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House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was amendments.

Topics

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, under the Conservatives we are going to dramatically increase the rate of incarceration, the rate of incarceration among the aboriginal population, the rate of incarceration among many minorities across the country.

We are going to put a huge burden on the provinces because most of the minimum sentencing requirements are affecting the provinces. They are not going to be affecting the federal government at all.

They are going to have a dramatic impact on that and they are not going to deal with the root problem, which is what I am trying to say. Tough on crime, absolutely. Where is it tough on the causes of crime? I do not see national addiction programs. I do not see national mental health programs. I do not see national programs dealing with the need for us to work very closely with the provinces on breaking up gangs. I do not see any of this.

What we see is a simplistic ideological approach to this question that will not do what the government says it wants to do.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to put the debate on this issue back into context. We are not debating Bill S-6 itself. We are debating motions moved by the government to restore the text of the bill to what it was when it was referred to the committee. After studying the bill, the committee made two minor amendments to reflect concerns raised during the study. The government has rejected those amendments.

The minister attended our committee meeting again yesterday. He urged us to spend more time studying Bill C-4 and make suggestions for amendments, which he would take into consideration. Today, he is objecting to such minor things as the title and extending the deadline after obtaining permission from the provincial chief justice or delegate because circumstances beyond a person's control prevented that person from applying before the deadline. That is what we are debating now.

Let us begin with the easy part, the title. The title the government wants to use is not the same in English and French. The English title is Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act. The French title is Loi renforçant la sévérité des peines d’emprisonnement pour les crimes les plus graves. With all due respect, those are not bill titles. They are slogans.

In my opinion, when we are talking about crime and about putting people in jail, we have to take a calm approach. We have to leave the hustings mentality behind and behave like parliamentarians. One would expect a minister of justice to be conscious of the dignity required in exercising his functions and do so of his own accord.

As long as they keep giving us titles that are really slogans, we will vote against those slogans. The trend seems to be on the rise, with the government trying it with nearly all of its bills. If they give us objective titles like the ones the previous government provided, we will vote in favour. This has become absurd. Some of the titles are outright libel against Canada's judges.

In that regard, the most impressive title is that of Bill C-16, which would purports to end house arrest for violent and dangerous offenders. No violent or dangerous offenders ever receive such a sentence, because current legislation clearly indicates that judges cannot sentence dangerous offenders to house arrest. Furthermore, these sentences are for more than two years, and are not the kinds of sentences that violent and dangerous offenders receive. If any judge in Canada were to release a violent or dangerous offender to serve his sentence at home, it would be the duty of the crown prosecutor on the case to appeal the decision. In some cases, the sentence could be overturned.

The government needs to stop making up these slogans and start proposing objective titles. In this case, I see a specific problem. Indeed, this time there are two slogans and furthermore, the French and English are not the same. This is what happens when advertising executives are hired to give titles to bills.

The second amendment, which is more serious, would extend the time period. Lawyers who have experience with these kinds of cases gave evidence before the committee. They explained to us how complex the procedures are and how hard it is to build a case 15 years later. Indeed, these requests are made 15 years after the offences, and the offender may have been through many different prisons in many different cities. The lawyers have a very hard time finding the old files. This was acknowledged by correctional authorities, who told us how much effort they put into these requests. They also told us that in many cases, it would be impossible to fulfill all of the requirements as set out in the legislation within the prescribed 90-day period. I therefore believe that the amendment proposed by the Liberals was carefully designed and drafted to target a specific problem, unlike the bills presented by this government.

It is only in exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the inmate, as the amendment says, that the chief justice of the province or a delegate could grant this additional 180-day deadline.

Victims have waited 15 years and we would be asking them to wait even longer. They will be told to wait 90 more days because for reasons beyond their control, the inmate the inmate's lawyer was unable to follow all the highly complex procedures within that timeframe. What is so unreasonable about that? Does the minister lack confidence? If anything comes from a committee, then it is no good. He asks us to make suggestions and we do. They are justified, but he does not accept them. I fully agree with the eloquent remarks made by the member who spoke before me.

Consider this: 84% of murder victims knew their murderer. Murder is often committed by a family member. In at least one case, that of young Mr. Kowbel, the father and sister testified to give him a chance even though he was the one who attacked them 15 years earlier, killing his mother and seriously injuring his father. Nevertheless, his relatives recognized his rehabilitation efforts.

This is essential legislation and we only use it when necessary. It is essential for setting the stage for someone facing a sentence of more than 10 and up to 25. He has to have some incentive for good behaviour and respect for the guards. This legislation is good for safety within the prisons and it has not been abused.

