House of Commons Hansard #105 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pandemic.


9:55 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps someone could ask me that excellent question.

I stand behind this government's solid approach to managing this H1N1 outbreak and to our comprehensive, forward-looking pandemic plan.

Tonight, I will focus my remarks on vaccine timing and availability.

I can think of no more eloquent a response for those who have expressed doubt to our capacity to manage the outbreak and to note the facts. To date, six million doses of adjuvanted H1N1 flu vaccine have been delivered to the provinces and territories. That is currently more H1N1 flu vaccine per capita than any other country in the world, more than the United States, Great Britain, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, or anywhere else.

More to the point, we have ordered enough H1N1 flu vaccine for every Canadian from coast to coast to coast who needs and wants to be immunized. No one will be left behind. And, yes, that H1N1 flu vaccine, a safe and effective vaccine, will be available to Canadians in a timely way.

We have not cut corners on safety in order to rush product to Canadians. We have acted in a responsible and deliberate way that balances the need to ensure a safe and effective vaccine is available and the need to stay ahead of the outbreak. That is a tough balancing act, but I believe we have the balance right.

Last week witnessed the beginning of the largest mass immunization campaign in Canadian history. That campaign, slated to start in early November, actually began ahead of schedule, on October 26.

We moved more quickly because our early warning systems told us the nature and pace of the second wave of the outbreak had changed.

We moved more quickly because we could draw on the knowledge, expertise and experience of an extensive global network of regulatory agencies and public health experts to assess H1N1 flu vaccine safety and the effectiveness across different populations.

We moved more quickly because our regulator and our vaccine manufacturer had worked closely together to define both the expectations and the process to be followed to approve a vaccine for a novel influence of flu virus, but in advance of this outbreak so we can move more quickly if the situation required this.

We moved more quickly because the context had changed and the health and safety of Canadians was at risk.

Because we knew it would be impossible to vaccinate everyone at one time, the Government of Canada in co-operation with the provinces and territories jointly determined sequencing guidelines for the distribution of H1N1 flu vaccine. This was done to ensure that vaccine programs could target priority groups first, allowing those who need the vaccine most to get it first.

As per the agreed upon guidance, these priority groups are: people under the age 65 with chronic conditions; pregnant women; children six months to less than five years of age; people living in remote and isolated settings or communities; health care workers involved in pandemic response or the delivery of essential health care services; and household contacts and care providers of persons at high risk who cannot be immunized or may not respond to vaccines.

I want to assure members that the Government of Canada, along with the provinces and territories, has been working diligently to distribute and administer the H1N1 flu vaccine as quickly, safely and broadly as we possibly can.

The Government of Canada provides important technical information, guidance and the real time support provinces and territories need to make informed decisions about when, how and to whom to administer the H1N1 vaccine.

Provinces and territories, which have the lead responsibility for administering the vaccine, rely on this extraordinary partnership to make clear and consistent information available to health professionals and ordinary citizens. We are moving forward together.

Canada's vaccine supplier, GSK, has informed us that the vaccine supply being shipped across Canada will be lower next week. In order to meet our request to produce a supply of unadjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women, the company had to switch over its vaccine production fill line.

Without getting overly technical, the formulation for unadjuvanted vaccine differs slightly from that for adjuvanted vaccine and the vial size is also different.

Switching production from one vaccine to another and then re-calibrating fill-lines and retesting output for quality takes about three to four days. That resulted in reduced vaccine availability for November 2. However, normal vaccine production has already resumed and our output should return to normal by next week.

As some who is not a member of a high risk group, it is without hesitation I would prefer to wait a few extra weeks to ensure that pregnant women are protected. It is also important to note that every batch of vaccine is quality tested before it is shipped to the provinces and territories. Lots that do not meet the quality standards are not released, which can have an impact on the weekly number of doses distributed.

The Government of Canada has been in constant touch with GSK and the provinces and territories and is sharing information with the provinces and territories on each week's supply of vaccine as soon as it is available.

There has been constant communication both at the working level and at the senior management level to share information on both availability and possible delays. We are working together with one goal in mind, to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Indeed, by the end of last week, six million doses of vaccine had been delivered. That is more vaccine per capita than any other country in the world.

I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the many health care workers working at clinics. These are very challenging and unique circumstances they are working under. Jurisdictions are giving more vaccine per day than they have ever given in history. I am very pleased to see many thousands of Canadians on the priority list getting their vaccines.

