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House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Liberal Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present a petition from dozens of constituents from Chapleau, Ontario. They are very supportive of research in support of finding cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes and other terrible diseases. They support what they refer to as ethical stem cell research and would prefer that Parliament focus its legislative efforts on adult stem cell research.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Leeds—Grenville Ontario

Liberal

Joe Jordan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Health Care SystemGovernment Orders

October 28th, 2002 / 3:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Yellowhead for his speech. He is correct in one assumption. The Liberals have dropped the ball when it comes to the health care debate.

My question for him is this. He said very clearly that the Canadian Alliance does not support in any way, shape, or form a parallel two tier system, but we have yet to hear members of that party say anything about the creeping privatization happening in provinces like Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia, et cetera. I am just wondering if he can clarify his position as to why we have not heard any kind of criticism or critique of the private sector creeping into the provinces when it comes to health care in the country.

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3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am a little puzzled by the question because I understood that the NDP agreed with the Canada Health Act, which allows private delivery of health care within a publicly funded system under the jurisdiction of the provinces, and to be flexible in that. We would agree with the Canada Health Act and complying with that. I am a little confused by the question. We certainly agree with that and I thought the NDP did. I hope that is clear enough for him.

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3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take part in today's take note debate in regard to health care. This has become a very important issue for Canadians in the last few years as we have seen a serious decline in our health care system. The budgets of several provincial governments are approaching 50% just for the delivery of health care. People are concerned about whether this will be sustainable in the future. Several commissions have been established in order to try to deal with the health care issue.

I welcome the national debate that is taking place on health care and I welcome the debate in the House today, but I do have to say that we have really gone quite a ways from the days when Lester Pearson introduced health care as a national priority and guaranteed, in his words, from the Liberal government of the day, that no less than 50% of the cost of health care delivery in the country would be provided by the federal government.

We know that is no longer the case. There has been a severe decline in health care in terms of the amount of money that the federal government is putting into it. I suggest that this no different from the decline that we have seen in several other areas. We have seen a decline in productivity. We have seen a decline in the Canadian dollar. We have seen a decline in the amount of foreign investment in Canada as a percentage of world investment. Correspondingly, we have seen increases in taxes and big growth in government. We have seen growth in government in business subsidies, in areas that they have established as priorities on the other side of the House and which we certainly do not share in terms of their position.

What do we have in our health care system right now? We have a decline. We have a problem in that provinces are facing difficulty in being able to fund health care. The national amount of money coming from the federal government is now only 14%, and yet the government wants to dictate all of the rules to the provinces on how health care should be delivered. We welcome this debate.

Three studies, Kirby's, Romanow's and of course the Mazankowski report in Alberta, either have indicated that reforms are needed or are in the process of doing that. We have seen that Mr. Kirby's report, tabled the other day, is calling for increases in taxes so that we can fund over $5 billion in increased funding for health care. I want to deal with that, but I want to also deal with what Canadians really want.

What we believe Canadians want is a public system that is accessible on a timely basis. In other words, if they have a health problem, they want to be able to go to their doctor and have that health problem diagnosed and dealt with in a timely fashion. We know that if this does not happen, things could deteriorate fairly quickly.

How do we propose to get there? These three commissions have all indicated or are in the process of indicating that there needs to be more money for health care. A couple of elections ago, the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance recognized this. We recognized that Canadians have health care as a high priority. In fact we think that if Canadians were able to set their priorities, it certainly would be health care funding over things like money for Bombardier or some of the business subsidies that the government currently gives out.

What Canadians want is a public system. They want accessibility and they want it in a timely manner. We really support that idea. Unfortunately, the only thing that the Liberal government can see as a way to address this is to raise taxes. It is not as though the government is not used to raising taxes. We have seen a lot of tax increases and that seems to be its answer to everything. That is its philosophy: tax it.

