Mr. Speaker, I really do appreciate the opportunity to speak to this bill. Over the course of my parliamentary career of three and a half years, which hopefully will be extended in the next election, I have had a great interest in this area, both as the deputy critic for health for the Alliance Party and as the vice-chairman of the health committee for the House of Commons.
I am usually quite delighted to be able to rise and bring the concerns of my constituents of the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan before the House of Commons, but unfortunately I rise today being forced into bringing forward their concerns because I do not think we really need to have this debate in the way that has been lined up for us.
Canadians know and cherish the health system in Canada. For many years we have had a made in Canada solution which ensures that all Canadians have access to quality health care. Generations of Canadians have grown up expecting that their loved ones, their families and they themselves would have adequate health care available to meet their needs.
Thanks to the Liberal government Canadians no longer can be assured of that. The stark, cold reality is that over the last few years the health care system of yesterday has been steadily destroyed by the Liberals of today and will not meet the health care requirements of tomorrow.
I would like to describe the problems that have resulted from the Liberal government's uncaring approach to health care. For the record, I and the other members of the Canadian Alliance will be supporting the bill. However, let me be perfectly clear on our measure of support for it. We are supporting it because finally the Liberals are rectifying past Liberal mistakes that have needlessly hurt many Canadians in the process, need never have been implemented, and would not have taken place under a Canadian Alliance government.
In 1993, when the Liberals came to power, the federal portion of the Canada health and social transfer was $18.8 billion. Within four short years the heartless Liberals slashed away more than $6.3 billion annually. Today the federal Liberals are still $3.3 billion lower than in 1993.
Prior to this bill the Liberals had stripped away $24.7 billion from the health care system in Canada. Their earlier budget plans called for the removal of another $9.9 billion over the next three budget years. Were it not for the pressure of the official opposition, the provinces and indeed Canadians themselves, the Liberal government would have gouged an incredible $34.6 billion out of Canada's health care system over a projected 11 years. That was what it was intent on doing.
That $34.6 billion represents more than $1,100 less in health care for every man, woman and child in Canada today. Can we imagine what another $1,100 of health care spent on every person in each riding would do to alleviate the pain, suffering and discomfort many feel?
In my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan there are approximately 100,000 people. That translates, if my math is correct, into 110 million missing health care dollars. That $110 million could have been used to hire more nurses and maintain and reopen operating rooms. It could have been used to ensure that more people were not subject to longer than necessary waiting lists and to give the opportunity to upgrade or purchase new medical technology equipment.
Not a region in the country has not been negatively affected by the callous financial approach the Liberal government has inflicted upon Canadians from coast to coast. A case in point is the Cowichan District Hospital in Duncan, in my riding, where a dialysis unit sat idle. What was the primary reason it sat idle? Simply put, there was not enough money in the system to hire trained personnel to operate the equipment.
I ask my hon. colleagues to imagine the concern and the pain in the hearts of parents whose children require a dialysis machine to stay alive and who know that because of funding the equipment in the hospital has never been used. This is not an academic subject for me. I know that feeling. I have a daughter who could have been one of those who required dialysis. She has only one kidney. Even though the dialysis unit was only 15 minutes from our home, the stark reality was that if her one remaining kidney had shut down we were over an hour away from the nearest dialysis unit. For her to use the pediatric dialysis unit we would have had to take her to Vancouver.
A dialysis unit costs approximately $630,000 to purchase. The annual operating cost for 36 patients totals approximately $1 million. Let us imagine if a portion of the $110 million the Liberals have ripped out of the system in my riding alone could have been used for dialysis in the Cowichan hospital. Then let us imagine the sense of relief a parent or patient would feel when the unit was finally opened and put into operation. Unfortunately this unit is already approaching capacity. It is expected that in less than one year new dialysis patients will once again be required to make the one hour trip to Victoria for the dialysis treatment they require.
In 1991 in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, Mr. Pat Carson donated $861,000 toward the purchase of a CT scanner. That is what the health system in the country has come to. There is a critical need for new technology and modern equipment. The government does not have the money to pay for it. Individuals who know of this crying need are coming forward to pay for this equipment.
Mr. Carson's wife had cancer. Unfortunately she died of it. While there are no guarantees, it was thought that earlier treatment for her could have been initiated through a faster diagnosis by a CT scan.
Hon. members are wondering how well the scanner is now working. Has it saved lives? I am sad to say that the scanner is still not in operation. The money has now accumulated to over $1.3 million. Only now, after the promise of more federal money and nine years after this very generous public donation was made, is the CT scanner coming online. How many lives would have been changed or even saved if the CT scanner had been in place years ago? Simply put, a lack of funds claims lives in our health care system every day. The Liberal government must accept much of the blame.
If these were the only stories, the story of health care in Canada today would not be such a tale of woe. Unfortunately this is only one of thousands of stories from across the country. Through the remainder of the day we will hear from others about surgery waiting lists, cancelled surgeries, long waiting periods to see specialists, pain, suffering, and even death.
In my home province of British Columbia we have had patients lying on gurneys in the hallways and in linen closets, if we can believe that. Cancelled surgeries at the hospitals in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan are a daily occurrence. We can and we must do better than this. We have done so in the past.
The track record of the Liberal government speaks loud and clear. In the last few months the health committee has had meetings and at each opportunity I raised the issue of the committee studying the overall system of health care in Canada. What happened when I raised that issue at committee? The Liberal majority simply said no. During the discussion at the agenda planning subcommittee one Liberal member actually had the audacity to state that health care was too big a topic for the committee to study.
Let us imagine that: Canadian health care is too big for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health to study. If the Standing Committee on Health cannot study the health situation in Canada, may I ask who should?
A recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information stated:
The number of health professionals from 1988-1997 did not keep pace with Canada's population growth, resulting in fewer health professionals per capita in 1997.
Over that 10 year time period “the number of professionals per 10,000 population declined by 1.7%, from 185 to 182”. Based on these numbers, we are short 9,000 health professionals.
I would further ask hon. members to consider our aging population. We are all getting older. We cannot reverse that trend, unfortunately. According to Statistics Canada demographics in 2001 about 13% of our population will be 65 years of age or over. By the year 2026, just a few years down the road, this same age group will rise to 21% of our overall population. In real numbers this is a rise from 3,945,700 to 7,759,700, almost a complete doubling of this age group.
I remind hon. members that with few exceptions this includes each and every one of us here. It includes our peers, our personal friends, our neighbours and many family members. Without an end to the serious damage inflicted on our health care system by the Liberal government I am afraid the health care system may not be available to those of us who may require it the most in the future.
Although I know some hon. members will scoff at this premise, let us consider a few facts within the various fields of professional health care. Currently the Canadian Medical Association has noted with concern that the number of doctors leaving Canada is roughly equivalent to the graduating classes of six medicals schools per year. That amounts to almost 40% of our medical school graduates. To my mind that is simply unacceptable.
It now takes half the output of all Canadian medical schools to replace the physicians who leave the country annually. One reason is the cost of medical education. The president of the CMA asserts that the debt of a graduating medical student could rise as high as $140,000. Other reasons as given by the former director of research at the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges of Canada include health care cuts and plunging morale.
Here are some other facts. In 1996, 731 doctors left the country. In 1997, 659 left. That totals 1,390 doctors in just over two years. Doctors moving south of the border represent just a quarter of all medical personnel leaving the country every year. Most of those leaving are nurses. We are told, and I believe it to be true, that we face a chronic shortage of nurses.
A 1997 study of 489 orthopedic surgeons graduating between 1985 and 1994 showed that fully 25% have moved to the United States and 70% of the rest were considering it. The most common reasons were restrictions on operating time, unavailability of beds and other frustrations with practice restrictions.
The CMA has also stated that there is a severe shortage of high tech physicians capable of reading the results the latest medical technology gives us. There currently is a shortfall of 150 full time radiologists in Canada, with an expected shortfall of 500 over the next four years.
Let us not forget that it takes a great deal of time to train the doctors and nurses we need in Canada. Regular training for a general practitioner takes at least seven years. Specialist training takes 13 or 14 years. We are short of trained staff now, not in seven or thirteen years. A crisis looms on the horizon, and still the government remains intent on destroying rather than renewing our stressed health care system.
The government claims it is treating the health care system with compassion. We hear that word from our hon. colleagues across the way quite often. They say they are a compassionate lot, with compassion oozing out of their pores. Last month in Montreal the Prime Minister stated that he had “invested in health care”. The Minister of Health laid claim to this being a “compassionate government, leading the way for those among us that require health care”. The 1997 Liberal red book stated that they “would not abandon the health care field and that predictable and financial certainty was essential for our health care planning”.
Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth if we take a look at what the government has done. I have been calling for a serious review of the Canadian health care system for over three years now. The government has done nothing like that. It has cut the transfer payments. It has chastised the provinces for attempting to find real solutions to real health care problems. It has made federal-provincial relationships completely untenable, and still it attempts to make the claim that it is upholding health care in Canada. On the eve of an election in the country finally it does something about it. Surely Canadian people can see through that.
I believe the federal Liberal government will be forever remembered in history as the destroyer of our present health care system. The facts are indisputable. It has permitted the rise of two tier health care on its watch, across the country.
The Prime Minister, the Minister of Health and all their minions can bluster and rant all they want, but the truth is crystal clear: the Liberal government has failed all Canadians when it comes to health care. It has permitted, even encouraged, the failure of the health care system that Canadians have come to enjoy and count on. Canadians all across the land know it. They will not forget the Liberal government's actions when the next election comes.
Canadians are not as gullible as the Prime Minister would like us to believe. I believe Canadians know where the blame rests for the unacceptable status of our health care system. It rests firmly at the feet of both the Prime Minister and Minister of Health.
Canadians are looking for someone to champion health care. Canadians are looking for a political entity that will put things right in this country, beginning with health care itself. Canadians are realizing that the Liberal health care talk has no substance, has no meaning and has no depth.
The Liberal government has attempted to make the claim that they are the only party willing to support the five tenets of the Canada Health Act.
In 1997 the red book stated that the Liberal “commitment is to the five fundamental principles of our medicare system and on our commitment to the continuing role in financing and other aspects of the federal government in health care”. That is a very noble statement, but have they lived up to it? When it comes right down to it, have they attacked this problem at the provincial level where the delivery of services actually takes place? How far from the reality of today, when the government is truly the architect of the demise of the Canada Health Act.
All across this country there are examples of abuses of the Canada Health Act. If someone hurts a knee on the job and the Workmen's Compensation Board is paying for it, there is no problem. That person gets to go to a private clinic and jump ahead of everyone else waiting for knee surgery. It may be legal but it is not right, and the government should fix that kind of queue jumping.
Does anyone need an MRI? There is a three week lineup. If someone pays $800 cash at a private clinic they will avoid the lineup. If they do not like the wait time involved they can take their credit card and head south of the border. There are a lot of Canadian doctors and nurses there already. Maybe it will seem like a Canadian reunion.
Has the Liberal government attempted to resolve these issues? I do not think so. Certainly not while I have been around this place. Rather than working with the provinces and attempting to ensure that all Canadians have quality health care, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health prefer to antagonize and cause dissension rather than build unity. Canadians see past the Liberal smoke and mirror show and they are really tired of it all.
Canadians are turning to the Canadian Alliance to right the wrongs that this Liberal government has forced upon all Canadians. Corrective actions cannot be implemented immediately but they can begin immediately.
My colleagues and I recognize, of course, that money alone is not the whole solution to this problem. However, we cannot deny that many of the problems were caused by the government's significant reduction in funding, funding that this Liberal government has simply slashed out of health care among other things. Many of the solutions will require funding, yet further efficiencies can be found in the system.
Yes, we need more trained professionals. Yes, we face challenges that we have not previously encountered. Certainly we have an aging population. Yes, the delivery of health care services remains a provincial responsibility. We know all these things to be true. However, what positive role has the federal government played in this? To date, none. It has been irresponsible in its lack of solutions to the health care crisis that now faces Canada. Many of the problems are systemic and there has been no plan from the government to attack the systemic problems in our health care system.
Canadians look to government for leadership. They have not found it here in this place with this Liberal government as far as health care is concerned.
We do need changes in the health care system. We need a system that shows we are truly getting results. We need a system where governments work together. We need a system that provides funding on a regular basis consistently over the years working co-operatively with the provinces. That is what a Canadian Alliance government offers to Canadians when it comes into office. What we will do for the health care system is what the Liberals have failed to do. They have acted irresponsibly. Putting this kind of money back in at this point will simply be a band-aid solution to a growing problem.