It is important to take a global perspective. Diseases do not respect borders. This is a worldwide pandemic. Many countries around the world are beginning their vaccine campaigns and each are facing different challenges in getting their populations vaccinated. However, it is important to remember that Canada is in the very fortunate position and we remain hopeful to have every Canadian who needs and wants to be vaccinated by Christmas.

Scientific studies show that the vaccine is safe and effective. We know that from clinical trials conducted in several countries around the world.

The H1N1 flu vaccine is produced in a similar manner to seasonal flu vaccines, which have been used safety and effectively in Canada for many years. The vaccine contains an adjuvant, which is an ingredient made of naturally occurring oil, water and vitamin E that boosts the body's immune response and increases the vaccine effectiveness. The same adjuvant was tested in 45,000 people and did not identify any safety concerns for healthy adults or children.

Now that immunization has begun, the Public Health Agency of Canada will work with provinces and territories to produce weekly reports of all reported adverse events associated with the H1N1 vaccine. This reporting will be done through the existing system, the Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System. This system is supported by health care professionals who report adverse events to their provincial-territorial public health offices, which share the information with the agency. This existing system will be supported by additional projects that will provide more detailed data specifically about the H1N1 flu vaccine.

The Government of Canada will continue to work with its provincial and territorial partners to ensure that all Canadians have the information they need to make informed decisions about immunization. Most important, we have stayed on message to get the vaccine.

Unlike in the era of our grandparents, we are truly fortunate to live in a time when we have a capacity to mount a quick and robust response to emerging viruses.

10 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about the six million doses. I will ask this again. How many doses have actually been administered?

She also talked about the importance of getting the vaccine. We know this is the best way to protect the health of Canadians. It is also the best way to reduce the risk of severe disease. No one can predict the rate of severe disease, but some experts say it is one in one thousand cases, which could translate to 1,500 to 2,500 ICU cases simultaneously across the country. I believe there are about 3,000 ICU beds.

Do we have a national surge capacity plan in Canada and are we able to more resources to where they are needed?

November 2nd, 2009 / 10:05 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, that sounded like a multi-pronged question.

In terms of the six million doses of vaccine, what is particularly important is that a good proportion has gone to the north, almost enough to cover every citizen in the north.

Given the time to transfer to health care facilities, to target the rural and more isolated communities was very important. I am sure the nurses, the physicians and other workers in public health are getting those vaccines out as quickly as they possibly can. I know that they ramped up their personnel to do that.

I also have to reflect on the member's comment. My background is in health care and part of my role was to work with pandemic planning. I can remember four years ago that part of our pandemic planning within our health authority and within our province was to look at our capacity and consider worst case scenarios in terms of what it would mean for our ICU and what it would mean for respirators. That work was done a few years ago in many of our health authorities and hospitals.

10:05 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech by my colleague, with whom I have the pleasure of sitting on the Standing Committee on Health. I know she examined this aspect along with me and I would therefore like to ask her a very simple question. In order to administer the vaccine, we must have enough doses of it, hence the importance of the debate this evening. Why did the government not get together with GSK and acquire the necessary doses of vaccine when there were a lot of pharmaceutical companies that were prepared—

10:05 p.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC


10:05 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

My colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine stepped up with the answer. Six other companies were ready to supply the vaccine. So why did the government sign an exclusive contract with GSK when it was its responsibility to plan ahead and sign contracts with other companies?

10:05 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, when looking at this, we have to remember that we currently have a global crisis. Countries across the world are ordering vaccines for their populations.

In Canada what we have to be thankful for is that right now we have more vaccines per capita than any other country. Also, we are going to have enough vaccine to vaccinate every single person in our population who chooses to be vaccinated. In Canada we need to feel fortunate about those facts.

10:05 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to have the opportunity this evening to talk about the H1N1 issue and the urgency surrounding it. As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, as I just said, I have come to understand the tremendous breadth of the H1N1 problem over the past few months.

I have to say that I was extremely surprised by the government's amateur—yes, amateur—handling of the H1N1 crisis.

Earlier, I asked my colleague a question about companies. In 2006, the government signed an exclusive contract with GSK to distribute vaccines. As the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine said, six companies were capable of supplying the vaccine. Therein lies the problem. We knew we were headed for a pandemic. The government was warned months ago, nearly a year ago. We agree that the H1N1 pandemic began sometime in December 2008 or January 2009. The government was therefore well aware of the issue and could see the problem coming.

