The 75% Wage Subsidy Motion

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-04-11 17:31 [p.2153]

Mr. Speaker, what a wonderful note on which to rise to speak today, to see the paragraph that I was initially so pleased to see in the unanimous consent motion, and the government will implement measures without delay. It is much improved through our work unanimously. I want to thank the NDP for taking the lead in making sure that benefits are going to people where there had been gaps. Clearly the Minister of Employment and the Minister of Finance have been working hard to try to address gaps.

Before I get too far into discussing what we have done here today and what we have been doing as parliamentarians, I do want to pause and on behalf of the Green Party of Canada, thank all of the essential workers: the front-line workers, particularly those in the health care professions, including our doctors, our nurses, our first responders and our personal care workers who go into senior homes. There are so many people right now without whom we could not self-isolate in safety. We could not practise our social distancing without truck drivers who make sure there is food on the shelves, and the workers in our grocery stores who make sure that the shelves are stocked. There are efforts to stop hoarding and make sure that we look out for each other.

Essential workers in this context include some people that we often do not stop to celebrate. They tend to be the lower-paid workers. In this moment, I just want to express on behalf of all of us again, our deep gratitude. It is particularly concerning that we are not ensuring that these people are protected. PPE, personal protective equipment, which is now on the tip of our tongues, was not something we talked about.

We should have learned lessons from SARS. I worked with Sheela Basrur and I love her. The work on SARS and the commissions at the time warned us that we would need to be ready for another pandemic and that we should not let these supplies run low. I am not going to play a blame game. It is human nature. The farther we got away from the SARS pandemic, the less we went to check how much was stored on our shelves. Do we have enough N95 masks? Do we have enough gowns and gloves? Are we protecting our front-line workers enough?

We still have a crisis. There are still places, people, hospitals and senior care homes that are crying out for this protective equipment. They are crying out as we gather here. I thank them for what they are doing. We do it every day at home. I go out on my balcony on Second Street in Sidney. I know my neighbours are at home because all around me I can hear them banging on pots and pans. The streets of my community, Sidney by the Sea, are empty, but at 7 p.m., there are people in the marina blowing their boat horns and banging their pots and pans. I just want to thank all the health care workers across Canada.

I also want to thank my caucus members. I would split my time if I could, but the hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith is in Nanaimo—Ladysmith and the hon. member for Fredericton is in Fredericton. She is still self-isolating from her last trip to Ottawa and New Brunswick rules require that she stay put. The hon. member for Nanaimo—Ladysmith was not able to make the trip. I am enormously grateful to be here.

While I am expressing gratitude, I want to thank the hon. Minister of Employment for giving me a lift. I also have to thank the leader of the official opposition, because I think it was more or less his plane. It is a new term for me: We “plane-pooled”. We went from Fredericton to Victoria to Regina, which is not a regularly scheduled thing.

I was glad that Jill and the kids could come along too. It was a family event as we made our way here. I am so grateful. I booked all my commercial flights and I have to say I feel so privileged and so grateful. It was a special feeling to know a government plane was going to pick me up. I did not expect it, but I have to say I was semi-terrified about the transits I was going to have to make through four airports. I have a lot of reasons for being grateful.

With that, I want to turn to the legislation. We are working hard as MPs. I know every single member of government is working hard, and I include in that the civil servants.

I am used to working seven days a week, but I am not used to getting an email back from staff at the civil servant level from the western diversification office when I write about a routine grant that has a 30-day window. It is because people are working at home, civil servants too, and I thank them. I know they are working Saturdays and Sundays, because they answer my emails on Saturdays and Sundays. This is an extraordinary time.

I am not sure how others in this place will feel about it, but I want to say publicly that I think we are eventually going to need the Emergencies Act. I know that the premiers said no, but I think we are eventually going to wish we had had it in place.

