Madam Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Health presented to the House on Monday, November 1, 2004, be concurred in.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia.
This is a very important motion and I would like to explain exactly how it came to the House. This is a motion that was made in the health committee and it was a unanimous decision by the committee. Unanimous decisions are not all that striking in themselves but the House has to understand that this decision was made unanimously and it went against the direction in which the government has gone for the last two parliaments.
It becomes very significant when government members will sit in a committee room, discuss the issue and realize that they were in error for the direction in which the government had been going on the issue of compensation to hepatitis C victims outside the window for the last seven years, or even a decade. It becomes a very significant issue to understand how it came to the House.
We made the motion in committee. It was a unanimous decision to compensate all those victims outside the window. There was another motion made in committee which was to bring it to the House and have it reported here. It was reported on Monday so my notice of motion was for the concurrence of the House to recognize that the decision of the committee is the right direction in which to go. We are asking the House to concur with that motion. It is a very legitimate request and we believe that the House should concur.
There is $1.1 billion left in a compensation fund that started at $1.2 billion and all of those who are within the window have already been paid. We know the numbers outside the window are much reduced compared to the estimates that were made initially. There are about 5,000 left, maybe 6,000 at the very most. There is absolutely no rational reason why we would not compensate outside that window.
We had a take note debate in the House last evening to discuss the issue. The minister said that he would like to pursue this and plans to take it to cabinet. When I looked at the cabinet ministers I realized that a number of cabinet ministers who were against this for the last decade are still sitting in cabinet. Therefore, I am a little nervous about the direction in which they will go when they are in the cabinet room. That is why it is very important for the House to send them a message urging them to do the right thing.
There is no reason that this should not happen. The funding is there, although the decision should never have been based on the funding. It should have been based on fairness.
We have to understand that all of those outside the window who were impacted by tainted blood who got HIV and which progressed to AIDS were compensated. It is only the hepatitis C victims. Not only was there discrimination of the individuals, it was also of the disease itself. Because of that, in the sense of fairness if for no other reason, all victims of tainted blood should be compensated.
It was a terrible time in the history of this country when the citizens felt that the blood system was safe and it was not. The government knew. It had been forewarned that it was not safe but it proceeded. We could go on and on with the rationale and the history of the situation. I do not know if it is important to do that at this time. What is important is that we make sure that the House has an opportunity to speak to the cabinet and to the government in power with regard to doing the right thing for all Canadians.
The decision in 1998 should have been to compensate all those outside the window, which coincides with the Krever inquiry. That was the right thing to do then. It is the right thing to do now. We still have time to do the right thing and I encourage Parliament to send that message.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in this very important debate. I was listening to the hon. member who spoke a few minutes before me. He seemed to be saying that some MPs have more of a conscience than others. I do not think we are here today to examine one another's conscience. I think that all hon. members want us to compensate all the victims. Past agreements have to be honoured. In that respect, I think the Minister of Health has shown a great deal of openness.
However, I would like to provide a little background on this issue. All the members in this House want to help the victims, but we must consider past decisions and live with some of the legal consequences that currently govern this program.
The Government of Canada paid $1.4 billion at the time to compensate and help victims who contracted the hepatitis C virus from the Canadian blood supply system. Some $875 million was allocated to compensate victims infected between January 1, 1986 and July 1, 1990. That was the settlement agreement.
There is also $525 million for care and assistance for the victims. This money will provide care and better blood regulation and surveillance.
In 1998, the Government of Canada and its provincial and territorial partners announced definitive help for infected Canadians. At the time, the settlement was also meant for hemophiliacs and thalassemics infected with hepatitis C—these people had received blood products during that time—regardless of when they had been infected.
At the time, the total settlement was $1.118 billion. The federal government's contribution was roughly $875 million. The money was put in a trust fund for the claimants, pursuant to the settlement agreement for people who contracted hepatitis C.
I know we all want to do better, but we all have to realize that the settlement agreement is currently being administered at arm's length from governments. We cannot, today, decide to dip into the fund. We know it is managed by independent court-appointed administrators. The court ruled and appointed Crawford Expertises Canada Inc. and the Garden City group.
The trustees are ultimately responsible for the decisions regarding the claims and the compensation granted to the victims. All of us want to do more and to do better, but we have to abide by the court's decisions that were taken precisely to protect claimants and keep the government at arm's length.
Yes, there is some money left in the fund and I hope that we will be able to compensate more victims. As of March 31, 2004, the trust fund contained $865 million. As of October 1, 2004, 9,424 claims had been approved and approximately $387 million in benefits had been paid. The fund did benefit those who qualified for the reference period.
We are, of course, aware of all the difficulties faced by the others. However, the initial agreement was intended to compensate the 1986 to 1990 victims. The $865 million still in the trust fund do not belong to the federal government. The House alone cannot make any decision regarding that fund.
It is my understanding that a procedure is in place to allow the courts to review the fund and its actuarial surplus in June 2005.
At some point, the courts, under totally independent supervision, will review the real surplus and the future obligations under the trust fund. They will also be able to find out if there is really a surplus and if there are no longer any commitments to the victims who contracted the disease during the reference period. If not, then they will be able to tell us how to use the money. At that point, I guess a lot of people will want to make representations. Let us hope that, despite all the arrangements made by the court, the surplus will be big enough so that more victims can get more money.
I heard my hon. colleague say that some members have a conscience while others do not. We are all responsible for the management of the trust fund. We all have to respect the process that was set up at the time. We cannot unilaterally change the rules. It would not be acceptable to those who still believe today that they are entitled to some compensation.
I think the Minister of Health has been very clear on this: we want to look at all possible ways of making the compensation broader and fairer. No member in this House wants to see anyone suffer. No member in this House wants to deprive anyone of anything. But we must live with the consequences and the reality of the history of this issue. It is a question of responsibility. We must also recognize that this is an independent fund.
I know that all the members are full of good intentions and want to see this fund paid out. When we look at the figures and see $865 million, we say we could be doing more. Perhaps, but it is not our place to decide. Members who were here at the time of the last agreement decided that it should be up to a court. I have complete confidence in the courts. In June 2005, we shall see if there is a way to be more generous.
In the meantime, I know that the Minister of Health, as he announced publicly, will be discussing this with his cabinet colleagues. Still, even the health minister cannot unilaterally change the terms of this decision.
We know that the settlement agreement created a compensation schedule for claimants eligible for fixed compensation payments, compensation for loss of income or cost of treatment, and other expenses. There are six levels of fixed payments as compensation for damages, from $10,000 at level 1 to $100,000 at level 6. An individual's total compensation can be $225,000 depending on the seriousness of the claimant's illness.
As the illness progresses, eligible claimants already included in the program between 1986 and 1990 can ask for more compensation. It would not be responsible to tell these people who are already eligible for the program that we are going to empty the trust fund. I think we must absolutely ensure that everything is done according to the rules. We have a moral and legal commitment to the people who are already included in the program.
