House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.


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11 a.m.


Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, in response to the first question concerning problems in our health system, I would say that problems do exist. I think everyone will agree with that. I talked about that earlier and I believe those problems will increase with time. Our population is ageing. That is a widely recognized fact. Therefore, as elected representatives, we must sit down together and decide how we will deal with health problems and our ageing population.

Second, it is impossible not to noticed that there are waiting lists in hospitals. In our region, at the Brome-Missisquoi hospital, there are beds everywhere in the halls. Room numbers have been replaced with bed numbers on the walls. There is bed number 14, bed number 15, and so on. Indeed, there are problems, and we must sit down together and deal with them.

I would not want to start a war of numbers. In fact, one thing the premiers have agreed on is that, as of April 1, in just a few days, there will be a slightly different set of rules. Instead of a single cheque for health, social services and education, the provinces will receive two separate cheques: one for health and one for the rest. This will clear things up.

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11 a.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate the member for Joliette for giving us the opportunity to have a debate on health care funding. He sits on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. Usually, he shows a good understanding of economic and financial issues and he is good with numbers. This time, however, he has failed miserably.

I am glad the member for Joliette brought this to the House of Commons, but after that he fails on a number of counts because he is attempting to confuse Canadians.

We know full well that the goal of the Bloc Quebecois and the member for Joliette is not to have a useful debate on health care policies, but rather to try to convince Quebeckers that they would have a better future outside the Canadian federation. However, they will never succeed in achieving that goal.

First, the member talked about the commitment to split health care costs fifty-fifty. That never existed. This is a myth perpetuated by the Bloc Quebecois and many other opposition parties. There was a commitment early on to cost share insured expenses, insured health costs, through the hospital system and through the medical services plans. However, since then we have had a huge growth in prescription drugs and in home care so the fifty-fifty percentage is just not valid.

Second, as has been pointed out by many of my colleagues today, including the parliamentary secretary, the member talked about the contribution of the federal government but conveniently ignored the tax points.

In 2003 the tax points amounted to $17 billion in the CHST. The member conveniently forgot also equalization. Equalization for all the provinces amounted to $10 billion per year. I find it strangely ironic that the Bloc Quebecois member for Joliette said that Quebec had been seriously disadvantaged. As my colleague, the minister of state, pointed out, the province of Quebec receives some $4 billion to $5 billion of the $10 billion in equalization. Some disadvantage that is.

For those listening to the debate, we should try to clarify the question on tax points. The federal government is contributing a huge amount. If we add in tax points, if we add in the federal government's direct expenditures in the health care system, which amount to $5 to $6 billion a year for first nations health, veterans health, health protection, disease prevention and a whole variety of other programs, the federal contribution is actually beyond 40%. That will grow as further investments are made in health care, which the government has shown very capably that it can do once the fiscal situation resolves itself, or is started on the right path.

In 1976, at the urging of the provinces and territories, the federal government ceded some tax points to those jurisdictions. This was not one or two percentage points in terms of tax. For example, in personal income tax, this was roughly 11 percentage points. In corporate taxes it constituted 1%.

In other words, the federal government said that for the taxpayer this will be transparent. The taxpayer will not really understand or see that there has been a transfer of tax revenues to the provinces and territories. However, the transfer was a huge amount of taxing capability. The rationale for that at the time was that the provinces were well positioned, they were close to the citizens of their particular provinces, they were well acquainted with their needs and aspirations and they were capable of delivering that kind of program.

This is not an inconsequential amount. Unfortunately, the tax points are always conveniently forgotten by all members and particularly by the Bloc Quebecois.

I find it also absolutely amazing that the member for Joliette talked about the federal government not putting any money into the health care system.

I would like to quote the member for Joliette, who said, on January 14, 2004:

--including the difference in spending growth in the federal and the Quebec health departments over the last five years. Ottawa, which has no responsibility with regard to health care delivery, has increased its spending by 78%, whereas the Quebec government, responsible for health care institutions and health care delivery, has increased its spending by 33%.

They have never been satisfied with what the federal government has done, which includes $34.8 billion to the provinces, a five year agreement that was signed just last year and more recently, the $2 billion that was taken from this year's budget to top off the CHST for health care.

Again I quote the member for Joliette. Here is what he said on November 4, 2003:

This is not an economic update. It is a political manoeuvre to allow Paul Martin to make the announcement himself a few weeks before the election. I cannot believe that Mr. Martin will not announce the $2 billion for health before calling an election.

Therefore, even if the government comes forward with a $2 billion investment, the cynical Bloc Quebecois will say that this is simply politics. We know that the top priority of Canadians is health care and our government is responding in that fashion and responding very well.

However, this goes beyond just money, and the minister of state pointed it out very well. We have to manage our health care system much better. We have an aging population. We have technology that is rapidly coming into play and that is creating opportunities to give Canadians better quality health care, to prolong their lives and to provide them with better treatment, but this costs money.

That is why our government says that it will insist on greater accountability, so citizens of every province can compare how their province has done, in terms of the value of the money that they have put into the health care system, against other provinces. They can compare how their province has done with waiting lists for emergency services and surgeries, and a whole host of other things.

There will be more accountability through the newly announced health council so citizens can ensure that they get value for their dollars. Yes, there will be more money put into health care by our federal government in the years to come, I am absolutely convinced of that, and by the provinces, but we need to ensure that we manage these costs prudently.

In the throne speech the government announced that there will be a greater emphasis on public health. In my riding of Etobicoke North we have a community health centre. The Etobicoke health centre provides a whole range of health promotion, health prevention and treatment to citizens. Therefore, it provides better care at a lower cost for our citizens. We need to look at that model. We need to provide the lower cost and better patient care solutions so we can move forward and have a health care system that is sustainable. We have many challenges ahead of us in the health care system.

Regarding the Bloc motion, it is healthy that we are having this type of debate, but unfortunately the only thing the Bloc Quebecois has succeeded in doing today is to again further confuse citizens, and that is very unfortunate.

Is it sufficient that the federal government contributes 40% of the total expenditures? Perhaps not. Perhaps we need to do more. Perhaps we all need to do more. However, to try to make this point about a 16% contribution, when the member from Joliette knows patently well that this figure is not even a close approximation of the truth, is a disservice to the citizens of Canada and to Quebecers.

With that, I certainly will be voting against this motion.

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11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we go to questions and comments, in case members do not know, just a reminder that you cannot refer to the Prime Minister, to or any other member for that matter, by name, in a quote or outside a quote.

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11:10 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very flattered that the hon. member quoted me this extensively. This proves that he is listening.

However, it does not prove that he has a clear understanding of what I said. In the health department, the 78% increase over the last five years was not for the delivery of services to Canadians; it was for bureaucracy and to help the federal government control what the provinces do with the few dollars it is giving them. However, the 33% increase in Quebec, which is probably insufficient because we have problems in health care, was for the provision of direct services to the people, not for bureaucracy and attempts to control, such as those by the federal government.

I would like the hon. member to understand better what I said when he is quoting me. The 78% increase had nothing to do with health care, and everything to do with bureaucracy at the federal health department.

I will ask him the following question. Since it would seem that only the Bloc Quebecois, and me in particular, do not understand what the figures are about, how does he explain that, in order to increase public awareness of health care, the Premiers' Council said in its ad, and I quote:

Despite a recent increase, the federal government’s share of health care funding stands at 16%—down from 50% when public health care was first introduced. Provincial and territorial governments cover the remaining 84%.

In his opinion, is this statement by premiers, including the premier of his province, untrue?

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11:10 a.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reply to the comments made by the hon. member for Joliette.

I think we need to understand that when we get the premiers together in a group there has been the attitude that they need to come up with some kind of unified position to beat up on the federal government to get more money.

