Parliament is a different place these days because of the pandemic. Currently, Parliament sits once in person and twice virtually each week. In-person meetings with advocacy groups are on hold until it’s safe to resume again, but various other virtual meetings have taken their place.
Our Green caucus has been taking turns coming to Ottawa to represent our constituents and Greens across the country. This week and next week are my turn.
Monday May 11th
Early Monday morning, I had a briefing call with Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau to talk about Bill C-16, which was scheduled for debate in the House on Wednesday. Then I attended the virtual standing committee meeting on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. I heard from witnesses about universities and how they are faring during the pandemic.
I also heard from witnesses about long term care. The Canadian Association for Long Term Care told us that the current tragedy in Canada’s long term care homes could have been relieved if governments had supported the care sector more proactively before the pandemic. I agree with that assertion. I have been writing to Ministers and and speaking in the House of Commons about the problems with long term care since I was first elected in the spring of 2019. It's a tragedy that it took a pandemic, and the loss of so many lives, to bring desperately needed attention to this issue. I recently wrote a blog post about how we have failed seniors when it comes to long term care, and I continue to bring up this issue in Parliament. We need a national seniors strategy. Seniors deserve better.
After the committee meeting, I participated in the daily COVID-19 technical briefing for parliamentarians. I have been participating in this briefing since the shutdown began to stay updated on the federal government’s response to the pandemic. On these briefings, I have been asking questions raised by constituents and my team, such as clarifying details about federal support programs.
Tuesday May 12th
On Tuesday morning I joined the virtual Parliament meeting for the day. Only one Green MP is allotted time during each of these meetings to ask the government questions, and on Tuesday it was Elizabeth May’s turn.
I presented a petition calling on the government to halt all existing and planned construction of the Coastal GasLink project on Wet’suwet’en territory. In January, I visited Wet'suwet'en territory to learn more about the situation and called on the government to engage in nation-to-nation talks, which have thankfully since happened.
Later, I joined the standing committee meeting on Agriculture and Agri-Food. The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Marie-Claude Bibeau, answered questions alongside government officials.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, dairy farmers have been dealing with a surplus of milk. Dairy cows continue producing milk, but demand has decreased and there have been barriers getting dairy products to market because of the pandemic. This has led to some milk being dumped, but thankfully dairy producers across the country have donated hundreds of thousands of litres of excess milk to food banks.
This issue was discussed at the committee meeting, setting the stage for the introduction of Bill C-16 in the House of Commons the next day. Bill C-16 dedicates federal funds to help dairy producers store more butter and cheese to avoid wasting valuable food.
Tuesday was International Nurses Day. At the end of my day I recorded and shared a message thanking nurses for their caring compassionate work, especially now during the pandemic.
Wednesday May 13th
On Wednesday morning I held a press conference about the importance of recovering from COVID-19 with climate in mind. We need to focus our immediate attention on the COVID-19 crisis without forgetting about the other crisis, the climate emergency.
We have an opportunity right now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare Canada for future emergencies by investing in public infrastructure and green energy. We cannot allow private interests or P3s to swoop in and push a recovery agenda that isn’t in the public interest.
After my press conference I attended the weekly in-person parliamentary meeting in the House of Commons. I presented a petition from constituents in Nanaimo-Ladysmith calling for a ban on cosmetic testing using animals.
I also asked the government questions about its COVID-19 response. First, I asked whether the government would expand eligibility for Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans to small businesses with dividend income. I have consistently been urging the government to make this change and was happy to later learn that the government will be expanding CEBA eligibility to account for dividends and other types of small business income.
Next, I asked the government about family reunification during this crisis. Many Canadians are stranded overseas and cannot return to Canada because they don’t have assurances that their non-Canadian spouses will be allowed to enter the country.
Finally, I asked the federal government to take action and pressure Alberta to reinstate environmental regulations for oil sands companies. The Alberta energy regulator has suspended a wide range of monitoring requirements during the pandemic, and this is not acceptable.
Debate then began on Bill C-16, An Act to Amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act. I gave a speech in support of Bill C-16, which became law the following day. This Bill enables the government to dedicate funds to help dairy producers store perishable foods and reduce waste.
My speech focused on local food security. The trouble for Canada’s farmers and food security began long before the COVID-19 crisis. We have become too dependent on international supply chains. On Vancouver Island, we import 95% of the food we eat and only have a three day supply of food in our stores and warehouses. We need to localize food production.
After my day in the House of Commons, I participated in an energizing webinar with my Green Party colleagues, Jenica Atwin and Elizabeth May, to start a conversation about the kind of world we want to see post COVID-19. We took questions about our response to the pandemic and how we can ensure a more just and sustainable world. Among many other topics, I spoke about why we need a Guaranteed Livable Income,a seniors strategy, and investment in public infrastructure.
Thursday May 14th
I attended Thursday’s virtual parliamentary meeting. It was my colleague Jenica Atwin’s turn to ask the government questions. I also participated in some meetings behind the scenes, such as the daily COVID-19 technical briefing for parliamentarians and team planning meetings.
Friday May 15th
On Friday morning I attended another standing committee meeting on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of Seniors, Deb Shulte, attended this meeting. Participants discussed long term care homes once again, as well as the recently announced one time support payment for seniors on OAS and GIS.
I was disappointed that the government opted to provide assistance to seniors in this way. I have been advocating for a permanent increase to OAS and GIS. These benefits haven’t been increased in years yet the cost of living continues increasing, especially on Vancouver Island.
Later on, I participated in a research interview on parliamentary democracy. I spoke with a researcher about how I do my job as an MP and communicate with constituents in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.
Heading into the long weekend, I recorded a message for constituents in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. I gave a brief update on my activities of the week and wished everyone a happy May long weekend.