House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was treaties.


Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

May 13th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.


Diane Finley Conservative Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

moved that Bill C-15, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan


David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to be back discussing this bill one more time. It is the first time in this session of Parliament, but I know some of my colleagues who have been on the natural resources committee over the last couple of years, or even the last five years, are very familiar with it.

It is my pleasure today to rise in the House to present Bill C-15, the nuclear liability and compensation act. This legislation would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability Act. Its purpose is to update the insurance framework that governs the nuclear industry and protects the interests of Canadians in the unlikely case of a nuclear incident.

Bill C-15, as I mentioned, will not be new to the members of the House. Indeed many individuals on both sides of the House and, in particular, members of the present and past House Standing Committee on Natural Resources have worked together and actively contributed to its improvement. Amendments proposed at committee were incorporated into the legislation that is being reintroduced. I would like to thank the members of the committee for their helpful contributions.

Canada's nuclear safety record is second to none. We have a robust technology, a well-trained workforce and stringent regulatory requirements. There are now two pieces of legislation that provide a framework for the regulation of the nuclear industry: the Nuclear Safety and Control Act and the Nuclear Fuel Waste Act. Nevertheless, we must be prepared for the possibility of a nuclear incident that could result in civil damages and have specific legislation that prepares us for such an event if it were to happen. The responsibility of doing so falls under federal jurisdiction.

However, traditional insurance is not appropriate for dealing with this kind of liability. It is difficult, for example, to determine the levels of risk involved. Canada, like virtually all other nuclear countries, first addressed this void with the enactment of special legislation. In the 1970s, we in Canada put in place the Nuclear Liability Act.

What this means is that Canada's existing act reflects the thinking of an earlier period. In the interim, the evolution of jurisprudence has contributed to substantial increases in the potential liability for nuclear incidents, and our approaches to dealing with industrial accidents have evolved. Accordingly, our liability legislation must be upgraded.

Bill C-15 would modernize the older Nuclear Liability Act. It would do so by bringing victim compensation into line with internationally accepted compensation levels. It would do so by expanding categories of compensable damage, improving compensation procedures and increasing the financial liability of nuclear operators.

Up-to-date liability rules are needed to encourage investment in nuclear facilities. They are needed to provide certainty regarding insurance and legal liability for suppliers and for operators. Without this certainty, insurers would not extend coverage to nuclear facilities and nuclear development in this country would be severely curtailed.

The Government of Canada has taken action to assist Canada's nuclear industry remain at the forefront of a highly competitive field. It is investing $300 million in the operations of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to try to help strengthen Canada's nuclear advantage.

Global nuclear needs are expanding. Nuclear energy is an important emission-free source of power and it is key to achieving Canada's objective of being a clean energy superpower. However, without certainty regarding insurance and liability, Canada would not be able to advance or attract leading international suppliers and technology firms in the development of our nuclear industry. Having a proper liability regime in place is mandatory if Canada's nuclear industry is to remain competitive.

Of course, it could be argued that Canada's current legislation more or less accomplishes these objectives. Why do we need new legislation when we have a serviceable act in place already? The simple answer is that the current act is outdated. The Nuclear Liability Act was passed in 1970. In terms of today's nuclear technology, that is the Middle Ages. Several lifetimes of nuclear and related technologies have come and gone since then.

In short, as I said before, Canada's existing Nuclear Liability Act reflects the thinking of an earlier period. Our liability legislation must be upgraded.

Nevertheless, there are certain fundamental principles of the 1970 act that must be retained. These are the principles of absolute liability, exclusive liability and mandatory insurance.

Absolute liability means that the operator would be held liable for compensating victims in the rare case of a nuclear incident. This means that victims would not have to negotiate a highly complex industry to determine who was at fault. There would be no question of where to take a claim for compensation.

A second and related principle, exclusive liability, means that no party other than the operator, for example, no supplier or subcontractor, would be held liable.

This removes a risk that would deter secondary enterprises from becoming involved in a nuclear project. Nevertheless to modernize our liability scheme we must have legislation that goes further, while retaining those fundamental principles. This is what Bill C-15 would do.

I would like to talk for a minute about the proposed changes. The proposed legislation would increase the limit of liability for nuclear operators. The current act sets the maximum at $75 million, an amount that now stands as one of the lowest limits among the G8 group of nations.

The proposed legislation would reflect the conditions of today by raising that limit to $650 million. This would allow operators to provide adequate compensation without burdening them with huge ongoing costs for unrealistic insurance amounts, amounts for events highly unlikely to occur in this country. Moreover this increase would put Canada on a par with most western nuclear countries.

Bill C-15 would also increase the mandatory insurance that operators must carry by almost ninefold. It would permit operators to cover half of their liability with forms of financial security other than insurance. For example, this could be letters of credit, self-insurance and provincial or, in the case of AECL, federal guarantees. All operators would be required to conform to strict guidelines in this area.

Bill C-15 would make Canada's legislation more consistent with international conventions. It would do so not only with respect to financial matters; it would also do so with clear definitions of nuclear damage reflecting today's jurisprudence and more closely aligned with international nuclear civil liability conventions.

These definitions include crucial matters such as what constitutes a nuclear accident, what damages do or do not qualify for compensation and so on. These enhancements will place Canadian nuclear firms on a level playing field with competitors in other countries.

Both the current liability framework and Bill C-15 contain limitation periods restricting the time period for making claims. Under the act passed in 1970, claims must be brought within 10 years of the incident. However since the passage of that earlier liability legislation, we have come to understand that some radiation-related injuries have long latency periods.

Accordingly, the proposed legislation would raise the time limit on compensation for claims related to injury or death from 10 to 30 years. Both the earlier Nuclear Liability Act and Bill C-15 provide for an administrative process that would operate faster than the courts in the adjudication of claims arising from a large nuclear incident.

However, the proposed legislation would clarify the procedural arrangements for a quasi-judicial tribunal that would hear these claims. This new process would ensure claims were handled both equitably and efficiently.

There has been previous debate about some of Bill C-15's proposed measures. For example, there has been discussion about how and why the government arrived at the $650 million amount. Questions have been asked about the adequacy of $650 million for compensation of victims: why the civil liability of a nuclear operator should be limited in amount when the civil liability of other industries is unlimited, why the civil liability of Canadian nuclear operators should be limited at $650 million when operators in some other countries have unlimited liability and why the civil liability of Canadian nuclear operators should be limited at $650 million when we are told U.S. operators have a liability in the order of $10 billion Canadian.

The government's position is that the $650 million liability would adequately address the public's need for compensation in the event of any foreseeable incident at a Canadian nuclear plant. Although the U.S. operator liability limit is cited as $10 billion Canadian, in practice individual U.S. operators effectively carry $300 million Canadian in insurance coverage.

A few countries, like Germany, Switzerland and Japan, do incorporate unlimited liability of the operator under the provisions of their nuclear civil liability legislation. However in practice their liability is always limited to the amount of coverage provided by existing insurance plus the net worth of the operator that is liable.

Questions have also been raised as to how victims would be compensated if damages from a nuclear incident exceeded the operator's $650 million liability limit. Bill C-15 makes it clear that the minister would be required to assess the need for additional funds and report this information to Parliament. Parliament would then make the appropriate decision on providing funds for compensation.

There has been discussion on the provision in Bill C-15 that limits the ability of operators to carry more than 50% of the required financial security in forms other than insurance to cover their liability.

