Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise today in support of Bill C-277, which calls for the development of a framework to increase access to palliative care. I would like to personally thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for introducing this private member's bill.
Years ago, while I was living in Victoria, I had the honour of serving as the president of the Greater Victoria Eldercare Foundation, Vancouver Island's largest seniors foundation, supporting six extended care hospitals. The Greater Victoria Eldercare Foundation, under my good friend executive director Lori McLeod, has developed leading community programs to assist seniors, including the annual Embrace Aging month, with initiative raising awareness about the wealth of resources and opportunities available year-round to help seniors and their families navigate the journey of aging.
I was pleased to hear recently that it has added additional palliative care facilities at its Glengarry facility. It was through my involvement with the Eldercare Foundation that I encountered first-hand the many issues that seniors and their families face now: the difficulty of obtaining proper care for seniors, proper facilities, and proper understanding of the unique situations and issues they face. I owe a lot to the many volunteers and staff whom I worked with at the Greater Victoria Eldercare Foundation, and I know they too would be supporting this excellent bill.
Alleviating the suffering of Canadians is a collective duty of the House, regardless of political agenda or party affiliation. Whether in hospitals or at home, Canadians should not have to go without the care they need simply because there is not sufficient support. Our society is capable of providing the best care for our citizens, and Bill C-277 provides a framework to utilize and implement these resources. This bill helps to promote good health while preserving the independence of Canadians in need of health support. As a Conservative, I am a proud supporter of this bill, which will invest in long-term and palliative care, which the Liberals have failed to do despite their many promises.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Carter v. Canada established that Canadians have a right to physician-assisted dying. We debated Bill C-14, and while I opposed the legislation, the House and Senate passed it and it received royal assent almost a year ago. One of the key aspects of the Carter decision, however, was its call for an advancement of palliative care as a means of increasing Canadians' access to compassionate health care. The Carter decision is intended to ensure that Canadians can make a legitimate choice regarding their own health care, and one of those options is to receive adequate palliative care, care that is focused on providing individuals who have a terminal illness with relief from pain, physical and mental stress, and the symptoms of their illness. It is intended to ensure that those who are at the end of their life can pass peacefully, with dignity and without pain.
The Carter decision enabled Canadians to pursue assisted dying, but it also established an obligation on the government to ensure all Canadians can access proper, adequate, and compassionate end-of-life care. Right now, we are not getting the job done. We are not in any imagination fulfilling our obligations as a society in caring for those in need of care. For example, a survey of pre-licensure pain curricula in the health science faculties of 10 Canadian universities shows many would-be doctors receive less training in pain management than their counterparts in veterinary medicine. I am sure my dog Hailey, who is no doubt at home on my couch right now as I speak, finds this reassuring, but as someone formerly involved in senior care, I find it quite distressing.
A survey of more than 1,100 doctors and nurses shows that those who treat fewer terminally ill patients, therefore knowing the least about symptom management, are most likely to be in favour of assisted suicide, while those with more experience in symptom management and end-of-life care tend to oppose it. Dr. Max Chochinov, a noted specialist on palliative care, explains that the will to live is directly inverse to the amount of pain, and that loss of dignity drives wanting to die and treatment of pain can improve sense of dignity.
We also have to remember the impact of terminal illness on a family: the emotional, physical, and financial struggle of caring for a loved one at the end of their life. Under the current regime, it is up to families to carry the overwhelming bulk of this burden. This system is not fair. People should not have to choose between paying bills and caring for their spouse, their parents, or their siblings.
We have heard horror stories time and time again from families who were completely ambushed by palliative and in-home care costs after their loved one got sick, and these instances are becoming more and more common. The health minister herself has acknowledged many times that Canada has a deficit in access to quality palliative care, yet despite her pledges to do more and provide more, she has neglected to take meaningful action to date. Canada's population as a whole is growing older, and seniors now outnumber children.
I said before in my speech to the RRIF financial security act—another bill that would have helped seniors, which the Liberals voted against—that we need to be ready to have the proper programs and mechanisms in place to adapt to our shifting demographics.
A recent Globe and Mail article states that, according to the 2016 census, we have seen “the largest increase in the share of seniors since the first census after Confederation”. Across Canada, the increase in the share of seniors since the 2011 census “was the largest observed since 1871—a clear sign that Canada’s population is aging at a faster pace”. That figure is projected to rise even more in the coming years. The proportion of those aged 65 and older climbed to 17% of Canada's population. This is not a new phenomenon obviously.
A September 2015 Statistics Canada report noted that, by 2024, 20% of our population will be over the age of 65, so we need action plans in place to address this shift, this massive wave that is going to be overtaking our health care systems. The provinces are going to be faced with an epidemic soon enough of people trying to access systems that are not capable of supporting the demand. Less than 30% of Canadians have access to this vital service, which allows them to choose to live as well as they can for as long as they can.
It is time for the government to fulfill its obligations to provide quality palliative care to all Canadians. This framework answers some of those calls, and it represents the needs of the aging population across Canada, including those in Edmonton West. The percentage of individuals in Edmonton aged 65 or older has risen to 14%, a significant figure representing thousands of individuals who will benefit from universal palliative care.
I know this bill will serve the aging population in my own riding, particularly those who find comfort in knowing that their family members and loved ones will receive the best care. No one should have to suffer through ailments alone, without the support of well-trained and compassionate health care practitioners.
Bill C-277 is required to define the services covered, to bring standard training requirements for the various levels of care providers, to come up with a plan and a mechanism to ensure consistent access for all Canadians, and to collect the data to ensure success. Good palliative care can cover a wide range of services, such as acute care, hospice care, home care, crisis care, and spiritual and psychological counselling. The creation and implementation of a palliative care framework will give Canadians access to high-quality palliative care through hospitals, home care, long-term care facilities, and residential hospices.
We need to ensure that our communities support the aging population with respect and dignity. As parliamentarians elected by our respective communities, reacting to this shift should be a priority and cannot be ignored. When I introduced my private member's bill last fall, which sought to help seniors who were being disproportionately targeted by an outdated tax measure, I heard from countless seniors across Canada who felt they were being left behind. While it is important to ensure the provinces are not pigeonholed by federal legislation, we need to acknowledge a legislative gap when we see one. Seniors need help, and no amount of discussion papers, working groups, or committee meetings will make this issue go away. We know what the issue is and we need action.
Bill C-277 is a step toward providing the much-needed support for seniors today and seniors to be. Palliative care is good, compassionate, and meaningful. Providing access to quality and affordable palliative care can help make painful decisions a little more manageable for those suffering from a terminal illness. It can also significantly help the families of those suffering, who carry the disproportionate financial and emotional burden of end-of-life care. The government needs to pass this legislation to begin the development of a framework on increasing access to palliative care.
When the Supreme Court's decision in Carter v. Canada was delivered, it included a significant and serious obligation on the government to ensure that Canadians could make a real decision on their end-of-life care. The ability to make that decision requires that the options are actually available, and today's unfortunate reality is that our palliative care system is inadequate.
As I mentioned, I would like to thank the member for Sarnia—Lambton for bringing this fantastic private member's bill forward. I am very pleased to hear my colleagues in the NDP speak so favourably toward this, and to hear that they will be supporting it. I am extremely proud that I and other members of the Conservative caucus will be supporting this very important bill.