House of Commons Hansard #73 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transportation.


Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Canadian Alliance Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree that trains would help the CO


problem. However there is a major difference between Germany and Canada. For one thing, Germany is not as cold. Second, they are much closer together. Third, there is a lot bigger population.

I have a daughter who lives in Germany and obviously she takes the train everywhere. She does not really need a car. That would be the ideal situation. There is a train every hour to Berlin which she can take.

Here we took the rail lines out and cancelled VIA Rail. We used to have VIA Rail between Edmonton and Calgary and it stopped in Red Deer. Obviously, now with the price of gas, the train would be used but we took out the rail lines. They are not there anymore. That is the problem and that is the problem that I have with transportation not having a long term vision.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member. He referred to $1 billion in his speech and wondered what the government did with it. I think it all went into the firearm act and kind of got wasted.

There is the transportation legislation and bill. There is an agreement with the Canadian Wheat Board and the Liberal government over the fact that it is supposed to contract 50% of the grain that is to be hauled in the next year. The Canadian Wheat Board is trying to renege on that. Our Wheat Board minister is doing absolutely nothing to ensure that the Wheat Board lives up to that agreement. I think he is just saying that it must be run by the farmers.

Should the Wheat Board live up to its agreements? Does he want to comment on the Wheat Board minister still dragging farmers through the courts for exporting their wheat across the border?

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Canadian Alliance Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, first, of course the corruption that occurs in Ottawa, the waste of money, is dramatic. We thought it would be quite bad but it is worse than most of us ever thought, a billion dollars here and a billion dollars there. Obviously that is where the $7 billion collected for transportation went. It is easy to waste it when it is done the way it is here.

As far as the Wheat Board is concerned, it is unanimous that people want a choice in terms of transporting grain. They sure are not very impressed with going to jail for trying to take their grain and market it wherever they can sell it. The Wheat Board is failing totally to move grain out of my area and most of western Canada.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, in light of some of the debate we have heard already today, it will be a truly enjoyable experience speaking to Bill C-26.

We do not often have the opportunity to support legislation with which the government comes forward. I am happy to say at this point in time that we intend to support Bill C-26. We look forward to the bill going to committee where we will have the opportunity to discuss it more thoroughly and ensure that what the government has put in the bill is really upfront with what it suggests it will do. I do want to indicate that and I have indicated that to the minister as well.

The bill is an attempt by the minister to right some of the wrongs that the government has done for the last number of years. I want to emphasize that these wrongs were followed through as a result of bad actions, deregulation overall and the whole idea that a marketplace, capitalistic approach was the only way to go within the transportation industry. I want to emphasize that the Liberal government's agenda was supported wholeheartedly by the Reform party and now the Alliance Party.

My colleague from Red Deer spoke today about understanding the need for differences throughout the country, and I am glad to hear that. In reality that is not the message the Alliance Party has brought to the House time and time again on numerous issues.

New Democrats, and even Canadians who are not New Democrats, do not believe for one second that a marketplace attitude is necessary in every aspect of building a nation. It is certainly not necessary in every aspect of transportation, not if we are going to do things to benefit the entire country and do things to address the different geographical aspects of this nation.

Initially it was just men who had a vision for Canada and they realized that as part of that vision they had to recognize the different geography of Canada and the differences in the provinces. They realized that some commitments had to be made as a whole to benefit all regions of Canada.

The rail line that brought our nation together was done with one area putting a little more out than another because it was nation building. We have to look at things differently with regard to transportation, if we are to meet the needs of a country from coast to coast to coast.

I will use Nunavut, the territories and Yukon as a major thrust of this because they do not have the road system that the rest of the country has because they are newly developed areas of Canada. As a nation, are we going to tell Nunavut and the territories that they have to pay for it all themselves because the Government of Canada believes that the transportation system of tomorrow should remain largely market driven where the government sets a competitive framework and intervenes only as a last resort? In spite of that, I suggest that we support the legislation at this time and deal with some of the issues in committee.

However the government is still saying that a marketplace economy is the only thing it will look at. I suggest that cannot be done in a nation such as Canada because there are certain areas of Canada that cannot offset those costs. We cannot just deal with the issues of marketplace and making profits.

To my colleagues from the Alliance, from the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, farmers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are dealing with issues right now with regard to the additional cost for trucking their grain and other farm products as a result of rail lines being taken out. I hope farmers and people in rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba are listening. The issues and hardships they are dealing with are a direct result of the Alliance Party and the Reform party pushing for a market driven economy. There is no question that they are a direct result of the Alliance pushing and the Liberals saying “We are going to do what they want because this is really a right wing agenda and it is what we want to do anyway”.