I am encouraged by recent moves to change that style and to create a more constructive environment. The provinces are recognizing that there is a lot of work they need to do. Yes, the federal government and the provinces do have to deal with some funding issues but that does not mean the premiers meeting to come up with a single message, which is to beat up on the federal government for more money. I do not think that is very productive. I think the federal government rightly sees through that type of action.

If we look back to 1993 when our government took power, we were faced with a $42 billion deficit. To deal with that deficit, we had to cut programs, services and a lot of other things. This was very difficult but Canadians rallied around and we accomplished our mission.

In having to cut back on programs, the federal transfers to the provinces were affected but considerably less than the direct federal programs. The transfers to the provinces for health care and post-secondary education were a priority for the government but we had to make some cuts. We did. The deficit was eliminated in three years. We have paid down $46 billion or thereabouts in debt. That is saving Canadians over $3 billion a year. That $3 billion a year can be redeployed to health care, to the criminal justice system, to education and to a whole range of priorities, which is what the government is doing.

As a result of those actions we have good sustainable growth in Canada.

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11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the Bloc on its initiative today. We, too, as a party, agree that health care is possibly the number one concern in the country today.

However how can Canadians have confidence that the Liberals believe that is so, even when the Prime Minister is stating that there is no doubt that health care is the number one priority in Canada, when the Liberals have consistently opposed motions like this in the House in the past? I refer to February 19, 2002; February 9, 1999; December 5, 2002; June 5, 2000 and December 1, 1999. There were five motions and all were negatived.

How can Canadians have confidence in the sincerity of the Liberals opposite when there were five motions brought forward in the House of Commons and they consistently voted against each and every one of them?

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11:15 a.m.


Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not, off the top of my mind, remember every motion that was brought before this chamber but I suspect the problem with the previous motions was the same problem that we are having with this motion in that it is riddled with factual inaccuracies.

Why would anyone on this side of the House, in fact why would anyone on either side of the House support a motion that is riddled with inaccuracies?

If we had a motion that said that the federal government should continue to show the strength and priority that it attaches to health care, because that is the reality, then I think we would probably find members on this side of the House supporting that. Such a motion might urge and encourage the federal government to do even more. I am sure a motion like that, which would really be more accurate, would have the support of this side of the House.

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11:15 a.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to take part in today's debate and support the Bloc motion.

It has been a longstanding policy of the NDP to press governments at both the provincial and federal level to provide adequate funding for our health care system. We as a political party have a proud tradition of supporting a public medicare system, one that the former premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas, initiated in Canada. Had it not been for the work done by that government, we believe Canada would not have a national medicare program. We are very proud of that fact.

We have proposals and suggestions as to how to reform the system. A good deal of those were seen in the Romanow report. Mr. Romanow, another former premier of Saskatchewan, worked extensively on dealing with medical costs and the provision of medical services while he was premier. He conducted a massive study and one that clearly showed a way forward for the government and the country with regard to dealing with the costs of medicare and with the issue of quality within the medicare system.

Canada has a position in the world for which we can all be proud. We do not have to apologize to anybody in the world in terms of the quality of care that we provide. However it is not perfect and there is a need for improvement. I think everybody working in the system acknowledges that.

I would like to deal with a couple of issues and specifically address the resolution before the House today urging the government to finally step forward.

Before I was elected to the House of Commons, in the 1990s I watched the push for the privatization of the health care system in Canada. It was interesting that back when the NDP had no status as a political party in the House of Commons, the issue of health care rarely came up in the House. It was not until our party received status again in 1997 that the issue of health care was pushed back on to the political agenda, which led ultimately to the Liberal government being forced to advance funds to the system, to stop downloading the cost to the provinces and to take on, to a full degree, its responsibility.

We saw the government, in the late summer to early fall of 2000, scramble to declare that money would be put into the system. However it was not what the provinces wanted and needed, and the government still has not met those demands.

The resolution that we see before us today is a reflection of the need for the government to take on its proportional responsibility for medicare costs in Canada, which it still has not accomplished. That is why the resolution is before the House today and it is one that we are happy to support.

If we go back in history, it was quite clear that when the original arrangements between the provinces and the federal government were made as to who would bear what costs, the federal government would bear 50% of the costs. That is no longer what we are asking for because the government has not come near that.

It was interesting to listen to the last speaker playing with numbers again. The Romanow report set out in a very clear manner that the federal government was not meeting its proportional responsibility for the cost of medicare. That was the largest and most complete study we have ever had and it was one that clearly pointed the finger at the federal government by stating that it had to meet its responsibilities but that it was not at this point.

As a result of the Romanow report, and as this resolution proposes, we are telling the federal government that it must meet the 25% quota. We can play with the tax credits and the shifting of tax benefits down to the provinces but we should ignore that. That will take up the other 25% to get the government back to its 50%. It has to move from the 16% of actual dollars being spent up to 25%. The government has to phase that in and do it as rapidly as possible.

We could spend some time debating where those funds could come from. We will hear the government's plea of poverty, as we have so many times, but, of course, we get to the end of the year and into the next budgetary period and we find out that the surplus is three, four, five, six times what the government said it would be.

We heard from the current finance minister that there would only be a $2 billion surplus and that maybe it could be given to the provinces. We now know, at the end of the third quarter, that it is over $5 billion and that it will be close to an $8 billion surplus for the 2003-04 year.

The funds are there. If we look at the budgetary projections for the next number of years, that type of surplus will be available and a portion of it needs to be spent on health care.

Mr. Speaker, I forget to mention that I will be splitting my time with my colleague from Churchill.

I want to move on to the whole issue of pharmacare. One of the former finance ministers under the Conservative government was recently quoted in a newspaper article talking about the escalating costs of health care. I do not know if he addressed it at all but a good deal of the escalating costs, way above the inflationary rates in other budgetary items, are because of the escalating costs that we have in pharmacare.

Several things can be done with regard to pharmacare. From our experience, both in Canada and elsewhere, we know there is a substantial over-prescribing of medication, which does affect the quality of care. When people are over-prescribed medications there can be a direct negative result to their health.

We also know that if we did not have the patent protection that we provide and if we were able to do more bulk buying, those could be ways to bring the cost of drugs more under control. We should be looking at the patent legislation as a way of reducing the cost. We could be looking at bulk buying in a much more efficient way. I would point to Australia and its experience in the way it has driven some of its drug costs down, perhaps the most effective on the globe.

Finally, there is the whole issue of providing additional assistance to the doctors and the pharmacies in prescribing medication and to try to get that under control.

I want to address one final point before I run out of time. Again this goes back to the article by Mr. Wilson in the newspaper recently. We have heard from others about the escalating costs. One of the ways of getting around that is to go with what they call the PPP, the public-private partnership arrangement. It has been addressed a number of times and particularly in the Romanow report that the PPP is not the answer. In the end it will cost the system more because it costs private partnerships more to borrow money and, of course, it costs more because there is a profit motive in the delivery of those services and a percentage taken off for that. That is right around the globe.

We can go to any number of places, not just health care, but to a number of other public services where PPP has been attempted and has consistency been shown to be more expensive than government taking on the responsibility directly.

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11:25 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member if he believes the federal contribution to health-care spending is adequate.

He must have heard Liberal members say that their contribution is significant. They argue that federal transfers cover 41% of all health care costs, when in fact they only cover 16% of the costs and their contribution should be 25%, as suggested by the Romanow Commission. I would like the hon. member to comment on these issues.

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11:25 a.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have two answers for my hon. colleague. First, when they talk about 41%, they are playing with the numbers.

We can say that the taxpayer is one taxpayer. When the Liberals in the government play with that, they are just talking about money coming out of different parts of the pocket, but it is coming out at the provincial level.

