Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks by mentioning the beautiful light that shines on this side of the House. This is not a coincidence. The sky is blue and God is a sovereignist. We are going to take advantage of this light to enlighten our colleagues, the members opposite, who form the government. I hope they will be wise enough to listen.
I could not help but smile when I saw that this legislation was coming back here to be amended. Let us not forget that, at the beginning of this session, a bill was rammed through the House, namely Bill C-2. We felt that this issue had not been debated long enough to ensure that this legislation would provide measures that could be implemented, and that it would be responsible and meaningful for our fellow citizens, whom we represent here.
Today, I see that we have to go back to Bill C-12, which was passed in 2005, when I was still a new member in this House. In fact, this bill was my first experience with the legislation here. I had to learn how to debate it in the Standing Committee on Health, along with my colleague, the member for Hochelaga, who was then our party critic on health issues. Even at that time we had serious reservations about the provisions that the government wanted to include in the bill, because we often felt that they were too intrusive or not logical enough to allow for concrete, easy and effective implementation.
We have to be very cautious and serious when we talk about infectious and communicable diseases, about viruses and bacteria that proliferate. We have to take our role seriously. At the time, we deplored the fact that people would be accountable to an authority designated by the Minister of Health, because we felt that this was a somewhat complex process that would prevent the bill from being an effective piece of legislation.
When I saw the bill and saw that there was a move to amend this section, that is, section 34, I thought to myself, “Two years later, people are finally seeing that, once again, the Bloc Québécois was right.” Naturally, it was members of the Bloc Québécois who were the first to oppose that part of the legislation, which called for an authority designated by the minister. We did so because we believed that the bill encroached too much on provincial jurisdictions, especially in the area of health.
In Quebec, our department of public health is very effective and takes great care to protect us against all communicable and infectious diseases. I know that this is not necessarily the case everywhere. A hospital in Vegreville had to close its doors this week. Also, in Loyds, hundreds of patients had to be informed that they had probably contracted HIV or hepatitis, because the doctor had not reported, as one must, these diseases to public health authorities.
It is not enough to simply enact legislation. That legislation must be respected, obeyed and enforced, and we must be able to use that legislation effectively to protect ourselves against what we could call barbarian invasions. Any mention of tuberculosis, west Nile virus or SARS is sure to arouse fear. I would remind the House that the original Quarantine Act was drafted around 1872, if I understood my hon. colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska correctly.
We know that diseases crossed borders with the influx of pioneers who came here to start a life for themselves and become proud citizens of what was then Lower Canada and Upper Canada, in other words, the Quebec and Canada of today.
Infectious diseases did not stop crossing our borders just because we passed this legislation in 1872. In the early 1900s, around 1910 or 1918, right here in Hull, on the other side of the river, a very serious Spanish influenza outbreak killed many people. It decimated entire families. We still see traces of those families today in the names of the hon. members sitting in this House and the people nearby, who live in Hull, in Gatineau. These people probably have in their lineage, among their ancestors, people who died from the Spanish flu. At the time, even though the legislation existed, we did not have the means to enforce or apply it.
As far as such epidemics are concerned, we have to think about all these soldiers we send abroad. Often we pay more attention to what is going on over there in terms of equipment, tools and armament, and not pay much attention to what they might be bringing back with them when they come home. This can be very dangerous for them. These days, a number of women take part in these missions. Many of them come back and can also spread infectious diseases to their families and children because they did not receive the necessary care when they were abroad on a peacekeeping mission or, unfortunately, at war.
It is not enough to have laws, we also need the political will to apply them. We have to start resolving the problems in our own backyard. We currently have tuberculosis epidemics in a number of our first nations communities. It is unthinkable that in 2007 there are still people suffering from tuberculosis. That is the direct responsibility of the federal government. It is a responsibility that it neglects far too often and which it has not respected because the epidemic is spreading, not stopping.
In Kashechewan, people may be forced to leave their homes and to be relocated because their water is not potable. However, they cannot do it today because there is no money. If we have billions of dollars to invest in arms, we should at least have a few million to invest in providing safe, healthy housing where individuals can live with dignity and respect. At present, this is not the case. It is much easier to adopt a laissez-faire attitude. Hundreds, even thousands of individuals will suffer from these illnesses, including tuberculosis and other diseases. They will contract them because of unhealthy living conditions. Nothing is being done about that.
The previous government ratified the Kelowna accord. We all voted in this House to honour that accord. However, the government decided otherwise and is not making any further commitments. That is most unfortunate.
First nations communities, Inuit communities, all these communities find it difficult to carve out a place for themselves in our society. It is difficult for them to have access to adequate health care, appropriate education, and affordable, healthy, safe housing. It is difficult for them, but they have been abandoned even though it is our first responsibility to help them. We abandon them, we do not invest in these societies. Why? Why is there constant encroachment, to the tune of millions of dollars, on provincial responsibilities and jurisdictions when we do not even take care of our own responsibilities?
I do not understand. And yet, some small countries who have very little do much more for their citizens. I regularly visit Cuba, because I love the island and the people. Someone will say to me that they do not have a great deal of freedom, but I sometimes wonder which one of us has more freedom. I know that they have first class health care. All Cubans can study as much and as long as they wish. Education is free. Later, the government assigns the doctors it has trained to various countries to work for humanitarian causes. These doctors are very well trained.
Whenever I go to Cuba, I am never afraid of getting sick. I know I will be taken care of. When we went to Taiwan last fall, my travelling companion got a toothache on Taiwan's national holiday. The person I was with had a toothache. We had to go to a hospital because there are no dental clinics. At the hospital, two doctors took care of us. In under 10 minutes, my companion was in a chair and personnel had administered a sedative and something to take away the pain, and all of this happened on Taiwan's national holiday. Of course, thousands of people live there and their hospitals do not have all the equipment we have here. But their government chooses to invest in human resources to provide a standard of care and services that we rarely find here.
That service standard is rare here largely because of our provincial governments. Why do our respective governments not have enough money? Because previous federal governments cut transfer payments. Beginning in 1994, cuts to provincial transfer payments, including payments to Quebec, resulted in the sorry state of our health care systems today compared to those of some small countries that have much less than we do, but that care about their citizens' health.
We support the principle underlying this bill. We are not against it. Obviously, we cannot be against what is right, but today, as we study this bill, we must ask ourselves a question. Will this bill provide enough money to train quarantine officers? Will enough money be invested in training customs agents and all of the front-line staff who meet people at the border?
That was one of the concerns expressed by the Standing Committee on Health in 2004-05. We were not certain that all steps would be taken in order to enforce Bill C-12. After two years, we see that enforcing it is very difficult indeed, and that it was not really being enforced because there were flaws in the bill. In the years to come, we will likely find other flaws in the bill, given that the Standing Committee on Health had considerable reservations about approving the bill, which was adopted on division.
If we all minded our own business, there would likely be fewer bills of this kind to review. For example, despite what the government thinks, Bill C-2 was adopted very quickly, and a number of its sections are still not in force.
Why are we asked to debate bills that seem so important to the government, only to then have it dismiss everything we determined, everything we decided, everything we wanted to be able to give to our citizens as members of Parliament here in this House? We wonder why.
I do not know. I only hope that, in the future, we will be more careful. If it is true that Bill C-42 is crucial to the proper enforcement of Bill C-12, through the amendment of section 34, it is also true that there are several other sections of the bill that should be reviewed. In enforcing—