House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Pension Ombudsman Act
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-261, An Act to establish the office of Pension Ombudsman to investigate administrative difficulties encountered by persons in their dealings with the Government of Canada in respect of benefits under the Canada Pension Plan or the Old Age Security Act or tax liability on such benefits and to review the policies and practices applied in the administration and adjudication of such benefits and liabilities.

Mr. Speaker, there is not too much more I wish to add except to say that many MPs will recognize the need for some sort of further advocate for their constituents who get frustrated by the adjudication or the administration of the Canada pension plan, old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and, most critically, the Canada pension plan disability chapter, which most Canadians find horrendous to try to deal with.

This would create the office of an ombudsman who would be able to advocate on behalf of those individuals. It would be a resource for the offices of members of Parliament, who would be able to refer their constituents to the office of the ombudsman for help and support.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Old Age Security Act
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-262, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act (monthly guaranteed income supplement).

Mr. Speaker, this is my last bill for today. All through the last Parliament we tried to have the guaranteed income supplement made an automatic benefit so that the onus would not be on the seniors to apply for it. We learned that many seniors were eligible but were not getting the benefit because they simply did not fill out the proper paperwork.

This bill goes further and asks for full retroactivity for any senior who may have been eligible for the guaranteed income supplement but failed to file the paperwork on time. The government limits retroactivity to 11 months. We believe the retroactivity should extend to the day upon which they were eligible. This would create that authority.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, An Act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and amending certain Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Nanaimo--Cowichan had the floor before question period for questions and comments following on her remarks. I therefore call for questions and comments and recognize the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I found it interesting that before the budget the NDP raised concerns about the moneys that would be provided to deal with a pandemic. I trust since the issue was not raised post-budget by the NDP that this concern has been alleviated with the $1 billion committed in this budget to deal with pandemic issues. Incidentally, the Minister of Health will also be leading a provincial-territorial conference next week on pandemic preparedness.

My question for the member is twofold. I realize the member was on the health committee in the last session. First, I wonder if the member would comment on the fact that under the previous government it seemed that the bill did not get the attention it deserved. In fact, it never even came to a vote, whereas under this government the bill has been brought forward within the first 100 days. That certainly suggests quite a difference between the commitment of this government to public health and the commitment of the previous government, with our government being very keen on pursuing the matter whereas the other government seemed to delay. I would be interested in the member's comments on the previous government's commitment, or lack thereof, to public health.

The second question I have for the member deals with the Bloc's comments with regard to jurisdictional issues. The Bloc seemed to try to make the case that pandemics will respect provincial and other boundaries, whereas I think most reasonable people would agree that pandemics and other diseases do not respect boundaries and it is very important to have a public health agency in order to have a meaningful, deliberate and comprehensive strategy to deal with the challenges that may exist when dealing with a pandemic. A national agency would help do that.

Would the member comment on those two issues?

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary raised a number of issues in his question. In terms of asking me whether I thought the previous Liberal government had fulfilled its obligations, obviously not, or I would not be raising these issues. However, I think it is incumbent upon the current government to also be aware of its obligations.

With regard to the comments around the budget, I was specifically raising issues with regard to first nations communities, the reason being that there still is a great deal of concern that aboriginal communities have not had the attention that is required around pandemic preparedness.

I am going to refer back to resolution 66 from the Special Chiefs Assembly of the Assembly of First Nations. I will not read for members the details of it, but they certainly are calling for an immediate infusion of funding for first nations communities around testing, around the need to fund technical coordination and assistance, and around the need to ensure for public health safety that aboriginal communities are included with provincial and territorial governments in discussions around coordination. It is a very complex matter.

What is critical, I think, is that any time we talk about a pandemic we need to ensure that aboriginal peoples are included at the table in those discussions so there is that coordinated approach, so it does take into account rural and remote communities. This is a critical issue.

I can see that the Speaker is signalling that I am going to run out of time, but let me say briefly that when we are talking about jurisdictional issues, I think we need to put those jurisdictional issues to the side and really talk about the health, well-being and welfare of Canadians.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to address Bill C-5, an act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada. As my colleagues have indicated, this legislation represents a key piece in supporting the federal government's efforts to promote and protect the health of Canadians.

As members may know, following the outbreak of SARS, there were discussions and debates on the state of the public health care system in Canada. Two subsequent expert reports, one completed by Dr. David Naylor and other by Senator Michael Kirby, pointed to the need to establish a federal focal point to address public health issues. Specific recommendations included the establishment of a Canadian public health agency and the appointment of a chief public health officer for Canada.

