House of Commons Hansard #99 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.


Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

That is a point of order and I think the hon. member is straying far off the point. I think the parliamentary secretary has got the point. He has indicated already that he is working on answers to the hon. member's questions and I am sure he will continue to do so.

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary wish to address this question also?

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, again I have noted Question No. 56 and I will make a point of consulting with the member to hear the end of the story.

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Yes, I think that is appropriate.

Is it agreed that all remaining questions stand?

Questions Passed As Orders For ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members


SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK


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.

Mr. Speaker, it is an unexpected and an unanticipated honour for me to be the lead speaker in this important debate, but an honour nonetheless. I will be sharing my time with our leader, the member for Halifax.

We in this Chamber have been at this issue now for more than a month, 39 days to be precise, and all of us on this side of the House have been trying to ensure that social justice be provided to all hepatitis C victims on this sad and tragic issue.

A week ago today we voted on a motion that would have extended some measure of justice, dignity and compassion to all who contracted hepatitis C regardless of the date they became infected.

The government refused and in the ensuing vote the government position was upheld narrowly. The federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health stood shoulder to shoulder behind the agreement they had made in Toronto. The agreement was that governments would compensate only some of those infected with hepatitis C through tainted blood.

The Prime Minister insisted that last week's motion to extend compassion to those on the outside looking in on the agreement be treated as a motion of confidence in the government. It worked to some extent. The government won that confidence vote by 155 to 140. It won the confidence vote in the House of Commons, but in the process it lost the confidence of the nation.

The federal Minister of Health said that the file on compensation was closed, but this file would not stay closed because this deal would not and could not survive public scrutiny. It would not stay closed because it is a deal that draws a line in the sand and says that if a person became infected with hepatitis C after January 1, 1986 they will receive compensation, but if they were infected before December 31, 1985, the governments are sorry but they are unable to extend benefits.

We have listened day after day to the Minister of Health as he has tried to justify this sordid deal. When he talked about the class action suit Canadians contrasted those words with the classless inaction they were witnessing from this government.

The most moving moment in my short tenure as a member of parliament occurred after the vote last week when victims of hepatitis C and their family members stood in the visitors' gallery to applaud opposition members for their support even though that support fell slightly short.

What governments have been trying to do for the past 39 days against tens of thousands of Canadians is not the Canadian way. When calamity or disaster strikes it is not the Canadian way to draw a line in the sand. When the flood in Quebec's Saguenay region occurred two years ago relief went out to all, not only to some who were affected. It was the same last year with the Red River flood in Manitoba. When the ice storm struck eastern Ontario and Quebec this past January provisions were made in the emergency relief program to ensure that small farmers working off the farm were also protected. That is the Canadian way.

Why did our health minister think he could get away with something so thoroughly un-Canadian as this hepatitis C deal? I believe part of the answer lies in the current lack of resources extended to our provincial and territorial governments for the provision of health care by the federal government.

Five years after medicare was introduced at the national level, a gift from the Government of Saskatchewan introduced by Tommy Douglas and Woodrow Lloyd, the Pearson government made it attractive and saleable to the other provinces by providing 50:50 funding, 50-cent dollars. The federal government would match every 50 cents put up by the provincial and territorial governments. Today those 50-cent dollars have been whittled down to less than 13 cents.

I believe Saskatchewan is the only province that has backfilled every penny of health care money which the federal government has taken out in recent years. It has not been easy for Saskatchewan to continue with the important health funding that is necessary in an era of transition. Thanks to this government pharmaceutical costs have been going through the roof. The Saskatchewan government and other governments have been managing as best they can.

Tommy Douglas is recognized as the father of medicare in Canada. As I said a minute ago, medicare was Saskatchewan's gift to Canada. Tommy had a great way with people and with words, as those who had the privilege to know him will attest. One of his phrases goes like this: “When someone tells you that it's not the money, it's the principle, you can be almost certain it's the money”. That is what we have been witnessing in the House over the past 39 days. This has not been about principle, it has been about getting away with it as cheaply as possible and not doing the right thing, not doing the Canadian thing.

The original deal pleased no one because the victims were not present to make their case or to counter misinformation at the negotiating table. No one knows the hepatitis C issue better than those who live with the disease. They must be at the table for the next round, as this motion indicates.

Canadians expect us to act in the best interests of the victims of this blood tragedy. Let the victims now have their say on how to address their financial needs.

