Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on this very important and very urgent issue.
Over the past 12 years or so, I have been very involved in the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association. I am co-chair and Senator Andreychuk is the other co-chair. This association brings together over a hundred parliamentarians from every party in both chambers with an affinity for and a real interest in Africa.
As a result, we are concerned not only about the existing crisis in West Africa, but also about the potential consequences it could have for the population of the entire world.
When I was asked if I was interested in speaking, I agreed to do so, just as I did during the emergency debate that was held the first evening the House resumed.
Roughly 34 million Canadians are represented by the 308 members of the House; actually it is now 306 members, to be more precise. I was hoping that, out of respect for Parliament, the government would support this motion, and I would like to spend a little bit of time talking about that.
Every member represents tens of thousands of Canadians who often seek information or help from their member of Parliament. In my office, as in the offices of most of my colleagues from all parties, we have have received calls from constituents asking questions about the Ebola crisis and its potential consequences, what they should do and what the government, public institutions, hospitals and doctors are doing.
I am a bit surprised because the comments I heard from the government members indicate that they are going to vote against the motion. I am surprised and disappointed by that because, at times like this, we need to put partisanship completely aside. We need to rely on the fact that the mandate of the 306 members—338 after the next election—goes beyond partisanship. Members of Parliament are there to provide information to Canadians and help them when possible and necessary. In this case, timely and accurate information is of the utmost importance.
For example, today I received an MP kit on Ebola, and I believe all of the members should have received one as well. I got it this morning, but I had hoped to receive it some time ago. I read it quickly and saw that it was not very complete. Information was missing, and we are not going to get that information during question period. That is not the right platform. It could come during a routine committee meeting, for example, and that is what we are proposing, so that members can ask questions. If I were not a member of the committee, I could certainly speak to colleagues who are so that they could raise some of the questions that my constituents asked me.
A question came to me after someone told me that people who have contracted the virus are not contagious until their fever has reached a certain level. Is that true? If it is true, we should know. If that information is in the kit, I have not yet come across it, but I do not believe it is in there.
Nonetheless, that is the kind of information that people have a right to know, and it could also help calm the fear that is unfortunately starting to take root, less so here than elsewhere. We are seeing the situation unfold in Texas, and we saw it a bit in Spain.
I think it would be worthwhile for members of all parties to have access to all the information so that we can ask the important questions. That is the role of Parliament in situations such as this. No matter who is in power, that government has a responsibility to respect that role and help MPs inform the public objectively and accurately so as not to stir up fear.
In situations like this, if we let the media—which tend to sensationalize things sometimes—do this job, we might end up with people who are worried for no reason. That is the main reason I would like to see the government support the motion. It would give us a mechanism requiring the ministers in charge to appear before a committee every week or two to update members. Of course, I would hope that these meetings would be public and broadcast on television. The media would be there and it would be a way to regularly update Canadians from coast to coast on what is happening, on what the government is doing, on developments, initiatives and so on. I think this motion is altogether positive.
Occasionally, the Minister of Health might be unable to participate. If that happens, as an exception, I think that my colleagues would be okay with the deputy minister appearing. This is not a hard and fast obligation. This is about respecting parliamentarians and their role in serving Canadians and the people they represent.
I would really like my colleagues opposite—those listening, anyway—to think about that and pass the message on to the people who decide whether they vote for or against this motion.
I wanted to mention a few other facts. There has been some positive news in the past few days. We all heard on the news that Nigeria was declared free of Ebola. There have been no new cases of Ebola in the country for over 40 days, which is twice as long as the virus's incubation period. That goes for Senegal too. There seems to be good news in Spain as well. The nurse who had the virus seems to be free of the disease now. These encouraging signs suggest that we really can contain the virus. When I spoke to this the night we came back, I talked about how we should focus more on preventing the spread of the virus.
Its containment is extremely important, as members would realize, and in the three countries most affected, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, it has not yet been contained. Everyone recognizes that and I think everyone is starting, including the United Nations, WHO, donating countries, to realize that this is where the effort has to be concentrated.
For instance, there is a very valid argument going on as to whether or not it is useful to do what we are doing at the airports, or some people are doing at airports, in testing the body temperature of passengers when they arrive. If an individual has the virus and it has not yet manifested itself and they do not have a fever, it will not be detected. Therefore, they will be carrying it into whatever country they are arriving in, and after that it could develop. Therefore, the usefulness of that exercise is somewhat questionable.
The suggestions I have heard that I think are more stringent and more demanding, but perhaps much more efficient, would be to control access to those leaving the three countries where it is not yet contained, whether it is Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea. Anyone getting on a plane there should be subjected to very stringent measures so that we know it will not be carried away.
I do not know what kinds of measures. I am not a scientist, and it may require some time, so people may not be able to leave the country for a long time. That is the nature of quarantine. We are prepared to quarantine people here in Canada. We have no problem with that, if they do carry the virus. Why then are we not putting that question into where the virus now resides and make sure in a way that it does not leave that area and does not spread? I think that would be a much more efficient way. I am wondering if the government has considered that, and if there are ways we could help those three countries to ensure it is not spread.
