Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to speak on this important initiative introduced by my colleague, the member for Montcalm. I am grateful to her for raising the awareness of the House and grateful that I could second the bill.
I am also grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo for her remarks just now. I am very hopeful that the bill will pass the House for the very reasons she suggested so persuasively a moment ago.
The bill would designate the third Friday in September as a day to remember those who have been struggling with spinal cord injuries. What it would not do is create a legal holiday, but rather, just a day for awareness, as the title of the bill suggests. That is a very simple and important thing to do without the economic consequences of another day off. Therefore, it need not be of any concern to employers or others who might be worried about that.
My colleague, the member for Montcalm, suggested very persuasively that this is not just important for the victims of spinal cord injuries, which I certainly understand, but also for the caregivers and their families. She saluted the critical role of caregivers in her remarks, which is something that ought to be remembered by all members as we debate the bill.
People ask what this would be for. It would be a tool for awareness, and also for fundraising. It could be a focal point for those who are trying to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries. That in and of itself would be a good enough reason for us to support the initiative.
I want to give a shout out to Spinal Cord Injury Canada. I did a little research. The organization, which used to be called the Canadian Paraplegic Association, has been around for 70 years. It has been making an enormous contribution, not just to victims but also to their families in so many ways. I am hoping that it will support this initiative.
One of the things that Spinal Cord Injury Canada does is to sponsor an event on the Hill every year. Mr. Speaker, you will be aware that on May of last year, six members of Parliament and one senator got into wheelchairs, even though they were not disabled, to gain a better understanding of what the reality is for people suffering from this disability. My colleague, the member for York South—Weston, and my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, spearheaded that and participated in it.
I want to acknowledge that the government has pledged over $30 million in funding over five years for spinal cord injury research, which I think has been very well received by stakeholders and the medical community. That needs to be acknowledged as an important contribution.
The cause of spinal cord injury, as my colleague from Montcalm noted, is most frequently injury or trauma of some sort, but it also has to be remembered that sometimes these injuries result from acquired diseases that cause, for example, tumours on the spine or viral, and bacterial infections like polio. It is not just those caused by trauma, although I am sure those are majority of situations the bill would address.
My colleague, the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, made reference to one of my heroes, and I am sure a hero for many Canadians, Rick Hansen. How many of us would ever forget his Man in Motion Tour? I can still hear the Bryan Adams song in my head as I mention it. I remember driving into Vancouver one day when he was coming in after his national tour across the country in his wheelchair. I will never forget the emotion of people listening to the CBC that day and phoning in to try to make a pledge. No one could get through because the lines were absolutely jammed. In my part of the world, he is one of our true heroes.
I am sure I speak for all Canadians when I acknowledge that he has given back in so many important ways since then. Not only has he raised awareness, as my colleague pointed out, but has also, through his Rick Hansen Institute, done a number of important things, like coordinating a national strategy called the access to care and timing project, which involved multiple research centres across Canada, with the goal of scaling up effective clinical practices and providing more timely access to care for patients in this area.
I thought it was important that my colleague from Montcalm noted the reason for the proposed day being the third Friday in September. She said that it was because it was after the summer when so many people are affected by this terrible trauma due to injuries occurring during the summer. It occurs more frequently, it must be said, in the demographic of risky behaviour primarily by younger men.
However, the point of getting this initiative out at that time would serve as a message during the summer for people to remember to take greater care: do not speed while driving, be careful when playing sports, do not dive into shallow water, and these sorts of things.
The number of people afflicted with spinal cord injury is quite staggering and the costs, both human and economic, are immeasurable. There are 86,000 people in Canada living with spinal cord injuries and that is expected to grow to 121,000 by 2030. There are 4,300 new cases a year in this country and the majority are as a result of injuries to young males between 20 and 29 years of age. However, as we have an aging population, as others have acknowledged, there will be more affected because of falls among the elderly population.
The economic cost is $2.7 billion every year. Of course, the use of the medical system by those with spinal cord injuries is obviously enormous as well. In comparison, they are re-hospitalized 2.6 times more often than the general population. They require contact with a physician 2.7 times more often. They require home care services 30 times more than others.
These are important statistics, but they do not tell the whole story. They do not tell the story about the tragic changes in people's lives who are affected by spinal cord injury. The bill before us would bring awareness to that.
My colleague spoke eloquently about the importance of prevention, but also about the impact on families, caregivers and individuals who are affected by spinal cord injuries.
I pay tribute to the government for its funding efforts in this regard, but many people continue to live in real poverty as a consequence of these spinal cord injuries and we need to address that. We must do more with workplace accommodation for those people with disabilities trying to find work and keep work with mobility, access and accommodation issues.
We must do better with the caregiver tax credit, which is a non-refundable tax credit. It does not cover many disabled people who are affected or the spouses who take care of disabled partners and the like. These issues, among others, must be addressed.
Nevertheless, this is not the time, as colleagues have pointed out, for partisan commentary. It is to work together across the aisle to see if we can agree on this. It sounds like we will be able to achieve a bill in this regard. I am so grateful to my colleague from Montcalm for bringing forward what appears to be an initiative that will be successful in this House.