We cannot unilaterally make decisions for them, without the precise studies that are called for in the agreement. We know that payments from the fund may continue as long as 70 years. We must take the long-term view of this. We cannot make a decision today that will affect the lives of all these people. I was saying that at present there are several thousand, in fact there are 9,424 claims already in the system, but there will be others in the long term. All of this must be considered.
I know that if he could, the minister would rather write each victim a cheque right away. But that is not the way the agreement was designed initially. It would not be responsible on his part to do that right away, through an initiative that could affect the rights of those already in the program.
New claimants and those already eligible, who get continuous benefits, have until 2010 to make a claim.
Of course, all members in the House want to do more and wish we could do more. But we are bound by an agreement. There is no away around it. An agreement was made with those infected between January 1986 and July 1990, and we cannot extend the program at their expense without examining the facts and getting proper authorization.
I heard partisan remarks earlier in this regard, and that is unfortunate.
An hon. member: On which side?
Hon. Jean Lapierre: They came from the Conservatives mostly. This is unfortunate, because this issue is too difficult for anybody to try to score political points. Nobody wants to earn votes today on the basis of human suffering and illnesses. I cannot believe any member in the House would wish to score political points by taking advantage of a victim's misery. It would be utterly irresponsible.
That is why when I hear these members now wanting to change the rules that were agreed on, I think that we have to live with them. It does not prevent us from seeking possible formulas to extend the scope of the program. However, this will be in June 2005. It is not very far from now. I am sure that, if there is a way to find other measures, the Minister of Health will do so, because his heart is as big as anyone's here. However, we cannot do so to the detriment of an agreement governed by the court.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Jean Lapierre: Some people are getting excited. The reality is such that we must have a calm debate on this subject, and I am sure that victims demand more.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Jean Lapierre: Indeed, they demand more than the yelling from members. Victims who are watching us today know that a process was validated by the court, that there is a process. Moreover, we are talking about June 2005. I know that no one acted in bad faith on this file.
Today, it is good to have this debate, it is good to reflect on the lot of those who are not included in the program. However, we must not do so to the detriment of those who are included. In this sense, the Minister of Health is acting responsibly. Of course, we will be able as early as June 2005—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Jean Lapierre: Mr. Speaker, there are people here who are excited. This is incredible. I do not know what kind of caucus meeting they had in the Conservative Party today. I do not know if they are quarrelling, but they are all wired. We are here to have a candid debate, a serious debate, with a real concern for victims of this terrible disease.
We want to have this debate, and we are pleased that some members, like the member for Hochelaga and others, want to make the government and the public aware of the lot of those who were not included in the program.
I am happy to take part into this debate, and I am convinced that other members will have a lot to add to it. Once the Minister of Health has ascertained what the actual surpluses are, so as not to penalize anybody, I hope we will be able to put forward a more generous and broader program. This is my hope. In an ideal world, that is what everybody is hoping for.
Today's debate is an opportunity for us to do just that . I know the minister has already made a few comments on the matter, and other colleagues will want to take part in the debate too.
However, I did not like the attitude of the member who spoke before me claiming that some in the House have more moral fibre that others. I believe everyone wants to do their best in this debate. We will participate in a constructive way, keeping in mind all those who are affected. The debate might help raise awareness and remind us that we have a deadline, June 2005. It is fast approaching. The fund administrator will report to us at that time.
We cannot just raid the fund. It would be totally irresponsible. I am quite sure that no member would want us to do that either. The fund is no longer in the government's hands; it it in the hands of independent trustees appointed by the court. I know that many members across the way do not hold the legal process in high esteem. We see it every day during question period from the way they refuse to accept justice Gomery's independence. But that is another debate, and we should not hold it at the victims' expense. It is not part of their tradition. Let us go back to the heart of the debate, which is not at all partisan.
I know that hundreds of victims are following today's debate and are wondering what the government intends to do. Our duty is to tell the truth, to explain the situation as it is and to go over the substance of the agreements. Based on all of that, the health minister will do everything he can to offer more. We will find out what the surplus is and how much money is available. We will surely wait for direction on how to reallocate the surplus.
Just like my hon. colleagues, I am pleased not only to reflect on that program, but also to listen to the non-partisan comments made by all the members. It shows that we are concerned about those who are not covered under the program, while acting responsibly toward those who were unfortunately eligible, since no one would wish to have to make a claim under such a program. We would not wish that on anyone. We have to face the facts and live with the commitments we made to the victims.
It is a responsible approach that will hopefully allow us to grow. In this regard, I rely on the magnanimity of both the health minister and the finance minister so we may continue this discussion and provide assistance to those who deserve it.
Mr. Speaker, the minister is very clever in his use of words. I guess that is the basis of my argument.
Only Liberals could applaud a statement like that. I said he was clever in his use of words and his use of language. The truth of the matter is the file has always been in the hands of the government. The government is the one that set the parameters of the program when it set up an artificial date to compensate victims from 1986-1990. That was deliberate on the part of the government.
The government chose to pick those dates and when it did that, it flew in the face of Justice Krever who said that all victims, regardless of when they contracted hepatitis C, should be compensated. The government knew that the $1.2 billion it set aside would never be used. In fact the legal, actuarial and administration fees have outstripped payment to the victims. Only a Liberal could agree to a program like that.
We are talking about fairness to all victims. For the minister to stand in his place and say that it is no longer in the hands of the government, it never left the hands of the government. It is in the driver's seat. That is why it was elected to form the government. Canadians had some level of confidence that it would do the right thing, but it has failed on this test time and again.
The minister was not in the House. He preceded you and I, Mr. Speaker. He took a little vacation and came back. He missed the intensity of the debate in the House in 1998, when the government had a chance to do the right thing. We brought in a motion to do exactly that, to compensate all victims. Guess what happened? The Liberal government, of which he is now a part, voted down compensation for all victims.
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, because you have a great memory for this place and I give you full credit. I always enjoy it when you are in the chair because you take such an interest in debates like this. The history of this place will show that Liberal members stood in their places and voted against that compensation package with tears in the their eyes. That is correct. In fact the Minister of Public Safety today is one of those members who stood in her place and was forced by the Prime Minister of Canada to vote down a compensation package for all victims. What does that tell us about the sincerity of the government to do the right thing?
Why does it not put its good will to the test. Why does it not come back to the House and have that same vote. Last night we had a take note debate. Where else in Canada would one have a take note debate? We come in and politely discussed something. However, all Liberal members should get up and be forced to vote on this issue, whether they agree to compensate all the victims or continue to carry on the way they have.
To add insult to injury there is almost as much money in the fund today as there was the day that the funding was announced. There is a reason for that. I remember Allan Rock at the time stood in his place and said that the government could not compensate them all simply because there were too many and that the government did not have the money to do it. That was his argument.
There are fewer victims than the government imagined there were at the time. On this side of the House, we were telling the government there were way fewer victims and that the money it had put aside would compensate all the victims. It chose not to compensate all victims.
