This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #88 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was asbestos.

Topics

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 46 petitions.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to the funding of the Court Challenges Program of Canada and the Law Commission of Canada.

National Homelessness InitiativePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville for this petition, which is, yet again, about the immediate renewal of the national homelessness initiative.

We are still waiting to find out what will happen to the SCPI and RHF programs at the end of March 2007, and we would really like the government to take a position on this.

This petition is from a group at the Café de rue Solidaire in Terrebonne—Blainville. This funding is crucial for them because Café de rue Solidaire receives more than 1,500 emergency food baskets every year, food baskets that will no longer be available if the services are cut.

The organization provides a safe and healthy environment for young people, who will lose their meeting place if funding is cut.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Conservative government has broken its promise to reduce medical wait times and to provide the necessary funding and resources to achieve the goals of the First Ministers' accord on health care renewal.

Mr. Speaker, we are here today to talk about an important issue, an issue that impacts all Canadians from coast to coast to coast and an issue that impacts Canadians of all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and that is the issue of wait times and health care.

When we look at the issue of wait times, we see that it is an issue that impacts all Canadians, Canadians who need to look for specialists, Canadians who need access to doctors and Canadians who need access to health care in their times of need in hospitals.

I, along with many of my colleagues, believe that unfortunately the Conservative government has broken its promise to reduce wait times in Canada. This abandonment of a promise to implement a national wait time guarantee has become rhetoric and, unfortunately, has not been translated into reality.

During the election campaign, the wait times guarantee was put forward by the Conservatives as one of their top five priorities. However, now that it is in government, this priority seems to have fallen off its agenda altogether.

The whole responsibility for the wait times issue has been downloaded to the provinces and the territories, without any type of funding and without any additional resources. Canadians want their national government to show leadership on this issue. The provinces and the territories have gone through their challenges in ensuring their health care dollars actually meet the needs of their respective residents and constituents. Canada alone spent an estimated $142 billion on health care in 2005, which is almost $4,400 per person. After we take into account inflation, this perhaps is almost three times as much as what was spent in 1975.

It is for those reasons and after looking at those figures that we realize we must work together as parliamentarians to ensure we actually achieve results.

I will take the House back to 2004 when all the provinces and the territories, along with leadership from our Liberal minister at that time, Minister Dosanjh, put forward the 2004 health care accord. This $41 billion long term agreement on health care was made in 2004 with the support of and in collaboration with all premiers. This was a 10 year plan to strengthen the public health care system by reducing wait times, by ensuring that we invested in human resources, by the implementation of a national pharmaceutical strategy, by ensuring we had a catastrophic drug coverage plan available for all, by ensuring that we actually supported health promotion and the prevention of disease and by ensuring that we promoted and had a national immunization strategy.

This plan actually recognized all of these issues that we needed to address to ensure the best possible public health care system for all Canadians, a health care system that was effective, efficient and provided quality health care.

This 10 year plan had a deadline of December 31, 2005 for the determination of wait time benchmarks for key medical procedures. This deadline was met with the support and the leadership of everyone involved, the provinces, the territories and Canada's former Liberal government. Wait time benchmarks were set for five priority areas: cancer treatment, cardiac care, sight restoration, joint replacement and diagnostic imaging.

It was also agreed upon by everyone that research, support and resources would be provided to support ongoing benchmark development in other priority areas that were important to Canadians.

In the budget of 2005, the former Liberal government put its money where its mouth was and allocated $41 billion to support this accord. In addition, $5.5 billion were invested to ensure that the establishment and creation of a wait times reduction fund would take place. This $5.5 billion investment assisted the provinces and territories to actually reduce wait times.

The former Liberal government went one step further when it appointed Dr. Brian Postl as the new federal adviser on wait times. Dr. Postl worked diligently with the federal, provincial and territorial governments to achieve the commitments made in the 10 year plan. His report was delivered to the new Conservative government in June 2006.

In his report, Dr. Postl states that the wait times are a symptom of a much larger issue. He states that in order to create a more efficient and effective health care system within Canada, we need to ensure that we transform our system. He says that as Canadians, as government and as all stakeholders, we need to ensure that patients are put in the centre of the system. He believes that it is only by working in collaboration and in coordination that we will ensure wait times across Canada are reduced.

He stated that several elements required attention for the transformation to take place and all of them were necessary. However, they are not individually sufficient to create change, but by working at all of the initiatives that he has outlined, he is sure that with the support and leadership of all governments and stakeholders, we will make this transformation and ultimately achieve the goal of a reduction in wait times.

