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.


Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me a few minutes to debate a very important motion that is before this House today. I have the honour of being the health critic for the Liberal Party of Canada. The motion before us today has a direct bearing on the work I do as a parliamentarian for the people in my riding, Madawaska—Restigouche.

Today, we are debating a very important motion, introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Brampton—Springdale. I would like to read the motion so that everyone can understand its importance to all Canadians. The motion reads as follows:

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.

This motion says it all. It expresses exactly how the Conservative government has fallen short of the mark, exactly what promise it has broken. It made that promise to Canadians during the last federal election campaign and, today, it has broken that promise.

If we listen more closely to the parliamentarians on the government side, we will certainly notice something: it is always someone else’s fault if the government fails to act. The government’s inaction is always someone else’s fault. This is real cause for concern. People have started to react, for example yesterday in the riding of London North Centre. We saw very clearly how the people of Canada are reacting to the inaction of the Conservative government.

Health care numbers among the treasures that we have acquired here in Canada over the years, and that is certainly not thanks to the Conservative government. It has not contributed anything. The current government is clearly trying to dissociate itself from former Conservative governments. I know, though, that this Conservative government is the most extremist that we have seen in this country for decades, maybe even centuries.

In 1957, we instituted health insurance in Canada. It was certainly not a government like the current one that did that. It was a Liberal government which believed in the supreme importance of giving Canadians what they needed to be treated within a reasonable amount of time.

Let us look further at the history of health insurance in Canada. As I just said, it was first established in 1957. The Parliament of the time passed the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act. Therefore, it is not just since yesterday that we have been talking about health care and trying to improve the lives of Canadians. The current government, though, just made promises that it still has not kept.

The 1957 act provided for free short-term hospital care and radiological and laboratory diagnostic services. The word “free” is the key word here. However, there is more to it. Being free does not mean that the services should take an eternity. They are free because Canadians decided to pay for a health care system that would provide treatment, whether for their children, themselves, their parents, their families, or their brothers and sisters. It was Canadian citizens who decided to provide these services. We must also take the development of the system into account. The major step taken in 1957 was a revolution in health care.

However, there was more. In 1966, the Medical Care Act was passed. It provided for free medical services. That too was incredible, and it is good to see that it was a Liberal government that worked for this.

Thus, I know the future will be rosy for the citizens of this country in a short while, when the Liberal Party is able to resume power in Ottawa and bring back the things that are important to Canadians, including health care.

I would remind the House of the $41.2 billion that the Liberal government—my government, during my first term—handed over in 2004, in the context of the health care accord. The $41.2 billion project was important to ensuring that all the provinces and territories would have the money they needed to provide health care services.

This does not mean passing the buck to the provinces—as the government did in this case—and telling them to do as they are told, without providing the funds they need to do so.

Let us recall what happened in 2004. In September, a few months after my first election, the Liberal government signed a health care accord with the provinces and territories. That accord is better known as the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. Strengthen has many meanings. It means creating a solid foundation and ensuring the future of health care for Canadians. The 10 year plan also set a deadline of December 31, 2005 for establishing a benchmark for medical interventions.

Even though the Conservative Party decided to defeat the government in November 2005, we are proud that the priorities that were supposed to be set by December 31 were set on December 12, 2005. Those priorities are cancer treatment, cardiac treatment, sight restoration, joint replacement and diagnostic imaging.

The first item I mentioned was cancer treatment. Today, cancer affects many citizens. Is there anyone in this House who has not had a family member diagnosed with cancer? Is there anyone in this House who does not know someone, a friend or relative, who has had to endure cancer treatments? This is a common reality that I have experienced several times over. It is certainly not easy, and it is even more difficult to endure when there are long wait times for diagnosis and care.

I remember one personal experience when a friend's doctor said that treatment was one thing but that morale was far more important. When it takes months and months to get the diagnosis and the necessary services, of course morale will suffer.

If we want to help patients keep their morale up, we have to guarantee reasonable wait times for services. Reasonable wait time does not mean six months or a year. Reasonable wait time is soon after diagnosis.

We are spending a lot of time talking about emergency wait times today because in some places in Canada, not far from here or from my riding, even right in my riding sometimes, emergency room wait times are almost unacceptable, if not completely unacceptable.

Sometimes it seems to me that we are playing with Canadians' quality of life. But the reality is even worse: we are playing with their health.

I repeat what I said earlier: Canadians have paid for a health care system with the taxes they pay every year. They paid for it today, yesterday, 10 years ago, even 20 years ago. And Canadians will keep on paying, because they believe that Canada must have proper health care. But is it acceptable to wait eight hours in an emergency room—and that is a real example—before finding out what is wrong? No, it is not. It is not acceptable, because in eight hours, something very bad could happen. Wait times must not be so long that people get sicker or die because they are not diagnosed or do not receive the necessary treatment. In an emergency, wait times must be reasonable.

Here is the best way to handle things. When I was a city councillor and when I was serving my first and second terms as a federal MP, I always believed that it was best to promise things that you think you can deliver. If you do not think you can do something as an MP or a politician, do not promise to do it.

It is always easier to promise something. We can promise the earth, but that is not what Canadians want. They want us to promise them things that we think we can achieve.

If the current government could make good on its promise to provide Canadians with better health care, why has it not done so? Canadians certainly will not have more confidence in this government if it does not keep the promise it made during the last federal election. It is already evident that the public has lost confidence in this Conservative minority government.

Health is one thing, and medical wait times are another. We also have to look at other important related issues if we want to improve people's quality of life and ensure that people who are sick can live decently while they are ill.

Last week, we had the last period of debate on Bill C-278 introduced by my Liberal colleague from Sydney—Victoria. We will soon vote on this. It is a private member's bill on employment insurance, which calls for the benefits period to be increased from 15 weeks to 50. What a nice gesture and what a nice thought from a Liberal member. I am extremely proud, first, to be a Liberal and, also, that it was my colleague who introduced this private member's bill.

What disappoints me a little, a lot even, are the unfavourable comments about this bill by the government members. How can they be against an insurance that offers acceptable and decent income to those who need it the most? It is not easy to be sick, but not having money to get over the illness is certainly even more difficult.

There is another aspect that people often forget. Let us think back to September 25. I know that some members of the government do not want us to talk about it. Many of them, if not the entire government, want us to stop talking about it in the hope that Canadians have forgotten about the major cuts announced on September 25. I will not list them because I would not have enough time today during this period to mention them all. However, I will spend some time on one aspect, which, in my opinion, has a direct link to health care. I am talking about literacy.

The government made $18 million in cuts to literacy. This is unacceptable because these cuts affect the least fortunate. Let us look at a concrete example—such an easy example—of an older person. We know there are large number of illiterate people in this country. We may not like it, but such is the reality. And remember that the President of the Treasury Board said that illiterate adults are a lost cause. On the contrary, adults who have difficulty reading and writing need more help.