In the history of the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, people worked together. People did that in rural communities. They had to work together for the benefit of each other. In the early years people got together to build homes and farms. They helped each other out when there was a disaster. If someone could not get his crops in on time and another person was done, they rallied together to do the job.

The promotion that has come out of the Reform and Alliance Party is if it is more costly for farmers to get grain from White Fox, Saskatchewan, they will have to pay more than the farmer right along the American border. We do not want that one farmer along the border to get less profit because he is that much closer to maybe shipping it across the border. We work together in a co-operative spirit to ensure fair marketing for everyone. That was what we did as communities.

The reason I mention that is because my colleague from Red Deer talked like he believed it when he talked about transportation policy. It is necessary to recognize there are some differences in different communities, We are not going to be able to have a profitable line that runs from Montreal to Toronto or to Ottawa. We have to recognize there is greater opportunity for profit in those areas and we will have to offset that somewhere else. I agree with that. I just quite frankly do not agree that we should be building a transportation system within our country based upon profit alone. That service should be there for all Canadians.

In my five years here in Ottawa, time and time again we have dealt with the crisis in the airline industry, a crisis that was that much worse because we had a situation where companies were out strictly to make a profit. There were threats of anti-competitive actions. They were out strictly to make a profit with no consideration of providing service to the smaller communities, to smaller regions on the east coast and the smaller regions of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. As a result, we had this action where we want to make a profit, be the biggest and have everything. We lost one major airline in this country. The others are at major risk. Then when another crisis happens, it is just that much worse because everything is being done purely because we think there should be a marketplace approach.

That is wrong for any nation that has any kind of a vision to provide services. I believe the entire country, every business and every person living in a community, benefits from an officially run transportation service and one that is there providing service throughout. I do not think every person who hits the airport should have to pay an additional fee as an airport improvement fee. I do not believe everyone who drives on a road should have to pay a toll charge. Even though others are not on that road or in that airport, they benefit from access to those services and by others having access to those services. Whether that means other business people can come in and work in their community or sell their products in their community, we all benefit, and that is what it is about.

I mentioned that I support this bill and I want to talk about a couple of the key points in the bill. There is no way I can get into all of it. It is an omnibus bill and it deals with a lot of issues. I do not agree with everything in the bill but I believe this is an attempt by the minister to right some of the damaging wrongs that have happened in the past, and I am acknowledge that.

One key issue mentioned in the bill, as my colleague from Hochelaga--Maisonneuve previously mentioned, is the issue of train noise. It has been an ongoing thing that I dealt with as our transportation critic. My colleague from Vancouver East has had numerous related issues in her riding regarding train noise. There was absolutely no recourse for anyone. Can members imagine having something in place where the noise creates such a problem for the residents around an area but there is absolutely no recourse, no type of mediation process or anything that can be done with the rail lines to address the problem for those citizens who have a problem with it?

The bill actually looks at addressing that, to the point where it indicates that there will be a mediation process as well, that the CTA will be given some teeth to deal with it. That is an absolute plus. It might seem like nothing to most people. For the people who do not live by the rail line it is no big deal, but it has been a major issue in many parts of the country and I was pleased to see it addressed.

My colleagues from the Alliance talk about VIA Rail being made a crown corporation. The bottom line is that the process for VIA Rail would be to have it operate as a crown corporation to give it the opportunity, as that corporation, to borrow money from alternative sources, so that we can put in place a much better passenger rail system in Canada, so that we can meet the needs of Saint John, New Brunswick, and so that we can continue to meet the needs of the line going up to Churchill where there is no other mode of land transportation. In Manitoba, from Thompson to Churchill there is no other land transportation for people, and for some other smaller communities as well. VIA Rail has provided that service, sometimes in conjunction with other rail lines. It has provided that service and we need to ensure that this service is maintained.

I think VIA does need to be given that opportunity. Quite frankly, my concern on the issue of VIA Rail was the point made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services when she said that we are not looking to privatize VIA Rail yet. I will actually pull up her comments, because it was pretty clear that there was sort of this intent to privatize VIA Rail. I have a serious problem with that. Even private rail lines in other parts of the world have had to get government support. There is not a single passenger rail service in the world, not one in the entire world, that does not operate without government support. We can mickey mouse around with it and hide the support, whether it ends up as giving them the money for the infrastructure or some grants to do something, but the bottom line is that they do not operate without government support.

