Mr. Speaker, as with any new initiative, I would hope there will be an ongoing evaluation of how Bill C-5 is proceeding. At committee, people were interested in the initiative, but some had questions about what it would look like in six months or twelve months and whether it would accomplish what it was put forward to do.
I am very hopeful that the government will put in place a way to monitor and to evaluate whether the legislation has done the work that Canadians expect it to do. There are still some pieces that we can work on a bit.
A number of issues need some following. Because time is short, I will focus only on the bill and on another day I will give another speech.
People know about pandemics. Anybody who turns on a radio, or a television, or talks to a neighbour may not understand everything about a pandemic, but at least they know it is a health crisis. They read about people dying from it. They see the kinds of actions being taken, as we saw in Ontario last year around SARS and TB. They have seen people wearing masks.
There is no question that the work around pandemics in the bill takes us forward. However, some things fall from that. While individuals might understand a pandemic, they may have no idea about the other things the Public Health Agency does or will do. They count on the government to be there to do the work. They are not even sure what “the work” is. Most of what they read about, if not pandemics, are the bed shortages at their local hospitals. People depend on the government to do this other work, which also falls under the agency. I will speak to that in a moment.
The issue of a pandemic and the responsibility of the Chief Public Health Officer is extremely important. We have federal areas of jurisdictions, such as transportation, airports, railways, ports, which are incredibly busy in the area where I come from, and military bases. I believe the Chief Public Health Officer should have jurisdiction over all those. New or very dangerous viruses entering the country know no jurisdiction. They enter the country and spread as quickly as possible.
It is difficult. In certain areas we clearly have federal jurisdiction and in other areas the provincial health officer would make decisions about quarantine and actions taken around a pandemic. I really believe the Chief Public Health Officer is the individual who should make those decisions. I also believe that the Chief Public Health Officer needs to have a mandate to do that. It is not always clear in the bill where the Chief Public Health Officer's mandate to act starts and where it ends.
One of the things I might raise is that I gather we had a new quarantine act last year. I was not here. I know it has had royal assent, but I do not think it has yet been proclaimed. I am not going to ask those questions because I am not going to use up that time yet, but I will at some stage. Perhaps we could learn that from the health committee. When will this quarantine act actually be proclaimed so that it therefore can be used in the way that it is intended to be used?
There are some other things I would look at in the act that need to be at least monitored on an ongoing basis.
By the way, the other thing I would say around federal responsibilities and the Chief Public Health Officer's responsibility is the fact that we also have international obligations. We do not just have obligations to the people who live in Canada, because again, viruses and other illnesses do not know borders. We have an international obligation to meet, which is not just a moral obligation but a contractual obligation. I think the Chief Public Health Officer is the person to ensure that we do this.
The one thing that concerns me is that the ability to declare a quarantine is still left with the Minister of Health. I must admit that as a citizen of Canada I would much rather see the quarantine act or the proclamation of the quarantine in a certain area for a certain reason rest with the Chief Public Health Officer as opposed to the Minister of Health. This is an area which I must admit I could be more comfortable with.
I think people expect that this person will be a professional individual, not that the minister is not one. People expect that it will be a trained, educated person who has a medical background, medical expertise and expertise in diseases that are contagious. However, having made that point, I want to go on to the other points that I am a little worried about. That is why I will look for the report about the act from this committee.
One point is resourcing. Other people have spoken to this. Resourcing is going to be extremely important in order for this agency and its staff to be successful. There is no question about it. I know there has been a significant amount of money added as a result of the pandemic part of the agency. I more than understand that, but there is another huge responsibility that comes under the Public Health Agency.
One huge responsibility is surveillance. We need to know what it looks like across the country for a number of chronic diseases. It could be chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, or type II diabetes. It could be Alzheimer's disease. It could be a variety of chronic illnesses for which this agency already has the responsibility to do the surveillance.
I want to make sure, particularly as we see more chronic diseases and growth in the numbers of people with these diseases, that this agency is able to carry out its tasks in an able and efficient fashion. I do not want to see resources diverted to prevent people from doing that at a time when we are actually seeing more people with chronic illnesses.
There is another thing about surveillance, of course, and I know that for my colleagues across the way this is a concern. There is no mandatory reporting. I would far rather have seen mandatory reporting.
I do not think any province is deliberately going to hold back information, but I would rather have seen mandatory reporting whereby provinces have to report to the Chief Public Health Officer what the status is around chronic illnesses or other trends they are seeing. That would be important for the federal government to know in order to take proactive as opposed to reactive action. I would much rather have preferred, as I say, to see mandatory reporting.
Another thing we have recently seen across the country in many places, but which is different in every province, is a drop in immunization. There are a lot of people today who have never seen a communicable disease. Either they have been immunized against it as children or their children have been, but they have never seen tuberculosis. They have never seen an outbreak of tuberculosis unless, of course, they are working in a downtown urban area now, although we thought it was gone. They have never seen, as I have in one province, 50 children left significantly challenged as a result of the fact that their parents had not had the children immunized.
When we start to see those drops in immunization, that is a trend across the country. I want the Chief Public Health Officer to know that and to be able to at least provide some leadership. I want the health officer to look at whether there are some reasons why it is going up in one province and down in the other and to look at what have we learned from the province that is doing well and what is happening in the province that may not be. Without mandatory reporting, that is not always possible, although, as I say, I do not think anybody would ever try to deliberately hold back that kind of information.
It also indicates that if we start to see more chronic disease across the country, we may, although I am not saying we will, start to see a need for certain kinds of surgery. I assume that this would somehow affect guaranteed wait times or the fifth platform, which I am still anxious for us to have an opportunity to speak about. I will not take up the time today, but it may have an implication for how we can continue to guarantee wait times if there is a trend that says we have more people with a particular chronic illness, which we know may lead to surgery at some stage for many of these people.
The other two areas that I think are extremely important have also been mentioned earlier. These are the areas of promotion and prevention. We will do far less work in health care and we will have significantly less wait times if we do really sound and solid work in the area of promotion, which is about helping people make good choices. Then there is prevention, which means being able to do those things such as helping young women learn to exercise very early on. I bet that if we did this with every girl child in Canada we would see far less broken hips from osteoporosis when those young girls are 65 or 75 or whatever.
These areas of promotion, of promoting health lifestyles, and prevention, the kinds of things that we know can prevent certain illnesses, often are pushed to the back because we are concerned about the pandemic, the wait times and what we read about at our local hospital. I speak from some experience as a health minister when I say that prevention and promotion often get pushed to the side.
I am not saying that there is an intent in this. I do not want there to be an inherent risk because of the very broad mandate, and because of the extreme interest in pandemics, as there should be. Many people have died during a pandemic. We have seen more information recently from another country to show that one virus can go from person to person. This means that virus is mutating, so that is very front page news.
I think it would be easy as the agency to focus on those areas that we hear so much about and see so much about and that people talk so much about, and yet those areas that could reduce our wait times, make our population healthier, et cetera, may not get the kind of attention they need. If we can do promotion and prevention and encourage that while we have young children, then the minister of health, whoever that is in 20 years' time, is going to have a healthier population and will spend less money because we will not see people with the same levels of a number of those chronic illnesses.
Recently there has been quite a bit in the paper about asthma and the number of people who die from asthma, often because the prevention being done is not being done in a way that is consistent and not in a way that always meets their needs. I would want to see that from across the country, so--