We do not often have a second chance either in life or in this House. In this Chamber we tend to deal with a topic and move on. However, this is one time that Canadians, by their words and actions, have forced all governments to revisit an important issue.

We should celebrate this opportunity to do the right thing, finally, for all the victims of hepatitis C. Let us celebrate the fact that we have been given a second chance to make amends and offer compensation fully and fairly. That is the Canadian way.

We have been given a second chance to do the right thing. This file is open once again. Let us not blow it this time. We call on all members of the House of every political stripe to support this motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, today the New Democratic Party brings this motion before the House in a spirit of working with the health minister and his government and with their provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure the successful negotiation of a compensation package to meet the financial and health needs of all victims of hepatitis C.

A week ago today will be remembered as a low point in the history of this parliament, perhaps a low point in Canadian history. It will be remembered as the day when 155 members on the government benches, for all the wrong reasons, stood together to oppose a public policy measure that Canadians knew in their hearts as well as in their heads was the fair and proper thing to do, namely, to compensate all victims of hepatitis C.

It is clear that victims of hepatitis C had no control over the conditions that resulted in their infection, but it is also clear that the Government of Canada had regulatory control and responsibility. That responsibility remains to all victims of hepatitis C.

When last Tuesday's vote was over the federal health minister declared that the file was closed, that the matter was over and that there was nothing more to be said. However it was absolutely clear to us, to the members of the New Democratic Party caucus, indeed to all members on the opposition benches, that this file could not be closed until justice was done.

If it was not already clear to members on the government benches, it certainly was clear after they visited their ridings over the weekend and heard from ordinary Canadians the sense of outrage they felt about the violation of the very promise, the very essence of Canada's health care system, namely, dividing the victims into the deserving and the non-deserving, dividing the victims into categories of have and have not, and shutting out of our health care system those who had no ability to control the conditions that resulted in their being infected with hepatitis C. It is a health condition with which many will live for the rest of their lives and to which many will lose their lives in the months and years ahead. The fact of the matter is that it goes to the very essence of being a Canadian to ensure that people get the health care attention they need when they need it, and that means recognizing that we share a community and societal responsibility for that.

Today it is clear that the federal minister and the provincial and territorial ministers will meet again. We want to plead today with the health minister and his colleagues to ensure that the victims of hepatitis C have representation at the table.

They are the ones that understand the devastating effects of hepatitis C. They are the ones that understand what a toll it is taking not only on their lives but on their families. They are the ones who need to be given voice and an opportunity to ensure this is not just another round of false hope but in fact becomes an opportunity to ensure that justice is done.

Some may dwell in the days ahead on why some members of the House did the wrong thing when the opportunity was presented to them a week ago. Others may dwell on the question of what motives account for various governments changing their minds.

Let me say I think that all 301 members of the House have a responsibility, as my colleague from Saskatchewan has already said, to work together to set aside the recriminations, to set aside the imputing of motives and to ensure that justice is done on the basis of decency and compassion.

We have seen the incredible courage of hepatitis C victims over the last weeks and months. In case we need any reminder of what we are doing here, what our responsibility is and what unites us as members of the House, let me briefly quote from a letter received today from one of the spokespersons on behalf of the Hepatitis C Society. Jo-Anne Manser wrote:

I don't fear death—I know that I'll walk straight into the arms of God who loves me as His precious child. So it matters not that my Prime Minister and health ministers think so little of us now.

But, I do fear for my children who must grow up in this, so please stay strong and continue to fight for truth, justice and compassion in Canada—not only for victims of the tainted blood disaster, but for our kids.

You are in my heart and prayers always. Hopefully, one day we can all heal from this painful process and then have the courage to forgive.

That was a note written obviously with a very strong sense of compassion, not just concern about her own circumstances as a mother of young children but a sense of compassion for all families of the victims of hepatitis C. It was written not just to express appreciation for the fact that members of the House have remained in solidarity with those victims, but I choose to believe that it is a message to all 301 members of the House.

We have a responsibility now to move forward. We have a responsibility to include the victims of hepatitis C through their representatives of the Hepatitis C Society in the process of working together with the different levels of government to find a solution, a fair solution that will compensate those who through no fault of their own find that their health has been jeopardized and in far too many cases their lives foreshortened.

Let us accept that as a challenge to all members of the House. Let us see it as a reminder of why our constituents sent us to Ottawa, why they entrusted to us the responsibility to work together to find solutions to problems that Canadians face and to ensure that at the end of the day the Canada that has had compassion and caring at the very heart of our being is the Canada that emerges from this disastrous chapter in Canadian health history.

