House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was programs.


The House resumed from September 23 consideration of motion.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in this House to speak to the motion put forth by my hon. colleague from Calgary Northeast, a proposal that came as a surprise to me, and I must say right away that I am totally opposed to it.

Before preparing my remarks, I read with a great deal of attention the speech the hon. member for Calgary Northeast made before this House to try to understand where he was coming from, and I must confess that a few of the things I read made me jump.

At first glance, the member seems to justify denying entry into Canada to HIV-positive applicants for economic reasons. But a closer look revealed deeper and more troubling underlying reasons. For one thing, the cost argument is not really relevant in this debate, and this for two reasons: first, as regards the real cost of treating AIDS patients, my colleague inflates the figures. Based on available estimates, the cost to treat each patient is certainly not a minimum of $200,000; it is actually closer to half the amount quoted by my hon. colleague.

In addition, nothing proves that more money will be saved by subjecting immigration applicants to HIV screening than to screening for other diseases. An extensive study by a group of researchers from the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law shows that if Canada were to decide to systematically test all immigrants to determine if they are HIV positive, this would be a political decision rather than one based on economic considerations.

As part of their study, the researchers compared AIDS and coronary disease using available data concerning all immigrants admitted to Canada in 1988 to demonstrate that these two health problems weigh equally heavily on the Canadian health system.

To target only the HIV virus is discriminatory, I believe.

In his September 23 speech the hon. member continues to surprise us by saying: "When implemented the motion would be a significant step in the war on AIDS". This shows how little my colleague knows about AIDS. AIDS is an international plague that hits indiscriminately without sparing any society, culture or country.

How can the hon. member think for one minute that closing off our borders will solve the problem? According to this logic, we should also require all Canadians coming back from abroad to take this test. And what about the open border with the U.S., diplomats and the cost of all these millions of tests?

As the Official Opposition critic on health, I am, needless to say, concerned about AIDS. This terrifying disease is spreading at an alarming rate. According to the most conservative estimates, over 30 to 40 million people will have AIDS by the year 2000, less than six years from now. It is predicted that 30,000 Canadians will develop AIDS within the next five or six years. These figures are alarming and closing our doors to immigrants will not change this reality in any way.

So what can we do? While we wait for a cure, the only tools available to try to stop the spread of this terrible disease are awareness and prevention. That is why the Official Opposition is asking the government to create a committee to review the Canadian AIDS strategy, Phase II.

That is also why I regularly ask the Minister of Health to allocate her budget better, because cutting transfer payments for health-care to the provinces every year is no way to help them launch effective awareness and prevention campaigns.

Spending $12 million on a forum that will be totally useless is no way either to protect people in Quebec and Canada. If the federal government took the AIDS threat seriously, it would have invested the forum's $12 million in research or in assistance or awareness programs. Despite several years of efforts to sensitize the population, there obviously remain many prejudices about this terrible disease and the virus associated with it.

The motion before us reflects very well this lack of understanding and the prejudices attached to it. Some still think that HIV can be contracted through casual contact, just like the flu. We know that such is not the case. Others even see this disease as God's punishment. It is high time to sensitize everyone to this disease that will become increasingly present in our society.

What is worse is that those who support this motion seem to mistakenly believe that an HIV-positive person can no longer make a contribution to society, that they can only be a burden to society. This attitude is regrettable and even shocking for Canadians with this terrible disease who must learn to live not only with the virus but also with the prejudices, lack of understanding and fear of others.

We in the Bloc Quebecois reject this attitude of denigrating and attacking everything one fears or does not understand; of closing our minds instead of opening them; of telling Canadians: "Let us keep our heads in the sand and maybe when we stick our heads out again, the AIDS problem will be gone and we will be spared".

No, Mr. Speaker, that is not the attitude we should take. It is not Quebecers' attitude and it is certainly not the attitude that the vast majority of Canadians would want to take.

This motion betrays ignorance about the terrifying AIDS problem. Should it be implemented, this backward initiative would take us back to the dark ages and that is why the Bloc Quebecois and I vigorously oppose this motion.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for providing me with the opportunity to continue the debate regarding the private member's motion placed before the House by the member for Calgary Northeast. The member is demanding that all applicants for immigration to Canada be tested and screened for HIV, the AIDS virus, that all testing be regulated by the government, and that a positive result of an HIV screening be included as grounds for inadmissibility to Canada.

The member for Calgary Northeast tells us in Commons Debates of September 23, 1994 there is no need to debate his motion, that common sense should prevail and dictate the direction the government should take. The only sense revealed by the member may be common to him and his colleagues of the same ilk, but not common to those with analytical minds that seek the relationships between and among ideas, concepts, facts, events and other dynamic phenomena that assist one in a search for truth.

It is true the Immigration Act requires that visitors and immigrants meet two medically related criteria before being allowed into Canada. The first states that immigrants must not represent a danger to public health or safety. The second states that their admission must not cause excessive demands on Canada's health and social service systems.

To meet these criteria, applicants for immigration are medically examined according to a standard format used worldwide. This medical examination depends on a complete medical history, a complete physical examination, a urine test for applicants five years and older, a chest X-ray for those over 10 years old, and a syphilis blood test for those 15 years and older.

The blood test for syphilis is the only test performed for one specific disease. The X-ray, in turn, may detect a variety of possible ailments such as heart abnormalities, tumours and tuberculosis.

Although there is an attempt to consistently adhere to established procedures, variations in testing will always exist from country to country, from doctor to doctor, depending on expertise and resources available.

It must be noted that immigrants are not routinely tested for HIV. However, during the course of any routine examination the doctor may decide to order further specific tests. At times, if the initial medical assessment indicates symptoms compatible to HIV-AIDS or if the client falls within a high risk group, the doctor may proceed with an HIV test.

In the recent past, several applicants have been refused admission due to the advanced state of their disease. Most of these people were classified as inadmissible to Canada based on the excessive demand criterion and not a declaration that they were risks to public health.

HIV infection and AIDS are not contagious like diseases such as tuberculosis. AIDS and HIV can only be transmitted by specific high risk activities such as injected drug use or unsafe sexual practices, not through casual contact. Therefore, a Canadian resident who is willing to engage in high risk activity with a visitor or immigrant is as likely to engage in a similar activity with another Canadian. The risk of HIV infection comes not from the presence of foreigners but the practice of specific behaviour.

The best defence against the spread of HIV, whether from a Canadian or from a foreigner, is an educated population. It is not a surprise therefore that many organizations such as the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Hemophilia Society, the Canadian Red Cross, the European Parliament, the British Medical Association, to name just a few, all support the view that visitors do not represent a danger to public health.

In January 1991 a discussion paper prepared by Employment and Immigration Canada as part of its review of medical inadmissibility criteria in the Immigration Act stated:

"At the present time Health and Welfare Canada does not consider persons with HIV-AIDS per se as a danger to public health or safety. HIV-AIDS is not considered a dangerous infectious disease, but rather a chronic disease like cancer or heart disease".

The scientific community has argued that allowing a person with HIV into Canada does not pose a threat to the health and safety of Canadians, a position endorsed by the Government of Canada.