The public welfare portion of the Emergencies Act is not the War Measures Act of old. I read it for the first time a couple of weeks ago and thought that it is what legislation to deal with an emergency looks like when it is not written by people in the middle of an emergency. It is thoughtful: It does not suspend our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it does not send the army in anywhere and it respects provincial jurisdiction and the use of provincial police forces.

I will give members one example that is in my heart right now.

In the community I represent, Saanich—Gulf Islands, the Gulf Islands are being inundated with visitors who are coming in by ferry, even though BC Ferries has told people not to come unless their trip is essential. These small communities are really feeling it. The grocery store shelves empty out with people from urban areas coming to visit. I know it is happening in cottage country. I am sure the Muskokas are experiencing the same thing, with people getting out of the city and going to their cottage. However, the health care systems and services in these more remote rural communities cannot handle the kind of inundation of people that is happening now.

I want to flag for my colleagues here the way the Emergencies Act works. It can be invoked; it does not need new legislation. It can be invoked by Governor in Council, but when Parliament is in recess, it must be recalled within seven days to discuss and debate it.
In an ideal world, just as a precaution, I would have liked us to discuss and debate it today while we are here so that we have it in our back pocket if we need it. I am not certain that at some point in the coming weeks we will not wish we had it to make sure that we had a national priority system for the distribution of ventilators and N95 masks, or that we did not have the capacity to say that we need to stop people from going into these smaller communities that cannot handle an influx of population right now.

This brings me to the bill we have in front of us. I think it is time to think about transformational change. The hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie was pointing this out a moment ago. We are doing things now in real time so fast that those of us who have been parliamentarians for a while would not have been able to imagine that government could roll out these programs so fast. It is an extraordinary tribute to hard work, thinking outside the box and being liberated from some constraints, because the pandemic of COVID-19 is a bigger threat than anything we have faced in the short term.

I make the parenthetical comment that the climate crisis is still a larger threat to human civilization than this pandemic, but this has caused civil servants, ministers and opposition members to think in different ways. This has caused our Conservative friends, like the member for Carleton on conference calls we have had, to be the voice that asks, “What about the small credit unions? What about helping the small credit unions, not just the big ones?” I thought to myself that we should not ever make assumptions about people. I did not think that was something the member for Carleton would say, but sure enough, he did. There is concern for all of us, and the basic needs of all have risen to the top. As I said earlier today, this experience has shown us that life is more important than money.

That is a truly fundamental lesson in a culture that normally protects the economy above all else.

Now we know that we have to protect our economy and rebuild it, but not at the cost of human lives. We know what is important.
In looking at this, I hope that we can agree at some point that a guaranteed livable income is what the country needs. As other members have mentioned, in normal times not everybody can pay their bills. In normal times, kids who should be able to go to university cannot afford it. In normal times, too many people fall between the cracks. We can fix those cracks. We can fix those gaps.

The Green Party of Canada has, way before I was involved with it, stood for a guaranteed living income.

We need a guaranteed minimum income to allow everyone to live sustainably.

I hope we will come back to this. For now we have Bill C-13. It went quite far toward looking at gaps, but we recognize that they remained. That is why we are back for Bill C-14.

I am pleased to see the wage subsidy increased to 75%. I am pleased to see the tweaking around definitions of what is an eligible employee to make sure that we do not accidentally create a one-day mistake. I am pleased to see the changes around eligible entities and, of course, around the qualifying periods. This makes the whole program much more accessible to more companies and employers that are able to give that wage subsidy.

However, it does not deal with every situation, not even still. If one thing is shown by trying to come up with legislation to meet every circumstance and fill every gap the way we are doing it, it is that one size will not fit all.

This is true even when talking about senior homes. I received an email today from Meadowlane, a seniors home on Salt Spring Island. It is run as an independent living facility, so it is not within the health authorities. It has additional costs but is a not-for-profit society, so how does it handle these additional costs? It does not have deep pockets. Obviously costs are going up. The workers are stretched. The home needs to buy more masks and more gowns, and it does not have a revenue deduction because people are still in the home. Not every circumstance fits yet to our best efforts in this place.

