Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Honourable senators, before I speak to the important purpose of the bill, I want to commend the efforts of the government, the Minister of Finance and the thousands of public servants who support them in creating and operating the various government programs designed to help Canadians get through a very difficult period, including those who even have to mourn the loss of loved ones.
I also commend the work of the opposition parties in the House of Commons who, on March 25, while supporting the government’s efforts and in a “Team Canada” spirit, put in place checks and balances to allow elected members from all parties to continue exercising their duties in the new technological environment required by the pandemic.
Finally, I want to express my appreciation for the various groups represented here in this chamber who have worked hard over the past few weeks to ensure that the Senate was also able to fulfill its constitutional duty of oversight on behalf of Canadians through two committees that adequately reflect the composition of the Senate.[English]
When a person is appointed to this place, a new senator is born. I must add that all senators are born equal in rights, privileges and duties, wherever they come from, whatever their gender or orientation, irrespective of their political preferences, affiliation with a group or no group.
As I said at the last meeting of CIBA, I believe in equality among all senators. During this period where the House won’t be sitting regularly for a while, it is critical that the composition of our two committees be a good reflection of the composition of this house, because these two committees are going to be the mini-parliament, the mini-house, as we are suspending our work as a full house.[Translation]
Since these are important measures that are being developed quickly, these two committees will be able to detect any shortcomings in the measures proposed so the government can fix them.[English]
I strongly believe, honourable colleagues, that it would be a dereliction of our duties not to play our complementary role in scrutinizing the federal government’s COVID-19 response, considering the extent of the extraordinary powers that were conferred upon the government to respond to the pandemic. Experience has shown that Senate committees, such as the National Finance and Social Affairs Committees, often question the government on important issues different from those raised by MPs, such as policy details, minority rights, including for those who have no voice, like the black community, those in remote communities, those who are in prison, and regional and territorial concerns.
Of course these committees and their very helpful staff will have to adjust to remote hearings and the new technology, but I am convinced that the Senate is up to the challenge, as is the case in the other place and in so many other parliaments around the world.
I now move to the content of the bill before us today. I have some very technical comments about certain aspects of the bill, which I shared with the Department of Finance earlier this week, and which I will spare you from. They are here if you want to read them.
I would like instead to focus on the policy objective of the bill: to reduce the number of employees being laid off as a consequence of the severe economic consequences of the pandemic. It is not to help companies, it is to look after employees.
Honourable senators, as we all know — it was said by my colleague Senator Housakos before — millions of Canadians are now unemployed and many others are at risk of becoming unemployed. Hopefully this bill will serve to maintain or resume the employment of hundreds of thousands or more Canadians who would find themselves without a paycheque or a job.
When looking at the aim of this bill, I cannot forget what a famous judge from Manitoba, the late Chief Justice Brian Dickson, wrote in a Supreme Court decision rendered in 1987 — I was already a lawyer:
Work is one of the most fundamental aspects in a person’s life, providing the individual with a means of financial support and, as importantly, a contributory role in society. A person’s employment is an essential component of his or her sense of identity, self-worth and emotional well-being. . .
In this difficult period, where employees, like other Canadians, have to endure so much stress at home and in their family, this bill will provide an important relief to many who were recently laid off or on the edge of being laid off. Thus I am proud today to vote in favour of this bill, which not only supports part of our economy, but will also contribute to maintaining the dignity of hundreds of thousands of Canadian workers.[Translation]
In conclusion, work is a fundamental aspect of a person’s life. It provides a livelihood and contributes to self-esteem and human dignity. This is a difficult period for millions of workers, and this bill will help many of them preserve their dignity, ease their families’ worries and believe that things will get better. Thank you. Meegwetch.