In April 1991 the then minister of health and welfare, Perrin Beatty, announced in Vancouver: "Our expert advisory committee concluded AIDS and HIV are not a threat to public health during short term travel to Canada. I am pleased to announce that we have revised the guidelines for our medical officers. We will ensure that visitors with AIDS or HIV infection will be treated in exactly the same manner as any other visitor to Canada".

The government's position was reinforced further by the hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration when he stated: "It is the policy of this government that persons with HIV-AIDS do not generally represent a danger to the public. Our main concern is with respect to excessive demands on the health care system". These statements are contained in a letter addressed to the Canadian AIDS Society dated August 3, 1994.

In dealing with the second health related criterion, that of excessive demand, there will be little concern with those visiting Canada for a short period of time, no concern because they would not qualify for health service and most visitors would be carrying their own health protection plans. The excessive demand criterion would be invoked when there is a reason to believe that the applicant would require medical treatment while in Canada.

In the case of immigrants, it would be inappropriate to institute a blanket exclusion of persons with HIV. The Canadian Human Rights Commission states that comprehensive individual assessments must be the main tool for determining eligibility, and lumping individuals into groups or broad categories is discriminatory.

In assessing whether an immigrant with HIV would place excessive demand on Canada's health care and social services system many factors need to be taken into consideration. These include whether the person is ill, and the person's potential contributions to Canadian society.

We know that some people have been infected with HIV for at least 12 years and still do not show signs of illness. We do not know whether everyone with HIV will go on to develop AIDS. How can we refuse to allow a person to immigrate on the grounds that he or she might become ill? Even those who have some signs of illness can still make a significant contribution to Canadian society.

Current Canadian immigration policy focuses too much on a person's disability and fails to take into account his or her ability to contribute to society. Each case must be judged on its merits.

The hon. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration states: "It is the policy of this government that persons living with HIV-AIDS not be singled out for immigration purposes. I would like to assure you that I and the officials of citizenship and immigration will do our utmost to ensure that persons living with HIV-AIDS are treated with the same respect and concern for rights as any other visitor to Canada".

The current Immigration Act requires that persons seeking admission to Canada as visitors or as immigrants be subject to standards of admission that do not discriminate in a manner which would be prohibited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 15 of the charter dictates: "Every individual is equal before and under the law without discrimination and in particular without discrimination based on physical disability".

Canada has traditionally taken a leadership role in recognizing human rights and extending a helping hand to those in need. I am sure the member for Calgary Northeast would be proud and so would his party members in seeing Canada continuing with these honourable, worldly aspirations.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech let me say that I am absolutely and thoroughly appalled at the statements that have been made in this House on this motion. It reflects an absolute and profound lack of understanding of the disease and more important, a lack of understanding and consideration for the health and welfare of Canadian citizens.

This is obviously a politically protected disease. We feel sorry for anybody who is HIV positive and has AIDS. But let it be known that we cannot compromise the health and welfare of Canadians.

In any event, I rise today in support of my esteemed colleague's Motion No. 285 to screen all immigrants for HIV under sections 11(1) and 11(3) of our Immigration Act.

It is not pleasurable to speak about this topic, a modern plague that up to 1993 has claimed 9,910 adult cases including 107 pediatric cases. Of these, 6,930 people have been killed. It is a disease that is as horrific as any fatal illness, particularly so since the individuals who have it are in the prime of their lives. They usually succumb between the ages of 25 and 45, a period that is most productive, with a major part of their lives still remaining.

I have had numerous patients in the past with this terrible disease. I can say from a personal factor that it has been a sobering and profoundly tragic experience to deal with these individuals, particularly in my age group when these individuals are dying before me.

You cannot cure them. All you can give to them is palliative treatment and treat their intercurrent illnesses. To see them waste away is a horrible thing. I encourage those here who have contact with anybody who has AIDS to get to know them and understand the profound pain, agony and anguish they and their families endure.

Equally tragic is to deal with the survivors who are left behind, the family and friends who have to pick up the pieces after their loved ones die. No kind words or understanding can ever fill the void that is left behind from the death of a loved one. It is impossible to fathom or quantify this loss in any terms whatsoever.

My friend has brought this motion forward, not because we are against people who are HIV positive and not because we are against people who have AIDS, the physical manifestations of having the virus. He brought it forward because we are public servants and we are compelled and obligated as elected representatives of this country to protect its people and to enact legislation along these lines. We do this especially for diseases or events that are going to be of great harm to them.

There is no question that HIV positively leads to AIDS and AIDS kills. If any member does not believe this, if a doctor said you were HIV positive, look into your hearts and see what you would feel. Therefore we do this in the name of public safety for all Canadians.

I should mention that we already protect the health and welfare of Canadians in a number of forms. We test drugs and therapeutic modalities in health to ensure they are safe. There is the checking of blood products which has caused so much consternation of late. There is the checking of products that are sold over the counter to ensure they are safe for public use and the checking of food stocks, both local and imported. Immigrants to this country are checked for a number of illnesses, including tuberculosis and syphilis, diseases that are generally not fatal, diseases that are cheap to treat and are curable, unlike AIDS.

Why is there such a vocal opposition to my friend's motion? The disease is pandemic, which means it covers the entire planet. It is universally fatal. It is incurable and it costs money. It costs a lot of money. Every patient who is deemed HIV positive will ultimately cost the taxpayer at least $100,000 per year. This does not take into consideration the very important factor of potential years of life lost for these people.

Between 1987 and 1991 the potential years of life lost for men rose from 17,650 years to almost 40,000 years. Why is there such a backlash against something that we believe is so fundamentally necessary for the protection of Canadians? Why is there so much opposition to this?

The reason is that it is not an opposition by the majority of Canadians. At least 77 per cent of people in recent polls are strongly in favour of immigrants being tested for HIV positive. The reason for this vocal opposition is that it comes from very small groups, small in number but loud in voice. These groups do not represent the majority of people in this country and are admittedly there for their own interests. They believe that people coming to this country if tested positive for HIV, would have a stigma attached to them, that they would be discriminated against.

Fortunately for the Canadian public and perhaps tragically for them, they would not be allowed into this country. This is not something personal. This is something we are going to enact for the betterment and the health and welfare of Canadian people. The individuals who are HIV positive or who subsequently develop AIDS deserve our sympathy and compassion, but it does not mean we have to subject Canadian people to exposure to this illness which is fatal 100 per cent of the time.

We can argue this on purely moral grounds, but another compelling reason is the cost. Unlike what my colleague mentioned earlier in the day that she does not believe it would cost more to the Canadian taxpayer, any health professional in this country would tell you that it is expensive to treat somebody who is HIV positive.

They do have a series of blood tests that are used to monitor a subsection of their lymphocyte count and we give them medications to prevent intercurrent illnesses. Due to better drugs and better treatment modalities and prophylactic treatments we can use this material to lengthen people's lives. This actually increases the cost to our health system, one that I would say is falling apart at the seams, one that does not have any money. These costs are not inconsequential. As my esteemed colleague across the way mentioned, we are going to have 30,000 more people with AIDS. How much is this going to cost the Canadian taxpayer? Three billion dollars.