I guess the question is why did the government do it, knowing full well there was more money in the fund to do it then? There is still the same amount of money in the fund. Why not compensate all the victims? This issue is still in the hands of the government. Why does the government not bring this to a vote in the House of Commons and have members stand in their place and make a decision, yes or no, to compensate all victims?
Mr. Speaker, I think that the hon. member has raised a good point about everyone wanting to compensate as many victims as possible, and the necessity to look at the amount available in the fund. As at March 31, 2004, there was in fact $865 million. In June the courts will be able to determine the amount of surplus, as is set out in the documents at this time.
When considering that $865 million that remains, the obligations relating to the 9,424 claims have to be kept in mind. This process is evolving. So we could not, responsibly, go into that $865 million, because there are commitments to victims for the period from January 1, 1986 to September 1, 1990.
In June 2005, the court, with the assistance of specialists in the field, can determine the real amount of the surplus and the way it can be allocated. That is the time a decision could be reached.
But to assume today that there is $865 million in the fund that can be used in its entirety for other victims is to neglect the moral and legal obligation to those already included. What will be needed is outside expertise.
I understand the hon. member's wanting to be generous. We all would like to be. A procedure was adopted at the time, however, and was recognized by the court. Consequently we will be in a position in June 2005 to know the real amount of the surplus and what is to be done with it. At that time I think there may be a way to expand the scope of the settlement.
We shall see if this is a genuine surplus, taking into account the commitments to the 9,424 claimants to date. WIll there be others between now and June 2005? We are told they have until 2010 to make a claim, and after that we shall see.
To conclude that the government can unilaterally move in on this fund at this time and turn its back on the commitments made to the others would be irresponsible and a breech of contractual obligations and of what the court has determined. I am sure that hon. members are not asking us today to go back on our word to the victims that are covered under the program.
We cannot do this to the detriment of those victims. I know everyone has good intentions and we all want to help. Seeing this $865 million surplus in the account is heartbreaking, especially when we know that people suffering from hepatitis C could use it. We agree. That is why the Minister of Health has promised to do everything he can, while keeping our word and our obligations.
I trust the court and the administrator. I think these funds were spent prudently and have met the needs of those who have already filed their claims.
I am glad there were not more victims during that period. At the time, the Minister of Health thought there were many more. That is why such a big fund was set up. His advisors told him that the potential number of victims was much higher. We should be glad today that there were far fewer than predicted. That is good news.
At the time, scientific knowledge was not as great. It was thought there would be many more victims and therefore a significant amount of money was allocated. The cut-off date is June 2005; we can decide then what to do with the surplus.
All the hon. members in this House would like this money to be used by the victims. If the numbers are lower than predicted, we should be happy. If there is a way to do better and use these funds for the victims infected outside the recognized dates, let us hope the surplus will help. We all want that.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the intervention of the member for Outremont, who seemed to think he was in front of a television camera. I must say that he was eloquent. This is obviously because of his past.
First, I would like to remind the House of a number of facts. In the 1980s, two viruses contaminated blood supplies: the HIV virus and the hepatitis C virus. It is important to remember that, as a result, 10,000 people in Canada contracted hepatitis C, some 1,000 contracted the HIV virus, and half of these people died.
Our colleague and health critic for the Conservative Party of Canada was quite right to remind the House that parliamentarians sitting on the Standing Committee on Health were very well advised to ask for a review of this file.
This is the thrust of the motion today. We are asking that the unanimous report of all parliamentarians who sit on the Standing Committee on Health be adopted and not only that this report be adopted unanimously, but that it be votable.
I must say, however, that I do not agree with the hon. member for Outremont when he suggests that we can completely disregard history. I am sure that the hon. members who were in this House in 1998 will remember John Nunziata, an active member of the so-called rat pack, and he was not alone. There was the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who went overboard at that time. It was not easy to deal with the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. We even recall rat pack t-shirts up for sale.
That having been said, we understand that this is a non-partisan issue. There is no doubt about that. But the Liberals cannot be changed. It is just not possible that this government decided to turn its back on one of the most humanitarian things that could have been done under the circumstances, that is, not to discriminate on the basis of chronology.
The Canadian Hemophilia Society told the government that 20,000 people was way too much in terms of traceback. We know that, as far as the traceback efforts to identify those who received blood transfusions was concerned, the figures were inflated. Minister Allan Rock even commented at the time that expanding the compensation program would bankrupt the health system.
Sadly, we must remember that the Liberals lacked compassion during the period in question. We are seeking today historic reparation, and this is an opportunity for all parliamentarians in this House. The issue may not be a partisan one, but do not expect us to act as if those infected before 1986 and after 1990 had already been included in the deal back in 1998, because that it not true.
I would like the hon. member for Outremont not to forget that, among the determinants of health, there is the noise caused by railroads. I hope that, as parliamentarians, we will be able to pass legislation before Christmas to give the Transportation Agency more power to ensure that hepatitis C victims can enjoy some peace and quiet, because right now there is also an issue of quality of life, and noise plays a role in that.
Now, with respect to the trust fund of $1.1 billion—that is a considerable sum of money—it is true there is an element of visibility in here for the government. Yet, of this $1.1 billion, $800 million has still not been used.
I really hope that the government will act very quickly, and this is the thrust of the report that was unanimously adopted by the Standing Committee on Health. We are asking for a two step commitment. We want the Minister of Health to consult with the cabinet before Christmas and to say publicly, because he will have consulted with cabinet and Treasury Board before Christmas, “Yes, in principle, at the cabinet table, we have voted for the extension of the compensation program”.
Then we will come to terms with the various imperatives. If the court does not allow us to act before June of 2005, we will understand that. Members will recall that these questions were decided by the courts at the request of Justice Horace Krever, from the Ontario Court of Appeal.
What we would like to see now is a clear commitment from the executive, from cabinet. This is what our very reasonable report is all about.
Second, we have to think of this. Why did the tainted blood scandal happened in the 1980s and 1990s? It happened because there was no control over the blood supply system. The situation was the following. The government relied on the Red Cross and its reputation. The idea was that the Red Cross having such a good reputation worldwide, it was not necessary to have a regulatory control. This should get us thinking about what happens when the public authorities are not taking their responsibilities properly.
It was only in 1989 that the House of Commons amended the schedule to the Food and Drugs Act, giving us a minimum of control over blood products. Before 1989, there was no control whatsoever by any public authority.
Of course, we cannot rewrite history. We understand that the Red Cross had a great reputation and credibility at that time. However, this should get us thinking about what it means to abdicate one's responsibilities.
I have no doubt that all members in this House want to extend compensation. I have no doubt about that. We cannot ignore the fact that, historically, the government has not been as sensitive toward the people who were infected. That being said, it has the opportunity to correct a wrong. It is true that, yesterday, I commended the health minister for his speech. During question period, in response to a question that I asked him, the minister said that the member for Hochelaga had recognized that the government was prepared to take the right action. I am willing to say that, if the government recognizes that compensation must be expanded, all Bloc Québécois members will certainly be very pleased with this decision. That is not a problem. However, we will congratulate it in the name of this transcendence, this broad thinking and this generosity of soul, since this is the attitude that must be taken in a file such as this.