In my opinion, the federal government is to blame for the long lineups of people waiting to get the H1N1 vaccine, because of its poor organization and lack of preparation. We went through the SARS crisis, which gave us some idea of what to expect. The federal government should have learned something from the SARS crisis and come up with some improvements regarding this situation.

The problem is that the Conservative government did absolutely nothing. It could have taken action a long time ago. On January 11, 2009, the WHO declared a phase 6 pandemic for H1N1. The Government of Canada waited until August 2009 to order 50 million doses of the adjuvanted vaccine and until September 2009 to order the non-adjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women. That is extremely worrisome. I mentioned the month of August 2009 for 50 million doses of the adjuvanted vaccine. Since that time, the government has known that the adjuvanted doses could not be given to pregnant women, and this was repeated many times in committee. We heard from witnesses and doctors who knew it posed a problem, but the Conservative government never got the message. Suddenly, about a week and a half ago, it finally realized there was a problem and that there would not be enough non-adjuvanted doses for pregnant women, who are one of the of high-risk groups for H1N1.

This government's mismanagement does not end with the H1N1 flu. Unfortunately, it extends to a number of other files, so much so that sometimes I miss the Liberals.

About a week and a half ago, the government purchased almost 200,000 doses from Australia even though our pharmaceutical companies were ready to manufacture the vaccine. The government did not want to do business with them, which I find very troublesome for another reason.

My colleagues may find it ironic coming from a Bloc member, but I think this is unfortunate for Canada's pharmaceutical industry in general. We have some very good pharmaceutical companies, in Quebec as well. I am thinking primarily of the very good companies located on Montreal's West Island, as well as in the rest of Canada, in Toronto, for example. They could have started up production and supplied the vaccine. Unfortunately, the government did not want to do business with them.

The government did not act prudently. Rather than ordering the vaccine from a number of pharmaceutical laboratories, in order to ensure a steady stream of deliveries, the government relied solely on GSK. It then blamed the company for overestimating its production capacity. You do not take such risks with people's health.

At present, the Government of Quebec has a lack of resources to deal with H1N1.

The shortage of vaccine doses has sparked a wave of panic among citizens. With all the horror stories circulating about the swine flu, I can understand why people flocked to the vaccination clinics when the first doses became available. In some areas, there was an odd dynamic because people were being urged to get the vaccine but the polls showed that they did not necessarily want to be vaccinated. We ended up with the problem of having everyone wanting to be vaccinated because of the disastrous scenarios circulating.

People have shown up in droves to be vaccinated, even those not in the high risk categories but who had concerns about H1N1. That is understandable given the confusing announcements about the Conservatives' plans and their amateurism in telling us that all was well but that there were some problems. We were never given the right information by the Conservatives. And that is also the case for a good number of other files.

Without accurate information, citizens have decided out of fear to go en masse to be vaccinated. We now have the problem of not having enough doses of vaccine.

What is more, according to the Canadian Press, money is available to provide the provinces with additional funds to cope with this urgent situation. The government did not hesitate to write big cheques with the Conservative Party logo on them, but it is slow to open the coffers to help the provinces to deal with this pandemic.

I will admit that I have a great deal of difficulty with the Conservatives telling us that we in the opposition are engaging in demagoguery with H1N1, that we are playing politics with H1N1, and the public is not fooled either. It knows full well that when the Conservatives advance that type of regressive argument that adds nothing to the debate, they are only hurting themselves.

The federal government, as I was saying, is largely responsible for all this. The Bloc Québécois feels that the federal government is largely responsible for the H1N1 vaccination campaign. By taking this crisis so lightly, the government has caused panic in the public, who feel caught off guard and completely misinformed. The government's lack of organization just confirms the concerns the Bloc Québécois has had from the start about the possibility of the vaccine not arriving on time to avoid the second wave of the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

I was saying earlier, being a member of the Standing Committee on Health, that we have been talking about this since August. Since August we, together with the Liberals and the NDP, have been expressing our fears and pointing out the problem and we have done exemplary work. I am thinking about the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes, who did a fantastic job of asking the government for answers and asking witnesses to provide arguments to show that the Conservatives had not been doing their job.

The government's lack of organization just confirms our concerns. The World Health Organization had been warning authorities for quite some time about a global outbreak of the pandemic. The concerns about this possibility were raised as soon as the virus appeared in early spring 2009. What is more, the WHO declared this a pandemic in June 2009.

The federal government could have planned ahead for the production of non adjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women, who are the most vulnerable to H1N1, knowing that there was no clinical test for that group and thereby prevented an inexcusable delay in the production of the regular vaccine.

