Madam Speaker, I rise 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. I have to first say that I always have a concern when I look at these new government bodies that they are actually being set up as creations of the government for the purpose of providing jobs for the Prime Minister's friends.
I am well aware a consultation process is built into the bill that will supposedly base grants upon the information from leading experts in every conceivable field. I certainly hope that is effective. Otherwise the bureaucrats appointed there by the Prime Minister, presumably for life, will have control of the system and the process will break down just the way it has in the previous organization.
In having high hopes for some rational decisions by the peers reviewing the various applications, I hope that they provide some priority to prostate cancer research as they begin to look at the grants that come across their desks.
Many members of the House will know my interest in prostate cancer research and my work with prostate cancer information groups across the country. Unfortunately it is one of those diseases that has been overlooked for a long time. Men, for one reason or another, did not talk about it or did not even know that it was a common disease that they should be talking about.
It has been left now in a situation where although it is as common as breast cancer is in women it receives one-eighth to one-tenth of the research funding that breast cancer receives. That is certainly not to detract from the money that breast cancer gets. Nobody would want to deprive that worthy cause of getting research funds, but it is certainly time to bring prostate cancer up so that it is more in line with what is being spent on a similar type of hormonally driven disease.
In addition, prostate cancer receives only about one-fiftieth of the research funding that AIDS research receives. Yet it kills about 10 times as many men. It is completely out of proportion and needs to be rectified fairly quickly. If there is one thing I would hope this new body does, it would be to correct the imbalance out there right now.
One of the other aims of the legislation according to the drafters is to take care of the brain drain of researchers and qualified people down to the United States, which of course the Prime Minister claimed does not exist but which this act recognizes.
I would argue that most of that is actually caused by the tax regime in this country. If we talk with anybody who has moved to the United States, it is very clear that the salaries and the amount of disposable income after taxation are so much more attractive in the United States that it is no wonder people move down there.
Certainly it would be nice if some of the research funding draws some of those people back, but I think we have to address the taxation issue as well. If we do not address the taxation issue, I am afraid we will end up giving grants every year to people who are not actually very competent. We will be left with the people in Canada who do not want to move to the United States or are incapable of getting a position in the United States. I would not want that to happen.
Certainly passage of the bill and implementing its provisions would have to be done in conjunction with some sort of meaningful income tax reduction to help researchers and scientists who need to be spending their time in Canada.
As I mentioned, for prostate cancer certainly Vancouver is a centre of excellence in this research. There are many skilled people there who are well recognized. In fact, the Vancouver Island Prostate Cancer Network recently produced two videotapes on early stage prostate cancer and late stage prostate cancer which won an international award in New York about two months ago. Those educational tapes are recognized world wide as being some of the best in the whole world.
I have some copies of those tapes in my office. I will shortly be notifying all members that those are available for loan from my office, because I would truly like them to become well aware of the effects of the disease.
When I look at the bill I see that there is peer review of the applications for grants. I certainly feel it is a shame that we did not have some peer review of the Nisga'a agreement when it was introduced. If the government had bothered to do a little peer review it would have found, for example, the Gitkanyow calling it an act of aggression. Lawyers all over the country are rubbing their hands together in glee at the thought of all the cases that will brought before the courts as a result of that agreement.
A Queen's counsel, Mr. Bill Irving, in Vancouver on Friday said it would not matter to him whether he was on the side that supported the Nisga'a bill or on the side that was against it. He could live for the rest of his days off the court cases that will be started on constitutional grounds against the bill. The only certainty that the Nisga'a bill will bring is certainty of income for the lawyers.
What worries me about Bill C-13 is that it will slip gradually into certainty of income for researchers who produce maybe questionable or indifferent results. I can think of an example in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Professor Tremblay has managed to extract about $18,000 a year since 1983 out of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to send questionnaires to members of parliament every year.
My rough calculation is that she has managed to extract about $270,000 out of taxpayers for this exercise. She sends out the questionnaires every year to members of parliament asking us to suggest ways that there might be more women represented in the House of Commons. They are questions that completely ignore the fact that it is voters who elect members of parliament and not members of parliament who elect members of parliament.
After doing this since 1983 it seems that nothing useful has come out the other end of that exercise at all. I questioned Professor Tremblay about the issue and pointed out that having a proportional system of electing people to the House would do a lot more to help women get in here than just about anything else. She was unwilling to admit that would be the case. She would rather stick to her surveys and collect her $18,000 a year.
That is what worries me about this bill which sets up another quasi-government body that has a bunch of the same people, these peers, every year reviewing applications that are identical to the year before. If we look at Professor Tremblay's applications they are identical every year. They have the same wording. They are renewed every year, over and over again. It becomes like an old boys club or an old girls club where they just keep giving the same grants to the same people over and over.
I certainly have professors in my riding who have never had grants from places like the Medical Research Council or the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. They approach with stories about some of their colleagues who use these grants to travel all over the world. They treat them like vacations.
There was a very well publicized one recently from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council where a researcher received a grant of $60,000 for three years to go to Vanuatu, a small island in the Pacific which is a tax haven. I think there was an unfortunate earthquake there over the weekend. The researcher was going to this tax haven for three years to study tax havens and how people lived, the housing in Vanuatu. What a complete waste of Canadian taxpayer money for that sort of thing to be going on.
These examples are just pouring out the doors of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council one after another. I saw another one from someone in my riding who managed to extract a grant to study English poetry from the 1400s, or something along those lines. I really have to ask what value my constituents got from that extraction of their tax dollars to support somebody's hobby.
When I look at Bill C-13 and the provisions in it for peer review and increasing budgets year after year, I worry about where that money will go. One can bet that I will be watching very carefully to see where the money goes.
There is another example of foolish giveaways under these programs. The millennium fund has been widely touted by the government. They are celebrating the millennium. It is even in the wrong year. The new millennium does not start until January 1, 2001. Even the Canadian Mint, which is selling 1999 quarters and claiming they are millennium quarters, admits on its own website under frequently asked questions that it is not even the last year of the millennium. They are actually selling them falsely, but it says in the frequently asked questions that we are not to worry, that it will be issuing year 2000 quarters which will be the correct quarters for the last year of the millennium.
We waste tremendous amounts of money doing foolish things. The millennium fund gave $278,000 to a group in my riding to produce a program called “Visions of the North Shore”. What a waste. I certainly hope that medical research institutes do not turn out like that.