Mr. Speaker, from the outset I want to elaborate on the points made by the Minister of Health in his speech. The minister refused, however, to answer a question from the Bloc Quebecois member about Mr. Romanow's salary. Even more strange is the fact that, during the some 20 minutes that he spoke, the Minister of Health did not mention the Romanow commission. He did not say anything about it.
He talked about his government's accomplishments, about rural communities, the September agreement, the citizen's council and the non medical use of marijuana. That was fine. I told myself “He is going to talk about the Romanow commission”. It is supposed to be the key to the future, the country's vision in the area of health. But nil, not a word.
We know, because we put the question to him several months ago, that the minister is not comfortable. It gives him a rash when we talk about the Romanow commission. He does not like it. I understand. This is a man who seems to have some vision.
They have imposed on him an unemployed premier who is too young to be appointed to the Senate, because the Prime Minister appoints senators whose average age is 72. Mr. Romanow must wait a few more years. So that he does not remain idle, the government put him in charge of a royal commission of inquiry. His salary is not known. He is on his own, looking after his own business.
In the meantime, the minister is talking about his vision of health care in this country. He seems to have solutions to the problem, yet it is entrusted to a royal commission. That is a waste of money. For 18 months or 2 years, there will be nothing forthcoming from this government in the area of health. What the Romanow commission will manage to do, once the Liberal Party has changed leaders, is to serve as the party's political commission in the next election, at the taxpayer's expense. Otherwise it is pointless.
The minister seems to be struggling with this. While not wishing to put words in his mouth, of course, I am not sure the Minister of Health was in agreement with that. If it had been one of the ideas he had come up with, he would have referred to it this evening. When the minister was talking health with his colleagues, did he mention the royal commission? Not at all, not a word, it must be forgotten if possible. We get the feeling there are little domestic squabbles on the government side. I thought the minister would refer to the commission when he spoke. The fact that he did not speaks volumes.
The minister probably senses a cabinet shuffle coming that will end up with him in Canadian heritage, instead of having to live with a royal commission of which he is not fond.
From the health point of view, we need a vision, but having a vision requires knowledge of what is going on in the field. In Ottawa we have the good fortune to have 301 men and women who have been elected by the voters in their ridings and who are, I hope, at least in this corner of the House, connected with the people in their ridings. If that connection exists, then one knows what the problems are. If one knows what their problems are, and if one is lucky enough to have been gifted with average intelligence, one can find solutions.
There is the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, and there is one in the other place as well. The minister does not seem to be lacking in intelligence; he is capable of identifying the problem. He is someone who does not appear to be afraid of talking to his provincial colleagues, or so it would seem. He was asked about the water issue. He was told “There is a problem with water. Today, in many places in Canada, people cannot drink a glass of water without running the risk of being poisoned and without endangering their health”.
He was told “Keep pushing. The House passed a motion on this”. He seems to be pushing with his provincial colleagues, and we think it is fine. If the problem is known, let us get on with the solutions.
When the minister mentions the September agreement, he is putting a spin on things. I am sorry to use this expression, but it is very well known here. A spin is a way of presenting reality from a different angle. With the present Minister of Finance, we have got used to hearing that the government will invest $500 million, $2 billion, $300 million over five years and that the tax cut will be $8 billion or $5 billion over seven years. The timeframes are always long.
When the Minister of Health tells us that the government is going to invest $800 million in new equipment, this is not annually. This is what it would take annually to make up the ground lost. It is for the entire duration of the agreement, unindexed, as the NDP member pointed out.
The federal share of the cost of replacing medical equipment over a number of years is $800 million. We number more than 30 million in this country, so this is not much per capita. In the more remote or rural areas, medical care costs more because additional incentives are required.
This government has been out of new ideas since 1993. With a few exceptions, it does not know what it is going to do the next day. Why? Because the Prime Minister is like that. He has said “Bring me a problem, I will fix it”. That is it. Sometimes he fixes it, sometimes he does not. Most of the time it is fixed all wrong, and health is one of these problems. Things have been discussed in Canada for years, but for often political, reasons, they are totally rejected. The government refuses even to discuss them.
As regards the initiatives involving tax points, the government says “Ah, no tax points. We want nothing to do with that. We gave you your cheque. You have your money. Do your bit. When you run out, come back and see me. Knock at my door, and, if you are nice, I will give you some”.
We have long talked about tax points across the country, regardless of political stripe. What we are saying as well is that tax points assure the provinces of stable funding. Of course, once again, this does not resolve all the problems. We have to talk about equalization. We agree that it is less to the advantage of the poorest provinces to take tax points than to have an amount of money that is the same for everyone.
Enough of ad hoc funding for the country's health care system. That is what it is. When the provinces want to develop new initiatives, the federal government will tell them “There are five basic principles in the legislation we are thinking of changing. That is perhaps why we appointed a former premier, who could perhaps not be appointed to the Senate but could perhaps come up with solutions. So, wait for the commission to submit its report, that is in at least two years”.
This is not planning. In the meantime, people are tearing out their hair trying to find ways to keep cardiologists in the regions and to attract family doctors in the provinces. We see this in Quebec.
