House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was research.


Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

An hon. member


Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Such as in New Brunswick.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

An hon. member

In the Gaspé; in the Eastern Townships.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I will not talk about Quebec, I will talk about New Brunswick. We were forced to fight in that province, where bilingualism is officially recognized. We were forced to fight to get services in French in Miramichi, in my province, and I am not proud of that.

Recently, in New Brunswick, in the region of Bathurst, where francophones account for 85% of the population, they decided to make the hospital in Bathurst a bilingual hospital because we believe in our two communities. The government and the residents of that region made that decision while taking provincial jurisdictions into consideration. I salute them. We are talking about human beings, about sick people. How can we not respect that?

That is the way it is. Some provinces are not prepared to do that. The bill tells the federal government “You should be the watchdog in this regard, since there is a national act on bilingualism in Canada. There are two recognized peoples, the francophones and the anglophones”. Many francophones from northern Ontario may get services in French. But those from southern Ontario or northern Manitoba, from Saskatchewan or from British Columbia must also be able to get services in their language. As human beings we have a responsibility.

There are francophones and anglophones in this country who cannot understand those who provide care to them. Is this logical? Is it logical that a patient would get important instructions on his health without understanding them, just because the caregiver cannot speak to him in his language and there is no other option? Is it logical that someone would contact the hospital to get information and not be able to find anyone to speak to him in French or in English?

Efforts are being made in Canada, but it is time for the federal government to do its share to ensure the delivery of health care in French and in English. As I said earlier, efforts have been made in New Brunswick and in Quebec. But I would not even give carte blanche to these two provinces. There is still a lot of work to be done. But the rest of the provinces should also make the same efforts. Imagine what they could accomplish if they did. I do not see why the other provinces should not do the same.

To those who are against this bill, especially to the members in this House who argue that the federal policies are racist, I would be very glad to point out that the bill is for both French-speaking and English-speaking Canadians. It deals with the two languages recognized in Canada.

I want to commend the hon. member for Ottawa Centre for his bill. It is a very important piece of legislation concerning both our official languages. Again, I am sorry that the Canadian Alliance, chose not to take part in this debate.

I would like to find out what they think of Canada's two official languages. It is unfortunate, but it is their decision and I will respect it. But I want Canadians to at least realize that it is as if they do not recognize our official languages. It is important to the people of Prince George, in British Columbia. It is important to the French minorities in Alberta. It is important to the English minority in Rivière-du-Renard and it is important to all Canadians.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I find it rather interesting to be told over and over that my party has chosen not to speak to the bill, since I like to hear debates. I like to hear people's arguments. I like to find out what they have to say. Because I do not have a prepared speech I wanted to hear the points of view of different members before I got up to speak. It was rather unfair of my colleague to say that the Alliance has chosen not to speak just because I did not get up immediately after the member. I think that was an unfair comment.

I would like to make a few comments. We have had some experience recently with the medical system. The issue in the bill before us, as the member who presented it has said, is to make sure that health care is available universally for people in Canada.

My family has had some recent experience with the medical system. I saw my mother suffer for eight hours waiting for health care for a fractured hip. This happened on the day of my dad's funeral. I know where I would put the money for health care. I would make sure that competent staff is available so that health care is available in a timely manner for someone suffering as my mother did. It was distressing for us to leave her in the hospital while we went to my dad's funeral waiting to know what was going to happen. Nobody was able to look after her. After eight hours the hospital finally decided to move her by ambulance over Saskatchewan's roads to the Regina hospital. Very frankly, that caused us more distress than the fact that we were to attend my dad's funeral. I do not think anyone would argue that a viable health care system is high on everyone's priority list. I do not think there is an argument there.

With respect to the availability of healthcare in the provinces, it is very interesting that this member should have this bill. I had a visit from a constituent, a couple of years ago now, who had the misfortune of having a heart attack when he was visiting his relatives in Montreal. He was in the middle of a heart attack and needed health care, but before the hospital would serve him he had to post a bond or give the hospital a cheque. The hospital in Montreal would not accept his Alberta health care card. It was not an issue of language at all. He had to write the hospital a cheque before the hospital would look after him. He came to my office to complain about this. He asked if this was what the Canada Health Act was about and wanted to know what was meant by universality. We checked into it and found that there had been a little glitch in the system.

I support the member when he says that health care should be available. Maybe I should not be throwing out ideas just off the cuff because someone is liable to say it is Canadian Alliance policy. I want to emphasize that it is not. It is a question, though, that we should ask.

There is a massive intrusion by the federal government into our health care system. As my colleague from the Bloc said, the government did it originally by the simple brutal application of its spending power. It was able to tax Canadians. It was able to give money to the provinces for health care. The government originally put 50% into health care and there was hardly a province that could say it would not participate, because that is an awful lot of money. Over time the government has so eroded its health care contributions that some provinces are receiving less than 15%. Less than 15% of their health care costs, in some cases, is derived from the federal government.