We need to ensure, he stated, that we have ongoing research to support benchmarking and operational improvements, that we have the adoption of modern management practices, that we invest in information technology in Canada's health infoway, that we ensure we have an increase in health-human resources, that we trust our regions and our municipalities and ensure they receive the resources and the funding they need for the development of their infrastructure and their particular needs, and that we ensure we have public education to support this transformation.

It is his view that by addressing these key areas, patients will be better served, wait times will be reduced and health care systems will become respective of the needs of the patients.

As a result of the 10 year plan and the guidance of the former Liberal government, many provinces have worked diligently to ensure they reduce wait times. In British Columbia, the median time for starting cancer treatment in 2005 was almost, in some areas, less than a week. In Alberta, the number of people waiting for open heart surgery declined by 55% over a two week period in December 2005. In Saskatchewan, the Saskatoon's health region waiting list for an MRI was cut by 45% in 2005.

When we move on to Quebec we see that the number of patients awaiting cataract surgery has been significantly reduced by the redistribution of the surgeries to a smaller number of facilities. In Ontario we have seen that the provincial health minister, George Smitherman, has announced funding for an additional 42,000 medical procedures to be allocated under the provinces wait time strategy.

It is unfortunate, however, that over the last 10 months we have seen an increase in wait times. In Manitoba, wait lists have jumped to an average of 18 weeks for services, such as CT scans and orthopedic surgery, a 9% increase from 2005. Nova Scotia's average wait times have increased to 22 weeks in 2006 alone. New Brunswick has recorded some of the highest wait times in the country, with patients having to wait 31 weeks for surgery and 20.8 weeks to consult a specialist. When we take a look at these statistics, we realize that we all must do more.

It was during the 2006 election platform that the Liberal Party actually put forward the Canada health care guarantee. The guarantee put forward by the Conservative Party when it was elected as the New Conservative government, unfortunately, has not been acted upon, but more so, the Conservative government has not provided results to Canadians on the issue of wait time guarantees.

We have seen as well the importance of ensuring that we invest in health care in the aboriginal and first nations communities. Another disappointment has occurred with the Conservative government and its failure to implement the Kelowna accord. The full funding for the Kelowna accord was $5 billion, but many individuals who were involved in the negotiation and the signing of the accord see that there was $1.3 billion allocated to aboriginal health care, health care which many Canadians take for granted but unfortunately is not received by many aboriginal and first nations Canadians.

We have a responsibility. We had a responsibility when we signed the Kelowna accord and in 2006 we continue to have a responsibility to ensure that our aboriginal and first nations communities receive the very best in a health care system that our country has to offer.

Once again, we have seen that unfortunately the Conservatives have not honoured the full support of the premiers of all political stripes and the premiers, along with Canadians and the aboriginal federation. Many other stakeholders continue to call on the government to implement the accord. The AFN continues to call on the government to implement the accord as it understands what Kelowna represents. It represents an investment in the aboriginal and first nations communities and, more importantly for today's motion, an investment in health care.

We have seen that the conditions for first nations communities have not changed. They continue to struggle and face challenge after challenge. While the government has gone on to implement a pilot project for 10 aboriginal and first nations communities, this is a pilot project ensuring prenatal care that many Canadians across this country actually take as a basic standard.

Has much really been done? We take a look at aboriginal communities and talk about fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, which one of the members on this side of the House has worked on diligently over the last many years to ensure that there are solutions and that a proactive approach is put forward.

We have seen that fetal alcohol syndrome is a leading cause of mental retardation in the western world and yet it is absolutely preventable. Honouring the Kelowna accord would have invested the money, time and resources that we need to address this issue within the aboriginal and first nations communities.

We must also take a look at another important issue in the health care accord and that is the national pharmaceutical strategy. This strategy was announced in 2004. It was intended to protect all Canadians from all socio-economic backgrounds to ensure that they would have access to the medications that they need when they need it.

We had put forward a catastrophic drug plan within the national pharmaceutical strategy and as part of the 10 year plan to strengthen health care, first ministers actually directed health ministers to establish a ministerial task force to develop and implement these national pharmaceutical standards. However, when the first ministers met in 2005 and then in 2006 with the new Conservative government, it is unfortunate that we did not have the leadership we needed to have this implementation.

The ministers had agreed to expand the common drug review to ensure that recommendations on which drugs were eligible for reimbursement would be made possible, to work toward a common national formulary to ensure that there was more consistent access to drugs across the country, and also to ensure that the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board would monitor and report on non-patented drug prices. They wanted to allow the board to regulate the price of non-patented drugs and for the provinces to formally consider delegating this responsibility to perhaps the federal government.

