The final days of 2020 are upon us and I know most of you, like me, are anxious to close the chapter on what has been a year like no other.
As Canadians welcomed the start of a new decade last January, we learned through media reports of a rapidly spreading and increasingly deadly novel coronavirus.
In Ottawa, parliamentarians began questioning the Government on their plan to protect the health and safety of Canadians. I personally raised concerns on the security of passengers travelling through Canadian airports as early as January 27.
Unfortunately, the Liberals dismissed our concerns. It became apparent that they did not take the virus seriously in the early days, when it mattered the most.
Weeks passed and it became obvious that temporarily banning travel from certain countries would be a significant step towards mitigating the spread of this virus in Canada. Once again, our concerns were not only dismissed, but denounced as “fear mongering.”
By mid-March, the World Health Organization had declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. Canadians were told to stay home, isolate and those abroad were instructed to return to Canada immediately. Schools were closed and businesses were ordered to shut down. Major league sports suspended their seasons. Concerts and events with large crowds were cancelled to comply with new physical distancing protocols.
Here in Cariboo-Prince George, that meant the cancellation of the Williams Lake Stampede, Billy Barker Days, the BC Northern Exhibition and the Vanderhoof Fall Fair – events that are all key economic drivers for our communities.
While the House of Commons suspended regular sittings, my constituency office remained open. As new federal benefits to assist out of work Canadians rolled out, we did our best to help constituents navigate these programs.
Sadly, despite our best efforts, we know that assistance came too little, too late for some. For many others who did not qualify for federal relief, health and safety protocols saw the closure of their businesses.
Like the wildfires of 2017 and 2018, 2020 also delivered a weather-related sucker punch in the form of wide-spread catastrophic flooding that stranded farms, residents and washed away critical infrastructure.
From the earliest days of the pandemic up to and including right now, our office received an overwhelming number of messages, phone calls and emails from Canadians stranded abroad in all corners of the world. Their stories were horrifying and heartbreaking. Through the chaos, we have been able to help repatriate hundreds of constituents back to our beautiful region.
Since the coronavirus crisis began, my Conservative colleagues and I worked with the Government in good faith to protect Canadians and deliver better results. Conservatives fought for and secured changes to the wage subsidy program (including an increase from 10 per cent to 75 per cent) to help more Canadians keep their jobs.
We secured changes to the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) to help more small businesses keep their doors open; and we advocated for an increase to the Canada Child Benefit to help families who have been hit hard by this pandemic, which the Liberals finally agreed to in their Fall Economic Statement.
In September, I was named Special Advisor on Mental Health and Wellness to our new Conservative Leader, Erin O’Toole. Given that recent studies have shown Canada’s pre-existing mental health crisis has significantly worsened because of the pandemic, this new role was of crucial importance.
Sadly, with increased isolation and anxiety, we have watched alcohol and substance abuse also increase. Reports of domestic violence have gone up and more Canadians are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings. In my new role, I was able to work with national mental health stakeholders and my parliamentary colleagues to bring the 9-8-8 National Suicide Hotline initiative to the forefront here in Canada. It was a great day for Canadians when just two weeks ago, my motion to bring 9-8-8 to Canada passed with the unanimous consent of parliament. In the months ahead, we will continue working to ensure the timely implementation of this system.
As we chart a course for recovery, critical to our planning, is developing sound mental health policy.
While this year has been a mostly downhill rollercoaster, it has given us all an opportunity to reflect on what is truly important in life: family. In May, we moved my father in-law Stan into our home for palliative care. While it has been hard to watch someone you love and respect move towards their final days, we are blessed to have been able to spend this time with him.
Each day brings more stories of his years spent logging, living in the Cariboo and the friends he met along the way.
As you may know, I was so proud to be able to welcome my first granddaughter into this world just last month.
I was not aware that it was possible for my heart to swell with so much love. Baby Ren Kathleen was born Nov. 30. She has stolen our hearts and has made this Christmas so very special.
To the families and friends of our region, I wish you the very best this holiday season can bring; please be safe.
I believe there is light at the end of this dark tunnel and Canada’s best days are yet to come. I hope to see you all in person in the new year.
Merry Christmas and God Bless.
Todd Doherty is the MP for Cariboo-Prince George. Black Press Media asked him to submit a year-end column for our readers.