Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and a pleasure to respond to the Speech from the Throne on behalf of the people of my riding of Yellowhead and as Conservative Party senior critic of health as well as intergovernmental affairs.
We really have to ask ourselves a question before starting out. We have to get a sense of where the throne speech is going because it is a document that looks into the future. We have to first talk about where we are at in health care today. We then have to talk about how we got there and where we are going, as laid out in the throne speech.
I would like to point out, as aggressively as I possibly can, the dysfunctionality of the throne speech in moving us forward into the 21st century in this area. Where are we in health care today? That is a question we all need to ask ourselves, because any day we pick up a paper we find massive problems in health care. We find waiting lists becoming extreme to the point where over a million people are on waiting lists right now waiting for serious surgeries and operations for problems they have. Many of them are dying while on these waiting lists before they can even get to the system that we cherish so much in Canada, this cherished health care system.
We have patients dying in emergency rooms. Hon. members should see the turmoil in Nanaimo, B.C. or Saskatchewan where we have doctors actually mutinying. We have never seen this before in the history of this country. When we talk about health care in Canada, we have never seen so much disunity, but more than that, people hitting the end of the rope and saying that enough is enough and they cannot handle it any more.
I saw the Minister of Health the night before last on television saying that there were no waiting lists in this country, that if people have an emergency problem they will be looked after. He should tell that to the lady who had a miscarriage while waiting over five hours in an emergency room. He should have said that to individuals before they died of heart attacks while on waiting lists or in emergency rooms. These are cases that are not just specific. These things are happening right across this nation as we speak today. They have to be addressed. We have to look at where we are going in health care.
To understand some of the difficulties and how we got here, we also have to look at the human resources problem, the shortage of doctors and nurses. It is interesting that my colleague, who is a doctor, spoke, in response to the Speech from the Throne, about his training. While he was training, another individual, who was an immigrant, was also being trained. That individual came up to the standard of the United States qualifications and was to go back to the United States, although he was trained here. We would not accept him with those same training qualifications here. There is something wrong when we have such dire shortages that we have individuals dying in this country and we are not opening our arms to these highly trained individuals from other countries. We have to do something about the human resources problem. There are two fundamental problems: the waiting lists and human resources. I will talk more about those things shortly.
We had the SARS outbreak that told us an awful lot about what was happening in this country and how we lacked in preparedness for these kinds of situations. We also have looming on the horizon a potential influenza virus. It is to be hoped that will not mutate into human to human contact, but we are watching that with great interest because it could become so serious it would make the SARS outbreak hardly worth mentioning. Nonetheless, are we prepared? Are we ready? What lessons have we learned?
The federal-provincial strained relationship is something I am also very concerned about because of what has happened in the past on health care. Never before have we seen such a situation as we have in health care today in Canada.
How did we get here? That is a pretty good question. Let us look at the legacy of the Prime Minister. He says that health care is a number one priority of this country. That is what the Prime Minister is saying. Yet I wonder if that is true when we really look at what he has done in the past. If we want to know where an individual is going, we only have to look at where he has been. That will tell us where he is about to go. We have seen from the Prime Minister in the past the massive unilateral cuts in 1995. When we talk of unilateral cuts, these are not cuts where we sit down and negotiate and then decide that this is in the best interest of everybody before we cut. These were unilateral cuts, cuts that came just because one individual said that he wanted to balance the budget, and it was on the back of health care.
It is really interesting when we look at the numbers and the priorities. We say maybe at that time the finance minister had no options. Maybe he had to do something with a deficit budget, which he did. It is all about priorities and obviously health care was not one of those priorities, $25 billion. It is unbelievable.
At that same time it is interesting to note that subsidies to businesses rose $700 million or 20%. At that same time the increase in bureaucracy spending was $1.3 billion or another 6% added to the additional budgets.
That was not at the same time that health care was put on back bench. Health care was exploited. That destroyed the fifty-fifty arrangement we had with the provinces with regard to health care. That was something that had been cherished for a number of decades as medicare came into being in the provincial-federal relationship as a national project.
That was destroyed by the unilateral cuts. It destroyed the relationship of the provincial and federal governments. Worse than that, it drove nurses and doctors out of our training institutions because they closed down those training slots and anyone who was working in the system had to go for employment south of the border. Our brightest and best were driven out of this nation.
At that time the country's medical and nursing associations said that in 10 years we would pay a price. Well, here we are, 10 years later and we are paying that price. We do not have the human resources to deal with the problems. What are we going to do about it?
Let us look at our health care system. It is amazing that every time we talk about the health care system in an intellectual dialogue about health care, everyone thinks that the American system is coming. That is absolutely false. There is not a provincial government or a party in this House that is advocating the American system.
