House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.


Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


The House resumed consideration of the motion that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.


Dale Johnston Reform Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, at the time we broke for question period I was explaining why the gentleman with a family of five was having such a difficult time. This man has to put some money aside for his retirement. He is required to pay $140 a month to the Canada pension plan. However, he has no faith that he will be able to collect enough from the Canada pension plan to make ends meet in his old age. Therefore, he puts away an extra $175 a month into a registered retirement savings plan.

I bring this up under a bill dealing with health research because I want to demonstrate to the House that there is a problem with the brain drain in this country. It is evidenced by the fact that this gentleman is not confident that the Canada pension plan will sustain itself. Many young people are leaving the country, resulting in a reduced number of people paying into the Canada pension plan. The burden, therefore, falls harder and harder on the people who are trying to pay their taxes and still put a little away for their retirement. This is one of the major reasons people are leaving Canada. They simply feel that it is too difficult to get ahead. Things are getting worse and worse.

As I pointed out, Canada Day and tax freedom day fall at about the same time, July 1. By the time we have paid all of our taxes, we have worked half of the year for the taxman and half of the year to sustain ourselves. This includes building up some kind of retirement package, paying for our homes, educating our children, feeding ourselves and transporting ourselves on a day to day basis.

Is it any wonder that people look for greener pastures. When greener pastures are only across the 49th parallel, where tax freedom day comes in May instead of July, I do not think we can blame people for leaving.

I am pleased that the government is going to put more money into medical research. One of the things my friend from Elk Island stated was that he did not believe it was entirely up to the taxpayer to fund research. I know that he, as do many members of the House, including myself, make regular contributions to medical research of various types. I do not think there is anything wrong with that. I do not think that all medical research money should come directly from the taxpayer.

I have covered all of the points which I intended to make and I look forward to further debate on this subject.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.


Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-13, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Act. We cannot oppose the principle of creating health research institutes in various target areas of public health.

Therefore, today my remarks will focus on Bill C-13 as introduced by the government, but I will also talk about the problems in the bill.

I would first like to remind the House of a few facts. Last February, the government announced in its budget new money to establish virtual institutes of health research. Following this announcement, the Minister of Health, Allan Rock, set up a transitional council to give advise on the establishment of these institutes.

For the most part, the bill before us today is based on the recommendations made by this council. The council, which was made up of 34 members representing the scientific and academic communities, spend several weeks looking into the definition and operation of health research institutes in Canada.

Simply put for the benefit of our listeners, CHIRs will replace the Medical Research Council, commonly known as MRC, and will have a broad research mandate. According to the federal government, they will allow development of new ways of doing research on biomedical issues, but also on issues more directly affecting social sciences.

These institutes will not be centralized basic facilities; they will be virtual, since they will first and foremost serve to communicate information and to link, through electronic data processing, researchers in universities, hospitals and other research centres in Canada.

Decisions have not yet been made concerning the institutes that will be created, but the task force has given some examples of themes around which the institutes could be established, for instance, aging, cancer, children and mothers' health, heart disease, etc.

The Minister of Finance's budget of February 1999 provided for investments of $65 million for the fiscal year 2000-01 and an extra amount of $175 million for the following year, for the purpose of creating 10 to 15 Canadian institutes of health research. With the basic budgets already provided to the MRC, the government now expects more specifically that it will double its funding over three years and that funds for the CIHR will reach $500 million in 2001-02.

To summarize, Bill C-13 is essentially aimed at creating Canadian institutes of health research to organize, co-ordinate and fund health research at the federal level. It repeals the Medical Research Council Act and establishes the structure, the role and the mandate of the institutes.

Let me touch on some problem areas in Bill C-13. In the preamble, unfortunately, instead of recognizing the provinces' exclusive jurisdiction over health care services, the government recognizes only that they have some sort of a role to play.

The second whereas reads as follows, and I quote:

Whereas Parliament recognizes the role of the provinces in health care and that the Government of Canada collaborates with provincial governments to support the health care system and health research;

It should have provided, however, that the provinces are responsible for managing the health services within their borders and that their agreement is necessary in the event of encroachment on their jurisdiction.

Instead, clause 14 provides that the governing council is responsible for managing the CIHRs as a whole. The provinces do not even have the power to select the CIHRs.

In actual fact, therefore, nothing permits the Government of Quebec to ensure that the CIHRs meet its health care priorities. In addition, it is important to point out that throughout the bill, there is no reference to health research but to the more general expression health related issues.

So the creation of the institutes themselves is not the problem, but rather the fact that once again there is the possibility of direct encroachment on provincial jurisdiction in the area of public health care without any solid consultation of the provinces first. The government is setting up parallel structures rather than support the work done by the provinces.

The Bloc Quebecois supports increased investment in research, and in health in particular. This is why we support the principle of creating these institutes. Nonetheless, it is important that Quebec receive its fair share of federal R&D funding, all the more so because Quebec has historically received only 14% of such funding, as we know.

I would also like to remind the federal government that it must not designate any CIHRs in Quebec without the agreement of the provincial government. While the multidisciplinary vision of Bill C-13 is to be commended, it is unacceptable that the provinces have not been given a key role.

In closing, I wish to point out that, through its Canada health and social transfer introduced in 1993, the government has unilaterally and irresponsibly pulled out of the health sector.

It is to be commended for now investing more in research, but it must not lose sight of the need to restore provincial transfer payments. The CIHRs, as they are called, must not be a way for the federal government to interfere in provincial jurisdiction, while overlooking the fact that it is itself largely responsible for the massive cuts and difficult situations the provinces are facing with respect to health care.