The Minister of Health does not seem to know what is going on in Quebec. The government introduced a policy concerning the principle of family doctors being available seven days a week throughout Quebec, but the Minister of Health said that anything outside normal store hours was perhaps excessive. He should perhaps take a look at initiatives such as those in Quebec.
The legislation should be reviewed and modernized. The government is afraid. It feels that five principles are enough and it would rather interpret. The government is afraid of talking about private sector health care. As far as the private sector is concerned, we will recall that the future former leader of the official opposition had held up a little sign during one of the debates in the last election campaign that read “no two tier health system” because he was not capable of explaining this clearly enough and people did not believe him. He therefore felt obliged to write it down on his little sign, thinking that then he would be believed, but it did not make much difference. The private sector is already a presence. It is a presence in both health and education.
Not very far away from here, to give an example of what is happening with increasing frequency in the health field and will continue to happen, a new school was recently opened in one of the municipalities in the Outaouais region. This happens because of heavy development in a given area. That school was built by the private sector. The school board and the government signed a 25 year lease and will operate the school.
The school's bricks and mortar were put in place with private sector funding, but its soul remains the responsibility of the school board and the department of education. We will be seeing more and more of this, yet the government is afraid to raise these questions and has struck a royal commission to find solutions to all our problems. Even if they are saying over on that side that they have solved a problem, there are still more unsolved.
However, I praise the Minister of Health's handling of the hepatitis C compensation issue. It is not working properly, however. I thank him because I want to give credit where credit is due. He is prepared to act on this but speed is of the essence.
We have a supposed agreement on financial compensation, along with a law practice that is supposed to be handling it, but there are still problems. The payments are delayed, 20% or 40% of them. Very few people have received all their money. The minister has some responsibility in this. The government and parliament have some responsibility in this.
No one better say the problem is resolved because the people are no longer on Parliament Hill with placards demanding compensation. It is not resolved or it is only partly so.
In this regard, I repeat, when the minister does something good, I tell him. When he does not do what he is supposed to, I tell him, as well, with respect. So it is important to resolve this matter.
There is another matter to be resolved at some point.
My colleague from New Brunswick raised the issue of marijuana. It is not enough to be for it or against it. The government has been talking about this one for years. They will settle it. The minister said “I will make marijuana available for medical purposes”. This is the compassionate element.
However, there is no pot on the market that meets the government's standards. There is none, and it have no system. It has given no thought to the criminal code. It has given no thought to the problems involving the various laws governing the country, the provinces and the municipalities.
So we have another problem. The government is forced to go to court, and the people it wanted to help are arrested by the police. So that is not resolved.
A committee on the non-medical use of drugs was just set up and I have the honour and the privilege to sit on it. I must say that I hope people will be patient. If we are ready to show compassion for the sick, we will have to show compassion for those who sit on that committee, because its mandate is very broad.
We will also have to target the problems. What is the committee's mandate? Its members will define it in the fall. We will work hard to ensure that this mandate is as clear as possible so that we can take a stand on the issue and on plausible and easily feasible solutions.
Will we deal with the drug issue by saying we will find solutions? The NDP member for Vancouver East sits on that committee. She represents, the poorest part of Vancouver.
It is the part of Vancouver that is not shown on postal cards. It is her riding. There are problems. We must tackle this and find solutions to the problems of heroin users.
Will this also be included in the committee's mandate? Maybe yes, maybe no. Some will say “Instead of legalizing other drugs, perhaps we should deal with those who have serious problems with existing drugs”. This is probably what the committee will look at.
This being said, I would like to talk a little bit about what will happen this evening. Unless something out of the ordinary or some miracle happens, this is the last evening of the first session following the election.
After an election, people thought, after all, it had only been re-elected for three and one-half years or I should say three years and five months, that the government would come up with some good ideas.
Once again, things are something like at an auction, going once, going twice, going three times, sold. It takes three times to get a bill passed. The first time, no go, then there is an election. Then there is the second time, and in mid-mandate, there is the throne speech. This puts everything back to square one. Then things start all over again for the third time, but now there is a general election. Going once, going twice, going three times.
How many times has the endangered species legislation come up? It is endless. Then there is the young offenders legislation. Here we go again, changes, modifications, then it gets blocked in the Senate. Then an election comes along. Soon another change will be coming: the Prime Minister. Then there will be another throne speech. We get nowhere.
In the health field, there is even less progress. This evening we in the opposition had the opportunity, with the means currently available to us I must add, to get some important messages across regardless, messages that open up some discussion. Perhaps we should vote for part of the night.
I will say what the public would say to us “At the rate you guys are getting paid now, it won't hurt you to sit overnight from time to time”. We stop, but at the same time we are getting a message across “The job is not over. Our work on important bills is not over. We would like to get on our way. No problem. I want to get home, but that is not the right idea”. However there are some important points that are not settled. Any MP will be prepared to stay here in order to solve a really important problem.
With that, I will wish you, Madam Speaker, as well as all members, a good summer, and a healthy one. As far as health is concerned, however, we are on our own. Unfortunately, I do not think that the government can help us on that.
We have to count on the provinces, and they have all the trouble in the world delivering services because of a government that hands over money for the health of all Quebecers and Canadians a little bit at a time.