That is the containment portion of this issue.
Yes, we have to be prepared in case something such as unfortunately happened in Texas and in Spain happens in Canada. My sense is that finally we are getting to that level, and that is good. The level of preparedness has to spread and be applied throughout the country. If someone arrives here with the virus undetected, develops a fever down the road and goes into a hospital, he or she is not going to pick the hospital that has been picked for that province to be the hospital dealing with Ebola, especially if he or she lives in a city that does not have that hospital.
Therefore, the staff members, I suspect, of all hospitals are going to have to be better prepared and equipped to deal with it. That is the second phase of what we need to do, and I would hope that for public health facilities and staff, advice will be propagated rapidly on the methods that are necessary to ensure that should the virus get here it would be contained immediately. This is very important. I do not think anyone would disagree with that, so let us ensure that is indeed happening.
The last thing we need to deal with is finding a vaccine for this virus. That is a mixed bag because the fact that DND in the past developed one, and ZMapp another one, is at least encouraging. There is the fact that no corporation thought that it would be profitable to do so. Because the previous incidents of Ebola in Africa were in small, isolated areas and it spread in that area and then died or stopped spreading, no one wanted to develop a vaccine because they did not see a profit from it. I imagine there are corporations now that think differently. Even if not, governments including ours have to think differently and have to ensure that there is a vaccine developed for this virus. Whether we do it ourselves or we do it in conjunction with other countries, it has to happen and I would hope that we would put the resources we have to that effect. It seems that we are headed that way so that, too, is encouraging.
I got a recommendation that is also interesting from a constituent today. My leader asked a question for the Prime Minister during question period and did not get an answer. At some point, I would hope we would consider this seriously. That is the notion that whenever we have had situations around the world of serious earthquakes or flooding and people and whole communities are affected, where people die and then diseases step in because there are no health facilities available, we have encouraged Canadians to donate by having government match their donations.
There are numerous Canadians right now, some of them for their own concerns and concern for their relatives, who would want us to be able to get to the level where we have contained the disease, we are prepared and we find a vaccine, and they would be prepared to contribute to that. There is also a significant number of Canadians who would want to contribute to charitable organizations that are duly credited and recognized by Revenue Canada and that are officially involved in this effort in western Africa.
Nothing is unlimited and the government could put a limit on it. However, if the government says that it has put $65 million in, and that it is prepared to match for another x millions of dollars any donations from Canadians to help fight this situation, get it under control and develop a vaccine, which would be the solution eventually so once we have managed to contain this one if another occurrence of the virus happens, we would have the instruments necessary to extinguish it immediately, I would think the Government of Canada would do a good thing by that. It would not be just for the world, but for our own citizens who would want to contribute and would feel that their contribution would generate a matching donation from the government to tackle the most significant health situation now around the world.
I am going back to the motion that is before us. I hope that we do not see the government defeating this because it would indicate a total lack of respect and caring for the Parliament of Canada.
We are here as duly elected representatives, each with tens of thousands of constituents who are all concerned about this situation and want some regularly updated, objective, factual information and advice they can incorporate in their daily work and routines, especially if they have to travel, because people are getting concerned about that. I think that would be good.
Once we manage to contain and end this, the world will have a huge job to do in helping these three countries in particular and those in that general area, because their economies are just wrecked right now.
All three countries' economies are tanking. Companies are shutting down and people are on the verge of panic. Unfortunately, this could go on for a while. Even the World Health Organization has recognized that we are still a long way from containing the virus. That organization has sketched a scary picture: if this virus is not contained soon, over 1 million people could die from it.
I prepared a short report for my directors in August. I said that 4,500 people had been infected and that 2,200 of them had died. Those numbers have since doubled. Nearly 10,000 people have been infected, and roughly 4,500 or more have died. Furthermore, it is estimated that there could be another 10,000 cases by the end of the month. I think that is forcing people to wake up. It is time to take clearer, more aggressive action and to ask Canadians to take part in this effort.
I talked about this earlier, but I would like to repeat a suggestion that someone shared with me, something that I think would be very interesting. The government could match any donations made by Canadians to charitable organizations registered with the CRA that are already involved in the effort to contain the virus and help the people in those countries. There is a tremendous need in terms of health and the protection of individuals, as well as our volunteers, including the doctors and nurses working on the ground. The number of health care professionals, such as doctors and nurses, who have been infected with the virus and have died is frightening.
I think that our hats should go off to these people. I am among those who recognize the value of our army and our soldiers, but these people make an extraordinary effort and put their own lives at risk because they understand very well how important it is to contain this situation. We must help these people. We must help the victims and the children whose parents died from this virus. We must help people get food and water. The aid needed by these three countries in particular is immense. I think it would be good to encourage Canadians to contribute to the cause and ensure that the government matches the donations made by Canadians.
Twice now we have debated this subject in Parliament in a short amount of time. That is because the situation is not under control and is even getting worse. I would think that the political and public authorities appreciate the magnitude of the situation by now and the need to address it quickly and bring it under control as soon as possible.