Statistics show that before 1995 only 63 applications were filed, 13 of which were denied. The fact that not many applications were denied makes sense because before an application is filed, prison officials have already reviewed the case. Of that number, 27 were approved, but with sentences up to 16 years and 20 years. Three were from 21 years to 23 years. Of the cases that were approved by the juries, 6 were denied by the National Parole Board. We can see from this that the safeguards are substantial.

Since that time, 921 people have been eligible but only 169 requested authorization. Of that number, 141 received authorization to apply and 125 were granted early parole. The result? No repeat murders. There was only one serious criminal offence, an armed robbery. Fifteen people were sent back to prison because they failed to meet some of the very strict conditions of parole imposed on offenders under the supervision of the National Parole Board. In addition, 11 people died.

This is not a law that is abused. We are keenly aware that it may require victims to testify and may cause them painful moments. The cases we are discussing, like the Olson case, will not be affected. Regardless, these offenders will have no chance of parole.

This is a useful law in terms of prison security. It is a good law that encourages some criminals who have committed serious crimes to be rehabilitated. It is a law that, in the end, has produced excellent results. What is worse is that we think that we are doing more in Canada but, in this case, it is quite the opposite.

In Canada, the time that murderers spend in prison is greater than in all other western countries, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.

Let us therefore respect the committees and vote the same way as those who have studied the issue carefully.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised the hon. member used an objective statistical analysis to defend the faint hope clause. How does he defend this as being good legislation when he heard from victims of crime this week at committee, although it was on another bill? The committee heard from Sharon Rosenfeldt, the mother of one of the victims of Clifford Olson, who has to go through faint hope hearings every two years. Mr. Olson has said that he knows he will never get a parole but that he puts people through the parole process because “he has the right to”.

What does the member say to the victims of crime and why does he use statistics to defeat the advocacy of the victims of crime?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am simply going to say that this will not happen again. Olson has spent 25 years in prison. This law does not apply to people who have served 25 years in prison. It allows people who are sentenced to 25 years to apply for early parole. Olson does not fit into that category.

In any event, this will never happen under the legislation as it is going to be passed, although it may be amended. Under this legislation, people convicted of multiple murders cannot apply for early parole. I have a lot of sympathy for the victims, and I think that I reassure them much more than the government does when I say that they should not worry because this will not happen under the laws that we are going to pass.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, to my recollection, the last time we spoke on this bill the committee was still waiting for a report on the actual statistics associated with the faint hope clause. I understand there were a small number of cases of battered women, mothers, who, in reaction, killed their spouse. These were some of the cases that came up with regard to seeking faint hope clause relief.

I wonder if the member is now aware of some of the incidents with regard to the faint hope clause that would put in perspective the kinds of cases that may come about and the frequency with which the provisions under the faint hope clause would be made available.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, anyone who wants to know how the law works should not ask a Conservative.

First, the concept of applying every two years comes from another law that applies to those who have already served 25 years in jail. What we are talking about here is those who would like to reduce their jail time.

Second, the law applies in cases where the application is rejected. Before it is rejected, the offender has to go before a judge, who decides whether it is likely that the application will be approved. Then a jury has to be convened, and it makes the decision. It takes quite a while from the time the offender applies to the time the outcome is known. Furthermore, the jury may decide that the offender cannot submit another application before a minimum, not a maximum, of two years has passed. This would go further than that. It is clear that such repeated applications every two years would no longer be allowed under this law.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-6 and the amendments that made their way through the committee in recent days. After reading the transcripts of the committee, I see that it was a fairly acrimonious environment for the members in that committee.

The government wants to make three amendments. the first one being to restore the title. Its slogan on this bill is “serious time for the most serious crime act”. I cannot say that is just peculiar to the Conservative government because I have seen that sort of sloganeering in my own province lately, in the Manitoba legislature. I guess the new trend is to somehow take a bill, attach a person's name to it and give it a good slogan that can be pushed to the public in an election campaign.

The Conservatives seem to think that dealing with crime is all about electoral success and image. However, they raise a lot of expectations when they take on challenges like this. I believe that if we were to do a poll of the public after this bill passes, the majority of the public will believe that somehow the faint hope clause has disappeared, thanks to the government. However, that is not the case at all. It will take 15 years because the law will not be retroactive. It will not apply to anybody who is convicted of murder today. It will only apply in the future. And, because it will only take effect 15 years into the sentence, a lot of us members of this House will be long gone when this legislation sees the light of day.