I would much rather that we not put our passenger rail service in the same type of situation as our airline service because somehow there is this push that we have to privatize it. What would I like to see? I want to see high speed rail between the densely populated areas in Quebec and Ontario. I think Canadians should be supporting that kind of approach, because it is beneficial for the entire country. We would be getting a lot of cars off the roads and giving people the opportunity to travel where they do not have to be involved, not just because of the CO


emissions, which is highly important, but it also would give them the opportunity to not have the stress of travelling on some of those congested highways. Again it is crucially important that we support our entire country.

Quite frankly, as for me benefiting from the number of times I am going to hop on that rail service, I do not see it as a big thing, but it certainly would be extremely beneficial for the people in Quebec and Ontario. I suggest that it would give the opportunity to people from the east coast, should we improve that rail service again, to also be part of that. Once again we would be working to join our country together and make rail a much more efficient system.

As a last note, as I have a smidgen of time left, so in line with a doublespeak sort of approach by the government, there is this situation. As we talk about improving rail service and the need to get trucks and cars off the roads so that we do not have to put more money into highway infrastructure, or at least keep the costs down, we have a situation in Windsor where there actually is a rail tunnel. The municipality, from what I understand, wanted to improve that system. They wanted to improve the use of the tunnel and support that process. That was the municipality's approach to it. Then we had three Conservative bureaucrats from transportation in the Province of Ontario get together with three federal government bureaucrats and they decided they would pull out that tunnel, that they would not keep that rail tunnel. This is their approach. They are going to pull out that tunnel from the absolutely busiest trade corridor in Canada. They are going to take away the rail tunnel and stuff things back up on the roads.

What is wrong with that approach? It is that kind of hypocritical attitude and approach that has everyone wondering where we are really going. This is why I say I support the bill before us, but I certainly want to be actively involved in our committee process to make sure that what is there is accurate.

We have to stay on the government on an ongoing basis to make sure it is not getting away with some of this. I do not know what to call it. The government talks about improving rail service and getting cars and trucks off the roads, but on the busiest trade corridor it is going to pull out the rail and the tunnel. What can we call that? Quite frankly I call it absolute stupidity and I am sure there are other words for it as well. It is absolute foolishness, especially when the municipality was looking at enhancing that rail service, which is what we should be doing. The federal government should be supporting municipalities with additional funds to keep as much cargo as possible on the rail lines and off the roads.

The other point I will make is about the vision for transportation. “Straight Ahead” was the Department of Transport's title for their new vision on transportation. My thought was straight ahead and over the cliff, because we got this vision and then we had a federal budget with no money, not near enough money, to even look at implementing any kind of vision for transportation within Canada.

I think we will all agree with my colleague from the Alliance, who said that there absolutely has to be a long term strategy. Certainly I will. There cannot be a strategy for transportation policy in any aspect of the transportation sector or infrastructure in a country such as Canada without having a long term vision. I am not talking from budget to budget or even from one federal government to the next. If Canada as a country does not have a strategy that stretches over at least 10 to 20 years, we will be doomed to be fighting crisis after crisis within the transportation industry.

I am looking forward to seeing this legislation before the committee. I look forward to having more discussion on it, and I look forward to questions.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, being a Manitoba member of Parliament I am quite familiar with the politics of the member for Churchill. I will make one observation. When the Government of Canada owned Canadian National Railway, it became the most inefficient railway. It had the highest costs. It was bankrupting the country. In fact, it dragged the private company CP Rail down with it. It was privatized and CN Rail became the most dynamic railway in all of North America.

My question is in regard to the politics of this. The NDP seems to say that the Canadian Alliance is in a big battle with it, and we are, but let us look at the NDP as if it were in government. In fact, the NDP is the government of Manitoba.

This member is quite familiar with the Winnipeg Beach area, where there is a rail line that runs from Winnipeg to Gimli. Farmers use it for producer cars. The distillery uses it for hauling grain, corn and liquor. Tourists also use it.

That rail line is being abandoned. A private company is willing to take it over and run it but cannot because the NDP has legislation that makes it uneconomical for that private company to take it over.

The member for Churchill might ask what that legislation is. It is successors' rights legislation, which the NDP government refuses to give an exemption for. I would like the member to explain again how great an NDP government would be for private rail service when in fact the NDP government is showing by its actions that it will ruin the rail line in my area.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to answer as someone who comes out of the labour movement and totally supports successors' rights and recognizes that even the WTO has acknowledged that unions result in far better conditions within a country because they improve the wages people make. They improve the economic opportunities for small and medium sized businesses as a result of unionized wages. Quite frankly, within the province of Manitoba private firms operate very efficiently with unions in place.

