Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party has, since its inception, and the CCF before that, put health care first. It is not a partisan issue. It does not come up from time to time. It does not come up only during elections, before elections or as some crisis hits the health care system. It is a part of the founding of this political party. I believe I am speaking to this motion without attempting to make health or wait times a partisan issue.
However, I will talk about what I think are some of the significant challenges around the fact that this wait times guarantee has not been met.
When the Conservative government was elected, I believe Canadians had certain expectations on what the wait times guarantee would mean. I do not think that what the people of Canada have seen is in any way what they expected to see given the focus and the priority that was placed upon health care and patient wait times guarantee by the government. I do not think the Canadian people see the commitment or the political will to move this agenda along.
One of the reasons for this that might cause people to wonder is that one of the Conservatives' five priorities during the election campaign was to work with the provinces to establish a patient wait times guarantee. People saw that as being one of the Conservatives' priorities and whether they voted for them or not, they expected that to happen because that was the promise.
When they hear the Prime Minister talking about being pleased that his government has made progress on all five priorities, from cleaning up the federal government, to cutting taxes, cracking down on crime, supporting families and strengthening our country at home and around the world, they may be great, but where did health care go?
When the government talks about its five priorities, why has it stopped talking about the patient wait times guarantee? Has it fallen off the table? Has it been recognized that there is no plan in place whatsoever on how to approach it or is there no political will and courage to carry it out? I do not know but I do know that Canadians are asking themselves those kinds of questions.
I have a friend with a back problem who had to wait seven months for spinal surgery. This happened after the election. Every day for those seven months she hoped the promise of the guaranteed wait times within a reasonable time, depending upon when the illness, disability or diagnosis, would come through. She does not have full recovery and will probably never have full recovery. However, she would have had full recovery had she had her surgery earlier. However, lying in pain for seven months on a bed or a chesterfield and not moving created a whole series of other problems, as well as further damage to her spinal problem.
I do not think it is any great wonder that Canadians are wondering about this promise.
While I support the motion, I find it ironic that the motion was brought forward by a Liberal member of Parliament, a member of the health committee. Where do we think these wait times came from? They did not develop overnight. They came from 13 years of the Liberals not taking any action on wait times. When they did take action it came at the very last moment when it was clear that we had an enormous crisis across this country and it was shortly before an election was on the horizon. They only waited 12 years to do something about the growing wait times and all the factors that contribute to wait times.
There are factors that have played into the increase in wait times where the government could have and should have taken earlier leadership, or is still to take leadership, that would have made a significant difference in the quality of lives of many Canadians, both adults and children.
Earlier someone referenced the recent dollars for foreign-trained, immigrant doctors. The dollars will go toward rewriting the curricula and looking at the context of the tests or exams with the possibility of rewriting them, and that is a good thing. However, although foreign doctors can take the extra courses and write the exams, the real barrier for them and the one thing that was missing from the announcement is that they cannot get residency positions.
If we were to go to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and ask foreign-trained doctors what Canada has done to help them, they would say that it has allowed them to drive taxicabs. About every third or fourth taxi driver in the Lower Mainland is a foreign-trained physician, many of whom have made their way through the existing curriculum. It is fine to be looking at the exams and rewriting them but if these foreign-trained doctors cannot get residency positions, it does not matter because they will never be able to practice.
In that announcement or that concern about health and human resources, of which physicians are only one piece of course, there was no money for residency positions. I understand that many residency positions go to the medical students who have gone through the medical schools in their provinces. That is fair enough. They should have a chance for residency positions. I am not suggesting for a moment that they do not deserve that. However, there should be an expansion in the number of residency positions available, which is the piece in that announcement that was missing. If everything in that announcement happens, it still will not produce more physicians unless there are residency spaces. This is action that is missing a piece. This is a promise to foreign-trained doctors that will be broken because they will not be able to get residency positions.
One of the biggest things we could do to help with wait times would be to provide a national home support program or ensure that each province has some standards around home support. Across this country, from coast to coast to coast, the standards as to whether one gets home support are very different. Seniors who apply for an extended care facility or for long term medium care facility cannot get in because there are no housing initiatives for anything but private long term care. Some seniors, who could perhaps stay in their homes much longer than they currently do if they had help at home, can no longer get the help they need and therefore their physicians must admit them to the hospital. Once they are in a hospital they have first priority when an opening becomes available in an extended care facility. What does that do? It just backs up the entire system.
