OTTAWA – POLITICS – Last night’s Emergency Debate in the House of Commons was led off by Jagmeet Singh the leader of the New Democrats.
I appreciate the opportunity to lead the debate. I want to thank my colleague and member of Parliament for New Westminster—Burnaby for the support on this, as well as my entire caucus.
People around the world are looking at Canada right now, looking at Ottawa right now, and asking what is happening. Let me talk about the convoy protest and begin by talking about what it is not. This convoy protest is not a peaceful protest. There is an often-used saying that if people continue to show who they are then we have to start believing them. This is what the convoy has been about.
From the beginning, hateful symbols, such as the Nazi flag and the Confederate flag, have been displayed at this convoy. This has clearly made Jewish Canadians, Muslim Canadians and racialized Canadians scared of violence. We heard it clearly in the House, in eloquent words, what it means to a racialized person to see those flags.
We have seen the harassment of citizens. What is really unique about this is that, normally, protests target the government, its policies and its decisions. However, we see in this convoy that the targets of the vast majority of the harassing behaviour are citizens. They are harassing workers and citizens, including journalists.
Violence is commonplace. We saw an example of this violence with an attempted arson of a downtown apartment building, where people started a fire and taped the doors closed when they exited. I ask members to take a moment to think what that means. They had the forethought to set a fire and then tape the doors so no one could escape. This is not isolated. There are ongoing examples.
Health care workers, the people who have been saving our lives in a pandemic, the people who helped deliver my baby girl, are being targeted by intimidation. What protest targets health care workers to the point that security and police are saying to health care workers not to wear their scrubs or any clothing that identifies them as a health care worker because they may be verbally or physically assaulted? That is the reality. That is happening right now.
It is certainly not peaceful. The are a number of complaints of harassment, violence and intimidation targeting citizens, families and kids. The honking, noise and fireworks are really disrupting the lives of families. Most of that activity happens at night when there is no one in Parliament, so they are clearly not targeting Parliament.
The convoy is certainly not about helping workers or small businesses hurt by the lockdowns. The behaviour and activity of this convoy have directly impacted workers. The blockade at the Coutts border crossing is directly impacting truckers. Truckers are being prevented from coming across the border. Canadian truckers cannot even get back home or bring goods into Canada because this convoy is blocking them from getting across the border.
I have spoken with truckers, and they are telling me the conditions are pretty dire at Coutts. There are no facilities for food, water or washrooms. They are running out of food and water, and they do not have the facilities to go to the washroom. Their trucks, while they we were waiting for days, were running out of gas and battery because they were stopped from getting across the border.
Here in Ottawa, thousands of workers have lost wages because they are not able to work, in what many have described as some of the worst of the lockdowns. Convoy protestors who are talking about ending lockdowns have created some of the worst lockdowns, where businesses have been forced to shut down and workers could not get to their jobs.
We also heard multiple reports of retail workers being harassed for wearing masks, including young people. It is not even about truckers. I mentioned that the truckers were being stopped, but the vast majority of truckers are vaccinated. This is not a concern for them. The convoy does not represent their concerns.
Truckers do have concerns. The concerns of truckers, if one speaks to truckers and trucking associations, include wage theft. Often they are not getting paid the wages they are entitled to after work they have done.
Truckers are concerned about salaries in general and not having good pay. They are also concerned about not having safe work conditions. They are concerned about the cost of insurance. They are concerned about long driving hours that compromise their health and safety. Those are their concerns, and those concerns are not being raised.
The organizers of this occupation have been very clear about their intention. They displayed it brazenly on their website with their MOU. They want to take over the streets of Ottawa and use intimidation to replace a democratically elected government. That was their stated intention. They stated it really clearly. They want to meet with the Senate and the Governor General, and put in place an unelected committee to make decisions, replacing the democratically elected officials in House of Commons.
What has been the response to this crisis and the reason for this emergency debate? We are in a crisis. We are seeing this crisis spread beyond Ottawa to cities like Quebec, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Sarnia, the border crossings, as well as at Coutts, Alberta, on the border with Montana.
