Responding to the government’s Supplementary Estimates

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-06-17 18:49 [p.2526]

Madam Chair, I thank you and the members who have gathered here to study the supplementary estimates. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to participate in this.
I want to begin by acknowledging we are on Algonquin territory, and I say meegwetch to the Algonquin peoples.

Before I begin, because this is probably the last time I will have in a while to address my friends here, and I like to think we are all friends, I want to start by saying that when we look around the world, the countries that have had the least partisan approach to COVID-19 are the countries that have done the best. In fact, it is often pointed out in the media these days that the countries with women leaders have done particularly well: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Germany and Taiwan. On top of the fact that those countries happen to have women leaders, all of them also use some form of proportional representation in electing their governments. There is something significant about the non-partisanship that occurs in a system where one does not vote using first past the post.

Over my years in this place and my years in politics, I have come to believe that first past the post tends to encourage the worst instincts in politics. I think the worst instinct in politics at this moment when Canadians are looking to us, as elected members if we do not work together would be for me to not thank the people I stand looking at this time. That is why I came to this side of the House, because I want to thank them.

I do not imagine any of them have had a day off in a long time. If Canadians think we are not working, we are working. I know my colleague from Edmonton and I are working wherever we are. Since March 13, when we adjourned, and I am not looking for sympathy, my one day off was Mother’s Day.

I am hoping that all of us will be back here on July 8, but I know these government members, their senior civil servants and their families have been feeling this. When members are on the front bench of the government, they are working darn hard to try to help all Canadians.

Yes, to the extent the government has fallen short, we do have to make it accountable. However, I cannot say I think the people sitting in front of me here today have not been working their hearts out to try to help Canadians, and for that I thank them. It has not been easy for anyone. I know when we can be less partisan, we will do a better job.

I want to reflect, as many members of the opposition have, on the sliding concept, which has been falling out of favour for a very long time. This is what I want to talk about with my unfortunately very long and good memory.

Parliament is supposed to control the public purse. There is no question the Parliamentary Budget Officer was correct that four hours is not enough to study the supplementary estimates.
The other day I wondered when it was that I last felt like this. It was when I was first elected, and it was my first Speech from the Throne on June 3, 2011. How would I remember that? I remember because some weeks later what came to be discussed in the media was how Parliament could have approved billions of dollars in supplementary estimates without studying them at all. There was a hue and cry.

I knew I was diligent and I could not have missed that. How could there have been a unanimous consent motion that I had missed when I was always here? How could it have happened?

This is what happened. On June 3, it was the Speech from the Throne and we were in Centre Block. Other members, like the Minister of Transport, will remember those days. I had not yet had my hip replacement, so in the time it took me to walk back down the Hall of Honour from the Senate to get back to my desk in this place, $6 billion in supplementary estimates had been deemed studied, deemed passed, and deemed toasted, dusted and done by unanimous consent.

Had I been here, rather than limping down the hall on my cane, I would have said, “Hold your horses. We’re not going to approve $6 billion in supplementary estimates without studying them.” I am offering that up to say that the fact that happened then does not make four hours right now.

We were not in a pandemic then, so I will say we have a few more excuses for having different kinds of procedures. I will hold the government to account and make sure that when we resume, and I gather we will look at the main estimates again and will have more time to study them, that we really will have the opportunity to study. A pandemic is also no excuse to not have a real Parliament.

I have never been part of the House leaders’ discussions, obviously, but I would prefer that we had not come up with a COVID-19 committee format, because, quite honestly, we were doing most of what gets to happen in the House of Commons. If we had seen this coming, we should have created two sets of Standing Orders: one for when things are normal and one for when we cannot meet.

I take the point that has been made by the Leader of the Official Opposition that this Parliament met right through the Second Word War. Well, sure, there was no reason not to sit right through the Second World War; we were not all contagious. We cannot all sit here side by side and go back and forth to our ridings without risking being disease vectors and contaminating our communities, but it is still not adequate, and so I am on both sides of the fence on this.

However, before we get through much more of the pandemic, I hope we can have a full House of Commons at a distance. The only missing piece is the voting at a distance, which we could easily do. Once we add that piece in, we can take on the legislation that needs to be studied. We could have full, long studies of every single aspect of every budget in committee meetings. Indeed, the finance committee has been meeting. I attend it regularly. It is hearing from dozens of witnesses. We have the technology to allow Parliament to meet, and that is what I hope we will do, because we need to see democracy in action; and for democracy to be in action, every single Canadian needs to be represented by their own member of Parliament, not by proxy, not by party whips. Everybody needs to be engaged, and that is what happens when we have the hybrid model, in which we have shown that this technology works.

Our only problem is that we are not using the Standing Orders for Parliament. We are using committee rules, because it is a COVID-19 committee. It does hold people to account, and I have to say that I think the five-minute rounds are far more interesting and bring more interesting information to light than the 30 seconds back and forth in our normal Standing Orders for question period.

In any case, I want to turn to the questions that I have about the supplementary estimates, and I will turn to the ministers.

My first question would normally be for the Minister of Public Safety. I am not sure who is taking questions related to the RCMP. It is the Minister of Transport.

To the hon. minister, on page 2-59, I am wondering if we can get some detail on this. On the record, obviously, the Green Party is very much in favour of the new $380 million to compensate members of the RCMP for injuries received during the performance of their duty, but there is an unexplained item here of $18 million.

For people watching from home, the total budget of the RCMP is in the order of $3.7 billion, and so $18 million is a pretty trifling amount out of a $3.7 billion budget. However, since it is not explained, I wonder if the hon. minister can assure us that none of the $18 million in this line item is for anything, in the context of our current deep concern about systemic racism within the RCMP, for a militarized response to peaceful protesters and the things that are now current in our conversation through Parliament and the media.

What is this $18 million for? I am hoping it might be for de-escalation training.