moved, seconded by the member for Don Valley West, that Bill C-233, An Act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House today to formally introduce my private member's bill, Bill C-233, an act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. The title of the bill says it all. It calls upon parliamentarians to enact legislation for a national coordinated program for what has been termed Canada's invisible killer.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the member for Don Valley West for supporting this bill. The member told me that when he was a United Church minister, he spent a great deal of time working with families who were wrestling with this disease. I would also like to take this opportunity to note the contribution of the former member of the New Democratic Party, Claude Gravelle, for his excellent work on this issue.
Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia transcend partisanship. This disease affects over 700,000 Canadians. It is estimated that if nothing changes in terms of a strategic approach, that number will increase to 1.4 million Canadians by the year 2031. Those figures are staggering.
It is heartening to know that in matters of great concern to Canadians and their families, we can work together. This co-operation will lead to positive health outcomes for families across this country. No one is immune from this terrible disease. It brings to mind the late president Ronald Reagan. The former leader of one of the most powerful, wealthy nations on earth could not be safeguarded from the ravages of Alzheimer's.
On November 5, 1994, the 40th president of the United States addressed the American people by writing in part, “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life”. That journey took 10 painful years. His loving wife, Nancy, referred to it as the long goodbye. I reiterate that no one should have to witness the slow and painful deterioration of a loved one or family member suffering from this cruel illness. Far too many Canadians endure the long goodbye.
My own father, Robert Nicholson, whom I cherished deeply, passed away from complications due to Alzheimer's in 1997. Witnessing his decline in health was, needless to say, extremely difficult for everyone who knew and loved him. It saddens me to say that so many other Canadians have a similar story to share. Today, I am joined by many of my colleagues in the House who have dealt with or are dealing with a family member, friend, or loved one suffering from Alzheimer's or one of the varying forms of dementia.
We all understand the emotional impact of this disease on Canadian families. As journalist Candy Crowley said, “I want to tell you how much I miss my mother. Bits of her are still there. I miss her most when I’m sitting across from her”.
As Canada's population ages, the consequences of not dealing with this issue worsen. The bill proposes to establish a national dementia strategy that would improve the lives of those living with this disease, as well as their family and friends. It would do so in a way that would ensure the autonomy of the provinces and territories. This strategy would encourage greater investment in all areas and have the objective of improving the present circumstances of people with Alzheimer's and other dementias by decreasing the burden on Canadian society.
It would seek to assist the provinces in developing and disseminating diagnostic and treatment guidelines based on new research. All of these measures have been thoroughly considered to ensure the successful passage of this legislation. Members will note that the bill does not include restrictive timelines or financial criteria. Again, this is a deliberate intention in order to remove any potential barriers, such as the need for a royal recommendation.
Simply put, the bill is crafted for implementation, achievement of key deliverables, and ultimately, its passage at third reading in the House. At the end of the day, the objective is to enact legislation that would serve to provide solutions and assist those who suffer with Alzheimer's or dementia, in addition to aiding family members and caregivers.
It is commonly believed that dementia is a normal part of aging. This is a fallacy. Dementia can occur in people as young as 40 or 50 years of age, thus affecting them in their most productive years.
While dementia is not a normal part of growing old, age is still the biggest factor. After 65, the risk of getting Alzheimer's or dementia doubles every five years, and three out of four Canadians know someone living with dementia. We still do not understand the cause, nor do we have a cure.
Canada has already agreed to work with neighbouring nations to address this issue. In order to fulfill that mandate, we must develop a strategy to combat the disease here at home.
I want to share the story of one Canadian family who suffered from Alzheimer's.
Norma died of Alzheimer's three years ago today in Carleton, Ontario. She had the disease for seven years. Her daughter recalls not being sure if her mother recognized who she was, or even if she was aware that she was there. After her mother's funeral, a family friend delivered a letter to her along with a bouquet. She had helped Norma craft it while she was still able to say “yes”, and it read in part:
My dearest...[this is] a note to thank you for all your help during the last few years. We were always close—friends even, but during my illness, we grew even closer. I know you bore the brunt of my daily care, not physical but emotional. You were always kind and attentive making sure I was comfortable. Thank you, thank you... I appreciated everything. Role reversal is a funny thing. As your mother, I was proud of you my daughter. As I grew weaker you grew stronger—strong enough for both of us. Remember my love for you is never ending and I will always be with you. Love, Mom.
Almost all of us can relate to this letter. It illustrates just how important family members and caregivers are. To all Canadians and their families struggling to care for loved ones with Alzheimer's, we owe adequate support, treatment options, and early diagnosis.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge and thank the Alzheimer Society of Canada for its unwavering support of this bill. I consulted and met with members of the organization a number of times during the course of preparing this bill. That is because we need to get it right from the start.
The Alzheimer Society provides information, resources, education support, and counselling to family members and loved ones. The society is the leading not-for-profit health organization in Canada working nationwide to improve quality of life for Canadians affected by Alzheimer's and other dementias, and advance the search for the cause and cure. Its mandate aligns with the mandate of Bill C-233.
The Alzheimer Society has stated that it was pleased to see parties working together to address the scourge of dementia. It urged all members of Parliament to get behind the bill, suggesting a national strategy focused on research, prevention, and improved care is the only solution to tackling the impact of the disease.
I, too, invite all hon. members in the House to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of this legislation. It is the right thing to do for our friends, neighbours, parents, and for loved ones across our nation. It is the right thing to do for the global community as a whole.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “...there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
Simply put, it is the right thing to do to pass this legislation.