House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.


Québec-TéléphonePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend its Direction to the CRTC (Eligible Canadian Corporations) in order to authorize the CRTC to grant Québec-Téléphone a broadcasting license under the Broadcasting Act, so as to permit competition in distributing broadcasting signals in the territory served by Québec-Téléphone.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today in this House to debate a motion I tabled with respect to Québec-Téléphone, whose head office is located in the city of Rimouski, regional capital of the Lower St. Lawrence administrative region in Quebec.

Motion M-102 reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend its Direction to the CRTC (Eligible Canadian Corporations) in order to authorize the CRTC to grant Québec-Téléphone a broadcasting license under the Broadcasting Act, so as to permit competition in distributing broadcasting signals in the territory served by Québec-Téléphone.

For the benefit of our listeners, I should explain that the government's direction to the CRTC on eligible Canadian corporations allows the CRTC to set the requirements for recognizing a company as Canadian.

Pursuant to Standing Order 86(3), this motion was formally seconded by four of my colleagues when it was moved at the beginning of this second session: two from the Bloc Quebecois, the hon. member for Portneuf and the one for Charlevoix, the independent member for Beauce, and the NDP member for Burnaby-Kingsway, a riding in British Columbia.

I think it is important to understand what led to the tabling of this motion. First of all, the CRTC and the advisory council on the information highway recommended that the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Industry maintain Canadian ownership requirements for broadcasting businesses and that the grandfather protection already enjoyed by Québec-Téléphone under the Telecommunications Act not be granted to it in this sector, thus preventing Québec-Téléphone from entering the world of convergence and competition.

Second, Québec-Téléphone then decided to step in to defend its rights and to do everything it could to survive as a corporation, which led to two concrete actions. It started by lobbying to have its case heard. The company had to define, present and clearly explain its situation so that government officials could seek and find a solution without compromising Canada's cultural sovereignty.

It also had to set up a survival committee composed of managers and unionized employees to promote public awareness of the company's future prospects: either to stagnate and perhaps go into decline or disappear as an autonomous entity, or else to prosper by entering the world of convergence in order to obtain a broadcasting license.

Third, once these decisions had been made, they then had to be implemented. The committee for the survival of Québec-Téléphone circulated a petition, which was signed by 94,253 people residing on the territory served by Québec-Telephone, a territory stretching from Rimouski to Gaspé, over to the Lower North Shore, from Baie-Comeau to Lourdes-de-Blanc-Sablon, to Montmagny, the Beauce region and finally Donnacona.

This petition, most of which has been tabled in this House, urged the government to grant Québec-Téléphone an extension of the grandfather clause whereby it could be issued a broadcasting licence by the CRTC.

In addition, of course, the senior managers of the company lobbied their member of Parliament and a number of government members, as is normal and necessary, to state their concerns, so that the whole situation would be clear and that an appropriate solution could be devised that would satisfy all those concerned.

It is as part of this effort that I tabled a motion before this House, to make the whole issue transparent. There is a solution that would allow Québec-Telephone to take its place in the field of convergence and to be competitive. But it is a political solution; therefore,

the fact that the matter is raised in political terms should not come as a surprise.

Based to a large extent on a brief submitted by Québec-Téléphone, I would now like to give a brief historical outline of this company, which is part of the everyday lives of many Quebecers and was the largest telecommunications carrier under Quebec jurisdiction until the Supreme Court of Canada decided otherwise in its April 26, 1994 ruling.

The origin of the Québec-Téléphone company we know today dates back to 1898. This was the year when Dr. Ferdinand Demers founded the Métis telephone company. But it was not until July 7, 1927 that the company was officially incorporated, under the name of Corporation de téléphone de valeurs d'utilités publiques de Québec. A vigorous company from the beginning, it eventually integrated most of the province's telephone networks.

Québec-Téléphone's true founder was the Hon. Jules A. Brillant, who bought the Compagnie de téléphone nationale in 1927. Twenty years later, the company received supplementary letters patent and became known as the Corporation de téléphone de Québec. On February 10, 1955, through a special act, Quebec's Parliament gave the company the power to expropriate, along with the name Québec-Téléphone.

The company then had to modernize its operations and look for considerable capital input, which was indispensable if it was to develop its communications infrastructure. In 1966, the Brillant family sold its Québec-Téléphone shares and, on July 21, the Anglo-Canadian Telephone Company, a subsidy of GTE Corporation-General Telephone and Electronics-, whose head office is located in Connecticut, became controlling shareholder of Québec-Téléphone with 50.4 per cent of the shares.

It is interesting to note that, in spite of this association with an American multinational, the company presidents, namely Messrs. Bénéteau, Sirois and Laroche, have always been from the region and have worked their way up within the company.

Mr. Bénéteau was president from 1967 to 1974. During that period, the company's growth was characterized by technological excellence and emphasis on network automation, while also giving priority to the development of telephone services in the middle and lower North Shore regions. The construction program to provide the north shore of the St. Lawrence with communications infrastructures was very ambitious, but the company was convinced that it would prove a powerful development tool for these regions, which were not industrialized, as yet.

By the end of 1968, the 2,085 miles of Québec-Téléphone's microwave network made it the largest one in Quebec while also ensuring communications with western Labrador and the island of Newfoundland.

On September 1, 1974, Raymond Sirois took over from Mr. Bénéteau and a true era of change started for Québec-Téléphone.

The company was always at the forefront of change. On October 14, 1975, it started a convergence experiment, bought the infrastructure of Cablovision Bas-Saint-Laurent Ltée, and pledged to serve subscribers from Matane and the Matapedia Valley. In Rimouski, its suburbs, and Mont-Joli, Québec-Téléphone worked with Câblodistribution de l'Est. To comply with a Supreme Court ruling, it was forced to stop its involvement with cable television infrastructures.

Rapid changes in telecommunications did not prevent the company from quickly adapting to an increasingly competitive environment. As early as 1981, the company started digitizing its telephone system by using fibre optics in the long distance system.

Québec-Téléphone was the first company in Canada to offer all its clients private lines in 1991, and touch tone lines in 1993. In that year, the company also finished converting its switching and long distance transmission facilities to fibre optics, thus taking the lead in electronic highway development.

On February 1, 1992, Gilles Laroche became president of the company, and his arrival signalled the beginning of the age of partnerships. The company joined the Stentor network, thus becoming a Telesat shareholder. By adding a satellite component to its services, Québec-Téléphone could contemplate efficient and economical solutions to serving remote and not very accessible areas in its wide territory.

Québec-Téléphone must continue to work to ensure its clients have equal access to services at a reasonable cost. Thus, in September 1995, through a subsidiary, the company introduced the Internet under its GLOBE TROTTER trademark.

In summary, to conclude this historical overview, I would like to quote at length from the brief prepared by Québec-Téléphone: "The history of Québec-Téléphone is simply and above all the history of the builders and developers of a region which is arid in appearance but rich in a commitment and a will to succeed collectively in being and remaining a company whose heart beats to the rhythm of the life of the people representing it and pushing it to achieve excellency".

Let us now briefly turn to the operating environment of Québec-Téléphone. This company serves a 272,000 square kilometre territory, which forms 40 per cent of Quebec's populated area. This territory is spread over three distinct administrative regions: Quebec, the Lower St. Lawrence and the North Shore. Within the territor assigned to Québec-Téléphone, the company serves a

total of 309 municipalities; 300 of them have a population of less than 10,000, and 168 one of less than 1,000. Only one, Rimouski, has a population of more than 35,000. On the whole, 54 per cent of the population served by Québec-Téléphone can be considered rural.

According to the 1991 census, Québec-Téléphone provides its telecommunications services to 550,400 people. Expressed as a number of inhabitants per square kilometre, this translates as a population density of 2.2 people per square kilometre. This population, living in a vast but sparsely populated area, is characterized, in demographic terms, by evolution, aging and particular needs.

Indeed, between 1981 and 1991, the number of households increases as much in the territory served by Québec-Téléphone as in Quebec and Canada, the increase being 1.8 per cent compared to 2.2 per cent for Quebec and Canada resppectively. The population served by Québec-Téléphone is aging more rapidly, because the young are drained toward big cities outside the territory served by this company. Finally, it is impossible to ignore certain general needs of this population, such as maintaining its living standard, improving the quality and efficiency of public services, maintaining vital relations with big cities, and improving the transportation system to guarantee a better access. In short, this population wants to break free from the isolation that comes with living in remote areas.