However, during all these reports and suggestions that were put forward by the first ministers, they all wanted to work together to be able to collect, integrate and disseminate information on the real world risks and benefits of drugs. The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to this report, the development and implementation of all elements of the national pharmaceutical strategy, to the first ministers in June 2006.

It is unfortunate that the Minister of Health, when Canadians were looking for national leadership, did not even show up at the release of the report for the national pharmaceutical strategy. Putting partisan politics aside, that is an absolute shame.

We have also seen the incredible need for more funding in the area of research, innovation, and HIV-AIDS research. There are 58,000 people living in Canada with HIV-AIDS and one-third do not even know that they are infected. There are 3,400 Canadians who are newly infected every year. It is estimated that almost 11 people are newly infected with HIV in Canada on a daily basis. That means that every two hours a Canadian is infected with HIV. Since 2002 the number of people in Canada infected with HIV has increased by almost 16%.

On December 1 we will celebrate World AIDS Day throughout the world. It is during that time perhaps when we are celebrating World AIDS Day around the world that we will realize that we must do more. We must provide the research, the investment, and the resources to address this international and global issue.

Let us look at what the government has done. It is unfortunate when we as Canadians in Toronto were hosting the International AIDS Conference that the Prime Minister did not even see it worthwhile or fitting to attend. It was an absolute embarrassment for many of the stakeholders, the researchers and the organizers planning the HIV-AIDS conference.

When Canada had a chance to make its mark and make an announcement for investment and research, we as a country failed because our Prime Minister did not provide the leadership that was required.

On November 21, 2005 the previous Liberal government announced over $60 million in funding to fight HIV-AIDS globally over the next six years. Of this amount, $15.2 million was intended to enable Canada to meet its commitment to provide 4% of the four components of the UN AIDS budget for 2006-07.

Another $12 million was to support the international AIDS vaccine initiative for 2006 as its previous funding expired in December 2005. We renewed that commitment as the former Liberal government. In fact, from 2000 to 2005 the Liberal government actually committed more than $800 million to combat HIV-AIDS globally. This included our contribution to the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, and more than half of which actually went to combating HIV-AIDS, not only here in Canada, but throughout the world.

When we talk about the investment in HIV-AIDS research, when we talk about a national pharmaceutical strategy to ensure that we have catastrophic drug coverage, or when we talk about a national immunization strategy, the fact is that the funding for the national immunization strategy is up for renewal in March 2007. We would hope that the Conservative government is going to support to continue to renew this particular strategy which has impacted and helped thousands of Canadians across the country.

Whether it is about HIV-AIDS or a national catastrophic drug coverage or a national pharmaceutical strategy or the national immunization strategy, we must all work together as parliamentarians to provide the leadership that is needed to address these issues.

When poll after poll is done in this country, it is very apparent that the number one issue that resonates with Canadians from coast to coast to coast is the issue of wait times. It is an issue that impacts all Canadians. As a health care provider and having worked in my constituency of Brampton—Springdale, I have seen firsthand the challenges that patients face on a daily basis. We must ensure that they get the health care services that they need in a timely fashion.

Patients fall ill and many of them, unfortunately, have never been to a doctor or they cannot find a doctor. Once they do find a family physician for their particular problem and if they have to be sent to a specialist, it takes months and months for them to access a specialist. Then, if they are required by the specialist to go on to receive a CT scan or an MRI scan or other diagnostic imaging, that takes another few months.

We have seen this particular story, it is one that every single Canadian can relate to, one where they had to wait. When there are conditions such as cancer and other terminal illnesses wait times have an impact on the number of days that they may have to live.

That is why I believe it is the responsibility of all parliamentarians to put our partisanship aside to address this important issue and work together to honour the health care accord that we signed in 2004. More importantly, we must work together to provide the leadership to take action and to ensure that we do reduce wait times in this country.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of things that the member forgot to mention. It is ironic that the hon. member did not mention that wait times doubled under her government, that the enrollment of family physicians was reduced, or that $25 billion was cut out of health care by her government.

One thing that I was very involved in, and I know a lot of Canadians were disturbed by the inaction of the previous government, was the issue of compensation for hepatitis C victims from tainted blood. The government in a whipped vote, a vote of confidence, denied pre-1986 and post-1990 victims compensation. This government, under this Prime Minister and the health minister, found the moneys to do the right thing and compensated these hepatitis C victims. The previous government refused to do so time after time. In fact, when we took government, it was obvious that no work had even been done to think about compensating these hepatitis C victims.

