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

Topics

Citizenship Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Citizenship Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Citizenship Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-5, An Act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and amending certain Acts, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia
Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today at third reading of Bill C-5, an act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

We had an opportunity at the Standing Committee on Health to discuss the key elements of the bill. I am pleased to report that there were no amendments to the bill made by the committee.

The committee agreed to report back to the House on this bill for third reading. I was pleased to see the strong support of my colleagues for the legislation. Additionally, I am happy to report that the Canadian Public Health Association has written in support of the legislation.

I think that most of us agree that the bill will provide the stability and authorities that the agency and the Chief Public Health Officer need to help protect and promote the health of all Canadians.

It is important that the bill be passed for a number of reasons. The legislation is not only to provide stability for the agency, but it is also needed so that we can properly address and respond to public health threats and emergencies.

In the event that we are faced with a public health emergency, such as an influenza pandemic, the agency and the Chief Public Health Officer must have the authorities and tools to be able to effectively respond.

First, the Public Health Agency of Canada must have specific regulatory authorities for the collection, management and protection of public health information to ensure that the agency can receive the information it needs. As the SARS outbreak clearly showed, it is important for the government to have the ability and the means to assess accurate information.

I would like to mention that the current Minister of Health was indeed the minister responsible for issues around SARS when it broke out in Canada, when he was minister of health in Ontario. This is in large part the reason why the government is so enthusiastic about creating a legislative framework to ensure that we can fight pandemics in an effective and meaningful manner. We are certainly fortunate in Canada to have the Minister of Health who is also someone who has had firsthand experience in dealing with these types of issues.

This is of particular importance because of the growing threat of an influenza pandemic or other public health emergencies. The Public Health Agency of Canada must have clear legal authority to collect, use, disclose and protect information received from third parties. The bill provides that authority.

This is important as it will first, give the provinces and territories the necessary assurances that they can share public health information with the agency in accordance with their own privacy legislation. Second, the Chief Public Health Officer must have the parliamentary recognition as Canada's lead public health official. He must have the expertise and legislative authority to communicate with Canadians and report on public health issues.

Bill C-5 establishes the position of a Chief Public Health Officer and gives him the legislative authority to speak out on issues of public health. Finally, as the public health agency was established only through an order in council in the past, passing the bill will provide a statutory foundation to the agency.

This will provide the stability that the Public Health Agency of Canada needs to continue to promote and protect the health of Canadians through leadership, partnership, innovation and action.

It will also provide the foundational basis for the Public Health Agency of Canada to meet the challenges ahead and address many of the other public health issues that were raised during second reading.

I understand that there may be a concern by some members that the legislation encroaches upon provincial jurisdiction. Let me be clear. Bill C-5 does not expand existing federal activities related to public health. Further, the bill does not supercede any existing provincial legislation nor does it impinge on the activities of provincial public health agencies and organizations. Rather, it simply creates a statutory foundation for the agency and establishes the position and dual role of the Chief Public Health Officer.

By providing a statutory footing for the agency, the bill responds to provincial and territorial demands for a federal focal point with appropriate authority and capacity to work with them in preparing for and addressing public health emergencies. In fact, the federal government has a well established leadership role in public health, working in collaboration with provinces, territories and other levels of government.

We intend to continue along this approach. The preamble of Bill C-5 clearly states the federal government's desire to promote cooperation with the provincial and territorial governments, and coordinate federal policies and programs. For example, the agency is working with provincial and territorial authorities through the pan-Canadian public health network. The public health network is a forum for multilateral intergovernmental collaboration on public health issues and respects jurisdictional responsibilities in public health. The network represents a new way of federal, provincial and territorial collaboration on public health matters.

By facilitating intergovernmental collaboration through the public health network, the agency is also able to develop scientific knowledge and expertise in order to provide the best public health advice to Canadians. This legislation continues the strong tradition of cooperation and collaboration which has been part of Canada's approach to public health for decades.

Clearly, we all have a shared interest to protect and promote the health of all Canadians. Through this legislation we will be demonstrating to Canadians that we have listened to their calls to establish a permanent focal point to better address public health issues and that we are taking the necessary steps to strengthen the public health system as a whole.

It is important that we have such legislation in order to provide a statutory foundation for the Public Health Agency of Canada and support our collective efforts to strengthen public health in Canada.

I would also like to add that the government has brought forward this legislation in its first 100 days which I think demonstrates the commitment that the government has to public health. I realize that some members opposite may suggest that they had brought forward the legislation, but it is important to point out that at that time it had not even made it to second reading.

Having said that, I am pleased to say that all the federalist parties seem to support the government in bringing forward this legislation and it is important to demonstrate that through action. In budget 2006 we saw $1 billion set aside to deal with pandemic preparedness. That shows not only are we bringing forth legislation, we are going to back up the legislation with the necessary resources and the necessary political, public and governmental commitments to ensure that Canada is as prepared as possible to ensure the protection of health and that the health of Canadians is maintained in case of a pandemic emergency.

