Mr. Speaker, on November 22, 2004, the Minister of Health announced that the Government of Canada was giving a mandate to its negotiators to discuss all available options for financial compensation to those infected with hepatitis C through the blood system before 1986 and post-1990.
Discussions have now advanced to a point at which finalization of a settlement is dependent upon both sides obtaining additional information as to the current size of the class and the likely progression of the disease in the class. It is expected that the process of obtaining the necessary information and conducting the negotiations will require a minimum of several months.
To begin to gather this information, a letter has been sent from the pre-1986, post-1990 class counsel to the class, seeking consent to obtain medical information to inform the negotiations. It is important to note that the letter written by the counsel states that “all parties involved are committed to dealing with this issue as quickly as possible”.
I understand the impatience being expressed about the pace of discussions; however, both parties in the discussions agree that we are doing our utmost to resolve some very complex issues as quickly as possible. The federal government has consistently maintained that compensation can only be made once the appropriate information is available.
While the necessary information is being gathered, it is important to note that progress has been made at the negotiating table. I am pleased to report that both parties have entered into a memorandum of understanding, committing the federal government to compensate the class with the amounts and categories of compensation to be negotiated in the coming months.
It is important to note that the MOU was signed by the government and the pre-1986, post-1990 class counsel and represents a consensus as to what steps need to be taken. We are working together in good faith and we both agree on what needs to happen in order for a compensation package to be reached.
The memorandum of understanding sends a clear signal about the federal government's commitment to provide compensation. A settlement is not dependent upon a surplus in the 1986-1990 settlement fund. The federal government recognizes that there are people awaiting an outcome and is committed, along with class counsel, to conclude the discussions as soon as the appropriate information is available.
The Government of Canada has taken the important step of committing to compensate the class. We must now let legal counsel for both sides gather the necessary information to build a settlement. We are working with the pre-1986, post-1990 class counsel in good faith to reach a successful conclusion that takes into account the actual and legal circumstances of the claimants.
We are taking the necessary steps to explore all available options for compensation and we should let the participants in the negotiations continue their hard work on this difficult issue. We understand that there are individuals and families involved who are awaiting an outcome. It is the right and responsible approach to let the discussions proceed as quickly as possible toward a satisfactory outcome.