House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was csis.


Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the member will get much argument from the NDP with respect to the importance of transparency. On June 18, 2013, we wanted to pass a motion to unanimously propose to entrench independent oversight of parliamentary expenditures.

I would like to ask the leader of the Liberal Party this. Even the best possible reform of access to information, basically changing the rules, will never be sufficient if the people in power conspire to thwart the system. With respect to the Board of Internal Economy, what is substantial in his bill to ensure that those in power would not manipulate the system?

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of the Board of Internal Economy, the guarantee is that it is composed of members from all parties of the House, including the member's party, and it would require unanimous consent, so consent by his party as well, to go in camera. The fact is that open by default for the Board of Internal Economy can only be achieved through a change made to the Parliament of Canada Act. That is what we are proposing right now.

We are happy the New Democrats continue to support it, as they have all along.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating our leader for the courageous decisions he has already taken and for the courage of his convictions in putting forth this private member's bill.

I want to go back to something he alluded to at the very beginning of his remarks. He talked about expanding on two important measures: first, opening up a secretive Board of Internal Economy; and, second, opening up and making more transparent all government information when we live in a time of incredible modern technology. Access to information is critical.

However, he alluded to something very important, which I think is foundational to his intention here today. Could he help us understand how this would drive up confidence, confidence in government generally in the 21st century, and trust and confidence in our democratic institutions in Canada?

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canadians across the country are growing increasingly cynical about the good work that happens in the House. One of the ways of turning that cynicism around and drawing Canadians back into the process is to recognize that Canadians are now empowered with more knowledge and information about what is going on in the world around them than ever before.

The fact that they look to their representatives for leadership around that level of trust and openness and instead see a culture of secrecy and opaqueness is tremendously disconcerting to people who want to believe in our democratic processes. Therefore, when we talk a lot about the trust that people need to have in government, I understand, but the basic element we need to see more of is a government that demonstrates trust in the people.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.


Dan Albas ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide the government's response to Bill C-613, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act (transparency).

For many reasons, the government cannot support this bill, not least of which is because it includes a number of problematic amendments.

The proposed changes to the Access to Information Act, for example, would increase the required administration involved, and seldom does an increase in administration result in decreased costs or efficiencies to taxpayers. Our current system includes an independent Information Commissioner who reports directly to Parliament and who already has a strong mandate to investigate and resolve disputes concerning access requests.

This system has a very broad reach and includes nearly 200 federal institutions, including crown corporations like the CBC and Canada Post, and government funded foundations like the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

In 2012-13 alone, the system released nearly six million pages of information to Canadians, which is an increase of over a million and a half pages over the preceding year. During that same year, the government received and responded to nearly 54,000 access requests, which is more than in previous years.

This proves that Canada's access to information system is working well.

Under our Conservative government, Canadians are accessing more information from the government than ever before.

That is something all Canadians can be proud of.

The government is determined to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to government information and documents of all kinds. The government recognizes that accountability and transparency are an ongoing process.

We acknowledge that Canadians expect a high level of openness in government. We also understand that they expect to have more opportunities to participate in public affairs, particularly through the use of new and emerging technologies.

The government is committed to meeting these high expectations of Canadians, which is why we have continued to explore and implement new ways of giving Canadians access to government information. This includes our popular open data portal at This portal provides government data in machine-readable formats to enable citizens, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations the ability to leverage it in new, innovative, and value-added ways.

Our efforts also include the many measures we have taken to proactively disclose financial and human resources records of government institutions to the public. These include the disclosure of travel and hospitality expenses for selected government officials, contracts over $10,000, for instance, and the awarding of grants and contributions over $25,000, all of which can be found easily online.

By making this information readily available on departmental websites, Canadians and Parliament are better able to hold the government and public sector officials to account.

In short, we will continue to improve transparency and openness within government, but we will not do so by supporting the bill before us today.

The changes proposed by the member for Papineau ring hollow. After all, it was this member who accepted speaking fees from unions and then voted against union transparency legislation. It is also the member for Papineau who promises to repeal the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

Recently, Barb Cote, a member of the Shuswap First Nations, thanked our government, stating:

The First Nations Transparency Act came in, and it actually showed what the previous council was doing—spending all our money on places that were not for the people.

This is the legislation that the member for Papineau will replace.

These, I would say, are not the actions of a champion of transparency.

The proposed changes in this legislation would lead to increased delays in response times to access for information requests and add cost pressures on government institutions.

As it stands, institutions are already required to document their deliberations and decisions on each request received under the act. Under our government, institutions are required to provide a detailed explanation every time they apply an exemption under the Access to Information Act. If requesters are not satisfied with the application of any exemptions, they may file a complaint with the Information Commissioner of Canada, who will examine the matter in detail. Also requiring the provision of detailed explanations every time an exemption is applied would add an unnecessary burden on the entire access to information program across the government.

The bill would also amend the Access to Information Act to eliminate all fees for access requests, except for the $5 application fee. This change would not show respect for the tax dollars of Canadians. As we all know, some individual access requests carry a large cost, given the high volume of records involved and the hours required to respond. So the government has the authority under the access to information regulations to charge an extra fee to reflect these costs. The government feels that it is quite reasonable to require a minor additional fee to process requests that consist of thousands of pages of material. I would add that federal institutions take a fair and judicious approach to charging these fees. This includes waiving or eliminating them. The vast majority of requests are fulfilled at no direct cost beyond the initial $5 application fee. In 2012-13, for example, this was the case for 99.5% of all cases. Again, 99.5% of these requests required no additional fee.

This legislation would also expand the mandate of the Information Commissioner to include the power to order the release of information. This would fundamentally change the role of the Information Commissioner, whose office would then become a quasi-judicial body. This would be in addition to the Information Commissioner's current role as an ombudsperson, which works well given her strong powers to investigate and resolve disputes about access requests.

I would also note what former information commissioner John Reid had to say on this question. He told a parliamentary committee in 2005 the following:

There is no evidence that order powers would strengthen the right of access, speed up the process, or reduce the amount of secrecy. The experience of 22 years is that the ombudsman model works very well. Fewer than 1% of complaints end up before the courts.

That said, it would be much better to continue with the present situation where the commissioner can apply to the Federal Court when an institution refuses to follow one of her recommendations to release some records.

I would just like to talk about one last change proposed in this bill: the requirement for a parliamentary committee to review the Access to Information Act every five years. I just want to say that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is responsible for carrying out such reviews and reporting its findings. The committee has actually carried out 15 studies on access to information since 2006.

From a careful reading of this private member's bill, I see more costs and more administration being added to government. I also see the potential for more litigation and disagreement, which in turn would add costs and further slow the process.

I do welcome the proposal by the member for Papineau to improve the transparency of the Board of Internal Economy. However, as stated by the Clerk of the House and former Speakers, there will always be a need for the board to meet in camera.

