Yes, superfluous. This bill will allow the House to spend over $1 billion and to hire 8,000 people before even treating one person and taking one medical action regarding a patient.
I can understand that members opposite are a bit touchy when questioned about the establishment of such a department, which brings nothing new and which favours overlap more than anything else.
These people of course are very sensitive; they get touchy when we raise this issue. All the more so because a debate like this one allows us to point out some electoral promises in the red book that have still not been kept. When we do that, they fidget and get upset.
The establishment of this department shows us once again that the federal government seeks to act in an area of jurisdiction where it has no authority. I say it once again because this is not the first time this happens, since the House has considered bills to establish other departments also.
Yet, the minister would have us believe that this is an act without much importance, that this is no big deal, as we say where I come from, and that the bill's aim is simply to change the department's name. Nonsense. It is more than that. I will take a few minutes to demonstrate that this is not true.
When we read the bill and look at paragraph 4(2)( a ), describing the minister's powers, duties and functions, we have to pay attention, because that is what the whole bill is about.
This provision says that the promotion and preservation of the physical, mental and social well-being of the people of Canada will be ensured by the department. What a fine plan of action. With such a mandate, however, the minister is using the physical, mental and social well-being of the population to interfere even more in the area of health. This is the federal government's excuse for claiming a legitimate authority over a matter of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This issue has already been raised in this House, and it has also been raised in other legislatures throughout Canada.
Discussions over this intrusion clearly show that everybody is fed up. The BNA act of 1867 provides for provincial primacy over health. That provision has not been amended, as far as I know. The federal government does not have any power over health except what flows from its spending power, which it interprets in a such a way as to set up departments in areas over which it has no jurisdiction whatsoever. The federal spending power is a licence to do as it pleases.
It is also because of this spending power that this government and the previous one have accumulated a huge debt. While driving us ever deeper into debt, this government is reducing transfer payments to provinces. These payments are being constantly reduced, yet they are made under certain conditions. The provinces can lose them if those conditions are not met. And successive budgets have made cuts.
Let us consider what happened recently in British Columbia, where new welfare measures and structures were put into place. Since these structures and measures did not meet national standards, the Minister of Human Resources Development told the provincial authorities that they would suffer the consequences if they did not move toward those standards, because there would be cuts.
In fact, I do not think that this situation has been resolved. In fact, negotiations between the federal government and that province are still going on. These negotiations are time-consuming and extremely costly. In the meantime, the recipients, the people in need, are getting low quality, substandard services. Therefore, within specific programs, the money allocated to the people in need is not totally spent on them. If we take into account all the money that is spent on management and on discussions at various levels, what is left? Very little, only half of what should have been allocated to the programs and gone directly to the citizens.
However, a lot of existing acts ensure that the doors are wide open-and I say wide open-for the health department to intrude on areas under provincial jurisdiction. There are, for instance, the Criminal Code, the Narcotic Control Act and the Food and Drugs Act, where the central government is getting fully involved.
Of course there is duplication in health care. I have always wondered why members of the armed forces were not treated by the same physicians as everybody else. Why was this kind of health care system created within the armed forces? You certainly know that the army has its own physicians, its own dentists and its own psychiatrists. They have a parallel system for every type of health care service found in a province.
Imagine the costs. Imagine the savings we could make if these people used the services provided by the provinces. But no, the army had to build this large structure that cost a lot of money. Moreover, the army had to have the required infrastructure to accommodate these people, so it built military hospitals across the country.
Let us not forget about the social health services that are mainly for aboriginal people and residents of northern Canada. This is all duplication. Since aboriginal people are under federal jurisdiction, the health department is responsible for them. Duplication, overlap, and at what cost?
I can easily understand why our debt is growing so rapidly. Canadians are making the necessary effort to pay taxes in order to reduce this debt, but the government is not doing what needs to be done. It is creating parallel structures while we can barely pay the interest on the debt.
