Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak on this issue. It is an issue of great passion for most Canadians and I am passionate about it myself.
I would like to split my time with the member for Okanagan--Coquihalla.
I will pick up the debate where we left off, speaking about the number of dollars spent in health care. I applaud the hon. members of the Bloc who brought forward the motion, which talks about the dollars, the provincial jurisdiction and the Romanow report. I support the hon. members, although I would put a caveat on their suggestion that the Romanow report may not open debate. I think that debate is what we need in the country and I think the Romanow commission will help fuel some of that debate. I hope it is a healthy debate, although even the greatest report coming from Mr. Romanow would probably be used as a political pawn, as we have seen happen with health care. I will explain.
Health care is the top priority for all Canadians. The latest poll, on December 7, showed that 82% of Canadians had health care as the number one issue on their minds. It continues to be the number one concern for people.
A government that is supposed to respond to the people it serves has failed them, I would argue, in not addressing the problems in health care. Let us take a look at health care funding since 1993-94. Where did the CHST cash transfers go? They were at $18.8 billion in 1993-94. By the way they are not there now because since that time we have seen a massive unilateral withdrawal. In 1995 there was a massive $3.8 billion reduction in funding transfers with the CHST dropping to $14.7 billion in one year. Two years later the CHST fell to $12.5 billion. This slash and burn approach of the federal finance minister was great for his bottom line but it was absolute devastation for health care.
I was made part of the health care crisis because I was on a regional health authority and actually was at one of the first Alberta round tables brought together to try to deal with the crisis of a $900 million reduction in one year while still sustaining the health care system. The federal Liberal government actually put this burden on the backs of the provinces. In turn, the provinces, with 82% of health care budgets being spent on human resources and actual frontline staff, had to impose a penalty on those people.
This had a ripple effect that absolutely crippled our system. There were enormous consequences. There were massive layoffs of thousands of health care workers and professionals. If that is not bad enough, when those numbers of people are laid off and it is done in that way there is a drop in morale. In fact eight years later stats show that the most dangerous places to work in Canada are our health care facilities. Morale is lower and the number of sick days higher than in any other workforce in Canada. As well, enrolment in medical and nursing schools was cut back and now we are into a massive crisis where we have no doctors to look after the people of the country and no nurses to work in our facilities.
Yesterday it was interesting to ask the Minister of Health about the 1,500 new frontline doctors who are supposed to fan out across the country to train our doctors at our facilities on how to work and deal with bioterrorism attacks. They cannot even find a dozen in the country.
Another issue is new medical technology. New medical technologies were promised to upgrade obsolete equipment. Absolutely nothing was found. The government said it put in $1 billion for that. I did a little research and asked where the $1 billion went. I asked the Canadian Medical Association and it is asking the same question because it still sees medical equipment that is broken down. Hopefully we will be able to find some specific answers. We will follow it up.
Over the last eight years $25 billion has been removed from the federal responsibility for health care in the country. That is in light of an 8% increase in the population. In 1993 there were 28.7 million people in Canada and today we have 31.1 million people. This is a massive number of people we are looking after. Not only that, we have the increase in inflation. Just the cost of doing business in the country has risen 13% since 1993.
Today what are the fruits of this shortsightedness? Wait lists, as I said, are a plague on the system. They grow longer and people on the waiting lists are dying. There is the shortage of nurses and doctors. According to a survey done by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, two-thirds of the physicians in the country are refusing to accept more patients and we are asking them to actually do more work. They are saying they are stretched to the maximum and cannot even take on new patients.
The confidence of Canadians in our health care system has plummeted and why would it not? What more could we expect? This kind of damage is not cured overnight.
To take the opportunity to undo some of the damage by putting more money into the system, the government came up with an accord in September 2000, but that money will happen over a five year period. It is like offering someone who has just walked through the desert a cup of water. The provinces had no choice but to accept it. It was a sort of unilateral decision, just prior to an election, by the way.
What a golden opportunity it was for the federal government and what a missed opportunity. If it wanted to show real leadership on health care and to help out with some of the crises happening in its reign, the government should have followed the dollars with some conditions. It should have led the provinces and showed them how to protect health care and sustain it over the long term. Instead of that, this was just an election ploy with no leadership. The accord was just something that had to be signed so the government could appease its conscience somewhat through this next period of time by just throwing money into the system.
The federal government's responsibility used to be part of a 50:50 arrangement. Now it is down to 14% and in some provinces it is less than that; in Alberta I think it is at 12%. Clearly health care is not a priority of the government. We saw that as recently as the last budget. At least the government could have brought this up to the 1993-94 level by adding another $500 million as a token to say it is with the provinces and realizes there is a problem. Not one penny has come forward. We have seen 6.5% annual increases in health care costs over the last four years. That is purely not sustainable and every province knows it. Every premier is yelling and saying that something has to be done and that they will move forward.
We need to come up with new approaches to rein in the escalating drug costs. We need to find new, efficient ways of delivering health care. We need to ensure greater accountability among the users and providers of health care to eliminate some of the waste in the system. We need to promote more responsible use of health care dollars even within that system. We need to place a greater emphasis on prevention and keep people healthier in the first place to avoid the cost crisis management approach we have seen from the government.
Up to now I have just talked about the dollars and the crisis of the dollars, but health care is a two-pronged problem. Not only did the government pull all the money out of health care, it held the provinces in a straitjacket so they could not be innovative in their approach to delivery. Every time we saw one of the provinces being innovative we would see the Minister of Health ride in with his sword, shake it at the provinces and say “don't you dare” and fly off within minutes before he could be questioned.
The social union framework in 1999 was supposed to appease some of that. What did we get? There was supposed to be a dispute settlement mechanism for any challenges to the Canada Health Act and we are still waiting for that today. I am wondering where the Minister of Health has been in coming up with a dispute settlement mechanism that is fair and takes provincial as well as federal interests into consideration.
When it comes to the Romanow commission, I believe he will do the best job he knows how to do. There will be 18 days of hearings, 7 expert focus groups, 9 partner events, 5 regional sessions, 1 workbook and 1 national conference. It sounds like the 12 days of Christmas. That is the kind of debate that will go on.
The government is great at studying. It has spent some $242 million on studies since it came to power, yet there has been no leadership. I believe Mr. Romanow will do a great job, and the best job that he can, but the government will use it as political positioning for the next election, which is unfortunate for Mr. Romanow and for the health care of Canadians.