Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Winnipeg North Centre who is the very eloquent spokesperson for the New Democratic Party on all matters concerning health care. I would not want to take more than half the time so that she has a chance to put our position on the record.
This is a very important debate we are having here this evening. I suppose there is nothing that defines us as Canadians in terms of our collective character and differentiates us from the Americans more than our national health care program. Canadians, when asked what they are proud of about Canada, will say many things but many of them point to health care and public health care is a very important part of that.
I want to say at the outset that I am very proud of the role my party historically played in terms of getting health care into the country. I remember the debates when I was a teenager. At that time there was the great doctors' strike in 1961 in Saskatchewan when health care came in. The premier at the time was the CCF premier, Woodrow Lloyd. The CCF of course was the predecessor of the New Democratic Party, the NDP. I remember the fear among a lot of people at that time when all the doctors in the province went on strike.
I remember the then leader of the opposition, Ross Thatcher, protesting that the legislature was not called back to deal with the issue. He actually kicked the doors of the legislature. In the political history of our province there is a very famous picture of the Liberal leader, who I would say was a very conservative Liberal leader, kicking the doors of the legislative assembly.
However, that was really the opening of the floodgates for national health care in the country. Not long after that we had the appointment by prime minister John Diefenbaker of the Hall commission under Emmett Hall. It recommended a national health care program based upon the Saskatchewan model, which was a publicly administered, single payer type of system in the province of Saskatchewan.
Under the prime ministership of Lester B. Pearson, and under Paul Martin Sr., who was a minister at that time, and through the pressure of Tommy Douglas and the NDP caucus in the House of Commons at that time, we finally got national medicare in the mid-1960s in Canada.
The Liberal Party first promised national medicare back in 1919. It took from 1919 until the mid-1960s to actually become a reality in the country. That is how slow these Liberals move, at a snail's pace or like molasses in January. It was the prodding and pushing and the role played by Saskatchewan that made this a very popular idea right across the country.
Finally the time came when the political support was there and the public opinion was there. The federal government finally moved, under what was a very progressive Liberal government under Lester B. Pearson, quite the contrary to what we have today. Today we have the most conservative Liberal government in the history of our country. I am sure we would all agree with that if we compare it to the governments of Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. In many ways this government is more conservative than Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Conservative government was between 1984 and 1993.
In the mid-1960s we finally got medicare in this country. We finally got a national program. We finally got a single payer system in this country that is now the envy of many people around the world.
What did the Liberal government do in its budget? In February 1995 it took an axe to medicare. It cut medicare and transfers to the provinces. It cut them so radically that every province in the country was suffering.
I am proud to say that the government of Roy Romanow, who is now head of the commission on medicare, was the only provincial government, contrary to what my friend in the Conservative Party said a few minutes ago, that backfilled dollar for dollar the loss of federal dollars from the provincial budget and the provincial caucus to maintain what we had in our province of Saskatchewan.
However, those cutbacks have hurt the system very severely. We had the health care accord of September 11, 2000, right before the election, which injected more federal money into health care, but even under that accord we are still well behind where we would have been if the cutbacks had not come in 1995.
Just three weeks ago we had a economic statement by the Minister of Finance. In that economic statement he announced that we had $15 billion in unexpected surplus in the country and that every penny of that surplus was applied to the national debt. If we had a system like some of the provinces do, where we had a special fund set up into which this surplus money would go, then those of us in parliament could have a national debate as to where that money should be allocated.
If we had polled the Canadian people as to whether or not they wanted all of that $15 billion put into the national debt or whether they wanted some of that put into health care, education, the farm crisis, infrastructure or the aboriginal problems in this country, I am sure that the Canadian people would overwhelmingly and massively have told us to spend a huge portion of that on the health care and educational problems the ordinary people of this country face. However, that did not happen. It did not happen because that is not the priority of the government across the way.
When it comes to debating the estimates, debating supply, it is very important for us to remind the government and the ministers across the way that they made a decision, first, to cut back radically on health care, putting many strains on the system and putting many parts of the country into crisis. Now, when we have the funds to do better, when we have this $15 billion surplus, the government chooses to put every single penny of that surplus to paying down the national debt. That is on top of announcing last fall before the election, in another economic statement, that there would be tax cuts of $100 billion for the Canadian people, many of those tax cuts helping wealthy people and the big corporations of this country that do not need those cuts.
Again, a large percentage of that money should have been spent in health care and education and on the human deficit in this country. In 1995 when those cutbacks were made, when people fought against the deficit that had been run up, mainly by the Tories, by accepting the cutbacks in the social programs, there was the creation of a human deficit in Canada. Now that we have some fiscal dividends it is the people of this country who should reap some of those benefits through health care programs, education and social services as we fight and combat this human deficit.
The two biggest failures of the government across the way are the environmental record of this country and the gap between the rich and the poor, which is once again growing instead of narrowing. A large part of that is due to the cutbacks in social programs in Canada and health care is a very important one.
Where do we go from here? I think we have a very good system. We have a very important system. We have a system that many Americans would like to see emulated in that country. Some 40 million Americans are not covered by health care or medicare at all. We have a system that is based on the concept of a single payer, that is, the provincial governments, with the help of the federal government, pay the health care bills in the country.
There is the system of public administration. In that system of public administration we know there is some flexibility in terms of some things being private. Hospitals will sometimes privatize or contract out the food service, the catering service, the laundry service or some other services. However, it is important within that context that everything be publicly administered.
Unlike the member from the Canadian Alliance in Alberta, to me this debate is not irrelevant in terms of public versus private. It is extremely important that we keep a public system, a single fare system and have it publicly administered on behalf of every Canadian. If we do not, we will create a chequerboard health care system with the richer provinces having a better system than the poorer provinces. We could end up like some countries in the world, such as the United States, where wealthier people, because of the thickness of their pocketbooks, have access to a better health system than the ordinary citizens.
It is extremely important that we keep that system publicly administered in a single tier system for every Canadian.
We also have to develop a pharmacare program so that the price of pharmaceutical goods and drugs is not a deterrent for people when combating an illness. We also need a good home care program. In both these cases the federal government should provide some leadership.
I conclude by saying we have to maintain national standards for home care, for daycare and pharmaceutical care. Within those national standards we have to have the flexibility of the administration of a system by each province that fits their unique characteristics.