I move:

That the motion before us be amended by inserting after the word “House” the word “strongly”.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair finds the amendment to be in order.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise Progressive Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, Canada internationally is seen as a country that is very compassionate and caring for its people.

When we see what happened last week in the House we question that. The victims of hepatitis C had no choice or alternative to turn to. They did not have the option of banking their own blood. Therefore they had to accept tainted blood.

It is for this reason that I stand today to say that we have what is right. We have to do the just and honourable thing. This cannot be something that involves petty politics. These are people's lives. They are parents. They are sons and daughters.

I cannot imagine why all of us do not have the same feeling. Therefore I have to support the comments made by the leader of the New Democratic Party.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think all of us will remember the last few weeks on Parliament Hill when people have been forced through circumstances absolutely beyond their control to come here, in some cases in wheelchairs, in some cases on crutches, and in some cases bearing crosses symbolizing the mothers and fathers, family members and friends who lost their lives to hepatitis C.

It is absolutely clear that today we have a responsibility to resolve that no longer will the victims of hepatitis C have to get out of their sick beds, and in some cases literally leave their hospital beds, to plead for compassion and justice from their elected representatives.

Let us today use the opportunity to recognize the dedication and the diligence of people who fought to ensure that this file did not close and that the compassion of Canadians prevailed in this public policy debate. Let us resolve to ensure that their attention and energy can now be concentrated on their own health, on their own families, and on trying to live out their lives with some dignity and some decency.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Gar Knutson Liberal Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a well known fact that a number of people who enter into the health care system oftentimes quite tragically come out of the experience much sicker, whether it is hepatitis C victims or a variety of other diseases they may pick up.

If there is no negligence and there is no legal liability, does the member think we should be moving into a system of no fault insurance or no fault compensation? If the member does not believe in a no fault compensation package, what distinguishes a group of pre-1986 hepatitis C victims from all the other people who enter into the health care system and come out, tragically, oftentimes much worse for the experience?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have to say in all honesty it distresses me somewhat that I feel there is some back sliding here into those spurious arguments that focused on what the Minister of Health and his 154 colleagues who voted against justice last week have done over the last few weeks. This is what has been so lamentable and so tragic.

They have insisted on reducing the matter to issues of legal liability. They have insisted on saying they cannot set precedents. They need an artificial construct or a window, in this case from 1986 to 1990, during which time they can actually say the Government of Canada should have administered a test that was available and did not, and therefore they accept the responsibility and the legal liability and it is just too bad about those other victims who succumbed to hepatitis C before the test began to be administered.

First, it is simply inaccurate to say that 1986 to 1990 is some magic set of dates. The fact of the matter is that there were discussions taking place between the Government of Canada and provincial governments about introducing such a test as early as 1981 and the decision was made not to do it for all the wrong reasons, for financial reasons.

Second, let us recognize that there is a wealth of ethical capital in the country, the same ethical capital that results in Canadians saying it was nobody's fault there was an ice storm but we will compensate; it was nobody's fault that there was a flood but we will compensate.

We are talking about a system failure here and we have a responsibility to compensate people for having been infected by it.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was fascinated by the headline I saw on Saturday which said the hepatitis C victim compensation was rock solid. The headline I would put on the docket today is that the hepatitis C compensation package of the government is more like a rock slide.

There is a hopeful nature to what I am to say today. Although the issue is not resolved and is not completed, I see positive movement.

I give credit today to the victims. I have actually met some of them. I hope it would not be unfair to characterize them as a ragtag assortment of people who are sick. The hepatitis C organization which I have come to know a bit about does not have enough money to rent space. It borrows space. It is lucky if it has enough money to afford faxes. It is borrowing computer equipment for the Internet and whatnot.

I am proud this little ragtag group—and if anyone takes that as a slam, it is not—of ill people has up to the might of the federal government, to its PR people, to its communications people, to its huge spending capabilities, and has said quietly and sincerely “This is not fair and we won't go away until it is changed”.

For the group of cynics who says “You cannot do anything in the face of a big, powerful government”, this indicates to me that is not so. I am so proud of those individuals who would not lie down, who would not fall over, who would not just say “Because I'm sick I will accept this compensation”.

The joy of this is in a fax I received this morning from a woman in B.C. She congratulated the opposition parties for what they are doing and whatnot, but what she went on to indicate was heart rending to me. She is eligible for compensation. She is in that window as the deal stands. However, she said “I will not take anything until all the needy are properly looked after”. She also said that I could use her name and her remarks. Her name is Doris Corrigan in Surrey, B.C., who in my view is compassionate beyond belief.

