Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House to speak to such an important bill with such an import role.
As my colleague from Winnipeg stated, there are many aspects to health that we need to confront directly and if we do not do it from a national perspective, then the health of all Canadians will suffer.
I want to touch on a number of issues in Bill C-5 and the role of the Chief Public Health Officer. If we take a look at what Canadians suffer from in terms of health concerns, we need to a lot more in the area of prevention.
My colleague already referenced the importance of what we put into our environment. We must ensure that what we put into our environment does not make us ill and later on requires us to use health services that are costly and scarce. It makes no sense if in the end those illnesses could be prevented.
Pesticides is an area that my colleague talked about and one which I have been active on in my own community. When we look at the pesticides that are put into our environment without any concern for the health of our children and those who are most vulnerable, it seems to me that we have a lot of work to do. As the member mentioned, there presently is a model in the province of Quebec where the cosmetic use of pesticides will no longer be allowed. I think that is something all provinces should be looking at. I am hopeful that when the bill is passed that the Public Health Agency will look at the Quebec model.
I would also like to look at the additives that we put into our food source. Today I spoke in the House about the importance of recognizing those persons who work in the public service and who have blown the whistle, not because they were trying to rock the boat but because they were looking out for the public good.
We recently had the mad cow or BSE crisis. Canadians should know that there were men and women working in the veterinary branch of Health Canada who cited the concerns around BSE two years before the crisis hit. We know the costs that were borne by those in the agricultural community. Many people lost their livelihood and many went through incredible turmoil in their own lives.
We also have a concern around the health of Canadians in general. Why? It is because our food source was contaminated. Our own officials within Health Canada, who blew the whistle on BSE, said that rendered beef cannot be fed to cattle. This is exactly what was happening.
We knew this information and had this information but there was no coordinated effort to deal with it. In fact, the recommendations that came forward were the recommendations that the premier of Alberta cited. What did the premier say? He said that we should be testing more of our cows, that we should not be feeding rendered feed to cattle and that there should be more money put into this jurisdiction.
In fact, the same thing happens presently and had been happening in Japan and Europe. Why? It is because those countries had gone through this crisis.
I think the role of having someone looking over the national concerns of public health is absolutely critical for the reasons I have mentioned when we look at the mad cow crisis. This could have been avoided. We could have responded to that crisis more quickly and more sensibly. The health and welfare of Canadians would have been put first and foremost.
Other areas in terms of prevention where I think we have failed and need to do more is on how we prevent persons who are living at the lowest margins from becoming ill. We know the key indicators of health when we take a look at where people live, what kind of housing they have, what access they have to health care, what kind of nutrition they have and what kind of food sources are available to them. We know that access to recreation facilities is important. People must be allowed to participate fully and not, with all due respect, the little bit that was given in the budget. We need to go much further than that so all our citizens can participate in a healthy, vibrant, active life.
Those are the things we need to be put on the table. This kind of purview by the Public Health Officer would allow for health promotion to take place so that we could truly get into preventing some of the ailments Canadians suffer from.
My background is that of a school teacher and I have seen, exponentially, the rise in asthma. At the school where I taught, only one or two students had asthma. If I were to go into any classroom in Canada today and asked how many kids had asthma, I would find that at least three or four students would put up their hands. Why is that? It has to do with the quality of our air, along with some other concerns.
What have we done to prevent the poor quality of our air and deal with pollution? We obviously have not done enough. This needs to be looked at through a national lens. I hope the Public Health Agency can look at this kind of thing and, in doing so, will offer some recommendations that will have some teeth. We do not want to see a report that just gathers dust like the Romanow report sadly did. We want to see a report that has efficacy, that will be heard, not just something that is tabled.
When the bill goes through committee it will be interesting to look at other jurisdictions to see if there are ways in which this will not just be a reporting mechanism to the Minister of Health, but that the recommendations have some teeth so that they will have traction and efficacy and that the health of Canadians will benefit in the end.
We just have to turn to what has happened in the past with reports from auditor generals or other royal commissions when really good work was done but, sadly, not enacted. I hope the scope and the efficacy of the public health office will be something that is not just seen as symbolic but something that will be action oriented.
I want to touch on an area that is near and dear to me, and that is the area of mental health. This is Mental Health Awareness Week. I believe most Canadians are aware of the fact that it is an issue that has been stigmatized for far too long. I would like to see provisions put into the Canada Health Act so that we can take this issue seriously. Hopefully it will become one of the primary focuses of the Public Health Agency. This area has been stigmatized for far too long. It requires resources so that Canadians can have an active, healthy participation in their respective communities.