Canada is struggling, but not failing

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-09-30 1:29 [p.326]

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House at any hour to address the important issues that Canadians are facing as we are in this pandemic.

To begin with, I would like to acknowledge that we are on the territory of the Algonquin nation.

To the Algonquin Nation, I express gratitude for their extraordinary generosity and hospitality. Meegwetch.

This evening has been an interesting experience because we are of course at distance and each party has to reduce its numbers in the House. I have been with my colleague from Fredericton and my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith. We have been coming in by turns, so in our last round of voting I was voting by Zoom. Probably some of us now in the House were as well. There was an eerie moment when, as we were voting, one could hear Donald Trump’s voice. Someone on one of the channels was paying attention to the U.S. presidential debate.

I only mention this because I am extremely grateful to be Canadian. I am very grateful to be with all of the members here tonight and those who are still on Zoom. I am very grateful that even in our partisan debates, which for Canadians can sometimes veer toward the toxic, we hear each other and, for the most part, speak respectfully to each other. We do not have a leader who yells and refuses to condemn white supremacy. It is distressing, to put it mildly.

In the context of speaking to this, I want to commend those things about all of us that make us Canadian. I am grateful that this Parliament is a minority Parliament. I do not much like false majorities where a minority of the voters can deliver 100% of the power to the party that has the most seats. I am grateful for how closely this Parliament, facing the COVID pandemic, as the member for Barrie—Innisfil was mentioning earlier tonight, was working with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the parliamentary secretary and many others to get our constituents home. We have for the most part, throughout this pandemic, found ways to work together.

I am grateful that the New Democratic Party worked with the Liberals to vastly improve the piece of legislation we have in front of us. However, we cannot say it solves all the problems, and I will speak to that for the bulk of my remarks.
Earlier tonight, one of our colleagues said that Canada was failing, and I want to address that directly. We are struggling. Every single part of the human family is, no matter where we find those governments and societies, however they are knit together in successful, healthy democracies that are prosperous like ours or in countries that were on the verge of collapse before COVID hit. Every country is struggling to one degree or another.

I thank God I am not in Brazil, where Bolsonaro just got rid of all the restrictions on logging in the mangrove forests while the Amazon is so dry that the Pantanal wetland, an extraordinary wetland of biodiversity, is on fire.

This is our entire planet’s heritage, and our planet is now on fire. In British Columbia, we are breathing in the smoke from fires in California, Oregon and Washington State. We are dealing with two emergencies at once: the pandemic and climate change.

When I look around the world at where I could live, what I could be, what country I could belong to, we are not failing; we are struggling. We are working together too, and as long as we keep the spirit of working together, we will get through this okay. We will get through this and will be capable of building back better. We will be capable of reimagining our future. We will deliver. We may not not trust each other all that much because we belong to different political parties, but when we get past the thing about our parties, we trust each other. If I were in trouble, I could call any of the people here and I know there would be help coming. We are one family, all of us Canadians.

In that context, I welcome this legislation. I hope it alleviates the concerns for most Canadians, but it clearly does not speak to all of us. There is much more work to do.

One particular group of Canadians that has been let down badly through all of this is Canadians with disabilities. We have a lot more work to do there, as well as for businesses. As my friend from Courtenay—Alberni mentioned earlier, so many businesses are in deep trouble.

I am very concerned for the tourism sector. There is an iconic tourism business in my riding, the Butchart Gardens. My colleagues from Vancouver Island and others across Canada know Butchart Gardens. I have been talking to the general manager and the CEO, who are very worried that they will not make it to next year. Their business has dropped by 90%. They had to lay off 450 people. Help is not coming, so the tourism business particularly needs an infusion of relief help and cash. Somehow we have to do that.

Individual small businesses, restaurateurs, touring companies, in fact all kinds of companies, small and large, are still in trouble and we do not know when the pandemic will end. I remember when it started, more or less, and standing here on March 13, I wondered if we really did not have to come back until April 20. That seemed a rather long time.

Do my colleagues remember how that felt? We had no idea then and we still do not know, so it is very important for Canada that we actually hold together.

I will reference something before I turn back to the bill: One of Canada’s more brilliant academics, Thomas Homer-Dixon, has a new book out called Commanding Hope, which is about how it really matters to use hope as a tool to hang on to and pull people through in tough times. It could not have come out at a better time than now, with the dual threats of the climate crisis and the pandemic. He mentioned to me that, in polling around the world, an encouraging sign was that most countries are encouraging more social cohesion than before the pandemic started. That is not the case in the United States or Brazil, but most nations are feeling that sense of all being in this together that my father used to tell me about. He grew up in London during the Blitz.

My father said, at one point when we had been busy fighting the government of Nova Scotia on one environmental fight or another, that he really preferred the Second World War. I asked him how he could possibly prefer the Second World War when he was at risk of being blown up at any moment. He said, “Back then, you know, we really had the feeling the government was on our side.” That is how people are feeling now, I think.

In a long time, generationally speaking, we have been distanced from the notion that if someone is in real trouble they are not going to turn to the billionaire class to bail them out, because they are busy making money on their own. They are not figuring out how to hold bake sales for the rest of us.

