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My Week in Parliament: December 7-11

Monday, December 7th

I started off my week on a Facebook live event with Reykia Fick from Greenpeace Canada. Together we discussed the need to stop current negotiations on the Canada-Mercosur free trade agreement. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been rolling back environmental protections and infringing upon Indigenous rights since his election in 2019. The Canadian government's response was to sign a free trade agreement with Brazil that will cause these practices to not only continue, but increase. The Amazon Rainforest is often said to be the lungs of our planet. It cannot afford any more destruction, especially not in the midst of a climate crisis. Reykia and I discussed Greenpeace Canada’s petition that I sponsored on this topic before I presented it in the House of Commons later this day. You can watch the video here.

Shortly after, I took part in a press conference on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) with Green Party leader Annamie Paul. Many honest self-employed people in our riding and across Canada were misled to believe that CERB eligibility was based on gross income, instead of net income. The government is now telling these people they may have to repay up to $14,000 that they have already spent on basic necessities.

My staff and I have been carefully following the CERB eligibility criteria since the benefit was first introduced. We saw first-hand how the CRA’s website made misleading statements about gross income. Eligibility for the self-employed wasn’t clarified until after millions of Canadians had already applied for the benefit. In some cases, the CRA even told applicants wrong information. It is not fair for the government to expect this money back when it was their own error that caused this issue in the first place.

I echoed the words of BC’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and reminded the CRA to act with compassion and kindness. We are experiencing a mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. The second wave of COVID and the holidays are fast approaching. It is going to be a difficult time for a lot of people. Let’s not make this worse by demanding back $14,000 from people who have applied to this program in good faith.

In the afternoon, I tabled petition e-2967 that I had discussed with Greenpeace earlier this morning. Petitioners are calling upon the government to immediately terminate the Canada-Mercosur free trade deal negotiations and make a public statement that the Bolsanaro government's assault on the environment and human rights is unacceptable to Canada.

In the evening, the House debated and voted on the main estimates. This is the way parliament approves routine government spending. During debate on spending by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, I brought up Prime Minister Harper’s outrageous move in 2012 to lock Canada into an unprecedented 31-year Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China. The China of 2012 is by no means the same as the China of 2020. A lot has changed in the past 8 years alone, and it is likely that a lot more will change in the remaining 23 years that we are stuck in this lopsided agreement.

I have received many calls from constituents who have recently found out that they may need to pay back the CERB. Due to unclear eligibility requirements, self-employed people, single mothers, and those on disability are being threatened by the CRA to pay back $14,000 by December 31st. For most, this money has been used up on essentials, and paying back this amount by that deadline is simply not a reality. I asked the Member from Joliette if he has been hearing the same from constituents in his riding, and what he sees as a solution.

The day ended with 11 votes in the House of Commons. The first vote was on an opposition motion about COVID-19 vaccines. This motion calls on the government to table a status update on the vaccine rollout plan by December 16th, 2020. Vaccines offer an opportunity to turn the corner in this pandemic. It is vital that the vaccine rollout is completed in a timely manner that prioritizes the most vulnerable. I voted in favour of this motion, and it passed unanimously.

The next vote was on another opposition motion about Canadian businesses. I agree that small businesses need additional support and funding right now. However, this motion calls on the government to postpone the increase of the carbon tax. I voted against this motion and it was not agreed to.

After, there were 9 more votes to approve routine government spending through the main estimates. I voted in favour of each of them, and they were all agreed to.

Tuesday, December 8th

During the third reading debate on Bill C-7 (MAiD), I spoke about the importance of taking care of people with disabilities. I again brought up some of the issues I have been hearing from my constituents in regards to the CERB. Many people on disability in my riding have been told they may have to repay $14,000 of CERB payments back to the government. Unclear eligibility criteria at the hands of the government should not cost already marginalized and low-income people.

On Tuesday, several local media outlets published an opinion piece I wrote with Elizabeth May about freighter anchorages. We wrote about the problems and causes of these anchorages parking in the Southern Gulf Islands. We also shared a promising solution to this problem: a vessel arrival system. I encourage you to read our opinion piece to learn more about how a vessel arrival system could help.

Wednesday, December 9th

In the morning, I introduced my second private member's bill: Bill C-261, An Act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (thermal coal). My constituents are fed up with the use of the Salish Sea as a free parking lot for bulk freighters anchored around the Southern Gulf Islands. My bill would ban the export of all thermal coal by ship from Canada. Thermal coal is the dirtiest, most carbon intense way to produce electricity. It has no place in 2020, and definitely no place in solving the climate emergency.

