Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hastings—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.
I am pleased to participate in a dialogue in the House today on our health care system. It is the most important challenge that members of parliament have before them. Some may describe it as crisis, others will describe it as a challenge, but I will describe it as dynamics.
Canadians understand that we are not a static nation and it is a truism to say that the status quo is not an option, which is part of the motion before us.
We are a dynamic system now. We do have an aging society. The technology of medicine has changed dramatically. The cost of pharmacare is very significant now and it is growing because of the technology of drugs. As an example, there is a drug called TPT which is for heart attack victims. It costs something in the range of $3,000 for one dose, whereas the standard drug used in the past for heart attack victims cost only a few hundred dollars.
There is no question that the members and the motion are correct, the status quo is not an option. I cannot imagine that anything that we have in Canada will remain the same forever and a day. We obviously have to respond.
Part of the premise of the motion, which I think the prior speaker stated when he closed off his speech, was what positive role has the federal government played on behalf of health care. The member's answer was “nothing”.
As a member of parliament and a member of the health committee throughout the 35th parliament and for the last year or so, I have taken a special interest in the issue of health. Prior to becoming a member of parliament, I served on the board of directors of my local hospital for nine years. I was vice-chairman, the treasurer and I was involved in the finances. After nine years I felt very comfortable that I had an idea of what the costs were of delivering health care through a hospital to Canadians, our constituents. When I became a member of parliament I wanted to follow through on the experience I had in my community and become part of the health committee.
One of the first things that happened in the health portfolio, and in direct response to the member's rhetorical question about what the federal government has done, in 1994 the National Forum on Health was established. That was exactly what the government had included in its platform of the 1993 election. The forum had health experts from all across Canada who spent two years consulting with each and every vested interest group in the health care sector to determine what the state of health care was, to determine what resources were there and to determine what the needs or deficiencies were.
One of the significant things that they found about the health care system was that, in their words, “There seemed to be enough money in the system”. At that time, the forum reported that there could be as much as $11 billion of waste in health care spending because of how it was being spent. It was not being spent wisely. It was not getting good value for the dollar. The forum identified a need to change the system and to start thinking about what fundamental principles had to be dealt with in order that our health care system would continue to be dynamic.
Much of the debate that has gone on so far has had a lot to do with money. Members will know that the province of Quebec had, from the 1998 budget, some $800 million available for health care which was in a bank account in Toronto. This money was never used. The province of Ontario was sitting on $400 million that it never used. The province of Newfoundland was sitting on money that it had not used, money that was was transferred and available to it immediately as a result of the budget initiatives in 1998.
I do not think members here will argue with the premise that dollars alone are not the solution. We have provinces that are in surplus positions. How can they say they need the money? If health care is the number one priority of Canadians, why is it that the provinces have priorities which do not match those of the people themselves? Why does Ontario say that its priority is to give $4.3 billion in tax cuts to Ontario taxpayers when they are also saying that health care is in a crisis. If health care is in a crisis, why have the provinces not responded? The money was there. If it was simply a matter of money, they would have done it.
By their actions alone, the provinces do not agree that there is a crisis. The provinces do not agree with the premise of the motion. However, they do agree, as do all Canadians, that we do have some challenges. The health care system has to respond to the growing realities of Canadian society, an aging society, a society where technology is taking over and non-invasive practices are taking place. The costs of MRI machines and CT scanners are substantial. Canadians have to understand that the cost of pharmacare is growing.
When I was first on the board of directors of the Mississauga Hospital, the average length of stay per patient was something like 7.2 days. During the nine years that I was on the board, the average length of stay of a patient at the Mississauga Hospital went down to 4.8 days. Concurrently, the 650 bed hospital was reduced down to 550 beds. However, at the very same time that 100 beds were reduced, and this is a significant number of beds, they concurrently introduced an ambulatory care system that provided day surgery. Instead of people arriving at the hospital a day before the operation, being there for their operation and then convalescing at the hospital, this was eliminated with the ambulatory care system. People now come in the day they need surgery and convalesce at home. However, this has created other problems and other challenges for us to deal with.
As all members know and understand, if patients have shorter lengths of stays in hospitals and convalesce at home, this puts a tremendous burden on families because they are supposed to be there to provide support. Home nursing care may not be readily accessible. There may be some difficulties in providing that kind of service. These are some of the challenges that we have to face.
What else has the federal government done? In 1993 we started with a $42 billion deficit. There was no question that we had to deal with that fiscal crisis so that we could sustain the kind of health care, and social program and support systems for Canadians that reflected the values of Canadians. As soon as we fixed that, what happened in 1998? Some $11.5 billion was injected into health care. In the last budget, $2.5 billion went into health care.
The health minister has met with his provincial counterparts, exactly what the motion says we should start to do. We cannot agree with the motion because we cannot say we should start doing something that we are already doing. To agree with the motion would be to say that we have not done anything.
We have met and negotiated with the provinces. Tomorrow there is another meeting. Canadians will be pleased to know that in September there will be another first ministers meeting that hopefully will bring to a conclusion the negotiations between the federal government and the provincial governments on the next step.
Let me assure everyone that the next step will not just be the transfer of money. It will be how we are going to make our health care system more dynamic so it better meets the present needs of Canadians.