It has also been fascinating to watch the arguments of the government systematically dismantled by these individuals. The argument that this would cause a floodgate of frivolous legal claims has been dismantled. The argument that this would cause a precedent to be set that would destroy medicare was dismantled. There is also the argument that the test was unavailable before 1986.

I practised medicine from 1970 until I came to parliament. I must admit that my memory is not always perfect but I remember the very first week I was in practice in my small community. What test did I order during that very first week in 1970? I ordered the ALT test. I ordered that test to try to find out if one of my patients had hepatitis. It was the most specific sensitive test available to us at that time. Normally a screening test would be done to look for liver damage. If liver damage was found the most specific test which was ALT would be done. I used the ALT test throughout my medical career. I used it every single time there was a patient with hepatitis and I wanted to see how serious the hepatitis was.

The minister said so plainly on TV last week that the test was not available in Canada before 1986. What he should have said and should have added to that is that the regulators decided not to use that test to screen for hepatitis C in donated blood. If he had added that proviso, he would have been on firm ground. But to say the test was not available before 1986, I cannot use the word I would like to use to express how I feel about that, but it was wrong. It was available. It was here. I used it. Every single MD in Canada knows that.

For those physicians listening who do not know the name of the test by ALT, we call it SGPT. That is the common name of the test. It was the most specific test we had available. It was available, used here and regulators decided it was not useful for screening, which was a mistake.

This is not a negative talk at all. Because I am hopeful I wanted to say what the hepatitis C victims expect. I received a letter this week from one of my colleagues at home who said “I do not favour compensation for everyone who is not symptomatic”, in medical parlance, asymptomatic.

Here is what the hepatitis C victims want. They want the connection between hep C seropositivity connected to a transfusion to give them the opening to walk through a door into the room of compensation. They only want funds if they are sick. They have not been able to make that issue clear because they are not at the table, which is why I so strongly support my NDP colleagues who are asking for them to be at the table. They are not at the table to be able to tell the government. Who are negotiating? Class action lawyers. My colleagues in the NDP are on the right track by saying they need to be there to express what they want from compensation.

They also need to be there because they have the best numbers figures. They have gone through these. The trace back and look back figures are now coming forward, but the numbers that the government is using are inaccurate. We can look at the international experience and do some calculations and find that as well as looking at the domestic experience.

In my hopeful comments I also want to look to the future. What does the future hold for our blood system? What really went wrong in our old blood system is that there was not one single person in charge. There were experts who gave advice and whose advice was ignored for various reasons. There was no one there who could say “That decision is wrong and for safety we must go that road”. What will our new system do to prevent this? What about CJD, the human variant of mad cow disease? Would it be prevented by the new blood system? There is a big question mark here because in the new blood system again it is not one person in charge.

Who should be in charge? The federal Minister of Health should have that mantle on his shoulders. He should be able to say from all the discussions that take place “This must happen”. It is not something he can delegate to someone else. It is not something he can throw away.

New therapies are coming along which are so exciting to these victims. Ribavirin and interferon, a combination that has just been approved in the U.S., gives me great hope that we may be able to throw away this compensation package for those victims who are not very sick. Is this not our desire, to have these people cured rather than needing compensation? If we cannot cure them, when they have been let down by the federal regulator, surely we should look after them.

I want to pay tribute to Joey Haché. Joey is the 15-year old boy who came here on his own hook. On Monday just before the vote he said to his dad “Dad, I have hepatitis C. I want to go down there and I want to see how this works in parliament. They are voting on an important issue to me”. He does not live very far from here, so down he came. He sat up in the gallery. He watched the voting. He spontaneously rose afterward and clapped for the opposition members for their stand. I had an opportunity to meet Joey after. I shook his hand and said “I think you are the bravest guy here”.

Joey watched the proceedings in the House of Commons the next day and said that he did not like the way some questions were answered in the House. He wrote out his questions to the Prime Minister. He could not ask them, but who could? He brought them to me. Joey was asked if I had approached him and tried to drag him down here for partisan purposes “Did he try to use you for political purposes?” Joey with his cute little 15-year old smile said “You know, I think I am using the member for Macleod for my political purposes”.

Just to set the record straight, Joey was not contacted. He spontaneously came here and said what he wanted to say with his resources.

