Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to participate on behalf of my colleagues in the NDP caucus in this very important debate.
The first thing I want to say, given the time restrictions on this opportunity, is “so little time and so much to say”. There is no doubt, I am sure, in the minds of anyone in this Chamber that health care is the number one priority of Canadians, yet this place has spent so little time addressing this very urgent priority.
Therefore, I want to commend the Conservatives for bringing forward this motion because it allows us an opportunity to raise the concerns of Canadians and to hold our government to account for its dereliction of duty and negligence in the face of Canadians' priorities and needs.
We may have some disagreement with the wording of the motion, in that it may not go far enough. We would have liked to have seen a more explicit reference to our public health care system. However, we will support the motion because it does in fact take us one step closer to doing what this government ought to have done in the first place, and that is to ensure that health care today is placed on a sure footing with guaranteed, sustained, predictable funding, something which this government has denied the people of Canada.
I would be remiss if I did not single out the work of my colleague, the health critic for the Conservatives, who brought forward this motion and who has played a very active role in pursuing issues of concern to Canadians on this whole issue of public health care and health care in general. Therefore, I want to commend him for his contribution in the House today.
Having said that—and I know he will not like it when I say this, nor will any Conservative—I welcome the Conservatives back into the debate on health care. I do not have to draw too much attention to that fact because the media has been careful at scrutinizing the work of this place over the last three weeks, mentioning that New Democrats have stood alone in this place day in and day out raising the number one concern of Canadians.
We noted with chagrin and disappointment that the Conservatives, the Reform and the Bloc chose not to launch an immediate attack on the government the day after the budget was released in the Chamber, when it became apparent that the government was prepared to do no more than spend a paltry sum of taxpayers' money on their number one priority: universally accessible, publicly administered health care.
It gets a little lonely down at this end of the House. It gets a little lonely when we are raising the number one issue of Canadians and there is no one here with us.
I regret that we have not had more of a collective approach on this number one issue over the last three weeks, but it is never too late. I am therefore very grateful to the Conservatives today for bringing this motion forward because it is a very timely motion at a most critical juncture in the history of the country.
What surprises me more than anything is to hear the Liberals so clearly and vehemently opposing this motion. I cannot for the life of me understand why they would oppose a motion which is basically in line with the rhetoric and promises of the government. I cannot understand it, except that we are very used in this place to the political grandstanding of Liberals when it comes to the number one priority of Canadians.
I regret that the Liberals are playing politics with such an important issue and I regret that they cannot join with us today, all parties, and support a motion that at least gets us partway toward achieving an objective that is important to Canadians right across the country.
The other thing that is very surprising today is to listen to the Reform Party. I think this is the first defence I have heard of Bill 11, outside Ralph Klein and his cronies in Alberta. This is the very first actual public demonstration of support for that bill, which is the single most destructive initiative to medicare in the history of the country.
We know from the news that every group in Alberta, and important organizations right across the country, have rallied together to try to stop Bill 11, and for very good reason. We know that the Alberta Medical Association is opposed to Bill 11. We know that the United Nurses of Alberta is opposed to Bill 11. We know that the Canadian Association of Nurses is opposed to Bill 11. We know that the Catholic bishops in Alberta, and undoubtedly right across the country, are opposed to Bill 11. We know that the Friends of Medicare, representing many individuals, senior citizens and organizations right across the province of Alberta, are opposed to Bill 11. We even know that the executives of the oil companies in Alberta are opposed to Bill 11, maybe for different reasons than the Friends of Medicare; however, what is clear is that there has not been a single voice of support for Ralph Klein and his bill that will privatize health care and lead us down the path of two tier Americanized health care in the country.
I guess that helps to clear up the picture today, because we have been treated over the past number of years to subtle references by Reform members of the need to go forward by going backward, to go forward by allowing private sector companies to invade our health care sector and to establish a parallel, private health care system.
It helps Canadians to know, when it comes to this number one issue, where they can turn for help and support, and what kind of danger the country would be in if the Reform Party was allowed to go one step forward with its destructive, harmful agenda.
Let us be absolutely clear where Reform stands, especially now as we see the leadership race for the upcoming party, the Canadian alliance, develop in the House and hear the Reform Party critic for foreign affairs contemplate entering the race as he bases his platform on the pursuit of a parallel, private health care system. Let Canadians know what they are dealing with. That does not even touch on the sentiments that we hear coming out of the mouth of Stockwell Day.
I do not think it matters who is the candidate or who is the next leader of the Reform Party or the Canadian alliance because they all say one thing and one thing only: “Let us scrap our universally accessible, publicly administered health care system”. Whether they say it or not, it really is the case. They say “Let us move toward an Americanized two tier health care system”. If people have the money they can access quality health care services. If they do not, then they take a number and stand in line.
Canadians reject that approach from coast to coast to coast. Canadians say with one voice that we will and we can pursue, manage and maintain a universal health care system. Medicare has held us in good stead in the past and it is our model for the future. It is something which we must take forward into the new millennium.
The motion before us is about the kind of financial stability which our health care system needs. Although it was not raised in Oral Question Period by the Conservatives, it flows from the budget of February 29 when the Minister of Finance stood in the House and said that the great contribution in the face of this crisis in health care in Canada would be $2.5 billion divided between health and education, allocated on a one time basis, and spread over four years.
As we have said earlier, that is a paltry sum. Peanuts. An insignificant amount. Hardly an expenditure commensurate to the task at hand. As our leader has said time and time again, that announcement represented a two cent commitment for every dollar the government proposed in tax cuts. That is the commitment of the government and that is what all of us in the House are talking about today and raising our voices around.