Coming back to this bill, I am extremely glad to see the changes that have been made to make sure that it is $500 a week and not $400 a week. I am extremely glad to know that we are trying to figure out how we can have a Canada recovery benefit, a Canada recovery sickness benefit, and a Canada recovery caregivers benefit. Reading the details of this, what comes to me is how hard it is to legislate by specific example while hoping not to forget anyone.

I would like to read an example. Of course all of my colleagues here have read this, but if anyone is an insomniac and watching this right now: Someone will qualify for this benefit if they have a child who is normally cared for, and who is under the age of 12, on the first day of the week because the school that the child normally attended has had to close for reasons related to COVID. Maybe the school would be open at certain times of the day, or the child could not attend school because the child had contracted or might have contracted COVID-19. Maybe the child was in isolation because a doctor said they might be better off in isolation, or they might be at risk of health complications. Maybe the person who usually cared for the child was not available because of COVID-19, or because they cared for a family member who required supervised care because the day program or facility that the family member normally attended was closed.

I could go on and on. In trying to anticipate every specific in order to have the benefit work for everyone, listing specifics inevitably leaves something out. I would suggest again, and not for the first time in this place, that we really need to think about the universality of our social safety net. Our health care system works because it was made universal. If Tommy Douglas had sat down in Saskatchewan way back when and said, “Let us create a health care system where we can list the people who might need help,” it would not have worked. If people happen to be very sick, and let us say there is only xamount of money in their bank account, or let us say someone is only a bit sick, it would never work. Universality is necessary for a social safety net. It is really time to talk about and implement a guaranteed livable income.

We know the Parliamentary Budget Officer did an initial review and said that a universal income would be cheaper than CERB. A truly universal income would be enormous but would end up saving our society money in the health care system, because poverty is the single largest social determinant of health. It would save us money on corrections, because it is a lot cheaper to make sure people are going to school, getting a good start in life and going to university than keeping them in jail, which costs over $100,000 a year per prisoner.

As Hugh Segal, former Progressive Conservative Senator has shown in his book, Bootstraps Need Boots, there are multiple good, solid reasons to move to a guaranteed livable income.

I put this to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion earlier today and I was really pleased with her answer, which I will paraphrase. She said what we are doing now is getting this benefit out to replace CERB, and CERB is going to turn into EI. Then there are relief and sickness programs, and I completely agree with the New Democrats that being able to take sick leave is something that every Canadian should be able to count on.

However, all that aside, the minister shared that just because we are doing this now does not mean that there are other conversations to be had. Let us hang on to that and really work with Finance Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Office and the provincial and municipal orders of government and figure out how much money could be saved if we stopped having shame-based poverty band-aid programs. These include welfare programs where, if a single mother goes back to work, any money she makes is clawed back from welfare, or if a single mother lives with her boyfriend, she loses all the benefits. This kind of programming does not eliminate poverty, it perpetuates poverty.

It is in the interests of Canada as whole. It is in the interests of the health of our society, our resilience and our ability to manage the next pandemic. We really cannot manage what happens with the climate crisis if we do not act fast. Frankly, the Speech from the Throne is quite inadequate in that regard, but tonight’s debate is not on the Speech from the Throne, so I will stick to the Canada recovery benefit and the other sections of the bill.

This gives us a sense of what must be done, but we are still falling short. I take heart from the minister’s response about 13 hours ago. Her response earlier today was that there is a conversation to be had about guaranteed livable income in this country. How much progress is that? In the 2019 election, only a year ago, only the Greens were talking about guaranteed livable income. Some NDP spoke of it as well, but not in the platform.

We need to grab this moment. How large are the transformational moments that are possible now? This is not just a pandemic affecting Canada. This is global. Every single modern democracy, every G20 country is dealing with debt and deficits.

We have to think big. We have to reimagine our rules. I was pleased that the Prime Minister said to the United Nations, let’s think about something as big as a new version of the Bretton Woods Conference. Let’s really look at what can be done, because we are at a hinge moment in history.

This bill helps. It will not be enough, but let us pass it quickly.

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe (Lac-Saint-Jean)
2020-09-30 1:45 [p.328]

Madam Speaker, I have tremendous respect for the member who just spoke. Frankly, I have been around since she got her start, and I have to admit that I adore her. We are really opening up tonight.

My mother told me something I will never forget. We cannot compare ourselves to the worst of our kind because then we will certainly be the best. This evening, we listened to Mr. Bolsonaro and Mr. Trump. Obviously, compared to them, we are the best.

The reason we are here tonight is that the government imposed closure and prorogued Parliament six weeks ago. I do not think that is what it means to be the best.

I have enormous respect for the member, and I would like her to tell me why she thinks the government prorogued Parliament. Was it really to deliver a throne speech and reorient its vision vis-à-vis COVID-19? Or was it to hide scandals like the WE Charity scandal?

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-09-30 1:46 [p.328]

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague. I am truly delighted to know that he adores me. It is so difficult to talk about the other things right now. I apologize, it is late and it is difficult for me to speak French.