Let us take the real example of an individual who goes to the hospital or the doctor and needs medication. The patient will have to purchase the medicine at a pharmacy and read the instructions on the package. That has an effect on wait times. Do you think that a person who cannot read very well will want to go to a hospital knowing that they will have to go and get the medication and read the instructions, but cannot do it? Maybe they will only understand some of the instructions. What will happen? Perhaps this person will not use the medication properly or take it at the wrong time, which may have more serious consequences than the illness itself.

We are examining the aspect of wait times, but the whole issue of literacy is also crucial. I am convinced that my Conservative colleagues opposite do not agree with me on this. However, it is a reality that the functionally illiterate have to live with every day. Even though they receive care, when they get their medication they cannot read the proper dosage, when to take the medication and what are the contraindications. All that information is there for a reason, a very specific reason: to ensure that the individual can progress and heal. Imagine if that person is unable to properly read the information. Imagine if that person is already ill. How can they look after themselves properly if they are unable to read the information provided with the medication?

These are direct links, links that we must respect and understand. We must show compassion for the most disadvantaged in our society, even if the current government has a great deal of difficulty with this.

On the subject of wait times, according to the Canadian Medical Association, 38% of Canadians say that they have already experienced unacceptable delays while waiting to see a specialist. Here I am referring only to seeing a specialist. I spoke earlier about the emergency situation. The fault does not lie with the personnel, the nurses or doctors. They do everything they can to provide proper services, but what is lacking is sufficient funding.

We are told that 38% of Canadians have already encountered problems and wait times that are too long, when they need to see a specialist. Now, imagine how long one has to wait in emergency rooms to see a doctor. I gave an example earlier of an eight-hour wait. We have already seen wait times of 12 hours, and on the news they have talked of waiting 24 hours. That is not something unusual. Those are things that we see and hear of regularly.

If we want to eliminate “regularly” and “usual” from this situation, we must be able to provide funding—and also keep our promises—to provide the tools that will ensure that Canadians have access to health care services within a reasonable period of time.

We have heard that 20% of Canadians say that they have had to wait for access to advanced diagnosis. Behind that statement lies a factor that I referred to previously, namely cancer. More than 20% of Canadians say that they have had to wait for access to advanced diagnosis. What are we waiting for? What are we waiting for to provide Canadians with these services?

I certainly hope that what this government is waiting for will not be an even longer wait, because Canadians need these services. In addition to cancer, we also hear about heart problems. Across the country we are seeing an increase in obesity. I understand that heart problems are not related only to obesity but that it is one of the causal factors.

Why does the government not want to act immediately in a concrete way to provide Canadians with the services that they are paying for and that they deserve?

There is worse still when we examine the situation. Wait time guarantees are one thing, but there are other factors. If someone can not be looked after in one location, he or she can look for care in another hospital. That could be a proper solution. In this House, the government has also made comments that Canadians could also seek treatment in other countries. One of the things that concern me today, now, in 2006, is a situation that could develop, where Canadians are told that we are not going to provide services here in Canada—because we do not want to invest the necessary sums of money—but that we are going to send them elsewhere for treatment.

When they say “elsewhere”, I hope they do not mean in the United States. I hope this government is not going in that direction.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to quite a few speeches here today, but I must relay to members an experience of mine in the last three weeks or so. A busload of people came down to visit me. Unfortunately, on the second day they were here, the day they were to come to the House of Commons to see how the House operates and to sit in the gallery, one of the ladies, just before getting on the bus that morning, had a problem. She could not get up. As she got up, she was dizzy and her arms did not feel right. The ambulance was called to the hotel. It arrived very quickly and took her to the hospital. She was looked at as soon as she got to the hospital that particular day and was diagnosed. She was looked after very well.

Unfortunately, she had a problem with an artery in her neck and was not able to take the bus home the next day. She stayed in the hospital for five days. The doctors wanted to operate on her here in Ottawa. Coming from London and not knowing how long she was going to be in the hospital, she requested that she be allowed to go back to London.

By the time she got back to London, within two days the hospital here had already arranged for two specialists to see her in London and had already at that time booked both an operating room in London and someone to do that procedure. She fell outside that 38% who have a problem, but what happens most times in emergency rooms is that people are seen according to how serious their particular problem is.

How do you address someone being looked after that quickly?

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would remind the hon. member for Perth—Wellington to address his comments through the Chair.

The hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will certainly address my comments through the Chair to ensure that I respect the decorum of the House.

If one looks closely at the situation, it is easy to pinpoint specific elements. I am pleased that the person my colleague mentioned received services within a given period of time. I am happy for him because that is enough for him.

Nevertheless, we have to pay attention to another reality: the emergency room problems arising from the fact that we cannot provide the necessary funds. We are telling the provinces to resolve the wait times issue, but we are not giving them any more money to do it. Problems related to emergency rooms are the major concern.

When people go to an emergency room, a triage system decides whether they get priority. The fact that we have to use such a system means that we do not have enough health care professionals. If there were enough health care professionals, we would not have to do that.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the members what can happen with a system like this. Sometimes, there are deviations from the standard. Sometimes, a diagnosis is made, but sometimes patients have to wait a little longer than they should. That can result in serious negative consequences for individuals.

If we want to improve health care services and ensure that Canadian citizens can pay for their health care system, the will has to be there on the part of the government. If it is not, as is currently the case, health care services will not improve despite the fact that Canadian citizens keep paying their taxes.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the comments made by my hon. colleague, whom I know very well and with whom I worked recently in committee. I do not necessarily share his point of view on the question of health care and I must ask myself some important questions.

He gave a brief overview of the development of heath care in Canada in recent years. However, he overlooked one thing, which is that the Liberals slashed health transfers to Quebec and the provinces in 1994-95.

The health care sector is under enormous pressure. Why are there waiting lists? We have an aging population, which means more surgery, more care, more cancer. Cancer is one of the most serious diseases of the century, along with cardiovascular disease. These diseases require surgery and, unfortunately, there are waiting lists.

The health care system in Quebec is comprehensive. Our public health agency has research programs for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all sorts of health problems. The health and social services department manages regional agencies, CLSCs, hospitals, and CHSLDs. This is where health care is provided.

The Liberal government denied that there was a fiscal imbalance for several years. Basically, what Quebec needs to ensure health care is money, a work force, resources and doctors. Quebec would then be in a position to provide proper health care to Quebeckers. However, the Liberal government denied the existence of a fiscal imbalance.

Is there any other way, apart from a federal transfer to Quebec, to give more resources to a comprehensive health care system? What other way is there? There is no other way, and the Liberal government chose to do nothing for years.