This provision was introduced in the bill to address operators' concerns regarding, first, the substantial increase in insurance premiums that they may face and, second, their perception of the monopoly held by nuclear insurers in providing the required financial security.

However, certain operators have said they would like more flexibility in negotiating the percentage of alternative securities which they could hold to cover their liability. This 50% limit may be changed by regulation.

Worldwide nuclear insurers have been providing nuclear civil liability insurance to operators for more than 50 years. They provide secure capacity. They are knowledgeable when it comes to assessing and pricing nuclear risks. They have experience handling claims.

Generally, a first tier compensation under national legislation or international conventions governing civil liability requires operators to cover their liability with private insurance or other forms of financial security. Worldwide private insurance continues to be the choice for nuclear operators over other forms of financial security.

The challenge the government faced in developing its legislation was to be fair to all stakeholders and to strike an effective balance in the public interest.

In developing Bill C-15, we consulted with nuclear operators, suppliers, insurance companies and provinces with nuclear installations. They generally support the changes I have described.

I should mention that this bill has also been the subject of a lot of consultation at committee. I think this will be maybe the fourth time that it has been before committee, and we have had extensive hearings each time. There has been widespread consultation on the bill.

While some nuclear operators may be concerned about cost implications for higher insurance premiums, they also recognize they have been sheltered from these costs for some time.

Suppliers welcome the changes as they provide more certainty for the industry. Nuclear insurers appreciate the clarity provided in the new legislation and the resolution of some long-standing issues. Provinces with nuclear facilities have been supportive of the proposed revisions to the current legislation. Municipalities that host nuclear facilities have been advocating revisions to the Nuclear Liability Act for some time. They are supportive of the increased levels of operator liability and the improved approaches to victim compensation.

In short, Bill C-15 was not developed in isolation. The evolution of policy was guided by consultation with the key stakeholders, with Canadians, and by experienced gained in other countries.

The reality is that we have the general support of the nuclear industry and Canadians at large for Bill C-15. I would urge members of this House to join in that consensus.

To conclude, Bill C-15 would establish the compensation and civil liability regime to address damages resulting in the unlikely event of a radioactive release from a Canadian nuclear installation. It would ensure that a compensation scheme is in place for victims and would promote nuclear development by channelling civil liability to operators, effectively indemnifying contractors and suppliers.

The introduction of Bill C-15 adds to the government's track record of making responsible decisions on the safe, long-term future of nuclear power in Canada. It adds to the government's record of promoting a safer, more secure and cleaner world through the responsible development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I had occasion to work with colleagues on the natural resources committee last fall on this bill and I am pleased that the government has adopted the amendments that were made at that time.

There is one thing I am curious about. The bill is basically the same, with a few small amendments, as it was when it came forward the first time four years ago. Over that time we have certainly seen inflation, but the government has not moved from $650 million up to even a slightly higher number over that period. That, to me, is a bit surprising.

I would like my hon. colleague to comment on that.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, there has been a lot of discussion at committee as the member opposite knows. Actually, the committee agreed to the amount of $650 million as well, as recently as toward the end of the last session of Parliament. There are a number of reasons for this.

As I mentioned in my speech, one of the reasons is that this seems to be an adequate number to provide compensation that would be sufficient in the event of a nuclear incident or accident.

There has to be a balance between providing the compensation and being realistic in the compensation and the insurance limits that can be provided to the operators. The balance is there. What is best for Canadians? What do we need to have in place in order to protect Canadians? On the other side, what can we do that is realistic? There is no point in making unlimited liability where the operators cannot possibly get the insurance.

The amount of $650 million has been accepted by the industry, by Canadians, and it was accepted by the committee as well, as a reasonable amount that would be appropriate for an insurance level for operators in Canada.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member speak to the bill. I have had the privilege of speaking before in the House of Commons to that bill. I have also paid attention to the testimony that we got before committee on the bill.

I would like to start into a long speech, but let me just limit my comments today about what I think are false claims the member is making with respect to the liability standards that exist in other countries.

The government claims that the $650 million limit is based on international standards, the capacity of the insurance industry and the likely cost of an accident. I think it is wrong on all three fronts.

Let me just remind members what we heard at committee with respect to international standards. Most countries of similar GDP have much higher limits. Germany has unlimited liability and a $3.3 billion financial security requirement. The U.S. has $10 billion in pooled insurance. Japan has $1,300 million. Sweden, Austria and others are moving to unlimited liability. The limit of $650 million is at the bottom of reasonable international standards.

When we talk about the insurance industry capacity, the Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada testified at the committee that it has increased its capacity and can now offer more than $1 billion in coverage. If the coverage is available, our law should require it.

Last, with respect to the likely cost of an accident, the department based its cost estimate on a risk study that was restricted to a minor accident at a small plant far away from population centres. The report author recommended repeating the analysis for serious accidents for larger plants near population centres, like Pickering and Darlington where, of course, we have a nuclear plant. The government failed to respond to this one simple and significant recommendation. As a result, the estimate of the cost of a nuclear accident is far too low, and I think undermines the $650 million limit.

I would like the member to respond to those concerns, because they are not just concerns raised by us on this side of the House. As I said, those concerns arise out of the testimony that we heard at committee about this very bill the last time it was introduced, and I do not think in this new version the government has done its homework. I do not think it has addressed any of those issues.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, I am glad the member has been following the committee, although she was not at it in terms of the discussion.

We need to point out that a number of the NDP amendments were accepted by the committee and they had to do with that. One of them involved reviewing the operator's liability limits.

The government was willing to work with the opposition to try to make the bill work. One of the amendments was that we would be willing to review operator liability limits. Actually there is a five year mandatory clause to do that. In terms of that, the government is certainly willing to take a look at the limit.

Again, as I pointed out, to say that there is unlimited liability in countries really becomes a concept that is meaningless, because at a particular point, insurance companies cannot provide insurance above a certain level. Clearly, insurance companies would provide insurance at any level as long as the premiums were paid, but at some point the premiums become unrealistic.

What we are trying to do, and we have heard a lot of testimony at committee about this, is to balance the interests of Canadians in the event of an incident. What would be the likely scenario if there was an incident? What kind of insurance compensation needs to be there? On the other hand, what is able to be achieved in terms of getting nuclear coverage at these installations?

I think that the limit of $650 million seems to set that middle ground. We had a lot of discussion about this at the committee, but in the end it was generally agreed that this is adequate and is good enough.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary, my colleague on the natural resources committee, for his comments today. There was a lot of discussion at committee, and this will be my fourth time dealing with the bill as a member of that committee.

There was some discussion about the liability amounts. The member is right in that there is an amount the insurance companies will cover. We even had testimony at committee which indicated that if that insurance was set at too high a level, what it could mean for the operators is that there would be a shutdown of the unit, which would lead to a stranded investment, which would lead into the ratepayers' pockets. I am sure that is what the NDP was hoping for anyway.

I would also like to ask the parliamentary secretary to elaborate on some of the amendments that were adopted in committee, because the last time was the first time that we actually adopted amendments. There were some very good amendments and some good discussion on not only the liability amounts, but some other things as well. Would he talk about some of the other major issues and testimony that we heard?

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Madam Speaker, this is important because the bill has come to the committee a number of times and actually passed without amendment a couple of times. The last time we really wanted to try to work with the opposition and there were some amendments made. We had a lot of discussion and the committee seemed to work very collegially through those amendments. I would be glad to go through the half dozen amendments that were made.