The Liberals keep saying it is not 16%, it is really 41%. I go back to Mr. Romanow's report which said, as have a number of other studies, that the federal government--ignoring the playing with the tax credits, the tax transfers and all the complexities that are part of that--is only directly paying 16% at this point and that 16% must be moved to 25% as quickly as possible. Mr. Romanow said that should be phased in over the next five years.

We are saying to the government that it should stop playing with those numbers. Everybody agrees the government is only paying the 16%. It is fine if it wants to tax some credit for tax transfers, we will let it have that. However, we are saying that in absolute accurate dollars it must move from the 16% to the 25%. It is beyond debate at this point.

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11:30 a.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but reflect on my colleague from the governing side who a few minutes earlier made a point that there was too much in the motion that could be worked around with and messed around with, suggesting that there were inaccuracies in the motion.

It is important that Canadians hear exactly the wording of the motion. So often they just hear our responses and we do not get the motion out there for people to really hear what is there. I want them to know what my colleague from the governing side was arguing with. Then, I want Canadians, if they question this motion, to check into it. I think they will find that everything within the motion is absolutely accurate and so we know who is not giving a responsible, credible answer from the governing side.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Bloc for bringing the motion forward on its opposition day. Another point is to note that when the Bloc Quebecois can come into the House with a motion that is going to be supported, from what I understand, by pretty much all of the opposition parties, it says that we are speaking on an issue that is near and dear to Canadians, and we want to see things changed. This is something that all the provinces are unified on. The only group not unified is the governing side. The motion reads:

That, as the federal government's 16% contribution to health care spending is clearly inadequate, this House urge the government to invest at least half the current year's surplus in health care, over and above the $2 billion already promised, in order to achieve as rapidly as possible the stable 25% federal contribution called for by Quebec and the provinces.

What in that motion is inaccurate? As my colleague from Windsor has just noted, all the provinces, bar none, accept that the federal government is only putting 16% into health care. There was a point in time when it was even less than that, so there is only 16%.

The 25% that we are talking about is still half of what the federal government committed to medicare at the time of its introduction. What has been happening over the course of time is a slide backward with the federal government not accepting its responsibility in the partnership with the provinces. It has shirked its responsibility to the provinces and to Canadians.

As a result, the provinces have had to make cuts elsewhere to keep the dollars in health care so they can provide whatever services they can for their constituents. Other areas have suffered and the municipalities have had to pick up the slack, all as a result of the federal government not accepting its responsibility as part of the partnership.

There is no great mystery to this. When medicare came in, 50% was the agreed upon figure. We were going to do this half and half and each accept responsibility. Nowhere in the course of time, as the federal government was backing off from its responsibility, did I hear it tell us we would get back all those tax dollars because we had to take on the extra responsibility. Not a chance.

The federal government, first under the Tories and then continuing with the Liberals now for 10 years, has shirked its responsibility. It did not give increased dollars back to the provinces for health care. It continued to cut and kept the tax dollars. I do not want to remind Liberals but they misused and wasted those tax dollars in numerous instances as we have seen and then have said we cannot afford health care. That is not true.

Canadians are willing to support our medicare system. They strongly state they want a not for profit system. Health care is still the number one priority in Canada. I would be willing to say that probably 90-some per cent of Canadians want to see a not for profit system because they recognize no one should profit from health care.

I have listened to the Prime Minister time and time again say that nothing is being breached in the Canada Health Act. The Prime Minister has found the tax loopholes in our tax legislation. He has even put some loopholes in place so he can benefit or his companies can benefit, and some of his corporate friends can benefit. People have now found loopholes within the Canada Health Act to bring in for profit health care. It is not acceptable.

Canadians should not just ask the Prime Minister or the Liberals in the upcoming election if they support our medicare system. Do not ask them that. Canadians should ask them whether or not they are going to allow for profit health care. Let us get right down to the bones of the issue. Are they going to allow corporations to profit from someone's ill health?

I did not have the opportunity see the movie John Q until just a few weeks back. Quite frankly, I think it should be required watching for all members of Parliament, just to remind us of the sickness within a system that does not provide treatment because someone cannot afford it. There is a sickness in a system where for profits, under HMOs, do not provide services because people are not worth it, where we do not want to put the money into doing tests to ensure that they are going to be okay, where they are not valued enough that they deserve to have the same health care as everyone else because they do not have the money.

This is required reading for members while they are off, or if anyone has not seen John Q , take the time to watch it just to be reminded of the sickness of that kind of system, a system that will be pushed by the Liberal government.

Anyone, any group, or any party that does not come out strongly saying that they will not allow for profit health care in Canada does not believe in something that Canadians value dearly, and that is a not for profit medicare system.

The dollars are there. I do not think it is a matter of taxing Canadians more, quite frankly.

What it does mean is the federal government accepting its responsibility, accepting its share of the load, instead of pushing it on to the provinces who then push it on to the municipalities. Then, when things get tough, people say that they can afford this, so if they pay for it, then maybe they would get the treatment elsewhere. That whole system has proven false. It does not work.

There are numerous studies that indicate that for profit care does not provide better care. I will mention one case because we have so many cases of dialysis within my riding. Our aboriginal population, with the type of living conditions that it must put up with over the years and over the course of time, is not able to live in its traditional lifestyle. The dietary products that are there do not always promote a healthy lifestyle, and as a result, we have huge numbers of aboriginal people on dialysis.

A study comparing for profit and not for profit clinics in the U.S. found dialysis patients were more likely to die in a for profit clinic. That is a scary thing within a riding that has huge numbers of aboriginal people on dialysis. It is scary that the Prime Minister and the government are not coming out against for profit health care.

A good number of aboriginal people in my riding are going to be the victims of the government's policy on health care unless the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and Liberal members--and I hate to bring my colleagues from the Conservative Party into this but they do not often come out there saying they do not want not for profit either--are willing to take a stand. We are jeopardizing the lives of Canadians, and in the case of for profit dialysis, a number of first nations people in my riding. That is not acceptable.

In conclusion, I want to congratulate my colleagues from the Bloc. I encourage everyone, over the next week, to take the time to watch John Q and think about how shameful it would be if we were to allow that kind of system within Canada.

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11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to clarify for me the role of the private sector in the public health care system.

In my Saskatchewan riding, the hospitals were built by the private sector. The architects involved in designing the hospitals were in the private sector. The ambulance service is owned by private entrepreneurs. The doctors' offices are privately owned. The uniforms worn by the people who work in the hospital system are made by the private sector. The diagnostic equipment has General Electric, Hitachi and things along that line written on it. When we leave the doctor's office, we go to a private pharmacy to get private drugs.

It has occurred to me that if all these things were eliminated from our health care system, we would have some problems in this country. Is the member from Churchill proposing that all these sorts of things, that are clearly private sector in the existing system, be abolished, banned and eliminated from the system?

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11:40 a.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not have any problem in commenting on each and every one of those instances.

If there were dollars within the system to allow additional programs to be looked after through our health care system, I would say by all means we should be including them within a publicly provided, not for profit system.

As the originators of medicare in Saskatchewan maintained, we have to be able to support our social programs. We in the NDP believe that to this day. What is not acceptable is that under the Conservative government a change to patent legislation was initiated which has allowed the greatest increase in health care costs in this nation, if not everywhere and that is on pharmacare, on prescription drugs. The for profit companies, and I will say it, have literally colluded and ripped off Canadians, They have been fined for doing so.

The same companies are now arguing about not providing meds because of Internet services to the U.S. One of those companies was involved in a scandal that ripped off millions from consumers.

Yes, quite frankly, home care should be provided, ambulance services should be provided, pharmacare should be provided, if we can afford it. If that time comes we should be starting to move on those things. Certainly we should find a process to provide cheaper prescription drugs for seniors throughout this country. They fought for this country. Some paid with their lives. We are not promoting and supporting them and they did it for us.