The wonderful achievements of the Liberals opposite in recent years can be summed up as follows. Transfer payments have been cut by $6.3 billion since 1994. Quebec has absorbed almost 30% of these cuts, or $1.8 billion of the $6.3 billion shortfall. Over half of federal cuts affected the health sector.

And finally, I repeat that the Bloc Quebecois supports the bill in principle. However, I am certain that we will continually have to remind the government opposite to keep Quebec's jurisdiction clearly in mind. Amendments will definitely be in order.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-13. It is a very interesting bill in the light of the government's position on health care in Canada. There are some very positive aspects to the bill that I find quite supportable, but we have to take a look at it within the context of the government's attitude toward health care spending.

I note that the creation of the CIHR is a direct response by the federal government to the views of health research leaders in Canada who took part in the 1998 national task force on health research. The health minister introduced Bill C-13 and it was given first reading on November 4 of this year. It is to create this institution by April 1 of next year.

As I mentioned there are some good parts to the bill, but I do want to put it into the context of where the government is coming from as far as its commitment to health care spending in Canada. I note that the federal government has allocated a $374 million budget for the first year of operation, that is the year 2000-01. By the end of the second year federal funding will increase to $500 million. I also note a good part is that the estimated administrative cost for the CIHR will consume approximately 4% to 5% of the total budget. The remaining budget will be used directly toward scientific and health research, which is all very commendable within the bill.

However taking a look at it within the context of what the government has done with respect to health care funding, as commendable as the bill is, certainly the government cannot be commended for its actions with respect to supporting health care in Canada.

It loves to throw down the gauntlet for the provinces. The provinces have responsibility under the British North American Act to deliver health care services. They look for ways to get around the billions and billions of dollars in funding cuts that have been imposed on them by the federal government. It throws down the gauntlet in challenge, saying can you not do better than that when in fact it has reduced the amount it contributes to the delivery of health care services in Canada to only 11% of all health care costs. The rest of the costs are borne by the provinces and, to an ever increasing amount, by Canadian citizens.

The fact that the government has reduced its funding of health care in Canada to only 11% of the total health care costs does not seem to stop it from taking a holier than thou approach to the provinces when they are scrambling to try to get around the terrible cuts that have been imposed on them by the federal government.

Going back quite a few years, there was an agreement between the federal government and the provinces under the Canada Health Act that called for a 50:50 split and a sharing of jurisdiction and decision making. It is very interesting, as has been said many times, that the 50:50 split which has reduced down to 11% should by rights reduce the amount of say the government has in it but, no, it continues to carry on as if it were a legitimate funding partner, or at least one prepared to follow through on the commitment to the 50:50 split it made many years ago.

The 1999 budget promised to restore $11.5 billion over the next five years. That was rather interesting. We have talked about $11.5 billion, which is a lot of money, but when we take a look at the fact that it is over the next five years and when we look at the number of Canadians who will be served by the approximate $2.5 billion a year, we see that the numbers the government is now putting back is small peanuts after having gouged and cut $21.5 billion out of that spending envelope since 1993. The $11.5 billion is still $10 billion short of what it has already ripped out of health care.

There are 187,000 Canadians awaiting surgery. The average waiting time is 12 weeks. I think of a close personal friend of mine who suffered two successive industrial accidents at his workplace. He ended up badly tearing the cartilage in both of his knees. First, he tore the cartilage in one knee. Then, being a very conscientious worker, he went back to work perhaps before he should have. He ended up slipping again in a second accident and he could not recover because of the injury to his first knee and darned if he did not rip out his second knee.

My friend has to get around on canes. After six months he is still waiting for proper diagnosis. MRI diagnosis is available to him but he has had to wait six months. My friend is in constant pain when he tries to get up from his chair to come to the door to let me in. It is a major effort for him. The government has a direct responsibility over the fact that he, along with many other people, is having to wait that length of time for simple diagnoses.

The next thing that will happen is that following the diagnosis he will have to wait for whatever procedure is recommended by his physician. It is wait and wait as a result of draconian cuts by the federal government to the transfers that should have by rights gone to the provinces.

Coming back to Bill C-13, while it appears on the surface to be another bureaucratic creation it does have some very strong redeeming values. One of the strongest redeeming values is that it gives an opportunity for young, bright, Canadian researchers to continue to be employed in Canada. Perhaps even more of them can be employed in Canada. This speaks to the issue of what our party has consistently been referring to as the brain drain from Canada.

The bill goes in its own positive direction relative to slowing down the flow of the brain drain, but because of the overbloated bureaucracy in Canada and a lack of spending on the part of the government relative to health care these people have been squeezed. It also has an awful lot to do with the taxes young, bright researchers will have to pay.

As I was flying in this morning I was interested in chatting with a Canadian citizen formerly living in the Niagara area. She is an engineer who is now working in Detroit. She wants to be as close to Canada as she can be because her family still resides here. She had to go to Detroit not only to get a job but once she got there she found the difference in her after tax income to be so profound she did not feel there was any way she could now come back to Canada in spite of the fact that she wanted to come back.

The Liberals are sending a kind of mixed message. Whether we are talking about the amount of money they have ripped out of health care spending, about the amount of money they are continuing to spend on bureaucracies, or about the tax issue, people feel they have to end up leaving Canada.

There are some very redeeming parts to Bill C-13. There are some concerns such as the fact they have budgeted only 4% to 5% of the total budget to be spent on administrative costs. However, given the wide scope of the mandate, will they be able to stay within that 4% to 5% range?

This is one time when I suppose we need to have some faith in the government that the arm's length relationship which will be set up within this new function will work. In the long term, rather than working within this good envelope it has to take a far broader perspective and a far broader look at the way it is killing health care in Canada.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to Bill C-13. We know that this legislation will have an impact on every community and that it is about our quality of life.