In committee, I sensed that the Liberals thought they could manoeuvre their way through this process by sitting out the vote and allowing the bill to pass and that, by doing that, they would not get hurt in the election as a result of what they had done, and then, in the future, if they were to form the government, they would simply revisit the whole issue and bring back the faint hope clause. That is the brain trust over there in the Liberal leadership in figuring out how to deal with this. I have seen a lot of manoeuvring before but this one has certainly used a lot of imagination to sort out.

Nevertheless, the expectations that the government has brought upon itself for this legislation and other legislation will fall short at the end of the day when the public realizes that there will be more and more stories over the years about faint hope clause applications. People are going to say, “We thought they eliminated that”. The government will then need to explain that somehow it is 15 years.

It is not only this bill that causes a lot of confusion on the part of the public. Just recently, as a result of information that Clifford Olson was collecting pension cheques in jail, the government got excited and produced a bill, obviously not checking things out too closely, to eliminate pension cheques for prisoners convicted of murder. The government did this without doing any research, obviously, because if it had researched it, it would have found that it was the Joe Clark Conservative government in 1976 that started mailing pension cheques to Clifford Olson every month.

The government needs to reflect on the confusion that will be out there in the public. The public has this image of a minister stuffing Clifford Olson's pension cheque into an envelope, licking it shut, licking the stamp and mailing it every month. While the public is having difficulties making ends meet, the government is sending these pension cheques. It was a Conservative government that brought it in. It was the Conservatives' idea in the first place.

I have asked the government many times to explain what went into the decision-making. What sort of studies did it have? What was it thinking, as the member for Winnipeg Centre asked? What could the Conservatives have possibly been thinking when, in 1976, it decided to send pension cheques to prisoners in jail? We ask the question but we get no response. Nobody over there can explain or wants to try to explain why this happened.

I want to get further into the legislation that is being dealt with here and talk about another one of the three amendments the government is attempting to deal with here.

Part of the second amendment deals with the issue that if a person convicted of murder does not make an application within the maximum time period allowed by this section, the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada or his designate shall immediately notify in writing a parent, child, spouse or common-law partner of the victim that is a convicted person and did not make an application.

If it is not possible to notify one of the aforementioned relatives, then a notification shall be given to another relative of the victim. The notification shall specify the next date on which the convicted person will be eligible to make an application under subsection (1).

That was there to be helpful to victims. The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin has explained many times and has given the statistics of the number of people who are eligible. I believe he indicated it was around 900 people who are eligible under the faint hope clause, and maybe only 100 or so apply and then fewer than that actually make their way through the process.He points out, and truthfully so, that there are no re-offenders out of the process.

What we are trying to do is make things as easy as possible for the victims of crime but the government is trying to eliminate that. A government that pretends to support victims' rights is acting against something here that would be seen as supportive of victims' rights.

There was a victims' rights advocate, who the government got rid of because he did not agree with the government. He did not think it was moving far enough and fast enough on victims' rights. We have a criminal injuries compensation fund, which was brought in by the first NDP government in Canada under Ed Schreyer back in 1970-71, and it has been providing benefits to victims of crime for the last 40 years. Ontario also has such a fund but there is no fund at a federal level.

Where is the tough on crime government? Where are the Conservatives? They have been in power for five years.They say that they believe in services that help victims of crime but where is the criminal injuries compensation fund on a national basis that would be there to help victims of crime? That is the approach the government should be taking but that is not the approach it is taking. It is all about public relations.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, the issue of the title of the bill has been mentioned a couple of times by members of the opposition. I was actually encouraged to hear that the provincial Government in Manitoba is taking a similar position to this government.

We actually think that titling bills, consequential amendments to the Criminal Code, does not actually help Canadians understand what Parliament is actually doing on their behalf. When a bill is titled subject to the intent of the bill, it works to ensure Canadians understand what we do here each and every day. We want this place to be relevant. We want people to know that Parliament is working on their behalf and that the government is working on their behalf.

I am encouraged to hear that Manitoba is taking a similar track. I would encourage the Manitoba member to support us in reinserting the title of this bill so that Canadians know what we are doing.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I hate to help the government here, but the truth of the matter is if we are to reinstate the bill and try to describe what it bill would actually do, we should call it the “eliminate the faint hope clause in 15 years”.