What has the response been from the official opposition of Canada? The Conservatives have encouraged it. They have emboldened those who are harassing and intimidating their fellow citizens. That has been their response. The so-called party of law and order has embraced lawlessness and mob rule in the hope of gaining political points.
Conservatives are seeking political advantage by endorsing the lawlessness and mob rule that are resulting in the harassment of people, families, children and citizens. They have excused every incidence of violence by claiming it is just a few bad apples or, unsurprisingly, in a very Trumpian term, that there are very good people on both sides. It is ludicrous.
The federal government has claimed that it is outraged. Ultimately, the Liberals’ answer to this problem, like so many others, has been to say that it is not their job. I agree that they have offered help, but let us not ignore the fact that they have repeatedly said that it is not their jurisdiction.
For everyone out there who likes to talk about jurisdiction, of course, we have a Constitution that outlines the divisions of power and the responsibilities of different levels of government. However, in a crisis, no one, no real person who is living in the crisis, is interested. No real family who is struggling with the honking day and night, no one who has children who cannot get to school, no one with a small business that had to be unfortunately shut down and no real trucker who is worried about legitimate issues not represented by this convoy is interested. Real people are not interested in arguments over jurisdiction.
I want that to be clear. Normal humans, real people in Canada, are not worried about jurisdiction. They want to see solutions. They want to see help. They want to see the problem fixed. That is what people want. They do not want to see people searching for excuses. They want to see leaders finding solutions. That is what I believe. I believe a leader is someone who looks for a solution and does not try to find an excuse.
At the same time, the Liberal cabinet ministers and MPs were claiming that they had done everything they could and that the City of Ottawa, in this case, had everything it needed, while the City of Ottawa officials were pleading for more help. Effectively, all three levels of government have essentially told Canadians, and people in Ottawa particularly, that they are on their own. The only progress in getting some real change in this occupation of Ottawa came from a court injunction won by a 21-year-old resident of Ottawa with the help of her lawyers.
I am going to outline some of the things that we can and must do at the federal level. These are things that members of Parliament can and must do, not only to end this occupation but also to help Canadians get to the other side of the pandemic. First, the federal government has to stop using jurisdiction as an excuse for inaction. It is simply wrong.
Today we have heard that there has been an attempt, an offer or a start of discussions, between three levels of government. The federal government will work with municipal and provincial levels of government. Today, after almost 10 days of occupation.
The Prime Minister should have been working on this from the beginning, bringing all levels of government together immediately, once we saw the level of this crisis. Once we saw the severity of this, that step should have been taken right away.
Clearly, this situation was not well handled, and it should not have taken this long to realize that. The convoy organizers were clear about their intent from the beginning. They were allowed to do exactly what they said they would do. Ottawa and other communities are asking for help, and it is not time to argue; it is time to deliver the help. We want the federal government to step up and provide the help necessary to these municipalities. The Prime Minister should be meeting with mayors and the impacted municipalities and providing proactive help.
Second, the federal government needs to use its authority, and all the laws and tools it has, to shut down the funding of this occupation. Canadians are demanding answers about who funded this and who is encouraging it, and so are we. The same forces that fed divisions, intolerance and violence in the United States, those who supported Donald Trump, are now trying to interfere with our democracy. It is very clear that the intent of this convoy was to undermine democracy, and foreign dollars are funding it. There is political interference coming from the United States, and the federal government has to use its tools to stop that funding.
Third, we need a plan. Canadians need to know what the plan is to get us to the other side of this pandemic. The vast majority of Canadians have been vaccinated. They have done their part. They have worn masks and have continued to follow health care guidelines and public health guidelines. However, they are asking what is next. How do we get past this pandemic? How do we get to the other side? What now do we need to do? People need a plan. They need a clear plan, and we are asking the federal government to work with the provinces, territories and public health officials to develop that plan.
