COVID-19: “This must not be a moment that divides us”

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-04-11 13:20 [p.2113]

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
I thank them again for their hospitality and generosity. Meegwetch.

I want to thank all my colleagues for unanimously agreeing to give me a chance to speak on this momentous day. A thousand thanks to them.

It really 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 had not planned to speak about Vimy, but on April 9 this year, I noticed that my husband was very depressed and wandering about, and he said he was thinking of his grandfather, who was machine-gunned on Vimy on April 9, 1917. His grandfather survived; otherwise I would not be married to my husband, I suppose. His grandfather, John Owen Wilson, survived, got back to British Columbia and ended up as chief justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court, but the sacrifices of Vimy are not forgotten. The courage and solidarity of previous generations are not forgotten.

I have thought in recent times that, being a boomer, a 1954 baby, I’m one of the last of a generation that remembers that time of solidarity and sacrifice. Not that I lived through the war or the depression, but my parents did. The family stories become part of who we are; they are in our bones, the notion that government steps up and that government is on our side. I think that through years of neo-liberalism, we have gotten this idea that government is kind of in our way, picking our pockets. I am really relieved that in some ways this social solidarity that we will have coming out of this pandemic will allow us to see that individuals are a part of their government, that their democracy works for them. I hope that can be a lasting lesson.

We are here together in a way that I want to acknowledge with deep gratitude. Parliament is 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 their openness to hearing opposition ideas and concerns.

I will share with Canadians what the last couple of weeks have felt like, working from home non-stop, 24-7. A lot of Canadians would not imagine that every single day at 1:30 B.C. time, 4:30 in Ottawa, every day, including Saturdays and Sundays, we have an opportunity to ask anything. In my mind, this is how the ideas have been working. It is quite true that a lot of the things we wanted were not in the first bill, Bill C-13. It is quite true that Greens, like others, said that it should not be a 10% wage subsidy; it should be 75%. We made that case, and individual examples came forward.

We have those daily question and answer sessions. I know that not all of us get our questions in every single day. Some of us do well. The member for Carleton does well, and I do pretty well. We push *1 and go for it. We do our best to get our questions out there, but in my head this is how it has been working. We raise a question and we ask something like, what happens right now, when Bishop McMenamie has just contacted me and the Anglican Church on Vancouver Island has separate churches and they all have their own CRA number but there is only one employer, so the 30% reduction in revenue compared to some other reference period does not work at all in this circumstance? Then, today I looked at the most recent version of the bill. “Entity” is redefined, and it now covers that specific weird example of the Anglican diocese and an issue raised to me by Bishop McMenamie. There may have been many other MPs who asked a question that stumped the Finance Canada senior officials who were on the telephone with us every single day, but when I see that in the bill, I see that my question was not only a question, but it flagged an issue.

This is what I hear from ministers, to keep sending them the specific concerns that we see and to keep telling them where the gaps are, because the MPs on the ground, right across Canada, are the eyes and ears on the front line who are able to say that nothing that is in place right now, with all due respect, is working for small businesses.

I am terrified that a lot of very small businesses, seasonal businesses, restaurants and so on, are going to go under, even with the wage subsidy. However, in today’s unanimous consent motion, which I saw before coming here, I was very relieved to see that it calls for the government to implement short-term support measures for small and medium-sized enterprises, “which will be partially non-refundable, with the primary objective of maintaining jobs and reducing debt related to fixed costs”. That is what I keep hearing from small businesses, that they cannot afford to pay their rent and that the wage subsidy does not help them.

Without being just a Pollyanna about our circumstances, I want to say that it means a lot to me that we have come forward as individual MPs, opposition and Liberals, to say, “What is happening does not work. There are too many people, such as students and people in the gig economy, who are not covered by CERB. What are we going to do?”

Today’s unanimous consent motion says that we will implement measures without delay. I think “without delay” would actually meet what the member for Burnaby South said, and right now, today, we say that everybody can apply. That language suggests that the government is not saying, “We’ve gotten this perfect. Go away”. What I hear from minister after minister is, “We’re learning. We’re working as hard as we can.”

I want to say that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his parliamentary secretary have been available to me pretty much 24-7 for the 50 or so constituents I have helped to get home so far. I still have about a dozen I am working on, and the parliamentary secretary knows well that I have someone stranded in Vanuatu.

There is a real sense of all hands on deck, and I want Canadians to know that. I want them to know that there is a spirit of non-partisanship, of “We are team Canada and we are all in it together”. Nothing exemplifies that for me more than the new-found best-friend relationship between the Premier of Ontario and the Deputy Prime Minister. I think this shows stepping up to a circumstance where we are all at risk. We are thinking about being surrounded by death. We are thinking about wearing our masks. I have Lysol wipes here, below my desk. We are constantly vigilant, but we are also working together because we are Canadians. 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. We will keep doing 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, which threatens to kill more people and wipe out civilization. It cannot be postponed.

However, right now I want to give my thanks 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. I wish happy Passover to my Jewish friends and family. Vaisakhi is also coming up soon. In a few weeks, it will be Ramadan for my Islamic friends, a period of fasting and reflection. I am just finishing Lent, a period of fasting and reflection.

It speaks to the unprecedented nature of the crisis we are in that, as far as I have been able to determine through research from home and looking through every bit of constitutional and parliamentary history I can find, 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 this is why.

Looking at the clock, I think that in about 10 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 is built on the spot where we are told the original cave was in which the body of Jesus Christ was wrapped and placed in the tomb, with a rock rolled in front of it. Approximately 10 hours from now, at dawn, will be the remembrance of our stories, tradition and faith, the most significant day, the most profound and important day of the Christian calendar, the resurrection of Christ: that the stone was rolled back and that those who loved him, Mary and others, came and thought the body had been stolen, but the angels came to them, and then Jesus disguised as a gardener came to them and said, “No, He has risen.”

In this time, when we are surrounded by death and we are worried about our mortality and that of the people we love, we can think of the things that are most important. After this is over, we will recognize that we can survive, that we can break the bonds of death, that we can have faith in each other, that we can invest ourselves in love for each other and our communities, and that we can remember what really matters. Right now, as I watch my grandkids on Zoom family chats, what would I not give for a hug.

I would love to think about our lives as transformed by this in ways that are profound, as we recognize that, for the first time in our lives, governments all around the world have decided, without hesitation, 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 economic recovery, because we did not hesitate to know that saving lives is more important than money.

When this is all over, I hope to God it is over with a minimum loss of life in Canada and around the world. I am particularly worried for those countries that lack basic health care. We must not forget our obligations to the poorest of the poor, just as we do not forget indigenous peoples in Canada, just as we do not forget those who are most marginalized and homeless. When we get through this together, let us remember that in this pandemic we discovered what really matters.