Bill C-13 defines what the research institutes are and how they work, and states that they will replace the Medical Research Council. Some say that these institutes will have a broad research mandate and that it will reposition research in general. It will promote a new way of conducting research on biomedical projects, new ways of conducting research in social sciences. I believe it is an interesting opportunity for social sciences and health.

Some say that these institutes will not be centralized basic institutions. We know full well that the government tends to centralize a lot, but these institutes will not be centralized. Rather, they will be virtual, so that researchers, scholars, hospitals and research centres will be able to communicate with each other and to share information by computer. In other words, a centre in a particular region conducting research on a specific subject will be able to communicate the progress made in its research to all the other centres across Canada and even internationally.

We can only be glad that the data will be made available to all researchers in Canada and around the world. People's health should be one of our major concerns.

It is also important to know what is going on in the various fields of research. Let us take research on multiple sclerosis as an example. We know that various fields of research are involved with this disease, including neurology and psychology. It is good to have different perspectives on this awful illness.

No decision has yet been taken about the institutes to be created. Several themes have been mentioned. Those include ageing, arthritis, musculoskeletal development, cancer, molecular biology, the health of children and their mothers, clinical assessments, technology assessments, heart disease and strokes, peripheral vascular diseases and respiratory illnesses.

Funding proposals have been submitted for 150 research projects. We can only be pleased by the variety of projects that could get financial support from the government. These projects could start as early as the year 2000 and budgets could be tripled by the year 2001.

The institutes of health research could be set up, co-ordinated and funded by the federal government, in order to provide some help to the provinces. Provinces have sustained cuts of $7 billion in health care. It is important that we support each and every element of health care.

We have one criticism to make of the federal government. We know that the federal government has been dragging its feet for years with regard to funding for research. Quebec was always neglected when the time came to choose places for the establishment of research infrastructures. We know where the government chose to set up such institutions. Ontario was greatly favoured in the past and Quebec was often neglected in that regard.

The new bill will repeal the Medical Research Council Act and will set out the structure, mandate and operation of the institutes. The objective of these institutes may raise some ethical issues.

This is interesting, since we know that there could be a lot of debate in our society on the application of certain medical practices.

There are no institutes at the present time. The permanent governing council will be free to choose which type of institutes will be established. We, in the Bloc Quebecois, deplore the fact that a permanent governing council will have the freedom to make these kinds of decisions with regard to the type of institutes that will be established in various provinces and various regions of Canada and Quebec.

We know all about the centralizing vision of the federal government. The fact that the responsibility for establishing the various research networks will be given to the permanent governing council is cause for concern. The provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over health care and the federal government took or, should I say, stole $7 billion from them to build up its much talked about surplus, which the Prime Minister is so proud of.

I hope the provinces' different priorities with regard to health care and research will be taken into account.

I hope it is not another example of the federal government's bad habit of steamrolling the provinces. One need only think of the millennium scholarship fund. There are two opposite ways of seeing things, the federal government's way and the Government of Quebec's way.

We are happy to see that the research institutes will probably lead to an increased life expectancy. As we know, a man who does not smoke and lives a relatively healthy life will live to the age of 73, and a woman can expect to live to the age of 83. The new technologies are complex. The stakes are high. This bill deals with people's lives.

The Bloc Quebecois has always asked for more investment in research. This is why we are happy with the increased funds that will be made available in the area of research.

We know that Canada has often lagged behind relative to the financing of research. The OECD has often criticised the federal government for its lack of support to research. It can also be said that the fact that the federal government has slashed $7 billion in the health system has also contributed to a budget shortfall, which plays a major role in the provinces' ability to support the whole health care system.

The provinces were not involved in appointing the members of the governing council, which is said to be temporary and will become permanent. This council will take very important decisions. It will choose the fields of research for which health institutes will be created. Apparently, four fields of research will be favoured, four fields that are of special interest to Quebec. There is a lot at stake.

For example, 60% of the biomedical research is done in Quebec through research firms. Research on patent drugs is very specific to Quebec. The second field would be clinical research. The third would be research on health services and the fourth, research on a health and culture society.

As we know, we are not all born equal. This last field is of particular interest. There is also early childhood, from age zero to age six years, in terms of the impact of stimuli on personal growth.

I would make one cautionary note on all those aspects, since we know, for example, that we are unable to fund them within the health network in any of the provinces and in Quebec. It is certainly a step in the right direction to support researchers in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada so that there can be exchange of ideas.

However, we hope that the Canadian government will be able to reinvest in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada the billions of dollars it has cut since the Liberals came to power in 1993. This is of paramount importance. We must fund not only research but also direct patient care so to apply the results of research. If the health network is insufficiently funded, things will really go badly.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Rahim Jaffer Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-13, an act to establish the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and to repeal the Medical Research Council Act.

I will begin by congratulating our member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who has done so much work on the health portfolio of recent, doing battle against the Liberal government which continues to cut funding to the provinces. It is a difficult job to actually look for other alternatives within not only provincial initiatives but here federally to help fix the medicare problems that the government has put on the country. I would like to just take a moment to congratulate our member for all his hard work.

As was mentioned, the CIHR will replace the Medical Research Council and will provide a more direct and systematic approach to research in Canada. The CIHR will provide an annual report detailing the workplan and budgetary expenses of its scientific grants.

If the goal of this particular bill and the new Canadian institutes of health research will be to help direct funding more equally and more effectively to various medical research endeavours across the country, that is obviously a good thing.

I would also point out that the establishment of the Canadian institutes of health research will be a vast improvement on the current system of non-accountability administered by the Medical Research Council. This will in fact create a quasi-independent council that will be able to operate independent of the government and make its first priority research funding.

