Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for her remarkable work, which stems from her experience as a family doctor.
This is a debate in which the opposition seeks to put forward concrete and practical solutions to help the country through the situation it is dealing with on H1N1, but it is also an opportunity for us to highlight the fact that this is a government that does not seem to understand the proper functions of government, which are to plan, to inform and to lead. There is no more basic area where the government has to show competence and compassion than in public health.
From the beginning of this crisis there has been a flagrant lack of preparedness by the Conservative government. The H1N1 flu appeared for the first time on April 23, in Mexico. By the end of July, more than 35 governments had placed their order for the vaccine. The Conservative government did not order the vaccine until August 6.
This delay goes a long way to explaining the confusion that reigned in September and October.
The Conservatives started vaccination behind many other countries. China, Australia, United States, Sweden, Japan and the United Kingdom, all began vaccinations before Canada, which did not begin its vaccination program until October 26.
The Conservatives did not properly plan the vaccination of pregnant women. We have already talked about that. There was total confusion in the public information for pregnant women. This is a total failure of their duty as the government.
The Conservatives only used one vaccine supplier even though the Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, has said that the government's contract allows it to purchase vaccine from other providers. We want to know why the Conservatives have not done so.
The men and women at the GSK plant in Sainte Foy are working day and night, but they cannot meet the demand because of this government's delays.
Another area in which we begin to understand why the failure to plan does not just go back to this summer but it goes back over four years is the fact that the government had no emergency preparedness plan whatever for emergencies in general. One of those emergencies obviously is pandemic planning.
Four years ago the Conservatives should have begun that planning process to put a plan in place. They have not done so. The Auditor General has now pointed this out to the country and the country begins to understand that this is a problem that did not just begin with planning failures this summer, it tracks back in fact to the beginning of the government's mandate.
It is a failure to plan but it is equally a failure to inform. The Conservatives consistently failed to give Canadians credible information about the vaccine. On April 28 the health minister told this House, in response to questions from this side of the House, that the government would stockpile H1N1 vaccine, but it did not happen. On August 12 the health minister told the country that the government was prepared for this fall's outbreak, but it was caught off guard. On October 20, just two weeks ago, the health minister told Canadians that the vaccine would be available to all Canadians in early November and just late last week she began to say, “Well actually, we do not mean early November, we actually mean we might get it done by Christmas”.
It is this constant inability to get a clear story out to Canadians that has caused enormous confusion and anxiety in Canadian families. One of the reasons why this has occurred is that the Conservative government chose as a deliberate strategy to spend more than $60 million promoting its own economic action plan and only one-tenth of that on public information. This seems to me a scandalous display of partisanship when the clear duty of government is to inform the public about public health risks.
We also need to talk about the lack of leadership in all these areas, a lack of leadership and coordination between the federal government, the provinces and the territories.
My colleague evoked the need to invest $400 million. It was in the 2006 budget. The clear intention of that 2006 budget, a Conservative budget, was to provide resources so that we could have front-line public health services at the level that a modern civilized country like Canada should have. Instead, the money was not spent and we are now in a situation of frantic improvisation by hard-pressed public health authorities who deserve better from the federal Government of Canada, that is to say, leadership and clear direction.
The health minister, instead of accepting responsibility for these failures, has said, “We do not deliver health care”. The fact is that these pandemics do not care about jurisdictions. The role of the federal government is to provide coordination, planning and investment, and to burden share with hard-pressed local, provincial and territorial authorities.
We have had clinics shut down in Alberta, New Brunswick and Manitoba. We have had Ontario hospitals saying that they do not have room for any potential surge of H1N1 patients. In St. John's and Halifax local authorities report dwindling vaccine supplies. This is unworthy of a country of our reputation, and the failure is squarely at the door of the Conservative government.
The Prime Minister himself has been absent throughout this matter. At a moment when we would expect a Prime Minister to stand up and take leadership of this issue, he has been entirely absent.
He has not met with the premiers of the provinces and the territories nor with health officials. He has not shown any leadership during this crisis.
I want to remind the House that this is not the first public health emergency in which the government has failed to respond. We had the nuclear medicine fiascos, not one interruption of nuclear medicine but two on this government's watch. Now we have the H1N1. It begins to resemble a pattern of negligence, a pattern of incompetence, a pattern of “we just do not care about this issue”, and behind all of that, it seems to me, is an ideological disposition which holds, “What do we care? This is not the function of a federal government”. This side of the House believes passionately in the role of an active and compassionate federal government in providing leadership in the protection of the public health of Canadian citizens.
We on this side are attempting to do our job. We raised questions about the H1N1 epidemic the minute it made its presence known, its presence evident in Mexico. The minute it was sequenced in Canada, we began to ask for action. We have been asking for action consistently, and today's opposition motion puts forward extremely concrete proposals that are meant in a constructive spirit. Their chief intent is for the federal government to step up and provide resources to hard-pressed provincial and territorial authorities. We feel that this, if done, would begin to restore Canada's reputation as a country with a first-class public health system right across the country.
I want to make it clear that the Auditor General's report, which makes it clear that there has been a complete failure to provide comprehensive national emergency planning, adds an additional dimension to this debate, which has come to our attention, thanks to her excellent report. In the light of the Auditor General's report, the supply day motion now under debate, standing in the name of the member for St. Paul's, merits amendment.
I now, therefore, move:
That the motion be amended by adding the following:
...and (d) implement the recommendations of the Auditor General of Canada pertaining to emergency management as set forth in Chapter Seven of her 2009 fall report to the House of Commons.