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House of Commons Hansard #20 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.

Topics

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out to the House that because we are applying this vote, the member for Scarborough—Agincourt has absented himself from the chamber.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be recorded as being opposed.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be recorded as being opposed.

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be recorded as being opposed.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Contraventions ActGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

(Bill referred to a committee.)

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2004 / 7:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of the House is desired.

Pursuant to order made Thursday, October 28, 2004, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 3.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 3, Mr. Strahl in the chair)

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this Committee take note of assistance to victims of Hepatitis C.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh LiberalMinister of Health

Mr. Chair, this is the first opportunity I have had since becoming Minister of Health three months ago to formally address this honourable House. I must say that I am very pleased that it is on an issue of such importance. I am doubly pleased and impressed that hon. members have decided to come together to share ideas on the complex and emotional issue of hepatitis C in a non-partisan fashion.

For as long as I have been in public life it has been my view that we the elected legislators do our job best and Canadians are best served when we reason together constructively and respectfully. This is even more so when an issue is tough, when it evokes strong passions and when, as in the case of the suffering of victims who have been infected with hepatitis C through the blood system, it appeals on so many levels to that basic human compassion and decency which I know motivates all members in the House. This is the attitude that I bring to all of my duties as Minister of Health for Canada and it is the attitude that will shape my comments this evening.

As I said, I have been Minister of Health for a very short time but in that short time the issue before us tonight has impressed me deeply. I have heard from Canadians who have contracted hepatitis C through the blood supply. I have also heard from family members who have been touched by this tragedy and who are providing day to day support to their loved ones. It is hard not to be moved by their experiences and by their courage in moving forward.

This House has long been engaged on this issue, so I will not repeat all of the facts surrounding it, but I will say that from the very beginning our government has been moved both by compassion and a clear desire to help those in need. That is why since 1998 we have committed approximately $1.4 billion for compensating and assisting people infected or affected with hepatitis C. Of this amount, our government has allocated $875 million to a trust fund that is fulfilling our financial obligations to victims under the 1986 to 1990 hepatitis C settlement agreement.

When added to the funds contributed by the provinces and territories, financial assistance in the amount of $1.1 billion to thousands of victims was announced. By working collaboratively and collectively with provincial and territorial governments and the lawyers for the class action plaintiffs, we were able to reach a settlement agreement that was approved by the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the Cour Supérieure du Québec.

This agreement is administered by a third party appointed by the courts. As of October 1, 2004 approximately $387 million in benefits have been paid from the fund. However, it is important to remember that payments to beneficiaries may continue for up to 70 years to new claimants who have until 2010 to apply and for continuing payments to those who have already qualified. Therefore, no one should think the books are closed on those payments or on the response to the needs of these individuals.

That brings me to the situation of those Canadians who contracted hepatitis C prior to 1986 and after mid-1990 through the blood system. The federal government has been mindful of their plight and in response we have committed $525 million to a comprehensive hepatitis C package for Canadians. The largest portion of this money, some $300 million over 20 years, is going to the provinces and territories to ensure that people who contracted hepatitis C through the blood system outside the 1986 to 1990 period will have reasonable and ongoing access to appropriate hepatitis C treatment and care, such as drugs, immunizations and nursing care. The remainder was set aside to help track victims, for research and to enhance the safety of the blood supply to prevent future tragedies.

The possibility of a potential surplus in the trust fund used to compensate the 1986 to 1990 victims has led members of the House from all parties, advocacy groups and the media to ask whether such a surplus could be used to extend assistance to all hepatitis C victims, including those outside the 1986 to 1990 window.

Speculation about a surplus has been fuelled by the fact that the number of claimants anticipated in the 1986-1990 agreement has to date been lower than originally forecast, as well as the fact that advances in treatment have reduced the number of claimants requiring additional assistance.

I am pleased to reiterate to hon. members that our government is open to looking at the idea of using a potential actuarial surplus to assist claimants outside the 1986-1990 window. During the June election campaign the Prime Minister publicly stated that he was open to this idea. I have said as much both inside and outside the House.

However, it is very important to remember three salient facts. First, it is critical that the existence of a surplus in the fund is assessed and validated given that, as I mentioned earlier, there continue to be new claimants and the fund must have resources available to support beneficiaries over their lifetime. Second, the trust fund does not belong to the government. It belongs to the beneficiaries of trust subject to the court's discretion. Third, it will be up to the courts and the courts alone to determine whether a surplus exists. This determination will be made in June 2005.

