Madam Speaker, I am pleased to split my time with my hon. colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
It is a great privilege to rise in the House today and speak in support of this budget. I want to say at the outset that no budget is perfect. There are many, many provisions in budgets with which we agree, and there are obviously many with which we disagree. This budget is no different in that regard, and the NDP will continue to push for all of the progressive policies that we have historically pushed for, that we know Canadians need and that, unfortunately, are not contained in this budget.
However, I rise today to speak in support of this budget, imperfect though it may be, for a couple of key reasons. As the health critic for the federal New Democratic Party of Canada, it is my unique privilege to be able to carry on the traditions of great health critics before me, going right back to Tommy Douglas, who is considered the father of medicare in this country. After examining this budget, I think that the absolutely most critical parts of it, and why all colleagues in this House should support this budget on a non-partisan basis on behalf of their constituents, are the historic elements it contains that would make Canadians healthier. I am going to focus on two parts of that: dental care and pharmacare.
All Canadians know that a year ago the Liberals in this House voted against dental care for Canadians. A year later, here we are in a minority Parliament, and because of the hard work of 25 New Democrat MPs and of the New Democratic Party of Canada, this budget includes funding of $5.3 billion over five years and $1.7 billion a year ongoing thereafter to move ahead with a dental care program for millions of families that do not have private insurance in this country, that do not have access to dental care, with an income of $90,000 or less annually, with no copays whatsoever for anyone with an income of $70,000 or less annually.
This budget includes funding to move ahead immediately on dental care for children under 12 years old, in 2022, and then next year, in 2023, expand it to all children under 18 years old, seniors, and persons living with a disability. By 2025, there would be full implementation for all individuals who meet the income criteria. This means 6.5 million Canadians, at least, would have access to primary dental care within the next 36 months because of this budget.
I want to talk for a moment about dental care. I think everyone knows intuitively, without being a physician or having health care credentials, that dental care is a critical part of overall health. In fact, it is inconceivable that we have a public health care system that covers our entire bodies but carves out a section of our mouths from the tonsils forward and says that this is not covered by our public health care system. That is not only logically incongruous, but it is actually medically ridiculous. Poor oral health is linked to other serious health conditions, including cardiac problems, diabetes complications and even low birth rate and premature birth in women. Poor oral health can even kill.
We pride ourselves in this country, I think across all aisles in this House, on having public health care, meaning that everybody, regardless of their station in life and their income, has access to primary health care. That is not true when it comes to dental care. When it comes to dental care, we have two-tiered, private access to health care in this country, and that is antithetical to our concept of what health care should be in this country.
I should also point out that it is not just limited to physical health. People with poor oral health or bad teeth suffer from enormous mental health challenges as well. There has been a lot of focus on mental health from all parties in this House. I want to commend my colleagues, even in the Conservative Party, who have raised a number of significant deficiencies in our public health care system when it comes to mental health. Just yesterday, a Conservative member rose in this House and made a passionate plea for a suicide prevention hotline in this country. Mental health for people who are missing front teeth, people who are living with chronic pain, and seniors who have no teeth in their mouth and cannot afford dentures has an enormous impact on self-esteem and mental wellness. We should be as concerned about that as about any other mental health issue.
There are, of course, economic impacts. People with poor teeth have their job and career aspirations interrupted. Members can imagine interviewing an applicant for a job who shows up and is missing top front teeth. We make judgments about people, and people are embarrassed about the state of their teeth, because they are in their face. It is what we present to the world. I think it is long past time that we brought dental care to every Canadian for economic, physical, mental and emotional health reasons.
Ironically, dental care was always intended to be part of our public health care system. Back in the 1960s, the Hall commission recommended that dental care be part of our public health care system, and the only reason it was not implemented at the time was not because of cost, but because it was felt that Canada did not have sufficient dentists in this country to provide the services. That is not the case anymore. What is the reality today? It is that 35% of Canadians, which is about 13 million Canadians, do not have access to any dental insurance whatsoever, and that understates the problem, because many more have insufficient, substandard or sporadic coverage with high copays, annual limits or high deductibles.
This budget, due to our work, aims to address this. New Democrats believe passionately and fervently in having universal access to public health care, so we consider this to be a down payment on our ultimate goal, which is universal dental care for every Canadian, regardless of the size of their wallet, through our public health care system, like every other medical procedure, whether it is a broken leg, heart surgery or cataract surgery. A broken tooth or an oral health issue should be no different.
I want to just briefly mention a couple of the key components that need to go into a dental plan. We need to create a plan with a good range of services, comparable to any normal plan in place now for Canadians, including the plans that we as MPs have. I want to see a proper fee schedule, so that all of the dental professionals who deliver these services are compensated fairly for their time and skill. We want to make sure that all dental professionals are involved in the creation of this plan: not only dentists, but dental hygienists, dental assistants, denturists and dental therapists. We want to build a system based on prevention of decay and oral disease, because ultimately, at the end of the day, that will save money.
Right now, we are fooling ourselves if we think that ignoring this problem is economically smart, because Canadians are, in record numbers, appearing in emergency rooms in every province and territory in this country every day with dental issues. In fact, I am told that the number one reason for children to enter emergency rooms in this country is poor oral health.
I want to speak for a brief moment on pharmacare, because this budget also includes steps, pressured by the New Democrats, to move toward universal and national pharmacare. This budget includes the requirement to table a pharmacare act by the end of next year and to task the Canadian drug agency to develop a national formulary, which were two of the steps recommended by the Hoskins report and part of the NDP's long-standing call.
New Democrats believe that comprehensive public drug coverage should be in place for all Canadians as soon as possible. Every year, as with dental care, millions of Canadians are forced to go without their prescription medications, simply because they cannot afford them. Again, there is two-tiered health care in this country. If people are rich, they can get medicine; if they are poor, they do not. That is contrary to Canadian values. One in five Canadians, which is seven and a half million citizens, has either no prescription drug coverage or inadequate insurance, and Canadians, ironically, consistently pay among the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
Under the agreement made between the New Democrats and the Liberals, we aim to fix this. We will do that by compelling the introduction of legislation, creating a national formulary for essential medicines and creating a bulk-buying program, so that we can start saving money.
I want to end by saying that pharmacare saves money. It would save $5 billion a year in this country; it would save businesses $16.6 billion annually; families would see their out-of-pocket drug costs reduced by $6.4 billion; and the average business would save $750, with families saving $350 a year. It makes good economic sense. I urge all my colleagues to support this budget.