Despite the context it has to cope with, Québec-Téléphone has, through its presence and involvement in the regions, a great regional economic impact. First of all, it is the most important private sector employer in Rimouski, and over half its 1,700 employees live there. The total payroll of Québec-Téléphone employees living in Rimouski was over $48 million, and that of all employees of that company was almost $75 million, in 1995.

Figures for 1993 show that Québec-Téléphone bought $21,294,565 in goods in the territory its serves, and $64,780,435 in Canada. The company purchased 92 per cent of all the goods it bought in Canada.

Québec-Téléphone is well established, and it contributes to the social and cultural development in its region. It also contributes to the quality of life by supporting many community services. Its involvement and sponsoring activities are mainly in health, education, arts, culture, and outdoor recreation. I could not possibly give the complete list of activities Québec-Téléphone is involved in, but here are a few examples.

In the area of health, it contributed $350,000 to the Association du cancer de l'est du Québec towards an experiment with a chip card to allow consultations and updating of medical records.

In the area of education, it has sponsored for five years the chair of optical telecommunications at Laval University. A first agreement for $600,000 was signed in 1988, and then renewed and increased to $1 million in 1993.

In the arts and culture area, financing of an international organ and harpsichord international workshop; financing of the publication of books on the history of the Lower St. Lawrence and the South Shore; for the last 26 years, publication on the front cover of the phone directory of a work of art by a Quebec painter.

Québec-Téléphone is also getting involved in the multimedia sector, with distance learning, distance diagnosis, distance justice, the Internet, and broad band frequency communications services.

At this point in my speech, I would like to quote again from the brief submitted by Québec-Téléphone: "These latter services demonstrate the capacity of our company to provide, at the same time as other companies, if not before, advanced services to meet the real concerns and needs of the people and the businesses we serve. Québec-Téléphone expects a very bright future if it is given the opportunity to acquire a broadcasting license. As the company has done in other areas, it will take this new responsibility seriously. It will strive to set up a multipurpose network for all of its customers. It will remain attuned to the daily and more general needs of the people in order to provide them with a standard of living comparable to the technological development of the larger urban areas".

The brief continues: "Should Québec-Téléphone's request for a broadcasting license be turned down, it will mean that these advanced services will not be available over a good part of the territory it serves-Québec-Téléphone has a good knowledge of the people and the companies it serves, especially of their needs. Throughout its corporate history, it has shared many co-operative projects and experiences with its customers-and has proven its sense of responsibility, its entrepreneurship and its progressive vision as a Canadian company. If Québec-Téléphone is prevented from getting a broadcasting license, not only will the company be denied a privilege that could have granted by the lawmakers, but a majority of the people living on the territory it serves will have to do without the advanced services the company could have provided and the residents of the larger urban areas already enjoy".

Québec-Téléphone's brief goes on to say: "The 1987 policy statement and the 1993 act led us to believe that nothing would stop Québec-Téléphone from offering a comprehensive package of communication services on its territory, as all other telephone companies will be able to do, wherever they may be located in Canada. Québec-Téléphone believes this demand is natural and that it constitutes a logical extension of vested rights recognized by the 1987 policy statement and in the communication act. Québec-Téléphone is convinced that the government will recognize its efforts and its determination in all fields which have marked its

long experience and that the government will simply allow it to go on doing what it has already started out to do".

Last year, the government adopted orders in council which were a lot more threatening for Canadian culture than what we are proposing today. Allowing satellite broadcasting where 75 per cent of programs originate in the United States represents a much bigger risk.

A broadcasting licence is important for Québec-Téléphone because it will allow it to develop the regions affected by the creation of quality jobs, to make new services accessible at a reasonable cost, to ensure competition over the territory served by the company, to promote culture in French and to guarantee the development of Québec-Téléphone.

A licence is desirable for Québec-Téléphone, its customers, the people it serves, its employees and its shareholders.

I am convinced the government will do everything in its power to consider this motion favourably and to find a solution which will be acceptable for all stakeholders, without compromising the cultural sovereignty of Canada and Quebec alike, and as soon as possible.

Québec-TéléphonePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Restigouche—Chaleur New Brunswick


Guy Arseneault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, Québec-Téléphone's rights to hold a licence to provide broadcasting services on the information highway is a crucial issue for the people of eastern Quebec. These people should have access to the same kind of broadcasting, telecommunication and new communication services as the rest of the Canadian population.

The information highway offers hope for the economy of the future. I think that is not unrealistic. Right now, the economic, social and cultural sectors are going through a period of rapid transition brought about by the power of the information, to name but one factor.

It is true that electrical connections and wires by themselves will not create that economic growth. But it is there new information content and applications essential to every information based society will be developed.

The federal government showed the way by dealing with issues related to the creation of the information highway in Canada. That information highway will answer the needs of the Canadian population and allow us to remain competitive on the global communication market.

The government identified three study objects for the public consultation process leading to the implementation of policies in that area, namely facilities, content and competition.

With regards to the competition policy, many supported the guiding principle according to which a fair and sustainable competition is good for consumers. Canadian consumers have clearly indicated they want more competitive distribution choices.

Our government's policies have already helped to determine how competition will be introduced into direct to home satellite services. Among other things, the government has launched a process that will make it possible to ensure healthy competition in the delivery of direct to home broadcasting and telecommunication services.

Despite the strong competition that will result from these new types of systems for delivering services, the development of our cable television and telephone networks in Canada will continue to be one of our greatest assets in meeting the challenges of the future in the communications field.

Clear guidelines resulting from the government's policy will reassure the industries in question and encourage them to invest in the technologies that will benefit Canadian consumers.

The freedom of consumers to use the services they feel are the best and to select whichever network or networks they wish can be respected only if competition between the various stakeholders is fair and defensible.

In this regard, we have pointed out to the government that it would be preferable not to give an initial advantage to the cable television and telephone companies in the provision of services traditionally offered by one or the other. These conditions apply not just to the regions served by Québec-Téléphone and BC Tel, but to the entire country.

It is the CRTC that studies regulatory questions such as the conditions of interconnectivity and interoperability, in order to ensure competition in the local telephone services sector. For its part, the government will determine the evolution of competition between these networks.

The Deputy Prime Minister and heritage minister has indicated her readiness to find solutions that will guarantee residents of eastern Quebec and British Columbia the same kind of services enjoyed in the rest of Canada.

Numerous meetings have already been held between the directors of Québec-Téléphone and BC Tel and the minister or her representatives. The talks are continuing, with a view to finding solutions that will maintain the integrity of the Canadian broadcasting system, while offering Québec-Téléphone and BC Tel the latitude necessary to ensure that their networks can be used effectively and that they complement communications services in the regions inhabited by their clientele.

The government will shortly be announcing the implementation of its policy with respect to merging telecommunications and broadcasting. I am sure that this policy will include the inhabitants of the Gaspé, the Lower St. Lawrence, the North Shore and any other region served by Québec-Téléphone or BC Tel.

Québec-TéléphonePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Okanagan Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Quebec for Motion No. 102 which is currently before the House. It is an excellent motion and one which we could support 100 per cent if it were expanded to include B.C. Tel in every reference that was made to Quebec Tel. It seems to me that the problems with Quebec Tel with regard to the CRTC regulations and other legislation in Canada apply equally to the B.C. Tel organization.

I commend the concise way in which the arguments were presented. The examples given were excellent and they continue to also prevail in the province of British Columbia particularly with reference to B.C. Tel. The difference between B.C. Tel and Quebec Tel is that B.C. Tel is much more pervasive in that it covers the whole province. I commend my colleague for her willingness to bring forward this issue.

Rather than rehearse all of the good things that B.C. Tel has done and is doing and all the good things that Quebec Tel has done and is doing, I would like to draw brief attention to what brought about the need for a motion of this type to be introduced in the House. The primary reason this kind of motion must be presented to the House is that the legislation governing these foreign ownership of telephone companies and things of this sort is obsolete. Let me give a couple of examples of why I think this is the case.

A tiny little company is being developed in southern Ontario called The Linc which is going to try to combine the provisions of Internet with long distance telephones. We know that the communication signals are rapidly going into digital form and not too long in the future all of them will be digitized which creates some very interesting points. This makes it possible for signals to be compressed so that they take up very little space on the highway. They can then be decompressed at the receiving end to be interpreted as to what the message really was.