While we are at it, when the member stood to ask me a question, and I know he is very well informed, I thought he would at least tell me why the Conservative government of Joe Clark started sending pension cheques to Clifford Olson and other convicted criminals back in 1979. I am waiting for an answer.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I want to draw to the attention of the member for Elmwood—Transcona that there is nothing in the bill or the amendments before the House that have to do with pension cheques going to prisoners. Because we are at report stage, dealing with the amendments, I would ask members to bear that in mind when it comes to the rules of relevance on debate.

The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am quite surprised and perplexed that the member for Elmwood—Transcona supports the amendment that would require Correctional Service Canada to notify the families of victims when offenders have decided not to bring a faint hope application.

The practical considerations aside, because he is right, this is 15 years down the road and some of these people may not exist or their whereabouts may not be known. However, the more practical reality is many of them do not want anymore involvement. Many of them, in fact I would suggest most of them, want closure.

Would he not agree that for those families of victims that want no further involvement, this requisite of notification would be counterintuitive for the whole purpose and would re-victimizes them for no apparent purpose?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think the jury is still out on whether they like it or not. I do not think he has done the absolute ultimate in studies on that point.

However, while he is consulting with the families of victims on this point, maybe he should ask them what they think of his idea to phase in the bill in 15 years. I am sure that will make them happy.

While he is at it, would he please give us the answer as to why the Conservative government, in 1976, started sending—

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I just mentioned to the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona that is irrelevant to the bill before the House at this stage.

There is enough time for one more brief question and comment, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked that I perhaps apologize for former Prime Minister Joe Clark. I in fact recognize that Joe Clark was not the prime minister in 1976. It was Pierre Trudeau at that time. However, for what it is worth, if such a change was made by Joe Clark, I disagree with it.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I think we will move on with resuming debate.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to the faint hope clause a number of times over the years as it has come forward.

As members know, Bill S-6 is an enactment that would amend the Criminal Code with regard to the right of persons convicted of murder or high treason to be eligible to apply for early parole. It would also amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

We are specifically dealing with three report stage motions. The first one has to do with restoring the short title. The act may be cited as “serious time for the most serious crime act”. The issue of short titles has been a subject matter that has come up with regard to many bills.

At least 20 justice bills have been proposed. Many of them have been recycled a number of times through prorogation and other forms of restart. I think most hon. members who have participated actively in the justice committee and justice issues within the House would admit, very clearly, that instead of 15 to 20 bills, these bills could have been done in three, maybe four bills to handle them all.

The reason they are not being done quickly is because the government really has no intention of passing a lot of the bills. It has the intention to continue to recycle bills and to continue to use them to support a political slogan. The political slogan is it is “getting tough on crime”. It will not pass any bills to do that, but it wants Canadians to know it has a lot of bills and it should prove to them that there is intent to be tough on crime.

Getting tough on crime means the Conservatives better have an agenda and they need to have deliverables. There have not been deliverables. Probably the most contentious thing they are prepared to deal with is the short title of a bill, which is basically intended to give the courts an efficient way to refer to specific law in Canada without having to read an extensive title, which may be more comprehensive and is necessary with regard to a bill.

The short title is sometimes appropriate. In the government's case, the short title is usually longer than the long title and it will continue to play with that, with slogans and the like.

The bill is a very good example of why the Conservatives do not get it with regard to the whole issue of how we deal with people who commit crime. I took a couple of law courses. I have spent a lot of time observing, listening and learning over the last 17 years about how we deal with criminal justice issues. I have learned a fair bit about the importance of it, and the realms of punishment is part of the equation. That means appropriate sentencing for people who commit wrongdoing.

There is also rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is very important because the vast majority of people who commit crimes will eventually be returned to society. There has to be a rehabilitative component in the criminal justice system to ensure we deal with people who have had problems to try to help them to understand the problems. After rehabilitation and it is time to get out, there is the reintegration part and there has to be supports.

The most important part of the whole situation that government members do not seem to want to talk about is the prevention of crime.

When I became a member of Parliament, one of the first things I wanted was to be on the health committee because there was a health crisis in Canada. I remember Health Canada coming before the committee. It said that it spent 75% of health dollars on fixing problems and only 25% on prevention. Its conclusion was that was not a sustainable system.

I submit, similarly, that simply concentrating on the punishment of people who commit crimes in the absence of a commitment to rehabilitation once people are institutionalized and to ensure they are ready for reintegration into society is important, but the prevention aspect also exists. I cannot think of too many bills that are directly related to crime prevention.

The speeches of the members do not explain the sources or root causes of crime, such as the issues of poverty and family breakdown, addictions and mental health. I spent a lot of time in my career on fetal alcohol syndrome, now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We are told that 50% of people in Canada's jails, both federally and provincially, suffer from alcohol-related birth defects or other alcohol-related impacts and rehabilitation is not possible.