A decision to share the trust fund would require the agreement of the current beneficiaries, their lawyers, along with the provinces and territories, as well as the courts. I want to make it clear that the cabinet is considering this issue. We are assessing the facts, the potential of changed circumstances, and our options for proceeding, because proceed we must.

We are mindful of the recent unanimous resolution of the Standing Committee on Health which called for compensation outside the 1986-1990 window. We also need and welcome the input of all parliamentarians because that would provide us with wisdom, experience and knowledge so that we can proceed further.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

The Chair

At the start of this debate, so that we are clear on how we are going to proceed this evening, this is committee of the whole. There are 10 minutes for the initial speech, 10 minutes for questions and comments, and any members who wish to divide their time may do so by stating as such at the start of questions.

The honourable member for Hochelaga.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank the minister for the open-mindedness he has shown. Speaking for all my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois, I would certainly like to tell him that whatever form of collaboration is decided upon, we will be ready to take part.

I have two questions to ask him. Since the Krever inquiry there have been five health ministers. I believe that carrying out the first recommendation of the Krever commission would truly be very generous of him and that it would be worth his while to be the minister who got it done. It is a true challenge and he is up to it. I know he will have the cooperation of all members of this House.

Can he tell us exactly how many people have received their claims, as of this moment? The information we have as an opposition party is that nearly $400 million has been spent to date and some 7,000 people have received compensation, although the government was supposed to compensate 22,000 of them.

Can he bring us up to date on this matter? I point out that we have some people in the gallery today from the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, I do not have the exact numbers. I can say that benefits have been paid to the tune of $387 million. The numbers in terms of the payments are much smaller than anticipated. That is one of the facts that has led us to reconsider this issue. That is one of the changed circumstances that I alluded to. I would be happy to share the numbers with the hon. member. Obviously he wants to have them.

I have just been handed a piece of paper that says there have been over 9,000 claimants and payments have been made of $388 million.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Including the families?

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

I believe, yes, including the caregivers.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Chair, I am glad we are having this debate this evening. In the minister's comments he said that it was the surplus that has allowed us to reconsider this. I would like to remind the minister that it is actually the principle, which the Conservative Party has brought to this issue, that the government has an obligation to compensate these people, surplus or no surplus.

The government has known there has been a surplus for years. The fact is that there is a surplus and the government still has not done anything on this front. As a new member I am unfortunately very cynical in the sense that there is no reason, from the government's past actions, to believe that we would see the government follow through in compensating the victims.

I would like to ask the minister, what about the accountability regarding the funds that have already gone to the provinces that apparently went into general revenues?

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, let me answer the second question first.

With respect to the funds that have flowed to the provinces under the undertaking agreements which was the money set aside for care arrangements, not cash, about $150 million has flowed to the provinces. Some provinces have to report by the end of this year, for instance, British Columbia. Other provinces have provided interim reports like Ontario. Their actual accountability report is due in 2007.

What I say on that issue, as I have said outside the House, is that if there are people who are aggrieved and injured, it is a very serious issue. If they are asking questions, then provinces should do everything within their power to ensure all of their questions are answered as to where those funds have gone and how they have been spent.

Those funds were earmarked for additional care, and for new and emerging needs of the hep C victims. I have said very clearly that we will seek accountability for the agreement, but nothing prevents them from being more accountable to their own citizens as they should be.

With respect to the first question, I must say that this has obviously been a very difficult issue. Let us not make any mistake about that. There have been strong feelings that have arisen on this issue because this issue is about human beings who have been injured and who have been hurt. We understand their pain but we could not feel it, obviously.

All of us came together. I was not here. Decisions were made, but they were made out of care and compassion, and out of the need to deal with this issue in a just and fair fashion. Circumstances have changed, but the issue of justice and compassion has always existed. Because of that concern that remained, we are looking at this issue.

What has assisted us in looking at this issue more so than otherwise is also the availability of the potential surplus. I agree that the potential surplus is not the motivating factor, as I said earlier. What motivates us all is our need and rationale to help those who need our help, as legislators and as government.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, the minister seemed to indicate, and I was somewhat distressed, that he was going to have to wait until June 2005 for something to happen.