I have a hard time understanding how Europe approved the vaccine weeks ago, yet our government had not yet approved it. If memory serves me right, it was not approved until last Wednesday. The member for Verchères—Les Patriotes could tell me. Yes, it was last Wednesday.

Europe had already approved it weeks earlier, and the Conservatives did so only last week. The Public Health Agency of Canada has had to deal with droves of people, and the government approved it last week, based on the European studies. Why did the government not encourage the agency to approve it earlier? In the end, they used the same European studies, but they waited, and that delay cost us very valuable days for producing the vaccine. When we are talking about fighting a worldwide flu pandemic, like the H1N1 pandemic, every day counts.

The federal government should have planned ahead for the production. Although Canadian public health officials have confirmed that they had not anticipated such a rush from the public to get the H1N1 vaccine, they should have planned to order doses based on the total population, and not on the number of people who expressed an interest, since at the beginning of the crisis, the government thought that several doses would be needed for each person. This is a matter of public safety.

In fact, at the start of the information campaign, the government ordered 50.4 million doses from GSK, enough for everyone in Canada to receive an initial dose. All the governments of Quebec and the provinces are asking the federal government is to provide them with enough doses for their population. But this is something the federal government cannot seem to do properly, judging by the latest news about delays in the distribution of the vaccine. The Conservatives can say that all Canadians who want the vaccine will be able to receive it, but it remains to be seen whether they can protect themselves before it is too late. It is estimated that, with luck, everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be by Christmas, which still gives the virus plenty of time to spread.

As I said earlier, this debate is useless. It provides an opportunity to show how the federal government has failed. The government has a responsibility to release additional funds so that Quebec and the provinces can hire more nurses to vaccinate people when the vaccine arrives. These funds could also be used to improve information sharing on the vaccination campaign. So far, the federal government has been sending mixed messages to the public, and people are becoming more and more confused.

I would like to summarize the situation. The WHO advised health authorities on June 11, 2009 that the world was at the start of a phase 6 influenza pandemic. Canada announced that it was ordering 50.4 million doses from GSK on August 6. As I said earlier, every day is important in the fight against a pandemic. There is evidence that the government wasted valuable time for no reason. The federal government ordered 1.2 million doses of unadjuvanted vaccine for pregnant women on September 6, 2009. I feel that this brief chronology is very important, because it shows how the Conservative government has failed.

When a pandemic as serious as this one is developing, the government should not waste precious weeks waiting and twiddling its thumbs. I am not questioning the quality of the work done by the nurses at the Public Health Agency of Canada and all of Canada's health officials. The problem lies with the government, which took the issue lightly, as it has done in a number of other debates. It did not take the issue seriously and wasted many weeks thinking, deliberating and waiting instead of acting.

There is something that is very unfortunate and very ironic. Suppose we look at the byelections being held now in Quebec. The Conservatives’ slogan is “Action, not elections”. Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening.

There is no government action. Health Canada approved the H1N1 vaccine on October 21, 2009,and the vaccination campaign started on October 26, first for health workers and then for other groups at high risk, such as children from six months to five years old, people who have compromised immune systems, people living with babies under six months of age or with others who have compromised immune systems, and pregnant women, more specifically, women who are at least 20 weeks pregnant as well as all pregnant women who have a chronic illness.

Most people—and this is the problem—will not be able to start getting vaccinated before December 7. It does not take a genius to know that the flu will have already wreaked havoc by December 7. If the government had not lost so many weeks, we could have started vaccinating people well before the critical point was reached. There is not much danger of the flu spreading in the summer, and the proof is in the fact that the number of people infected with the H1N1 virus went down this summer, at least in the northern hemisphere.

We all know that the critical time will be between December and February. Why did the government not act responsibly and ensure that we had the vaccine in time to reduce the risk of the virus spreading?

The government’s information campaign has caused total confusion in the target population from beginning to end, whether because of the lack of basic advice or the lack of vaccine. We note, in particular, the time it took to get the H1N1 vaccine approved. Canada was one of the slow ones in this regard. The United States approved it on September 13, Australia on September 18 and France on September 25.

Those governments acted responsibly. They wasted no time approving it since they already had conclusive results about the vaccine and they made sure to do it as quickly as possible, suspecting that the faster it was approved, the faster the pharmaceutical companies would be able to produce the vaccine, and the faster the public would be able to get vaccinated.

