Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to participate in the debate. I thank my colleague from Charleswood St. James—Assiniboia for his courage in bringing this important issue to the floor of the House.
The motion reads:
That, given a national strategy is needed now to reduce the growing human and economic costs of cancer, heart disease and mental illness, the House call on the government to fully fund and implement the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control in collaboration with the provinces and all stakeholders, and given that Canada is one of the few developed countries without a national action plan for effectively addressing mental illness and heart disease, the government should immediately develop and initiative a comprehensive national strategy on mental illness, mental health and heart disease.
There can be no mistaking the importance of these issues.
Cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death among Canadians, claiming close to 150,000 victims every year. There is no doubt that everyone in the chamber and those watching at home have some loved one who has been affected by these diseases. My two aunts have bowel cancer.
In fact, as legislators we are not alone or immune. We have lost members of the House of Commons in recent years and colleagues and friends of ours are currently waging brave battles against these diseases. I think of my colleagues from the ridings of Athabasca and Okanagan—Shuswap in particular.
These issues are of particular importance to my riding of South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale. My riding has an excellent climate and fantastic views of both the ocean and mountains. We also have excellent health care facilities. Because my riding is such a fantastic place to live, many Canadians move there to enjoy their golden years. It is no wonder we have the fourth largest population of seniors in the country. Over 17% of the citizens in my riding are over 65 years of age. As such, health issues take on a special importance for me as a representative and my constituents.
I will turn now to cancer. According to the Terry Fox Foundation, an estimated 145,500 new cases of cancer and 68,000 deaths occurred in Canada in 2004. It would seem that we are beating the disease most of the time but it is still claiming far too many victims. Based on current incidence rates, 38% of women will develop cancer during their lifetimes and 43% of men. Cancer is the leading cause of premature death and early death in Canada.
Cancer is primarily a disease of older Canadians, particularly men. Among men, 82% of deaths due to cancer occur to those 60 years of age and older. Among women, 78% of cancer deaths occur to those 60 years of age and older. Heart disease is the leading cause of death by any disease in Canada. It kills 32% of all males and 34% of all females. In the latest year Statistics Canada has numbers for, which is 2002, cardiovascular diseases were the cause of almost 75,000 deaths.
Of course heart disease is better understood. There are several risk factors, some of which are controllable by a patient or potential sufferer. These include diet, exercise, smoking, obesity and air quality. In other words, although medical research is needed to better understand and treat this leading killer, there is much that can be achieved to prolong life through education and healthier living.
Mental illness in its many forms also takes a great toll on society in terms of lost productivity, lost income, damaged lives and broken relationships. It is often found at the root of serious societal problems, such as homelessness, poverty and crime. In extreme cases, mental illness can lead to violence, incarceration and even suicide.
Mental illness is perhaps the least understood of the medical conditions. It can affect patients as severely as other physical illnesses and yet display no physical symptoms at all. While some mental illness can be attributed to biochemical imbalances in the body, the cause of much mental illness is still poorly understood by medical science and yet still exacts a heavy toll on patients, their families and society.
According to the Coast Foundation, one-quarter of the 34 million hospital days used each year are used by patients suffering from a mental illness. According to the Canadian Psychiatric Association, 16% of health care budgets are used to treat those with psychiatric disorders. The cost of mental illness to our economy, as estimated in 1998 by Health Canada, was over $14 billion and is undoubtedly much higher now.
Mental illness is present in at least 90% of those who commit suicide, according to the Harvard Medical School Guide, and we know suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in Canada. That is horrific.
The teen suicide rate has more than quadrupled in Canada since the 1960s, with more than 300 teens killing themselves every year.
Given what is at stake with cancer, heart disease and mental illness, there is certainly a leadership role for the federal government to be playing.
We are all aware of provincial jurisdiction in the area of health care and we respect the rights of the provinces to deliver those services as they see best. Indeed, the needs of tiny Prince Edward Island are far different than those of my own province, for example, and it makes sense to have the level of government that is in the best position to deliver certain services do so.
However that does not preclude a federal role in offering leadership on these issues by fostering cooperation between the provinces in the delivery of services and by collecting national statistics, particularly in the pursuit of research into these devastating diseases.
The federal government has a long history of conducting research itself and funding research, including research in provincial institutions through various granting agencies, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The CIHR currently spends close to $600 million a year, including large amounts on research into cancer and heart disease.
I want to spend a minute talking about the important advances being made in an area of research that CIHR is funding, the area of stem cell research. While much of our medical research over the past several decades has focused on pharmaceuticals, the groundbreaking research into stem cells is demonstrating that the body may well have the capacity to heal itself, even after the devastation of heart disease and cancer.
While the technology is still in its infancy, autologous stem cell therapy, drawing on the patient's own stem cells, is being used in a breathtaking variety of applications to replace or repair damaged tissues, including the heart or other organs damaged by cancers, that often lead to the full recovery of the patient.
The CIHR is funding research into stem cell technology and our party wants to encourage that. However, let us be clear, we want to see those limited dollars go where they will be most effective, and that is into autologous stem cell research, not embryonic stem cell experimentation.
The provinces and private foundations and charities contribute even more and Canadians are not alone in the fight against disease. Other western nations also spend billions of dollars annually in the race for a cure.
However it is the work that individual donors, volunteers, patients, doctors and researchers put into the fight that makes such a difference. I am proud of the effort that my own community puts into raising money to fight these diseases. For instance, our second annual White Rock Relay for Life, a fundraiser in support of the B.C. Cancer Society, raised $127,000 for cancer research this year over the course of a 12 hour marathon. I was part of a team that raised almost $4,500 of that total.
Our excellent community services organizations, such as the Peace Arch Community Services or PACS, offers a wide variety of services to the vulnerable and needy in our community. Among those services are counselling and addiction treatment services. PACS is the helping hand that many suffering with mental health issues turn to. While PACS receives government subsidies, it also raises a significant portion of its budget from private sources and the wider community.
This past weekend, PACS held an information fair in my riding which included 45 organizations, many of which are dedicated to meeting the challenges of disease, including the White Rock/South Surrey Mental Health Care Centre, the Geriatric Psychiatry Services and the Prostate Cancer Support Groups of Surrey and White Rock.
Of course, British Columbians are very generous Canadians. This weekend, the B.C. Children's Hospital just set a North American record by raising over $10 million through its annual 24 hour telethon.
It is clear to me that there is a will on the part of communities and provinces across Canada to beat cancer, heart disease and mental illness. However there is more that can be done at the federal level in offering national leadership. A national strategy can save time and limited resources and ensure that we are not duplicating efforts or running down rabbit trails in our own research.
The fact that the government has not fully funded the Canadian strategy for cancer control is unacceptable. The fact that we do not have a national strategy to combat the nation's number one killer, heart disease, is unacceptable. The fact that we have no national strategy for addressing mental illness, perhaps the most costly illness affecting the nation, is unacceptable.
I want to point out that the motion by the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia reflects the kind of leadership we could expect regularly if we had a Conservative health minister and a Conservative government. I would urge all members to support this motion.