The minister's Information Highway Advisory Council was made up of all kinds of people. They were not political but were people who understood the business, particularly the technology pertaining to communications.

Members of the council said the following about foreign ownership limits: "As a means of reinforcing Canadian sovereignty, the Telecommunications Act, the Broadcasting Act and Teleglobe Act include provisions respecting Canadian ownership and control. In broadcasting and telecommunications, current regulations limit foreign ownership to 20 per cent". Apparently as of last week that was changed to 33-1/3 per cent. "As part of foreign ownership provisions and the Canadian ownership requirements in the Telecommunications Act 1993, Parliament introduced grandparenting provisions for two telephone companies: B.C. Tel and Quebec Tel. The council considered whether the grandparented status of these companies should be extended to cover licences to operate broadcasting undertakings. I submit they should.

Foreign ownership limits are meant to promote Canadian control. They may, however, deny Canada access to the investment necessary to develop the Canadian information highway. My hon. colleague across the way recognized how important the information highway is to Canada's economic, social and cultural development.

The very restriction being proposed, that is currently in vogue, and the one that is being proposed that it be lifted would encourage the development of the information highway, not discourage it. If we continue to insist on obsolete legislation, we will discourage the very thing the Minister of Industry is so strongly supporting and developing.

The council believes that with respect to investment the behaviour of capital is more critical as a policy issue than its source. It raises the very interesting question of how one determines the nationality of capital in the first place. It is important to recognize that capital in itself has no conscience. Capital does a variety of things. It seems the issue is not where that capital comes from but rather what that capital does.

We have Canadian capital engaged in all kinds of activities, some of which are smuggling and dealing in contraband activities. It is not that the capital did not originate in Canada; it is capital that is doing the wrong thing. If we really want to control capital we should be controlling what capital does so it can meet the objectives of our social, economic and cultural goals.

We need to have legislation that governs capital so it can operate in manner consistent with Canada's economic, social and cultural objectives. To that end, the advisory council went on to say that the liberalization of the telecommunications environment may be the most important step to realizing the economy-wide benefits of information highway use and development following a transitional period toward market based pricing, a framework of open and sustainable competition. That is at the heart of this issue.

It is all very well to speak about competition, and then have legislation which defies the implementation of that competition. It is important to recognize something which happened last week. The director of the CRTC, Keith Spicer, proposed that long distance charges be deregulated. In other words, the CRTC should not have regulatory power over the setting of those rates. That is

the first admission that it cannot control those rates. The competition is such that it is always behind the eight ball in those areas.

Last week the U.S. deregulated local telephone charges, which raises an interesting question for the ministers involved. What are the priorities? If Canadians were given a choice between giving the Canadian telecommunications industry the advantage it needs to be a strong contender and a leader in the global communications market, or preventing the Canadian industry from having a fair chance to compete by condemning our industries to third class, unable to compete, unable to produce jobs and growth, which do our ministers think Canadians would choose?

We want jobs. There is no doubt that if we are to have jobs we need to have competition especially in the electronics industry. If one talks to the people in the industry it becomes clear very quickly that if they were limited to competition in the Canadian environment only, they would not be able to generate the kinds of profits they would need to expand.

It is highly necessary for the government to realize within its own ranks, within its own cabinet there is a split over the issue of foreign ownership of phone and cable firms. There is a convergence developing in Canada today between telephone companies and cable companies. They can do exactly the same thing, provide telephone service and provide cable service.

I ask the government to examine the efficiency of the CRTC on the one hand dealing with telecommunications and broadcasting, and the Department of Industry dealing with spectrum management.

We have three different kinds of operations now. We have telecommunications and cable on this side. With industry, we have local multiple communications systems and the personal communication system.

The last two deal with licensing of certain spectra so that the industries or the companies involved will manage and communicate on those spectra. These licences have been granted by the minister of education to some companies. I have a lot of questions about exactly how the process was implemented to show fairness and equity for all those applying.

On the other hand, I want to compare what that process was with what the CRTC is doing. The CRTC is holding back technological development. It is making it very difficult for the companies to advance technologically.

On the other hand, the LMCSs and the PCSs and the way the licences were granted provided increased competition. While one of the processes is efficient, the other is not. Both have some problems with them. The time has come to examine how we will control what capital does in Canada. That becomes the issue, not where capital comes from.

I encourage the hon. member from Quebec to expand her motion to include B.C. Tel so that we could support it 100 per cent.

Québec-TéléphonePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Bernard St-Laurent Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a few brief remarks to give the House an idea of what is going on in the regions with regard to important issues such as the one raised by my colleague from Rimouski-Témiscouata, namely the granting of a broadcasting licence to Québec-Téléphone.

Such a licence would put regions such as the North Shore more or less on an equal footing with the large cities as far as communications are concerned. I will start by giving a quick overview since my colleague covered the subject in more detail.

Québec-Téléphone was founded in 1927 by Jules A. Brillant. It is important to note that in 1966, in order to have access to the capital he needed to modernize and develop his network, Mr. Brillant gave up his interest in the company. GTE Corporation became majority shareholder, which allowed to keep the head office in Rimouski. That was done to protect the regional character of the company.

To better understand the difficulties Québec-Téléphone faces, it is important to know the context in which it operates. The territory it serves extends over 72,000 square kilometres, which is 40 per cent of Quebec's total area. Québec-Téléphone is independent in its decision-making and in the choice of its suppliers. One important detail I want to mention is that French is the company's only working language.

During my speech, I will talk a lot about the regions because Québec-Téléphone is essentially an image of the regions and of the kind of service that can be offered and obtained in the regions. It must be noted also that the company is technologically advanced, offering affordable digital service to all its clients in the regions.

Of course, the company is proud of offering equal access to advanced services such as teleforum, videoforum, cellular telephony, 911, Internet, which is very popular right now, and I would add that the information highway is the key to the future.

I was just reading a document describing the information highway as a way of putting all regions at the heart of economic activity. It said it gave access to "cybervillages", a typical term in this field.

What is Québec-Téléphone's contribution from the economic point of view? There is mention of close to $75 million in salaries in 1995, paid to nearly 1,700 employees spread out more or less

across the area. Despite difficulties in covering the territory, there are 1,700 workers, 600 of which are also share-holders. This is a figure worth noting.

There is also more than $800 million worth of property throughout the area, as well as modern tools for communicating with customers.

Québec-Téléphone contributes to social and cultural development through such means as promoting culture, particularly via its directory, which always features the work of local artists.

Financial support to the arts is a very important aspect, and one not shared by other regional businesses: close to $100,000 in funding to museums, theatre and music in 1995, for example.

One of the key problems encountered, and one for which no one can be blamed, it is just a regional reality: some, if not most, of regional businesses merely siphon off local funds, perhaps even taking away raw materials. Not all of them do so, and not all of them do so to an indecent extent but, if we look at businesses in the regions and compare the value of what is taken out of the region with the sums ploughed back into the region, investment in culture and young business entrepreneurs, for example, true implication is a fair exchange. Québec-Téléphone has earned good marks in this regard, for it has no other investments to protect and to build up elsewhere. Think Québec-Téléphone and you think North Shore, the Gaspé, all those areas my colleague for Rimouski-Témiscouata has just mentioned.

Québec-Téléphone is therefore in the vanguard as far as efforts invested in cultural and social development are concerned.

There is also mention of a $350 000 donation in 1995 to the east Quebec cancer society, over 7 years.

Furthermore, its employees are involved in education, health care, culture, socio-community activities, sports, economics and politics, areas in which they put some 26,000 hours back into the region in 1995. This is a huge amount of time. I know from experience that the corporation vigorously encourages its employees to get involved in the arts. I know that many are involved, not only politically but socially and in the community, pretty much everywhere. The company often provides flexibility in terms of working hours in order to offer organizations in these areas some help.

Québec-Téléphone contributes more than $1 million a year to research and development. It has an endowed chair in optical telecommunications at Laval University, a French language research centre on organization automation, and so on.

As time is moving along, I will shorten my next point, which concerns the high rate of unemployment and the exodus of young people in fringe areas. Therefore it has to be shown that the company wants to continue to increase regional development.

With the famous information highway connecting our regions, it helps outlying regions like eastern Quebec, which encompasses a considerable area. Things are made so much easier that, through these technologies, progress is being made at essentially the same rate. Regions are not necessarily at an advantage, because that would mean they have more, but they are more or less on the same footing.