What would a family do if faced with a similar situation? What would family members have to do if the family budget were overtaxed? They would say that they have these new expenditures they have to make and they would say “I guess we are just going to have to find some new money someplace”. It is not a realistic possibility for most families. Unless they go out and get part time jobs to support the present jobs they have, that is not a possibility. Yet the government seems to take the attitude that if it needs more money, it will just tax Canadians higher.

We have been down that road. The former finance minister and the Prime Minister have been here since 1993 and since that time taxes have increased steadily. We have seen 53 corporate and personal income tax increases, excluding the Canada pension plan and bracket creep; 28 corporate tax increases, 25 of those being personal income tax increases; 6 bracket creep de facto personal income tax increases from 1994 to 1999; 8 Canada pension plan contribution rate increases from 1994 to 2001 up to 9.4%. This was an 88% increase for the Canada pension plan.

We have seen 67 corporate and personal income tax increases, including CPP and bracket creep, from the government since 1993. What do we have? We have less money being spent on health care in real terms today by the federal government than it was spending in 1993. What a travesty when it is telling the provinces to clean up their act on health care.

The government made a commitment in the late sixties and early seventies that its portion of funding would never fall below 50%. What is it today? It is 14% on average. Some provinces of course are less than that. What happened to that promise? This is consistent with the long term decline in the way the government has run the country for so many of those 30 years.

The budget of 2001 had a 9.3% increase in program spending but not one cent was cut to low priority areas. In 2002 federal government revenues total almost $180 billion. The average Canadian taxpayer will pay about $8,300 in federal taxes. That is a lot of money. In fact the Globe and Mail and Ipsos-Reid had a poll just recently that found that three-quarters of Canadians felt that they were taxed too high in comparison to the services they received, such as health care and education.

What do we have from the government? We have proposals for tax increases. Kirby suggested it. What is he doing? I suggest he is trying to lay the groundwork for the federal government. He is talking about raising in the GST from 7% to 8.5%. He is talking about a raise in either the GST or else a premium that would be raised through a national tax system to raise $5 billion. I do not think that is what Canadians want.

Why will those guys not just cut spending and set their priorities? Why do they have to raise taxes to pay for those services?

It seems to me that they just cannot get their own fiscal house in order. What are they spending the money on? Why do they require all these taxes? Why can they not find the $5 billion within the existing budgetary framework? I think the reason is that they have a lot of friends. They have a lot of business subsidy programs. Over $12 billion in loans were granted to companies like Bombardier, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell over the past five years. Of that $12 billion granted how much have they received back on their investments? They have received $25 million, a 2% return on investment.

Why do they have to raise taxes further for health care? The answer is that they do not. They just have to get a hold of their own out of control spending.

Canadians are concerned because total government expenditures as a percentage of GDP back in the 1960s were roughly equal in Canada to the United States. Today the Canadian government spends approximately 42% of GDP on public programs and interest payments on debt, a full 11% more than in the U.S.

It is commonly assumed that the extra expense is used to pay for health care but, as was pointed out earlier, the U.S. spends more money on public health care, although many people have private insurance as we heard earlier, than does Canada. We also know that the United States spends a significant amount on its military, which takes up a big portion of its GDP, but it still has government spending that is 12% less of its GDP than ours.

The government certainly can do better. We have had advice from people, such as Toronto Dominion economist, Don Drummond, who used to work for the government as a deputy minister. What he has said is that for every new dollar of spending there should be an onus to identify another dollar that is a low priority dollar to be cut back. That is the total missing approach in Ottawa at the moment. I could not have said that better.

The government has no idea how to get its priorities straight. Money is there for health care if it is required but not from new taxes. Canadians do not want more taxes. They want the government to act fiscally responsibly and find the money within the existing budgetary framework.

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up on a comment that has been made several times by the opposition during the debate, which is the reference to the fact that the United States spends more on public health care per capita than does Canada.

I point out, given the fact that the U.S. health care system is not universal, that there are enormous numbers of people left out, this very statistic that the opposition is citing all the time indicates that public health care delivery in the United States is hugely inefficient, much more inefficient than in Canada.

