Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-13 at report stage. We are dealing with the first group of amendments.
This bill is aimed at officially creating Canadian institutes of health research to organize, co-ordinate and fund health research at the federal level. These institutes will replace the Medical Research Council and will receive additional funding totalling $65 million for the 1999 fiscal year and about $500 million until 2002.
What will the institutes of health research do? They will promote new ways of conducting research on biomedical themes and also on issues more directly related to social sciences, which is something totally new.
Moreover, these institutes will be virtual, since they will allow researchers in universities, hospitals and other research centres in Canada, as well as university students, to communicate with each other and to share information electronically.
The institutes will have various themes on which they will be able to focus their research, including ageing, arthritis, musculoskeletal development, cancer, molecular biology—a new area of research—the health of children and their mothers and the relationship between the two, clinical assessments, technology assessments, heart disease, and many more. They should also look at new genetic and reproductive technologies. These themes will be studied from a social perspective.
The mandate of these institutes also includes other interesting and innovative elements. Ethical issues are to be taken into consideration.
I am always surprised when this issue is raised, because the feeling is that, in the scientific community, ethics are at the forefront. It seems however that, with the new developments in science, this issue will become more pressing.
Emphasis will also be placed on the need for integrated health research with the co-operation of several groups: various organizations, women's groups and governments currently involved in research. This will be an important element in the future. The approach is clearly multidisciplinary.
Moreover, the institutes will not be dedicated, which will allow them to be more flexible and to alter their priorities to adapt quickly to the changing nature of society and the fast-paced developments in the research field. This is in response to the OECD, which has been urging Canada since 1993 to increase its investment in R and D.
It is expected that the health research institutes governing council might start its activities as early as April 2000, in keeping with the wishes of the government and the scientists who are insisting on this timeline.
The Bloc Quebecois, whose support for increased R and D funding is unwavering, salutes the efforts of the scientists who were involved in the drafting of the bill to ensure they would have access to innovative tools to improve the dissemination of health information and facilitate the development of cutting edge technologies in this area.
However—and this is significant—in its present form, Bill C-13 might encroach on provincial jurisdiction over health. The Bloc Quebecois cannot support the bill as it is currently worded. The problem is not the creation of the institutes per se. R and D falls under residual powers and, as such, is theoretically subject to federal jurisdiction. The problem comes from the possibility of direct encroachment on provincial jurisdiction in the area of public health care, without any prior earnest consultation with the provinces.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois is proposing a series of amendments mainly designed to highlight the importance of respecting and sharing jurisdictions, and to reaffirm the primacy of provincial jurisdiction in the area of health.
In addition, the Bloc Quebecois supports increased investment in health research, and it is vital Quebec receive its fair share of federal research and development funds, especially since, historically, Quebec has received only 14% of federal spending on research and development on infrastructures.
It is particularly noteworthy, however, that we receive about 30% of funding for researchers awarded on the basis of an evaluation by their peers, because this funding is awarded on the basis of merit. This means, therefore, that our researchers are productive in Quebec and excel in such fields as mental health, cancer research, genome research and biotechnology.
Although the multidisciplinary vision of Bill C-13 is commendable, it is unacceptable that the provinces were not given a major role. Respect for Quebec's jurisdisction should be at the heart of any intervention in the field of health. This is why we must oppose the bill, if our amendments are defeated.
The government is doing a good thing by investing more money in research now, but there is no need to lose sight of the need to reinstate the transfer payments to the provinces. In fiscal year 1999-2000, the shortfall in social transfers to Quebec is estimated to be nearly $1.7 billion. Of this amount, Quebec is denied nearly $850 million annually in the area of health.
We supported the principle of Bill C-13, we support the flexible and multidisciplinary structure, the increased funding to research and development, which could make researchers feel more secure and slow down the brain drain. However, our basic conditions are that the government re-establish transfer payments and respect provincial jurisdictions.
Given the events we have witnessed of late, Bill C-20, which denies Quebecers' basic rights, and the number of gag orders we face with the clarity bill and the concerns we have about the democratic process with regard to this bill, I move:
That the House do now adjourn.