Our health care system right now is falling apart. Waiting lists are increasing. Hospital beds are closing. People are dying on waiting lists. From her own province alone she has tens of thousands of people on waiting lists, hundreds of whom are waiting for urgent surgery. If more people are let in to add to the overall cost burden to our health system, those Canadian citizens will not get the treatment they deserve.

Is this threat from HIV real or is it imagined? Let us look at some areas of the world. As I said before, it is a pandemic. In certain areas of Africa where I have worked the HIV positivity rate is 30 per cent or more. In south east Asia there has been an explosion of HIV positivity. What a tragedy for those countries, but does it mean that we need to bring this tragedy to our door, bring it to this country and expose Canadian citizens to it?

The World Health Organization says that AIDS is a pandemic and that it will continue well into the 21st century. I quote the WHO's AIDS program director: "There is far worse to come as millions of infected people will fall ill and die".

There is no breakthrough and I do not think one is imminent. If the HIV epidemic continues to expand at this rate on the Asian continent, we will soon see more Asians infected with HIV than in Africa where there is an explosion of HIV positivity. If this is not a problem, if this disease is not infectious, if this disease does not kill, then why is the WHO so concerned about it?

In conclusion, this is not a diatribe against people who have HIV. This is not a diatribe against people who have AIDS, drug abusers, homosexuals, hemophiliacs or any other unfortunate person who has been infected with the disease. These people deserve the deepest sympathy and compassion which everybody from my side of the floor extends to them. As I said before, a far more important concern for us is to ensure the health, welfare and safety of Canadians.

That is the reason for the motion of my friend. Anyone who does not support it is sticking his or her head in the sand and severely compromising the health and welfare of Canadians.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me respond to a few of the comments of the hon. member from the other side.

First he attacked our motives. He said that we were merely being pulled along by some minority group. The government has announced that it is reviewing its policy on testing for HIV so I think the member who has introduced the motion should take some comfort in it.

The reason we are opposing the private member's motion today is that we want to give the government time to review the bill and make a decision. Once the government makes its decision perhaps we can have a more focused and more productive debate.

I acknowledge as much as anyone that HIV leads to AIDS and AIDS is deadly. Out of my high school graduating class of 55 people, 3 are dead from AIDS. One of them happened to be a very close friend. I do not think that anyone from that side of the House or this side of the House has the right to say that we obviously do not care, that we are sticking our heads in the sand, or to make any other personal comment.

Canadians recognize that AIDS is deadly and that it kills, but too often the debate gets mixed into other issues. Too often it gets thrown into an intolerance toward certain communities in our country. Too often it gets mixed into homophobic groups, groups that say that AIDS is a plague on the homosexual community because God is bringing down his wrath. It is that kind of thing we want to avoid. We want to have a reasonable, high quality debate based on the facts.

An uninformed decision by the House would accomplish very little. As I have said, the government is currently reviewing the extensive information we have on HIV and will be announcing its decision soon. Our decisions will appropriately reflect concerns for public health demand on the health care system, social justice and economic matters that concern us today.

We must not aggravate public misunderstanding about HIV. Too many people think one can get HIV and AIDS through casual contact. Too many people think one get it by shaking hands when in fact one can only get it through the transmission of certain body fluids, more specifically blood and semen.

We must take care to dispassionately analyse and reflect on the issues that are too often fraught with prejudice and discrimination. It is also incorrect to say that AIDS can be transmitted by simple contact. Too many people think we should not even allow visitors into the country who have AIDS. Last year for example, there was a forum on AIDS in Vancouver and certain members of the House said that we should not let these people in because they were a risk to Canadians.

In short, we must avoid being stampeded into adopting a policy based more on fear than on fact, fear that is often based on misunderstanding, misinformation and ignorance. Public misunderstanding could direct a misunderstanding toward immigrants even though immigrants are no more likely to test HIV positive than native born residents.

My friends from the other side have indicated there are certain places in the world that have an epidemic of AIDS. Certainly it is clear given the current policy that even in those places we would test for HIV and AIDS.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

But you are not.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

You are not.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Norfolk, ON

We are. Check the facts. It would merely foster the kind of misunderstanding and fear about HIV that we should be working to overcome.

The government recognizes Canadians' concerns about HIV and HIV testing for immigrants. We are addressing these concerns in the most constructive way possible, by conducting a thorough review of all medical testing with the benefit of the best expert advice and of consultations. When the review is complete the government will take whatever action is necessary to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to preserve the integrity of our health and social services.

HIV testing takes place now under certain circumstances. Under current guidelines immigrant applicants found to be HIV positive may be deemed to be medically inadmissible. Those grounds for refusing admission are based on the consequences, the impact admitting a particular person would have on Canada, whatever the person's specific medical condition.

Medical opinion does agree on the fact that a person with HIV does not represent a threat to public health or safety merely because of the infection. In other words the persons must involve themselves in a high risk activity, which normally means unsafe sex.

Refusing admission to applicants with HIV would have to be based on any excessive demand they might place on our health care system or social services. The act and regulations do not require medical officers to test for HIV. They are authorized however, to do so if they have reason to suspect an infection. As it stands now testing for HIV does take place when there is reason to do so. We must ask the question: Are the current guidelines working to protect the Canadian health care system from excessive demands?

In conclusion let me say that the government is reviewing the matter. Let us wait for the government's decision and then we can have a more focused and more productive debate.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I speak in support of the motion to regulate testing of all applicants for immigration for HIV-AIDS.

Today I would like to talk about a potentially massive health care problem which could be easily averted if we as parliamentarians take action. The problem is the entrance into Canada of HIV or AIDS infected immigrants. We are talking about immigrants, not visitors.

AIDS is a relatively new phenomenon in comparison with other diseases. The term has only entered the vocabulary of most Canadians over the past decade. Public awareness of the disease is still far less than it should be. Consequently there has often been a lag in the response of governments and institutions in dealing with the problem. We are aware that AIDS is only communicated in certain instances, not by casual contact. This is a situation which we must rectify today.

What is proposed is mandatory HIV-AIDS testing for all new immigrants to Canada. There is a great deal of logic and common sense to the proposal. I believe the action would be supported by a substantial majority of the Canadian public.

The facts are simple. The treatment of patients infected with the HIV virus and AIDS is an enormously expensive undertaking. Despite the millions of dollars spent on research, at this time there appears to be very little hope for a cure or even an effective vaccine. Those who study AIDS continue to advocate prevention as the best line of defence.

The motion could play a key role in reducing the number of Canadians who would otherwise be infected by the disease. HIV and AIDS infection is spreading rapidly across the world. These are the current numbers: by mid-1994 approximately 986,000 cases of aids have been reported. However, as the World Health Organization has noted, several factors suggest this is only a small part of a larger total. Many countries were slow to admit they have an AIDS problem and to move to set up systematic surveillance and reporting.

In areas where expertise and blood testing facilities are lacking it may be difficult to differentiate AIDS from other common diseases. In remote parts of the developing world many people fall ill and die without ever coming into contact with modern health services. Given these factors the World Health Organization believes the number of people to be infected with AIDS is much higher. The WHO estimates that by early 1994 more than three million cases of aids have actually occurred, including over 500,000 infants born to HIV infected women.