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3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe Canadians want a rational, reasonable approach to the health care issue. I also believe Canadians want a government to deal with this and not push it off, as the government has done for 30 years, and see a steady decline in the health care system.

Canadians are looking for answers. They want to see the health care system improved. Their bottom line is, in my view, timely accessibility to the health care system and they want it through a public system. If that means there needs to be some private delivery within that, we are prepared to look at that.

The business of a dedicated tax for health care has been raised. We are prepared to look at that as well but we do not believe that it is necessary. The provinces and Canadians need to have the chance to read and digest all the reports from the Kirby commission and the Romanow commission to understand what is being asked of them, which is an increase in funding. We think it is incumbent upon the government to look within its budgetary framework. We have identified lots of areas of government spending that are low priority, such as regional development programs from coast to coast to coast and business subsidies to companies like Bombardier.

We believe that if Canadians were asked whether they would rather give money to Bombardier or have more money for health care, we think they would choose health care. Therefore why is the government playing the stock market for us in a de facto position in the stock market? That is really what it is doing.

In terms of the U.S., I think my figures stand in spite of the fact that a big portion of its health care is being delivered by private insurance. Even its sector from the public side spends more money per GDP than we do in Canada. We think there have to be some efficiencies there but the government has really let the side down. It has let the side down by letting the ball drop. Back in the 1970s the government promised to pay 50% of the cost of health care. What do we have today? We have 14% on average.

The government is not doing the job for Canadians. We think it has failed Canadians miserably on the health care issue.

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Liberal Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to talk with my constituents and with health care professionals in my riding. What I heard was that our health care system was under a tremendous amount of financial stress. The system is short on health care professionals. The system needs many adjustments and changes. We need to come up with a plan to make certain that we have long term care and sustainable funding to ensure that the Canadian health care system serves the public well.

Quite frankly, I hope the debate is not only on where the money comes from. I heard my colleague across the way and I realize he certainly has his viewpoint but I do not think the debate should focus only on whether new taxes are created or whether other things are done. Consultations with the public are most important. Through the consultations by Mr. Kirby and Mr. Romanow we are arriving at a point where we can see a lot of things that need to be done, a lot of actions that need to be taken in the health care system.

I, and I believe every Canadian, have no doubt that there will be extra expenses if we are to tackle the system properly. Making sure that we do have those dollars in place will be very important. However let us also look at some of the shortfalls of the system right now.

It used to be in a rural community we would hear about the lack of doctors and areas that are totally underserviced. I come from an area in Chatham--Kent Essex that is as highly underserviced as any area in this country. That is a real disaster for all of us. When we do not have doctors, nurses or health care professionals that we need to deal with patients, it is very critical. However it is not just the rural communities any more. We are short of doctors in some of our major areas like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

We need to look at a system where we can have the number of health care professionals trained and in practice in this country, not just doctors, by the way, but let us look at nurses. Let us look at all other health care delivery service people that we have in the system. We are totally underserviced. The opportunity in the future does not seem to be as bright as it should be either. Where will those doctors come from? Do we have the numbers to deal with those issues? I do not believe so.

One of the reasons a lot of the consultation and work that has been put in place is to try to deal with not only financing, but numbers of health care professionals.

How do hospitals get stable funding and make sure they can plan for not only today but for five or ten years down the line? How can they be sure that the administration in our hospitals is provided with the tools it needs in order to deliver proper, adequate health care to people coming into the system?

How do we deal with the cost of drugs, which seems to be escalating over time and in fact is putting more and more stress on our system every day? Are there means by which we can look at those extra costs and deal with them in a more adequate, better way?

From my point of view, from my constituents' point of view and from the point of view of the health care professionals with whom I have spoken, obviously more money needs to be put into the health care system but we also need to deal with many other issues in the health care system that will make our system the system that we want it to be.

