Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Montcalm.
I am humbled by the opportunity to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other acts (medical assistance in dying), at third reading. It is an important issue facing all Canadians.
Every time I come to the House, I come I wearing three hats. The first is the hat entrusted to me as a member of Parliament representing my constituents of Richmond Hill; the second is the hat of a legislator working hard to make the best decisions for all Canadians; and the third is the hat of an individual with his own convictions and beliefs.
Today, I will open my heart and share my thoughts, hoping to reach the hearts of all Canadians.
Let me start by acknowledging how challenging an issue this is. It is difficult for a person to engage in a conversation about death, yet our government has honourably taken on this responsibility.
On April 30, I participated in a York Region town hall, where a sizeable portion of the attendees were from Richmond Hill. They passionately spoke to this matter from all sides. I am inspired by the passion found within my constituency, and I would like to assure them, and all Canadians, that we are in this together.
I am sharing my story with the House, a story that complements the perspective of my constituents, and the work that we do in the House.
This is the story of my father's journey dealing with the inner turmoil caused by cancer. It is the exact reason why I am so passionate about the bill. I wrestled with this issue because each one of my hats had a strong stake in this debate and the final decision to be made.
The difficulty of beating cancer is well known to many. However, despite the odds, my father fought this disease. He fought it with all his power and he succeeded. Unfortunately, his success was short-lived and he relapsed in no time.
As a loving and supportive family, we did everything for my father to keep him happy and comfortable during the end of his days. However, no matter what we did, it was not good enough to relieve his pain. No amount of moral and social support was stronger than his inner suffering. We provided him with palliative care, but it was not enough. It broke my heart to watch my father slowly lose himself through the process. At the end, he was more concerned about the impact of his suffering on us than on him. After all, his pain was alleviated with heavy doses of morphine. However, there was no remedy for his mental pain and the hit to his pride.
I have heard the concern that providing medical assistance in dying would negatively impact vulnerable people. However, as I stated before, what made my father vulnerable was not having the option to put an end to his journey.
Eventually, my father suffered from two illnesses, one physical and the other mental. The amount of pain he was going through physically began affecting him psychologically as well. He began isolating himself from us, and in the end was suffering alone.
I agree with the government's commitment to support quality end-of-life services and to continue working with the provinces and territories to improve palliative care. Canadians and the Richmond Hill community have made it clear that is what they want. To that end, the government has committed to a long-term investment into palliative care of $3 billion over four years. However, no amount of investment into palliative care would have relieved my father's agony.
My father's experience is not a unique one. I am sure that others in the House know of someone who has endured similar distress.
We have a big responsibility to Canadians. Our responsibility is to make Canada great, to provide Canadians with the means for a better life, to facilitate their realization of their vision, and to help them achieve their dreams and aspirations. We were elected to represent their wishes, to provide services, and to make legislation to achieve those ends.
Let us look at the data that speaks to what Canadians want. Polls show that a majority of Canadians accept the idea and would even request medical assistance in dying if it were available to them. Those polls also show that over the years the acceptance level of medical assistance in dying has been been increasing. As Canadians became more aware of the matter, they began to empathize with those who suffer. In Richmond Hill alone, the local parliament project has shown that over 70% of my riding agrees that individuals who are terminally ill should be allowed to end their lives with the assistance of a medical professional.
In February of 2016, a Statistics Canada demographic analysis showed that persons aged 65 and over make up a record proportion of our population. It also showed that the proportion of seniors in our population has been increasing over the past 50 years, and the trend is continuing. What does this mean for us as legislators and representatives? It means that we must be forward thinking in our legislation and we must ensure there are mechanisms in place to deal with future problems.
The Carter case has shown us already that our current legislation is outdated, and the Supreme Court has asked us to update it. We are faced with a June 6 deadline. Let us ensure that we are prepared for this demographic shift and potential needs, such as the one on the table today. In order to ensure that we are prepared for this shift, we must ensure that we address key issues in our current system.
According to a research article published by the journal Palliative Medicine, in Canada, we need to streamline our legislative, financial, and regulatory affairs in terms of delivery of palliative care services. This means that once the legislation is passed we must continue to conduct studies and address lagging areas of hospice and palliative care services delivery.
I was fortunate enough to hear points of view from my neighbours in Richmond Hill during the town hall. They opened up their hearts and shared with me. The most powerful story came from people suffering with terminal illnesses, similar to the one my father had. They spoke of the importance of making advance requests, addressing the issue of mental illness, and access to mature minors. I am happy to hear that the government will appoint independent bodies to study these issues. I have seen members of the relevant committees work hard to ensure that they provide a reasonable approach to the legislation.
It is after carefully thinking through all these issues that I have decided to support Bill C-14.
I realize our government has genuinely worked hard on the bill. As it stands, Canadians do not have a choice on how to say goodbye to this world. My father died in my arms. He died in an attempt to say something to me, something I will never know. He did not choose when to leave me. He did not choose how to leave.
Through my declaration of Bill C-14, I am sending four messages. To my conscience, I can say rest assured that with this decision I have balanced the three hats and their responsibilities to the best of my ability. To my dad, I would say, “It took 10 years to understand what you wanted to say to me before you left me. Dad, in supporting this bill, I am happy to carry your wishes forward”. To my constituents and the Richmond Hill community, I want to assure them they were consulted, they were heard, and they are well represented.
To all Canadians, it has been a long and hard journey, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. However, in order for the journey to begin, the bill needs to pass. Let us work together to take that first step.