House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

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1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry, the time for questions and comments has expired. We are at the point of resuming debate.

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1:30 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I assume I have 20 minutes to speak, if I could just confirm that.

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1:30 p.m.

An hon. member

As long as you are not sharing your time with another member of your party.

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1:30 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata York South—Weston, ON

I do not have another independent member to share it with so I will use the 20 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, I think it is time for a reality check. The previous Liberal speaker was accusing opposition parties of a reversal of policy. Mr. Speaker, I do not want to use the words hypocrite or hypocrisy because I know it might offend your parliamentary sensibilities, but we are talking about a party that has mastered the art of reversing its policies.

All I need mention is the GST. It was a party that fought against the GST and a party that embraced it once it came to power. It was a party that fought against free trade and then embraced it once it came to power. Now it is a party that claimed the file was closed and barely 24 hours after making that assertion, all of a sudden the file is open. When one speaks of a reversal of policy and when one is making that statement from the government benches, one ought to be looking in the mirror.

The member went on to refer to the health minister as his hero. I am sure he ought to be aware of the phrase worshipping false idols. He said he was courageous and had it not been for the Minister of Health, there would not have been any compensation whatsoever, suggesting that the provincial health ministers had to be browbeaten into accepting the fact that $1.1 billion ought to be put on the table.

The reality is that the Government of Canada through the health minister recognized legal liability. What the Minister of Health was agreeing to was not compassionate compensation; he was agreeing to damages. He was accepting liability. That was the major thrust of his submissions in the House week after week. He was saying that there was liability, culpability between 1986 and 1990 and for that reason he was making available damages or money.

To suggest that it was the Minister of Health who led the way to provide compensation is pure nonsense. He was simply recognizing that in a court of law the Government of Canada would have been found grossly negligent if not criminally negligent as a result of the tainted blood system.

I think it is time the Liberal backbenchers stopped regurgitating the talking points that have been provided to them by the Prime Minister's office and started using their own judgment and intelligence in making their arguments.

The fact is that the right and just thing would have been to compensate or to provide compensation, to make it available to all those innocent victims who suffered as a result of tainted blood.

The member refers to a reversal of policy. I would suggest that the spectacle we saw last week was a reversal of principle of the Liberal Party of Canada. It is a party that has prided itself over the years as the party of justice, a party of fair play, a party of equity, a party that goes to bat for the disabled, the disadvantaged in our society, a party that goes to bat for the unemployed, goes to bat for the sick. What we saw last week was a party that abandoned the sick and the dying in this country.

Had it not been for the premier of the province of Ontario, had it not been for Mike Harris, the file would still be closed. Now the government and its members want to take credit for the fact that compensation will inevitably be made available to all who suffered as a result of the tainted blood system in this country.

To this moment I have yet to hear a government member or the minister admit or accept the principle that all victims ought to be compensated. We are still hearing this notion of culpability and fault. They still have not accepted the fact that what is right and just is to make compensation available to all victims.

It seems to me if the government has any credibility at all it must accept as a prerequisite into walking into that meeting the principle that all victims ought to be compensated, that a compensation package should be made available for all victims. Unless and until the discredited Minister of Health or the discredited Prime Minister make that admission, the exercise they are about to embark upon will be nothing but a farce.

All the arguments put forward by the government and the health minister as a basis for their position are now suspect. How can the government pretend to have any credibility whatsoever? After weeks and weeks of questioning, the minister has maintained that if compensation were available to all innocent victims it would bankrupt the health system in Canada. They either believe it or they do not. Yesterday they seemed to be embracing the opening made by the premier of Ontario. In effect Premier Harris was saying that all victims ought to be compensated. All of a sudden they have abandoned the argument that the health care system will be bankrupt as a result.

The government and the health minister put forward another major argument, that if they compensate hepatitis C victims it would open the floodgates to all other individuals who become sick as a result of the health care system. Once again that argument has been totally abandoned. It seems that their credibility has been abandoned as well.

