Madam Speaker, it is with much exasperation that I rise today to talk about a motion on long-term care. The major problem is that we are in the wrong legislative assembly. This is a crucial jurisdictional issue, since the federal government does not have the necessary expertise in this area. I realize that, unfortunately, I have had to say this too often. We have had enough of the federal government's paternalistic attitude. The government needs to do its duty and its job. It should not be using the COVID-19 crisis to exploit seniors for its own ends.
We do not want to trivialize what happened in our long-term care facilities. On the contrary, we want nothing less than to give them the financial means they need. I will get back to this in my speech. I am going to give some background information and outline the reasons for which the Bloc Québécois is against the motion. I will close by reminding my colleagues of the support of certain civil society groups.
As we now know, COVID-19 mainly affected seniors. This fact, combined with the critical situation in our long-term care facilities, finally forced the Quebec government to ask for the military's help on April 22, 2020.
Barely one month later, in May 2020, negotiations between the CAQ and Liberal governments got especially tense because of the federal government's refusal to extend the military's involvement. The government then used Quebec's request for military assistance as a pretext to announce, in its throne speech, its intention to impose Canada-wide standards on long-term care facilities. That was a twisted way of imposing its requirements on the provinces, instead of agreeing to their unanimous demand for an increase in federal health transfers equal to 35% of health care system costs.
To add insult to injury, the Liberal government reiterated its intention in last fall's economic update and at the 20th telephone conference of Canada's premiers, with the NDP's blessing, of course.
The Liberals are still clinging to that idea. In the 2021 election campaign, they promised $6 billion for long-term care facilities in exchange for Canada-wide standards. However, for the past several weeks, the Quebec political media has been abuzz with the findings of various investigations into the matter. The debate is ongoing in civil society and in Quebec's National Assembly.
This is therefore not the problem. Allow me to share why the Bloc Québécois is opposed to the motion. The motion states that “we need to make sure the conditions of work reflect the care standards our seniors deserve”, which is something we agree with. We are all, as individuals, collectively responsible for taking care of our seniors. However, working conditions in long-term care homes and in private seniors' residences are not a federal jurisdiction.
The motion also states that “while the management of long-term care facilities is under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, we share the goal of ensuring safer, better care for seniors”. Our response to this is that health care is not under federal jurisdiction. If the federal government truly wants to help the provinces, it should hold a summit and permanently increase funding for health care, as we have proposed.
Furthermore, the motion states that “in the opinion of the House, the government should work with the provinces and territories to...improve the quality and availability of long-term care homes and beds”. Our response to this is that Quebec already has a plan to overhaul its system and what it needs is funding.
The motion also states that the government should work with the provinces and territories to “implement strict infection prevention and control measures, including through more provincial and territorial facility inspections for long-term care homes”. Anything else? Quebec has assessed, and continues to assess, its actions during the pandemic. It is not up to the federal government to tell Quebec what to do or how to do it. This paternalism must stop.
Finally, the motion states that it should “develop a safe long-term care act collaboratively to ensure that seniors are guaranteed the care they deserve, no matter where they live.” Enough is enough. The Quebec National Assembly already unanimously opposed such federal standards.
We already had this debate before the pointless election called by the Liberal Party, which still makes me mad. In March 2021, I remember rising to speak when the NDP moved a motion to nationalize and impose standards for long-term care institutions. Members will recall that the motion was rejected by everyone, except the NDP of course. Even the Liberals voted against the motion. Here we are in the 44th Parliament, and the Liberal Party suddenly has amnesia. It has come back with the same motion.
I have to say, since the advent of the NDP-Liberal government, their position has become muddled. The one thing that does remain clear, however, is their appetite for interfering in things that do not concern them. Sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, set out how jurisdictions are shared between the federal government and the provinces. Pursuant to those two sections, health is the exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec.
The Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP are always trying to interfere in the jurisdictions of the provinces, especially in the area of health care. However, the federalism they hold so dear requires that each level of government respect its exclusive jurisdictions.
Federalists sometimes argue that health transfers should have conditions attached. Otherwise, the provinces will take advantage of them to lower taxes rather than provide better services to their people. Our response to that argument is that it is not the federal government's job to lecture the provincial and Quebec governments. In a democracy, it is up to voters to sanction their government.
There is currently a debate raging about the issue of long-term care and the decisions that were made during the COVID-19 crisis. This debate continues, and it is up to the Quebec government to take action to remedy the situation. Then, in October, it will be up to voters, not the Liberal Party of Canada, to decide whether they are satisfied with their government's actions. In short, Quebec already has some potential solutions, including a detailed plan to increase the capacity of long-term care facilities as mentioned in a special report by the ombudsman.
The federal government will not be able to improve the situation because it does not know what is really happening on the ground. It does not understand these unique hospital settings. In response to the special report, the Quebec government has already presented a plan to overhaul the health care system.
I would like to remind the hon. members of an important date: December 2, 2020. As the Bloc Québécois critic for seniors, I had the opportunity to speak with Quebec's minister for seniors and caregivers, Marguerite Blais. She tabled a motion to denounce the Liberals' desire to impose Canadian standards on Quebec's long-term care facilities, which I will read:
That the National Assembly reject the Government of Canada's desire to impose Canadian standards in Québec CHSLDs and long-term care facilities for the elderly, as this falls under exclusive Québec jurisdiction;
That it express its disappointment that the federal government did not include an increase in health transfer payments in its last economic update, while the provinces must cover significant health spending costs in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic;
That it call on the federal government to commit to not imposing Canadian standards in Québec CHSLDs and long-term care facilities for the elderly and to increasing health transfer payments to an amount equal to 35% of healthcare network costs.
Let us not forget that the provinces and Quebec are the ones with the expertise and experience in long-term care homes, not the federal government. Every long-term care facility has to meet safety and care quality standards in order to be permitted to operate. Standards already exist.
Obviously, the federal government has no business setting those standards for long-term care facilities on behalf of the provinces and Quebec, since it has neither the experience nor the expertise, as I said. Instead, the government should focus on doing what is expected of it and taking responsibility.
The Canadian Armed Forces' report on their experience in Quebec's long-term care facilities made it clear that there were already many standards and rules in place regarding infection prevention and control and the use of PPE, but they were not enough to stop the virus. The real issue is the ability to comply with the existing standards and rules. The main reason it is so hard to follow these rules is also clear: the labour shortage.
If the federal government really wants to help Quebec and the provinces overcome the pandemic and improve care for seniors, it must drop the paternalistic attitude, scrap its plan to impose Canada-wide standards that are ill suited for all the different social and institutional contexts, and increase health transfers, which will allow the provinces to attract and retain more health care workers.
One of the Bloc Québécois's demands is that the federal government increase health transfers to an amount equal to 35% of health care system costs. However, the government continues to say no, even though Parliament adopted a motion in the spring asking all parties to recognize the increase in transfers, which all of the parties did, except the Liberals, who once again found themselves standing alone.
Even civil society groups, such as various unions, stepped up in March 2021 to ask for the increase and explain why it was important. A Leger poll showed that 85% of people want this. FADOQ wants it. When I went to the latest summit on seniors' quality of life, everyone said they wanted an increase, no strings attached.
In conclusion, we are not the ones spoiling for a fight. The NDP-Liberal coalition is. They are delaying many of Quebec's demands, but we are not the only ones making these demands. The provinces and territories are too. These NDP-Liberal threats need to stop. Seniors must not be held hostage. The federal government must hand over the financial means to take care of them, and that means health transfers.