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.