Even with successors' rights in the province of Manitoba, for those who do not know, if a company takes over it will reach a point where it can renegotiate. Very few unions, if any, will not recognize and deal with it if a company is truly in economic hardship, very few. We see it right now with Air Canada employees looking at doing something differently. The CAW employees are recognizing that there is a struggle in the airline industry. They are looking to address it, possibly through wage concessions or in some other area. They know their jobs are on the line.

For the Alliance to suggest that successors' rights for unions is an issue as to why a private company cannot survive is just pure and simple hogwash.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Paul Bonwick Liberal Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask if you might seek unanimous consent of the House to support merchant navy veterans in the form of my private member's bill, which is an act to establish merchant navy veterans day. I would ask that the House unanimously support the bill at second reading and in turn send it to committee at the next available sitting day.

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Transportation Amendment ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from February 11, 2003, consideration of the motion that Bill C-202, An Act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality), be now read a second time and referred to committee.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Eugène Bellemare Liberal Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in this extremely important debate on respecting Canada's linguistic duality in health care.

Many hon. colleagues have spoken, and opinions vary. My colleague, the hon. member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, talked about what Bill C-202 means to Manitobans. I would like to talk about the implications of this legislation for Franco-Ontarians.

The community I represent is very familiar with the debate on linguistic rights and health care. I would even say they are all too familiar with it. Most of my hon. colleagues know that Franco-Ontarians have had to fight tooth and nail over the past six years to assert their rights in health care. I am talking, naturally, about Montfort.

We learned a lot during the Montfort saga. I can only hope that the memory of this fight will force us to recognize the importance of Bill C-202. We cannot take our linguistic rights for granted: we must constantly defend them. We must be vigilant. We must add the sixth principle, to respect linguistic duality, to the Canada Health Act.

I want to repeat the chronology of events in the Montfort saga to illustrate the importance of learning from the past.

Six years ago, in February 1997, the Ontario Health Services Restructuring Commission announced the closure of the Montfort Hospital, Ontario's only French language university hospital. Imagine the impact of that decision on the francophone community: no more hospital for francophones; no more on-the-job training for our health care professionals. From now on, everything would be done in English, would be translated, or would be done elsewhere than in Ottawa. This was a disastrous decision for our community.

Fortunately, the Franco-Ontarian community was quick to react. On March 22, 1997, one month after the commission's decision, that community rallied and unanimously asked the commission to reverse its decision. More than 10,000 people attended the rally to make their views known. The S.O.S. Montfort campaign had been launched just a few weeks earlier, but it was going full steam ahead with its slogan “Montfort, fermé: Jamais!”.

Later that year, the commission reversed its decision, but it did not do so in good faith. According to the new decision, Montfort would remain open, but several of its essential services, including emergency and special services, would be eliminated. This was, of course, unacceptable. Discussions continued for a year, without success. Finally, in August 1998, the community, represented by S.O.S. Montfort, went to court to plead its case.

Like every other Franco-Ontarian, I was glad to hear, in November 1999, that the courts had ruled in favour of Montfort. The Divisional Court of Ontario recognized that the closure of the Montfort hospital was unconstitutional. It was our first victory. I call it our “first” victory, because the Government of Ontario did not agree with the ruling and appealed it. Imagine. Ontario appealed the ruling. The community had to take up the fight again.

The Franco-Ontarian community persevered. There were great disappointments and memorable victories. It kept asserting its rights and was finally successful. On December 7, 2001, the Court of Appeal for Ontario confirmed the ruling handed down in November 1999.

Two months later, the Ontario government announced that it would not appeal that ruling. The Montfort hospital would not close its doors. Franco-Ontarians would maintain their right to health services in the official language of their choice.

The fight to keep Montfort has been long and hard. Let us keep that in mind. Why do we need to fight such battles to protect a right enshrined in the Constitution of our country, in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

There is one lesson to be learned from the battle over Montfort. We cannot rely on the government's good intentions. We need guarantees enshrined in the law of the land. As parliamentarians, we have to protect our official language communities. We need to add a sixth principle to the Canada Health Act, that of respecting Canada's linguistic duality in the delivery of health care services.

Let us vote in favour of Bill C-202.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-202.

I would like to begin by making a brief mention of my colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier, the man behind this bill. He is a man of good will and great intelligence, a real spokesperson, who has distinguished himself in his battles for the Franco-Ontarian minority community to which he belongs. I have a great deal of respect for him as a spokesperson for his community.