That delay allowed time for the public to become wary of the vaccine's safety and for myths and conspiracy theories to spring up.

I am told I have only two minutes left. I will say that we are very short of time because I could have spoken for hours. I did however talk about it at length in the Standing Committee on Health.

I have to say that the one thing I have noticed regarding the Conservative government on this issue, and it is the same on every issue, is the amateurism with which they have acted. What I find tragic is that this is extremely dangerous because we are talking here about the health of the public. All the Conservatives offer us is not apologies; they simply say that the opposition is playing politics with a subject as serious as the H1N1 flu, when exactly the opposite is true. We have stepped up to our responsibilities, we have questioned the government and we have made our recommendations.

10:25 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I hardly know where to begin. I compliment my colleague on an eloquently delivered set of remarks, but it was eloquently delivered rubbish.

He talks about messaging. The messaging from this side of the House has been absolutely clear. The messaging from the Chief Public Health Officer of the country has been absolutely clear. The people who have been muddling the message are the people across the floor with this kind of postal garbage that has been going out to Canadians.

He talks about delays in getting the vaccine out. The safety of Canadians, the safety of the vaccine, and the effectiveness of the vaccine was a priority for this government. He talks about the U.S. as an example. The U.S., in fact, has had to pull back from the kind of stuff it was putting out because it proved to be non-effective. Does he want us to go down that non-effective road?

He talks about the adjuvanted and unadjuvanted vaccines and the twiddling of thumbs. Should we have twiddled our thumbs while 4,000 to 5,000 Canadians die every year of normal flu, if we can call it normal flu? Should we have twiddled our thumbs with that? It is absolutely ridiculous.

I want to ask my colleague one simple question. Is he smarter and more qualified than the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada to make qualified remarks in this area?

10:25 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, there we have the Conservatives’ only argument and the proof that this member was not present at the Standing Committee on Health, because I was there with my colleague from Verchères—Les Patriotes. We asked the witnesses questions, we questioned Dr. Butler-Jones, and the answers he gave us were plainly in agreement with what we were saying.

I may have been off the mark, if I may put it that way, and I do not think I am smarter than the people at the Public Health Agency of Canada. I simply think that I represent the people in my riding who have fears, because we do not have the necessary doses. There is a word for that, and it is “responsibility”. The government had a responsibility to live up to. It had a responsibility to do business with companies other than GSK.

Why did the government not do business with other companies that had the capacity to produce these vaccines? Why did it not even bother to talk with those companies about whether they were also capable of supplying some of the doses?

10:30 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Bloc Québécois member for his speech. He is one of the youngest members of Parliament. In fact, he is the youngest of all the members in this House, and he is very wise. I believe he is absolutely right tonight.

I have a question for him regarding our Standing Committee on Health. A week ago, a GSK representative told everyone that everything was fine. The only thing we can interpret from that is that this company is in the process of producing 3 million doses of this vaccine.

Now, who is telling the truth? Is it GSK, which is saying that everything is fine with the contract, or is it the government, which is saying that the company is causing the problem? What is the truth? What is the problem with the production of vaccines?

10:30 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, everything is not okay. The Conservative government made promises and created high expectations with regard to GSK's ability to distribute enough vaccine. The problem is that GSK did not hold up its end of the bargain.

Why did it not hold up its end of the bargain? That is an interesting question. It did not do so because all of a sudden, it turned out that the government did not plan for the production of non-adjuvanted vaccine, or at least, failed to consider its usefulness. What did the government do? It paid dearly for vaccine from Australia and asked GSK—in a politically motivated and amateurish decision—to alter its production line to produce non-adjuvanted vaccine when it suddenly realized that it had nothing to give the highest-risk group, pregnant women.

It is clear that everything is not okay. Someone is hiding the truth. Whether that someone is the government, well, if one looks at how it has handled this matter from the beginning, some serious questions have to be asked.

Not long ago, there was talk of supplying 3.5 million doses per week, if I am not mistaken, but actual production has been dramatically lower. So there was a problem and, as I was saying, the problem was with the shift in production priority. From one day to the next, someone decided to change production over to the non-adjuvanted vaccine. Since the very beginning, we have been talking about the underlying problem, which is that there was one single supplier.

I see that, unfortunately, I have very little time left. If only the government had dealt with other pharmaceutical companies, they could have helped meet the need in this kind of situation, and we would not be here debating this issue today.

10:30 p.m.


Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member from Quebec to pursue his line about the education campaign undertaken by the government.