We must have a commitment on the part of the federal government to restore the cash it cut out of the system in 1995 when it brought in the most regressive social policy in the history of the country, throwing out block funding for health care and education in CAP and putting in place the CHST, the Canada Health and Social Transfer. At that time it took $6 billion out of health care, education and social assistance, the biggest bite out of social programs in the history of the country, and it has only partially repaid what it cut.
We have heard what the Liberals do in the face of this. They know the reality, but they pretend something else. To use the Prime Minister's own words, the Liberals' words “do not meet reality”. There is no basis in fact for what the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health are saying when they claim that the federal government's share of health care funding in the country is up to—what did they say today? Thirty-three cents on the dollar? That is a total distortion of reality. That is totally a misuse of the expenditures allocated for health care and it is not a service to the task at hand.
We know what the government is doing. It is throwing in tax points, the cash that is left and equalization payments. It is adding it all up and saying “Look what we are doing”. The Liberals themselves have acknowledged in the past that it is only the cash that determines public spending. It is only the cash that counts. It is the cash that holds this country together. It is the cash that ensures we have a national health care system.
It is totally bogus for the government to suggest that tax points should now suddenly be considered in this formula. The Prime Minister himself acknowledged this on March 1, 1995 when he spoke on a CBC radio program. He said:
A lot of the money has been transferred over years as tax points. When you transfer tax points, you lose all leverage after that because you don't collect the money; they collect the money. You say okay, I will not collect this money, you collect. But after 10 years people don't say that it's tax points coming from the federal government. They just say this is our own tax. And when the tax points increase, the value of the tax points increase over years the cash goes down, and eventually there will be no cash that will be sent.
Canada was put in that situation because of Conservative policy leading up to the election of the Liberals as the government in 1993. Maybe this is why the Conservatives have been a little slow off the mark and why they are a little reluctant to be more explicit about salvaging a public health care system in their motion.
I do not need to remind the Conservatives what happened under Brian Mulroney. It is very important that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past so we can acknowledge where we went wrong, correct the errors and move forward in a way that makes sense for the benefit of all Canadians.
I do not need to remind the Conservatives that under the Mulroney government the finance legislation was changed three times in order for the government of the day to diminish cash payments to health care. I will quote from a report that I delivered to the finance committee in 1991. I was serving as an MLA in Manitoba and was acting as the health critic for the NDP in that province. I quote from a report dated November 25, 1991 in response, ironically and interestingly, to a bill numbered C-20. I started by acknowledging where it started in 1982. I said:
It started under the Liberals in 1982, when the then federal government removed the guarantees supporting cash payments, lumping the cash and tax point revenues together to determine the per capita entitlement. The present government—
I was referring to the Mulroney government.
—has used this 1982 change to gut the cash payment entirely, which it has done in a series of steps over the past six years. In 1985 the federal Conservatives declared without consultation that the cash entitlement under the EPF act would be restricted to economic growth minus two percentage points. Soon after, the two percentage points became three percentage points. In 1990 a complete freeze in EPF payments through the 1992 fiscal year was imposed, and now Bill C-20 will extend that freeze through the 1995 fiscal year.
The impact of these steps are well documented. Federal cash payments for health care will end, and much more rapidly than expected, if Bill C-20 is allowed to pass. Bill C-20 is in fact an admission of the long term negative impact of the federal funding formula changes and an implicit recognition of the importance of leverage that comes with the withholding of cash payments.
That is the crux of the matter: the importance of cash payments as leverage in terms of holding provincial governments to account and responsible for adherence to the principles of the Canada Health Act, the five principles of medicare.
The Liberals did learn a little from the mistakes of the Conservatives by ensuring in 1995 there was at least a cash floor. But the problem is the cash floor is down at about $12 billion. With the money added by the government in last year's budget and this year's budget, we are up to a cash floor of approximately $15 billion. That is still more than $3 billion short of what the cash transfers were for health care in 1995.
No matter what the government wants to say about 25 cents on the dollar or 33 cents on the dollar, the fact of the matter is it is 15 cents on the dollar if we really look hard. That is precisely what is wrong with the approach the government has taken. That is why we have to work together to get back to the 50:50 partnership that was behind medicare in the first place.
The abdication of responsibility by the federal government and its failure to ensure stable predictable funding for provincial health care systems have opened the door to the likes of Ralph Klein and Ontario's Mike Harris who are bent on privatization and who are determined to move forward. As soon as the federal budget was released, they hauled out the sign which said “go private”. What is inexcusable on the part of the government is that it has created the Klein monster. It is going to create the Harris monster by not acting now, by not ensuring stable funding and by acting in complicity with the likes of Klein and Harris.
Let me specifically refer to something the Liberals do not want to talk about in the House. Let us look at the 12 point agreement that was signed by the government in 1996. We all heard the former Minister of Health, the member from North Bay, say that she was being pressured into signing the agreement between Alberta and the federal government which further advanced the agenda on private clinics and she refused. She had the courage to stand up against the likes of Albertan politicians who were determined to open up our public system to private forces.
I had hoped that we would have the same kind of courage from the present Minister of Health. What did we get instead? Nothing. He is doing nothing but making broad rhetorical statements and getting into hot water with Ralph Klein who is throwing insults his way. He is not standing up with anything concrete. If he is going to be insulted for doing nothing, he might as well be insulted for doing something.
We are trying to get the Minister of Health to take a position on Bill 11. Why stall? Why neglect? As I said earlier, why do Canadians have to go to bed one more night without knowing whether their government will take action on Bill 11, and without knowing whether their treasured public health care system will be there for them and their families in the future? Why will the government not act today? The crisis is upon us. We are at a watershed in the history of this country. Let us go forward.
As I have said to the Minister of Health, act today, do not delay and stand up for our most treasured national medicare program that has served this country so well.