In fact, the Americans rated 37th in the world as far as how good their health system is. We should not be bragging much either because ours rates 30th. We should be looking at who are the 29 above us and what can we learn from them to develop the health care system in the 21st century that will meet the needs of Canadians. That is where we need to go.
It is amazing when we look at the Speech from the Throne. We see now what we have. We talked about how we got here. Are we looking ahead? Is the throne speech truly a window into the future as to where the government and the Prime Minister want to take this country as far as health care is concerned? It does sort of look ahead but it does not look back or talk about the past and the failures because it is not a very pretty picture at all. The Prime Minister is the cause, not the cure, for many of the problems we are dealing with in health care.
The throne speech is long on generalities and recycles many old pledges but it is very short on any specifics. There are some specific failures. It failed to mention last year's health accord. It was the first time that we had the provincial and federal governments sit down, hammer out a deal and agree upon it. We could debate whether they got everything they wanted, but they agreed with it. We should be saying there is an agreement and let us at least achieve what both levels of government agreed upon at that time. There is no mention of the failures in the throne speech on that front at all.
There is also a failure to outline a timetable for the creation of a Canadian public health agency. We saw what went on with SARS. We know the potential pandemic that will come some day. All we have is supposedly the appointment of a chief medical officer. I will talk more about that later.
There is also a failure to include the pledges for stable, long term funding for health care. It is really interesting. Why would that be? We may say that the throne speech does not do that sort of thing but that is not true. That is exactly what was announced for the cities. In fact, it was retroactive from the throne speech. Yet looking ahead, health care is not getting any stable funding.
I have to mention the stable funding. I challenge the government to stop playing the numbers game with the provinces. In 2000, just before going into an election by the way, the Liberals announced $21 billion to go into health care, but not a nickel of that money, which is the foundational money that goes into health care, went in until April of the next year. Then it was a five year allotment of money after that period of time.
Then the Liberals came out in 2003, when three years were still left in the original agreement of 2000, and reannounced that same money. They ran around the country saying that they were putting another $34.8 billion into health care.
Why would the provinces sit there and not believe the government? They know the numbers are wrong and they know that old numbers have been reannounced. They know that the government is just playing politics with the numbers. I challenge the government not to play politics with the numbers. That may work for the average citizen out there, but it does not work with the relationship with the provinces which have the mandate to deliver on health care. It just destroys their credibility.
That is what has been done with the $2 billion that was announced in the throne speech. There is not a government in the land, certainly not a Prime Minister that is going into an election, that would not have announced that $2 billion. It would have been political suicide if he did not. Why play coy for the last month on whether that $2 billion was going to be announced this month or not? How ridiculous that would be. There was not a reporter in the country, not a party in the country, not a person in the other party who believed that that $2 billion was not going to go in, so why play this game? It destroys credibility. Credibility is absolutely paramount if we are going to work together in the 21st century on health care.
It is very important that we understand some of the things that should have been talked about in the throne speech but were not. They should have been talked about in the first ministers meeting on the Friday before the throne speech, the failures of the health accord.
If we look at the health accord, there are a lot of things that are good, that reflect some of the views we have and are agreed upon by most people in the House. Those are restoring funding to the core health services, the flexibility of provinces to implement those new services, the flexibility of delivering the options of a new public health care system, and the dedicated health transfers which is to stop the nonsense about what money goes where, to clear that up. All of those things were agreed upon in the health accord. We agreed with those.
There were a lot of things that were agreed upon in the health accord and were not accomplished in the last year. There was supposed to be a minimum basket of services for home care. There was a date in the accord and that had to be accomplished by September last year. Also in September last year, the health services performance indicators were not there at all. They have not taken place to date. It was promised that they would be looked after by last September. Also, the health council was supposed to take place last May and did not actually happen until December. Why would that happen? Even when it was in December and the health council was announced, there were two provinces saying that it was not what they had agreed to at the health accord.
When the government sat down and met with the provinces again, which happened last Friday with the Prime Minister, we would think that the first thing on the agenda would not have been the $2 billion but would have been the issues that were not dealt with which both sides had agreed to just the year before. None of those were even talked about.
There was no talk of the aboriginal health reporting framework which was supposed to be talked about. There was the catastrophic drug coverage for all Canadians. In fact when the minister was asked about that here in November, she said, and this is a quote, “The work there really at this point has not begun”. That is what she said and that is actually the truth.
The reality is that money alone will not save our health care system in the 21st century. What we have to realize is that we have to get serious about dealing with the problems on health care, stop the bickering in the relationship between the provincial and federal governments and those things that destroy the trust. We have to start working on putting the interests of the patient ahead of the system as we move forward in the 21st century. That is what has to happen. That is not what happened when it came to the health accord.
