Madam Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise today to speak to Bill C-13, an act to establish the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to repeal the Medical Research Council Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
I am particularly interested in this bill because I am the critic for seniors and seniors organizations. As they are sometimes very prone to health problems, health is an issue of concern to them.
The Bloc Quebecois is in favour of increasing research funding, particularly for health. The Bloc Quebecois therefore supports the principle of establishing these institutes. However, Quebec must receive its fair share of federal R and D funding.
But the CIHRs involve much more than research. The federal government must not designate any CIHRs in Quebec without the approval of the provincial government.
Investment in R and D is necessary. The hospital and university research community badly need funding. We all know that Quebec has received the short end of the stick when it comes to funding. The federal government must rectify this through additional funding to researchers and the university community so that they can carry on their research.
A recent article in Le Devoir about the health of seniors in Quebec described the situation facing the province's beleaguered Department of Health and Social Services:
This time, the association of CLSCs and long term care facilities is calling for funding. Today, with the need for services going up, but not the funding, long term care facilities can meet only two-thirds of the demand. The problem is the widening gap between the needs of seniors and the ability of facilities to meet those needs.
By not giving Quebec its fair share, particularly in the health sector, the federal government is responsible for this state of affairs. Of course we are not opposed to an increase in research and development budgets for the creation of virtual institutes.
Quebec is not getting its fair share of federal research and development funding. We know that, historically, Quebec has received only 14% of federal spending on research. The Government of Quebec will table, at the beginning of next year, a report on scientific policy. Quebec is in favour of biomedical research and has made commitments to support it.
I mentioned that, as spokesman for senior citizens' organizations, I think health research is essential, particularly for seniors, who represent one of the fastest growing segments of the Canadian population.
In 1998, the estimated number of Canadians 65 years of age and over was 3.7 million, a 57% increase over the 1981 count of 2.4 million. With this tendency, the percentage of seniors within the Canadian population has increased over the last few years. In 1998, seniors accounted for 12% of the total population, compared to 10% in 1981 and 8% in 1971.
The number of older persons should keep growing in the decades to come, especially with the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, starting to turn 65 years of age early on in the second decade of the next century.
Therefore, about 1 out of 10 Canadians is 85 years old and over, compared to 1 out of 20 Canadians at the beginning of the century. As we approach the millennium, we do have to consider the health of our people.
I remind the House that the UN declared 1999 the International Year of the Older Persons. The purpose of the IYOP is to improve understanding, harmony and mutual support between the generations and to better recognize the contribution of the elderly to their communities.
I have often stood up in this House to defend the rights of the elderly. The federal government has tried to hold the seniors hostage and make them pay for the deficit.
The federal government did not succeed because our senior citizens are no fools and made their opposition known. Life expectancy for older Canadians has increased quite a bit since the beginning of the century. By 1996, life expectancy for a 65 year old Canadian had increased by around 18.4 years, six months more than it was in 1991, three years more than in 1971 and five years more than in 1921.
Heart disease and cancer are the main causes of death among senior citizens in Canada. In 1996, 30% of all deaths among people aged 65 or over were from heart disease and 26% from cancer. Hon. members will understand that medical research is very important to an ageing population.
Take, for example, Alzheimer's disease, which is affecting increasing numbers of seniors. In 1999, 78% of all people aged 65 or over with this disease lived in an institution. In that same year, people with Alzheimer's or some other type of dementia made up 35% of the total population in such institutions.
In general, though, seniors are involved in numerous activities and take advantage of the freedom offered by their retirement years. Many seniors are physically active. They travel far more than in the past, as well, making an average of 3.2 trips within Canada and 1 out of the country in 1994-95.
Overall, Canada's seniors are in fairly good health. Most live at home with family members, consider themselves in good health, and keep relatively active.
The Bloc Quebecois is not, therefore, opposed to Bill C-13, but it is opposed to the potential for direct interference in an area of provincial jurisdiction, population health, without any consultation whatsoever with the provinces.
The federal government is creating parallel structures rather than supporting actions undertaken by the provinces. It is vital to point out that, with the creation of the research institutes, the Canadian government is clearly giving itself the power to impose its priorities and convictions in the health field.
The federal government must respect the specific characteristics of researchers in the various regions of Quebec, and not go ahead with the designation of any health research institute in Quebec without the agreement of the Quebec government.
It is, therefore, essential to ensure that, if there is interference with provincial jurisdiction with the Canadian institutes for health research, Quebec will play an integral part in the process of selecting and administering the institutes.
In closing, we are in favour of Bill C-13 in principle, but respect of Quebec's jurisdiction must be a priority.