Some may argue that three million cases in a world population of over five billion does not represent a major health crisis, but the number of AIDS cases is actually a small part of a much larger problem. AIDS is the late stage of infection by a virus that can take more than a decade to cause illness.

The real measure of the scope of the epidemic is the number of people infected with HIV. The World Health Organization estimates there are more than 15 million people worldwide, including more than a million children infected with the virus. By the year 2000 if conservative forecasts prove correct, the cumulative total of HIV infections may reach 30 million to 40 million and the number of AIDS cases, more than 10 million.

A World Health Organization publication entitled "AIDS, Images of the Epidemic" notes the need for proper surveillance for better understanding of the disease. It notes that the most convenient approach to surveillance is to locate it in the health care system and test people who come in for care.

I believe the motion being put forward today is very much in the spirit of that recommendation. Canada already has in place the means to impose HIV-AIDS testing on immigrant applicants. These powers are contained in subsection 19(1) of the Immigration Act.

Canada has a long history of facing the challenge of infectious and lethal diseases brought to our country by immigrants and newcomers. For example, the forced quarantine of European immigrants for cholera and typhoid on the Quebec island of Grosse-Île is well documented. The island is now considered to be part of Canadian history and was recently visited by Irish President Mary Robinson because of its significance. Although Grosse-Île was at times a place of death and great suffering, it served the purpose of protecting the Canadian population as a whole from infection by these terrible diseases. It was the guiding principle then and it must remain the guiding principle for our immigration officials today.

Members of Parliament are accountable to the people they were elected to serve. Too often as members we hear stories of how the system failed. Sometimes it is a case of a criminal being paroled to offend a second time. Other times it is a case of a deportation order not being followed through and a policeman being murdered as a result.

If we do not follow through on the motion being discussed today, I believe one day the government will have to account to victims and friends and families of victims who contracted the disease through government inaction.

Why must we allow this to happen? Why is it that so often the government and governments like it must wait to be confronted by the victims before they make changes to policies? It is not unduly cruel to deny HIV and AIDS sufferers entrance to the country if it will prevent even one Canadian from contracting the disease. Persons infected with HIV and AIDS clearly, in the words of the Immigration Act, are or are likely to be a danger to public health or public safety. Something must be done.

Protection of the public is not the only criterion for denying individuals infected with AIDS or HIV the right to immigrate to Canada. The second part of the act takes into consideration another important component of any discussion of health care and that issue is cost. The act recognizes it should not be a priority of government to admit to the country those who will be a burden on the Canadian health care system.

Clearly immigrants infected with HIV or AIDS would be a source of excessive demand on the Canadian health care system. The disease is as expensive to treat as it is inexpensive to prevent. Recent figures from the United States show the average cost of treating a person with AIDS was $32,000 a year and the annual cost of treating a person with HIV but not AIDS was estimated at $5,150 a year. In 1991 the cost of HIV and AIDS care in the United States was estimated at $5.8 billion, including $4.4 billion for people with AIDS and $1.4 billion for HIV infected persons without AIDS.

In Canada some figures have shown the cost per year for persons infected with AIDS is $33,900. Our health care system is already overburdened and many Canadians have been forced on to waiting lists because of funding cutbacks. I call on the government not to aggravate the problem further by allowing immigrants with a terminal contagious disease into the country.

There are other factors to consider. Canada's taxpayer funded health care system is available to all citizens who want to use it. This is not the case for most other countries. It is conceivable that individuals knowingly infected with this virus could come to Canada because we have a publicly funded and accessible health care system. Our system may even be desirable to U.S. residents suffering from the disease, millions of whom have no health care insurance.

I would also like to note at this point that the United States already tests applicants for legal immigration to that country for AIDS and HIV.

In conclusion, a battery of blood tests is already part of the standard medical examination that is mandatory for all immigrants. Adding HIV will not substantially increase the cost of examinations, most of which are user pay. The cost of an HIV-AIDS test is $12, approximately one-third the cost of a test for tuberculosis. There is no good reason not to test for and exclude immigrant applicants with HIV since those with other untreatable or serious communicable diseases are already subject to exclusion.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Saint-Denis, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the risk of disappointing my hon. colleague, I would like to point out that he is not the first one to deal with the issue which he is bringing to our attention today.

The government has already begun a review of the issue of inadmissibility on medical grounds. Indeed, the review was long overdue. The last time immigration legislation concerning medical inadmissibility was reviewed was in 1978. It obviously needs to be updated. There we agree.

The scope of the review goes well beyond the question of HIV testing of potential immigrants.

Although it is an important part of the problem, it is only one aspect among others. Indeed, the situation is much more complex than it seems. We are now reviewing the whole issue of inadmissibility for medical reasons. The provinces and interested non-governmental organizations have already been consulted about some recommendations arising from this review.

You must understand that routine examinations go back way before AIDS appeared. The nature of the tests has evolved as technology progressed, so it is necessary to say what specific examinations prospective immigrants should now undergo.

In particular, the effectiveness of routine examinations to discover diseases that threaten Canadians' health or to identify people whose health would impose an excessive burden on our social or health systems is being reviewed.

It is important to point out that medical experts all say that AIDS does not threaten the health of Canadians because it is not an illness that can be transmitted by casual contact and because it can be prevented. As things stand now, if there are clinical signs during medical examination to suggest that a person may be infected by HIV or even has AIDS, that person is obliged to undergo a screening test.

If they refuse, they cannot be admitted to Canada because they did not take the required medical examinations. In this case, the screening test is intended to determine whether treating the disease at its present stage would be an excessive burden for our social or health services. That is why someone with this disease may be refused admission to Canada; it is not because of the nature of the disease.

One might ask why these people should be treated any differently from those who are afflicted with some other chronic illness, for example those who suffer from kidney failure or cancer. These illnesses too can impose demands on our health care system.

Research on the progression and treatment of AIDS is ongoing. People diagnosed as sero-positive can now expect to live much longer than they could even 10 years ago. Even if they test HIV positive many can continue contributing to Canadian society for many years.

Furthermore, we must also reconcile our economic and social interests with our humanitarian commitments. Of course we must continue to be vigilant, but we must also see that we maintain Canada's traditions of fairness and compassion. In its red book, our government committed itself to continuing to apply a dynamic immigration policy that reconciles humanitarian considerations with our demographic and economic needs.

Requiring prospective immigrants to take an HIV screening test may seem a simple matter at first glance, but that is far from the case.

We cannot and must not consider it apart from the other problems it raises. This issue must be approached in a much wider context, in which we take account of developments in the medical tests used, the concept of excessive burden for Canada's social and health systems, the nature of the treatment for this disease, the contribution of sero-positive people to our society and Canada's long humanitarian tradition. My hon. colleague will admit that these are important considerations which we cannot ignore.

My colleagues and I on this side of the House appreciate the concerns hon. members have expressed about not imposing an excessive burden on our country's social and health services. We must take care to dispassionately analyse and reflect on issues that are too often fraught with prejudice and discrimination-I repeat what my hon. colleague on this side of the House said-and avoid being stampeded into adopting a policy that is based more on fear than on fact and more on economic considerations rather than humanitarian concerns, which is not the Canadian way.