I also presented e-petition 2828, which has 1,861 signatures. The petitioners call upon the government to maintain the environmental integrity of the Roberts Bank ecosystem and ask the government to deny approval of the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project. Back in August, I posted my letter to the Minister of the Environment about why Roberts Bank Terminal 2 cannot be justified.

I had a meeting with Tom Ladd at iWastenot systems to discuss a project he is working on to extend the life of useful materials, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. This is a regional project to improve people’s ability to reuse surplus materials rather than sending them to landfills. While this project is not under federal jurisdiction, I am always interested in learning about local initiatives to move towards zero waste and a more circular economy.

Shortly after, I had a meeting with Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). We spoke about the status of petition e-2667. This petition called upon the government to ensure the human rights of Palestinian children are protected by instructing a Special Envoy to promote, monitor, and report on the human rights situation of Palestinian children living in the occupied Palestinian Territory and Gaza. We also discussed the upcoming United Nations vote around Palestinian Human Rights.

Thursday, December 10th

On Thursday morning, I gave a speech on Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act. I have worked in the media and broadcasting industry since graduating from the broadcasting program at Algonquin College in 1991. Coincidentally, the Broadcasting Act has not been updated since that same year. It is past time for a renewal of this act.

This bill is an effort to catch up with the new media reality that has been unfolding for the last two decades. One thing that Canadians really want to see is the Internet giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon paying their fair share of taxes for the business that they do in this country. Bill C-10 creates a new category of broadcasting under the act, the "online undertaking". This would ensure that the online streaming giants such as Amazon and Netflix get covered under the act. This would help to level the playing field and allow for independent and community broadcasters as well as local news outlets to better compete.

I pointed out that social media companies should be required to uphold the same standards as traditional broadcasters. The absence of these standards and the expectations of voluntary self-regulation has brought us to a place where social media is negatively impacting our mental health, creating deepening divisions in society and having a corrosive effect on democracy.

I also spoke about Canadian programming. In the late 1990s, I co-produced the pilot for Wakanheja, the first-ever preschool show on APTN. I also produced 39 episodes of a pre-teen show for APTN called Art Zone. This programming would not have been possible without Canadian Content (CanCon) rules. CanCon funding formulas are essential to ensure a diversity of content. We need to ensure that broadcasters create original content in both official languages. If it was left solely to the market, many uniquely Canadian stories would never be produced for film and television.

In the afternoon, the House voted on two items:

  1. 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-7, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying). After much careful consideration, discussions with constituents, stakeholders, and my caucus colleagues, I voted in favour of this bill. The vote was agreed to, and the bill will now undergo a first reading in the Senate.

  2. 2nd reading of Bill C-8, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act. I voted “yea”, and it was agreed to. This bill implements call to action #94 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It changes part of Canada’s Oath of Citizenship to: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

I rose in the House to speak about the ways the government and society are failing the disability community in Canada. Many employed people with disabilities live in what can be considered as nothing less than legislated poverty, permitted to make no more than $26,196 of combined income and disability benefits before the government begins to claw back additional funds. Applying for disability benefits can also be extremely daunting. A whole industry has been built around exploiting people with disabilities who want to apply for federal benefits.

It is time for a national strategy to create national accessibility standards. We need to respect people in the diverse ability community as well as the contributions they make to society. We need to ensure they live lives of dignity, are free from discrimination, and get the services they need.

Friday, December 11th

During Question Period, I asked the government if they plan to stop punishing the poor while giving the wealthy who game the system a free pass. We have seen the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer throughout this pandemic. There have been private long-term care home operators that have used government assistance money to pay millions to shareholders and CEOs. Some corporations used wage subsidy programs to pay employees, while their wealthy owners raked in billions.

After, I attended the Cowichan Leadership Table. This was a meeting of local elected officials, including MPs, MLAs, mayors, and councilors. We talked about COVID, housing and homelessness, mental health, and addictions.

I had a meeting with Phil Calvert, the former Deputy Ambassador in Beijing. Together, we spoke about the Canada China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) and the imprisonment of Meng Wanzhou, Michael Kovrig, and Michael Spavor. We also discussed approaches to Canada-China relations.

I also had an interview with CHEK News on the Private Member’s Bill I introduced in the House earlier this week. The PMB called for a ban on thermal coal exports from Canada, which would in turn reduce the amount of cargo ships that are currently crowding the Salish Sea surrounding the Southern Gulf Islands. California, Oregon, and Washington have all banned the export of thermal coal, and it is time for Canada to follow in their footsteps. We have shut down thermal coal electrical generation, and it's hypocritical to still export it to Asia. This is just a way to outsource our pollution, and it can’t continue if we want to reach our climate targets.

Friday was the final sitting day in the House of Commons of 2020. The House will sit again on January 25th, 2021. Until then, I’d like to wish all those reading a happy and healthy holiday season!

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