Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on the opposition motion brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois, which reads as follows:
That this House urges the government to respect provincial jurisdiction over health care management, to increase transfers to the provinces for health care unconditionally, and to avoid using budget surpluses to encroach upon the health care field.
It is sad that we have to move heaven and earth to make the government understand things that should normally be obvious when we are just two weeks away from the tabling of the federal budget. Nevertheless, the poorly hidden agenda of the Prime Minister and his Liberal government makes such a debate necessary.
The motion before us includes the following three elements: respecting provincial jurisdiction, increasing transfers unconditionally and using budget surpluses more efficiently.
The only thing to do is to restore transfer payments for health care and social services unconditionally. The provinces want more money put into health care and they want the federal government to let them manage the health care system according to their priorities, as stipulated in the Canada Health Act.
I would like to quote from a short text which reminds us of the federal government's role in the area of health care:
The respective responsibilities of the federal government and the provincial governments with regard to health care are very different. Strictly speaking, the federal government cannot re-establish and maintain a national medicare system because it does not have the power to regulate delivery of health care to individuals.
Indeed, under the Canadian Constitution and the interpretation courts have given of it, health is mainly a provincial jurisdiction. The only clauses in the Constitution which explicitly refer to health establish the federal's jurisdiction over navy hospitals and quarantine.
The federal government only maintains health services for groups which come under its jurisdiction, namely natives, the population of Yukon, Canadian armed forces, veterans as well as inmates in federal penitentiaries. Provincial governments are responsible for establishing the number of beds available in their respective territories, which categories of personnel will be hired and how the system will serve the population.
As well provinces approve hospital budgets, negotiate fee scales with medical associations and administer their health programs within their own territorial boundaries.
It seems quite clear to me.
The show of strength of 1982 confirmed the distribution of powers as established by the Constitution Act of 1867. This same act, in sections 92(13) and 92(16), gives jurisdiction to provinces over health matters except in a few precise areas. The role of the federal government regarding health care is to redistribute money. The federal government raises funds through taxation and redistributes that money unconditionally as transfers to provinces.
Again, health is a provincial jurisdiction and the federal government has no right to interfere in any way, nor is it allowed to interfere in education with its millennium funds.
In the past, the finance minister seemed to be more mindful of provincial jurisdiction in health care. According to the minister himself the greater freedom of action of provinces in their own jurisdictions was even one of the reasons why he established the Canadian social transfer.
Indeed, when time came to cut, the good old finance minister said:
We believe that the restrictions attached by the federal government to transfer payments in areas of clear provincial responsibility should be minimized. ...
Provinces will now be able to design more innovative social programs, programs that respond to the needs of people today rather than to inflexible rules.
He sings a different tune now.
Whatever happened to these nice principles of freedom of action and respect for jurisdiction? Once again, we are witnessing this same paradox: the federal government is shamelessly skirting its own laws while a sovereignist political party from Quebec is fighting to get respect for the Canadian Constitution.
The federal government must restore its contribution to front line health care services through the Canada health and social transfer current arrangements. To do so, it must bring it back to the same level as before the reckless cuts unilaterally imposed by the Liberals, who thus managed to have others do their dirty work.
These cuts by the federal government have contributed to the gutting of the health care systems in provinces already reeling from the freeze on transfer payments imposed by the Tories.
Last August in Saskatoon, all of the premiers reached a consensus calling for the federal government to reimburse the annual amount of $6.3 billion. Now that the government has surpluses, funding must be re-established at the 1993-94 level, namely $18.8 billion.
The Quebec government and the provincial governments are not the only ones pointing an accusing finger at the Liberals for the problems experienced by the health system and calling for immediate reimbursement. Organizations representing front-line health workers have also identified the federal government as being the main one responsible.
In a press release dated September 22, 1998, the Canadian Medical Association stated:
Federal funding cuts to health and social transfers to the provinces have been the main barriers for Canadians' access to quality health care and the cause of the greatest crisis in confidence in our health care system since the inception of Canada's Medicare program in the 1960's.
This is not the sovereignists talking, but the Canadian Medical Association.
Again yesterday we received a press release from the President of the CMA calling upon the provincial premiers and territorial leaders to stand firm in their demand for full restoration of federal transfers for health care funding that have been cut by the federal government.
The association is also calling for the transfers to be indexed to reflect the increased costs of new technologies and the ageing of the population.
In a press release on August 5, 1998, the Canadian health care association said:
The federal government must immediately inject funds into the Canada social transfer and index it so it is able to meet the needs of a growing and aging population.
We recommended that the $12.5 billion be a floor and not a ceiling ... the increase in the transfers to the provinces should strengthen the health insurance system, and the money should be invested where it is likely to have the greatest effect.
It is important to understand that the effects expected are on the health services provided by the provinces and not on the federal government's visibility.
William Robson, senior political analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute, said:
Provinces will add money to their systems more easily if Ottawa has not already grabbed the tax room. And provincial managers will focus on the details of delivering health services better if they are not sitting in Ottawa negotiating with bureaucrats who may be thousands of miles from the action.
These are not our words. He even adds that, on the subject of health care in Canada, the right prescription is coming from Lucien Bouchard, not Ottawa. However, the federal government is again reverting to old reflexes: arrogance and encroachment.
I am going to conclude, because I have one minute left.
Since I have only one minute left, I wish to propose the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by inserting after the word “encroach” the following: