Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak today in support of Bill C-18.
Health is one of the most fundamental areas of government activity in our time. It is as much a basis of our economic success as it is a basis for our social strength.
Canadians have come to see Canada's approach to health issues as a valued example of the country's greatness. This bill will put the legal framework in place for us to keep moving forward as a modern department in a time of challenge.
You will forgive me if I read like this. I guess I have reached the age where health is very important to me. I do not mean to make light of this but my arms are no longer long enough to read my notes. My pride nonetheless has not been just a product of vanity, but it is a product of Canada's record of accomplishment and achievement in the broad health domain.
We have a health system that some of my colleagues opposite will recognize as the envy of the world. Yet we are at a time when people recognize the strains on the system and they are worried about the capacity of governments to meet the challenges these strains produce. Nonetheless what we have accomplished in this field shows the strength of the Canadian federation to address challenges. It shows the Constitution of Canada allows all governments to do what is right for the people of this land.
I will spend a few minutes reflecting on the leadership role the Government of Canada has played in the development and evolution of health and health issues. After all it, is the actions of the federal government, together with the provincial and territorial governments, that have built the system. Each has had a role to play that has been tested as constitutionally sound, and each still has such a role.
Speculating on what the Fathers of Confederation would have done if they could have looked into the future, it is kind of a parlour game currently in Ottawa. Would the Fathers of Confederation have drafted a constitution different from the one we currently have if they could have imagined today's health system and its costs?
The Fathers of Confederation assigned responsibilities as best they could and set out some principles to guide them. Almost from the time the constitutional ink was dry governments, courts and citizens have been interpreting those responsibilities based on contemporary context, and that is the genius of our Constitution. It is not simple a document, words on paper, or a historical curiosity from an another era. It is a living part of the fabric of Canadian society.
During the course of this debate some hon. members have cited various powers over health that our Constitution has assigned to provincial legislatures. They point to these and then claim the government has no right to work toward better health for Canadians. Can one imagine the absurdity of such a claim that the government has no right to take a leadership role? Can one expect an abandonment of responsibility? Obviously I disagree, as I think many of my colleagues on this of the House would.
The Constitution does not assign health as a complete and distinct subject to either the provinces or to the Parliament of Canada. It is much broader and farseeing.
It is certainly correct to note, though, there are provincial powers that relate to health. This is beyond debate. Sections 92(7), 92(13) and 92(16) of the Constitution deal mostly with hospitals, properties, civil rights and local matters. Section 92(2), which deals with local taxation and spending, would have extensions also for health implications.