I would like to hear what my hon. colleague has to say on this matter, which is of great concern to me.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for his most interesting question. We shared some time together on another committee, and it was certainly enriching.

My colleague went directly to the question of fiscal imbalance. It is a bit ironic to talk about fiscal imbalance. I was actually talking earlier about the improved health care that the Conservative government promised Canadian citizens during the last election. It promised to improve wait times and provide better health care services to the Canadian population. There is a big difference between said and done.

My colleague has opened the door for me. Regarding the fiscal imbalance, it is the same thing. I think that happened on December 19, 2005. I will always remember because it was the day of my birthday. When I heard that, I was very eager to see this party that promised to resolve the fiscal imbalance within what it called a reasonable length of time get down to work in the early months following the election of the government.

I would remind my hon. colleague that now we are in the month of December 2006. A year will soon have passed, the health ministers’ meetings have taken place and the finance ministers’ meetings have been held. And in the end, as my colleague put it so well, has the fiscal imbalance been resolved? No. But that is what was promised.

If I come back to wait times and health care, the minority Conservative government is telling the provinces to solve the problem. It is not providing any money, but they have to solve the problem. Basically, it is like the promises and amounts to saying, “Do as we say, not as we do”. It is exactly the same thing. The government tells the provinces to do what it promised to do, but without giving them any money to do it.

This was a lack of accountability and a lack of transparency on the part of this government during the election campaign last December and January.

My hon. colleague will understand that, when he talks about health care, wait times, the provinces’ financial problems and the fiscal imbalance, he can also look at his colleagues opposite who, with their decisions, have definitely not resolved the situation. Nor will they.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Western Arctic. We will be supporting the motion but, and there is always a but is there not?

We have a history where the Liberals were 13 years in power, where they had a great deal of opportunity to deal with the very serious issue that is facing many Canadians. I am going to focus my time today on first nations, Métis and Inuit. We know that wait times for services and access to services is a very serious issue in communities from coast to coast to coast.

Just taking information from Health Canada's own website, it talks about the status of aboriginal health in Canada and about higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes. Type 2 diabetes affects first nations people three to five times more than the general Canadian population. There are higher rates of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Tuberculosis rates in first nations communities living on reserves continues to be 8 to 10 times higher than the Canadian average. There is a gap in life expectancy for aboriginal men and women compared to the non-aboriginal population and higher rates of suicide. This is from the government's own website.

When we talk about health care, what is critical is something called the social determinants of health. We cannot talk about wait times in the absence of all of the other factors that contribute to what could be considered a healthy community. In the document called the “Blueprint on Aboriginal Health: A 10-Year Transformative Plan” from November 24-25, 2005, it talks about the determinants of health which directly relate to wait times.

It talks about determinants such as housing, education, food security, violence against aboriginal women, children and elders, and environment including clean water and environmental contaminants.

When we talk about the social determinants of health and wait times, there seems to be a link missing. The Assembly of First Nations currently has a campaign called “Make Poverty History: The First Nations Plan for Creating Opportunity”. It reminds Parliament and Canadians who are paying attention of the problem.

The campaign 2000 report that was just released on Friday re-emphasizes the desperate poverty in many first nations communities. However, in the document that the Assembly of First Nations put forward regarding first nations poverty, it talks about the fact that one in four first nations children live in poverty compared to one in six Canadian children. Of course, we do not have Canadian children and aboriginal children who are poor without having families that are poor.

The document talks about the fact that first nations homes are about four times more likely to require major repairs compared to Canadians overall, that nearly 1 in 30 live in homes without hot running water. Many have no cold running water or flushing toilets and some 5,486 houses on reserves are without sewage services. About one in three first nations people consider their main drinking water supply unsafe to drink.

The United Nations human development index would rank first nations communities 68th out of 174 nations. More than half of first nations people are not employed. Life expectancy of first nations men is 7.4 years less and 5.2 years less for first nations women than Canadian men and women respectively. I could go on. The numbers are grim.

When we talk about what that looks like in terms of people's lives, we are talking about first nations, Métis and Inuit children who go hungry. We are talking about first nations, Métis and Inuit children who do not have a house to live in that is fit for humans to live in.

This summer I had an opportunity to go to Kashechewan and while I was there one of the grandmothers invited me into her home. The house was spotless except for the bedroom where her grandchildren were supposed to sleep. The bedroom had mould growing up over one side of the wall and across the ceiling. We asked the grandmother where her grandchildren slept when they came to visit because they could not sleep in the bedroom. She said they all get together and sleep in the living room.

I would challenge any member of the House to say that they would have their grandchildren sleeping in a house like that. None of us would accept that and yet we are asking first nations, Métis and Inuit families to have their children exposed to those kinds of contaminants.

If we want to talk about wait times, what are the wait times to ensure that first nations, Métis and Inuit children and families have adequate housing? Where are those wait times? We are not talking about those.

When we are talking about the blueprint on aboriginal health, there are some clear directions that were laid out in 2005 and we are still waiting. If the government wants to talk about wait times, we are still waiting for action on any number of these items.

There was a recommendation for improved delivery and access to health services to meet the needs of all aboriginal people through better integration and adaptation of health systems. This talks about building on and improving initiatives to foster public health, developing models and funding approaches to improve services, and supporting culturally and linguistically appropriate care. That one is absolutely essential.

In many of these communities we have Cree men, women and children. We have Hul'qumi'num men, women and children, and yet they cannot get service in their own language. We can imagine what kind of miscommunication happens there. We cannot get culturally appropriate services.

In many communities we are asking communities to have elders leave their community when they need extended care or long term care. Some of these elders are going into nursing homes where they cannot understand the care providers. Where is the wait time guarantee there for culturally and linguistically appropriate services?

The document goes on to talk about other national directions, measures that will ensure that aboriginal people benefit fully from improvements to the Canadian health system. There are things such as telehealth, infrastructure development, implementation of health human resource strategies, and exploring the current needs of those who may not have access to non-insured health programs. The third point is a forward looking agenda of prevention and health promotion and other upstream investments.

This comes back to what I was talking about in terms of housing, education, clean water and employment opportunities. We need to put wait times guarantees in place for these kinds of initiatives.

This document goes on to talk about laying out a framework in terms of developing an ongoing collaborative working relationship, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and measuring progress and learning as we go. Substantial amounts of consultation and work have been done and yet people still wait.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit some of the communities in my own riding. I was on Kuper Island where the Penelakut people live. The chief and council met with me and I thanked them for their time. They were telling me the fact that their water source was below a decommissioned dump. A couple of children in that community have rheumatic fever. The physicians were saying that was directly related to the living conditions on reserve.

The Penelakut people struggle with the fact that they live on an island. They were relocated to a small island against their will. They have limited access to health care. It is a struggle for them. If there is an emergency on the island, they are serviced by ferry that does not run certain hours of the day. They have challenges if there is an accident when the ferry service is not running. They are understaffed in terms of the health care professionals that are available to them.