Specifically, in Guelph, almost without exception, people are noticing the almost paltry sum spent by the government on educating the public when it comes to H1N1, as compared to the vast millions and millions of dollars in self-promotion that it has spent. As a result, there is inadequate messaging that they have received.

I am wondering if he has experienced the same problem in his riding that I experienced in Guelph regarding the lack of information about H1N1.

10:35 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, thankfully, at least in Quebec we have the Government of Quebec, which makes up for the rest of Canada, I am sorry to say. What is unfortunate, as my colleague from Guelph just indicated, is that the Conservatives were much more interested in investing money in things that would pay off politically, such as their infrastructure programs—which they boasted about to no end, but from which we have yet to see any results—for electoral considerations, in order to win the next election, as opposed to investing in an information campaign concerning vaccination. I mentioned this a little while ago when we were talking about the big logos on the giant Conservative Party cheques.

This is what posed a big problem for us, because from the beginning, people did not have the necessary information. They knew a lot more about the money the Conservatives were giving to their riding than they did about the need to be vaccinated. I must admit, I find that extremely shocking, because they are playing with the health of our citizens.

10:35 p.m.


Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about how he almost missed the Liberals, and I can assure him that the families of the 43 people who died in Ontario as a result of SARS certainly do not miss the inaction and the lack of leadership that was shown by the previous Liberal government with respect to that issue.

He knows full well that this government is working faster and more safely than any other government around the world to make sure that the vaccine that we send out is safe and effective and that it works. We are also not forgetting the regular flu that also hits Canadians.

The hon. member talked a lot about education. We heard a bit from members of the Liberal Party with respect to education. I wonder if he could tell me if his idea of educating people would be, as the Liberals would suggest, responding to a questionnaire that is at Is that the type of education that he is talking about? Is that the type of education that will help Canadians overcome their fear? I do not think it is. I think we need a debate that is--

10:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member for Repentigny.

10:35 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is very interesting, and here is why. First of all, indeed, the ten percenter he mentioned is very telling. I must admit, like him, I was also appalled by what the Liberals did, and I invite people to read the evidence of the Standing Committee on Health. Now the problem is that no matter how many mistakes the Liberals made, they do not excuse the Conservative government's mistakes. Furthermore, while the Liberals may have made some mistakes, they are in opposition. The Conservatives, however, are in power, and that is much more dangerous.

10:35 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am listening to the colleagues across the floor and what I am hearing is politicizing. This is a Canadian health concern, a world health concern and I am hearing political grandstanding. I am aboriginal, but first of all, I am Canadian. I joined the RCMP to serve and protect this country. There are members in the House who are doctors who took an oath to help Canadians, and I think this has been lost today and tonight. I am very upset and I am very ashamed to see what has transpired here tonight. That is how I feel. That is what I am going to be saying and I should not have to say anything more. That should be my speech. However, we all have to reflect here tonight. The Liberals opposite may laugh about it, but this is how I feel.

Regarding the pandemic planning response for on-reserve first nation communities, this government has worked with all partners to ensure that first nation communities in Canada are prepared for the H1N1 influenza. This is the result of ongoing and tireless efforts among the federal government, provincial governments and most importantly, first nation communities and leadership. We must recognize that pandemic planning for first nation communities is a shared responsibility. When it comes to providing care to first nation communities, ensuring effective collaboration between the different levels of government is paramount.

First nations have been involved since the beginning. From day one we have been working with first nation leaders and provinces to ensure that communities have everything they need in a timely manner based on the best public health advice. The response to H1N1 is a true partnership among the Government of Canada, the governments of the provinces and territories, first nation leaders and first nations communities. We have maintained close contact with first nations from the beginning of the pandemic and have listened closely to their concerns.

Given the experience of SARS, the Government of Canada has worked with first nations and provinces over the past few years to raise awareness of the risk of infectious disease and to support the development of community pandemic influenza plans. As an RCMP member, I remember working in close conjunction with the provincial governments and the federal government to develop a pandemic plan that could help police officers deal with the pandemic in their communities, aboriginal or non-aboriginal. These plans reflect the needs of these communities and have been prepared with the support of Health Canada. These plans will enable a sustainable response to future emergencies and will form part of the ongoing emergency preparedness at a local level.

Health Canada continues to provide technical support to first nation communities for the development, testing, revision and implementation at the community level of influenza pandemic plans. We have provided the necessary funding in 2006-07. Health Canada allocated $6.5 million over five years to support pandemic preparedness for on-reserve first nation communities. Health Canada has also secured additional resources for the federal pandemic contingency to support a response to H1N1 outbreaks in first nation communities during the first wave.