I wonder about two things. Is that a correct impression that I gathered, that the government does not intend to act until it receives the report in June 2005? It seems to me that time is of the essence for a lot of these people. They need to be compensated now because they are suffering now. They need care now. They need to offset the effects of their illness now, and so the sooner the better.

The minister said that it would be up to the courts to determine the surplus and the existing beneficiaries. Can the government not make a recommendation? Why can the minister not say tonight that this is what the government wants and it will do everything in its power? If that means recommending to the existing beneficiaries that they cooperate, we are going to make that recommendation. That is what we are going to say.

It seems to me that would give people more of an assurance if the minister could express that will to make it happen and then whatever has to be done, to make it happen. However, knowing that the will is there in the first place in a categorical way would be very helpful, it seems to me, for a lot of people.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, the will and the determination are there. Let me explain my remarks and expand upon them. The reason we mentioned the court and the date of June 2005 is because that is the date the court will review the settlement agreement and the issue that we placed before it.

Between now and then the matter will go to cabinet. Cabinet will consider it. We will, once the cabinet has considered it, be speaking to the plaintiffs' lawyers with respect to the 1986-1990 window. We will also be speaking to the class action lawyers for pre-1986 and post-1990 class actions. We will then make a recommendation to the court, hopefully jointly, to make the actuarial surplus available for the needs of the victims prior to 1986 and post-1990.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Chair, I was intrigued by the minister's comments.

First, he said that the issue was very complex. To some degree that is true, but to some degree it is not complex and is very simple. It really boils down to an issue of fairness and compensating those who were victimized through no fault of their own. One group from 1986-1990 was treated completely different from those outside that window.

Not only was it discriminatory for those individuals with hepatitis C outside that window, but those who were victimized by tainted blood and contracted HIV-AIDS were all compensated. They were completely outside that window and yet it was only hepatitis C victims between 1986-1990 who were compensated.

This is an issue of ultimate fairness and it goes against Canadian values and principles, that we treat people fairly and equitably. That is why in the Conservative Party we are so adamantly against the way in which the government treated hepatitis C victims for the last decade and so insistent that we follow the Krever inquiry. We looked at this for four years and came up with the recommendation that everyone outside that window should have been compensated.

We are looking at it and saying that we should consider the other victims because the fund is more than what we expected and the number of victims was not as great. We told the government many years ago that the numbers were false. I am a little suspect when the minister stands here and says cabinet is considering it. I think cabinet should do more than consider it.

Would the minister comment on what consideration, more than what I have just laid out, the cabinet would make in terms of compensation?

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Liberal Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Chair, the cabinet will consider the kind of information and issues that I am talking about. I have been considering those issues. It has not gone to cabinet. Hopefully it will go very soon. I am trying to make it go very soon and cabinet is anxious to consider it.

That is why we agreed to have a take note debate. It is important for all hon. members on the opposite side to make their views known. I appreciate the views and I will obviously take these to cabinet.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to be addressing the House tonight although I wish it did not have to be on this issue. I wish to point out four men in the gallery who fought for many years for tainted blood victims. I would like the House to recognize Mr. Jeff Rice--

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

The Chair

Order, please. It is improper to draw attention to the presence of anyone in the gallery. Please keep that in mind.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

There are people, who are close to us here today, who have gone a long way to ensure that the fight to open up the compensation fund to all victims has been pursued vigorously.

The fact that we are debating this subject tonight indicates that a major injustice was done against a group of people who needed the government's compassion like never before but who instead were spurned because of party politics, and that is a shame.

No words can capture the physical suffering and frustration the victims of tainted blood experience on a daily basis. Victims of hepatitis C suffer from very painful and exhausting physical symptoms that include extreme fatigue, cirrhosis of the liver, nausea, jaundice, and the list goes on. Besides the physical suffering, this, like all illnesses, has a dramatic effect on the lives of the family members who must take the steps necessary in their lives to accommodate the sick members in their family.

However, aside from the physical pain that these people experience, there is another pain that eats away at their self-worth and their value as a human being, and that is the pain of a decision made made by the government several years ago to shut pre-1986 and post-1990 victims of hepatitis C from tainted blood out of the compensation fund.

Victims wanted to know why they were left out and what they did to deserve that, but only the government could give them those answers. Instead the government denied closure for these victims and only provided pathetic excuses.