We care about humanity. We have to be cautious when we adopt certain policies and laws that this aspect is also taken into consideration. Our laws and institutions must reflect the progress we have made in terms of our attitudes toward diseases in general. It is the government's responsibility to show leadership. We have done that by undertaking a review of the issue of inadmissibility on medical grounds.

I hope the hon. member will reconsider his motion.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a few things to say after listening to the debate. I am really curious as to what is the hang-up on the other side of the House with regard to AIDS testing.

I heard that AIDS testing is undertaken. It is not undertaken on a consistent basis at all.

I heard that we should be a humanitarian country. I presume that means allowing immigrants to come into our country that are HIV infected. I totally disagree with that philosophy and I am sure most Canadians do as well.

We have to get down to the meat of the issue. The fact is that AIDS is a serious situation throughout the world. Why introduce more of that serious situation into Canada when we can prevent it to some extent by testing for AIDS prior to immigrants coming into the country? That seems so logical, so simple, it is actually missing the minds of the Liberals. Sometimes that happens. Logical, simple, practical things do tend to miss their support.

I want to support very much my colleague's motion to have all immigrants tested for the HIV virus. The reasons for this need are clear. They are not related to phobias. They are not related to prejudice. They are related to a more important fact and that is the innocent individual who contracts such a virus by knowingly allowing that virus to come into the country.

The hard facts are that we live in a world where we are faced with harsh realities, of which HIV infection and AIDS are two of the major ones. We especially need to address the question on how seriously is the government treating the AIDS question in light of the serious nature of the disease and the great economic factors associated with it.

We are told we should not support this private member's motion because the government is going to assess this once again. It is going to research. It is going to document. It is going to think about it. We are getting so sick and tired of hearing that kind of thing from the Liberal government. What we want is action. This private member's motion will go a long way in doing something positive for this situation.

It just escapes me how the government can take a problem and defer it to the future by saying: "We will look at it". Never in the history of governance in the country have I heard that so much as in the last year and few months. It is shameful really. This is not a time for being passive but for firm action. It is a call for action that has been shouted from many different sectors within our society.

It is especially necessary that we look into this matter from the perspective of those who are dealing with the spread and consequences of the disease on a daily basis, not from the perspective of those who come to Ottawa from other parts of the country and debate and debate and debate. Let us get down to where the action really is, where the people are being infected by this virus.

Dr. Don Sutherland in his letter of introduction to recipients of the "Quarterly Surveillance Update: AIDS in Canada" dated May 2, 1994 states that the statistics continue to emphasize the point that the AIDS epidemic continues to increase except in those persons infected through blood and blood products where the trend is declining. By the end of 1993 it is estimated that 14,000 persons had developed aids in Canada since the onset of the epidemic.

Dr. Sutherland uses the term epidemic which according to the dictionary means "the rapid spreading of a disease". The present Liberal government appears to treat the epidemic as a mere inconvenience which can be overlooked in the area of immigration. That is really what is happening here.

This is such a serious issue but so many things get cloaked in this country under immigration. The Reform Party must be anti-immigration because it is concerned about convicts coming into the country. It is concerned about testing for AIDS.

In my riding just a short time ago a young lady was raped by an illegal refugee. She spent six months waiting for the results of an HIV test while this individual basically ignored the whole situation. Had we originally tested that particular individual on coming into the country, she would not have had to go through that six months of torture, unfortunate as it was.

One does not have to look far to see just how serious an epidemic in AIDS and HIV infection are considered by Canadians. In an article from the November 10, 1993 Globe and Mail , we read about how the disease has taken over the lives of over 1,000 people a year in Canada. Can members imagine? That is 1,000 people a year in 1994 when five years ago this was really hardly even noticed.

Epidemiologists expect an even greater number succumbed to AIDS in 1993. Dr. Martin Schecter, an epidemiologist at UBC in my home province is still concerned about the current spread of the disease. He says: "The signals we are getting are troubling. I think HIV is relentlessly spreading".

With all these kinds of comments coming from the experts in the field of HIV, I am perplexed why the government would not say: "Yes, we know it is a serious problem. Yes, we can stop a part of the spread of that problem right now by adopting a private member's motion that sits before the House".

Because a private members' motion on HIV testing of immigrants is put to the House by the Reform Party is no real reason to get into political rhetoric, to turn it down. What has to be looked at here is how important is that private member's motion to society in general. Forget the Liberal Party rhetoric.

Dr. Martin Schecter estimated that between 35,000 and 40,000 Canadians have been infected by the AIDS virus since the disease was first diagnosed. Even more sobering is the September 11, 1993 article from the Vancouver Sun .

Here is an excerpt from the article: "AIDS robs Vancouver men under the age of 75 of more years of potential life than do cancer, heart disease and accidents, according to a team of Vancouver researchers. In 1992 alone AIDS cost Vancouver men about 6,000 years of life, 50 per cent more than each of the other three major causes of death". Even more disturbing were the chilling comments by demographer Robert Hogg who said in his team's findings: "If I had told somebody last year, nobody would have believed me".

In the minute I have left I want to appeal to this Liberal government to get away from the rhetoric, get away from the partisan politics, get away from the study. We will look at this a little later. Get into the meat of my colleague's private member's

motion. That is what we are here for, the protection of the lives and the property of Canadian citizens.

If there are immigrants coming into this country with the HIV virus, then this government has an obligation to test them. It has an obligation to the citizens of this country. I urge members to get away from this rhetoric and partisan politics and support my colleague's bill.

Immigration ActPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Ways And MeansPrivate Members' Business


Saint-Léonard Québec


Alfonso Gagliano Liberalfor the Secretary of State for International Financial Institutions

moved that a ways and means motion relating to the implementation of the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization, laid upon the table on Thursday, October 20, 1994, be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to.)

The House resumed from October 7 consideration of the motion.

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George Proud Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to participate in this important debate today.

I can honestly say that during my time in this House and in other Houses in other jurisdictions social reform policy is one of the most important issues I have debated. We have known for a long time that this situation was coming to a head. It is now time, as is often said, to cross the proverbial bridge. I speak for myself and for others in saying how pleased we are that we have a person of the calibre and the social conscience of the minister heading up the question of social security reform in this country.

Canadians are aware now and have been for some time that our social security system must be changed. We have come through a difficult economic period over the past number of years, fueled by recession and high rates of unemployment. High unemployment has caused a tremendous strain on Canada and has presented new and difficult challenges. As I said earlier, we are fortunate to have a person in place who is strong enough in his convictions to address these challenges.

We have reached this point only after having consulted Canadians. As we know last year the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development held hearings across the country to seek the opinions of those who would be affected by changes in the social safety net. They were told that there are disincentives built into the present system and that those who need help the most simply are not getting the assistance they require.

All Canadians know at this time that change is inevitable. The difference with the change that this government will bring about is the heart and the compassion that will be shown for the average citizen of Canada. The weakest and those least able to defend themselves will be protected by any change initiated by this government. The deficit will not be fought on the backs of the poor.

