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Track Steven

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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is ndp.

Conservative MP for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 57.60% of the vote.

Statements in the House

National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day Act February 25th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Montcalm for bringing forward this motion to declare a national day of recognition of spinal cord injuries. The member for Montcalm and I have become good friends, as far as we can become friends across the aisle, ever since we had that first race down Parliament Hill, which she won. Then, in my power wheelchair, I think I won the race going up Parliament Hill.

There are now two people in Parliament with spinal cord injuries. I think it is indicative of how Canada is progressing when it deals with persons with disabilities, but we have a long way to go. Disability crosses a large spectrum, and spinal cord injury is a sliver of that spectrum, but it has a lot of neat characteristics. I would like to share some of those with the House.

When it comes to acquired spinal cord injuries, the categories are generally quadriplegic and paraplegic, quadra meaning four limbs impaired, and para two limbs.

In my case, as many people may know, though I do not believe I have ever spoken about it in the House, I hit a moose in 1996 when I was 23. At the beginning of my life, I had a lot of things going for me at the time, and the moose went through the windshield and landed on the back seat. My car went into the ditch and the moose went over me again.

It was in a part of Manitoba that was remote. There were no cellphones in those olden days. Someone had to find me. Then they had to drive down to the nearest town. Then they had to drive up with the ambulance, then drive me back to Winnipeg. There were no helicopters or anything else to help. It was a tough rescue, and for whatever reason, somehow I survived.

The reason I raise that is that if my accident had happened 10 years earlier, I would not have survived. People are now surviving injuries that historically were not survivable. That is from the advancement of medicine, and Canada should be proud of that.

However, on the one hand, we often save people from catastrophes, then on the other hand, not provide the resources or the opportunities to allow those same people to live meaningful and dignified lives.

Let me explain. I will use my injury as an example, but whatever I am about to say could be transferred to anyone with a spinal cord injury. My injury is what they call a C4 cord injury. If those at home feel behind their necks and count four vertebrae down, that is where my neck is broken. That is a cervical spine, and it was a complete injury that has paralyzed me completely from the neck down, so I do not feel anything. It is just pins and needles.

One does not feel touch, heat, cold, pain, pleasure, hunger, or temperature. Body temperature regulation is messed up. Many people have problems with blood pressure, strange or unusual bone growth at joints, if they are not taken care of, and a whole host of other issues.

In my case, I need help with all the activities of daily living. I cannot move, so I have someone with me 24 hours a day. It is sad to say that not everyone is as fortunate as I have been in acquiring that level of care. In my case, I have had a lot of fights with insurance companies and other funding partners and over the years have been able to lay the foundation for a reasonable quality of life.

However, it was not always that way. After leaving the hospital, I refused to go into an institution, though that was what was offered. I ended up in a one-bedroom apartment with no wheelchair accessible washroom or shower or anything, so it was a tough time. Many people are still experiencing that tough time. In fact, I would say it is the vast majority.

With quadriplegia, there are some estimates of costs. A quadriplegic in his or her early twenties will cost society tens of millions of dollars if he or she lives a normal life expectancy. A paraplegic costs less than that, but it is still substantial.

The Government of Canada has provided monies for the Rick Hansen Institute and Brain Canada Foundation and has invested in stem cell research. These are all fantastic investments, and there is great promise in stem cell research. However, we have a lot to do to improve the day-to-day lives of people with spinal cord injuries. When we do that, we also improve the lives of everyone, everyone with an illness, and the elderly. We are creating an accessible society so that people, like the member for Montcalm, can be seen in Parliament, as CEOs of companies, on top of glaciers or mountains, scuba diving, and living life.

There is a difference between existing and living. As Canadians, if we are going to save people, we need to make sure that they have the option to live meaningful and dignified lives. We need to step up and make sure that the systemic barriers in society are removed. Spinal cord injury awareness day will help us in recognizing the necessity of making society inclusive for everyone, regardless of what type of disability one may have.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver East for her comments. I thank her for bringing up that forum that we did together. I do recall it. It was actually in July. I remember it because it was during Stampede week and there was a glorious blue sky that evening. It was hot, and the venue was in an obscure building with no air conditioning and only one fan. There was little notice for the forum, yet we had a fantastic turnout. Even some media turned out.

I would like to give the member for Vancouver East the opportunity to relay to the House some of the comments and feelings of the people who attended that day.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

To the member, the Speaker is a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan and could not possibly give an opinion on this issue.

Mr. Speaker, I would say that the only person who can make this decision is a competent adult. It could be no one else, not a family member and not someone who holds a power of attorney. To me, it needs to be the individual and only the individual.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I have about as much luck of convincing my colleagues as I have of convincing the member on anything. We are all of our own making, and this is a very sensitive issue.

This is not a partisan issue, but it goes to the core of what it means to be Canadian. What we decide will affect all the Canadians who are alive today and every Canadian who will live in the future. Moreover, whatever Canada does, it will be a model for the rest of the developed world.

In short, I think we should look to what Quebec did. It took four and a half years. I thought Quebec did an excellent job, and it would be very wise to look at its process.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver East for her thoughtfulness in this debate, and my previous colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul, for her eloquent words as well.

To the question, the motion today is one way to proceed; however, it will only be a small step, because we do not have time, which is really the enemy of the process. We have 12 weeks before the end of the session. We have a budget to debate and legislation that is already underway. We then have the summer break. Also, I suspect, although I do not know and have no inside knowledge of this, that there might be an election in the fall. All of this will eat up a lot of time.