In fact, incarceration is not possible for them because there is no rehabilitation for a mental health problem. It is a permanent problem. We need institutions dedicated to helping people learn how to cope with their problems and deal with the wrongs they have committed.

I would much prefer to hear a little more about all the elements of crime prevention, rehabilitation, punishment and reintegration.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Mississauga South will have three minutes left to conclude is his remarks the next time the bill is before the House.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 28 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Alzheimer's DiseasePrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion before the House on Alzheimer's disease. This motion addresses something that all of us in the House have been affected by, through family, loved ones or members of our community.

Everyone in the House acknowledges that the federal government has a role to play when it comes to dealing with Alzheimer's. If we put this in context, this issue is akin to other issues that we have discussed in the House with respect to health care. We have seen an increase in autism, ALS and Alzheimer's in the past 10 or more years.

Our health care system was formalized back in the sixties and into the seventies. The Canada Health Act came into force in the eighties. The things that we have to deal with now were not contemplated back then, particularly the proliferation of Alzheimer's disease.

It is important that this motion put forward by my friend from Edmonton—Leduc be debated in this House. It is also important for us to seize this opportunity to engage on this issue.

Some are calling what we are seeing in Canada with regard to Alzheimer's a grey tsunami. The numbers are fairly significant and they only speak to the proliferation of this disease. The individual stories we have all heard speak to the impact of this disease on families and communities. The numbers are important because we often have to look at statistics when making policy in this place.

Statistics show that one in six women and one in ten men who reach the age of 55 can expect to develop Alzheimer's. Those figures are staggering. A disproportionate number of women are affected by this disease than men. There is certainly a gender difference.

The point is that Alzheimer's affects society. Its doppler effect is hugely significant. This is not just about the one in six women or the one in ten men; it is about the fact that this disease affects individuals, families and communities at large.

A couple of my parent's friends suffered from Alzheimer's. Some of us have family members who suffer from Alzheimer's. What is so drastic about Alzheimer's is that it robs people not only of their ability to take care of themselves but of their ability to function in a coherent manner. It robs them of their ability to recognize people they love and with whom they lived their entire life. As with a friend of mine, Alzheimer's robs people of the ability to recognize their grandchildren or friends. That is profound because it gets to the heart of what makes us human, and that is our individual relationships and our ability to see the world, understand it, feel it and touch it.

The profile of Alzheimer's is different for each person and that is extremely important to understand. Like the autism spectrum, no two cases of Alzheimer's are the same. We are just now learning about how the brain functions. It is very difficult for us to understand what it is like for someone to go through this. We do not know the profile of Alzheimer's disease, like other ailments, so we cannot say that we know how to treat it. Because we do not know a profile, we cannot say that all the diagnoses will be similar and therefore make prescriptions.

Alzheimer's requires a much more human dimension and human capacity to help people; it is similar to areas where we have learned a lot more in education, like autism.

It is important to understand what our role is as Parliament. Alzheimer's was not something that we were aware of when our health care system was being put together. What is needed is a strategy for dealing with people and their families when it comes to Alzheimer's. We need to be able to create stability of care. We need to be able to provide flexibility of care. We need to understand that there are differences in the regions in terms of ability and capacity for people to access care for Alzheimer's.

We need to make sure we are listening to those who have already gone through dealing with Alzheimer's, and that is where the Alzheimer Society is so important. Here we have a civil society capacity that came together to help people who are going through a horrific experience. The Alzheimer Society of Canada, as well as chapters throughout the country, gets it. They understand that there is no one answer, but they understand that there needs to be a comprehension in terms of our care. They believe that we need to provide communications for people to understand that they are not alone, that there is support. They believe there is an important role here for government to be able transform our health care capacity so that people and families who are suffering from Alzheimer's actually are going to be able to get the help they need. What they understand most profoundly is that when people are going through Alzheimer's with their family, it is important that they are not left alone, that they are not isolated and that we, and I mean the royal we, are there to support them.

What does that require? Sometimes it requires very basic things. Sometimes it means that there is going to be sufficient home care, not just for the patients themselves, but also for the people who are caring. What is not understood in this country is the amount of care that is done by families and that people who have to put their careers on hold and put their income aside are not getting the recognition and support. That is something we have to grapple with, not only as we see a proliferation of Alzheimer's but as we see an aging population. These things go together.