We have heard a lot over the last few years about the global village and the new world economy and how we must be trained to face a changing economic situation around the world. That is why this is not a hack, slash and burn economic recommendation but rather a constructive reform which will help Canadians get back to work.

It is an accepted fact that training and education are the keys to economic development. We must see that Canadians are trained in the most efficient and most effective manner. The money that is to be spent on education must be directed toward those people who need it the most. The people who come out the other end of the system as graduates must be trained second to none because they are competing with people from around the world and must be prepared to do that.

In the last three years as statistics show, 17 per cent more jobs were available for university students but there were 19 per cent fewer jobs for those who did not complete high school. That says it all: education equals opportunity. We must educate more people and we must provide better access to education and training throughout their lives.

We in the part of the country that I come from believe that if we have trained people we are better able to attract enterprises to our area of the country because these companies by and large are looking for a stable, well trained workforce.

At the present time the federal government is providing more than $8 billion a year to post-secondary education across Canada. The time has come to sit down and ask ourselves if we are doing this in the most appropriate manner. Under the current arrangement if the status quo were continued the cash portion of the federal contribution to education would decrease proportionately and could disappear within 10 years. Therefore we must find ways to help more people finance their higher education so that they will be prepared to compete on a worldwide basis.

We believe that investment in learning makes good economic sense but we must deliver the training to our people in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We must therefore ensure that access is available to all young people regardless of their economic situation.

As I am sure others in this House did last year during the election campaign, I visited learning institutions in my riding. Students in my riding indicated they were not satisfied with the arrangements that are there now for student loans. They want changes made to the system. Proposals are out now. I say to those students in my riding and others: Tell us what you think of them, come forward with different and better ideas and we will certainly look at them.

The other item in the minister's statement that has caught the most attention especially in the part of the country I come from is with respect to the unemployment insurance program. It is a chilling fact to think that 13 per cent of people have been out of work for a year or more. That is three times the level of long term unemployment that this country suffered in 1976. Forty per cent of claimants have claimed for unemployment benefits at least three times in the last five years. This indicates that we do have a problem.

Coming from a region that has a high rate of unemployment I can assure my fellow members of Parliament that those who are on the unemployment treadmill are not there by choice. They are there because of the economy and because the level of training does not permit them to have jobs year round. We must continue to look at these people who form our greatest asset in the diverse regions of this country. We must provide them with the basic skills necessary to be employable year round.

I believe there is some responsibility for government through economic or trade policies to see that the opportunities are afforded to Canadians wherever they live.

I am glad to say that the minister has appointed a working group to study the effects of unemployment insurance in areas of the country where seasonal work is the dominant work. In the province I come from 50 per cent of the workforce has seasonal jobs. This is part of our history. This is the way tourism, agriculture and the fishery industry work, on a seasonal basis.

The discussion paper released by the Minister of Human Resources Development asked Canadians how we can address these problems in a spirit of co-operation and compassion. This government is not interested in fighting the deficit on the backs of the poor and the unemployed. Nor is it interested in the system collapsing, serving no one.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a time of great challenge. It is a time that challenges government. It challenges members of Parliament and it challenges the people of the country. We are not arrogant enough to believe we are the only ones who can meet these challenges. Canadians know what is in their best interests. Between now and January the human resources committee and individual members of Parliament will be talking to Canadians, seeking their advice.

The discussion paper is a road map from St. John's to Vancouver. Through our consultations Canadians will tell us how to get from where we are to where we want to be. This exercise is about finding better ways of doing things. What worked fine in the sixties and seventies is no longer working properly. In fiscal times such as these it is possible to do better with less. By working with all Canadians this government will deliver what it promised during the election: a vibrant, prosperous economy and a country where the needs for social programs will decline.

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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Questions or comments? Debate. Before the hon. member for Malpeque begins I want to be assured that the time is being split with 10 minutes of speech and 5 minutes questions or comments.

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12:10 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on social security reform in the early stages of this debate.

The document prepared by the Minister of Human Resources Development will lead to future policy and legislation. I believe this issue is one of the most important decisions this government will make in its term in office. I must emphasize that social security reform cannot be looked upon in isolation of other programs and other activities like economic development and tax reform. What will happen in those areas directly relates to the issues of social policy reform.

As an example of what should not happen I would like to turn for a moment to look at what happened in the United States during President Reagan's term. It is dealt with extensively in a book by John Kenneth Galbraith, A Journey Through Economic Time . I encourage members to get that book and read it. There are a lot good comments in it in terms of what not to do in people's interests in the economy. I quote from Mr. Galbraith in his book:

For aid to the rich-the large reductions in marginal tax rates in 1981-the Reagan cover was a declared need to stimulate more energy, initiative and investment. Effort by the already well endowed was being inhibited because of the high marginal rates.

He goes on to explain how great tax advantages were given to the rich by the Reagan administration. On the other hand, for those less well off financially he says:

Similar and perhaps more successful was the position as regards help to the poor. Here income, indeed assistance in almost any form, was held to be damaging to character, initiative and effort and thus to the well-being of the impoverished. As the rich needed the incentive of more money, so the poor needed the incentive of less.

This was according to President Reagan's principles of economic development. That is something we want to avoid and which I am sure this government wants to avoid in our discussions leading up to social security reform and to economic reform in this country.

This issue will be of fundamental importance to us in Prince Edward Island and our ability on Prince Edward Island and in my riding of Malpeque to produce and prosper. I cannot emphasize enough the need for people to become informed, to understand the options and to become involved in offering alternatives. I encourage people to get the discussion document put out by the minister's office and to look at the facts, not some of the criticism or some of the assumptions they may see in the media.

This proposal on social security reform will affect my province of Prince Edward Island, either positively or negatively, probably more than any other province given the structure of our economy. It is my hope that everyone thinks through the implications on an individual basis, on a labour basis, on an employer basis, how it affects students and how it affects the economy as a whole.

With the foregoing in mind, I held a public meeting in my riding to try and lay out those facts in as straightforward a way as I could. I will give the results of that meeting in a moment. I did that because I felt that communities and interest groups must prepare themselves for the standing committee that is to follow and hear their points of view in a concrete, constructive way.

As I said at the beginning of that meeting, I want to be very clear. Changes are going to be made. For us to argue to maintain the status quo or the system exactly as it is is not even in the cards. It is not a winnable argument. We have to understand that. In understanding that we have to be a part of the process; we have to become involved as communities and as people within communities in a very constructive way.

I want to relate some of the points I raised at the public meeting. Some of them are critical of our position. We accept that criticism because out of constructive criticism will come good debate and at the end of the day will come better solutions.

I encouraged public participation in the meeting. It was very high and quite vocal. My constituents realize that changes are needed. However, they feel that at the moment the changes are directed solely at one group of people, the less wealthy in society. Let me expand on what my constituents told me at that meeting.

First, the government continues to say that too much is spent on social programs and cuts are needed, yet no one wants to admit that we in Canada do not have a fair taxation system. It is the middle class that pays 58 per cent of all taxes, while businesses and corporations pay less than 15 per cent.

Second, they said there exist massive tax loopholes that allow corporations and wealthy individuals of Canada to escape paying their fair share. At least that is the perception. These loopholes are subsidies and tax expenditures, thus costing the government a loss of revenues.

