Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to rise to speak on our motion. I will read the motion again because it is very important to understand exactly what we are debating and exactly what this motion is asking. It reads:
That this House strongly urge the government to press for the invitation of representatives of the Hepatitis C Society of Canada to the upcoming meeting of federal, provincial and territorial Health Ministers in order to provide advice on how to address the financial needs of all those who contracted Hepatitis C from the federally-regulated blood system.
While I am honoured to speak to this motion, at the same time I am somewhat saddened. I am saddened that we in this day and age, we in this country of Canada, we in this House of Commons have come to the point where we have to debate something which we would expect would be a normal thing to do for those who have compassion and caring. It is sad we have to debate something that should automatically follow, fairness to our fellow human beings.
Before I entered politics, when I was approached to become a politician, I had to think long and hard about it. I shared with so many Canadians a cynicism about the political process and what we can really do within that process. I received wise counsel from my wife, my children and people close to me. They said “We need people like you in politics. We need people who care about other people. We need people who will not sacrifice or compromise their values. We need people who will not put money or themselves first, but who will put others first”.
The more I thought about that the more I realized it is important that if we feel we have something to contribute to society we should move forward. We should put that forth in such a way that politics will not change us, but that we may have a changing effect upon politics. That is the reason I chose to enter politics. Since then I have constantly said to people that if they ever see me changing from the kind of person I am, to remind me so that I may always remember from whence I came and the primary purpose for being here, which is to serve others.
There are two principles that seem to be working at odds in the issue of hepatitis C: the principle of economics versus the principle of compassion and caring for others. The principle of economics is ruled by the head. We figure out how many dollars we have, we think about our bank accounts and we concentrate on that bottom line in our budgets. But the principle of caring for other people is ruled by the heart. It comes from the heart.
It is very important on this issue that we allow our hearts to rule our heads instead of the other way around. We have heard arguments in this House in which the rule of economics has become the bottom line. We have heard that we cannot afford to compensate all victims, yet we know that the auditor general has found a $2.5 billion surplus. So we can rule that out right away. We need not be concerned with the economics. We should now be looking at doing what is right. We should be looking at what our hearts tell us as we deal with this issue.
It is important for us to remember that we are indeed building the future for our children. We are making history today. We are setting a stage that generations down the road will look back upon. They will look at us and judge us by what we have done with respect to this issue. We want to build a future that our children can be proud of.
Our motion calls for an invitation. There may be a lot of argument today about the cost and about setting precedents, but our motion calls primarily for one thing. We are asking that the victims, through their representatives, have an invitation to the table so that they may be there to address the issue and be part of a decision that will certainly impact upon their lives.
The motion emphasizes and underlines the need for communication, the idea of people having a say in decisions that affect them. We see far too often today that one of the problems of our society is that we do not communicate with people about the decisions that affect their lives.
We see it with respect to young people and the decisions we make around scholarships, the millennium fund and so forth. Quite often decisions are made without input from those who are to be affected by these decisions. We see it with respect to our aboriginal peoples. Decisions are being made at tables and first ministers conferences when the aboriginal people are excluded from those meetings. We see it so often in many aspects of our lives. We see decisions being made about programs that affect fishermen and people who are struggling to find a way to earn income but they are not invited to the table.
Today we are emphasizing the importance of communication on a very important issue. We are saying those victims should be invited to the table so they may have a say in this matter.
Halifax West constituents care about this issue. Many of them have approached me and asked my stand on the issue. They have expressed full support. They feel that the victims should be compensated and compensated fairly.
Two things have struck me since I have come to the House of Commons, two things that kind of stand out for me, two things I find hard to get used to because they do not seem to balance one with the other.
The first is how we approach question period. I have spoken about this matter before. When we are doing the nation's business quite often it is very confrontational but also quite often very disrespectful. We do not respect the opinions of other people. We do not listen properly. We are constantly yelling while people are trying to talk and express their views. That bothers me. I hope it will continue to bother me because the minute it stops bothering me is when I have started to let politics change me rather than bring the change to politics I hope to bring to politics.
Another thing that impresses me favourably is that we open each session of the House with a prayer. The Speaker says a prayer. I am not sure how many people listen to the words of that prayer, but it asks for God's guidance as we do our deliberations on the nation's business. The stark contrast is how we then proceed to move into question period and everything that takes place there seems to fly in the face of the prayer that has been said in terms of what we hope to do in the House.
We need to think in terms of the heart. That is very applicable to the issue we are dealing with. We need to think in terms of the prayer when we open each session.
I pray that as we deal with this issue all members of the House may give thought to doing what is right in the eyes of their Creator, in the eyes of the God who put us on this earth to serve Him and to serve our fellow man, so that we may let our hearts rule as we deal with this issue.
The money element is not that terribly important. For example, when I first started to work many years ago I worked as a welfare officer. I was responsible for assessing applications from single parent families, from the disabled, from many people in circumstances beyond their control.
I was told on the first day on the job “When you go out to do an application, make sure you never, ever give any one of your clients money out of your own pocket because you will be setting a precedent”. We have heard that word quite often during this debate.
Armed with my rules and regulations I went out on my first case. The first case I had was one young lady who came to the door with three children, a baby in her arms and two children clinging on to her legs. She looked at me and said “Mr. Earle, can you lend me some money because I don't have any money to buy milk to feed my baby. I can't feed the children”.
She took me to show me her cupboards and her cupboards were bare. Her refrigerator was bare. I looked at this woman, at the baby crying in her arms and at her hungry children standing there, and right away the first rule went out the window. I reached into my back pocket and gave the woman some money. As I walked away from her home I thought I may never see that money again, but the feeling I got in my heart far outweighed any concerns I had about losing the money.
The reassuring part was that about a month later I received a phone call in my office from this woman. She wanted me to come and visit her. I went to visit her and the very first thing she did as I walked through the door was to repay the money she had borrowed to get food for her family.
The money will take care of itself. We have to let the heart rule in this matter.