Unfortunately, there is nothing yet for the flu.
There are things that will lead to discoveries, other research, other discoveries in the medical field, and that is important.
An aside. I had the opportunity to accompany, together with the Minister of National Revenue, who is also responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions in Quebec, a group of Quebec businesses that recently took part in a trade fair called Salon Medica, where the greatest discoveries in the field of medicine were displayed. These were medical equipment manufacturers.
We saw extraordinary things. It is not clear how we will be able to provide all these services, because the technologies are obviously extremely expensive. They will have to be made more affordable. The more they are used, the more marketing will bring the prices down.
It is incredible to see what is available to provide support for or treat various diseases, increasingly advanced discoveries, and increasingly sophisticated rehabilitation equipment. What is clear is that humans are moved by a desire to push ever further back the inevitable appointment with death or disease, and to attenuate their effect.
We are all in favour, but there are operational efficiency constraints facing the government in its efforts to make sure the public gets the best medical service possible. Obviously, this is a problem for several areas in Canada, and it involves health as well. In the case that concerns us in Quebec, there are two levels of government involved in the delivery of health care, in addition to various institutions, regional boards and hospitals.
The Government of Quebec, whose jurisdiction it is, must run this system and come up with the money to pay the entire workforce involved, as well as operating costs. In the meantime, the federal government agrees that this is a provincial jurisdiction, but is stepping up its interference.
It has always been present in research but, with its various foundations, is becoming more so. I could name the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and a host of other foundations, financial tools created by the federal government that encroach on the health care system in various areas, which is easier for the federal government because it does not have to shoulder all the recurrent costs, all the more complex side of the health system, or negotiate labour agreements and whatnot.
But it interferes wherever it can come out looking good, looking like it is really concerned, such as in health care. The big problem is that, when we arrived here, in 1993-1994, this same government made real, not virtual, transfer payments of almost $17 billion in hard cash under three provincial transfer payment programs—in health, education and social assistance. Now, those payments are closer to of $12 billion. There have been various cuts, which annually amount to about $6 billion in direct funding that the provinces used for health care delivery.
By reducing this funding, which is used to pay for the system, where costs are not going down, the federal government is putting tremendous pressure on the health care system in view of all the new discoveries, the new medical solutions, the level of care required, an informed population demanding more and more services, the increased availability and high cost of drugs, and all the rest.
Provincial governments have seen their budget reduced drastically due to cuts in transfer payments, and smaller contributions from the federal government while it is increasingly interfering with important initiatives in areas such as research where it can get more visibility without being involved in the mechanics, while providing less support to the funding of the whole system than it did in the past.
This is quite deplorable. How can provincial governments successfully plan and orchestrate health care services when they have no control over the level of financing coming from the federal government? The cuts that are being made or were made were unilateral. One fine morning the federal government said “I am withdrawing from this area”.
Yet it is introducing initiatives, saying as usual it is going to co-operate with the provinces. However, when we see how little it recognizes the role of the provinces in this bill, which puts them on the same footing as all the other players, we know it does not want to recognize the crucial role provincial governments must play, namely to properly plan for the management and organization of health care services.
The level of federal funding is beyond the control of the provinces and nowadays, with the budget surpluses which are accumulating in Ottawa and which are not virtual, but quite real—the federal government mentioned something in the order of $90 billion over the next five years—there is a very strong desire to interfere more and more in numerous areas.
It is difficult to have plan properly in our health system, when the left hand does not know what the right hand is going to do. There is an obvious lack of co-operation here.
The federal government wants to play an ever larger role and it has no intention of increasing transfers to the provinces to provide them with some relief, to help them absorb regular costs and have the required flexibility in their own budgets to fund necessary initiatives in research and so on.
The federal government wants to take full control over this area and the best way to do so was to reduce funding for the provinces so much that they now barely have the means to pay the regular operational costs of the health system.
I am convinced that this was well planned and thought out by the federal government and that it is no coincidence. Considering that the government now has annual surpluses in excess of $10 billion to $15 billion, why is it unable to reinvest the $4 billion to $5 billion that were once used in transfer payments to directly fund services to citizens?
It is all fine and well to do medical research, but we must also ensure that the public has access to existing basic traditional services. Health professionals are very good, but the problem often has to do with access, with the time required before we can see certain specialists.
So, it is definitely not by just funding initiatives relating to research, development or government visibility that we will achieve the necessary balance to have a good health system.
The bill includes many interesting things, but we will have to make some important cautionary remarks when it is debated in committee. We agree with the bill's principle to allocate more money for research, but we are very concerned about how the government is defining its role in relation to that of the provinces as regards the management and delivery of services to the public.