Other commitments include, through budget 2009, $305 million over the next two years to strengthen current health programs to improve health outcomes. We have also provided an additional $135 million that would go toward improving health services infrastructure including health clinics and nursing stations in first nation communities. The most recent support to first nation communities has been the response to specific needs expressed by first nations.

Budget 2009 provides a two-year funding target of $165 million for the completion of drinking water and waste water infrastructure projects to address health and safety priorities on some first nations communities across the country.

Budget 2009 also provides $400 million over two years for innovative approaches to the increase and betterment of on-reserve housing, including new social housing projects, remediation of existing social housing stock, and a range of complementary housing activities.

The Canadian pandemic influenza plan includes Annex B, which defines the roles and responsibilities of all partners in the pandemic planning for on-reserve first nations, including the federal and provincial governments and first nations communities. As a result, today nearly all first nation communities across Canada now have a specific community plan that guides their actions in responding to an outbreak of H1N1 influenza. These plans are based on principles of national and provincial pandemic plans, but were developed by first nations community leaders to respond to the unique needs of each community.

In addition, close to 90% of these plans have been tested, whether a community has had an outbreak or not, meaning first nations have a high level of readiness and ability to respond to H1N1.

During the first wave, when first nations communities did experience outbreaks, such as those in northern Manitoba, the Government of Canada worked with its partners to ensure a timely, coordinated and comprehensive response. Those communities ably demonstrated that they were able to respond to very difficult situations.

We are all aware that first nations communities have been devastated by the epidemics in the past. We are aware of this and have made great efforts to support their communities, to work with them and the provinces, so that the necessary responses have been put in place to reduce, as far as possible, the risk of death and severe illness in first nations.

We are also aware that H1N1 caused severe disease in the spring in first nations communities, particularly in Manitoba. We responded to the needs of the communities and provided added supplies and support, and we have seen that remote and isolated communities are a priority for the distribution of the vaccine.

Health care was provided through community nursing stations to those first nations with influenza-like illness. These facilities were staffed with dedicated, qualified health professionals and provided with all the medical equipment and supplies that were needed, including hand sanitizers, antiviral medications to treat those who are sick, and information on clinical care guidelines and infection control measures. Restocking of essential equipment and supplies for nursing stations can often be done within 24 hours.

In addition, antiviral medications were shipped out in advance of any outbreaks for those first nations communities that were deemed to be at greater risk of an H1N1 outbreak. These antiviral medications continue to be used as a primary response to H1N1 disease while the immunization program rolls out.

We continually monitored and adjusted the allocation of health professionals to respond to the needs of first nations communities, and in the case of northern Manitoba, we worked closely with the provinces to help provide additional physicians. Those who were severely ill were provided with emergency medical transportation to the closest provincial hospital to receive the care they required.

Very early on in the first wave of the H1N1 influenza, we recognized that there might be a number of factors that placed first nations communities at greater levels of risk. We know, for example, that younger people aged 16 to 25, pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions face greater risks from H1N1 influenza. We know that first nations are younger than the national average and that the birth rate on reserves is three times higher than it is in the rest of the country.

We also know that there are higher rates of chronic disease within first nations communities, and that social conditions, including overcrowding and limited access to water for handwashing, pose challenges in minimizing the spread and impact of a number of infectious diseases, including H1N1 influenza.

These factors put first nations communities, especially those in remote and isolated areas with limited access to provincial health services, at particular risk for H1N1 influenza. Health Canada, working with its partners, has taken a number of steps to address these risks. Working with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, we helped to ensure the delivery of supplies of water to communities to support proper handwashing and help prevent and control infections in the home.

Special medical adviser Dr. Paul Gully was put in place. He has been responsible for coordinating emergency health services to first nations communities affected by the H1N1 virus. Dr. Gully joined Health Canada following his assignment at the World Health Organization as a deputy United Nations system influenza coordinator. He has also worked previously with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

This government has also worked with first nations and the provinces to ensure that vaccination is a key component of the overall strategy to fight H1N1 influenza. We are working with provincial governments to ensure first nations communities receive H1N1 vaccine as quickly as possible.

Mass immunization clinics are in place in many first nations communities. Remote and isolated communities have been prioritized based on the national sequencing guidelines developed with the provinces and territories. We understand that the uptake rate in many first nations communities has been very high. This is due to the leadership shown by first nations representatives and their promotion of immunization against H1N1.

