Mr. Speaker, I would like to address a couple of things in the bill. One is that there is a tendency to think of it as a housekeeping bill because it is a change of name. There are a couple of reasons for changing name. First, it can be done because we do not like the present name. Second, the mandate or the content of the department can be changed. I would like to suggest that the bill represents a little more than just changing the name of the department.
I find it a little amusing that we are discussing the creation of the health department two years into our mandate. I believe we are going to be doing human resources a little later. Also, through Bill C-107 we have created the B.C. Treaty Commission approximately two years after it began functioning.
Getting back to the health department, the fact that it has been up and running under this mandate for two years gives me a little concern as to what its mandate actually is. Whether its mandate has been increased or decreased is the focus of what I am looking at here.
The Department of Health is a product of the phasing out of the Department of Health and Welfare and the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. It is my understanding that most of the mandate that was the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs went to the Ministry of Industry. I am assuming that a lot of the welfare aspect of the Department of Health and Welfare went to the Department of Human Resources Development.
I am wondering what is left for the Department of Health. When we talk in our debates about health we tend to zero in on the health insurance or the medicare component of this department. I would think there is a lot more to health than that particular aspect. That is one component of what a good and functioning health department should be.
If we look at clause 4 of the bill itself, it states that the health department will promote and preserve the preservation of health for the people of Canada. I might add that it states it will do that where it has not been otherwise delegated to other jurisdictions within the government structure.
The second part expands on that a little more. Paragraph 4.2(a) refers to the promotion and preservation of the physical, mental, and social well-being of the people of Canada. I would argue that the social well-being, as we heard earlier in the debate, involves such things as housing, jobs, et cetera. It goes into great parameters from that point of view as to our individual well-being. I would suggest that possibly that aspect is being removed with the removal of the welfare component. Consequently, the health department is in a position of having to collaborate with a number of other industries in actually addressing some of these concerns.
The physical-mental component of that statement is relatively easy to address from a health point of view, because one can certainly look at that within this mandate. However, with the removal of the welfare component that mandate for health has been diminished to a point that now we are in more collaboration and co-operation with the other departments. There is not the same authority there the department once had.
When we move further down the list as to what the mandate of this new department will be, in paragraph 4.2(b) it talks about the protection of the people of Canada against risks to health and the spreading of diseases. One would tend to think immediately in that component of communicable diseases and such other diseases that do not necessarily meet the definition of communicable diseases such as HIV-AIDS and possibly hepatitis B and C. These are pandemic kinds of situations. I would hope that a health department would have a major role in addressing these types of things that affect the Canadian people.
We have had some experience in the past two years with both these issues. In my opinion, the response of the government has been reactive. I am wondering if this is a sign of some weakening in the department's ability to pick up the reins and lead when these situations occur.
We go down to paragraph (c), which is "investigation and research into public health, including the monitoring of diseases". I am not sure if it is the only reference, but I believe it is the only reference made in the act to research.
In this context, one tends to think of investigation and research, more studies. We are going to research this, study it. As we all know, we have done a lot of studies. In some areas the feeling is that we have done enough studies over the years and it is time to get into some action.
I also would like to suggest that the research component of health is very important. It not only should be addressing diseases that are out there, but we should be looking at where we are going in the future from a technological point of view and how these things will affect our health.
I am a little concerned that this is the only reference made to research. It tends to imply that we would be looking at diseases.
Paragraph (d) states that the health department will establish and control the safety standards and safety information requirements for consumer products and safety information requirements for the products intended for use in the workplace. That is a program called WHIMS, which is being carried out by the provincial governments. The federal role in that now tends to deal with a problem within a company in which they feel the giving out of that information on their product may violate the marketing aspects of their product, put them in jeopardy of being duplicated or whatever. I would suggest that the federal government's role in WHIMS is minimal now that it has actually been established and implemented.
Paragraph (e) refers to the protection of public health on railways, ships, aircraft and other methods of transportation. Here is a situation I made reference to earlier. The health department is in a position of not having necessarily authority in these areas but having to collaborate with other ministries. I suggest that this will weaken the leadership of this department.
Paragraph (f) moves into the promotion and preservation of health in public servants and other employees. That stands on its own. The health department definitely is a major player there.