There are a number of other communities in my riding that face similar challenges. The T'Sou-ke First Nation reserve has had trouble with the septic systems failing. It has sewage seeping up in the front yards where the children could be playing.

The Snuneymuxw people and the Chemainus people live in mouldy housing with overcrowding and insufficient access to transportation. I live in a rural-urban area, but many of these communities have no access to transportation. When elders or families with children want to access a hospital or other primary care providers, if they do not have a vehicle, there is no public transportation. How do they get timely access?

I will wrap-up by talking about diabetes. There was a first nations diabetes report card which outlined a number of recommendations, part of which are already in place regarding prevention and treatment guidelines. We already know what they look like. They should be implemented immediately in first nations communities.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was very impressed with my hon. colleague's discussion. She raised the issue of mould, the mould that we have seen in the community of Kashechewan, but it is very clear that mould is endemic in first nations homes across Canada.

I was in the community of Barriere Lake, where I worked for many years. We would plead for Health Canada officials to come in. We would document the mould conditions. We had documents which indicated that seniors who had died in the community because of respiratory health problems had been living in homes that had been identified by Health Canada as posing a risk to their health. Nothing was done. The elders died.

We saw that in Barriere Lake. We have seen it in the mould in Kashechewan. We saw it in the children's school in Attawapiskat that was condemned, when no efforts were made by the former government to deal with the crisis in that community.

I have a question for the hon. member in terms of the issue of being honest about the obligation of government to protect human health. We had a situation in Attawapiskat in which the community had to shut down its own school, a school that was under the overall jurisdiction of the federal government. The former Indian affairs minister did nothing to address that. Year after year nothing was done to address the fact that children were being sent to school on the site of one of the largest fuel spills ever recorded in Canada. There were records of people getting sick. Nothing was done then and still nothing has been done as far as we can tell.

Why does the hon. member think a government that sat on massive surpluses in budgets year after year never bothered to get off its royal duff to actually help first nations health when people's lives were being directly impacted and the government knew it?

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has had a first-hand view of what it looks like in many of these communities. He raises a very good point.

The mouldy housing, the lack of safe drinking water and all of the other conditions that are facing first nations, Métis and Inuit across this country from coast to coast to coast did not happen in the last nine months. The Conservatives did not birth this problem. This problem has been in the making not only under the last 13 years of Liberal government but for decades before that.

I know that the Cowichan tribes, in a letter to the health minister on August 30, 2006, talked about the fact that they have mouldy housing. Their reserve has about 4,000 people. They have serious overcrowding and stress on families. The housing situation there has been an ongoing problem for a number of years, yet we still have a continuing failure to meet communities' needs in terms of adequate, safe and affordable housing.

Again we are talking about wait times here. When are we going to commit? When are we going to build a timeframe that says to first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples that they are going to have x number of housing units built over x amount of time, units that are going to meet their needs as the population continues to grow in many of these communities?

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this very important subject.

During the election, the Conservatives indicated that they had five priorities. They wanted to pass an accountability act, which has not happened yet. They proposed to cut the GST, which has resulted in a one cent decrease in the cost of a cup of coffee. They wanted to get tough on crime and have passed quite a number of bills, and I suppose they do deserve some credit for that. They were going to help parents with the cost of raising their children, which has resulted in the infamous $100 child care scheme.

Also, they were going to work with the provinces to establish a patient wait time guarantee, which seems to have been forgotten. It has just vanished. There has been no work done with the provinces and the territories on improving health care and that is what we are talking about here, because the increasing wait times are only a symptom of the real problems that underlie our health care system. Coming from a northern region, I think I can speak to these very well.

The disease we are seeing here is the lack of political will along with governments that cannot get their priorities straight. Right now in the Northwest Territories we are seven doctors short of what we need. We need a family doctor in Fort Simpson, two general practitioners in Fort Smith, a GP in Hay River, and a radiologist, an anesthetist and a psychiatrist in Yellowknife.

For many of my constituents, the nearest emergency room is several hours away by airplane. People have died while flying for medical help, and in the not too distant past. Many northerners who could still be alive today are dead not because of a lack of dedication by medical professionals, but because of a lack of political will and attention to the long term requirements of our health system.

The health care situation in the north, not just in the territories but in the north that stretches right across Canada and encompasses all the areas of the northern provinces, is something that Canadians should be ashamed of. The level of health care endured by ordinary Canadians who live in the north is a black spot on this nation.

I ask members to listen to these statistics. Nunavut's life expectancy is 10.5 years less than that of the whole country. Infant deaths are over three times the national average. This black spot was made bigger by the Liberal governments of the 1990s. Starting with the massive cuts in the mid-1990s, all in the name of fighting the national debt, the Liberals provided just enough resources to northern health care to meet the minimum needs.

In the Northwest Territories, aboriginal health care is provided by the territorial government, which is then reimbursed by the federal government. However, the federal government, starting with the Liberals, has not repaid the territories for the cost of delivering this service. It is done only on a predetermined fee basis. Using a hypothetical example, a procedure may cost $1,000 while the federal government will reimburse only $800. This has resulted in a lack of funds for the entire system.

Since 2002, the Government of the Northwest Territories has added over $59 million and 183 new front line health care staff. Only $9.7 million of the increase has come about as a result of federal increases for health care. These figures were determined in June 2006.

Today's figure for federal support is really much lower, thanks to the elimination of the aboriginal anti-smoking program, which went the way of equality for women, volunteerism, the tourism industry and all those other cuts we saw earlier this year. We were making progress on reducing the rate of smoking. It went from 45% down to 35% in my territory. This was an enormous improvement. In Nunavut, for instance, the rate of lung cancer is four times the national average. To take away this program was utterly ridiculous. It was not in the best interests of Canadians, nor was it good fiscal management.

The government promised average Canadians that it would take action on health care, but we have seen no action, just like we have seen no action on the environment. Where we have seen action, though, is on supporting the needs of large defence contractors. Not one of the Conservative priorities was increased military spending. The government can find any reason to spend more money on the military, but few reasons to spend money on ordinary Canadians.

One of the government's favourite topics is Arctic sovereignty. Northerners cannot have adequate health care, but we can have multi-billion dollar icebreakers. Assuming a total cost of $2 billion for these new ships, on what could this money be better spent? It could hire 21,000 nurses or 4,000 doctors, build five hospitals, or fully fund 10 medical schools the size of the University of Toronto. It may not be clear to people, but if we do not have people living in the Arctic, and providing decent health care does go a long way to ensuring that people live there, then we will have little claim for it as a territory.

Working Canadians should not have been surprised when the health care priority went over to the Department of National Defence. With the government and its Liberal supporters voting to continue the mission in Afghanistan for at least two more expensive years, this trend will continue.