Clause 22, for example, was amended to require that the minister review operator liability limits. We touched on this a minute ago. Actually that also requires that the minister take into consideration the nuclear liability limits in other countries, so the concerns that the NDP member addressed a few minutes ago are taken into account with that amendment.

Clause 69, for example, was added to provide that the first review of financial liability limits had to be completed within 15 months of the act coming into force. The government was not interested in sitting on it for years. If something was not going to be working properly, we were ready to review it and to change it. We think that the limits are good the way they are, but we are certainly willing to take a look at that.

Clause 22(3) was added to the bill in order to stipulate that the minister had to consult before he or she could change the financial liability limits, so the minister would have to go to industry and non-industry stakeholders and also, which is interesting, refer the matter back to the parliamentary committee. Once again the committee could come back into the discussion as it has in the past. I think that some of the members of the committee probably know as much about this bill as anybody in the country.

Clause 26 requires that the minister table the reinsurance agreements. There were concerns about the insurance and reinsurance agreements that are going to be in place for a number of different types of facilities. Those will need to be tabled before the House. They will need to be tabled with an assessment study concerning those agreements. Again we are trying to make sure that the insurance is in place, that it is valid, that it is adequate, and that any reinsurance agreements that are made are publicly available, people can see them and the assessments that have been done on them.

Clause 37 was amended regarding the advertisement of the public tribunals. In case of a public incident, there will be tribunals set up in order to make the judgments about compensation and those kinds of things. We simply made it easier for people to know that this is going to be taking place. Newspapers were added as a media outlet. That is a small amendment but one that is important, because people get so much of their information from newspapers.

This government has shown quite a willingness to open up the bill and to allow the opposition members to have their input into it. We look forward to working with them over the next few months as we move the bill to committee and hopefully on to completion.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, as Yogi Berra once said, “It's déjà vu all over again”. We are back with this bill that the House has seen a few times.

I am a bit surprised in a sense to be speaking to this bill today. Six months ago I was under the impression, at least as far as the House was concerned, and I do not want to speak for the other place of course, that it was a fait accompli. Once the committee had worked out amendments to the bill and agreed to pass it in committee, I thought the chances were very good that it would come back and pass at report stage and third reading and then go off to the Senate.

However, we had something called prorogation as members may recall. For some reason the Prime Minister decided he was not that keen on too much democracy, that the House should not sit for a while and Parliament should be prorogued.

It is becoming clear that while the Conservatives want us to believe this bill is a priority, their actions make a mockery of that kind of assertion. After all this is the third time they have tried to update Canada's Nuclear Liability Act and they do not seem to be in that much of a hurry. The first time was a few years ago with Bill C-5, and we heard how important it was.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Be nice now.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

My hon. friend is making some comment, but I cannot quite understand it. I guess it was humorous because his colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac enjoyed it. I am glad to see they are enjoying themselves.

We heard how important it was at that time when they brought this bill in as Bill C-5. Those comments were repeated last year with Bill C-20. Now we are dealing with Bill C-15, the latest incarnation of the government's nuclear liability legislation, and the same arguments are being echoed. It is almost as if there are ghosts in here, there are so many echoes. We will see how far it makes it this time.

Canadians will recall that two years ago it was politically convenient to jettison this legislation so Conservatives could break their own fixed date election law and force a vote before they had to admit how badly they had mismanaged the country's finances. As we learned, they had put the country into deficit before the recession even began by their decisions in terms of spending and tax cuts that they could not afford. We had a deficit last year of $54 billion and who knows how much in the current year.

Last December the nuclear industry was quite excited when the bill was introduced, when it passed second reading, when it went to committee where it was approved and then reported back to the House. Industry stakeholders thought that after many years the bill would become law. Of course the Prime Minister panicked over the prospect of having to tell Canadians the truth about Afghan detainees and promptly prorogued Parliament to protect his political assets. Nuclear liability legislation became collateral damage to that decision in the government's ongoing battle to suppress the truth. It is really part of the government's ever-expanding Conservative culture of deceit.

However, now we start again from square one. We heard the parliamentary secretary tell the House how important the legislation was to the government and how significant it was to Canada's nuclear industry. That was quite a performance, deserving of some sort of Prairie Oyster award or something like that.

The bill would provide much needed update to industry standards to ensure stability and protection for Canadians. Hopefully this time the Conservatives can put the needs of the nation ahead of their party interests and actually enact the legislation, not prorogue the House, not break a fixed date election law, or whatever.

Bill C-15 would replace the 1976 Nuclear Liability and Compensation Act and establish a clear regime in the event of a nuclear accident. While we pray that never happens, the recent events in the Gulf of Mexico remind us we need to always be prepared, as my son the Boy Scout would say.

One of the key changes in Bill C-15 would be to increase operator liability from $75 million to $650 million. That is a significant increase but some ask if it is enough. The last time the legislation was before us the government claimed that $650 million was all the Canadian insurance industry could bear. That is why it would not entertain going higher to $1 billion, for example.

However, during a comprehensive study, which we heard about at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, we learned that this was not quite the case. Hopefully, during this debate, we will hear some more about why the government feels that $650 million is adequate. Hopefully this time we will get a clearer and stronger answer. We have had a bit of an answer today. We need to hear more about that.

When the former bill went to committee, before it was killed along with the government's talk tough on crime agenda and other bills that the government claimed were so important before it prorogued and killed them all, all parties at that time did agree on a number of amendments that strengthened the legislation. I look forward to the committee's further study in the weeks ahead. My party and I will be supporting sending Bill C-15 to committee.

While the bill would provide much needed changes, the basic principles of the nuclear liability and compensation act will remain the same. Operators are absolutely and exclusively liable for damage. That is one principle. Operators must carry insurance. An operator's liability is limited in time and amount. Suppliers and contractors are effectively indemnified. All those are important basic principles.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, the new liability limit reflects a balance of considerations. It is looking at the question of risk and if it address foreseeable rather than catastrophic accidents and if the insurance reflects insurance capacity that can be available at a reasonable cost. It puts Canada on par with the liability limits in many other countries. It responds to recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Since this is the third time the House has seen this legislation, there is little need to address all of its details. Instead, I would like to note that despite the fact that the Conservatives consistently lack the legislative fortitude to actually see nuclear legislation completely through this process, at least they have not been too afraid to bring it to the House for debate. They brought it back after they prorogued for other reasons.

That is not the case for another key aspect of the nuclear industry, the sale of AECL assets. The government continues to hide its highly suspect plans for the outright sale of our world-class CANDU technology. I find that very disconcerting. Like Bill C-15, this is critical for the industry, but the Conservatives believe they can move without consulting the people most impacted, people directly involved in the industry, the employees of AECL and the industry itself.

The Conservatives believe it is okay to hide what they are doing from the same Canadian taxpayers who have invested hundreds of millions in this industry in recent years. In fact, they put the terms of this in the budget bill. Why would the decision of whether one sells a Crown corporation be in the budget bill? What place could it possibly have there? It does not make much sense.

It is not like this is the sale of a surplus filing cabinet or a used prime ministerial limo. We are talking about an industry that supports about 70,000 jobs, after all. In fact, a lot of those jobs are in the ridings of Conservative MPs. Like Bill C-15, the sale of AECL will impact a lot of jobs in a lot of Conservative ridings.