I wonder if the member is willing to apologize to the hepatitis C victims for the previous government's meanspirited attitude toward them.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague across the House who I know has raised this issue a number of times, both here within Parliament and also in the health committee.

Regardless of his comments, I am not going to turn this into a partisan issue and get into name calling like calling someone meanspirited. The most important thing is to ensure that hepatitis C victims do get compensated for the unfortunate incidents they have gone through.

Many members on this side of the House in the former Liberal government worked extremely hard to ensure that results would be provided and that the victims would get the compensation they deserved. Looking over the past few months I am glad to see that the Conservative government has also worked toward the same initiative.

I think that name calling in these types of incidents is not going to help anyone. We have to ensure that we work together so that the concerns and the needs of hepatitis C victims are addressed in an efficient manner.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know that patients wait for hours in over-crowded emergency rooms. Millions of Canadians cannot even find a doctor. Families cannot afford the medications they need. Seniors are waiting a long time for a long term care plan. Our party has some plans and here are some of the suggestions that we want to offer.

We need more doctors and nurses. That is why we need to create more training spaces for health care providers and expand the pools of skilled professionals to shorten wait times for patients. We need to offer real dignity for seniors, provide free dental care and drug coverage, and long term care so we can free up hospital beds.

We need to have real innovations. We have to control drug costs and phase in a national prescription drug strategy to help families afford the medications they need.

In order to lower wait times, the key is to forge a new deal with the provinces that would link reliable federal health transfers to a commitment that such funds would not subsidize for profit health care.

My question is actually very straightforward. Would the member support a long term federal health transfer that would be contingent on no federal money being used to cover the salaries or costs of doctors and other medical personnel involved in a new separate profit making private insurance system?

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an important issue. I appreciate the outline of the NDP's particular plans and priorities.

I do want to say that in 2004 the purpose of the health care accord was to have a long term plan, a plan whereby we invested the actual resources and the funding to ensure that we did achieve results in many of the areas that I have outlined, to ensure that we would achieve results in the area of reducing wait times, in the development of a national pharmaceutical strategy, and in the creation of catastrophic drug coverage for our seniors and the vulnerable in society.

However, it is unfortunate that with the new Conservative government we have not seen the investment of any type of additional resources. When we talk to Canadians from coast to coast to coast, we hear that they are looking for national leadership. The Conservative government is instead devolving all of its responsibilities to the provinces and territories, asking them to deliver on the wait times guarantee without any funding and without any resources.

The simple fact of the matter is that there is only so much money and the provinces and territories need help and support. Not only do they need financial help and support, but they need resources. More importantly, they need the leadership and the political will to ensure that we do achieve results on reducing wait times and having catastrophic drug coverage and a national pharmaceutical strategic plan.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague intently. I serve with her on the Standing Committee on Health, which I have the opportunity to chair. I sometimes am struck by this individual's partisanship. I can hardly believe this motion. I understand that it was actually introduced on September 26, eight months after the election of January 23, when we took office.

The motion talks about broken promises on reducing wait times. It also talks about not providing the necessary funding or resources. I will have an opportunity to dialogue about that later, but I have a specific question for my colleague. The partisanship is really a little over the top, no question about it, but as for my question, does my colleague honestly believe that the problem with wait times is specific only to the number of dollars in a system and that the system can fix itself just with more funding? Or is there actually something further that needs to take place in order for us to be able to deal with wait times? It is a problem that actually seemed to explode under the past government's reign of 13 years, when we saw wait times increase by 91%.

Can the member come up with something more innovative and realistic than just whining about dollars after my only eight months in the chair dealing with this issue? Does my hon. colleague have something more on her plate than just that?

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to say to my colleague opposite that we have worked very closely within our committee on health to ensure that we address some of these issues. Despite the fact that my colleague says it is a partisan issue, I think health care is actually a non-partisan issue. If my colleague has heard me, every time I have spoken, whether it is in the House of Commons or at committee, I have continued to state that health care is not a partisan issue. It is an issue that affects all Canadians.

The motion before the House today was done with consultation with a number of different stakeholder groups, organizations and average Canadians who contacted not only me in my capacity as health critic; a number of stakeholders, organizations and average Canadians and constituents contacted many members on this side of the House in our Liberal caucus, telling us of their frustration and anger at this point with the fact that the government, the Conservative government, is not delivering results.

The member across spoke about whether or not any other types of additional resources are required. Whenever I have spoken, I have continued to state that not only must we must invest the financial dollars, we also need to have the political leadership and the political will, and we need to have an action plan. Funding is only one component of that. We need a multi-faceted approach.

