House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was research.

Topics

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I apologize to the Progressive Conservative members. This has nothing to do with their speeches. I understood that we had agreed that, because of the number of motions we have on the Order Paper, you would recognize the Bloc Quebecois members, and then the Progressive Conservative members and finally the New Democratic Party member spoke.

Would you please explain the rationale for the order in which you intend to recognize speakers or what you expect that order to be, so that we may know where we stand?

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We discussed what the order would be. There is no formal order. I had said that there would be the opportunity for the government to respond. However, as is the tradition, every time there is a set of motions a member from each of the recognized political parties has the opportunity to speak. The hon. member for Compton—Stanstead will be the first speaker representing his party. Then we will recognize a member on the other side and then we will recognize the hon. member for Bloc.

I understand that the Bloc has many motions and from now until the end of the day we will keep that in mind.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

David Price Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my hon. colleague from New Brunswick Southwest, I rise to speak to the amendments he has put forward at report stage of Bill C-13, an act to establish the Canadian institutes of health research and to repeal the Medical Research Council Act.

I hope my hon. colleagues on all sides of the House will listen carefully to the motions that are being put forward and will give them every consideration when it is time to vote.

It is my belief that these motions will by no means take away from the bill, but in fact will add to its credibility. We could probably even say clarity at this point.

The government must demonstrate a commitment and respect for the principle of accountability through public access to research material and reports pertaining to public health issues.

The Minister of Health has given us a bill that is specific in its explanation of the organization of the CIHR. The CIHR will consist of a president and governing council. Together they will be responsible for the overall direction of the institutes.

The bill states that the members of this governing council will reflect the highest standards of scientific excellence. The bill further states that the appointments will be made by the governor in council; by definition, the cabinet and ultimately the Prime Minister. Here we go again. This is a very cozy arrangement and the very reason we should be concerned. In other words, cabinet and the Prime Minister will decide who will hold these positions.

The president and the governing council of the CIHR will hold these positions at the pleasure of the government and they will be up for review every five years. The motions before us speak clearly to the re-examination of the formula we currently use for appointments to positions such as these.

I believe the motions before us today offer a distinct opportunity to move beyond partisan politics. We must put in place a process that is both transparent and principled, a process that will be dependent on the credentials of the highest order.

As I read the bill it became increasingly evident that I was on familiar ground. The bill projects Jean Charest's plan for Canada's next century, the platform for health care that I ran and won on in the 1997 election. I cannot fault the minister for coveting the plan of the Progressive Conservative Party because our plan is visionary.

As Mr. Charest said, we should continue to adopt new medical treatments, new pilot and experimental programs that would provide Canadians with state of the art, cutting edge services and treatments, and new technologies to improve the access to care in rural and remote areas of the country. He said there would be programs to test new integrated delivery systems aimed at providing health care based on the the highest quality of health practices. He spoke of the development and maintenance of a Health Canada worldwide website on the Internet to provide a state of the art health care information system, including advice on the prevention and treatment of illness to help hospitals and researchers link their knowledge bases in the country. Is that not the task of the new agency?

In 1997 the Progressive Conservative Party said that it would create a national institute for health with membership drawn from the health care field. It would have a board that would be co-chaired by the federal minister, along with the provincial and territorial ministers. The Progressive Conservative platform in 1997 laid out the right process to save our health care system. It was one of vision and challenge.

The Liberal policy is a disaster for our research institutions and probably the major cause of the brain drain, particularly on top of very high taxes. Are members aware that people with cancer are being sent to the United States for very high-priced treatment?

Today, they are forced to go after those brains for the new technology and superior equipment that we should have here.

Members of the Progressive Conservative Party support Bill C-13 in principle since we had already written most of it. However, the government now, more than ever, is under scrutiny by the Canadian people for its accountability, responsibility and lack of transparency and it might do well to give consideration to the motions before us today, which pertain to these very issues.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the report stage motions in Group No. 1 to amend Bill C-13. As a member of the health committee I had the opportunity to listen to the excellent witnesses who appeared before the committee.

