Mr. Speaker, as one of the many newly elected members of the House, I want to begin by expressing my sincere thanks to the great people of Parry Sound—Muskoka who put their trust and faith in me to represent them in this new government. I am honoured to serve the 85,000 people in my riding who live in one of the most beautiful areas of Canada, 15,000 square kilometres stretching from Georgian Bay in the west to Algonquin Park in the east and from the French River in the north to almost the tip of Lake Simcoe to the south.
The riding brings together people from all walks of life who share a love of spectacular nature and the abundant number of lakes and rivers throughout the area. The numerous towns and villages in the Parry Sound—Muskoka riding are home to many families that have been there for generations and other families that have only discovered what the area has to offer.
It includes the notable communities of Bala and Baysville, Bracebridge, Burk's Falls, Dorset, Dwight, Gravenhurst, Emsdale, Honey Harbour, Huntsville, Kearney, Loring, MacTier, Magnetawan, Muskoka Lakes, Parry Sound, Pointe au Baril, Port Carling, Port Severn, Restoule, Rosseau, South River, Sundridge, Utterson and Windermere, to name a few. In addition to many other small towns and villages, it also includes my own home of Port Sydney on beautiful Mary Lake.
These communities are often referred as cottage country by visitors and residents alike and for over 130 years Parry Sound—Muskoka, has been a tourist destination.
However, it goes beyond cottage and outdoor recreation life and includes many industries that provide local employment and contribute to the national economy. These include: Fenner Dunlop in Bracebridge, which is a large employer for manufacturing industrial conveyor systems for worldwide distribution; Algonquin Industries in Huntsville, an auto parts manufacturer with branches in Gravenhurst and Bracebridge; Marshall Well Drilling in Sundridge, a long time family-owned and operated well drilling business; Shaw-Almex in Parry Sound, a locally owned and operated plant for splicing, repairing and manufacturing conveyor belts; Found Aircraft in Parry Sound, which is the manufacturer of the famous Bush Hawk-XP, one of the toughest, most versatile aircraft built today and named one of Canada's top 100 innovative companies by NRC and Industry Canada; and Muskoka Wharf development in Gravenhurst, a multi-million dollar joint venture to revitalize the Gravenhurst waterfront including residential, commercial usages in green space. These are just a fraction of the prosperous companies situated in my riding.
There are also nine first nations communities in the riding and they add to the mosaic of diversity found in Parry Sound—Muskoka
The riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka and the wonderful people whom I now know so well can feel confident in voting for change. I will always represent their interests, both in the House and in the riding, and I thank them again for the trust they have placed in me.
I also wish to thank my family, my wife, Lynne, my children, Alex, Max and Elexa, and my parents, Carol and John, for their patience and support through thick and thin. With family ties to Cyprus and the Middle East and having immigrated to Canada as a four-year-old, they have all helped me realize my dream of service to higher goals and community.
The options were clear to Canadians who voted last January. The citizens made their choice. Now they expect our government and the House of Commons to tackle the important issues.
That is why this government is moving quickly on its commitments as outlined in the Speech from the Throne. It is centred on the five priorities that the Prime Minister set out during the election campaign, five priorities that have been our focus since forming a government.
As health minister, along with my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, one of our primary responsibilities is to ensure that Canadians receive the health care they need and deserve. Too often Canadians find themselves waiting too long for critical procedures with no alternative but to wait even longer, often in pain and discomfort and at some risk to their health. They want and deserve certainty that they will receive the care, what they need when they need it, wherever they live and regardless of the ability to pay.
We made a commitment to improve the quality of health care in this country and we will honour that commitment to Canadians. As mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, we will work with provincial and territorial governments to develop and implement a patient wait times guarantee for medically necessary services. We will ensure that all Canadians receive medically necessary treatments within clinically acceptable wait times.
The wait times guarantee will allow us to reach two important objectives. First, patients will have an idea of when they will receive care and will know what to do if wait times become excessive. Second, accountability is built into this guarantee so that patients will receive the treatment needed within an acceptable timeframe.
Since becoming the Minister of Health, I have discussed wait times with my provincial and territorial colleagues, health care representatives and other organizations whose members are on the front lines of health care delivery in Canada. In my discussions with these groups it became evident that reducing wait times is a priority we share together and that the wait times guarantee becomes the logical and necessary extension of that goal.
In fact, the Quebec government recently proposed its own guarantee for certain services. It is the first province to do so.
Ministers of health have already agreed on an initial set of 10 common benchmarks or common goals for the provision of medical treatments and screening services in key elective areas for cancer screening and care, cardiac surgery, hip and knee replacements and cataracts.
In addition, our government is ensuring the funding needed for action. Canadians through their governments have already made significant investments in the system and this government is on track to put that additional $41 billion over 10 years into the health care system.
To live up to the commitment of the patient wait times guarantee, the government will make some fundamental changes in our health care system, changes based on four key cornerstones: research, technology, improved collaboration between jurisdictions, and health human resources.
With regard to the first cornerstone, research, the government has committed to increase investment in this area. Mr. Speaker, I do not have to tell you that solid research evidence helps build consensus among the many different groups involved in health care.
We must continue to invest in research on wait times and to concentrate on establishing better indicators, a standard for measuring wait times and the best possible benchmarks based on clinical data.
This work has already begun through research supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Governments have worked in partnership with CIHR to support research needed to establish an initial set of benchmarks in the five key priority areas. Further research will be carried out to help develop evidence and wait times benchmarks for cardiac procedures, diagnostic imaging and cancer. Research also plays a vital role in reducing wait times by helping to prevent illness.