The problem for everyone in the regions is the transmission of information, getting up to date more quickly. With the new capabilities Québec-Téléphone is asking for, this problem would be resolved with a totally regional flavour, something that would not be guaranteed with outside firms. Québec-Téléphone has proven itself in this area and, I am sure, will continue to do so.

I will conclude by saying that the firm has demonstrated its ability in this regard. I think all Bloc members would endorse what would be, in my view, a justified swing of the pendulum in its favour while ensuring the region served by the company is well represented in its future development.

Québec-TéléphonePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to have introduced this motion. I was often asked about the origin of the grandfather clause. As many will know, its comes from the 15th amendment to the American Constitution giving blacks the right to vote. But when they came to vote they were told: "You can neither read nor write but if your grandfather voted in the past, this gives you the right to vote". This is why we use, by analogy with this 1869 amendment to the American Constitution, the term "grandfathering" when referring to vested rights.

I readily accept the request of the hon. member of the Reform Party who asked that the motion I introduced be extended to B.C. Tel. Besides, B.C. Tel is already participating, as a partner, to all discussions between Québec-Téléphone and the government and, as my hon. colleague from the government said, the solution that will be found for Québec-Téléphone will apply to B.C. Tel as well.

The minister has recently amended the direction on eligible Canadian corporations, but it is still not enough to meet the needs of Québec-Téléphone since it is still not 50.4 per cent of shares that can be owned by a foreign company. The important aspect of this whole issue, as I believe I have said at the start of my speech, as the heritage minister herself said and as everyone will understand, is to find a solution allowing Québec-Téléphone and B.C. Tel to continue to provide legally and openly multimedia services to the public, but in a way that would protect the cultures of both Canada and Quebec.

Québec-TéléphonePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There being no further members rising for debate and the motion not being designated as a votable item, the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

Is it the pleasure of the House to suspend the sitting for a few minutes?

Québec-TéléphonePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members


(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.49 a.m.)

The House resumed at 12 p.m.

The House resumed from April 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, an act to establish the Department of Health and to amend and repeal certain acts, be read the third time and passed.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


John Murphy Liberal Annapolis Valley—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to speak today on Bill C-18 which will establish the Department of Health.

Many in the House have observed that the health related duties, powers and functions which are set out in the proposed new legislation do not differ greatly from the previous act. Indeed, it can fairly be said that the old act has served us very well over the past half century.

At this point I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Fredericton-York-Sunbury for a motion he put forward. His amendment reincorporates a clause from the current Department of National Health and Welfare Act, an act dating back to 1944. This amendment explicitly defines the minister's personal and legal responsibilities for the department.

I am pleased to say that the government gave the member for Fredericton-York-Sunbury its full support on this amendment and it was passed at report stage. The Minister of Health as well shared the concerns of the member that this legislation makes things perfectly clear with regard to his powers, duties and functions.

There are some obvious differences in this bill which is to be expected in a knowledge intensive field like health. One of these differences is found in clause 4(2)(a) where there is explicit reference to:

-the promotion and preservation of the physical, mental and social well-being of the people of Canada;

This is an amplification of the reference in clause 4(1) to the promotion and preservation of the health of the people of Canada which corresponds to section 5 in the old act.

What does this mean? Some people have read into it something of a sinister message, a sign of an as yet undeclared plan by the federal government to occupy the full arena of physical, mental and social well-being. Such a move would have a significant impact on the division of responsibilities for health between the federal and provincial legislatures.

Others have observed that the inclusion of this clause seems somewhat odd, given the transfer of the welfare side to the Department of Human Resources Development. After all, would it not make sense to consolidate all federal responsibilities for physical, mental and social well-being in a much more inclusive health department?

My first observation is that the legislation makes it abundantly clear that the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of Health do not extend beyond the area over which the federal Parliament has jurisdiction. This means that the reach of Health Canada cannot and will not extend to the legal mandate of other federal entities. Rather, section 4(2)(a) says how the federal government views health. The choice of the words "physical, mental and social well-being" is no accident.

These are the exact words used by the World Health Organization to define health. It is a concept that goes beyond seeing health in terms of the presence or absence of disease. It is a concept that sees health in terms of the whole person. This is a concept of health that embraces quality of life rather than just duration of life. Including the phrase "physical, mental and social well-being" in the bill before us today does little more than to formalize what has long been a reality.

In my former life I was in the health industry for 30 years and for many of those years advocated bringing those three elements together. Rather than divide a person let us look at the person in a holistic fashion.

It is neither new nor startling. It makes it clear that health means so much more than the absence of disease. Good health across a society flows from an entire set of public policies and personal decisions.

The determinants of health are the complex web of factors that contribute to the overall state of a person's health. These are social, economic, physical, psychological and other elements. Is it any wonder that research shows that people who are unemployed experience both stress and greater health problems? Or perhaps

hon. members have seen some of the reports in the newspaper where researchers have found real differences between the health of people who feel a sense of personal control in their livesand those who do not. All of this simply reinforces what wealready know.

Despite the best technology and the advances in drugs and procedures, what takes place outside a doctor's office is more important than what goes on inside that office. This fact has become a common theme in the analysis of health policy options. For example, Health Canada spends a large sum of money each year to provide health services to status Indians and Inuit. Yet aboriginal people continue to suffer, with many of the poorest health statistics in our society.

This of course is not a place to discuss these health statistics but it makes clear the importance of the comprehensive focus on well-being. It also underlines one of the basis facts of health, system renewal. We cannot spend our way to good health through the health care system no matter how much we invest.

We are better off to help people achieve a state of well-being that results in better health and less need for health care. A growing appreciation for the many factors that contribute to the health of Canadians has sparked an increased focus on the elements of well-being. Progress in this area establishes a foundation from which our health care systems can operate more effectively. It is rightly seen as an investment that minimizes future health care costs and that is extremely important.

Some of these factors lie within the mandate and the programs of the federal health department. Others lie within the mandates and programs of other federal agencies. Some are within the reach of provincial and territorial governments and still others lie totally outside of the public sphere. This is the reality of health. It is the reality of Canada's health system. It is a reality that requires partnership and co-operation. It is a reality that places a premium on the evidence about determinants of health and the outcomes and effectiveness of health policies and programs. Most importantly, it is a reality that does not require any expansion of the federal health mandate.

Once this focus on partnership for well-being is put into practice, we see it as the practical concept that it is. Let me use the example of Canada's drug strategy. The ultimate aim of federal programming is to minimize if not eliminate the human tragedy that is the common consequences of drug abuse.

Looking at the problem of drug abuse in these terms allows us to also consider contributing factors in the context of a much broader array of health determinants.

Many here will recall the "Really Me" message that Health Canada coined for Canada's drug strategy. This message is meant to capture in two words the sense of confusion over identity and destiny that often contributes to a young person's decision to experiment with dangerous substances as well as the positive imagery of a drug free life.

Canada's drug strategy obviously encompasses a great deal more than slogans and messages but is aimed at addressing what physical, mental and emotional well-being is all about.

Let me offer a current example, the Canada prenatal nutrition program. This initiative arose from the red book commitment. Its goal is to promote the development and growth of healthy babies. However, the route to that goal means addressing the factors that can harm that development.

Clearly, a child in a mother's womb is no healthier than his or her mother to be. If the woman is eating poorly or in an abusive relationship or using drugs, the risks to the baby are very high.

This program, as members are well aware, supports comprehensive community based efforts aimed at reaching these high risk, pregnant women. At one level it includes food supplementation, nutrition and lifestyle counselling and related information. At another level it gives them more tools to take better care of themselves and their babies.

The mothers to be targeted by this program are usually poor. They are often underweight themselves. They may smoke, drink or use drugs. They also may be in abusive relationships. They often live in poor areas of our communities. They are often young, single and uneducated.

Such conditions are the determinants of health that lead to 40,000 low birth weight newborns a year who begin life at less than full capacity. These are the factors that this program is working to correct.

The focus on well-being goes far beyond many health promotion efforts by Health Canada. It extends into health care delivery. The phrase quality of care clearly means more than clinical outcomes.

Whether or not quality is the result will inevitably vary between individuals, not because the results vary in clinical terms but because identical health states may be valued differently by different people.

