House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Canada Health Care, Early Childhood Development And Other Social Services Funding Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Daniel Turp Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC


Canada Health Care, Early Childhood Development And Other Social Services Funding Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

My colleague from Beauharnois—Salaberry has even taught this to his students. It is hard to imagine in a federal system worthy of being called one that a government can literally strangle the provinces with its policy, and this is what has happened.

It is in fact so true—and I want to make this point in my preliminary remarks, because I want to spend time on the essential issue of health—that in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996, governments, especially that of Quebec, witnessed a sort of transfer of clientele. In other words, all the cuts to health care or to employment insurance have had the effect of preventing people from qualifying for programs they had access to previously. They ended up turning to the program of income security in increasing numbers.

This is so true that some authors, such as economist Pierre Fortin, have estimated that the restrictions arising from the various federal government cuts have cost the Quebec public treasury additional millions. Clearly the agreement before us provides reparation. We must not ever forget that.

It is no small matter, when we consider the years 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 and up to today. What was needed was a common stand by all the premiers, be they New Democrat, Conservative or Liberal. Brian Tobin has, in recent years, added a strong voice to this debate. He called upon the federal government to re-establish the transfer payments.

I repeat, we are going to subscribe to the agreement we have before us. We are going to make amendments, but we want the money to be made available to the provinces as promptly as possible. We are dealing with the outcome of a mess that was literally provoked by the federal government.

This is an example of why we on this side of the House are sovereignists. It makes no sense for there to be two orders of government, one of them with more financial means than the other because of its taxation powers and the division of powers.

Here is where the question lies. In modern life, as we are living it in this month of October in the year 2000, the major responsibilities our citizens expect us to meet fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial governments. Whether it be health or education, these are areas of responsibility that are at the core of our fellow citizens' lives, and ones on which the federal government has virtually no say, despite the fact that it is better off financially, with more financial resources than the provincial governments.

Nevertheless, without this common front, without the doggedness of the Bloc Quebecois which has made this a guideline, a baseline, a kind of leitmotif for all of its political action since the Minister of Finance's budget, without this concerted effort by the various actors putting pressure on the federal government, I do not believe that this would have been accomplished.

In my opinion, another explanatory factor for the agreement reached by the first ministers at the September 11 conference, in addition to all the ones that have come out of Winnipeg via Ottawa, is the imminence of a federal election.

The Prime Minister, cabinet and the whole government caucus knew full well that it would have been unthinkable to call an election after impoverishing the provinces, after exerting very real pressure on the health system, without doing something to restore the sharing of fiscal responsibilities.

To make things clear, let us take a look at what this agreement provides. The agreement is based on six major points. First, it seeks, as I said, to restore transfer payments. A total of $23.4 billion will be invested over the next 5 years. Next year it will be $18 billion, then $19 billion, $20 billion and $21 billion. Transfer payments will be increased to $21 billion and about $2 billion will be kept for policies directly aimed at young children.

In addition to that, a $1 billion trust will be set up for the acquisition of medical equipment. It is critical to realize how important this is for the health system, because medical technologies change very rapidly.

Last winter, I met the administrators of the various hospitals on the island of Montreal. I wanted to know how things were done, what their major management challenges were and what it meant, ultimately, for an administrator to provide health services to a community.

All the administrators told me about the importance of renewing the technological equipment in the medical sector. Acquisition costs for these technologies are extremely high and the life expectancy of this equipment is about five, six or seven years at best. So $1 billion will be earmarked for the acquisition of medical equipment.

The bill is too vague and an amendment will be necessary, because we want to correct that flaw. We want it to be clearly stipulated that the proposed funding, the $1 billion for the acquisition of medical technologies, will be entirely consistent and in no way discretionary with what was agreed at the meeting of first ministers in Ottawa.

I draw the attention of all parliamentarians to the fact that the final press release for the Ottawa conference gives the breakdown of this $1 billion for 2001-02. The totals are given for each province. For 2000-01, Quebec will be receiving $119.9 million; the amount for the following year will be $119.2 million. We must not find ourselves in a situation where we pass a bill that is not very clear about what the first ministers agreed to.

This is an extremely important part of the agreement. We attach very great importance to it and that is why we will be tabling an amendment here in the House if we go into committee of the whole for the subsequent stages.

In addition to the $1 billion fund for the acquisition of medical equipment, the purchase and installation of modern diagnostic tools and other medical equipment that is obviously urgently needed, there is a $500 million fund for the installation of health information technologies.

This is also an important feature of the agreement. We know that each of the provinces has a database and computer networks, information that may give a clearer picture not just of the progression of diseases, but of various trends in the medical community.

At the Ottawa conference this past September 11, the first ministers agreed to exchange this information. The purpose of the information exchange is to ensure compatibility among the various information systems so that data may be exchanged at high speed without any technological hitches.

This was made very clear in the communiqué. There was no reference to Canada-wide information standards, as there is in the bill. In order to make things very clear for those who are listening to us, and in order for them to clearly understand the reason for our amendment, I would like to read what the first ministers had agreed to in their final communiqué at the end of the September 11 conference.

Specifically in relation to health information and communication technology, both Premier Bouchard and Minister Marois agreed that it is important to have this exchange of information, and to have it work both ways, so that the provinces may also benefit. For example, the federal government has a health information network. It is important that this information circulate as freely as possible.