Mr. Speaker, I am going to support Bill C-95. The Department of Health is very important. It is the department of drug certification, the department of product safety and the department of health act enforcement. It is the department of defence against disease, that common enemy of all Canadians.
From time to time hon. opposition members have criticized the Department of Health. They say it spends too much money. I say it is money wisely spent and not at all more than its responsibilities require. Consider the array of vital activity the Department of Health supports under its mission to help the people of Canada maintain and improve their health.
Health Canada plays a major role in protecting the health of Canadians. This House has been preoccupied with paring back for some time, but hon. members know very well that certain demands on the system will not go away simply because budgets are cut.
Health threats allow no fiscal restraint. It is a challenge of the Department of Health to maintain an infrastructure that guarantees quality health care to Canadians in good times as well as in bad.
More than 2,000 people work in the department to protect the health of Canadians by regulating goods and services mostly under the Food and Drugs Act, but also under the air and water legislation.
Health Canada has an environmental responsibility to manage chemical and radiological hazards. Each year a way must be found and the resources must be provided to review 1,000 new medical devices before they reach the market.
Health Canada prevents or regulates the sale and advertising of dangerous products and warns consumers about those in circulation. With everything else on their minds, people do not want to be worried about those details in their daily lives. The department helps take that worry away.
Product safety is part of the larger picture in maintaining health. Accidents in the home and at work are a major cause of death and disability between the ages of 5 and 35, causing not only the loss of enjoyment of life but economic loss and heavy medical and hospital expenses.
Each year thousands of field inspections, almost 3,000 last year, are carried out among food and drug establishments. Each inspection leads to an average of five analyses of food, drug and medical devices, some 14,000 last year. The department is responsible for
the nutritional quality of food, for making sure that additives, agricultural chemicals and processing methods are safe.
In 1994 more than 77,000 tests of suspected illicit drugs were carried out. Health Canada administers the Narcotic Control Act. It also works to ensure that drug products which may be effective when used one way do not pose unacceptable risks in another way. All pharmaceuticals in use in Canada must be certified by the department. A revised drug certification renewal process is designed to improve protection of consumers and to increase their access to important new drugs.
Over the past year, investigations were conducted into 20 outbreaks of disease including TB, cholera, hepatitis B, hanta virus and the hamburger disease. We do not know enough yet about some emerging infections to be able to prevent or control them. Radio, television and the press report to Canadians every day on the gaps in our ability to track threats such as drug resistant bacteria and those surfacing viruses. The public is more knowledgeable than ever in history.
Health intelligence is shorthand for pooling awareness, information and understanding of health problems and approaches among various jurisdictions and health sector partners.
The Department of Health's laboratory centre for disease control is now strengthening Canada's health intelligence network. This initiative, which will include participation in a new global network designed to detect emerging diseases, is endorsed by the provincial governments. The provinces know that national leadership in this area is essential if we are to make the most cost effective choices among all available health technologies and options.
The path to the government's objective of getting more value for every dollar spent on health is paved by preventing illness before it starts and by promoting healthy living. Each dollar that goes to prevent ill health saves tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars in treatment costs.
Health intelligence is one of the tools used within the department to address perplexing and persistent issues, such as mental health, cancer, AIDS, family violence, heart and lung disease, and prenatal deprivation. The department supports research to determine what will enhance health. It then promotes these activities by education and awareness campaigns and by developing infrastructure and programs.
For instance, the department is at the penetrating point of a network of government programs for children. The clear understanding is that the future of children depends on critical input during the first year of life.
The government as a whole directs more than $15 billion annually to Canadian children and their families to support health and development. Health Canada provides a wide range of programs for children at risk of abuse or injury, social or physical diseases. This year its child development initiative includes a ground breaking childhood cancer information system and strategies to address children's mental health.
Hon. members have heard of the department's prenatal nutrition program to reduce the tragedy of infant disability due to poorly nourished mothers. This is a comprehensive effort that includes diet supplements as well as counselling in nutrition and lifestyle issues such as smoking, substance abuse, stress and family violence.
As we come to pass from one century to the next, we might reflect that when our great grandparents witnessed the last such passage, their average lifespan and that of their friends was many years less than ours. As recently as the 1930s the average lifespan of a Canadian male at birth was only 60 years. A baby boy born today can expect to live at least 25 per cent longer, the equivalent of an extra week per month, or 13 weeks annually, or 15 years of extra life. A female baby's longevity has been extended by 18 years.
Better nutrition, better housing, better working conditions, and better sanitation have been major contributing factors to our better health and longer lives. But also there are marvels of human ingenuity applied to the field of health. The cholera and typhus that assailed our ancestors was controlled. Our children were defended against smallpox, diptheria and polio by simple vaccination. We learned to deal pre-emptively with the ravages of syphilis and tuberculosis. In each we triumphed. We spared thousands of lives and prevented a huge loss to the productive capability of this nation. Billions of dollars have been saved in the cost of care.
The federal government spends many millions of dollars each year on health research and makes it available to all provinces, all hospitals and all doctors throughout Canada. The outcome of this research saves the lives of Canadians.
The unfortunate reality is that illness still exists. Diseases afflict us unpredictably and haphazardly. Most illnesses, especially the major ones, are blind accidents. We are only able to deal with them after they have made an appearance. We must use the methods of medical care for this.
In Canada fortunately, disease is not made twice tragic by having a sick person bear the cost of the treatment. Expenses are paid in full by Canada's comprehensive and universal medical insurance programs which pay family physician and specialist fees as well as the charges for tests, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery and
hospitalization, any or all that are required. This system is a source of deep national pride.
Patients in some provinces were asked to pay the difference between what health care providers were charging and what their provincial health plan would pay. This practice became known as user charges. As well, some doctors were billing patients over and above the provincially approved rates. Extra billing and user fees were a serious threat to our national medicare system.
To stop this erosion the Liberal government of the day instituted the Canada Health Act in 1984. This established in law the five principles on which the system remains supported. Everyone is covered for all medical necessities. Access to care is on an equal basis. Coverage is portable among provinces. Administration and payments are handled by the public sector. It is this act that still governs the health care system that has evolved in Canada and which is the best health care system in the world.
It is the Department of Health that administers and enforces this act, this cornerstone of Canadian cohesion. It is this bill, Bill C-95, that positions the department even more surely to discharge its responsibilities so essential to our national interest. It is therefore my intention to vote for its passage which I trust will be swift.