Take for example a surgical procedure for which there is a good chance of a known side effect. For some the side effect may imply a lower quality of life than living with the disease in question. For others the reverse would hold true. In both instances the aim of the clinical decision is to achieve the health states of greater value to the individual.

This is a choice that every one of us wants to have. Yet it is a choice that is not available if health is conceptualized in a way that sees it only as the presence or absence of disease. We are talking holistic medicine here.

At another level it is obvious that there remains much to be learned about the factors that underlie and shape a person's fiscal, mental and social well-being. I am reminded that health concepts in medical terminologies and technologies have evolved greatly since 1867 yet at no point has Canada's Constitution been a bar to the effective pursuit of health.

We are now at a point in which provinces and the federal government understand and accept the need to build well-being as a part of the overall health strategy. Governments work together. I am not aware of any province that seriously sees the Health Canada mandate for well-being as a threat to its responsibilities. If anything, it underlines the shared commitment to addressing the basis of good health and well-being. It underlines a longstanding commitment to the co-operation that has served us so well.

In terms of health status, we are second only to Japan in terms of neonatal deaths. In terms of our record in the development of health concepts, Marc Lalonde's 1974 "A new Perspective on the Health of Canadians" is still regarded internationally as a breakthrough, 21 years after its release. The record of our health care delivery system speaks for itself, a source of pride for all Canadians and the envy of the world.

The inclusion of section 4(2)(a) in the enabling legislation conveys a message about who we are and what we stand for. We stand for a commitment to the physical, mental and social well-being of Canadians and a readiness to work with others to achieve that end. This section simply recognizes the complex range of factors that influence health and that they deserve consideration as we promote health.

In short, this section tells us what we already know to be true. A department charged with promoting the health of Canadians needs to see its mandate in terms that reflect the reality of peoples' lives and all the elements that lead to good health.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak once again to Bill C-18, which was introduced as Bill C-95 before the recent prorogation of the Houses. The bill's purpose is mainly to establish the federal Department of Health. It also amends and repeals certain other acts.

Such a bill is absolutely unjustified. There is no reason to pass such a measure since health is exclusively a provincial jurisdiction. It is crystal clear in the very constitution the government wants to impose on Quebecers. I said it before, I say it again and I will go on saying so. It seems hard to understand, but health is an exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

With its spending power, the federal government retains the possibility of interfering in all areas of provincial jurisdiction as it pleases and without consideration for the distribution of powers guaranteed in the Constitution. To prove my point, I quote Alexander Galt, one of the Fathers of Confederation, who stated that the distribution of jurisdictions as described in the British North America Act of 1867 did not give provinces enough money to enable them to properly administer their areas of jurisdiction.

Alexander Galt's comments leave no doubt as to the initial intentions of the Fathers of Confederation as well as of another author of the 1867 act, who said that eventually the provinces would become nothing more than big municipalities under federal supervision and largely dependant on the central government.

It might be difficult for some to admit today that this might have been the goal of those who thought up the British North America Act. Difficult to believe that the act which gave birth to Canada provided, even at a very early stage, for an increased centralization of powers in Ottawa.

The point of my little aside was to show that, contrary to what some would have us believe, nothing has changed. We can see that the same centralized approach giving the present central government an overwhelming importance is permeating not the discourse, heaven forbid, but the actions of today's main federal leaders. The best example of this can be found in the health care area in which the federal government has continuously interfered in an increasingly more persistent way. Bill C-18 before us today is a case in point.

The Constitution Act gives the provinces general jurisdiction over health care by including generally all matters of a merely local or private nature in the province. Anyone can read this under subsection 92.16. Moreover, subsections 92.7, 92.13, and 92.16 of the same act give the provinces exclusive power over hospitals, the medical profession and the practice of medicine as well as health care in general in the province. I might add that this is an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction because it pertains to property and civil rights.

Accordingly, it seems clear that health is under provincial, not federal jurisdiction. However, the federal government has been intruding in this area for many years now, and in various ways. The Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act, the Medical Care Act and, more recently, the Canada Health Act, which combines the other two and sets so-called national standards, show clearly what this federal government thinks about shared jurisdiction.

The will or temptation to intrude on health is not new. It goes back to the end of the second world war. The federal government

had taken over all main taxation areas to make sure it would control most of the taxes normally levied by the provinces.

At the end of the war, the federal government had a bright idea: instead of returning powers of taxation to the provinces, why not redistribute the money through grants subject to standards it would set. This was a clever way to intrude even more in aareas under provincial jurisdiction, at a time when it seemed that the Privy Council in London, which then played the role now assigned to the Supreme Court, wanted to limit the federal government's centralizing tendencies.

Since then, the federal government has been using established programs financing to transfer money to provinces for health and post-secondary education. The amounts given to provinces under that program are transferred partly in cash and partly in tax points.

Transfers were computed from expenditures for a base year, 1975-76, and were supposed to be indexed on the average GNP per capita over the last three years. Basically, since its implementation in 1977-78, established programs financing has been characterized by a unilateral partial withdrawal on the part of the federal government.

Implemented in 1977, the established programs financing structure has remained unchanged. However, for the last ten years or so, its intended rate of increase has not been respected. This is where the shortfall for provinces and Quebec in the area of health comes from. This is a good example of the damage that a government can do when it refuses to acknowledge that it cannot substitute itself to other levels of government everywhere.

In 1986, the federal government reduced the growth rate of transfers by 2 percentage points, which means that health expenditures had to grow 2 percentage points less than the GNP. That was the start of a long series of cuts in payments.

In 1989, there was another cut in the indexing factor of 1 percentage point, which meant that by now growth in health expenditures had to be 3 points below the growth of the GNP.

In 1990, Bill C-69 froze transfers at the 1989-90 level for an anticipated period of two years, regardless of inflation, when actual health costs were continuing to rise.

In 1991, the federal government announced that it was extending the freeze for another three years. During most of this sad period for health care, the opposition party was outraged. It clamoured that this could only lead to ruin for the heath care system. Yet, that same party, now the government, continues to weaken the system.

The result is that between 1977 and 1994, the federal contribution to health care went from 45.9 per cent to 33.7 per cent, a drop of 10.6 per cent that Quebec and the provinces had to deal with to the best of their abilities. Unfortunately, forecasts for 1997-98 indicate that the federal share will drop to 28.5 per cent.

Over the years, as Ottawa withdrew from health financing, it is almost $8 billion that Quebec alone did not get, that the Quebec government had to manage to find elsewhere. We can add to that amount the cuts expected in the Canada social transfer, that is $308 million for 1995-96 and more than $587 million in 1997-98.

According to a study by the C.D. Howe Institute, from 1988 to 1992, while spending for transfer payments remained unchanged, spending for other federal programs increased by 25.5 per cent. Consequently, cuts in health transfers to the provinces went to reduce the federal deficit. The federal government went on spending too much, while telling the provinces to tighten their belts.

The leeway the Canada social transfer is supposed to give is in fact nothing but an opportunity for Quebec and the provinces to decide for themselves where they will make cuts to make up for this unilateral withdrawal. That is the vision the present Liberal government has of decentralization. That is what it means when it talks about flexible federalism. Thanks, but no thanks. We are not interested.

Last Spring, the National Council of Welfare, an organization whose mandate is to advise the federal health minister, had this to say to the minister: "It would be extremely hypocritical to reduce contributions to the provinces while increasing the requirements they would have to meet". Yet, the National Council of Welfare is not known for its sovereignist leanings.

As I mentioned earlier, sections 92.7 and 92.16 of the British North America Act state that health and social services are exclusively under provincial jurisdiction. Yet, the federal government also has a health department.

Next year, it will cost taxpayers more than $1 billion, $1 billion wasted to do what the Government of Quebec and the governments of other Canadian provinces could very well do by themselves.

Moreover, this redundant department that employs more than 8,000 public servants allocates significant amounts for programs and projects that already exist in Quebec and in the other provinces. I can give you some examples from Quebec, where there is duplication in programs. Here are a few examples: the strategy for the integration of persons with disabilities, the family violence initiative, the new horizons program, the seniors secretariat, the program to reduce smoking, the anti-drug strategy, the strategy against AIDS, the pregnancy and child development program, the children's bureau, and so on.

It is this kind of duplication the federal government should have cut, instead of stubbornly trying to have its say in every area; the disastrous impact of this on government finances does not seem enough to make it face reality. It shifts the deficit onto the provinces by cutting transfer payments for health care, and people are paying the price.

