Mr. Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the hon. member for Dufferin--Peel--Wellington--Grey.
I appreciate the opportunity to make a few comments on the motion from the member for Churchill.
April 17 marked the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Canada Health Act, Canada's federal health insurance legislation and the cornerstone of the Canadian health care system. The five principles enshrined in the act reflect the values that inspired Canada's single payer, publicly financed health care system over 40 years ago. The Canada Health Act aims to ensure that all residents of Canada have access to necessary physician and hospital services without direct charges.
As Roy Romanow said in the Romanow Commission report, the principles have stood the test of time and continue to reflect the values of Canadians. No single issue touches Canadians more deeply than health care. Our health care system is a practical expression of the values of fairness, equity and solidarity that define us as a country. Medicare is part of our heritage.
Before the second world war, Canadians paid for health services in the same way they paid for any consumer service. Many Canadians had debts for health care and many suffered because they just could not afford the health care they needed. After the war, both commercial and non-profit insurance began to spread, but many Canadians could not afford that either.
I would like to inject, if I may, a very personal story. In 1941 our family was just beginning to recover from the effects of the depression. At that time, my late mother was admitted to hospital for a routine surgery, a tonsillectomy, that was botched. She ended up with blood in her lungs which caused a series of infections. She spent 13 weeks in hospital and nearly succumbed. In those days there was not even penicillin, so any drugs to combat infection were known as sulpha drugs in those days. At any rate she recovered and came home from the hospital, but the process bankrupted my father. He spent the rest of his life, until he passed away in 1957, paying off that debt. Therefore, the whole subject of medicare is particularly personal, as far as I am concerned.
By 1957, the year my late father passed away, 40% of the population of Canada still had no coverage at all. Medicare predates the Canada Health Act, but the passage of the act was a defining milestone. The Canadian health insurance system in fact evolved into its present form over several decades, and it will continue to evolve and continue to be improved as the years go by.
Saskatchewan was the first province to establish universal public hospital insurance in 1947. Ten years later the Government of Canada passed the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act to share in the cost of these services.
By 1961, all provinces and territories had public insurance plans and provided universal access to hospital services. Saskatchewan again pioneered in providing insurance for physician services beginning in 1962. The federal government adopted the Medical Care Act in 1966 to cost share the provision of insured physician services with the provinces.
By 1972, all provincial and territorial plans had been extended to include physician services. Through cooperation between the provinces and the federal government, Canada developed a national health insurance program which became the hallmark of Canadian federalism.
The federal government agreed to contribute financial support and the provinces would administer the programs. The conditions were that each province had to guarantee that its program would be universal, comprehensive, portable and publicly administered. With these guidelines established, the interlocking provincial plans formed our national health insurance program. It was tailored especially for Canada. Coast to coast medicare was created.
However, in the late 1970s, extra billing by some physicians and user charges levied by some hospitals were increasingly becoming a cause for concern. Universal access was at risk. In 1979, at the request of the federal government, Justice Emmett Hall undertook a review of the state of health services in Canada. In his report he reiterated that health care services in Canada ranked among the best in the world, but warned that extra billing by doctors and user fees levied by hospitals were creating a two tiered system that threatened the accessibility of care. This report led to the adoption of the Canada Health Act in 1984.
The Canada Health Act was introduced to ensure that Canadians had access to the medical care they needed without out-of-pocket charges. The road to passing the legislation was not always smooth. It involved four years of intensive debate and negotiations before the Canada Health Act was passed with the unanimous support of all political parties by Parliament on April 9, 1984 and received royal assent on April 17, 1984.
The act consolidated previous legislation on hospital and medical care insurance, and set out standards and criteria that had to be met for the provinces to qualify for federal funding. Canadians were assured universal and timely access to the health care they needed on a pre-paid basis.
Universally accessible health care is not just a program. It is much more than a system. It is central to our way of life, a source of pride and identity. The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the health care system that Canadians consider part of their identity. The Prime Minister recently stated that our health care system is more than a program; it is a statement of our values as a nation.
Canadians continue to strongly support the principles of the Canada Health Act. They want a system based on need, not wealth. They consider equitable and timely access to medically necessary health care services to be part of our national character, not a privilege of status or income.
Times have changed considerably since the act was passed. What has not changed is the support among Canadians for the principles underlying the health care system. There are challenges and pressures to continue to provide quality services in the face of rising costs, emerging and costly technology, and increases in the ability of physicians to treat hitherto untreatable diseases.
The Canada Health Act has been instrumental in protecting reasonable access to medically necessary care by all, regardless of age, income or place of residence. Canadians have expressed their support for universal health care time and time again, and all levels of government remain committed to upholding what Canadians consider a top priority which is their publicly funded health care system.