I am therefore sorry that I must oppose this bill. I will explain why I am opposed.

Let me start by reviewing the bill's provisions. It would add linguistic duality as a sixth provision of the Canada Health Act. There are currently five provisions in the Canada Health Act which the act states must be provided in provincial health services in order to receive federal funding. Those provisions are: portability, universality, accessibility, comprehensiveness and public administration. If any of those provisions are not followed then the result is that the federal government is supposed to, under the provisions of the Canada Health Act, withhold funding from provincial health spending. That means that the Canada Health Act can only be enforced by reducing the amount of money available for health care in this country.

That is a very blunt instrument for ensuring better health care. It means that the Canada Health Act ought to be used, and not be enforced through the reduction of funds, only in the most severe cases where some practice is so outrageous in its restriction on the health care rights of Canadians that it would result in a genuine loss of health care benefits. Otherwise, the enforcement itself would result in lesser qualities of health care, longer waiting lists and, in general, poorer health indeed. If it were enforced too strictly and too many funds withdrawn one could not unreasonably expect that there would be some fatalities caused by the over stringent enforcement of the act. Therefore, we must be extraordinarily cautious how we apply this law and how we consider rewriting the law.

The bill provides for some things that seem completely unobjectionable. I will read one of the parts of the law and it would be hard for anybody to object to this in principle. The proposed bill states:

12.1(b) the provincial health insurance plan shall offer insured health services in the language spoken by the members of the anglophone or francophone minority of the province, taking into account the organization of human, material and financial resources of the province's facilities that offer such services and, where applicable, in accordance with any program ensuring access...

That does not seem unreasonable. However, in the case of a piece of legislation like this it is necessary to take a step back and ask why is it only francophone and anglophone minorities that would get this kind of protection?

Let us think very carefully. In this place we have the right to speak either English or French and to have translation provided and documents provided for us because we represent the two largest language groups of the country, and the two languages that have always been in use in this country.

However, when we are talking about a life and death service we must take a somewhat different attitude. If we do find, as we do indeed, in parts of this country that there are large numbers of people who speak some other language and are really not capable of speaking either French or English, it seems reasonable to try to provide those life and death services, emergency medical services for example, in their language.

My colleague from Surrey Central made this point quite eloquently when he spoke of his own constituency, which has the largest Indo-Canadian community in the country. He pointed out that there are 35,000 people in Surrey Central for whom Punjabi is the mother tongue and 18,700 people in his constituency who use Punjabi as their home language. Many of those people would be fluently bilingual in English, but many would not. Something similar is true in Toronto for the large Chinese community, for the Chinese community in Vancouver, and one could go on and point out a number of other very substantial language groups.

There is a precedent here. In the court system there is a common law right that if individuals are involved in a court case either as plaintiffs or defendants and are incapable of speaking the language, translation services will be provided so that the goings on would not be a mystery. And that applies not merely to English and French speakers but also to speakers of any other language.

Something similar ought to be provided where possible. When people come to a hospital for emergency services, they are frequently not in the best mental state. They are often stressed out. These are often not the conditions that would cause persons who are struggling to know either of Canada's official languages to be able to speak and convey clearly what their problems are and indeed to understand the information provided by service providers who do not have the capacity to speak their language.

That is one reason I think this is not a good piece of legislation for us to propose.

The other reason relates directly to what my hon. colleague from Ottawa--Orléans was saying in his comments. He talked specifically about the Montfort Hospital and how this relates to the Montfort Hospital. I listened with interest as someone who is a former patient of the Montfort Hospital. A few years back I was there for an operation. I was very satisfied with the service I received.

I think this piece of legislation deals very specifically with the case of the Montfort Hospital. Probably there are two or three other hospitals in Canada where this might apply. I am thinking of the hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and perhaps a couple in northern New Brunswick. What relates to these hospitals particularly is the following part of the proposed law, which I will read:

As soon as possible, the province--

--the provinces that are bound by this law--

--shall take action to ensure that the management of any facility in the province that offers insured health services is placed entirely in the hands of members of the province's anglophone or francophone minority, where the number of users from the anglophone or francophone minority is sufficient to warrant that action.

To be honest, I simply cannot see the value of this. The point of health care is to provide good health care. The point of placing someone in the role of being an administrator of health care services is to find the person most capable of providing those services, regardless of the community to which they belong and simply using merit as the principle.

