inbound investments related to public health and critical goods and services. The government has again taken action recently by enhancing scrutiny on investments involved in sensitive goods and technology, such as critical minerals, critical infrastructure and sensitive personal data.

Through these investments, the government is prepared to once again take action to strengthen the national security review, while allowing for positive foreign investments. Canada is a trading nation and we work with international allies. The reality is that economic-based threats to national security are an area of increasing concern, not just for Canada but for our allies as well.

Other jurisdictions internationally are moving in response to the shifting geopolitical threats either by amending or by putting in place new investment screening regimes. Our action is needed to bring Canada into greater alignment with our international partners and allies. For example, I understand that Australia has updated its laws on foreign direct investment. It made a prominent change by introducing authorities to protect national security in January 2021. These include fresh powers for the Australian government to require mandatory notification for transactions involving a national security business before the transactions are closed.

Additionally, the United Kingdom introduced a new stand-alone regime on national security and investment in January 2021. The act creates, for the first time in the U.K., a mandatory obligation to secure clearance for transactions that acquire control of a business in around 17 specified and sensitive sectors before they are completed.

The U.K. has also introduced legislation that allows the government to impose interim orders while the review is being conducted, preventing foreign investors from obtaining confidential information or accessing sensitive sites or assets until the review is complete.

Our cousin to the south, the United States of America, overhauled its foreign direct investment laws in 2018. The amendments added new types of transactions subject to government review and, for the first time ever, mandated notification of transactions involved in critical technologies, certain critical infrastructures or sensitive personal data of American citizens. New regulations fully implementing the act took effect in February 2020.

The proposed amendments in Bill C-34 would address the concerns we have heard from Canadians and which have been echoed by our allies. The proposed amendments in Bill C-34 would address these concerns by introducing new preimplementation filing requirements for specified investments, as well as the power to implement interim conditions during national security review of the investment.

This would provide Canada with the new governance capacity to address the increasingly complex threat landscape. Bill C-34 would also ensure that Canada's foreign direct investments screening regime remains world-leading.

As I have shared, Canada and our allies share similar national and economic security concerns. They are concerned with threat actors acting and operating in multiple jurisdictions to secure a monopoly in critical assets and technology.

It is becoming increasingly important to share information with allies and support national security assessments to prevent these threats from happening.

Previously, the minister had limited capacity to share case-specific information with international allies. Bill C-34 would introduce the authority for more threat information sharing by the minister with international counterparts for national security reviews.

This could help both Canada and our partners defend against an investor who may be active simultaneously in several jurisdictions and be seeking same sensitive technology or critical assets.

For example, the amendment would allow the minister to reach out to a foreign partner and disclose information about the investor to gain additional information and to support Canada's own national security assessment. That said, Canada would not be obligated to share such information where there are confidentiality or other concerns.

There is never a shortage of critics, but this legislation is about making sure that Canada welcomes foreign investment and trade that encourages economic growth, innovation and employment opportunities in Canada for Canadians.

I believe that this approach is pragmatic and principled, and provides a coherent and solid framework to address evolving geopolitical threats while allowing Canada's review regime to be more aligned with our international allies. If there are ways to make this legislation better, I believe we have the opportunity now to work together to make that happen.

We are currently at second reading. This legislation is being debated in the House. To see it go to committee where it can be further scrutinized, where witnesses can attend and appear and amendments can be made, would really allow for this legislation to work for more of the Canadian economy.

With Bill C-34, Canada would continue to encourage positive investments without compromising national security. I think it is really good that this legislation is being debated as a stand-alone piece of legislation, where we actually can get into the details of what would work better, because it is important we have legislation that promotes and supports foreign investment but also makes sure we do not compromise national security.

National Security Review of Investments Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Rick Perkins Conservative South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Madam Speaker, I know that the hon. member has been a cabinet minister, so I would like to ask her this question in the context of her time in cabinet.

This bill would remove the minister's responsibility to go to cabinet to actually seek agreement to do a national security review and would remove them from having to report back to cabinet on that, unless they deem it to be a national security review.

Do you think that removing cabinet from the process of determining that will help, because in the past, this government, which I think you were in the cabinet for—

National Security Review of Investments Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

I was not anywhere. I thank the member for correcting himself. That is just a reminder.

National Security Review of Investments Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Rick Perkins Conservative South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Madam Speaker, the government for which the member was in cabinet actually approved two acquisitions. One was Hytera acquiring Norsat, and the other was a Chinese state-owned enterprise acquiring a mining entity that has 65% of Canada's lithium production. The government approved those without a national security review. There is nothing in this bill that would change that, especially if the minister does not have to go to cabinet.

I would like the member's views on that.

National Security Review of Investments Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I think in my comments that I shared today I did state there will never be a shortage of critics, and it is important that we debate and that we make sure this legislation right. This is about the economic and national security of Canada. Foreign investments and trade are necessary for Canada's economic growth and employment opportunities, but need to be done while protecting Canada's national interests. I think that is why looking at this legislation is really about making sure the way we move forward is better for Canadians, for Canada's economy and for ensuring our national security. I think the member knows very well that we do have a process, and that this is the time for providing feedback that is going to improve this legislation. That is why the member was elected. He was not elected only to oppose, but also to debate how we make legislation work better for his constituents, my constituents, our constituents and our country, and this is the time to do it.

National Security Review of Investments Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to commend the speech given by the member opposite in support of Bill C‑34, which gives the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry a little bit more power to review foreign investments. That in itself will be good for national security. However, I do not think we should limit ourselves to national security, but rather, I think other criteria should be added for reviewing an investment.

On the subject of investment review, my colleague across the aisle used to be a cabinet minister in this government, and I remember one particular case at that time, the sale of Rona, that required a government review. Before authorizing the sale, the net benefit had to be reviewed. It was not a matter of national security, but the net benefit still had to be reviewed.

We submitted an access to information request to find out the contents of that mysterious net benefit review. The response that came back was that there was no documentation that corresponded to our request.

I cannot help but wonder whether this government's reviews really are all that rigorous, or are they done based on the weather forecast or a coin toss.

National Security Review of Investments Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I think it is time that we actually debated this bill. We need to make sure that there are solutions and processes in place that will work for more Canadians.

I would say that, yes, we can always look at what has taken place in the past. We can also ask how we go about it to make sure we have systems in place so these concerns the member is raising are addressed and to make sure information is available, and then that we move forward in that way. I think that is why this legislation today is a stand-alone piece of legislation. It is not within a budget bill. It is not within something else. It is one piece of legislation we are debating because of the importance of the topic. I think everything the member has to contribute is important, and I think that once this legislation gets to committee, we can ensure that any of the concerns he is raising are addressed. I am sure the government looks forward to working with him.