In order to encourage investment in our nuclear industry and to protect this sector and the jobs it generates, we are debating Bill C-15 as a way to provide legal and insurance certainty for suppliers and operators. However, while it is good to debate Bill C-15, the government has dropped a cone of silence over its privatization plans for AECL. Conservative MPs have been muzzled once again by the Prime Minister's Office.

Maybe we should not blame them, though. When people are so immersed in the Conservative culture of deceit, they may not recognize what is actually happening. Maybe they feel it is safer to bow to the wishes of the Conservative upper echelons who consider this industry an embarrassment and just want to get rid of it. They want to unload the CANDU technology. They want to unload AECL after many years of Canada being a world leader in the development of nuclear technologies. Things like medical isotopes were developed right in Canada. Canadians can be very proud of that. It is a shame.

There is even a story going around that we are about to sell off AECL to foreign interests because of a tantrum the Prime Minister threw when his ministers repeatedly bungled the medical isotope crisis. It is a scary thought that this is his reasoning behind this decision.

If the government really believes in strengthening the industry with legislation like Bill C-15, why is it not prepared to openly debate the outright sale of AECL's commercial assets? I do not know what Conservative MPs are telling those families in their ridings who rely on jobs in this sector, but I hope they will come to their senses on this one and insist that the government open up debate on this question.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have approximately nine minutes when the debate resumes.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should encourage and assist provincial and territorial governments, the medical community and other groups to lessen the burden on Canada's health care system through: (a) an increased adoption of technological developments; (b) a better recognition of the changing roles of health care professionals and the needs of Canadians; and (c) a greater focus on strategies for healthy living and injury prevention.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to my private member's motion. It is a lengthy motion but it is a very important motion.

The purpose of this motion is to continue a very important conversation regarding our health care system. I would like to focus this conversation on three areas which have significant potential to lessen the financial burden on government and, more important, to improve the health of Canadians. These areas include: an increased adoption of technological developments; a better recognition of the changing roles of health care professionals and the needs of Canadians; and finally, a greater focus on strategies for health living and injury prevention.

Surveys currently indicate that Canada ranks health care as the second most important area of concern after the economy. They also take note when international benchmarking studies consistently report that our Canadian health care system's comparative performance is not ranked anywhere near the top in the OECD. I believe it is imperative for the government to reflect on what changes we can make while respecting our unique history and context.

This motion is about promoting a discussion on the appropriate role of the federal government as it relates to our health care system. It is about acknowledging that our needs have changed since the 1980s. It is about recognizing the worrisome, unsustainable, ever-increasing cost of our health care system on provincial and federal budgets, soon to be 50% and growing in most provinces and territories.

The Kirby report, the Health Council of Canada, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association, to name just a few, have scrutinized our system over the last few years and what has emerged is a remarkable consensus. An improved system is possible without compromising the founding principles of our Canada Health Act, such as universal access and sustainability. It will require transformational change with the patient's interests placed at the centre. It will require leadership, commitment and partnership from all stakeholders in the system.

I want to say unequivocally that this motion is not about two tier medicine or amending the principles of the Canada Health Act. It is not about interfering in the constitutional jurisdiction of the provinces and territories. It is about our responsibility under the Canada Health Act to encourage and to assist in providing the best system possible for Canadians.

As a brief aside, I personally believe that someday we should engage in a separate discussion regarding the Canada Health Act's very narrow definition of the continuum of care which currently focuses on physicians and medically necessary procedures in a hospital setting. Over time, as the amount of health services delivered outside these institutions and in the community has increased, the Canada Health Act has diminished with respect to ensuring coverage. This will result in an uneven system in terms of the continuum of care across the country. Perhaps we need to reflect on what basket of services should be included and excluded but that is a discussion for another day.

Health care needs are changing. The days of acute episodic care that typically required intervention by a physician or short-term support in hospital have changed forever. Young children with measles, ear infections and broken arms no longer predominate the practice of a physician. They are now faced with daily complex medical conditions requiring frequent long-term support, expensive medication and regular diagnostic monitoring.

Dr. Ross Reid, a prominent Kamloops physician, said:

We know the absolute number of patients is increasing as the population continues to grow and age. Elderly people need more surgery than young people. This holds true for all health services; persons 85 or older require 3 times the acute care, 12 times the community care, and 25 times the residential care of the rest of the population.

Chronic disease is now the principle cause of disability, the major reason for seeking health care and accounts for 70% of all health care expenditures. Although the aging population has contributed to these increases, the prevalence of chronic disease has risen in virtually every age group. Chronic diseases create large adverse, and underappreciated, economic effects on families, communities and countries. It is estimated that Canada stands to lose $9 billion in national income over the next 10 years from premature deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Our expectations of our health system have risen dramatically. Again, using Dr. Ross's examples, I take the case of Terry and his grandfather. When Terry's grandfather developed arthritis in the hip in the 1960s, he bought a cane and spent a lot of time watching TV. When Terry developed the same condition last year, he was scheduled for a hip replacement operation so he could continue to downhill ski.

In another example in the 1970s, 60 years of age was pegged as the upper age for consideration of coronary artery bypass surgery. In the case of Lucas, he has a good quality of life and last year he was successfully operated on at the age of 89. This is not to say that Terry and Lucas should not have been treated, just that the treatment options that Canadians are pursuing today represent a significant and costly change in practice.

How do we deal with this emerging reality? As noted by the Canadian Medical Association, over the last number of years we have demonstrated improvements in quality and access to care without a dramatic change in costs. However, these stories often take the form of time limited pilot projects that have been applied in isolated programs and usually have not been adopted on a system-wide basis. We have yet to achieve the tipping point and this is especially true in the case of technological developments.

What could our health care system look like in 10 years with continued committed focus on an increased adoption of technological developments, better recognition of the changing rules of health care professionals and the needs of Canadians and, finally, a greater focus on strategies for healthy living and injury prevention?

The following are some examples of what health care might look like in a decade from now.

Jane is a 70-year-old patient with congestive heart failure. She has always lived in rural Canada and wants to continue to live near her family and friends. The nearest health facility is 100 kilometres away but the community now has broadband access. Each morning she connects to her small home monitoring machine that measures a number of her symptoms. The results are transmitted to her health care team and are monitored by a nurse with special expertise in congestive heart failure. Jane also receives direct feedback from the equipment on her results and understands the warning signs and the actions she must take. She has become increasingly comfortable managing her condition at home, deteriorations are dealt with rapidly and expertise is only a phone call away.

Since Jane started on this program, her hospital admissions have decreased dramatically and her quality of life has markedly improved. This scenario is not a fantasy but a current reality of care in the Kootenays. A recent evaluation of the program has shown significant improvement in both hospital stay and quality of life. This pilot initiative was funded by Health Infoway Canada and in the 2010 budget we have included $500 million so we have continued support for the implementation of the e-health strategy in Canada. This will be part of the many keys to our future sustainability.

In another example, Jim was diagnosed with a mental health illness in his early 20s. Although usually well controlled by his medication, there are times when he neglects to take his pills and he can quickly spiral downward. His primary care team is well-coordinated and includes a mental health clinician, dietician and family practice physician. The team also recently formalized a shared care relationship with a psychiatrist. There is one health record which is electronic and shared among all the practitioners. Jim also has access to his own health record through a secured Internet connection. The mental health clinician routinely supports Jim and is able to quickly identify when his mental health status is slipping and respond accordingly. Jim, therefore, has been able to maintain his job and home which contrasts dramatically with others with the same condition who do not benefit from this coordinated care.