It is critical that the meeting which is about to take place be an open meeting so Canadians can hear and see the arguments being put forward by the Government of Canada and the governments of each of the provinces and the territories. For 10 men and women to lock themselves in the privacy of a room is undemocratic. There is no accountability. That meeting of health ministers ought to be open in order to ensure there is integrity to the process. Canadians want to be able to see and hear the arguments being put forward by the federal health minister and the provincial health ministers.

It seems that the motion put forward by the NDP will carry this afternoon and that the Hepatitis C Society of Canada will be present. Not only should the Hepatitis C Society of Canada be permitted to attend the meeting, but all Canadians should have an opportunity to see what goes on at the meeting.

With respect to the level of compensation, I would hope this government is not about to take away something that has already been provided to the victims between 1986 and 1990 in order to compensate those who contracted hepatitis C before 1986. To this day we do not know how the arbitrary figure of $1.1 billion was arrived at. That dollar amount is on the table. We do not know whether that amount is too generous or whether it is not enough. We do not know the arguments that led to the figure of $1.1 billion.

If we accept the position of the Government of Canada that there are an additional 40,000 to 60,000 victims who contracted hepatitis C prior to 1986, it seems that the entire package has to be improved threefold in order for it to be just and fair using the same principles or arguments that were used in coming up with the $1.1 billion figure. If instead of 20,000 victims we now have 60,000 victims, then the compensation package ought to be $3.3 billion to be shared. The lion's share ought to be borne by the Government of Canada because it was clearly the most responsible and the most negligent with respect to this matter.

I hope when question period begins in a few minutes that the Minister of Health will agree that the figure that ought to be the starting point for negotiation ought to be $3.3 billion. Anything less than that will result in compensation dollars being taken away from those victims between 1986 and 1990. If they accept the principle that all victims should be treated equally, it seems to me that should be the starting point.

I have another submission to make. In listening to provincial premiers, provincial health ministers, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, it is almost as if there were two different sets of taxpayers in the country, provincial taxpayers and federal taxpayers. There is only one taxpayer that pays both to the federal government and to the provincial government. Canadian taxpayers have said in overwhelming numbers that they support fair and just compensation to all victims.

Instead of fighting interprovincial turf battles between the federal and provincial governments, surely both the federal and provincial governments ought to keep in mind that there is only one taxpayer and that taxpayers are prepared to compensate victims just as they were prepared, and rightly so, to compensate victims of the floods in Manitoba and the ice storms in Quebec and Ontario.

That is the Canadian way. It is the right, just and compassionate thing to do. It was not based on any negligence or any potential lawsuits with the Government of Canada named as a defendant. It is because as Canadians we have earned an international reputation of being a compassionate people. For that reason we send billions of dollars in foreign aid overseas to help others in the world who are destitute and hungry. It is the right thing to do and the Canadian thing to do.

The Liberal government was prepared to abandon its fellow Canadians, Canadians who are suffering terribly as a result of being poisoned by the blood system, Canadians who through no fault of their own will lead very difficult lives.

Let us put the matter in context. I do not believe Canadians have yet to comprehend the magnitude of this tragedy. Not only are we talking about tens of thousands of our fellow Canadians. The numbers range up to 60,000. We are also dealing with their families and the devastation that this has caused to their loved ones, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. When we think of the magnitude of the tragedy, one in five will die as a result of being poisoned by the system.

Hundreds of young Canadian children with lukemia went into hospitals and had their lukemia cured, only to find that they were poisoned by the blood system. Their lives were put at risk because of a blood system that they trusted.

This is a matter to be dealt with by the first ministers, the Prime Minister, the premiers and the leaders of the territories. This is an issue that is grave enough to be determined. In terms of the health ministers, beginning with the Minister of Health in Ottawa and their credibility, Canadians do not trust them. They do not believe them in terms of the positions they have taken, the arguments they have put forward and the rhetoric they have used.

This file ought to be taken over by the Prime Minister and the premiers to show the same leadership that Mike Harris has shown in Ontario, a man who is often vilified by Liberals opposite as a man lacking in compassion and understanding for disadvantaged people in society. If only the Prime Minister and the Liberals opposite could show half the compassion and understanding that premier showed just a few days ago.