There is another federal initiative shows the government's determination to meddle in health care without the provinces' consent: the national forum on health, aimed at taking a critical look at our health care system as a whole and proposing ways to compensate for the ever increasing costs in this area. According to several analysts, the federal government could even take this opportunity to tighten the criteria and requirements in the Canada Health Act. Moreover, every single province openly criticized the federal government's attitude, which in this instance is pushing aside those with legal jurisdiction over health matters.

In this regard, on September 27, 1994, the current Minister of Immigration told La Presse : ``The federal government's actions make no sense. How can it contemplate a review of health care plans without the participation of the provinces, which are responsible for providing services? This is clearly unacceptable''. I would be curious to hear the Minister of Immigration's current position on the national forum.

Another extremely wise comment on this Liberal government's failure to honour provincial areas of jurisdiction was made by Thérèse Lavoie-Roux, who, when she was still a member of the other place, asked why the provinces had not been invited to participate in the forum. "Are they not the main players in the area of health? Does the government leader think it is appropriate for the government to act unilaterally in an area that comes under provincial jurisdiction?"

Now, looking specifically at Bill C-18, it is clear that, instead of showing good faith by withdrawing from this area over which it has no jurisdiction, the federal government is doing its best to encroach little by little on provincial jurisdictions for its own benefit. This bill was not presented as a bombshell, as a megabill; it was presented to us as an innocuous and inconsequential bill, while in fact it is definitely not so.

Paragraph 4(1) sets out the powers, duties and functions of the health minister. It suggests that the powers, duties and functions of the minister extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to the promotion and preservation of public health. There certainly is room for clarification here.

The following clauses are more subtle. Paragraph 4(2) lists particulars concerning the minister's powers, duties and functions, including the promotion and preservation of the physical, mental and social well-being of the people. The people in question are the people of Canada. This clause would give the federal government the authority and right to interfere in an area under exclusive provincial jurisdiction.

Paragraph 4(2) goes on to include the protection of the people against risks to health and the spread of diseases. There was nothing to that effect in the original act that Bill C-18 seeks to replace. This opens the door to the federal government stepping in to protect the health and ensure the safety of the people by invoking the national interest or peace, order and good government.

Paragraph (c) of the same clause provides that investigation and research into public health, including the monitoring of diseases, come under federal authority.

This creates a problem, since later on, in clause 12, it is stated that nothing in the act or the regulations authorizes the minister or any officer or employee of the department to exercise any jurisdiction or control over any health authority operating under the laws of any province.

How does the Department of Health intend to monitor diseases without having access to the necessary information? Under the Health Services and Social Services Act, health care institutions are governed by provincial legislation.

Is this a real problem? Does clause 12 adequately restrict federal involvement in the health care sector, or is it just a front to reassure the provinces, one that the federal government will easily remove at will, as it has done so effectively in recent years?

Clause 4 can certainly be interpreted in a very wide and generous way. We definitely have to wonder about the real meaning of this clause, which can be interpreted in several ways, and which may reflect a number of intentions.

It is typical of the federal government to use a seemingly simple and inoccuous bill to intrude on fields that come under provincial jurisdiction. However, nobody is gullible to the point of not seeing what is going on.

Bill C-18 is another typical example of the federal government's sneaky and quiet way of doing things, without making waves. It acts like this because it knows full well that no one agrees with its way of doing things in the health care sector. Instead of admitting that it is in the wrong and taking corrective action before it is too late, the federal government persists in a sneaky way, so that no one will realize what is going on until it is too late.

Clearly, federal interference in the health care sector has a very negative impact. It is also obvious that the federal government stubbornly refuses to recognize the fields that come under provincial authority and also continues to reduce transfers without

making national standards more flexible. We are headed towards the death of the health system as we know it.

No more sad claims that Canada holds the only insurance policy for a health system such as ours. Yes, we are proud of our health system; yes, we want to hang on to it and even to improve it; no, Canada is not an insurance policy for this system, far from it; and no, Quebec's sovereignty will not spell the end of our health system, quite the contrary.

The only real threat lies in the lack of vision of a federal government that no longer has the money to match its centralist ambitions and that should, as soon as possible, turn over full authority, including financial authority, in matters of health to the provinces, at least to those which have asked for it. The health of Canadians and Quebecers can only improve.

It goes without saying that for all these reasons, and for many others that I will raise at a later time, it is impossible for the Bloc Quebecois to support Bill C-18 in any way.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate my hon. colleague on the clarity of her address. I think that salient point in it is that attempts have been made in recent years to clearly demonstrate the considerable amount of waste and duplication there was between the two levels of government.

Often people ask for concrete examples of such waste. The various strategies in the different programs my colleague has listed, for example to integrate the disabled, the campaigns against family violence, drug use or AIDS, can readily be seen as worthwhile from the political point of view. The reason for federal involvement in these is obvious, particularly because it gets involved through its spending power.

In today's Canada, we cannot necessarily afford such things. The hon. member's presentation has made that abundantly clear. I therefore feel that it would be in the federal government's best interest to think once again about whether it is advisable to get involved in this area, before adopting this bill.

I would like to ask the hon. member where the national forum on health fits into this. I was looking at its mandate just now: "to improve the health of Canadians and the efficiency and effectiveness of health services".

Mr. Speaker, what I would like to find out from my hon. colleague is which of the responsible governments is the one most capable of ensuring efficient and effective health services? Is it the federal level, which does not provide front line services, or is it the provincial level, which does provide such services, which has the responsibility for them, which is always on the firing line? Is it the provincial governments, all of which are being faced with difficult choices at this time?

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

We have reviewed the history of the national forum on health time and time again. Where does it fit in here? I see it as nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

At this time, and it can never be repeated too often, the provinces arre the ones managing health programs within their borders. As I have always said, I do not in any way question either the quality or the experience of the people on the national forum, but what use will their expertise be put to? There is not a single provincial representative on the forum.

All of the provinces are busy restructuring at this time. We can see that in Quebec, where the minister, Mr. Rochon, is in the process of reviewing and restructuring, with a view to managing the health system in a new way and to ensuring quality health care, while taking into consideration our aging population, technological innovation and drugs costs.

The provinces are the ones who know what their needs are. What can the national forum contribute in addition? Once again, the federal spending power is being used to start up new things, to waste time and money.

This is not the first time we in the Bloc Quebecois have said that the national forum on health is, in our opinion, just smoke and mirrors with which to convince the people of Quebec and of Canada that this is a good government.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the demonstration was quite clear. I would ask the hon. member for more details about an example of direct concern to her. We are told the government has a strategy to integrate people with handicaps, whereas in Quebec there is the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec, whose head office is in the member's riding, I believe.

Would the federal government not be better advised, rather than putting in additional funds necessitating even more money for administration purposes-there must be administrative costs in a strategy to integrate people with handicaps-not to spend this money on a program that competes to some extent with action taken by the Government of Quebec? Would the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec not benefit significantly more from the federal government's withdrawal and thus provide a better and more complete service to Quebecers with handicaps?

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. This is not the first discussion of duplication.

It is true, the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec is to be found in my riding. Rather than take into account what is

happening in each province and the programs each has set up, as I was mentioning earlier, the federal government steps up with its spending power and, in the name of good government, says: "There seems to be a problem with seniors-or with people who have a handicap". And it assuages its conscience by putting money into a program, setting up a program that already exists in some provinces.

Why not support the programs the provinces have already set up? The provinces know the health care requirements in each of their regions. After needs have been assessed, programs are set up to help people, with the help of experts in health care. Seeing that the program is running well, the government, as I mentioned earlier, injects money into the program to justify itself and to assuage its conscience.

And if it is such a good government, why does it not support these programs by paying subsidies instead of cutting transfer payments, instead of tightening things up, instead of dumping its deficit onto the provinces and cutting transfer payments?

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Lyle Vanclief Liberal Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and proud to address the House today in support of Bill C-18, an act respecting the Department of Health.

We have all heard allegations that the federal government has no role in health. Some contend that the government should leave health issues to the provinces and territories which actually deliver the services to Canadians. The government fully appreciates the provinces have constitutional authority for health care.