I have no question that the Liberal government, every person in the House and all Canadians want to make sure that we put a health care system in place that will serve everyone well. The problem obviously is that we focus our debate on who will pay the bills. We focus our debate on who is wrong and who is right. We focus our debate on most of the wrong things.

When I hear that Canada does not pay its fair share in health care, I wish we would stop that type of debate and start looking at what is the past record, what have been the expenditures? Are we living up to our obligations to the people who are electing us? Are we moving that agenda forward, or are we playing petty politics on funding issues and not really looking at a system that needs some repair, that needs a cash injection, and that needs a lot more support and thought to go into it?

I am a disappointed in what I am hearing at times. We must have institutions in this country that will train nurses and doctors, that will put professionals with the proper tools and skills in small communities. In my riding the town of Tilbury is a good example. Tilbury has been searching for a doctor for years to replace the doctor who was in the community. There are outreach programs. There is funding to recruit doctors. There are all kinds of activities going on. We have not been as successful as we can in dealing with that.

I have heard of systems where doctors would set up practices in different communities to help with the building, the material, and the professional equipment that is required, but to no avail because there are not enough doctors trained in the communities.

We can look at the systems as they are changing. We have clinics in many of our communities today. Those clinics will have people come in with colds and other problems from nine in the morning until four in the evening and the doctors in those clinics can deal with those patients quite quickly.

When it comes to long-term, major health care programs, the patients are turned back to the family practitioner. The family practitioner then has a tremendous number of hours, a tremendous amount of work, and a heavy burden of individual patients who have diseases that require a long-term of care. Possibly the funding in those areas is not as good as the type of funding that a doctor might receive if he received payments for everybody coming off the street. He could deal with them in five minutes and bring the next patient in and deal with him or her for five minutes.

We must look at the role and the work that our practitioners are doing in practice as well. We must look and see if the clinics are serving our society well. Perhaps many of the long-term cases should be taken over in some other way. We should look at how the whole structure of funding to the medical community is put in place.

In Ontario there are projections that we will be short tens of thousands of nurses over the next 10 years and that is scary. When we start talking about the shortage of all kinds of professionals, not just in the medical field, but in all fields, we must be concerned where this whole system is moving.

I want to touch on funding to a small degree. It is critical that people understand that the federal government has been working very hard. It is my understanding that in the last four years we have increased health care spending by $35 billion. That is $35 billion put into the health care system that was not there before.

People have played with the numbers and they have not been accurate about those numbers in this debate. I have never heard anyone talking about all the types of transfers that go to the provinces and covering health care system costs. I can say without equivocation that our health care system is financed by the federal government at the rate of 40%. I believe all of the numbers, when we talk about transfer to the provinces, cash transfers, tax transfers, and equalization payments, would hear me out.

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3:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Questions or comments? Resuming debate, the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would begin by saying that I have followed the debate today right from the very beginning and I heard the Leader of the Opposition speak first. I note that one of the techniques around here, if we want to find out what the opposite side's viewpoint on an issue is, is to listen to the leader and we will find everything else echoed by the subsequent speakers. I expect there is an exchange of information that enables subsequent speakers in the opposition to basically echo that which their leader said.

I listened to the leader's speech very carefully. I noted that despite 25 minutes of condemnation of rhetoric from the government's side, in fact the Leader of the Opposition made only two concrete suggestions in his entire speech which took about 35 seconds, each one of those suggestions. I would like to deal with them.

The first suggestion was that we should spend more money for health care. The federal government should put up more money and it should not raise any new taxes in doing so. That is very laudable but we do note that the opposition is asking the government to spend more money on defence and is asking the government to spend more money in a variety of areas. I do not know about the practicalities of what is suggested by the--

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I need some clarification. Is the member rising on questions and comments or is he making a speech? The person to whom he should be directing his questions and comments has gone.

