Mr. Speaker, I stand here today to speak about the Liberal government's plan to tax Canadian workers' private health and dental plans.
This is very concerning, as 75% of working Canadians, 22 million Canadians in total, have access to a health care benefit plan and would be affected by this policy. The people who will be affected the most will be the people in my riding.
This change would particularly affect the coverage of preventive care and services, such as prescription drugs, mental health care, and musculoskeletal care. This will result in medical insecurity and a lack of follow-up if these changes are implemented.
What we New Democrats want is health care coverage for all Canadians, regardless of their income and regardless of their social status. We want more coverage, not less. This is at the very core of our values. We do not want to jeopardize the coverage that already exists.
As members know, Quebec is the only province that taxes private coverage. Statistics show that since this tax was introduced in 1993, we saw 20% of employers drop their coverage, including 50% of small and medium-sized businesses.
I am proud to represent Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. It is an honour for me to stand in the House of Commons and pay tribute to the thousands of constituents who wake up every day to go to work and make a living to take care of their families and communities. However, hardship also exists in my riding. If we impose this tax on working Canadians, it will result in the loss of coverage for millions of Canadians.
The way I see it, the federal government is trying to take with one hand what is given with the other. This is particularly disturbing to me, as many of my constituents are already having a hard time making ends meet.
A recent report called “Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan”, put together by professors at Regina University, Paul Gingrich, Garson Hunter, and Miguel Sanchez, states that 160,000 people in the province of Saskatchewan were living in poverty in 2014, and 64,000 of those people were children. The report showed that the situation for first nation families appeared worse, with a child poverty rate in 2010 of 59%. In 2010, of the 55,000 poor children in Saskatchewan, 31,000 were from first nation or Métis families. The report also showed that 69% of indigenous children on reserve are living in poverty, which is more than two of every three and much higher than the provincial average.
These numbers are staggering. It shows that there is a collaborative failure of the federal and provincial governments to address the social shortfalls that these communities live with every day. Instead of laying the path for deterring people from acquiring medical and dental health care, the federal government ought to find ways to bring good jobs to regions like my riding. This would combat the startling high unemployment rate and encourage employers to offer medical and dental coverage.
Access to health services is a huge challenge in northern Saskatchewan. Already we have long waiting periods to see dentists. Many people of all ages suffer from the effects of infections and other dental-related issues, because they cannot afford to get the medical care or prescription they require.
Once more, it is no secret that the suicide rate is three times the national average in Saskatchewan. Issues such as systemic poverty, addictions, high unemployment, and loss of language and culture are the accumulated and intergenerational effects of residential-school abuse.
Now I ask that action be taken to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the calls to action for Canadian reconciliation, as recommended by the TRC. Further to this, Canada must sign the indigenous declaration of human rights as a step in good faith toward concrete action, showing that the Canadian government respects and will ensure that for the first peoples of this nation, treaty and human rights are implemented to improve people's lives.
In the north, constituents resort to drastic measures, because they cannot get the health services they require on time. Many constituents travel and drive hours to attend southern emergency departments, hoping to get the care they require.
One of my constituents attended two or three southern walk-in and emergency centres within a short period and was dismissed each time. If not for his tenacity he could have had his whole leg amputated, instead of his foot, due to the spread of gangrene related to his diabetes. I cannot wonder if his foot could have been saved if our northern emergency departments were not so completely overwhelmed.
In northern Saskatchewan, elders, veterans, youth, pregnant women, and even babies struggle to acquire the health services they need. People are dying from preventable illnesses.
Consider how the staggeringly high HIV/AIDS infection rates in northern Saskatchewan are impacted by this issue. The HIV infection rate in Saskatchewan is 13.8 per 100,000 population, almost double the national average of 7.8 per 100,000. On reserves, the infection rate is 64 per 100,000. Medication, medical care, mental health, addictions, and prevention services must be more accessible, not less.
In my riding, those who will be affected by this added tax are teachers, nurses, RCMP officers, paramedics, construction workers, and everyday workers. These are hard-working Canadians we depend on for the well-being of our communities. The government's move to tax medical care coverage and dental coverage will only deter employers from offering it and further fuel the medical crisis that currently exists in my riding.
In her mandate letter, the Minister of Health is asked to ensure that health care is accessible as much and as widely as possible.
The Keewatin Career Development Corporation reported that northern Saskatchewan lags behind other regions significantly in income. The median income for northern Saskatchewan was $16,860 compared to $28,792 for Saskatchewan, and $27,334 for Canada. The low income cut-off, known as the poverty line, was $14,454 for people living in small communities in Canada. There is not enough information to determine the number of northern Saskatchewan individuals and families living below the poverty line in northern Saskatchewan, but it is likely to be significant, given that the median income for individuals is so close to the low income cut-off.
It is because of the lack of a diversified northern economy that we have seen an increase in job losses in the mining sector and forestry industry. Why is this important in today's debate? For one, northerners' income is painfully insufficient, limiting access to food, fuel, heat for their homes, transportation to go to work, or to reach the facilities to acquire the medical help they need. Further than that, homelessness is on the increase in my riding and people are forced to make decisions between food or fuel to heat their homes.
Northerners of all ages experience difficulties in different ways. For instance, I recently brought up the reality of young women and girls who have been missing school because of how expensive feminine hygiene products are in the north. Let me just take a moment to thank all Canadians from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, and Ontario who helped these young women and girls by donating these products. Their generosity has touched me and is very much appreciated.
I would like to conclude by saying that the government's responsibility is to protect its citizens. Universal health care is the core of Canadian values. No one should be left behind. Wherever they are in Canada, accessible health care should be non-negotiable. The Liberal approach would force low-income and middle-income families to make an impossible choice and deter them from seeking preventative medical care. This is not what constituents of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River want.