When looking at this particular effort by the government, even though it is headed in the direction that we in the opposition would say is the right direction, there are some red flags that are thrown up, especially when it comes to the issue of budget.

When I look at the CIHR, I see that it will strive to ensure that only 4% to 5% of its total budget will be spent on administrative costs. A new institute will require a bureaucratic infrastructure to perform the necessary functions. Can the CIHR avoid the trend of having a huge part of its budget administered for bureaucracy and not have sufficient funds to administer the actual research which is dictated under its mandate? That is the question we have to focus on here today. Even though the official opposition will give its support to the bill, will the budget, which is outlined at 4% or 5% toward the administrative costs, remain within that fraction?

I have had the pleasure in the past of talking to various people involved in medical research around the country, mainly in my riding of Edmonton—Strathcona at the University of Alberta. I know you, Mr. Speaker, have travelled across the country and have been to the University of Alberta Hospital. I know you are aware of the wonderful research it does, especially the wonderful research it does with the limited resources it is given.

This is where that red flag has to be thrown up. We have to consider the fact that we know the track record of this government. We know that when it can, it spends, spends, spends and continues to raise taxes to exorbitant levels. Unfortunately, it does not prioritize its spending effectively as we here in the opposition have outlined time and time again in the House, where we would like the government to focus its resources more effectively but that does not happen.

As I mentioned, if there is a total budget of 4% or 5% strictly toward administrative costs, we in the opposition hope that the government will continue to live within that means of spending for bureaucracy and that the spending put toward medical research will go toward medical research.

I mentioned the experience of talking with people involved in medical research at the University of Alberta. I think they would generally agree that the government is heading in the right direction because they would like to see funds more effectively used within medical research. However, in my past discussions with people at the University of Alberta, it was brought to my attention—and I do not have the figures off-hand—that Canada does lag quite far behind when compared with some of the other industrialized countries, especially in medical research funding. This makes it very difficult for many of these institutions, such as the University of Alberta, to meet their requirements of really excelling in research and continuing to be leaders across the country.

One of the issues they continue to bring up with this lack of funding are the problems that do arise. For instance, one issue the advisory board will hopefully address and something the official opposition continues to raise in the House, is the issue of the brain drain that currently exists in Canada regardless of what the government does or does not want to say on the topic.

Many of the people I have spoken with at the University of Alberta and other research facilities have told me that it is difficult to retain the proper talent, attract professionals and continue to build solid research foundations within the country because of the lack of funding in research and the lack of funding that comes from the federal government because of its inability to prioritize.

One of our biggest problems in actually keeping people here is that funding is not available in many cases. Institutions are trying to make ends meet with whatever little funding they have. Some of the biggest research organizations south of the border continue to recruit the talent that exists in this country. They bring them down to the U.S. to work there, pay them well, and obviously give them the research budgets they require to do their research.

That provides an enormous amount of burden with regard to current research budgets within the University of Alberta, for example, that are difficult to meet. As well we have to factor in the element of competition. Nowadays people tell me all the time, especially as I said with respect to the University of Alberta, that they have to deal with bigger institutions, bigger research budgets and the biggest competitors to the south of us. It is very difficult to retain people in this country.

I met with the dean of science at the University of Alberta. I remember specifically his telling me that with the increased research funding outlined in the new advisory board there needs to be a level of tax relief. That was very interesting, coming from the academic community. The official opposition continues to try to convince the government that there has to be a balance in tax relief in the equation of increased spending.

It was fascinating that even the academic community, along with increasing areas of research funding, identified the fact that keeping taxes at a competitive level or keeping taxes lower would actually help to retain many of the talented people leaving to go south of the border. When identifying the issue of brain drain, especially in medical research, the dean mentioned that on occasion he had recruited potential students in his office when dealing with budget issues.

One student had been at the University of Alberta for only two years. The issue of research funding was not the only issue, but when the student came into the office to talk to Dean Peter he produced two forms of budgets and two forms of balance sheets. One dealt with what he would end up at the end of the day in Canada and the other with what he would end up if he went to the U.S. He balanced the issue of how much money the particular institution had to do its research, but because of high taxes, because of the exchange rate and because of many other factors which unfortunately make us less competitive in this country, it was much more enticing for him, as much as he wanted to stay in this country, to go elsewhere, and unfortunately south of the border was where he was looking.

Even a member of the academic community called me to say we in the House have a responsibility not only to look at increasing funding research in this country but at balancing it with tax relief.

There are potential benefits to the particular legislation and establishing the CIHR. There are many good parts to the bill. It appears to be an excellent model of an institute which will remain at arm's length of the federal government and conduct research independent of the government. I think that is very important.

The consultation process for appointments will draw leading experts from conceivable fields of expertise. This should reduce the influence of high ranking government officials and people who are actually suited to do the job. However, these and all the details I mentioned can be addressed before committee when the bill reaches that stage. There is a strong need to consult the scientific and health communities for input on the direction of the CIHR.

Even though we are supporting the legislation we hope that it will be given the right attention in committee where we can make further suggestions on how to make it a useful institution.

Canadian Institutes Of Health Research ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this very important bill. We are talking today about medical research. We would all agree there is very little that is more important in the country than medical research and other things that lead to better health and good health care.

Every one of us could probably draw on personal experience to point to examples of families that have needed good health care. Every one of us could probably point to a family member who has died because the research had not been done which could make progress, make changes and advance medical capability to a point where it could save lives.

This is a very serious subject. It touches every one of us. It touches our families. For that reason the Reform Party takes it as a very serious issue. We do generally support the bill although we do have some proposals for change.