In response, the Public Health Agency of Canada was created in September 2004 through orders in council. However, it currently lacks parliamentary recognition in the form of its own enabling legislation. As such, this legislation provides the statutory footing for the Public Health Agency of Canada and it gives the agency and the Chief Public Health Officer the parliamentary recognition they need.

Beyond the benefits to Canada are the benefits that this agency will bring to Winnipeg and my riding of Kildonan—St. Paul. I intend to touch upon how the legislation affects Winnipeg, Manitoba, and also how the agency will rank against other institutions all around the world.

Winnipeg remains the location of Canada's only level 4 microbiology lab for human health and a world leader in research, training, commercialization and innovation in addressing the threat and impact of infectious diseases. However, the agency will continue to maintain offices, staff and expertise all across Canada, including its federal laboratories, its surveillance networks, its regional offices and national collaborating centres. What this means for Winnipeg is that we will continue to experience the benefits of our leadership in combating infectious disease.

With regard to how the legislation will affect Manitoba, the legislation does not expand on the existing federal role in public health. Nothing that the federal government is currently doing in public health has changed.

Rather, the legislation simply provides a statutory footing for the agency and gives it a mandate to assist the Minister of Health in exercising his or her powers, duties and functions in public health. The minister recognizes the importance of continuing to foster collaborative relationships with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments as well as international organizations and public health experts.

This is an objective that is clearly set out in the preamble of the bill. It is also why we have established the pan-Canadian public health network, currently co-chaired by the Chief Public Health Officer and the provincial health officer of B.C. The network is a forum for multilateral, intergovernmental collaboration on public health issues and it respects jurisdictional responsibilities in public health.

It is also important to note that the legislation does not explicitly define the functions and responsibilities of the agency. This was purposely done in order to provide the Minister of Health the necessary flexibility to assign powers, duties and functions in the area of public health, either to the agency or to Health Canada. This flexibility is further enhanced by not defining the term “public health” so that future governments will be left with the flexibility to define the federal role in public health in keeping with emerging issues and new challenges.

Both the American CDC and our Public Health Agency of Canada are part of their respective governments' health portfolios, working on core public health functions such as infectious disease control and prevention, emergency preparedness, chronic disease prevention and health promotion.

The CDC is not a separate departmental entity within the U.S. administration, but rather one of 13 major operating components within the U.S. department of health and human services. There are also some differences in the mandates of the two organizations. For example, the USCDC has responsibility for policy and programming on environmental health, occupational health and safety, and health information and statistics. In Canada, these issues are handled by Health Canada and other departmental agencies.

The director of the CDC in the U.S. reports to the secretary of the department of health and human services through the deputy secretary. In the U.S. the surgeon general, who has no direct connection to the CDC, has traditionally been the lead federal spokesperson on public health issues.

By contrast, Bill C-5 gives the Canadian Chief Public Health Officer a unique dual role. In addition to serving as deputy head of the agency reporting directly to the Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer will also serve as Canada's lead public health professional, able to communicate directly with the public on public health issues.

I would like now to discuss the role of the Chief Public Health Officer, another critical element of this legislation.

One of the key recommendations from the Naylor report was not only the establishment of a Chief Public Health Officer for Canada, but that the Chief Public Health Officer head up a new Public Health Agency of Canada and serve as a credible, official voice on public health nationally. Actually, that is the deputy head; the minister heads it up. This legislation responds to his recommendation by formally establishing the position of the Chief Public Health Officer and recognizing this unique dual role.

First, as deputy head of the agency, the Chief Public Health Officer will be accountable to the Minister of Health for the day to day operations of the agency and will be expected to advise the Minister of Health on public health matters. Further, as deputy head, the Chief Public Health Officer has the standing to engage other federal departments and is able to mobilize the public health resources of the agency to meet threats to the health of Canadians.

In addition to deputy head, the legislation also recognizes that the Chief Public Health Officer will be Canada's lead public health professional with demonstrated expertise and leadership in the field. As such, the Chief Public Health Officer will have legislative authority to communicate directly with Canadians, to provide them with information on public health matters and to prepare and publish reports on any public health issue.