Just recently in Ontario in the last month, we have seen our provincial minister of health take innovative and strategic approaches to address this issue. To sum it up, there is not only a single-faceted approach. We require a comprehensive strategy. The health care accord was an initiative for that and I would hope that we have the political will, the action plan and the leadership to address this issue.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member for Yellowhead.

I listened to the member's comments and also to her response to my question. It is a bit rich for the member to say that it is not right to call the Liberal approach to the compensation for hepatitis C victims meanspirited, because I think a lot of Canadians who look at the issue saw that approach as meanspirited. As for the term “meanspirited”, I got that from the Liberal side of the House. In every question period we hear that term many times, and even the member herself, I believe, has used that term. If the member has a problem with the term, perhaps she should talk to her colleagues and ask them to stop using it when describing others.

In regard to the motion itself, I do find it ironic that the motion has been brought forward by a member of the previous government, because the previous government has a very poor record when it comes to health care. In that regard it is a partisan issue, because the Conservative government is doing what we have historically done and that is to try to fix the problems that Liberal governments have created, and surely health care is a major problem.

Let us put it in context for a moment. It was the Liberals who cut $25 billion in transfers to the provinces. It was under the Liberals that wait times doubled. It was under the Liberals that there was a deliberate policy to cut the number of health care professionals in the system. That occurred about 10 years ago and now we have a major health care profession crisis because we do not have the HR. I think people who apply common sense will see that the Liberal record is very poor.

However, in the last election the Conservative Party came up with a tremendous concept and commitment, and that is the patient wait time guarantee. In fact, I was honoured that the Prime Minister made that announcement in my campaign office on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In that announcement, he described what the guarantee is. It is to ensure that people get the health care they deserve in a reasonable amount of time in their jurisdiction, and if they cannot get it where they live we will provide the option to send them to some place that can provide that care.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, I know that Canadians have said that establishing a patient wait time guarantee is their priority. Now the Government of Canada has committed to a wait time guarantee that offers recourse when wait times become too long. It is time to state the obvious: the status quo is not acceptable and failure is not an option. It is time to declare it unacceptable in a nation as wealthy and modern as Canada to have a health care system that permits long delays and offers patients no recourse to alternate treatment options.

That is not just my opinion. That is the opinion of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has said, under the Liberal record, that unless we are able to provide care in a timely manner the Supreme Court will step in and allow people the option to get the care they deserve. That is really the ultimate indictment of the previous government's record. Perhaps that is why the people of Canada elected a new government: to try to fix that problem and to get control of the situation so that people will get the care they deserve in a timely manner.

Doctors overwhelmingly support this concept. Health care professionals support the guarantee. The public supports the Conservative guarantee. In Canada we have a deal: people pay their taxes and government provides reliable health care. Canadians have lived up to their side of the deal. They have paid their taxes year in and year out, but they have not been getting the value they deserve for that money. The health care wait lists are still too long.

Canada's new government understands this fact. Canadians expect all levels of government to work together to get things done for families and taxpayers. They expect practical health care programs, properly managed. Are wait time guarantees a new idea? In Canada it is innovative, but other countries in the world are doing it. New Zealand, Denmark and the United Kingdom all offer some sort of guarantee.

In fact, the current minister of health has travelled to some of these countries to see what their experiences have been. Fortunately, our federal health minister has also been on the provincial side as a health minister, so he knows how to work with provinces, territories and all our health care partners to deliver a system that is more accountable to patients, not to policies or providers, but to patients.

For too long, patients have been treated as a cog in the wheel. Doctors care, nurses care and family members care, but the system does not care. It was not designed to put patients first. Patients need and deserve to be at the centre of the health care system. Canada's new government is committed to a patient-centred approach.

It is obvious that we cannot do everything at once, but I know that reducing wait times is a key component. We have to start somewhere. The good news is that we have indeed started.

Canada's new government is taking action to deliver and improve health care results for families and taxpayers. Canadians have told us that this is what they want. The Supreme Court has told us that this is what we must do. We will do it.

What does a patient wait time guarantee mean to Canadians and their families? It means a system that provides certainty and confidence that care will be there when we need it. It means a system that is responsive, accommodating changing health care needs in a timely manner. It means a system that is fair, based on need, and transparent, providing us with readily available information and keeping us in the loop. Finally, it means a system that is accountable so that Canadian taxpayers see value for their money.

In 2005, all the provinces and territories worked together to establish an initial set of benchmarks for acceptable wait times in priority areas. As they say in business, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it”. With these benchmarks in hand, we can now measure against them in order to determine which areas of our system we need to focus on for improvement.

