I do not have another independent member to share it with so I will use the 20 minutes.
Mr. Speaker, I think it is time for a reality check. The previous Liberal speaker was accusing opposition parties of a reversal of policy. Mr. Speaker, I do not want to use the words hypocrite or hypocrisy because I know it might offend your parliamentary sensibilities, but we are talking about a party that has mastered the art of reversing its policies.
All I need mention is the GST. It was a party that fought against the GST and a party that embraced it once it came to power. It was a party that fought against free trade and then embraced it once it came to power. Now it is a party that claimed the file was closed and barely 24 hours after making that assertion, all of a sudden the file is open. When one speaks of a reversal of policy and when one is making that statement from the government benches, one ought to be looking in the mirror.
The member went on to refer to the health minister as his hero. I am sure he ought to be aware of the phrase worshipping false idols. He said he was courageous and had it not been for the Minister of Health, there would not have been any compensation whatsoever, suggesting that the provincial health ministers had to be browbeaten into accepting the fact that $1.1 billion ought to be put on the table.
The reality is that the Government of Canada through the health minister recognized legal liability. What the Minister of Health was agreeing to was not compassionate compensation; he was agreeing to damages. He was accepting liability. That was the major thrust of his submissions in the House week after week. He was saying that there was liability, culpability between 1986 and 1990 and for that reason he was making available damages or money.
To suggest that it was the Minister of Health who led the way to provide compensation is pure nonsense. He was simply recognizing that in a court of law the Government of Canada would have been found grossly negligent if not criminally negligent as a result of the tainted blood system.
I think it is time the Liberal backbenchers stopped regurgitating the talking points that have been provided to them by the Prime Minister's office and started using their own judgment and intelligence in making their arguments.
The fact is that the right and just thing would have been to compensate or to provide compensation, to make it available to all those innocent victims who suffered as a result of tainted blood.
The member refers to a reversal of policy. I would suggest that the spectacle we saw last week was a reversal of principle of the Liberal Party of Canada. It is a party that has prided itself over the years as the party of justice, a party of fair play, a party of equity, a party that goes to bat for the disabled, the disadvantaged in our society, a party that goes to bat for the unemployed, goes to bat for the sick. What we saw last week was a party that abandoned the sick and the dying in this country.
Had it not been for the premier of the province of Ontario, had it not been for Mike Harris, the file would still be closed. Now the government and its members want to take credit for the fact that compensation will inevitably be made available to all who suffered as a result of the tainted blood system in this country.
To this moment I have yet to hear a government member or the minister admit or accept the principle that all victims ought to be compensated. We are still hearing this notion of culpability and fault. They still have not accepted the fact that what is right and just is to make compensation available to all victims.
It seems to me if the government has any credibility at all it must accept as a prerequisite into walking into that meeting the principle that all victims ought to be compensated, that a compensation package should be made available for all victims. Unless and until the discredited Minister of Health or the discredited Prime Minister make that admission, the exercise they are about to embark upon will be nothing but a farce.
All the arguments put forward by the government and the health minister as a basis for their position are now suspect. How can the government pretend to have any credibility whatsoever? After weeks and weeks of questioning, the minister has maintained that if compensation were available to all innocent victims it would bankrupt the health system in Canada. They either believe it or they do not. Yesterday they seemed to be embracing the opening made by the premier of Ontario. In effect Premier Harris was saying that all victims ought to be compensated. All of a sudden they have abandoned the argument that the health care system will be bankrupt as a result.
The government and the health minister put forward another major argument, that if they compensate hepatitis C victims it would open the floodgates to all other individuals who become sick as a result of the health care system. Once again that argument has been totally abandoned. It seems that their credibility has been abandoned as well.
It is critical that the meeting which is about to take place be an open meeting so Canadians can hear and see the arguments being put forward by the Government of Canada and the governments of each of the provinces and the territories. For 10 men and women to lock themselves in the privacy of a room is undemocratic. There is no accountability. That meeting of health ministers ought to be open in order to ensure there is integrity to the process. Canadians want to be able to see and hear the arguments being put forward by the federal health minister and the provincial health ministers.
