Mr. Speaker, I stand today to support Bill C-356, an act respecting a national strategy for dementia, introduced by the member of Parliament for Nickel Belt.
This is proof that the NDP is standing for our future. Right now, the increased cases of dementia among older Canadians is having a huge impact in Canada. Our current system needs support if it is going to grapple with the social, health and economic impacts of dementia, which affect patients, their caregivers and their communities.
We know this is a growing crisis because if we do not develop a comprehensive set of supports to address this issue now, it will then be 10 times worse as the baby boomer generation enters the senior years.
I remember being a delegate at the 2012 NDP convention, and our delegates passed a resolution calling for a national dementia strategy. We found strong support among organized labour, seniors and our NDP members in electoral districts across the country.
Their interest is personal, coming from knowing someone who is living with the disease or a caregiver who is caring for a loved one with the disease. We introduced Bill C-356 in late 2011. Since then, over 75 petitions supporting this idea have been tabled here in Parliament. Over 300 municipalities have passed supporting resolutions.
There is strong support from seniors, heath care, labour, faith and many other networks. A national dementia strategy also links well to the NDP seniors strategy. Our seniors need our support, especially when dementia makes them vulnerable and disoriented, and in need of care.
According to the benchmark study, Rising Tide by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the number of Canadians living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementia now stands at 747,000 and will double to 1.5 million by 2031.
Canada's health care system is ill equipped to deal with the staggering costs. The combined direct medical and indirect lost earnings costs of dementia total $33 billion per year. By 2040, this figure will skyrocket to $293 billion per year. Pressures on family caregivers continue to mount.
In 2011, family caregivers spent 444 million unpaid hours per year looking after someone with dementia, representing $11 billion in lost income and 227,760 full-time equivalent employees in the work force. By 2040, they will be devoting a staggering 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year. Lost in those numbers, perhaps, is the real human face of the disease, the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. While an elderly face typifies most people living and dealing with dementia, 15% of all who are living with Alzheimer's or related dementia diseases are actually under 60 years old. Dementia cuts across every demographic in our communities.
I want to share an example. Matt Dineen, who is 44, is a Catholic high school teacher in Ottawa whose wife, Lisa, 45, is already in secure long-term care with frontal-temporal dementia. Matt is helped by grandparents and siblings in looking after the three children he has with Lisa.
We need increased support for informal caregivers. Caregivers need to be recognized as individuals with rights to their own services and supports. This could take several forms. On financial support, the non-refundable family caregiver tax credit of up to $300 a year introduced in 2011 is really not enough. This does not adequately reimburse the cost of a caregiver's time, which studies have shown is much higher.
Programs are needed to relieve the stress experienced by caregivers. This can include education and skill-building, and the provision of respite care and other support services for the caregivers.
I want to read an account from Tanya Levesque, who lives here in Ottawa, which reflects the experience of many caregivers in Canada. Ms. Levesque states, “We need a national dementia plan to help caregivers. Following is a list of financial barriers I have experienced during my journey as my mother's caregiver: Unable to access my El benefits; I've been unable to qualify for social assistance; unable to claim the caregiver amount on my income tax, since my mother's net income is a few thousand more than what is listed; lack of subsidies for expenses which keep increasing (i.e. property tax, parking fees at hospitals for appointments, gas for travelling to appointments, hydro, water and sewage fees ... etc); I've changed my eating habits to save money, due to the increased cost of food, so my mother can eat well; and because of a lack of future job security, my retirement security is in question, I can't save, because I've chosen to care for my mother, who took care of me. Other difficulties I've encountered: No one-stop shop for information; lack of education of front line emergency room workers regarding the difficulty of long waiting times for a person with dementia; lack of funding for organizations that provide Day Program services .i.e. not being able to provide various activities to clients due to associated costs (i.e. pet therapy). I not only provide love, a peaceful environment, stability and familiarity to my mother - who has now stabilized with her disease - I also provide the government with health care cost savings.
She is clearly doing a lot for our community by helping her mother.
Supporting a national condition-specific strategy is something I think that we should look into for dementia. It is not a new thing. It is not a new idea for the federal government. It is just an an idea that the Conservative government is actually really dragging its feet on.
The Canadian diabetes strategy, for example, supports collaborating and developing community models to raise awareness, invest in tools and share information.
The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, in 2011, received a renewal of funding totalling $250 million over five years. CPAC is implementing a coordinated, comprehensive approach to managing cancer care in Canada.
Using the Canadian heart health strategy and action plan as a guide, Canada is addressing cardiovascular disease through investments in health promotion and disease prevention.
Clearly, we know how to do this. It has been established. Dementia should be a disease, a condition for which we can have a specific strategy nationally.
In 2007, the Government of Canada established the Mental Health Commission by providing $130 million over 10 years, with a mandate to facilitate the development of a national mental health strategy.
Instead of a national strategy, what we are seeing is that the Conservative government has proposed research.
As important as research is, it is not the same as the comprehensive approach that the bill would promote: help for patients, caregivers, the dementia workforce; early diagnoses and prevention; and a continuum of care for people in their homes, in the community and in formal care.
The national dementia strategy proposed by my colleague from Nickel Belt, in Bill C-356, would provide leadership from Parliament that would work with and respect the lead jurisdiction for health care delivery for the provinces and territories; increase funding for research into all aspects of dementia; promote earlier diagnosis and intervention; strengthen the integration of primary, home and community care; enhance skills and training of the dementia workforce; and recognize the need and improve support for caregivers.
We respect that provinces and territories have jurisdiction over health care delivery; however, municipalities, patients and caregivers are calling upon Ottawa to show some leadership. Ottawa needs to take the lead on a pan-Canadian dementia strategy that could immediately help millions of Canadians affected by Alzheimer's and related dementia diseases: the patients, families, caregivers and the dementia workforce. This would free scarce acute-care beds in hospitals and help caregivers, who often must give up their work in order to care for loved ones.
I shared the example of Ms. Levesque with members earlier.
Also, Mimi Lowi-Young, the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, stated the following:
In a recent Nanos survey, 83% of Canadians reported they believe Canada needs a national dementia plan. As our population ages, Canadians will be at an increased risk of developing dementia or caring for someone with it. Everyone owns this disease.
The approach we're proposing has worked for the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. It can work for dementia and ensure that we get the best return on investment and available resources.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, CARP, and the Canadian Medical Association both echo the sentiment of Ms. Lowi-Young.
In conclusion, instead of putting forward a non-binding motion, Motion No. 575, the government brought forward that would not lead to a study in committee and support research when our country is actually calling out for a plan, a real plan, a strategy, the government needs to really take action to build a national strategy for dementia and and support Bill C-356 proposed by my colleague from Nickel Belt.