House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentences.


6:30 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that our Conservative government is committed to protecting the health and well-being of all Canadians, including those who live in first nations on reserve and Inuit communities.

We work hard on prevention and the overall health status of first nations on reserve and Inuit people, including TB rates.

Our Conservative government remains committed to supporting and working with communities, provincial and territorial health care systems, scientific experts, and all TB partners to assist in the prevention and reduction of TB by developing scientific evidence-based advice regarding TB prevention and control in Canada.

As the House knows, there are many things that contribute to TB: high smoking rates, poor nutrition and overcrowding. We are working hand in hand with other ministers in our government to address these very important issues.

In addition, our Conservative government currently provides funding for the TB prevention and control program in the territories and provinces. The three northern territories are responsible for all health program service delivery which incorporates TV prevention and control activities for all territorial residents including first nations and Inuit.

As opposed to the previous Liberal government that cut funding transfers to the provinces and the territories, we have not only maintained funding but increased it by 6% per year.

In 2009-10 the Government of Canada invested $9.6 million to support the delivery of health promotion, TB prevention and control services on reserve across Canada, and to support some collaborative project-based work with Inuit communities.

Canada has adopted the global stop TB rate reduction target of 3.6 cases per 100,000 population by 2015 for the entire Canadian population including first nations and Inuit.

As the House knows, some remote and isolated first nations on reserve and Inuit communities face the additional challenges of related social determinants of health. Poverty, overcrowded housing, and other existing diseases such as diabetes and HIV-AIDS, and the lack of ready access to a full range of medical services, all increase the risk of TB among aboriginal people.

In addition, the unique cultural, educational and language differences that prevail in many aboriginal communities can sometimes present barriers to receiving appropriate health care made only worse by their geographical remoteness.

Speaking of Health Canada's specific mandate for on reserve populations, Health Canada makes TB prevention and control programs available to first nations. This includes: enhanced screening, surveillance, contact investigation, centralized case management, directly observed therapy for disease cases, a controlled system of medical and medication supply, education and awareness activities.

As previously mentioned, the delivery of health care services in the territories is the responsibility of territorial governments. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada provide funding to support health promotion and disease prevention activities in the territories. The Public Health Agency of Canada is responsible for the overall management of TB prevention and control in Canada.

I wish to reiterate that our Conservative government will continue to work with all first nations on reserve and Inuit communities, leadership and other partners to help prevent TB, and help improve the overall health status of aboriginal Canadians. A critical part of that work will focus on the reduction of tuberculosis.

6:35 p.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the perfect storm is brewing. Each of the social determinants of health, which cause concern, are combining to create a deadly state of affairs.

I call on the government to first convene an emergency health ministers meeting and to work with aboriginal people, the provinces and territories to send in crisis teams to the worst hit communities.

Working in tandem, the government must invite aboriginal people to the table and more importantly, listen. It must address its tuberculosis efforts immediately and set measurable achievable targets with timelines, with real resources. The government must also address the social determinants of health, food insecurity, income, overcrowding, poverty and water.

Finally, the Auditor General might be called in to review why $47 million was spent over the last five years with no change in TB rates.

6:35 p.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

As I said, Mr. Speaker, Health Canada's First Nation and Inuit Health Branch, FNIHB, works collaboratively with other government departments, provinces, non-governmental organizations, and national aboriginal organizations in an effort to reduce the burden of tuberculosis on the aboriginal people of Canada.

Health Canada is committed to TB reduction among all Canadians and focuses specific efforts on behalf of first nations on reserve and Inuit communities.

Health Canada has adopted the global stop TB rate reduction target of 3.6 cases per 100,000 by 2015 for the Canadian population including aboriginal people. The delivery of health care services in the territories is the responsibility of the territorial governments and we are working closely with them.

First nations and Inuit regional health offices work closely with partners to deliver TB prevention and control services. These partnerships exist across each of the regions and include the Public Health Agency of Canada, the provinces, local or regional health authorities, and communities to support TB reduction through the application of evidence-based TB standards, clinical practice and first nations focused TB research.

6:35 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to raise an issue with regard to a prison in Afghanistan.

Back in March, I had asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the construction of a new prison, which was apparently promised by Canada, the British and the Dutch. There was a letter that was sent on February 12, 2009. The head of the national security directorate for Afghanistan, Mr. Saleh, confirmed that in fact discussions had occurred. Then we apparently indicated that in fact we were not going to be building any prison. This was, of course, to house Afghan detainees.

What is very interesting about this is that the minister said he had no knowledge of it, and he indicated that Canada is not in the business of building prisons and that we do not do those kind of things. That is all very nice.

I was surprised at the minister's response, given that the head of the national security directorate had confirmed publicly that in fact those discussions had occurred.

But even if I accept the minister's response, on April 22 at the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, I posed the same question to the then ambassador, Mr. Hoffman, in our embassy in Kabul. I was told that in fact this letter was signed while he was in Islamabad on official business and that it was in error.

I do not know how governments can be making these kinds of errors where they in fact indicate to our allies that we are going to undertake to build a prison along with the British and the Dutch and apparently it was in error.

