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My Week in Parliament: February 1-5

Monday February 1st

I miss being physically present in the House of Commons as I work from home in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, but by staying home, we can ensure everyone's health and safety and lower our greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

The debate on Monday was about the House of Commons Standing Orders and procedure. The Standing Orders are the rules that govern how the House of Commons functions. This special debate occurs at least once per parliamentary session.

In the afternoon, there was a vote on Bill C-18, the Canada-United Kingdom Trade Continuity Agreement Implementation Act. The vote was agreed to so the bill could move onto the committee stage for further study. However, I voted ‘nay’ with my caucus colleagues.

Last week I spoke in the House about how the Canada-UK Trade Continuity Agreement (TCA) carries over many of the flaws we have seen with the Canada-EU free trade agreement (CETA). As a recent example, CETA did not help us when the EU was threatening to block Canada from receiving COVID-19 vaccine shipments from Europe.

The TCA is a transitional trade agreement that has no end date or sunset clause. If negotiations for a new agreement fail, the TCA could become permanent. This is not something we can allow to happen. The stakeholder consultations that occurred for the TCA are completely inadequate for a permanent agreement.

The environmental provisions are also weak, with no concrete obligations. For this bill to have support from my caucus colleagues and I, it needs to have enforceable labour and environmental standards. However, as it stands the TCA does not protect regulations to address climate change and leaves climate action on the part of governments subject to investor challenges through investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions.

In my speech last week, I also made it clear that the Green Party supports fair and equitable international trade. We want to ensure that trade agreements have enforcement provisions to protect Indigenous rights, workers’ rights, consumer health, and environmental standards. In the fall, I tabled a Private Member’s Bill that would make Canada’s trade negotiations more transparent. Bill C-18 preserves the status quo instead of prioritizing Canadians’ best interests. It's time to do better.

After the vote, I requested an emergency debate on the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically to the threat posed by new variants. The UK, South Africa, Brazil and Japan variants have been found to be significantly more contagious. They run the risk of overwhelming the healthcare system, leading to more mutations and infecting more Canadians. Me and my caucus colleagues are concerned that there have been moves to ease restrictions at a time when federal health officials have recommended that we maintain or even increase measures in response to these new variants. An emergency debate would help us identify our options and be better coordinated to move toward a COVID zero Canada.

I was disappointed that my request was declined by the Speaker of the House. We need to follow in the footsteps of countries that have been successful in curbing the spread of COVID-19 so far and implement coordinated strategies nation-wide.

Tuesday February 2nd

On Tuesday, the House debated Bill C-14, which implements certain parts of the government's Fall Economic Statement. Bill C-14 contains a long list of much needed spending to help Canadians get through the pandemic, however it lacks the bold vision that is so deeply needed to transform this crisis into a more resilient future for all. I called on the government to make improvements in many areas, including systemic problems faced by Indigenous Peoples, climate action, guaranteed livable income, national pharmacare, and the housing and homelessness crisis.

I also got the chance to follow up on a question I had previously asked the government about the housing affordability crisis. It is the most vulnerable people in our communities, such as people with disabilities, low income seniors, and single parent families who are most affected by the lack of affordable housing. More people than ever before are facing homelessness, eviction notices, and have to choose between paying rent and eating their next meal.

We need to prioritize affordable housing, regulate foreign real estate investments, and abolish the tax exemption for real estate investment trusts (REITs). Canadians who are trying to buy affordable homes should not have to compete with corporate investors. The housing and homelessness crisis is especially severe in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and there must be more action in the short and long term. To guarantee long-term affordability I have been advocating for investment in non-profit and co-op housing to be the focus of the National Housing Strategy.

Wednesday February 3rd

On Wednesday, the House sat to vote on five items of Private Members’ Business. I voted in favour of:

  • M-34 - a motion that calls on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to undertake a comprehensive study of legislation relating to freshwater.

  • C-204 - a bill to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in regards to the disposal of plastic waste.

  • C-208 - an Act to make it easier to transfer of family farms and fishing corporations to a family member

Each of these three items was agreed upon, meaning the freshwater study will proceed and both bills will now be studied further at the committee stage of the legislative process.

I also voted in favour of Bill C-215 respecting Canada’s fulfillment of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligations. This bill would have been a better alternative than the government’s current bill on the same topic, Bill C-12. Unsurprisingly, Bill C-215 was voted down by the Liberals and Conservatives.

Finally, I voted against Bill C-229, a Conservative bill that aimed to repeal the oil tanker moratorium in northern BC. I was glad to see Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québecois MPs join us in voting against this bill.

On Wednesday, I also put forward Motion 65 for a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI). This motion calls on the government to introduce legislation to create a GLI that is accessible to all Canadians in a coordinated approach to establish an income floor under which no Canadian can fall. The pandemic has exacerbated issues regarding affordability and employment rates, and has made the need for a GLI more urgent than ever.

I reaffirmed my support for a GLI later that evening in an interview with Oceanside News, in the wake of the recent BC report on Basic Income that concluded that BC should not adopt a basic income program. Needless to say, proponents and experts on basic income disagreed with many of the assertions made in the report. I believe the proposal to incrementally work toward a basic income type benefit for specific groups fails to address key reasons that a universal GLI is so necessary. These include structural racism, climate change, and protecting our healthcare system.

Thursday February 4th

In Parliament, we debated a Conservative motion regarding Canada’s economic relationship with the United States. I brought up the ongoing softwood lumber dispute we have been having with the US. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources what the government's plan is to finally get this dispute settled.

The Conservative motion additionally called for a new special committee to study Canada-US relations. The Green Party caucus opposes this motion. What kind of message does this send to the Biden administration when no such committee was called for during the Trump administration? We already have a Foreign Affairs Committee and an International Trade Committee. What is the point of creating this new committee aside from appeasing the oil and gas sector following the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline?

Later that day, I had an interview with the Hill Times (paywall). We discussed the need for the government to implement rules that would increase the accountability of digital giants like Facebook and Google for dangerous and hateful content.

On Thursday I also put Motion 66 about affordable housing on notice. This motion calls on the government to declare housing unaffordability and homelessness twin national crises, to clamp down on activities that are distorting Canada’s housing market, update the definition of affordable housing, and remove tax exemptions for real estate investment trusts (REITs).

Friday February 5th

On Friday, the House sat to debate Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act. It has been 29 years since there have been any changes to the Broadcasting Act and these updates are long overdue. Given my background as a broadcasting graduate and filmmaker, this is a topic I care a lot about. In December I spoke in the House to share my position on the Bill.

During routine proceedings, I presented a petition I sponsored about ensuring access to clean and safe drinking water. Almost all of the community drinking watersheds on the east coast of Vancouver Island are privately owned. This is because of the E&N land grant that was part of BC joining confederation. The petition calls on the government to work with First Nations, all levels of government, and private landowners to begin the process of bringing community drinking watersheds on eastern Vancouver Island under public ownership and control to maintain a secure source of drinking water into the future.

The House of Commons adjourned until its next sitting on February 16th.

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