I would not want to see, and unfortunately because of the way the Canada Health Act is written this inevitably would happen if it were added to the law, a situation in which the federal government would be forced, if it were to comply with the Canada Health Act, to enforce this provision of the law by withholding funds from the provinces because the administrators at various hospitals who had been appointed by the provinces were not people of the appropriate linguistic or ethnic group. That would be a very unwise thing to place in our law, given the nature of the Canada Health Act and the way it is administered. That is a very substantial problem with the law.

I want to say something else in relation to the whole question of conditions under the Canada Health Act. Perhaps we took a wrong turn when we put the five conditions in the Canada Health Act the way we did.

There is really one fundamental condition that ought to apply under the Canada Health Act. That is if the federal government is to provide money and it attaches conditions, the one condition ought to be simply that no Canadian can be deprived of quality services at an equal level to those provided by our public system to all other Canadians due to inability to pay and, I think the point has been quite well made by my hon. colleague, due to an inability to speak the relevant language of the provincial majority. I would say if one is to include that secondary right regarding languages, that right ought to include those individuals who cannot speak the majority language of the province or the other official language.

Delayed health care is health care denied. Health care that cannot be delivered due to a lack of capacity to communicate is also health care denied. That applies not merely to francophones and anglophones, but to all Canadians regardless of their linguistic background.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-202, introduced by my colleague, the member for Ottawa—Vanier. I congratulate him on his initiative.

The purpose of his bill is to amend the Canada Health Act in order to take linguistic duality into account. It would mean that the provinces would, as soon as possible, in cooperation with the facilities of the province that offer health services, develop a program ensuring access to health services for members of the province's anglophone or francophone minority and, in so doing, take account of the human, material and financial resources of each facility and the social, cultural and linguistic characteristics of the members of the public served by the facility.

The result would be that this would be placed entirely in the hands of members of the province's anglophone or francophone minority.

Like those of my colleagues who have spoken in the House on this bill, I acknowledge that the principle being pursued by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier is a laudable one. The means he is using to achieve that principle, however, are not necessarily either desirable or optimal.

I do not believe that a Canadian law relating to health, an area of provincial jurisdiction, is going to go over very well with the people of Quebec.

In Quebec, we took a different approach, by passing bill 142 in 1986, which guarantees access to health care services in English throughout Quebec. Initiatives have already been taken in Quebec, and they have worked.

Like my colleagues, the members for Repentigny and Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, I do not believe that this country is bilingual, nor do I think that it can be. The efforts that have been made to make it bilingual have not produced the desired results. I would like to point out that only Quebec and New Brunswick have passed legislation on bilingualism and have demonstrated any real will to provide bilingual services to their residents.

Even though members here have been critical, at times, of bilingualism in Quebec, I believe that Quebec is ahead in this area and that it has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate that it is very open when it comes to applying its laws.

While the principle may be laudable, this is not, as we see it, the right way to achieve the objective.

Also, the Canada Health Act, passed in 1984, was another example of interference by the federal government in an area of provincial jurisdiction. We will never accept any further intrusions into provincial jurisdiction.

Let us not forget that the Canada Health Act was passed at the very end of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's regime. Even though all of the federal political parties supported it, all of the provinces were against it. This new legislation would again encroach on provincial areas of responsibility.

I understand that the purpose is to provide French services for francophones living in minority communities. However, amending the Canada Health Act by making payment of the full cash contribution under the Canada Health and Social Transfer conditional, is not the solution. It is akin to blackmail.

It could have the effect of delaying or compromising care provided in different institutions, either in Quebec or in the provinces. It seems to me that all of the provinces should respect the principle of linguistic duality.

If negotiations and exchanges were proposed instead, which could be accepted by the federal government and the provinces, then we would be more inclined to support them over provisions contained in a federal act.

Personally, I recognize the provinces' right to determine how health care services will be delivered to their residents. I do not think that amending a federal statute, which would apply from coast to coast, will help us reach that goal.

Health care is a very complex sector that is facing significant cost increases with regard to the delivery of services, especially those related to the aging population.

Since it is specified in the bill that the province “shall take account of thehuman, material and financial resources”, it is very possible that such amendment would never be implemented because there would be no financial resources available.

The member for Ottawa—Vanier knows how important the promotion of the French language is to me, but I am not sympathetic to his fight for linguistic duality as represented by his proposed amendment to the Canada Health Act.

Therefore, I must tell him that the Bloc Quebecois will not support this bill mainly because it would mean allowing further federal intrusion into provincial jurisdictions. It is very difficult to talk about health and bilingualism in political terms but we often have no choice but to face that reality.