I would conclude by saying that this meeting is about to take place. It ought to be an open meeting so that we can see and hear firsthand the arguments being put forward by various levels of government. As a starting point the participants at this meeting have to agree that the compensation package on the table ought to be tripled to ensure the same level of compensation is available to all innocent victims.

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1:50 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. friend. It seems to me the Prime Minister has made two remarkable decisions in the last few weeks. One was a remarkably callous decision based on legal doublespeak, and false legal doublespeak at that, not to compensate all hepatitis C victims but only the ones after 1986. The second was a remarkably stubborn decision. He was unable to admit that he was wrong in the decision on compensation, forcing his Liberal caucus to vote against their will in many cases against the Reform motion last week, to the extent that Gordon Gibson, who once worked in Mr. Trudeau's office and who is a long time Liberal, in his editorial this week spoke about the Prime Minister and his entourage and encapsulated them in one sentence: “Little men, mean horizons. But by God, they're in charge”.

Does my hon. friend not agree that what has happened is that the Liberals are now forced to wear this stinking carcass of this terrible decision? They want to avoid the smell. They are trying to get away from it. Does he not agree that what is going on now is an exercise in damage control?

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1:50 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, regardless of what has happened and what may happen, one thing appears to be certain. Either as a result of being shamed into making the right decision or as a result of certain provincial governments recognizing that they were wrong at the outset, I believe we are on the path to a right and just decision with respect to this matter.

A number of other concerns have been raised as a result of this issue. In the 14 years I have been in parliament no other issue has torn members apart as this issue.

It ought not to have been a confidence vote. That is quite clear. It was not a vote of confidence. No one ever believed it to be a vote of confidence. It was deemed to be a vote of confidence, only as a mechanism to coerce Liberal backbenchers into supporting the motion. Could we imagine for a moment that, had the Reform motion carried, the Prime Minister would have walked down to visit the governor general to dissolve parliament? They would have gone into an election campaign and the theme would have been “We have abandoned the sick and the dying. The country is strong. Vote for us”.

That is pure nonsense and everyone in the House knows it. I hope that one of the other results of this debate is an accelerated push for parliamentary reform and more free votes in the House so that all members of parliament, especially when it comes to matters of conscience, are free to vote their conscience and not forced into toeing the party line.

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1:50 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with close attention to the hon. member's speech. There is one thing though that I would like to ask him about.

There is in fact, as far as I can tell, no evidence of how many real victims there are in this hepatitis C case. We have numbers all the way from 6,000 to 60,000. The government will choose to use the higher number to try to build an argument against it because of high cost.

The numbers may in fact be a lot lower. I was wondering whether the hon. member would care to comment on this point. Perhaps, instead of talking about absolute numbers in terms of how much budgetary money should be available, we should simply set a principle that all should be treated equally and then find out how many there actually are.

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1:50 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata York South—Weston, ON

I suspect the government deliberately exaggerated the numbers to bolster its argument that the health care system would be bankrupt.

In conversation with Jeremy Beaty, head of the Hepatitis C Society of Canada, he too agrees that the numbers have been exaggerated. He believes the total number could be as low as 25,000 to 30,000 Canadians.

It seems to me the government has not been forthright. The government has not been honest with regard to the numbers because it simply wanted to, as I indicated, bolster its argument.

Having made the argument now that 60,000 people were infected by the blood system, it seems to me that the level of compensation should be based on that number. They came up with the figure of $1.1 billion and presumably the health minister agreed that was a fair amount. I do not know how they picked that amount, not knowing the exact numbers and how they assessed every case.

As a lawyer, the Minister of Health ought to know that each case might in fact be treated differently in a court of law, depending on the extent of injury or harm caused to the individual. We know that hepatitis C will affect people in different ways. We know a certain percentage will die. Others will lead relatively normal lives. Fatigue may set in, extreme fatigue.

A court when considering these matters and in setting the quantum of damages will determine the extent to which the individuals have been harmed as the result of negligence.