A strong primary health care system, as illustrated in these examples, has been consistently associated with improved health outcomes and system performance at a national level. Seminal research by Dr. Barbara Starfield from John Hopkins University has effectively proven this link and also provided very interesting international comparisons. Using a team concept for primary care provision, we can dramatically reduce the burden on primary care physicians and improve outcomes for patients.

In addition, electronic patient records are imperative for proactive care of chronic disease. Patients and their families can and should be more fully engaged through access to their personal health records. As patients become proficient at understanding their conditions, including interpreting lab results, the concept of self-managed care will start to become the norm. Work by Dr. Kate Lorig, professor at Stanford University, has demonstrated the importance of patients and their families developing skills to become a full partner in their own team.

Across Canada, we are taking important steps on an improved primary care system and that work was significantly kick-started by the federal government's primary health care transition fund, but again, we have not yet embedded this within our health care system. Work done to date is best described as tinkering at the edges.

National Nursing Week is an opportune time to highlight one of the newest health care providers in our system, the nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are nurses who are able to provide a full range of primary care support. As increasing numbers of nurse practitioners enter our health care system, there are structural challenges around how to best integrate their skills into our system. A number of my own family members have a nurse practitioner supporting their health care delivery and have benefited from the unique approach to primary care service.

As everyone knows, many communities have a shortage of family physicians. In spite of this need, there is a limited mechanism to allow the nurse practitioner to provide additional support in these communities. Predominantly, this is provincial-territorial jurisdiction, but it must be noted that the evolution of the nurse practitioner is rooted in rural and remote aboriginal communities where we do have a responsibility. Canadians would benefit from a review of the role of nurse practitioners for groups we are responsible for, such as veterans, aboriginal communities, Correctional Service of Canada, and others.

Rooted in historical necessity, allied professionals have provided care where there have been limited resources. For example, in our military the physician assistant has assumed a very important role as a team member in the provision of care for our men and women in uniform. In another case, the community health representative provides essential culturally appropriate services on first nation reserves. Further, dental therapists provide a hybrid of hygienist service, basic dental care and community prevention interventions.

Clearly, our federal government has a long tradition of creative uses of para-professionals in order to meet their community needs. I believe that these lessons have some value for the provincial and territorial governments as we look at the looming health human resource shortage.

In addition, pharmacists, dieticians, respiratory therapists and physiotherapists all provide great value to patient care. We must continue to be creative and flexible using their skill sets to best meet the needs of the patients and the communities they serve.

It is interesting to note that the health committee has reviewed health human resources in great depth over the last year and we look forward to tabling a report prior to rising in June.

The final area but certainly not the least important is a greater focus on strategies for healthy living and injury prevention.

At least 80% of premature heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and 40% of cancer could be prevented through healthy diet, regular exercise and avoidance of tobacco products. Cost-effective interventions exist. The most successful strategies have employed a range of population-wide approaches, combined with interventions for individuals.

As stated by Dr. Andrew Pipe from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute at the recent health committee meeting, we need to make healthy living the easy choice. This is important whether it relates to diet, exercise or choices around tobacco. Through regulatory mechanisms, transparency and public education, it must be easy to make the right choice. In Canada, we are making good progress but we are not there quite yet.

Turning to injury prevention, as included in our March 2010 Speech from the Throne, we have made the commitment as follows: to prevent accidents that harm our children and our youth, our government will work in partnership with non-governmental organizations to launch a national strategy on childhood injury prevention. This pledge was greeted positively by all who understand the tragedy and the cost of preventable injury.

In conclusion, I have discussed some important measures in progress and also provided the context and imperative for serious discussion regarding the future of health care in Canada. This general discussion in the House is particularly timely with the expiry in 2014 of the accord reached at the first ministers' meeting on health care in 2004.

I submit that my three areas of focus have an important role to play in the future of a sustainable health care system. Fifteen minutes is a very short time to give a full account of these issues that are pertinent to this complex discussion but, again, this is part of an important conversation for Canadians. I hope I have the support of all members in the House for this motion.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I compliment the member on her speech.

As a health professional, I would like to ask her one thing. We have a massive problem in our country in terms of not having a national strategy for health care workers. I would like to ask the member whether or not she will ask her Minister of Health to put together a national strategy for health care professionals, so we know how many and where we need physicians, nurses and technicians in order to have the personnel to service our health system. Right now, one of the major problems we have is that as we get older, so too do our caregivers. We have a massive deficit and that deficit will grow as time passes.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the member might know, out of the accord and it has a very long name, but essentially it is a group that has been designed to look at the health human resources. We actually had the group at the health committee today. I was very impressed with how this group, in a collaborative way, of course acknowledging and recognizing the provincial-territorial jurisdictional issues, has started to share and work together. I think the very important work that the member talked about is being done by this particular group.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member. We have the privilege of sitting together in the Standing Committee on Health. I know that her work is very meticulous. Nonetheless, I have a problem with the motion as a whole, although its purpose is indeed commendable. The problem is political. This issue should be debated in the National Assembly of Quebec, the only assembly that represents the nation of Quebec.

When the Conservatives, like the Liberals, only propose national strategies, I have a problem with that. I take issue with it because this Conservative government, which claims to want to limit government involvement as much as possible, has said in every election campaign that it would respect provincial jurisdictions. It is doing exactly the opposite. I find that rather surprising.

I would love to see these hon. members go back to their grassroots and explain that they want more federal government intervention. I would also like to hear what this government thinks of the Quebec clause in the federal-provincial agreement signed in 2004, which confirmed that Quebec's health system is different and different policies must apply. I want to remind the government that this is a provincial jurisdiction.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think I said very clearly at the beginning of my speech that it was absolutely about respecting provincial jurisdiction.

I do believe that we have lots of opportunity to learn from each other. We heard some very concrete examples about how Quebec had an observer role at our HHR table, and its representatives were sharing some of the very important things they do and the important learning from some of the things that happen elsewhere.

I would also like to talk about the role of Health Infoway Canada, which actually provides grants to all the provinces and territories. It speaks of that very important role regarding technological development and how technology will really be part of the sustainability of our future health care system.

Again, this has nothing to do with disrespect for provincial jurisdiction, but there are times when we need to learn from each other.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask a question about electronic health records. For at least 10 years now it has been recognized that because of the substantial amount of medical errors that occur in our system, the electronic health record is a very important thing to develop. Certainly, under the Liberals, under Reg Alcock, there was a lot of money spent on electronic health records. I would sure like to get an update from the government as to where the electronic health record process is with this government.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Absolutely, Mr. Speaker, the electronic health record is imperative. I can speak with regard to my own community of Kamloops. It is a bit of a process to select an appropriate record that will assist physicians. They have gone through that process now and I am really proud to say that they have joined together as a large group in our community and are implementing it. Across the country it is at various stages, but we need to continue our progress on this very important matter.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to compliment the member for introducing this motion. As a physician, it is a breath of fresh air to have health care finally discussed in this House.

I remember working in the emergency department and having to treat patients in the hallway. I remember having to airvac patients out of the town I was working in just because we did not have a health care worker, a technologist, who could do a CT scan on the person to identify potential problems.

Canadian society is in the process of slamming into a brick wall on health care because the resources that we have to pay for, what we ask for and need, are not there. As time passes, as our population ages, that gap between the supply of resources and the demands that we have on our health care system is simply going to widen. What has happened is that those who are least able to afford it are falling through the cracks. They are the ones who are being hurt by inaction. They are the ones who are going to be hurt if all we do is talk about things and fail to act.

