Madam Speaker, it is a privilege and a pleasure for me to speak in response to the throne speech as the hon. member for Yellowhead and as opposition health critic.
As Parliament resumes, the minds of Canadians are on the state of the beleaguered health care system. What they see and what too many Canadians have experienced is a system that is under decay and under a tremendous amount of stress. Look at the strikes going on from coast to coast right now, or the acute problems with wait times, which are absolutely phenomenal, or the nursing shortage or human resources problem.
On the nursing shortage we can say that projections for growth in that field are such that we will need 113,000 new nurses by 2011. That will hinder patient care in tremendous ways, ways in which we have no idea at the present time.
When we look at how we are doing in comparison with other OECD nations, we see that we rank 18th when it comes to access to MRIs. We are 17th in CT scanners and 8th in radiology equipment. It is no wonder and no surprise that Canadian confidence in the health care system is decaying and waning at the present time.
An example of this is that in 1988 a study was done and 43% of Canadians said that they thought the system was fundamentally flawed. Last year the same study was done again and an astounding figure of 77% came forward. Clearly the patient is ailing.
The Liberal health care legacy of underfunding and neglect has come home to roost. The Prime Minister and the former finance minister presided over the massive cuts in the middle of the 1990s and the consequences of that action at the time are being felt now in today's health care system.
The Prime Minister and the former minister of health announced the Romanow commission almost two years ago. It was a desperate attempt by the Liberal government to just buy more time. That is exactly what happened. Then they sat back and comfortably waited while somebody else tried to do the dirty work and wrestled with the tough problems of reforming the health care system. We are waiting for the report in November of this year.
It is not the first time we have seen this action by the Liberal government. We remember the National Forum on Health in 1997. Its report sits on the proverbial shelf collecting dust. We can see that this is a ploy the government has used once before.
There are some things the Liberal government does do well. It studies health care. We asked the Library of Parliament how much money had been spent by the Liberal government since 1993 just to study health care. A figure of $243 million came back. The Liberal government has shown a grave lack of leadership when it comes to health care over the last 10 years. All the problems I just mentioned lay right at the feet of the Liberal government. Nobody else can take responsibility for them.
The health highlight of the throne speech was the announcement of the forthcoming first ministers conference early next year and the necessary federal funding that would have to go into investments in the long term security of our health care system. I say better late than never, but did we really need a throne speech for that announcement?
Most of the other health care items offered in the throne speech consisted of vague promises on health protection, prevention and aboriginal health. Many of these are just recycled ideas. We have heard them many times before in previous throne speeches. We could go through the last eight or ten throne speeches and there are similarities in all of them.
Here is just one of the examples. I quote, “The government will take further action to close the gap in health status between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians”. That is a worthy goal, but we have heard that many times before. It is no wonder the aboriginal community is thinking that this government speaks with a forked tongue on that.
Some alarming numbers came out earlier this week. They show that the rate of diabetes among first nations peoples is two to three times that of the Canadian population as a whole. The amount of tuberculosis on native reserves is eight to ten times higher than for the Canadian population.
The government should acknowledge that its current aboriginal policies are failing. It should announce firm targets for improving aboriginal health and life status.
I was particularly concerned about the government's pledge to speed up drug safety approval. We have a drug problem in the country and it is a serious problem. Up to 10,000 Canadians die each year because of avoidable prescription drug reactions. Up to 46% of our seniors receive at least one inappropriate prescription per year.
The Vanessa Young inquiry cited a number of problems in Health Canada's drug safety regime. The minister's rebranded Marketed Health Products Directorate still cannot remove drugs from the market.
Do not get me wrong. We are not opposed to bureaucrats working faster or more efficiently to speed up drug approvals. There are some very good benefits in that. However this is clearly a matter of the cart going before the horse and announcing faster drug approvals before adequately addressing the drug safety concerns that we have across this nation.
