Mr. Speaker, we usually say we are pleased to take part in the debate on a motion tabled by a colleague no matter which party he or she belongs to.
While I am not opposed to the motion by my colleague from the New Democratic Party, I find it difficult to speak again about a tragedy of national proportions where we have to fight to see justice done so that the victims of this tragedy are not left out in the cold.
The government has been trying to single out a number of victims for compensation in order to show compassion and to exclude other victims, who were not infected during the period agreed on. But these people were also infected and have suffered unprecedented prejudice. They are being told “It is not our fault. You must face the consequences, as we will not recognize our responsibilities”.
I think it is a shame we are forced to tear each other apart in order to get those in power—this government, which is in a position to see that justice is done—to understand that these people who have lost their lives, who are in despair, have lost everything because of this terrible disease.
I would be pleased nevertheless to try once again to heighten the awareness of this government, who is in a position to make a decision by taking part in the debate on this motion my NDP colleague moved this morning.
For the benefit of our viewers, the motion reads as follows:
That this House 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.
At the point we have reached with all that has been said and written on the compensation of the victims in recent weeks, I think a little clarity in the facts and a little compassion would be well received. These the Hepatitis C Society of Canada could provide. We are in favour of this aspect of the motion.
As for whether or not it is appropriate to compensate all victims regardless of when they were infected, I believe that our audience along with the majority of members in this House want the victims to be heard and justice to be done for them.
After four years and $15 million, the Krever commission of inquiry into tainted blood reached the same conclusions. In his report, Justice Krever made recommendations on this, including a recommendation that there be no-fault compensation for all victims.
Nevertheless, despite repeated demands from all sides, the present government is still refusing to give in to common sense and is stubbornly clinging to a rather dubious argument against equitable compensation.
The answer is clear, however. Should there be fair and equitable compensation for all victims who contracted hepatitis C from tainted blood, as there was for those who contracted HIV, or should there not? I believe the answer is self-evident.
Today I call upon all members of the Liberal government, who will also be having to vote on this motion this evening, to ask themselves this question and also to give some thought to what the people of their respective ridings think.
Finally, I call upon the Minister of Health to reflect seriously upon the reasons behind his government's acting this way, when the most elementary logic tells us that justice and compassion must take precedence over any other consideration, no matter how legitimate.
Unfortunately, justice and compassion are not what has guided the federal government since the start of the Krever inquiry. Need I mention all the obstacles this government has put in its way?
Briefly, if last November, we had the opportunity to read a report that managed, for once and for all, to cast light on the sad events surrounding this tragedy, it is surely not thanks to this government, which did anything but help it.
It is never too late to do the right thing, and there can be no better time than the present to remedy the past and show some good faith.
In recent days, a number of new elements have been brought into the picture. And although there have been no changes on the government side, the present situation is no longer satisfactory.
The province of Ontario announced that it was going to contribute between $100 and $200 million in order to compensate those who contracted hepatitis C before 1986.
The Premier of Manitoba, Gary Filmon, said he was prepared to sit down with the federal government and the provinces to review the March 27 compensation package.
British Columbia passed a resolution supporting last week's resolution by the National Assembly.
Nova Scotia's Conservative and New Democratic opposition plans to hound Russell MacLellan's minority Liberal government to urge the federal government and the provinces to negotiate a new agreement compensating all hepatitis C victims. It should be remembered that this Liberal government is a minority government. The Liberals hold 19 seats, the New Democrats 19 and the Conservatives 14. A vote of confidence on this issue could topple the government. Nova Scotia's throne speech is scheduled for May 21.
Finally, we learned this morning that a meeting would soon be held with the federal Minister of Health and his provincial counterparts, but we do not know when. A certain openness to compensating everyone can be detected, however. It remains to be seen how.
Thousands of people are excluded from the agreement because they were infected before 1986 or after 1990. This is unfair and unacceptable. In our view, the federal government must take its responsibilities and set up a special program that would be in addition to the existing agreement.
Since they took office, the Liberals have reduced the deficit primarily by passing on the costs to the provinces. Between 1994 and 2003, Quebec and the other Canadian provinces will have suffered a shortfall of $42 billion. This accounts for 52% of the cuts, while the federal share is barely 12%. This in itself says a lot about the financial situation of the governments.
By the year 2003, a further $30 billion in federal cuts will have been imposed on Quebeckers and Canadians in health, education and social assistance. Of course, it is the provinces that will have to find ways to absorb these cuts, and they will have to take the rap, not the federal government. Meanwhile, the federal government has surpluses and, by the year 2000, there will be a surplus of $25 billion in the employment insurance fund, which will have accumulated at the expense of the workers and the unemployed.
This is why we are calling for the establishment of a special fund, because this government has the means to compensate all hepatitis C victims. The provinces have done their share so far and, in addition, they must pay for the health care costs of all these victims.
In conclusion, the motion by the New Democratic Party would bring a little humanity and compassion to the upcoming meeting of health ministers. Let us hope that the federal government will follow up on it and recognize, after everyone else, the unfairness of a situation it alone can correct adequately.