Now, how many other errors do we see on that side of the House?

The fact is that we had given clear intent to build a prison.

Part of the difficulty we are having with the Afghan detainees issue is of course that we turned them over to the NDS, and part of that problem means we cannot keep track of what has happened to those detainees.

I found it rather interesting that the minister indicates he did not know about it and we are not in the business of doing so. Yet we have a letter, dated February 2009, which clearly indicates we are entering into an arrangement with the Afghans, and Mr. Saleh, the head of NDS, came out said he wanted to know what had happened, how come we had not delivered, along with the British and the Dutch.

If this is a mistake officially or a misunderstanding, then I really do question this. It is obviously not a way either to conduct foreign policy or, obviously, to get our allies on side.

I want to make sure I am very clear here. I am going to quote Mr. Hoffman from the committee:

One of the realities of the Afghan prison system was one of insufficient capacity.

And Canada was approached to contribute to address this issue; I quote, “We had agreed in principle to provide equipment...” to build capacity.

I would like to know from the parliamentary secretary, through you, Mr. Speaker, if he could give me a breakdown on the amount we were to provide to deal with this deficiency. Very clearly, we cannot be making these kinds of errors to our allies, where in fact we indicate the severity of the issue dealing with detainees and yet, at the same time, we are not delivering what we promised. That obviously is not good for Canada's reputation.

The Americans, as we know, do not turn them over. They have their own facility.

Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could clarify why Canada would not have gone in with our other allies to do this, since it would have avoided much of the problem that the government finds itself in today, with regard to redacted documents and the whole issue of who is telling the truth.

6:40 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that the government does not find itself in any trouble, contrary to what the member is saying. However, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question and the opportunity to set the record straight with regard to the 2007 proposal to build a Kabul-based national directorate security detention facility, as well as discuss our efforts to help the government of Afghanistan meet its domestic and international obligations with respect to the treatment of detainees.

In response to the hon. member's question, I would like to clarify that the proposal to build the Kabul-based national directorate security detention facility in 2007 was a U.K.-led initiative, which ultimately did not come to pass. To be clear, Canada never promised to build a detention facility in Afghanistan.

At the time the reference letter was sent, Canada was still in the early stages of determining the scope of our support for the initiatives as part of our broad effort to strengthen Afghan correction capabilities. The extent of our potential support would, nevertheless, have been limited to ameliorating the living conditions for both staff and inmates through funding for the construction of a clinic and administrative facility. I would also like to underscore that the proposed facility would have remained in the hands of the NDS and would have been run and operated by the Afghans.

As the Minister of Foreign Affairs has said, Canada is not in the business of building or running Afghan prisons. Rather, Canada is committed to looking closely at the government of Afghanistan to strengthen its capacity regarding the treatment of detainees. I assure everyone that Canadian officials continue to lend their expertise to ongoing efforts to strengthen Afghan institutions, to find ways to further strengthen the NDS capacity regarding respect for human rights, and the handling of detainees and record keeping.

To the member's question on what Canada has been doing, I would like to say that to enhance prison conditions Canada is funding over $5.5 million in infrastructure projects, support and training in detention facilities in Kandahar. Further, as part of our capacity-building efforts, we have also provided $7 million over four years to help strengthen the capacity of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to monitor human rights in Afghanistan, including those of prisoners in detention facilities.

Canada is committed to working closely with the government of Afghanistan to strengthen its capacity regarding the treatment of detainees and we are doing so in collaboration with our allies.

6:45 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a question that remains. The ambassador was in Islamabad and an employee at the embassy apparently prematurely signed this agreement to go ahead with the prison, along with the British and the Dutch. Who would have that kind of signing authority to sign off on such an important document while the ambassador was away?

This is called a misstep, this is called, “No, we do not take responsibility for this”. The head of the NDS clearly believed that when this document was signed, presumably by somebody at the embassy who had authority, that in fact this was a go. Even though the parliamentary secretary says Canada is not in the business of doing so, one would suggest that there was obviously authority for someone to do it and that has caused Canada embarrassment, certainly with our Afghan allies, and with the Dutch and British.

6:45 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the hon. member saying that Canada has been embarrassed with our allies, that is absolutely utter nonsense. Canada came out with an enhanced agreement in 2007 that ensures that the detainees who are transferred by Canada to detention facilities are monitored by Canadian officials. Over 200 visits have been made to detention facilities to ensure that no torture of detainees takes place, in accordance with international law.

What the hon. member forgot to say is that during the committee hearings, every Canadian official from the military, in the prisons, everyone who is over there have all said they know what their international obligations are and, accordingly, they work under those international obligations. We are extremely proud of their efforts in Afghanistan.

6:45 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the Arctic summit would have been a great opportunity to regain our lost respect and lost leadership in the Arctic. Unfortunately, we did not do that.

We have lost our leadership by sending lower officials to sub-meetings. In fact, we even fired our circumpolar ambassador. At the summit when Hillary Clinton criticized Canada for emissions, that had been unheard of in diplomatic circles. The United States is our closest friend and ally. Imagine the United States in a public situation like that, criticizing Canada on the Arctic. What about the countries that are actually against this? Imagine how they are feeling.