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11:40 a.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to congratulate the Bloc Quebecois for addressing the very important health issue. When we look at the facts, we find that health is definitely one of the top priorities of Canadians.

As I have often said in the House of Commons, you can go to the veterinary clinic today and not find a single dog or cat in the corridors. I have already told the story about the dog that had to have an operation. It is a story that appeared in the Quebec newspapers. Before operating on the dog, the vet phoned the owner to let him know that the dog was going into the operating room. He phoned him back during the operation to tell him that everything was going well, and he phoned him again after the operation to say that everything was OK.

In our health system, some people have been waiting four months to receive cancer treatments. That is what I learned last night while watching Le Point . This is ridiculous, unacceptable and inhuman.

I would now like to ask my colleague a question. What does she think of the fact that in the Speech from the Throne, the government did not even mention the Romanow report? The government paid a group of people to examine the issue of health, but the Prime Minister did not even bother talking about the report.

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11:40 a.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for bringing that up. In the course of 10 minutes we cannot fit in everything we want to mention.

There is no question, the throne speech was only a verification of the government's failure to support a publicly funded, not for profit health care system. In the throne speech, the absolute commitment made by the Prime Minister was, “Corporations for profit, I am going to let them happen”.

The former prime minister, Mr. Chrétien, failed to implement Romanow in any way, shape or form. The present Prime Minister is no different. He has not come out and said that we are going to make sure that for profit can exist. There is no difference.

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11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to give my comments on the motion before the House and to discuss it with some sort of intelligence, hopefully.

When looking at the problem with health care, we have to ask ourselves how we have found ourselves in such a mess. Health care is the number one priority of Canadians. There is no question about that.

The real challenge in health care is to look ahead at the next 40 years and discern very intelligently and soberly how we are going to sustain the system. In a few minutes I will talk about the kind of shape the system is in right now. In looking ahead, how are we going to sustain it over the next 40 years? A demographic bubble is about to hit the system. The population is aging and is crowding in on the 65 years of age range. We understand the difference in health care costs. The health care costs of someone between 40 and 65 years old are about $4,000 or $4,400 a year. When we compare that to the health care costs of someone between 75 and 85 years old, which are about $14,000 a year, we understand that a massive problem is going to hit our system.

Consider the costs to our health care system in the next 30 or 40 years because of the demographics of our nation. One might ask when that is going to change. When we look at the numbers and do the math, we will see that the bubble does not start breaking until the year 2041. That is when it will really start to break, where there will be some sort of relief and we will start going down the other side of the bubble. It is a large bubble and it is going to be there for a long time. The intense pressure on our system will increase progressively over that 40 year period. We have to understand that in the context of this motion and where we are going in health care.

For a realistic look at where we are in Canada, we must couple that problem with the massive obesity problem in our youth right now. One-third of our youth are obese. We understand from the Heart and Stroke Foundation that those same individuals will have heart and stroke problems between the ages of 30 and 45 years instead of between the ages of 50 and 65 years. That problem will hit the system and double the problem created by demographics.

There is also the diabetes problem in first nations and right across the country. It is expected to double over the next decade.

We could go on and on and point to the problems in the health care system in Canada. I am trying to lay before the House an idea of what we are heading into in the next 40 years. I implore every member of the House to soberly look at how we can solve this problem. How can we sustain a publicly funded system where, regardless of ability to pay, we will have services for every man, woman and child in this country? That is the question. That is the problem. That is the challenge before the House. In light of that, let us look at where we are today and how we got here.

There are one million people on waitlists in this country. One million people cannot get in to have services. Many people die while on those waitlists. For many people, their muscles atrophy and degenerate to a state where they cannot have the operation or the service when the time comes.

There is a serious problem when we look at the number of doctors and nurses who are able to look after a society of 31 million people. A study within the last year revealed that 75% of general practitioners are not taking on any more patients. They are strapped and will not look after any more patients. In fact a survey within the last year said that 45% of those physicians are at an advanced burnout stage. They are burnt out to the point where not only are they not taking on any more patients, but they are ready to throw their hands in the air and walk away from their practice. There is emotional exhaustion within our health care system.

Those are just the doctors. Let us look at the nurses and see how they are doing. The stats indicate that we need 110,000 new nurses within the next decade to fulfill the needs of Canada. The sickest workplaces in our nation are within our hospitals. They are the ones who take the most amount of sick time. They take the most time off because of the emotional strains in their workplace and the amount of time they are stretched.

How did we get here? We got here because of a prime minister and a finance minister, who is now the Prime Minister. He was the finance minister in the early and mid-1990s. In the four year period 1994-95 to 1998-99, he sucked $25 billion out of the health care system alone.

We see what that caused. At the time it caused massive reductions in the health care system. The provinces have the mandate to deliver health care. They have the actual obligation to deliver health care.

I know quite a bit about that because at that time I was chair of a hospital board and went on to sit on the regional health authority. I remember going to a round table where we sat for 30 hours discussing how we were going to be able to deliver on health care provincially. We had to remove $900 million out of the budget in one single year and we were debating how we were going to do that and still sustain a system where 80% of the system was made up of human resources.

In Alberta at that time, which was unprecedented, the recommendation was to lower every salary within the system by 5%. That is what happened in Alberta during that period of time. We saved the system, we saved the budget on the backs of those health care workers.

It is a deplorable situation when we see where we are at and why we are there. It comes down to one individual. It comes down to a finance minister who is now the Prime Minister. Unilaterally, which means without discussion, without consultation with the provinces or any of the health care professionals, he decided to pull that money out of the health care system. We have wandered that way for a decade and here we are in a situation where the health care system is in crisis.

It is unprecedented when the premiers of the provinces get together and collectively pool their resources to put $1.5 million into advertising that the federal government is not putting its fair share into the health care system. It is unprecedented that taxpayer dollars from one order of government have been used to advertise and push another level of government politically. I do not think we have ever seen that before in the history of Canada. That gives us an indication of how things are stretched.

Before the House gets the idea that all we need to do is add more money to the health care system and all things will be well, we should understand a little about how we compare with other nations. Of the 24 developed nations in the world, of which Canada is one, we rank third in the amount of money per capita we spend on health care. If we factor in the age of Canadians, which is actually quite young in comparison to some of the other countries, we rank number one as far as the number of dollars put into health care per capita.

If we think that we can just throw money into the health care system and we will solve all of its woes, we are fooling ourselves. That is not the case.

That is why I get so upset when I see things such as the last throne speech. There was not any reference to the Romanow report. Perhaps we can understand why that was not there. Studies were done over the last decade by the government. By the way, there was $143 million worth of studying of health care in the last decade. It is not so important that we did the studies, but what is important is what came out of those studies. What did we really do?

A little over a year ago the premiers and the Prime Minister signed a health accord to deal with the problems that are plaguing our health care system and how to put it on a sustainable path. It is really interesting that what we hear right now from the provinces and the federal government is that it is all about the dollars, it is all about the money.

This motion is all about the money. It does not talk about all the failures in the health accord. I would like to look at some of the things that were talked about in the health accord because some of it was pretty good. It talked about restoring funding to the core health services, which we agree with. We should restore that. In fact, we fought the last election on adding a sixth principle to health care, which is stable funding.

Actually that should be deemed the former finance minister's principle and the present Prime Minister's accord. That is what it really should have been called, because that is who pulled the money out of health care and removed the stable funding so the provinces were not able to deal with their budgets. The money that goes to health care is now crowding in on 50% of their budgets. We wanted to restore that.