We understand full well that the responsibility for health care is in the purview of the provinces, but nothing prevents the federal government from using its convening powers to work with the provinces that want to work with us, to get things done that we need to have done.

The fact of the matter is that we are constrained by a Canada Health Act that was good in its time but needs to be modernized. It cannot function and it cannot do what needs to be done. Our provinces cannot do what they need to do, if we are going to be constrained by the situation we have today.

If we look at the top 20 health care systems in the world, 17 of those health care systems are in Europe. This ridiculous discussion that we have, that if it is not ours it must be in the U.S., is a nonsensical debate. The real debate we should be having, and the answers we should be pursuing, is who has the best health care system. We need to just peer out toward Europe and we will find that 17 of the 20 best health care systems in the world are there.

What are their characteristics? The member, quite rightly and wisely, put technological development as one of her three requirements. If we look at Europe, it uses IT tools much more effectively than we do. We absolutely must be able to use IT tools to reduce duplication, reduce waste, and improve efficiencies in the system. It is ludicrous that we are so far behind the times.

The second point in this area that Canadians might need to know is that while we discover all these remarkable things in medicine, Canadians have access to them in a limited way. The reason for this is because provincial governments have to withhold or ration care and they cannot afford to provide the best care that is available, so the scientific discoveries that we are making are not available to the Canadian public because governments do not have the money to pay for them. There is this gap and Canada ranks somewhere in the 20th to 25th range in terms of access to new technologies by our citizens.

The second part dealing with health care professionals, and the member was again right to put this in, is that we desperately need a national health care workforce strategy. As we get older, our health care professionals are getting older as well. The average age of a nurse is about 42. The average age in some specialties in medicine, as a physician in my profession, is somewhere in the fifties. We cannot train a doctor in four years. It takes 12 years or more to train certain types of specialists.

We cannot easily reproduce them. We desperately need this strategy to be implemented with the provinces, not only for physicians and nurses but also for technicians and other health care professionals who are part of our team and who enable us to serve the public we treat.

The third area deals with healthy living and prevention. Last week I was privileged to attend the big Pediatric Academic Societies' conference in Vancouver. It is the largest of its kind in the world and 6,000 of the top pediatric scientists in the world were there. One of the big issues that was talked about, as the hon. member mentioned, is the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Dr. Tremblay from Montreal did a phenomenal study comparing Canadians from 1981 to today and his results were shocking. He found that from 1981 to today, the level of obesity has increased dramatically. Fitness levels have plummeted. Part of the reason is that the average Canadian child watches 40 hours of television per week or the child is in front of a screen playing video games. This is ridiculous. We were not designed to do this.

As a result, we are seeing chronic diseases that are now shifting lower and earlier in the demographics. Younger people are having higher incidences of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems. The result of this is that it is putting a huge and increasing burden on our health care system, and that in combination with our aging population will essentially break the back of our health care system unless we act and act quickly.

One of the motions I introduced recently is very simple. Why do we not all advocate for parents to turn off the television sets and turn off the video games one night per week, just one night a week? Get kids out and active. If they are out and active, engaging in free play, they will be able to dramatically change not only their physical abilities but also their mental abilities.

We have found that we can now actually peer into the developing child's brain. We know that from the prenatal stage through the first five years of life we can have the most dramatic impact upon the trajectory of that child into adulthood.

Subject children to a loving, caring environment with proper nutrition, where they are subjected to being read to and actually reading books later on, and what happens is that the connections in the brain actually happen well. Conversely, subject children to violence and sexual abuse, where they are witnessing drug abuse and violence, and give them poor diets, the neural connections that take place happen very poorly.

As a result of that, because the frontal cortex and the lower parts of the brain are not connected well, we see a much higher incidence of drug use, juvenile crime, poor outcomes in school, more dependence on welfare, and poor social and economic outcomes.

It is essential that what we do in the first five years of life has a dramatic effect on the trajectory of that child. If the government wants to really do something in terms of reducing crime, for Heaven's sake, work with the provinces to enable them to have an early learning program for children, during the prenatal stage and through the first five years of the children. If we do that, it will have a dramatic and profound impact upon the life of those children.

Kids need free play. The other thing we can advocate in the public health aspect is to take kids to the library. Drop them off at the library, leave them there for an hour, let them roam the books, and let them use their imagination. If that is done, then they will have a chance to read. We know that literacy is one of the most powerful ways in which we can improve the trajectory of children later on in life.

These are simple things, inexpensive and easy to do. Also, kids who are plugged into TV sets and video games are not engaging in learning or having the imagination and the social skills they need to function well as adults.

That kind of free play and socialization may sound subtle in many ways, but it has to be done because those subtle interactions that take place enable the neuro connections and enable children to move forward and acquire the skills sets they need later on.

To summarize, in order to enable us to have a health care system that serves the public later on, which we must have, we have to work with like-minded provinces. We have to modernize the Canada Health Act. We have to bury our ideology. We have to pursue the facts and the science. The solutions are out there and we have to implement them. Talking is not going to save anybody's life. Only action will.

Second, we have to implement the national workforce strategy with the provinces. Again, let us ensure that we look at solutions that work. Let us look at Europe. Why does Europe have 17 of the top 20 systems? Let us look at their funding models, how they enable the governments and the private sector to work together, how they treat their health care workers, how they acquire and retain health care workers, and what they do in terms of prevention.

That package of solutions will enable us to ensure that our citizens, when they get sick, will have a health care system that will be there to treat them and will treat them well.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Nicolas Dufour Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for moving this motion. As I said earlier, she does wonderful work on the Standing Committee on Health. Unfortunately, this motion demonstrates that we do not share the same opinion on how Canada's health system should be managed.

What scares me is that we have the Conservatives on one side, and they are the first to say that they want to limit and structure the federal government's actions and respect exclusively provincial jurisdictions. On the other side we have the Liberal Party, whom we know very well, and they encroach on jurisdictions with so many national strategies in every area that they have no idea what to do anymore.

I am very surprised to see the Conservatives acting exactly like the Liberal Party. In committee, we see the Liberals propose national strategies on everything that may or may not exist. The Conservatives are starting to do exactly the same thing. It makes one wonder if being in power too long wears a party down and makes it lose sight of the objectives it originally sought. Of course I could list a number of files where the Conservatives have not followed their initial train of thought, but this example of health is particularly interesting.

The motion says:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should encourage and assist provincial and territorial governments, the medical community and other groups to lessen the burden on Canada's health care system...

The words “assist provincial and territorial governments” frighten me. The federal government always starts with minimal assistance, which leads to regulations and then to a national strategy. And it ends with us losing our power. That is the sad part.

As I said at the outset, when I asked my colleague a question, I am not against the primary purpose of the motion. We all want better access to technological innovations. We all want to recognize that health professionals' roles are changing, as are people's needs. We all want to focus on injury prevention strategies. We are not against the purpose of the motion, but we do not support the plan for achieving that purpose.

Earlier, I talked about the Quebec clause in the federal-provincial agreement signed by the Liberals when Paul Martin was in power. The clause stated that Quebec's health care system is not like the other systems and that the Government of Quebec should have the power to make its own decisions and not have anything imposed on it by the rest of Canada.

