House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.

Topics

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out to the House that because we are applying this vote, the member for Scarborough—Agincourt has absented himself from the chamber.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be recorded as being opposed.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be recorded as being opposed.

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be recorded as being opposed.

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

Contraventions Act
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

(Bill referred to a committee.)

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

November 2nd, 2004 / 7:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of the House is desired.

Pursuant to order made Thursday, October 28, 2004, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 3.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 3, Mr. Strahl in the chair)

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this Committee take note of assistance to victims of Hepatitis C.

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Vancouver South
B.C.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Minister of Health

Mr. Chair, this is the first opportunity I have had since becoming Minister of Health three months ago to formally address this honourable House. I must say that I am very pleased that it is on an issue of such importance. I am doubly pleased and impressed that hon. members have decided to come together to share ideas on the complex and emotional issue of hepatitis C in a non-partisan fashion.

For as long as I have been in public life it has been my view that we the elected legislators do our job best and Canadians are best served when we reason together constructively and respectfully. This is even more so when an issue is tough, when it evokes strong passions and when, as in the case of the suffering of victims who have been infected with hepatitis C through the blood system, it appeals on so many levels to that basic human compassion and decency which I know motivates all members in the House. This is the attitude that I bring to all of my duties as Minister of Health for Canada and it is the attitude that will shape my comments this evening.

As I said, I have been Minister of Health for a very short time but in that short time the issue before us tonight has impressed me deeply. I have heard from Canadians who have contracted hepatitis C through the blood supply. I have also heard from family members who have been touched by this tragedy and who are providing day to day support to their loved ones. It is hard not to be moved by their experiences and by their courage in moving forward.

This House has long been engaged on this issue, so I will not repeat all of the facts surrounding it, but I will say that from the very beginning our government has been moved both by compassion and a clear desire to help those in need. That is why since 1998 we have committed approximately $1.4 billion for compensating and assisting people infected or affected with hepatitis C. Of this amount, our government has allocated $875 million to a trust fund that is fulfilling our financial obligations to victims under the 1986 to 1990 hepatitis C settlement agreement.

When added to the funds contributed by the provinces and territories, financial assistance in the amount of $1.1 billion to thousands of victims was announced. By working collaboratively and collectively with provincial and territorial governments and the lawyers for the class action plaintiffs, we were able to reach a settlement agreement that was approved by the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the Cour Supérieure du Québec.

This agreement is administered by a third party appointed by the courts. As of October 1, 2004 approximately $387 million in benefits have been paid from the fund. However, it is important to remember that payments to beneficiaries may continue for up to 70 years to new claimants who have until 2010 to apply and for continuing payments to those who have already qualified. Therefore, no one should think the books are closed on those payments or on the response to the needs of these individuals.

That brings me to the situation of those Canadians who contracted hepatitis C prior to 1986 and after mid-1990 through the blood system. The federal government has been mindful of their plight and in response we have committed $525 million to a comprehensive hepatitis C package for Canadians. The largest portion of this money, some $300 million over 20 years, is going to the provinces and territories to ensure that people who contracted hepatitis C through the blood system outside the 1986 to 1990 period will have reasonable and ongoing access to appropriate hepatitis C treatment and care, such as drugs, immunizations and nursing care. The remainder was set aside to help track victims, for research and to enhance the safety of the blood supply to prevent future tragedies.

The possibility of a potential surplus in the trust fund used to compensate the 1986 to 1990 victims has led members of the House from all parties, advocacy groups and the media to ask whether such a surplus could be used to extend assistance to all hepatitis C victims, including those outside the 1986 to 1990 window.

Speculation about a surplus has been fuelled by the fact that the number of claimants anticipated in the 1986-1990 agreement has to date been lower than originally forecast, as well as the fact that advances in treatment have reduced the number of claimants requiring additional assistance.

I am pleased to reiterate to hon. members that our government is open to looking at the idea of using a potential actuarial surplus to assist claimants outside the 1986-1990 window. During the June election campaign the Prime Minister publicly stated that he was open to this idea. I have said as much both inside and outside the House.

However, it is very important to remember three salient facts. First, it is critical that the existence of a surplus in the fund is assessed and validated given that, as I mentioned earlier, there continue to be new claimants and the fund must have resources available to support beneficiaries over their lifetime. Second, the trust fund does not belong to the government. It belongs to the beneficiaries of trust subject to the court's discretion. Third, it will be up to the courts and the courts alone to determine whether a surplus exists. This determination will be made in June 2005.

