Mr. Speaker, I must start by acknowledging the enormous amount of work that my college from Nickel Belt has done on such an important initiative. It has been three and a half years since this initiative first came forward. He has been all around the country. He has heard, not from statistics, but from real Canadians who are living with Alzheimer's and dementia and the tragedy that they entail, not just for the individuals, but for the caregivers. They are always forgotten in these discussions, and they must be acknowledged. I do so today.
I heard the parliamentary secretary stand in this place a moment ago to say that the government could not support this bill due to “technical issues”. This is why we have committees to which we send bills. It is for them to be discussed and for evidence to come forward, and to fix problems that may or may not exist with this initiative.
It is passing strange that two days ago, a motion from the member for Huron—Bruce, the chair of the health committee, was brought forward that would do virtually the same things that this bill would do, but, of course, it would not have the force of law.
Technical objections were suggested by the parliamentary secretary. She referenced, for example, the royal recommendation as somehow being a problem. It is clear that the modifications at committee could have addressed that problem. Moreover, the Conservatives have themselves given royal recommendation to a private member's bill. I speak specifically of Bill C-838.
There is no technical problem that stands in the way of doing what so many Canadians want. There are some 750,000 of us who are living with this disease. We want a law, not a feel-good motion of no force and effect.
The parliamentary secretary talked of the provinces and the strides that have been made to work together. She said that the government is already ahead of Bill C-356.
We can work with the provinces. We can fix things in committee. That is what committees are for. That is how we fix legislation. We give a voice to Canadians, and we work on making the legislation better. To suggest that it must be thrown out, despite enormous effort in going through clause-by-clause with the government to try to do what all Canadians want, in the health field in particular, is not right.
She talks about how fantastic the work is at the international level. I agree there have been some strides made, although interestingly, Canada was not among the countries at the G8, now G7, that had a national dementia strategy, the pan-Canadian, if they want to call it that, dementia strategy. That is very upsetting. If they want to work with the provinces and work internationally, why do they not want to work with this side of the House in a non-partisan way to produce a law that Canadians so desperately want?
When I say “Canadians”, I should start with Dr. Chris Simpson of the Canadian Medical Association, with whom I had the pleasure to meet two days ago. He told me how much he looked forward to a bill of this sort. He said, “our acute care hospitals are overflowing with patients awaiting long term care placement and our long-term care facilities are understaffed...”
He suggests that the cost of looking after people in hospitals is enormous. I think my colleague from Nickel Belt made a suggestion that a health care bill, in today's terms, would be $33 billion, but by 2040, it would soar to $293 billion.
People want a health care strategy. This has to be seen as part of a national aging strategy, which our party is trying to address. This would be part and parcel of a strategy to deal with aging. People need care at home and in the community instead of overflowing expensive hospital beds. It is more humane, and it would cost radically less to treat people better.
The concern about cost is only one part of the tragedy at the human level that my colleague has signalled needs to be addressed. I am told that over 75 petitions on this topic have been tabled here. I am told that over 300 municipalities have passed supporting resolutions. There is a pent-up demand for Parliament and government to show some leadership on this issue.
I respect the initiatives that have been made for research, which are fabulous, and I salute the government for them, but it is not just about finding a cure. This bill would provide leadership, with Ottawa working with the provinces, and it would also promote earlier diagnosis and intervention.
The bill would strengthen the integration of primary home and community care. It would enhance skills and training for the dementia workforce. It would recognize the needs of and improve the supports for caregivers. They are the ones I wish to address. The plight of caregivers, the millions of unpaid hours that are given for free by loved ones for loved ones, is staggering. They do not have enough economic support as people age in our society.
In my community of Victoria, I asked my office to tell me what their experience was in dealing with people living with dementia. They said that there are so many people in a community like Victoria who are living with the disease. I think everyone in the House knows someone who is living with or is connected to someone living with the disease.
There have been so many cutbacks in government agencies in my community, my staff informed me, that people with dementia are unable to access services the way they did before. They need to have face-to-face contact. They are often unable to deal with the processes and roadblocks that have been put in the way as we cut services in the CRA, as we are now about to get rid of postal home delivery, and as we deal with no immigration office in our community.
In our community, people are already suffering from cutbacks. That is having a disproportionate impact on people living with this terrible disease. The boomer generation, of which I am a part, is going to be living with the disease in greater numbers as we go forward. It will be something like 1.4 million people in the next few years. It will increase dramatically.
It is not just a seniors issue, as my colleague from Nickel Belt so passionately demonstrated. It is people he gave examples of, people here in Ottawa who are living with early onset at a much earlier age. He did an excellent job in putting a human face on this crisis we are facing.
Apparently a Nanos survey done recently said that 83% of Canadians believe that Canada needs a national dementia plan. We have had great success with these kinds of plans, such as the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. The Canadian Medical Association make reference to its excellent work as an example of what could be done here if the government was willing to work with us to achieve that result.
The former executive director of the Alzheimer's Society of Sudbury, Patricia Montpetit, said this:
It's so pressing that a national strategy be adopted by the government so they don't suddenly wake up one day and say we're overwhelmed with the demands of care.
That is something we all have reason to fear.
I like the expression Dr. Frank Molnar, a professor at the University of Ottawa, uses in describing Alzheimer disease. He calls it “the godfather of all chronic diseases”.
With the gray tsunami, with the aging Canadian population, we are facing a crisis if we do not get our hands around this problem. I respect that the provinces are working now with the federal government to begin this dialogue. We need to go much, much further. We need a strategy that takes into account the skyrocketing economic costs, the social costs, and as I continue to say, the costs for caregivers, because the pressure on family caregivers is only mounting.
I have a statistic here that is quite remarkable. In 2011, family caregivers spent 444 million unpaid hours per year looking after someone with dementia. That represents $11 billion in lost income and 228,000 lost full-time equivalent employees in the workforce. By 2040, they will be devoting a staggering 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year to this initiative.
We have had strategies and partnerships to deal with other devastating diseases, like cancer and heart disease. Why can we not work together to deal with one that we all know is going to be something in the future that will occupy all of us in the country? As the Canadian Medical Association says, it is time to roll up our sleeves and face the epidemic head on.
It is time for the government to work with parties on both sides of the aisle on a pan-Canadian strategy. It is time to put aside partisan differences. Coming up with an alternative motion two days before this debate makes us feel good, but it does not allow a forum for Canadians to come and testify to this tragedy and to provide a law with teeth that would actually do something to address this crisis.