Then we move into an environmental type of clause, international, dealing with the United States and others. Now we have another situation in which I am suggesting health is again in collaboration with another department, in this case environment, which means that there has to be a meeting of minds between the two departments for leadership to evolve in whatever situation has to be there.
Paragraph (h) refers to the Statistics Act and the collection, analysis, interpretation, publication, and distribution of information relating to public health. I would like to say that this aspect is being well done and has been well done in the past. We have had experience in our past in which people have been able to get information about specific things. Having worked in the health care field before, I know that if one put the effort into obtaining information one certainly could get it. I suggest that the various departments in Health Canada, the bureaucratic component, have been the major bonus in this aspect of things.
We are gathering information and correlating it and then disseminating it to the people. I have dealt with the health programs and services branch with Kay Stanley, specifically in relation to cardiac situations. I must say it has been excellent.
Two positive mandates of the health department have come up in my dialogue so far. One is the education and correlation of information and the other is public servants' health care.
The last item is the co-operation with provincial authorities with a view to the co-ordination of efforts made or proposals for preserving and improving public health. My interpretation of that is it is the one which addresses medicare or health insurance. Again, the role has been delegated to the provinces to provide the service. The federal role is the Canada Health Act and the five principles thereof which ensure that the provinces meet those five standards.
Through the amalgamation of departments we have weakened our health department with respect to giving it the necessary authority to address a great number of issues. Many other aspects of the health department, other than the health insurance aspect which has been transferred to the provinces, are tied up with other departments. One really does not know who has jurisdiction.
Being the critic for aboriginal concerns I have seen many studies. We just heard a member speak about programs. There are numerous studies, such as the EAGLE study which is being done in collaboration with the environment department. There is a drinking water study in progress on which the department of health is collaborating with the department of Indian affairs. As a matter of fact, with respect to the drinking water project, I believe an education program has been established.
All of these things are necessary. There is a great concern regarding the health of our aboriginal people which we should be addressing. We know that breast cancer is another problem which we should be addressing. There are many problems which need to be identified and addressed.
The authority to address these health problems within other jurisdictions, for example, aboriginal people falling under the department of Indian affairs, tends to weaken the authority of the health department. We can get caught up with money, priorities or other things. My point is that I think it is a weakness.
There is an abundance of money in the health care budget. There is a tendency to think of that money in relation to the health care insurance plan. We hear all kinds of dialogue about withholding transfers to the provinces and cutbacks in services. I realize there is a formula which is based on a dollar amount per head.
I might suggest that when we start looking at all of the areas in which health is involved, such as the studies and the various programs in collaboration with other ministries, possibly some of that money might be better used on the other side of the health department which is health insurance and medicare. I realize that entails changing the formula.
The moneys available in health care for health insurance-and I do not know what the percentages would be on that through the whole budget-should be revisited in relation to all the other things the health department should or could be doing with the dollars it has but has allocated elsewhere into studies and various individual programs.
Returning to the reference I made earlier that this bill is creating the health department, this department has been functioning for two years. It may support my argument that the department has been weakened. I hope there is a little more activity coming from the health department. We have had no legislation to date other than this bill. Bill C-7 was referred to the health committee but it was not introduced by the health department to this House.
We had the tobacco situation early last year which again had a negative effect on the health situation. We have had the blood tainting and HIV-AIDS situations. We have had the comments about the transfer payments to the provinces in the west. We have had TB in the women's prisons and also the assisted suicide issue arise. There was not really any leadership from the health department. The medical profession actually expressed the pros and cons and the ethics of this and the other House undertook the study on palliative care issues.
I have concerns. We are not just dealing with a name change. I have concerns about the role of the government. I have great concerns that it is being diffused.
I have had some discussions with the Canadian Nurses Association. The association expressed the concern that with the removal of welfare the department would be restricted in its ability to address the whole human being which is important. The approach of health care workers in Canada has changed from an illness approach to a wellness approach where they must look at the whole body. There are concerns from the Canadian Nurses Association on that.
The association is also concerned that the national standards coming from the department relate specifically, from what we have heard so far, to the Canada Health Act and the five principles which relate to the health insurance program.
Those are some of my concerns. I will certainly be supporting this bill when the vote comes. I am concerned that it is being diffused. The team leader, the Prime Minister, calls the shots when
it comes to setting up the ministries. I do have concerns that this department has been extremely weakened.