In conclusion, I congratulate the member for Ottawa—Vanier on his fight for bilingualism and I invite him to find other avenues than further intrusion in provincial jurisdictions to achieve that objective.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for having introduced this bill.

I want to inform the House that the New Democratic Party will support this bill.

The proposal in the bill is quite simple. It is to bring in an amendment to the Canada Health Act to introduce a new principle, which is the right to be served in this bilingual country in the language with which one is most comfortable and most conveniently able to communicate.

There are only three parts to the bill. It is a directive that where there are sufficient resources, facilities be available in both the official languages; that where there are sufficient resources, all health services be available in both official languages; and where the community is primarily anglophone or francophone, that the control at the local level of the facilities and health services be in the hands of that community.

We almost have to stop and think about why we even have to do this. Do we not already have this right in Canada. The answer, obviously, because this bill is before this House, recognizes that we do not as a right have the ability to go into a hospital and use either of the official languages. We do not have the right to go into other health care facilities a and use both of the official languages. That is the reality.

I want to make one particular point about the question of control and if the community is sufficiently of either anglophone or francophone constitution, that the board of the hospital or facility would reflect that community.

Just in the last month in my community in Windsor the board of directors of one of the hospitals have taken it upon themselves to finally engage in an active campaign to get members of the francophone community represented on that board of directors. The merged hospital has a history that is close to 100 years. For the first time, at the start of this century, they are actively trying to engage the francophone community, which is reasonably sizeable in the city and county around Windsor.

One cannot help but think that this type of legislation would say to other people who run hospitals that is something they would have to do on an ongoing basis and much more extensively than they have in the past.

There has been some suggestion that somehow this amendment to the Canada Health Act would lessen the quality of services. I am sure my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier does not intend that nor do I think there is any logical way that one could interpret that consequence from these amendments.

I would argue that by the very fact that we are a bilingual country, that we have large populations who speak both of the official languages, that we have large populations who speak both official languages who do not have available medical services in their official languages, that the quality of services are much more impacted by that reality.

My background is as a civil litigation lawyer. I did a lot of personal injury work. I know how important it is for people giving medical services to communicate as perfectly as possible with their patients so that the best diagnosis and the best treatment can be rendered.

Obviously if people speak one official language that is not available in that hospital or medical service area and they are trying to communicate in the other, they will not be able to do it nearly as effectively. That is simply a reality.

The quality of service argument is a red herring and, in fact, just the opposite would be true; the quality of service in the country overall would be heightened by having both official languages available to all citizens of the country.

I would like to make one other point and that is that within an historical context is it not time that we do this? Look at what we have done in providing services in other areas. We are entitled to be educated in one of the two official languages. We are entitled to have our legal services, both criminal and civil, available to us in our courts. We are entitled as members of the House to speak both languages. Is it not logical that the next step in that road to provide full services would be in the medical area?

The bill is not a complicated bill. It is quite straightforward in terms of an amendment to the act. I think even more important, it is time that we take this step forward.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Madawaska—Restigouche New Brunswick


Jeannot Castonguay LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the goals of Bill C-202, which was introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.

The bill clearly stems from a concern for the future of linguistic minorities in Canada. I want members to know that the federal government shares this concern in every respect and supports official-language minority communities.

On March 12, 2003, and as a result of the commitment it made, in particular in the September 2002 throne speech, the federal government tabled its action plan on official languages, a concrete measure on behalf of official language minority communities.

The Prime Minister and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs have announced the new Official Languages Action Plan, which I shall refer to as the action plan in this speech.

This action plan includes a $119 million plus investment in health care, to implement positive steps such as the retraining and retention initiative for health professionals and a community networking initiative designed to improve access to services provided to minority communities in both official languages.

In addition, Health Canada reallocated a total of $30 million from its Primary Health Care Transition Fund to improve access to services for official language minority communities.

The government strongly supports linguistic duality in Canada and the action plan clearly shows its commitment for the future.

The plan includes an accountability framework setting out how the commitments and obligations under the Official Languages Act are to be met.

The government is clearly committed to meeting its responsibilities, in addition to defining mechanisms for coordinating the policy and the new measures included in the action plan, meaning that Health Canada and official language minority communities will have real means of improving access to health care services.

Improving access to health care for official language minority communities and ensuring their viability are major priorities for Health Canada.