Stakeholders have made it clear that they expect the Chief Public Health Officer to be a credible trusted voice able to drive real change by speaking out on public health matters and issuing reports. Providing the Chief Public Health Officer with the authority to speak out on public health matters and ensuring that the Chief Public Health Officer has qualifications in the field of public health will help confirm this credibility with stakeholders and with Canadians.

This dual role of the Chief Public Health Officer may be unique, but it is not without precedent in certain provinces as it brings certain advantages. For instance, as deputy head, the Chief Public Health Officer has the standing to engage provincial ministries of health and work with the Canadian public health network to receive the best advice from his provincial and territorial colleagues.

At the same time, with the authorities granted in legislation, the Chief Public Health Officer is able to communicate with the Canadian public and provide them with the best public health advice on key issues.

I have spoken on how the legislation represents a critical piece in the ongoing improvements the government is making to strengthen our public health system.

By giving the agency its own enabling legislation and positioning the Chief Public Health Officer as a credible voice on public health, the government will not only bring greater visibility to public health issues or threats facing Canadians, it will have taken a key step to renew and strengthen the public health system as a whole.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, like the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, I think we have to be ready to respond to pandemics. However, since 1998, Quebec can count on the experts at the Institut national de santé publique du Québec. This institute has all the tools and the knowledge required to face new challenges in the area of public health.

Does the member not think that the government is making a mistake with Bill C-5? By creating measures for the whole country and ignoring the expertise that already exists in Quebec, the federal government shows no respect for the work Quebec does in public health.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, public health is a shared area of jurisdiction. Provinces are responsible for hospitals and direct delivery of health care services.

The federal government can also play a role under this jurisdiction. I do not think it is duplicated. This is a very important agency. It is a very important initiative that needs to be formalized to ensure that Canadians all across Canada are protected. It does protect provincial jurisdictions, but it shares in collaboration with all provinces across our nation.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, this agency has been in existence through order in council for many years. There has been no legislative framework or legislative authority, which makes one wonder about the previous government's commitment to public health. The bill did not even make it to a vote under the previous government.

Would the member comment on the Conservative government's commitment to public health and the fact that the bill was introduced in the first 100 days of being in office, versus the previous government that did not even get the bill to a vote during its 13 years in office?

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, our government has been a government of action.

Everything that the Conservative Party stated in the election has come to pass almost within the first 100 days of our time in government. Canadians will be very buoyed and happy that they have a government in place that actually keeps its promises.

This very important agency reflects the health and welfare of all Canadians across our nation. It works in collaboration with the jurisdictions in the provinces. We now have a formalized mandate for the Chief Public Health Officer to give information to the public and to stand strong in terms of the public health of our nation.

This is a very important step. I must commend the Prime Minister for his timely implementation of Bill C-5. The bill formalizes the agency. I think it makes a big difference. It is not out there hanging in the air, it is permanent.

I look forward to the vote on the bill on Monday night. I encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-5.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, much of the work of the Public Health Agency obviously deals with infectious disease control, the outbreak of SARS, the possibility of mad cow or Asian flu for instance.

I am more interested in a different part of the mandate of the agency, and that is the issue of public health due to exposure to pesticides, asbestos, and other known health hazards that are among us. Our agency is relatively silent on those things. To be fair, perhaps it is that in recent years SARS and these other possible epidemics or pandemics have been top of mind issues.

Would the member agree that there is a role to play for the Public Health Agency to dwell on the bigger picture of public health for people's well-being and to relieve the burden on our health care system with a healthier population?

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, clearly this agency is important and it is being formalized through Bill C-5, as are the roles and responsibilities of the public health officer.

There are many issues that need to be addressed. We certainly look forward to working in collaboration with members opposite on all these issues.

I look forward to more discussion of things, such as the issues the member outlined.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, could the member tell us what exactly would be the role of the Quebec office of this agency?

In concrete terms, what would that do to improve and better protect the health of Quebeckers?

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, this agency is extremely important. When it comes to Quebec or Alberta, we are a nation that sticks together and works together. Through the agency itself there will be collaboration by the Chief Health Officer and other members of the agency who work together to ensure that the health of Quebeckers and people all across the nation are addressed.

Not only that, but if and when there is an epidemic in any one of our provinces, we will work together as a country to ensure that the disease is under control. We are looking at problems that we have across our nation that we really never had before. I think that the formalizing of the agency is very timely. I look forward to working in collaboration with all members of Parliament, with the Canadian Public Health Agency and with our Minister of Health to ensure this happens.