Vancouver East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak in support of third reading of Bill C-442 for a national framework for Lyme disease.
Today is a special day. It is not every private member's bill that gets to third reading. The fact that this bill has means that it has stood the test. It has gone through the challenges of going through second reading, going to committee, through amendments, and here it is back in the House. We are anticipating and hopeful that the bill will be approved today in the House of Commons and then go to the Senate.
I would like to speak briefly to the bill, but I would first like to congratulate the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for the hard work that she has put into this bill, into building alliances and talking to people in different parties. It is a good example of the goodwill and the solidarity that can develop around an issue when people recognize that something needs to be done. I only wish it would happen more often in the House. There are so many issues that need our attention, collectively, with a spirit of fair play and goodwill. Maybe this bill will be a good model for that, but I wish it would happen a little more often.
When this bill came to the health committee, I was pleased to be there. We went through it and heard witnesses. Hearing the witnesses was incredibly compelling. We heard from Jim Wilson of the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation. People shared personal experiences about this disease, which is not easy to do in a formalized parliamentary hearing as a witness with all of the official trappings that go along with that.
Chris Powell and her daughter Nicole were quite remarkable. Nicole, who is from British Columbia, was quite remarkable in sharing her experience of having Lyme disease and the suffering she was going through. It is not only physical suffering, which she still endures, but also the emotional anguish of not being able to get a proper diagnosis.
One of the critical elements of the bill is that it would bring together the different elements we need in terms of not only prevention and better public awareness, but a medical community that is in a much more heightened state of awareness with respect to Lyme disease, as well as better clinical diagnostic tools and testing.
We heard horrifying stories from people who had gone to extraordinary lengths to find out why they were so sick and why they could not get help. We know there are two tests available in Canada, but they pertain only to basically one strain of the tick that produces Lyme disease. There is so much that needs to be known.
We heard stories about the amount of money people had spent to go to the United States, for example, where other testing has been available, to finally get a correct diagnosis. Then they would come back to Canada and have somebody contradict that diagnosis. It a nightmare for these people to live through, not just enduring and living with the disease, but coping with systemic barriers and obstacles to proper diagnosis and get the treatment they need. We heard all of that at committee. It was compelling and it made us all acutely understand that we needed a national framework.
I want to spend a moment on that. As the health critic, I meet with many organizations across the country, in Ottawa, in my riding and elsewhere. There are so many issues and people are literally begging the federal government to show leadership to develop a national strategy, whether for dementia or Alzheimer's. This is just another example of that. It is a reflection of our complex system.
We know that health care is a provincial delivery system. There is no question about that. However, there is a necessity for federal leadership. Under the Canada Health Act, we have a duty and responsibility to ensure that all people in our country, whether rich or poor or whether they live in the north, south, east, west or the centre, in small communities or large urban centres, have accessibility to our health care system. We know the inequities are getting greater, and not just between provinces but also within provinces.
There is an overarching issue that the bill also reflects, which is that we need to see the federal government be at the table. We need to see the federal government take leadership on these issues. Many groups are calling for a national strategy. People know the reality of this kind of scattered approach. It is like a patchwork across the country and that just is not good enough.
The bill speaks about a federal framework and would bring together the players. As the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has outlined, a key element of the bill is to convene a conference and include people who have Lyme disease and advocates so they are at the table as well. It is really about trying to bring the players together to develop that national framework.
We also heard at committee very interesting testimony from representatives of the Public Health Agency of Canada. They told us that Lyme disease had been a reportable disease only since 2009. We are only beginning to get a sense of the numbers out there. Of course many cases are not reported. Either people do not know they have the disease or if they suspect it, they do not get a proper diagnosis.
I agree with the member that we will face an explosion of cases, particularly with climate change and a warming environment. In southern Canada and places like B.C., where we really have not seen that many cases of Lyme disease, this will be on the increase.
I was very interested to hear that the Public Health Agency of Canada was conducting a fairly major public awareness campaign. In fact, the people from the agency assured us that Lyme disease should be a household word by the end of summer. People would know what it was, what they needed to be aware of and what they should do. I hope they are right because we do not want to see anybody suffer through this.
The issue of testing is very important. We heard loud and clear that there was an inadequate testing procedure in Canada. We need to have much better availability of testing with a greater depth of testing for different kinds of bacteria and strains.
Then finally on research, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research told us that some very good research was going on in Canada. I believe one of the researchers was in Calgary and another was maybe in Ontario. We need to fund that research. We need to know about the different strains so people can receive the appropriate diagnostic analysis and treatment.
The New Democrats have been very happy to support this bill all the way through. We are critically aware of this issue. It is something we speak about with our constituents. I am sure many of us have had visits from our constituents who have been affected by Lyme disease.
At the end of the day, we owe gratitude and thanks to the Lyme disease Foundation of Canada, which has done incredible work on this and has never given up. It is not easy. We have resources here. We can bring forward a private member's bill, which I do not want to diminish as it has a very important part. However, what is really wonderful is the fact that the people in the community, those who themselves are suffering, pushed this boulder uphill. They did not give up and they compelled us as legislators to take on this issue and support it.
Finally thanks go to those advocates. We need to remain vigilant and monitor what goes on to ensure this framework becomes a strategy that will help people.