Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words on this and share my time with a member from New Brunswick, if I may.
I am pleased to see the government announce earlier today that it would be supporting this opposition day motion. Indeed it is rare in the House of Commons to have the government stand up and vote in favour of a motion of an opposition party.
I am pleased we made some progress and that the government wants to at least bring to the table the representatives of the Hepatitis C Society when the minister meets with his provincial counterparts later on this week. I maintain that is a step in a positive direction.
We all remember last week after the vote took place in the House the minister went out and faced the television cameras. He looked the camera lens in the eye and he said “The file is closed”. Thanks to the Canadian people, the file is not closed. The file is open and I think we are going to see several changes made in the original position of the federal minister and his provincial counterparts. That is a good thing.
I want to applaud public reaction, public pressure and public opinion for forcing the government to reopen the file. It shows that the democratic system can work when there is concerted public pressure and public opinion. When there is people power it can force a majority government to reopen the file and do something one day it said it was not going to do the previous week. That is a very good and positive thing about how this institution sometimes can work on behalf of ordinary people.
The logjam was broken when the premier of Ontario, Mike Harris, announced yesterday that his government would compensate all sufferers of hepatitis C in terms of the provincial amount of that compensation.
It is very important that we do not have two tiers of settlements and two tiers of health care in this country. It is important that the federal minister take the leadership now, reopen the package and make sure that all people who suffer from hepatitis C are compensated in a fair, compassionate and just way.
That should be done for a number of reasons. First of all the Canadian people have asked that we do it. They have shown compassion. There are past precedents for doing this.
The situation in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean two years ago comes to mind. There was a great flood in this part of the province of Quebec. The federal government provided support for the people of Lac-Saint-Jean. The same was true in the case of the people of southern Manitoba. I refer to the Red River, which flooded last year as well.
The same was true for last January's ice storm, in which the provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario, and the Ottawa region in particular, were hard hit. The federal government was compassionate and provided assistance to the disaster victims, as it has done on a number of occasions in this country.
There was also the compensation for the victims of thalidomide and victims of HIV. The thalidomide case took a long time before it wound through the courts, but again there was compensation for all the victims.
What I am saying here is that once again we have had a regulatory failure and the federal government should be willing to take the leadership in making sure that there is fair compensation.
I want to make one other point before I sit down and I think it is the most important one of all. The federal government has the obligation to provide the lion's share of the compensation. I say that for a couple of reasons.
There have been massive cutbacks in social programs in terms of cutbacks from the federal government to the provinces in the last few years. Last year there was a cutback of $6.5 billion in transfers from the federal government to the provinces. That cutback is in effect this year and next year, $6.5 billion each and every year. That is less money for the provinces for health care and education and welfare programs that would have been there had it not been for the Minister of Finance cutting back in a cold and callous way in his budget a year or so ago.
Because of that the federal government has an obligation to fund the lion's share. I am sure the hon. member from Mississauga would agree with that, to fund the lion's share of the compensation for hepatitis C victims.
Because of these cutbacks, the federal government has a surplus of several billion dollars this year. The federal government can afford to compensate the victims of hepatitis C. It has that surplus because it has been cutting back in transfers to the provinces, cutting back in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, all the provinces. I maintain the government has an obligation to provide the funding for the compensation of the other victims.
I agree with the Government of Quebec, which said so last week. As did British Columbia and Ontario, before it changed its position and decided to compensate the victims in its own province.
The money is there for the victims of hepatitis C and the federal government should lead the way.
In terms of funding, when medicare first became a reality in this country in 1967, there was an agreement that the federal government would fund 50% of the cost of health care in this country, 50 cents on the dollar. What is it today? Today the federal government pays not 50 cents on the dollar, but 13 cents on the dollar. It has gone from 50 cents on the dollar to 13. That is a shameful record for the Liberal Party of Canada that once prided itself as being progressive and compassionate and forward thinking.
In fact the father of the current Minister of Finance was the Minister of Health back in the 1960s when national medicare became a reality in this country after the provincial leadership of the CCF in Saskatchewan with Tommy Douglas and Premier Woodrow Lloyd.
I say that is a shameful record and it is no wonder the member from Mississauga is now hanging his head in shame over that legacy of the Liberal Party. The Liberals are much more conservative than Brian Mulroney and the Tories and the hon. member for Mississauga knows that. That is why he is hanging his head in shame. He does not dare get to his feet and respond to an argument of that sort because the figures speak for themselves: 1967, 50 cents on the dollar; 1997, 30 years later, 13 cents on the dollar. Mulroney would not have even dreamed of doing that, and that is exactly the legacy the Liberal Party has left Canadians.
If the sufferers of hepatitis C want to see who the culprits are, they should look in the eyeballs of the Minister of Finance, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health. Those are the people who refuse to provide adequate funding to people who are suffering from a disease through no fault of their own, suffering from a disease because of the fault of regulators who allowed contaminated blood to go out into the system.
Mr. Speaker, I make that appeal through you to the minister and the government across the way, that they start once again adequately funding the health care system in this country. What a better place to start than to pay the lion's share, the overwhelming share of the cost to compensate these victims who are suffering from a disease through no fault of their own.