Sunday Apr. 19th
On Sunday, I travelled to Ottawa to represent the Green Party without knowing whether Parliament would be resuming the next day.
When the House of Commons adjourned on March 13th because of COVID-19, all parties agreed to resume Parliament on April 20th. But April 20th was a placeholder date, since we didn’t yet know how the unprecedented situation would unfold. With April 20th looming, parties began renegotiating our date of return.
The Green Party was opposed to resuming in-person sessions on the basis of public health advice. Further, having a small group of MPs in Ottawa does not represent the country as a whole. In the end, the Liberal and Conservative parties did not reach an agreement before Parliament resumed on Monday morning.
Travelling through the Vancouver airport was surreal. The airport was a ghost town. I was lucky that a friend of mine gave me a mask to wear. The mask had come out of its original packaging and was no longer sterile, so it was no longer suitable for donation to a hospital.
I also heard about news of a manhunt in Nova Scotia, but didn’t know the full details of the tragedy until I touched down in Ottawa later in the evening. My heart goes out to the families and communities who are grieving in the wake of this tragedy.
Monday Apr. 20th
On Monday morning, I rose on a question of privilege before the House of Commons to defend the rights and privileges of MPs. I questioned the rights of MPs who could not appear in person due to public health concerns, and asked the Speaker to adjourn the House. MPs from many provinces could not travel to Ottawa because they would have had to quarantine apart from their families upon return to their home province.
As proceedings continued, I spoke several times about why MPs should not be meeting in person. I emphasized that we have been successfully using virtual tools to hold the government accountable and raise issues from our communities. We need to be inclusive of all MPs with different capacities to travel to Ottawa during the pandemic to ensure all communities across the country are represented.
The Speaker later ruled that he felt it was not up to him to determine to what extent MPs should participate in House proceedings. While returning home from Ottawa to provincial quarantine orders would affect MPs and their families, it would not affect their ability to fulfill their Parliamentary duties.
As we moved onto other business, I made a statement to thank frontline workers in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and across Canada. Frontline workers are making incredible sacrifices, such as living apart from their loved ones to keep them safe. Back at home, I have been making noise at 7 PM to recognize the work of frontline workers in our community.
During debate I brought up the gaps in federal COVID-19 support programs that I have heard about from community members, including those for seniors and students. I also discussed other issues around the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The way it’s currently set up, the CERB is a disincentive for people to go back to work.
I argued that a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) would be a fairer support that would leave no Canadian behind, and it would be a big improvement over the patchwork of social assistance programs we’re currently navigating.
I recently wrote a blog post about why the time has come for a GLI. I have also been in daily correspondence with Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, and government officials, making them aware of gaps in federal support programs and advocating for improvements. So far I have been encouraged by the government’s openness to my suggestions.
During Question Period, I asked the government to implement a GLI. I emphasized students, seniors, smalls businesses, farmers, and people on disability benefits who were not eligible for supports.
Mr. Speaker, will the government implement an emergency guaranteed livable income so that no Canadian is left behind in this COVID-19 crisis?
I then gave a speech on behalf of the Green Party to express our deepest condolences to the people of Nova Scotia after the tragic shooting. I read a poem by Nova Scotian Sheree Fitch.
In the evening, I gave a speech to share my views and concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. I spoke about our need to respect healthcare and other frontline workers. I also spoke about working across party lines to deliver support to Canadians.
We have seen some of these [COVID-19 support programs] come forward, and we have put forward ideas about how they need to change and where they are missing the mark. We have seen those changes come, sometimes not as quickly as we would like, and sometimes not all that we want, but we are working together. We are all in this together.
I discussed how the pandemic has laid bare many of the problems we have in this country, such as unfair practices and poor conditions at seniors homes. I have been vocal in the House about this issue on several previous occasions, and recently wrote a blog about how we are failing to protect seniors.
I also spoke about moving forward from this crisis. We need more personal protective equipment (PPE) for everyone to move to a new normal, like they have done in Taiwan. I also spoke about an even larger crisis - the climate emergency.
After my speech, I asked the government two more questions. First, I asked for increased relief and core funding for aboriginal friendship centres serving urban Indigenous populations across the country, including Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.
Second, I asked the government how their assistance programs can be more flexible to help more people and businesses, including small businesses who are not eligible for interest-free loans through the Canada Emergency Business Account.
Later on, I gave a longer speech on why we need a GLI in Canada, especially now that many Canadians are facing financial hardship.
I then answered questions about how a GLI would work. A GLI would be an overarching program that would eliminate the bureaucracy that is currently required to administer all the various existing social assistance programs. Anyone who does not need the GLI would be taxed accordingly at tax time.
Finally, I commented on the importance of supporting workers in the oil and gas industry. We need to clean up orphaned oil and gas wells and many workers are available to do this.
By the end of the day, I had made 16 interventions in the House and voted on two motions. I voted yea on a government motion that set out the structure and procedure of future business in the House for the next month of the COVID-19 shutdown. This motion passed, but a Conservative amendment on the motion did not pass.
Now, a special COVID-19 committee is meeting twice a week virtually and once a week in person. I would still prefer all meetings to be virtual but we need to keep working together to address the pandemic and get help to Canadians.
No more in-person meetings were scheduled for the week, so I flew home early Tuesday morning. Once again, the Vancouver Airport was empty.