In budget 2006, our government committed to honouring Canada's health care accord by continuing to transfer to the provinces an additional $41 billion over five years, including $5.5 billion specifically earmarked to reduce wait times. We also are committed to a 6% increase in funding in each of those five years.

Let me emphasize that: each and every health ministry in every province and every territory can now budget to receive a 6% increase every year through the Canada health transfer. For the first time in over a decade, the health ministers are working with health care budgets that are increasing. We have given them the money to make these improvements and Canadian taxpayers expect to see these improvements.

We have seen reductions in wait times for hip and knee replacements in Alberta, from 47 weeks to 4.7 weeks. We have seen the Manitoba wait time for cancer radiation therapy going down to under one week versus six weeks. Quebec and Manitoba have publicly declared de facto guarantees for select cardiac and cancer services. Last Friday we introduced the Canadian strategy for cancer control, which the previous government refused to fund or implement. We have a patient wait time pilot project for first nations that will be a landmark, especially for a community that is all too often forgotten.

The Conservative government is taking action. We are increasing funding and looking for innovative approaches. We support the Canada Health Act, which is important to all Canadians. Thank goodness for the Conservative Party.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if that is the most partisan speech I have ever heard in the House, but the member has developed the quality for doing that every time he speaks. However, I want to touch upon a few things about which the member has spoken.

First is with regard to cancer control strategy. I remind the member that the former Liberal government invested $300 million over five years, with almost $74 million of ongoing funding for the integrated strategy on healthy living and chronic disease. Of that funding, $60 was dedicated solely for cancer control. However, I do not want to get into a tit-for-tat.

I want to talk about the motion at hand and reducing wait times, which is important.

We know that Dr. Postl put forward a report, which was done in consultation with all provinces and territories and many other stakeholders across the country. It was given to the Conservative government, with the support of not only Dr. Postl but all of the network with which he had worked. It put forward suggestions and recommendations to reduce wait times.

Could the member comment on what happened to that report and the recommendations outlined in it? What has the Conservative government done or what will it do to address those specific recommendations made by Dr. Postl?

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, on the cancer front, we are still pursuing the $300 million, but the cancer announcement is an extra $260 million to fight cancer.

Perhaps the member does not want to get into a tit-for-tat. She knows she will lose that fight because the Conservatives will win every one.

With regard to partisanship, I have a lot of friends on the Liberal side of the House. I and many Canadians have a problem with the members who denied needy people compensation with regard to hepatitis C or who caused the crisis in the health care system in the first place. I hope the member will support this government in future endeavours, even though I know, for partisan reasons, she has voted against many of this government's productive initiatives.

With regard to Brian Postl's report, the government is working all the aspects. In fact, we have shown great progress on every aspect dealing with wait times. We are setting benchmarks and increasing funding. We have the cancer control strategy. We have pilot projects with first nations communities.

The Minister of Health has done an extraordinary amount in a short period of time.

I recall the so-called fix for a generation announced by the previous prime minister. He neglected to mention that people would have had to wait a generation for any kind of progress under that previous regime, whereas this current government, within that 10 months, is has made significant progress. It is really heartening. We are getting feedback from Canadians across the country that they appreciate the wait times guarantee, they appreciate the Conservative Party is a party of its word and they appreciate that we have made significant progress in all areas.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health. It seems to me that the parliamentary secretary's position on public health initiatives is weak. I realize that the parliamentary secretary's role is to protect his minister and praise his achievements. But we are talking about waiting lists, so we are talking about the health of the entire population because these are people who might need surgery in the future. Unlike the opposition, the parliamentary secretary did not oppose the return of breast implants, and we all know it. The company even said that magnetic resonance imaging would have to be used to find out what happens in the bodies of women who get the new breast implants now on the market.

I am therefore calling the parliamentary secretary to order and saying that this will cost far too much money—not for the federal government, which has the authority to say yes or no to the use of breast implants—but for the provinces who will have to cover the cost of surgery. Waiting lists might get much longer over the next few years. I think that the parliamentary secretary has two messages for the population, and I would like to hear what he has to say about this important issue. This is about women's health.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, there has been a recent review of breast implants. They have been determined to be safe, though there is always a risk with any kind of implant. However, all OECD countries now allow breast implants.

Since the member is from Quebec, let me just compliment a Liberal government. The Government of Quebec has made great progress in dealing with the wait times issue. Jean Charest has shown great leadership, and I think there is a model there for the rest of the country under the Quebec Liberal governance.