I am very hopeful today for the victims. I want so much to be able to stop this haranguing. I want to say to the government that it has finally done the right thing, even if it had to be dragged there kicking and screaming. That is my sincere hope for the sake of the victims.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his good speech and for the work he has put into this file, as have all members on this side of the House.

One of the questions I have for him regarding yesterday's announcement from Ontario is what will fundamentally change? Obviously in this country, unfortunately and regrettably we have rich provinces and poor provinces. At the end of the day I still believe it is going to take a great deal of leadership by the federal government to put a package together that will include all victims of hepatitis C.

Many of the provinces are under financial restraint. Unless the federal government takes a leadership role in this when they get back to the table, what is going to change unless the health minister stands up with the support of the Prime Minister and says that all victims are going to be compensated?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member can take no small pride in the amount of work he has put into this file as well.

It would be patently unfair for one rich province to say that it will give funds and no one else would. Imagine the position a poorer province would be in if it said it would not look after these individuals when the numbers of dollars especially in relationship to the numbers of victims are not that great.

We have seen inflated figures, figures which I think are completely unfair. The numbers I have used as a comparison, another jurisdiction with four million people ended up with 732 victims who were sick enough to go for compensation. If we extrapolate that in Canada we will find that the figures are far different.

Nova Scotia, a relatively have not province, led the file on HIV. The Tory government there led the push for HIV compensation. I do not think that anybody would say that it did that because it had lots of extra funds. The province did it because it was correct, proper and right. In a sense it shamed other governments into following its lead.

I believe that funds will be taken from other frivolous things, such as giving money to businesses that are already successful, and put where Canadians think the funds should go. That is to those who have been unfortunately harmed because federal regulators did not do what they should have done.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am aware that the federal Department of Health and Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food got together and established a new research facility in Winnipeg. It has been commissioned and declared safe for studying the most exotic and dangerous diseases. I believe it has a class four designation.

I want to ask the Reform health critic if he is aware of this new facility being involved in any of the research in testing for hepatitis C or any aspect of improving the well-being of hepatitis C victims. Is this research facility involved in any of this at all?

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, the commissioning of this new research facility has been fairly recent. It is the perfect facility to be leading the charge in this way. This facility looks after things like the ebola virus which is profoundly risky to all human life. The facility certainly could and should be involved.

I have only been in touch with one of the highest officials in the lab. I am not certain how far down the road it is with new equipment and whatnot to be conducting these experiments. This is the perfect facility to be a world leader in this area and certainly something I endorse personally. Once again, we surely want to fix the problem before it comes rather than fix the problem after it is there.

SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

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.

SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I suppose in an environment such as this where people are trying to take the high moral ground about who is doing the best for whom it might be worthwhile for all of us to reflect on what is taking place. It is important.

Part of this national debate on blood is to note that the consumers, and we have called them the victims of hepatitis C, they have always been involved in the process. Their input remains crucial and critical to the refinement of the policy, so much so that we have turned directly to victim representatives in order to establish how that initial package of $1.1 billion should be spent.

I am not happy about the climate but it is important to keep in mind that ministers in this government and especially the current Minister of Health have had extensive consultations with representatives of groups affected by the blood crisis, as did ministers in other jurisdictions.

The consumer perspective was an integral part of the process of negotiations and consumer representatives were appraised of developments throughout the process. Representatives of groups such as the Canadian Haemophilia Society and the Hepatitis C Society of Canada met regularly with a variety of politicians and their views were fed into the process at various stages.

The blood system is ultimately about people, altruism and equity, not federal provincial relations, not partisan politics and not political advantage. As soon as we come to realize this not only will we have a more constructive debate but we will all be better off.

When Canada's governments agreed to offer assistance to Canadians infected by hepatitis C through blood they were building on a base of knowledge and the considered views and inputs of many groups. Consultations are continuing and will continue as formal negotiations with victims and their representatives proceed.

I will address one of the more technical aspects of offering financial assistance so members will be able to appreciate the importance of consultations and open lines of communication with groups such as the hepatitis C society. As many members in the House are aware, governments are offering to settle litigation. An offer to do so differs therefore from the standard approaches to program development and the amount of money governments put on the table does not flow into a clearly defined program to render benefits but rather is placed before the courts as part of an effort to negotiate a settlement of legal claims arising from a specific set of factual circumstances from the past.

I draw the attention of the House to the importance of the three class actions initiated in three provinces during the 1986-1990 period. As is normal, when the courts are approached to resolve conflict, settlement is always a preferred option. The Minister of Health has been on record for quite some time about his desire to settle the litigation in an expeditious way so that plaintiffs would not be obligated to wait years to determine how the courts would rule on their particular cases.

