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.