It is really heartening that this government is willing to work with governments of all party stripes to ensure Canadians, regardless of where they live, get the best possible health care in a timely manner.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this motion. When I first looked at it, I was absolutely appalled. It is appalling because it is a motion that is so absolutely partisan. It was introduced on September 26, eight months after the Conservatives formed government. The Liberals are saying that we broke promises on wait times and have not provided the necessary funding or resources. We have not cut any funding or resources. That is exactly what has happened with regard to health care.

We have introduced some wait times initiatives, and I will talk about those in a few minutes. However, the partisanship of this is appalling. If we want to talk about partisanship, I will talk a bit about what the last Liberal government did. I do not want to dwell on the negative, but I have to level the playing field and set the record straight with regard to 13 years of terror in health care, one might say, by a Liberal government. It did nothing but increased wait times to 91% longer in the time it was in office. It pulled $25 billion out of health care in the mid 1990s.

By the year 2000, it decided there should be an accord to do something about health care. There were three accords in fact. There were accords in 2000, 2003 and 2004. What is really interesting is it followed the accords with a bunch of studies. The oldest trick in politics is when one does not want to make a decision, one puts it off to a commission, a committee or a study. That is exactly what happened.

We saw the Mazankowski report on what the provinces were doing. We had the Fyke report, the Clair commission, the Kirby report and the Romanow report. We were reported to death. The problem is not that we have not studied health care.

When we look at what the previous government did, it is absolutely startling. When it is in a situation where it refuses to deal with a problem at hand, it can cost a tremendous amount of money. We saw that in health care. However, it is worse than that. When a government dithers and does not take the initiative to lead--

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

An hon. member

The previous government.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Yes, the previous government.

We saw an example of exactly what could happen when the SARS crisis hit Canada. We saw that dithering cost not only billions of dollars but 44 lives. That was due, to a large degree, to ineffective leadership by the Liberal government. We could discuss for the entire day the disaster that happened because of the inaction of the Liberal government. We are not talking dollars, we are talking lives.

Let us go on to wait times. Why is it so important that we have a wait times guarantee? It is important to understand that some of the commissions studied it and recommended it. The Mazankowski report recommended it as did the Kirby report. It is a very important concept. People have to understand that if a government is prepared to say that it will provide necessary services as a public system and then the public does not have the opportunity to access those services, something is wrong.

The Supreme Court decision in the Chaoulli case in 2005 said that medically necessary services must be provided by the state in a timely fashion. If we are not going to do that, then we are saying that we are prepared to allow individuals to die on those wait lists before we provide the services. That is not compassionate, nor is it the way we should run our health system and it does not reflect Canadian values.

It is interesting to look at what happened in the last election. On December 2, the Conservatives announced the care guarantee saying that we would guarantee care to Canadians.

What was really interesting about that and why I bring this up, is the Liberal government, when it was embarrassed and knew it had to come out with something on health care, on January 3 said that a care guarantee was needed. That was after 13 years of saying no, that it was not going to do what needed to be done in health care. I am upset because of the partisanship and shallowness of the motion. We must stop playing politics with health care if we are to sustain it over the next 30 or 40 years.

We have to get down to work in the best interests of Canadians. We have to put the patient first. We must stop all this rhetoric and nonsense. A care guarantee absolutely must take place.

There is much that can be done with the dollars we have put into health care. It is not that Canadians do not want to support the system. It is not that there is not enough funding in the system. There is a significant amount of funding in the system.

The health committee wanted to look at care guarantee and wait times in order to make a recommendation to the minister with regard to wait times. We brought in a good number of witnesses last spring to look at what is happening in the provinces. We have to look at the provincial jurisdiction, understanding that it is the provinces that deliver on health care, and then determine what we can do from the federal perspective to assist them in dealing with the situation.

What are the provinces doing? There are some wonderful examples. One is the Cardiac Care Network of Ontario which appeared before the committee and described how it was improving access for patients. There is a joint approach between cardiac care and a system of services. Decision making is being improved through the way the data and experiences are being put together. A significant amount of research is being done. As well, there is an early warning system.

The one that struck me the most was the Alberta bone and joint transplant project. This is a pilot project led by Dr. Cy Frank from Alberta. It reduced the wait times from 47 weeks to 4.7 weeks within one year for joint and hip replacements. That is a wonderful statistic. The first thing that ran through my mind was the cost, but it actually cost us zero. They put $20 million into the project. Most of that money was for the extra joints and hips. The most astounding fact is not one more doctor was needed in order to provide that service and to reduce the wait times by 90%. It is astounding when a public system can actually do that.

The question that begs to be asked is why that cannot be done for every procedure in every province right across the country.

