Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow my leader in this very important debate.
I want to begin by acknowledging the significance of this evening's discussion and thank the Speaker for recognizing the importance of having this debate.
This is our first opportunity to question the government about some of the unfortunate developments that happened this week that caused grief and anguish among Canadians everywhere.
We are not here tonight to throw stones or to cast blame. We are here tonight to get answers so that we do not repeat the same mistakes, so that we can fix the issues that have emerged, and Canadians will not have to worry and live with such fear and concern and anxiety day in and day out.
I remind members in the House that we are dealing with a most virulent, serious virus that can cause deep lung problems in people, leading to death. I remind everyone in the House that there have been 5,700 deaths in the world since the H1N1 virus first made its ugly appearance in our society.
I remind everyone in the House that we have just hit our 100th death in this country. This week alone we saw 11 deaths, young girls and boys from all parts of this country, whether we are talking about Timmins or Ottawa or Bloomingdale. Kids that were in good health and at the height of their activity were struck down. Manitoba also experienced something similar last spring when a 40-year-old man with no preconditions suddenly dropped dead from this virus.
We know how serious it is, and that is why we are raising questions tonight. We are prepared to give credit where credit is due, and we have done that over the many months we have been dealing with this issue.
I want to remind members that last April when the virus first emerged, we were quick to acknowledge the work of the minister in terms of briefing the opposition, in terms of having regular briefings, and in terms of keeping us informed. We will always acknowledge the government when it does something right.
We also, along with the government, celebrate the achievements of Dr. Frank Plummer with the National Microbiology Laboratory, who was the first scientist to decode the virus of Canadian and Mexican sources. We have much to give thanks for and we are quick to give praise where praise is due.
But this week something happened. The wheels fell off the bus. Something went terribly wrong. The commitments made by the government did not prove to be worth the paper they were written on.
I want to remind members how often we stood in our places and asked questions about how we were prepared as a nation for a national pandemic. Each and every time we received the same line: “We are on track. Don't worry, we have enough vaccine for everybody in this country. We don't need to prioritize people. We don't need to sequence people. We don't need to single out at risk people. We don't need to worry about setting up clinics. We don't need to do any of that because, in fact, we have the vaccine and we are going to get it out as promised”. The government did not do that. Something went wrong.
The government can blame GlaxoSmithKline or it can blame the provinces or whoever, but we need to hear the government say tonight that something did go wrong.
The government needs to say it is prepared to assess the situation and fix the problem, so that we can deal with people's anxieties and actually ensure that the vaccine will be forthcoming in the next week and the week after that, leading up to full coverage well before Christmas we would hope, because as everyone in the House has said, there is not much point in getting a vaccine out in December if the flu season is already over.
We want the government to act as quickly as possible with a secure supply of safe vaccine. We thought that was what it was doing on October 21 when it announced that, lo and behold, it was ahead of every nation around the world and would be bringing forward 50 million doses to cover the country and no one would need to worry.
The government promised three million doses a week. It turned out that was a bit of an exaggeration. In fact, it was two million in the first week, maybe two million the next week, and then suddenly almost nothing.
On Friday, when the provinces were already busy setting up mass immunization clinics, spending millions of dollars in terms of hiring staff, getting the facilities in place, getting the equipment, and doing everything necessary, the government picked up the phone and said the vaccine will not be forthcoming. Sorry, no can do.
I want to know, as does the rest of the House, when did the government know there was going to be such a short supply? Why did it not tell the provinces sooner? Why was it not more forthcoming about the actual situation?
Interestingly, on October 26, one week ago today, an official from GlaxoSmithKline said at committee said, “We are on track. We are on schedule in terms of producing the vaccine”. That was Monday. By Thursday, word started getting out that that was not the case. The provinces started preparing. Manitoba certainly started alerting people, much to the chagrin of the minister, whose office promptly scolded anyone for citing this as a problem. The provinces were not officially notified until Friday morning. How does one plan for something as serious and significant as a national pandemic, ensuring vaccinations of the at-risk groups and then the rest of the population, if the federal government cannot be forthcoming or even keep its word in terms of the vaccinations that are available?
If there was a problem, the government should have said so. It should have told us what the problem was. Maybe it was quality control. Maybe it stopped the production in order to do the non-adjuvanted vaccine. Maybe something else happened. We do not know. Maybe the government exaggerated what it was intending to do on October 21, when it told the whole world that it was ahead of the game and that it was going to solve the problems of this national pandemic in one fell swoop.
All we need from the government is for it to be honest, up front and transparent with what has happened. We know that we have to deal with this in real time. We know that we have never experienced it before. We also know that people are dying. Children are dying. Middle-aged men are dying. Pregnant women are scared out of their minds about what to do. They are getting all kinds of conflicting advice.
One can imagine with all of those fears going on, seeing this kind of inaction from the government and at the same time reading in the papers about private clinics getting access to the vaccine so that they can hand it out to their high-paid clients. People are buying their way to the front of the line.
We raised it in the House, but the government did not have the decency to address that. It did not have the decency to stand up and say that it is also offended by that and that it will see to it that the Canada Health Act is enforced every step of the way. It did not say that it would not allow our precious H1N1 vaccine to go out to the highest bidders.
This is about ensuring that the people who need it get it first and that it is distributed and dealt with on a public, not-for-profit basis. There is no room anywhere in our health care system for that kind of privatization. There is certainly no room in a time of crisis for a government to allow this to happen and then to say nothing about it. There is no room for it to not come clean and at least say that it should have set out guidelines, that there should be national standards and that it failed on that front.
Today, all we are asking is that the government look at the problems that happened and sort them out so that over the next few weeks, the provinces and the people of this country can be guaranteed the vaccine as they line up and wait for it. We ask that it follow the advice of my leader and start to look at cost sharing some of the expenses around this and not just 60% of the vaccine, where it ended up not keeping its end of the bargain.
We ask that it start to pay for some of the additional costs that every province has to bear and first nations communities have to undertake, anywhere extra costs come with the pandemic. We ask that it come to the table and be prepared to cooperate and show that we can solve this problem together.
We are not here to create fear or to scare people. We are here to say that there is concern and anxiety out there which the government has a responsibility to address. That is exactly what we expect from the government tonight during this emergency debate.