I will talk a bit on what the bill is about. Many past speakers have spoken to very important aspects of the bill but have not really explained what the bill is about. The bill will establish the Canadian institutes of health research. Its purpose is to put in place a medical research body which will excel according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence. This is an important point.

We have some concern about whether it will work in the way it is intended to work, but funds will be targeted based on standards of scientific excellence. That is a very important factor. Let us look at legislation passed in the House. We can point to several different pieces of legislation. Too often the government puts forth legislation which does not consider sound science as a basis.

I could certainly point to the gun bill. In spite of the sound science presented when the bill was being debated, the government pushed ahead, ignored the science and put in place a bill which was flawed right from the fundamental concept. No one would argue that the process of registering guns is in a state of disaster right now. Part of the reason is that the bill ignored the sound science presented from the start. At least the government is presenting a bill which will consider sound standards of science in allocating funds. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

The second purpose of the bill as stated by the government is to provide more effective health services and products in a strengthened Canadian health care system. I will speak a bit more about that in a couple of minutes.

The third stated objective of the bill is important as well. It will provide a more direct and systematic approach to research in Canada. I have heard calls for this approach, particularly by people in the area of research.

There is something that I am not convinced is in the bill and I have heard criticism in this regard. I want people in research fields to be assured, if they are doing research in a very important area which has been targeted for funds, that their funds will be allocated in the long term rather than just year to year. Researchers spend more of their time trying to justify getting the funds for next year than actually ensuring that they will do highly successful research which will lead to better health care.

This stated objective or reason for the bill is honourable. I am looking for it to be put in practice. I am not convinced it will be the case, but I am certainly hoping from the bottom of my heart that it will be the case.

I also want to talk briefly about the financial cost allocated to the bill: for the first year, $374 million and for the second year, $500 million. That is a lot of money. When I think of other ways the government spends $500 million I cannot help but think that it sounds like an awful paltry sum. When we look at the heritage department and the way it blows hundreds of millions of dollars every year, the $500 million allocated to research sounds like a small amount of money.

When we look at the amount of money being allocated to the CBC as a partially publicly funded network, we realize it is a billion dollars a year, or twice the amount that will be allocated to medical research under the bill in the second year and almost three times the amount that will be allocated in the first year.

Then we wonder about priorities, especially when I believe the CBC could be a very profitable TV network if it were to become a network which operated in the business world without public funding. Many would argue that is long overdue. When we look at the billion dollars of public funds put into the CBC and the $374 million to be allocated to research under this bill, the amount of funding is questionable. It is a matter of government priorities.

The priorities do not seem to be well thought out. There is a lot of wasted spending. The government proposed new programs which I believe will not benefit families in a significant way. In fact they will be harmful in some cases and will cost billions of dollars a year. Yet $374 million have been allocated to research. Where is the balance? Where are the priorities? Who is setting these priorities? It can be demonstrated very clearly that the government is not doing a very good job of that at all.

Government members did speak to the bill, but I note they are not speaking to it any more. Many of them talked about the high priority of health care for the government. They pointed to the fact that they would increase spending between the first year and the second year under this program from $374 million to $500 million.

I remind Canadians that this is the same government that reduced spending for health care by about $5 billion a year when it reduced transfers to the provinces for health care. Then it put $374 million, a small portion of that amount, into the proposed program. We have to ask what kind of commitment the government has made to health care. The answer is obvious that it has not made a reasonable commitment at all, Mr. Speaker. I see you agreeing with me on these points. I really appreciate that.

We can take it back another step, back 30 years to when the health care act was signed or medicare was put in place. At that time the federal government was absolutely committed to funding half of the public health care program. Is the federal government still funding half as it did in that first year? No. In fact its portion of funding is now down to about 11% rather than the 50% it committed to, and it has been a Liberal government over most of this time. That is the kind of commitment it has to health care.

It giveth a bit of taxpayer money with one hand and then it taketh away from us on the other hand. It spends the money that should be designated to health care on what many Canadians and I would consider to be wasted spending. Clearly the government is not doing a good job of setting spending priorities. Clearly it is not committed to health care funding.

I will touch on the brain drain. I acknowledge up front that most of the brain drain is happening because of high taxes. Most of us could look to our families and see a family member who has left the country. I am referring to doctors or other professionals, for example. My brother is a doctor, an emergency specialist. He and three other doctors set up the emergency services at the Red Deer hospital about 15 years ago. He had to leave this year because he had a certain retirement expectation. Because of high tax levels, because the government was taking 70% of what he earned, he felt that in order to retire at the level he expected he would have to work in another country. We are supposed to have a maximum rate of 50%, but the government was taking 70% from him.

He and many of his friends are now working in Saudi Arabia where they are taxed at the level of 5%. He is no longer a resident of Canada. He is not proud of that. He is not happy with that. He is committed to Canada. He wants to be a Canadian citizen, and he is, but he cannot live in Canada because of the high tax levels.

As well as taxes, the poor funding of research has led to the brain drain. That has to be acknowledged. This will help in a small way, and I want to acknowledge that.

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4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, Agriculture.

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4:15 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly keen to participate in the debate on Bill C-13.

I have listened carefully to the debate as it has unfolded today. It has been a thoughtful debate. There are some clear differences being stated among the political parties.

I will begin my few remarks today by reminding members of parliament that between 1994 and 1997 the government continuously cut its investment in health research. I remember at the time that the health care sector was appalled that the government would cut research funding.

Once a research program is stopped, we cannot simply add a few dollars and start it again. There are professional researchers and scientists who often invest their entire lives in projects. It is not simply a matter of turning on the taps and returning to the research project. Long term preparation is carried out by the people who do this research.