I would therefore encourage all members of this place to join me in opposing Bill C-613.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a great honour to rise in the House to represent the people of Timmins—James Bay. But I also have to say that it is not an honour to participate night after night, day after day, in the Potemkin democracy of what we have become.

As part of the farce that we have in the House, we all stand up and call each other “the hon. member” this and “the hon. member” that. We have learned that it is very unparliamentary to say that anyone lies. I cannot do that, Mr. Speaker, as you would be outraged. However, it is perfectly acceptable to lie in the House. It just has to be said that something is government opinion and that it was how it was stated. We cannot call that out. That somehow is considered parliamentary, because it is based on a gentleman's code here. Of course, that is an old-fashioned, sexist term, but we do not actually have rules except those that are in place for the officers of Parliament, whose job it is to hold us to account. With the Conservative government, we see a concerted attack on the credibility of the officers of Parliament. They will stand up in the House and tell us how the Conservatives all care about access to information. It is a farce.

Canada was a world leader in access to information. Year after year under the Conservative government, we fall further and further behind. Guess where we are now? We are about number 56, which puts Honduras and Russia ahead of us. The Conservatives stand up here and talk about fighting for democracy, but when we have corrupt countries like Honduras, Nigeria, and Russia serving their citizens' access to information requests better than the Conservative government does, we know where we stand.

We then get the President of the Treasury Board, who is like a flim-flam artist at a country fair, saying “I am going to give you the big prize. Put your money down”. The big prize is a booby prize. It is data sets. It is open government. What was the great line that I heard? It was in “machine-readable formats”. My God. What the heck is a machine-readable format? Do we know that is? It is junk. What the Conservatives do is to give people junk, and meanwhile suppressing the evidence that counts.

The information that people need is about who made decisions, why the decisions were made, and who was in the room when the decisions were made. However, we know that ministers' offices are black holes of accountability. The Information Commissioner has spoken out on that time and time again, but it is not just that they have a black hole of accountability; they have set out to fully monkey-wrench the Information Commissioner, just like the ridiculous member for York Centre and his witch hunt against parliamentary officers for their supposed partisan activities.

What we have now is the Information Commissioner writing to the President of the Treasury Board, the man who I said earlier was like a flim-flam artist at a country fair. She is saying that without the proper funding, she is not going to be able to fulfill her mandate. That is what the Information Commissioner is telling us. There is a fundamental problem. The reason she does not have the funding to do her job is because she does not have the order-making powers. If she had the order-making powers, she would not have to go to court all the time.

I see my Conservative friends stand up and say, “Oh my God, order-making powers. That is a very bad thing”. It is so bad that it was the number one promise in the Conservative election commitment in 2006 with regard to accountability. They said that they would give the Information Commissioner the power to release the order of information, and they lied to the Canadian people. They stood up on the issue of access to information and promised that they would reform the system. Instead, they sit there and fall on the backbenches, happily carrying on this farce that we are somehow an accountable democracy, when the access to information officer is telling us that the system is broken.

What does this mean? The fundamental principle of an accountable democracy is maximum privacy for citizens and maximum accountability and transparency by government. These guys flip it upside down: they want maximum transparency of their political enemies.

When we hear the Conservatives talk about accountability and access to information, we never hear them talk about their corrupt lobbyist insiders and friends. No, it is their big bad trio, including the corrupt Indian chiefs, they talk about. We heard that tonight, with their going after the first nations. The big bad union bosses are number two. Let us go after them, they say. Number three is the radical environmentalists. The Conservatives use the Canada Revenue Agency now, in a total corruption of government operations, to go after bird watchers because they threaten the interests of the tar sands. Meanwhile, their pals are getting away with whatever they want.

The Conservatives' idea of accountability is accountability toward their political enemies. That is what they do. They use the levers of government, misrepresent the use of Parliament and undermine the officers of Parliament. They go after people who are environmentalists, they go after fist nation people and use them as the big bogeymen, the bad chiefs, and they go after people in organized labour.

Meanwhile, the issue we are dealing with is the fact that they are suppressing information. There has been political interference. People will die of old age before they ever get any documents out of the government because it just keeps putting it off. The Conservatives think it is all funny until they are defeated by the Canadian people. It is a fundamental issue of arrogance and laziness.

Access to information should not be a partisan issue. Access to information is about accountability to the Canadian people. The Conservatives say time and time again “the Canadian people be damned”. This is about protecting themselves, protecting their ministers.

I will give an example. When the Conservatives lost the financial information on s half a million Canadians, did they give a darn about that financial information? No. They were worried about an incompetent minister, so they suppressed the information. They sat on it.

The first thing we learn when data has been compromised is we have to alert people because they could be subject to cyberfraud. We hear the Conservatives talk about cyberfraud all the time. However, they did not tell anybody because they were more concerned about protecting an incompetent minister. What we have along with this faux democracy are faux ministers. They are bobble heads. None of them take responsibility for what happens in their offices. They are protecting the decisions that are being made, that are being given to them in orders, and they are suppressing this information.

The Information Commissioner, a person who has enormous respect in our country, had to write to the Treasury Board president, the man who spent $50 million in border infrastructure money on pork-barrel projects in his riding and said that he had no documentation. That is the man who is supposed to represent access to information.

He will talk about open government, data sets and machine-readable formats. This man took $50 million from border infrastructure, blew it in his riding and said that he did not have a single document.

However, that was not true. The documents did exist. Under access to information, the Conservatives blocked the ability of the public to see those documents, however, we got those documents through the province and municipalities. We found out that the minister had come up with his own homemade forms. It was like the Muskoka minister saying to people to fill it out and they might get a free set of Muskoka steak knives at the end of it. If not, at least a sunken boat would be raised, they would get a lighthouse and a lake would built be in a place where there were a thousand lakes.

There used to be the day people who were that incompetent were fired. Not under the Conservatives. They get promoted if they can take that much money, if they can stand and tell Canadians they lost the paper, even though the papers exist everywhere in all those little municipalities and if they can get away with that. What does the Prime Minister think? He thinks that is the man he will put in charge of ensuring that all the other departments follow their paperwork. That is the man he picked, the Muskoka ShamWow salesman. Remember that? The guy did a television commercial selling cleaning products in China. This is their idea of how government is done.

When we talk about access to information, Canada was the world leader. Our parliamentary budget officers are the most respected people we have in our country, but the Conservatives attack them, ridicule them, and make farting jokes and laugh because they think it is funny. It is not funny. This is about the lifeblood of democracy.