However, it would have been advisable for the cabinet to address the issue much more quickly. How is it that we are not seeing a much clearer commitment from the Minister of Health?
That being said, let us work for the future and hope that, before the adjournment in December, such a commitment can be made. I know that all parliamentarians will work on this.
When we held this historic vote in 1998, the compensation plan was comprised of six categories. In the first one, as soon as antibodies were detected in the blood, one would receive $10,000. Depending on the seriousness of the case, one could receive cumulative compensation of up to $250,000. We will also recall that the government added, in conjunction with the provinces, an amount of $300 million to provide care for people who were infected during the period between 1986 and 1990.
Consequently, this is an issue of public health, compassion and responsibilities.
As parliamentarians we have simply delayed too long in putting this matter behind us.
The impatience comes, we must admit, from the fact that everything was documented. Justice Horace Krever was a judge of the Ontario Court of Appeal, the highest court in Ontario. He had chaired a commission of inquiry into access to confidential medical documents in Ontario. He documented the abuses and prejudices that victims had suffered and what a responsible compensation scheme should look like.
Justice Krever chaired a royal commission whose terms were discussed in cabinet. We know that a royal commission must be authorized by the Privy Council. We cannot say that it was not serious or not binding. In 1995 the commission tabled its report.
We will remember that Justice Krever earned his reputation. In fact, some intervenors, among them the former minister Pierre-Marc Johnson, the Red Cross and Thérèse Lavoie-Roux went to the Federal Court seeking to mark out the powers of the inquiry.
As we remember, the Federal Court decision was that the Krever Commission could not find people criminally guilty for their actions, but that it could make recommendations. This Federal Court jurisprudence means that, today, the powers of royal commissions are limited in this area and it has left vestiges in the arguments surrounding the Gomery commission at present.
I repeat, it is a question of compassion, humanitarianism and responsibility.
Last Friday, I spent the morning in Montreal, on the avenue du Président-Kennedy, named for the Democratic president assassinated so unfortunately in Dallas, in November 1963. I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives of the Canadian Hemophilia Society and spent the morning with them. They are volunteers. The Canadian Hemophilia Society was founded in 1953 and devotes a research budget of half a million dollars to finding out a way to get answers, through R&D, to all the illness involving the blood coagulation factor.
In the early 1990s, the Canadian Hemophilia Society was visionary because it told the government that its predictions were exaggerated and that there was no logic in making two classes of citizens. All of these victims were affected equally by their unfortunate circumstances.
A person who goes to the hospital emergency department and ends up being given blood products is not being treated carelessly or cavalierly. One expects public health authorities to control the supply, circulation and distribution of blood and blood products.
It will be 10 years ago next week that the Krever Commission started up, under Justice Horace Krever. Hon. members need to realize what it means to live with Hepatitis C. There are varying degrees, of course; not everyone is affected in the same way. But we need to keep in mind what it means in terms of resistance, fragility and worries surrounding the most ordinary of daily acts.
The volunteers of the Canadian Hemophilia Society are very courageous to get involved as they have. I have had a chance to talk about this with François Laroche, who comes like me from the Quebec CIty area, from Beauport.
They have always remained hopeful that the government might eventually review its decision. I hope that this will come to pass. I am confident that the Minister of Health, a former NDPer from British Columbia, will waste no time getting a brief to cabinet so that we may have something solid to go on.
I was happy yesterday to hear the Minister of Health refer to his determination. Since the Krever Commission, there have been five different health ministers. They could have settled this, and it would all be behind us. I know we can be assured that, by Christmas, cabinet will have been informed and the Minister of Health, with the support of everyone in this House, will be rising from his place to commit the entire government to this undertaking. When the Minister of Health rises from his seat to announce that the cabinet has adopted a resolution to allow compensation to be expanded to include victims from before January 1986 and after June 1990, I know that all hon. members will feel that our actions over the years have had results.
I can assure you that all Bloc Québécois members want to act in a non-partisan way on this issue. However, our desire to act in a non-partisan way will not make us forget history. We will not revive actions and policies that should not be revived. We would now like to remind the House again that this is a matter that warrants the full attention of all parliamentarians.
I will conclude by talking for a few minutes about the compensation of the HIV victims. You will recall that a federal-provincial-territorial agreement had been reached. They were talking about 300 people, which was not a lot. These people were given $30,000 lump sum, providing they agreed not to sue the government. It is still rather sad to see that these people are getting benefits, which to this day have not indexed. They have been getting the same benefits for close to ten years now. We all understand the effect of inflation and can appreciate that these people's purchasing power has shrunk significantly.
This is less widely known than the tainted blood and compensation issues. However, it requires our attention as well. When I met with Mr. Laroche, Mr. John Plater and Mrs. Ostrowski last Friday, I was told that there was some catching up to do in this area.
In short, we hope that the government will roll up its sleeves and announce a public commitment by Christmas. We will of course respect the prerogatives of the court. If the deadline of June 2005 is the one to be respected, so be it. However, we would feel much more comfortable if the executive were to make a much stronger commitment than what is being made now.
Mr. Speaker, I have a few comments and then I will have a question for the hon. member.
He has been talking about a non partisan approach. I am in total agreement with him, but we should pick our words carefully for fear of going a bit astray and becoming partisan.
For example, we could consider setting up a trust, and we could have a unanimous motion in committee, with the support of the Liberals, the socialists, the separatists, and the opportunists. This motion would be to the effect that, with an eventual surplus in the fund, we could compensate more people and get into the question of who can receive compensation. We all agree on this. We want people infected before 1986 and after 1990 to receive compensation. That is what we all want.
But we cannot do as we wish, and the hands of the Minister of Health are tied. He explained that to the House last night. The transport minister gave the same explanation today. Funds in the trust do not belong to the Government of Canada or to Canadian citizens.
The minister or the Privy Council cannot access these funds on their own. They must follow the rules of the trust, as established by three courts of law, namely the Court of Quebec, the Court of British Columbia and the Court of Ontario.
There is a trustee, people who act on behalf of those who are receiving this compensation. So, we set up a trust, which acts on their behalf and which makes the investments that generate the funds. Consultants will tell us in June—it will come sooner than we think—what the surplus is. We believe there is a surplus, we all agree on that. But what is the real actuarial surplus? We must take into consideration people who may still be eligible for these funds, people whose needs will increase in the future, people who may collect compensation for another 70 years. So, what is the surplus after all these things have been taken into consideration?
It could be $400 million or $500 million. I do not know and we are waiting for the answer. Then, we will have to work with the claimants, the trustees, the courts and the provincial governments to make recommendations on how to use that surplus.
I think the minister's wish has been clearly understood. We definitely know what he wants from all the members of the Standing Committee on Health, in a non-partisan context. But I do not think we really want to use expressions such as “before Christmas”, “earlier” or “immediately”, in reference to the implementation of the changes. We want to do it at the earliest opportunity. If that means we have to follow the procedures and if that takes us to the month of June, so be it.