The cuts that came between 1994 and 1997 dealt a death blow to much of the scientific research in the health care sector. My doctor friend from Winnipeg would be only too sensitive to this issue, but I think he would agree that those cuts were lamentable. Today, with Bill C-13, we are admitting that there were some really serious cuts, that those cuts were not just minor skin wounds, that they amounted to major surgery in the health care research system.

During these years per capita funding of health research fell from $9.14 to $7.92. Canada, as a result, became less competitive in its funding levels compared to most other industrialized nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France and others.

These cuts had several effects. They drove researchers, including established professors, recent research graduates and post-graduate students, across the border in search of sustainable funding. My colleagues in the Reform Party, whose views I always respect—I do not agree with them, but I respect that they have a right to hold whatever view they want—are concerned that it was the salaries provided to the researchers, doctors and professors which drove them to leave Canada.

I would not deny that is a factor, but the scientists I have met, the medical researchers I have spent time with, say that one of the reasons they were leaving Canada, were contemplating leaving Canada or had actually left Canada was not so much because of the taxation system, but more because the facilities available to them in these other jurisdictions would enable them to do what they were professionally motivated to do. In other words, if they were serious scientists and there were no decent research labs, facilities and programs in Canada, they would almost be forced to go elsewhere to carry out the research to which they had dedicated their lives.

Coupled with the large scale withdrawal of federal funding from core social programs, the cuts in health research diminished the capacity of our health care system to care for patients and stifled the application of new research findings.

We can imagine the frustration that must have been felt and that is still being felt by serious professionals in the health care field who know that their patients should be receiving these kinds of treatments, who know that their patients should be benefiting from this kind of research, but because the research is being developed in other jurisdictions it is often not available to them because of the cuts which have been made to our health care system.

The withdrawal of federal funding from post-secondary education and cuts to health research drove many university administrations to foster commercial research partnerships with industry. We have to acknowledge that this has a whole set of concerns which we ought to register.

These partnerships, in many cases, have decreased academic freedom due to an emphasis on applied research, a trend in self-censorship among university professors and the privatization of research findings for the purpose of profit. All of this is fine. We appreciate that there are various kinds of research, but much of the kind of research which we see as being necessary, particularly in the field of medical research, is not something on which we can easily put a price tag. The benefits may be seen many years into the future and may require pure scientific research as opposed to applied scientific medical research. Once we start with commercial research partnerships, naturally the commercial sector will want to see some likelihood of profit in the foreseeable future. These are very serious concerns.

We support the general thrust of this legislation. It is long overdue. It is a step in the right direction and it is an attempt to correct some of the past mistakes made by this and the previous government. The government has endorsed this new model of health research funding, the Canadian institutes of health research. By and large, we welcome this as a replacement to the Medical Research Council.

We support the new money that will be put into the system. By doubling the 1997-98 levels of research funding to $500 million in the year 2001-2002, Canada will regain some of the ground that it lost to Liberal government cuts over the past six years.

Clearly this legislation, in its support for researchers and academic programs, will go a long way in alleviating the problem of the so-called brain drain in Canada, but the legislation, in our judgment, needs to go even further.

We have a certain reservation that our funding levels under this particular research program will remain disproportionate to funding in the United States and other industrialized countries which put a much higher premium on research and development. Again, while this is a step in the right direction, let us not say that it is adequate. Much more needs to be done if we are to maintain and regain our rightful role in the world of scientific research.

Let us face it, we have to accept our responsibility. We are a major industrialized nation and people look to us to work with them so that scientists and researchers from different parts of the world can complement each other's work. Canada has been letting go of its traditional leadership role that it could be playing.

We want to suggest that a more likely figure for consideration by the government would be $750 million annually or 1% of the total annual health care expenditure. Surely there is no one in the House who would say that spending 1% of the total health care budget on research, which will improve the health of Canadians now and in future generations, is an excessive amount when we will be in a surplus situation with $90 billion over the next five years. We would like to put that on the table for consideration.

We are also rather enthusiastic about the nature of the research which will take place in the social context. The multidisciplinary, multisectoral and cross-regional approach of the bill ideally will contextualize hard research, acknowledging social, cultural and environmental influences on our health. Our reservation is that this emphasis needs strengthening so that there will be a central focus in the causation and prevention of ill-health, in particular on social and environmental determinants.

As a bit of an aside, this is why we are concerned about some of the provisions of the NAFTA and of potential changes as a result of the World Trade Organization talks, which may hinder us as legislators in passing laws that would protect the health of Canadians in the future.

If we disrupt the profit flow of American research or drug companies, or companies offering various aspects of health prevention, we could possibly be liable to compensate them for their lost profits as a result of the trade deal. We see once again a mixing of the NAFTA and the WTO into something as fundamentally important as medical research.

We also support the whole issue of applied research, in that the goal of the legislation is to apply research and to connect health researchers to health providers in a significant way.

Our reservation is that this initiative be more than an empty gesture on the part of the government. Social transfers to the provinces need to be restored. How will new research results be applied without adequate health care funding, equipment and the necessary staff?

In spite of our enthusiastic support for the major thrust of this legislation, we are concerned about the commercialization aspect. We are concerned about the governing council. My colleague from Winnipeg indicated our concerns in that regard in her last presentation.

There is the whole issue of ethics. The government has made ethics explicit in Bill C-13, saying that health research should take into consideration ethical issues. That sounds pretty wimpy to me. We have to get a lot tougher than that and say that we will either take ethical issues into consideration or not. We should not sort of consider them. It is a little weak in the wording. The words “consideration of ethics” are completely inadequate.

This bill is a major step in the right direction. Our concern is the level of funding provided for scientific health research. In order to keep the balance appropriate we need to re-establish those serious levels of transfer payments for health care to complement the good work that ought to flow from this legislation.