What action should the government take on health care so that it will live up to its promise to average Canadians? For a start, it could implement the recommendations in the “Final Report of the Federal Advisor on Wait Times”. The government could coordinate and fund a Canadian health human resources action plan that would support post-secondary education, continuing education and workplace retention.

The government could bring in a national pharmacare program. It could save Canadians money. It could deliver better pharmaceutical care to all Canadians. It would be of enormous benefit to our society.

These are things that average Canadians want. When Canadians say they want action on health care, they want real action on health care, not just words and empty promises.

While it was the Liberals who created the crisis in health care, this government is continuing to do everything it can to destroy a system that is part of the Canadian identity. For northerners and for all those who live in remote communities, there is no alternative to a fully funded public health care system. Can we trust either of these two parties that have held the reins of power over the years when our health care system has been in denial? I do not think so.

Canadians need a party like the New Democratic Party to fight hard for proper, well funded, progressive health care, health care that promotes and funds preventative health, health care that over the long term would actually solve our endemic problem of wait times in our precious system. From sea to sea to sea, all Canadians have a huge stake in a health approach that really works.

We support this motion today, but this is hardly an answer in itself. We need to look at the whole system. We need to ensure that the whole system has the funds, the support of Canadians and the direction that will lead to Canadians' health in the future.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, today in the House we heard the Minister of Health announce a wait times diabetes strategy for first nations communities. I referenced this earlier, but I note specifically that the first nations diabetes report card states, “The CDA 2003 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada are widely recognized” by provinces and territories “as the standard for diabetes prevention and management in Canada”.

Clearly we already have management and prevention practices in place. I wonder if the member could comment on why we would look at wait times in up to 10 communities on a two year pilot project when we know that many people will have contracted diabetes in that timeframe and we already have mechanisms in place to deal with it. Could the member comment on that?

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, one does not want to impugn the direction the government is taking on a serious issue like this, but as the member pointed out, there are opportunities here to do much more than that. The position outlined by the Minister of Health is, once again, pretty thin soup to aboriginal communities across the country, whose issues surrounding health are so large, whose requirements are so large, and whose need is “right now”.

It suggests to me that the government is floundering, that it cannot make up its mind. The Minister of Health cannot get into the Prime Minister's office quickly enough to find out what his next step is going to be. I think we really need to see the government take proper action, real and decisive action. We can feel the disappointment of Canadians who are waiting on these pilot projects when the Canadian medical system understands the issues and knows the solutions. It is really disappointing.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on December 2, 2005, during the election campaign, the issue of wait times guarantee was raised. It was one of the five priorities of the Conservative Party. I will quote the leader of the Conservative Party, who stated:

I am pleased to announce that one of the first acts of a new Conservative government will be to sit down with the provinces to develop a Patient Wait Times Guarantee....We will bring all governments back to the table, not to bicker about more money, but to set wait time targets across the country, and figure out a plan to begin meeting them. That process will begin immediately after the election, and conclude in 2006.

There was a promise by the government to introduce a wait times guarantee. There was no money in the budget to support that promise. It seems to me that this is yet another broken promise to add to income trusts and other items. Can we really trust the government on its promises?

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the government has not shown any ability to communicate even among its own members. Within its own cabinet, there does not seem to be a lot of communication. The thought that the government would move ahead to establish the kinds of relationships it needs with the provinces with its internal failures of communication does not seem to follow.

When it started out, there was good hope that it could pull this together and create a momentum within the provinces, which has to happen. However, without efforts being put in, without a sense that the government wants to communicate and work cooperatively with the provinces, we are not going to end up in 2006 with a wait times guarantee in place.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, at the outset, our government is committed to publicly funded health care and to working with the provinces and territories to provide Canadians in every region with timely access to quality health care services.

Contrary to the assertion of my Liberal colleague, the new government has not broken its promise, a promise repeated in budget 2006 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.

The Government of Canada demonstrated its commitment, as did all provincial and territorial leaders, at the September 2004 first ministers meeting. They agreed on an action plan, based on a number of principles, including those found in the Canada Health Act, and access to health services based on need, not ability to pay.

The 10 year plan also set out continued accountability and provision of information to make progress transparent to citizens as a core principle of the action plan. All first ministers signed the plan, a key signal of their commitment to this historical agreement. All first ministers indicated their support for the reporting provisions contained in the 10 year plan.

These reporting provisions will provide Canadians with meaningful measures of progress in all areas of health care renewal.

As the Prime Minister emphasized, the focus is now squarely on delivering our commitment to reduce wait times. This government, together with the provinces and territories, gave the people of Canada our word and now we must deliver. The urgency of this has been underlined by the Supreme Court's Chaouilli decision.

This commitment is backed by $41 billion in support of the 10 year plan to strengthen health care. That is $41 billion in sustained, growing health care funding to help ensure that provinces and territories have the resources they need to provide Canadians with timely access to essential quality health care across the country.

In budget 2006 our new government committed to this increase in transfers to provinces and territories.

To further strengthen accountability and ensure an enduring commitment to renewal by future governments, a parliamentary review will take place in 2008 and 2011 of the progress made in implementing the 10 year plan. These funds build on the significant reinvestments in health, beginning with $21.1 billion supporting the September 2000 first ministers' agreement on health renewal and by $36.8 billion supporting the 2005 accord on health care renewal.

I will take a moment to outline how the $41 billion in increased transfers is being directed to strengthen publicly funded health care and support provinces and territories in their ability to ensure that all Canadians continue to have access to health services based on need, not ability to pay.

First, the bulk of this funding is being provided to increase the Canada health transfer. It includes: an additional $3 billion in the Canada health transfer in 2004-05 and 2005-06, closing the so-called short term Romanow gap; a new, higher base for the Canada health transfer of $19 billion, which includes $500 million for home care and catastrophic drug coverage; and an automatic escalator of 6% applied to the new Canada health transfer base of $19 billion effective in 2006-07, which is an unprecedented move to ensure predictable and growing health funding.

As hon. members know, the Canada health transfer provides provinces and territories with the flexibility to design and to deliver their own health programs, while at the same time respecting the important national objectives included in the Canada Health Act: public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability and accessibility.

By strengthening the Canada health transfer with a $19 billion base and applying a 6% annual escalator, we have more than satisfied the recommendations of the Romanow Report on the Future of Health Care in Canada. The annual 6% escalator was agreed upon as an appropriate number to track growth in health expenditures over the medium term.

The most recent report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information on provincial and territorial health expenditures confirms that federal support is growing at the right and appropriate pace.