With that, I am very pleased that the bill has approached third reading and will come to a vote shortly. I look forward to the support of all the federalist parties to ensure the protection of all Canadians.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his opening speech on this bill which I am sure will have the support of all parties. Health care continues to be the number one priority of Canadians. I think that the initiatives with regard to establishing wait time benchmarks in the last Parliament and a commitment to wait time guarantees will also be important building blocks in our health care system.

The member mentioned whether or not this was a predecessor bill. When the House begins each and every day, we begin with a prayer. The prayer is that we make good laws and wise decisions. Quite frankly, I do not care where it came from. What I do care about is that we do the right job on behalf of all Canadians.

I had the opportunity to be in committee when it had Dr. David Butler-Jones before it. There is this challenge, I would say, that we have with regard to the agency, with regard to its funding, and more importantly, with regard to its priorities. I think it would be very interesting and helpful to the House if the member could relay some of the concerns that the committee had around the priority areas to make absolutely sure that we are not just creating another agency that is going to begin creating an empire.

It has an important mandate, but it also has some options. I think those priorities are important for Canadians to know about as well as the concerns that the committee had expressed. The member may want to share those thoughts with us.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is very important to understand that we all need to ensure that the agency focus on its core competencies, which is of course pandemic preparedness and infectious disease.

There are other things that overlap, but I know the member was particularly concerned in the last Parliament with fetal alcohol syndrome. The health committee will have further information when it reports to Parliament on this issue. I ask the member to be patient and he will see that report presently.

With regard to the preamble in the member's comments on benchmarks in health, I must take a moment to remind the House that in too many cases the benchmarks were not set by the previous government and the health care guarantee was actually a promise made by the Conservative Party in the last election. Interestingly, about a month after it was announced, it was largely copied by a couple of the other parties.

The guarantee stems from the Supreme Court decision that came in June, which is a decision that access to wait time is not access to health care. Unfortunately, that has been quite an indictment on the previous government, where wait times doubled and there was a shortage of family physicians and other health care professionals. However, that is just to clear the record.

I am very pleased that among the federalist parties there is an understanding that with Bill C-5 a pandemic does not respect borders. We must be prepared and we must work together across party lines and political parties to ensure that we are prepared as much as possible to ensure the protection of public health and Canadians.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to ask the member a question regarding the Public Health Agency of Canada because, as the member knows, it is located in Winnipeg.

It is a very important agency, especially with the issue of the future and possible pandemics and, as the member so eloquently relayed to us, the present health minister was actually in charge when the SARS epidemic hit Ontario.

Could the member outline some of the very important things that the Public Health Agency, under Dr. Butler, will offer to all Canadians in terms of safety, health care in a possible pandemic at some point in time, and how that might relate to West Nile virus, for example?

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for highlighting the point that the current Minister of Health essentially led Canada's response to the SARS crisis. The lessons learned during that time were the genesis of the Public Health Agency.

We learned that we needed an individual who was beyond politics, someone who could see the big picture and who had the scientific knowledge necessary to deal with something like SARS. That is where the Chief Public Health Officer comes in. The Chief Public Health Officer can coordinate and deal in a non-political, scientific and evidence based manner with the issues around infectious diseases, pandemics and things like the West Nile virus.

The member also pointed out that we have a world-class level four lab in Winnipeg that can test for pandemic viruses, flus and other infectious diseases. The member may also know that it was a previous Conservative government and the then health minister Jake Epp that brought that lab to Winnipeg. As a fellow Winnipegger, I am very proud to have that facility in my province.

I am pleased to have the support of Manitoba colleagues in bringing forward Bill C-5 as it will affect Winnipeg in many ways. More important, it will help protect the health of Canadians in ways that have been outlined in debates at health committee, in this House, and in other venues.

I look forward to seeing this bill pass so we can get on with other matters as well.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the member opposite on the great work he has done along with me and other health committee members.

In his opening remarks he mentioned investments that have been made by the new Conservative government for the Public Health Agency and public health initiatives. Perhaps the member could expand on exactly what those initiatives are.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, the gist is that $1 billion over five years has been set aside for pandemic preparedness. This is a significant investment. It is an important investment. I would like to refer the member to the budget for further details as I am getting the signal from the Speaker that I have run out of time.

We thank members from all federal parties for their support in allowing this bill to pass.

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question with regard to the Public Health Agency.

In the summer of 2003 the Okanagan mountain park suffered damage as a result of forest fires. There was a real need for leadership from the provincial side that was somewhat challenged at the time. I appreciate the member saying that the federal level needs to show leadership. I know the provinces will be on side for that because they need stability, certainty and leadership during a national health crisis.

SARS occurred about four years ago and we identified that as a pandemic. It was shouting at us from a national perspective. Why has it taken so long for the Public Health Agency legislation to come forward?

Public Health Agency of Canada Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit of a mystery why legislation was not brought forward until the very last days of the previous government. It should have been brought forward long before that.

The current government has brought it forward to deal with things such as a natural disaster. Heaven forbid that Canada should ever have to deal with something like hurricane Katrina or a pandemic situation. The Chief Public Health Officer will have laid the foundation along with provincial, territorial and municipal governments and first nation communities to ensure that we have an effective and quick response plan in place to reduce any harmful effects and protect the health of Canadians.