I do not think there is any doubt that we would not have had prorogation if Bill Morneau and the Prime Minister had not bumped into the WE Charity scandal. I do not think there is any doubt about that.

I am much more charitable than most, in that I recognize the immense difference between this and the 2008 prorogation, which was epically unconstitutional. It was an effort by a prime minister to avoid a vote he knew he would lose, in which he might not have been able to form a government because there was a coalition waiting in the wings. That is a very different situation.

In all of the Commonwealth nations, those that use Westminster parliamentary democracy, our very interesting archaic system, only one other country had ever had a prime minister go to the Governor General for prorogation to avoid a vote they knew they would lose. The previous example was also Canadian: Sir John A. Macdonald. The only other country where this had ever happened was Sri Lanka, where the Governor General turned them down.

There are prorogations that are toxic and unconstitutional, and there are prorogations that are convenient and politically unworthy. This was of the latter variety.

Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford)
2020-09-30 1:48 [p.328]

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague and neighbour. I can see the beautiful Mount Maxwell on Salt Spring Island from my house, and that is part of the riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands.

I want to thank her for expanding the conversation we are having tonight on Bill C-4, to talk about how this really is a first step. I think many Canadians are seeing this as a moment in time where we have the ability to reimagine what Canada’s full potential can be.

We have heard a lot of discussion today. Part of the discussion has centred on the cost, and I will agree that it has been a significant cost, but I am really glad that in the course of her debate she also started touching on the cost of institutionalized poverty and how that continues to be such a drag on so many of our communities right across this great country. I look, in the Cowichan Valley, at how the opioid crisis is ravaging the downtown core of Duncan right now. That is traced back to institutionalized poverty. These are individuals who have suffered multiple forms of trauma.

Whether it is mental health, physical abuse or the ongoing trauma of everyday lived experiences in poverty, those have real costs to our society. They have costs that the member mentioned in incarceration rates and in our health services.
I just want to ask her to again comment on how investments in things like a guaranteed livable income are actually, in the long run, going to make our country a better place, not only socially and in terms of health, but also economically, to put us on a path for the better.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-09-30 1:50 [p.329]

Madam Speaker, yes, of course, I know my dear colleague from Cowichan—Malahat—Langford could not see Mount Maxwell lately because we were in so much smoke. It has been a very depressing time between knowing we can only visit our friends outdoors and at a distance, but we cannot because we have to go indoors because of the smoke, and our friends cannot come in with us because they are not in our bubble. It is a distressing time.

The institutionalized poverty and accepting it as normal is not something Canada should ever do. I do not know how many people experienced this walking along in Europe, but I did not see anybody homeless on the street there with a hat upside-down hoping they could panhandle their way to their next meal. That is not something we see. I talk about Jim with my friend from New Westminster—Burnaby. I have not seen Jim lately, but I have not been walking on the street. Jim is a friend, a veteran, who needs to panhandle for his medication just outside of the Château Laurier.

There is no excuse for a country like Canada to tolerate poverty. Martin Luther King said many years ago that there was only one solution he had ever found to eliminate poverty and it is a guaranteed income.

Irek Kusmierczyk (Windsor—Tecumseh)
2020-09-30 1:52 [p.329]

Madam Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging that the signature, eloquence and passion of the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is not diminished one bit even at 1:50 in the morning.

I very much appreciate the comments the member shared at the beginning of her speech when she emphasized the collaboration and the real, true team Canada approach, which is really the signature of this piece of legislation and how it came about. It is a common theme that I noticed, and was also in the comments that were made by my colleague, the MP for Edmonton Strathcona as well as the MP for Vancouver East.

They acknowledge the fact that this bill really is the product of the government and the opposition working together, listening to each other. I think that is the particular strength of Bill C-4, that it is undergirded and supported by the fact that this was a tremendous listening exercise.

We listened not just to each other, not just to members across the aisle, but we also listened to our constituents. We listened to workers, Canadians, families, unions and businesses. That really is that particular strength, the collaboration, that listening and working together, for Bill C-4.

As the member pointed out as well, moving forward, the legislation is going to evolve. This legislation that is being brought forward is not going to preclude other changes. In fact, the evolution has always been the signature of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that we adapt to it.

I would ask the member to comment on that sense of collaboration and team work that really undergirded the design and development of Bill C-4.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-09-30 1:53 [p.329]

Madam Speaker, we have been holding community meetings, as I am sure other members have, but the community meetings we used to have in the local community hall have been replaced by the latest thing that has come to both aid us and torment us: Zoom. I meet with my constituents frequently, and their concerns are the same as I think all of us have heard. There are concerns about how they are going to make ends meet and concerns about keeping a business open, but they are very encouraged when I tell them that we are all working together. Civil servants are working awfully hard. Everyone knows that by hanging together, we will help each other.

Partisanship is our enemy in this. That is why I am very nervous with first New Brunswick, and now British Columbia and Saskatchewan, because the more elections we have, I feel as though the less safe we are. It is not that democracy as experienced in an election is not a healthy thing, but I worry about us trying to score points off each other more than band together to help our constituents.

The legislation before us shows that spirit of collaboration in the interests of Canada.