People talk about the crisis in emergency rooms but the crisis in emergency rooms is simply a domino effect backward. No beds are available because the people who are in the beds do not need to be there. They should be someplace else but there is no place else for them to go.
I understood the Conservative member to say that the Liberal opposition had done work on home support, that it had researched it and had some initiatives but that nothing came from them. I think he said that was in 2003 but this is 2006. Since January, what have the Conservatives done to either renew some of the oppositions' initiatives, if those were good initiatives, or to develop initiatives of their own? This is another way the government is driving up wait times in this country.
I want to speak for a moment to aboriginal health. The wait times for aboriginal people are also part of the pressure on wait times. We know that many aboriginal people are at risk of other health problems, diabetes among them, because aboriginal health has not been attended to in a manner that would have really made a difference in their quality of health which drives up wait times additionally.
I know that 10 out of the 623 reserves have a pilot project on wait times for prenatal care. I am not certain of the lessons we will learn from that project, although I am sure we will learn some, but there is an irony in picking wait times for moms.
We know that good prenatal care is absolutely critical, although the aboriginal people I speak with talk far more about the fact that women do not go early enough due to the lack of transportation to get them there. What happens then is they go back into a community like Kashechewan where health care for aboriginals is appalling because of all of the social indicators that have not been attended to due to the lack of action on the issue of aboriginal health.
That is a broken promise to aboriginal people and certainly not the kind of movement needed on patient wait time guarantees, although I am very pleased for those 10 out of 623 reserves involved in the pilot project. I do not think that is the kind of wait time guarantee action that was expected by Canadian citizens.
One of the things that would make the biggest difference in wait times is that of innovation. There is innovation in wait times going on across this country, not because of the government but in spite of the government. Are wait times going down? Yes, they are. Wait times are going up in many provinces, but there are many examples of excellence which have not come about because of the government.
I was fortunate enough to have my motion pass in the health committee to establish a database of innovation on how to reduce wait times. People from across the country could look at this database and see examples in P.E.I., British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba or wherever of how hospitals, sometimes very small hospitals, had been able to reduce their wait times. Why should we reinvent the wheel when people could simply look at a database? That would make a big difference for people.
That motion was passed by the health committee. So what? Nothing has happened. Innovation will make one of the biggest differences in wait times. I am pleased that it was passed by the health committee, but I am concerned about what happens after something is passed by a committee. It seems to go to some ether land where it is never to be heard of or seen again.
Recently, at least two private facilities have opened. One is a hospital with operating rooms, et cetera, and there is a story about a private emergency room opening in a hospital in Surrey, British Columbia or it has at least gone through a change in zoning.
There is a national leadership role for the government to play regarding the issue of privatization. Provinces must be held accountable and clearly British Columbia paid a $72,000 fine last year. There is not enough accountability with the privatization of health care. Where is the accountability with the fact that privatization violates the Canada Health Act? Where is the accountability regarding the standards? There are some stories about some very bad experiences people have had in some, and I only say some, private health care facilities.
The government has a national leadership role to play in research. It cut the medical marijuana research program. The physicians who are prescribing medical marijuana for patients who need it as a result of nausea or dealing with what is a debilitating or very often terminal illness need more research around what an appropriate dosage is and over what period of time. Now that research is gone. Those physicians are either left saying they will not use it any more or they will use it with the information they have, which is not currently as adequate as they would like it to be.
The government has not taken up its role on national strategies, although I see the national cancer strategy was announced. I am waiting for the national strategy on autism. If we can do it on cancer, we can do it on autism. As I said, the government has not taken up the national leadership role regarding accountability.
The last thing I will mention is prevention and promotion. The biggest thing that we can do, if we do nothing else, is prevention and promotion.
I do not want to find a better way to deal with wait times, bring wait times down, but have just as large a percentage of patients in 10 years time. We must have good prevention and promotion which is always the poor sister of health care, provincially, federally, wherever.
Yes, the health committee has prepared a report on childhood obesity, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, but where do the reports go? We agree and pass these reports, and they disappear and nothing happens. Perhaps something happens, but I do not know how we figure that out because there is no mandatory action as a result of that.
Good prevention and promotion today is the most significant thing that we could do to bring down wait times in the future. Yet, that is what is focused on the least by the federal government and the provincial governments as well.
I will support the motion with the irony of where the motion comes from after 13 years of allowing wait times to grow. I expect courage and political will on the part of the government to take action and not to have its legacy be a legacy of broken promises.