2020 was certainly not the year any of us were expecting when we made our New Year’s resolutions back in January, and it has challenged us in ways we could not have imagined a year ago. So much has changed in so little time, and it’s important to reflect as we head into a new year.
When the pandemic first struck, many residents found themselves stranded, as nations closed their airspace and borders. Critical government services such as CRA and Service Canada became almost impossible to communicate with, as call centres, which were struggling with new workplace physical distancing requirements, were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people applying for federal benefits. Many residents were themselves or had relatives in the process of applying for permanent residence, work, or student visas through the federal government and had the process completely upended. During those first few months of the pandemic, my entire team was focused solely on helping constituents with repatriation, accessing federal benefits, and resolving immigration issues.
Right from the start, the focus of my NDP colleagues and I was to use our leverage in a minority parliament to get more help to more people more quickly. We were successful in helping establish a Canada Emergency Response Benefit at $2,000/month, a Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy at 75 per cent, and, for the first time ever, a federal paid sick leave. We kept up pressure so that people with disabilities, seniors, and students were also eligible for federal assistance. Through months of effort, we finally got the government to change its much-maligned Canada Emergency Commercial Rental Assistance Program into a rent subsidy, so that small businesses are no longer dependent on the goodwill of their landlords, and we continue to pressure the government to make this retroactive to April and to fix the gaps in their many programs. Many of the programs have now been extended well into 2021, reflecting the reality that our recovery will be slow.
The legislative work of the House of Commons has continued during these strange times, having organized itself into hybrid (Zoom and in-person) sittings to allow for pandemic safety. Important government legislation on Medical Assistance in Dying, carbon emissions reduction, and digital privacy are being considered, and I have introduced two private members bills. The first bill, C-231, seeks to ensure that our Canada Pension Plan fund is no longer invested in companies violating human, labour, and environmental rights. My other bill, C-250, seeks to remove anchorages from sensitive marine ecosystems that are being considered for a National Marine Conservation Area, so that it is no longer being used as an overflow industrial parking lot for the Port of Vancouver.
I am proud of how our communities have come together during these difficult times. Vaccines are rolling out in communities across Canada, and it is my hope that we can, in 2021, continue to move towards a recovery that centers on that sense of community which brought us through this struggle.
– Alistair MacGregor is the MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.