The second thing we wanted was flexibility for the provinces so they could implement the new services that were coming in with the health accord: catastrophic drug coverage, home care and palliative care. We have to understand that there is a lot of difference between home care in downtown Toronto and home care in the outback of Saskatchewan. Provinces need to have the flexibility within the system to be able to deal with those differences. We were able to achieve that in the health accord.

We had to deal with the flexibility of delivery within the public health care system. The system itself has to have enough flexibility within a public umbrella. If we are going to have a single payer system we must have the flexibility to be able to create competition within that system to make it sharp and accountable and to make sure we are getting the best bang for the dollar, because we are investing a tremendous number of dollars in health care, $121 billion a year. We have to somehow make sure that we are using those dollars, that we are policing those dollars, in the most efficient way that we possibly can.

We have to stop this nonsense of talking about who is giving what. We have to clear up the numbers on the dollars in health care. In the health accord, it was a dedicated health transfer rather than the CHST, which means health care and social services as well as education under that umbrella. Everyone was accusing the provinces of using different numbers for health care, social services and education. Let us clear up those numbers. We got that and we are really interested in seeing how it breaks down in next year's budget as we see the split between health care and social services and education.

Those are the things we asked for and got in the health accord, and with which we agree, but there are some other things they have missed in the health accord. It is really interesting that when the premiers sat down on the Friday just before the Monday of the throne speech, the discussion was all about the $2 billion. It was not about the things that were promised in the health accord over the last year and were not accomplished. I would like us to consider some of those things because that should have been part of the discussion. That should be the discussion here now.

Why is it that one order of government sits down with another order of government and they agree on an accord, do not accomplish what they say they were going to do, and yet there is no debate and no discussion about it a year later? One of those things was a minimum basket of services for health care. That was supposed to be done by September of last year. We have to ask ourselves why we are not discussing that. Where is it? What happened to it? We still do not see it.

What happened to the common health services performance indicators that were promised for September of last year? How come that did not take place? There is no reporting of that out of discussions at the first ministers meeting with the Prime Minister here a few weeks ago. There was no discussion whatsoever about some of those failures.

There was no discussion about the Health Council that was supposed to be set up last May. It finally came to us in November, but two provinces are not entering into it so obviously we are not getting a lot of support for the council.

There was supposed to be some reporting on a health reporting framework for aboriginals. What we saw in this last week was a complete failure to discuss that. In fact, they pulled away from obtaining the reporting for aboriginals on their health care. We have to understand when we are looking at the aboriginals that this is 100% a federal jurisdiction. It is not that we have a problem between the provinces and the federal government on a clash about whose responsibility this is. This is 100% a federal responsibility, yet we are still not seeing that happen.

There is no progress on the catastrophic drug coverage, which was part of that health accord. In fact, if we really look at the words of the former minister of health, she said that they have not even started thinking about that whole idea of catastrophic drug coverage. That was back in November. Today there is a new Minister of Health and I am sure that has not progressed at all.

It is really interesting that we do not talk about some of those things, about the unfinished business. It really is something when we start looking at the whole dilemma in health care. When we look at the problems in health care and the challenge going ahead into the 21st century, we see how the debate is all wrapped around just the dollars and cents. We do not even get to how we have to change the paradigm in health care away from this health care system that we have almost made a sacred cow. We should be changing that focus and putting it on the patient. If we do not put the patients first and build a system around the patient's needs in the 21st century, we will fail to move forward in making the health care system sustainable.

It is very important that as we go ahead we understand some of the problems, some of the challenges and some of the opportunities we have. When we look at the motion, we see that really it just calls for more money. As has been described earlier, we need more money, and we need to have a working relationship with the provinces and the federal government. We have to make the federal government responsible for its part of the health care budget.

I am not 100% convinced that the motion is accurate when it states that we should just put in 50% of the surplus, because we do not know what the surplus is. People can manipulate dollars and cents and money in budgets very easily, so I am a little nervous when I see that this is the way we are supposed to proceed in the future with regard to health care funding. We believe in stable funding so that provinces know exactly what they are getting and why, and what we expect them to achieve with that money.

This is the other link that is not part of this motion and discussion. The discussion is just about how to throw more money at the system and that will fix it. That is an illusion. That will not happen. That will not solve the problems as we look ahead into the 21st century. When we look at some of the other problems with health care and the health of a nation, we have to look at some of the other solutions, not just money. We have to understand that there is a large, dark hole in health care and the more money we throw at it the more money will be consumed.

We have to put more onus on the individual patient, the individual Canadian citizen who is paying into health care. We have to look at more prevention. We have to understand that the health of a nation is wrapped up in more than just health services. A good job and the wealth of a nation are part of it, as is how we educate people on how to eat and exercise.

We need to look upstream, we might say. This has been talked about a lot in our health care debate. We need to look upstream so that we catch people before they become ill, so that we prevent them from becoming ill.

We have to look at natural food products. I am amazed when I see what is actually happening with the recent development that we will allow marijuana for medicinal purposes in this country with no research, no validation or product of choice whatsoever, yet we will stop natural food products, just vitamins and minerals, from coming in from the United States.

I cannot for the life of me understand where this government is coming from on that issue. On the one side, we see the damage that is done by marijuana use in this country and how devastating that is to our society, while on the other side natural food products have never hurt anyone. They are only for health. We have individuals who are saying they absolutely must have those products, yet Canada is determined that it will not allow them to come in.

The other problem is that the highest and rising cost driver of health care is medication. Adverse reactions to medications in this country are at an all time high. It is unbelievable. Somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 deaths a year in Canada are due to adverse drug reactions. It is a study that the House of Commons health committee has initiated. I have pushed this in health committee. We have worked hard at it. In fact, a couple of weeks ago the House actually passed my motion asking for 48 hours' notification for adverse drug reactions so that we can actually deal with the problem of drug reactions.

Just putting more money into more medications is not the answer. A study that came out last week said that alone our seniors consume $1 billion more in medication than is necessary. They should not be using these drugs at all. That is $1 billion a year for 31 million people, but when we talk about it being just the seniors, we get a picture of just how many drugs they are consuming that they should not be.

It is said that the largest user of pharmaceutical drugs in our country is the wastebasket. We have to really get a handle on where we are going. This is the number one driver of costs in our system, so we have to look at some of these ideas as solutions and not just at the idea of throwing money at a system to solve a problem. It is much deeper than that. If that were the problem, we would have solved it a long time ago. We cannot let either order of government off the hook by just saying “let us give them more money” so that politically they are safe. That is not the solution in the long run.

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12:05 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I talked a little while ago about the importance of the health care issue. I would like to make a comment on looking at the money and not the answers. Many times, money is the answer. I would like my colleague to remember that health care was doing much better before 1994 when all the cuts to EI were made. We did not have people waiting in the hallways then.

It is like taking a bicycle wheel and breaking some of the spokes. If we start to do that, would he agree with me that things will start to go bad? And then they get worse. That is where we are today. We missed it right from the beginning when we started to have the cuts to EI.

Let us look at governments around the world. Let us look at the United States, which can send machinery to Mars. There is money in the world. It depends on how we want to use it.

I really believe that if we had money we could do something. The problem happens when the money is there but the right priority is not set. Also, we do not want to give that money to the private sector so that it makes money on health care. I disagree with people making money on people's health, where children and poor people will have a hard time getting to the hospitals and all of that.

If the Conservative Party had a choice of spending money on star wars or spending it on health, what would it choose? I think my question is pretty straightforward. I do not believe in war. I would like to see what the Conservative Party believes in. Health care or star wars?

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12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question, but really it is a no-brainer. When it comes to star wars or health care, health care gets the nod, but I do not believe the star wars program being proposed is really going to consume a lot of money. Probably we have spent more on the sponsorship scandal, but let us not get into the actual numbers on that.

