Madam Speaker, when the Prime Minister cut $25 billion from the health care system in 1995, he gouged it for at least a generation. Essentially the bill only replaces some of the funding the government took from the health care system in the first place. The government should stop its self-congratulations and reflect on the harm it has caused all those who need care.
The Conservative Party supported the 2004 health care deal in part because any deal is better than no deal. The people on the front lines, the patients and the health care professionals need help and they need it now. The return of the stolen money deserves no accolades; rather it demands a watchful eye to prevent the same crime from happening again.
Restored funding is a welcome development, if a decade too late. However, money alone will not solve the problems with which the Liberals have burdened our health care system. It is not enough to throw money at a system and say, “Heal thyself”. Leadership is needed, leadership that is accountable to Parliament and to Canadians. Leadership means having the courage to commit to the necessary change and to see it through. Leadership means focusing on a goal until it is realized. Leadership means keeping those with a stake in the system in all cases, in this case Canadians, informed and aware of the progress made.
More money will not ensure accountability. Dollars invested must be accounted for, but unfortunately, measuring how money is spent and the value of that investment is difficult due to the dearth of reliable information provided by the government.
In the next 10 years $41 billion will be transferred to the provinces. That is a lot of money, but I ask, how will Canadians know how that money is being spent? How will Canadians judge if it is being used effectively and for its intended purposes? The Liberal government's past handling of the public purse instills little confidence that it will manage the transfer of such a large amount of money and important funds in an honest and effective manner.
The bill makes mention of a parliamentary review in three years and one more three years later. There will be two reviews in the span of a decade. Giving the Liberals three years to manage our money without any accountability is like hiring the Hamburglar for a late night shift at McDonald's; Big Macs will inevitably go missing. Virtually no accountability mechanisms will be put in place. It makes me wonder how we will know that Canadians are getting a bang for their buck.
If the government were truly serious about reforming health care, it would not have walked away from the table in 2004 without agreeing to accountability measures. It would have included something in the bill that did not need to be reinvented. In fact, a mechanism for accountability already existed with the previous accord of 2003. Why does the bill not provide a mechanism that allows Parliament to review the progress and expenditures on a yearly basis?
Although accountability provisions are very weak, we will hold the federal and provincial governments accountable for meeting the commitments that they made in the 10 year plan.
In its annual report to Parliament the government consistently fails to report on a variety of important issues. These were recently highlighted in reports last fall. One of these deals with privatization.
A wait time reduction transfer will also be created to provide funding to help provinces reduce wait times according to their respective priorities. Unfortunately, the bill will give the finance minister the right to determine how much money is given and when, therefore opening the door for yet more Liberal funny accounting.
We are seeing that today. The Prime Minister is in front of a judge trying to explain why the Liberals were able to funnel money to their friends. It is the first time in 130 years a prime minister has found himself in this situation. It is very disturbing that we are setting up a playing field for such activity to occur again.
The value of this transfer and when it would take place should be predetermined and not be subject to the whims of a minister looking to fiddle with the books. Nary a whisper has been heard from the government in its yearly reports on privatization within the health care system. Private for profit services have proliferated, yet these reports make no mention whatsoever of this reality.
Governments at both levels are obviously not following the reporting protocol demanded in law by the CHA. The provinces fail to provide the information they are supposed to, and the federal government is not enforcing the law it is required to uphold.
Again we saw this with the Health Council of Canada in its report last fall and in the testimony of Michael Decter. The federal government is not leading the way in accountability to Canadians. In fact it is the anchor of non-progress on transparency and accountability.
Canadians deserve to know the details about the private clinics across the country. They deserve to know how new public-private partnerships initiated in several cities are progressing. What is the extent of this change? How much does it cost? What are the effects on the health care system?
Soon after his appointment the minister said that it was his priority to stem the tide of privatization. The lines of accountability are non-existent. He can continue to ignore his promise to Canadians. Privatization in health care, the supposed scourge of the Liberals which the Liberals vowed to defend Canadians from, is now a day to day reality in Canada.
In the last decade increasing medical use of MRIs, patient concerns and the business needs of for profit medical enterprises have fuelled an explosion in demand for high tech non-invasive diagnostic imaging. Private MRI clinics have sprung up across Canada in the past decade.
Canada's first for profit MRI clinic opened in Calgary in 1993. It was followed quickly by another in Vancouver. Today there are for profit MRI and CT machines in four provinces: three MRIs and one CT in B.C.; five MRI clinics, three with CT scanners in Alberta; ten MRIs and six to eight CTs in Quebec; and one MRI in Nova Scotia. At least one public hospital, St. Paul's in Vancouver, offers CT scans to patients for pay.
The health minister has indicated his intention is to penalize B.C. for allowing private clinics to charge fees for medically necessary treatment. Yet he fails to acknowledge that some provinces take liberties with the Canada Health Act. In fact Quebec is a province that is home to half of the country's 34 private MRI clinics.
It would be nice if the government could come clean on this subject. It should at least be transparent and admit the reality. We do have private health care in Canada, yet the government pretends it does not exist.
If public moneys are being used to provide services to Canadians at for profit clinics, should there not be some acknowledgment of this fact? Should Canadians not know how much of their $41 billion is being spent on private medicine?
Aside from the one time contribution in 2005-06, no money is offered for pharmacare. This is despite the fact that many Canadians, especially in Atlantic Canada, have no catastrophic drug coverage.
There was also passing mention to affordable drugs. There is nothing new in this deal on health that will lessen the burden of prescription medications for Canadians. The government agreed to set up a committee to study the issue and report back. More committees will not help Canadians. In fact, the committee will not report until many years in the future. Contrast that with the Conservatives, who promised a catastrophic drug program. By now, if we had a Conservative government, no doubt it would already by underway.
