Madam Chair, I want to start out with a few facts on hepatitis C. They are very basic, but they describe what the affliction is and how many people are afflicted and some of the details we sometimes gloss over, assuming that everyone back home understands exactly what we are talking about.
Hepatitis C is a potentially fatal liver disease caused by a blood-borne virus. At present there is no vaccine against hepatitis C, nor is there a cure for the disease. I think that is important to emphasize, that there is no cure for hepatitis C.
In the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of Canadians contracted hepatitis C through tainted blood. One of the points I want to emphasize is that they contracted hepatitis C through tainted blood through no fault of their own. That is what I have to emphasize: through no fault of their own.
After Justice Krever did his inquiry, which was about a four-year inquiry into the tainted blood scandal and Canada's blood system, Justice Horace Krever recommended financial compensation for all victims of tainted blood. This is what Justice Krever said, and I am quoting from his report: “Compensating some needy sufferers and not others cannot, in my opinion, be justified.”
That is what this debate is all about tonight. The government had the opportunity back then to do the right thing, and they chose not to.
I want to emphasize the artificial dates the government put on their compensation package. The government said it would compensate some and not others. This is almost unbelievable, but this is what the Liberal government did at the time. They chose to compensate only those who contracted hepatitis C between 1986 and 1990.
If we think about those dates, as I know many members in this House and some people in the gallery are tonight, they really do not mean a lot, do they, unless a person happened to be one of those victims that fall outside of that artificial date line put on by the Government of Canada.
If we are talking 1986 to 1990, there were people who contracted hepatitis C on say December 31, 1985, and they were left outside the package. One day later--and this is an awful word to use and probably not the appropriate word--if you were fortunate enough to have contracted the disease one day later, on January 1, 1986, you would have been compensated. Fortunate is not the word, but I guess fortunate would be the word in terms of compensation.
So from the very get-go, there was something wrong with that formula. It would be between 1986 and 1990. Then if you had contracted hepatitis C on January 1, 1991, one day past the deadline, you were out of luck. What kind of a program and what kind of a compensation plan is that?
That is what Krever recommended in his report. After a four-year intensive study from coast to coast, speaking to all the experts, he is saying that compensating some and not all would be the wrong thing to do. Yet that is exactly what the government did do.
The member for Burlington talks about if we knew then what we know now we could have maybe done something different. Those are the questions that we asked on this side of the House at that time, with facts to back up our position. The hepatitis C people, Mike McCarthy and others--and there is a long list of them who came to the House to meet with us and with government officials as well--pointed out that those numbers the government is using in terms of those who were affected are completely wrong.
They are saying that the money they put aside for the victims would be enough to compensate all victims. We knew that then. We know it now. The government knew it then. Yet they chose not to do it.
I guess the question would be why? This was a pretty heated debate, and there are a few of us in the Chamber tonight who were here at the time. It's not as if we're the only ones who care. I do not want to be portrayed as the only member or the only party, because I think everyone in the House genuinely agreed that something fair had to be done. Why the government took that particular position we will never know. Maybe part of it was old fashioned political stubbornness: you make a decision and stick with it and damn the torpedos.
Anyway, I was the first member of Parliament in the House of Commons to bring this up in question period, after Krever released his report. I remember the day Krever released his report going over and doing a thing on the other side of the street at the National Press Club and so on. We quickly arrived at the conclusion that the government was wrong and that Krever was right and that all victims should have been compensated. It is not about who was first on board and who was second and who was third, but basically the opposition in the House of Commons drove that issue hard, day in and day out, here on the floor of the House.
I will read the motion that came to the floor of the House back on April 28, 1998. The opposition motion was defeated in the House by a vote of 155 to 40. The opposition motion read as follows:
That this House urges the government to act on the recommendation of Justice Horace Krever to compensate all victims who contracted Hepatitis C from tainted blood.
That was the motion, and the government voted it down. There is no question, sitting where we sit over here and watching government members, there were an awful lot, despite what the member for Burlington says, who really were not comfortable in voting against that motion.
At the time, the government did a full-court press to get all the government members here. I happened to be in Europe with the Minister of International Trade and the minister for international financial institutions, who is now the Minister of International Trade, and the call came in to get on the Challenger jet to come back for that vote, which we did. I can remember that night so plainly, because we got into Ottawa about 3:30 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon and came into the Chamber for the vote. Our meetings in Europe had not concluded because they were world trade meetings and very important to Canada. The opposition were taking a role in them as well. We came in and voted and got back on the plane and went back to Europe. That is how determined the government was to win that vote.
The now Minister of State for Public Health for the Government of Canada had one of the most difficult decisions of her life. She was one of those in the Liberal Party at the time, a backbencher at the time, who publicly wept because she was forced by the Prime Minister of Canada to vote against that package. That is not just a story that we are making up as we go along; it actually happened.
There are other members from over there as well. I am sure there are cabinet members. There are at least two cabinet members present tonight, one of whom was elected at the time. I am sure she had a lot of difficulty with that as well. It was a tough decision.
What we were saying was we knew the numbers. The hepatitis C people were dead on in terms of how many people were out there, how many people would have to be compensated, and how much it would cost the Government of Canada.
What we are saying is that the Government of Canada now has a surplus in the fund, not to mention the surplus that the Government of Canada enjoys today, which I will give them full credit for, of $9 billion. I see a few smiles coming across the aisle when I point that out, and rightfully so.
The fact of the matter is that the fund now has almost as much money in it as when it began, simply because there has been no payout from the fund in the numbers that the government suggested there would be. At the time and in this place, some government members were actually saying there could be 60,000 victims.
The number I guess that most of the experts fell down on was around 20,000 victims in the 1986 to 1990 group. We know now that there were only 5,000 victims in that category from 1986 to 1990 and there are around 6,000 victims in the pre-1986, post-1990 group.
There are more than enough funds available to do the job. We encourage the government to move on and forget about the mistakes of the past. On this side of the House, we are more than willing to let bygones be bygones. Let us just do the right thing. We on this side of the House want to do the right thing. We have been saying that now for the last number of years, so let us get on with the job and compensate all victims of hepatitis C.