The Conservatives can sit over there in their fake democracy and insult people, but the fact is they undermine the systems of accountability that hold them accountable. It is their corruption that Canadians are fed up with.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we need to look at this as an opportunity. Through the bill, we have a wonderful opportunity to send a very strong and powerful message to all Canadians. If we listened to our constituents on the issue of being open, transparent and accountable, if we consulted with them and put the bill before them, I truly believe the advice we would get from them would be that this bill was worthy of a yes vote. This is the type of legislation that could make a difference in a very real and tangible way on the issue of transparency and accountability.

When our leader presented the bill, he indicated it was a bill that would get the debate going, hoping that it would go to committee and that we would be open to ideas, thoughts and possible amendments. The initial response by the government was to deny. That is unfortunate.

If we read what the government member said, he referenced one aspect of the legislation. There was no comment on the Board of Internal Economy. We are talking about 2014, yet there is a law in place that says the board has to meet in camera. There is a need to change the law, yet the government's response was to ignore that aspect of the legislation. How would the Conservatives' constituents respond to that? Where is the government's need to listen to what good ideas come forward from the House of Commons?

This is not the first time we have seen an effort by the leader of the Liberal Party to bring forward an idea that has made a difference. We should remember proactive disclosure. I was sitting here when the leader brought forward the idea and sought unanimous consent of the House to move forward on proactive disclosure. The result was, no. There were parties in the House that did not want to go toward proactive disclosure. We persisted. The leader of the Liberal Party indicated that the Liberal caucus would have to abide by proactive disclosure. We were prepared to demonstrate leadership on this issue because we understood that Canadians' expectations were that much higher. We wanted to raise the bar. We wanted to show that we were prepared to be more transparent and accountable.

When we brought forward the proactive disclosure and the Liberal members acted on it, it was only a couple of months later that the Conservative Party joined in with us. I applaud them for recognizing a good idea. It took a few more months and ultimately an opposition day, but we were able to eventually gain support from the New Democratic Party. It is because of that building of consensus that we were able to pass a motion that ultimately led to change.

Everyone inside the chamber has the opportunity to vote for transparency and accountability. If we recognize the value of government data, then surely to goodness we recognize how important it is that the citizens of Canada have a right to gain that access. Bill C-613 would enable Canadians from coast to coast to coast more access, by default, to government data.

What is wrong with that? If the members have some ideas or have some concerns, at least they could vote for the bill to go to committee and raise it there. If they think they can improve upon the legislation, then they should bring forward amendments. I would suggest their constituents would agree with that thought.

What about the Board of Internal Economy? It would appear that we do have the support of at least two political entities on that issue. I am not sure where the government sits on it because the government member never commented on that aspect of the legislation.

Does the Conservative government or the PMO believe that we should still have a law in place in the year of 2014 that says we need to have in camera meetings, that it would be against the law to do anything otherwise?

I would like to think that if provided the opportunity to change that law, the government would recognize the benefits of it and allow for that to happen. I will be listening to future Conservative speakers who speak to the bill. I would challenge members to provide comment on that aspect also. Do members not see the value of it?

Going back to the access to information, it is very important to recognize that the Information Commissioner herself insists that the real improvements in the access to information system will only come from the modernization of the act, which is a long overdue step that is crucial to advancing the cause of transparency and accountability in Canada.

The leader of the Liberal Party indicated how long it has been since we have had real substantial changes. What we see in Bill C-163 is an opportunity for us to send a very strong message, and it is a part of the open Parliament plan that we have talked about for months now. It takes into consideration a number of bold, new initiatives that would make, and have made, a difference. This is just another step in the right direction that I believe Canadians would be very happy to see take place.

My concern is that, through the PMO or some selected members of the Conservative caucus, the Conservatives will not see the merits of the legislation before us. That would be most tragic, because, as I pointed out at the beginning of my comments, we need to recognize the importance of government data and the importance of Canadians having access to that necessary information, which is being stored within government data banks. There is a litany of reasons as to why this should take place.

The previous speaker talked about other countries. However, in recent years, Canada has not done well in terms of protecting the interests of access to information of government data. We continue to drop in the world ranking, and there is so much more we could do to improve upon that.

One of the most significant things we can do is vote in favour of this proposed legislation to go to committee. As it was indicated at the very beginning by my leader, we are in search of getting that all-party consensus. We were able to accomplish that on issues like proactive disclosure, and this is yet another step that would make a difference.

I challenge all members to read through the legislation to get a better understanding of the issue of the government data bank and having access to information. I challenge members to vote in favour of this bill going to committee so Canada can improve upon our access laws and end the law on in camera meetings of the Board of Internal Economy.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Oak Ridges—Markham Ontario


Paul Calandra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to talk about the bill. It is this government that actually has led the way with openness and transparency since we were elected in 2006. It gives me a great opportunity, as I rise to speak on the bill, to talk about some of the initiatives this government is undertaking to make government more open and accountable to the people of this country.

We understand that Canada has always been a world leader with respect to openness. Our first laws with respect to access to information were enacted in 1983, and this government has brought forward a number of other initiatives since that time to make it even more open and accountable to Canadians.

When we talk about the bill, there are many reasons why I will be voting against this piece of legislation. Not the least of these has to be that I look at the sponsor of the bill and wonder if I can trust that what he has put down on paper is something he believes in and would actually undertake to bring forward if he ever had the chance to be on this side of the House.

We know that, when Liberals were in power, they never did any of the things that are talked about in the bill, but I look specifically at the credibility and look back at some of the issues that the member championed or refused to champion. We know that the member has accepted speaking fees from unions and then voted against the union accountability act. We know that this government brought in a financial accountability act, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which Canadians supported, which our first nation partners for the most part supported, because it opened what was a very secretive and closed dimension of our first nations funding.

We know the member for Papineau said, if he got the opportunity to be elected and sit on this side of the House, that he would remove that transparency that Canadians think is so important and that we on this side of the House also think is important. When I look at that, I wonder about the member's commitment to transparency.

I look also at some of the recent undertakings of the Liberal Party when it comes to openness. We know that the leader of the Liberal Party talked about nominations and said that the Liberals would have open and transparent nominations. That is a process that clearly is not being followed in the Liberal Party. We know that in Ottawa—Orléans there was a former contestant for the leadership, who ran against the current leader of the Liberal Party. His major crime is that he actually outsold the preferred candidate of the Liberal leader when it comes to memberships. He was probably going to win the nomination, so the commitment to openness and transparency did not last very long and it went out the door.

When I look at this legislation, I see it was announced last June, when the member talked about bringing the bill forward. The Liberal Party members said that over the summer months they would reach out to and talk to Canadians about it. What did they do? They talked to Canadians through their website. How did they do it through their website? On the website people could comment on the Liberal bill as long as, when they did so, they added their email, name, age, date of birth, language, and aboriginal ancestry. Once people added all of that information and sent it to the Liberal Party, then they could make a comment on whether they thought the bill was appropriate or suggest changes.

