Mr. Speaker, it is certainly an honour for me to rise today to participate in this debate on Bill C-442, an act respecting a National Lyme Disease Strategy. I would like to begin by commending the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her stewardship of this important bill, and I would like to acknowledge its support by many members in the House.
The hon. member mentioned in her comments that many of us, myself included, live in areas where the blacklegged tick, or deer tick, is endemic. In addition, many of us, myself included, have constituents who have contracted Lyme disease at some point.
This is an endemic disease. It is a Canada-wide disease, and it is a disease that is spreading. For those reasons, we need a national strategy. The support for this bill underscores the need to work together and to address this emerging infectious disease in order to minimize the risk for Canadians.
Across the country, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease has increased significantly in the last decade. In fact, the actual number of cases in Canada is estimated to be up to three times higher than reported because many Canadians may not seek a full diagnosis and, quite frankly, many medical professionals do not know how to diagnose Lyme disease.
To underscore that point, as the hon. member would know, Lyme disease was first reported in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975 or 1974. Here we are, 39 years later, with Lyme disease endemic throughout New England and now it has spread into Canada, following the white-tailed deer, of course, and we still do not have a national strategy for Lyme disease. That underscores the need for the important discussion we are having in the House of Commons today.
This has led to a growing recognition among governments, health practitioners, and stakeholders that work needs to be done to address this emerging infectious disease. Support for this bill also highlights the need to better leverage efforts at the federal level and across jurisdictions in Lyme disease surveillance and research.
Our government has already established improved surveillance specifically aimed at Lyme disease, and welcomes the sponsor's efforts to bring additional attention to this important issue.
The proposed bill highlights the need for continued action by governments, stakeholders, and the public health and medical communities to improve the understanding and awareness of risk factors, prevention, and treatment options. The objectives of this bill are laudable, and in fact align with the many activities already being undertaken by our government. Canadians should be reassured that the government has not been standing still.
We are already making significant progress under the leadership of the Public Health Agency of Canada. We are working with provincial and territorial health authorities and other partners in informing Canadians of the health risks from contracting Lyme disease. We also continue to help protect Canadians against Lyme disease through improved surveillance, by conducting research, by providing factual and evidence-based information to Canadians, and by providing support for laboratory diagnosis. Since 2006, our government has invested $4.6 million through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to specifically fund research on Lyme disease and to disseminate the latest findings and knowledge to the scientific community.
These efforts are a central component of the Public Health Agency of Canada's approach to infectious diseases in Canada. More specifically, our approach to Lyme disease takes important action to reduce the disease's impact.
We do this by enhancing surveillance, prevention, and control; research and diagnosis; and engagement, education, and awareness. These three areas are consistent with the key elements of the bill, and our approach is already delivering results. However, as mentioned before, we are also prepared to do more, and in a collaborative fashion, to further address this emerging infectious disease.
That is why I want to signal to the House today that the government supports the intent of Bill C-442 and that we will be proposing practical amendments to ensure that the vision and values expressed in the bill can be realized and provide maximum benefit to the Canadian people.
The bill addresses an important issue, but it needs to be refined to remain consistent with the jurisdictional roles and accountabilities of Canada's federal system of government. In keeping with the spirit of the bill, we must be mindful of our federal role and respect jurisdictional accountabilities.
As we know, the provision of health care services in Canada falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. It is the provinces and territories that establish and monitor standards of care for health providers. It is also the purview of relevant medical colleges to define clinical care guidelines.
It is not the federal role to tell medical professionals how to practise. The proper role for the federal government in this area is to ensure that best practices are being shared across all jurisdictions, so that Canadians can be reassured that treatments are guided by the best scientific evidence.
In a similar vein, dictating to provinces and territories how and where to allocate their spending is contrary to our government's approach to fiscal federalism. However, it is within our federal role to facilitate collaboration across jurisdictions and with stakeholders to monitor and address the challenges posed by Lyme disease.
We are doing precisely that through our involvement in the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network and our collaborative work with stakeholders such as the College of Family Physicians of Canada and patient advocacy groups.
For example, the Public Health Agency of Canada is already working with the College of Family Physicians of Canada to engage health professionals on Lyme disease by increasing awareness among health care providers to enable them to recognize, diagnose, and treat the disease in its early stages.
Suffice it to say, while we concur with the bill's goals and objectives, it would need to be amended to reflect these jurisdictional realities, which is something that the hon. member has already mentioned she is supportive of.
This government is looking forward to working with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and will propose amendments in these areas to ensure that the bill is consistent with the provinces' and territories' primary role in delivering health care.
Early on in my speech, I mentioned that 39 years ago, Lyme disease was first diagnosed in Lyme, Connecticut. It took 39 years to get to this stage.
I have heard some members in this place—as the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has already alluded—question whether they would support this piece of proposed legislation. Some members say that Lyme disease is not prevalent in their area or that it is not endemic in their area.
I would suggest to these members that they had better take a look at whether they have white-tailed deer in their area. The blacklegged tick, better known in my part of the world as the deer tick, came to North America with the white-tailed deer. It has spread very successfully in most jurisdictions of North America.
As deer become more urban, or perhaps as humans become more rural, more white-tailed deer are moving into what were once rural areas, which are now urban areas. Therefore, this disease is only going to get worse, and it has been wildly underreported. There are a number of cases we are still trying to diagnose that I suspect will end up being Lyme disease or some variant of Lyme disease.
In closing, I commend the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for her very important and extremely timely work on this file. I have a number of constituents in South Shore—St. Margaret's in Nova Scotia who are watching this file as it proceeds forward. These folks either have contracted Lyme disease themselves or have family members who have contracted Lyme disease.
This is a terrible, insidious disease that is very difficult to diagnose. Therefore, this is very timely legislation.