Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-356, an act respecting a national strategy for dementia.
I want to begin by commending my hon. colleague, the member for Nickel Belt, for bringing this important issue before the House. The member has spoken about his family's personal connection to Alzheimer's, and we can all acknowledge the good work he has done to bring attention to what is a very pressing health issue for many Canadians.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It knows no social, economic, ethnic, or geographical boundaries. The effects of dementia are wide-reaching, affecting those diagnosed with it, their families, friends, and all of our communities.
While evidence about the causes of dementia is limited, we are learning that risks may be reduced through early diagnosis and by promoting healthy living. Research has pointed to possible risk factors, such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, environmental, genetic and gender factors, as well as traumatic brain injury. Some of these possible risk factors are things we can change in our lifestyles, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy eating. This is one of the reasons that our government has been so focused on encouraging healthy, active lifestyles.
No family should have to lose a parent or another loved one to a terrible disease like Alzheimer's, so it is important we are working to raise awareness of these things as the research continues to evolve. That said, we know that we cannot be focused on prevention alone. We must also consider those who have already received the devastating diagnosis of dementia. We must prepare for the future while also providing support for those currently living with this disease.
Over the past year and a half, we have seen unprecedented international attention focused on dementia. Last fall, the Government of Canada co-hosted the Canada-France Global Dementia Legacy Event. This event was built upon the momentum that began with our Minister of Health's participation in the 2013 G8 dementia summit. The focus of the legacy event was on developing new approaches to research, working with both the public and private sectors to bring all efforts together.
It was at this event that the Minister of Health announced work under way with the Alzheimer Society of Canada to implement a program called dementia friends Canada across our country. I would like to provide some further details on this program as it is an international model that is proving to be very successful and is highly supported by key stakeholders.
This unique program was originally launched in Japan as Dementia Supporters and more recently in the United Kingdom as Dementia Friends.
The idea behind the program is a community-based awareness and training program that would help to build dementia-friendly communities.
For individuals living with dementia, simple routine tasks such as shopping for groceries or paying bills become increasingly challenging over time. These individuals need understanding and patience. People living with dementia want to carry on with their daily lives and feel included in their communities, but they may need a bit of help and sometimes may not know how to ask. They also need support so they can continue to be engaged in their communities comfortably and confidently.
We believe that dementia friends Canada would help individuals, communities, and businesses better understand the needs of those living with dementia in order to take action and make a difference in their quality of life. It would empower communities, large and small, to create a positive change.
Through this program, the government would support those living with dementia today by removing the stigma surrounding this devastating disease and creating a culture of understanding, tolerance, and patience.
I am sure we can all agree that supporting these attributes is essential in helping those living with dementia stay connected to their communities.
Members may be interested to know that when the United Kingdom launched its Dementia Friends program just one year ago, it set a goal of one million dementia friends. Becoming a dementia friend is not as simple as a Facebook click. These one million residents of the U.K. have taken training to better understand the needs of people living with dementia and have committed to supporting them in the community.
The U.K. program is working to go even beyond one million registered participants and has now set a new goal of three million dementia friends by 2020. I know that Canadians will be just as excited to make a real difference for those here at home when we are able to bring this program to Canada.
Through a partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Canada, our government is adapting the United Kingdom's successful initiative to the Canadian context, and we would implement our dementia friends Canada program nationally. As part of this program, we are developing a national website which would provide information on dementia, suggest simple ways people can help someone living with dementia, and encourage Canadians to sign up to become dementia friends.
Canadians of all ages would be able to turn their new understanding into action. By learning a bit more about what it would be like to live with dementia and what they can do to help, Canadians would be able to better support those living with the disease.
Dementia champions are another important component to this program. These volunteers would be trained and equipped with resources to answer people's questions about dementia, suggest sources for further information, and support and provide training to dementia friends.
We have heard today about the alarming rate at which dementia is affecting Canadians and we know that sadly over time that rate will increase. It can make a huge difference to the people living with this disease if the people around them know what dementia is and how it may be affecting them. While we remain committed to research on prevention and a cure so that fewer Canadians ever have to struggle with this disease in the long run, I am proud we are also taking real action to make a difference for those who need our help here and now. I believe that dementia friends Canada would complement the significant investments our government is making in research.
I hope that my remarks today demonstrate the commitment of our government in taking action to make a difference for Canadians and their families. As I am sure members are already well aware, our government is already committed to developing a national dementia plan. In fact, it was included in this year's economic action plan, and we will continue to work with the provinces and territories to do exactly that.
When it comes to research, we have been taking undeniable leadership through our participation in G8 and World Health Organization efforts. We have been supporting Canadian expertise focused ultimately on finding a cure, and would also be taking real action to better support those who are living with the disease.
Importantly, all of these activities have been done while respecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction over health care. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I know that the member for Nickel Belt is well intentioned with this bill, but unfortunately, it does infringe on provincial jurisdiction in a number of areas. I think it would be unfortunate to have federal legislation interfere in an area where we already have such strong co-operation.
Members have also mentioned a motion which was brought forward by my colleague, the member for Huron—Bruce. I look forward to debate on that motion, as it calls on the government to take strong action while respecting the jurisdiction of the provinces over health care delivery.
It is clear that Canadians living with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia need our support. Our government recognizes this and has taken a number of steps already. We are committed to doing even more through the dementia friends program and our co-operative work with the provinces on a national plan. We will get the job done, working within our federal role.