Mr. Speaker, I wish to begin by stating that the intervention by the Minister of Health is, at the very least, paradoxical.
Here we have a minister proposing the addition of $4 million extra to hire more staff for inspection and monitoring purposes relating to the enforcement of the Canada Health Act. The five principles set out in that act include universality, portability, and public funding, as we are entitled to expect for public services.
At the same time, the federal government is not fulfilling its part of the contract as far as health is concerned. Take Quebec for example. As we speak, the federal government contributes a little over 20 cents, 22 to be exact, of every dollar invested in health.
Yet when the public plans were set up in the 1960s, the federal government committed to a 50% contribution. On a number of occasions, all provincial premiers have demanded that this government re-establish transfer payments to their 1993-94 level.
As a party, we do not subscribe to the reflex of privatization of certain provinces. Thank heavens, the Government of Quebec is very far removed from such a desire for privatization. It is our profound belief that governments have the responsibility to use public funds and public resources to put into place a generous, universal, accessible health system, one which meets the needs of our fellow citizens, particularly in today's context, with not just the elderly but also another group more advanced in age, the old elderly, and with people wanting to remain in their natural communities as long as possible.
We are forced to see a connection between the fact that this government has cut transfer payments to the provinces and the fact that that the provinces did not always get their share of the resources they were entitled to expect from it in order to keep the system viable.
How can the minister be surprised at this point? How can the minister play wounded innocent? How can he be so hypocritical today as to oppose this in the role of defender of the public health system, when he himself is not fulfilling his part of the contract?
I say to the minister that we are prepared to go along with him in certain instances, such as the case of smoking, where we do not want young people to be the primary victims of inadequate information when their health is concerned. But we will go after this minister to get him to assume his responsibilities and reinstate the transfer payments at their 1993-94 level.
It is not surprising today, since the federal government has failed to honour its part of the contract, that certain provinces are tempted to privatize. We might have wished that, in addition to announcing the increase in staff for inspection work, what we might call the health police, the government would assume its share of the responsibility.
In terms of transfer payments, for Quebec alone, $1.4 billion has been cut in health care. If the Minister of Health is serious and concerned about the integrity of the public health care systems, his first responsibility is to rise in this House and say that he will lead the battle in Cabinet to have the transfer payments returned and that he will deliver the money he owes the provinces.
For Quebec alone, the figure of $500 million is at issue annually, for health care alone. That is the equivalent of Quebec's entire budget for home care, and about half the budget for the CLSCs.
If the minister wants to have some credibility, if he wants opposition parties to work with him, if he wants to be a respected voice in the health sector, his number one responsibility is to support the provinces, which are urging him to be a strong voice within cabinet and demand that transfer payments be restored. That is the minister's primary responsibility, and I hope that he will work on that in the coming days.
It is all too easy to be concerned about what is going on in the provinces. It is all too easy to want to encroach.
The minister sent a letter to the Standing Committee on Health asking us to set up a national mental health strategy. What business does the federal government have with mental health? Read the letter sent to us by the minister. He wants a national mental health strategy. But this area does not come under his jurisdiction. Let us not be hypocrites.
It is all too easy to be concerned about the provinces violating the law, considering that in 1966 the government itself, as a partner, pledged to contribute 50% to health care programs, but does not do so. It is all too easy to be concerned like that.
I do not expect this minister to be a tormented soul, but like all my Bloc Quebecois colleagues and, I am sure, all the opposition members, I do expect him to loosen the purse strings, resist the temptation to set up new national programs, avoid any future encroachment and assume his responsibilities, which are to restore health transfer payments to their 1993-94 level.