The federal government has no right to interfere in these areas, but it is doing so anyway. It is doing so with Bill C-18. It wants the right to interfere in the area of health care. This is just one more instrument to launch debates between the provinces, debates that lead absolutely nowhere. Let us leave these rights where they belong.
If members look at the funding aspect, they will see that something is wrong in this bill. Members will recall that transfers to the provinces do not come from the health department but from the finance department.
This is a situation I would call ludicrous. The Department of Health will set its national objectives, the standards to be met if the provinces are to get their money, but it is the Minister of Finance who eventually-although the cost has not yet been calculated-will make the decision, depending on what he wants to have as a deficit or a debt. He will decide what amount will be transferred. He sets the amounts himself without assessing the costs of the national standards.
Putting it more clearly, this means that the Minister of Health tells the provinces what they need to do, and then the Minister of Finance hands over the money: "Manage with that as you can". Obviously, reducing transfer payments indicates a lack of cohesion somewhere. The objectives remain the same, but cannot be met if the financial resources are not there.
In Quebec, what is transferred or not transferred, depending on the mood of the Minister of Finance, is tax points. Naturally, in the aftermath of the massive cuts to health and the Canada transfer to the provinces, Quebec will soon be receiving no more real money, just tax points. What does that mean? It means that the government will have to either limit services or increase taxes in order to provide quality services, yet with less money.
What makes the situation ridiculous is that, once again, the federal government will continue to dictate to Quebec what it must do, while the federal government will not cough up one cent more.
Contrary to what one might think, the Minister of Health plays a very great economic role as well. That economic role has repercussions within each region. When there is a shortfall somewhere, cuts somewhere, the entire population, the entire region feels it. In Health Canada's 1995-96 main estimates, it indicates financial requirements of a little more than $1 billion for operations.
Very often, as I said at the beginning, when that money is spent on infrastructures or discussions here, there and everywhere, there is very little left for medical care for Canadians.
I would also like to focus on the national forum on health, held in October 1994, when we were here in this House.
It was obvious that this government wanted to increase its involvement in the area of public health. Visibility was the watchword of this forum. This government tries to pounce on everything that moves to increase its visibility. Instead of increasing its credibility, it increases its visibility. Flags are going to be flown all over the place; we are inundated with flyers from each department; they are very visible. But when the time comes to provide heath care, the government is no longer visible. It does not believe in high quality care. It would rather have little red flags on paper, brochures, and cheques instead of improving its credibility.
It is no wonder so many people no longer trust politicians. It is very simple. When you do not take any action, when you act solely to be visible, you cannot expect any other outcome.
As a matter of fact, as far as the national forum is concerned, I remind the House that every single province, not only Quebec, openly criticized the government's attitude. Why? Because the government wanted them to play second fiddle with regard to health. In this respect, many people can be quoted. The Conservative health minister in Ontario criticized the federal government, saying that the federal government's attempt to impose its own interpretation of the health care principles should be opposed.
The Conservative premier of Alberta was of the same mind. He condemned the inflexibility of the federal government in that area.
Furthermore, this government reneged on one of the red book promises. Let me quote it. It is said in the red book that "a Liberal government will establish a National Forum on Health", up to here everything is fine, "chaired by the Prime Minister", imagine, the Prime Minister himself will chair the forum, downplaying all other participants, but even that would have been acceptable, "bringing
together for public discussion the major partners and parties involved with the health of Canadians". So everybody was to be on the same level, talking about health problems, with a moderator in the centre who just happens to be our Prime Minister.
In spite of this firm commitment, again stated clearly in the Liberals' red book, the federal government refused to let the provinces participate fully in the proceedings of the national forum on health.
This government wanted to grant provinces observer status only.
As you are indicating that my time is almost up, I will conclude with the following. The provinces are should be the main players as far as health is concerned. The central government should review its intention to cut the Canada health and social transfer. It should no longer offload the deficit onto the provinces. Why? Because this impacts on the quality of health care and adds to the financial burden of each and every Canadian.