When we look at the motion that has been brought forward, when we look at what the possibilities are in terms of dealing with Alzheimer's, we need to make sure that not only is there a role for the federal government and that is support for the Alzheimer Society and the capacity at the community level. We need to make sure, when people and their families are suffering from Alzheimer's, that they indeed are not left alone, that they are not walking the path of dealing with Alzheimer's solo. If we look at the successful models for dealing with Alzheimer's, we will see they all have something similar and that is access to basic services, which is a straightforward health care policy but should be in tandem with the community supports that exist.

What I hope to see from this motion is not just a debate in the House and support of a good intention here but that we also see direct action, that we support at the federal level our communities so those who are suffering from what some call the fog of Alzheimer's will have support to make sure they are not alone and that they are supported and that we do our job here as a Parliament to support them.

Alzheimer's DiseasePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, today more than half a million Canadians suffer from Alzheimer's and other related dementias. In fact, it is the single biggest cause of disability among Canadian seniors. It is a disease that takes away more than someone's memory; it takes away a person's identity and independence.

Treating this disease can be physically and emotionally exhausting, even fatal for the caregiver. With an aging population, the incidence of Alzheimer's in Canada is rapidly increasing, and this is a global phenomenon.

At its most recent annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum called Alzheimer's “a medical tsunami waiting to happen”. Here in Canada, experts in the field are calling for a national strategy on Alzheimer's and dementia.

Earlier this year, the Alzheimer Society published a report called: “Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society”. This report is helping to advance our discussion on dementia. It gives us a clearer picture of how this epidemic is affecting Canadians today and how it will affect them over the next 30 years.

For example, the report shows that, as of 2008, 55% of Canadian seniors with dementia were still living in their own homes. In 30 years, this number is expected to increase to 62%. Put another way, Canada must prepare for an additional half a million seniors who will be trying to cope with the effects of dementia while trying to remain in their own homes.

It is true that home care is often the best option for patients, provided they have the home care they need. However, it is not always the case. There are too many patients with dementia who simply cannot remain in their own homes, but they are left in their own homes, not by choice but by the fact that there are inadequate public resources. There are not enough beds or rooms for them in places where they can be taken care of in a humane and responsible way.

The shortfall in 2008 was more than 15,000 beds, but this number is projected to explode to more than 157,000 long-term beds within 30 years. There will be a massive increase in the burden placed on family caregivers from coast to coast to coast. The “Rising Tide” report places the economic cost of Canada's dementia and Alzheimer's epidemic at $15 billion per year. In 30 years, this economic burden is expected to grow to $153 billion a year, which includes $56 billion annually in lost wages for caregivers.

This does not include the significant human cost of the disease, both for patients and caregivers. Many of the caregivers feel absolutely overwhelmed by the terrible effect this disease is having on their loved ones. They are looking to governments for leadership and for help.

There is hope that the situation can change for the better, but it requires action. Canada needs a national strategy on Alzheimer's and dementia. We are one of the few developed countries without a national strategy in place. Important work towards a national strategy is being done by groups and organizations, including the Canadian Dementia Action Network. However, the current federal Minister of Health has refused to meet with them.

Last January when the Conservatives prorogued Parliament, the Liberal Party held a round table on Alzheimer's and dementia. It was co-chaired by our leader. We brought together leading experts, including Scott Dudgeon, the author of the “Rising Tide” report, leaders from civil society organizations, caregivers, patients and others. They discussed the need to support research into better treatments as well as a cure, increased prevention and awareness, enhanced integration and coordination between researchers and front-line support, as well as income security for caregivers.

At the round table, the Liberal leader committed to a national brain strategy to lessen the social and economic impacts of dementia. Our round table on Alzheimer's and dementia played a significant role that led us to the Liberal family care plan, which was released in October.

On a personal note, on November 16, 2009, a little over a year ago, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Mom is 81 years old. She has, during her life, been a successful and hard-working business woman, mother, wife and community leader. The diagnosis for our family has been a difficult one. She has a wonderful doctor, Dr. Catherine Smith, and she has a terrific specialist, Dr. Kenneth Rockwood. The drugs that were prescribed to my mother provided some element of hope in a way because there was a 33% chance that there would be some improvement, a 33% chance that the condition could be stabilized for a period, but then a 33% chance that the drugs would have no impact and her condition would continue to decline.

There is nothing curative today. We can treat symptoms but there is nothing curative. The prognosis for patients with Alzheimer's is always a bad one long term. The condition will continue to worsen. That is why research is important and the research in places like the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation is so critical. The work being done by researchers, like Don Weaver, Dr. Kenneth Rockwood and Dr. Sultan Darvesh, is absolutely essential to finding a cure for Alzheimer's, a cure that may not benefit my mom but may benefit somebody else's mom in the future.