However, Conservatives feel that individuals and families should not be financially ruined by exorbitant drug bills. Nor should they be unable to get the drugs they need because they do not have the money. The Liberals simply failed to address this question.
Canadians are now realizing that the Liberal government's solutions on health care will not provide relief to an already burdened medicare system. More money is not the key to reforming the system and providing a truly universal health care system in Canada. We need to look at other issues as well, for example, healthy living initiatives. Health care is more than just hospitals and clinics, MRIs and pharmaceuticals. Health care is about healthy living.
The government approach to health care is in many ways in the wrong direction. Rather than devoting billions of dollars only to treating those already sick or injured, why not focus as well on preventing Canadians from becoming sick or injured in the first place? Provincial governments across Canada are taking steps to encourage and educate their populations about the benefits of healthy living. It can relieve a great deal of burden on our health care system so our doctors and nurses can focus their efforts on those who are truly in need of medical attention.
Reducing smoking, encouraging healthier diets, more frequent exercise and cleaning the environment will all improve the general health of Canadians. Government's role in these efforts is not to force Canadians to change, but to educate them about the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and cleaner environment, and provide them the incentives to change.
Patient safety needs require attention. Studies have shown that preventable or adverse events may cause 10,000 to 20,000 deaths per year. Over a million hospital days are devoted to treating injury and sickness caused by adverse events. Imagine the time and money that could be saved if these were reduced. This again highlights the Liberals' backward approach to health care reform. Rather than simply having a health care system that people deserve, they are trying to deal with chronic care at the end.
A national mental health strategy would also have benefits. Mental health is like the estranged cousin of the health care system. Canada is the only country in the G-7 that does not have an articulated strategy for dealing with mental health. It is time the government addressed this issue and plays a leadership role in helping Canadians with mental illness. In conjunction with the leadership of the provincial governments across Canada, the federal government will play an important role in devoting resources and research to the treatment of mental illness.
Then we have the personnel shortages about which we hear so much. Responding to public concern, the government would establish a waiting time reduction transfer. The reason for this is obvious. Waiting times for certain services in certain places have become dangerously long. However, waiting times are only part of the problem. No matter the funding level, without enough health care workers in the system, the system will not function properly.
Canada's health care system faces looming personnel shortages. The number of doctors, nurses, technicians and other practitioners is increasingly inadequate to meet the demands of an aging population. Supply simply cannot keep up with the demand.
According to a Decima poll, more than 4 million Canadians cannot find a family doctor. Without a strong front line health care system, people cannot adequately access health care and deal with the health care issues from which these people suffer.
Front line physicians as a group are getting older, accepting fewer patients, working fewer hours and providing fewer services. The Ontario College of Physicians reports that since 2000 the average age of a practising physician in Ontario has increased from 49 to 51 years of age. In the past four years the number of family doctors accepting new patients has declined from 39% to 16.5%. Compared to their older peers, younger physicians are devoting less time to direct patient care. Doctors across the country are reducing the services they provide. Traditionally, half of all physicians were family doctors. Today less than 30% of medical students opt for family practice as a career and increasingly prefer less stressful, more lucrative careers is specialization.
Nurses too are aging as a profession. When baby boomers start retiring in droves, there simply will not be enough nurses to staff an already overburdened workforce.
The bottom line is that more funding alone will not solve the growing personnel shortage. The government lacks a comprehensive strategy to recruit and train tomorrow's health care workers.
Foreign credentials need to be recognized so more qualified foreign trained physicians can practise in Canada. The government must pressure federal health organizations to end protectionism and controls that make it so difficult for foreign health professionals to get their credentials accepted. The government should also free up and provide resources so residency spots can be provided to allow these professionals to get the necessary training or qualifications they need to practise in Canada.
This is not a health issue, but needs cooperation on other files such as immigration, labour in cooperation with the provinces that are responsible for education.
Disparities in health care, access and the quality of service are rampant. It is no secret that despite the Liberal assurances that health care is provided universally to all Canadians, many receive less than adequate care, and it does depend, unfortunately, on where one lives.
Disparities and access to services and quality of services received is divided in regional and socio-economic groups. Atlantic and northern Canada tend to have poorer service than central Canada. Rural areas generally have poorer health care than do urban areas. Aboriginals and others with lower income certainly have poorer health care services.
Increased funding will not narrow the widening disparities in health care services provided to different Canadians. The government bill provides no assurances that this embarrassing situation will be addressed adequately. It is the same old theme, talking about the problem, throwing money at it and expecting everything to be all right. Then we have another health care summit to divvy up more money to solve the same problems. People are getting sick and tired of these health care summits. They want action.
We have a report that shows that 24,000 deaths per year may be caused by adverse events. Health Canada officials agreed yesterday before the health committee that this estimate is probably too conservative, as in all likelihood many more adverse events go unreported.
We have issues around prescription error. Online prescribing can help deal with this needless loss of life. It is not enough for the Liberals to say that funding has been provided and progress has been made. While they dither, people die. Aside from the cost in lives, researchers estimate that more than a million days in hospital could be attributed to adverse events.
The Liberals continue to show that they are unable to deal with health care in Canada. They caused the problem. They have a shameful record when it comes to tracking aboriginal health.
Is it not ironic that the government talks about accountability when it is not accountable itself? We have the ad scam, we have the cancelling of the helicopters, we have the HRDC boondoggle and the gun registry.The list goes on and on.
Conservative promises were made, and only the Conservative Party has the credibility.