Dr. Cy Frank was in my office about a week ago and I asked him what else has happened. A significant amount of these projects are on their way in every province. Other provinces are modelling what has happened. This is the kind of innovation that we need in the public system. If we are going to sustain it, we have to stop the rhetoric and start working with the provinces that have the jurisdiction to accomplish what needs to take place to sustain the health care system over the next 40 years.

Because of the baby boomer bubble, an intense weight will be put on this system starting in about 10 years and increasing toward 2040 and beyond. It will take every Canadian working as hard as he or she possibly can to sustain the health care system as we know it today. We do not have time for rhetoric. We have to get serious about solving the problems and fixing what is out there.

My hon. colleague talked about the funding. There was the $5.5 billion in the 2004 accord and none of that money has been cut. It is all going out there. This year alone there is $1.2 billion for reducing wait times, focusing on health human resources. When we talk about health human resources, the minister actually added another $18.3 million last week to a specific project to deal with those immigrants in Canada who might be driving taxis right now, but who need to receive medical credentials. They need to be brought into the mainstream of the health care system to use their abilities in the best possible way for the benefit of Canadians. The goal with the $18.3 billion is to increase the number of doctors by 1,000, nurses by 800 and other health care professionals by 500. Those are the kinds of things that are actually happening.

That is not all. There is another project. It is the mandate of the federal government to deal with first nations. The first initiative is a care guarantee for first nations. After a woman's first pregnancy appointment, she will be cared for within four weeks of that visit.

I come from the province of Alberta where there are regional health authorities. Before coming to the Parliament, I worked for a regional health authority for 20 years.

The care guarantee is such in my riding that if an individual has a back problem and needs back surgery, he can go to Edmonton, which is not too far away. He may be on a wait list for six to eight months, or maybe even a year. Or he could go north to Grand Prairie to a smaller hospital and have that surgery within two weeks. Those are the kinds of examples.

The concept is that the individual needs the option to get the care as fast as he possibly can to add credibility and competitiveness within the system. That needs to transplant itself right across this country, in every province, in every area, so that we can use the dollars in the most effective way possible for the benefit of all Canadians. That is where we need to go. The rhetoric has to stop. We have to fix health care and we will do it.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member did a tremendous amount of work on our health committee in his capacity as chair. I could not agree with him more that we do need to stop the rhetoric, and we do need to get serious. I would ask the member, with his party being in government, to ensure that members of his party do stop the rhetoric, do get serious and actually stop playing politics and deliver results.

The motion that was put forward today was done after a considerable amount of consultation with many advocacy groups, such as the Canadian Health Care Coalition and other stakeholders and organizations, but more important, with concerned Canadians.

From my experience as a health care provider, on a day to day basis I have seen the challenges about which the member spoke. Patients are struggling to find doctors. They are struggling to get access to specialists. They are having to wait months to ensure that they get results from their CT and MRI scans. We need to work together in cooperation, in collaboration, to ensure that we do deliver results.

Especially in light of the fact that health care is one of the hallmarks of our country, we have to work together to ensure that there is innovation in our system to sustain it long term. I would remind the member that the Conservatives are in government, and they have the opportunity to ensure that we do have innovation, that we have sustainability, but more important, that we have an action plan.

You outlined a couple of initiatives and pilot projects that have taken place--

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The hon. member is lapsing into the second person again, and also a number of people are rising to ask questions. The hon. member has had enough time already. I will go to the hon. member for Yellowhead.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of ways I could answer that, but first I want to say that it takes 138% longer to see a specialist today than it did in 1993. That has to stop. We have to have some innovative projects that will actually hit the nail on the head and deal with the problems that Canadians have to try to get medical services. That is what the care guarantee is all about.

We will accomplish that. It is not an easy thing. We have to deal with the provinces collectively, because they have jurisdiction as well on this. We will work with them and drop the rhetoric not only in this House, but between orders of government. That is how we will solve it. We will solve it collectively. We will do it in a way that will be effective, because we have to for Canadians. They have paid for no less and they deserve no less. That is what we will accomplish.

Opposition Motion--Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, currently about 10% to 25% of the acute care beds are occupied by seniors who are waiting for long term care beds. We absolutely have to expand the long term care beds and home care in order to reduce wait times. Affordable long term care would really assist a lot of Canadian families.

Research shows that the majority of Canadians, 53%, prefer to recover from an illness or surgery in their own homes. However, the home care sector is seeing a serious supply and demand crunch and we are not able to meet the needs. Some 2.1 million Canadians serve as informal caregivers. There is a desperate need to expand the home care system. Is there any plan for the government to do so?