Many Canadians are likely not familiar with the mechanism of a negotiated court approved settlement. While this way of doing things carries many complexities, it has several advantages. First, the negotiations take place under the aegis of the courts so there is an emphasis on fairness in the final determination of that settlement. Second, both sides of an issue are brought to the negotiating table to work out the details of the settlement in a way that is both transparent and accountable. Third, that flexibility is available to both sides in the determination of the specifics of a settlement package so that many aspects of what is inevitably a complex problem, which hepatitis C poses in society, can be addressed.

Negotiated court approved settlements have been used on several occasions in the past in health areas to deal with the complexities of injury from health systems. While negotiated court approved settlements are not perfect venues for addressing all social problems, in cases where the issues are difficult and there has been an adversarial context, they offer a way forward which is both fair and open. Consultation with and involvement of groups and their representatives is inherent in the process.

There has been some suggestion in society that we can substitute for court mechanisms through other processes such as mediation, arbitration, et cetera. While these alternative dispute mechanisms are gaining popularity, in the present state of affairs in the justice system most affairs are transacted using traditional mechanisms. The seriousness of the blood tragedy and the long term importance of these negotiations to the lives of those affected argues in favour of employing a well established, well understood mechanism to achieve a settlement.

Accordingly, governments have instituted negotiations with plaintiffs through the courts. One of the major advantages of this approach is that it can accommodate a variety of what are called structured settlement negotiations. This means that far from being a simple once off transfer of funds, a settlement can involve a variety of mechanisms to accommodate medical need and medical risk over time.

Government negotiators will be indicating a preference of ministers for an initial lump sum payment combined, and I stress that word, with variable payments over time geared to severity and disability. This is a suggestion only and plaintiffs may have different views, but it does indicate the power and potential of the structured settlement context to meet individual needs over a lifetime.

While we are in the early phases of considering what long term implications of hepatitis C from the blood issue are, during the course of these negotiations governments will be displaying their knowledge of the epidemiology, natural history, research dynamics and treatment potential associated with hepatitis C so that the best evidence and research can be mobilized to achieve solutions in this area for a large number of people.

At the same time the negotiations will take into account different preferences arising from different circumstances of the plaintiffs. The process is therefore very flexible and open to a very wide group of people, input and many points of view.

Another important element of the negotiated court approved settlement context is the potential that it offers to design a national solution to this issue which was initially a regional class action. Certain provinces through their class action legislation have the potential to create national classes to which all Canadian residents who qualify could subscribe.

Part of the dynamic of the negotiated court approved settlement will be to ensure that such a national class context emerges. This is not to say that individuals will lose any of their traditional rights before the courts, but rather to emphasize that class action legislation provides a potential to generate national frameworks for resolving issues of health injury.

One thing we want to do at all costs is to avoid the balkanization of approaches to an issue and issues that are fundamental as those raised by the blood tragedy. A Canadian in Newfoundland should have exactly the same rights in this area as a Canadian in British Columbia and others in between. The justice system should not be used as a vehicle to advance benefits to some at the disadvantage of others.

The courts have traditionally addressed medical injury using a particular format: pain and suffering and economic loss. This format has been engaged in the case of hepatitis C as well and is inevitable on the basis of the calculations which will be made in and around partial or total liability in this area. This does not mean that we need to be limited to this format in determining how a settlement could be structured. Indeed a structured settlement could be based on a variety of formats, including medical need over time.

The power of such an approach is that it would allow individuals in like circumstances to be treated alike and individuals in unlike circumstances to be treated differently. This would undoubtedly enhance the perceived fairness of any settlement.

Mr. Speaker, I know you want to cut me off on this but I appreciate the fact that you have been attentive so far and I thank you.

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11:15 a.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to say first of all I am very encouraged particularly by the latter comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. He talked about the importance of avoiding balkanization, avoiding a situation where the victims of hepatitis C in one area are compensated a different amount than the victims of hepatitis C in another area. I am very pleased to hear the parliamentary secretary, I assume on behalf of his colleagues, the 154 other colleagues who voted against really avoiding a balkanized system last week. We all have to be encouraged by that.

I do have a question though for the parliamentary secretary. I listened very carefully to his comments. He is the first intervener from the government side today on the NDP motion. Perhaps it was inadvertent but he appears to have strenuously avoided dealing directly with the motion that is before us.