Why were they shut out and why have they still been shut out? It makes no sense to me. The money is there. The compensation fund actually made money on interest this past year. The public supports these victims. In fact the vast majority of Canadians feel that these victims have been treated badly by the government and deserve to be compensated due to the harm that the government caused them.

What is not there is the political will of the Liberal government. The government has strong-armed its members into turning their backs on the victims of tainted blood. Everyone could plainly see this when the opposition motion to compensate hepatitis C victims from tainted blood was defeated by the Liberals.

Some Liberal members were forced to vote against it with tears in their eyes, knowing full well the harm that they were causing the victims who remained outside the compensation window. They knew what they were doing was wrong and they have had to live with themselves ever since. These are good people on the other side of the chamber, but they were forced to vote against their own conscience. That is the kind of government we have. What a disgrace.

The point I just made strikes at the heart of the issue.The leadership of this Liberal government did not have the courage to support the opposition motion in 1998. The former prime minister was so afraid that he would lose the vote that he put the career of each one of his members on the line and made the motion a motion of confidence. They were afraid that if the opposition motion won in the House they would lose popular support among Canadians and drop in the polls.

The only concern of the government is the polls. Instead of doing what is right for Canadians it is concerned about doing what is popular and what will get it re-elected. There is no other explanation.

This government has had sevens years to explain to hepatitis C victims why they were not included in the compensation agreement and yet it has refused to do so. Year after year it has refused to do the right thing. It would rather see people suffer day in and day out.

It is not the Canadian way. I am a compassionate Conservative and my party is a compassionate party. When my party is in government, we will continue the Canadian tradition of helping those who are less fortunate.

Why is it that the Liberal government stubbornly refuses to take responsibility and look after those it has wronged? The Liberal Party is a party that supposedly bleeds Canadian values and wraps itself in the flag come election time but once elected refuses to live up to its commitments and responsibilities.

As the hepatitis C issue demonstrates, the government stands for values that are not Canadian values. This is unacceptable. The government should take a long, hard look at itself in the mirror some day and recognize the hurt and pain that it has caused the poor victims.

I receive letters and e-mails from people who have been stricken with this awful sickness. I do not know them and they do not know me but they have opened their hearts to tell me their stories of how difficult it is to live with hepatitis C. One person told me they had to sell their house and move out of town because they could not keep up with the drug costs and the expense of the constant trips to the hospital.

Does any member of the House think that is right or fair? I certainly do not and neither do my colleagues in the Conservative Party.

I would like to know what the Liberal Party thinks. It was its decision to defeat the 1998 motion and deny pre-1986 and post-1990 victims of hepatitis C from tainted blood access to the compensation fund. Is that compassionate? Is that accepting responsibility? I think not.

How can the Prime Minister proclaim to the nation that he leads a party that is reflective of moderate mainstream Canadian values? What does that say about what he thinks of mainstream and moderate Canadian values? If that is the case, it is no wonder we are in a minority situation. Normal moderate Canadians balk at the Prime Minister's vision of mainstream Canada.

I digress. During the original debates many parliamentarians spoke passionately about the plight of victims who were not included in the compensation agreement. For example, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell said:

There is not a single parliamentarian, I believe, who does not have hepatitis C victims in his or her riding, just as there are none without cancer or AIDS victims among those they represent.

We all have constituents living with very difficult medical conditions, and suffering as a result of those conditions. Naturally, we all sympathize, and wish to come to their assistance to the extent that finances permit and to the extent that the necessary money is available.

I am not sure even now if the hon. member stands by what he said in the chamber that day, but with $1.1 billion in the compensation fund, I am sure he will agree that the finances do allow the necessary moneys to be available. That being said, it is time to act.

While the government has made partisan arguments and used all kinds of stall tactics, hundreds of people have died from hepatitis C acquired through tainted blood. The government can take action. It can take immediate steps to begin compensating the people it left behind for seven years. It can help alleviate the pressure of punishing drug costs, extended hospital stays and years of medical and physical anguish from a sickness that they should not have contracted in the first place.

The issue has been on the minds of Canadians for too long. The government should admit its mistake and compensate all the victims and let them carry on with their lives.To be clear, my party, the Conservative Party of Canada, and my leader unequivocally support the opening of the compensation fund to all victims of hepatitis C from tainted blood.

