Mr. Speaker, I have listened intently to members on both sides of the House debating this issue today. I have been around provincial politics for about 17 years and for just a short time here in the House of Commons. I want to say at the outset I do not think there is any piece of legislation or any issue that could come before any house that is of greater importance than this issue and where we are going in the future.
I have listened to some rhetoric from the Canadian Alliance. I was a bit disappointed this morning when the Leader of the Opposition made some very derogatory comments about the Canadian health care system. I know the health care system needs a lot of improvements but I do not believe that anybody in Canada believes it ranks where the Canadian Alliance leader said it did this morning.
We live in the greatest country in the whole world. I believe that the health care system in Canada is very, very good. Does it need improvements? Absolutely. Do we have major problems in the health care system? Absolutely. However, to say that it ranks where the leader of the Canadian Alliance said it did this morning is very unfair to the people who live from one end of the country to the other and benefit from the health care system.
In talking about the national health care system, I will focus more on a regional level and my own province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland and Labrador has a population of approximately 510,000 scattered over a vast geography. The province is actually four times larger than the country of Japan which has 125 million people. Therein lies a major problem in delivering the health care system in my province. Because the population is scattered over such a massive geography, the cost of delivering health care is much greater than in many other parts of Canada. Even though rural Canada, the northern parts and many other parts of the country have similar problems, because of our small population, the problems are escalated in Newfoundland and Labrador.
What I find a problem with and which I hope will be addressed in the decisions that will be made in the federal health care system is the delivery of funding when it is increased. If it will be delivered according to the formula used in the past, on a per capita basis, then there will be a problem for Newfoundland and Labrador. With such a small population the province will not get sufficient moneys from the federal system that it would need to deliver the health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Money is not the only issue nor the only problem in the health care system. I heard comments made earlier today on accountability. Accountability is a major issue. When I ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party in Newfoundland and Labrador, I said that before I would put any more money into the health care system, I would have to know exactly where the problems were and the accountability in all of the hospitals and delivery systems throughout the province. Once it is known where the problems are, the money can be spent more wisely to address the problems rather than doing it in an ad hoc manner which has been done far too much in the past.
Money is one issue. Accountability is another issue. As was stated earlier today, prevention is a major issue. How do people living from coast to coast in Canada look at their own personal health? Should solving the problem of health care begin with money, begin in the hospitals, begin in the delivery systems, or should it begin right at home? I believe very strongly it should begin right at home. How we manage our personal day to day lives is a major problem for our health care system.
I visit hospitals in my riding occasionally. The first thing I see on the hospital steps are people smoking. Around any public building or institution anywhere we see people smoking. Areas in restaurants and public places are set aside for people to smoke.
Those people who add what is close to the greatest costs in the health care system are the people who abuse their own health in relation to smoking. If we could convince people that smoking is a major problem and get people to stop what I would call a crazy way of trying to get some satisfaction then we would save millions and billions of dollars in this country.
The other thing that we should be doing is promoting healthier eating habits. I have had occasion to visit Japan a couple of times. There are 125 million people there. When we look at the general population of Japan we seldom see an obese person, because of their eating habits. The Japanese are concerned about their own personal health, and the type of food that they consume gives them a better, healthier environment.
In fact, as far as I understand, about 85% of the food consumed in Japan comes from the ocean. There is not a healthier food we can eat. Regardless of the type of food, eating wisely and keeping good, healthy eating habits is certainly a major step in beginning not only to improve our own personal health but certainly to lessen the costs and burdens on ourselves as taxpayers and governments, whether federal or provincial.
The other thing I think we should be looking at is our drinking habits. Again, as has already been said today, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think if we lessened the ounces of alcohol consumed throughout this country it would be many pounds of cure that would be seen throughout our health care system.
The problems in solving health care, as I said earlier, are not just money, accountability and how the delivery system actually works. This begins right with Canadian citizens. This is what I would like to hear throughout the country: a greater role for people accepting responsibility for the problems we have in our health care system. If only we can convince, through public relations, through the appropriate programs throughout the country, the Canadian people to start thinking “This is my problem”. If only we can convince them that this is a problem that they personally can play a role in solving, without any cost to them whatsoever, probably less than the cost of the day to day and week to week spending on themselves personally, whether it be eating, drinking or smoking. We could then begin to improve the health care system in our country in which we all are now experiencing major problems.
I want to conclude by saying these words. In the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador we accept a responsibility for solving the health care system's problems. We do not say to the federal government that it is the government's problem alone. We, the people, accept responsibility and the government accepts responsibility, but we also are looking to the federal government and the federal treasury to help solve the major problems we have.
We ask, in the recognition of and in the upcoming decisions that the government will be making with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health, the government to look at the geography of Canada, to look at the diverse population of the regional and rural parts of Canada, particularly the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We ask it to take into consideration that one size does not fit all. We have to make decisions based on the great country of Canada that we live in for the benefit of all the citizens and regions of Canada, and in particular the rural regions, our Atlantic region and the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.