That, in the opinion of the House, provincial and local health authorities and health care workers should receive the maximum possible support from the federal government in handling the H1N1 flu pandemic and related vaccination efforts, and the Government of Canada should therefore immediately: (a) allocate the full $400 million set aside for pandemic response in the 2006 budget to support additional medical staff for vaccinations and patient care; (b) increase support for emergency planning to help local health authorities cope with long line-ups and shortages of both vaccines and health care workers; and (c) divert the money now being spent on needless, partisan advertising of government budgetary measures to a new public awareness campaign to keep Canadians informed with essential up-to-date information throughout the pandemic.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore.
Canada is clearly struggling in the midst of this H1N1 pandemic. The role of the federal government is to prepare Canadians, to lead Canadians and to inform Canadians, and in all three dimensions, the government has failed in its duties and thereby failed Canadians. Our motion is an attempt to rectify this situation.
In 2003, SARS dealt a humbling and poignant wake-up call regarding the serious need for improvement in public health in Canada. Forty-four people died; many more were sick, and our economy suffered from the lowering of real GDP by approximately $1.5 billion, or 0.15% of the GDP.
Former health minister Anne McLellan asked Dr. David Naylor and the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health to provide a third-party assessment of current public health efforts and lessons learned for ongoing and future infection control. In his report, “Learning from SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada”, Dr. David Naylor stressed that Canada needs to create a national face for public health that will play a leading role in any future health crises. His report is a blueprint for federal leadership in a public health crisis. His report said that in any response to a public health emergency, there needed to be better cooperation, collaboration, communication and a clarity of who does what, when.
Canada had to learn from the hard lessons of SARS and look at the outbreak as a reminder, warning and opportunity to renew the public health system. Disease prevention around the world is only as strong as its weakest link. Canada needed to provide a strong link, and for that the federal government had to take responsibility and help rebuild the frayed public health infrastructure in Canada.
In the section called “Federal Funding to Renew Public Health across Canada”, Dr. Naylor's report said:
The public health infrastructure needs strengthening at all levels, and this in turn suggests the need for earmarked federal funding that is not currently provided...
The availability of these funds underscores our assumption that any new federal spending on public health should be matched in some respects by P/T spending. But without earmarked federal monies for public health, P/T spending will be drawn, as always, to personal health services and opportunities for leverage and coordination will be lost.
The postscript states:
The SARS story as it unfolded in Canada had both tragic and heroic elements. The toll of the epidemic was substantial, but thousands in the health field rose to the occasion and ultimately contained the SARS outbreak in this country. The committee emphasizes that in drawing lessons from the SARS outbreak, our intent has been not to “name, shame, and blame” individuals, but rather to move and improve systems that were suboptimal. The challenge now is to ensure not only that we are better prepared for the next epidemic, but that public health in Canada is broadly renewed so as to protect and promote the health of all our citizens. It is to these latter ends that the committee's recommendations have been offered. We believe the recommendations represent a reasonably comprehensive and affordable starting point for strengthening and integrating public health at all levels in Canada. As our colleagues in government contemplate these recommendations, the committee commends to them the vision of Benjamin Disraeli who, on introducing his Public Health Act to British Parliament in 1875, remarked that public health was the foundation for “the happiness of the people and the power of the country. The care of the public health is the first duty of a statesman”.
Less eloquently, the committee in closing repeats the simple question we put earlier to all health ministers, finance ministers, and first ministers: If not now, after SARS, when?
As ministers in Paul Martin's government, we did much to act on Dr. Naylor's recommendations. We put in place the Public Health Agency of Canada; appointed Dr. David Butler-Jones as Canada's first Chief Public Health Officer; and created the public health network for Canada, in which all 13 jurisdictions could plan with the federal government the health and safety of Canadians.
As I mentioned Monday evening, during the emergency debate, in the 2004 budget we put in place a trust fund for the provinces of $100 million to build the capacity for front line public health. The budget stated:
$100 million will be made available to relieve stresses on provincial and territorial public health systems that were identified during the SARS outbreak, and to help the provinces and territories address their immediate gaps in capacity by supporting front-line activities, specific health protection and disease prevention programs, information systems, laboratory capacity, training and emergency response capacity.
That was federal leadership. However, in 2007 the Conservative government cancelled the fund. In its 2006 budget, it booked, thankfully, $400 million for pandemic response, a contingency. It said:
This budget provides $1 billion over five years to further improve Canada’s pandemic preparedness—$600 million to be allocated to departments and agencies and $400 million to be set aside as a contingency. (...) The $400-million contingency would only be accessed on an as-needed basis, if a pandemic were to occur or the current planning environment were to change significantly—for example, if significant human-to-human transmission were confirmed, resulting in an elevated pandemic risk or if the World Health Organization declared a higher level of pandemic risk. The contingency would be used to enhance Canada’s preparedness if an elevated pandemic risk were to occur and to address increased operational requirements during a pandemic influenza outbreak, for example to maintain emergency operations at a higher state of activity.
This was to be a contingency for pandemic response.
We learned that the government put the reserve fund into five annual packages of $800 million and each year, without a pandemic, the money disappeared. If we do not use it, we lose it.
We learned, in a response on the order paper, that no amounts were allocated from the contingency or spent in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09. This is unacceptable. The money just disappeared out of the fund. It would be like putting away money in a fund in case we had to replace the roof or the furnace and every year it does not happen, we just take the money back out of the fund. This was to be an airtight fund. We were to break glass in the event of a pandemic.
It is time for the government to put the money back in the box and break the glass. and give those dollars to provincial and territorial local public health authorities that are reeling from the lack of certainty on vaccine delivery and a poor public awareness campaign that has Canadians still with 20 questions when they get to the front of their seven-hour line.
Dr. Naylor's report was very clear about federal leadership required in public health emergencies, but also the need for dollars from the federal government directed to local public health. Yet, the government has reversed the progress, and now the people of Canada are paying.
Platitudes and talking points will not work. Local public health urgently needs funding and, as well, the dollars from the contingency must be made available to help health care providers deal with the increasing numbers of sick people and very sick people.
Every member of this House must look to the situation on the ground in their ridings where they will see the need for the measures proposed in today's motion. We must look forward. We must redouble our efforts to get the resources to our health professionals so that they can get the job done.
We know that lives will be saved and additional sickness avoided the sooner we have a significant percentage of the population immunized. We know that local public health officials are describing that they do not have enough resources to mount mass immunization campaigns or school campaigns or to hire back retired nurses. We know that this virus can make people very sick, with long stays in ICUs, and we need to be ready.
The minister says that she is working with the provinces and territories. The minister has had one meeting which has a drive-by appearance where she was asked for H1N1 resources and isotopes. She refused to listen. She then unilaterally decided that the provinces and territories would pay for 40% of the costs of the vaccine and 100% of the costs for administering the vaccine, and for all other aspects of the response.
They need federal government support. The federal government must assume its proper responsibility, as Dr. David Naylor prescribed six years ago, after the devastation of SARS.
The role of the federal government is to prepare Canadians, to lead Canadians, and to inform Canadians. In all three dimensions, the government has failed in its duties. We urge our colleagues to support the motion for the health and safety of Canadians.