The second investment strengthening health care is through a $5.5 billion wait times reduction transfer over 10 years to reduce wait times and improve access for Canadians to quality health care. The first five years of this transfer have been provided through the $4.25 billion wait times reduction fund. Operating principles are in place for the wait times reduction fund to guide the use of the fund and to allow for clear communication between governments and their citizens. These priorities include clearing backlogs, training and hiring more health professionals, building capacity for regional centres of excellence, expanding appropriate ambulatory and community care programs and expanding tools to manage wait times.

Besides the wait times reduction fund, beginning in 2009-10, $250 million will be provided through an annual transfer to provinces and territories, primarily to support health and human resources.

As a result of these $41 billion in investments, total federal cash transfers in support of health are scheduled to rise to $30.5 billion in 2013-14. This represents a significant and continuing federal investment in the Canadian health care system.

The health council, created following the 2003 accord, will serve as an objective observer of the health care renewal process. First ministers of jurisdictions participating in the health council agree that the health council's mandate be expanded to include preparing an annual report on the health status of Canadians and health outcomes, and report on progress of elements set out in the plan. The council will ensure that Canadians know how governments are doing in terms of implementing the 2003 and 2004 agreements.

However, this is not all that we have been doing.

These recent actions are only a part of the federal health care funding story. These cash transfers to provinces and territories are in addition to the support of Government of Canada transfers through tax transfers. In 2006-07 alone, the tax transfer component of the CHT will total $12.4 billion, an amount that will continue to grow in line with provincial and territorial economies.

In addition, in budget 2006 last May, we also committed to doing our part to implement the Canadian strategy for cancer control. We will invest $260 million over the next five years to help improve screening, prevention and research activities and to help coordinate efforts with the provinces and with cancer care advocacy groups.

We also provided $1 billion over the next five years to improve Canada's ability to respond effectively to pandemics and other public health emergencies.

All of this is money providing Canadians in every region with the publicly funded health care system they need and rely on. A publicly funded health care system is vital to Canadians and the government has taken numerous concrete steps to support it, in collaboration with provinces and territories.

We will continue to work with our provincial and territorial counterparts, stakeholders and the Canadian public to ensure that we have a health care system that provides timely access to the quality care Canadians need, when they need it and, furthermore, that Canadians are informed of the progress we are making.

I urge all hon. members to consider my remarks today when debating this motion.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for outlining, in great detail, all of the provisions in the 2003 and 2004 health accords that were put in place by the Liberal government in the last Parliament.

What I did not hear from the hon. member is any commentary whatsoever as to what the new government has done in regard to a health care wait times guarantee. In fact, the Prime Minister, during the election campaign, told Canadians that this matter would be the first item dealt with by his government and that it would be completed by the end of 2006. That was in the press release and that was said at the press conference held by the Prime Minister on that date.

The health minister of today has said that the moneys necessary to support and achieve a fail-safe system for Canadians who cannot get the health care they need within the clinically acceptable wait times period, will require money. There is no money in the only budget provided to the House by the government.

The health minister said that the money for this was buried in the $41 billion 10 year plan of the 2004 accord. The premiers and health ministers of the provinces say that guaranteed wait times were not part of the accord. It appears that there is a misunderstanding between the government and the premiers of the provinces with regard to where the money will come from.

I thank the member for outlining the excellent work done by the Liberal government in the last Parliament but he should use this time now to explain why the Conservatives broke their promise to have a health care wait times guarantee in place before the end of 2006.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the member opposite that our first promise was not to health care. Our first promise was to accountability. We would encourage the member opposite and his party to speed that process through the Senate and to speed it through here as well.

Health care is a top priority of this government and we have demonstrated that. We demonstrated that today with the new announcements for the first nations. I am pleased to report, as all will be pleased to hear, that this government will be working in conjunction with our natives and with the minister in charge of that portfolio to aid in the work on diabetes and the terrible plague that has come upon our people on the reserves. That is just another example of how this government has moved forward.

We have acknowledged what the Liberals have done but we have added to that and we are doing much more.

If the hon. member would just have a look at what we have done and the things that we have accomplished he would see that we are moving forward and we are doing a whole lot more than we promised.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Chatham-Kent—Essex mentioned that there was an escalator clause put in the health budget. I wonder if he could expand on that clause and on some of the amounts that were mentioned by him.

The member mentioned a few big dollar amounts and I think Canadians need to know exactly how much money we are talking about. We are not talking about tens of thousands of dollars. We are talking about millions, hundreds of millions and, indeed, billions of dollars that this new government intends to spend in the health care system to improve not only the lot of all Canadians but the times they have to wait, times that under the previous government doubled.

As the hon. member for Chatham-Kent—Essex mentioned, the health minister today notified the House of the historic agreement to reduce wait times for those first nations people who need testing for diabetes. He previously announced the prenatal program that my hon. colleague mentioned just a few minutes ago.

I wonder if the hon. member would just mention what the 6% escalator clause means and give some of the other figures that he was so graciously able to provide the House.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is right. As I stated before, the cash transfers to provinces and territories are in addition to the support that the Government of Canada provides through tax transfers. In 2007 alone the tax transfer component will total $12.4 billion, an amount that will continue to grow in line with provincial and territorial economies.

We will also provide $1 billion over the next five years to improve Canada's ability to respond effectively to pandemics. We all know that is a looming situation that could strike at any time. This government recognized that and set aside the funds to work for those things.

This money will provide Canadians in every region with a publicly funded health care system they need and rely on.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the motion before the House today reads as follows:

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.

I want to start by dealing with the term “accountability”. It is a term that has seized this place since the beginning of Parliament. I participated as a panellist at a conference here in Ottawa on the subject matter and found it had many definitions. One of the definitions for a starting point is what is included in Webster's dictionary. It basically says that accountability is where one explains and/or justifies one's actions or decisions. Therefore, when people are accountable, that is what they have done.

In addition to that, there is a degree of accountability. People could be accountable if they explain or justify their action or decision but have they given us all of the facts? Have they given us everything we should know and been totally forthright in the information?

In the financial industry, when someone issues a prospectus for the sale of securities there is a criteria that must be applied with regard to the disclosure, and that criteria is that everything in the document must be true, full and plain. I want members to remember the criteria of full accountability is explaining and justifying one's actions and decisions in a manner that is true, full and plain. I think we will find out that the government has not been accountable.

The Conservatives did in fact abandon their promise to implement a national wait times guarantee. It was one of their priorities. In the 2004 health accord that was negotiated by the previous Liberal government, $41 billion had been set aside, based on negotiations with the provinces, to establish the benchmarks that we would be pursuing in terms of providing some targets for the health care industry to shoot for.

Those negotiations led to a $41 billion 10 year funding agreement to ensure funding was in place to not only establish these benchmarks but also to allow the health care industry to meet them. That is different than a wait times guarantee. A wait times guarantee is: what happens if the benchmark is not met? Is it the patient who has to suffer? I had a daughter who had cancer. She had to wait 16 weeks to get her radiation treatment. The clinical criteria for that type of treatment for a cancer patient is 10 weeks. I know, very personally, what it means to Canadians when they cannot get the medically necessary services and treatment for their illnesses when they need it.