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4:25 p.m.


Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to add my voice to the concerns being expressed on Bill C-13. I too, as the previous speaker suggested, welcome this as at least a step in the right direction. It is a turnaround from cutting money from medical research to at least adding funds. However, I have some concerns. It is a bit ironic because my concerns are very similar to those of the previous speaker. He has sort of stolen my thunder on some of the issues.

It is fairly safe to assume that all members from all parties only want what is in the best interests of the continued health of Canadians. We are very fortunate, particularly in my part of Canada, to have access to clean water, clean air, wide open spaces and what traditionally has been considered one of the best health care systems in the world, although that is up for debate these days. While this bill addresses one side of what constitutes the best health care system in the world, on the other side, the delivery of health care, the federal government has yet to address its responsibility in any meaningful way. We hope that somewhere down the road it will do that.

Although we have access to the healthiest environment in the world, we still have a responsibility to Canadians, as well as to the rest of the world, to ensure that we have up to date research to keep Canadians as healthy as possible.

It is in this light that the Canadian institutes of health research must be considered, as the object of the CIHR is to excel according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence in the creation of new knowledge and its Translation into improved health for Canadians. It also intends to provide more effective health services and products for a strengthened Canadian health care system. As I said, this is only one prong of what constitutes a strengthened health care system. Finally, the CIHR is to replace the Medical Research Council and provide a more direct and systemic approach to research in Canada.

Canada has a long and proud history of excellence in medical research. For example, in 1873 Sir William Osler demonstrated that unidentified bodies in human blood were in fact a third kind of blood corpuscles which were later named blood platelets. This discovery was invaluable to future studies in areas such as leukemia, cancer treatment, anemia and the treatment of virtually any medical problem.

Another Canadian physician of note was Sir Frederick Banting, who in 1921, along with Charles Best, was the first to extract insulin from the pancreas. Injections of insulin proved to be the first effective treatment for diabetes. For his discovery, Banting was awarded a share of the 1923 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine.

I bring up those two examples for a good reason. They were enormous breakthroughs in medical research made by Canadians and shared with the rest of the world at no cost to the rest of the world's medical research community.

Knowing that I was going to address this subject today, while flying back from my riding this morning I noted an article in the National Post . Medical researchers in Britain announced that they have completely decoded chromosome number 22. Certainly that is a major, major breakthrough in medical research. The decoding of not only chromosome 22 but of all the 23 chromosomes that make up the human cell is the key to answering the dilemmas we have had in reaching cures for cancer and particularly regarding chromosome 22, many of the hereditary diseases that we face today. It has amazing possibilities.

The concern I had with the article was that both British and U.S. medical researchers have been working on this project for a long time in a race to be successful in mapping these genes and chromosomes, not necessarily on a humane basis but rather on a commercial basis. The intent at least of the U.S. organization that is doing this research is to achieve success before the rest of the world in order to patent the process and sell it on a commercial basis.

It should be a real concern to everyone around the world if that is the direction medical research is going in. With tremendous breakthroughs like Banting or others in Canada have made, if that knowledge, that ability to cure diseases becomes a commercial entity to be sold around the world for the most money to the highest bidder, that is probably quite a change in the traditional direction in medical research. It certainly concerns me.

As a cancer survivor myself, I very much look forward to the day when research allows us to cure diseases like cancer at a reasonable cost to those who suffer from these diseases. The concern is that if we are going in the direction of commercialization, the cost of treatment and cures will be out of reach to ordinary Canadians. I wandered off my topic a little bit, but that article caught my eye and was of concern to me.

We support the concept behind the bill. The idea that we are turning the direction, putting more money in to increasing facilities and funding for health care and, as others before me have suggested, addressing the brain drain issue and the need to attract and retain Canada's youngest and brightest researchers is certainly a worthwhile effort.

The CIHR would initiate a clear and concise strategic yearly plan with the sole intention of promoting research in the fields of health and science. The CIHR would make researchers accountable for all budgetary expenditures and report on a yearly basis to an overseeing committee of their peers to assess their progress. That certainly is a laudable goal considering what the history of funding for medical research has been in the country.

The creation of the CIHR would account for only a 4% to 5% total administrative cost. The estimated yearly administrative costs for the CIHR would also only account for 4% or 5% of the yearly budget.

As far as accountability to parliament is concerned, an annual review would be issued and the agency would be subject to an independent audit through the auditor general's office. It is encouraging to see that the government takes accountability and reporting measures seriously for a change, particularly when we compare these measures to the current system of non-accountability administered by the Medical Research Council.

I do have some concerns however with this bill that I would like to mention. With the time being short I will try to rush through them.

One of the concerns is the intent of the CIHR to foster scientific research and promote Canadian initiatives without taking the time to consult various scientific communities to receive input as to the scope and area of research. As any good scientist knows, when conducting a scientific experiment one must accumulate all related information and research before actually beginning the experiment. To not investigate all aspects of a hypothesis makes for foolhardy science. That would certainly be a shame.

Because of the shortness of time, I will move on to my conclusion. There are many goods parts to the bill. It appears to be an excellent model of an institute that will remain at arm's length from the federal government and conduct research independent from the government. The consultation process for appointments will draw on leading experts from every conceivable field of expertise. This should reduce the influence of high ranking government officials. That can only happen and be successful if those appointments actually follow the process that is spelled out in the bill which may not happen.

Before the bill passes, I would ask that the government consult the scientific and health communities for input as to the direction of the Canadian institutes of health research.

