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My Week in Ottawa: Sept 23-25

Wednesday September 23nd

Wednesday marked the opening of the new session of the 43rd Parliament. I travelled to Ottawa to attend the opening weeks.

On August 18th the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, stating that the government needed to regroup and shift its priorities to respond to COVID-19. Because of this, a new Speech from the Throne was delivered on Wednesday outlining the government’s renewed priorities for the new session.

Before the Speech, Elizabeth May and I held a press conference to comment on our expectations from the government. The bottom line for Greens is that the government needs to commit to bold climate action and renew our social programs to help Canadians through the COVID-19 crisis.

We had previously announced that our support for the Speech from the Throne is conditional upon the Liberals committing to a major decrease in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and the elimination of poverty. In our press conference, I elaborated on the benefits of implementing a Guaranteed Livable Income; help needed for sectors in crisis such as tourism, hospitality, and non-profits; and the need to address homelessness.

The Governor General delivered the Speech from the Throne in the afternoon. Normally many MPs go to the Senate to watch the proceedings, but this year the Speech was a little different because of COVID-19. Most MPs were asked not to attend in person. Elizabeth May and I watched the televised event from my parliamentary office.

We gave another press conference afterwards to react to the Speech.

Our Green caucus is cautiously optimistic about the government’s stated priorities, as they include several commitments that the Green Party has long been calling for, including reconciliation, energy efficiency, pharmacare, and more.

I am particularly encouraged to hear that the government plans to create national standards for long term care, which I have been calling for since long before the tragedy of COVID-19 in these homes. Shifting towards community-led policing with First Nations is another positive step. The Chiefs and Councils of Snuneymuxw, Stz’uminus, and Snaw’naw’as have each repeatedly raised concerns about the quality of policing their communities are receiving.

But some important issues were also left out, and we have heard many of these promises before from the Liberal government. It’s time to see solid action rather than just talk.

The government said they will create a plan to exceed our 2030 climate goal, but this commitment is too vague. I was also disappointed that the Speech barely mentioned the opioid crisis, which has killed more Canadians than COVID-19 has in 2020. The Speech also did not mention any support for students, despite the reality that the WE scandal left students high and dry in the middle of a global pandemic.

After responding to the Speech from the Throne, I was interviewed for an article in the Hill Times (paywall) about what it’s like returning to Parliament as an MP who has to travel far to get to Ottawa. I spoke about the importance of MPs representing their ridings and constituents in a safe manner.

Thursday September 24th

On Thursday morning I went to the House of Commons for debate on the Speech from the Throne. All the political parties came to an agreement on how the new session in the House of Commons will proceed in a safe manner, with a continuation of hybrid in-person/virtual sittings as well as a new option for virtual voting.

Part of this agreement limits how many MPs can physically be in the House of Commons at a time to maintain safe physical distancing. Only one Green MP is allowed, so I am taking turns participating in person and virtually with my colleagues Elizabeth May and Jenica Atwin over the opening week.

In the House of Commons, I presented a petition that was created by seniors advocates in Nanaimo-Ladysmith that garnered over 2,500 signatures. The petition calls on the government to improve funding, staffing, and oversight over long term care.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and privilege to stand today to present a petition by seniors advocates in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith. COVID-19 has exposed the degradation of care to seniors and the instability of the workforce.

In the evening I participated in a virtual voting system test with other MPs in advance of the first House of Commons virtual vote. I am very pleased that we are now set up for a hybrid Parliament that includes voting.

Friday September 25th

On Friday, I presented a petition that calls on the government to implement a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) for all Canadians.

A GLI would be an income floor below which no Canadian could fall and it would replace the patchwork of federal and provincial income assistance programs with a single universal cash payment. It would be progressively taxed back based on income level.

I have been advocating for a GLI for a long time, especially during the pandemic where a GLI would have prevented many Canadians from falling through the cracks in COVID-19 support programs.

On September 17th, I hosted a national town hall on GLI in collaboration with Coalition Canada: Basic Income. Coalition Canada contacted the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus, and invited each party to host an event in advance of a GLI lobbying week planned for October. A panel of experts explained the basics of a GLI, talked about the benefits, and dispelled some of the misconceptions that exist.

On Friday afternoon, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh responded to the Speech from the Throne in Parliament and criticized the government’s inaction on climate change. I asked Mr. Singh whether he would support a ban on gas fracking in Canada. His answer was quite revealing.

The Global Climate Strike was also happening on Friday. I stopped by the protest on Parliament Hill to show my support.

At the end of the day, I spoke with the Ladysmith Chronicle about my reaction to the Speech from the Throne.

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