There is the possible alternative of going through the Senate. That could be done if we could get agreement among the senators.

There are alternatives, but I think the bulk of this will be done after the election.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

In that case, Mr. Speaker, I will encourage viewers to read the Supreme Court ruling, as it is a very interesting and really sets out the parameters on which Parliament can act.

This morning in debate, the Hippocratic oath came up. In the court ruling, it specifically says that physicians will not be in any way obliged to conduct a physician-assisted suicide. Some people have said that the Hippocratic oath forbids such an action. I have printed the Hippocratic oath and would like to share it with hon. members. This is called the modern version, written in 1964 by the academic dean of the school of medicine at Tufts University and is used in many medical schools. It says, among other things:

If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

There we have it: the Hippocratic oath already contemplates both saving lives as well as ending lives.

In March 2014 I introduced two private members' bills on physician-assisted death. These bills would have replaced section 241 and created a framework to ensure that someone, a competent adult, wishing to end his or her life would be able to do so after going through a whole set of procedures and review by at least three doctors, and also a lot of safeguards to make sure that the individual knew what they were talking about, that they were aware of the resources available to them, be they hospice care, home care, palliative care, and so on.

My bill also outlined situations where there would be a lag time between when the request was made and granted and when the action would take place. I was quite open to amendments. Quite frankly, legislation like that would be the preferable way to do this. I would much rather have Parliament be supreme and make the rules, and then the Supreme Court interpret those rules.

We have a situation again where the courts are trumping Parliament. That is an issue for another time, but unelected, unaccountable judges should not be making laws. It should be elected representatives.

My bill is also before the Senate, which is another pathway, if the Senate were to choose to do so, to bring the issue to committee. I throw that out on the table by way of suggestion.

I will finally say the Canadian people are far ahead of the courts and parliamentarians on this issue. A recent huge poll that was done showed that 86% of Canadians support physician-assisted dying.

The question asked was about a serious incurable illness or condition with an advanced state of weakened capacity that is permanent, incurable, and results in unbearable suffering.

That is a harsh question, but Canadians support support physician-assisted death, and we should support the Supreme Court decision.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I will ask again later.

The reason I wanted to table the Supreme Court ruling is to make sure that we are all clear on what we are talking about. To do that, I am going to read a large section of the ruling. It says:

Section 241(b) and s. 14 of the Criminal Code unjustifiably infringe s. 7 of the Charter and are of no force or effect to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted death for a competent adult person who (1) clearly consents to the termination of life and (2) has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.

Then it gives the 12-month extension to deal with the ruling. It goes on to say that the reason there is a shift in the debate is that there is additional information from when the Rodriguez case was heard:

In particular, the law relating to the principles of overbreadth and gross disproportionality had materially advanced since Rodriguez. The matrix of legislative and social facts in this case also differed from the evidence before the Court in Rodriguez.

In plain English, they got more information, more empirical information. That is why their decision is different. The court continued:

The prohibition on assisted suicide is, in general, a valid exercise of the federal criminal law power under s. 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867, and it does not impair the protected core of the provincial jurisdiction over health. Health is an area of concurrent jurisdiction, which suggests that aspects of physician-assisted dying may be the subject of valid legislation by both levels of government, depending on the circumstances and the focus of the legislation. On the basis of the record, the interjurisdictional immunity claim cannot succeed.

Insofar as they prohibit physician-assisted dying for competent adults who seek such assistance as a result of a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring and intolerable suffering, ss. 241(b) and 14 of the Criminal Code deprive these adults of their right to life, liberty and security of the person under s. 7 of the Charter. The right to life is engaged where the law or state action imposes death or an increased risk of death on a person, either directly or indirectly. Here, the prohibition deprives some individuals of life, as it has the effect of forcing some individuals to take their own lives prematurely...

People are taking their lives prematurely to avoid the terror of what might happen. That is what it says in English vis-à-vis the legalese.

I will go on and ask again if I could have unanimous consent to table, in both official languages, the Supreme Court ruling, Carter v. Canada.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to table, in both official languages, the Supreme Court ruling in Carter v. Canada, which is essentially what we are talking about today.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member intently. I cannot help but reflect that there is an undertone of partisanship which does not suit this debate, as other members from all sides have suggested. On the issue of time, we already have 12 months and an extra 6 months seems to be reasonable if that means we get a better law.

I would remind the House that the member and the party had years to bring forward opposition day motions or legislation on this issue and have not. The member was a minister of public health in the previous government and did nothing on this issue.

I introduced a private member's bill. I wish the member would support something in that realm.

The fact is that to now say that the Liberal Party is all for it is a little bit disingenuous. When the Liberals had the chance, they did nothing about it.

Business of Supply February 24th, 2015

Mr. Speaker, what we are debating today is a motion to set up a committee to try to collect information so that the government can draft legislation to meet the Supreme Court of Canada deadline.

I am concerned about the 12 weeks. That is not a lot of time. A budget is coming up. We have the regular legislative stuff that we deal with all the time. There is the summer break and then there will be an election. Nothing is really going to happen until after the election on October 20, and it will take a couple of weeks for the government to get organized, so we are looking at November. We really are talking about a couple of months.

I wonder if Parliament should not recommend to the Supreme Court an extension of the 12-month timeline. Would the member agree with that?