Consider diabetes, a contributing factor to more than 40,000 deaths each year in Canada. Diabetes one day may no longer be a problem and diabetics may not have to worry about daily insulin injections, thanks to gene therapy research by a team at the University of Calgary.
Also consider breast cancer. Research from the University of Toronto has shown digital mammography is more accurate than film mammography in detecting breast cancer earlier for many women.
Finally, consider mental health, which accounts for up to 40% of disability claims in the workplace at a cost of up to $33 billion annually. CIHR has started a major research initiative on mental health in the workplace to find solutions to this huge drain on productivity.
Preventing or at least curbing the impact of any one of those conditions helps keep people healthier and reduces the strain on the health care system. It is supported by our government through CIHR and other organizations.
The government is convinced of the importance of research and will apply clinical results to an action plan for health care. This will improve the lives of all Canadians.
The second cornerstone is the need to continue to pursue advances in and the better adoption of information and communications technology in the health system. This will ensure better productivity, better information sharing and most importantly, better and more timely access to care for all Canadians. It is not about collecting data for data's sake, but rather on transforming access to the health care system and making informed management decisions. These technologies will ensure that patients do not have to repeat their health histories to several providers while going through the different stages of the health care system. They will provide health professionals on the front lines with the information they require to make the best choices for patients.
This use of technology can ensure that the people who are managing and coordinating the system have the information they need in order to meet patient wait time targets. Some regions are sharing diagnostic imaging between hospitals and throughout the country, telehealth initiatives are bringing vital health care services to people in remote communities. In most provinces there are already websites and online access management registries providing data on wait times and performance indicators.
Improved systems increase productivity, enhance access to information and ultimately reduce patient wait times and help enhance access to care.
The third cornerstone of change is improved collaboration between federal, provincial and territorial governments. Canadians have no interest in jurisdictional squabbling. They want results. We need to move away from talking about who is responsible for change and accept that we have a shared responsibility in delivering quality health care for all. On this front this government will lead the charge.
We must not focus solely on our similarities in terms of needs and values. We must respect and understand the differences, not only between provinces and territories, but also within the Canadian population. With an awareness of these differences, we will be better positioned to identify best practices throughout the country and to share them in order to improve health care delivery in the best interest of all Canadians.
The provinces and the territories have made significant progress. Together with the Canadian Institute for Health Information, they are working on developing standard means of measuring wait times This will allow for uniform measurement of wait times across Canada and for accountability.
The Cardiac Care Network of Ontario and the Saskatchewan Surgical Care Network are just two examples of systems that most provinces now have that rank patients on a waiting list according to urgency, so that those who need the service most get the attention their condition demands.
Collaboration among governments, clinicians, regional health authorities and researchers through the western Canada wait list project has been instrumental in developing prioritization tools to ensure that patients waiting for key services are treated fairly.
Some provinces now have centralized booking for particular types of treatment to streamline patient referrals and they are already producing excellent results. I am speaking of initiatives like Alberta's hip and knee pilot project, which has been part of reducing wait time from 47.7 weeks to 4.7 weeks for hip and knee replacements.
As mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, making our health system timely and sustainable requires innovation. All these innovative approaches clearly demonstrate that patient centred innovation is achievable within our current public system. They show that common commitment to results that Canadians want and which our government will support and encourage.
The fourth and final cornerstone of change in our health system is to address health human resource issues. We are talking about the women and men on the front lines of health care in Canada, doctors, nurses and other professionals. They want the best for patients and they want a system that works for all of us.
I wish to work actively with our partners from provincial and territorial governments, as well as with stakeholders, to provide Canada with the best pool and distribution of skilled workers to fill the many roles vital to our health system.
We have seen recent increases in the number of student placements in medical schools. We have seen considerable growth in the numbers of provincially funded openings for post-medical school education in our teaching hospitals and similar facilities. We are seeing more positions opened to the international medical graduates who have made Canada their home and who want to use their talents and expertise in this country.
Nurses and other health care professionals provide care before, during and after surgical interventions. Effective recruitment and retention initiatives are imperative to make sure that we have enough qualified workers to support the care guarantee and to reduce the burden of waiting.
The number of nurses is increasing. For example, the nurse practitioner role is being enhanced, which helps to improve access to health care. We are seeing better workforce planning as well as investment in promoting healthier, more stable workplace environments.
While these developments are important, we need to make more progress in exploring how health professionals work together and share responsibility. We need to explore opportunities for new and emerging health professions. This will require improving how health professionals work together, share responsibility and collaborate.
I also want to advise hon. members of our government's support for the Canadian strategy for cancer control. The Prime Minister has been clear about his support for the five year strategy at a cost of nearly $50 million per year.
The Speech from the Throne sets out the government's commitment to Canadians. It puts this government, the House and the country on a path that will mean increased benefits and better results for Canadians. I am honoured to have the responsibility for a priority that means so much to Canadians, ensuring Canadians receive the health care they deserve.
The government is committed to supporting and enabling innovative approaches to health care delivery. We will do so in ways consistent with the principles of universality and accessibility in the Canada Health Act.
I have been pleased to have had the discussions I have had with my provincial and territorial counterparts and with leaders of health organizations.
Quality health care is the foundation of Canadian priorities. Parry Sounders and Muskokans are counting on me to represent their values and interests in this place. Canadians are counting on all of us in the House to improve the foundation and build a better health care system for all.