Mr. Speaker, last month, I joined my community in Nanaimo on the walk for Alzheimer's where our community walked in support of Alzheimer's patients and their families.
The honoree this year was the late Dale Horn. She was born in 1933 in Australia and she came to Canada at the age of 24. She was such a strong part of Nanaimo's community boards and the life of its community spirit.
At this Alzheimer's walk a month ago, her son, John Horn, honoured her at the walk for all the hundreds of participants ready to get started, saying: “Dale was a fantastic companion, fully engaged, witty and keenly observant. She drew you in and made you feel lucky to be included in her world.” With “a steely resolve and genuine grit,” Dale was unfazed by her disease, said John. “When affected by Alzheimer's, she insisted on helping others with the disease. She retained a wicked sense of humour and immense grace, right up to the end of her life.”
This year's Nanaimo Alzheimer's walk raised $18,000. This is to promote critical research to reduce the effects of Alzheimer's, but also to provide services for those living with, or assisting with Alzheimer's. This is really to ease the personal circumstances that exist for the people suffering and for their families every day.
It is in that spirit that I am pleased to stand and speak today in favour of the bill at hand and to speak about Canada's responsibility to improve care for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians suffering from dementia, and to give better support to their families and caregivers.
Bill C-233, which calls for the development and implementation of a national and comprehensive strategy to improve health care delivered to persons suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia is something we can and should all support. Canada has fallen behind other countries such as the United States, the U.K., Norway, France, the Netherlands, and Australia. All of these countries have coordinated national dementia plans in place already.
Past president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Chris Simpson, spoke to this when he said:
We have the dubious distinction of being one of the few G8 countries without a national dementia strategy. Meanwhile, our acute care hospitals are overflowing with patients awaiting long term care placement and our long-term care facilities are understaffed, underspaced and underequipped to care for our most vulnerable seniors. This leaves patients and their families in limbo, struggling to fill these gaps in our system.
He also said:
The reason your father has to wait nine months for a hip replacement is that the beds are being used by dementia patients.... That is the single biggest reason why elective surgery wait times are so long.
Now, it was the NDP that first introduced a proposal to the House to create a national strategy for dementia. In 2012, former NDP MP Claude Gravelle introduced Bill C-356 in Parliament, prescribing a national dementia strategy. Unfortunately, that bill was defeated at second reading a year ago by a single vote. The bill was opposed by a majority of Conservative MPs, Bloc MPs, and, critically as it turned out, a single Liberal MP who failed to stand for the vote. I was watching it on CPAC. It was heartbreaking because it would have made a big difference in our communities.
Inexplicably, the member for Niagara Falls, the sponsor of the bill before the House today, voted against the national dementia strategy just a year ago. If the House had followed New Democrat leadership in the last Parliament, Canadians would have a national dementia strategy in place right now. Canadians would not have lost precious time, and that is something that is so precious to people suffering from a degenerative illness.
This has had real human impact. I have heard countless stories in my riding about the impacts of Alzheimer's disease and dementia on my constituents. Many cannot afford quality home care for their parents and it is especially shameful that the Liberals abandoned their election promise to invest $3 billion in home care.
I have heard stories from personal care workers, nurses, and physicians who report emergency wards overwhelmed with patients, long-term facilities that are understaffed, and long gruelling hours for caregivers. These are very often offering low-pay work in the homes of dementia patients.
These stories underscore the need for real leadership in this chamber. So many are affected. Three-quarters of a million Canadians were living with dementia in 2011. That is 15% of Canadian seniors. That might double by 2031. This costs our country $30 billion a year in medical bills and lost productivity. Left unchecked, that number could skyrocket to $300 billion within 25 years.
As Canada's population ages, we must prepare our health care system and our communities for the inevitable rise in the number of Canadians suffering from dementia.
To paraphrase Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare and a New Democrat, only through the practise of preventative medicine will we keep health care costs from becoming excessive.
The need is pressing. The burden for caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's falls primarily on family members. In Canada, family caregivers give millions of unpaid hours each year caring for their parents and family. That is $11 billion in lost income and a quarter million lost full-time equivalent employees from the workforce.
If nothing changes by 2040, it is estimated that family caregivers in Canada will be spending 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year providing care, and a quarter of family caregivers are seniors themselves.
Dementia also has a disproportionate impact on women. Women are two and a half times more likely to be providing care. Women themselves represent 62% of dementia cases and 70% of new Alzheimer's cases. That puts them at the epicentre of a growing health care crisis. Also, women are nearly twice as likely to succumb to dementia.
Another group of vulnerable patients are affected by another bill in the House, and that is the government's physician-assisted dying bill. We keep hearing arguments again and again that people with a dementia diagnosis should have a real choice over how their lives end. The federal government's legislation for assisted dying would not allow Canadians with a dementia diagnosis, while they were still of sound mind, to make an advance request for physician-assisted dying. This puts up an enormous barrier for thousands of Canadians with dementia or other degenerative illness.
Without the right to make advance requests for assisted dying, Canadians with a dementia diagnosis are faced with what the courts call a cruel choice between ending their lives prematurely or, potentially, suffering immeasurably and unbearably. This is completely unacceptable. To us it looks as if those who most need physician-assisted dying may inexplicably be excluded from it. We remain optimistic that amendments will be made to ameliorate that very serious flaw.
Let us go back to the national Alzheimer's strategy.
The New Democrats believe that the bill must be crafted correctly to ensure the best outcome for patients, their families, and their caregivers. While we support Bill C-233, it is less ambitious in its scope and implementation provisions than last year's New Democrat bill.
We will work constructively at committee stage to bring about meaningful and substantive amendments to strengthen the final version of the bill. Canadians deserve no less than the best national Alzheimer's strategy possible. The New Democrats have a long and proud history of advocating for federal leadership on health care issues.
In fact, as my colleague, the member forVancouver Kingsway likes to remind me, we invented it. The New Democrats stood alone in the House unanimously for a national dementia strategy in 2015. We stand in the House in 2016 and work so every Canadian, every Canadian family, every caregiver, can have a world-class dementia strategy, as the New Democrats have fought for in the last five years.