The Conservatives promised to meet with the provincial premiers and health ministers this fall but no meeting took place. The federal wait times adviser delivered his final recommendations to the Conservative government six months ago and yet there has been no action on these recommendations.

The Conservatives recently announced an on reserve pilot project for pregnant aboriginal women under the guise of a wait times reduction plan. This was a pilot program, something that they could do quick and dirty to say that they had started and that they were doing something. Providing medically necessary services to pregnant women on aboriginal reserves on a pilot basis seems to be a no-brainer. This is not something that is discretionary. It is medically necessary and it is not optional. However, the government seems to think that Canadians can somehow be convinced or fooled into believing the government is doing something. Parliamentarians are not fooled by this.

The fact is the Prime Minister during the election campaign made a statement, and I am going to read it into the record yet again. On December 2, 2005, he said:

I am pleased to announce that one of the first acts of a new Conservative government will be to sit down with the provinces to develop a Patient Wait Times Guarantee....We will bring all governments back to the table, not to bicker about more money but to set wait time targets across the country and figure out a plan to begin meeting them. That process will begin immediately after the election, and conclude in 2006.

Promise made, promise broken, no question about it. The government promised Canadians during the election campaign a number of little goodies. If elected, it was going to give some tax breaks. It was going to give $100. It was going to give some textbook tax credit. It was going to give a transit pass tax credit. There is no integrated plan. There is no integrated economic plan. There is no social plan, never mind whether it is integrated. There is no social plan.

The Conservatives tried to buy an election and they did. Canadians went for what they felt were promises they could rely on, and what happened? It did not really happen, and in fact what is happening now is we are finding out that we cannot trust the Conservative government. We cannot trust the Conservatives to keep their promises.

Remember the income trusts. The Conservatives promised in the last Parliament and throughout the last election campaign that they would not tax income trusts. What did they do? They turned around and all of a sudden announced that they were going to tax income trusts. That was a broken promise. It was the mother of all flip-flops in terms of the severity of the free fall of the marketplace that cost $35 billion in lost wealth. Many of those people were seniors who relied on those investments for their retirement, which they worked hard for and which they deserve.

The Minister of Health said publicly that the money for the guaranteed wait times, this fail-safe, this insurance policy for Canadians to get the services they need if they are not delivered within the clinically advised wait time period, was in the $41 billion 2004 health accord. Each of the provincial health care ministers and the premiers said, “Excuse me, Mr. Federal Health Minister, there was nothing in that accord that had anything to do with a wait time guarantee”. The accords had to do with benchmark establishment.

Somehow the Conservative government thinks that it can play with words, dipsy-doodle around, confuse everyone and make them believe that somehow it is doing something. Health care, I believe, is still the number one priority for Canadians, and there was no money in the Conservative budget for health care.

Now the Conservatives are saying that the wait times guarantee was provided for in the 2004 health accord. If the health minister is correct in his assumption that the moneys were in the 2004 health accord, how could the Conservatives during the last election promise to do something that had already been delivered? It makes no sense. Yet it was one of their top five priorities. It cannot be the case. Maybe the health minister has misled Canadians and misled this House. That is very serious because all of a sudden, Canadians have yet another example of where they cannot trust the Conservative government.

The recent economic update is another example. The Conservatives said that they are going to reduce the net debt by 2021, how wonderful. Have a look at the numbers. One of the things we find when dealing with net debt is that the amount of debt, which is the federal debt and the debts of all the provinces, is offset with the value of the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan.

The actuarial valuation of those two pension plans today is about $110 billion. By 2021 it is going to rise to $427 billion simply because of the investments and the number of baby boomers that have been paying their premiums by 2021 to make sure that it is all going to be there. The appreciation within CPP and QPP is going to be $317 billion.

The government is going to get the net debt down by taking credit for the appreciation in the Canada pension plan and the Quebec pension plan. This is nonsense. It is smoke and mirrors. This is deception at its worst.

Canadians do not understand what net debt is. What they should understand is that the government will be doing absolutely nothing to achieve that goal, other than to say, “Whatever the appreciation in the Quebec and the Canada pension plans is we are taking credit for it and, look, we have reduced it”. That is nonsense. It is silly and irresponsible. We cannot trust the Conservative government. It is irresponsible.

During the debate today I heard some members say, “Look at what you did, $25 billion in cuts to the transfers to the provinces,” as though this were something that the Liberals just did. The fact is the Liberals were elected in 1993, after nine years of the Mulroney government. I should add that there was not one balanced budget during the nine years of Conservative rule. In fact, for the year ended March 31, 1994, only a couple of months after the Liberals took office and Parliament started to meet, the deficit for that fiscal year was $42 billion. In one year $42 billion more was going out than was coming in. It was totally fiscally irresponsible, total mismanagement.

Mark my words, we are heading down the same road again. The government is dismantling everything the former Liberal government put in place. We can see in the fiscal update that the projected surplus is going down.

Canadians will understand that when there is a $42 billion deficit in one year there are two ways to deal with a loss situation. If a business is losing $42 billion a year, it is going to lose $42 billion the next year unless something changes. The government can do two things. It can increase revenue, which means increasing taxes to Canadians, or it can reduce expenses.

The former Liberal government did not increase taxes. What it had to do was to shave back and cut back government through a program review. It was hurtful for Canadians. We understood that. It was tough on every aspect of Canadian life. At the time, the observers of Canada's situation said we were like a third world country. Our debt to GDP ratio was off the charts. The vast majority of tax dollars was going to pay interest on debt. That was the reality. The debt was already up to $500 billion and it was adding another $42 billion in 1994, another $20 billion in 1995 and another $15 billion in 1996.

It took three years to get the fiscal house in order, to get the first balanced budget. We had a small surplus in 1997. Not only did the Liberal government balance the budget each and every year since that time, but it ran good surpluses and it paid down enough debt. Where is the debt today? When the Liberals took office with a $42 billion deficit for the year, the national debt just before that statement came out was about $500 billion.

Today after all of the years of running those surpluses, we are at $480 billion, about $20 billion less than back in 1993. The reason is that when faced with a tremendous annual deficit of $42 billion, the debt is ratcheted up. The debt continued to go up because $42 billion could not be cut out of the country's spending in one year. It could not be done; it was impossible. It had to be done in stages.

It was fiscally responsible to get our house in order. What has happened? The transfers to the provinces for health care, social services and post-secondary education are at the highest levels they have ever been. There is no point in resting on one's laurels. We still have to do better. Even the Liberals in the last election had a program to build on the 2004 health accord.