People have done everything. They have been vaccinated, they have missed time with friends and family, they have put off celebrations and they have endured the loss of loved ones. Now we owe it to Canadians to lay out a plan for how we get to the other side of this. This plan is going to require testing to make sure we know if people are sick so they can prevent the spread. It is also going to mean that we continue to help people get vaccinated. This is not just here in Canada but around the world, because we know that the government cannot keep putting the mega profits of pharmaceutical companies ahead of the health of everyone else. It is clear this virus will continue to keep mutating and new waves will keep coming until we make sure that vaccines are available to everyone, so we need to do everything we can to make sure that vaccines are available to everyone.
We also need an emergency rescue mission for our health care system and for the people who have been worked to exhaustion: health care workers and nurses. The folks who put their lives on the line and protected and cared for us need help. Our health care system has been pushed to the brink and it is, frankly, inexcusable that two years into the pandemic, every outbreak, every new wave, pushes our health care system to the brink again and again. We need sustainable, long-lasting funding to make sure our health care system is adequately resourced to deal with the pressures and demands.
On top of that, people are paying the price of this pandemic with their lives. Cancer diagnoses and other serious illnesses are getting worse because people cannot get access to the care they need. Many people are living in pain because surgeries have been cancelled, and people living with disabilities and those who are more likely to get sick and die from COVID-19 are terrified. They are terrified that if public health restrictions are lifted, it is their health and safety that will be sacrificed.
Canadians are angry, and rightfully so. They are angry because they have seen that keeping profits flowing to millionaires and billionaires is more important than keeping schools open. Many times in this pandemic big box stores were open but kids could not go to school. They are angry that food costs more and that grocery store owners make bigger and bigger profits, while frontline workers get their pay cut. People are angry that so many of the cracks exposed by this pandemic still have no solution, like in long-term care or in indigenous communities, where a lack of decent housing and clean drinking water has meant the pandemic has hit them harder. People are angry and scared that the climate crisis is threatening their homes and livelihoods with more extreme weather like floods and fires. We need to have a plan to respond to that.
We need to work together to deal with the issues facing Canadians. We were sent here just six months ago, elected to a minority Parliament, to get to work for people. We need to meet the real anger and frustration that people are experiencing right now with a clear vision about how to make life better. This starts by addressing the things that have clearly gotten worse in this pandemic, like finding a place to call home. It is simply impossible for so many Canadians to get a roof over their head and a home that is in their budget. That has to be fixed.
Life is getting harder: People cannot afford their groceries and cannot pay their bills. However, it is not getting harder for everyone. The rich and powerful have gotten more rich and powerful throughout this pandemic. We have seen their wealth increase. We need to restore the promise to Canadians that we can all share in a good future.
Canadians sent us here not even six months ago to work for them and to deliver the solutions they need. We are committed to that, and we need to be committed to getting them through the pandemic and rebuilding this country in a way that is good for everyone. That is what we have to do now, and it is all of us in the House.
As I was saying, this is truly a tough situation. We are in the middle of a crisis with what has happened and is still happening in Ottawa. It is a crisis because citizens, workers and families are being targeted. This type of protest is going on across the country. We saw the same thing happen in Quebec City, where protesters said they would come back.
The federal government failed to show leadership during this crisis and I propose four solutions.
First, the federal government, and more specifically the Prime Minister, has to meet with the mayors affected by the convoy protests. The federal government has to stop making excuses and start finding solutions to the problem.
Second, it is clear that there has been foreign interference in this convoy. A lot of money has come from abroad, specifically the United States. We need to use all available federal tools to stop this funding.
Third, there has to be a plan. People have done everything they had to: They got vaccinated and followed health measures and public health guidance. At this point, however, they do not know if there is a plan to get out of the pandemic or what that plan is. People deserve to have a clear plan. The federal government must work with the provinces and territories, public health professionals and experts to provide a clear plan for getting through this pandemic. This plan must include an increase in health care funding, because it is inexcusable and unacceptable that after two years of a pandemic, our health care system runs the risk of crashing with every new wave of COVID-19.
Fourth, we have to work together to solve the problems people are facing, namely the housing crisis and the increase in the cost of living. We have to solve these problems.