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3:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. member is actually making his speech. I asked for questions or comments a while ago after the hon. member for Chatham—Kent Essex spoke and nobody stood up, so we resumed debate with this hon. member, who has the floor.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always thought the whole point of this place is to exchange in a debate and so I am commenting in debate on the suggestions made by the Leader of the Opposition and all the subsequent members of the opposition.

To finish my thought, and hopefully without any further interruption, all the Leader of the Opposition said is to put more money into health care from the federal government but without raising taxes and he did not suggest how to get that money.

We learned from the member for New Brunswick Southwest that a minimum of $5 billion more is required for an infusion into health care, according to Senator Kirby's report, but in fact to cure the problems in health care delivery it is probably many billions of dollars more than that. I would submit that the answer is not more federal money and I am personally opposed to adding more federal money into the health care situation because I believe the savings and the money can be found elsewhere

That brings me to the Leader of the Opposition's second point. He suggested that we should consider the Alberta model of the private corporation delivery of health, in other words private clinics. The genesis of that point was the idea in Alberta that perhaps the public provision of health care delivery, which is usually by charitable non-profit organizations, could be more efficient if some of these services were provided by for-profit organizations, the idea being that the profit motive creates certain efficiencies.

I do not think we should discount that particular suggestion. It is a legitimate suggestion and the Leader of the Opposition was careful to point out that it would still be public care, that everyone would be entitled to equal care. The question would only be if in some instances the health care delivery would be better delivered by a private organization.

I suggest however that before we ever get to that point what we need to do is to make the health care delivery institutions more transparent and accountable. We would save, if we did that, all the money we need, in order to upgrade the current health system.

Mr. Speaker, you may not be aware of this but the $75 billion of government money that goes out to the health care institutions to provide health care delivery is not managed in any way that is legislatively transparent and accountable to the public. Hospitals which spend billions of dollars are not under the Canada Corporations Act save as a regime of guidelines of corporate governance. They do not operate under legislated standards of corporate governance.

Consequently if we talk to senior health care professionals we find them telling us that there is no administrative standard governing hospitals or health care institutions all across the country. In other words, one hospital may be operating effectively. Another hospital may not be operating effectively but there is no interchange of ideas. There is no parent standard from the national government or even the provincial governments.

Even in research hospitals have their own institutes of research and there is no peer exchange of ideas in the research that these institutes do. In other words, we have a situation where individual hospitals may be running a research institute operating as a charity or receiving money from a charitable foundation but there is no peer review of the actual work they are doing, other than when they finally come out and produce a paper and there is no coordination of the actual practices.

I point out that this extends to health care delivery, this problem of transparency and accountability. The Canadian Institute for Health Information, which was created about eight years ago by the health ministers federally and provincially, has disclosed all kinds of problems in the health care delivery system which all has to do with the failure to keep proper records and exchange information.

I will give just one example of the Canadian Institute for Health Information. It found in its research that there is no Canadian data on follow-up procedures in hospitals. It also estimates that there are 10,000 infection and non-error medication deaths in hospitals. The error basically boils down to when a doctor or nurse prescribes the wrong medication and the person dies. Because we are not a society in which litigation surrounding our medical practices is the norm, as it is in the United States, these accidents occur and for years and years there has been no follow-up and no central collection of data on these accidents.

While we all would like to believe that we have some of the best health care delivery in the world in Canada, the reality is that because of the lack of transparency in major hospitals and other health care delivery systems, only now are we beginning to realize that perhaps our health care delivery is not anything like as efficient as we would like to believe.

The analogy is very apt. If that is the case in health care delivery, where there are huge inefficiencies because of the lack of reporting, the lack of transparency, the need to exchange data, the lack of public accountability, then it is easy to conclude that there must be the same situation with the delivery mechanisms of hospitals and other health care institutions. In other words, if one does not have to tell anyone what one is doing, there can be nepotism and every kind of inefficiency imaginable.

If the total bill is $75 billion dollars a year of taxpayer money going into health care delivery and we have no way of knowing how administratively efficient that health care delivery system is, then I would suggest that at the very minimum, at a 10% minimum, we would get $7.5 billion to add into the health care delivery system. I would say that is just a minimum.

