Column: From the Hill -- What we need from Parliament now
Parliament begins its fall session this coming week and I have just returned from a week of meetings in Ottawa to discuss how that sitting will look—both in terms of how we will meet and the policies the government may bring forward in the Speech from the Throne on Wednesday.
Throughout the spring and summer, the House of Commons met in a hybrid fashion, with a small number of MPs in Ottawa but most joining over the internet from home. I’m hoping that this will continue in some way, with the addition of remote voting so that the regular business of the House can resume.
While the Conservatives have resisted remote voting, there is a simple, secure solution—a roll call vote as is normal in the House of Commons, except in this one the clerks could also count MPs visually signalling their intent from home.
Allowing MPs to continue working from home is important in these COVID times. Ottawa is a hot spot for the virus at present, testing line-ups are extremely long, and already the Bloc Quebecois caucus is in full quarantine. Filling the House with all 338 MPs—coming from across the country then returning to their homes on the weekends—would be irresponsible.
The Liberal minority government prorogued Parliament in August for a “reset”, saying that a new, bold Speech from the Throne was needed to properly tackle the COVID crisis, keeping people safe and secure while rebuilding a healthy economy. While the long prorogation period was more about shutting down the voice of committees investigating Liberal scandals, the NDP agrees that a bold reset is needed to fix the many policy gaps that have been exposed by the health and economic crisis we are faced with.
First, we need to bolster our much-loved health care system, ensuring that it is properly funded and extended to fully cover the needs of all Canadians, including long-term seniors care, dental care and pharmacare.
Second, all workers need access to funds to get them through times of unemployment—COVID showed very quickly that 60 percent of Canadian workers didn’t qualify for EI and the economy would have collapsed if CERB hadn’t got them through the weeks and months when their work vanished. We need sick leave benefits for all workers so that they can afford to stay home if they are feeling ill; and affordable child care. Many of these gaps could be filled by a guaranteed liveable income so that no Canadians would live in poverty.
And finally, we need to stimulate the economy to create jobs to replace those lost in all sectors, including manufacturing, resource extraction and the service sector. And this stimulus package is an opportunity to seriously tackle the climate crisis. For example, incentives to retrofit residential and commercial buildings across the country could significantly reduce emissions while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs, and those salaries would cycle through local economies across the country.
The inevitable question is “how can we afford this?” Working families across the country are struggling, but those at the very top have added billions to their wealth since the pandemic hit. A wealth tax aimed at those with more than $20 million in assets would be a good way to generate the funds necessary to get the economy working again while at the same time start the process of narrowing the gap between the super-rich and the rest of us, a gap that has been steadily growing over the past 30 years.
But it really comes down to “how can we afford NOT to do this?” Without new jobs, our economy could quickly collapse, and without a solution to the climate crisis our children and grandchildren will be left with a frighteningly uncertain future.