It seems that the motion put forward by the NDP will carry this afternoon and that the Hepatitis C Society of Canada will be present. Not only should the Hepatitis C Society of Canada be permitted to attend the meeting, but all Canadians should have an opportunity to see what goes on at the meeting.
With respect to the level of compensation, I would hope this government is not about to take away something that has already been provided to the victims between 1986 and 1990 in order to compensate those who contracted hepatitis C before 1986. To this day we do not know how the arbitrary figure of $1.1 billion was arrived at. That dollar amount is on the table. We do not know whether that amount is too generous or whether it is not enough. We do not know the arguments that led to the figure of $1.1 billion.
If we accept the position of the Government of Canada that there are an additional 40,000 to 60,000 victims who contracted hepatitis C prior to 1986, it seems that the entire package has to be improved threefold in order for it to be just and fair using the same principles or arguments that were used in coming up with the $1.1 billion figure. If instead of 20,000 victims we now have 60,000 victims, then the compensation package ought to be $3.3 billion to be shared. The lion's share ought to be borne by the Government of Canada because it was clearly the most responsible and the most negligent with respect to this matter.
I hope when question period begins in a few minutes that the Minister of Health will agree that the figure that ought to be the starting point for negotiation ought to be $3.3 billion. Anything less than that will result in compensation dollars being taken away from those victims between 1986 and 1990. If they accept the principle that all victims should be treated equally, it seems to me that should be the starting point.
I have another submission to make. In listening to provincial premiers, provincial health ministers, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, it is almost as if there were two different sets of taxpayers in the country, provincial taxpayers and federal taxpayers. There is only one taxpayer that pays both to the federal government and to the provincial government. Canadian taxpayers have said in overwhelming numbers that they support fair and just compensation to all victims.
Instead of fighting interprovincial turf battles between the federal and provincial governments, surely both the federal and provincial governments ought to keep in mind that there is only one taxpayer and that taxpayers are prepared to compensate victims just as they were prepared, and rightly so, to compensate victims of the floods in Manitoba and the ice storms in Quebec and Ontario.
That is the Canadian way. It is the right, just and compassionate thing to do. It was not based on any negligence or any potential lawsuits with the Government of Canada named as a defendant. It is because as Canadians we have earned an international reputation of being a compassionate people. For that reason we send billions of dollars in foreign aid overseas to help others in the world who are destitute and hungry. It is the right thing to do and the Canadian thing to do.
The Liberal government was prepared to abandon its fellow Canadians, Canadians who are suffering terribly as a result of being poisoned by the blood system, Canadians who through no fault of their own will lead very difficult lives.
Let us put the matter in context. I do not believe Canadians have yet to comprehend the magnitude of this tragedy. Not only are we talking about tens of thousands of our fellow Canadians. The numbers range up to 60,000. We are also dealing with their families and the devastation that this has caused to their loved ones, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. When we think of the magnitude of the tragedy, one in five will die as a result of being poisoned by the system.
Hundreds of young Canadian children with lukemia went into hospitals and had their lukemia cured, only to find that they were poisoned by the blood system. Their lives were put at risk because of a blood system that they trusted.
This is a matter to be dealt with by the first ministers, the Prime Minister, the premiers and the leaders of the territories. This is an issue that is grave enough to be determined. In terms of the health ministers, beginning with the Minister of Health in Ottawa and their credibility, Canadians do not trust them. They do not believe them in terms of the positions they have taken, the arguments they have put forward and the rhetoric they have used.
This file ought to be taken over by the Prime Minister and the premiers to show the same leadership that Mike Harris has shown in Ontario, a man who is often vilified by Liberals opposite as a man lacking in compassion and understanding for disadvantaged people in society. If only the Prime Minister and the Liberals opposite could show half the compassion and understanding that premier showed just a few days ago.
I would conclude by saying that this meeting is about to take place. It ought to be an open meeting so that we can see and hear firsthand the arguments being put forward by various levels of government. As a starting point the participants at this meeting have to agree that the compensation package on the table ought to be tripled to ensure the same level of compensation is available to all innocent victims.