That is the type of outreach the Liberals did, and people probably received a fundraising letter right afterward. Therefore, when it comes to openness and transparency, I am little troubled by what the Liberal Party does and what it says.

In his speech, the member for Winnipeg North talked about proactive disclosure. He said the Liberals wanted to lead the way on proactive disclosure, but we know that the Liberals say one thing and do something completely different. We know that it was actually Conservative members and senators who provided proactive disclosure in a very timely fashion.

It was a rather awkward situation for the Liberal leader last June, when he introduced this bill and had a press conference about it. It was noticed by the reporters that the Liberals had, at that point, not provided proactive disclosure and identified their expenses. I will read a couple of things from the report. The Liberal House leader said that they were struggling with the work that was involved putting these expenses online. The Liberal House leader went on to say, “In my view, it’s as timely as we can make it...”.

The Liberals never said how quickly the expenses would be posted online. However, the last round posted for the final quarter of 2013 was made a month and a half after the disclosure. In this case, they were two and a half months late with the disclosure. This is another example of how the Liberals say one thing and do something completely different. They are all about openness and transparency, as long as no one asks them to prove that they are for openness and transparency.

We know that, in their time in office, the Liberals did just the opposite of what they constantly say. That is the Liberal hallmark. We know that. We know that the Liberals will say one thing. If they think the NDP is going to trouble them at the campaign, they will try to steal NDP ideas. They know we are constantly going to be bringing forward ideas, and I guess it is unfortunate for Canadians that the Liberals do not steal our ideas of putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Canadian taxpayers. We know they do not do that, because they tend to want to tax and spend more. We do just the opposite.

When we look at some of the things that the Conservative government has brought forward, we see that one of the first things was the accountability act. The accountability act brought in a number of things for openness and accountability. Some of these things, such as the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, are all things we brought forward after 13 years of Liberal secrecy and mismanagement of a number of different files. That culminated in the sponsorship scandal, which rightly outraged Canadians. There was a culture of secrecy in the former Liberal government, and we put an end to that with our accountability act back in 2006.

There are a number of other things we have done. We championed proactive disclosure. Expenses are more available. Contracts are put online for people to see. There are a number of other different disclosure mechanisms. The President of the Treasury Board has provided an open government program, which allows people to access a number of different files and data sets of the government and to use them.

We understand that when we provide access to information, it is actually a positive thing. The reason it is positive is that it gives Canadians access to information. It gives them access to the information that will allow them to understand what the government is doing and why it is doing it. When we look at all the things the Conservative government has done, we can see that, when it comes to openness and accountability, it actually does what it says, unlike the Liberals, who time and time again have said one thing and done something different.

When I look at this bill and some of the changes that are being suggested for the Board of Internal Economy, I have no problem. However, there is a whole host of other things that are completely wrong about this bill and that Canadians would find offensive. When we look at how this bill was drafted and how the Liberals, and this particular Liberal leader, have fashioned this debate, we can only conclude that it is another cynical and really immature attempt to score cheap political points on something that is very serious.

When we compare it to what this government has done with respect to openness and transparency, we can see the difference between this side of the House and that side of the House. I think Canadians understand that this is the only government that will continue to protect them, their pocketbooks. The Conservatives will continue to make government open for all Canadians.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate, there are four minutes left this evening for the hon. member for Victoria.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased to rise on this important initiative in the spirit of non-partisan debate, which is something Canadians expect when we are talking about fundamental reform to our parliamentary institutions. We are talking about two things in this bill: reforms to the Board of Internal Economy and reforms to the Access to Information Act.

In the very short time I have, I am going to comment mostly on the second order of problems involving the Access to Information Act. I am delighted to see that this bill incorporates something that had been promised before by the government and not delivered, and that is the need for independent ability for a court to order the disclosure of records. That is the best part of this bill, and one that I strongly support.

Indeed, Bill C-567, introduced by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, would have done just that. Perhaps members will agree with me how ironic that bill was, because it was an effort to simply and only address those things left out of the Conservative government's accountability promises. Members will recall that 52 measures were promised by the Conservatives to increase ethics and accountability of the government, and the first thing the Conservatives said they would do when elected was to strengthen the Access to Information Act. When it all came out, their famous Federal Accountability Act contained a grand total of one of the eight open-government measures that they promised in the Federal Accountability Act. What the member for Winnipeg Centre did was simply present those things the government said it would do but did not do.

Perhaps I, as a new member, was relatively naive. I thought that all we were doing was asking the government to do what it promised in an election campaign. I am sad to report that the Conservatives spoke against that bill. However, at least one principle in this accountability legislation before us tonight was in that bill, which we completely and strongly endorse, and that is the ability for an information commissioner to order the disclosure of a record if it comes within the proper rules, even if the government wishes that not to occur.

An access bill, in any jurisdiction, must have three things: first, a statement of the right to openness, which is the default, as the member for Papineaunoted; the second critical thing, a list of exceptions to that rule, which would be narrow, that being the intent at least; and third, the ability for an independent officer to be essentially the umpire in the game and say that government should not withhold a particular record, that it should be disclosed. Those are the guts of meaningful access legislation. This bill would do that, and that is one measure, therefore, that we would strongly support.

The Conservative government has made fun of legislation of this sort in the past, and that is wrong. Mr. Crosbie, who was the first justice minister to live under an access act, said that this is merely a tool for “mischief-makers” whose objective “in the vast majority of instances” is to embarrass political leaders and titillate the public. That is not an access to information act.

It is a quasi-constitutional requirement, according to the Supreme Court of Canada. It is part of our legislative regime to ensure that the Government of Canada is held to account. This bill would go some measure toward that. It needs to go a lot further, and we hope that, when we get it into committee, we can improve it for all Canadians.

Parliament of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 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.

Pursuant to Standing Order 37, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Bill C-608 under private members' business.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

November 18th, 2014 / 6:45 p.m.


Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

moved that BillC-608, An Act respecting a National Day of the Midwife, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy today to speak to my BillC-608, An Act respecting a National Day of the Midwife .

Introducing this bill in the House and having an opportunity to debate it this evening is a very great privilege for me. While it was I who introduced this important bill, many people worked to make it possible, and I would like to take a few minutes of the time allowed me in order to thank them.

First, I wish to thank my friend and colleague, the member for Parkdale—High Park. It is thanks to the work she did that we are able to talk in the House about establishing a National Day of the Midwife in Canada. Following numerous meetings with stakeholders and discussions with various parliamentarians, the member for Parkdale—High Park decided to introduce an initial version of Bill C-608 in the House of Commons during this Parliament. I thank her for trusting me to introduce a new version of the bill so that we can debate it as quickly as possible.

