Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-13, an act to establish the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and to repeal the Medical Research Council Act.
For those who are reading through Hansard or watching on television, I will repeat that the official opposition supports the bill, which I think is taking medical research in Canada in the right direction. It is more of an arm's-length relationship between the government and the medical research business in Canada. It is very important research that I think all Canadians support. It is the type of thing we have long advocated as a necessary role for government to be involved in.
There are many things governments should not be involved with but medical research is certainly a good use of dollars. It benefits all of society and it benefits people around the world. It is a good use of our tax dollars. And I do support the bill.
I want to talk about a theme I developed the last time I was on my feet here, which was that when governments choose to head in a certain direction they basically have chosen one priority over another because almost always the bills and acts that we discuss here in parliament involve the expenditure of tax dollars.
When the government chooses to spend money on a research facility with hundreds of millions of dollars involved, it means that there is some money that cannot be spent on something else, assuming there is a finite amount of money involved. That means something else has dropped to the bottom of the priority list, which is as it has to be. Governments have to make choices. I would urge them to be a little more stringent in their choices. I would urge them to drop a few more things off their very full plate to allow for some tax relief and tax breaks for Canadian businesses and families. Be that as it may, it always involves a priority.
I draw to the attention of the House today another research facility I just became aware of this weekend that was announced by the government last week. The research facility is sort of health related. It has to do with developing research into the use of drugs in prisons, the impact they have, how they affect crime rates and all those sorts of things. It is not a bad idea to study that, although it is so rampant and so widespread I am not sure what exactly they will discover is new.
I bring this up because the announcement was made by the solicitor general that this research facility, sort of health related, sort of crime related but interrelated, would be put in his own riding in Prince Edward Island. There are a couple of million dollars involved. It is a priority of the minister to spend the money, not just on the research but on building a facility in Prince Edward Island to house it.
I asked our solicitor general critic how many federal institutions of incarceration there were in Prince Edward Island. There are no maximum or medium security facilities there. So I asked why this was put in the solicitor general's riding. What is the scoop? Why has he decided that this has to be the place?
For example, I think of the lower mainland of British Columbia which obviously is the area I am most familiar with. In the immediate area in and around my riding there is Kent maximum security prison, Mountain medium security prison, and the regional psychiatric or Matsqui prison, which does the assessments of all people who are incarcerated in the federal system for British Columbia. In other words, everybody goes through this system which is in my riding. The Sumas centre, the Elbow Lake institution and six or seven provincial institutions all are within 20 or 30 kilometres of my part of the Fraser Valley.
In addition there is the entirely vacant CFB Chilliwack base and facilities. It has been vacant since the government moved everybody out of there to Edmonton to the justice minister's riding. She enjoys that in her part of the world. The buildings sit empty. The buildings on this site are available for any federal department to use. Some of the buildings are so new that they were still being built when the place was shut down. They are brand new state of the art buildings which were built for the Canadian forces as a training facility. They are classroom type facilities and are fully wired and computer sensitive.
If I wanted to get a handle on researching drug use in prisons there would be a couple of things I would do if I were the government. This is part of the prioritization of spending. I would investigate actual prisons. I would not just conceptualize it, I would access the minimum, medium and maximum security prisons. I would want access to all the prisoners in the federal system, in other words like those at the Matsqui institution. I would check up on them following discharge to see how they were doing in the real world and see the rate of recidivism, which is alarming when drugs are involved. I would want to be aware of where those people were.
I would want to do a follow up and be close to other medical research facilities such as those at UBC. It has world class medical research facilities and is about a one hour drive from my place. I would want the facilities in a place that would cost the taxpayers the least amount of money. I would want good facilities and good use of them. As far as the drug problem is concerned, I would want to be where the action was and at the lowest cost possible to the taxpayer.
One of those places would be in the lower mainland which would meet all those criteria. The buildings and the facilities are there. If we did not like CFB Chilliwack, how about CFB Aldergrove which has also been shut down. It has facilities and land and is in the middle of all of these prisons. There is the ability to study these individuals.
The solicitor general did not bother to do that. Instead, he is going to build a brand new place in his home province because what the heck, it is a couple of million bucks for back home. I cannot think of a single other reason why he is doing this. There are no prisons or medical research facilities or a building there. There is no inmate population to study. There is no reason to build it there except for one. It is the home province of the solicitor general.
That is very unfortunate. It shows Canadians that priorities are being made based on political considerations and not on the best interests of medical research or the use of tax dollars. Neither one of those is the paramount consideration. The partisan use of tax dollars has taken precedence over the good and judicious use of limited tax dollars. That is a shame.
Every time I see a bill, like Bill C-13, that involves medical research, I am happy to support it. I think of how important the work of medical researchers is and how difficult it is for them to get funds. When I see other money being wasted, as I described, for partisan political reasons and not being given to a new and improved research facility, I wonder why that choice of priority, instead of the priority which is in the best interests of taxpayers, drug users, drug abusers and so on. We are trying to fix a problem in our penitentiary system. I do not believe that long term facility in Prince Edward Island is strategically located or will be a good use of tax dollars.
That means something else has to give. Some other priority has to come in below that. The millions of dollars that will be spent on it will not be available for other things such as medical research and community housing. It will not be available because it is being spent for political reasons.
In closing, I would like to say again that the official opposition is happy to support Bill C-13. Medical research is important to our country. I hope the government will not only encourage medical researchers to do the hard research that they must do, but that the government itself will move away from being the protector of the system and toward the protector of the health of individual Canadians.
That does not mean we throw out the Canada Health Act. It does not mean there is not a lot of good, obviously, in our Canadian public health system. However, as we move into the new millennium we have to encourage people to think outside the box on medical research, the medical system and the delivery of medical services so that all Canadians are cared for the best.