Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie for requesting tonight's debate.
I have been listening this evening, and I think none of us want this to be a political issue. However, all of us, as members of Parliament, are asking the same question: Is Canada doing enough, or should Canada be doing more? That is what Canadians are asking us, particularly those who come from the countries so desperate at this moment. They are pleading.
This infection is not contained. Without containment, everyone in the region is at risk. As we are learning today, even the United States of America is preparing for the possible eventuality that the disease could come to us.
We learned a lot in 2003 from SARS, because we were not prepared and because we really did not have the structures in this country to speak to one another. From Dr. Naylor's report, “Learning From Sars”, we know that we had to do better on collaboration, co-operation, communication, and clarity as to who does what and when.
The Public Health Network has now been set up, as has the Public Health Agency of Canada. The Public Health Network is doing an excellent job across the country with its weekly calls and letting one another know what it is doing, what is at risk, and what it believes can happen internationally.
The Public Health Agency, unfortunately, is still without a permanent chief public health officer of Canada. It means that at times like this, there is not the trusted voice speaking directly to Canadians. Dr. Greg Taylor, as the deputy chief public health officer, has done his best, but when the lessons were learned from SARS, it was extremely explicit that there needed to be a trusted voice of public health speaking to Canadians at times like this.
Frankly, it has been over a month since Canadians have had any conversation about this from any public health official of Canada. At that time it was merely an announcement of the expert and exciting news about the possible vaccine. Again, when it is delivered by the Minister of Canadian Heritage in her home town, it unfortunately smacks of politics instead of being a clear message to Canadians about what they need to know and what they should be telling their families and friends about this exponentially increasing disease around the world.
It has only been ten days since the excellent CBC post by Amber Hildebrandt, which talked about the “...dire predictions of 20,000 people — more than six times the current toll”. In the article she talked about Médecins Sans Frontières, saying that its “1,800 staff are overwhelmed” and that it is turning to “governments capable of rapidly deploying military units and running self-contained field hospitals”. That is what MSF is asking for, and that is what we have not heard tonight.
We have not heard once tonight from the government side that it will assess and do more if necessary. Canadians want to know that Canada will step up. They have not heard that message.
The parliamentary secretary said that the critics had had a briefing. I have to say that the briefing deck I just looked at is pretty thin gruel when we look at the international assistance, co-operation, and collaboration. There are three bullet points that start with the $5 million we have heard about countless times tonight.
The NML, or the national microbiology mobile lab, was sent, but then the three staff were brought back because there was an infection in the hotel, which is again a mixed message Canadians are hearing. They have not had an explanation. If it could only be contracted through bodily fluids, human to human, people did not know why those staff came home.
Those are the questions that Canadians are asking parliamentarians, and it is the reason that parliamentarians need proper briefings, in order to contain the fear. We do not want to fearmonger, but we do want to have specific answers, and also the donation of the doses of experimental vaccine.
There are three bullet points in a deck, and then unfortunately the closing remarks merely say that the Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to monitor the situation in West Africa and keep Canadians informed as the situation evolves.
What Canadians want to know is whether we are doing enough, and should we be doing more? That was supposed to be the point of the debate tonight. It is upsetting that we end up with this political defensive response instead of learning. We actually want to hear from medical professionals. That is why it is extraordinary that in Canada we have this approach, which unfortunately is inadequate information from people who are not medically trained or able to instill confidence in Canadians. From the articles in the Lancet, to all the things that should have, could have, or would have happened as proposed by the WHO, in 2011, this is now being called an international response that is fractured and delayed. Everyone is now scrambling as this thing is getting worse and worse. As Dr. Cornish from MSF Canada has said, the international response has been “lethally inadequate”.
The past deputy chief public health officer to Canada, Dr. Paul Gully, in that same article, talked about how a unified and coordinated response should work with other member states, hopefully led by the WHO. He is concerned that the deployment needs consular response, the ability to evacuate workers if needed, money to pay health workers and insure them, plus training, food, lodging, and travel. A lot of coordination would be required, and Canada probably has some capacity that it could share. However, he agrees that it is not that simple. He is saying that it is our responsibility.
It was Dr. Cornish who said that the world has to step up to this emergency, and if the call is unanswered, this could turn into a disaster and an outbreak of cataclysmic proportions.
Even as we have experienced the debate tonight, things are changing today. Already in the U.K., they are reporting the CDC decision to issue a six-page action plan on how to tackle Ebola for U.S. hospitals. Now is the time to prepare. They warned a week ago that the disease was out of control, as a CDC worker contracted the illness. World leaders are pledging to invest millions, particularly with the President of Liberia's urgent plea to the President of the United States.
It is an urgent issue and call to action today from the CDC. This is the first time we have heard experts saying that it is only a matter of time before the illness is widespread across America. This is really different, and it is hugely important to us here in Canada to understand that if we do not step up and help to contain this infection on that continent, we are going to be very sorry. I think that Canadians have been saying to me over the last little while that we could and should be doing more.