Over the weeks, many people I have had the good fortune to meet have shown their support for Bill C-608. I would first like to thank the Canadian Association of Midwives, which rallied its members in support of this important issue. My thanks to the current president, Emmanuelle Hebert, and the outgoing president, Joanna Nemrava, vice-president Katrina Kilroy, treasurer Jane Erdman, secretary Nathalie Pambrun, executive director Tonia Occhionero and the entire board of directors drawn from across Canada. A big thank you also goes to the president of the Canadian Midwifery Regulators Consortium, Kris Robinson.

It is thanks to their involvement and support that I was able to submit my bill to their members and, in so doing, learn more about the work midwives do on the front line. We had valuable and very instructive discussions, which only confirmed the need to move forward with the idea of a National Day of the Midwife.

I would also like to thank the Quebec group, Les sages-femmes du Québec, which also answered the call. Many thanks go to their president, Claudia Faille, and her board of directors and members. Their energy and enthusiasm about the bill encouraged me to press on and make sure that I had the necessary support to secure its passage.

I also spoke a number of times with Lysane Grégoire, executive director of a birthing agency in Laval called Mieux-Naître. Lysane has been working for years to promote midwifery in Laval, through the numerous books she has co-written, the establishment of perinatal care, and the opening of a future birthing centre in Laval. I have had the good fortune to work with Lysane since I was elected, and I have to say that for me, it is a privilege to be able to count on her support.

Lastly, I would like to thank the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives. The support for this bill was essential in order for us to proceed. My thanks to Kerry Bebee, Ellen Blais, Evelyn Harney and all members of the NACM. The situation of aboriginal midwives is a very special one in Canada. I could not have gone ahead without their support, which is essential to this debate.

Why is it important to have a National Day of the Midwife in Canada, and why choose May 5 as the date? Our Parliament is changing, and it is gradually becoming increasingly representative of the population. In every party in the House, we now find young parents. Having given birth myself to a little girl just over 18 months ago, I can understand the importance of having a choice when deciding how to give birth to a child. I had the opportunity to go with my preferences and those of my spouse with regard to the monitoring of my pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and, in particular, the early weeks.

I think the key word here is “choice”. Choosing how we want to bring a child into the world should not be a privilege, but a fundamental right. Unfortunately, for too many women in this country, particularly those in aboriginal or remote communities, that right is all too often denied.

This is where the practice of midwifery comes into play. There are currently 1,300 practising midwives in Canada. While the number is growing yearly, midwives are finding it difficult to meet the need because of the growing demand for their services. Only 2% to 5% of women have access to the services of a midwife. Too many regions, such as Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon offer little or no access to such services. However, midwives play a vital role within our health care system, with the comprehensive monitoring of maternity they provide.

The results are also there to see. There is no increase in risk when a woman is monitored by a certified midwife, and there are fewer caesareans. A number of Canadian studies have shown that women using the services of midwives are very satisfied with the overall experience.

Canadian midwives are recognized internationally for the quality of their work and for their expertise. Through various agencies, they are training new midwives around the world and helping many countries to achieve a substantial reduction in infant mortality. Midwives receive very rigorous training before they can practise. A number of bachelor-level programs are available in Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton, The Pas and Trois-Rivières. There are also specific programs in aboriginal midwifery.

I would like to talk about the special situation of aboriginal midwives in Canada. For our first nations, it is essential to have access to midwives’ services, particularly in the more remote regions. People living in large urban centres have little awareness of the situation, but women in such communities have to travel thousands of kilometres in order to give birth. They are separated from their people at a time when having them near is really important. I will quote what the NACM says on the subject:

Aboriginal communities across Canada have always had midwives. It has only been in the last 100 years that this practice has been taken away from communities. This occurred for a number of reasons, including colonialism and changes in the health care system in Canada.

As a result of losing midwifery, many women in rural and remote aboriginal communities are currently required to deliver their babies and to access care outside their communities. In many northern and remote settings, pregnant women have to leave their families and communities for many weeks, or even months, prior to giving birth. This means that many women often give birth without any family support.

The National Aboriginal Health Organization's 2008 report entitled Celebrating Birth: Aboriginal Midwifery in Canada provides a very accurate description of this occupation within aboriginal communities. In this report, Julie Wilson said:

It’s really nice to see true citizens of our territory, babies that are born on our land. It really does give them a sense of connection to the land, to our people. So I think that’s very important, being born here on our land.

She went on to say that an aboriginal midwife not only works in her community but is also chosen by her community. In addition to providing care, she also incorporates a lot of the traditional practices, ceremonies and medicine into her community. That service goes well beyond the birthing process. It is the very essence of community self-governance and a voice of hope when it comes to the health of first nations.

Carol Couchie said:

Birth is the fundamental ceremony of our tribes. It is the most sacred ceremony that we have. And it is innate in women’s bodies. So nobody has to say a prayer, nobody has to smudge, nobody has to set out a rattle, or do anything. It just happens. So we have never lost it. It always happens, babies are always born, and women are always doing that, and they are caring for them. We don’t have to get back birth because it has never left us, but we have to get back in control of that ceremony. We have handed over the control of that ceremony to other people, and it has to be brought back home to us.

Although midwifery services in remote aboriginal communities are growing, there are not nearly enough of them to meet existing needs. Access to health care is an ongoing challenge for remote rural communities. Many stakeholders have indicated the importance of returning birth to communities. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada mentions just that in its report entitled Returning Birth to Aboriginal, Rural and Remote Communities, which indicates:

The support of the community is important, and women, community leaders and elders all need to be involved in promoting the return of birth to their communities. The advocacy and the promotion of holistic care and spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health will help to bring about normalization of giving birth in the community.

We should also note that having access to midwives in their own communities is not only efficient, but also a financially sound idea for the government. Women in isolated communities must travel by airplane and be housed and fed somewhere else for several weeks, or even months. This is a huge cost to the government every year. A study of the pilot projects involving midwives in Quebec between 1994 and 1999 showed that complete care cost as little as $2,000 to $3,000.

That is a substantial difference, and the government could save millions of dollars per year by investing in the services of midwives in rural, isolated communities and first nations communities.

We must consider the health of our rural, isolated communities, where the reality is often very different from ours. Recognizing midwifery as a profession would be an important benefit for those communities.

I would like to explain why we should choose the date of May 5. May 5 is recognized as the International Day of the Midwife by dozens of countries around the world. Recognizing it here in Canada would emphasize the importance of our midwives and their networks everywhere in our nation, in all provinces and territories.

Finally, I thank all the members of Parliament and all the groups that support this bill. I sincerely hope that the House will move forward with Bill C-608, An Act respecting a National Day of the Midwife, so that we can recognize the valuable work done by the midwives of Canada.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Mike Allen Conservative Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Alfred-Pellan shared some very interesting information regarding some of the provinces, including my province of New Brunswick, in which midwives are not very well represented. The question I have for her is about this recognition process and some of the good work that midwives do in various rural and remote communities.