There are several examples of encroachment. Bloc Québécois members oppose the member's motion for constitutional reasons. When the Bloc Québécois resorts to defending the Canadian Constitution and using it to ensure that its areas of jurisdiction are respected, that is serious.

Under sections 92(7) and 92(16) of the Constitution Act, 1867, health care and social services fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Since 1919, Ottawa has encroached on those areas repeatedly.

I can see that my colleagues would really like me to give some examples. Here we go: the creation of the Department of Health in 1919 despite the fact that it was not a matter under federal jurisdiction; the adoption of the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act in 1957; the adoption of the Medical Care Act in 1966; and the adoption of the Canada Health Act in 1987.

As we have seen, the federal government's good intentions can quickly take a turn for the worse and become problematic. Duplication is the fundamental reason I am a sovereignist. Duplication includes departments that should not exist, and the Conservatives should agree with me on that. The Conservatives and I are all in favour of limiting the federal government's power.

We support the idea that the federal government should spend less and less. Of course, ultimately, we hope to separate from Canada. We have nothing against them. It is for us. We have different outlooks, as seen in this issue, which demonstrates our difference of opinion on how the health care system should work. We have several other divergent opinions, including the AMF and defending our economic sector.

The Conservative government should listen to the provinces. That is what it promised us. It should agree with the fact that the provinces should have as much breathing room as possible in their own jurisdictions. Yet the Conservatives seem to have the same strategy as the Liberals.

I understand that the Liberals were in favour of more centralization, but the Conservatives promised us something different. They promised us openness. Unfortunately, they started out with good intentions, but they slowly and gradually began nibbling away at Quebec's powers. Our powers are becoming increasingly limited. At some point, this will be fatal for the Quebec nation.

I will give the member a few examples of Quebec's demands in terms of health care. If she had moved a motion addressing any of the demands I am about to mention, we would have gladly supported it.

Maurice Duplessis' second government asked that the following areas come under the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces: natural resources; the establishment, funding and management of hospitals, asylums and charitable institutions; education at every level, including universities; regulation of the liberal professions, including admission criteria for the practice of medicine and relations between physicians and clients; social security; health; and public health.

The government of Daniel Johnson Sr. said that Quebec wanted to make its own decisions in certain areas, including “development of its human resources (i.e. every aspect of education, social security and health)”. I could also mention economic affirmation, cultural expression and the influence of the Quebec community. These are the traditional requests of the Bloc Québécois. And the members opposite wonder why we are sovereignists.

The second government of Robert Bourassa, who was not a great sovereignist, said:

Under the Canadian Constitution, social affairs and health are irrefutably matters of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. Over the past 25 years [in Mr. Bourassa's day, of course], the Government of Quebec has carried out its responsibilities in a remarkable fashion and has provided quality administration in the sectors of health and social affairs. These successes are eloquent proof, and the people of Quebec are convinced of it, that Quebec society [back in the days of Meech Lake, it was called a society] would gain nothing from a new way of sharing jurisdiction in these sectors. Up to now, they have been under exclusive provincial jurisdiction and it is in the best interest of Quebeckers for them to remain so.

I was quoting Robert Bourassa, who was Quebec's premier from June 22, 1990, to January 11, 1994. These demands did not come from the sovereignist movement. They came from Quebec. All we want is for the government to respect the areas of jurisdiction established when the founding fathers signed the Canadian Constitution. We are not asking much. Maybe sovereignists are not so bad after all. I could mention others, but I do not have enough time.

I just want to say that Jean Charest's Liberal government wants the Government of Canada to respect the Government of Quebec with regard to health care. We just have a different vision. We see that every day in the Standing Committee on Health. Our problems are not the same as the rest of Canada's. We do not do things the same way as the rest of Canada. We just want to be respected.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this private member's motion from the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. It is my understanding that it is intended to give guidance to the federal legislature to encourage and assist better cost efficiency within provincial and territorial health regimes by focusing on three areas: technology, health human resources and healthy living promotion and injury prevention.

I would like to address each of these three areas. As it turns out, the New Democratic Party, the party of medicare, the party of Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, has policy in these three areas.

We have policy on which we, as the NDP members of the House of Commons, are prepared to act. These are policies in which we believe because we know they are effective and will advance the medicare system we defend across the country, the system that we wish to see improved and advanced for the people of Canada.

The motion before us sets out guidance for the federal Parliament in technology, health human resources and illness prevention. Unfortunately, it does not contain any specific actions to be taken. I do wonder what value it has without action.

I think it is safe to say that health care is a priority for Canadians and our health care system is a source of great pride. As I have already said, New Democrats are dedicated to defend universal health coverage in Canada. It is among our top priorities.

The guidance the motion provides is in keeping with the NDP vision for health care in Canada. It encourages a stronger, more efficient health care system. However, it does not go far enough as it does not address the core issues respecting the health of Canadians, in particular the determinants of health.

If the government and members opposite were truly serious about improving the health of Canadians, they would take steps to alleviate poverty, particularly child poverty, and establish a national housing strategy to put all Canadians on an equal footing.

When we look at the face of poverty in the country, it is the face of women and children. In 1989 the House unanimously agreed to end child poverty by the year 2000. In order to end child poverty, we must end the poverty of the families in which our children live. We have failed utterly.

The poverty rate among children is higher now than in 1989. One in six Canadian children is poor. One in six is under-housed, poorly nourished and lacking in the advantages that will help them make meaningful contributions, the contributions they would wish to make as members of our communities. Affordable housing would help these children and these families, in fact, all families.

If the Conservative government wanted to make a difference in the health of Canadians, it would improve the quality of our air, our water and our soil. Our environment plays a huge part in our health and quality of life.

Last December, in Copenhagen, the government demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the environment, the air, the water and the soil that sustains all life is second fiddle to its preoccupation with big oil and its determination to pander to that industry and those that contribute to pollution and climate change, no matter what the cost to our planet.

If the government truly wished to make health a priority, it would take significant steps to improve the health among first nations. It would sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. It would respect and respond to the UN Convention to End Discrimination Against Women by addressing the poverty first nations women face. It would take real action to address violence against aboriginal and indeed all women. It would make the necessary changes to employment insurance and pension plans that would provide economic security for Canadians. None of this is addressed within the motion.

The Canada Health Act is an incredible tool to provide federal leadership on health issues. However, it is not once mentioned in the motion.

I want to refer to the three areas of focus within Motion No. 513. The first is an increased adoption of technological developments.

We must improve health care so no one is left behind and to do this we must be innovative. The current government has not taken the initiatives necessary to develop research and innovation in Canada. We have the human resources and the scientific know-how to make significant improvements to our health care system, but more federal leadership is necessary in promoting and developing technology in health care.

There is immense potential in technological advancements to link rural and isolated communities to experts in larger centres and give better tools to local health professionals to assist with diagnoses and treatment. This requires investment and, as we know, the most recent federal budget actually reduced investment in the kind of research that could have made a profound contribution to the technology of the 21st century, the technology we need to enhance and streamline our health care system.

The next part of the motion makes reference to better recognition of the changing roles of health care professionals. We need to train substantially more health care professionals, including more doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and midwives to ease staffing shortages and cut wait times. To do this, we need to better fund post-secondary education and relieve student debt.

Finally, the motion calls for greater focus on strategies for healthy living and injury prevention. The promotion of healthy living and the promotion of injury prevention are essential elements of the leadership role that the federal government can take. New Democrats do have something to offer this discussion by way of our policy platform. We absolutely agree that federal leadership on healthy living is essential.

