Mr. Chair, it is a great pleasure for me to participate in the session this evening. I congratulate the opposition for making this the issue of debate tonight, of bringing the minister's estimates forward. We all recognize health care as being the number one concern of Canadians. I presume that is the case with all parties in the House.
A few minutes ago the member from Port Moody referred to the past career of the Minister of Health, indicating that he had been a noted politician in British Columbia, attorney general and premier among others. He was a very successful politician. He spent three years out of politics. We saw him, he was a free agent and we invited him to the big leagues, where he is doing very well. I have great respect for the member from Port Moody and I encourage him to work hard, keep at it, and maybe some day we will invite him to the big leagues, but his chances would be greatly improved if he did not swing at every pitch.
On a more serious note, if we look at what is happening in health care since the minister's arrival, we see nothing but very good news. We see a lot of good news from the government elected in June, with the promise that health care would be the number one priority, that we would have a new era in discussions and negotiations with the provinces and that we would have a fix for health care. We talked about health care for a generation. We have a deal for a decade, which I believe will set the tone for not only this generation but for generations to come.
We are adding a lot of money: $41 billion is being transferred to the province to look at health care over this period. We do that without raising taxes. That is amazing if we look at the last 10 years of the government. We have reduced the debt to such a level that service charges on the national debt alone covers these costs. That is great and I am proud of that because it is sustainable. The greatest concern we have seen from Canadians is the sustainability of health care.
The minister alluded earlier to the confidence that Canadians have in the health care system and in certain instances the lack of confidence they have in it. He pointed to the fact that those who have come in contact with the health care system have had a very favourable impression. Others who have not come in contact necessarily have great apprehension. They have anxiety whether it will be there when they need it and will it be sustainable. We are showing sustainability.
We are looking at five key areas. We agreed with the provinces that in these five key areas everybody would have to show improvement, like eye surgery for our aging population. I remember a time when it was a relative rarity. I could name the people in my community who had cataract surgery. Now it is difficult to name a family that does not have someone who has received cataract surgery and whose lifestyle and quality of life has greatly improved.
Across the street from my mother's house, where I grew up, was a little general store. The elders of the community used to hang around it. I thought they were very old men, but when I think back, they were only 55 or 65. They were fishermen or loggers who had been hurt or who had arthritis. They could not work anymore. Now we fix their eyes or their hips and they play golf until they are 80 and 85. They have a great lifestyle, but that costs money. That creates additional demand on the health care system.
We have said that we have to look at the waiting lists. Everybody expects these services and we have to ensure that we give them in a reasonable time. We said that we would work with the provinces in areas such as eye surgery and cardiac, like bypasses. A generation ago, if one had a heart attack, one did not work again. Now within a very short time, a person who has had a quadruple, triple or double bypass is back at work in a very short period. Again, it creates a lot of demand and costs. However, we have to work on those lists.
Regarding cancer treatment, the member for Central Nova pointed out one type of cancer that is very easily preventable and is quite often curable. It is a question people being diagnosed quickly enough, and we encourage that of course. However, people are waiting for cancer treatments. The anxiety level can be very high for people who have been diagnosed with cancer but who have to wait before they can get their treatments or before they can get their next visit to a specialist, especially in rural areas where I live. We have to bring down those wait times.
Regarding orthopedics, again with the aging population everybody expects and understands that they can have hip replacements or ear implants. I know a lot of people in my community who have been waiting one and two years. The member from Dartmouth pointed out what Nova Scotia has done public health, and it is admirable. I should also point out that what it has done with waiting lists is admirable also, especially in cardiac care. It was a relatively small investment and it reduced the wait lists for cardiac care.
As the minister has agreed, in negotiating with the provinces, if a province like Nova Scotia or any other province has made achievements in one area, it can transfer the money to other priority areas. If they have had achievements in five areas, they still get the money. The money becomes permanent.
We have agreed that we would not just give them the money for short periods. I remember the arguments made by the premiers at the first ministers meeting that we could not have a short term fix, that we could not create a dependency and then pull out, because we cannot send those doctors and nurses back home and we cannot shut down the MRI machines. We have agreed that it would be sustainable funding and that it would continue. We have also agreed that it must be measurable. Progress must be measurable. People must report. The provinces must report.
We have agreed that these are areas of provincial jurisdiction and that the provinces were fully capable of managing their own system, because they were familiar with their needs, and knew how to manage, who to put in charge and how to invest in their hospitals.
We said that we agreed that they could report to their constituents, their voters. These are the same Canadians who elect us, the same Canadians who are the taxpayers at the provincial and federal levels.
I am therefore totally in favour of this asymmetrical federalism, as long as it is not bipolar. All the provinces and all the regions must be included.
It cannot be a bipolar federalism. It must be a federalism that respects the specificities of the Atlantic, of the north, of the west, of Ontario, of Quebec, of other areas. We must be able to negotiate and work so that health care services are improved in accordance with their understanding and their capabilities.
We have also looked at pharmaceuticals.