Elizabeth May speaks in House of Commons on COVID-19: “This must not be a moment that divides us”

On Saturday, April 11th, 2020 in COVID 19, Debate, Democracy, Issues, News, Parliament

I’d like to begin by recognizing that we’re on the traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin people. I want to thank them again for their hospitality and generosity, Megweech. I also want to start by saying a large thank you to all my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important day, because it was through unanimous consent. It means a lot to me that the Green Party is recognized in this place and allowed to speak as we gather in these entirely unprecedented times.

I was moved by the Prime Minister’s remarks in reminding us of Vimy – I hadn’t planned to speak about Vimy, but April 9th this year, I noticed my husband very depressed, wandering about. He said, “I’m thinking of my grandfather who was machine-gunned on Vimy on April 9th, 1917.” His grandfather, John Owen Wilson, survived, got back to British Columbia, and ended up as Chief Justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court. The sacrifices of Vimy are not forgotten, the solidarity of recent generations is not forgotten.

I’m one of the last of a generation that remembers a time of the kind of solidarity and sacrifice, not that I lived through the war, or the depression, but my parents did and so the family stories become part of who you are, they’re in your bones, the notion that government steps up, that government is on your side. And I think through years of neoliberalism we’ve gotten this idea that government’s kind of in our way, picking our pocket. I’m really relieved that in some ways this solidarity, this social solidarity that we will have coming out of this pandemic will allow us to see, yeah, I’m part of my government. My democracy works for me.

I hope that can be a lasting lesson. We are here together in a way that I want to acknowledge with deep gratitude is Parliament working well even when we are at a distance. I want to thank the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and so many different Ministers for the openness to hear opposition ideas and concerns. If I could share with Canadians what the last couple of weeks have felt like:

Working from home non stop, 24/7. A lot of Canadians wouldn’t imagine that every single day, 1:30 B.C. time, 4:30 in Ottawa, including Saturdays and Sundays, we have an opportunity to ask anything. Now in my mind, this is how the ideas have been working.

It’s quite true that a lot of the things we wanted were not in the first bill in C-13 – it’s quite true – that Greens like others said, it shouldn’t be a 10% wage subsidy, it should be 75% -we made that case and individual examples came forward. It feels to me as though through those daily question and answer sessions – we do our best to get our questions out there – but in my head this is how its been working: We raise a question, we say something like – what happens right now – Bishop McNamanee has just contacted me and the Anglican Church on Vancouver Island – has separate Churches and they all have their own CRA number but there’s only one employer so the 30% deduction of revenue compared doesn’t work in the circumstance.

Then today I look at the most recent version of the bill and it now covers that specific example that the Anglican diocese had initially raised to me. There may have been many other MPs who asked a question that stumped the Finance Canada senior officials that were on the telephone with us every single day, but when I see that in a bill, I say, “Oh my question!” It flagged an issue, and this is what I keep hearing from Ministers: “Keep sending us the specific concerns you see, keep telling us where the gaps are.” Because the MPs on the ground right across Canada are the eyes and ears on the front line, able to say, with all due respect, nothing that you’ve got in place right now is working for small business.

I’m terrified that a lot of small businesses, seasonal businesses, restaurants and so on are going to go under even with the wage subsidy, but then I pick up today’s unanimous consent motion, and I’m very relieved to see that it calls for the government to implement short term support measures for small and medium sized enterprises, the partially refundable primary objective maintaining jobs related to fixed costs.

That’s what I keep hearing from small businesses: They can’t afford to pay the rent. So what I’m seeing here is not to be just a Pollyanna about our circumstances, but I do want to say that it means a lot to me that when we’ve come forward as individual MPs, opposition and Liberal, and said, “Look, what’s happening doesn’t work, there’s too many people, students, people in the gig economy, they’re not covered by CERB what are we going to do?” Today’s unanimous consent motion says we implement the measures without delay.

That language suggests not that the government is saying we’re got this perfect. What I hear from minister after minister is: “We’re learning, we’re working as hard as we can.” I want to say that I do know that the Minister of Global Affairs and his Parliamentary Secretary have been available to me 24/7 for about the fifty or so constituents that I’ve so far been able to help to get home, and I’ve still got about a dozen that I’m working on. And the parliamentary secretary knows well I have someone stranded in Vanuatu. But theres a real sense of all hands on deck and I want Canadians to know that. I want them to know that a spirit of non-partisanship, of, “We are team Canada, we’re all in this together.” Nothing exemplifies that to me more than the newfound best friend relationship between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Premier of Ontario. It shows stepping up to a circumstance where we’re all at risk. We’re thinking about being surrounded by death. We’re thinking about wearing our masks. We’re constantly vigilant. But we’re also working together because we’re Canadian. This must not be a moment that divides us, we must remember this and work differently in the future.

Yes, I want to press for Guaranteed Livable Income and we will keep pressing for that.

Yes, I want to press that we will in this place and before too long see new climate targets that meet the imperative of a looming disaster far greater than COVID-19 that threatens to kill more people and wipe out civilization. It can’t be postponed.

But right now what I want to say is a deep thank you for the spirit of collaboration. The Prime Minister spoke of the fact that this time, of course, is a season of many religious observances. It is Passover. Happy Passover to my Jewish friends and family.

In a few weeks, Ramadan. I’m just finishing Lent – a period of fasting and reflection.

It speaks to the unprecedented nature of the crisis that we’re in that as far as I’ve been able to determine, the Parliament of Canada has never before sat on Easter Saturday. Good Friday particularly in previous generations was held sacred, the idea of meeting on Easter Weekend would have been impossible to imagine, but here we are and why?

In about ten hours it will be dawn in Jerusalem and the first morning light of that sunrise will strike the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it’s built on the spot, or so we’re told, where the body of Jesus was wrapped and put in the tomb. The remembrance of our stories, of our tradition, the most important day of the Christian calendar.

In this time when we are surrounded by death and we are worried about our own mortality, and those of the people we love, we can think of the things that are most important. And after this is over we will recognize that yes, we can survive. We can break the bonds of death, we can have faith in each other. We can invest ourselves in love for each other and our communities. We can remember what really matters. And right now, as I watch my grandkids on Zoom family chats – what would I give for a hug – I would like to think of our lives as transformed by this in ways that are profound. As we recognize that, for the first time in my life, governments all around the world, without hesitation, realize that life is more important than money.

We have deliberately and voluntarily shut down our economies to save lives. We have deliberately and voluntarily created for ourselves as lawmakers, as policy-makers, the challenge of an economic recovery because we didn’t hesitate to know that saving life is more important that money. And when this is all over, and please, God, it’s over with a minimum loss of life in Canada and all around the world. Particularly worried about those countries that lack basic healthcare. We must not forget our obligations to the poorest of the poor just as we don’t forget Indigenous people in Canada, just as we must not forget those who are marginalized, homeless. But when we get through this together, let’s remember that in this pandemic we discovered what really matters.

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