Therefore it becomes a no win game. When the federal government gives money to the provinces and the provinces give money to the health care delivery systems or institutions, and even the provinces cannot be sure how that money is being spent, what happens anecdotally is we occasionally find a situation where money is going out, which hopefully was to go toward some sort of magnetic resonance system or some other important piece of hospital machinery, for lawnmowers and garden care.

That is precisely the problem. We could save the money. We could reform the health care delivery system. We could do it all without an additional cent of money, if we brought hospitals and health care delivery systems under the Canada Business Corporations Act, where they would be forced to conform to proper standards of corporate governance, and finally under the Access to Information Act, because I suggest that if transparency is good for government, it is also good for those institutions that spend government dollars.

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4:05 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I feel it is a cheap shot when to say that a hospital bought a lawnmower to cut the grass in front of the hospital. What does he want the hospital to look like? Does he want to have hay in front of the hospital and bring in horses and cows to clean it up?

Is it not because the federal government has made cuts and is only paying 14% of the costs of health care? If we had the 50% like we used to have, I would like to see the difference in each province of our country, instead of leaving the burden on the provinces to look after the health care of Canadians.

The federal government has a responsibility, and I believe where the Liberals went wrong was when they made the cuts in 1994. They should stop talking about the lawnmower because we still need that grass to be cut. We are not going to put horses in front of our hospital to eat the grass.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would rather worry about lives than how long the grass is. That aside, the fundamental point here is this. Do not ask for more money. Do not put more money out before knowing how that money is being spent. We cannot see how hospitals and these institutions are spending money. The losses, when we talk about $75 billion, must be enormous. I do not see why any institution in this land should be afraid of transparency and accountability, especially as it will save lives and money at the same time.

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4:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to go a little further than the member who just spoke when he talked about the lawnmowers, the woodworking equipment and so on that had been bought for hospitals. I agree that that is a necessary part of making a hospital presentable and in running it. However, the member did not explain this and I know he knows this. I guess it is the lack of time to go into the detail. However the point that I think we want to make is that came under the special technology fund, where the federal government put somewhere in the order of $250 million to $500 million on new technology.

We are talking about transparency and I fully agree with the member. These programs have to be measured very carefully and there has to be total transparency. However, when a lawnmower qualifies for new technology spending, what does that tell us? It is a no brainer.

I agree fully with the member in terms of transparency. The Auditor General has mentioned the same thing. We will be talking about putting more money into health care, and to his credit Senator Kirby said the same thing, that new money--

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4:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I have to give time to the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot to respond.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for New Brunswick Southwest for correcting the remarks of the New Democratic Party member for the record.

I want to make a point that, when it comes to transparency, we have to bear in mind that the salaries of hospital administrators are huge as well. The chief administrator for Hospital for Sick Children makes $500,000 a year. There is nothing requiring the CEOs, the paid executive staff of the hospitals, to even report the truth to their board of directors. There is this gap of information.

In the end transparency and accountability is the way to go. We should really look at the possibility of extending legislation like the Access to Information Act to institutions like hospitals. They should have nothing to hide. They should be open for public scrutiny and it would save lives.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Bonavista--Trinity--Conception.

First, I want to congratulate the committee led by Senator Michael Kirby and the committee led by former premier, Roy Romanow for all the work that they have be doing over the last year in advancing the debate on this issue, which essentially stamps the character of our country. If there is a defining issue that makes Canada so special, so unique on the world stage, it is our universal health care system. I believe that all of us in this room want to do everything we can to ensure that the universal health care system is enshrined.

A few weeks ago I was talking to one of the doctors in one of the hospitals in my riding in downtown Toronto, the East General Hospital. He was complaining about the lack of MRI equipment and staff. He brought to my attention that in Toronto a dog, a pet, could get access to an MRI machine faster than a person who was in desperate need of an MRI. I am not against pets. I have over 10,000 pet owners in my riding. I totally celebrate and do not want to take anything away from pets or that community. However the priorities in Canada are wrong when pets are on MRI machines before patients, human beings.