Today we learned that the UN Security Council is going to hold its emergency debate on Ebola on Thursday, and it will get attention in Washington, as we talked about earlier in one of my questions, as members of Congress are slated to hear from the federal officials who are leading the nation's efforts. Of course, President Obama is scheduled to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta and will be briefed. Tomorrow it is expected that President Obama will detail his plans to boost the nation's efforts to help West Africa battle the Ebola outbreak, and The Wall Street Journal is just recently reporting today that the plan could include sending more portable hospitals, medical staff and supplies, as well as training health workers in the outbreak countries.
As members know, Congress is currently considering Obama's $88-million request for the Ebola response, which is included in the resolutions to fund government for three more months, past the end of its fiscal year, and that the U.S. House of Representatives has already introduced a bill that includes the amount the administration requested. Also tomorrow federal health officials will testify before a joint Senate committee hearing on Ebola and the response change. Health officials on the witness list include the CDC, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
It is urgent that Canadians hear from the Public Health Agency of Canada directly and that journalists and others are able to ask the really important questions, which are the core of this debate. Could and should Canada be doing more? That is what tonight's debate is about. Are we doing enough? In order to sleep soundly in our beds at night, I think that across all party lines everybody needs to know that we have asked and had good answers to those questions. Otherwise, we are not doing our jobs as parliamentarians.
We want Canadians to hear from the medical authorities as to what is possible from our international development authorities, what is possible in terms of foreign affairs in terms of consular support, what we are stepping up. Those same places that the protective equipment announcement came from tonight also have the portable hospital units. Should and could we be at least considering that? How do I answer when I am asked: should we be sending portable hospitals, should we be sending some of our beds, should we be sending some of the things that we have in depots all over this country where the protective equipment came from? Should we be digging deeper into what is possible? It is a hugely important issue.
During SARS we were really reeling because we did not have the structures in place at the Public Health Agency of Canada, or the Chief Public Health Officer of a public health network. We are asking the government to let those people do their work and let them speak directly to Canadians and brief parliamentarians. A call to brief the critics of the two opposition parties is not speaking to our party. Are they supposed to then brief their caucus on this? Surely not. They have to come to committee, tell us what is going on and then tell us what could be possible. Then, after we are given the menu of choices and have it costed out, it is up to Parliament to decide whether we should do more. Then we will do the risk assessment and be able to make good decisions as a Parliament in the same way as tomorrow night we will debate the contribution in terms of Iraq.
As Dr. Keith Martin said, this should be dealt with as a natural disaster. We have to have that mentality of disaster response as opposed to being able to just say that the $5 million is enough and here is a little bit more equipment.
This is not what I am hearing.
I have to say, as I asked earlier in the day, we lived in Toronto with the ill effects of a travel advisory for a disease that actually, evidence-based, could not be contracted in the community. I am hearing from many people that the travel advisory to those very vulnerable countries is perhaps dangerous. Again, people can only get the disease through human-to-human contact and by bodily fluids. It is difficult for people to understand why this travel advisory was advised when many other countries have not done that. What I am hearing is that this travel advisory may well impede some of the assistance getting into these countries.
One of the other things we are hearing is that there are many doctors and nurses, health professionals across Canada, who are thinking about joining the amazing Dr. Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, who felt called to go and help. Obviously, there is Dr. Theresa Tam from the Public Health Agency. There are other people with skills who want to know if they can help. It is too difficult for them to find out how to do that in the current configuration of websites and in CANADEM or in the ways that this is structured, because most of our processes are not done for emergencies like this, and not for this specific kind of medical assistance.
We hope that the government will listen to what the President of the United States decides to do tomorrow, including appointing an Ebola czar who will be the person who Americans can listen to as to what is going on.
It is extraordinarily important that Canadians have confidence, and that as they see what the CDC has rolled out in terms of all the American hospitals, the handbooks, and the buddy system to make sure people wash their hands and to make sure that all the basic public health rules that are sometimes not observed are followed. This is a teachable moment for even the upcoming winter flu. We could do a better job now in preparing for this.
It is clear that President Obama's announcement is to “underscore” just how extraordinarily serious the administration has been in confronting what they call a top national security priority. What a senior administration official has said is that what is needed is on a scale that is unprecedented.
I think that Canadians think that $5 million and some special equipment is not an unprecedented contribution. This is business as usual in terms of $5 million here and $5 million there for a whole myriad of problems that countries in the world are facing.
We need a risk assessment as to what is the appropriate contribution for Canada to contain this epidemic and prepare Canadians for any eventuality in this country so that they feel confident. However, that can only come if they stand up, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the public health leadership in this country, and we let them speak directly to Canadians, let them speak directly to parliamentarians. We have to stop this game of politics and defensiveness, where everything we are doing is perfect, when too many Canadians have too many questions and too many parliamentarians have too many questions. Frankly, tonight's debate was very helpful in terms of getting some of this out.
However, the answers to the questions are not being given by people who actually have the medical knowledge to be able to give reassurance to Canadians or even to parliamentarians.