Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak about a world crisis.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
Eleven years ago, Toronto was overwhelmed by a virus, which arrived from Hong Kong, called SARS. I want to give the House some appreciation of the impact. It is estimated that it cost the world $40 billion in health care and productivity costs. We are coming close to that figure now for the Ebola crisis. Estimates of a $30-billion cost, just to try to corral the disease, have come to light, and Canadians are telling us in great numbers that Canada should be doing as much as it possibly can, including sending military response teams, which so far the government has refused to do.
I want to come back to the SARS experience. My wife had a very personal experience with the SARS outbreak. She was diagnosed with breast cancer just after the hospitals started closing in Toronto. The hospitals started closing in Toronto because the SARS outbreak was impossible to corral. People did not really understand it and did not know what to do. All of a sudden, her surgery to remove part of her breast was cancelled, because the hospitals were no longer accepting patients. Now she had a rapidly growing tumour in her body that could not be removed.
Somehow our family doctor managed to find a doctor willing to do the operation at a hospital in Toronto. It was one of the most eerie and disturbing experiences anyone could hope to imagine. Late in the evening, I had to pull up to the outside of the hospital and let her go in on her own. I was not allowed in. She had to check in with the security guard and then find her own way to the 11th floor, where she was the only person. She had to go to her own bed and wait there in the hope that someone would show up. That is how empty that hospital was. The next day, a surgeon and a small surgical team operated. That experience was repeated over and over again in Toronto as Toronto tried to deal with the very real problem of trying to maintain a health system while the health system itself was under attack.
Something that I am not sure everybody here understands is that one of the potential problems with this disease is that it is so easily spread that even health care workers who are taking extreme precautions, as has been the case in Dallas and Spain, have become infected. No one is really certain why these health care workers became infected, because they should not have. They had been taking precautions. If that is the ease with which this disease can spread, how are hospitals in my city of Toronto going to cope when and if cases of Ebola, and I do not think it is a matter of if but of when, start arriving in greater numbers than we have already experienced?
There are currently 9,000 or so reported cases of Ebola in West Africa, and there is no travel ban. There is no limit on people travelling out of that area. The incubation period for this disease before any symptoms arise is between two and 21 days. That means that people can be travelling while infected and not know it. We are apparently conducting some voluntary screening of some passengers who are coming from these affected places, but I am very afraid that we are going to have a very serious problem should this disease make its inexorable travel to more countries, including Canada.
The mayor of my city has learned, as have I, that the government has declared at least one hospital in Toronto and 10 in Ontario as special hospitals for dealing with potential Ebola cases. In a letter to the Prime Minister that I do not believe has been responded to yet, the mayor asked for more details on the Government of Canada's plans to protect residents of Toronto and the GTA should any cases of the Ebola virus be positively identified in Canada and in Toronto.
A Toronto hospital has been designated to care for Canadian responders if any become infected in the Ebola zone in West Africa and are transferred back to Canada for care. We have a situation in which the government has decided, absent the City of Toronto, that it will designate a hospital, with all good intentions, I am sure. However, the people of Toronto should know what is going on. There should be some transparency. The mayor has asked for that transparency. We, too, would like that transparency.
The member for Vancouver East has asked similar questions of the Minister of Health, questions about who is responsible for ensuring quarantine and about who is responsible for making sure that the hospitals and medical practitioners have the appropriate equipment.
It has become clear that the equipment that we thought was appropriate is not working, because 20% of the victims of this virus are health care workers. That means that they are not able to protect themselves. As we have found out, two, one in Texas and one in Spain, became infected while caring for a patient with all of the west's most modern equipment. Something is wrong with the approach we are taking.
There are a number of other questions I will not go through, but those questions deserve answers. The Minister of Health needs to respond to our critic for health so that we can have a dialogue, so that we can begin the process the Liberal opposition day motion would like to continue, which is to continue the process of providing information to members of Parliament, through the committee, on a twice monthly basis.
That, in itself, is not enough. There will need to be a whole lot more done, but it is a good start. We will be supporting this motion.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that in my riding of York South—Weston, there is a company called Tagg Design that two years ago developed a system for hospitals to use to protect themselves, to protect health care workers and others, from the transmission of infectious diseases inside a hospital. That system was a system of signage, a system of making sure that doors were sealed and that doors had signs on them to say that the patient behind the door required this kind of protection for the health care workers.
We wrote to the Minister of Health at the time and asked for a meeting to discuss this kind of system, which the WHO is very interested in and which Canadian hospitals that have tried it have found to be effective.
We asked the minister for a meeting to discuss how the Government of Canada could assist in promoting this kind of inside-the-hospital protection against the transmission of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, the minister refused to meet with us. We had an indication from the government that it was really not interested in proactive measures to protect health care workers from the spread of infectious diseases, and not just health care workers but other people who use those hospitals.
We know that the government would rather just let things take place. Apparently it has designated a hospital, and we do not know which one, as the place where people will go. We do not know whether that will then require the closure of that hospital.
If a hospital is declared the place where Canadian health care workers go if they contract Ebola, and that hospital is in my city, I would like to know. The medical staff of that hospital would probably like to know that the hospital has been so designated so they can start planning around it, so they can start determining whether it has to rearrange the schedules for surgeries and other care for patients who are there. It is quite likely, given the experiences in Texas and Spain, that if a number of patients with Ebola arrive at a hospital, we are going to see it close. We are going to see that hospital become, itself, quarantined.
That is an effect of this disease that has yet to be discussed in any form. It has been asked about, by our mayor and others. What are the government's plans? As of this moment, we do not have answers, and we need those answers. This motion will help give us those answers.