I think the member brings up another point. He said that really the spokes did not fall off the wheel until the early 1990s, when the money came out of the system. We have to understand the ideology at that time, which was that the drivers of costs in health care were doctors. The ideology was to get rid of the doctors and get rid of the costs. That was false at that time and the doctors said so. They said that in a decade we would be running into big problems. Here we are, running into big problems.

At the same time, when we pulled those dollars out we lost a tremendous number of nurses and doctors to south of the border and to other countries, for two reasons: number one, because of the stress of the jobs, and number two, there were not the jobs because they were just shut down.

It was our youngest, brightest and best who went south of the border because of the seniority of the unions within our hospitals. Now we have the older nurses, who actually at the time were very good nurses but who are getting to the place where they are burned out. They have to leave. That multiplies the problem as far as human resources is concerned.

There are two fundamental problems in our health care system today that have to be addressed. They are the wait list and the human resources shortages. They are actually coupled together. Obviously more money will help, but not just more money for no reason. We have to put in more money for a reason and we have to be able to make sure that the provinces are not let off the hook, because they are also political animals, one might say. The easiest thing for them to do is to throw money at the problem so that all things will go away.

We have to put health care on a sustainable course, so we have to drill deeper into some of the problems and look at some of the solutions. We have to see where the money is actually going and make sure that we have enough accountability within the system to be able to drive it. If we fail in that, we will lose our system, and that is not what the Conservative Party wants at all.

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12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Yellowhead for reminding us of a few facts. I think history will say that the approach of the current Prime Minister and past finance minister in dealing with fiscal matters was to take care of his friends and special interest groups. I think history will say how he used a slash and burn method of balancing the books by targeting things like health care, which we are paying a big price for today. People have to remember that.

I commend the member for bringing up the questions of sustainability and demographic issues. They are serious concerns.

I just read a report of the International Monetary Fund on the sustainability of our programs. It quantified and calculated every country's unfunded liabilities and added that to our existing debt level. Under its calculations, Canada moved from 40% of GDP to 400% of GDP. Look at all our unfunded liabilities: pensions, aboriginal commitments, health care commitments and so on. To me, this should be a major challenge in the forthcoming election. We should be discussing how we deal with those kinds of problems.

Has the member for Yellowhead seen any glimpse from this new Prime Minister that he is even aware of this problem, let alone proposing ways in which we can make our social programs sustainable with these huge challenges facing us, because I just do not--

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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. I think the hon. member has made his point.

The hon. member for Yellowhead.

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12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will use the present Prime Minister's own words in answering that question. He stated, “If you want to know where I am going, look at where I have been. My track record will prove to you where I am going”. If we apply that to health care, it is a very scary thought when we look at the Prime Minister's health care record. He was the finance minister that unilaterally cut it, without any discussion. He was pulling money out of health care while at the same time giving out $16 billion in grants and contributions. It was not a matter of not having the money. It was a matter of priorities not being set appropriately. That is the shame of our health care. That is a legacy of this Prime Minister.

We have had two prime ministers in the last year, the past prime minister who was looking for a legacy, which might end up being a scandal, and the present Prime Minister who has a legacy in health care, which is just as bad. People are dying because of health care decisions that were made in the House a decade ago. It is unfortunate.

Let us see if we can reverse it. Let us see if we can put our health care system on a sustainable path in the 21st century. To do that, we have to put the patient first and build a system of accountability around that patient.

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12:10 p.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to this important motion introduced by my colleague, the member for Joliette. It says:

That, as the federal government’s 16% contribution to health care spending is clearly inadequate, this House urge the government to invest at least half the current year’s surplus in health care, over and above the $2 billion already promised, in order to achieve as rapidly as possible the stable 25% federal contribution called for by Quebec and the provinces.

This motion is one of the most important motions that we have had to deal with here in this House, for several reasons. The first reason is that, for the public, and this is true in Quebec as well as in Canada, health care is the number one concern and priority.

The worst thing about this whole saga is that, when cost-sharing programs were started in the 1970s, there was talk about a fair share between the provinces and the federal government. Indeed, before the establishment of the Canada social transfer, which came about because of cuts ordered by the former finance minister, who is now the Prime Minister, all programs that existed, whether the social assistance program, the health care program or the distinct education program, had been signed between the federal government and the provinces on a 50-50 cost-sharing basis.

However, in the 1970s, this proportion started to be reduced. When the three distinct programs were changed into one transfer, that being the Canada social transfer, the then finance minister, who is now the Prime Minister, started to make more cuts in social and health programs. Thus, today, despite the one-time payment of $2 billion that will be made for health care, the federal government's contribution is only 16%.

It is not because the federal government does not have the means. It has had the means since 1995. The federal government is recording higher and higher surpluses each year. The federal government, through the former finance minister, now Prime Minister, and the current Minister of Finance, is like a broken record saying year after year that there is no surplus this year or a very small one and that times are tight. That has been the message since 1995. Since 1995, there has been no respect for the public. Since 1995, tales have been told both in and outside the House about the size of the surplus.

This year again, the surplus for fiscal year 2003-04 will be several billion dollars. For this year alone, there is talk of $8 billion. If we subtract from this the $2 billion promised as a one time payment for health, there is still a $6 billion surplus.

What can we do with this $6 billion? That is what we are proposing today. We should take half of this $6 billion amount, or $3 billion, and give it to Quebec and the provinces, so they can respond to the number one priority of Quebeckers and Canadians.

The federal government cannot claim that health care is a priority and, at the same time, not pay its share, its fair share, of health care funding.

The federal government has abandoned the sick. If there are serious problems in health care across Canada, it is because of the federal government. A few days ago I read that 10,000 women in Quebec with breast cancer are suing the Quebec government because they were not treated in time.

The Quebec government is not to blame, but rather the federal government, which slashed transfer payments and did not allow Quebec or the provinces, which are responsible for providing health care, to provide adequate health care to these 10,000 women with breast cancer. That is the reality. The federal government has abandoned the sick.

Even with the increase in the rate at which the federal government is raising the amount of its transfers for health care, we will never get to the 25% required by all provinces. The provinces are unanimous on this. The 25% level will never be reached unless some mechanism is put in place like the one in the Bloc Quebecois motion, which would make it possible to pay half of the surplus year after year to Quebec and the provinces. It would take several years before the 25% level would be reached. Neither we nor the public are asking anything unreasonable.

The funds administered here belong to the public. Nearly all taxpayers feel that health care is the number one priority. If that is the case, there must be a system like this one put in place. There will be money, both this year and next. The federal taxation system is such that there will be a surplus year after year. One need only look at the taxation structure. Federal income tax, which is the major source of public funds, is where there is the highest growth year after year.

As far as Quebec is concerned, the bulk of individual taxes go to the federal government. The split is 60-40, so if 60% of something that is growing so rapidly goes into the federal coffers year after year, this means that the surplus is growing year after year. This is a structured system, and is the reason we say fiscal imbalance must be settled. This is not some sort of spirit vision; fiscal imbalance is not something virtual, but reality.

The fact that there is a fiscal imbalance is proof that the federal government has too much money compared to its responsibilities. The governments of Quebec and the provinces do not have enough compared to their fundamental responsibilities. These include health, education and income security for the disadvantaged. It does not require a PhD to understand this.

Yet we have been calling upon the Prime Minister since 1995, since he had the great idea to just push a button and create a system doing away with the need to come before the House of Commons every year to justify the slashing cuts made to federal transfers for health, education and social assistance. We have been saying this for years, and we are saying it to him here again today.

Now it is not just the Bloc Quebecois who keep telling him this. All the provincial premiers are saying the same thing; it is unanimous. The public is dismayed and so are the 10,000 women with breast cancer who did not receive proper care because of the drastic cuts made by the former finance minister, the current Prime Minister.