This is what it should look like. The federal government should assist the provinces to develop long-term strategies to better manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and lifelong medical disabilities and conditions such as autism. It should dedicate 1% of the health care budget to physical fitness and amateur sports promotion, including investing in the development of more community centres, seniors centres, recreational facilities and playing fields.

It should launch a federal determinants of health initiative with emphasis on clean air, safe water, reducing poverty and improving children's health and nutrition. The feds should ban trans fats and expand other initiatives to promote healthy foods and healthy eating, including addressing the crisis of childhood obesity by implementing a pan-Canadian strategy and limiting the exposure of children to junk food.

It should ensure that all infants in Canada have access to hearing testing in co-operation with the provinces and territories, increase support for provincial and territorial health initiatives, including cancer control systems, and invest in trails associations across the country, joining forces with Canadians who are blazing new trails by walking, cycling, wheeling, skiing and running their way to healthier, more active lifestyles.

These are all important steps the government should take. These are the steps New Democrats are committed to take. These policies should be combined with other NDP policies related to the determinants of health, such as well-paid jobs, green jobs, pension reform, employment insurance reform, affordable housing, national child care and environmental protection. We are committed to training more doctors, nurses, midwives, nurse practitioners and health care technicians to ensure they have the scope of practice that allows them to contribute all their considerable expertise. The expertise they have to give will indeed make medicare stronger and better.

I think this is an important debate and an important discussion, but I am waiting for action. We have been waiting for action on some of these issues for many years. The time to act is now. The time to set aside differences is now. We can and must improve our health care system.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this time to make the House aware of some of the work being done by our government that will be useful to all members when deciding to support Motion No. 513 made by the hon. member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

This motion touches on one of the principles necessary for our health care system, the need for collaboration. Our government works with the provinces and territories to maintain and improve the health system in which Canadians have invested for generations.

The management of health care is a sacred trust that we have always shared. That is why our government is transferring an all-time high of $25.4 billion in transfer payment support to the provinces and territories to ensure they have the tools they need to protect and promote the health of Canadians.

As the motion asserts, we can see that demand for health services will only grow. This is our opportunity to take action. The cost of health care will keep growing, but there are several things we can and should do to mitigate the impact. By fostering innovation, we can make Canada's health system more efficient and encourage Canadians to make healthier choices that will keep them out of doctors' offices and hospitals.

I do not think I need to remind the House that, while provincial and territorial governments administer and deliver most of the country's health services, the Government of Canada is the health policy leader for the nation. This government works with the provinces and the territories to make sure that policy turns into action, and of course we work together to deliver health services to first nations communities that are located far from major centres.

This motion encourages a rapid adoption of technological advancements to ease the burden on our health care system. I am pleased to say that our government has a long-standing commitment to the development of a pan-Canadian system of electronic health records and electronic medical records through Infoway. Budget 2009 committed $500 million to further that effort, and the government has not wavered from that commitment.

In support of our role as policy leader for the country, the Government of Canada has established and supported organizations like the Canadian Institute for Health Information. It gives all governments insight into the health needs of Canadians so that programs can be tailored to those needs, and that is an essential element to making the delivery of health services more efficient.

Similarly, the government supports organizations like the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. This enables all 13 provincial and territorial governments to have access to the same information, regardless of the size of their health care system.

This motion encourages us to continue to adopt new technologies to help relieve the burden on the health care system. When it comes to health care, technology can mean many things. It can, as I mentioned, include electronic health and medical records, but new technology can mean diagnostic equipment, surgical tools and even leading edge drug therapies.

Technological innovation has always pushed the frontiers of medicine. Every medical tool we have today was new to medicine at some point. The machines that are commonplace today, defibrillators, ultrasound and X-ray machines and even stethoscopes, are technological advancements that we now take for granted.

The advancement of medical technology continues on, and as this motion says, we must continue to introduce it where it is needed to ease the financial strain on health care.

The Government of Canada funds health care broadly through the Canada health transfer, but it also funds the purchase of new technology through targeted transfers such as the medical and diagnostic equipment fund.

It is worth noting that in the last 10 years Canada has tripled its MRI capacity and increased its CT scanner capacity by 71%. Technology improves the quality of health care, especially with regard to safety. Bringing in new diagnostic equipment can help detect health problems sooner and speed up the treatment of a disease. In other cases, new treatments can be developed for patients for whom there had been no treatment before. New diagnostic equipment and new treatments, together, are improving lives and increasing the number of people who survive an illness.

Nevertheless, we must be cautious. New technology must be evaluated, not just from the point of view of medical science but also from the perspective of the management of medicine.

The development of new technology is always linked to research and the Government of Canada invests directly in Canadian research and is guided by the science and technology strategy. Much of the health research done in Canada is done through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. For the last decade, the role of the CIHR has been growing and, in budget 2010, an additional $16 million were added to its research budget. Its total annual investment in research in this country is now close to $1 billion.

There is also privately funded medical research going on in this country that the government supports through incentives for private sector research and development. Motion No. 513 also calls upon the government to promote injury prevention and healthier lifestyles. Those are issues that this government has already taken head on. For example, we have committed significant funding for participaction, the food and consumer safety action plan and other programs designed to foster healthier and safer lives for Canadians.

In addition, we know that Canadians are aware of the need to have a healthier lifestyle in order to maintain health but we need to keep encouraging them to take action. It is estimated that physical inactivity costs the health system $5.3 billion every year. Obesity is believed to cost the system another $4.3 billion. Together they present nearly a $10 billion strain on health care. These are conditions, not illnesses, but they foster illness, many of which could be prevented through proper diet and physical activity.

This government has high profile programs, such as the children's fitness tax credit, Canada's physical activity guides, Canada's food guide and participaction, but there are equally important programs that take aim at the underlying causes of preventable chronic disease.

Through the integrated strategy on healthy living and disease, the federal government looks at the common risk factors, measures their impact and promotes effective prevention programs. Our government not only works on preventing illness, but also preventing injury. If we prevent injuries we keep more people out of doctors' offices and hospitals.

It is worth keeping in mind that injuries are the leading cause of death for Canadians under age 45. Overall, they are the fifth leading cause of death for people of all age groups. Injuries are a particular concern for people who are 65 or older. In fact, injuries that are the result of a fall are responsible for 80% of all injury-related hospitalizations for that age group.

We have identified several other high risk groups so that our investments in injury prevention can be used most effectively. In the Speech from the Throne, our government committed to develop a national strategy of childhood injury prevention in partnership with non-governmental organizations. In a broader way, we have invested in preventing injuries from dangerous consumer products by developing the food and consumer safety action plan.

Finally, Motion No. 513 calls for better recognition of the changing roles of health care workers. As we all know, health care is not one profession, it is many professions working toward the same purpose. The roles and responsibilities of health care professionals have evolved to meet the needs of Canadians. For example, the nurse practitioner has expanded the role of nurses so that in many isolated communities they are now providing some services that in the past a nurse could not have done.

There are many other examples of how the roles of health care professionals have evolved to meet the needs of Canadians. This motion calls for better recognition of that reality and I expect that fact will be taken into account when the members of the House are deciding whether to give their support.

I sincerely hope I have provided hon. members of the House with information that will assist them in making their decision with reference to Motion No. 513. I certainly encourage everyone to support the motion of my colleague, the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

Health Care SystemPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.