When the previous prime minister resigned from office, many questions were asked about his legacy. I am not sure what answers the former prime minister gave, but an unfortunate part of his legacy is that thousands of tainted blood victims were unjustifiably left out of the compensation agreement. Now his government will be forever known as the government that turned its back on Canadians suffering from tainted blood. I hope the present Prime Minister considers that point and acts appropriately.

I philosophically believe in the responsibility of the individual, but in that belief there is also an onus on the state to take responsibility for its actions. I took responsibility for my life after my accident. The victims of tainted blood want the same opportunity, However, before that happens, the government must accept its share of the responsibility and compensate all the victims of tainted blood.

Mr. Speaker, may God bless all the victims of the tainted blood disaster.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to make several comments and ask a question of my conservative colleague. I have here a memo from the hon. member for Hochelaga. As early as 1999 he asked the federal government to grant financial compensation to the victims. At the time, he based his argument on five points and when he talked about the victims, he meant all the victims.

His arguments were that Ottawa is constitutionally responsible for the blood supply in Canada; the federal government has the financial means to provide this assistance; at the time, two provinces voluntarily compensated victims; the first recommendation of the Krever commission was a proposal to establish a no-fault compensation system. As well, the citizens of Quebec and of Canada expect the federal government to help the people with overwhelming health needs whose illness is no fault of their own.

Today, in 2004, five years later, I believe this position in principle has not changed one iota. I know that time is an extremely important issue in these considerations because the quality of life of the victims of hepatitis C, or the families of the victims, is affected further when they do not receive this compensation. They have difficulties making ends meet. They have difficulties living with the illness or with those suffering from the illness.

Nonetheless, I have noticed that the current Minister of Health is open to resolving the matter. In cases like this, we can be extremely firm when we have to be with this government. Unfortunately, we have to be quite often. However, in a case like this one, we commend the minister's openness.

We would like the representative of the Conservative Party of Canada who just spoke, to tell us whether it would not be better to work together with the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Québécois, the Conservative Party of Canada and the minister by supporting the minister's efforts to decrease the excessive delays, and use this political openness, this economic openness due to the unexpected surpluses, as quickly as possible, without engaging in petty politics at the victims' expense or arguing about who is right in this situation.

Is the Conservative Party of Canada prepared to embark upon this constructive dynamic, without forgetting the past, since we could never forget the past the victims have experienced? Are the Conservatives prepared to work toward correcting the situation as quickly as possible without arguing about who was right and without engaging in petty politics at the victims' expense?

I invite my colleague to join this cooperative effort and to comment on it.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James, MB

Mr. Chair, obviously the Conservative Party will cooperate fully to ensure that the victims of tainted blood are compensated as soon as possible. However I have to say that the Liberal government has been wrong and is wrong, and that the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP were right on this issue.

I believe the minister is quite sincere in his belief that these victims should be compensated and that he is trying to navigate through what I am sure is not an easy process, but it is the Liberal government that got us here in the first place.

There needs to be some accountability. The minister represents the Liberal government and the government needs to be held accountable. The Liberals will not be off the hook until all the victims are compensated. Our role as opposition parties is to hold the government to account.

Having said that, our greater role as parliamentarians is to ensure that all the victims of hepatitis C are compensated as soon as possible. Quite frankly, if it had not been for the public pressure that the advocates of hepatitis C compensation placed on the government and the hard work of my predecessors in the health critic portfolio, such as the member for Yellowhead and Dr. Grant Hill, and the work of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP on this file, this would not have come to the stage that it is where we are on the cusp of compensation.

Assistance to Hepatitis C VictimsGovernment Orders

7:45 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Chair, I do not want to be giving you direction, knowing you are the kind of man who needs handling with care.

I am very much aware of the importance of this debate and the solemnity that surrounds it. I remember in the mid-1990s when Allan Rock was Minister of Health and a colleague in the House went and placed a rose on his desk because this was such an emotion-charged issue. It is impossible not to be moved when half the people who contracted Hepatitis C have died since we became aware of this tragedy.

The beginning of all this is the discovery in the 1980s that blood supplies had become infected. The sad thing is that this tragedy not only has a human face, as of course it does, but that there is also a human failing involved. Of course we do not want to restrict this debate to human responsibility.