Now I am putting out a little feeler. Maybe we should seriously start considering changing our Constitution so that we in fact have a national health care system. Perhaps we should change our Constitution so that the federal government does have a role to play. This would ensure that Canadian citizens, when they go from Alberta to Quebec or from any province to any other province, can present their Canada health care card and receive proper medical service right then and there, no questions asked, instead of having this interprovincial thing.

I also hold the federal government totally responsible for the fact that it has been unable to negotiate between parties, between the provinces, so that there would be a full accession to the universality clause in the Canada Health Act. It has to be there. If we are going to have a Canadian health care system that meets the needs of Canadians, then we had better be able to go anywhere in Canada, present our card and say, “I am entitled to this kind of service”.

I also want to say something with respect to the language part of the bill. In hospitals I have visited, I have observed the need to be able to communicate. That is absolutely critical. In one instance I am thinking of right now, there was a person who spoke neither of Canada's official languages. I would like to say, with great respect for the particular hospital involved, that it bent over backwards to find a person who could interpret from the language of the person into, in this case, English, so that the communication between the doctor and nurses to this individual who could not speak either language was facilitated.

I saw the same thing not long ago at the airport. A person spoke neither English nor French and a member from the Air Canada staff spoke to her in German. I know just enough German to be able to understand that it was German she was speaking, notwithstanding that was my first language. Over the last 40 years, I have lost it.

I would like to say it is true that if one wants to retain a language over time one has to take extraordinary measures. In my family that is very obvious. Our family came to this country not speaking English. Now all my cousins, all their children and mine, and all the grandchildren and everyone are fully unilingual English and almost none of them speak German. We lost that language because we were assimilated into the English language. If one's goal is to maintain the French language, then yes, one must take extraordinary steps to maintain it and that is a whole other debate.

I am very pleased to participate in debate on the bill. I found the debate very interesting and certainly it is an issue that we should pay a great deal of attention to, particularly on delivery of health care services to all Canadians regardless of where they happen to be at the time within our country and irrespective of their ability to pay.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and proud to take part in this debate on two important subjects, those being health care and the equality of the two official languages of Canada.

I will begin my remarks by offering my congratulations and good wishes to my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier. I recognize, as do members of the House, that the member has long been a champion of and a contributor to the defence of minority linguistic rights in Canada.

I say with some humility on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party that we too have always respected the linguistic duality of the country and have a record to back up that assertion.

With respect to my colleague's initiative before the House, I want to note some of his commitments and contributions in the past. As this is a private member's bill, it is clearly the position of our party that in keeping with the best traditions of respecting an issue as important as this, we will be permitting our members to freely vote their conscience and vote freely on behalf of their constituents on this matter. I also want to assure the hon. member that this initiative will be taken very seriously by the Progressive Conservative Party, for the very reasons I have stated.

The Progressive Conservative Party has always taken an interest in issues concerning the official languages. The French fact in Canada is something that has shaped our history, our culture and our future.

Along with the ethnic diversity and our long historic relationship with first nations people, our linguistic duality contributes to the richness of the country and the entire Canadian experience. I would suggest it also contributes to our ability to connect and to associate with the wider world.

Specifically with regard to minority linguistic rights, the Conservative Party of Canada has always sought to defend the minority against the natural intrusions that come about as a part of majority rule.

Under a Conservative government, the linguistic status of New Brunswick was enshrined in the Constitution. Our government provided substantial financial assistance to the province of Manitoba when it was required by the court to translate rulings of all its statutes. There is a history of action on this file.

I am sure Quebeckers in particular will recall the attempts we made through the Meech Lake accord to further protect the rights of linguistic minority communities throughout Canada.

I also want to note that language is very much a determinant of health, which is the pith and substance behind the hon. member's motion.

For instance, according to recent studies, statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests quite clearly that francophone communities in which services are available in French tend to be healthier than communities in which services are only available in English, in one language. That stands to reason for clearly an individual's ability to communicate with the health care provider in a language in which the individual is comfortable is extremely important. That comprehension, that comfort level is extremely important.

I would go further in suggesting it is important for health care response and also the preventive elements of health care. In fact in keeping with some of the Romanow recommendations that are anticipated, there is a greater need to allow health care service providers to help Canadians anticipate and cut off some of the actions, behaviours and health risks in a proactive pre-emptive way.

It stands to reason that whatever minority language, French or English, if a patient is unable to understand and communicate effectively on their very treatment, on their very health, this is something we have to take very seriously and we have to respond to. This is very much the spirit of the bill.

I do not want to undermine that sentiment, I would like to put on the record a few reservations I have about the bill itself. First and foremost, it is fair to say that the atmosphere, the crisis that is facing health care in the country today places it as the number one priority for most Canadians. For those in government at all levels this is what has been dominating the debate. That is in no way to take away from the thrust of the bill. However, I suggest reservedly that there are higher priorities on how we bring about improvements in the health care service.

