Madam Speaker, as a woman who, like most Canadians, has had friends and family struggle against cancer, I am proud to be given the opportunity to rise today in the House and state without reservation that I will use my mandate to search for practical and effective ways to fight cancer.
Canadians need first rate prevention strategies that include increased access to doctors, increased access to specialists, better screening, earlier screening, first rate equipment, dedicated funding and better access to necessary medications and progressive research. Access, equipment and funding are the silver bullets that make the most difference in the lives of cancer patients.
As I read the bill before us, I was searching for these targets but, I am saddened to say, I found none. It is not that Canada does not need a bill to help fight against breast cancer, it is that we need a better bill. There are real ways that the government can make a difference and Bill C-314 shirks that responsibility.
First, education and awareness are not enough to combat health care problems. I have seen again and again over the past six months how keen the government is to throw huge amounts of money at educational and awareness campaigns while ignoring the tangible systemic problems that need to be addressed.
Awareness is a first step, and I would never degrade the necessity of education, but what is a woman who discovers that she is at risk for breast cancer to do when she does not have access to a family doctor?
I come from Scarborough—Rouge River, an urban riding in the greater Toronto area. One would think that being in an urban centre, people would not have a problem in terms of access to doctors. However, from the day I was elected, I have heard constantly from my constituents that they do not have family doctors and cannot afford the time and money required to travel to a place where they can see a doctor or a specialist. With the state of public transit being what it is for my constituents, I cannot say that I blame them. I takes two hours one way to go downtown. Would hon. members travel hours and hours on public transit to go to the doctor's office? I know I would not.
Unless the government is willing to back this awareness campaign with federal money aimed at providing women with dense breast tissue direct access to doctors and state of the art screening equipment, such as a digital MRI mammogram machine, then all the education and awareness in the world will not really help these women.
I have witnessed this trend again and again. A federal program will take one shallow step toward addressing the real problem and that is where it stops.
This is a game of optics. The Conservatives want to give the appearance that they are taking action on health care issues, without actually doing anything.
The women of Nunavut do not have a breast cancer screening program at all. This is urgent. This is something that we can do that will have real effect on women's lives.
If the government is serious about preventing breast cancer, then the bill in our hands today would be, among other things, a comprehensive proposal to work with our provincial governments and territorial governments to create a breast cancer screening program in Nunavut. The women of Nunavut and other rural communities in the north are already at risk. They are farthest away from hospitals and are often some of the poorest in our country, as we have recently learned with the community of Attawapiskat and many others. It is utterly negligent for the government to deny them access to basic health care while providing, through the bill, education that says, rightly, that more women should be tested and more frequently.
I would ask the Minister of Health to explain this hypocrisy to the House today and, if she cannot, then to commit to creating legislation that will ensure that Nunavut has equal access to essential health services, as it is their right to have.
My colleagues and I are not alone in thinking that the bill is weak and ineffective. The Canadian Breast Cancer Network is the national link between all of Canada's breast cancer prevention organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Breast Cancer Foundation of Canada, and they do not believe that the bill does enough to enhance screening for women at risk of breast cancer.
I know that the government has a hard time listening to expert advice from those members of civil society who know better than it does, but I beg the government to take note of three major recommendations that the Canadian Breast Cancer Network is saying will make a real difference for Canadian women.
First is new clinical screening machines, MRI digital mammogram machines, that are more routinely used on all women. We must invest in state-of-the-art technology to save cancer patients now. A government that can invest in fighter jets can surely afford the diagnostic machines that have been proven to save the lives of cancer patients.
Second, screening for all women should begin at the age of 40. The government must fund a federal program to establish screening programs for women aged 40 to 49. It is proven that early detection is paramount with breast cancer, and that is why a program that gives women access to doctors and screening before the age of 50 is crucial.
Third, the CBCN has identified that Nunavut must have a breast cancer screening program. We must work with the territorial government to fund this program to reach out to at-risk women instead of demanding that they travel out of territory to receive equal health care.
While the Canadian Cancer Society is, of course, eager for legislation aimed at preventing breast cancer, it has come out and said that this bill will not produce any tangible outcomes for breast cancer patients and their families.
It is also important that we speak to the needs of families when we talk about cancer.
Anyone who has had a family member with cancer, as I have, can tell us how important it is to be supported in the role of an informal caregiver. We do not have enough home care in any of our provinces or territories in Canada; when family members become ill, it almost always falls on their family and community to care for them. This has practical repercussions on people's lives. When I say “support”, I do not mean only emotional and spiritual support for the patient. Although the value of emotional support is unquantifiable in difficult times, Canadians need practical financial support as well.
Alex Jahad, a physician who was the keynote speaker at the CAT conference, said in his address that informal caregivers are the largest invisible majority in health care. They are usually women who are also working and at the same time raising children. Less than one-quarter of these women receive any financial support from the system. In consequence, they themselves will develop chronic conditions and illnesses brought on by overwork and stress.
Dr. Jahad said that the amount of unpaid informal care that takes place in Canada translates to $80 billion to $90 billion of labour. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to remind the House about the NDP's position on increasing access to employment insurance for anybody who must take leave from work in order to take care of a sick relative.
There are real changes that can be made to help fight breast cancer, and we know what they are. The experts have told us what they are. This government is lacking the political will to take serious action. We must fund programs and create the legislation that will have real effects on the lives of Canadians, not just short-term bandage solutions.