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 If it were enforced too strictly and too many funds withdrawn one could not unreasonably expect that there would be some fatalities caused by the over stringent enforcement of the act.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.