Erin O’Toole’s Speech on the Fall Economic Statement

This speech was delivered by the Honourable Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Official Opposition, on November 30, 2020.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has proven her government has no plan. Without a plan for vaccines, there can be no long-term plan for our economy. Without rapid testing in wide distribution, we have missed out on a critical medium-term tool.
The Minister of Finance, in her speech, seems to realize she is putting the economy on hold. She will say that the economy will be rebuilt once COVID is beaten. Rapid tests could help preserve the economy and the vaccine will help us beat it. The government is late and has no plan for both. Canadians should see that off the start.
This year has been a very difficult year for Canadians. We all know that. The year 2020 will be remembered as the year a global pandemic came to our shores and took the government completely by surprise despite many departments warning of it for months. It will be remembered as a year of foreclosures, rising unemployment and uncertainty. Worse, for 12,000 Canadian families, it will be remembered as a year of grief and tragedy.
This year has been hard for everyone, for people of all ages. It will be remembered as the year of the pandemic that took this government by surprise. It has been a year of shutdowns and unemployment, but, even worse, a time of sadness for nearly 2,000 Canadian families who have lost a loved one.
However, Canadians have shown courage. They have been following the guidelines and helping small businesses. They have been there for friends and family.
Through it all, Canadians have shown courage and fortitude. They have respected directives from our health authorities. However, Canadians are hurting. Canadians want their lives back. This fall economic statement shows that they cannot rely on the Liberal government to get their lives back.
Canadians are not difficult people. They have complied, followed rules and tightened their belts. They are reassuring their worried children and taking care of aged parents. To this effect, I am really glad the Liberal government and the minister took my proposal from this spring on support for parents by boosting the Canada child benefit. There it was, on page 10 of my leadership platform. I am so glad the Liberal cabinet was reading it, just as hundreds of thousands of Conservative members were. I am glad because this was a concrete proposal to help families, especially working moms juggling it all, helping families through the toughest time in our modern history.
However, we know that Canadians need more. As I said, Canadians want their lives back. They have only asked one thing from the government, one simple thing, “What is the plan?”
What is the plan for widespread use of rapid tests? What is the plan for rolling out the vaccine? When does it arrive? Who gets it first? Do we have the freezers for the -70°C vaccine? A robust portfolio in 2023 does not help us as we enter 2021.
This fall economic statement answers the question on whether there is plan, and it answers that no, there is not a plan. As the red ink on our balance sheet turns a dark crimson, we are facing a $399 billion deficit, not $400 billion. It is a bit like spending $19.99, not $20. It is only $399 billion. Canadians know that not even half of that went to the emergency programs.
The government is not providing a plan and it is not providing clarity. It is clear, having been late on rapid tests and on the border, that there is no clarity or competence.
What is their plan?
The Liberals have turned their backs on millions of Canadians, and all this government can think to say is that there will be more debt, more unemployment, no vaccines and no transparency.
Why has it taken months to deliver rapid tests? Why does the entire population not have access to them? When will we get the vaccines? Who will be vaccinated first?
Today’s announcement just proves that the government is improvising. Canadians are fed up with the government’s incompetence and chronically delayed responses.
This economic statement is another disappointment. Is that all the Liberals have to say to the thousands of unemployed workers left behind by the mismanagement of the government? Is that all they have to offer to Chris Rigas, owner of the Old Firehall restaurant in Niagara, who is struggling to get by because of restrictions? How does this statement help Rodney and Tina Grace, who have been working seven days a week to keep their Best Western open in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia? Of the businesses in Surrey, British Columbia, 30% still do not qualify for the wage subsidy because of red tape and rules from the government, but most of their staff qualify for the CERB benefit. Guess which decision businesses are faced with.
If the government spent half as much time meeting with real Canadians and small business owners than it spends on photo ops, it would know that workers and small business owners are asking for clarity. Canadians in a pandemic are not asking it to ban single-use plastics. They are asking for details on when the vaccine will get here, how it will be distributed, how it will preserved at -70° Celsius, how they can save their aging parents from a seniors home or hospital bed. The Prime Minister needs to get his priorities straight.
It is hard to take the government seriously when we know how this all started. We should think about how much better off Canada would have been if the Liberals had not shut down the pandemic early warning system. They did that in 2019, without any consultation with scientists or opposition parties in Parliament.
