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.