At the rate things are going, with the aging population and health costs increasing by 5% to 7% a year, health spending is going to have a stranglehold on the finances of Quebec and the provinces. While surpluses are going to be accumulated and bragged about here, the provinces will have a terrible time providing quality care. This is going to get worse every year.

The federal government has abandoned the sick. We would not mind so much if the government had the courage to respond to the needs of the public, if it listened to the cries of distress from the sick in Quebec and Canada. We would not mind so much if the Prime Minister rose and said that he had made a mistake and that now we are going to rethink federal transfers and look at 25% or more because we made a mistake in the past. We have caused the health care system to deteriorate.

Having itself caused the health care system to deteriorate for years, the government is calling for universal health care. What fine principles. The provinces are being undercut and yet they are being asked to meet all the criteria of the Health Act. What we are going through right now is completely inhuman. This government is more than just deaf and blind; the pathology is much deeper than that. It does not know the first thing about the public's real needs.

Not only has it abandoned the sick. The federal government has abandoned everyone, all the stakeholders, all the sectors with the greatest need. The unemployed are one example.

Less than 40% of these people qualify for employment insurance benefits. Why? It is once again because of the drastic cuts in the employment insurance program and because the criteria set by the federal government were tightened up. This tightening up is the work of the former finance minister and current Prime Minister, who puts a hand on his heart when he is talking about the poor.

He should stop talking and start acting. He has the means to act, but he does not. In fact, he does act: over the past few years, $45 billion have been stolen from the employment insurance fund. This is money that did not go to the unemployed. Is the government not abandoning the unemployed?

Also, we have been saying for years that seasonal workers are directly hit, that the federal government is destabilizing the regions with this employment insurance program, that the spring gap is creating havoc in rural communities across Quebec and Canada. But the government is still turning a deaf ear. It has abandoned the unemployed. Not only has the government abandoned them, it stole the money to which these people were entitled to cope with the loss of their job.

The government also abandoned our seniors. For a number of years, it did not tell them about the guaranteed income supplement. It made things so complicated for seniors to qualify for that program that several thousands of them did not benefit from it, and this situation lasted several years.

Fortunately, my colleague, the hon. member for Champlain, rose one day to condemn this situation. He toured Quebec to hold information sessions for seniors, tell them about the program and explain to them how to get the supplement. In fact, Bloc Quebecois members from all over Quebec helped find those seniors who were not benefiting from the program but qualified for it.

In the riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot alone, there were 1,360 seniors who could have benefited from the guaranteed income supplement. The Bloc Quebecois, myself and my office staff did a blitz in that riding to find the poorest of those seniors who qualified for the guaranteed income supplement. We found about 70 of them who later received payments of $4,000 or $5,000. For these people, that money makes all the difference between extreme poverty and relative poverty or relative wealth.

Nobody had told them about these programs before we did. Nobody, except the Bloc Quebecois, had helped the most vulnerable seniors in our society get this guaranteed income supplement.

Things have changed since that time. Understandably, with all the scandals plaguing the government, it finally decided to do something. However, it took months if not years to make the government understand that some of the most disadvantaged seniors in our society are being shafted.

The other day, I was listening to Jean Lapierre who was saying that he remembered being wined and dined by Mr. Lafleur, from Lafleur Communications, who is involved in the sponsorship scandal after having received hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money for a job that was never done. I heard him say that he was served very good wine at Mr. Lafleur's, who will soon be accused of corruption. He talked about a Petrus or a Bordeaux Premier Grand Cru, at $5,000 a bottle.

Do you know what I would have done in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot with $5,000? I would have helped a senior who is now living in poverty by giving that person a chance to have a higher standard of living. But, in one evening, Mr. Lapierre drank that bottle offered by Léon Lafleur, a product of corruption.

The Prime Minister always sounds very sincere when he talks to us about poverty and the most disadvantaged in our society, with his chief organizer in Quebec, Jean Lapierre. Mr. Lapierre is having nice meals washed down with Petrus and Bordeaux Premier Grand Cru at $5,000 a bottle while we are out there looking for some of the poorest seniors. Is that fairness and social justice? It is outrageous.

The federal government has abandoned seniors, but that is not all. It has also abandoned farmers throughout Quebec and Canada, including those from the ridings of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, Drummond and Verchères—Les-Patriotes who come to our offices to tell us how desperate they are.

As former chief economist for the UPA, I am seeing for the first time such a widespread and profound crisis in all sectors of agriculture. This is the most important economic sector for Quebec, along with agri-food.

This is first time I have seen such a profound crisis. Grain prices for producers have bottomed out for the past five years. Why have they bottomed out? Because the Americans are heavily subsidizing grain exports around the world. They are pushing down international prices, and we are the ones suffering.

At the same time, the federal government is slashing subsidies to producers. This means that the agricultural industry is being destroyed, and we can no longer compete with American subsidies. That is the reality.

While we were taking the high road and saying, “We must respect WTO agreements, etc.”, the Americans were not and they are kicking us out of the market, with the federal government's help and our taxes.

The cattle industry is a victim of the mad cow crisis. The cull cow industry is another victim of mad cow. I do not know how many times I have heard the government tell us, “We are going to provide funding. A new program is coming”. Not one cent has gone to farm families since these announcements were made.

Since last year, the price of beef has dropped 74%. I invite members to find me an individual, producer or manufacturer in any other economic sector, capable of surviving a similar disaster. Prices have dropped 74%.

Now, the federal government is introducing programs. Not one cent has gone to farm families in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. These people are in crisis. This is the first time there has been such a profound crisis since 1982, when interest rates climbed above 20%. This is the first time there has been such a serious crisis. At the same time, announcements are being made, not one penny has been paid, and families are the ones suffering.

Once again, the beef and dairy sectors in Quebec and the rest of Canada are being dismantled, because of the government's inertia. When one looks at the amounts being offered in the programs of the federal and provincial governments, it is clear that they cover barely 50% of the losses being suffered by producers selling beef cattle and cull cows.

With respect to cull cows, the latest federal program does not even take into account the rate of replacement in the dairy sector. They talk about a 16% replacement rate, while in reality it is 25%. There is a 25% turnover in the herds each year. There is no compensation for this. Not even half of the losses are covered by the new programs.

If we look at the entire agricultural sector, we see that there is no logic anymore. Since last year there has been a decrease of 54% in net farm income, which never was very high. That is net income, the income that remains after paying all the costs of production. That net income fell by 54%. Debt, on the other hand, keeps growing.

I know why. In a situation where prices are so low that there is no income, self-financing becomes necessary in order not to be outstripped by the competition, and farmers end up with a debt load that has been growing exponentially in the last four or five years.

And what is the federal government doing right now in the agricultural sector? It is trying to ram down Quebec's throat an agricultural policy framework that Quebec does not want. In Quebec, we have income stabilization programs. We have funding programs.

We have—with La Financière agricole du Québec—redefined all types of intervention. And now the federal government comes in and throws its weight around, and because the farmers are in a state of disarray, it threatens them, “If you do not join the agricultural policy framework, if you refuse it, you will not have one cent of federal money”.

It is the taxpayers' money. The farmers have been abandoned and, moreover, this policy they do not want is being shoved down their throats.

In fact, and I will end with this, the only ones not abandoned—since the federal government has abandoned the sick, the jobless, the elderly, the farmers, the 10,000 women with breast cancer—were the ad agencies, the friends of the government, who received hundreds of millions in the sponsorship scandal. Likely a sizeable portion of that found its way back to the Liberal Party of Canada's slush fund.

People will remember that. They will remember. They will also remember that the Prime Minister maintained a tax treaty with Barbados, a shameful thing which has benefited the billionaires of this country, who transfer capital there in order to avoid paying taxes.

