Mr. Speaker, it is most difficult to follow my illustrious leader in such a passionate debate on an issue that certainly exudes much passion.
The member for Mississauga West I hope would also pay me as much respect as he does my leader, for in fact the message that is brought by our caucus and by our party is the same message, one of fairness, equality and compassion for a group of individuals who through no fault of their own have found themselves in a very untenable situation.
The issue facing us is one of fairness and equality. These are not faceless people who have been infected by hepatitis C. These are our neighbours, our friends and, in some cases, our family. They are people who we walk beside on the street, people we sit beside in restaurants and people we work beside. These are people who, through no fault of their own, received a tainted blood transfusion which came from an organization and a government that guaranteed the blood supply was safe. However, that guarantee was not there and these people are suffering the consequences.
I was at the gas pumps in my constituency just last week when an individual walked up to me, knowing who I was, and introduced himself, saying that he was one of the victims who was infected by hepatitis C.
They come to us from all walks of life. They come to us to tell us their stories, stories that wrench our hearts, if in fact there is any compassion in our hearts. It has not been seen on the other side of the House.
We have heard excuses. The Minister of Health has stood in this House for the last five weeks and extolled the excuses of government. The Minister of Health said “I am sorry, there will be a cut-off date”, and that arbitrary cut-off date will be January 1, 1986. Anybody before that arbitrary cut-off date is going to be thrown out like bathwater.
What would happen if it were your family, Mr. Speaker, or your friends who were infected in December 1985, one month prior to this arbitrary cut-off date? Those individuals do not matter to this government. Those individuals do no matter as Canadian citizens because they did not fall within that magic timeframe beginning January 1, 1986.
There are instances of tainted blood causing hepatitis C after 1990, but that does not matter because the arbitrary date of 1990 that has been developed by the Minister of Health is the date that is going to stand for those individuals.
That arbitrary date was struck by the Minister of Health. Make no mistake about that. His excuse is that there were tests that could have been used between the years of 1986 and 1990. The government's position is an excuse and that is all it is. When the government sat down with the provinces to negotiate—and I use that term very loosely—this federal-provincial deal an arbitrary decision was made. The Minister of Health stood in the House and said it was not about money. He stood here and said that the issue of compensation is not about money. I would suggest that probably is not the complete truth. The minister also stood here and said that it would bankrupt the health care system. We cannot have it both ways. It is not about money. It is about compassion. It is about fairness.
As my leader indicated, when they negotiated, had we been flies on the wall, I am sure the negotiation would have gone something like this: “We will put in x dollars and the provinces will put in x dollars. If you do not like the deal we will remove our money from the federal side of the table”. That is not negotiation, that is bullying. When the provinces are bullied into signing a deal like that and then the government stands in the House and gives another excuse that the agreement was signed by all 10 provinces so it has to be a good deal, it does not have to be a good deal. It was bullying on behalf of the federal government because of money. Make no mistake about that.
Then there is the other excuse. There have only been a few of them and they have been parroted here for the last five weeks. The other excuse from the Minister of Health when he stood up was that it would jeopardize the universality of medicare as we know it in Canada. Not true. The universality of medicare in Canada today as we know it, would continue even if and when a compensation package is extended to cover those individuals not covered under this particular package.
A precedent has already been set. It is the 1991 settlement to victims who contracted HIV through the blood system. Those individuals extended beyond that particular date. It extended to anyone who was affected by HIV. The precedent is there and our country's medicare system is still there and is still alive.
Those are the excuses. Let us talk about the real issues concerning hepatitis C. The real issue is that the Minister of Health fears class action suits, as well he should. There are class action suits which are filed now by a number of organizations. The Minister of Health, Minister of Justice and the Minister of Finance will be hoisted by their own petards when those class action suits get to the courts because of the following reasons.
First, the compensation and the class action suit is medically sound. It is medically sound because we know that these people were infected by tainted blood. It is a legally compelling argument. I defy the government to defend an arbitrary date of January 1, 1986 from a class action suit. It is not going to happen. We know full well that the class action suit is going to be successful. We know that it is financially sound. The Minister of Health and the Minister of Finance could get together and put a fair compensation package together.
I should not do it but I will talk about some of those other areas of waste by the government in its first and second terms. I remember half a billion dollars at the stroke of a pen was wasted when the government decided it was not going to go with the EH-101s, but that was okay because that was political. This is compassion. That is not okay.
Then there was the Pearson airport fiasco. Somewhere in the area of $750 million was wasted by the government on that particular political issue. But that was politics, that was okay. When it comes to compassion, there is no $750 million for the victims of hepatitis C.
I talked about it not being a precedent. This is not a precedent. We have had it in the past with those infected with HIV through the blood system.
Politically transparent. This is total transparent politically. We have a government that bullied the provinces into making a negotiated settlement. We have a government that forced its members to vote against a motion that its members wanted to support.
We see constantly day in and day out in this House a Minister of Health who is unable to sell to his finance minister and his cabinet a package that should be sold. He stands up and uses the excuse that 10 provinces have signed it so it must be good. He uses the excuse that the medicare system cannot support this type of compensation package.
Politically unsound. We see the reports now on how the government is being affected by this particular negotiated settlement. We see the transparency politically when now the provinces are coming out and saying that it is not a good deal negotiated with the federal government.
We see the provinces. In the province of Ontario we talk about Premier Harris walking tall. He does walk tall. Premier Filmon walks tall. We see B.C. coming out now and saying that it is not a good deal, that it wants fairness and equity for everybody.
How can the minister and the government keep the tenet that this must be a good deal because 10 provinces have agreed to it? Ten provinces did not agree to the government cutting transfer payments to the provinces. Not one province said that it was really happy to have its health care in transfer payments which were cut by this government.
I did not see any member of the government front benches stand and say that it cannot be a good deal because no province likes it. They stood up and said that they were going to do it anyway. They had the responsibility of leadership. They had the responsibility to put in place a fair and equitable package for everybody. They failed and they failed miserably. They failed their leadership opportunity to stand up and do what was right. Even the majority of backbenchers on the government side want that fair package.
I would like to see the government support this motion to have open negotiations with the provinces, to have the hepatitis C victims available so that they can make sure that the right and honourable decision is made at those reopened negotiations.