I want to talk about two outcomes, or lack thereof, from the summit.

First, it was suggested by the minister that the summit talked about a legally binding search and rescue agreement through the Arctic Council. That is rich for Canada to be talking about that. We have gone to a number of Arctic conferences recently and even brought forward the idea of sharing in search and rescue in the Arctic, which of course is needed. It is ironic that we are talking about it when we cannot even do our own search and rescue in the north.

As I have been saying for years, we do not have a single fixed-wing search and rescue plane in our fleet stationed north of 60. We do not have one of our search and rescue specialized helicopters stationed north of 60. Unlike other Canadians, northerners in harsher conditions have to wait for those planes to come from the far south. Why are we putting our armed forces at risk? Parliament was told years ago that the ageing search and rescue fleet, not only for the Arctic but for the whole country, needed to be replaced. Where is it? There is no sign of it being replaced anytime soon and Canadians and the military are being put at risk.

The second item I wanted to speak about on the summit was that the Arctic Ocean coastal states discussed the central importance of scientific research to better understand the dynamics of the region, especially as it relates to natural resource development. While we are all talking about how important science research is, I wonder if the other countries know how much Canada has cut research in the Arctic in recent years.

It is amazing that the entire Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences has been cancelled. That whole organization has projects all over the country. A lot of them are related to the north. Some are related to drought in the Prairies. Think of all our Arctic climate scientists in the country. It is as though we were in the dark ages, cancelling all that, closing it just like that. Even PEARL, which is close to the North Pole, will have to close. That is where most of the funding came from. We will abandon any sovereignty that particular station gave us by having scientists up there. More important, we are losing the ongoing collection of statistics that we need year after year, and which are more important now than at any other time in history because of the rapidly changing Arctic.

When it comes to natural resource development all countries agree that this is important. For over a year now, at committee I have been raising the importance for Canada to study the effect of oil spills and how to develop in the north. Time and time again, if we look at committee records, the government refused to invest in that. Now look what happened off the coast of Louisiana, an easy situation to clean up as it is warm water, but imagine if that occurred under the ice in the north. The Beaufort project in the 1970s which never got finished would have provided a solution, but the government will not proceed with more research.

6:50 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak about a very important event regarding the Arctic which the Minister of Foreign Affairs recently hosted in Canada.

The hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs invited the foreign ministers of the five Arctic Ocean coastal states, Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, to Chelsea on March 29, 2010. The minister had a forward-looking dialogue on issues related to the roles and responsibilities that each of these countries have in their jurisdiction in the Arctic Ocean.

This is in addition to the commitments that all five countries made in 2008 at the Ilulissat declaration and complements our discussions and collaboration with all Arctic states, Arctic indigenous people and others through the Arctic Council, the central forum for international co-operation on Arctic issues.

It is entirely appropriate for the five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean to get together to discuss issues of mutual importance. The fact that the five countries all sent senior ministers indicates that they think this is a very important conference, too.

For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted on CTV some of the reasons that the five countries should get together. She said, “If there is an oil spill or if there is an accident out there on a platform of some kind, who is going to come? It is going to be Canadians, Americans, Russians, Norwegians” and Danes. We are the ones who are going to be there first because we are the closest.

As far as the hon. member's assertion that northerners were not involved and his pointing out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's comments, I would like to advise the member that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the chief diplomat of the U.S.A., not the chief diplomat of Canada. The chief diplomat of Canada is the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs who works differently in Canada than they work in the United States.

Let me just put on the record very clearly that the Minister of Foreign Affairs met with territorial premiers and indigenous representatives to talk about the Chelsea meeting before it took place, because our government highly values the fundamental role that northerners contribute to the international Arctic issue. This meeting was in addition to the regular high-level Arctic Council advisory committee that we have in place that meets regularly to discuss important Arctic issues.

In closing, Canada did the right thing. We took a leadership position on an issue important to Canadians that resulted in action.

6:55 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary actually put a quote out there that exactly made my case when he said that Hillary Clinton asked who was going to clean up an oil spill. That is the question, when Canada will not invest in the research to clean up those oil spills.

Right now it is not technically possible to clean up an oil spill under ice. Maybe 25% of the world's reserves of hydrocarbons are in the north. The Conservative government would love to access those, but by refusing to put enough money into research to stop something like the environmental disaster that is occurring right now in the gulf near Louisiana, the projects will not be approved by any environmental assessment agency worth its salt.

This was a lost opportunity. The government could have announced major research in that area. It could have announced that it is finally putting search and rescue planes north of 60 so they can meaningfully participate in Arctic research with other northern nations.

6:55 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the hon. member that it is this government that has allocated an unprecedented amount of money and resources to maintain our sovereignty over the Arctic.

This government, as the Prime Minister has said, has to assert our sovereignty over the north. Our sovereignty comes from a lot of other actions, including the one the hon. member is talking about, providing search and rescue, research stations and everything. This government is committed to doing it and money has been allocated toward those projects.

6:55 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:57 p.m.)