A decision to share the trust fund would require the agreement of the current beneficiaries, their lawyers, along with the provinces and territories, as well as the courts. I want to make it clear that the cabinet is considering this issue. We are assessing the facts, the potential of changed circumstances, and our options for proceeding, because proceed we must.

We are mindful of the recent unanimous resolution of the Standing Committee on Health which called for compensation outside the 1986-1990 window. We also need and welcome the input of all parliamentarians because that would provide us with wisdom, experience and knowledge so that we can proceed further.

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

The Chair

At the start of this debate, so that we are clear on how we are going to proceed this evening, this is committee of the whole. There are 10 minutes for the initial speech, 10 minutes for questions and comments, and any members who wish to divide their time may do so by stating as such at the start of questions.

The honourable member for Hochelaga.

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for the open-mindedness he has shown. Speaking for all my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, I would certainly like to tell him that whatever form of collaboration is decided upon, we will be ready to take part.

I have two questions to ask him. Since the Krever inquiry there have been five health ministers. I believe that carrying out the first recommendation of the Krever commission would truly be very generous of him and that it would be worth his while to be the minister who got it done. It is a true challenge and he is up to it. I know he will have the cooperation of all members of this House.

Can he tell us exactly how many people have received their claims, as of this moment? The information we have as an opposition party is that nearly $400 million has been spent to date and some 7,000 people have received compensation, although the government was supposed to compensate 22,000 of them.

Can he bring us up to date on this matter? I point out that we have some people in the gallery today from the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, I do not have the exact numbers. I can say that benefits have been paid to the tune of $387 million. The numbers in terms of the payments are much smaller than anticipated. That is one of the facts that has led us to reconsider this issue. That is one of the changed circumstances that I alluded to. I would be happy to share the numbers with the hon. member. Obviously he wants to have them.

I have just been handed a piece of paper that says there have been over 9,000 claimants and payments have been made of $388 million.

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Including the families?

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

I believe, yes, including the caregivers.

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Chair, I am glad we are having this debate this evening. In the minister's comments he said that it was the surplus that has allowed us to reconsider this. I would like to remind the minister that it is actually the principle, which the Conservative Party has brought to this issue, that the government has an obligation to compensate these people, surplus or no surplus.

The government has known there has been a surplus for years. The fact is that there is a surplus and the government still has not done anything on this front. As a new member I am unfortunately very cynical in the sense that there is no reason, from the government's past actions, to believe that we would see the government follow through in compensating the victims.

I would like to ask the minister, what about the accountability regarding the funds that have already gone to the provinces that apparently went into general revenues?

Assistance to Hepatitis C Victims
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, let me answer the second question first.

With respect to the funds that have flowed to the provinces under the undertaking agreements which was the money set aside for care arrangements, not cash, about $150 million has flowed to the provinces. Some provinces have to report by the end of this year, for instance, British Columbia. Other provinces have provided interim reports like Ontario. Their actual accountability report is due in 2007.

What I say on that issue, as I have said outside the House, is that if there are people who are aggrieved and injured, it is a very serious issue. If they are asking questions, then provinces should do everything within their power to ensure all of their questions are answered as to where those funds have gone and how they have been spent.

Those funds were earmarked for additional care, and for new and emerging needs of the hep C victims. I have said very clearly that we will seek accountability for the agreement, but nothing prevents them from being more accountable to their own citizens as they should be.

With respect to the first question, I must say that this has obviously been a very difficult issue. Let us not make any mistake about that. There have been strong feelings that have arisen on this issue because this issue is about human beings who have been injured and who have been hurt. We understand their pain but we could not feel it, obviously.

All of us came together. I was not here. Decisions were made, but they were made out of care and compassion, and out of the need to deal with this issue in a just and fair fashion. Circumstances have changed, but the issue of justice and compassion has always existed. Because of that concern that remained, we are looking at this issue.

What has assisted us in looking at this issue more so than otherwise is also the availability of the potential surplus. I agree that the potential surplus is not the motivating factor, as I said earlier. What motivates us all is our need and rationale to help those who need our help, as legislators and as government.