I also want to speak to my own personal reflection on the caregiver issue. My dad, who is 87 years old, is taking care of mom. When I spoke on this issue with my leader, whose mother died of Alzheimer's, he told me that in his case his mother's Alzheimer's actually killed his father before it killed her. That happens a lot. The caregivers actually can die before the patient.

In my dad's case, he had colon cancer in the 1960s, a triple bypass in 1987 and has had prostate cancer for 15 years. He told me a few weeks ago that my mother's Alzheimer's was the toughest thing that he had ever been through. I reflect on that by saying that Canadian families need help. My parents have four children who are trying. My mother is fortunate to have a husband who is doing everything he can to help. Other people, however, need more help from home care support.

Many Canadian families have it far tougher than our family. In fact, I was reading in The Globe and Mail a few weeks ago, which did an excellent series on Alzheimer's, the story of a 26-year-old mother who was taking care of her two little kids while, at the same time. taking care of her 52-year-old father who had early onset Alzheimer's. This sandwich generation that is emerging in Canada where parents of young children taking care of their own parents at the same time will only grow.

We brought forward the Liberal family care plan because it would provide enhanced EI benefits for family caregivers. It would also provide a family care tax benefit, which is very similar to the child care benefit that would benefit disproportionately low and middle income families. Our Liberal family care plan has received support from many organizations, including the Alzheimer's Society and the Victorian Order of Nurses, the VON.

I sense that around this issue of Alzheimer's and dementia, there is multi-partisan support, not just for words in the House in support of Alzheimer's research and caregiving for families, but also for a real national action plan on Alzheimer's and dementia.

I urge the government to take serious action on this issue. It is a crisis that is going to grow with time. We are in this place not just to be looking at the priorities this week politically, but we are in this place to be looking at the challenges and opportunities facing Canada 10 years, 20 years, 30 years out.

Tackling Alzheimer's and dementia needs to be something that Parliament takes seriously. I commend the member for bringing forward this motion but I urge the Conservative government to take action.

Alzheimer's DiseasePrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Motion No. 574. I would like to commend the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc for bringing forward this motion.

Neurological conditions, such as dementia, can affect many aspects of an individual's life. There can be physical, cognitive and emotional effects, in addition to stigma and social isolation.

Among the more common of these conditions is Alzheimer's, and I am sure we all have friends or family members whose lives have been touched by this disease. Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are devastating and cause memory loss, impaired judgment and reasoning, impaired ability to communicate, and changes in mood and behaviour. Over time persons with this disease become unable to perform the activities of daily living that so many of us can take for granted.

Dementia places a significant burden on families, friends and caregivers. It also places demands on community health and social services, and on long-term care facilities. Alzheimer's disease and related dementias most commonly affect seniors who are also at risk of having other health problems, increasing the complexity of their care, however dementias can also affect younger individuals.

In 1% to 7% of cases, dementias develop well before the age of 65 and can affect individuals as young as 30. As the population ages, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase, including a growing number of people under age 65.

“Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society”, is the final report of an Alzheimer's Society project funded by Health Canada, Pfizer Canada and other private sector sources. It predicts that the incidents of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias in Canada will increase from one new case every five minutes in 2008 to one new case every two minutes in 2038.

Our government recognizes that understanding this complex condition and its impact on individuals, families and communities is necessary in order to be able to develop effective programs and policies that will meet the needs of people with dementia, their families and their caregivers. We are aware of the valuable contribution that informal caregivers make to Canadian society and are taking measures to ensure that our understanding remains current and relevant. In fact, the government has recently launched a three-year external research program to fill important knowledge gaps. As well, in 2012, we will run a national caregiving survey to ensure that the best data is available to understand the challenges that caregivers face and that they have the supports they require to continue in their vital role.

In addition to research, the Government of Canada is committed to helping seniors remain healthy, active and socially engaged. To start with, we have increased funding to $40 million annually for our new horizons for seniors program, which can make a real difference in communities by keeping seniors engaged, living actively and participating in social activities. Every Canadian, regardless of their age or situation, should feel comfortable in and a part of their communities.

It is debates like this that add to the knowledge and awareness of the issues around unpaid caregiving and support for families of persons afflicted with Alzheimer's and dementia. The need to better understand the complexity of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and related dementias has led to Canada's first ever national population study on neurological conditions.