One of the things that should also have happened, and the first thing that should have been in the health accord in looking at the Prime Minister's legacy, is that he should have written in the throne speech “I am sorry” as the first thing he said about health care and apologize to the nation for the way he has treated health care and put us in the state we are in. Then he should have moved forward with a vision of how we are going to fix that situation.
That is not what happened. We should have put a sixth principle into the Canada Health Act which we fought for in the last election so that never again could a Prime Minister unilaterally destroy this nation's number one priority, which is health care.
Do we believe the Prime Minister when he stands and says that health care is his number one priority? I think we really have to question where we have been, where we are at and where we are going in light of those words. I really have some serious concerns about where that should be.
Let us talk about the public health agency that was announced.
Look at the failure of SARS, and I say the failure of SARS because we were absolutely not prepared. When tragedy strikes our nation, whether it is militarily or an infection in a pandemic situation, or a health threat of any kind, we absolutely have to have leadership. It has to come from the leaders who are charged with that leadership in the House. It has to come from the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister of the day. That was not the case when SARS hit the nation.
Do we need a CDC north, an infectious disease centre as in the United States? Perhaps we do. Perhaps we already have that and it is just not coordinated. I think that is more likely the truth. Now we have a new ministry that is charged with that but the government actually was warned by the Auditor General as well as the deputy minister of health who said that we are vulnerable to this kind of an attack in Canada and that we have to do something about it.
The alarm bells went off over the last decade and we failed to deal with it. It is unfortunate that we see what the throne speech had to say about that. It said that we are going to appoint a chief public health officer but there is no timeline on the agency. There is no budget for it. We do not really know if we are prepared today.
Let us say that the bird flu which is in Asia right now happens to move to human to human contact, to mutate to that degree. Are we prepared? Absolutely not. Should we be prepared? Absolutely we should and we should be working a lot harder and more aggressively toward preparing ourselves for that.
That is not in the throne speech. We would have thought there would have been a timeline and a budget for it. Neither is the case. All we are doing is playing politics.
Mark my words. The chief officer will be appointed before the next election. It will appear to Canadians that everything is looked after and nothing will have happened except the hiring of one person who is going to run to the media and communicate how well the government is supposedly doing in case something happens. That is what will happen and it is unfortunate.
We do not need this game of politics when it comes to health care. We cannot afford it. We do not have the time and we do not have the money.
Another thing that should have been in the throne speech but was not there was a bill that the House has been working on very aggressively for the last three years. It is Bill C-13. We need a bill that deals with the threat that is there. Doctors are actually saying that they are going to clone the human being in the next year. We need that legislation but not the Bill C-13 that was so flawed. It had flaws on surrogacy, on gamete donor anonymity, on research using the human embryo and a host of other things, including no accountability for the agency that was going to be set up, the in vitro fertilization clinics and authorization of what should or should not be allowed under the legislation.
We said originally what we need. We would split the bill in half, bring forward a bill that would allow the prohibitions that everyone in the House would agree to, which is therapeutic reproductive cloning, germ line alteration, chimera and a host the others. They are all named in the bill. That would pass in a blink of an eye. We could pass that this month. We could pass that next week if it was brought forward. That is what we should be doing and that is not what happened. In fact there was not even a word of it in the throne speech.
Another thing that really bothers me in the throne speech is that it was a golden opportunity for the Prime Minister to right his wrongs in the past on the hepatitis C file. There is $700 million left in the court agreement to look after those who contracted hepatitis C through blood transfusions through absolutely no fault of their own. The government is liable for this. It arbitrarily chose the period 1986-90 which is false and it knows it. Many of the members on the other side of the House know that every member on this side of the House knows it full well. The money is there but the will is not.
What a golden opportunity for the Prime Minister to correct his wrongs and to do the right thing and to compensate everyone who should have been compensated for the wrongs of the country. As a Canadian I feel badly that the government of my country is not looking after its wrongs.
The other thing that bothers me is when it comes to natural food products and the ability for individuals to choose how they look after their bodies and how they have alternative medicines. There was absolutely nothing on that.
A colleague of mine, the member for Nanaimo—Alberni, has brought forward a private member's bill, Bill C-420. We should have had some commitment in the throne speech from the government to allow freedom of choice in that area, something on natural food products.
I would like to conclude by saying that the throne speech was very deficient. We have a health care system that is in dire straits. We all know how it got that way. I just described it.
Where are we going to go from here? Number one, we have to put the patient first and build a system around the patient in the 21st century. We have to get the relationships right between the provinces and the federal government and agree upon our mandates equally so that we can do what is in the best interests of Canadians.