Mr. Speaker, it truly is an honour to rise in the House today to speak to an issue about which I am very passionate. I wanted to have the opportunity to speak to this important legislation, brought forward by my colleague the member for Sarnia—Lambton, who is seeking to develop a framework for palliative care in Canada. This is an extremely important issue.
I enjoyed listening to the speeches from my colleagues, but I would like to start my speech off on a different tangent. I would like to look back to a very crisp winter day in 2012. In my previous career, I was the editor of a local community newspaper. I distinctly remember getting a phone call one afternoon asking if I would be willing to come down to the Foothills Country Hospice to cover an interesting story that was unfolding. It was a story about a man, Greg Garvan. He was in the Foothills Country Hospice, unfortunately, with a rare form of cancer. Knowing he was in his final days, he was really hoping to have one thing before his life ended. He was hoping to have one last visit with two of his favourite companions. Mr. Garvan was a horseman. He enjoyed the country living in rural southern Alberta, and certainly as any rancher and cowboy would know, he wanted to spend some time with his friends. His two friends were his two horses, Kiwi and Russell. The Foothills Country Hospice staff on that very cold winter's day wrapped Greg up in a blanket, rolled his bed out into the parking lot of the hospice, and there were his two horses, Russell and Kiwi.
It was very difficult, I must admit, to take photos that day and talk to the staff without having a tear in my eye. There are certainly not too many other staff or institutions that would have taken that kind of effort and passion and shown how much their patients and patients' families meant to them, to ensure they were able to make the dying wish of one of their friends come true. We have photos of Russell and Kiwi snuggling right up to Greg, wrapped in his blanket in his bed, in the parking lot of the Foothills Country Hospice.
To cap off the day, Greg's mother, who is from New Zealand, was staying in Okotoks. This was in early December. The staff at the hospice held an early Christmas dinner for Greg and his family, at the hospice. I am sure that was a memorable day in what was a difficult time for his family. It certainly was not one they will soon forget.
Those of us who do not have the fortune of having a hospice in our communities certainly would not have the opportunity to understand the wonderful things that hospice staff can do. I am very honoured that we have the Foothills Country Hospice in our community.
That really highlights the debate today. When we have an opportunity to have a facility like a hospice, with the ability and the things it is able to do for its community and its patients, I find it unfortunate that not everyone in Canada has the opportunity to experience that as an end-of-life option. The stats I have seen show less than 30% actually have access to a hospice facility. That is truly unfortunate.
Some of my colleagues have talked about how this really came to a head, and it is how I became more interested in the hospice facility and its lack of access for other Canadians. This was a very prominent issue during the debates on doctor-assisted dying. It was a very difficult issue for my constituents. I held four town hall meetings throughout my riding in Foothills and southwest Alberta. I had hundreds of people attend the town halls. I also sent out a survey to my constituents asking them how they felt about the doctor-assisted dying legislation. I had 4,000 responses to that survey, which was a very high response rate, along with the carbon tax.
My constituents were very torn on how they felt about doctor-assisted dying. It was a very difficult issue. Some were adamantly opposed. Some were adamantly in favour. The one theme that went through all my town halls and through those surveys was the importance of offering palliative care as part of that legislation.
If the government was to provide doctor-assisted dying, my constituents wanted to ensure there were resources in place and that a framework for palliative care would also be a part of that legislation.
It was very clear that my constituents wanted some options. One of those options, if we were truly going to have doctor-assisted dying, was that Canadians had to understand that they had another option, and that option was end-of-life care through hospice.
What has made this so profound and so loud and clear in my constituency is that we have the Foothills Country Hospice. Many other constituents and many other Canadians do not have that.
We are certainly blessed in my constituency to have the hospice, but also to have the people who work so hard to make it a reality. It has been about 10 years since the hospice was opened, but it has been almost 20 years since my constituents worked hard to make this project come to fruition.
I really want to take the opportunity to thank a few people who were instrumental in ensuring this hospice became a reality in rural Alberta, people like Dr. Eric Wasylenko and his wife Louise, David and Leslie Bissett, Jean Quigley, Dr. Jim Hansen, Doug and Susan Ramsay, Beth Kish and Dawn Elliott, Mark Cox, and the Council of the Municipal District (MD) of Foothills in the town of Okotoks. These people worked extremely hard to make this project a reality.
The annual budget for the Foothills Country Hospice is about $2.8 million. The province has picked up a significant part of that budget, but the community is also being asked to raise close to $1 million or more each and every year to ensure the hospice is able to operate. One of the wonderful stories about the hospice is to see the community buy into it and each year come forward to raise that type of money. It also shows that this is not an easy task, when it comes to having a hospice in a community.
We cannot have these types of facilities and the wonderful people who work in them without support from all three levels of government. That is why this private member's bill is so important. We need to develop a framework to ensure we can have the resources there to offer hospice care to Canadians, but also to ensure we have the resources there to make it a reality. That is what we are missing.
I know on both sides of the floor, during the doctor-assisted dying debate, many of us wanted an amendment as part of that legislation to ensure there was funding available for hospice. I am encouraged to see support among all parties in the House to ensure this becomes a reality. It is one thing to talk about it, but we have to ensure we provide the resources and the commitment as a federal government. As we proceed with doctor-assisted dying, one of the most important parts of that is also to ensure we have a framework for hospice care and a commitment that it is funded.
I spent a lot of time talking about the Foothills Country Hospice in my riding. I thought it was important to put a personal face on this service. I know many of us talk about hospice care and that it is an important option for that end of life. I have been through it many times, I have toured, and talked to the nurses, the doctors, and the many wonderful volunteers and staff that take their time to work there. It is hard to explain a hospice unless people have had an opportunity to experience it. Unfortunately, that is not something many of us want to experience, but it is a life-changing option.
As parliamentarians, we have to get across the fact that this truly brings a new definition to end-of-life care, that there are ways to make those difficult times as comfortable as possible for people and their families. If we are truly to have doctor-assisted dying, we must also have that other option, palliative care.
I want to again thank my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton for all the work she has done, which has been yeoman's work, to make this a reality. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the floor to ensure this becomes a reality.