I am asking the hon. member what he thinks of the other assistance and compensation that were provided. Because let us not forget that assistance was provided to victims. Work was done with the provinces, in research and development, and also with the Canadian Hemophilia Society. The trust is working with them, since they are receiving funds from these $525 million, funds that are used to help these victims.
Madam Speaker, I invite the parliamentary secretary to be very careful, because I cannot detect any hint of partisanship in my remarks. Moreover, I am afraid the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health has a vivid imagination. I invite him to recognize the value of what I am saying. I believe all the members of the Bloc Québécois in this House work in a non-partisan way.
Like the parliamentary secretary, I recognize that when courts hand down their decisions, there is something restrictive about them. I understand the meaning of the word “trust” very well. However, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health must agree with me that when the review of the actuarial surplus is complete, arguments can be made to enlarge it. That is what we are talking about.
In any case, before going to court, the cabinet must make itself clear on this issue. I am simply asking that a commitment be made to do this before Christmas.
June as a deadline is feasible, but for the victims, every day and every week count. For them, June is the middle term, not the short term.
I agree with the secretary that the health minister is acting in good faith, is eager to solve the problem and wants to be known as the minister who extended the compensation. I trust him.
Nevertheless, the health minister needs to understand that our quest for justice has made us very cautious, since the government has never acted before. Everything is in place for the government to act. I trust the minister, but do not ask me, as a Bloc member, to abdicate my responsibility. We will put pressure on the government. We will act intelligently, courteously and according to parliamentary rules. Yes, we will exert pressure, because we know that, in politics, you have to see it to believe it, and so far we have not seen anything.
Now, good faith is presumed, and bad faith should be proven. Yesterday, the health minister said “Trust me”. That is what we are going to do, but we hope that there will be a clear commitment, not that we want to push him. I am very much aware that the minister is to be “handled with care”. However, we will exert whatever pressure is needed to get results.
Mr. Speaker, on October 28 the Standing Committee on Health submitted a report to the House, which reads as follows:
|| That this Committee...urge the government to extend compensation to all those who contracted Hepatitis C from tainted blood; further that the managers of the fund, the Hemophilia Society and other relevant witnesses be invited to meet with the Committee on this subject;--
Today there is a motion to concur in this report. It is very timely in view of the fact that last evening there was a take note debate on this important matter.
I had an opportunity to follow the debate and I reviewed some of the debates of the members. I was quite taken by the extent of the support for the statements by the hon. Minister of Health on this matter. I want to put on the record what the minister said because I think it is important that members be reminded of the attitude and the position that he has taken. On Tuesday, November 2 in the take note debate he said:
|| For as long as I have been in public life it has been my view that we the elected legislators do our job best and Canadians are best served when we reason together constructively and respectfully. This is even more so when an issue is tough, when it evokes strong passions and when, as in the case of the suffering of victims who have been infected with hepatitis C through the blood system, it appeals on so many levels to that basic human compassion and decency which I know motivates all members in the House.
That is a very important characterization of the position that the minister has taken, not only in that debate, but in the work he has done since taking on his responsibilities.
I was here during this period in which we dealt with the hep C issue. I remember the emotion. Quite frankly, we have seen it today. Members, and even new members, have been moved to plead for some compassion, to have a conscience, to deal with the health and well-being of Canadians. That is our job.
I understand the passion, and it is important to recognize that members feel very strongly that this may be the right thing to do, but the important thing is that we take all appropriate steps to examine the options and to do whatever can be done.
One of the members in the debate, and even again today, made the allegation that the Government of Canada knew the blood was tainted and yet took no steps whatsoever and that the government apparently knew about the surplus and did nothing over all these years.
That is really not the case. The members will know that as a consequence of the consideration of the House of Commons at that time, a settlement agreement was agreed upon. It laid out some fairly explicit terms and conditions under which the fund would be operated.
With regard to the operation of the fund, the minister laid it out quite nicely last night when he said that the government was not in control of the funds. The government is in an arm's length relationship under a trustee and the fund is operating in accordance with the agreement.
It does mean though, and as I indicated in the question to the previous speaker, that the agreement has some provisions in it which address the possibility of the existence of a surplus and the possible disposition of any surplus.
Members know that potential claimants under the prescribed window can make claims against this fund for another seven decades. The amount of the benefit that might be payable depends upon the nature and condition of their particular consequences as a result of hep C.
Given those facts, it is very difficult to estimate what might be the claims over the next 70 years. It might be a little difficult to determine what other things might happen. In terms of the $1.118 billion available in the fund, members know that not all of that has been used. However it is clear that any determination of a surplus has to anticipate claims over the next 70 years.
The beneficiaries prescribed and defined under this agreement are clear. It is a window. That was a very difficult decision to make. Members can refer back to the emotional debates in the House and to the questions in question period as the members considered this. Points were made with regard to what the starting point had to be with regard to the window.
Is there a surplus? Well, the trustee of the fund will at least be making an attempt to determine whether an actuarial surplus is projected by June 2005. That may then bring into play the discussion about whether there is any opportunity to do something else.
As I have indicated in my previous question, the original agreement contemplates four potential uses of the surplus: reinvesting the money in the fund; returning it to the contributors, including the Government of Canada; increasing payments to the existing beneficiaries; or spending the money on activities that would benefit the beneficiaries as defined, for example, on research.
To the extent that the agreement currently would permit any surplus money, under certain circumstances, if it were actuarily determined, then the moneys could theoretically go back to the Government of Canada. Then, of course, the agreement would not cover those funds any longer and the government may very well be in a position to make a further initiative with regard to hep C victims outside the window. That is something that would have to follow a process.
I asked the member for Hochelaga, since he is on the health committee, whether he was aware of any provision under the agreement where the date the actuarial determination of a surplus at June 2005 might be accelerated. I think that is a very good question. I do not know. I am sure that people are looking at that now.
I suspect, having read the debates and followed and watched some of the debates last evening, it would be the consensus of this place that we take every reasonable opportunity to assess the options and do whatever we can. I think that is reflective of the hon. minister's statements to the House. He came here in good faith. He listened to the debate. Members were very generous in their praise for the minister in that he was so open-minded on this. The minister, in this regard, has been very clear. All members should be very pleased that we are able to deal in that environment.
This is not a matter of who has more conscience, nor is it a matter of who wanted to do something and who did not want to do something.
As members can see, there is not only the settlement agreement, there is also a pre-1986 and post-1990 care package, an undertaking initiative and the hep C prevention, support and research program, all of which came out of the work that members did back at that time.
The members who raised this in the health committee, which represents members from all parties, have taken the opportunity to bring this matter to the House with their unanimous recommendation that we look at this. For that reason, it is important that we carry on this debate.The fact that we are having this debate again today after a full take note debate yesterday is reflective of the care and concern that all hon. members share in this regard.