The provinces are responsible for health care delivery which generally encompasses hospital and medical services. The provinces plan, manage and operate Canada's health care system. These systems operate however under the framework of Canada's national health insurance system which we all know as medicare. This national system ensures that all Canadians, regardless of ability to pay, have access to well trained doctors and well equipped hospitals.

I do not wish to lend credence to the myth that the federal role in health is limited to its financial and other support of Canada's medicare system. At the same time we have every reason to be proud of the system and of this government's support for medicare.

Canadians justifiably take great pride in our national medicare system and the quality of medical services available to all of us. They know that regardless of where they live, what language they speak or what their employment status may be, they are all assured of access to high quality medical and physician services whenever they are needed.

Medicare also has economic benefits that accrue to Canadian businesses. Business supports medicare because it provides it with competitive advantages in the global market. Canadian businesses do not pay the costs of providing private health care insurance for necessary hospital and medical services.

Even after taking Canada's taxes into consideration, the cost of providing employee benefits is significantly lower in Canada than in the United States. This is certainly one of the factors that helps to attract multinational corporations to Canada.

The national character of the system also enhances labour force mobility. Workers do not need to fear health insurance coverage for themselves or their families because they change jobs or move to another province in search of employment. Canadians retain their coverage even if we move and become unemployed.

By guaranteeing Canadians access to quality health care, medicare helps to ensure a healthy and productive labour force. I believe our health care system has also helped to foster a sense of unity among Canadians. Canadian society is multicultural and diverse, as we all know. At the same time, it is strongly tied to North American culture.

It is sometimes difficult for Canadians to define ourselves apart from our neighbours to the south, but health care is certainly an exception. Our universal health care system is closely tied to our Canadian identity. It is valued as an outward manifestation of fundamental shared values, justice, caring, compassion and equity. Not only is there more to health than health care, there is also more to the federal role in health than upholding the principles of the Canada Health Act.

There are only about 25 employees who administer the Canada Health Act. The department's other employees support uniquely federal roles and responsibilities, work which is not carried out by the provinces and in which the federal government has a clear jurisdiction.

I will briefly outline for the benefit of everyone the vital work of this department. The department's work is clearly focused on four business lines. The first of these involves supporting and renewing the health system. Health Canada works here to maintain universal access to appropriate health care while helping to ease financial pressures on the public and private sectors.

In support of these goals, the department administers the Canada Health Act and makes transfer payments to support provincial health insurance systems. It also promotes collaboration and consensus on options for involving the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada's health system.

A good example is where the department works closely with the provinces and territories to evaluate the quality and effectiveness

of how health services are managed and delivered across Canada. This information is shared by all jurisdictions and helps shape the renewal of our health care system.

The federal government has statutory responsibilities to protect the health of Canadians. The Department of Health carries out this responsibility by monitoring and assessing risks to health from emerging infectious diseases and other public health threats. All the provinces and public health agencies in Canada rely on the department's public health intelligence.

The second line is risk management. The department manages national disease control strategies and ensures the quality and safety of foods, drugs and medical services for all Canadians. It also regulates human and veterinary drugs, oversees the safety of biologics and cosmetics and ensures the safety and nutritional quality of Canada's food supply.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough the vital federal presence in this area and how important it is to the health of all Canadians. Canada currently has no capacity to identify and analyse potentially lethal infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus. However, the Department of Health is now constructing a level four laboratory in Winnipeg which will do just that. When it opens, this facility will employ 100 scientists. Their work will further enhance the health and safety of Canadians from coast to coast.

The department's third business line involves collaborating with partners on strategies related to the health of the population. These strategies include health promotion, illness prevention and public education elements. They mobilize efforts to address national issues such as cancer, family violence, AIDS and prenatal nutrition. These strategies address the factors that lead to ill health. They provide much needed support to vulnerable groups at risk including children, single parents, poor families and seniors. They help prevent and combat heart disease, breast cancer and many other illnesses.

These strategies complement but do not duplicate the work done by Canada's many national volunteer health organizations. We owe the many volunteers a big debt of thanks for the work they do on behalf of the health of all of us. We are recognizing volunteer week in Canada and the number of people in all our communities who work so hard for the benefit of all of us.

At the same time, these health prevention and illness prevention strategies of the Department of Health reduce demands on Canada's health care system, thus contributing to reduced health care costs.

Prenatal care is a good example. The cost of neonatal care for a low birth weight baby is about $60,000. The health promotion and prevention activities aimed at ensuring a healthy birth weight on average costs about $400 per child.

The Department of Health's fourth business line involves providing health services to First Nations and other groups such as Canada's military personnel. It is not generally well known that Health Canada provides community health services to status Indians on reserves and to residents of Yukon through 600 health facilities across Canada. It also ensures that registered Indians and eligible Inuit receive a range of medically necessary goods and services not available from the provinces.

Apart from transfer payments to provinces, two-thirds of Health Canada's budget is devoted to the health of natives and native health issues. This is the only area in which Health Canada is directly involved in the health care delivery system.

The department is responsible for assessing and sharing the health of special groups such as civilian aviation personnel. It ensures the safety of the Canadian public in cases of national civilian disasters.

Together these four business lines include a range of activities designed to maintain and improve the health, safety and well-being of Canadians. Without a strong federal role in health we would have no national standards or processes to ensure the safety of Canada's food supply, its medical devices and drugs. There would be no national public intelligence to protect us from the emerging infectious diseases which are becoming increasingly common and increasingly complex.

The Department of Health is certainly vital to the fabric and daily life of the nation. It helps ensure the safety and well-being of Canadians from coast to coast and makes important contributions to the nation's productivity, competitiveness and prosperity.

I am proud to go on record in supporting this bill.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to what my hon. colleague just said. I appreciated the listing of the various mandates of the federal health department but just the same we must wonder what it is doing there. Why is the federal government once again interfering in an area of provincial jurisdiction?

Incidentally, I would like to quote two women who can hardly be accused of being sovereignists. Mrs. Robillard is currently a member of the federal cabinet but she was Quebec's health minister in 1994. On September 27, 1994, she was quoted in La Presse as saying: ``The federal government's conduct is appalling. How can they consider changing the health system without asking the provinces, which are responsible for providing the services, to participate? That is just not acceptable.''

The other woman is Thérèse Lavoie-Roux, who, on May 31, 1994, said that the government was wrong in disregarding the role played by the provinces. She added: "Why were the provinces not invited to participate in the forum? Are they not the main players in the area of health? Does the government leader think it is appropriate for the government to act unilaterally in a matter of provincial jurisdiction?", she asked.

I wonder why the federal government keeps on interfering stubbornly in this particular area. This is obviously an area which could pay handsome dividends, come election time. Some areas are more important, more strategic than others and health is one of them. If only the federal government was responsible, as it should, it would recognize from the start that it has no spending power in that area and would therefore not spend money there, but rather let the provinces look after these matters, thus preventing the kind of duplication we are currently experiencing. So, how can the hon. member justify that his government's interference in this area, if not because of purely political motives?

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Lyle Vanclief Liberal Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly not something to win votes. The hon. member needs to recognize it is a Canada health act. The role of the federal government is to ensure all Canadians are treated the same way, that all Canadians have access to the same treatment as anyone else.

If the provinces in some cases wish to duplicate or add to those services as far as informational services are concerned, that is certainly up to them to do so. I would question whether that is necessary all the time.

If we look at the intelligence, the information the federal government makes available to Canadians, the government certainly feels it has an important duty to inform Canadians. No matter what the issue, all Canadians want to know from the same source if possible what the health and safety standards are in Canada, what the medicare standards are, what they can receive for medicare if they move from one province to another province. That is the role.

We have shown very clearly over the years this is the wish of Canadians. We in the government are determined to maintain that for all Canadians so they know its full value.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of the forum on health is to improve the health of Canadians and to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of health care. Can the hon. member, who believes the Canada Health Act requires the government to ensure that Canadians across the country enjoy the same quality of health care, tell us if, in light of its systematic withdrawal amounting to millions and billions of dollars, the federal government is not managing an empty shell?

Despite imposing national standards and gradually withdrawing financial support, the government now requires the provinces, which are providing the services, to comply with national standards without giving them the means to act in this area. If the federal government really wanted to carry out its mandate in this regard, should it not stop collecting the taxes allocated to health care and allowing the provinces to act in this area, thus giving them access to more money so they can provide adequate services? Will the health forum help improve in any way the quality of health care provided to the people of Quebec and the other provinces? I doubt it.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Lyle Vanclief Liberal Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and some of his colleagues should realize and admit that as a country, whether on health issues or any other, we will continue to be strong by working together.