Similarly, I have talked to venture capital businesses. They have the venture capital and are on the verge of a breakthrough, but the BDC venture capital model is not working for them because their venture capital comes from firms that are not in the recognized group within the BDC plan. We need some flexibility there too. We need to be able to say to businesses that if they are on the verge of really taking off, we should not be restricting where they get their money.

Speaking of money, I want to pick up on a point made by the hon. member for Burnaby South earlier today, which is about the banks. The Minister of Finance has clearly been exerting maximum diplomacy on the banks, getting them to say that they will let people have a longer time to pay their mortgages, but the six big banks are misusing his good faith. I will put it that way. They are not so profitable for nothing. Last year’s profit of the six big banks in Canada came to $46 billion. It is 10 years in a row now that they have made more money year over year, and we can see why. They are saying to people that they do not have to pay their mortgage for a while, but when they pay it the banks are going to get them.

This is not team Canada. This is not the spirit we want to see. I think it is about time that the large banks were taxed at a higher level. We tax our big banks less than other countries in the G7 do. Why? I guess we like them. I am not sure they like us.

I would love to see the Minister of Finance convene by conference call all of the country’s credit unions and ask them what they are capable of doing. What would they be able to do to help the small businesses in this country avoid bankruptcy? What would they be able to do to get them money up front that was not a loan so they could pay their rent and not go under due to the fixed costs of business?

I grew up in my family business as a kid. Through my twenties I waitressed and cooked in my family restaurant on the Cabot Trail, which was a seasonal business. I think about my parents and if this had hit us then. I do not know what we would have done. We would have had 35 seasonal employees that we could not hire. We would have been wondering if we should open or not and what the heck to do with all the things we had to pay for no matter what. That is what I am hearing from businesses in my riding now.

Someone emailed me the other day, and the email just about broke my heart. I will not give any biographical details, but the writer described himself as a 250-pound man covered in tattoos. He said that morning he went to the bathroom and shut the door so his kids would not hear him crying. He has businesses that cannot open right now and he has no way to pay the rent on them. Despite all of his life savings, he is already indebted. Small businesses are going to need more than what we have here.

I am encouraged because the unanimous consent motion does speak to short-term support measures for Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises that will be partially non-refundable. We have to work on how much is “partially”. We have to do way more. If we want to get out of this, which we do, as a country with businesses that run in the black, we cannot let them go into deeper debt. They will not go into deeper debt; I know they will not. They are already telling me that if they take out a $40,000 loan without interest, they will not be able to pay it back and will then go bankrupt later. This is a real concern and is coming from the heart.

There are other issues that matter to us across this country. We know one size does not fit all in any category.

Before my time is elapsed, I want to thank everyone in the government and the provincial governments and particularly our public health officers, from Dr. Theresa Tam to Dr. Bonnie Henry in B.C. to, back again across this country, Dr. Strang in Nova Scotia. These guys are now our daily friends on TV. We see them more than we see those we used to watch on TV. We now know who we can look to for advice. We can look to those public civil servants whose job is public health. I am enormously grateful to all of them, because as every Canadian has witnessed, they are also working around the clock.

It is now clear that these are extraordinary circumstances. We must find solutions together. We must continue to work together. As members of Parliament, we must find ways to work virtually. I do not know how that will be possible, but I know that things that once seemed impossible are possible.

I mentioned earlier that Doug Ford says the Deputy Prime Minister is his therapist. This kind of thing would not have been considered possible a short time ago. We need to work together.

On behalf of the Green Party caucus, I give my word that we will do whatever we can. We have been forwarding advice, complaints, ideas and worries to a listening ear, and for that we are grateful. In this crisis, which does not at this point have a clear end in sight, we need to be able to say to every one of our constituents and to every Canadian, permanent resident and foreign student, for whom I am very worried, that if they are living in Canada we have their backs. If they feel that no one is there for them right now, they should not worry. I want them to reach out to us and tell us what they need. We will fight for them.