May 12th, 2022 - Bill S-209, An Act respecting Pandemic Observance Day - Third Reading Speech
Honourable senators, I rise today on third reading of Bill S-209, An Act respecting Pandemic Observance Day. I thank Senator Mégie for bringing this initiative forward.
It has been 792 days since COVID-19 officially became a pandemic, and 792 days since our lives were turned upside down. Streets were empty. Stores were closed. We had to isolate from each other. In the obscurity of the pandemic, the only lights in our society that were left on were those of our essential workers: all health care professionals, truckers, grocery store employees, banking service workers and the list goes on.
Please allow me, honourable senators, to quote part of the preamble of the bill, to give context for my speech at third reading. It states:
. . . whereas March 11, 2021, was designated — by order in council on March 8, 2021, and by proclamation on March 31, 2021 — as a “National Day of Observance” to honour those who have died of COVID-19, to recognize those working on the front lines and to acknowledge COVID-19’s serious effects on the health of Canada’s population;
Honourable senators, we stand where we stand today, two-plus years into the pandemic, with the millions of Canadians who are our unsung heroes who have helped us get here. As every province is slowly but surely lifting their various COVID restrictions, pandemic observance day is an opportunity for all Canadians to remember how we got here and to recognize the millions of Canadians who worked tirelessly for all of us. Close to half a million nurses, thousands of doctors and many other health care professionals, such as workers in home care facilities, all went above and beyond in the most difficult conditions. Not only the individuals themselves but also their families have made sacrifices. How many stories have we heard of nurses and doctors who slept in a different room for months just to protect their loved ones? How many stories have we heard of truckers driving for hours, unable to access showers and bathrooms along their routes? How many stories have we heard of retired nurses and doctors going back to clinics and hospitals to help?
I have heard stories of truckers in my province of New Brunswick who were out on the road for days driving to deliver important goods. Truck driving already can be lonesome work when you are by yourself for hours on the road. It became even more lonely during the height of the pandemic where, in broad daylight, they would barely see another soul on the road.
Furthermore, across the country, retired nurses and doctors stepped up in a time of need to support the health care system and to make a difference. In early January 2022, the government of New Brunswick asked for volunteers to fill in various crucial roles. In only one day, more than 1,600 volunteers rolled up their sleeves to pitch in.
Take, for example, Suzanne Landry, who has been retired since 2016. When she was asked to help in the clinics, she did not hesitate to pitch in. When employees had to quarantine, it was retirees like Ms. Landry who took over. There is also the story of Paul Auffrey. He retired in 2013 and was finding he had a bit too much time on his hands, but more importantly, he wanted to volunteer to help the cause. Both of them feel valued because they made a difference. We thank them and are grateful for the sacrifices they made during this crisis.
Honourable senators, the stories of Ms. Landry and Mr. Auffrey have been heard from coast to coast to coast. It is a testimony of the Canadian spirit to help each other out through difficult times — not only from retired nurses, but also from all nurses across the country.
Appropriately, last February, the Canadian Nurses Association unveiled a mural to celebrate nurses nationwide. As the president of the Canadian Nurses Association, Tim Guest, said:
Without nurses, there can be no health care. We need nurses to know that people living in Canada have their backs. We hope every nurse that sees this mural is reminded of this sentiment and hopefully of the concrete positive actions spurred in the wake of this crisis.
With Bill S-209, I do hope it is seen as a signal to not only nurses, but to all health care workers: we see you and we are most grateful for your dedication to the well-being of our society. I hope that our government and all Canadians will be there for nurses who will need our help and understanding.
Rates of anxiety and depression among nurses have increased over 40%. A staggering 66% of nurses reported workplace burnout and one in three nurses has given serious thought to leaving their health care facility or profession altogether. They need our help now and for the foreseeable future so they, too, can recover from the stress the pandemic has brought to their daily lives.
Not only nurses and health care workers, honourable senators, but a lot of Canadians saw their mental health suffer. Studies have shown that mental health has declined during the pandemic. In a survey released by Angus Reid last March, 54% of respondents have seen their mental health worsen and 53% have seen their overall physical health and well-being worsen.
From the same survey, on the question if the pandemic disrupted their lives, 47% of respondents said significantly and 11% said severely. But the most affected were Canadians aged 18 to 34: 16% of males said severely and 18% of women said severely.
According to an article citing two studies published by Cambridge University Press:
Declines in mental health during the pandemic are not stable, but are sensitive to societal responses (lockdowns, restrictions, reopenings and so on). In Denmark, for example, mental health declined during the lockdown of the first wave, but improved as the Danish government gradually reopened society.
As much as lockdown and restrictions were effective tools to fight the transmission of COVID-19 in the early stage of the pandemic, long-term effects of repetitive lockdowns and restrictions were detrimental to the mental health of all. For many, loneliness was the deteriorating factor of their mental health. It will not be as simple as opening things up again and everything goes back to normal.
According to numerous studies, younger people’s mental health was the most affected while older adults appeared to cope better during the pandemic. Resources for youth to cope emotionally will be extremely important. It will need to be easily accessible.
Another effect of COVID that has not received as much attention is the long-term impacts of COVID on the health of Canadians, or what the experts are calling long COVID. As we went from wave to wave, variant to variant, one current that underlines COVID is the possibility of the development of long COVID. The challenge remains how to diagnose long COVID. Since it can have so many general symptoms like muscle and joint aches, fatigue, brain fog, headaches, heart rate increase, breathing issues and so on, it is difficult for patients and doctors to diagnose.
According to Dr. Angela Cheung, a senior scientist at the University Health Network in Toronto, using conservative estimates based on the World Health Organization’s estimate that at least 10% of those infected with COVID develop long COVID, the number of Canadians would be around 300,000. On top of the health care system being overburdened with regular COVID, Canadians suffering from long COVID also need assistance. We cannot forget the serious and long-term consequences of long COVID.
As of today, honourable senators, we have lost over 6 million people to COVID-19 worldwide. Here in Canada, we have lost close to 40,000 Canadians to COVID-19. It is important to recognize all Canadians who have sadly lost their lives to COVID-19.
A pandemic observance like Senator Mégie proposes would be an important day for the families and friends of the 40,000 Canadians who lost their lives at the hands of COVID-19 and to all who have seen their lives disrupted.
Honourable senators, not everything is bleak. Canada still has a respectable vaccination rate nearing 85%. Businesses are recovering and Canadians can be optimistic about rediscovering a lifestyle like what we had prior to COVID-19. The recovery will be a challenge, but the solidarity and the selflessness we have seen time and time again over the last two years give me encouragement in our capacity to overcome current and future challenges.
I believe Bill S-209 will be a great opportunity for all of us to remember the sacrifices made, but also the strength and resolve that all Canadians showed to get through the tough times. I support Bill S-209 and encourage all senators to support it as well. Thank you.