April 28, 2020 12:35 PM
New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian, left, dropped by city hall a few months ago to deliver his Pharmacare C213 - An Act to Enact Canada Pharmacare Act to Mayor Jonathan Cote. On Julian's invitation, Cote appeared before the federal finance committee last week. Julian, the federal NDP's finance critic, is a member of the committee.
Photograph By Contributed
New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian wants the federal government to ensure no one gets forgotten in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Julian, a member of the federal finance committee, said he helped negotiate an agreement that allows the committee to meet for eight hours a week so it can talk to all of the groups that have been left aside by the pandemic and by measures introduced by the federal government.
â€œThe measures need to be improved, so this is a way for people to raise their concerns,â€� he said.
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Julian said his local office has received a couple thousand emails or phone calls from constituents in New West and Burnaby.
â€œThat is what helps to form the work I do at the finance committee and what we are pushing for in parliament. It is catastrophic across a whole range of sectors,â€� he said. â€œItâ€™s what people tell us on the ground that allows us to bring forward these concerns and push the government.â€�
Although the federal government has introduced some programs for individuals and businesses in response to the pandemic, Julian said some of those programs need to be improved to ensure individuals and small businesses get the assistance they need to get through the crisis.
â€œThey need to go to fix the problems that exist in those programs so that nobody is left behind. Ultimately, that is our objective,â€� he said. â€œIf we come out of this in month or two, maybe sooner, hopefully, that we are not seeing small businesses going bankrupt by the dozens and dozens, we are not seeing people simply losing their homes, and all of the other misery that can come when we donâ€™t have programs that support everybody. Other countries have done this.â€�
While many individuals are suffering, Julian said some sectors are benefiting from the crisis â€“ including the banking sector. He said the countryâ€™s biggest banks have only cosmetically adjusted their interest rates, but many Canadians are going into their lines of credit and racking up credit card charges because they need to put the food on the table or keep a roof over their head.
â€œIn this community we have credit unions like Vancity that reduced their interest charges to zero, so they are not profiting from this crisis. They are showing that shared sacrifice,â€� he said. â€œThis is one example that has been raised to me by many people in the community where the government has refused to act up until now. We just keep pushing that issue, and we wonâ€™t let up because we canâ€™t have some institutions in Canada benefiting or profiting from this crisis when so many people are struggling just to get by and to survive the crisis.â€�
Each Thursday and Friday, the finance committee has four-hour hearings, where it hears from witnesses from across Canada. Last weekâ€™s witnesses included New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote, who spoke about the financial hardship TransLink is facing as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley, who outlined some concerns about the pandemicâ€™s impacts on local municipalities, as well as officials in a wide variety of sectors from coast to coast.
Some of the witnesses, who spoke to the finance committee via videoconference, thanked the federal government for its efforts and quick response to help Canadians through the crisis.
But Julian said improvements need to be made on a number of fronts as there are gaps in programs the federal government has introduced to help individuals, workers and small businesses. Heâ€™s confident the federal government has the money to make these programs work for Canadians.
â€œHandouts to the banking sector â€“ $14 billion a-year-and-a-half ago, the overseas tax havens, all of the big-ticket projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline, which will cost Canadian taxpayers about $20 billion â€“ we canâ€™t afford these things anymore,â€� he said. â€œThe post COVID-19 reality is going to be putting money where it counts the most, where it makes the biggest difference in the quality of life of people.â€�
Julian said the â€œshared sacrificeâ€� that occurred after the Second World War is something Canada has to do again. Following the war, he said Canada created a social safety net, built hospitals, schools and housing and had principles build around a fair tax system.
â€œThis is a crisis that really, in terms of its impact on our society, is probably the greatest since the Second World War,â€� he said of the pandemic. â€œI think we need that same imperative of shared sacrifice. That means that we have to focus on what is most important and we have to end the giveaways to the wealthiest citizens and the most profitable corporations. And if we do that, we have the resources to take care of what is most important in our society.â€