One glaring omission in the throne speech was the mention of the government's plan of dealing with the possible bioterror attack. Last year the government promised to obtain the smallpox vaccine for every Canadian. The government still has not obtained that vaccine. Where is the long-range plan that the government promised Canadians? By the way, where is the reproductive technology bill that was also promised? It met the same fate once before of dying on the order paper, so it is not the first time that has happened.
Canadians could be forgiven for having expected some leadership on health care this week from the government. However on most fronts, they were very sorely disappointed.
The government will soon be reviewing the recommendations of the Romanow report. As it prepares to do so, the official opposition should offer some principles and proposals that would guide its deliberations.
The Canadian Alliance is clear about its values on health care. Our policy states our commitment to ensuring that “timely, quality and sustainable health care is available to every Canadian, regardless of their financial means”.
The Canadian Alliance supports adequate, stable funding and transparent funding for health care. More funding will be required to shore up our ailing health care system and to place it on a firmer footing for the years and decades ahead. I am pleased to see an acknowledgment of this in the throne speech. However the federal transfer for health care has only now surpassed what it was back in 1993 and 1994. In the meantime, we have a population growth of 8% and an increase of over 15%, and our population is also growing older at the same time. Therefore, the federal government's contribution is 14¢ on every dollar right now. That is a far cry from the fifty-fifty split of a generation ago.
In putting more funding into health care, the government should resist its natural urge. Guess what that is? To raise taxes. Canadians do not want to pay any more taxes. Believe it or not, we would not want to see the finance minister jump from that Peace Tower. However, the government has chopped $25 billion from the CHST, but has left $16 billion a year in questionable grants and contributions. This is all about priorities or the lack of them.
It must be noted that more money, in the absence of other reforms, is not a viable or long term solution. This has been the recognition of many of those who have taken a look at our health care system over the last couple of years, whether it be Fyke, Mazankowski, Clair, Kirby or Romanow.
In return for more funding there must be a greater accountability of how that money is spent. The government must use this opportunity of another cash injection to encourage health reform and efficiencies.
We also reiterate the call for stable funding for health care. To prevent the kind of unprecedented, unilateral cuts inflicted by the Prime Minister and the former finance minister in the mid-nineties, we must entrench the commitment in the Canada Health Act for stable funding.
The Canada Health Act needs to be modernized. All five of the act's principles are routinely compromised. Moreover, there is a growing recognition that the act does not make provisions for important contributions such as quality, timeliness, sustainability or accountability. New provisions need to be added in the act.
The delivery of health care has changed dramatically since the act was passed in 1984. Through the development of new technologies, drug therapies and new treatment options, what constitutes medically necessary needs to be revisited in an era of new medical technologies and those therapies. A view of the scope of the services covered under the public system should be undertaken as a viable component of the first ministers consultation after Romanow.
I want to address the controversial issue of the private involvement in our public health care system. The provinces should have the maximum flexibility around health care delivery within a universal health care system, and I stress within a universal health care system.
The Canada Health Act discourages private payment of medically necessary health care services but does not prohibit nor does it discourage private delivery of those services. What is important is not who provides a service but that the service is provided and that it is provided in a timely and a quality fashion regardless of the individual's financial means to pay.
As our leader pointed out yesterday, the government monopoly is not the only way to deliver health care to Canadians. The federal health minister cannot stop the provinces from acting within their jurisdiction nor should she. Let me be clear. No province, no federal party, including the Canadian Alliance, is calling for a private parallel system.
Finally, the government owes it to Canadians to act quickly and responsibly once the Romanow commission report is called. Health care reform is too important to place on another waiting list. The government should act within 90 days after receiving the Romanow report.
Health care is the number one public policy priority of Canadians. It is clear that our system is in need of renewal. Health care requires innovative ideas and approaches in order to address the pressing challenges of increased expectations, escalating costs and aging population.
The Canadian Alliance will continue to engage the government in vigorous debate on the reform of the health care in this country. We will work--