The federal government already is not doing its fair share when it comes to health care funding. The provinces are strapped for cash and it is inconceivable that the government would impose another condition on the provinces without equally appropriate financial assistance. That is to say given the current state, figures suggest that as little as 18 cents on every dollar that is spent on health care in most provinces comes from the federal government. The rest is carried and picked up by the provinces. To put a system in place, as laudable as it is in this case, that would not be accompanied with sufficient and significant cash increases would further impinge upon the provinces' ability to deliver health care.

I do not want to go off on a partisan jaunt, but we have heard a great deal from the former finance minister about the democratic deficit. At the same time that particular individual likes to claim ownership over having defeated the deficit.

What happened is the deficit was transferred. It was transferred to the provinces and deficits were created in other areas such as health care, the military, and education for students. These are very telling issues when one looks at priority spending and at responsibility and accountability for the status of health care today.

The Progressive Conservative Party has been calling for a sixth principle to be added to the Canada Health Act. This bill in essence calls for the creation of a sixth principle in the Canada Health Act. However, instead of binding provinces further, our sixth principle would in fact bind the federal government to stable funding for health care. Then and only then would I suggest we would be able to add the further principle envisioned by the hon. member's bill.

I believe the hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier has brought forward a very worthwhile proposal, but it has to be viewed in the broader context. It has to be viewed through the lens of the status quo of health care as it exists today. Without stable funding, all of the other principles are meaningless. Creating new principles would simply further act as a drain on those who are tasked with the very serious day to day delivery of health care.

When one examines any social issue at this point in our country's history, that has to be part of the discussion. The current crisis today in health care has to be laid directly at the feet of the federal government because of cuts to transfers. Cuts to transfers in Canada's health and social spending have devastated the health care system and it has whittled away at the status in every province.

I hope that the member at some stage might review his proposal and add an explicit commitment that any movement on this front would be accompanied immediately and automatically by increased funding to accomplish this worthwhile initiative.

I also note that Canadians are still waiting for action from the government on health care. We have heard a great deal about the various reports, the Mazankowski report, the Senate report, the upcoming Romanow report. If we were to speak to any nurse or doctor in any community in this country, they would tell us what is wrong with health care. While a patient has to wait for basic treatment, the government has indulged itself in a dance of all these different studies.

The time for study is over. We must now take action.

Again I strongly urge the member for Ottawa--Vanier to put his issue to the government so that it can consider within the wider context of health reform this very principled, very worthwhile initiative.

On that principle, I recommend that we recognize the practical reality of the other circumstances that affect the consideration of his bill. I am sure the member would agree that a reasonable means test be applied to provinces and communities.

Points of OrderPrivate Members' Business

November 22nd, 2002 / 2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised earlier today by the hon. government House leader concerning the bill introduced by the hon. member for Calgary Southeast. I would like to thank the government House leader for having raised this matter as well as the hon. member for Calgary Southeast for his comments.

The bill proposes an amendment to the Income Tax Act that would have the effect of eliminating from the act an existing exemption from taxation for allowances paid to elected provincial or municipal officials for some expenses that are incidental to the discharge of their duties. The net result of the elimination of these exemptions would be an increase in the level of taxation for affected taxpayers.

As stated in a ruling on October 24, 2002 regarding another private member's bill, a bill of this nature can only be brought before this House if it is preceded by the adoption of a motion of ways and means.

As House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at pages 758-9:

The House must first adopt a Ways and Means motion before a bill which imposes a tax or other charge on the taxpayer can be introduced.... Before taxation legislation can be read a first time, a notice of a Ways and Means motion must first be tabled in the House by a Minister of the Crown--

Furthermore, it goes on at page 898 to state:

With respect to the raising of revenue, a private Member cannot introduce bills which impose taxes. The power to initiate taxation rests solely with the government and any legislation which seeks an increase in taxation must be preceded by a Ways and Means motion.

The bill sponsored by the hon. member for Calgary Southeast seeks to eliminate an existing tax exemption. If adopted, the bill would result in an increase of the tax payable by a certain group of taxpayers. Our practice in these matters is clear.

Since the bill has not been preceded by the necessary ways and means motion, the proceedings this morning are null and void. The Chair therefore rules that the order for second reading of the bill be discharged and the bill withdrawn from the Order Paper.

I thank the hon. government House leader for bringing the matter to the attention of the Chair.

(Order discharged and Bill C-317 withdrawn)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-202, an act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out, even though the government strongly supports the intent and the spirit of Bill C-202, that we have had the health act of Canada since 1984. The government cannot interfere with provincial jurisdictions. This is a responsibility of the provinces. It is so mandated and we cannot interfere. The government, clearly and without question, cannot support the bill.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)