Reacting to Bill C-14, Elizabeth May pushes the government to do more

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2021-01-27 18:15 [p.3652]

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity.

I will start by acknowledging that I am speaking from the traditional territory of the WSÁNEC first nation, the indigenous people of the territory that I am honoured to represent in Parliament.

Today, we are addressing Bill C-14, which, of course, includes the legislative changes that are required as part of the fall economic statement that was tabled November 30. Although our commentary today should be limited to the legislative changes before us, and I know that some of speeches have been quite wide-ranging, I want to reflect briefly on the fall economic statement itself, then turn to the legislation before us, and then to the things that are missing from it and that we wish were there.

The fall economic statement, at over 200 pages, is definitely wide-ranging. It references a lot of hard work, and I want to acknowledge the hard work of our Minister of Finance, indeed, the government as a whole, with a good dose of gratitude.

There is no perfection to be found in the actions of any government around the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some do better than others, and some do worse than others. I think we do better as Canadians when we try to work together.

That is the intent of Greens, whether we are elected federally or in the provinces across this country. We prefer collaborative efforts, co-operation and working through consensus. However, in looking at this document, it is extraordinary in detailing ambition around a wide range of issues.

First, on the question of a safe restart, there was about $20 billion put into a safe restart. We know that this was transferring money to the provinces for things as important as personal protective equipment, PPE, and getting the vaccines rolled out, which is a subject we debated until midnight last night with a lot of emotion and different opinions, but we have vaccines. We wish that they were being rolled out more quickly, but it does take federal-provincial co-operation. It also takes dealing with global multinational pharmaceutical companies. We are also looking at day care, so for the safe restart and a number of other aspects, there was $20 billion.

There are priorities in the fall economic statement that are not COVID-related but are high-priority items for Greens, particularly working towards indigenous reconciliation and moving towards pharmacare. I do not know why it is taking so long, but pharmacare is flagged in the fall economic statement.

Specifically, we should start looking at pharmacare in relation to rare diseases. I am part of a caucus, quite an informal caucus, with members of Parliament from every single party in this place, and that is a great place for collaboration. We are working with the CF Foundation and trying to get the life-saving drug Trikafta to patients in the CF community. We work together, and I think we are better when we do so.

On the opioid crisis, again, referenced in the fall economic statement, Greens favour decriminalization. We need to move fast to stop the deaths from opioid addiction, which is an extension of a mental health issue. It is a health issue. It is not a criminal issue.

On climate, which is also referenced in the fall economic statement, Greens are very keen on improving our east-west electricity grid and also improving its potential to reach north. We applaud the focus on interties that we have begun to see out of the Canadian Infrastructure Bank. However, we need more. We need more work on the electricity grid. We need more work on public transit, but it is flagged, as is the importance of electric vehicles.

Many climate-related measures are in the fall economic statement, including nature-based climate solutions. On the commitment to planting two billion trees, which we have heard of many times and look forward to seeing, it is critical that they are trees appropriate to the ecosystems in which they are planted. It is critical that we do the tree planting in ways that enhance carbon sequestration and protect biodiversity, such as along stream banks to help protect our wild Pacific salmon where they have lost so much habitat.

These are measures we support, but they are not enough. We have seen Bill C-12, and they are referenced in the fall economic statement for climate accountability, but without major strengthening, such as a fixed dark target date of 2025 for carbon reductions, it will not be worth supporting.

When we look south of the border we see the steps the new Biden administration is taking, pursuing some of the courses Barack Obama left in place. This is also encouraging. Canada has scope, as is mentioned in the fall economic statement. With carbon and border adjustments, we can move our economies in the same direction and create more jobs while doing so. These are encouraging things.

We support Bill C-14 as far as it goes. The measures are important in order to get more COVID assistance to people to get more relief.

What is missing? There are many sectors that are not just falling through the cracks, but plummeting through a chasm. They need more help. I refer specifically to all the businesses in the tourism sector, particularly restaurants, but also bus services.

The fall economic statement refers to the highly affected sectors having more credit availability, but it is capped at $1 million per piece of assistance. I will specifically mention Wilson’s bus lines, which provides not only charter service but also regularly scheduled service into first nation communities. It is an integral part of our tourism ecosystem here. It is being pressured out of existence by the commercial banks. The banks are demanding repayment. The $1-million capped loan will not be enough to save Wilson’s.

For other parts of our transportation infrastructure, such as regional airports, $1 million in loans is not going to help them. We need to focus on what is needed to save all of our transportation infrastructure that is at risk right now. I think the best way to do that would be for the Minister of Finance or the Prime Minister to talk to all the CEOs of the big commercial banks and remind them they are making profits every quarter.

This is the most recent news. If we just scan the headlines of BNN Bloomberg, we see the new quarter, post-2020 into 2021, news. It is a kick off of big bank earnings. They are doing great. They have adjusted fourth-quarter profits above the average analyst estimates. When the banks are doing well, maybe not as well as before the pandemic, but they are not struggling or about to go under, they need to help.

Similarly, we should not be leaning on Canadians who got the CERB in good faith because they thought they made $5,000 in the previous year. The qualifications to say they did not qualify came out later. Come on. Let us fix it in this bill to say that anyone who received CERB who received $5,000 gross income in 2019 is entitled. That would clear up a misunderstanding and remove the cloud over the heads of over 440,000 Canadians who received, and I think this is an Orwellian turn of phrase, an education letter.

The critical issue of long-term care homes is referenced quite a lot in the fall economic statement. It mentions long-term care home workers. One of the more disturbing stories I saw in the last few months was of an outbreak of COVID in an Ottawa shelter for the homeless. It turned out the homeless who were living there were actually workers in long-term care. They were earning so little as long-term care workers, they were living in the Ottawa homeless shelter because they could not afford a roof over their head.

We need to do much more. We need to get into those long-term care homes and make sure our seniors are vaccinated. We need to stop the senicide. We need to make sure we pay our workers adequately, whether they are front-line workers in long-term care or anywhere in our society. We really do need a guaranteed livable income to ensure equity and decency for every single Canadian.

This is just a quick scratching of the surface of what we see as a challenge to us as Canadians. The fall economic statement gives us a good direction, but it needs to be more ambitious. We need to ensure that as we come out of COVID we repair our social safety net so it is not a net full of holes, but an actual place of stability, decency and respect for every single one of our human beings in this society, whether homeless, indigenous, or a woman who cannot figure out how to go back to work. We need to rebuild. We need a society that lives up to our greatest aspirations, including acting on the climate emergency while we still have time.