We really have to look into all the possibilities that exist to reinvigorate our health care system before we spend another five cents. I agree with the member for Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot. The notion of us just automatically transferring another $5 billion, $6 billion, whatever the number is, without going through the system line by line ensuring that we are operating at our capacity at our maximum potential for efficiencies would be irresponsible. I am definitely against a dedicated tax.

We have missed a lot of opportunities in improving the health care system and improving the efficiencies in the health care system. I would like to bring one specific area to the attention of the House which we talked about four years ago.

A number of us in the House and in all parties chaired a committee on the importance of physical fitness and amateur sport in Canada. We had some of the best doctors in our country appear before us. They brought to our attention that of all the G-7 countries, we were the worst in terms of physical fitness; we were right at the bottom. They said that only 29% of the people in our country spent an average of half an hour on physical fitness in a day. They brought to our attention that if we could move that number from 29% to 39%, a 10% increase, then we could save $5 billion a year in health care costs. That is where we should be looking.

What disturbs me about this specific idea given to us by experts is that we have let four years slip by. We have missed four years. Let us be conservative. If in three of those four years we had fully mobilized the will of the country, we could have saved around $15 billion in our health care system. That would have more than looked after what Senator Kirby has recommended in his committee report.

I personally have a view about just transferring money. I do not know how this $5 billion has been calculated. It seems very strange to me. It is a number that I sometimes find hard to absorb. It seems there is the idea we would just throw more money at it without doing a line by line check not just of efficiencies but also of what are the areas of prevention we could take advantage of.

One idea is in the area of physical activity. That is a savings of $5 billion a year. My goodness, what if we could get to a point where 50% of our nation exercised 30 minutes a day, walked for 30 minutes a day? Just think of the savings. This would all go to our capacity to sustain our universal health care system.

The second point I want to put on the table is also in the area of prevention. In my community in downtown Toronto there are many communities that use alternative therapies such as shiatsu therapy and acupuncture. There are all types of therapies in the area of prevention that could save millions and millions and possibly billions of dollars for our health care system.

There are certifiable statistics showing that 10% of our country's workforce is clinically depressed and only one-quarter of 1% of that 10% is diagnosed. The cost to our health care system of 10% our workforce being clinically depressed is staggering.

We have to get in to the whole realm of prevention. To get prevention exercises moving forward costs money, but it does not cost billions to prick the conscience of Canadians and get them involved in a national exercise when collectively they know they have a responsibility to do their part in order to sustain our health care system.

It would probably cost us about $100 million a year in promotion and mobilization. I would invest $100 million if I thought it could save $5 billion. Experts have given us this advice time and time again in committee. I am sure the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport will deal with this issue in even more detail when he speaks on Wednesday.

I applaud that we are having this debate. I do not like the idea that it is only 14% or 16%. I do not think Canadians really care about that. They want to know that we have come up with an action plan that we can get on with right away. I would like to see a very focused effort in the whole area of prevention.

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4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently to the hon. member's comments.

I am a little disturbed that he said to get on with the plan. I have not seen the plan yet. Canadians have not seen the plan. It would be quite interesting to see what the plan is. The government passed it off to Mr. Romanow for a two year hiatus that Canadians cannot afford.

It seems that the bulk of the member's comments were about preventive health care. If we want to see if someone means what he is saying, then we should find out where his feet are on the issue. The government talks the good talk about preventive health care, but it pulled the rug out from under the Participaction program, as an example. If the government is really serious about prevention and looking after our youth and having a nation that is dealing with preventive health care, then why has it not reinjected the dollars to put that program on its feet again?

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can answer that excellent question in a very specific way. Over the years Participaction has done a fantastic job. It appeared in front of our committee.

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4:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Then why did you pull the money?