There is some question as to why some people were left out. I guess the question would be: What was the thinking behind that decision not to extend compensation outside the 1986 to 1990 period?
Having looked at some of the details and the data, I have learned that in 1986 most blood banks in the United States implemented surrogate testing to screen blood for non-A and non-B hepatitis. Canada did not implement surrogate tests. Canada implemented direct tests when they became available in 1990.
The federal government, the provinces and territories took the position not to compensate persons infected with hepatitis C through the blood system before 1986 or after July 1, 1990 because the Canadian blood system was deemed to be technically as safe as possible. Instead, the federal government agreed to transfer $300 million over 20 years to assist the provinces and territories with hepatitis C health care services. That is concisely the underlying thinking about why people in Canada who contracted hep C and HIV through our blood system during the period outside of 1986-1990 were not included in this package.
I am not sure whether or not it is useful for us to debate some of the logic about what happened back then knowing that since then the Red Cross has had a role change. We now have Canadian Blood Services. I am not sure whether or not it is going to help us to debate whether or not surrogate tests, had they been adopted in Canada, would have been a reliable way to determine whether or not there were problems with the blood products that were available.
I am not sure if there are legal questions here about whether or not any cases are pending or someone is suing the government because during the period outside of the window where compensation or benefits were available there was a basis for a legal proceeding. I am not aware of any. Legal advice has said that under the circumstances, because there were no tools to definitely determine what the problems were at the time, there was no basis for doing more than we had done notwithstanding the fact that the United States had been looking at surrogate testing.
People have been talking about a surplus and I can only suggest they are speculating at what might be available. Of the $875 million deposited by the Government of Canada, payments of approximately $387 million have been made to about 9,500 approved claims. The fund still contained $865 million as of March 31, 2004. The 9,424 claims breaks down to 4,452 approved claims for people infected through the blood system, 46 claims by persons secondarily affected by a spouse or prenatal exposure, and 4,926 claims by family members for loss of support.
It must be recognized that payments out of the fund may continue, as I indicated, as much as 70 years either to new claimants who have until 2010 to apply or for continuing payments to those who have already qualified. Claimants could be making claims for additional compensation as their disease progresses because there are different levels of benefits available.
Hon. members would agree that there is some question about what the extent of the surplus will be, if any, after an actuarial determination. These things take time. It is not within the hands of the government at this time but within the hands of a third party pursuant to an agreement to which the federal and provincial governments are party. Work will be done to determine what options may be available.
To the extent that any benefits would be extended for any other purpose and outside of the window, how do we determine the benefits that might be payable or the aggregate value of the claims? This has to be determined. How does the aggregate value of those claims relate to whatever the surplus might or might not be?
In that case, it is probably an important question for the health committee to consider. The health committee had passed a motion that the managers of the fund, the Canadian Hemophilia Society, and other relevant witnesses be invited to meet with the committee on the subject and that a report be tabled in the House, if necessary. I think it is going to be necessary.
It is extremely important that the health committee continue its work on this important question, that it does apprise itself of all the relevant details pursuant to the settlement agreement, that it deal with the facts to the extent that they are known with regard to those outside the window, and that it talk to the other stakeholders, whether it be the Canadian Hemophilia Society, Canadian Blood Services and any other relevant witnesses so that parliamentarians are fully aware. I know that members will look forward to receiving such a report from the Standing Committee on Health.
I want to close my comments by thanking all hon. members for their thoughtful input into this process. This is one of those subjects which I believe transcends partisanship. I think that there is a strong consensus in the House to seek whatever options may be available and to deal with them. I am hopeful that with the continued work of the Standing Committee on Health, with the work that the minister will be doing and has already started to do, that this question will not be moot in this place, but indeed parliamentarians will be able to work toward the right solution for an important issue.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to the report of Standing Committee on Health just tabled. I want to start by reading the precursor to report because it is important:
|| That this Committee, in recognition of the recommendation of the Krever Inquiry and the large surplus in the federal Hepatitis C compensation fund, urge the government to extend compensation to all those who contracted Hepatitis C from tainted blood.
It goes on to recommend that further witnesses be called.
We have to look at the facts. The system that has been set up has not worked for the victims, and that is the reality. It is now 2004. If someone were a victim of what happened in 1986, that person may not have had justice. The problem the opposition has right now is the way in which the government has handled the legislation, the process and where we are at right now. We sense urgency required for the victims.
It is important to quote from the Krever report, which states, “The compassion of a society can be judged by the measures it takes to reduce the impact of tragedy on its members”. It does not matter what party members were in at the time of the debate or what party they are with now. Can we as elected officials say that we have met that standard? I think all of us have failed. We have to push forward fair compensation and ensure that those victims get justice.
A previous cabinet minister, who spoke earlier today, said that we would all like to be generous. It is not about that. This is about justice. There is a difference in those two things. That is what gives the discomfort about this file.
The government is still on the issue of generosity. People have been victimized because the process of which we have custody over has not protected them. And it is not about blame. It is about correcting an error. It is not generosity will help those individuals. I guess I have some difficulty with the current file and the way it is done.
I forgot to mention, Madam Speaker, that my colleague from Winnipeg North. I am splitting my time with her.
I spent about five years of my life working on the AIDS committee of Windsor and Essex County. I worked for individuals who had contracted AIDS, or HIV or hepatitis C. There was a difference in the quality of life of those individuals who had family supports and those that had none. Some had economic support and some had nothing at all. It was not just about the individual and how they would deal with situations, whether it be at work, or in society, or in their social life or as the conditions affected them. It also related to their communities.
I would like to start with that by mentioning an individual who was mentioned in previous discussions of the House of Commons. Her name is Susan. We need to talk about the people who are affected by this. Once again, it is about justice, not generosity.
Susan's husband suffered a heart attack and a stroke. He had a blood transfusion. He recovered completely from the stroke, but contracted hepatitis C from the blood. He was a sports coach for children, a strong athletic man, but now he is constantly ill. He is pacing himself to work to support his family as long as he can despite being seriously ill, as he has no other financial option. That affected everybody. It affected him as an individual, as a father and as a sports coach in the community. It is not about generosity to restore and try to provide some assistance; it is about justice.
We need to look at some of the issues of why we need to advance assisting the victims. There are lots of good reasons. The first reason would be medically sound. It is obvious that people can care for themselves if they have some compensation that will provide them the medicines as well as the treatment necessary to deal with their condition. That is a big benefit for those individuals and the people around them. It is legally compelling. At a certain point in time, as Justice Krever mentioned, “The compassion of a society can be judged by the measure it takes to reduce the impact of tragedy that is on its members”.
We went through a process where the victims had to sue for compensation. They had to go through an arduous process to ensure that they would receive the support. At the same time, we went through a process, and we had recommendations that were ignored. Coming out of that, we have some of the things about which the government was warned. We have legislation that puts us where we are today nearly 20 years after some people were affected, necessitated largely by federal regulatory failure.
