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Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was fact.

Last in Parliament April 2010, as NDP MP for Winnipeg North (Manitoba)

Won her last election, in 2008, with 63% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Health November 3rd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, today the Auditor General reported that the federal emergency management committee, which is supposed to coordinate the response to the H1N1 virus pandemic, did not bother to meet during half of the six most recent emergencies. She warned of conflicting messages, gaps in the system and failed communication and coordination efforts.

This is disturbing news, obviously, given the current H1N1 crisis, and it confirms what people are experiencing, confusion and a lack of coordination. Why can the government not get its act together?

Health Care November 3rd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Canada Health Act, the foundation of our universal public health care system.

The CHA was passed unanimously by Parliament, a remarkable collaborative achievement with the NDP's Bill Blaikie working closely with the Trudeau Liberal government and health minister Monique Bégin to ensure that quality care would be available to everyone irrespective of their financial status.

Now, 25 years later, the CHA is under attack and the Conservative government is just standing by and doing nothing.

Canadians were outraged this week to learn that private clinics in Toronto and Vancouver were providing a queue-jumping service to the rich for the H1N1 vaccine. This access by wealth is just one more example of creeping privatization and a government that refuses to stop it.

New Democrats, along with the Canadian Health Coalition and concerned citizens everywhere, will continue to fight against two-tier health care and the erosion of the Canada Health Act as we have for 25 years.

Today we celebrate not only the act but Canada's fierce commitment to Tommy Douglas' dream for medicare.

November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, would my colleague comment on the situation that we learned of today with respect to private clinics in Toronto and in Vancouver getting access to the H1N1 vaccine and being able to give this vaccine to highly paid wealthy individuals, while people in her constituency, who are living in poverty, are wondering where they are going to get their vaccine?

Today, the Canadian Health Coalition put out a press release and basically said:

Priority flu shots are meant for people at high risk, not those with high incomes...It's queue-jumping plain and simple.

How does my colleague feel about this issue?

November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the speech that my colleague has just given.

One issue that has not been touched on very much tonight is that in the midst of the shortage, the bottlenecks and the lineups was this absolutely shocking report about a clinic in Toronto, Medcan, getting access to the vaccine, and of course, then inoculating those clients of that clinic who had paid a very large user fee.

My question to the member is, what does he know about the situation? Why does he think it happened? What does he think can be done about ensuring that the rare supply of vaccine we have goes to those most in need?

November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, while it may be true that the material circulated was offensive, and it is worth noting that the Liberals apologized for that mailing, it is also true that first nations in this country are disproportionately affected by the H1N1 virus. In fact, first nations in Manitoba have said that clearly from the outset and have asked the government to recognize that fact and ensure that they are able to get access to the vaccine as a high-risk group in our society.

I appreciate the member's speech today, but we have had disagreements about this in the past. I wonder if he now recognizes the importance of listening to the voices of his own community when they say that a host of factors are contributing to the situation, such as, overcrowded living conditions, poverty, lack of access to medical supplies and services, conflicting information, and lack of access to running water, that all combine to make an ideal breeding ground for H1N1. They ask the government to appreciate that fact and act on it. Will the member?

November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Bloc Québécois member for his speech. He is one of the youngest members of Parliament. In fact, he is the youngest of all the members in this House, and he is very wise. I believe he is absolutely right tonight.

I have a question for him regarding our Standing Committee on Health. A week ago, a GSK representative told everyone that everything was fine. The only thing we can interpret from that is that this company is in the process of producing 3 million doses of this vaccine.

Now, who is telling the truth? Is it GSK, which is saying that everything is fine with the contract, or is it the government, which is saying that the company is causing the problem? What is the truth? What is the problem with the production of vaccines?

November 2nd, 2009

Madam Speaker, those are excellent questions.

With respect to the tardiness of the government in placing its order, that is one of the questions of the hour. We know that Treasury Board's decision was not made until the end of July. An order was placed on August 6. That was weeks and weeks after the problem had been identified, and after the health committee had held emergency meetings in the summer, and of course the Conservatives suggested that we were just playing politics, to push them in terms of getting prepared, and that was the result. That is a question that has to be addressed.

Also, a big problem has emerged by the government not following its own advice to ensure there are at least two suppliers of a flu vaccine. That is the policy in place for every other flu vaccine. When it comes to H1N1 vaccine, the government decided that it could go to one company. An expert witness at the health committee showed just how much of a problem that is. Dr. Rob Van Exan from Sanofi Pasteur came to our committee and said that in a normal regular flu season, which predates GSK's involvement in this, there were always at least two companies that were given the contract. Producing a vaccine is difficult. There could be quality control problems, and there is a need for a backup supply.

For some reason the government decided to go with one supplier only. On top of that, the government gave the supplier an additional contract beyond whatever the company signed eight years ago to allow it to switch production in order to make the non-adjuvanted vaccine.

November 2nd, 2009

Madam Speaker, that is a very good question, because when we asked the minister in the House way back in the middle of September when we came back from the summer recess what was the plan in terms of setting priorities for at-risk groups, the minister and the Public Health Agency officials said, “Do not worry. We do not have to have a priority list. We do not have to sequence, because we have 50 million doses ready to cover this country”. We knew it would take time to roll out, and that is why we asked for leadership from the government to identify those groups, just as President Obama did in the dead of summer, just as the Manitoba government and other provincial governments did early in September. They did not wait for the federal government to finally come forward on September 16 with its list of priorities, leaving the provinces to sort it out themselves and resulting in no national strategy.

When the problem hit and people were coming in droves to get vaccinated because of fear, worry and anxiety, the government could not produce what it had promised. We are not talking about 50 million doses. We are talking about three million doses a week, as it promised, and the government could not keep its word. That is where the problem lies. The government cannot set up demand and expectations and then fall down on its end of the bargain. The government has to be faithful and true in terms of its commitment and keep its word.

November 2nd, 2009

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.

Health November 2nd, 2009

Mr. Speaker, no wonder the minister will not answer the questions directly, the government that is responsible for allowing medicare to be dismantled and privatization to be brought into our system.

We would expect the minister to give some real answers to Canadians who are living in fear and worrying about how they can get access to the H1N1 vaccine.

Why should pregnant women have to stand in line for hours, while the rich get access to a private clinic in Toronto? That is the question. I want to know, what is the minister's plan for ensuring a safe, secure supply of vaccine for everyone?