Fourteen institutes of health research will be established. It turned out to be a bit of a love-in early in the testimony of the witnesses. Many groups and organizations appeared before the committee to lobby with regard to issues concerning cancer, women's issues, aboriginal issues and so on. It became very clear that there are far more demands for health research dollars in specific areas than there will be research institutes. That means that it will be a very difficult process for the governing council of the new Canadian institutes of health research to determine how to properly structure those research institutes.

The previous NDP speaker, who did an excellent job in representing her views on the committee, suggested that the government was opposed to setting up specific institutes for women, for aboriginals and so on.

According to the bill that is the responsibility of the governing council. It is not a matter of the government being opposed to any particular research institutes or promoting any particular research institutes. Those are the responsibilities of the governing council.

The NDP member also raised a twofold issue with regard to conflict of interest. All order in council appointees will automatically be subject to the public service conflict of interest rules. However, the member was quite right to point out that there was an extension in this regard to the extent that there would be appointees by the governing council which could include the executive committee and the various advisory and standing committees of the institutes of health research and of the governing council. They will not specifically be subject to any conflict of interest guidelines.

It would therefore seem appropriate to ensure, as with every agency exercising authority in terms of government funding, that appropriate conflict of interest guidelines be established. There is a generic clause in the bill that requires them to put into place all good management practices. It is included implicitly although not as explicitly as the member requested.

Once we were beyond the lobbying for who wants to have health research institutes, the issue for a number of witnesses changed to that of accountability and transparency. As the previous speaker mentioned, it is a very important issue with respect to all legislation with which the House deals.

With regard to the government model for the Canadian institutes of health research, the Public Policy Forum published a document called “Proposed Governance Structure for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research” on January 4, 1999. It articulated excellent points for consideration, which were taken into account by the advisory committee to the government, with regard to structuring the legislation and designing the governance model for the CIHR.

It laid out six principles of a good governance model and No. 3 was accountability and transparency. It stated:

Those within the CIHR, those who make decisions about funding the CIHR, and the Canadian public in general, must be able to hold accountable those in whom the responsibility for health research has been entrusted. The lines of accountability must be clear and clean. Making that accountability clear is the transparency that is deemed fundamental to the CIHR.

There are many references in this document with regard to accountability and good governance, transparency, et cetera. It is an issue to which we are very sensitive.

A number of interveners before the committee decided to raise specifically some of these issues. Dr. Susan Pisterman was one such intervener. The Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Health Association all raised the same theme with regard to transparency and accountability.

I have a couple of interesting quotes. To put it in context, the first one is from Dr. James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. His final issue was commercialization and he said:

—there is a potential conflict of interest of members of the governing council, which is not addressed in this bill. Quite frankly, no one who represents major private commercial interests should be able to be appointed to the governing council.

This matter is covered by the conflict of interest guidelines to which order in council appointees by the governing council will be subject. I believe that concern has been appropriately addressed. However, as I said earlier, any other appointees by the governing council who are not covered by the public service conflict of interest guidelines should be adequately covered by good management practices. He went on to say:

This is a public body that will control millions of dollars of research money and will be probably the most decisive institution in Canada with respect to the health of Canadians.

There is no question about that. The Canadian institutes of health research will be responsible for peer review and consideration of about $500 million worth of grants. In view of its size and importance there is no question that accountability and transparency issues will be carefully taken into account by parliament to ensure that they are in place. I am very confident about that.

Other concerns were raised. The Canadian Health Association and its spokesperson, Mrs. Sharon Sholzberg-Gray, also raised issue about the fact that the CIHR president and the chairperson of the governing council would be the same person and that there should be a review in that regard. She also recommended that to further strengthen transparency and accountability Bill C-13 should include provisions for a parliamentary review.

There was consistency with regard to those who came to talk, not just about the importance of having an authoritative body to manage such an important area as health research in Canada but to ensure that if there were ever any problems with regard to the Medical Research Council, or any others, the mechanisms are in place so that the public and parliament are comfortable with the provisions of the bill.

I want to conclude my comments. I support the bill. I support those who came before the committee to compliment and to congratulate the government with regard to the structure of the governance model being proposed. I am very sure the concerns raised by a number of the witnesses with regard to issues such as accountability and transparency have been adequately dealt with in the bill and will be taken care of as we move forward to establishing probably one of the most important health institutions in Canada.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Churchill River, The Environment; the hon. member for Halifax West, Visible Minorities.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-13 at report stage. We are dealing with the first group of amendments.