In June 2009, the Minister of Health announced an investment of $15 million over four years toward a study that will look at neurological conditions and their effects on Canadians, filling many current knowledge gaps. This study is led by the Public Health Agency of Canada, working in close collaboration with the neurological health charities of Canada, a collection of 21 charities, including the Alzheimer's Society of Canada, joining forces to improve the quality of life for all persons with chronic brain disorders and their caregivers. Health Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are also partners in planning and co-ordinating this important work.

In planning the national study, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Neurological Health Charities Canada have worked closely with the neurological community to identify the community's needs and priority areas for the study.

This included a wide-reaching public consultation with more than 3,000 persons affected by neurological diseases. A plan has been put in place for the four-year study and is currently in its second year of implementation.

Expert advisory groups including researchers and stakeholders are providing advice on each component of the study. A call for proposals was issued and projects have been reviewed. Successful project teams will be invited to present their planned work at the first annual progress meeting in winter 2011.

As part of the study, the Public Health Agency of Canada is working with Statistics Canada to conduct three surveys on neurological conditions. The surveys will focus on the numbers of Canadians living with a neurological condition in Canadian households and in long-term care facilities, as well as the impact of these conditions on individuals and their families.

As many people with dementia are living in long-term care facilities, it will be of great value to understand the number of people in these facilities with dementia, as well as other neurological conditions.

By expanding the Public Health Agency of Canada's Canadian chronic disease surveillance system to include Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, as well as other neurological conditions, the study will leave Canada with the legacy of a timely and ongoing source of national data on the number of new and existing cases of these neurological conditions to inform public health action.

In the final year of the project, an analysis of the future impacts of neurological conditions in terms of numbers of people affected, quality of life, and economic impacts will be produced.

A consensus meeting will be held at the end of the four-year study, in 2013, to bring all the available study findings together. A report on neurological conditions in Canada will be developed to summarize the key findings of the suite of studies.

Over the next three years, the national population study on neurological conditions will gather information about the numbers of people affected by brain conditions in Canada, the impact on individuals and families, health and community service needs, risk factors, and other health conditions that affect people with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

The outcomes of this study will provide valuable information to guide policy and program planning for people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, as well as other neurological conditions.

Alzheimer's is a devastating disease and touches far too many Canadian families. I hope that all members of the House will join me in supporting this very important motion.

Alzheimer's DiseasePrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There being no other members rising, I will go to the hon. member for Edmonton—Leduc for his five minute right of reply.

Alzheimer's DiseasePrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I introduced this motion in an attempt to have a national discussion in Parliament on this very important issue and I believe that has happened.

I would like to take this opportunity in my wrap-up remarks to expressly thank the people in the chamber who have spoken to this: the hon. members for Etobicoke North, Verchères—Les Patriotes, Halifax, Elmwood—Transcona, Oak Ridges—Markham, Ottawa Centre, Kings—Hants and Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar. As I have said before, I appreciated both the substance and tone of their remarks. It has demonstrated what can happen in Parliament when we focus on a very important issue that touches all Canadians.

I want to again thank the Alzheimer Society of Canada and its excellent study entitled “Rising Tide”, which, does an outstanding job of identifying the challenges of this disease and some very practical solutions on which we should be working.

I also want to thank the Neurological Health Charities Canada. It has called for a brain strategy for Canada, which would be even broader than what we are talking about in the motion. I certainly encourage members to look at that as well. It is very much a partner in the four-year national population health study of neurological conditions.

The reason I brought this forward is this will have such a massive impact beyond what it even has today. In terms of financial cost, it is estimated to rise tenfold, from $15 billion today to nearly $155 billion by 2038. This will have a massive financial impact, but its human impact will be even greater. Members have spoken very personally about mothers, fathers, grandparents and others who, unfortunately, have had this disease. It has had a very real personal impact for my family and friends.

I want to perhaps offer one human aspect to this. My father recently visited a family friend who has had this disease for 20 years and whose wife has cared for him for that time. My father returned and said, “It's like Jim is existing in a mental prison and we just have to do something about it”. As the member for Kings—Hants said, it is at this point not curable but we have to keep searching.

In that vein, I want to thank all the researchers across Canada who have done such excellent work. Even beyond that, we need to recognize the caregivers in long-term care facilities who do so much, especially family members who devote countless hours to their loved ones in these conditions. This is why the focus is on this issue today. This is why I ask all members of Parliament to support the motion to work toward a national strategy for Alzheimer's.

I thank members again for their attention and I encourage them to support this motion.

Alzheimer's DiseasePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Alzheimer's DiseasePrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.