For 20 years, Canada had the world’s leading pandemic early warning detection unit. It helped stem the advance of H1N1 and Ebola. In other parts of the world, Canadians were helping to protect others. However, the government’s incompetence led to that department not helping Canadians. The government preferred to shut that down and rely on open-source data from China rather than intelligence work gathered by Canadian experts. As a result, we had zero warning of the incoming pandemic. In many ways, the Liberal government took the batteries out of our smoke detector.
The Liberal government closed the borders two months too late. It flip-flopped on the risk of transmission between individuals and mask wearing measures.
The Conservatives were good sports. We tried to work with the government as much as possible. We tried to improve its erratic response. Above all, we were there to help workers who really needed it. We voted in favour of emergency measures and programs to help them.
The Prime Minister’s idea of leadership was to tell people to apply for the CERB instead of helping workers keep their jobs. He really must live in an ivory tower if he thinks that Canadians like that solution. People want to work, not wait around for government cheques.
The truth is that the economic response by the Liberals has been erratic and confused at every step. We wonder why the Liberal government underspent on its own estimates for the wage subsidy by tens of billions of dollars, while overspending on the CERB by tens of millions of dollars. It did not have a plan to preserve the economy amid the storm of the pandemic. Millions more Canadians were put on the CERB than necessary when their jobs could have been maintained easily through an effective and swift wage subsidy.
This approach perfectly illustrates the difference between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. The Liberals believe that Ottawa has all the answers and has to give orders. We believe that the best solutions come when Ottawa works with the people on the ground. We want to work with partners, not a paternalist like the Prime Minister.
If only the Liberals had a clear plan. What we are hearing today is a government in panic mode that wants money to hide its incompetence. That is unacceptable. Canadians deserve better.
From my experience in the military and in business, I know one has to learn from setbacks and failures. We must strive for excellence in what we do and promote an approach of continuous improvement. Teams do that, businesses do that and charities do that; why does the Liberal government not do that? It has not even learned from what it got wrong or slow in the first wave of the pandemic. We were last in line on rapid tests, and now we are virtually last in line for vaccines. Countries with populations of about 2.7 billion will be seeing the vaccine before Canadians, many this year, and we cannot even get answers from the government on whether we have the logistics to receive it.
The job of government in a crisis is to provide certainty and confidence in citizens who are worried. We must provide a plan, clarity, stability and competence for those who rely on us. The upheaval we are seeing in our country lately is in large part because of the misguided measures of the government. It was late on the border, late with programs, late with rapid tests and now late with vaccines. While the Prime Minister prefers to compare himself to the worst student in the class, when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, I want Canada to strive to be the best. That is what Canadians expect. Unfortunately, we are far from that right now, after the ongoing rapid test debacle, and this week Canadians are learning. Even today, the minister, in response to her speech, will not let us know which month next year vaccines will first start arriving. The government had the duty to learn from its errors in the first wave, but, instead of that, it has failed to provide vaccines for Canadians at the same time we will be seeing vaccines roll out with all our allies.
The Prime Minister has played the victim card; he has said his government was helpless and that Canada did not have the capability to manufacture vaccines. Not only is that complete rubbish, in the words of a leading scientist at the University of Ottawa, it is complete political spin, and it also does not explain why millions of people from Indonesia to Brazil will be receiving the vaccine before Canada will be. Again, the truth is that the Liberal government was slow to respond, and it made a critical, and sadly in some cases fatal, error to put all its eggs in a basket with China. Since the CanSino deal fell apart in August, the government has been scrambling to catch up, and it does not want anyone to know that it is months behind other countries. As I said earlier, countries with 2.7 billion people will be served before Canada. This means we are near the back of the line.
While Americans are talking about mass vaccination throughout all of January, our government is only speculating about getting part of our population vaccinated by September. That means 10 extra months of health risks for Canadians, business closures and economic uncertainty. Canadians want their lives back. The Minister of Health talks a great deal about the whole of government effort and the robust portfolio, but there is only one way to describe the performance of the government when it comes to vaccines: incompetent. Canadians, in the midst of the second wave, would rather have one dose of the vaccine in the next month than the largest portfolio 18 months from now.