Immunization clinics in first nations communities began on October 26. We expect that all clinics for remote and isolated first nations communities as a priority group will be in place by the end of this week.

Health Canada has supported the rollout of these immunization clinics by training home and community care nurses to provide the H1N1 vaccine and by providing additional health professionals from regional and national offices to go out to first nations communities to support the vaccination efforts.

As with any major undertaking of this nature, we face a number of challenges along the way. We have worked closely with our partners to learn from the challenges and improve our collaborative response to H1N1 influenza for first nations communities.

The minister has met with a number of first nations leaders at the national and provincial levels, and has visited a number of first nations communities, most recently the Cowessess First Nation in my home province of Saskatchewan, to see the community's successful approach to H1N1 pandemic planning.

Back in April 2009, the Government of Canada launched a public awareness campaign to inform Canadians about the H1N1 flu virus, including print media reaching first nations audiences.

The second cycle of this national marketing campaign is now being rolled out. It includes specific communications products tailored to first nations communities, including radio and print advertisements, and a mail-out of a pamphlet to first nations communities on H1N1 symptoms, infection prevention practices and tips on influenza preparedness.

The joint communications protocol signed with the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Minister of Health will strengthen our collaborative efforts and improve communications with first nations communities.

On November 10, the minister will be co-hosting a first nations H1N1 virtual summit. This virtual summit will provide first nations with a comprehensive overview of pandemic preparedness in an interactive and ongoing format, and will facilitate online participation across the country, including first nations communities and leadership, health technicians and decision makers.

This will provide additional information to first nations communities and leadership on H1N1 influenza preparedness and response, including the importance of getting immunized. The timing of this virtual summit is right. It will be able to answer questions of concern to first nations, especially the youth, so we can continue to support the efforts of local first nations leadership.

We realize the job is not done. This government will continue to work with first nations and support first nations preparedness and response through the second wave of the H1N1 influenza.

10:50 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons Canadians are concerned is they are hearing on a daily basis about another death of a child from H1N1. This afternoon at 4:30 Whitehorse time another school-age girl passed away. This is one of the reasons we are having this emergency debate. It is clear that the government has failed Canadians in the rollout. It has failed Canadians in public education. It has failed in coming up with a plan to resolve the untenable situation that we have right now.

Could the member tell Canadians why the government has failed them so miserably at this time of need?

10:50 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out what this government has done during this really tragic global pandemic. It is a world pandemic.

We never want to see loved ones contracting H1N1 and perishing. No one wants to see that. Losing loved ones is the hardest thing for anyone.

I look at the numbers. Everyone here tonight has been talking about numbers. We have to look at the faces. When people politicize the passing of people, that is not acceptable.

I come from a northern community. I have family that live on reserve. They are first nations and aboriginals and I am worried about them.

Enough with the politicizing, please.

10:55 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a feeling the member may have just answered the question I had.

Coming from the great Kenora riding and having been a registered nurse working in isolated remote first nations communities across the country, including the Arctic, I am very pleased to report that in more cases than not, in many instances there were community level responses, responses by the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and provincial governments that managed the first outbreak of H1N1 quite well.

I can speak of a number of isolated first nations communities in my riding. I worked very closely with the branch to ensure that all aspects of anything the government could do and anything the branch could do in the community that needed support to manage the first outbreak went smoothly. As a general statement it did.

I ask my first nations colleague how he felt and perhaps how people in isolated remote first nations communities felt. I certainly know how people in my own riding felt when a medical doctor, a member of the opposite party, sent out the kind of literature that she did, exploiting first nations at the expense of this issue. The member then had the gall to stand up in the House, as several of her colleagues have done today, to say that this is not a political issue. I am just wondering how first nations people in his riding felt about that kind of exploitation and complete lack of respect for this issue and the people that it affects.

10:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

10:55 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

I think I have the floor, Mr. Speaker.

10:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. We can only take one question at a time. The member for Kenora has asked a question, so I will listen to the answer by the member for Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River.

10:55 p.m.


Rob Clarke Conservative Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I did receive a lot of response in my riding from the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities.

I can see my colleague does not mind hate literature or racial literature, so here I am looking at some literature that the Liberal leader sent out depicting a first nations child with a thermometer. Then I see our colleague from St. Paul's and perhaps tonight I will ask her if she has time to stand in the House and apologize to Canadians.

That is all I ask in the House.