In the election campaign there was $75 million to establish the health care guarantee fund, which would assist patients and a family member with travel and accommodation costs to a public facility in another province for quicker access to necessary medical procedures. There was another $300 million for regional centres of specialized care in university teaching hospitals. A further $50 million was promised for the Canada Health Infoway to accelerate wait list management technologies, such as registries, book systems and electronic health records.

There was no question about it. The $41 billion over 10 years was meant to establish, maintain and provide the necessary funding to the provinces to meet benchmarks. We knew there would be cases where the benchmarks would not be met for medically necessary services within a reasonable period of time. The Liberals established additional funding of $425 million to what was being provided on an annual basis by the 2004 health accord.

I raise that because the Conservatives' budget was supposed to be reflective of what is necessary to implement the five priorities in the throne speech, one of which was the wait times guarantee. There was no money in the budget to support a wait times guarantee. The Liberals at least had put $425 million toward that objective to make sure that wait times were not only coming down to the clinically acceptable criteria but they knew there had to be a fail-safe, a backup and insurance. That is why the money was there.

The Conservatives have not done that. Why? Is this a hollow promise? I think so. It is a promise broken. It is not going to happen. No pilot project for pregnant women on aboriginal reserves is going to take the place of a wait times guarantee promised by the government. So many promises have been broken so far that I do not know how Canadians can trust the Conservative government. They cannot trust it for anything.

As a matter of fact, I do not think there is a minister in the first two rows that is totally in the loop in his or her own portfolio because the Prime Minister is making all the decisions. He is going to make mistakes, and he has made mistakes, because he is trying to run the show himself. I just do not see how that works.

An item came up earlier in the day which has to do with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I raise it because when we talk about a wait times guarantee and benchmarks, there is one thing that we have been waiting for since before I came here in 1992 when the subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Health recommended that we have a strategy on FASD. We are still waiting. I ask the government to deal with the serious problem of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, not many times do we like people stealing from us, but the one time I really appreciated it was after the 1993 election when the Liberals stole our idea of balancing the budget.

We had a plan called zero in three, which was a response to the fact that since 1972 the Liberals had racked up a huge debt and with the annual interest payments, that debt had grown to almost $500 billion. In nine years the then Progressive Conservative Party did not address the Liberal deficit and the growing debt. That was one of the reasons the Reform Party came to be.

Lo and behold, in three years the Liberals balanced the budget just like we had proposed. It has always been a Liberal debt. The member over there is crowing about the fact that they put the fiscal house in order. They are the ones who put it into disorder in the first place. Thankfully we came along and they, to their credit, listened to us. I remember the minister of finance of the day asked our critic to keep the pressure on because he had a lot of pressure to spend over there. I want to correct that part of the record.

This is more a comment than a question and the member can respond if he wants. I am sure he will with some sort of other garbage that will make no sense.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the member's comment speaks for itself.

I have some serious concern and I think Canadians will have some concern very soon about the fact that we are dismantling the social safety net and social programming in Canada. With the Conservatives, the solution to every problem is a tax cut. They want to get out of providing services. If they do not provide the services, then they do not have to spend money on them. They can give tax cuts. Everything the Conservative government has talked about so far in its mandate is about what it can give away.

We must look at this carefully. One of the things we will find is that virtually every time a tax cut of some sort comes up, the only people who will really benefit will be the upper middle and high income earners in Canada. The people who suffer the most under the Conservative ideology are low and modest income Canadians.

The Conservative Party better wake up and understand that in our society there are people who are unable to care for themselves. That is a responsibility of a responsible government. I do not see it over there and it concerns me a great deal.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.


Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the convoluted history lessons given by my hon. colleague opposite. Of course, we are talking about health today and about playing catch-up because the past 13 years were very hard, especially on the provinces. Health is an area of provincial jurisdiction that the previous government deprived of federal subsidies. Yet the previous government had inherited measures from a responsible finance minister in the person of Michael Wilson, who, as hon. members will recall, brought free trade and the GST to Canada. Of course, the party opposite was opposed to these two measures. However, they restored Canada to a sound financial position like the one it enjoys today.

Unfortunately, instead of managing this money wisely and investing it in social programs as our new government is doing, the members opposite made draconian cuts in social programs, especially education and health, at the expense of the provinces and, in my riding, at the expense of the people at the hospital in Armagh. This hospital was closed because of the drastic cuts to the health sector. It was truly unacceptable. It was time Canadians woke up and did what they did in January, when they told the members of the former government, “Sit on the opposition benches for a while to take time out and gain a new perspective”.

I have a hard time understanding how someone who claims to champion social measures can be opposed to our government's recent announcement of a pilot project concerning wait times guarantees for prenatal care, as part of health services for first nations. We want to test the delivery of prenatal care using wait times guarantees as a benchmark. When wait times guarantees are not honoured, first nations women will be given access to other types of care. This is a tangible measure.

Does my colleague opposite agree with this measure? Does he agree that aboriginal women should have top-quality prenatal care and that, if they are not able to receive such care in their own community, they should be able to go elsewhere to receive care?

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can recall a statement often made by former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in our caucus when he talked about some of the things that maybe the member had said to him. It was about approach and the way it was approached it in terms of the words and the twisting. He said it was a mirage, an effort to gloss it over, to make it look like something it was not.

Providing prenatal and obstetrical services to any woman having a baby, I do not care whether she is aboriginal or otherwise, is not an option, it is medically necessary. What has not happened, and what will not happen, is the wait times guarantee as it relates to cancer treatment, cardiac care, sight restoration, joint replacement and diagnostic imaging.

Those are the five areas that the Prime Minister promised on December 2, to start immediately after the election and to be completed in 2006. It will not happen. As a matter of fact, we will be, mark my words, in an election before we see any movement on this stuff and we will have yet another platform from the Conservatives to see how many people they can get to vote for them.

We can look at their initiatives. For instance, how about cutting literacy and women's programs. There are so many things that have happened. The people who have been harmed the most are the people least likely to vote Conservative.

Opposition Motion—Health CareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Ruby Dhalla Liberal Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Mississauga South not only for his work on the health care file, but on the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome as well. Having sat on the health committee last year, I know the member put forward a bill to ensure we addressed some of the issues and come up with proactive solutions. My heartiest congratulations to the member for his continued interest and commitment to the health care file.

I want to touch upon an issue that the member highlighted during his speech, and that is the issue of wait times reduction. He also touched on some of the cuts that have been made. I will bring it back to the realm of health care and some of the cuts.

One of the cuts was to the secretariat on palliative and end of life care, which has seen substantial budget reductions in 2006-07. In 2006 it was funded at $1.7 million. We have seen substantial cuts to some of the most vulnerable in our society and to seniors.

Could the member please comment on how these cuts will impact these individuals who need the government at one of the most important times in their lives?