If the hon. member is saying federal dollars for health should be handed over to each province and each province should do its own willy-nilly thing as far as health care is concerned, I am sorry, but he is speaking to the wrong government. He is speaking to Canadians who do not want to hear what he is saying.

Canadians have made it very clear to all of us that they recognize we do not have as many dollars as we once thought we had. We have to be doing more with less or at least as much with less in the future.

Only by sitting down and talking in forums such as the national health care forum with representatives of the federal government, the health care industry, the health delivery service and people in the provinces can we put our heads and available funding together, federally and topped up if necessary from the individual provinces, to provide what all Canadians have made it clear they want and having it made available to them in every corner of the country.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-18, which would formalize the reorganization of the Department of Health.

As Reform's deputy health critic I will speak in support of the bill but before I do I would mention that the bill in our minds is simply just another shuffling of bureaucrats. It is taking up the expense and time not only of Parliament but more important, taxpayers' dollars, as signs are shifted on doors and offices are relocated. This is another example of phantom legislation the government will say is actually doing something, rather than making substantive changes for Canadians.

Of course, every member of the House would admit that health care and our health system is of very real importance to all Canadians. Health Canada is under the scrutiny of Canadians. A

very real concern to Canadians is the sustainability of our health care system.

The federal role in the health care system is very real. A part of that role is federal funding to the provinces. I would say that the government has failed Canadians in that role. Canadians are feeling the effects of the cutbacks from this place. For instance in Manitoba, health care workers are on the streets protesting changes which have been deemed necessary and are a direct result of decreasing and unpredictable federal funding. This place has offloaded its debt to the people who will be hurt the most.

The current health system is not working and it will continue to worsen. The government refuses to recognize this fact. It refuses to hear about it.

The Reform Party wants to assure Canadians that they will have a sustainable health care system. All Canadians should have access to health care services regardless of their ability to pay. We in the Reform Party care about the system and we are prepared to work with Canadians to find ways to make the system better.

I have a broad concern that surrounds the bill and the functioning of our government. Fundamental to our system of government is the principle of ministerial accountability and responsibility. Not only is the recognition of this principle vital, the practice of it is crucial to another principle, that of good government which our system is intended to provide for the betterment of all Canadians.

Even though the bill is housekeeping legislation, Reformers support it because it has been amended to take this principle into account. At report stage we supported an amendment which instilled this principle in the bill. It was not contained in the previous version which the government drafted and presented to the House for its consideration.

There is a litany of examples demonstrating the need for the principle and practice of ministerial accountability and responsibility which are specifically related to Health Canada and the health of Canadians. I will mention a few.

Recently we heard of the mismanagement within the health protection branch of Health Canada. The mismanagement of our national blood system by the bureau of biologics has led to a tainted and compromised blood supply which has infected thousands of Canadians with HIV and hepatitis C. An issue related to this is that of the Krever inquiry which is examining the failure of the management and oversight of our national blood supply system.

Last week in a statement to the House I criticized the government and the health minister for failing to uphold his ministerial responsibilities. It was revealed that the federal government is paying the legal bills of two former ministers involved in this tragedy while giving very minimal legal support to victims and their families who are trying to pursue the truth in the courts on this matter.

What has been the response of the government and the health minister? He has joined a chorus of those who are legally challenging the legitimacy of this inquiry. Instead he should be safeguarding the mandate of the inquiry and facilitating a full report on all matters relating to this most important issue. By doing so he could actually fulfil his responsibilities to the crown, the House and most important, the Canadian people. He has chosen to do otherwise.

A third and final example of where the practice of ministerial responsibility is required is related to the fiscal management of the department and the allocation of our increasingly scarce health care dollars.

Since I was appointed Reform's deputy health critic, one observation I have made is the imbalance and inequity in the department's and the government's health care spending priorities. This became clear to me when I was on the subcommittee on HIV and AIDS which studied the national AIDS strategy. I discovered an imbalance in federal funding for diseases in relation to the incidence of various diseases and the toll they inflict on our society.

For instance, in 1994-95 the federal government spent $43.4 million on the national AIDS strategy while only spending $4 million on breast cancer research. Compare those funding levels with the incidence rates of these diseases and the deaths inflicted on society. Since 1980 there have been approximately 10,700 HIV cases with 7,400 deaths from AIDS in Canada, while in 1995 alone almost 18,000 families will have a loved one affected by breast cancer and a total of 5,400 dead.

I have received letters from across Canada on that very issue. The government must be held responsible for how it allocates health care dollars. The imbalance of those figures speaks volumes in this place and across Canada.

It is clear this government and the health minister must be held accountable for their decisions, the management of our health care system and the health care policies which have been their track record to this date. The principle of ministerial accountability and responsibility is so fundamental to our democratic system of government that we must all remain vigilant and uphold it. I intend to hold the government and the minister accountable for his ministerial responsibilities.

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1:05 p.m.


John Murphy Liberal Annapolis Valley—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, Canadians and Nova Scotians in my area continually want to know what the third party's official platform position would be on health care.

In September 1993 we heard the leader of the third party say that his party supported user fees and deductibles and would eliminate universality. He said that in Canadian Living . Then in October

1993 the Toronto Star reported that Reform was opposed to private health care and user fees. The member for Macleod said in the House on October 17, 1995 that medicare was bad for everyone. On November 23, 1995 he said that medicare was important to all Canadians.

Where does the hon. member feel the federal government has a responsibility with regard to our health care system?

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a member of this House and as a public figure, my response to items I read, particularly in some papers, is not always reflective of the actual thrust or intent of what was written. It is good to have the opportunity to say straight out what positions we hold without having it go through the sieve and the contortion which can happen in the media.

I will repeat what I mentioned in my speech. Reform's bottom line is that we would like a medicare system which guarantees access to needed health care for all Canadians regardless of their ability to pay. That is our bottom line and it is what we are seeking to find. The system right now is crumbling and the federal government refuses to recognize this fact.

People are on the streets striking because of federal funding cutbacks. We say that the federal government does have a place in funding medicare and ensuring the health care of Canadians. The funding should be predictable and constant. It should not be, as it has been, something that is being continually eroded through time so that the provinces cannot themselves make the plans and create the necessary approaches for proper health care. There should be a place for federal government funding but it should be predictable and sustained over time so that it becomes what is needed by the provinces to make their plans to meet the needs of the public.

Beyond that, we believe that health care needs to be looked at and certainly opened to public scrutiny through discussions with the various stakeholders and the provinces. In that way we can find the means that will actually create a system that will be there for all Canadians not only today but in the future. Right now that is not the case and it will not be the case unless we open up health care to the scrutiny of those people who are involved in it.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the speech of the Reform Party member. Sublauses 4(1) and 4(2) of Bill C-18 give the minister extended powers to act in every area related to the promotion and the preservation of the heath of Canadians.

These two provisions give the federal government the authority to interfere in an area which comes under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces. As everyone knows, when the federal government gets involved in areas of provincial jurisdiction, it is very costly and it results in waste.

For example, the national forum on health, which the government decided to hold without the provinces' participation, is a useless effort, precisely because the provinces are not participating in it. I want to ask the hon. member what she thinks of these two provisions which grant extended authority to the minister. As I said, this is a source of waste which we cannot afford right now.

Department Of Health ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Sharon Hayes Reform Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, certainly a great concern of Reform is duplication of federal and provincial powers. We agree with our Bloc colleagues that any costs incurred in doing the same thing twice is not worth the doing. There has to be a clear delineation of federal and provincial powers. As I look at the estimates for this year-we are now in the process of looking at the estimates within the health department-I see very great problems and greater encroachment on provincial jurisdiction in the name of health.

For instance, in the estimates there is an indication through the health window that the federal government is encroaching on the education system in the area of sex health education. The federal government has guidelines for kindergarten through to grade 12.

What my colleague has suggested is of great concern to me. I go back to what I referred to in my speech, and that is ministerial accountability. The minister is responsible for what is done, how it is done and who pays for it. If it is a duplication of service, I would be the first to say that it is not an appropriate expenditure or effort for this place if it is a provincial responsibility. Certainly jurisdiction has to be taken into consideration and should be a very real concern for members of Parliament.