Can she share with the House what enacting this day would mean for increasing the number of midwives? Would such recognition grow service by midwives in Canada, and potentially in rural communities and areas like New Brunswick?

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

New Brunswick, in fact, unfortunately does not have enough midwifery services. Truthfully, there are practically none at the moment.

As I have come to know the various groups of midwives and met many of their members, I have seen that they are working very hard to have their profession recognized everywhere in Canada, in all provinces and territories.

Thus, let us ensure that all women across the country have access to the services of a midwife if they so desire. Not every woman wants to have a midwife's care, but it is very important to provide it to all those who want it.

The National Day of the Midwife in Canada could change things greatly for midwives. For one thing, as parliamentarians we would recognize that profession and the important place these women occupy in our lives. We would also be recognizing the importance of blood ties in rural or isolated communities, especially when birth is becoming a less-natural phenomenon, despite its importance to us.

Indeed, I feel strongly about this important bill, but so do hundreds and thousands of midwives all across the country.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan for her valuable bill, Bill C-608, which is about raising public awareness about the contribution midwives make to the health of mothers, newborns and infants. Only 2% to 5% of Canadian women have access to midwifery services.

Could my colleague explain why so few Canadians have access to these services?

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her question. She was right to talk about the contribution made by midwives.

Why do only 2% to 5% of Canadian women have access to midwifery services? It is because there are not enough midwives. It is as simple as that. Unfortunately, that is the case across the country.

I would like to share a bit about my experience. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I had to decide if I wanted to use a midwife. If I had not made the decision right away, I would have lost my chance and would not have had the option.

There are not enough midwives in the country right now. Of course, more are always being trained and there is hope that their numbers will continue to grow, along with the necessary resources. Establishing a national day of the midwife would help midwives in that fight, which sadly has only just begun.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario


Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member.

Maternal, newborn, and child health remains a top international development priority for our government. We are committed to working with Canadian and international partners towards the goal of ending the preventable deaths of mothers, newborns, and young children.

I would like to highlight that our government is ensuring that moms in Canada get the support they need. Each and every year we invest $27 million in the Canada prenatal nutrition program, an important initiative that seeks to improve the health and well-being of pregnant women, new mothers, and babies. It provides 59,000 new moms in over 2,000 communities with important nutritional and health information across Canada. We also provide over $2.4 billion each and every year for aboriginal health, including access to midwife services and prenatal care.

Through Canada's leadership, global attention has been drawn to this issue. In June 2010, under our Prime Minister's leadership, the G8 launched the Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn, and child health with the aim of saving the lives of mothers, newborns, and children. As part of this initiative, Canada committed $2.85 billion between 2010 and 2015 to help women and children in the world's poorest countries.

Midwifery training and service provision is also a key component of our government's support through the G8 Muskoka initiative.

For example, through the strengthening midwifery services in South Sudan project, we are providing support to train midwives and other health workers at four national health training institutes across the country. A total of 540 health workers are expected to graduate during the project, including 315 midwives.

Maternal mortality is estimated at 2,000 for every 100,000 live births in South Sudan. The midwives Canada is helping to train will be vital in reducing maternal and infant mortality. More than 20,000 babies are expected to be born in the hands of a midwife or a midwifery student over the course of this particular project.

Another example points to Afghanistan, which currently has one of the highest levels of maternal mortality in the world. In addition to all of the other challenges faced by women in Afghanistan, 50 women die every day in Afghanistan from complications related to pregnancy. Dedicated delivery or examination rooms are scarce, and trained health care professionals can be hard to find.

I am pleased to say that we are working in partnership with the Afghan government, the United Nations, and non-governmental organization partners to train midwives and establish 49 family health houses in the province of Daikundi. Each family health house has a delivery room and an examination room in which a trained community midwife can safely work. Midwives in these communities will be trained not only to provide maternal and essential newborn care services but also important health information and immunization services. These centres will be equipped to provide health care services for up to 4,000 people.

Our government has also supported a project to reconstruct Haiti's national school of midwifery and local maternity clinics. Each new maternity clinic has two certified midwives and aims to provide increased access to qualified, preventative, and basic emergency obstetric and neonatal services to approximately 230,000 women and girls affected by the earthquake, including 25,000 pregnant women.

Finally, as part of its commitment to the Muskoka initiative for maternal, newborn, and child health, Canada has partnered with UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Population Fund in support of the project for accelerating the reduction of maternal and newborn mortality, a five-year, $21 million initiative. This project has assisted 15 Nigerian states and the federal capital territory to strengthen the delivery of key maternal, newborn, and child health services. It seeks to ensure that health workers have the skills, equipment, supplies, and medicines to provide care.

Since 2010, the project has achieved impressive results, including the training of 248 nurse-midwives to provide life-saving care to an estimated 100,000 pregnant women, and 280 community health extension workers have also been trained and equipped to provide community-based newborn care.

These are but a few of the numerous examples of the work that Canada is undertaking internationally.

Thanks in large part to the Muskoka initiative in 2010 and subsequent global action, maternal mortality rates are declining and millions more children are celebrating their fifth birthdays. Access to health care and nutrition is up, and millions of lives continue to be saved each and every year.

This important work will continue. This government will seek continued progress toward ensuring that the nearly 40 million women internationally who give birth without trained help receive skilled care, decreasing the risk of death and disability both to the mother and the newborn. In May of 2014, the Prime Minister hosted the Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach summit. At the summit, Canada committed $3.5 billion in support for the period of 2015 to 2020 and renewed global momentum to advance maternal, newborn, and child health as a global priority beyond 2015. Canada will continue to work with its country partners to fill system gaps by investing in improved service delivery at the local level, training more health workers, and increasing access to adequately equipped local health facilities.

Since 1991, the International Day of the Midwife has been recognized on May 5 by organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization to raise awareness of the importance of the role midwives play and the care they provide. Our government believes that all mothers, newborns, and children in Canada or anywhere in the world have the right to be healthy and safe. The declaration of a national day of the midwife would further demonstrate Canada's commitment to maternal care on the international stage. I would like to offer our government's support for Bill C-608, which would increase awareness of the contributions that midwives make in improving the health and well-being of women and their families, both domestically and internationally. I am pleased to support this initiative.

A national day of the midwife will certainly help to increase awareness of the value of this important profession in providing maternal care services to women and their families, both domestically and internationally. Our government will support Bill C-608, which seeks to designate May 5 each and every year as the national day of the midwife.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-608 designates May 5 each year as a national day of the midwife. I rise to support this bill.

However, I want to make a side comment. We seem to be debating more and more bills that recognize a particular day for a profession or a cause. While these are all very useful in bringing awareness and importance to the cause, I hope we are not in danger of watering down the effect by having a day for everything. Sooner or later we will not pay attention to the days anymore.