Third, they indicated that the government is looking at social reform in a one dimensional manner. Before programs are cut the government must take action in reforming taxation. The deficit cannot be put solely on the backs of the middle class and the less wealthy. From my constituents' point of view that relates to the overall thrust of social security reform.

I do not accept that criticism in its entirety. We are intending as a government to look at tax reform and other areas as well and we must as we go down this road.

There was a considerable amount of discussion on education. A lot of concern was raised by students in terms of when they are finished university if the new approach is taken what kind of debt loads will they face. On that point we have a lot more work to do in the area of education.

On UI, people at the meeting said they believe the changes to UI will have the greatest negative impact. The impact will be greater in Prince Edward Island and the maritimes as a whole than in other areas of the country because of our seasonal industries.

The two leading industries in P.E.I. are agriculture and tourism. These two industries rely heavily on seasonal workers. Without the availability of seasonal help the employers within these industries will be lost in terms of operating their businesses. Seasonal workers play a tremendous part in allowing whole industries to be profitable. As my colleague from Hillsborough said a minute ago, we are pleased the Minister of Human Resources Development has now appointed a special committee to look at seasonal industries in light of the impending changes relative to UI.

If these changes are taken without careful consideration all that is simply going to occur is fewer people on UI and more on welfare, once again transferring the deficit on to the backs of poorer provinces. We cannot allow that to happen under these changes.

In the social security reform paper job training and retraining are talked about extensively. My constituents feel that skills retraining is a necessity however, it is only worthwhile if jobs exist in the sector they are being trained in. For example, there is little use training an out of place worker skilled in electronics if there exists a surplus of electricians. Before job training occurs we need to know in what areas there are going to be jobs. I want to re-emphasize the need to work in economic areas to try and ensure that the jobs will be there once people are trained.

Some of my constituents believe that the reform paper is really a plan to cut the deficit, a plan that puts our deficit on the backs of those who can least afford it. We cannot lose sight that Canada is a country which is built on the ideals of having a social program for all its citizens, for all to have a level playing field to succeed. I certainly countered that argument because the position of the discussion paper and other measures we are taking is to recognize that changes need to be made and they must be done in a very constructive way to see that ordinary people's needs are met.

I had an interesting experience the weekend before last when I was the only MP who attended a meeting of the Council of Canadians. At that meeting all MPs who sit in this House, particularly those on my side of the House, were under attack because of the social security reform. I stood at that meeting and asked those people how many of them had talked to us as MPs and very few raised their hands. That is what this debate is all about. It does no good for those groups out there that are attacking our discussion paper to talk to themselves. They have to get out to these hearings and put forward alternate proposals in a very constructive way. In that way we will listen.

In closing I want to quote from the Prime Minister's speech in Fredericton in which he indicated where we are really going on this issue: "We need a national debate on our options. We are looking for good ideas from the provinces, the private sector, the trade union movement and individual Canadians. When new legislation is introduced next year it will reflect what we have learned during that consultation process".

What is important is this consultation, this debate, so that at the end of the day we come up with a better social safety net than we currently have.

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12:25 p.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments made by the hon. member for Malpeque who was referring to critics he heard in his riding. Indeed, Prince Edward Island will be very affected by this social security reform, as it has already been by UI cuts. In fact, the same situation occurred in Quebec, and more particularly in my riding.

I am pleased that the hon. member is trying to find other ways to finance social security in Canada, particularly from a taxation point of view. I suggest he take a look at tax havens, which should be eliminated. As well, family trusts must be controlled. This is the only way to finance social programs. Our social programs must not be destroyed. It took a long time to build a social safety net in Canada; we must improve it, not eliminate it.

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12:25 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question and would agree. We have certainly talked about those very issues in the discussion on this side of the House within our party and within our caucus. We have to look at all the areas of taxation. We are concerned and we must be assured that there is some balance. A tax advantage to the wealthy is in effect a subsidy to the wealthy. I agree with that. I think there has to be balance. We have to look at the subsidies to the wealthy that are allowed by tax advantages. On the other side we have to ensure that there is a sound social safety net for citizens across Canada.

We can take pride in what Canada has put in place to date but we recognize that now it needs to be changed. We are going to look at that in a comprehensive way. At the end of the day I hope we will all be better off as Canadians.

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12:25 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to hear speeches by these Liberals who have converted to the Reform point of view that there have to be changes. It is interesting that none of these things came out during the last election.

The member speaks about going to his constituents and also going to the Council of Canadians and asking how many have talked to MPs. If they had spoken to the Liberals during the last election they would not have been hearing the same thing that the member was talking about to his constituents at this meeting he was reporting on.

The Reform Party by contrast has consistently stipulated that there must be protection for the disadvantaged in our society and the only way we can do it is to make sure that the pie is carved up in their favour.

Does the member agree that the outdated concept of universality that was touted consistently by the Liberals in the election is now dead? Or does he believe, as the member sitting behind him seemed to believe in debate the other day, that it is universality if necessary but not necessarily universality?

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12:25 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, no, I certainly do not believe that universality is outdated. Universality is important especially in a caring, sharing nation like Canada.

It is too bad the member had not been in my riding during the last election. I spoke extensively in my riding during the campaign about the importance of protecting and enhancing the abilities of the disadvantaged, the difficulties we have in some areas where we need regional development programs to better those programs through changes in taxation policies and through other reforms the government may undertake.

We cannot look at each particular reform in isolation. The government is looking at it in many areas. It is looking at reform in terms of social security reform and economic reform. The government is willing to stand up and lead the way. That is what I believe we are doing.

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12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Drummond. I would ask the hon. member to give me confirmation that Bloc Quebecois members will split their time.

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12:30 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will indeed share the allotted time with my colleague.

I am pleased to inform the House of the reactions and comments following the release of the details of the social program reform announced by the Minister of Human Resources Development.

First, I think this reform should be named more accurately. Indeed, the minister's initiative is not a reform of our social program system but, rather, an exercise which is part of an operation to cut into the budgets allocated for social programs. Ultimately, this exercise will result in cuts of $15 billion over a period of five years.

The paper released by the minister is very clear on this, at page 23, where it says: "Reform of social security cannot be contemplated in isolation from the fiscal realities facing governments in Canada". Three pages further, the document provides more details on the real intentions of this government: "A social security system that is financially unsustainable is a dead end". The minister can certainly not be accused of lacking in imagination; he wants to make profitable a social system whose raison d'être is to help those who are in need of assistance.

What we have before us is not an initiative to help needy Canadians and Quebecers. Nor is it one which will provide them with some security. It is not designed to make the world a better place for everyone. On the contrary, this is an initiative from a government which wants to cut its spending and reduce its deficit at the expense of the poorest ones in our society. In fact, this reform is a tool which the government will use to cut its expenditures and put its finances in order.

There is another purpose for this reform and it is to centralize powers in Ottawa. This is every federalist's dream. So, this reform will be a very useful tool indeed. Most of the options proposed in this reform tend toward centralization. All in all, the government's two main objectives are very clear: to drastically reduce its social spending in order to put public finances in order, and with what is left, to try again to centralize the powers in Ottawa, at least in the jurisdictions it sees fit, notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution Act of Canada and the priorities of either Quebec or the other provinces.