He himself transferred management of CSL International to Barbados in order to not pay a cent of tax, or very nearly, about 2%. People will remember that. They will remember that he himself introduced a bill in 1998, Bill C-28, which has saved him $100 million in taxes since then. They will also remember that, during his watch, $161 million in government contracts went to CSL, and they will realize what kind of government we have here. It is corrupt through and through.

While the public, the disadvantaged, the elderly, the sick, the jobless, those who are in desperate straits, have all been abandoned by the federal government, the agricultural sector is also in a desperate situation. We will fight until we drop to make the government see some sense and behave honestly. It is high time it did.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on the motion and outline some of the areas that we are addressing in health care.

I must say that the way the motion is put forward by the Bloc Quebecois contains patently wrong information. By claiming that there is a 16% contribution, the Bloc perpetuates this misinformation by only speaking of the cash transfers to the provinces.

The fact of the matter is that health care transfers to the provinces are much more than cash transfers. They are tax point transfers as well as some of the other special programming that the Government of Canada put in place over the last number of years.

The motion fails to mention the tax points transferred. The motion fails to mention the health care budget. The motion fails to mention the health equalization expenditures and the new direction by the new Prime Minister. The motion as well fails to mention what the Prime Minister just announced recently, and that is the $2 billion increase in health care moneys being transferred to the provinces, following up on the commitment made by the previous prime minister and the previous government.

Let me go back to some of the points that were carried through from the throne speech of the year 2000. When the government came into being, the Romanow report was just finishing up and it was done to try to find some of what was wrong with our health care system. Of the massive amount of dollars being spent federally and provincially across the country, health care was seen as a priority but we needed to do things better. Therefore, the government put in place the Romanow report, and of course there was Senator Kirby's report as well.

Coming out of that were some health reform packages which were announced in the 2000 budget. One of them was the comprehensive health accord with first ministers to renew Canada's health care system. That was done. Very positive things came out of that health care accord, and it was a very positive meeting with the first ministers. That has moved the country forward in doing a better job on health care.

There was the national summit on healthy living. There are compassionate care benefits for people caring for gravely ill family members. That also contributes to health care, but of course it is not mentioned in the numbers from the other side. They do not want to talk about good news stories. They want to perpetuate the misinformation out there, which is being fostered by the provinces. They tend to get into this federal-provincial debate of it being our fault. The provinces doe not want to take responsibility for some of the financial matters. They want to blame the federal government.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

An hon. member

You're blaming it on the provinces.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The member opposite says I am blaming it on the provinces. I am not. I am just outlining the facts. I know members in the Conservative Party, and I will get to some of their platform in a minute in my remarks, do not want to talk about the facts because when the facts are outlined, then this government comes through in shining colours. The other side does not want to hear that.

Relating to health reform, was the pesticide legislation. It also assists in health care, more from the preventive side. We have done a lot for children and families. In my previous responsibilities we had the national crime prevention strategy. When we deal with children at a young age, from the preventive side, we save the health care system all kinds of dollars. As a government, we have carried that out very extensively. We have been there and have put in place programs for children and families.

Let me get to some of the specifics on the dollar amounts so the opposition is reminded of the facts.

In the 2003 health accord, the Government of Canada committed $34.8 billion in funding for health care over, five years beginning in 2003-04. This included: $9.5 billion in increased cash transfers to the provinces and the territories; $2.5 billion to immediately relieve existing pressures in the system; $16 billion for health reform; and $1.5 billion for a diagnostic and medical equipment fund, as well as funding for other initiatives to assist in approving access to health care services.

In December 2003 the National Health Council was established to improve accountability in the health care system by monitoring and making public reports on the health accord and its progress. That was a very important step. It only had its first meeting on January 29 of this year.

I congratulate the previous minister of health, Allan Rock, on his proposal for a report card. It absolutely amazes me, with the massive amount of dollars that we spend on health care, that no one can tell us specifically where those dollars have gone.

Yes, we admit we have a problem but we are working on it. We are not just complaining about it like those on the other side. However, when we have a problem, we have to figure out where that problem is. The report card and the accountability approach is all about that: finding out where those dollars are going. Are we making a better job of health care in urban Canada than we are in rural Canada? Is Prince Edward Island doing better or worse than say the province of Alberta in terms of its health care system and how it expends the dollars. It is important we know that so we can make the appropriate decisions. In part the National Health Council is all about that.

The government in budget 2003 created a $1.5 billion medical diagnostic equipment fund for provinces and territories to acquire equipment. That was on top of the $1 billion equipment fund set up in the year 2000. Almost all provinces have made announcements on their share of the fund. So far the money has gone toward the purchase of at least 20 MRI machines and 4 CT scanners. More than $6 million has also been used to expand picture archives and communication systems which can improve access in rural and remote areas.

That point reminds me of when we travelled to a riding not far from Ottawa where there was an announcement on rural health care. They were using technology to do a scan of an individual in the north. There was a nurse in the north and the doctor and medical staff were here, not far out of Ottawa. It shows what can be done remotely to improve the health care system by using some of this technology and doing it more efficiently, which is a great step forward.

I already mentioned the meeting with first ministers, which was held on February 2. Under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, our government committed a further $2 billion in health care funding for the provinces and territories. At that meeting, first ministers agreed they would report annually to Canadians, using comparable indicators on enhancements to diagnostic and medical equipment and services.

Clearly, the government is committed to health care. It is committed to increasing spending. It is committed to better prevention measures. It is committed through and through, and it is following through on what it has said it would do.

Let me go back to the opposition motion. It makes the claim that health expenditures by the federal government are not sufficient. The real story that Canadians want resolved is not how much money is spent, but more crucially, how it is determined where the money allocated for health care goes.

As I have already outlined, the record of the Government of Canada is clear. Transfers to the provinces in terms of health care and equalization have been increasing steadily over the past number of years.

In 1995 we had to come in with a very difficult budget which meant cutbacks in a number of areas. We made the hard decisions when they needed to be made, and that is why we could have a health care budget a while ago. That is why the Prime Minister was able to provide an additional $2 billion in spending. Because of the hard decisions we made in 1995 to get the house in order, we were able to steadily increase spending in the health care area.

The decline in health care spending in the mid to late 1990s was necessary, as were all federal expenditure reductions in order to achieve what the previous Conservative government created, which was a massive mess and a massive crippling deficit. Every federal department was affected. All expenditure programs were hit severely with reductions at that time. We have made progress since then.

The deficit has been eliminated. The allocations have been more wisely spent. We have been able to increase those allocations. Nationally, health care transfers have and will continue to increase. In 2001-02 the CHST transfers were $34.4 billion. In 2004-05 the transfers will be approximately $40 billion. I know members on the other side have trouble with the math, but that is an increase of just about $6 billion.

Let me speak for a moment of my own province of Prince Edward Island. On a per capita basis, Prince Edward Island benefits the most from all federal transfers. The amount per person is $2,849. Transfers in terms of the CHST have been and will continue to increase. In 1999-2000 the CHST transfers to PEI were $133 million. In 2004-05 they will have increased to $175 million, an increase of almost $40 million. That represents a substantial increase in expenditures under CHST in five years.

The premier and I had a dispute this week because the province wants to propose a health tax. PEI does not need a health tax. We need the government in PEI to manage its finances appropriately as we have done federally.

According to the federal Department of Finance, federal transfers to PEI represent 37% of the province's revenues. That is pretty substantial. I am pleased we have been able to do that.

For the benefit of the hon. member from Alberta who has been heckling now and then, the citizens of Prince Edward Island deserve a proper health care system every bit as much as the province of Alberta. That is the benefit of being in Canada. The federal government is trying to create equality for all Canadians. We have managed our finances and now we are able to do that.