This is an important issue, though. I believe this bill is important in recognizing the role of the midwife as part of a health care team in low-risk deliveries. In fact, we now know that most low-risk deliveries should be delivered by a primary care provider. In some areas that could include a midwife and in other areas it could include a nurse practitioner trained in midwifery. In others it could be a family physician who is trained in midwifery.

Midwifery is a way of providing quality, timely, cost-effective, patient-centred care, and I want to stress more than anything else the use of these primary care providers in terms of low-risk deliveries.

Women with high-risk pregnancies obviously should be handled in a hospital setting by an obstetrician, but in Canada more and more people with low-risk pregnancies are going directly to obstetricians. This increases the cost of care, and it does not give the quality of care and the continuity of care that a primary care provider such as a nurse practitioner, a family physician, or a midwife can provide to a patient.

Midwives play an essential role in promoting health and reducing maternal and infant mortality globally. Members have heard from my colleague from the Conservatives speak to that point just now. In fact, midwives are expert primary care providers in low-risk pregnancies and births and can optimize the childbirth experience for women at all risk levels.

It may be useful, however, to look at home birth statistics in Canada.

A lot of midwives I know prefer home birth and promote home birth. In some hospitals in some parts of Canada, they are an essential part of a team within the hospital setting.

Midwives performed 2,360 home births in 2008, which is an increase in home births of 25% in only five years. There are no national home birth statistics, but the percentage of non-hospital births in Canada more than tripled between 1991 and 2007. This increase coincides with the sudden rise in use of midwives within a low-risk birth experience.

Healthy women who are pregnant, however—and this is just me speaking as a physician—should always know that there is a 40% chance during actual birthing of having some kind of high-risk intervention necessary. In very large busy cities, it is often difficult at that point to get a person who has a complication from home to a hospital setting to deliver safely.

According to the chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, women must therefore look carefully at home births as an option.

However, in countries with very high infant and maternal mortality rates where there is no basic health system in place, a midwife, and in some cases not even a fully qualified midwife, is an option in some faraway villages to have somebody with some training, no matter how small, available to provide a birthing at home. In the rainy season in many developing countries, a passable road cannot be found to get to a birthing centre that has all of the equipment.

Midwives have had a huge role in bringing down infant and maternal mortality, globally and especially in the developing world. Here in Canada, home births account for approximately 2% of all births in Canada, the U.S., and most western European countries, with the exception of the Netherlands, where home births account for one-third of all births.

I think it is appropriate to say that in Canada we only have midwives registered in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories. It might be interesting for other provinces to look at the role of the midwife as part of a primary care team in low-risk pregnancy and delivery.

There are currently seven midwifery education programs available in Canada. The program is a four-year baccalaureate program.

Midwives are and should become a larger part of health-care systems not only here in Canada but around the world.

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of births attended by midwives in the United States rose by 41%. Bangladesh, one of the few countries that have actually met millennium goals four and five on infant and maternal mortality and morbidity, actually committed to training an additional 3,000 midwives to reach the millennium goals, which is an extraordinary thing to happen.

Afghanistan has committed to increasing the number of midwives from 2,400 to 4,500 in a short period of time. Ethiopia has committed to increasing the number of midwives from 2,000 to 8,000. Rwanda has committed to training five times more midwives, which increases the ratio, sadly, from one to 100,000 to one to 20,000. It would be really nice to have a better ratio. In some of these countries, the ability of midwives to train to deliver babies is a core and essential part of looking at mortality and morbidity during pregnancy and childhood.

In 2010, the global strategy for women and children's health noted that an additional 3.5 million health workers, and that includes midwives, are required to improve the health of women and children substantially in the 49 lowest-income countries. The World Health Organization recommends one skilled birth attendant for every 175 pregnant women. I refer back to the fact that Rwanda is moving from one for 100,000 women to one for 20,000, when we know that the ideal ratio is one for 175.

There is much work to be done in looking at the role of midwives, not only in the developing world and not only globally but here in Canada and in some of our isolated areas.

I want to thank the member for bringing this issue forward. The more Canadians understand midwives and what they do and we look at better community care models of care, we will see midwives playing an essential role in that compendium of care and in that comprehensive list of caregivers.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, all over the world maternal mortality has decreased by 50% in the past two decades. According to the World Health Organization, the WHO, the number of midwives grew by 15% over the same period, and two out of three births in the world are now attended by a qualified health professional.

Access to good-quality health care is a basic human right. However, every year nearly 40 million women give birth without a qualified attendant, which increases the risks of mortality and morbidity for both the mother and child.

Midwives do more than birth babies. A midwife is a trained health professional who takes complete responsibility for care and services for the mother and the infant during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. Midwifery plays an important role in society, and the bill introduced by the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan will raise public awareness of the contribution midwives make to the care and well-being of mothers, newborns and infants.

At present, only 2% to 5% of Canadian women have access to midwifery services. That means two things. First, it means that few Canadian women are aware of the existence of such a sexual and reproductive health service. Second, it means that Canadian women cannot have access to a midwife when they want to have such a person by their side throughout their pregnancy. There are 1,300 midwives in Canada, 136 of them in Quebec and 11 in Montérégie, where my riding is. That is not enough.

We must encourage the practice of this profession and the use of midwifery services, especially because we know that this Conservative government's budget cuts are putting more pressure on hospitals and that the same cuts are causing health care centres in our ridings to close. In my riding, in Saint-Bruno, two clinics have closed in three months, and a third is in critical condition.

The Conservative government is doing nothing to help improve and maintain good health care for the people of this country. The people do not know how to face such shortages. Soon there will be no clinic. It is a scandal. If, by encouraging the use of midwifery services, we can offer young mothers an alternative for their reproductive health, the government ought to support the creation of a national day of the midwife.

The International Day of the Midwife was first celebrated in 1991 and is sponsored by the WHO. Now, more than 50 countries celebrate this day. Here in the House, members help mark the day during members' statements. Why not go farther and make it a national day? It is not enough to honour the birth attendants who work all over the world. It is time to recognize our Canadian midwives, all over the country.

This national day of the midwife would honour all the dedicated midwives who go beyond the minimum required of them, who work in difficult circumstances and with limited resources to provide maternal and neonatal health care to women and girls across Canada. We in the NDP are affirming our commitment to supporting midwives across the country, and I invite all members of the House to do the same by supporting Bill C-608, as introduced by the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have enjoyed the debate so far this evening. I want to congratulate the member from Alfred-Pellan for introducing Bill C-608 and for the great speech she gave explaining her reasons for doing so.

It seems that I am the first male to stand to address this matter, so I want to say that I very much appreciate all of the contributions by the various women who have participated in the debate so far. However, as the token dad here, at least the first one on the male side of the House, to address the issue, I have to admit that I often say that children are a conspiracy to make their parents feel older. We live 25 or 30 years during which we feel we have not aged, and then our kids start pressing up into that area and the math does not work anymore.