I remind the parliamentary secretary that the motion before us is to ensure that representatives, consumers as he called them, of the Hepatitis C Society of Canada be invited to participate in the upcoming meetings of the federal, provincial and territorial health ministers to ensure that their financial and health needs are addressed.

The parliamentary secretary himself has made the point that there was consultation with the victims in earlier stages, that their views were sought. Unfortunately the government chose to ignore the views and petitions that the Krever recommendation that compensation be paid to all victims should in fact be the official position. That is why we now have a balkanized situation where some hepatitis C victims have been offered compensation and those outside the 1986 to 1990 window have not.

Would the parliamentary secretary specifically address on his own behalf and on behalf of the government as its designated speaker whether or not he and the government will support the pleadings contained in the NDP motion? Will they agree that the representatives of the Hepatitis C Society of Canada be included as participants at the table when the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health meet to deal with fair compensation, not on a balkanized basis but on a universal basis?

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11:20 a.m.


Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me first thank the leader of the NDP for acknowledging, as she heard my presentation on the matter, that the Government of Canada has been acting responsibly, reasonably and purposefully on behalf of all victims. I initially called them consumer groups but I indicated that they are sufferers, victims of hepatitis C.

I am happy to acknowledge that for once there has been a member of the opposition who has thought through the presentations of the government and has agreed that there is merit.

With respect to her question about whether I am addressing the issue presented by her motion directly, I would like her to reflect a little bit more on the first few words I used in my intervention. Specifically we have already over the course of negotiations that led to the offer which is under discussion talked with representatives of hepatitis C victims. We talked to the individuals themselves. There were consultations by the federal Minister of Health in all cases. All of those issues were brought forward in the negotiations with the provincial and territorial health ministers.

When someone speaks through actions, does that not indicate they are acting in the same responsible fashion that the opposition members would suggest we ought to adopt? If we have kept victims, victims representatives and victims groups in the loop of consultations leading to the package under discussion, have we not already done what many would suggest we ought to do?

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11:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the New Democratic Party for putting forward this motion. It is an important debate and I thank the members for their support. I believe I speak for all members on this side of the House.

The position taken by the federal government in regard to the compensation of the hepatitis C victims was certainly untenable from the start. When that package was announced it included only the victims between the years 1986 and 1990. The question was how could it establish that date. There was no reason for it. Basically it was a position that no one could defend and certainly not the government. It came up with what I call an artificial date or box of convenience. It was based on when testing was available.

I guess from the government's point of view if one were a lawyer it could be argued that way. That was the position the government could best defend in a court of law, that is, in any lawsuits or civil cases that may come before the courts from the victims prior to 1986. That in itself was also a very shallow argument.

As members of this side of the House have said repeatedly over the years there was a test available which was being exercised routinely in West Germany prior to 1986 and going back certainly to 1981. What is now commonly referred to as hepatitis C was routinely being tested for in that jurisdiction and many others before that time period.

The government's position is completely untenable. It leaves thousands of Canadians outside a compensation package.

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11:25 a.m.

An hon. member


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11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

It is a shame. It becomes so ridiculous that for example a person infected on December 31, 1985 would be outside the package and a person lucky enough to be infected on January 1, 1986 would be in the package. From any reasonable point of view it does not make a bit of sense. That was the strategy the government decided to pursue. It was the one the government attempted to defend and it has not done a very good job of it.

Yesterday there was a move, I guess it could be called a crack in the armour. Premier Harris of Ontario announced that he is willing to put $200 million into a compensation package for those people outside the frame or box of convenience, the years 1986 to 1990. That is heartening for many of us but it is not the end of the debate.

The debate falls right back into the lap of the federal government because the question then becomes, can all provinces afford to do that? The answer is no they cannot. Where will it leave the poorer provinces? We do not know where it is going to leave them. Some are suggesting it is still going to leave them out in the cold so to speak because many of them cannot afford to do more.

That is why we on this side of the House have consistently stressed the importance of the federal government acting unilaterally to do the right thing. When the federal health minister meets with his counterparts the provincial ministers, we are hoping that will be addressed by the federal minister. We hope they will say “Yes, we do have to take the leadership in this”.

The generosity being expressed by other provinces is important and I hope that file continues to move. I hope the other provinces can come up with something. But at the end of the day it still will be the federal minister who will have to lead on this file. I do not believe he has done that in the past number of weeks.