This bill is aimed at officially creating Canadian institutes of health research to organize, co-ordinate and fund health research at the federal level. These institutes will replace the Medical Research Council and will receive additional funding totalling $65 million for the 1999 fiscal year and about $500 million until 2002.

What will the institutes of health research do? They will promote new ways of conducting research on biomedical themes and also on issues more directly related to social sciences, which is something totally new.

Moreover, these institutes will be virtual, since they will allow researchers in universities, hospitals and other research centres in Canada, as well as university students, to communicate with each other and to share information electronically.

The institutes will have various themes on which they will be able to focus their research, including ageing, arthritis, musculoskeletal development, cancer, molecular biology—a new area of research—the health of children and their mothers and the relationship between the two, clinical assessments, technology assessments, heart disease, and many more. They should also look at new genetic and reproductive technologies. These themes will be studied from a social perspective.

The mandate of these institutes also includes other interesting and innovative elements. Ethical issues are to be taken into consideration.

I am always surprised when this issue is raised, because the feeling is that, in the scientific community, ethics are at the forefront. It seems however that, with the new developments in science, this issue will become more pressing.

Emphasis will also be placed on the need for integrated health research with the co-operation of several groups: various organizations, women's groups and governments currently involved in research. This will be an important element in the future. The approach is clearly multidisciplinary.

Moreover, the institutes will not be dedicated, which will allow them to be more flexible and to alter their priorities to adapt quickly to the changing nature of society and the fast-paced developments in the research field. This is in response to the OECD, which has been urging Canada since 1993 to increase its investment in R and D.

It is expected that the health research institutes governing council might start its activities as early as April 2000, in keeping with the wishes of the government and the scientists who are insisting on this timeline.

The Bloc Quebecois, whose support for increased R and D funding is unwavering, salutes the efforts of the scientists who were involved in the drafting of the bill to ensure they would have access to innovative tools to improve the dissemination of health information and facilitate the development of cutting edge technologies in this area.

However—and this is significant—in its present form, Bill C-13 might encroach on provincial jurisdiction over health. The Bloc Quebecois cannot support the bill as it is currently worded. The problem is not the creation of the institutes per se. R and D falls under residual powers and, as such, is theoretically subject to federal jurisdiction. The problem comes from the possibility of direct encroachment on provincial jurisdiction in the area of public health care, without any prior earnest consultation with the provinces.

This is why the Bloc Quebecois is proposing a series of amendments mainly designed to highlight the importance of respecting and sharing jurisdictions, and to reaffirm the primacy of provincial jurisdiction in the area of health.

In addition, the Bloc Quebecois supports increased investment in health research, and it is vital Quebec receive its fair share of federal research and development funds, especially since, historically, Quebec has received only 14% of federal spending on research and development on infrastructures.

It is particularly noteworthy, however, that we receive about 30% of funding for researchers awarded on the basis of an evaluation by their peers, because this funding is awarded on the basis of merit. This means, therefore, that our researchers are productive in Quebec and excel in such fields as mental health, cancer research, genome research and biotechnology.

Although the multidisciplinary vision of Bill C-13 is commendable, it is unacceptable that the provinces were not given a major role. Respect for Quebec's jurisdisction should be at the heart of any intervention in the field of health. This is why we must oppose the bill, if our amendments are defeated.

The government is doing a good thing by investing more money in research now, but there is no need to lose sight of the need to reinstate the transfer payments to the provinces. In fiscal year 1999-2000, the shortfall in social transfers to Quebec is estimated to be nearly $1.7 billion. Of this amount, Quebec is denied nearly $850 million annually in the area of health.

We supported the principle of Bill C-13, we support the flexible and multidisciplinary structure, the increased funding to research and development, which could make researchers feel more secure and slow down the brain drain. However, our basic conditions are that the government re-establish transfer payments and respect provincial jurisdictions.

Given the events we have witnessed of late, Bill C-20, which denies Quebecers' basic rights, and the number of gag orders we face with the clarity bill and the concerns we have about the democratic process with regard to this bill, I move:

That the House do now adjourn.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)