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1:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member what moral and intellectual leadership the present Minister of Health can bring to the table if and when the health ministers meet. I think they have some positions which are completely untenable. He has made some outrageous statements in the House, for example stating that the package could not be reopened because if it was it would bankrupt our treasuries. In other words it would jeopardize health care in the country because we simply could not afford that package.

Given that point of view, and the minister continues to support that point of view, what could constructively happen out of the meeting that is planned for the health ministers in the near future?

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1:55 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I submit that it would be very difficult for the health minister to have any credibility whatsoever in attending these meetings.

He has stated that the file is closed. He has repeated day after day the arguments that the floodgates would open and that it would bankrupt the health care system in the country. How could he conceivably attend a meeting of first ministers and have any credibility whatsoever after having stated those positions not only in the House of Commons but across the country?

If there is to be any integrity to the process that is about to take place, first the process should be open so that all Canadians can see what is happening and, second, the current health minister ought not to be a participant at those hearings.

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1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

As it is almost 2 p.m. we will now proceed to Statements by Members.

Judge Lee Grayson
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, Hamilton Niagara citizenship court judge, Lee Grayson, who has had a tremendous positive impact on the Niagara community, completed her term of office in 1997.

Judge Grayson approached her duties relating to new Canadians with the same high degree of interest and enthusiasm as our new citizens expressed in their new home. In countless ceremonies she presided over she welcomed each new Canadian with a degree of honesty and sincerity that came from her love of her work.

Judge Grayson has talked with hundreds of new Canadians about Canada, their place in our great country and how they can contribute to our society.

Having attended several ceremonies as a federal representative, I have seen firsthand that this fine individual is a compassionate and dedicated Canadian who has served her country with competence and with pride. She has greeted our new citizens with the warmth and friendship they deserve.

I also enjoyed the reaffirmation of citizenship ceremonies she will conduct from time to time for all Canadians, especially on July 1, Canada Day. The public record will show that she was one of the best.

On behalf of myself, my staff and Erie—Lincoln residents I wish Judge Lee Grayson every success in her future challenges.

Merchant Navy Veterans
Statements By Members

May 5th, 1998 / 1:55 p.m.

Reform

Peter Goldring Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canada's Merchant Navy of World War II suffered losses many times more than the other three services at war.

They braved the enemy's sea To supply Allied war need.

Cold lonely duty, constant targets of an unseen foe No buglers to hail the oncoming enemy blow.

Simply, the sudden shudder of a ship as torpedoes explode Is the only notice of impending doom for the lucky. Lucky because being alive, there is still hope For others, the shudder ushers death.

When the war did end, all were veterans but them. Fifty years have slipped by, yet they still question why They are not veterans in life, but will be in death.

The world owes a great debt to Canada's Merchant Navy.

Best we not forget.

Major Junior Hockey
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 1976, Jean-Claude Babain, Robert “Bob” Meunier, Jean Duplessis, Yvon Rioux and myself applied to the Quebec major junior hockey league for a franchise for Val-d'Or.

The dinosaurs of the league kept on turning us down, from 1976 to 1992, but we finally got our franchise in 1992, and in 1993 were officially admitted to the Quebec major junior hockey league.

Today, thanks to their courage and determination, Les Foreurs de Val-d'Or are the new Quebec and eastern Canadian major junior hockey league champions.

After only five years of existence, Les Foreurs de Val-d'Or will be representing eastern Canada at the Memorial Cup junior hockey series to be held in Spokane, Washington.

Hats off to the volunteers and the directors of Les Foreurs de Val-d'Or, their fans, and the people of Abitibi. The efforts of these young players have brought them to an extraordinary victory.

They all deserve our congratulations.

Elizabeth Fry Week
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Augustine Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, May 4 to 10 is national Elizabeth Fry week. The purpose of national Elizabeth Fry week is to promote public awareness and education regarding the circumstances of women involved in the criminal justice system.

This year's theme focuses on alternatives to incarceration. Across Canada Elizabeth Fry societies have organized public events in their communities to encourage all Canadians to examine productive and responsible alternatives to costly incarceration.

The incarceration of women has great consequences not only on the women themselves but on their children, their families and on society as a whole.

I urge my colleagues to join with the society to bring greater public awareness to this issue.