Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment.
I am very honoured to have this opportunity to reply to the Speech from the Throne. To begin, I wish to acknowledge the kindness and patience that the House of Commons staff has shown in preparing this facility for my arrival. Your staff, Mr. Speaker, has been professional, courteous and accessible, and for that I commend them.
As members are aware, many physical modifications were required to accommodate me in this spot. I feel I need to inform the Speaker that the physical renovations are only temporary, as in the not too distant future I will be sitting on the other side of the House working with a new prime minister, the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps then I will run for the Speaker's position myself.
I wish to call the attention of the House to my personal health care assistant, Melissa. Melissa will be sitting on the floor of the House to help me perform my duties as a member of Parliament. Melissa is special in many ways and I wish to highlight two of them. First, she is the first unelected person in the history of Canada to sit full time on the floor of the House of Commons. Second, Melissa is a great example of today's health care professionals. To be a successful health care professional, one needs to be dedicated, hard-working, caring and, most important, able to empathize with one's clients. Melissa has these qualities. I know all Canadians appreciate the work that people like Melissa do. They are the unsung heroes in our society.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank the hon. leader of the official opposition for my appointment as senior health critic. It is my hope that I will fulfill this role as successfully as my predecessors have. That being said, I will begin.
As senior health care critic, I will focus my attention on the parts of the throne speech that deal with health care.
The state of our health care system is the top issue for Canadians. There was a health care summit last month to try to deal with our deteriorating health care system. The Prime Minister called last month's health conference “a fix for a generation”. I would like to take this opportunity to bring the Prime Minister and his caucus up to speed on the definition of a generation. The dictionary defines a generation as the average time from the birth of one generation to the birth of the next generation, about 30 years. Perhaps the Prime Minister could inform the House later as to which generation will get the fix that he has promised.
Obviously, the Prime Minister has fallen far short of the commitments he made during the campaign. When the Prime Minister cut $25 billion from the health care system in 1995, he gouged the health care system for at least a generation. Canadians cannot trust the government when it comes to health care. Essentially, after this deal the government still has not replaced the funding it took from the health care system in the first place. The government should stop the self-congratulations and reflect on the harm that it has caused the users of the health care system.
The Conservative Party supported the health care deal, in part because any deal is better than no deal. The people on the front lines, the patients and the health care professionals, need help and they need it now, but the health care deal is still fundamentally lacking on a plan of action for reform.
In typical government fashion there is no direction and no vision for the system. The health care deal has no specific concrete measures for accelerating reform and improved access. All this deal includes is funding to help the health care system begin a long and painful process of trying to fix the problem the government has caused.
During the election campaign, Canadians heard a lot about the increase in waiting times since the government took office. While I agree that waiting times are an important issue for Canadians and that the government has failed miserably in this area, it is not the sole issue on which one should form a basis for fixing the whole system. There are other important issues in health care that must be dealt with on the same priority level as waiting times, items such as a national catastrophic pharmacare program, training more family doctors and specialists, improvements in mental health and community care, and of course the throne speech makes no mention of the health care challenges our seniors face.
I am also disappointed to find out that there are literally no accountability mechanisms. Other than the reporting dates from the 2003 accord, which were pushed off well into the future, there are no assurances that the government will get a bang for its buck.
If the government were serious about reforming health care, it would not have walked away from the table without accountability measures. The Prime Minister did not need to invent these measures to hold the provinces accountable. These measures were in the previous accord of 2003. Instead we have a deal which throws out billions of dollars and no sign of where the money will go.
I wish to acknowledge my counterpart the Minister of Health. Soon after his appointment, the minister said that it was his priority to stem the tide of privatization. If there was ever an opportunity to do that the health summit was the place. However, the new health deal includes no measure to stem privatization. As the House will recall, a private for profit clinic opened its doors in Montreal during the first ministers' meeting. That is so much for stemming the tide of privatization.
The minister had another chance to tell Canadians how he would deal with the tide of privatization. It was in yesterday's throne speech. Lo and behold, privatized health care was not addressed in the speech.
This is an issue in which Canadians have a great deal of interest. The government cannot have it both ways: either it will allow innovative and efficient health care delivery or it plans to nationalize the entire health care system, family doctors included. On this issue like so many others, the government is hypocritical.
The throne speech also mentioned, “The needs of patients will drive change”. The needs of patients have not driven change in the past for the government. Why should Canadians expect it to do it now?
The government makes promises and breaks promises. All that is left is people who are worse off than when the government took power.
There is also a passing mention to affordable drugs. There is nothing in the new deal on health that will lessen the burden of prescription medications for Canadians. The government did agree to set up a committee to study the issue and report back. More committees will not help Canadians.
The Leader of the Opposition clearly outlined his plan for pharmacare during the campaign. It did not include round table discussion groups to study a problem. Our party is a party of action. Where the Liberals form committees and break their promises, our party fulfils commitments and we fill them in a timely manner.
A Conservative government would have protected Canadians from the financial hardships involving catastrophic drug costs because no person in Canada should lose their home to buy a prescription. This is part of the vision that the Leader of the Opposition has for Canada.
However, I offer my colleague best wishes in his new portfolio, and I would like to offer the minister some advice as he begins his tenure. I urge the minister to always keep the focus on the patient. Every person is unique. Empower Canadians so they can make the best health care decisions for themselves. If he does that, Canada will be a better place.
In closing, it is my privilege to recognize the great constituents of Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia. My constituency is both rural and urban, includes portions of the city of Winnipeg and the rural municipality of Headingley. It includes the Winnipeg international airport, 17 Wing armed forces base and Air Command headquarters, the Canadian Mennonite University and a significant aerospace industry.
I note that the throne speech neglects to appropriately deal with the issues of transportation, justice, post-secondary education, agriculture, infrastructure renewal and many other important topics that are of keen interest to me and my constituents.
Time does not permit me to outline all the concerns my constituents have in regard to the throne speech. Rest assured I will be representing Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia and Headingley to Ottawa, not vice versa.
The success of the government will be to determine what each Canadian asks oneself come election time: Is Canada better off now or before the government took office? The overwhelming answer of Canadians and my constituents is, no. The throne speech provides little hope that things will be better in the future under this government.