Health Canada's commitment is clear and has been demonstrated in many ways already, namely:

by funding various projects within these communities on its own initiative or in partnership with Canadian Heritage;

by funding the “Santé en français” forum in Moncton in November 2001, during which the francophone advisory committee made its report public;

and, finally, by funding various projects within these communities, on its own initiative or in partnership with Canadian Heritage. More than $13.6 million has been allocated to official language minority communities over the past three years. This funding, taken from existing programs, was a response to requests made by the communities.

The action plan on official languages will help support the development of French and English language minority communities and will make health care services more accessible to them in their official language.

The action plan is proof of the federal government's support for official language minority communities. This action plan respects provincial and territorial jurisdictions and requires these governments to contribute to improving access to health services for official language minority communities in their own language.

As members know, under the Canadian Constitution health is primarily the responsibility of the provinces and territories.

In other words, the provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the development and delivery of health services to Canadians.

This means that provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the planning and management of their own health care systems.

As for the federal government, it is committed, through the Canada Health Act and the action plan on official languages, to promoting and protecting the health of all Canadians.

I remind everyone that we must never forget that the Government of Canada cannot get directly involved in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction. Nor should it infringe on provincial and territorial jurisdictions.

The federal government cannot and must not act unilaterally in a shared provincial jurisdiction. Any decision to broaden the scope of the Canada Health Act requires extensive consultations with the provinces, and the agreement of all governments.

In Canada, there is a long-standing tradition of partnership and cooperation between the federal, provincial and territorial governments in the health sector.

We continue to work with the provinces and territories to ensure that Canadians have access to health services in both official languages. In fact, the action plan on official languages helps make health services in their own language more accessible for francophones and anglophones in minority communities.

The action plan's accountability framework is the concrete expression of our commitment to these linguistic communities, and it ensures that Health Canada will fulfill its responsibilities to improve access to health care services for official language minority communities.

In order to reaffirm the government's commitment, I move, seconded by the hon. member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, the following amendment:

That Bill C-202, an act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality) be not now read a second time but that the Order be discharged, the bill withdrawn and the subject matter of the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Official Languages to report back to the House on or before October 31, 2003.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion receivable. Resuming debate on the amendment.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

York South—Weston Ontario


Alan Tonks LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties, as well as with the member for Ottawa--Vanier, concerning the taking of the division on Bill C-202 scheduled at the conclusion of private members' business later this day and I believe you would find consent that at the conclusion of today's debate on Bill C-202, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion for second reading of the said bill be deemed put, a recorded division requested and deferred to Thursday, March 20 at the end of government orders.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is it agreed?

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to understand clearly what is happening right now. If a recorded division were required, it would be held tomorrow, but if this evening the House were to decide to adopt the motion, on division, it would be fine? I want to make sure I understand.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

At the conclusion of the hour set aside for debate, in accordance with the hon. parliamentary secretary's motion, and as agreed, the question shall be deemed to have been put and the division deferred to the end of the time provided for government orders, tomorrow evening.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a few very brief comments, in support of the bill introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier. I want to congratulate him on this.

I had formally supported this bill. This legislation highlights the importance of respecting Canada's linguistic duality. This fundamental principle must be respected in all sectors of our society. Of course, one of the most important sectors is health care. Access to hospital services and health care is essential.

I know that the committee will consider how to implement this fundamental principle. I would simply like to say that I will be voting in favour of this bill. I know that my colleague, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, already spoke on behalf of our caucus. He has fought his entire life to ensure that minority language rights in New Brunswick and elsewhere in Canada are respected.

I am very proud to share with the hon. members of this House the news that my hon. colleague will become a member of the Ordre de la Pléiade in a few weeks. I can also see my colleague, the hon. member for Repentigny, who is being awarded the same honour. So, on behalf of all my colleagues, we congratulate these members for their commitment to minority language rights in Canada.

I would like to make one final point on the general subject. I strongly support the principle of the bill and I am pleased it is going to committee. However I want to highlight one other issue and that is in the context of access to health services. I want to acknowledge and underscore the fact that there are huge demographic changes which are taking place in Canada.

I represent the community of Burnaby on the west coast of Canada and there is a major linguistic minority there who speak Cantonese and Mandarin and who still too often do not have access to hospital services. I want to take the opportunity of this debate not only to reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental principle of linguistic duality, anglais et français, but also to appeal to my colleagues in the government to recognize that it is essential that the federal government show leadership in places like Toronto, Vancouver and other centres and ensure that where there are significant linguistic minorities who speak languages such as Cantonese, Mandarin, or other languages in which they need access to health services, that they too will have access to those services.

I support this bill.

Canada Health ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find unanimous consent that the motion by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health be agreed to, on division, this very evening.