We knew our blood was vulnerable after we did the investigations and after we learned of incidents such as using blood from U.S. prisoners to treat patients in our system. We know we did not have the proper things in place. We then set out measures since then to correct that. That has literally brought down institutions, like the Red Cross. These are strong institutions that had good historical pasts. They had model boards of directors and were involved in the community. They were very much affected by this, and we still did not have the proper processing for this.
Sound finances is another reason we should do this. We know approximately $80 million is available. We know we still need to compensate the people properly. At the same time, we have heard time and again from the government since 1995 that it does not have the money to do a number of things, However, year after year it comes in with surpluses.
Often we talk about compensation measures that go directly back to communities and to individuals. There is a direct benefit there. The government has pleaded poverty on a number of different occasions and because of that it has been unable to afford to do the right thing. It would like to but it cannot because the cupboards are bare. We know that is not true. We know we will have greater funds again.
It was also brought up at one point that this would be a threat to our medicare funding and that it would set a precedent. I argue this is a very unique situation that does not create a threat to our medical system. Canadians want us to do the right thing. They do not want us to delay any further.
It is very generous in terms of the comments the Minister of Health has received and as well in some of his statements. What Canadians are really concerned about is whether this will be another smokescreen for delay. We would all like to trust the process and the system, hear the witnesses and have the delegations come forward. However, how long will it take and at the end of the day will it get the net objective. The net objective should be justice for the people who were affected. That should be the primary concern, not generosity.
The other thing is we should have a system that is politically transparent. It was uncovered that people were not getting the benefits they were intended to get, as had been laid out in the process. We need a system that is more transparent. That is very important.
There is social justice. The country has been built on a foundation that when people are victimized, we find restitution. We ensure that they will have a better future. The Canadian government and the people stand behind them. Have we stood behind these individuals? We have not. Although Joey Haché did receive compensation, he resorted to crossing Canada on his bicycle to draw attention to those suffering from hepatitis C. This is a 15-year-old boy who gets transfusions all the time. We have not handled it well. That is why we need due diligence at this point.
Justice Krever supported this. He said:
|| I therefore recommend that, without delay, the provinces and territories devise statutory no-fault schemesfor compensating persons who suffer serious adverse consequences as a result of the administration of blood components or blood products.
We should have done this before. It is about time we do it today. It is no longer about generosity. I think that is where the discomfort affects opposition members. This file should be about justice. It obviously has not worked very well. There have been many problems. Let us fix it. Let us get it right and have a sense of urgency.
We all know the sensitivity in the House. Every day there are questions about whether the government will stand or fall. People will continue to be victimized if we do not advance this at the fastest pace possible. That takes trust, and the government has not earned that.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the discussion on the matter of hepatitis C compensation.
I would like to acknowledge the work of the present Standing Committee on Health. The member for Yellowhead has taken a position today in the House, reflecting the work of that health committee. The member from St. James has also participated based on the camaraderie and cooperation that has been enjoyed by members at that committee. That committee has chosen to take on a very important issue, following remarks made by the present Minister of Health to look seriously at the question of compensation for hepatitis C victims who fall outside the period of 1986 to 1990.
The Minister of Health has said publicly that he is prepared to look at it. He said so again last night in the House. However, he has not put any kind of time limit on that commitment. Nor has he indicated that he is prepared to move forward on that issue, regardless of the amount of money that is left after victims in the period between 1986 and 1990 have been compensated.
We still have a very important issue to deal with in this place. We still have an outstanding matter that must be addressed so Canadians can feel confident that we have not missed this opportunity or been negligent in our responsibilities as members of Parliament.
Let us look very carefully at what the report of the Standing Committee on Health report says. It calls upon the House to look at the fact that:
|| ...in recognition of the recommendation of the Krever Inquiry and the large surplus in the federal Hepatitis C compensation fund, urge the government to extend compensation to all those who contracted Hepatitis C from tainted blood; further that the managers of the fund, the Hemophilia Society and other relevant witnesses be invited to meet with the Committee....
These witnesses would be invited to further give explanation and enlightenment on this matter.
The committee has looked at this issue. It is recommending that compensation be extended now to all victims of the hepatitis C tainted blood scandal, prior to 1986 and post-1990. These people were infected through no fault of their own because our health care system failed them. Our government of the day did not take seriously the tests and advice that were available. It did not take seriously the mandate to show compassion for anyone who had been failed by our health system.
Today we got some indication that the government is looking at it. After six or seven years, we finally have enough interest on the benches of the Liberal government. We may be able, collectively and cooperatively, to deal with this unresolved and sad chapter in our history. We do not want to lose that moment. We do not want to let the good work of the present health committee disappear. We do not want to see the Minister of Health proceed without the full benefit of this chamber and the feelings of all members of Parliament.
It is critical that we deal with the report of the health committee today so we can give good advice and clear direction to the Minister of Health and to the government of the day. We cannot afford to let the minister yet again give rhetoric and platitudes and provide no follow-up action.
We are not questioning the compassion of members on the Liberal benches. We are not questioning the commitment by the Minister of Health. We are saying, based on the track record of this issue and based on seven or eight years of neglect and lack of compassion for those who have suffered all this time, that we are not going to let anybody off the hook. We are going to ensure that there is follow-up to this action.
We must remember 1998, when the Liberal government of the day under the direction of the minister of health at the time, Allan Rock, decided not to compensate all victims but to follow some abstract notion of when a certain test was available and therefore to compensate victims only in a certain period of time. It did so against the advice of Justice Krever, against the advice of learned professionals like Dr. Michèle Brill-Edwards and against the emotional pleas of the victims of this tragedy.
Today we want to see that corrected once and for all. It is important to recognize that during that period of time the government chose a regrettable path that left at least 400 victims of the tainted blood tragedy, who have now died, with no compensation and no compassionate care or assistance through a most difficult time. Thousands of others have seen their quality of life deteriorate without any kind of recognition of the incredible tragedy and travesty in their lives.
I urge the government to support the work of the committee. I would move, seconded by the member for Cambridge:
|| That the House continue to sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the purpose of considering the motion to concur in the first report of the Standing Committee on Health.
Madam Speaker, this has taken almost as much time as a normal speech. I hope that somehow this is recognized in the time allotted to me to make my remarks.
We are dealing with an issue that has gone on here for quite some time. I want to salute in particular our new Minister of Health for the indication that he has given, to Canadians generally and to all of us, that he is willing to have a fresh look at this issue.
How did this start? We remember the agreement that was made. I will not use documentation generally prepared by the department. I will just look at a chronology of some of the things from a newspaper article. It talks about how on March 27, 1998 the federal and provincial health ministers, all of them, arrived at an agreement of $1.2 billion limited to the people infected between 1986 and 1990.
Mr. Brian Masse: It doesn't cover everybody.
Hon. Don Boudria: The hon. member says it does not cover everybody. I know. That is why I am speaking about it. This may come as a shock to him.
Mr. Brian Masse: It's a bad agreement.
Hon. Don Boudria: Yes. The Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, and everybody that made the agreement did not cover everybody. That is quite true. We have dealt with that. That is not why we are here.