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4:35 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address Bill C-13 as well. I am sure you cannot remember back 100 years ago. My memory is quite limited when it comes to that as well, but it is very interesting to read about what happened back in 1899. One hundred years ago there were all kinds of predictions that would—

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4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville but I understand he has already spoken on this bill and he is unable to speak again. The bill has only been at one stage. I believe we are on second reading of the bill and the hon. member is precluded from having the floor.

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4:35 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Because of the subject matter, and I think you will find it of great interest, could I get unanimous consent to have about seven or eight minutes?

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The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent to allow the hon. member to speak a second time on the bill for seven or eight minutes?

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Some hon. members


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Some hon. members


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4:40 p.m.


Philip Mayfield Reform Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing me and providing me with the opportunity to make a few comments.

Bill C-13 provides much of a positive nature for parliament to consider. I listened to the debate and thought about what this bills means and there are some serious concerns in my mind which I would like to express to the House.

The intent of the CIHR is to foster scientific research and promote Canadian initiatives. However, there has been little time to consult various scientific communities and receive input as to the scope and area of research. For this reason I would like to ask where is this research centre going to be established? I am concerned when I hear that it is to be in Prince Edward Island. It is not because Prince Edward Island is not a wonderful destination or that the people of Prince Edward Island would not benefit from this.

I think of the difficulties that research facilities in Canada have had. In major hospitals there is an accumulation of highly practised medical researchers. By and large they have the needed equipment, the vital mass of library facilities, the patients and the technical requirements.

The flight of Canadian personnel, doctors and nurses, to other jurisdictions, primarily to the United States, is because of economic difficulties they have had and the lack of technology. Many places do not have the money for the cutting edge technology. People are leaving research centres in Canada to go where the technology is available.

It is not only the technology, it is also the critical mass, the mass of learning. There is the core of expertise and opportunity. There are patients who have diseases and maladies that doctors and scientists would look to. I cannot see these being readily available by simply creating a research facility, an institution, in Prince Edward Island and then expecting people who have the expertise to leave where they are to go there.

It also does not make sense to build a facility from the ground up in relative isolation from major medical centres across the country. It would not be that attractive. Researchers not only want jobs, they want to have an opportunity to study their areas of interest. They want to add to the growth of knowledge and benefit humankind by their work. They are dedicated and committed individuals.

As I think about this bill, I wonder why the centre would be established in Prince Edward Island and not in a major medical facility or in a centre where so many advantages already exist. It makes me question the seriousness of this initiative.

Goodness knows that this initiative is needed. Reform Party members, including myself, have been on record for many years about the need for technical and medical research across our country. Our economy and our people depend on this research. We have a grand tradition in Canada of being at the forefront of invention and research and adding to the great knowledge of humankind. We have the people who can do that but we have been short of money for so long that programs have been stripped.

I remember speaking to a high ranking medical researcher in Vancouver who said that the opportunities for him in that city were limited because of crowded space, lack of money and lack of equipment. His ability to teach, to do research and add to the knowledge of his speciality was so diminished that even though he was at the peak of his own professional career, he was questioning whether it was wise for him to stay in Canada when the opportunities south of the Canadian border were so rich for pressing his career forward.

These are some of the questions that arise in my mind as we discuss the issue here today. I would like the government to seriously consider whether the best use of this money is to have a research facility such as this located where it is intended to be located. Why do we not have broader consultation with the scientists and the researchers to see where this critical mass might be gathered and made best use of?

It is of great sadness to many of us, including myself, to hear of the men and women in Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton who have found that their opportunities over the past years have become so limited that they have not only contemplated but have taken steps to move. I think those who have persevered and continued looking after their patients, and continued their research under such enormous obstacles and financial cutbacks, deserve congratulations.

I add these comments and these questions to the debate with the understanding that I and my party will be supporting the bill.

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4:45 p.m.


Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I had not intended to participate in the debate because I wholly support the bill and I thought I would allow as many members of the opposition to speak as possible.

However, after listening to the debate, I noted a few things and thought, for greater clarification, I could contribute to the debate. My thoughts will be more of a random nature on the comments I heard and on which I would like to amplify.

When mention was made of the potential benefits, a step in the right direction and the absence of consultation, I thought we should have great confidence in the value of the Canadian institutes for health research. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this is the thing to do as we enter the new millennium. Scientists in all disciplines, whether medical, biological or social, have been consulted. We see a consensus on what would be best for Canada and for the world as we realize that this institute will co-operate and be an integrated approach to research and will encompass all aspects of research.

I heard someone say that this was about medical research. I would like to emphasize that the bill is not only about medical research. It is medical research and more. It is about all disciplines, including the discipline of ethics. We have an opportunity here to have a very comprehensive look at health research.

Unique in the bill is that it contains a long preamble. One of the provisions in the preamble speaks to the flexibility in the mechanism. This will give us the opportunity to adjust to the changing times and needs of the day.

Let me just state for the record again that the ultimate objective of the institute will be to develop excellence according to internationally accepted standards. This excellence will be applied both in the creation of new knowledge and its application. Its application will encompass the delivery of health services as well as the strengthening of the Canadian health care system.

I was surprised when I heard it would be located in Prince Edward Island. There is nothing in the bill that says it will be located in Prince Edward Island. In fact, the head office is about the only one that may be located in a place designated by the governor in council, and even that has not been defined.

This is an excellent bill that reflects the commitment of the government not only to excel but equally to budget for such excellence in health research. The bill is worthy of the support of every single member of the House because this is the type of research, the scope of which is definitely very encompassing, including such things as biomedical research, clinical research, research respecting health systems, health services, as well as studying all the other determinants of health, such as the environment, cultural aspects and so on. It will engage all types of researchers not only in the medical field but in other fields of health as well.

I certainly urge all members of the House to support the bill.

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4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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Some hon. members


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4:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Some hon. members


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An hon. member

On division.