My first child was born 38 years ago in Toronto at St. Michael's Hospital. It was completely natural childbirth. Amazingly, it seemed as if the medical staff, who did a fine job, had never actually seen a natural childbirth at that time.

My second one was born four years later in our own home. There was a medical doctor in attendance and a nurse who was trained as a midwife who did all the work. He just caught the baby. Childbirth is not a state of sickness for most women. It is a state of health if women have appropriate information, are well informed about the birthing process, and have someone nearby. Midwives have filled this role throughout history in most cultures.

It is very refreshing to see a move toward re-establishing midwifery in Canada. We can see from the comments made already why the need is really important. The health and well-being of pregnant women, infants, and children is of vital importance to our government. I am therefore pleased to support Bill C-608, which would increase awareness of the significant contributions of midwives to safeguarding and improving the health and well-being of women and their families.

The parliamentary secretary spoke just a few minutes ago about Canada's leadership in maternal and child health worldwide through the G20 initiative, helping to train and advance midwives in birth attendance in developing countries where maternal mortality is at alarming rates. Canada is acting to make a difference there.

Meanwhile, right here at home, midwives provide high quality care for women before, during and after childbirth. They ensure safe deliveries and provide essential newborn care. They are key primary care providers who seek to optimize the childbirth experience for women and families and work collaboratively with other health professionals. Having access to these skilled professionals to provide needed care for women, newborns, and families during the prenatal period, labour, birth, and postpartum is critical to their collective health and well-being.

Aside from the supports provided by our government enumerated by the parliamentary secretary a few moments ago, our government is also providing the largest health care transfers in Canadian history to provinces and territories to support health care services, such as midwives. These historic transfers have increased by almost 60% since we formed government and are set to reach $40 billion by the end of the decade.

Canada had 381,598 births registered last year. The overwhelming majority, 98.5%, took place in a hospital. In fact, child birth is the number one cause of hospital admission in Canada. I find that statistic astounding. Of 381,598 births, 98.5% actually took place in a hospital.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

An hon. member

That's good.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

One of my colleagues said “That's good”. Let me explain. He perhaps was not at the luncheon I attended today where the guest speaker was the head of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Chris Simpson.

Dr. Simpson made an excellent presentation, basically around a national strategy for seniors' care, something that I would personally be very pleased to support. However, the keynote part of his address was about what is an increasingly common phenomenon in hospitals, something they call “code gridlock”. Code gridlock happens when the hospital is so jammed by people coming in that they have no room to admit new patients, and no room to move patients from an emergency ward up to another ward where their care would be more appropriate. They have no room to move people out of intensive care to other wards and there is no place to move patients to other institutions that might be able to handle a chronic care condition.

One hospital he mentioned set a record of seven weeks of gridlock. That backlog sabotaged the efficiency of the entire hospital.

The vast majority of childbirths are not high risk childbirths. There are very good reasons for high risk people to give birth in hospital, but the majority are low risk and midwives can provide those services in a variety of settings. Many hospitals are providing birthing rooms that have low lighting, quiet music, and room for the dad to be there.

I experienced a home birth with my second child. I can tell members that for me and others who have experienced home births, being able to hold that baby in one's own home and for the siblings to hold that baby minutes after he or she is born is an experience that not only the parents will never forget but also neither the children and the siblings. So there are other ways, and midwives are organizing in a variety of ways to see that women get the type of birth care they prefer. Some of those are water births.

I want to speak to something else that occurs in Canada. It is a disturbing trend that has been occurring for years because of hospitalization for a normal, natural process like childbirth for most women. Canada has one of the highest rates of caesarean sections in the world. I wonder why that is. Are Canadian women somehow inferior to other women? C-sections are a surgical intervention. The World Health Organization recommends maximum targets of 10% to 15%. In Canada it was 17% in 2010, and by 2010 it was 10% higher, at nearly 27%. In fiscal year 2011-12 in Ontario, it was nearly 29%, and some provinces and regions in the country were over 30%. There are legitimate reasons for the increased number of C-sections, including an older demographic, with women delaying childbirth in many cases; a trend toward more obesity, with many young mothers now more obese than they were 10 or 15 years ago; larger birthweight babies; and increasing fertility treatments, which lead to multiple births. Those all may be reasons why a C-section might be considered.

A low risk, normal pregnancy and a vaginal birth should be encouraged, which is better for the mother and the baby. Some women may wonder how I know that. Statistics confirm, as will I am sure some of the others who have spoken here, including two who are physicians, that it is undeniable that having a C-section is a much higher risk than a vaginal birth for most women. They are also more expensive. The Canadian Institute for Health Information estimates that a C-section costs about $4,600 compared to about $2,800 for a vaginal birth.

Midwives can practise in a variety of settings. They can accommodate a variety of needs not only of what the mom wants but also the dad to make that experience much more meaningful and at a much more affordable cost. We do not know what the average cost is because it varies across the country, but I understand that it is somewhere between $850 and above. That is very cost-effective compared to $4,600 for a surgical intervention. I think at a time when we are facing a health care financial crisis because our health care system is simply not sustainable on the path we are on, we need to look at cost-effective ways of delivering service. This is not just about saving dollars, but about giving women the choices they want and making childbirth a normal and healthy thing for more women.

I want to thank the member for introducing a very thoughtful bill and one that I think would not only help contain costs but also help give women, children, and families a better birthing experience.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The hon. member for Alfred-Pellan now has five minutes for her reply.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, this evening all I want to do is thank all of my colleagues in the House for their wonderful support for Bill C-608, An Act respecting a National Day of the Midwife.

I will not repeat what my colleagues have said, but I would first like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, who is a young mother on the Conservative side. I know how important this issue is to her.

I also want to thank the member for Vancouver Centre, who is always passionate about health issues. I also appreciate her support for Bill C-608.

I also want to thank my NDP colleague from Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who is a doctor by training. I am very pleased to know that she supports us on this. I know that the national day of the midwife was also important to her.

I would like to thank my colleague on the Conservative side who just spoke, the member for Nanaimo—Alberni, the only man who spoke to this bill. I must say that his speech on his personal experience with midwives was extremely interesting.

I know that he did not make a speech, but I would also like to thank my Conservative colleague from Tobique—Mactaquac for talking about what was going on in New Brunswick and for showing how important it is for his community to have midwives.

I saw how important this issue was to everyone. We all have extremely different experiences, especially as parents. Our birthing experiences—as fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, sisters or cousins—are wonderful, and it is important to share these experiences with each other.

I thank my colleagues for their support for Bill C-608, An Act respecting a National Day of the Midwife.

Let us continue moving forward.

National Day of the Midwife ActPrivate Members' Business

7:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Is the House ready for the question?