Then Premier Mike Harris of Ontario, after he signed the agreement, decided afterwards to modify his component of the agreement.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Hon. Don Boudria: Madam Speaker, perhaps you would want to keep some order. Even though I disagreed with just about everything that was said by NDP members earlier, I let them speak.
I want to bring to the attention of the House the case of a constituent. Perhaps if the NDP members do not respect anything else, they could at least listen to the sad case of a constituent of mine. She is probably watching and listening.
When I was younger, I was elected to the municipal council where I lived. There was another young councillor in the neighbouring municipality, a young man full of ambition. He still is, though not so young, and in very poor health. His name is Jules Lavictoire. As a municipal councillor in Rockland, he was involved in just about everything that was going on there. I know what that is like, as I have done the same for ages myself. Unfortunately for Jules Lavictoire, his health suddenly deteriorated and leukemia was diagnosed in 1980. After undergoing chemotherapy, he required several transfusions. He was given tainted blood. There was not even any system in place in 1980 to detect it, or at least not one known here.
So that was how it began for him. He had a serious relapse in 1984, and for a while we thought we would lose him. But he pulled through, and almost miraculously, despite all that he has gone through, the leukemia and the tainted blood transfusions in 1980, he is still with us 24 years later. Still with us in the year 2004. He is of course all that much older, as am I, and his health has deteriorated. He still has hepatitis C. When I talked to him on the phone earlier this afternoon, he told me that he will likely be needing a liver transplant within days. That is the state his health is in.
It is never much fun to be ill, but to be ill under circumstances that were out of one's control to change is perhaps even harder to accept. At that time, there was not even any way a further check on the blood could have been done, because no such procedure was known at the time here, according to what he told me today.
Everyone agreed on the agreement that was reached. Yes, as was pointed out, the agreement was too restrictive. We know that. It could have been more comprehensive and included more people. At the time, it was signed by all stakeholders at the federal, provincial, territorial and even other levels. Everyone agreed. When things started heating up, some, like the Government of Ontario, I think, pulled back. It acted as if it did not agree, even if it was a signatory of the agreement. That is all well and fine, but that is not the reality.
Had it not been for the hon. Allan Rock, who was minister at the time and who was criticized later, there probably would not have been any agreement to help anybody. That is not recognized right now. It is only years later that recognition comes. He has made a huge contribution in this regard, and I am the first to recognize it. Today, we realize that all the funds will probably not be used. It is out of the question to pass a motion today to have a cheque issued to someone tomorrow. That is nonsense. That is not how things work.
In fact, the Bloc Québécois member who spoke earlier, the hon. member for Hochelaga, indicated to us that what was involved was an actuarial review. That is what is appropriate, as this fund is not administered by the Government of Canada, by the federal government and the provinces or by the provinces on their own. It is not administered by any of them. We know by whom it is administered. The administrator is a group called Crawford Expertises Canada Inc. Everyone agreed on this. That is who is administering the fund.
Our job today is to encourage the minister and cabinet to send a clear message that we want any excess funds to be used for the other victims.That is the message.
That is the message that I want to convey to my colleague as I congratulate him on having the courage to reopen this file. It would probably have been a lot easier for the new Minister of Health to let it go for a while. However, he jumped at it at the first opportunity. He said “I am prepared to hear representations about this”.
At least, in this regard, all the members who took the floor today agreed that it is possible to reopen this file and to send a message to the minister and the government, urging them to work together with other stakeholders to make sure that they can properly compensate people like my friend Jules Lavictoire and all the others.
I mentioned the name of Jules Lavictoire because he gave me permission to do so today. This is not something abstract. It never is. When you are talking about a friend or a former co-worker, it becomes very real. I am sure that all parliamentarians and all Canadians listening to this debate can think of one person close to them who is in the situation that I just described. They only have to change a name to describe a neighbour, a friend, a former colleague, etc.
This is the person I just described. In a letter dated March 9, Mr. Lavictoire wrote “Dear Sir”. This is not the way he addresses me in person because he is a personal friend of mine. I will read his letter:
|| I am writing to follow up on our telephone conversation of March 4 to draw your attention, and that of your government, to the victims of hepatitis C prior to 1986.
|| For a long time now, your government has recognized that hepatitis C can have a devastating affect on its victims, their families and their loved ones.
|| You have also recognized the monetary impact of this terrible disease, for which there is still no cure.
|| The Government of Canada has agreed to provide financial assistance to those infected between 1986 and 1990, but no compensation has been given to people who were infected between 1980 and 1985.
Funds were invested, but certainly not in the compensation fund for people infected between 1986 and 1990. My friend continues saying:
|| That is why I am turning to you today. I recently read in the newspaper that only some of the people infected between 1986 and 1990 have filed a claim for compensation and that a lot of money is still available in the hepatitis C victim reserve fund.
He said it himself, “the reserve fund.” There is no use in claiming or telling Canadians that the Government of Canada can start issuing cheques and handing them out tomorrow morning. We know it does not work that way. Some hon. members were objective enough to say so in this House.
That is not the issue before us. The issue before us is to indicate our position. What position would we like the government to take with its other partners regarding the surplus fund, which will be calculated a little later for actuarial and objective reasons?
If someone dipped into the fund and unilaterally handed out money without leaving any for those who might file a claim, then the Auditor General would step in, and we know what would happen. Those complaining today would be the first to say we did not use objective criteria.
That is not what we should do. Anyway, it is not something we can do. That is not the action for the government to take in this matter.
What we need to do then is to send that message to the government. I believe that the speeches today on the part of members, generally speaking, have been made in such a way that the minister has to be encouraged that members of Parliament, on all sides of the House I think, want this fund to be reopened pursuant to the actuarial criteria. The qualification must also be broadened to cover those people who were living these exact conditions prior to 1986, and taking note that in the beginning, there may not have been a detection system.
Then we have people like the constituent I described earlier who has lived 24 years with both leukemia and tainted blood which occurred almost immediately as a result of the first condition. He has lived with leukemia, which is already a very challenging medical condition, and then contracted that second condition within months. He has remained like that for 24 years and is now facing the potential of having a liver transplant, possibly within the next few months, if that is determined necessary.
Our role today is to give that kind of encouragement. I would like to see the government make an announcement in short order, preferably right here on the floor of the House, telling us that it will be taking that position with the other partners to broaden that scope so that more people can qualify for the funds. The funds have not all been expended. I think we will be able to prove shortly, with objective actuarial criteria, that not all the funds that are there will be required. Therefore, we do have the funds in order to be able to do that.
I see there are other members in the House. Probably some of them would like to comment before this time ends today. I do hope that we all continue to make that message clear.
I want to conclude by saying that this minister has demonstrated outstanding courage by tackling something which is no doubt very challenging for him but obviously something that he wanted to do. He deserves our praise. I wish him well, and that he be able at the cabinet table, together with his colleagues, to take a position which he will be able to enunciate here on the floor of the House of Commons very shortly.