Mr. Speaker, I did not realize I was speaking to the bill tonight, but I am grateful for the opportunity. I am coming in at the last minute, so I am not as organized as I would like to be, but I am glad I am here and am able to speak to the bill. I have been contacted by a lot of people in Nova Scotia about this issue. Even before I became a member of Parliament, people were talking to me about it.
The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is passionate about this issue. Lyme disease is very much present on the west coast. It is also present on the east coast. In Nova Scotia we have seen an incredible rise in the number of cases reported.
We have been tracking this since 2002. To the best of my understanding, that is the first reported case in Nova Scotia. We used to talk about maybe there were ticks down in the southern part of Nova Scotia, in the Yarmouth area, for example, but they are moving north.
Climate change is very real. Our climate is changing and it is making it more hospitable for these ticks to head north throughout the entire province of Nova Scotia.
Our first recorded date of Lyme disease being reported in Nova Scotia was 2002. The numbers have gone up incredibly, and show how the climate is changing. In 2011, 57 cases of Lyme disease were reported. In 2012, 52 cases were reported. However, last year, in 2013, 155 cases of Lyme disease were reported. Since 2002, we have had 329 cases.
There is a lot of factors at play here, so it is possible that people just have a better understanding of Lyme disease. People are getting treated a lot sooner. They understand more about it. There has been a lot of media coverage about this back home. Also, the ticks are marching north. It is hard for me to even wrap my head around the fact that Lyme disease is an issue in Nova Scotia when it did not used to be. Things are changing.
Climate change models predict that Nova Scotia is very close to having a suitable climate for a tick establishment across the entire province, that includes the furthest north of Cape Breton. As we can imagine, this is preoccupying people quite a bit back home, and I have received a lot of letters about this when people cross Nova Scotia, including Clark Richards, who wrote to me and said he wanted to see the bill adopted in Parliament as soon as possible.
Clark Richards is a PH.D. student of oceanography at Dalhousie and has a bit of an insider's view about science and how this all works. In addition to wanting us to support the bill, and I was glad to write back and say we did, he also wanted to let me know that as a scientist, he is very concerned about the government's attack on science in our country. He noted that he is very sad and angry that the government was so heck-bent on pursuing an agenda that was so out of line with what he perceived as the priorities of the majority of Canadians, so he wanted to address a few issues. However, he firmly supported the bill and wanted me to know about it as his member of Parliament.
Shari-Lynn Hiltz also wrote to me about a Lyme disease strategy and said that this debate was important. She said that the idea of the bill was that it would bring together Canada's health ministers, medical professionals, scientists and advocates for Canadians with Lyme disease to work toward common goals, and that is a very laudable thing.
The goals that we have in common are increasing awareness and prevention, ensuring accurate diagnoses, tracking the spread of the disease and establishing national standards for the care and treatment of Lyme disease that reflect best practices. She is really excited about the idea of having this national strategy so our country can move forward with a comprehensive strategy to combat this devastating disease.
Those are just two examples of people from my riding. We think that we are here and people are not necessarily paying attention to what goes on in the House of Commons, but they are. They are writing us letters and getting in touch.
The Lyme disease advocacy network in Nova Scotia has been fantastic. They met with me years ago when I was first elected and talked to me about what was going on with Lyme disease. When I sat down with them in 2010, I asked how we make this a federal issue. The bill does a good job of saying that we are going to have a national strategy. That is the federal issue hook. At the time, I was not thinking along those lines. I was thinking about how we could talk about Lyme disease through a federal lens.
We talked about Lyme disease as it relates to national parks. In the south of Nova Scotia, where the ticks have started and are moving northward, in their movement north they are travelling right through Kejimkujik National Park. Some folks have told me that there are ticks in Kejimkujik. It is just a reality. Yet there are no signs, no postings, and no telling people what to look for. We could fix the problem if we knew what to look for and did a tick check at the end of the day, but if people do not know, they are increasing their risk.
I wrote to the then minister of the environment, who I cannot name, but it was before Jim Prentice, so this was a while ago. I talked about the fact that the Public Health Agency of Canada had declared Lyme disease to be a reportable disease, which we have heard a few times here, and that both the Public Health Agency and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research are monitoring the prevalence and spread of the disease through the country.
I talked about the fact that Lyme disease causes a wide variety of health problems for infected individuals, that it is carried by ticks and is transmitted through biting, and that the diagnosis is on the rise, particularly in eastern Canada and in suburban areas like Bedford, Nova Scotia or in national parks.
It is so important that Canadians be made aware of whether ticks have been found in an area and whether infected ticks are in the area as well. I pointed out to the minister that it had come to my attention that Parks Canada was not making the public aware when ticks carrying Lyme disease had been discovered in our national parks.
When infected ticks are discovered, there are no warnings on the Parks Canada website. There are no signs displayed at park entrances or on trails. It needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Plans should already have been put in place. The letter actually says that it should be before the beginning of the 2011 outdoor recreation season. Here we are, and we are about to embark on the 2014 outdoor recreation season, yet still this kind of plan is not in place.
This is a good example of what a strategy can accomplish. A strategy is not necessarily that we snap our fingers and all of a sudden Lyme disease is not a problem. It is steps we can take, such as making people aware that there are infected ticks in a park and they need to do a body check at the end of the day. This is how we reduce risk. People need to understand. It is one piece that could be part of a big strategy, and that is what we are talking about. We are still waiting for the federal government to act. We are still waiting for it to take action on a strategy, including one that would include our parks.
How about some good news? The good news is that Nova Scotia is taking action. I receive updates regularly from Robert Strang, who is the Chief Public Health Officer for Nova Scotia. He sent an update to me as an MP that said, “hey, you and your constituents need to know this”. He talked about the Department of Health and Wellness, which has a Lyme disease response plan. It includes an interdisciplinary committee that includes public health, veterinary medicine, because animals are involved too, and wild life biology, and it uses evidence-based advice and guidance. It looks at how to control Lyme disease. It sends out regular updates that include subjects such as tick and Lyme disease surveillance, public information that is available, information for clinicians, testing, and research. It is a good role model.
There are good things happening across our country. A federal strategy could wrap it up really well.