Mr. Speaker, the NDP is pleased today to provide the House with an opportunity to debate a motion having to do with the delivery of health care in the country. We think it is particularly appropriate given the confusion that seems to abound on the government side with respect to the Liberal position.
We hope that during the course of the debate today, assuming that Liberals wish to speak to the motion, that we might get some clarity with respect to the Liberal position, particularly when it comes to private for profit delivery of health care.
Therefore it is no coincidence that our motion reads:
That this House condemn the private for-profit delivery of health care that this government has allowed to grow since 1993.
In effect, what the motion addresses is the Liberal record, as much as any abstract or ideological debate about the merits of for profit delivery versus non-profit public delivery, although we stand firmly on the side of non-profit and-or public delivery of health care, as did Roy Romanow in his conclusions vis-à-vis the royal commission that was conducted by Mr. Romanow on health care.
However our concern today is what has happened under the Liberals over the last 10 years. Privatization of our health care has increased markedly in that last 10 years,as a result of changes that the Liberals made to the Canada Health Act, as a result of cuts that were made by the Liberals, particularly under the current Prime Minister when he was the minister of finance, and also just the way in which the Liberals have sort of turned a blind eye to the creeping privatization of our health care system. We see that blind eye continuing to operate in the kinds of things that have been said recently by the Minister of Health.
At the same time as he acknowledged that there was room for the private delivery of insured services within the Canada Health Act, he did not express any concern about the tendency of that sector within our health care system to grow. We would have liked to have heard him say that the government was concerned about the growth of that kind of privatization and was determined to do something about it.
Instead, it was obvious that this was regarded as a neutral fact about the current health care system by the Minister of Health. It was only after alarm bells rang that the minister felt obliged to stand and say that the government was not encouraging the private delivery of publicly insured services. However it would have been much more authentic and convincing if this had been said right off the bat, which it was not.
It is also important that we get some clarity on this matter of health care because we are facing an election. In the election it is obvious that the Liberals want to create what we think is a false distinction between themselves and the official opposition when it comes to health care. It is no secret that part of the Liberal strategy is to demonize the official opposition when, in our view, there is very little daylight between the position of the Liberal government and the official opposition when it comes to health care, particularly when it comes to the role of private for profit delivery of health care in the country.
If the House will permit me a little bit of historical reflection, I think I am one of the few members of Parliament left in the Chamber who was here when the Canada Health Act was brought into being in the spring of 1984, 20 years ago. In fact, I was the NDP health critic at that time and sat on the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare that considered the Canada Health Act, amended it and heard the witnesses. Certainly it was one of my formative political experiences to be part of that process by which the Canada Health Act came into being. Therefore I know a little bit about it.
I find it curious that the Minister of Health, instead of answering the questions we ask him in the House of Commons, all he says is that the Liberal government will stand by the Canada Health Act, as if this tells us what we want to know. It is not enough to say that the government will stand by the Canada Health Act because the act, frankly, was not designed to deal with the problems that our health care system has today.
The Canada Health Act, which was the successor to the Medical Care Act which brought medicare into being in the first place, came as a result of advocating that the then Liberal government, under Pierre Trudeau and health minister Monique Bégin, do something about the proliferation of extra billing by physicians and user fees in the health care system.That is what the Canada Health Act, to the extent that it was different than the legislation that proceeded it, was designed to do.
The principles that are embedded in the Canada Health Act were also in the previous legislation. What is substantially new about the Canada Health Act is that it has given the federal government the ability to withhold from provinces, which allow the extra billing and user fees for medically necessary services, the equivalent amounts, so there would be no incentive, in fact there would be a punishment for allowing extra billing and user fees. This is what the Canada Health Act was about.
The Canada Health Act was not designed to punish, discourage or deal with the whole question of privatization. It is quite disingenuous, not to say intellectually dishonest, for the Minister of Health and the ministers of health before him, to get up, whenever they are asked a question about oranges, say privatization, and say that they are all for apples. As I said before, that is not what the Canada Health Act was designed to deal with.
It was very interesting that at that time, in 1983-84, after the second Hall commission report and the recommendations by Justice Emmett Hall, the government would do something like the Canada Health Act. The Conservatives of the day were led by Brian Mulroney after his entry into the House in August 1983 in a byelection in Central Nova. I remember going down to Central Nova to challenge him to a debate on health care, which, incidentally, he did not take up.
In any event, the Conservatives at that time moved to the left to adopt the emerging Liberal position. It was not easy to get the Liberals to move on and create the Canada Health Act. It took three or four years of persistent questioning in the House and agitation by the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Nurses Association and all kinds of people who were concerned about what extra billing and user fees were doing at that time.
The principles are the same with respect to extra billing, user fees and privatization. What unites those issues is the concern that Canadians have to pay out of their own pockets, whether it is in the form of extra billing, user fees or privately run clinics, particularly those who are now making available diagnostic services so that people can actually pay for those services, and then even more unacceptable, jump the queue because they have their diagnosis before someone else who has to wait in the public system.
I want to get back to the politics of this. In 1983-84 Brian Mulroney decided that he would not stick to the usual historical Conservative position on health care, which was to be critical of medicare or at least not defend it. In fact, in all those years leading up to the Canada Health Act I do not think there was a single question asked in the House of Commons by the Conservative opposition at the time with respect to extra billing and user fees, just as, 20 years later, there has not been a single question asked by the Alliance and now Conservative Party in the House leading up to this current debate on health care with respect to privatization, with the exception of the official opposition raising the question of health now as a way of trying to get around the Liberals' strategy.
The difference now is that I think there was for a while, until Mulroney changed it, a genuine difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives at that time. I am not so sure that the Liberal government is anywhere near as progressive when it comes to health care as Monique Bégin and Pierre Trudeau were in the early 1980s and which culminated in the Canada Health Act.
Instead of the Conservative position moving over to adopt the Liberal position, we have a kind of meeting of the minds, and I use that word loosely, meeting somewhere in the middle of the aisle, with there being very little distinction between the Liberals and the Conservatives, when it comes to private delivery of health care.
The leader of the official opposition said--