What I think has been happening on the government front benches is that it has been a battle between the finance minister and the health minister. I do not think any of us in this House would stand and say that the health minister of this country would actually deny compensation to victims. I think he has been a victim of internal politics within his own government. The finance minister with a big Cheshire cat grin on his face day in and day out as the health minister is besieged and attacked refuses to move, refuses to budge. That is one of the problems we see being played out on the front benches of the government.

What has changed in the equation? I do not think a heck of a lot has changed. I think the health minister has caved in to the power of the finance minister. At the end of the day there will still not be any money for innocent victims left outside the original package. I do not think that is right.

We are going back to square one again. What I think the government has to consider is the box it put itself in and the difficulty the health minister will have moving off some of the statements he made in this House.

Some of the things he stated are pretty outrageous. In the past, he indicated this could bankrupt the Canada health care system as we know it if compensation were extended to victims outside the original package.

I do not know how he can retract those words. I do not know how he can go into cabinet and wage a convincing fight if he still takes that position. I do not know what will happen when he meets with the provincial ministers if he still holds on to that point of view.

I do not think it will be particularly healthy and I do not think it is going to lead to any kind of package that we in this House could support.

What I am saying is that there may be a need for a change in the leadership of this file on the federal level. I will not go beyond that because only the Prime Minister can decide. I think the health minister is boxed into a position that will be very difficult for him to negotiate from, basically a position of weakness. I do not think that is healthy.

The motion today speaks to the inclusion of hepatitis C victims in these negotiations. I think it is only fair that that happens because I do not think these people are asking for anything other than what is reasonable and what is fair. I think their point of view has to be at the table.

The other thing that we have lost sight of in this House, which the member for Macleod spoke on, is the real number of victims left outside the package.

If members have been following this file they will find that the number is absolutely exaggerated. The health minister sat over there day in and day out telling us the victims are in excess of 40,000. He routinely mentioned 60,000 victims.

He is saying this for a reason. He wants the Canadian public to believe that the health care system would be bankrupt because of the number of victims who have yet to be compensated.

That has to be corrected. Again, I do not know how he can go back in good faith to the bargaining table and disconnect himself from some of the previous statements he made. That is one of the reasons why the victims have to be there. I think they can talk intelligently about what those real numbers might be.

In the Globe and Mail today, Mr. Picard is suggesting that the number could be as low as 6,000 victims, 10,000 victims or maybe 15,000 victims. We do not know. I think that is one of the things to be established from day one.

I do not think they can come up with the kind of package that means anything until there are real numbers to work around. That is why these people have to be at the negotiations, so some of the honesty in terms of numbers and what they are looking for is actually expressed at that table.

We will continue our pressure on the government, particularly on the health minister. I hope at the end of the day the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health do the right thing. I hope these victims are compensated and the real story comes out.

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11:30 a.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Joe Volpe LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the discussion about a date is causing some confusion. It is not an arbitrary date. It is not a whimsical date. It is a date everybody is looking at.

We are talking about a period in which something was generally available, a mechanism was generally available and people could have done something and did not do it. It is important to understand that. We are talking about something that all interveners have suggested, that somebody else is responsible for a condition which is regrettable and tragic. Everyone acknowledges that but the moment that we recognize that the fault is inherent we have to point the finger. The finger was pointed specifically by those who have investigated the situation as starting about 1986.

If the member opposite wants to as well discredit other previous speakers, for example the member for Macleod who talked about tests being available in the seventies in which he as a responsible medical practitioner engaged, and he wants to refer to that as a point of reference, that is fine. Let him as well address some of the issues that flow from that.

I think it is important to underscore that this is not an untenable position. It is a position that everyone has agreed has some basis in reason and rationality. For him to engage in hindsight and the accuracy of the hindsight about tests being available, I ask him to think again about whether they were generally acceptable and whether there was action on them.

The reason the 1986 date was fixed, and it was not arbitrary, is authorities recognized that something could have been done then and was not done.

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11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe what I am hearing from this parliamentary secretary. They are sticking to that line which is a complete failure. The member is talking about going back to the table and still sticking to this date, which is absolutely and totally artificial.

If that is the basis on which the government is going to go into this argument, I go right back to the point that I made previously. Nothing is going to change.

Has the government not learned anything in the last four weeks in this House? The only people who support that position are government members. If they continue that line of logic, the poor victims will gain absolutely nothing.

After four weeks in this House I would think that the parliamentary secretary to the minister would have learned something. This indicates that nothing has been accomplished in terms of the ability of government members to absorb information. On that, I rest my case.