Madam Speaker, our country’s health care system is nationally seen as a source of great pride. Canadians deserve and have come to expect a health care system that meets their needs and that does not leave anybody behind. I believe the government should always strive to improve the care Canadians receive while maintaining fiscal responsibility.
It has been made particularly clear over the last year that oral health and overall health are inextricably linked, as we saw people with poor oral health fare worse during COVID-19. We Conservatives believe the citizens of this country deserve the best care possible, in order to live a happy and healthy life, that our nation can afford to provide within our means. We believe in empowering Canadians to be able to look after themselves and trust them to make responsible choices. Rather than an Ottawa-knows-best approach, Canadians should be able to make decisions regarding their health, and our government should be able to support them without breaking the bank. For example, the previous Conservative government under Prime Minister Harper had made strides toward sufficient Canadian health care. His government refined the Canada health transfer to create a stable and predictable increase in funding Canadians need while restoring a balanced budget.
With that said, it has been shown through various reports that our health care system lags far behind those of other developed nations, such as the U.K. and Australia, which is made all the more damning when we take into account that Canada and Australia share a similar percentage of GDP spent on health care and dollars spent per person.
Currently, the federal government transfers roughly $42 billion to the provinces each budget year. However, during that same time, even with a historically low borrowing rate, we still pay over $20 billion in interest payments alone on our ballooning national debt, a simply unnecessary waste of $20 billion in tax dollars that could be beneficially repurposed elsewhere, had our Liberal government had the foresight to act responsibly in preparation for hard times. It is therefore obvious that the health care challenges we are facing are not a resource problem.
How is it that Canada cannot seem to adequately provide for its people or responsibly manage our fiscal resources? Better yet, what can we do about this? These are two of the many questions I doubt my NDP colleagues could answer.
The Parliamentary Budget Office has weighed in with an analysis of the cost of the proposed program. It estimates that financing the plan would cost almost $10 billion over the next few years. Even that estimation, however, does not necessarily reflect the true price we might have to pay. The report released by the PBO states that its assumptions and calculations reflect moderate uncertainty as it is difficult to predict how behaviours might change from an increase in demand.
With that said, it can be understood where the NDP is coming from. After seeing how the current government spends money like it is an eight-year-old playing a game of Monopoly, it is no wonder the New Democrats are not worried about the potential cost of their proposal. After all, they must be thinking what does a few more billion spent matter when we had accumulated close to $100 billion in debt pre-pandemic, lost our nation’s AAA credit rating and are now almost $1.3 trillion in debt. Motion No. 62 proposes a measure that would bring a health benefit, but likely at a cost, which would require unfortunate austerity elsewhere, or worse yet, transferring even more debt to future generations.
The Conservatives cannot support being so cavalier with our hard-earned taxpayer dollars. We believe in approaching the issues of inadequate access to dental coverage from a practical and realistic perspective.
What other concerns might the NDP not address? Most obviously, there is policy that fails to recognize the important separation of powers that exist in our country. In Canada, the operation and funding of health care programs fall under the authority of the provincial governments. This way, the specific needs of individual provinces are met without interference. An Ottawa-knows-best approach breaches the fundamental partnership that is supposed to exist between the federal and provincial governments.
The framework proposed by the NDP fails to allow for provincial participation, and instead eliminates what is supposed to be a collaborative agreement between the two levels of management. This is particularly the case given that the provinces are the ones that best understand the needs and intricacies of their respective health care systems. As such, a solution should work to support existing provincial programs or increase health transfers to the provinces for them to be better able to meet the needs of their constituents.
We have also heard from major stakeholders that say the NDP’s plan misses the mark. The Canadian Dental Association, CDA, which is the national voice for dentistry, representing tens of thousands of dentists across the country, has voiced its concerns. Although the association agrees that any steps taken towards addressing issues of oral health are commendable, a bad proposal with the best intent may cause more harm than good. This is just like when the dentist gives a child a sugary lollipop after her visit.
The CDA further notes that they believe a superior approach to increasing access to oral health care would be to improve funding for existing public programs. This speaks volumes, as it means that the largest organization in Canada authorized to speak on the behalf of dentists from coast to coast to coast does not endorse the proposed policy. Why would the NDP purport to believe it knows better than the dentists themselves what would constitute an improvement to the current system?
Conservatives believe that there exist better options for improving access to dental care instead of the NDP’s proposal. COVID-19 has negatively impacted the global economy and has greatly increased near-term uncertainty. Historically Canada’s health care expenditures have dwindled and grown with the status of our economy. Given the magnitude of health care spending brought forth by this pandemic, we may be in a position to see this trend change. However, this change will be because we take steps to secure Canada’s future.
In short, national dental care, like national pharmacare before it, is an NDP proposal we could not afford before, and we certainly cannot afford it now. Though personally, I do hold hope for a future where we can.