Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise you that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the Minister of State for Public Health.
I welcome the opportunity that this motion offers to speak to the government's commitment to ensuring the long term sustainability of Canada's public health system.
I want to assure Canadians that this alarmist motion is both misguided and unnecessary as it in no way reflects the government's vision for health and our 10 year plan, which I believe to be consistent with and founded upon Canadian values.
The Government of Canada, like all Canadians it serves, cares a great deal about the fundamental values behind our health care system, namely equality and justice. These values, which are at the heart of our social program most appreciated by Canadians throughout the country, define us and unite us as a people and a nation. They sum up perfectly what it means to be Canadian.
The members of my party reject the idea of having a system whereby jumping the queue—in other words, using one's ability to pay in order to avoid waiting in line—determines one's access to health care or how quickly it is delivered. We expect all our partners to honour to the spirit of the Canada Health Act.
I can assure all Canadians, regardless of where they live or how much money they earn, be they men or women, young or old, that they can have complete faith in their public health care system, which is universal, accessible and single-tiered. The system is there for them and their family if and when they need it because that is the medicare promise.
This national program provides all Canadians with access to medically required health services according to their needs, not their means. Clearly, user fees for insured and medically required services are contrary to the Canada Health Act.
Over and above any debate, this government has a commitment with respect to the health system of our country. The 2004 throne speech and budget have sent a clear message: we plan to bolster the social foundations of Canada, including our universal health care system.
The announcement in the budget of an additional $2 billion on top of the $34.8 billion in new funding over five years announced a year ago in the 2003 agreement, are all proof of our commitment to provide the provinces and territories with lasting, predictable funding that will increase over the long term so that the system may continue to meet the needs of all Canadians.
The federal government's transfer payments in support of social and health programs will be increased by an average of 8% a year for five years. Thanks in large part to these investments, the health system in Canada compares favourably with that of other OECD countries as far as accessibility and health outcomes go.
However, I am certainly not pretending that we have achieved perfection. The health system, like society itself, is not static. It is constantly undergoing change and, indeed, must continually improve to keep pace with Canadians' evolving needs and expectations.
There are all kinds of pressures confronting the system, from the introduction of new diseases that sweep the globe in a matter of days, to our aging population, which puts more demands on the system, and to the impacts of new technologies that offer treatments and therapies unimaginable at the time Canada adopted medicare four decades ago.
Of course, a lot of misinformation and exaggerated anecdotes have led to urban legends about Canada's health system, which motions like the one we are debating today only inflame. But we have to acknowledge some legitimate concerns that arise out of real encounters with the health care system.
For example, we know we need to deal with long waiting lists by addressing mismatches in the demand, supply and distribution of health human resources and service delivery capacity. We also require greater progress in delivering care in the most appropriate setting, whether in a primary care clinic rather than an emergency room, or at home with the right support to recover from surgery.
Given the explosion of health problems related to obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, we clearly need to develop national health promotion and protection strategies to relieve pressure on the health care delivery system. My colleague, the Minister of State for Public Health, will have the opportunity to speak about that contribution of our government. I want to thank her and congratulate her for the excellent job she has been doing on the public health file. Canadians also want greater transparency and accountability to be sure that their tax dollars are put to good use.
Undeniably, these are very real problems that need fixing. That is precisely what we propose to do in partnership with the provinces and territories, health care providers and interested individuals, because Canadians have told us they see their health care system as a collaborative partnership. This is not only what Canadians want and expect; it is what first ministers have agreed to do.
Since the first ministers meeting in September 2000, all governments have been working together, implementing important health reforms to ensure timely access to quality health care services. Despite these improvements, we know more needs to be done. To that end, the Prime Minister will convene a first ministers meeting this summer to discuss the sustainability of the health care system. Our efforts will be aimed at building and strengthening the public health system in Canada. The Prime Minister has promised that first ministers will meet “for as long as it takes...to agree on a long term plan for a health system that is properly funded, clearly sustainable and significantly reformed”.
What has become abundantly clear to users of the system as well as to those who have studied it and those who work within it is that the sustainability of the health care system is about far more than funding. It is equally about fundamental structural reforms to ensure that Canadians receive the services they need and that these services are delivered in an efficient manner.
What is equally obvious is that reforming the system really comes down to strengthening the relationship with our provincial and territorial partners, because we share responsibility for this critically important social program. Clearly, it was by design that the Prime Minister assigned me to the dual role of serving as Minister of Health and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, recognizing that these responsibilities are directly related.
I can assure the House that I am committed to working in partnership with the provinces and territories to restore Canadians' confidence in their health care system and to make the reforms necessary to revitalize the system and place it on a more secure financial footing for the future.
I will work closely with our colleagues in other governments to do just that, ensuring that the principles of the Canada Health Act are upheld so Canadians can have access to a single-payer, publicly administered and publicly delivered health system when they need it. There is every reason to be optimistic that we will succeed.
The Canada Health Act has been and remains for Canadians a symbol of national solidarity and shared values. Its five principles are as relevant today as they were two decades ago when the legislation was unanimously supported by all political parties. I have every confidence that together with our provincial-territorial partners and all members of the House we can strengthen and expand the public health care system, recognizing that it provides our citizens with the best system possible.
I am in no way suggesting we remain with the status quo. Canadians do not want to have better access to a 1960s-era health system. They want to have access to a dynamic system on the leading edge of technology, one that is patient-focussed and quick to integrate new medical technology and the best, and most recent, treatment possibilities. This is what I am seeking to do, in conjunction with the provinces and territories.
I am sure that, with a good plan and the proper resources, the health insurance plan will remain appropriate for all Canadians. Working with our partners, and with all Canadians, we will be able to improve access and put solutions in place that will last for a generation. This is the direction we need to take.
I cannot support this motion by an opposition member, but instead strongly encourage her to work along with this government in continuing to build a health system that reflects our country's reputation as a compassionate and humanitarian society.