Quebec and Canadian taxpayers give the federal government large sums of money, a portion of which is intended for health care and education pursuant to the 1977 agreement. The problem is that the federal government prefers to use this money not for its specified purposes but to reduce the deficit. The federal government must realize that by increasing the tax burden of Quebec and all the other provinces, it directly affects the whole social system the Quebec and Canadian people rely on. It is estimated that the federal government has saved $22 billion since it started to cut spending and to freeze transfer payments. The federal government has squeezed Quebecers and all Canadians to the tune of $22 billion.

Despite higher taxes, federal contributions to the health and welfare program via transfer payments have so drastically decreased that the basic principles of the health and welfare system are being questioned and jeopardized.

This reform confirms the federal government's intention to continue cutting transfer payments. Now, after reducing health transfer payments, the federal government is attacking education transfer payments with the reform proposed by the Minister of Human Resources Development.

Let us briefly review the implications of this reform for the education sector. The reform provides for the total elimination of education transfer payments for post-secondary education, meaning that the provinces will get, at the very least, $2.6 billion less than before.

This decision will have two consequences. First, the federal government will again reduce its deficit on the back of the provinces by substantially raising their fiscal burden. Second, this loss of revenues will force provinces and universities to contribute more to the funding of the education system. The rest is easy to guess: education costs and tuition fees will have to be higher and students will end up being the ones to pay for that by contracting more loans.

For Quebec alone, this loss of revenues will reach $300 million a year; that is, $300 million Quebec students will have to pay themselves because tuition fees will increase two-fold. While reaffirming the importance of university training, the federal government submits a proposal that restricts access to post-secondary education by increasing student indebtedness. This means that the proposed reform reduces the accessibility of post-secondary education for students whose financial means are limited.

We have been fighting for at least 20 years in Quebec to democratize access to post-secondary education and now the federal government is trying to undo what we have done. The government even goes beyond that by proposing dangerous and ridiculous ideas. First of all, it proposes to establish a central-

ized loan program in Ottawa. The game is easy to understand: first the federal government deprives the provinces of the funding it had promised them and lets them deal with their financial problems on their own, then it takes sole responsibility for the student loan program and wants to standardize it. Second, it goes as far as to propose that students use their RRSPs to finance their education. Mr. Speaker, do you know many students who have more than $25,000 in RRSPs? Personally, I do not know any.

This government who promised jobs to everybody, who talked about jobs, jobs, jobs for months, had a good opportunity to put in place a structure that would focus on job creation. Yet, we do not see any employment policy in this reform, any incentive to create jobs. While there is a consensus in Quebec and in the other provinces regarding the urgent need for a joint action plan for job creation, the Liberal government tables a discussion paper whose main objective is to cut social programs by several billion dollars annually.

The green paper tabled by the Minister of Human Resources Development first gives us an inventory of unemployment insurance, training and welfare programs and then tells us how to weaken them even further. To deal with structural unemployment related to inadequate manpower training, the federal government should have started by letting Quebec set up a sensible manpower training system. This is one of Quebec's traditional demands, one on which a consensus was reached long ago by employers, unions and politicians. It is truly unfortunate that this government failed to use this opportunity to get rid of a lot of the costly overlap produced by a federal system that is in very poor shape.

The duplication and administrative overlap that exist between the Government of Quebec and the federal government are partly responsible for the disastrous political and economical situation facing Quebecers and Canadians every day. The federal government, which insists on pushing its centralist approach, is largely responsible for the costly and inefficient proliferation of duplication and administrative overlap between both levels of government. Through massive use of its spending powers, the federal government is gradually and deliberately encroaching on Quebec's jurisdiction over health care, while ignoring what has already been done by the Government of Quebec.

According to a study introduced in 1991 by the federal Treasury Board, 45 per cent of the programs of departments, Crown corporations and federal agencies, representing a total of $40 billion in spending annually, were introduced although similar measures had already been initiated by provincial governments. This wasteful use of financial resources caused by duplication and administrative overlap between Ottawa and the provinces, is to us a clear indication that the disastrous state of public finances and the deteriorating competitive position of the Canadian economy are a direct result of the crisis in Canada's political structures. This wasteful spending must stop. Quebec has always demanded that the federal government stop encroaching on its jurisdictions.

Recently, Quebec again asked the federal government to stop interfering in manpower and occupational training, which cost Quebec taxpayers $250 million annually. Instead of realizing this and withdrawing from this area, the federal government has decided to use this reform to interfere on an even broader scale and make this administrative mess even more costly.

In this area as in so many others, the federal government should stop being stubborn and start acting in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness. Our level of indebtedness, the failure of the present policies as illustrated by the unemployment rates, and the number of people on welfare do not permit us to allow this wasteful overlapping of jurisdictions to continue only to satisfy the federal government's desire to control everything.

Today, because of overlapping, we are unable to implement efficient programs geared to social and economic needs. Therefore, we must come to the conclusion that if the federal government was really concerned about the welfare of Quebecers and Canadians, it would cancel its ill-conceived reform and concentrate instead on dealing with the issue of overlapping. In so doing it would realize that, in the area of social services, most stakeholders come under provincial jurisdiction, and that the federal government has no business getting involved. Quebec and the provinces are already there and in spite of under-funding, are more successful than the federal government.

Far from trying to deal with these cases of counterproductive overlapping, with its ill-conceived reform, the federal government is creating more overlapping by proposing to regroup under one roof all manpower programs managed by various levels of government.

It goes without saying that, as opposition health critic, I am looking at the health aspects of this ill-conceived reform.

We of the Official Opposition believe in maintaining the five major principles which are universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public management. However, what we are decrying is the fact that the federal government still insists on imposing these principles while at the same time cutting funding, especially since these cuts which, on many occasions, the Quebec government has called unacceptable and inconsistent, have not been followed by a drop in Ottawa's meddling. It is sticking steadfastly to its national standards and continues to intervene in areas where Quebec and the provinces

have jurisdiction, by creating parallel programs and therefore more problems of overlapping.

The link between poverty and health has been clearly demonstrated by several studies. Low-income people are more often sick, consume more drugs and require more care. We know that in the last few years poverty among young people has increased dramatically. Not only will these children cost more in health care, they will have learning disabilities and will be twice as likely to drop out of school as their wealthier friends.

In the end, these children will depend on welfare instead of contributing actively to the development of our society. To better control the general state of health of the population in Quebec and Canada, and therefore reduce health costs, we must start by fighting poverty to the finish. What does the federal government propose in this regard? I can see nothing. The reform even proposes to reduce family benefits of low-income families. This reform will only aggravate a situation already tragic for the over 1.2 million children in Quebec and Canada who live in poverty.

By refusing to acknowledge the link between poverty and health problems, the federal government is jeopardizing the effectiveness of our system.

Social Security ProgramsGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Order, please. I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member, but her 10 minutes are certainly over. I will nevertheless take the liberty of asking our colleagues whether we could allow the hon. member for Drummond to conclude her remarks. We would forgo the five-minute question and comment period. Does the House agree?

Social Security ProgramsGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members