Last evening, I reread some excerpts from the Krever report. This all came to pass, I must remind hon. members, because of our somewhat blind trust in the Red Cross. This does not, of course, in any way diminish the philanthropic role of the Red Cross, but it is nonetheless true that there was a test available as far back as 1981 in the U.S.

At first, the government did not want to regulate blood. We did that only in 1989 for blood, blood products and derivatives, under schedule D of the Food and Drugs Act. Why did the government take so long? Not out of evil intent or any lack of an acute sense of responsibility. It is because we were all sure that, since the Red Cross was on the case, we could rest easy.

So we were amazed to learn, in the 1980s, that some supplies had been contaminated with two viruses. There was HIV, of course, and about 1,000 people contracted it. At the time of the Krever report, in 1995, they were saying that a potential 10,000 or close to it had been infected. Why stick to a chronology here, when we hit a wall from 1986 to 1990? A sad fact, but one we must keep in mind.

I am very pleased at the open-minded attitude of the minister. I have been told about his humanity, and how progressive he was as a premier. He was even health minister in British Columbia as well, I am told, so I know he is familiar with these matters.

The fact is that we have to act quickly. I would like the minister to share our desire, as parliamentarians, to set ourselves a deadline of no later than the Christmas holiday. The House is likely to adjourn around December 17 or 18, as it usually does. Until then, the minister could commit to go to cabinet with a memorandum, go to the Treasury Board and return with a motion.

If the House wants to work with the kind of speed it can have when the urgency of a situation dictates, we can move very quickly. This place has been known to move bills through first, second and third reading within 48 hours. I am sure that the minister would find consent from all the parties to set a deadline so that access to compensation is expanded by Christmas.

We cannot address these issues without paying tribute to the Canadian Hemophilia Society, which was founded in 1953 and spends nearly $500,000 a year on research. Our rules do not allow me to mention the presence of anyone in particular in our galleries, but, if hon. members look this way with me, behind me, they will notice people who are following very closely our discussions and who have been extremely persevering and visionary.

I think that this would be a fine homage to pay to those who, over the years, have volunteered to get involved in research and fundraising and to represent people.

What was the situation? An amount of $1.1 billion was set aside. To date, perhaps $400 million or so has been paid or will be at some future date. When I talked with representatives of the Canadian Hemophilia Society, they estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 claims could be filed. This means that, in this kind of scenario, there is plenty of money in the fund to expand access to compensation.

We must bear in mind, however, that several provinces, including Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and even the health minister's home province, I think, have already expanded access to compensation. Four provinces did so. The federal government must follow suit. Why? Because these persons who received blood transfusions or blood products did not contribute to their own misfortune. This is not an instance of negligence, where those involved are responsible for what happened to them.

We had appropriate confidence in a system where the federal government had delegated to the Red Cross the supply, distribution and monitoring of blood products. We know how authoritative the Red Cross was when we discussed these issues. Unfortunately, we know how events turned out. That is why it is so absurd to have set up chronological criteria. Why did the government establish chronology as a condition? It was because they said in 1986 an indirect test did exist, while after 1990 all blood products were examined.

We must put that on the list of things to accomplish together as parliamentarians by Christmas. There is no need to be partisan. Sincerely, I think that the opposition ought to apply pressure.The parliamentary secretary threw me such a powerful look that I cannot help but think he was a little angry. Today we held a press conference with all the opposition parties. We did not do so out of partisan feelings, but to press the government for action.

When the health minister rises in this House to say he is sincere and wants to work on expanding compensation, we are ready to take him at his word. We know that he wants to work to this end. I do not think we should doubt the minister's word. I know that in a few years, when he reckons up what he has accomplished in the House, unlike David Dingwall or the hon. member for Sudbury or Allan Rock or the hon. member for Edmonton Centre or the hon. member for Papineau, the minister will be pleased to say that among his accomplishments he acted on the first recommendation of the Krever report.

All parties in this House will be grateful to him. If the minister believes that the Standing Committee on Health can play its part, then of course, we shall do so. This issue is too serious to let it drag on. Let us be proud to say that this Parliament can settle this issue unanimously. There are not many issues we settle unanimously. There are not many issues on which we reach consensus. The question of increasing compensation may be one. I challenge the minister, in a friendly way, to settle this issue before Christmas. I think that we will be very proud parliamentarians to have this issue behind us.