Speech on COVID-19

**I delivered this speech during the House of Commons’ Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic on April 28, 2020. The meeting was the first virtual special committee meeting of Members of Parliament in Canadian history. 

Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to you and your team for organizing our virtual session today. I also want to thank the Minister of Health for her department’s work on COVID-19 over the past number of weeks, and for taking the time today to address some of the concerns and questions many of us are hearing across the country.

And, of course, I also want to thank the Public Health Agency of Canada for the direction and information provided to Canadians. I have no doubt that Dr. Theresa Tam and her team have been working tirelessly over the past number of weeks on the latest research into the virus in order to provide Canadians with daily, up-to-date information. I know I’m not alone at extending my gratitude to the many officials working within the Public Health Agency of Canada. Quite simply, thank you.

Also, Canada’s front-line workers have been working long hours and made immense personal sacrifices to help Canadians cope with COVID-19. Our doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, personal support workers and other hospital staff are showing true leadership and courage. Firefighters, law enforcement and other critical first responders continue to make sure that Canadians remain safe and secure through this crisis, as we’ve recently witness the horrible tragedy in Nova Scotia. Cashiers and fast food workers have also continued to go to work every day to ensure people can stock their pantries and feed our families. Our Conservative caucus has nothing but respect and gratitude for every single one of you. Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, our country has changed dramatically over the past three months. Our schools, workplaces and local businesses have all shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and do our part to flatten the curve. While Canada has seen close to 50,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, we know that our situation could have been much worse had Canadians not made the personal sacrifices necessary to stay at home. Although people are starting to get restless to resume our normal lives, I would urge everyone to heed the advice of our public health officials.

This virus has devastated our country. Thousands of Canadians are mourning the deaths of loved ones as a result of COVID-19. Many businesses will unfortunately be unable to reopen, leaving a huge hole in many communities. Many Canadian employees will not have jobs to return to when our country does reopen. The depth of this crisis cannot be understated. We are months, if not years, away from seeing our country begin to rebound to the levels we were at just a few weeks ago.

Mr. Speaker, with Canadians facing so much stress and anxiety over what may be an uncertain future, I also want to highlight the critical importance of mental health. Half of Canadians are reporting increased feelings of anxiety and stress. Many are feeling financially insecure and also increasingly worried about the uncertainties around how long this virus will continue to alter our lives. Last week, I wrote to Canada’s top mental health agencies to ask how the federal government could ensure these agencies have the supports to continuing delivering mental health services for Canadians. I will be sharing my findings with the Minister of Health and our provincial colleagues so the government can prioritize these services for all Canadians. The increased demand for mental health services and the anxiety and stress that Canadians feel will continue long after the worst of COVID-19 has passed.

I’m amazed at the resiliency of Canadians and our willingness to help others. My office has received countless offers from business owners ready to reconfigure their factories to make hand sanitizers, testing equipment, PPE and other medical supplies for front-line workers. I’ve also heard from people in my community wanting to donate medical supplies; some are making masks and other protective equipment to donate to local hospitals and care facilities. Others are donating to the food bank and local charities to ensure supports are there for all Canadians who need it. It’s incredible to see communities across our great country come together in times of great hardship.

However, this virus raises serious concerns about our health care system and Canadians are expecting us to work together to address these inadequacies. Our long-term care homes are floundering as a result of COVID-19. Staff have walked off the job because they are scared and don’t have the personal protective equipment that they need. Families are not getting the communication they expect and many are in the dark about how their loved ones are faring in the midst of some of the worst viral hot spots in the country. With so many immunocompromised residents in these homes, the virus is spreading much more rapidly and a large number of lives, which might have been saved with better precautions, have been lost as a result.

Canada’s seniors deserve much better treatment. Hearing about residents who are left alone for hours because staff are overwhelmed fails to uphold the safety and dignity in our long-term care homes, to say the least. We must do better for these residents. We need to do better for our seniors.

Canadians also have serious questions about the lack of preparedness; our PPE stockpiles were not adequate, and some health care workers are saying they’re forced to ration PPE at work. As well, many Canadians have questions about slow reaction times to implement measures after first hearing about the virus.

As well, the government needs to implement rigorous testing and tracing and rapidly approve new tests. Canadians are asking for these tests. We also waited a long time to receive data and modelling from this government, which was only released after pressure from the Conservative caucus. The government needs to share information it has with Canadians.

These are good and fair questions that deserve fulsome answers, Mr. Speaker, and I look forward to working with the government and other Opposition parties to conduct a full review of Canada’s response to COVID-19. Conducting this review and learning from missteps will help us to be better prepared for the next potential pandemic. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. We were warned after our response to SARS in 2003. Canada was the hardest hit country outside of Asia and at that time there was no Public Health Agency and no federal Chief Public Health Officer. We will in time learn similar lessons from COVID-19 and our country will be stronger for it.

But for now, we’re all focused on the immediate future. When we will be able to see our loved ones again? Will our children finish the school year? When will we return to work? When will public parks open? When will life return to normal? When? How much longer? How much longer….

We’re all wondering these things, Mr. Speaker. The first priority continues to be the health of Canadians and I, along with my Conservative colleagues, encourage everyone to follow the advice of the Public Health Agency of Canada and our respective provincial health authorities. Being impatient and breaking the current measures too early could result in a second wave of COVID-19, undoing all of the hard work Canadians have managed over the past few weeks.

There’s no doubt COVID-19 is a defining moment in all of our lives. We will all remember the time when the world came to a halt and seemingly shut down, the vacant images of Canada’s greatest landmarks, the time when we were unable to run the simplest of errands and the time we had to visit our families through screen doors and windows. But, over the past few weeks we have seen Canadians come together in an unprecedented way. We will prevail, we need to prevail and together we can prevail. This is our moment to show the rest of the world what Canadians can do when we are together and Mr. Speaker, we will not let them down. Thank you.